Chapter Seven: Child

Splashing the river water on my face, its prickly coolness tingle me awake. I woke up before dawn just when the freezing winds finally subsided, and lit by the embers of yesterday’s campfire, I made my way to the river.

The stars are still shining brightly as ever, so I assume it to be at least an hour before the sun begins to crest the horizon. After refilling my canteen, I start my morning by scavenging for wild berries and roots. The snare I setup by the river before falling asleep last night came up empty.

“Rise and shine, Natra – oh! Good morning!” Cortana’s warm voice suddenly fills my head.

“Morning. Say, Cortana, could you find something nice for me to eat today?”

“Oh? Someone’s cranky today,” she suggested.

“I’m not cranky, just terribly hungry is all – and groggy. I suddenly recalled that the last proper meal I had was at the dungeon and all I have with me currently are some charred shrooms and burnt strawberries; in other words, I need my meat.”

A short sigh after, Cortana signalled me towards an expanse of land enclosed by skeletal frames of blackened bushes and earth. I begin to dig – with bare hands after the third makeshift shovel(sticks) broke – through the built-up soot towards what seems like an animal burrow.

“When a massive forest fire like this occurs, burrows and dens turn into ovens, effectively cooking up whatever creatures weak enough to remain in them.”

“What a way to tell me that I’m basically desecrating an animal’s grave,” I shot at her.

“Be careful of what you wish for,” she giggles sardonically. “You really should be careful, though. The predators in this forest are quick to the smell of an easy meal.”

Minutes passed before the burrow finally opens up and the scent of cooked meat fills the air.

Let’s hope that whatever is inside remains dead. Ridding my mind of the worst situation imaginable, I shove my hand inside the hole and felt around for anything resembling a leg or snout. It was only after reaching in all the way to my shoulder that I managed to grasp for what felt like a rabbit’s ear. With a loud rumbling of my stomach, I quickly got a hold of the animal and dragged it out with a loud cheer.

I was about to begin the majestic ritual of life – the devouring of god-oh-so-delicious-meat – when a mewling comes tumbling in my direction. It was a clumsy, frizzy furball of smudgy chocolate brown with blue eyes and black-tipped ear with a distractingly erratic tail. It stares at me with eyes wide open, as if catching me red-handed with, well, a warm and belly-filling meal in my hand.

“What are you doing here, kitty?”

The mewling scrambles back up to its feet and started sniffing intently at me, its eyes locked onto my breakfast. As loud as a bell, the little lynx suddenly mews and waddles toward me.

“No, no, no. This is my breakfast,” I warned, waving a finger at it. ” Now, run along to your mommy.” It ignores me completely and creeps closer. Ugh, fine! I’ll give you some so stop making so much noise, okay? You’re going to bring all sorts of beasts here.

Half an hour and a full belly later, the little furry thing is in my arms licking its paws as I head back up to the campfire near the top of the hill with another large chunk of the roasted meat, discovered in the same burrow, wrapped in leaves and carefully placed my satchel. I made sure to leave the carcasses and guts near the burrow to throw off any would-be predators in the vicinity from stalking us back to camp. Conveniently, however, the lynx mother was nowhere to be seen when I looked around for her.

“Hmm, how convenient,” I said as I observe the place the lynx mother rested last night.

“What is?”

“The fact that the cub’s mother is not here. This sounds so much like the bedtime stories I used to hear; a stranger comes with a child, the hero goes hunting, the hero comes back, the stranger leaves child and hero adopts him.”

“So you’ll adopt him?” Cortana proposed, her voice expectant. I groan loudly, and the kitten mews just as loud as she unleashed her tiny claws into my shirt. Staring at the little mewling, I said,” Fine. But I get first dibs on all our meals okay? okay.”

“And it’s a she, by the way.”

We spent the entire day at the hilltop, picking up the pieces of this ancient monument of power and laying them out according to Cortana’s instructions, pausing every half-hour to rehydrate and chew on the leftover meal. This big black thing over here, gosh it’s heavy! That oddly-colored box over there – wait. I stopped abruptly mid-lift and dropped everything, causing the mewling hanging its head out from my satchel to stiffen in surprise.

” Natra, what’s wrong?” Cortana’s voice strained. “Your heartrate suddenly increased.”

” Yeah, in frustration apparently!” I groaned as I stomped away from the quasi-sacrilegious site. ” Sometimes, I wonder if I suffered a loss of IQ along with my memory. Isn’t there an easier way to do this? I’m a witch for god’s sake – or devil, whatever.”

I pressed my palms against the earth and recalled the true shape and design of the monument on the dungeon’s display screen. Keeping the visualisation of the structure as vivid as possible, I called out to the mana around me. Swiftly, as if waiting for my command all along, the tiny blue orbs swarmed into my vision from the surrounding forests with desperate agility as I channelled them into my hands and invoked the mystical words of Gaia. The mana rushed through my arms and into the ground, creating a sensation similar to when blood pumps through your vein after you wake up from sleeping on the wrong side. The ground glowed.