by Aaron Cayhill
Muffled footsteps on soft ground, the snapping of twigs as they are snapped underfoot, The swish of leaves, branches and trees psuhed aside by someone running at full speed, the labored breathing of the runner, and incomprehenisble angry shouts from behind. The latter obviously being what the figure is running from.
A dark forest rushing by, a small woman with long brown hair running at a reckless speed into the forest, a number of angry men clad in metal armor weilding crossbows and swords a few hundred yards behind her.
The woman, hardly more then the age of 18, pauses for a second looking behind her. She climbs up a nearby tree. A large one with thick foliage and numerous branches, perfect for concealment. She watches, holding her breath as the noisey party passes beneath her hiding place. She lets out a soft sigh of relief, and leans back against the tree trunk. She is crying. She softly mutters "I didn't mean too." Her eyes close as she remembers how she got herself into this predicament.
Her name is Katherine, and she survives by one of two ways, doing certain favors for certain people, and hunting game in the forest. Usually it's the latter she perfers, but when times get tough, the former is a last resort that usually gets her into trouble. Like now. The 'favor' she was paid to do involved two wizards. The first, her employer, required a certain something belonging the the second, and the second demanded an exhorbant price from the first for this certain item. So instead of paying the second, the first decided to have Katherine 'borrow' this item, as Katherine's 'favor' would cost a quarter of what it would to buy the item outright. The wiazard made quite clear what he wanted Catherine to 'borrow,' it was a shiny red bag, tied by a black string filled with a shimmering gold sort of powder. He didn't explain what it was, but he was paying Katherine about twice what she needed to survive the winter, so she took him up on his offer.
He didn't explain however, that the second wizard lived in a well fortified castle, which was also patrolled by a number of guards, a large number of which were pulled from their napping, drinking, and gambling to chase after her. It wasn't her fault that wizard;s lab tended to be a bit... flamible, and that the iron worker who made that candlestick was obviously either blind or drunk at the time when he fashioned the bottom. It wasn't her fault that the damn thing tipped over when you looked at it funny.
"Well that woudln't be a problem," Katherine thought "If I had gotten the damn bag out." But she hadn't, she was so startled by the sudden fire, she'd dropped the bag and managed to spill some of the dust on herself. The guards that suddenly came running weren't considerate enough to allow her time to pick it up before running for her life. She can't go back to collect payment without the bag, and she can't go back to get it. She really needs the money, and can't think of any way she can get it, so she's crying in frustration. It's just too hard to think right now, she's sore, tired, and just had to run through an unfamiliar forest with a dozen or so armed guards chasing after her. Katherine lays down on the thick branch, puts her head on her arm, and falls asleep.
She awakes, feeling refreashed, but still a bit sore. She drops to the ground and heads toward the general direction of home. After a few hours she pauses to take a seat on a log, and takes some dried meat out of a pouch on her belt. After her meal she gets up, only to find a small, for an adult, tiger staring at her. She freezes, the tiger pounces, it's paws crash into her chest, knocking her on her back. She clenches her eyes shut and waits for the bite that has got to be coming. After a good fifteen seconds, she opens here eyes, to find the tiger sniffing her. The tiger begins licking her face.
"Hey! Stop that!" says Katherine, trying to push the oversized cat off of her. Much o her disgust the cat gets it's tongue in here mouth as she gives voice to her annoyance. "Bleech!" screams Katherine, wiping her tongue on her sleeve to get rid of the tiger spit. She manages to wiggle out from under the tiger, who is looking at her quizically. She gets to he feet and begins to back away slowly, only to find the tiger following her. Katherine attempts to shoo it away, but the big cat keeps on following her. After awhile she just begins to ignore the tiger, hoping not giving it any attention will make it go away. After a bit she stops once again, to rest her legs.
Katherine pulls off her boots and begins absently massaging her sore feet while she looks around at her surroundings. She apprently has wandered into the begining of a swamp of some sort. Nearby a small, clear river flows. Katherine strips and jumps in, hoping the cool water will releave the itching, and the slight pain in her back. After washing her hair and giving herself a bit of a scrub to get rid of the sweat, dirt, and dust she's accumulated over the past few days, she climbs out of the river and lays down on a large rock nearby, letting the sun dry her off. The itching is gone, and the sun is warm. Suddenly feeling a little drowsy Katherine begins to doze off.
Katherine awakens after having slept for the rest of the day, and most of the night. Right now the sun is coming up and there is mist hanging over the water. Katherine finds a heavy, warm, large object laying partially on her. She pushes off the paws of the over-friendly tiger and gets up, she streaches and walks down to the river. She drops to her knees and leans over the water, to splash some water on her face to wake herself up, but she pauses. He hands are covered in fur. Katherine looks puzzled for a moment, and then moves her hands, in the water is her reflection, she looks exactly the same as she did when she last saw herself in the water, with the exception of tiger striped fur covering her entire body, and a long striped tail extending from her tailbone.
Katherine stares at her reflection for a moment. Her face runs a gauntlet of emotions, fear, shock, bewilderment, acceptence, and finally happiness. She wonders what exactly it was that she was supposed to still. Elsewhere her employer wonders how he's going to get the 'perfect lover' powder now that the only supplier's workshop has burned down.
Copyright 2002 by Aaron Cayhill. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.
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