• Joshua Blaylock

Chapter Five: Regan

Kevron, Conlan and Mare had been hunting and foraging for a couple hours before Regan arrived. A large basket hung from a branch nearby, filled with fruits, leaves, nuts and flowers. Above it hung the carcasses of three chipmunks, two birds and a Madra Púca. Conlan perched on a branch, eating a fruit, while Kevron and Mare shared a branch on the same tree, their arms around each other, looking into one another’s eyes.

“You know that if Shaughan catches you, he will be furious, right?” Regan hopped onto a branch near them, standing and holding on to the one above her. “He will never be ok with a relationship that will relegate you to a first-level status.”

“He’ll learn to be ok with it,” Mare retorted. “Father would never allow them to force his daughter to live on the lower level.”

“It’s not his will that matters. It is that of the people, and tradition dictates that, unless at least one of you is green or blue, you must live on the bottom.”

“I have seen him influence people. With the aid of the Fuil Bláth, his skill is impressive.”

“It will never work. Neither he nor Sila, once she takes over, will have the power to change that. And trust me, you do not want to raise a family on the lower level. Kevron, you should know better than to pursue such a relationship.”

“Our soul link is strong,” Kevron shot back.

“Then the pain will be strong. And the sooner you break the link, the easier it will be for both of you.”

The friendships a Si held in their early years often had one of two effects on the soul. They would naturally grow into matching shapes, or into complimentary ones. Kevron and Mare’s link may not have been one of two souls destined for one another, but it had been massaged into a bond that would tear into both souls if it were ever ripped apart.

Kevron gathered his composure so he could give Mare a kiss that would not feel angry before standing up and jumping to the lower branches.

“It’s always something with you. Stop trying to be my mother.”

“I’m sorry, Kevron.” Regan jumped lower, attempting to follow him. “I didn’t come out here to lecture you. I actually came out here to tell you I was sorry for earlier.” She struggled to keep up with him as he danced across the branches, his agility a stark contrast to the awkward brother she was accustomed to.

“Did you use the Fuil Bláth?”

“I’m hunting.” Annoyance rang clear in his voice. “Of course, I used it. I have to. You know how it is for me.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to judge you for it. I’m just — I’m impressed at how well you are keeping your footing and how quickly you’re traveling. Could you please slow down? It’s difficult for me to keep up.”

As she spoke, Regan hopped to a branch that was cracked and almost dead. It gave more than expected under her weight, throwing her off balance. “Kevron!” she screamed, as she slipped down, grabbing onto the branch and trying, frantically, to pull herself up.

With a quick, effortless motion, Kevron spun on the trunk of a thin tree, redirecting his momentum back toward his sister. He got as close to her as possible, anchored himself, and reached out. Regan pulled herself upward and shifted her weight to one arm, intending to use the other to grab his hand.

He heard the cracks in the wood as she shifted. He knew what was coming next, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. The branch broke, and his sister tumbled to the ground below, scratching her face, arms and legs on the way down.

Kevron had been following a Cat Púca, which had also stopped when his sister screamed. Now, as she hit the ground and her legs buckled underneath her, it was running back. Kevron determined an apposite position and jumped down, landing on the beast’s back. He stuck his knife in its hide, and it let out a blood-curdling scream.

With the beast momentarily pinned down, he ripped the satchel from around his neck and tossed it to his sister. “Your leg is bleeding. There are bandages in there.”

The skill with which he wrestled the black feline was impressive. He avoided its attacks almost as though he had seen them beforehand, and he always struck back with an effective blow. The beast was twice his size, but Regan never questioned that he had the upper hand. Before she finished bandaging her leg, he had already taken the creature down and was heading over to check on her.

“Here.” He helped her finish the bandage. “It looks like it should be alright. Can you try to stand?” He pulled her arm around his shoulders and helped her up. She was sore all over, but she had no trouble standing. She picked up his satchel and pulled it over her head so that it rested across her chest.

“I’m impressed,” she said, with equal parts resignation and admiration. “I have never seen anything like that before.”

“Cait Púca like this one are what attacked Conlan. They’re what drove me to do this. I’ve fought at least a dozen of them, and by this point, most of their moves are predictable. But they move too fast for me without the nectar.”

Kevron and Regan walked toward the nearest climbable tree. “I’m still not happy about it. You can clearly handle yourself out here, but I can’t stop being afraid of what will happen to you if you accidentally take too much.”

“I know, and I understand.” The fight had extinguished any anger Kevron had held toward his sister, opening the possibility for constructive conversation. “Parts of the process are excruciating, and I would rather not use it if I can avoid it. But I see no other option right now.”

He stopped for a moment. “We need to hurry. Get up that tree.” His words were quick and urgent. He pointed to the tree, now only a few feet in front of them. Regan rushed to it as fast as her sore body and hurt leg would allow, and she tried to climb.

Kevron grabbed Regan by the waist and lifted her so she could reach a branch. He put his hands under her feet and pushed, aware that the soreness from the fall would make it more difficult to pull herself up.

As she pulled her second foot onto the branch, Kevron turned and pushed out his hand, catching the beast in the throat and causing it to flip backward. He moved his arm and lunged forward to avoid its inevitable attempt to paw at him as it struggled to recover before hitting the ground.

His sister had made it into the tree, and now he stood alone, trapped on the ground with another beast. Perhaps this was a blessing. With a third Púca to count among their kills, they would have plenty of meat to bring back to the village.

Regan watched from the safety of her low branch as Kevron fought the large black beast with a skill similar to the last fight. Similar, but not quite the same. Perhaps he was getting tired, or perhaps, with her out of danger, he no longer pushed himself as hard.

Kevron felt strange. This new beast presented a greater challenge than the last. He dodged a giant paw and plunged his knife into the creature’s shoulder, removing it as he sidestepped. He collected himself while he waited for it to lunge again. His back to the beast, giving it a false sense of security, he listened for the approach.

“Kevron!” He heard the scream moments before feeling claws enter the middle of his back, followed by teeth on his shoulder. He had not heard the creature, had heard nothing but the faint sound of his sister’s scream — too late to do anything about it. The Fuil Bláth was wearing off. Not now! Please, not now! The effects of it wearing off were often crippling. He stabbed the creature in its stomach and pushed it off him. He reached for his satchel to grab another drop. It was probably a bad idea, but what other choice did he have?

His satchel was not there. He had given it to Regan, and she had carried it up the tree with her.

Kevron’s eyes went dark. His senses were failing him. His hearing was back, though, and he dodged an attack, kicking the beast as it lunged.

“Help!” was the only word he could manage. As his sight returned, he rushed toward the tree where his sister sat, perched on the lowest branch.

Regan rummaged through Kevron’s pack, uncertain of what to do as he raced toward her. There were no other weapons, but there, in a small pocket, was the vile of Fuil Bláth. She pulled it out to toss it at Kevron, only to see the creature come down hard on top of him, pinning him on the ground. He looked helpless, and she had no time to think. She needed to act.

She opened the bottle in her hand and poured a single drop onto her tongue. There was a hard kick in her chest, and in a moment the world around her changed, became more alive. She could see, hear and feel the world around her with overwhelming clarity.

Within a second, her attention returned to her brother, who was struggling to keep the Cat Púca from tearing into him. He lay on the ground with tears in his eyes and fear covering his face, his helplessness far removed from the confident warrior he had been a few minutes ago.

She jumped down, careful not to agitate the wound in her leg, and grabbed the Púca, tearing it off Kevron. Regan moved to pick up the knife that he had dropped a few feet away before lunging at the beast. The swiftness of her thoughts and movements was enrapturing. It was as though she had released control of her body to some other force, which knew what she wanted and executed it with much more skill and finesse. She attacked with purpose, quickly pinning the massive beast onto the ground and plunging the knife into its neck over and over.

Soon, the rage that had driven her dissipated, and the beast lay lifeless underneath her. She pulled the knife from the creature’s throat and stood up, her arms and chest covered in its blood.

Kevron had already recovered, and the Fuil Bláth was no longer affecting him. He sat up as his sister started walking toward him.

“We need to get up that tree.” Kevron turned toward the tree again as he rose to his feet. He was hurt, bleeding from the gashes in his back and shoulder, but his determination to get Regan to safety would not allow the pain to become a hinderance. “More will come. They always do. And if it’s a pack, you won’t survive with just that knife.”

They grabbed the two Púcas and hoisted them up into the tree as they climbed up themselves. Finally, they could rest. Regan reached into Kevron’s bag and pulled out some leaves and bandages. The leaves would help draw out any infection and speed up the healing process. The bandages would help stop the bleeding and bond the leaves onto the skin. She dressed the worst wounds on his back and shoulder.

They sat together for a while on neighboring branches, not speaking much, until the sky began to darken.

“We should go back,” Kevron said as he stood up. “Mare said she needs to be back by dark.”

Regan stood and immediately sat back down. “I must have stood up too quickly. I’m feeling a little dizzy.”

Kevron held out his hand to help her. She grabbed it and stood up again, more slowly this time. As he leaned over to pick up one of the dead Púcas, she stumbled hard against the trunk of the tree.

“Kevron.” Worry shot across her face. “Something’s wrong.” She jerked again as something kicked in her chest, similar to the moment when she had first taken the Fuil Bláth. Her arms wrapped around the tree, and she held tight.

Another kick. “Kevron?”

Kevron jumped over and grabbed his sister. He held her tight and did his best to keep them steady as her body lurched forward every few seconds, like something had kicked her in the back. Tears filled her eyes, and her face looked confused and terrified.

“You must be coming down,” he said, attempting to comfort her. This was different from how he came down, but many aspects of the nectar’s effects varied from Si to Si.

“Kevron, I don’t think…” She jerked again, hard enough that she almost fell out of his grip. “It hurts so much.”

He looked down at her face, filled with worry and pain. There, across her lower lip, was a thin crimson line. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. She jerked again, and blood shot from her mouth. Streams of red fell slowly from her nostrils.

“No, no, no, no, no.” He kept repeating the words as he pulled her to him, rocking her back and forth. “I’m so sorry, Regan. I love you.”

“I’m sorry —”

Another kick.

“too, Kevron —”

And another.

“I’m so sorry.”

She seized one last time and fell limp in his arms.

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