Cat’s hand moved down to Hildegard’s shoulder, rubbing it gently. The older girl felt so cold. “Hey, do you need more fire? Your fever is still low, right?”
“Mm…I’m alright, Cat…Don’t worry ‘bout me…” Hildegard mumbled.
It was easy enough to tell Cat not to worry, but it didn’t stop her from doing just that. She put the back of her hand against her sister’s forehead. It was warm, a slight fever. Cat sighed as she started to gently cool her own hand down, rubbing Hildegard’s head.
The doctor had indeed come that morning, but he couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with Hildegard. None of them could, whether they were magical healers or doctors. The best that they had told Cat was that there was possibly a curse of some sort at work, but none could identify the source of it. They all promised to look into it. Even Kebechet had shown up, but her divine magic had only eased the symptoms. The next day, they had returned.
Cat heard a knock on the door. Turi was standing there.
“Hey Cat, received a letter today from your mom.” Turi said. “She says she’s heading back. She should be home before the end of the week.”
“Good. H-hey Hilde, did you hear that?”
“Mm…Yeah…it will be good to…have her back…” Hilde said, her eyes still shut. Cat was just relieved she was still conscious.
“I brought back some dinner, Cat. If you want to go eat, I’ll watch over Hilde.” Turi said, coming to kneel besides the soldier. Cat was thankful that they had Turi during this time. The Sicilian champion presence allowed the two of them to take shifts watching and tending to Hilde. Cat was still trying to go through her day to day routine, though she had cut her magic practice to care for Hilde. During the day, Turi stayed at home with the girl.
“Y-yeah…Thanks.” Cat said, rising from her knees. “I’ll probably take a bit of a rest too. Had a long day at the field…” Cat had lost her last sparring match with Rosa today. For some reason, the red headed champion just seemed to have an edge lately, probably because Cat was tired. At least she had Asha to help her relax.
Cat left the bedroom, heading to the dining table where she saw a carton with pasta and two salads, the food that Turi had brought home. Cat grabbed a plate and a fork and sat down, sliding the pasta onto her plate and taking one of the salads. She didn’t have the energy to cook because of how much time she spent by Hilde’s side, otherwise she’d never have allowed Turi to bring home something as simple as a salad.
Cat took a few bites before she took out the book she had been given and opened it to the freshest page. There was a picture of Asha, looking bored. Cat grinned and started to write.
C: Hey, don’t tell me you’re just sitting around waiting for me!
A: Ah, Cat! Hey! Hehe, we just had some downtime here. What’s up?
C: Hilde’s still sick…And Rosa beat me two to one today…
A: Aw, well, you’ll get her next time!
C: I’m worried about Hilde…
A: From what you’ve said, Cat, she’s a strong girl! She’s not going to leave you, just like that.
C: She’s getting worse every day though.
A: But she has you and Turi to help her. You’ll see! You’re keeping her fed and warm, right? You’ll be surprised what that can do…
C: Mmm, true, I guess. I just feel kind of…helpless…
Asha didn’t answer right away. Cat watched the book, waiting for her to return. When she didn’t say anything for some time, Cat frowned.
A: Hey, Cat, I’ve gotta go, I’m busy. We just got slammed here. Talk to you later, bye.
C: Mm, bye.
Cat sighed as she closed the book and went back to eating. Talking with Asha did calm her down some, enough that she felt she could keep her dinner down without losing it due to nerves. Still….Without someone to talk to, Cat just felt so alone. She took a bite of salad, her whole body shaking.
No crying. She scolded herself. You’re just tired. Turi will watch her, you should get some rest.
After she had finished her dinner, she cleaned up the plate and tossed the containers into the garbage. Passing by Hilde’s room, Cat looked inside to find Turi still there, holding a cool compress to Hilde’s forehead. Cat quickly turned away and scurried to her own room, quietly closing the door.
It did not take long for her to fall asleep after her body flopped onto the bed.
The next day was pretty much like any other for Cat. She woke up early in the morning, checked to make sure Hilde was still asleep, went for her run and then headed to the training field. Rosa was waiting there, as always, that cocky smile on her face goading Cat, sneering before the day had truly began.
“You ready to get your ass beat, Cat?” Rosa said.
“Oh, you’re so going down! I’m so not in the mood for this.” Cat said, picking up a weapon from the racks. They were no longer allowed to use their own weapons, much to Rosa’s annoyance. Capi had come down one day and forbid them from fighting with real weapons, and Rosa had complained and gnashed her teeth…but the wolf had stayed firm. So now they used the training weapons, blunt, though they could still hurt if the person knew how to use them.
Cat circled around opposite Rosa, before lunging for her. Rosa deflected, her eyebrow shooting up in surprise. Cat usually waited until there was an opening, using her speed not her strength to get the opening edge. Today though, Cat was on the offensive. She charged Rosa and each time was pushed back, but she wasn’t giving Rosa any room to breathe. She charged, thrown back, charged, thrown back.
The crowd cheered for her, it looked like she was keeping Rosa on the defensive. Rosa grimaced, her eyes lighting in a fire. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Is this some kinda joke? Don’t you dare play around with me, Cat!”
With one swift motion, a step forward, her spear swinging, Rosa stopped Cat’s thrust with surprising ease, causing the sword to fly from her hand and hit the sand with a thud. Cat hadn’t been keeping Rosa on the edge at all…
“Now are we gonna do this for real? Ain’t got time if you’re gonna half-ass it like that? You gotta be kidding me…”
Cat rose to her feet, clenching her fists. Rosa just took a step forward, keeping her spear down.
“What the hell is up with you today?”
The people were silent around them, all waiting for Cat’s response. Cat didn’t look away from Rosa’s eyes as her body started to shake. Rosa, for her part, stayed silent, even though it looked like Cat was on the verge of tears. Suddenly, without saying a word, Cat turned on her heels and stormed off to the showers. The people parted for her, all watching her back as she left the field.
The water felt good as Cat just stood underneath it, letting it run down her body. She took a deep breath to calm herself and steady her nerves.
“Oi, you, Blue. Just what was that?”
Cat’s hands balled into fists as she heard the voice of Rosa behind her. She didn’t need this right now. “Go away.”
Rosa stepped into the neighboring shower, as she turned the water on as well. “Nah, I ain’t leaving this so easily. You’re the only fighter here that’s worth anything right now and you better believe it pisses me off that you’re throwing fights.”
Cat’s eyes shot open as she spun to face the other girl. “I am not!”
“Ya, you are!” Rosa said, staring Cat down, not flinching in front of her anger. “You think I can’t tell? You’re getting angrier every day, it’s making ya sloppy. Used to be you could keep up with me, but now yer just not even trying!”
“Shut up.” Cat said, clenching her teeth. “It’s none of your business.”
“It’s ‘cause of your sister, right? Haven’t seen her on the field in a while. Shame too. I’ve been looking for a rematch. Though maybe I’m just outclassing ya, rather than you throwing games, is that it?” Rosa asked with a sneer. Cat kept glaring, her heart beating faster. “Bet even if she was well now, I’d wipe the floor with her.”
That was it, more than Cat could take. Without even thinking about it, Cat raised her fist and reached back to throw it square at the redhead’s cocky mouth. She hadn’t even started to throw it before Rosa decked her right across the face. Cat fell to the ground, her hand clutching her teeth as she tasted blood on her tongue.
“Ya think I don’t know what you’re doing, Cat? Using all that rage you got building up inside of you?” Rosa cracked her knuckles, looking down with a fierce, furious look. “All that anger building up inside you like a furnace? That kind of rage is my weapon, not yours. You try to fight like that, you’re going to lose. Every single time. So knock it off, because it ain’t fun. And if you try that shit again in the field, I’ll beat you down until you never think to insult me like that again.”
Cat pulled her quivering body to all fours only for Rosa to deliver a kick right to her stomach, not holding back. Cat fell to her side as she gasped, trying to recover her breathing as Rosa stepped out of the shower, leaving Cat there in the fetal position on the floor.
The door to the locker room slammed shut. Cat couldn’t hold it back anymore as she started to weep. She hated Rosa. She hated Rosa so much right now. She wished Rosa had never come to this city. It was only after her arrival that Hilde had gotten sick. That had left Cat so alone.
After a few minutes, Cat finally got to her feet. In a daze, her body still shaking, she turned off the water, dried herself, and got dressed. Each step home felt slow as she forced her feet forward. She couldn’t even bear to look into Hildegard’s room as she passed it. Heading right to her own room, she collapsed on the bed, just lying there for a few minutes. Her lips were swollen from where she had bit them when being punched. It hurt, but she could bear with it.
Reaching over to her nightstand, she picked up the leather book that let her talk with Asha. Flipping to the first empty page, Cat picked up the fountain pen and began to write.
C: Hey, Asha.
Cat sat there for some time, staring at the blank page. Where was Asha? Why wasn’t she responding? Cat’s heart started to race again with each second she waited. Finally, Asha replied.
A: Hey, Cat. Wow, are you alright? You look awful!
The picture next to Asha’s line showed her with her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.
C: Got punched, but I can take it. Busy?
A: Yeah, a little, might get pulled away at any second.
C: What do you do all day anyway?
There was no reply. Cat waited, patiently at first, but then as nothing came, she frowned. She started to write more quickly in the book.
C: I asked you a question, Asha.
A: Yeah, I know…But it’s not important.
C: What do you mean it’s not important? You ask me all sorts of questions about me, and when I ask you one, you won’t tell me?
C: Come on, tell me. Now.
A: I’m a soldier.
Cat let out a deep breath. She wondered what her picture looked like to Asha right now. Asha’s looked…nervous. For a split second, Cat felt great satisfaction before immediately feeling guilty. Still, she was annoyed that Asha hadn’t ever told Cat anything about herself.
C: Alright. Where are you from?
A: I’m from Turkey. I grew up there, though I’m pretty far from there now. We left Turkey to head more south. It’s where I was recruited.
C: So who are you fighting?
A: Monsters, just like you. When I’m called away it means there’s some crazy demon or monster attacking our position. Can’t just let them run all amok can we?
Her picture was smiling. Cat couldn’t help but smile back.
C: No, I guess not. So what’s the biggest one you ever saw?
By the time that Cat had closed the book to go to sleep, she no longer felt quite so angry.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=26&sl=261