“I am hopelessly in love with a memory.
An echo from another time, another place” Michael Faudet
Snow. Lots and lots of snow.
An endless sea of a thick white blanket that seemed to engulf everything it landed on and smother it. Whilst how delicate and beautiful the snowflakes were when they danced down from the heavens, the seeming endless days of staring at nothing but white and the odd exposed brown of a tree trunk was enough to drag down even the most cheerful of occupants.
If it wasn’t the snow then it was its partner ice that swiftly turned the fluffy fun into a deadly underpaw hazard and of late had reduced the number of felines participating in activities within the now established camp setting.
Thankfully, even though the Healers had braced themselves to expect a difficult time through the colder months with a reduced herb supply, the den they had constructed had seen little activity since the arrival of Shadow Empire’s newest members albeit an odd scratch or sniff here and there. Which caused for little complaint.
Still early past the first rays of a bright dawn, golden furred Quintin had been awake for awhile. Instead of being up in the hollow of the fallen tree trunk that sheltered over the excavated den below, he had crashed out on the bed off moss usually left bare for the potential need for a patient. His amber eyes rested heavy and dull as his stare remained transfixed on the cerulean fabric that wrapped between his clenched forepaws. Maybe he’d overdone it? Maybe he’d spent too long out in the forest? Maybe it was licking that cold rock that was to blame?
Shivering and laying on his side, Quintin tried to justify a reason for his body’s lack of enthusiasm. He’d have to get up at some point, the chores wouldn’t work themselves but little did he feel the spirit of his usual get up and go mentality.
Feeling the soft yet dulling fabric beneath his paw pads, his heart yearned that familiar ache that seemed these days to be a part of him like how a shadow sticks to one's foot. An invisible thread, tied to a feeling that he couldn’t quite admit too or shake off.
He thought he’d found the answer that evening in the forest, the wind was cool and his heart full with hope for a new start for the spring forthcoming but after confessing truthful words to the stacked stones beneath his favourite tree his heart found loneliness and heartache instead of a resolution. He had needed her to be there that night, sitting watching him with her big bright green eyes and wearing a heartfelt smile. Maybe if his wishes ever came close to being granted he’d be feeling differently right now?
Naivety he blamed the most as it haunted him like a predator in the darkness, forever inside somewhere would he be that little orphaned cub who believed the world outside the nursery was full of adventure and excitement, and whom watched and waited everyday to catch a glimpse of the only girl who had caught and kept his attention.
He had been too young and inexperienced at the time he had been approached by Thalia’s adopted daughter, his dear friend when he was informed about her decision to leave the safety of the Empire to look for her relatives. Swapping his saddened words and wholehearted promises about always being friends, for hers in return and her most treasured blue scarf, these last moments Quintin should have cherished but instead they fuelled a deeper regret.
Feeling the soft moss tickle his whiskers, Quintin didn’t have the energy to flinch. Its embrace around his body outline was a mild relief against the Winter’s air but it wasn’t comparable to what being snuggled against another feline felt like. He missed the days he had spent in the nursery with Zemar and the Ocelynx Trio, they all had been such small cubs needing love and comfort and Anaba had been only happy to oblige in providing it. In a way the moss around him reminded him of his mentor Sara, he hadn’t expected her to offer him a comforting embrace after they had talked about her fears before Mulligan’s due date but although she wasn’t there in the healer den at that moment the warmth of their growing friendship was still curled around him in the retreating darkness.
It seemed as this time of year was one of clashing differences, a leopard hybrid mused as she padded into camp. The cold ice beneath her paws bit at her pads but the colour almost perfectly matched her flanks, it was this time of year that she loved hunting the most, she could stride around the territory with little thought for her visibility unlike most of the other cats for a few moons and it felt like bliss. And yet the shining blanket caused other issues, her eyes ached almost constantly with the bright glow that emitted from all around and the reflected sunlight had made her delicate skin tender in places where her fur wasn’t quite thick enough… mostly her scars along her stomach and her face. But even this tenderness wasn’t enough to banish the freedom the whiteness gifted her or the cosy warmth she enjoyed with her family during the nights, piled up together for warmth. Sure Proteus’ feet in her face was never ideal but the joy she felt with them pushed back those irritations.
She inhaled deeply as she paced into the camp proper, trying to catch scents other than the pawful of relatively plump rabbits in her jaws. She caught the faint scent and cries of her offspring faffing over something in the corner with their cousin Neil, to which all she could manage was a chuff. They were almost old enough and mature enough to be apprentices now… And boy wasn’t the camp ready for it… She was worried how Jay would cope with the pressure of training and new things but she would just have to hope that he could be given a suitable mentor… She shook her head of the worries and padded over to the kill pile, depositing all but two of the rodents before ‘looking’ around the camp once more. Where was Quintin? He was usually up by now? They had decided today would be a good day to make sure the makeshift dens were properly aired and checked for lice and mites. With so many cats crammed into the less than ideal dens in the cold weather and outbreak of parasites would not only cause a great deal of irritation but could cause cats to choose to sleep alone in the cold nights. They really didn’t need an outbreak of flu this year on top of everything…
She padded over to their little den with ears pricked. Had he gone to his tree again today? She had too wished to visit their guardian at her own ‘shrine’ but the frozen waters around the old camp were just too treacherous to risk a trip there. She’d have to either wait till the thaw or find somewhere else for prayers and thoughts. But no he seemed to be crashed out on the patients nest? Rather than his log? What was wrong? Her ears flicked back instinctively, her tailed curled with worry.
“Quin? Are you okay?”
It was the shape of the sudden shadow on the earthy back wall that captured the attention of the Lynx hybrid as he lay with his head on the edge of the gathered moss pile. The appearance of a pair of rounded ears and a smooth muzzle on slender forelegs had already caused his brain to amalgamate the small silhouette outline into a wishful, heart palpitating desperation.
“Evira?” Quintin uttered weakly, his voice broken and dry as he tried to lift his face off of the floor.
No sooner had his triangular ears perked up full of an initial hopeful interest, that the white spotted markings surrounded by velvet ebony crashed back down sullenly as the shadow elongated itself to match its much taller owner.
It wasn’t her, it was never likely going to be. Unless the scent trails to the new camp were strongly traceable, the probability of a possibility for a feline to walk into the new healer den when they hadn’t been present in the Empire for many moons and whom would only have been used to the old camp, that was still treacherously waterlogged was slimmer than impossible.
Dejected, he must have closed his eyelids because it was Sara’s concerned voice that caused him to reopen them again and to see her slender white pelted frame towering over him. He couldn’t remember watching her fully enter into the den where they both worked and healed together, nor recall how the two rabbits now came to be slumped in his eye line, but to see himself laid out in the reflection of her scarlet orbs he guessed she was already assessing him like the caring individual he knew she was.
“Oh, erm..morning…” Quintin began, weakly trying to lift his front half of his body ready to attempt to put weight on his paws to greet his mentor and friend.
“I don’t know, I just don’t feel like my usual...”
He partially finished, considering his choice of words a sudden understatement as one of his ankles gave way before he could complete his sentence and he found himself lying back once again in the moss pile on the opposite side to where he had moments ago been resting.
With warmth rushing and flushing to his face, his mind was too preoccupied to even consider his embarrassment in front of Sara or even what the tell tale signs of his symptoms were indicating.
Even laying still his body felt heavy like it belonged to somebody else, a species much larger than the small lynx hybrid he was and all the while he felt encumbered, the cerulean blue of the scarf fabric nestled amongst the tiny leafy tendrils tormented his eyes in a slow moving dance whilst a young voice rang clear in his ears:
‘No Evi, not your scarf...it’s your favourite?... Are you sure? You’re really giving it… to me?’
The thoughts of a relaxed breakfast discussing the merits of using the lavender Scratch had brought back from a recent raid alongside their usual mix of lemon balm and spearmint and whether they should experiment to decide if it was better or not by using different mixtures on the different dens.
The shock of finding her colleague laid out looking decidedly under the weather was enough to cause Sara to drop her catch where she stood. She rushed to his side as he flopped to the side when trying to get up. “Quin? What’s wrong?” She quickly slipped into healer mode, eyeing him up. Symptoms: delirium, fatigue, body weakness.. She lifted her paw to his head laying it gently on his forehead. He felt quite warm to the touch… Fever. She shook her head… She had been worried when he had been out for most of the day yesterday… It was cold enough that even some of the snow leopards had been dropping the odd complaint. Though his coat was by no means short, it wouldn’t protect him from long periods… Especially if he hadn’t been moving, which she suspected if he’d gone to visit his tree… He’d seemed alright last night though..
She sighed to herself, his mumblings of Evira hurt… The young cat had been a good friend to her Quin… She’d left looking for Evander, Ayanna and Theseus… The pang she felt at the thought of Ayanna was the same she got everytime she looked at her adopted nieces and nephew… Joe looked so much like her mother. She missed her mentor, they’d had a rocky start but by her graduation they had warmed and hearing she and Evander were going to have cubs had excited her so much. She wanted to be close to her mentors cubs. What she hadn’t expected was Ayanna and Evander to go missing. She had been helping baby sit that day.. Chatting with Nebula who had been recovering from her loss. It had been lovely, spending time with the little babies while their mother got a well deserved break. Until that break seemed to go longer than it should have. The babies got hungry before long and Nebula lended her own milk that she had been waiting to dry up. Sara with a few others had volunteered to go on patrol to look for the missing parents but they had returned empty handed… Nebula and Drake took on the newborns and the empire tried to move on, as much as it hurt. Evira had disappeared not long after, along with Salvia her apprentice.. It wasn't known if they were ambushes or if Evira had gone looking for her family… It sounded like it was still greatly hurting poor Quin…
“Its okay Quin… It’ll be okay....” She murmured as she brushed his pelt gently… His eyes were still closed, but she couldn’t quite tell if he was conscious or if he was just thinking deeply… “I’m just going to grab something to help, I’m still here” She spoke softly as she rose and quickly raided their herb store. Quickly grabbing some Feverfew leaves and a common mallow flower. The Feverfew as its name suggested would help reduce the fever while the Common Mallow would ease any pains and promote calmness… Fresh would have been better but dried would work well enough. She quickly chewed them into a paste and placed it on a sycamore leaf from their pile of good large leaves for such purposes.
“Here eat this…” She nudged it in front of his head. “If you eat it all up you might even get to eat this nice rabbit I caught you” She jested but she just wanted to make him smile.
Warm and maternal was the tone of the voice that banished the silence from descending over the still resting body of the young male. Through heavy eyelids Sara’s pale coat seemed to make her float gracefully like an ethereal mist suspended over a moonlit river or a willow the wisp that followed you through the trees out of the corner of your eye.
To the part of him that wanted to be well and not causing any bother, hearing Sara’s reassuring words should have been enough to provide him a brief relief but instead, as the warmth from his rising temperature continued to have him in it’s grasp the partial sight of her moving away to retrieve some medicinal herbs cause him to attempt to lurch out after her fleeting shadow.
“Please….” A forlorn mew of a plea of desperation escaped past his lips as he believed his paw was fully extended to reach out into nothingness to retrieve what was escaping him.
“Please don't let this be goodbye … I can’t…Please don’t go alone”
Her family. Just like the family that he himself had lost to the unknown of the forest. He couldn’t blame Evirafor thinking about wanting to know they were safe, once upon a time before the war against the city, before he himself became a gladiator then a healer apprentice, Quintin had considered doing the very same.
Thankfully the shadows had sent him a wake up call to show him the reality that could happen and they had allowed Arkita to return from the fight emotional crippled but alive. The aftermath from the war had changed his outlook but as much as he chose to dwell on the what if’s, he had been too inexperienced to have been any help to his father and mentor during this period of time and too young to have accompanied Evira across the Lightning border.
He had just grown up too late and likely been asleep that one early autumn night dreaming of patrolling the forest again with Seidon or climbing trees with Arkita in the Silvered Woods as his friend slipped away into the darkness. He would never know.
As Sara returned from the herb store and sat neatly preparing the plants in front of him, the smell of the crushed medicinal parts aroused Quintin’s sense of smell and he twitched his pink nose in the direction of the paste she had made. He hadn’t really eaten a great deal since the day before but even in his weakened state food didn’t seem appealing, even if it was rabbit. She knew him too well.
The shape of the leaf she had chosen though made the corners of his rounded mouth attempt to form a smile. Sycamore leaves had always been his favourite, from his first leaf that he had found as a tiny cub on his disastrous adventure away from his mother to the beautiful shapes of autumnal coloured leather that Eleka had made to ornament his armour. They were his choice, a personal symbol and reminder.
Widening his amber eyes, Quintin took far longer than he thought studying the details of Sara facial profile down to concentrating on the delicate grey markings on her brow “Thank you…Sara” he mumbled, finding a moments serenity in her caring presence.
Pawing gingerly at the paste on the leaf, if he were in a better state of mind he would have been wondering how other individuals usually were feeling when they were presented with relief for their ailments on a leaf platter or contemplating the potential taste of the familiar herbs that Sara had brought back from the herb supply. But right then and there he would have been lucky to remember what the herbs were called let alone what they looked like.
Catching a final whiff of the scent of the Feverfew as he weakly brought the mix to touch his tongue it’s daisy like flower structure instantly came to mind. It closely resembled Chamomile and that smell reminded him of…
Hmmm… thankfully the memory of a woodland walk laughing in pleasant company and pretending to be a polite gentleman had distracted him long enough to swallow the slug of paste that left dry woody bits in the back of this throat. It certainly didn’t taste like rabbit but he trusted Sara though, wholeheartedly and he wasn’t in a fit enough state to argue with her anyway for refusing her kindness.
Worry creased the females forehead as she watched her collegue gulp down the mush of leaves and flowers. She kneaded the ground as she waited. Glad at least he was still of sound enough mind to listen to her… But she could still hear his soft words.. Asking for it not to be goodbye.. He wasn’t okay. Not in the slightest.
“There now that's down you we can wait for it to fix you all up” She moved to lie beside him, tail curled around him in comfort. “Do you want to eat your rabbit? Or do you want to wait a bit?” She nudged him gently, trying to keep him in the present. It was never good to have a patient wandering off on you, physically or mentally. “Either way… We need to talk about what’s bothering you…” She lent over and gave his head a gentle lick, both testing his temperature and giving him comfort at the same time. She wouldn’t usually be quite so affectionate with a patient.. But this was no usual patient.. No this was Quintin.. Her apprentice.. Her family.
She had never been the closest with her mentors. She and Ayanna had had a rocky start.. And though Thalia had opened up to her eventually, she had never been the warmest of cats. She didn’t want to be a cat others felt they couldn’t approach or talk to. How would she help them if she didn’t understand what was going on on the inside. A cat couldn’t heal their outside when they were still hurting on the inside.
“Please Quin, never be afraid to talk to me. About anything. I will always endeavour to help” She kept her body pressed to his. She didn’t want him to suffer from cold draughts while in such a delicate state.
Feeling her presence as Sara’s larger body shape carefully positioned itself next to him on the bed of lush moss, Quintin found himself gravitating to huddle in alongside her and nestle contentedly, as she wrapped him in the embrace of her soft tail.
Immediately feeling the benefit from being sheltered away from the chill of the winter’s air creeping in the entrance way, he exhaled heavily with a sigh.
It was still too soon for the properties of the herbs that he had ingested to provide him some form of medicinal relief but feeling the rough tongue of the maternal Leopard hybrid smoothing his forehead fur ruffle had already filled him with that warm comforting feeling that he had briefly experienced when Sara had pulled him close in an affectionate embrace not that long ago.
Doing his best to keep his amber eyes open, Quintin tried to maintain focus on Sara’s soothing tone rather than allow his weakened body to give in to the tendrils of possible unconsciousness. At first his dreams were a wonderful place to retreat to, they were somewhere when yesterday could be a today and tomorrow never had to become another day of harsh reality.
But now even in his dreams he couldn’t mask the truth anymore, ever since he had fallen to an emotional low of licking a rock his mind had represented as his missing friend, Quintin’s soft heart had been exposed.
Shaking his rounded muzzle, in a polite yet silent decline in response to eating the offered rabbit there was little chance of him enjoying it or keeping it down as hearing Sara encouraging him to talk suddenly churned the pit of bile at the bottom of his stomach.
Would talking help? Having confided in someone his fears about his lost mother had helped him grow with Arkita’s help and even though his father had originally been his mentor, he had also become the first link to Quintin having a real family. Just like being in the company of Sara, she too he felt closer to more than as just his teacher.
Glancing across to meet the blue of the scarf fabric on the ground again, he knew as much as he cared he didn’t want to feel alone in the darkness of grieving any longer.
“I… Miss Her” a quiet few opening words, barely audible left his mouth like a heavy exhale as Quintin’s head and gaze fell away into the depth of the moss pile.
“I miss... Evira..”
The syllables of her name felt like saying a forbidden word, a name that ran through his mind constantly but rarely did it make it off of his tongue in conversation since the day she disappeared.
“Sometimes... when I close my eyes I can picture her so vividly. It’s like her voice whispers to me on the gentle wind and her laughter echoes through the silvered trees…” Quintin began with a struggle as each word desperately wanted to catch in his throat as the raw emotion began to express itself into the form of speech
“I catch her scent in the herbs that we gather...and see her smile in the sunshine yellow of the chamomile flowers…”
“She’s everywhere…..except where my heart wishes she should be”
“….” Overwhelmed with the flood of sadness and choked by emotional relief, Quintin’s voice broke down into a couple of breaths of incoherent mumbling followed by an unsatisfied grumble.
All the days after his Gladiator graduation he had sworn himself to stay composed and positive, turning his grieving energy to better use but now it had been released like the torrent of river water that had washed away their old Empire home.
“I just can’t forget about her…” Quintin resumed after what felt like an eternity of silence but whilst his mind was clear long enough to focus he continued to talk. At the tips of his feet his paw digits twitched.
“I needed her to be there the other night, out there waiting for me beneath my favourite tree. I thought mid winter would be a perfect time to put the old year behind me and have hopes for the new one ahead. I knew exactly what I wanted to say if I had found her there and my prayers had finally been answered but…”
Choosing not to embarrass himself by revealing every little detail he ended by not mentioning that he had been swept away enough to want to lick the grey rocks at the trees root structure like it had been an imagined cheek.
Quintin lifted his head with dejected fallen ears and helplessly collapsed his face against Sara’s side.
I felt so fragile after I collapsed in the snow. One minute I was overwhelmed with happy feelings, the next startled and shocked at how crazy and obsessive I had become.”
Ah least the truth was out in the open now and whilst he didn’t believe Sara would be thinking the worst about him, the doubt in the back of his mind still made his heart feel heavy.
“I don’t think she’s ever going to find her way back to us now” Quintin finished, desperately hoping that Sara might provide him with another knowledgeable medicinal cure for his issue.
Her gentle licks and warmth seemed to improve his state somewhat.. He still didn’t want food but that was understandable. Duties could definitely wait today. She would spend as much time with Quin as possible. Not only did they need him at his best.. For the Empire's sake. But she needed him better. His general cheer and easy smile always helped her on days that were greyer than they should be. Those times she had to leave her cubs to go on long hikes through the territory for some rare plant or another it had always tugged at her heartstrings. But having Quin with her had always made it that much easier… Now it was her turn to lend an ear and some warmth.
The pale cats heart broke as she listened to her apprentices words… She could feel the remorse, the sadness behind his words. Of course he missed her… To have a close friend just go… She knew the pain too well. The amount of times during the delirium of her wounds from the hunter raid on the lightning and shadow patrol that she’d scented Tuko were uncountable. She’d wake to his soft words, or the moving of a similar sized shadow. The pain of realising it wasn’t her best friend had, at times, been worse than that of the wounds themselves.
“Shh it’s okay” The maternal side of her seemed to easily take over, as she placed a paw over his small body and tried to hug him as he stumbled on his words… Her heart hurting from the past memories and the pain in her friends voice. “I understand Quin.. I really do. And I know you have been struggling with this for a while now.. And I know no matter how hard you try you want to see her behind every tree, around every corner” She whispered.. “It’s going to be okay…” The words really didn’t gain much traction at a time like this. But it was almost a compulsion at this point. It was going to be okay. Because it had to be.
It was going to be ok….
Such simple words, but as her paw tucked around his body tightly the message she delivered was truthfully believable. As a small smile crept from the corner of his mouth, he knew Sara had that secret cure and already his heart felt lighter for it. How effective talking and listening were.
It really was, going to be ok because Sara was there beside him. Someone who he admired everyday, had found a wonderful mate, produced a wonderful family and still had a whole future ahead of her understood how he felt, and had made it through and made something wonderful of her life.
He could see that now…
“Thank you Sara…” He began as he stroked a weak paw along a short length of her brilliant white forepaw. “I hope so”
Exhaling a heavy breath once again, he felt the continued urge to talk again but somehow it felt different than before. As the words began to tumble out of his mouth the pain and anguish turned into softer sorrowful memories that were sparkled with days of happier times with others that he loved in the Empire.
“I guess I just have feelings for her. The Evira that I knew and hold close in my heart. The young lady from my memories. If maybe I knew back then what I do now, things might have been different. She’s gone now though forever…..No prayers or wishes can bring that childhood friend back to me. I hope somewhere out there, she has a new life and has the family that she lost back.
If by the chance our paths did cross again we have both aged and are both different individuals than the two who said goodbye that she might not have spent the time thinking about me as I have done missing her”
It felt bittersweet, but so much better for admitting and setting the truth free like a beautiful butterfly.
“I don’t think I’d get the chance now to tell her how I feel but I wish I could somehow let her know how special I think she is and always was to me”
“Even from when I was small she always caught my eye… Anaba must have lost count the number of times she called me back into the safety of the nursery but I had to be there everyday sitting in the entrance way waiting, just in case Thalia brought her above ground.
It’s actually how I also met Seidon and my father funny enough…”
Seidon and Arkita. The thought of two of his closest and oldest friends and family brought his smile to a grin as he rested his chin on Sara’s forepaw instead of where he own paw had been.
Sighing he finished his heartfelt reminiscing.
“I wish I could see her again one last time and hope that she would be proud that not only did I make becoming a Gladiator I chose to train and become a healer just like her…. and now like you Sara”
“Maybe the least I can do is honour her memory by caring for the Empire that we both love and I will endeavour to always lend a friendly ear or paw to anyone in need just like she did.”
Raising a weary eye to catch a glance at the blue fabric still nestled in the moss bed, Quintin finished on a dedicated purposeful statement
“May her blue scarf always remind me of her and this promise but I must learn to heal my heart for otherwise I will not be truly living. A wise someone once told me that you can’t heal someone’s outside when they are still hurting on the inside”
The white che-cat nodded as her apprentice continued to talk. It seemed her words had help, as flimsy as they were. He seemed to somewhat perk up, his words were stronger, his gaze less glazed over. Talking of how he had always wanted to spend time with her, it was such a shame she had left. The young cat would never know how lucky she was to have the admiration and love of such a kind hearted young male. But there would be others to feel his warmth and love, it seemed he was finally understanding that loving another shouldn’t stop him from enjoying the rest of his life. A lesson she herself had taken a long time to learn.
“You are a good cat Quintin. You always have been” She soothed as he spoke of always wanting to help her. “I know she would be proud of you. I definitely am. You were not only a very capable gladiator but you have driven yourself to become something more. A healer. You have worked tirelessly to be the best you can for you empire. You have brought new life to this family, literally” She chuckled as she remembered the blurry memories from the birthing of her own cubs and the more recent memories of Mulligan’s cubs. “I am beyond proud to call you my colleague. And I look forward to working with you for a VERY long time” This cat wasn’t going ANYWHERE so long as she was here.
She nodded as he spoke of having her scarf. It was good that he could voice that he could remember her but still move on. Hopefully soon he could look at it without the pains in his chest that she was so familiar with for missing another. She let out a content purr as he parroted her words back at her. Pulling him into another hug. “Now that we have cleaned those wounds and patched them up. How about you concentrate on fixing up the outside. You should know better than to go catching a cold” She rebuked him gently in a motherly way. “You better eat up this rabbit! I caught it specially for you, you know. Rest well today. But don’t think you’ve gotten out of delousing with me!” She joked softly, trying to bring a more relaxed smile to his face. He wouldn’t be leaving this nest until she was absolutely sure he was okay. Maybe she’d drag the rest of her family in here to sleep tonight to help keep him warm. No one should be alone and cold in this family.