“It’s not that high!” he called out, “You’ve gotten up to much higher places”. He was right. I had gone to much higher places then the branch, we’ve been rooftop jumping across the village before and that was much more dangerous, and the height difference was quite different. The one encouraging me was my older brother, Kemen. “Come on Itzal, Mom needs those herbs for the shop. We can take more back if we work together.” I mustered up my strength and jumped, easily reaching the branch and pulling myself up with two paws.
Cats are quite agile lucky for me, and no, that’s not me just stating a fact. I am a cat, brown tabby to be more accurate, just like my older brother. I perched beside my older brother; he rustled my hair and jumped onto the small roof of the small garden hut and I soon followed after him. Our particular goal is the herbs in the Village Elder’s garden, which he oh so nicely blocked off with a large pointed wood fence. We could easily jump the fence, but finding clever workarounds that are less noticeable and more fun to use is my brother and I’s idea of a good time. We get these herbs for our mother, the resident healer of the town who knows tons of old herbal tricks to treat anything from a cold to cholera. Our father runs the general store attached to the clinic, so we’re well off in terms of wealth, but most people in our small town of Riverside aren’t necessarily poor.
We hopped down to the garden and listen around, the lanterns are all shut off for the night and no noise can be heard from inside the old goat’s house. We search for the appropriate scent, and grab as many of the herb as we can, leaving the stalks so they can re-grow for the next time we need them. I turn to see a particular purple flower whose petals work great in my mother’s favourite tea, so I figure I should take a few as a pleasant surprise. Upon grabbing for them, a glint catches my eye too late. A near invisible thread jingles a bell and a commotion rings out in the house.
See, what we’re doing is generally… frowned upon and the Elder has been on a man (or cat) hunt ever since he began to notice some gone. We know that stealing is wrong, but so is denying the healer herbs to save lives so you can enjoy gardening, so I find the ends justify the means. I turn to my brother with petals in my paw, grinning nervously knowing full well that I had messed up big time. He looks to a near by oak tree, the oldest and tallest in the village, hell it’s probably as old as the Elder himself. He suddenly signals with paw signs that that is our best option and method of escape if we are to get out of this rather unscathed. Kemen hops from one of the pointed wood fence posts to a sturdy looking branch and nods at me, signalling it’s my turn. I began to followed his lead, it’s not like it would be impossible for me to do he was only four years older then I was. I jumped onto the fence post, its sharp ridges and splintering wood digging into my wrapped cloth feet. I bit my lip, holding back any indication of pain, and leaped for the branch. I waited for the feeling of the bark to reach my paw but that time never came; I underestimated the height and didn’t quite make it. Luckily my brother had grabbed my wrist, and pulled me up. I looked up at him anxiously and he lightly clonked me on the head playfully, which I admit I deserve for being bozo.
We sprung up the tree’s winding branches, climbing higher and higher, before reaching the top. The sight was something I’d never thought I’d ever see. The entire village was visible and you could see for miles and miles on end in every direction. My brother pointed towards the light beaming off The Capital piercing even through the dark of night. He put his arm around me “That’s where I'm going to go one day little brother, The Capital. To really make a difference like we do here, take from the rich, give to the poor and try and fix problems”. I’ve always admired my brother, he was strong, independent and damn good at escapes and acrobatics. This was eight years ago.
That is still my favourite memory of my brother, he left for The Capital two or three years after that, and we still never got caught and we still kept on taking herbs. Even after he left I still continue to take herbs for my mother and father. I hop around the fence to the old oak, still standing as high as it did those eight years ago. I dig my claws deep into the wood and swing around, to the other side. Things were so much easier when all we had to concern ourselves with was the string and the jingly bell, the old goat, still alive and well thanks to my mother’s medicine but you can guess where the herbs to help him came from. I peered around and reached into my first pocket, pulling out a hunk of left over meat from tonight’s dinner and toss it in front of the small nook in the in the house. The Elder invested himself in a guard dog, and lucky for me, my constant feedings have made him fat and lazy and rather accustomed to my frequent visits. After tossing him the slab of meat, I pull out a sack of black powder. I have a friend who works at the blacksmith and the left over soot and coal dust is collected for me to use on such occasions. The dust scatters through the air and rests on the string, making them visible to the naked eye. An array of strings crisscrossing the plants and tend to make a lot of noise if activated. Stepping and jumping around without damaging the plants is the easy part, collecting them is the hard part. Kemen and I used to just pluck off leaves but now the plants are all rigged up. I pull out my large black blade, named ‘Night’s Vigour’ after its shade and the meaning of my brother’s name. The sword was a gift from my friend at the forge who wanted to experiment with the substance that she got from visiting an old volcano, we call the substance ‘black fire’ since it used to be lava that has cooled and become solid. I ready my blade and quickly and slice through the plant and harvest the falling leaves and stuff them into their specific pockets. Before hopping onto the Elder’s house and hopping off the other side. You’d think that I’d require to change clothes after each heist, but the Elder’s eyes are particularly bad and since he’s the only one who’s even partially seen me eight years ago when I rang the bell, and I’ve matured a lot since that time.
I brushed off the dust and continued on my errands for evening. I tend to do my herb gathering task first since it’s the most time consuming, and I can drop off and pick things up more easily since the Village Elder’s house is in the center of town. I begin to head towards the home of a nice old woman whom I tend to get herbs for recently along with my batch for my mom. She is an old silvered schnauzer, who seems to have an issue with her leg so the least I can do is try and help with the pain right? I knock on the door and she happily opens the door.
“Good Evening Amaya, how are you feeling?” I greeted her politely, she squinted at me for a moment before realising who I was then she gripped my paw and smiled brightly, or as bright as she could with her yellowed teeth.
“Oh! Itzal, I thought it was you, hard to tell with these old eyes” She let out a small laugh and I politely laughed along with her. “Oh, I'm doing well, legs been hurting a little all day, but those herbs you have been giving me seemed to have helped, you wouldn’t happen to have-“ I smiled and before she could finish I pulled out the leaves from a pouch on my leather sash. Amaya wraps me in a big hug and grips my paw holding the herbs with her own old grey furred paws.
“Oh, you're such a sweet heart, why don’t you come in for some tea,” She offers and starting to pull me into her home. The smell of old cooking spices hit my nose like a wall. It wasn’t and unpleasant stench, just very strong.
“Sorry Amaya, I have a few errands to run for my mother before the night is done so I can’t stay.”
“Aw, how sweet you are doing things for you poor mom while she works the clinic. How is she anyways?”
“Oh she’s fine,” I replied, pulling my paw away from hers. “She finds new ways to keep her busy. Dad’s been working on his studies so she’s started doing more in the shop when there are no patients to tend to”. She set the leaves aside in a small bowl and we said our good byes. Amaya is a nice woman, she lost her husband roughly three years ago in an accident out in the forest, he left one day and never came back. She plans to head her family’s old home by the water further north once she can afford to leave town.
The next stop on my list of things to do is to meet up with a childhood friend of mine, Esti, the blacksmith’s daughter. We grew up in the same area and played together as kids and we became great friends who share favours from time to time. Lucky for me, she doesn’t ask for much all that often so usually it’s me who does the asking. Esti can be a bit hot headed and very loud at some points but she comes in handy. More then once has she gone with me to get herbs and been surprisingly effective at it, she was the one who came up with the idea of using black powder actually.
The road soon began to get more and more familiar as I grew closer to my home, the moonlight through the large trees and the gentle sound of the river brings forth a much calmer and soothing atmosphere than in the daytime. Soon, the fresh smell of the nigh changed to fire and soot and the soft hiss of metal being dropped into water to cool was off a short distance away. As I approached a figure exited the building wearing a blacked smock and a dirtied pair of gloves.
“Aye Cat, wondered when you ‘er gunna show” the female canine figure called, taking off her gloves, “Yer lucky ya didn’t stop by earlier, or I’d of have ya help out.” I took a quick glance inside the building and saw an array of fresh swords, probably a large order from The Capital.
The canine was my wolf friend named Esti, whom I’ve known most of my life. She was about the same height as me but stronger in terms of build. She has grey fur except fur under her muzzle which is a dull white which runs all the way down her chest and down to her tail. Her hair was a shade of whitish grey that went down most of her back. The tips of it were blacked with soot and coal, which is how she preferred it. She wears the usual attire every day, her red long sleeved shirt and black belted pants, grey apron over top and with big leather steel toed boots for protection. All though rugged and tomboyish she’s quite beautiful and can be sweat once you can get past her sass.
“Sorry Dog breath, I had better things to do then to help out a mutt like you” I joked. Her being a wolf and my feline nature tend to cause people to clash and hate each other due to odd primitive urges from our ancestors, but we never really fight to be honest. She laughed and threw her dirty smock at me, it hanging on my head.
“Do me a favour and clean that when ya do yer cleanin’, the Leaf is trying to work me an’ my Pa’ to the bone by orderin’ tons of weapons and stuff fer tomorrow. So if you could do me a solid and get this done fer me it be much appreciated” She said. I took the smock off my head and threw it over my shoulder and nodded. “Also, I got what ya wanted, which is why I'm sure you stopped by, never commin by just to see mah pretty face no more”.
“Well, I’ll come by tomorrow twice, once to bring your smock back, and a second to help you and your dad out by cleaning, cooking or anything I can to get you to finish the order”. She nodded in thanks and brought out a few things, the first was a small sack of black powder which I used to refill my current sack resting in my pouch. The second were some copper parts my father wanted for one of his projects, he was recreating some ancient weapon used by the Furless when they ruled the earth. The final thing she brought out was a long leather vest, leather gloves with iron plate, and a set of light leather pants with iron knee guards. This was a set of clothes I personally commissioned her to do for me, and costed a fair bit as well, I wouldn’t ask for a full set of clothes for nothing in return. I looked up at her and she smirked, waiting for a compliment. “Well Dog breath, seems you did something useful for once”. She let out a big toothy grin and socked me in the arm with a punch.
“That’s Miss Dog Breath to you, Cat” before I could respond her father called her inside and she flicked my nose, disappearing deep within the forge. After I rubbed my nose to make sure it was still attached, I continued on my way once more to my own home and the general store. It isn’t a very large building, one story with a big front room with goods on display, a room branching off with the clinic inside, and the back room which serves as a kitchen, a room for my parents on the left and a room I once shared with my brother on the right, and a cellar where my father tends to work on his studies.
I head through the door where the bell chimes signalling a customer, which my causes my mother to come rushing out in a hurry.
“Hello and welcome- Oh, it’s only you Itzal” she exhales and stretches her arms, obviously exhausted from today’s work. “If you got the herbs I wanted you know here they go”. My mother is not a bad looking woman, or so I'm told by my father. She is a more orange shade of brown with deep brown streaks across her fur and white paws. My mother has led a rather interesting life up until she moved here. Osane was the daughter of a trained martial artist who worked as a world class assassin and of one the best healers in the Empire. She learned the good and the bad of the herbal world, making use of potions and poisons. Grandma passed away when he had mixed a batch of poison wrong and the victim came after him, slaughtering her in front of my young mother. Grandpa took her and left town, heading to the new, recently founded town of Riverside.
I placed the herbs in the appropriate jars on the shelves of the clinic. When you have to collect many herbs, memorizing their names doesn’t help much. Since I’m a descendant of an animal with an acute sense of smell, I can memorize their scent fairly easily. I look around the small clinic and cringe at the sight of blood dripping off from the patient’s table. I'm not a fan of blood; I tend to avoid it if at all possible, which is difficult if your mother makes a living by using herbs on bleeding people.
I quickly vacate the room and head down to the cellar to give the parts I received from Esti to him. I swing around to the back of the house and take a deep breath, inhaling the fresh night air before opening the wood doors that lead to the cellar. Most people think cellars are creepy or scary, but this one is brightly lit and looks fairly decent, and best of all it doesn’t give off the ‘someone is going to murder you whilst you're down here’ vibe.
I walked down the stone steps and open the large doors to find my father, a tall and lanky solid brown cat scrimmaging through old partially damaged tomes and writing things down on parchment and plotting things down on a map. My father led a pretty normal life as opposed to my mother. Asier’s family came from The Capital; his father was a priest of the Tree of Life and was sent to plant a tree and spread religion. Usually the first born is also supposed to be a priest, but my Grandfather never accounted for him falling in love with my mother. My Grandmother isn’t talked about much but apparently she tried to console him before he disowned his son and went back to The Capital, in a huff. Soon, my father built the general store along with my mother in order to keep her profession and have something for Asier to do while she took care of patients. My father seems to have had some sort of grudge against his father, which is what inspired all this research into the past.
“Dad?” Almost at once he jumps up and tries to catch his breath. He sees me and suddenly gets very excited, for some bizarre reason a huge toothy grin on his face. Dads are strange like that.
“Itzal! My work has finally paid off!”
I tilted my head in confusion, “It has?”
“You know about the Garden of Eden right?”
I knew full well what it was. I believe this is something I should explain to get an idea as to what the strange world we live in is like. A long time ago there existed a race of creatures known as a Humans, or Furless by those who are less religious, such as myself. These big monkey things created huge buildings and apparently amazing technology. These creatures were said to be perfection and created by a supreme being known as God or something to that extent. One day, humans vanished and no one knows why. Go forward hundreds of years and we have a religious order, known as the Humanists or Tree of Life. These guys are people who not only run the Empire but kill those who do not love Humans and accept them as perfect and label them as heretics. The Leaf, or head honcho controls a personal army of people willing to fight for the death for the humans known as “Crusaders”, getting there name from some holy knights from the time of humans or something. The Priests of Humanism sometimes have their large ears amputated and tails cut off and are shaved to look more human.
My father is what is known as an Anthropologist, a word used by the Furless themselves as someone who looks up the history and background of the Human culture. My Grandfather was a priest of Humanism and was said to have had his ears amputated, and after being abandoned my father grew to hate everything he stood for, he began to obtain these books that were said to have been destroyed by the Humanists a few hundred years ago. Lately he has been going nuts with writing down notes and charting things on a map. The Garden of Eden he spoke of is one of three things. In an old Furless text it is said to be a garden full of fruit, trees and beauty unlike anyone had ever seen. In Humanism, it is said to be where you go when you die, where you shed your animal skin and are made human to walk with God and the other humans. What my father and his group of Anthropologists determined it is a holding place, containing the last traces of humanity.
“Of course I know what the Garden of Eden is, it’s that vault with human-y stuff in it”
“Well, it seems that an old man who had found it, and he wrote down the marks he saw labelled down onto parchment and from what I’ve read and seen of old human Gibbish…”
Gibbish is a word used by Anthropologists as the language humans used. It contains a countless number of characters, many different words for the same thing and different linguistics for different things. The most common is a section of Gibbish known as Engish, is used in many writings and scrolls.
Dad looked around the room and pulled out a tome, tracing lines with his fingers he wrote down the following which I could somewhat read due to my time with him.
“Gardian… of Even…? Doesn’t seem like much of a lead to me Dad” I said, looking over the strange symbols.
“Keep in mind, this man was labelled mad and ended up hanging himself because no one would believe him. But with what I’ve looked over from his travel logs and if I keep in mind geography…” Asier looked at his map and circled something.
“I think I may have found the vault. I think I’ve found, the Garden of Eden.”