It had seemed a good plan. Go to the Mages’ school. Find the warrior, if he still lived. Trick him into hunting the beargirl for her – for the beargirl’s kiss that should cure him, one way or the other.
Khoreia reasoned the prospect of being once again himself, once again strong and able to batter whatever he might, should blunt whatever ire Borysko might be sharpening for her.
Khoreia salvaged this hope, took the one thing she could from the conflagration burning the house of all her careful planning to the ground.
She prepared in the small room upstairs at the Pig and Bee. Slipped her dress to the floor. Tipped her finger in gold from the vial. Traced her glyphs that all not Vagari might believe mere skin adornment. Then, opening the window, she emerged her yellow cat self.
The King’s soldiers were there at the school, arguing long with the old man who held the main gate. Ever cautious, Khoreia circled to the little side way where she entered the school before. And there had quickly to hide herself in a dry drain, although very pleased with herself, and daring to believe she needed no more blessing from the goddess of luck, and this cobbled plan of hers surprisingly taking a good shape, because the man himself emerged, saving her the bother of having to go find him – Borysko, the beargirl’s Bear Killer, alive still, if not appearing entirely himself. And evidently making a getaway: Donovan would have delivered the great King’s message, Khoreia mused.
Oddly, Borysko was being accompanied, by a woman fitted in brown, who despite her apparent upbringing among the civilized of King Alastor’s conquered lands plainly always would be Vagari to her soul. She carried herself like a queen, wearing the plain brown of a warrior like this man.
This shell of a man. Still Khoreia trailed Borysko, and this woman who shepherded him, almost too far behind – almost lost sight of them twice in the forest verge – because of her growing uneasiness that here may be more to concern her than his perhaps intact keen eyesight.
Then soldiers found them. Because the Great Borysko could only plod like an old man, his companion had kept them, stupid as fools, to the easy tracks.
“Yield! – In the King’s name!”
Khoreia shuddered, frozen like a fugitive under bushes, even though they would have seen only her cat self, had they looked. And had she been unwisely near that excitement and detected.
Then suddenly over there a great wind burst the green off the trees – the sure sign of magic. Borysko’s arm over her back, the woman in brown shouldered him swiftly away.
“No – Madame!”
“Silence, man! – So now we are two!”
They splashed across a creek and into the trees. Khoreia started after them, although she detested wet paws.
He attacked from behind her – the big brown dog silent – no stupidly-barking natural animal, she knew. And she rolled, over and over along the cold creek, so he could not take her small body in his teeth. And all of it over before she could drink enough to drown. Cat no longer, Khoreia sprang tall, the last of the gold streaming from her limbs. Her magic spent, she clawed the air and kept the circling dog at bay. The dog, and its eyes bright green.
“Away You!” he snarled, his snout curled back and all fangs.