They made their way through the dense forest thicket, pushing aside leaves on their way. Lakshman continuously kept getting whacking in his face when Ondine pushed them aside.
“Ondine, you’re making the leaves hit me!” he complained.
“Oh, my bad master,” Ondine said apologetically, looking back at him.
“Then stop whacking them on my face!”
“Okay you two. Calm down,” Felix said as he walked ahead of them. “We’re almost there. I can sense them.”
“You can?” Lakshman asked in amazement.
“Yes,” Felix said with a nod of his head. “When you constantly train your mind to be one with nature, you will start to feel life forces and such things. Quite handy to have around when you want to sense the life energies.”
“Wow!” Lakshman exclaimed in awe, but Ondine looked unimpressed.
“That sounds tedious,” she said. “How useful would that be? It’s simpler to just face our enemies head on!”
“Sure,” Felix said.
Hey continued walking for a few more minutes. Just then, Felix raised his hand and they halted. He started looking in different directions in front of him. He was wary of something as he narrowed his eyes and wore a serious expression.
“Something’s coming…” he muttered.
The air suddenly became tense. Lakshman and Ondine placed their hands near their swords in case they needed them in a hurry. Felix, on the other hand, was looking relaxed. He was not showing the slightest sign of wariness as he stood at ease.
There was a rustling of leaves and something walked out. It was a small body with had red fur, long ears and a tail swishing back and forth. Its black eyes that looked like a diamond glanced at them. It was a cat.
The cat looked at them and then tilted its head in puzzlement. Lakshman looked at the cat and for a moment, was confused. He thought he recognised the cat, but he couldn’t figure it out.
“Ah!” Lakshman exclaimed when he recognised the cat. “It’s you Kitty!”
The cat ran towards him meowing joyfully. Once it reached him, it started to rub its head against his leg affectionately. Lakshman knelt down and patted the cat on the head. The cat purred softly in pleasure at his touch.
“Master, by any chance… is this cat the one those Forest Elves were referring to?” Ondine asked, staring at them in surprise.
“Yes,” Lakshman said brightly and he started to pet the cat.
“Okay,” Ondine said and she nodded.
With a zing, she pulled out her sword and held it at the ready. Lakshman looked up at her in surprise.
“Ondine? What are you doing?”
“Master, this fiendish cat brought trouble to you. It is my duty to hand down judgement on it!” Ondine said menacingly and she glared at the cat.
The cat, sensing danger, quickly looked at Ondine and made a frightened sound. Ondine slowly walked towards it with her sword at the ready. The cat quickly took refuge behind Lakshman as he attempted to calm her down.
“Um… Ondine. Calm down!” he said, raising his hand and gestured for her to stop.
“No master! This cat must pay for putting you in danger!” Ondine said fiercely.
“Ondine, this cat is innocent! It did not cause any harm to me in any way!”
“It caused you to get harmed when that cliff broke off!” she said angrily. “For that, it must pay!”
“Oh, for crying out loud…” Lakshman said and sighed. Then he looked sharply at her and said, in a commanding voice, “Ondine, I order you to stop!”
Ondine suddenly froze. She struggled to move, but her legs felt heavy. Over the past few months, Lakshman learnt the Spirit Slave commands. At first, he was taken by surprise, but he quickly got used to it. Ondine, however, disliked how he experimented with the slave commands on her.
Now he looked a little apologetic as he rose to his feet and looked at her directly. She was struggling to move her body, but it was futile. As long as she is under the effect of the command, she will not be able to move.
“Ondine, listen carefully,” he said in a firm voice. “This cat is not responsible for anything that happened to me. Okay? So, please… drop your punishment mode already!”
“Well…” Ondine hesitated for a moment. Then she let out a sigh before saying “Fine. I understand master. So please… free me.”
“Oh right, sorry,” he apologised when he realised she was frozen by his command. “Ondine, I free you!”
With the command, Ondine finally was able to move. She moved slightly forward, but she stopped and she looked at him with a sad expression. Then she wore a cold expression on her face as she looked down at the cat. She finally sighed before a smile broke over her face.
“I’m sorry for my rude behaviour,” she said, speaking to the cat. “If master is willing to let those hateful feelings go, I shall do the same.”
The cat responded uncertainly, still keeping staying behind Lakshman for cover. It looked like the fright it received will take some time to wear off.
“Thank goodness,” Lakshman muttered in relief.
Then he noticed Felix looking keenly at the cat.
“What’s up Felix?” he asked as he looked at him.
“Oh nothing…” Felix said as he continued to look down at the cat. Then he opened and said “So then, Miss Camdra, I think you know the reason I am here.”
“Huh?” Lakshman and Ondine said in unison, looking at him with puzzled expressions on their faces.
Then the cat turned to him and started making meowing noises. Felix would nod his head or respond by “Oh” or “I see”. They looked at them and then at each other with raised eyebrows.
“Ondine, what did he mean by ‘Miss Camdra’?” he asked Ondine.
“Just as he said master,” Ondine replied. “He was referring to your cat friend.”
“Eh?!” Lakshman exclaimed in disbelief. “Kitty is a member of the Camdra clan of the Beast Race? Which means…?”
“Yes master, they are speaking in the Beast language,” Ondine said as she nodded.
“Wow,” he said in amazement. “I can’t understand a single word they’re speaking.”
“That’s because neither you nor I have learnt the Beast language, master.”
“Oh yeah… Hm… I wonder if Sumara can teach it to me,” he muttered thoughtfully.
“She will not be able to teach you the Beast language, master,” Ondine said unhappily.
“W-Why not?” Lakshman asked, looking surprise.
“That’s because she only knows the the common language and the Spirit language.”
“Oh,” Lakshman said, looking disappointed.
“No need to be so disappointed master. I’m sure we both can learn the language together in the future!” Ondine said confidently.
“Y-Yeah… I guess you’re right,” Lakshman said and he smiled at her.
“Okay, I guess that’s the case,” Felix said.
“What?” Lakshman and Ondine said as they turned to face him.
“It looks like the elder of the Camdra tribe only wants me to enter the premise,” Felix told them. “So, you guys wait out here, okay.”
Then he walked into the dense forest alone and waved his hand at them over his shoulders.
“Wha… hey!” Ondine called after him as he disappeared into the forest. “Man, what is that guy thinking?”
Lakshman did not respond. He was happily petting the cat which was now enjoying it comfortably.
Ondine turned around and watched them with a complicated expression on her face. For a few minutes, Lakshman and the cat played with each other happily. Then they returned to sitting quietly and Lakshman continued to pet the cat.
“Master, why are you constantly rubbing that cat?” Ondine asked, looking slightly annoyed.
“Eh?” he said in surprise and he looked up at her. “I shouldn’t?”
“No… But I feel that you do it a little too often.”
“Oh. Well, that’s probably because I like rubbing its fur,” Lakshman said brightly and the cat purred happily. “Besides, the cat is behaving well with you. So, I thought I should pet it for good behaviour, right?”
Ondine stood still and watched them silently. Yet again, she wore the same complicated expression on her face. It appeared as though she was trying to supress something within her. Finally unable to bear with it, she finally lowered to the ground and faced him.
Lakshman looked at her in surprise. She fixed him with a beady stare and his eyes widened slightly in surprise.
“Master, please pet me,” she finally said.
“Huh?” Lakshman said in surprise. “What did you say Ondine?”
“I said ‘please pet me’ master,” she said and she started fidgeting.
“Um… why are you suddenly requesting that, Ondine?”
Lakshman was puzzled. He did not understand what Ondine was thinking in making such a request. He watched her fidgeting with her fingers and appeared nervous to him.
“Well… uh… you’re petting the cat for good behaviour. So I thought… um… you would pet me for good behaviour as well.”
“Oh,” Lakshman said, finally understanding the reason behind her request. “Well… sure! If that’s what you want, I’m okay with it.”
She bet her head slightly. He smiled and, with his free hand, he patted her head. She sat down and smiled as she enjoying his touch on her head. For a while they remained in that position. Then she opened her eyes and looked curiously at him.
“Do you love that cat?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” Lakshman said without hesitation. “It’s cute.”
The cat looked at him in alarm and he looked at it as he blinked in surprise. For some strange reason, he had this feeling the cat was happy at his response. He shook his head, thinking he must be imaging it.
“Then… how about me?” She asked, nervously. “Do you… um… love me?”
“Yes,” Lakshman said, grinning as he turned to look at her.
“Eh?!” Ondine exclaimed in shock.
Her face blushed deep red and she looked like she was burning up. Lakshman blinked, surprised by her reaction.
“Do you really mean it?” she asked as if to confirm.
“Well, both of you are my friends. So, isn’t it natural to love the two of you?”
“… What?” Ondine said as if she misheard him.
“I said I love you because you’re my friends. Isn’t it only natural to love your friends?” Lakshman said as he smiled at her.
“Right…” Ondine said and she suddenly looked upset. “That wasn’t what I meant about your love for us master…”
“Oh? Then, what did you mean?” he asked her with a puzzled expression on his face.
“It’s too early for you to understand, master,” she said. ”You’re just at the right age for that matter.”
“Oh…” he said looking slightly confused.
Ondine suddenly looked depressed as she muttered “I’m an idiot…”
“Did you say something?” Lakshman asked, thinking he heard her.
“No, it’s nothing,” Ondine said. Then she looked at him with a frustrated look as she said “Master! Please grow up quickly!”
“Eh?!” Lakshman exclaimed at what Ondine said and was more than surprised when the cat sounded like it agreed with Ondine. “Why are you and Kitty suddenly agreeing to each other?”
“That’s because master is hopeless!” Ondine
“What?!” Lakshman exclaimed at the sudden change of the situation. He looked at Ondine’s frustrated expression and then at the cat. Finally, he exclaimed, in defeat, “I don’t get it!”
After that, they spent together in silence. A strange tense air hung over them as Lakshman was feeling nervous sitting there with them. He still did not understand why Ondine and the cat became hostile towards him.