My story isn't worth mentioning before my fourteenth birthday. I don't really remember my parents. My brother took care of me for as long as I could remember. He was fifteen years old when I was born, so he was already an adult. For a reason he would not tell me, he took me away from them. Now that I try, I realize that I don't even remember my parents' faces.
I grew up in a world I knew nothing about. My brother and I lived out in the woods, far away from any other people. Things like politics and cultures were petty, unimportant things. I only knew how to hunt and fish, and then later, I was taught how to craft anything else we needed. Despite this seemingly dull life, I think I was happy. I knew nothing else, but I'm sure I was happy.
On my fourteenth birthday, my brother had decided we'd hunt down a sort of wild cat that had been eating our small game. I had been practicing with a bow for almost a year but had killed only rabbits with it. I was thrilled when he told me I could try it on something much larger.
My brother turned 29 the same day I turned fourteen; we didn't have calendars so far out, so we kept track of our ages based on when the stream began to unfreeze. We probably weren't born on the same day, but it was nice to share something like that together. He was a huge man, very bulky and muscular with long black hair he kept in a ponytail and a messy, unkempt beard. I knew that he could protect me from anything, so I had no fear. I didn't think of how dangerous hunting such a beast could've been.
We set out early that morning, following tracks and scratches, feces and the like. It took us a few hours, but we eventually found a hidden hole in the hills. My brother crawled in first, slowly, trying not to make too much noise in case the beast might have been inside. I stood outside patiently, slowly watching his figure disappear into the darkness.
"Laina?" he whispered slowly, but with urgency.
"Yes?" I answered.
"Back away from the den. Now."
I saw him back up from the inside, but I didn't move more than a step.
"What's wrong?" I asked him.
"Kittens," he hissed, turning around. "I said, back up!"
Then I saw his eyes widen. I felt myself being thrown to the ground.
The rest was a blur. I remember looking up, seeing the dark beast lashing at my arm that I must've thrown up to protect myself with. I grabbed its face with my other hand. Then it fell over. And then everything went black.
When I awoke, I was back at the camp. I had an unbelievable pain in my right arm. Some of my skin was missing, but my brother had wrapped it up tight, so the bleeding was pretty minimal. He had me covered in a deer skin, sleeping next to the fire. When I looked up, he was changing my bandage. His face was eerily calm, something I was not used to.
"What's wrong?" I asked him.
He smiled, "Nothing. Besides your broken arm and ribs."
"Am I going to die?" I guessed.
"No. I already reset your arm. Don't think I can do much else, but you're not going to die."
I turned, staring up at the roof of the wooden shelter he and I had built together.
"Did you kill it?" I wondered aloud.
He looked at me, saying nothing for a while. Then he sighed, "No, I didn't."
"I thought cats don't run away from their babies?"
"Aaro," I looked back at him.
"You killed it," he said, grabbing another deerskin blanket, unfolding it.
I leaned up a little, my eyes widening, "I did? How?"
"Lay down, fool. Moving makes the healing slow."
I obeyed this time, replaying what I remembered in my head.
"I was nowhere near my bow. I dropped it."
"You didn't kill it with the bow," he said, laying the blanket over me.
"Please, tell me what happened," I said, looking over at him.
"You killed it with your bare hands," he said quickly.
"That's not what happened," I glared at him.
"Are you calling me a liar?" he threatened.
"Aaro!" I screamed at him in frustration.
"Just listen to me for once, and go back to sleep," he answered, standing.
I hesitated for a moment, watching him step outside of the small makeshift shelter.
"Is there something wrong with me?" I whimpered. He stopped.
"Do you want to go somewhere?" he asked me slowly. "When you get better?"
"Go where?" I answered slowly, trying not to cry.
"I'm not sure yet." Then he walked away.
It took a while for me to fall asleep, but I did. The injury made me weary, so after that, I spent a lot of my time sleeping. Slowly, my brother allowed me to walk again and do simple tasks until the injury only looked like a bad scrape. Even though I could move again like normal, my brother consistently watched me, as if he was waiting for something to go wrong.
One day, he left to go hunting, coming back with a whole bushel of dead rabbits. He sat down beside me and handed me a knife. We sat in silence for a while, skinning the rodents, putting the meat on the smoke rack over the fire. After we had gotten halfway through, I finally broke the silence.
"Why did you catch so many?"
"We're going to leave tomorrow. Don't know how much food we'll find on the road, so I left out more traps than usual. Didn't really expect to catch this many, but no sense in letting them go to waste."
"Where are we going?" I blinked, surprised.
"There's a small fishing town south of here. I've been going there when you were sleeping to sell and buy a few things, and I caught word of a commune westward in the mountains."
"A commune? With people?" I asked, wide-eyed.
He laughed, for the first time in weeks. "Yes, with people."
"Why are we going there?"
He sighed. "You haven't felt anything... off the past few weeks, have you?"
"Not besides you," I teased.
"Maybe it was my imagination," he muttered, cutting into the next rabbit.
"The day you killed that black panther... You didn't just kill it with your bare hand," he answered hesitantly.
"That much I figured," I inputted, laying the last strip of meat the rack could possibly hold.
"It sort of... froze," he explained.
"Froze?" I looked up at him.
"You touched its face... There was a pulse... and then it fell over. Frozen."
"But that's not possible?" I gasped, dropping the knife on the ground. "It's not that cold. It's never that cold!"
He sighed, setting his knife down and picking mine up. "It is possible. Just not... normal."
"How is it possible at all?" I demanded, moving in front of him.
"The commune we're going to... It's a mage commune. They'll teach you how to handle your... abilities."
"A... mage commune? Magic?" I repeated, trying to reason everything out. Everything he was saying to me didn't make sense. Magic wasn't real. It was something he told me in fairy tales, the stuff of stories made up to help me to sleep and to dream.
"Yes," he answered plainly. "Magic."
He picked up a piece of woven linen cloth I had made a few weeks ago in practice off the log he sat on, wiping his hands on it. Then he put a hand on my shoulder.
"There's a lot about this world I need to teach you, that I should've taught you. Will you listen?"
I nodded. He smiled at me.
"Then we'd best start now."