“Did your mouth hang open during that whole speech?” Plumeria whispered to Alika. “I didn’t think we would be sent to kill anyone. That is rare, even for dark witches. This must be serious.”
“He killed a fellow witch, Plumeria. I imagine that is the greatest of his offenses. You just don’t kill one of your own kind.”
“This is changing the subject, but do you suppose I can wear shoes on my quest? I don’t even want to think about climbing that mountain barefoot.
“Ahem,” Ailani cleared her throat, reminding them that they were not alone. “Do you have questions or objections to your quest?”she asked, as if daring them to go against her wishes.
“A-Actually,” Alika stammered, “Plumeria was just wondering if she could wear her shoes.”
“Of course she can! We can’t have her scrambling up the mountain barefoot now, can we?” Ailani scrutinized the two of them as if checking for any signs of defiance. Finding none, she smiled, seeming satisfied with her two new charges. In a gentler tone, she said, “I will send you both with more coconut milk and goose’s blood for fortification and luck. He is probably expecting you, so be sure to use both things to beef up your arsenal.”
“He-he is expecting us?” Plumeria asked, suddenly feeling more frightened. It was one thing when she thought she could sneak up on him in fog and rain but quite another to know he was looking for her arrival.
“As I mentioned earlier, we have reason to believe he knew about the ceremony and that he knew there were two initiates–a witch and a familiar. We’re not sure how he gleaned his information, but apparently he has friends that we are unaware of. Either that or he tortured it out of the witch he killed. He is ruthless and will stop at nothing to kill me and probably other members of this coven to get what he wants–a coven of his own. You see, each state can only have one coven. It is witch law.
This is Hawaii’s and the people you see here are from every island. We meet on different islands at different times, but since you were born in Honolulu, we felt we should meet on Oahu. Incidentally, Kahuna followed us here from Maui. Apparently he didn’t want to miss the big night, either. I think he is anxious to test himself against you. He probably won’t want to kill you at first. It will be a game, which is why you must use everything in your power to kill him early on in the battle while he thinks he is still playing, because once he decides he wants to kill you, he will stop at nothing.”
“Are you sure we are the right ones for this quest? It seems like it should go to someone more powerful,” Plumeria asked, losing courage quickly.
“Right now, you are the most powerful of us all–you will just need to work on your aim. Steady your hands and try not to let the power kick you back like it did earlier. You’ll be fine. We believe in you. You have a whole coven of witches who believe you can do this with Alika’s help. Don’t forget Alika. He will be there to guard and protect you. And he has powers of his own.”
Ailani placed her hands on Plumeria’s shoulders, much like a coach would do before sending a player into the playing field. She also placed her hands on either side of Alika’s head. It was as if she was blessing them both somehow.
“We will be here asking Gaia to guide you. We will not sleep until you return. You can always send Alika for us if the battle becomes too tough. We will do our best to help but we are weakened against his power, though none of us understands why. He must be working with a more evil power than we know about. Go now. It is starting to rain and this will disguise your movements and make Alika’s fog more natural. Go!” She removed her hands from Alika and turned her back to walk away from them both.
Plumeria located her shoes and pulled them on hastily. Time was of the essence, for none of them knew how long the rain would fall. It was unnatural for the rain to fall on that side of the mountains. She took it as a sign that Gaia was with her. “Do you want to walk or be carried?” she asked Alika for the first time. She preferred to carry him close to her where she knew where he was. It was comforting to carry him in her arms.
“Carry me. I know it makes you feel better. Besides, it is dark. You can’t see me, even with the dark vision.”
Plumeria realized this was true. Once they were away from the bonfire it was pitch black and with him being a solid black cat, not even her dark vision could help her find him if he got separated from her.
Together they walked deeper into the bamboo forest, Plumeria still cursing her skirts as they snagged on the undergrowth. As the rain came down more steadily, it began to form waterfalls in rivulets down the mountain. During the day, it would have been a beautiful sight, and one that tourists would love to see and photograph. Few tourists saw it. Afterall, it only happened a couple of times a year.
As pretty as it was, however, it made maneuvering the forest difficult because Plumeria and Alika were staying close to the mountain and the waterfalls made them soaked, plus they had to detour around them. It took more time and made it more likely that they would lose their way.
Plumeria’s shoes and the hem of her dress were caked with mud. Alika was just as glad he didn’t have to dirty his paws. He looked again at the titanium claws, wondering just how sharp they really were and what they could slice through. He supposed he would find out soon enough.
As the bamboo began to thin out, they realized they were near the end of the protection of the thick forest and must make their slippery ascent up the mountain. The rock face was wet and covered with vegetation that had been moved aside in favor of the waterfalls. Getting a grip on any protrusion and pulling herself up would be a trick, especially while holding a cat. Plumeria stopped and considered the mountain’s side for a moment, trying to puzzle over what to do next.
“Alika, can you climb this yourself?” Alika eyed the rock face and took his razor sharp claws into consideration.
“I think so, but I will get muddy and wet, which may affect my footing,” he whined.
“We’re both in that same boat. I just don’t think I can climb and carry you at the same time,” Plumeria said as she ran her hands over the stone. “I’m going to need both hands to pull myself up and I don’t have a big enough pack to carry you in. I only have the pouch Ailani gave us,” she continued, wishing she did have a pack of some sort so she didn’t have to worry about losing track of him.
“You are going to have to stay by my side. No scouting ahead. I don’t want to lose track of where you are. We need each other for this quest.” she said, looking him sternly in the eyes, the part of him she could see best in the dark. “Promise you won’t leave me?”
“I promise,” he said with his eyes closed. He wanted to explore the mountain. He knew he could find Kahuna more quickly and easily as a small animal than with a girl of 16 with him.
“Look me in the eye,” she admonished.
“Okay, fine. I promise I will stay with you, but I could find him so much easier–” he said, wiggling to escape her arms as he tried to convince her of his plan.
“No, no you couldn’t. What if he killed you before I could get there? He has already killed one familiar for disobeying him. I will not let him have you,” she said, hugging him until he couldn’t breathe. Hearing him rasp, she released her grip slightly. ‘You must stay with me. I command it.” She didn’t know if she could command a familiar, but decided to try. He seemed to acquiesce and she gently put him on the ground so they could start climbing.