By Desert Mouse

The two men walked in silence with a small nine-year-old child tucked safely in-between them. Normally this Jiyu'rei child carried most of the adult's things while they traveled, and she wore the coarse material of a slaves dress. However today there was something different, just a few hours ago Schala's masters had stopped her and changed her from the slaves dress into a much more modest, and comfortable grey dress. They didn't tell her why, and she knew that it wasn't her place to ask those kinds of questions. Her masters wanted her to wear the dress of a free girl so she did.

"Hold up." Her master Todd spoke firmly. The three of them stopped immediately and Schala risked a slight glance ahead to satisfy her curiosity. That was a mistake, and she knew it even before Todd slapped her.

"Eyes to the ground." Her second master Simon gently reminded her. She returned her gaze to the ground so they wouldn't get mad at her. Todd turned towards her and knelt so he could look her directly in the face.

"The people in this town won't understand you Schala, do you know what that means?" he asked her seriously. Schala quietly returned his gaze and nodded.

"What does it mean?" Simon asked her.

"If I don't smile they might take me away from you." Schala replied quietly.

"And?" Todd questioned.

"I will be forbidden from most of my usual duties until we leave." Schala replied with a touch of sadness in her voice.

"If people see you carrying our things they will think that something is wrong and may try to take you away from us too. Don't feel bad we will still try and find something for you to do.' Simon promised her.

"Enough delaying, put on your smile and let's get going." Todd spoke firmly. He took hold of her wrists and examined them carefully to make sure that no marks had been left from when they had been bound yesterday. When he was satisfied the three of them walked towards the town known as Crystal Acres.

In town a woman was busy shopping at the local clothing shop, though most of the dresses didn't really suit her she still enjoyed looking at them. She was looking over one with a shorter skirt, trying to picture what adjustments would have to be made if she bought it to accommodate her tail. "That's an older design, but not very popular around here." The seamstress admitted. "Is it because it's shorter?" Blackraven asked. "In part, but some of the younger girls will wear them that short. But the design isn't very comfortable for working. Do you travel a lot?" The seamstress asked. Blackraven was going to answer her when she spotted something strange walking across the street outside. "A kitten? I didn't feel the minds of any other Jiyu'rei around here…wait she looks like she's following those two human males." Blackraven thought confused. She reached out with her mind to touch the kitten's voice, but it didn't feel as active as a normal Jiyu'rei kitten. "She feels more like a human mind, but there is a lot of fear." Blackraven thought. She continued to watch them while they stayed in view of the stores window. "She couldn't be a…could she?" Blackraven was afraid of the answer. She asked the seamstress to hold on for a few minutes and left the store. She followed the two humans and kitten for a short time before approaching them outright. "Excuse me." She spoke seriously. The two humans stopped and the taller of them approached her, while the shorter human put his hand on the kittens shoulder like he was protecting her…or keeping her from running away. "Do you have a problem miss?" the man asked looking her in the eyes. They looked cold, calculating. Not the kind of person that should be with a Jiyu'rei kitten. "Actually I was wondering about the kitten that's with you. " Blackraven said. She looked down at the kitten and asked her directly. "What is your name?" but the girl didn't reply, she looked up at the taller human for something. "I'm up here." The man said flatly. "What about the girl?" he asked. "Are you her guardians?" Blackraven asked. "Not that it is any of your business, but yes we are." The man replied. His voice was sharp, serious. She could have reached into his mind for the answers but she had a feeling that he would know if she did, and react violently. "Who are you?" she asked. "My name is Todd, but you aren't bothering us just to find out our names. Tell me what you want, and leave." "What happened to her parents?" Blackraven asked, she didn't react to his rudeness. "They died several years ago and we have been taking care of her ever since." Todd replied. "Well then let me take her. I'm going back to Avalon soon and know some people that could help find her remaining family." Blackraven suggested. If he really was just taking care of a kitten that tragically lost her parents, then he should not have an objection to returning her to her own people. "That will not be necessary." Todd replied simply. "How terrible." Blackraven thought. She knew at once that her original fear had been true. But she couldn't leave it alone at this. The kittens mind was faded and full of fear. She was being abused and something needed to be done. "Why would you not release her to her own people?" Blackraven demanded. There was a threatening tone in her voice, but for the kittens safety she held back on extracting her claws. "She doesn't belong with your people. She belongs with us." Todd replied sharply. "I know what she is to you, and what you are doing to her is wrong." Blackraven growled. "I don't care what you think you know. But you have taken enough of our time with your foolishness. " Todd barked. He reached for the hilt of a small knife at his side. "The time has come for you to leave unless you intend to fight." "If the other one gets involved I may not be able to win. If it was just him then I could scream into his mind and disable him, but I can't pick out both of them without also affecting the kitten." Blackraven thought carefully. If she took out her claws and tried, but failed to defeat these men then she wouldn't be able to get the kitten to safety, likewise the child was too young to witness such a display of violence. "If I had proof that she was a slave, I could get the towns constable to bring them in." she considered. There was only one option available to her, their argument had drawn a crowd so if she spoke to the slave directly maybe some of the watchers would help free the kitten. Blackraven turned to the kitten and kneeled down to look her in the face. She fearfully turned away but Blackraven unfairly twitched her tail while she spoke. "You don't have to be afraid of these men. If you want to come with me. I'll take you home." The kitten couldn't stop herself from looking at the twitching tail, but the woman's question made her afraid that she was going to be taken away from her masters. So without thinking about it, the kitten ran from the shorter humans side and latched herself onto Todd's leg. "There you see? She has no interest in going with you." Todd said coldly. "You have proved your point." Blackraven said turning to leave. "That action was motivated by fear, not love. But from here there's nothing I can do except leave her with them. When I get back to Avalon I'll have to speak to Thunderwhiskers and hope she can be found later." She thought disappointed. She still wanted to help the kitten, but with so many witnesses to what she just did, Blackraven knew it would have to wait.
Schala watched the strange lady leave with slight guilty feeling. She had liked the woman, it was the first time since her masters had started taking care of her that she had even seen someone like her. She knew that she hurt the woman, and she didn't mean to. But she couldn't understand why the woman had wanted to take her away from her masters. Todd gave her a rare treat, patting her on the head, and it made her feel good. Normally when she was rewarded like this, it was Master Simon that did it. "Let's leave before she decides to come back. I don't think she was satisfied." Simon commented. Todd nodded his head and the three of them headed out of the town without finishing their business. Todd would have to return later, alone but they saw a good place outside of town they could set up camp for a couple days. Todd waited until they were out of Crystal Acres before he stopped Schala and turned to her. He spoke in an uncommonly kind voice. "I'm proud of you Schala, she was going to try and take you away from us. But you showed her that you know where you belong." He told her. She nodded in silence but didn't dare to look him in the eyes. "However you are still going to have to be punished, because no matter the reasons. You acted without permission." He said. "I understand master. Thank you." Schala thought happily. Todd thought for a couple minutes before deciding what her punishment would be. "As a reward you will be allowed to remain in that dress for several weeks, long after we return to Vernheart's territory. I'm sure it's more comfortable then what you usually have to wear. But your punishment will be for the next four days you are forbidden to do any of your normal chores. You will be kept idle in that time, and in addition tonight when I'm out of camp Simon will give your bare bottom a light spanking." Todd decided. Schala nodded quietly, accepting her punishment. But she was upset about the news that she wouldn't be allowed to please her masters for four days. "It's harsh I know, but he has to do it. You understand? You could be taken away from us if you act without permission and do the wrong thing." Simon said softly. He gave her a comforting pat on the head. "I'll be gentle tonight, and maybe I'll let you help with the camp when he's not here." He whispered in her ear. "No you won't. The cease work order stands and if you teach her bad habits like disobeying my orders you will only succeed in getting her into more trouble. "Sorry kitten, I tried." Simon shrugged. "Masters care about me so much. I'm such a lucky girl." Schala thought with an unseen smile. Sometimes her Masters left her confused, when they both gave her conflicting directions like that. But she loved them both so much. It was going to be really hard for her the next four days, since she wasn't allowed to serve them, but in town she had been a bad girl and deserved to be punished.

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