She sprinted silently through the brown and green shadows of the forest, her umber hair and dusty brown skirt whipping out behind her.
The animal in front of her darted between the trees just as fast and nimbly as she did, ducking under fallen trees and flying over puddles of glass-like water. It made a sudden right-angled turn, flashing out of her sight for a split second.
She skidded in the moist leaf litter, stretching her right leg out and crouching down to keep her balance before springing back up and flying forward, no time lost.
The boar was beginning to get tired, stumbling slightly on the odd stick or pothole. It looked nervously behind it, and Keena knew she had it. She slid her right hand to her waist and drew out her faithful Blue Serpent, so named because of the cool turquoise sheen to its blade and winding snake-like ridge that ran its length.
With a final burst of speed, she whipped Blue Serpent around, a blur of shimmering blue metal.
But Blue Serpent slashed at nothing but air. The boar had disappeared. Keena slowed to a stop, panting from the thrill of the chase, but growling for lack of a prize at the end of it. She turned her head in an arc, her shining green eyes searching the trees for any movement. Both hands gripped Blue Serpent’s brown leather hilt, ready for anything.
But there was nothing. No movement at all, not even from any wind in the forest. Keena straightened herself and let Blue Serpent drop to her side, its deadly sharp tip hovering just above the soil. She wiped her left wrist over her forehead, pushing strands of dark brown hair from her sweaty brow.
She glared at the forest and threw Blue Serpent roughly at the ground, screaming her frustration and losing her calm composure. She stormed a few steps from her sword, glaring again into the trees, then turned to pick up Blue Serpent and return it to her belt, only to see leaf litter. Her sword had gone.
Keena’s heart began beating fast, and she whipped around, searching the soil desperately for Blue Serpent, but found nothing.
“Looking for something?”
Keena instantly spun around to the source of the cool, feminine voice and saw the back of a black-cloaked figure standing about ten meters from her. Her right hand instinctively flew to her waist, but found nothing. It felt wrong not having Blue Serpent’s cool blue steel against her skin.
“Where’s Blue Serpent?” Keena demanded.
The figure made no movement. “You feel lost without your sword.” The voice was smooth and silky, teasing Keena with every word. “But is this the way it must be?”
Keena’s face registered puzzlement, and her posture relaxed slightly for a few seconds. “Where’s Blue Serpent?” she repeated, paying no attention to what the figure was saying.
“You possess magic. Trust me and I will teach you to use it.”
“Give me Blue Serpent.”
“Very well. I can see you will not listen until I return what is yours. But I know you; attack me and I shall take it back.”
The figure still made no movement, but Blue Serpent flew up behind it, spinning in the air. Keena caught it deftly by the hilt and threw it to her other hand, spinning it in her grip, the blade glinting in the midday sun that filtered through the dense canopy. She stood ready, but did not attack. She felt better now she had Blue Serpent’s leather hilt firmly in her grip.
“What do you mean I possess magic?” Keena finally showed recognition of the figure’s words. She could not see its face, but she guessed it was smiling.
“I mean just what I say,” the figure answered. “You know you are not normal-”
“What are you talking about?”
“Look at yourself-you have the tail, ears and whiskers of a cat.”
Keena’s ears were slicked back, her tail twisting in anger. “So?” she demanded. She’d never thought about her tail and ears; her family all possessed the same characteristics. Once she’d seen a group of people with no feline features. They lived deep in the forest in huts constructed from trees with rooves made from overlapping palm fronds. Their dark-skinned bodies were clothed in nothing more than simple grass skirts, the men even less. Not one of them carried a sword, or a weapon of any kind. Keena thought they were the abnormal ones.
The figure ignored her remark. “The green jewels under your right eye are a symbol of your own magical attributes.”
The green jewels were a symbol of why she no longer lived with her family. Her mother, father and four older siblings each had rich blue sapphires to match equally blue eyes, but she had grown up with emeralds. She had never known why her parents had hated her so much because of her different colouration. She had eventually been driven out of the family because of their hatred.
“They do not hate you, they fear you.”
Keena jumped at the sound of the voice. “How did you-?”
“I can read your mind,” the figure explained. “I too possess magic, as I have no doubt you have already guessed.”
Keena said nothing.
“Your family all hold their own magic, but that held inside you is different, more powerful. Your family never let you know either you or them had magic, because they fear yours.”
“Who are you?”
“You may find out eventually.” Keena thought she heard a hushed laugh; the first sign of emotion from the figure.
“Why should I believe anything you say?”
“Why should you not? I only speak the truth to you.”
“If what you say is true, what magic do I possess?”
“Do you believe you have any?”
Blue Serpent lowered to the ground. Keena was not expecting this response. She thought hard about the question. She knew where it was leading, but had no answer.
“I don’t know.”
“When you believe, you will have the ability to unleash it. You will always possess it, but you can only use it when you truly believe you have it.”
Before Keena could say anything else, the figure blinked out of existence, just as the boar had done, and how she supposed Blue Serpent had.
She straightened and slid Blue Serpent back into its brown leather sheath. She glanced around at the forest, seeing it in a new light. Was this why trees and plants were green? Did they possess their own kind of magic?
Another boar trotted past her, beyond the trees, but Keena was too caught up in what the cloaked figure had said. She wanted to believe she had magic, but she didn’t know she could. It would explain a lot of things, but there were other, more logical explanations for such occurrences. Her green jewels could simply be a birthmark, like her eldest sister’s dark brown mark on her back. It meant nothing.
Keena climbed nimbly up a tree, straddling a branch and resting her back against the trunk. She looked out over the forest floor, absent-mindedly fiddling with the three feathers adorning Blue Serpent’s hilt. She sighed and dropped her hands to her lap, then looked down at the band around her right thigh. The feather flapped in the breeze, tickling her skin. The emerald glinted from its golden mount.
She lifted her knee to her chest and rested her chin on her hands, her brow furrowed as she stared at the same gold ringed emerald on the toe of her brown leather boot. Were her emeralds really that powerful? She only thought of them as her symbol, simply because of those on her cheek. Never did she consider they meant more than that.
An eagle landed on the branch, barely two meters from her. It ducked its head under its wing, preening the feathers. Keena sat still, staring in fascination at the bird of prey. She had always held a high regard for birds. They could fly so effortlessly into the sky, silently gliding on the wind. Never had she been so close to one such as this. Its strong saffron claws gripped the branch as its equally strong beak combed through its brown feathers.
The eagle sharply lifted its head, staring off into the distance before turning to face Keena.
Keena’s eyes widened and her mouth opened slightly. The eagle stared back at her with rich green eyes, and from above its strong yellow beak shone an equally rich emerald.