Keena and Ninyo returned to the camp late in the afternoon, hoping Miyu had calmed down since her encounter.
She seemed okay until she noticed the pair, Ninyo in particular. A look of pure terror registered on her face, as though a tiger was leaping at her throat. She looked as though she was trying to scream, but no sound came out.
Keena gave Ninyo a gentle jab with her elbow. He cleared his throat to apologise, but stopped as soon as he opened his mouth. Keena jabbed him again, harder this time.
“Ninyo!” she hissed.
“I knew you were trouble.”
Keena whipped around at the sound of the voice and saw Ranu, the tip of his crimson-tinted sword at Ninyo’s neck.
“You’ve really done it this time,” he growled fiercely.
“He hasn’t even done anything!” Keena argued.
“No! Ninyo, he’s had it in for you ever since we got here.”
“With good reason,” Ranu snarled.
“What? Because he’s got a different kind of magic to you?”
“You don’t seem to realise, Green Magic kills.”
“Only when it’s told to.” Keena’s voice was slowly rising in volume. “When has Ninyo ever threatened you?”
“What’s to stop him?”
Keena was finding it very difficult not to draw her sword, but she knew that would only worsen matters.
“I think it’s best you left.” The calm but stern voice belonged to her father.
“I know you haven’t done anything wrong, but please, leave now.”
Keena wiped the back of her hand over her eyes and sniffed. “I don’t even know why I came back,” she muttered, half to herself. “I thought you’d trust me by now.” She sniffed and slowly walked away, half hoping someone would call her back, apologise, anything, but no one did.
Ninyo rested his strong arm over her shoulders and let her cry into his chest. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
“It’s okay,” Keena sniffed, “It’s not your fault, they’ll just never be able to trust me.” And I’ll never be able to trust them.
Keena didn’t say much on the way back to the beach. She still couldn’t believe her family still feared her so much they would drive her out. It was just like it had been before, only now she knew the full reasoning behind their hatred of her. Their fear of her magic bred hatred towards her. She had tried so hard to try and win their trust, but it had all been in vain. She would never be able to prove herself to them.
She had calmed down more once she and Ninyo had returned to where she now called home, and resumed training him.
“Okay Ninyo, I think you’re ready,” she told him after a training session several days after their return.
Ninyo punched the air with his fist and let out such a loud cry that Keena had to giggle.
“Okay, sheath your sword, I’ll show you how to do it in slow motion first.”
Ninyo did as told, and Keena stepped up to him. Slowly she drew Blue Serpent, hooked the tip under Gold Dragon’s hilt and flicked it out of its sheath before deftly catching it in her other hand. She did the whole thing smoothly, like a graceful swan or an egret.
“Notice the different parts to it?” she asked, handing Gold Dragon’s hilt back to him.
“Draw the sword, hook it under the hilt, flick it, catch it.”
Keena nodded, returned Blue Serpent to her belt and folded her arms. “Go for it, but slowly. I don’t want to end up with war wounds.”
She almost laughed at his intense concentration yet total lack of coordination. He eventually managed to get the tip of his sword in the right place on Keena’s own, but when he flicked the sword upwards, Blue Serpent only came halfway out of its sheath, dangling off her belt with the hilt pointed at the ground. She packed up laughing.
“Give me a break, it’s only my first try!” Ninyo almost sounded hurt, but there was humour in his voice too. “So what am I doing wrong, oh great one?”
Keena snorted and pushed her sword back into its sheath. “Well, to put it simply, everything. But to put it more helpfully, I think you’re just concentrating too hard. You could do it easily if you were hooking your finger under Blue Serpent. I know it sounds really cliché, but let Gold Dragon be like an extension of your arm, just let it flow.”
Ninyo’s next try was better. He didn’t take so long to hook the sword, and it came all the way out of the sheath. Problem was, the sword flew off somewhere to Keena’s right and landed awkwardly in the sand.
“How do you make it look so easy?” Ninyo whinged.
“Because it is. Just give it time and practice and you’ll get it right.”
“How much time and practice?”
“That’s up to you.”
Ninyo practiced the same technique all day, and Keena almost grew bored of it. It wasn’t like training him for battle-at least then she was able to do something herself-but here she was just standing there to hold her sword up while he flicked it again and again with his own, giving him pointers along the way. After two moons of the repetitiveness of the exercise, she insisted on going out to hunt. It seemed like ages since she had last hunted, and Keena was aching for a bit more action in her life.
“Do you think you’re up to it?” Ninyo’s concern sounded genuine.
“You’re not serious,” Keena said jokingly, but her smile faded when she saw his face. “You are.”
“I just don’t want you doing anything that could, well, damage something.” He indicated her belly, which was now obviously holding an extra weight.
Keena raised her eyebrows. “Tell you what, when you can beat me with a blade, I promise I won’t hunt.”
Ninyo sighed, knowing he couldn’t win, either with blade or tongue. “If you insist.”
Keena grinned and drew her sword, waiting for Ninyo to do the same.
The battle lasted longer than it had done in previous moons, but it still resulted with a pair of blades crossed at Ninyo’s throat.
“I can’t believe I lost to a woman three moons pregnant,” Ninyo complained, catching his sword in his right hand. He poked Keena in the stomach with its tip, sending a flash of green light from the jewel embedded there. Keena felt her magic bubble in her stomach as it released the light. It seemed to be spending more and more time there now, as though it was trying to protect the growing foetus and give it its own Green Magic.
“Just remember which woman that is,” Keena countered, poking him in the stomach with her own sword. “I’ll be right back.”
She hadn’t been searching the forest long before she spotted a tapir with a young calf. Quietly and smoothly she slunk up on the animals, one hand holding Blue Serpent, the other subconsciously gripping her stomach.
The mother tapir suddenly lifted her head and, regarding Keena with alarm, took off clumsily into the trees, her calf in tow.
Keena sprang up and flew, less elegantly but still quite fast, after the calf. It darted between the trees, frequently turning at sharp angles in an effort to lose the cat girl, but she was catching up on it. In a last, desperate hope, the tapir calf stopped and came straight at Keena, hoping to trip her up and escape.
But Keena, heavy though she was, sliced Blue Serpent expertly through the air and with a final squeal, slit the tapir’s throat. The mother was nowhere to be seen.
“Still got it,” she panted, sheathing her sword and resting her hands on her knees to catch her breath. Once she had stopped puffing, she stooped to pick up the dead tapir calf and slung it over her shoulder, then strode proudly back to the beach.
“Tada,” she said, dropping the tapir on the sand. “Never argue with a woman, they’re always right.”
Ninyo laughed softly and tickled the tightening skin of her stomach. Another twinkle emerged from the jewel, this time accompanied by a slight feeling of nausea.
“Don’t, I don’t think my magic likes it.”
“Oh really?” Ninyo said mischievously. He tickled her again, and this time the flash was slightly brighter, the feeling stronger. Keena clutched her bloated stomach and fell to her knees.
“Seriously Ninyo, don’t.”
“You okay?” he asked, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
She smiled reassuringly up at him. “Yeah, I’m fine, just don’t think my magic likes you tickling me there. It thinks you’re trying to attack the baby.”
“Righto, won’t do it again. You sure it wasn’t the hunt?”
Keena threw another handful of sand at him, then tackled him playfully to the ground. “Just go get the firewood,” she ordered, grinning.