Keena put her hands in the two holes she had dug higher up in the wall and lifted her right foot into the one at knee height. She took a deep breath and vaulted herself up with her left, aiming to put the foot in the higher of the two foot-holes. But the loose, damp rainforest soil just broke away under her weight, so she had to fall back onto her left foot before it reached the second hole. The ledges crumbled, useless. She figured they wouldn’t have been able to hold here whether she was carrying a child or not.
The effort she had taken just to do that much had tired her out greatly, and she had to sit down and rest against the walls of her prison. She stared up at the canopy of trees above her and sighed. So near and yet so far away. She thought long and hard but could not think of any way she could escape. But she wouldn’t give up hope-it wasn’t her style.
A harsh whisper made its way into her hole. “Keena!”
She looked up to see Ninyo looking over his shoulder, presumably to see if anyone was nearby. He looked back down into the hole and grinned, then lowered his hand down to pull her up. “Quick, before they get back!” he whispered again.
Keena pulled herself to her feet and, instead of reaching her hand up, unsheathed Blue Serpent and, holding it backwards by the hilt, passed it up to him. Without hesitation, he grabbed the hilt with both hands and hauled Keena up with all his strength, grasping her by her wrists when she was up far enough.
They embraced at the top, but Ninyo quickly took her by the hand and urged her to run.
“They’re all out looking for me,” he explained as they ran. “Surprised they all went at once.”
Keena stopped running. “You’re sure this isn’t a trap?” she asked nervously, “They could have the place surrounded and they’re just waiting for us to try and escape.”
Ninyo’s ears and tail drooped. “Didn’t think of that,” he confessed.
A dozen or so cat people were immediately on them. Four grabbed Keena and Ninyo in a bear hug, another two took their legs and two more hesitantly disarmed them before dropping the two swords on the ground, holding their hands from the pain. The remaining cat people drew their own swords and held them close to their hostages’ faces, forcing them to stop struggling.
The tiger man reappeared, his hands behind his back. “We knew we’d get you somehow, Ninyo.”
Ninyo growled, but said nothing. The two were escorted back to the place they had thought they had escaped from and shoved roughly into another pit, much deeper this time.
“Why are you so obsessed with killing my baby?” Keena screamed.
“It has Black Magic,” the tiger man explained patiently, “we’ve told you that already.” He sighed, then kicked their swords down into the hole before he turned and left.
“Ninyo, what is Black Magic? Why didn’t you tell me about it before?”
“Because I didn’t believe in it,” he told her, “It’s like all the different kinds of magic rolled into one, but it’s personality makes it incredibly hard to control. As a result it ends up running rampant and taking over the very person it lives in.” He slouched down onto the earth and looked at his hands.
“Why the past tense? Is it real?”
Ninyo nodded, but didn’t look up. “They’ve got a black stone that they showed me, they say that’s how they found us.” He shivered. “It was definitely a magic stone, but it felt-” he struggled for the right word, “-wrong, somehow. And when I touched it, it felt like it was attacking my magic. It didn’t hurt me, but I could tell it hurt the magic.”
“How do you know it wasn’t just a trick they had?”
Ninyo shook his head. “No magic I know of could do that, certainly none of the kinds they’ve got in their group.”
Keena knelt beside him and hugged him around his shoulders, resting her head on his left one. “Does our baby have Black Magic?”
“I don’t know,” Ninyo answered. “And to be honest I don’t want to know.” He laid a hand on Keena’s stomach, and for once her magic didn’t make her feel sick. It must have sensed she needed comforting.
“Like it or not, it does.” The voice of the tiger man floated down the hole. “Why is it so hard for you to understand this?”
Ninyo stood up and shouted up at the man. “Because it’s not logical for the baby to have a different coloured magic to the jewel!”
“Ninyo, relax, please. We’re trying to help you.”
“By killing our baby? I want some real proof that our child has Black Magic before I agree to anything. Even then, I don’t believe you should kill someone just because they have a different kind of magic to you.”
The tiger man sighed. “Try to sense it. If it’s Green Magic, you’ll be able to sense it easily. If not…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
Ninyo’s hands were in fists. Keena could imagine how his magic would be feeling right now.
“Ninyo, what does he mean by sense it?” she asked.
He looked away from the tiger man to Keena, and at the sight of his mistress his face softened, his fists unclenched. “That was the next thing I was going to teach you. You can use your magic to sense other magic of the same kind, but no others.”
“Want to test that theory out on your kid?” the tiger man sneered.
Ninyo growled, but obediently put his hand on Keena’s stomach and closed his eyes. Keena couldn’t feel anything different, but she could see Ninyo’s face scrunch up, see his hands cover his face, see him drop to his knees, see him cry.
“Going to play along with us now?”
Ninyo shook his head. “No,” he said simply, “NO! Why are you so concerned about this anyway? It’s our baby, not yours! Our child has nothing to do with you!”
“Oh, but it does. You see, we could only find your-child-because it hasn’t been born yet, it can’t hide its magic. But the more Black Magic stones we can find, the better our chances are of finding Qillan.”
“Finding what?” Keena demanded.
“Not what, who. Qillan is a woman with very powerful Black Magic. She has somehow managed to keep control of it and can use it to do, well, everything.” He sniffed. “Everyone in our group has seen her systematically torture and kill everyone in their family. She enjoys causing pain, particularly emotional pain. She made us watch, then let us go just so she could see us suffer.” He choked on a sob and sniffed again.
Keena and Ninyo stayed silent, not sure what to say.
“So we formed a group of the ten of us, and we’re all dedicated to finding and killing her,” the tiger man finished.
“I sympathise with you,” Keena said carefully, “but I think there must be other ways of going about this than killing a child who hasn’t even been born yet.” She paused. “My family are absolutely terrified of me just because of my magic, but they didn’t kill me before I’d even been born. They gave me a chance in life. I know Black Magic is vastly different to Green Magic, but it’s the same thing.”
“No it isn’t. Green Magic can be controlled, Black Magic can’t.”
“Qillan can control it.”
“Were you listening to a thing I said?” He was sounding desperate. “She’s only controlled it in the sense that she can use it when she wants to use it, but she can’t control its personality. It’s still evil.”
“What you’re doing is no different. You pushed a panther into my hole before, knowing full well the poor animal was going to die. Why? So you could kill something else in order to kill another thing. There are better ways of going about this.”
“I don’t know, develop your magic or something.”
“Do you know how long it took us to find out how to use that stone to just find unborn babies with Black Magic?”
Keena folded her arms. “I’m not killing my baby.”
The tiger man threw his arms up. “That baby will die before it is born, whether you like it or not,” he said harshly. His tail lashed behind him as he stormed off.
Ninyo smoothed his hands over the tightening skin of Keena’s constantly growing belly. “How long?”
“Bit more than two moons.” She sighed. “Do you think we can get out?”
Ninyo shrugged, his hands sliding around her waist. “Somehow. And we’re going to do it within the next two moons.”