“You tried jumping?”
“Dug holes in the wall but they crumbled. Can you use magic?”
“Would you be able to jump up that high?”
Ninyo looked up to the top of the hole. “Probably, but what am I supposed to do when I get up there? Too far down to just pull you up like last time, even with the help of Blue Serpent.”
Keena frowned up through the trees at the moon. “Vines?”
“Do you think you could manage it?”
“Haven’t got much of a choice, have I? I mean, it’s nearly a full moon…”
“Better go now, while they’re all asleep.”
Ninyo pressed his lips tenderly against Keena’s own. “The sea’s that way, where the sun sets. As soon as you get up, head that way. I’ll try distracting them somehow, but don’t come to try and save me, I can escape again.” He kissed her again. “Promise?”
Keena nodded and watched him leap nimbly up the wall of their enclosure and disappear into the night. “Good luck Ninyo,” she whispered.
She waited, anxiously looking up at the hole, until the milky rays of sunlight began filtering weakly through the trees. As soon as the plaited vines tumbled down the hole, Keena grabbed the rope and held on, walking vertically up the wall as Ninyo pulled hard from the top. It was incredibly hard work for the two of them, but soon enough Keena was out in the open again. They kissed, then silently went their separate ways, careful not to wake any of their supposed guards.
Keena didn’t start running until she knew she was well out of sight of the group of cat people. She was almost surprised at how quickly she began to tire, but she forced herself onwards, away from the group. She kept moving all day, towards where she knew the beach lay.
“Agh!” she gasped, crumbling to her knees and desperately grabbing her stomach. The sudden pain had very much caught her by surprise, but she knew exactly what the cause of the pain was. She bit her lip and struggled back to her feet, stumbling through the trees towards the setting sun. She fell more than once and by the time the sun had sunk below the horizon, shielded by the tall rainforest trees, she eventually gave up and collapsed against the broad roots of a Morton Bay fig.
All night she lay in agony. Her baby squirmed around inside her, very slowly positioning itself into the ideal exit position.
Dawn broke and Keena felt as though she was making little progress, if any at all. It was as if her magic was working against her, trying to keep the baby where it was. It had lived inside her for nine moons, steadily growing. The Green Magic had grown quite attached to the child, playing with it and protecting it from any outside forces. As far as the Green Magic was concerned, the baby as much belonged to it as to Keena, if not more, and it wasn’t about to let it go easily.
Keena was inclined to leave it there as well. She had been quite content with the baby living and growing inside her. True, she hadn’t been able to use her magic, and her physical abilities had been deteriorating over the moons, but at least she hadn’t been in agony.
“I give up,” she panted in defeat. She collapsed onto her back in the leaf litter, breathing heavily. But the baby didn’t agree with her proposal. It was coming out whether she liked it or not, and Keena cried out again in pain as it tried to push itself out. She pushed with it, but again her magic tried to counter her.
Look, she told it, If you let this thing out, I’ll let you out too, okay? Her magic considered the proposition before finally deciding to go along with her. By the time the sun broke through the trees, the baby squeezed its way into the world.
Keena fell backwards and laughed, pushing her dripping fringe off her forehead. She leant forwards and picked up her son, clasping his tiny body to her chest. Crying with relief, she unsheathed Blue Serpent and sliced the baby’s umbilical chord, then tied a knot in its end.
The boy’s stumpy tail, ears and head were very finely furred in a softer, downier version of the fur and hair that coated his father’s. Though his jewels were substantially darker than Keena’s, she didn’t care. The child was her son, and no matter what kind of magic lay behind the black jewels on his cheek, she loved him.
“You have progressed well, Keena.”
Keena’s head snapped up. The cloaked figure stood motionless in front of her. Not even the gentle breeze, so rare to the understorey, ruffled the folds in the black robes.
“I must commend your development over the moons since we last met. I believe you have heard a few words about me since then.”
Keena’s eyes widened. Her jaw dropped. She threw out her right arm, forcing her Green Magic out with as much power as she could manage. It flew out from the palm of her hand, delighted to be set free again, and thrust itself at the figure. It was so powerful Keena could almost see a glint of green in the otherwise invisible torrent of Green Magic, but Qillan didn’t move. She appeared to be unaffected.
“Do not waste your energy, Keena,” she said smoothly, “You will need to preserve it. I must now take my child and leave. Try and take it back and the consequences you will suffer will be greater than you would have thought imaginable.”
The baby disappeared from Keena’s arms, and Qillan too faded from existence.
Keena hugged her knees to her chest and cried into her arms, not believing what she was experiencing. She kept expecting to wake up at the base of the hole with Ninyo, her stomach still holding the child, or even better, still on the beach. All she had left of the baby was the glittering green jewel that had now fallen from her belly button.
“Are you okay?”
Keena didn’t look up to see who the voice belonged to.
“Hello?” the boy inquired.
“I’d advise you to run,” Keena sobbed into her knees, “I’m not worth knowing.”
The boy said nothing, but she could tell he was still there, probably wondering what he was supposed to do. In time she heard his feet pad off through the undergrowth. It wasn’t long before she heard him return, a second, older man in tow.
“Like I said before,” she told the approaching cat people, “I’m not worth knowing. Leave while you have the chance.”
A hand rested comfortingly on her back. “I’m sure you’re not that bad.”
“I end up hurting everyone I love, or losing them.” She kept her head down.
“What do you mean?”
“My family fears me because of my magic, my fiancé’s probably been captured, I’ve lost my bird, and my baby, not even a day old, has been kidnapped by someone with Black Magic.” She lifted her head and looked into the man’s eerily white eyes. “That enough for you?”
The man quickly took his hand away and his eyes looked in fear at the pair of emeralds showing Keena’s magical attributes.
“Figured as much,” Keena muttered, hiding her face again. Not even someone with White Magic will trust me.
The man hesitantly replaced his hand. “It’s okay, everything will be all right, you’re safe now, it’s okay.”
Keena was eased up onto her feet and led in the direction of the man’s home. As she was guided through the trees, her senses slowly returned, and she remembered where she was supposed to be going. Her ears pricked up and she tensed up slightly.
“What’s wrong?” the man asked.
“I-I just realised I have to be somewhere…”
“No, you stay with us for a day or two, get your strength back.”
She looked nervously over her shoulder for no particular reason. “No, I really should go now.”
The man’s grip tightened on her shoulders. “Keena, you’ve just given birth, you need to-”
“How’d you know my name?” Keena demanded, very much startled by the fact. She’d never even seen the man before.
The man closed his eyes and frowned. She could see the ‘now I’ve done it’ thought running through his mind.
“You don’t realise how important you are,” he told her earnestly, “You’re the mother of a child with Black Magic, you could be the only chance we have of finding it before it learns how to use its magic.”
Keena’s ears flattened and her tail was swishing angrily behind her. “My child is not an it,” she growled menacingly, “Let me go.”
“Keena we need you so we can find the Black Magic and get rid of it for good.”
“Let me go.”
“If you don’t cooperate, I may have to use my magic to contain you.” His voice was very slightly nervous.
Keena raised her eyebrows. “I’m so scared,” she said flatly. “Let me go or I may have to use my magic.”
The man was visibly scared now. Keena slowly moved her fingers to Blue Serpent’s hilt. She had no intention of using her magic or the sword, but he didn’t know that.
Soon enough his fear got the better of him, and Keena was thrust away. The man turned away and put a hand to his face. Keena didn’t waste any time. She caught her feet and sprinted back towards the beach. The man was sure to somehow notify the group of cat people who had originally captured her of her position, so she had to move quickly.
“At least I’m not weighed down anymore,” she said bitterly.