“What was that?” Keena asked, peering out through the rain onto the beach.
“What was what?” Ninyo followed her gaze onto the rain soaked sand.
“I dunno, something just dropped from the sky… look it’s over there.” She pointed at a dark patch that lay on the beach, then swung down the tree and strode over to the thing.
Her eyes widened when she recognised what the thing was. “It’s Aaka!” she yelled over her shoulder, then bent to pick up the bedraggled bird. “Iis! Urgently need you!”
Iis burst out of the forest at the sound of Keena’s distressed voice. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” she asked anxiously.
“I’m fine, it’s Aaka.”
Iis held her hand over the bird’s chest and let her magic flow into him, but he didn’t wake up.
“I don’t get it,” Iis said, shaking her head, “It’s like there’s something blocking my magic from getting in.”
“Look at his jewel,” Ninyo said over her shoulder.
“That can’t be good.” Keena shook her head and looked at the emerald. It was completely dead. Even though it was raining, there should be some sign of life in the jewel. She rubbed it with her fingers to wipe the rain off of it, but quickly took her hand away.
“It feels like Black Magic,” she breathed, “But it’s still green.” She looked up at Ninyo, her eyes worried. “His magic hasn’t turned into Black Magic, has it?”
Ninyo shook his head, a look of disbelief and puzzlement on his face. He stroked the bird’s wet feathers. “What’s happened to you, Aaka?”
“I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” Iis murmured, “but I think he’s been infected with Black Magic.”
Ninyo nodded gravely. “I think you’re right,” he said, still stroking Aaka’s back.
Aaka awoke late the next morning, and Keena could instantly see he was in pain. Every few seconds he cringed, and though there were no physical wounds on the bird, it was obvious there was something wrong with him.
She held out a strip of fish she had caught for him earlier in the day, looking at him with pity as he took the meat from her and swallowed it in a few seconds, looking at her expectantly for more.
“You poor thing,” she whispered, “You haven’t eaten for ages have you?”
Aaka just looked hungrily at the fish, and Keena obediently laid the rest in front of him, leaving him to tear the flesh off himself.
“How’s he doing?” Iis asked, kneeling down beside Keena.
“Well, he’s definitely in a lot of pain, and I don’t think he’s eaten for a while either.”
Iis carefully laid her hand on his back, but shook her head. “I still can’t get through.”
“Might be a good chance to test out our theories though,” Keena decided, “Soon as he’s got a bit more of his strength back.”
“I think once he’s eaten he’ll be as strong as he’ll get, at least while he’s still got Black Magic in him.”
Keena nodded and looked at the ravenous bird. She didn’t know how much pain the Black Magic was causing him, but it was bad enough that it kept him from hunting.
“Everyone ready?” Ninyo asked, his palms out. The nine with Green Magic stood in a circle around Aaka, each being held tightly by another with Healing Magic. They all closed their eyes and nodded their acknowledgement, then waited for Ninyo to give the signal.
“NOW!” he shouted, and at once nine plumes of invisible Green Magic flew into Aaka’s body, attacking the Black Magic that hurt him so much. Each river of magic was wrapped strongly in a ribbon of Healing Magic in order to protect the Green.
“Don’t let up people!” Keena yelled, thrusting her magic out at the offending Black Magic, “We can do this!” She gave one last push with her magic, forcing it out so hard she could see it flicker green in the air.
There was a sudden flash of white light followed directly by a strong force that made Keena and Kayil her Healing Magic protector fly back several meters into the sand.
“Sorry,” she said, climbing off the slightly bruised body of her protector.
“I’m okay,” he replied, “Did it work?”
Keena looked over into the centre of their circle. Again there was a crater in the sand, in the centre of which lay Aaka, motionless. All eyes were turned anxiously on the eagle, but he made no movements.
Slowly Keena made her way over the beach towards the unmoving bird, swallowing and licking her dry lips in concern. Was he alive? Did he still have Black Magic?
She knelt down and lifted the bird carefully from the hole. He was breathing smoothly, and when she touched his jewel, she could no longer feel her magic being attacked by another force.
“It worked!” she cried happily, hugging Aaka to her chest. A triumphant cheer lifted from the circle. Aaka blinked and opened his eyes, then nuzzled his head into Keena’s hand. The healers and the Green Group all came over to give Aaka a congratulatory pat.
“At a wild guess, I’d say we’re on the right track.” Ninyo grinned and ruffled the bird’s feathers.
“Still got a way to go yet though,” Keena answered, “But we’re definitely making progress.”
“Is it just me,” Ninyo said, “Or does his jewel still look dead?”
Aaka looked up at him, a look of thanks and relief in his emerald eyes.
“It does,” Keena agreed, “You don’t think we killed his magic when we got the Black Magic, do you?”
Ninyo shook his head. “I think he probably lost it a while ago, it would explain why I couldn’t sense him earlier.”
“We couldn’t give it back to him, could we?”
“Nup, it’d have the same effect as it would on anything else.”
“You mean kill him?”
“That’s the one.”
“Well at least he doesn’t have Black Magic anymore.”
Aaka spread his wings and gave a few strong flaps, then soared up into the air, wheeling around above the beach, more than happy with his newfound freedom. Keena put her hands on her hips and smiled up at her friend, glad to see he was pretty much back to normal.
They practiced the same technique several times a day from then on, coupled with an hour or two of meditation at sunset to strengthen their magic further. As the days accumulated, their magic grew gradually stronger, until, a moon after they had first met, the rivers of Green and Healing Magic that flowed to the centre of the circle glowed with a steady, bright light that reflected green and pink off of the sand.
“That is so cool!” Yakel cried, “When do I get to do that?”
“Give it a couple of Monsoons,” Ninyo told him. “But,” he added, noticing Yakel’s drooping ears and tail, “I think you’re ready to start with the basics now.”
Yakel’s ears pricked up again, a delighted smile stretched over his face. “Serious? Finally!”
Keena motioned for Ninyo to go and teach him. “We’ll keep practicing without you,” she said.
A look that could only be interpreted as Do I have to? drifted onto his face, but Keena shooed him away. “How could you resist that face?” she mused.
Ninyo sighed, but perked up for Yakel’s sake, then took him by the hand to a more secluded spot where he could teach him in safety.
“Righto, let’s get back to it then,” Keena said briskly, turning back to the circle and facing her palms out.
The extra workout her Green Magic was getting made it feel considerably stronger in Keena’s veins, as though it was just itching to get at the Black Magic again; quite a difference to its first encounter. Its confidence had grown significantly as a result of killing the magic that poisoned Aaka, and it felt like it could defeat anything.
“When do you think we’ll be ready?” Keena asked Ninyo at the end of the day.
“When we can kill the Black Magic in that stone instantly,” he answered simply, “But the thing is, if we do that, we’ve got no way of finding Qillan.”
“I dunno about that,” Keena said cheekily, “Could always use the stone that other group had.”
Ninyo shifted uneasily in the sand. “I guess so,” he said finally.
“Why, what’s up? I know your memories of that place aren’t exactly the greatest in your life, but we’ve got a team of nine people with Green Magic, ten if we take Yakel with us. I think they’d give it up pretty quickly.”
“Good point.” He thought for a minute. “Okay, we’ll kill the stuff in the stone tomorrow, then go bug them about their stone. Sound good?”
“Good to me,”
The next morning Ninyo relayed the plan onto the rest of the group, then Keena tossed the black jewel into the sand.
“If it doesn’t die instantly, stop attacking it,” Ninyo instructed, “Our intention is to kill it instantly, and once it’s dead we don’t have another chance to practice. Right, get ready. GO!”
Again the green and pink rivers flowed into the black of the stone, attacking the magic that was held inside it. But there was no white flash that had come when they’d killed the magic inside Aaka.
“STOP!” Ninyo yelled. He gave them a few minutes to relax a little, then raised his palms again.
Each time they put extra power into their magic, but each time the stone remained motionless. Even though the stone had no reaction to their magic for the whole morning, Keena felt they were still making progress. The light emanating from their rivers of magic glowed brighter as the sun rose higher, and Keena could feel that her magic continued to grow stronger.
Finally they took a break for their midday meal, consisting of fruit and coconuts, simply because they were all too worn out to hunt, then relaxed on the beach for a while to soak up the rare rays of sunlight that appeared every now and then during the Monsoon.
When they returned to their training, Keena was feeling confident. “We can do this, people!” she encouraged.
The first blast of magic irritated the Black Magic inside the stone, and it sent out a skinny black whip around the group, which they did well to avoid. Again they blasted at the magic, and this time the stone reacted more fiercely, flashing black and whipping out three more vines.
“Careful guys,” Ninyo warned, “We can do it this time, give it everything you’ve got. GO!”
A dramatic white flash blew out from the stone, throwing the circle of cat people backwards. Keena quickly got to her feet and let out a triumphant cheer with everyone else. She clapped hands with Kayil and hugged him in delight.
“All right! We rule!” she cried, running over the sand to Ninyo and jumping into his arms, then kissing him vigorously on his lips. “We did it!”