Emerald Feather

Twenty

“NOW!”

Keena sprung out from behind her tree, her healer protector tightly gripping her arms from behind. She had her eyes closed, so all she could see was magic. She could see the Green Magic of her peers clearly behind her eyes, and she could just make out the pink ribbons that wound around each of the rivers of green.

Right in front of her stood Qillan. The feeling of the Black Magic made her feel sick in the stomach; she wondered how she had never noticed it before. It was a seething mass of pain and suffering, worse than anything she had ever felt before. The group of cat people she had been kidnapped by was child’s play compared to what she now faced.

The Black Magic reeled back when it was first hit by the torrents of Green Magic, and immediately it struck back. A cord of blackness whipped at each of the rivers of green, but Keena forced her own not to back down. She threw it powerfully at the black cord to get it out of the way, then focussed again on the core of black inside Qillan, pushing her magic into it like she was rolling a boulder along the ground.

“Come on guys!” she yelled, “We can do this!”

The Black Magic reared up again, more ugly than the first time. There was only one single rope this time, like a deadly black anaconda ready to strike. It swept forcefully around the circle, and Keena felt she only just missed being hit by it by a hair’s breadth.

She struck out at it, knocking it back into the core, but she noticed that one of the rivers of green had stopped flowing. She kept her eyes closed tight, not wanting to know who it was and just forcing extra magic out to compensate for the loss of that person.

The Black Magic sent out another snake, this time striking straight at her, its teeth bared. She ducked, and rolled aside to avoid its backlash, momentarily letting her magic stop flowing. Instantly she was on her feet again, throwing another ball of Green at Qillan’s magic.

She was suddenly blinded by a flash of white brighter than the sun and ten times more powerful than the flashes that had resulted from their previous attempts. She and Kayil were lifted into the air and thrown back hard into a tree, making Keena gasp with the shock and pain.

There was only one small patch of black on her mind now, hiding inside her son, Miliko. She shakily stood again, her eyes still closed, and sent another flow of Green spiralling out to the Black, silently urging the others to follow suit. Only four of the remaining seven threw out their magic, but the blackness inside Miliko wasn’t half as strong as what had lived inside Qillan. It didn’t retaliate, just flashed out of existence in a few seconds.

Keena collapsed into the leaf litter, panting heavily from the effort it had taken to push out so much magic for so long. The Green Magic inside her was exhausted too, but exhilarated with the fact that it had just killed the most dangerous magic ever known.

She opened her eyes to see the black-cloaked body of Qillan lying in a crumpled heap at the centre of their circle. If she weren’t panting so hard she would have laughed with relief.

Around her, the members of the group were all either bracing themselves on the ground and panting or resting against a tree. Everyone was grinning with delight and triumph.

Everyone except one.

“NINYO!” Keena screamed, tearing over to his motionless body. She fell to his side, a sick feeling in her stomach as she realised that this was the direction from which the river of Green Magic had stopped flowing.

“Ninyo! Get up! Please get up!” she begged, tears streaking down her face. She rolled him over onto his back. His eyes were closed and mouth slightly open; the green jewels on his face dead.

Keena fell onto his chest, not believing what she was seeing. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be brighter. There was supposed to be celebration. Cheers and tears of joy. Not total silence and noiseless tears of anguish. This wasn't the way she had imagined it. Nobody made any movements, not even to wipe away the tears that made their eyes red and raw. They were all equally stunned.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. She blinked fiercely, angrily wiping the drops of salt water from her face, blaming them for what she now faced. She wanted to blame something, anything. The trees, the earth, the sky, anything. But there was nothing to blame. Nothing but the Black Magic, but that was dead already. She couldn’t take revenge on something that was already dead.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. There wasn't supposed to be a comforting arm over her shoulder. There were supposed to be two, hugging her in celebration, not trying to turn her from the sight that lay in front of her now. She forced the arm from her shoulders and instead buried her face in her hands. Maybe if she hid the sight from her, time would turn backwards and she would no longer be lost.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to be like this. He couldn’t be. He was the strongest she knew. He knew Green Magic inside out. He was the first person she’d ever met who had ever cared about her. He had taught her everything she knew about magic, Green or otherwise. He was her lover. He was her friend. He couldn’t be. She refused to believe it. He wasn’t dead.

The sobs racked through her body. This was not how they were supposed to have killed Black Magic. Still there was no movement around the group. They were all too shocked to do anything more than just sit and stare.

Slowly she began to notice something under her right hand. A slight movement, a thump every second from under Ninyo’s skin. She opened her eyes and slowly sat up.

“Iis!” she yelled, “Iis! Quick!”

Iis was slowly walking over to her from the other side of the circle. “Keena,” she started.

“Hurry up!” Keena was almost screaming.

“Keena, I can’t bring people back to life.”

“He’s not dead though! He’s still breathing! Hurry up!”

Iis knelt next to Keena, making no move to help Ninyo. “Keena, he was attacked by Black Magic.” She spoke as though she was talking to a small child.

“I don’t care!” Keena retorted fiercely, “He’s still alive, look!”

Iis turned to Ninyo, and her eyes widened. Instantly she put both her hands over Ninyo’s heart. “Healers! Get over here quick!” Keena had never heard her speak so fiercely before, and the healers quickly responded.

“Half on his heart, half on his jewels,” Iis ordered, “Keena, put your hand on his jewels. He’s lost his magic but if we work quickly we can get it back.”

Keena obeyed, bighting her bottom lip anxiously. “He’s got magic in his sword, would that help?”

“Perfect.”

Keena quickly unsheathed his sword with her free hand and laid it on Ninyo’s jewels, carefully avoiding the hands of the healers.

Ninyo’s eyelids flickered slightly, then he suddenly cried out in pain, sitting up and grabbing at his cheek. Iis forced him back down to the ground and motioned for Keena to replace the sword. Keena nodded and did as she was told, cringing and bighting her lip when Ninyo screamed out again. Nine pairs of hands pressed down on his face, a pink glow emanating from them all.

“That won’t work.”

All heads turned to Qillan, who now faced them, the hood taken off of her black cloak. She seemed almost to glide over the ground as she moved towards the group. She motioned with a pasty white hand so the healers all removed theirs from Ninyo’s jewels, leaving him to sit back up gripping his cheek.

Qillan knelt at Ninyo’s right side just as the pain visibly left him, and he edged back.

“Shh,” Qillan whispered. She laid one black-nailed hand on his shoulder, and the other she placed on his forehead.

Keena held her breath as Qillan moved her face closer to Ninyo’s. She could hear her blowing gently onto his jewels, and see a faint green glow on his face. Then they both fell to the ground.

Keena fell to his side, rolling his face over so she could see his jewels. She held him to her chest and hugged him tightly, tears rolling freely down her cheeks when he wrapped his own arms around her.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked weakly.

Keena nodded, not letting go of him for a second. “Are you?” she whispered.

“I dunno,” he replied, “I feel… weird.”

“I know.”

“Ninyo,” Iis murmured, then cleared her throat. Keena looked up at her with pleading eyes. “Ninyo, you’ve lost most of your magic,” Iis said finally.

Ninyo nodded gravely. “Surprised I’ve got any left.”

“You almost lost it all, but Qillan somehow gave you some of it back.”

Ninyo pulled away and looked up at Iis. “Say that again?”

“Qillan gave you your magic back,” Keena repeated. “You don’t remember?”

Ninyo shook his head. “How is that possible?” he whispered, turning to the crumpled heap of black robes.

Nobody answered.

“Keena? Ninyo?” Lima knelt down beside them, Miliko dozing in her arms. “He’s gorgeous,” she said, smiling.

Keena reached out to take her baby in her arms, smiling more with relief than anything.

Ninyo kissed her tenderly on the cheek. “We did it. Slight loss, but that couldn’t be helped.”

“I’m sure you’ll get it all back sooner or later.” She didn’t notice the regretful look in his eyes.

Twenty-one