She found teaching a group of seven how to use their swords even more trying than simply teaching Ninyo. They each had varying skills, anywhere from not even knowing how to properly hold their blade, to slightly better than Ninyo had been when she had first met him. This made it rather difficult to teach them, and she found herself struggling not to lose her temper when they continued to forget things she had repeated several times over. The number of times she had to tell them not to take their eyes off of Blue Serpent was frightening.
While she wasn’t teaching swordsmanship, she watched carefully as Ninyo taught Yakel to control his magic so it wouldn’t escape without his consent. He seemed to be trying hard to strengthen his own at the same time. It would never be the same, but at least he was getting somewhere with it. She didn’t know if he noticed it himself, but she could tell that it was steadily strengthening over the moons. Whatever his mother had told him must have had quite an effect on him.
“What happened to you?” he asked at the end of another day’s training.
Keena eyed the scratch on her right arm and shrugged. “Decided I needed a bit more of a challenge so I got two of them up at once. Somehow managed to get a scratch, but there you go. You?”
He sat down next to her in the sand, propping himself up with his elbows. “Can’t complain. Slightly disturbing when your student’s got stronger magic than you, but yeah.”
“You’re getting stronger,” Keena said defensively.
“Guess so. Could be better though.”
“Seriously, I think you could almost kill a tapir now.”
“Yeah, I reckon so.” She was being truthful; she hadn’t helped him out with hunting for ages now. The first time he had killed something with nothing but his own magic, she wanted to just fling herself on him, but knew that if she did, her secret would be blown.
“Wouldn’t necessarily be a breeze, but you could do it.”
“Righto, I’ll do it tomorrow.” He smiled sweetly up at her. “Your turn to hunt tonight though.”
Keena gave a wry smile, but got to her feet and set out into the forest.
Once Ninyo had taught Yakel all the perks of Green Magic, as well as the details of other kinds of magic, he and Keena took him back to his family.
“Mum! Dad!” Yakel ran into his parents’ arms, a massive grin on his face. “I have had so much fun! Ninyo’s taught me everything!”
“Glad to see you’ve had fun,” his mother said. Smiling, she turned to Ninyo. “Thank you,” she said simply.
“You’re welcome,” Ninyo replied warmly.
Yakel was eager to tell his parents everything that had happened since he had left. “They even got to kill Black Magic! Isn’t that cool? Mum?”
She had stood up straight and was staring at the pair of cat people standing in front of her. “You did what?” she whispered.
Keena cleared her throat. “Um, yeah, but we didn’t take Yakel with us, promise,” she said quickly.
There was an awkward silence, and Keena looked uncomfortably at the ground. “We’ll be going now,” she said finally, smiling and walking away. “Seeya!” She waved, but got no reaction from the parents.
“Not particularly strong on gratitude, are they?” she said when they were out of earshot.
Ninyo shrugged. “Wouldn’t have expected anything more. Surprised we got anything, actually.”
Keena thought of her own family. “Fair enough. But I’d have expected something. We did save their lives, essentially.”
“He’ll still end up living on his own eventually.”
“Stop being pessimistic.”
He smiled and draped an arm over her shoulders. He’d been getting better as his magic improved, but he still lacked the energy he once had. She had no way of knowing if he was pleased with his progress. He seemed to be able to use his magic with little effort now, but whenever an animal fell to its knees before him, he had the look on his face that told Keena he was thinking about how it used to be.
“Still weak?” she asked him.
“It’s better.” He looked at his hands again. “If I can just get its energy back I’ll be fine, but it’s just reluctant to come out at all.”
“Like it thinks it’ll be killed again?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“Maybe you need to kill some more Black Magic with it.”
Ninyo jerked his head up, a hint of fear in his eyes. “No. Way.”
“Well, think about it,” Keena reasoned, “How’d your magic feel after the first time we’d killed Black Magic?”
“How’d it feel after we killed it the third time?” Ninyo muttered.
“Point taken, but it won’t be as strong this time. Just a baby.”
“You’re talking about this like it’s actually going to happen.”
“That would be because it is,” she said firmly, looking him in the eye.
Ninyo shook his head. “No it isn’t.” His tone was similar to Keena’s.
Keena narrowed her eyes and gave a sly grin when a thought came to her head. “Chicken.”
Ninyo narrowed his eyes back at her and breathed in, his mouth in an ‘ooh’ shape. “You’re going down,” he said with mock threat. He stepped a few paces back and drew his sword.
Keena’s grin broadened as she drew her own. “Is that a threat, Ninyo?”
Ninyo nodded and flew at her, but again Keena was too quick, spinning out of the way and whipping back instantly. They fought an intense battle, but Keena wouldn’t let him win. She held her sword skills close to her heart, and would never deliberately let another win a battle against her, not even Ninyo.
“Think you need to think your threats through before you carry them out,” she teased, handing his sword back.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he answered.
“You going to come and kill some more Black Magic with us now?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Onya Ninyo,” Keena said with a smile. She felt confident he’d make the right choice.
“Took you.” Lima was leaning against a palm tree, waiting patiently for them to return. “We felt some Black Magic yesterday. You coming Nin?” she added as an afterthought.
Keena answered for him. “He is whether he likes it or not.”
Lima grinned. “Great. Just get Aaka to get everyone over here then we’ll head off.” She looked up into the palm tree and whistled sharply, calling the eagle out of its roost.
There was a rustle in the long green fronds, and Aaka emerged, flapping strongly into the sky and letting out his eerie call through the rainforest. Within a few minutes, the Green Group were gathered on the beach, each offering Ninyo words of encouragement. Keena could tell he was slightly more than nervous about the endeavour, but she was glad to see he was still going to come with them.
After sending their fond farewells to Qillan, Miliko and Aaka, the group departed once more.
“Should we, like, practice the technique again?” one of the younger members asked once they’d stopped for the night. “We haven’t done it since, what, end of last Monsoon. We’ve probably gotten a little rusty.”
“Good point,” Keena answered, then got the group into their standard circle for a practice run. Ninyo wasn’t looking in the least pleased with the idea, but she tried to ignore him and just get on with it.
“Ready, GO!” She felt wrong starting them off, Ninyo had always done it before. Still, she tried to push the thought aside and just focussed on the river of green that flowed from her hands. She could see all the other rivers from behind her eyes, but Ninyo’s magic was as pale as the healers’, and theirs wasn’t even her own magic.
“Not bad, but we’ll do it again tomorrow,” she said at the end of it, shaking her hands out, “Nice work guys.” She noticed Ninyo again looking at his hands.
“This had better be worth it,” he muttered.
“Well it looks as strong as it used to.”
“Still feels like a frightened rat though.”
“I’d hate to see what you’d be like if you’d lost all of it,” Keena said sarcastically. “Just be glad with what you have got.” She gave him an affectionate slap on the back. “Come on, I’m tired.”
They’d been walking for almost half a moon and were still a fair distance from the source of the Black Magic. At first they’d thought there was only a few days walk between the beach and their destination, but soon figured out that it only felt closer because the magic was weaker and unable to hide itself as well.
“This is taking too long,” Keena grumbled, sitting down next to Ninyo with a mango.
Ninyo took a bight of his own. “Have to admit, the suspense is really getting to me.”
“You Ninyo?” Keena looked up to see two boys of about fifteen standing over them, their arms folded. Both had Green Magic.
Ninyo swallowed his mouthful of mango. “That would depend on who’s asking,” he said casually, and took another bight.
“Imilu and Elryn,” the taller of the boys answered, “Word is you know Green Magic.”
Ninyo swallowed again and shook his head. “Know it, can’t teach it.” He waved a hand over the rest of the Green Group. “Try someone who can use the stuff.”
The boys were visibly disappointed. “But you killed Black Magic with it!” protested the shorter boy, who his friend had introduced as Elryn.
Keena raised her eyebrows and looked at Ninyo. “It would appear you’ve made a name for yourself.”
Ninyo bit again into his mango. “It would appear so. How and why I don’t know, but it would appear the facts aren’t quite right.”
“What do you mean?” Imilu’s face fell slightly. “You didn’t kill it?”
“Yeah, we killed it, but it got mine too.” He smiled sarcastically up at the boys. “Seeya,” he said, waving with his mango.
Imilu’s arms dropped to his sides. “You can’t be serious.”
Keena stepped in. “That’s not entirely true either. He lost most of it but got it back again.”
“Sorta,” Ninyo added. “Anyway, unless you two have only just found out you’ve got Green Magic, I would advise you to leave.”
“Why?” Elryn pleaded, “You’re, like, the best there is, aren’t you?”
“Honoured you think that, gentlemen, but now’s not a good time.”
Ninyo sighed irritably. “One, my magic’s not what it used to be-”
“Yes it is,” Keena mumbled, but only she could hear it.
“-and two, we’re going on a bit of an expedition right now.”
The boys’ ears perked up. “You’re going to kill more Black Magic?” Elryn asked excitedly.
Ninyo nodded and finished the last bight of his mango.
“Can we come too?” Imilu asked, “Promise we won’t do anything, we’ll just watch from the sidelines.”
Ninyo shook his head. “Too dangerous.”
Imilu sighed. “Okay, whatever.”
Ninyo raised an eyebrow. “You’re agreeing too easily, which tells me you’re wanting to follow us. Think about it: you think I’m the best. I lost my magic last time we did this. I’m lucky I’ve got any at all. You try to follow, don’t blame me for anything that happens to you. Got it?”
The boys nodded, their eyes to the ground.
“Promise you won’t follow us.”
“We promise,” they said in unison.
“Good, now you can both head back home, sound good?”
Neither boy said anything, they just turned and shuffled back off into the forest.
“They’re still going to follow us, you know,” Keena said, licking mango juice from her fingers.
“Yeah, but at least they know the dangers now. Ready to head off again?”
“May as well,” Keena answered, getting to her feet. “How much further do you reckon we’ve got to go?”
“Wouldn’t have the faintest. We’re getting closer, but I dunno. I just want to get it over and done with.”
“You’ll be much better by the end of it, believe me.”
“If I lose it again, it’s your fault.”
Keena shrugged. “Kay, whatever. Let’s go.”