Harlequin

Six

It was a full day before Mark regained consciousness, but even then the magic wouldn’t let him rest.

“That is it, I give up!” he growled through clenched teeth, “I can not take this anymore! I was thinking I was making progress, but no, the ignorant little bastard still wants to kill me.” He took in another sharp breath through his teeth when it hit back at him again, then let it out shakily.

“Mark,” Llaeka told him sternly, “Just let it know who’s boss and—”

It’s the freaking boss,” Mark muttered, giving another cringe. “When have I ever won against it? What do I even know about it? It’s been controlling me all my life.” His voice softened in defeat. “It already knows who’s boss.”

“So you’re just going to give up?”

“Look, I dunno about you, but I’m in intense pain here.” He glared up at the cat girl before wincing again. “Silence would be good.”

“Mark, fend it off, you can’t let it win.”

“Why the hell not? Be less—ow—painful that way.”

“Believe it or not, you’re stronger than it is.”

Mark raised his eyebrows, but his eyes didn’t widen. “And you say this because..?”

“It hasn’t killed you yet,” Llaeka finished, an edge to her voice. “Anyone else with visible magic who’d only just found out about it would be dead by now.”

“So I should be dead now. Gee, thanks for the encouragement.”

“That’s the point.” The calm voice belonged to the healer, Kayil. “It’s been trying to kill you, but you haven’t let it win.”

Mark was silent for a few moments while he looked down at his hands. They were still glowing faintly, but not with the same ferocity they had a week ago. A week, was that all it had been? And he had to stay here for a year. Longer if he couldn’t grasp his magic.

“Whoop-de-bloody-do,” he muttered, then raised his head to the healer. “You can go do whatever healers do if you want, I’ll get it eventually.” I hope.

Although the young agouti was very fast and agile on its feet, any attempts it made to throw off its pursuer were in vain. No matter how fast or how sharply it turned corners, the mind reader knew what it was thinking the instant it did, and within a few seconds from when the chase began, it ended.

Amiyo sheathed his sword and stooped to pick up his catch, but before he could lay his hands on the rough golden-brown hair, a pair of cool sword tips touched his cheeks. He knew instantly the owners of the blades weren’t merely wishing to take his meal. He dared not look up, but remained perfectly still, hoping to make his escape.

“Read our minds and you will die,” one of them, a woman, informed him. Her voice was rough and harsh, and one quick glance at her mind told Amiyo she wasn’t lying.

The second the thought crossed his mind, the sword tip on his left cheek sliced through his skin, making him reel back and hold his fingers to the stinging cut.

“What did I just tell you? Up,” the woman ordered.

As Amiyo slowly straightened, his suspicions were confirmed: the woman had Turquoise Magic like him. Her other cheek was emblazoned with a strangely patterned scar; a small circle surrounded by six dots. The man beside her was a regular Brown magician, who took Amiyo’s sword from him and slid into his own sheath. He noted that the man had the same scar on the back of his hand.

What do you want with me? He couldn’t ask it out loud. It felt wrong asking questions. He’d never needed to ask a question in his life; he already knew the answer before he asked it.

The woman grinned smugly. “Good to see you’re cooperating,” she said smoothly, “We have exactly what we want from you. Move.” She stepped aside and pushed Amiyo forward with the flat of her blade on his neck.

Amiyo knew he had no hope of escape. He couldn’t even begin to plan a getaway without the woman knowing exactly what was on his mind. Why did these people want him, anyway? Far as he knew he didn’t know anything special. Maybe it had something to do with Qillan?

He didn’t like being left in the dark. He was used to knowing just as much as everyone else, but now, knowledge would mean his death. His quick glance in her mind earlier had told him that the slightest wrong move and she wouldn’t hesitate to run her sword’s tip through his neck. That was as much as he needed to know.

Soon his ears picked up the sound of a waterfall, and sure enough he could catch glimpses of it through the fern fronds towering above him. He was led through the patch of tree fern forest in silence to the base of the waterfall, and beyond into a cave hidden behind the curtain of water.

He was only a few meters into the cave before he could no longer see in front of his face, but his escorts appeared to know how to navigate the tunnel by heart, and pushed him on through the blackness with sure feet.

The drumming of the waterfall was nothing more than a gentle whisper when Amiyo was finally shoved to the ground.

“Wait here,” the woman ordered, her voice echoing around the cavern. “Don’t bother trying to escape, there’s more than one tunnel behind the waterfall. Anyone inexperienced will get lost.” He heard the pair leave the same way they had come, their soft feet padding on the hard rocky floor.

He slouched down against the cold rock and shuddered. He wasn’t used to the cold dampness under the river, and more preferred the constant and predictable heat of the rainforest. Anything colder gave him goosebumps.

He rubbed his arms and pulled his knees to his chest, blinking hopelessly at the pitch blackness surrounding him. Someone could have been standing with their nose to his own and he wouldn’t know.

In time he heard footsteps echoing up the cave again, this time accompanied by a flickering orange light. Voices made their way into the cave, though Amiyo couldn’t make out any of the words. The voices stopped and the light continued to approach, dancing on the rocky walls.

Finally a figure rounded a corner in the tunnel and came into view, her left hand hovering beneath a flickering ball of fire that twinkled gently off her jewels and eyes. She tossed the fire ball into Amiyo’s cave, where it split apart and lay in a ring of tiny flames on the walls.

Amiyo cautiously checked down the corridor with a finger of his own magic to make sure the Red magician had entered alone. The only person he could sense with Turquoise Magic was walking away from the cave, though he still didn’t feel willing to look into this woman’s mind. There seemed to be something different about her.

She walked confidently into the alcove and leant against the opposite wall, holding out another ball of fire and sending it drifting over to him, keeping it barely half a metre from him.

“Who are you?” Amiyo asked carefully.

The woman raised her eyebrows, amused with the question. “You’re learning, good boy,” she said playfully, as though congratulating a young boy on his first catch. “However, you should also know that you are not the one to be asking the questions,” she continued, playing with another plume of fire she held in her hand, “Where is he?”

Amiyo frowned. “Where’s who?”

“The boy with Human Magic. You convinced him he had magic, did you not?”

“I did, but I don’t know where he is now. Why are you asking me? You already know everything I do.”

She closed her hand over the flame she held in it, causing it to disappear. “I’m not stupid.” Her voice had lost its playfulness, and was now edged with malice. “I know you can hide your thoughts.”

“Not if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be hiding.”

She held out her left hand and casually lifted the fireball hovering in front of Amiyo, moving it closer to him so he had to press himself hard against the wall to keep it from singeing his hair. “Where is he?”

“I honestly don’t know.” He could feel his sweat trickling down his forehead, whether from the fire’s heat or his own fear he didn’t know. He gulped to try and slow his rapid breathing and closed his eyes against the heat of the fire, glancing quickly at the Red magician’s mind. Like the woman who had brought him here, she wouldn’t hesitate to kill him did he not please her. “I swear, I don’t know!” he yelled desperately.

He was gradually aware that the fireball had disappeared, and he cautiously opened his eyes and slowing his breathing.

“I’m not impressed, Amiyo, though I suppose I can’t blame your fear.” She paused and looked thoughtful for a moment. “You won’t die just now, you may yet prove helpful.”

“Helpful in what? What do you want Mark for?”

The woman glared at him, arms folded and her narrowed eyes glinting orange in the firelight. She lifted one finger and formed a small flame at its tip. With just a flick of her finger, the flame darted over to Amiyo and dove into his right palm faster than he could react.

Amiyo screamed at the intense burning feeling in his hand, grasping at it with his left and rocking back and forwards in the dimly lit cavern.

“As you did not listen the first time, I shall repeat myself,” the Red magician said calmly, but not without an edge to her voice, “You are not the one to ask questions.” She waited a while for Amiyo’s squirming figure to relax a little before continuing. “Tell me everything you know about him.”

Amiyo gulped again, his eyes shut tight against the pain and right arm resting over his knees, still throbbing with every heart beat. He took a deep but shaky breath and told the woman everything he knew about the boy; how he had first come to the island—dubbed Umnikai by the humans—on a holiday with who he thought were his family, how he had felt while he still thought he was human, then after when he had finally believed who he really was, then the inexplicable power of his magic.

“So where is he?”

“I don’t know.” There was a hint of irritation in the mind reader’s voice, though the Red magician hadn’t appeared to pick it up.

“Could you at least tell me where you last saw him?”

Amiyo winced at a new wave of pain, and he was suddenly overcome with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He rested his head on his knees to try and stop it from spinning without success. He nodded weakly in answer to the woman’s question and swallowed back the bile that was threatening to make itself known.

“He was… I saw… Sorry, I’m just not…” He struggled to form sentences, but nothing was clear anymore. He could faintly hear the woman saying something, but couldn’t even make out the tone, let alone her words. He took a deep breath to try and take a hold of himself, but wasn’t awake to let it out.

Mark was sitting motionless at the tree’s foot, resting his back against its sturdy trunk. Despite the cat people telling him he had to control his magic, Mark felt differently about it. As he’d told them, they didn’t have to live it. Their magic cooperated and did exactly what they wanted it to. Mark’s was different. It wasn’t just stronger than theirs, but it was aggressive and disobedient. Not once had it gone along with Mark’s wishes, unless it wanted to trick him.

He’d come to the conclusion that the only way to get it to do what he wanted was to not try and control or overpower it, but to somehow become friends with it. If it could trust him, then maybe he could trust it. He’d tried to explain it to Malai and Llaeka that this was the way humans worked, that it was better to make friends with someone to get them to do what you want them to rather than force them to. But the cat people wouldn’t listen, arguing that magic required control to work the way it was told.

He’d ignored all their reasoning, knowing that neither of them had any ideas how Human Magic itself worked, and now sat under the tree, his eyes closed, trying his best to reason with his magic. He knew it would take a while, but it was probably better than forcing it into submission.

I know we didn’t exactly start off in the best way possible, but I was hoping we could kinda try working together instead. Sorry I, well, denied your existence at the beginning, but you have to admit, it was damn good fun for you back home, right? Plus you’ve more than gotten me back for it. I definitely know you exist now, if that was what you were trying to do. I don’t fully understand you, but if you could let me get to know you better, I could give you something special. I mean it this time, seriously. Dunno what I could give you… but yeah, once I get to know you I’ll think of something… No, please don’t attack me again, I’m trying to talk to you!

He slumped back against the tree, his head rolled to one side, but it was only a few minutes before he blinked back at the sunlight. He sighed heavily, looking up through the trees. Bribery obviously wouldn’t work. Fair enough, considering friendships based on material possessions weren’t exactly the strongest on the planet.

How was he supposed to make friends with something that hated him? He tried to think of how he had made friends with all the people he had known at home, but couldn’t. They had just clicked somehow, when they first met. He wondered vaguely whether they’d stay his friends when they found out he wasn’t human, absently flicking an ear at a passing mozzie.

Thanks for giving me all my friends, he said warmly, knowing his magic was at least half the reason he had so many.

“How goes it?” Mark sighed, not looking up at the cat girl.

“Do you know how much easier my life would be if you’d never said anything?” he said bitterly, fingering the opals on his cheek. “I would still have my friends and family, I wouldn’t be a freak, I wouldn’t have to deal with magic…”

“Yes you would,” Llaeka interrupted. “It’d show up eventually, and you wouldn’t know how to deal with it.” She dropped something at Mark’s feet, making him jump slightly.

“What is it?” he asked, picking up the long strip of leather. It appeared to be a belt, but with something attached to it.

“Sword sheath.”

Mark examined the hoop that was sewn strongly onto the belt, fitted with a sparkling multicoloured opal. “I thought they were s’posed to be longer, you know, stop yourself from being cut when you’re running or whatever.”

“Says the guy who’s never even picked up a sword,” Llaeka said with a grin, “Go on, put it on.”

Mark stood up and wrapped the leather strip around his waist, doing the opal-studded buckle up at the front. “Where’d you get it?”

Llaeka raised an eyebrow. “You’re kidding, right?” She rolled her eyes when she saw Mark’s blank look. “I made it. What exactly did you do as a human? I mean, you didn’t know you had magic, didn’t hunt, no weapons at all from what I’ve heard. What did you do?”

Mark glared back at her for speaking that way about what he still thought of as his species. “You have no idea,” he whispered fiercely, “I could reel off so many things and you would have no idea. I could explain it to you a hundred times over and you’d have no idea. You may think I’m pretty incompetent here, but stick you in a city and you would not last five minutes. Don’t try to judge things you’ve got no idea about.”

He glared at her for a few seconds longer, then picked up his sword and shoved it roughly into his new sheath before turning on his heel and storming off.

Llaeka stared after him, her arms folded. “Touchy bastard,” she mumbled.

Seven