Harlequin

Nine

Mark looked down at his hands, the only things he could see at all in the otherwise pitch black cave. The opaline colours danced under his skin, strongest at his fingertips and fading out towards his elbows. If the light hadn’t been coming from inside him, it would have been quite beautiful.

“Alright.” He took a breath to calm himself. “You don’t like me and I don’t like you, that’s painfully obvious, but we have to work something out, kay? Kay.”

Trying to remember what he’d done the first time, Mark closed his eyes and concentrated on changing back into his human form.

“Right, can’t be that hard, been a human most of my life anyway…” He took another deep breath and tried to do the opposite of what he had done to change into a cat person. Instead of forming the magic into opals on his face, he pushed it out and made it flow around his body, silently hoping it wouldn’t knock him out this time.

His eyes snapped open at the sudden changes. His hearing had dulled, and while the light in his hands didn’t appear as bright as it had been, it was most certainly more colourful. He rubbed his hands over his face and ears, confirming that he had succeeded.

But he didn’t celebrate just yet; he knew that as soon as he’d thought he’d won, that was when his magic would attack again. After several minutes of nothing, he let out his breath.

“Thanks, now we’ll go back the other way again.”

Immediately it began to flare up, making Mark cringe and hold his temples. “Please, don’t, it’s just annoying. I’m not asking for much, just to stop trying to bloody kill me every time I ask you to do something.”

Slowly the magic began to ebb away, but he decided to leave it at that before trying again. He closed his eyes and slumped back against the wall, resting his head on its cool rocky surface.

“Who were you talking to?”

Mark jumped at the woman’s voice. How could he not have heard her coming? Oh yeah, human ears.

“Magic.”

“Why?”

“Trying to get a handle on the stuff.”

“Taking my advice, are you?”

Mark shrugged. “Sorta. Been trying to control it for a while though, before I even knew about you.”

“How long?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “Like I said before, ‘bout a moon.”

Another cut from the woman’s blade appeared on his arm.

“Why is it taking you so long?”

Mark propped his elbows on his knees, carefully avoiding his burn, and held up both hands, glaring hard into the woman’s eyes. “If your magic was that strong, you wouldn’t be asking that.” He raised his eyebrows and dropped his hands again, silently challenging her.

Even through her apparently blank exterior, he could see her bristling inside. She was itching to hurt him in some way—kill him even—but something was stopping her. He must be more important to her than he had thought. Eventually she just settled for adding another cut to his repertoire.

“Control it,” she hissed, then abruptly turned on her heel and left.

Mark blinked after her. “The hell was the point of that?” he mumbled after her, then shrugged and returned to his magic.

“How strong is the boy’s magic?”

Llaeka glared back up at the woman, one hand on the burn on her stomach she had received a few days ago. “Take a look at it for yourself,” she spat back. So what if the woman could kill her barely batting an eyelid?

The woman narrowed her eyes and flicked her sword through the skin on Llaeka’s arm with an impossible speed, granted to her by the yellow-green peridot accompanying the leaf-shaped garnet.

“Can you sense others with Human Magic?”

Llaeka shook her head. “Nup.” She could sense any Animal Magicians, but the only kind she could easily identify was her own Ocelot Magic. “Malai probably could’ve though.”

The woman let out an exasperated sigh. Llaeka refused to tell her anything. She could cut the skin on her arm to ribbons for all Llaeka cared, but she wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of getting any useful information out of her.

The fire-magician narrowed her eyes and formed another flame at her fingertips, continuing to interrogate the younger girl.

Llaeka simply raised an eyebrow and folded her arms, offering nothing but generally meaningless answers, enough to make it sound like she was answering, but when the woman finally left, she was none the wiser.

Llaeka was left alone in the blackness again. She leant her back against the cool stone wall and sighed. As skilful and ambiguous as she had been with her ‘answers’, she had still not managed to find out what the woman wanted. All she could tell was that it had something to do with humans, beyond that she had no idea.

She closed her eyes and sent out skinny fingers of her magic to search for Mark, but found no less than eight other people with Animal Magic. None of them had exceptionally strong magic like Mark’s. She frowned and stared at where the cave’s entrance lay. According to the fire-magician, there was no way she could make her way through the winding catacombs.

Llaeka rolled her eyes and slid quietly into her ocelot form, slinking out through the entrance, her nose trained to the ground for her own scent. At the first fork she came to, she snorted down the direction she had obviously never been and continued on.

No way out? Whatever you reckon.

But at the second fork, she found her own scent in both directions. She flicked an ear and swished her tail in annoyance. Eventually she chose the left fork, the fork she assumed was closer to the exit, and trotted down it on her soft paws. But again she was faced with the same dilemma, only this time there were three possible options.

It wasn’t going to get any easier, she knew, but there was no other way around it. It was either escape now, or stay in that cave with the high possibility of death. She snorted and forged on, taking note of the directions she took so she’d know how to get back if all else failed.

She soon lost track of how long she’d been wandering the tunnels. Every so-often she sent out her magic to find her position in relation to the other Animal Magicians, but she just felt as though she was going around in circles. She dropped to her haunches and sighed heavily, less than happy with her progress.

Her head snapped around and she remained perfectly still, her ears fanned out and focused down the corridor. She could hear two sets of footsteps, one a woman, the other a man. They were walking fairly casually, and had obviously not yet noticed the ocelot they were walking towards. Their footsteps came clearer as they rounded a corner.

Llaeka didn’t hesitate, immediately darting back the way she had come, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t notice her scent.

Not knowing where she was heading, she just kept running, keeping her ears back and trained on the footsteps until she lost them. She stood silent in the foreign passage. Even her tail was a stiff and motionless hook behind her.

Silence.

Slowly, she relaxed her tense muscles and slunk back down the way she had come, taking extra caution as she neared where she could smell the fresh scents left behind by the two cat people.

She was completely disoriented. She had no idea where she had come from or in which direction the exit lay. All she had to go by were the constantly changing locations of the other people with Animal Magic. But nevertheless, she kept going, knowing that there was no other way about it.

It must have been a full three days before her ears caught the distant but clear rushing rumbling noise. She paused in her step a while, training her hearing on the strange sound. It sounded like distant thunder, but more constant.

Yes! Waterfall! No way I can get out, eh? She snubbed her nose in the air and trotted on, tail held high.

At the next fork, her tail dropped. She could hear the waterfall clearly down one of the passages, but her scent led down the other.

Well this is annoying, she thought, her nose darting between the two passages. Her brain told her she should keep following her scent, but she could hear the rushing water so clearly now. Her tail swished behind her in her indecision.

Stuff it, I can hear it down there, I’m going down there. But even as she started, she felt as though she had made the wrong decision.

It wasn’t long before she spotted a very faint pool of light in the corridor ahead of her. A gentle golden yellow, only noticeable because of the pitch blackness she had been subjected to for the past three or four days.

The ray of sunlight made her hunger, which she had only been dimly aware of until now, flare up inside her.

Right, she thought as she crept slowly forwards, First thing I’m doing when I get out of here, eat.

She kept moving along the passage, the light strengthening all the time, until she saw the crack where the light came from. She blinked a few times, and had she been in cat person form, she would have grinned broadly. The crack, while way too small for any normal sized person to fit through, would fit an ocelot perfectly.

Llaeka glanced down the corridor in both directions and squeezed into the hole. She peered out into the rainforest, lit pale golden by the sun rising on the other side of the island. She scanned the surrounding area with eyes, ears and magic, giving her eyes time to adjust to the sudden change in lighting.

To her left lay the waterfall, with two guards on the opposite bank and a third with White Magic less than ten metres from her. She carefully checked out the surrounding trees and, after waiting a few minutes for the right time, she slunk out of the hole and around to the opposite side of one of the larger trees, leaping up it and darting daintily through the tree branches to escape the caves behind the waterfall for good.

One of the three guards had White Magic, the magic of the wind. The two on Amiyo’s side of the river were slightly more obscure: the taller of the two men bore a pair of tiger eye quartz, allowing him to see in pitch blackness as well as he could in broad daylight. The second had a pair of grey, smoky quartz, giving him the ability to walk through solid mass.

Even after reading the minds of all three guards he had seen since he’d arrived back at the waterfall last night, Amiyo still had no idea what the fire magician was planning. He could confidently make his way through the tunnels behind the waterfall after piecing together the knowledge of the three guards, but wouldn’t know where to look for Mark or Llaeka. He didn’t even know where to find his sword.

He idly massaged his palm, looking down at the scab that had now formed over the wound. Even if by some stroke of luck he did manage to find his sword, he wouldn’t be using it for a while yet. Tasty as the fruits he came across were, he needed meat.

He sighed and turned his attention back to the guards, neither of whom had made any moves to go. Right, sword first, rescue later.

He frowned as he caught sight of movement to the left of the waterfall. A small head, too small to be a cat person’s, poked from a crack in the rock. The face surveyed the area, ducking back in when it sighted the guards. It waited for a short while, then slunk from the hole and shimmied up a nearby tree before darting through the treetops away from the scene.

Amiyo was the only one who had seen the ocelot as it made its escape, and now he slid back down the tree he had been hiding in, knowing the feline had to be Llaeka. He kept his magic trained on the guards, making sure none sighted him.

But his magic could only ever give him a warning of a few seconds. However long it took for the thought to reach the lips, that was his warning. As soon as he heard the “who’s that?” in his mind, he bolted. There was no point hiding. He’d been seen. If he tried to hide, he knew he’d just be kidding himself. His prey did it to him all the time.

In his mind he could decipher the three voices of the guards. The White magician on the other side of the river was going to stay guarding the exit. As he flew over bushes and under branches, Amiyo subconsciously wondered how many people were held captive behind the waterfall. For now though, his main purpose was to make sure he wasn’t one of them.

The other two guards sprinted after him. Neither of the pair had any idea what kind of magic he had, or who he was, but they were intent on bringing him down.

Amiyo glanced nervously at the glittering waters of the river. His perusers hated water just as much as he did, though he wasn’t sure whether or not they would continue if he dove in to escape. Maybe if he looked confident when he dove in, they’d think the better of it and give up their chase.

He gulped and darted to his right, plunging with no hesitation into the river. Instantly he felt every hair on his body stand on end and his muscles tense up. He forced a deep breath to calm his nerves and swim onwards. Without looking back he checked that they wouldn’t follow him, grinning and diving underwater for a few seconds in his confidence.

He shuddered and coughed slightly as he surfaced. Note to self: don’t do that again.

Ten