Harlequin

Ten

Mark could feel that his magic was getting bored. He didn’t know what it was exactly that made him know this. It just felt like it was bored.

Well there’s nothing I can do about it, Mark told it calmly, We’re stuck in here ‘til either someone finds us or that chick comes back and kills me. Either that or you show me how to sense other people with Animal Magic. He sighed and rested his chin on his glowing hands.

His stomach growled at him. All he had been given to eat in the week he had been kept in here were two bananas. He needed food.

Gradually he became aware that his magic was doing something weird and unusual. It seemed to be forming itself into a long, skinny cord coiled up inside him. He sat up straight, peering at his hands and wondering what it was up to, bracing himself for what could very well be another attack.

Instead it darted out in eight thin ropes through his fingertips. He could faintly see the strings shimmering in the blackness of the cave, but if he was outside, he wouldn’t have been able to see anything. He squirmed slightly at the strange feeling it gave him, like hairs were being pulled through his skin.

It wasn’t long before he could feel other small blobs of shimmering opal-coloured light, which he guessed to be other cat people with Animal Magic. They glowed much paler than his own, but he assumed that was just because these blobs were normal, unlike his own.

As the string-like cords of Human Magic swept over the island, they came in contact with someone who’s magic shone much brighter than anyone else’s. Mark sat bolt upright, suddenly seeing no more than the black cave he was stuck in. He didn’t need any confirmation to know she was the other Human Magician on the island.

He glanced at his watch, yawning when he realised what the time was. He rested back against the wall, figuring it would be another ten hours or so before the woman returned.

Thanks, he told his magic, Guess you don’t want me to die after all. He tried to arrange himself in a somewhat comfortable sleeping position against the wall, but as with every night, he didn’t succeed.

“Well screw that idea then,” he muttered with another yawn. His ears pricked up as a sudden thought came to mind. You wouldn’t be able to knock me out until, I dunno, ten-ish, would you? Or at least when she rocks up?

His magic was obviously taken aback by this question, but nevertheless it obliged, thankfully in the least painful way it knew how.

He blinked his eyes open, shielding them against the seemingly bright light of the woman’s fire.

“I’ve found her,” he mumbled, sitting up and rubbing his eyes with a yawn. When he opened them again, the woman gave him an evil grin.

“Good boy,” she told him, as though she was talking to a small dog. “Follow me.”

Mark stood up and stretched his arms and legs before following nervously after the woman. She had extinguished her flames so his ears and fingers were all he had to go by. His glowing hands lit nothing more than the wall they touched.

As the Red Magician wound through the black catacombs, Mark soon completely lost his sense of direction. It was worse than the maze of corridors at school. It had taken him a good month to work them out, but these ones he wouldn’t have a hope of navigating, not even after a year of wandering around them. At one point he thought he could hear something that sounded vaguely like a waterfall down one corridor, but the woman took him down one to his left.

He sent out some strings of magic to look for the girl, knowing he would have to when he left the cave anyway, and came across not only cat people with Animal Magic, but also clusters of even paler opal light. He guessed that they were the small villagers on the island, but there was one lone figure left inside the caves behind him. He shook his head. He’d have to escape himself before he could think about getting anyone else out of there.

It was eleven o’clock when he finally caught a glimpse of light other than the pale light from his hands or the woman’s flames. He squinted against the late morning sunlight, reducing his eyes to slits barred by his lashes and shading them with his hand. He had to blink several times to get used to seeing again before he could make his way out of the cave and behind the waterfall he had heard earlier.

The woman was standing to his left, her arms folded. “Lead on,” she ordered, ushering him ahead with an arm.

Mark nodded, sending the pale shimmering strings of magic from his fingers again to find the girl with Human Magic. It didn’t take long for her glowing form, brighter than all the others, but still considerably paler than his own. He took a deep breath and made his way into the trees.

“So?” Llaeka prompted. She had taken her cat person form back when she had spotted Amiyo.

Amiyo held up a hand to silence her, his eyes fixed on the patch of forest Mark and the Red Magician had disappeared into. When he was certain they were out of earshot he relaxed and turned to the younger cat girl.

“Her name’s Rian-Mai,” he began, “Her family was killed by humans last monsoon, so she wants revenge on them.”

“Revenge meaning..?”

“She’s using Mark and the other Human Magician to find every human on the island and kill them.”

Llaeka’s eyes widened. “Bitch,” she whispered.

Amiyo grinned dryly. “Good news is I know where our swords are.”

The ocelot girl shrugged. “Doesn’t exactly outweigh the bad, but whatever.” She paused. “They’re not guarded or anything, are they?”

Amiyo nodded in reply. “By some guy with telekinesis.”

Llaeka’s shoulders dropped. “Oh great. So we get them how?”

“Buggered if I know.”

“Even better.”

“Hey, don’t get pissed at me! I just read minds, I dunno the answer to every question you throw at me!”

Llaeka sighed. “I’m just frustrated, you know?” She sighed. “Hang on, what about if I could convince, I dunno, a hundred ocelots to ambush him? He couldn’t fend off the lot of them, surely.”

“Worth a try, I guess. You’ll have to be the one who goes in and gets the swords though, he’d notice me in a herd of ocelots, but not you.”

“Sure, I can do that,” she answered, taking ocelot form. Back in a few days, she told him silently, knowing he would be reading her mind to know what she was saying, then bounded off into the undergrowth.

It was a nervous three days for Mark before they finally reached the girl with Human Magic. She looked to be about fifteen with reddish brown hair tied back in a high ponytail that dropped to her shoulders. She was helping a boy of about ten to build a pile of logs for that night’s fire, and when she turned to leave for more firewood, Mark noticed she only had the one leaf-shaped jewel on her face. Their mother was resting against a tree not far away.

“That’s her,” Mark whispered, pointing at the girl.

“I can see that,” the woman hissed. She wasted no time in sweeping into the small clearing, one arm on her hip, the other around the hilt of her unsheathed sword.

“Are you the girl with Human Magic?” she demanded. The hard voice sent shivers up Mark’s spine.

The girl nodded slightly before her mother approached from behind and wrapped her arms protectively around her daughter.

“Who are you? What do you want with my daughter?” Mark cringed. Despite her confidence, that woman wouldn’t last long if she kept trying to defy the Red Magician.

Sure enough, a flash of orange light flew to her shoulder, making her almost throw her daughter away when she grasped at it with her other hand.

“You do not ask questions, you answer them.” Bet she never gets sick of saying that, Mark thought bitterly.

The Red Magician took her hand from her hip and motioned for the girl to come over to her.

She didn’t move.

In a rapid flash of silver, the Fire Magician cut a horizontal stripe into the young boy’s upper arm, making him flinch and begin to cry, then run to his mother.

The Red Magician took a few steps forward, making the small family step back. “If you refuse to come,” she said smoothly, forming another flame around her hand, “then you’ll have no family to come back to.” She sent another small flame over to the threesome, allowing it to hover in front of the mother’s nose.

Mark turned away and leant against the tree he had been hiding behind, not wanting to see any more, but he couldn’t block out the conversation, nor could he block out the screams at its conclusion. He flattened his ears against his head and clenched his eyes against the orange glow on the trees in front of him, but it was just replaced by the memories of Malai’s death.

“Come on, boy.” The Red Magician was standing over him, half dragging the girl by her wrist. She dropped the girl’s hand and swept off, knowing Mark would follow if he knew what was best for him.

“What’s going on?” the girl whispered to him.

Mark shook his head and gently ushered her on. “Don’t ask ‘cos I dunno,” he answered.

The girl looked up at him. “That was human language, wasn’t it?”

He blinked a few times and raised one eyebrow at himself. Since when did I speak German? “Um, yeah.” I swear that was some kind of Chinese…

“You’ve got Human Magic?”

Mark nodded. “I’m sorry, you know, about—”

“That’s okay,” the girl interrupted, her eyes glistening. “I’m Eliya, by the way.”

Before Mark could answer, they were suddenly confronted with the dark face of the Red Magician. She looked Eliya up and down, causing the girl to take a slight step backwards. The woman raised one hand and sent a group of small flames to Eliya’s chest.

Mark turned away and clenched his eyes at the scream Eliya let out. He didn’t need to look at her to know what shaped scar the flames had left.

“You walk in silence,” the woman said firmly, then swept around and continued walking.

Mark glared after the woman for a few seconds, then bent to help Eliya up, a concerned look on his face. She smiled back, cringing as she got to her feet. Silently they followed after the Red Magician.

Amiyo was standing with his back against a tree when the group of ten or so ocelots approached him. “That all you could get?” he asked.

The ocelot at their lead rolled its eyes, then began to change form. “‘Is that all I could get?’” Llaeka answered with mock scorn. She pointed up with one hand, a smug look on her face.

Amiyo followed her gesture, and was greeted with the faces of at least fifty more ocelots. Even though he knew they weren’t there to attack him, he still instinctively took a step back and moved his hand to where his sword should be. Being looked down on by that many predators made him edgy.

“So, where are our swords?” Llaeka asked, making him turn away from the branches filled with ocelots.

“Follow me,” he said, then began making his way through the trees away from the river.

Llaeka said something to the ocelots, and at once the bark of various trees began to crawl with the beautiful dappled coats of the fifty-odd felines. She then took her own ocelot form and led the group after Amiyo.

After a few minutes, Amiyo stopped and looked to Llaeka, who was walking at his side so he knew which one was her. “Get ready,” he whispered. Llaeka relayed the message onto the ocelots, who took various positions behind trees and bushes.

Amiyo pointed to an area of the cliff that stuck out from the rest. “Behind that is a small kind of cave crack thing. The swords are in there. There are only ten or so in there, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find ours.” He lay one hand on the ocelot girl’s back. “Good luck.”

Llaeka nodded and translated for her four-legged army, then began to lead them, slinking along the cliff wall, keeping out of sight of the telekinetic guard. When she was barely a metre from the edge of the jutting rock, she crouched low, wagging her tail to signal those behind her, then pounced.

The man guarding the swords was clearly shocked, and stumbled backwards before the ocelots had even hit him.

Llaeka bounded onto his chest and hissed, slashing at him with her right paw before leaping off and leaving the real ocelots to it. “Remember, don’t kill him, just don’t let him know I’m in here,” she called over her shoulder, then snuck into the crack in the rocky wall that Amiyo had talked about, two other ocelots in her wake.

The swords were all lined up and glinting in the small amount of sunlight that entered the cave. She briefly took her cat person form, since ocelots themselves can’t see in colour, then grabbed her own sword and sheathed it. As she reached out for Mark’s and Amiyo’s swords, they were flung instantly out of her reach by some invisible force.

She whipped her head around to see the guard standing in the opening, one hand outstretched, the other grasping his sword. He was considerably scratched all over, and winced with each step he took.

Finally she came to her senses and grabbed at a pair of swords that lay against the wall, brandishing them and gripping their hilts tightly for fear that the guard would whisk them from her. She could only hope her arms and fingers were stronger than his magic.

She could feel him pulling at the swords as though he’d gripped their blades with his bare hands and was trying to wrench them from her. She swung each of them around and began advancing on him, both blades flashing in circles in front of her. She figured that if he was going to fling her back, he would have done so already. Plus he hadn’t managed to pull the swords from her grip, so chances were he wouldn’t be able to lift her.

She’d never been particularly amazing with a sword, but any opponent with a sword in each hand was formidable, and she used this to her advantage, swinging them together around his waist.

The guard blocked one sword with his own, the second he tried to hold off with his magic and other arm, but it still hit him with considerable force, adding to the gashes he had gained from the ocelots.

When he collapsed to the ground, dropping his sword and grabbing instead at his arm, Llaeka could see behind him one lone ocelot, lying in a growing pool of red liquid.

The cat girl froze. Tears began to jab at the back of her eyelids. No wonder the rest of the group had fled.

She hurriedly dropped the two foreign swords and grabbed Amiyo’s and Marks from the other side of the cave, handing one to each of the two ocelots that had followed her into the cave, then leapt over the crippled guard. She bent and picked up the dead feline, burying her face into the clean fur on its neck, then ran back to where she had left Amiyo.

None of the ocelot group was to be seen, and Llaeka couldn’t blame them. They didn’t mourn the deaths of others of their kind, instead preferring to escape from whatever it was that had killed them.

Llaeka, on the other hand, was devastated.

“It’s all my fault,” she wept into Amiyo’s shoulder, “I mean, I expected someone to get hurt, but not killed! I should’ve known.”

Amiyo patted her hair, not saying anything. He just picked up the swords and sheathed his own, steering her gently away from the dead ocelot.

Eleven