Harlequin

Twelve

It was dusk three days later by the time Mark and Eliya were dragged back into the catacombs behind the waterfall. Mark gave one last glance over his shoulder past the younger cat girl to catch his last glimpse at the outside world. When he would get out again, he couldn’t say. He wasn’t even sure if he’d get out at all.

As the caves darkened, the Red Magician lit up a ball of fire, not much brighter than Mark’s glowing hands. For the first five or so turns, Mark carefully traced their steps, taking note of when they met up with another underground pathway, but it wasn’t long before he gave up with a sigh, and just followed on silently. Gradually he became aware that they seemed to be heading in the general direction of the human that he had detected earlier.

When they were not far from where the person was held captive, the woman swept around, holding the flame below her chest and casting warm but eerie shadows over her already terrifying face. “Take human form,” she ordered, “You are to be kept in the same cave as a human. Do not under any circumstances let him know you are not human.” She looked over Mark’s shoulder at Eliya. “If you try to escape, you will perish in these caves through no doing of my own. If you stay, you will be fed. Now change your forms.”

For the first time, Mark’s magic refused. Normally it was more than happy to change him into the form it felt more comfortable in, and instead refused to let him take his more natural cat person form. But this time it wouldn’t do as he told it. Or rather, wouldn’t do as the woman with Red Magic demanded.

The Red Magician was growing impatient. “Change!” she demanded, sending the flame to hover in front of Mark’s face.

Mark retreated slightly from the fireball’s intense heat, all the while trying to get his magic to cooperate with him.

The flame began to grow, then to twist itself into a rope around Mark’s neck, just barely missing his skin. He could feel sweat dripping down his neck and shoulders. He didn’t dare move. His magic was bubbling furiously inside him, shining out of his fingers almost as brightly and ferociously as the fire itself.

Eventually it all became too much for him. He couldn’t control the magic’s anger and avoid the flames at the same time. The second he began to relax his hold on the opaline light, it sprung from his palms and darted for the Red Magician, but Mark had blacked out from its power before he could see its effect.

Slowly, Mark eased back into consciousness, vaguely aware of a dull throb in his head. The throb gradually grew stronger, and he silently mumbled something to his magic. He couldn’t be sure what it was exactly, probably something to stop it from hitting him. But the throbbing still continued to grow. He groaned slightly as the throb grew sharper, more insistent. His thoughts grew increasingly clearer, as did the sounds around him, but so did the pain.

Suddenly conscious thought returned to him, and he snapped his eyes open, immediately clenching them and screaming out in pain. He sprang up to a sitting position, moving his hand not to his head, but his stinging neck. He choked desperately, cringing when his fingers came away slightly sticky. He coughed and cringed again, instantly regretting his action.

Dimly he became aware that someone was talking to him. “Are you alright?”

“Do I bloody look alright?” he scorned, coughing again.

“What happened? Who are you?”

Only now did Mark realise that the voice was masculine, and he blindly looked up to see where it was coming from, resisting the urge to hold a hand to his neck. He took a sharp breath through his teeth and swallowed hard before speaking again.

“Mark Trifford,” he said breathlessly, holding a hand out to where he suspected the man was, but his gesture wasn’t returned. “Oh yeah… forgot about that…” he mumbled, awkwardly drawing his shimmering hand back. God I’m screwed, he thought, then proceeded to pass out again.

The stinging pain of the Red Magician’s burn woke him again, though it wasn’t quite as overwhelming as it had been.

“You right now?”

Mark gave a slight nod. “I’ll get there. So who’re you? How’d you end up here?”

“Oh, sorry, I’m Niccolo Pirelli,” the man answered. “Not sure if you’ve heard of me, I work for an Italian documentary channel.” He paused for a moment. “There are so many questions I want to ask you. Why… why are your hands… they’re glowing…”

Mark rested against the nearest wall, laying his hands casually on his knees. “That they are, yeah. Erm… hard to explain. But yeah, not an optical illusion or anything. How long was I out for?”

Niccolo took a few seconds to answer. “A few hours, maybe?”

“That long? Serious? Bugga, that hasn’t happened in a while. Anyway, so many questions to ask me?”

“You’re Mark Trifford? The Australian boy who was kidnapped here a few months ago, right?”

“That’d be me.”

“So who’s she? I didn’t see her in the paper at all.”

“Nah, you wouldn’t’ve, Eliya lives here.” He cringed suddenly and gently touched the raw skin on his neck. “Bloody hell that canes,” he muttered.

Eliya interrupted. “Stop talking to him, he’ll know we’re not human then that woman will come back and kill us.”

Mark turned his head gingerly to where her voice was coming from. “Number one: he’s human, wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re not. Number two: how’s she going to find out that he knows anyway? Not like she can ask him or anything. Number three: you were just talking in cat person language.”

“You… you’re not human, are you?” Niccolo whispered.

“No,” Mark answered simply, “And at a wild guess, you’re here to do some documentary on cat people?”

He couldn’t see a thing in the blackness, but he knew Niccolo had nodded. “So therefore this makes perfect sense, right? You know about magic and all the rest of it?”

“T—to a certain extent, yes… I’ve only been here about a month

And here we end it. Why? Coupla things: no idea what was going to happen next, or for the remaining however many months he'd be there for, but mostly, it's getting corny. It's already corny, isn't it? Hell yes. It was corny by halfway through one, in all honesty. So we ditch it and end the corniness! Hurrah! Now go read the Yrae Chronicles. It's newer, shinier and not corny. Hurrah again!

Old Fiction