Once Jenny left I was able to heal my arm. I warned the others not to mention that we had discovered magic, even after Jenny joined us.
“Even if she really wants to be part of our group, once she realises what a hopeless bunch we are, she may want to leave. Probably immediately. We don’t want her going off with all our secrets.”
“When you say hopeless bunch,” said Claire, “you mean the rest of us, right? You’re not including yourself.”
“No, Claire, I am including myself. Just because I act like I’m better than everyone doesn’t mean I think I’m great. I have a very low opinion of myself, trust me. It just means I’m constantly being surrounded by people who are even less impressive. It’s very depressing.”
“Ah think you’ll find this will cheer you oop.” Flossie jumped in front of me, legs wide apart, hands on hips in superhero pose. She pointed a finger at me, and out of the end appeared a teeny, tiny flame. For about a microsecond, and then pfft, it was gone. “Shit. Ah got it to last a bit longer last time.
There were a lot of hugs and jubilation, as you would expect for this minor miracle.
“I also achieved magic level one,” said Maurice, “or at least I think I did. That’s how I caught the fish. He came right up to me, practically offered himself up on a plate. We just need a little more practice and we’ll be as good as you.”
They all looked to me for some sort of validation or a pat on the head or something. I gave them a thumbs up, which was about all I could muster.
We prepared and cooked the fish. Pitt cut it into slices like steak and it didn’t taste all that different from a nice juicy t-bone. Everyone put the situation with Jenny on the backburner and we focused on enjoying our meal.
It was delicious, but I had lost my appetite and only picked at mine. Maurice was excited to tell us about how he had lured the fish closer to the platform using magic.
“I couldn’t believe it. The water started glowing and this fish made a beeline for me with this look on his face like, you talking to me?
Look.” He picked up the fish’s head and moved its mouth. “You talking to me?”
The weird thing was, the fish did actually look like Robert De Niro.
I shouldn’t be too dismissive of what Flossie and Maurice had managed to do. This was the first time one of the others had successfully used magic, which was a big step forward. If they could master at least one magical ability, we would be a lot stronger as a group. Everyone else was full of congratulations and encouragement. Normally I would have been too (well, a little bit at least), but I had this sick feeling in my stomach, and it wasn’t the fish.
Time dragged by. Jenny didn’t come back. When it started to get dark, it became obvious she wasn’t going to. There were any number of reasons why she might have been delayed or even changed her mind. And there was still a chance she would turn up in the morning.
This is the problem with allowing hope into your life. It just makes everything taste like disappointment. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Did the others get pissed off with Jenny when she said she was leaving? Did she get attacked by a monster on the way back? Was it all an elaborate ruse and her party were now surrounding us, ready to attack?
The possibilities were endless and mostly unpleasant. I had no idea what to do. This is what liking girls does to you, makes you weak and pathetic. And if you take into account how weak and pathetic I was to start with, I think you can see why I avoided situations like this as much as possible.
We returned to our camp and prepared ourselves for an imminent attack by Tin and his crew. Or to be more precise, we sat around the fire and made up excuses for why everything was fine and nothing bad was going to happen. No one sounded very convincing.
I sat on a log by the fire, poking it with a stick. Our fire was in a pit and not very big. We didn’t want it to attract too much attention. I imagined Tin’s fire was huge and made out of entire trees. I’m not sure why that image popped into my head, and please keep your sexual metaphors to yourself.
To keep my mind occupied, I produced a small flame and made it jump from one finger to the next. Eventually I got it to dance on the palm of my hand. Pointless but it wasn’t like I had anything better to do.
Where was she? What had happened to her? I couldn’t stop myself obsessing over Jenny. It should have been a good thing. Hadn’t I wanted her to stay away? Out of sight, out of mind? I should just accept it and take it as another lesson learned.
“Er, Colin?” said Maurice. “Is that supposed to happen?”
Without realising it, the flame in my palm had spread. A blue glove of fire covered my whole hand. Strange it doesn’t hurt, I thought. And then it started to hurt.
I remembered Grayson had mentioned that people who could use magic usually ended up harming themselves. I started to panic. I shook my hand to try and put it out, but that did nothing except create pretty streaks in the air. I would have stopped to admire them, if my hand wasn’t on fucking fire.
Flossie came running over with a pot of water, which she threw in my face. Perfect.
“Ooh, I missed. Sorry.”
Everyone threw whatever water they could find, but the flame seemed unaffected. The pain wasn’t too bad, I’d compare it to when you play in the snow too long, then take off your gloves and your hand’s all red and throbbing. I used my other hand to make the signs for healing and placed it on top of the flames.
It did ease the pain, but rather than put it out, the flames lifted off my hand and floated into the air. They pulled together to form a ball of blue-white light and drifted higher and higher. It was quite beautiful. We all just stood there watching it rise until it was no more than a tiny dot. Clouds covered the sky so it was like the only star in heaven.
I don’t know how long we were gawping upwards, but the sound of someone crashing through the undergrowth towards us quickly brought us back to earth. We drew weapons and prepared ourselves.
Jenny stumbled into camp. Her lip was bleeding, one side of her face had a nasty bruise, half her armour was missing and she could barely stay upright. She grabbed onto me, more to stop from falling than out of any affection.
“I knew it was you,” she mumbled. “I saw the light, and I knew, I knew.”
She collapsed against my chest, which is when I saw the gash in the back of her head. It looked deep and nasty. Normally I would have recoiled and looked away, but for some reason I didn’t feel any of my usual disgust for body fluids. I placed my hand on the gunge that quite possibly could have been bits of her brain and healed her.
It took a few minutes, and it didn’t feel the way it did when I treated Dudley’s cuts and scrapes. My eyeballs felt like they were boiling in my head.
After I’d finished, her head looked no worse than a bad hair day. Jenny looked up at me, her eyes clear and back to normal. “What did you do? How?” Then she pushed me away and looked around, startled.
“We have to get out of here. He’s coming.”
“Jenny,” said Claire, her voice quiet and soothing, “what happened?”
Jenny looked from one face to the next like she was only just realising where she was. “I told them about the frogmen. I told them how we didn’t need to fight, but they said it was probably a trap, that you were tricking me. I tried to explain, but they wouldn’t listen, so I said I was leaving. They said fine, but as I was preparing my gear something hit me and I…”
She paused and squinted one eye like she was remembering something.
“When I came to I was… I don’t know where I was, but he was over me, taking my clothes off. He was saying how he’d waited long enough and it was time I paid him back for looking out for me. He was going to…. He’d taken my weapons but he’d forgotten about the knife in my boot. I stabbed him but I only hit him in the leg. I got up and ran but my head was spinning. I… I didn’t know where I was going but I could hear him behind me. It was dark so he couldn’t see me, but I couldn’t see anything either. And then I saw this beautiful light and… He’ll have seen it too.”
“It’s fine,” I said. It wasn’t fine at all. We were all going to get killed. But my body wasn’t doing its usual let’s-get-the-fuck-out-of-here dance and my brain hadn’t gone into ta-ta-you’re-on-your-own mode. I felt bizarrely calm.
“Claire, you and Flossie take her to the lake. Swim out to the platform and get Jolie to treat her other injuries. Dudley, take your bow and find a good spot out there.” I pointed into the dark. “If it looks bad, shoot. Try not to hit me. If it looks really bad, run and get the girls to safety. Maurice, same goes for you. Circle behind once they get here, but if it looks like there’s no chance, get to the water with the others.”
They all followed my instructions without comment, the girls forcing Jenny to go with them. A few seconds later I was alone by the sputtering fire. I took out my sword and planted it in the ground, ready to use. Then I sat down and waited. I didn’t have to wait long.
Dag came limping out of the dark.