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The catastrophe of the e.., p.15
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.15

           LR Manley
 
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   Just then Maximo stuck his head out a window and shouted. “Hey! You are going to play beginner’s rules on this I take it?” Jeejoh turned round and flew up to him and Jared saw them have a short conversation before Maximo nodded approvingly and shut the window. 

  Jeejoh flew back down and Jared. “What was that about?” he asked.

   The fairy giggled and pointed to the pool. “If you are good at Phase it can be a bit dangerous. The master just wanted to make sure we were playing a nice game with you all.”

   The boys reached the pool’s nearest edge and another fairy, this one a plump female, addressed them.

   “Hello my name’s Indira,” she said in a high voice. “Now, who knows how to play Phase?”

   One or two of the boys raised their hands, Bue amongst them.

   “What level?” she said to Bue.

   “Twelve,” he replied looking proud, to a gasp from one or two of the fairies. 

  “My, my,” she said nodding. “You HAVE had some experience. OK, you can be the captain of your team. Jared can be the other. Now choose.” 

  They quickly selected team mates, Jared not having a clue what was going to happen, then the fairies split off to hover behind the right shoulder of a boy each.

   “What do we do?” Jared said to Bue who raised a finger to his lips and grinned his gap toothed smile.

   “Now,” Indira said clapping her tiny hands for attention. The buzz of conversation died down. “Last man standing, no substitutions. Clear?” 

  Everyone murmured their understanding, except Jared who was still confused. The boys stripped down to their shorts and jumped in the pool. Bue nudged him and grinned. “Don’t worry, it’s fun. Trust me,” and jumped in with a splash, swimming over to the far side. Jared hesitated but looked up and saw Jeejoh hovering, a friendly smile on his face.

   “Don’t worry young friend, you’ll be with me,” he said winking and once Jared was in the water and swimming to his side with his other five team mates Jeejoh addressed them all.

   “Right, normal sized missile. No curving and no aiming for the face. Clear?” 

  Everyone except Jared murmured understanding and then the fairies suddenly glowed with bright orange light and one by one the boys rose in the air, some giggling, one or two kicking their legs and rose to about four metres above the water. Jared felt himself rising and fought the panic in his chest. “It’s ok, just relax,” Jeejoh said quickly. 

  Once everyone had arrived at the same height Indira flew up to join them and floated in the middle.

   Jared glanced around. There were five people on his team and a short distance away, facing them were Bue’s. They were all floating in the air, dripping wet. The fairies at their shoulders glowed brightly, the orange light casting bright patterns on the boys’ backs. Jared was intrigued as to what would happen next.

   Indira waved her tiny hand and a hexagonal shape of light appeared next to her. It glowed then flashed red and blue, faster and faster. She looked at Bue. “Call.”

   “Red,” he replied quickly and the hexagon blurred so it was impossible to see when it was one colour or the other, then suddenly stopped…on red. 

  “Get in!” Bue said laughing as the hexagon vanished. Indira glanced down and extended her arms to the pool. A ripple of activity disturbed the surface and a ball of water erupted from it and made its way up. It slowed and paused, hovering near to her and she gently moved her hands in a circular motion one over the other. The water formed a perfect ball and then moved towards Bue who held out his hands and it hesitated just beyond his fingertips. 

  Jared watched puzzled.

   “Your call Bue,” Indira said and took a tiny whistle from her blouse pocket and put it between her lips. She blew it and a high, shrill note fluted out over the pool.

   Bue looked at Jared and grinned. “Now to show you how it’s done” he shouted and drew his arms back over his head then hurled towards Stone, next to Jared. The ball of water followed the motion of his hands and then launched straight. Stone yelled and threw out his arms, but a second too late. The ball of water hit his chest and exploded, soaking him. The light from the fairy died out just after the ball hit and he plummeted downwards. As he reached the surface of the water Jared winced expecting a splash but instead there was a brief flash of bright yellow light and the boy vanished. Jared looked around dumbfounded.

   He glanced behind him and saw the large wooden cage had Stone in it, dripping wet and waving madly. “Thanks Sharpeye,” he yelled at Bue. “You wait till next time.” 

  Bue grinned back and yelled. “In your dreams;” and Indira blew her whistle.

   “One to…what name do you want for your team?” she said looking concerned.  

  Without hesitation Bue replied. “Sharpeye’s Shooters.”

  Indira nodded approvingly. She turned to Jared’s team. “Five points to Sharpeye’s Shooters. What do you want your team to be called?”

  Jared thought for a minute while the remaining four players on his team threw out suggestions. 

  “Alegrian Amphibians,” one shouted.

   “Aquarate,” another said.

   Jared listened and then smiled. “We’re Jared’s Javelins”

   Bue laughed and one or two others too. Indira turned to Bue again. “Your point, your turn to launch.”

   For the second time she drew a ball of water from the large pool and sent it spinning to Bue who stopped it by raising his hands and this time passed it over his shoulder to Jethrul.

    “Cop this” he said to the other boy. “Give ‘em what for.”

   “You got it,” Jethrul responded enthusiastically and raising his arms hurled the ball of water as hard as he could at Jared.

   Jared yelled and hurled up his arms. He fully expected to find himself falling, but after a pause opened his eyes and saw that the ball of water was paused, rotating slowly just beyond his fingertips.

   “Well caught mate,” Bue shouted and turned to his team. “Ok, spread out, don’t bunch together. Make it hard for him.”

   The fairies beat their wings and the boys were pulled along as they relocated to a wider spread. Indira watched and waited until they had stopped moving. “Enough? Good. When you’re ready Jared.” 

  Bue’s team paused and Jared brought his arms above his head like he’d seen Bue do and launched the ball at Jerean near the front. The boy caught it effortlessly and smiled at Bue as he raised and lowered the ball as if bouncing it.

   “Any one you’d like to see fall skipper?”, he asked Bue as the fairies on Jared’s team spread out and then paused.

   “Save Jared for me,” he said with a laugh and the lad hurled the ball at Bolla who, with a howl deflected it back with a curving sweep of his arm. The ball shot back at Jerean, who barely had time to register his astonishment. It smacked him full in the face and then he was falling to the water below. Like before, he blinked out of existence just as he reached the water’s surface and reappeared in the team’s wooden cage a split second later. He was shaking his head and wiggling his finger in his ear. 

  “Five points to Jared’s Javelins,” and the fallen boy’s fairy flew to the side to watch the game.

   Another ball of water was summoned up from the depths of the pool and before Jared could try and reach for it he found himself rising up.

   “Five metres, any quitters?” Indira asked and paused for only a split second before she turned to Jared. “Your throw young man.”

   Jared watched the boys opposite him and trying not to look down he hurled the ball at Bue who simply leaned out the way and the boy behind him caught it. He tossed it sideways to the lad next to him who then threw it as hard as he could back at Jared’s team. The lad it was aimed at caught it, revolved the ball rapidly between his hands and then threw it back. It caught Mispyn in the stomach. He pulled a face of annoyance as he fell then burst into light and materialised in the cage.

   “Ten, five. Your
throw Jared,” Indira said flitting between the teams. 

  As the ball of water appeared Jared tossed it over his head to the boy behind him who caught it, weighed up his targets and then hurled it straight at Blautin next to Bue. The lad caught it easily and threw it up and sideways to the boy on his right who tossed it to his neighbour. After four or five passes the final boy hurled it at Jared who frantically ducked and the ball smacked into Getruhl behind him. The team were down to three.

   Once again the players rose another metre. “Six metres, any quitters? No? Good,” Indira remarked and some of the boys looked down and began to get nervous. The height was looking more and more fearsome. 

  Bue had the ball in one hand. He grinned as he looked at Jared. “You ready?”

  Mordalayn, Madame Veer and the other adults sat or stood in Maximo’s large kitchen.  

  “Whoever attacked you was trained well,” Maximo said as he made tea from an enormous, black kettle. The smell was sweet and little green herbs floated as he poured in the hot water. 

  “They were going to kill anyone who got in their way,” Challandra said solemnly. “The Vagthunder stopped them.” 

  Maximo started handing out mugs. Mordalayn shook his head at the one offered to him. 

  “What’s so special about this boy?” Maximo asked curiously. 

  “It is best you do not know,” Mordalayn replied curtly. 

  Maximo looked puzzled. “Who were the men that attacked you?” 

  Leppard spoke up. “They had no markings that I could identify. Most likely hired mercenaries from Flintor. Two got away, the rest were caught.” 

  “They knew the boy was with us,” Madame Veer said. “As he had only arrived hours before we can assume there is a traitor in the higher reaches of Alegria’s council.” 

  “Until Our Lady returns to us, he is to be kept out of harm’s way,” Mordalayn said. 

  “He can stay here as long as you need him to,” Maximo replied. “My house has protection, the plants and flowers are able to detect and subdue intruders.” 

  “I appreciate your generosity Maximo,” Mordalayn said. “Let us just say that this boy must be protected at all costs.”

  They were down to two players each at seven metres and Jared’s stomach was doing flips and somersaults. He dodged the ball aimed at him and Bolla caught it then shouted “CATCH!” Jared fumbled it and the ball fell, spreading out and pattering as water droplets into the pool below. 

  Indira blew her whistle. “Free shot to Sharpshooters.” 

  A blob of water rose up and Bue reached down to grab it. He grinned wickedly at Jared. “Time to go mate,” he said and hurled the ball at him. Jared tried to throw up his arms but the water hit him full on and he felt himself plunging down. He opened his mouth to scream but suddenly the world flashed white and he was in the team cage with the others. 

  “Hey, hey! Told you you’d be mine,” Bue said looking down at him and laughing. As the ball rose up he squared up to the one remaining boy on Jared’s team. “Your time too Makeo,” and span the ball at the lad. 

  The lad contemptuously caught it and then hurled it back almost too quick to see. Bue caught it at chest level and plunged down, blinking out and then reappearing in his cage. 

  “In YOUR dreams Sharpeye,” he shouted and prepared to take on the last lad facing him.

  When the game was finally over the boys made their way smiling and breathing heavily to the house, still dripping wet and carrying their clothes.  

  “Fun isn’t it?” Bue said to Jared, clapping him on the back.

   Jared smiled. “Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Can we do it again?”

   Makeo interrupted in a loud whisper. “Wanna play when it’s dark? We can go out after midnight and have a go if you want.”

   A few boys giggled. Maximo appeared on the doorstep of the house and smiled as they came back. “Are we having fun boys?” he asked in his deep, jolly voice.

   “Great,” one or two of the lads replied.

   “Good, good,” he said, clapping his hands and rubbing them briskly. “Let’s get you all dried off and then we can get you something to eat.” 

  He made to walk back into the house but then turned and stared at Makeo. “You will NOT be sneaking out to play a game or two tonight. Phase is dangerous in the dark. Do I make myself clear?”

   Makeo blushed. “Yes, sorry.” 

  Maximo nodded and went back inside, the soaking wet boys following him. 

  They headed back to the house. Passing more flowers and a group of what looked like chickens but with exotic rainbow colours on their feathers. They were happily pecking away at seeds on the ground. 

  “Lunch might be in order I think,” Maximo said to the boys. There were murmurs of approval to this as they looked towards the open front door of the large house. Smoke was already coming from the chimneys and some of the boys could feel their stomachs rumbling in anticipation of food.

  Chapter 17

   

  The four fairies were arguing. Again. Kloee, Muttley, Mary and Garf were unable to be together without squabbling it seemed. While they said they were best friends they quarrelled all the time.  

  Sometimes they argued about what colour the sky should be. Other times they argued about how much sugar you should put on porridge. They had even been known to argue about whether you should sleep with your eyes closed. 

  Today they were arguing about which path to take to get to the clycinth flowers that their master used to make his famously tasty palopud pudding. Kloee had found a path that she said led to a big crop but Muttley argued that they should go another way where there were more. Mary had sided with Kloee and Garf had sided with Muttley. 

  “Don’t be silly!” Kloee said, hovering in front of Muttley, her little wings beating fast as she pursed her lips and placed her hands on her hips.  

  “I’m not being silly,” Muttley replied, equally as obstinate, his pointy ears prickling with indignation. “This way is obviously better, there has been more rain this side of the wood so there will almost certainly be more flowers.” He pointed to the ground around him.

   Kloee snorted and shook her head, sparkling dust flying out and gently falling to the ground. “Muttley you are so….oooh!” she stamped her foot in mid air and turned to the other two. “Tell him!” 

  Mary and Garf were too engrossed in their own conversation about who of the other two was right to hear her and continued loudly shouting at each other. Silver and gold specks flying in a storm as they gestured their arms about wildly. 

  Kloee shrugged and turned back to Muttley. She shifted her tiny leather pack over her shoulder. 

  “Well I’m going this way. You can go your own silly way!” she said with finality and flew off in the direction she had intended, her wings beating an angry buzz. 

  “Master said we should stay together!” Muttley shouted after her, then turned to Garf and Mary, who had stopped arguing about who was right and had started to argue about if they should follow Kloee. 

  “Guys, guys!” Muttley said, holding up his small hands and getting their attention. “I’m going the way I know is best. If you want to come with me you can.”

   “But we can’t leave Kloee on her own. Master said not to,” Garf pleaded, his little face creasing in concern.

   “When she can’t find anything she’ll come back,” Muttley replied and flew off down the path to the right of where Kloee had gone moments earlier.

   “I think we should go after her,” Garf said to Mary.

   Mary glared at him. “WHAT about Muttley? We can’t leave him either!”

   “Not my fault, don’t yell at me,” Garf snapped.  

  And they started arguing once more.

  Kloee was cross. She found the flowers like she had said she would. She was pulling them free from the earth, putting the white and red-spotted petals into her little bag and pushing them down to make certain they wouldn’t shake l
oose when she flew home. The other three were stupid, she thought. They could clearly see she was right but they were just being stubborn to upset her. Well, she’d show them. When she came home with a big collection of petals for their favourite dessert, the master would be really pleased with her. She’d get a bigger helping than anyone else. Then the others would be sorry they’d argued. 

  She tugged the petals free and stuffed them down into the leather pouch. These parts of the woods were safe from predators but sometimes you got wolves or other animals coming down if they hunted. No one could catch a fairy in flight and Kloee knew that provided she kept her wits about her and her ears open, then no one could sneak up. 

  Still cross at the silly behaviour of her three companions she tugged on a particularly stubborn plant which was rooted very firmly. She took a good grip around the stalk with both of her tiny hands and, straining with the effort, her wings beating madly, she tugged and heaved. Suddenly the plant tore free. Not expecting the sudden release she shrieked in shock and flew back, somersaulting into the air. Clearing the high grass clump behind her she span, sparkling fairy dust scattering around her crazily. Managing to regain some self control she calmed her erratic flight pattern and hovered in the air, holding the plant in front of her. The green stalk was covered in clods of earth.  

  “Silly plant,” she tutted and was about to start plucking the petals free when the grass behind her moved and a man’s face appeared. Dirty, bloody and bare chested, his shoulder bound with a grimy cloth he staggered towards her and fell, his hand reaching out, imploring for help. Kloee shrieked in fright as the man collapsed on top of her, bringing them both crashing to the ground.

  Kulkrain had made it to the shore in his boat and had waited till dawn to start his journey on foot. As the last one alive he knew he had to deliver his message but also knew that the wound in his shoulder was probably fatal. His training allowed him to shut out the pain but no training could give back what had been taken. He grew ever weaker as he fought his way on through the dense woodland. He’d managed to staunch the blood from the wound which, luckily, was clean. Then he’d washed it with fresh water and bound it as tightly as he could. His exhaustion was now like a fog before him and only his willpower kept him moving. “A soldier of Alegria never gives up in the name of keeping the light,” he repeated to himself over and over, silently, like a mantra as he ploughed on. He had only his knife now and knew that if he met a predator he would not be able to defend himself.

 
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