When Naveen came to, everything was silent. He was looking up at Abhay and could see clouds behind him. How had he gotten on the ground? What had happened? And why was his head killing him?
“Are you alright?” Abhay asked as he helped Naveen sit up.
“I don’t know. The last thing I remember is dying.”
Naveen looked around. Var had his arms wrapped around Esha. Like Naveen, Indra was just managing to sit up, sweat trickling down his face. His father was standing again with a hand on his heart.
“I’m okay. But Gods did that hurt.” Devdan gripped his chest and took deep breaths. “Is everyone else alright?”
“I am,” Indra replied around gasps.
“Me too,” Esha managed as Var helped her straighten up.
Abhay was the first to notice. “Not everyone is alright.”
Naveen looked at his commander. Abhay’s full attention was on the center of the clearing not far from Devdan. Naveen followed the commander’s gaze.
Laying on the ground was Ebony with Sith and several other animals around her. Her normally strong and terrifying aura was gone, leaving her looking vulnerable. He’d forgotten how small she really was without that strong personality.
Abhay was the first to move, rushing over to her to hold a shaking hand over her mouth to check for breathing. Naveen saw his shoulders shift in relief and joined him.
“Is she okay, Commander?”
Sith didn’t seem too concerned, but he was examining Ebony carefully for injury. “She used too much magic, the little fool.”
“What?” Naveen asked, looking up at him in confusion.
“Because of her unique blend of magic, wizard and darnot, she can’t store a lot of magical energy within herself,” Sith explained as he lifted Ebony up, cradling her gently in his arms. “Otherwise, the two opposing abilities will fight for supremacy.”
Naveen looked up at Abhay. “What did he just say?”
“He said that Ebony’s abilities are opposite of each other, the ability to suppress or use magic. Because of this, they are at war within herself. Too much of either and she suffers the consequences of that war.”
“Oh.” He looked at her in concern. “Is she going to be okay?”
“Yes, if it didn’t kill her out right it isn’t likely to later, but she’ll need lots of rest,” Sith answered. “She hasn’t made this mistake in years.”
“What can we do?” Devdan asked, approaching slowly, his eyes on the exhausted Ebony.
Her body was still coated in sweat and her breathing was labored. Her muscles were still shaking with hard spasms. The face that was normally so determined not to show pain was lined with it.
“We get her someplace comfortable,” Sith replied. “And safe.”
Esha glanced down at her forearm. “Can this work and the mark still be there?”
“I don’t know,” Sith answered easily. He still wasn’t showing much concern. “We’ll have to wait until Ebony wakes up to find out.”
“How long with that take?”
“Last time she made this mistake, she was out for seven days.”
Esha’s voice rose. “I don’t have seven days. My transformation is tonight.”
“Relax, Esha,” Var whispered. “That’s why we brought Kurt here.”
“We’ll take her to our home for now,” Devdan told Sith, gesturing towards the city.
Sith looked up at the creatures and said something in a language none of the humans around him could understand. When he saw the humans’ confused looks, he explained, “Some of them can’t understand you, so I explained the situation and that Ebony would be alright.”
“Do you want us to come?” Raj asked with Venom sitting on his back.
“No,” Sith replied. “You’re both probably ready to rest for a while. I’ll stay with her this time.”
Turning to the humans, Sith gestured for them to lead the way.
They hurried out of the jungle, passing the house that Jay and Abhay had been working on. Naveen noticed that it was nearly finished now and just as big at the Southern Manor, despite having only one floor.
Jay was there, and when he saw Ebony in Sith’s arms, he rushed over. She looked so pale and her body was still shaking. “Ebony?”
“She’s alright,” Sith assured him. “Just exhausted herself again.”
Despite that reassurance, Jay followed them towards the city. He wasn’t about to leave her now. Something in him acknowledged the fact that he would probably never leave her, but he’d worry about that later. One thing at a time.
The moment they stepped into Rivera, the people in the market stared. One, Sith didn’t have his hood up. And two, he was carrying an unconscious Ebony. Some took one look at Sith and ran. Others began to whisper and point.
Jay looked up at Sith. The basilisk didn’t seem to mind or care as he followed Lord Devdan through the market. The handyman looked around them again, then with a shrug, gave the people one of his usual grins.
“Hello, everyone,” he greeted with his usual cheer.
“What is she doing back here?” someone demanded a little loudly. “And, with that monster?”
Jay looked over and shook his head a little. The man was Kamal, the fruit merchant, and like everyone else he seemed frightened of Sith and Ebony.
Commander Abhay shot that man an angry look, which was very effective. “She’s here because she needs rest. In case you haven’t noticed, she unconscious.”
“She can rest in her jungle where she belongs.” This time, the shout was tempered down as they watched Abhay warily.
“We’re not staying,” Sith told them, making them step back.
Hoping to diffuse the situation. Jay said cheerfully, “She’s just here until she recovers, Kamal. There’s no need to worry.”
“Jay, we want her and that thing carrying her gone,” Kamal complained.
That irritated Jay a little, but he kept his control. “There’s nothing to worry about. They’ll leave as soon as she’s recovered.”
They continued through the city to the Western Manor. Ebony was put into one of the guest rooms to rest. Jay knelt next to the bed and took her hand, then simply waited.
When the sun set, Esha was told to stay glued to Kurt’s side no matter what. No one wanted to take chances, since the curse mark was still on her arm. While in Kurt’s presence she wouldn’t change and her baby was safe. To ensure she stayed within Kurt’s three foot range, she had to keep her arm hooked around his.
During the next day, Jay stayed glued to Ebony like Esha was glued to Kurt. Naveen brought Jay food and water. Sith joined the handyman for dinner to keep him company. Jay was silent for the most part as he watched Ebony for any signs of waking.
“She’s done this before right?” Jay asked Sith finally.
Sith sighed. “Yes.”
“How long was she out?”
“That won’t help you, Jay.”
The basilisk sighed again. “Seven days.”
Jay closed his eyes. “She should’ve thirst to death.”
“There are ways around that. I have other magical friends and gained assistance from one of them,” Sith explained. “Now eat. You’ll do her no good if you starve.”
With Sith’s coaxing, Jay let his worry go for now and ate. He even went to bathe, letting Sith watch over Ebony.
The following night, Jay was kneeling next to the bed with his head resting on his hands, which still held Ebony’s. His head jerked up when he felt her hand move slightly. He knew it was probably just her muscles jerking a little, but he couldn’t help it.
His heart leapt into his throat when he saw her black eyes blink open and heard her groan a little.
“What happened?” she croaked as she shifted. Her eyes landed on his face. “Jay? Why are you crying?”
Jay jumped up and kissed her hard. It only lasted for a second, but that was all he needed to regain some of his control. He didn’t give her any time to make any comment before saying, “You’re alright.”
She was staring at him in absolute shock for several heartbeats. Did he just kiss her? Despite knowing that he had done just that, she couldn’t help but feel utterly bewildered. Then she saw the tears and felt his hand squeezing hers. Her eyes softened a little and she put her shock aside for the moment.
“I was scared,” he whispered, while she was still wrapping her mind around what had happened. He rested his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. “You wouldn’t wake up.”
He felt her hand on his face. “I’m fine.”
“You’d say that if you were dying,” he returned with a slight chuckle.
She couldn’t argue with him, so she shifted to sit up.
“You shouldn’t do that yet,” he argued, pushing her back down onto the bed. “I’ll go get Sith. You stay here.”
“Nag, nag, nag,” she grumbled, but since getting up even a little bit had made her head spin, she did as he said.
Jay ran out of the room to find Sith before Ebony remembered that she didn’t like orders. Lord Devdan and Sith were talking together when Jay ran into the room, so both came with him to the room where Ebony was staying.
She had managed to sit up, but was at least still in the bed. Sweat beaded her brow. “Hi, Sith. I took in too much, didn’t I?”
He nodded as he sat on the edge of her bed. “Yes, you did. How do you feel?”
“Exhausted and sore, but I’ll be alright. How are the Mistas?”
“We’re fine,” Devdan replied. “There was a moment when I didn’t think we would be, but there was no permanent damage.”
“Good.” She leaned back against the headboard. “I have good new, bad news, and maybe more good news for you and your family. You may want to get them for this.”
Devdan nodded and stepped out of the room to gather his children. Within minutes all the Mistas old enough to be affected by the curse gathered around Ebony. Naveen stood at the end of the bed, watching her carefully for any signs that she wasn’t really okay.
“I’ll start with the bad news first,” Ebony began, shifting her weight a little. Her throat was still raw, so her voice sounded rusty.
Jay held out a glass of water for her.
She drank it slowly before continuing. “I didn’t get rid of the curse entirely.”
There was groaning around her and she held up her hands. “But, I did manage to undo the insanity. You’ll keep your own minds during the transformations now. No angry bear. Just you as a bear.”
Devdan let out a breath of relief. “That is the worst part of the curse.”
“But what about my baby?” Esha demanded. “Right now, the threat for me is that transformation.”
Var put his arm around his wife in reassurance. The darnot staying with Esha inched closer as if reminding her she didn’t need to worry right now.
“I know, but I have a plan for that too,” Ebony told them. She went silent for a moment as her eyes squeezed shut. Sleep was all she wanted, but she owed them the explanation first. “The anti-pregnancy charms...”
“It’s too late for that,” Naveen interrupted. “She’s already pregnant.”
Ebony opened her eyes long enough to shoot him a dark look. “Will you shut up and let me talk.”
“Yes?” Var asked, hope filling him. He needed Ebony to say she could save his child.
“I can, theoretically, create a similar charm but this one will suppress magic while you wear it,” she told them, taking deep breaths and forcing herself not to sleep. “If I can, the effects will be like you’re standing next to a darnot. While you wear the charm, you won’t transform. But, the moment it’s gone, the curse will take hold. It will allow you to go through the pregnancy without worry, and deal with anything else that you’d need to stave off the transformation for.”
Esha smiled as tears of relief fell down her face.
“What will you need from us?” Devdan demanded, eager to do whatever he had to in order to help his family.
“A charm, some of your blood, and maybe a wizard that knows how to make the anti-pregnancy charms.” She looked at Devdan now. “I don’t know how they’re made, so I may need someone to show me so I have an idea of how to create the suppression charm for you.”
“The charm and blood will be easy, but only the wizards from Cavos know how to make the charms,” Naveen commented, thinking about the problem. “They won’t teach our wizards, because our wizards don’t share their knowledge.”
“There is a Cavosian wizard that sells the charms in the port of Byespark, which is just west of here,” Var put in. “We could ask him, but we’d have to go through the jungle.”
“I’ll arrange it, providing your men don’t hunt within the boundaries of my territory,” Sith informed them.
“Alright,” Devdan agreed. He looked back at Ebony. “We’ll see about getting you what you need. You just rest.”
Once Devdan was gone, Sith sat on the bed next to her. “I’m going to return to the jungle now that you’re back with us. I’m sure that Jay will take care of you. There are friends back home that will want to hear that you’re alright.”
“Okay,” she replied, her eyes drifting closed. “Tell Raj and Venom that I’ll see them soon.”
“I will,” he promised as she drifted into sleep again.
When she woke, Sith was gone. In his place, Jay was by her side with a bowl of soup and bread.
“Eat up,” he ordered with his usual grin.
“Nag, nag, nag,” she grumbled with a small smile. “You’re so pushy.”
For the next two days, Ebony spent most of the time resting so that her body had a chance to recover. Finally, she managed to sit up for the first time on her own. Jay was very insistent that she stay in the bed but she wasn’t having it.
“Jay, I’m going home today. I do not want to stay here for another day and I won’t,” she insisted. “So deal with it.”
“But you can’t even walk on your own,” he objected, showing a rare spark of irritation.
“Then you can help me, but I will not stay here any longer.”
He sighed. ‘She is not going to give in,’ he thought wishing she wasn’t so stubborn. “Alright. Alright. I’ll help you get back to the jungle, but you will rest once you get there.”
Satisfied, she nodded.
There was a knock on the door, then Naveen poked his head inside. “Ebony, you have guests.”
Jay couldn’t help it. He laughed. She had given him that exact same expression when he’d told her that Lord Mohana had come to visit her just days after her arrival.
“Who?” she asked, ignoring Jay’s laugh. Though it did make her feel warm to hear it.
“Gensha and Kumar Tagore.”
She sat up a little straighter. “Let them in.”
Naveen held the door open wider. Kumar rushed into the room, sliding to a stop at her bed. His brown eyes filled with worry and relief all at once.
“Ebony, we were so worried about you.”
“Sorry about that. I’m okay though.” She looked up at his father. “Hello, Gensha.”
“Lady Ebony,” he said with a slight nod of his head. The older man seemed a little uncomfortable now, but he wasn’t afraid of her anymore. “I was wondering if your offer was still open? About the Southern District?”
“Of course it is.”
“Then,” he kept fidgeting as he spoke, “I’d like to accept, if that’s alright with you.”
She smiled a little. “Since I offered it to you, it’s definitely alright.” Ebony swung her feet over the edge of the bed so that she was facing them. The effort had a bead of sweat forming on her brow. “Naveen?”
“What do we need to do?”
“I’ll mention this to my father and get things going,” he answered her. “He’ll see that this is made official. I also want to ask him about his plan for protecting the jungle so we’ll just cover both of those.”
She looked surprised when he mentioned the jungle. “What? The deal was if I broke the curse you’d protect the jungle. I didn’t break the curse.”
“But you did manage to make it easier for us, which is more than anyone else could do.” Naveen gave her an amused smile when he said, “Papa said he was happy with the results so we’d keep our end of the bargain.”
Ebony closed her eyes and simply said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Naveen returned just as simply. “I’ll go talk with my father now.”
He hurried out to find Lord Devdan.
Jay brought two chairs over to the bed. “Here you go, Gensha. Have a seat. You too, Kumar.”
“Thank you, Jay,” Gensha replied, sitting down in the chair then kneading his leg.
“Are you the morph?” Ebony asked him curiously.
“Kumar is a morph. He had to have inherited that from you or your wife. Is it you?”
He nodded. “Yes, but I can’t transform anymore.” His hand kept working out the pain in his leg. “The injury. No telling how transforming would affect it.”
“I might could make you something for the pain,” she whispered. “Out of herbs and stuff. Sith taught me how.”
“Her guardian from the jungle,” Jay explained as he sat on the bed next to Ebony. He kept looking at her carefully, as if making sure she wasn’t pushing herself too far.
Lord Devdan came into the room with Naveen right behind him. He smiled when he saw that Ebony was sitting up on her own.
“Ebony, I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he greeted once he was standing next to her.
“Me too,” she replied just to get the pleasantries out of the way. “Will you agree to let Gensha take over the Southern District?”
“Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem, we’ll take care of that right now. By the way, I have a plan to ensure protection of your jungle. I’ve already run it by the other two lords and they have agreed to it.” He added with a bit of amusement, “Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Sith has approved as well.”
“I’d say that’s good, but I don’t know what the lords agreed to yet,” she said with a very obvious hint.
“We’re going to make Basilisk Jungle a part of Rivera, which means it’ll need a lord. You’ll be that lord. As such, you’ll have absolute authority within it’s borders just like the lords of the districts within the city walls.”
Ebony felt the knots in her stomach relax because everything was finally falling into place. Her sanctuary would be kept safe. The family she’d made in that jungle would never have to fear human intrusion again.
“Good. This is very good,” she replied and smiled. “Thank you.”