“I’ll go,” Alex said. “Where is it?”
“In my healer’s kit near the ship’s wheel. Hurry.”
“A wise man sacrifices speed for accuracy,” squawked the rooster.
Alex hopped onto Simber’s back, and the cheetah galloped toward Karkinos’s head, to the lagoon where the ship sat completely unharmed by the eel. Simber jumped from the edge of the shore and sailed straight to the ship, flapping his wings backward to stop the momentum and letting Alex slide off.
“Everything okay?” Alex hollered at Captain Ahab.
“A sourer day this life has never seen!” the captain roared back. “Complete misery.”
“Good to know,” Alex muttered. He found Henry’s kit and raced back to Simber, grabbing the cat’s wing and letting him flip him onto his back. They flew to the shore, where Simber took to the ground once more, speeding across the land, going so fast the dropbears missed them and landed on the path instead.
Simber skidded to a halt as Alex tossed the kit to Henry. Henry ripped it open and administered the liquid between Lhasa’s lips. Carina came up to Alex and whispered, “She’s not breathing. It doesn’t look good.”
“A life is but a small turn in time,” remarked the rooster.
“Please, Vido. Not now,” Talon said. The strain showed in his voice and on his face as he turned back to the snow lion. “Come on, Lhasa. Who will be the queen?” His voice broke.
Henry put his ear to the snow lion’s heart. He raised a hand to her muzzle and held it there, hoping to feel her breath while everybody else held theirs. But there was nothing.
After a long minute, and then another, Henry bit his lip and looked up at Talon and Bock. “Our medicine didn’t work,” he said. He lowered his gaze. “I guess . . . I guess the eel just hurt her too badly. I—I’m sorry. She’s . . .” His lip trembled.
“Is she dead, Henry?” Florence said gently.
No one spoke. Slowly, Talon bowed his head and rested it in Lhasa’s fur. Ms. Octavia dabbed her eyes. Samheed wrapped his arms around Lani’s shoulders and hugged her. Alex stood numb, alone. Sky hesitated, then went over to him and rested her hand on his arm. Florence watched Talon for a moment and dropped her eyes.
From Crow’s pocket, Kitten emerged and ran over to the fallen snow lion. She climbed up onto the beast and hopped up and down on Lhasa’s chest. “Mewmewmew,” she cried. “Mewmewmew.”
Simber sat up. “What?” he asked, his face filled with concern.
Kitten stopped hopping and stared at Lhasa’s face. “Mewmewmew!” she said again.
Fox, too forlorn over the death of the flopsy animal, didn’t even try to translate.
“Arrre you surrre?” Simber growled at the kitten.
Kitten didn’t respond. She stared at Lhasa for a long moment.
“What’s happening?” Alex asked. “Doesn’t she understand about Lhasa?”
“Mewmewmew!” Kitten cried again. She stared a moment longer, and then she froze, tipped to one side, and fell over, a tiny, lifeless porcelain statue. Her body slid off the snow lion’s slick fur and landed in the dirt. She didn’t move.
But Lhasa did. She gasped and opened her eyes. She sputtered and coughed. She heaved and sighed. “Talon,” she said weakly.
“Lhasa!” Talon exclaimed.
“Kitten, no!” Alex yelled. He ran to her, sliding on the dirt, and picked her up, clutching her with shaking hands. She was cold. Alex whirled around and stared at Simber. “What just happened? What did she do? What did she say?”
Simber just stared from Kitten to Alex in shock. He tilted his head slightly, as if he didn’t know what to say. And then he blinked and shook his head. “Kitten is dead.”
“Let me think,” he growled. Simber wore a distressed look Alex had never seen before. The statue began pacing, as if trying to figure something out. Suddenly he stopped and looked at Alex. “You have to brrring herrr back to life.”
“What?” Alex exclaimed. “I can’t! Not if she’s dead.”
“You have to trrry! Trrrust me, Alex. I’ll explain in a minute. I hope to, anyway. Just do it beforrre I have a hearrrt attack.”
Alex’s jumbled mind scrambled to think of the spell. Did he need the live spell or the restore spell? He looked around wildly at all the eyes, including Lhasa’s, on him. And then Sky squeezed his arm. “I’ll get the robe,” she whispered. “You—just breathe.”
She picked her way to Lani, who slid out of the robe and handed it over straightaway. Sky brought it back and helped Alex on with it. “Okay?” Sky asked him. “Just turn around and don’t worry about them. Concentrate.”
Fox began to howl. Even Simber didn’t have the heart to quiet him.
Alex let out a breath. “Thanks.” He was feeling better now after his moment of panic. He’d try the restore spell first. But he still didn’t know if it would work—if either of the spells would. How did she just die like that? What kind of statue could just die on command? He cradled the cold kitten in his hand, trying to warm her, and began to concentrate on the words of the restore spell. He closed his eyes.
“Imagine,” he whispered, imagining the adorable kitten racing around and hopping joyfully again. “Believe,” he said, forcing himself to believe without a doubt that whatever had just happened, she could come alive again. “Whisper,” he said, picturing his whisper swirling around and through Kitten, encouraging her to come alive once more, and then, “Breathe.” Alex took in a deep breath and let it out, passing life to the porcelain creature. When he was quite sure everything was in place, he uttered the final word. “Commence.” And then he began again from the beginning, two more times, ignoring the restless shuffling of feet and whispers and Fox’s howling behind him. This spell was not one to be rushed.