My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter 44


I watched Molly and Daniel run in. A chill ran down my spine, and I clutched my wand closer. I looked at the others; Ryder looked determined, Angel looked nervous, and Hannah looked like she was sensing someone. Alex just looked happy to be here, Khorabelle looked like Khorabelle, Cat looked inquisitive, and Keith was in Molly-protector-mode. He’d followed her in already.
Then there was me, Sophie. What did I feel? What did the others’ feelings add up to? What was Daniel thinking?
Hmm. I’d have to figure that out later. I rushed in, cloak flying, and found Daniel, Molly and Keith standing over an empty chest. A rat crawled out and sat on the brim to watch us.
“Take what’s in the chest,” Mage said.
Daniel frowned and picked up the mouse, preparing to toss it aside. “Hey!” it said. Daniel dropped it, and it was suddenly a girl, not a mouse. She had a messy and kind of poufy black bob. Her hair stuck out in certain places, and she had freckles that made her look like she was some kind of pixie. But pixies don’t normally look like tribal Celtic mythological creatures. She did. And Celtic fairies aren’t nice. (Of course, normal fairies aren’t especially sweet, cuddly bake-you-cookies people, either. But Celtic fairies are sharp as the axe that Momma told you not to touch, and just as cold.)
I put on the serious face. “Who are you?”
“Raven,” she said. I realized that it wasn’t her hair sticking out, but twigs, perhaps put there intentionally.
“Why are you called Raven if you were a mouse?”
Raven responded by turning into a raven. She was about the size of an eagle, and very pretty for a bird with a bunch of twigs everywhere.
“You’re a shapeshifter,” Molly said. “Why haven’t you killed us yet?”
“That,” Raven hissed, “is for my discretion. Why should I tell you? You are a threat to me.”
“I bet that’s why you haven’t killed us yet. You want to keep us here until help arrives because you can’t dispose of us yourself.”
“A spy mage. Your type assumes everything when you know nothing.” Raven hissed. “That is not my incentive, nor is it my worry. I want to know why you are here. The book brought you. Why? Why do you come? Do you seek power?” Raven became a girl again. “I AM POWER!”
Molly’s eyes narrowed. She hates shapeshifters, and this one was certainly getting on her nerves. “There are people more powerful than you.”
“Who are they? Name one. Then they will not be so powerful.”
Daniel kept his mouth shut and faded into the background. I could barely see him.
“Ha!” Molly said, and stuck her nose up high because she knew it would annoy Raven. “How do you plan to do that? That person would be more powerful; you couldn’t defeat them!”
“Do not be coy, spy,” Raven hissed. “I would catch them by surprise.”
“No, you wouldn’t. I could name one off the top of my head and you wouldn’t catch her by surprise.” Molly grinned, as if she were taking extra measures to make sure the “yours truly” connotations reached Raven.
Raven recoiled. She was about as snakelike as Cat was catlike. She reminded me of someone. She threw a spell at Molly. Molly dropped and spun, making a circle in the dirt with her staff. It deflected the spell. I realized that if Raven saw me, I would be in almost as much danger as Daniel. I faded back as well.
Raven twitched. She’d caught the barest whiff of magic from me when I hid. I wondered why she hadn’t caught Daniel.
“Where is the other girl?” Raven hissed.
“She must have gone outside,” Molly said with convincing innocence.
“She is not there,” Raven hissed. I wondered if Raven was hissing because of Molly, of if this was simply how she talked.
“You scared her off!” Molly said, easily twisting the story.
“Then I will find her,” Raven hissed, and turned into a raven and flew away.
“Well played,” Daniel said, coming out of hiding.
“Where is Sophie?” Molly asked. “I know she didn’t actually run away.”
“I’m here,” I said. I stepped forward, as Daniel had, but I had to undo the spell to come out of hiding.
“What did you do?” Daniel asked me.
“I used a spell,” I said. “What else would I do?”
“I just fell silent,” Daniel said. “It’s easier.”
“You’re always silent,” I said.
“No, I’m not,” he said. “It’s pretty rare that I go silent. I’m just quiet.”
“I think it’s another spy mage trick, but it’s one I’ve never been able to do,” Molly said. “So I just use a spell. But that can be traced, like a computer virus.”
“What were we here for?” I asked. “To see a sadistic, spy-mage-hating little witch with a bunch of sticks in her hair?”
“No,” Mage said, speaking up. I still couldn’t believe that he was Molly’s dad. “We were here to see a friend of mine.”
“Another shapeshifter?” Molly said bitterly.
“Unfortunately, yes. Fortunately, she’s minus the attitude,” Mage said.
“I have to say,” I said, “that spell you did to defend yourself looked awesome. It’s too bad you didn’t see Raven’s face.”
“Might I remind you that we’re in a hurry?” Daniel pointed out. I’d almost forgotten he was there again.
“Yes, Mage, where is your shapeshifter?” Hannah asked. The others were peering inside the tent, probably wondering what just happened and why a big honking bird just flew off in a rage, muttering curse words to itself.
“Climb in the chest. We’ll be safe there.”
I stepped into the chest, then jumped as the floor below gave way. I realized I was free-falling, my cloak flying above me. I grabbed the edges and pulled it over my head. It slowed me because I wanted it to. Daniel whizzed past me, and so did Molly, then everyone else. Finally, we all landed on well-placed mattresses, but it wouldn’t exactly feel great next morning if I hadn’t slowed myself.
A big silver tabby stretched and leaped from the sofa before becoming someone who looked like my grandma. Who could be my grandma, for all I know. Weirder things have happened.
“Ah, the group has arrived,” she said in an accent I couldn’t recognize – prettier than Chinese and more exotic, less normal. “And you will save the world, yes?”
“Of course,” Angel said levelly. I immediately liked this shapeshifter, and I think Molly did too. From the pretty singsong voice to the warm, safe-looking appearance to the fact that she wasn’t trying to kill us, I liked her.

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