My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Seven: Katyen and Butan

CHAPTER SEVEN—KATYEN AND BUTAN

The next day, I got out of the house and asked Jane where Elder Katyen lived. She pointed me to a brown two-story house with hot-pink accents in so many places that there might have even been less brown than there was pink. I thanked her and left her with twenty bucks. My income had gotten surprisingly higher lately. Wonder why.

From the house, I got what Katyen’s taste was. I went out and bought a slim black dress and a handbag that was very pink. I went out and bought the makeup store out of eye shadow and found some leopard-print heels, really glad that it was Thursday and not, say, a Saturday. I explored the extents of the Zepha tribe, which happened to be one of the biggest and oldest Anoki tribes still in existence, more like a city than a village, if you ask me. Let’s just say that nobody really knows what goes on in the very middle of a forest. No matter how many bombs go off around here, the invisibility/silence spell that was kept strong by the mere existence of Star Anoki prevented humans from ever hearing or seeing us. Gee, another responsibility I had now. Great.

I sat at my dining-room table and made a checklist:

1. Invite Katyen to dinner, spruce up the house and buy an evening gown. Cook something fancy. Build her trust while getting her drunk. Kill her fast and get it over with.

2. Find where Butan lives and buy enough wine to drown a horse. Cook a lot of food, get him drunk and kill him off.

3. Get Henrei over to pore over some book. Kill him from behind.

4. Invite Raystar over to talk about Tony or something. Kill her from behind too.

5. Worry about that spy lady.

6. Win the war and make peace with the Kliid.

7. Do something.

I wasn’t too sure about number six. It sounded out of place. I could just see the difficulties that would cause. My Time magic said so.

Then I realized that the list could be used against me, as it held all of my plans. I chucked it in the fireplace. So much for that.

As for Katyen, I wanted to wait until evening to ask her. I couldn’t see doing it in daylight. I would do the house by magic, I decided, but I wasn’t sure what kind would be suitable. I drew a picture of what I thought the inside of Katyen’s house would be like, but decided to leave the magic for until after I’d gotten a glimpse of her own house.

When the sky darkened, I put on the black dress and the heels. Can we say torture? This thing felt like a corset. I felt vulnerable without my bow, and this skirt prevented me from kicking noses. And though I’d love to be able to fight in heels, I don’t think I’ll risk it with these. I did find comfort in the fact that I could rip them off and smack someone across the jaw with the back end. I didn’t find comfort in the fact that I could barely walk.

I went up to Katyen’s house, looking as prissy as possible. I rang her doorbell, regretting that I didn’t paint my nails. I was dying to yank at various parts of the dress and straighten them out, but Katyen could answer the door at any moment.

When Katyen opened the door, I could see that her obviously-not-natural honey-blonde hair was twisted up into a curly bun with hair cascading down in random places, as if it were intentionally messy. Her rainbow of eye shadow put mine to shame—not that I gave a rip. I could only stand this getup for about ten more minutes.

“Oh, please, come in,” Katyen said in that slight British accent that you get after years of badly trying to fake a British accent and then giving up. Ironically, hers sounded more accurate than most people’s.

Oddly, her entry room looked fairly normal, and the kitchen, from what I could see, looked like a Starbucks with gold and tan accents and stylishly uncomfortable chairs. But her room door down the hall was painted hot pink and chocolate brown, and I dreaded to think of what might be inside.

“I was thinking,” I said in a fake British accent myself, “that you might enjoy a dinner at my humble residence. I redecorated recently; perhaps you might like to see it.” Watch me lie on the spot.

“Of course! Do come in for tea.”

I sat through a session of tea in cups I was afraid I’d break combined with paranoia that she might be watching my every word with a little terror that I’d drop the fake accent any minute, or fall in these stupid shoes while she gave me a tour of the house, or bust a seam on this all-too-tight dress. In case you haven’t guessed, this isn’t really my normal nature. And for the record, her room was painted entirely hot pink. No brown. Not even chocolate whatever. It was pink.

“I always thought you were a warrior,” Katyen started in with approval.

“By day, yes,” I said, feeling like Princess Mia trying to keep her balance with her ankles crossed. “By night…” I flipped my hair for effect. Katyen smiled at me.

“Of course,” she said agreeably. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I would have to kill her later. But then I remembered that she hadn’t protected the kids, either, and that made me angry.

Great. One more thing to worry about.

Finally, Katyen concluded the visit and said she’d come on Saturday. Smiling (well, clenching my teeth, but Katyen saw a smile), I let her close the door before ripping off the stupid heels, dumping them in the nearest trash can, and running barefoot back home. Fast.

*          *          *

It was 7:02 when I got home. I tried to get the stupid dress off. It didn’t work. My stress had made me sweaty, and it wouldn’t slide. I tried again, and realized that if I didn’t get this thing off, I would suffocate. I tried to cut the dress free with scissors and found out that it had some sort of wood or something in it.

I reached for my rosebush pruners. They weren’t by the door. By now I was wandering the house, halfway undressed, locking doors. I bent down to look for them more and gagged. I couldn’t get them, and I didn’t know any magic that gets rid of ugly corset dresses. This was ridiculous. I wondered how many times Katyen had done it, or if maybe it was this personality thing, like trying to fake her style was usually about as unsuccessful as trying to fake a British accent.

So I decided to make up a spell. I didn’t care what it was; I just needed something to save me, now. I told the spell to unweave all the threads of the dress.

How could that possibly work? I wondered as the dress literally fell to threads, leaving me in my underwear, standing in the middle of my living room. I’d never heard of magic outside the Anoki elements. That was weird—and not just normal weird. I mean weird for me, which meant something.

I realized that my foot really hurt from the thin board wedged into the dress falling on it, so I had nothing to do but go and get some pajamas on, attempt to sweep up the remains of the ugly “fashionable” dress, and go to bed. I would deal with Saturday’s attire and the house tomorrow.

*          *          *

I woke up at 10:00. At least I felt better. Whatever unknown magic I had used to dispose of the dress, I would also use it to redecorate the house. Because I had no clue what it was I had to be cautious of using this magic too much. It could be dangerous.

I started with the bathroom. If Katyen had a second house, what would it look like? I could only guess what her bathroom looked like. I hadn’t seen it. I was guessing bubble gum pink. So, pink rug, pink shower curtains, pink towels, gold-ish-colored faucet, whatever. I left it there.

Kitchen. Okay, maybe colors. Something pastel and cutesy. Yellow table. Turquoise dishwasher. Pink sink. Cutesy orange oven. The remaining glow from the magic was blinding me, so I went into the living room. Teal curtains, a red sofa, and gold chairs all seemed to fit Katyen’s weird style. I changed the sturdy hardwood floors to red and gold swirly carpet that I’d seen in a library once. It had fit there, but I couldn’t exactly see it in my house unless I was playing house dress-up or something, like right now.

I decked out the entry room and my bedroom in pink and looked over the house. A few hallways had to be done, but otherwise the house was good. Now I had all day to find something to cook and to find a dress that wouldn’t suffocate me. I got dressed and went out to the mall. From a different dressmaker than before, I bought a cutesy wrap dress that, when I tried it on, did not choke me to death or require rosebush pruners to take off. On a whim, I bought some plant food. My plants probably needed it by now, and I needed to find some kind of clippers quickly. The squashes were probably big enough to use as baseball bats by now.

I went to the grocery store and bought a solid pound of lamb and the smallest bit of saffron. I figured that would be sophisticated enough for Katyen, with a salad. But the spice cost about as much as the lamb did, and the lamb was pretty dang expensive. Didn’t matter. I had money.

I went home and cooked the lamb, grew a salad and put everything in the oven, where it would keep warm and the cat wouldn’t get it.

I went out to tend to the tomatoes in my teensy greenhouse. They were suffering from my absence and the lack of rain (the greenhouse was designed to water them continually with the rain through sprinklers on the ceiling so that all I had to do was go out and water the container that provided water for the sprinkler. The container was dry, and the plants, though still in the greenhouse, had been without water for two weeks. I took the hose and set it in the container on full blast. I wished I’d set it to drip in the bucket before I left. Oh well.

“Hi, guys, I’m back,” I said conversationally, entering the greenhouse. The chirpy voices of the plants all chorused at once.

“I brought you some fertilizer,” I said, beginning to dump the blue powder in each of the pots. As predicted, the tomatoes were suffering but not too badly. My Earth magic combined with the moisture-trapping greenhouse and the sprinkler container that had been full when I left had meant that none of them were too wilted. The plants knew why I’d left, anyway.

“Can you fly now?” the cucumbers asked.

“Yeah, let’s see it!” the cherry tomatoes twittered. I smiled at the plants. They reminded me of little kids. They were fun. Trees are reliable and down-to-earth, no pun intended, but plants are fun and upbeat.

“Yeah, I can fly. And a heck of a lot more.” I saw that the clay corner of the greenhouse had a humongous thistle in it. I set the flower seeds on fire so that they wouldn’t grow. I like setting thistle seeds on fire, because of how the fluff just lights up. It’s especially fun if you put dandelion or cottonwood seeds on top, with maybe a little coffee creamer or eye shadow (especially 80’s eye shadow) on top if you’re in a place where nothing will burn down. Light it and watch the “poof.” Mwahaha!

I cut the thistle down with a hack saw and picked it up with my gloves on. The plants watched as a Fire spell reduced it to cinders. I swept them into a corner.

“But you can’t do Fire magic!” a pea plant twittered.

“Oh, yes I can.” I grinned.

“You’re going to do something you’re not sure about,” the mint said. The mint had an uncanny way of reading me. I didn’t know if it was my face, my mood, or just the way I moved, but the mint always knew what I was thinking. I kept fertilizing the plants.

“It has something to do with the village. You’re trying to be strong, but you’re panicky inside. You’re worried about the kids.”

It wasn’t my expression, and I’d been acting pretty upbeat.

“Your posture,” the plant continued. “Your footsteps. The way you breathe. You are who you are, and you know it. You knew who you were before your powers came to you.”

My eyes narrowed. Sometimes I didn’t want the mint shouting my thoughts to the world. Fortunately, I’ve been the only person who’s been able to talk to plants, as far as I know.

Unfortunately, Tony was standing in the doorway. “The mint is right, you know. You’re tense. You don’t want to kill anything, but you know you have to. To protect the village. To protect… us.”

“How did you do that?” As far as I knew, the mint was the only thing capable of really reading me.

“You’re incredibly easy to read. To avoid being read and also possibly being red, you need to convince yourself that you’re feeling something different. You’re worried about the kids. No… you’re worried about the other kids. You’re not worried about me.”

“That’s because you have Earth magic,” I said. “Don’t underestimate its strength. I did. It’s not a sissy healing talent… well, it is kind of a sissy healing talent, but it’s not just a sissy healing talent. If you are gentle and kind, you can direct the trees to help you in battle. Find a spot in them to hide and drop rocks on someone.” I frowned. “I wonder if you can shoot my old bow?”

I led him into the house. “No, I’m not this girly,” I said in response to his odd looks at my pink entry room. “I’m having Katyen over for dinner to… gain a little power. It’s a long story.”

“Is that what the plant meant when it said you weren’t sure about something?”

“The mint? I don’t know. I can’t read my own mind, strange as that sounds. Wait here.”

I left him staring in disapproval at the pink feather boa over the doorway and found the hall closet. I went rummaging through the closet past generations of random bows. It was exactly the closet you would expect from me, with the occasional slingshot (which I’d never gotten the hang of) littered around the floor. I found the flimsiest bow there, which hadn’t been my first bow, but just one I’d made for the heck of it once. I never intended to shoot it, but it looked like nine-year-old Tony probably could.

I brought the bow outside. I hadn’t made arrows to go with it, so I taught Tony to do so.

“You have to use Earth magic, or they don’t work. Earth magic is kind of unique. It doesn’t use spells, exactly, just mind tricks. You know you want to heal a wound. Vocalizing it is just focusing your power. You can do Earth magic silently. You can’t do Light magic silently. Earth magic is communication, and it’s usually with your own power. Magic is a force, but it has raw feelings: a sense of humor, pity, anger and the desire to get revenge on those it sort of protects. I could go on.”

I started making arrows and explaining how to do them. In about fifteen minutes, we’d made enough to stuff a quiver. Which he needed now.

I went into the house again and found a laundry bag. I cuffed it a little and safety-pinned it so that it wouldn’t drown the arrows.

I came out. “This will do.” It was a drawstring bag, so it fit Tony almost like a backpack. I was doing what Mel did for me, I realized. But Mel hadn’t been an Earth Anoki then, and she couldn’t have taught me Earth magic. I could teach Tony, though; I did teach Tony, come to think of it.

Tony tried to draw the bow. We were aiming at a tree stump, out in the forest. I wasn’t sure if Tony should actually try to fight. He was older than I had been when I started healing warriors and shooting people, but he didn’t have an incentive to do it, and his parents would probably be much too worried about him. Which also reminded me that I had to keep this training out of sight of any adults. I knew Tony wouldn’t tell his parents, but he wouldn’t be able to hide the bow.

I realized that Tony was standing there, waiting for instructions, with the bow drawn.

“No,” I said. “You need to draw it sideways. Watch.”

I drew the tiny bow. It was an out-of-proportion example. When Tony tried it, he wasn’t drawing the bow all the way back to his face, because I wasn’t.

“You’re still not standing sideways. Look.”

I drew my own bow (like I said, I always have it with me if I have a choice) and shot the stump squarely. “Try to get your arrow in that area,” I said.

Tony drew his bow, not perfectly but almost right this time, and shot an arrow right next to mine. Granted, the stump wasn’t that far away and the bow was really easy to draw, but this kid must have been a fast learner. Like I had been. I found this almost creepy. Déjà vu to the max. That stuff. Yikes.

I corrected his stance a little and let him shoot again. He knocked a little bit of my arrow’s fletching to the ground, the realistic version of a Robin Hood split. But when he drew another arrow, I noticed that his stance was odd again. But he was shooting the bow to its full length.

“You need a thicker bow,” I said. “This one’s too easy. A heavier draw will require you to stand right and you’ll do it instinctively.”

I went back into the house and returned with a heavier weight bow—maybe about five pounds more? For those of you who aren’t archers, “heavier weight” doesn’t refer to the actual weight of the bow, but how hard it is to draw, to pull the string. And who says I’m not educational?!

Tony shot that one as well, knocking my arrow and his arrows out of the way. His stance was still weird.

“Dang, kid, you’re strong.” I went back in the house and returned with a bow that was a little heavier still, another five pounds. Tony had to shoot that one right. It was just about perfect; he wasn’t drawing it quite to full length, but pretty darn close.

“That’s yours. Don’t shoot it around other people unless those other people are attacking you. But a bow isn’t very useful when someone attacks you up close. You’re going to learn Amanda-Kwon-Do now. I taught myself by watching the warriors and adapting their techniques. Anoki have weak points, and basically if it’s unguarded, you hit it. Your defense is mainly dodging stuff and waiting. Because once you attack, you compromise your defense. But that works the other way too, so once someone tries throwing a punch, you go for their unguarded jaw, or their temples or nose. You can kick their feet out from under them, once you get older and heavier, and if they aren’t standing sideways like an archer…” I lowered my voice. “Go for the crotch. That’s the one place that you hit to guarantee that someone’s not going to try striking again for the next three-to-something seconds, depending on how hard you kick and whether your opponent is male or female.”

“You are so weird.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“That’s my job!” I giggled. Well, it was. “Wouldn’t it stop you throwing punches? Anyway, your goal is to get the other dude on the ground. A really hard hit to the temple will black someone out, and you can make them wake up with any number of bruises, or if they really threaten you, make them not wake up at all. But only if they threaten your life. Otherwise, dragging their knocked-out body to the police does fine.”

“That’s what you’re not sure about,” Tony said. “You’re going to kill someone. Did they threaten you?”

“No. They threaten you. They threaten everyone.”

“The Kliid?”

“No.”

“A Zephan?”

“Several. The wars will stop, though, once I’m done. You’ll see.”

“Then they do threaten you,” Tony said, “because the wars would stop without them, and the wars threaten you.”

I was about to say that the wars didn’t threaten me, but then I thought. The wars killed my parents, and my mom was a Star Anoki. They’d managed to kill her. I didn’t know how, but they had. And they’d gotten my dad, too. Somehow this made me slightly more cautious, but not scared. Just really, really teed off. Who knew how long it would be before more kids’ parents got killed? I never knew mine, not really, and that sort of made it better, I guess. But if you know what you’re missing, that’s got to be worse. Really worse.

Now I was angry and totally ready to assassinate someone. Usually, logic whips people’s poetry, so it’s unwelcome, but right now I kind of liked that idea. Logical. Mechanical. Sturdy. Intelligent.

“Don’t let anyone know I taught you this,” I said grimly as a warning horn sounded: the Kliid had attacked again, even though their Air Anoki was missing. Foolish. That wasn’t logical, or any of the other adjectives I listed (especially the last one). It made me angrier. I couldn’t believe I’d thought of the Kliid as my home for any length of time. I ran away and took off.

My warriors were, all of a sudden, boring through the Kliid like moles. There were fireballs. There were splashes. There was a ton of street fighting, swords and bows, like all the army had suddenly been replaced by Romans. But right now, I wanted revenge. For everything.

*          *          *

About fifty fireballs, twenty mass healing spells, and a flood that left Zephan warriors in air bubbles and looking like Moses. The Kliid warriors that couldn’t swim drowned. It was too good for them.

No matter how much I fought, I couldn’t get rid of this burning desire to kill whoever did it. I started shooting the older Kliid troops. I still felt… I don’t know. I went back to healing and realized that I wasn’t the only one. Mel was still babysitting my friends…

I looked over to try and see where Tony was, and if he needed help himself. Probably not. But I wanted to know, anyway. I scanned the crowd, only to turn and see him perched in a tall tree, grinning at me.

“Did you really think I’d leave you alone?” he said.

“You remind me of me,” I said. “Protect your parents.” Tony, instead of climbing down, had the tree lower him from branch to branch. It was slow, so I just picked him up. His new bow was strapped to his back. He’d figured it out with the typical cleverness of an Earth Anoki, and I noticed that his ring was hunter green. Like a guy.

“Where are your parents?” I asked. Tony pointed to an area of the battlefield. Dang.

“Both of them?”

He nodded.

Mega dang. I flew him over but decided that it was much too dangerous. I couldn’t take him to Akana or he’d be left to a fate fighting. But if his parents got killed, like mine… then again, I couldn’t leave the Zephans without a healer. I decided to do the spell myself and set Tony in a tree.

“Hold still for a minute, would you?” I did the spell, remembering perfectly what Akana had done. I hoped I’d done it right.

“You can fly now, I think,” I said.

“You think?!”

“Look, I’ll put you on the ground first. You can try and take off from there.”

Turns out, I did the spell right. Tony could fly.

“Can Earth Anoki fly?” someone asked, confused. There were murmurs of “No…” everywhere as Tony flew to his parents and shot their attackers in the stomach. Moving targets didn’t seem to bother him.

Tony fought as I did, despite being an adorable nine-year-old boy with fluffy brown hair. I had to remember that in times of crisis, kids were violent when threatened, or at least tried to be. I had no clue whether the shield I’d tried to put around my friends earlier had worked, since they hadn’t been attacked, but they hadn’t been hurt, either. I did the same spell for the village kids. All of them. Nobody could hurt them now, not if the spell had worked.

I sent another mass healing spell and landed in a tree. I didn’t know what to do. Something was telling me to worry about safety and about Katyen and the other elders, but my violent half wanted revenge. I was rattling with adrenaline,  but I was also tired in that way you only get with adrenaline. I sent another mass healing spell, but I was physically and magically exhausted. At least the meal was cooked and still warm in my Fire Anoki-made oven. I sent a new spell, a regenerating healing spell, but it took all my energy and I had to climb down the tree the conventional way. I went home.

*          *          *

I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t have the angry bloodlust that I’d had earlier. I took a nap, knowing that I couldn’t possibly manage Katyen and an assassination without magic. I was really debating the merits of just killing them off before anyone can object. Seriously.

This playing dress-up just so I could…

I fell asleep before finishing the thought. A self-defense system programmed into Anoki instinct everywhere demanded that we fall asleep after running out of magic. It’s protection, because without magic… we die. Anoki require magic, both feeding off of it and supplying a home for it, and both die if the magic is overused. That’s why everyone needs to learn not to use magic for everything. Yes, it’s easy. No, you shouldn’t be using it just to use it.

When I woke up, I had only an hour before Katyen was to be here. The Anoki that got killed almost immediately died, but flesh wounds and more minor wounds got healed through the spell I’d left, and it probably worked a lot better once I was awake and able to do magic again, since it had a source.

I was angry again, but I didn’t know why. I considered stopping time again and killing Katyen now. I don’t know why Mel said to invite her to dinner, or any of them. It would be obvious that they had been killed at my house… unless…

I knew why Mel had told me to do that. I hurried and put on the dress I’d bought. It was actually halfway comfortable, almost like my normal green dresses (which I’d sewn myself so that I could make the skirts loose enough to kick in, and which I wore shorts underneath).

I found the dinner still good and warm. I set the various types of wine on the table, wondering when Katyen would arrive. I didn’t know what to do next when the doorbell rang and I didn’t have any more time for preparations. Things would have to be as is.

I did the whole welcome thing, then led her to the table and set out plates and dinner. I set out a glass for her and offered any of the wines.

“Aren’t you going to have some?” she asked with surprise.

I wanted to say, “I’m thirteen, lady,” but what I did say was, “It’s not healthy. I have to fight.” It definitely sounded more like me.

“Of course you do,” Katyen said with that smile adults give kids when they think they’re being cute. She’s really going to think I’m cute later.

I served her the meal, but I think she approached it with the same attitude one approaches a child’s tea party. It didn’t matter, anyway, because all I needed was to get her here.

I gave her the silly tour of the house. “It looks like my vacation home,” Katyen said.

SCORE!

Then she got ready to leave, and exited my doorway.

“Hold on,” I said. “There are Kliid warriors snooping around everywhere. I should go with you for protection. I’d hate for you to get ambushed without someone around. I’ll walk you home.” I slipped on some sandals and started walking with Katyen to her house. Which she’d never reach. I’d hidden the sword in my quiver, and in the dark, Katyen couldn’t see it. When we were halfway to Katyen’s house, I whispered, “Wait, I heard something!”

I snuck over to the nearest house, peered around it, and jumped back. “Close your eyes. I’m going to do magic now that will blind you if you don’t.”

It worked. I tiptoed back to behind Katyen, her eyes still shut and totally believing me, and I stuck her in the back with the sword, yelling, “Katyen!” as if I’d just realized that she was being attacked by “another warrior.” I hid the sword in a raspberry bush and, forcing myself to sob, ran straight to the police.

I faked a story about how the Kliid killed her from behind while I was distracted, and they bought it, too, with a little bit of secret Dream magic. It’s a good thing that, at least according to legend, only Star Anoki can tell when someone’s doing magic. I know that before leaving, I couldn’t. I can now, so I’m assuming it’s true.

Two down, three to go. I headed home.

“I can’t believe it,” Tony said, dropping out of a tree. “That was who you had to kill?”

I made the cut-throat motion. Fortunately, no one was around.

“Decent story, though. Why’d you go to all that setup? You are a Star Anoki. Everyone knows now.” Then Tony shut up all too quickly.

“Cat got your tongue?”

“Butan got my tongue,” Tony said in a whisper. “Here’s your sword.”

Oh, whatever. I had a story going. I snuck up behind him and stabbed him as well. I was really glad I didn’t have to play Southern Belle with some old fat dude, but I had other problems. A Kliid troop had seen me. I dispatched him immediately and stopped time. I didn’t find anyone else, so I returned time to normal.

Three down, two to go. Now I needed Intellect Guy and Fairy Godmother Wannabe. I’d have to get them differently. I reminded myself that I had to do this for the safety of the tribe. The dictators had laws that we disagreed with. People were drafted into the army—they didn’t have a choice. There was the commitment law. And technically, you weren’t allowed to speak against or insult the dictators or their laws, but they couldn’t get rid of me without having to face a revolt, more in the form of everyone starting to ignore them than everyone starting to kill them. The dictators could almost face a fight. They couldn’t persuade people into listening.

“Where are your parents?” I asked Tony.

“Asleep. They know I go out, but they also know I can do enough Water magic to make myself invisible and sneak out of anywhere.”

“Whatever,” I said. I wasn’t looking forward to the other elders, but Mel had said that Katyen was one of the worst, so I should deal with her first thing. I’d visit Mel tomorrow, but first, I was going to get some sleep.

“Come on,” I said to Tony. “Stay at my house. It’s going to be a long night.”

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