My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Eight: Henrei and Raystar


I woke up staring at a pink ceiling. That was how the whole day went. It was one of those I-wanna-scream-now days. Those why-did-I-invite-a-smart-kid-over days. Those seriously-need-to-go-back-to-bed days.

One of those days where you habitually get up and wander into the kitchen, pouring some water into a mug and stuffing it in the microwave with a bamboo stick, staring so mindlessly at the microwave door as it heats that you don’t notice when it bubbles over and makes a mess, nor do you notice the nine-year-old kid sitting at the kitchen table pointing to the hot water tap that got fixed a month ago. You clean up the mess, still only 1% awake, and burn yourself.

You proceed to scrabble around for your tea bags, only to find the charcoal aquarium filter and dump it in while the nine-year-old quietly makes you tea and tries to gently drag you back to bed as you stare at the filter, waiting for it to steep.

All of a sudden, you realize that you’re in your room again and can’t quite figure out why. You reason that it must be to get dressed. So you grab for your jeans and T-shirt, only to find that the nine-year-old did your laundry when he woke up at 7:00 and you’re actually wearing chartreuse Flower Power shorts and a muddy orange plaid shirt, neither of which you actually know the origins of.

You wander into the bathroom, still in costume, only to realize too late that the toothpaste is not the hairspray. So you walk/fall/leap into the shower, turn on the water, learn the difference between blue and red and wonder, all of a sudden, why you’re wearing rather damp clothing.

You smell French toast, and realize that it seems out of place because it happens to be 11:00… and not nighttime. Although you’re more awake from the freezing shower, you still have no clue what’s happening, and try the whole shower thing again with your clothes off, finding out quickly that the soap isn’t the shampoo, mostly because your shampoo isn’t blue. You sort yourself out and get the shower done, stepping out onto the slippery floor into a full split on the second step. You’re automatically grateful that a) your bathroom’s big, b) you’re flexible, and c) you’re not a guy.

Wrapping yourself in a towel, you watch the mirror de-fog and realize that maybe it wasn’t blue soap, vaguely remembering the leftover hair dye from your Halloween costume. Oops.

Slapping yourself until you regain consciousness, doubting that you’d ever really not been asleep, and then trying to unravel your own sentence can really confuse a girl in the morning. Even more so when she sees blue hair and remembers that she’s got to play host to a pompous intellectual who hates teenagers, then sees pajamas on the floor that don’t match, and wondering how long she’s been sleepwalking and what she’s been doing all that time.

Going through all that sort of made me panicky, though I wasn’t sure why. I got dressed, and not in the weird shorts and stuff I found on the floor. I had to admit that my new electric blue hair went quite well with the turquoise shirt. Though I did stop to properly dye the rest of my hair blue, because it didn’t go that well with my Irish origins. I just hoped that Henrei would buy that it was so our troops could spot help better. I did my makeup, to preserve what little sanity I had left, and tried to brush my hair. I undid the magic on my room and felt a lot better. Its dryad-habitat appearance was much more welcoming to me, more familiar. The maple sapling outside my window chirped, “Don’t worry, guys! She’s still sane!”

Somehow I was kind of doubting that.

“Are you all right?” Tony asked as I walked into the kitchen with electric-blue hair.

“Just dandy,” I muttered.

“You didn’t die overnight and come back as some kind of zombie?”

“It’s daytime.” I started making some tea the normal way.

“Uh, yeah,” Tony said. “Very much so. That’s kind of why I asked.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Seriously, though, blue?!”

“It’s so the soldiers can see the healer running around. It’s blue so that it blends enough with the sky that the Kliid can’t.”

Pause. “You’re a really good liar, you know that?”

“I think that’s a compliment,” I said, adding coffee grounds to my tea in an effort to try and wake myself up. As if.

I outfitted the living room to look like a library—in fact, I put four bookshelves along one wall. Tall ones. I returned the rest of the magic I’d done for Katyen to normal. I didn’t do much to the rest of the house, but I dusted off a few existing bookshelves and dragged the encyclopedias out of the basement.

I went out with Tony and bought about a million different books. I shoved them on the shelves, and we went out to fight the Kliid some more. The regenerating healing spell that I’d left was wearing off, but Tony was getting better. All of a sudden, he’d seemed to have a burst of progress that had started after I’d bumped off Katyen. I kind of doubted that the two facts had anything to do with each other. I just noticed.

I’ll spare you the graphic details, but I must have disposed of about fifty more warriors, at least. It wasn’t a crucial battle, so I wasn’t getting very serious. But I was starting to get paid a lot. I was missed when I was with the Kliid. A lot.

Although Tony could shoot his bow well, he wasn’t much of a fighter. He was a healer. He didn’t kill very many people and only did a few revenge attacks, but he was starting to get good with magic. He had an invisibility spell on at all times, but I knew where he was, anyway, because a neon-green shoelace dangling from the Water force field/protection spell is kind of misplaced in the sky unless it belongs to a flying kid trying not to be seen. It’s kind of a tipoff.

I fought for a while, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was getting tired, and less angry at everything and everyone. Fight for what’s right. I had forgotten what was wrong. I had been here too long. I… was sensing mind control magic from below. Swooping, I got ready to attack. Of all the counterproductive attempts, this was the worst. I was angry as anything now. Whoever had gotten a peek in my twisted brain had probably gotten a few mindfuls. My overwhelming logic as well as my burning anger and protective emotion for innocent Zephans, especially children, must have been horribly bright.

As it turned out, I traced the magic to the city prison, an unguarded place which was called a prison but was actually a dungeon, a sadistic house of horrors designed by–you guessed it.

Most of the prisoners were sulking in their cells, plotting escape plans, or singing as if they were drunk because there was nothing else to do. Those people counted as one of the horrors.

But in the most distant cell, in the area of the people who had been there for eons, someone writhed and screamed as if he had just arrived. Now that I was near the source, I could tell that the magic branched across the whole village. Here was the reason that there hadn’t already been a mutiny. Everyone here had been blinded with one big Dream spell. I was the only one who had ever been immune to it. That was why I was truly different.

“That’s why!” I said in surprise, aloud. “I just don’t believe in Santa! It’s all a lie!”

Then I realized how crazy that sounded. My metaphors came at the weirdest times.

If this poor crazy person was being used to control the minds of the village… why was he sobbing on the floor? I looked deeper into the spell.

The person’s name was Rendarr, and he was a Dream Anoki who had been “employed” by the dictators right after the founding of the city to create a permanent spell that would blind people. As expected. But he also got the combined thoughts of every person he controlled.

I am HERE, I thought hard. He would hear me best because I was the closest.


I will KILL the dictators. You will be free. It was a statement.

“No… I am never free…”

Can’t you end the spell?


Yes, you can, you whimpering fool. I killed Jaken. Whatever mind control he had over you is gone. You  can end this.

“No. I can only end the spell by ending.”

This poor, poor soul. “Do you want me to kill you?” I asked, seriously.

No response. He couldn’t hear me. I dug into my backpack and handed him some granola bars.

Do you want me to kill you? I repeated. The man sat up.

“Why would you do this?”

You are in pain. Do you want me to kill you?

“The magic will stay for at least a week, if that’s why.”

I need the magic for a little while. But you are in pain. I will ask again: Do you want me to kill you?


I didn’t kill him with the bow, but by magic. It wouldn’t hurt. Wherever he was going, it had to be better than here. Sometimes protection has nothing to do with sustaining life.

Humming Andrew Bird’s Heretics under my breath, I left quickly. Of all the deaths I’d seen, this had to be the saddest. Sometimes deaths were sad because people always got the most out of life and were enjoying it, only to die. But this death was sad because the person did want to die… and had a reason to.

*          *          *

I went home. I cooked dinner. There wasn’t much to do. I wasn’t happy, but I was incredibly and utterly furious with the elders. I wanted to kill them all… well, kill them both. There aren’t enough left to have an “all.”

Raystar the werewolf, and Henrei the bookworm. Henrei would have to be first. I felt magic from Raystar; she was forcing people into believing her innocence with strong Light magic. These freakazoids relied too heavily on brainwashing. That was going to change. This place would be run right or destroyed. And that would be the final word.

I went out and asked around (from different people, of course) where Henrei lived. I was going to ask him to come over and talk about battle strategies, and I’d dressed the part: I looked like a newscaster. Khaki jacket, green shirt, black jeans. Fancy jewelry. I felt like I was acting in a play, being anyone but myself. It didn’t feel natural. I didn’t like it. I was sad again, but remembered why I was angry.

I wondered how long it would be before the more strong-minded Anoki broke free of the brainwash spell. But I wasn’t wondering long, because I saw Tony’s shoelace stop in midair and the invisibility spell faltered. He blinked and frowned, then really frowned. Then he looked downright furious, like I was. He started firing shot after shot at the Kliid. My, how short weeks are.

I couldn’t see anyone else stopping and realizing stuff, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t anyone. I knew Tony was pretty strong-willed, but hoped he was stronger than I thought. I wanted to do this secretly, for reasons I couldn’t explain except that I wanted to make sure the city fell in my hands, or Mel’s, and not the hands of some wacko who plans to do the same thing.

I was directed to a normal house. I was expecting, I don’t know, some evil, looming stone castle. Whatever.

I’m sorry, but when Henrei answered the door, I had one thought: Dang, he looks like a chipmunk! His head shape, with no neck, combined with his too-conservative hair, just made him look like he should be annoying Daffy Duck on some golf course or something. I tried hard not to giggle.

“From what I hear, you seem like the type of person who would be intelligent enough to plot battle strategies. You could show me how to improve my approach.” Please, please let this guy’s ego call off his guard, I silently prayed.

“Indeed,” he said, and I was suppressing giggles as the stocky man tried to “draw himself up to full height” and looked like some kind of pompous, chubby dwarf preparing to give a speech on how great he was. I smiled, letting Henrei think it was because he had agreed to “teach” me. I had seen generations of generals’ approaches and had seen the life and death of each. I knew what worked, and I knew why. I knew how soldiers survive. I don’t think Henrei had anywhere near the seven years of experience I had, and if he did, it had been spent sitting on his 70-pound butt looking out a window and barking orders. The only thing he had to teach me was how to gain weight faster than the speed of light. And Mel had said that Butan was the fat one. He must have been spherical.

Henrei ushered me in and dragged me awkwardly down the stairs, to a basement that would have freaked a mole out. I bet that moles couldn’t navigate it. Henrei couldn’t.

It was all a library, a maze of bookshelves. Actually, it served as a public library and had a back entrance for normal people. It wasn’t all Henrei’s; he just happened to live in the house above.  I had to fly to the ceiling a few times, work out the maze, and direct Henrei to the door at the back, which he unlocked once we were finally there.

I was exhausted from craning my neck in that weird way that some people (and apparently Henrei) think looks intelligent. I was going the whole ten yards because I wanted to maintain an innocent appearance until the last mission, in which I would “slay the evil werewolf that was in Raystar’s kitchen.” I needed to get rid of Henrei fast so that I could make the full moon on Thursday. Since it was still Sunday-ish, I had plenty of time.

I listened to Henrei babble for a while.

“Why don’t we discuss this formally at my house? Say, tomorrow? I have a rather impressive collection of books, and we won’t be interrupted by the local bookworms. Plus, my plans are all there.” And nonexistent, I thought. I knew what I was doing tomorrow.

“Of course,” Henrei said haughtily, propping himself up against a bookshelf and trying to look taller. I was still on the verge of a giggle fit.

“I can see my own way out,” I said. Henrei left, sauntering between shelves and inevitably getting lost. I didn’t care. The librarian would find him eventually.

I left through the back door that was right there and grinned at the world at large. Then I started laughing my head off.

I went home. Tony, predictably, dropped down from a tree (but without crash-landing this time, since he could fly).

“Where you going tonight?” he asked, grinning.

“Home now. You keep missing the pompous excitement.”


I was in the mood to fly again, and going home didn’t have much appeal. I was in the mood to be by water.

“I think I’m going home too,” Tony said. “My parents have a heck of a lot of questions.”

I noticed that he still had his bow on his back. He saw me looking and said, “I want to know how to make these. This one’s getting too easy to shoot.”

It was a twenty-pound bow. Though Anoki are slightly stronger than humans, it’s kind of odd for a nine-year-old kid to pick shooting up that fast. Or maybe Tony was just strong. Being angry helped the workout of fighting.

“I can teach you more after tomorrow. But you need to get home now. You’ve become valuable in the war, so I advise that you use an invisibility spell and make sure you cover your shoelaces.”

Tony grinned. “It’s so the warriors can see help and small enough that the Kliid can’t!”

“Oh, shut up!”

Then I realized that Henrei hadn’t asked me about my hair at all. Must be colorblind.

I waited until Tony had gone home, then ducked into the forest and flew above it. I didn’t go high. I stayed near the top leaves and watched the battle from their cover. I was angry again. The Kliid seemed so superior compared to the Zephans now. Zephan rulers relying on magic at someone else’s expense… I wondered how many cockroaches were in the Kliid’s basement. Their government was free—sort of—and even the most strong-minded people didn’t seem to be blatantly ticked with anyone. But that didn’t mean something wasn’t going on.

I fell asleep to the sound of battle coming from the field, and woke up several times that night. I wanted someone desperately. Someone to talk to. Not Mel. Mel was just a good friend, and though I trust her, it’s kind of hard to talk to her sometimes because she can seem like a teacher or even a babysitter sometimes. Kaye might have been my sister, but I didn’t know or trust her very much. My trust was too hard to earn. Akana was too young, and I barely knew Li.

I felt more Dream magic, and traced it to a person right below the foliage of the trees. I ducked back into the forest canopy. It was that spy lady again!

“Look. If you’re here because you’re spying on me and letting me know it because you think I’m going to blurt out my feelings to you, then you obviously missed the part about how my trust is hard to earn. Ring a bell?”

“Yes. I don’t expect you to say anything.”

I realized that she wasn’t talking like Yoda anymore, and for some reason, her voice sounded oddly familiar. She still wore a ton of perfume and enough clothing and jewelry that, if she wore the same every day, her own friends wouldn’t recognize her with it off.

“Then why are you here? Don’t give me any guardian angel garbage.”

“You seem to dislike me. Is there a reason?”

“One, you’re spying me in the middle of an ongoing covert mission,” I said, frowning, “and two, I rarely trust anyone without knowing them for a long time. In my life, everyone is under suspicion. That’s why I survive. People have lied to me for as long as I remember. My paranoia is justified.”

“I never said it wasn’t. But I am not Kliid or Zephan, and I have not hurt you.”

“And I don’t know who you’re reporting to. You might not be Zephan, but that doesn’t mean that someone else is sitting and listening to my everyday life. I have a reason not to trust people, and I’ve only known you since I caught you spying on me.”

“No, Amanda. You have known me all your life. I am surprised that you do not know who I am.”

“Then perhaps you should tell me if you want my trust. Why do you want my trust, anyway? I wanted the elders’ trust right before I killed them. What’s your reason? I don’t know.”

“I want to know you, Amanda. That’s it. I haven’t known you, not really.”

“You said I knew you all my life!” I said angrily. “Why are you contradicting yourself?”

“As for simply telling you who I am, Amanda,” Alicia said coolly, “I will tell you after your mission. Both of them. Do not let your guard down after killing Raystar. I will not attack you, but someone will.”

“Who?” I asked. “Their families?”

The spy scoffed. “As if! You could take a few angry villagers. No. But you will see eventually. Go to bed. You’ll need it.”

She left. I went to bed—in the house, this time.

I woke up, looked in the mirror across the room from my bed, and screamed. Then I remembered yesterday. I don’t think you know what bed head looks like with blue hair. Especially if you sleep in the sky half the night.

I brushed it out and got dressed. Who did Alicia think she was and why did she think I bought that junk she told me. I was used to being lied to, but from someone who wants my trust…

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But I decided to put that off for a while. I wasn’t in the mood to think. I’m not what you’d call an early bird (but I think you got that from how yesterday started out) and I’m not a Monday person, either. But I decided that I could still plot out battle sketches to annoy Henrei with. Hopefully he would get bored fast, because my plan involved that.

I spent the day forging meticulous plans that I came up with on the spur of the moment, then giving orders to the troops to do them. I previously hadn’t planned much for defeating the Kliid beyond telling the troops to just blow them the heck up. It had worked. But I was sitting here and giggling, writing “defensive maneuvers” and “weak points” of each type of Anoki. All I cared about as far as weak points was simple: As long as they keel over when I shin kick them in the crotch, I’m good.

I couldn’t wait for today to be over. Then I’d only have Raystar to deal with. I was ready.

Before I knew it, the plans were as done as plans would get. I made dinner and brought out a bottle of wine for Henrei. The more drunk he is, the better for my plot.

It was 5:00. The troops were doing a defensive plan I’d seen once (which hadn’t worked, but Henrei would like it and I wouldn’t have to do it long). The plan involved lacing the edges of the battlefield, including the edge going back to the Kliid, with humans’ gasoline, then having the Fire Anoki light it, sealing the Kliid off from help by a wall of fire. It only lit for a day, though, and the Kliid had just gone back for help when it had burned out. But I didn’t need it for long, and it was perfect for this mission.

Henrei came over soon. I hoped he didn’t notice when I widened the narrow doorway so that there wouldn’t be a scene. I blabbered on for a while about the plans, then took him out “to see it in action.”

“Of course, I bet you’ve seen this plan before, seeing as you’re the village elder!” I let my voice go a little louder. That did it—he was too much of a target for the Kliid to resist, and though I walked on, he didn’t, being surrounded immediately.

I started pulling the rabbit knife on the attackers, but acted like they were pushing me away and went slow enough that I allowed them to kill him before dispatching them. I slapped Henrei’s cheeks for signs of life, but he’d been stabbed. I ducked my head, smiled, and dragged him off of the battlefield.

*          *          *

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday training Tony with the bow and in healing magic. He was strong, stronger than he’d been at Water magic. Making potions wasn’t a problem, either. I taught him some of the more advanced Water magic, too. He picked it all up fast.

I met his schoolteacher once. She’d seriously underestimated him, and had only kept to the basics. He could probably beat her in magical combat now. I could tell that the real reason she hadn’t taught him anything was because she didn’t know anything other than the basic Water magic. She should have been a babysitter, not a teacher. I offered to put her with Jane and Ivory to help with the little kids. She accepted and left to find them.

When I wasn’t helping Tony with… um… extracurricular activities, I fought the Kliid and healed people. I dropped by the hospital and saved people from the price monster. I restored the potion stock. I grew food, made bows and arrows, tutored people with less archery experience and taught them the fast way to make arrows, and listened to people.

What the people talked about was magic. Normally there would be gossip about Katyen’s stupid-looking pink hair (which there still was—she would be a legend for generations), but this time it was mostly about Auntie Em’s new ________ magic.

I ignored this. I had better things to do than question this new burst of power.

Finally, Thursday came. It was a full moon as predicted. I knew where Raystar’s house was. Everyone knew where Raystar’s house was. We’d all been invited to some tea party or something at some point.

I had a bag of goodies with me.

“Raystar!” I knocked on the door. “I heard you weren’t feeling well! I brought you dinner!”

No response. I expected.

“Raystar?” I injected innocence into my voice. My bow was on my back, of course. I wasn’t going to let on that I had a sword, let alone one I could lift.

I opened the door into Raystar’s kitchen and screamed. Following lines, of course. I shot the wolf and went “looking for Raystar.” Not finding her (duh), I dragged the wolf into the back yard. I left the basket on the counter, feeling like a perverted Red Riding Hood, and left. I couldn’t believe it. My mission was done. I couldn’t even sleep that night.

I passed the night by looking for Alicia, the spy lady. I couldn’t find her. I was disappointed, though I didn’t know why. I didn’t trust her, right? Right?

But for some reason, I was liking her a little more. I would like her a lot more if I knew who she really was and where she lived, or even who she was reporting to. I had a few theories, including the crazy one: she wasn’t reporting to anyone, but actually did want to know me. Unlikely as that was, it had felt like she was telling the truth. And my instincts are usually pretty accurate.

I left for Mel’s friend’s place. It was dawn by then, and he was the only one up. I returned the sword.

“Keep it,” he said. “You may need it again.”

“Unfortunately, that’s a plausible possibility in my life.”

“I am glad that I am not you.”

“Then you got me right.” I sighed. He made tea in a French press.

It was a long time before anyone else woke up, or at least it seemed like it to me.

“You killed Raystar in werewolf form last night?” Kaye asked.

“Yep. I dragged her into the back yard.”

“I’ve never seen a werewolf,” Akana said, intrigued.

“She’s probably changed back, but I don’t know. We could see.”

We went to Raystar’s back yard. She had changed back, and she looked oddly familiar.

“That’s my Light teacher!” Akana shrieked.

My mouth dropped open. Moonray? Raystar? I can’t believe I didn’t catch that!

“So that was how the people who attacked us could fly!” I said. “She’s been giving out secrets!”

We bought a newspaper. “Without a leader, the Zepha tribe is falling into chaos. Many candidates have offered to take the elders’ place, but were all quickly vetoed by the general populace.”

“Take it, Amanda.” Mel was firm. “You left the tribe without a leader. You freed the people, but they have to be led. Anarchy is bad.”

“Yeah, think of all the bad stuff that could happen if you don’t. Communism. Another dictatorship.” Kaye was looking straight at me, not sure what I’d do with the power.

“I’ll take it,” I said, “but I don’t want it. I’ll take it because I still haven’t resolved issues with the Kliid. I need power. But I need you, too, Kaye, because you’re what will bend the Kliid to our will. And Li, too.”

Li had been silent, as if she wasn’t sure what to make of this. “You guys are on happy pills, aren’t you?”

“Huh?” I said.

“You think the Kliid will stop a war that’s been going on for generations because of a few girls.”

“I think the Kliid will stop a war that’s been going on for generations because I’ll kick their naïve butts if they don’t.”

“Amanda, you’re thirteen.” Li said.

“Thank you, Ms. State The Obvious! Are the warriors thirteen? No. I’ll have a big honking army at my disposal. You’ve convinced me to take the power; now don’t go running the other way.” I left. I wondered where I should apply for such a position.

I went around and got people’s signatures, et cetera. When I’d gotten about 500, I went and shoved it at the newspaper editors and stuff. Anoki are kind of informal, so if the newspaper declares something like this, it’s true. And I was now leader.

There was one more question. “Well, what the heck do I do now?”

It went unanswered.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 6th, 2010 at 2:46 pm and is filed under Star. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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