My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Two

“Is there a reason I’m not allowed to go out now?” Zoë asked. It was several hours later, and she was getting hungry. The doughnut she’d eaten that morning was long forgotten, and Zoë was left with a rumbling stomach in its place.

“Yes,” Mike said.

“What is it?” Zoë asked, wondering why he hadn’t immediately told her.

“Because we don’t know what you are yet.”

“Human. But my Science teacher said we’re really monkeys.”

“That’s a pile of bull—“ he stopped there, though, because a teacher had rounded the corner they were approaching. “—hooey,” he finished lamely.

“Bullhooey,” Zoë repeated. “I’ve never heard that one before.”

It wasn’t the first time a nine-year-old’s lacking knowledge of curse words had gotten Mike in trouble. Fortunately, the teacher chose to ignore them, and the pair walked on.

If only I had a little more talent for magic, Mike thought to himself. Maybe I wouldn’t get so many like this, where we don’t have a clue what wielder type to test them on.

Navigating Pyrite’s halls was another thing for which Mike would have used magic. You almost needed it. But that was the reason the building was selected to become Pyrite University in the first place; it was as if the building had been designed in two teams that each took half the job, and all the normal classes were in the part of the building that was the sane architects’ responsibility. Students who didn’t study magic were told never to explore the back part, which was supposedly an office building for a recycling company. But since certain doors could open into a friendly art room in the morning and lead into a class full of bad-tempered teachers in the afternoon, magic was sometimes required to get around. The building was designed perfectly for a magic school, in which informals, magic students, were the only ones who would survive long without running into Dr. Bern, or worse, Professor Wyrnen.

It was rumored that Dr. Bern kept a knife in his back pocket at all times as defense against people in the city who Dr. Bern, as he put it, wants to meet even less than his relatives. But it was known well that Wyrnen carried a handgun, and he didn’t make it a rumor.

Zoë was being led through these halls, and even though she didn’t know the names of these teachers, she was being eyed by a few of them and assessed: would she be a troublemaker or not? It was probably a good thing that she was hungry, or she would have looked each of them in the eye and subliminally answered “Yes.”

After she and Mike had both become footsore, Mike showed her a room. She stumbled into the doorway. She could have sworn that the door had moved a little, under her feet.

“Sorry,” Mike said, stepping in. “It shifts sometimes. If we’re not careful with the spells we do around here, it switches over into a parallel dimension we use as a snack fridge. Someone accidentally stumbled in once, and then we accidentally closed it with him inside. The next person to try and rummage through for their Cherry Garcia ice cream had gotten quite the surprise.”

Zoë would have looked at him in astonishment, but she hadn’t heard what he’d said. She was looking at the tables lined up in the room, separated by those fake walls that were usually in schools. But the strange thing was that instead of walking around the walls to talk to the other teachers, the staff put a hand to the wall and another onto whatever they had for a magical item—which varied from tree branches to two-foot-long rods to wands to staffs to anything—and muttered something, and portions of the wall would vanish. Not to mention the other things they were doing, turning water into vapor and then into ice that fell to the ground, cleaning things out of the carpet and hauling the dirt into a bucket, even fixing leaks in the ceiling with magic. Exploding rocks seemed normal.

“Jesse,” Mike called. A man looked up from his conversation, straightening, and peered over at them. Mike pointed at Zoë. Jesse said something indistinguishable—probably “Gotta go”—and strolled across the room with a quick step.

“This one’s a dangerous situation. One of the rocks exploded.”

“Maybe she belongs with the battle mages,” Jesse suggested. Zoë wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that.

“Maybe,” Mike said doubtfully. “She doesn’t seem the type, though. You know how personality fits in this.”

“How long have you been with her?”

“A few hours. She’s hardly said anything.”

“Probably hungry,” Jesse suggested.

And scared, Zoë thought, and lonely. But she kept it to herself.

Jesse took his staff and went back across the room to shout at the door a little. Then he sighed and talked to the door in a normal voice. It opened into what Zoë imagined Alaska would look like in the middle of winter, and he stepped in. The door creaked, almost closing, but Jesse side-kicked it open.

“The doors don’t open unless you say the spell nicely,” Mike said, by way of explanation.

Zoë kept this in mind as Jesse emerged from the freezer dimension with a small tub of ice cream and walked back across the room to meet Mike, shedding snow with every step.

“You’re not allergic to strawberry, are you?”

Zoë shook her head no and started thanking him exuberantly for finally feeding her.

“Not a battle mage, then,” Jesse said with a smile as Zoë carefully pulled the paper lid off the can of Ben and Jerry’s and put it in her pocket as a souvenir, taking the spoon out of the area where the lid had been and starting to eat. She began to ignore the discussion between Mike and Jesse in favor of food.

“D’you think she’s more the Earth mage type?” Mike asked.

“Maybe one of the Anoki elements,” Jesse said. “Maybe she’s a Fire or Dream mage. I don’t think she’s the Earth type.”

“Why don’t you just ask me?” Zoë asked, emptying the carton and slapping the lid back on. “And what’s an Anoki?” Her mother had told her a few things about Anoki, but she’d felt too silly to ask exactly what they were.

“She’s got a point,” Mike said. “Maybe she should choose a teacher. We could let her pick one from the room and see if she’s fit for that kind of magic.”

“It’s better than any idea we’ve had,” Jesse agreed. “Go find a teacher, kiddo. Meet us back here when you’ve found someone you like.”

Zoë left them far behind. She’d wanted to explore the huge room by herself anyway. It looked like a room that would be used for meetings at some big company, but it was the size of a large gym. The place was crowded, and it did remind Zoë of a fair in some ways. You couldn’t exactly tell how things were organized or where to go, and it didn’t help that the fake walls, which created cubicles, vanished at the teachers’ leisure. She almost got lost in the crowd, which was made up of kids mostly her age but with a few teenagers milling around. Teachers stood behind tables that were full of things. She avoided the teenagers, who would occasionally stoop to the younger kids’ height and talk to them as if they were four years old. A lot of the teachers would do this, too. Zoë knew immediately that she didn’t want to end up in their class, so she walked quickly past them.

Zoë thought about her tactics. She was obviously in the middle of a test, because Mike and Jesse weren’t following her to try and influence her decision. She decided that she liked it better this way. She knew she didn’t need help.

She started in the corner near the door, watching the battle mages. The teacher stepped out from behind the table and leaned on her staff. The potential students backed off, except for one boy. The teacher picked up her staff and swung it at the boy, fast and hard. Zoë was waiting for him to duck down and take the hit, but he jumped nimbly backwards and out of the way before the staff could collide with him. The teacher smiled and handed him a clipboard, which he signed readily. Zoë shuddered. She wouldn’t have been fast enough to dodge that, and the blow would likely have broken one of her ribs.

Zoë walked away from that cubicle and looked at the next one, wondering if all the classes would be that dangerous. The next cubicle was occupied by a mermaid, who sat in a special wheelchair and wore a shirt with a pin that said “Water.” She was doing magic tricks for an audience of elementary-school kids who were crowding around her. The next stall, strategically placed, was a Fire magic class. The teacher, a tall, thin man, was already actively teaching. Zoë was afraid that the students, who apparently learned by trial-and-error, would set something on fire—either intentionally or not—but she was even more worried that the mischievous-looking teacher would do it first.

Walking on, she saw an herbalist girl wearing a pin that said “Earth,” and wondered whether all the magician types here were elemental, and whether all of them wore pins.

Maybe not, she thought, as she saw a hypnotist demonstrate tricks to more kids. She was looking through the other cubicles and noticed that she was wandering aimlessly through a section marked Elementals. The battle mages were right outside the area, still trying to maul each other. Further exploring the Elementals’ area, she noticed that only about half of the elements were natural. Apparently, the “elements” extended past Earth, Water, Air and Fire and included Light, Darkness, Time, Storm, Dreams and Star. The Star table had no children around it of any age, and a man was sitting behind the table, scowling, apparently in deep thought. Zoë walked away from the Elementals to explore the rest of the room.

The cubicles were a little less compact away from the Elementals’ wall. Zoë saw a wizard (so declared the sign on his cubicle), but he was in jeans and a T-shirt, and was playing around with his staff like it was a baton and causing small magical anomalies. Here the kids were wandering around more and not crowding the cubicles so much, because the teachers weren’t doing as many magic tricks. There was a young enchantress, maybe about fourteen, wearing a purple dress with jeans underneath and talking to a spy mage who might have been her age. They were both wearing teachers’ name tags, which was odd, since most of the teachers were around college age.

They looked approachable, so Zoë walked up and asked, “What is this place?”

“What do you think?” the enchantress asked.

“Sophie, be nice,” the spy mage said, and to Zoë, said, “It’s a magic school.”

“But what’s this room?”

“This is the room where students meet their teachers,” the spy mage said. Zoë looked closer at his name tag, which said “Daniel.”

“Then I’m not supposed to be here,” Zoë said. “I don’t have a teacher yet. Mike told me to find one.”

“He let you loose in here?” Sophie asked, aghast. “Of all places…” She shook her head. “With all the magic hanging around here, you could fall into a parallel dimension! Remember when we had to fish that one kid out of the Void?”

“Sophie, don’t scare her,” Daniel said. “The Void Dimension isn’t even a void anymore. Remember when I did that one spell so that it became habitable?” Apparently, Daniel realized that he’d started to ignore Zoë, and said, “Look, kid, don’t worry. I’ll help you out. Why did Mike decide that he couldn’t suggest a wielder type to you?”

“I think he kind of got upset when the rock exploded,” Zoë said.

“Wha-a-a-at?” That was both Daniel and Sophie, in unison.

“Um, the rock they gave me exploded,” Zoë said. “Is that bad?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel said, honestly. “I don’t usually work at Pyrite, and some of their methods of separating newbies into wielder types are a little odd, if you ask me. I’m not familiar with all of them. But I’ve never heard of that happening before.”

“If you don’t work here, why are you here now?” Zoë asked, easily sidetracked.

“Daniel here is the most powerful wielder in all the dimensions,” Sophie said, smiling and elbowing Daniel, who blushed.

“Er, yeah,” he admitted. “There’s a bit of a magical issue in the area that we’re here to fix.”

Zoë wondered if they’d just discovered her random magical outbursts, but she was abruptly whisked away by Daniel. His mind was more on getting the girl away from Sophie, who would very likely elaborate on the problem.

“What’s your name?” Daniel prodded. “And what, exactly, happened with the rocks?”

This entry was posted on Monday, January 31st, 2011 at 7:24 pm and is filed under Zoe. 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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