My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Four

“You mean you did what?” Daniel said, confused.

“Went out and got some doughnuts. Nobody noticed but my parents,” Zoë added hastily.

Daniel thought for a minute. “What had you been doing at the time?”

“Sitting around and singing to my stuffed animals. I was four or something.”

“And all the doors were locked.”

“Yup.” Zoë was starting to like Daniel, but it seemed like his face was frozen in a befuddled expression.

“Any magical experiences before that?”

“Nope.”

“Well, maybe you can do my kind of magic,” he said, and Zoë’s hopes rose. Could she be the same wielder type as the most powerful wielder in existence? Maybe one day she, too, would be high up in the ranks. She wondered how it felt. Oddly, Daniel seemed to do a lot less magic than anyone else in the building, including Sophie. She would have thought he’d be famous or something, but most people ignored him, though a few did greet him by name.

“Here,” he said, breaking her away from any mental questions. He handed her his staff, which was taller than Zoë, and which came up a little past Daniel’s shoulder.

“Don’t you need it?” she asked.

“No.”

“Then why do you carry it?”

“It makes some spells stronger.”

“Well, why are you handing it to me?”

“You need it. Just trust me on this one.”

Zoë didn’t want to—she’d rather have an explanation, even if it was a long one—but she obeyed. Daniel showed her the spell, which involved a few simple words and a motion, and he used it to lift a pen off a deserted table marked Storm Magic.

Zoë, holding the staff, repeated the movement and words. She tried to lift the pen, but it didn’t happen. Disappointed, she handed the staff back and wondered once again whether she was in the right place.

“Okay, so you’re not a spy mage. But maybe you’ll fit an element.” Daniel dragged over a passing teenager who was wearing a Water pin and made him try the same thing with Zoë. When that didn’t work, they tried a number of different types of magic, but Zoë didn’t seem to have any talent for those, either.

“Well, that leaves the rarer types,” Daniel said. “I don’t know—you may be doomed to end up in a storybook.”

Like that’ll ever happen, Zoë thought.

Daniel checked her for Dream magic, Earth magic, Time magic, hypnotism, Storm magic, herbalist talents, halfin abilities, and even checked a second time for any affinity for wizardry, for which Daniel insisted that she seemed just right. None of it worked, and Zoë was wondering for the millionth time whether she could do magic at all.

“You’ll learn,” Daniel said. “If you don’t have magical abilities now, I’ll hook you up with a book. But you… I don’t know. We’ll try Star magic, but there’s a long shot of that working. Anyway, the teacher’s a bit odd.” He gave her a hard look.

Daniel didn’t say negative things very often, so when he did, people tended to pay attention. But Zoë didn’t know this, so she pressed on. She was determined to impress someone, or at least make herself feel that she hadn’t wasted Daniel’s time. Daniel, on the other hand, was enjoying the break. Sophie had probably found something to fix in the room, and she never stopped until a project was done, so she was probably going to disappear for a few hours.

This was a legitimate guess. Sophie liked to order people around, and she was good at it. Nobody questioned her much, if they questioned her at all. She was bossy, sarcastic, and sometimes downright mean, but she knew what she was doing. To the right person, she was intelligent, systematical, efficient, and knowledgeable. She didn’t tolerate nonsense. Daniel was the right person, and he, being patient, calm, and somewhat nicer, made a perfect companion to her (and occasionally made sure that her charges didn’t commit suicide). She was probably now in the boiler room, fixing something mechanical, which was one of the school’s problems and which was their cover for being there if the formals asked.

When Daniel said, “The teacher’s a bit odd,” he didn’t mention that that teacher was the most feared teacher in the school, Professor Wyrnen. Zoë approached him anyway, ignoring his scowl, and met him with an even expression. Then Wyrnen saw Daniel behind her, and nodded in greeting.

“One of yours?” he asked.

“No,” Daniel said. “Possibly one of yours, though.”

Wyrnen looked down at the heart T-shirt, the butterfly shoes, the pink jeans. But then he looked down at the staring brown eyes for about twenty seconds. He blinked. She’d won.

“Er, yes,” he said. Zoë was starting to enjoy herself for the first time that day since the strawberry ice cream. “Can she do Star magic?”

“Well, that’s what we’re here to figure out,” Daniel said. “We don’t know.”

“This is kind of hard to test someone on,” Wyrnen said.

“Why?” Daniel asked. “I’m not very familiar with Star magic.”

“Star magic involves the ability to make up spells,” said Wyrnen. “And yes—I know you can, but most Anoki can’t. The question is, does she have Anoki magic? Can she do the other Anoki elements? If she can’t, then she can’t do Star magic.”

“No, I haven’t seen her do any other magic,” Daniel admitted. “But the teaching has been a bit choppy, if you know what I mean.”

Wyrnen gave her a hard look. “If I were to pass judgment, I’d say she doesn’t have any magic at all. I can’t sense it from her. If she can do magic, I haven’t seen the type before, and unless I can investigate it, I can’t teach it. But she’s welcome to try.” He gave an almost-imperceptible smirk.

Daniel seemed to realize something. “Zoë, Wyrnen does Anoki magic. I know you probably don’t know what they are. Basically, they’re like really trigger-happy fairies with their own set of elements, except they’re human height,” Daniel said. “Although most fairies are trigger-happy anyway. Come into their colonies with a bread knife or a pair of scissors and they’re all afraid you’re going to kill them, so the obvious solution is to kill you first. Trouble is, most items can be used as weapons if the enemy is eight inches tall. It’s hard to compare Anoki to anything, because they are a species of their own.”

“That’s actually a pretty good description,” Wyrnen said, trying to judge how angry Daniel was after he’d essentially suggested that Zoë wasn’t teachable by the abruptness with which Daniel had changed the subject. The last thing Wyrnen needed that day was an angry Daniel. In the magical world, hierarchy was based off of the strength of a person’s magical abilities and sometimes their experience using them, not off of age or money or experience in the Agency. Someone could have lived all their life in the Agency but worked as a janitor and rarely used magic, or, like Daniel and Sophie, could have been in the Agency for a few years and saved the universes already.

“But don’t Anoki like humans?” Zoë asked.

“Yeah, they do,” Daniel said. “Where’d you learn that?”

“My mom told me.”

“Was she the person who wanted to bring you here?”

“Yes.”

“Does she have any magical talent?” Daniel asked.

“A little. That’s how she makes cookies so fast all the time.”

“Easiest way to do it,” Daniel said. “But Sophie still can’t get the hang of it. She keeps trying to put opium in them, but it doesn’t work out right. That’s one way of making your cookies addicting without improving your cooking skills. Did you know that Coca-Cola actually used to have cocaine in it to make it addicting so that people would buy more?”

Zoë’s attention ebbed away from the conversation, which had turned solely to addicting things, and she sat, cross-legged, with her back against the desk-ish table. She glanced at the sign she leaned against. “Star Magic,” it still read, and the dot over the “i” was a smiley face. Zoë could have sworn it winked at her.

Zoë watched Daniel’s face carefully as he looked down at her, out of the corner of his eye. She wondered if he had seen the poster, or if he was aware that his meeting was getting off track. Probably both, she decided.

“The question is,” Daniel said, interrupting a joke about smoking being the leading cause of statistics, “how do you plan to test her on this?”

“Ah,” Wyrnen said, his face going blank. Wyrnen had only one student, and he was sulky and wordless—always had been. He, Arthur, was incredibly intelligent, but preferred silence and spoke only several times a day, including to order lunch. Wyrnen didn’t mind this. He was used to pointing out books that Arthur could read, and doing next to nothing apart from that. But Arthur was sixteen or seventeen years old now, and it had been ages since he’d gotten into magic. Arthur had come to Pyrite from another school when he was eleven, with papers saying that he’d gotten three years of training as a Star mage. Wyrnen had no idea how Arthur had gotten into school, or how his professor had tested him.

“Well, I think the reasonable solution is to let her stay with me for a while, at least until she shows something. I only need for her to do magic before I know her element, if she has one.”

“Really?” Daniel said, fascinated. “That sounds like something worth research. You say that Star magic is a rare talent? Do you keep your students away from others much?”

“Yes, it’s rare—and student, not students. He keeps himself away. Young…” Wyrnen stared at Zoë for a few moments, as if trying to place a caption on a photo. The friendliness he’d expressed around Daniel was now gone from his eyes, which were violently blue. For some reason, Zoë had expected his eyes to be gray.

“Zoë,” she said. She realized that she hadn’t been properly introduced, but Daniel took care of that quickly.

“This is Professor Wyrnen,” he said tensely. “Don’t mess with him.”

Zoë involuntarily smiled, but it was without humor. What she really felt like doing was shuddering. She wasn’t too sure about the professor, and knew, as if from the air, that he was violent by nature. She didn’t know who this was typically directed toward, and hoped that it was not going to be her.

Professor Wyrnen was watching her intently, possibly reading her expression, maybe calculating her reaction to this comment. Daniel was back to his calm, separated-from-stress self, but he was watching her, too. Zoë fought to keep her own face as blank and unreadable as possible.

“She does seem like the right type,” Wyrnen conceded, after several moments of continuous staring between the three, under which Zoë did not fold. “Maybe she’ll connect with Arthur.” Fat chance of that, he thought to himself. I doubt Arthur’s connected with himself, let alone anyone else.

“I’ll check back after Sophie and I deal with the little problem around here, then,” Daniel said, wrapping things up.

“Hardly little,” Professor Wyrnen muttered.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 at 7:07 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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