My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Eleven

Zoë wasn’t surprised to learn that she had been dreaming, but this had no effect on her reluctance to get out of bed. Somehow, she was much more tired than when she’d gone to bed.

“Come on, Zo,” Jen yelled. “I let you get a few extra minutes. Now haul tail.”

Zoë grumbled something along the lines of “I hate mornings” and moved down the ladder, finding her clothes and slipping into the bathroom.

She walked out a few minutes later, realized she was wearing a pink shirt (which she’d resolved to avoid at all costs) and quickly changed into a purple one. Much better.

She started heading for the door, but Jen caught her.

“You are not skipping breakfast.” She gave Zoë a serious look. Zoë glared at her, but Jen walked away before Zoë’s staring talent would have any effect.

Zoë grabbed a handful of dry cereal, but this time it was Jen who did the glaring. “At least a granola bar,” she said, and threw one across the room. Zoë grumbled more, but Jen ignored her. Zoë quickly figured out exactly how efficient biting off more than she could chew was, and tried to swallow some, inducing a coughing fit while her mouth was still full.

Jen sighed and poured some milk. Zoë picked the pieces of granola off her shirt and threw them in the garbage. By the time she’d completed Jen’s demands, she had two minutes to cross the school for Wyrnen’s class. Zoë summoned up her mental map of the area and tried to figure out a shortcut. She remembered the garden that was near the dorm, and even though she had little desire to go there after what had happened last time, she decided to cut through it and hope no one was there.

She left Jen, who scheduled her own classes as late in the day as possible, and adopted a near-run until she reached the garden door. She checked quickly to make sure she wasn’t watched, and went straight in while keeping as silent as possible.

She was glad she did. Zoë saw Wyrnen behind a few trees and across the garden. She thought she knew how to cast a spell to, say, make herself invisible, but wasn’t sure it would work and was sure that it would attract unwanted attention from exactly the person she was trying to fool. She wondered if Wyrnen was the one who kept the garden.

Wyrnen wasn’t singing, but he was speaking and he had his attention focused on a staff he carried, which probably served a multiple purpose beyond casting magic. Zoë remembered the battle mage, just for a moment, and shuddered.

Since Zoë didn’t know how long he’d be talking, she walked right behind him, coordinating her steps with his words. At one point, she had to stand on one foot while he paused. In that horrifying moment, she didn’t know if the pause was his waiting… or his suspicion. When he started talking again, however, Zoë let out her breath without even recognizing that she’d been holding it.

Zoë started walking again. Somehow, she managed to slip by unnoticed and sneak out the other door.

She found Wyrnen’s classroom. Inside were a few scattered tables, none really matching. A boy with hair that probably hadn’t been cut in half a year was sitting off to the side of the room, drawing something intricate on a piece of paper. His eyes glanced up, but his head didn’t move. Then his attention was reassigned to the paper.

Zoë found her own seat towards the back, but nearer to the middle than the boy had been.

“Are you Arthur?” she asked cautiously, but almost wished she hadn’t broken the silence.

He gave a passive nod, but didn’t look up from the paper again. Zoë started wondering why Jen liked him so much, if he hardly paid attention to people. But she decided not to pass judgment. After all, who was she to make any remarks about someone who was quiet?

Wyrnen opened the door, which banged into the wall. The jarring sound made Zoë jump, but seemed to have no effect on either Arthur or Wyrnen, who was wearing a characteristic scowl.

“Ah, yes, we have a new student,” Wyrnen said, making it sound somewhat like an afterthought. “What’s your name again?”

“Zoë,” Zoë said.

“And how old are you?”

“Er, nine.” And a half, she added to herself, because she was feeling a little out of place.

Arthur scowled, making the shadows from hid uncut hair look even deeper.

“Well, you might not be old enough to do a few of the things that a Star magician ca…” Wyrnen started.

“I don’t think like a nine-year-old and I don’t act like one, either. So I expect not to be treated like you would treat whatever you perceive to be a nine-year-old girl,” Zoë said firmly.

“So you’re special?” Wyrnen said dryly.

“If you want to look at it that way, you’re welcome to, but my statement could be taken a number of ways. The way you take it will say a lot about your own personality,” she returned. This whole line had been philosophically mulled over the previous night, in bed. Zoë was going completely off a script, and hoping that Wyrnen didn’t stray from his lines.

“And you choose to judge me based off of what you hear in one sentence?” Wyrnen shot back. Zoë frowned, but only for a second. She hadn’t anticipated that. It was up to her to maintain her roll.

“I will take it into consideration,” she said cautiously.

“As will I consider this conversation,” Professor Wyrnen said.

Was the battle mage teacher as hostile? Zoë wondered. If I didn’t read so many books, I wouldn’t have survived this far. Is he forgetting that I’m nine? She watched Wyrnen carefully. I did tell him not to treat me like a nine-year-old. And he listened…

She made sure to keep her blank-face mask in place, even when behind it, she was involved in a complex world of logical consideration and a mild level of panic.

Once Zoë brought herself out of her thoughts and into the real world, she realized that Wyrnen wasn’t paying attention to her any more. But she’d caught Arthur’s interest. He watched her for a few seconds, but then she saw as realization dawned in his eyes, and he started watching Wyrnen with interest. Wyrnen himself sat at the computer, his hand at his face, one finger pointing up his cheek. From Zoë’s perspective, he was evaluating something on his computer screen, but Arthur could see the desktop background on his computer screen, and he could see Wyrnen’s crossed legs.

Zoë buried her nose in a book she’d brought, more for the distraction than because she was really interested in it. She shifted. It worried her that Wyrnen wasn’t looking at her.

Over the cover of the book, Zoë examined the room. It was uncharacteristically bright-colored, much like Wyrnen’s eyes. There was something about that trait that stuck with Zoë.

One wall, next to a window, plants grew over and out of dozens of assorted items, clutching to cabinet handles and window tops, and gave much of the room a green cast. Zoë forgot that she was pretending to read, and examined the plants in wonder. Wyrnen definitely had a way with them. Whatever had occupied that wall previously was inaccessible under the cover of dozens of intertwining vines. You could have hidden anything behind them.

The wall to the right of that one was less notable: some file cabinets and a few abstract paintings, still in bright colors. Farther right had Wyrnen, his desk, a computer, assorted calendars and large reproductions of Garfield comics. Even the cat looked like he was feeling out of place. Also along that side of the room were numerous bookshelves. Or maybe they could only be classified as shelves—they held more than books. From beakers to peat pots to several neatly broken vases next to jars of (homemade?) glue, nothing Wyrnen had on hand was exactly conventional. Even his pens were quill pens, and his computer looked magically built. The next few shelves, however, were dedicated to books. Many were notebooks, with tags tied to their metal spiral bindings.

The last wall was a clean counter, above which were cabinets filled with more scientific equipment. Next to the counter, a drying rack for herbs, a box with black cloth laid over it, was hung up. Underneath it was a refrigerator. Zoë felt that she could only guess what was inside it.

The ceiling, she noticed, was dark blue and covered in painted stars. There was no ceiling fan—the very top windows were open instead–and lamps were used instead of lighting from above.

Zoë had to take another look at Wyrnen. She peered over her book, realized she wasn’t holding down the pages and had been gawking at the room without cover, held them down, and buried her face. She couldn’t help thinking that he was wearing a mask, yet it seemed to be a mask that fit. Zoë found herself in desperate want of a game of laser tag. She really, really wanted to shoot someone at the moment.

There was something about the room, though. It was a classroom, but it was the classroom of a magic teacher. But he didn’t teach magic! Zoë’s thoughts shrieked in a moment of panic. He’s just sitting there, and Arthur’s reading. I should be too, she reminded herself, but couldn’t manage to feign interest in the book. She tried to amuse herself by trying to find shapes in the vines of the plants, but she was getting bored with it. She tried to intentionally daydream, but couldn’t think of anything to daydream about. That got her thinking. She decided, eventually, to start making a world inside her imagination, because she figured she’d have to spend quite a lot of time in the room, and unless she could find an interesting book, she’d have to find a way to spend the endless hours.

After Zoë had neared the halfway point building a mental iTunes and listing to herself which songs she knew by heart, the bell rang. Arthur got up immediately and left without a word.

Man. There are a lot of silent people in this school. Zoë shocked herself with the thought, especially since it brought along with it the realization that she was becoming one of them. She reasoned that it was because you didn’t need to talk when there were so many interesting things to watch. People who used magic did things so differently.

She started to head for the door, tucking her book underneath her arm, but Wyrnen stopped her. Silently sighing and putting on her mask once again, Zoë turned to face him.

He was reading your mind, said a thought in Zoë’s head. Then she thought, Did I really think that? Then she thought, Since when do I think about how I’m thinking? Or… not thinking? … This is confusing.

Wyrnen suddenly had an amused expression on his face. “Metacognition,” he explained. “I’m going to need to show you how to prevent people from reading your thoughts. On second thought… your world is too interesting.”

Zoë’s face went from confused to more confused. She’d done something right? At this point, Wyrnen started laughing, and Zoë felt that she should be offended, but dissipated the thought as fast as she could.

This conversation is getting confusing, Zoë thought. It’s kind of hard to keep up when half of the words spoken aren’t spoken, and you’re not thinking about thinking. But I was thinking about thinking a few minutes ago… Now she was confused again.

“You’ll understand soon enough,” said Wyrnen, who had stopped laughing. He paused to look at her. “I’m fairly sure you aren’t a Star mage. But new wielder types have been popping up all over the place, and you certainly have magic. I can tell that from the way you move, speak and think. Be wary. I’m not the only one who can.”

They were staring at each other again, but Wyrnen shook his head and regained his solemn persona. He became stiff and cold again, and shooed Zoë out of the room.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 at 8:00 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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