My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Fourteen

Zoë rolled over.

“Wake. Up.” Jen flew to the top bunk and straddled Zoë’s crumpled body. She was about three seconds away from shaking Zoë awake. Zoë was being more stubborn than usual. Even though she’d had fun talking to Naelie, the activity had taxed her energy–not to mention the magic she’d done and the school day that was behind her.

“It’s Saturday,” Jen said.

“Then why are you waking me up?” Zoë grumbled. She couldn’t see the point of waking up early—i.e., at eight—when she didn’t have to go to school.

“Jen,” she whined.

“I want to teach you how to play Othello today,” Jen said. “Then we should find you something to do magic with. Like a rod or something.”

“I don’t think I need that,” Zoë said cautiously, not knowing how Jen would react.

Jen just burst into laughter. “Don’t need it? Don’t need it! You’re human, Zoë, unless I’m not mistaken.”

“Yes,” said Zoë, not sure what Jen was getting at.

“Well?”

“You do magic without any rod or anything,” Zoë pointed out.

“I’m an Anoki, silly,” Jen said, still smiling. “I’m not human.”

“So it’s a drawback?” Zoë said.

“A drawback? Being human? No, you get the better deal. See my ring?” Jen held out her hand.

“What about it?”

“That comes off, I die. Anoki rings stick to their hands, though. And if I use too much magic at once, I collapse. But Anoki have special reserves of energy solely for magic use. Anoki can run a marathon and still have plenty of energy to do strong spells, or they can clean the whole school with magic and won’t be able to do any more, but can still beat any human in a hundred-yard dash. The wings help,” Jen added with a smug grin. “But humans… you can use as much magic as you want if you hold onto your wand. You only need magic to exist in your dimension to survive. Anoki can die from too much magic use. Even if they fall over after using too much, certain spells sap the magic around the user—and not just the user’s own magic.”

Zoë was feeling like this was something Wyrnen should have taught her—not Jen.

“Magic lessons weren’t entertaining yesterday?” Jen said with a smile.

“Er…” Zoë said. They had been entertaining, but not because of Wyrnen. Although… maybe it was only because of Wyrnen that she had started world-building.

“Thought not,” Jen said. “You’ll learn something eventually.”

Zoë wanted to say that she had learned something, but she remembered Naelie’s remark about being too serious for her age, too worried about everything. Besides, what she had learned would be too hard to explain.

“What’s for breakfast?”

So Zoë learned to play Othello that day. It seemed as if Jen’s purpose in teaching her was less so that Zoë knew how to play Othello, and more so that she could give a speech about how dangerous it would be to try and go after the monster.

“You’re a wicked player, Zoë,” Jen said, as five different pieces turned to Zoë’s color. They’d gotten the board from the school’s stash in the game room, and the pieces didn’t need to be flipped over manually. “Maybe I need to teach you chess next. I have a feeling that you’d be just as good. You could face off Wyrnen and get your revenge for boring classes.”

Zoë smiled passively, still looking at the board and hoping fervently that Jen didn’t move where Zoë thought she might move. She didn’t. Instead, Jen placed her piece right next to a corner spot. Zoë quickly made sure that she had a piece on the other side of Jen’s, then moved into the corner—the best spot in the game, since it couldn’t be taken and always surrounded other pieces.

“See,” Jen said, smile fading slightly, “your magic… you still don’t know how to work it, not well.”

“I have an idea,” Zoë said.

“Now is not the time to get cocky,” Jen said. “You know what I’m talking about. Leave the monster to Daniel and Sophie.”

“Why?” Zoë said. “Why?”

“What practice have you had?” Jen said.

Zoë kept silent. It would be extremely hard to explain that she’d worked her magic well in her own world and in her dreams, and it would sound silly. And Jen wasn’t supposed to know that Zoë had practiced without her at all—Jen had told her not to.

“See?” Jen said. “All you know is that little bit, just that you use music. You haven’t had any practice, and you didn’t learn anything in Wyrnen’s class yesterday, so you probably won’t later. You’re not a Star magician.”

“He didn’t talk to Arthur, either,” Zoë pointed out. She could see Jen’s cheeks going pink, but ignored Jen’s touchiness at Arthur’s name.

“They were probably communicating telepathically. I bet he was reading a textbook or something and bombarding Wyrnen with questions.”

“Look,” Zoë said. “If you’re going to start lecturing me on how I know nothing, why don’t we go down to the pool now and do something real?”

“It’s dangerous!” Jen said. “Until I convince you not to go after this thing, why should I train you in the magic you need to do it?”

“Because if you don’t, then I might go out anyway. If I do go after something huge, wouldn’t you rather have me know what I’m doing?”

“I would rather that you don’t go after it at all!” Jen said. The Othello game lay forgotten.

“Well, if I find out that anyone is in danger of getting hurt”—

“They’re all in danger of getting hurt! That doesn’t mean you’re Superman!”

“—then I’m going after them! If I’m the only person in here who values human life”—

“Daniel and Sophie value human life! That’s why they went!”

“And they’re in danger now!”

“You will be, too!”

“Not as much!”

“More!”

“Only if I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“Do you even hear how arrogant you are?”

“And what’s better, arrogant or cowardly? I need to be able to control my magic one way or the other!”

Suddenly, they were interrupted. Naelie flew straight through the open window, breaking the screen.

“You two need to stop arguing,” she said. “Zoë, you’re acting ridiculously like an adult. Come on, let’s go to the pool. Jen, you aren’t her parent.”

“Her parents aren’t”—Jen started, but she stopped when she realized that there was a pixie who knew her name without her telling.

“Zo here is already a super-strong wielder. I bet she didn’t tell you. No? Thought so. She’s got an entire dimension of her own creation, and she’s found a way to slip over there in her mind in the middle of magic class while leaving her body looking like she’s reading a book. Right, Zoë?”

Zoë nodded, half-reluctantly.

“It’s a real dimension,” Naelie shot on. “I’ve been there myself. And she can fly by singing, can’t you, Zoë?”

Zoë nodded again. Jen sat there, aghast.

“Yup! She has all the magic she could possibly need to take on any monster. But she hasn’t left for it yet, have you, Zoë?”

Zoë shook her head.

“Now, see?” Naelie said, pleased with herself. “So a little extra practice won’t hurt her at all. She could have left any time and left her body here, pretending to be in a coma, if she wanted to. But she hasn’t, so you know perfectly well that there’s no reason to help her out. If she does decide to go help Daniel, she’ll be safe by his side anyway. She can’t kill herself too easily.”

Zoë felt like Naelie was sapping all the fun out of things. She’d always wanted to do something dangerous, especially if it felt really, really stupid. Still, it was fun to watch Jen’s expression, even though she was letting Jen know that she hadn’t followed her directions.

“You disobeyed me,” Jen said.

“You aren’t her parent,” Naelie said.

“She’s the closest I have at the moment,” Zoë said. “She made sure I didn’t get into trouble.”

“And you probably would have learned magic faster if she’d left you alone,” Naelie said. Jen was looking at Zoë now. Zoë felt like she was betraying Jen, but some part of her felt that Naelie was right.

“She probably would have gotten herself killed faster if I’d left her alone,” Jen said, angry.

“Can’t you two stop arguing? Be rational!” Zoë said.

“Rational? Rational! Zoë, you’re nine!”

“And I don’t think like a nine-year-old, so I’m sick of being treated like one! By both of you! Jen, you act like I’m stupid and don’t have clear judgment, and Naelie, you act like I should be that way! I just know that it isn’t right to leave people to their death, and whether or not my magic is strong enough to prevent that doesn’t matter!

Both Jen and Naelie were stunned by this outburst. Naelie had expected Zoë to take her side—she’d thought she was taking Zoë’s. But Zoë had a side of her own, and she was becoming increasingly sure that the other two hadn’t been listening to it.

“I might as well leave now,” Zoë continued. “I have no clue where Daniel or anyone else is, but I’m sure I could find them, and I bet they’d be a whole lot more reasonable than you two!”

“Reasonable!” Jen said. “Reasonable! Who says you’d even be any use to Daniel and Sophie?”

A spike of fury overtook Zoë’s reason. “Any use! I can make up spells! I don’t even need a wand! I’m as good as a Star Anoki, and I don’t even fall over from too much magic use!”

The fight left all three feeling furious. Jen was still more concerned about Zoë than about the most powerful wielder in the universe, and Naelie still thought that Jen was being an overbearing parent who would be more use going with Zoë than telling her off. Zoë still felt that neither of them would listen to her, and were only concerned about things from their own point of view—she was sure that if they stepped out of themselves and saw things from a different perspective, they’d know what she was talking about.

The Othello game apparently had become poisonous. Nobody would touch it, or they’d be reminded of the argument. Naelie slept in the bunk below Zoë, which Zoë felt didn’t help much. Jen only got half of her homework done. Nobody was happy.

The next morning, Zoë did something extremely unusual. She got up far earlier than Jen, and loaded Jen’s Enya music onto a flash drive that she’d gotten from one of the bags Jen had brought from the other dimension. She took it to the school’s library, which was always open for the magic students, and listened to the Enya music until she found the song she’d heard the other day. She listened to that song until she’d memorized it. Then she went back to the dorm for her swimsuit.

She figured that the lifeguard wouldn’t be too happy about her using the pool to practice magic, especially since the pool was on the formals’ side. Instead, she left the school and started to fly, on her own. There must have been something to learn from the music! Otherwise, Jen wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Zoë circled the city, from near the clouds. She wasn’t seeing what she had been looking for, but she was extremely excited that she was finally doing something herself. She’d become sure, from last night, that she was the only person in that room who could think straight, and she knew that she was going to go looking for Daniel.

What Jen thought no longer mattered. While Zoë still didn’t think she was the evil, overbearing parent that Naelie considered her, Jen wasn’t considering that Zoë wasn’t risking any life but her own.

Finally, Zoë spotted it: a lake. That was all she needed. Zoë sped towards it. Nobody was there, so she landed on the beach. She smiled.

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 21st, 2011 at 5:42 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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