My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 19

I continued my research in the library. I hadn’t found any books about phoenixes. It wasn’t a very common topic. But I found dozens of books about Epselans—how the species started out, what the drawbacks were, and most of the different kinds.

The Epselan race was actually invented by a mage in a pinch. He had been the kind of guy who had about a million pockets and tended to wear multiple coats just for the storage space. He lived up in the mountains and had been pretty good at keeping his magic away from the animals, and furthermore, keeping the animals away from his magic. But some of it must have seeped out, because the some of the animals eventually mutated, and ganged up on him because he was on their territory, was fresh meat, and had all the equipment they needed to take over the world.

Well, the mage decided that the animals didn’t see him as much of a threat, so he chose the biggest animal from the group—a mountain lion—and told the spell to make him able to turn into a bigger one. But he was inventive, and clever. He knew that the now-smarter animals would know that he would turn human again, and that he would lose all of his physical power—and also knew that since he didn’t know what spell had changed the animals, he couldn’t turn them back or kill them without knowing what else would happen. So he decided that he would be 75 percent of each, but would only keep 100 percent in existence in one sitting. This way, he knew, he could look human when he went down to see traders, keep a few animal characteristics when he wasn’t expecting a feline visit, and turn into a cougar when he was.

Of course, he pulled about a million things from his pockets to do the spell, bottles of herbs and melted snow and crushed pine needles and pieces of fruit, scraps from his lunch, candy wrappers, all sorts of things. And he wrote down what he used.

Well, this guy was also well-known for his inventions, because he was so creative. The Agency was still pretty young then, and they were still trying to compile all the spells they could to train new mages. So when a few Agency representatives came up to this mage’s door and found a half-mountain lion, half-human creature baring its teeth at them and apparently not expecting a human to show up—especially one that said, “Oh, hello, sorry about that” and turned into their inventor, well… they were pretty curious.

So the Agency filed the spell away in their books. It was forgotten. Nobody wanted to turn into a mountain lion, apparently. But then some moron got in and tried the spell for a joke, thinking it was a fake, and found himself turned into a fly… with segmented eyes that he found suddenly useless for reading, and couldn’t turn himself back. Like Leslie said, hiding spells only work if you do them on yourself.

Then people found out it wasn’t a flop. They could turn into… anything. Snakes. Mice. Lizards. Fish. Things that could fly, that could breathe under water, that could withstand climates they couldn’t. Things that would slip by without anyone noticing, so that they could perform stealth maneuvers to find out what was happening. The Agency never worked for the government, but they did stop a lot of wars nobody knew about because a mouse found the right person, turned into a human, and gave away a few important details. Then he was usually given a hunk of cheese from someone’s lunch, and sent away with plentiful thanks and the promise of a few hundred dollars in the mail.

And that was how it went, until the Agency realized that these powers could be used to protect people who didn’t even have magic of their own. Unlike the hiding spells, the spell to turn into an Epselan could be done by another person without anything particularly special happening for a few hours unless something magically important happened.

Something about that rang a bell with me. I couldn’t tell what it was, but there was something inherently alarming and suspicious that made me close the book that next day and return it to the library, where I started looking for information on phoenixes again.

This time I went to the computers. I’d figured that since the magical crowd had all apparently heard about me, then their real information would be riddled with guesses and rumors—and the information from the non-magical people would be inaccurate anyway.

I was wrong. My sudden appearance—especially when I was with Cirque du Soleil—had surfaced tons of old stories and facts, out of old books. These were really interesting. One story said that lots of people tried to find the elusive phoenixes to get a feather from them, because the feather of a phoenix would give them immortality. I was amazed and a little bemused. I’d lost lots of feathers over the years, and there never seemed to be anything special about them.

Another story said that phoenixes always told the truth to people who knew how to listen to them. I figured that this was a talent kind of like Xavier talking to pegasi, but maybe it was true for everything. There’s always truth being told if people know how to listen. Most people just don’t.

There were plenty of stories about phoenixes in general, and how they made nests of spices—nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom—when it was time for them to die. A few of those spices were ones I used in a lot of different recipes. I was the only one I knew of who put cardamom on roasted carrots and nutmeg in almost every soup.

Many of the stories were simple and told the same, basic magical properties of the phoenix: bursts into flame when it dies, then reborn. Like Mark had said, I doubted this applied to me. It sounded… I don’t know, too powerful to be held by a thirteen-year-old girl.

Eventually, Key pulled me out of my haze of red-gold birds and deserts and roasted carrots.

“Xavier told me you’re sleeping in a giant tower room surrounded by dragons!” she said. “That is so cool! You’ve got to show me!”

I left the library with her and whistled for Anatola. The gold dragon landed in front of us, coming surprisingly quickly, and Key got on.

“We’re going to my room, please,” I said to Anatola, and we were there in four minutes.

Once Anatola had flown away and we were both inside, Key’s expression changed.

“What the heck do you think you’re doing?” she said to me. “Are you crazy?”

“Uh, taking you to my room,” I said. “And I don’t think so.”

“Xavier told me you’re being mistreated,” Key said, “and that you don’t even plan to do anything about it! You’re nuts!”

“I told him what I planned to do about it,” I said. “I told him I plan to wait.”

“Some plan!”

“No, I think it’s best.”

“For who?” Key demanded. “For the Agency and their probing jerkazoids? For their investigators who want to stick their noses into the life of every magical being in existence? Or for a teenage girl who just needs to get her magic under control so she can have a normal life?”

“For us, now,” I said. “We don’t know what they’ll do if we protest!”

“And you’re not going to find out if you keep ducking out of any little conflict,” Key said.

“Look,” I said. “I told Xavier I was giving them two weeks to stop.”

“Well, I’m giving them three days,” Key said. “If they don’t wrap it up soon, I’ll… I’ll hack their system and take all their files on you, and their lists of all the other magical creatures and beings they want to get a hold of. I came here once, and they wanted to do the very same thing to me. I escaped and vowed never to come back, but I didn’t follow through with it because I’m following you and Mark. Now they’re asking me to start testing too, if you’re going to stay here for yours. If that’s why they want you in that lab, then we’re leaving. And unlike yours, they’re going to know my deadline.”

“Save your breath,” Ian said from the other side of the glass door, behind a curtain.

“I assure you that our system is perfectly safe from any amount of hacking,” he said, coming into the room. “I sincerely doubt that anything you could do will harm us, especially now that we know what we’re up against.”

“Want to find out?” Key said, barely controlling her rage. Her anger wasn’t quite as intense as Mark’s, but it was channeled better into constructive and sarcastic fury. In fact, I could tell what she would do with a knife if she had one just then.

I was getting angry, too. I didn’t get angry easily, but now I was. This wasn’t good.

Ian smiled apologetically, but now it looked arrogant instead of just annoying. Cocky. Demeaning, patronizing.

Key’s rage suddenly felt a whole lot colder, because she started to sound more controlled… but not any less sarcastic, or any less angry. “Oh, Ian, we’re so glad you’re here. It’ll save me a trip. I just want to tell you how pissed off I am with all your little charades. Now, I’m sure you have all the lab data you need, really, so do give us our solution and we will be on our way.”

“Actually, that’s part of why I’m here,” Ian said calmly. He walked up to Key and handed her a few sheets of paper. Key shoved me behind her as he approached. She started to read the file with a horrified look on her face.

“You see, as we have found, the only way to solve your magical problems is to exterminate the phoenix half, thus leaving you mostly human, Phoebe.”

“Don’t you dare address her,” Key snarled, ripping the paper into shreds and balling it up.

Suddenly, in a flash, Key grabbed the back of Ian’s shirt and began to shove the wadded up papers into his mouth and down his throat. Ian gagged.

“This is not the only way,” she said. “I know your type. You want us to stay to find out if there are ‘further options.’ Talk.”

Ian gagged and mumbled. His hands were clenched inside his pockets, petrified, his feet off balance since Key was dragging him down from the back.

Key removed the papers for a few seconds.

“I’ll talk,” Ian managed, before she shoved them back down.

Key loosened her grip and took the papers out of his mouth. Suddenly, Ian drew a silver whistle from his right pocket and blew.

I had my wand trained on him by now, but it was practically useless. Dragons would be coming soon, and I doubted it would be Anatola and Nevin this time.

Key dropped his shirt and decked him, punching him clear across the jaw and making something pop. I was already halfway to the window. But Key couldn’t fly, and I wasn’t about to call for more dragons.

“Key!” I yelled.

She ran out with me.

“Hold on!” I said. Even though I knew I couldn’t hold her weight, I jumped, with her in my arms, off the balcony.

We dropped like two stones with a napkin parachute. I knew, even with my wings, that we weren’t going to get out of this without breaking something.

That something turned out to be a single feather from one of Silvester’s wings as Xavier caught Key by the hands and helped me get her onto Silvester, who then pulled out of his dive like one of the Blue Angels—except, well, for his being gray.

“Not shortchanging you, am I?” Xavier asked with a grin. “You didn’t think I left either of you without backup, did you?”

“Backup you may have been, but part of our team forever now.”

“Gushy, you are getting,” Key said. “On our tail, dragons are. The one you need to find, Mark is.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Probably at the library, looking for us,” Key said. I wasn’t about to doubt her judgment.

“I should get Currey,” I said. “I don’t think there’s room for Mark on Silvester.”

“Currey has his reins and saddle on,” Xavier said. “I was giving the pegasi some exercise. I was putting Silvester through a few laps when I decided to tell Key. Currey’s tied to the tree. Don’t take Seraphina for this, she has an attitude.”

“You run, then,” I said. “Fly. I’ll catch up. You don’t need me to run.”

“Yes, we do!” Key protested. “Get Currey. We’re following you wherever you go!”

We flew down into the stables. Silvester kept circling low above me as I untied Currey. Xavier had a wand in his hand, but I had no idea whether he could use it. I still had mine from threatening Ian.

I mounted Currey and directed him into the sky like Xavier had shown me so many times. The horse was ready. I could feel his excitement under me.

Let’s go, feathered rider.

Currey was so fast as we headed to the library that Silvester, with two people and Key’s ever-consistent bag of gear on his back, couldn’t keep up. I landed in front of the library and told Currey to stay outside while I ran in. It was obvious that the pegasus disapproved.

I got in and found Mark, who was looking for me in the first few shelves and by the computers along the back wall. I grabbed his arm and ran, with him staggering behind. Panic and adrenaline and exhilaration made me stronger and more energetic than I ever had been. Mark clearly noticed, and started running, too.

Outside, Currey looked worried and ready to take off as soon as possible. I climbed on, and after a moment’s hesitation, so did Mark. He didn’t need to hear about the dragons to understand what was happening. But he did cling rather tightly to my waist as Currey took off. I felt almost as if I had a little brother hanging onto me, instead of an older guardian.

We looped back and met Silvester, who was still trying to catch up. He turned around in the sky and started to follow Currey again when we heard a roar. One of the dragons had spotted us.

“We need to go faster!” I shouted. “I’ll jump off and fly myself—then at least Mark can go faster!”

“No, don’t!” Xavier yelled. “They’re after you—it’ll make you more noticeable! Currey doesn’t need any speeding up, I fed him the better part of a carton of sugar twenty minutes ago!”

Twenty minutes ago. Our trip had seemed a lot longer than that.

“Key, get the sugar out of my bag,” Xavier instructed, and she did so, fumbling at Xavier’s belt for the big pieces of sugar. She handed a giant one to Xavier, and he passed it forward to Silvester, talking to him.

“Can you do something about the wind with your wand, Phoebe?” he shouted to me, over the noise around us. “It’s against us now, but it would speed us up before the whole Agency can come after us, and it’ll cool down the dragons. They don’t like that!”

I told Currey to keep going away from the Agency, to a skeptical whinny. With my wand, I improvised a few invented spells until one eventually worked and sped us up.

“There!” I said.

“What? Where!”

“Never mind! Fly!”

“Who said that?”

“Everyone shut up!”

A heat wave hit us, through the musty Maine air.

“Dragons!”

“Dragons? What dragons?”

“Those dragons! The ones that just tried to flash-fry us!”

“Bad!”

“Very bad!”

“Fly!” I yelled.

“Fly!” Mark yelled.

“Fly!” Key yelled.

“Fly!” Xavier yelled.

I’m flying! The palomino responded.

Whoosh! Another heat wave, and an extra burst of wind that carried it a little farther.

“Uh oh,” I said, but nobody could hear me.

“This isn’t good!” Key yelled.

“Where are we going?” Xavier yelled.

“Oh, Canada!” Key shouted. I was pretty sure she’d meant to be sarcastic, but Xavier adjusted Silvester’s direction anyway.

“Canada?” Mark yelled.

“Canada?” I yelled.

“Canada!” she yelled. “For the Epselans!”

“Canada it is, then!” Xavier yelled, and Silvester put on a new burst of speed. With extra excitement, Currey said, Let’s go! And he flew away as well.

We seemed to have shaken off the dragons by changing direction, and we were out of the Agency and over the ocean now.

“I feel sick,” Mark said, and only I could hear. I wished I’d brought the sack full of plants along.

“Hey! Mark’s starting to get woozy,” I yelled to Xavier, who started fumbling in his pockets again, producing a pale flower and holding it out. I used a quick spell that brought it to my hand—with some effort—and handed it to Mark.

“Smell it,” I said.

He did, and then buried his face in the giant blossom. It was clear he was starting to feel better. I glanced at Xavier to yell thanks, and saw that Key had her face stuck in one, too.

“What…” I yelled.

“You and I are used to the low oxygen levels up here,” he shouted back. “They aren’t. And I can see Mark isn’t exactly a natural when it comes to flying.”

“No! He isn’t!”

Key said something to Xavier. She clearly didn’t feel like screaming her question any more than Mark did.

“At this rate, we’ll cross the border in an hour and forty-five minutes,” Xavier yelled. “Until then, we’ll all just have to hold on.”

And we held on. Tightly.



This entry was posted on Sunday, November 6th, 2011 at 9:11 pm and is filed under Phoenix. 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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