My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 20

I’ll spare you the grueling two hours of no food or water, with a sick polar bear Epselan and a pegasus about to go on a sugar crash—all the way from the base, somewhere vaguely around Baileyville, Maine, down to… some stretch of Canadian coast. We met land, and I’d say that everyone was happy with that arrangement. It was an extremely starry night this far away from the cities, and there were no clouds or fog here. I was finally relaxed enough to appreciate it.

“No, Silvester, don’t drink that!” Xavier said, saving his pegasus from the salty seawater. “Wait until I clean it.”

“I have a better idea,” I said, and used my wand to lift a big chunk of the rocky terrain out of the ground and plop it down twelve feet away. The ocean filtered through the sand, and I did an extra spell to make sure all the salt and nasty stuff was out.

“It’s clean,” I said, and Mark, Key, Xavier and I took our drinks and then let the pegasi have at it. The two were a lot thirstier than I’d thought.

“Man, we’d make some killer coyotes,” I said. “New country, no passports.”

“Hey,” Xavier said. “The government here doesn’t know you can smuggle four people in on a couple of pegasi, so”—

“It can’t be illegal, I know. But still.”

We relaxed a little against some nearby trees. Key sat down in the sand and dipped her toes in the frigid water when each wave came up. Mark went to sit by her, and, predictably, they started pulling stuff from their bags.

Xavier stood behind a clump of dark green pine trees, leaning up against one. I walked up behind him, and from outside his field of vision, snuck up and gave him a kiss.

“What was that for?” he asked, blushing furiously.

“Tradition,” I said. “I was trapped in a tower and would have been toasted by a dragon, but you rescued me and we went away on a white horse… sort of. You get a kiss. That’s how it works. You don’t mess with that kind of stuff. Whatcha doing?”

“Watching birds,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster, not even bothering to correct the white horse part.

“So what kind are these?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just watch them. I don’t really know anything about them.”

“Huh.”

We stared at the birds for a while. Most of them had left when we started talking, though.

“So what do you want to do next?” I asked. “What’s the plan?”

“Key said something about Epselans. I don’t know of any plans.”

“What should we do, though?” I asked. “I think we need to find a town.”

“I think that’s kind of our only option,” Xavier said. “Unless one of us is good with a bow.”

“I can shoot stuff with magic,” I said.

“So can I, sort of,” Xavier said. “My magic is… just kind of weird. It tends to work really well in emergencies, and not very well in most other situations. And usually, in emergencies, I’m too focused on doing something else to try using magic. It seems so… fiddly. Like this stuff,” he said, opening up another pouch on his belt and producing a vial of seawater. “It’s supposed to be really magical because it’s seawater collected by a sea nymph. I’ve received dozens of these little vials for potions, and they’ve never worked.”

“And I thought I had trouble with my magic,” I said.

“Here, you take it,” Xavier said. “You’ll have better luck with it than I ever will.”

“Maybe I will for now,” I said. “But you might change your mind.”

“I doubt it.” He shrugged, almost convincing me that he was indifferent about it.

I sighed and said, “We need to find food. I’m starving, and it’s really late. I know it’s fall, but I’ve forgotten what month it is, and it would be really nice right now to see a calendar and a bed with no impending dragon threat.”

“That does sound good,” Xavier said. “Especially the no impending dragon threat part. They’re going to keep following us for a while. I don’t know how we would get by unnoticed in a town.”

“Especially since my hiding spells don’t work,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“We’re not going to a town,” Key said as she walked up. “We’re going to find the Epselan base. They’re not in cahoots with the rest of the universe—this one or any other. They’re a lot easier to deal with. Mark thinks he might know where they are. But he wants to take a train.”

“How are we going to do that?” Xavier asked. “We have two pegasi!”

“How are we going to do that?” I asked. “My hiding spells don’t work at all now!”

“I figured you two would take the pegasus…es. Mark didn’t say we all needed to go on the train. Anyway, Phoebe, you have magic, and Xavier has… um, survival skills, I bet. And he can take care of the pegasi. Mark has a specific spot he really thinks is the old base. I’ll give you the map.” Key smiled. “Hey, at least we’re all having fun here, right? I mean, it’s better than the alternative. We could have been the Agency dragons’ next meal, right?”

“I guess we could have,” I said.

“Right, then,” Key said. “I’m going to set a few traps for our next meal, and then we need to find somewhere to sleep.”

“Mark carries his wallet in his bag,” I said, “and he still has his bag with him. I bet if we did find a town, we could sneak in. Inside suitcases or something. And we can tell Currey and Silvester to stay somewhere safe.”

“…tell them?” Key asked, skeptically.

“Sure,” Xavier said. “They’re smart.”

“Believe him,” I advised.

“Suitcases?”

“Or we could go under sheets with holes cut in them. Like Halloween costumes.”

“…I don’t think so,” she said. “That might not go over well.”

“Get a room with a big window or a balcony,” Xavier suggested, “and we can fly in.”

“Oh, so you have wings too?” Key said. “How are you going to deal with your pegasus after you’re done, claim it’s a real live Halloween costume? Is Phoebe going to fly you up? What if you’re seen?”

“Who said I had to go?” he said, confused.

“You said we,” Key pointed out.

“I can get in as a bird, I think,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s so safe and totally going to happen,” Key said. “You don’t even know how to do it voluntarily!”

“Except for going somewhere hot,” I said.

“News flash,” she said. “We’re. In. Canada.”

“Suitcases?” I suggested.

She sighed.

“I don’t think you’d fit,” she said, finally. “If you think you can safely turn into a bird, I’m sure I could take you in as a pet or in a suitcase, if we can find a place to get one.”

“What are we doing here?” Mark asked, over a screw in his teeth.

“Trying to figure out where we’re going to sleep,” Key said. “And how. Phoebe has to get in, too, and her hiding spells don’t work at the moment.”

“She could ride in a…” he started, but Key sighed so loudly that he stopped and grinned.

“Food first,” Xavier said, brightening the mood. “I should have a…” He groped at the side of his belt, near his pocket. “…slingshot,” he finished lamely.

“Never mind that,” Key said. “I’ll lay traps. Phoeb, you go sit on that tall rock with your wand and zap squirrels and stuff. Mark, put the bloody screw away. Xavier, we need a fire. Let’s go.” And she went back to her bag to rummage for string and a pocketknife.

“Well, hey,” I said. “Can’t argue with that.” I took a running start, got into the air, and landed on the aforementioned  rock about fifteen feet off the  ground. If there was any game, I’d see it.

But within five minutes, Key came back. Her face was slick with sweat, and she had mud on her jeans.

“We have to find a city,” she said. “Now!”

“What?” I asked, confused, as I jumped off the rock and glided down.

“Now!” she repeated. “Get Mark, get Xavier!”

I was confused, but I ran anyway. I knew Xavier would be tending to Silvester and Currey, and Mark would probably be playing with screwdrivers again. It was his default mode.

“Key says we need to leave,” I said breathlessly as I skidded to a halt on the beach, in front of Mark. He tried to mumble something through the screws in his mouth and failed, but I was running again before he could say anything. Probably better that way, anyway.

I ran, ran, ran. Xavier and Silvester weren’t where they had been, though Currey was. I started to panic.

I took to the air, riding Currey.  I hoped that if I didn’t see Xavier, he would at least see me. I figured I had a pretty good chance of that—Currey had his name for a reason. The palomino’s coat wasn’t terribly inconspicuous. But I could easily have been seen by someone else, too.

I found Xavier five minutes later, circling the rock I’d been perched on. He was riding Silvester.

“Come on!” I shouted. “I’ve been looking for you for ages! We need to leave now!”

We landed at the base of the rock and had Currey and Silvester travel by land. They didn’t seem very comfortable when they weren’t in the air, and our nervousness wasn’t helping.

Mark and Key were running back to the rock.

“There you are!” Key said. “We’ve been looking for you two! It’s a good thing we saw Phoebe on Currey. We’ve wasted too much time here now. Let’s go!”

“Where?” Xavier asked as Key climbed on behind him and Mark behind me.

“North!” she commanded. “Northeast, preferably.”

“But that’s away from the Epselan base, isn’t it?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “The base, we think, is in Kejimkujik National Park, which is apparently permanently closed. It’s between the lakes Peskawa and Peskowesk, and on Big Island, the island in Peskowesk Lake. It really is only a few large-ish buildings—not nearly as big as the Agency. But the good thing is that it’s away from the United States. Don’t ask why—you don’t want to know at the moment.”

We were all exhausted and sick of traveling by now, but we had to get away. Key was the only one who knew why, and I knew she wasn’t going to tell us anytime soon. So we complied wordlessly, slinging backpacks hurriedly onto shoulders and adjusting our positions on the pegasi.

And we flew.

“We’ll stop in… McAdam?” Mark suggested, consulting a map.

“No, too close!” Key said frantically. “Way too close. We need to wait until we’re at… Rothesay looks good.”

“That far!” Xavier exclaimed. “We’ll never make it that far without food and shelter!”

“Yes we will,” she said defiantly. “This time, Phoebe’s going to speed us up.”

“What?” I said.

“You’re going to set a spell that will make this journey faster than our last one,” she said confidently. “I don’t use magic, but I know how it works, and if I’m not mistaken, that’s enough criteria for a good strong spell. Quite a bit faster, if you can.”

“Okay,” I said, unsure. “How does a quarter of our time sound?”

“That sounds all right,” Key said, “if it won’t be too difficult.”

“I don’t think so.”

I hope this works, Currey said, shifting a little. I’m exhausted.

I do too, I thought, stroking the pegasus’s neck.

But I cast the spell all the same, and pretty soon we were in the air and wishing we’d have come up with this sooner. And what felt like an hour later, we were in Rothesay.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 6:23 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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