My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 26

Ready… aim… fire!

I strongly suggest that anyone who has anger issues take this up as a hobby. For the rest of the world, well, it’s still fun. Kind of mean, but fun. And hey—if I were a rabbit and I knew I’d be killed by someone hunting, that’s how I’d want to go out.

We had a pretty good breakfast. Eventually, we’d have to find something with a little more substance than a rabbit, though, which meant that either we needed to take a pegasus to somewhere outside the park, or hunt something else, or get out of here as fast as we could.

Even though there was an awesome library here, I had a feeling it would probably be a good idea to not be here when the Agency figures out what we’re up to. So I figured we needed to leave within a few days.

I spent the rest of the day reading. I explored the second and third floors of the library. It was spectacular up there. The third floor was warm, because the dome at the very top was glass. There were interesting little bubbles and waves in it, and a few spots of green moss which glowed with sunlight when you were looking from the bottom. There were benches hanging from the ceiling, and I remembered that this place was designed for people like me. There had to be other flying Epselans, anyway—doves and sparrows and ravens. Now this place could add “phoenix” to its history of occupants.

The books were interesting, but so far, I didn’t find anything that would help with my magical problems. Nothing about troubleshooting with faulty hiding spells. Nothing about a magical animal trying to take you over from the inside. No half-finished manuscripts lying around, books being written. No new research. It needed to be something older.

So I started to sift through the hundreds of books about that first mage guy. There were at least two shelves packed with them, but there wasn’t a lot of repeat information. Every book held something different. If two books held the same thing, it was from an entirely different point of view.

Our lunch and dinner were the same thing: rabbit. And a little squirrel, because the meat was fattier and Key intended to keep us alive. She said she’d found a bunch of frogs nearby, though, so there was more coming.

More sleeping. I got sleep this time.

More books. And I didn’t find anything directly useful.

Food. Frog, as promised, and as wonderful as it was in the rebel camp. Xavier turned almost as green as I did the first time.

Another night.

More books again.

And then I found something. No promises. Just a lead.

There was one book on what happened when the mage met a mountain lion. It said that the cougar started purring and rubbing up against the man’s legs, and then the mountain lion suddenly got visibly healthier, and the mage felt his magic get stronger. And every time he met another mountain lion, or cougar, or puma, or whatever you want to call it, his magic got stronger and the animal got healthier. The book told how sometimes, bands of Epselans of different animal sides would get together and go out into the woods to find hurt animals just so that they could meet them. The book also noted how certain Epselans had hired people to bring them as many animals as they could find of their species so that their magic would get stronger. Generally, those people were investigated and arrested by either the Agency or the Epselans, because the animals weren’t well cared for and were usually taken out of their natural habitat.

So maybe that was the point—that I had to find a real phoenix. Not a cheater Epselan copy, not a 75%. A real one.

Crap.

And where was I supposed to find a phoenix?

“Well, if you think this is going to work,” Mark said later, sitting by our campfire and chewing a hunk of rabbit meat, “then we could ask Daniel and Sophie.”

“The people who want to rip my head off?”

“No, no,” Mark said, swallowing. “Daniel and Sophie fired Ian. He’s still coming after you, though, and still on a dragon. And a lot of other people are, too. So you’re not out of danger. But Daniel and Sophie were never on board with hunting you down. That was Ian’s… initiative.”

“So I don’t have the whole Agency after me.”

“Just all of the experimental magical science department. Only about five hundred mages. And some dragons.”

“Comforting.” I stared at the rabbit leg in my hand. I couldn’t say that I wasn’t hungry. I was starving. But I was also scared stiff. “We’re leaving tomorrow, right?”

“You tired?” Mark asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “But I couldn’t sleep.”

“Then I’ll take over flying the pegasus at midnight,” Mark said casually, hacking off some more rabbit meat with his knife. “We can stop.”

“You think we should start out tonight?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said. “Half a thousand mages and maybe three hundred dragons? Time for us to skedaddle. You don’t hunt a phoenix. They get what they want and get out, and they’re not afraid of you.”

I thought about that. It was accurate. “Where’d you get that?”

“Lore,” he said. “Ever heard of a phoenix who cowered in the corner? They just fly away, and then you see them later, unharmed, because they take care of themselves.”

“So how are you going to contact Daniel and Sophie?”

“I’ve actually been working on something that might help us,” Mark said. “I was modifying our magical radio so it might score us some free Wi-Fi, which means I would be tapping stuff and we could send information as well as receive it… Never mind. It could be adjusted to make a two-way radio. It’s a little risky contacting the Agency because contacting them would disclose the location of the radio, but I think most of the people who want to drag you back there have been fired, or are coming after you. So they’re not at the Agency.”

“Well, then we need to get that thing done tonight,” I said, looking at the all-too-early sunset. It wasn’t really that late, but it would get colder when dark fell. Mark would be flying the pegasus in the cold, which was good in his case. He hated being sweaty.

I was glad enough that I wasn’t going to have to be awake and alert in the cold that it diluted my amazement that Mark had offered to fly a pegasus for the first time in his life. I didn’t plan to let Xavier give him lessons without me riding behind Mark. I had a feeling that Currey liked me a fair bit better.

Mark reached over and grabbed the radio, which was playing music. He turned it off and produced a bandana from his bag, which had safety pins in it to make edges. Then he took out a screwdriver, and set to work.

In two hours, Mark had adjusted the radio. Now it even looked better. It was a little larger, but he’d used parts that went together this time, and it definitely appeared a lot smoother.

Then he opened the lid, and I knew why. It was one of the laptops from in the cabins.

“Skype?” I asked, as he pulled up the program.

“Yep,” he said. “I just did the Internet connection thing. This way, nobody knows where we are. And we get free Internet access!”

In a few minutes, Mark found his way onto what must have been a giant computer screen in the office part of the Agency.

“Uh, hello?” he said, waving to the computer’s camera. “Anyone?”

Mages streamed past. The sound must have been off, because nobody noticed Mark.

“Here, give it to me,” I said, taking the computer. I made a face into the camera, and several mages crashed into each other. Another turned on the sound quickly.

“Okay, you got their attention,” Mark said, taking the computer back. “Uh, can we see Daniel and Sophie? Thanks…”

One nodded to the others before running off. I noticed she was wearing a white lab coat. Maybe a little eager to get off of a job she didn’t know how to do?

Anyway, Daniel and Sophie showed up pretty quickly. We were in no hurry, though. Key had been hunting all day and, even without an aerial aid, her years of practice at hunting had procured enough rabbits to feed an army. We were stuffed.

We explained the dilemma.

“A phoenix, huh?” Daniel said. “Well, that’s something most of you guys do anyway… but…”

“You’d be looking for a desert, right?” Sophie said.

“Which one?” Mark asked.

“I don’t know,” Daniel said. “But Gordon’s Well is a fun one if you have an ATV.”

“We’re not taking a vacation,” Key said.

“Well, phoenixes are weird,” Daniel said. “I’d be willing to bet that there’s a phoenix who’s looking for you, too.”

“You are betting,” Mark said. “And it’s our safety in the gamble.”

Daniel’s face got more serious. “I know. I can send someone with you if you want.”

“Too conspicuous,” Mark said.

“So, Gordon’s Well?” Sophie asked.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Her guess is better than mine,” Daniel said, shrugging.

“There’s one issue,” Sophie said. “Do you know where Gordon’s Well is?”

“We have a giant collection of maps in my bag,” Key said. “And free Wi-Fi.”

“No, I mean do you know where it is?” Sophie said. “Not how to get there.”

“No,” Mark said.

“Gordon’s Well is in California,” Daniel said. “Southern California.”

“Near the border,” Sophie added.

“Do you know how to get there?” Daniel asked.

“We have a map,” Key repeated.

“No. How to get there. Are you going to go all that way on a pegasus?” Daniel asked. “If you fly, what will you do with the pegasi? You can’t really put them in a cage and shove them in the glove compartment.”

“I could shrink them down and do that,” I offered, mostly joking. “But I don’t think they’d like that.”

“We could put rocket boosters in the saddle bags,” Mark suggested.

“Or we could just go,” Key said, “and switch if we find a better option. We don’t have a lot of choice right now, do we?”

“Well, if two of us took the pegasi, two could go on a train,” Mark said hopefully.

“This would serve to do what?” Xavier pointed out. “Let’s see: separate us, give us a chance to lose the others, and not go any faster at all.”

“Yeah, we’re probably better off together,” I said.

Mark shrugged.

“Well, if we’re headed to Gordon’s Well by pegasus, we’d better start,” Xavier said.

“Guess so,” I said. “Bye, Daniel, Sophie.”

“Bye.”

And we were in the air again.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 5th, 2011 at 5:57 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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