My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 56 (Phoebe)

Mark was furious that I hadn’t come to him immediately.

“I was worried!” he insisted.

“You were asleep half the time!” Xavier retorted. “When you weren’t, all you did was make applesauce castles! And I don’t care what Key says, you do snore!”

Xavier was back in his leg brace again, but this time it seemed Hannah had welded it shut by magic. She must not have been terribly happy about his discarding it yesterday.

“You’re not going to hear a thing until you shut up,” I said in a sing-song voice. Felix copied my tune, amused.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Xavier muttered as Mark slumped back onto his pillow.

Mark wasn’t too happy to hear that I’d been partially killed. In fact, that’s probably kind of a euphemism, since I can’t print what he actually said.

Once the curses died away, though, he was pale and seemed panicked. A pretty, black mage girl came hurrying in and stuck a baby bottle into his mouth, squeezing the bag and forcing its contents down his throat. Mark’s eyes suddenly looked distant and blurred, and he stopped arguing or even saying anything. She left quickly, but not before I saw her name tag, which said “Netta, M. M. D..” So what were they called here? Magical Medical Doctors?

“Won’t your magic be less powerful with less human?” Xavier asked. I was so grateful for the matter-of-fact question that I almost missed the feeling of realization.

“Xavier!” I said.

“What?” he asked, looking confused. “What’s wrong with asking…”

“Wouldn’t your magic be less powerful with less human?” I pressed. “Especially if you were… missing something else?”

“What?”

“Xavier, are you sure you’ve never been an Epselan? Like, when you were really little?” Once I’d said it, I realized how far-fetched it sounded. But part of me still had to know.

Xavier looked blank. “I don’t know. I was drugged up pretty badly when I was seven. I’d broken both my legs or something and they didn’t want me to feel it. Can’t remember anything before then.”

“It’s possible,” Daniel said, walking in from somewhere else in the hospital. “If Ian was able to confuse my inspectors by magic into thinking nothing out of the ordinary was going on in his labs, he could have been doing anything. And I’m sure he killed off the animal sides of a few different Epselans before Phoebe told on him.”

Down the length of the room were mostly empty beds, except for the second-to-last one, where Key was being given another calming potion. A gigantic vase full of orange lilies sat on her nightstand and more were strewn across her bed—probably also Felix’s gifts. I wished I was being given the same treatment, because I found myself shuddering almost uncontrollably at Daniel’s words. Felix looked utterly distressed.

Mark leaned over to the side of the bed opposite us. For a minute, I was about to leap up and try to prevent him from falling off. But he stopped. His eyes flicked oddly back and forth for a second, but then he blinked and seemed to regain his vision. The healing magic done on him had really messed him up.

Mark was picking something up off the ground. I stared when I saw that it was his leather jacket, not exactly sure how a jacket could help our current situation, and Daniel looked just as befuddled as I was. But then he opened a zipper pouch sewn inexpertly into the lining, six inches under the sleeve. He dumped the contents onto his bed, and Daniel groaned in understanding.

“You’ve kept them with you all this time,” he said, almost laughing.

“Yes,” Mark said blurrily.

“What?” Xavier said, looking blank.

I didn’t recognize any of the ingredients sitting on Mark’s bed, threatening to fall off. I didn’t understand why this was significant to Daniel at all.

“When we were kids,” Daniel said, and I knew that this was the start of a story, “Mark and I were friends. We went to the same school, and we were the best pranksters that middle school had ever seen. I was, what, twelve… so was Mark. I used the magic I had to do dumb stuff to teachers we didn’t like, that kind of thing.”

“Remember when you rearranged Mrs. Heinen’s classroom to make room for that giant tree you put in?” Mark grunted. “That one was awesome. We hated her.”

Daniel started laughing. “Yep. She had no idea how it happened. Never was very bright. That was a good bit of teleportation magic, too. I remember you helped me set up the ropes and stuff.

“Anyway,” Daniel said, “I was kind of sort of working for the Agency. Right? For the Agency girl. Molly Fletcher.”

“She was hot,” Mark said.

“And also three or four years older than you,” Daniel retorted. “Molly was a really strong mage—”

“—which made her hotter—”

“—and she was very persuasive,” Daniel said, ignoring Mark. “So I worked for her for a while. Anyway, I was in touch with most of the stuff that went on in the area. Most of the magical stuff, you know? So when one of the assassin cult started tramping all over the area, I knew. So I told Mark. I knew he would be attacking schools, because he was after me, mostly. They don’t like kids with strong magic. Think we’re gonna goof up the worlds or something.

“Anyway, none of them knew what I looked like. They didn’t care, really—figured I’d fight back and show myself to protect the people around me. Try to kill the assassin myself, right? Well, they got the wrong class. They knew two people were involved in most the magic I did, and one of them was Mark.

“So before Mark went back to school the day after I found out, I gave him three sets of ingredients that would make anyone an Epselan, and the spell didn’t require any real magic and could be done unobtrusively. Both of those were stuff I needed, because Mark never really had much of a talent for doing magic. He could set it up better than I could—good with the mechanics and stuff—but never had the knack for being the catalyst. I told Mark that the spell would give a normal human special animal powers that would enable them to protect themselves from the assassin better than a normal human. I gave him the ingredients to save three people, as long as one of them was himself. I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”

“But he ended up saving two,” I said.

“Yep,” Daniel said. “Himself, as promised. I think he chose the polar bear because of Coca-Cola, but that’s another story.”

“You know, if you feed it to rats, they explode,” Mark mumbled.

“And me,” I said, getting us back on track.

“And you,” Daniel finished.

“But wouldn’t another piece of human die if I’d been shot then, too?” I asked.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “Very observant, Phoebe. But that was very magically special, like most other things you’ve done. Epselans are usually told to transform into the mostly-animal side and then are given a special poison that only works on humans. Normally, it’s very painful. You can only have as much human as you do animal for a certain amount of time before the human will decide to kill the adopted animal, since the animals are usually submissive to humans, us being on top of the food chain and all.

“That was why your hiding spells didn’t work, by the way,” Daniel added. “In case that phoenix hasn’t told you yet. Phoenixes aren’t afraid of humans.”

“Yes, he told me,” I said. “And his name is Felix.”

Daniel gave a short bow to Felix, who bowed back.

“Etiquette,” he said.

“So Mark didn’t get to save a third person?” Xavier asked.

“Oh, no,” Daniel said. “Right then, he disappeared from school and started caring for you, Phoebe. I helped him hide. He didn’t have time to transform anyone else. He could hardly slip them any poisoned apple juice when he was planning to illegally drop out of school and care for someone who was officially dead, could he?”

“So he kept the ingredients with him all this time?”

“Yes,” Daniel said. “He was able to save you from something he felt he’d brought on by being present. Key told you he liked you?”

“Er, yes,” I said, trying not to turn red as, out of the corner of my eye, Xavier’s face turned toward me.

“Think he liked you even better than he liked Molly,” Daniel said, sounding kind of impressed. “Anyway, if Mark remembers right, and I’m sure he does, you transformed into a mostly-phoenix once it was obvious you were in danger. You went from human to half to phoenix in about a minute. When the assassin came in…”

“The whole room was dark but she looked like she was being lit with a computer screen,” Mark slurred. “You could see her face and everything. Where is she? Is she hurt?”

“Potion overdose, buddy,” Daniel said, slapping Mark’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t have cursed so much. They didn’t want you hurting yourself.”

“I’m not hurt,” Mark mumbled. “Is Tallie hurt?”

I still hated that name.

“She’s fine,” Daniel said.

“No, she’s not!” Mark said, more strongly, then laid back again. “She’s hurt.”

“My name is Phoebe, Mark,” I said. My voice seemed to satisfy him.

“She has a new nickname.” Mark laid down, fell half-asleep, and rolled over, knocking half of the ingredients to the floor. Daniel caught the vial of water before it could shatter on the ground and started collecting pine needles from the folds in the white sheets.

“What do you think he wanted us to do with these?” Daniel asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I said. “He wants Xavier to be an Epselan again. I mean, Xavier just saved all our lives, right?”

“Huh!” Daniel said. “Well, that would solve his magical troubles, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess so,” Xavier said. There was a shadow of suppressed excitement in the way he looked at the numerous ingredients in Daniel’s hands.

“Do we even have to ask what species?” I asked.

“Probably not,” Xavier said.

“I’m having a potion brewed for you, Phoebe,” Daniel said. “It won’t bring back your ability to look human, but it should mitigate any difficulties you might have had with mage magic. In fact, considering who’s brewing it, I’m guessing it’ll make your magic stronger than before. It’s a very tightly kept secret recipe, though, so I can’t tell you more.”

“Why wasn’t I given this before now?”

“Needs special magical circumstances to avoid backfiring,” Daniel said. “But since you’re mostly phoenix now…”

“Why does that matter?”

“Why do you think you changed when you were in danger?” Daniel asked. “Phoenixes are natural protectors. I think the reason you found your phoenix side so anxious to take over was because you were in constant danger. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t have been pretty difficult to sort out,” he added, “but it was always trying to protect you. I doubt you would want to be in phoenix form for the rest of your life, but you would be safe, and it is still your mind in the phoenix. You saw how eager Felix here was to defend you. It’s just the way they are. Kind of noble, really.”

“And what does this have to do with the potion?”

“Well,” Daniel said cautiously, “first, you’re no longer being stalked so easily by that madman… and second, we don’t want humans taking the potion. People who are proud, greedy, whatever… they don’t need any more power than other people. It would be bad. That’s why the recipe is secret. Not that we think you would have used it badly,” he amended, “but it’s protocol. I do occasionally follow protocol.

“Especially when it fits with my main reason, which was that if you were caught—and you very nearly were—then that cult would be able to figure out the recipe from a bunch of different spells on your body. Magic like that is traceable. The reason it took the cult so long to find you is because they were searching for the effects of the poison usually given to new Epselans. Eventually, they realized they had to search manually.”

I had one more question. “Where’s Leslie?”

“Gone,” Daniel said.

“Gone?” Xavier said.

“She’s Leslie,” Daniel said, shrugging. “From what I gather, she heard about you becoming a phoenix Epselan and decided to try something similar herself. She’s a shapeshifter. She can’t do magical forms, although shapeshifters are magical creatures. And she can’t do the magic of any of the creatures she imitates. She can only use the physical benefits. She’s actually about twenty years old, but apparently she’s been tracking you because you were interesting. She didn’t have anything else to do and didn’t trust us, so when the cult found you, protecting you became her new hobby. She impersonated a twelve-year-old for you, Phoebe.”

“She’s a mind-reader and a mage and a magical-creature Epselan,” I groaned. “How the heck did she do that?”

“I have no clue,” Daniel said. “My biggest guess is that she knows where to look.”

“Wish I did,” said Xavier.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 19th, 2012 at 12:41 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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