One Hell Of A Cat
It wasn’t like I really had a choice, was it? After all, the situation was dire. The fires around us grew hotter, sending swirled flares of blood-tinged color into the night sky. Barricaded behind a tumbled pile of stones, we huddled together despite the warmth.
I knew time was running out.
“Can you think of anything?” Jakim yelled over the gloating taunts of the Pholecian soldiers.
“Not really!” Vertouche shouted back. “I think my brain has fried in this heat.”
With difficulty, I restrained myself from the rude comment hovering on my lips, concentrating on the moment at hand. I wasn’t experienced in battle magic. I’d only graduated from the academy the month before. Finding myself in a full-blown continental war had not been my plan for post-graduate life. I was a very junior mage, the lowest-ranked of the seventeen battle mages who’d accompanied the army.
I was also the only survivor.
So you can imagine my horror when Jakim asked, “What about you Palesse?”
The two men stared at me hopefully. The other warriors hidden with us dropped their bows and drew their short swords. There was no way that we could prevent the Pholecian army from overrunning our position and taking the town. It was inevitable.
Hurriedly, I sifted through the meager arsenal of spells stored in my mind. The mage I’d been apprenticed to had been the first to die, naturally. For a split-second, I thought longingly of the magestaff that Sopur carried, now lying broken and forlorn on the battlefield we’d fled. He was a proper battle mage with decades of experience, whereas I was nothing more than a schoolgirl with bad luck.
Enchantment was my weakest subject. I’d tried to create one of the normal magical tools for a long time. My Ring of Lethe had not made anyone forget a thing save for me. I’d promptly forgotten how to get the thing off my left hand. It remained there still. I couldn’t quite figure it out. My Staff of Lightning was more like a Staff of Static. My Gauntlet of Strength ended up being a Glove of Warts. Even my Amulet of Charm became a Necklace of Get The Hell Away From Me. In all the long months of trying, months that had delayed my departure from the academy for nearly a year, I’d only been able to enchant one thing.
The pouch at my side moved impatiently as a tiny squeak reached my ears. I sighed.
I’d enchanted a kitten. Completely by accident, as I’d tried to create a Crown of Fire, my kitten had wandered between me and my intended target. Now little Pixie, who was only three months old, was the weapon of last resort.
The kitten mewed. I snuck a hand into the pouch and stroked her back. She was a cute little thing, a dark-haired calico with an adorable orange stripe running down either side of her nose. Her favorite pastime, besides eating, was to sit on my lap and chew on my wrist while I tried to study. Perhaps in another six months, after she’d reached full size, she could be trained to be a formidable weapon.
But a Kitten of Fire? Absurd! My enchantments instructor had laughed until tears streamed down his scarred face. He hauled me and the cat into the staffroom where he entertained all of the other teachers with tall tales about the Kitten Who Saved Sarton or the Kitten Who Dried Up The Lake, or the kitten fight that drew the dragons down from their high perches in envy of the billows of midget feline flame.
Pixie bit my hand. I darted a look at the men around me. Veterans of numerous wars all, their faces were gaunt and splashed with blood, despair creeping into their eyes. A mental image of their expressions when I pulled out the kitten made me groan.
“Is there something wrong?” Jakim was staring at me curiously.
He subsided, used to the strange solitude of the battle mages he’d known. Another picture entered my mind’s eye: the hilarity of our enemies when I launched the kitten at them, muttering my idiotic spell and praying for the best.
Pixie was actually quite talented at the fire thing now. She could transform herself into a sentient, scampering ball of flame – as I knew to my cost. One night, she’d done that right on top of my bed. It was hard to extinguish the blankets, but I’d taken a bath earlier so there was water on hand.
A screech in the death-flicked night grew louder. We all ducked as the approaching flames chucked a sizeable hunk of rock at our hiding place. There was no doubt about it; they were closer...as were their magical fires.
“I have an idea,” I mumbled.
With an inward sigh, I pulled Pixie from my pouch. I felt my cheeks burn hotter as the inevitable snickers rose around me and felt a moment of anger. Didn’t these asinine soldiers realize how serious the situation was? Could they really be so colossally stupid as to think that laughter was appropriate under these circumstances?
“What’s your idea?” Vertouche asked, squinting first at the squirming kitten then looking around hopefully for the ogre or the phalanx of zombies.
“I’ll send Pixie out.”
“Ma’am, that’s a kitten.”
“I know what it is, damnit! It’s an enchanted kitten.”
“That’s all you have? An enchanted kitten?” Jakim’s disbelieving voice rose to a girlish shriek. He turned to Vertouche and added, “Would you mind running me through with your sword? We’re going to die anyway, and I’d prefer to do that before anyone sees us with this addled girl.”
“You think I’m addled, do you?”
The fire began to snap merrily on the other side of our barricade. I smelled a sudden, singed odor and realized that my hair was starting to disintegrate as a result of the intense heat.
“Beyond addled. I was trying to be polite.”
I lifted the kitten so that I could stare into her face. She batted at the straggling hair around my face and I sighed. “Pixie, stop that.”
The kitten’s paws stilled. She stared at me inquiringly; her green eyes wide in her piquant little face and devoid of any sense of fear or fury.
“Pixie I need you to attack the Pholecian lines,” I said. My voice sounded matter-of-fact but in truth I was ready to sink into the ground.
The kitten swatted my nose with a single sharp-clawed swipe of her paw.
“Fire, Pixie. I need fire.”
The kitten meowed. I knew she was hungry. She had to be. There wasn’t really anything I could do about that.
“What are you going to do? Throw that poor little cat at them? Even the joys of cat-killing wouldn’t slow that army down!” Jakim’s voice was scornful. Pixie spat at him.
“Are you a mage?” I demanded.
“Then shut up and don't ask irritating questions,” I retorted, stroking the kitten and wondering what to do next. Then I yelled as her tiny teeth sank into my finger. I stooped quickly and set the kitten on the ground. Pixie stretched, arching her little back into a perfect U, and turned to regard the nearing flames with a feline air of faint curiosity.
Fire, I thought in resignation.
The kitten pranced around the nearest gobbet of flame. There was no sign of fire emanating from her at all. Without any apparent fear, she settled down about ten paces in front of us and began to clean her paws.
Come on, damnit! I said I need fire, Pixie!
Pixie looked back at me, her eyes glowing as red as evil in the wavering light. If she’d been human, she would have rolled those eyes to the heavens. As it was, she turned her back on me and resumed her bath. Even the triumphant shouts of the Pholecian army as they breached the wall didn’t disturb her.
“Fire!” I screamed, directing all of my feeble powers at the kitten. Pixie didn’t even bat an eye. The first soldier drew near, lifting his sword as my men rose to meet the onslaught.
Pixie began to wash behind her ears. Her tiny paw moved from her mouth, where she licked it thoroughly with her tongue, to her huge ears, where she rubbed it obsessively. The enemy soldier was less than a foot away from her when it happened.
The fire in front of our barricade suddenly died away. The soldier exploded in a pillar of flame that seemed to spring from nowhere. As a second soldier came hard upon the heels of the first, he, too, disintegrated as the flames consumed him.
After that it became a rout. Every approaching enemy died a horrible death while the kitten methodically groomed herself. At long last, silence descended upon the town. The ground in front of out place of concealment was knee-deep in ashes with red-hot embers still glowing from their midst.
Pixie turned back to me. She meowed once, as if to say I told you so, and then suddenly pounced on a singed wisp of feather that rolled in front of her.
The silence was profound.
Finally, it was broken by Vertouche. “Ma’am?”
I recognized the new note of respect in his voice and struggled to adopt the same superior tones that my now-deceased Master had perfected to such a degree. “Yes?”
Vertouche scratched his head and winced as Pixie wrapped her claws around his big ankle and began to gnaw on it. “Ma’am that is one hell of a cat.”