Magic Cat [Excerpt]

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Tymoss and the Rider

As each city in Ulartte had a similar design, blossoming around canyon walls and curves, Zyhaneve and Haijka knew the approximate location of the meeting hall. After they arrived in Woappin, and chose a questionable inn in a less visited part of town to drop off their supplies and board their horses, they traveled swiftly on foot to the meeting hall. It was the beginning of the week, and likely a meeting was in session as they often were three times a week. If no one was at the meeting hall, the pair would visit the lord’s mansion.

Fortunately the leaders were at the hall this morning. But with this throw of luck came a surprise. The leaders were in discussion, about them. The pair stood in stunned silence by the door, the listening spell blaring out what went on inside only moments before. Behind them, the square was deserted. Once again Haijka’s go-away spell was working. Citizens felt other streets would be easier or faster to transverse than crossing the large square. So while no one behind noticed them, it seemed those in front had.

“What do we do?” Haijka whispered.

“Go inside.”

Haijka twisted the knob slowly and felt no resistance. The door wasn’t locked. Most of the cities they’d visited, this was the case, the leaders too trusting. Perhaps even believing their meetings of little consequence that it didn’t bother them any citizen could come inside to speak with them. Little had threatened the Ularttians in decades. Haijka took a breath and then swept into the chamber. The door struck the wall, which was closer than he’d thought. “Hmm, it seems we’ve been summoned,” was the first words into his head and on his lips. Haijka could feel the Rider pressing behind him and he stepped out of the doorway, leaving the Rider to loom alone.

Despite the imposing entrance, Haijka felt uneasy. This meeting was going to be different than the others. Normally, he would be invisible. He went to all the meetings—there was no way he was leaving the Rider to possible harm—but sometimes it was best to avoid being unintentionally threatening. While invisible, he guaranteed no one intruded on Zyhaneve and the lord or lady and was available if a hasty retreat was necessary. But this meeting was different than the other ones. They were both revealing themselves from the start, and to all of the leaders. Zyhaneve tended to wait until the warriors and industrial leader left before entering. A spell of a catching chair and sticking shoes was enough to slow the lord down for Zyhaneve to trap him inside.

There was something else different today. As Haijka moved farther into the chamber, the sorcerer saw the cat crouching on someone’s lap. He stopped. Their gazes met and held. Hate blazed in the yellow depths. Tymoss. Haijka’s jaw locked, his teeth clicking. He knew this cat. He should have recognized the voice when he heard it. In fact, so should. . . .

“Zyhaneve?” Haijka whispered, turning his head to see Zyhaneve close the heavy door and move in front of the triangle table.

“Go over there. Watch them.” Zyhaneve pointed to the other side of table. Haijka swallowed down his words and continued to the back of the white-washed chamber. Zyhaneve only wanted him to be an extra pair of eyes. It wasn’t that the Rider didn’t want to hear him.

On a scribes’ desk, Haijka found cups and a drink. Showing himself to be more relaxed than he felt, he helped himself. He kept an eye on the leaders and on Tymoss, who had pulled himself below the table as if attempting to hide. He wasn’t very effective. The cat’s ginger tail poked from beneath the wooden table edge, puffed with fright.

“Salutations,” the Rider said.

Benvle blinked. Once he heard the Rider’s voice the exact timbre faded from his recollection. It also didn’t look as though the Rider had a face. There was nothing but blackness under the green hood. This couldn’t have been real. He was still in bed, dreaming. That would explain everything odd about today, starting with Tymoss—no, Tom—starting with Tom somehow getting into the meeting hall.

Umard was on his feet. “You cannot barge in here! What kind of person halts a leader’s meeting? A decent messenger would wait for a granted audience.”

“A decent messenger? Decency is relative, but as hosts, your courtesy is expected, even for the most unwelcome of guests. If it makes you feel better, let me introduce myself. I am Zyhaneve, a Rider. My companion is Haijka Youave, a sorcerer. Now, will reciprocate with your own names?”

No one spoke. If anything the glares darkened.

“You are the head warrior, are you not? The rior?” Zyhaneve asked. “Then I know you, Helfan Umard. Your preferred guest is troop leader Benvle Chadwyn and you were planning on resigning soon.”

Umard sank to his seat. “I’m not impressed by your paltry tricks!” He gestured to his arm where the badge displayed his rank.

Troop Leader Benvle almost believed his leader’s confidence, but the rior’s face had gone pale. Most of Zyhaneve’s words were explainable. The badge for one, and there was a lot of talk around the city that he, Benvle, was second in command. But, that last bit . . . Umard had only spoken to him about retiring.

Catching Benvle’s glance, Umard muttered, “There is magic at work.”

Disquiet tingled in Benvle’s spine.

Zyhaneve ignored the rior’s remarks, moving across the table to focus on the industrial leader who was “close to ending your career” to take care of “your ill wife”. Now Zyhaneve’s voice boomed, “Of course everyone knows Lord Eyen and Lady Sylva Woappin. Childless, purveyors of rich merchandise, supposed friends to the downtrodden of their fair city. And finally we have Troop Leader Benvle Chadwyn.”

Benvle swallowed as the moment he’d dreaded arrived.

“The second born in your family,” Zyhaneve said. “You didn’t want to grow up to be a bricklayer, like your father, and so trained to become a warrior and was promoted to troop leader at a young age. Your skills as second in command are questioned by most of your peers.”

Benvle’s hands tightened around Tymoss. He could feel Tymoss’s heart pounding. His own responded. How could the Rider know his deepest fears?

“Of course that’s not what I’m here to talk about is it?! Would you like to know now that introductions are concluded?!”

The Rider saw the leaders’ paled faces. Instinct told them to keep still and silent to avoid trouble. Zyhaneve took an audible breath, then another, the shoulders lifting and falling. High emotions were not conducive to conversations. They scared the listener into believing the speaker was not entirely sane. Zyhaneve didn’t need that. The scroll had to be signed as Lady Neiss desired. Zyhaneve would do anything necessary to fulfill her wish.

After another deep breath the Rider started again. “Tell, whose cat is that?” Zyhaneve had finally found what Haijka had wanted to warn about.

Tymoss’s tail curl tight, disappearing beneath the table as if he realized the betrayal. But instead of staying hidden, the cat struggled from under wooden edge, turning around in the troop leader’s hands. Tymoss pulled himself on top of the table where he crouched and hissed.

A very low voice emanated from the shadow beneath the hood, “Tymossenia. I wondered where I’d find you.”

“Why don’t you continue?” Tymoss growled. “These leaders won’t agree to side with you. They’re better than that!”

“Such strong words for an unwise cat. Since Tymoss seems to have told you scant details, I shall correct the disparity of your knowledge. Inquire. Ask a question, please, anyone may if they so wish.”

Zyhaneve paced in front of the door allowing them to collect their thoughts. Hopefully Tymoss refrained from any more vitriol. There was a certain order to things and that cat threatened to upheave it all.

Finally Lord Eyen asked, “You are a Horserider, correct?”

“I did say as much.”

“Well, despite the unconventional manner you’ve decided to meet with us, you must inform us of your mission.”

“What more did you expect?”

“Your particular behavior made me question. I only needed to explain my surprise.”

“And mine,” Sylva said, placing a hand on her husband’s. He turned his hand until their fingers slid together. “Your sudden openness comes as a shock, as my husband stated.”

Zyhaneve had heard worse and was not offended by their disbelief. After all, they might have heard a few unwelcome things from Tymoss. The Rider glanced at the cat.

Tymoss remained silent, knowing keeping his peace was to his advantage at this moment.

“Well, Rider, what do you hope to accomplish in this endeavor of yours?” Eyen asked.

“To abolish the Old Laws and allow magi to live in Art without prejudice.”

Zyhaneve watched horror spread across the leaders’ faces. Why did they always look this way? The purpose was noble and fair, not worth all the fear and hate it inspired.

“B-b-b-b-but that’s dangerous,” Foreman Armol blurted. “The mages will try to rule and control us! Everyone would be in serious danger!”

“Who do you work for?” Lady Sylva inquired. “You aren’t a magic user yourself,” she looked to Tymoss for confirmation. “So what is in it for you?”

“You are the first to ever ask this,” Zyhaneve said. Obviously others had wondered who had hired a Horserider whose purpose was to bring magic into the world, but when the lords asked, and they all asked eventually, who Zyhaneve worked for, the Rider’s answers were vague. Yet, Sylva had a different perspective than other inquirers. It wasn’t who Zyhaneve worked for, but why. She was quick-witted, this lady.

“I am afraid that the answer has very little to do with my mission,” Zyhaneve said. “It is not something I wish to answer. As to your first inquiry, have been commissioned by a very powerful person who at this time would remain unnamed. Until all the lords have joined the agreement, you simply need to know that Youave and I work alone.”

“Tell them the truth!” Tymoss cried. “They should know who they’re up against! That it’s not some silly, rich lord with an idea to save a disgraced child. Neiss will kill them all! They need to know their enemy!”

Zyhaneve’s hands twitched, wanting to reach out and strangle the cat. Silence! The Rider took a step forward.

Rior Umard did not let the cat’s distraction go to waste. The man jumped to his feet and drew his sword in one swift motion. The sword slid out of its sheath, the distinctive sound sending shivers up tensed spines. He grabbed Haijka, the intruder he was closest to, and swung the sorcerer around.

The mug Haijka held crashed to the floor. The shards scattered, striking legs and walls.

“We won’t join you,” Umard barked, staring at the Rider over the sorcerer’s shoulder. He held onto one of the long arms, his sword blade pressed against the thing’s throat. “And I know the swiftest method to stop your catastrophic proposal! Abandon your folly and we may let you live.”

The air felt heavy as the onlookers held their breaths. Umard knew he wouldn’t have to wait long until the Rider surrendered or Chadwyn remembered he was also armed. With the Rider incapacitated, Umard could properly deal with the sorcerer as was fitting. He moved his wrist inward.

Then the sorcerer started laughing. Through gasps of breath, the sorcerer said, “You really think that you could hurt me, warrior? I am a sorcerer and you could be dead right now if I decided to have it be done!”

Umard tightened his grip, but he did not slit the creature’s throat. He did not like the way the sorcerer laughed. Nor did he like the way the Rider suddenly approached. Muscled unbound from shock that stilled the others, Zyhaneve slowly moved away from the table, leaving the doorway unguarded.

“Let go of Haijka now, Umard,” Zyhaneve growled. The Rider stood so close that Umard could feel the warmth of the Rider’s breath. “And maybe he’ll let you live.”

The rior trembled and looked into the hood. He could see nothing passed the magical screen. Nothing to plead with. It was like staring upon a wraith: faceless, soulless.
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