Cat and meese, p.1
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       Cat and Meese, p.1

           K. Gorman
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Cat and Meese
Cat and Meese

  by K Gorman

  Copyright 2011 K Gorman

  Cover Art by Megan Parker.

  https://tannanana.deviantart.com/

  Author's Notes

  This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons (living or dead), places, things, or events, is entirely coincidental.

  ***

  He took her while she slept, and with her lips he spoke a promise to her shadow. Her eyes moved under their lids, deep in the REM of slumber. With a smile, he listened through her ears to the shadow’s answer. He knew the shadow. They were kin. And this deal between devils would benefit them both.

  ***

  “Got something for you.”

  Meese was dripping. The rain hadn’t quite made it through her jacket, but her pants were soaked. At Aiden’s voice, she paused in the doorway. Behind the desk that dominated the far corner of the room, he looked up from his computer screen.

  “There’s someone you should find. Underground. She can give you some answers.”

  Underground. Definitely not where she liked to go.

  “She got the answers to my finals?” To accentuate the point, she slid off her backpack and dropped it to the floor. The textbooks inside made a satisfying thunk.

  The mage ignored her. “She’s an elemental.”

  Meese paused. As the mage’s ex-apprentice, she knew an ‘elemental’ was, and it had little to do with chemistry. The fire mage’s magic was called elemental because he could manipulate fire. Of course, he could do much more than that. From what she gathered, there was a distinct level difference between an elemental and a mage.

  “Answers to what?”

  “To whether or not the potential in you is really gone or not.”

  Potential for magic, he meant. She took a moment to digest that, meeting his gaze across the room. She’d had a ‘potential’ before she’d used it up six months ago. Having it was like winning the lottery. Or, in her special case, being given the chance to win. The logistics of it were a bit beyond her, but she had the capability to become a mage. Somehow.

  “You said it was gone.” Her voice didn’t sound as confident as before.

  “No, I said it had burned up.”

  The computer whirred quietly in the pause between them.

  “And the difference is?”

  “You’re familiar with the legend of the Phoenix?”

  ‘Rise from the ashes’ was a very appropriate analogy for a fire mage to use.

  “And if I still have it?” Her shoes squelched as she crossed the floor. Since she’d ‘burned up’, the mage had been too busy dealing with other things to address what her status was now. He still kept her around, but she wasn’t sure why—she was fairly useless when it came to the business he did, and otherwise tied up with finishing high school.

  “Cross that bridge later. You have to find it first. Even more, you have to find her.”

  “Who is she?”

  He tilted the screen so that she could see. There was a blurry photograph of a dark-skinned girl flipping off the camera. The date stamp in the corner was a few days old.

  “Her name’s Kitty, and she’s an odd sort of elemental. She was taken in by the electric mage over in Terremain, although she tends to just ‘wing it’ with her powers. With electricity, you can kind of get away with that.”

  “There are others with magic?”

  She immediately felt stupid. Of course there were others. She’d met them.

  “Yes. Not many, but yes.”

  Her mouth stayed shut as she scanned the page of information. It had the basics—physical description, age, criminal record. Nothing really stood out, except for the note about a mental condition.

  “She’s not psycho, is she?”

  “Not until now.” At her look, he continued: “I’ve talked with the electric mage. He said the dead guy wasn’t her fault.”

  “Dead guy?”

  Aiden highlighted a section of the report that she hadn’t read yet. Great. He wanted her to go Underground—which was dangerous enough—to find someone with a mental condition that could shoot electricity.

  “Why do you want me to do this?”

  “To see if you still have potential or not.”

  “Can’t you tell on your own?”

  She became aware of just how loud the computer’s fan was when no one was speaking. Aiden stared at her. She must have missed something in conversation. She backtracked over it in her mind.

  “I know you do. You do not.” he said.

  That was a bit too sage-ish for her, but she got the impression that he was offering her a crossroads. Choose one way, and she could walk away from this and study for the exams she and everyone else had to write. Or she could pursue Kitty, who might provide a less cryptic answer to the question.

  If Aiden was right, she still had that lottery ticket.

  “Where is she?”

  She hadn’t felt like studying, anyway.

  ***

  Deep beneath the city streets, in a temple of pain and shadow and dark, crawling things, he was born. Or, shall we say, re-born, for he had existed for some twenty-three years that he remembered and, he suspected, quite a bit more that he didn’t. This birth was more of a free pass. A bail paid by a god he now owed, freed from the psychological prison of someone else’s mind.

  ***

  When the capitol city of Lyarne had been built, its foundations were rooted on the bones of its predecessor. The recent war had forced most of the country to the capitol, but the city was only so big. Even if the city’s shielding system had been able to grow with the development, the steep mountains guarding Lyarne prevented any further expansion. The city was overcrowded. Those who had the money or the connections found places, but everyone else was out of luck.

  Until some entrepreneurial individuals found that the old, buried city wasn’t quite as structurally incapable as was thought. If only it could be excavated.

  There had been no shortage of refugees.

  It wasn’t pretty. Practicality had shaped the underground city: it was much easier to build walkways than tunnels, so most of the pathways went through dead office-buildings and former houses in the buried city. A lot of buildings were still intact, and by the time the government took notice people had already started living in them. Focused on the war effort, the government decided to ignore them.

  Before Meese had fallen in with the mage, she’d had no idea of what lay underneath her city. It was still shocking to walk through the makeshift tunnels.

  The rain hadn’t quite dried on her jacket, and the chill pressed close to her like the tunnel’s walls. She preferred the closeness, though. Her phone chirped, and she wondered how far she was from the surface. There was a smell of stale air and mould down here. The only light came from a crude line of naked bulbs strung up on one side of the walkway. Meese tried not to think of just how precarious the electricity was down here.

  She wasn’t sure how deep she was, but the last bar of service on her phone winked out when she started down a staircase. Not many people came this way. She could tell by the dust her hand gathered as it slid down the banister.

  Still several blocks from the Core, she was already walking past the small mom and pop shops of the underworld. She knew they often paid tribute to the larger contenders to keep their windows intact and products unstolen, but there were exceptions—like the innocent-looking munitions shop she was headed for now. Maury, the owner, was too much of a badass. No one messed with him, not when he kept 'demo' rounds in a range of guns within easy reach behind his counter.

  For some reason, he'd taken a liking to her. She hoped it was in a protective, uncle-ish sense. The bell rang as she walked in, and the burly man behind the counter straightened up.


  “Meese! Long time! I been savin' this one special for you!”

  He leaned forward and she heard a drawer open. Then there was a tiny gun in his hand.

  “I wanted to save its first shot for you, but you haven't visited. And last month this jerk laughed at its size. Sorry, but I had to shut him up. Second shot is still good, eh?”

  She was never sure how to respond to him. Dutifully, she admired the gun, which was dwarfed by his hand.

  “I'm sorry, Mo. He shouldn't have laughed.”

  She didn't like guns. She was skittish around them. Some would argue that she was skittish around everything.

  “Meese should have protection down here. Gotta back up your rep, little girl.”

  “Rep?”

  “Reputation. You're the latest celebrity, don’tcha know?”

  “What?”

  “Well, except for Kitty, mind you. But she's old news that came back.”

  “Actually, I'd like to hear about Kitty.”

  “Why Meese, didn't you come down to visit me?”

  Meese gave him her most guilt-free smile.

  “Of course, Mo. She's just business.”

  “Business? You're not after her, are you?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Meese.”

  “Just kidding, Mo. I just gotta chat with her.”

  “Chat, huh? I think you better take the Mieshka.”

  “Miesh…ka?”

  He pushed the gun toward her.

  “You… named it after me? That's so sweet, Mo.”

  “Your name is just so perfect sounding for a gun.”

  She picked up the gun carefully with both hands. Maury nodded with approval.

  “Mo?” She stared at the gun in her hands. There was a tiny, stylized inscription on the side of the barrel.

  “Yes?”

  “Elementals—they’re people who mess around with elements, right? Control fire and water and stuff?”

  “Yeah.”

  “So, technically all the mages are elementals?”

  He glanced up from the gun.

  “Calling a mage an elemental is like calling an Admiral a soldier.”

  Of course Mo would use a military analogy.

  “A bit of an understatement, then?”

  “A bit.”

  It was easy to connect Aiden with Mo’s analogy. She’d seen how efficient he’d been in combat six months ago.

  “On a scale of elemental to mage, what would you say Kitty was?”

  Mo leaned his elbows on the counter and thought.

  “A wildcard. If mages were gods, she'd be the trickster figure.”

  She checked the time on her phone. She didn’t have much of it to spend, if she wanted to find Kitty.

  “Wouldn’t happen to know where she is, would you?”

  “Nope. But I’m sure you’ll find her. You have a knack for running into people.”

  He hid a smile as he said the last bit, which made her think that he meant it literally. She fingered the gun.

  “Mo…”

  “Yes, Meese?”

  “Thanks.”

  ***

  Freedom, he learned, was comprised of promises. He’d known this all along, bitterly holed up in her mind, but to experience it was entirely something else. No longer did he view the world as on the screen of a television. Everything around him stirred with life, though perhaps not the life most of the world would associate with the term. His life was made of sticks and stones, and the shift at the edge of one’s perception. He was a whisper that turned a dream to nightmare, which was what he’d wanted his entire existence, except this dream was reality, and the claws in his paws were very, very real. He left one dead at her door, and another was coming up the temple stair.

  ***

  She may not have liked guns, but the Mieshka was an exception. On the way, she tested the safety and loading mechanism, smiling at the feel of the well-built parts working smoothly. She’d followed the light trail through a shopping mall, and had now reached the entrance to the underground city’s Core. The windows of the department store had long ago been boarded up, but she could tell she was there by the light framing the plywood. Neon was very popular down here.

  Before she went out, she stashed the gun in its holster at the back of her belt, went close to the boards, and listened. She would have heard a gunfight by now, but knives were popular down here and made a lot less noise. Then, satisfied she wouldn’t be inadvertently stabbed, she stepped out onto the sidewalk’s brickwork and squinted against the light.

  It was easy to forget that she was still underground in this place. The ceiling was too high to see by the shop lights. In this part of town, the edifices marked a juxtaposition of different ages: brickwork sat next to plastic, and a cement structure crumbled next to a metropolitan pseudo-hotel that bore the distinct construction of the post-Chromantix B era. Everything was well over 200 years old.

  Meese hadn’t been down here enough to become a familiar face. Except for those involved with the mages, all people saw was some young, orange-haired girl. Just another refugee from the war. Though, if what Mo said were true, everyone knew her name. She still wasn't sure what she thought of that.

  “Hey. Hey you girl. You lost?”

  The man stood outside one of the storefronts that occupied the bottom level of the buildings. He was wearing an apron, and the shop display had a scattering of Chinese characters, which told Meese which group controlled this section of town.

  “Nope.” She gave him her most winning smile. “But I'm looking for something. Someone.”

  He wiped his hands on a rag while he gave her a long, considering look.

  “Someone? Who?”

  Her turn to mirror his look.

  “Kitty.”

  His hands stopped wiping.

  “No one find her. Why you look?”

  “My boss wants me to.”

  “Boss?”

  Time to go, she thought. She had no idea what terms Aiden was on with this guy's boss. Instead of answering, she gave him another winning smile.

  “I’ve only got tonight. Thanks, though.”

  She gave him a little wave and walked down the street. She could feel his stare on her shoulders and she willed herself to not look back.

  ***

  Three down and an entire world to go. He’d licked his claws clean, but had found the blood entirely unsatisfactory. Besides, he thought, the image was too cliché. He was above that idea of a monster. He was independent from that thought. He thought she knew this, but still she chased him—hunted him—in true monster fashion. She had a gun and, though it had no silver bullets, she had enough power backing her to make her a serious threat.

  ***

  “Ah, Meese.”

  Her first impulse was to run. Roger had that effect on things. Instead, she swallowed her jumping heart and forced herself to turn around.

  “Roger.” It was amazing how much narrower the alley seemed with him in it. He stepped forward, and the light from a shop’s window slanted across him. He looked quite at home in the dim back alley.

  “Long time no see, Meese. How's Joanne?”

  Jo, her coworker, had been injured several months ago in a fight. Roger hadn’t been responsible for the injury, but the two had a history of trying to kill each other.

  “Out of the hospital. How about Stan?”

  “Dead.”

  Oops.

  “Oh. I'm sorry. Shall I send Jo your regards?”

  “It would please me, Meese. I also have a missive from my employer to yours, if you'd be so kind.”

  She flinched back as he reached for something in his jacket. When he produced a letter, it was with a small smile she didn’t like.

  “Not a bomb, is it?” Their bosses had a rocky history.

  “Quite the opposite, I think, Meese.”

  He held the letter out to her and stepped forward, pausing as she moved away. Logically, Meese knew Roger had no reason to harm her, but
she couldn’t help remembering just how quick he was with a knife. The Mieshka felt solid at her back. It should have made her feel dangerous, but instead she felt like a carrier pigeon being coaxed to having something tied to its leg.

  “My employer, Meese, is not stupid enough to send a bomb to kill a fire mage.”

  She swallowed and remembered to breathe. Then he threw her another kind of bomb.

  “We lost her in Southside.”

  “What?”

  “Kitty. You’re looking for her, aren’t you?”

  This close, she could see his eyes. They watched her with the same meticulous care they gave everything, though there was a trace of amusement in his smile.

  “Oh. Thanks. I’ll, uh, get this to him.”

  “I expect you will.

  She tried not to relax too much when he turned to leave. He’d probably sense it.

  ***

  What she didn’t realize was that he knew all her little secrets. He knew her tricks and he knew her trades. He knew her back-up plans and he knew her weaknesses. He knew how to dodge her lightning, and that made him near invincible to her. He wondered if he could kill a god. He doubted it. His benefactor wasn’t that stupid.

  ***

  Meese was lost. She probably hadn’t managed to get anywhere near Southside, which was just as well because Kitty probably wouldn’t be there. No one stuck around with Roger on their tail.

  She grumbled from one alley to another, all with varying heights and all narrow enough for her to touch both walls easily. Her left hand habitually brushed the wall. A lot of these alleys had little or no lighting, and Meese was a member of the clumsy club. It was her legs, she blamed, they were too long and she felt like a giraffe. She stubbed her toe on a box and sent it forward a few inches. She could see its shape by the next alley’s faint glow.

  Light. She picked her way to the corner.

  To Meese’s joy, someone had strung the rafters with Christmas lights. The colours of the strings changed periodically down the alley, but they made her pay more attention to the beams. Rafters like these were common in the underground city, wedged between outer walls. Supposedly, they prevented the buildings from shifting too much. There was a set of stairs at the end.

  “Hey. Hey!”

  She looked up.

  “Hi.”

 
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