Here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 1 of A Cat’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom, the sequel to A Cat’s Guide to Meddling with Magic.
You can pre-order the book from Amazon by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
Chapter 1: Dragon Egg-and-Spoon
Purple mist loomed on the horizon. It whipped up a stench in the air, reminiscent of rotten vegetable juice. It brought with it a bitter wind that seeped right through my fur, washing away what should be the warmth of spring. Beyond it stood the warlocks and the threat of war.
The warlocks weren’t far from Dragonsbond Academy now — so all the Driars said — accompanied by thousands and thousands of magical creatures, an army growing by the day. But they would be no match for us, because we had dragons, and we had magic too, and we also had me.
To many, I was just a cat. But to the prophecies, I was a mighty Bengal, descendant of the great Asian leopard cat. The crystals foretold I would defeat the most powerful of warlocks, Astravar. Just as soon as I finally worked out how to get my staff, I could fly out there on Salanraja’s back, nestled within her corridor of spikes that served as a natural saddle for cats. Then, with my staff clenched between my strong feline jaws, I would shoot a beam of energy at him. Then I’d knock him off his bone dragon, and I’d finally be able to go home.
I just wished I could fast forward to that point. Because, right this moment, I wasn’t flying towards the mist with a staff in my mouth. Instead, I had a spoon sticking out of it, with an egg balanced precariously on top of it, and I felt like an absolute fool.
“Can’t I just drop the egg?” I asked inside my mind to my dragon, Salanraja. “This is tremendously boring, and my mouth hurts…”
“Gracious demons, no,” Salanraja said. “We have a chance of winning this, and I want to show the other dragons how magnificent I can be, even with my ‘unnatural’ rows of spikes.”
“But what’s the point of it all? Eggs are much better for eating than carrying in your mouth on a spoon.”
“Prestige,” Salanraja said. “And that is worth all the food in the world.”
Really, there was no telling my dragon. No matter how much I argued with her, she kept telling me we had to win at least one event on ‘Sports Day’. Or at least if we couldn’t win, she thought we had to at least try.
It was ridiculous, really. I would much rather sit in Aleam’s study by the fireplace, waiting for someone to bring me my staff until Astravar came and then fulfil the prophecy. But every year there had to be a ‘Sports Day’, even if war was looming on the horizon. Especially if war is looming on the horizon, Driar Yila had told us one assembly. Because during such times we needed to keep our spirits up and it would help us stay fighting fit for when the warlocks actually marched in. We didn’t know where they’d march yet. But we apparently had to be prepared.
So, they’d had me tied to Salanraja’s leg, as we stumbled over to the finish line — last. Then they’d had us flying all kinds of stunts, making me dizzy. I felt like I was chasing my tail for ages once I finally returned to the ground. Now, it was the ‘dragon egg-and-spoon race’, the most pointless activity in the whole wide world. Our goal was to land on the top of the keep tower as fast as possible, making sure that we passed over the designated checkpoints as I, all the while, kept my egg precariously balanced on the spoon.
There came a cry from my right, and I nearly jumped. This almost sent the egg flying, and Salanraja sent out a desultory groan in response.
Rine flew past on his blue dragon, Ishtkar, or should I rather said that they dived together towards the ground so fast that I thought they were going to bore a crater. But right at the last minute, Ishtkar pulled herself back up, and Rine shot back up, sending out a tail of ice behind him from his staff in his right hand. I wondered how he could keep the egg on his spoon in his left until I noticed the glistens in the ice crystals attached to it.
“He’s cheating!” I said. “He’s using his magic to keep the egg affixed to his spoon.”
Salanraja chuckled for a moment, but then she cut off her laughter as if worried her rumbling belly might cause me to drop the egg. “All’s fair in the dragon egg-and-spoon. As long as the magic doesn’t end up disrupting the flight of someone else.”
“But it does disrupt. It’s distracting. They should disqualify him…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Salanraja said. “Because he’s not going to win first place flying like that. He knows it though, and he’s going for the stunt prize. Now shut up, because we’re in the lead and I really need to focus.”
She was right. I could see a few dragons behind us, but no one yet in front. We only had to fly between the westmost and eastmost towers of Dragonsbond Academy and then land on the keep tower. Then we’d win the race. So long as I didn’t drop the egg or spoon, that was, which were together making my mouth feel really sore.
The wind whipped past me, and I could tell that we were going fast. At least she was flying steady. After all, this was nowhere near as bad as the dragon stunt show.
“How long do we have to keep this up for?” I asked.
“Just a few minutes,” Salanraja said. “Now just focus. If we win this, we’ll be the pride of all the dragons and students in the academy.”
“Yeah, right,” I said. They’d probably tell me I’d cheated. Or that I wasn’t a fair competitor because I was a cat. Or some other nonsense that the humans here liked to spout.
There came a whoosh from beside me, and then a familiar giggling sound. “Here, kitty, kitty,” someone called out, and I turned my head to see Ange. Usually, I was more than happy to see her. But this time, in the set of her narrowed eyes, I could tell she wasn’t here to play fair.
Just like Rine, she ejected a stream of magic behind her. But instead of pretty patterns of ice, twisting branches shot out from the glowing green crystal on her staff, eventually dissipating into the sky metres behind. They gave her extra propulsion, which was how she had caught up so fast. With her other hand, she held her spoon with a hand that didn’t seem to shake. It wasn’t surprising really, as she’d hardened the skin on her arm to the texture of wood. Green lithe branches sprouted out of her fingertips, twisting around the spoon and fixing the egg in place.
“They’re all using magic,” I said. “This isn’t fair.”
“Will you just shut up,” Salanraja said. “They’re using the magic because they feel they need it. But don’t forget, while the other dragons have been lazy because they thought they could rely on their riders’ magic, we’ve trained for this for weeks.”
That was certainly true. Salanraja had taken me out on numerous flights, three times a day, saying that she was respecting my wishes by flying gently — but also at an incredible speed.
“Here kitty, kitty,” Ange said again, and she edged her blue dragon, Quarl close enough that I could leap across. “Why don’t you come over and sit on my lap?” She laughed.
The offer was tempting, admittedly. Quarl often seemed to me a much smoother flyer than Salanraja.
“Don’t you dare,” Salanraja said. “If the rider leaves its mount, we’ll be instantly disqualified.”
Her rudeness and chagrin made it even more tempting for me to accept Ange’s bait. But, in all honesty, I wanted to win too. I’d had enough of the students here thinking that I couldn’t do what they could because I was a cat. It didn’t matter if I was destined to save the world from Astravar’s wrath, everyone here in Dragonsbond Academy seemed to look down on me, as if a primal part of them couldn’t quite fathom why I wasn’t on permanent rat catching duty.
Even Ange, sometimes…
“I’ve had enough of this,” Salanraja said. “Hold on to yourself and hold on to that egg.”
“I’ve nothing to hold on w—”
I didn’t have time to finish my thought, as Salanraja lurched to the side suddenly and bashed Quarl aside. The blue dragon let out a roar that cut through the air. I was disorientated for a moment — slightly dizzy — but I kept my focus on the egg and ducked to the side at the last minute to stop it falling off. I came to my senses and peered through a gap within Salanraja’s corridor of spikes with one eye.
I mewled in satisfaction as I saw Ange’s spoon plummeting to the ground, Quarl diving headlong right after it. Fortunately for her, the egg was still wrapped in the vines and didn’t fall off the spoon. Ange and Quarl caught up with it and Ange clutched it within her grasp. But the manoeuvre had turned Quarl around, now flying away from us.
“Isn’t that against the rules? Forget using magic, that’s downright dirty of you, Salanraja.”
“The rules say we can’t use magic against other fliers. But there’s nothing about not using pure muscle to bash them out of the way.”
“It will certainly slow her,” I said, and I looked back at Quarl and Ange, now becoming pinpricks on a low layer of grey floating cloud. “But it wouldn’t have been my fault, you know, if you’d sent the egg off towards the ground. That was quite a risk you took.”
“I thought you had perfect balance? The grace of the great Asian leopard cat, and all that…”
“I’m good at balancing myself, not at balancing things hanging out of my mouth.”
“Well, you seem to be doing quite a good job at it,” Salanraja said. “Now let me concentrate. I need to get ready for a perfect landing.”
I wasn’t listening to her, because I was focused on a small charcoal dragon gaining on us fast. Its rider was on top of it, who hadn’t even bothered to draw her staff, instead keeping her body tucked towards the dragon’s neck to gain momentum. Her platinum blonde hair whipped back in the wind, and as she drew closer, I recognised her eyes, burning as if coals raged behind them. Clearly, she didn’t need magic, and she had her spoon tucked to her chest underneath her chin, using the dragon’s head to shield it from the wind.
“I don’t think we’re going to win.”
“What do you mean?” Salanraja asked. “I’m just about to come into land on the tower.”
“Seramina and Hallinar… They’ve saved all their energy until this last leg.”
“Gracious demons,” Salanraja said, and she hazarded a quick glance behind her. “I might have known. That mind-witch is a crafty one.”
Fortunately, I knew what I had to do to stop her. I only needed to take a leaf out of Ange’s book and distract her. If everyone else was allowed to use their magic, I thought I’d use mine too.
“Hang on, Salanraja. I’ve got this.”
“What are you up to, Bengie?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I summoned the beast from within, and I closed my eyes and tried to divert my focus away from the pain writhing in my transforming muscles. I focused on the spoon, on keeping it clenched within my strengthening, expanding jaw.
When I opened my eyes, I felt strong, and I felt complete. I’d only transformed into a chimera a few times since I gained the ability, and though I hated the transformation, it felt good to be this beast. I lifted my paw and extended my sharp claws, examining them. But I bit down the instinct to roar, as I wanted to keep that spoon clenched within my mouth. It now felt flimsy and fragile, as if part of a child’s play set.
“You idiot, Bengie… Change back,” Salanraja said.
“No… Get closer, and I’ll scare her.”
“You’re making me sink, Bengie. You’re far too heavy as a chimera.”
“Just shut up and get close to her. I can scare her into dropping that spoon.”
“It’s too late, you moron. Oh, why, Bengie? We would have won. Why did you have to spoil this all now?”
Indeed, Seramina and Hallinar seemed to be accelerating towards us. But what I didn’t realise at the time was that we were actually slowing down. When they passed us, they passed overhead and to the right of us. I thought of turning back, but Hallinar already had her front claws raised, ready to land on the tower. In another instance, she touched down with a perfectly graceful landing, and bugle called out from somewhere within the academy walls below.
“We can take second place,” I said to Salanraja.
“There is no second place,” Salanraja said, her spirits sounding ever so slightly dashed. “After that, I’m not cooking for you tonight.”
“Fine,” I said. But I in all honesty wasn’t too happy about it. I groaned softly.
Salanraja crooned beneath my feet sympathetically. She probably felt my intense disappointment about my food and didn’t want to let it linger. We were bonded after all. “Tell you what,” she said. “There’s a second round of stunt flying coming up, more about choreography to the music than sheer aerodynamics. If we can win that, then I’ll reconsider letting you feast with me.”
But it wasn’t meant to be, because all of a sudden a second call of bugles came from the wide stone towers of Dragonsbond Academy. On the top of them, prefects with their red cloaks craned their heads to look up at us. The sun glinted off the instruments pressed to their mouths. The tune they sounded had an essence of urgency in their notes. Though the bugles were loud, they were soon drowned out by a roar of dragons coming from those dragons who remained in the towers.
“What’s that?” I asked Salanraja.
She growled. “Sports Day is cancelled,” she said, this time making it her turn to sound disappointed.
“I don’t know,” Salanraja said. “But Olan just told me we’re to return to Dragonsbond Academy at once.”