Here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 4 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 4: Venison
As I climbed the spiral staircase up to Salanraja’s tower, the sweet aroma of the different varieties of meats the dragons had procured and roasted with their own flames seeped out of the entranceways to their chambers. There were aromas of rabbit, mutton, various types of fish, and so many other delicious feasts all melded together in one place. It was a little hot in here, admittedly, but cats are meant for hot places, especially a Bengal like me.
The dragons’ towers were the place to be at dinner time. Due to what they called the ‘pre-siege’, the kitchens only served soup with a tiny bit of meat in there and lots of disgusting vegetables, and portions of inedible rice, potatoes and bread. Because of this, many riders had taken to eating with their dragons, who flew out specially to get the meat they needed.
When I complained about the poor nutritional quality of the food to Matron Canda, she said that she could serve me up ‘cat food’ if I wanted. But I knew what that meant. They’d put the worst meat processed in tiny chunks and serve it out to me all mashed up and yucky. My owners back in South Wales had never served me that processed stuff that I’d heard other cats had to endure, and I didn’t intend to start eating it now either.
Thus, every time I climbed the spiral staircase of the East Tower, I was tempted to drop into another dragon’s chamber and steal their food before I even reached Salanraja. But I also knew trying to take food off a dragon I wasn’t bonded to would mean certain death.
I entered Salanraja’s chamber soon enough, and the venison she’d promised me lay in the unexposed corner next to the opening to the wider wall. The meat was brown and had that smoky scent to it I knew and loved all too well.
I mewled a thank you to Salanraja, who looked down at me with her massive yellow eyes, a slight grin stretched across her rubbery lips. Then, I rushed over to the venison and tore off a strip of meat, and I dropped it by the opening to the outer world where there was a nice cool breeze.
The sun was now getting low in the sky and brought a pleasant warmth to the breeze that was colder than it should be. The air didn’t smell as fresh as it should either. I couldn’t see the purple mist from this side of the castle, but I could smell that whiff of rotten vegetable juice – the smell of dark magic. I had thought at first it was only Astravar that smelled like that, but it turned out that all warlocks and their creations did.
This is how this whole world would smell if the warlocks took over this world and continued their conquest into the other six dimensions, including my dear home.
Suddenly, a flash of light came from the crystal beside me – a massive, tall, multi-faceted thing that stood unnaturally on the cobblestone floor. It did that sometimes, often when it wanted to tell Salanraja and I something. But now I saw the same old vision of myself as the hero. In the vision, I held the staff in my mouth, with the crystal at the tip of it glowing red. I was atop Salanraja, and I knew Astravar was flying nearby on one of his terrifying bone dragons. I’d see him soon in the crystal’s vision.
The visions seemed to have been getting more and more frequent lately, which annoyed me. I always saw myself with that staff in my mouth, fighting my nemesis. But I had no idea how I was going to obtain that staff and, from what the Driars told us, time was running out.
Salanraja laughed as she saw me watching the crystal. “It won’t change just by staring at it, you know. It’s not going to reveal anything extra to you until it’s ready to do so.”
“And when will that be?” I asked. “I just want to get Astravar out of the way so I can get back to living a comfortable life.”
Salanraja shook her head slowly. “Life will never be comfortable. You’re a dragon rider now, and you’re meant to work for the kingdom.”
“But can’t I retire… Like Aleam? He doesn’t go flying out on training drills every day and he doesn’t have to sit in boring classrooms.”
“We’ll retire when we’re good and old.”
I tried to imagine how many years I had left in my life but couldn’t fathom it. The crystal had given me the gift of languages, but unfortunately it hadn’t thrown in mathematics for good measure. Even if some argued that maths was actually a language.
“The king will let me retire after I save his kingdom,” I said. “Then we can do what we like.”
“Here we go again…” Salanraja said. She lifted one of her front legs and examined her sharp, long talons.
“I’m getting a bit sick of hearing your ‘retire in the countryside’ fantasies. Have you ever thought about what I might want?”
“I have,” I said. “I decided to include a large garden in the plans where you, Quarl, and Ishtkar can have plenty of space to roam.”
“I’m a dragon, I don’t roam in gardens. I roam in the sky.”
“Well, you can fly out from there and there’ll be ample space for your landings.”
Salanraja growled, and for a split second I thought she was also going to breathe fire. “When I grow old, I want to live in the Crystal Mountains with the other dragons. That’s where most dragon riders end up, you know? Living like hermits up there. Just they and their dragon…”
“What? The mountains. Whiskers, no! It’s too cold.”
“See what I mean?” Salanraja said.
Now, it was my turn to growl. I walked over to the venison and ripped off another chunk. The taste of it at least brought some solace to this terrible news. I knew from the start that bonding with Salanraja was a bad idea. Now, it seemed my doing so had ruined my life. I took my venison back to my spot and chewed into it once again. As I did so, I couldn’t help looking back up at the crystal, and the massive, winged creatures, which looked like a cross between a bat and buzzard, I was tearing out of the sky using magic from my staff.
Behind me, Salanraja let out a loud, breathy sigh. “You know, when I’d first seen that scene in the crystal, I couldn’t quite believe it.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well… A cat beating the most powerful warlock alive today. Who’d have thought it possible?”
“But we’re mighty creatures… If only you’d seen one of my ancestors, the Great Asian leopard cat.”
“Yes, I’m sure I’d be quaking in my skin. And I’ve still got to meet your mightily scary hippopotamus.”
“There’s nothing on earth scarier than a hippopotamus. Trust me, I’ve seen one.”
“So you keep telling me,” Salanraja said, and she opened her mouth in a wide yawn.
In the crystal, I’d now come face to face with Astravar. The view there had pulled back so I could see myself looking tiny on Salanraja’s neck, the staff in my mouth and Astravar atop his bone dragon. A red beam shot out from my staff, a purple from his, and they fused at the centre creating a brilliant white bulb of energy.
“How am I ever going to do that?” I asked Salanraja.
She turned to the crystal. “Exactly as you are doing there, I think. You’ll hold the staff in your mouth, and you’ll shoot out magical energy and defeat Astravar.”
“That’s not what I mean…”
“So what do you mean?”
“How am I going to get from this point, stuck here in Dragonsbond Academy, staffless, to using it to knock down Astravar and have a safe life again?”
It was a really weird place to be in, this thing that humans called limbo. Cats were not meant to feel the frustration it caused. I mean, when we saw a mouse, or a butterfly, or something worth hunting, we would hunt it when it was there, and then forget about it if it fled out of sight. But this crystal kept reminding me that I had to find this staff. Really, part of me wanted to be out searching for it. But I didn’t know where to look.
“Be patient,” Salanraja said. “The crystal will reveal the way when its good and ready. It wouldn’t still be showing this vision as a version of the future, if this possibility wasn’t there.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said.
Meanwhile, the crystal had now got to my favourite part. The white bulb at the centre of mine and Astravar’s beams had now crept even closer to the warlock, and it was about to knock him off its mount. Just before that happened, there came another crashing cry of bugles that sounded more like hippopotami breaking wind than anything pleasant.
“What is that?” I asked. “Please don’t tell me we have to go back to Sports Day again.”
“No,” Salanraja replied. “I believe it’s the call for assembly.”
“Why didn’t they ring the bell?”
“I guess they want to tell you this is more important than the regular assembly. Bugles mean it’s a military matter.”
“Prince Arran… I’d been so wrapped up in my meal, I forgot to ask you if you know why he’s here.”
“I guess you’re going to find out.”
“Sounds like it…” And I took another piece of venison in my mouth for good luck, then scurried out of Salanraja’s chamber and down towards the bailey.