Here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 1 of A Cat’s Guide to Vanquishing Evil, the sequel to A Cat’s Guide to Travelling Through Portals and the sixth book in the Dragoncat series.
You can pre-order the book from Amazon by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
Chapter 1: Where is the Key?
Max, the Sussex spaniel who could walk the dimensions, panted innocently as if he had committed no crime.
I watched him for a moment from my place on the upholstered seat, as the carriage ambled along, rocking over the rough road. It was pulled by four beasts that stank to high heaven of regular horse. The wind howled through the bars that covered the left side window – a bitter chill descending from a leaden sky.
The unicorns weren’t pulling the carriage – they wouldn’t deign to lower themselves to perform such a task. But they still were part of the White Guard. The White Mages who were currently riding them were casting a spell on this whole carriage and its horses, both keeping everyone invisible and creating a magical annulment field so that no magic could get out or in.
We were too dangerous, Captain Alliander had reasoned. She couldn’t trust us to ride on our dragons. Or rather she couldn’t trust Seramina, after the young teenager had almost destroyed the worlds. I couldn’t blame Alliander for that, admittedly, but I wasn’t sure how much I trusted Seramina, either.
In fact, I wasn’t sure if I could trust anyone here. The only creature I knew I could trust was my dragon, Salanraja, and I was unable to talk to her.
My tail thrashed against the upholstery, and I could sense Esme’s stare as she observed me from the opposite seat, with her pink nose and bright blue eyes. My Abyssinian companion seemed to have given up interrogating the foolish dog, but I hadn’t.
Technically, Esme didn’t have to be locked here inside this carriage with us. Already versed in white magic and able to use it alongside the dark, Alliander trusted Esme for some reason. It was the white Abyssinian, in fact, who would be training us in the art of the magic that in most cases was channelled through a unicorn’s horn. But Esme didn’t have a unicorn – she had a dragon – and she was going to teach us exactly where she channelled her magic from.
Still, Esme had to abide by the rules, and her usually invisible staff bearer – in other words the giant, magical white hand that carried her staff for her – had to stay outside.
“It’s much safer,” Alliander had said, “if magic isn’t kept inside a magical containment field.”
Perhaps the captain of the White Guard didn’t trust Esme quite so much after all. Though I guess it didn’t matter to Esme – all she seemed to want right now was a good nap.
“I’m going to try again,” I whined in the dog-language at Max, who had now turned his head towards the opposite window, his floppy ears swaying. “If you don’t reveal the location of the key to the Sixth Dimension, I will scratch at your nose. And I’ll make sure it hurts, I tell you.”
Max turned back to me and let out an unintelligible growl. “Why won’t you shut up, Dragoncat?” he asked, with a softer whimper. “I’ve told you all I’m going to tell on this subject.”
“Because I told Esme that by the time we camp for the night, I’ll get it out of you. So talk!”
“Esme told you that you have to respect Bastet’s wishes. She wants to keep the key hidden.”
“How would you know? You can’t speak the cat language.”
“No, but I can hear Bastet inside my mind, and she tells me exactly what I need to know.”
That made me wonder if in fact some magic was working in this place. Perhaps if Bastet, or the crystals that translated her words telepathically, deigned to talk to me, then I’d be able to hear her too. But they didn’t – and that left me feeling slightly jealous of Max.
“Esme’s asleep,” I said, “so she won’t be able to chide me for scratching you.”
“No, she’s not,” Max said, turning his head towards her.
“She is. She just likes to sleep with her eyes open sometimes. That way she can see what’s happening from inside her dreams.”
“You lie,” Max barked.
That caused Esme to toss her head upwards. Then she hissed at him for being so loud.
“Stop harassing the dog, Ben,” Asinda said. The red-haired prefect of Dragonsbond Academy was one of the human students locked in the carriage with us, the other being Seramina. They sat on either side of Esme. “We all want some peace and quiet.”
I let out a low growl, but I said nothing to Asinda. Instead, I looked at Seramina, hoping for some support. Just a few days ago, Seramina had over-channelled the powerful dark force, Cana Dei, almost destroying this world and the other dimensions in the process. She could still be under the influence of Cana Dei, for all we knew. It was also possible that Arran – or any followers of any warlock or demon for that matter – had posted spies in our convoy.
Seramina saw me looking at her. She shook her head, her long silver hair waving gently from side to side, and she looked away, her eyes dull.
Only Esme and I, and our dragons, knew that Max didn’t still have the key inside his belly. Oh, and Ange’s cheetah Palimali knew as well, but she didn’t know the human language and so had no way of communicating her knowledge to any human. Besides, Ange wasn’t here. She was back in Dragonsbond Academy with her boyfriend, Rine. Despite my dreams of settling down with the two of them after the wars were over, I didn’t know if I’d see them ever again.
I turned towards the opposite window, twisting my nose at the stench of horse and unicorn. To meet it seemed preferable to facing Asinda’s probing stare.
“Still nothing from him,” I said to Salanraja for what must have been the umpteenth time.
But magic includes telepathy, and magic wasn’t allowed in this annulment field. So I didn’t have the bond with my dragon that I usually had.
I turned my ears towards the window, despite the way they stung against the cold, and listened out for the sign of her wings swishing. She was still there, flying overhead, ready to attack anything that dared assail us. I tried summoning my staff bearer once more, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. Eventually I gave myself a headache, and so I returned to a more leisurely activity – in other words, grooming my fur.
I must have got halfway down my shoulder to my chest when I saw a flash of light from the window.
At first I thought it was a massive bluebottle or bee but it didn’t fly
I blinked twice, wondering if I was seeing things. I’d heard students say in the past that if someone was kept from their magic for too long, they might start hallucinating.
“Did any of you see that?” I asked. “Esme? Seramina?”
Seramina again shook her head slowly. She had been quiet all journey long – looking both incredibly tired and not smelling as strongly of the snowdrop perfume she used to put on every day. She had passed her fourteenth birthday a few days ago, but no one had celebrated. It was our first day of travelling within this carriage, and when I had mentioned her birthday, she had told me to shut up.
Those might have been the only two words she’d said since she’d channelled Cana Dei and forced us to all come to the School of the White.
“Esme?” I asked in the human language.
The Abyssinian opened her eyes and yawned. “Dragoncat, you are so jittery nowadays.”
“But I saw it.” I said. “Something landed right there beside me. Except it isn’t there now.”
With a growl, Esme lifted herself up on her haunches. Her legs shook as she stretched. She leaped off her seat and onto mine, and then she sniffed at the leather of the chair.
“Nothing,” she said. “Magic withdrawal symptoms, I guess …”
“But I’ve hardly ever used magic,” I said. “And I didn’t just see it, I felt it land, and I heard it go thwuck against the chair.”
“Then why can’t I see or smell anything there?”
“There has to be something.” I stalked forward, brushing past Esme and sniffing for the stench of rotten vegetable juice. “It looked like some kind of glowing insect.”
“Perhaps a magefly,” Asinda said. “They live near Cimlean City, and apparently they’ve learned to draw off its magic. But they don’t come out during the day.”
Esme looked at Asinda and blinked at her as if she thought she was being stupid. She edged over and curled up beside me. “There, Bengie. Maybe if I sleep close, you’ll relax a little.”
I did relax, purring deeply. The wind seemed to whisper as it came down from the window, trying to cut through me, but the heat coming out of Esme’s body seemed to block it out. I closed my eyes and listened. Something was off.
The seat – it seemed to be vibrating. Behind the sounds of the wind, I could hear another voice developing. It quickly turned into something recognisable, and an unpleasant warmth touched my eyelids. I opened my eyes to see a glow enveloping the space where I thought that the object had landed.
I didn’t like the voice I heard next.
It sent the hackles up on the back of my neck. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Seramina, Asinda, and Esme shoot up in their seats. Max growled and snarled, and there came an even brighter flash of light from the same location.
“You know,” the voice said. “You should really listen to your friend, Dragoncat, sometimes.”
Then, as if by magic, Arran, the Warlock Prince, appeared.