Chapter 1: Prologue
I am finally alone. For the first time in days I am by myself.
I sit, deathly still, and for quite some time, and I watch the sky in all its glorious sunset colors. The beauty fails to inspire awe in my mind, it means nothing to me. I am hardened against it, so much so that I am broken inside.
The air is still, not even the slightest of breezes stirs the thick air around me. There is no one for miles. I take a deep breath. This is hard for me.
I look to the ground, to the place where you lay.
Do you know, my brother, how difficult life has been without you? It may have been hard for you, knowing that you had no choice but to leave me behind, all alone in this desolate world. But for me, for me...
I know not where to begin. At the beginning, perhaps?
No, not at the very beginning, for it is too painful for me to think of. I shall start after, for despite what I have accomplished, I am still nothing more than a silly, emotional queen, and I can not bear to think on the days when I was happy.
Sitting here, beside your grave, I think it is finally time for me to tell you what has become of us. Your tribe, your family, and me, as well. Your dear sister, Tantomile.
Chapter 2: Revolution
It was difficult for me, to be suddenly alone in the world. I can now confess that I was terribly distraught and more than a little lonely, but at the time I was stubborn enough to keep it to myself. And so I did, for many days. I waited, ever so patiently, by your side until the day they buried the body.
Heart-sore and exhausted from my vigil, I fell into a stupor and remained that way for some time - motionless and dead to the world. For me, the trancelike sleep seemed to last mere moments, but those around me insist that I was gone for days. If they speak the truth, then I know not where my spirit fled those days, though I suspect it was someplace dark and lonely. Even after I awoke, I sought out places of solitude and avoided contact with my tribe. It was better, I grew more certain daily, to be lonely than to deal with the pain of new ties broken.
I did not wish to heal. My spirit wanted only to be left alone in its agony, in its grief. I know now that these are deadly dangerous thoughts, but then I had less experience and I let my inner pain overcome me.
The Jellicles, my loyal, if reluctant, tribe, were content to let me be. Always you and I had unnerved them. Now that there was only me, they were more hesitant than ever to approach me. But there was one who claimed she had felt my pain, and she claimed, too, that we two could end the pain before it could claim another victim. Her name was Demeter. You know her, I am certain, for you danced with her a bit at your last Jellicle Ball.
She was different from the others. She did not address me at first, but sometimes she would join me as I sat alone and stared at the sky, full of its precious shining stars. No one else could see them during the day, you know, just us two. Demeter admitted to believing I watched the clouds, but that was later and only once. I did not disillusion her. It would be too difficult to explain.
She never asked for an explanation, not even in the very beginning. From the first day, she would join me, if she had the time, in my silent watch, sitting very still and very quiet, two paces exactly behind my left shoulder. She said nothing, and never dared to touch me, but I always knew when she was near. She had an air of nervousness about her that made her easy to detect, though that lessened when she watched the sky with me and allowed herself to relax a little.
In the end, she left the talking up to me. It came upon me one day to ask, as if out of nowhere, why she felt compelled to join me so often. For a long time she said nothing. Then:
"I understand, a little, what you are going through. And I know that it is better not to be alone when you are suffering."
"I am not suffering." Even I could hear the sour bitterness in my voice.
"You may say what you like. There is nothing I can do to stop you. But know that when you decide to open up again, I am here to listen."
Though she made no sound, I knew she was gone.
I spent much of the next day trying, with little success, to ignore what she had said. I knew, or thought I knew, that talking about it would do no good - the pain would still be there, and you, my brother, would still be gone. Yet there was a part of me, a weak and shameful part of me, that wanted very much to talk about it. There was a part of me that wanted to be the heartbroken queen that everyone loved and thought about.
In response to this rather pitiful inner wish, I attempted to rationalize my silence. I do not wish to be a burden to my tribe. I have caused enough trouble already. There is none who truly cares. There is none who understands. And I clung to that thought as if it were my one chance at survival.
It was easier than you might think to convince myself that this was true. I had only to repeat it in my mind a few times to begin to see how it had been true all the days of my life. Always I had been part of a pair, unlike all the other Jellicles. They could never have understood the bond I had felt my entire life, the bond of having someone always with me, someone who loved me always and unconditionally, someone who understood me even without words.
I wasted months in this bitter spell, never leaving the junkyard, and never speaking to anyone. Save Demeter. She continued to sit with me, despite my angry protests and feeble attempts at losing her. Eventually I stopped protesting and trying to be alone and merely lapsed into a moody silence with her, too. I was lost in my inner darkness, and it felt that no one would ever reach me again.
Until one day, when Demeter finally lost her patience.
That day was the first time she ever began a conversation. Before that, she had always left it up to me, feeling that it would be better to speak on my terms. I know not the exact reason, but I had waited too long, or she had grown too impatient.
"Tantomile." Her voice was calmer than usual, and ever so slightly deeper, too.
I did not respond. I merely stared at the stars, the day-stars that no one else could see.
"Tantomile." She was more insistent this time, going so far as to reach out a paw and bat at my tail in her attempt to get my attention.
I would like to say that I paid her no heed, but I am not nearly as good at ignoring my surroundings as people would like to believe. I have never been in such harmony, and I was less so then than I ever was before or after. "What do you want?" Those were the only words that seemed to come from my mouth those days. It was a cold and heartless thing to say, but those days I felt cold and heartless.
She did not cringe, even though I had expected her to. In fact, she seemed completely changed by whatever purpose it was that had motivated her to approach me again. She had gained some small amount of confidence in herself, which I must admit was shocking. In all the time that I had known her, she had been an extremely skittish young queen, who had avoided conflict at all costs. Now, however...
"Tantomile." She said my name again, even though it was completely unnecessary. "You have to stop acting like this. You're killing yourself."
"I am doing no such thing," I protested sourly.
"Yes, you are. You, of all Jellicles should know this. I thought you were a -"
I interrupted her angrily. "A what? A mystic? I am nothing without Coricopat."
She continued, undeterred. "A Witch's Cat, Tantomile. You should know about the balance that is required for life. There are certain things that are done, and certain things that are not done. One of those things that is not done is bringing harm upon a living being, Tantomile. You are breaking down that balance and destroying it, in the way you separate yourself from everyone. You don't eat, you hardly sleep, Tantomile, it's unhealthy. And you are breaking that rule - you are bringing harm upon a living being: yourself."
Loathe though I was to admit it, she had a point. My selfish and foolishly prolonged period of mourning was wreaking havoc on my body. I had lost weight to the point where I looked like mere skin and bones, and I was constantly weak and lightheaded. Still, "It doesn't matter."
"Why?" She sounded so sad, so confused. "Why do you say that, Tantomile?"
"Because. No one cares about me. And besides, when I die, I will join my brother in Heaviside."
"This is a very selfish thing to do," she told me. She was not speaking in anger or outrage, or even love. She was speaking the truth. "Despite what you believe, we Jellicles care about you, and we have need of your skills."
I grew angry again. "I have no skills. I have told you many times, Demeter. I am nothing without my brother. What little talent we had was shared, was amplified by the presence of the other. Without my brother to hone what power I do have, I have very little indeed."
She was quiet then, and I realized just how loudly I had been yelling. Shame quickly replaced anger, and I apologized for my outburst.
It only took her a few moments to recover her enthusiasm. "That, I think, is your problem. I've been talking with Mistoffelees," she admitted, glancing furtively around her, as if she were afraid someone would overhear. "About magic, and mysticism. It's very interesting. But, anyway, he says that your problem may well be that you truly believe your brother to be the source of your powers, when in fact they are your own." She was speaking very eagerly now that she had assured herself that we were alone.
I wondered vaguely why she was so interested in magic all of a sudden. "You have no right to speak to me of this," I told her. "Be on your way, Demeter. I wish to be alone." I stood and walked away from her.
"Please, wait. I have one thing to ask before you go."
"Ask, but do not be foolish enough to believe that I will answer you."
"Help me destroy Macavity." She said it so calmly that I stopped walking and turned to stare at her in shock. She came closer. "I have come up with a way to do it, but I cannot do it alone. I need your help."
"I will do no such thing. You are foolish to believe it is possible," I told her, and I stalked away. My mind was going a million miles a minute, or so it felt to me. I did not know what to make of her request. It sounded suicidal, to take on Macavity, but if she really had come up with a way to make it work... I was tempted, I must admit. But I was also uncertain. Nothing involving Macavity was ever certain, and I knew this would be no exception.
I knew what I had to do. I had something of a premonition the moment Demeter mentioned destroying Macavity, and I knew her bid would fail. If I joined her, I would find only death. So I went to Old Deuteronomy. I needed permission to leave the tribe for a while. And I needed to warn him about Demeter, so that she could be saved, if possible.
I have always liked Old Deuteronomy. He was the closest thing to a father I ever had, and I appreciated it.
"Old Deuteronomy?" I sought him out at his favorite haunt, the Vicarage Wall. He was there, as usual, sunning himself and having a good time with his afternoon nap. I did not wish to startle him by appearing suddenly next to him, so I called his name softly from a distance to see if I could wake him.
He sat up and looked for me with a smile. I think that he had missed me during my months of solitude. I climbed the wall and sat next to him, purring softly. His presence was always so calming.
"What is it, my child? I have not seen you in a very long time. I had begun to worry." There were indeed undertones of worry in his deep, soothing voice. Still, I knew he need not worry about the likes of me. Demeter was going to be in a lot of danger very soon, and the tribe had to be alerted.
"I have seen something," I began. "Demeter came to speak to me today, and I saw something. Something dark and dangerous." I paused, unsure of what to say. "She has devised a plan to destroy Macavity. She sought my help today, but all I could foresee of the venture was disaster. I would not agree to help her, but I feel that she is in terrible danger. Please watch out for her."
Old Deuteronomy frowned. "What is this plan?"
"I know not, but she claimed to have spoken to Mistoffelees about it. Maybe he knows something. I would not let her explain. I would rather not know."
"That may have been the best choice, my child."
"But the things she said made me think. I've been very selfish lately. I would like to ask for your permission, sir, to leave the tribe for a little bit. I feel that I have lost my connection with..." I trailed off, uncertain of how to explain myself.
"That is fine, my child. But, you must return before the Jellicle Ball." That would give me more than three human months; it would be plenty of time, I thought.
"I will be back by then, I promise."
He nodded. "Then do what you must, my child. I will send someone to keep an eye on Demeter."
I fled the junkyard then, and returned to the human witch that had raised me. I remembered her as a vaguely reddish human with a very calm aura, and, indeed, not much had changed in the years I had been away. She still remembered me, and took me into her arms with what was almost a squeal of delight. She only noticed later that I was missing my twin brother.
She accepted me back into her life very quickly. Within the first few days, she had taken me to the vet and had me given several shots and tests to verify that I was in good health. I found that I did not mind. She even spoke to me in the human tongue, and invited me to become part of her daily rituals again.
And so I did, for this was the reason I had returned. My human was a rather skilled witch, and knew things about the balance of life and death, things that she could tell me through her rituals and spells. We had both learned some when we were younger, but there was much more that I was willing to learn, now that I was less concerned with seeing the world outside.
Every morning and every evening, she completed a ritual dedicated to her deities, and she allowed me to join her. Though I did not speak the human tongue, I understood the meaning through the power that she conjured. True power knows no language, and at the same time, it is understood in all languages. In this way, I became her familiar, as we two had once been long ago.
Much that I had thought forgotten had simply been hidden away in my head. The knowledge of magic came back to me over the next few days. It thrilled me, and, in some way, it made me feel whole again. This part of me that I had assumed lost with you was indeed still a part of me, just as Mistoffelees had said.
Months passed like days as I recaptured the knowledge of the ancient ones, and before I knew it, the Jellicle Ball was nigh. I think my human knew that I had to leave again, for she seemed saddened that day. I sat on her shoulder and purred into her ear, and she opened the door for me and let me go. If she had been anyone else, I might have been confused and alarmed by such willingness, but I knew that she understood me, and that she would be waiting for me to come back. I promised myself, as I headed to the junkyard, that I was done with tribes and that I would return to my human once and for all after the Jellicle Ball.
I had not counted on Demeter. I came to a junkyard that was darkened and filled with misery. Demeter and Mistoffelees had vanished mere days before my arrival, and there were no clues as to where they had gone.
Munkustrap, ordered by Old Deuteronomy to keep watch over the two, was beside himself with grief and worry. I said a prayer for his well-being and made my way to the Vicarage Wall in search of Old Deuteronomy. It was three days yet until the Jellicle Ball, and I was determined to find Demeter and Mistoffelees before then. But I had a sinking suspicion that they were with Macavity.
I got as far as, "Old -" before he saw me and approached me of his own accord.
"Ah, Tantomile, my beloved child, I was beginning to fear you would not keep your word," he smiled and wrapped me in his warm, fuzzy embrace. I hugged him back. "I followed your advice too late," he informed me after he let me go. "Demeter would not be stopped, and managed to convince Munkustrap to let her go. She disappeared nearly a week ago, and took Mistoffelees with her. I should have been more careful."
"It is not your fault," I told him. "I doubt there is anything anyone could have done to stop her, she was quite determined. I think that maybe I was wrong about her. Macavity hurt her just as much as he hurt me."
"You may be right, my child."
"I am going to look for her." I sounded weak and scared, but, in a way, I was. I was not at all certain that I had the ability to outsmart Macavity and save my two tribes-mates. But I would be damned if I would not try.
"If you have made up your mind to do this, then I will not try to stop you, Tantomile. But know that if you need any help, you need but to ask and it will be granted." I smiled.
"I will do this on my terms," I said, with more confidence. "But I thank you for the offer."
I made my way to the dockside that night, though in truth I had no idea where to look for Macavity's lair. Yet somehow it seemed to me that it would be near water. I wound up lost down by the river, and fell asleep in a dark and scary alley sometime near morning. I did not forget to cast a circle of protection around myself before I slept, and I woke midmorning unmolested.
Some time before noon I managed to locate a likely tom and coerce him into telling me where I could find Macavity. Not wishing to pry, I made no mention of Demeter or Mistoffelees, or my purpose at the docks. But he told me what I needed to know, and we went our separate ways.
I expected the path to Macavity's lair to be darker and more frightening, but it was just another alley in the city. The tomcat's directions were easy to follow, and led me straight to my destination. I crept down a rickety flight of stairs and slipped warily into the lair. I was looking for my fellow Jellicles, not a confrontation with the Mystery Cat. Unfortunately, I only succeeded in locating Macavity's throne room. Where the prisoners were being held, I knew not, so I decided to try to approach Macavity.
It was a futile wish, but I did not want a fight. Not just because I abhorred violence, but also because I knew that it would most likely result in my death. And for some reason, I no longer wished to die young.
I entered the throne room via what must have been the grand entrance. I could see Macavity clearly, seated upon his massive throne. The stray cats he made into his minions must not have seen the throne for what it was - a pilfered piece of human furniture - for they acted very much as if it were a real throne. I knew what it was. And in knowing, I wondered what it was that made so many cats fear this tom.
But when he rose, so did the fur on my back and neck. Something was very, for lack of a better word, wrong here. I stepped back quickly, wondering if I was foolish for daring to come here so boldly.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?" Macavity murmured, his voice deep and mysteriously intimidating. "It looks to me like another idiot Jellicle has come to challenge me. Well, foolish one, you'll fail just like the others."
I smiled. "I would fail, you are correct, if I had come here to fight you. But I did not, and so I cannot fail at it, now can I?"
Macavity chuckled. "Such a sense of humor. A queen like you should have come to me years ago. If you were a bit younger, I might be interested in what you have to offer..."
The smile faded from my face. "I am not here to offer sexual favors, Macavity. You wreak havoc upon my tribe, and you are keeping two of its members prisoner here. I am here to free them. Nothing more, nothing less. But know that I do not intend to fight with you."
"Why this vengeance, pretty lady? What've I ever done to you?" He slithered from the throne and came to stand uncomfortably close in front of me. I could smell the stench of his breath, see the not-quite-sane gleam in those odd eyes.
I turned to walk away, but he followed me. Angry, I turned back at him. "You killed my brother, that's why. You slew him like it was nothing, and then you went on your way. Nothing you can say or do will change my mind about you. And I would like my tribes-mates back, thank you very much. So please, hand them over while I still have patience."
Again he laughed at me. "For one who does not want a fight, you certainly are feisty." As he raised his paw to caress my flank, I slid out of the way.
"Show me where you are keeping them," I growled. He did not see what I was doing, but I do not doubt that he felt it. I was weaving circles in the air, circles of power like my human used to protect herself when she cast spells. Only my circles were not all amiable in nature. The one I wove around Macavity's feet would put him in pain for some time if he attempted to come at me with less than friendly intentions. The one I wove around my own feet was designed to help me in two ways - to protect me, and to help me locate Demeter and Mistoffelees.
The way I made the circles, they would follow the person they were woven around until I unwove them myself. Which meant that Macavity would likely wear his until the day he died. And he would know it, too. And suffer with the knowledge that his best efforts could not remove it. Nothing could remove the circle, as I have said, except my own wish, which he would never get.
He did not move, but he did look down at his feet in shock when he sensed what I was doing. By then it was too late, and he knew it. The circle was not visible, but one with keen enough magic could sense it. I smiled.
"Show me where they are, or I shall find them myself."
Macavity made no move, so I went without him. I had gone less than ten paces when he sent his minions after me. "Take her down, boys," he ordered calmly. A few of them sniggered, and they tried to surround me. I paid them no heed, choosing instead to watch Macavity as he climbed back to his throne. I smiled up at him.
"You will wish you had not done that," I warned.
He smiled back at me. "I think not. You are not that strong."
"Think what you like." I know not where my confidence had come from, though I like to think that you had something to do with it, my brother. There was no sign of the inner nervousness I was feeling as I said these things to the Napoleon of Crime.
The minions came at me, quickly and from behind. Macavity knew there was no way I could get away from them, but I knew that I did not have to. The moment any of the tomcats touched the protective circle woven around me, they were paralyzed completely. I had not known for certain I could pull off such a bizarre and dangerous spell, but it seemed that I had.
I had not expected the pain that suddenly knifed its way into my head.
"You see, my dear, there are consequences for using magic to harm. That is one of them. And once you lose consciousness, there is nothing you can do for yourself or your friends," Macavity told me gleefully. To this day I am surprised that I heard him before I blacked out.
I do not know what I did, but I ended up in a dark hallway somewhere beneath Macavity's basement lair. There were crude wooden doors lining the hallway, and I knew that I had found the dungeon. I think now, that Macavity took pity on me and dumped me there after I passed out, but I can not be sure. I walked along the hall, barely able to see for there was hardly any light at all.
Eventually I worked up enough courage to call their names. "Demeter! Mistoffelees!" I shouted over and over, and grew certain I would never find them. Just as I was beginning to think I ought to turn around and search for a way back into the light, I heard an answering call:
Like the others, the cell was disgustingly tiny and grimy, not to mention dark. The door was spelled, and would not budge despite my best efforts. Finally, I sat down and concentrated deeply. In my mind's eye, I became tiny enough to enter the lock, and I rolled the bits and pieces inside until they clicked and the spell faded. The door swung open.
They were filthy, and almost unrecognizable, but I knew them. There was no mistaking the sparkles that followed Mistoffelees where ever he went of late, and the distinctive nervousness that surrounded Demeter was there, too. I was thrilled beyond belief at having actually succeeded in finding them.
"Come on, we must flee," I told them urgently, trying to rouse them from the cell.
Demeter gave me a baleful glare. "There is no way out, Tantomile. There is no escape, even if you managed to get this far. Misto has tried..."
I did not know what to say, but what came out was, "But Mistoffelees does not know the things I know. After all, I am a Witch's Cat. Follow me, please. At least give me a chance."
Mistoffelees, who in my experience has always been a brave kitten, shook himself to his feet. "I'll follow you, Tantomile. I trust you." That right there was an enormous boost to my confidence, as Mistoffelees was reckoned the best conjuring cat the tribe had ever known. To have his trust was something important. When she heard his agreement, Demeter reluctantly took her place beside him and tiredly agreed to join us.
What I knew, and what Mistoffelees had been unable to see, was that the exit was hidden in plain sight. Directly at the end of the hallway, there was a door hidden in the rock, a door that led, I knew, to a staircase that went up. And up was where we had to go. Strangely, most cats just couldn't see the door, even though it was right there.
I headed straight for it, and, to all appearances, I walked straight through a stone wall. Mistoffelees cautiously followed me, and dragged Demeter physically after him. The three of us stared in awe at the stairwell. The walls were intricately decorated with bloody images and frightening messages. The staircase itself was a rickety metal spiral affair, that looked like it might just be able to carry our weight. If we were careful, that is.
Despite this fear, up we went. We emerged into the back of the throne room, just behind that enormous ugly chair Macavity called his throne. My fur prickled again, and I quickly wove a protective circle around the three of us. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Demeter strike a defensive stance like Munkustrap had taught her. Something behind me and to the right sparkled, and I knew it was Mistoffelees. The two of them were prepared for a fight. I was not. I had nearly completed my mission, I did not wish to fight now.
"Stop," I whispered. "We are leaving, and there will not be a fight."
"Are you crazy?" Demeter demanded. "There is no other way! No one has ever gotten out of here unharmed..."
"Only because they believe they must fight," I countered. "We will walk out of here unharmed, I swear. Just follow me, and say nothing."
We walked carefully along the edge of the throne room. Macavity was perched atop his chair, looking nonchalant and frightening at the same time. He grinned at me, when he saw me looking. I forced myself to remain expressionless. Demeter could not do the same.
She growled in fury and threw herself at Macavity. Several of his minions appeared out of nowhere and took her down. I screamed her name over and over, but it did no good. She was doomed. In my rage, I activated the spell I had woven on Macavity, the spell that could very well kill him.
He stood up as I approached him, and as he did, the air around his ankles began to shimmer. The shimmer rose from his ankles to his knees, and grew in strength and size as it stretched up to the top of his head. Before I could take another step, the simmer became a periodic flash of light, and then it exploded. It was not an explosion in the human sense of the word, it was merely a very brilliant flash of light. When it faded, he was gone. There was no sense of him left in the place, it was as if he had never existed at all.
His minions stopped what they were doing and stared at the spot where their master had been. I could feel Mistoffelees' shocked stare at my back, but I only had eyes for what was left of Demeter. She was a bloody mess and I knew there was no way she had survived.
"Mistoffelees," I whispered, trying to stay awake through the pain in my head that had come from killing another being with magic, "Please, take me away from here." And with that, I lost consciousness.
Chapter 3: Epilogue
I came here at the end, knowing in my heart that there was nothing left to do. I had succeeded in what I had set out to do, though nothing had gone as originally planned. I was much changed, but so was the world around me.
Demeter, my one friend, was gone. Then again, so was the master criminal that had driven her past the point of insanity. The Napoleon of Crime would never threaten our tribe again. In the future, thanks to our efforts, there would be peace. It pleases me, in some small way, to know that it is my doing.
I sit, and watch the others in the distance. There was, of course, a price to pay for what I did. There is nothing in this world that we do that does not have a price attached to it. It is too bad, really, that Mistoffelees does not fully understand the nature of his magic, else he might have done what I did and at less cost. But the one who knew what to do was me, and not our conjurer. I was willing to pay the price.
Overnight, I changed. I grew old. Old, and bitter.
Soon, I am told, I will ascend to the Heaviside Layer. If I last that long. Who knows? I may soon join you in the underworld, my brother.
My thoughts have turned dark, and so I look away from the shadows over your grave for a moment, and see the others again. They were once my people, if nothing else.
I am no longer one of them, I am changed too much.
There is nothing left for me here, I know. And so I have returned to you, for one last visit. You are all that I ever really had, you are the only one that ever understood. I wish that life had not been so cruel as to take you from me so young. I have missed you...