Chronologically speaking, this story takes place a few days after Omen and his group return from Ven'taria, and a week or so before Shalonie sets off for the Blue Wilds in search of her silverbells. But if you've read LILYTH'S DANCE you may recognize the 'adventure' mentioned in this story. This is of course the actual adventure Oblique talks about at Lily's tea party.
As to when this story was actually written -- well, there's a bit of a story behind that.
Years ago when Camilla and I were playing Dungeons and Dragons with all these characters back in high school and college, I started writing some of our adventures down. From time to time I'd write a story and share it with Camilla. After she moved away to L.A. our stories became our substitute for DnD. Technology wasn't advanced enough to have video chat, so gaming long distances wasn't really possible.
So we both wrote stories. Sometimes they were about actual games we had played; sometimes they were new stories. This was one of the new stories.
Back then the story was a bit different -- it was filled with references that would only makes sense to Camilla and me. But if you removed all of those things, it stood by itself as a story -- which is why I one day read it to my very young nieces when they were staying at their grandparents' home (my parents). I went over to read them a bedtime story. I thought they might enjoy the adventures of a tiny talking cat.
I read the story -- editing out all the references to places and people that would not mean anything to anyone besides myself and Camilla. And it was a great success.
But I accidentally left the printed story at my parents' home. My dad found it and read it. Next time I saw him, he asked me about it. "What happens next to that weird little cat?"
This was the first time anyone not associated with our DnD games had read any of our stories. I was a bit shocked -- but I asked my dad what he thought of it.
He'd loved it. Thought it was a great tale. And no, he didn't get all the references in the story, but apparently that was all irrelevant. The story stood by itself without them.
That was the first time Camilla and I even thought that maybe one day we could write these stories and share them with the world. It took us many years to get here -- but eventually we did. And this, oddly enough, was the story that started it all.
The complete story is below.
Oblique wiggled her hindquarters as she eyed the distant countertop where her person Kylee was busy mixing delicious-smelling ingredients. The tiny cat's nose twitched, her whiskers flared, and — taking a deep breath — she leaped, reaching out her delicate black paws for the counter's edge. Oblique dug her needle-sharp kitten claws into the wood and kicked her back legs, scrambling for purchase. Exerting a mighty effort, she pulled herself up, hopped toward Kylee's elbow, sat down, and arranged her tail snugly around her paws.
Ears perked, the little black cat watched as Kylee cracked an egg into a bowl of flour and began mixing it with a wooden whisk. The scent of melted butter wafted from the bowl. Heat from the great stone oven warmed the entire kitchen; bright globes filled with sun stones illuminated the room in a golden glow.
As the delectable aroma filled the air, curiosity filled Oblique. "What is you doing?"
Kylee, continuing to whisk, tilted the bowl so that Oblique could get a full view of the concoction. "Making a cake."
Cake! Oblique purred deeply. Cake meant something special — cake was for occasions in which something momentous was happening. Cake was exciting. Oblique's stomach rumbled.
"Mmmmmm, I is liking cake!" the kitten announced as if it were a foregone conclusion that she would be partaking of this particular cake. "Is there being frostings?"
Kylee, who'd acquired a new cookbook for Winter Solstice and had been dutifully working on coming up with a spectacular dessert for the Deldano Spring Fest Fancy next month, gave the kitten a nod. "Probably, but I'm all out of powdered sugar. I'll have to go to the market first to get some."
"I is going to the markets!" Oblique offered. "I is knowing the sugar peoples, and I is getting the powdereded sugar for the frostings that is being on the cake, on account of the fact that I is really liking cake — especialliestest if it is having frostings."
Pleased with the plan of action, Oblique turned to jump back to the floor, intent on heading out that very moment.
"Wait!" Kylee called before the cat could move. "How are you going to get the sugar home?"
Oblique flared her whiskers as shopping logistics ran through her mind. "In a basket." She was quite proud of her ability to reason such complex matters.
Kylee blew a strand of her dark hair off her forehead, whisk in one hand, bowl in the other, blue apron covered with flour. "How do you intend to get the basket home?"
Oblique had noticed that people were very frequently caught up in the minor details of things — as a kitten, she rarely worried about the bits and bobs. She was brave and fierce and followed her feline instincts as a proper cat should. But for the sake of the people she lived with, she tried her best to at least appear thoughtful when it came to minutiae.
She fluffed her tail. "Baskets is having handles," she explained carefully to Kylee. "I is thinking that the handle is being for carrying the basket." She supposed it was entirely possible that there were baskets without handles, but she did not intend to put her sugar into such a defective carrier.
Kylee laughed. "No, I meant, how are you going to get home with the basket?"
"Oh!" Oblique nodded in understanding. She'd also come to the realization that people often seemed to fear she'd get lost, or misplaced, or would wander off somewhere inaccessible to home. As a kitten, that was of course entirely unlikely — competence was practically her middle name. "I is seeing. Of coursenessness, I is getting home in the basket. Baskets is being good for carrying kittens and sugar."
Kylee's lips twitched. "I want to know who will be carrying the basket."
Oblique cocked her head and twitched her ears. "Not me," she assured Kylee quickly. "I is thinking it would be hard for me to carry a basket that I is being inside of. I is very smartinessness, and I is not carrying a giant basket. I is maybe carrying a tiny basket if I is findings one, but if it is being a tiny basket it is not fittingnessness the sugar inside it, so I is using a giant basket for the sugar for the frostings for the cake that you is makings for me." All in all, the details were difficult to keep track of, but she was fairly certain she'd done a masterful job of explaining the situation.
Kylee glanced at the cake mix in the bowl. "Right . . . the cake I'm making for you . . . do you have someone specific in mind to carry the basket for you?"
"Oh, yes," Oblique purred. "There is being all sorts of good basket carriers one can find in the market . . . markets is being very helpfulnessness! Shopping time!"
With that declaration, she hopped down from the counter and raced toward the door, paws briefly skidding on the polished floor.
"Be careful!" Kylee called after her.
"Carefulnessness is being my middle name — practically!" Oblique responded.
The front door opened as if by magic as she neared it, and Kylee's husband Jaez entered, bundled in a heavy coat and long scarf.
Oblique raced past him, eager to get to the market.
"Going somewhere?" the Kharakhian called after her.
"Yes!" she assured him and raced on.
"It's cold!" the man called.
Which was true — being winter and all. Thick snow covered the ground. "I is having fur!" she called back, not wanting Jaez to worry. As she leaped from the front step to the top of the snowpack and raced off, her little paws hardly made a mark in the hard, ice-crusted snow.
Despite the cold, it was a beautiful day in Melia — the sky a clear blue and the sun shining brightly. In a few short weeks, spring would arrive, and all that white snow would begin to melt. Mud! Oblique thought in anticipation, wondering what sort of games she could play when mud became easily available. She found it always paid to be forward-thinking in one's plans for fun.
Oblique decided to take the scenic route to the market. This required very diligently not finding a Melian Postal Service boy or girl to carry her to her destination . . . a difficult feat to say the least as many of the enterprising children lingered around her home just waiting for the opportunity to aid her. And a little black cat stood out shockingly clear against the white snow — despite her greatest efforts to sneak. But she managed to avoid them well enough, mostly by saying, "I is fine — no thank you, just out for a strollings, getting my exercisings, daily constitutional, you is having a nicenessness day!"
The industrious young people stared longingly after her but did not bother to pursue the small feline — being polite Melians.
Oblique's delicate black paws grew colder the longer she raced across the snow, so she took a shortcut through a side yard, leaped over a fallen log nearly buried in the ice, and headed into the park. It occurred to her that the detour would lead across her favorite bridge, and she would be able to stare into the water at the brightly colored fish. This time of year, the fish would be unreachable beneath a layer of ice, but she rather liked looking at the little fishies . . . which was why Lady Nekarra had put them there, of course. Lady Nekarra understood about pretty little fishies swimming in the pond. Sometimes the best thing in the world was simply to watch the wiggling fishies and occasionally bat one's paw at the surface of the water. Especially if there was lots of sunlight nearby.
Oblique happily hopped through tall bunches of red firebells in full bloom despite the hard bank of snow surrounding them. Their brilliant flame-colored petals caught the kitten's eye, and she stopped to admire them, brushing against one brilliant stalk to receive a dusting of pollen on her shiny black coat. She batted at the leaves on the plant — flowers with floppy leaves were almost as fun as little fishies.
A tiny, six-legged, green and orange glintstealer rushed past her, a fancy blue ribbon in his front claws. Oblique briefly gave chase — she liked chasing lizards, but there were none to be found in the cold weather. Glintstealers, on the other hand, slowed down for nothing — neither cold, nor heat, nor rain, nor snow. Of course, it didn't do to actually catch a glintstealer — not when they were nearly as large as she was, so Oblique contrived to trip over a rock just before she managed to touch the ribbon thief's tail.
A few more hops in the snow, she told herself, and then she ought to see about heading to the market. Mostly on account of the fact that she was growing anxious to try a piece of the special cake Kylee was making just for her because she was such a good little kitty and had done something extraordinary recently. She wasn't precisely certain what it was they were celebrating with the cake — what extraordinary thing she had done that had earned such merit — but she was sure it had to be something really good. Cakes were like that after all.
But as she took her last hop, something odd happened. The snow shifted beneath her paws and gave way. For one brief moment she floated, suspended in air, and then abruptly she started to fall. She tried to grab onto something with her claws, scratching at the crumbling dirt and ice in terror. But nothing stayed put, and she fell into darkness.
Being a cat, she managed to land on her feet but sank into the large pile of dirt and snow that had fallen with her. Oblique stayed immobile for a long moment, too petrified to move, her tail fluffed three times its normal size.
"Oh dear," she whispered at last. "Burglar! Burglar! Burglar!" While there was no burglar precisely, the hole she'd fallen through had managed to steal her away from the world, and she felt the cry was appropriately accurate.
Her words echoed back, but no one answered. "Meow," she whispered softly, but only silence returned.
She peered anxiously upward at the hole she'd fallen through. Vaguely, from a long way off, she could see a faint gleam of sunlight far above. But the opening was quite out of her reach. Her eyes began adjusting to the darkness, and she gazed warily around.
A long dark hallway stretched ahead and behind . . . definitely a people-sized hallway and not a kitten-sized hallway . . . not unless she were Tormy, which of course she was not.
The hallway appeared to be made of stone — though she was quite certain that when one had fallen through a hole that wasn't supposed to be there in the first place into a hallway that most definitely wasn't supposed to be there, then more than likely things could not be at all as they appeared. She'd heard that on an adventure — which this seemed to be developing into — one shouldn't take anything for granted.
Oblique wished suddenly that she had a journal with her, for she most definitely would have written down, "I is not taking nothings for granteded!" Perhaps she'd even add in a few more "eds" for emphasis.
But as she did not have a journal and didn't know how to write, she was left standing alone on a pile of dirt and melting snow. Dark shadows swirled around her.
"Helloooo!!" she called in her loudest voice. The noise echoed off the stone walls. Even her cat ears could not hear the sounds from the park above; it was doubtful that anyone could hear her cry. Certainly no one came to rescue her.
She swished her tail. "I is in a predicament. And no cake!" She'd have to rely on herself to find her way home.
Tentatively she took a step forward, deciding to go in whatever direction her paws happened to take her. Thick dust coated the floor, and she sneezed as a big puff of it hit her in the face. The sneeze blew more dust into the air, and in a moment she was covered in the stuff. Her black coat turned quite grey.
If she were Tyrin, which she wasn't, she would have flung out a naughty word to express her vexation. But being Oblique, she settled on, "Oh, bother!" Further thought of adventures and the stories she'd heard about great hero adventuring cats reassured her. "That is supposednessness to happen, on account of the fact that adventures always is gettings one dirty."
Feeling reassured, she continued on, convinced that she'd discovered something most extraordinary. Certainly, judging by the dust, no one had been through these corridors in a very long time.
Bright script decorated the stone walls, catching her eye as she walked. Important information! The swirly letters possessed a boldness that impressed her — and as she knew the rules about writing on walls, she guessed it had to be vital information for that rule to have been so brazenly broken.
She studied the writing carefully. While she couldn't quite read it, or much of anything, she felt well-informed.
As she moved farther, she saw not only letters but beautiful drawings of dragons and people in an amazing city. Whole scores of music filled some walls. She was so fascinated by the pictures, which seemed to tell a fabulous story, that she made poor time. She was reminded of the dragon mural Kyr had drawn in the plaza last autumn. She wished she had more light to see by. These pictures were better than a storybook.
Eventually the hallway branched off in three different directions, and she stood in the juncture uncertain which way to go. Follow the story! That thought felt inspired, and she chose the direction that looked to have the most interesting artwork. She fancied it told a story about heroic dragons and magical artifacts from days gone by.
A high-pitched squeaking filled the air, and Oblique froze, her heart beating swiftly as her claws dug into the ground. Her ears swiveled, and her whiskers twitched. Through the gloom, she saw an enormous brown rat skittering toward her.
The rat spied her and chittered. Its baleful red eyes narrowed, and a long, slow hiss emerged from its mouth, revealing sharp teeth. Nearly three times her size, the monster thwacked its hairless tail against the ground and advanced on her.
"Burglar, burglar, burglar!" Oblique cried out in fear.
The words caused the rat to pause, but only for a moment before it continued to advance menacingly. Oblique contemplated running away but had a momentary flash of trying to explain to everyone why she — a cat — had run from a rat. And then an idea struck her.
Gathering herself in a tight little bundle, she leaped high in the air toward the rat, all four paws extended. "Hurraaaaaaaaaaaah!" she shouted as she plopped down into the dust right in front of the rat. Her landing caused an explosion of dust to fly in all directions and spread out in a circular pattern, obscuring sight. And in the middle of the cloud, Oblique reached out with her front paws, claws extended, and scratched at the dust-sprinkled face of the rodent for all she was worth. The rat backpedaled, squealed, and sped away as fast as it had attacked.
Standing amid the settling dust, Oblique trembled from the battle, her sides heaving, her blood pumping hard. Tail puffed, ears flattened, claws digging into the stone floor, she watched the rat make its escape into the darkness.
"Woohoo!" she shouted. "Woohoo! I is the champion!" She spun around several times and flicked her tail high in the air. "I is showings who is the great hero adventuring cat! Woohoo! Bravenessness is being my middle name — practically!"
She wished someone had witnessed her victory.
But — she pondered — as was often the case, when one does one's most brave acts, there was typically no one around to witness it. She'd just have to make sure that she recounted the story in all its glory, many times to as many people as would listen. Even to those who didn't want to listen. She was sure that it would be such a grand story that everyone would surely want to listen. After all, everyone liked hearing stories of great heroics.
Coming down from the excitement, Oblique determined to forge ahead. She walked bravely through the gloom, tail high in the air as she gazed curiously up at the pictures on the wall. The passage went on for a great length, until at last she found the crumbled old ruins of a stairwell. Obviously very ancient, the stairs had fallen into disrepair, and Oblique had to cautiously creep up broken stone by broken stone to slowly make her way to the top.
"Up is meaning the outside and cake," she told herself as she climbed. "I is wondering where this is goings."
Perhaps, she thought, the stairs might lead to a mighty treasure. That would almost make up for missing the cake, especially if it were a golden treasure — in which case she could probably buy herself a cake. She wondered suddenly how Kylee was making out without the powdered sugar. She was probably very concerned now that the whole basket incident had proven a bit more difficult than it had seemed in the beginning. But Oblique was certain that the tale of her grand discovery and great adventure would make up for the delay in powdered sugar . . . even if it did involve frosting.
Eventually, Oblique reached the top of the stairs where she found another short corridor. This one dead-ended, however, and she found herself standing before an ancient stone door. A very heavy ancient stone door. Shut.
"Oh, bother," she grumbled as she sat and folded her dusty tail around her equally dusty paws. "What is I doing now?" She didn't particularly want to turn around and go back; there were bound to be more rats. And she wasn't entirely certain that she was brave enough to fight another rat. She was already very tired.
And very dirty.
"Adventures is oughting to end," she said, "when one is being so dirty that it is hardnessness to 'member, 'member being clean." It seemed a good rule, but unfortunately, once again, there was no one around to tell.
She studied the door. Beautiful drawings covered the stone. A great dragon with glittering golden wings and gem-encrusted scales stood beside a man with golden hair. The man was dressed in dragonscale armor, and upon his hand he wore a ring that flared brightly in the sunlight. She suspected it was one of the legendary dragon rings she'd heard stories about at The Harps. She wondered if perhaps this door led to a treasure. Or maybe beyond this door lay one of the fabled Harps of the Dragons. That would be an amazing discovery indeed.
She paused for a moment to consider if cats played harps. Certainly there were musical cats in the Cat Lands. She tilted her head and imagined herself sitting in front of a harp playing grand music. She'd never actually had aspirations toward becoming a musician, but on adventures odd things did fill one's mind. This was no exception.
Reaching out with her paws, Oblique patted at the door a couple of times, sniffing and snuffling about, searching for anything that might help her figure out how to get through the door. Some of the mortar on the side near the wall crumbled away as she touched it. With a trilling purr, she began scratching away at it, digging and digging. The mortar was soft and crumbled easily, and eventually she managed to pry open a small crack between the wall and the door. Sucking in her breath, she shoved her nose through the crack and pushed her body as hard as she could. The squeeze was very tight, but she managed to pop out the other side.
She found herself in a dark room filled with wine barrels. Well-kept and clear of dust and grime, it was obviously frequently used.
Thinking that she might in fact have rescued herself, she raced across the room toward a partially open wooden door that swung wide with one push of her paws. Beyond was a stairway leading upward. The stairs were neatly set with a bright blue runner made of soft material begging to be scratched. "Later," Oblique told herself.
She raced up the stairs, emerging in a well-lit hallway, one obviously inside a Hold, judging by the architecture and the sheer size of the structure. "Oh, joy!" she shouted. "I is savings myself!" Holds meant people and food and dinner and warmth and basket trips back home to her Kylee.
"Helloooo! Helloooo, peoples!" she called as she raced down the hallway, which was decidedly empty. She felt a bit disappointed at not having someone right there to listen to her retelling of her grand adventure.
The sound of shuffling paper came from a side room, and she raced down the carpet toward an opening. Rushing inside, she paused in the center of an expansive embroidered rug set in front of a massive desk cluttered with important-looking papers and books. A crackling fire burned in a fireplace, warming her chilled bones, and she could smell apple tarts and spiced tea.
"Helloooo! Here I is!" she shouted.
Behind the massive desk, dressed in a deep blue doublet and dark overcoat with a fur-lined collar and cuffs, sat Hold Lord Sive. He leaned forward to peer across the desk, his long, stern face fixed in a frown, his brow furrowed. While Oblique had never spoken to Hold Lord Sive before, she was familiar with the names of all the Melian nobles.
Sive narrowed his eyes. "A grey talking cat — Smoke, Mist — Fog perhaps — I think that was the name. Must make a note to curtail the influx of magical creatures." While he seemed to be speaking more to himself than to her, Oblique responded as if he'd addressed her properly.
"I is not grey!" she insisted. "I is black. I is a nice, shiny, pretty black if you is pleasings . . . like the night sky, or shadows, or other black things." She gave herself a quick glance to be certain her fur was still black, only to see the dust covering her from paw to tail. "Oh! I is dirtinessness. That's on account of the fact that I is on an adventure."
"Black?" Sive mulled the word over. "Then you are — Oblivion . . . Obliged . . . Obligation . . . Obliquy? I'm certain those Machellis are responsible for the abominable naming conventions springing up all over the land — must bring it up at the next Hold Lord meeting."
"Oblique!" she corrected him immediately. "My name is not being conjugatedness with a 'y'. And I is not being losteded. I is right here — just in case you is worriedness." With that, she leaped onto Sive's crowded desk and shook herself violently. He coughed as puffs of dust flew from her fur.
"Appalling," he gasped, and Oblique had to agree.
"Dust is being appalling when you is all done with it being funnessness." She fluffed her fur and shivered, trying to get her coat to settle back down into some semblance of order. "I is dusty on account of the adventure — and it is not being my fault that your secret underground picture hallway that sucks in poor little helpless kittens who is just tryings to buy powdered sugar for her frostings is really dusty."
Sive stared at her with a perplexed expression — one indicative of a man long suffering — or perhaps someone who didn't know what to do with a cat. He picked up a feathered quill and poked her once in the side. She dutifully thwacked the quill out of his hand — it flew through the air and landed in the crackling fire.
"No pokings," she scolded. "Kittens is to be scritched gently beneath the chin." She stared pointedly at him.
He drew back. "I'm certain I don't scritch. Is that even a word? It's probably Kharakhian — I must bring that up in the next Hold Lord meeting. No more improper Kharakhian words in polite conversation." Then he frowned, cocked his head to one side, and blinked. "Wait a minute. Did you say secret underground hallway?"
Oblique re-ran her speech through her mind. "No, I is saying secret underground picture hallway. Then you is doing the pokings, and I is sending your feather to the flame."
A sound caught both their attention and young Rucio, Sive's son-in-law, entered. Rucio, like all those related to Beren Deldano, had a charismatic presence and a charming smile. "Sive . . . what was it I was supposed to—" Rucio paused when he saw Oblique sitting on the desk. His handsome face broke out into a grin. "Isn't that Oblique?"
Oblique fluffed herself up regally. "I is Oblique. Is you bringing me a snack? I is wantings a snack." She eyed the apple tart and cup of tea sitting off to the side of Sive's desk. While she had not yet been invited to partake of the treat, her stomach was rumbling enough that she thought she might just take a nibble even without being asked.
"She was saying something about a hallway," Sive began. "I think perhaps there might be an invasion going on — talking cats everywhere. It's insidious. I'm certain this is Beren Deldano's fault — most things usually are."
"Secret hallway," Oblique explained. "Just in your wine cellar." She took a few tentative steps toward the apple tart.
"There's a secret hallway in my wine cellar?" Sive asked as he slid the plate with the apple tart farther away from her — closer to the fire, Oblique noted, thinking that perhaps the grumpy Hold Lord was nicer than people said if he was considerate enough to move her snack closer to the warmth.
"I is sayings that." Oblique purred happily as she crossed the desk and sniffed at the apple tart. "I is findings it on my great adventure, and I is having to fight a fearsome monster."
Alarmed, Sive stood. Rucio stepped forward eagerly, his hand moving to his sword hilt. "There's a monster in the hallway?"
"You is not worryingnessness," Oblique assured them, taking advantage of their distraction to nibble on a corner of the tart. "I is vanquishinating it. The most fearsomeness rat I is ever seeings!"
"Rat?" Rucio asked, sounding disappointed.
Sive sat back down with a huff of relief. "Well — cats are good for vermin control, I suppose. I'm just not certain the talking is entirely necessary — who thought that was a good idea? But I'm curious about this hallway. Where did you say it was?"
Oblique took another large bite of the tart, holding it in her teeth as she spoke between mouthfuls. "I is showings you!" Tart in mouth, she leaped from the desk and raced toward the exit.
Rucio and Sive both followed. Sive called to a servant to bring a lamp, and Oblique led them back to the cellar.
"I is squeezing through that crack," Oblique explained, showing them the little chink in the wall by the secret door. Sive and Rucio both examined the wall.
"There does seem to be some sort of doorway hidden here," Rucio announced. "But if it wasn't for the hole she created, I don't think we'd be able to see anything at all. It's hidden — perhaps magically."
"I is findings a magicy door?" Oblique was even more impressed with herself. "You is tellings everyones when you is having your Hold Lord meeting, yes? You is saying a great hero adventuring cat is finding magicy things."
"Appalling," Sive remarked.
"Yes," Oblique agreed. "You is tellings all about the appalling dust — you is needing to keep your secret underground picture hallways cleanerest. How is you openings my magicy doorway?"
"You can't just claim ownership of this doorway." Sive's eyebrows shot upward the way people's eyebrows often did when Tyrin used one of his special words.
"I is findings it," Oblique reminded him. "I is thinkings finders, finders, pants on fire. That is meaning it is being my magicy doorway."
"In my Hold," the Hold Lord insisted.
"You is being a Hold Lords of the peoples, the peoples is being Melians, and I is being in Melia so I is being a peoples, and you is being the servant of the peoples, so it is being the Hold of the peoples, and I is findings it, so it is being the magicy doorway of the peoples which is being me." Oblique swished her tail several times and flicked her ears. Her logic, she knew, was impeccable. "I is readings that in a book of laws, exceptforness I is not knowing how to read, but smartinessness is being my middle name — practically."
"I hardly think—" Sive began only to be interrupted by Rucio.
"Are you really going to argue with a talking cat, or are you going to figure out how to open this door?" the young man asked. "I could bash it." He smirked.
Sive looked startled. "I hardly think violence is called for. I'm certain no one would approve of that. And you'd get fur everywhere!"
"The door," Rucio corrected quickly. He bent down and scritched Oblique under the chin. "No one would bash a cat."
Oblique raised her chin and purred. "You is knowings," she agreed. "You is doing the magics now and opening the door. Is you knowing the magics?"
"I'm quite proficient," Sive huffed as he turned his attention toward the door. He held up his right hand and spoke a few soft words. The ring upon his first finger blazed brightly.
A dragon ring! Oblique realized in awe.
The glowing outline of a door appeared on the wall and slowly began to creak open all by itself.
"Oooh!" Oblique purred, impressed with the display. "I is needing a dragon ring. I is liking when doors is just openings."
Once the door had creaked open, Sive took the lamp from the servant, and he and Rucio stepped through into the dusty corridor. Oblique crouched down to watch their expressions — Sive's eyes widened and Rucio let out a low whistle. A wave of satisfaction filled the little feline.
"Denton," Sive called to the servant waiting just behind Oblique.
"Sir?" Denton peeked through the doorway, gazing curiously at the pictures.
"Send for Lady Shalonie," Sive ordered.
"Yes, my lord." The servant hurried away.
Judging by the sound of awe in the Hold Lord's voice, the look of amazement on Rucio's face, and the need to summon Lady Shalonie, Oblique was certain her find was as amazing as she'd imagined it to be.
"Is I findeded something grand!" Oblique asked eagerly.
"Very," Sive agreed thoughtfully. "Very grand indeed. I may have to compliment you at the next Hold Lord meeting, which would be most unfortunate. You said you just found this place?"
Oblique leaped up, caught hold of Rucio's thick gambeson, and scaled the young man's side until she reached his shoulder. From the higher vantage, she could see the long expanse of hallway spread out before her. The thick dust on the ground showed the trail of her paw prints.
"See!" Oblique scratched the air with one paw. "That is being me — or that is being where I is being when I is in the hallway. I is in the park, and then I is in the hallway when I is fallings through the burglar hole."
"A hole in the park?" Sive asked. "I'm certain we don't have holes in the park — that would show a shocking lack of maintenance — which is also probably Beren Deldano's fault as I believe his Hold is responsible for such things this year. Bringing that up at the next Hold Lord meeting will temper my disappointment at having to compliment you — so well done there. What is a burglar hole?"
"A hole that is stealing kittens who is buying sugar for their frostings," Oblique explained. "You is having to bring ups lots of things at the Hold Lord meeting. Is you maybe wantings to write it all down? You is spelling my name correctednessly when you is givings my compliment."
"I'd write it down if someone hadn't thrown my quill in the fire," Sive grumbled.
"Someone is not throwings your quill in the fires if you is not doing the pokings," Oblique replied. "How is you findings my burglar hole?"
"We could just follow her paw prints and find the hole from here," Rucio pointed out. "Any idea what this is?" He was studying the ornamented walls.
"None." Sive shook his head. After a moment, he motioned toward a colorful mosaic of musical notation embedded in part of a wall. "That's the song 'Melia in Springtime', but it's a completely different tune. And judging by the dust I don't think anyone has been here in hundreds of years — maybe thousands."
"Thousands?" Oblique's eyes widened. "This is being a grand discovery! I is betting someone will bake a cake just for me!"
"They might just bake you two cakes." Rucio chuckled.
"Two cakes! I is making a two-cake discovery?" Oblique felt even more impressed with herself. "You is making my compliment very grand, or I is tellings on you." She narrowed her eyes at Sive who gave a deep sigh.
"Appalling." The Hold Lord shook his head.
"You is telling about the dust if you is wantings to," Oblique agreed. "But I is still wantings my compliment." A brilliant thought occurred to her. "I is coming to the Hold Lord meeting, and I is telling my adventure!"
Rucio laughed, and Sive pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's a full-scale invasion. I'm certain of it. What's next? Talking frogs from N'vrel?"
By the time Shalonie arrived, Oblique, Sive, and Rucio had returned to the office where Sive's red-haired daughter Pherusha was serving tea and cookies. Oblique was on her second telling of the great battle against the fearsome rat — mostly because Pherusha hadn't heard it in its entirety the first time.
"Lord Sive," Shalonie greeted as she entered. "Denton said something about a secret chamber?"
"Shalonie!" Oblique cried, standing up eagerly. The warm cream served in a little saucer and the freshly baked butter cookies had revived her considerably. And Pherusha had cleaned and brushed the last of the dust from the kitten's shiny black coat. "I is being a great archaeologist! Archaeology is being my middle name — practically."
"Archaeologist?" Shalonie raised an eyebrow.
Hold Lord Sive stood, "Machelli naming crisis — should be outlawed. Or at least fined. I'll bring it up at our next meeting. But in the meantime, you can see the find for yourself. I've sent for Sundragon Amar as well."
With that, they all traipsed back to the cellar to admire the hidden hallway. Upon spotting the first mural, Shalonie began mumbling to herself and moved through the hall to inspect all the rest. Oblique was certain that the mumbling was a good sign.
Pherusha, Sive, Rucio, and Oblique watched her for several moments until finally, Oblique couldn't stand the suspense anymore. "Is it being grand?" she demanded hopefully. "Because I is founded it all by myself, and I is having an adventure and a battle, and I is missing and everything. Is it being grand?" Anticipation shivered through her from nose to tip of tail.
"Grand? This is part of the first city of Melia — it's ancient! It's filled with lost history — this mural tells the story of the founding of Melia," Shalonie explained.
Oblique flicked her tail several times, trying to reason out the significance. "Is it being grand?" she asked again, wanting to be certain she was understanding the situation. "Is it being betterest than frostings?"
"Frosting?" Shalonie blinked for a moment. "Yes — it is better than frosting. It is very grand."
"Hurrah!" Despite being perched on Rucio's shoulder, Oblique danced and spun around several times. "I is knowing! I is finding a grand thing! I is telling everyones my story! I is a great hero adventuring cat! And I is having compliments and cake!"
"Appalling," Sive muttered.
"Yes, you is 'member 'membering all about the dust when you is givings my compliment," Oblique agreed as she puffed herself up proudly. "Now, all we is needing is a basket and sugar. You is having sugar, yes? On account of the fact that I is not finding the market when I is finding the grand thing insteadedness."
"I'll take care of it myself," Pherusha promised. "Perhaps we should be getting Oblique home."
"Please!" Sive agreed.
"You is being nicerest saying the please and the thank yous," Oblique remarked, more impressed with Hold Lord Sive than she'd expected to be — some people said he was very grumpy. "I is visitingnessness you sometimes."
Rucio and Pherusha took Oblique home. The little cat rode in a wicker basket beside a large sack of powdered sugar.
Kylee answered the door when they knocked, looking anxious. Jaez was just coming in as well, holding a lamp against the darkness as if he had been out searching for something.
"I is home!" Oblique cried happily.
"Are you all right?" Kylee scooped the little cat out of the basket. Jaez looked relieved.
"Oh, yes!" Oblique purred. "I is having a grand adventure. Is my cake being ready? My tummy feels empty, and I is having a wondrous story to tell!"
Kylee invited them all inside the warm house, leading them to the kitchen where Oblique's dinner was waiting. A three-layer cake fit for a great hero adventuring cat sat in the center of the table, ready to be frosted.