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Chapter 1—A Cat’s Eye View

Location: Farming Village, Lorraine, France
Time: Evening, August 23, 1372

Half an hour into her stalk, the cat was frustrated and angry. She moved through the weeds next to the clearing as silent as death, watching the crow calmly peck at something, apparently completely unaware. Again hope of a meal rose. This time I’ll pounce.

This hunt had started deep in the grove of trees that was the cat’s hunting ground. Every time she got close to pouncing, the crow flew away. Never too far. But always a tiny bit out of pounce range. By now her emotions were so strong that she didn’t even notice that she was about to leap into an open field filled with humans and their works.

Then the cat heard a voice.

“You don’t want to do that.”

It was said in cat, and the cat twisted her left ear back in the direction of the voice.

“Not a good idea,” the voice said.

The cat growled back, “Mind your own business.” Then she turned her head to bring the source of the voice into view. It wasn’t a cat. It was a human. A human with strange clothing and stuff, sitting on a fallen log next to the clearing.

“Okay,” the human said in cat, “but that’s not an ordinary crow. It’s part wiloklisp.” The last bit wasn’t in cat or human talk, but the cat still understood it.

That was when it occurred to the cat that the speaker wasn’t an ordinary human. A human shouldn’t be able to speak cat. Even cats didn’t speak cat with the sort of clarity or precision that the human’s meows conveyed. And that last bit was a combination of sounds like nothing she had ever heard before, but she understood it. A wiloklisp was a “lying light” that led travelers and enemies into traps. A hunter who hunted by being hunted.

The crow said something in human talk.

“You’re welcome, Carlos,” the human cawed in crow, with more than a little sarcasm. Then the human turned back to the cat. “Carlos,” he pointed at the crow, “was ‘thanking’ me for spoiling his game. You would have lost an eye, not gained a meal.”

The cat looked at the crow, and it laughed a cawing laugh at her. Disgusted and intent on ignoring the crow, the cat turned back to the human. “How can you talk to me?”

“It’s magic,” the human said.

And the cat, who had never even had the concept of magic before, now understood what the word meant, and even that it was at best an inadequate explanation of what was going on. It growled in frustration. “Explain.” Another new concept.

“All right,” the human said. “I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m Wilber Hyde-Davis. Before we came here, I was profoundly deaf. I had a device to let me hear, called a cochlear implant. When we were brought to this time, a muse—that’s a being from the netherworld—inhabited my hearing aid and implant, and in the process, fixed my hearing. Now my implant is at least sort of alive and a part of me. It gives me the magical ability to translate. I can talk to almost anything in their own language, even if they don’t have a language. That’s the magic part.

“Merlin, that’s the muse, is still hooked into the implant—” Wilber pointed at a point behind his left ear. “—but he mostly resides in my computer.” He twisted a flat box thing with the top open around, so the cat could see its screen. “He can talk to me via my implant. He can also talk to other people through my computer, or indirectly through my phone, or any of the electronic devices, with the consent of whichever demon resides in the device. Say hi, Merlin.”

The screen of the computer showed a man with wings like a bird. It bowed at the cat and said, “Hello, cat. What shall we call you?”

Like Wilber, when Merlin talked to her, she could understand. But the cat didn’t really have a name. There were things the humans in the village said, but the cat mostly thought of those sounds as instructions. “Here, Brownie” meant she should come get food or petting. Or “Damn cat” meant she should go away if she didn’t want to get kicked. Which she generally didn’t.

She explained that and Wilber said, “How about we call you Leo?” and the damned crow laughed again. Through the magic, the cat knew that Leo was sort of short for lion and was a male name, and so understood the crow’s derision.

Apparently the human was so stupid it couldn’t tell a male cat from a female cat. With a flick of her tail, the cat said, “I am female.”

“Oh, sorry,” Wilber said. “Ah, how about Fluffy?” At her look, he said, “No, I guess not. Leona?”

The crow laughed again. And said something in crow that Wilber didn’t translate, but was probably insulting.

“Fine,” Leona agreed, as much because the crow didn’t like it as because she liked the fact that Leona meant female lion. “Now, do you have any food?” she asked, since snooty crow didn’t appear to be on the menu.

“I think we can manage something,” Wilber said. He drew a knife and sliced off a chunk of the fine white cheese that the villagers made, and tossed it at Leona.

Leona jumped back. In her experience the things thrown at her were hard, not edible. And in that moment, the crow swooped in and stole her cheese.

Wilber shook his head. “Carlos is a bit of an asshole.” He cut another slice of cheese and set it on the ground. Leona made her way cautiously to the cheese and grabbed it in her mouth, then quickly backed away. Because she could understand Wilber didn’t mean she trusted him.

For a time Leona nibbled on her cheese, while Wilber made strange gestures and spoke to the air in words of some language that made no sense to Leona. When Leona had finished her cheese, which wasn’t truly enough for a real meal but did take the edge off, she meowed a question. “What are you doing?”

“I’m preparing a spell,” Wilber told Leona, and again as she heard the meow she knew what a spell was, though not what this particular spell was.

“What does the spell do?”

“Nothing yet, but once it’s finished I will be able to invoke it and it will produce a set of wards that will prevent demons or angels from entering the mortal realm around us.

“Now, I’m kind of busy, so why don’t you go over to the van?” He pointed at what looked like a human house on wheels. It had an opening on the side, and a man and a woman were sitting in the opening, while two children were seated on the grass next to the opening. One of the children had a tail and cat’s ears. “You could chat with Doctor Delaflote, Mrs. Grady and the kids. Merlin, will you translate for Leona?”

“I guess so. . . . If necessary.”

“Why wouldn’t it be necessary?”

“Kitten is part nekomimi, and it is not uncommon for catgirls to speak cat.”

“Kitten is the girl with the cat ears and the tail,” Wilber said.

Leona gave him a look, then went over to the van.


Kitten looked over as the bluetooth that she was born with warned her of the cat’s approach and provided her with the particulars. Kitten was the daughter of a dryad and a human. Well, Mom was working as a succubus at the time, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Her dad, Jeff Martin, had been one of the twenty-firsters, the people from the twenty-first century who were dragged here when Pucorl grabbed their van to use as his body when he was pulled here from the netherworld by Doctor Delaflote’s spell. She quickly put thoughts of her dad aside, because he had died less than a month ago, and she didn’t want to start bawling again.

“Hello, Leona,” Kitten meowed. Everyone looked at her, then at the cat. “This is Leona.”

“How do you know?” Paul Grady asked.

She tapped her dataport which was located behind her left ear. It wasn’t connected to a cable at the moment, so she added, “Bluetooth. Merlin told Pucorl and Pucorl told me.” She grinned because Paul was a normal human boy with no dataport or bluetooth, and he really, really wanted one. Her dataport and bluetooth, along with the fact that she was a girl and he was only a boy, proved that she was his superior in every way that mattered.


After some negotiations, Leona settled on Kitten’s lap while Dr. Delaflote, Mrs. Grady and another of the odd boxy things that the humans called laptop computers instructed the children in such arcane matters as reading, math, and magic. This computer was named Catvia and was Kitten’s mother. Merlin, Catvia, and Kitten translated so that Leona wasn’t bored. She wasn’t completely convinced of the utility of such things when compared to the practical skills of tracking and pouncing, but with the magical translation they weren’t the boring gibberish that all human yapping had been before.

As the sun was getting ready to set, Pucorl announced that it was returning to the garage for the night.

“Since Mrs. Grady gave Pucorl the van,” Kitten explained while scratching Leona behind the ears, “and especially since he was knighted, he can return to his garage from anywhere. And after we got on the road, it finally occurred to our ‘brilliant’ magicians that we could store our stuff at Pucorl’s garage and not have to carry it in wagons over the rough roads of France.”

“Did you think of it?” Leona asked.

“Well, no.”

Leona twisted her head to look at Kitten. She realized that half magical creature and half human or not, Kitten was still basically a kitten. Leona was a bit under a year old and considered herself a fully mature, but still young, cat. So she stared at Kitten and waited.

“All right,” Kitten said grumpily. “Anyway, I have to go. I sleep in my tree most nights.”

On the spur of the moment, Leona decided that she wanted to see this tree. “Take me with you.”

“I don’t know,” Kitten worried. “Animals don’t do well in the netherworld. Not even the Elysian Fields.”

“Why not? I mean, if humans can go, why can’t a cat?”

“Well, not all humans can. Pucorl keeps his garage human friendly, but it’s still dangerous for humans who don’t have familiars or enchanted devices. They can be really screwed up when visiting. You know, like never eating anything in Elfland or you’re stuck there. It really is a different reality, and it takes imagination to translate.

“Dr. Delaflote’s crow would have gone nuts if the demon occupying it hadn’t translated. And most of the troop don’t like going there, even if Pucorl’s garage has a motel attached to it now, since he ate that evil demon lord on the field outside Paris.

“It’s staffed by dryads and fauns, so Mom doesn’t let me stay there. Well, there are the rooms right next to the garage. They’re G-rated because of Paul. But I like my tree better. After all, the tree’s my brother, sort of.”

“I’m not a crow. I’m a cat. And you and your brother can translate for me.”

“Well, okay. Hop in my backpack.” Kitten had a Hello Kitty backpack that was enchanted burlap. That is, a burlap backpack that was imbued with the essence of a minor silk demon. So it was a magical backpack that her Mom could afford mostly because the whole dryads’ grove was doing much better since they had joined Pucorl’s lands, and especially since the veils between the world were so ripped up that they could get energy from mortals.


“Because if they see you, Dr. Delaflote may not let you come.”

Leona jumped into the backpack, and Kitten, carrying the backpack, climbed into the van.

Location: Pucorl’s Garage, Netherworld

The van was now in a different place and Leona peeked out of Kitten’s backpack as the side door opened again. With one arm through the backpack’s strap, and the other holding Catvia’s computer, Kitten climbed out of the van and started walking toward the dryads’ grove.

It was a magical sort of place. The trees had tan-colored bark that was almost like skin, and leaves of every color in the rainbow and some more besides. The most common color was gold. The sun was in the sky, and it was a bit dimmer than Leona was used to, but you could feel the warmth gently. The breezes were cool and caressing. Leona sniffed the air. It smelled of flowers and wine.

As they left the black stuff that was right around the garage and walked over a wooden e, Leona decided that she was done riding. She jumped out of the backpack and landed on the soft green grass that was the edge of the grove. The stream under the bridge burbled happily and she could almost understand it.

“What’s this?” asked Catvia, but not like she was really surprised.

“Leona wanted to see the grove, Mama.” Then, with a severe look at Leona, Kitten added, “Leona was supposed to stay in my backpack till we got to my tree.”

“Did you tell her that?” Catvia asked, and a mist flowed from the box and turned into a woman with cat ears and a tail. “Never mind. If you don’t know better than to think you can tell cats what to do, it’s time you learned.”

Leona meowed in complete agreement with this.

“But you tell me what to do all the time,” Kitten complained.

“You’re a kitten and I am your mother. It’s my job.”

Again Leona meowed her agreement. Then she asked, “Why didn’t you walk around like this in the . . .” Leona was at a loss. How could she describe home? The grove of scrub wood next to the village where she grew up.

“You mean the mortal realm?” Catvia said more than asked.

Leona flicked her ears in a cat shrug. “I guess.”

“It’s called the mortal world,” Catvia said, “and sometimes the humans call it the natural world, though I myself don’t see it as any more natural than this world. But your question was why I didn’t walk around like this in the mortal world. The answer is that I can’t, at least not yet. Even doing it here takes a certain amount of energy, though I have gotten better at it since the grove joined Pucorl’s lands. We’re on a higher energy plane than we were before.”


“Kitten, you explain it,” Catvia said. “I want to see how much you understand.”

“Okay,” Kitten said, running ahead to a sapling about fifteen feet tall. She hugged the sapling and two of the lower limbs seemed to hug her back. The sapling was pinkish tan and, like Kitten, it had a data port. It also had a mouth and eyes, as well as the rainbow of leaves that were common to every tree in the grove. A cord from the tree spiraled up and plugged into Kitten behind her left ear. For a moment she was still, then the cable released, and she grinned and sat down with her back to the tree. “Data dumps make telling each other what’s happened so much easier.

“The reason . . . No, never mind. I’ll explain about dataports later. Kitten, you were going to explain about the energy planes,” Catvia said.

“That’s what Wilber calls them,” Kitten told Leona while she patted her lap.

Leona considered. A petting might be nice, but she wasn’t sure she wanted this kitten to get ideas. After a moment, she walked over and curled up on the grass next to the kitten.

“The ones up there—” Kitten pointed at the sky. “—are the crystal spheres of heaven. And the ones down below have lots of names. Underhill, the dark places, or even the nine circles of hell. But that’s only heavenly propaganda. After all, Mom was from there. The whole grove was there before the dryads—they were succubi at the time—made a deal with Pucorl and they were perfectly nice. Coach says so. Coach is the faun that was Dan’s sports watch.”

“Ahem. The point, Kitten. You were talking about the energy planes.”

“Okay, Mom, okay. The ‘energy planes’ make up this universe, which Wilber says is a different universe from the universe he’s from. He says that they are passing through each other and for the longest time they barely touched each other at all, even as they passed through. But then something happened and they started interacting a lot more. That was about two years ago in that other universe. Back then, time moved differently in this universe. So I’m eight, almost nine. As old as Paul, even though I was only born a few weeks ago in that other universe’s time.”

Leona meowed in total confusion. Magic or not, this kitten was talking nonsense.

“We can worry about temporal distortions later,” Catvia said. “Go on about the energy planes.”

“Well, we’re on the middle one now. The energy plane about half way from the top of heaven to the bottom of hell. The part of it we’re in is called the Elysian Fields. It’s roughly analogous to England in the mortal world, and at about the same level, so to go from here to England is a step sideways, in a way. A special direction.”

“Is that where I’m from?” Leona asked.

“No. That’s why we had to use Pucorl to get here. He can go to his lands from anywhere in the mortal realm. Or, for that matter, from about any place in the netherworld. But we can’t . . . well, Mom can’t, and I’m not allowed to.”

“Why can’t Catvia?” Leona asked.

“Dryads are tied to the location of their tree,” Catvia said. “We can’t travel far from them without special help. When we are pulled into the mortal world, we are especially weak, only capable of manifesting in dreams, even with the veil ripped all asunder. We can only produce dreams. Most of us is our trees. So the farther from our trees we are, the weaker we are. I am freer to move about than most because Kitten’s father gave me the computer that is, in a sense, my body. But even so, when I go to the mortal realm with Pucorl, I prefer to stay as close to the van as possible to piggyback on Pucorl’s link to these lands and my tree.”

“Yeah, the only way our trees can move is if the land moves too,” Kitten said, then added, “like it has been my whole life. The grove has been shifting around to match the tree locations in the mortal realms. For the first time in eons, our trees will have mortal trees to match them.”

Leona looked over to Catvia for an explanation of this.

“Remember that we of the netherworld are without form unless we impose it on ourselves, or someone else imposes it on us. Having a matching thing from the mortal realm helps, makes it easier for us to maintain a form. The less of ourselves we are spending on that, the more we can spend on other things.”

“Except for me,” Kitten crowed. “I have a mortal father, so I have a defined body that grows, and I don’t have to work hardly at all to keep that shape.” Then she pouted. “But I can hardly change my shape at all.”

“Talk to Kitten,” Catvia told Leona. “I have to go to work.” Picking up the laptop, Catvia strolled over to a large tree near to Kitten’s tree, and walked right into the tree.

Leona looked at Kitten and then decided to have a nap. She climbed up on the girl’s lap, curled up in a ball, and went to sleep.

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