Though there were two magical enclaves, Razor decided he should check in with Byron’s before going to the one discreetly hiding and working in Professor Hackle’s labs.
He hardly noticed the ride itself, traveling on autopilot while his mind was back in the lab. There was so much to cover, and, even though they still had two more years to complete their plans, it still felt to him like they might not make it in time before the aliens dropped in on them.
Despite the number of people working on this, it still seemed there was far too much yet to be done . . . the designs for weapons and machines were only just beginning to be built and would still need to be tested once they were. When they were ready, the Enforcers and auxiliary soldiers and mercenaries would need to be trained on their use; the battle plans being written, needed to be tested in real field maneuvers; evacuation training hadn’t yet been initiated with the populace, and that would be a big hurdle to accomplish as it had to be done carefully so as to prevent panic and gain their cooperation. The very wealthy and very poor would be the most difficult to get on board with the program, and he didn’t envy Callie trying to get that accomplished.
The list seemed endless, and he had only a portion of those tasks as his own and still felt overwhelmed.
He sighed and tried to focus more on a positive attitude. Constantly worrying about what needed to be done was totally unproductive. Besides, they weren’t falling behind schedule . . . if anything, they were far ahead already, so he should stop worrying himself into a hole. He shoved all that away and made himself focus only on what was ahead of him today.
They already knew magic was the most important component of the war effort. Everything else was a useless waste of time and effort without it. However, it was still hard to get some of the scientists, inventors, military leaders, and others involved in this project to truly believe that. They were too used to using science and technology to win their fights. It rubbed everyone the wrong way to think magic was how this war would be won.
And, he didn’t blame them. He too was deeply rooted in science and technology. However, Byron and his people seemed to think he had magic within him and had been using it all along even though there were none of the obvious signs he was familiar with to show that or convince him of it. But, then he didn’t have the knowledge or experience to debate that with them in the first place.
The thought of Byron brought his mind immediately back to the road and the realization that he was about to whizz by the drive that lead to the hidden farm. Mentally scolding himself, he cut his speed then turned sharply onto the winding dirt road.
Byron and three other males stood on the wrap around porch, watching him approach. That always creeped him out a bit to see them waiting for him. He hadn’t called ahead, but they always seemed to know when he was coming.
Nearing the house and about to pull to a stop, Razor saw Byron gesture for him to continue on toward the back of the house. Razor nodded his understanding and continued on toward the rear of the home as ordered. The toms went back through the house to meet him on the other side.
As Razor came around the cedar sided house, his eyes were immediately drawn to the beautifully landscaped yard and gardens with a forest behind it. A stone patio reached out from the back of the house for about ten feet then a brilliantly green lawn stretched to the forest wall. To the left of this was a large garden filled with well-tended herbs, vegetables, interspersed with flowers that filled the air with a lovely perfume. At the center of the garden stood a beautifully made statue of a maiden holding an umbrella. From the top of it, water sprayed out to cover the garden with life-giving liquid once every four hours.
To the far right and beyond the trees, fields of wheat, corn, and alfalfa grew, making a patchwork of green and gold. At the left edge of the fields sat three huge barns. He knew from experience that one was for the draft horses they used to till the soil, the one next to it was where their dairy cows were milked, and the final one nearest the house was where all their farm equipment was stored.
The community derived their living from the plants they grew, the milk products they produced, and the herbal remedies they made. To Razor’s tired city spirit it was heaven, and he loved coming out here from time to time to drink up that peace.
Before the emergency, he’d begun coming here two or three times a month to help harvest, milk the cows, chop wood, and till the fields besides anything else they might need done. It was mindless work that helped quiet his racing thoughts and recharged him to go on with the dangerous career he’d chosen.
He’d tried to convince Chance to come out a few times but gave up when his partner always declined. The tabby admitted the community made him a little nervous and uncomfortable. Razor could understand the feeling; it was one he had when he first came here, but it had just as quickly faded away and all he sensed was comfort now whenever he dropped by.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, he noticed something different today. On the lawn, a quilt of red and gold lay with two older females sitting upon it, enjoying the sun and apparently waiting for him.
Byron and the three other males walked out of the back door and across the patio to meet him. The leader pointed toward a small cement apron that had been poured, smoothed, and framed neatly beside the patio, a metal bike rack embedded within it. This already held numerous bicycles of all sizes. Nodding, Razor pulled up to an empty spot beside the rack and parked the cyclotron.
Cutting the engine, he reached up and pulled his helmet off. Immediately, he was hit with the sound of bird song, horses neighing and cows lowing . . . no disturbing techno noise to be found. He drew in a deep lung full of fresh air and sighed it out. Smiling at Byron, he set the security on his bike, habit asserting itself despite knowing no one would touch the bike, then climbing off, setting his helmet on the seat before walking up to the males.
“Good day to you, Razor,” Byron greeted him with a warm smile and a pawshake. “We will have our discussion here in the garden. I think it will help your lessons if you’re in a place that will quiet your active mind and put it in a more receptive state, which will allow you to concentrate better on what you need to learn.”
“Good day to you, too, sir,” Razor returned the greeting, though he was a little leery about what these so called ‘lessons’ might be about. He followed the males as they lead him toward the quilt and bid him to sit as they did the same beside the females. Razor did so, taking a cross-legged position a little apart from the group.
“Before we begin, whatever it is we’re going to do, Commander Feral requested an update,” Razor spoke first.
Byron nodded. “We have been preparing all living creatures of what is to come.”
Razor blinked in confused surprise. “Huh?”
The Wiccan leader merely smiled, mildly amused by the young tom’s expression.
In a gentle but lecturing tone, he explained, “We are in constant communication with each other. With the help and cooperation of all our fellow magical brethren around the world, we have sent our energies outward and warned all living creatures and plants to prepare to vanish when our enemies arrive. When we give a certain signal, the animals will seek secluded hiding places they can disappear within and be safe, even the birds. Though the trees cannot move, they and all the plants will stop growing and/or retreat if they are able to, until the threat is gone. In this way, our world will suffer less harm and be able to recover more quickly once the invaders are defeated.”
The SWAT Kat could only gape at them. It took his mind a much longer time to grasp they were dead serious about this, but it was beyond the realm of anything he could accept as remotely possible.
“Uh . . . that’s . . . uh . . . incredible . . . I didn’t know such a thing was possible,” he finally managed to say, rather lamely.
One of the females, looking to be around her late sixties, smiled gently at him. He knew her name was Juno. “We were given this sacred trust by Ceridwen, the goddess of rebirth, transformation, and inspiration. It is our task in life to insure her land, animals, and people thrive and remain healthy despite any adversity, whether Kat made or alien in nature.”
“You sound as if you’re against modernity?” Razor frowned.
She shook her head, her long, unbound, reddish-blond hair sweeping across her chest with the motion. “Kat kind must move forward if it is to thrive, and, if that means using technology and science to do that, then so be it. However, that does not change our own mission in life. We simply insure the planet does not suffer from Kat kind’s personal drives and desires. We are the shepherds that keep our world clean and livable for all the living things upon it. Which is why our world continues to flourish despite the wars and natural disasters that have befallen it over the ages. If you haven’t noticed, Razor, Aristal is still mostly wild with only small sections of it inhabited by civilization.”
“Actually, I did know that . . . learned it from school, but never thought about why we’d never over run the planet by now. When I did consider it once some years ago, I attributed it to our more slower breeding rate, the virulent diseases that swept through off and on through the years, and the handful of conflicts that caused significant losses,” Razor ventured.
The group chuckled but they weren’t laughing at him, he noted, which would have pissed him off, but more at what he’d said.
“And, that would be correct as seen from a purely scientific viewpoint, but the true reason is far simpler but more unbelievable to you. All that happens on our world is orchestrated by the laws set down by Ceridwen. She decreed that our population would not be allowed to spread too far nor be damaged too much. Per her instructions handed down through our ancestors, we have kept her laws and follow them verbatim, which is to tend the land and all the creatures upon it. However, when our efforts fail to halt over crowding and violence engendered by it, the magic of Aristal takes over to prune it back. If that means allowing pestilence and technology to run unchecked for a bit, then that is what it will do. Once the level set by Ceridwen is regained, then it goes back to sleep and our shepherding duties are begun anew.”
“Are you saying our world is sentient?” Razor blurted, totally shocked and not certain he’d heard right.
“Not in the way you mean, Razor. It is not a thinking being, but it does have a ‘setting’ if you pardon me using a more technical term, which was put in place with the power and magic of Ceridwen to monitor the planet’s health. In this way she insures her dictates are followed. We are but the shepherds, as I’ve already stated, that attempt to keep things in line with her desires if possible so that Aristal mustn’t act at all. We’ve been fairly successful as our history tells us Aristal has only awoken three times since the beginning of our kind,” Juno gently corrected him.
“Pardon me, but you were right when you said it was unbelievable! I can’t fathom how something so important isn’t in any of our texts nor are there any statues around to mention this Ceridwen person, much less that Aristal is a sort of living world.” Razor shook his head.
“I well understand your skepticism, Razor, but that was Ceridwen’s express wish. She had no desire to be worshiped as some deity,” Byron picked up the explanation. “Her only goal was to leave behind her teachings to each world’s magical beings so that they may keep their worlds in their original pristine condition more or less.”
“But, why? Why would she do this? What stake did she have in it?” Razor demanded to know. No one he knew that had that much power would just give it away.
Shaking her head, a different elder with black flowing hair tied with a band of fabric, that he knew as Gena, spoke, “You are too used to dealing with the power hungry evil that temporarily plagues your city. Ceridwen does this for purely personal reasons. During her travels with her fellow Gods, she witnessed how rampant technology and population without a brake could destroy worlds, reducing them to lifeless rock. This she wished to stop. Though her fellow Gods felt she was wasting her time, they didn’t deter her as they loved her like a sister. So, with no interference from the others, Ceridwen set about to save as many worlds as she could, claiming no gifts or thanks for doing it. She never remains on worlds she visits longer than it takes for her to impart her laws to those with magic, set a magical watch dog, that being the planet itself, then moves on. It is our task to do her bidding and spread her word to any who will listen, and this is why our world looks as it does despite the onset of technology and science.”
Razor remained still, trying to absorb this incredible bit of ancient history and reconcile it with what he knew and how the world was now.
Shaking his head, he finally asked, hesitantly, “What about worlds with no magical core or beings?”
“She doesn’t tell us, though we have had seers who have speculated she simply passes them by,” Juno shrugged.
“Makes sense, I guess. But, how do you know so much about this Ceridwen since obviously none of you were alive when she ‘stopped by’?”
“To insure skeptics couldn’t deny her existence or go against her dictates, she left behind a relic that literally speaks her words for all to hear. It even has the capability to fit its language to whatever speaks to it. In this way, she insures her message is never altered or misunderstood. I think you will marvel at it when you are taken to see it,” Juno said, warmly.
“You might even determine it is technological in nature, but we think it is made entirely of magic as it pulses with it. Or it could be a combination of both. You are the first techno-mage we’ve had in centuries, so perhaps you can give us that answer,” Byron said, a look of anticipation in his eyes.
Razor eyed him worriedly. “Does that mean I will be seeing this relic today?”
“Yes. You now know things that are meant for only the magically endowed. So, we will take you there after you’ve asked all you wish to know,” Byron told him.
“And, only magically gifted people will ever know about this, eh? What’s to keep them from blabbing it to anyone that isn’t magical?” Razor asked.
“Ceridwen insures that.”
“The relic of her sends a pulse of light into the newcomer. Once they’ve been touched, they are unable to give the secret away,” Byron said then raised a paw to halt an immediate objection from the young tom. “No harm comes to them. I promise you. I have undergone this initiation . . . all of us here have.”
“Even the kittens?” Razor demanded, not liking this a bit.
“Yes, even our young ones. No harm comes to them, only knowledge. All you feel is a warmth, a voice tells you what you need to know, and your ability to speak of it to anyone that isn’t magical is blocked . . . that’s all. And, the information and training imparted is different for each person because magical abilities are varied,” the leader assured him.
“But, that means this thing can think in some way if it can do that,” Razor objected.
“It seems that way, but again we don’t know for certain.” Byron shrugged. “However, it is hoped you might provide us an answer to that question at last.”
Razor had risen to his feet suddenly, tension singing in his veins.
Byron rose as well but didn’t touch the SWAT Kat. “It won’t harm you, Razor, I swear! I have never lied to you, have I?”
“No . . . ” Razor gritted out between clenched teeth.
“Then believe me when I say this is necessary and will do the training you require within minutes rather than days, weeks, or months, which, you’ll admit, we have no time for. Please understand, you would have had to do this even if there had been no enemy coming for us. It was planned to approach you within the next year anyway. The secrecy part is very necessary to insure the continuance of our people and the magical protection of our world. None may shirk that duty,” Byron said gravely. “And, duty and protecting the people of our world, even if it is only one of its cities, is something you have already given your life to, SWAT Kat. This is but another such duty. I know you would not turn your back no matter how uncomfortable or afraid of it you might be.”
“No, I won’t, but I sure don’t like how I seem to have been railroaded right into it,” Razor grumbled, resigned.
Byron gave him an understanding look but felt it wise not to comment.
Razor looked away from the group watching him to stare blindly off toward the rolling fields of grain. And, it seemed like such a nice day too, he thought miserably. What’s worse, I can’t even tell my best friend anything about this nor Feral. Ugh! What the hell do I tell him?
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