Another story in the world of Springtide and Patreon reward for Aurum where he comes face to face with the Lady of the House in Ghostly Reach.
Hide and Cheat
“C-calex wait!” Aurum gave a shout, but it was too late. The werekitten had completely vanished and now the white and gold tiger was left alone. Aurum rubbed the back of his head as he wondered how someone so small could move so fast. He was currently an adult, and still fully dressed and wearing a bandanna, which was a bit of a personal record since he had been with Calex for over an hour now. But suddenly the kitten began babbling about some magical world, and the second Aurum showed the slightest interest, the kitten took off full speed demanding to be followed.
Aurum had done his best to keep up and had made it all the way to a department store in the mall before he lost sight of the kitten completely. He saw a flash of orange as a door in the very back of the store slammed shut and that was it. Aurum approached the door nervously. It had a sign on it that clearly read ‘Staff Only.’ He was pretty sure he wasn’t allowed on the other side of that door. On the other hand, if Calex had gone in there who knew what mischief he would cause unchecked. Aurum glanced around to make sure no one was watching then quickly opened and slipped through the door.
On the other side was just a set of stairs going down into a basement. A dark and dank one, with a combination of sounds of droplets of liquid landing on the floor and groaning noises that could have just been the building settling or could have been something far worse. But, there was nothing else beyond the door, meaning the basement was his only choice if he wanted to find Calex. Luckily, being a tiger meant he was of course a cat, and cats were pretty good at seeing in the dark.
Aurum made his way down the stairs trying not to think about how much each step creaked beneath his paw. Eventually he made it all the way down. The basement was full of random junk that didn’t exactly look like store merchandise. A bunch of old statues, dolls, paintings, things that looked like they belonged more in a museum than a store. But again, no sign of Calex.
“Okay, I doubt he considers a dank department store basement a world of magic.” Aurum looked around. “Even if it is full of creepy things.” Aurum glanced around, there were any number of places a small kitten could be hiding in here. You would think his bright orange fur would make him stand out more. Aurum moved between shelves of random objects looking for the kitten. “Calex? Are you there?” There was no response. He began to question if he had actually seen the kitten come down here at all, at least right up until he reached the last corner of the room.
There was a mirror hung on the wall, that apparently had been covered with a tarp until very recently judging from the lack of dust and the tarp on the floor in front of it. And based on what was reflected in the mirror Aurum had a guess as to who had torn the tarp off. Staring back at him was his own reflection, but one that was much younger, only around three years old, and buried in the clothes Aurum was currently wearing. A magic mirror that showed someone younger in it? That spelled Calex all over it. Aurum was actually shocked he hadn’t turned into a cub the second he looked at the mirror.
The tiger approached the mirror with caution as if the mirror might somehow strike out at him. All that happened was his reflection got closer. Aurum considered the appearance of the mirror, who he was dealing with and decided to try something. He reached out a paw to touch the mirror, and as he expected his paw passed right through it with zero resistance. Whatever magical world Calex had been babbling about, this was clearly the entrance.
Aurum withdrew his paw and looked at his reflection again. There was a very distinct possibility he was going to look like that if he went through the portal. Not that it would be the first time he found himself suddenly younger. And as he thought about it, something else was bound to happen to cause it anyway, which was definitely why he was doing this and not him trying to justify his next action to himself. The tiger took a step back, then ran forward and dove through the mirror.
And was suddenly outside in a flowery meadow. The sun was shining just bright enough to be warm, but not so much as to be harsh and the grass was soft. Which was a good thing as the very first thing Aurrum did was fall out of a hollow in a big tree and land in a mess of his own clothing which was suddenly several sizes too big for him.
“Took you long enough.” Aurum heard Calex’s voice but it took him a few moments to find the source of it. The kitten was very small, maybe only an inch tall, which wasn’t unusual, and was perched atop a flower staring at Aurum. What was unusual was he currently had a small pair of dragonfly like wings sticking out of his back.
“Calex what happened to you?” Aurum asked as he tried to squirm out of his clothes. Once he freed himself and stood naked, he looked down at his body confirming his hypothesis. Indeed, he was now a three-year-old tiger cub after going through the mirror. And judging by the meadow he was in, it would seem he had arrived in the magical world.
“Just felt appropriate.” Calex flapped into the air. “Decided if I’m guiding you here it’d be more fun like this, so I cast a spell to turn into a faerie.”
“Okay that makes-“ Aurum paused. “Wait, since when can you cast spells?” Calex was a shapeshifter, not a spellcaster.
“I am here.” Calex beamed happily. “Anyone can do magic in Springtide. Well… Sort of. Might be more accurate to say anyone can CHOOSE to do magic here.”
“Some elaboration might be required.” Aurum sat down in the grass with his legs crossed in front of the tiny faerie cat.
“Basically, well, you noticed how you turned into a kid when you came in?” Calex asked. “That happens to everyone. Even I’m a bit younger.” It was hard to tell with Calex given he was always a kitten. “And the entire thing runs on kid logic.”
“That doesn’t really explain how you can use magic.” Aurum gave Calex a stare.
“When you were a kid, did you ever play make pretend?” Calex grinned.
“Well yeah pretty sure everyone did…” Aurum wasn’t sure where Calex was going with this.
“And in any of those make pretend sessions, did ever say take something like a box and pretend it was a car or a spaceship? Or pick up a stick and pretend it was a sword?” Calex asked.
“Yeah…” Aurum was waiting for Calex to get to the point.
“Here, if you pretend those things, they’re real. The box will function as an actual spaceship, the stick will be an actual sword. And if you pretend that you can use magic, you actually can.”
“It’s that simple?” Aurum seemed surprised. “No drawbacks.”
“One I suppose.” Calex shrugged. “If you use make pretend magic you can’t use make pretend science. As for pretend science… Basically, it’s the same idea, if you pretend to build something, no matter what you use, you can make it work.”
“Wait so…” Aurum looked around the meadow. He stood up and quickly ran around grabbing a couple sticks and pulling up some blades of grass. He then placed two sticks in an L shape and used the grass to tie them together. Much to his surprise, they maintained the L shape instead of falling apart despite it only being held together by grass. Then he picked it up and held it by the shorter stick and pointed it at Calex as if it was a gun. “Bang.” A beam of light short forth and struck the faerie kitten. Suddenly, the kitten began to get younger, stumbling a bit onto his flower as he wound up somewhere around one year old.
“Meow?” Calex asked quizzically.
“I built a regression ray!” Aurum beamed. “Was just testing the theory… Guess that means I’m on the science path now.” That was fine, Aurum could have a lot of fun building things. However, it occurred to him that he had just reduced his only guide to an age too young to talk. “Oops.”
“Mew!” Calex stuck his tongue out. And though he couldn’t properly walk, his wings worked just fine so he could hover in the air.
“Well shoot…” Aurum looked around. “I guess that means I’m on my own to find my way around.”
“Mew!” Calex confirmed with a nod. Of course, he could try casting a spell to make himself a little older, or just give himself the ability to speak. And Aurum could build a new device or just add a reversal on his regression ray.
But that would hardly have been as much fun.
Aurum set off with Calex following behind him. After awhile the meadow suddenly ceased as he suddenly found himself staring at dark shady forest with a house in the distance. It was nighttime there despite it being day in the meadow where he now stood, as if the two places were completely different world. Aurum turned to Calex for an explanation.
“Meow mrow mew meow mrow!” Calex explained smugly.
“Oh right…” Aurum smiled sheepishly. “Well guess the best way is to find out is to head in.” As soon as the tiger cub stepped through the threshold into the new area he felt a chill run down his spine. He suddenly felt as if someone was watching him, but he didn’t see anyone. He walked towards the house passing by a stone well and paused when he heard a gurgling noise come from the well. He slowly turned just in time to see something rise from the well.
It was a wedding dress. It floated into the air, then suddenly dark crimson blotches appeared staining the pure white fabric. And then worms began to form in the shape of a head above the dress.
“MEOW!” Calex gave a shout of warning and took off flying at top speed for the house.
The creature that had just appeared before them was a being in Springtide known as a Phantom. They essentially existed as villains for children to fight. This one was the Lady of the House, and she was largely considered to be one of if not the most dangerous Phantoms in this world. She prowled the grounds around and within her mansion, and once she had her sights on someone she gave chase.
Aurum had no way of knowing any of this. But, he did know one thing. If Calex was in full retreat, it was time to start running.
The tiger broke into a sprint as more worms formed inside the dress slowly forming the shape of a body. He was almost to the house when the body was fully formed, now consisting of other vermin including roaches as part of her lower body. The Lady let out a shriek and then was suddenly flying at Aurum with terrifying speed.
“Meow mew!” Calex was waiting by the door, too small to open it. “Mew!” He urged Aurum. The tiger didn’t have to be told twice. He pulled the door to the mansion open and both tiger and faerie kitten fled inside.
“So that was terrifying.” Aurum responded.
“MEOOOW!” Calex flew down the long hallway they had emerged in, stopping at another door and waving for Aurum.
“Is there something in there?” Aurum started to move towards Calex them froze as he heard a screech. At that point, the shape of the Lady came through the front door. She didn’t open it, but merely phased through it as if it wasn’t there at all.
Aurum decided it was running time. He ran for the door Calex had been pointing to and quickly opened it. The Lady caught sight of him and gave a shriek as she burst after him. Aurum slammed the door shut behind him, not that it would do much to slow her down.
The room they were in was a bedroom, though it was in poor condition. A broken mirror hung on the wall, the bed sheets were full of holes, and the cabinets and drawers all appeared to be made of rotting wood.
“Meow!” Calex dove underneath the bed. “Mrowl mew!” He gave a shout to Aurum.
Aurum hoped he got the meaning of Calex’s words. He dropped flat onto his stomach then crawled beneath the bed until he was next to the faerie cat.
And then the Lady made her entrance. She didn’t come through the door this time but instead one of the walls. It seemed she had traveled in a straight line from where she started to this room passing through all walls and objects in the process. As she appeared in the room she hovered in place and let out a low groan.
She began to circle the room, as she did, small pieces of her fell off landing on the ground as wriggling worms. The Lady continued to move slowly through the room and Aurum found himself holding his breath as she neared the bed. Suddenly, there was a shriek, and hands made from insects lashed out at a dresser, ripping the front off and allowing several of the bugs to crawl into the empty dresser. The Lady fell still when she saw it was empty. She floated for a few seconds longer and then left, passing through another wall.
“Why didn’t you warn me there’d be something that scary?” Aurum hissed.
“Meow.” Calex replied.
“Oh right…” Aurum tried to think. He could try to build some kind of weapon to fight the strange Phantom if she showed up again. Or he could just focus on staying away from her. But… What was the purpose of her being here anyway? Was there some secret treasure in the house or something? Wait, he could ask Calex yes or no questions. “Is there any reason for us to stay in the house at all?”
“Meow.” Calex nodded his head.
“So is there treasure or something hidden in here?” Aurum asked.
“Mew!” Calex nodded again eagerly.
“And that worm lady is some kind of guard?” Aurum was pretty sure he had the full picture.
“Meow.” Calex nodded.
“Okay, then let’s look around the house more and try to stay out of her sight.” Aurum crawled out from under the bed followed by Calex. He opened the door a crack to see if the Lady was in the hallway. Certain it was safe he began to take a step out the door when-
“MEOW!” Calex was tugging on Aurum’s ear pulling him back into the bedroom. He was strong for such a little guy.
“What’s the big idea?” Aurum asked.
“Mew!” Calex flew down to the ground just outside to the bedroom and pointed to a worm that was wriggling on the floor. Aurum had just nearly stepped on it.
“Bad things happen if I touch a worm huh?” Aurum asked.
“Meow.” Calex nodded.
Aware of this new danger, Aurum slowly stepped out of the room making sure to step over the worm. The hall was littered with them now. It meant he had to spend as much time watching the floor as he did for signs of the Lady. Eventually he reached a section where the hallway split into two more halls as well as a staircase leading up higher.
“So… If I was a treasure in a creepy old mansion I’d either be on the top floor or in the basement.” Aurum nodded. “And since we haven’t found a basement entrance, we’re heading up.
The second floor appeared to be free of worms. That was a good sign. It likely meant the Lady had not been here yet. But there was no telling when that might change. The second floor was a mess of hallways with hard corners making it impossible to see where they led. This would be a bad place to get caught and…
“MROOOOWWWWWWWWL!” This came from a cat that was definitely not Calex and whose voice was a lot more shrill. It had been curled up in a corner near the top of the staircase almost invisible due to its pure black fur. The cat hissed at Aurum and arched its back.
“Nearly gave me a heart attack.” Aurum held a hand over his chest. “Just a cat.”
“Meooooow.” Calex warned.
“Mrooowl!” The other cat meanwhile suddenly pounced forward with claws out aiming to slash Aurum on his ankle.
“Mew!” Calex who had a better idea of what was going on flew down beneath Aurum’s, held up two paws and unleashed a blast of light. Whatever spell he cast didn’t seem to do much more than make a bright flash, but it stopped the black cat in its tracks. It hissed at the two of them then disappeared into the darkness of the house.
“Well that was weird…” Aurum shook his head. “But on the bright side no-“ Before he could finish the sentence he heard a groaning noise coming from the bottom of the stairs. The Phantom must have heard them! And now she knew they were on the second floor! That meant it was time to find a place to hide again.
Aurum ran as quickly as he could. The hard angles at the end of each hallway were both a blessing and a curse. It looked like the Lady couldn’t sense where they were and had to see or hear them. That meant that the hallways gave them some cover. However, if they ran into a dead end and had to go back that might be the end of it. As the two ran they came across another staircase that led to a door in the ceiling.
“Jackpot!” Aurum ran up the stairs and tried to push the door open but found it was locked. “Oh come on!” He complained.
And it appeared he had complained too loudly, as he heard a familiar groan and then the Lady passed through a wall into the same hallway they were.
There was no time to think, Aurum leaped from the stairs and grabbed the handle of the nearest door. Wherever it led he just hoped there was a hiding place. Calex quickly followed after him.
The next room was a bathroom. There was a bathtub and shower, a broken toilet, a sink and some cabinets beneath the sink. Aurum could only see two possible hiding places, the bathtub or the cabinets, and the cabinet doors weren’t partially see through like the shower curtain. He quickly opened then and climbed in knocking over a number of bottles of various toiletries. Calex followed him in and the two shut the cabinet.
Neither of them could see, but they could hear the Lady as she entered the bathroom. There was a loud shriek, and both young felines had to cover their mouths to avoid screaming as they thought they had been caught. Then the groaning became quieter, and finally silent. Was she gone? Or was she just waiting to ambush them after they came out of hiding.
To be safe Aurum decided it best to stay in the cabinet for awhile. In the meantime, he looked around to see what all he had been bumping into. There were shampoo bottles, toilet paper, a hair dryer, combs, and various other items. Aurum got an idea. If he was going to hide out for a bit might as well do some work.
He grabbed a roll of toilet paper and unrolled it until he just had the cardboard tube. He did the same thing with a second roll of toilet paper before turning his attention to the hair dryer.
“Now how to make it stick…” He turned to the shampoo bottles. If he pretended they were glue would they act as it? It was worth a try. He squirted shampoo onto either side of the hair dryer then stuck the cardboard rolls to either side like antennas coming out. He bit the cord severing it from the hairdryer and paused as he realized it needed something else. He grabbed the longest comb he could find and stuck it into the tip of the hairdryer as well as more shampoo. Now it sort of looked like some kind of sci-fi gun with a rod sticking out of it.
Miraculously, the device held together. And once Aurum finished building it he picked it up and it appeared to be quite sturdy. He even tried tugging on a few pieces to make sure they were secure.
“Alright, ready to see something cool?” Aurum asked.
“Meow.” Calex wasn’t sure what Aurum’s plan was, but watched with curious eyes.
The tiger cub opened the cabinet and verified the Lady was gone. There were worms on the ground which he stepped around and then opened the bathroom door. The hall was empty except for more worms. So quietly as possible he worked his way back to the staircase. Calex followed seeming worried.
“It’s a teleportation device.” Aurum explained. “You use the knobs,” he twisted one of the cardboard tubes, “to adjust the distance point it in the direction you want to go then fire. I figure five feet should be enough to get past the door and into the room.” He began to turn the knobs.
“Meow mrow mew!” Calex cried out in warning. Did that mean the Lady was coming back? Aurum didn’t have much time them. He quickly pointed his teleporter up at the door and pulled down on the trigger. There was a flash and suddenly he found himself on the other side just as planned. It was a dusty old attic. But it was empty, no treasure anywhere. Aurum glanced around, noticing that though the floor was covered in dust there were five box shaped clear spots where something had been sitting previously. Had that been the treasure? If so where had it gone and-
“Fooooooooool.” The Lady spoke for the first time and was suddenly behind Aurum. There was no time to react or get away. He felt a slimy arm grab his shoulder and suddenly his fur turned completely black. He shrunk down rapidly in size as his tail shrunk to a tiny knub. A membrane of skin formed from going from the end of his arms down his body. He had turned into a bat, a bat that was currently too small and did not have proper hands to try to use the teleporter to get out of here before anything else happened. But he didn’t have to. Suddenly, he was surrounded by a puff of smoke and found himself hanging upside down near the staircase to the second floor.
“What?” Aurum asked.
“Ugh she caught you?” A feminine voice spoke. “I was hoping to get a second shot.”
Aurum released himself from the roof and flapped down to the ground to find the source of the voice. It was the black cat that attacked him earlier.
“Wait you can talk?” Aurum asked.
“Nope and neither can you.” The cat began to groom herself. “At least not in any manner that anyone else can understand. But all of the Lady’s familiars can talk to each other.”
“Wait familiars?” Aurum was confused.
“That’s what happens if she catches you.” The cat explained. “Turn into an animal in her service and are supposed to scare anyone who comes here. If you can really scare someone good you can force them to take your place as her familiar.”
“So… She only turned me into a normal animal.” Aurum let out a sigh. “That’s not too bad. I thought she would kill me.”
“No one dies in Springtide.” The cat replied dismissively.
“So where does she keep the treasure? I thought it’d be in the attic but it was empty.” Aurum hoped the black cat might have answers.
“Wait, you were in the attic, but… The Lady has the key and she hasn’t been defeated yet.” The cat gave Aurum a stare. “How did you get passed the door?”
“I built a teleporter and just teleported in!” Aurum beamed proudly.
“Idiot!” The cat bopped Aurum on the head. “That’s cheating. You can’t just teleport into the attic, you have to defeat the Lady fair and square and get the key. No wonder you got caught. Anyone who cheats immediately loses and becomes a familiar.”
“Well how was I supposed to know that?” Aurum demanded. Then he remembered Calex had been trying to warn him about something. Maybe it had been not to use the teleporter. Oops. “So what happens now?”
“Wait for more guests to arrive, try to scare them. Eventually someone will replace you as her familiar regardless of if you succeed or not, and then you can leave.” The cat explained.
“Huh…” Aurum thought for a moment. “Though, scaring others for a bit might be fun.”
“It can be quite fun.” The cat purred.
“And if I get someone good enough then I can leave early.” Aurum grinned. “Alright, let’s do this… Maybe I can scare Calex and… Wait he didn’t appear with me in the attic… Where did he go?”
Outside the mansion the tiny kitten floated safely high up in the air above the house looking down at it. He had a pretty good idea of what fate had befallen Aurum, and also knew there was nothing he could do to fix it at least not by himself. The Lady was not a Phantom that could be beaten with power alone. With some reluctance, he flew off heading back for the meadows. He would need to round up allies if they were going to take on the Lady and free Aurum. The only real way to fight her was with constant distractions and ambushes.
Funnily enough, when he would finally return with the intent of saving Aurum, Aurum would be having the time of his life scaring the allies Calex had brought with him.But of course the kitten had no way to know that Aurum was settling into his role so easily.