Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them? Are they molded by circumstance, or an unexpected twist of fate? What makes someone wicked? And what, more importantly, makes them good?
Quaxo fidgeted restlessly with the cuff of his sleeve. He kept his head down as he strode straight for the center of the Shiz commons, trying not to draw any unwanted attention to himself while doing so.
As he'd been reminded several times, he was only here because of Victoria. His sister would need him by her side, as her dance partner, and Quaxo was determined to blend into her shadow. He was determined not to make a spectacle of himself during his time here at the famed school.
His father was speaking with said sister some ways behind him, but Quaxo wasn't really listening. He was eager to arrive and get the initial splash of negative attention over with.
For a moment he'd thought he might have gotten through the crowd without it, however unlikely or impossible that might have seemed, but just as quickly he realized his fellow students had fallen into a hushed silence upon his abrupt arrival.
Other cats had begun to arrive, like him, and had already seemed to form little packs with one another. Pairing off into friend groups, and sorting into traditional social circles.
The popular cats, the loners, the troublemakers… all of whom were now staring at him with various shades of confusion, revulsion, and abject curiosity.
Quaxo would've thought he'd be used to the gaping by now, but that was far from the case.
A hush had fallen over the modest crowd of arriving students, and Quaxo's neck burned under the weight of their stares.
You could hear the sound of a pin drop… until his sister caught up, at any rate.
"What? What are you all looking at?"
Clothed in a white dress that fell to her knees, and a pink vest to complete the look, his sister Victoria was a vision in the two colors. The dress simultaneously contrasted with her brothers black blazer and trousers, and set her apart from the crowd. All the while blending near perfectly with her creamy white fur.
She was soft, seemingly meek at first glance, but make no mistake… his little sister was a firecracker.
Quaxo liked to think she balanced him out in that regard. Under most circumstances he was much more eager to blend into the background than cause a scene.
Unfortunately for the black and white tuxedo cat, causing a scene was just about all he was ever able to do whether he wanted to or not.
"Vic…" he started as he reached to grab hold of his sister's hand in an effort to hold her back as their father caught up as well.
There'd be enough of a fuss already without his sister's volatile nature causing an even bigger one.
Their father glared at him, however, and Quaxo shrank back.
"Does he have something in his teeth?" His sister continued, completely undeterred. She stepped toward a group of students as if she meant to attack them. The group scattered, and Quaxo couldn't blame them. His sister may be small, but she could be terrifying if provoked.
It was their father's turn to intervene now. He grabbed hold of Victoria's arm, trying to win over the crowd with an equally winning smile in a vain attempt to excuse his daughters actions.
Victoria was fiercely protective of her brother, especially during occasions such as these. Had been ever since she'd been old enough to understand why she should be in the first place.
It was her who'd insisted Quaxo be enrolled along with her, after all. Victoria loved her brother with everything she had. Even in spite of what he was.
"You'd think his fur was green with the way you're all carrying on," she continued, and another group dispersed. Covering their mouths and giggling, they passed by Quaxo close enough that he flinched as one or two of them hit his shoulders with their own.
Some unlucky queen spoke out among the rest, and by the horror in her eyes and the way she tried to cover her mouth, as if asking herself to stay quiet, Quaxo knew what she was going to say before a sound left her mouth. "He… he looks like Mistoffelees!"
The air in the commons went dead for a moment.
Mistoffelees. That name name hung over Quaxo like a hawk ready to strike. The name of a long ago Wizard, one that Quaxo bore a striking resemblance to.
This is how it always went. First the realization, and next would come the rumors. No doubt the other cats were already wondering, holding Quaxo against the atrocities attributed to the name Mistoffelees. Was Quaxo capable of committing them too? Then they'd start asking the real questions.
Were Quaxo and Mistoffelees… one and the same? Had a cat as vile as the infamous Mr. Mistoffelees been given a chance to ascend to the Heaviside layer, and come back anew?
Those were the questions that sent Quaxo's tail-tip twitching, for he almost certainly knew the answer.
How had such a thing happened? Had the current Wizard, the great Macavity, made a mistake all those years ago? When he vanquished the great evil of his former friend, Mistoffelees, had he somehow twisted fate in such a way that he came back? Or had Mr. Mistoffelees been more powerful than anyone had ever realized?
That, Quaxo didn't know. Nor, he thought, did any other cat. Though, they didn't seem to need to know why; enough puzzle pieces had already clicked. They knew who he was, and hated it.
Victoria, it seemed, wouldn't stand for that. She narrowed her eyes, and started lunging toward the queen who had drummed up this mess, and it took their father to hold her back.
"Darling, not on your first day," their father spoke in a hushed whisper. Seemingly hoping to distract Victoria, he reached into his bag to procure the present he'd been carrying around since they'd arrived in the city.
Mercifully it worked, though by this point the crowd had thinned and the novelty of Quaxo's face had subsided. That, and of course the fact that his sister was easily distracted by her newly gifted pair of shoes.
Ballet shoes, to be exact, because if there was anything in this world Victoria loved more than anything else, it was dancing. That was why they were here, after all.
For as long as Quaxo could remember he'd been his sister's partner for almost everything. Dancing had just been the natural extension of that. They knew each other better than anyone else, which was why Quaxo was here with her at Shiz. A school known for its prestigious dance academy.
Smiling a little, despite the eyes he could still feel burning a hole through his dark, near black hand-me-down clothes, he congratulated his sister on her new acquisition. Fawning with her over the perfectly pristine pair of white shoes, and ignoring the weight of his own thrice patched up pair tucked safely in the bag at his hip.
"Now Quaxo listen to me," his father was saying. He used that tone of voice he always used when talking to his eldest child. The one that was somehow both condescending and resigned. It was as if he'd already decided Quaxo was a disappointment and was simply saving himself the trouble of being disappointed further. "You're to stay out of trouble, not draw attention to yourself, and-"
"Look after Victoria, I know," Quaxo finished the instructions he knew almost by heart. After all, he'd been told a variation of them almost all his life.
His father pursed his lips, but didn't scold Quaxo on his interruption. Instead he turned to Victoria, his youngest and most precious child, and began a long and rather sappy farewell speech.
Quaxo knew that Victoria, despite her desire to stick up for her older brother in most instances, truly did cherish the spotlight of their fathers affection. She craved it, and really Quaxo couldn't blame her.
He'd crave it too, if he'd ever gotten a taste.
Letting his mind and gaze wander, Quaxo found himself taking in the courtyard of the school with somewhat curious eyes.
Most of the other cats had already arrived, it seemed, milling about the concrete walkways and freshly cut patches of grass. Most had said goodbye to their parents, or were old enough to have arrived alone in the first place.
He and Victoria were old enough to be on their own as well, but there had been no way their father would have let Victoria go without saying goodbye in person. And, equally as important, he was there to ensure that Quaxo didn't cause too much of a scene.
Continuing to look around, Quaxo began to notice just how tall everyone around him was. Which had his ears pressing flat against his head as nerves got the better of him.
He would have thought that years of being the shortest tom in the room would have prepared him for this, but even some of the queens seemed to tower over him at a distance.
It was intimidating, and made Quaxo inordinately grateful that his sister was somehow even smaller than he was, though admittedly not by much.
There'd be no worry he'd be assigned a dance partner he didn't know if he was far too short to be a convincing partner for anyone but Victoria, so that at least brought some relief.
He didn't know what he'd do without his sister.
As his eyes continued to wander, they caught those of a remaining group of cats by the door that led to the dormitories.
They were part of the crowd that had noticed him earlier, and seemed to be the only ones paying him any attention now after the hype had died down.
Five pairs of eyes were less than what felt like hundreds before, but as far as Quaxo was concerned it was still five pairs too many.
Two queens, one red and one yellow, giggled and whispered to one another, all the while casting glances Quaxo's way. Two of the toms were a little more subtle about it, but the gray tabby and the black and white bicolor cat cast him uneasy glances and seemed to be discussing him amongst themselves nonetheless.
But the fifth cat? The fifth cat stared at him with an expression Quaxo couldn't place. Didn't want to place, considering how it made his skin crawl under the intensity of it.
The tom was clearly their ringleader, given how he sat slightly higher than the others on the set of stairs leading up into the main dormitory. That, and simply the way he carried himself.
His mane was wild, and yet at the same time seemed meticulously groomed even from this distance. Everything about him from the way he sat, to the way he smiled at something the red queen said screamed that he was far more confident than Quaxo could ever be. That he was so far above the tuxedo cat in the proverbial food chain that Quaxo may as well just roll over and play dead now.
Humiliatingly enough, the cat even seemed at least a year or two younger than Quaxo. Closer in age to Victoria, at the very least.
His neck burned, and he could only hope his hackles were smooth by the time their father let them go with a final hug to his daughter.
Following Victoria, Quaxo was surprised his tail wasn't between his legs as they passed by the group of cats on their way inside. All the while he could still feel the tom's gaze lingering on him, and Quaxo could only hope he never saw the maine coon again.
Walking inside, he was relieved to find the halls mostly devoid of other cats. It was just him and his sister for now, and with a slight bounce to his step Quaxo quickly followed behind her down the narrow hall, his eyes scanning the numbers on the doors for their own.
As they walked, his sister's bag was jostled by a passing student. All seemed fine, until Quaxo spotted his sister's ivory water bottle teetering precariously on the edge of falling out.
It was without thought that he reached forward and performed a slight of hand to keep it in place, his sister remaining none the wiser.
Casual magic had been something he'd done ever since he'd been a kitten. Despite his and his family's modest fear of it, it was just second nature.
As a kitten Quaxo could recall playing in the garden; chasing a butterfly, if his fuzzy memory of the incident served correctly. One second he'd been there, and the next he'd been gone. Only to be found several hours later laying out on the lawn as if nothing had ever happened. With absolutely no memory of where he'd been or why.
What he did know, however, was that when Quaxo had returned he'd never quite been the same.
His once normal coat of black sparkled under the light of the Jellicle moon, and his fingers always seemed to buzz with a hidden energy. Like a bolt of lightning just waiting to be unleashed.
He hid his magic for fear of frightening others, and his family never spoke of it, but even so it was almost second nature for him to use it even if he had no real idea how.
As they found their room, it was with another subtle display of casual magic that Quaxo opened the door. Holding it for his sister as she crossed the threshold into what would be their home for the next two years at the very least.
Claiming the bed by the window, Victoria dropped her bag on the floor and flopped on top of the mattress with a soft groan.
"That could have gone better," she spoke as she lifted her head enough to shoot her brother a wry smile.
Quaxo's own smile was a little more reserved as he set his suitcase down gingerly on his own bed and began to unpack. Taking out his shoes first, and then his clothes, he folded them all in neat little piles in the corner of the closet they'd now be sharing.
"No one assaulted either of us, so I think it went alright," he replied, sitting down on the edge of his bed and bouncing on it lightly to test it's firmness.
Arching her back, his sister stretched her arms above her head as she sat upright once more. "There's that, at least," she agreed, but her smile told Quaxo she was teasing him just as much as he was her.
Standing, Quaxo moved across the room and sat on his sister's bed. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he pulled her into a side hug. She rested her cheek on his shoulder and both cats took a deep breath as they let themselves try to relax.
"We're gonna be alright, right?" Victoria asked softly, glancing up at him after a few moments.
"We're gonna be alright," Quaxo confirmed as he turned his head and kissed the top of his sister's.
And, for the first few weeks, they were.
"Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch! Again!"
Breathing heavily through the strain in his limbs, Quaxo followed through each movement as best he was able under the watchful eyes of one of their three dance instructors.
Each one, of course, approached dancing and therefore teaching in different ways. Grizabella apparently approached it by pushing her students as hard as she possibly could, drilling them on simple but physically challenging routines until one or more of them simply couldn't take it anymore.
Today that someone was Quaxo.
He'd spent too much of the previous day putting in extra hours with Victoria. Helping her sister nail a fouette in her routine that had been giving her trouble.
All that extra time had made his usually toned muscles feel weak, and Quaxo was struggling to keep up with the rest of the class.
He wasn't the only one struggling, however, as the red queen he'd noticed on his very first day kicked when she should have lept, causing her to fall behind and briefly abandon the routine only to jump in a few moves later.
Mercifully for Quaxo, Grizabella bid them to stop with a wave of her hand and he gratefully stepped over to his dance bag to grab something to drink and maybe loosen up his overworked muscles with a few uncomplicated stretches while the teacher took a moment to speak to the queen about what she'd done wrong.
It was very like Grizabella to bring the class to a halt to focus on one student. It had used to grate on Quaxo, but at least she'd never done it to him.
Letting his eyes roam the room, Quaxo spotted his sister talking with a pair of queens about her own age. Jemima and Etcetera, he thought he recalled from what his sister had told him about her new friends.
He was happy for her, really, but that didn't make him feel any less lonely as he stood by himself at the side of the room.
"Again!" Grizabella called out, clapping her hands together and gesturing for her students to get back into place. "Let's do it one more time, and then we're going to pair into partners and work on lifts."
When Victoria automatically took her place by his side, Quaxo was just glad the older cat hadn't insisted they be paired with someone they didn't already know.
Lifts. He could do a few lifts, right? No problem.
"You got me?" Victoria asked.
"I got you," Quaxo promised. And he kept that promise, just not exactly in the most subtle way.
They'd moved on from the routine and had started practicing lifts in earnest when Quaxo caught his sister in a jump that hadn't felt right from the start.
It was no fault of hers, but Quaxo could feel her falling before her body had even started to slip out of his hands.
Reacting on instinct, he caught her. Only he hadn't touched her at all, and had instead somehow managed to suspend her in midair with a burst of magic he hadn't even known he had in him.
The room fell silent, and Victoria was having trouble looking him in the eyes after he'd settled her back down on the floor and she'd righted herself.
The silence was broken by Grizabella, who all of a sudden had a strange but haunting look in her eyes. "Alright that's enough! No more gawking. Class is dismissed."
Quaxo had tried to grab his bag and leave as quickly as possible, but of course Grizabella stopped him before he'd even begun to move toward the door.
"Not you, Quaxo. I need to speak with you."
Waiting as everyone else was allowed to leave was torture at its finest, not at all helped by the fact that his sister seemed inclined to barely acknowledge him as she passed.
He'd done magic in front of her before, and it had never bothered her then, but for some reason the very public display had clearly rattled her as much if not more than the near fall, and for now he couldn't even apologize.
Ears pressed flat against his head, the second the door latched and the last student had left he turned toward Grizabella and began to speak.
"I'm so sorry," he started with, because he was. He'd disrupted the class, made a spectacle of himself, probably frightened someone. "I lost control for a moment but it won't happen again, I swear."
"Has something like this happened before?" the grizzled older queen asked. Her eyebrows raised.
"I-I mean, yes. Yes ma'am it has, but I-" Quaxo began, lowering his head as he looked down toward the floor. Preparing to be expelled, or worse, because that was clearly where this was heading.
His father was going to be furious with him, not to mention poor Victoria who'd be left high and dry without a partner she could trust, and-
"My dear boy, with a gift like that you could find yourself meeting the Wizard!"
Quaxo flinched, opening his mouth to apologize again before what she'd actually said finally sunk in.
Him? Meet the Wizard? Why would a cat as grand as the Wizard ever want to meet someone as ordinary as him?
Because you've got the soul of a magician in you, a small voice supplied. The magic that flowed through his veins was the same magic that flowed through Macavity's, after all. The same magic that Mr Mistoffelees before him had possessed.
It made him special, some would say it made him dangerous, but more than that it made him different. Different, but maybe with the approval of the Wizard 'different' might be okay.
Not to mention the fact that if the Wizard even considered meeting him, Quaxo might finally get answers to the questions that had often haunted him. Maybe he could even find a kindred spirit in the Wizard.
Maybe the Wizard could find one in him in return, if he was so inclined.
After all, Macavity had been friends with Mr Mistoffelees before everything had gone so horribly wrong. Maybe there was something to be said about two souls destined to interact despite time and circumstance pulling them apart.
But Quaxo? Meeting the Wizard? It made him feel dizzy. Elated, even. Like he was floating on a cloud. "The Wizard? Me?"
"Yes of course you, you silly boy," Grizabella replied as if he was crazy for even asking. As if anything about this turn of events was normal.
A disbelieving laugh forced its way past Quaxo's lips, and all of the sudden he was certain life was never going to be the same.
Bombalurina had thought Tugger's fascination with the black and white tuxedo cat was strange, at first. She had assumed it would turn out to be a passing fancy, nothing more than simple curiosity, and that Tugger would abandon it when he inevitably grew bored. She herself hadn't paid the other cat any real mind outside of a passing thought of her own. That was, of course, until Quaxo's display of magic that had shocked them all in Grizabella's classroom.
Overnight the school had been thrown into a frenzy and word had spread like wildfire. Soon everyone knew what the cat had done. Not only did Quaxo look like the late Mr Mistoffelees, he had magic like him too.
The story grew more absurd every time Bombalurina heard it, but it was rather amusing to hear at least three different clearly false versions of the tale that painted Quaxo in an even more extraordinary light. Saying that the magical cat had caught Victoria mid leap, and flown her around the room like she'd been a kite on the end of a string.
The entire school had changed it's tune in the weeks since, and a divide had emerged between students who were now more afraid of Quaxo than ever, and those who were wondering why he'd hidden such a marvelous talent for so long.
Grizabella, as far as Bombalurina was aware, had taken the magical cat under her wing and passed him off to Professor Deuteronomy, a wise and respected old cat who had magical abilities of his own, or at least the means to teach about them. And ever since then Quaxo would often be spotted with his nose in a book and his hands sparkling with unused energy. Learning how to use his gift, Bombalurina supposed, and she tried to pay him no more mind now than she had before.
She wasn't afraid of him, but there was still an emotion she couldn't quite put a name to that swelled in her chest anytime anyone mentioned his name. And anyone, more often than not, turned out to be Tugger.
Bombalurina's long legs were tangled up with the maine coon's as the pair of cats lounged on either side of a loveseat in the corner of the rather large dormitory common room. Both had their noses in a magazine, though one of Tugger's fingers had been absently tracing patterns in the fur on her calf for the better part of an hour and she wasn't actually sure he was reading anything at all.
"What's the most swankified place in town?" Tugger asked suddenly, eyes never moving from their place on the page.
Raising an eyebrow, Bombalurina peered at her best friend, and occasional boyfriend, over the top of her magazine. Tugger's features were devoid of any real emotion, and in fact he still wasn't even looking at her, but Bombalurina had known him since they were both kittens and she knew exactly what that lack of look meant; Tugger was planning something.
"That would be the Ozdust ballroom," Bombalurina replied as she dropped her gaze back to the magazine even though she too was no longer reading it.
"Sounds perfect," Tugger replied absently as if he hadn't actually heard what she'd said. "Let's throw a party."
"It's the middle of the semester," she pointed out, though she had no doubt Tugger already knew that despite the fact that he'd been cutting class almost every day since they'd arrived.
"It'll be a middle of the semester party," he replied with a shrug, though this time he didn't look or sound quite as distracted as he leaned forward and used a finger to push down the top of her magazine until her face was in view. "Me and you, baby. We're meant for the spotlight."
He leaned in with that winning smile of his, presumably going for a kiss on the cheek or lips, but Bombalurina dropped her magazine in favor of placing both hands on his chest, pushing him away with a good natured smirk tugging at her features. "Maybe we could share the spotlight more often if you decided to show up for class once and awhile, baby ."
Tugger leveled her with that irresistible pout, and it was with a groan that Bombalurina caved and agreed to help him plan his little party. She could never say no to that face and he knew it.
Over the next few weeks Bombalurina placed herself in charge of sending out invitations. Of course Demeter, Munkustrap, and Alonzo were all automatically invited considering one was her roommate, one was Tugger's brother, and the third was their collective best friend. But in addition to their little pack she reached out personally to the likes of Jemima, Etcetera, and the calico twins Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer.
On a whim Bombalurina even invited Victoria, though that was mostly because the red queen had wanted to invite Plato as well and it seemed the tom had gotten close to Victoria in the wake of all the Quaxo hullabaloo.
Bombalurina was in the process of telling Tugger all of this as the pair walked across the darkened campus commons in the direction of their dorms. She'd just gotten to the part about Victoria when the tom spoke up for the first time since Bombalurina had begun. "Did you invite Quaxo?"
Looking up, Bombalurina squinted at Tugger in confusion. "What? No, of course not."
Why would she invite the cat half the school was afraid of, and the other half wanted to worship at the feet of? Maybe that was a slight exaggeration, sure, but Bombalurina was cat enough to admit that she missed when things had been simpler. When there hadn't been all this fuss about reincarnated Wizards and the like. What was Tugger's fascination with Quaxo anyway? Was it just curiosity? Or was there something else going on? Bombalurina didn't know, and she hated not knowing things.
Tugger was silent for a long moment after that, and Bombalurina thought that would be the end of the discussion thank the Everlasting Cat, but soon enough Tugger was continuing. "You should invite him."
Bombalurina wondered, not for the first time, what was going on in the tom's head.
"Why?" she asked instead of outright starting an argument, though her tone was challenging enough.
"Why not?" was Tugger's reply as he fluffed up the long fur at his neck to combat against the chill in the air. The leaves would be falling soon. Bombalurina pulled her baby pink jacket tighter around her body, absently chewing on her lower lip before opening her mouth to speak again.
"I didn't think you'd care if he was there or not," she finally replied, finding that she didn't have an answer for him other than the obvious. "He'd only be a distraction."
There was silence again, but it didn't last as long and eventually Tugger nodded, shrugging a shoulder as if to agree with her. "I don't care, I was just wondering."
As they reached the steps that led up to the dorm, Tugger leaned down to place a light kiss on Bombalurina's cheek, leaving a perplexing emotion stirring in her chest as they parted ways toward their respective rooms. Was it jealousy? No, that wasn't quite it. Why would she, a cat who had everything she ever wanted, ever need to be jealous of a cat like Quaxo? Regardless of the way he'd caught the attention of everyone in the school including Tugger, apparently. She wasn't jealous, but she certainly wasn't going to invite Quaxo either way.
However the following week, after receiving a truly heinous article of clothing as a gift from her mother, Bombalurina finally had the push she needed to go through with the invitation of Quaxo after all.
"Have you ever seen something so… so…?" she began, struggling to find a word strong enough to convey her loathing.
"Smart?" Munkustrap supplied, though shrank back as Bombalurina gave him a dirty look and corrected him with the word she'd settled on, "Ugly."
"It's not so bad," Demeter began as she crossed the dorm room the two queens shared, trying to get a better look at the black bowtie Bombalurina held in her hands. "It's… preppy."
Bombalurina scoffed at that, holding the tie to her neck as she looked around the room and practically dared anyone to try and tell her she didn't look ridiculous. "Ugly," she corrected again.
The five of them often gathered in Demeter and Bombalurina's shared dorm room. Technically they were meant to be studying, but there was never much of that going on… except on Munkustrap's part, of course. The gray tabby rolled his eyes and turned back to the homework he'd spread out on top of Demeter's desk. "Right," he conceded, and Bombalurina resolved to ignore her roommate's boyfriend.
"Everlasting, what am I ever going to do with this?" Bombalurina lamented as she lowered her hands and moved to gather the wrappings of the 'present' her mother had sent.
"Donate it?" The ever practical Alonzo spoke up from where he was sitting on the edge of Bombalurina's bed. He wasn't studying either, much too preoccupied searching through a basket of Bombalurina's clothes for a jacket she'd told him he could borrow for the party that had finally reached them. Tomorrow night was the night, and almost the entire school had been buzzing about it.
Bombalurina considered his suggestion, but in the end she'd made another face and shook her head with finality. "No, I couldn't even give this to my worst enemy."
"It would look nice on Quaxo." Four sets of eyes turned as one to stare at the speaker, and Tugger, who had been lounging comfortably on the windowsill up until that moment, looked oddly uncomfortable under the weight of their stares and the center of their attention. "You know… because he's a tuxedo cat?" he continued as he gestured to his own spiked collar as if that proved some sort of point. "Bow tie?"
Scoffing again, Bombalurina tossed the piece of cloth in Tugger's direction more out of spite than anything. She was so tired of hearing about the great Quaxo, and for Tugger to bring it up now, of all times? On the eve of the party she still hadn't invited Quaxo to in the first place? "If you really think so, why don't you just give it to him then?"
Catching the bowtie with a surprising burst of speed, Tugger seemed to actually consider that option before tossing the tie back to its original owner. "Why don't you? You invited the whole school, even some of the teachers, you might as well invite him too."
Bombalurina scowled, but then again Tugger wasn't wrong. She'd invited nearly everyone she knew. Everyone except…
Eyes falling to the tie in her hands, Bombalurina suddenly began to entertain a rather wicked idea.
Professor Deuteronomy, affectionately called Old D by most of his students, was one of the kindest, gentlest, purest souls Quaxo had ever had the honor to meet. The elderly cat had lived many lives, or so the story went, and no one knew how or why he'd ended up here teaching Ozian history at a school like Shiz. But not a single soul would have dreamed of turning him away.
Deuteronomy had traveled the world, seen many Wizards rise and fall, but most crucially to Quaxo, Old Deuteronomy had magic. And not only that, over his many years Deuteronomy had trained more than one cat to harness the oftentimes tumultuous energy inside of them. Even, if rumors were to be believed, Macavity and Mr Mistoffelees themselves.
Grizabella had known nothing of such things, only that the Wizard would want Quaxo's magic controllable before he'd agree to an audience or even a meeting of any sort, and so she'd handed him off into the care of Deuteronomy. That was agreeable to Quaxo, who would have spent any amount of time with Old Deuteronomy regardless of potential personal gain, and saw reason in his being able to better control his gift.
To start, Deuteronomy had provided Quaxo with a book so ancient it's pages were constantly threatening to tear or fall out completely, but despite it's appearance the old book was more precious and more valuable to Quaxo than anything else in this world. Inside were pages upon pages of spells and enchantments, and complicated phrases Quaxo had a sneaking suspicion might be written in Latin. It was akin to a holy grail, and Quaxo spent many a long night pouring through it, soaking up every little scrap of information he could in an effort to prove he could do this. That he should do this.
During this time, Quaxo wasn't so caught up in his new studies to fail to notice Victoria's distance as of late. His sister was spending more and more time away from their dorm and hanging out with friends than she did with her brother. He told himself this was natural. Victoria was young, finally out from under the watchful eyes of their father, it made sense that she'd want to spread her wings a little. But Quaxo knew the distance had started ever since that day in Grizabella's class when his gift had come out in full force and changed… everything.
Though his sister insisted it wasn't the case, Quaxo knew the whole thing must have upset her more than just the initial shock and mild embarrassment.
Quaxo had tried to talk to Victoria about it, but in the end he'd realized it was the both of them that were growing apart. He couldn't place all the blame on Victoria's shoulders, even if that would lessen the burden of guilt. He told himself it was natural that siblings, even ones so close, would grow apart overtime. He told himself it was natural, and tried to ignore the voice telling him it wasn't.
"In short, the battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles was thwarted by the efforts of…?" Deuteronomy began, old eyes searching the group of seated students for one with the answer.
Munkustrap was the first to raise his hand, supplying the answer before Deuteronomy had even called upon him. "The great Rumpus Cat."
"Correct," Deuteronomy replied with a smile, a smile that looked to Quaxo's eyes like he might be sharing a private joke with himself. As if he was amused by something none of them could understand.
Munkustrap looked proud, at any rate, and Quaxo resisted the urge to roll his eyes as the self proclaimed 'Rum Tum Tugger' shot the gray tabby a look and very deliberately mouthed the word 'nerd' in his direction.
Quaxo still caught the maine coon staring at him on the rare occasions Tugger actually showed up to class, and if Munkustrap weren't so closely associated with Tugger, Quaxo maintained that they could have been friends. As far as Quaxo was aware, he and Munkustrap might be the only cats enrolled who cared as much about their other classes as they did their dancing career.
To his credit, Munkustrap didn't seem as amused by Tugger as the rest of the class, but still. Tugger was a menace at best and an annoyance at worst and Quaxo's efforts to avoid him worked well, but only when the maine coon cut classes. Which, to be fair, happened quite a lot. As far as Quaxo could see, Tugger had come from privilege and touted that same privilege wherever he went, seemingly of the mind that he could coast through life with little to no consequences for his actions. The most infuriating part was that he wasn't necessarily wrong.
Leaving class that day, Quaxo stayed behind a moment to slip on warmer garments in an effort to combat against the changing seasons. For a cat as small as he was he got chilled quickly and even though the walk from Old Deuteronomy's class back to his dorm wasn't a long one, it was long enough to take precautions.
Quaxo had been about to step outside when his way was blocked by an approaching figure. At first he thought it was only his sister, then for a brief terrifying moment he thought it could be someone who meant to do him harm... or worse, actually attempt to strike up a conversation with him. In the end he was half right, but mostly wrong as he found himself staring up at the lithe form of Bombalurina. She was wearing the whitest and tightest pair of pants the tuxedo cat had ever seen, accented by a baby pink blazer cinched at her waist by a silver belt that sparkled every time the light caught it.
If Tugger was considered the king of the school, and Tugger himself would argue that he most certainly was, Bombalurina was his queen. She was just as powerful, just as popular, and Quaxo couldn't fathom why she'd be here clearly wanting a word with him.
Quaxo may have gained favor in some cats eyes after his display of power, but not enough for this. To say Quaxo was intimidated by Bombalurina in this moment was an understatement, even more so as she finally got around to speaking. "Are you aware that we're having a party tonight in the Ozdust ballroom?"
Quaxo stared dumbly for a moment, then began to nod. He was sure he'd heard Victoria mention it in passing. And if she hadn't, almost the entire school had been invited so he must have heard it from somewhere. Quaxo hadn't been paying the entire thing much mind, and he wasn't sure why he should now. "I'm not going, if that's what you're worried about."
Surprisingly Bombalurina didn't look relieved with that information in hand. In fact she actually looked a little overly disappointed. If Quaxo could find a reason for it, he might have thought she was exaggerating the emotion… but to what end he couldn't say. "Oh, no! You've got to come, I've got just the thing for you to wear!"
Quaxo had no idea what expression could possibly be plastered all over his face, but if he had to guess he'd say it must look somewhere between a grimace and a fake smile as Bombalurina produced a black bowtie from her pocket and held it up for him to see like a freshly caught mouse. A gift, he realized. She was trying to give him a gift.
"It's really uh, sharp, don't you think?" She was saying, but Quaxo wasn't sure he was listening anymore even as she went on. "Did you know black is this year's pink? You'll be so ahead of the curve, and stylish too. You simply have to come."
Quaxo didn't have to do anything, and yet all of a sudden he found that he might want to. He couldn't fathom how something as simple as a gift could change his mind so suddenly, but it had. The kindness of the gesture was touching, and thoughtful, and everything he'd prejudged Bombalurina for not being. Quaxo was happy to be wrong in his opinion of the queen, but that made him wary all the same. There were still students at Shiz who saw his magic as something to be feared, and how was he to know this wasn't an elaborate ruse to get his guard down? To humiliate or shame him in some unknown way?
Nevertheless, Quaxo reached up to take the tie from the queen. Carefully running his thumb across the soft velvet of the bowtie and trying not to openly gawk. He didn't think he'd ever held something so soft in his entire life. "I'll… think about it."
Without looking back, Quaxo quickly brushed past Bombalurina out into the chilly afternoon air. Trying to keep a smile from spreading across his features even as Bombalurina called "You're welcome!" after him.
Well that had certainly been a twist of fate he hadn't seen coming, and Quaxo had been all smiles upon reaching the dorm he shared with Victoria only to be abruptly blindsided by the bombshell of an announcement his sister dropped in his lap. He blinked. "You…. don't want to be my dance partner anymore?"
"Not… exactly like that," Victoria was saying, but what Quaxo had heard was that she wanted to replace him with someone better. A tom who could keep up with her, maybe wasn't as much of a freak as her magical older brother. She wanted Plato as her partner, Plato who she was going to the party with tonight in addition to using him to leave Quaxo high and dry. There was no way Quaxo could find a partner to replace his sister, not anyone he could trust as much as he trusted her, anyway.
To her credit, Victoria looked genuinely torn up about it, but that did nothing to stop the feeling of betrayal that had settled deep in Quaxo's chest. The heavy weight of something almost like resentment, but that wasn't entirely fair to his sister.
"I really like him," Victoria continued, seemingly oblivious to Quaxo's internal struggle. "And I think he likes me too."
Regardless of that, the feeling of betrayal still lingered even though he truly did feel happy for his sister. She deserved this, she deserved to love and be loved by someone in return, but that didn't mean it didn't sting. He loved her too, after all. Was the love of her brother not enough? Of course not, he scolded himself. Why would it be if the love of her brother wore the face of Mr Mistoffelees and all the attention that went with it? But maybe he was being too harsh.
"Oh, Quaxo," Victoria was continuing. "Please try and understand…"
Taking a deep breath, and a moment to school his features, Quaxo squared his shoulders and offered her a nod and a small smile, about to lie to her for perhaps the first time in his life. "I do."
He didn't. Not at all, actually. Quaxo wouldn't have dreamed of letting anything come between them, let alone a pretty boy. To throw away everything they'd worked towards together just to spend more time with a tom they hardly knew… it was horribly unkind. And Quaxo ignored the small voice that told him he'd let magic, and his potential meeting with the Wizard, do the same thing to her, preferring to wallow in self pity for a little while longer. Unbeknownst to Victoria, of course, who moved about the room getting ready for the party with the assurance that her brother was alright. Maybe Quaxo would be someday, but not tonight.
Quaxo dropped the gifted bowtie on his desk and vowed not to think anymore about it… he certainly wouldn't be going, not if he'd only be in the way of his sister and her new date. His resolve held until the hour struck and everyone who was anyone filed out of their rooms and made their way to the Ozdust ballroom. Quaxo could see the lights from here, and he'd be lying if he said the entire thing wasn't even a little bit appealing.
His resolve was strong… strong enough to last him another solid hour until he'd dressed, throwing on a pair of white and black leg and arm warmers to combat the chill, and quickly strode from the dorms toward the large circular building in the distance.
He told himself he was going because he was technically betraying his promise to their father by letting Victoria go alone and unsupervised. Even though she was a fully grown cat, Quaxo couldn't help but be overprotective when it was all he'd ever known. Even after what had happened between them earlier, she was still his little sister after all.
He also told himself that a part of him wanted to go out of spite. He wanted to go with his gifted bowtie on and head held high to show the other cats of Shiz what he was really made of. Prove to them once and for all that he was Quaxo, and not even a little bit like Mr Mistoffelees. That he was normal, despite all of the hullabaloo as of late.
Neither of those reasons were quite the whole truth, of course. Really when it came down to it, Quaxo just wanted to go. He wanted to join his fellow students and actually feel normal for once. Maybe even feel accepted. He wanted to dance under the bright lights and feel free, the kind of freedom he only ever felt when dancing.
So, drawn to the building like a moth to flame, Quaxo found himself peering through a window to look inside. He spotted Victoria almost immediately, dancing with Plato near the center of the room, her white fur standing out among the crowd and under the bright lights. She looked happy, really happy, and Quaxo told himself he could go back now that he knew his sister was safe. He told himself he could leave, not cause a scene by arriving late and only ambiguously invited, but then of course he didn't, and he was still staring through the window as a voice broke the relative silence.
Nearly jumping out of his skin, to his horror Quaxo turned and found himself staring at none other than the Rum Tum Tugger himself. All looks, all swagger, all overconfidence… all a combination that had Quaxo stepping back from the window as though he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have been.
"Everlasting!" He exclaimed as he brought a hand to his chest and took a small step back from the tomcat. "You scared me half to death!"
The other cats grin only grew wider at that, and Quaxo could feel the back of his neck heating up the longer he was the subject of the cats gaze. Curiously enough, the tom didn't seem to be staring at Quaxo with the fascination or even the wariness that he was growing used to. He didn't even seem all that fazed by Quaxo's appearance at all, actually. Or what he knew he could do. Tugger hadn't been in class that day, surprise surprise, but everyone in the school had heard the story from one cat or another.
"Sorry," the tom replied, but somehow Quaxo got the feeling he really wasn't. Tugger was leaning casually against the wall, and Quaxo wondered how long the other cat had been there, and how long he'd been being watched without his knowledge… in the end he decided not to ask.
"You know the party's inside, right?" Tugger continued as he pushed off the wall and strode toward the tuxedo cat, an easy smile on his face as his thumbs hooked casually through his suspenders. Somehow, Quaxo marveled, the tom managed to look vaguely alluring and definitely intimidating even when it didn't seem like he was trying to. He hadn't even dressed up for the party, still wearing the same brown suspenders and tight green shirt he always did. Though, Quaxo noted, Tugger had donned a slightly less spiky collar and fingerless gloves that weren't made out of expensive looking leather to really round out the 'not a care in the world' element to his look. Maybe that was the point, he mused, and decided not to ask about that either. In fact, he'd rather not be here talking to Tugger at all.
"I know," Quaxo finally replied, because it seemed as though the other cat was expecting him to answer. "But I like the view better from out here." He didn't know where that last bit had come from. It was flimsy defense, and one he didn't even need. But even so, Quaxo gestured vaguely to the window he'd been looking through as if that proved his point.
Oddly enough the other tom decided to humor him, striding over to the very same window and peering in. Even going so far as to nod in agreement. "Can't argue with that," he replied and then, turning to face Quaxo, held out his hand to be shaken. Smiling all the while with those insultingly perfect teeth. "I think the view's better out here too."
Suddenly Quaxo was beginning to feel a little queasy, though he had no real idea why.
"I'm Tugger, the Rum Tum Tugger, but most people just call me Tugger. You're Quaxo, right?"
Staring at the hand, it took Quaxo a painfully long time to reach out and take hold of it. Not quite sure what was happening here, or why the other tom was giving him the time of day. Or… technically night, he supposed. First Bombalurina, and now Tugger? Had both cats been biding their time and for some reason choosing now to strike? Was this some sort of elaborate cat and mouse game where Quaxo was undeniably the prey? Had Tugger put Bombalurina up to the invitation in an effort to get Quaxo here? None of this made any sense, and Quaxo feared any answers would only confuse him more.
"Right," he replied to the question as Tugger shook his hand. "I know who you are," he continued, because everyone knew who the Rum Tum Tugger was. He was a legend in his own right, after all. You'd have to have your head buried in the sand to not notice or at least hear about the most popular cat in school.
Ever since laying eyes on Tugger on their first day, Quaxo had labeled him as no good. Though to be fair he'd labeled Bombalurina the same and so far he seemed wrong about her. Maybe he was wrong to pre-judge Tugger as well.
"Right, of course," Tugger replied, and maybe Quaxo had imagined it but was that disappointment in his eyes? No, it must be a trick of the light. Or lack of light, really. The school was unnaturally dark, the only real light to speak of coming from inside the building. That or the light of the moon and stars, which bathed both cats in a sort of eerie glow that had Quaxo's fur standing on end.
"Well, I should be heading back now, thank you," Quaxo was saying, watching another strange and unexpected emotion pass over Tugger's features at his words but it was gone before Quaxo could put a name to it.
"Aw, come on, kitten," the other tom protested, and Quaxo nearly huffed at the unexpected nickname. He knew he was short, but Everlasting! He was older than the other cat by at least a year and clearly more mature. "Don't you wanna dance?" Tugger continued, and even went so far as to add a little hip shake as if that would change Quaxo's mind. It didn't, though it did manage to amuse him. A little, anyway.
"No, thank you, I actually can't dance," Quaxo replied so deadpan that it clearly startled the other tom. Just for a moment, because after that moment Tugger began to laugh. And in the end even Quaxo found himself smiling at his own joke. But really he was smiling at how much it had clearly amused the other tom.
"I've seen you dance, we both know that's not true," Tugger replied, and Quaxo raised an eyebrow in response to that.
"You've been in class long enough to see me dance? Why, Tugger, I'm surprised at you," Quaxo teased, and... could he have already grown comfortable enough around the other cat to be able to tease him like they were old friends? Outside of Victoria, Quaxo had never had a friend before. It was strange, but there was something nice about it all the same. "How do you manage to pass class when you barely attend? Do tell, I'm sure the tale is riveting."
Tugger, to his credit, didn't take any of Quaxo's words harshly. In fact, it almost seemed like the tom was thrilled Quaxo had even noticed his lack of attendance. "You know the trouble with schools, star?" He asked, using a new nickname Quaxo didn't quite hate as much as the first. "They always try to teach the wrong lesson and, believe me, I've been kicked out of enough of them to know." He chuckled to himself. "Some of us like to have a little fun before we kick the bucket one day. Me? I'm one of those kinds of cats. Dancing through life is a lot easier to do when you know nothing matters. It's just life, after all."
Bristling at that, Quaxo stood a little straighter and fixed Tugger with a glare. "You think things come easy to you because you've been handed everything your entire life," Quaxo replied, and this time he wasn't smiling or teasing. And he certainly wasn't asking a question. "Cats like you make cats like me have to work twice as hard to even compare."
Tugger's words were a timely reminder of why the tuxedo cat had made his judgements on the maine coon and his friends in the first place. Cats like Tugger never worked hard for anything, and yet somehow they had everything Quaxo had ever wanted. Popularity, good grades, friends and family who loved them… it wasn't fair, and Quaxo was certainly predisposed to holding it against 'cats like that.'
Tugger's face fell, and Quaxo knew before the tom even began to speak that he was planning to apologize. Too little too late as far as Quaxo was concerned.
"What? No, I- I mean maybe a little but that's not- I'm not- that's not who I am."
Tugger sounded earnest, of course, but Quaxo was already turning to leave when he felt a hand grabbing hold of his arm. Quaxo flinched away from the contact, eyes wide as he turned to face Tugger again. Tugger who had a rather distressed look on his face that almost made Quaxo feel bad for the harshness of his own behavior.
"You're right," the maine coon admitted, and Quaxo found his own eyebrows raising in surprise. "You're right, Quaxo."
Tugger didn't say more than that, but Quaxo could see genuine earnestness in his eyes nonetheless. It surprised the tuxedo cat, and he found himself staring at Tugger for a moment before his eyes began to narrow. "Is that supposed to be an apology?"
"No! Er- yes?" Tugger tried as the tom raised a hand to absently scratch at the back of his neck. The movement seemed to make him grimace, but Quaxo found himself nodding with only slightly exaggerated thoughtfulness.
"Well… I'll let you know if I decide to accept," Quaxo finally said, though Tugger's apology would obviously mean nothing if the other cat didn't actually make an effort to change along with it. Tugger caring about anyone but himself? Anyone outside of his group of friends? That would certainly be the day.
Quaxo took another step back, but there was a very faint wisp of a smile tugging at his features again. It was a sad sort of smile, however, because he found that somehow he was beginning to pity the maine coon. "You can't always dance through life, Tugger. One of these days you're going to have to run."
Tugger looked genuinely thoughtful at that, and Quaxo had been about to turn to finally leave when a nearby door opened and closed with a loud slam.
All of the sudden Quaxo could see Bombalurina walking toward the pair, and she looked positively furious. "There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you, you beast!" She exclaimed as she strode toward Tugger, but faltered for a moment as she saw Quaxo. Her angry expression fading into a look of total shock. "And… Quaxo! You actually came… and you wore the tie."
Raising a hand to his throat, Quaxo realized with a jolt that he was in fact wearing the bowtie he'd been gifted. The look on Bombalurinas face was hard to read, but Tugger's was less so as he wrapped an arm around the queens waist. "What's all the commotion about, baby? I was only gone for a minute, don't tell me you just missed me."
Quaxo suddenly felt uncomfortable in the presence of the pair. Tugger's flirting with the queen making him feel a little strange.
"As if," Bombalurina replied with a roll of her eyes, and Quaxo couldn't tell if she was being serious or not. "But your guests are, and you've definitely been out here for more than a minute."
She glanced at Quaxo then, but whatever earlier expression she'd had was replaced with a smile as she extracted herself from Tugger's grip and moved over to the smaller cat. She grabbed hold of his arm and led him toward the door before Quaxo could voice any objections.
"I hope he hasn't been causing any trouble," Bombalurina was saying at the same time Quaxo was attempting to protest, but by then it was too late and he was already inside. He turned to glance behind him, probably foolishly looking to Tugger for help, but suddenly everything went deathly quiet in the Ozdust ballroom as every single cat turned to look at him.
Quaxo met Victoria's eyes through the crowd, but his sister quickly looked away and Quaxo was left without a single cat he could turn to, until he felt a hand on his arm and turned to look up at Tugger. Tugger, who was looking around the room with an expression that almost seemed challenging. Like he was daring anyone to try anything, or say anything, and all of the sudden Quaxo could feel himself being led further into the room and away from Bombalurina.
Quaxo was staring at Tugger, he knew that, but the other tom wasn't giving him much of a choice in the matter. This behavior was so unlike what Quaxo knew of the other tom, and as his eyes frantically glanced around the room for a moment he could tell from his brief look at Bombalurinas expression that he was right to find this new and a bit alarming.
"What are you doing?" Quaxo asked, his voice a hushed whisper as he leaned a little closer to Tugger as the tom stopped. Quaxo only then realizing then that they were now in the center of the room and still very much under the gaze of almost everyone in the school.
"Dancing," Tugger replied, and Quaxo paled as the other tom suddenly began to move, still pulling Quaxo with him, and at this point Quaxo wasn't really sure there was a point to protesting. He'd gone this far, and he didn't think Tugger was going to let go long enough for him to slip away anyway.
Oddly enough he didn't think this was an attempt to humiliate him, and in fact he got the feeling that this was somehow an attempt to normalize Quaxo at the gathering. The only problem? The tuxedo cat couldn't for the life of him think of a reason why. Why would Tugger risk being associated with him just for the potential hope of a reward?
But as they moved, dancing to a rhythm only the two of them could hear, the ballroom slowly came back to life. And as the music picked up, Tugger finally let go of Quaxo's arm. "Sure you won't stay?" he asked, and Quaxo could see what looked like a genuinely hopeful smile on the other cats face. A smile Quaxo was having a hard time saying no to.
Biting his lip, and flushed from all the dancing, Quaxo found himself nodding. Taking Tugger's hand of his own free will now as he picked up where the pair had left off.
The dance itself was uncomplicated, just something the students had been learning from their instructors for the annual Jellicle ball. What was complicated was that Quaxo had decided he was staying. As Quaxo danced with Tugger, and many of the other cats that eventually approached him, he couldn't find himself regretting a moment of this.
Dancing through life might not be so horrible after all.
another huge thank you to TK (@its-that-horrible-cat) for your support, your PERFECT art, and being generally amazing as well as continuing to be my partner in crime. (and shout out to my sister who's been listening to me patiently as I work out plot points, and for being my beta. I love you, and I appreciate you lol) and thank YOU ALL for reading this and sending me all your kind messages of support, and for your general enthusiasm!! It means so much to me, and I'm so happy you're all enjoying this as much as I am.
I'm starting a new job this week, so I hope I don't fall behind with my "finish this before Christmas" plans, but chapter 3 is mostly complete and chapter 4 is coming along smoothly so far so we're still going strong haha
I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter, and I can't wait to keep sharing this crazy story with you
The Emerald City had been built long before the reign of the great and terrible Mr Mistoffelees, a rein that had been ended not all that long ago. The city had stood since the days of old, and it would continue to stand for centuries to come, or at least that was what Macavity would have the good citizens of Oz continue to believe.
The Emerald City had long ago been carved from its jeweled namesake. Built from the precious resource, it stood as a testament to the power and strength of their original Wizard. But emeralds didn't last forever. Rather than standing forever, as was foretold, the once great city was beginning to fall apart at the seams. Macavity was trying to fix it, of course, but so far his efforts had proved less than effective.
The truth of the matter was that emeralds were in short supply, and what ones Macavity did have access to were far too old and weak to do much good in making major repairs. Instead he'd been forced to turn to other stones, and rubies most of all. Macavity had always hated the city's natural green, much preferring the rich red of a ruby, which was why he'd used the stones most often to fill the cracks in the sleek emerald surface of the city he called home. Unfortunately the red and green minerals were never meant to coexist, and the quick fixes and sudden clash of color could only do so much for so long to maintain the illusion of a prosperous city. Without a new supply of emerald gemstones, the likes of which Oz had never seen even before their previous Wizards demise, this was simply the way things had to be.
Until such a time as the city fell to actual ruin, Macavity intended to press on as if nothing was amiss. He had much more important matters to deal with, after all.
Standing near a large window overlooking the city square, Macavity's ginger fur seemed to gleam in the sun. It was meticulously styled in the latest fashion, and the long ruby encrusted coat he wore showed off his natural color to its fullest extent and struck an imposing silhouette in addition. Only his collar, jeweled with the same green emeralds that had built the city, clashed unnaturally with his otherwise red hue. The emerald collar had been worn by every member of the long line of Wizards that had preceded him, so Macavity wore it as a reminder of what he'd overcome.
It was true that the ginger cat had overcome much, but it was also true that in the process Macavity had lost more than he'd ever thought possible. It had been at this very window that he'd stared out at the city with Mistoffelees, after all, and it had been at this very window that the two cats had made each other promises that had never been kept.
Macavity sensed a member of his guard approaching before he heard her, but didn't immediately turn to acknowledge the queen as she came to a halt a respectable distance away and cleared her throat to get his attention. Macavity waited for a moment, then turned with an exaggerated flourish to face the cat that had presumably brought him news. She too, like all of his personal guard, wore red. A powerful shade that reminded Macavity of simpler times and happier days. Not that he had many of the latter.
A short bow preceded her holding out a scroll, but Macavity immediately found himself wishing she'd skipped all the customary formality as the information she carried was revealed. Snatching the piece of parchment from her hands, Macavity's eyes scanned the page hungrily. For him to be disturbed here there must be something of great importance that required his attention, and as he read further his suspicion was proved correct.
At long last the one he'd been searching for had come out of hiding and revealed himself, and at long last Macavity might finally have found the remaining piece he needed to complete his puzzle.
Rolling up the scroll once more, Macavity tucked it into the sleeve of his coat and strode past the guard who quickly turned and struggled to match the hurried pace of his much longer legs. There were plans to be made, and no time to waste, and as Macavity strode down the winding hallway past a series of cells, he found himself smiling.
If only Mistoffelees were here to see him now.
Being suddenly included in Tugger's friend group, for Quaxo, meant learning everything about them.
Everything like, according to Tugger, the fact that Demeter and Munkustrap were sickeningly in love. The maine coon's brother and Bombalurina's roommate were seemingly made for one another, and there was nothing in all of Oz that could separate the two. Even though they'd been dancing around actually dating for the better part of the last three years, as Tugger told it, their bond seemed unbreakable even in Quaxo's eyes. They were kind to him at the party, and Quaxo considered them both friends by the end of the night.
Tugger and Bombalurina's situation was a little more complicated than that. They were on again and off again, that much was clear to Quaxo at the very least, except neither one ever seemed to know which they were at any given time. Whether they were together, or taking a break, it felt wrong to apply the label 'friends with benefits' to two cats who genuinely seemed to care deeply about each other beneath it all, but in the end Quaxo did anyway just to make things simpler and lighten his confusion as the pair oscillated between dating and breaking up faster than Quaxo could complete a single fouetté.
Bombalurina had seemed warm to him after acceptance had been given, and Tugger… well, Quaxo considered them both friends too.
Alonzo, on the other hand, seemed like an outsider in the group at first glance. But he was Munkustrap's best friend, aside from Demeter, and he was often found arm in arm with Bombalurina though Quaxo was nearly positive that the two had never dated. The bicolor cat was charming, and had been one of the first to approach Quaxo at the party after the ice had been broken, and it wasn't long before Quaxo considered him a friend too. He considered all of them friends, which felt like a bigger shock than finding out his magical ability might grant him an audience with the Wizard.
In the immediate aftermath of the party, there had been a dramatic change in the way the students at Shiz had begun to treat him. Gone almost completely were the strange looks and wary behavior from the remaining cats who'd only seemed to need permission from their more popular peers to welcome Quaxo with open arms, and overnight Quaxo actually found himself popular, though that popularity was thanks in large part to Tugger.
The maine coon had started attending class with far more regulatory as of late, and even managed to find Quaxo a new dance partner to replace Victoria in the form of a lovely queen named Cassandra. She ended up being quite the match for Quaxo, despite the fact that she stood a good foot taller than he did, and it wasn't long before Quaxo considered her a friend too.
But with popularity came attention, and now that he was the sixth member of Tugger's little pack, Quaxo often found his days filled with more companionship than he knew what to do with. He enjoyed the attention, he wasn't about to deny that, but he did find himself missing the way things were from time to time.
His relationship with Victoria remained more or less the same, in the meantime. The queen seemed distant, but to be fair they were both busy and didn't have as much free time as they were used to. That, and though Tugger and his pack could often be found hanging out with an ever revolving door of other cats, Plato and his own friend group were rarely one of them.
No matter what, the best part of Quaxo's days remained the hour or two he spent with Old Deuteronomy. The older cat had continued to teach him about his magical gift, helping Quaxo read spells from the ancient book he still carried with him almost everywhere. With the acceptance of his peers, Quaxo was confident enough in his skill that he'd begun showing off a little from time to time. Other cats had begun to take notice, but instead of fear Quaxo's gift was almost always met with awe and excitement as they began to realize what all he could do. That admiration was spearheaded by Tugger, of course, who had turned out to be Quaxo's self proclaimed biggest fan.
"I give you…" With a dramatic pause that seemed a little much even to Quaxo, Tugger had the other cats gathered in the hall hanging on his every word. "The magical..." Tugger continued, looking toward Quaxo and giving him a faint nod as if to tell him that was his cue. Quaxo nearly rolled his eyes, but he obliged the other tom and sent a shower of sparks into the air that rained down on the group of assembled cats like glitter. "The marvelous…" Tugger added, and this time Quaxo couldn't help but smile faintly as he repeated the same action much to the continued delight of their audience. "Quaxo!"
With a final flourish, light flooded the darkened hallway from a ceiling lamp that had been the owner of a faulty lightbulb for the better part of the past week. Quaxo knew it often took the school faculty months to actually get around to addressing trivial student complaints, so he'd taken it upon himself to be the unofficial Shiz handyman, or as Tugger liked to call him, their official mini Wizard.
Quaxo had originally intended to be in and out of the lightly trafficked hallway in a matter of seconds, but he should have known Tugger well enough by now to know that the other tom would never pass up an opportunity to show Quaxo off. The entire "production" had seemed a bit much to Quaxo, but Tugger had insisted. The coon maintained it was both simple fun, and good practice for the future. A future which Tugger insisted would be bright for the tuxedo cat. Quaxo didn't see why anyone in Oz would ever be that excited to watch the reincarnation of Mr Mistoffelees perform cheap parlor tricks, but it made Tugger smile to show him off and Quaxo had found recently that he loved to see Tugger smile.
"How many cats does it take to change a lightbulb?" Quaxo asked dryly as Tugger turned to face him with a triumphant grin, but there was a faint smile on Quaxo's face as he began to pull back on his blazer, and it was obvious that his humor was just that in the wake of his small feat of skill.
Tugger laughed, swinging his arm around Quaxo's shoulders and feigning thoughtfulness. "Well, let's see… one incredibly talented future Wizard, one dashingly handsome hype man…" the maine coon began, holding up a pair of fingers in sequence as he named the both of them. "If my math's right that seems like two, kitten."
"Shut up," Quaxo replied, placing both hands on Tugger's side and shoving hard enough that he was able to slip out of the other toms arm and return to straightening his jacket. The other cats in the hallway had lost interest in Quaxo after his show of skill had concluded, and seemed to be vying for Tugger's attention now. Surprisingly Tugger didn't even pause to give them the time of day, his attention still on Quaxo and Quaxo alone. Quaxo supposed that was how Tugger acted with all of his friends, or maybe that was due to the genuine change that had taken place in the other cat. Tugger no longer skipped class for weeks on end, and there was no more talk of simply dancing through life with little to no consequences… for the most part, anyway. Whatever had brought about this change in Tugger was most assuredly welcome, and Quaxo couldn't be more grateful for having found a friend in the cat that had initially both intimidated and annoyed him.
"Your fan club's waiting for you," Quaxo continued as he found his eyes darting toward the nearest clock on the wall. He was going to be late for his private tutoring with Old Deuteronomy at this rate, and he'd hate to be the thing standing between Tugger and his groupies.
Tugger actually looked a little startled to turn around and see the group of queens and toms not far away and clearly desperate to be the center of his attention, but he was grinning as he turned back to face Quaxo which was much more in character. "And so they are," Tugger replied as he hooked his fingers through the band of his suspenders.
Quaxo had noted earlier, and he made note now too, of the new color Tugger had incorporated into his wardrobe. His shirt, usually a vibrant green or brown, had more recently been exchanged with a lovely yellow or occasionally a muted salmon as the season had once again changed. It was the former now, and a rather beautiful shade of honey yellow at that, and Quaxo couldn't help but notice how it complimented the golden hue of Tugger's fur and somehow made the red streaks in his ruff stand out all the more. It was a good look, and Quaxo knew he wasn't the only one who'd noticed.
For his part, Quaxo hadn't changed his wardrobe at all. Though more often than not he was now wearing the bowtie he'd been gifted in addition to his usual blazer and white collared shirt.
"I'll see you later then, oh mighty Quaxo," the maine coon continued, and Quaxo felt his neck heating as the other tom gave an exaggerated bow in his direction.
"Tugger…" Quaxo practically hissed, but once again there was a smile on his face and he was more amused by the other tom than anything. Tugger was all swagger and a cheesy grin as he straightened and shrugged a shoulder innocently as if he hadn't just made a fool of himself.
"What? I call it like I see it," the coon replied, reaching up to straighten Quaxo's bowtie which only served to heat the back of Quaxo's neck further.
"You're unbelievable," Quaxo muttered, but he was fighting valiantly to keep a smirk at bay as he gathered his bag and quickly made his way down the hall. Quaxo didn't turn to look, but he could picture Tugger's self satisfied smile all the same.
"Something bad is happening in Oz."
The words were as startling to Quaxo as the cat who'd said them, and his head snapped up from where he'd been hunched over on the floor trying to read a rather complicated spell from his prized book of magic. "I'm… sorry, what did you say?" He finally managed, certain he must have heard the wizened old cat wrong.
Old Deuteronomy said the strangest things from time to time, and though he sounded far more serious than Quaxo had ever heard him… surely the other cat didn't truly mean it. Nothing bad could ever happen in Oz, not with Macavity in power and Mistoffelees dead and gone.
"Something bad is happening in Oz, I fear," Deuteronomy repeated, and Quaxo felt something shift in the very air around them like it was crucial that he pay attention. Though Quaxo didn't understand the feeling anymore than he understood the words, he tried his best to pay attention. "Under the surface, behind the scenes, can't you feel it in the air?" Deuteronomy continued, but Quaxo only blinked at the other cat and remained unsure of where this was coming from.
Deuteronomy wasn't even looking at him, Quaxo suddenly realized. The old persian cat was looking somewhere past him, but when Quaxo turned to look there was nothing there. Suddenly feeling uneasy, Quaxo looked back at the other cat with uncertainty in his eyes. "Professor…" he began as he shook his head faintly. This sort of talk could be considered treasonous, not that Quaxo would ever let it leave the room. "If something bad is happening in Oz," he continued, deciding to at least try and humor the older cat. "Someone has to tell the Wizard. Surely Grizabella could write another-"
But as Quaxo spoke, a dark expression overtook Deuteronomy's features. It had Quaxo falling still, though he shivered as a sudden chill seemed to fill the air.
"Listen to me closely," Deuteronomy began, and Quaxo swallowed and nodded to show that he was as the older cat continued. "Some things are not always what they seem. A Pollicle is not always mindless beast, a Jellicle is not always a blameless saint, a friend is not always a friend… and sometimes very bad things can come of even the best of intentions."
"Professor…" Quaxo began again, slowly and much more carefully. "Nothing all that bad could ever happen in Oz, not under Macavity's rein."
Was Quaxo too confident in this? Maybe, and Quaxo could have sworn Old Deuteronomy's expression turned desolate for a moment. If it had, the emotion was gone in an instant and all of the sudden the soft and lovable old teacher was back in place of… whatever that had been.
"Perhaps you are right," Old Deuteronomy began with a faint shake of his head. "Perhaps I have the paranoia of an old and sentimental man. Forgive me, and please, go back to your studies."
Quaxo did turn his attention back to his book of spells after a moment of pause, and tried his best not to dwell on the other cat's words. But try as he might, he couldn't fully shake the feeling that something was amiss… or that something was going to be.
"Good news! Wonderful news, my boy!"
Quaxo had gotten used to Grizabella's eccentricities, and had learned to humor the way she tended to over exaggerate even the smallest of things, so it was with a slightly forced smile that he turned in the hallway and allowed the older queen to grasp hold of his arm.
As Grizabella showed him the parchment she'd been holding in her hand, Quaxo had been prepared to fake a smile and feign interest, but as he got a better look at the text he realized her excitement was no exaggeration at all. Heart leaping into his throat, Quaxo very nearly dropped his bag in favor of grabbing hold of the letter with both hands and taking it away from Grizabella's grasp. He read it once, and then twice, and then one final time before he believed it could possibly be real.
The Wizard had finally replied, and the Wizard wanted to see him.
Grizabella was looking at him with smug satisfaction, but Quaxo didn't care in the slightest as a disbelieving laugh forced it's way past his lips and he felt more giddy and light than he'd felt… ever, really.
"The Wizard wants to meet me," he said out loud, as if that would finally allow him to believe the truth of the matter. "The Wizard wants to meet me."
"Well, I should hope so," Grizabella was saying, but Quaxo was hardly paying her any mind. "After how many letters I sent to the Emerald City, Macavity would be a fool not to allow you an audience," the older queen continued as she raised a hand to lightly dab under her eye. Presumably in an attempt to fix her running mascara, but from what Quaxo could see that was a hopeless cause.
Quaxo didn't care about any of that, and though he was grateful, surely, the tuxedo cat could only think of one thing he wanted to do right now as he re-read the parchment a fourth time. He could only think of one cat he wanted to tell this exhilarating news to first.
With that in mind, Quaxo thanked Grizabella profusely before turning and running off to find Tugger.
He found the coon, wearing a salmon colored shirt that drew Quaxo's attention, sitting with both Bombalurina and Munkustrap on the edge of the fountain that marked the middle of campus. Quaxo was both literally and figuratively buzzing with energy, and it was probably a miracle that Tugger and the others were able to understand what he was saying. But eventually they got it, and it was just as much of a thrill as he'd hoped it would be to watch Tugger's features spread into the widest grin Quaxo had ever seen. Tugger stood, and all of the sudden the taller cat was pulling Quaxo into a hug.
"What did I tell you?" Tugger was saying when he let go in favor of clasping both of Quaxo's shoulders with his hands. "You're magical, star! I knew you could do it."
Quaxo beamed, too delighted by Tugger's praise to feel anything but well deserved pride. Quaxo was going to meet the Wizard, and the Wizard thought Quaxo was worth taking up even just a moment of his time.
"When are you going?" Munkustrap spoke up to ask, ever the more level headed and practical of the group even though he was clearly excited about Quaxo's sudden fortune too as he stood to join his brother.
"And what are you wearing?" Bombalurina spoke up from where she was still sitting, ever the most fashion conscious member of the group. "Because you absolutely can't go in that."
She gestured to all of him as she spoke, but Quaxo was too happy to even feel the flush of potential embarrassment. By now he thought he knew Bombalurina well enough to know she meant things kindly, even if they may come off a little rude.
"Tomorrow, if Grizabella can get me out of my classes," he replied to Munkustrap first, his grin never fading even though his hands had begun to shake from all the sudden excitement. He was probably glowing, drawing unnecessary attention to himself, but he decided he didn't care. Let others stare, let them all hear. "And…" he continued, though he wasn't quite sure how to reply to Bombalurina. "I mean, I was thinking about it."
In truth, what he had on was probably the nicest thing he owned. Sure it's color may be fading and it's edges may be frayed a touch here and there, but Quaxo had never really paid it much mind before or had any real reason to be this conscious about it.
Bombalurina made a disapproving noise, but it was Tugger that jumped in to rescue him from whatever the queen had been about to say next. "Come on," the coon said as he grabbed hold of Quaxo's hand and began to tug on his arm. "I'm taking you shopping. My treat, kitten. Think of it like an early birthday gift."
Quaxo had half a mind to protest, but it was for purely selfish reasons that he found himself allowing Tugger to pull him along and away from the others. He had no idea what sort of outfit Tugger may have in mind and perhaps that should have worried him, but for now Quaxo let himself be dragged along at the mercy of the younger cat's whims.
Quaxo was going to meet the Wizard, after all. He should look his best for such an important event, and it wasn't like he had anything else to do.
As Bombalurina watched, the speed with which Tugger had dropped everything to react to Quaxo's news, and the speed with which he'd whisked him away on an unplanned shopping spree, was almost fascinating. Almost, because while watching she was again reminded of why she hadn't taken a liking to Quaxo in the first place. He took up far too much of Tugger's time and energy for her liking, and though Quaxo's inclusion in their friend group had gone far smoother than she'd thought it would, she found part of herself resenting him anyway.
Huffing, she turned to Munkustrap. "I still don't understand what he sees in him," Bombalurina said as she crossed her arms and watched Tugger pull Quaxo along until the pair were out of sight.
For a moment Munkustrap said nothing, but it was ironically the silence that gave Bombalurina more clarity than the gray tabby's words. The sheer obviousness of the answer to her unasked question left her stunned, and confused as to why she hadn't realized it before now for herself.
"He likes him," Munkustrap replied with a shrug, and it was with those three words, spoken so nonchalantly by Tugger's older brother, that Bombalurina finally began to see what had literally been staring her in the face this entire time.
Tugger liked him.
Victoria should be happy for her brother, and she would argue that she was, but ever since they'd arrived at Shiz everything had changed at a pace too rapid for her to keep up with. She loved her brother more than anyone, that hadn't changed, and she'd always been fiercely protective of him besides that, but all of the sudden it felt like he no longer needed her. That realization hurt more than she'd expected.
Yes, maybe she'd been the one to branch off and make friends of her own first, but that didn't mean he'd had to go behind her back and make a spectacle of himself.
And that's exactly what he'd done, hadn't he? Ever since that fateful day in class all Victoria ever heard was Quaxo this and Quaxo that, and she was tired of suddenly having to live her life in her brother's shadow. Everywhere she went, and anyone she talked to, just wanted to talk about the magical cat she had for a brother. They never wanted to spend time with her, get to know her, or learn about her dreams or desires.
So yes, she was happy for her brother, but some small part of Victoria had grown to resent him. That wasn't fair, she knew that, but the feeling was there nonetheless. Etcetera had told her she was acting like she was jealous, which was impossible! Victoria had never been jealous of anyone before, and she hadn't started now.
Frustrated with herself nonetheless, Victoria sat hunched over her desk trying to take out her frustration on a homework assignment due tomorrow. She was not so caught up in that task, however, to fail to notice Quaxo returning to their dorm with… shopping bags in tow? Victoria shook her head faintly to clear it and paid them little mind in favor of turning to face her brother as the black and white tuxedo cat began to talk to her animatedly as if there wasn't an invisible wall between them. A wall that Victoria hadn't intended to put up in the first place, but a wall that was there nonetheless.
"Vic!" the tom was saying, all smiles as he dropped the bags on his bed and seemed to buzz with untamable energy. He was literally glowing, she realized. Her brother's black coat often had a sparkle to it, but usually it was only brought out by the light of a Jellicle moon, not excitement.
Quaxo continued, but Victora already knew what he was going to say. The entire school knew that he'd received a summons from their Wizard. Word had spread like wildfire, and once again Victoria wanted to be happy for him… except she couldn't quite believe she was the last cat he was telling. He'd gone on a shopping spree, apparently, before deeming his sister worthy of the most exciting news he'd probably ever received.
"I've been summoned to Oz! The Wizard wants to meet me, isn't that exciting?"
Feigning a convincing and happy smile, Victoria nodded as she turned back to her homework. Her voice was less convincingly happy, and she could almost feel Quaxo's disappointment and confusion from here. "That's great, Quaxo."
There was silence, a silence that lasted a full minute before either of them spoke. In hindsight Victoria would have rather they'd just let it lie and gone to bed, it would have saved them both quite a lot of heartbreak.
"I thought you'd be more excited for me," Quaxo said, and though Victoria didn't turn to look she could hear him sitting down on the edge of his bed.
"Excited for you? Or excited with you?" She muttered in reply, not intending Quaxo to hear that part but as she turned around and saw the look on his face she realized he had. Nevertheless, she continued and began what would turn into an argument that had been a long time coming. "The entire school already knows, Quaxo. I've known for hours."
Her brother looked somewhat confused, like he was wondering why that mattered, but his tail was twitching with uncertainty behind him and his ears were pressed flat against his head so Victoria knew a part of him understood, at least.
"You used to tell me things first, Quaxo."
In hindsight, Victoria should have left it at that. Or instead, opened the discussion much more calmly. Then maybe the pair could have come to a peaceful resolution to this complicated mess of hurt feelings. Unfortunately, that was not what Victoria did.
"Who did you tell first? Bombalurina? Did she take you on a little shopping spree to celebrate? Forgive me, oh great and mighty future Wizard, for not finding the news as exciting when my own brother decided not to tell me the news himself."
Quaxo's expression morphed slowly, but as it did that was the first indicator to Victoria that the both of them had crossed a line there was no going back from.
"I didn't even know where you were!" the tuxedo cat replied, and though he was almost yelling, his words were only spoken at a slightly higher pitch. That slightly higher pitch may as well have been a shout from the likes of her usually meek brother, but he wasn't done yet. "Everlasting forbid that I think you'd be happy for me!" he continued, and slowly but surely his voice began to rise in volume. "You were probably off with Plato doing Everlasting knows what. Plato who, by the way, I haven't told dad about!"
"Oh spare me from the wrath of our overprotective father," Victoria replied sarcastically, matching his volume and turning to face him fully as a glare spread across her features. "I can take care of myself, Quaxo. I don't need you anymore, in case you haven't noticed."
"Oh I think I noticed when you decided to replace me for a tom you fancy," Quaxo fired back, and Victoria had never seen her brother so worked up about anything before. "Do you think that'll make him like you? Or was it just to have an excuse to get away from your freak of a brother!?"
Victoria's hands balled into fists, her gaze turning icy and hard and it was this moment and this crucial choice that changed everything forever. If she'd kept her head, kept calm, perhaps things would have been different. But unfortunately Quaxo's words had struck a nerve she hadn't even realized was there.
Plato was kind, and gentle, and understood her in a way no other cat ever had. He made her happy, and he made her laugh, and he was the only one who treated her like she was normal. He treated her like she was more than just Quaxo's little sister. What the pair had was special, and Victoria was too angry to see Quaxo's words as anything but an attack meant to encroach on their happiness.
"Yes!" she yelled, and the word hung between them for an excruciatingly long time before she continued. She'd gone too far to back out now, after all. "Yes he was, and he's a better dance partner than you ever were!"
By now Quaxo's face had again morphed. Disbelief was present, and then a deep sadness that Victoria paid no mind to. She would later regret that.
"I wish you weren't my brother at all!" she yelled impulsively, and that was the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Victoria hadn't even realized she'd said the words until Quaxo was standing slowly, and the very room they were in began to grow dark. Suddenly the only light to speak of was filtering in from the window, causing Quaxo's unnaturally green eyes to gleam in the moonlight, and for the first time in her life Victoria felt afraid of her brother. As she shrank back and closed her eyes, she found herself wondering if this was how people had felt in the presence of Mr Mistoffelees.
The silence that fell seemed to stretch on for an eternity, but by the time Victoria opened her eyes, Quaxo was no longer there.
It was then that she promptly burst into tears.
Quaxo's lungs burned as the tuxedo cat raced across campus away from Victoria, away from their dorm, and away from the nauseating pain that filled him every time he replayed his sister's hurtful words.
He hadn't been blameless in the argument, he knew that, but Victoria's proclamation of wishing he'd never been her brother had struck true and hurt Quaxo more deeply than he could have ever imagined.
His lungs burned, and his fur was wet with tears as he finally came to a stop at the edge of campus and realized what a crisp Ozian night this was, and how directionless he'd suddenly turned out to be. Breathing heavily, he struggled to both catch his breath and ward off a panic attack in the same desperate attempt to remain calm.
He couldn't go back to Victoria, that much was clear, but he had to go somewhere. He tried to think, but it was turning on his heel and beginning to walk that Quaxo realized he only had one destination in mind, one place he felt he wouldn't be turned away from.
Breaking into Tugger's dorm room was easy, a quick flick of his wrist and the door unlatched like it hadn't even been locked in the first place. Quaxo didn't think the coon would mind, as it was dark as he stepped inside, but peering through the darkness Quaxo could clearly see the shape of Tugger's sleeping form curled up on his bed.
Tugger was snoring softly, Quaxo realized, and why did that realization make him want to burst into another round of tears?
Quaxo didn't know why Tugger was one of the only students on campus without a roommate, he'd never asked, but the coon's father was supposedly a high level cat of importance so perhaps he'd called in a favor. Either way, as Quaxo snuck into the room and crawled into the spare and unoccupied bed shoved against the wall, he felt comforted by the sound of the soft noises Tugger made while he slept. The other tom was seemingly oblivious to the world, and even though Quaxo had just been with him less than an hour ago, that was somehow endearing despite all of this.
Quaxo wasn't sure how long he'd been laying there before he suddenly heard Tugger shifting, the other cat's breathing going back to normal as golden eyes peered at him in the darkness. "Quaxo?" the coon asked, voice a little bleary from sleep and though Quaxo didn't look, he was sure the other toms fur was a sleep tousled mess.
Quaxo was silent for a moment, trying to find the right words to explain what had happened, but before he could he promptly burst into another uncontrollable round of tears instead. The only other sound in the room was the soft creak of the bed as Tugger moved from his own to climb in with the tuxedo cat, providing Quaxo with a literal shoulder to cry on as the larger cat wrapped his arms around him.
Quaxo told him everything then, and Tugger listened, and by the end of his tale Quaxo didn't feel quite as much like the world was falling apart around him. He may have lost his sister, but he still had his friends. He still had Tugger. It didn't take away the pain, but it soothed the ache.
The pair were quiet for a long time after that, and Quaxo was beginning to wonder if the other tom had fallen back asleep when Quaxo finally broke the silence once more with a question that had been on his mind since he'd entered the room.
"Tugger?" he asked softly, and he was relieved as he heard the coon shift, and his voice answer him almost immediately.
"Yeah, kitten?" Tugger replied, and Quaxo tried not to smile at the strange sort of comfort brought to him by the use of that persistent nickname even though, once again, Quaxo was the older of the two and it wasn't his fault he was so short. What had he ever done to deserve a friend like Tugger, and how could he possibly thank him? Well. Quaxo had at least one idea.
Quaxo shifted to look at the younger tom, and as golden eyes met green, he began to feel calmer than he'd felt all day. "Will you come to the Emerald City with me?" Quaxo asked, and even before Tugger's features spread into a smile, Quaxo knew that the coon's answer would be yes.
I meant to post this on Sunday, but it COMPLETELY slipped my mind and I'm so sorry haha. Once again: thanks SO MUCH to all of you that are sticking with me through this journey, your comments keep me going, and I hope you continue to enjoy!!
the original chapter turned out to be pretty long, so I've split this update into two chapters (this one and the next) so it's not so overwhelming to read
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Emerald City was everything that Quaxo had ever dreamed it would be, and yet somehow so much more.
"Emerald" may not quite be the right word to describe the way the green spires rose high into the air, marbled by a deep ruby red that somehow stirred foreign emotions in Quaxo's chest, but beautiful was an apt description, and beautiful was the word that fell from his lips like a gasp.
"It's beautiful," Quaxo breathed, and not even the laughter coming from Bombalurina could cause him to shy away in any sort of embarrassment for his outburst.
The red queen had invited herself along with their small group, currently consisting of Tugger, Grizabella, and of course Quaxo, but something was different about her and, oddly enough, Quaxo didn't mind her tagging along. Though, it had only been Tugger that he'd invited. Tugger who, for most of the trip, had split his time equally between his two friends, only slightly favoring Quaxo. The tuxedo cat chalked that up to Tugger's touching concern ever since the events of the previous night. Quaxo didn't know if Tugger had told Bombalurina anything about what had happened, but the queen was acting awfully nice to him so he assumed he must have.
Grizabella, for her part, merely scoffed. "When I was a kitten there was none of that infernal red. The Emerald City was just that, emerald. They're letting the place go to the Pollicles, I say."
Quaxo was the only one in their group who'd never traveled to the Emerald City before now, and he was the only one who'd never seen what it had looked like before the apparent redecoration, but he stood by his proclamation of the city being beautiful despite perhaps losing some of the charm of its original name.
Quaxo had never liked green all that much anyway.
The weather had favored their little ragtag pack of cats, and Quaxo had even shed the sparkly blazer he'd purchased with Tugger yesterday, as it got hotter the further south they'd rode the train. The blazer was mostly black, and heavily encrusted with enough fake gems to give it the effect of a disco ball if it caught the light. It made Tugger smile, and Quaxo didn't hate it as much as he may pretend. Tugger, on the other hand, wore a shirt of heather blue which marked the only real difference in his ensemble. Bombalurina had, surprisingly, ditched the pink and gone with a yellow dress that fell to just above her knees and reminded Quaxo of a sunflower, and Grizabella… well, the older cat hadn't stopped complaining about the heat since they'd left Shiz, yet she refused to be parted with her expensive looking gray coat.
Regardless of what the others thought, for some reason as they entered through the Emerald City's gate Quaxo felt like he was coming home.
They didn't go straight to the Wizard, which Quaxo was grateful for. He needed some time to adjust to the city, and he desperately wanted to explore, so the group wandered around for a while, taking in the sights, the sounds, and the colors. Quaxo wasn't nervous so much as he was… well, alright, he was a little nervous. Could anyone blame him? He was about to meet the Wizard! But he enjoyed the tour, and he couldn't wait to explore the city further.
"Hey! Check this out," Tugger broke through Quaxo's train of thoughts and grabbed his attention by swiping a pair of ruby red glasses from a vendors cart. The coon put them on, a self satisfied grin on his face. Quaxo waited for the punchline with a raised eyebrow, but it seemed like one wasn't forthcoming.
"Check what out?" Bombalurina asked for the both of them, her hands finding her hips and though she was clearly amused with Tugger's antics as much as Quaxo was, there seemed to be irritation underneath of it.
Quaxo had asked Tugger on the way here whether or not he and Bombalurina were together, and whether or not that was why she'd tagged along. Surprising Quaxo, Tugger had informed him they were on a semi-permanent break. That of course could mean nothing and the pair could be back together within the hour, but even still Quaxo wondered what had caused the sudden shift in their relationship from closer than friends to just… friends.
Tugger grinned as if they both should be in on the joke, and it took Quaxo another moment for it to finally dawn on him.
"Seeing red!" he exclaimed, probably a little too loud, but Quaxo could have cared less what others around them thought of him. Let them stare, as they had been since he'd arrived. Let them wonder if Mr Mistoffelees had been re-released into their streets and was here to give them their final judgement as he wandered through aisles of vendors selling cheap souvenirs. For today Quaxo was determined to feel normal, and he was determined not to be labeled as something he wasn't.
"Bingo," Tugger replied with a grin as he pointed a finger in Quaxo's direction. Bombalurina rolled her eyes, and Quaxo probably would've too, if he didn't have the satisfaction of being the one to figure out the play on an old saying.
"You two are unbelievable," the red queen said, but Quaxo could tell she meant it at least a little fondly as they turned and continued to walk. Quaxo made note of how Tugger slipped the glasses into his pocket, and after the coon paid the vendor, Quaxo found a similar pair being slipped into his own pocket as well. As he looked at Tugger questioningly, the coon just put a finger to his lips. Quaxo shook his head faintly, starting to insist that Tugger shouldn't shower him with gifts that the tuxedo cat certainly couldn't have afforded for himself, but he was silenced as Bombalurina nearly shrieked with delight and grabbed hold of his hand.
Tugging Quaxo along, with Grizabella and Tugger following soon after, she led them toward a big tent in the center of the town square. "Come on! We're going to be late for Whizomania!" she exclaimed.
Quaxo had no idea what that was, but he let the more experienced guides lead the way as he lost himself in the hype and forgot almost completely about Tugger's gift.
He was here in the city, that much Macavity knew. He could sense him even now, and he was surprised the feeling wasn't mutual as he watched the reincarnation of a cat he'd long ago thought dead, wandering through the streets of Macavity's city with an entourage in tow and soon disappearing from his sight.
Macavity stood in a window, one overlooking the city and offering him the best vantage point of both it and the world beyond, waiting for the one calling himself Quaxo to seek him out and at last provide him with exactly what he needed.
"Make sure he's brought here alone," the ginger cat spoke as he spared a glance in the direction of the nearest member of his personal guard. Rather than being alone, as he so often was at this window, Macavity was currently surrounded on all sides by guards both large and small. They were here for his protection, but it was for the restraint of one single cat that there were so many in the relatively small room. Macavity didn't turn as the voice of their special guest broke the silence, but he did allow himself a private smile as he thought of how handedly he'd already won.
"The boy is strong, far stronger than you are." Old Deuteronomy, hands bound in silver chains, spoke up from where he stood behind Macavity between two of his guards. "He will not be twisted to fulfil the role you have your heart so set upon for him. You will fail now, Macavity, as you failed then."
Macavity turned, but didn't stoop low enough to let his irritation with the much older cat show on his face. "I did not fail then, I only lacked the proper knowledge."
It was useless to debate the cat, Macavity knew, but he pressed on anyway because he hated to see that look in Deuteronomy's eyes. A look that was somehow both pitying and defiant, and infuriating to the ginger cat most of all.
"I have the boy, soon I will have the book, tell me again why I need you?"
Sentiment was the answer to the rhetorical question, but Macavity waved his hand in a dismissive manner after posing it and the guards began to lead the old cat away without another word being spoken.
Macavity didn't need Deuteronomy, and the truly sentimental course of action would have been to let the old cat waste away at a run down school like Shiz for the rest of his natural lifetimes. But Macavity wanted the old cat to watch, as at long last victory was nearly within his grasp.
He turned back to the window. Now, it was only a matter of patience.
Quaxo truly belonged here amongst the city, amongst the finery and splendor. It was a fact Tugger had been thinking about ever since they'd first caught sight of the structure in the distance and he'd watched Quaxo's face light up at the sight of it.
The city really was beautiful, just like Quaxo.
Tugger had been here countless times with his father and brother, and the city had lost some of its appeal. It was still beautiful, of course, but having seen it already so many times it was bound to lose some of its charm.
Seeing it through Quaxo's eyes made him smile, though, even if Tugger spent most of the time staring at the smaller cat rather than the beautiful architecture.
Quaxo truly belonged here amongst the finery of the city, while Tugger on the other hand truly felt as though he himself did not.
Quaxo? Yes. Bombalurina? Definitely. But Tugger? Tugger knew it was to be expected of someone like him to learn to love a place like this, but the city overwhelmed him and he much preferred rolling hills and idyllic countrysides. He'd never admit that, of course, and Tugger had long ago mastered the art of hiding his true feelings. At least, he hoped they were hidden, since the last thing he wanted to do was put a damper on Quaxo's obvious excitement.
The coon was avoiding looking at Bombalurina, who seemed to all of a sudden know a little too much about the situation Tugger found himself in. She kept giving him a knowing look, or a self satisfied smile, and while that was better than anger or jealousy, Tugger almost would have preferred that over all this coyness.
"I believe we've kept the Wizard waiting for far too long," Grizabella cut in, and Tugger had almost forgotten about their true reason for being here. Quaxo was to meet the Wizard, and Tugger… Tugger feared he may never have the chance to say what he wanted to before Quaxo was whisked away to better and much more important things.
No matter, he told himself, what was a broken heart when Quaxo was so clearly and giddily happy?
"First day of the rest of your life," Tugger cut in as he slung his arm around Quaxo's shoulders and pulled the tuxedo cat a little closer. Quaxo was wearing one of the jackets Tugger had bought him, the one that had turned out to be Tugger's favorite, and that stubborn bowtie that always seemed to be crooked whenever Tugger laid eyes on it.
Though, was it really crooked, or did Tugger just like the excuse to reach out and correct it?
"How are you feeling, kitten?" he continued, pitching his voice as if he were a reporter hungry for their next scoop.
"Nervous," was Quaxo's immediate reply as his ears twitched atop his head with clear uncertainty. "Excited," the tuxedo cat continued. "Maybe a little scared."
That all sounded pretty normal to Tugger, but it probably wouldn't be all that helpful to say so. Instead he found himself clasping Misto's shoulder with his hand, pulling back from the sideways embrace he'd pulled the other cat into.
"You're gonna do great, Quaxo," Tugger told the smaller tom, and there was no doubt in Tugger's mind that he would. Quaxo was amazing, after all, so impressing an all-powerful Wizard shouldn't be that hard.
Tugger couldn't tell if his words had had the desired effect on the other cat, but Quaxo smiled up at him and Tugger could only assume that they had. The coon pulled his hand back, realizing he'd let it linger for what was probably too long, and offered Quaxo a winning grin in return.
By this point they'd reached the large gate that Tugger knew from experience kept the citizens of Oz out of the Wizard's private chambers and the throne room where he often received the rare guest. Tugger had never been inside, and it didn't look like he'd get the chance now. As Grizabella introduced them to the red clothed guard at the gate, it was quickly made obvious that Quaxo was going to have to go alone.
Grizabella seemed none too happy about that development, no doubt hoping to get to meet the Wizard for herself, but she was quickly resigned to her fate. Tugger could have cared less whether or not he met the Wizard, and he knew Bombalurina wouldn't mind all that much either, which left only Quaxo who, ironically, was left the only member of their little group who remained uncertain.
"Keep your chin up, and your smile on," Bombalurina was informing the magical cat. "Tugger helped you pick out the perfect outfit, Quaxo. You'll be the talk of the city later, I'm sure of it," she continued, and spread her arms out for a hug.
Her advice may seem shallow, but Tugger knew it came from a good place. Thankfully Quaxo seemed to know that too, as the magical cat smiled and nodded and stepped forward into Bombalurina's embrace. The pair hugged for a moment, and Quaxo turned to Grizabella as the glamorous older cat gave him final instructions Tugger couldn't hear, and then it was his turn.
As Quaxo turned to him and met his eyes, Tugger swallowed back the advice he'd been going to give, suddenly nervous. This felt like a turning point of some kind, only Tugger couldn't for the life of him fully grasp why. Sure, Quaxo was about to meet the Wizard, but it wasn't like Tugger wasn't ever going to see him again. Right?
Tugger opened his mouth, then closed it again, standing as still as a statue for a moment before quickly stepping forward and pulling Quaxo into a hug before he lost his nerve. He heard the smaller cat make a soft noise as their bodies made contact, then heard Quaxo's voice break the silence even as Tugger's ears pressed flat against his head.
"Tugger… you know this is only gonna take a few minutes, right?"
Tugger had, since a very young age, often been plagued by what he'd eventually learned to call visions. Some might call them prophecies, Tugger called them warnings. They were never very clear, and they never lasted very long, and most of the time Tugger wasn't able to decipher them until whatever they'd tried to warn about had come to pass.
He had one of those warnings now.
There was fire, or at least smoke, the coon could smell that much. Someone was yelling, but he couldn't tell whether it was a queen or a tom and he couldn't make out what they were saying. He heard his own voice, "Quaxo!" and then nothing once more as the vision faded away.
"Yeah, I know," he said, forcing a smile as he pulled back and playfully nudged Quaxo's shoulder with his hand. "That's just in case you end up forgetting about me."
He couldn't tell if Quaxo believed him or not, judging by the tom's expression, but the magical cat was soon smiling and rolling his eyes, and Tugger relaxed now that he'd seemingly managed to get away with the little white lie. His visions were never consistent, some never even came to pass, so it was best not to worry anyone else about them, and especially not Quaxo.
"Like I could ever forget you," the tuxedo cat replied, leaving Tugger feeling strangely warm as the smaller cat turned to go.
"Quaxo!" Tugger called impulsively as the other tom reached the gate. Quaxo looked at him expectantly, that easy and now carefree smile on his face, and Tugger found that his throat was suddenly dry as he shook his head faintly and abandoned his original planned declaration. "Good luck."
Everything changes next chapter, folks... 👀
It was cold. That was the first thing Quaxo noticed as he began to follow his escort down a long and winding hallway. The green walls were almost completely covered in red banners or glittering with rubies, but the floor was paved with an odd mix of both yellow and red bricks that had Quaxo staring almost memorized as they twisted and weaved together in a pattern he couldn't discern.
It seemed familiar, somehow. This entire place felt familiar.
His nerves had left him with Tugger's goodbye, but they returned with a vengeance as he found himself left alone in what was clearly meant to be a throne room of some kind. Waiting for the Wizard, no doubt, but who knew how long that could take. In the meantime, Quaxo decided to have a look around, his fingers fidgeting restlessly with the cuff of his new jacket. Remembering how it was a gift from Tugger seemed to help, and oddly enough it gave him some comfort to think of the fact that the coon was right outside and waiting for him when this was all over. Whatever this was, anyway.
The throne room was massive, walls and ceiling carved from emeralds but the floor and any decorations were all a rich ruby red that had Quaxo mesmerized by the oddity of the two very different colors that seemed almost at war with one another.
The silence in the room was suddenly broken by the sound of a heavy door unlatching, but it was with little other fanfare that the Wizard himself strode into the room like he owned the place. And he did own the place, Quaxo reminded himself with a faint shake of his head to clear it as the other cat drew closer. Was Quaxo meant to bow? He really should have paid more attention to Grizabella's lessons on proper etiquette in situations such as this.
Fortunately for Quaxo, as the Wizard came to a stop before him the older cat didn't give Quaxo the chance to even attempt a bow as the ginger cat reached out to place a finger under Quaxo's chin. Quaxo held perfectly still, even though he had no idea what was going on, and Macavity seemed to stare at him thoughtfully.
"Everlasting…" the Wizard breathed, shaking his head faintly. "It's the eyes. You look just like him, right down to the eyes."
Quaxo was used to revulsion upon people realizing who he looked like, and what he was, so this quiet contemplation, verging on awe, was completely foreign to him. Nevertheless, the tuxedo cat felt his ears pressing flat against his head and heat creeping up the back of his neck.
"I'm sorry," Quaxo replied, because it couldn't be easy for Macavity to be seeing the ghost of a cat who'd betrayed him not so very long ago. Perplexingly, Macavity only shook his head.
"Don't be sorry, my boy," the Wizard spoke, now a little less contemplative as he pulled his finger back and instead moved to clasp Quaxo's hands. "This is wonderful indeed, isn't it? A second chance for the both of us, I think."
Quaxo wasn't sure how to answer that, so he simply nodded and smiled and that seemed good enough for the Wizard, who finally let go and began to take a few steps back.
"Now, I believe someone mentioned something about magic in the multitude of letters I was sent?" Macavity asked, his glittering ruby red coat catching the light as the ginger cat sat down atop the emerald throne that marked the middle of the expansive room. Quaxo might have felt intimidated were it not for how casually the other cat was sitting, and he straightened and swallowed as he prepared to answer.
Quaxo couldn't figure out the Wizard, couldn't get a read on him, but the tuxedo cat supposed that might be the point. Who was he, a mere aspiring magician, to question the great and powerful Wizard of Oz?
"Yes," Quaxo finally replied, pulling at the strap of the bag he'd brought with him until it was close enough to pull his precious book of spells from inside. He wasn't sure whether to finally bow now, or simply get on with a demonstration, but once again Macavity interrupted him before he could decide.
"Ah yes, your Grizabella mentioned something in one of her letters about that book of yours," the ginger cat spoke from his throne, and Quaxo could only nod and hope Macavity wasn't disappointed that he'd brought it. The tuxedo cat felt out of his element, felt like an impostor wearing the face of an old friend and taking advantage of a cat who's grief might still be raw. But when he looked at Macavity and saw a peculiar look in his eyes, almost like anticipation, Quaxo wasn't so sure who might be taking advantage of who. He shook that thought away as soon as it came, and nodded again as he cracked open one of the pages.
"I haven't gotten good at reading it yet, but I'm hoping-" he began, but Quaxo ended up being interrupted by Macavity once more as the Wizard suddenly stood and walked toward him, holding out a book of his own that he'd seemingly conjured from thin air. Macavity reached for Quaxo's book, presumably to trade, but Quaxo was still hesitant.
"Try this book," the ginger cat said, his tone leaving no room for argument and leaving Quaxo with no choice as he switched books with the wizened Wizard. "It belonged to an old friend," Macavity continued, and Quaxo's ears perked up.
It couldn't possibly have belonged to… And yet as Quaxo opened to the first page, the former Wizard's name was scrawled in the upper right hand corner. "Mistoffelees," Quaxo murmured, and Macavity nodded even though the tuxedo cat hadn't needed the confirmation. As Quaxo looked up at Macavity, there was an odd look in the other cat's eyes he couldn't place, and so he looked back down at the new book of spells with renewed interest so he wouldn't have to think about it.
"It was his personal journal of spells," Macavity spoke, and Quaxo almost shuddered at the implications of that. "I've never been able to read it properly, but you…" the Wizard continued, then stopped as it seemed Quaxo understood what he was implying.
Quaxo did understand, but for the moment he wasn't sure whether he should feel flattered that the Wizard was trusting him with such an important task, or betrayed that perhaps the other cat had only wanted to meet him because of his connection to Mistoffelees. He knew the latter was silly, of course Macavity would have wanted to meet the reincarnation of his old friend regardless of the potential gain. Quaxo had to imagine he'd have done much the same thing, if given the opportunity.
Returning his attention to the book, Quaxo turned through a few pages and read a few lines of surprisingly neat penmanship before nodding his head to confirm that he could indeed read it. "Yes, I can read it," he informed the other tom, fingers lightly tracing across some of the yellowed parchment.
"Excellent!" Macavity replied as he snapped his fingers, clearly some sort of cue, as the large door opened once again and a guard strolled out with… Everlasting! Was that a Pollicle? It had to be, for the lumbering creature could be nothing else as it drew closer. Quaxo tried not to shrink back from it, eyes wide with confusion.
He knew Pollicles were real, of course, but he'd never seen one. Not since Macavity had increased security on Oz's borders. Surprisingly, a Pollicle looked an awful lot like a Jellicle, only with canine features, of course. This one was hunched forward, and seemed almost to walk on all fours like a mindless beast. Pollicles were dangerous, everybody knew that, so it made no sense as to why Macavity had one in chains in his throne room.
Seeing his shock, Macavity smiled in response as he answered Quaxo's unasked question. "Curious creature, isn't it? A poor little dog."
Quaxo wouldn't go so far as to say poor, as the creature had clearly deserved what had been coming to him. After all, Pollicles threatened their very way of life. They didn't deserve to be treated with any sort of kindness… right?
"I want you to make him fly," Macavity continued as he stepped forward, reaching out to flip through the book in Quaxo's hands until he reached a page clearly marked with instructions on how to do so. He must have noticed Quaxo's confused face, because Macavity laughed brightly and shrugged as if the answer to the silent question was the most obvious thing in the world. "Everyone deserves the chance to fly, even a sickly creature such as this one."
Quaxo had come here with so many questions, and out of all of those questions, none had been answered. Now with this development… Quaxo was starting to fear he'd be leaving here with even more questions than when he'd arrived. Why had Macavity brought him all the way here just for him to perform cheap parlor tricks on a Pollicle? Why was Macavity even experimenting with Pollicles in the first place? He opened his mouth to voice one or both of those incredibly pressing questions, but only ended up closing his mouth and nodding mutely. The Wizard was all knowing, Macavity must have his own reasons and Quaxo was in no position to question him, even if every instinct was screaming at him that this was wrong.
Turning his gaze back to the page, Quaxo shifted where he stood before slowly moving down to his knees and placing the book in front of him on the floor so he'd be able to use both hands as he began to read the spell out loud. This was all clearly to the delight of Macavity, who looked at him as though Quaxo was a mouse that had wandered into his path.
Quaxo tried to ignore that and focus as he began to read the spell out loud. His hands moved in small circles over the pages of the book, and his green eyes flashed dangerously as he felt himself get lost in the spell and the magic flowing through him to the point of losing touch with reality around him. But a howl of pain shocked the tuxedo cat, and he looked up with wide eyes as his spell suddenly took effect to clearly painful results as the Pollicle shuddered and whined and wings sprouted from it's back. A winged Pollicle. That certainly wasn't something you saw every day, and certainly hadn't been what Quaxo had intended. He felt a sudden stab of guilt and as he scrambled to his feet, clutching the book of spells, he almost moved closer. He was prevented by Macavity's hand as the Wizard placed it on Quaxo's chest.
"It's hurt! I hurt it!" Quaxo protested, though that much was obvious and what was becoming more obvious was that Macavity didn't care. Meanwhile, the Pollicle fell to the ground, it's wings crumpling with it, and Quaxo felt like he was holding his breath before he saw the telltale signs of the creature breathing. So it was still alive, thank the Everlasting Cat.
"Unfortunate," the tuxedo cat heard Macavity murmur, and at first he thought he hadn't heard him correctly as the Wizard finally turned to regard Quaxo once more. No longer was his gaze friendly, instead it was cold and sent a shiver of faint recognition down Quaxo's spine. "I had hoped you would be my second chance, my new Mistoffelees," the Wizard said as he stepped closer, and Quaxo's ears pressed flat against his head as the Wizard towered over him. Macavity wasn't finished, and yet Quaxo was already beginning to feel like a fool. "But you have his heart, don't you?" the Wizard sneered, and his eyes held a threatening glow as he spoke.
Macavity was horrible, that much Quaxo was very quickly realizing with a jolt, and it took all of his wits to force a placating smile and do the only thing he thought he could do: lie.
"No, not at all," Quaxo replied as his ears perked up and his smile grew. He couldn't stop his tail from twitching behind him, however, so he was hoping Macavity wouldn't notice that. "It startled me is all, but it was… thrilling."
Everlasting, he hoped this was working, and for the moment it seemed to, as Macavity paused in his advance and peered at him curiously.
Quaxo used that temporary lapse in concentration to cause a new distraction. Extending his hand, a loud crack broke the sudden silence and smoke enveloped the room, providing Quaxo with the perfect cover to slip into the cloud and stride toward the guard that had been holding the Pollicle. Disarming the guard with another quick flick of his wrist, Quaxo grabbed the arm of the thankfully now conscious Pollicle and began to half drag, half lead him along, the dog's chains trailing behind them on the floor.
Luckily for Quaxo the dog seemed to know he was being rescued, and the pair broke into a run as they heard Macavity scream, the sound echoing down the hall and probably throughout the building.
Tugger, Quaxo thought to himself. He had to get Tugger. So, bringing the Pollicle with him, he raced back the way he came, trying to ignore how Macavity's rage felt white hot against his back.
The Emerald City was on fire. Well, not literally on fire, but the heat being produced from the heart of the emerald stones was enough that it might as well have been as Macavity's rage manifested itself in the very walls of the building. There was smoke, so thick Quaxo could barely see, but he didn't need to see as he raced higher and higher on some sort of instinct he hadn't known he'd possessed. Was this from Mistoffelees? Quaxo knew it wasn't unheard of for reincarnations to share feelings or emotions with their predecessor, so could instincts be shared as well?
It didn't matter now, and he didn't dwell on it as he raced higher and higher through the city until he'd reached the highest point with both the Pollicle dog and Tugger in tow. Quaxo hadn't seen Grizabella, or Bombalurina, so for all he knew they were still in danger, but he could feel a much more pressing danger approaching and there was no time to go back. He promised himself that once the Pollicle and Tugger were safe that he would, assuming he could get them all out of here in the first place, anyway.
Barricading the door with both an overturned table and his magic, Quaxo began to frantically look around the room to find something he could use to get them out. They'd been cut off at every turn, forced higher and higher until they'd reached a spire that looked as though it had been the home of an observatory long since abandoned. They were trapped, unless he could find some other way out. Perhaps his new book of spells could be the answer, but Quaxo's train of thought was interrupted by Tugger once the coon had caught his breath.
"What's going on, Quaxo? Why are we-" but the coon was cut off by the sound of footsteps echoing in the hall. Macavity's men would be on them soon, and Quaxo's barricade would only last for so long. They needed to move.
The Pollicle whined, and at first Quaxo thought it was just in fear, but as he moved closer he realized the dog was trying to direct his attention toward an old broom. Quaxo stared in confusion for a moment, but then the dog was flapping it's now mostly functional wings and Quaxo understood. "Everyone deserves the chance to fly," he murmured as he grabbed the cleaning implement from where it lay.
"Quaxo, seriously," Tugger spoke up again, and Quaxo was reminded that the poor coon really didn't have any idea what was going on. "Talk to me, kitten, what's going on?"
Turning to face Tugger, Quaxo marched towards him, dropping his new book of spells to the floor for use later. "I can't explain it all now, I need you to trust me," Quaxo began as he knelt where he'd dropped the book and began to murmur a spell under his breath. His hands moved slowly, and then a little faster as he waved them over the broom, and then all of the sudden he was abruptly stopped as Tugger grabbed hold of his wrist and knelt at his side. The coon was angry, that much Quaxo could see, but not threatening. He was confused, and he was lashing out, which was more than fair but didn't make Quaxo's job any easier.
"No," Tugger insisted with a faint shake of his head. Outside, the sound of footsteps grew louder, and the heat in the room increased, but Quaxo was no longer sure that was all just Macavity's doing. "No, I need you to tell me what's going on," the coon continued.
Quaxo was quiet for a moment, his mouth opening to give Tugger an abridged version of the days events, but the Pollicle dog interrupted, whining and turning Quaxo's attention to it as delight spread across his features and he realized what was happening. The broom had begun to float. It hadn't grown wings, it hadn't disintegrated into a hundred tiny pieces, it was hovering above the ground and it was Quaxo's only means of escape. With a delighted laugh, he pulled his hand away from Tugger and stood as he grabbed hold of the broom and beamed triumphantly as he held his prize. He may have no clue where he was going, or what he should do next, but he had a way to escape and that was enough for now.
"Hop on," Quaxo said as he turned to Tugger, holding the broom out between them with a wide grin. A wide grin he now realized Tugger wasn't returning. In fact, Tugger was looking at him like he didn't even know him, and it sent a chill down Quaxo's spine. No longer was the room warm. As if changed by Quaxo's very emotions, it was as cold as ice and the tuxedo cat couldn't surpress a shiver as it spread across his body.
"You're trembling," Tugger murmured, and while Quaxo wanted to scream at the coon to hop on the flying broomstick and leave with him before it was too late, Quaxo didn't say a word as Tugger glanced around the room, laid eyes on what he was looking for, and brought over a worn black cape which he wrapped around Quaxo's shivering shoulders with the care of a… with the care of someone who cared.
Blinking up at the coon, Quaxo was struck suddenly by the realization that Tugger wasn't coming with him. Panic rose in his chest, and his eyes grew wide, and before he realized it the entire story was spilling from his lips in a rush. Well, not the entire story. Given the increasingly loud sound of footsteps that had also begun to include banging on the barricaded door, Quaxo told the quick version as best he could.
When he was finished, Tugger's features had twisted into a grimace and Quaxo could practically see the indecision written all across the coon's face.
It terrified him.
"Tugger, please," Quaxo spoke after the silence had dragged on for too long. The tuxedo cat stepped closer, and horrifyingly Tugger stepped back. Quaxo blinked, staring at the sudden distance between them and trying not to succumb to the despair that coursed through his veins. Despair that very quickly gave way to anger as Tugger finally began to speak.
"Quaxo, listen," the maine coon began, but Quaxo was tired of listening, he was tired of blindly following the whims of cats who thought they knew better than him. Clearly Tugger intended to stay, and clearly he didn't believe one word out of Quaxo's mouth. So much for what Quaxo had thought was a rock solid friendship, their bond unbreakable. It turned out Tugger was more like Victoria than he'd realized.
"Stop," Quaxo replied, and something changed within him as he spoke the word. He was tired of being Quaxo, he was tired of being weak and ridiculed… and he was tired of getting his heart broken. The obvious solution came to him like a bolt of magical lightning as he stood before the other tom, nevermind how Tugger's features were currently twisting in horror as if he suddenly realized what Quaxo was about to do.
He would no longer be Quaxo, he would no longer be weak, and he would never again give his heart to someone else. He would become the embodiment of the cat that all of Oz feared, and that all of Oz had clearly been wrong about. It was time for Quaxo to become Mistoffelees.
"My name is Mistoffelees," he spoke as he shook his head very faintly and hoped the action would hide his tears. "Not Quaxo, and I will not listen."
Standing up straighter, the new Mistoffelees rose to his full height and held the broom at his side as all trembling ceased. "Are you with me, or against me?" he continued, and watched with a carefully guarded expression as Tugger opened his mouth to reply.
"It's not that simple, kitten," the coon was saying, but Mistoffelees had heard more than enough to judge the tom for his lack of action. Turning away, he strode toward the Pollicle who'd been testing out his wings in the corner of the room. He didn't even know if the dog understood him, mute as it was, but the dog seemed to get the gist of what Mistoffelees was saying as he pointed in the direction of the open window, and nodded his head. Mistoffelees would follow its lead for now, and go from there once he had an actual plan in mind. Right now he just had to leave.
Straddling the broom, Mistoffelees made sure his new book of spells was secure in his jacket pocket as he prepared to go, with one last look in Tugger's direction. A last look that turned out to be longer than he'd anticipated, as Tugger was suddenly standing next to him and grabbing hold of his arm once more. Mistoffelees held out hope for a brief moment that the coon might have changed his mind, but the determined set to Tugger's shoulders told him otherwise.
"Quaxo! Are you crazy!?" the coon yelled, and that was the last straw as something else changed in Mistoffelees, and for the first time he glared at the other tom with hatred in his gaze. He may have despised Tugger, he may have loathed him, but he'd never felt this driven to hate him before.
Yanking his arm away, Mistoffelees' gaze turned hard and threatening and he watched with no satisfaction as Tugger shrank under it. For a moment Mistoffelees could see Tugger gathering the courage to speak, but the moment was over as the carefully barricaded door was finally burst open.
Everything happened so quickly afterward that Mistoffelees was having trouble keeping up, but he clearly saw two guards grabbing Tugger, though the coon fought valiantly to free himself. He saw a flash of red and gray, and knew that Grizabella and Bombalurina had followed the guards here, or had been brought into custody just like Tugger was being currently. Despite the sting of betrayal, Mistoffelees' next words rang true.
"It's not them!" he called over the noise. Raising a hand, he rose into the air atop the flying broomstick and Mistoffelees had no time to fully appreciate the sensation as he continued to project his voice around the small room, his new ink black cape fluttering in a nonexistent breeze. "I'm the one you want!"
Despite what seemed like compete rejection, Mistoffelees didn't want Tugger or the others hurt for the crimes that the tuxedo cat alone had committed. He was high above them now, and as he heard the sound of wings flapping Mistoffelees knew the Pollicle couldn't be far behind. Time was up, and time was really up as Macavity himself finally strode into the room.
"If you care to find me, look toward the Westarn sky," Mistoffelees continued, now knowing full well that he'd go West and take the Pollicle home to its people. He looked directly at the ginger Wizard as he continued, and knew the other cat would understand the significance of his words. "As someone told me lately, everyone deserves the chance to fly."
"Quaxo!" Tugger called, but Mistoffelees only spared him a passing glance. He had no idea how to fly this thing, but acting on instinct seemed to work as he shot forward through the open window and into the light of day. The Pollicle was ahead of him, and Mistoffelees couldn't suppress the whoop of delight that passed his lips as he looked down and realized just how high he was. It provided a distraction from the pain, at the very least.
As the tuxedo cat raced through the sky, he tried to leave everything else behind, including his very heart. And, as the Emerald City shrank in the distance, he found he had succeeded.
I'm SO sorry that this took so long to get to you all!!! Clearly the "by Christmas" deadline has passed haha. Though to be fair this got WAY more involved than I thought it was going to be when I foolishly thought it would only be 6 chapters! 😆
I think Mistoffelees is gonna try defying gravity, and I'm gonna try and get to actually writing the next chapter lol
This won't be abandoned, I promise! Even if it takes until NEXT Christmas haha
Thank you all for continuing to read and being amazing!! You keep me going 😊 (and I really hope you guys like this chapter because I was STRESSED to post it)