I held onto the stone lever, feeling the deepwoods moss gently caress my palm.

“There’s a lever in the woods/the old folks say/and when you pull it/things fly away.” I whispered the old schoolyard rhyme through lips thick with the sweat of a summer that had reached even the normally cool forests outside town.

Horatio had stayed where I’d put him, mewling quietly. That wouldn’t do; I’d chosen him because he was the most rambunctious of Clover’s litter. After a few moments I tossed his favorite toy out with my spare hand. A little ball that jingled and was full of catnip, it landed squarely in the middle of the great stone trapdoor that the lever activated.

The soft little kitten immediately bounded over to it, and at the first jingle I pulled the lever.

As it had the first time I’d tried it, the sound of impossibly ancient subterranean gears ground out a doleful bass melody beneath my feet. A second later, the trapdoor opened. Horatio yowled as he plunged into the inky blackness. A moment later, he reappeared, speeding up and out at a rocket’s pace, launched in the air as if from a catapult.

That sequence of events should have ended with Horatio as an adorable damp spot on the old glacier cliffs. Instead, he glided gently back down next to me on a pair of small wings that matched the motley pattern of his fur. Seemingly instinctively, ths kit folded his new appendaged up and took to licking himself delicately.

“That’s it, then,” I said. “It’s time.” I stepped onto the trapdoor, once again closed by now. I looped a piece of sturdy rope over the lever, and took a deep breath.

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“Don’t worry yourself, Majesty,” said Wyllbow. “We are quite safe.” He tightened his mailed fist on the jeweled hilt of his sword, the elaborate blade exclusive to members of the Arcane Guard.

“Yes, Nadeen, safe,” purred Loat indolently. “You are quite safe. Safe from the creatures of this place, for the Arcanes plan to kill you. Safe from the Arcanes, for the creatures plan to eat you.”

The other Arcanes traveled in a wary circle around Nadeen, their weapons drawn or ready in sheaths, their breath misting into the cool forest air.

“Hush, Loat,” whispered Nadeen, glaring at the wispcat. “I’ve no patience for your tricks.”

“Who are you speaking to, Majesty?” Wyllbow said. “Are we not quiet enough?”

“No, I mean…never mind,” said Nadeen. “How soon will we be there?”

“Soon enough, Majesty,” said the Arcane Guard, gently sliding his weapon free of its frosted sheath. “Soon enough.”

Inspired by this.

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“I’ve gotta be honest with you, Sandy,” Karen sighed. “Cats creep the hell out of me.”

“Because you are creeped out by things that are awesome?” Sandy riposted. “That explains your Netflix queue.”

“Because of a lot of things,” Karen said. “Like the claws. They can pop out at any time, without warning. One moment you’re petting a loving animal on your lap, and the next it has a dozen needles stuck in the flesh of a very sensitive area. Or you try to pet a cat on the tummy and then five of its six ends are suddenly pointy and whirling. And you can’t talk about declawing, because cat owners react to that word as if you just said ‘Auschwitz.'”

“It’s cutting off the tips of their fingers,” Sandy said. “How would you feel about that?”

“If I was always going around clawing at people you’d look at it differently.”

“Mmm-hmm, right,” Sandy said. “Was that it, or did you have some more ranting while you’re at it?”

“And then you’ve got the cats that bite you and scratch you at will, and while you sit there oozing blood the owner goes ‘Oh, it’s just a love bite!'” Karen continued. “It’s a classic example of toxic codependency in an abusive relationship–the cat bites me and scratches me and scars me and I have to wear long sleeves to cover up the marks but it still loves me.”

“That’s a pretty dangerous sentiment to go spreading around,” said Sandy. “Especially around cat fanciers like me who will defend our fuzzy compatriots unto the death.”