Chapter 16: Magical Business

Though there were two magical enclaves, Razor decided he should check in with Byron's before going to the one discreetly hiding and working in Professor Hackle's labs.

He hardly noticed the ride itself, traveling on autopilot while his mind was back in the lab. There was so much to cover and even though they still had two more years to complete their plans, it still felt to him like they might not make it in time before the aliens dropped in on them.

Despite the number of people working on this, it still seemed there was far too much yet to be done . . . the designs for weapons and machines were only just beginning to be built and would still need to be tested once they were. When they were ready, the Enforcers and auxiliary soldiers and mercenaries would need to be trained on their use; the battle plans being written, needed to be tested in real field maneuvers; evacuation training hadn't yet been initiated with the populace and that would be a big hurdle to accomplish as it had to be done carefully so as to prevent panic and gain their cooperation. The very wealthy and very poor would be the most difficult to get on board with the program and he didn't envy Callie trying to get that accomplished.

The list seemed endless and he had only a portion of those tasks as his own and still felt overwhelmed.

He sighed and tried to focus more on a positive attitude. Constantly worrying about what needed to be done, was totally unproductive. Besides, they weren't falling behind schedule . . . if anything, they were far ahead already so he should stop worrying himself into a hole. He shoved all that away and made himself focus only on what was ahead of him today.

They already knew magic was the most important component of the war effort. Everything else was a useless waste of time and effort without it. However, it was still hard to get some of the scientists, inventors, military leaders, and others involved in this project to truly believe that. They were too used to using science and technology to win their fights. It rubbed everyone the wrong way to think magic was how this war would be won.

And he didn't blame them. He too was deeply rooted in science and technology. However, Byron and his people seemed to think he had magic within him and had been using it all along even though there were none of the obvious signs he was familiar with to show that or convince him of it. But, then he didn't have the knowledge or experience to debate that with them in the first place.

The thought of Byron brought his mind immediately back to the road and the realization that he was about to whizz by the drive that led to the hidden farm. Mentally scolding himself, he cut his speed then turned sharply onto the winding dirt road.

Byron and three other males stood on the wrap around porch, watching him approach. That always creeped him out a bit to see them waiting for him. He hadn't called ahead but they always seemed to know when he was coming.

Nearing the house and about to pull to a stop, Razor saw Byron gesture for him to continue on toward the back of the house. Razor nodded his understanding and continued on toward the rear of the home as ordered. The toms went back through the house to meet him on the other side.

As Razor came around the cedar sided house and his eyes were immediately drawn to the beautifully landscaped yard and gardens with a forest behind it. A stone patio reached out from the back of the house for about ten feet then a brilliantly green lawn stretched to the forest wall. To the left of this was a large garden filled with well-tended herbs, vegetables, interspersed with flowers that filled the air with a lovely perfume. At the center of the garden stood a beautifully made statue of a maiden holding an umbrella. From the top of it, water sprayed out to cover the garden with life-giving liquid once every four hours.

To the far right and beyond the trees, fields of wheat, corn, and alfalfa grew, making a patchwork of green and gold. At the left edge of the fields sat three huge barns. He knew from experience that one was for the draft horses they used to till the soil, the one next to it was where their dairy cows were milked, and the final one nearest the house was where all their farm equipment was stored.

The community derived their living from the plants they grew, the milk products they produced, and the herbal remedies they made. To Razor's tired city spirit it was heaven and he loved coming out here from time to time to drink up that peace.

Before the emergency, he'd begun coming here two or three times a month to help harvest, milk the cows, chop wood, and till the fields besides anything else they might need done. It was mindless work that helped quiet his racing thoughts and recharged him to go on with the dangerous career he'd chosen.

He'd tried to convince Chance to come out a few times but gave up when his partner always declined. The tabby admitted the community made him a little nervous and uncomfortable. Razor could understand the feeling, it was one he had when he first came here, but it had just as quickly faded away and all he sensed was comfort now whenever he dropped by.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, he noticed something different today. On the lawn, a quilt of red and gold lay with two older females sitting upon it, enjoying the sun and apparently waiting for him.

Byron and the three other males walked out of the back door and across the patio to meet him. The leader pointed toward a small cement apron that had been poured, smoothed, and framed neatly beside the patio, a metal bike rack embedded within it. This already held numerous bicycles of all sizes. Nodding, Razor pulled up to an empty spot beside the rack and parked the cyclotron.

Cutting the engine, he reached up and pulled his helmet off. Immediately, he was hit with the sound of bird song, horses neighing and cows lowing . . . no disturbing techno noise to be found. He drew in a deep lung full of fresh air and sighed it out.

Smiling at Byron, he set the security on his bike, habit asserting itself despite knowing no one would touch the bike, then climbing off, setting his helmet on the seat before walking up to the males.

"Good day to you, Razor," Byron greeted him with a warm smile and a pawshake. "We will have our discussion here in the garden. I think it will help your lessons if you're in a place that will quiet your active mind and put it in a more receptive state which will allow you to concentrate better on what you need to learn."

"Good day to you, too, sir" Razor returned the greeting, though he was a little leery about what these so called 'lessons' might be about. He followed the males as they led him toward the quilt and bid him to sit as they did the same beside the females. Razor dropped into a cross-legged position a little apart from the group.

"Before we begin whatever it is we're going to do, Commander Feral requested an update," Razor spoke first.

Byron nodded. "We have been preparing all living creatures for what is to come."

Razor blinked in confused surprise. "Huh?"

The Wiccan leader smiled, mildly amused by the young tom's expression.

In a gentle but lecturing tone, he explained, "Nature and our kind have been in constant communication with each other for centuries. With this calamity heading for us, we here and all others like us around the world reached out with our joint energies and warned all living creatures and plants to prepare to vanish when our enemies arrive. When we give a certain signal the animals will seek secluded hiding places they can disappear within and be safe, even the birds. Though the trees cannot move, they and all the plants will stop growing and/or retreat if they are able to, until the threat is gone. In this way, our world will suffer less harm and be able to recover more quickly once the invaders are defeated."

The SWAT Kat could only gape at them. It took his mind a much longer time to grasp they were dead serious about this ability, but it was way beyond the realm of anything he could accept as remotely possible.

"Uh . . . that's . . . uh . . . incredible . . . I didn't know such a thing was possible," he finally managed to say, rather lamely.

One of the females, looking to be around her late sixties, smiled gently at him. He knew her name as Juno. "That is understandable Razor as it isn't known outside the magic users."

That statement alone told Razor he was now considered one of them. He felt uneasy about that new revelation and wasn't certain he liked it at all but shelved his reservations and listened to what she had to say.

"We were given this sacred trust by Ceridwen, the goddess of rebirth, transformation, and inspiration. It is our task in life to insure her land, animals, and people thrive and remain healthy despite any adversity. Whether Kat made or alien in nature."

Razor blinked. "A Goddess gave you this task? When was this?"

Juno showed no sign of being annoyed with his interruptions as she smoothly answered his question. "Yes she did and it was at the dawn of time when we first became aware that there was more in life than kill, eat, and mate. Be patient my dear. All will be revealed."

"Sorry. Uhm, can I ask one more question first?" He asked hesitantly. She nodded. "Well if a Goddess set you a task to keep our world healthy and safe, doesn't that fly in the face of modern technology that isn't always on nature's side? Is she against modernity and should we be worried about her as well as this new enemy?"

Juno gently patted his paw. "That's a perfectly legitimate concern and I'll answer as best I can so you'll understand. Still smiling warmly, she shook out her long, reddish-blond hair making it sweep across her chest with the motion.

"The Goddess understands that intelligent creatures must move forward if they are to thrive and if that means using technology and science to do that, then she has no issues with it. But then that is why she has her servants insure that very desire to advance our world forward doesn't destroy her works at the same time. So she laid in some checks and balances. We are one of those checks. Our mission is simple. We insure the planet does not suffer needlessly from Kat Kind's personal drives and desires. We are the shepherds that keep our world clean and liveable for all the living things upon it. Which is why our world continues to flourish despite the wars and natural disasters that have befallen it over the ages. If you haven't noticed, Razor, Aristal is still mostly wild with only small areas being inhabited by civilization."

"Actually, I did know that . . . learned it from school, but never thought about why we'd never over run the planet by now. When I did consider it once some years ago, I attributed it to our more slower breeding rate, the virulent diseases that swept through off and on over the years, and the many conflicts that caused significant losses," Razor said, thoughtfully.

The group chuckled but they weren't laughing at him he noted, which would have pissed him off, but more at what he'd said.

"And that would be correct as seen from a purely scientific viewpoint but the true reason is far simpler but more unbelievable to you. All that happens to our world is orchestrated by the laws set down by Ceridwen. She decreed that our population would not be allowed to spread too far nor be damaged too much. Per her instructions handed down through our ancestors, we have kept her laws and followed them verbatim. However, when our efforts fail to halt over crowding and violence engendered by it, the magic of Aristal takes over to prune it back. If that means allowing pestilence and technology to run unchecked for a bit then that is what it will do. Once the level set by Ceridwen is regained, then it goes back to sleep and our shepherding duties are begun anew."

"Are you saying our world is sentient?" Razor blurted, totally shocked and not certain he'd heard her right.

"Not in the way you mean, Razor. It is not a thinking being but it does have a 'setting' if you pardon me using a more technical term, which was put in place with the power and magic of Ceridwen to monitor the planet's health. In this way she insures her dictates are followed. We are but the shepherds, as I've already stated, that attempt to keep things in line with her desires if possible so that Aristal mustn't act at all. We've been fairly successful as our history tells us Aristal has only awaken three times since the beginning of our kind," Juno gently corrected him.

"Pardon me, but you were right when you said it was unbelievable! I can't fathom how something so important isn't in any of our texts nor are there any statues around to mention this Ceridwen person much less that Aristal is some kind of monitor." Razor shook his head.

"I well understand your skepticism, Razor, but that was Ceridwen's express wish. She had no desire to be worshiped as some deity," Byron picked up the explanation. "Her only goal was to leave behind her teachings to each world's magical beings so that they may keep their worlds in their original pristine condition more or less."

"But why? Why would she do this? What stake did she have in it?" Razor demanded to know. No one he knew that had that much power would just give it away.

Shaking her head, a different elder with black flowing hair tied with a band of fabric, that he knew as Gena, spoke, "You are too used to dealing with the power hungry evil that temporarily plague's your city. Ceridwen does this for purely personal reasons. During her travels with her fellow Gods, she witnessed how rampant technology and population without a brake could destroy worlds, reducing them to lifeless rock. This she wished to stop. Though her fellow Gods felt she was wasting her time, they didn't deter her as they loved her like a sister. So Ceridwen set about to save as many worlds as she could, claiming no gifts or thanks for doing it. She never remains on worlds she visits longer than it takes for her to impart her laws to those with magic, set a magical watch dog, that being the planet itself, then moving on. It is our task to do her bidding and spread her word to any who will listen and this is why our world looks as it does despite the onset of technology and science."

Razor remained still, trying to absorb this incredible bit of ancient history and reconcile it with what he knew and finding it hard to swallow.

Shaking his head, he finally asked, hesitantly, "What about worlds with no magical core or beings?"

"She doesn't tell us though we have had seers who have speculated she simply passes them by," Juno shrugged."

"Makes sense, I guess. But how do you know so much about this Ceridwen since obviously none of you were alive when she 'stopped by'?"

"To insure skeptics couldn't deny her existence or go against her dictates, she left behind a relic that literally speaks her words for all her servants to hear. It even has the capability to fit its language to whatever speaks to it. In this way, she insures her message is never altered or misunderstood despite language drifts over the centuries. I think you will marvel at it when you are taken to see it just as I did my first time." Juno's eyes gleamed with remembered reverence and excitement.

"You might even determine it is technological in nature but we think it is made entirely of magic as it pulses with it. Or it could be a combination of both. You are the first techno-mage we've had in centuries so perhaps you can give us that answer," Byron put in, a look of hopeful anticipation in his eyes.

Razor eyed everyone uneasily. He had a nasty suspicion. "Does that mean I will be seeing this relic today?"

"Yes." He felt a flash of fear but Byron was quick to reassure him. "Have no fear, my friend. It is a wonderous thing that only the magically endowed are allowed know about or see. It will not harm you. We will take you there after you've asked all you wish to know."

That didn't reassure Razor one little bit. "I take it that when I see this relic, I won't be able to tell anyone else about it, huh."

"We knew your were bright and would figure that out quickly." Byron beamed, proudly. "Yes the relic does insure it's secret is kept."

"Pardon me, if I seem skeptical about that. So how does this thing accomplish buttoning a person's lips on the subject? And just for the record, I don't like the idea of something messing inside my head."

"That's a perfectly normal reaction, Razor but trust us, everyone here has gone through this initiation without harm," Byron promised.

"Even the kittens?" Razor demanded, not liking this a bit.

"Yes, even our young ones. No harm comes to them, only knowledge. All you feel is a warmth, then you hear the voice of Ceridwen telling you her laws, she imparts the training you need which is different for each person because magical abilities are varied, and finishes with a magical block that inhibits you from speaking about this to anyone who is not magical. And that's it. The light vanishes and you feel no different except for perhaps suffering a mild dizziness as your mind works to absorb everything she's imparted to you."

"But that means this thing can think to some degree if it can do that," Razor objected, fascinated despite himself.

"It seems that way but again we don't know for certain." Byron shrugged. "However, it is hoped you might provide us an answer to that question at last."

Razor had risen to his feet suddenly, tension singing in his veins.

Byron rose as well but didn't touch the SWAT Kat. "It won't harm you, Razor, I swear! I have never lied to you, have I?"

"No . . . " Razor gritted out between clenched teeth.

"Then believe me when I say this is necessary and will do the training you require within minutes rather than days, weeks, or months, which, you'll admit, we have no time for. Please understand, you would have had to do this even if there had been no enemy coming for us. It was planned to approach you within the next year anyway. The secrecy part is very necessary to ensure the continuance of our people and the magical protection of our world. None may shirk that duty," Byron told him gravely. "And duty and protecting the people of our world even if it is only one of its cities is something you have already given your life to as a SWAT Kat. This is but another such duty. I know you would not turn your back no matter how uncomfortable or afraid of it you might be."

"No, I won't but I sure don't like how I seem to have been railroaded right into it," Razor grumbled, resigned and a little shocked to learn he was doomed to do this even before they'd found out about the menace facing them.

Byron gave him an understanding look but felt it wise not to comment.

Razor looked away from the group watching him to stare blindly off toward the rolling fields of grain. And it seemed like such a nice day too, he thought miserably. What's worse, I can't even tell my best friend anything about this ... and Feral...what the hell do I tell him?