“The small black cat padded down the alley. His coal black fur was indistinguishable from the charcoal sky. This cat held his head high as he walked, showing slight bits of snobbiness. This cat obviously was higher class. But something was worrying him.”
The small black cat padded down the alley. His coal black fur was indistinguishable from the charcoal sky. This cat held his head high as he walked, showing slight bits of snobbiness. This cat obviously was higher class.
But something was worrying him. He turned his head around a corner. Not a soul in sight.
That was worrisome. Even late at night, some cat should’ve been in this narrow alley of teetering, brick buildings and looming trees. He padded down the street. The next corner was why he was here. To see if the rumors were true.
The cat walked faster. Might as well get this over with, he thought.
He was there now. A rally seemed to be held around the next corner. The noises of shouting were faint, but there. If it was there, it was around that corner. Another twisting corner.
His black-furred head shone with fear. He looked around the corner and gasped with wild panic. The cats were rallying, doing the distinctive Rivercat salute. The bent paw in the air. The dark night muffled it, but there were definitely brown gloves on their paws. The symbol of hate. And finally, the claws going through them… that was new, but more terrifying.
The snobbiness was gone now. This was pure terror.
He bolted away, leaving dust trails in his wake. He saw something he had been terrified of for seven awful years. He saw a gathering of cats who riled up hate, who tried to destroy and spread rumors. They were shouting and yelling curses, sending all cats running. Something was there. Even though Salem didn’t know it at the time, but the new Rivercats… the Calicons… had risen.
Chapter One: Pierre
Pierre yawned and stretched. The rabbit-fur mat twisted with his weight.
Pierre was a dark brown cat with black and gray fur. He also happened to be the mayor. His assistant, Tuber, a tom, walked across the log and stick floor. The work had started for the day. For this term, the Cantercats were in power.
“Good morning, Pierre.”
“Whatever, Tuber. Get on with the search for the foxes.”
Pierre was not in a good mood. The troublemaking Ultra-plant wannabe farmers were protesting again. They wanted Ultra-plants to be legal for spraying on their crops as fertilizer as if Ultra-plants were not being sold and farmed illegally by some of the biggest street gangs in the city-state! As if they weren’t a danger to public health! As if they would actually get their stupid Ultra-plants by kidnapping dangerous foxes and setting them loose!
Ultra-plants caused respiratory problems, possibly even causing lung destruction (cancer to us humans) and there was no way to stop it. The reasons for having Ultra-plants was that they made crops grow like crazy. And the foxes. They were kidnapped, brutally and inhumanly, (violating to the point of destroying the 1956 Fox Sympathy Act, Pierre thought bitterly), and released on the street, leaving cats in critical condition or dead. In Pierre’s and many other cat’s opinions, the farmers that wanted Ultra-plants were terrorists with no moral standards. In the farmer’s opinion, it was a freedom struggle.
However, if one crossed over, he would hear him or her out. Pierre might be an angry fireball, but he wasn’t biased.
Tuber stepped out of the way and let Pierre mentally vent. Pierre headed to the next room and pulled aside Tanters, the head security she-cat.
“Salem has security… right?”
The “right” in that was not a question. It was a snarl. It would be just like Ultra-plant farmers to do something to Salem.
“Your brother is all right.” Tanters looked him calmly in the eye. “He will be fine.”
“Good. I really hope that’s true.” Pierre clearly needed some catnip.
Salem was a black cat and a diplomat. He was traveling into “Ultra-plant farmer” territory to make a speech against Ultra-plants in three days. And that used to be Rivercat territory…
The Rivercats were evil cats who absolutely hated solid gray cats. They loved attacking and killing them. They had ruled just seven years ago.
He pushed that away. He kept walking. He downed a Stick Nut (restricted) and heavily sugared catnip. Breakfast really was the most important meal of the day.
But he couldn’t push one thing away. He had a feeling something would happen, and his gut was never wrong.
Chapter Two: What Is This?
Three days later…
Pierre spit his catnip out as he walked into the room of public relations. There was chaos! Cats were running everywhere, some even using the new fangled “telephone.” Things were crashing, and stick pads were flying. Some cats were relaying information to others, and others were frantically running and shouting in and out of the room, seemingly to get new information. Pierre’s eyes widened. What could have happened to cause this?
An official spotted Pierre. “I know what you’re thinking: What is going on? Well, guess what? Some type of… some type of… some type of Ultra-plant rights terrorist group marched in what the humans call ‘the mall.’ Cats are terrified. This hasn’t happened since… (he gulped) the Rivercats were around!”
Pierre forgot about his spilled catnip. He rushed and raced, getting the details as the news cats came in. Tools flew, and cats stumbled. The story slowly pieced together. Somebody had collected known criminals and Ultra-plant wannabes and marched together. But it wasn’t the remaining fragments of the Rivercats. It was something… new. But similar. This group wanted to destroy… democracy? Pierre stared at the news cats. Who would willingly impose dictatorship besides the dictator(s)? Pierre found the answer. They would kill anybody who resisted. Tom, she-cat, or child. They were ruthless.
“Calm down!” Pierre yelled. The room quieted down almost immediately. “Security, I need four of you!”
Four cats scurried into the room. One, the leader, came with a gun. Pierre looked at them thankfully.
“I’m going to the mall.”
Pierre wanted that to be a dramatic line. It didn’t work. When the entire room plunged into chaos again, he left the room.
The bright light stunned Pierre. He was pleasantly surprised by the falling leaves. He turned to one of his guards and said, “Nice leaves, huh? I didn’t know they fell in August.”
Pierre continued on, making sure to put his back to the offending guard. The trail was winding and slippery and dotted with human homes. Of course, Pierre could walk through the streets. There had long been a treaty for that with the humans.
Pierre reached the mall. Square and expansive, there was a reason it was called the “heart of Atlasai.” Tall metal buildings soared into the sky, some as old as 2027.
But the buildings didn’t matter. Pierre saw a… ward leader? (Atlasai was split into different sections, called wards.) He was saying something to a crowd. The five cats listened in.
“FEAR THE CALICONS! THEY WILL TAKE YOUR KITTENS AND BURN YOUR HOMES IF YOU OPPOSE THEM!”
The cats listening started walking away. The ward leader scowled and started to dismount from his podium. A few other ward leaders appeared and started to stalk away with the first.
“Hold on,” Pierre told his protectors. “I’m going to follow them. Alone.”
The guards tried to protest, but Pierre silenced them.
What was this?
He needed to hurry up or he’d miss this odd meeting of the ward leaders. What were they doing?
Were they trying to help the extremists? How dare they. Or were the mysterious “Calicons” a new political party… one they belonged to? Pierre clawed an imaginary ward leader. He’d literally ran on the platform. I won’t lie to you or exploit your fear.
Pierre found the place where they were going. Tall oak trees dominated the sky, as if they were humongous brown towers. Stone walls surrounded the area. No one can hear us here, he thought. That’s not a good sign.
The ward leaders came into view, all of them old and most of them marmalade orange.
“Hello,” the first one said. His smile was not friendly.
“Let’s get to the point. What is this about?” Pierre replied. His fur began to itch.
“Through some research, we found out that this group that marched into the mall are called the Calicons. They are powerful cats that are extremely ruthless. We (he gestured to his cronies) believe that we should tell the public about them.”
Was this a set up?
“Look, I caught you advocating for the Calicons. You want me to threaten the public! You know how I feel about manipulation.” Pierre was now talking in a low and gravelly tone. He was threatening now.
The leader was undeterred. “So you want to play it the hard way. Fine, we can do that. I, as the leader of the Calicons, demand that you recognize them as a separate state and cede us some territory.”
Pierre practically shot out his last words. “I will never do it, even if my life is at stake!”
At the same time, Tuber broke into the gathering. He was practically sweating his fur off.
“Something’s wrong. We’ve lost contact with Salem.”
“What!” Pierre spun around, shocked. “But how could anything have gone wrong?”
The leader just smiled, rolling in his genius of timing. “You idiots are so easy to manipulate. Of course you would have to go to the mall! Of course you would have to follow me! This was all planned, foxian. Anyway, you have ten days to hand over Atlasai. After that, I invade.” He smirked. “If your life doesn’t concern you, perhaps your brother’s does?”
He pranced away, leaving Pierre stunned in his wake.
Chapter Three: Salem
Salem pushed through the crowd. He couldn’t sleep ever since he saw the gathering, and the speech was today.
Another cat ran up to him. “Get away, you little demonizing arsonist!” she snarled.
“Have you seen yourself lately?” Salem swatted the she-cat with his paw.
Who knows how much trouble that would get him in.
Salem kept his head down. I am the brother of the mayor, he repeated over and over. I am the brother of the mayor.
He cleared his throat and walked to the podium. He looked at his bodyguard, with one last check on security.
“Is everything okay?” he projected evidently.
“Don’t worry, sir,” she said. “Everything is alright.”
Salem took a sigh of relief and walked forward to finally begin the speech.
“The idea of using Ultra-plants as conductive fertilizer is preposterous,” he began, “the issues with public safety are terrifying. Statistics from municipalities that do allow this monstrous plant to grow show there is a 9% increase in deaths and severe injuries that have been appropriately linked back to the respiratory problems Ultra-plants cause, not even mentioning unrecorded… what the?”
Who knows how many more ten-dollar words Salem would have thrown around if it weren’t for the whooshing noise made by something rushing past his throat. That something, Salem realized in horror, was an attack on him. Not meant to kill him, but kidnap him. He jumped off the podium and ran, an oddly organized mob chasing him. This is the start of a war, he realized a few minutes before his brother did.
Salem looked back. His heart pulsed. The monster was chasing him, its teeth of human “rifles” firing, pulling ahead.
He kept running. The gap was closing. The monster behind him was closing in, drooling and slobbering and shooting its “rifles” after him. Salem tried to pull out of its reach. He succeeded. He ran free and the monster gave up its chase.
Salem kept going. He bolted, and after an eternity, a familiar wire fence, twisted, barbed and ugly, came into sight. He sighed and rounded the corner.
The monster popped out again. Salem gasped, his fur flying straight up. The animal, albeit smaller, was definitely there. He rounded the corner, a dart sizzling through his fur.
He gasped, another drooling beast in front of him. He was trapped. How could this be? He was the brother of the mayor. He was upper class. How could Salem get out? He pawed at the ground. Asphalt. The droolers advanced, waving nets. No windowsill on the brick wall. He tried a jump. Nothing. This was panic. Terror. A dart sizzled through a muscle. He felt his will drain. A net trapped him. This was it.
His captors were ruthless. He was gone.
Chapter Four: Whatever It Takes
Pierre swiveled back to his secretary. “The backstabbing little traitor! The little foxian! Pardon my language.”
The ward leader (Pierre never could remember his name) had never been on chummy-buddy terms with Pierre before (in fact, Pierre mistrusted him slightly) but he had never been an active traitor. He was another addition to the enemy list now, though, not someone you slightly dislike.
Something sank in. This was brother. This cat… he loved him. This was the cat he romped and played with when he was little. This cat was the one who brought him back from the brink when he was broken down, determined he was worthless. When others pushed him, ran him off, denounced him as a foxian… when he was nothing more than a shadow, the lone fighter against the Rivercats… he tried to stop it, but it wasn’t possible… tears spilled out. Everything he was, he owed to Salem, the one who filled the shadow, the one who took his side. He ignored Tuber, choked out everything that he’d worked half his life to confine to the depths of unknown, a secret kept to the grave.
No chance of that now. Pierre kept going. His heart melted, then cooled into hate.
Hate. He felt something surge through him, white, hot, and powerful. It lifted him up, striking a foe. Hate. Hate that pumped through him, causing everything to die or strengthen.
And then he changed again. The hate still lingered, but something new had arrived, just as he thought the hate would never end. Determination. He would do anything. Not a single rock would go unturned.
Pierre faced the sky. The heavens glared down at him, watching with a hawk’s eye. Pierre defied them.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” he vowed. Whatever it takes.
Chapter Five: A Friend Is Precious
The prison was a miserable place. Spiders scurried around the earthen walls, and light was provided from intimidating torches. The sod dripped water, and no one seemed to care. A single, crude cell was in the very center of the room, with maybe enough room to keep a rabbit in. Salem was not going to have a nice stay at Hotel Calicon.
His captor prodded him. “Go on, now,” he said.
Salem obliged. He entered the cage, head spinning. Was this a dream?
A lot had happened in the past few hours. As Salem was knocked out, his captors dragged him through the neighborhood, which Salem would have noticed was now Calicon territory. Nobody even gave them a second glance.
Two other cats entered the room. One of them, obviously a follower of some sort, glanced at Salem.
“Do I have to guard him?” he whined. It was almost comical.
The other snorted. “Of course not, sweetie,” he mimicked. “Of course you do, you dolt! What are you going to whine about next, humans not stopping and stroking you?”
The first cat rose modestly. “Actually, I was planning on guarding him myself. I don’t want the prisoner dying of annoyance because our friend here is complaining about whatever the heck enters his head. That okay?”
The leader-cat snorted. “If you actually want to be here, I’ll let ya do that, but none of your little games, mister. Don’t get drunk and let him out.”
Salem perked his ears. If his guard had drinking issues, then he wanted to know.
“Yes, yes, I know, I know. And I’ve promised my loyalty to the Calicons, I’ll be careful.”
The leader finally relaxed. “Good,” he mumbled, then walked out, the other cat following him.
The other cat actually seemed to stiffen. “Bunch a worrywarts,” he grumbled. He laid back and stretched. “I think I’ll go to sleep.”
“Hold on,” Salem said, his fur returning to its normal position. “Um, why am I here?”
The other cat did something odd. He perked his ears up and looked around, scanning for danger. Nothing in the gloom. He kept his eyes on Salem, the faint torchlight glowing. He took a deep breath.
“We kidnapped you because you are the mayor’s brother,” he began, “and by holding you prisoner will force Pierre to give us control of the city. But there’s one more thing. We want to kill all of the gray cats. They are inferior and deserve to be wiped out. Call us the Rivercat’s successor, call us evil. We will take your city,” he shrugged. “That’s basically what all the big leaders say. Also, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that, so don’t tell anyone!”
Salem gulped. This was what the Rivercats dreamed of.
“But I’m not one of them. I’m part of their other side. The side that wants Ultra-plants for everyone. There is another side, you know.”
He turned around, ready to retire for the night.
“One last thing,” Salem called.
He turned around. “What?”
“What’s your name?”
“Branson. Just Branson. Now go to sleep, will you?”
And with that, he emitted a large yawn and fart that Salem would have preferred not happen.
Chapter Six: A Quest Begins
Pierre faced Tuber. “Now what?” It wasn’t a question.
Tuber shook slightly. “Well, we probably should make this known to the press. And the town criers.”
Pierre shook his head. “They probably already know. They know everything from those damn town criers.”
Tuber shook ever so slightly. “Sir, why don’t you send out an official search party? That could help.”
The mayor considered this. “Yes. Please do that. But I will never forgive myself if I don’t go look. Alone.”
Tuber didn’t waver this time. “Pierre, that is an awful idea. I will not let you go.”
Pierre seemed to consider this. Then he looked off in the distance, thinking about something.
“Tuber, have you ever had someone you like, or love, die?” Pierre said quietly.
“Well, I have. In Denvava, they would drop like flies, and there was nothing you could do to save them. And I swore to myself after that I would never let a cat die if there was something I could do about it. And I would break that promise if I didn’t go.”
Pierre was lost in the awful memories of unnecessary deaths and cruelty now.
“Now will you let me?”
Tuber said it unhesitatingly. “Yes, and I can do more than that. I know a fox. His name is Ivor, or Ivor Jr. He knows everything about everything, so he might have some dirt on Salem. He’ll, at the very least, give you good information about something.
Tuber told Pierre the directions, and after a quick thank you, Pierre bounded off.
Pierre shivered. It was cold in this part of town. It was also a bit bleak, with soaring metal towers and parked human-transport machines all over the place. Humans scurried and raced all over the place, some talking to floating metal devices. Pierre looked around, but he couldn’t see a single bit of grass. Definitely bleak.
Pierre turned right at the alley Tuber told him to go to. At least there was green in this alley, Pierre thought. It was everything the big street was, just with a trickle of greenish liquid running through the middle of it.
Gingerly stepping on the asphalt, Pierre made his way to the end of the alley, where Ivor, the fox, lived. But here, there was an abundance of trees and grass. The uncharted forest. And right in the middle was a large, log and stick house.
Pierre went right up to it and bravely asked, “Is Ivor home?”
“Did someone call me?” Ivor poked his head out. “Who are you?” He looked quizzically at Pierre. “Are you a peddler or something?”
Pierre got a good look at Ivor. He had darker red fur, almost brown. He had a more masculine face, with a pointed snout and brown eyes. His fur was neatly cleaned, but not immaculate. His eyes showed slight annoyance at being interrupted, but he didn’t look like a cat-hater. Pierre wouldn’t have cared. He’d get it out of him, anyway.
But he also looked like an idiot and a coward. Good, Pierre thought. They normally have the best information because they stick their paws where they don’t belong.
Ivor glanced at him, his eyebrows furrowing. “I think I know you… maybe from the Truce meeting?” (All of the leaders of the animals gathered once every 2 months under a truce to discuss problems of Atlasai.)
Pierre cut him off and got straight to the point. “I don’t know if you know or care, but the Calicons, these ridiculous Rivercat loving dictator-wannabes have staged a coup on almost half of Atlasai, and it succeeded. And my brother has been kidnapped. I have nine days to get him back by giving the Calicons control over Atlasai, which I’ll do when hell freezes over. Please, my friend, Tuber, said you could help. Please!”
Pierre… was begging! Ivor drew back.
“Are you Pierre? Pierre? As in the cat’s mayor of Atlasai?”
His face contorted into puzzlement and awe, then changed into suspicion. “Prove it. I don’t want this falling into the wrong paws.”
He acted like he was being all honorable, but Pierre knew the truth. His eyes said it. He doesn’t want to lose his gossip monopoly, and he knows that politicians have better things to do.
Pierre drew a deep breath. Not everyone knew him on sight, he reminded himself.
“Look at this photo,” he said, shouldering past Ivor to get a random newspaper.
He showed him a photo with the caption: Mayor Pierre appears at opening of completed “telephone” wire.
“Does it look like me?”
Ivor frowned slightly. “I don’t need sarcasm. You need to come inside. I don’t want anyone else to hear.”
“Thank you! A grateful Atlasai gives its thanks to you.”
Ivor peered around the door before ushering the mayor inside. “First of all, I’m sorry to say I don’t know much. Who I do know is someone who has the dirt on anything humans know. He can read and speak man-talk. I’d sooner think dogs would be friendly to cats than him having anything. And you know how we foxes, and now that I think of it, you cats, think of dogs. Anyway, he’s a chicken, and his name is Gold-”
“I wouldn’t bad-mouth dogs if I were you,” said a gravelly voice outside the door.
Ivor jerked his head up and ran for a weapon, but it was hopeless. Ten dogs bursted into the room with guns and their paws on the trigger.
“In fact, I wouldn’t even say anything at all.”
Chapter Seven: Captured!
“What?” Ivor sputtered. “What is this?’
The leader grinned. “Lookie here, Ronan. His greatness majesty, Pierre or whatever, and a high ranking fox. The Calicons will like this. Ten thousand bucks for us!”
Then the leader frowned. “Separate them,” he ordered.
Instantly, four dogs surrounded Pierre and escorted him to a cart. Pierre tried to think of a plan. Was this what happened to Salem? He grew desperate as the distant cart grew nearer. Closer. Closer. What would happen if he got there? He decided to run. He prepared. The guards watched him with the eyes of a hawk. Now, Pierre thought. But something hit him in the leg. It was a paper flying machine.
Ivor was barely visible now, but it was obvious that he was saying, read this. Pierre looked down. What he saw lifted his spirits.
Dear Pierre, it said. Make sure you remember this.
The chicken’s name is Goldy. He looks like any other chicken, but you’ll be able to tell it’s him, for sure. Anyway, he is bound to be on the route the dogs are traveling. And yes, I know what you’re thinking. He is the fabled Golden Chicken, the one that lays priceless golden eggs.
He doesn’t know this, however. So this is what you should do. When you see him, run away from the dogs and shout, “I know why they call you the Golden Chicken!” He’ll almost certainly follow you. Good luck!
P.S. He strongly dislikes cats, so you have to be as non-threatening and friendly as possible. Also, DESTROY THIS NOTE!
Best regards, Ivor
Pierre sighed. Finally, a way out. Salem would be found and rescued.
But would it work?
Chapter Eight: Goldy or Bust
The cart went a long way. As it traveled, the hit dogs talked and laughed. Pierre did neither. He was thinking.
What would happen if this long shot paid off? Would he even get to Goldy?
Pierre suddenly realized how far-fetched this plan was. Goldy might not be there! One of the dogs might shoot him! Goldy might not follow him! But, as Pierre reminded himself bitterly, this was the only plan he had now.
The scenery started to change as the cart traveled into the city. A sunset appeared. This is the eighth day left, Pierre told himself glumly.
The cart slowed. One of the dogs called back, “You’re in our territory now. And in a few feet, you’ll be in our prison.”
Pierre looked at the note from Ivor again. Anyway, he is bound to be on the route the dogs are traveling. So where was he?
Pierre’s eyes scanned the area. Searching. Searching. Soon, a chicken came into view, chatting with a dog. Goldy, he realized. But why was he with a dog? That wasn’t in the plan.
The cart stopped. The dogs ordered him off. Now or never.
Pierre tensed up, feeling his heart rattle like a drum. He had worked this hard, he wasn’t going to get stopped now. He breathed. Salem.
One of the dogs realized something was wrong. “Guys…”
Sucker! Pierre bounded off, feeling the wind in his fur. He veered towards Goldy when a command came out. “Shoot him!”
Pierre had been shot at before. But nothing like this.
Bullets soared through the air. Goldy and the other dog leaped for cover.
“WHO THE HECK ARE THEY SHOOTING AT?” he demanded.
Pierre leaped for joy! He had a chance.
“I KNOW WHY THEY CALL YOU THE GOLDEN CHICKEN!”
Goldy turned to him. He could see his ideas in his eyes. He liked this dog, he mistrusted Pierre… and something else. A… master that betrayed him?
Then something changed. Goldy somehow saw it. He saw the intention.
His eyes softened. But were still kind of… hawkish.
“I’ll go with you… if you do something for me.”
Pierre rejoiced! The world faded away as he connected with Goldy, officially with him now. Dogs screamed and bullets whistled, but he and Goldy were together.
Pierre dusted himself off. He rose up, eyeing Goldy. “What are we waiting for? Let’s do this.”
Chapter Nine: Secrets
Pierre shivered. The place that Goldy picked, high in the Rocky Mountains, was cold.
And although he would never admit it, his fur was also crawling with bugs for another reason: Goldy’s demands. His “requests” (yeah, right, Pierre snorted) made him want to curl up and die. He shifted for the millionth time.
Goldy, on the other hand, looked quite comfortable. “Tell me this first. Why am I called the ‘Golden Chicken’?”
He looked so smug, demanding the truth, that Pierre silently cussed. Cheating little foxian, power hungry fool, who calls himself the impossibly infuriating cutesy name Goldy!
He took it back. What on Earth was he thinking, insulting the chicken who was going to get his brother back?
“Well, there’s no real good way to say this. You are the…”
Pierre choked up. He felt as if memories, ancient memories, were drowning him. Goldy began to blur. A cat came to mind.
He awoke to Goldy leaning over him, his face one of concern. His eyes were haunted.
“You were just trying to use me,” Pierre realized. “You were just trying to get what you wanted.”
Goldy didn’t even try to deny it.
“I was determined to get your information,” he said. “I was told that you were evil. I tried to use you.”
Tears bubbled up.
“I was told you were wrong. I was told you were immoral. I was told that you were corrupt. But when you passed out, I saw how helpless you are. Alone in this world, with nobody but Salem.”
Then something remarkable happened. Pierre began to speak.
“I just was determined to get Salem back. No matter the cost, no matter how many lives were trashed or taken.”
“You’re the Golden Chicken.”
“Salem’s at Massachusetts Avenue. Watch out.”
Pierre began to go off, but turned around.
“Thank you, Goldy.”
A couple magical words.
Read Part Two here!