How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan
by Tailkinker

She sat in the middle of a pool of moonlight. She was alone and forgotten by the others she could hear working and playing in the junkyard proper. She sighed and silent tears coursed down her cheeks. "Exotica?"

She whirled around and her brown eyes widened when they met a pair of concerned sulphur yellow ones. "C-coricopat," she hurriedly rubbed her cheeks to get rid of the tear tracks as he padded closer. "I-I didn't hear you c-come," she winced at her stutter.

"I'm sorry," he stopped just outside the pool of moonlight she sat in. "I shouldn't have crept up on you like that."

"Th-th-that's okay," she hated how she stuttered. It grew worse when she was nervous or frightened. The only time she never stuttered was when she sang. "It's j-j-just that I-I-I'm so clumsy, especially when I try to dance."

"Dancing's easy," he told her. "All you do is block out everything except the music and yourself. Then you can dance."

"A-a-are you s-s-sure?" Exotica studied the black and white face before her.

"Of course," he answered confidently. "Let me show you," he held out a forepaw to her. She stared at it, hesitating. "Come on, I won't hurt you," timid, she placed her brown paw in his white one. He pulled her out of the pool of moonlight and showed her the position to start in. "All you have to do is follow me."

"Okay," she nodded and focused on Coricopat.

Timidly at first, then with more confidence, she danced with Coricopat, following him around the dark clearing. They stopped in the pool of moonlight, staring wide-eyed at each other. Slowly, Coricopat lifted his paw and caressed her cheek. Startled, she dashed into the darkness, suddenly afraid. He stared after her, realizing just how fascinated he'd become by this mysterious brown queen that lived on the edges of the tribe. She could always be found at the Balls, usually observing and singing, but never dancing. When she wasn't observing she was slinking around the edges, often tripping over her feet and long tail. With a sigh, he left the clearing in search of his twin.

Exotica huddled in her junkyard flat, shivering and shaken. She didn't understand what had just passed between herself and Coricopat, but she wasn't going to let it continued. She sighed, wishing she could talk to Cassandra, but the brown and cream queen was busy with Rumpus. With a sigh, the brown queen curled up into a tight ball of brown fur and cried herself to sleep, longing for what Coricopat had to give her, yet afraid to accept it, afraid of being hurt.

"Coricopat, where have you been?" Tantomille asked.

"I," he started to answer then stopped, hesitant to say exactly what he'd been doing. "I was doing some thinking."

"What kind of thinking?" Tantomille asked curiously.

"The kind that I can't reveal to you," he answered honestly. "Maybe someday, but not now."

"Of course, I understand," she replied, a little hurt by his evasion. They'd always shared their thoughts. Their minds had been open books. They'd never held anything back. Until now. "Let's get some sleep. Tomorrow's a big day."

"Okay," Coricopat sensed his sister's hurt, but was helpless to aleviate it. The truth was, he felt shy about discussing Exotica. Until she overcame her own shyness, he would not reveal anything that they did in the moonlight and darkness. That settled, he carefully constructed a barrier around that portion of his mind. A barrier that even Tantomille couldn't breach.

"Exotica, are you okay?" Cassandra asked as the two friends lay talking on top of the oven.

"Y-y-y-yeah, I-I-I'm fine," Exotica involuntarily winced at her increased stutter. She cleared throat, but it didn't help. "Wh-wh-why do you ask?"

"You're stuttering more than usual," the burmese queen pointed out gently.

Exotica sighed, "I know. I-I just c-c-can't seem to g-g-g-get rid of it."

"All you have to do is ignore it and it'll go away," Cassandra answered quietly.

"I've b-b-been trying," Exotica answered, flinching. "I-i-it doesn't work."

"That's because you don't believe it'll work. You have to believe it'll work before it will," Cassandra told her friend.

"I-I-I c-c-can't seem to b-b-believe in it," Exotica replied, distress evident in her voice and expression.

"I can't help you there," Cassandra stretched and sat up. "That has to come from you."

"Okay," Exotica sighed. "G-g-gotta go?"

"Yeah, I have to go to a meeting of the magic-users."

"Alr-r-right. T-t-tell them I said 'Hi'," Exotica told her friend as she jumped down from the oven.

"I will," Cassandra called over her shoulder as she disappeared through a tunnel in a pile of junk.

Exotica sighed and closed her eyes to sun herself.

"Is everyone here?" Tantomille asked the cats gathered in the secret clearing.

"Everyone except Cass," Rumpus volunteered.

Tantomille sighed, exasperated. "She's always late."

"Not always," the brown and cream queen's voice came from one of the entrances. "I was talking to Exotica."

Victoria rolled her green eyes as Cassandra sat next to Rumpus, completing the circle. The white queen was a bit of a snot and looked down on the brown queen due to her stutter and clumsiness. Mistoffelees nudged her in the ribs and Victoria composed herself.

"Are we ready?" Tantomille asked and glanced around the circle. Coricopat was gazing into space. "Hey, Cori," she nudged him and his sulphur eyes focused.


"Are you ready?"

"Oh, yeah," Cassandra hid a snicker.

"Let's get started," she closed her eyes and held out her white paws to the two cats on either side of her, Coricopat and Mistoffelees. They each grasped her paw and held out their other one. Victoria grasped the magician's paw, shivering a bit with delight, while Cassandra grasped Coricopat's and the two queens held out their paws. Rumpus grasped each paw, completing the circle of magic-users. Tantomille began chanting and the others joined in:

Magic of the Everlasting Cat,
We summon you. Pull the veil away from our eyes
And show us another of our kind.
Send us knowledge of one who also belongs.

Images flashed beneath their closed eyelids, revealing to each a cat that belonged to the magic circle. Coricopat and Cassandra each saw Exotica while Victoria saw Jellylorum. Tantomille and Mistoffelees saw Munkustrap and Rumpus saw Asparagus Junior or AJ. Tantomille released her grasp and the two toms released the queens' paws, who released Rumpus' paws. Each slowly opened their eyes. Tantomille began the ritual of stating names.






Silence. Everyone stared at Coricopat. "Exotica."

"Since the Everlasting Cat has shown Munkustrap and Exotica to two of us, they shall become the next two members of this circle," Tantomille intoned. "This meeting is adjourned," everyone except Coricopat and Tantomille left. "Cori, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he answered, unwilling to reveal anything to his twin.

"C'mon, something's wrong or else you wouldn't have slipped up today," Tantomille cajoled.

"Look, Tant, I don't want to talk about it now, okay?" Coricopat hid his hesitation in anger, ashamed of lashing out, but unable to think of anything else.

"Okay," she stalked away, hiding her hurt. Coricopat had never talked to her like that before and it hurt her worse than she'd thought it would.

Coricopat stared after his sister, wanting to run after her and explain, but something held him back. He closed his eyes and the images of Exotica that had flashed across his inner eye reappeared. An Exotica dancing with him. Kissing him. Loving him. Bearing his kittens. He sighed and opened his eyes. He left the clearing, too, wondering what he should do.

"Exotica?" Exotica opened her eyes with a start and found herself staring into Rum Tum Tugger's gold eyes.

"T-t-t-tugger, hi," she scrambled to a sitting position.

"Hi, Babe," he sat next to her and groomed his mane. "Could you, like, move? I'm meeting another queen here and we kinda need privacy."

"Okay," stung, Exotica jumped down and headed for her flat. She was surprised to find a book of spells waiting for her. Curious, she opened the book and found an inscription on the flyleaf: "To the one who has been chosen by the Everlasting Cat to become a magic-user." Surprised yet pleased, she eagerly began to study the spells written in the pages.

"Have you noticed anything different about Exotica lately?" Demeter asked Bombalurina as they sunned themselves on top of the Ford.

"Yeah, she's even more of a recluse than ever," Bombalurina stated derisively.

"C'mon, Bom," Demeter hated to hear anyone speak ill of another. "You know I don't like it when you do that."

The red, white and black queen sighed. "Dem, you'll eventually have to face the fact that nobody's perfect, not even you."

"I know," Demeter sighed herself. "I just don't like it."

"It's true, though," Bombalurina commented. "You hardly see her at all. She and Cass used to hang out together all the time, but now she only makes an appearance once in awhile and Cass is always with Rump."

"I hear Cass and Rump are gonna become an item soon," Demeter told her friend and their talk turned to gossip.

Nervous, Exotica peeked out at the clearing that had become her practice area. She came here every night to practice the spells she'd learned as she studied during the day, with only occasional questions she asked Cassandra. She often practiced until dawn, then went back to her flat to sleep and study some more. She walked out to the pool of moonlight and began to dance, the best way to gather her magical energies. Tiny silver, blue and white lights began to gather around her and she began to practice the spell she'd memorized earlier in the day: creating a light elemental. A tiny sprite made up of white light quickly popped into being and all the white lights surrounding Exotica winked out, to be replaced by blue and silver lights. The sprite began to dance with Exotica. As Exotica stopped dancing, she focused on commanding the sprite. The dance moves she imagined in her mind manifested themselves in the sprite. She finally summoned enough courage to give the sprite a command: Go get me a dish of cream.

I hear and obey, my mistress, the sprite bowed and winked out. It reappeared later with a dish of cream.

Excellent, without breaking her concentration, Exotica lapped up the cream, savoring its flavor and texture. Return the dish.

I hear and obey, my mistress, the sprite bowed and winked out, again, taking the dish with it. It reappeared again without the dish.

Exotica began dancing again, with the sprite following her. She carefully constructed the spell in her mind that would send the sprite back where it came from. The sprite winked out and tiny white lights mixed with the blue and silver lights surrounding her. She slowed her dancing and the tiny lights winked out little by little, leaving an exhausted but happy queen behind. The spells that created elementals were the easiest for her master and she knew it would only take a little more time before she had mastered the other types of spells. With her newfound magic had come a sensitivity and knowledge of other minds. She could not read thoughts, only sense when someone was near and their emotions. As she rested, she sensed a curious mind nearby. "Wh-wh-wh-who's there?"

"Relax, it's only me," Coricopat stepped out of the shadows of the junkpiles surrounding the clearing. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to spy on you."

"Why were you there?" Exotica demanded, not noticing that she didn't stutter. "If you'll recall, some prefer not be watched when they're practicing," she noticed that he was staring at her. "Why are you staring at me?"

"Your stutter is gone," he pointed out.

"I-i-it is?"

"It was," Exotica stared at him for a long moment. "Will you dance with me?"


"Because I want to dance with you," he answered with a shrug.

"Okay," they took their positions in the pool of moonlight and began to dance. It was different from the one they'd performed before. As they danced, a sulphur yellow and chocolate aura began to glow around them. Unknown to them, Tantomille came upon them dancing and her sulphur eyes widened as she watched them danced. Both moved with a grace and beauty that was uncommon. Coricopat suddenly stopped, causing Exotica to stumble into him and the aura to dissapate. He caught her and she lifted her head to thank him. The thanks died unspoken as their eyes met. Tantomille suddenly realized she was intruding on an intimate and private moment and quickly withdrew. Scared of the emotions she read in Coricopat's yellow eyes, Exotica pulled out of his arms and dashed into the darkness. Coricopat stared after her for a long moment before slowly leaving the clearing himself.

"You've been awfully quiet lately, Exotica. Is anything wrong?" Cassandra asked one day, several weeks later.

"N-n-n-n-no. Th-th-th-th-there's n-n-n-n-nothing wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong," Exotica answered, cringing at how bad her stutter was.

"C'mon, there's gotta be something wrong," Cassandra coaxed. "Otherwise your stutter wouldn't be this bad."

Exotica sighed. "O-o-o-o-okay. I-I-I-I-I'll t-t-t-t-tell y-y-y-y-you," she took a deep breath and told Cassandra everything, stuttering at every word.

"Wow," Cassandra studied her friend. "Do you have any idea why he stopped like that?" Exotica shook her head. "Well, the Ball is coming soon and it's your turn to shine."

Exotica stared at her friend, brown eyes wide and frightened. "Wh-wh-wh-wh-wh-what?"

"Oops, I shouldn't have told you that."

"Oh, n-n-n-n-no," Exotica became so agitated that she left and headed for her special clearing. She paced around and around it, worrying the news in her mind over and over.

"Has anyone seen Exotica?" Coricopat asked the morning of the Ball.

"Not for a week," Tantomille answered. "And she was talking to Cass."

Coricopat dashed over to Cassandra's flat. "Cass? I need to talk to you."

The Burmese queen quickly appeared. "Coricopat? What did you want?"

"Do you know where Exotica is?" Coricopat asked, sulphur eyes desperate.

"No, I don't I'm sorry," Cassandra answered, well aware of how much Coricopat cared for the brown queen.

"Thanks anyway," dejected, he slowly walked over to where Tantomille was waiting for him.

As she listened to the others dancing and singing, Exotica yearned to join them, but was afraid to, because she didn't want to face the possibility of rejection. As she stared up at the moon, tears coursed down her brown cheeks. All her lonliness and longing welled up inside her and she began to sing:

Oh, Moon, have you forgotten me?
I gaze up at you in nightly plea,
Yet you never seem to hear,
Never seem to realize I am here.

I dance with all my soul
In you light's pool,
Yet I am still alone
As I dance within the light's cone.

When her emotion welled up in her throat and choked her, she began to dance.

As he rested beside Tantomille after the big dance, Coricopat heard Exotica's plea. He slipped into the shadows and headed straight for the clearing Exotica loved so much. He hid in the shadows of the junkpiles, watching her dance. At the first opportunity, he slipped out of the shadows and began to dance with her in the moonlight.

Tantomille quickly noticed that her twin no longer rested beside her. Rather than go search for him, she sent him a telepathic message: Cori, come back.

Coricopat received his twin's message. He gradually led Exotica to the junkyard proper by dancing his way towards it. So caught up in her dancing was she, that she didn't notice where Coricopat was leading her. When she couldn't sense him dancing beside her, she stopped dancing and looked around. Her chocolate eyes grew big and round when she saw that she was in the junkyard proper with the rest of the tribe watching her. As fear and panic threatened to overcome her, Coricopat's voice whispered in her mind, Dance like no one is watching.

Nodding, Exotica tuned out everything except the music playing in her mind and heart. Slowly, she began to dance, focusing only on the dance. As she danced, various elementals popped into being in the form of cat-sprites. First was the light elemental, then the water, fire, earth, air, electric, rock and grass elementals in rapid succession. The eight tiny cat-sprites danced with their mistress, obeying her commands and entertaining the Jellicles. Eventually, they combined into a single elemental that was as tall as Exotica with each of the smaller elementals' abilities. This new elemental danced with Exotica for a few moments before gradually fading away. When she was alone in the proper once again, Exotica slowly sank to a sitting position in front of Old Deuteronomy and bowed her head. As a nod from Old Deuteronomy, Tantomille and Coricopat stepped forward and, each taking a paw, lifted Exotica so she was standing between the twins. As one, the three approached the tire Old Deuteronomy sat on.

"Exotica, you have demonstrated your abilites and now I ask you if you will take the oath of a magic-user," he intoned.

"I will," she answered without hesitating or stuttering.

"Tantomille? Coricopat?"

The twins nodded and led the brown queen to the magic-users' secret meeting place to take her oath.

"Wow, did you hear her?" Demeter asked Bombalurina. "Not a single stutter."

"Yep," Bombalurina agreed. "She danced beautifully, too."

"That she did," Rum Tum Tugger seconded as he came up between the sisters. "Very beautifully."

"I know what you're thinking," Bombalurina told him with a grin. "I don't recommend making any moves on her right now."

"And why not?" Rum Tum Tugger asked indignantly.

"She's just starting to come out of her shell and you would scare her back into it," Demeter explained.

"Whatever," Rum Tum Tugger walked off.

Exotica could no longer hide in the shadows. Her dance and exhibition of her magic had been too wonderful for her to remain a silent observer any longer. Slowly, she began to open up and become more comfortable around the other queens. Cassandra remained Exotica's confidant and closest friend, but the brown queen remained uncomfortable around the non-magic-user toms. The minute one approached her, she stuttered. With the others, her stutter was almost non-existent. I say almost because it does occasionally come back, much to her dismay. One day, something happened that would change her life...

"I'm so tired," Exotica complained to Cassandra as they watched the sun set. "Everyone wants me to conjure up my sprites or do some magic for them. I don't know how Misto copes with the demand."

"Simple," Cassandra answered. "He says 'no' when he's tired."

"I guess I still need to learn," Exotica commented glumly as Rumpus and Coricopat approached. "Hi, guys."

"Hi," Rumpus sat down beside Cassandra and they rubbed cheeks.

"Hello," Coricopat sat down beside Exotica and studiously avoided looking at her.

"Where's Tant?" Cassandra asked curiously.

"She decided not to join Cori and I," Rumpus replied. "Said something about needing to think something over or something to that effect."

"Oh," Cassandra dismissed the matter from her mind.

"Oh no, here comes Etcetera and Electra," Exotica moaned. The two young queens were the ones that bugged Exotica the most about showing off her abilities. "Quick, hide me," she dove behind the other three, who formed a wall to conceal the tired queen.

"Where's Exotica?" Electra asked when the two friends arrived.

"She had to leave," Cassandra answered as Etcetera began sniffing around.

"No, she didn't," Etcetera crowed. "She's right behind you three."

Resigned, Exotica left her hiding place. "What did you want?"

"Could you please conjure up your light sprite?" Electra asked politely.

"Okay," with a sigh, Exotica began dancing. The light cat-sprite quickly appeared and began to dance with Exotica. Exotica stopped dancing physically, but continued mentally, the sprite docily following her instructions. The two younger queens giggled with delight as the sprite danced.

"Thank you, Exotica," Etcetera told the brown queen when the sprite winked out.

"You're welcome," Exotica mumbled as the kittens trotted off.

"Are you okay, Exotica?" Cassandra asked, concern in her voice. The brown queen didn't answer. Cassandra studied her friend and saw that she was sleeping. "Oh, well. She deserves a rest."

Coricopat gazed down into the brown face that haunted his dreams so much anxiously, unwilling to believe that she was sleeping. Since he and his twin were strong telepaths, he was able to do much that a non-telepathic magic-user couldn't. "She's not asleep. She's unconscious."

"Are you sure?" Rumpus, whose abilities were of the mirage-type, asked.

"Yes, I am," Coricopat answered as he gently lifted the slim queen into his arms. "Let's get her to mine and Tant's flat."

"No. Her flat is closer," Cassandra replied as Coricopat set off.

"Fine. Go get Tant," Coricopat instructed them.

"Right," Cassandra and Rumpus ran off in the direction of the twins' flat.

Exotica stared around herself. It seemed as if she was looking at the junkyard through a chocolate brown filter. "Hello?" she called. The only reply she heard was the echo of her voice. "Is anybody there? Coricopat? Cassandra? Tantomille? Rumpus? Anybody?"

Coricopat gently laid Exotica on her cushion. He studied her limp form for a moment, then placed his forepaws over her temples. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the magic plane. When he opened his mental eyes, he found himself in a sulphur yellow-tinted junkyard. As he listened, Exotica's voice reached his small triangular ears. "Anybody?"

"I'm here!" Coricopat called back, following the sound of her voice. "I'm here, Exotica."

Exotica sagged with relief when Coricopat responded. "Where are you?"

"I'm coming," he called back. Sure enough, a yellow blob appeared from the direction of her flat. As Coricopat drew near, she could see him, tinted sulphur yellow, with a matching aura around him.

"Why are you coming from the direction of my flat?" Exotica asked.

Coricopat felt his cheeks grow warm under the black fur. Exotica never looked more beautiful than she did now, with the chocolate aura surrounding her. "You fell unconscious from using your magic too much and I carried you to your flat."

"Oh, thank you," she climbed down from the junkpile. "Where are Cass and Rump?"

"They went to get Tant," he answered as they began heading for the magical plane's equivilant of Exotica's flat.

"Why?" Exotica asked curiously.

"Because waking up from unconciousness is different from waking up from sleep," he explained as they entered her flat.

Exotica considered that for a moment. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. What should we do?"

"First, we need to be in the same positions we're in on the physical plane," he answered as he guided her over to her cushion. "You're laying on your cushion and I'm kneeling here," he knelt at her head, "with my forepaws on your temples."

She suppressed a shiver of pleasure as he place his forepaws over her temples. "Now what?"

"Just relax and concentrate on getting back to the physical plane."

"Okay," she closed her eyes and concentrated.

Tantomille closed her eyes and whispered the spell for seeing auras. When she opened her eyes again, she could see the blue-green aura surrounding Rumpus and the china blue one surrounding Cassandra, but there wasn't a sulphur yellow one surrounding Coricopat or a chocolate one surrounding Exotica. She dashed out of the flat and quickly spotted a sulphur yellow and chocolate glow approaching the flat. She re-entered the flat and waited for the glow to enter. It quickly did and approached the cushion. Once there, it separated into a sulphur yellow aura that surrounded Coricopat's physical body and a chocolate aura that surrounded Exotica's physical body. She closed her eyes and whispered the spell to restore normal sight. When she opened her eyes again, Coricopat had taken his paws from Exotica's temples and the brown queen was stirring.

How are you feeling, Exotica? Coricopat whispered into her mind. The nice thing about being able to mentally 'talk' was that it was like e-mail: it only went to the people the sender wanted it to go to.

Fine, she answered, gazing upside down at him.

He helped her sit up and they faced the others. "Tant, Cass, Rump, could you leave us alone for a minute?"

"Sure," Cassandra grabbed Rumpus' forepaw and dragged him out of the flat.

Good luck, Tantomille winked at her twin before leaving the flat herself.

"Wonder what he wanted to talk to Exotica about," Rumpus commented to the queens trotting on either side of him as they headed for the junkyard proper.

"Isn't it obvious?" Tantomille asked the black and gray tom.

"No," he answered, gazing at her with puzzled blue-green eyes. His eyes were only like fireballs when he was executing one of his spells. "Tell me."

"He wants to ask Exotica to be his mate," Cassandra told him.

"Which reminds me," Rumpus glanced at Cassandra, then turned to Tantomille. "Could you leave the two of us?"

"Sure," Tantomille grinned broadly as she left the couple. *Now what?* she asked herself. Cori and Exotica are gonna become mates, as are Rump and Cass. What about me? with a sigh, she headed for her flat, not noticing a tom watching her from the shadows.

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