When they finally skidded to a stop, Munku slouched down and began rearranging his mussed fur, panting. They had run for blocks -- uphill, downhill, over fences and around cars and trash cans, through alleys, buildings, drainpipes and tunnels and puddles. They had narrowly avoided taxis, feral cats, Pollicles, both feline and canine, and nasty humans. More than once Munku had been splashed, stepped on, kicked, or otherwise mangled by the dash through town. He was beyond bruised, his muscles on fire and his paws aching. His body protested at every move, but he refused to show that in front of Lynna.
They were standing before a large, white marble building. "What is it?" Munku asked curiously.
"It's a library. And museum. See? The left wing is the library, and the rest is museum."
"Well, where is he?"
"We'll check the library first. We can ask Klarika. If she hasn't seen him, we'll check with Djarnno."
"Right." Munku followed her. Along the east side of the building, the side Lyn had said was a library, there was a large oak door. Munku was surprised to see a cat door underneath. Before Lyn slid through, she turned to him.
"Oh -- I almost forgot," she said. "Klari and Djarn are Pollicles. But don't worry. They won't hurt us. They're nice."
Before Munku could reply, Lyn had entered. Forcing down a hiss, he leapt through. Oh, boy...
"Klari?" Lyn lifted her head and scanned the dim, cool expanse. Shelves upon shelves of books lined the space. Chairs, tables, and numerous large plants added to the air of reserved elegance. Munku felt some of his tension ease. This place was just like Geo's. The silver tabby had an affection for the chocolate-skinned Human. Jeff was decent -- for a two legged creature. At least he had given Munku a decent name -- Riff wasn't so bad. "Tiger" was a common one for Munkustrap -- and one he detested. But Geo had seemed to know that. Geo had taste, style, pizzazz. Of course, Munku never let anyone but Demeter know he was so attached to a two-legs.
"Lynna?" A soft voice came from behind a chair. Slowly, a queen appeared from behind it. She was a marmalade Maine Coon, her fur long and full. Her green eyes twinkled as she looked over the pair. "Who is this?"
"My name is Munkustrap," he told her, forcing his hackles down. "I am the leader-to-be...mm. The Leader of the Jellicles. Sorry. I'm not used to saying that." She wasn't so bad!
"Ah! Welcome. You must be the Munku that Mistoff speaks of so often!" The queen was young, perhaps a little older than Munku. She smiled. "What brings you here?"
"Well, Klari, Misto ran off, and we were wondering if you'd seen him?" Lynna said.
"Well, yes. I mean, he was very upset. He asked me if he seemed different. I said, no, only a little sad. I asked why, and he didn't reply. Only asked if there were any humans in the museum. There weren't, not today, we're closed. I told him so, and he said he was going to go talk to Djarn. Then he left. He was moving pretty quickly." Klari tilted her head quizzically. "Is something wrong?"
"Well, yes. No time to talk, sorry, Klari. Come on, Munku!" Lyn dashed away.
"Nice to meet you -- " Munku called over his shoulder. Klari waved her fluffy tail and grinned.
"Where are we going?"
"To talk to Djarn. Hurry. This way."
They slid down a marble-floored corridor and into a huge room filled with artifacts. Off to the side was a little office-like room.
"That way!" Lyn said, scooting in. "Djarn?" She called into the semi-darkness. She was rewarded with a hiss.
Munku's fur stood on end. His tail bristled like a bottle brush, and he whispered, "There's a dominant tom in here. Pollicle. A tribe leader-to-be. Lynna --" he managed around a snarl.
Another tom appeared, hissing and spitting, from under a desk. He was a large tom of uncertain breeding, his fur a rich chocolate brown, with a white bib and face and two white paws. He was almost as big as Munku himself. "Lynna! Why did you bring HIM in here! A tribe leader! Jellicle!" The other spat in a baritone very similar to Munku's own.
The two tomcats circled each other, bristling. Lyn looked unsure of what to do, not wanting to get between the two large toms. When she was about to speak, Djarn leapt forward and slashed Munku across the shoulder, his nose crinkled in a snarl-hiss. The other tom fell back, startled. He refused to strike at the brown tom, knowing this must be a friend of Lynna's. He struck out a little when Djarn lashed out again. His aim was true, and he caught the Pollicle on the side of the head. Angered, the large brown and white cat struck the silver tabby a blow to the head that snapped his head back and sent him reeling, followed quickly by a sharp slash down his side. Munku was thrown back and collapsed in a heap.
Realizing the strange tom was almost on top of him, he sat up painfully and started to hiss. Mid-hiss, he choked and sank down, breathing heavily and covering his head in a protective, but not submissive, gesture. Lynna, shocked, ran over to his side and began to tenderly lick his ears. They flicked back and forth, but Munku didn't move. His head hummed, and he felt sick. He tried to relax and calm down under Lynna's protection, but his muscles were contracting hard in painful spasms.
Lynna felt Munku's body shaking with the tense energy. Annoyed that her friend had been so poorly treated, she looked up at Djarn, who was seething from the well-placed clawstrike that was still ringing in his ears. "What did you do to him? Djarn, what were you thinking?" She cried angrily.
"What was I thinking? What were YOU thinking? Who is he? Why is he here?"
Munku raised his head and, with a chuckle that made him gasp and clutch his ribs, answered for her. "My name is Munkustrap. Leader-to-be...er, I mean, Leader...of the Jellicle tribe. This Leader thing is kind of new to me, I apologize. And you are?" He made a feeble attempt to stop the trembling; it didn't work.
Djarn's eyes widened. "YOU'RE Munkustrap? The one all the Pollicles talk about? The one Mistoff always tells us about?"
Munku nodded, standing. "Although I didn't know I was so well-known." Turning to Lynna, he said with a smile, "THIS is your Museum Cat? I was expecting someone...not quite so, ah...fierce."
Djarn laughed. "I'm very sorry. I hope I didn't harm you too badly. I had no idea --"
Munku raised a paw. "Please, don't worry about it. I needed that. I doesn't hurt all that much." He stood, stretching to prove his point. But it rather DID hurt -- his head was throbbing, his vision hazy. His side flared hot, and his shoulder was tender. The bruises from the earlier dash to the library ached dully, the pain increased every time his muscles tensed.
"I'm so sorry. But why didn't you strike back?"
"I make it a point of not attacking toms in their own space," Munku replied. "Jellicle honor."
"You are making me look bad," Djarn said with a chuckle. "Not so with Pollicles. Oh, and by the by, my name is Djarnno, pronounced Dahj-aren-oo. I am the leader to be of the Pollicle tribe."
"Nice to meet you," the silver and black tabby replied, inclining his head slightly. "Or, maybe not so nice. But I certainly met you." He took a step forward and winced.
"Your shoulder --" Djarn looked upset.
"Don't worry about it!" Munku said forcefully. "I'll be fine. I think I've met my match, though," he added with a broad smile.
"Not a chance. If you'd have fought back, I wouldn't have had a chance. That clawstrike to the head -- I'm still feeling that! I'd never want to come up against you in any kind of real fight." Djarn looked the slightly larger, leaner Jellicle over.
"That wasn't a real fight?" The tabby tom wrinkled his gray nose in amusement.
"Not really." The chocolate tom looked at Lyn. "What brings you two here?"
"Well," she said, after looking Munkustrap over one more time to make sure he'd live, "We were looking for Misto. Have you seen him?"
"Yeah. He's over in the galleries. Probably upstairs. You know which ones."
Lynna nodded. "Thanks."
"No prob." Djarn smiled. "Oh, and Munkustrap?"
"Well, you can call me Djarn, for one. Second, what do you say about coming back in a few days? We have a lot to talk about."
"You promise not to pounce me?"
"Sure." Munku licked his lips and flicked his tail back and forth. "See you."
Munku and Lynna trotted off down the hall, Munku a bit slower, his right front paw dragging a bit.
"You sure you're okay?" Lynna looked concerned.
"Yeah. No big deal. I wish you would have WARNED me, though," Munku replied through clenched teeth.
"Sorry. I didn't think," Lynna said. "I forgot that you and Djarn are both dominant toms, and large enough to go at it. There wasn't much problem with Misto -- he's dominant, but he's small and likes to outsmart bigger toms, rather than fight. Djarn figured that out early, and they get along fine."
"He's good at that," Munku said with a chuckle, remembering all the times Misto had fooled him. Just then, Lyn turned a corner and they entered a sunlit room, its huge windows facing out toward the countryside and the sea beyond.
"Where are we?" Munku asked, squinting in the blazing afternoon sun that streamed in.
"The first gallery. Misto's probably in the eighteenth, upstairs. But the staircase is here," she motioned to a white door Munku hadn't seen before, which also contained a cat door. She lifted a dainty white paw and pushed it open. "Come on."
Two flights up, Sia stopped. "He likes these rooms. They'll be shady this time of day, so don't worry about your eyes. If you see him, tell me. But don't go up to him."
"Don't worry, I won't." Munku was rolling his stiff shoulder slowly. "I don't need any more surprises." He was obviously favoring his right side; both his shoulder and his ribs were bruised and torn.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Sialynna pressed.
"Positive," he replied, a little less firmly. He was beginning to wonder if he was...
As they entered the rooms, Lynna scanned the area frantically with all her senses. But it was Munk who found Misto. The black and white Jellicle was sitting at the edge of a wall, gazing up at a picture. The shadows fell over him, and neither of the cats who had just entered could see his face.
Lynna approached tentatively, her fluffy tail curling around his thinner one. "Mistoff?" she whispered. When he turned to face her, she nearly cried out at the look in his eyes. He looked so hopeless, so forgotten. She nuzzled him gently, and he closed his eyes as though he couldn't bear to look at her.
Munku, meanwhile, was staring open-mouthed at the painting that Misto had been gazing so intently at. The picture was that of some cats, laying intertwined on a sofa. What had shocked Munku, however, was not the painting, but the cats themselves. A gray and black tabby tom, two black and white tuxes, one a tom, the other a queen, two reddish orange tabby queens, a black and white cow-spotted tom, an albino queen, a orange, gold and black tabby tom, a calico queen, and a large black and tan Maine Coon tom. In other words, Munkustrap, Mistoffelees, Sialynna, Demeter, Bombalurina, Alonzo, Victoria, Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, and Rum Tum Tugger. But how...? Who...?
"Like it?" The voice was practically in his ear, and Munku jumped forward, his fur on end. The sharp movement wrenched his shoulder, ripping the torn skin further, and he crumpled. He tried to twist his head to see who had spoken, but it was too painful.
"Munku?" Mistoffelees appeared, hovering over him, and Munku flinched.
"Please, don't," he snapped at the black and white Jellicle.
"What? Don't what? What did I do?" Misto's eyes were round and a little too sad.
"Nothing. Just DON'T stand so close. I may do something we'll both regret." Munkustrap made no attempt to get up, just laid his head down on his paws and sighed. The picture on the wall was forgotten.
"What's the matter with him? What happened?" Misto whispered to Sia, concerned and a little shaken up by the usually placid tom's behavior.
"Nothing, really. He had a run-in with Djarn -- and came out the worse for it. He refused to attack in Djarn's space, and Djarnno took a few slices out of him." Lynna replied, moving to where Munku was lying and licking him softly, a little, shy purr humming in her throat. Before long, Mistoff joined them, carefully grooming the silver tabby's ears in apology, his purr loud and comforting.
"Thanks," Munku murmured softly as he shifted and sat up. "I'm sorry, Misto. You startled me. I didn't mean to --" He broke off as he saw the look in Misto's eyes. "Misto?"
"Are you -- "
"I'm fine." He wasn't; Munku could see his little body was trembling.
"No, you're not." Lynna snapped. Munku nodded in agreement.
"Was it something I said? Mistoff, really, I..." Sia looked down.
"No," broke in Munku, " it wasn't you. It was me. Misto -- you know I didn't mean it that way. I wouldn't have brought you back if I didn't trust that you weren't perfectly alright. It's just that you woke me from an awful dream."
"I know," Misto muttered.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I know. I know about the dream."
"Lynna knows too." The tux queen looked embarrassed.
"It's part of your aura. I can mindread -- mostly about dreams -- through auras. And Lynna has the uncanny ability to read MY mind."
"It was just a dream," Lynna added in an attempt to console the two toms. "You've both had a rough few days."
"She's right. It was just a dream. I'm sorry, Misto."
"But I...how could anyone know..." Mistoffelees was looking desperate.
"Misto! Listen to me," Lynna said fiercely. "We are NOT having a pity party for you! You are perfectly healthy and fine! I have watched Munku come all the way here, through that nasty city route, battered around and sore, come IN this museum despite the fact that it's guarded by Pollicle cats, which I KNOW he is uncomfortable with, get thrown around by Djarn because he refused to fight a friend of ours, and now he gets here and all you can ask is if he really knew what he was doing?! For Heaviside sakes, Mistoffelees, if he'd have had any doubts he would have LEFT you here! He would NOT have trekked here looking for you! Now snap out of this rut you're in and get a life! Don't be a Pollicle! He cares about you, you idiot!"
The two toms stood stunned for a moment. Munku was in shock that Lynna had known all that. Misto looked like someone had smacked him witha two-by four.
"I'm sorry," he said slowly. "I didn't even think of it."
"Obviously not!" Lynna snapped.
"Of course," her voice softened, and she licked his ears.
"Yeah," Munku added. "You forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive. I should have known."
"Then everyone's okay now?" Sia asked impatiently.
"Yes," the two toms anwered in unison.
"Then can we go?"
Munku groaned. "Not that way again. I don't think I can make it with this shoulder."
Misto laughed. "Munku, Munku, Munku. Since when has that been a problem?"
"Deja Vu!" Munku said with a laugh. "Remember, Munku, Munku, Munku -- since when have closed windows been a concern?"
"Right before Lyn and I met!" Misto grinned. "Come on." He began to fade, and Sialynna and Munkustrap followed suit, also grinning.
More To Come!
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