“Did we lose them?” Nadya asked, hugging Nemehiss with dear life. The dracats had vanished from sight but that didn’t mean they weren’t still tracking them.
“I don’t see them,” Anya said. She let out a soft breath of relief.
“Not to be that person,” Gülay started, pausing before continuing, “but can’t cats track our scent?”
“Maybe we can lose them if we find water,” Clawdia suggested. The cats quickened their speed and soon brought them out of the thick assortment of the jungle. They emerged onto a ledge that overlooked a luminescent purple river that split in two, going past each side of the ledge and merging into one that flowed a straight path through a forest with glowing blue lights that dotted throughout the darkness. They kept hold of the cats’ fur as Clawdia led the way down the side of the ledge, starting with Clawdia and followed by Sassy Pants, Nemehiss, Pumpkin Belly, Puddy Tat, and Ricky Ticky Tabby. As they walked along the riverside, the tree branches wove together over the top of the river and mingled into a single mass with nooks that ranged from just big enough for them to stick a foot through to the size of a cave. The branches curved out over the top of the river and the small clowder had only one choice. To cross through the branches. Anya flattened her body against Puddy Tat when a thick branch nearly whacked her in the head. Nemehiss took it easy as she wove her body through, going slow as to keep Nadya on her back. Gülay clung to Clawdia in the lead of the group while periodically looking behind her to check on Ricky Ticky Tabby who was being kept up with by Pumpkin Belly and Sassy Pants who didn’t seem to keen on the job of cat-sitter.
Clawdia pulled them up to a high opening in the branches and crawled through, then fell straight down into a pool of water. The large cat came charging up, despite having lost Gülay in the fall and flung herself onto the nearest branch. She meowed loudly in warning to the others. She delicately began licking her paw to clean it. Gülay sputtered and swam her way to the surface.
“Are you okay?” Nadya called down.
Gülay wiped her face. “At least it’s cool down here,” she called back.
Nadya crawled off Nemehiss’ back then helped her sister from Puddy Tat’s back. “We’re coming down to help,” she shouted. Nadya took it a branch at a time. Her foot caught on a root and in the process of trying to get free, she went flying down into the water.
Anya and Gülay both shouted out as Nadya fell. She hit the water with a brilliant splash that went onto Gülay. “Now it’s my turn to ask if you’re okay,” Gülay said as she helped Nadya to the surface.
The waterfall flowed down from an opening between branches and into a pool at the bottom. Nadya could make out an interconnected system of roots on the floor. Bright purple and blue flowers with dark green (almost black) leaves and sharp blood-red thorns on the stems grew along the branches at the base. Clusters of large mushrooms. Some were frilled. Some were round. And some were combed. Nadya pulled herself up far enough to reach one of the clusters which were thin stacks frilled and stacked. She grabbed hold of it and pulled, flinging herself backward when the mushroom rose from the branch. She swam her way back to the pool surface thanks to the help of Gülay and Anya. Underneath was a small anthropomorphic cat with large eyes, a long fluffy tail, and stubby legs. On its head was a plastering of mushrooms in the form of a droopy hat. Nadya pulled herself up to get a better look. “Hello?”
“What was that?” Anya called from where stood on the branch ledge with the cats.
The small cat squeaked and scrambled, revealing other small cats hiding underneath rows of mushroom hats. The rows of cats scurried up the tree branches and through small openings. Nemehiss clawed her way along the branches and peeked into the openings, followed by Clawdia, Sassy Pants, and Pumpkin Belly. Puddy Tat stayed on a lower branch to keep an eye on Ricky Ticky Tabby. “Do you see anything?” the round fluffy cat called.
“No, but I smell something,” Clawdia replied.
“I think they went this way,” Sassy Pants said, reaching a paw through an opening and swatting.
Anya crawled her way down the branches until she reached the water where Gülay remained. Nadya took the lead with the decision to follow the small felines. She worked her way up, hugging branches and pulling forward until she reached the first of the cats. Clawdia took hold of her shirt and yanked her onto the tall branch. “Hello?” she called into the opening. It’d be a tight squeeze but she should be able to fit. She wiggled her way into the opening and crawled until she came to another opening that overlooked a narrow row between the branch-infused jungle. It was several feet down from where she sat and at the bottom was a bright blue river that showed glowing gold rocks on the floor. The path walls were lined with round nests with small openings that were the homes for a peculiar town of small cats. The nests filled in gaps along the branches on both sides of the path with slender branch bridges going between the sides. Bridges that wouldn’t even fit one of her feet. She watched as the small cats scrambled - some on two legs, some on four - into the nests. “I’m not trying to scare you! But if you can understand me, we need help!”
A pair of eyes peeked out of the nest across from her. “Help?” came a small voice. “What kind of help?”
“We need to find a key. A special key that can open this portal and take us out of here. See, we don’t belong here.” Nadya struggled to find the right way to explain.
A head poked out with long ears perked up. “We know where a key is.”
“Can you show me?” Nadya asked.
“Follow me,” the small cat said before climbing up the nest and disappearing into the branches, leaving Nadya staring after it wondering how she was expected to follow it.
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