As she was, she would never have survived in the wild – not even with my protection. She did not camouflage into the underbrush. Her nails and teeth were worth next to nothing. Our world was dangerously unsuited to her, but I formed a bond with the little scrap of a thing.
She learned quickly, for a naturally incapable kind of creature. In the thick weeds she crouched, silent and invisible. She climbed the highest rattan and pounced down without fear. Once our metalworkers fashioned claws for her, she was a useful hunter. She thought ahead of her prey, cornering animals in the trees. She could trap a spider in a single eight-meter pounce.
Her curiosity caused her to leave me. Perhaps she seeks her own kind. I see her seldom now, though stories of her travel into the mountains. They make me laugh: psychotic jungle cat fighting for one side and then the other at random. Truly, she has no foes: In her world, everything is play. Beware, stranger: She is ruthless with her toys.
‘Koshka Finds a Scout Trap’
You, in the flower! Your pets are cute! Do they like candy? This candy is for the minions but maybe your pets would like it. Hey! Do you know what this thing is? I found it over… hey, come back! Are we playing chase? Ha, caught you! I’m much faster than everyone, all the everyones. While I have you here on the ground, what do you think this thing is? Ow! Oof! Hey! That burns! Stoppit! Okay, okay, fine, I’ll ask someone else.
Hello! I like your glowy sword. I have claws, see? You look grumpy. Let’s do our positive affirmations. I love and approve of myself. I replace my anger with understanding and compassion. Oh! I had a question. What is this thing I found? It is round and heavy and… ooh, it has a button! Should I push the… hey, where’d you go? Don’t go away, no, not you too!
Hey! I like your wings! Did someone make those for you? I want to try them on! Why won’t they come off? Hey, hey, stop that! What’s with everyone and the burning things today? I just want to know what my new toy does. Wait… whoa, those wings make you all floaty. Are you running… I mean, floating away too?
Fine then! I will just push this butto…
…oh. That’s what that thing does.
‘The Red Lantern Festival’
Mad blue sparks flashed from Ozo’s ring as it bumped down the cobbles of the Undersprawl’s main avenue, Ozo in its center, Koshka dashing doubletime after him in her prettiest red party dress. Red lanterns cast a charming glow on the dingy neighborhood, and paper cutouts decorated the windows of even the roughest taverns. Ozo spun to a flourished stop by the minion pens at the city gate. “I win!” he cried. The minions clapped.
Koshka caught up and gave Ozo’s nose a pinch. “It isn’t impressive if you ride in the ring!”
Ozo hooted laughing, crouching among the fragrant kumquat trees that grew by the fence, his tail flicking. “Don’t be jealous that I’m faster. And can jump farther.”
“You cannot,” said Koshka as she hopped the fence to the minion pen. “No one jumps farther than me. Come now, sweeties, it’s festival time!” she crooned at the minions.
“Can too. I can jump this whole city in one leap. And I’m stronger than all these minions put together. My ring weighs more than two elly-fants. Just try.” He held his ring out over the fence.
“What’s an elly-fant?” Koshka ignored the ring; the minions grunted and shoved their noses into her palms as she handed each a red envelope. “Don’t be rude,” she ordered, bopping one greedy beast on the noggin. “Open it over there.” The beasts crowded in a corner away from her, tearing open their envelopes. Two shiny gold coins dropped out of each. The minions tried to eat them.
“I can transform into anything,” bragged Ozo. “Guess what I am!” He paced back and forth along the fence on all fours, meowing.
Koshka giggled. “That’s nothing. I can pretend to be a girl.” She stood up on her two feet and pranced around the pen, her chin jutted up, and murmured in a breathy voice, “Look at me, I’m a princess. I like peanut butter.”
“I can summon the wind!” cried Ozo, then puffed out a big breath at her.
Koshka stumbled as if blown backward. “Whoa. Just for that, I’ll summon the rain.” She stuck out her tongue and blew a big zzzzrrrrbbbt at her monkey friend.
Ozo jumped away right in time, throwing down his ring and standing in the middle. “Well I can cast a protective barrier. Nothing can get me in here!”
Koshka wiggled her bum and shot forward on all fours right at him, leaping over the ring. “I’m way too strong for your dumb barriers!”
“You’re powerful,” said Ozo, “But I bet I can fit more kumquats in my mouth than you can.”
The pair dashed for the kumquat trees and jammed the fruit into their mouths, counting until the numbers were just muffled syllables. Koshka had to concede the victory to Ozo when her lumpy cheeks filled to bursting.
“Okay, okay,” said Koshka, chewing up the last of her mouthful. “But I can do a magic thing.”
“Nuh uh. You don’t know magic.”
“I know a thing,” she said. “Watch.” She scooted up close to Ozo and looked at his face. Her fingers slipped behind one of his ears. “Look what I found!” she announced, and held up a melon candy.
“Whoa,” whispered Ozo in awe, taking the candy. “You do know magic.”
“Happy Red Lantern Festival,” she said, hugging his neck, and the two sat and ate candied fruit together, watching the lanterns glow red on the cobbles as the sun set.
Check out the skin inspired by this story:
‘Red Lantern’ Koshka (special edition)