Chapter 12:

Nothing to See Here (Just an Ordinary Tsundere Catgirl)

The Mildpowered Virgins of Novylion High

My family, the Nekoraktas, took on the Curse of the Cat generations ago. So long ago that no one even remembers how it came to be or what it was exactly or what events led up to it. But cats are indifferent creatures. Unlike bears, who are savage, and monkeys, who are mischievous, cats don’t care about anything in the world except themselves. No one in my family in recent memory has spoken to the Cat. It might be sleeping or it might have never cared.

My uncle hypothesised that it must have started out as a siddhī. One of our ancestors must have performed some kind of a ritual to attain the powers of the Cat. He or she might even have met the Cat. And enough of a good rapport might have been established with Her that she felt comfortable making our bloodline Her home, not just that particular ancestor’s consciousness or flesh, like the Bear or Monkey might. This caused a genetic alteration that has transformed itself into a guṇa sequence. Our natural abilities, whatever they might have been, have been replaced by remnants of the Cat’s powers. Perhaps because of this continuous splitting of Her home through reproduction, the Cat has been stretched out thin.

So what remains in us of the Cat’s power? Since it affects our genes, we all have cat ears as well as human ears. The cat ears are very small, almost unnoticeable. They are functional but serve more as complements for our human ears and augment sound collection. We do have excellent hearing because of them. Apart from that, we have no other physical advantages. And our guṇas are all connected in some way or the other to the nature and behaviour of the Cat.

The world owes us a debt of gratitude. By all accounts, the Cat was always annoyed by the busy nature of mortals. They were like flies to Her, and they were interrupting Her Eternal Hunt. Any day of any week, she might have randomly swatted away the entirety of the human race and wouldn’t even have known it. If what my uncle says is true, there is no doubt that the first few generations of my ancestors who took on the Cat must have suffered violent, gruesome deaths. The likes of which have never been seen before and will never be seen again. Even now, members of my family don’t usually die peacefully. And I am bound to the same fate.

For a long time, I am told, we were worshipped. Society recognised our great sacrifice and gave us our due. But around four hundred years ago, the gunships of Archemperor Axgott arrived and it all went awry. Cats were deemed unlucky spreaders of disease by our foreign rulers. The dolts did not understand that rats were the actual cause of the problem and that getting rid of all the cats only made the situation worse. Because of their tireless efforts, cats are now extinct in our country.

The persecution of cats went hand-in-hand with the persecution of the Cat People. The Nekoraktas were hunted down one by one and executed. But with fewer cat-blooded people to share Her power, it started concentrating. The few Nekoraktas that remained became incredibly powerful as a result of the deaths of their kin. They became demigods with abilities far exceeding those of average humans. And they were out for revenge. They slaughtered the Archemperor’s army by the thousands. And although it has been hidden from the general public, it is a fact that Archemperor Axgott was assassinated by a Nekorakta.

It wasn’t only the invaders who faced the Nekoraktas’ wrath. They wanted revenge on the people who sold them out as well. Their own countrymen who betrayed them. And so followed five years of devastating bloodshed as the Nekoraktas and the Archemperor’s army turned the entire country into a battlefield. But with great power came horrifying consequences. The fate of painful, violent, ravaging deaths befell the Nekoraktas again. Finally, one member of the family, Danaji Nekorakta, decided to end it. He went into hiding. And then he went about procreating. In five years, he fathered thirty children through eight different women (kittens tend to come in litters of three or more). The Cat’s powers waned and the Nekoraktas were defeated. Since then, cats have been feared and detested in Axhelm (the new name of the country after the victory of the Archemperor) and the Nekoraktas have stayed hidden. We even changed our surnames to Inura and aligned ourselves with the Dog People, who are beloved. We conceal our cat ears and if anyone discovers them, we simply say they are vestigial dog ears.

And that is why I, Pushpako Nekorakta, have to call myself Pushpako Inura. My family and I have suffered four hundred years of humiliation and poverty but I will bring it to an end. And that starts with getting admission into Archemperor Novylion Abode of Learning. I am carrying on my shoulder the dreams of my grandfather and father, who have pinched every penny and foregone every little luxury, just to see me study in the best school in the state.

That is why, since I joined the school two years ago, I have excelled in both academics and sports. I have not made the mistake, however, like my junior Aina Pare has, of becoming a jack of all trades. My teachers and coaches appreciate my efforts and I have won quite a few gold medals and trophies in volleyball and junior science contests.

The only problem I’ve had is the constant attention I get from boys. These entitled beasts born to the rot of generational wealth have not experienced even the slightest amount of discomfort in their lives. They take for granted the amount of money their parents spend to get them educated. They think school is for having fun and fooling around with childish notions of love. School is a stepping stone to your ultimate ambition. But those born with silver spoons in their mouths do not know the meaning of the word ‘ambition’.

For the first year and a half, I had shunned them outright. I had used my guṇa excessively to escape their gazes. My guṇa is derived from the Cat’s stealth. For a few minutes at a time, I can be very difficult to observe. People can still see me and see what I’m doing but they will not be able to stare at me and they will not notice the details of my actions. Unless I’m doing something that’s particularly noticeable. And people who are closer than six feet are not affected.

But the continuous usage of my guṇa for this purpose drained my energy and interfered with my concentration when it came time to study or play volleyball. I was unsure of what to do but, fortunately, a solution presented itself in front of me. A solution called Rushil Koiwala. A fat, pig-faced commoner from a family that has become infamous for fraud and business malpractice. But he keeps all the other boys away from me in exchange for nothing but my presence near him. He is so unpleasant to other men that they’d rather admire my exceptional beauty from afar when he’s beside me. And his constant hovering around me placates the girls for some reason and thus, I am not deprived of the joys of non-romantic companionship.

Rushil asks nothing of me. He is only interested in giving and giving and nothing else. His jokes are never funny and he has a penchant for discussing classroom politics extensively (a subject I have no interest in at all) but he is always polite to me and maintains a subservient attitude like I believe all commonbloods should. He has also never been so uncouth as to discuss his own feelings and desires towards me, which my female friends tell me he must have plenty of. I do not care as long as I do not know and I do not think any man would hold out on confessing his love for so long when he receives nothing in return. Of all the conversations I’ve had with him, none have contained even a hint of romance. It is possible that the Koiwalas might have been attendants of the Nekoraktas in their heyday and thus, his natural instinct is responding to the presence of the Cat.

I thought that Rushil would serve adequately as my personal boyfriend-repellent. I had even convinced him to attend morning sports practice, where he started playing cricket, to keep him around for longer. But the exuberance of my pulchritude is such that someone found a way to breach this bubble of protection. Of all the sporting grounds and courts in our school, the cricket field is the furthest from the academic blocks. And Rushil is overweight. When it’s time to head to the changing rooms, Rushil is not around me. And in this short period, Puna Maiwal has been approaching me for the past week. Puna Maiwal is the star of our school’s badminton team. He has won multiple tournaments and has brought back countless trophies to the school.

On the first day that he approached me, I saw him jogging towards me with both his hands in the air. I’ve heard that it’s a side effect of his guṇa. But it looks disgusting and uncivilised. But here he was, daring to approach me. I turned on my guṇa to minimise my embarrassment.

‘Hello, Pushpako.’

‘Hello. What do you want?’

‘You recognise me, right?’

‘You’re Puna Maiwal, the star of our badminton team. But you achieved that position with the help of your guṇa. Your hand rotates freely about your wrist, if I am not wrong?’

‘Something like that.’

‘Then you are not worthy of respect, I am sorry to say. What do you want from me?’

‘Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Those are some harsh words for your classmate.’ He was smiling. I don’t know why.

‘You needed to hear them. Now tell me what you want from me or begone.’

‘Relax, Pushpako. I don’t want anything from you. I just wanted to talk to you. We’re in the same class yet we’ve never talked. There aren’t any other IX-A students here anyways, apart from Rushil. So I thought that we could have something to talk about as the only serious sportspeople in our class.’

‘I beg to differ.’

‘Well, I beg to differ from your… difference. I saw you play today. Just a little bit at the end. Your jumps are fantastic. There’s a lot of things I could learn from you as a badminton player.’

‘Volleyball and badminton are very different sports. I don’t think my technique will be relevant to you nor yours to me.’

‘They aren’t that different. The nets are very similar and the courts are about the same size and you’re supposed to chuck a projectile at your opponent with the aim that he or she is not able to chuck it back at you.’

‘I thought you got good marks in class.’

‘I do.’

‘Then how do such idiotic statements come out of your mouth?’

‘You should become a surgeon, you know. Your insults are razor sharp.’

‘Please go away. You cannot utter anything that will be of interest to me and you embarrass me with your raised hands.’

‘I think I can say something of interest to you but alas, I cannot do anything about my arms. Anytime my legs move, my arms must too.’

‘No, you really can’t say anything that will add value to my life. In fact, every second I listen to you is subtracting value from my life. And as for your arms, you can tie your hands to your back and learn to do menial tasks with your feet or even cut off your arms if all other solutions fail.’

‘Those are some very violent thoughts.’

‘You need to lose something to gain something.’

‘How would you feel if I told you to cut off your cat ears?’

I instinctively covered my head to stop my ears from perking up.

‘Oh, great. I guess my guess was right. I couldn’t explain those slight mounds on your head in any other way. And see, I said something of interest to you.’

The fiend! I’m a tall woman by all measures. The average height for urban men in Axhelm is five feet and eight inches and the average height for urban women is five feet and five inches. At five feet and eleven inches tall, I stand above most people. Rarely, I come across a man who is six feet or six feet and two inches tall and even then, he isn’t tall enough to see the top of my head clearly. But Puna Maiwal is six feet and six inches tall. He has as clear a view of the top of my head as a mosquito hovering over it. I would have to take drastic measures to shut him up.

‘Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. I know it might be a sensitive subject for you. Well, it’s time to part ways. I’ll see you again tomorrow.’

And he jogged away, hands still in the air.