"So how did you find your way here?" Roderick asked.
Madeline told him the story of Handsome and how he took her bag, of getting lost, and of the attack by the cats.
"They bit your arm?" Roderick asked.
"Well, yes. The one in front jumped at me and…" Madeline said.
"We need to look immediately!" Miranda interrupted, "Why didn't you say something earlier?"
Madeline had actually forgotten about the bite. It stopped bleeding a while ago. It stopped hurting when she started warming up. Now it barely itched. But when she rolled up her sleeve she and both fairies gasped.
The bite marks, which had looked like any normal bite mark, had changed the surrounding skin. It used to be that there was nothing special about her right arm (aside from the fact that it was not on her left side). Now that the teeth marks had faded away her arm was decorated. It looked like someone drew on it in a pattern of spirals and shapes.
Madeline looked at the arm, and she felt it start to hurt again. This wasn't the pain you might feel if you were to fall down, or the pain you might get from skinning your knee. This was a deep pain, a pain all the way on the inside.
Miranda and Roderick looked at each other. They didn't speak, but Madeline could see how worried they were. Handsome must have too because he lay down and put his head on his paws and whimpered. Something was very bad about this, and this was just one more thing that Madeline was worried about.
Finally, Miranda said, "You talk with her about it, I'll go get some medicine." And then she opened the door, stepped out, and flew away in less time than it took for Madeline to realize she was leaving.
Roderick looked at her and started to explain.
"Faewold is a magical place. It is the place where many of your fairy tales were born, or where they grew up. Many of the people here are nice and good. There are some of the best people you'll ever meet, but there are also some of the worst.
"The cats are, well, they aren't good. They won't eat you, but they will try to, um… I guess they try to suck you in. They want other people to turn into them. For each of the cats you saw earlier, there is at least one person who went missing. Most of the time, they surround someone, that person is bitten a few times, and that's it. The person turns into one of those glowing beasts.
"Some people are able to get away. They don't let the cat near them, or they happen to be able to protect themselves. Most people are simply attacked and then transform into a cat right away. Then there are people like you. These people are bitten by one of the cats, and they don't turn into a cat, at least not right away.
"Madeline," Roderick said, by now he looked especially sad for having to tell Madeline the bad news, "no one has ever been bitten by a cat and not turned into one, eventually."
Madeline swallowed, "So what can I do?"
"There isn't anything you can do. Miranda's gone to get some medicine. That will keep the bite from hurting you more. It will also slow down how fast you change, but you're still in danger.
"We're going to need to change our plans," Roderick said, "it's no use trying to get you back home, at least not yet. The moment you leave Faewold, you'll be transformed. No, we're going to need to talk to the queen. She might be able to help break the spell. If anyone would know about it, she would."
At that point, Miranda came back into the little cottage. She took Madeline's arm and started painting it with something that felt like paste and stunk like rotten eggs.
"Oh, that's gross," Madeline said.
"It can't be helped," Miranda said. "This is the only thing we have that will fight the cat bite. It should last you a few days before you need to put on more."
Miranda then looked right into Madeline's eyes, "In the morning, you and Roderick will leave to find the queen. You must go as quickly as possible. No one has ever survived a cat bite for more than two weeks, and you don't even have that much time. I'll bet that you have started to notice some 'cat-like' changes already."
Madeline looked confused. Miranda explained, "You probably have a better sense of smell, and can see better in the dark than you used to. You're probably going to be better at balancing, at least a little. None of those are the end of the world, but if you don't go straight to the queen, if you don't do exactly what you're told, you will fade away. You will fade and be replaced by one of the black cats with glowing eyes."
Miranda finished treating Madeline's arm and they all said their goodnights. Madeline was scared again. She spent so much of today afraid, and Miranda just made it that much worse. She knew that she needed to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be an extraordinarily long day, that this week would be hard on her, and that danger would be following them for a long time. She tossed and turned for most of the night.