I didn’t want to talk to my mother. I hadn’t seen her since I was a kitten, and she was outside, on the “bad guy” side of the wards that Penny had put up. She’d been trying to sneak into the house where we were safe and only bad things needed to sneak into our house. If she was nice, she could have just asked to come in. I didn’t want to go outside and talk to her. It frightened me to the point where I couldn’t stop shivering.
But I had to go.
Penny, Rosie, Betty, none of them would make me. None of them would even ask me to if they knew how much I didn’t want to go, but even if they forbid me to go, I still had to.
I had to know so much.
“We’ll go with you,” Penny said. I think she was able to guess what I was feeling (she is a smart witch, as I’ve mentioned), but Shadow spoke up before I could respond.
“She said she only wants to speak to September,” Shadow said.
“Oh good,” Rosie said.
“Yeah, that makes it simple,” Betty said.
“There’s no chance at all we’re sending him out there all alone in that case,” Penny said.
“I was hoping you were going to say that,” Shadow said.
“But you were going to go with him even if they didn’t weren’t you?” Seeming asked.
“Pfff, yeah, of course,” Shadow said. “That’s like my whole job isn’t it?”
“No,” I said. “Your job is to keep Penny safe.”
“Me and the people I love,” Penny said. “So Shadow’s going with you, and I am too.”
“But she’ll see you,” Rosie said. “We should all go.”
“Then she won’t speak to September,” Penny said. “And don’t worry. She won’t see me.”
Penny held out her hand and Shadow drift over her, covering Penny entirely, until my witch and her Shadow were one simple patch of darkness. All that was left of Penny were her eyes and her smile, and even those shrouded over black a moment later.
Surprisingly, I didn’t teach her that trick. She and Shadow worked it out together on their own.
“Ok,” I said. “But if there’s something else waiting out there. Or if it’s not my mother, then you run ok?”
“Only if you do,” Penny and Shadow said at the same time.
“I’m a lot faster than you,” I said. “You won’t even see me.”
On that courageous note, we stepped outside the house.
My mother was waiting for me.
She wasn’t exactly as I remembered her, but then I’d been a little kitten when she left, so there were years between us and my memory isn’t particularly magical.
“Hello September,” she said. There was no remorse, or tenderness, or guilt in her voice, but then, we are cats. I think hearing a human emotion in her voice would have sent me running for the nearest tall tree.
“Hello mother,” I said. I stopped about twenty feet away from her. Close enough to talk, but outside of pouncing range. Well outside, since who knew what kind of tricks she could pull.
“Your witch is in danger September,” she said.
I waited. There were approximately ten hundred thousand million things I wanted to say to her. Most of them involved screaming. If she wanted to launch into some trick or trap or ploy though, that was fine too. I was happy to let her play whatever game she wanted.
“There is someone coming for her,” my mother said. “Someone who wants to replace her and use her as an offering.”
I stayed silent. She was still offering bait, I was waiting for the pounce that was sure to follow.
“I can’t help her,” my mother said. “But I can help you.”
Something hard inside me cracked, and I made a noise that neither cats nor people should ever make.
“I can help you protect her,” my mother said. She didn’t sound desperate, she sounded completely detached.
That wasn’t how she sounded the last time I saw her. She had been hurried then. Eager to drop me off I guess? Eager to get away from me.
I wanted to feel like she did. I wanted to be detached and unconcerned. I needed that to be able to put my thoughts together, but I couldn’t do it. My silence was the only thing that was keeping me together, and the only way I had to tell her what I was feeling.
“I am a familiar too,” my mother said. “I have been since before you were born, and my witch, Iona, is planning to replace your witch with a Changeling. I can help you stop them.”
Years of absence and ache answered her offer.
“Go away,” I said. It wasn’t detached. It wasn’t calm. It was cold, and angry. I wanted to see her so much, I wanted to hear her voice, and I never wanted to be near her again. I had never been angrier or more afraid than I was at that moment, and I couldn’t tell whether it was with her or with me.
My one reward was the expression on her face as she took in my words. Her empty demeanor cracked and I saw real surprise and maybe even a trace of fear in her eyes.
Wordlessly she turned to leave, and I felt the urge to stop her. That couldn’t be the end for us, even if I couldn’t bear the sight of her for another second. I was just about to call out to her when Penny beat me to it.
“Wait! Stay for a second,” she said, stepping away from Shadow’s covering. “Why does Iona want to replace me?”
“Oh no!” my mother said. “You can’t have heard that! I can’t have said that to you!”
“Why?” Penny asked, but it was too late.
I watched lightning crackle out of a ball that surrounded my mother as it pulled her in and vanished, taking her to somewhere unknown.
I was still silent, but the nature of my silence had changed. I wasn’t angry anymore. I just wanted my mother back.