The thing about crowds is that I don’t like them. If that seems unreasonable then consider that I spend the majority of my life surrounded by creatures that have greater mass and reach than I do, and as a predator species I am innately aware of what that means should they ever decide to resolve a difference between us by force. My sole advantage over (most of) the people I encounter is that they are not cats, and are therefore slower than I am. That advantage diminishes rapidly however where there are too many of them for me to avoid. It also diminishes rapidly when they are magically adept and I’m unable to determine what race, or even species, some of them are.
“No trains are permitted here,” the mostly human-looking leader of the people who were gathering around us said.
“This is a free travel landing,” Grandma Apples said. “You’re supposed to keep it better tended than this.”
Neither one of them looked like they were going back down from the fight that was brewing. Fortunately for me that meant that everyone was paying attention to me and nobody was bothering to keep track of the little black creature that padded away into the night from the train and the people around it.
I wasn’t leaving Penny and the others to their fates. I knew that between Grandma Apples and the rest they’d work out whatever hassle the people of the Fair Fields raised. The problem was that wasn’t likely to be a quick process, and the more time we gave Iona the more likely she was to have nasty surprises ready for us.
I’m not the tracker that Akemi is, but I am a cat, so I’m not as hopeless as a human is in that regards. I thought that, at the very least, I could try to nose out a direction for us to go so that we wouldn’t have to waste a lot of time once the mob of rich people had been pacified.
As usually happens when I stick my nose out though, I quickly ran into more than I’d bargained for.
“You’re a handsome little guy,” someone said. They’d been roughly five feet away from me. I don’t remember climbing the wall of the Victorian style house that I was walking by. However I got to the roof certainly didn’t take any time because between one breath and the next I was there. Unfortunately that didn’t help me escape whoever was talking to me. “Impressive reflexes too. Autumn must be proud to have a kit like you.”
I froze at the mention of my mother’s name, and looked around, struggling to find who was speaking to me.
“What do you know about my mother?” I asked, not bothering to disguise my connection to her. Whoever was speaking to me knew who I was and, as a matter of dignity, I wasn’t going to tell any lies which were that easy to see through.
“I know that she’s in trouble,” a shadow said as she stepped out from the dark side of the roof to stand where I could see her more clearly.
“What have you done with her?” I asked. I wasn’t happy with my mother, but I was prepared to be even less happy with anyone who’d harmed her. Unhappy enough that I’d tell Grandma Apples bad things about them. That was one reason I was careful about lying. If you need to make something up, then you need to make sure it counts and people believe you.
“What makes you think I’ve done anything to Autumn?” the shadow asked. “I’m here to help her after all.”
“You’re Iona’s shadow,” I said, because who else would know what had happened to my mother? “So what are you doing to her?”
“I am not doing anything to Autumn,” Iona’s Shadow said, her voice deeper and the accents on her words crisper and louder “I am here to fix things.”
“Iona was the one who dragged her away from me,” I said.
“Yes, well, my witch and I are having a bit of a disagreement at the moment,” Iona’s Shadow said. “She’s in a bad situation and she’s making a worse choice to get out of it.”
“And you can’t stop her?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Of course I can,” she said. “I can lead you and the people you brought with you to right where she and Autumn are.”
“I think we can find that on our own,” I said.
“No, you can’t,” Iona’s Shadow said. “My witch has all kinds of false leads and traps set up. You’ll stumble into one of them or another and you’ll just wind up helpless for what she has in mind.”
“So to avoid a trap, we’re supposed to trust that you’re not going to lead us into a trap?” I asked.
“Yes!” Iona’s Shadow said. “Why else would I have found you if I wasn’t going to help you?”
Iona and her shadow either didn’t have much experience thinking like a predator or she didn’t have much respect for my intelligence.
“If you only have a few traps set up, you’d want to make sure we stumbled into one of them,” I said. “Or if you have one particularly clever and effective trap then you’d want us to find that one first. Or you could lead us somewhere far away to buy your witch time to put her plans in motion. Or you could need to get my witch to a specific place for whatever Iona has in mind.”
“Or I could want to help you before my witch does something that she’ll never be able to live with herself for doing,” Iona’s Shadow said.
I knew the right answer for this situation. I should bring Iona’s Shadow back to Penny and Grandma Apples and let them decide what to do. Even someone like Akemi had more experience than I did and could judge whether Iona’s Shadow was trustworthy better than I could.
But that would expose them to danger.
I hate danger.
I especially hate being in danger myself.
But I couldn’t let Penny and the others walk into peril, and I had to find my mother.
So I went with Iona’s Shadow, to see what kind of scheme the witch had in mind and how I could stop it.