Side A – Yasgrid
A creature of strange shadows and hungry darkness rose not from the ground but through it, passing between the particles of the earth like mist through a sieve. From the top of its roiling mass, two eye, glowing like burning coals, peered at Yasgrid and Nia both, looking from one to the other despite Yasgrid not being physically present in Frost Harbor.
Yasgrid began to withdraw, instinct telling her to flee from something so unknown and unknowable.
Then it meowed.
To be fair, it wasn’t a proper cat-like meow. No terrestrial feline had that level of unearthyl vibrato to its voice. At least not as far as Yasgrid knew. Despite the otherworldly tones though, the sound was unmistakable.
“What does it want?” Nia asked. She was still regarding it with some tension in her posture.
“I don’t know,” Yasgrid said, staring at the shadow-thing. The more she looked at it the more catlike it appeared.
It was as though Yasgrid’s eyes were able to pick up details that were simply difficult to see, but there were odd glitches in that, changes that weren’t from details being revealed but rather from details being adopted.
“It’s stretching,” Nia said. “And clawing at the ground. Is that a good thing?”
The shadow creature was looking ever more cat-like which each movement, but Yasgrid was feeling ever more at a loss of how to classify it. It wasn’t a cat. It clearly could not be a cat.
It meowed again. The sound was much more cat-like.
From its backside, a tail flickered into motion as the creature turned moved it lick its paw and clean the back of its ear. Its posture said that it was wholly uninterested in the two people who stood before it in the small room in Frost Harbor.
“I really shouldn’t go and touch it, should I?” Nia said, as though that wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world.
“It’s waiting for something,” Yasgrid said. “Are there more coming?”
“How could we tell?” Nia asked. “I don’t have any idea how this one got here.”
“You could ask,” the shadow cat said.
Side B – Nia
Nia felt the thought that were swirling through her mind crash together and go plummeting to the forest floor of her soul.
Which was apparently in her stomach, given how it did a sudden flip when the shadow cat spoke.
“Um, hello?” Yasgrid said.
The shadow cat stared at her with unblinking eyes. Its expression was somewhat non-existent based on its features being nothing more than shadows, but Nia had the sense that its silence was meant to convey disdain and weariness in equal measure.
“What do you want?” she asked. The shadow cat didn’t seem to be an enemy, but there were plenty of creatures Nia was familiar with in the Darkwood who didn’t seem dangerous until the moment when they chose to go for the kill.
“Why do you want to know?” the shadow cat asked.
“You’re in our home,” Yasgrid said, rallying in the face of the creature’s aloofness.
“Am I?” the shadow cat asked, looking around to take in Yasgrid’s abode.
Nia wondered if the creature was seeing the same dwelling that Yasgrid and she were. Was it really in Yasgrid’s house? Was it really part of the material world at all? Or was it some form of mental projection similar to what Nia and Yasgrid did whenever they communicated with each other?
That latter seemed like the most plausible possibilities. Shadows didn’t tend to speak in Nia’s experience, lacking several important characteristics for the activity such as mass to move air with and being made of something rather than simply being the absence of light.
“This is our world that we’re in,” Nia said.
“All of it?” the shadow cat asked.
Nia found her concern and instinctive good will draining away quickly. Her disbelief that the creature before her was related to a cat in some manner was also draining away though.
“As far as you know,” she said.
“That seems unlikely,” the shadow cat said and stretched once more.
Nia’s eyes flared, but Yasgrid put a restraining hand on her arm before Nia could step forward and grab the cat by the scruff of the neck.
It was probably just as well. Grabbing a normal cat by the scruff could lead to getting some nasty scratches. Nia didn’t want to know what kind of damage this one’s claws could inflict.
“We welcome you to our home,” Yasgrid said. “Is there any request you would make of our hospitality?”
Nia looked over at Yasgrid and smiled, appreciating the phrasing Yasgrid had chosen to use.
Hospitality was a common and deeply binding idea in both the Stoneling and Elven cultures. And most others as far as Nia knew. By asking the creature what it wanted couched in the terms of offering hospitality, Yasgrid had placed their guest in respected position which carried its own obligations should the creature choose to accept her offer. More importantly though, Yasgrid hadn’t offered to do anything. It was always within the host’s purview to refuse a request a guest made as being an imposition they were unable to meet.
“I wish to understand this place,” the shadow cat said. “It is strange to me.”
Nia blinked. That wasn’t what she’d expected. It also wasn’t terribly unreasonable.
But there could be a hidden catch to it.
She dearly wished she could draw Yasgrid aside for a private conversation, but given that the shadow cat could speak to both of them, and they were separated by countless miles, stepping outside didn’t seem like it would afford them much privacy.
And it could be construed as rude.
“We can offer some help with that,” Yasgrid said, carefully not specifying the amount or kind of help.
Nia didn’t think they were dealing with something demonic, but being careful with one’s words when speaking with something otherworldly was presented as wise in every story and song Nia had ever heard that dealt with such matters.
“Good, then I shall call this place my home too,” the shadow cat said before turning in a circle and settling down as though the spot it had selected was its royal throne rather than a random spot on the floor.