Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid watched the strange creature from an incomprehensible world curl up and go to sleep. Just sleep. Not any special glowing, weird hibernation state. Not communing with its alien masters. Just calm, unconcerned sleep.
“That is kind of weird, isn’t it?” Nia whispered. “Isn’t it worried that we might, I don’t know, eat it?”
It was a valid concern. Typically the first thing you did in a new environment was not test out how comfy the floor was for a nap. Creatures with instincts like that tended to become food for creatures who were even slightly more energetic.
Unless the creatures in question had nothing whatsoever to fear of the others around them. That was a disturbing thought and one which Yasgrid could see Nia shared.
“Maybe he’ll be feeling more talkative when he gets up?” Yasgrid said.
“Should we watch over him?” Nia asked.
“Probably, yes,” Yasgrid said. “If he’s dangerous we’ll need to give people a warning about him.”
“I wonder if anyone can see him?” Nia asked. “If he’s a projection like we are when we’re visiting each other, he might be invisible to everyone else.”
“That would be good,” Yasgrid said. “We have enough weirdness to explain already. Trying to come up with a reason why a new black cat is hanging around you could be challenging.”
“I think I’ve seen a few cats around town,” Nia said. “Do Stonelings keep them as pets?”
“Yeah. I think most people do. Or at least Stonelings, Humans, and Dwarves. I’m not sure of the rest.”
“I know some elves do too, but they’re less common in the Darkwood. At least as pets. Most of the cats in the Darkwood are bigger than this one so they can’t handle moving around on the ropes for cities like mine. Or ours now I guess.”
“Well with luck, it won’t be an issue,” Yasgrid said. “If no one else can see him then we’ll be the only ones he can bother, and if they can see him then you can pretend he’s not yours. There are enough stray cats in town that people may not even look twice at him.”
She knew that wouldn’t be true.
The creature curled up on the floor of her home was a cat only because that was the closest analog her mind could find for it. Where it had started out as a somewhat amorphous blob, it had grown more and more catlike the longer Yasgrid watched it, but only up to a point.
Looking at the not-cat, Yasgrid wondered if even a brief glimpse of it would allow someone to fool themselves into thinking they’d seen a normal, ordinary feline.
It wasn’t that the not-cat was black. It was that its fur was literally darkness itself. Black fur reflects light. This fur (and it certainly wasn’t truly fur) reflected nothing except mystery.
It wasn’t that the not-cat had odd proportions. It was that its proportions weren’t static things. When it stretched, it’s legs lengthened noticeably longer than they should have. When it turned its head there was the sense that its neck wasn’t twisting quite how it was supposed to.
It wasn’t even that the not-cat made odd noises. It was that the noises it made weren’t ones which an earthly creature should have been capable of producing, filled with an internal echo and the kind of vibrato took years of practice a cat wasn’t capable of engaging in.
Just as Yasgrid had convinced herself that the not-cat could never pass as anything of the sort, he began to purr.
Side B – Nia
Of all the things she’d had to deal with since waking up in the wrong body on New Year’s morning, Nia had to admit that a purring pile of shadows was potentially the weirdest.
“Is he dreaming?” Yasgrid asked. In response, the shadow cat’s front leg twitched, batting at some unseen interloper.
“If he was a cat, I would say yes. As it is? I’m going to go with a solid maybe.” Nia thought of her cousin Siena. Siena lived in Dew Basin, one of the cities on the forest floor. Siena had three cats, two dogs, and an assortment of semi-wild forest creatures who’d more or less tamed themselves in order to get into Siena’s good graces. As a child, Nia had loved visiting her cousin. As a teenager, she’d been horribly jealous of Siena, since treetop living meant birds were the most prominent form of pet, and Nia’s mother had never been a fan of having birds in the house. Under the present circumstances she was left wondering how quickly Yasgrid could make it to Dew Basin to solicit Siena’s animal handling wisdom.
“What should we do with him?” Yasgrid asked. “Do you think we could take him back to that other world?”
“I think we were lucky to get out of there the first time, and that was without trying to carry someone who’s likely to be cranky and armed with two pawfuls of claws,” Nia said. “Also there’s the problem that we don’t know if he would just follow us back again. Or if it would attract the attention of others.”
“You’re right, we shouldn’t push our luck,” Yasgrid said. “I’m just worried what he might do to Frost Harbor if we’re not careful.”
“Why don’t we continue this conversation back in the Darkwood then,” Nia suggested, projecting her awareness to stand within arm’s reach of her old body.
“It feels kind of weird leaving him behind like that,” Yasgrid said. “Your connection to my body is fine right? You’d feel anything if he started moving around.”
“Yep. I only lost contact while I was in that other world. As long as I’m here I can still sense what’s happening in both places pretty easily.” Nia wondered about that for a moment, trying to work out how she was managing the trick of sensing both places when she could only see one of them at a time.
The answer was sound. When she started picking her senses apart, she noticed that the sounds in both places were overlapped. She could tell one from the other because Frost Harbor was the more distant of the two, but just the same as she could tell vaguely what was going on behind her by the sounds that were being made, so too could she tell what was going on in Frost Harbor by the things she was hearing from there.
“And where are we now?” the shadow cat asked, wandering over to headbutt Nia in the leg.
In the Darkwood. He was in the Darkwood and yet it felt like he was physically interacting with Nia, who was nowhere near the Darkwood.