Oct 15: BLACK CAT
I first encountered the woman in black on a moonless October night in dreams.
I, Ferntail the Cat, was gathering information on a certain nightmare that had recently begun encroaching upon my ward Jaela’s dreams. Once she was solidly asleep, I had entered the realm of dreams and traveled to a certain catacomb under the northern Forest of Leaf-Hand Trees, searching for the wise Monk of Aurelius, ostensibly to obtain his recipe for the Golden Cordial, which he refuses to give to anybody, but in reality to find out what he knew of the Nocnitsa, a psychic night vampire who drained life energies directly without all the bother about blood. I was very nearly ready to tear my hair out, for nothing I did seemed to have any effect.
On my way, my path was crossed by what at first seemed a human woman, dressed in black with a deep hood covering her face and a silver moon fastening the cloak around her shoulders. She seemed to be taking pains to ensure that no one followed her; therefore, I changed my plans and did so.
She led me to a stone altar in the middle of a room lined with niches for skeletons. I glanced into one and saw that the bones within belonged neither to human nor cat, and quickly darted inside it as a hiding-spot.
Once again, the woman looked about her, then pressed a lever on the altar, which swung aside to reveal a spiral stair leading downward.
Again, I followed her. A gray cat in the shadows is invisible when he wishes to be.
We delved deeper into the bedrock of dreams until we reached a short tunnel, at the end of which was a pick. She pulled forth a small leather bag, took the pick vigorously to the wall, and broke out several somewhat sandy fragments of rock. She hefted the small bag, weighing it in her hand, and turned back toward me.
I crouched further into the shadows. She passed me by.
I am a curious cat, or else my name is not Ferntail. After I was sure that she had gone, I shifted to human form and took the pick to the rock at the end of the tunnel and broke off a piece of the same stone. I sniffed and inspected it carefully, but learned nothing. I had another pressing purpose, so I left, making note of the tunnel and the mechanism for working the lever.
The problem with the Nocnitsa was easily solved using a stone with a hole in the center, on a thong around Jaela’s neck. In gratitude, I presented Aurelius with a few chocolate chip cookies from the mortal lands, and he was most pleased.
On the way back, I spotted the woman in black again.
This time, she was covered in blood, lying in the shadows along one of the tunnels, trying to pull herself into a niche in order to hide herself.
“Are you in need of assistance, my lady?”
“No, no, get away, flee, you must go,” she said.
One can hardly take such a statement as anything other than a challenge. I shifted into human form and drew my blade, settling into an en garde position. It was not long before a monstrous, formless shadow had attacked the two of us. However, my blade is puissant, and the monster was soon defeated, retreating a burble of terror.
I sheathed my sword, then turned back to the woman in black, to offer what assistance I could.
She had fallen unconscious. I gathered her in my arms and carried her out of the catacombs to the surface. One must take especial care of any injury which occurs under the surface, out in dreams; when I lay the woman on a swath of grass under a tree outside the entrance, her wounds had changed, and her body was now covered in tiny purple flowers and thorny vines that oozed from the cuts in her dark clothing.
“Get away, flee, you must go,” she moaned.
“You are safe now, my lady. The monster is slain.”
But she only repeated herself, her voice growing weaker and weaker. I tried to staunch the bleeding, but the vines only grew the thicker, and her flesh seemed to fall in upon itself.
“The stone!” she hissed finally, as faint as a summer breeze.
She had none upon her, but I happened to still be carrying the fragment I had obtained earlier. I took it from the pocket of my cloak and gave it to her. She opened her mouth, and I fed it to her, crumbled into bits.
If anything, it seemed to make her weaker, until her eyes closed and her body collapsed into the soil—rapidly becoming absorbed by the vigorously growing vine decorated with delicate purple flowers.
I stepped back from the body, mystified and also cautious of becoming entangled in those brambles.
Then came a rustling noise from within, and out crept a black cat with the silvery mark of the moon under her chin. She immediately sprang away from me and fled into the forest.
I attempted to follow, but she had vanished. I returned to the body.
The cloak that the woman in black had worn, the one with the silver-moon clasp, had vanished. If my suspicions were correct, it spoke of an odd alliance indeed.
Ferntail the Cat has another story in Tales Told Under the Covers: Zombie Girl Invasion, under my De Kenyon middle-grade pseudonym. I have another tale for him coming up, The King of Cats. He’s inspired by the sword and sorcery tales of Fritz Lieber and Robert E. Howard.