Last time we talked, Ihavegonetoofar and Dog, two strange beings living in the City, took refuge in an equally strange bar on a cold night. There, the bartender offers relief in exchange for stories about the people in the bar. Ihavegonetoofar accepts the offer. It remains to be seen if it was prudent to do so.
Once, there was a mouse and a cat.
The cat stalked the mouse. It used the magic of Walking This Way, which is known to everything that hunts on four legs and which is why Man does not know how to walk like cats. It followed the mouse, which had magic of its own. Move Quiet Quiet, See Without Sight, and the strongest magic of all, Fear. The mouse did not know it was being stalked, but Fear worked its spell and so the Mouse always thought it was followed. Even safe in the nest it would look over its shoulder with eyes that did not see, smelt with noses that listen, and listened with ears that tasted. There was nothing behind it. There is everything there, Fear whispered to the Mouse, and suddenly there would be. But this time it worked the magic of Want, which drove away Fear, and which drove away safety.
The cat followed with silent steps. One, two, three, and four, and then a pause when the mouse raised its nose. She stopped, she waited, she watched. Cats have many powerful magics, and though they do not have Fear, they have Patience, which is often stronger than Fear. It is another magic that men do not have, but all cat magics are foreign to men, while they disdain the magic of humans, of Talking Without Listening, of Putting Thoughts On Paper, and most of all, Touching With Violence. The cat watched with steady eyes, and took another step. Two. Three. Four.
A tail whisked back and forth and whiskers stirred the air. The cat took a step that was so quiet. The mouse buried itself in treasures of garbage and refuse, finding sweet meats and nectar in what men had discarded, for one man’s empty wrapper is another mouse’s treasure. It feasted on sponge cake and spoiled fruit, embracing Want in order to Make-Bad-Things-Good, a magic mice share with mushrooms and flies and other things that turn violence and garbage and old death into squalling babies and fat bellies.
One step closer.
Fear whispered to the mouse but it did not listen. Its belly filled and, filling, sang sweet songs to him of warmth and good sleep and thick fur. It is a good song, and one that living things cannot long go without, at least, not if they want to stay living. If you’d rather now, though, there are alternatives out there, if you know what you are looking for.
The mouse buried its head deeper, seeking with the magic of Want which makes you find even though you were not looking. Want has always been more powerful than Fear, and so Fear lost its power for the sake of fat bellies and satiation, and not for the first time.
The mouse could not hear, could not see, could not speak. It could not, and so it did not. There is a distinction between the two, for much that would, cannot, and much that cannot, would not. Pity that which cannot, hate that which will not. And remember: magic demands sacrifice. And remember further: there is nothing that lives without death.
The magic of Walking This Way turned to claws and teeth. Death came quickly for the mouse and wore the face of a cat. As for the cat, it ate the mouse quickly, for while it did not have Fear, it understood why other things did. It would call it Prudence, the magic of leaving while the leaving is good. It had a mission to perform, after all.
Fear and Want and Death and Boredom. Such is Life.
Now let me tell you the story of the Dream Walker and the Queen of All Cats.
& & &
The call went out straight from the Queen of All Cats: her daughter was missing.
The call was taken up and repeated by every cat in the City, hissed by every feral tom and purred by every pampered Siamese. Class and station meant nothing in the gravity of the disaster. The Queen’s daughter was gone.
“Missing, or stolen?” whispered some as they met in dark alleys and in small conferences convened under street lights, but those who did purred that accusation very quietly. True or not, it was not safe to suggest the Queen was less than omnipotent, that her sacred person was violable, and so that question went unanswered.
For a week the City’s cats went wild. They howled and yelled night and day, crying for the daughter to come home. The lazy and the pampered joined in. Indoor cats who had never before concerned themselves with the outside world threw themselves at windows and doors, demanding to be let out. Search parties prowled the alleys and dark corners of the City searching for any hint of the Queen’s daughter. Some People let their cats out, bewildered by the sudden change. Many who fled the comforts of home to join the hunt never looked back. Even kittens mewled their intent, unsure of what was happening but certain they needed to do something about it.
The mice, forgotten in all this, whispered amongst themselves. While the search went on they were left to their own devices and allowed to run free. This made them uncomfortable. They preferred the reassuringly fatal cycle of hunter and hunted but as the hours of freedom stretched on they eventually revelled in their temporary release. A bounty of offerings was laid at tiny altars to the Lucky God and mice roamed freely in a City that had never been truly theirs.
The birds didn’t even notice but that’s hardly surprising. Most of them are idiots.
The People of the City noticed it (they could hardly not), but had no idea what caused it. It was a cripplingly hot summer so most blamed the heat, while others assumed it was some sort of fever that flooded the City and would leave as quick as it came. Those in the Biz knew it was magical in nature and animancers did a brisk trade speaking to the cats, but they learned little other than that the daughter was missing, which anyone with a crystal lamp and a pack of dollar-store tarot cards could tell you. Hell, you could have just opened the window and heard it, roared as loud as the bloody cicadas.
Haroldi Tokakis, from over by Little Italy, made the unwise decision to practice haruspicy on a captured cat, to read the cat’s entrails to divine the future. He may have learned something useful but we’ll never know. His body was found floating in the Don, his eyes gone and his entrails missing.
Actually, his divination did teach us something important: don’t fuck with cats.
It didn’t take that long for them to contact me. The Queen’s lineage was too important to leave to the noble, if unguided, efforts of half-wild shorthairs and maine coons. And that’s for the better. There’s nothing worse than a well-intentioned amateur who’ll cock the whole thing up without even realizing it. Give me a bad-intentioned expert every time. They might screw you over, but at least they’ll get the job done. Find the right one, and the job is already half done (unless you’re Harold, who technically did get the job done, it’s just that I don’t know what professional pride counts for when you’ve been disembowelled).
I know what you’re thinking, so let me be straight with you here, and only here because I don’t think I can help lying my way through this. Am I an expert? It’s not really for me to say but I’ll do it anyways: there’s me, and then there’s no-one else like Eoin Dream-Walker in the whole damn Biz.