12. A Shadow Falls
Little One found the Male Twolegs in the bedroom. He had been hunting for the Male Twolegs all afternoon. He had counted the number of time the doors leading outside had opened and closed, and by his count the both the male and the Female should both be inside.
He had spent the morning with the Female Twolegs in the kitchen. She was busy doing something that escaped Little One. All he knew was that whatever it was she was doing, she was very messy doing it. From time to time, samples fell to the floor at the Female Twolegs feet. Little One quickly darted in and gobbled up these randomly dropped treats. He was shoed away from the kitchen several times by the Female Twolegs. Some of the treats were too spicy for Little One and he left them alone after the first taste. Some of the treats were so much better tasting than the kitten kibble that he and Eppy were forced to share. The battle between kitten and cook lasted for almost two hours.
The door to the den opened and Little One realized where the Male Twolegs had been hiding. Little One caught up with the Male Twolegs as he laid down on the bed. Little One scented a deep sorrow over the Male Twolegs. It was a sorrow that he had been trying to shield from the Female Twolegs. Something had changed and the Male was no longer able to shield the sorrow. It struck Little One like an unsheathed claw. The Female Twolegs walked into the bedroom and looked at the Male Twolegs. Little One felt like he was invisible to the conversation that was now occurring between the Twolegs. He had to learn to start trusting the lessons he had been receiving in secret from Bandit. Little One scented the air in the bedroom.
The scent that lead to the Female Twolegs was full of worry and fear. Little One scented it further. The Female Twolegs was also trying to hide a scent. The scent she was trying to hide bore the taint of the Shadow. Little One panicked as he crossed the Shadow directly for the first time in his young life. The darkness it carried threatened to choke the air from his little lungs. The fear of the Shadow coming off the Female was nothing compared to the scent he now picked up off the Male Twolegs. It was not the fear of the Shadow, but the Shadow itself. The scent of the Shadow lingered far too strongly over the Male Twolegs. Little One staggered under the onslaught he was feeling from the scent coming from the Male. He was steadied by the unexpected arrival of Bandit.
“Bandit.” Little One cried out.
Bandit ran to Little One’s side, and tried to comfort his young friend.
“Little One.” Bandit tried to reassure his young friend. ”What is wrong?”
“Shadow.” Little One gasped desparately. “Shadow.”
Bandit scented the air and found quickly the Scent Tread that had Little One so upset. The taint of the Shadow had fallen on the Male Twolegs without their knowing. Bandit gave a low faint curse of the Free. The Shadow had fallen across his household and he had not sensed it.
“Let it go.” Bandit guided his young friend.
“Bandit.” The panic that seized Little One was more than his little heart could bear.
Bandit grabbed Little One by the ear and forcefully pulled him away from the Male Twolegs. He knew that it was Little One’s first brush with the true nature of the Shadow.
Most Twolegs Nofurs have no idea how sensitive their feline friends are to the comings and goings of the Shadow. Cats that move in and out of the Twolegs’ world are far more in tune with and knowledgeable of the Shadow than their human companions. The Shadow affects and trembles them to their core. Unprepared, a cat or kitten can be destroyed by the touch of the Shadow.
“Remember…” Bandit called to his friend. He called to the nature of the Free that he thought lived within Little One.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide…” Bandit tried to strengthen Little One’s thoughts within the sanctuary of the Creed of the Free. “When you cannot hide, you …”
“Fight. When you fight, You fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.” Little One remembered.
“Scent it out, Little One.” Bandit tried to help out his little friend.
“Something has changed within the Male Twolegs.” Little One cried. “I don’t know what it is. But it bears the taint of the Shadow. I think the Shadow is falling on the Male.”
Bandit did not know what to tell Little One. Everything that crossed his nose said the same thing. The Shadow had touched the House and had settled on the Male Twolegs. The sadness that followed the Female suddenly made sense. The Twolegs knew that the Shadow had touched the Male and they had managed to hide it from the cats of the house, until Little One’s overactive nose had uncovered their deception. Bandit cursed the complacency that his life amongst the Bound was causing.
Little One and Bandit both learned a new human word that day on the bed. As they lay with and tried to comfort the Twolegs, they heard the word “cancer” repeated over and over. Little One did not know what “cancer’ was, but he realized that it brought the scent of the Shadow over the Male. Little One needed his friend Bandit to explain what was happening.
“Bandit.” Little One asked. “Is this what the Leaving smells like?”
“No. Little One.” Bandit reassured his friend. “He is not yet marked for his Leaving. The Shadow is here and it does lay over him. But it has not claimed him.”
“What do I do Bandit?” Little One asked.
“Find your mom and Eppy.” Bandit replied. “Share this with them. You have to understand, Little One. You cannot stop the Shadow but you can learn from its passing.”
“What do I tell them?” Little One asked.
“Tell them that the Shadow has come to the house and they need to prepare.” Bandit answered.
“Prepare for what?” Little One asked.
“Tomorrow.” Bandit replied. “They need to prepare for tomorrow.”
Little One was confused by Bandit’s cryptic comments. Bandit looked at Little One and sensed his confusion.
“Once the Shadow is found.” Bandit explained. “There is no today. There is only tomorrow. It is the only day that matters. Today is already over and has no worth to one of the Free. There is only.”
“Tomorrow.” Little One completed Bandit’s statement. “Tomorrow is the only day we worry about. Tomorrow brings food. Tomorrow brings peace. Tomorrow brings rest.”
Bandit nodded. He watched as Little One took off in search of his mother and Eppy. He had often worried what would happen to him once he realized that he would not further his bloodline. He had come to realize over the last few weeks that Little One was his only heir apparent. Little One did not bear his blood, but he did bear all the characteristics that Bandit thought was noble about his own heritage.
“Little One, if you were truly one of the Free.” Bandit thought to himself, “I or your Mother would have named you Strongheart.”
Bandit looked up at the bed where the Twolegs lay and comforted each other. A part of him was rankled by the thoughts that went through his mind, but the other part told him it was the right thing to do. Bandit jumped up on the bed and surprised both of the Twolegs by standing on the Female Twolegs’ hip. He stood there until they opened a space between them. Bandit moved from the Female Twolegs’ hip and worked his way between the Twolegs. A bit of a leg kick moved the Male a little more to the left. A well placed paw with claws unsheathed moved the Female to the right. Soon, Bandit had the amount of space he needed. He stretched out and began to purr. In his heart, he was still one of the Free, but he had learned to accept some of the benefits of the Bound.