The Darkening Road

This is a tale of the Free Cats and the Bound Cats and the different roads they travel. For the Cats of the Bound, they are shown the way to the Rainbow Bridge by the humans they come to know. For the Cats of the Free, they have no knowledge of the Rainbow Bridge and so instead they follow The Darkening Road. The story is published newest chapter first. So if you are new to this site and want to catch up, you will need to read from the archive first.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

8. Watercooler Chat

Bandit found Little One drinking from the container full of water the Twolegs had left in the bathroom sink. Bandit hopped onto the toilet lid and then up onto the counter next to the sink. He settled down and dipped his paw into the water. He sucked the water from the fur between his claws as he watched Little One lap water from the dish.
“Have you talked to your mother?” Bandit asked.
“No.” Little One replied. “Have you?”
Bandit had sensed that Little One’s kittenhood had diminished with the arrival of the strange Twolegs a week ago. He mourned the loss of Little One’s innocence. More than Little One would ever know, Bandit was actually hoping that Little One was right. Bandit had become attached to the male Twolegs of the house. Bandit had faintly smelled the trace other cats on the Twolegs when he had showed up in the junkyard. It had been the opposite of what Little One had smelled on the Twolegs couple. It was the scent of several generations of cats, some Bound and some Free, but they all had marked this Twolegs as one to be trusted. Bandit had been in no shape to fight the Twolegs when he was pulled from the drum of the dryer. Matted, dirty and starving, Bandit had been forced to hide from the junkyard Tom. Too early, Bandit had challenged his supremacy over the females of the junkyard colony. Bandit was now worried that he had destroyed the trust Little One had in the Twolegs Nofurs.
“And what should I be talking to her about?” Bandit asked.
“That you and I have been talking.” Little One replied. “That now I can tell whether the female Twolegs is happy or sad from across the room or that there is something wrong with the male Twolegs. That you taught me the nuances of Scent.”
“Do not use that term.” Bandit’s melancholy was quickly replaced with anger. “That is a term of the Free. And you are not one of the Free.”
“Neither are you.” Little One replied. “Not any more.”
“I was born of the Free and I will always be of the Free.” Bandit challenged. “And what are you Little One?”
“I don’t know anymore.” Little One admitted.
“Then maybe you are ready for more stories.” Bandit acquiesced.
“Like what?”
“More of Blackpatch.” Bandit replied. “I think you are more like him than your mother would like. Also, I can teach you the Memory of the Free. I will have no offspring of my own to teach, Little One. I can teach you the secrets if you wish.”
“What about Momma?” Little One enquired.
“She has accepted you for who you are.” Bandit replied, “She hates me for teaching you the Scent. But she knows it probably saved Eppy and Alyssa from a very unhappy life. You are at crossroads, Little One. Once you cross it, you will never truly be able to live as a Bound Cat. It may prevent you from ever having the life your sisters and your mother enjoy.”
“I can not remain as I am.” Little One said sadly, “I can never live as Uncle Magoo or Momma now, but I will never be like you either.”
“Then listen to more of Blackpatch’s story.” Bandit stated. “Maybe it will help you find your Path. I believe the last time I left you with Blackpatch vowing to ensure his sister Whitepatch would get more to eat…”
Longfur returned to the den after a successful hunt. She found her kittens either playing or curled up sleeping. It had been four weeks since their birth. The Shadow was gone off several of her kittens, but it was still lingering over the littlest female, Whitepatch. Longfur could sense that it was growing stronger and darker. Longfur looked to her other four kittens. Blackpatch was completely free of the Shadow and the strongest of the remaining four, followed closely by Haze, Nightpaw and Blazefur. Longfur settled down and was soon mobbed by her kittens. By choice, she positioned her body between Whitepatch and the other feeding kittens. Blackpatch’s promise to his sister was forgotten as his own hunger overcame him and he attached himself to a teat.
“Momma.” Whitepatch cried out. “I can’t reach.”
“”You’ll have to climb over, Whitepatch.” Longfur guided her tiniest kitten.
Whitepatch strained to climb over her mother’s furry body. She finally reached her mother’s upper teats after much effort and exertion. Unfortunately, they had already been drained by her brothers and sisters. She managed to find an open lower teat, but there was not much milk left for Whitepatch. She suckled until it was dry.
“I’m still hungry.” Whitepatch complained.
“I’m sorry. Whitepatch.” Longfur licked Whitepatch’s head lovingly and regretfully. ”You have to be quicker. I don’t have more milk left right now.”
“I’ll be quicker. Momma.” Whitepatch murmured as she fell asleep under her mother’s grooming. “I promise I’ll be quicker.”
“…But Longfur had smelled and tasted the Shadow of the Darkening Road falling on her tiniest kitten.” Bandit softly concluded his story.
“What was the purpose of that?” Little One complained, “That wasn’t a story. When you want to teach me something, come find me. Otherwise leave me alone. I’ll be with the male Twolegs.”
Bandit regarded his little companion. The fuzz of kittenhood had fallen off Little One and was suddenly replaced with the sheen of adulthood.
“Meet me in the sunroom tomorrow.” Bandit called to Little One, as he trotted away. “When the sun hits the wicker chair.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

7. Unwelcomed Visitors

Momma Cat, Bandit and Uncle Magoo stretched out in the brightly cast sunbeam in the patio sunroom. Uncle Magoo grumbled as he rolled onto his back with his paws curled in front of his chest. Momma Cat laid with her head on her forepaws. Her rear paws were touching Bandit's who was laying perpendicular to her. His front shoulder was completely healed from his injury and he enjoyed warming it in the sunshine. The adults' peace was disturbed by the arrival of three recklessly charging kittens. Little One plowed into Uncle Magoo who rewarded the intrusion with a sharp hiss and swat of his paw. Alyssa skidded into Bandit and began apologize profusely. Eppy did not collide with her mother, but gracefully cleared, in a single bound, her mother’s reclining form effortlessly.
"Oww" Little One tenderly rubbed his head where Uncle Magoo had cuffed him.
"You two are definitely a disgrace to the name Cat." Eppy said haughtily as she sat with her tail curled about her body.
"What is into you three?" Momma Cat asked as she sat up. Her tail curled around her body and quickly showed where Eppy had received her grace and posture.
"There are strange Twolegs here, Momma." Alyssa said excitedly. She was always ecstatic when strangers arrived at the house.
"It is as I had always feared." Momma Cat sighed.
"What have you feared, Momma." Eppy asked.
Little One looked at Bandit who knowingly looked away. Bandit knew what was happening, and had not told Little One about it.
"What's happening?" Little One asked as he shot a sharp look at Bandit.
"You are all getting bigger." Momma Cat explained. "I had hoped that we would stay together, but it is probably not to be. I want you all to know that I love you more than life itself and that wherever you go I will love you and will think of you always."
"Are you going some place, momma?" Alyssa asked
Little One and Eppy looked at her sideways. Alyssa had never been the smartest kitten.
"No. One of us might." Little One replied.
Momma Cat nodded. Uncle Magoo rolled over like none of this mattered. Bandit sat up and his tail began to flick angrily on the floor.
“I don’t want to go.” Alyssa said sadly. “I want to stay here with the cinnamon Twolegs.”
"Do we hide, Momma?" Little One asked.
"No, Little One." Momma Cat's resolve hardened. "We go and show these new Twolegs what good cats we are. I want you to follow me to the front door. If we are to be parted this day, we will do it with dignity. Just like I was taught by my mother when I was your age."
Before the Twolegs had a chance to start calling for the kittens and Momma Cat, the four cats trotted purposefully down the hallway towards the front door of the house. The male Twolegs was about to go hunting for kittens. He stopped as Momma Cat trotted towards him with her kittens playfully darting from side to side. Alyssa was right; there were two strange Twolegs at the door. Momma Cat twined herself around the legs of the female Twolegs of the house and sat down on the floor. Her kittens did what kittens do best. They excitedly tore around the foyer of the house.
The strange female Twolegs squealed excitedly as Alyssa and Eppy playfully chased each other over her shoes. Little One sat down on his haunches and looked up at the strange male Twolegs. They did not smell right to him; the Scent was wrong about these Twolegs. He could not let any of his family go with these two.
"Alyssa. Eppy." He cried out. "They don't smell right."
"What do you mean?" Eppy asked.
"Trust your nose." Little One said.
The three kittens started sniffing the air about the two strange Twolegs. The wrongness that Little One had sensed became evident to his sisters. Little One thought the couple smelled of fear. It was not the Twolegs’ own fear, but another cat's fear. It was old, but at some time in the last four months, one of their own had been deathly afraid of these two. The female reached down to picked up Alyssa.
"Bite her, Alyssa!" Little One yelled. "Bite her now!"
Alyssa trusted her brother and did as he asked. She bit into the soft fleshy thumb that was closest to her. The female screamed as sharp kitten teeth found their mark. The female shook off Alyssa who was quickly scooped up the male Twolegs of the house. The strange male reached for Eppy.
"Scratch him. Scratch as deep as you can." Little One called to Eppy.
Eppy shot Little One a quick look. It was the look of one who did not like being told what to do, even when they knew it was the right thing to do. Eppy quickly unsheathed her claws and then in a spin of feline grace, she dug her claws into the man's forearm. Like the strange female, the male frantically attempted to pull his arm away from the suddenly ferocious kitten. When he freed his hand, a thin trickle of blood seeped from a deep scratch.
Momma Cat was mortified to see her kittens acting so unruly. She moved to reprimand the kittens but was restrained by the female Twolegs of the house. Suddenly Momma Cat and the three kittens were ushered away from the front door by the female Twolegs. The male Twolegs could be heard apologizing to the strange couple at the front door.
All the cats were quickly locked in the sunroom at the rear of the house. Momma Cat turned angrily towards her kittens.
"What was that about?" She hissed angrily. "What made you behave like that?"
Bandit moved towards Momma Cat's side and positioned himself between her and the kittens.
"Ask him why?" Bandit said softly so that only Momma Cat could hear. Bandit moved along and added, "Ask Little One why he told his sisters to attack."
"Little One." Momma Cat shot Bandit an angry look as he moved away then collapsed leisurely to the floor. "What happened?"
"They smelled wrong, Momma." Little One replied, "They just smelled wrong."
"Wrong how?" Momma Cat queried her kittens.
"They smelled of fear." Eppy moved forward. "But it wasn't their fear."
"A cat marked them with fear, Momma." Alyssa added, emboldened by her siblings. "A cat was terrified of them."
"Did you smell this first, Eppy? Alyssa?" Momma asked.
Eppy looked at her mother in the eye. She wanted to say that she knew as soon as Little One, but the tremble that settled into her paws betrayed her. Eppy reluctantly shook her head. Alyssa shook her little head negatively. The girls knew instinctively that Little One had saved them from something terrible.
"How did you know?" Momma Cat pointedly asked Little One.
"I smelled the fear of another cat on them. Somehow they were in the presence of a cat that was scared for its life. It was scared enough to mark them with its fear. The fear was layered about them. It was not just once they were marked."
Bandit stood up and nonchalantly walked towards Little One. He stopped and regarded the little black kitten.
"A marking like that could simply mean that they were in presence of scared cats." Bandit posed.
"No." Little One stated. "It was the same cat. It was the same scent. It was laid over and over again on these people. One of our own did not want another cat to end up with these people."
The Twoleg Nofurs of the house entered the sunroom and regarded the six cats lounging and sitting on the floor. Little One walked over and began rubbing and purring against the female’s leg. The female picked Little One and shook her head as she tried to reconcile the scene of three affectionate kittens with the antisocial behaviour she had just witnessed. Alyssa and Eppy followed Little One’s lead and began rubbing and playing against the male. These Twoleg Nofurs were to be trusted. Little One had realized today that Bandit had been right in some regards; that outside this house there were dangers that he and his sisters were not prepared for.
“If your mother ever figures out that I taught you about the Scent.” Bandit warned Little One as he gently gave the kitten an affectionate head butt, “She’s going to scar both of us.”
“You saved my sisters today, Bandit.” Little One replied as he rubbed against the older cat.
“What do you mean?” Bandit asked.
“The Scent was female, Bandit.” Little One whispered. “I was never in danger. They were here for another female. No kitten of the Bound would have been able to sense that, only one of the Free stood a chance. You were wrong, Bandit. Bound or Free, we can care for and protect each other. We just have to choose to.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

6. A World Unknown

The weather outside had lost its gloomy darkness and now the sun shown brightly through the windows of the house. The Twolegs Nofurs had even opened several of the windows to let the fresh clean breeze blow through the house. It had far too long since the kittens had been able to sit in front of an open window, and now they all clamoured for the open window in the dining room. A constantly revolving shoving and pushing match broke out between the kittens as they each tried to monopolize the open window. Bandit entered the dining room and shook his head in disbelief at the kittens’ antics. He calmly walked over to the other open windows and hopped up onto the sill. He could still hear the kittens as they fought.
"Eppy." Little One complained as he tried to push Eppy out of the way. "I was here first."
"No you weren't." Alyssa stated as she pulled Little One from the window sill. "I was here where the female opened the window."
"Well." Eppy declared. "You have both had your turn. It's my turn now."
"You just like the way the wind blows your fur around." Little One protested from the floor. "I need to practise my Scents."
"Your what." Alyssa asked as she scrunched up her nose.
"Scents." Little One replied. "The way things truly smell."
"Like your dingleberried butt." Alyssa joked.
"No." Little One snapped. "Like the way, we know what type of food the female is bringing before we even see it."
"Is this something Bandit taught you?" Eppy sneered. "I'm going to tell mom."
"No. Bandit didn't tell me." Little One lied. "I am getting bigger and I can smell more things now."
"Sure." Eppy sighed.
"Right" Alyssa agreed with Eppy.
There was a brief lull in the fighting as the kittens assessed where each of them was. A heartbeat later, the tussling and swatting resumed in full force.
There was a strange sound that echoed though the house. Little One watched as Bandit bolted from the window sill and headed for the rear of the house. He was momentarily distracted by the realization that Bandit had a window sill all to himself. Little One refocused on the strange metallic creaking noise. It had been a while since the last time the kittens had heard that noise. The kittens soon heard their mother calling to them from the back of the house. They abandoned their fight over the window sill and ran towards their mother's voice.
"Kittens!" Momma Cat cried out. "Little One! Eppy! Alyssa! Come here!"
The kitten ran to their mother. They were stunned to see the female and male Twolegs attaching collars to their mother, Bandit and Uncle Magoo. Bandit did not seem thrilled with the concept of the collar and he struggled vainly. A couple of sharp words from the male Twolegs and Bandit quickly resigned himself to the collar. The male Twolegs disappeared with Bandit through an open doorway.
“Momma.” Little One cried. “Where’s he taking Bandit?”
“Don’t worry Little One.” Momma Cat reassured her kitten. “He has just been taken Outside to enjoy the sunny weather.”
“Outside?” Eppy asked. “What is Outside? I don’t think I like it. It sounds very dirty.”
“You kittens are old enough to come Outside with me.” Momma Cat explained. “You have far too much energy to be cooped in the House all the time. And the female Twolegs seems to enjoy being Outside with us.”
Little One watched as his mother patiently stood and waited for her purple collar to be draped over her body and around her neck. Alyssa found the collar intriguing and began to try and play with the free end. She was gently pushed away by a laughing Twolegs. The male twolegs returned and then disappeared again with Uncle Magoo under his arm. Little One thought he understood what was going on, but he was not prepared when his mother was scooped up and taken Outside.
“Momma!” Little One screamed at the top of his tiny lungs and he ran for the open doorway.
He was caught by the female Twolegs at the threshold of the doorway. He squirmed and contorted his body as he tried to free himself. He had to find out where his mother had been taken. The female Twolegs handed Little One to the male Twolegs, and then scooped up Alyssa and Eppy, who were behaving far better than Little One.
“Where’s my collar?” Alyssa asked. “I want a pretty blue one. To match my blue eyes.”
The kittens were carried across the deck to the large green patch of grass. Little One saw his mother, Bandit and Uncle Magoo contently chewing on the green grass. His heart slowed from its racing as he saw that his mother had not gone away.
Little One did not know what to think when his paws touched the soft grass for the first time. He tried to lift all four paws off the grass, but he always seemed to have one paw touching the foreign stuff. Eppy stood up on her paws determined to keep as much of her body away from the grass. Alyssa was quite different in her reaction to the new sensation of grass under paw. She giggled and ran towards Uncle Magoo as she reveled in the feeling of the grass.
“Now kittens.” Momma Cat warned. “You are not to stray very far away from me. I can’t chase all over the Yard to find you.”
Little One noticed that she, Bandit and Uncle Magoo had a long thin rope tying them to a stake in the center of the Yard.
“Go where you want.” She continued. ”But do not leave my sight.”
“Okay.” It was only Little One’s first taste of freedom and he was already bristling at the notion it was going to be limited.
The kittens played in the grass and under the bushes. Alyssa discovered the trees and experimented with how high she could climb. She was unceremoniously removed from the tree by the female Twolegs and placed back next to her mother. This was a scene that repeated itself multiple times. Little One was surprised that the Twolegs never got upset or anger at having to retrieve Alyssa from the tree. Eppy tried to remain stoic and nonplussed as she sat next to Momma Cat. That lasted until a pale white butterfly flitted past her nose. Eppy leaped at the butterfly and was rewarded with a pawful of air. Little One snickered as her ineptness. Eppy did not care as she was totally absorbed in her hunt of the little white butterfly.
Little One noticed Bandit at the end of his restraint. He trotted over to Bandit’s side. Bandit was sniffing in disgust at a something in the grass. Little One sniffed at the object and grimaced in disgust.
“Ewww!” Little One pawed at his nose. “What is that?”
“A dropping.” Bandit said sharply.
Little One could sense that the dropping was making Bandit nervous. Little One tried to find the Scent of the dropping. Something large and dark had left this behind and it was not a cat either.
“Who is this from…?” Little One’s question was cut off by a very terse and alert Bandit.
“It is dog.” Bandit growled. “Go to your mother. Now!”
Momma Cat sensed Bandit’s agitation and she came over to investigate. She had forgiven Bandit for the stories he had told Little One, but if he was scaring her kitten again, she would be very displeased. She was several feet away when she caught wind of the dog dropping. She also grew agitated. The dropping was fresh and that meant the dog was still in the area. She ran towards where the female Twolegs was reading her book.
“To me, Kittens!” Momma Cat cried out to her kittens. “To me! Come to me right now!”
Little One hesitated slightly.
“Go now!” Bandit commanded harshly.
Little One obeyed immediately and ran to his mother’s side. Alyssa and Eppy also ran to her side. Eppy was less than happy at having to give up on the hunt for the white butterfly.
“What is it?” Eppy asked.
“We are going inside now.” Momma Cat pulled and squirmed against her collar.
The female Twolegs saw Momma Cat’s distress and quickly unhooked her leash. Momma Cat trotted quickly to the back door.
“Follow me.” Momma Cat ordered.
The kittens obeyed their mother’s orders and followed her across the deck. Their mother did not relax until they were all inside the safety of the house. She groomed each one of her kittens to reassure herself that all were safe and accounted for. Bandit and Uncle Magoo were brought into the house shortly thereafter. Uncle Magoo grumbled but then found a sunny spot and soon was snoring away. Bandit was still upset and he paced back and forth at the back door.
Little One approached Bandit and flopped down onto his side of the floor.
“What is wrong?” Little One asked. “I know the dropping was very gross, but I don’t think…”
“There is no think in this matter, Little One.” Bandit snapped. “What did you Scent in the dropping?”
“It was very smelly.” Little One explained.
“No.” Bandit interrupted. “It was not just very smelly. There was a darkness about it. The dog that left that dropping was on the Hunt. The Hunt is very dangerous, Little One. It is very dangerous indeed.”
“Has your mother told you of the Hunt?” Bandit asked.
“No.” Little One paused. “What is the Hunt?”
“All creatures of tooth and fang perform the Hunt.” Bandit explained. “Sometimes it is for food, sometimes it is for territory, and sometimes…”
Bandit’s voice trailed off. He was worried that he was about to cross Momma Cat’s line about which stories were for little kitten ears and which were not.
“Sometimes is not for either of those.” Bandit explained. “And when it is not, there is great danger and the only thing to do is to run and try to hide. Do you understand?”
“I think so.” Little One replied.
“Good. Remember that Scent, Little One. It is the most important Scent to know.” Bandit turned away from the doorway and went to find a quiet spot to alleviate his agitation. “For both the Free and the Bound.”

Monday, January 23, 2006

5. A Lesson Given

Three rambunctious kittens ran into the sunroom playfully trading swipes and blows. Eppy danced over and around Little One as he tried to trip her with his right paw. Alyssa nipped at Little One's left leg as he reared up and tried to catch Eppy in mid-leap. Little One stumbled forward and plowed into the edge of the carpet. Eppy triumphantly ran onto the top of the sofa. Little One and Alyssa stumbled rolled into a kicking clawing ball of kitten fur. It ended with Little One staring over a submissive Alyssa who pawed feebily at her older brother. Eppy sat on the back of the sofa and reagrded her siblings with a hauty disdain.
"You two are so uncoordinated." Eppy stated as she groomed her one white paw. "At least I show some catlike grace."
"Only because you bail from a good wrestle." Alyssa replied as she playfully swatted Little One on the top of his head. "You couldn't stand up to either us in a good scrap."
"I am not into scrapping. Alyssa." Eppy replied. "I don't see the need to practise running, jumping and play hunting. I will always have a house like this. I will always have a Twolegs Nofur to bring me my dinner and to cuddle up with when the nights are too cold to spend on the cat bed."
Bandit snorted in disgust from his vantage point on the four shelf of the bookcase. He barely stirred at Eppy's comments, but his tail flicked in disapproval.
"You may think so, Eppy." Little One countered as he estimated the distance bewteen himself and Eppy. "But you don't know what the world has in store for us."
"You may not, Little One" Eppy countered. "But I shall always live in a comfortable home with a proper bed , tasty food and plenty of toys."
Little One leaped up and snagged his sister's leg and pulled her unceremoniously from the sofa to the floor. Eppy fought briefly at the indignified way she had been removed from her perch, but realized that Little One had her pinned .She cried out and bit at her brother.
"I hope I stay here." Alyssa said plainly. "I like the female Twolegs. She lets me help her put her makeup on in the morning and always greats me first when she comes home. And she smells like cinnamon."
"You have such a sweet tooth, Alyssa." Little One joked. "I would like to stay here too. But not for the Twolegs. sake. I like being with Momma, Bandit and Uncle Magoo."
"Uncle Magoo?" Eppy sneered increduously. "Bandit? I can see wanting to stay with Momma. But wanting to stay with those two is just strange."
"Uncle Magoo has a lot to teach." Little One Protested.
"What does Bandit have to teach?" Eppy snidely replied. "How to find garbage to eat? or How to turn a rusty dryer into a bed? You need to think about where you want to be Little One."
Little One did not know where he wanted to be; he loved hearing stories from Bandit. He especially loved the loves that he knew Momma would be upset about. Every time Bandit told him a story, he would make Little One recite it back to him. Little One was starting to know some of Bandit's stories as well as he did.
"I'm going to see if there is any more stinky goodness in the bowls." Eppy stated and then she turned and trotted towards the kitchen.
Alyssa hestiated as she debated whether she wanted to play more or have something tasty to eat. In the end her kitten hunger won out and she followed Eppy towards the kitchen. Little One was torn between spending time with the older males of the house and tracking down a quick snack.
"Are you coming, Little One?" Alyssa asked over her shoulder.
"No" Litlle One responded. "I'm not that hungry yet"
"I figured as much." Eppy snapped as she presented her tail to Little One and headed to the kitchen.
"Shadow Spare Us." Bandit cursed as he watched the two little female kittens saunter off to the kitchen. "I though she would never leave."
"You don't like Eppy, do you Bandit?" Little One asked, secretly thankful that his sisters had left.
"I don't think about Eppy at all, Little One." Bandit replied.
Little One knew that was a very bad thing in the world of the Free. A cat that was not thought of at all in the world of the Free was for all purposes dead to the other cats.
"What about Alyssa?"
"Alyssa is tolerable."Bandit replied as he dropped from the shelf to the floor in a signle purposeful jump. "In time, she might even become interesting."
"And me?" Little One fished for a compliment.
"You are an annoying, pestering little dropping." Bandit stated as he stretched his body and then collapsed on the floor.
"That's good right?"
Bandit gave a good gust of air through his mouse nose that came out like a wet puff of air. To a Twolegs Nofur, it would seem to be a kind of a curse or an under the breath swear.
"It is what it is." Bandit replied.
"You said that you would teach me something of the Free, besides just stories" Little One asked meekily. "I've been good and remembered the stories and recited them back to you."
"And?" Bandit asked.
"And you said you would show me some of the secrets of the Free." Little One pleaded.
'I guess I did." Bandit stood up. "Follow me."
Bandit lead Little One out of the sunroom and into the hallway. He walked until he reached the fork in the hallway. To the left, the hallway lead to the kitchen where Eppy and Allyssa could be heard crying for food. To the right, the hallway lead to the bathrooms and the bedrooms. Bandit sat in a spot that was exactly between the two paths.
"Sit." Bandit commanded.
Little One sat right next to Bandit as he attempted to mirror Bandits exact posture and demeanour.
"Tell me what you can smell."
Little One twitched his nose and tried very hard to indentify the smells he caught on the air.
"I can smell Eppy and Alyssa." Little One described. 'And I can smell you and momma and Uncle Magoo. I can smell the cinnamon scent of the female Twolegs. I can smell the male Twolegs. He smells strangely of feet and something else I don't know."
Little One was sharply cuffed by Bandit.
"No." Bandit guided. "Take in the air of the house. To this particular place, all of the currents of the house pass."
Little One looked up at Bandit in confusion. There was something that Bandit sensed on the air that he did not.
"Try again."
Little One took another deep breath. He still smelled Eppy, Alyssa and the cinnamon Twolegs. Bandit shook his head sadly.
"Little One." Bandit explained. "To the Free, the Scent is all important. It tells you who to avoid and who to approach. It brings word of danger and woe. It brings tales of pleasure and fun. To the Free, the Scent of the World is our daily news."
"How do I find the Scent?" Little One asked.
"You need to relax." Bandit reassured. "Both the Bound and the Free have the gift to find the Scent. The Bound have simply lost the purpose of the Scent. When you live your life amongst the Twolegs, the need for the Scent slowly disappears. I will tell you this, Little One. Back in the junkyard, the Scent told me of the Tom's approach and of his intent."
"What was his intent, Bandit?" Little One asked, his attention straying.
"His intent was not pleasant, Little One." Bandit said softly. "I offended him and the natural order of the junkyard. He was simply doing what he had to do as the Tom."
Bandit gave a low slow breath.
"I caught his scent, Little One." Bandit continued. "And I knew that I was in danger. I did what all Free are taught. I ran, I hid and when found, I fought."
Bandit's voice trailed off as he remembered his confrontation with the junkyard Tom.
"Teach me what the Scent means." Little One asked. 'Teach me what the Scent says to you and to the Free."
"Little One." Bandit replied. "You already know of the Scent. All cats do. You have just not learned what it means. Close your eyes and trust what you smell on the faint currents of air within the house. Follow each trail to its source, Explore each nuance until you know exactly where and when it comes from"
Little One tried to mimic Bandit’s stance and posture, but he felt that he did not grasp the Scent the way that Bandit did. Bandit sensed Little One’s difficulties.
“Little One.” Bandit instructed. “You are trying to capture all of the Scent. You never understand all of the Scent at once. You need to find one thread of it and follow it. Tell me what you smell in the air?”
“I smell the cinnamon of the female Twolegs.” Little One replied.
Bandit sniffed the air and quickly caught the thread of the Scent that Little One had stumbled on.
“Now tell me where the Scent is coming from.” Bandit instructed.
Little One found his nose following the scent. It was coming from the bedroom down the rightmost hallway. Little One’s nose twitched as he followed the scent of the Twolegs to its source.
“Tell me Little One.” Bandit asked. “What do you smell on that thread of the Scent?”
“It is the familiar cinnamon scent that the female Twolegs always seems to leave behind her.”
“And what else?”
“There is another scent borne along with the cinnamon. It’s dark and low. It tastes like salt and fear.” Little One explained.
Bandit nodded. “What do you think it is? Search your memories for that scent.”
“She’s sad.” Little One exclaimed. “She is in the bedroom and she’s sad.”
“It’s more than sad…” Bandit lead Little One in his exploration of the Scent.
“Yes. She’s not just sad. She’s scared.”
“There is more to that Scent, Little One.” Bandit stated morosely. “I don’t know what it is yet, but she is scared and worried about something. For now I want you to listen to your Bound instincts. Go to her and comfort her. She needs you right now.”
“You should come too, Bandit.” Little One asked. “I think the gesture would mean much more coming from both of us.”
Bandit agreed reluctantly. “But I’m not purring. No matter what she does.”
Little One ran to the bedroom to where he knew the female Twolegs was resting. He ran energetically and happily with his new found knowledge. Bandit followed closely behind. His pace was more reserved and stately. They found the Twolegs on the bed partially curled up. Her eyes were damp and salty as Little One had sensed. Little One clawed and struggled up the blanketed bedside and was followed by Bandit’s graceful leap on the bed. While Little One found the hollow of the Twolegs neck and began purring furiously, Bandit found an open spot on the bed and curled up into a comforting ball. As hard as he tried to prevent it, a faint rhythmic purr began to escape from Bandit’s chest.