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Pass the Cat

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The box sits on the counter, bumping and moving. The most gracious lady's piercing gaze shifts from the box to her frock to the lace gloves covering the myriad bumps, the now-fading bruises, and the one tattoo that stand as proof she's not quite the gentlewoman she seems to be. Another smaller box sits atop the first, this one an unmoving and silent rectangle. At first the lady believes the bow gracing it to be made of surface-silk, but closer investigation proves that it is, in fact, a long string of bandages washed, dried, and braided together. The bow is simple loveliness formed from tragedy, thoughtfulness plucked from the depths of depravity and despair.

A private smile grows on her face as with deft fingers, the lady unties the bow. Not a speck of dust or dirt falls from the ribbon; the Neath denizen who created this worked meticulously to make it a thing of beauty just for her. She knows who it was. Tucking the bandage-ribbon into a pocket, she opens the box. Her smile widens at the sight of a bouquet of roses. They're dark in color, and she knows that when she lifts them to her nose, the scent of myrrh will fill the space around her.

She is in no way disappointed. They're quite exquisite and so is the sender, but then they've both been preserved to stay that way. From experience she knows the roses will eventually wither and fall to pieces, but what doesn't, save the one who sent them?

The second box rattles and jumps. Things in this city have minds of their own and that fact is well known. The lady has a clear idea what's inside this box; she's played the game enough times to know that opening it can be a perilous business. To that end she removes the lace gloves (they're far too delicate for this type of work) and opts instead for a set of well-oiled spiderchitin gauntlets. What's inside the box will likely be dangerous, but at the very least she can prepare to be its equal.

Cautiously, she begins to separate the lid from the bulk of the box. The box itself seems to know what's about to happen and rocks back and forth with something akin to violence. Taking a deep breath, she tears the box top away, prepared for the menace of a most violent...

...kitten? No, not one kitten, but an entire box crammed full of them and in the middle, one that's bigger and slightly more menacing than the rest. When she reaches forward it gnaws at the finger of her gauntlet, but only in that innocent and curious way kittens do, with no intention of malice. It purrs rather loudly.

"What have we here? Aren't you lovely!" She speaks to the kittens. Otherwise the room is empty save for her companion, perched and already taking dictation as is a Blemmigan secretary's wont whenever its human speaks aloud. The scratching of the pen on paper reminds her that in this city, one is never as alone as they might think. She picks up the largest kitten and examines it closely: a Parabolan kitten! What a lovely and unexpected gift!

The roses are a testament to their sender, but the box of kittens has arrived uncredited. She removes the gauntlets, sets the Parabolan kitten onto the floor so it might begin exploring its new home, and ever so gently frees each and every one of the ten... eleven... no, twelve other kittens. The floor of her room looks as if it's suddenly come alive. It's also rather furry at the moment.

The lady's hand meets the braided bandages in her pocket. Idly, she removes it and begins the process of cautious unraveling. Bandages can be so unstable, and they tend to fall apart in one's hand. Looking down at the three strands, she turns them over. There, in the center of one, secrets written in a tiny meticulous print. Her heart quickens: a message from the Once-Dashing Smuggler!

Did he give up some of his own bandages on her behalf?

Delicious friend, it reads, did you know that tomb-lions, like the rest of the cats in the Neath, keep secrets? After your last visit, one told me he'd overheard you've a weakness for cats. The local emporium stocks them, you know, so I thought this box of kittens might brighten your day. I got them for a song! Until you return again, when I might be fortunate enough to both deprave and despoil you, let these fine creatures keep my place warm at your side. Yours always.

For one indulgent moment she clutches the note to her heart, then tucks it away safely.

In no time at all, the kittens make short work of her home. They're in her bed, on her sofa, all over her chair. When she opens the kettle to make some tea, one pokes its head out at her, much like an errant dormouse in a story she read as a child. As soon as she sinks into her bath, tiny paws line the lip of her tub. Her Blemmigan secretary looks about as displeased as a savage and eyeless anthropophagous mushroom can when the kittens discover its supply of fresh dictation paper. They destroy the paper both savagely and gleefully, making the inside of her home look as if lacre's floating lazily through the air. She moves all of her clothing to her trunk after discovering the kittens have got into the wardrobe and reduced the elegant emerald gown hanging there to shreds.

The most indulgent lady refuses to fault the kittens for any of it. After all, they're only little and beyond that, they were a gift. Having the kittens is a reminder to her of another world, of different days. At night, when all thirteen of them crowd round her as she tries to sleep, their purring acts on her more swiftly than any laudanum. Her dreams are warm, lazy, satisfied, and filled with the distant scent of heat and sunshine on a faraway breeze.

The Parabolan kitten grows in leaps and bounds; she decides to call it Myrrh. Before long, it will be the size of a small monster. The good news, though, is that there are no longer any rats at all in her home. As a treat for ridding the house of vermin, she decides nothing would be finer than to take Myrrh for a stroll round the city. The looks they get! People talk and whisper, point and stare. The only difficulty she finds is in keeping the smile from her face. Walking the city with such a rare creature is an easy way to become the object of scandal, but that's something with which she is already intimately familiar. If she and Myrrh manage to cause enough of an uproar, she'll undoubtedly be exiled to the Tomb-Colonies again. This time, she's got the promise of a memorable evening with a very special friend to look forward to.

Disgraced exile never looked so good.