Cat by P.D. Cacek
hey call me CAT. Which ain't bad, I guess ... long as they're thinkin' of the feral, half-starved creatures that hunt and prowl and slink where they want and when they want. If they're not - if they're thinkin' I'm more like one of them fat cats all pampered and prettied, sittin' in the sun bein' done for - I'd rather they keep the name t'themselves.
'Cause I ain't like that.
I never was.
Not even back when I was breathin' regular.
'Course, they got a piece of it wrong. If I really was like a cat, I'd have me eight more lives to prance around in, instead of just the one.
Still, they call me CAT.
Not my gang, you understand. We don't call each other nothin', 'cause names don't mean nothin' in the Shadowlands except as a way of rememberin' things better left forgot. If you remember, you're only foolin' yourself and I didn't raise myself t'be no fool. 'Course, there are some things worth rememberin', but I ain't talkin' about no gentle, easy stuff you hear some wraiths moanin' and cryin' about. Naw, I mean the important things like how you died and who did it to you.
That gives you the strength t'carry on carryin' on, not bein' named.
But still I hear 'em, whisperin' the name like it was some kind of dirty joke. Them. The other Renegade gangs working this domain. Men - or what used to pass for men were on the other side - talkin' and pointin' and braggin’ t'one another how they're gonna catch me and mine and either make us their slaves or sell us to the nearest soulforge.
Which ain't gonna happen. I wasn't no man's slave on t'other side of the Shroud and I sure as hell ain't gonna be one on this side. Same with the forge. I sometimes wish one of them would try, just try ... then I'd show 'em what kind of claws this CAT's got.
Remora. She's my claw. Dainty, I guess is what some might call her now - small enough to make anybody feel safe about tryin' to take her off me -but she's big enough to make 'em leak plasm when they try. Not too many soulforged daggers like my Remora.
That wasn't her name in the Skinlands, so it's not like I'm tryin' to remember her the way she was or anything like that. I just call her that now 'cause that's what she was then - feedin' off my kills without havin' to get her hands dirty, just like those fish that swim with sharks.
It's like the name CAT. Don't mean anything but what I choose it to mean.
Like I said, I ain't no fool. Never was, on this side or the other.
Remora couldn't say that. That's why I watched her 'n' followed her, like a shadow in her shadow, the moment I spotted the deadlight on her. That's why I Reaped the Caul off her the minute she passed through, 'n' brought her to a forge a minute after that. It was so I could keep her close. Keep her safe. I didn't want any other Renegade gang or barghest hunt to snatch her and forge her into something for the Hierarchy. She was mine then; she's mine now.
An' that part I do remember and keep as close's I keep her. My little Remora.
But tonight I ain't the only one rememberin'. My Ladies are rememberin', too, even though they try t'hide it from me. Silly. They should know by now that CATS can see in the dark.
So I stand out in the middle of the street like I been doin' and look at 'em. They're all huddled together on the decayin' stoop of the brownstone - skin hanging off their faces and arms, hair all matted with grave-grunge, eyes sunk deep inside their skulls – but whisperin' and hissin' through half-rotten lips like it was a regular Sunday picnic. And laughin' up a storm.
Far as I'm concerned, there ain't nothin' funny when a murdered woman laughs. I should know - I was one.
I am one.
Murdered right here, matter of fact, right inside from where my Ladies are shootin' the breeze. Four stories up, last apartment on the left - Home Sweet Home.
I look up and pretend I can see through the brownstone's crumblin' brick and termite-eaten wood. I can't, of course. There's things a wraith can no more do than the Quick can; but I pretend and close my hand over Remora's hilt. The cold fire burns and freezes my dead flesh at the same time.
"My, but don't you Ladies look comfortable," I say, tightenin' my grip on Remora. I hear her moan from between my fingers. It's a pleasin' sound. "No one'd ever guess you t'be Renegades."
The laughter dies, just like we all did.
"Is there a law against Renegades being comfortable?" one of my Ladies asks. I think she was a teacher in the Skinlands; she still tries to talk like it. "It's not as if we have anything planned for the evening, do we?"
My, but she gets on my nerves sometimes.
"Evenin'?" I ask, looking up into a sky so black you'd think y'were staring into a bucket filled with tar.
When you're Quick and breathin' you think you know what dark is, what night is; but once you're dead you know how wrong you were.
I thought the night I died was dark, but it was all sunshine and brightness compared to this.
It was dark when they caught me, darker still when they did me and slit my throat. It was darkest when I woke up to see what I thought was one of 'em comin' back for seconds.
But it didn't get much brighter when I fought and kicked and tore myself free of the Caul. Guess that's why they call it the Shadowlands.
Same they that call me CAT, more'n likely.
"Yeah," I finally say, "I got us something planned."
And the whisperin' starts up again. This time, though, there ain't no laughter in it, just a kind of snappin' electricity that sizzles the air. I know what my Ladies like and I give it to 'em as much as I can. If I didn't, they'd probably hand my soul to the highest bidder.
And I wouldn't blame them. Turnabout's fair play, after all.
But I wait another minute more, just t'give 'em a little more to whisper about before I smile and say, "I found one of 'em. He's a Legionnaire at a Stygian outpost not far from here."
And a sound - not a whisper, but a real sound so low and hungry it would make my Corpus crawl if it still could - fills the night and pushes the dark back a little.
I can't help but smile.
I handpick my Ladies, one by one, and that ain't easy; what with needin' to keep a sharp eye out for any Reaper who might want to add me to his quota.
But I manage, 'cause I know exactly which of the just reborn Enfants I want.
Maybe it's 'cause I didn't have no help bein' reborn, or maybe it's 'cause I was killed before my time, but I can see right through a new Enfant's Caul to the revenge etched on the sleepin' wraith's face.
I don't harvest men, even if they did die at the hands of another, unless I need to barter for something. They just ain't worth the trouble. Their Passions are too cold for what I need. Too easy for 'em to refocus on something else, like the Hierarchy, the Heretics or politicking.
A woman's vengeance comes through the Shroud strong and pure and hot, and I make sure it stays that way.
“One of ours?"
“One of our murderers!"
"Does it matter?" I finally ask.
No, they answer with silence, it doesn't. It never matters. Only thing that matters at all is keeping the Passion strong, keeping the vengeance alive in the land of the dead.
"Whichever one of you he killed, he's all of ours now," I remind them, not that I really have to. We're Renegades, as solid and strong as any gang in the Shadowlands.
I just like to make sure we all remember that.
"He's cocky, though," I continue, addin' just a little more fuel to the fire as my Ladies gather around me. "Likes to stand out where everybody can see him and swing a Thrall chain back and forth. I saw him use it like a whip once to snag a Renegade to be made into the next link. He's got real bad eyes. Evil, even for this side."
"Sounds like my husband-"
"--The crazy man down the street-"
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Doesn't matter if it's one of their killers or not. All that matters is keepin' the vengeance strong.
"Could be," I say to one and then to another. "Could be. Let's get goin'."
And my Ladies fill the street - ragged bodies swaying from side to side as they walk, loose necks cocked at odd angles or hooked forward like vultures', grave-worn shoes scraping against the broken asphalt - and move into fighting formation without me havin' t'say a word; right down the tattered yellow line like we own the street.
Which we do. For now. Unless we run into something bigger and meaner. But until then, we move like we're carrying our weight in oboli and soulforged weapons.
We don't talk while we're on the move, and I always take the lead; eyeballin' the deeper shadows for signs of attack and listenin' to the Lemures and Mittys scramble through the rubble of buildings like the mice and roaches I used to catch as a kid.
Me and my Ladies catch the useless wraiths for the same reason. They ain't got no Passions 'cept maybe regret, and that don't burn at all. So why not? If we don't take advantage of the situation, some other gang or hunting party will.
That's death for you.
"Is that him?"
I look up, almost surprised at how fast we got to the outpost.
The Legionnaire - a proud cock of the walk, a rooster of a man who musta been nothin' more'n a beat cop back in the Skins - is walkin' back and forth in front of the outpost as if he was one of the Deathlords himself.
It don't matter that he ain't got chains like in my story. He looks like he mighta been the type to kill women, and that's all my Ladies need to see.
The new sound that sweeps up from behind me would make even a Mourner turn tail and run straight back to the Tempest.
It's a dirge of hate, so pure and sweet that it makes the Legionnaire squint into the darkness lookin' for the source of it. Maybe he thinks one of the Deathlords is comin' by to say howdy. Don't really care what he thinks, 'cause soon enough, he and his stronghold are gonna know firsthand what's comin' for 'em.
On the other side, I know there's a sayin' about Vengeance bein' the Lord's duty. But here, on this side, ol' Charon's the lord and he's been missin' for some time now.
That bein' the case, I feel it only proper that vengeance is mine.
And my Ladies', of course.
When I pull Remora from her scabbard and point her toward the wraith who has, for the moment, become all of our murderers, I hear her voice mix with the song my Ladies are singing.
It makes me feel good.
It makes me feel alive.
They call me CAT.
But they whisper when they say it. And those who remember how, tremble at the sound.