“We need a cat.”

I was reading on my phone.  It was a T. Kingfisher novel (Paladin’s Grace), and I was chuckling (when I wasn’t reading excerpts aloud) when Nen stood in front of me and said this aloud.

I looked up from my phone. He was tall enough to meet my eyes, and wearing an outfit of black leather, with his hair pretty spiky, looking kind of like a really young Billy Idol.  I wondered what I had that was leather that he used as the base of the enchantment, that whole “feast from a kernel of corn” business. I remembered with a minor cringe that I had a black leather tie my sister had given me as a joke.

“A kitten, preferably.”  He brought me back to reality, and my brain kicked back into gear.

“We need a cat?” I was half making sure that I had heard him correctly, and half challenging his logic.

“Yes,” he said, as if required to explain it in simple words.  “Cats and books go together.”  He tilted his head slightly.  His eyes were bright. “Especially in libraries.”

“Oh,” I said.  “So, like a guardian?”  Nen had explained a little bit of what was needed to cement the new Realm.  I still hadn’t given it a good name, although I was vacillating between “Sibrary,” and “Sibliotecha” and working on something with “Archives” that wasn’t too derivative of C. Stross.

Nen and Rayya both had been a little coy on all of the details. Well, I describe it as coy, but it was like their natural fey state. Straight answers were more than unpleasant to them, but I guessed it was part of their Game.  (Not The Game, which, well, you 1990s kids just lost. Again.)

I had jotted down some of the rules. Acknowledgement from Powers was more than a polite part; it was an adjustment to reality.  Then there needed to be different anchors. One of them was a set of guardians, and to be kind to me, they wanted anchors that were of my reality more than the fey one. I wasn’t sure if they had to be living creatures, because frankly, even with the Realm’s extra space, I wasn’t sure about more roommates, and to be of this world, they had to be in this world at least a large part of the time. I wasn’t sure of the magic involved, like if it was a fifty-one percent kind of thing, or if it was like having a jar of dirt.

A cat, though.  Huh.  I wasn’t opposed to them, although if you’d asked, I don’t know if I would have described myself as a cat person. Cat people were odd. Cats are odd. They have brains the size of walnuts, big eyes, small mouths, sounds that mimic those of human babies, and they like to torture and murder other animals.  Yet at the same time, they are absolutely adorable and give positive feedback just made to spark out endorphins.  They stink of ammonia and like to sit on what you’re looking at because they read with their rears.

“We should get a cat,” I agreed.

I’m a sucker, I know.

There wasn’t anything in particular that kept me from getting a cat. No pet rent, or extra deposit, or whatnot.  I’d have to find a place to put a couple cat boxes, keep them in kibble and the occasional gushy treat… I even knew where to get one, since the Denver Dumb Friends League was obvious.  Hmmm. Maybe we could put one of the cat boxes in the Little Realm.

I switched from my e-book reading to doing research. “Does it have to be a kitten? Or what are we looking for?” I asked, trying to get a little more information.

“A kitten… lasts longer?” Nen said.  I’m sure I heard the question mark in his voice.

“I mean, that’s an `it depends’ if I’ve ever heard one.” I frowned. Luckily, if there is anything the internet doesn’t have a scarcity of, it’s cats.  “I am presuming we’ll keep it an indoor cat.  Even though the deadliness of cats on bird species has been found to be deeply skewed statistics, I know there are a lot of dangers out there for cats, and not just the coyotes I occasionally see at night.”

“Fred,” Rayya mentioned from the kitchen.

“Fred?” I repeated, mostly to make sure I heard it right.

“Fred. The coyote’s name is Fred.”

I blinked. Once.  Twice. Then I turned back around towards the kitchen. “Fred?” I managed.

“Naming is a tricky art. Sometimes, that name is Fred.” She brought her bowl of cereal out to where they had moved the couch. “That was so in this case.”

“We have a coyote named Fred,” I shrugged, turning back in the chair to the computer.

“We do not have a coyote named Fred,” Rayya murmured. “Fred is his own.”

“But we’re getting a cat?” I asked.

“A kitten,” Nen reminded me.

“To own another being is a shackle on your own soul. I do not recommend trying to own a cat, however amusing it would be, it only annoys the cat and makes you look ridiculous,” Rayya said, with a little more venom than I was expecting.  Venom.  Vehemence.  No, venom was the right term in this case.

“Got it. We’re getting a cat, but we won’t own a cat. Of course, from what I’ve heard, cats will more likely own us. I hate to tell you this, though, Rayya, human legislation in the area does make someone with a cat an owner, and we’ll have to be listed as such with the vet down the way.” I frowned. “Or we can be listed as mommy and daddy, but that just gets weird.  Even the term ‘furbaby’ sometimes makes me a little squicked.”

“You should change that,” she said, taking another bite of her sugar-coated crunch bombs or whatever they were.  The cereal had a bright red cardboard box, but I couldn’t always tell one from another. They all tasted sweet.

“Which part?” I asked, because with them, you have to ask.

“Naming is a tricky art,” she repeated.

“That doesn’t answer the question,” I complained.

She just smiled.

Nen pointed at a cat on the screen, distracting me.  He put a hand on my shoulder.  “That one.”

It was a white kitten with grey points.  Cute.  “I don’t think you can just order cats like a… um.. catalogue.”  I regretted my choice of words. “Besides, I don’t think we really want a kitten.  Kittens can always find homes because of the cute factor.”

Nen seemed to consider this, taking his hand off my shoulder, and slinging it behind his back as he paced back and forth.  “We will have to interview them.”

“Ask them for their résumé?” I asked. “Their job experience? Education? How many years at purring and making biscuits?”

“Do cats make biscuits?” Rayya asked, interested.

“It’s a phrase I’ve heard. Kneading. It’s a behavior thing.  Can you guys, like, talk to cats?” I asked.

“Can’t you?” Nen asked.

“Okay.  I can talk to them. I can also talk to rocks, the walls, and my reflection. Any of those answering me back would freak me the heck out. I meant, can you have a conversation with them in such a fashion that you are both in understanding?”  I sighed.

Nen smiled. “No, we cannot communicate any better than one who is a student in their language can. Every cat has its own tongue, and all those they have gotten from others.” His smile turned to smirk. “So to speak.  It is a combination of sound and smell, of body language, how they move, where they move, and training.  It is easier to teach a cat your language. They are fast learners.”

“Huh,” I grunted. “Interesting way to think about it, at any rate.  Now I’m wondering if some cats have accents.”

“Miao, versus meow? Maao, mrrp, nya nya, and miu?” Rayya asked.

“Aren’t those our accents?” I turned back over to look at her.  She had a talent for mimicry such that I could really hear the differences.

“Perhaps.” She shrugged, and put the spoon in the now empty bowl. She went back into the kitchen, either to drop off the dishes or get seconds.

“Are there cats wherever it is you come from?” I asked. “I mean, they’re pretty constant in fantasy novels, their nature being irascible and ineffable both, I suppose.”

“There are cats everywhere,” Nen laughed. I liked the sound of the sib’s laughter, although sometimes it filled me more with dread. “Truly. They are adaptable, and our natures are such that we appreciate them.  Your words reflect this. How much fey in feral, and vice versa?” he asked.

“Hmmm,” I nodded. “We can put in an inquiry.  Here’s an adult tortie female, about 6 years old. She looks nice?” I asked.

He shrugged, tilting his head.  He straightened it out to look at the screen. “We have few specific needs. We can ask if she’s amenable, and see if she likes us.”

“I don’t think there’s a try-before-you-buy option. I’m of the opinion that getting a pet is a until-death-do-you-part responsibility, basically.  Probably why I haven’t got one, except maybe you two.” I was teasing, of course.

Nen frowned. “I ask you not to use that term. It is too close to how the one who had our fealty treated us.”

“Yeah, about that. Was that the Seven King?” I had been curious too many times, but now it actually happened naturally in the course of conversation and I figured I could ask.

“Perhaps,” Nen repeated in the same fashion as Rayya had, and turned away.  I guessed that was the end of that option.

“Yeah,” I repeated, a bit under my breath. “Perhaps.”  I made an appointment. “They have an opening in a couple of days, and they’ll ask us some questions, too.  Are you both going? Are you both going incognito? What’s the plan?”

We got into the details a little, and I set up an order for some pet items to be delivered.  This was either a brilliant idea, or it would be the end of me. Or both. Probably, knowing how things worked out around me, a little of both, yes.