That night, dinner was at Jack’s parents’ home. I’d been to campus to sign up for an extra class and had some other odds and ends to take care of so it was the first time I’d seen Jack all day.
Dinner was the usual chaos. I ended up between Jane and Mike. Jane was excited about taking band this year. Mike was excited about reaching twelfth level with something called a paladin in some game I didn’t begin to understand. I got my first real idea of what a new slayer normally feels like – I ate an entire meal having two simultaneous conversations that I didn’t understand a word of. Whatever a flugelhorn is, I assured Jane she’d be great with practice. Whatever a vorpal sword is, I assured Mike he’d be awesome with it. It was the one time at the Scarlotti’s that I couldn’t wait for dinner to be over.
Jack, Tresmayne, Nyota, James, Lisa, Tim and I adjourned to Jack’s slightly less tumultuous apartment. James explained vorpal weapons and something called D&D although he seems confused about whether it was 2 or 3.5 or something else, given what little I could report of Mike’s character. I gave up – I’d rather retake Logic than sort out the game they were talking about.
I gave my little report about the familiar I’d seen. It wasn’t much, of course, but Jack seemed positively excited about it. He asked why I’d been on the roof and I told him. It was just an instinct – I just felt something was wrong.
Tresmayne looked at me kindly, “You’re growing, Mistress Crystal.”
I smiled politely.
“No, I mean it. Familiars are useful because they are so hard to detect. Such a small thing can easily escape my notice, as this did. You used the swords better than you know, Mistress.”
I shook my head, “Finley noticed but didn’t call me because it wasn’t a threat.”
He gave me a fatherly smile, “But you were still in communication with the sword. That was what aroused your own instinctive suspicion that something was amiss. It’s the technique of an advanced sword singer – I’ve only known a few that could use it and never one so young. I suspected you might eventually develop it when you said the unsheathed swords could get your attention – but I didn’t expect it for several years. Janus was in his midlife when he developed that skill.”
I had to think about it, but he was right. Actually, kind of odd, now that I gave it real thought – I’d never listened to a sword from a distance before. I mean, I can hear Samantha sometimes from across the room because she’s so forceful. I guess I just assumed Finley would be able to get my attention – he’s like a sledgehammer swung by Paul Bunyon. But I’d never done it before.
Jack was looking my way with interest.
I glared at him, “Oh no you don’t – I’m not an alarm system. A girl has to sleep sometime.”
He laughed, “I wasn’t thinking that, honest. I was wondering, does it work the other way around?”
I nodded, “Sure, they can hear me, too.”
He shook his head, “I mean, can – I know not everyone, but familiars have to be sensitive, right? That’s what Mr. Myers said, anyway.”
Tresmayne looked at him with renewed interest, “I’ve never seen it done, but it should be possible…”
I was about to throw something at Jack when he turned and grinned sheepishly, “Sorry, bright idea but I don’t know if it will work. If Finley wanted, could he make a familiar notice him?”
I shrugged and got up. For that kind of detailed conversation, I’d need to go get him. “I’ll find out.” I grabbed my bag, “I need to oil him anyway, dust is not a sword’s friend.”
One conversation and good oiling later, I returned to Jack’s apartment and got my seat back. Jack and Lisa had the Risk board out but it looked like they hadn’t started yet. Pieces were scattered everywhere and they didn’t even have the dice.
“So you want a weak flank?” Lisa was asking.
“I want it to look like it, yeah. It’s called a pincer move – you let them push in like this..” Jack moved some pieces, “And use the ‘arms’ of the pincer to trap them like this.” He moved more pieces.
I have played Risk before. I even won a few times against my youngest cousins. I am marginally better at it than at chess – which means I stink. So yeah, it took me a minute to realize they weren’t playing – they were discussing our strategy.
I felt – jealous – and immediately ashamed of myself. Lisa isn’t a slayer but she was doing a better job mentoring Jack than I was. Now she was getting the strategy better than I could hope to – with a sister that smart, how long would it be before he got tired of having a girlfriend so dumb? But at the same time, it’s not Lisa’s fault I’m an idiot. I had no right to feel jealous.
Curbing my wayward feelings, I tried to concentrate as Jack explained in abstract what he was up to. I would have been better off staying and talking to Mike all evening. I wouldn’t have understood Mike any better – but I didn’t expect to and wouldn’t have felt like such an idiot.
When he got to specifics, it got better. I could follow the tactics okay and could even contribute. Yes, Finley could make himself felt – he’d done it many times to annoy the Myers’ cats. His recounting of the four years of cat versus sword good-natured warfare took longer than oiling him down did. He shared Grace Myers mourning for his two little feline friends.
Now that I was thinking straighter and not feeling like a moron, that got me to thinking. Swords record psyches, usually human psyches, but Finley had been ‘talking’ to the two Myers familiars for quite some time. He had been bored, put away by his mistress when she could no longer slay, and the cats had been bored as their master entered retirement. The three had formed a sort of friendship and if Tresmayne had not already dispatched the werewolf responsible, Finley would have been glad to do so.
“Jack, the cats – that was on purpose!” I blurted.
Jack looked at me and said nothing for an eternity of about five seconds, “Okay, why?”
“Because like Finley, they’d be far more sensitive to familiars in the area.”
“But they didn’t mention anything to Mr. Myers…” Jack caught on and as usual raced ahead.
“No, but he is retiring. And just like passing werewolves don’t get slayers aroused in a sanctuary, a passing familiar wouldn’t bother two retiring familiars either, would it? But if it were going to linger around…”
Jack nodded, “Then the cats might tell – once Vinnie knew they were familiars, he’d need to get rid of them. How would he have…”
“Probably the familiar itself.” I replied, getting up again. “Let me go ask Finley – they were playing for a long time with him – he might have some of… Let me go check.”
Up, talk to sword, down – this was getting silly. It took a good while because to Finley, the cats were just playthings with which to pass the time. Early on in this mess, neither he nor they were put to work – so they paid little attention to the trivial things like creatures that can’t hurt anyone. He did feel the werewolf and the battle in which the cats were killed – and it enraged him still. But there was something else. He’d felt the silly familiar – felt it many times. The cats were very aware of it – Oscar had taken to watching it from the window as it prowled the neighboring building.
They didn’t think about it – it was just an natural ‘assumption’ – which is not the right word. They didn’t think it through at all – but a familiar showing up all the time would normally have a master close at hand. They ‘assumed’ it lived next door. They watched it out of boredom, not interest. It wasn’t a threat and its master hadn’t been seen. Same with Finley – he sensed it in passing and it was something to do, nothing more.
I put Finley away, careful not to think about my own ideas. No sense making him angry again. Besides, I could easily be wrong. But on the way down, it made a lot of sense. The familiar I’d seen had disappeared very quickly – diving into a window to his concealed master would do exactly that.
I got back in my seat, “Oscar was watching it. He was just bored – he didn’t think it was a threat – but only another familiar would be able to do that. That’s how its master found out. Unless Vinnie is the master, he would have had to have been told.”
“Makes sense.” Lisa agreed.
“There’s more, I think. Today, that weasel disappeared fast – both from sight and from sense. I didn’t think about it at the time – I didn’t really see where it went. But if it entered a strong concealment, that would explain the way it disappeared.”
Jack cocked his head, for once not ahead of me, “Okay…”
“I think his master lives next door.” I explained, “A familiar…”
“Would share its master’s concealment when it returned to him.” Tresmayne finished the thought for me, “That’s brilliant, Mistress Crystal.”
I blushed, “Thank you – but how do we…”
Lisa and Jack shared an evil sibling grin, “Prove it?” Jack finished. “We let them prove it.”
He got up, came and kissed my forehead, “Thanks, Pretty Girl – that was the one thing I wasn’t sure of. The one part that could go very wrong. This thing is going to work.”
I smiled and blushed some more. Maybe I didn’t get strategy or what exactly he meant, but maybe I wasn’t a moron, either.