Treads Soft the Cat

The cat is on his desk when he enters his office.

She sits in a perfect neat loaf, all her limbs and tail tucked in as she purrs, so loudly that he hears it the moment he opens the door. Her yellow eyes slit open and she yawns at him, small sharp teeth and rough pink tongue, but she does not move.

“Ah,” says Minamoto Raikou. He takes off his hat and bows low. “My lady.”

Her eyes close again and she purrs. He comes to the desk and sits down, putting his elbows on the edge, but makes no move to touch her. “Ayame is looking for you,” he says. “She thinks perhaps you’ve gotten lost.”

One small black paw stretches out, soft and clawless. He slides one finger under it, lifting up, and then he sketches an odd seated half-bow over it, like one might over a lady’s perfumed hand.

“I’ve seen him,” he said. “The Oni-Eater.”

The cat’s eyes open slowly, and do not stop until they are wide as they can go, glowing eerie yellow in her small black face. Still resting on her finger, her small paw flexes; he can feel the prick of small needle claws through his glove.

“He’s magnificent,” Raikou says. “It’s fitting that he is the strongest of all.”

Slowly the cat rises, her shoulders rolling. Her claws do not catch in his gloves as she pulls her paw back. Neatly tucked, eleganty arranged, she looks like a black stone statue, carved by a hand greater than any human. She stares at him without blinking for a long time.

Raikou laces his fingers together and leans his chin on them. The elation has not quite worn off yet, the thought that the Oni-Eating Tengu is real, flesh-and-blood solid, and set lose upon the world again. Raikou has seen him himself; Raikou has cut the sleeve of the Oni-Eater’s suit.

Someone else might have found the seal first, but no force in this mortal world can circumvent destiny, which must have been what is drawing them inevitably back together. A thousand years ago, despite being trained by Soujobou himself, the Minamoto family had been defeated, dishonored, and now …

And now. He replays that afternoon, with idiot-Sakata talking blithely to the Oni-Eater without even realizing who it was, the effortless ease with which the Oni-Eater had vaulted over him, into the safety of tree branches before flying away–

“I will bring back what is rightfully yours,” he tells her. Calm passes through him, settles into his bones; this is why he was born, to redeem the Minamoto name and corrupted bloodline: the heir, the scion, his ancestor reborn to new glory–

The cat meowed at him. It was a dainty noise, deliberately gentle, deceptively sweet. And as he smiled to hmself, caught by the memory of huge black wings spread against the pale winter sky, she licked her whiskers and began to purr again.

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