[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
Beano pawed at Viv’s leg again, letting out a kitty whine that was interrupted with an asthmatic snort. She couldn’t help but laugh, nudging him aside with a foot as she headed into the living room and toward the balcony.
“You’re very brave,” she informed him seriously, when he seemed about to take offense at her snickering. “Defending your sleeping mama like that. I’m so very proud. But let’s let this lil moth go, okay? I’ll give you a treat.” She repeated the last word. “Treat?”
Obediently, Beano sat. He was the most food motivated of her three cats, the other two of whom were sleeping on her couch between some boxes that had been piled on it.
“Good boy,” she said. She got the balcony door open one-handed and stepped out onto it, looking out into the early evening darkness of Branwin’s Valley. Her apartment was on the second floor of a lowrise, and overlooked some of the downtown core. Lots of pubs, she saw, some coffee shops. A bus stop in front of her house was a good sign that she could get anywhere she needed to quickly, at least—given that she didn’t drive, it was a small blessing.
She gently released the moth onto the balcony rail, where it clung on, flexing its wings and flicking its antennae around. It looked unharmed, but she wondered how tired it must be after its panic behind the curtain and attempts to avoid Beano. “Stay there for a second and I’ll get you some sugar water,” she said. She’d been around cats too long to feel too self-conscious talking to an animal.
Viv popped back inside and prepared some sugar water quickly, but by the time she stepped back out, the moth was gone. Well, she hadn’t really expected it to understand her. Still, she left the bottle cap she’d prepped the water in out on the rail; might as well be some other creature’s good fortune.
With that done, she leaned on the rail, looking around the area some more. An unnaturally gorgeous harmony was rising from the street, two lovely winged humanoids below leaning on each other as they wandered away from a pub. She closed her eyes, just listening for a moment and breathing.
It was a strange, new Valley, and she hadn’t wanted to come here. But that didn’t mean it’d be a bad place to live, she reminded herself, moved by the sound of their music. It was going to be like any other Valley: home to both humans who had refused to abandon their houses when the gates opened, and monsters who had chosen to leave the Otherworld and live in this one. And then there’d be people like her: mostly human, but partly other, who needed for their own reasons to stay near a gate, but still wanted to enjoy the human experience.
Some of those part-monster folks would have been here even without the gate, she reminded herself. Monsters had lived on Earth a long time ago, before the gates closed, and were back now, but their bloodlines from interbreeding had carried on over the centuries, as had the curses they’d shared to humans.
Lycanthropes, for example—she remembered from her initial research before moving that there were several packs of werewolves (or weredogs, or werecoyotes, something like that), who called Branwin home. Vampires—two rival princedoms ‘ruled’ Branwin, or so they claimed. Other witches, certainly; she could see the hex shops and potionries from here.
Those weren’t the only factions, either. In the two decades since the gates had opened, plenty of creatures had poured through. Fae, demons, creatures that were once considered mythological monsters… anyone and anything could be found in the Valley. She was pretty sure this was even the same Valley that was home to the actor Lithway, one of the shadowfolk, creatures that even monsters whispered about with fear.
She’d have to figure all those factions out over time, she thought, moroseness beginning to creep back in. Who you knew was everything in a place like this, where trading favors and building alliances was the norm, and she didn’t have a coven anymore.
She was jolted out of her thoughts by two simultaneous sounds—her stomach growling, and Beano letting out a particularly mournful wail that she’d forgotten about his treats. Laughing at herself, she headed back inside.
Beano’s cries had woken Pebbles and Notch too, so she gave each of them treats, and apologized to them all. “I’ll order in chicken,” she told them. “You all can have some. Especially you, Beano, since you did such a good job protecting me.”
Beano, who had eaten Pebbles’ treat before she could get to it, groomed himself. Viv snuck Pebbles another treat while Beano was occupied.
She opened OmegaEats, quickly browsing the listings past local shops such as Humanburger and The Good Neighbours Bar until she found KFC and put in a quick order. Everything else looked interesting, but she was too hungry to try something new, and besides, once you took the breading off, KFC was safe for kitten consumption.
Then she looked down at herself, made a face at her rumpled, three-days-worn pajamas, and decided to clean up before she could totally horrify whatever delivery person came to her door.
One quick shower later found her drying her hair—long and straight, and naturally ginger though she’d added in a few black streaks at the start of October in the name of the season—and throwing on a long black sweater-tunic over Halloween leggings, brown and orange with leaves outlining the shape of skulls. Her sweater hung baggy on her, bought a size too large so it would be comfortably loose despite her curves. It did mean she’d have to push her sleeves up to do anything, but she always liked the aesthetic of how they flopped over her hands otherwise.
The OmegaEats app showed the driver still as ten minutes away, and she sighed, stomach absolutely aching at this point. “Well,” she told the cats, who were milling around her legs to try to get fur on her clean leggings, “I woke up at 6 so I’m gonna be up all night. Want to help me decide what I should do next?”
They didn’t answer, but didn’t need to. She focused on the power she could feel inside her and gently directed it towards the cats. Two of them lay down; Beano began washing himself again.
Ailuromancy, the art of divination through cats, was one of the most unreliable methods of divination, but was usually reliable enough to predict the weather. Their relaxation, combined with the face washing, meant that it’d be a clear night with enough wind to keep away the clouds. So no reason for her to stay in, at least.
The magic was stirring in her, eager to be of greater use. Perhaps it was due to connecting to a different gate than usual, or how she’d spent several days at rest, but she felt it surging, so she figured she might as well ride it. She pulled the tape off one of her boxes of books, dug around, and pulled out the first book she found with her fingertips. It was one of her many books of quotes—ones she kept around specifically for bibliomancy, which was encouraging. She must be on the right path with this particular divination attempt.
Viv flipped it open and read the first paragraph her eyes fell on:
“Nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than being there.”
– Franklin P. Jones
Ah, she thought. Of course. Useless.
As always, the best guidance she got was whatever she decided to read into it—exactly what made the other witches so scornful about divination as an art. She snapped the book shut, then jumped as her phone rang. Fumbling, she managed to pick it up after the third ring. “Hi?”
“Hey, this is your Omega driver,” the woman on the other end said. “Your buzzer is malfunctioning again, can you come down?”
Again? “Sure,” Viv said, glad she’d at least dressed. “I’ll be right back,” she told the cats, and grabbed her keys, heading out to the elevator.
It exited on the first floor in the elevator room—a well-lit room with exits into both the lobby and the underground parking area. A few dead moths were scattered about on the floor of the elevator room—maybe the building had a problem with them. These, at least, were clearly dead, wings torn, parts scattered around. She felt a bit sorry for them—probably because they made her think of her moth. It set her on edge, made her stomach clench, uncomfortable with this thing that she would have not even had second thoughts about before today.
She headed through the lobby to the building entrance, where her Omega driver waited. She was a South Asian woman in her early 30s, and about five years older than Viv. It looked to Viv as if she was looking around nervously, and she jumped when Viv opened the door.
“Hi,” Viv said. “Order for 210, right?”
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, or deeds.
(Please have your comments in by 4 pm PST Oct 3)]