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Thanksgiving came and went. My stitches fell out by themselves–well, ok, maybe with a little help from my teeth, but by then they had done their job and I was right as rain, and back to screaming the occasional curse word at Duke as he passed by in the street. The caulk in the kitchen stopped that mouse incursion, but I was poised; moreover, I was trying to figure out how to carry the war up to the attic.

People still went back and forth and up and down about the Lynn/Rita/a’thanila situation, but nothing got done–other, that is, than that they became good if awkward friends of the household. Lynn even got up the nerve to bare all in the tub in the basement, the masculine beauties of Lion Quartermain, et al. notwithstanding. True, at first she chickened out and hid in the laundry room, but then Sasha came home and stripped in front of her, pointing out that bodies were bodies, and friends didn’t mind much what other friends came packed in. This shameless play of the castration card did the trick, and now Lynn just threw small objects at Meeze, who teased her about her harem. (Seeing as the feistiest Lions got was marital chastity, it wasn’t much of a harem. Lynn privately informed me that she got as much action as I did.)

After a while, the political snarl our dai’yadi was always in got tired of the Tarragon situation and began to focus on how to pressure Chatte’d’garcon into policing a new-fangled Web entity called Bookface or Facecrooks or Spacebook or something, which had been born that spring at about the same time I was, and which the local college kids were going nuts over. Terry was on the thing, and kept insisting that it had mammoth potential to Change The World As We Knew It, but Chattie wasn’t listening, despite his increasing franticness over its apparently endless possibilities for leaking information the Th’nashi would rather keep secret. Chatte’d’garcon was happy enough to keep an eye on the world’s email, and I suspected that not getting caught at that by other people doing the same thing was maxing them out as it was. Or at least that’s what they complained about. In other words, business as usual.

Or at least it was business as usual, until one December afternoon Eamon Davenant came in with a peculiar look on his face and outer soul. He tapped at the door to Terry’s study, where Terry was chatting on Friendnook and I was sleeping on the windowseat, secure in a nest I had made from an old afghan. Terry sang, “Come in!” and Eamon did. As a rule, he was pale for a Knightsblood-Firenzi; most of them favored their Italian parents, but Eamon’s mother was whispered to be the Queen of the Assassins and a Knightsblood princess and I guess her genes had more mojo. They showed now with all claws–there wasn’t a drop of blood in his face.

Terry whistled. “Look like you saw a ghost, man. What’s wrong?” His outer soul reached out and did the equivalent of putting an arm around his shoulder; to my surprise the undemonstrative Eamon squeezed back for a second.

His Irish brogue was thicker than usual. “I did, sure as I stand here, and talked to one too. Well, not a proper ghost what’s dead and gone. But it was fey, all the same. My g’nah is sprained from feeling after it and not getting anywhere.”

He went to the wet bar and poured himself a shot of whiskey. “I was walking over here as I usually do, and the light was casting my shadow before me on the bricks. And then out of nowhere came a great big shadow, swallowing mine, the shadow of a tall man. But there was not a soul to be pinged up and down the street.” He downed the shot. “Made all my hair stand on end, I tell you. I had no idea what I’d be facing when I turned around, but I felt a fool, as the last thing I expected should have been the first in my mind. It was the Crucio.”

“The Crucio! What did he mean by it? What did he want?”

Eamon gave a shaky laugh. “You, man. He wants to talk to you. Ever so nice about it. But firm. Said he had just been over at the Pit, and was enjoying a walk in the neighborhood. Said he’d always liked university towns. Sounded downright sad that he’d never gotten to go himself. But he recognized me as being Sean’s Prince Consort, and knew that I served on Nova Terra’s Council. And would I please ask the archimago to be at home to him in about two hours. Then he got a call, apologized like a gentleman, and gated out. I tell you, I was afraid people were seeing me talk to myself and the thin air, because the only bit of me that knew he was there was my eyes. And hardly my ears–his voice, yes, but nary a heartbeat.”

I too had noticed the Crucio’s lack of normal body noises. I guessed it would be considered not the thing for his tummy to rumble in the middle of an audience of state. I was willing to bet my ears that he didn’t fart. Which must get uncomfortable, I thought.

Terry was turning even paler than Eamon. “I haven’t seen the Crucio in the three years since he anointed me as archimago, and that’s suited me fine. Did he give any hints about what he wanted?”

Eamon gave him a sharp look, his self-possession returned. “If he’d been touring the Pit, I’m betting that has something to do with it. Pharaoh has been bitching about the trouble it is, keeping all those sorcerers on one job.”

“Mm,” said Terry. “Don’t know what he expects out of me. It’s not as if I can roll up my sleeves and pitch in.”

Eamon said nothing and his face did not move, but I caught a whiff of his outer soul’s–contempt, I must say to be honest. I knew why. Even I knew that Terry had the power to make the sorcerer version of the Pit stop; he was just intimidated by the Nesh’vai, the Congress-like body of power-grabbers who sneered at him as a weak archimago without the stones to scruff them into shape. Their lack of respect only grew worse the more he knuckled under to their bullying. It was a constant low-grade gripe of Sasha’s, who had once volunteered to me that it would be nice if he respected the person he slept with.

Gay marriage had been legalized in Massachusetts that spring, and although as Lions Eamon and Sean had been claiming themselves to be happy enough that the Order recognized their relationship, they had dropped everything and pulled out all the stops to have a massive wedding the week after the law was signed. Just as heterosexual weddings made certain of their acquaintance fidgety, Eamon and Sean’s had inspired an outbreak of no eye contact, working late and a lack of talking about it in our house.

Although part of me loathed the idea of gossiping about my daddies, part of me yearned for the ability to just curl up in Pharaoh’s lap and get his full take on their relationship. I was afraid that they lacked tenderness–but somehow I couldn’t see them spending such on other men. Mainstream TV was still tiptoeing around gay relationships as anything other than a curiosity or subject for rather tedious humor, so I had no source of advice whatsoever. It made me worry.

But this had nothing to do with the impending visit of the Crucio. I hoped, oh how I hoped, he’d have a few minutes for me!

Terry twiddled about a pencil. “So what do I do, run around and make sure the house is tidy?” he asked in irritation.

Eamon shrugged. “You might try getting out your file on the Pit and running over the arguments supporting your decisions to keep the status quo. Other than that, maybe do your deep breathing exercises. Either way, he didn’t imply in the slightest that he needed my presence, so I’m out of here.” He rinsed out his glass, and left.

“Crap,” said Terry to the mid-air. He then burst into a flurry of purposeful-looking activity: opening drawers and getting out folders, opening files on his computer, and flipping through his Rolodex. After about twenty minutes of frantic mumbling, he struck himself on the forehead, which meant that he had forgotten to do something in a spasm of stupidity, and dialed up Dante. They had a long conversation, which started in him indeed running over those arguments for knuckling under to the Nesh’vai, morphed into Terry fretting in free-form anxiety while Dante presumably said calming things, and ended in their agreeing that Dante himself should be there, both as Privy Councillor, and as “somebody who can keep me from punching the officious so-and-so in the mouth.”

He then paced back and forth for a while before slamming out to wait for Dante on the lawn, then slamming back in to get his jacket to do it in, and returning to pace back and forth in the driveway.

“He seems very agitated,” the Crucio remarked in a mild tone.

I told my fur to lie back down where it belonged and turned from the window. The Crucio had done the expected thing–well, what I had expected–and used the gatepoint beside the study door. He smiled at me in genuine pleasure.

“How are you, Eureka?”

“Very well, thank you sir. Sir! We may only have a minute, and it’s been fretting me. We’re trying to keep a Grail hidden from the Kaiser. Do you have any advice you could maybe pass on to Pharaoh?”

The Crucio’s impassive face cracked into a brief fit of misery. “I can’t get involved in House politics, no matter how odious, unless things get so out of hand that Contract itself is threatened. How has this fellow escaped detection so far?”

I explained, “She’s a she, and she has an extra layer of inhibited q thinggummies, and was raised by humani. She’s middle-aged and has had a very hard life. We’re afraid she’ll go nuts if she even finds out she’s Th’nashi, let alone that she’s a Grail slave.” I was about to go into the Rita part when he raised an autocratic hand.

“By inhibited q thinggummies, do you mean the Shield of Adamant?”

“Yeah. She’s a f’something. It’s rare and special.”

“Fy’foxi–Hang on.” Outside, Dante had shown up, and the two of them were about to enter the study.

Terry opened the door and started. “My Lord!”

The Crucio bowed, his heavy silk jacket making a swirl. It looked as if it should smell nice of something exotic, but of course, it didn’t.

“Your Grace, would you do me the rare favor of according me a few moments of privacy? I have unfinished business that I fell into of a sudden.” I could tell that Terry was finishing the sentence “while waiting for you, you numbskull” by his blush. He nodded and closed the door.

The Crucio turned back to me and mewed in satisfaction, as if he put archimagi on hold for cats every day. (Maybe he did. He was the Crucio.) “Fy’foxi, I was saying. I’m surprised at Pharaoh; surprised at Lion Davenant. My brothers here in the Order are deficient in their Stricture. Because of their historical espionage potential, fy’foxi in fact belong to the Order. It’s still Grail slavery, damn it all, but seeing as it keeps those rare Toadies away from the Kaiser’s whim, nobody complains very loudly. So your lady is safe enough from her House. As for the question remaining as to how to explain to her that she’s an alien vampire to begin with, that I can’t help you with.” He flattened his hands in front of his human ears in a shrug.

I leaped off the windowsill and rubbed his boots in ecstasy before remembering myself. He laughed, and his outer soul played this nifty little counterpoint with his hands that tickled my belly while he rubbed my throat.

“If only the rest of today’s business in Nova Terra would be solved so easily, I’d go home and count it an excellent day. I’ll be sure to give Pharaoh all the details, and if I have any general ideas on how to bring her home, I’ll toss those in. She must be brought home, though. Half of that hard life of trauma has been thinking she’s mad when she’s just had g’nah; you can count on it.”

He straightened up and sighed. “Eureka, I really will try to check in with you time and again. You’ve done a good deed today. But I believe in playing fair with my archimagi, and unless you’re a member of the Council of Nova Terra, it really wouldn’t be appropriate for you to be at this interview. Especially if you decide to make me laugh or something.” His eyes twinkled, and I sighed. I hated to say goodbye to him. But when he opened the door so the Archimago of Nova Terra could re-enter his own study, I slipped out, feeling mournful and abandoned.

Most of the time I was sufficient unto myself, pursuing my own thoughts and living my own life. But sometimes, no doubt about it, I was lonely. Even these rare conversations with other species were big treats. Did we need another cat? Noooo! “Don’t wanna share,” I muttered to myself. I went into the guardroom next to the office.  Devon and Joel were having a spirited argument about why Joel couldn’t call his girlfriend and tell her he’d just seen the Crucio. Devon made a lap for me without even thinking about it, and I jumped into warmth.

But was it enough?