The last of the villagers had abandoned the hamlet that afternoon. With them went the dogs and the livestock. The cats, however, always managed to be missing when it came time for the villagers to ride out of town, wagons stacked high with household goods.
This, of course, was no accident. The cats bled into the shadows, preened from precarious perches, and bore witness to a thousand secret happenings. That was their role. The dogs, loud and rambunctious, were always present and seeking admiration. The cats found this disdainful.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the felines and canines kept strong allegiances. Sure, the occasional dust-up could be witnessed on the dirty village streets, but those represented individual squabbles; not a species divide. Each had their roles and took strength from common enemies like rats and wolves.
The alliance was necessary for another reason. The cats had a talent for seeing the ethereal. They could track the spectral in a way that baffled the dogs. The dogs were the muscle. They could influence the physical manifestations sometimes produced when ethereal became robust. Together, they provided a system of security for villages across the land. In exchange, people provided food and fireplaces, comfort and companionship, unwitting employers to the guardians.
When the other-worldly began appearing in the village, the cats were the first to take note. In this region, those cats were called Honey and Bones. Honey was a black female with a proclivity for loud utterances who refused chin rubs. Bones, the black male, wheezed when he spoke and never turned down a thorough stroking. They were siblings and known to fight amongst themselves as much as with anyone else.
Their nightly patrols took them through the cemetery at the edge of town. While there had never been trouble at the cemetery until this point, it was a good place to hunt. Many a rat and squirrel had met its grisly end to one of the siblings in the cemetery. On this night, however, nary a creature stirred. There was a buzzing that the cats could feel on their whiskers.
The air tasted wet and decayed. Ancient. It smelled of wet paper in an attic and long dead rodents. Bones and Honey felt their hackles rise instinctively. Bones took to a tree branch for a vantage, while Honey slipped into the shadows of the tombstones.
The mausoleum at the center of the graveyard was emanating some electrical energy. A human passerby might have only noticed a sudden rash of gooseflesh. Bones and Honey could sense the aura rather more accurately. What would not go unnoticed to anyone within earshot was the sudden outward explosion of the crypt door. The heavy ironwood door splintered and shot outward in a cacophony of chaos. Both cats, ears and haunches low, bared their teeth and involuntarily hissed.
Several seconds of unattributable wind gusted from the mausoleum’s exposed interior. A cloud of leaves and debris catapulted from the front of the tomb, causing Bones and Honey to close their eyes. When the trash cleared the air, the cats shared a look and turned to race back to the village. Bones bounded down the tree trunk and met Honey at the cemetery gate. They squeezed through the tines and silently raced away.
As they closed the distance back to the village, they could hear the dogs barking. The explosion had not gone unnoticed. Honey jumped on top of the fence post of the first house they came to. Inside the fence was a dog tied to a stake in the yard. She relayed what she had seen. Bones remained facing towards the cemetery, eyes peeled for enemy movement, whiskers twitching. The dog repeated the message, snout facing the moon, until first one than many dogs were repeating it through the night.
Given the physicality of whatever had caused the tomb’s door to be torn off, Bones and Honey decided that they’d done all they could. They took refuge in the loft of a barn on the opposite side of town for the remainder of the night and slept.
Late in the afternoon the following day, they descended from the loft and headed towards the village center. Having only gotten ten hours of sleep, they were a bit groggy. As a result, it wasn’t until they’d positioned themselves on a hitching post that they noticed the exodus taking place.
It appeared that every person in the village was packing up and leaving. It looked like three quarters of the population had already cleared out. A careful eye would have noticed that all the dogs had formed a defensive circle around the bulk of the people loading wagons. The dogs looked casual enough, except for the lack of wagging tails and the overworked snuffling of their snouts.
The blacksmith’s dog trotted over to the cats. Looking up at them from the ground, he passed on the news from the night. The house that the pair had stopped at to relay the message had been attacked in the early morning hours. The farmers that lived there were gone as was their dog. There was much blood and no bodies. Large humanoid tracks led back towards the cemetery.
Following the tracks, the dogs had accompanied the humans as far as the cemetery gate, where neither villager nor animal had dared to enter. A brief meeting had taken place in the town square where it was decided to leave the town until a solution presented itself.
The cats were stunned at the news, though their faces showed only mild indifference. Not surprising to them was the news that the dogs would accompany the refugees on their journey to greener pastures. Afterall, they had always been loyal to a fault where humans were concerned.
Bones and Honey would be alone in the village. It never occurred to them that they could evacuate with the dogs and villagers. The thought of riding in a dusty wagon, pawed at by some human child was inconceivable to the pair. No, they would stay and see what could be done about the aberration.
And so, it was that Bones and Honey found themselves unwrapping the old armor and weapons. This kit had been handed down to them from the masters after their apprenticeships were completed. And similarly, the kits had been handed down to their masters in a comparable fashion for time eternal.
The moon rose in the sky. It was lone witness to the night’s events. The cats approached the gate to the cemetery. A large shadow uncurled itself from the mausoleum’s doorway. Bones growled in his throat and Honey hissed in reply.
Author’s Note: The figures are from Reaper Minis. Bones and Honey are my cats, and though I can’t prove it, I think they keep an eye on the ghosts that float around my house. Why else would they hiss at the fireplace?