Author’s Note: Sorry for the week delay, and I hope you enjoy this chapter! Thanks for reading!
Volume 5 – Chapter 3
I woke Cat up by knocking on her door–or, rather, someone was sent to wake her up after I knocked on her door. Meanwhile, I sat on an ornate bench in the main hall of her home, staring at the ceiling and marveling at just how huge everything was compared to what I was used to.
Of course, I knew her parents were both popular scientists, but how anybody could get so wealthy simply through academia was a little beyond me. Maybe they had some business or investments on the side that Cat had never mentioned?
Ultimately, however, I knew it wasn’t really my business to worry about, and I let that line of thought drop off, waiting for Cat to make her way downstairs.
It didn’t take her long–one of Cat’s many strange talents is her ability to get ready in almost no time at all–and I saw her walking down the main staircase no more than fifteen minutes later.
She smiled when she saw me.
“You’re here early, Ayame,” she said, crossing the large open space to meet me near the entrance. She was wearing a dark blue t-shirt, shorts and sneakers, and looked ready to head out at any moment. “Aren’t you tired?”
“You were the one who said to get here at around 9 o’clock,” I said, standing up and stretching my limbs. I took my phone out of my pocket and glanced at the screen. “It’s 9:06 now. Did you forget?”
“Nah, I just figured that everyone would get here a little later.” She leaned in conspiratorially, as if she were about to impart on me some knowledge of national importance. “You know, Asher takes about a million years to get ready every morning. We’ll be lucky if we see him and Miller before 11.”
She laughed, pulling her head back and tossing strands of red into her face, and I couldn’t help but join in.
“Anyway, sorry I kept you waiting,” she continued, although she was still chuckling a bit–apparently poking fun at Miller really got her going. “I should have known that at least you would make it here on time.”
“It’s not a problem.”
Cat gave me another smile, before placing her hands on her hips and tilting her head upwards, looking almost as if she were admiring the ceiling. After a few moments of contemplation, however, she seemed to get bored of the sight, and returned her focus to me.
“Well, we’re probably going to have to wait for them for a while. “She scratched her nose. “Anything in particular you want to do until then?”
She looked at me expectantly, and although I did give it a little thought, I knew my answer almost immediately. Although Cat and I had hung out plenty of times before, I always felt at a loss of what to do when we were actually at her house–there was just so much, it was hard to even make a suggestion.
So, I went with the normal response.
“No, not really.” I shrugged. “It’s up to you.”
She seemed to have expected that answer, and gave me a double thumbs-up.
“Perfect,” she said. “Let’s go take a walk in the garden, then. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Spinning on her heels, she headed towards the door, and I followed behind, leaving my backpack on the bench.
Normally, hearing someone say anything along the lines of “I need to talk to you” would have made me nervous, and led me to run through everything I had ever done wrong in my life, but with Cat it was a little different. If she had something bad to tell me, she would have done it straight off, without any of the theatrics.
Still, that didn’t mean I wasn’t very confused as we headed outside, hanging close to the side of her house as we weaved through a collection of short trees and shrubs, some of which were covered in small white and pink flower buds, about to unfold.
Someone must have recently come through to water the plants, as the air was heavy with the distinctive scent of damp flowers. In most cases, I would have given the experience my full attention, but this time my attentions were a little more divided, shifting between the flowers and the stone path at my feet as I thought about Cat’s words.
Something she wanted to talk to me about? Even if it wasn’t going to be something bad, it at least had to be serious, with the amount of weight Cat had given the topic.
Frankly, I was on the edge of my seat wondering what it could be.
Cat continued to lead the way for some time, taking us deeper into the labyrinth that was her mother’s botanical garden. As we sunk further and further in, the collection grew in both size and density, transitioning from the thin collection of short trees near the house and into a closely packed group of curling trunks and twisting branches.
The sky was nearly blotted out by the leaves of varying sizes hanging above our heads, bathing us in half-light, and although I had some trouble keeping sight of the path, Cat didn’t seem to notice a difference. After a few more minutes of walking, just as I was beginning to entertain the idea of us being lost, Cat stopped.
“Okay, this should be far enough,” she said, turning back to face me for the first time since we had entered the garden. She stepped to the side, revealing a fork in the path ahead, at which a small stone bench sat. “Want to sit down?”
“Sure.” I nodded and followed her, taking a seat on the cold stone. It was low on the ground, making the trees seem even taller than before, but I didn’t focus on them much. “So, why did you bring me all the way back here to talk?”
Cat motioned at the trees.
“Because it’s out of the way, mostly,” she said. “There’s so many people all around the house, someone would probably hear us talking.”
“Oh.” I should have figured it was something like that. “What did you want to talk about?”
“Just had a question.” She shrugged, and picked up a small, dark leaf off of the ground, balancing it on top of her pointer finger. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with Asher, trying to figure this stuff out, right?”
I’ll be honest, that wasn’t exactly the question I was expecting.
“Um,” I started, and looked at the ground. Something about the way she phrased it made me strangely hesitant in my answer. “We’ve been doing a lot of research on everything, yes. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, I just wanted to know if you’d found anything on how we can learn to summon the swords,” she said. When I didn’t respond, she blew the leaf out of her hand. It landed in my hair. “That’s my question.”
I took a breath.
“Not that I can think of, offhand,” I said. She lowered her eyes. “Is something the matter?”
Cat’s eyes widened a little and she shook her head.
“No, nothing like that, at least not right now,” she said. “It’s just….well, I’ve been lucky with the sword so far. Every time we’ve been in trouble it’s appeared, but I’m a little worried it won’t always be like that.”
“So you want to learn how to summon it just to be sure you’ll have it when you need it?”
“Pretty much,” Cat said. “At least, it would suck to get into a tight spot and not be able to bring the sword out. I’d rather that not happen.”
It made sense, really–considering the swords had seemed to be our only sure-fire method of dealing with the dangerous situations we had been finding ourselves in, I could understand wanting to be able to control them fully, and I was flattered that Cat had come to me for help with that.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really see much that I could do for her and Asher.
“Well, even though I haven’t seen anything yet, maybe we could look some stuff up tonight?” I said. “Although, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how many places will have tips to help with summoning swords out of thin air.”
Cat laughed a little, and I was glad to see her perking up.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” she admitted. “Maybe me and Asher will just have to start practicing more often. Figure it out that way.”
She grew quiet, staring at her hand in some of the most intense concentration I had ever seen from her. For a brief moment, I was hit with the image of Asher kneeling in the library, seeming to crumble under the uncertainty of our situation, and I realized that Cat, despite appearances, must have often felt the same.
I knew, then, that I needed to do something. Anything, to take some of that weight off of her.
I reached out, and took her hand.
“I know you two will be able to do it,” I said, trying to sound as reassuring as I could. “Do you remember what it felt like, the other times you summoned the sword?”
Cat looked confused for a moment, but answered anyway. “Of course. If I really think about it, it’s almost like I can still feel it.”
I squeezed her hand once, before returning my own to my side.
“Then there you go,” I said simply. “Think about that, and use it, and I’m positive you can figure it out. With everything else you and Asher have already done, this will be easy for the two of you.”
She was still looking at her hands, and for a moment she still seemed unsure, but that was only a moment. Then, curling her hands into fists, she stood, her face set in a familiar look of determination.
“You’re right, Ayame,” she said, nodding in agreement. She looked down at me. “We’ll figure this out, no problem!”
She was smiling again, and I was happy to see her already bouncing back from her brief foray into uncertainty. Standing up myself, I checked my phone for the time, and noticed that I’d missed a message from Asher a while back.
“Oh, Asher messaged me,” I told Cat, checking the short message. “Looks like they’re on their way.”
Cat looked like someone had just told her she’d been appointed the next Queen of a small nation. Looking at my phone quickly, she turned and began rushing backwards, towards her house, raising a hand in the air.
“Secret meeting adjourned!” she announced, jogging away from me. I rushed to keep up. “Now let’s get back before they get here. I don’t even wanna know what they’ll say if we aren’t there when they do.”
And we ran off, back through the mismatched forest, laughing as we neared the house.