The Catnapping
A Briarley Story
By Nicole Robertson

 

The fluffy, mist-grey cat arched her back and stretched to work out the kinks that had formed during the long hours of stillness that had been her afternoon. Her eyes remaining closed, her mind reached out in the way that all cats' minds do, sensing the twilight that guided the encroaching darkness. Soon Lady Night would spread her mantle over the land, and her children would be free to wander the world once more. Prophecy's eyes opened, twin emeralds sparkling with an inner fire. It was time. Time to awaken her master.

Prophecy drew herself delicately to her four paws. She padded lightly up the length of the bed to a point just short of her target. Then she sat down and took a moment to look at the still, silent form lying before her. Her eyes darkened in sorrow and empathy. The sheets twisted around his body revealed that her master's rest had not been easy. But then, it rarely was. She sighed softly, hating to disturb her master when he was sleeping peacefully for what was, in all likelihood, the first time that day. However, she knew the importance of waking him early. It gave him a chance to gather his control, just in case he had need of it. Prophecy leaned forward, placing her furred head against his cold cheek. She nuzzled him gently, a low purr her only sound. Her master stirred and opened his eyes. His molten silver gaze met her emerald one and he smiled slightly, sleepily.

"Good evening Prophecy. How was your day?" His voice was soft and low, the gentle accent the only hint at his English birth. Prophecy smiled.

"Good evening Briarley. Nice and quiet." The cat spoke in the language the humans called 'English'. Her voice was soft and feminine, but unlike other cats with the ability to speak, it did not carry a purring accent but a light Irish lilt.

Briarley smiled a little more and sat up, stretching. Prophecy jumped off the bed, landing lightly a few feet away. She turned and watched as Briarley maneuvered himself out of the tangled sheets.

"Rough night?" she asked softly. Briarley winced and hesitated before answering.

"Yes."

"You know, some dreams are prophecies in disguise."

"This one wasn't. It's already happened."

Prophecy nodded and remained silent as Briarley passed by her and into the bathroom. She sighed softly. It had been almost a year since he had come to this place of healing, but the terrors that stalked his dreams were the terrors that had once stalked him, and they refused to leave him be.

While she waited for him to return. Prophecy turned her attention to the rumpled mess that was his bed. She concentrated. Her emerald eyes began to glow with a soft, steady light. The white silk sheets began to move as though they were liquid; flowing over the bed until it was though Briarley had never slept there. Satisfied with the results, Prophecy began to wash her whiskers.

By the time Briarley and Prophecy appeared downstairs, Briarley's parents were already eating. They traded good evening's and smiled at Briarley as he took his place at the table. Michael noticed that his adopted son was toying with his breakfast and shot a brief glance across at his beloved wife. Alana smiled, stood and moved to stand behind Briarley's chair. Bending down, she put her arms around him, crossing them over his chest and holding him tightly for a moment. She kissed his cheek lightly.

"The hunger?" she asked softly. Briarley closed his eyes and relaxed against her. No matter how many times she held him, he still found it difficult to believe. Yet it was true, although he was not of her blood, she had accepted him as her son and loved him without hesitation. He sighed softly.

"Not yet. But it's building. I will hunt tonight." His voice was little more than a whisper. His mother hugged him again and smiled. Releasing him, she gently brushed a lock of hair off his forehead.

"I won't expect you for lunch then." Briarley blinked and smiled back at her, he nodded.

An hour later, Briarley and Prophecy stood on the small terrace outside the library. Night had come. The stars were out and the moon would soon follow. Prophecy looked across at her master, and smiled slightly as she took in his appearance. He tried so hard to fit into the world around him. Tonight, he had succeeded. He looked like any normal 18 year old in his black jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket. His midnight-black hair stirred in the breeze, becoming even more tousled than it usually was.

Briarley shifted slightly, uncomfortable. The hunger would soon be upon him. It was time to hunt. He looked down at Prophecy.

"Will you be joining me tonight?" The cat gazed into the darkness. Her long whiskers twitched.

"Yes. For a time at least. There is something in the air this night, and I feel the need to be about in it. It calls to my gift, before dawn it shall be answered." Briarley nodded.

He stepped away from Prophecy's side and closed his eyes in concentration. As his magic stirred to life within him, his control over the other side of his nature slipped for a moment. As the change came over him, his head went back and a sound that was part gasp, part groan and part growl issued from his throat. His lips parted and the moonlight shone unforgivingly down upon that which marked him as being what he was, as it marked his brethren, the two long fangs that no truly human boy would ever have. Briarley began to change.

Within moments, the human form of Briarley was gone. Instead, a sleek black cat with molten silver eyes gazed solemnly at Prophecy. When it spoke, it did so with Briarley's voice.

"Let us be off. The night beckons and I must respond." Prophecy nodded and leaped gracefully off the terrace and onto the lawn, Briarley-cat following effortlessly at her heels. The two sleek, agile felines moved swiftly into the forest that bordered their home. Michael and Alana stepped onto the terrace from the library. They watched as the son of their hearts vanished like a shadow into the forest with his guardian. Alana leaned against her husband; his arm drew her close.

"Don't worry my love. He'll come back." Alana smiled up at the light of her life.

"I know he will." She gazed into the darkness. "But there is something in the air this night. It unsettles me. A wrongness that urges me to follow him, to keep him safe." Michael frowned slightly. He had learned very quickly that it was best to never disregard Alana's feelings. He closed his eyes and concentrated, focusing his senses on the surrounding night. His frown deepened.

* * *

Two hours later, Prophecy and Briarley-cat emerged from the forest and into the open area known as Windy Common. The hunt had gone well. Prophecy rested and cleaned her long whiskers delicately while Briarley-cat reveled in the freedom that his feline form brought by rolling in the sweet, cool grass. Suddenly, Prophecy's emerald eyes grew wide. Within their depths, the fire began to shift and change, causing her eyes to sparkle like stars. She stiffened and called urgently to Briarley-cat as she leaped to her paws. He looked up, still lying on his back.

"I have to go back. The words form and I must scribe them before they fade." The mist-grey cat turned her gaze on Briarley-cat. "Seek me at dawn. No," she continued as he started to get up, "I must move swiftly now, by the secret ways my master Aradon taught me." Briarley-cat settled back in the grass and nodded. Before he could say a word, Prophecy closed her eyes and vanished.

Briarley-cat closed his eyes and rested in the grass. He knew that he would have to return home himself shortly, but it was quiet and peaceful here. His mind wandered. Comfortable and satisfied by the night's hunt, Briarley drifted into sleep.

An hour later, he was awoken by a loud cracking sound followed by a sharp pain in his shoulder. Looking down, he saw a long dart sticking out of his fur. He heard the sound of soft footfalls and looked up, starting to feel dizzy. He saw heavy black books with camouflage coloured jungle fatigues. A matching shirt and close cropped blonde hair. A face out of the nightmare that had plagued him for the past year. As the world faded to black, Briarley-cat knew a moment of pure terror. The horror was about to begin again.

* * *

Briarley-cat stirred. As his memories returned, he stiffened and reached out with his other senses, straining to discover if he was alone. When all he heard was silence, he cautiously opened his eyes, and immediately regretted it. The room seemed to spin around him. Briarley closed his eyes and lay still, fighting the terror and the sickness that threatened to overcome him. He felt weak. His eyes opened again. The spinning wasn't quite as bad, but the sickness and the weakness remained. Briarley-cat suddenly realised what was going on and a wave of fear rushed through him. It was past midnight, and he hadn't changed back to his human form. He closed his eyes and tried to change. His magic refused to respond. Opening his eyes again, he struggled to move but was far too weak. Exhausted by the struggle, he closed his eyes again. He knew he was in real trouble. There was a side effect to the spell he used to change his form. If he didn't change back before the last stroke of midnight, the spell began to draw on his physical strength. While it did this, the nature of the spell was altered just enough that Briarley-cat's magic could not reverse it. If someone else didn't reverse the shapeshifting spell before dawn, Briarley-cat would be too weak to do anything except breathe. He would lie still, defenseless, helpless, until nightfall, when the spell would begin to fade and Briarley-cat would regain the use of his magic. Considering what he remembered seeing before he blacked out, it was the worst possible thing that could have happened.

The sound of footsteps echoed through the room. Briarley-cat managed to open his eyes. The face of evil loomed over him. Evil had a name for Briarley-cat. Steve Burtok - ex-marine and soldier in the war against the creatures of the darkness. Unfortunately, Burtok believed that all creatures of a magical nature came under that category, especially if they were different from others of their kind. A year before, he had captured Briarley, tried to kill him. He would have succeeded, but a teenage girl that Briarley had helped out just before his capture had come to his rescue. Briarley-cat knew he wouldn't be that lucky this time though. He closed his eyes.

Burtok sneered at the small black cat. "Not so powerful now, are you little werecat?" Briarley-cat's eyes opened again and he frowned up at the man in confusion. A slight movement behind Burtok drew Briarley-cat's attention. He quickly started to speak, hoping to keep Burtok's attention on him and not on the silent figure that was creeping up behind the ex-marine.

"Werecat? I'm not a werecat." Burtok sneered again.

"Save it boy. I saw you change that first night. When you went after that girl. You went from cat to boy, I saw you!" His voice grew louder as his temper began to fray at the look of amusement on Briarley-cat's face.

"Well of course I did. A cat is hardly an appropriate form for rescuing pretty girls in." As Burtok grinned in triumph that Briarley-cat had admitted the change, Briarley-cat added, "But I'm not a werecat." Burtok's eyes flashed with fury and he took a step closer. Briarley-cat continued, "It is part of my magic though." Before Burtok could say another word, the figure that had been coming up behind him reached up and pinched a certain nerve in the back of Burtok's neck. Burtok fell to the floor unconscious. Briarley-cat grinned up at his father.

When Burtok came to, he found himself bound hand and foot with something that looked like spiderswebs. He was startled to find that the fragile looking gossamer was as strong as steel. A soft laugh drew his attention to the other side of the room. Alana stood calmly beside her husband, her long, silver wand in her hands. As Burtok watched, the wand glowed for a moment as though it was also laughing at him. Alana noticed he was conscious and smiled slightly.

"That will teach you to try to bring harm to the son of an Enchantress!" Michael grinned too.

"Oh, I don't think he's learned his lesson yet." He stalked across the room and stopped just in front of Burtok, allowing the man time to take a good look at him. Burtok did so, and frowned slightly. Michael looked perfectly human, he was dressed in black boots and jeans and a black silk shirt of the style worn by pirates in the late 1800's. But he also wore a long black cape that fanned out around him and reached down to his knees. The cape had a very high collar which stood up around Michael's neck. Burtok sneered.

"What are you supposed to be? An actor in a bad horror movie?" Michael reached down, gathered Burtok's shirtfront in his hand and effortlessly pulled the large man to his feet. When they were standing eye to eye, Michael spoke softly.

"Oh no. I'm no actor. I'm the real thing." Michael smiled, revealing his long fangs. Burtok gasped, and began to struggle, but the vampire's grasp was too strong. Michael looked back over his shoulder. "What do you want to do with him son?"

Alana moved aside to reveal the black-furred form of Briarley-cat, still lying on the table. Briarley-cat's silver eyes glittered with amusement.

"First things first, I don't think he believed me when I said I wasn't a werecat."

Briarley-cat closed his eyes. Unseen by Burtok, Alana pointed her wand at her son and reversed the spell that held him in his feline form. As far as Burtok was concerned, it appeared that Briarley-cat changed back by his own power. The secret about the spell's side effect was safe. Back in his human form, Briarley gazed with solemn eyes at Burtok. He sat on the side of the table, his legs hanging off the edge, and just looked at the man who had stalked him through his dreams for almost a year. With his parents beside him, Burtok suddenly didn't seem as threatening any more. Briarley's eyes turned cold and hard. He snarled suddenly, the flash of his long fangs revealing the truth of his nature. Burtok's eyes widened. He shook his head vigorously, trying desperately to think of another explanation, and failing.

"N-no! No! It's impossible! Vampires turn into bats, not cats!" Michael grinned.

"Actually, we can turn into whatever we wish, once our power becomes strong enough. You see, vampires do not age as mortals do, but we do learn, and grow. The stronger we become, the stronger our power grows. The more we learn to control it, the more we can do with it. A vampire of, say, one hundred years, has nothing save physical strength. A vampire such as myself," Michael grinned again, "Can use a variety of mental tricks, like hypnosis, to subdue the victim more easily. We can also sense kidnappers wherever they are hiding." Burtok swallowed nervously, the smell of his fear permeated the air, easily sensed and recognised by the two vampires. Michael grinned again, enjoying himself immensely. "Of course, I can't change my form yet. I'm only five hundred after all," there was a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the look of shock and horror on Burtok's face. Michael went in for the kill, figuratively speaking that is. "Now Briarley on the other hand, well, he's been around a lot longer than I have. Almost 1400 years in fact. He can change into anything he wishes. Bat, cat, he could become a purple elephant if he wanted to. But whatever form he takes, one thing never changes. He is always a vampire. Just like me."

Michael bared his fangs and leaned in towards Burtok's neck. Burtok gave a cry of fear and tried to scramble away, again unsuccessfully. He closed his eyes and waited for death. What he got was laughter, right before Michael made him unconscious again.

Briarley trembled slightly; time and rest were required for him to recover from the side effect of the shapeshifting spell. In the meantime, the easiest way to get him home was for Alana to change him back to Briarley-cat. Once Briarley-cat was safe in Alana's arms, the three headed for home, leaving Burtok tied up to await the police. With the arsenal of weapons in the abandoned building, there was easily enough evidence to put Burtok behind bars for a very long time.

* * *

Briarley Haven, the 1400 year old vampire, snuggled under his soft silk sheets and closed his eyes happily as his mother placed a light kiss on his forehead. He was still weak and slightly ill from the spell, but it was nothing that a few days' rest would not cure. As his mother left the room, Briarley felt the bed dip slightly as Prophecy leaped lightly up. Briarley opened his eyes and met the cat's emerald gaze. As Briarley filled the cat in on what had happened, Prophecy's eyes took on a distant look, as though she was seeing it as it happened. Briarley knew that could well be the case. When his story was finished, he asked Prophecy about her night.

"Did the magic come to you?" Prophecy nodded.

"Yes my master. The Book of Prophecy has an added page this dawn. I will bring it to you when you are recovered, but not before, for I fear it is a complicated matter that will require your full strength for it to come to pass." Briarley nodded and closed his eyes. As the first rays of the dawn touched the grey stone of his home, Briarley slipped into sleep, a faint smile upon his lips.

Prophecy the cat smiled also. She sensed that her master had faced the terror that had lived in his nightmares, and overcome it once and for all. Briarley's sleep would be disturbed no more.

The mist-grey cat with the gift that was her namesake, settled down beside her master and joined him in the land of dreams.

 

The End