Prompt: Shuos Zehun, "assassin-cats"
It was one hour and fourteen minutes past bedtime in the Hragoshik household, and the youngest of the little ones, four-year-old Piri, would not go to bed.
Zehun had just arrived twelve minutes ago by shuttle from the starport, bringing a modest travel bag and, as usual, the friendliest and most genial of their cats, Irriz. Sometimes people looked oddly at Zehun for traveling with a cat--a cat on a harness and leash, at that--before they realized who the cat's owner was. When it came to travel, Zehun was a pragmatist. It wasn't true
that they ordered retaliatory assassinations if people insisted on delaying them during their rare visits to family, but if their reputation allowed them to skip the lines, why not?
Besides, Irriz, like all of Zehun's cats, was named after a notorious Shuos assassin. Specifically, Shuos Irriz had, in an earlier century, succeeded in assassinating all of a particular Andan hexarch's children and siblings, and had been working her way through a crowd of cousins when she'd died tragically (?) young of unexpected allergic reaction. Whether Irriz the cat would die the same way was an open question, considering how much she liked to try to eat the hexarch's snacks.
Zehun's second daughter, Verissen, was one of Piri's mothers. Verissen, too, had never been particularly good at falling asleep at times convenient for parents. Zehun enjoyed a moment of delicious generational revenge as they listened to Verissen trying to bribe Piri with, alternately (1) an additional bedtime story, (2) shadow-figures against the wall, or (3) extra bits of shredded chicken in Piri's breakfast porridge. Piri wasn't having any of it. In the meantime, Zehun removed the harness, then provided food, water, and a litter box for Irriz, all of which the cat availed herself of.
Irriz made her way to a black velvet armchair on which her splendid white hairs would show up magnificently, raked it with her claws for good measure, then flopped onto it. Fortunately the velvet would heal itself. The hairs were another matter. The velvet was supposed to eat detritus, but for some reason it always choked on cat hairs.
Satisfied that their cat was content, Zehun poked their head into the room where Piri was sitting up in bed with her face screwed up and her blankets kicked to one side. "Why aren't you getting one of the household servitors to put her to bed?" Zehun asked Verissen.
"I usually do that," Verissen said, tugging on a lock of hair straggling loose from its braid, "but I thought we should spend more time together. Of course, I also thought she'd be asleep by now so I could catch up with you properly. I don't know what the problem is!"
Zehun crouched down to bring themselves eye to eye with the little girl. "Hello, Piri," they said softly. "Remember me?"
Piri snuffled. "Gran! Gran, there are too many shadows."
Zehun glanced at Verissen. "You take a break, Rissa. I'll see to the little one."
Verissen didn't even argue, just patted Piri on the head and beat a swift retreat.
Piri snuffled some more. "Gran, I looked under the bed and there are shadows there."
"That means the candlevines are no good," Zehun agreed, "since they're only on the walls. Do you want candlevines under the bed, too?" Probably a nuisance to get the servitors to do it tonight, but it could be managed with the aid of the household matter printer.
"But I won't be able to see anything under the bed," Piri said, with perfect logic, "so how will I know it's working?"
Zehun considered this. "I think I have a solution," they said. "Come with me."
The two of them emerged into the living room together. Verissen was talking to one of her wives about a dinner party she had planned for next week. She opened her mouth to protest, then closed it when Zehun looked at her.
Irriz the cat was still sprawled on the black velvet armchair, having festooned it with numerous long white hairs. Zehun scooped her up. Irriz mewed in protest, but Zehun had long practice avoiding claws.
Zehun and Piri walked back into Piri's bedroom. "You remember Irriz, too, don't you?" Zehun said to their granddaughter.
Piri nodded and reached out for Irriz's tail.
Zehun smoothly diverted Piri's hand to the cat's head, and Piri obediently began scritching Irriz behind the ears. "Irriz is a very special cat," Zehun said. "Irriz is a Shuos cat, and beyond that, Irriz is a Shuos assassin
Piri looked at Irriz wide-eyed.
"That's right," Zehun said. "And furthermore, since Irriz is a cat
, Irriz specializes in assassinating shadows
. She will"--this part was even true--"spend the entire night chasing shadows if you let her."
"She'll chase the shadows away?" Piri asked, her voice trembling just a little.
Irriz purred, which probably had more to do with the scritches than the promise of delicious shadows to pounce on, but who knew?
"Go to bed, Piri," Zehun said, and this time Piri did just that. Irriz clambered into the bed and curled up next to her, ready to go shadow-hunting at the slightest provocation.