All Cats Go to Valhalla

“Well, we’re fucked,” Kills-the-Sky muttered at the far-off storm.

If only his name meant he had the power to rule a storm, like Thor, instead of being a noted bird hunter.

A soft mew from behind him, and Kills-the-Sky turned to see a ginger cat named Sunchaser.

Sunchaser asked, “When will we make landfall?”

“Soon,” he lied. His tail entwined with hers, his green eyes met her golden ones. “Land is on the other side of those clouds.”

Satisfied with the lie, Sunchaser wandered off, their tails clinging a moment before she was gone. “I’ll tell the others.”

Kills-the-Sky looked back to the seething clouds. “So totally fucked.”

They were a long way from home, and further from safety. Once that dark bank of clouds reached the ship it would capsize, and then they’d all drown.

That is, if the nightmare didn’t get them first. After the nightmare had killed the cats’ human servants, it had seemed unconcerned with them—perhaps cats didn’t dream the way humans did?—but there was no telling how long that would continue.

While the hold had normally been filled with trade goods or war gear, this time there was only their servants’ provisions and the box which had imprisoned their nightmares. Kills-the-Sky and the cats guarded the hold from rats. The hold was their purview, and as the leader of the ship’s cats, his purview. And he had failed. Failed so mightily. He stared into the hold at the opened chest and hissed his annoyance into the wind.

Kills-the-Sky didn’t know how the nightmare had escaped her imprisonment and it didn’t matter. A number of cats had begged Kills-the-Sky to open the box during the voyage, so they could sleep in it, or play with whatever was inside, but he’d held to his duty. They protected the stores from rats and he’d done the same for this prison. For all the good it had done.

With their servants dead, Kills-the-Sky and his cats would die too. No cat could tow the oars, or cut into the wind with the sail. Even if the cats knew how to sail the ship, it’d be no help. Great rends marred the square woolen cloth from the top to the bottom, as if Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat had shredded it in a fit of pique. Cats were as adept with a needle and thread as they were at manning the oars. Frayed fabric was a toy, not something to mend.

Kills-the-Sky licked sea salt from his fur, feigning nonchalance to the other cats roaming on their listing vessel. They looked up to him. They needed him. But they were fucked.

Kills-the-Sky’s ear twitched. The barest whisper of a padded foot over wood from behind him.

“Quite the pickle,” a tortiseshell named Fairweather said, watching the sky from the oarsman’s seat beside Kills-the-Sky.

Kills-the-Sky didn’t catch the reference, but he gathered the cat’s context. “One could say that.”

“So stoic.” She patted Kills-the-Sky. “We both know we’re fucked.”

Kills-the-Sky hissed and clawed at Fairweather. She dodged the swipe and didn’t retaliate. Her back was up, fur on end, and her tail swished warily, teeth bared in an incongruous smug smile. She was the most recent cat to join them on the ship, and a bit odd, which among this crew, was saying something.

“Do cats go to Valhalla?” Fairweather asked, her mismatched eyes glittering, and her anger gone like a summer squall. “Inquiring for a friend.”

You won’t,” Kills-the-Sky said. “Since you’re so afraid to fight.”

“There are some fights one can’t win,” Fairweather said. “Even you.”

Read more in Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas from Tyche Books.