Her faintly glowing silver hair was as soft as paint released into the water.
Killian’s eyes closed and opened slowly, as if submerged beneath the surface.
Beneath the spilled hair, a woman’s white body formed a soft curve, and her lean back…….
Killian’s suddenly frozen eyes flashed sharply and he jumped to his feet.
A naked stranger was curled up, sleeping.
He squeezed his eyes shut and grabbed the blanket, throwing it in her direction.
With a flutter, the sound of the comforter being pulled over the woman’s body echoed through the bedroom.
Swiping a hand across his dry face, Killian sighed and looked back at her.
“There’s no …….”
There was no sign of the cat where she lay.
His gaze turned cold as he searched for the cat.
“Where did it go?”
I had heard something about cats when I was learning about the history of Wiper and the Trust.
Cats, it was said, had five senses and were more intelligent than other animals, so they harmed people.
The cat was his to discover.
For the first time in his life, he came face to face with something he had only seen in drawings.
A cat that shouldn’t be alive had fallen into his hands, alive, and while it would have been right to kill it on the spot, there was a part of him that didn’t want to just kill it.
How could a cat that was supposed to have disappeared from the Huppert Empire, exterminated hundreds of years ago, be found in the gardens of the Imperial Palace today?
It was also bizarre that the little animal seemed to understand human speech, desperately trying to keep Lady Gisela from eating her food.
And that the tiny creature, so small it could be placed in the palm of his hand, had lain by his wounded side and watched over him until he fell asleep.
“How dare you take what is mine…….”
His red eyes, fiercer than a beast’s, glared at the woman who had intruded into this room so unexpectedly.
The kitten must have recognized the woman’s pretense faster than anyone else.
It might have ducked for cover, but it might have run out the open door and gone somewhere else.
Because of this ridiculous woman.
For this naked, insignificant, woman he had never allowed to come here.
His piercing gaze flickered to her, but the woman covered by his blanket was fast asleep, her face expressionless.
It was clear he was after something.
This time, a woman lying naked in his bed.
She could have been set up to frame him, or she could have been a greeter to seduce him and get something out of him.
Only torturing her in some way would tell.
“Open your eyes…….”
A series of low, grating voices leaked out.
Killian reached out in one swift motion to the unmoving woman.
“Get up now…….”
Killian’s lips parted as he grabbed the woman’s shoulders menacingly.
The woman, startled by his touch, quickly opened her eyes.
At the same time, he felt the fluffy fur in his hand.
A chill ran through his body, and a deeper shock struck his mind.
She had turned into a cat and was staring up at him, wide-eyed.
Killian’s eyes widened as if he’d seen something unbelievable.
* * *
With a pop, Killian’s hands loosened their grip and his body fell onto the futon without a chance to resist.
His face was serene as he looked down at me, but somehow it felt tense.
Why did he wake me up so suddenly?
That must have been quite a grip I just had.
Did I kick him with my back paws in his sleep?
Or did I touch a wound?
But any human being worth their salt would have abandoned me earlier, when he came in injured, instead of taking care of my Madeleine.
No matter how much I racked my brain, I couldn’t figure out what I had done in my sleep, and I was starting to get frustrated.
As a human, I might be able to guess, but as a cat, how could I possibly know what my sleeping habits were?
He try to touch her nose to see if she’s been purring too, but he lose his balance and falls flat on his face.
By this point, I was ready to say something, but Killian was still staring down at me.
Even the most casual observer could tell that his mood was low right now.
The red eyes beneath his black hair remained silent, cooler than the dawn.
It was a long time before Killian’s low voice broke through.
I looked up at him more, wondering what the hell he was talking about.
His piercing red eyes stared back at me.
I wondered how I, a cat, could answer that question.
Killian’s long eyes slowly narrowed as I stared at him in surprise.
“Did you just…….”
“You just clearly…….”
I asked, shaking my head, and Killian’s mouth dropped open, unable to say anything more.
He sighed in disbelief and swiped at his dry face.
He shuddered, wondering if this was the after-effects of the beating he’d taken earlier.
How badly did he have to have been abused to wake up like this?
“……you’re a cat.”
Or was it just that I was being too coy earlier?
“You really……. you’re a cat…….”
But even with these eyes, Killian was still repeating that he couldn’t believe I was a cat.
I didn’t know if I’d been too intrusive earlier, or if she was just slightly, shallowly addicted to the black magic potion.
Okay, I’ve already eaten Mrs. Gisela’s food, so that’s much more likely.
I thought the original story said there must be an antidote.
But only Mrs. Gisela knew about it, and she died without it.
Since I’m going to be stuck with Killian for the rest of my life until I can escape this empire, I’d better make sure he doesn’t take any more of the black magic potion, and if I can, I’d better find the antidote and give it to him.
“If I may say so now…….”
He was under the delusion that I wasn’t a cat, so I needed him to recognize me as one now.
Come off your meds, your highness.
I immediately lifted my front paw and flicked it with my tongue.
I could see his red eyes flutter open.
Well, see, I’m a cat, right? How could a human lick their hands and pick their fur with saliva without going crazy?
I washed my face harder, pretending to be preoccupied with picking out the fur.
His fierce gaze down at me, his eyes narrowed, seemed to fade, and I tried to scratch his ears with my hind paw in frustration, but his short legs sent him sprawling to the side.
“What are you doing?”
He frowned, picked me up, and set me upright.
I was very embarrassed, but Killian’s scowl softened a bit, so it wasn’t a bad outcome.
When I thought about it, it was nothing to be ashamed of, since cats are short-legged, and falling over while scratching their ears is no big deal. Well, not a person, anyway.
When Killian finally gave me the benefit of the doubt, I saw him lean back against the pillow. His eyes were fixed on me, of course.
I mimed a quick yawn and stretched out my back, hoping it was time.
If he sleeps, I’ll sleep again, so I can be refreshed and live to fight another day.
This time I stretched out my hind legs, and my fur stood on end in the early morning air, which was colder than when I fell asleep.
Come to think of it, the night air felt quite cold.
It’s a good thing I have fur, or I’d be freezing my ass off if I slept naked without it.
I rolled over like I was sleepy, and suddenly a blanket flew over me.
Killian had thrown it.
It looked like he’d thrown it away, but it didn’t matter.
It was spooky, and I was glad for it, so I buried my head in the blanket.
As my eyes slowly closed, I vaguely heard his voice say.
Tomorrow, I’ll try ……, and I’ll know.
Something like that.
* * *
Killian looked at the sleeping woman with her back to him.
It wasn’t until he saw the cat’s body take human form beneath the blanket he’d thrown over her that he could be sure the sight earlier hadn’t been an illusion.
A hysterical gasp escaped his lips as a new low curse passed through his hair.
A cat had become human.
Though it was unclear whether she knew it or not.
She had definitely turned human before his eyes.
This had this happened.
Killian laughed hollowly, as if he’d just suffered a setback, before turning his attention back to the sleeping stranger with the blanket pulled up to her chin.
Cats, it was said, would threaten and eventually destroy the Huppert Empire.
That’s what all the people had been taught.
But contrary to what the empire had been taught, a cat that had been thought to be extinct for hundreds of years had appeared before him and brought peace and prosperity.
It even turns into a human when it sleeps, in a way he’s never been taught.
He wondered what this meant.
It was only for a moment that the sharp shock of encountering the cat in the palace gardens hit him.
His father’s fierce vigilance, the young mistress who had pushed his mother away, and the countless nobles who had risen through the ranks and kept watch over the crown prince.
It was this animosity that made him consider bringing the cat back to life and presenting it to them.
But then a question gripped him.
Had his education been based on truth?
If it was true that the survival of an empire was tied to its cats, then what of the centuries of progress of this glorious empire?
The cat that was supposedly exterminated is still alive and well.
Besides, I hadn’t been taught anything about becoming human.
“I’ll have to find out.”
Maybe some of the things that had been written about cats were fabricated.
Maybe there were people who profited from concealing the truth.
But these were all hypotheses, not hard evidence.
I’ll keep her alive.
If there is no need for it, it won’t matter if you kill it then.
Killian propped up a pillow and looked down at the girl, who was leaning back and exhaling softly.
She was fast asleep under the covers, probably around her age or younger.
As the task at hand began to become clearer, Killian decided he needed information about cats.
Until then, he would have to keep the although he could hardly call it a cat anymore by his side.
Never to be seen, never to be taken from him, never to be seen by anyone connected to the imperial family.
Killian’s gaze naturally drifted to the woman, but then his brow furrowed in surprise.
But first, there was something to be done.
He’d have to get to know the cat, now that he was stuck with her for the time being.
This naked woman’s clothes were also a problem.