You've always had a special bond with your cat, Cassandra. And that's what made it especially distressing when you woke up this morning to find her dead.
No. Not just dead. You woke up this morning to find that she had been murdered. It was the only explanation that made sense to you.
She was happy and healthy the night before. There was nothing wrong with her. You'd have known if there had been. You always know when there's something wrong with her.
She didn't die of natural causes. You're certain of it. You don't know how you know, but you stopped questioning your intuition when it comes to Cassandra a long time ago.
You spent the entire morning and too much of the afternoon on the phone, trying to convince somebody, anybody, to take you seriously. The police weren't interested. The security for your apartment building weren't interested. Your neighbourhood watch group weren't interested. Out of desperation, you even tried the local paper, but they weren't interested either.
You're not surprised. Not really. To them, you probably just sound like a random woman upset that her cat died. You know that you're right, but you can hardly blame them for not trusting you. It's not as if they know you. Still, it would have been nice if someone could have at least spent the time to come and look.
It's become clear to you by now, though, that if you want to know what happened to Cassandra, you're going to have to find out for yourself.
[[Decision<-Where to start?]](if: (history:) contains "Burial" and (history:) contains "Abdul")[It's getting late in the day now, and you're getting exhausted. You figure that the best thing you can do now is [[night1<-get some sleep]] and hope that tomorrow will go better.
](else:)[It's up to you to uncover what happened to your cat, Cassandra.
What do you want to do (if: (history:)'s last is "Introduction")[first](else:)[next]?
(if: (history:) contains "Autopsy" is false and (history:) contains "Burial" is false)[* It will be a grisly task, but maybe you could manage to find some clues if you [[Autopsy<-examine Cassandra's corpse]].
](if: (history:) contains "Burial" is false)[* You need to [[Burial<-have a proper burial]], both for Cassandra's sake and for your own. You can put the investigations on hold for long enough to do that.
](if: (history:) contains "Start investigating" is false)[* You could [[Start investigating<-ask around]] in your apartment building to see if anyone had heard or seen anything suspicious.]]
You were right. This is a thoroughly unpleasant task. There is a dissonant wrongness in seeing the body that used to house your soulmate now reduced to an empty shell. Even so, you force yourself through it and examine the body to the best of your abilities.
You aren't a vet and have no training in medicine or biology so you can't perform a proper autopsy. But what you do notice is the complete lack of any sign of a fight or any physical injury. There are no cuts, bruises, scrapes or gashes to be found; if anything you sense more serenity than struggle.
You find nothing that suggests that Cassandra was in anything other than perfect health when she died.
[[Decision<-Now what?]]Your apartment building doesn't have a garden or any other outside space where you can bury Cassandra. Fortunately, you have a small allotment plot out of town which is going to be the best you can do. You'd love to have a plot at a pet cemetery for her, but you just can't afford it. You know she'd understand. She wouldn't want you to endure hardship just for the sake of the body that once held her soul.
You drive the quarter hour out to your allotment and are greeted by wilted spinach and sorry-looking carrots. Maybe when Cassandra is buried here you'll be more motivated to spend enough time here to grow vegetables properly?
You set that thought to one side and get back to the matter at hand.
After you are done, you sit on the bare earth next to the grave in a minute of silent meditation. You do manage to find the briefest moment of peace in this, but for the most part, when you look inside yourself, you just find a steely determination staring back, determined to find out what happened.
You aren't going to achieve that here, so you get up and drive home.
[[Decision<-Now what?]](if: (history:) contains "Becky and Heather" and (history:) contains "Abdul" and (history:) contains "Kate")[You've now spoken to everyone who you thought might know something and made hardly any progress. Maybe it's time to [[Decision<-try something else]]?
](else:)[You think about who might have seen or heard anything.
(if: (history:) contains "Becky and Heather" is false)[* [[Becky and Heather]] live in the apartment next door to yours, so they're as likely as anyone to know something.
](if: (history:) contains "Abdul" is false)[* [[Abdul]] at number 21 works from home, and he usually syncs his sleep to his wife who's on night shifts at the moment. He was probably awake throughout the night, so he might be a good bet.
](if: (history:) contains "Kate" is false)[* [[Kate]] is a friend of yours and she's always had a good nose for gossip. If there's anything happening, she's usually the first to know about it.]]
You've always had a special bond with your cat, Cassandra. Sure, lots of people bond with their cats, but you feel sure that yours is different.
From the moment you met when she was just a kitten, you were just *right* for each other in a way that you never have managed to put into words. An empathy verging on telepathy was a part of it, but not all of it. From that day forward you have faced all of life's joys and sorrows together. You knew deep down and beyond any doubt that the two of you were meant to be together.
[[Introduction<-You found your soulmate and it was a cat]].You don't know them very well, but Becky and Heather are nice enough people. You knock on their door and Heather answers.
You tell her about what happened and she's sympathetic enough in that awkward sort of way that people are when they do genuinely feel for you but don't know you well enough to be able to express it.
Turns out that both she and Becky slept through the night and don't have anything to tell you, though. Oh well. It was worth a shot. And she does promise to let you know if either of them do hear anything.
[[Start investigating<-Try speaking to someone else]]. Abdul crumples his face in thought for a second when you ask him if he heard anything suspicious last night.
He shakes his head, no.
"But I did hear something three nights ago. A big crash coming from downstairs. At about 3am, I think it was."
It's probably unrelated. Wrong night, and given that you're a floor above him, also the wrong direction. Still, you make a mental note of it just in case.
You thank Abdul for his time and then head off.
[[Start investigating<-Try speaking to someone else]]."Oh, sweetie!" says Kate when you tell her what happened. "I am so, so sorry."
She envelops you in a hug and for a moment you think you're going to cry for the first time all day. You stop yourself, though. If you start crying, you don't think you'll be able to stop for days. There'll be time for mourning later. For now, you need to keep yourself sharp.
Even with her uncanny ability to seek out gossip, though, she hasn't actually heard anything useful to you. After you receive a promise that you'll be the first person she tells if she does hear anything, you let yourself out.
[[Start investigating<-Try speaking to someone else]].You wake up the next day feeling absolutely drained, physically, mentally and emotionally. You feel more as if you've just run a marathon than just had 9 hours of sleep.
After the obligatory shower and coffee have elevated you to a state that could charitably be described as "consciousness", you suppose it isn't too surprising, really. Yesterday was an exhausting day and it's only natural that you're tired. If you get tired again during the day, more coffee is always an option.
[[Getting dressed]] seems like the obvious next step.As you walk back from the kitchen to your bedroom, you notice something that you missed before.
Right inside your front door, lying on the floor, is what appears to be one of the building's security cameras.
That shouldn't be there.
That really shouldn't be there.
On the one hand, it gives you a lead to investigate, but on the other hand it really, really shouldn't be there.
How did it get there? Why didn't you wake up when it happened? Were you really sleeping that deeply?
You get dressed quickly, throwing on jeans and a t-shirt and hiding the sins of your unbrushed hair in a ponytail.
[[Security Camera<-You head out to see what you can find]].As soon as you leave your apartment, it's readily apparent where the security camera came from, at least. Right in the corridor outside your door, where there used to be a camera there is now only crumbling plaster where something was torn out.
That solves one mystery. Sort of. But mostly not at all. And then it asks even more questions. If someone was going to go to the trouble of tearing out the security camera, why would they do it the night *after* killing your cat? And why would they then leave the camera in your apartment. It all makes no sense.
One thing is clear to you, though. [[Searching for footage<-You need to get your hands on that security footage]].On the plus side, you know a fair bit about your building's security company from yesterday's frustrations on the phone. On the minus side, you also learned that they're all completely useless. There's no way you're going to be able to see the security footage without dealing with them, though.
You decide to start with Jim. He's ostensibly in charge of on-site security, but from what you've seen he's mostly a jobsworth and a layabout whose primary goal in life is to read the newspaper and avoid doing any work. He is on site though, which at least means that you won't have to go through a maze of twisty little phone menus to actually get to talk to him.
[[Jim<-His office is on the ground floor]].To your abject lack of surprise, you reach Jim's office to find the door propped open and Jim inside, with his feet up, reading the paper.
You tap on the door anyway to gain his attention, and he waves you in with obvious frustration. You then have to wait another 30 seconds for him to actually put down the paper, which he does with a put-upon sigh.
"What can I do for you?" he asks, disinterestedly.
* [[Ask to see the security footage]]
* [[Report the camera<-Tell him about the broken security camera]]You ask him where the footage from the cameras is stored, and he points at a closed door which seems to be secured with a keypad.
You then ask him if you can look at some of it and get the predictably negative response.
"Oh, I can't let you do that," he says. "It's not my decision, you understand. Rules is rules."
Before you even have a chance to thank him for nothing, he surprises you by carrying on.
"And don't even think about trying to get in there on your own. The code is my Jeanie's birthday, and I'm the only one who knows that."
For a moment, you wonder if he's actually trying to surreptitiously help you, but no, you're pretty sure he's just that hopeless. (if: (history:)'s last is "Report the camera")[Patronising *and* stupid. Your favourite combination.](else:)[Quite how this man managed to get a job in security is entirely beyond you.]
(if: (history:)'s last is "Report the camera")[You [[leave the office]] to plan your next move. He grunts at you and goes back to reading his paper.](else:)[Maybe you should try [[Report the camera<-reporting the broken security camera]] instead.]You tell him about the broken security camera you found, carefully neglecting to mention the part about where you found it. He continues to be entirely uninterested.
"Don't worry your pretty little head about it, sweetheart. If there's a problem, I'm sure we can fix it so there's no need for you to get involved."
Patronising bastard. (if: (history:)'s last is "Ask to see the security footage")[Why is it alway the completely inept ones who think they're so much better than you?]
(if: (history:)'s last is "Ask to see the security footage")[You [[leave the office]] to plan your next move. He grunts at you and goes back to reading his paper.](else:)[Maybe you'll have more luck [[Ask to see the security footage<-asking to see the security footage]].]You think things through to yourself.
Problem: You need to try to get into the room with the security footage and you can't while Jim is in there.
Solution: Wait until Jim isn't there.
Problem: How will you know when he isn't there?
Solution: Watch him.
Problem: If you just stand outside his office waiting for him to leave, even he will probably get suspicious.
Solution: Wait somewhere else instead.
Problem: Where else can you wait?
Solution: How about the cafe across the road where he always gets his lunch?
"Ding! Ding! Ding!" says your brain to itself. "We have a winner!"
And judging by the state of your internal monologue, more coffee wouldn't be a bad idea either.
[[Cafe<-You head to the cafe]].You go back to your apartment to grab some cash, and then go over to the cafe where you order yourself a pain au chocolat and an espresso. You take your time with them, but still have to place a second order to pass the time. You've learned your lesson and this time you ask for a large matcha latte. You'll be able to make that one last much longer.
Sure enough, when you're down to about a quarter of the cup left, you spot Jim walking in.
You quickly down what's left of your drink, leave cash on the table for your bill and a generous tip, and then head back across the street.
[[Back to the security office]].(if: (history:)'s last is "Cafe")[You head back to the security office and, true to form, Jim has left the outer door propped open. What a professional.]
You could try [[the door]] or you could look for clues on [[Jim's desk]].(set: $entry to "") (set: $digits to 0) (set: $success to "You enter the final digit and the door clicks open. You should [[security footage room<-go through]].") (set: $failure to "The numbers flash for a moment and then vanish. The door doesn't move. Looks like you got the code wrong. You'll have to [[the door<-try again]].")
The door itself won't open. It seems to be locked.
You look at the security pad for the door. The numbers 0, 2, 4, and 9 seem to be covered in fingerprints, whereas the rest are clean.
You could go [[Back to the security office<-look at the rest of the office]] or try entering something on the keypad.
| <1| | <2| | <3| |
| <4| | <5| | <6| |
| <7| | <8| | <9| |
| <0| |
(click: ?1)[(set: $entry to $entry + "1") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?2)[(set: $entry to $entry + "2") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?3)[(set: $entry to $entry + "3") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?4)[(set: $entry to $entry + "4") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry] (if: $entry is "0924")[$success](elseif: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?5)[(set: $entry to $entry + "5") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?6)[(set: $entry to $entry + "6") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?7)[(set: $entry to $entry + "7") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?8)[(set: $entry to $entry + "8") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?9)[(set: $entry to $entry + "9") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry] (if: $entry is "2409")[$success](elseif: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
(click: ?0)[(set: $entry to $entry + "0") (set: $digits to $digits + 1) (replace: ?code)[$entry](if: $digits is 4)[$failure]]
}Jim's desk is predictably messy. You see:
* A [stack of papers]<papers|. (click: ?papers)[About 15cm high and entirely untouched, as far as you can tell.]
* A [half eaten chocolate bar]<chocolate|. (click: ?chocolate)[And it isn't even good chocolate.]
* Yesterday's [newspaper]<newspaper|. (click: ?newspaper)[It's open at the crossword which is half filled in with several wrong answers. Apparently Jim thinks that Mercury is the 8th planet from the sun.]
* A [photo]<photo| in a small frame. (click: ?photo)[A photo of Jim and a woman who you assume to be his wife. There's a banner saying "happy birthday!" in the background, hung from a rather autumnal looking tree.]
* Several [motes of dust]<dust|. (click: ?dust)[Yuck.]
[[Back to the security office<-Back to the room]].The footage from the security cameras all seems to be being fed onto a single PC which, unsurprisingly, is not password protected. Finding the relevant files for the one (previously) outside your door is also not hard. It's the one that's constantly throwing out error messages.
You copy the videos from that camera onto a flash drive, and decide to get out while the going is good. Hopefully the videos you've take will answer your questions, and if you do need others then you know how to get in here now.
[[Back home<-Time to make your escape]].Once your back home, you make yourself comfortable at your computer and load up the security videos.
You're torn between looking at the footage from the night that Cassandra died and the footage of when the camera was torn down. On the one hand, figuring out who killed Cassandra is still your top priority, but on the other hand, you could find the exact moment the camera was torn down easily so it would be much quicker to look at that.
Which do you decide to look at first?
* [[Cassandra's death<-The footage from the night Cassandra was killed]]
* [[Torn down<-The last moments of footage before the camera was torn down]]You slept for about eight hours on the night that Cassandra died, so that means you're going to have about eight hours of footage to check through. There's probably an easier way to do it than just sitting and watching eight hours of nothing to find the one moment of something, but if there is, you don't know it.
If sitting and watching eight hours of corridor is what it takes then that's what you're going to do.
Of course, it's easy to say that, but four hours of mind-numbing tedium later, your focus is wavering. You were exhausted to start with and you're not sure you're going to be able to stay awake through all this.
(if: (history:)'s last is "Back home")[You decide to pause the video for now and have a look at the [[Torn down<-video from when the camera was torn down]] instead. You might actually learn something from it, and it should improve your focus.](else:)[You manage at least an hour more but at some point you [[night2<-fall asleep at the keyboard]].]You decide to look at the end of the footage. It might not tell you exactly what you want to know, but you should learn something from it and it won't take too long.
You quickly find the relevant video and skip ahead to a minute before its end. At that point, it's just a video of an empty corridor.
Ten seconds later, your world-view shatters.
Monsters don't exist. You know that. Everyone knows that.
But if monsters don't exist, what are you seeing on the video?
It's humanoid, certainly, but it definitely isn't human. Its limbs are out of proportion for a human, it's covered in fur, and it has wicked-looking stiletto claws at the end of its fingers. The most unnerving part, though, is the eyes. They are yellow, with a faint glow to them and a narrow vertical slit as a pupil. No human has ever had eyes like that.
The creature, whatever it is, stops and stares directly at the camera. It hisses twice and then yowls, before leaping towards the camera. Instants after, the video cuts out in a burst of static.
What have you just seen?
Whatever it is, you're pretty sure you've found Cassandra's killer.
(if: (history:)'s last is "Back home")[Now all you need to do is check [[Cassandra's death<-the footage from the night she died]] to confirm it.](else:)[You go back to corridor footage, hoping to confirm your theory, but it doesn't take long before you [[night2<-fall asleep at the keyboard]] instead.]The next thing you know, you're woken up by the ringing of the telephone.
"Hello?" you answer it, blearily.
"Listen," she says, "I can't stop and chat. I'm on my lunch break now. I tried calling you earlier but you didn't answer. Anyway, I said I'd let you know if I heard anything and I have. Apparently, old Mr. Ferguson's cat died last night as well. Might be related to what happened to your Cassandra. But anyway, like I said, I've got to run! Bye!"
Some part of your brain manages to realise that "bye" and "thanks" are appropriate noises to make at times like this and sends the signal to your mouth. The rest of your brain is caught between trying to wake up and trying to process what's just happened.
You take stock as best you are able.
0. You're in bed, and have no idea how you got there. Last thing that you remember, you were falling asleep at the computer.
0. It's now lunch time. That means you must have slept for twelve hours? Fifteen? You aren't even sure.
0. You are still as exhausted as you can ever remember being in your life. And today, you seem to have a splitting headache to boot.
0. Yesterday, you saw a monster. That one is still difficult to accept.
0. Another cat died in your building last night.
You feel that there must be something tying everything together, but you have no idea what it is. Fuck it. You need [[coffee and ibuprofen]].Of course, nothing is ever that simple.
As you walk through to the kitchen you see that another "present" has been left inside your front door. Today it isn't a security camera. Today, it's a series of scratches in your wallpaper. Six scratches to be precise, arranged like tally marks. Four vertical scratches in a row, a diagonal scratch through them all, and then another single vertical scratch next to them.
What's that supposed to mean? Something to do with the number 6, obviously, but what? Just one more problem that you don't have an answer for.
Maybe things will make sense after the [[try again<-coffee and ibuprofen]] that you are still definitely getting for yourself.After the coffee and ibuprofen, your brain feels less as if it's being eaten by badgers, but you still can't make sense of anything.
The "six" is especially weighing on you. What does it mean? There are six monsters? Six cats are going to be killed? Something is happening at apartment number 6?
You have no clue.
After some consideration, you narrow your options down to two.
* You could go and investigate [[apartment number 6]]. If that guess is wrong than it will only take a few minutes of your time.
* You could watch the [[end of the tape]]. You still want to see the explicit confirmation that it was the monster that killed Cassandra.Number 6. You don't know who lives here. Which is strange, now you think about it. You know most of the people in your building. Maybe whoever lives here is a loner?
You approach the door and knock on it. To your surprise, the door swings open slightly just from the force of your knock. The lock seems to be completely busted.
Even more surprisingly, behind the door you just see a set of stairs leading downwards.
You are apprehensive, even afraid, but you take a deep breath, hold fast to your courage, and [[down the stairs<-head down the stairs]].You go back to the video and reset it to a point that you know was before you fell asleep. And then you watch it. And nothing happens. And nothing continues to happen. Right through to the end.
That is not what you were expecting.
Whoever or whatever killed Cassandra did not enter your apartment through the door. Just one more mystery.
You may as well go and see if there's anyone at [[apartment number 6]] who can help make sense of things for you. You aren't confident, but you're rapidly running out of ideas.A the bottom of the stairs you discover a series of dank passageways. There's no light down here, so you take your phone out and use it for light.
Even so, there's something familiar about the place, as if you've been here before. You're sure that you haven't, but you can't shake the feeling. You feel as if you know the layout of the tunnels, the shape of the echoes, and the smells. The smells are most familiar of all. More vivid and more focused than any smells you're used to.
And then, in a flash of pain and insight, you [[remember]].You've always had a special bond with your human. Sure, lots of cats bond with their humans, but you feel sure that yours is different.
From the moment you met when you were just a kitten, you were just *right* for each other in a way that you never have managed to put into words. An empathy verging on telepathy was a part of it, but not all of it. From that day forward you have faced all of life's joys and sorrows together. You knew deep down and beyond any doubt that the two of you were meant to be together.
And that was why you decided to soul bond with her.
You were desperate, of course. You wouldn't even have considered it if you weren't desperate. Soul bonding with humans, with anyone other than another cat, is forbidden, taboo, abhorrent. And with good reason. It could have been lethal. Should have been lethal. And even if it worked, it should have left you both broken.
Yet what choice did you have? It was that or die, and let others die with you.
And it worked.
[[You remember]].You remember being here last night, a passenger then, as Cassandra's soul controlled your body.
You remember too, the transformation your body underwent at the time, taking on its feline aspects. The body is human, of course, but it cannot help but mirror the soul to some degree.
You remember how three nights, Cassandra had performed some strange feline rite to transfer her soul into your body. How you had welcomed her in without question.
You remember her warning that it would take some time until you could recall all that had happened.
You remember being an observer as Cassandra used your body to leave you the clues that led you here and to this revelation.
You remember everything.
You remember that Cassandra is alive and with you still. You feel where she is within you. And without words you exchange strength and love.
And then you remember [[why you are here]].You remember now seeing what Cassandra had seen when she ventured down here the other night. And unlike her, you can see it in human terms, and put human names on it. Animal experimentation. Gross, repugnant and illegal animal experimentation.
You don't know what they were planning on uncovering down there, and you don't care. What they were doing was sickening.
As soon as you realise all of this, you get out of there in a flash. You get the sense that these are not people you want to mess with yourself.
Instead, you return to your appartment and phone an anonymous tip to the police. If they don't deal with it soon, then you will figure out what else you can do. For now, though you are going to sleep.
Both halves of your soul need rest.