Before waking up with her head in Elias’ lap on a train “not meant for humans”, Chise has a dream about a sickly woman in bed, telling her cat how she wishes she could have one of its nine lives. From there, a messenger appears in the form of a cat. No wait; it’s just a regular cat…who can talk.
To be precise, Chise learns cats can converse with mages and other magically-inclined people, including her. Like people, they have countries, and their king, a female named Molly, has a task for Elias and Chise in Ulthar – a land where cats are loved and cared for by the humans living there.
There is a growing mass of “corruption” on an islet in the heart of the lake, which will soon wreak havoc on cat and human alike.
As soon as Molly tells the tale of a man who once tortured and killed scores of cats—who was ultimately killed by a whole mess of cats organized by the first Cat King—I began to suspect the source of the corruption had something to do with that cat-hater.
A suspicious hooded woman snatches Chise, carries her into the air, and drops her in the lake.
At the bottom of the lake Chise meets Mina, the sickly woman from her dream earlier. Mina’s husband Matthew turned into the corruption, with her at its core; she begs Chise to kill them both so they can be free.
Oh, and Matthew? He hates cats, and they hate him. HMMMMMM. He’s clearly hiding his dark inclination from Mina, who rarely leaves her bed and probably hardly ever leaves the house.
Chise wakes up in Elias’ arms (again), and he has another task for her: to don robes and perform a cleansing ritual with the help of Ariel; something he with his incompatible shadow concentration cannot do himself.
Chise starts to walk out to the corruption, with Mina’s plea ringing clearin her head, and worried about Elias losing faith in her if she fails. Then she’s suddenly captured again by the red-hooded woman. She’s joined by her master, the sorcerer Renfred, who doesn’t want the corruption cleansed.
Renfred also ridicules Elias (whom he refers to as Pilum Murialis) for “putting a collar” on Chise and using her as his “latest experiment”, without telling her the fate that awaits all Sleigh Beggys—early death.
Not that I blame Elias for taking it slow with Chise, but it now looks like a rift could form based not upon lies, but omission. Unless…as he grooms Chise he’s also looking for a way to prevent her from sharing the fate of her kind.