The Familiar

The sorcerer Hieronymous stood by an interior window, considering from the parapet the angry mob advancing on his Bavarian castle, his black cat, Bane, perched on his shoulder. It was a standard group of irrate townspeople bearing torches, pitchforks, and assorted agricultural cutting implements. They jabbered excitedly among themselves, moving quickly as a group up the long, winding pathway in the dark.

"Why can't they leave us alone, Bane?," the wizard asked rhetorically. "Why do they persecute and seek to destroy that which they don't understand? - Well, we'll prepare a reception for them, yes we will indeed!"

Hieronymous hurried to his book of black magic, the cat retreating unconcernedly to a comfortable small pile of straw in a corner of the stone floor. Ancient pages of text in arcane languages flew under his fingertips as he researched a spell, quickly targeting one. "Hah, Bane!," exulted the sorcerer. "Let's see how they like this!" The wizard raced to his window, holding aloft his bony arms and gesturing while he uttered mysterious, guttural phrases in Babylonian. Dark clouds gathered, and rained stones down on the villagers. They cursed, shielded their heads with clothing, and hastened their advance.

The sorcerer's expression darkened as he retreated to his book of black arts, again rifling through its pages while Bane the cat yawned and stretched. "I've used this one before!," he exulted as he hit upon one encantation. Sparks flew from the fingertips of Hieronymous as he gestured and chanted at a broomstick, which clattered to the ground, sprouted wooden arms and legs, and stood upright before multiplying to two, four, eight, and sixteen ambulatory figures. Hieronymous hurried to equip each broomstick with a flask of acid or foul-smelling substances before sending his inhuman army through the door to confront the legion of townspeople. The broomsticks flung their odious fluids upon the villagers, who shrieked their protest but met the wooden abominations with axes and firebrands, splintering and burning them until they were immobile and moved no more.

Hieronymous switched his efforts to reinforcing the heavy oaken door which barricaded his workshop, dragging benches and ironwork racks to buttress it. The villagers, however, had reached this perimeter, and smashed a heavy log against the door as others of their number applied axes to the heavy planking, the noise causing Bane to shift and open his eyes as if irritated. Knowing that even the massive door would eventually yield to the assault, Hieronymous prepared his final defense; a powerful confounding spell. As the thick door groaned and splintered, Hieronymous shouted in demonic languages, weaving a rich tapestry of magical incantation that almost seemed to hover in the air before descending upon the townsfolk in a miasma-like haze. The local folk, however, apparently lacked much in the way of minds to confound, and the spell seemed to have little influence upon them.

"You shall not suffer a witch to live!," cried the apparent leader of the invading group as his followers raised their cutting instruments to strike Hieronymous dead. The sorcerer made a move to dash to his cloak of invisibility, thinking to elude his tormentors. It was then that a powerful and commanding voice came into his head, a telepathic communication.

"Stand aside!," ordered the voice. "I'LL handle this!" The black cat, Bane, vaulted from his bed of straw, moving towards the angry mob. A kind of blue effluvium surrounded the cat, who reared onto his hind legs, his form stretching and expanding as he underwent an incredible transformation into a Smilodon, commonly called a sabre-toothed tiger. The former housecat flashed his seven-inch long maxillary canines at the now cowering humans and roared, the deafening sound reverberating in the enclosed area.

"Hello, boys!," grinned Bane. "Let's party!," he proclaimed, gaping his jaws 90 degrees and flinging himself at the humans like an avenging wraith. Ripping wounds were swiftly inflicted on human flesh by canines and claws as the Smilodon fatalis brought a swift end to the invasion of his lair, the few villagers surviving beating a hasty retreat from the castle.

His rout of the villagers complete, Bane morphed back to the form of a harmless housecat. "Forgive me, mau, beseeched Hieronymous, employing the Egyptian term for cat meaning seer. "I have failed you, and disgraced the black arts!"

Bane looked at his apprentice patiently. "You have practiced the magical arts for a mere three hundred years," he noted. "You cannot be expected to have the abilities that will come with maturity." With that, the cat settled on his bed of straw, leaving his apprentice to clean up the mess of blood and body parts...for rank has its privileges, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine who is the master, and who the disciple...