The first clue came from the missing food. It was easy to miss, because their visitor didn’t eat much, or quickly. Perhaps, during the course of a day, a berry or two and a single nut might go missing. Perhaps the sugar lid might be put back slightly askew, with a pattern raked into it as though tiny hands had explored its sweet bounty.
Baruch didn’t notice the changes, of course, even when he was at his most lucid. His memory and demeanor had greatly improved since they’d been able to move into this apartment, but he still didn’t tend to notice small changes around him.
Leoth might have blamed the missing food on him, for it was not unheard of for Baruch to eat something and then forget, later, that he had done so. This was Leoth’s first thought, but he immediately dismissed it. The volume simply wasn’t high enough for the sphinx to have bothered. Baruch’s forearm was nearly the size of Leoth’s entire body. A snack, for Baruch, consisted of far more than a few nuts and berries.
For a time, Leoth thought that they might have some sort of vermin invading their home, perhaps ants or a mouse, but the pattern wasn’t quite right. There were no mouse droppings anywhere, and Leoth never saw any ants.
There was something furtive about the missing food, as though there was an intelligence behind it that didn’t want to be detected. The berries were never all taken from the same side of the bowl, for example. Leoth might never have noticed they were missing if he hadn’t known the sugar and the nuts had been disturbed.
It was the little lines in the sugar that brought about his suspicion. He scooped the sugar with a spoon. Baruch hardly used it at all. Because the wood of the lid had a pattern to its grain, Leoth was able to memorize its position after he used it. When he came back to it the next day, he looked closely at the wood grain. The lid had been put back, but the grain was misaligned.
Ants or a mouse or any manner of vermin wouldn’t put the bowl back on the canister of sugar. They didn’t carefully take berries from the bowl so as not to be obvious about it, either, nor did they carefully retie the bag of nuts so that it didn’t look like it had been disturbed.
Leoth did ask Baruch, though he always had to take the sphinx’s answers with a grain of salt. “Baruch, have you been snacking on the nuts and berries?”
“No,” Baruch said. He looked up from his notebook, where he had been writing something in a language Leoth did not know.
“No you haven’t, or no because you don’t remember if you have?” Leoth asked. Normally, he was not so blunt about questioning Baruch’s memory, but he wanted to be as sure as possible.
“No I haven’t,” Baruch said, frowning. His beard hid his broad mouth almost entirely, but the way the motion shifted his facial hair, and the crease of his brown, told Leoth of his displeasure. “That’s somebody else.”
Leoth tilted his head at this. “Somebody else?”
“Yes,” Baruch said. “Somebody likes to sneak around and eat our food.”
Leoth crossed his arms. “Who, Baruch?”
“Hmm,” Baruch said, tapping his pen against his chin. “I’m not sure.” He dipped his pen in his ink well to begin writing once more, but Leoth approached him and placed a hand on the pen.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Leoth asked. He forced Baruch to meet his eyes. “Somebody has been eating our food.”
“Yes, but it’s okay,” Baruch said. “She doesn’t eat very much.”
“I would still have liked to know, Baruch,” Leoth said.
Baruch shrugged. “I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Leoth said. “I’m not mad.”
“Why would you be mad?” Baruch asked.
“Just because you didn’t tell me about the missing food,” Leoth said. “I’m not upset. I just want to know who took it.”
“There’s missing food?” Baruch asked.
“Yes, Baruch,” Leoth said. “Berries, nuts, and sugar.”
“Oh,” Baruch said. “I didn’t eat them.”
This was how conversations with Baruch went, sometimes, especially if he was particularly unfocused that day, or upset about something. Something had ruined his memory, and had taken chunks of his self-control and reasoning along with it. Baruch had good days, bad days, and days between the two. This was one of the latter.
“I know you didn’t eat them, Baruch,” Leoth said. He was not annoyed or frustrated. He was accustomed to working around Baruch’s memory problems. “Do you know who did?”
“She did,” he said, though he gave no indication as to who “she” might be. He shifted his pen out from under Leoth’s hand and began writing again.
This went on for nearly a month, with Leoth unable to find the source of the missing food, and Baruch seemingly almost knowing what it might be, but unable to tell Leoth any more than that it was a female. At least Baruch was not concerned. That gave Leoth some peace, because, for the most part, Baruch’s faculties were present enough that he responded correctly to danger.
Then, one morning in the bathroom, with the light of the morning sun streaming through the window to light Leoth’s face in the mirror, another, rather obvious hint came that they had an uninvited guest. When Leoth reached for his razor, his hand passed through it and touched the counter. Frowning, he tried once more, but the razor had no mass. It was as if a perfect illustration of it had been painted on the surface of the bathroom counter.
A giggle, high and delighted, sounded from the upper corner of the bathroom. Leoth’s head snapped upward, but he saw nothing there, only the old wood of the support beams that held the roof over their head. When he glanced back at the counter, his razor has shifted to one side. He reached for it, tentatively, and this time his hand met it. He picked it up.
He mentioned this to Baruch when he left the bathroom. Baruch spent almost all of his time in the living room, as it was the only room in the apartment in which he could fit comfortably. He could barely squeeze down the narrow hallway to enter the bedroom in which Leoth slept when Baruch didn’t need him for comfort during the night.
Baruch was curled up on the couch with a book, made for human hands, which looked small in Baruch’s paws but would have looked large held in Leoth’s arms. He read despite the fact that he had lit no lamps and the sun had not turned enough in the sky to send light through his window.
“Baruch,” Leoth said. “There’s somebody in our apartment.”
“I know,” Baruch said. “She keeps turning the pages of my book.”
“What?” Leoth asked.
Baruch took his hands away from the book, where he had been holding down the pages at the corners. After a brief pause, the pages flicked to the left as though blown by a sudden, stiff breeze. The fur on Baruch’s paused moved as well. Leoth heard the same giggle from somewhere above him.
“See?” Baruch said. “She seems to think it’s funny.”
“I don’t think it’s funny,” Leoth said. “I think it’s not very nice.”
“She’s been moving things in the house a lot over the past two weeks,” Baruch said. “I’m surprised you haven’t notice. She likes to move the books to different places on the shelves. She also likes to reorganize your spices.”
“I’m surprised you have noticed,” Leoth said. He had thought Baruch had moved the spices around for some reason. It hadn’t occurred to him that it might be the work of the same person eating their food. He would never have noticed the books, though. They were never organized to begin with.
“I have my moments,” Baruch said.
He began speaking in the First Tongue. Before his time with Baruch, Leoth might not have recognized it, or known what Baruch was doing, but Baruch had exposed him to the language of spellcasting. Leoth understood nothing of the words, however.
When Baruch finished, Leoth blinked, because nothing visible had happened. Then Baruch turned his head to look around the room, searching intently for something. Leoth blinked again, because his eyes, though they looked the same, also looked different somehow — bolder, more in focus than the rest of his face, more real.
“I see you,” Baruch said with a teasing smile. He was looking up toward the edge of the ceiling, past the bookcase. Leoth followed his gaze, but saw nothing. “You can come out. We’re not going to hurt you.”
Whoever he was speaking to did not respond. “There’s no use hiding,” Baruch said. “I know where you are now.” Baruch shifted on the couch. His book fell to the floor, and his wings opened slightly, as though he was preparing to spread them, though there was no room for their span anywhere in the apartment.
Leoth tensed. Baruch still spoke as though he was unconcerned, but he was also very focused, and his memory was very with him right now — Leoth knew this because of the casual way he’d pointed out the changes in the apartment, but also because of the ease with which he’d cast the spell. Baruch normally only acquired this much focus when under a threat.
“What is it, Baruch?” Leoth said.
“Don’t be afraid, Leoth,” Baruch assured him. “I have this well in hand. She is not a threat to us.” But he brought one hand to the floor, claws inching outward. He blinked. “I am impressed, young one. You changed you invisibility spellform on the fly so that my own spell would no longer detect you.”
Baruch closed his eyes. “I have other senses, though, young one. How do you think I detected you in the first place?” He began casting another spell. Once again Leoth did not know its words, but he thought that, despite the similar cadence, they were quite different.
When Baruch closed out the spell, a squeak issued from the top corner of the bookcase, and a tiny figure appeared there. Her wings, like paper-thin diamonds, still stirred the air and kept her aloft, but her hands and arms had frozen, one at her side, and the other crimped into a convoluted twist. She was scarcely longer, from head to toe, than Leoth’s hand.
“Hello, little faerie,” Baruch said. “Why don’t you come down here where we can speak, and I’ll release the spell binding your hands?”
The faerie hesitated, but she did come downward. Her hair, a deep black, twisted about in the air behind her as she descended, stirred by the wind from her wings. She landed upon the small table Baruch kept next to the couch.
“You’re the one who’s been eating our food?” Leoth asked. He had rarely seen faeries before. He knew little about them other than that they did not generally like to venture into the city.
She nodded, though she remained silent, and she kept her gaze downward, away from either of their eyes. True to his word, Baruch spoke the words that released his spell. Her arms relaxed.
“What is wrong, young one?” Baruch asked. “Your eyes have seen pain.”
She shook her head, eyes closing, refusing or unable to answer.
Leoth felt a heaviness descend upon his heart. It was the same weight he’d felt when he first saw Baruch, cornered and threatened with spears by the city guard. “It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to tell us now, or ever, if you can’t.” He knelt down to where his eyes were level with hers. “Would you like some berries? We’ve got plenty.”
She turned her face to him, her eyes no open, and he saw that they were violet and full of tears. She nodded, so Leoth gave her an encouraging smile and went to the kitchen to get her some food.