VOLUME INDEX



For anyone who has ever lost their pet and ran through hell, high water, and smog to find them—placking up posters and going through every listing in the lost and found on the web...





 
 
 




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Vex’s search led her to a house, if it could be called such. The slanting yellow midstorm light carved deep angles into the rundown exterior, grainy shadows gave a sinister edge to the peeling paint and splintered wood. Smashed windows were boarded up, bristling with nails, and several of the concrete steps leading up to the patio had crumbled through.

This was the place. No doubt about it.

She cut the engine. What had started out as a simple hunt had turned far more complex than she’d expected over the past few days. When she took her obsidian-tipped wand from the glove box, she regarded the weapon with a casual concern. The priority now would be to get Holly out of the house—if it turned out she was in there looking for Augustus. The cat could prove to be just as dangerous to her as it had been to the crook in the morgue.

Of course, if it was only the sphinx in the house. Vex knew what she might have to do.

Vex never had the responsibility of owning her own pet, so she wondered why she sympathized so much with Holly and her plight. Holly’d raised the sphinx from a kitten, likely doted over it with the tender care of an older sister, and watched him grow from a mewling kitten into… Well, hopefully she would never need to know what Augustus had become.

Raindrops stung her hands and dampened her dress as she made her way up the broken and battered walk. Water splashed under boot as she strode through the yard and kept an eye out for movement.

The door opened without a sound, but the floor creaked dreadfully when she set foot inside the dark threshold. Inside the murk mixed with the smell of decay; mildew, moldering carpet, and the sharp tang of bleach emanated from a puddle. The one-two cadence of numerous leaks in the roof greeted her as she scanned the room, but even the brief bursts of lightning did not penetrate far. The throaty roll of thunder from the last flash reminded her too much of a low feline growl.

She held up her hand and softly said, “Lumen.” A nimbus of fire breathed alive around her fingertips, casting a cold light onto interior—in her other hand, she kept her wand raised as she scanned the room.

Nothing moved but for grimy white sheets draped over furniture, caught by the draft from the open door. It might have been a family room once. The house had been gutted by a fire, explaining why it had been abandoned in its current condition. Plastic pinned up on the walls shimmered as she swept her hand to bring light to the deeper corners.

She started to call out for Holly but caught herself. If Holly was in the house, she would run into either Vex or the sphinx first. Right now it was even odds. Vex didn’t know how the sphinx would react to Holly, but she was certain it would react badly to her. It would probably not work out so well if Vex started giving away her presence and the sphinx found her instead of Holly.

The living room branched into several other rooms. On one side, an empty study, studded forlornly with weeping shelves that once might have held books. Another side, a hollow kitchen with a hole in the floor. Neither room held any inhabitants, feline, little girl, or otherwise. Satisfied the front of the house was clear, Vex moved into a long hallway that lead to the back.

Then she noticed something small and blurry move in the shifting shadows at the edge of her illumination.

It was the cat. He stood at the far end of the hall, tail lashing wildly, hackles raised, but housecat sized. An acutely beautiful specimen of the feline animal, short white fur, glossy and healthy. His eyes shimmered like jewels in the fey light from her illumination spell. As if to answer her previous questions, the cat growled low in his throat and squared himself against her. The rumble gurgled deep in his throat, dropping to a low warning whine.

“You don’t want to pick a fight with me, Augustus,” Vex said. “I might have a solution to your problem…but it’s no good if you’re already a killer.”

The cat didn’t quite know what to make of that and the growl died in its throat.

“That’s a good kitty.” She took a few cautious steps down the hall, wand leading the way. The sphinx seemed to have a keen idea as to the use of the wand, its eyes flicked between it and Vex’s face as she walked forward slowly. “I’d rather not hurt you.”

She started to lower the wand, offering a placating hand instead.

The cat stood absolutely still, tail motionless.

“Everything is all right. Good kitty.”

That’s when what seemed to be going right, suddenly went wrong.

Augustus hissed and screeched a terrible caterwaul and transformed. It was like watching a bad werewolf movie, with animatronic effects. The tiny animal hulked out right in front of her eyes, going from something that could fit into a breadbox to a monster that would have trouble entering through the front door. Sleek and refined became primal and muscular; the outlines of the smaller cat expanded, filling out with atavistic potence. The eyes, at first cold and pitiless, clouded with a feral hunger and an unexpected shadow of remorse.

And then he was leaping for her. Fangs bared, lethal claws extended.


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