The wand snapped up again, prepared to deal the killing
blow. Mystic power flooded through her. The now-large sphinx barreled down at
her, point-blank, she would not miss.
The shadows blurred and something moved in Vex’s
Mid-charge, the sphinx planted all of its claws into the
soggy carpet and tumbled. Vex grabbed Holly—who had suddenly placed herself
between Vex and the charging sphinx—and yanked her out of the way. Sliding on
the slick carpet, the sphinx whacked into the wall, shaking loose flecks of
paint and sending putrid smelling water spraying. Thud. The impact left
a noticeable depression in the drywall.
“Holly!” Vex gritted her teeth. Using her elbow, she tried
to herd the girl away from the hallway. It was all she could do to keep her
wand aimed. “Get out of here. Now.”
The girl proved more squirmy than Vex could control. She
broke free and tried to run to Augustus. Unwilling to give up her one possible
defense, Vex grabbed Holly with her lit hand. The glow diminished
significantly, but she still had more than enough to keep a bead on the sphinx.
If Holly had insisted on staying to watch this, there was
nothing Vex could do to stop her.
The cat, having regained his feet, backed away as if Holly
and Vex had suddenly sprouted spines. He mewed pitifully, slowly losing
dimension and size—the outline of the monster shifted and evanesced as muscle
and bulk vanished. The tiny, insignificant cat once again emerged.
“I know you didn’t mean it!” Holly wailed and
fought against Vex’s grip, which she tightened. The girl turned her eyes up at Vex.
“Please don’t kill him. He didn’t mean to hurt the man.”
“But he had to…” Tears rained down Holly’s cheeks. She
looked pitiful. Her hair and clothing were soaked through from walking in the rain,
mud spattered the cuffs of her pants and her shoes. “He was only protecting my
mom and me. He didn’t have to run away. I understood.”
Vex was startled by Holly’s words, but she didn’t loosen
her grip. She looked into the little girl’s eyes.
“You know what he is?”
“He’s my friend,” she said, “and my hero.”
During this entire exchange, Augustus didn’t move. He
cowered—head down, tail still—near where he had struck the wall.
“Augustus wouldn’t hurt you. I think he’s terrified. He
ran away right after that man broke my bedroom window. I know he killed that
guy.” She looked at Augustus with pleading eyes. “Please come home. I’m not
The wand lowered and Vex took her hand off Holly. For a
long moment, nobody moved.
“I think I understand now,” Vex said. “That’s why he
hesitated. He’s not a killer. Not yet.” Then she looked at the sphinx. He
settled onto his haunches, keeping his head low, eyes wide and glowing in the
light. “I’m going to trust Holly. Don’t make me regret it.”
She took her wand and tucked it into her belt behind her;
then extended a hand to the cat.
“Come on,” she said, “let’s get the two of you home. Your mother
is about dead with grief.”
Holly, no longer crying her eyes out, moved to scoop
Augustus up as he shakily approached. Vex straightened herself up and brushed
some new muck from her legs and dress, sighing over the damage to the outfit.
Salvageable, but she would probably have to go home and change into something
“Can I ask you a question?” Holly asked.
“Sure,” Vex said.
In true form, Holly’s mind skipped over the wand, her shape-shifting
monster cat, and even Vex’s glowing hand to ask:
“Why are you dressed like a doll?”