A bald guy in a dark suit put down his briefcase and slid into the booth across from me. I’d smelled him coming–four-hundred-dollar cologne and an omelet with black coffee for breakfast–and smiled as he sat down. He was fiftyish, gaunt as a mortician, and human. I’d expected the human part; the patrons had a lot of them working for them.
“Are you Angus Wolfe?”
“I am,” I said as I extended my hand.
“Mark Connor.” He glanced at the thick hair on the back of it, the wiry curls that poked from my buttoned shirtsleeve. Still, he shook it. “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
I nodded and let my hand drift back to the tea mug. I’d been using Abraham’s Table, a small Chinatown restaurant off Market, as an informal office for years. And Henry Ing, the owner, kept a booth free in the backroom. I shuffled the papers around and closed the lid to my laptop. “How can I help you, Mr. Connor?”
He pulled a thick envelope from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table. “My employer would like to retain your services.”
“I provide a lot of different services. Which in particular is your employer interested in?”
Connor cleared his throat. “He has a lost pet he’d like you to find.”
“I’m good at finding things.” It was a large part of my business. My father was an Old World rending hound and my mother was a waitress from Spokane. I got her good looks and charm. I got his hair along with a sense of smell like no other. “What kind of pet are we talking about?”
“A cat.” Connor lifted his briefcase onto the table and opened it. He pulled a file from it and then withdrew a picture. “Her name is Monica Evenheart.”
I studied it. She was a young woman but old enough to be an Old Worlder. Probably a kitten when she crossed over under the Covenant to escape my father’s kind. Dark hair. Dark skin. Darker eyes. The silver moon collar was subtle beneath her cream-colored blouse. Somewhere, off camera, someone wore the ring that went with it to command both the cat and her change cycle. “Was she taken or did she run away?”
“Ran away,” he said. “Stole both the ring and the collar.”
So it was a breach of contract. When the rending hounds overthrew the Old World, those who could, escaped here. The cost of passage–including the means to blend seamlessly into their new home–was steep. Whole families plunged themselves into indentured servitude to flee the fangs and claws of invasion and genocide. Because of my father, I dodged all of that. My mother raised me quietly away from all the politics and pandemonium. I looked at the picture again then back to Connor. “Any idea where or why?”
He pursed his lips. “We have reason to believe she’s in Seattle . . . or will be. As to why. . . .” He paused, pulled out another stack of pictures. “We’re not exactly sure but she’s hunting off-leash.”
So she was a mouser. Hunting off-leash in this world was a definite no-no. Leashed hunting was only permitted under the guise of a covenanted patron–usually one of the few Old World humans who’d managed to cross over decades before the war. Only an Old Worlder could wield Old Worlder magic.
I laid her picture aside and took the others. Crime scene tape and bloody rags dangling over city streets. They looked like they were men once before Connor’s cat trussed them up and played with her prey.
I squinted at the streetscape. “These aren’t Seattle.”
He shook his head. “No. Los Angeles and Portland. She’s heading north.”
I scowled. “And you have no idea why? Are her prey random, or are they connected in some way?”
“We’re really not sure.”
I’m used to being lied to in my line of work so I know what it sounds like. And sometimes, if it’s thick enough, I’ll even turn down a job. I considered it as I thumbed through the pictures again. But work had been slow, and the lack of work had me living out of a shitty car with what little I owned tucked in storage. The envelope was thick with promise.
“And when I find her, I just ask her to fly back with me?”
“We’ll have a tranq pistol waiting for you in Seattle. They’re hard to fly with.” He pulled a cell phone from the suitcase and passed it over. “When you have her sedated, my number is in the phone. There will be a team ready to bring her back.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
Connor smiled and tapped the envelope. “I think you’ll find this to be an adequate retainer toward expenses. You’ll be paid two-thirds more when our pet is returned.”
Pet. I didn’t like that part either. But the patrons and their Covenant made their contracts as they could. Most of my work came from them or from other Old Worlders in that system. Despite my parents’ best intentions, I skirted the edge of a world they did not want for me.
Connor reached into the briefcase one last time and handed me a wadded bit of pink cloth. “This is her.”
I took it. It was a bra, and I felt my face flush. I could already smell it but to be sure, I brought it close to my nose and inhaled deeply of Monica Evenheart. I handed it back.
He waved it away. “Keep it. In case you need reminding.”
“I won’t need reminding,” I said as I laid it on the table.
Connor dropped it back into the briefcase and closed it. Then he stood and offered his hand again. “Be careful, Mr. Wolfe.”
I stood and shook it. “I will.”
I waited until he left before I picked up the envelope and rifled through the green. It was a lot for this kind of work, even with the bit about her being on the hunt. I pulled out a hundred for Henry Ing and shoved the envelope into my jeans pocket.
Then I opened my laptop and went back online to book my flight to Seattle.
It was mostly cloudy in Seattle, the afternoon light suffused by a veil of gray as I wound through rush-hour traffic from the airport to the neighborhood of Ballard.
I’d spent the flight going through the Evenheart file, familiarizing myself as best I could. She was near thirty and, as I suspected, just a kitten when she crossed over with her family and took the moon collar of her patron. As custom, the patrons divided up the families and found ways for them to earn their passage and keep. My father’s kin had created this mess when they’d taken the Opal Throne. The Queen of the North was the first to flee, and those who could, followed. Which led to the Covenant.
I’d skirted all of that, product of a rending hound’s unexpected conscience and a waitress’s love of strays. My father had worn a moon collar in those days and I reckon that is how I managed to arrive on the scene more human than not. Or maybe it was his deep desire to not pass that part of himself on to his only child. After he’d seen what his kin could do, what he himself could do, he preferred a human son.
But Monica, conceived in the forests of the Old World and in the old ways, wasn’t human at all. Not like the New Worlders. And she was bound by the cycle of the moon, forced to leave her truest form and walk upright and hairless and clawless for weeks on end. For her, the moon collar meant control. And until she’d stolen the ring that commanded it and fled, that control had been in the hands of my nameless employer. She was a cat, a mouser, which meant until recently, she hunted for him. Now I suspected she hunted for herself and I was certain that there was nothing random about it. And nothing in her file suggested Seattle as a place she had any connection to. Yet there were two addresses they suspected she might be casing.
I drove with the windows down, savoring the heavy smell of rain mixed in with every other conceivable scent. Exhaust. Perfume. Cigarettes. The new canvass of the backpack on the seat beside me and the fresh gun oil of the tranq pistol inside it.
Ballard was as gray as the rest of the city, squatting by its locks in the smell of salt and seagull droppings. I drove past bookshops, and brew pubs, and eventually turned down a side street into the lines of houses.
I smelled her before I reached the address and instinctively pulled the rental over, playing with my phone while glancing carefully around for some sign of her. She was northeast by the wind and so was my destination. I kept up with the phone for a minute, then signaled and slipped back onto the road. As I came around the corner, I saw a red Mustang. It stood out not just because it was red and fast-looking, but because its top was down in the rain, and the woman that sat in it didn’t seem to mind.
I kept driving, hoping Monica Evenheart, would pay no attention to me at all. She didn’t. She was too busy watching the house.
I circled the block and parked out of sight, slipping the tranq pistol into the waistband of my jeans and covering it with my jacket. The rain became a drizzle as I started up the sidewalk and turned the corner. The car idled across from one of the older houses on the block, its yard perfect and its windows dark and uninviting.
She made no attempt to hide, watching those windows with feline serenity. Monica Evenheart was pretty and she smelled good. But she was also deadly.
I counted the steps to her car wondering if it could possibly be this easy. Just a quick trip to Seattle, a shot in the back, and a few months of bills paid with a bit to spare. Maybe even enough to get back into the cheap motel I called home when I could afford it.
But I knew when her eyes darted to the rearview mirror that it wasn’t going to be so easy after all. She watched me, her gaze level and steady, and I tried hard not to notice as I adjusted the hood on my jacket. I must have failed. She looked to the house, then back to the mirror. Then, she pressed the gas hard, hydroplaning the car back into the street and soaking me as she did.
I kept walking and pretended nothing happened.
I listened to her engine winding up as she took the corner, and when I was satisfied that she was gone, I cut across the street at a jog and took the stairs leading up to the house two at a time. I still had time before her hunting hours started-–she was nocturnal-–and with this first address empty, it stood to reason she was on her way to the second. I’d take a quick look around and see what this house gave me.
I let myself in quickly with a credit card and a paperclip. Olfactory prowess alone isn’t a sufficient skillset in my line of work. And once I was certain no one was home, I moved through the place fast, building my mental database as I went. This was extra work, but I knew Connor was lying about the randomness of the attacks, holding something back. It made sense. I was hired to help bring home a lost pet. By their view, the details were none of my business.
Still, I preferred to decide what was and wasn’t my business in the pursuit of a feral Covenanter.
The database came together as I rifled through drawers, peeked around shelves, sorted the mail. There wasn’t much. His name was Charles Dennehy and he was a divorced attorney, a father of two children who lived elsewhere and left little evidence of their presence in his house. He lived frugally for someone worth as much as he was. Little of that really mattered, but I quickly found what did.
Tucked behind the leather-bound classics on the shelves of his den was a bound copy of the Covenant and its complex tapestry of laws. That told me everything I needed to know. The smell of Old World paper, easily distinguished from the paper of this world, was still strong in my nose when I let myself out and headed back to my car.
The sun had dropped, painting the western sky purple and rose, the rain clouds bruising its edges. The rain was more a drizzle as I left Ballard for Pioneer Square, my GPS whispering directions to me. I was moving against traffic now, slowed by pedestrians and puddles as I drove south. I parked a block away at the darker end of the street. I used my phone to check what lived at this second address but I already had my suspicion. It took less than a minute to confirm it. McDonnell, Dennehy and Jackson, Attorneys at Law had a suite on the fourth floor.
I pulled a dark hoody and a ball cap from my backpack and put them on, leaving my raincoat on the passenger seat. Then, slipping the tranq pistol into my waistband again, I locked the car and moved down the street.
Hunting time couldn’t be far away with the light nearly gone. Seattle’s streets were quieter than I remembered them–I’d lived here a decade earlier in a downtown loft when times were better. But it was busy enough with a mix of homeless, hapless, and just-off-work with loosened ties. I kept my eyes down and my nose open, pulling in the smell of weed and Pho and wet newspaper as I went.
Monica’s scent was easy to pick up on that wind, and I saw her, standing by the door of the building.
She was tall and slender, wearing a short leather jacket buttoned against the October evening, and a black skirt. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she carried herself with the same calm I’d seen earlier.
I paused and looked at my phone, watching from the corner of my eye as she took a look around before pulling open the door. I started moving again after she slipped inside. I paused at the edge of the doorway and counted to five before leaning around to look inside. Beyond the glass door, the lobby was dimly lit, and the security desk looked empty.
I smelled the guard coming before I saw him–off-brand cigarettes and Brut aftershave–and I ducked back out of the light. I heard his keys jingle in the door as he locked up and the timing of it convinced me that she was expected.
I walked past the door, glancing inside quickly as I went. The guard was slowly returning to his counter and I picked up my pace, cutting down the next alley I saw and making my way to the back of the building. It was easy enough to get onto the fire escape by way of a nearby dumpster. I crawled into a dark office on the fourth floor, my ears and nose taking in what they could. I heard muted voices, and the air was full of the smell of her; I followed both sound and scent.
The law offices were empty and the lights were out with one exception. Behind that closed door, I heard voices.
“I don’t know where,” the man said.
Monica’s voice was low, almost throaty. “If you don’t know, then you know who does.”
I took a few steps toward the door and paused. I heard Dennehy laugh. “I’m certainly not going to tell you. I know all about Criteaux and Bosley and that’s not enough incentive for me to talk. There’s nothing you can do to me that’s worse than the cost of betraying the Covenant. So maybe you should just go home and get back under your patron’s protection.”
The noise she made could’ve been a laugh, but it was throaty, slurred, telling me she’d made the shift. It was hunting time. “Trust me,” she said. “They both talked. Criteaux gave me Bosley, Bosley gave me you. You’ll talk, too.”
I heard Dennehy gasp and I took another step toward them.
Then a new smell stopped me in my tracks and somewhere outside the suite, I heard the distant chime of an arriving elevator. This was a dark smell, an earthy smell, and it made my skin crawl. Something that didn’t belong had just showed up. I’d not smelled this before, but I knew it wasn’t from around here.
It takes a lot to rattle me; I was rattled.
Sweaty, hands shaking, as the fight or flight of a rending hound bastard kicked into high gear. I drew the pistol as the smell grew closer and I turned toward the law firm’s small lobby. My eyes were adjusted to the dark now and I saw what looked like fog pouring beneath the door, building and gathering until it coalesced into roughly the shape of a large man. But this was no man. Its red eyes burned with cruel intelligence and its dark robes shifted around it like black mist. Its face was flat and mouthless, lit dimly by the eyes. I was familiar with the cataloged Old Worlders that had been permitted to cross over, and this was not one of them. That told me it had been sent over recently. To find her.
She must’ve smelled it by now because I heard a yowl from the other side of the door.
I’m not sure why I did what I did next, but I have to own it. I stepped in between whatever Old Worlder this was and the door it wanted to get behind. Between it and Monica Evenheart.
It growled at me but its voice was in my head. Stand aside and let us do our work.
I shook my head and was aware of the door opening. Monica’s smell was overpowering now in her feline form and it must’ve stirred something of my father’s blood in me. Despite the fear I felt, I wanted to give chase to her at some genetic, deep-down level. But instead, as her yowl rose into a snarl and as the Old Worlder roared and rushed me, I raised the tranq pistol and fired three darts into the center of its mass.
It collided with me, tossing me easily aside and into the wall. As I fell, I saw her leaping, claws outstretched and tail puffed up with menace. They were a blur now, rolling and writhing on the floor as I found my breath and my feet again. It pinned her quickly with its dark, taloned hands, and I put two more darts into its back at close range.
I glanced into the open office and saw Dennehy kneeling, handcuffed to a massive wooden desk. His eyes met mine and they were wide. The fear in his voice wasn’t from the cat. “Help me,” he whispered.
I looked back to the fight quickly, not liking the way his eyes made me feel. The beast was slowing with Monica still trapped beneath it and I launched a sneakered foot at its side. Most Old Worlders have little to no resistance to the bugs and medicines on this side and I was glad to see it was true in this case as whatever hunted the hunter drifted off to thick and muddy sleep.
Monica looked up at me beneath him, only she looked nothing like the picture now. Now, she had the face and tail and claws of a cat but the body of a woman. She pushed at the sleeping form that held her down. She echoed Dennehy’s words, and I shouldn’t have listened to her.
“Help me,” she said. There was enough purr in her voice that I didn’t think. I just acted out of that same place that made me drunk with the idea of chasing her up the nearest tree. I rolled the snoring beast off of her, and as I did her fist shot up to land soundly on my nose. White light and pain exploded, and from there, it was nothing for her to wrench the pistol out of my hand.
I was still surprised when she put a dart into my stomach.
“Sorry,” she said. I lunged forward but she stepped away easily and I tripped over the massive body on the floor.
This time, when I fell, I stayed down. And the dark hall went darker still.
I woke up stiff, my head splitting, and my nose flooded with the smell of her and the freeway. When I tried to move, I found I couldn’t. My hands were cuffed behind my back and I lay face down in the backseat of a fast-moving car. I groaned.
“You’re awake, then?”
I groaned again and tried to find my words.
She continued. “I should’ve left you.”
I twisted again, trying to roll over or sit up. “Why didn’t you?”
“You saved me from . . . well, whatever that was. It didn’t seem right leaving you for it to find once it woke up.” Or the police, I thought, if she’d gone through with her hunt.
I didn’t want to ask but I had to. “What about Dennehy?”
She chuckled. “He’s in the trunk. He’s alive.”
I tried to do the math. Somehow, she’d hauled two men from the top floor down to the street and into her. . . . I sniffed the car. I could smell Dennehy in it now, too. This wasn’t the convertible I’d seen her in earlier. I blinked away more disorientation and shifted again. This was a bigger car. Dennehy’s Lincoln, I expected. But why had she kept him alive?
“Where are we going?”
“Twin Falls, Idaho,” she said. “We’re halfway there, actually.”
“And why are you taking us to Twin Falls?” I’d never been there and wasn’t even sure where to place it on a map.
“I’m trading Dennehy. You . . . I’m not sure what I’m doing with you yet.”
“Maybe,” I said, “we should talk about that over coffee.”
I heard the car slow and the sound of the freeway diminish as she pulled off and parked. Then I felt her hands pulling me over and sitting me up. “Connor hired you, right? I found his number in your phone.”
I didn’t see any point in keeping quiet at this point. “Yes.”
“And that other . . . thing?” She positioned me in the backseat in the best uncomfortable position she could, and with her leaning over me, her scent even nearer, I had that same sudden urge to chase after her. I held it down. But from the way she looked at me, I thought maybe she felt something too. Maybe at some deep-down level of her own, she wanted me to chase her. I shook the notion away.
“I’m not sure. But I don’t think it planned to tranq you.”
Her face was no longer serene and I saw worry in her eyes. “No, I think you’re right about that.”
“I think you’ve pissed some people off.”
“Several,” she agreed. “You saved my life.”
I looked around. We were at an empty rest stop somewhere in the high desert. “I was going tranq you and send you home.”
She chuckled. “It didn’t quite work out that way. Speaking of which, how’s the head?”
I heard muffled noises and thumps from the trunk. Dennehy had woken up, too, it seemed. “It hurts. How about that coffee?”
She ignored me. “What was that back there?”
“Something Old World,” I said. “I have no idea. I’ve never run across one of those before.” Of course, there were thousands of Old World denizens I’d never seen; not all of them had been permitted to cross over, and not all of them had wanted to. Many had been happy to see the Queen of the North go and the rending hounds take up her crown. “Operating outside of the Covenant, I suspect.”
She hissed. “The Covenant is a net they raise and lower based on whoever’s serving.” I could hear the bitterness in her voice and see the anger in her eyes.
“Okay,” I said. I’d heard this before. “So the Covenant’s unfair and the patrons are crooked and self-serving.”
“Yes,” she said.
“So you’ve gone hunting off-leash because of it?”
“I hold my own leash now, thank you.” She paused. “And the hunting I did on my own isn’t any more wrong than the hunting I did for them.” She shrugged. “Killing is killing. All that’s left is the why.”
She had a point there. And she left a question hanging that was easy for me to pick up. “Then what is your why, Monica Evenheart?”
She regarded me without speaking for a full minute. “Article fourteen,” she said.
I pre-dated the Covenant but still needed to be familiar with it. Fourteen covered the multi-generational aspects of indentured servitude. Usually two or three generations, but I’d heard as many as five. Passage over was expensive, and blending in was difficult. The patrons could easily afford it and their initial investment led to even more profit once their indentureds were put to work. “So you didn’t want to give up your young to the Covenant?”
“I have no young,” she said. “I refuse to bear a litter into this system. I decided a long time ago that I’d slip my leash before it came to that.”
That made sense to me. I’d heard of it happening before. No child wants to be held to the decisions of their parents. No one wants to live out a contract they had no voice in crafting. Sadly, the parents had no voice, either, when it came right to it. The terms were dictated in the midst of cataclysm and genocide, completely in the patrons’ favor.
But what didn’t make sense here was why the hunt. She could’ve gone under the radar. Surely they’d have still hired me or someone like me to find her. But she’d have stayed hidden longer without the blood trail. Not to mention maybe avoiding whatever it was that now hunted her.
She must have sensed where my thoughts were leaning. “But there’s more than that,” she said. “My mother brought us all here as kittens–she signed the Covenant on our behalf. We had no say. I’d rather return to the Old World and face the rending hounds than stay under the Covenant. I certainly won’t give a litter to it. And I won’t give my family to it, either.”
I closed my eyes. “How many?”
“Four sisters, two brothers.” She watched my face. “I have a sister in Twin Falls.”
“And you’re trading Dennehy for her?”
She nodded. “He has information that they’d rather not lose.”
“I don’t know,” Monica said. “We’ll track down the others. Sort it out as we go.”
I shook my head. “I’m not so sure it will go well for you.”
Her eyes were hard. “It doesn’t have to go well for me.” Then they softened, but only by a little. “So what about you? What should I do with you, Mr. Wolfe?”
I saw the sagebrush and could smell rain coming. I should’ve asked her to let me go; I suspect she just might have. But I didn’t. Living outside the Covenant and system of patrons had let me go untouched by the unfairness of it all. I did my jobs for them or their people–and until now, I’d not let the system rattle me. But there was something about Monica Evenheart that struck an undiscovered chord in me. It was in her picture and in her scent, it was in the way she stirred my father’s blood and made me wish that I had a cycle like hers that let me stretch into my truest self and bay at the moon while loping across an open field. Running after her as fast as my legs could carry me. Overhead, a night sky mostly cloudy with a chance of cats and dogs in it. I shrugged and poured my mother’s charm into my smile. “You might as well keep me nearby at this point,” I said. “Otherwise, I’d just have to chase you down again.”
She smiled again and I liked it. “You see how well that worked out the last time, right?”
I shrugged again and said nothing as she leaned over and uncuffed me. “Climb up front if you want.”
I did. And within a minute, we were back on the road and heading southeast across the Columbia Plateau.
It was dark when we pulled up at the wrecking yard just outside Twin Falls. A worn sign declared in flaking white paint that the large, fenced enclosure of stacked cars belonged to Earl Haskins, Jr. It was far removed from the offices and high rises of L.A., San Francisco, and Seattle, and I found it hard to believe this backwoods place could have anything to do with the Covenant.
Monica idled the Lincoln outside the gate, headlights beckoning whoever waited for us inside. The gate rolled open slowly and she pulled forward. Two trailers–one double and one single-wide–waited just inside. The pickup parked nearby fit in fine but the dark SUVs with their tinted windows were definitely out of place.
I leaned forward, trying to count the suits that waited. I cracked the window and sniffed. They were all New World humans. Hired thugs. “It looks like they’re expecting us.”
The calm was in her face and voice again. “Yes.”
I studied her as the car crunched to a stop. “I don’t see how this can turn out well.”
She said nothing but I saw her rubbing the ring she wore. It was dark now. She could shift and that may turn the odds in her favor. Depending on how they were equipped. And who exactly they were.
I waited until she opened her door and then I opened mine as well.
“You.” She spat the word and I saw why. One of the suits had separated from the others. It was Connor.
“Good evening, Miss Evenheart,” he said as he approached.
“Ms.,” she corrected him.
He ignored the correction and turned to me. “I see you’ve met Mr. Wolfe. Though I’m not sure what’s convinced him to bite the hand that feeds him.” I could see the anger in his eyes but his face didn’t show it. “However, I don’t see Mr. Dennehy.”
“My deal was with Haskins,” she said.
“Unfortunately,” Connor said, “Mr. Haskins can’t be with us this evening. But I’m sure we can solve this without him.”
“And my sister?”
Connor smiled. “She’s inside. But there is no outcome to this that involves her leaving with you. Or you leaving, for that matter.”
As he said it, the suits started moving. Only this time, the pistols they drew weren’t firing tranqs. These were Glocks, heavy and dark in the yellow glow of a streetlamp that illuminated the yard. And Connor knew what he was up against. His thugs would be packing Old World silver in their clips.
Monica yowled and sprinted, her body changing as she did, her clothes shredding with the shift. I’d never been up close to a change before. It was uncanny to watch her body elongate and then drop to all fours. This time, she was all cat and she was on Connor before his men had their pistols raised, her teeth at his throat as her tail twitched back and forth.
Uncertain, they held their fire ,and in that moment a new smell flooded the yard. I’d only smelled it once and that had been enough. Whatever Old World beast had been sicced on her was here, and it moved silently with building speed. The smell of it made my knees shake and at least two of the suits dropped their guns. The others spun in the direction of the sound and opened fire. They couldn’t miss at that range but their bullets did nothing. The cloaked beast rushed them, talons lashing out.
I took advantage of that split second to dodge into the shadows, my eyes on the great cat. Connor struggled beneath her, his eyes wide. His voice was nearly a scream. “What is that?”
I couldn’t tell him. But in the span of seconds, it had rushed across the yard and lifted two of the suits up, tossing them away and into the dark. Their Glocks spun away as they hit the ground.
The others scattered and the beast spun on Monica Evenheart. Its voice was in my head; it must’ve been in hers too. Your defiance of the Covenant ends here.
She growled deep in her throat, digging her claws into Connor as she gathered herself into a pounce. Connor shrieked as she launched off him toward the hulking Old Worlder. She hit it hard and it caught her, throwing her easily into a wall of cars. She was on her feet and darting in again, her left paw raking its leg. It howled in my mind but more from anger than pain, I imagined. This time, it lashed out with a foot that landed in her side and sent her sliding across the gravel.
I saw an abandoned Glock and took a chance, rolling for it as the beast charged her again. I picked it up and sighted in, putting three rounds into its back. They did nothing to stop or slow it. Of course, Old World silver didn’t work on all of that shadowy place’s denizens. And without knowing what this particular creature was, there was no way to know exactly what might stop it.
But there was no doubt about what might stop Monica Evenheart. Already, she was slowing, panting, and trying to get away. I put another two rounds into its back but it paid me no mind.
She launched herself at it again and it threw her with even more force, this time up over the hood of the car to roll off the other side.
She was closer to me now and I saw her green eyes wide with panic as her nostrils flared. I moved closer to her, putting my hand on her haunch as I watched the beast approach. The bullets were worthless. And there was only one thing in the Old World that I knew had even odds against any other creature born beneath its dark star.
A crazy notion entered my head, fueled by desperation or maybe hope. I traced my hand along her body until I reached the collar at her neck. There were no guarantees that it would work on me but no other option–beyond watching it kill her-–presented itself.
“This might hurt,” I whispered. Then, I pulled it loose and, as her body started changing, I groped for the ring. Her yowl became a scream that cut into the night as her body abruptly twisted itself back to human. As the paw became a finger, the ring slid easily off into my own hand.
It was upon us when I slipped the moon collar around my own neck and shoved the ring onto my finger. What next? Was there something else to say or do? It was a longshot–even more than a longshot. I’d been born without my father’s cycle.
I felt the creature make contact and throw me easily, air whistling over me. As I landed, I saw it turning again on the huddled, naked form that twitched and jerked in the gravel. The fear inside became a sudden focus of rage. And that rage forced something to life deep inside my DNA.
I roared it out of me and felt every muscle, every bone, every part of me catch fire. But the hottest heat–white and blinding–was the heat from the moon collar and the ring that leashed me to it. And in that heat was a euphoria the likes of which I’d never known. A sense of something coming together in me that had been kept at bay, walled off and unknowable.
When I found my feet–no my paws, I was on all fours and felt the vertigo of the change. I wobbled, then steadied myself as I crouched and snarled.
The beast’s red eyes went wide and it fell back at the sight of me. I leaped after it, my claws tearing at its shrouded cloak as my fangs sought its throat. It had stopped fighting, which surprised me, and the softness of its flesh within my jaws, and the reek of fear that came off of it in waves, told me everything I needed to know. It lay still beneath me in a posture of submission. It knew exactly what I was.
My mind formed words and shoved them into it with a force that made its blood-colored eyes blink. What are you called?
I sensed the fear in the voice it pushed into my mind. I am Shemol. Of the Yerl. It paused, then remembered who it spoke to. Lord Hound, it added.
I had never heard of Yerl or Shemol. But it didn’t matter. Who sent you after the cat?
Around us, people were stirring. I punctured its skin and smelled the iron and cloves of its blood on the air. You know who sent me, Lord.
I did know. His response to me proved it and I growled. Is Umber still upon the Opal throne then?
No. His son reigns now.
I increased my grip on its throat. I’m not sure exactly where my words came from: some place tucked inside me with the rest of my hidden nature. Tell your king that Dengar’s bastard sends regards. This one and her littermates are of my pack. Do you understand?
Yes, Lord, it said.
Shemol of the Yerl collapsed in upon itself once I released its neck from my jaws. It dissipated in so much smoke billowing out across the wrecking yard.
Movement from the corner of my eye sent me skittering as a shot went off, gravel erupting where the bullet struck. I wasn’t going to find out what Old World silver could do to me. I pounced and this time, I gave myself over to something I’d never experienced before. I hunted with abandon, chasing down each of the suits and rending them as only a rending hound could. I learned fast and took to my work with enthusiasm, drunk on the blood I spilled.
I didn’t stop until I heard my name called. Monica Evenheart stood now, the moonlight white on her naked skin, one of the dropped pistols dangling in her hand. “Angus Wolfe,” she said again.
I thought she would be frightened but I saw no sign of fear and smelled no sign either. Instead, her eyes were wide with awe and her cheeks flushed from watching me. I padded over to her. Monica Evenheart, I replied.
She reached down a tentative hand and I bent my head as she scratched behind my ears.
Then, I bent my will toward my lesser form and felt the fire take me again as I shifted. When I was finished twisting and writhing on the ground, I pulled off the ring and collar and pushed them into her hands.
She looked at me laying there and then looked to the trailer.
“I’m fine,” I told her, taking the pistol from her. “Go get your sister.”
She was on all fours, tail whipping to and fro, when she reached the porch.
The sun rose over the brown Idaho hills, casting bloody light over Earl Haskin’s Wrecking Yard. I sat on the hood of an SUV wearing a pair Earl’s ratty sweats and a wife-beater. I watched the sunrise, wondering just how long we had before the patrons sent their next round of goons. And wondering when the Old World, and the hounds who ruled it, would throw its next hunter at us. The Covenant benefited more than just the patrons. It kept my father’s kin–my kin–in power. And they liked their power. Enough, it seemed, to keep an eye on things over on this side and intervene to keep things as they were.
I’d spent my lifetime on the edges of that hidden world, playing fetch for cash, and for the first time, I saw something more that I could do with my heritage. Especially now that I knew the moon collar could bring that heritage fully forward.
Of course, the experience of it left me exhausted, head-pounding and feverish. Still, I looked at the bodies we’d stacked against the trailer, tattered leftovers of the patron’s men. Now, in my present form, I felt a pang of regret. But not too much. They hadn’t come to Earl’s to play nice and make friends. And they’d killed Haskin before we’d gotten there. They’d have likely killed her sister, too, along with Monica. She’d brought down the attention of the Opal Throne and that couldn’t stand. Not in the Patron’s world. So they were cleaning up. No doubt, I’d have been buried in a shallow grave along with the rest of them.
I watched Monica finally come out of the trailer, her sister following with a suitcase and a Remington twelve gauge. She’d changed into jeans and a sweat shirt.
“What now?” I asked.
Monica looked at her sister. “Rachel says we have a brother near Minneapolis. I found some names in Earl’s files. We’ll keep looking until we find them all. And after that, maybe we’ll find the Queen of the North. What about you?”
I shrugged. “I think I’ll come along, seeing how I don’t have much else to do. And I’m stranded in the middle of Idaho.” It wasn’t as if I had much to go back to–or like the patron I’d betrayed would let me take up my old life. But more than that, there was something about this cat that made me want to keep her close. I’d told the beast she was of my pack. I’m not sure she was part of anyone’s pack or that she could be. But I was sure of my need to pursue her even if she could never be caught.
Monica Evenheart smiled and I saw fields and forests that we could run through in her eyes. “Let’s talk about it over coffee.”
We cut Dennehy loose and told him to disappear. The fear on his face told me he would do just that.
Then we lit the fires that would cover our tracks, and drove out of the yard, nose pointed east and into the rising sun.
I rolled down my window as she picked up speed on the highway; Monica and her sister laughed when I howled at the future I smelled upon the morning wind.
KEN SCHOLES is the award-winning author of the popular Psalms of Isaak series, which numbers four novels so far with a fifth entry, Hymn, coming later this year. He has won Writers of the Future as well as France’s Prix Imaginales award. His short stories have appeared in Clarkesworld and Realms of Fantasy among others, and many are available in two published collections of short fiction. He is a public speaker and frequent panelist, as well as a songwriter and musician.
Please take a look at Ken’s official site