The Cat Who Pawed the Cultist
Sanctum Guardians Book 1
by Robert Hazelton
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Charlotte Barreau has tried to maintain a low key lifestyle but it isn’t easy for a young witch. As a student of the Holstrom Sanctum, she’s studied the intricacies of magic but never had to apply them to anything of importance. Her biggest concerns involve finding a movie she hasn’t seen, spending time with her friend Avery, and passing magical physics.All that changes when she meets a feisty orange cat attempting to foil the plot of a cultist opening a portal to another world. This magical beast comes to her with a calling, a duty to defend our world against denizens of a dangerous realm called the Umbra Oculus. Charlotte finds herself inextricably bound to her new friend, a partner in his crusade.As they begin to investigate, they find themselves dangerously outmatched. Their opponents are fully trained, adult wizards with serious zeal for their work. Even after enlisting the aid of two additional students, they discover they may not be cut out for the task. But with no one else working on the problem, these children and their cat must save the world, even as they risk their very lives in the effort.
Sometimes, things happen fast. Catastrophes and missed opportunities don’t adhere to the concept of time. They hit in seconds, coming out of nowhere like ninjas in a cheesy fantasy movie. And they can be anything from spilling a latte to a car accident to stumbling upon a demonic ritual meant to drag some horrifying monster into our world.
I didn’t drive and I preferred white chocolate mochas but as a student of the Holstrom Sanctum for Witches and Wizards, the latter supernatural event definitely applied to me. Especially with my luck. It waved at good while painting the town red with bad. Anyone at school would’ve agreed. If someone had to experience something rotten, even odds I’d be the one.
So when I took a shortcut to get back to the dormitory one afternoon only to feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up, I started seriously thinking about making a charm to ward off bad fortune.
Chanting made my ear twitch. I recognized the corrupted Latin, part the normal language mixed with ancient demonic. Arcane Linguistics for the win, I suppose. The person screamed the syllables, making it hard to distinguish all the words but the obvious ones made it clear we had a problem in Seattle.
Lord…arise…return. I didn’t need more. I’m not the bravest girl in the world. I’m probably not even in the top thirty but just then, something came over me. I had to do something. A quick glance around made it clear the Society wasn’t showing up. The fate of the entire world rested on my shoulders.
Or at least that abandoned block. But hey, evil liked to spread.
I crept closer to the sound, peeking through a broken window into the filthy room beyond. Lights flashed, making the shadows groove out like they were in a creepy dance party. The screaming intensified as if volume and zeal might rip the fabric of reality wide open at any moment.
Portals class taught me enough to know he might succeed. Even a human carried the ability to bring about horrors on the world if they truly believed. And boy was this guy expressing some belief.
I found a window with the least amount of glass and slipped through. Dust and cobwebs stuck to my plaid pants. Something tickled my ear on the shaved part of my head and I brushed at it frantically, biting my lip to keep from crying out. Spiders and I never got along so I really didn’t want a hitchhiker just then. Not when I was already scared out of my mind.
I slipped down a hall, drawing ever closer to the ritual. When I knew he had to be around the corner, I pressed myself against the wall and drew several deep breaths. The moment of truth hovered on my shoulders. I needed to see what I’d be facing, determine just how over my head I might be.
“What’re you doing here?” The high pitch voice made me jump but I clapped my hands over my mouth to keep from screaming. It came from behind me and I frantically looked around. There was no one there. “Down here!”
I directed my gaze to the floor and saw an orange tabby cat with white fur on his chest and paws. He stared at my face, his narrow golden eyes judging me. His tail flicked to the left and right, an agitated motion suggesting he was ready for mischief or a fight. His right ear twitched and he tilted his head.
“Did you…” I whispered, praying the weirdo in the other room didn’t hear me. “Did you just talk to me?”
“Who else?” asked the cat. “It wasn’t the nut job calling on the forces of darkness to deliver him from his retail job. And you didn’t answer my question, pinky! What’re you doing here?”
“I’m…” I motioned with my thumb to the other room. “I’m going to stop him.”
The cat laughed, closing his eyes as he did. I shushed him but he ignored me. “You’re funny. Seriously. What exactly are you going to do, Punky Pie Pony? Tell him the plight of your people? Stand back and let a professional handle this.”
“Excuse me!” I grabbed him before he could walk away. “In case you didn’t realize this, you’re a cat! And a not very old one either! What are you going to do?”
“I’m a guardian, missy!” He nipped at my hand and I let him go. “Watch and learn!”
“No, wait!” I cried as he dashed into the room, his ears pressed against his head. I hurried after him, pausing just inside as the scene overwhelmed me.
The man stood with his arms raised in the air. A white robe, clearly stolen from a hotel, gathered around his biceps. The front hung open, revealing a potbelly covered in black hair. Blue striped boxer shorts finished off his cultist attire. Had it not been for the obvious power I felt in the room, I would’ve written him off as a weirdo and gone home.
The cat lifted his head and hissed. He must’ve expected it to have some kind of impact because he cleared his throat a moment later. The sound drew the summoner’s attention straight to me. His dark eyes widened and he stopped shouting the incantation. Bewilderment contorted his features.
Did he think he’d summoned me?
“What…” He spoke tentatively, his speaking voice hoarse from shouting. “What’re you doing here?”
“I…” I swallowed hard. “Um…”
“She didn’t ahem,” the cat shouted. His high pitched voice sounded like a cartoon. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought a ventriloquist spoke for him. “Does the Hilton know you’re using their robe for nefarious magical purposes? Pretty sure they didn’t agree to that kinda publicity!”
“You?” The man’s brows lifted. “An animal?”
“Wow.” The cat turned to me. “Man’s about to summon a monster from beyond the stars but a talking feline turns him all skeptic.” He turned back to the summoner. “Yeah, me! I’m here to stop this scheme of yours, especially since you’ve got no idea what you’re even doing! A bathrobe? Stripy shorts? What self-respecting cultist wears that?”
“Die, you little rodent!”
Robert Hazelton has been writing short fiction, novels and music his entire life. As the founding member of Deadly Nightshade Botanical Society and a long time member of the band Abney Park, he has traveled extensively and performed countless shows in exotic locales.
Robert writes in a variety of genres but keeps drifting back to modern fantasy/horror. He considers Elizabeth Moon, Frank Herbert, and Steven Pressfield to be his biggest influences.
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