The black cat purred contentedly as it came toward me and put its front paws on my shoulders.
Then in an instant, its huge jaws were around my neck.
I heard its teeth crunch. My mind went blank; I couldn’t even remember how to recite my mantra.
So this was a tainted cat… That was the only thought my panicked brain could produce.
I felt its hot breath stirring my hair, and its drool running down my neck. All I could smell was the disgusting stench of ammonia.
Slowly, I became aware that I was still conscious.
The cat was biting down on my neck with tremendous force, but its teeth didn’t penetrate my skin. It was the charm Shun had given me. The thick metal rings in the collar had saved me from decapitation.
The moment I realized this, I instinctively whispered my mantra.
I tried to loosen the jaws clamped around my neck. Apparently, once a tainted cat bites down on something, a special joint in their skull causes their jaws to lock, making them extremely difficult to force open. However, it could never compete with the overwhelming power of cantus. The bone creaked and shattered, its lower jaw hung open uselessly and I was freed.
Backing away quickly, I held up the flaming branch and the light fell upon the cat’s terrible face. It glared and hissed threateningly like a snake. Its long teeth, like those of a saber-toothed tiger from eons ago, dripped with blood.
I visualized a pair of powerful arms floating before me. One hand held the tainted cat by the neck and the other closed around its body and wrung it like a towel. There was a dry snapping sound. The cat shuddered violently and fell still.
For a while, I sat there breathing heavily. I couldn’t stop crying. My neck was hurting, and I discovered that the metal collar had been deformed and wouldn’t unhinge. I tore at it with my cantus and finally got it off.
After a moment, I collected myself and stood up to examine the tainted cat’s corpse. It looked exactly like the copycats that were always the subject of schoolyard legends. About three meters long, slimmer than tigers or lions, with abnormally long limbs. A face like a normal cat’s, except for the fact that the mouth could open many times wider.