By Footpad and Clenched Claw [Tales of Excellent Cats]

Are you looking for inspiration to tell stories or narrate a game using the Monarchies of Mau corebook? Want a cat-tastic story to read? Tales of Excellent Cats can help. Edited by Melanie Meadors, this anthology is a collection of fourteen short stories written by established authors such as Elaine Cunningham and Lucy Snyder, as well as up-and-coming storytellers like LaShawn M. Wanak and ZZ Claybourne.

Today, we’re pleased to share with a preview from “By Footpad and Clenched Claw”, written by Beth Cato. 

“What did you do, Raul?” Amelie Cymric von Mau asked the empty room. She wanted to grab her brother by the collar and shake him, hug him, never let go, but he was already gone. Dead. Murdered. In this very room, hours ago.

Half his belongings were gone, too. She doubted either the constables or the murderers would have stolen Mama’s old theatrical mask collection off the wall. Papa’s collection of songbooks was gone, too. Had Raul hocked them himself — and if so, why? Was he being blackmailed? Or, perhaps more likely, was a friend of his in trouble?

Oh, Raul. So sweet, so gullible. He’d give his right paw to help someone in need. When she’d last seen him two weeks before, she’d been infuriated by how he fussed over her.

“I’m not about to fall over dead,” she’d finally snapped at him. Her black tabby tail lashed back and forth.

“No,” he had murmured. “We know your death will come slowly.”

“I’m fine,” she’d insisted as she left.

The memory caused a new flare of sorrow. Her final words to him had been a lie.

She should have been the one who died first. Her daily duties as a novitiate minister at the Temple of the Nine prepared her soul for her next life. Raul should have happily bumbled along for decades more, sleeping half the day and going to late shows and thieving just enough to scrape by.

Instead, he was dead. The local constables didn’t care about justice. Raul had been a footpad, after all, and not a particularly good one. She’d seen the judgment in the eyes of the officers who came to deliver the bad news.

Therefore, it was up to her to find Raul’s killer. That meant she had to move fast. As Papa used to say, she needed to “look for the musician while the last note wavered in the air.”

A knock echoed through the door. “Amelie!” a familiar creaky voice called. “Are you still here, love?”

Amelie hurried to open the door for Haley. When Amelie and Raul were young kits, they used to joke that Haley was so old, she’d been running the boarding house since the age of the Old Ones. Today, the gray cat looked more haggard than ever before.

“I’m so sorry about Raul,” Haley said as she pulled back from a hug. “How do you fare?”

Amelie knew she wasn’t merely inquiring about how she handled her sibling’s death. “I’m alive.”

“You poor thing. Every time I hear cats go on about Daphne Persian von Cymric and that sick kitten of hers, I think of you. Do you ever tend to her little one?”

Amelie supposed she should feel annoyed by how Haley swiftly changed the subject to the singer she and half the city idolized, but she welcomed the tangent today. “No. I heard the hospital can’t do much at this stage.”

The older cat’s whiskers drooped. “That kind of suffering shouldn’t exist.”

Amelie couldn’t argue with that. Issues like cancer and organ failure had largely been eradicated in the age of the Old Ones when cats took their rightful, dominant place in the world. And yet, Daphne’s kit was dying. So was Amelie. Her head minister said a few of the old, supposedly cured diseases had always lingered among cats, but the cases were usually kept quiet — with reason. Cats could be judgmental and cruel. A vocal segment of the public insisted that chronic conditions didn’t exist, which meant, in their minds, Daphne was surely faking her kitten’s illness to take a sabbatical.

Right now, another death was foremost on Amelie’s mind. “Haley, what was going on with Raul? Why are half his belongings gone?”

“He carried them out in a crate, whistling as he went. He didn’t seem sad or worried. He must have been under some sort of contract, too. His laundry stank of the sewer this week.”

“He smelled like the sewer?” she echoed. “But he usually works — worked — the theater district.” By worked, she meant he picked pockets there.

“I wish I knew,” Haley said.

“I’ll find out.” Amelie edged out into the hallway.

“You’re going already? When do you think you’ll be back? I don’t want to push you, but there’s a waiting list for rooms and—”

“Soon,” Amelie said with a curt smile. She knew just who to ask about Raul’s business dealings, but she had to get to him prior to nightfall when he busied himself burgling houses — or before he indulged in one too many mugs of fermented milk.

To finish reading “By Footpad and Clenched Claw” by Beth Cato, check out Tales of Excellent Cats today! Now available in multiple formats: Amazon (Kindle), B&N (Nook) DriveThruFiction (eBook/PoD)

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