It was early dawn, just beginning to get light.  Shadows were everywhere.  Some even seemed to move.

One did, but you would have to look very closely to see the dark grey kitty that moved cautiously from shadow to shadow as she approached the unlit house nested among trees and shrubs.

She circled the house and seemed to be examining the roof from the tilt of her head.  Them she disappeared in the shadows under a massive oak tree.

If you'd looked at the right moment, you would have seen her leap to the roof.

Then she padded around, seemingly aimlessly.

But soon she ended up by a ventilator hood.  She reared up and appeared to be fumbling with her paws around inside the hood.  A brief, almost inaudible purr, and she lept up into the hood.

Down branch after branch, she proceeded.  Finally she looked into a deserted study.  Green eyes carefully went over the room until they fixed on a small object on the desk.

Paws went up to the vent cover and it soon hinged out.

A little grey shape darted out into the room.  She lept onto the desk and took the small amulet into her mouth.

Without hesitating, she hit the floor, shot across the floor, and lept up into the vent.

The vent cover swung back and all was quiet in the dimly lit room.

Minutes later, a little grey form shot out of the ventilator hood, across the roof, and into the oak.

She headed across town at a steady trot, keeping to the shadows.

Finally, she crossed a yard, up back steps and through a cat door. She trotted by the cook who was busy getting breakfast.  A brief meow to say she was home.

Then she went up the back stairs and into a study with one desk light on.

At the desk sat a man in an old fashioned frock coat.  Wizards tended to dress the part.

The cat hopped up onto the desk and dropped the amulet beside his right hand.

"Thank you, Esmeralda.  Good job." Then a figure inside a cylinder of barely visible reddish light appeared in front of the desk. Esmeralda yowled and shot for the door.

The reddish light surrounding the other wizard did not conceal his old clothes and skull-like face.  He grinned briefly, almost a snarl. "Hello, George.  Letting your familiar take the risks, I see.  A pity it is leaving.  But after I finish you, it is next"

George glanced at the amulet in his hand. "Booby trapped, I believe, Merlin or whatever you call yourself now."

"Quite right.  I had expected you.  But just in case..." Merlin gave another brief smile or snarl, then raised his right hand.

A gesture by George interrupted the lance of fire that shot toward him.

Merlin's face was definitely twisted in a snarl.  He raised his other hand and started to say something. And a greyish shape hurled off the top of one bookcase behind Merlin in the shadows, and dropped down onto his head.

Merlin's chant was interrupted by a yelp of pain as four sets of claws dug in.  Both hands reached up as he started to say something.

Esmeralda said a short word and Merlin froze.  The reddish light around him vanished.

Esmeralda jumped down. trotted over and lept up onto the desk.

"Thanks again, Esmeralda.  No wonder you were top of your class at the institute."

"Only in Stalking and Skulking.  I was actually third in Offensive Spells."  Her tail gave an indignate lash. "But more than adequate." Esmeralda lashed her tail again.  "As if a Familiars Institute graduate ever deserted her master. A defensive shield without a top. Corner-cutter.   I'd send him to the Seventh Hell."

She jumped off the desk and headed for the door.  She looked back over her shoulder.  "Cook should have a saucer of milk ready.  I'm thirsty after that."

George glanced after her as she headed for the Kitchen.  Then he looked back at his rival.

Merlin also known as the Master and the Great One, though mainly by himself, stood still as a statue.  But he had no choice.

George thought briefly and fondly of the Seventh Hell, then shook his head.  Merlin would probably become an administrator in no time at all.  Better let the authorities handle him. The paraphysical arm of the local police would have no trouble with a magician much more skillful than Merlin.

After a brief phone call, George gestured toward a typewriter on a stand by the wall and it began typing. Esmeralda would take a good report back to the Institute.                  

        -END-