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Arcane Mutations

Arcane Mutations

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Book 4 of the Animalians Hall series

Pax travels to northern Norway to uncover secrets about herself and her companion Kali, but their relationship becomes strained as they delve into unusual ecological changes in the tundra and the history of the Descendants of Bastet. As Pax discovers the true purpose of her existence with Kali, she must resolve their growing conflicts while confronting a formidable mythological enemy.


Desperate for answers about herself and Kali, Pax heads to northern Norway to visit her Baba, where she learns things about her companion that changes their relationship. The conflict between them simmers beneath the surface as they investigate strange happenings with the ecology of the tundra and unravel the history of a group she meets called the Descendants of Bastet. As the true purpose of her existence with Kali is revealed, Pax must unravel the knot that has formed between them while hunting down a fearsome enemy out of the mists of myth.

Chapter One Look Inside

Thirty middle schoolers surrounded Pax in their aqua camp shirts, pimples and newly uncomfortable urges forgotten as they hung on her every word. Neither the black Portland Magical Zoo shirt or the facts about the elongated hellcat in the cage behind her were responsible for the unnatural calmness in her charges.
"The hellcat is a member of the chimeratic kingdom. Who can remember what that means?" she asked, raising her voice so even the kids in back could hear. She dug her fingers into Kali's thick black fur.
A dozen eager hands went up. More might have responded, but the front row of kids was enraptured by her companion rather than the question or the amber feline with distinct elongated spots on its back inside the cage.
"You, Felicia," said Pax to a young girl with thick glasses and a side ponytail.
The girl's magnified eyes blinked. "The chimeratic kingdom means, uhm, that the hellcat had been modified by magic in its past."
"Excellent, Felicia."
The girl continued as she rocked on her feet. "The elongated hellcat is known for its spots and its ability to put off extreme heat, and, uhm"—she looked up, mouth open with thought—"that it can breathe fire."
"Close. Everything was correct, except the fire part. There are no flames, but the heat coming out of its mouth is hot enough to cause third-degree burns. Does anyone know why the hellcat was modified?" Blank stares. "There was a mage who lived in Siberia, the northern part of Russia that's extremely cold. He wanted a companion that could keep him warm, so he bred an eastern puma with a fire lizard, modifying the offspring with faez to create mutations until the hellcat was born. Do you know any other creatures from the chimeratic kingdom? No need to raise hands, just shout them out."
The kids responded with a bit of chaos.
"The Ur-Bear!"
"Blue-tongued marble lizard!"
"Pottery ants!"
A dozen other names were shouted out, some of them incorrect, but Pax didn't bother updating their assumptions. Their excitement was enough for her, at least until the girl with the side ponytail waited until the end when it was quiet to shout, "Kali!"
"Kali is a thoratic fox, which is a mirror species of the vulpes genus."
"But how did she get so big?" asked Felicia, eyes as big as moons.
Pax looked down at her companion, who came up to her hip. Even from the beginning of the summer, Kali had gained another thirty pounds until they were of equal weight. There were other subtle changes in behavior, but she pushed those thoughts away.
"Kali is just an extremely large thoratic fox, just like sometimes humans grow to be seven feet tall. Rare, but not outside the bounds of possibility." The kids grew restless, the earlier hold on them fading with side-chatter and roaming hands. Pax cleared her throat and raised her hand to get their attention. When that didn't work, she called out, "Who would like to see me and Kali enter the cage with the hellcat?"
A raucous cheer went up as she regained their attention. It was a trick she'd performed for other groups when they got restless, though she'd never entered the hellcat cage. Pax moved to the side door and motioned for the kids to stay back.
You up for this?

Her companion had been lethargic lately, and dealing with thirty middle schoolers had probably taken its toll.
A little longer. We're almost done for the day. Let's give them something to remember.
Kali didn't respond, but she moved to Pax's side, her golden eyes glimmering with crimson. Pax unlocked the gate, confirmed that the hellcat was on the other side of the cage, then stepped forward, locking herself inside.
The back of Pax's neck bristled with warning. "Behave. You outweigh the hellcat by four to one."
The agitation relaxed but didn't go away completely. Pax stepped to the front of the cage, content that Kali had her back, and waved to the enraptured kids. She was about to demonstrate a soothe mark on the hellcat when a guttural growl warned her of danger. Pax spun on her heel, expecting to see the hellcat charging, but the feline was crouched in the lone tree at the back of the space.
The coppery taste of blood filled Pax's mouth as Kali bounded towards the back, hackles raised. The hellcat cowered in the tree.
"Kali, no!"
Her companion slammed into the tree, shaking the upper branches. The hellcat clung to its perch, back legs slipping off. Kali coiled, ready to spring up. At her size, she could easily reach the scrambling hellcat.
The soothe mark reflected back on Pax, who had the urge to sit in the grass and stare at bugs, but the thirty sets of eyes outside the cage helped her shrug off the effects. Pax tried again, steeling herself from any blowback through her psychic link with Kali.
The air dislocated between her and Kali, knocking her companion on her side, but she was up as quick as a viper strike, facing Pax instead of the hellcat. Kali's normally soft golden eyes burned crimson. Rage burned as bile in her throat.
The anger in her companion faded, leaving Pax stumbling forward. Her companion sheepishly trotted forward and buried her head in Pax's chest.
"What was that?" she whispered as she massaged her companion's ears.

Before turning towards the front, Pax put on a happy face even though her gut was twisted, but seeing their expressions, she knew she hadn't fooled a single kid. Back outside the cage, Pax clapped her hands.
"Did you like the playacting that Kali and I put on? I didn't want to hurt the hellcat, and she gave me her consent to use those marks on her, which are ways to modify animal behavior in the wild," said Pax.
She was fairly certain the kids knew she was lying, but there was nothing to do about it now. She was just glad that no adults were around to contradict her story.
Pax led the kids back to the camp gathering spot near the administration buildings, giving them a chance for snacks and bathrooms. Esmerelda raised an eyebrow at her early return.
"You shouldn't be back for another half hour." The raven-haired zookeeper tilted her head towards Kali, who lay in the grass by herself. "And you're usually the last ones to return."
"Her recent growth spurt is wearing her out. She's been sleeping more than usual and I think we're both ready for a break from the zoo."
Her friend put her hand to the back of Pax's forehead. "Now I know something's wrong. You'd live here if they let you, and after finally getting permission to have Kali at the zoo, I know that's not true. What gives?"
"Tomorrow's the flight."
Esmerelda's forehead knitted. "Already? Are you nervous?"
"Very." She shifted her mouth to the side. "Which is weird because my grandmother has always been a source of calm in my life, but I feel like going to Norway to see her is going to be much different than home."
"I thought she was from Sweden?"
"Oh, she is, but her and her sister spend winters in Alta, Norway, with their knitting club. They have dual citizenship."
"Why don't you head out," said Esmerelda, eyes rounding. "You could probably use the time to pack."
"Thanks, Esy."
After goodbyes with her camp kids, who noticeably didn't crowd around Kali like they had before the hellcat incident, Pax led her companion out of the zoo.
On the way out, she passed the construction zone, which had taken over the old water treatment plant that had been next to the zoo. The massive holes had been filled in with endless trucks of gravel and topsoil, and now the whole area was blocked off with temporary fencing. Colorful murals painted on the side announced the expansion, showing new domes and more animals. After her three years in Animalians, she was beginning to doubt the mission of the Portland Magical Zoo. Not that the intent wasn't important, but given that they were housing dangerous supernatural creatures, it was a wonder that there'd never been a significant incident.
"Pax Nygard!"
An older gentleman in a hard hat came striding towards her from the construction gate with a grin plastered on his face.
"Hello, Mister Lovelace."
"Please, you should be calling me Alfred." He crouched down to Kali's level. "And hello, Miss Kali. Lovely to see you again. How has it been having her in the zoo?"
"Great," she said. "Thanks again for helping with the permissions. The kids love her."
"I hear you're heading to Oslo tomorrow. Need any help with your flight? I could pay for an upgrade so you and Kali could ride first class," said Alfred Lovelace.
"I've got it covered," said Pax, and to change the subject, she gestured towards the construction. "The new domes are coming along. Have you nailed down what's going in them?"
He raised a hand. "You're not going to suss out my secrets that easily. We want it to be a big splash, create some excitement. The zoo has been losing too much attendance, too many distractions in the world. We can't lose sight of our audience. But don't worry." He winked. "We should be finished with the expansion sometime next year."
"Sorry to run, but I was headed home to pack." She smirked. "Tell Logan hello for me."
"Will do."
Pax chuckled as she left Alfred. The gesture of friendliness would only scramble Logan's noodle. He'd be trying to figure out where the insult was for weeks.
The coneflowers were in bloom when she arrived at home, reminding her of Baba, whom she'd be seeing soon enough. The garden was filled with soothing scents. Vines climbed over the trellis, providing a colorful gate before she entered the old Victorian house that had been her home.
"There she is, the great hunter and her vicious beast," said her mother as Pax entered the living room. She was knitting with her legs crossed.
"Hello, Mother," said Pax, kissing her on the forehead despite the scowl and flinch. "Your blanket is looking great. I can see the leaf patterns now."
"You don't have to feign interest. I know you don't care."
The barb didn't sting as much as it used to. Pax wasn't sure if she'd become numb to her parents' anger, or if knowing about the crag worm venom that had damaged their minds helped her gloss over the pain. It'd been a miracle she'd been able to coax them back to the house upon her return. The only good part about the crag worm was that it affected their memory, so they'd forgotten the incident with the rouladen.
Kali watched from the doorway. She was too big to hide, so she lived in the house with the full knowledge of her parents.
"I'm headed to see Baba tomorrow," said Pax. "The flight to Oslo leaves in the morning. I won't wake you, but I can pass along any messages you want."
The permanent scowl that had worn itself into her face with deep wrinkles smoothed away suddenly as if a storm had broken up and becalmed until the water was a mirror. The clarity in her eyes made Pax take a step back, not in fear, but in wonder.
"Tell her that the fulcrum of chaos is almost upon us. It lingers on the horizon like a false dawn."
Pax sucked in her gut. "The fulcrum of chaos? What are you talking about?" She glanced back to Kali to see the crimson fading from her golden eyes, and when she returned to her mother, she was scowling again, working the knitting needles furiously.
"Mom, what is the fulcrum of chaos?" she asked again.
Her mother screwed up her face. "What are you prattling on about?"
Pax's shoulders fell. "Never mind."
Kali was gone from the doorway when Pax headed to her room. For the first time in her life, she had no urge to call her companion.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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Customer Reviews

Based on 1 review
Interesting and insightful!

Pax and Kali head to Norway for answers, but end up in a fight for their lives, in this easy to read, fast paced adventure with wonderful characters. Looking forward to their next adventure.