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In any city, in any country, go to any animal shelter and tell the first woman you see, "I am here for the Holder of Compassion." Do not tell a man, or he will try to end your life. If you have come at the right time, the woman will shiver and lead you through the building to an incredibly long concrete hall lined with dirty cages where they keep a striking array of unwanted animals, from mundane cats and dogs to tropical birds and monkeys. The woman will continue walking ahead of you, but will not speak or slow down. It will become increasingly apparent that every animal is sick or injured in some way, and their conditions grow worse as you progress down the hall. Some are missing eyes or limbs, others bleed from open wounds. The floor grows thicker with matted hair and feathers, cages appear caked with feces and flies buzz loudly in your face. The stink is overpowering, and the air is hot. You will come to a sharp turn, then another, then another. Your guide will disappear around the third or fourth bend, but continue forward, quietly.

You will notice that the animals themselves become subtly more peculiar as you wander what now feels like a veritable labyrinth for hours on end. You will see animals from far-off continents, rodents of unusual size and colorful reptiles you have never heard of, but even as the creatures become more exotic, so too their afflictions become increasingly horrendous. Pus weeps from open sores, bloated ticks scramble over scabrous flesh and blood flows in large rivers from small bodies. Some creatures are all but hidden under globular tumors and cysts. Animals reach out to you, pleading with their eyes - if they have eyes - to end their existence, but do not dare touch them, or you will carry their afflictions for life. Do not attempt to let any animal free, or it will kill you no matter how helpless and small it appears. Should you wish to leave, the last bend you took will lead back outside, but you will never be rid of the pathogens you have been breathing. Some were never meant for this world; terrible contagions you will unleash on man for all time.

Should you continue on the proper path, the strangeness around you will escalate to maddening levels. Entrails drag and eyeballs dangle. The walls swarm with parasites no doctor could name. Soon you will come upon fly-blown fish and squid floundering helpless on cage floors. Dogs pace and whine without heads. Gore-crusted skeletons scrabble at rusted bars. You will see things long extinct and things that were yet to evolve, squawking and croaking for food and water that will never come.

Eventually, you will arrive in a perfectly round chamber, small but impossibly high. The ceiling is obscured in darkness, but cages line the walls as far up as the eye can see. Keep your head down, for the suffering you would witness in this room might forever destroy your mind. Focus only on the dark shape in the center of the floor, a nondescript pile of black fur on a filthy pillow.

Ask this creature one question and one question alone: "What is compassion?" If you hear "I am awaiting my family," all is lost, for the shaggy beast will immediately rip you to shreds with unseen claws. If you were, however, worthy of this quest, it will answer your question in excruciating detail. Be forewarned that you will not like this knowledge. When it is finished speaking, ask the creature, "can I fix this?" If it yet brings up its family, now is a good time to run. You were not meant to be here. If it says "do what you must," kill the animal by any means possible. If you are successful, you will hear the echo of its dying words: "I was loved." Search the body and you will find only bones, hair and a worn, pink collar with a rusted heart-shaped tag. The air is now clear, cool and silent. Only clean white bones remain in cages. Step outside this room and you will be outside the shelter.

The collar is Object 133 of 538. The address on the ancient tag will be your own.

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