providence or atoms – 2.6

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Thirty minutes.

That was Raine’s estimate.

Thirty minutes stuck in a room with two very angry people who hated each other for reasons I didn’t understand, waiting for Raine to return before either of them felt well enough for attempted murder. Thankfully, neither seemed inclined to get up yet. Twil had hunched tighter around her imaginary stomach wound, while Evelyn brooded, her eyes barely open and fixed on Twil with dark intensity.

I did as I’d promised, positioned myself behind one of the three armchairs, casually as I could, a nice safe distance from the firing line. Raine’s anti-werewolf punching glove still felt warm from her hand, but even with that enticement I couldn’t bring myself to put it on. I slipped it into my pocket.

Raine’s instructions gave me focus, though I didn’t believe they were necessary.

No, I was more concerned with Twil and Evelyn trying to pull each others’ faces off again.

Seconds ticked by, each one worse than the last, and neither of them made a sound. Couldn’t bear the tension. Made me want to rake at my scalp, scratch my back, crack my toes, anything. I chewed my lip and couldn’t hold back any longer.

“Can you walk?” I asked.

Two blank faces turned my way.

I’d tried to muster a gentle, conversational tone, as if we were all friends here, but I sounded like a school mistress about to lose control of her class.

“It’s not exactly an unexpected or untoward question.” I spoke too quickly. “You were hocus-pocused into a tomato,” I said to Twil. “And, well, you, Evelyn, I don’t know. Can you walk or not?”

Twil rolled her shoulders and shot me a toothy smile. “I’ve walked off worse.”

“Of course I can walk,” Evelyn said. “That was nothing, hardly real magic at all.”

“Well. Well, yes, that’s good then, isn’t it? Good.” Had to stall. Must stall. Pleasantries, everyday things, small talk. “Why don’t you- why not stretch your … uh-” I stammered to a stop on the gaffe.

“Leg? Singular?” Twil finished for me. She showed Evelyn her teeth.

Evelyn stared at her, very blank and very cold. “Why, I don’t understand the joke. Care to explain?”

“So, Twil.” I spoke loud and bright, clapped my hands together. “You’re from this … this … group?”

Oh goodness, why didn’t I just shove my entire foot down my throat? Good job, Heather, keep digging. Maybe Raine will bring you a spade.

“Cult,” Evelyn corrected. Her voice was free of malice, just tired and certain.

“It’s a Church.” Twil glared at Evelyn. “Look, sorry Heather, I’m not going to talk about my religion with Saye here.”

Evelyn cocked an eyebrow. “Religion? Don’t try to legitimise yourself, it’s sad.”

“Oh go swivel. You talk about it like we’re baby-eating monsters, sacrificing people on altars in the woods and having orgies with the devil. It’s nothing like that, Saye, and you know it.”

“That describes your grandfather quite well.”

“You shut your mouth,” Twil said through clenched teeth. “My grandfather gave me the greatest gift a girl could ever want. This.”

Twil yanked her sleeve up and held out one toned forearm.

In the blink of an eye, she wore a werewolf.

Air and light solidified around her flesh, like coalescing mist. Twil’s pale forearm was encased in an overlaid ghostly image, of thick grey-white fur with a rich reddish brown under-layer, muscle and tendon flexing like steel cables beneath. Sharp claws of ghostly matter extended from her fingers, the palm of her hand shadowed by a padded canine paw. Human skin resumed just above her elbow.

She closed her fist and the ghostly layer vanished. “I won’t hear a single fucking word against my family. You get me?”

Evelyn huffed. “Your grandfather made you into a foot-solider. You’re lucky he died before you could be put to use.”

Twil growled and bared her teeth.

I didn’t have time for that.

I was fascinated.

“Do that again,” I said.

“What?”

“Your arm. Show me. Do that again.”

Twil frowned at me and started to jerk her sleeve back down.

“I’m serious,” I said. “You can’t flash that around and not expect attention. Do it again, show me, I insist. You were so proud of it a moment ago, too.”

“Bloody hell, I’m not a zoo animal.”

“No, you’re a werewolf.” I resisted a mean-spirited urge to roll my eyes. “Perhaps this is normal for you, but try to appreciate this a matter of some interest for me, to put it lightly. Please, Twil, may I see your … gift, once more? Perhaps for a moment or two longer than it took you to threaten Evelyn?”

Evelyn snorted, but luckily Twil was too busy frowning at me – a very normal, human frown. I’d irritated her on a perfectly safe level, by accident.

“Ugh, fine.”

Twil stuck her arm out again.

I didn’t realise until a moment later that I’d broken my promise to Raine. I half slid out from behind my covert chair barricade and leaned in close, for a good look, a lot closer to Twil than the recommended six feet minimum safe distance.

Twil’s werewolf arm was one of the most fascinating sights I’d ever laid eyes on.

I’d spent my whole life seeing and hearing and – heaven forbid, sometimes – feeling the unnatural, but Twil’s ghostly arm seemed clean and normal in a way that no spirit had ever quite managed. Or perhaps I’d never looked closely enough before.

It was corporeal too, solid and material enough to touch. The fur sprang back up after the slightest pressure, thick and glossy and velvet soft, as if she’d come straight from a doggy shampoo and blow-dry. Maybe she had.

A sleazy smirk crept across Twil’s face. “Didn’t say you could touch, you know?”

I started and jerked back, hand to my chest in mortified embarrassment. “I-I’m sorry, I don’t know what- I didn’t realise I was touching you. I’m sorry.”

“S’fine. Can’t blame you.” She turned her arm over a couple of times, smiling at the sight of herself

“I didn’t- I-” I took a surreptitious step back behind the armchair, curiously lightheaded and blushing badly. Evelyn watched me with an unimpressed look. “Sorry, I just- it looked very soft. I’m not used to animals. Never had any pets.”

“Is there some fetish we should know about here?” Evelyn drawled. “Are you a secret furry, Heather?”

“A-a what?”

“Hey, back off,” Twil snapped at her. Evelyn shrugged, radiating boredom.

“So- so-” I stammered, trying to regain control of the situation. “No full moon? You don’t need that, you just transform at will?”

Twil flicked her wolf-arm as if shaking off water. It blurred back to human again. She pulled her sleeve down and shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Why not, huh? Wouldn’t be very fun if I just wigged out at the moon, would it?”

A question caught in the back of my throat. Twil didn’t exactly seem like the damsel in distress type. My imagination, gorged on poor self esteem and affection-starved paranoia, fed itself an elaborate fiction about supernatural exoticism. I compared myself to Twil and found myself wanting, plain, boring, cowardly.

Pure projection.

“Is that why Raine went out with you?” I asked. “The whole werewolf thing?”

In the dark recesses of my mind I’d expected Twil to grin and toss her head back, like a temptress from some bad 50s noir film.

Instead, she spluttered.

“Eh? What? No. We never went out. What? What kinda bullshit has she been feeding you?”

“You had a remarkable interest in her,” Evelyn said. “Following her around like a puppy.”

Twil rolled her eyes and shrugged, but I could clearly see the kernel of old disappointment. She’d wanted. Not gotten. “Yeah, in your dreams, maybe. We never did anything, okay? I dunno where you even get the idea.”

I felt the most selfish, satisfying flush of relief, laced through with guilt. I was acting ridiculous.

“Well, that’s- yes, yes.” I stammered and flustered. “I see. I’m sorry. I mean, I apologise for bringing it up.”

Twil eyed me with an odd sort of frown.

“W-what? What is it?” I asked.

“Missing piece of the puzzle is what.” Another sleazy grin spread across her face. “I get it now, I get what you’re doing here. You’re Raine’s little femmy girlfriend.”

“I’m what? Excuse me?”

“Apparently not,” Evelyn added.

Twil turned to her. “Eh?”

“Mmhmm. Apparently.”

“Nah, no way.” Twil grinned and slapped her own thigh. “You’re having me on. The way Raine was all over her? Yeeeeah. Obvious, now I think about it. How did I not notice that?”

“I know, right?” Evelyn purred.

I’d gone bright red in the face. “We’re- she’s- we’re not! You’re completely wrong. We’re not together. I’ve already had this conversation once today, for goodness sake.”

Twil barked a laugh and Evelyn snorted. I fought down an urge to stamp my foot.

“Least you seem pretty straight up and down,” Twil said.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Means you’re better than the last few.” She turned to Evelyn. “Am I right?”

“Mmhmm. An insult to Heather to even compare.”

“Compare me to what? Who?”

By slow, wary degrees at first, then blooming into a full-on gossip session, Twil and Evelyn talked about Raine behind her back.

I hung on every word and learnt a lot more than I’d bargained for. The ‘pity project’ before me had been a girl in the history department, by the name of May. She’d started out very promising until Raine had discovered she’d believed in lizard people and UN mind-control satellites.

As they spoke, Evelyn dug around in her bag and produced a little packet of wet-wipes. She set about cleaning Twil’s blood off her fingers and the mirror.

That would have been too surreal for me, if I wasn’t dying to hear more.

The girl prior to May had been a classical goth called Christie, all dark makeup and heavy eyeshadow and emotionally needy, a snippet of history which made me bristle with brief jealousy, until conversation turned to how Christie had been utterly convinced she was a vampire, and made herself sick drinking cow’s blood she’d gotten from a Sharrowford butcher’s shop. Apparently she’d locked herself in Raine’s bathroom for most of a day and sobbed about ‘the dark pact’ until Evelyn driven her off by pretending to be Raine’s obsessive, spurned admirer.

The tension dialled down as Twil and Evelyn laughed over that last one, as if they weren’t a werewolf and a mage and … whatever I was.

I couldn’t take it. I loved every detail, but I couldn’t take it.

“Will you stop talking about her like that?” I said. “We really shouldn’t be bad-mouthing her.”

“It’s only the truth,” Evelyn muttered.

I frowned, painfully aware she knew Raine a lot better than I did.

“Ahh, don’t worry about it.” Twil leaned back and cracked her knuckles. “You’re sore ‘cos you think she’s gonna get bored of you, but Raine’s a hopeless romantic.”

“I already told you, we’re not even together.”

Twil shrugged. “Whatever you say.”

I did my best not to sulk. Evelyn had developed this smug little smile. Twil pulled an old, battered flip-phone out of her pocket and checked the screen.

“Fuck knows why I’m even here at this point,” she said. “It’s almost four, I’m supposed to be on the train home. I’m gonna miss Bake Off.”

“You watch that tripe?” Evelyn asked.

“Go suck a fart. You don’t even own a telly.”

“I do, actually, for your information.”

“I don’t,” I said, feeling peevish, a proxy defence for Raine. “I much prefer reading.”

Twil rolled her eyes.


==


Raine returned with all the drama and impact of a commando raid. And on time, thankfully. I didn’t know how much longer the truce would hold.

She all but burst in the door, carrying a big sports bag over one shoulder and waving a silver plate above her head. Twil scrambled to her feet and backed away. Raine froze and grinned.

“Yo, did I interrupt something?”

“You could say that,” I muttered, but internally sighed with relief. “Hey Raine.”

“Yeah, my fucking personal space.” Twil pointed at the silver plate. “The hell are you doing with that?”

“Uh, just, you know, if I was wrong. Like I said.” Raine shoved the silver plate back in the sports bag and closed the door behind her.

“You got everything?” Evelyn asked.

“Sure did, plus a few party favours.” Raine dumped the sports bag on the table and heaved out an armful of winter clothes. Evelyn raised an eyebrow. “For Heather. Figured you wouldn’t mind. It’s all there, when you’re ready.”

“Alright,” Evelyn grumbled. “Let’s get this over with. Help me up.”

Evelyn eased herself out of the chair with a hand from Raine, then set about extracting her ritual tools from the sports bag. She unfolded a big sheet of paper and spread it across the table, carefully centred the silver plate in the middle, and then shuffled around the edge with a marker pen.

First she drew a triple layer of circles, followed by flowing script of esoteric symbols and interlinked geometric designs. She referenced her notebook as she worked, turning it this way and that, double and triple checking. Toward the end, she pulled a big leatherbound book from the sports bag and carefully read several passages before adding more symbols to her work.

It took an awful lot longer than the blood-magic she’d used to hurt Twil.

As Evelyn worked, our werewolf visitor lounged against the wall, clearly enjoying a safe distance from the silver plate. Raine presented me with the armful of winter clothes.

“Glad I was wrong, Heather. Here, for you.”

“Presents are lovely, but is this really the moment?”

“You’ll wanna wear these, trust me.”

I spied comfy looking mittens in berry purple, a huge fluffy scarf, and a woollen hat with floppy rabbit ears. “Um, why?”

“Trust me.”

Evelyn tutted. “She’s not made of spun glass.” She glanced up from her work. “That- Raine, that’s my- my hat!”

“It was the closest one to hand, that’s all. Seriously, Evee, it’s Heather’s first time. Cut me some slack.”

“First time for what?” I picked up on of the mittens.

“Magic.”

“What about earlier? That wasn’t magic?”

“That was just a little thermodynamics,” Evelyn drawled, already concentrating on her sigil once more. “This may indeed be an experiment, but it’s the real thing.”

“It’ll probably get real cold, real fast. Please, Heather?” Raine held out the scarf.

After a moment’s hesitation, I allowed her to wrap me up. I felt like a small child about to venture outside to play in the snow. She looped the scarf around my neck as I pulled the mittens on. At least they were nice and soft inside.

If I hadn’t felt so terribly guilty for all the gossip about Raine earlier, then I probably would have resisted more, listened to that little voice in my head whispering that I enjoyed the damsel in distress role, enjoyed being treated like this.

How could I not? It was such a sweet gesture, it almost hurt.

I tugged the woollen hat down over my hair. Raine reached up and tweaked the floppy rabbit ears.

“Suits you.”

“Oh, shush,” I said.

“What did you three get up to, then? Feels lot less tense in here than when I left.”

I glanced at the other two, but they weren’t listening. I pitched my voice low. “They were talking about you, in fact.”

Raine’s eyebrows tried to leave the atmosphere. She grinned. “My reputation proceeds me. All good, I hope?”

My eyes answered for me, whether I wanted them to or not. I don’t know if she saw guilt or curiosity or jealousy or worse.

“Ah? Heather?”

“Stop flirting, you two,” Evelyn called. She tapped the table with the end of her pen. “It’s ready and it won’t wait for anybody. Get over here.”

Raine’s attentions had distracted me from the worst phase of Evelyn’s work.

My stomach tightened at the obscenity on the table.

Black ink crawled and writhed over every inch of paper, except for the area directly underneath the high-lipped silver plate. The three circles were clear and stark, untouched by any other lines, but between them and around them the symbols seemed to recur into each other over and over again, vanishing into an optical illusion of infinity on the flat surface.

The design looked a little like a funnel, with an opening on one side.

“You stand here.” Evelyn jerked her walking stick at the opening.

“What- ugh, sorry.” I had to avert my eyes and take a deep breath. “Makes me feel sick.”

Raine put a hand on my back. “You can sit down if you want.”

“No she can’t,” Evelyn said. “She doesn’t have to look at it. Just stand.”

“It’s okay, I’ll be okay,” I murmured, mostly for myself. “I can do this.”

I did as Evelyn asked. I kept my eyes open, but stared at the blankets pinned over the windows. The setting sun had dimmed the air to a murky orange. The lamp at the back now provided most of the light in the room.

“Raine, you stand clear over here,” Evelyn said. I felt Raine’s hand squeeze my shoulder, then leave. “Twil, don’t interrupt. Whatever happens, nobody is to touch the three circles. Anything else should be fair game in an emergency.”

“How safe is this?” I asked.

Evelyn shrugged. She took up the bottle of aqua vitae, the last unused ritual ingredient, and wiggled the cork out. “Should be safe. You’re only a reference point, carrying the scent for my bloodhound here. I’m not actually opening a gate, just a sort of window, I need a good look.”

My blood ran cold.

I knew the answer to my next question.

No, she couldn’t do this, this was insanity. She didn’t know what it meant, she’d never seen it, never felt it sifting through her mind. Evelyn was already pouring the clear alcohol into the silver plate, creating a transparent layer above the mirror-finish.

“Good look at what?” I hiccuped, voice caught with sudden terror. “Evelyn, good look at what?”

Twil levered herself off the wall. “Woah, what-”

“Heather?” Raine piped up. “Yeah, Evee, wait-”

Evelyn slapped the cork back into the bottle. “At your Eye, what else?”

I took a step back and started to form a denial, shake my head, tell her no, stop, don’t do this, not here, not to me.

Evelyn spoke a word that no human mouth was built to speak.

The aqua vitae shimmered like mercury.

Too late.

I screwed my eyes shut and clamped my hands over my ears.


==


Gasping in the dark.

Then I felt Raine’s hands on my arms and heard her muffled voice beyond the mittens I’d shoved against my ears.

“Heather? Heather, it’s okay. It’s okay, we’re safe. Heather, open your eyes, look at me.”

Raine was alive and standing and talking, so I assumed we hadn’t all been obliterated. I found myself blinking at her, shaking and struggling to breathe through a blast of adrenaline. She met my eyes and and nodded slow and held me by the shoulders. I blinked back panic tears.

“I-it’s okay,” I repeated after her. “It’s okay, I’m okay. I’m okay.”

She smiled, but tense and stiff.

“That was some fucking major-league bullshit right there, Saye. What the fuck?” Twil almost shouted. For once, I agreed with her.

She looked like she wanted to strangle Evelyn, but dared not approach the table. Evelyn was bent over the silver mirror, staring into the surface of the aqua vitae. The liquid had blackened into a rich, rolling darkness.

I pulled the stupid rabbit hat off my head.

“Why didn’t you tell me what you were going to do!?” I yelled.

“Because you wouldn’t have agreed to it,” Evelyn croaked.

About to shoot back with words I’d probably regret later, I realised Evelyn was literally spitting blood. She held a tissue wadded up in one hand, already speckled with crimson spit, then hawked up a gob of bloody mucus. She caught me staring and glanced up from the magical window.

“The activation word. Damages the throat.”

I cast about at a loss, then shoved the hat at Raine. “Were you in on this?”

“No. I wish I had been.”

“You wouldn’t have agreed either.” Evelyn croaked and coughed and spat again.

“Bloody right I wouldn’t have,” Raine said. “Between terrifying Heather and hurting yourself, are you kidding?”

Twil shook her head and tapped her temple. I was inclined to agree, but too angry to think straight. Evelyn didn’t even bother with a response. She was utterly intent on the dark window in the silver mirror.

With the hat off, cold air quickly soaked through my hair and pinched at my nose. The temperature had indeed dropped sharply, colder than outdoors. I exhaled a white plume and shivered, wrapped my arms around myself. “This cold can’t be good for the books.”

“What, those?” Raine nodded at the bookcases along wall of the Medieval Metaphysics room. “They’re just nonsense, remember? Here, put your hat back on.”

“They’re still books.”

“They’ll be fine,” Evelyn muttered. “This won’t take long.”

She was touching the surface of the liquid window with two fingers, sliding and twitching them ever so gently. The viewpoint swung across a landscape that had haunted me half my life.

Wonderland.

My breath stilled.

“Evee,” Raine warned.

“It’s perfectly safe. It’s one-way,” Evelyn said as she panned across the landscape. “Anything there can’t see us, can’t touch us. Don’t watch if you don’t want to. Step outside if you must. Just don’t interrupt me.”

The liquid rippled as Evelyn moved her fingers. Despite the barely eighteen inches diameter of the silver plate, the image was strikingly clear. If it was any other place, I would have marvelled at the magic. My complaint died on my lips. I couldn’t look away.

Wonderland, exactly as I recalled, except from half a mile up.

Rubble and ruin stretched away to a horizon of broken teeth, monoliths of masonry embedded in the ground and cracked apart by unthinkable forces. Dark mists scudded across the acres of wreckage, drifting with more than a hint of intention. Wherever a wall stood intact, every inch of brick and stone was scrawled with tiny devotional script. Even at such a distance, from outside reality, the words made my eyes water.

Bio-luminescent jellyfish creatures bobbed and weaved through the air, each as big as a bus, their disgusting inner organs pulsing and throbbing to some unheard beat, meaty and wet.

Malformed life picked through the ruins, not even remotely humanoid. None of us could look at them for long. Twil made a gagging sound. Raine was silent. Evelyn quickly panned away.

In the distance, watchers stared up at the sky in mute worship. Some were vaguely simian, hunched over on their knuckles. Others squatted or crouched, toad-like, but most were unidentifiable combinations or phylum with no earthly analogue. I knew from memory each of them was the size of a mountain. One did not risk their attention lightly.

Raine murmured my name. She gently tried to ease me away, hands on my back. I was shaking, shivering, on the verge of tears but not sad, not afraid. “Heather, you don’t have to look. Come on, let’s go out into the corridor. Hell, we can go down the campus canteen. Heather?”

“No,” I hissed. Couldn’t look away. “I want to see.”

“You don’t have-”

“I need to see,” I said, almost pushed her away with a jerk of my elbow.

“Okay, okay. I’m right here.”

Evelyn grunted. “Thought you might.”

She panned the view until she’d circled the horizon. Frozen grey static filled the edge of the sky, as if the sun had exploded and forced iron filings across the firmament.

Twil muttered about how messed up this was, but Raine shushed her.

This was futile, I knew. I had nothing to gain by subjecting myself to this.

But I felt such release.

“This is the place you went?” Evelyn asked.

“ … yes.”

“Hm.” Evelyn flicked her fingers, swung the viewpoint up toward the sky.

I realised a second too late why the perspective was half a mile up from the ground. My heart leapt into my throat as the window filled with dark ridges and folds, cleft by a horizontal line across the middle, like a mountain range of puckered flesh. Bigger than any mountain, like a planet hung in low orbit.

“No, turn it away! Turn it away!” I cried.

Evelyn frowned into the dish. “What is-”

The eyelid cracked open.

It was in the sky and it was the sky and it was everything and all and so large it filled all creation with itself and forced out all thought and reason and demanded one look back into it and acknowledge its gaze with one’s own and never think of anything else ever again.

Open by the slimmest crack. On a true abyss.

More than enough.

It saw us.

All of Evelyn’s assurances of safety and one-way glass meant nothing. The Eye could reach across dimensions and rewrite physics with a thought. Of course it could see us. I’d hidden from it for two weeks and now it had found me.

I felt it in my head. All of our heads.

Noxious light spilt from the mirror-window and underlit Evelyn’s face, casting nightmare shadows across the ceiling. She was paralysed, frozen horror in her eyes. Raine wrapped her arms around her own head, bent forward as if trying to walk into a gale. Somewhere, Twil was yowling.

The first feelers of alien thought stroked at the edges of my mind, a familiar old fumbling and probing, prelude to a lesson. I swallowed a scream.

I was shaking, tears streaming down my face. For ten years this had been confined to dreams. Now I was wide awake.

I was also the only one who’d been here before.

The only one to retain my wits.

I scrambled forward and crashed into the table, slid across the paper sigils and magic circles. The Eye’s tendrils tightened around my thoughts, pulled and teased them apart. My vision swam. My skin crawled and my mind cringed away from what I had to do.

I reached out skimmed my mittened hand across the surface of the window, spun the viewpoint away from the Eye.

The spell broke instantly with a crackling discharge of static.

The image in the dish flickered, greyed out, cleared as the liquid returned to normal.

Evelyn sat down on the floor with a loud thump, both hands to her chest. Raine gasped and straightened up, heaving in great gulps of air. Twil, not exactly human right now, shook herself all over and huffed through a snout of razor-sharp teeth.

“Fuck me sideways,” Raine said.

We all took a moment to enjoy the absence of alien thought-tentacles in our brains. My whole body felt numb. Raine swung her arms and bounced on the spot. Twil rose from a tight, canine crouch and looked mostly human again as she rubbed her face, but even she was out of insults and complaints.

“Heather?” Raine said.

“Mm?”

“Good. Good call.” She nodded at the dish. I was still touching it. I think she wanted to come over to me, hold me, but she looked as stunned and numb as I felt.

“I guess.”

“What in bloody arsefuck Jesus Christ was that?” Twil said.

“The thing that haunts me.”

Evelyn shook her head slowly, looked between Raine and I, then looked away and sighed a deep, heavy sigh of defeat and shame.

“Fucking idiot,” Twil grumbled.

“Now’s not the time.” Raine took a deep breath. “This is all safe now, right? Evee?”

“Yes, Heather broke the connection. I won’t make it again.” Evelyn glanced up from her spot on the floor. “I didn’t expect a-”

She froze and her eyes widened just a fraction, just enough for panic. She stared at me.

“What? Evee, what now?” Raine said.

“Heather, did you touch the circles? Did you break the circles?”

I was too numb for blood chills or dramatic pit-of-the-stomach feelings. I think we all were. But when I looked down at my arm, where I’d slid across the table, I knew on an instinctive level that I’d made a mistake. Raine hurried to my side.

My impact had scrunched and torn the paper, breaking all three of Evelyn’s clean, precise magic circles. My arm lay right across them.

Evelyn heaved herself to her feet, suppressed a wince of pain.

“Don’t move,” she was saying – as I pulled my arm back.

The surface of the aqua vitae rippled and parted.

A hand made of solid night shot out from the liquid. Dark and shiny as if covered in a sheen of oil, each many-jointed finger six inches long, tapering points with no nails or claws.

It snapped shut around my wrist.

This time I screamed.

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