Jan’s awkward grimace was a work of subtle art.
She kept it plastered across her delicate features as we took a moment to absorb her preposterous request. The slowly dying sunlight lowered through the single filthy window of her cramped bedsit room, brushed the corner of her soft cheekbone, and made twinkling highlights in the lustrous black of her fluffy hair. Her impossibly beautiful eyes pinched in a squint as if preparing to receive a punch on the arm. It was technically a smile — her bow-shaped, pale-pink lips were curved upward, after all — showing pearly-white clenched teeth. The sort of smile that told us she knew her request could not possibly be granted, but hoping against hope that we were either very stupid or very kind.
It was a very teenager smile, the smile one pulls when mum and dad are not impressed, and one cannot charm them like some pretty little pixie, but one is old enough that mutual respect is not completely impossible, if only they would listen.
If Jan was some kind of fake, then she was a perfect actress at playing her apparent age. But how could such a young woman be an accomplished mage?
The answer was standing right next to me, of course, with her bent spine and her maimed hand and her missing leg, gripping her scrimshawed bone wand — Evelyn.
But Jan didn’t look traumatised or damaged; she didn’t even act strange, not by our standards. She was eloquent and petite and displayed a proper fear response to a bunch of dangerous people pointing weapons at her.
Heather, you don’t look damaged on the surface, I reminded myself. Don’t be so quick to judge. Maybe she’s just a girl.
Her eyes, like sapphires burning with internal fire, suggested otherwise.
Just a girl, very interested in the contents of our heads. My head. And there was only one thing in my head besides myself.
Evelyn finally processed Jan’s request. She snorted. “You want to look inside our heads. Right. Nice try.”
Jan’s grimace deepened into a wince. “I’m not taking the mickey.”
“Hey, yo,” Twil said with a derisive laugh, “I dunno about like, me, or Raine, but you do not wanna look inside Heather’s head, yo.” She jerked a thumb in my direction. “The last bunch o’ jokers who tried that didn’t feel so good about what they found there. It’s bad, yeah? Like, big crazy death-fuck time bad. Don’t try.”
Jan’s grimace froze and her gemstone eyes flickered to me. She looked like a hunter who’d been caught by the tiger, on the latrine with her gun far away.
“Twil,” Raine said with resigned amusement, still pointing her handgun at Jan’s head, “not the best moment for that.”
“Big crazy death-fuck time?” Evelyn echoed, most unimpressed. Twil just shrugged. “Need I remind you that you are not meant to be doing the talking here?”
Twil put her hands up. “Alright, alright. I was just being poetic. S’not like I wanna think about that stuff either.”
“The Sharrowford Cult never looked inside my head, Twil,” I said out loud — but I said it to Jan, speaking directly to the wary, waxen look coming over her expression. “All I did was give them the Fractal.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know,” Twil whined. “I was being … I was tryin’ … you know. Intimidate. S’what I’m here for, right?”
“You’re here to tank,” Raine said. Twil rolled her eyes.
“Heather, is it?” Jan asked, having gone very still indeed. Her pale throat bobbed with a dry swallow. The ace of spades playing card in her hand — the one she’d pulled from some private pocket dimension — was quivering slightly between her fingers. She carefully placed it down on the bed, on the opposite side of her lap from her pink handgun.
Her fear was back, worse than before, and hard to conceal; she wasn’t that good an actress, she could only harness what she already had. I tried to watch her right hand in the corner of my eye, watch the gap between her fingers and her willingly discarded pistol, that scrap of polymer and plastic in girlish pink, such an absurd colour for a weapon.
If my worst suspicions were right, she might be willing to grab the gun and shoot me, even at the cost of her own life. My bioreactor was already spooling up more power inside my abdomen, shunting biochemical control rods out of their channels and flooding me with energy, making me want to bounce on the balls of my feet and plate my front with extruded steel. Three of my tentacles moved to cover me, to catch a literal bullet if need be — though Jan could see that, couldn’t she?
I opened my mouth and almost said something like grab her gun, please, or I think this young lady is about to try shooting me, but I knew she might dive for the weapon if I cried a warning. Or worse, she might produce more than a playing card from up her sleeves. I wet my lips, heart juddering, bowels going tight.
Raine must have noticed my tension, because she shifted her footing, as if ready to move. Praem stepped forward one pace, back within range of the girl on the bed.
In the back of my mind, I began to ready the first burning figures and aching principles of an equation I’d only used once before. Once, to save Raine’s life, I’d deflected a bullet.
Could I do so again, pre-emptively?
“That’s my name,” I said. I even smiled.
“And what lives in your head, Heather?” Jan asked. Those deep blue eyes seemed to draw me inward. I couldn’t look away, as if they were windows to an ocean.
“If I answer that, are you going to pick up your gun and try to shoot me?” My voice barely shook at all.
Jan blew out a long breath. “I don’t know, really. I guess I’m supposed to, but there’s not a lot of point now. As I said, this is just a job. If you’re … infested, well.” She shrugged. “Maybe we can come to an agreement. Maybe you can pay me to go away.”
“Pay you?” Twil snorted.
“I like the sound of that,” Evelyn said, though her tone did not agree.
“A token amount.” Jan lit up, eyes flicking away from me at last and roving across the others. I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding. “Buy out my contract. No, really, I’m serious. I’m not a hero, I’m just looking to get paid, and I can hardly spend money if you decide to encase me in concrete and throw me in a river. A hundred pounds?” She grimaced again, knowing she had no chance. “Fifty? Twenty? Seriously, one of you, just stuff a fiver in my bag there.”
“Remember,” Evelyn raised her voice, “we still don’t know where her demon host has gotten to. We are still before the jaws of a trap.”
“It’s not a trap,” Jan protested. “It’s a sensible precaution.”
“Then where is she?” Evelyn hissed.
“The thing in my mind is bigger than both of us,” I said slowly. “Bigger than all of us here. Bigger than this entire world. You do not want to meet it, you do not want to look inside my mind, because it will drive you mad. I barely keep it at bay, with magic I don’t even understand, and frankly I doubt you have much chance either. And it has taught me the most horrible things, the keys to reality, like toxic waste in my mind. You do not want that in your—”
“Head!” Jan interrupted me, eyes wide with hope.
“ … I’m sorry?”
“Head. Head! You said mind. Did you mean mind, or did you mean head?” She looked between all of us, suddenly more animated, a smile peeking back onto her delicate lips. She brushed her fluffy black hair behind her ears. I saw Raine twitch, almost go for the kill shot, and Jan flinched so hard she threw her hands up in surrender. But she rattled on quickly. “Because I don’t care about what’s in your mind. I don’t care about your thoughts. You could be like her—” she nodded at Praem “—for all I care, you could have a whole legion of demons in your mind and I really would not be bothered one slightest bit. It would be terribly hypocritical of me, anyway.”
I blinked at her in confusion. Raine shrugged but kept her pistol trained. Twil puffed out a breath. Praem didn’t move.
“In your head, or in your mind?” Jan repeated, trying to maintain her smile. “Let’s clear this up.”
“The Eye,” I said out loud, tentacles twitching, fully expecting her to pull some impossible death-magic from thin air. “It’s in my mind, yes. Not my head, physically. Are you after the Eye? Don’t make us speak its true name, because the true name hurts to even hear, it … really sucks, it—”
“She’s not after the Eye,” Evelyn said softly, but with such conviction that we all looked at her.
“Uh, indeed!” Jan said. “That’s a bit of a coincidence, but I don’t know what the ‘Eye’, singular, is, but that doesn’t sound like what I’m here to find.”
“My mother had notes on you people,” Evelyn said. She took a deep breath, finally removed her hand from the designs on her bone wand, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Her painfully grey expression was gone, colour coming back into her cheeks. She rolled her neck left and right, which produced a clicking and grinding of vertebrae. “Took me a moment to recall.”
“Ah,” Jan grimaced, more embarrassed than afraid. “I’m only working for them, I’m not one of them myself.”
“The Army of the Third Eye,” Evelyn sighed. She tapped her own forehead with a sigh. “Trepanation hole? Third eye? Get it?”
“Oh, come on,” Twil sighed. “You’re kidding?”
“You mean … this isn’t about the Eye?” I asked. “Our Eye, I mean? ‘Army of the Third Eye’? Goodness, that’s an awfully confusing name. Why does everything to do with magic have such stupid names?”
I found myself almost panting to get my breath back, talking just to feel normal. My tentacles slowly lowered as I realised Jan was no longer tense with the need to grab her gun and shoot me. I concentrated to force control rods back into my bioreactor, like struggling with occulted internal muscles. Jan pulled a very awkward smile indeed, quite embarrassed.
“They’re a cult,” Evelyn went on, frowning at Jan. “Quite an old one, too. Thirty years or so now, if they really are still around. My mother’s notes said they fizzled out about twenty five years back, too many of them dead, too much attention from the mundane authorities.” She glanced at the rest of us. “They let off a couple of car bombs in London in the early nineties and tried to assassinate an MP. According to my mother’s notes they … ” She redirected her attention back to Jan, still hard and uncompromising even if not ready to kill her anymore. “You need to prove you’re not lying. I know of the people you claim to work for. Explain what you’re here for. If your words don’t match my expectations, I will have Raine here shoot you.”
“Evee,” I hissed.
“She’ll do it, she totally will,” Raine said, pulling a resigned smile with her lips pressed together.
“She will not,” Praem intoned.
“I am trying to present a credible threat here,” Evelyn said, rolling her eyes.
“I already did that,” I said. “I think.” Then I undermined myself with a truly gargantuan hiccup, so bad it actually hurt my diaphragm. Jan flinched and I blushed slightly. “Sorry,” I said, trying to take a breath. “Too much … too much of all this.”
“Is she okay?” Jan asked.
“I’m fine,” I said, rubbing my sternum.
“Answer the question,” Evelyn grumbled, though her tone seemed utterly resigned to the growing absurdity of a true misunderstanding.
Jan puffed out a sigh and pulled that uniquely teenage grimace again, half embarrassment, half like a worm exposed under an overturned rock. “The Army of the Third Eye is hardly a ‘cult’,” she said in that delicate voice. “That’s a bit much. They don’t understand anything about magic, they’re basically a bunch of normies who got overexposed and couldn’t deal with it.”
“And what do they want,” Evelyn said — it wasn’t even a question, she was just utterly exhausted by this moment.
“They um … ” Jan cleared her throat and blushed. “They believe the British government and general establishment types are being mind-controlled by giant alien insects. From space.”
“What,” went Twil.
Raine raised her eyebrows.
“Um,” I said. “Giant?”
“Yes, yes, go on,” Evelyn sighed, making a get-on-with-it hand gesture.
“Well, giant in relative terms,” Jan said. She held her hands about a foot apart. “About the size of a pigeon. Sort of mottled grey-green. They look a bit like a giant fly but they’ve got many more limbs and lots of eyes, and they’re supposed to curl up and hide inside human skulls, entwined with the brain matter itself. Supposedly they can read memories and then pilot the host with suggestion and mental torture and … look,” she hurried to add, though Evelyn was already nodding along, “I don’t believe a word of this. The Army have a lot of sketches of these things but only one blurry photograph. You and I, if you are all what you claim to be, we both know that it could be a photograph of anything. Some demon, something from the Beyond, something a stupid and irresponsible mage cooked up once.”
“This all matches up,” Evelyn sighed, possibly the most exasperated I’d ever seen her.
“Giant alien space bugs?” Twil asked, in the tone one might say magical polka-dot clowns.
“My theory,” Jan said, quite apologetic, “is that these poor fellows encountered something, years and years ago, something magical that they couldn’t deal with, that they couldn’t process. So, cultural expectations took over, maybe one of them was into UFO stuff, so … giant mind-control space bugs.”
“Maladaptive coping strategy,” Evelyn said. “That happens, rarely, when somebody can’t process exposure to magic.” She finally let go of her bone wand and casually passed it to Praem, then flexed and massaged her stiff fingers.
Raine raised her eyebrows at that. “Evee, you sure that’s a good idea?”
“I don’t fucking care any more. Just keep the gun pointed at her,” Evelyn grumbled. “Finish, what else?” she spat at Jan.
“I’ve only ever met five members of the Army,” Jan said, “and I think that’s all that’s left. They’re all in their sixties now and they’re all absolutely deep in awful paranoia, it’s really quite sad. They’ve all performed trepanation on themselves in the past — they believe sunlight kills the bugs. So, when your … um … friend,” she cleared her throat, “turned up in Sharrowford General Hospital with a hole in his head, one of them read about it in his regular Google search for news with the word ‘trepanation’.” She pulled another grimace-smile. “They paid me a lot of money to soothe their paranoia, that’s really all there is to it. I’m supposed to check out this Nathan fellow and make sure it’s not relevant to them. But they are paranoid, and if it doesn’t involve trying to kill government ministers, I think they really will break out the improvised explosive devices.”
“Uh, ‘scuse me?” Twil said. “I’m not following a word of this?”
“Why am I not surprised?” Evelyn shot her a very tired look. “Normal people got exposed to magic and couldn’t deal with it. Maybe one of them got a demon in his head or something. That was my mother’s conjecture, anyway.”
“Right, right, okay,” Twil said, trying really hard. “So there’s not actually any giant alien space bugs?”
“No,” Evelyn said, very slowly and very carefully.
“But they explained it to themselves with giant alien space bugs?” I asked Jan directly.
“Mmhmm.” Jan nodded, smiling.
“They really believe this?”
“They really believe it, yes. They’re paying me a lot of money to confirm a giant alien space bug did not come out of Nathan’s head.”
“ … I’ve heard and seen a lot of absurd things since I stumbled into all this,” I said, “but that has to be some kind of record.”
Jan winced. “I do apologise.”
“No, wait, you were about to shoot me!” I said, pointing with both one hand and a tentacle at the pink gun on the bed. “You were about to reach for that thing. I’m not very experienced at reading people, but even I could see that.”
“Ohhhh yeah,” Raine said, soft and low. “Another couple of seconds there and I would’a made you a third eye of your own.”
Jan’s beautiful, impossible, gem-like eyes twitched — for a moment I thought she was about to finally reveal her true weapons and turn us all to stone with a charmed look. My tentacles jerked up to defend myself, defend my friends, block her gaze; but then I realised with an embarrassed flush that she’d barely resisted an urge to roll her eyes. She was, in fact, staying extra polite.
“The gun, really?” she muttered, faintly amused. “Of course I was about to defend myself, I thought I’d finally run into the real thing!”
“So you do believe in the alien space bugs?” I asked.
Jan’s resistance crumbled; she rolled her eyes. “No, of course not. What do you take me for? I’ve done this same job three times and I’ve never seen anything to suggest the Army aren’t just a bunch of well-armed lunatics, but … well, your man Nathan is clearly disturbed, and not only by the hole in his head.” She shrugged, just as delicately as she did everything else. “That fit the pattern described by my clients, but it’s the first time I’d seen it. I did hunt down something that had come out of him, but that seemed unrelated, so I was ready to dismiss it and get back to business.”
“The skin man that came out of Badger,” Raine said, nodding. “Your zombie ate it.”
“Of course she did,” Jan said. “It reeked of him, we needed to get rid of it. Also, excuse me — zombie?”
“Whatever she is,” Raine said.
“Did you make that thing? It was horribly unhygienic.”
“Nah.” Raine shook her head. “We were trying to get rid of it too.”
“And what is your business, exactly?” Evelyn grumbled. “Beyond this job.”
“Making money.” Jan raised one hand and rubbed her fingers together. “But then you hunt me down, I bring it up, and you get defensive. You start telling me there’s something in your head, so yes, of course I was getting ready for action! Goodness me.” She sighed, pursing her lips and shaking her head at me. “I thought I was about to be face to face with giant alien space bugs.”
“That’s what you signed up for, ain’t it?” Twil said.
Jan sighed and gave Twil a pinched look. She was about to open her mouth and carry on — she seemed to like the sound of her own voice. Either that or she was practised at long-form distraction. But I pushed in before we could get further off track.
“This doesn’t actually explain anything,” I said, my tentacles still up. “How did you track Praem? How did you know we were out in the street just now? How can you see my tentacles? What was the ‘second job’ you mentioned, from what group of people? And what about your … ”
Eyes, I was about to say, but those eyes flickered to me and seemed to hold me still by virtue of their sheer beauty.
“Yeah,” Raine added. She hadn’t moved, but suddenly her gun seemed to loom larger. “You’re good at the run around, I’ll give you that, but you’ve missed a detail.”
Jan blinked at Raine. “Yes?”
“Badger would have contacted us if you’d seen him in the hospital,” Raine said with an awful smirk, the smirk of a hound cornering prey. “You’re still lying. Checkmate.”
“Of course he wouldn’t have!” Jan tutted. “I threatened him. You’ve got him in there with no protection at all. He thinks I’ll come back and kill him if he breathes a word to you.”
“Ah,” said Raine.
“Shit,” went Twil. “She’s got us there. We’re kind of bad at this.”
“Oversight,” said Praem.
“Still doesn’t explain the second job, hey?” Raine pressed.
Evelyn suddenly snapped, “Of course it explains that. Am I the only one of us capable of extrapolating from available information?” She frowned around at all of us, an exacting schoolmarm with a clutch of particularly slow students. She stared at me. “I expected better of you, Heather.”
“I’m … sorry?”
“Never mind, it’s not your area. I suppose this is why I’m your strategist,” she grumbled, then ignored me in favour of Jan. “You were talking to the rest of the survivors from the Sharrowford Cult, weren’t you? Badger’s remaining friends and contacts. That’s all the places you were visiting two days ago. And they wanted you to do something about us.”
Jan sat up straight, settling her petite frame into a semi-formal pose, hands cradled in her tiny lap. “Guilty as charged — though it’s not a crime.”
“Do something about us?” Raine echoed, a dark smile in her voice.
Jan cleared her throat. “They offered to pay me, well, not very much money, to confirm if Nathan is alive and well or not, if his mind is intact, and so on. They gave me a promise of further pay if I could — and I quote — ‘pry him out of their clutches’. That being you, of course.”
“Dangerous job, you know?” Raine purred. “We’re dangerous people.”
“We are not,” I muttered, vastly uncomfortable.
“Absolutely,” Jan said with a swallow and an awkward smile. “Really, you have to understand, I only took the job because I was pretty sure that ‘Badger’ — goodness, he does look like a badger, doesn’t he? How apt. I only took the job because it was pretty obvious that he’s fine, except a tiny bit of brain damage, but that’s to be expected. He’s hardly under duress and seems to absolutely adore you.” She nodded at me and my stomach turned over. “My plan was to wait for him to get discharged, meet you through him, and then get paid twice; once for confirming the obvious absence of alien space bugs, the other for ‘freeing’ Badger.” She sighed and flopped her hands against her lap. “Didn’t expect you people to act like territorial cats. Considering what you did for Nathan, I assumed you were … ” She paused for a tiny laugh. “‘The good guys’, to some extent.”
“There are no good mages,” Evelyn hissed.
“We are the good guys,” Twil said, a bit shrill with offence, frowning. She glanced at the rest of us. “Good girls, whatever.”
“Good girls,” Praem intoned.
“Yeah,” Twil echoed, then caught our mixed expressions. “What?”
“Maybe we better leave those definitions to posterity,” I said.
Raine was shaking her head at Jan. “This might be convincing Evee, but I think you’re being a touch too talkative.”
“You’re pointing a gun at me!” Jan said, outraged in the exact way a teenage girl would be at something so obvious. “Look, I’m not here to be a hero, I’m here to get paid. I can’t exactly enjoy the bit that comes after getting paid if my brains are splattered all over the back wall of this total dump. What a place to die.” She gestured with her eyes at the horrible, cramped bedsit room all around us. “Want me to tell you anything else about the job? I will, because you’re pointing a gun at me, duh.”
“And you have one of your own,” Raine said, still level and cold.
“Oh for—” Jan huffed, started to reach for the pink handgun, then stopped with her fingers splayed. “Can I pick this up and hand it to you without being ventilated? It’ll prove a point.”
Raine glanced at Evelyn, who shrugged. She pulled the 3D-glasses from her pocket and peered through them at the gun. “She’s not trying to hoodwink us.”
“Rare for you, Evee,” Raine said.
“This is too stupid not to believe. Get on with it.”
“I don’t think there’s anything magical about it,” I said. “But that’s just me.”
“Don’t smell no silver,” Twil added.
Frowning but cautious, Raine nodded, took one hand off her own pistol, and held it out to accept Jan’s gun. Jan picked the weapon up by the barrel and held the grip out toward Raine. Frowning surprise flickered across Raine’s face the moment she took the absurdly pink firearm in her own hand.
“Raine?” I asked, suddenly alarmed.
“Oh, you’re kidding me,” Raine laughed, hefting the weight of the gun. Taking extra care where she pointed the barrel of her own pistol, she pressed a catch on the side of the pink gun, slid out the bit that held the bullets, glanced inside and snorted, then clicked it back into place. She pulled back the slide and looked into the chamber, shaking her head. She gave Jan a look I’d never seen before — actual exasperation, but tinged by professional interest, almost admiration. “You absolutely had me going.”
“It wouldn’t be any good otherwise,” Jan said with a musical, girlish giggle.
Then Raine aimed the pink gun at Jan’s stomach and pulled the trigger.
I almost screamed. Subconsciously I’d understood exactly what I’d seen, but my fore-brain had taken just long enough to catch up that for a split second I thought Raine was summarily shooting this girl in the belly. A gasp escaped me, panicked hands and tentacles whirling, half to catch the bullet, half to yank the gun out of Raine’s hands, one tentacle lingering to forestall Jan’s inevitable and probably deadly response.
But instead of a deafening bang and the awful sound of metal going through meat, the pink gun produced a dull pock.
A little white pellet bounced off Jan’s thick black sweater.
“Heeeey, ow!” Jan flinched. “That still hurts a bit!”
Twil started laughing. Evelyn sighed.
“Oh come on,” Raine sneered. “It’s sub-airsoft. This wouldn’t even hurt a mouse. Looks the part though.” She turned the pink gun over appreciatively. “Pink ain’t my style, but what is this supposed to be, some kinda sub-compact?”
“I have no idea,” Jan said. “I’m not into guns, personally.”
“It’s a fucking airsoft gun!” Twil was howling. She put both hands on her head and turned in a circle.
“Twil,” Evelyn grunted. “Stay on task. She’s still a mage.”
“It’s an airsoft gun! Fuck me!”
“Excuse me, Raine,” I managed to say, keeping my voice steady. “Can you maybe warn me next time you shoot somebody?”
“Heather?” Raine blinked at me, then lit up with concern. “Oh, shit, you thought it was real?”
“I thought you were shooting her! Yes!”
“I would never,” Raine said, dead serious. “I mean, I would, if she was a threat. But not in cold blood. Unless we had to.”
“Good to know,” Jan said in a stage-whisper.
“Just warn me next time, instead of pulling the theatrics, please?” I asked, trying to force my heart rate back down.
“You bet. Promise,” Raine said, all humour forgotten in the way she nodded to me. “Gotta admit it had style though. Bang bang.” She pointed the fake, girly-pink gun at Jan again, miming firing off rounds. Her own pistol was aimed carefully at the floor.
I gave her such a look.
“I think they really do make pink guns, you know?” Twil said. “Like, real ones.”
“If we are all quite finished playing with toy guns,” Evelyn said as Raine handed the utterly harmless airsoft pistol back to Jan. “I think this establishes where we all stand.”
“This really does have nothing to do with us,” I said. “Well, except the bit with the leftovers of the cult.”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure she’s telling the truth,” Evelyn grumbled. She was hunching up harder than before, leaning heavily on her walking stick, and unsuccessfully suppressing a grimace. Her free hand wandered down to rub at her thigh, then scratch at where the seal paper was irritating her stomach. My own seal was an itchy mass by now, I desperately wanted to peel it off. “And I need a sit down.”
“This means we did the right thing then, hey?” Twil said, gesturing around the room. “We came to talk it out, ‘stead of shooting first. Success!”
It didn’t feel like a success; our moment of unintended silence spoke volumes. We had barged into Jan’s rented hovel, pointing weapons and making threats, very much being ‘the bad guys’, until she’d explained herself. From one perspective we were blameless — we had no idea what she was, she could have been anything. Still could be anything.
But she was very small and looked so very vulnerable sitting on that bed, engulfed in her knitted jumper, with her slender legs stretched out over the side, pillow in her lap. Between her fluffy black hair and her delicate facial features, she looked like the sort of girl who should have been on the edge of a friend group in school right now, comfortably eating a pop tart or a cookie or some other nondescript sweet thing, not in this filthy room surrounded by a group of dangerous creatures.
Except for her eyes. And the way she’d pulled a fake gun and a playing card from pockets of nowhere.
It was very difficult to keep in mind that this girl was a mage.
“Sorry, there really is nowhere to sit,” Jan said with a sigh. “The chairs are terrible, they came with the room.”
“Mm,” Evelyn grunted, the tone of a woman who knew there would be no sitting for a while yet, but she still glanced behind her at the opposite bed frame, bare of sheets or even a mattress, just that guitar case sitting there. “I’m not sure it would be a good idea anyway. You’re not totally unarmed, we are still dealing with a real mage here. As you proved earlier. What else are you hiding up your sleeves?”
Jan smiled. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“I would, actually.”
“Oh, nothing special,” Jan said. She touched a spot diagonally upward from her own forehead and her fingertips appeared to vanish for the blink of an eye, as if passing behind an invisible curtain. Raine twitched her gun up and Twil was about to surge forward, which surprised me so hard that I flinched, but Jan’s hand was back in a blink, holding a Chupa Chups lollipop. She unwrapped it and popped it in the corner of her mouth, then spoke around the stick. “Defences, of course, yes, I won’t deny that. But I don’t need defences if you’re genuinely not going to point a gun at me anymore.”
Evelyn sighed and shook her head.
“Mages,” I hissed. “Bloody show-offs.”
“One more question,” Raine said. She tilted her head at the guitar case behind us. “What’s in the case?”
“Magic sword,” Jan said around her lollipop. “Long story.”
“ … magic sword?” Raine asked.
“Magic sword,” Evelyn sighed.
“Magic sword,” Praem echoed.
“Magic sword, yes, don’t sound so surprised. Go on, open it if you like, I can’t lift the thing. We never use it, anyway.”
Evelyn nodded to Praem, frowning hard. Praem stepped over to the opposite bed frame, undid the clasps on the hardshell case, and lifted the lid.
A sword, plain as day, lay nestled in a bed of old t-shirts and plastic carrier bags. It looked totally unremarkable, even a bit tarnished.
“Whoa,” Twil muttered.
“Alright, close it up,” said Evelyn. “That’s enough of that nonsense.”
Praem closed the lid while Jan swung her legs back and forth over the side of the bed, enjoying her lollipop. We all shared a confused glance. Evelyn was about to speak, but Twil got there first.
“Wait a fuckin’ minute,” Twil said slowly, squinting at Jan. “You’ve got a sword, but also a fake gun, right?”
“ … right?” Jan echoed.
“And you took a job, which you knew wasn’t a real job, because, you know, giant alien space bugs. And then you took another job, but you only took it because you knew it would mean almost no work. Like, you weren’t actually planning to fight Heather and Evee for Badger, you just knew it was already cool. You were gonna get paid for doing nothing. Twice.”
“Mmm … hmmm?” went Jan, increasingly like a deer in headlights.
“Dodgy dealer,” Praem intoned.
“You’re a con artist,” Twil said, mouth hanging open. “You’re like a mage con artist or some shit.”
Jan winced, drawing a sharp breath through clenched teeth. She waggled a slow finger at Twil. “That— that is— that’s— that’s a very harsh piece of terminology there. That’s very accusatory.”
Raine laughed. “Twil’s got your number. Hasn’t she?”
“I’m a magical problem solver!”
“Yeah, fake magical problems,” Twil said.
Jan sighed and surprised us all by flopping backward on the bed, arms outstretched. She lay still for a moment, staring at the ceiling through the slats of the top bunk. It was so very teenager that none of us knew how to react.
“Fake magical problems usually end with very grateful people paying me large sums of money,” she said to the dirty ceiling “You know how real magical problems tend to end?”
“Blood and terror,” Evelyn muttered.
“Yes!” Jan suddenly sat back up, looking at us like we were all idiots, despite the smile on her lips. “Real magical problems — the kind that you fine people seem to be suffering — end up with getting dead. And I don’t want to be dead! I should know, tried it once already. No thank you. I like getting paid, and I love getting paid twice for the same job. Money buys all sorts of lovely things like better living conditions than this, good food, a nice dress or two, the occasional book. Making sense, am I? So pack away the sanctimonious judgement of how I make a living. It’s not as if I have many other choices. And trust me, I’ve tried most of them.”
“You’re still a con artist,” Twil said.
“And you’re a terrible tracker. We knew you were there behind us the whole day!”
“Tch,” Twil tutted.
Jan’s little outburst was like watching the lenses realign in some piece of esoteric clockwork: it brought this whole situation into clear focus at last. She was no innocent child and we were not the nasty monsters leering over her — she was like a rat, a furtive thing beneath the floorboards, and here we were with torches and crowbars, prying our way into her particular underworld. And now she was frozen in fear, ready to bite perhaps, but mostly hoping she could convince us that she wasn’t getting into our grain.
“This still doesn’t explain how you can see my tentacles,” I said, a little more harsh than I had intended. “Or how you could tell what Praem is, or how you knew we were out in the street.”
Jan blinked at me in surprise, those incredible eyes trapped behind thick dark lashes. “I’m quite sure it doesn’t explain everything.”
“Look, I’m willing to tell you people whatever you want to know about me being here, because you’ve decided you’re all joint queens of Sharrowford or something. But I’m not spilling all my secrets to you. Some things are just not your business.”
“She is still a mage,” Evelyn grumbled. “Whatever else she is.”
“Quite right I am,” Jan agreed.
“Why the bloody hell were you wearing a school uniform?” Twil gestured at the neat, smart blazer and skirt hanging from the opposite bed frame.
Jan shrugged. “It’s wonderful camouflage. I’m the right size for it.”
“It’s your eyes, isn’t it?” I finally blurted it out, forcing the words up my throat like I was overcoming some terrible taboo. “Nobody else has mentioned them. Am I the only one seeing this?”
I glanced around at Evelyn, Raine, Twil, and Praem, and met blank, uncomprehending stares.
“No,” Praem intoned. “I see.”
“Oh,” I breathed.
“What about her eyes?” Evelyn went tense, then pulled out her modified 3D-glasses again, fumbling them onto her face as I spoke.
“They’re abnormal. It must be how she saw my—”
But the words died in my throat when I looked back at Jan. Those burning gemstone eyes had gone wide in shock, framed by a deep red blush blossoming in her cheeks. One pale, delicate, small-nailed hand was raised to cover her mouth.
“You can see … oh my goodness,” she gasped, then turned half away from me and shaded her eyes with one hand.
“That’s quite embarrassing!” she squeaked. “That’s … very private!”
“It’s only your eyes,” I said, dumbfounded.
“It’s me! It’s me! How can you see that?” she protested, glancing at me around the side of her hand. Then she realised Praem could see as well and unsuccessfully attempted to hide from both of us for a second, before giving up with a very haughty little huff. She crossed her arms and sat there, fuming and blushing like we’d walked in on her naked.
“Um … I’m sorry, but I don’t follow,” I said.
Evelyn gestured hurriedly at Praem, waving one hand for the return of her bone wand. She gripped the weapon tightly again, tucking one end of it under her armpit as she stared at Jan through the glasses.
“Evee?” Raine murmured, raising her pistol again.
“Hey, what?” Twil added. “We fighting now?”
“What are you?” Evelyn hissed at Jan, her jaw set with sudden tension, eyes hard, mouth a tight line.
“Excuse me?” Jan asked.
“I said, what are you?” Evelyn repeated, then whipped the glasses back off and looked Jan’s petite form up and down. Her knuckles were turning white on her walking stick. “What am I actually looking at here?”
Jan blinked. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow.”
“You said you’ve worked for the Army of the Third Eye multiple times, but you can’t be any older than nineteen, at most. Heather is seeing fucking spiritus expositae in your eyes, isn’t she? Which means you’re not fully settled in there, whatever you are.” Evelyn’s voice shook as she spoke and I saw her throat bob. “How old are you really?”
Jan’s jaw dropped and her brow creased with outrage. She took the lollipop out of her mouth. “Excuse me! You can’t just ask that.”
“Where did you get that body?” Evelyn said, throat thick with emotion, losing control.
“My body?” Jan gaped at her. “My body is none of your business!”
“It is if you fucking stole it,” Evelyn spat.
Two and two crashed together in my mind and added up to a gut-wrenching, blood-chilling five; Evelyn’s sudden blinding rage made perfect sense. Here was a mage who was very unlikely to be the age she appeared, claiming and demonstrating experience beyond her years, in the body of a young girl unblemished by the kind of exposure damage that Evelyn had endured. Eyes were a window on the soul, and Jan’s told of something very different inhabiting her body, but not a demon. Older, cleverer, perhaps not the original owner.
“Oh shit,” Raine hissed, levelling her gun at Jan’s head again. Praem took a half-step so she was almost in front of Evee, shielding her. Twil seemed confused, but her hands swirled into claws all the same. We were back on for a fight.
“Excuse me, but no it isn’t,” Jan snapped, outrage overcoming fear as she raged back at Evelyn. “Look, I’m willing to be open with you people but not—”
“Then I will have it out of you one way or another,” Evelyn hissed, her fingers shifting across the scrimshawed designs on her bone wand.
Then Evelyn yelped in surprise — at the feeling of one of my tentacles wrapped around her wrist. An invisible grip held Evelyn back from committing torture. She turned on me, eyes blazing. It was a miracle the room did not erupt into violence, as only Praem could see what had happened. Raine was staring Jan down while Twil didn’t know which way to turn.
“Heather,” Evelyn hissed in my face. “You let go—”
“Evee, she has an unbound demon host,” I said quickly, my own pulse like a drumbeat in my throat. “Like Praem. That she is not keeping a slave has to mean something.”
Evelyn actually bared her teeth at me. “She might be like—”
“But she might be nothing like your mother,” I rattled off as quickly as I could. “And I’m not going to let you get blood on your hands over a mistake. Please. Evee, please. She’s not even threatened us. Please. You did the same for me.”
Evelyn’s eyes blazed, her jaw set tight. She pulled at the grip of my tentacle around her wrist, but then relented, staring back at Jan, who was still sitting there with her arms folded, outraged almost beyond words.
“I still have to know,” Evelyn hissed.
“Yeeeeeeah,” Raine said, clicking her tongue. “That’s a red flag alright.”
“I’m not following a bloody word of this,” Twil muttered. “Are we doing a fight or what?”
“Jan,” I said, struggling to keep my voice level. “I’m sorry, but we do need an answer to that mystery. For personal reasons. Either we need a satisfactory answer to what you are, or Evelyn will very likely torture it out of you. And if she’s right, then I’d be inclined to let her. I don’t think she is right. Please.”
Jan stared at me, outraged and afraid in a way I’d never seen on a person before. Those beautiful eyes like the sky over a perfect sea were holding back a threat of tears. But she held her head high. “What are you going to ask next?” she said, cold and angry. “What I’ve got in my underwear?”
I winced. “No. Never. We just … Evelyn here … she’s very sensitive about the subject of … stolen bodies.”
“Joint,” Praem intoned, then added, “They will understand.”
Jan stared at Praem, then let out a shaking sigh. “Fine. At least one of you shows a modicum of respect.”
Praem bowed her head. It did not take an expert in body language to read that apology.
Jan reached out with both hands and began to roll up the right sleeve of her comfortable black jumper, revealing the crisp white fabric of her blouse underneath. She undid the tiny button at the cuff of the blouse, fingers fumbling a little with nerves, then rolled that up too. Smooth, pale, perfect skin slid out, a very slender and dainty forearm. Blushing hard with fury struggling not to show her tears, she pushed the fabric back up past her elbow, then held up her arm and flexed the joint so we could all see.
My jaw dropped. Evelyn stared for a second, then swallowed, letting go of her bone wand and averting her eyes. Raine let out a low whistle.
“Guess that explains why she doesn’t smell of anything,” Twil muttered.
Jan’s right elbow was a ball-and-socket doll-joint. Coloured like flesh, but not truly alive. She flexed the joint back and forth, then wiggled her fingers and rotated her wrist, and the trick became clear. Once one had seen the obvious fake of her elbow joint, the seams along her wrist and fingers were much harder to hide, as was the line where her neck joined to her skull. The illusion fell away as if it had never been there; she was using a technique very similar to Praem, clothing a doll’s skeleton in pneuma-somatic flesh — yet somehow visible and tangible.
“Whole body?” Raine asked, injecting her voice with that utterly judgement-free question she’d once used on me, to disarm all my fears.
“Whole body,” Jan hissed, barely able to speak from sheer humiliation. “Is that enough for you?”
“I think that explains everything,” I blurted out, then hiccuped in horror at what we’d done. “I’m so sorry we forced you to do that.”
“Yeah, hey,” Raine cleared her throat. “I think we kinda crossed a line there.”
“Yes,” Evelyn snapped. “Yes, of course … I … ”
“The answer to your question is no, by the way,” Jan said, shoving her sleeve back down to hide her arm again. As soon as the most egregiously obvious of her joints was hidden, the other seams became harder to detect. She blinked back tears of rage. “I didn’t steal my own body. I made it. It’s mine. It’s me. Also, fuck you.”
“No wonder you were so interested in Praem,” I said.
“It is beautiful,” Praem intoned.
Jan scrubbed her eyes on her sleeve, trying not to show her tears, but Praem’s words drew a tiny jerk from her. I wasn’t sure if it was a sob or a hiccup, but she got a grip on herself quickly and raised a sarcastic smile to me and Evelyn.
“I do hope you’re satisfied now,” she said.
“I’m— I— I apologise,” Evelyn stammered out. “I had to know, I—”
“We made a mistake, but we had to do it,” I said, then regretted that instantly “I mean we … we hurt … oh, dear.”
Jan gave me a look that said she didn’t care.
“Oof,” Twil said out loud.
Evelyn stopped trying to talk her way out of this. She straightened her spine as best she could, planted her walking stick firmly, and grabbed a fistful of her own skirt, then pulled upward until she revealed the matte black carbon fibre of her prosthetic shin and knee, showing off the artificial leg like a war-wound.
Jan shook her head, lips pressed together, not impressed. “It’s hardly the same, is it?”
“My mother attempted to cheat death by taking my body,” Evelyn said.
Jan stopped, actually listening. Evelyn’s chest rose and fell with emotional effort. Over her shoulder, I saw Twil’s eyes go wide with shock.
Oh Evee, I silently whined. You never told Twil?
“I was to be left in her rotting carcass,” Evelyn continued, though her words were forced, clipped, pushed out with great effort. “She did this damage to me, and more, prior to that attempt at possession. I have never considered the proper course of action to take if I encountered a mage who has successfully carried out her failed method of life-extension. I had to confirm … ” She trailed off. I covertly slid my arm through hers and placed my hand atop her fingers. She flinched, eyes flickering to me, but then steadied.
The worst of Jan’s outrage had subsided in the face of this confession. She half-nodded, a sideways tilt of her head, an acceptance, at least. She finally put her lollipop back in her mouth, though didn’t seem to be enjoying it very much.
“I would like to know who I am dealing with here,” Evelyn said, voice still tight. “Are you … human, or a demon in a doll, or—”
“I was born homo sapiens, yes,” Jan said, softly but still a little peeved.
“And how old are you?”
“Eighteen.” Jan shot Evelyn a look again, daring us to call her bluff.
“I am trying,” Evelyn said, “to afford you the respect we have violated.”
“Eighteen,” Jan repeated. “I have been eighteen for a very long time. Trust me, the body determines more about the mind than one expects. As you probably well know. Just treat me as what you perceive, please.”
“We can do that,” Raine said, stepping in so easy and confident before Evelyn could put her foot in her own mouth again.
“May I ask a question?” I said.
“You may as well,” Jan sighed.
“What am I seeing when I look at your eyes? They’re … I’ve never seen eyes like that before. They’re beautiful, just … ” I trailed off, lost for words.
“You are seeing me,” she said. “In here.”
A moment of silence passed. I think I understood.
“If you made your own body, why are you so small?” said Twil.
It was a genuine question. There was too much innocence in Twil’s tone for it to be otherwise, but I winced all the same. Evelyn put her face in her hand. Raine raised her eyes to the ceiling.
Jan pursed her lips and gave Twil a look. “Have you perhaps considered that I was also this same size previously?”
“Oh,” Twil said. “Right. Okay, cool.”
“ … is she simple?” Jan pointed at Twil and asked the rest of us.
“Sometimes,” Evelyn grunted.
“Oi!” said Twil.
“I am so sorry about all this,” I said, feeling both mortified and relieved. At least this was better than anything else that could have happened. Just.
Jan nodded awkwardly, but then crossed her arms, looked out of the window, and shoved the pillow off her lap — then pulled it back again and cuddled it to her chest.
“I think I’m ready to leave you people and your stupid, stupid city,” she said. “But right now I am feeling quite vulnerable, so I do apologise, but you’re going to have to deal with this.”
She reached out with the fingers of her right hand and stroked the air next to the bed. Those fingers had shown seamed joints along every knuckle only a minute or two ago, but now the illusion had firmly re-established itself. Fleshy digits briefly vanished from view, but for much longer and far deeper than her card-trick or hidden sweet pocket. She swiped her hand through the air like whisking back a curtain.
And Zheng’s mysterious zombie friend stepped out of thin air.
On the scale of a human being, the effect was dizzying, like watching a person appear around an invisible doorway. It stung my eyes and forced me to blink — though the particular qualities of the person joining us made my heart skip a beat and my tentacles fly up in a protective barrier. Twil growled in her throat and went halfway to wolf. Raine’s hands twitched to raise her gun, though she resisted the urge. Evelyn gasped and bumped against me. Praem just stared.
We’d all gotten used to living with Zheng, to some extent, to her big-cat rumbles and her tiger-like quickness, but not all demon hosts were alike, in frame or aspect.
The woman who stepped out of thin air could have walked down any Sharrowford street and been accepted as perfectly human; she was tall, perhaps six and a half feet, with long black hair the same as Jan’s, tied into a neat braid which reached all the way to the small of her back. She wore simple jeans and a practical grey coat full of pockets, over some kind of hooded athletic top, with trainers on her feet. The family resemblance Praem had mentioned was obvious — she and Jan were sisters, at the very least. They possessed the same delicate facial features, neat little nose, and compact mouth, all set in a heart-shaped face. The demon host lacked the impossibly beautiful eyes, stormy grey instead of electric-arc blue, but her stare was wide and emotionless, eyelids pulled so open that one saw a thick band of white around her irises.
Her stare reminded me of an owl, made me feel like a rodent, waiting for the claws.
But it was the way she moved which set the little hairs standing up on the back of one’s neck. She moved like she stared — focused grace in every muscle, twitchy and bird-like, ready to lash out at a moment’s notice. The tension in her frame reminded me more of Raine than Zheng, that strength and mobility like a set of steel cables beneath cloth and skin.
Was this what Zheng admired? An ember of jealousy smouldered in my chest. I thought about my mobile phone, currently muted for safety, and Zheng waiting on the other end. Should I call her, get her in here? Force the confrontation?
“These people are horrible. I need a hu—” Jan started to say, then yelped and put a hand to her mouth. She saw it the same moment we all did.
Her demon host friend was carrying a surprise visitor — a large, well-fed, sleek-furred fox, curled up in her arms like a cat.
“You again!” Evelyn snapped, entirely at the fox.
“Oh hey,” Twil lit up. “It’s back!”
Jan went quite shrill. “Where— what— I … I didn’t put that in there with you!”
The demon host turned to look at Jan; it must have been a spectacularly unpleasant feeling to have that attention spin around to you, like an owl hearing a rabbit a mile downwind.
“She was already present,” the woman said. To my surprise, her voice was perfectly ordinary, with the same delicate tones and precise pronunciation as Jan. She stroked the fox’s head and neck. “She is quite safe. Quite friendly. Very clean.”
“Very clean,” Praem intoned. I could have sworn the fox gave her a look.
The demon host turned to Praem. At this, the fox decided it was time to get put down again, and wriggled in the demon’s arms until she stooped and placed it on the floor. Claws clicked across the wooden boards, bushy tail swishing behind her. Evelyn shuffled back nervously as the fox padded past us and over to the door, as if asking to be let out. She looked up at me, then at Evelyn, amber eyes muted in the grim surroundings of this horrible little room.
“What are you?” Evelyn hissed.
The fox let out a warbling yip.
“What was it even doing here?” Jan asked, as perplexed as we were. “I don’t understand how it could possibly get in.”
“I think she was attempting to broker a peace,” I said haltingly, watching the fox for a reaction. The animal just stared up at Evelyn. “She led Zheng back to us, which broke up the fight. In theory. anyway.”
“You know this animal?” Jan asked. “This is yours?”
“She’s not ours,” Evelyn said. “But we know her.”
The fox nosed at the crack between door and frame, then glanced back up again.
“Can you stay a moment?” I asked her, unsure if she understood. “We’re not done here, not yet.”
Jan sighed and decided we were all mad and this was really none of her business. She turned back to her very tall demon host and stuck her arms out. “I need a hug. These people have violated me.”
“Again, sorry,” I said with a wince.
“Yeah, really,” Raine added. “Apologies.”
“She’s still a bloody mage,” Evelyn said. “And that is a demon.”
“I heard everything,” the demon host said. The way she spoke, the cadence and rhythm, had just a touch of Praem’s manner about her. The intonation, the precision. “We’re not using real names. Who am I right now?”
“Oh, that,” Jan sighed. “It hardly matters now. This is July.” She nodded to the demon.
“July and Jan,” Evelyn deadpanned. “Why do I not believe that?”
“Believe whatever you want,” Jan said. She waggled her arms up at the taller lady. “July, hug. Or I suppose you think I deserved all that?”
“You do not deserve cruelty,” July said. She bent down and wrapped her arms around Jan’s shoulders, giving her a reassuring yet politely brief hug. “But you should have expected this.”
“You smell like fox,” Jan said into her shoulder.
“You just let her take it, huh?” Raine asked the big demon.
July let go of Jan, straightened up, and turned her owl-like stare on Raine, a cold searchlight of predatory attention. Raine didn’t flinch, but she did stiffen, muscles subconsciously readying for action. She stared back, two predators sizing each other up.
“You wanna go?” Raine murmured.
“No. If you had pulled the trigger,” July said, unblinking, “I would have caught the bullet and spat it back at you.” Then she transferred her attention to the fox. “But I was assured that would not be necessary.”
“Yes,” Praem intoned.
July met Praem’s gaze. For a moment, the two demons stared at each other as well, almost equally blank.
“I’m sure you understand,” July said.
“Fucking hell,” Twil muttered, tilting her head from side to side while looking July up and down. “Why are they always so bloody tall? Is Praem gonna get really tall when she gets a bit older, or what?”
“I am the perfect height,” Praem said.
“Why is she unbound?” Evelyn asked, gesturing toward July with the head of her walking stick.
Jan gave Evelyn a look like she couldn’t believe her ears. “That is none of your business. Do you people just make a habit of barging into everyone’s life and demanding to know all their private business? Is this how you keep other mages out of your city, by being incredibly rude all the time?”
“You have an unbound demon.”
“And so do you!” Jan pointed at Praem. “You called her your daughter!”
“Exactly. So you know my reasons. What are yours?”
“It’s none of your business,” Jan said.
“Mages,” I huffed. “It’s like herding cats.”
“It is,” July agreed, staring at me; I struggled not to flinch from that look. Her eyes followed my tentacles bobbing up to defend me. “You are an octopus.”
“I … sort of, yes.”
“I’m not having you walking around my city with an unbound demon,” Evelyn said. “But I do need to understand your reasons.”
“Well, fine!” Jan huffed back. “Because I am leaving. I’m obviously not going to get paid for any of this—”
“Jan,” I spoke over the argument. “I would like to pay you for a job.”
Everyone stared at me. Even Praem didn’t know where I was going with this.
“Oh?” Jan said.
I cleared my throat and overcame two obstacles at once. Part of me was screaming to just hustle these two out of Sharrowford, out of our lives, to get July away from Zheng. But another part of me whispered with the true knowledge of what I had to do. I crammed that jealousy down deep; if I gave into it now I would never forgive myself, because others would pay the price.
The other obstacle was solved with great embarrassment.
I turned to Evelyn and said, “I need to borrow some money. I’m so sorry.”
She blinked at me, so surprised she was speechless for a second. “Anything,” she said.
“Thank you. Right, yes. Well. Jan. I want you to get all of the cultists together, all the survivors, everyone Badger knew. I want you to be a bridge for them, to us.”
“Oh dear,” Jan said, swallowing delicately. “Real magical problems. I really don’t think I can accept this one, I’m sorry, but we’re—”
“Not going anywhere,” said July.
“ … excuse me?” Jan squeaked up at her.
July locked eyes with me, wide and staring. Deep down inside, abyssal instinct screamed; she knew. She was taunting me.
“I would like to meet ‘Zheng’ again,” she said. “That is our price for the job.”
Looks like nobody, not even Praem, predicted anything correctly about strange little Jan! Mages sure are weird, aren’t they? Every one of them is different. A bit like regular people. And just like a few regular people, this one is a con artist. With backup. Backup that Heather has accidentally made a deal with. Uh oh!
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Next week, a meeting of demons seems inevitable. Heather is going to have to deal with that, emotionally, and deal with this plan she’s cooking up regarding the remnants of the cult. Though that may be more of a practical matter. Or a brain matter. Pun intended.