and walked a crooked mile – 16.9

Content Warnings

None this chapter.

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“Geerswin farm! Twil’s farm! Okay maybe not actually Twil’s farm — but Twil’s farm, yaaay! Fluffy llamas yes I love them yes I doooooo! Hihihihi, hi, hi!”

The moment we arrived back on the surface, Lozzie wriggled out of our collectively collapsing grip and sprang away, bouncing on the balls of her feet, fluttering her pentacolour poncho in the leaf-dappled sunlight, giggling and rambling as she skipped over to the curious and friendly alpaca sticking its head over the nearby fence.

Alpaca, not llama, I thought to myself, but there was no way I was getting those words out.

The rest of us were mere passengers on the Lozzie-train, alighting at this terminal station — myself, Evelyn, Praem, Nicole, Sevens, and poor little Marmite. We all but collapsed onto the crumbly, weathered tarmac next to Raine’s car.

Nicole was the only one who actually lost her footing and went down. She staggered as if sea-sick, then doubled up, slammed to her knees, and vomited noisily onto the ground. She groaned, clutching her stomach, spitting stringy bile. I would have winced with sympathy — I’d been there so many times before, hurling my guts up as my body rejected the brutal exposure to supernatural truth. But right then I was busy wrapping my arms and tentacles around my swirling, pounding, spinning head. I almost crumpled as well, knees buckling and giving out, wracked by the stress of Lozzie’s translocation-Slip. But Sevens stood tall and confident, holding me up with one strong arm around my waist, silently enduring the way I lashed myself to her with my tentacles. The Princess Mask was apparently unaffected by the pressure of skipping across the membrane between here and Outside.

I held my squid-skull mask to my stomach, a poor substitute for a pillow, but it sufficed.

Evelyn hung limp and moaning in Praem’s grip, eyes squeezed shut, face gone pale and grey, coated with cold sweat. Her pain was more than physical. Praem stared into blank space, her demon mind still rebooting. Too human to avoid the aftershocks.

Marmite curled into a ball and covered himself with shadowy membranes, terrified and sick.

Riding along with one of Lozzie’s intentional Slips was always an ordeal.

Whenever I Slipped on purpose, the bulk of the damage to mind and body was not actually from the transition itself, but from direct interface with the necessary brain-math to etch the equation upon the surface of reality. The damage was from touching the levers, not the outcome of pulling them. Slipping was disorienting and disgusting, yes, of course. Popping through the membrane between here and Outside was like having one’s soul slid partway out of one’s body, then jammed back in at the wrong angle. One was forced to wait for the parts to shift and adjust until container and self lined up again, like the tight and uncomfortable feeling of shrugging your coat on too quickly, but a hundred times worse. For a few seconds, a Slip always made you feel misaligned with your own body.

But Lozzie’s Slip hadn’t taken us Outside at all; if I’d been the one to pull us out of Hringewindla’s core, I would have taken us to Camelot first, then back to Twil’s house, a long-distance slingshot. Lozzie took us straight there, a no-stopping service, express route. Choo choo.

It was like being dragged across the membrane at high speed, skipping and bouncing like a flat stone upon the surface of a lake, one’s soul jarred and juddered and shaken out of place. No human being could experience that and stand up straight afterward. Even Praem was shaken. I suspected Sevens hadn’t actually gone along with it at all, but had used her own, personal, Outsider methods of locomotion, and then just pretended she’d piggybacked Lozzie along with the rest of us.

But we were out of Hringewindla’s shell. We were back on the surface. Firmly back in reality, whatever that meant.

Late afternoon sunlight, the colour of fire on bronze, filtered through the gently swaying ring of trees that surrounded Geerswin Farm. The tarmac was solid and earthy and crumbling at the edges. The air smelled of pollen and grass and rotting leaves. Shafts of light glinted off Raine’s car, the faded red paint dappled by long, leafy shadows. The overgrown fields were matted with weeds and dotted with the tall, proud spikes of thistles, but the landscape was green and healthy and very, very normal. The old farmhouse squatted right where we’d left it, peering back at us with dark windows. The front door showed only a gaping shadow, as if the building itself was surprised by our return.

No more living nightmares, no more absurd spooky alpacas with human faces, no more reality warping around our senses.

Hringewindla was back in control. And so were we.

The only physical evidence that anything untoward had happened here was a lump of pulped grey meat and broken carapace, still lying on the tarmac a few feet away, a miniature copy of the leviathan monster Hringewindla had pulled from his snake-knot core, complete with little barbs and hooks and grasping legs. The parasite I’d ripped out of Sevens’ throat had not resurrected itself and wandered off, or melted through the ground to contaminate the local water supply, or turned into a ghost or a vampire or something equally silly. I’d half-expected it to do that. Can you really blame me?

Of course, I couldn’t enjoy the relief. My head was spinning, my senses were filled with a high-pitched whine, and my skin felt thin as rice-paper, ready to burst and let me float away into the woods, dispersed and forgotten. Only Sevens’ grip kept me on my feet. I had an overwhelming urge to jam my squid-skull mask back on over my head and curl up in a tight ball of tentacles, like an octopus protecting herself against the dragging currents.

And it wasn’t only the Slip; the whiplash was too sudden. Had I really been a mile underground only minutes earlier, talking to an ancient Outsider god via my own neuroelectrical signals?

Reality felt unreal.

But then hurrying feet and voices and chaos filled the air, the undeniable weight of other people.

“Heather! Hey! Hey, they’re all out here! Twil, get out here!”

My heart soared at the familiar chord of Raine’s voice. I heard the sound of her feet leaping down the brick steps of the house in one bound, racing to join us.

“Raine … ” I croaked, groping for her even with my eyes screwed shut. “Raine?”

“It’s alright, kitten,” Sevens purred from right beside me. “She is here. Everyone is here.”

“Oh shit, fuck me!” said Twil a second later, another voice hurtling from the open front door.

“Twil!” her mother scolded, not far behind, little shoes hurrying down the steps. “Oh, but thank heavens, thank goodness, they’re all here. They are all here, aren’t they? I am so sorry, Miss Saye, Heather, d-detective, and … and … um.”

“Good evening, high priestess,” said the Yellow Princess. “Do not worry yourself about me.”

“I told you they would show up!” Amanda said from the doorway, her voice filled with equal parts pride and relief. “He told me they were okay! I told you! You never listen!”

“Amanda,” Christine said, voice a bristle of smothered irritation. “Do not get into this right now, please.”

I reached blindly for Raine with one tentacle, found her, and hung on tight. She laughed, wrapped me in a hug, and kissed my forehead.

“She is safe, but there has been much brain-math,” Sevens informed her.

“You got us out of that, hey?” Raine asked me.

“Got you out,” I croaked, face cushioned in her chest. “Everyone out.”

“Everyone out,” Praem echoed.

We spent the next few minutes going precisely nowhere; Evelyn, Nicole, and I were in no state to be standing up and walking in straight lines, let alone climbing the steps to the house or explaining everything that had happened, down there in the dark beneath the earth. Praem wasn’t doing too well either, though she wasn’t about to fall over any time soon. Raine opened the back door of her car again, so Evelyn could have somewhere to sit. Twil helped Nicole stagger to her feet, though the detective looked punch-drunk, and grumpier than a cat after a cold bath. Twil didn’t look too great either, more than a little pale and haggard. I felt my own mind piecing itself back together, but it was painfully slow, eased along by the pressure of Raine’s hands on my arms when she started rubbing me like I’d just come in from a snowstorm.

“Is every— everyone—” I slurred and mumbled, held between her and Sevens.

“Everyone is fine, Heather,” Raine said, staring into my eyes. She held up one hand. “Here, open your eyes up proper, okay? How many fingers?”

“Three,” I groaned, trying to laugh, delighted by the simple, familiar sight of Raine’s chestnut-brown hair raked back from her forehead. “I’m not concussed, Raine, I’m post-Slip. Blame Lozzie.”

I batted at Raine’s hand with a tentacle. She jumped, then laughed. No glasses, not Outside. She couldn’t see all of me.

From inside the back of Raine’s car, Evelyn made a sound like she was ordering Praem to execute a war criminal. Her eyes were still scrunched up against the lingering after-effects, head bowed with pressure, both hands on her walking stick like an old woman who couldn’t find the strength to rise from her chair. For once, even Praem couldn’t make sense of her request. The doll-demon stared at her own mother with blank-faced incomprehension, more empty-eyed than usual.

“Kids,” Sevens echoed. “She was asking about the children.”

“Oh!” Amanda said. “My boys are fine, yes, thank you. They’re right here, Miss Saye. Well … right … ah, up there.”

Zheng chose that moment to join us, ducking low through the front door of the house. Her eyes found me with a dark twinkle. “Shaman,” she rumbled. I managed a nod, though she deserved more for what she’d so obviously done.

Zheng looked like she’d been having the time of her life.

Her lower half was splattered with blood, as if she had kicked a spooky alpaca to death. She had three bubble-servitors following her like hounds trailing after their master, and an additional, actual, flesh-and-blood hound in the form of Bernard, Amanda’s golden retriever. He was currently doing his good-boy best to look fearsome and protective.

Zheng was also carrying two small boys, one on each shoulder. They clung to her head and neck with both arms like marsupials to a mother. Amanda’s boys — Richard and Oliver, as I later learned — looked about five or six years old, both of them po-faced and serious and utterly unafraid of the giant zombie whose shoulders they were riding on.

“Whee,” said Praem.

A man I’d never seen before was doing his best to emulate that lack of fear, following as close to Zheng as he could without cringing in animal terror. Gareth — Amanda’s ‘gentleman friend’ that she’d told us about earlier — had obviously been through quite an ordeal. He was rail-thin in the way of a professional runner, with salt-and-pepper grey hair and a concerned, intelligent look on his face, framed by a neat little goatee. He was splattered with blood too, though it looked like back splash from Zheng’s violence. A rolling pin shook in one of his hands, held like a club. To the man’s credit, he didn’t look like he was about to break and run.

Everybody was accounted for, quickly enough to still my worried heart and soothe Evelyn’s guilty conscience. Raine was practically untouched — she hadn’t even needed to use a weapon while trapped inside the spooky nonsense house. Christine Hopton, Twil’s mother, was faring similarly, though obviously shaken and upset. She kept her arms tightly crossed, shoulders squared, chin drawn inward. Amanda was none the worse for wear at all, still sporting a bubble-servitor on her shoulder like the world’s largest and gooiest parrot; she was also beaming at me.

Benjamin, Twil’s cousin, the ill-fated and rather useless ‘muscle’ of the Church, had apparently found the shotgun he’d gone searching for earlier, an old-fashioned double-barrelled thing with a wooden stock. The gun hung loose in his hands as he guarded his aunts. For all his imposing bulk and carefully shaven head, he looked utterly out of his depth, like he’d seen a ghost. Maybe he had.

The bubble-servitors slowly oozed out of the house as well, squeezing themselves through the windows and gathering once more on the roof, floating through the air to take up their guard-post positions out in the fields and down the driveway. Bernard the dog watched them go. Amanda hadn’t been exaggerating, I realised. He could see pneuma-somatic life quite clearly.

Lozzie was away with the alpacas, arms entwined with the fence, petting their fluff with both hands.

“Who’s a good fluffy-fluff lad?” she cooed. “Yes, it’s you, you big llama, yes! You’re like a pillow!”

“They’re alpacas, actually,” Twil called to her, but Lozzie didn’t seem too worried by the distinction.

“Twil, are you okay?” I tried to ask, still hanging on to Sevens and Raine. What I actually said was a slurred mess. It was a miracle Twil understood me.

“Eh?” Twil blinked several times, then wiped her mouth on her coat sleeve. “Eh. I guess. Was hurling real bad when things all … snapped back, like.”

“Her body,” said Sevens. “Purging the parasite. Her unique physiology would be capable of that.”

“Parasite?” Twil frowned at Sevens. “Also when the fuck did you get here, did I miss something?”

“When you weren’t looking.”

“The parasite is a long story,” I said. “Sevens is helping.”

Twil shrugged. “What is all this shit about, anyway? What the fuck just happened? Did we just get stuck in a Scooby-Doo episode?”

“Probably need to compare notes,” I sighed.

“Hringewindla is very thankful and very pleased,” Amanda said in a floaty and formal voice. She turned to gaze at Lozzie. “And very impressed.”

“Yes, that’s wonderful for him,” Christine said, looking somewhat small and reduced, shoulders more hunched and face more pinched than I’d ever seen her before. I didn’t blame her. That was her house this little invasion had violated and twisted. “I, on the other hand, would prefer a clear explanation for what has just happened. I gather you have all visited our god, somehow. But I don’t … I don’t understand.”

“He is explaining as clearly as he needs to,” Amanda replied. Did I detect the tiniest bristle in her words? Christine certainly did, frowning sidelong at her sister.

“Err,” Ben said, clearing his throat and gesturing with the shotgun. “Sorry, I’m with aunt Christine on this one. I’d love to know what the hell that was all about, right? Also maybe get us out of the open and back indoors, in case something else happens.”

“Word,” said Raine. “Smart man.”

“You wanna go back into that?” Twil scoffed.

He shrugged. “It’s over, right? I mean, like, that part of it. House is back to normal. Hringewindla seems … alright. But he doesn’t know what else might be lurking, does he? He’s not omniscient. We need to get indoors, ‘case something else turns up. And call Mike, call your dad.”

Twil grimaced, but she nodded along.

“Ben,” Christine tutted his name, one hand forcing the shotgun barrels to point at the ground. “I told you to put that back. Stop waving it about.”

“It’s not even loaded,” Ben grumbled. “And I wasn’t waving it.”

“Yeah, fair’s fair,” Raine added. “He was keeping it pointed at the ground. Good trigger discipline too, mate.”

“Cheers. I think.” Benjamin frowned at her, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here. He eyed the road and the tree line, clearly on edge, but not for show. I had a gut feeling that the man knew exactly what he was doing when it came to precautions for violence.

“Everybody shut up and stop talking nonsense,” Evelyn rasped in a voice like sandpaper. With superhuman effort she rose to her feet, squinting as if the fading sunlight was too strong for her eyes. Praem offered her arm, Evelyn took it, balanced between doll-demon and walking stick. She stomped forward a few paces, so she could address Amanda and Christine directly.

“Miss Saye,” Christine said, getting there first, suddenly straightening with the effort of polite regard. “I’m very glad to see you are okay as well. This has been … this was all so … ”

Christine trailed off, lost for words, shaking her head.

“Mm,” Evelyn grunted. “You owe me a cup of tea.”

Christine blinked several times. “ … I’m sorry?”

Benjamin nodded along. “Girl’s got the right idea. Indoors, cup of tea, wait for the counter attack or—”

Christine tutted. “Ben, stop, please.”

Raine pointed at Ben, eyebrows raised in agreement. Muscle nodded to muscle.

“You owe me a cup of tea,” Evelyn repeated. “And some biscuits.”

“O-of course,” Christine said. “I’d be happy to, I just—”

“We just met your god and helped de-worm him. In the process, I have had to perform some deeply inadvisable magic, to discourage the giant moron from crushing us all to death.”

Benjamin’s face flickered with a scowl when Evelyn said ‘moron’, but he kept his peace when Evelyn jabbed at him with her walking stick and squinted like she would poke his eye out.

“Hey, Evee,” said Raine, voice suddenly tight. “What do you mean, ‘inadvisable magic’?”

“Yes,” I added, suddenly worried on a level I hadn’t acknowledged until that moment. “What does that mean? Evee, are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Evelyn grunted without looking at either of us. That didn’t help, but the conversation was already moving on.

“It’s true,” Amanda said. “Hringewindla is very pleased now. And clean. So clean again. This is good. This is a good thing, we should not be hostile or vindictive.”

“Speak for yourself,” Nicole grunted, eyeing Amanda with lingering suspicion.

“Mm,” Evelyn said. “Which means you owe us all some tea and biscuits, and … ” She trailed off, frowning at Zheng. “Whatever she wants, I suppose.”

“Meat,” Praem suggested.

Zheng grinned the grin of a deeply satisfied carnivore. “The worm has been very thankful.”

The boys on Zheng’s shoulders shared a glance. One of them spoke up, high-pitched with childlike offense. “Don’t call mummy a worm.”

“Your mother is a worm, your father is a worm, you are both worms.”

The boys shared another glance, rather nonplussed.

Gareth finally cleared his throat and spoke. He had the voice of a gentle and bookish librarian, not the sort of man who should be tangling with gods and monsters and getting splattered with blood. But then again, I suppose plenty of people would make the same assumption about me.

“I don’t think that’s a good thing to be saying to small children, to … um … ”

The poor man withered under Zheng’s smouldering gaze.

“Worm,” she added.

“Zheng, don’t insult children, please,” I croaked. “Especially not right now.”

“Can I be a snail instead?” asked the younger boy. “Like Hingey?”

“Hringewindla,” his mother gently corrected him.

Evelyn cleared her throat as loudly as she could manage, which unfortunately involved coughing spots of blood onto her own sleeve. “Tea, food. Yes?”

Christine Hopton nodded slowly, still shell-shocked and gathering her wits.

I spoke up. “What Evee is trying to say, is that we would like to come inside and have a sit down, and a rest. We’ve all been through rather a lot. Maybe we can share experiences. Figure out what happened. Clear this up. All that … diplomacy stuff?”

Benjamin nodded at me in silent approval.

“ … yes,” Christine said after a moment. “Yes, of course. You’re all very welcome. We should sit down and … and, well, I assume the danger is past? Hringewindla seems certain.”

I nodded. “It’s over. For now. I think.”

“Assuming none of this was intentional,” Evelyn grumbled.

“Yeah,” Ben grumbled. “Fucking right.”

“Intentional by whom?” Christine asked. Her eyes flickered left and right suddenly, as if she would catch the culprit lurking behind a nearby tree. Benjamin sighed out loud, drawing a hand over his face.

“That’s something we should probably discuss,” I said.

“Edward Lilburne,” Evelyn said. “This is all his doing, his trap, his creation run out of control.”

“Assumption,” said Praem.

Evelyn snorted. “I think it’s a bloody safe assumption,” she grumbled, then caught herself and shot a guilty grimace at the two little boys perched on Zheng’s shoulders. “It’s a safe assumption.”

Christine drew herself up and clapped her hands together, putting real effort into re-assuming the role of sweet and welcoming older lady, her schoolteacher visage slipping on as certainly as my squid-skull mask. “Yes, you’re all welcome to come inside and have some food. We could all do with a proper explanation. You’re welcome to stay as long as you need. My husband will be home soon too, I’ll call him right away, yes. We can get this all cleared up. I hope.”

Lozzie looked back over her shoulder while still petting the alpaca. “Jan’s gonna be wondering where I am!”

Nicole sighed heavily. “Can somebody please, please go check on my dog?”

Evelyn raised her walking stick and pointed at the smashed lump of grey meat, the dead parasite on the ground. “Before we go anywhere, that needs to be burned. Right now.”

“Ben, if you please?” Christine said.

Benjamin Hopton sighed and shrugged. “On it.”

For a moment he seemed to share a look with Evelyn, one of understanding that went deeper than muscle and mage. Apparently we weren’t the only ones used to disposing of evidence.


Almost two full hours after our return from the inside of Hringewindla’s shell, I couldn’t stand the way his cultists looked at me.

They tried not to be obvious about it, but they couldn’t conceal it completely.

We were all sitting in the Hoptons’ dining room, in the rear of Geerswin Farmhouse, gathered around the large wooden table covered in decades of chips and scratches. The fireplace lay cold and unlit, but the heating from the kitchen kept the room comfortable in the early summer evening. Mugs of now-cold tea sat atop the table, along with plates of biscuit crumbs and the remains of two sandwiches, the evidence that we’d been breaking bread with the Church, well into the growing dusk. It was all very domestic, very normal, very human. Except for the topics of conversation.

“These glasses are a miracle,” said Twil’s father.

Michael Hopton held Evelyn’s modified 3D glasses up to the back doors looking out onto the patio, handling them like an exposed circuit board. He peered through them again, at the bubble-servitor perched on the nearest fence, bathed in dying sunlight.

“Just magic,” said Evelyn.

“We’ve never been able to make anything like this. Even the old man—”

Christine Hopton cleared her throat, loudly but politely. Michael caught himself and grimaced under his wife’s sidelong look. So much like Twil, I thought. She really did take after her father.

“Even my late father-in-law,” he corrected himself, “Clive, he—”

Clive?” Raine interrupted from ‘our’ side of the table, unable to keep the smirk off her face. “‘Scuse me, sorry,” she added with a wink when everyone looked at her. “Just, you know, big-shot intimidating cult-wizard guy, but he was called Clive? Kinda undercuts him a bit, you know? No offense meant, though. Very normal name.”

Christine looked none too pleased at the mockery — the ‘old man’ had been her father, after all. She pursed her lips, but she was too polite to complain. Amanda shrugged, still fuzzy-eyed, bubble-servitor still perched on her shoulder as she sat in her chair. Michael worried at his lower lip.

Twil growled. “He wasn’t intim—”

But I got there first. “He wasn’t intimidating,” I blurted out. “He was more like you than you realise, Raine.”

Raine turned a smirk on me without missing a beat. “You’re saying I’m not intimidating?”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “You know what I mean.”

Raine laughed and nodded a silent apology to the Hoptons, raising her hands in surrender before taking a long sip from her tea. Twil huffed, putting up with the implied insult for now.

But Amanda and Christine were both staring at me in muted awe.

I looked away, seeking Raine’s hand under the table. I tightened my clutch of tentacles around the chair I was sitting in, gripping tighter and tighter. Maybe if I gripped hard enough, I might splinter the wood.

“As I was saying,” Michael Hopton resumed, making a show of peering through the glasses again. “Even old Clive, rest his soul, couldn’t have made something like these glasses, Miss Saye. Even with all the contacts he had, all the things he did achieve, the second sight was beyond him. Beyond any of us.” He lowered the glasses and nodded respectfully across the dining room table, at Evelyn — though he couldn’t resist a little flicker at me too, like a tiny petition to some aloof idol in the corner of the room. “I am very glad that we are not in conflict with each other any longer.”

Evelyn stared back, half-squinting, curled in her chair as if her back hurt more than usual. At any other time, I would have read her attitude as hostility, but we all knew how exhausted she felt. She let the implied question hang in the air.

“Mm,” she grunted eventually, then looked at Amanda. “I know you have pneuma-somatic sight. How is that beyond you?”

“So does the hound,” Zheng rumbled from behind us, from her more comfortable seat on the sofa, sprawled out like a tiger at rest. She was still chewing her way through the dried rabbit meat that Gareth had found in the fridge. She raised one hand and pointed at Amanda’s dog.

Bernard looked up at the sound of Zheng’s voice, panting at her with approval. I’d never known an animal to approve of her before. He was sitting very calm and comfortable on the little rug by the back door — right next to Marmite, who he’d apparently decided was a member of his pack now. Of the dog and the huge squid-spider thing, Marmite was the one who looked slightly unsure, still half-wrapped in his shadowy membranes. Bernard was perfectly happy, panting softly with his tongue out, watching us humans — and other-than-humans — talk ourselves out.

At least the dog wasn’t looking at me like I’d descended from the heavens.

“Huh, yes,” Evelyn added. “Thank you for that information, Zheng. A dog seeing spirits. I can only imagine how that works out.”

“Very well, actually,” Amanda answered, voice floating away as she spoke. “He’s kept my boys safe.”

“Good boy,” Praem said to Bernard, from where she stood at Evelyn’s elbow. Bernard looked up at her and tilted his head sideways, ears flopping about.

“Yes, but how?” Evelyn grunted, wincing harder as if fighting off a sudden spike of headache. “Rather contradicts all this praise for my magic eye glasses if you can just … ” She waved a hand vaguely, gesturing at her own head.

Michael shared an awkward look with Amanda, turning the glasses over in his hands. “Being god-touched is not enough to grant the sight,” he said.

“Yes,” Christine spoke up. She was sitting very straight-backed and formal in her own chair, trying to appear calm and in control. She’d spoken very little compared with her sister and her husband, more shaken by these events than I’d suspected at first. And constantly distracted by me, of course. “My sister’s position is special, it … she … went through a very different experience, in her communion with our god. Please understand, this is not a normal thing for us. We do not all see beyond the veil. We are not gifted, not as … ”

Christine met my eyes. She tried a smile, a warm, welcoming smile, but the sweetness was soured by worship.

“It’s not a gift,” I said. I tried to sound normal, but I couldn’t keep the disgust out of my tone.

“Of course,” she hurried to add. “Of course, my dear, I apologise.”

“There’s no need to say sorry,” I added, feeling horribly awkward.

Evelyn just stared at that exchange, exhausted down to her bones. “Still doesn’t explain the dog,” she grumbled.

“I asked for a dog,” Amanda said. “I prayed and pleaded. A dog, to see with me. When I was little. Hringewindla has always honoured the request. Bernard is the most recent of my friends to have the sight. There were others before him, all passed away in their own time.”

“Awww,” Nicole said from her place on the other sofa. “You know, that’s almost enough to make me forgive you for threatening to hollow my skull out.”

Amanda nodded to the detective, as if this was a perfectly normal thing to say.

A dull pang of jealousy gnawed at the roots of my heart. If only I’d had a dog as a companion all these years, a spirit-seeing canine friend who could understand.

“Hringewindla has never extended that favour,” Michael explained. He reached across the table to return the glasses. Raine accepted them in Evelyn’s stead. “Those glasses are a miracle, I mean it, really. Having something like that, even one or two pairs of them, it would seriously improve our safety and security.” He swallowed. “The security of the church, I mean. The safety of my family.”

Christine sighed and closed her eyes briefly. “Mike, you can be so indirect sometimes.”

“Yeah dad,” Twil tutted. “These are my friends, not like, a fuckin’ weirdo mage or something.”

Christine sighed again, sharper. “Twil, please. Stop with the foul language. Not in this house.”

“Thank you for the inclusion,” Evelyn grumbled.

“Weirdoes,” said Praem.

Michael Hopton huffed and looked away, exactly like Twil would do when challenged like this. It was a bit different coming from a man built like a compact lumberjack, with a face like a granite outcrop, radiating physical readiness. But he and his daughter shared the same total inability to conceal their emotions. He was terribly embarrassed by all this.

“I’m trying to be polite here,” he said to the mug at his elbow. “These people have just saved us.”

Heather saved you,” Evelyn hissed. “As I have already explained.”

“Yeah, and Big H is the big ace, yo,” Twil said with a grin. I ducked my head and looked away, struggling to deal with Twil’s effusive gratitude, on top of the way her family looked at me. “And Evelyn is a big softie, and Raine’s … fuckin’ … Raine, you know?”

“Fuckin’ Heather, actually,” Raine corrected, totally unembarrassed. Evelyn sighed, I blushed and hissed under my breath, Raine cracked a shit-eating grin.

“Language, dear, please,” said Twil’s mother, tone turned hopeless.

“My point is,” Twil went on, “if we want copies of the glasses, we can just ask. Evee, hey, can you make more of those glasses?”

“In theory.”

“Caaaaaan we have some?”

Evelyn turned a look on Twil, more plain tired than grumpy. Twil pulled a ‘obviously-I-am-asking-a-rhetorical-question’ face. Evelyn sighed and turned back to Michael, Christine, and Amanda, the current ruling triumvirate of the Church of Hringewindla.

For just a moment, instead of keeping their attention on the grumpy mage in their midst, all three glanced at me. As if I was the power behind the throne.

I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to put my squid-skull mask on and hiss at them to leave me alone.

The awestruck behaviour had started earlier, when we’d sat down and explained everything that had just happened, matching our experiences and putting all the pieces together.

We’d had ‘official’ meetings with the Church twice before — once when Christine Hopton had visited Evelyn’s house in Sharrowford, to offer Hringewindla’s ‘help’ with the gateway spell, then a second time when they’d joined the fraught and dangerous détente between us and Edward Lilburne, though that second time had not included either tea or biscuits. But this time was different, we’d just been through an ordeal together — for a certain value of ‘together’ — and had come out the other side with a very different perception of who these people were and what exactly they worshipped.

And they’d come out of it with a completely different perception of me as well.

Geerswin Farmhouse was entirely back to normal. On the inside, the walls stood sensibly upright, the doors led to where one expected them to go, and the view through the back patio windows was of dying sunlight, overgrown fields, and the shadow-haunted forest. Wind dragged through the trees outdoors, sounding the leaves in a slow, all-pervasive rustle. The long shadows crept across the farm, past the sheep and the pair of alpacas huddled outside, and over the roof of the house, covering the dozens of bubble-servitors keeping watch up there, in case Edward Lilburne should decide to make a move. But it was a natural darkness, long welcome after the cartoonish fears of Hringewindla’s nightmare.

It was hard to believe that giant shell lay buried underground, only a short walk away. As we all talked, I kept staring out of the window, thinking about that pressurised bubble of Outside, here on Earth.

Some things that sleep in English soil should never be disturbed.

At first, Christine and Amanda had done their best to show real hospitality, helped by Gareth and ‘helped’ by the boys once Zheng had put them down. We had cups of tea all round, plenty of snacks, and an offer of painkillers for Evelyn.

“Thank you, but I have my own,” Evelyn had grumbled. She had accepted a glass of water to wash down the pills she’d produced from inside a coat pocket.

“Mind if I have one?” Nicole had asked from the sofa.

“Mm. Sure. Praem?”

Praem had to take a pill to the detective, because Evelyn didn’t want to stand up again. I wasn’t sure if she could stand up right then.

Evee really was faring the worst of any of us. At first I wasn’t sure how much of it was the after-effect of the Slip, and how much was the price of her magic. The crackling, electric blue shield she’d created earlier, down there in Hringewindla’s guts, was by far the most pyrotechnically impressive piece of magecraft I’d ever seen from her. Real, physical, tangible magic, with a twist of her hands. And she’d done it to protect us — to protect me. I told her so, as we’d gotten settled in waiting for the kettle to boil.

“I thought you said magic was never fireballs and broomsticks. Evee, that was incredible,” I’d murmured to her, squeezing her hand beneath the table.

“It was stupid and costly,” she’d grunted back, then coughed more crimson into a borrowed handkerchief. Praem picked up her glass of water and put it down six inches closer. Evelyn obeyed, taking a sip to wash away the taste of her own blood.

But where Nicole and I slowly recovered from Lozzie’s overenthusiastic slip, Evelyn did not. As we and the Hoptons talked, she hunched in her chair like a gargoyle, dark-eyed and clutching her walking stick. I stayed close. At one point I even wrapped a tentacle around her wrist, which unfortunately made her flinch. She couldn’t see that part of me without the glasses.

But after the flinch, she hung on tight.

Her bone-wand lay on the table before her throughout the entire conversation, like a loaded rifle. I wasn’t sure what that meant; I even toyed with the idea of asking her to put it away, as a show of good faith. But then the Hoptons started looking at me like I was an Outsider god, and I was thankful for the shelter of an implicit threat.

The rest of us weren’t doing too badly. Nicole sat on the other sofa, first nursing a mug of tea, then a glass of beer. It wasn’t as if she was going to operate a vehicle any time soon. Somebody would have to go with her to recover her car, but not today, not after all this. She was still lucid and speaking clearly, her parasite very much dead, but she looked shell-shocked and exhausted and said very little. She looked how I felt.

Zheng had put the boys down, much to their pouting disappointment. She had also consented to have several towels spread out on the sofa so she didn’t smear the cushions with blood.

“Llama,” she said when I asked, grinning with satisfaction.

“They’re alpacas,” I sighed. “And I don’t think you actually killed one. It was a nightmare-thing, a piece of living fiction, a ghost, sort of.”

She chuckled, placed one huge hand on my head, and purred so deep it made my entrails vibrate. “Ghosts don’t bleed.”

The Hoptons looked far more shaken, but none of them were actually hurt. Twil’s father turned up about half an hour after we’d returned, racing home after his wife had called him. Their home had been invaded, their god violated, their physical safety threatened, and they were powerless to do anything about it themselves, except wave useless shotguns around and hope the bubble-servitors would help.

Benjamin was relieved of said shotgun by Twil’s father, gently but firmly. Once it was clear the threat was past, Ben sulked off home himself. I gathered he had a life of his own, things to do, places to be, despite his dutiful bodyguard work. Gareth, Amanda’s gentleman friend, seemed eager to get out from under our feet, or perhaps just happy to get away from Zheng. He excused himself by saying he needed to go upstairs and change his blood-stained trousers, then spent most of his time shepherding the boys out of the dining room and pottering about in the kitchen. I got the impression he was on the periphery of the cult, not privy to the inner workings of the leadership, even if he was sleeping with one of them.

In fact, Michael, Christine, and Amanda all seemed to engage in a wordless agreement not to begin discussing any serious details until the two boys were upstairs, Benjamin was off in his car, and Gareth was firmly out of the room. But then came some awkward deliberation over Twil’s presence.

“She’s an adult now, Chris,” her father had said. “She’s our daughter, and she’s involved. She’s got a right to be involved.”

“She is not part of the decision making process.” Christine had huffed. “Michael, you know this, you know the rules.”

“We make the rules!”

“Yes, and they exclude her.”

“Mum!” Twil had whined. “For fuck’s sake!”


“Hringewindla doesn’t have an opinion on this,” Amanda added from one side. The other two ignored her.

“She’s my daughter, and she’s staying,” Michael crossed his arms, trying to look stern, but the man almost flinched under the grey wrath of his wife’s piercing stare.

“Either we stick to the rules, or we—”

But Evelyn had cleared her throat and banged her tea mug on the table. The Hoptons all looked at her instead, though Amanda had spared a glance for my twitching tentacles. She could still see them.

“Twil is with me,” Evelyn grumbled. “If she has to leave the room, then I go too, and everyone else comes with me.” Her exhausted stare dared any to argue.

Twil stayed, but didn’t say much, looking intensely awkward.

Lozzie and Sevens did not stay, however. As soon as it was clear we weren’t going to light up or play video games, Lozzie vanished — literally, just vanished when nobody was looking. I was worried for about ten minutes, until she reappeared on the sofa and started gushing to Nicole about how cute her dog was.

“Husky! Husky husky! Hucky! Hucksie!”

“Not a husky, actually,” Nicole had said, still squinting over a mug of tea. “He’s some kind of cross. Husky, German Shepherd, something. He was a stray.”


“And he’s—”

“Watered and fed and given many pets please please Nicky please can I go see him again? I won’t even call you a pig, please?!”

“Sure. Fine. Knock yourself out, you little goblin.”

But Lozzie did not zoom through time and space to go spend the rest of the evening with Nicole’s dog, partly because I requested she stay close after that. None of us wanted to risk Edward Lilburne making a move amid all this. We were exhausted as it was. But Lozzie wasn’t sticking around to listen to all this serious talk. She declared she hadn’t been here for any of this, had little to add, and went to find Amanda’s boys to see if they wanted anything. The Hoptons watched her go, somewhat awkward and unreadable. I didn’t understand why they looked at her as if she was on another plane of existence. To them, she was just some random teenage girl, wasn’t she? Just another friend of Evelyn and Twil.

We called home before we got down to business. Raine called Kimberly, to check that the house had not burned down and nobody had started doing anything more dangerous than cannabis. I had half a mind to speak with Kimberly myself, to request a word with Jan, and to put Tenny on so I could hear the comfort of her familiar, trilling voice. But I was so exhausted by this long day that I just sat there with Evelyn, and let Raine handle the details.

Seven-Shades-of-Proper-and-Prim followed Lozzie upstairs as well, but she stayed in the dining room long enough to confirm her earlier assessment — the parasites were all dead.

“That’s why you were vomiting so badly, little puppy,” she said to Twil.

“Puppy?” Twil spat. “Hey! And you still haven’t explained this ‘parasite’ thing.”

“I still don’t understand where they all went,” Nicole said.

I cleared my throat. “I think I can explain that, but only because I’ve watched too many marine life videos on youtube. Certain parasites secrete anti-competition chemicals or hormones, to kill smaller members of their own species that might compete for hosts or resources. I think the big one inside Hringewindla killed off all the others, when it got too big. Just a natural consequence.”

“I’m sorry,” Michael said. “Big one, inside Hringewindla? I am going to need a serious explanation, please.”

“I already told you,” Amanda said. “I told you all.”

Michael and Christine both suppressed pained winces. Clearly, Amanda was not very good at relating direct communication from their god.

We all shared what had happened to us, right back to the moment Hringewindla’s nightmare had begun to isolate us from one another, leaving us to wander inside the suddenly expanding labyrinth of the farmhouse. We even drew up a basic timeline of events so we were all on the same page. Michael Hopton handled that, playing secretary for the rest of us with a pad and pencil, as the only one who hadn’t been here in person.

Everyone except me had experienced a true maze, doors opening on hallways and rooms that shouldn’t exist, blood-grinning mutant sheep peering in through the windows.

“When I dropped down out of the window,” Raine explained, “you were just gone, Heather. I took my eyes off you for a second. Scared the hell out of me.”

“Me too,” I admitted.

“Eyes, yes,” Evelyn muttered, thinking out loud. “Heather saw what others didn’t. She was the only one it didn’t work on. She saw through it.”

“But why would that be?” Christine asked. “You’ve mentioned that Heather here has … unique powers, yes. But Hringewindla, he is a god. How could any mortal have avoided his thoughts?”

“It’s complicated,” I said.

What nobody understood was how Zheng had broken the rules of the maze; other than people bumping into me — Raine, Amanda, and Nicole — she was the only one who had apparently been able to gather others to her. Bernard the dog, then the boys, then Gareth, like she was a magnet for protection in the false darkness.

“Maybe it’s because she kicked one of the fake alpacas to pieces?” Raine suggested.

“You didn’t burst through a wall, did you?” Evelyn asked.

“Oh yeah,” Praem deadpanned. Evelyn frowned up at her.

Zheng rumbled from the sofa. “No gods and no masters can keep me bound,” she said. “The shaman’s blessing frees me forever. Even from your worm-filth.” She directed those last few words at the Hoptons.

Christine bristled, but Amanda reached out and placed a hand on her sister’s arm.

“Zheng,” Amanda said. “Thank you. Again, thank you, for looking after my boys. I think they have become fond of you.”

“Shut up, worm,” Zheng rumbled. Amanda quivered. “It was not for you.”

Things became more complicated when we tried to explain how I had escaped, let alone the nature of the parasites, how we had removed them, and why I was immune. At first the Hoptons asked a lot of questions about every assumption we made, but all three of them grew quieter and quieter as Evelyn and I explained what details we thought were safe to share.

I made a silent and private executive decision not to explain Seven-Shades-of-Sunlight. As far as the human members of the Church were concerned, she was just another magically inclined friend of Evelyn Saye, the local mage of note.

I was too emotionally exhausted to realise the impact of my own actions. There were too many things to address, too many things to think about — the fallout of the duel between Raine and Zheng, the nature of Sevens’ terrifying and beautiful new form, the words Evelyn had spoken down inside Hringewindla’s shell, not to even mention the possible involvement of Edward Lilburne in all this. But I was wiped out, everyone was wiped out. All I wanted to do was stop thinking for a week.

So we just told them. We told them that we went to talk to their god and journeyed into his shell. We told them that I woke him up by force, spoke to him inside my own mind, and cast him out when I was done.

The nightmare had indeed broken as soon as we’d woken up Hringewindla. According to everyone we’d left behind in the house, the transition had been a sensory kaleidoscope of collapsing walls and melting doors, the nightmare sloughing off like shed snakeskin, depositing them back into the heady and raw textures of the real. They hadn’t known what to make of it at the time, though Raine and Twil had deduced it quickly enough when they’d realised who was missing.

That was when the awe started.

Christine, Michael, and even Amanda, they all started to look at me with shell shocked reverence, with the kind of eyes that Badger had turned on me after he’d seen me defeat Ooran Juh.

I was worried they would look upon me as a profane interruption, as an outsider who had insulted and bullied their god. Though the very idea that I could ‘bully’ a god was rather worrying in the first place.

But what happened was far worse. They stopped asking questions. Michael and Christine kept looking at Amanda, as if for confirmation of what I was telling them. She nodded, floaty and numb, as Hringewindla’s distant communication matched up with my own.

“All I did was speak with him,” I said, struggling to look them in the eyes as they watched me. “It wasn’t difficult. Well, okay, no, that’s a lie, it was difficult, but it wasn’t … a … ” I sighed and looked away. “He’s just an Outsider.”

“He spoke to you, directly?” Christine asked me. Her voice quivered. “And then … you made him leave?”

“Yes. Sort of. Lozzie encouraged him to leave.”

None of them knew what to say.

“The little one is a marvel of creation,” Amanda said after a moment, voice a heavy mumble. Christine and Michael both turned to look at her, half-alarmed. Evelyn perked up too, frowning hard.

But Hringewindla had nothing more to say.

Little one? That was the same way Sevens always referred to Lozzie. Was Hringewindla talking about her, or about me?

From then onward, they did not look at me as a human being again. I couldn’t stand it.

“You did … de-worm him,” Christine said, clearing her throat delicately. “And without that, we would all have been trapped. You have rendered an invaluable service to us, and to Hringewindla. You took his blessing and then … left it. For this, I thank you.”

She bowed her head. Her husband did the same. I shrugged, feeling deeply awkward, hands around my mug of tea.

“The shaman dispenses her own blessings,” Zheng rumbled.

“Heeeeey,” Raine added. “That’s that. Heather does that by herself. No need for a higher power.”

Michael snorted. Christine frowned at him sidelong. Amanda nodded, the only one who understood how Hringewindla himself really felt — or so I assumed. The bubble-servitor on her shoulder seemed to agree, bobbing up and down.

In a misguided effort to re-normalise myself in their eyes, I told them about Hringewindla’s gift. The soapstone coin was still in my pocket, weighing as heavy as a fragment of neutron star. But I was completely wrong, this was not the right move. I passed it across the table and Michael accepted it with both hands, like it was the relic of a saint. He bowed his head and couldn’t look me in the eyes.

There was much ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the coin as they passed it from hand to hand.

“Tch,” Evelyn tutted. “You do understand that object might be dangerous, yes?”

“How could it be of danger?” Michael said in a hushed voice, holding the coin up to the light so he could inspect the strange five-dot design on the top — or was it the underside? “Hringewindla gave it to … human … hands … ”

He trailed off, flicking a worried glance in my direction.

Zheng snorted. “The shaman is no monkey. What burns your hands may not burn hers.”

“Ah,” he said, blinking in frozen alarm, like he was holding a piece of radioactive meteorite. “Yes, um.”

“Yeah, Heather is protected against a lotta crap,” Raine said. She nodded at the soapstone coin. “Let us know if your skin peels off in a couple of days, yeah?”

Michael shared a sudden and worried glance with his wife.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine,” she said.

“I’m joking!” Raine laughed.

“It is only stone,” Amanda said. That seemed to settle the worries.

“But still, from his hand directly … ”

When Michael passed it back to me, he averted his eyes from my gaze. He handed me the stone like he was making an offering to a dangerous god at some dark and forgotten shrine.

I decided to ignore it as best I could. I didn’t want to start a fresh argument with the Church, with Twil’s family, not when we’d finally reached some kind of understanding at last. Even Evelyn was being diplomatic.

But after Evelyn shared the modified 3D glasses, Michael and Christine both stared at my tentacles like I was a hidden revelation. And then after they handed the glasses back and made their request, they looked at me for the answer, not at Evelyn.

I snapped.

“Stop it!” I blurted out. I think Evelyn had been about to answer them seriously, because she half flinched and frowned at me as I scraped my chair back and stood up. My cheeks were burning and my tentacles flared out, I couldn’t stop it happening, couldn’t stop the hiss clawing up my throat.

“Heather?” Raine said my name.

“Whoa, whoa, what, what?” Twil was up on her feet too, panicking at my sudden anger. Bernard let out a soft ‘wuff’, which made Marmite flinch. Praem tried to place a hand on my shoulder, but I shrugged her off.

“Stop looking at me like that!” I snapped at Hringewindla’s cultists. All three of them stared at me, suddenly ashamed and shocked, but more awed than put off. “I am not like your god. It was just an old man in my head! He’s in all of yours, isn’t he? Isn’t he?!”

Shocked silence. A gentle hand took my wrist. This time I allowed it. Raine, holding me softly.

The Hoptons all looked at each other. Amanda just bit her lip and shook her head. Michael and Christine looked exactly like shepherds being shouted at by a biblically accurate angel, afraid to express their fear. Twil groaned and put her face in both hands. I think she swore under her breath.

“It was just an old man in my head … ”

“It’s not like that for us,” Michael said, averting his eyes from mine. “You spoke with him. As an equal. You’re a … ”

“I am a twenty year old university student with tentacles,” I said, trying very hard to keep my voice steady. My cheeks burned and a hiccup forced itself up my throat. “I am not an Outsider god. Stop looking at me like that.”

“You rejected him,” Christine said, shaking her head, as if this explained anything. “You … you’re … how can we … you’re on his scale, his … ”

“Heeeeey,” Raine said, trying to lighten the moment with her tone. She pointed a jokey finger gun at the Hoptons. “Stop looking at my girl like that, yeah? She says stop, so stop. I’m the only one allowed to ogle her, alright?”

Zheng purred from the sofa. “How can they help themselves, little wolf? They are right. The shaman is more than flesh.”

“Great,” Twil grunted through clenched teeth. “Just what I fuckin’ need.”

“Reformation,” said Praem.

“She’s just a kid … ” Nicole added, but her tone gave away that she didn’t really believe. She’d already been awed by what I was and what I could do.

I started to turn away from the table, peeling my tentacles off the chair, itching to go upstairs and find Lozzie. I did not want to be looked at like this. I was a thing of the abyss, a creature of the oceanic darkness between the spheres, but I was not a god, not a thing to be worshipped. I sniffed and hid my face, pulling Raine with me.

“Wait,” Evelyn grunted. “Wait a second.”

“We’re so sorry,” Christine hurried to say. “Try— try to see this from our perspective. I’m so sorry we’ve caused offense, but nothing like this has ever happened before. We don’t—”

“Shut up,” Evelyn said. “Listen. Seeing as we have met your god, I would like to propose a formal cessation to any hostility between us. Any suspicions. We’re allied against the same man, the same one responsible for all of this. I would like to make this explicit, before you lot go off and have a religious crisis — without Heather here, thank you very much.”

Evee, oh Evee. My heart hurt.

“Of course,” Michael said, pulling himself up. “But this Lilburne man, we still don’t know where he is. Was this a move against us?”

Evelyn shrugged. “I don’t think so. I think it was an accident. But I also think we now know where he is.”

I turned back, as surprised as everybody else. “Evee?”

A thin, deeply satisfied smile creased Evelyn’s exhausted face. She gestured at Nicole. “Why did the parasite scramble Nicole’s short-term memory? Any takers?”

Nicole sighed. “Because I must have subconsciously figured out where Edward Lilburne’s house is, right. We’ve been over this. I don’t remember anything. It’s like I had the worst drunken night possible, but without the fun part.”

“You may not remember, but your feet do.”


Twil lit up first, getting it before anybody else. “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.”

“Twil,” her mother tutted.

“Why did Nicole end up here?” Evelyn asked. I heard that familiar old tone in her voice, the aloof professor, waiting for a slow class to catch up. “Why did she walk all the way here while under the influence of the parasite?”

“What are you saying, I figured out where the house is, and went to it, on foot?”

“Exactly, detective.” Evelyn nodded to herself. “It’s just a theory, but I think the parasite didn’t walk you here. You walked here. You figured out where Edward Lilburne’s house is and set off to find it, which triggered the parasite to begin gestating. By the time you reached it on foot, the parasite was fully grown, to knock you off course and make you forget.”

“Then why’d I end up here?” she asked.

“You’re a professional detective. You’re also a very special kind of paranoid idiot. I should know, because I’m one too. You’re telling us that you never looked into any of us, after our difficult first meeting, months ago?”

“Ah.” Nicole cringed. “I mean, yeah, I did. Just to … you know, confirm you weren’t all using fake names or something.”

“And you looked up Twil’s address.”

Nicole cleared her throat and scratched the back of her head. “So what, it was lodged in my subconscious?”

“Yes. With the parasite scrambling your mind and your ability to walk, you made for the nearest place you knew you could somehow get into contact with us. So, sometime between the moment you stepped out of that graveyard in Manchester, and when you stepped out of the woods and onto this farm, you found Edward Lilburne’s safe house, somewhere between there and here. Or close enough. Which means we know where it is, we know where he’s hiding, because it has to be somewhere you could have reached, on foot, within the window of time you went missing.”

“That’s our Evee,” Raine said into the stunned silence. “Got a theory for everything.”

“Theory of everything,” said Praem.

Evelyn’s smile got thinner and darker. She was so very pleased with her hypothesis.

“I hope you’re right,” Nicole said, sounding very sceptical. “What do we need to figure this out then, a map?”

“Of course it’s right,” Evelyn grunted.

But she didn’t look at Nicole for approval. She allowed her eyes to creep and flitter upward, searching for my face. She was so tired, so drained, lips still stained with a little of her own blood.

Evelyn looked at me with more love and worship than a legion of cultists. And nobody else could see that.

“Good idea,” I managed to say, staring back at her in surprise. “Good idea, Evee. I … I think you might be right.”

She nodded and looked away again. “Of course I’m right. Now, let’s figure out how to hunt a mage.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Heather doesn’t want to be treated like a godling child, she’s not an Outsider, not like Sevens, or Lozzie, or all those mages who’ve slipped over the edge of their own humanity. Right? Right. Glad that’s settled. So stop looking at her like that. On the other hand, Evelyn must be using everything she’s got to stay this diplomatic and reasonable. And who knew that Zheng could be good with kids?

No Patreon link this week! It’s almost the end of the month and I never like the idea of Patreon charging readers twice in quick succession, so if you feel like subscribing, feel free to wait until the 2nd of the month! Instead, if you haven’t been over to the fan art page in a while, go take a look! There’s a few new pieces nestled in there, and even a short youtube video at the bottom of the page, which you might give you a giggle!

But, please, if you have a moment:

Vote for Katalepsis on TopWebFiction!

This really helps. A lot of readers find the story through TWF! It only takes a couple of clicks to vote, and it keeps the story visible!

And thirdly, leave a review! Or a like, a thumbs up, a comment on a chapter, it’s all great, and it helps me so so much to know there’s people out there reading and enjoying the story; that’s the whole reason I do this in the first place, to bring a fun story to those who read it. And thank you for reading!

Next week, like Evee says, it’s time to hunt the most dangerous game of all, an old and experienced mage, hiding in his lair. That is, if she’s right about her little theory. Though there’s a lot of other things going on right now too, and not of them about Heather.

18 thoughts on “and walked a crooked mile – 16.9

    • You’re very welcome indeed! Glad you liked it! This one was a lot of falling action, after the intense content of this arc.

  1. To Zheng everyone but Heather’s family are worms, ha!

    Ah, cute little Lozzie is concerned about making Jan worry?

    I’m with Heather if someone looked at me like the Hoptons look at her, that would be disturbing.

    Glad Nicole’s dog is doing well.

    Oh my gosh that ending with Heather and Evelyn. I love Heather x Her other lovers, but Heather x Evelyn has been my first and favorite ship since they first met. HEATHER X EVELYN!

    Thank you for the chapter.

    • I think Zheng could have respect for certain other people, under the right circumstances. But the Brinkwood Cult? They’re all mind-slaved to a giant alien god, by choice. She doesn’t have any respect for servitude. Even Praem had to earn her grudging respect.

      Lozzie is concerned because she left Jan high, by herself! Well, apart from Kimberly. Maybe Lozzie was just having a really fun time.

      Heather x Evelyn is going strong, even if these two idiots are incapable of expressing it properly. We have to hope they’ll understand eventually. But it’s almost like they’re in a relationship already …

      And you are very welcome indeed! Really glad you enjoyed the chapter! Thank you!

  2. Poor cultists, they are so polite and everyone is rude to them.

    I hope everyone at least washed their face and hands before tea! They must have been a bedraggled lot but especially poor Heather.

    • They’re trying very hard, but their awe of Heather is more than a little bit misaimed.

      Haha, we can assume there was plenty of hand-washing before tea and biscuits! I dread to think what kind of germs they could have picked up down in the shell otherwise.

  3. Praem’s one-liners are some of my favorite dialogue. I actually laughed aloud at the Kool-Aid Man joke. I hope Lozzie put pants on before going to play with the kids.

    • I love them too! Often they’re not planned or anything, there’s few notes on her dialogue, but she comes up with something on the spot. It’s always amusing on my end.

      And yes, we can assume Lozzie put on some proper clothes when she briefly hopped back. Don’t worry about that!

    • I second the appreciation for the Koop Aid Man joke! Praem’s one-liners do seem to add the needed levity to break up overly tense situations.

      • Thank you! I know I mentioned this previously, perhaps even in a reply here, but I often don’t plan any of Praem’s one-liners, she just does them when I least expect, or even inserts them during editing when I’m not even thinking about them. It’s really strange and a lot of fun.

  4. I’m getting the impression that Hringle neither needs worship, nor really wants it, beyond the shape of expectations his mind-connected friends have.

    I suspect the Brinkwood Cult could relativly easily reform itself to see the big snail as more of a teacher and friend than a God and nobody would be harmed by it.
    Just like stopping the bloody sacrifices didn’t make things any worse for god or man.

    Of course, that’s a big mental and dogmatic step to take for people who have grown up as faithful worshippers.

    • He doesn’t seem to demand worship at all. Just, you know, companionship. Humans made him into an object of worship on their own. Maybe he doesn’t even understand the concept.

      Perhaps if somebody was to help them communicate more clearly with their god. Somebody who’s already bridging the gap between human and Outsider, perhaps?

  5. She say she is not an Outsider, but really, she is a adopted child of really powerful outsider, and she has really big reality bending powers besides, so she IS a Godling, and she also has the powers of the Abyss. And she has followers, a mage, two Abyssals, some humans, and two other Godlings (Sevens and Lozzie). The Church feel worship for her because she is become that something. So most the conflict here is how she not understand is she is a human become something more. Less than year ago in her time she was weak human with latent uncontrolled reality bend powers and nightmares and she was really sick. But she is not human now, she is become that Godling, and she need understand that. Lozzie understand that about herself, and so she can feel happy and free in that. If she can’t understand that she will never rescue Maisie, because for bargain with her adopted father for Maisie she is need that strength.

    • Indeed! Lozzie embraced this life fully, long ago. Heather’s getting there, stumbling, but she needs to put the pieces together for real, if she’s going to have any hope of out-thinking or out-fighting the Eye.

      • I do have a suspicion that she might not need to do any of those two. What she can do is come to an agreement with it.

        The eye seemed to be satisfied with just teaching Heather at a distance from time to time, never really trying to get her back until it lost connection with her because of the fractal.

        I don’t think the eye want to harm her, it just want to teach her. In its own alien way, it probably loves her like a parent and/or teacher. This might be the edge is has been looking for. Allow the eye to teacher her again, but in a much more controlled sense, or if the worst comes to it, threaten it with her own life.

      • Interesting theory, yes! There’s a lot of theories about what the Eye actually wants, about what Heather may have to do once she finally returns to Wonderland to face it again. Combat or struggle or trickery seems wrong, somehow, or at least very ill-advised. Maybe there’s some other way of interacting with the Eye, which Heather and the others simply haven’t been able to achieve yet.

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