loyal to the nightmare of my choice – 18.5

Content Warnings

Suicidal ideation
Drug use
Emotional abuse
Mention of abusive relationship

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

A scream in the storm.

Lost inside the enclosing shadows of the upper floor with its labyrinth of rooms, muffled behind the thick plaster and stout brick of the exterior walls, soaked up by the cloud ceiling like an inverted grey ocean pressing down on the city, almost drowned out by the aural static of the rain pounding against roof tiles and pavement and asphalt and mud, Kimberly was screaming in terrified panic — and there could be only one possible cause.

Kimberly wasn’t much for screaming. A scream is a call for help, after all; Kimberly had spent too much of her life learning that nobody was coming to help. A scream — even a metaphorical one — would only attract more attention, and attention could only ever come from predators, exploiters, and abusers.

It would take a lot longer than a few months of safety and security for Kimberly to unlearn any of that, no matter how good our intentions or how well we treated her. Sometimes I wished she could seek therapy, but what would she say? She would have to craft an elaborate lie, or else speak in such general terms that any competent psychologist would smell a rat. I’d seen how she reacted in her very worst moments, pushed right to the edge of her thin and ragged sanity. One of those times had come after days of silent torment, hiding alone in her old apartment, wondering if the Eye-sent Lozzie-thing would return, intimidated by Amy Stack, waiting for death, or worse than death. On that occasion she had been driven to violence in the end. She’d stabbed Twil in the hand after we broke into her flat, but as soon as the violence was done she had crumpled in submission and begged for mercy.

Weeks later Zheng had almost killed her right there in our front room, or at least came within a muscle-twitch of ripping out her tongue. That time Kimberly had offered almost no resistance, crying softly in the aftermath.

She tended to hide and retreat, preferred to make herself small and unseen, to minimize her exposed contact surfaces, like a tiny rodent living in a land of blood-mawed carnivores. She’d been living with us for months but she still stuck mostly to herself. She went to work, exchanged hellos and good mornings whenever somebody bumped into her in the kitchen, and chipped in a little for the usual grocery shopping and electricity bills — but she lived in her bedroom, playing video games, smoking cannabis, and talking incessantly with a very large number of online friends. According to Raine she was also spending a lot of time with her Wiccan coven. Good for her, I thought.

I ventured into her bedroom now and again, if only to make sure she was getting on okay. She steadfastly pretended that Zheng didn’t exist, and seemed embarrassed by Lozzie’s very presence. She was on good terms with Praem somehow, though I’d never seen them talking. We all knew that Tenny sometimes crept into her bedroom to peer at strange and exciting video games. I did hope they would maybe become friends, in time.

For Kimberly, screaming like that was a big deal. Fear and shock had overpowered her desire not to be seen or known.

Evelyn and I rarely discussed this out loud, but we both knew why we kept Kimberly close, why we gave her a comfortable and safe place to live, rent-free. It was our way of trying to help one of the victims of the Sharrowford Cult, to take some of the vast responsibility demanded by our power. Kimberly wanted nothing to do with magic anymore, so we sheltered her from it, paradoxically enough, by keeping her close to the centre of our own magically-derived safety.

Kimberly Kemp was a survivor of a very specific kind of abuse and exploitation; she was reclusive and shy, sweet and funny; she probably had post-traumatic stress disorder; the last thing she needed was an unscheduled wake-up call by a horrible apparition in the dark of an unnatural storm.

Aym was up there, whispering unknown nightmares in Kimberly’s ear.

Abyssal instinct, ape-pack imperative, and simple decency all agreed on one thing — that scream would not go unanswered. Kimberly was one of us.

Standing by the passenger-side door of Felicity’s range rover, Raine and I wasted all of half a second staring back toward the house through the pounding raindrops.

Then Raine shot me a look. She didn’t need to ask with words.

“Yes!” I said. “Go!”

Raine snapped her umbrella shut and sprinted for the front door, wellington boots splashing through the churning water on the garden path, raindrops bouncing and spattering off her shoulders, soaking her jeans, and slicking her hair to her skull in an instant.

Strictly speaking that was totally unnecessary. The house currently contained several people far scarier than Raine, more than capable of dealing with Aym, who would be up those stairs just as quick. But my instincts demanded that I send my own best protector to save Kimberly.

Instinct demanded I go too. Prudence kept me rooted.

Felicity was still fumbling to raise the passenger side window, winding the hand-crank at speed. She had gone white in the face, shakily jamming her towel-wrapped shotgun into the bag on the back seat. The sensible part of my mind was calmly explaining to me that Felicity was our best bet at peeling Aym away from her new toy. Whatever I’d said a few moments ago about not allowing her inside the house, that no longer mattered. I should wait the few seconds for her to scramble out of the car, and then take her inside; she had claimed she couldn’t control Aym, but she must be able to do something to help. Raine was at the front door, yanking it open, kicking off her wellington boots.

Then Kimberly stopped screaming. The silence filled with the pounding of the storm.

Abyssal instinct and savannah ape pack imperative rocketed through me like an electric shock.

I barely knew what I was doing when I picked up my feet up and shot after Raine, my own wellington boots splashing halfway down the path before I veered off into front lawn and around the side of the house, squelching in the sodden grass, water swirling over the toes of the boots.

I must have lost my umbrella, because I was soaked instantly, hair plastered to my skull as I looked up at the second floor of the house, searching for Kimberly’s bedroom window.

“Kim!” I shouted up into the rain. My voice was a whisper in the storm. “Open your window!”

The rain slammed down in sheets of water, turning the air to static grey, pouring out of the overflowing gutters along the roof. I couldn’t see the house properly, let alone tell one window from the other. One window was lit and lacked curtains, that must have been the one in the upstairs hallway. The dark and curtained one next to it, that must have been my bedroom. But in the other direction there were four windows. Surely Kimberly’s was the one right on the end but that made no sense. The bathroom should have been on the end. Or was it Lozzie’s bedroom?

For a moment the second floor of Number 12 Barnslow Drive made no sense. It was like looking at a house I’d never seen before.

My tentacles gathered behind me, coiling up and bracing against the water-saturated ground, like six great muscular springs. Deep in my belly, my trilobe bioreactor squeezed out a control rod, flushing my skin with heat to counteract the chill of the rain. My legs itched to kick and bounce. My stomach lurched with anticipation.

This was one of the most ill-advised impulses I had ever followed, but I couldn’t stop. Raine would be up there in seconds, she was already inside. Zheng might already be up there, tearing Aym to pieces. Why was I preparing to fling myself into the air?

Because abyssal instinct had finally found an ideology around which it fitted like a glove.

Angel-squid Heather had no choice but to protect.

Only confusion held me back. I had no idea which window to target. I wasn’t so far gone as to hurl myself at the house and burrow through the brickwork.

Then, just at the moment I might have come to my senses and thought better of trying to imitate a flying squirrel, the lights flicked on behind the last window in the row. The curtains twitched, then swept aside. A terrified pale face peered down at me, framed by messy auburn hair.

“Kim!” I shouted again, bouncing on the spot like my legs were going to explode. “Open the window!”

Kim fumbled with the latch. The window swung outward, banging on its hinges. A few stray raindrops fell on the back of Kimberly’s shivering arm before she pulled herself back inside.

And I let go with all those muscular springs.

At the time, I felt like a squid shooting through the oceanic deep on a plume of water-powered jet-propulsion, sleek and athletic. A momentary shadow of abyssal grace touched me inside, like a point of glowing warmth inside my chest, a feeling of rightness in my own skin. Perhaps it was the pounding rain, the water running down my face and neck. In reality I probably resembled one of those children’s toys that you can stick to a hard surface with a sucker cup, then wait a few seconds for it to bounce upward under its own vacuum pressure.

My stomach lurched as I left the ground behind. For one dizzying heartbeat I felt like I was the one who should have been screaming, as I slammed right into the aperture of Kimberly’s open window. But my tentacles did the thinking for me, whipping around to catch the frame like I was a spider clinging to my own self-made web.

A few paces inside the room, Kimberly gaped at me, wide-eyed with shock.

I didn’t blame her. It wasn’t every day a squid-girl climbed in your window. I certainly hoped none of the neighbours had seen, or we were about to appear in some very outlandish news-of-the-weird style articles on the internet.

I tumbled into the room and landed in a wet heap on the floorboards, like an octopus dumped on the deck of a fishing boat, tentacles and limbs lashing and flapping, coat drenched on the inside, hair stuck to my skull. I had the presence of mind to kick my wellington boots off where I’d landed, so I didn’t create an even bigger muddy mess on the lovely soft rugs Kimberly had further in.

As soon as I was clear I leapt to my feet, a warning hiss in my throat, head whipping left and right.

Kimberly stood shaking in the centre of her bedroom, arms clasped across her chest and belly, staring at me with more than a touch of awe. Small and mousy and twitchy as ever, she was panting, tear-tracks down her face, her auburn hair in a post-sleep mess. She was still in her pajama bottoms and an old t-shirt, with a picture of a pretty-boy elf on the front. There was a big crease down the side of her face from where she’d been sleeping.

Her bedsheets were all askew, pastel blankets yanked to one side as if she’d just lurched out of bed and gotten tangled halfway. Her pillow was on the other side of the room, presumably hurled there moments earlier. Her computer, a proper desktop tower, was happily humming away to itself beneath her desk; I politely pretended not to notice the two boxes of tissues next to the monitor, along with the open comic book of dubious content on the desk.

Her bookshelf had suffered a casualty from the commotion. A couple of books had fallen off, presumably when she had blundered into it, and knocked one of her little statues over. A porcelain unicorn statue, wild and noble and suspiciously muscular, lay on the floor, neatly shattered into two pieces.

The room smelled faintly of cannabis, of course. I spotted several little baggies full of green stuff on her bedside table, next to rolling papers and other detritus.

Aym was nowhere to be seen — but then again, I didn’t know what to look for.

At least the lights were on, blazing and bright.

The door was closed, but I could hear half a dozen footsteps hurling themselves up the stairs and then along the hallway. Somebody called out Kimberly’s name.

Kimberly found her voice, robotic and stunned. “ … tentacles working well, then?”

I blinked at her. “Kim, are you alright?”

She swallowed, blinking several times, like a waking sleepwalker. Her eyes flickered around the room, dazed and confused. She was caught between sleep and adrenaline, more animal than human right then, confused about where she was, what she was, how to respond.

Then she cringed and hunched, the terror coming back in a sudden panting hyperventilation. “There was … a … a thing—”

Raine chose that exact moment to burst in through Kimberly’s bedroom door. Zheng was right on top of her like her shadow, filling her blind spot. The pair of them looked ready to wrestle a monster, Zheng moving with that flowing predatory muscularity that made my bowels quiver with the echo of old fear, Raine with a naked combat knife in one hand. Kimberly whirled and squeaked, backing up and bumping into her desk again. But Raine and Zheng both stopped in surprise when they saw me already standing there, dripping wet by the open window.

“Heather?” Raine broke into a grin, then started laughing. “How did you get up here? Did you climb through the window? You’re soaked!”

“Um, sort of,” I said, coming to my senses. I had to swallow down a hiss and wipe the dripping water out of my eyes. My hair was soaked, my clothes were stuck to my skin. My reactor was ramping up, my skin feeling like it should be glowing with heat. Any further and I might start steaming.

“Neither wall nor ditch can bar the shaman,” Zheng purred, then whipped her attention around the room, dark eyes narrowed, teeth exposed. “Where is the goblin?”

“Gone already,” I said.

Kim’s eyes flicked between faces and corners, badly shaken. “I-I don’t even know what that was, what was … what was … ”

Raine quickly crossed the room, putting away her knife so she could squeeze Kimberly’s shoulder. She was a little wet too, but nowhere near as bad as me. “Hey, Kim, ease down, you got nothing to worry about, nothing to be afraid of. We’re all here now, nothing else is gonna happen. Me and Zheng, we’re your bodyguards right now. How’s that feel? Safe, right? See, you’ve even got Heather up here to look out for you. Take a deep breath with me, okay? Nice deep breath, in and out. That’s it, that’s good. And another.”

Kimberly stared up at Raine with eyes just as intimidated and terrified as before. But she obeyed, she did as she was told, sucking down a great shuddering breath and then letting it in unison with Raine.

“There, that’s better,” Raine purred for her, blasting her with a full dose of Raine confidence. “Good girl.”

“Kim,” I said gently. “What happened? If you can tell us.”

Kimberly looked caught between a rock and a hard place. I think Raine’s “good girl” encouragement had done more harm than good. But she found her voice and stumbled over the words. “It— it was— I was in bed. I heard a scratching sound so I rolled over onto my back and … and there was a shadow on the headboard. It was … drooling this black stuff—” Kimberly’s hands went to her chin and neck and chest, but she was clean of any mysterious black ichor. “And then it … it leaned down and … whispered … I … I can’t … ”

“So she appeared and then vanished again?” I asked.

“That is her style,” said a familiar half-mumble.

Felicity joined us in the room, which surprised me.

Out of her car and up on her feet, Felicity was tall, more than six foot, willowy and brittle, moving with the caution of a long-term osteoporosis sufferer. A sports bag was slung over one shoulder, her shotgun presumably contained within. The hood and shoulders of her coat were wet from the rain. Her hands were free, black gloves plainly visible, so at least I could be certain she wasn’t pointing any weapons at anybody.

She seemed to have located her spine, both literally and metaphorically; straight-backed and clear-eyed, she was still pale and shaken, still pouchy-eyed and fragile, but there was unmistakable confidence in her musculature and unhesitating stare. It was like she’d flicked a switch in her own head. She kept a careful distance between herself and Zheng, fingers flicking once in some covert gesture when the hulking demon-host looked at her and growled, but apparently Kimberly was more important.

“This is her?” she asked, staring at Kim, then answered her own question quickly, speed-mumbling as if talking more to herself than anybody in the room. “Kimberly, yes, I remember you from last time. You saw Aym, what did she say to you? I-it could be important. What did she say?”

Kimberly blinked at her, unable to process the sudden arrival. “N-nothing important … what … who … ”

“Heeeey Flissy,” Raine said. “Back off a step or two, hey?”

Felicity grimaced and gritted her teeth; confidence had not changed her erratic agitation. “It could be important, alright?”

Behind her, three little faces peered around the door frame — Lozzie, Tenny, and Sevens, all lingering at the threshold. It was already getting quite cramped in the room with five of us in here already. Tenny looked especially distressed, trying openly to catch Kimberly’s eye, waving with her black tentacles.

“Kim!” she fluttered. “Kim-Kim! Kim!”

To my surprise, Kimberly called softly past Raine. “I-I’m okay, Tenny!”

Lozzie petted Tenny on the head. “She’s okay, Tenns. Everybody’s here to help!”

But Tenny still seemed very worried, shifting from foot to foot, but seemingly unwilling to push past Zheng.

“Where’s Evee?” I said. “Lozzie, where is Evee? Nobody should be alone right now, especially not—”

Evelyn herself answered from much further down the upstairs corridor, yelling at the top of her lungs.

“I want her out! Out of this house, right fucking now! You— Praem, get off! Go throw her out of the fucking window or something!”

“Don’t do that, Praem!” I called back. “Don’t leave Evee by herself!”

Praem replied in a voice like the chime of a bell. “Evelyn is accompanied.”

Raine cleared her throat with forced politeness and shot Felicity a meaningful look, as if over a pair of imaginary glasses. “Evee’s got a point, you ain’t supposed to be in here. Aym’s already gone again, so we’re cool now, okay? Crisis averted, everybody’s alright, not gonna happen again. Time to head back out to your car.”

Felicity stared for a second, her one good eye frozen on Raine in a moment of indecision. She no longer appeared like the woman we’d seen out in her car, consumed by apology and self-hatred. For one strange moment I was certain she was about to challenge Raine. My own tentacles twitched as if to reach out and restrain her. Zheng’s gaze slid round to the lurking mage, teeth peeling back on an implicit threat. Above our heads, raindrops drummed on the roof, turning the house into a great echoing cave. Behind me, the window still stood open, admitting the static haze of grey noise and the creeping cold of the ever-present storm.

Then Felicity’s new-found confidence ebbed away. She swallowed and nodded and looked down. “Yes. Yes, you’re right, I shouldn’t be in here. Just … Kimberly, are you okay? I-is she okay?”

“Not really,” said Kim. She kept her arms pressed to her front. Her eyes seemed unable to stay still. She looked like a mouse amid a group of well-fed snakes, hoping that none of us were hungry.

Raine squeezed her shoulder again and caught her eye. “You’ll be fine, you can spend the rest of the day with Lozzie and Tenny, that’ll keep Aym away from you. You can all go play Mario Kart, cool?”

Kim let out a nervous, weird laugh, a forced hiccup of confusion. “I didn’t even know anything was happening today … ”

I winced. “I’m sorry, Kim. I should have kept you in the loop. It’s my fault.”

Kimberly shot me a wide-eyed, confused look. She didn’t even understand what was going on, but that wasn’t her fault.

“And hey, Heather,” Raine said with a smirk, “you need to get dry. You’re soaked all the way through.”

“Ah. Yes.” I sighed a little sigh, suddenly embarrassed, and flopped my dripping coat sleeves against my sides. I hardly felt cold at all, the heat from my reactor already burning off the worst of the water. “Yes. Well. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”

Felicity suddenly tensed up and frowned at me. “Wait, how did you get up here?”

“Through the window,” I sighed.

Tenny trilled with deep amusement, from just beyond the doorway. “Wet Heath goes boing!”

Lozzie snorted. Zheng grinned a grin that showed all her teeth, proud of her shaman. Sevens made a gurgly little noise. Felicity just stared at the window, then back at me. Even her blank, burned-out eye looked concerned.

“I’ve changed quite a bit since you met me,” I said with another little sigh, my face going hot with embarrassment. “Suffice to say, I don’t usually make a habit of jumping through second-floor windows. It was probably a bad idea.”

Lozzie leaned further into the room, hanging from the door frame, long blonde hair hanging down, pastel poncho flopping sideways. She was biting her lower lip, either feeling mischievous or doing a great deal of thinking. “Fliiiiiis, how are you surprised at Heathy going boing but not by everything about Tenn-Tenns?”

Felicity frowned more. “Tenn … tenns?”

“Tenny!” said Tenny. “Is me. Hi!”

When Felicity looked at Tenny, I realised that Lozzie was correct; Felicity wasn’t the least bit surprised by the obviously inhuman sight of Tenny, with her swirling patches of white fur over coal-black skin, her obviously non-human wings hanging down either side of her body, her mass of tentacles waving above her shoulders, the pair of twitching, fluffy antennae on her head, or the simple fact of her huge black eyes.

Felicity didn’t return Tenny’s greeting, but just glanced at Lozzie and shrugged, as if confused why any response was required from her at all.

Sometimes it was easy to forget this woman was a mage.

I cleared my throat. “Tenny is a child,” I said. “Tenny, it’s good to greet people. Felicity, what do you say when a child greets you?”

Felicity looked at me in a moment of unsettled confusion, as if she wasn’t certain whether I was being serious, but was utterly sure about my tone of voice. I gave her a look. She glanced back at Tenny.

“Hello,” she said, stiff and uncomfortable, then looked away again.

I kept my pained sigh to myself. I suppose Tenny would have to learn sooner or later that not all adults were capable of returning a pleasant greeting.

“Tenny!” Evee called from far down the upstairs hallway. “Don’t speak with her! She’s dangerous! Lozzie, you keep Tenny away from her!”

Lozzie made a pouty face and took one of Tenny’s tentacles in hand. Tenny let out a fluttering, trilling noise of confusion, glancing over her shoulder, presumably at Evee. Head tilting side-to-side, Tenny didn’t quite follow.

Raine cleared her throat. “Fliss, back to your car, please. We’ll take care of Kim, she’ll be fine.”

“Right,” Felicity said. She nodded, eyes finding the floor easier than anybody’s face.

“Lozz,” Raine said, “would you please run down the corridor and make sure Praem takes Evee down the stairs first? We don’t want these two bumping into each other like a pair of cats in the hallway.”

“Clawing and biting and merrrow!” went Lozzie, making a little paw with one hand. She sketched a joking salute and then tugged on Tenny. “Let’s go help auntie Evee, Tenns!”

“Auntie Evee!” Tenny agreed.

And that was when the lights went out.

There was no dramatic pop of a bursting fuse or the electric crackle of a failing bulb, just the fall of sudden gloom as the lights in Kimberly’s bedroom died. The faint happy hum of her desktop computer shut off as well. The lights must have failed out in the hallway too, because we were plunged into a deep, sucking, rain-washed gloom of grey shadows and thickened darkness. The storm outdoors had already swallowed the sun; the only illumination was the thin and sickly light creeping in through the windows.

I flinched in surprise. Kimberly let out a pitiful whimper. Tenny made a surprised trill, like a tree-dwelling rodent discovering the floor had disappeared. Lozzie went ‘burrrr!’ and Sevens gurgled. Down the corridor, I heard Evelyn huff in sheer disbelief and exasperation.

Zheng seemed unaffected, of course. Raine, by contrast, went into action instantly, stepping away from Kimberly so she could peer around me and out of the open window.

I think I was the only one who noticed how Felicity reacted — she went wide-eyed and tense, holding her breath, one hand on her sport bag. She was staring right at Kimberly.

“A bloody power cut!” Evelyn yelled. “Now? Really? Very original, Aym!”

“I hunt better in the dark,” Zheng rumbled. “The goblin will have nowhere to hide.”

Raine craned her head to see out of the window. I realised she was looking at the house opposite.

“Nah!” she called back to Evelyn. “It’s just us, lights are on up the street. Praem, you wanna check the fusebox? Take Evee with you! Nobody moves around alone, okay?”

“Safety trio,” Praem said from out in the corridor. “Lozzie, Tenny.”

“Yah!” Lozzie chirped.

Raine turned to me. “Heather, you wanna get out of those wet clothes. If we can’t get the power back on quick, we’ll lose heat fast. Get dry, take Sevens with you, I’ll stick with Kimberly and—”

Kiiiiiiim-beeeeer-leeeeee,” scratched a voice from the fever dreams of a medieval diabolist.

A shadow was clinging to Kimberly’s back. It had not been there a moment earlier.

The thick grey gloom of the storm-light concealed all details beneath a veil of hanging darkness; the shadow was indistinct, peering over Kimberly’s left shoulder from behind, like a small child or a koala bear or the top half of a bisected corpse lashed to her back. Talons or claws or sharp fingers dug into the shoulders and sides of her t-shirt, visible only by the indentations they made in cloth and flesh. The grey, dead light washed out any facial features, leaving behind only pits for eyes and the suggestion of a slash for a mouth.

“What an interesting naaaaaame,” Aym purred like a voice-box filled with rusty iron filings. Black drool fell in sticky ropes onto Kim’s shoulder.

Kimberly was frozen in terror, eyes wide, tears falling silently down her face.

Out in the corridor, Tenny let out a noise of trilling alarm. Lozzie said something indistinct, some muttered reassurance. Closer at hand, Raine turned, ready to tackle something she could barely see. Zheng pulled an arm back, fingers wide, limb blurring with sudden motion as the rest of her body rocked forward, the opening split-second of a move to rip the demon off Kimberly’s back.

“No!” Felicity yelled, one hand up. “Don’t touch her! It’s dangerous!”

To my surprise, Zheng actually paused, dark eyes swivelling to look at Felicity. “To me, wizard?”

“To anybody,” Felicity said in an urgent mumble, eyes locked on Aym. “Do not touch her.”

“Oh,” Kimberly whimpered, so soft and small. “P-please, please, somebody … ”

I couldn’t not respond to that. My tentacles were whirling upward into a star of threat posture, growing sharp at their tips. I felt a hiss crawling up my throat. This violation would not go unanswered.

“Hey!” Raine said, taking a step to one side, as if trying to flank Aym. “You get off Kim right now, you little shit.”

“Aym,” I said, struggling to keep my voice sounding at least a little human. “I will hurt you. I warned you. I will.”

But Aym didn’t seem to care about what anybody said. She wasn’t even interested in my tentacles, let alone surprised. She giggled, an awful noise like gravel being pulverised. Kimberly closed her eyes and started to hyperventilate.

Felicity dropped her sports bag, spread her arms, and took a step toward the demon.

“You get off that girl’s back, Aym,” she said.

“Hnnnnnh?” went Aym. A row of claws seemed to ascend up Kimberly’s sides. The shadow rose higher, pushing itself upward so it was level with the top of Kimberly’s head. “Standing up for somebody, now? Where’s that spine when you’re all alone, Flissy-poos?”

“Get off that girl right now, Aym,” Felicity said. “I won’t repeat myself a third time.”

“What do you care?” Aym spat. “She’s so delicious, I can taste her in the air, raw. A little heat and pressure and she’ll go from quiet self-pity to tearing her hair out and—”

Felicity did the absolute last thing I expected, especially for a woman who moved around like she was recovering from a dozen broken bones.

She lunged at Aym.

Apparently Aym hadn’t expected that either.

The shadowy wisp of irritating demon let out a yelp, a sound like a pair of rusty knives getting snapped beneath the wheels of a tractor. She detached herself from Kimberly’s back and seemed to melt into the shadows, like a swimmer pushing off from an underwater ledge. But Felicity was faster. One gloved hand shot past Kimberly’s shoulder and grabbed a fistful of darkness, gloved fingers sinking into nothingness made solid.

Aym squealed — an awful sound, half-animal, half-metal, all teeth-grating. Kimberly cried out and ducked down into a crouch, arms wrapped around her head. Felicity held Aym aloft by what might have been her throat. The actual shape was impossible to make out.

Aym kicked and hissed and squealed. I saw hints of what looked like claws, stingers, and rolling eyeballs deep in the shadowy mass. All of it could have been an illusion, a mind-ghost one sees in the shapes of familiar furniture and discarded clothing in the corner of one’s room upon awakening. Tendrils lashed at Felicity’s face. Black drool fell on the arm of her coat, hissing and burning. Feet like bird talons raked at the front of her coat. But she stood and took it all, unflinching and untouched.

Then, with a flicker, the lights came back on.

Blink blink went the bulbs in Kimberly’s bedroom. Chunk-whirr went her reanimated computer. Artificial light pushed back the edges of the storm, forcing it outdoors again, into the rain.

And Aym vanished like a shadow in the light.

Felicity held the pose for another second, staring at nothing, arm outstretched, fingers making a claw. She was truly untouched — all of Aym’s tantrum was apparently immaterial, shadow-play and fakery. Then she swallowed hard and lowered her arm, panting and sweating. Tenny and Lozzie peered in at the door, both wide-eyed, Tenny looking mightily alarmed. Raine blew out a breath. I wasn’t sure where Sevens had gone.

I raised my voice, fearing the worst. “Evee! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” Evelyn called back from down the corridor. “That was astoundingly stupid, even for Aym.”

Zheng bared her teeth. “I will rip you from the air, shadow!” she rumbled. “There is no hiding in this place, shapeless thing.”

“Apparently there is,” Raine said. She moved toward Kimberly, to help her up.

But Felicity got there first. Before Raine could reach Kim, Felicity crouched down and took Kimberly’s hands in her own. Kimberly’s head shot up, surprised and blinking and still terrified, panting and crying and losing control. She looked like she wanted to crawl back into bed and curl up and sleep through the rest of the day.

“You need to share what she said to you,” Felicity said, right to Kimberly’s face.

Kimberly tried to pull away, but she was weakened by her own shock. “N-no, please, s-stop—”

“Hey now Fliss,” said Raine, stepping closer, smiling but oh so very dangerous. “Let her up. Let her up and step back, yeah? This is none of your business.”

But even Raine’s implicit threat wasn’t enough to get Felicity moving. She kept talking to Kimberly, eyes never once leaving that terrified, crying face. “Don’t let her use it against you, don’t let her twist it up inside you. I don’t know what she said, but I know it was bad. Whatever it is, however shameful, however horrible, don’t let her. Don’t. Tell somebody. Anybody. You can tell me right now, I’ve been listening to her for years. I know!”

Kimberly was in so much shock I thought she might keel over and pass out right there. Raine was almost on top of them, I could see her moving to grab Felicity by the shoulder and pull her off Kim. Poor Kim’s personal space had already been violated by one intrusion today, this was the last thing she needed.

But then, Kimberly leaned forward. She was so stunned, so used to obeying authority, that she just went along with it.

And deep down I knew it was probably better than the alternative.

So I darted out with one tentacle and grabbed Raine’s arm. Raine flinched, then blinked back at me. I put a finger to my lips and shook my head.

Down on the floor, one woman on her knees and the other crouching, Kimberly put her lips close to Felicity’s ear, cupped her mouth with one hand, and whispered a single sentence. She choked back a sob in the middle, but managed to finish. She whispered so softly that even I couldn’t hear. I had no right to.

Then she rocked back, shell shocked and drained.

“That’s not true,” Felicity said, instantly.

Kimberly’s face scrunched up. She was trying desperately not to cry. “It is.”

“It’s not!” Felicity snapped in her painful half-mumble; difficult with those lips, it drew a wince from her. Outrage was a strange emotion on her half-burned face. The half covered by burn scars twisted uncomfortably, pulling at the junction between scarring and healthy skin. “She tells you lies to hurt you. That’s what she does.”

“But it’s true … ” Kimberly whimpered. Her resolve crumpled. She started crying, ugly crying, the kind of crying that one has to either turn away from, or respond to with instant, empathetic comfort.

I had to turn away. Not because I didn’t want to help, but because Kim was already in another’s hands. Raine stepped forward to rub Kim’s back. Tenny crept into the room, tentacles reaching for her friend, though unwilling to get close to Zheng. To our combined surprise, Kimberly clung, child-like, to the front of Felicity’s coat.

Raine and I shared an awkward look. Was this safe? We had no idea who Felicity really was, or if it was emotionally safe to allow Kimberly to reach out to her like this. Felicity herself at least seemed aware of the difficulty; she pulled one of those intensely awkward un-smiles, made even more awkward by the fact she couldn’t use her whole mouth. Zheng snorted and turned to look back into the upstairs hallway. Lozzie had vanished somewhere, probably to help Praem with Evee.

I cleared my throat. “This situation is rapidly spiralling out of control, and I would rather that descent be halted right now. Felicity, do you believe our deal with Aym is still going ahead?”

Felicity nodded at me, deadly serious. “I believe she’ll honour it. Be careful though. I don’t know why she did this.”

“Because she is an awful little shit,” Raine said with a snort.

“I don’t need to be told that twice,” I said. “What should we do about … ” I nodded down at Kimberly, who was still sobbing softly, not quite all down Felicity’s shoulder, but not far off.

“We should all stay in one place, right?” Raine asked.

Felicity nodded. “Nobody should be alone. Until I leave, at least. Groups of three, maybe?”

I sighed and tried not to look as exasperated as I felt. “You told us that Aym only shows herself to people by themselves. So what was that just now?”

Felicity blinked at me several times with her good eye, looking increasingly uncomfortable, her sudden unexplained confidence finally draining away to nothing as the crisis passed. “She’s never done this before.”

Zheng grunted. “The mewling, failed wizard is too tempting for her appetite.”

Felicity stared at Zheng, then at Kimberly. “Failed wizard?”

I cleared my throat. “Thank you, Zheng. Felicity, I think it’s best if you drop that subject.”

“Kim,” Raine was saying, rubbing Kimberly’s back. “Hey, Kim, come on, I’ll take you downstairs. Fliss has to head out.”

“N-no,” Kimberly murmured. “No.”

A high-pitched, throaty gurgle came from down by my left side, familiar but surprising; Sevens had somehow slunk around the edge of the room without anybody noticing. She poked her face around my hip, black-and-red eyes staring at Felicity, shoulders wrapped in yellow cloak which pooled around her feet. “Guuuurrr-uuuuk,” she went. “I’ll stay up here with these two. In here. Rule of three. ‘Kay?”

Raine and I shared another look. Raine pulled a slightly pained grin. I shrugged and said, “It’s better than having Evelyn and Felicity in the same room for any length of time.”

Felicity was frowning at Sevens with the tiniest touch of a look I’d seen on Evee so many times before — cold, calculating mage-thoughts of judgement and appraisal.

Gaaaaao,” went Sevens. “You don’t know what I am, and it’s none of your business. I’m just here to watch.”

Raine clicked her fingers, suddenly serious and calm again. “Hey, Fliss.”


“Hurt Kim and I’ll kill you.” Then she smirked. “We cool?”

Buuuurrt!” went Tenny, mildly alarmed.

Felicity stared back. She blew out a long slow breath, shaking only a little bit. “I’m not going to hurt anybody. She just needs … an ear. That’s all.”

“Good,” said Raine. “Sevens, call us if anything changes. Okay?”

I rolled my eyes, but secretly I thanked Raine for making absolutely certain. “Right, everybody else to the kitchen,” I said. “We’ll let you know when this is all over.”

Felicity looked straight at me, and said, “Good luck. For Evelyn, too.”

I answered with a thin smile. There was little more to say.


Twenty minutes later Evee and I waited alone together in the magical workshop, the old drawing room, the location of our much-changed gateway to Outside, the seat of power for Evelyn Saye the mage, the secret at the heart of the house, and the location I kept habitually leaving my squid-skull mask.

Evee was already in an absolutely foul mood. She had stomped all the way downstairs, barely accepting Praem’s help and certainly not anybody else’s, looking always on the verge of hitting somebody with her walking stick. I hadn’t been able to calm her myself — Raine had insisted that I take the time to shed my wet clothes and change into something dry, which I had done, accompanied by herself and Zheng, leaving Evee to get more and more angry.

Now Evelyn sat in one of the chairs pulled away from the large workshop table, half-hunched and glowering at nothing, scrimshawed thigh-bone placed across her lap, both hands planted on the handle of her walking stick, balanced in front of her.

“Try not to think about it,” I murmured out loud.

“Huh,” Evee grunted.

I didn’t have to define what ‘it’ was. The mere presence of Felicity inside the house gave Evee an expression as if she could taste vomit on her tongue.

Perhaps this was Aym’s strategy all along, to unbalance Evelyn before the conversation even began. Perhaps all that stuff with Kimberly was just a red herring.

We weren’t taking any chances on either front. Kimberly was upstairs in her bedroom with Felicity and Sevens, safe as could be. Everybody else was waiting in the old disused sitting room, so as to satisfy Aym’s condition of no eavesdropping — though I suspected that at least one person was going to try to sneak into the kitchen and press their ear to the workshop door. My private, unspoken bet was on Zheng.

I stood a couple of paces away from Evee, at her flank, occupying the position usually taken by Praem, or the position Raine sometimes occupied in relation to myself. Bodyguard, attendant, and naked blade. Odd to think of myself that way, but this was about Evee, not me. I kept my tentacles spread wide, all except one that was wrapped around Evee’s right arm, down to her wrist, to anchor her in case the worst should happen. I cradled my squid-skull mask with my own right arm. My left sleeve was pulled back to expose the blocky black lines of the Fractal against my sunless skin.

All my weapons on full display. I even did my best to stand up straight and look intimidating. I doubted Aym cared about the can of pepper spray in the front pocket of my hoodie, but it never hurt to be prepared.

We were not truly, technically alone, not by the strictest definition. Two spider-servitors hung in their usual spot in the corner, frozen like statues of black chitin. Marmite was crouched below them, his bony, segmented tentacles drawn in close. He could feel something was approaching, or perhaps he sensed our tension. A little further away from the spider-corner, a piece of blue tarpaulin pinned to the wall hid the bucket of possessed clay, which still contained the undefinable demon that Felicity herself had extracted from Evee, months ago now.

But this would have to do. Aym would have to accept this. We weren’t doing it anywhere else.

“Aym?” I said out loud, into the empty room, after we’d been waiting for perhaps twenty seconds. “We’re ready. Are you here?”

Storm rain drummed on the roof and windows. The house seemed to press close with protective warmth, as if something was trying to break through from the storm above.

Evelyn sighed and looked very unimpressed. I heard her teeth creak as she clenched her jaw.

“Feels like a seance,” I said. “Are the spirits listening, wooooo, is anybody there … ” I trailed off and cleared my throat. “We’re here, Aym, as we agreed. If you keep messing us around, I shall … get quite angry.”

“She’s probably waiting for us to turn the lights off,” Evelyn said. “She doesn’t like being seen.”

Heeeeeeeheeeeeee,” came a hissing, grinding fake laugh, like the sound of liquid sulphur boiling away from broken glass, apparently from behind the sofa. “Some of us like to do it in the dark, that’s true,” said Aym. “I’m soooo shy!”

Both spider-servitors reacted like they’d just caught wind of an arachnid-hunting jungle wasp; two banks of crystalline eyes swivelled to stare directly at the gap between the sofa and the wall; a dozen spike-tipped stingers whirled up into a defensive formation, quivering and pointing; a split-second later, both spiders shot across the ceiling, scuttling at high speed. One of them slammed into the far wall, just above the gateway, poised as if to pounce. The other dropped onto the table and assumed a similar pose, just ahead of Evee, pointed back toward the source of the demonic voice.

I flinched hard, my tentacles twitching — not at Aym, but at the spiders’ reaction. At least they knew what their job was, senile or not: protect the gate, protect Evee.

My flinch made Evee flinch. I sighed and huffed. “The spiders reacted, that’s all,” I said. “Marmite … less so.”

Marmite didn’t seem bothered by Aym at all, which was quite strange. Instead of retreating, he peered around the side of the sofa with his swivelling cone-eyes.

Evee slipped her modified 3D glasses on over her face briefly, saw the spiders, and grunted in approval. Then she took them off again and nodded to me. “Lights, Heather, please.”

“Are you sure? Upstairs, she … ”

“Do it.”

“Do iiiiiit,” Aym hissed, then giggled.

I sighed, reached over toward the light switch with one tentacle, and plunged us into the deep gloom of the storm beyond the walls.

Thick as tar and dark as oil, these shadows were so much more dense than the ones upstairs, with the curtains pulled tight over the windows. Suddenly I felt my lungs expand, my senses awaken, the pressure lessen on my feet as two tentacles took some of my body’s weight.

Before our eyes could adjust to the gloom, something terrible crawled out and over the back of the sofa.

Shadowy frills, dark scythes of blade or bone, light-drinking scales, eyes burning like black holes in a starlit void. Too many limbs, the suggestion of more than one tongue in a twelve-inch mouth, and a light, airy little puff of cushions as she landed on the sofa, straightened up, and crossed what couldn’t possibly have been a pair of legs.

Petite, compact, frilled, delicate — all shadow and indistinct. A grey mass of suggestion that the eyes filled out and the brain turned to monstrous ghost. Anything could have been sitting there in the dark.

“Hiiiiiiii,” purred Aym. The sound sent a shiver of physical revulsion up my spine. “Evee-Eve. Been a while, crocodile!”

Evelyn calmly reached over to the edge of the table, where her phone was waiting, and pressed the start button on the timer.

“Your twenty minutes has started,” she grunted, staring back at Aym. “Talk.”

Evee was doing so well — steel in her voice and steel in her spine — but through her jumper and her t-shirt beneath I could feel the slam of her pulse. I could smell the cold sweat on her back. I could hear her muscles creaking. I tightened my tentacle-grip on her arm, reminding her that she was not alone before this shade from her past. I bit my own tongue; however angry I was about Aym’s assault on Kimberly, to talk over her now would jeopardise the deal.

Aym — whatever she was — said nothing.

Ten seconds, fifteen seconds, twenty seconds. I tried to keep my nerve and not glance at the timer counting down on the screen of Evelyn’s phone, but the pressure was too much. Thirty seconds had passed and we were just sitting in the dark. Was this part of Aym’s strategy too?

Then the shadow on the sofa rolled her head from side to side, with a sinuous motion more snake than human.

“Oh God,” Aym moaned. “I don’t believe it. You’re so boring now! The deal is off.”

“ … what?” Evelyn said, dark and angry.

“Yes, Aym, I’m sorry, what?” I added, just to say something to release this awful tension.

Aym laughed, a sound like a thing from the darkest pit of hell trying to imitate a girl. “I’m not interested in Evee anymore. My butter roll has turned to boiled oats. She’s boring now. The deal is off. You may as well turn off your silly timer. What are you timing? How long it takes for you to bore me to death?”

Evelyn replied, slowly and carefully, with very precise wording. I understood instantly what she was trying to do. Aym was a demon, after all, wasn’t she? “The deal was for twenty minutes of private conversation in return for completing Felicity’s understanding of the necessary magic. You are receiving your twenty minutes right now. This is it.”

“Ha!” Aym honked like a goose. “We didn’t shake on it. Or sign a contract in blood. You want to go small-print with me?” A clap in the dark, like two hands slapping together. “A lady’s agreement was all we had, and you are not what I was promised.”

Evelyn was speechless, staring at the shadow.

“The agreement was with me,” I reminded her.

“Wait,” Evelyn grunted. “What do you mean, boring?”

Aym flopped backward onto the sofa, exactly like a petulant little aristocrat girl. She let out a huge, fussy sigh. “Look at you, Evee! You’ve actually grown up, you’re not fun anymore. You’ve got purpose, you know what you want, and you’re honest about how much you love what you love. Where’s the fun in any of that?” She sat up again, like a roiling darkness boiling upward on the sofa. A chin went into a pair of shadowy hands, shifting and adjusting in the dark. The pose was rather undercut by Marmite peering over the armrest. Aym ignored him. “You’ve got a little lingering guilt about mummy dearest, and jealousy over Raine, and you’re horrified about that time you tried to kill yourself—”

I felt Evee go stiff. I squeezed her shoulder and arm, hard. Aym just kept on talking.

“—but those are all scabs. If I pick them, what’s beneath? Healthy flesh! What am I going to do, wind you up about your missing leg? What would be the point? You really have come so far.” Aym sighed, as if suddenly nostalgic. A grin of dark-on-dark spread inch by creeping inch. “Your mother had no idea what she’d spawned when she gave birth to you. You’re worth ten of her, my sweet chocolate roll.”

Evelyn swallowed and raised her chin. “Talking about my mother is hardly a poorly-defended angle of attack. You’ll have to do better.”

“Always with the drama!” Aym hissed. “Always with the touchy-touchy nerves. Or … maybe you’re worried because you’re a mummy now too? Mummy Evee with her speed-grown adult daughter. How does it feel to bring a demon into the world?” Aym hissed and giggled, a wet and rusty sound. “Good, right? A surrogate you can command and control, but you never know what she’s really thinking about—”

“I love my daughter,” Evee replied, absolutely stone-cold. “I suspect she is immune to your brand of torture, but if you try, I will do everything I can to murder your body and send you back wherever you came from, deal or not.”

“Uuurrghhh,” went Aym. She made a finger-down-throat motion in the dark, then mimed being sick. Strings of black, hissing drool pooled on the floor in front of the sofa. Marmite backed away from that. “Mages. Disgusting. Sick.” Aym put up several limbs in surrender. “Fine, I’ll leave your doll-child out of this.”

I spoke up. “Praem scared you before and that was only over the phone. She could catch you in person. I don’t think you should insult her.”

Aym looked at me — or at least I think she did, it was hard to figure out what was really going on in that mass of half-hidden shadow — and blew a raspberry at me.


I blinked in surprise. “Well.”

Evelyn sighed. “I was not expecting you to act so childish. This is still your twenty minutes, Aym. You are sticking to this deal, or Heather will hurt you.”

Aym giggled again. “You can threaten me all you want, Evee my little sweet butter roll. My rumbly-pumbly. My sleepy girl.” Aym suddenly straightened up, going still in the darkness. “But I want to settle accounts between us.”

Evelyn went still too. Her tension was contagious; I found myself holding my breath.

“What trick are you trying to pull now?” Evelyn asked.

“Haaaaaaaaa, Evee-Eve. We both know you can never forgive Felicity for what she did. Being a willing, eager, wet little tool for Loretta Saye, for mummy dearest. Did you know they fucked several times? Ugly, ugly stuff. Felicity cried afterwards, every time, but she kept going back. Loretta wasn’t even into it, she just needed the power trip and the—”

“My mother was a vile woman, yes,” Evelyn said between clenched teeth. “We all know that. Get to the point.”

Aym grinned, a splash of oil on black paint. Then the grin flickered off again. “Felicity was deep in the drink at the time, did you know that?”

“Yes,” Evelyn hissed. “I know full well she was drunk when she cut my leg off.”

“No, I mean even when she wasn’t doing that.” Aym did not sound amused.

A light bulb went on inside my head. “She’s an alcoholic?” I asked.

“Mmmmmhmmmm,” Aym purred. “Not like she can get any booze up in Tannerbaum House. Last time she tried, the forest floor drank it for her. That wasn’t a pretty sight. She lay on the ground screaming and weeping for an hour, in a puddle of vodka soaking into the mud. Can’t get anything up there. No smack, either.”

A shiver went down my spine — a response to the change in Evelyn’s tension. She was frowning into the dark.

“Heroin?” Evee asked.

A dark nod from Aym, a wisp of shadow and claw waving in the gloom.

“Oh,” I murmured. “Oh, goodness.”

“But she’s clean now?” Evee asked.

Another two nods.

“Is that … ” I ventured, then cleared my throat. Was it safe to ask this? Was this some kind of conversational trap? “Is that why it’s so hard for Felicity to leave her house? It keeps her safe?”

Aym did not reply, but carried on speaking to Evelyn — a cold little rumble like gravel in a pool of frozen rocks. “You don’t have to forgive her. You won’t, after all. Not in your heart and not to her face. But stop threatening to kill her, please. Stop making it worse.”

Evelyn paused, considering. “This is what you wanted to talk about?”

“No!” Aym burst into a giggle. “I already told you, you’re boring now! So I may as well tidy you away. I put my toys away when I’m done with them. I’m a good girl.”

“And if I promise to do that, then you’ll give her the rest of the spell we need?”

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm-maybe,” purred Aym. “Half of it.”

Evelyn sighed, sharp and angry. “You were always like this, you insufferable creature. Stop playing games and name what you want.”

“Dangerous words,” Aym said.

“No blood contracts,” Evee shot back.

Aym snorted in the dark, an awful sound more insect than mammal. To my surprise, I felt Evee smile. There was an understanding between her and Aym, something very old and very dark.

I couldn’t help myself, the curiosity was too much. “Aym, how does this line up with what you are? Why do you care about Evee threatening Felicity? You exist to torment Felicity, as far as I can tell.”

The shadow-shape turned toward me again, shifting on the sofa. Dead cold, she said, “Is that what it looks like to you?”

“We all heard what you did to her on the phone. You abuse her emotionally.”

A twist of gloom, a tendril or a hand. “And you don’t like that?”

“It’s disgusting,” I said.

“I keep her alive,” Aym rasped, voice fading into the dark.

Evelyn tilted her head up at me, giving me the floor, letting me take the lead, but I didn’t know how to continue. Was Aym misleading us, or being serious? Did she care about Felicity in some twisted, co-dependent way? Did she tell lies to hurt people, to torment the weak and damaged? Or was she the only thing standing between a friendless, depressed, isolated mage and a slow, pitiful, unmourned death by drug addiction and alcoholism?

“Why did you assault Kimberly?” I asked. “That was rude of you. Oh, what am I saying, rude? It was criminal. We should be chasing you out of here. Why did you do it?”

Aym didn’t answer, but I felt the rolling of too many eyes, somewhere over there in the dark. Wrong track. She wasn’t going to answer that.

I took a deep breath and did something I didn’t want to do, especially after she had attacked Kimberly.

“Aym,” I said, forcing myself through the words. “When you came here last time, you helped us. You went into that house, the cult’s safe house. You put yourself in danger. Thank you.”

I had half-hoped that would send Aym into an embarrassed paralysis of refusal; perhaps thanking such an elementally nasty entity was the weak point in her psyche, human or not. But I was sorely disappointed. Aym shifted on the sofa and seemed to grow half a dozen extra limbs, all wiggling in excitement and burrowing between the sofa cushions. Marmite backed up another few paces, withdrawing his eyes into his head. On the table, the spider guarding Evee stood up higher, making itself look bigger. Aym had shifted modes, somehow becoming more threatening.

“Evee might be boring now,” she said. “But I am sooooo much more interested in you, Heather.”

My blood went cold.

“No!” Evee snapped. “The deal was for twenty minutes with me, you—”

Aym ignored her. “I’ve been thinking all about you the last couple of days, Heatherrrrrrr.” She drew my name out in wet, bubbly purr. “The last time Flissy-poos came down here it was all too much of a panic for me to get ready. But now I’ve had lots and lots of prep. I’ve been learning all about you.”

“The storm!” I said, breathless with awe. “The storm, it was you, I was right!”

“Heather?” Evee hissed. “What the fuck?”

“No, it’s true,” I said, unable to tear my eyes away from Aym, the roiling grey shadow on the sofa. “She made the storm, it’s … I don’t know. I don’t know what she is.”

Something strange and soft was stirring in my chest, a writhing familiarity, a recognition that I could not put into words. Abyssal instinct screamed caution — but also curiosity, like I’d caught scent of something moving in the deep. Perhaps it was the artificial darkness, the pressing storm, the shapeless presence of Aym, but I felt for a strange and weightless moment like I was floating in the abyss.

“Let’s talk about you, Heather,” bubbled Aym. A tongue flickered forth and licked at her chops, black and dripping. “Let’s talk about you and your Eye.”

“No,” Evee snapped, hard and unyielding. “Never. Heather, don’t listen to her, she’s trying to mess with you.”

“What are you?” I asked, softly, but somehow louder than Evee’s anger. “You’re clearly not a demon, not like Praem or Zheng. Or are you? Are you what happens when demons develop far enough? But you can’t be as old as Zheng, you’d be ancient. What are you?”

Aym’s amusement vanished. She went very still. The shadows stopped moving.

“Aym?” I asked.

“What a boring question,” Aym drawled. “How about no? How about Evee leaves, and we talk about you, Heather? Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

A demon in the dark, formless and mysterious, spinning lies and misdirection … or just an annoying little shit running her mouth and about to get tentacle-slapped by Heather? Or is there a third option? Is Aym telling the truth, that she somehow keeps Felicity alive and well? Heather sure does want to know what she is, maybe just to know what they’re dealing with, but that way lies only darker confusion.

If you want to support Katalepsis and also read a couple of chapters ahead of the public ones, please consider:

Subscribing to the Patreon!

All Patrons get access to two chapters ahead! No matter what level you subscribe at! That’s almost 20k words. The more support I get through Patreon, the more time I can dedicate to writing, and the less chance of having to slow down the story. The generous and kind support of Patrons and readers is what makes all this possible in the first place, I would literally not be able to do this without you, so thank you all so very much! You can also:

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, more Aym. Too much Aym. Infinite Aym. But what kind? Not that kind that Heather likes. This is going to be deliciously irritating.

And, next week, something else lurches up from the grave.

22 thoughts on “loyal to the nightmare of my choice – 18.5

  1. A thing that thrives on not being seen probably should not be messing with someone who learned from the Eye. What does a microbe see on the microscope slide?

    • It does seem like a very risky activity for Aym; she’s taunting an elemental observer, or at least a small one. If Heather wanted she could peel back all this nonsense in an instant. Maybe she will!

  2. Poor Kim .
    Hahahaha, Heather threatening Felicity to greet Tenny was great.
    Aym is probably telling the truth about keeping Felicity alive. A twisted co dependency where Aym get to be well Aym. ( Unfortunately I don’t know how to explain what Felicity gets even though it is on the tip of my thoughts just unable to form into words. Or probably true understanding. If it could that would probably help a lot of my own stories. Damn.) Anyways I have a feeling their co dependency is coming to an end and both are aware of it. Aym is trying to find another partner.
    Hahaha, twisted thought, Aym joining Heather’s poly. Hahahaha! Aym wouldn’t be the first member of Heather’s Poly that she had originally feared or mistrusted. Hahaha!
    Thank you for the chapter.

    • Posted the same comment on the other site to see if anyone could expand on my train of thought since I hit a ….wall….

      • On Royal Roads another commenter by the name of Dorgamund mentions that Aym may be a mage like Ooran Juh And Heather.
        Aym being a mage like Heather and Ooran Juh is interesting and makes sense. There is a lot in story facts that support it as well. Ooran Juh was able to affect his surroundings and Aym being able to the same makes it it intriguing to see if Heather will be able to do the same since she is possibly going down a similar road.

      • A fascinating theory! You might be right. Perhaps Aym has been through a similar process of transformation, and her current … whatever-she-is, is the result! Perhaps Heather will ask her. Perhaps she’ll even get an answer.

    • Poor Kim indeed! She doesn’t deserve all this nonsense.

      Aym probably is telling the truth there, even if it’s hard to figure out exactly what she means by it. She keeps Felicity alive, but at some horrible emotional cost. She does seem to care, sort of? Would she want another partner, or is Felicity specifically a special person to her?

      And good luck with your own stories! Keep writing!

      Aym joining Heather’s polycule … well, it wouldn’t be through Heather herself, that seems pretty certain. We’ll have to see!

      And you are very very welcome indeed, thank you for the delightful comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading!

  3. Whatever was said to Kim is definitely not true, Aym’s just a jerk.

    At least now everyone is talking, what more secrets it can hold will be for the future, thanks for the chapter woooo!!

    Second part.

    I got a look at it this morning, it reflected no shadow. It has stayed quiet since it was captured, but has quickly adjusted to its confinement. I think.

    It is a cat, but wrong, and not a cat at all. With no shape, but ears beneath a face that I can’t understand, and claws sharp enough to cut- It glared at me before blinking back out of existence.

    My sleep is troubled, and my only remaining friend vomited when she came to see it. Said to never speak to her again…

    I’m alone now. But it’s there, staring at me. I can see it’s form in my dreams, I woke up with light scratches on my arm.

    I know it exists where it shouldn’t be. Now I need to do tests to untangle all the secrets, but firs i ned t not fal aslee- (the rest is torn away)

    Unnamed journal picked up in the library of Carcosa.

    • Whatever she said, it must have cut Kimberly pretty deep. She needs help and reassurance, and to talk about her fears. Maybe with somebody other than Felicity, too.

      And you’re very welcome indeed! Glad you enjoying reading the chapter!

      Oooooh more fanfiction! What a delight, let’s see …

      Mystery not-cat! Oh I love it. I want to meet this cat in my dreams.

  4. I always feel like Aym is Felicity’s self inflicted punishment for Eve. A curse to make sure that her mistakes with Eve’s Mommy Dearest never happen again. A spirt of truth or knowledge with insight into people, and to keep Flis safely sober and out of trouble. A bit of a malignant intelegence, dedicated to making people face their fears. She reminds me of sevens and her family — a group of archetypes whose existence and power seem defined by how well they embody their role, and how well doing an act fits the role they wear.

    • That’s a very interesting theory! Perhaps there’s some very strong emotional bond between Felicity and Aym – but not a positive one. Dependence, self-punishment, guilt? But harnessed to keep Felicity sober and alive and from doing anything like that ever again, Maybe!

  5. Maybe I am wrong, but Aym strikes me as being a being like Sevens. Sevens and her siblings all are archetypes and players of roles with power in support of their idiom

    She is role driven and her role is a malicious oracle, out to punish people for their sins/ push them to confront their fears and I almost feel it likely something Flis inflicted on herself as a means of not repeating her mistakes with Mommy Dearest.

    • She certainly does seem to be playing a role, but it is by nature, or choice? Maybe this is what she is, or maybe she just really enjoys causing terrible emotional pain to repentant mages.

      • Alternately Aym might just figure Heather is a better lever to use against Evelyn and her losing intrest in Evelyn for Heather is just the next angle of attack.

      • “I’m no longer interested in you, mortal, you’re too emotionally healthy.” Once Evee has some time to sit down and think about that she might actually feel pretty good about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s