Mentions of animal death, bones, and the meat industry
Single reference to domestic violence
Grey eternity walled the horizon with banks of towering rot, blanketed the sky with a sea of frozen lead, and choked the earth with a witch’s brew of endless mud. The swamp crawled off in every direction, thick and soupy with wet soil, sluggish with unseen currents, all the colours of concrete, dead leaves, and ash. Trees shaped like skeletal alien hands reached for the ceiling of simmering grey cloud cover, draped with sheets of grey vegetation, their ends trailing in the water below, rotting from the bottom up with slick grey decay. Far to our left the trees fell away before a mud-flat the size of a continent, the skies raked and smeared by the torrential rainfall of a distant storm; on the right the trees reared taller, growing into swamp giants, silent sentinels for the half-glimpsed tower of grey stone, lost in the ragged ends of greasy grey mist.
The air was sharp and pinched in one’s nose: salt and soil, heavy and dark, with undertones of sulphur and organic rot.
“Cor’,” Raine said behind me, flapping her arms to keep herself warm while we waited. “They always told me it’d be grim up north.”
I didn’t look round at her, though Raine’s stunning visage would offer a welcome break from my improvised vigil, tempting me to fall back from self-imposed discipline. But I didn’t have the right. I kept my eyes on the carcass, watching the patch of dark red spreading into the grey mud, tainting this dimension with a crimson blush.
“It’s not the north, Raine,” I sighed. “We’re Outside.”
“Maybe this is their north. You never know. Maybe the Shamblers speak Geordie. Maybe we should offer them some Newcastle Brown to go with the meal.”
Zheng rumbled like a half-awake tiger, and said, “They will come, little wolf. The blood is in the air.”
Zheng was sitting on the rocks a little way ahead of me, so I could see her without turning away from our sacrifice. Cross-legged, straight-backed, eyes heavily lidded as she stared at the meat, she looked like a monk meditating on some lonely Himalayan mountain peak. She’d taken up station between myself and the swamp waters as soon as she’d finished her task with the carcass; I suspected that was an act of silent protection, a bodyguard between myself and the Shamblers, lest something go wrong. Raine had her pistol inside her jacket, as always, but that meant nothing in this place, with these creatures. Zheng’s muscles didn’t mean anything either. If the Shamblers wished me ill they could simply step past her, but I wasn’t about to say that out loud. My protectors and lovers needed to feel useful.
Raine clicked her tongue. “Amazed you can smell it over the swamp. This place reeks. Twil would hate it. Or love it, I’m not sure which.”
“Pongy,” said Lozzie, muffled by the hand clamped over her own nose.
“Not long now, mooncalf,” Zheng purred. “I hear them moving.”
The Shambleswamp felt colder than my previous visits. A nip in the air, enough to chill the skin and leave behind a paradoxical thin sweat, but not enough to mist one’s breath. It was quieter too, no distant hooting from deeper among the trees, as if the locals were sheltering from the brief chilly spell. Not so unlike back home in England, though I doubted the Dimensional Shamblers switched to wearing shorts at the first sign of sun. The only loud noise we’d heard while waiting was something massive shouldering its way through the trees, many miles away to our right, sloshing and wallowing, large enough to briefly shake those redwood-sized giants.
I was wearing both hoodie and coat, hands burrowed deep in my pockets, wrapped in my own tentacles for extra insulation. Upon first arrival we’d realised the temperature was slightly risky for us. We didn’t know how long we’d have to wait, how quickly the Shamblers would respond to our arrival, or the blood-scent in the air. And I was set on waiting. Lozzie had hopped back and returned with more layers for myself and Raine, though Zheng wore only her big shapeless jumper and a pair of jeans. I longed to cuddle up against her internal heat, feel the furnace of her skin on mine.
It couldn’t possibly get that cold here. The mud would freeze, the plants would die — or would they? It wasn’t as if I’d ever seen a single insect out here. This ecosystem was not earthly, it did not run by our rules, even if the Shamblers were interdimensional ambush predators.
As I stood there on the little rocky outcrop — the low and dry island where Natalie and Turmy had passed their Outside ordeal, where I’d discovered the corpse of the man Badger had called ‘Rally’, and where I’d broken Natalie’s parents — I once again tried to accept how little I understood the Outside.
But, the shrine?
I understood that, no matter how much I might deny. I understood why the Shamblers had built it here, on this low, crumbling island.
Zheng and Lozzie and I had spent several hours over the last three days combing the little rock outcrop for animal bones — the remains of the many victims of Edward Lilburne’s slow seduction of the Dimensional Shamblers. He had appealed to their unique habits of predation, and their near-constant state of semi-starvation, by feeding them kidnapped pets.
We took nine trips out and back, nine Slips, all together. This was the tenth, but not for that same purpose.
Cracked canine femurs, the delicate skulls of cats, little toe-knuckles and claws and tiny teeth, we dug them out of cracks and picked them from crevices in the rock, sometimes with kitchen knives or the stick Lozzie brought along, but often with hands, gloved or bare. Most of the remains were probably domestic cats and dogs, though we also turned up quite a few chicken bones, at least one deer skull complete with antlers, and what I think may have been parts of a pig.
To be fair, Lozzie and I did very little of the actual collecting, compared with Zheng. Lozzie didn’t like it and I wasn’t about to force her, it wasn’t her responsibility, though she did try. I put in as much effort as I could, but Zheng was just so much more efficient. We mostly let her handle it.
The morbid haul went into a black bin liner. Not exactly dignified or glamorous, but it was practical. The poor creatures would have all the dignity and respect they deserved, once they were buried in Camelot. After Zheng and Lozzie had transported the bones to the castle-under-construction, Lozzie informed me that the Knights were happy to accommodate. They already had one body to bury, why not more?
We also sent them the various collars we found. Dog collars, cat collars, some with tags still attached. We didn’t toss those into a bin liner: we took them home first, to wash them. I did that myself, in the kitchen sink, with a pair of rubber gloves and an old toothbrush, and I took my time. I felt a responsibility. I had no idea what the Knights would do with them — mount them, place them in a reliquary, nail them to the graves? But I couldn’t just leave them there.
All of that was very time consuming, but we had little else to do over those three days, other than attend university like the supposed normal people we were. The mages, as I’d come to think of them collectively — Evelyn, Felicity, and Kim — were still working on the spell to crack open Edward Lilburne’s magical shell.
They were finished now and it was almost time to make our move. Felicity had spent enough nights sleeping in her car with her shotgun clutched to her chest. Kimberly had spent enough evenings helping to collate and catalogue and refine. Sevens had spent enough days shadowing Aym. Evee was visibly exhausted.
But every time we’d come to the island to retrieve more bones, the shrine had grown.
On our first visit I thought it was a fluke, a strange coincidence, like a crop circle made by hedgehogs and mistaken for extra-human meaning: in the very middle of the rocky outcrop, on the high, flat area where the Shambler had left Rally’s corpse, three large stones had appeared. Arranged in a triangle pattern, each stone close enough to spherical, caked with a grey crust of dried mud about an inch thick, the stones looked like they’d been dredged from the bottom of the swamp. They probably had. On closer inspection the mud on each stone showed smeared impressions of clawed, three-fingered paws.
I had been unable to keep the alarm off my face. Zheng had crouched and touched my flank. “It is recognition, shaman,”
“Yes, they clearly placed them here on purpose. I can see that. But recognition of what? The dead body that was here? Are they … showing respect?”
Zheng had blinked, slow and vaguely amused. “You, shaman. This is your place now. This patch of ground.”
I had sighed and almost managed to laugh it off. “A holy mud island. Wonderful. I’ll be sure to thank them.”
It was hard to summon further laughter when the trio of stones turned into a little pyramid. The next time we returned we found that the Shamblers had piled up rocks about four feet high, then slathered on great globs of mud until the shape was almost regular, roughly four-sided. When we visited again the following day the mud had dried to a hard grey crust. The Shamblers must have gone at it with their claws, or perhaps basic tools: each pyramid face was made smooth, with neat angles, perfect.
“Who do you think they learned this from?” I asked, staring at the thing in muted awe, then looking out at the swamp and the trees, the endless grey. We hadn’t seen a single Shambler in the flesh, not even hiding eyes-deep out in the mud. They only added to the shrine while we were absent. “Making pyramids, that’s … ”
“Nobody!” Lozzie chirped. She was apparently delighted by all this, capering around the pyramid on tiptoes, flapping her poncho, ooh-ing and ahh-ing and calling out to any listening Shamblers: “Well done! Well done!”
“Nobody?” I echoed. “Pyramids are a human thing, aren’t they?”
Lozzie giggled at that, then made a big pfffffft sound at me. “Pyramids are pyramids! Everyone can make pyramids! They probably made it up themselves.”
Next came the offerings.
First was pieces of wood, lined up carefully at the foot of the pyramid — grey wood, or at least wood-analogue, presumably cut from those things out in the swamp which pretended to be trees. Carved into S-shapes or C-shapes or even experimental spirals and helices, then polished smooth until they shone in the weak sunless grey light. The smallest were no bigger than my palm. The largest one was three feet across.
“Art.” I was breathless, my fingers shaking as I picked up one of the little twists of wood. “They’re giving us art. How do they make this? These are so delicate. Look at this, Lozzie, look. I assumed they wouldn’t have the tools.”
Zheng grunted. “Art is universal, shaman.”
“I suppose so.”
“Pretty!” Lozzie chirped.
Bones appeared next. Not earthly bones, not bits of dog or cat which our Shambler had spirited away into the swamp at some earlier point in time, now returned to our stewardship, but Outsider bones. Grey and black, too heavy for terrestrial animals, all the wrong shapes and sizes. Long bones like femurs, smaller ones like knuckles, and one massive rib that couldn’t possibly have come from a Shambler, eight feet across and so heavy that only Zheng could lift it. The rib was left facing a different angle of the pyramid. When I inspected it, I realised it had little geometrical carvings in the surface, repeating patterns like fancy carpet. They didn’t hurt my eyes; they weren’t magical. Just art.
Skulls joined the bones. Three skulls, Shambler skulls. There was no mistaking the heavy jaw, the rearward bulge of the cranium, or the massive front-facing eye sockets. They sat separate from the other offerings, on a ridge of rock, facing the pyramid.
“Okay,” I said when we spotted them. “Okay. Those are … those are skulls. Nobody, um, nobody touch them, please? We don’t want to offend the Shamblers by messing with the positioning of their ancestors or something.”
“They are giving them to you, shaman.”
“Do not touch those, Zheng. Do not. Please. We have no idea what they’re doing! They could be telling us off for interfering!”
Wooden sculptures, bone trophies, their own venerated dead. We had no idea what any of this meant and I felt as if we were on very thin ice, doing something risky beyond my own understanding — and not because we might get hurt. The Shamblers could not really hurt me, after all.
I was worried for them. They were inventing religion, or perhaps re-orienting their pre-existing beliefs. Around me. It made me feel sick and guilty. I had done this, I had to correct it, quickly.
Finally came the hand-prints and the random pieces of bric-a-brac.
The last time we had returned to the Shambleswamp, the pyramid itself was no longer a smooth-sided monument, but riddled with the three-clawed impressions of dozens of Shambler paws, each one pressed into the dry mud with the help a little swamp water to soften the surface. Each hand print stood alone, not overlapping with others. A record of attendance, or witness, or worship? I wished I knew. I had to know.
The stuff they left around the pyramid that final time was far less regular: half a skull, not Shambler at all but something far more alien, sleek and sharp and elongated, a shape which made me shiver and made Zheng instinctively growl; a long stick of wood, much darker than the grey trees populating the swamp; a piece of grey brick, unmistakably artificial, with some scraps of grey mortar still clinging to the top edge; a rust-covered tool about the length of my arm, so warped with age and water that none of us could figure out what it was; a chipped ceramic mug, white, filthy, with no maker’s mark; a book, absolutely ruined by exposure to the swamp, the pages so fragile that we dare not open it, the leatherbound cover shrivelled like skin on a dead skull, but the whole thing had been so carefully kept away from the water that it was still intact; and finally, most bizarrely, a wheel, complete with a narrow ring of decaying rubber and a rust-caked metal core. It looked like it belonged on a classic car which had spent the last fifty years sitting at the bottom of the North Sea.
“That settles one question,” I said with a sigh, hands shoved deep in my pockets to stop my fingers from shaking. “They’ve definitely had contact with Earth, before Edward.”
“Mages cannot leave well enough alone,” said Zheng.
“True. Very true, I suppose. Zheng, do you recall when we came here with Natalie’s parents — one of the Shamblers, one of the big pair who stayed in the rear, he was holding a length of stainless steel pipe?”
I shrugged. “Or she. Maybe their sexual dimorphism is the other way around. But that’s not the point.”
“Do you think they’re learning to make and use tools, or … ” I trailed off and sighed. “Why do all this?”
“Meat, shaman. We gave them meat.”
I winced at that. All my fault. Unintended consequences and spiralling knock-on effects of my stupid, rash, foolish actions. “That may have been a terrible mistake,” I said slowly. “I sincerely hope we haven’t accidentally started a cargo cult. They don’t deserve to get so confused. I don’t want them to think I’m a god, coming out of the sky and blessing them with meat. It’s wrong. It’s really, really wrong, Zheng. I have to … change their minds. Show them I’m just— we’re just— oh, I don’t know.”
Zheng listened in silence, staring out into the swamp. Lozzie chewed her lip, worried by my harsh tone of voice.
“You do not exploit them, shaman. You do not use them.”
“Yeah!” Lozzie chirped. “It’s not like you’re taking stuff from them.”
I stared out into the swamp too, at the sucking, cloying, soupy mud. This was not a place for us, we were not evolved for it, we had no rights here. “They won’t even show themselves. Won’t approach us. Are they scared, respectful, confused? What about the one I befriended? She must know I won’t hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt her. I won’t.”
Zheng grunted a soft laugh. “They have learned to hate and fear mages. They have learned well.”
When it was just the stones and the mud, just the pyramid, I could tell myself it was a monument to the dead man they hadn’t understood, to Rally. Or perhaps an acknowledgement of Natalie’s bravery and Turmy’s protective powers. Even when the offerings had started to appear I had held out hope that one of the Shamblers would see me on the island, stumbling around and scrabbling for bits of bone between the cracks, cleaning my fingers with wet wipes, protected and shepherded by Zheng, and conclude this weird little swaddled ape was not a god, but just another creature like them. But the worshippers themselves never appeared, the offerings grew in size and complexity, and beyond the offerings themselves I could feel an attention on me, on all of us, especially when we examined the last wave of offerings — the hand prints, the skulls, the rare trophies.
That tower of grey blocks far off to the right was watching us. I spent a long time on that final trip just staring at it over the tops of the tall trees, past the thickening mist, outlined against the roiling grey sky.
I felt an obligation to reply.
At first I’d asked Lozzie if she could communicate for me. She knew Outside far better than I ever would. But when I’d broached the idea she had bitten her lip and swayed from side to side, hands tucked away beneath her pastel poncho.
“Mmmmmmmm this isn’t really my sort of place?” she had said. “Too solid, no dreams. No dreamers, either! I’d have to dream it. Talking to them like this? Noooo way. Plus, this is all about you, Heathy, isn’t it?”
Lozzie had a good point. She was still willing to help, though. After a little more negotiation, we had settled on the cow carcass.
That was what lay sinking into the pudding-thick swamp mud, a little ways out from the island: the skinned and prepared carcass of a cow, raw and bloody, leaking red into the grey. Lozzie had sourced it for us — stolen it, to be more accurate and honest — fresh from some unthinkable production line. She had reappeared on the island looking a little white and queasy, one hand on the massive hunk of raw meat. I didn’t blame her. It was one thing to steal a side of beef from a Sharrowford butcher’s shop, another entirely to Slip into a slaughterhouse.
“I-I’m fine!” she’d squeaked. “You know! It’s just kind of nasty and bloody and stuff!”
The way she laughed, high-pitched and itching, reminded me too much of how she’d laughed down in the bowels of the cult’s castle, ragged with captivity. I would never ask her to do this again. Raine gave her a hug — it was a good thing she’d come along, on this special trip before we turned our attention elsewhere. Lozzie had buried her face in Raine’s shoulder.
Zheng had picked up the dead cow and hurled it out into the mud for us, a long, low throw to minimize splash-back.
Then we waited for the Shamblers.
Zheng might have heard them moving, but the rest of us couldn’t. Behind me, Raine rummaged in her leather jacket and pulled out her compass again, turning on the spot with little scuffs of her boots against the rocks.
“Weird, weird, weird,” she murmured. “Just spins.”
“I told youuuu!” Lozzie crooned. “Nope-nope-nope! Not gonna work!”
Raine laughed and said, “Any luck we’re never gonna have to navigate through this place anyway. You’d need a hovercraft on that mud. Think Evee can source us a hovercraft? How much do you reckon one goes for, hey?”
“Million pounds!” Lozzie chirped. “I have no idea!”
Zheng said, “If the watcher in the tower wishes to talk, it can come to us.”
Raine clicked her tongue. “Can, sure. Rather it didn’t, though. Don’t meet your idols and all that. You know who’s up there, Loz?”
I felt Lozzie shake her head. “Naaah.”
Raine let out a big sigh, half performance, half trying to relax. She had requested to come along for this final trip, as moral support for me, but I should have refused. Outside was taxing on the soul and mind of any human being, and Raine was as human as could be. It was much less pressure than Carcosa, but worse than Camelot. Raine was holding up well, doing her best not to show it, but I didn’t want her to have to stay here any longer than necessary. If the Shamblers didn’t come soon, I didn’t know what I would do. Send her back with Lozzie? She’d never agree.
I stared at the bloody meat of the dead cow, out in the mud, and said, “I’m thinking of going vegetarian.”
Raine had been in the middle of telling Lozzie a joke, but she stopped dead. Zheng looked up, eyes neutral, heavy-lidded, curious. Lozzie peered around my other side, but I just kept staring at the dead cow, the raw meat, the reply.
“For real?” Raine asked, utterly devoid of prior judgement or doubt. I could have turned and kissed her, if I wasn’t so focused.
“That cow didn’t consent to come Outside,” I went on. “Look at it. We didn’t kill it ourselves. We didn’t have to do the deed. We just … well, I suppose we didn’t buy it. But we should have done it ourselves. I should have … oh, I don’t know.” I sighed. “Sent Zheng to hunt a cow for us? Slit the throat myself? I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Hey, you wanna go veggie,” Raine said, “I’ll go with you. Or at least try my best.”
“I don’t know,” I repeated. “I wouldn’t ask you to do that. I just … I wish we’d killed it ourselves. There’s more respect in that.”
“Mm,” Zheng agreed with a dark purr. “Hunting is sacred, shaman. Your gut knows.”
I finally took a deep breath and smiled at Zheng, then turned to reassure Raine with the same smile, but the pyramid stood right behind her, framing her black leather jacket with grey mud and mottled bone, flanked by that trio of silent skulls. Lozzie bumped her head against my arm, a bit like a cat.
“We don’t have to stay,” Raine said when my face faltered. “I’m sure they’ll get the point.”
I shook my head and wiggled one hand out of my coat pocket, holding the apple I’d brought from the kitchen. “I want them to see me,” I said. “They have to see me. They have to see me eating, like them. I need them to know I’m just flesh. I’m not a god, and I’m not going to pretend to be one. I have to correct this mistake.”
Zheng turned back to the swamp. “This is why you are no mage, shaman.”
Raine nodded in total acceptance, not merely indulging or humouring me. She put her compass away, the needle still spinning wildly, and stepped up so she was by my side. “I should have brought my shades, a pint of hair gel, and maybe an electric guitar.”
I blinked at her, utterly confused. “I’m sorry?”
Lozzie snorted. Raine grinned and explained. “I figure, hey, maybe if I introduce them to how cool I am, they’ll stop worshipping you and switch to me instead. Convert the lot of them. Problem solved.”
I shook my head, not even really laughing. “Raine, you can’t play guitar. Can you?”
“Dimensional Shamblers won’t know the difference.” Raine stuck her thumbs into her belt loops, raised her chin, and shot me a wink. I blushed a little, rolling my eyes, but it was exactly what I needed.
Zheng turned out to be right. The first Shamblers trickled in a few minutes later.
Many of the leathery-skinned, angler-fish-faced creatures appeared as if from nowhere, almost perfectly camouflaged against the grey world of mud and hanging vegetation and reaching trees. It was impossible to tell if they’d crept up through the swamp or just materialised already waist-deep in the waters. Others glided in from behind the tangles of trees, with only their huge black eyes showing above the surface, like crocodiles sneaking up on prey. A few of them openly waded through the swamp waters, heavy limbs somehow making quick work of the thick and sucking mud. All of them were silent as ghosts.
They came to the carcass in ones or twos, and a few trios as well, to rip off nice big chunks of meat, a helping of raw steak for each Shambler. Once acquired, they retreated a little way to join a rough circle of slow eaters, slicing meat and cracking bones with their teeth. I noted that they ate with surprisingly small bites. Family groups crouched or squatted together, but many just stood alone, or with companions the same age. The smaller ones — younger, I assumed — took comparatively smaller portions, but I noticed that the largest and most scarred, the battle-worn and aged Shamblers, did not take more than any other adult.
I couldn’t figure out a pecking order, but there was a social convention. They were exceptionally careful not to get in each others’ way, not to block another’s path, or push ahead at the same time. Sometimes two Shamblers would pause equidistant from the bleeding beef, if it seemed like their paths might intersect. Then they would stay locked in each others stare for long moments. Often one would eventually move again, and the other would wait, or take a different route.
Twice we witnessed this stand-off result in what looked like acceptance instead of avoidance — two Shamblers paused, waited in silence, then moved ahead together, close enough to touch.
“You think they’re making friends?” Raine whispered to me, from the corner of her mouth.
“I hope so,” I murmured back.
Only one time did we see the opposite unfold.
Two Shamblers who were among the last to approach the corpse almost came to blows. One of them was huge, a swamp gorilla giant of grey muscle and little spines, covered in raking scars. I vaguely remembered him as the one I’d seen holding the length of stainless steel pipe — but the weapon was nowhere to be seen. Maybe I was mistaken. As he went for the dead cow, another Shambler approached as well, not quite as large, and missing most of one forearm.
They paused. Watched. Waited. The bigger one went to move ahead, but the amputee Shambler moved at the same time, sloshing the mud around their thighs. The pair repeated the process. Pause. Lock stares. Move — again, both at the same moment, overlapping, out of sequence. This process went on twice more until they were close enough to touch.
And touch they did. The bigger one snapped his blunt angler-fish jaws at the smaller Shambler. The smaller Shambler seemed unafraid, opened its mouth, and hooted.
It was like a chimpanzee crossed with a hippo, a hooting, bellowing noise of offense and question. Up until that moment none of the Shamblers had spoken, communicated, or made any vocalisations at all. I flinched hard. Zheng stood up. Even Raine took a sharp breath.
The bigger Shambler swiped at the smaller one. The smaller one took the blow — an open-pawed strike to the ribs — and struck back with a knuckle-slap in the larger one’s face. The larger Shambler jerked round and raised both paws.
“Stop!” I yelled, flaring my tentacles out in a fan-halo of strobing rainbow.
My breath was pounding like bellows, my heart racing, my bioreactor aching to ramp up production. Watching the start of a physical fight so close to me had set off so many instinctive alarm bells, I couldn’t help myself.
They couldn’t possibly have understood the word, but they couldn’t mistake my tone. Both Shamblers lurched backward from one another and looked up at me.
All throughout the process of sharing the carcass, the Shamblers had cast dull-eyed, disinterested glances in my direction. These two were the same, despite the violence. Perhaps that’s just how they looked.
“Oh no,” I whispered through my teeth. “No, they shouldn’t listen to me. They shouldn’t have me adjudicating their disagreements, no, I don’t want this, I—”
“Naughty naughty!” Lozzie chirped. “No fighting!”
“Yeah,” Raine added, “come on lads. Share and share alike.”
Zheng just growled.
That seemed to do the trick. The bigger of the two Shamblers glided through the remaining mud and ripped two chunks of meat off the cow carcass. Then he waded back over and gave one of the two chunks to the smaller one. We watched in awe as the smaller Shambler accepted the meal, then leaned over, stuck out its tongue, and licked the larger Shambler’s flank in a single, long stroke of rough grey tongue. The larger one appeared not to notice.
“Did we just … ” I cleared my throat. “Did they already know each other?”
“Assume so,” Raine said. “Regular brawl, maybe.”
“They are mates,” Zheng rumbled.
I blinked at her. “Excuse me?”
“I can smell it on them.”
“O-oh. Um.” I cleared my throat again, a touch embarrassed. “Did we stop an incident of domestic violence?”
“No more than playing,” Zheng said. I wondered if she was just humouring me. “A real fight would be bloody, and quick.”
Dozens of Shamblers stood and squatted and hunched and hung, in a semi-circle before the island, before their shrine. Before me. Dozens more could be on their way — they hadn’t stripped the carcass down to the bones yet — but Raine was taking deep, intentional, calming breaths. Lozzie was restless. And Zheng was up on her feet, flexing her hands.
I spotted our Shambler, the one who had led me to Natalie, the one which Edward had tried to train. She was munching away near the middle of the group, looking directly at me. As I maintained eye contact, the others slowly joined her, until at least half the group was watching.
Raine gently nudged me in the ribs. “Go on, then. Show ‘em you’re human.”
I pulled a sour smile, tucking my tentacles back in close to my body. “That might be difficult.”
“You know what I mean, squid-girl. Show ‘em you’re just squid. And a beautiful one at that.”
I blushed faintly. Lozzie giggled behind her hands. Raine looked proud.
But stuck to my lame and minimalistic plan: I raised the apple to my mouth and took a bite, a nice deep crunch. Before my assembled congregation I chewed, swallowed, took another bite, chewed, swallowed, grew tired of chewing, slowed down, and made a show of being sort of bored with eating the apple.
“Oh, Raine, what am I doing?” I muttered after another swallow. “How do we know this is even going to work? They probably think this is important somehow.” I raised my voice to the Shamblers. “Don’t worship me, okay? I’m just a thing, like you! Look, I’m eating! I don’t even particularly like it! This apple is a bit old and I think it’s a red delicious, so it’s … bad. It’s a naff apple. Divine visitors do not eat naff apples.”
The Shamblers did not understand low-quality fruit production, nor a word of what I said to them. They ate their meat, watching me with plate-sized black eyes, thinking alien thoughts.
“Oh, blast it all,” I said.
One of the swamp gorillas let out a low, soft hoot in my direction.
“Thank you,” I said, under no illusion that it was an actual reply to me.
“You’re doing your best, Heather,” Raine said.
Zheng agreed. “They see, shaman. They see.”
I sighed and turned my gaze briefly to the grey stone tower far to our right, past the giant trees and through the thick mist. It was silent too, though I could feel the sense of being watched crawling over my skin. I hoped whatever lived there treated the swamp apes well. I hoped the inhabitant of the tower understood the portion of this statement which was directed to them: these creatures are under my protection, even if I’m not present; I am not a danger. Maybe come say hi?
“I only hope it’s enough,” I muttered.
I left out the other half of that sentence: in case we never come back again.
The siege-spell was ready.
Crafting the magic had consumed three full days, not counting the initial scraps of disorganised work before Kimberly had joined in. Three days of Evee and Fliss with their heads down in the magical workshop, with the rest of us walking on eggshells lest something set Evee at the older mage’s throat; three days of pretending to be normal, going to classes, never knowing what exactly I would return to; three days of Kimberly coming home from her job at the florists, donating hours of her free time to keeping the less level-headed mages on track; three days of knowing Aym was lurking in the walls and beneath the beds, held back only by Sevens sticking to her like glue.
By the time Evelyn put the finishing touches on the magic circles and the rigorously recorded order-of-operations for the ritual, we were all emotionally exhausted.
And we still couldn’t cast it, not until the weekend.
“Don’t call it a ‘siege-spell’,” Evee grunted at me that next morning. “That’s inaccurate.” Then she blinked hard. “Actually, on second thought, yes, call it a siege spell. Use that term in public. And on the phone. Throw Edward off.”
“Door-kicker spell?” Raine suggested, between mouthfuls of cereal at the kitchen table. “We are sort of using it like a battering ram, right?”
Evelyn rolled her eyes. Praem placed slabs of buttered toast in front of her, and a mug of strong, hot, steaming tea. Evee thanked her for the breakfast and shook her head. “The spell is more like a specific, single, limited siege weapon, with one shot. But the single shot will bring down his outermost wall and reveal the keep. Metaphorically speaking. Oh hell, I hate this.”
“Catapult spell?” Raine offered.
I spoke up. “I think we should call it a trebuchet spell. Trebuchets are a kind of catapult, but they’re more reliable, sturdier, larger, more complex, and designed for heavier weights. This spell has taken too long to make and too much effort to write it off as just a little catapult.”
Evee and Raine both looked at me for a beat, surprised and possibly impressed. I felt colour creep up my face.
Evelyn shook her head. “Since when do you know so much about siege weapons?”
“Our Heather does like her castles,” said Raine.
“I just thought it was appropriate … ”
“Trebuchet,” Praem echoed like a muffled bell. She raised her perfectly manicured hands and clapped softly, exactly eight times.
Evee snorted. “Oh, so Heather gets to name it?”
“Heather is good at names,” said Praem.
Evee shrugged, giving ground before her daughter. She gave me a thin, tired, awkward smile. I smiled back and reached over to pat her hand. She wasn’t actually chagrined about me naming the spell; I knew her too well to make such an uncharitable assumption. If she was genuinely irritated she wouldn’t have smiled at all. No, she was putting on a show to distract herself from the coming assault.
Evee and I had spent two of the last three evenings together, sitting side-by-side on her bed, watching cartoons on her laptop: more small horses — ponies — along with a very long anime show, which Evelyn called a magical girl story but appeared to be about playing mahjong, a game I’d never even heard of before. Raine joined us for an hour, once, and sometimes Praem was in the room, but mostly we were simply by ourselves. I couldn’t do anything to help with the spell itself — Evee already had all the tea and biscuits and enforced bath and mealtimes she needed, courtesy of Praem — and I couldn’t help with the nerves either, the pre-murder jitters, as we silently prepared for a showdown with a terrible old man. So I did what little I could. I made sure she relaxed and watched some cartoons.
We didn’t talk about the spell, or about Edward Lilburne, or make plans. We certainly didn’t talk any more about the fade stone. The lump of white quartz had vanished from my awareness; part of me dimly thought Evee had handed it off to somebody else. Maybe Praem. Perhaps Kim. My memory wasn’t certain, only that Evee did not have it in her possession right then.
On the second of those quiet shared evenings, Evelyn nodded off with her head on my shoulder. At first I hadn’t noticed, not until she’d let out a tiny, fluttery snore and sleepily clenched a handful of my hoodie with her maimed fingers.
“Evee … ?” I whispered. “Okay, no, you’re sleeping. Okay. Okay, good, just … just sleep. Sleepy Evee, good. Yes, sleep.”
I was just about able to prepare my heart for that, for minutes or perhaps hours of Evee’s soft, fragile body weight against my side. I hadn’t been planning to spend the night in her room; I would sleep with Raine and Zheng, as always. But maybe this changed my plans.
Except Praem opened the door and stepped into the room five minutes later, moving in perfect silence so as not to wake Evee, with two unexpected figures in tow.
“P-Praem!” I mouthed silently, eyes wide, a blush washing upward through my cheeks. “She’s sleeping, she’s sleeping! It was an accident, she’s sleeping … ”
Praem simply put a finger to her lips.
Seven-Shades-of-Slumber-Study stood just inside the doorway, shoulders wrapped in yellow robe, tiny red-and-black eyes peering into the room. One hand poked out from beneath her robes, and holding that hand was the equally pale and delicate palm of a very sulky and petulant Aym.
They both stared at me and Evee for a moment, Sevens neutral, Aym pouty. Praem turned to them, expressionless, while I sat there turning into a boiled beetroot.
“See?” Sevens hissed after a moment.
Aym, head-to-toe in her black lace and multiple layers without a scrap of skin showing outside of her hands and head, rolled her eyes and let her shoulders slump, like a grumpy child who had been argued out of having a tantrum.
“See?” I echoed in a whisper. “See what? Praem, you shouldn’t have let them in here! I mean Aym, not Sevens. I mean—”
“Oh shush,” Aym whispered back, like a breeze on rusty wind-chimes. “Don’t wake her, idiot.”
They left without another word, slinking off into the corridor. Praem paused as she closed the door.
“Sleep well,” she mouthed.
That was hardly the weirdest behaviour I’d seen from Sevens and Aym over the period Felicity and her mind-goblin were forced to remain in Sharrowford. Felicity herself was strictly barred from sleeping inside Number 12 Barnslow Drive. When it became apparent that designing the spell would take more than one extra day, Evee had made a cruel joke about building a dog house in the back garden. The joke hit too close to home — Felicity was clearly and openly terrified about sleeping in a random hotel, so in the end she bedded down in the back seat of her range rover.
“Sleeping in a car?” I had asked Felicity, blinking at her in disbelief as she lingered by the front door. “Is that healthy? Are you going to be okay?”
“S’not so bad,” said Raine.
“Not so bad?” I squeaked.
Raine shrugged. “I’ve done it before. Hey, Fliss, you got plenty of blankets and stuff?”
But before Felicity herself could answer, Kimberly piped up from next to the bottom of the stairs. She and Felicity had descended together, close but not touching, a strange and unfamiliar chemistry in the air between them. It wasn’t romance, but I wasn’t sure what to call it — only to keep my nose out of other people’s love lives. I’d learned my lesson. “Um, yes, um … I have a lot of extra … sheets? Plush … stuff … um.”
“I’ll be fine,” Felicity said, about to step out of the front door and retreat to her battered old vehicle. “I know what I’m doing. Old habits die hard.”
“Ah,” Raine said, eyes lighting up. “Lived in your car before?”
“Long time ago. Before you knew me. Before I ever met Evee’s mother. Long story, another day. Besides, the car is somewhat warded. It’s safe enough.” Felicity still had her bagged shotgun over her shoulder. She patted it awkwardly. “Good night, Kim. Sleep well.”
“You too … ” said Kimberly.
All this meant that Aym never left the building. Sevens chaperoned her everywhere, mostly hand-in-hand or touching in some other fashion, though often they would vanish for hours on end and I wasn’t certain where they went. Aym did not look pleased with this arrangement. She spent the entire stretch of time “grumpy as a smacked arse” as Raine so delicately put it. I didn’t much like it either; Sevens was absent from my bed, distant and weird, though she did touch my hand several times and give me long, lingering, meaningful looks whenever we ran into each other. I could never get her alone, certainly not alone enough to ask her what she and Aym had discussed that first night, out in the dark beneath the tree.
They did talk though, a lot, but it was complete nonsense, like listening to a private language.
“But what about scorpions?” Sevens rasped.
“Scorpions.” Not a question, not from Aym.
“Several of them.”
“I never eat more than two.” Dead-panned.
“But two is not enough. You need eight to six.”
“More than enough. Bleeeeeeh.”
The first few times we overheard this meaningless patter, Aym sounded just as grumpy as she looked, as if she was reluctantly playing a game she hated. But as the days wore on she started to snort, laugh, and giggle. She and Sevens swapped nonsense back and forth at high speeds, totally beyond the rest of us.
Other than that they just hung around, reading, watching other people working, lurking upstairs like attic creatures, avoiding Zheng. Once they did attempt to play chess against Tenny. They gave Tenny the single most difficult game of her life so far, with her single head — and tentacles — against two of them. Aym crouched over Sevens’ shoulder, clicking and tutting at any tentacles which wandered too close. Not that Tenny could spare the brainpower to wonder about Aym once the game got under way. She sat rocking very gently between each move, tentacles spinning and twisting, eyes locked on the board as she chiselled out a very difficult win against the Outsider double-header.
“Yeeeeeeah!” she trilled at the end, loud enough that it could be heard down in the basement. She followed up her victory cry by hugging Lozzie, then Sevens, then Aym, which produced a horrified hiss from the nasty little mould-demon.
The storm — Aym’s personal weather, as I kept thinking of it — had cleared, sucked back into the secret place beyond the horizon from which all storms came. But summer was reluctant, spooked out of its natural place. The air warmed and the temperature improved, but the skies stayed draped with grey overcast, the sun only peeking through occasionally in weak shafts of watery light.
It was in that weak and watery light filtering through the kitchen window, that Evelyn and Felicity had their one and only real argument — real, because neither raised their voice.
“You’re hunting a mage,” Felicity said in her half-mumble. She had even looked Evee in the eyes. Kimberly hovered in the doorway to the workshop, providing a subconscious break on Evelyn’s most colourful and vile insults. Did she know that Evee would hold back in front of her? I wasn’t sure.
“That I am,” Evelyn replied, jaw tight.
“I want in. I know what that means. Make use of me. You know you can make use of me for this.”
Raine cleared her throat. “We’ve hunted mages before.”
Felicity did not glance at Raine. She spoke to Evee. “You need all the help you can get.”
Evelyn’s lip curled with naked disgust, the first hint of real hate she’d shown since they had started work together on the siege-spell. “You are asking me to give you the satisfaction, you rotten bitch. You are asking for something I can never give. Which I wouldn’t give even if I could. Even if you were on fire, you—”
Felicity flinched at that, involuntary and shuddering. I winced privately. Kimberly gasped and put a hand to her mouth.
“Oof,” Raine said. “Call her a cunt, Evee, but that’s, uh … you know.”
“Alright! Fine! Poor choice of words!” Evelyn snapped, thumping her mug down on the table so hard that she lost control of it. Praem had to step in to stop it rolling onto the floor. “I’m not giving this … this woman the satisfaction.”
Felicity had averted her eyes, cowed and silent during the outburst. “Make use of me.”
“Why should I?” Evelyn growled.
“Because I’ve done this more times than you have. I know how to kill mages. You know I do.”
In the end there was no proper agreement, no resolution, no confirmation that we would accept Felicity’s help during the hunt. But she was not explicitly barred. Evelyn never mentioned it again.
The preparations were physical as well as magical; by the end of the second day, the fridge was rammed full of blood. Bull’s blood, apparently, in a pair of sealed food-grade buckets and a number of sloshing plastic packets. I cringed every time I had to open the fridge to get food, though the blood didn’t smell, it was merely a grim reminder.
Evelyn had explained, after she saw my distress. “A hundred times easier than carting an entire live cow out there. Less chance of splattering ourselves with blood, too. We do this efficiently and properly, Heather. Leave exsanguination to the professionals.”
Felicity sourced other items too — several jars of pale ash which I dared not ask about, a single massive black feather from an ostrich, the dried husks of several kinds of woodland mushroom, and a piece of plain canvas, twenty feet across.
The canvas was for the inner circle, where the mages themselves were to stand when performing the ritual. The outer circle was going to have to be drawn live — or more likely, cut into the earth. There simply wasn’t anything reasonably large enough which we could roll up and transport with us, not for the scale this spell required.
It was also projected to take twenty solid minutes of concentration. Apparently this was a long time, in magical terms. I was worried for Evee’s health. I raised this in private, with Praem.
“They will all be cared for,” she told me.
“You can stand in the circle with her?” I asked.
“Nowhere else would I stand.”
The necessary space for this most unwieldy of spells left us few options. It had to be cast close enough to the likely area already covered by Edward Lilburne’s labyrinth of concealment, so we couldn’t just drive off into the Pennines for the day to carve occult nonsense into a hillside while Zheng scared off any unwary hikers.
“Boooo,” said Raine. “Zheng and I could have fun with that. Mad slasher in the hills! Shock! Horror!”
“Raine,” I tutted.
“No, she’s got a point,” Evelyn said, sucking on her teeth.
Felicity cleared her throat. “We would be able to see the response coming. It’s pretty clear sight-lines up on the Pennies.”
Evee tutted. “But too far away. No, it would be a waste to try.”
Our own back garden was ruled out as well. The neighbours on one side of the house may have been slightly more distant than the usual suburban squish, but they were near enough that if somebody decided to look out of their window at the wrong moment, they would see all of us busy drawing Satanic magic all over the ground. We’d probably get a visit from the police. Or worse, an exorcist and a news crew.
Kim had voiced opposition to this plan as well, for more sentimental reasons.
“I-I would really rather we not ruin the garden, regardless,” she said. “It’s got so much potential. Cutting up the grass like that … ”
Raine had patted her shoulder. “You can’t do a grow-op out in the open, Kim. Good on you for thinking of it, though.”
“I didn’t mean that!” Kimberly squeaked, deeply embarrassed. “It has real potential. It could be a lovely space. If only somebody had the time for it.”
We needed a firing position for our trebuchet: large, secluded, defensible. And the Church of Hringewindla was happy to provide.
“We want this gentleman dealt with as much as you do,” Christine Hopton said over the phone — Twil’s phone, sitting in the middle of our kitchen table after she had rocked up and presented us with the offer from her mother. “The back fields should provide plenty of space for the work, and you can do as much damage to the soil as you have to. We can clear out Amanda’s boys for the weekend. No bystanders. And of course, Hringewindla’s angels will be guarding our home, as always. They will guard you too, come what may.”
“Thank you, Christine,” Evelyn had replied. “And thank … ” A short, suppressed sigh. “Thank your Outsider for us. We accept this offer.”
“You’re very welcome. Saturday, then? What time shall we expect you?”
“Saturday, yes. Early.”
We all needed the unexpected extra two days of rest, though Evee wouldn’t admit it and Felicity didn’t seem capable of true rest.
I was, as Raine might put it, ‘wired to the gills’. That entire week I suffered a mindless, tense, undirected alertness, as if I was worried we were about to be attacked. Perhaps it was Felicity’s presence in the house, or my bruised — but not broken — trust in Evelyn, or some instinctive response to being incapable of helping. I found myself waking suddenly in the night, or standing at windows for minutes on end, watching for movement out in the street or the back garden. Raine did a good job at calming me down and distracting me whenever she noticed, but I couldn’t fulfil this drive, this need to watch our periphery, to keep my attention switched on, my eyes wide open.
We were, after all, planning to start a little war.
The trips to the Shambleswamp were a relief.
There were two people we needed to contact, of course, two minds we needed to keep in the loop of what was about to happen. One of them was Jan — or rather, Jan and July. Lozzie assured me that she’d explained everything, but Evelyn and I called Jan anyway, in case she wanted to erect a firewall between us for the next few days, or offer some help, or fly to China.
“Oh, I’m just going to pretend I don’t know you,” she said down the phone.
“Lovely,” Evelyn grunted.
“Just stay safe, okay? Send Lozzie to me if you must. And Tenny. I can always provide a safe bed!” A small, self-conscious chuckle followed. “Look, I’ve got your prospective cultists on hold, pretty much, but I’m not breathing a word about this, obviously. But if you all get turned into paste, I’m doing a runner. I’m not sticking around for Edward-whatever to extend his influence over them and have one of them shank me with a carving knife. They’ll be on their own. If you care.”
“I do care,” I said. “Thank you, Jan. We’ll be in touch.”
“Call me if you need distant artillery support, I suppose. Very distant.”
The other phone call we left until Saturday morning. As the rest of us were getting ready to depart, to pile into Raine’s car and Felicity’s range rover, or to Slip via Camelot, all of us suited and booted and with Twil hanging around Evee as if our poor mage was made of glass, Raine placed a phone call to a number that did not pick up.
“Stack,” Raine said by way of greeting, speaking a message to a voice-mail box, with a big smile on her face. She winked at the rest of us as we listened. “It’s me. You know, me. Thing is, see, we’re off to pay a visit to your old employer. You’ve been looking for him too, right? We haven’t got the directions to his place, not just yet. But we’re swinging by Brinkwood first, to get our bearings. Thought you might want in.”
Raine waited a beat, as if hoping Stack might pick up. Evee rolled her eyes and made a ‘hurry-up’ gesture. She did want us to get moving, though it wasn’t even nine in the morning yet. Tenny kept yawning. Lozzie looked like she wanted to go back to bed. Zheng stood with her eyes closed.
Raine flashed a grin at Evee and spoke on. “Well, don’t be a stranger, Stack. You wanna join us, you gimme a call any time, right here on this number. It’s gonna be quite a party. Maybe today, maybe to—”
We all heard the voice-mail system cut out. Line closed.
Raine lowered the phone and stared at it, eyebrows raised at the screen, then at us. “Ooooh, she heard that. Yes she did.”
“Do you think she’s going to join us?” I asked. “We could do with … well. That.”
“Who was that?” Felicity asked from over by the door. She had taken Kimberly’s hand — because Kim had gone white as a sheet, eyes wide in mute terror.
“Somebody you’re better off not knowing,” said Raine. She shot Kim a wink. “Don’t you worry. She won’t come anywhere near you. She’s not interested in that.”
“Ablative meat,” Evelyn grunted, swinging round toward the door on her walking stick, leaning on Praem. “She doesn’t matter. Forget her. We have enough bloody firearms as it is. Let’s go, everyone get moving. We have a war to start. And I want it over by lunchtime.”
Shamblers are weird, but also friend-shaped, hopefully not religion-shaped. Heather might not like that part. Evee, meanwhile, has everything covered. Mages gonna mage, but this seems like the most competent they’ve all been in a while. The whole gang is together, organised, and keeping things safe. Let’s hope it all goes off without a hitch.
No Patreon link this week! Instead, I figure it’s been a month, so here it is again: Katalepsis arcs 1-4 is available as an ebook and audiobook! Here’s a link to a page on the Katalepsis site with links to where you can get it! And if you want the audiobook but you don’t want to pay full price, you can get it free via the audible free trial! The podcast re-reading through the entire serial is now up to Arc 2.7-8! It’s really cool, I’m still blown away that two wonderful readers have decided to do this.
In the meantime, you can always:
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 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, it’s catapult trebuchet time! Whee! Throwing big rocks at high speeds for fun and profit.
Thanks for the chapter!
You are very welcome indeed, glad you enjoyed it!
Shamblerfriends! They just want to show their appreciation lol
Things are now set for War with a side of gardening and Trebuchets, which are the most superior of siege weaponry.
Thanks for the chapter.
For my Story I’ve written a ton of it so far, it’s definitely been motivating to slowly share it here.
2 Third part
Morning I think. It’s been some time since I smiled.
My test worked! I inched close enough to where the circles wall was just at the edge of the armchair. The fireplace bricks have changed to black, I put the wound on my hand on the wall and jolted back in pain.
And I saw it only for a moment. A perfect bleeding grin on my palm from small finger to thumb. The Ɔɐ wasʇ glaring at my hand, it licked it’s, and tried to bite. Teeth larger then the room bounced off the circles wall and it was gone.
Maybe it is not so bad that the circle is growing. More area to study perhaps?? And my friend is here upstairs. I am glad.
I smiled going to the kitchen to make some well deserved breakfast my friend was here and so is t ̸̢͙̜̙̚͝ a ̵̼̏̈́̽͝ C
My Name’s Abigail. I hope yOu remembered. I refuse to care if they read this, their ramblings are.
I hated them, maybe I still do. Obviously not only for WhAtEVer is in the live ing ro om, but because it’s their fault we lost contact at and after school. They ghosted not me. I never did ANYthing wrong I think. Those texts were so hard to read but.
Sure I’m unemployed but I got a decent amount, and being here. I got a car, it’s mostly full and I did say I wanted to leave later…
They acted so distant after they showed me their breakthrough over breakfast. Their hand has hair growing on the palm.
I didn’t understand, I almost lost my appetite. But they haven’t mentioned this tThaingC to me since the first time. I’ve only read about it here, I don’t want to read their wooords……….
I don’t dream. Ever. Since I was a kid and had horrific night terrors, I refuse to. Yet during the night I did, I cannot, no,, I don’t want to explain what I saw.
I tried to open the curtains to let some light in, but they pleaded for the darkness to remain. I think that’s stupid. I’m going to open the curtains before it gets dark out.
The backdoor was open. I could see outside, but none of the light reached past the door frame. I’ll go through memories tomorrow. I closed it.
And I’m back upstairs staring at myself in the mirror. My hair is blond.
– and read until.
The Shamblers are so much fun to explore, I’m looking forward to returning to them in the future, perhaps for a more extended sequence, indeed!
Heather would very much approve of trebuchets being judged as the superior siege weaponry.
And you are very welcome indeed! Glad you enjoyed it!
Oooh more fanfic! If sharing it is motivating, I strongly recommend Ao3 as well; there’s a Katalepsis tag and everybody on the discord eagerly devours whatever gets posted there. Give it a go! This is a fun read!
These little snippets have a lot of classic Lovecraft about them; the doomed account, the physical record, the incomprehensible events to the poor protagonist. Keep going, it’s great! And thanks for sharing it!
This is very creepy
“Our Heather”, when Raine said that to Evelyn I had re-read it multiple times as squealed on the inside. Just like when Sleepy Eevee Snuggled with Heather.
I would like to know what is going on between Sevens and Aym.
The shamblers are intriguing. Really would like to know who is in the tower.
I saw what you did there. Saturday, ha!
Felicity x Kimberly, I like it the more I read it.
Ending a war by lunch. Must be nice.
Thank you for the chapter.
Ohoho, indeed! There’s a bit of a double meaning there. In Northern England especially “our [name here]” is often used as a form of affection toward a family member when speaking to a third person. So Raine is being affectionate – but you’re right, there’s also that very intentional double meaning, “our” as in Raine’s and Evee’s! I wonder if Raine knows more than she is letting on.
Sevens and Aym have embarked on … well, some kind of relationship. Friends? Something else weird? It might not be possible for humans to fully understand, but they seem safe, for now.
The Shamblers are great! I’m planning on returning to them in the future, maybe even for a full arc. Looking forward to that.
Fliss x Kim! It’s happening!
And you are very welcome indeed! Glad you enjoyed this chapter! And thanks for reading.
Thank you for the replying. 🙂
I really think that this is what Evee was miss for all this time. To work big magic she needs a mage coven. Mages don’t work good together, but a triad arrangement is the best one. Maiden (Kim) Mother (Evee) Crone (Fliss). There is balance in that.
Indeed indeed! It turns out that community is far more effective at getting these things done, compared to isolated paranoia and workaholism.
Not my intention to do proof-reading, but I did spot a typo (unless people have a nickname for the Pennines that I’m unaware of).
> It’s pretty clear sight-lines up on the Pennies.”
Missing an N in “Pennines”
Oh gosh, thank you very much for spotting that and bringing it to my attention! That’s a weird typo, indeed. Thank you!