sediment in the soul – 19.5

Content Warnings

Suicide bombing as a concept
Slavery
Gore



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The aftermath is always worse than the maelstrom.

I had experienced my fair share of physical fights by that point in my life, most of them crammed into the previous eight to nine months; my mother would be horrified if she knew. Her goody-two-shoes Heather, getting in scuffles and scrapes. I still wasn’t capable of throwing a punch or squeezing a trigger, but the wave of adrenaline and fear no longer drowned me, insensate and flailing. I could go with the flow, now; I knew a little about how to keep myself safe, and my abyssal instincts knew even more. I could put my tentacles to some use. I could try to protect my friends. I could try not to get in the way. But nobody really remembers a fight; short-term memory fails to encode, the body takes over, whether one is human or part-human or imitation-human or having a grand old time cavorting about in a human mask. Details must be reconstructed after the event, pieced back together from sense impressions and fragmentary images and consequences.

I had a lot of fragments and a lot of blood and none of it made much sense.

There’s nothing glamorous about a fight, no matter the scale. Raine makes it look sexy, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that’s anything other than my own deeply biased perspective. Movies and television show armies clashing and melding into each other, all one-on-one choreography and balletic stunt-work, clean punches and counters and the sort of thing Raine goes fangirl for. But reality is brutal and banal. Raine once told me a fact about how most knife fights go to the floor in the first few seconds. Nothing poignant or graceful happens while grappling on the floor.

And this fight, this Outsider confrontation at Geerswin farm, this genuine supernatural nightmare? Raine called it a “bare-knuckle fuckfest.”

I wouldn’t have used that exact word. I’d probably have blushed to even say it. But I didn’t disagree.

Evelyn snapped at Raine for that one. Tenny was too absorbed in crying to pick up the swear word, too busy clinging to Lozzie, but she was still within earshot.

Raine didn’t much care; she was too focused on getting me to stop.

“Heather, Heather, hey, just sit down for a sec. You’re shaking all over, you can barely stand. And you’re bruised, you’re gonna pull a muscle. Just slow down, slow down. Heather, hey. Heather!”

Sit down and rest? Impossible.

Geerswin farmhouse was a wreck. Several doors were shattered, smashed from their hinges, splinters everywhere. Windows were broken, frames buckled, glass shards all over the floor. Hringewindla’s bubble-servitors were drifting over to the house, joining together and stretching themselves like oily transparent putty to plug the doors and windows. But out on the grass and the edge of the field and the crumbly tarmac, great masses of bubble-servitor material lay inert, shredded, ruined, and dead, heaped about the bloody mangled hulks of the Outsiders they’d brought down. Hringewindla had paid dearly. Even in my pain-and-panic-addled state, a hyper-polite version of me worked away silently in the back of my mind, filing a note to thank the old man Outsider cone-snail for his help. Without the bubble-servitors, we’d probably not have won.

“Heather,” Raine said. “You keep walking and I’m gonna pick you up and wrap you in a blanket so you can’t move. Zheng! Hey, left hand, can you maybe help me here?”

“The shaman smells a rat. Lift her up, little wolf. Do not stop her.”

A stiff breeze could have stopped me. A particularly determined row of ants could have felled me dead. Raine was right: I was covered in bruises, shaking all over, my vision was swimming, and my right flank was burning inside, like the bio-reactor had suffered a meltdown.

My clothes were bloodied. Everyone’s clothes were bloodied. The house had it the worst.

Six of the writhing blob-like Outsiders had died inside the house, leaving a truly unspeakable mess. Blood and bile soaked the carpets, ichor and effluence lay in puddles; loops of strange alien intestine, scraps of jellied flesh, strips of torn skin. A significant quantity of the blood in the kitchen actually belonged to Twil. She’d won by just out-healing the thing, spilling buckets of herself all over the tiles and the cooker and the ceiling, in great splatters and splashes. It was like something out of a cartoon.

Twil was usually unstoppable, always the first to bounce back. But in that aftermath she looked how I felt. As I staggered to the door into the corridor, I saw her slide down the wall, nodding in victory, but utterly drained. Even werewolves don’t like to lose so much blood.

“Mrs Hopton,” Evelyn was saying. Her throat was thick around the words. She couldn’t stand either, leaning on Praem. “Mrs Hopton. Christine. Michael. I will pay for all these damages. I brought this to your home. This is our responsibility. I— Heather? What’s she doing?”

I hadn’t felt this drained and broken inside, this bruised and tenderised, since before I materialised the bioreactor for the first time. But I forced my feet underneath my aching carcass and dragged myself toward the corridor.

Because Sevens and Aym were missing.

Raine and Zheng must have helped me. I recall nothing about leaving the room or staggering down the corridor. Perhaps I passed out and they carried me, but the next thing I knew I was standing before the pulped and mangled corpse of one of the Outsiders, slumped in a meaty heap against the corridor wall. Raine was holding me upright, shoulder under my armpit. Zheng lurked on my opposite side. I had half my tentacles around each of them.

The Outsider corpse was one of the most hateful things I’d ever seen — and not because it looked like a pile of mashed tripe and splintered bone. Steaming softly in the shafts of sunlight, the steam rising and vanishing in gentle waves, the sodden mass itself slowly shrinking and dwindling away as we watched.

Here was a dead slave, ripped from Outside and turned inside-out by the crushing pressure — or lack thereof — of our reality.

“Suicide bomber,” I croaked.

Raine raised her eyebrows but said nothing. I hadn’t had time to explain the impression yet, to explain to my friends what these pitiful creatures really were.

But worse than that was the memory. Flashes and fragments of standing here and ripping the thing to pieces, hissing and screeching at it. The ghost of homo abyssus crawled across my skin in a hundred tiny bruises, in the ache of my gums and the itch in my eyes and my urge to embrace the moment I’d spent killing something that had not truly wanted to fight.

“Sevens was right here,” I said eventually. “Behind me, or at my side. In her — war form? She was here. She was. She can’t have gone far. She cradled me while I … when I … did this?”

“Uh huh,” Raine said, nodding gently. “Impressive stuff. All Humboldt squid on this thing’s arse. Well done, would have gotten us in the rear otherwise.”

A screaming flash of blood and violence across my memories, making me flinch inside. When I glanced at my tentacles I found them smooth and unblemished, no sign of the hooked barbs and jagged spikes. Zheng caught my eye and broke into a grin of savage joy. She was covered in blood too, and unbothered by the mess.

“Sevens,” I repeated. “She was right here. I felt her at my back. She can’t just be gone.”

“Hey,” Raine said, soft and gentle. “I’m sure she’s fine. All these blob dudes were accounted for. None of them could hurt Sevens, especially not if she was doing her big-and-scary thing.”

“You don’t know that,” I said, swallowing hard, feeling my mouth go dry. My head was spinning with worry and pain. I wanted to sit down and then lie down and then probably go to sleep. I wanted to eat an entire horse, bones and all. I wanted to touch Sevens and make sure she was there. “Raine, Raine you’re just saying that.” I looked up and called at the ceiling and walls. “Sevens! Sevens!”

Kimberly was there at the far end of the corridor, clutching herself in Twil’s borrowed clothes. I wasn’t sure how much she had heard. I caught her eye and another flash of memory crackled across my mind.

“Kim!” I heaved. “Kim you were there, you said you saw!”

I must have looked horrible, because poor mousy Kimberly flinched away from me.

“Hey, Kim,” Raine said quickly. “It’s alright, she’s just worried. You saw this all go down, out here in the corridor?”

Kimberly nodded awkwardly and spoke in halting stutters. “I-I saw. You … well, I suppose you saved me. Again. Heather. Thank you.”

I couldn’t stop. “But Sevens was there? Right!?”

Kimberly bit her lip and shook her head. She glanced back into the sitting room as if looking for help, but everyone in there was busy, mostly sorting out to move Nicole Webb to Benjamin’s car with her broken leg. We couldn’t call an ambulance to the farm, not with the place looking like a supernatural bomb crater, not unless we wanted to break the minds of several paramedics and get the police down here to turn this into a major incident.

But then Felicity stepped out of the sitting room and joined us in the corridor. She put a gentle hand on Kimberly’s shoulder and Kim looked up at her with unmistakable admiration and security. But Felicity looked right at me.

“Aym is safe,” she said in a broken croak, worse than her usual half-mumble through burn-scarred lips. I almost couldn’t make out her words. “I would know if she wasn’t.”

Felicity didn’t look healthy at the best of times. Between her extensive burn scars, her blind left eye, and her twitchy, hangdog, head-down mannerisms, she usually looked like she wanted to slink away to a dark corner and conserve what little life remained to her. But after the ritual and the fight, she seemed to stand a little straighter. I wondered how long it had been since she’d done real magic, for a purpose she believed in, to help somebody. The magic to stop the pair of Outsiders in the dining room had taken a terrible toll on her; I’d seen her vomiting blood earlier. She looked like a woman who’d just recovered from a months-long haemorrhagic fever. Thin-faced, drawn and pale, eyes carved out like coal-dust hollows. Her voice was sandpaper on broken skin.

But she wasn’t worried. Not a bit.

“W-what?” I stammered. “How— how can you tell? What about Sevens? Are they together?”

“I understand what it’s like. If Aym was hurt, I would know. I’d, well, I’d just know. She’s anchored to me. Sort of. It’s an inheritance thing. If she was dead I wouldn’t be … I’d just know. And she can’t have gone far.”

Raine asked, “She tethered to you?”

Felicity nodded. “Is it like that with ‘Sevens’?”

I shook my head. “No, she goes as far as she likes. You’re sure about Aym?”

“M’sure.” She paused to cough blood into her hand, then stared at it and blinked very slowly. Kimberly slipped one arm around Felicity’s waist, as if the older, taller, more experienced mage might be about to topple over. But Felicity blinked three times, hard and tight, forcing herself to stay present. “Aym can’t go more than about two hundred feet from me, in the physical world. If she’s submerged for some reason, she’ll pop back up soon.”

Zheng purred. “The shape-shifter is not mocking us?”

Felicity shook her head. “Not over this. Your ‘Sevens’, she can submerge too?”

“You mean go to the abyss,” I said with a sigh. “Sort of. But why now? What would Aym be doing?”

Felicity held my gaze with absolute certainty and unshakeable belief. “If Aym thought it was important enough to leave without telling us, then it was important enough to leave without telling us.”

Raine laughed once, an approving chuckle. “Covering an angle we didn’t see? Shitty gremlin doing a special operation?”

Felicity sighed too. “One way of putting it.”

Raine asked, “You trust her not to have fucked around with Sevens?”

I stared at Raine in shock. “Raine?”

Raine held a grin, calm and collected. “If we have a traitor in our midst, Aym is pretty high up my list. How could she be bought, Fliss? Serious question.”

“Raine,” I hissed, outraged on Felicity’s behalf. “I’m worried about Sevens, I’m not accusing Aym of sabotage!”

But to my surprise, Felicity thought quietly for a moment, then answered. “Aym’s only price would be one of my blood relatives, and none of them have anything to do with this. Also mostly long gone.” She shook her head, then winced as if suffering a headache.

Kimberly said, soft and gentle, “Felicity?”

“I’m okay. That … de-coherency spell was … not something to rush. Me and Saye will both be pissing blood for a week. Somebody needs to look after her too, please.”

“Praem will,” I said. “And me. Felicity, please, do you think Sevens is safe?”

“If she’s with Aym, probably,” Felicity said, rubbing her aching forehead. “Whatever they’re doing, it’s not over yet.”

Raine nodded. “Operational security, radio silence. They must be doing that. This ain’t over until everybody is back and accounted for.”

I could have kissed her. Well, if I could find the energy to reach upward. Instead I just bumped my head against Raine’s shoulder.

From my other side Zheng let out a deep purr. “Yellow and black, brass and lace. We keep an eye out for their return. Keep the drawbridge down.”

Raine laughed. “Getting all poetic on us, left hand?”

“I respect the Yellow, if not the princess. She belongs to the shaman. We hold the ground.”

==

Zheng had the luxury of waiting — or at least of standing around and looking intimidating, because she was very good at that and didn’t play well with others — but the rest of us slipped into the slow ache of clean-up and recovery, that dull haze of non-lethal pain and too much work, the aftermath of any real confrontation.

This was, however, the largest and messiest fight I’d ever personally been part of, in a place somebody would have to clean up. The only point of comparison I had was the two corpses we’d had to get rid of once, back in the kitchen in Number 12 Barnslow Drive. Every other time we had ‘thrown hands’ as Raine put it, we’d managed to keep the mess contained somewhere that mundane authorities and normal people would never see.

But Geerswin farmhouse was Twil’s family home, and now it was covered in blood and mess.

The poor thing was so wounded, so bruised and battered. Even after I calmed down about Sevens, I dragged Raine back into the dining room, staggering and lurching, trying to pat the walls with my tentacles. I kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Raine was getting desperate; I wouldn’t sit down, wouldn’t stop.

All around me, the real clean-up was beginning.

“I can pay for the windows and doors, professional cleaning for the carpets too,” Evelyn was saying. “Though … the blood … ”

Christine was horribly pained by the offer. “Miss Saye, Evelyn, please—”

“My father can chip in for once. I won’t hear a word against it.”

“Sit,” said Praem.

Amanda gently corrected them both. “Hringewindla’s angels will handle the biological matter. The doors and windows are … mm.”

“Sit down,” said Praem. Apparently I wasn’t the only one refusing to rest.

“Hey,” said Twil, “at least those big ugly corpses are melting away. Screw tryin’ lug them outdoors. Or into a pile. Or whatever.” She sighed heavily, still slumped against the wall. “Oh, my bedroom is fucked. One of them died in there, right?”

“The angels can clean that too,” Amanda said.

“Eww,” went Twil.

Raine had once shown me a computer game about cleaning up after a stereotypical horror-movie climax, blood and guts all up the walls, bits of monster everywhere, that sort of thing; it was all very cartoony and silly, with lots of mops and buckets and wet wipes. The real thing was a lot less easily solved. Bubble-servitors started bobbing all about the place, flattening themselves against the walls and carpets like giant semi-translucent slugs, sucking up the blood and digesting the viscera. Everyone else had to wear those magically modified glasses all the time to avoid bumping into the things, or stepping on them, or worse. Amanda Hopton stood in the middle of the sitting room, swaying with her eyes closed, presumably conducting the creatures, a conduit for the will of her god. ‘Mister’ George tried to help for a little while, scrubbing at the kitchen, but then ended up standing out on the patio, chain-smoking with shaking hands.

Michael Hopton and Katey helped put Nicole Webb in the back of Benjamin’s land rover, her arms clutching their shoulders, their strength keeping her broken right leg off the floor. The detective was panting, coated in cold sweat, gritting her teeth as they carried her down the corridor and out onto the crumbling tarmac.

I followed, dragging Raine behind me again, lurching down the corridor; I wouldn’t take no for an answer, didn’t give her a choice.

“Heather,” Raine said, gentle but firm, as if holding back the whipcrack which would make me obey. “Heather, you really need to sit down. They’ve got Nicky now, she’s gonna be fine. Heather? Don’t make me get Evee to shout at you, hey?”

“I have to … check on her … Raine, she’s hurt. We got her hurt.”

Raine helped me out the front door and down the brick steps. The crisp sunlight hurt my eyes and made my head pound like a leather drum. I had to squint and blink until my vision stopped swirling. A dead Outsider lay against the nearest fence, steaming gently as it melted away under the conditions of our reality. A ring of bubble-servitors hung over the mangled corpse, as if worried it might spring back to life again. A greater ring of bubbles circled the house, on guard. Many more angels had fanned out across the fields, hovering at the treetops, watching for an opportunistic second assault.

“Really got to thank Hringy,” I murmured.

Raine laughed softly as I dragged her closer to the Land Rover. “‘Hringy’?”

“Hringy.” I was making it cute — but really I was too exhausted to pronounce his name properly. Terrible of me, I know.

“Hringy it is then.”

Zheng followed us outdoors too, stealthy and close; she was worried for my physical condition, whatever she said.

A small argument was unfolding by the open back door of Benjamin’s beefy green Land Rover. Katey had wandered off somewhere, Nicole was inside the car, but Ben and Michael were frowning at each other.

“Manchester, not Sharrowford,” Michael was saying.

Nicole’s voice panted from inside the back seat of the Land Rover. “Sharrowford’s— fine— fine—”

Michael said, “It’s a clean break, there’s no visible bone. Manchester will be safer. Ben, Manchester. Okay?”

Nicole said, “Sharrowford. For fuck’s sake.”

“Why Manchester?” I asked. Everyone paused and looked at me in a funny way, like I was liable to pull their faces off.

Nicole said from inside the Land Rover, “‘Cos they think we’re gonna get in trouble.”

“Yeah,” Ben said in a grunt. He was standing there with the front of the car already open, one hand filled with his keys. “Come on, Mike, she’s an ex-cop and a PI. If they wanna know shit she’s got the connections to tell them no. I’m just some lug she hired to watch a job. Nobody’s gonna care. It’s a break, not a bullet wound.”

“Sharrowford,” Nicole spat.

“Take her to Sharrowford General,” Raine said. “Nicky knows her stuff. Real hard-boiled type, her.”

“Right you are,” said Ben.

Michael Hopton sighed and crossed his arms. “At least take Katey too. Don’t do it alone, Ben. You’re not a superhero.”

Ben guffawed. “Yeah, that’s Twil’s department.” He paused then nodded at me, awkwardly. “Or hers. Alright, go get Katey then. Where’d she get to?”

“Checking on the sheep,” Michael said. Ben shook his head and turned toward the little stables, stepping away to fetch Katey.

I dragged myself over to the open back door of the car, pulling Raine with me. My flanks were burning, especially on the right side, like my appendix had burst or a muscle had torn away from a bone. But I slumped against the open door, half my tentacles clinging to the roof, and peered inside. Nicole was laid out on the back seat, her right shin at a sickening angle. She frowned at me, plastered with sweat, pale-faced, and panting softly.

“Heather?” she croaked.

“I can’t stop her,” Raine said. “She won’t sit still.”

“Nicky,” I said. “Are you going to be all right?”

A stupid question — how would she know? But my heart demanded I ask, demanded an answer, demanded that I care.

Nicole Webb grimaced, a horrible attempt at a smile. She was so brave. “S’nothing. Just a break. Need a cast. And morphine. Oh yeah, looking forward to that.”

I sagged, tentacles slackening. Of course she was going to be okay. “Good, good. That’s good.”

A twitch in my side. One tentacle peeled off the roof of the car and hovered in the air. I wasn’t thinking, just following instinct.

Raine asked, “You ever broken a bone before, gumshoe?”

“Once. When I was — teenager. Ribs. Fistfight.”

Raine let out a low whistle. “Teenage tearaway, huh? Wouldn’t have counted you as a bad girl. Nicky.”

“Detective. To you.” Nicole grunted. “Haynes.”

She was lying.

Nicole Webb was lying. She wasn’t going to be okay. Her leg was broken in too many places, she was going to get an infection, she was bleeding through her clothes and she wouldn’t get to the hospital in time. I stared at her in the pounding sunlight, too much brightness lancing through the backs of my eyeballs and into my brain. How could I look at her writhe on the back seat of that Land Rover? She was going to die and it would be our fault. My fault, my brain was screaming. Why was she lying? My breath was coming in fits and starts. One tentacle-tip quivered and softened.

“Heather?” Raine said my name. It was drowned out by static inside my head. “Hey, Heather, take a step back, come on. Nicky’s fine.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

I wanted to scream. What was wrong with me? What about Nicole, what about her broken leg, the way she was fading, the pain on her face? How could Raine not see it? Why wasn’t anybody calling an ambulance? Why was Raine trying to peel me off the car?

This whole mess was my fault. My responsibility. Nicole’s pain was my responsibility. The broken leg was my responsibility. I had to put it right, I had to make it right; I had the tools to make it right.

“Raine, she’s—”

“I know! I’ve got the glasses on, I can see—”

An angel heals her flock.

One of my tentacles darted into the back of the Land Rover, the tip already softening on the exterior, hardening inside with a needle of dripping bio-steel. Instinct took over, pumped the limb full of unspeakable fluids and abyssal-derived enzymes. Somebody took me by the shoulders but I hissed and bucked and almost fell over, banging one knee against the car, bruises screaming. The tentacle-tip blossomed open to reveal a shining needle twelve inches long; Nicole couldn’t see it but she would feel it in a moment. I would fix her, I would fix this mistake, I would make everything right. Then I would fix Geerswin farmhouse, and Felicity’s pain, and Kimberly’s fear and Tenny’s crying and Lozzie’s horror and I would find Sevens and—

My bio-reactor sputtered to life, to provide the payload for the needle, to replenish what I was about to extract from myself.

Heat blossomed in my flank — then flared out like an explosion, turning to ball of acid burning through my guts.

My vision flicked black, then red, then went out.

I remembered falling away from the Land Rover. I didn’t remember Raine catching me, but I was assured later that she did. Raine always caught me, even when I was being a self-destructive fool.

==

That time I really did pass out.

Consciousness slammed back about fifteen minutes later, the world just suddenly there in front of me, alive and moving. I was sitting bolt upright on the sofa at the back of the Hoptons’ dining room, with Raine clicking her fingers in front of my eyes.

“Heather, Heather,” she was saying, “Heather, come on, come back. Heather, Heather.”

Evelyn said, from right next to me, “Try splashing her with water.”

“Lozzie,” said Praem.

“I trust her too,” Raine said “but I’d be more comfortable if Heather was conscious and responding. Hey, maybe we should splash her—”

“Ahhhh,” I winced, blinking several times and screwing my eyes shut as I came around. “Raine, stop, please, I’m fine, I’m fine. Don’t splash me with water, please.”

Raine let out a huge sigh of relief and leaned back on her haunches; she was kneeling in front of me. Evelyn sighed too, strangled and tight. Through my blurred vision I realised she was sitting next to me, on the sofa. Praem was standing a few feet away, watching us both.

We were seated in the clearest, cleanest part of the dining room, furthest away from the slowly melting corpses of the dead Outsiders. They were little more than puddles of steaming goo now, almost gone. Bubble-servitors lay against most surfaces, metabolising the blood and guts. Other people moved in the kitchen and out on the patio, turned to ghosts by my blurred vision.

I felt like I’d spent a night vomiting. My stomach muscles ached as if I’d been punched in the gut. The right side of my abdomen burned, hot and hard and stiff inside. Without thinking, I gathered my tentacles in my arms, hugging them to my front, making sure they were still manifested and attached to me. Some instinctive part of my mind was afraid they might have turned to ash and faded away to nothing, like in the early days before my bio-reactor, when bodily euphoria was hard-won and often abandoned in pain. But I was whole, I was here.

“She’s back,” Raine sighed. “Heather, Heather, open your eyes and tell me how many fingers I’m holding up.”

“I never left,” I murmured, trying to piece together the last few minutes. I blinked and squinted. “Three fingers.”

“And now?”

“Two. And now four. Raine, stop, I— ahhh.”

“Keep your eyes open.” Raine flicked on her mobile phone’s flash-light function, then half-blinded me with it while she watched my pupils react. “Good, you’re not concussed.”

“Small mercies,” Evelyn grumbled.

“Mercy,” said Praem.

I cleared my throat, croaking and dry. Somebody — Praem — pressed a glass of water into my hands. I had to let go of my tentacles to accept it, but it went down sweet and rough, scouring blood and mucus out of my throat. I coughed for a moment, Raine’s hand on my back.

“Was I unconscious, was—” I almost lurched out of the chair in horror when my memories clicked back into place. “Nicky! Did I stab Nicky?!”

Raine caught me, firmly and insistently, and pressed me back down into the sofa. Praem caught the glass which had tumbled from my hands.

“You passed out before you could stab anybody,” Raine said. “Nicky’s fine, on her way to the hospital. Heather, slow down, take a deep breath. Breathe with me, okay? In and out, there you go, that’s it. Just sit. Sit right there. Relax.”

I tried my best to do as I was told, but my tentacles pushed against the sofa. “Raine, I … I don’t know what came over me. I was going to … do to her what I did to the Knight. Fix her. I … I’m sorry.”

“Hey,” Raine said, flashing a grin. “No pumping other ladies with your ovipositor, okay?”

“Raine!” I squeaked in horror. She laughed — but the joke had distracted me long enough to short-circuit my desire to stand up and keep moving.

“Just breathe, Heather. Don’t think about anything for a bit.”

“Head empty,” said Praem. “No thoughts.”

Evelyn sighed like this was the most stupid thing she’d ever heard.

“You too,” said Praem. “Head empty.”

“Yes, yes,” Evelyn grumbled.

Raine spent a couple of minutes kneeling in front of me, rubbing my hands, making sure I really was present and not leaving again. I could tell she was worried by the way she watched my eyes and my face, by the tension in her shoulders, the expectant waiting in her musculature. Eventually, when I felt I’d been a good girl and taken enough slow, calming breaths, I explained.

“I didn’t go anywhere, Raine. I was just unconscious.”

Raine winced. Evelyn grumbled, “No you bloody weren’t.”

“Excuse me?”

Raine sighed. Her pained expression hurt me in a way I couldn’t really deal with. She said, “For the first few minutes, sure you were. You were out cold. But then you sat up and opened your eyes and just … sat there.” She pulled a grin, but it was fractured inside. “Thought you’d gone diving again.”

I shook my head. “I won’t go back to the abyss. I think I just ran too hot. Ow.” I pressed a hand to my right flank, where the flesh was stiff and sore. My skin there did feel hot, as if I was running a localised fever, or had an infection.

“Maintenance cycle required,” said Praem.

Raine laughed gently. “How do you feel, Heather?”

“My reactor hurts,” I said, ashamed to admit it. “I feel like I’ve pulled a muscle or strained something. That’s what knocked me out. I tried to fire it back up, and … well, now it kind of burns.”

“Maybe give it a rest then, yeah?” Raine said, then reached out and squeezed my knees. Her tone was silk over iron: I would rest whether I wanted to or not.

“But I have to help!” A lump grew in my throat. “Raine, this is all my fault, I have to help, I have to—”

A hand grabbed my arm so hard the grip hurt my bones; Evelyn’s fingers dug into my flesh. I winced and turned, an automatic complaint on my lips — but Evelyn wore an expression like a pagan goddess who had discovered her temple surrounded by an invading army. She was half-collapsed into the sofa, her eyes pits of exhaustion, looking more like a crumpled old woman than ever before. Skin waxy with effort, lips a tight line, her expression burned me right through. White phosphorus in a human shell.

My words died in my throat. “E-Evee?”

She sat up, leaning toward me. Under other circumstances I would have assumed I was about to get kissed. Praem reached down with one hand to support her. It was like having a banshee in one’s face — albeit a banshee I loved dearly.

“We. Cannot. Take. You. To. Hospital,” she crunched out.

“ … o-okay.”

“If you fuck up your exotic organ, we can’t do anything about it. I don’t know what it is or how it works. If you burn yourself out and injure yourself, I cannot fix you. Stop.”

I swallowed, and nodded, and eased myself back into the sofa cushions. “Okay, Evee.”

I obey. Had I really said that earlier? I had. And here I was, doing it again.

“Good,” Evelyn said with a huge sigh. The energy seemed to go out of her, and she leaned back right next to me, shoulder to shoulder. Her long blonde hair was escaping her ponytail. “Rest or I’ll have Praem tie you up.”

“You too,” said Praem. Evee huffed and waved that comment away.

Twil stuck her head around the kitchen door. “Hey, Raine, we need another pair of hands. Heather good? Heather good, yeeeah. Hey, Big H.”

“Hello Twil,” I said. “Is everyone else … ” I meant to say ‘okay’, but that seemed grossly inadequate for the circumstances, so I just trailed off, feeling lame and useless.

“Everyone’s cool. Well, auntie Amanda’s kinda whacked, but she’s always like that. Raine?”

“Sure, sure,” Raine said, straightening up. She stroked my hair back from my forehead. “Stay here, okay, just rest, just relax.”

I nodded. “I’ll be good. Where is Zheng?”

“Checking on the bubbles, making sure there’s nothing coming through the woods. Just rest. Promise me.”

“I promise.”

She turned to Praem. “Keep an eye on these two, yeah? Make sure they don’t run with scissors or play with fire.”

“Both eyes,” said Praem.

Raine went off to help Twil, into the kitchen, probably to carry a body, or swab blood, or oversee the angels doing something disgusting. I just sat there, shoulder to shoulder with Evelyn, staring at the wreck of the room and the shattered back door covered with a film of stretched-out bubble-servitors. It was a very strange place to take a little break, but to be fair I had sat down and rested in far more alien locales.

“Lozzie?” I croaked after a moment.

“Went to Camelot with Tenny,” Evelyn said, dry and scratchy. “Lozzie took one look at you and said you were fine. Only reason I didn’t panic. Tenny was inconsolable. Needed to get her away from all this.”

“Poor Tenns.”

“Mm.”

A long pause stretched between us, comfortable and companionable. Eventually I said, “We should buy her something.”

“Mm?”

“As an apology. Or a treat. Or a reminder that we all love her.”

“Mm. But what?”

“Moth plushie?” I suggested.

“Poor taste,” Evelyn grumbled.

“Why? It’s just like a doll, but … more like her.”

“Heather, she’s got the mind of a fourteen year-old. A doll would be an insult.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe a very large moth plushie. Deluxe size.”

We slipped into silence again. My right flank and my head were competing to produce the most worrying throbbing sensations. My eyes itched, my teeth felt too sharp, and Evelyn felt lovely and warm against my shoulder. Without thinking about the implications, I snuggled a little closer to her. But I kept one tentacle at full extension, draped over the opposite arm of the sofa: the tentacle I’d almost used on Nicole. The tip still felt spongy.

Evelyn’s shoulder was both bony and soft at the same time. Something inside me could tell how exhausted she was, how drained and brittle and dry. My needle-tentacle twitched and quivered.

Part of me wanted to inject her, too.

“Bloody hell,” Evelyn said, apropos of nothing.

“You can say that again,” I mumbled. I blinked hard and tried to concentrate on anything except the desire to penetrate Evelyn with my tentacle; I was certainly not going to mention it. I glanced up at Praem instead.

Our faithful doll-demon was wearing the rags of her maid uniform, bloody and shredded but untouched beneath. Chin high, spine straight, no amount of disrobing or damage could touch her dignity and poise. She stared back at me with clear blank-white eyes.

“Thank you for protecting Evee,” I said.

“Thank you for protecting Evee,” she echoed back at me.

I pulled an awkward smile and said, “Are we in the naughty corner right now? Are you meant to make sure we don’t get up and cause more trouble?”

Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Heather, rest, for pity’s sake.”

Praem said in her bell-clear voice, “Bad girls sit in the time-out seat. Together.”

Evelyn and I shared an awkward look, faces only inches apart. Evelyn cleared her throat and I turned away, suddenly self-conscious. This was getting silly. We shared a moment of burning awkwardness amid the rubble.

“Heather,” Evelyn said eventually — and I knew by her tone of voice that this was going to be a significant change of subject. “What happened earlier?”

When I looked back at Evee, she’d shed the awkward embarrassment, probably on purpose, dragging us back to a practical topic to save us both. Her eyes burned with a mage’s curiosity, but I mostly felt awkward and guilty.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know, I know. Don’t inject anybody with the magical life juice, I know. I didn’t mean to, I wasn’t even thinking about it, not consciously. I just saw Nicole in the back of the car, injured and in pain and … and my fault. And I’m so worried about Sevens. I had to do something, I had to … ”

Evelyn watched me trail off, frowning harder and harder. For a moment I was certain she was going to snap at me.

“E-Evee?”

She said, very slowly and carefully, “Heather, I’m not talking about your concerning desire to spread your seed or whatever—”

“Evee!” I squeaked, blushing even through the exhaustion and pain.

“—I’m talking about earlier. You went full rip and tear.”

I blinked at her, coming down from my blush. “You mean when the Outsiders got indoors?”

“Yes.” Evelyn wet her lips and swallowed, staring at me the whole time. “You went feral. For a second I was worried you were out of control or something, when I saw you walk into this room.”

A cold feeling settled into my belly. “Oh. Um. I don’t … don’t recall it very well. I think I spooked Kimberly.”

“Mmhmm.”

Evelyn just stared at me, waiting for an explanation, or to see if I would erupt into a ball of tentacles. Praem stared too. I couldn’t take that; I couldn’t deal with being looked at in that way by Evelyn, of all people.

“I—I just,” I stammered. “I wanted to— I felt like— I couldn’t help—”

Evelyn snorted, which surprised me. I blinked up at her again. “Yes, Heather, you never can help being heroic. You’ve made that point plenty of times. Stop being so bashful.”

I blinked rapidly. “ … heroic?”

Evelyn huffed and rolled her eyes. “If you hadn’t dealt with that Outsider at our rear, it would have burst into the room while Felicity and I were trying to complete the spell. Probably would have gone right through us. God knows I didn’t have the energy left to hit it with my walking stick. Well done, Heather, you saved us again. So stop acting all modest. Give yourself more credit.”

I stared, dumbstruck. “I thought you were looking at me in disgust.”

“Eh?” Evelyn squinted.

“I was ‘full squid’, wasn’t I? I’m covered in bruises now, I’m going to be paying for this tomorrow, which means I must have instinctively covered myself in plates and spines. I remember bits of it. I must have been a sight.”

“I didn’t have my glasses on,” said Evee. She frowned as if this made no sense at all. “I’m sure you looked glorious, stop beating yourself up.”

Such a final dismissal, such a casual side-swipe; Evelyn’s tone left no doubt that she simply did not care what I looked like, even covered in spikes and armour plating and spitting venom. And she wasn’t putting it on for my sake, she wasn’t being polite or kind or accepting. She just didn’t care.

I love this woman too much.

“Oh, Evee.” I put one arm around her front in an awkward hug, so very gently, more of a hover-hand than an embrace. She went stiff, but patted my arm in return.

“We’re already splattered with blood, Heather. Don’t make it worse.” She cleared her throat. “But thank you. Yes. I think.”

I let go and leaned back into the sofa, beaming at her.

Praem said, staring right at me, “Very elegant. Such fast. Much squid.”

“Oh!” I beamed at her too — at the exact moment Evelyn sighed like a bellows and looked like she wanted to reach up and flick Praem in the forehead.

“You’re very lucky you are my daughter,” Evelyn said to Praem. “If Twil said that I’d put her in a kennel for a week.”

“Concern,” said Praem.

Evelyn’s jaw went tight.

I wasn’t following any of this, I was just delighted to get called elegant. Nobody had ever called me ‘elegant’ before. “Thank you, Praem. Are you okay? How are you feeling? Your maid dress is all shredded, we’re going to need to get you a replacement.”

Praem said nothing, just stared.

“Ahem ahem, ladies,” came Twil’s voice as she wandered in from the main corridor. “What’s this about putting me in a kennel? Like to see you try, Saye. Like to see you try.”

Twil shot us both a wink, thrumming with energy, fully recovered from her ordeal. She was an even bigger mess than Praem, covered in gore and missing bits of her clothes, though she’d made a token effort to wipe her face and hands.

“More like an ice bath,” Evelyn grumbled. “Aren’t you gonna wash that off?”

“Actually yeah,” Twil said. “Feel kinda vile. Figured there’s no point until we’ve slung all the hounds in a hole first though.” She nodded at me. “Hey, uh, Big H, I couldn’t help overhearing some of that. Some of what you were saying.”

“Eavesdropping?” I asked, then tutted. “Oh, Twil.”

“It’s my house! And I was helping haul one of those freak corpses out of the little sitting room, before it melts into the carpet. Look, I was just wondering, how come you reacted so differently to the hound going for Kim earlier?”

I blinked at her, not quite following. “I’m sorry?”

“You know.” Twil grinned wide, all teeth, and I realised she was trying to help me. Bless her, she was trying to help me with Evee. “For Kim you did a big leap, but with those things getting in here you lost your rag and went berserk. Which was way cool, by the way. Caught a snatch of it myself.”

I sighed and narrowly resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of my nose. “Twil, I lost control because all my friends and family were being threatened. And because those Outsiders are an obscenity.”

“Yeah but—”

“Twil,” I sighed.

For once, Evelyn was the one not following the hidden subtext of this conversation. Twil wanted me to say ‘I did it to protect Evee!’ But that wasn’t true. I did it to protect everybody.

Twil’s grin turned awkward. She nodded along. “Yeah, ‘course. But you know, it was—”

“I did it because this is all my fault, Twil. I lost control because I was angry, because we were going to get hurt — did get hurt! Because of me! This was all for me, in the end. Don’t tell me it wasn’t. If it wasn’t for me, and the Eye, and— and Maisie, then nobody would have gotten hurt here today. You all did this for me. This house is wrecked, Nicole has a broken shin, and we may have traumatised Tenny. I made Lozzie kill something. All because of me. And I can’t do anything to thank you enough. You and everybody else. I owe you too much.”

I couldn’t stop the words once I started speaking them. Twil went quite still; she hadn’t expected an outburst of emotion in response to her terrible attempt at being my wing-woman. I took a shuddering breath and turned my eyes down to the stained and bloody carpet.

Evelyn’s lips parted with a wet click. “Heather—”

“This was for all of us,” said Christine Hopton.

I looked up as she stepped into the room behind Twil. Wearing sensible shoes and a multicoloured shawl over her shoulders, she looked smaller than ever, shrunken and hardened, showing every single one of her years. But Twil’s mother, so much like Twil herself, gave me a warm smile.

“Mum,” Twil huffed. “You were eavesdropping.”

“Pot kettle black, dear,” said Christine. “Pick your battles.”

Twil huffed and let her shoulders slump. I had the feeling she’d heard that particular line many times before.

“I’m sorry for doing so much damage to your home,” I said.

“Sorry?” she echoed, acting surprised. I knew it was acting, but she was so good at it; her gentle tone of voice invited one to simply go along with the play. “You’re apologising to me, and to my husband, and to Twil, and Amanda too — for something done by Edward Lilburne?”

“But if I wasn’t—”

“If you weren’t here, then my daughter would never have made so many friends in the city. If you weren’t here, then I doubt the Church would have been able to reconcile with Miss Saye. If you weren’t here to warn us all those months ago, then the Sharrowford Cult may have gotten the better of us. If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t have witnessed so many miracles.”

“But your doors and windows would be intact,” I said. I almost sobbed. Evelyn reached down and squeezed my hand.

Christine Hopton laughed. “Doors and windows can be replaced. Blood can be washed out of carpets. Even bones can be set. All of these things are worth the long-term security we are buying by working together. You did not do any of this, Heather. Edward Lilburne did. And our god wants him gone too.”

I started crying softly. Had to wipe my tears away on my sleeve.

“Jeeze, mum,” said Twil.

“Hush, dear.”

“Truth,” said Praem. And it was.

Evelyn cleared her throat. “Mrs Hopton—”

“Christine, please. I know we’ve had our differences, but please.”

“Christine,” Evelyn sighed. I was too busy wiping my face to watch the exchange. “Windows and doors can be repaired, but that does require money. I was not joking about my willingness to fund repairs to your home. Especially since insurance is going to have — issues, if they decide to properly investigate and audit this.”

I felt rather than saw the smile on Christine Hopton’s face. And I felt Amanda step into the room behind her. I felt their god shifting inside both their minds, a sliver of a giant seen through a keyhole.

“That’s very kind of you to offer,” Christine said. “But we’ve dealt with insurance assessors before. Hringewindla can be very persuasive to uninitiated minds.”

“Ewwww,” went Twil. “Seriously?”

“After your grandfather passed away, we had to improvise.”

A moment of creeping silence. I cleared my eyes and found Evelyn regarding our hosts with a tightness in her jaw. Twil was cringing away from her mother and her aunt. A bubble-servitor was sitting on Amanda Hopton’s shoulders like a cross between a parrot and a portable pillow.

“Quite,” said Evelyn.

“No lasting damage,” said Amanda, eyes hazy and lids drooping, speaking for her god.

“Less said the better,” Evelyn grunted. “My offer stands.”

Christine nodded. “We can talk about that later, Evelyn. For now I think we all need a cup of tea and a sit down.”

“Tea,” said Praem.

Christine continued, “I think the worst of the clean-up is done. I’ll call the others back. Should we strategise? I take it that’s your next move?”

“Our next move is finding Sevens,” I said. “We have to wait, or … ”

Twil was staring out of the shattered back doors, through the film of bubble-servitors, across the patio, toward the edge of the forest, frowning and squinting. I trailed off. The others followed my gaze.

“Twil?” Christine said. “Dear?”

“Hold up a sec … there’s … naaaaah, what?”

Evelyn sighed explosively. “If there’s a second giant spider I’m calling Jan so she can nuke us from orbit.”

“Ha ha, yeah.” Twil stepped closer to the window. “There’s a guy. A dude. At the edge of the woods.”

I craned to see, but Twil’s eyes were better than mine, better than any human. I couldn’t see anything except clean sunlight and the darkness beneath the trees.

Evelyn had gone stiff. “A stray walker?”

“Nah, he’s looking this way. Binoculars? Shiiiiiit.” A grin ripped across Twil’s lips. She flexed her fingers like unsheathing a weapon. “This is Eddy’s follow-up, to check if we’re dead, right? Somebody find Zheng, and Raine. We can get him and—”

A voice like rusty nails down a rotten blackboard scratched across the inside of my skull, making my teeth judder and my eyes water.

“Hush hasty wolfie,” said Aym, nestled in the corner of the room, a pool of a shadow in the junction between two walls. “We’re hunting rabbits. And we’ve almost got him.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter



Heather is right, violence is never like in the movies. And the aftermath is always so much worse. Most people don’t want to tentacle-inject their allies though, that’s Heather’s problem (and maybe not a problem??? Who knows!) But Twil, oh Twil, this is 500% not the time. Hope you’re all enjoying this arc, because there’s a lot more to come! Thanks for reading!

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:

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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, shhhhhh, be very quiet. We’re huntin’ wabbits.

16 thoughts on “sediment in the soul – 19.5

  1. Thanks for the chapter! Looks like Seven-Shades-of-Silent-Stalker found the next step on the path (btw I LOOOOVE the running Seven-Shades-of-increasingly-questionable-names gag)

    • You’re very welcome, glad you enjoyed it!

      Seven-Shades-of-Sneaking-Mission has been off doing black ops in the wake of the siege, indeed! But only Aym came back …

      And thank you! I do love the weird names for Sevens, they’re so much fun to come up with and figure out when/where Heather would use them.

    • Heather needs a nap, a day off, and a nice big meal. She’s pushing herself a little bit too hard here.

      And you are very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it, thank you for reading.

  2. Hahaha, Heather and her tentacles are growing ever closer to a hentai. I’m sure Raine and Sevens would approve.
    Heather should know that she should only use her tentacles on her Poly, bad girl.
    Felicity x Kimberly is sailing fast and hard, hehehe.
    This whole ordeal seemed to be good for Felicity, how nice.
    Glad Sevens and Aym are okay.
    Thank you for the chapter.

    • Well, we haven’t see what Heather and Raine get up to in bed (and we won’t, at least not on screen), but I think we can safely assume that Heather has been made fully aware of the potential of her tentacles! But yes, Heather need to stick to using them only on her polycule!

      Felicity x Kimberly. Hmmm, perhaps we’ll see some of that from Kim’s perspective, eventually.

      And you are very very welcome! Glad you enjoyed the chapter! Thank you for reading!

  3. Great chapter!

    Oh, oh, I know this one!
    Viscera Cleanup Detail! The bubbles would have been very useful in that game, there’s always blood on the ceiling somehow.

    • Thank you very much! Glad you enjoyed reading!

      Yeah, well spotted! Viscera Cleanup Detail, indeed! Imagine having a bubble-servitor helper or two in that game, it would be very cute but also a little too easy.

  4. With that last line from Aym my mouth made a big scary smile, with lots teeth. I love it. I also love how Heather doesn’t know what to do because this battle gave her so much shell shock and she can’t come down.

    • A big scary smile! Just like Aym! Hehe. Thank you!

      Heather is very shocked and confused right now, she’s not used to this kind of violence and doesn’t really know how to respond. She needs to relax sooner or later though!

  5. Just Realized I hadn’t made a comment on this one after reading it good chapter

    I’ll post another part of the story in the next one thanks

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