sediment in the soul – 19.9

Content Warnings

Nothing this chapter.



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Felicity Amber Hackett — an older mage from a forest-wrapped manor house in darkest Cumbria, an ex heroin-addict, once-collaborator with Loretta Saye, burn-scarred and secretly tattooed, moving like her joints were made of rusted iron; the woman who had cut off Evelyn’s leg, host to Aym the abyssal mystery, with her one good eye and her twitchy mannerisms and her deeply suspicious intentions, who had spent the last few nights sleeping in her car in front of our house — lit up with a smile so fragile and surprised that I was shamed by my own duplicity.

Her smile was awkward and pained, lopsided due to the missing corner of her lips. The left side of her face lit up too, the ghost of delight moving beneath the scarred surface. She winced softly, tucked her reddish-brown hair behind her good ear, and answered in a rushed mumble.

“I-I’d love to, yes … to come on your walk, with you. Yes. Um, thank you.”

Framed by the open back door of her car and the mist-draped road beyond, with her crumpled makeshift bed lying on the seat, stoop-shouldered and hollow-cheeked and utterly without artifice, eyes shining with sudden skittish joy, wearing a thick cardigan beneath a long coat, Felicity looked more like the pitiful protagonist of a very sappy romance novel, rather than a mage who carried around a concealed shotgun.

My simple question — ‘do you want to come with us?’ — had cut right through all Felicity’s defences, if she even had any in the first place.

She was flattered to be invited. Her smile hid nothing. She hadn’t even figured out why I’d really asked. She thought I was being honest.

That delicate, fluttering response was the very last thing I’d expected. It almost felled me.

I cleared my throat — ouch, that was sore too, what a surprise — and hurried to cover up my mistake. I had so little experience with this kind of intrigue, but I’d assumed she would catch on right away. I felt like a Cold War spy who had sat down on a park bench to meet an undercover contact, whispered my silly code phrase, then turned to see some mystified young girl staring back at me with wide eyes. This was a very underhanded game and I was apparently the only one playing.

But Praem knew. Praem had turned her head to stare at me. Milk-white eyes bored into the side of my face, silently asking what I was up to and did I need any help and would I prefer to rethink this plan? My hand was turning clammy in hers. Praem probably considered me a bumbling amateur. Or worse: horribly rude.

“I mean, Felicity— F-F-Fliss? May I call you that? It’s a very nice nickname, um—” I didn’t wait for a response, barrelling on in my occluded embarrassment, fingernails digging into my palm in the darkness of my hoodie’s front pocket; gosh, my joints did ache. “We’re only walking down to the corner shop to buy lemons. I mean, lemons and other things. I’ve got cravings. Not that I’m pregnant. I-I mean I can’t get—” I slammed to a stop and puffed out a huge sigh. What on earth was I even saying? This was getting worse by the second. “You did just wake up and you must be incredibly tired after yesterday; I apologise, it’s very presumptuous of me to invite you for a walk before you’ve even had breakfast or stretched your legs or taken a drink of water.” Oh, good back-pedal, well done. I patted myself on the back. Praem stared through my skull. “But you are welcome to come with us, of course,” I added.

Back-pedalling from my own back-pedal. They’d have to invent a new sport for me. I was such a sucker for that fragile smile — and not in a romantic sense. A bizarre little part of me wanted to offer Felicity some kind of comfort, somehow. She’d fought alongside us. She didn’t deserve to sleep in her car.

Felicity and Praem were both staring at me now, Praem with her usual impassive intensity, Felicity with the just-awoken post-sleep befuddlement of somebody who has opened their front door to a stranger speaking too fast.

I forced a smile, feeling like an absolute moron.

My invitation had served one purpose: to see how Felicity might react. The only reason I asked was because she’d asked a question first: is Evelyn safe — and alone? A protective and secretive part of me did not want Felicity anywhere near Evee, not when everybody else was asleep, not when myself and Praem were out of the house, and not when the only person watching over Evee was Sevens-Shades-of-Side-Piece, who was currently smitten with Aym, who was, in the end, Felicity’s creature.

Or was it the other way around?

Would Felicity turn down the invitation, slink off indoors for ‘breakfast’, and then force an uncomfortable conversation on Evelyn? Would she see this as an opening to express her unwanted and unwelcome devotion? Or would she recognise my gambit? Would she pause to ‘think’, and then agree to come along?

She had done neither. She’d taken me seriously, for which I was completely unprepared.

Praem turned her head ninety degrees to look at Felicity instead. “You are welcome to join us,” she said.

I suppressed a wince and kept smiling. There was no getting out of this now. Felicity was being too vulnerable and real to reject.

“ … well,” Felicity said after a moment, pausing to glance down the misty length of Barnslow Drive; I had to remind myself that she couldn’t see the spirits at the end of the road, the dark humps and rangy shapes and glowing crystal beasts. “Walking to a little corner shop does count as stretching my legs. True, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, so maybe stay upwind of me, I guess.” She tried to smile again, but she’d already re-donned her mantle of awkward self-consciousness. “I used to walk before breakfast every morning. Sometimes still do, if I can find the … door.”

Her smile turned rigid, fully aware of how bizarre that sounded. Her good eye scrunched with effort. Her blind eye tried to mirror the expression, but the skin crinkled in the wrong kind of way.

She lived all alone in an ancient manor house, with only Aym and God alone knew what else for company. How long had it been since she’d done something this normal?

But I was genuinely curious. Embarrassment turned to concern.

“Fliss, how are you doing, really? After yesterday, I mean. You and Evelyn both took a bit of a beating, metaphysically, or spiritually, or … ?”

Felicity put on a show of straightening up and easing her shoulders back, which made her wince and whine deep in her throat; my own aching carcass shivered in recognition. It was like watching an old ironing board get unfolded, flakes of rust falling from the joints, painted metal legs scraping together, the fabric cover hanging loose, elastic rotted away long ago. Felicity screwed her eyes shut and pushed her shoulder blades back. My own bruises throbbed with animalistic sympathy, my gums itching, my finger joints aching. I almost apologised.

She muttered, “I’m doing mostly okay, as much as I can expect. I’ve done that kind of thing plenty of times before. Well, mm, not the fighting part, but the magic part. I’m used to it. Kind of. Don’t worry, I won’t fall down or collapse or anything. I can walk. The fresh air might help.”

“Well, yes.” I cleared my throat, mirroring her awkwardness. “We were probably planning to sit down on a bench for a bit … anyway … yes.”

Praem stared at me again. I started to blush. We hadn’t planned that at all, I’d made it up on the spot.

Felicity nodded along. “That might be nice. So, a corner shop?”

“There’s one a few streets away. Not much, but we can pick up some basics. It’s not a Spar or a Tesco Express or anything, just local.”

Felicity smiled again, the echo of old delight under her skin. “Is it the sort of place we can get a bag of penny sweets?”

“Penny sweets?”

Felicity paused, then let out a puff of self-deprecating laughter, a single sad chuckle. “Oh, wow. Now I feel really old. Thanks.”

“I-I didn’t mean to—”

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “It was a bad joke. I’m not that old. Just, I guess penny sweets aren’t a thing anymore.”

“They are,” said Praem. “You may have a strawberry.”

“Oh, uh, thank you.”

Felicity glanced down the street again. As she did, her body language shifted; those rolled-back shoulders stiffened with tension, her good eye flicked back and forth, and her throat bobbed. She took her sports bag from inside the car and put the strap over her shoulder. One gloved hand settled on the zip, ready to open it and draw her sawn-off shotgun. She closed the car door and looked at us in a very different way to before, frowning delicately, like an exhausted but wary animal.

She asked: “I’ll be under your protection, though, right?”

I’d almost forgotten. Felicity had problems of her own.

My heart ached, and not because of a bruise — it was the fragile smile, the skittish caution of long experience, the unguarded desire to do something normal with a nice polite young woman who had invited her for a walk. Felicity wasn’t only not trying to get Evelyn alone, she was trusting that Praem and I were on her side, just for the chance to go buy a can of coffee.

Was this how mages ended up, if they didn’t become monsters? Isolated and broken and jumping at shadows?

Was Felicity a vision of Evee’s future — or my future?

There was only one answer to that fear.

“You won’t need your shotgun,” I said. “Nobody would dare ‘mess with’ Praem and I.”

Praem intoned, “Hard girls. Scary girls.”

I cleared my throat. “Sorry, that was a very Raine way of putting it. Yes, we’re too scary to mess with. Don’t let our appearance fool you.”

“Good girls,” Praem added.

“Yes. I suppose.”

Felicity managed a weak laugh. “Thanks. If it’s all the same, I’ll still carry the gun. Just in case. You know?”

I managed an equally weak smile. “If we get stopped and searched by the police, I don’t know you.” Then I quickly added, “Sorry. Bad joke.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Felicity shook her head. “That would actually be entirely fair. Do police do a lot of stops around here?”

“Oh, no. That was just hyperbole. Look at the place, it’s not exactly rough, not in that kind of way.” I gestured down the street with one hand and two tentacles, down the length of Barnslow Drive with its rotten old houses, the ragged edge of Sharrowford’s residential development, these forgotten buildings on the rim of a city that had forgotten itself a long time ago. The terraced houses in the distance were shrouded by thinning mist. Sharrowford burbled nonsense to herself, lost in dreams of history. For a moment I followed my own gesture, staring at the slice of city I could see from my human-level sight-line.

My bioreactor still felt thick and cold in my belly, but it resonated with the city like a note played on the edge of a wine glass. I held that note for a second, entranced by my own thoughts.

Felicity cleared her throat. I snapped back around, blinking, blushing in my own confusion. “Sorry, I—”

But she was already asking Praem a question, adjusting the sports bag on her shoulder, nodding toward the darkened house behind us.

“Before we go, though — is Evelyn safe by herself?” Felicity said. “You both look after her, so … ”

“She is never alone,” said Praem.

Felicity smiled again, with relief and acceptance. Good enough for me.

“Shall we, then?” I asked. “I am getting peckish, rather rapidly. And it will be … well, I don’t know. Five to ten minutes, perhaps?”

Felicity nodded, locked her car, and fell in beside us.

The route to the nearest corner shop was not very long, but longer than any pre-breakfast jaunt had right to be, especially for somebody covered in bruises, whose knees felt like ground glass with every step, and whose stomach complained and grumbled like an argumentative steam engine. I was not, strictly speaking, exhausted or incapable; I had slept well, my muscles functioned, my head was clear. Much like Felicity, I could walk, carry myself along, and not fall flat on my face. As we left Barnslow Drive and turned right down the main road, the walk started to do me some good, working those muscles to stretch out the knots, grinding my joints until the glass smoothed out. The air itself hurt my gums and the weak, milky sunlight made my eyes water, but one cannot win every minor battle, especially when one is generally turning the tide of the war.

The movement encouraged my body to wake up, to unlimber my sore tendons and push blood through thirsty veins. I needed this.

Praem and I walked hand in hand, which was a delightful experience. Her cream skirt swished around her ankles and her boots clicked with pleasing regularity along the pavement, squeaked on the aged tarmac of the crossings, and somehow never varied despite her need to keep pace with me and my stubby little legs, my clumsy walk, my fused knees. She was very elegant in motion, as always.

Felicity ambled along on my opposite side, occasionally tilting her head back and closing her eyes to take a deep breath. She had to force that gesture; I could see the conscious effort in her frame every time she held back her paranoia, every time she broke her vigilance.

She seemed as if she expected to get attacked at any moment.

Her alertness was very different to my own caution. I wasn’t a fool, I knew Edward Lilburne might be in the process of sending something after us, right then. I kept my head on a swivel, looking left and right, down each side-street, sometimes even checking behind us. Few human beings were out on the streets this early in the morning, just the occasional person walking to their own car or headed to work. Anybody who saw us didn’t bother to give us a second glance; to those not in the know we were completely unremarkable, despite the fact I often expected somebody to randomly stare at Praem’s stunning good looks. But I checked every face, watched every figure. I paid special attention to the spirit life which carried on its usual bizarre routine, on the rooftops and in the back alleys, dancing in the street, playing ineffable games in the middle of the road and atop the cars. Spindly stick creatures stopped to look at me when I stared back. Lumps of living moss on the sides of buildings froze when I watched them. Skitter-limbed ghoul-things raced down the road, slowing to a crawl when I fanned out my tentacles, then speeding up again when they were past our little group.

But Felicity walked with her hand on her sports bag, seeking comfort from the shotgun within. She shot a flicker-look at each human being we saw, a lingering question, then darted away again without dismissal. She stiffened at each new corner. I could see the tension in her neck muscles, in the tightness of her upper back, in a musculature of fear. She was making me ache in sympathy.

Still one street away from the nearest corner shop, I had to speak up.

“Felicity,” I said with exaggerated delicacy. “You can relax, really. If there’s anything wrong, Praem and I will notice.”

“All is right,” said Praem.

Felicity winced sidelong at us, with an apologetic crease in her scarred brow. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“We are in Sharrowford,” said Praem.

I said, “You don’t have to be sorry. I know habits like that are hard to break. I know that better than most.”

Felicity sighed — but her eyes still flickered to an alleyway as we approached a break in the line of houses. It was one of those antiquated rear access passages where people sometimes still stored their bins.

“Hyper-vigilance has served me well,” she mumbled. “I know it’s off-putting, but it keeps me alive. This is just who I am.”

“Are you seriously afraid that we’re going to get attacked?” I asked. “Or is it more of a habit? Just something subconscious? If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”

Praem said, “All is right in Sharrowford.”

Felicity swallowed as we stepped past the alleyway. I peered around her. There was nothing down there, just damp brickwork and scraps of rubbish, a few clumps of moss and weeds poking through broken tarmac. A spirit creature was sitting on the ground at the end of the alley, a rotund thing like a pig-person, but with a face in the middle of its distended belly. It raised a three-fingered paw in greeting, with glowing symbols rotating around the paw. Another, smaller pig was sitting by its side, trying to imitate the symbols. I awkwardly waved back. No reason to be rude.

“I don’t really think we’re going to be attacked,” Felicity admitted. “But … ”

Her voice cracked. I felt that drop in my stomach which told me I’d stepped into a puddle and found it was a sink-hole.

“But,” Praem echoed, click-sharp and bell-soft. Apparently that was what Felicity needed, because she carried on the thought, a soft murmur from damaged lips in the misty air, framed by Sharrowford red brick and Felicity’s lank hair.

“But I’ve been ambushed before, when I thought I was safe. When I was younger. When I was just … after the book and the … ” She trailed off and then looked around at me suddenly, as if only just recalling that Praem and I were present. Felicity’s throat bobbed. “Sorry, I don’t really talk about this kind of stuff.”

“You can if you want to,” I said.

Did I really want to hear, or was I just being polite? Felicity had fought alongside us. She had proven she cared. I wouldn’t leave her alone with Evee. But I’d hear her out.

She looked away again, steps eating up the pavement in a slow rhythm. Her one good eye fluttered half-closed. Her words came out flat. “The first time I ever let my guard down, a man tried to kill me in a petrol station. A service station. You know, one of those big places on the motorway where you can stop to eat fast food and stuff. I was so tired. I’d been awake for three days. I couldn’t find where I was supposed to be going. The … well, I was kind of lost. Long story. And it happened in broad daylight. Mundane people around. Outside a cookie shop.”

She stopped. Breathing steady. But seeing for a thousand miles.

“Did you have to kill him?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Barely a mumble. Not sad or guilty, just a blunt fact. “Stopped his heart through his chest. There was an article about it in a local paper a few days later. Healthy twenty-six-year-old man dies of a heart attack in a public toilet. Father of two. Big shame, big pity. Blah blah. ‘Course they didn’t know he was working for a magician. Aym dug that article up, a year or two later. I hadn’t seen it before then.” She let out a tiny, pained sigh. “Aym probably heard me say that just now. Knows it still gets to me.”

I drew to a stop in the middle of the pavement. Tongues of thin mist lapped at my ankles, chilling me from my feet upward. Praem stopped with me, so precisely that she didn’t even tug on my hand. She stared at me. Felicity halted awkwardly too, looking half-over her shoulder like a suspect in a goofy mystery.

“You can stop people’s hearts?” I asked.

All my tentacles were hovering, ready to form a shark-cage around my front, despite the terrible ache in their roots. I couldn’t stop the instinctive response. Felicity couldn’t even see it, but I burned with embarrassment even as abyssal instinct hissed for caution.

Felicity shrugged. “With the right motivation.” Then she blinked and straightened up. Perhaps she saw the look behind my face. “I mean, I probably couldn’t do it to you. Any of you. Even if I wanted to. It only worked because he was set on murdering me. Adaptive bio-feedback reflection, as self-defence. First trick I ever learned. And I don’t have a sacrificial anode anymore, so it would kill me too. Unless I wanted to hurt Aym. And I don’t. I wouldn’t.”

Felicity was so wretched while she explained herself with these snatches of a memory I did not want to share. I held up my free hand and said, “It’s okay, Fliss. It’s okay. I believe you. You don’t have to make excuses. I believe you, I just—”

“I know,” she said, in the softest mumble she could. “I know what I’ve done. I know how you look at me. It’s fair enough.”

Her words were self-pity but her voice held nothing but acceptance. She wasn’t asking for forgiveness. There was no absolution to give; or perhaps she didn’t believe herself deserving of redemption. Maybe I’d completely misunderstood her motivations. Or maybe I just wasn’t Evelyn.

We stared at each other across a few feet of cold Sharrowford pavement. She shuffled her boots and glanced back the way we’d come.

“Strawberries,” said Praem.

I combined a sigh and a laugh into a single awkward puff, which hurt my throat, again. “Yes, we should really get going to the corner shop. My tummy is still all rumbly. Did you want to pick up anything specific, Fliss?”

Felicity blinked with numb surprise, then with unspoken relief. She nodded slowly. “If I can’t get penny sweets, then maybe a packet of crisps.”

“Oh, we can do better than a packet of crisps,” I said, leading on. Praem fell in alongside me, perfectly in step. Felicity rejoined us too.

“Really? Do they carry those microwavable Cornish Pasties? Pork pies? Anything with some terrible processed meat in it. Before Aym stops me.”

“Aym stops you eating meat?”

Felicity shrugged as we waded through the shallow fog. “I promised to be a vegetarian once. I’m very bad at it. Aym likes to remind me.”

I glanced up at the quiet houses, down the foggy street, and over my shoulder, but there was no scrap of lace-wrapped black shadowing us from the alleyways and darkened windows. “Does she really follow you everywhere?”

“Uh huh.”

“Is she with us now?”

Felicity sighed. “If she wasn’t, I’d be dead.”

The little corner shop was a place called Bernando’s. It was run by a very jovial middle-aged Indian couple and their adult daughter; Raine had informed me that none of them was the titular ‘Bernando’. Nobody knew who Bernando was. The shop stood at the end of that road, at a junction of five different narrow streets which had probably once been a meeting place in this part of the city, a tiny crossroads from a time before the big supermarkets, kept on life-support by the local student population stumbling along in need of greasy post-boozer food, foot traffic stopping for morning cigarettes, and the unceasing demand for local newspapers. The windows shone like a lighthouse in the thick grey dawn, promising cheap chocolate bars, infinite lottery tickets, and the latest stack of glossy gossip magazines.

Praem and Felicity and I warranted the exact same “Good morning to you!” call from the young man behind the counter that I’m certain he repeated for every single customer. His tired smile would be the same for Praem in a maid dress, or Zheng with bloody teeth, or Ooran Juh in all his naked glory.

There was precisely one piece of pneuma-somatic life inside the corner shop: a bubblegum-pink bird-shape made of gossamer layers of gauze-like matter, perched on the top of the till. It watched us with little head-bobbing motions as we went to look for food.

Praem and I loaded up with a bag of fresh lemons, two tins of pineapple chunks — in juice, not water — and a bottle of soy sauce. Anything more from my list of cravings was too much to hope for. Certainly not raw fish, unless I wanted to eat frozen fish fingers straight from the box.

“I could try … ” I muttered, as we stood over the big freezer full of microwave meals. “But no, I’m not that desperate. My bioreactor can wait, I’m not crunching up iced fish.”

We picked up a packet of cookies to share back home and found a plastic carton of strawberries for Praem; in-season, but a little sad-looking all the same. The price made my eyes water.

“I only brought twenty pounds along. I’m so sorry, Praem, I should have thought.”

But Praem stepped in to save the day. She had a purse all of her own, tucked into some nearly invisible pocket in her long cream-coloured skirt. I’d never seen it before, a lovely soft fold of deep blue with an inlaid design of a rose in lighter blue. At first I thought it was leather, it looked so supple and new, but then Praem corrected me.

“Fake leather.”

“O-oh, it just looked—”

“Vegan.”

“Sometimes I forget, yes. I am sorry. Um, Praem, you really don’t have to pay for all this, I can put the soy sauce back. Or one of the tins of pineapple. I don’t need two of them, after all. I shouldn’t expect you to—”

“Buy the strawberries.”

I blinked at her milk-white eyes, beneath the too-harsh strip-lights buzzing in the water-stained ceiling of the corner shop. She and I stood framed between two rows of shelves, one full of newspapers and magazines, the other full of cheap bread and bagels and burger buns. Praem seemed so hilariously out of place.

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“I gift you lemons. You gift me strawberries. Equivalent exchange.”

I bit my lip and frowned. “Isn’t that something from one of Evee’s animes?”

“Not this kind. Give me a gift.”

I sighed and smiled at the same time, blushing under the gentle pressure of Praem’s affection. “Very well, Praem. If that’s what you want. You shall have as many strawberries as you like.”

“I will.”

Felicity vanished between the cramped aisles for a couple of minutes while Praem and I deliberated over the relative price of lemons and strawberries. She walked in silence like a wounded ghost, standing in front of a rack of biscuits in her long coat, looking like a misplaced extra from a classic noir film. She returned to join us at the counter, having secured herself a double-sized packet of chocolate digestives, a can of fancy cold-brew coffee, a bottle of truly vile-looking chocolate syrup drink with a very silly name — ‘yogoo’, or ‘yuugoo’ or something equally ridiculous — and a very large pork pie.

“Indulgent breakfast,” she muttered to me, vaguely embarrassed. “You know how it is.”

“It’s alright,” I told her. “I think you’ve done plenty to deserve it.”

The smiling young man behind the counter took our money and gave us bags, nodding and wishing us, “Good morning, thank you, see you again soon!”

His gaze glided off Praem’s empty eyes, his mind protected from the lack of pupil or iris by the fact he wasn’t in the know. Perhaps he thought she was wearing novelty cosmetic contact lenses. I never tired of seeing that spectacle — the minds of mundane people shutting out the supernatural truth, limiting and compacting their own sensory experiences.

But then, as I was salivating over the prospect of fresh lemons and wondering if Felicity really was going to drink that vile chocolate goo, the cashier’s eyes did the same thing with Felicity.

He looked at her face, unable to ignore her disfiguring burn scars, the single blind eye, the fused corner of her lips, the damaged skin made rough and red. He paused fractionally with that involuntary curiosity shown even by the most polite and understanding of people: a tightening of the smile, a spark of thought as he wondered how she had gotten those scars.

And then his eyes unfocused and slid away. Exactly as with Praem.

“Thank you very much,” Felicity said as she accepted her plastic bag. She followed Praem and I back out into the early morning streets.

I glanced back as we stepped out of the door; a scrap of black lace fluttered between the aisles, vanishing behind a pallet of milk bottles.

“Bench,” declared Praem once we were back out in the thin fog.

I stammered a little, still embarrassed at the consequences of my erroneous quick-thinking. “W-we don’t have to go sit down, we could go back to the house and—”

“Bench.”

Felicity sighed heavily. “It is a nice morning. Despite the fog. Warm, dry. I wouldn’t mind a sit, if you want to.”

“Bench.”

“All right, all right,” I said, mortified into acquiescence.

We didn’t want to walk all the way down Bluebell Road and past the university campus just to spend ten minutes sitting in Yare Broad Park; far too early in the morning for that, and I was far too desperate to get one of those lemons into my gullet. Instead we doubled back the way we came, past the mouth of Barnslow Drive once more — with a quick glance down the street to see that Felicity’s Range Rover was still right where we’d left it — and headed in the opposite direction, making for the nearest scrap of land which pretended to be a park.

The triangle of grass, scraggly trees, and badly tended flowerbeds didn’t even have a name; I’d only visited it once before, with Raine, for the sheer pleasure of finding bizarre little places tucked away in the ragged wounds of Sharrowford’s past. The triangle-park was an angle of ground forgotten between three housing developments, as if each had tried to fob it off on the others after finding out it was cursed, or destined to open up into a sink-hole, or technically owned by the King of the Moon. We had no idea who or what tended to the plants, but the pair of benches were kept in reasonable condition by fortuitous shelter from one of the tall, ugly, hundred-year-old brick walls which bracketed the space.

Six months ago I would never have stepped foot in there; the local spirit life loved this spot.

Spindly stick-insect things of spun glass clung to the tops of the walls, sunning their flat-eyed heads with the invisible beams of summer. One corner of the ‘park’ was nothing but a pulsating black mass of flesh, tendrils embedded in the brick, yet more tendrils held in front of it to play some ineffable finger-counting game. Humped shapes like coal-wrought polar bears slumbered along one of the flower beds. A half-dead tree was filled with upside-down severed heads, chattering to each other with silent mouths and no eyes. A furry S-shape writhed back and forth along the ground, a blind and insensate snake. Jellyfish shapes bobbed through the air. A bird made of razor-edged metal spikes spread its wings on one of the benches.

I walked in there, hand in hand with Praem, and I knew all those things meant me no harm.

“That bench is free,” I said, nodding toward the one furthest in the rear.

We settled down without further discussion. Praem and I took one end of the bench while Felicity sat a polite and respectful couple of spaces distant, but still alongside us. She placed her sports bag on the ground between her feet, put her bag of food on top of it, and then opened her can of cold coffee. She took a long sip, then sighed, sitting with her feet far apart, hanging forward slightly over her sports bag and the shotgun within.

“You really needed that, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Suppose so.”

Praem took her time smoothing her skirt over her thighs, very precise in how she sat; I didn’t rush her, whatever it was she was doing. I waited with the box of strawberries and then fed her one when she was ready. She parted her lips, accepted her gift, and chewed with dainty precision.

“Another.”

“Of course, of course.”

“Another.”

“Another?”

“Another. And one for Felicity.”

“Oh, yes,” said Fliss. “I did say thank you to that. Um, thank you.” She accepted a strawberry with one hand, rather awkwardly.

“Another.”

Five strawberries later, Praem closed her lips with a click — no ‘another’ forthcoming. She accepted the box while I finally pulled out a whole lemon from our bag. Fingers aching, eyelids sore, gums throbbing, I stared at it for a second and wondered if I should just pull it open, or use one of my tentacles to cut the skin off. I raised a tentacle to do exactly that, but then Praem gently took the lemon from my hands, twisted it between her own, and handed me back a pair of neatly parted lemon halves.

“Impressive,” Felicity muttered.

“Oh, Praem!” I lit up like a miniature sun. I was almost drooling. “Thank you!”

“You are welcome,” she intoned. “Eat.”

We sat there in companionable silence for a couple of minutes. I sucked on half a lemon, the juice sharp on my tongue, tingly on my fingertips, fresh and light and exactly what my body craved. Chewing on little twists of lemon flesh, watching the tendrils of low fog against the backdrop of the houses opposite, with Praem’s knee against mine, this morning seemed almost unreal. My bioreactor didn’t rumble or leap or jolt inside my abdomen at the taste of lemon juice, but I did feel the spark spread outward as my body got what I needed. I burst little pockets of lemon flesh between my teeth and tried not to get any down my chin. The taste made me pinch my lips together, wincing at the delicious sharpness.

After a minute or two, Felicity cleared her throat and said, “Strawberries. That was her material bond, wasn’t it? Very risky, but paid off, huh?”

I blinked at her. “I’m sorry?”

Praem stared too. And stared. And stared. She stared so hard that Felicity coughed and lowered her eyes.

“Yes,” Praem said eventually.

“Oh,” I said, as understanding dawned. “You can just ask Praem questions directly, if you want to.”

“Yes, I … I know. Sorry. Praem, then. Why strawberries?”

Praem answered like the tolling of a bell made of wafer-thin ice: “Strawberries are delicious.”

Felicity considered this for a moment, blinking her good eye twice. “I guess they are.”

I lowered my piece of lemon – a husk now, sucked dry by my thirst — and considered the other piece in my opposite hand. But then I said, “Felicity, do you mind if I ask you a question? In return, as it were.”

Felicity shrugged inside her long coat. “Ask away.”

“Well, several questions, really.” She shrugged again, so I carried right on. Praem was feeding herself a strawberry and looking away, over at one of the trees; I swear I caught a flicker of black lace in my peripheral vision, but I ignored it. If Aym wanted me to stop, she should show herself and say so. “The first one is about your scars. I don’t want to ask if you don’t want to answer. Is it okay to talk about that?”

Felicity’s good eye took on a suddenly haunted look, almost a thousand-yard stare.

“Strawberry?” Praem said, offering her the box.

Felicity blinked and snapped back to the present. “Uh, no, thank you. Um, Heather, I don’t want to talk about how I … about where … I don’t.”

“That’s quite all right,” I hurried to say. “It’s not about that, it’s about the cashier in the corner shop.”

Felicity frowned at me. “Eh?”

“He looked at your burn scars. And then he looked away.”

Felicity looked utterly mystified by that statement. Her half-scarred brow was furrowed in thought. Her left eye, blind and dull, seemed to roll in the socket. She said, slowly, “Most people are polite. Children stare, sometimes, but … ”

“No, I mean he looked away, against his will. Like you’re something supernatural and he couldn’t focus. Like people used to with Praem, when she was blue.”

Felicity’s eyebrows climbed in surprise. She looked at Praem. “You were blue?”

“Da ba dee da ba di,” said Praem.

We both stared at Praem’s bizarre non-sequitur. She stared back, utterly unfazed.

“Um, anyway,” I said slowly, “he looked away like you were something supernatural. Do you know why that is?”

Felicity sighed heavily and took a long drag from her cold coffee. She kept drinking, tilting the can all the way back to empty it down her throat. She closed her eyes, throat glugging — then finished with a huge huff, jerking her head back down and hurling the empty can across the park with a sudden spasm of anger.

The metal can sailed through the air and went clink off the brick wall opposite. It fell in the grass. Felicity huffed, hard and tight.

“Littering,” said Praem.

“Yeah. Fuck being tidy,” Felicity grunted. But then she stood up and walked all the way across the cramped, pitiful little park, stooped to pick up her can, and walked back. She placed it carefully on the edge of the bench. The spiky metal bird on the next bench over leaned closer to look, as if the empty can was now a tasty morsel. I expected Felicity to flinch away — and had to remind myself that she couldn’t see the spirit creature. She was only a mage, after all.

“Not for you,” said Praem, speaking to the bird. It jerked up and looked at her. “Down.”

Felicity stared at Praem. “What?”

“That wasn’t meant for you,” I hurried to explain. “She was speaking to a spirit.”

“Oh … right. Okay.” Felicity settled back down on the bench and sighed again, elbows on her knees, looking exhausted inside and out. “Sorry, I forget that some of you can do that trick.”

“It’s quite alright. I forget that other people can’t, sometimes.”

Felicity nodded slowly and wet her lips. The metal spirit-bird next to her tilted its head back and forth. I wondered if it was listening as well.

“That cashier back there,” Felicity said at length. “He was probably going to ask how I got the burns. Or maybe just thinking it. That’s all. Please don’t.”

I watched her for a second, staring out at nothing, until she reached down into her plastic bag and took out her pork pie. She slowly unwrapped it and bit into the thick brown pasty, then sighed again. “Oh, that’s good. That’s good stuff. Keep going, then,” she said around a mouthful of food.

“I … I’m sorry?”

“Said you had more questions. I don’t mind.” She looked down at her shoes, then up at the grey-milk sky. “You’re an alright sort of person, I think. Doing good things for Evelyn. You’ve got the right.”

I wanted to squirm out of my seat when she mentioned Evelyn’s name. What was Felicity, really? A mage, certainly. Dangerous? Maybe. But she wasn’t a monster. Or was she? I needed to check, I had to know, but not for myself. I was certain I could protect Evelyn. But there were other areas of life which were none of my business, unless somebody was making danger.

My heart rate increased as I rotated a pair of questions in my mind, examining them from different angles, making sure I had them correct before I began to speak. In a way, I only had one shot at this. My veins ached, the back of my neck was stiff and sore, and my tongue felt like cotton wool; the root was bruised. How does one bruise a tongue? I’m sure Raine would have plenty of creative answers.

Felicity must have felt me staring, because she looked at me and swallowed too hard. “Um … Heather?”

“Arms down,” said Praem.

I huffed a sigh and lowered my tentacles. They had been drifting higher, as if to repulse a sudden attack. “Sorry,” I said. “It’s just … Felicity, back before I met you in person the first time, Evelyn implied that you and Aym have a … romantic and … sexual relationship. She called you a ‘sociopathic pederast demonophile’.”

Felicity winced hard. She screwed her eyes up. “We already discussed this, on the phone. I know what she thinks of—”

“Look at me.”

My voice came out as a strangled whipcrack. I hadn’t expected that. My raw throat ached and throbbed with the effort, but Felicity looked. Felicity obeyed the thing I was.

She was hurting inside, sagging with the wound of Evelyn’s hatred.

“Is it—” I started to say.

Peh! came a spitting sound of pure disgust, from somewhere nearby, from behind a tree or over a wall. I twitched around, headache probing at the sudden movement, but the sound of Aym’s voice did not have a source.

“Aym speaks for us both,” Felicity mumbled, in a voice half-dead. “Aym and I don’t have that kind of … thing. We never did. God, Evelyn really hates me. She really, really hates me. As she should do.”

Abyssal instinct watched Felicity very carefully for several long seconds: the musculature of her face, the angle of her eyes, the oils on her skin. Her eyes were full of regret and sorrow, and other, darker things.

She wasn’t lying.

“Well, good,” I said, my tone lightening in an instant. “I’m sorry to repeat the question — and the insult — but you’ve been in our house for days now, and I had to ask, I had to know, I had to be sure—”

“I know, I know. You look out for Evelyn, you don’t want me near her if—”

“It has nothing to do with Evee,” I said. “I’m looking out for Kim.”

A subtle fire burned in my chest, a flame that had nothing to do with the bioreactor down in my guts. If I was an angel — if I was going to find a place that made sense, as an angel of mathematics and tentacles and abyssal darkness — then the unseen protections were just as important as the berserker rages. In fact, if I could work on the former, maybe the latter wouldn’t need to happen.

Subconsciously, unaware of what I was doing, I slowly spread my tentacles outward, strobing rainbow-soft in the thin fog. The spirit life in that memory of a park turned to look, or stilled their play, or bowed appendages and tendrils and heads in acknowledgement. Praem did not tell me to put my arms down.

“Ahhhhh,” Felicity sighed. “Is this the … what do they call it, in America? The ‘shovel talk’?”

All my angelic thoughts collapsed in confused disarray. I climbed out of a pile of white feathers and numb tentacles. “E-excuse me? I’m sorry, what?”

“Sticks and stones,” Praem intoned, “will break your bones, but words will hurt your heart.”

Felicity put both hands out as if surrendering to us. One was still full of pork pie and wrapper. “I-I didn’t mean to—”

“Fliss,” I said with a huff, sharper than I expected. “I’m not threatening you. Really!”

She frowned back at me. “You probably should be. You know what I am.”

“Argh!” I gestured with my half-lemon, tempted by some devilish impulse to give it a squeeze to squirt lemon juice into her eyes; I didn’t, though, that would be so rude I would probably have collapsed into a blushing pile of apologies, not to mention the pain it might inflict on her burn scars. I had no idea how that would affect her. I settled for sticking the lemon back in my mouth and sucking angrily for a moment.

“H-Heather—”

“Nnn!” I popped the lemon back out. “I’m not threatening you! Yes, I’m very protective of Kimberly, because we essentially rescued her from a cult. She’s traumatised by magic, by even existing in our world, but the last few days she’s seemed happier than ever before. She found purpose again. You heard her! And you helped with that, sometimes indirectly, sometimes on purpose. And now you and her seem … very close. So I want to … check. On you. This is me, running a background check. You already passed.”

“Beep boop,” said Praem. She put another strawberry in her mouth, then took one from the box and flicked it toward the nearest tree. A scrap of black flickered out and snatched it behind the trunk.

Felicity mumbled, “But if I hurt her, you’ll put me in the ground.”

She was deadly serious. Her usual mumble was hushed and full of caution. She eyed me like a fox looking at a wolf.

“No! No, for pity’s sake.” I huffed. “Not everything in this world is life or death. If you, I don’t know, kidnap her or get her possessed by a demon on purpose, then yes, certainly, it’s mage fighty time, I suppose, and you should expect me to murder you in the bath or whatever. But not every relationship in mage world ends up in somebody getting dead, or punished, or whatever. Really. Things might not work out between you two, whatever it is you’re doing, and that’s normal. That’s fine. As long as you’re not abusive.”

Felicity swallowed hard and shook her head. “W-we haven’t made any promises or done anything or things like that. I can discourage her if you’d rather. I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since I met somebody who needed to hear the things I had to say. I just—”

I almost wrapped a tentacle around her throat. “I’m not asking you to do that. I’m just saying that I’m looking out for her, as a friend. Not as a miniature squid monster, or whatever I am these days. Does that make sense?”

“I’m a murderer,” said Felicity. “I’m a mage. I’m worse things than that.”

“So was she. So am I.”

Felicity sighed, looked down at her shoes again, and took a big bite from her pork pie. Praem took another strawberry from her box and flicked it in the opposite direction. A tiny black tendril speared it from behind a different tree, yanking it back into Aym’s hiding place.

“Maybe that’s why we get along,” said Felicity. “Still. She could do better.”

“All right, Felicity,” I said, straightening up and smoothing my pink hoodie across my front. “I want you to imagine something for me. A hypothetical. A most extreme scenario. Imagine that Kimberly leaves our house and goes to live with you, up in — Cumbria? Was that it? Would she be in any danger? Any danger with you? Any danger from Aym?”

“What? I … uh … I mean … ” Felicity stared at me, utterly overwhelmed, her good eye wide with shock. “No. Not from Aym. At least not … physically. But I mean, it’s not fit for human beings, where I live. Where I have to live. It’s not.”

“You’re a human being,” I told her.

She laughed, a little sarcastic puff. “I’m not so sure about that anymore. I haven’t been sure about that since I was thirteen years old.”

My turn to sigh. Something about her self-pity rankled me wrong. “Why do all the most skilled mages always get into it so young? Oh, I’m sorry, my sample size isn’t enough to justify that statement. I’m being judgemental.”

“Neuroplasticity,” Felicity said.

“ … really?”

She nodded. “You get it young, you’re better at it. It’s why Evelyn is … well. You know her.”

“That I do,” I said.

But I was thinking of Natalie, the girl I’d saved from the Shambleswamp, the collateral damage in Edward’s plans, exposed to the eldritch truth so young and with no way back.

And I was thinking of myself. But I needed to focus on the problem at hand. Time to test the waters with a fishing line.

“You do know,” I said slowly, measuring my words, “that you’ve got a rival for Kimberly’s affections, yes?”

Felicity nodded. “The police woman.”

“Nicky’s not a police woman,” I said. “Not any more. She’s a private detective now.”

Felicity shrugged. “Once a pig, always a pig.”

I burst out laughing; completely inappropriate, but I couldn’t help myself. Half the spirit life in the pretend park turned to look at me. A lace-wrapped face peered out from around a tree-trunk, then whipped back again. Praem said, “Ha ha.”

“Perhaps you’d get on well with Lozzie,” I said. “But I’m serious. Nicole is very trustworthy and she’s helped us in the past. She wouldn’t be a danger for Kimberly, but Kimberly doesn’t seem that interested in her. I try not to pry, really.”

“Well,” Felicity said slowly. “She’s probably better off with somebody like that.”

“Tch!” I tutted. “Don’t make that decision for her! That’s her decision to make.”

Felicity just stared at her feet and shrugged. We lapsed into silence. I had no idea of what advice to give, if any. It wasn’t my place to do so and I had no right to interfere. Praem stood up from the bench, dusted off her skirt with three sharp motions of her hands, and then stepped over to stare at something behind the nearest tree.

“What’s it like being a mage?” I asked Felicity. She looked up, blinking at me. My turn to shrug. “I love Evee, very much. But the mages I know are her and Kimberly, or … people we’ve fought against. I don’t have a representative sample. What’s it like?”

Felicity blew out a long breath. “What’s it like to be a human being?”

I couldn’t help myself, I laughed a little, just a single inelegant snort. “I see.”

Felicity chewed some more pie, then eventually said: “I’ve spent my whole life running from things I can barely see. What you have going on here, you and the others, this little … coven?” She frowned. “What do you call it?”

“I’m sorry? What do you mean? We’re not a cult or a—”

“No,” Felicity said — actually sharp and grumpy, or as sharp as she could get. “I mean this arrangement. You and Evelyn and Raine. The big zombie. The werewolf. Praem here. Lozzie. The moth-puppy thing whose name I can’t recall—”

“Tenny.”

“Tenny, right. You’re a coven or a circle or a—”

Praem said: “Family.”

“Nah.” Felicity shook her head. “It’s not quite. Some of it is, yes, but not all of it. It’s just community.” She frowned at me, harder than before. “I’ve never had that. You hold onto it. I don’t want to take that away from Kim.”

“Do you want to be part of it?” I asked.

Felicity looked like I’d slapped her. She almost choked on residual pork pie. “W-wha—”

I carried on: “I don’t mean ‘do you want to come live in our house?’ You can’t do that and I wouldn’t let you, and I suspect Evelyn would examine my head for damage if I suggested it. But if you ever need help, if something bad happens to you and Aym, you can call us. You can be part of a community without … without … ”

“Joining the polycule,” said Praem.

Felicity laughed, a real laugh, a sort of dry chuckle down in her chest. It stretched the corner of her mouth too far and she went, “Ow,” and clutched her chin, but she was still amused. A second snort, like rusty spoons rubbing a dead tree, came from somewhere behind Praem.

“Yes,” I sighed. “Well put, Praem. I think. How does that sound, Felicity? Does that make sense?”

“It does, it does,” she said, clearing her throat as the laughter left her face. “And thank you. I’ll … let Kim make whatever decision she will.”

“Are you two going to keep in contact, once this is all over?”

She shrugged. “Hope so.”

A scratchy voice of barbed wire and splinters spoke from behind one of the nearby trees: “You better do, you dirty little coward, or I’ll dunk your head in the toilet.”

“Right,” said Felicity. “Suppose I don’t have a choice.”

Felicity finished off her pork pie while I sucked the other half of my lemon. Aym vanished wherever she did when she didn’t have a body. Praem stood and offered us more strawberries, but we were quite ready to head home again.

The ground fog was almost gone by the time we returned to Barnslow Drive, but the sunlight was struggling to make itself felt. The sky was like grey milk, the air barren, the day already turning into a formless, colourless mass. There would be so much to discuss once everybody else was awake: plans to make, roles to decide, and my own part looming large with recovery and brain-math.

But then we turned into Barnslow Drive and saw a little man.

He was peering into the driver’s window of Felicity’s Range Rover, curious but polite, as if making sure the owner had not accidentally left any valuables on display. He looked up and straightened at the sight of us walking down the road, utterly unashamed of his own nosy curiosity. He stepped forward into the middle of the pavement, hands politely folded in front of him, with a smile both polished and oily.

Late forties or early fifties, with a face like a happy little pet rat. Big blinking eyes, hair a mess of wispy tufts. Short and portly and very comfortable in his rumpled suit and sensible coat. Empty hands, no bag, just himself.

Felicity nearly shot him. Only my hand on her arm stopped her from drawing her sawn-off and blowing him off his feet.

“No, no, it’s okay,” I hissed as we approached. But my own eyes went wide, flicking back and forth to make sure he was alone. “I know who this is, but I don’t know why he’s here.”

“Who?” Felicity was hissing. “Who!?”

“Good morning!” the man called with terribly exaggerated politeness as we walked up to him. “Good morning, all.”

“Praem?” I snapped.

“Alone,” Praem said.

“Yes, I can’t see anybody. No servitors either.”

“Good morning,” the man repeated. “Miss Morell, the younger Miss Saye. And I’m afraid I don’t have the pleasure of knowing your name, Miss,” he added to Felicity, completely unfazed by her burn scars. “And yes, I am alone. By myself. Completely unaccompanied. I do have a mobile phone, so I am not without certain recourse, but, well, you could always take that from me.” He smiled, still oily but a little strained.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked him.

Praem suggested, “Skulking.”

“Ah, well.” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t want to step onto the property without permission. I understand these are very strained times and I am not a normal visitor. My intent was to wait out here until I was spotted, with some hope to be engaged in conversation by somebody from within. I was prepared to wait quite some time if necessary. But this is lucky, as you young ladies were just returning—”

“Stop talking,” Felicity muttered. “Heather, who is this?”

The portly be-suited man stuck out one dry and smooth hand; he did an admirable job of pretending he wasn’t quivering. His smile oozed with another pint of oil.

“Harold Yuleson, lawyer. Very pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m here to represent my client, Mister Edward Lilburne. He wishes to re-open negotiations. May I come in?”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter



A morning walk, an unorthodox snack, and a difficult conversation. Felicity isn’t one of them, she’s never going to be fully trusted – but she’s not outside in the cold, alone and unsupported, if she ever needs help. Meanwhile, Heather sure has come far with the spirits, huh? Good for her. Maybe the lemons will help her recover too.

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Next week, it’s time for one of the most annoying kinds of conversation in the world: a chat with a lawyer who represents your enemy. If Zheng doesn’t eat him first, anyway.

20 thoughts on “sediment in the soul – 19.9

  1. Happy New Year!

    Early morning brekkers, with a face pinching conversation and food. I love sour candy, but I can’t imagine just sucking on a lemon.

    Heather’s capacity for empathy with boundaries is such a nice trait. So many protags either don’t have a lot of empathy, or they have so much they’re willing to forgive anything and everything, and the story treats it like it’s a good thing to do that. This feels much more realistic. Flissy’s done some bad things that can’t be made up for, but Heather can also see that she needs community like all humans.

    Somewhat related, it’s also a breath of fresh air to see the protag NOT unilaterally offering forgiveness where it’s not their place. There are lots of stories where one of the protags friends was wronged by someone, but the protag turns them to the side of good and then its all bygones be bygones. There’s a good ProZD sketch about that. This is nice, Heather is respecting Evelyn’s boundaries and health where another story might just add Felicity to the group no muss, no fuss.

    And the time of rest is over, now it’s time for round 2 with Eddy boy.

    • Happy New Year to you, too!

      Raw lemon is a very unique experience, indeed. The powers of the abyss give Heather rare tastes.

      I’m really glad that those concepts come across in this chapter and in Fliss’ little character arc so far. I really wanted to explore some realistic feelings and responses to a mage like this; she’s done terrible things in the past, she was part of Evelyn’s abuse (even if she was “trying to help”), and she’s got some very worrying obsessions. But she’s not a monster, she’s not dangerous to Heather’s family, and she’s helping. But that doesn’t mean forgiveness is Heather’s to give. There’s no way to neatly tie all this up. Felicity has made a connection with a community, but she’s still got to live with her own past, and those things just have to coexist. I’m really glad this came across so well. Thank you!

      And yes, time for another match with Edward. A … legal one???

  2. What a good time eating strawberries and lemons in a triangle park, and talking about feelings and history.

    And now back to negotiations, hopefully these go differently now that there could be a bigger problem if it doesn’t go well.

    Thank you for the calming chapter, with great descriptions of the spirit life 🙂

    • Aww, thank you! Glad you enjoyed this one! A little breather, a little break, and discovering quite a bit about Felicity. I really enjoyed the return to exploring spirit life once more, too.

  3. Oh gosh! Praem killed me with the joke. I’m glad Heather got her lemons and a bit of rest. I like Fliss.
    Thanks for the chapter!

    • Praem keeps surprising me with her dialogue, so much of it is not planned ahead, she just does it when I don’t expect. Felicity is a really interesting character to explore and I hope I can return to her in greater detail in the future. (I have plans for that!)

      And you are very welcome, glad you enjoyed reading!

  4. Full metal alchemist, reference.
    This was sweet. In a dark way. Like dark chocolate, hahaha!
    Hope Felicity x Kimberly works out well.
    It’s a long shot in the dark, but hopefully one day Felicity may actually become a true member of their community.
    Thank you for the chapter.

    • Yeah, FMA! Perhaps Evelyn has some complex feelings about that show.

      Dark chocolate, my favourite!

      Felicity x Kimberly seems to be coming along well, but Nicole is lurking in the background too. Perhaps in Book Two, Kim is going to get her very own love triangle amid these supernatural shenanigans.

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

  5. I melted at the first three paragraphs, and I love this whole chapter. Mmmmph Fliss. Hungry you make the best, most complicated most interesting woobies that aren’t really woobies at all. Thank you.

    • Aww, thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed this one!

      Gosh, yes, Felicity is … difficult. And complicated. I really enjoy exploring her character more and I’m looking forward to going more in depth about her in Book Two, possibly alongside Kim in some fashion. Really delighted she comes across so well.

  6. I wondered why Evelyn had such an intense antipathy toward Felicity, but I realized that ‘pederast’ bit was a red herring. We already know enough to more than explain Evelyn’s feelings.

    Felicity, one of the very few adults Evelyn knew besides her parents, witnessed the extreme abuse of a child and did nothing. Perhaps aided and abetted. One could imagine the terrified little Evelyn pleading for help and Felicity looking away. And Felicity brought Aym, who also tormented little Evelyn.

    Felicity probably told herself she could do nothing against Loretta. But it fell to the abused child herself and a random teenage streetfighter who showed up out of the blue to save Evelyn from a fate worse than death.

    No wonder Evelyn is not impressed by Felicity showing up now wanting to be oh so helpful.

    Kimberly is guilty of the same thing in relation to Lozzie, and I don’t think Lozzie forgives her either. Lozzie’s not one to be spiteful, but she doesn’t want to have much to do with Kim either.

    • Indeed. The ‘pederast’ insult was always a colourful insult from Evelyn, nothing more. The real reason for her hatred is right out there in the open.

      Imagine how Felicity would have appeared to young Evelyn: not just a responsible adult, but a mage, like her mother. Somebody who might be able to stand up to her mother, somebody who might be able to rescue Evelyn. At some point in Felicity’s association with Loretta, Felicity was probably presented with that very choice – kidnap Evee and get her out of there, risking Loretta’s wrath and revenge … or go along with Loretta and tell herself it’s for Evee’s sake too.

      We know she felt terrible guilt; we know she had to numb herself with alcohol to go through with amputating Evee’s leg. But she still went along with Loretta. Guilt doesn’t equal redemption. She didn’t do the right thing. What did she say to Evee, in the weeks or months that followed? Did she beg forgiveness from a child who couldn’t possibly understand? Maybe.

      The parallel with Kimberly is fascinating. In Kim’s case she was one of many adults, part of an institution, and actually very low down on that power structure, controlled and threatened by a cult. Maybe Lozzie sees her more as a fellow victim, though Kim was an adult and equally responsible for not helping. But … Sarika? Or Badger? They were at the top. I suspect Lozzie will never forgive either of them. The only time she saw Sarika, she openly tormented her.

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