loyal to the nightmare of my choice – 18.6
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Content Warnings:

Spoiler

Gaslighting

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Aym — demonic dissembler, shadow silhouette, ineffable imp — sat in frozen promise across the imitation abyss of the magical workshop, deep in the dregs of storm-light, drenched in the drumming of the rain, and pressed close by the squeezing of an unseen revulsion, as if the house itself was eager to expel this foreign object lodged in our collective flesh.

She had made an implicit offer, if only I would consent to talk alone, about myself.

“Forget me,” I said, staring into that formless darkness. “I’m not interesting.”

“I beg to differ,” Aym purred in a voice like knives dipped in boiling acid. A voice that made my spine shudder. A voice that made Evelyn go stiff, sitting next to me in the dark with my tentacle still wrapped securely around her shoulder and arm and hand. I squeezed that hand; I’m still here, Evee, you’re not by yourself in front of this demon.

I cleared my throat. “But you just mentioned the Eye. I know you did that on purpose, to bait me. I’m not completely naive, not totally inexperienced at this kind of thing. I have bargained with far worse things than you, Aym.” Then, because her hook was firmly through the flesh of my cheek: “What do you know about the Eye?”

“Heather!” Evee hissed through clenched teeth. “She doesn’t know shit!”

Writhing like seaweed in a dead current, oozing darkness like silty mud, Aym smiled.

Almost invisible, a suggestion of widening shadow. Girlish, teasing, full of taboo knowledge and things she shouldn’t know. I blinked twice and suddenly understood, abyssal instinct feeding me hidden layers of reality. Aym wasn’t really smiling; that was only my brain doing its best to process the nonsense data my human senses were picking up. Aym was like a radio broadcast more noise than signal. Part of me wondered what I might see if I dipped my senses down into the abyssal range — but I’d not done that in months. The last time I’d attempted that trick I’d been left insensate for several minutes afterwards. I couldn’t risk that in front of Aym, not when I had to protect Evelyn.

I felt a pull toward her, an urge to get closer, to get a better look at what lay beneath the shadow. But I was anchored to Evee.

“I know a secret,” Aym cooed.

“About the Eye?” The words slipped from between my lips before I could stop myself blundering into her game.

“Mmmmmmhmmmmmm,” she purred, an oversized house cat full of flaky iron rust and carcinogenic gravel. Dark tendrils rose from the shadows on the sofa, their tips kissing in the still, cold air above her head, like she was touching her fingertips together.

“You’re going to tell me that secret.”

I did my best not to phrase it as a question. I even considered slipping my squid-skull mask on before I spoke. But here in the dark, Aym and I were already equals. I needed no true face.

Aym’s smile became a grin, toothy and deep, like a leatherback sea turtle with spikes running down the oesophagus to stop prey escaping the final swallow. “Evee-pie leaves,” she said. “Then we can talk about you, or the Eye, or about Raine making you scream an orgasm into your pillow, or whatever else you want. I’m easy.”

“And then you’ll honour the deal?” I asked. “You’ll give Felicity the rest of the spell?”

“Sure.” A shrug rolled in the shadows. Too many elbows. “Why not?”

“Heather, for fuck’s sake,” Evelyn hissed up at me from the darkness closer at hand, her face a pale white oval in the grey gloom, lit only by the residual bioluminescence from my tentacles — which she couldn’t even see. “This is bait! This is a trap! How can you not see that?! I cannot believe you are entertaining this bullshit!”

“I … I have to try,” I said, listening to that tug in my chest. I ached to get closer to Aym.

Evelyn sighed with explosive frustration. She fumbled with her walking stick for a second, got a proper grip on the bone-wand in her lap, then lifted it to point in the direction of the shadowy mass on the sofa.

Instantly, poor Marmite scrambled backward, out of the firing line. His pneuma-somatic mind may not have understood the subtle nuances of tension and negotiation, but he understood well enough the business end of a weapon. The spider-servitor on the table backed up a few paces too, in a more controlled and practised manner, giving its mistress room to wield terrible violence.

I whipped out a tentacle. Instinct rode me.

A hiss tore up my throat and stopped only because I bit my lips hard enough to draw blood. Sharp pain and the taste of hot iron brought my mind around like I’d been slapped.

“ … Heather?” Evelyn hissed in shock, frozen in my grip.

The moment she had raised her bone-wand toward Aym, I had lashed out with a spare tentacle and caught the wand in coils of smooth, pale muscle, wrapped it around and around to immobilize the wand and Evee’s hand, and then pointed it down at the ground. Despite the useful metaphor, the wand was not a gun; pointing it away from Aym wouldn’t make a lick of difference to Evelyn’s ability to use the thing. But holding her hand tight in the tip of my tentacle stilled her fingers from the necessary movements.

Aym was not the target of my aborted hiss. Evee was.

Horrified and confused, I let go of her arm and hand as gently as I could. “I-I’m sorry, Evee! I didn’t hurt you, did I? I’m sorry … I … I don’t know what came over me.”

Evelyn stared up at me in the gloom, brow furrowed hard, the soft puppy-blue of her eyes swallowed by the static grey. The bone-wand was like a floating skeletal apparition against the darker patch of her skirt and the floor beyond. “No,” she said eventually, hard and cold. “I’m fine, thank you.”

“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I don’t know why I did that.”

Aym cackled in the dark. She rocked on the sofa, a child having a giggle fit. Pseudopods slapped against each other, making no sound, black mist passing through black mist. “Some ally and friend she is! What did you think you were going to achieve anyway, butter-roll? Were you going to dispel me? John Dee himself couldn’t have come close. Then again, you are so much more than your mother’s daughter. If anybody has to put me in a box, I wouldn’t mind so much if it was you!”

Evelyn snorted derision, gritted her teeth, and pulled her composure tight around her shoulders once more with nothing but a lift of her chin. Even half-blind in the dark, unintentionally undermined by my instincts, and taunted by a demon, Evee was glorious in her imperious posture.

“Heather has counselled me in mercy,” she said. “You should thank her.”

“Oooooh,” Aym cooed, a horrible sound like a crocodile trying to be cutesy. “Good save.”

“Believe what you want,” Evelyn spat. “Heather, don’t speak with Aym alone.”

“I think Heathy-smoots can do whatever she wants,” Aym warbled.

I waited for an extra word from Evee, watching her eyes, begging her to say it; she could collapse all my uncertainty with one little phrase. But it never came. And I didn’t prompt her.

A sensible response stuck in my throat. My hands would have quivered if I’d unclenched my fists or unhooked my arm from around my squid-skull mask. My tentacles itched to reach across the room and peel back that darkness from around Aym. I had told a lie; I knew exactly why I had tried to restrain Evelyn, and why I’d almost hissed in her face when she’d threatened Aym.

Abyssal instinct recognised Aym as something not unlike myself. A kinship across the cold water.

I simply had to look her in the face.

“Evee,” I said, watching Aym. “I’ve debated my own guilt for murder over coffee with the King in Yellow. I don’t think Aym is going to present much challenge to my self-worth or self-doubt.”

At the name of the Yellow King, Aym’s smiled died. I felt it go out like a black hole swallowing itself, leaving behind a field of clean stars. A head twisted and kinked in the darkness, peering at me from one angle, then another, drooling black saliva onto the floor. I watched her in return, my eyes moving from point to point on sheer gut feeling.

You want to call my bluff, I thought, but you can’t tell if I’m making that up.

A high-pitched whine eased in on the very edge of my hearing, like a massive television set left on mute in another room. Focused Aym, pressing down on her. Like the house itself was trying to force her out.

Evelyn yanked on the tentacle which I had wrapped around her arm, dragging me downward so she could hiss in my ear. “I am not leaving you alone in here with her. You’ll have to throw me out of the door, Heather! Go on, pick me up and hurl me out there, I’m sure Praem will catch me!”

“I’m serious,” I whispered back. “I don’t think she can hurt me.”

“Why not just rip the information out of her?” Evee demanded in a whisper. Across the room, Aym was still swaying from side to side like a piece of greasy seaweed snagged on a nail. “She’s right there, she’s already hurt Kim, and now she’s trying to mess with our heads. You said you can do it, were you bluffing?”

I didn’t answer. I just watched Aym.

Truth was, I probably could do what Evee suggested, but I simply didn’t want to. A very important part of my soul did not want to hurt Aym, at least not in that way. I would restrain her from assaulting my friends if need be, but the idea of doing permanent damage, of vivisecting her with brain-math to pull out the wet and dripping morsels from her mind, that was now unthinkable.

What I wanted to do was reach across the room and peel back her camouflage. The urge was a physical thing, a twitching in my gut. Not quite hunger, and certainly nothing sexual. A new form of need. A burning need to know, to observe truth, unimpeded by appearance.

“Thaaaaaat,” Aym purred at last, “wasn’t true. Was it? Coffee with the king. A king. A yellow monarch. No, just a book.”

Silently I dared her to push deeper. Technically I had lied: I had never sipped from the coffee the King had offered me. But Aym didn’t know that.

Evelyn, however, snorted in grim amusement. “That’s what I thought. Just a book.”

“What,” Aym deadpanned.

Evelyn’s own exasperation at the mere existence of Seven-Shades-of-Sunlight, and indeed the entire Yellow Court, was about to give the game away and ruin my advantage. I jumped in with both feet, in panic, with the first thing that came to mind.

“If we say that we have no sin,” I recited off the top of my head, straightening my back, certain I was going to get the words wrong, “we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. Why then, belike, we must sin, and consequently die. Ay, we must die an everlasting death.”

Aym and Evee both went silent for a heartbeat. Raindrops drummed on the roof and the windows. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rumbled.

“Well,” Evelyn sighed, “I don’t recognise that one.”

Aym lit up like a Christmas Tree made of frozen asphalt. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh! She knows her roots!”

“I have read Doctor Faustus, yes,” I said. “And Aym, really, you’re no Mephistopheles.”

“Confident you’re free of sin?” she asked.

“Confident I’m not.”

Aym cackled. She seemed to get the point. Evelyn was shaking her head, exasperated beyond words. Probably feeling left out.

I pressed the advantage, following that abyssal urge down in my gut. “Tell me what you are, Aym. What you really are. Then Evee will leave the room, and we’ll talk about whatever you want.”

Evelyn exploded. She actually slapped my tentacle, though not hard enough to hurt. “I bloody well will not! You’ll have to crowbar me out of this chair, I—”

Kuuurrh!

Aym made a sound of such utter disgust, more lizard than human. Evelyn flinched and I whirled all my tentacles up in a protective cage around her.

The shadow on the sofa had gone still, all except for a ragged, rough, shallow breathing.

“ … Aym?”

“You people,” she purred, dark and wet and full of scorn. “You love your definitions so much. You love them more than the world. Your limits. Your carefully demarcated edges. Your words and numbers and things on pages. It’s what mages and wizards and the like have been doing for thousands of years. Writing things down in dusty books. Cataloguing, describing, defining. Everything has to have a name, a type, a label. And when it exceeds those labels, you all go ‘oh, this can’t possibly be true, this can’t be right, wah wah wahhhhhh’.” Aym huffed, a petulant teenage girl turning down a gift that wasn’t quite expensive enough. “And then you write new definitions, new limits, new types. All of them just as wrong as before.”

Silence reigned for a moment, filled by the storm outdoors. The shadow on the sofa had turned dense and sulky. Evelyn’s palm had gone sweaty and cold on my tentacle. I squeezed gently. She didn’t squeeze back.

Eventually I asked, “Where are you going with this, Aym?”

“Huh. Your ancestors were smarter. They understood that a saint’s finger bone could be in more than one place at the same time. Do you? No, of course you don’t. The scientific method is only a method. Maybe you need a different method for something like me.”

“Well,” I said, “what are you, then?”

Aym reared up, all dark suggestion lost in the grey gloom. I had the distinct impression she was standing on the sofa cushions. “There you go again! With the same thing!”

“It’s not the same thing at all,” I said, doing my best to hold my ground and keep my voice steady before this screeching apparition. “I’m asking you for self-definition. I’m not going to test it, or debate it, or write it down. I want to know what you consider yourself to be.”

The smile crept back at last, a slash in the dark. A forked tongue flickered out to taste the air. “I prefer not to say.”

“She’s just a demon,” Evelyn grunted. “She likes to put on a show, that’s all. Why does this even matter?”

“It doesn’t,” Aym purred. “Listen to her, Heather. My sweet little raspberry crumble gets it.”

I couldn’t answer either of them. Aym writhed in delighted irritation. Evelyn stared up at me from her chair, fuming in the grey gloom.

“Aym,” I said after a moment, trying to relocate my footing. “You want a private conversation, about the Eye.”

Evelyn spoke through gritted teeth. “I am not leaving this room.”

“Then there’s no deal,” Aym cooed. “I’ll just take my leave, shall I? Be off then, toodle-pip!”

I leaned down toward Evee, speaking for her ears only, though I suspected Aym would hear every word even if I only thought them. “Evee, please,” I whispered. “I will be completely safe. There’s nothing she can touch me with, not after everything lately. What’s she going to do, taunt me about having power? About how I might fail? About what? She can’t touch me.”

Evelyn’s face was a grey mask, lips thinned, eyes boring through my skull.

“If you want me to leave,” she said through her teeth, “you will have to remove me yourself. And we both know you won’t do that.”

Aym let out a dark giggle. “It’s for your own good, butterscotch biscuit. Some things about gods aren’t meant for human ears.”

Those words only acted as more bait. My skin itched, my feet wouldn’t stay still; I had to know. I wet my lips, trying to bring these two together in some agreement, something that would let me square this circle. “What if Evee stays?”

“Then I,” said Aym, “go.”

And so she did.

The shadow on the sofa stopped moving, becoming one with the grey background of cushions and curtains. In a moment of optical illusion it was possible to convince oneself that Aym was still sitting there, inhabiting the angles of shadow on cloth, the disturbed fabric of the furniture, the imaginary ghost-shapes of shadows upon waking. But then I moved my head and realised there was nothing there.

The high-pitched whine had vanished as well. The pressure in the room seemed lighter. My gut and my tentacles both relaxed.

“Oh,” I sighed. “There goes our chance.”

“Bugger it all!” Evelyn spat, stamping her walking stick against the floor. She slapped at her mobile phone on the table, cancelling the twenty minute timer and jamming the phone back into her pocket. “Heather, she was trying to entrap you! You saw that, you heard every word of it!”

“Evee, please.” I squeezed her arm gently with my tentacle. “I think that was the whole point. You were the one falling into her trap, not me.”

Evelyn opened her mouth to snap at me again, but then she paused, scowling. “Explain.”

“She knew full well you wouldn’t leave me alone with her. So she engineered a situation where you had to override my wishes. She’s laying the groundwork for tormenting you later, I suspect, by making you take responsibility for me failing to get what we need from her. Does that make sense? Maybe I’m just projecting, but I think that’s what she’s doing. And … well … I was trying not to give away that I suspected.” I sighed heavily. “I probably should have just said it out loud. I’m sorry. I’m not actually very good at this, am I?”

Evelyn stared up at me, brow knitting harder and harder. The rain drummed on the roof and the windows, turning Number 12 Barnslow Drive into a resonant cave. The grey gloom seemed now to swaddle us in safety. I wanted to melt down onto the floor next to Evee and put my head in her lap.

“I don’t agree,” she said eventually. “But you may be right. Fair enough.”

I let out a weak laugh. “You trust me but you don’t trust my judgement.”

“Don’t be a fool, Heather. I trust you with my life.” She said it so matter-of-fact that I couldn’t possibly remain angry with her, but she looked away quickly, back into the comforting darkness of the magical workshop with the lights off. With Aym here the room had felt abyssal and strange, a piece of fairie-magic transported to the heart of Sharrowford. But now it was just our home, in the dark. “Besides, she’s probably still here.”

“Maybe she’s a fairy,” I murmured.

“What?” Evelyn squinted up at me.

“Nothing. Forget I said that. Just a silly thought.” I blushed faintly in the dark. “If she really is still here, then she’s probably overheard every word I’ve just said.” I cast my eyes around the room too, looking for a tell-tale patch of darker shadow, a dripping blackness out of place, a slasher’s smile in the night. “By speaking her plan out loud, I’ve already disarmed it. I hope.”

Evelyn snorted and shook her head, but her heart wasn’t in the gesture. “Better at this than you think, Heather. No wonder everybody believes in you. You’re always so right and—”

Bleeeergh,” came a voice of razorblades and acid, imitating being sick, from the far end of the workshop table.

I whipped around, tentacles whirling in surprise, then shooting outward to protect Evee. Evelyn flinched hard, despite doing her best to hide her reaction, then turned in her seat so she wasn’t showing her back toward Aym. The spider-servitor on the table scuttled around in a little circle, bringing its stinging spikes to bear, each glistening point quivering in readiness to strike. The other spider-servitor, clinging to the wall over the gate, looked ready to unfold like a toxin-tipped spring, only a few feet away from where Aym now sat.

A writhing shadow of grey and black, indistinct and hazy, perched on the very end of the table. A number of what might have been legs dangled over the side, melting into shadow as they swung back and forth, like a child whose feet didn’t reach the floor. The shadow curved, curled, cracked and coiled, then lowered a hand from the suggestion of a mouth.

“Bleh,” Aym repeated. “You two are disgusting. Old people in love are disgusting. Don’t start making out in front of me, I’ll be sick all over your floor.”

I blessed the darkness, for it hid my rising blush. I opened my mouth on a reflexive denial. “W-what? Lo—”

“Old?” Evelyn spat. “I am twenty one years old, you rotten cow. You are infinitely older than me.”

“You were born at forty,” Aym purred. “Face it, strawberry tart.”

“Aym!” I snapped on reflex. “All this negotiating and playing games with us and vanishing in a puff of shadow like you’re a pixie, that’s one thing. But do not insult Evelyn. It’s extremely rude.”

Aym laughed, a bubbly, wet, rotten sound, like her throat was stuffed with decaying cardboard.

The shadows seemed to be pressing around her, tight and grasping. That high-pitched whine had returned to the edge of my senses, focused on the figure of the demon sitting at the end of the table, but not originating from her. I felt myself involuntarily inch forward, as if I might grab her and pluck her from her seat. My tentacles itched, drifting outward like a muscular, living net in the darkness, their faint rainbow strobing soaked up by the gloom and returned as mere shades of black. I felt like a hand was on my back, urging me forward.

The house itself wanted her gone, and I wanted to catch her like a spider under a glass — not to hurt her, but just to look. Once I was done, we could throw her outdoors, back into her natural environment.

“You know,” said Aym — and then went still, grey, an empty space of shadows.

Then her voice came from behind me again, from where she’d sat originally, back on the sofa, hissing with sudden irritation: “Tch! Do not make me repeat myself, it’s so boorish. Shooing Evee out is for her own good. I won’t talk to you otherwise, Heather. And stop trying to catch me! Don’t assume that because it’s dark I can’t see you trying.”

Evelyn and I both turned back to the sofa again. The spider-servitor whirled as well, looking quite harried by this absurd back-and-forth. Aym was back on the sofa, a shadow-shape of suggestion and suspicion. I had the distinct impression she was sitting up very straight-backed, almost formal. A forked tongue flicked at the air, licked things that were not lips, and then darted back behind far too many teeth.

Evelyn snapped, “Stay still or I’ll have Praem tie you to a chair.”

“Oooooh,” Aym mocked. “Scary scary!”

But I was shaking my head in wonder, refusing to be misdirected by her words. “You’re more like Sevens than a demon. You’re a spirit-thing, but there is a physical body under there. I can sense it, I can feel it. How did you know I was going to grab you?”

Evelyn sighed. “Heather, for fucks’ sake, it doesn’t matter. This is over. She won’t talk and I won’t leave. We can do this some other way. Either you pluck it from her mind, or I … ” I felt Evelyn swallow and stiffen, felt the cold sweat break out beneath her clothes. “Or I work with Felicity to solve the problem the old-fashioned way, research and experimentation. Fuck Aym. We’ll do it ourselves.”

I waited a heartbeat, but Evelyn did not add the words I expected. So I leaned down close, close enough for my breath to touch her ear.

“I don’t know if Maisie has the time to spare. And I think I can take Aym. But if you … if you insist?”

I let the word sink in the gloom. Evelyn opened her mouth, closed it again, opened it a second time, then gritted her teeth and said nothing.

Slowly, reluctantly, Evelyn stood up from her chair. She used me for support and I gave it freely, taking half her weight as she stared daggers at Aym across the room. Shadow-fingers undulated in a mocking wave.

“Bu-bye for now, blackberry jam,” Aym giggled.

“If you hurt Heather, I will hunt you down, kill you, and then re-summon you to posses a septic tank on a pig farm.”

Aym grinned in the dark. I helped Evelyn over to the door. She whispered in my ear.

“You be fucking careful, Heather.”

“I promise. I will.”

When I opened the door to the kitchen the magical workshop was flooded with lighter grey, storm-born illumination chasing back the darkness. I couldn’t resist a glance back over my shoulder, but the shadow was gone, Aym melted away into nothing in the clarity of sunlight, no matter how weak. Only lumpy sofa cushions remained.

Evelyn called for Praem. We weren’t going to let her walk alone from here to the old sitting room. Even that was too much risk with Aym lurking about. Praem appeared a few moments later, clicking across the kitchen tiles, with Raine dogging her heels.

“Hey hey,” said Raine, tense and ready, but trying to smile. “We done already? Quicker than I thought you’d be. Everybody in one piece?”

Evelyn snorted derision, letting Praem take her arm as I handed her off. “Far from it. Heather is going to talk to Aym, alone.”

Raine’s eyebrows shot upward. She found my eyes and asked, “You gonna be okay?”

Just like that. No assumption that I wasn’t. No horrified warning. No fear. A genuine question, simply asking if I needed help. I wanted to melt into her arms and kiss her. Raine was perfect.

“I think so,” I said.

Raine nodded, once. “Shout and I’ll be there in a flash.”

I smiled back. “I know you will. Love you, Raine.”

“Love you too, Miss Morell.”

Just before I started to close the door to the magical workshop, Marmite scuttled out around my legs, eager to be away from Aym. His spider-friends did not follow, but Praem greeted him with gentle hand on a passing tentacle. He made for the front room, moving fast.

Praem turned her head to me. Blank, milky eyes locked with mine, fixing me in place. “Say hello from me,” she said.

“Of course,” I replied, as if we were discussing a pleasant social visit to a friend, with tea and scones, rather than a negotiation with something dark and horrible, coiled in on itself like a giant snake, that I couldn’t even identify.

I closed the door on my friends — on Raine’s jaunty thumbs-up, Praem’s blank and elegant stare, and Evelyn’s pinched scowl — and plunged myself back into the sucking pit of static gloom. Footsteps clicked and shuffled and stomped away from the other side of the door, across the kitchen, and into the front room. A moment later I could hear nothing over the incessant drumming of the storm. I pressed a hand to the cool, smooth wood of the door, readying myself, then let go, casting off into the abyss.

Aym was waiting for me on the sofa.

She made no pretence of humanoid form now. A gelatinous mass of shadow squatted on the sofa, impossible to render into details even if I squinted. Octopus-bodied, frog-fleshed, seaweed and salt and sinuous motion, she seemed more abyssal than terrestrial now. More recognisable. More like me. My instincts sang with kinship.

Just us now, no human beings to worry about protecting. I felt less human myself. I even forgot to relate Praem’s greeting.

“Aym,” I murmured, stepping into the middle of the room, my tentacles floating after me. “Aym, what are you? No, no don’t answer, I know you won’t. But I already know. You’re like me, aren’t you? You’ve seen the abyss. That’s what I call it, the deep dark place between the spheres. I can feel—”

“You’re going to die.”

Aym said it with a sound like ramming a serrated sword through a suit of rusty chain-mail. I think that meant she was angry.

“I’m sorry for undercutting the drama,” I said, “but is that meant to be a threat?”

Aym sighed like a terminal tuberculosis patient in her final moments. “Why don’t we level with each other, Heather? Now it’s just you and I, can’t we drop all the pretences?”

“We already have, haven’t we? You are what you are, I am what I am. Here we are.” I swallowed, heart racing with anticipation, legs itching to move.

Aym sat up straighter, or at least higher. “The Eye.”

“Yes, the Eye, indeed, what do you know?” Then I laughed softly. “Does it even matter?”

“Less than you.”

“So you were lying after all. You don’t know any secrets about it.”

“Neither do you, squid-brains. And you haven’t been paying attention. You’ve been trying to apply the scientific method to the Eye. Like a moron. Building all these models with metaphors — a lost chick, a cuckoo, a protege. An angel!” She laughed at that one, a hissing sound. “That one might have something to it, I admit. But you’re going too slowly. You’re going to visit Wonderland — what a shitty, stupid name for a place like that — with a head full of theories and figures, and the Eye is going to kill you.”

“I’ve accepted that danger. I know what we’re going to be facing. It’s still worth the risk.”

“It’s not a risk!” she hissed. Aym rose even higher, an octopus rearing up, ready to crack the shell of a crab with her beak. “This isn’t hyperbole, or a prediction. It’s a fact! You’re going to die. All your friends are going to die. Your sister will wither away and fade into nothing.”

“It’s still worth a shot,” I said. “Is this meant to make me sad, Aym? I’ve felt these things my whole life.”

“What are you going to do, huh?” Aym leaned forward and suddenly she seemed like a giant, pressing down on me. A teacher, demanding a real answer, not just a bluff and a shrug. A parent demanding an explanation. Reality itself, material and undeniable, demanding an answer with steel upon flesh. “I mean what are you actually, physically, practically going to do? Shout at it? Reach up and stab it with the universe’s largest broken bottle? Raine’s idea, that one, by the way; at least she had something! None of that makes sense, and you know it. But you’ve spent months avoiding this, because it’s the only method you’ve got!”

A lump grew in my throat. “That’s not true.”

“Then what is your plan?”

“I’m going to reach out to it with brain-math. I’m going to try to pull Maisie out. That’s what I’m going to do.”

“Tch!” Aym hissed. “So, fight it. A tug of war for a soul. That’s your answer. Waste of thought.”

“Why do you care?”

“Evee will die.”

No shame, no hesitation, no secret blushing embarrassment. With her and I, alone in the dark, Aym did not balk from the truth.

“You care about Evelyn?” I asked.

Aym sank back into the sofa cushions, lolling, spreading out, glaring at me from shadows within shadows. “If you come back from your stupid quest and everybody except Evee dies, fine. Who gives a fuck? Magicians, demons, idiots. But if you make it back and she’s the only one lost, I will eat you piece by piece. And I will keep you alive while I do it.”

My tentacles flared outward in silent warning. Faint rainbow glow threatened to reveal Aym’s truth, but the shadows refused to take form. “I don’t think you could achieve that, Aym. I don’t think you understand what I am.”

“You don’t understand what I am,” purred a thing in the dark.

I nodded and sighed, then nodded again. “Fair enough. I don’t understand why you care, either. If it helps, if it matters … I would protect Evee from anything, under any circumstances. To be honest, I don’t even think she should be coming to Wonderland. Nobody but me should be going.”

Aym coiled and writhed on the sofa for a moment, then said, “If I give Felicity this key, you’re going to get Evee killed. As soon as I give you this spell, you’ll go get that book, and then you’re there. And all dead.”

“I won’t let Evee get hurt.”

“You mages will go fight other mages, because you’re like that. Like animals. Territorial and violent. And then you’ll get your special little book and sweet Evee will finish her spell, and then you’ll open a gateway to Wonderland, where you will all — fucking — die.”

“I would sacrifice myself first.”

As I said the words, I realised they were true.

“Would you?” Aym laughed. “I’m talking with Heather Morell right now. But down there in the dark, you don’t have a name.”

“You do know the abyss!” I said. “You’ve been there, you understand.”

“And you understand nothing.”

As I stared across the static grey gloom of the magical workshop, locking eyes with something that had only dark pits where sockets should have been, I accepted that this was not really a negotiation at all. Aym had indeed dropped the pretences she’d used in front of Evelyn.

Her entire reason for coming down here was this private conversation. This confrontation, with me. Perhaps she had planned it from the beginning, but more likely her goals had changed once she’d gotten here. Perhaps the attack on Kimberly had been part of that, to provoke me into reaction, to see if I would leap to the defence of somebody who wasn’t even particularly close to me.

Aym was judging me. She wanted to know if I was leading Evee to her death. And she didn’t like what she saw so far.

“You’re right,” I said. “When I dived into the abyss, I forgot my own name. But I didn’t forget Evee’s.”

Aym said nothing, just floating in a gentle current of cold rain.

“Evee, Raine, Twil, Lozzie, Zheng,” I said their names. “Tenny was only a spirit back then. I didn’t know Sevens yet. But everyone I knew, I sealed their names inside a pressurised bubble of … well, it couldn’t be flesh. But I kept them in my core. It’s what drew me back, buoyed me back to the surface. I will always remember the names of my friends, my family, those I’ve chosen to be with. I don’t care what I’m reduced to. Even the version of myself which returned from the abyss, it knows — I know — that Evelyn Saye is part of my pack. Sorry Aym, you’re wrong.”

Aym sighed, dry rubber down a cheese grater. “Lucky you.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it.”

I felt myself edging forwards, toward Aym, creeping across the wooden floorboards on the silent pads of my socks and the supporting curves of a pair of tentacles. Achingly slow, like a cephalopod drifting in dead water, easing myself closer and closer to my target. Tentacles uncoiled from my core, inch by slow inch. An unconscious predatory advance.

“She was fine,” Aym drawled, her rusty-razor voice tinged with bitter melancholy. Teeth moved in several places on her blob-like body. “She was safe with Raine. She was safe, and alive, and away from her rotten cradle. She was safe, Heather. Maybe not loved, but close enough. You’ve ruined that.”

“It’s not enough to be safe,” I murmured into the dark, watching the tendrils of Aym’s black form coalesce and melt against the cushions of the sofa. “One has to live.”

Aym hissed, sinking lower, as if she knew I was about to spring. Her attention was turning inward, away from me. I crept closer, sliding my sock-clad feet along the floor.

“I forgot somebody once,” she said, voice reduced to a cold stub. “We went down together. He forgot my name, and I forgot his. I came back alone.”

“Me too,” I said.

I lifted one tentacle in silent, quivering anticipation, a perfect curve of serpentine muscle, poised to strike. Within leaping distance now, and then I would have her. My heart climbed into my mouth, the tentacles supporting my legs went tense. I wet my lips and—

“Ha!” Aym spat — from the other side of the room.

The shape left on the sofa in front of me was mere shadow, wrought by imagination. I whirled on the spot, tentacles whipping after me, to find Aym standing at the far end of the magical workshop, a dainty little figure of black and grey haze, framed by the outline of the gateway to Camelot, blank plaster and old paint.

The spider-servitor on self-appointed gate-guard duty did not approve of this trick, this travelling without moving. A pair of spike-tipped stingers lanced downward to spear through the top of Aym’s head.

“No!” I snapped, flinching forward, about to hurl myself to knock Aym out of the way.

But the spider-servitor’s chitin weapons passed through smoke and shadow and gouged chips of wood out of the floorboards. Recoiling in confusion, the poor servitor almost lost its grip on the wall, head whirring around for the new location of its original target.

“Hoooooo,” went Aym, now tucked neatly into the far corner like a cobweb. “Spicy, spicy doggy!”

“It almost had you,” I said, panting with mixed relief and shock. Had she moved again fast enough to avoid the attack, or had the spider’s weapons passed through her body and found it no more substantial than a cloud of oil? “Aym, what are you? How do you move like that?”

“Hell hath no limits,” Aym purred, clicking her syllables with a wet tongue, “nor is cicumscrib’d in one self place.”

I finished the quote for her: “But where we are is hell, and where hell is, there must we ever be.” I shook my head. “More Faustus. You do enjoy your literary metaphors.”

A grin spread in the dark. “So do you. Now you’re getting it.”

“Getting what?”

Aym waited in that corner, still and silent, too thin to be a person, too hazy to be real. Bait.

I stepped away from the sofa, trying to pay attention to how my weight was balanced. There was no way I could round the corner of the table without her seeing what I was doing. I could leap, I supposed, springing with the power of my tentacles — but this was becoming embarrassing. Instinct thrummed hot and huge in the back of my head, urging me to catch her and peer through the shadows up close, so I could identify her.

I pushed it down. I forced a deep breath into my lungs. I drew my tentacles back in. I could not catch her over there, not without making a fool of myself.

It wasn’t as if I would be able to catch her when she was hiding from all this light, either.

I sighed and crossed over to the door which led out to the kitchen. Why had I left it open earlier, when Evee had gone? It was ajar just enough for a person to pass through, flooding the magical workshop with the lighter grey storm-washed sunlight from the kitchen windows. Aym was reduced to little more than a memory in the corner.

I shut the door and placed my hand against it for a moment, once more sealed in the abyssal darkness, alone together with Aym.

Then I frowned.

“Wait,” I murmured out loud. “Wait, I did close—”

“Feeling ill, squid-brains?” Aym cooed.

Slowly I turned and looked at the corner again, at Aym gathered there like oil-soaked rags floating in a marine trench.

Had she done something to me just now? Everything felt dislocated, like I’d just jumped back a minute. Or forward? Time didn’t add up. But abyssal instinct was silent, unbothered, completely focused on the desire to pluck Aym from her protective shadows.

No, that made no sense. I was just confused.

I had seen nothing.

“Aym,” I said, trying not to sound like my heart was going at high speed. “I never got to thank you for your help against the Eye. You went into the cult’s safe-house for us. You got hurt, for us. I gathered from Felicity that you were injured somehow. I saw you, in fact, if only for a moment. Thank you.”

I took a step forward, openly.

Aym snorted and tossed something that might have been a head, or might have been a pair of crocodile jaws, wrought in shadow. “If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have gone in. Your big friend really sees everything. I don’t like that, not at all.”

“The Eye?” I nodded — and took another step, making for the corner of the table, making for Aym. “I suppose you wouldn’t.”

“You’re the same.”

“You mean I’m becoming like the Eye?” A shiver went up my spine; I already knew that. Out in the dream-landscape where Lozzie and I had freed badger, I’d stared back at the Eye with what little observation I could muster. A raindrop against the ocean, but both were water.

I took another step.

“And just as trammelled,” Aym said.

I froze. “ … pardon me?”

“You heard me, squid-bones.”

I turned that over in my mind. Aym was being cryptic. This was like Sevens, but without any affection or showmanship behind the display. Aym was just being difficult for the sheer fun of it. I stepped past the chair which Evee had been sitting in earlier, reached the table, and placed my squid-skull mask gently on the wood.

“What do you suggest, then?” I said.

“Eh?” The shadow-shape in the corner twisted something long and dripping at me.

I slid another step closer, along the length of the table.

“Against the Eye. You’re worried that I’m going to get Evee killed because I don’t know what I’m doing. So what do you suggest?”

A moment of silence and shadow.

Then Aym screeched. “I don’t fucking know! I don’t know! I’m not its adopted daughter! Think like a giant eyeball in the sky, Heather! Stop trying to figure it out, or it’s going to kill all of you by looking back!”

I pushed into the face of Aym’s ire, walking right toward her.

The shadows folded away to nothing.

I caught myself on the edge of the table, tentacles hooking, grasping, bunching as my feet kicked for purchase and I turned on the spot, spinning and scrambling in the other direction, shooting back toward the sofa before the shadows had a moment to wrap themselves around Aym’s materialising form.

But materialise she did, right there on the sofa, already snapping with irritation.

“Stop thinking like one of them, Heather! Think like one of us!” And then, “Eeeeeep!” as I landed on top of her.

I plunged two tentacles deep into the shadows where Aym was hiding, gripping whatever I could. My flesh tightened around cold slime and ridged scales, around bulging sacs of fluid and dripping orifices. I gritted my teeth and forced myself not to flinch. Rainbow bioluminescence glinted off chitin and scale, slime and salt. Aym kicked and hissed and writhed and bit the air and flailed against the cushions, but all was insubstantial, nothingness on grey gloom.

And when my grip was secure, when Aym was held not with terrestrial flesh but by the pneuma-somatic truth of my body, I reached back behind me with a third tentacle, and hit the lights.

Dull electric illumination guttered back to life, as if smothered by the gloom and drowned out by the storm. Shadows rolled up and scurried behind the furniture. I blinked against the sudden light, a deep-ocean creature dredged to the surface. The shape in front of me snapped into focus, grey haze blown away like mist in the morning sun.

I recoiled, gaping, mortified at what I was holding. I had one tentacle wrapped around a throat, another looped around a belly, both very human.

She was just a girl.

Aym was tiny. Dainty and delicate. A sprite dipped in coal dust.

Dressed from toes to chin in black, she wore thick black socks, shapeless woollen black leggings, a black dress of overlapping layers and intricate lace that reached down past her knees and right to her wrists and up past her throat, cupping her chin with a soft curl. She had long black hair, clean but messy, framing a face of pinched sharpness, all angles and planes. Her eyes were human, with pupils and irises and whites with little veins, but tilted at a fey and inhuman angle. Eyes just a touch too wide. Nose a fraction too sharp. Ears a notch too high. Neck a few inches too long. Something imitating a human being but revelling in the small differences, impossible to ignore. She was maybe thirteen years old, but I didn’t believe what I saw.

I still felt terrible. I felt so bad I hiccuped.

“I’m … I-I’m sorry,” I blurted out, loosening my grip on her throat. “I didn’t know … I thought you were … like … you convinced me that you weren’t remotely human!”

Aym swallowed as her throat was given space. She looked up at me with heavy-lidded eyes, then smiled with a mouth full of blunt, normal human teeth. Smugging for all she was worth.

“Couldn’t resist, could you?” she purred — her voice was still a nightmare, a jarring scratch of knives down a blackboard. “It’s in your nature. You want to look, to see, to know.”

I sighed sharply, blushing hard, then hiccuped again. “I’m sorry for grabbing you. I … I’m sorry for invading your personal space. I thought you were … I don’t know. Like me.”

“But you did it anyway,” she said. “And then you blame me for being the wrong thing. The thing you didn’t expect. Too mundane. Too boring. Oh no! Oh dear!” She raised her hands and cupped her face, a mocking pantomime of innocence. “I’ll have to play it up so you don’t strangle me to death!”

Shorn of her shadows, Aym had the most annoying expressions I’d ever seen. She managed to remain smug while also oozing with fake simpering. Her voice pitched higher, whining, then dissolved into a wet and rotting giggle.

I made to withdraw my tentacles, ashamed of myself, confused by the lack of something I recognised. Abyssal instinct had gone quiet as soon as the lights had come up. The ‘real’ Aym was just a girl. Demon or not, Outsider or not, this was her true form, and it was just what I saw. I was certain of that.

“Nooooo!” she whined, suddenly grabbing the tentacle I had looped around her belly. “I said I’ll play it up for you. I can be whatever you want, after all.”

“Aym, stop.” I huffed and pulled on my tentacle, but she dug her fingertips in, grinning wider. “I’m sorry I invaded your personal space. I was wrong. I thought you were like me, like—”

“But you found the wrong thing when you looked too closely?”

“Yes! I’m sorry! Let me—”

Aym reared up in my grip — and up, and up, and up.

Black hair thickening and whipping into dark and ropey tentacles. Face dissolving into a mass of teeth, a circular maw, with eyes the size of tennis balls. Her dress became ridged scales and the rasp of shark-skin. Shadows pulsed out from her like membranes in sluggish current. Feelers and roots grasped the sofa and more of them grasped my tentacles. She drooled black, sticky, hissing venom right before my face.

Are you sure about that?” Aym giggled. “I’m only small, after all!

Abyssal instinct lit up in triumph; she was like me.

And then she was a girl again, sitting on the sofa, grinning at me like a mad little pixie who had lured me into a ring of mushrooms.

I stood there for a long moment, panting and shaking, covered in sudden flash-sweat.

“ … was that … ” I cleared my throat and tried again. “Was that the real you? You must be from the abyss, you weren’t even surprised by my tentacles when you first saw them. You must be.”

Aym tilted her head sideways and gave me a look like I was being exceptionally slow. “Stop asking.”

I shook my head and pulled my tentacles away. This time, Aym let me go.

“You just couldn’t resist a look,” she said. “But did it help? Do you understand more, now?”

“ … no, I suppose it didn’t, b-but—”

Aym smiled, showing neat little white teeth. “And I’m only very small. The Eye is so much bigger.”

I took another step back and realised I was smiling like a moron, trying to get my head around what I was looking at. Aym had been to the abyss, she was like me; I was dying to ask her so many questions, but my mind finally pulled together and started to process her actual words.

Logically, I could deduce what Aym was. She had begun as mortal, or perhaps Outsider, and then swum the abyss, like me. Had she been a mage, like Ooran Juh, or something else? I almost asked out loud — but that would just set her off again. I might be able to define what she was, technically, but that told me nothing about her.

On reflex, abyssal instinct stirred my senses, preparing to see with new eyes.

“Ah!” Aym shot up straight on the sofa, suddenly angry, little face pinched and blazing. “No!”

“N-no?” I blinked, shocked out of the process of dipping into abyssal senses.

“No! You do that, and I’m gone, I’m out, no bluffing. Turning the lights on, that’s all part of the game. But looking like your big Eye does? No way. Stop.”

I took a deep breath, quite deflated by that. “You mean … wait, Aym, then how am I supposed to understand the Eye, if not by looking at it?” I sighed and shook my head. “This is getting too lost in metaphor.”

“I told you,” Aym purred. “I don’t know. But looking is what the Eye does.”

I opened my mouth to sigh again, then froze, and said slowly, “And looking isn’t understanding.”

Aym smiled, a nasty little pixie all in black. “Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of Heaven.”

“Huh!” I laughed without humour. “Another quote, wonderful. Irritating me with my own techniques. How am I meant to approach an ever-moving sphere of Heaven, then, if I can’t make it stand still?”

Aym shrugged. “That’s your problem.”

“Raine was right about you,” I muttered.

Aym lit up. “Rainey? Really? What did she have to say about me? Something violent, I hope!”

“That you’re a little shit.” I cleared my throat. “Pardon my language. Lots of people have tried to give me advice on how to handle the Eye. Magic, brain-math, lesbian threesomes.” I huffed at that one. “Blind faith, dreams, ‘you’ll know what to do when you get there.’ You’re just the latest in a long chain. And you’re not helping, either.”

“You need to stop thinking like a mage.”

“I’m trying!” I huffed, feeling peevish, and stalked away from Aym. The fun was over, abyssal instinct gone sullen, the game ruined by the harsh lesson. Aym was right, I just didn’t know what to do in response. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about the Eye, all right? Is that what you want to hear? That I know I’m doomed? That I don’t know what to do once I get there? I don’t even know where to start! You’re right, I’m going to look up at it with brain-math and probably die right there on the spot. Thanks, Aym.”

Aym the coal-sprite grinned. “You’re welcome.”

“Evee was right,” I said. “I shouldn’t have been alone with you.” I felt myself buckling inside. Was this Aym’s plot all along, to ruin my resolve, to protect Evelyn by stopping me from going to Wonderland? Because it was working. “Maybe we shouldn’t go,” I said past a growing lump in my throat. “Is anybody’s life worth Maisie’s return? I need to believe it can be done … ”

“Uuuurrrrghhh,” Aym grumbled. She rolled her eyes so hard that a real human would have detached both retinas. “You liked me better when you couldn’t see me, right?”

“ … right?”

“You could deal with me then! You don’t need to understand something to deal with it. You just need a shared medium.” She pulled one corner of her lips up in a sneer, as if this was obvious. “Shadows. Or words. Or maths, in your case, but don’t try that, you’ll get shouted down. It’s better at maths than you.”

I frowned at her, not quite following. “A shared medium with the Eye? What?”

“I don’t fucking know!” Aym screeched. She threw her arm up, all lace and gauze. “Don’t ask me!”

I blew out a long, deep breath, and said nothing for a moment. We stared at each other, two things alike in kind but completely different in every way that actually mattered. Aym sneered at me, tiny and delicate and wrapped in shapeless black. I felt stupid and lost.

“So, communicate with the Eye?” I said eventually. “In some … shared medium, whatever that means.”

“That’s up to you.” Aym bounced slightly on the sofa cushions, tilting her tiny chin up, rolling her eyes. “All I can see right now is you people driving toward the edge of a cliff. And I’m not going to pay for your petrol. I can easily stop Flissy from working together with Evee, you know. Hell’s bells, Heather, I could go find this Edward fuck-face and cut a deal with him.” She spat a little ‘pfff’ of disgust. “Though I’d rather not. Probably make me puke.”

I shook my head and wandered over to the table, touching my squid-skull mask. Cool bone-metal soothed my heart. “You go to the abyss, come back, and spend your days keeping Felicity on the straight and narrow. What’s the story behind that one?”

“None of your business, nosy nelly,” Aym sneered in a voice like cats destroying a rusty toy mouse.

I felt myself sagging inside. “Are you going to give us the magic we need then, or not?”

Aym paused, tilting her little face one way, then the other, black hair hanging down in a messy wave. “I don’t like you, Heather. But I like this angel thing you’re doing,” she mused in a lighter voice. “Stick with that and maybe we can make a deal.”

“A deal. Ah.” I walked over to Evee’s chair and wondered if I should tuck it back under the table. “I could just take the magic from you. The knowledge. Do it myself.”

Aym showed me her teeth again, a big toothy smile. “Are you sure about that? You don’t even know what I am.”

“You’re like me.”

“Wrong! Ehh-uuuuhh!” She made a noise like an old fashioned computer error, grating and metallic.

I nodded in exhausted surrender. “Praem says hello, by the way.”

“Tch.” Aym flicked one bony, delicate hand. “She really ought to get your roof fixed. I was up there waiting. Great big holes in the tiles! Tarpaulin doesn’t last, you know?”

“You really care about that?”

“Evee could catch cold,” she said, then grinned a mocking little grin.

“Fair enough.” I moved to sit down on the chair, this negotiation wasn’t over yet — and then bumped into something soft and unexpected.

My brain short-circuited, like in a dream.

I had bumped into something which wasn’t there. Something invisible. I had bumped into nothing. I blinked several times. I had bumped into nothing.

I had bumped into nothing.

Nothing was there.

Maybe don’t sit down in the chair? But nothing was there.

I stood there blinking several times, stuck in a small loop, until an explosive sigh split the air.

And suddenly there was Evelyn, my soft and well-wrapped Evee, sitting in the chair where she’d been sitting all along. A piece of familiar white quartz fell from her hand and into her lap, where it dimpled the fabric of her skirt. She looked slightly bashful, blushing, unable to look me in the eyes.

I gaped at her. “ … Evee?”

Aym had a hand over her mouth, eyes wide with amused shock.

“Evee,” I said. “That’s … the … the … the stone you used when we first met, to hide in plain sight. What’s it’s called?”

“The fade stone,” Evelyn replied with a grunt.

“You lied to me. You came back in! That’s why the door was open! Evee!”

Evelyn looked up at me with blazing eyes. “You didn’t seriously think I would really leave you alone with her? Heather, I am not letting you hurt yourself.”

“You could have insisted!” I squeaked.

Aym, horrible little goblin thing that she was, burst out in peals of sharp laughter, rocking back on the sofa and clutching her stomach. “I haven’t seen that trick in years! Evee, you little bitch!”

Evelyn looked at Aym like she was a zombie made of dog turds. “And I haven’t seen your face in years. What are you still doing here, you little monster?”

“Well—” Aym began, wiggling her eyebrows.

She never finished the rest of the sentence, because the door of the magical workshop flew open with a bang. Praem filled the doorway, staring at Evee.

“Ah,” Evelyn cleared her throat. “Praem. Yes. Well. I’m fine. I’m safe. Sorry.”

“Yes,” said Praem, sounding none too pleased.

“Wait, I said. “Praem, she didn’t even tell you she was doing this? She didn’t tell me!”

“Yes,” said Praem.

“Evee,” I admonished.

“Yes!” Aym joined in. “Naughty Evee! You—”

Praem silenced Aym with a single look. The coal-sprite demon-thing flinched like she’d had a bucket of water dumped over her head, cringing back on the sofa.

Evelyn was blushing with embarrassed fury. I didn’t know what to say, lost for words. Praem looked like she was about to fetch a rolling pin and beat Aym into mince. Aym came back down from her flinch, inch by slow inch, eyes locked with Praem. Behind Praem, in the kitchen, Raine appeared, peering over her shoulder at me. She shot me a questioning thumbs up. I shrugged, grimacing.

“Yes or no?” Praem said.

Aym pointed at herself with a faux-innocent me? gesture.

“You,” said Praem.

Aym hesitated, then smiled, a nasty little thing dipped in black mud and cobwebs. “Alright then,” she said. “Go get Flissy. Let’s do some magic, ghoulies and girlies.”

Announcement

Do not try to define Aym, for she resists labels, she refuses to tell what she is. Heather could just open her eyes and look right at the truth, but Aym asked her not to and Heather is sometimes too polite for her own good. Also Heather, wow, getting rather predatory there. That was unexpected. Wants to make contact with a fellow abyssal creature? That probably answers the Aym question. But what about Evee? Heather couldn't see that one coming at all.

No Patreon link this week! Why? Because I want to shout out somebody else for once! There are so many delightful and fun stories out there which all deserve attention. You might like one!

Cosmosis (by the very talented Pel-Mel) is one of the most wonderfully creative and bizarre concepts I've come across in web serials: alien abductee science fiction de-facto isekai. Give it a look! Especially if you like in media res openings. It jumps right in, both feet first.

And go vote for somebody else on TopWebFiction for once! Go vote for another favourite! You can always vote for Katalepsis next week, if you like.

In the meantime, leave 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, cute dangerous mages doing cute horrifying mage things.

Meanwhile, my other project has now begun! (For those of you who prefer to read here on Scribblehub, don't worry, it'll be up right after I post this.)

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