mischief and craft; plainly seen – 21.1
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Content Warnings:


Contemplation of death.


Mages and monsters, Outsider gods and dredged-up demons, grinning devils and dubious angels — what do we all have in common? In the final accounting — when the wounds are dressed and the corpses are buried, when the debris has been swept up, the armour peeled off, the aching muscles soaked in hot baths, the doors shut and the curtains closed to seal up the comforting and familiar cocoon of Number 12 Barnslow Drive — what is the one commonality that seems to run almost unbroken through the figures of power in this world of eldritch truth? I include us in that question — me, myself, seven times repeated through pneuma-somatic neurons in my tentacles — but also the other us: Evelyn and Raine, Zheng and Lozzie, Twil and Kimberly and Sevens and everyone in my orbit.

What do we have in common with an entity like the Eye?

We leave behind so much wreckage, much of it still alive and twitching.

The only way to differentiate us from the Eye — or from Edward Lilburne, or Alexander, or Ooran Juh, or a dozen other lurking horrors out there beyond the sensible upright walls of everyday life — was for us to attempt to put that wreckage back together again.

One such piece of wreckage was the pitiful wretch I had named as the ‘Grinning Demon’: Edward Lilburne’s final attendant, claimed by Lozzie, taken home without much of a plan.

Other clumps of wreckage abounded in the brightly lit shallows, lying between coral reef and rock-face: Badger and Sarika, attended to for now; the House in Camelot, preening in grand expansion; the remnants of the cult, with the Eye still in their heads, held off for a while longer by promises of help; Sevens’ emotions; Evelyn’s prosthetic leg and chronic pain; my own changeable body.

We could not ignore all of those forever.

Especially not when preparing to dive deeper than ever before, down into the lightless void far beneath the waves.


I was being a bad girl — or perhaps seven bad girls working together; I did not wish to get out of bed and be a person, not yet, not here, not like this.

It was three days since we had returned from Edward Lilburne’s lair and two days after I had been to see Badger in his no-longer-so-drab flat; I had spent almost forty eight hours doing little except going through the painstaking process of physical recovery; it was the second of July and the height of British summertime — in the North, in Sharrowford. In material terms this meant the air was muggy and thick, the kind of air one can feel glugging down one’s throat and clotting inside one’s lungs. It meant the sun was occasionally blazing bright, whenever the clouds deigned to part for more than twenty minutes. It meant that Raine had spent a significant chunk of yesterday morning digging out a couple of spare fans from the cluttered rooms toward the back of the upstairs hallway — and that Raine herself had been walking around the house in tank-top, shorts, and nothing else, not even underwear, as far as I knew. It meant that I was too sweaty and groggy to truly enjoy such a sight. It meant that for once even the near-supernatural powers of Number 12 Barnslow Drive were not enough to keep the oppressive weight of summer held safely beyond the walls.

It was midday, 12:01 according to the mocking numbers on my mobile phone when I managed to scoop it off my bedside table with a sleepy tentacle. The afternoon sky beyond the curtains was the colour of bleached lead. It was pushing almost thirty three degrees Celsius indoors. Awful.

We wanted to go back to sleep; we wanted to continue doing what I had done for almost the entire last couple of days: sleep and rest and regrow, punctuated by brief periods of stuffing lemons down my throat or nodding off on the toilet.

But, for the first time since I’d dragged myself to my feet to go visit Badger, I felt coherent and awake, and slightly less sore all over.

My bedroom was a pit of shadows, barely illuminated by the narrow crack in the curtains, populated by ghost-images and looming giants in the dark; we liked it that way, though — the shadows needed friends too — so we didn’t bother to switch on the lamp as we sat up. We spent an uncomfortable half-minute hissing at the myriad of aches and pains and stitches and twinges and tiny scabs, and then kicked away the sweat-soaked bedsheets. A standing fan was leaning over the bed, pointed at right where I’d been sleeping, filling the air with chopping white noise; I slapped at the controls with a half-awake hand and made it stop. Silence descended, broken by the buzz-buzz-buzz chirping of insects out beyond the walls.

“Raine?” I croaked. “I think I’m … I think I’m awake. For real. Hello? Zheng? Sevens?”

We were alone.

For a single maddening moment we entertained a dark nightmare notion: that this wasn’t my bedroom at all, but some kind of Outside imitation or facsimile, that we were truly alone, beyond the hearing of any human friend or lover, that the ceiling was about to open like a giant eye.

Six of us didn’t go along with the panic — my tentacles could taste the air, so we knew it was real, if humid and sticky and awful — but my core brain, my human brain, felt the first twinge of animal alarm.

But before I could even articulate the thought in private, the normal sounds of Number 12 Barnslow Drive wrapped me tight: creaking floorboards, the distant glug and gulp of the boiler, somebody moving around in one of the other bedrooms, a soft clink of cutlery downstairs, and the murmur of a familiar, feathery, trilling voice.

Nothing bad could be happening if Tenny was giggling.

“Ahhhh,” we sighed. We hugged a tentacle — then let go, because everything was too hot. “Calm down, Heather. Calm. Calm. You won. We all won. It’s okay.”

There was a note on my bedside table, held down with a sports bottle full of lukewarm cherry-flavoured drink.

I’ve gone out to buy a couple more fans, on Evee’s orders! So here’s this note in case you wake up alone. See the bottle? It’s full of Lucozade. Everything a sweaty squid wife needs. I know it’s not your favourite flavour, but we didn’t have any in lemon. Drink up! Doctor’s orders! (That’s me, I’m a doctor now.) Love you, xxx.

P.S. Don’t know where Zheng’s gotten to, hunting or something. If you see her, tell her off for not letting me know.

Raine had signed the note with a flourish, used a heart shape for the dot of the ‘I’ in ‘Raine’, and then drawn a surprisingly skilled artistic rendition of a hand pouring the bottle of Lucozade out over a very happy little squid.

The Lucozade was vile. Lukewarm fake cherry. I drank it like my throat was made of sandpaper and instantly wanted more.

We fumbled with our phone for a moment, clumsy with sleep, and sent a text message back to Raine: We love you too. Awake for real now. Love you love you. Be safe.

She replied two seconds later with ASCII art of what I think was meant to be her doing a karate kick. We giggled.

For a couple of minutes we just sat on the edge of the bed, sweating uncomfortably in the paradoxical summer heat, wafting ourselves with alternating tentacles, communing in silence with the summer shadows.

The last couple of days were a jagged blur, smeared across my memory like the incomplete imprint of a woodblock without enough ink. Getting up and going to see Badger had consumed what little energy I’d had left; I was surprised I hadn’t slipped into an actual fugue state on the way home. But, no. I was vaguely aware that as I had lain insensate — occasionally shuffling backwards and forwards from fridge and bathroom — the rest of the house had hummed with activity, with clean-up and preparation, with people beginning to go their separate ways, with tensions I had neither the time nor the waking moments to unravel, let alone assist.

I was quite certain of one thing though, one thing that no amount of hazy memory could conceal, for no memory can trick the senses, certainly not the nose: I had not showered in three days.

“Ugh,” I stuck my tongue out. “Oh. Heather. Oh, no.”

I was ‘ripe’, as Raine might say. Pongy. I stank.

Good girls do not go without showering for days on end. Neither do angels, I think? Octopuses and squid don’t need to shower, but that’s because they live in the superior medium — the sea, where good girls do not have to worry about sweating because they are surrounded by water.

Showering was an ordeal.

I was still sore from head to toe, though now in new and fascinating ways. Bruises had stiffened my muscles to frozen leather, leaving interesting but unexciting colouration in places where I didn’t need to glow purple or green or yellow. Raising my knees more than a couple of inches caused my legs to shudder and seize up. I couldn’t bend forward at the waist without my stomach quivering from the effort. And trying to raise my arms above my head made all sorts of very bad things happen down my back.

Nobody else was there to hear me hiss and snap a plethora of bad words; my tentacles pulsed and bobbed in mock-scandal at some of my vocabulary, then joined in with the swearing when we forced ourselves to stretch and uncoil. Nobody was there to see me slump against the side of the bath, with water sluicing around me like I was an abandoned octopus in a drainage ditch. Nobody was there to see me curl up in a ball and pretend I was lost down in the deep dark waters of the abyss.

A less maudlin part of us sort of wished that Raine was there to share the shower with me and do things which would take our collective minds off the aches and pains. But she probably would have held back for fear of hurting me.

“I’ve been a naughty squid,” I muttered to myself. We were only partly glad that Raine was not present to hear that one.

We sat in the bathtub for a little too long, underneath the shower. One of our tentacles even toyed with the plug and the cold water tap, tempting me to fill the tub with cold water and just lie in it for an hour, eyes closed, floating away.

But alas, our core was still human, our reactor was stiff with healing, and we had human requirements for body temperature and homeostasis.

Besides, if anybody found me floating in cold water with the lights out, they might ask awkward questions.

We couldn’t bear more than shorts and a t-shirt ourselves, not in the clinging sticky heat after a nice cool shower. But we chose long shorts, because we were self-conscious about our stubby, short little legs — and a nice loose t-shirt with slits ready-cut in the sides for our tentacles to poke through. Pink, soft, and two sizes too large for me. Lovely.

However, the t-shirt left our arms exposed — which meant the Fractal was exposed, on our left forearm. That wasn’t a problem, but I just wasn’t used to it. I traced the angular branches of the symbol with a fingertip. Had Raine refreshed it as usual, last night? She must have done. Perhaps I’d been out cold at the time.

“Sevens? Sevens? Seven-Shades-of-Scarcely-Showing-Yourself?” I spoke out loud to the shadows in the bedroom as I got dressed.

But we were still alone.

I did not stay alone for long. I ventured down the creaky, shadow-draped stairs of Number 12 Barnslow Drive, across the curtained cave of the front room with its piles of ancient boxes full of random bric-a-brac, and into the disturbingly bright flash-bang of the kitchen.

The sun was pouring in through the rear kitchen window, glinting off the metal of the sink and dusting the floor tiles with honey-yellow light; the clouds must have parted while I was in the shower. The table was littered with post-breakfast debris, plates, and empty mugs. The door to the magical workshop was half open, easing back and forth by a fraction of an inch under air pressure; I could hear the whirr of at least three separate electric fans running in there, circulating air, drowning out any incidental sounds.

“Praem,” I croaked. “Good … um … afternoon, I think. Yes. Hello. Hi.”

Praem was at the kitchen counter, doing something fantastically complicated with fruit and knives. She had bananas, strawberries, a couple of kiwi fruits, an open bag of sugar, and some kind of chocolate powder. She placed her knife down on the cutting board — next to another knife, and another knife, and another knife — smoothed her skirt over her thighs, and then turned her head to look at me.

Milk-white eyes stared, waiting.

“Oh,” I said. “Um. I’m awake, yes. For real. Actually awake. Here. Present. Uh, look.” I raised a hand and made a peace sign — simply because it was the quickest symbol to make. “Two fingers.”

Praem responded with a double peace-sign, both hands. “Good morning.”

“Well,” I said. “Afternoon, really.”

“Morning is when you are up.”


“Good morning.”

Praem had apparently taken delivery of a fresh maid uniform — or repaired and modified her old one, I couldn’t quite tell. This one was even more festooned with lace than before: a tracery of white lace crawled up her throat, down her forearms, and across her palms. How she was cutting up fruit without ruining the palm-lace, I had no idea. I suspected I didn’t want to know, or that I’d have to go abyss-diving to truly comprehend. The upper body of the uniform was trim around her waist and chest, giving her a contained, sleek, and yet plump look, all at once. If she had purchased this uniform it must have been quite expensive; it looked tailored specifically for her body type. The skirt was ankle-length, double-thick, black fabric fronted by an over-layer of cream-white. Her hair was up in her habitual messy bun, trailing loops and curls down across her neck.

“Are you not hot in that?” I asked. “Not that it doesn’t suit you, Praem, it looks really lovely, but it’s also over thirty degrees in here.”

“Maids are cool,” Praem intoned.

“I … uh, I suppose they are?”

“I am cool.”

“You … you are. Yes. Fair enough.” We shrugged, defeated.

As if operating on a set of prior instructions, Praem stepped away from her unfinished fruit engineering and opened the fridge. A lovely blast of cold air wafted over me; I stretched out my tentacles and made a slightly embarrassing purring sound, but Praem worked too fast for me to linger on the sensation. Deft maidly hands poured chilled water into a glass, squeezed half a pre-cut lemon into the water, and then popped several neatly formed ice-cubes into the resulting drink.

She pressed the glass into my hands. Hard.

“Oh, uh, um, thank you, Praem. But I’m quite—”

“Drink. The. Lemon. Water.”

Praem’s sing-song order left no room for argument. I sipped my lemon water and instantly felt myself a degree or two less overheated. I sipped again and realised that until that moment I had felt like a beached squid, washed up on the baking shore of reality. I sipped a third time; I wanted to go Outside, I wanted to change again, so it was easier to think, easier to be. I sipped lemon water instead.

Praem returned to whatever concoction she was making with the fruit.

“So, Praem, where is … uh … ”

A lazy, heat-addled voice answered me from the half-open door to the magical workshop, calling out over the drone of the electric fans: “In here, Heather. In here.”

In the shadowy cave of the magical workshop I discovered one of the least likely trios I could have predicted.

Evelyn was sat at the huge wooden table, leaning back in one of the more substantial chairs; she was wearing a loose white t-shirt several sizes too large for her body, the hem of which extended well below her hips, almost concealing the pair of shorts beneath. The matte black of her prosthetic leg was fully exposed, on display in the cool gloom, stuck out in front of her in what looked like an oddly comfortable pose. Her other leg — her withered and damaged left — was also unconcealed, shrunken muscles and twisted joints out in the open. Her hair was tied up high, keeping it off her neck. This was probably the least amount of clothing I’d ever seen Evee wearing, including during the aftermath of my first desperate rescue from Outside.

On the table in front of her was her laptop — plugged into the wall and paused on some grainy video — along with a neat pile of books, The Testament of Heliopolis sitting just next to them, an equally neat open notebook showing some sketches of magic circle designs, a couple of official-looking documents, and an empty glass with a little fruity residue at the bottom.

A great deal of cleaning had apparently happened in my absence: for the first time I could remember since Evelyn had set up this old drawing room as her magical workshop, the table was otherwise clear. No stray notes, no random tomes, no maps spread out all higgledy piggledy. The floor was clear as well: canvas magic circles had been banished to tightly-wrapped bundles in one corner, debris and junk and random spooky nonsense had been tidied away and placed on the bookshelf at the rear. Even the area around the gateway mandala had been sorted out, with the additional sheets of material stacked up on a little end-table.

The ever-present spider-servitors were present and correct, both of them clinging to their usual spots — one on the wall over the gateway mandala, the other in the opposite corner. Had they been dusted? Polished? I squinted in disbelief for a moment. They looked like somebody had buffed their black carapaces.

Somebody had even hoovered. Praem, probably. I made a mental note to thank her later. She really did too much around here.

Three electric fans had been placed around the room: two on the table and one over along the rear wall. All three looked about fifty years old, made of metal rather than plastic, their spinning blades held inside black cages to keep little fingers from investigating too closely.

Tenny was sitting on the battered old sofa over on the right hand side of the room, just beneath one of the heavily curtained windows. Tenny was of course not wearing any clothes, as she had no need for them, as always, but even she looked a little bit overheated; some of her silken black tentacles were flapping and whirring as if fanning her main body, and some of her patches of fluffy white fur looked a bit limp. Her human hands were clutching a box full of strawberries, banana slices, grapes, plums, and dried apricot pieces.

“Heath!” she fluttered when I entered the room. “Heath here! Yaaa!”

Next to Tenny, sitting prim and neat on the sofa, with her knees together and her hands in her lap, was the Grinning Demon.

She was no longer quite such a fearsome sight: her six and a half feet of naked muscle was now clothed in a baggy grey t-shirt and a pair of white jogging bottoms, presumably borrowed from Zheng. The blood-and-ink magic wards had been scrubbed off her skin, leaving her pale and a bit sparse, but freed of any lingering control. She still had no hair, not even eyebrows or lashes, and her eyeballs themselves were like twin pools of fresh blood in her milk-pale face. Her massive pair of curving horns arced away from her forehead, black and shadowy in the cool air of the magical workshop.

And she’d lost the reason for her moniker: her mouth was closed, concealing her massive sharp teeth.

She looked up at me as I joined the three of them, but she didn’t nod, or blink, or grin. Just stared.

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, um, hello … hi … uh … ”

Evelyn sighed heavily and gestured with a wave of one hand. “There’s more lemons in the fridge, Heather. Praem is keeping it stocked. Go eat. It’s fine.”

“Oh, no, but thank you,” we said. “I’m awake now. Awake for real. And I don’t feel like eating. And Praem gave me this.” I sipped awkwardly from my lemon-water again. “Morning, Evee. Or, afternoon. Hello. Good to see you. You too, Tenny. And um … ”

Evelyn looked up properly and examined me for a moment, squinting hard. “So you are. Welcome back to the waking world.”

“Heath! Heath!” Tenny was trilling in delight at my return, even though I had a vague memory of seeing her yesterday. She waved her tentacles and gestured with a piece of fruit. “Grinny! Grinny!” she said to the Grinning Demon. “This is Heath-er. Heath-er.”

The Grinning Demon did not open her lips to reply; she made a closed-mouth rumble, like a giant lizard or a dinosaur. A Tenny-tentacle bobbed forward with a strawberry. ‘Grinny’ opened up and accepted the fruit, careful not to risk nicking Tenny’s flesh with her extremely sharp teeth. She chewed and swallowed. Tenny made happy humming sounds at the successful feeding.

Evelyn sighed again and gestured at the pair, as if to say ‘see what nonsense I’ve been doing all day?’

“Um,” we said. “‘Grinny’? Is that what we’re going with for her?”

Evelyn sighed a third time. She was making an art of the sound. I got the feeling she’d been practising a lot during my absence. “Until she picks a new one herself, yes. I think it would be in extremely poor taste to use the one that Nicole dug up for us.” She gestured at the official-looking papers on the table.

“Grinny!” Tenny cheered. “Auntie.”

“Wait, wait, back up,” we said. Even our tentacles had frozen in bobbing confusion, paused halfway to reaching out for Evee’s hand. “Nicole dug up? What? Sorry?”

Praem’s voice reached out from the kitchen behind me: “Drink first.”

Evelyn raised her eyebrows. “Better do as she says, Heather. She hasn’t let up on me for days.” Evelyn nudged her own empty glass with her elbow. “I feel like my back teeth are floating.”

Praem’s voice called out again, a siren from a watery grave: “Hydrate.”

I made like a good girl and drank my lemon water. Yum yum.

Tenny fed a piece of dried apricot to Grinny. The demon accepted without complaint, but chewed notably slower. Tenny shuffled the apricot slices to one side of the box in her lap, ruling them out, but then she ate one herself, with the end of a tentacle, thought for a moment, and shuffled the fruit back to the middle of the box. Evelyn rubbed her own forehead, apparently exhausted by watching this process.

Evee did look better than during the aftermath of the duel with Edward, but she was still sporting significant eye bags and a hang-dog exhaustion in her face. But she was completely unselfconscious about showing her legs — withered and prosthetic alike.

We finished several glugs of lemon water and took a breath.

“Careful,” said Evee, darkly amused. “Drink too fast and Praem will press another into your hands, unasked for.”

Praem called from the kitchen again: “All hydration is asked for.”

Evee waved a hand and rolled her eyes. Tenny fed another piece of fruit — banana slice this time — to Grinny. The fans whirred. Praem made knife-sounds from in the kitchen. We reached out and coiled a tentacle tip around Evee’s wrist, which she patted absent-mindedly with her other hand.

“Where did Praem get the new uniform?” I asked. “It looks tailored.”

“I don’t know. I’ve learned not to ask.”

I blinked hard. “Did she buy it with your Amazon account or something? Your credit card? Did you … ”

“Oh, no,” Evelyn tutted. “She’d never do something like that without permission. Not that I’d say no, anyway.”

“Then … how?”

Evelyn gave me a tired look. “I’ve learned not to ask.”

I sipped more lemon water, hoping it would help me think better. “Um. Evee, where is everyone? I’m feeling a bit discombobulated here.”

“Summer!” Tenny trilled.

The Grinning Demon — I couldn’t take the name ‘Grinny’ seriously — made a deep throat-rumble of agreement. Summer.

Evelyn put a palm to her own forehead. “Oh I don’t fu— … I don’t know, Heather.”

Tenny looked up at the sound of Evelyn’s aborted swear word, a knowing little smile on her mouth. I bit my lower lip. Evelyn pretended nothing had happened.

“Raine’s out buying fans? Maybe?” Evelyn continued. “Zheng went off … somewhere, for something. Leaving us with … ” She gestured at Grinny. “Lozzie is beyond the walls of reality. Twil’s at home. I think. Kim’s at work. Felicity went to, I don’t know, stalk her? Haven’t seen your yellow girlfriend in a while. Jan made herself very scarce but I gather she might be with Lozzie. Hello, Heather.”

“Hello, Evee,” I repeated. “Yes, I’m listening, I’m here. It’s okay, I just … I’m so used to being in crisis … I … ”

“Summer!” Tenny trilled again. “Summer!”

“Torture,” Evelyn grumbled. She nodded at me. “Sit down, Heather, for pity’s sake. You’re making me feel overheated just looking at you.”

We pulled up a chair next to Evee and sat down, slowly and carefully, wincing and hissing softly at the pain in our legs, in our tentacles, lingering in just about every muscle and tendon and tissue. For a moment we focused on breathing in out slowly, on sipping our rapidly depleting lemony water, and on enjoying the relative darkness of the magical workshop.

With the curtains closed tight and the trio of fans working hard to circulate air, it was probably the coolest room in the house. I felt the worst of my post-shower sweat begin to dry on my skin. Tenny reached out with a trio of silken black tentacles; top-right and bottom-right held her tentacle tips softly, in greeting and solidarity.

“Oh, it’s really not as bad in here as upstairs,” I said with a sigh. “This is nice.”

“Mm,” Evee grunted. She was frowning at me in thought and concern.

I nodded toward the inert doorway-shape in the middle of the gateway mandala, feeling a moment of silly mischief. “Do you think it’s cooler over in Camelot?”

Evelyn tutted. “Do not tempt me, Heather. Do not. We can’t start using the most advanced magical technology ever invented to escape summer. Tch. Every time Lozzie comes back she’s wearing that poncho, still. I have no idea how she doesn’t melt.”

“Summer,” Tenny trilled — softer than before. “Ouchies?”

“Ow, yes.” Evelyn sighed. “Besides, if I go over there I’m just going to get swept up in Lozzie’s cleaning process. There’s too many tempting things in that house, things Edward left behind. And I’ve got a more important matter to concentrate on.” She gestured vaguely at The Testament of Heliopolis lying on the table, but then quickly frowned at me again. “Heather, are you alright? You’ve been down and out hard for almost two whole days. I wanted to force Raine to take you to the hospital, but … ” She trailed off, shaking her head.

We smiled a guilty smile. Making Evee worry was never our intention. “Evee, I don’t think a regular hospital would know what to do with me.”

“Mm. Pneuma-somatic collapse. Still feeling bruised and rough, I take it?”

“Understatement of the month so far. Yes. I am very sore.”

“But, better? Yes?” Evelyn frowned harder. She glanced at the rest of us, at our tentacles. “You’re all still looking healthy there. Strong tentacles. Good. As long as you’re sustainable, that’s the important part. Not burning yourself out. You’re not doing that, yes?”

I nodded. “I promise. Feeling a little better. I … maybe I should … ”

Go Outside.

I couldn’t say that in front of Evee; I couldn’t admit what I was really feeling deep down, the aching desire to transform my body once again, to feel webbing between my fingers and toes, to flush my skin with toxins and bright strobing colouration, to line my eyes with many membranes and my spine with spikes, to feel the spring of reinforced legs and the swish of a tail at my rear. To allow my brain to flower. I knew everything would make more sense, if only I could transform again.

Evee wanted to know that I was healthy and trying to recover, not that I wanted to go warp my flesh again so soon.

“Good girls drink up,” came Praem’s suggestion.

The demon maid glided into the room on smartly clicking footsteps. She clacked a fresh drink down next to Evee — a fruit smoothie, deliciously bright and full of sugar — and then swept my empty glass out of my hands and inserted a replacement. More lemon water, clinking with ice.

“Oh!” I said, in shock. “Praem, I’m- I’m fine, I—”

“Drinky drink. She drinks the drinky drink. She drinks. A drink. Drink.”

“Okay! Yes, okay. I promise, yes.” I frowned at Evee’s smoothie for a moment, my brain struggling with two plus two. “Um. Do we even have a blender? I didn’t hear one just now.”

Evelyn sighed. “We don’t own a blender, no.”

“Then how … ”

Evelyn gave me a look. “I have learned not to ask.”

“Maid,” said Praem. “Drink.”

I drank. So did Evee, huffing and puffing before sipping her smoothie. She pulled a face. “Praem—”

“Vegetables. Or fruit. Choice.”

Evelyn sighed. Tenny made a trilling buzz which I knew as a giggle. Grinny — what a name — just stared, impassive. Praem turned toward her and gestured at the box of fruit in Tenny’s lap, an open question on Praem’s milk-white eyes.

For a moment neither of the demons said anything. Tenny fluttered: “No apricots. Bad taste. Strawberries, mid. Grapes good! Good! Bananananana — uncertain verdict.”

“Meat,” said Grinny — a slow throat-rumble of a word, barely parting her lips, a noise that made me flinch and Tenny vibrate on the spot.

Praem turned her head to stare at Evelyn.

“No!” Evelyn snapped. “How many times? She’s not set up for it! You — you there.” She jabbed a finger at Grinny until Grinny focused on her, then spoke slowly and carefully; I could tell from Evee’s tone of voice that this was far from the first time she’d said these words. “Your digestive system and biochemistry cannot properly process meat.” She huffed, then added for me: “This has been going for three whole fucking days. Zheng brought her back a dead squirrel and she vomited it up all over the kitchen table.”

“She can’t eat meat?” I asked. “Why?”

“Vegan,” said Praem.

Evelyn shrugged and spread her hands. “I don’t know. Something the demon possession has done with the corpse. A response to something in her past. Some weird thing that Edward wired her for. I have no idea. I just know she can’t eat meat, biologically. She’s not set up for it. She’ll bring it back up.”

Tenny trilled: “Three whole fuuuucking days!”

Evelyn sighed hard and put her face in one hand. I winced; Lozzie was not going to like that.

But then Praem turned to Tenny and gave her a single, silent look. Tenny went Pbbbbbbbt, then: “Sorry, auntie Evee.”

I jumped in, both curious and eager to save Evee from an oncoming headache, and also wishing to show Tenny that nobody was genuinely angry with her. “Evee, what was that about Nicole and her real name and everything?”

“Ah, yes, right.” Evelyn straightened up and passed me the papers from the table. “Our tame private eye did a little bit of archival digging for us. Hardly needed her for it really, this isn’t exactly top-secret or anything.”

The official looking papers on the table were a trio of photocopies or print-outs, all of original documents which looked quite old.

The first was a birth certificate for a baby girl named “Jacqueline Poole”, born to parents James and Beverly Poole, in Manchester, dated 12th of April 1938. The second document was a marriage certificate, registered in Sharrowford, for a marriage performed at Little Stonton Parish Church, dated 6th June 1959, recording the marriage of Jacqueline Poole to one Edward Lilburne.

The third and final document was a newspaper clipping of a small obituary, from one of the mid-century Sharrowford newspapers which no longer existed, dated November 20th 1962.

“—after a long and difficult illness,” I read the final lines. “Jacqueline Lilburne had no children. She is survived by her husband, Edward.”

I glanced up at ‘Grinny’. Blood-red eyeballs stared back, curious but uncaring. “Jacqueline Poole?” I said out loud, but she didn’t respond to the name.

Evelyn shrugged. “Unlikely,” she said. “It’s not her in there. I think it’s highly likely that Edward’s wife died of natural causes, for real. That’s a proper obituary. She would have gone to a coroner.” Evelyn shook her head. “They’re very delicate about real causes in those old obituaries. Could have been anything. Cancer, maybe. The only one who could tell us is beyond human contact now.”

‘Grinny’ looked on, glancing back and forth between me and Evelyn. She was interested on some level, at least.

“So … ” I glanced at Tenny, not sure if I should say this in her presence. “Edward … got hold of the body, somehow, afterward, and … ”

“Put a demon in it,” Evelyn said. “She doesn’t respond to the name. She doesn’t respond to much, actually.” Evelyn glanced at Grinny again. “She’s not comatose or in a fugue state or anything. She’s just defaulted to quiet and uninvolved.”

We stared back at Grinny, or Jacqueline, or whatever she wanted to be called from now on. She stared back, eyes red and empty, not blind or blank but simply unmoved — or perhaps content to sit and be fed pieces of fruit by her new moth-friend.

“I don’t blame her,” I said. “I mean — Grinny, I don’t blame you.”

Grinny said nothing.

I tried a different track. “Tenny, you’re usually quite skittish around Zheng, but you don’t mind Grinny?”

“Bwaaaah?” went Tenny, with one of her delightful little flutter-sounds. “Noooo? She’s okay! Fruit!”

“Fruit, indeed. And, Tenny, where’s Marmite?”

“Scaredy-cat!” Tenny giggled.

Evelyn said, “I gather the spider is upstairs, staying out of the way.”

I wet my lips and said to Evee: “If she … if her body died in 1962, and then Edward then used it for a demon-host, shouldn’t she be significantly more powerful, or wild, or out of control? I thought demon-hosts were supposed to go that way, when they’re, well, not treated as real people. She’s been Edward’s slave for decades. That’s what we’re looking at. A freed slave.”

Evelyn shrugged. “Heather, one thing I’ve learned recently is that I’m often wrong, a lot. And besides, she is powerful. Very.”

I raised my eyebrows.

Evelyn jabbed a thumb toward the Grinning Demon, and said: “Zheng ‘allowed’ me to do a proper magical examination of her. Got her inside a circle and everything. She’s strong and fast and robust, extremely so. Nowhere near on the same scale as Zheng — not anywhere near as old, obviously. But she could outfight July with ease, for example. If she cared. Though I suspect she’s all brute strength and no finesse.”

“Big strong,” said Tenny. “Strong!”

Grinny made another rumbling, closed-mouth vocalisation, slow and low and deep and hard — aimed at Evelyn.

“Um,” I said, unwilling to voice the question out loud. “She’s not … ”

“Dangerous?” Evelyn snorted. “Of course she’s dangerous. She’s a demon.”

“I was trying to be polite.” We winced. “Evee, I mean—”

“No, Edward Lilburne — spit on his soul — has no lingering control over her at all. All those temporary designs were probably added by the pawns he sent against us at the end, in a desperate attempt to use her somehow. All his control was … emotional.” Evelyn pursed her lips, and I realised she was holding back great anger and disgust. Probably didn’t want to upset Tenny.

“His dead wife,” I said softly.

Evelyn and I shared a glance; perhaps it was the exhaustion and the muscle pain, perhaps I wanted to lighten Evee’s mood, or perhaps I was simply feeling full of dark mischief.

“You did promise,” I said.

Evelyn frowned with genuine disapproval, stormy and craggy. I cleared my throat and sat up straighter and blushed bright red. “I’m sorry. I apologise, Evelyn. Sorry. That was deeply inappropriate. I’m sorry.”

Evelyn huffed. “Too much of Raine has rubbed off on you. She won’t stop making that joke.”

“Joke? Joke?” Tenny trilled, tilting her head back and forth. “Joke?”

Without giving us pause to hesitate, Praem turned back to Tenny and raised a hand, palm up.

“Tenny,” said Praem.


“Joke. What is big, red, and eats rocks?”

Tenny tilted her head one way, then the other, tentacle-tips spinning in little circles as her brain worked on the problem she had been presented with. Her fluffy white antennae twitched and fluttered. She blinked several times. Praem waited patiently for an answer. Grinny looked up too, red eyes shining wet in the gloom.

Eventually Tenny said: “I don’t know!”

“A big red rock eater,” said Praem.

Tenny blinked three times. Her tentacles did a triple-dip of rapid thinking. And then she burst into peals of trilling, fluttery, feathery laughter. She giggled and squeaked and almost lost her grip on the box of fruit, which Praem deftly scooped up just before Tenny did a full-body giggle-wriggle.

Grinny went: “Huuuuuunnnh.” I think that may have been a laugh, or close enough.

Evelyn sighed in relief; awkward moment avoided.

We shook our head. “So, what are we going to do with her?” I asked.

Evelyn gave me a sudden, sharp look, almost suspicious with intensity. “The demon? She’s Lozzie’s responsibility now.”

“Yes, but—”

“And Lozzie is one of us,” Evelyn said, sharp and hard as if I had somehow challenged this. “One of our family. Polycule. Cult. Whatever! Tch.” Evelyn’s voice cut across the ebbing laughter. Tenny blinked toward us. The Grinning Demon stared. “We look after her, Heather. There’s no alternative. There’s no question.”

“Evee, I wasn’t challenging that.” I boggled at her, speaking slowly. “Where did that come from just now?”

“I … ” Evelyn cleared her throat and blushed a little. “Nowhere relevant. I’m sorry, Heather. Of course you weren’t challenging it. I’m being absurd.”

“Of course we’ll look after her. Or let Lozzie look after her. It’s not as if we’re lacking space.”

Evelyn nodded along, eyes averted from me in embarrassment. “She can take as long as she wants to decide what she wants to do.”

I looked over at the grinning demon again — Grinny, Jackie, whoever she was. “Grinny,” we said, then cringed. “You can pick whatever name you want. Do you know that?”

The Grinning Demon stared back at me with blood-red orbs — and briefly lived up to her name again. She pulled her lips back in a tight rictus, exposing layers of teeth, interlocked, razor-sharp, face split from ear to ear.

“Zheng,” she rumbled down in her throat.

Evelyn sighed. “She’s said that a few times. I think it’s admiration, or attachment. Zheng is the one who got her away from Edward, after all.”

“Zheng,” repeated the Grinning Demon. “Zheng.”

“Potentially confusing,” said Praem.

“Zheng and Zheng Junior,” I said. “Yes, that would be … well … if that’s what she wants, we can’t deny her, we literally don’t have the power to. But it would be confusing.” I bit my lower lip. “Hmm.”

“Grinny,” said Tenny. “Zheng. Zhengy? No. Grhenge.”

The Grinning Demon ceased to grin. ‘Grhenge’ did not meet with her approval. Tenny did a little pout.

Praem swept back through the room, taking the empty glasses into the kitchen. Tenny resumed trying to feed a piece of fruit to Grinny. I turned back to Evelyn, trying to focus my mind on a task I had been avoiding.

“So,” I said, glancing at the book on the table, at The Testament of Heliopolis. “Evee, you’ve been … been … ”

By pure chance, my eyes had moved across the screen of Evelyn’s open laptop, on the still image of the video she had been watching. I paused first with incomprehension, then with shock, then with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The video — on Youtube — showed a dirty great hole in the middle of a wreck of a country garden, surrounded by gravel and great swaying trees, in a very familiar clearing.

“That’s … that’s the hole I left!” I gasped. “That’s where Edward’s house was! Evee, that’s … is that us? Are we on the news? Are we on the BBC? Oh my God.”

“Us?” Evelyn snorted. “I bloody well hope not. If we make the news ourselves we’ll all have to decamp to Camelot, permanently. No, they’ve not found anything about us. Here.”

She reached forward and rewound the video so I could watch.

We were not on the news — not us, not personally, not collectively; but our handiwork was on the front page of the BBC website. Not actual headline news, oh no, that was reserved for the usual cocktail of politics, foreign events, gossip nonsense, and so forth. We weren’t so big that we were plastered all over the newspapers — except for the Sharrowford ones and one of the Manchester papers, where we were big news indeed.

The police had discovered the site of Edward’s house two days ago, while I’d been lying insensate and chewing on my pillow, dreaming of lemons. ‘Discovered by an unlucky hiker’, as the news put it — but discovered what? Tantalising scraps only, luckily for us.

A missing house, unplugged from the ground and taken away, but without any sign of heavy lifting or demolition equipment. That had quickly given rise to a plethora of internet cranks talking mostly about alien abduction, but also about aggressive repossession of mortgaged property, by aliens.

A lot of bloodstains, the kind of bloodstains that come from deep wounds, terrible wounds, killing wounds, and a pile of bodies; the BBC report actually had an army doctor on for a couple of lines of puff, talking about how this was evidence of a real gunfight.

And bullet casings. Not many, certainly not enough to account for the blood. But there they were.

“Lozzie got most of those,” Evelyn explained as she flicked through the various tabs she had open. “She’s not perfect, so she missed a few. But they don’t have enough to explain what the hell happened out there.” She snorted. “Which is good for us.”

Lozzie might have been able to run around picking up spent brass, but she couldn’t do the same for the pair of cars or the fountain; pock-marked and holed by my failed first attempt at Slipping the House Outside, looking like Swiss cheese, those formed the main bulk of the lurid shots the BBC and other regional news outfits were playing as their money-makers.

No bodies, not enough bullet casings for a conclusion, and blood not connected to any bodies currently showing up in morgues or washing up out of the Thames.

The BBC quoted some police bigwig I’d never heard of before: gang activity, likely drug related, the house didn’t seem to belong to anybody, no danger to the public at this time, so on and so forth. Please call this number if you want to ramble to a bored switchboard operator about aliens. One of the Manchester newspapers made dark insinuations about some criminal underworld types I’d never heard of before. The Sharrowford local papers admitted nobody had any idea. One of the more salacious ‘News of the Weird’ style websites blamed demons.

“Well,” Evelyn said. “That one is technically not wrong. Don’t tell them, though, it’ll encourage them.”

By the time Evee had finished catching me up I had one hand and one tentacle over my mouth, eyes wide in shock. Two of my tentacles were bobbing with a cocktail of anxiety, glee, amusement, and sheer bloody-minded amazement that we really did it.

“Evee. Evee, we made the national news.”

“Not us, Heather.”

“What about the — the boy!” I was shrill with anxiety now. “The boy in the hospital? He’s still there, isn’t he? Can’t they connect him to all that? To what happened at the house?”

Evelyn smiled, wry and sad at the same time. “He didn’t bleed. Remember?”

“Oh. Oh … yes. Poor thing.”

“But,” Evelyn went on, clearing her throat. “The Sharrowford Police aren’t so stupid that they won’t make the obvious connection, even if they can’t prove a thing. Apparently he’s still non-verbal, basically not there. But we can’t risk anything other than Lozzie popping in for a few seconds to check on him. The police will be watching him.” Evee paused to take a long sip from her smoothie. I did the same with my lemon water; my hands were shaking slightly. We wrapped a tentacle around our own middle.

“But … but Kim,” I said. “She brought him in, right? That’s a connection back to us.”

Evee shook her head. “She gave a false name. And no ID. Kimberly Kemp is smarter than she seems.” Evelyn blinked. “I mean not that she seems un-smart, I mean—”

Pbbbbbbbrt,” went Tenny, riding to Evee’s rescue.

Evelyn cleared her throat and pulled an awkward smile. I drank my lemon water and tried to calm down. Which was not going to happen.

“The news.” I said. “The news!”


“The … police.”


“And we’re … we’re home free? We got away with it? I can’t believe it.”

“There’s no evidence, Heather,” said Evelyn. “Not on this side of reality. It’s all Outside.”

“Oh,” we said. “Oh. Yes.”

The corpses.

What about the families of Edward’s mercenaries? Or his cultists? They had died trying to kill us, yes, but that didn’t mean every single person in their lives deserved to go on without any kind of closure. Without a body to bury. Without knowing.

More wreckage.

We twisted our tentacle-tips into little knots. We made a mental note: how to resolve that, without giving ourselves away?

Evelyn must have sensed our discomfort, and that this was something we couldn’t discuss in front of Tenny, because she cleared her throat and said: “Well, look, for now, Tenny and … Grinny, they should maybe do this elsewhere, because I need to get back to work.” She nudged the notebook with the page of magic circle designs.

“Oh!” I said. “No, no, Evee. It’s fine. It’s fine. Um … how is it going? I meant to ask before I noticed all the news. That’s what I was really interested in. Is the book giving you what you needed? What we need?”

Evelyn smiled with a familiar twinkle in her eyes; suddenly she seemed to fill with energy.

“Oh yes. Yes it is, indeed, Heather. I was right — The Testament of Heliopolis does contain the last few pieces of the puzzle to build a true, functional Invisus Oculus. If! If you know what you’re doing. Which I happen to.” She gestured at the notebook again, then took a rapid drink from her smoothie before clacking the glass back down. “I won’t bore you with the details from the Testament itself — very dry, very dense, translations of something dug up from Egypt by the Romans. But it works. I’ve been working on the new design for a couple of days now. And it works, it works already! I have it functioning at very small scales — I used a blade of grass, then a pebble, which was bloody confusing, I’ll say that much—”

“Bloody,” trilled Tenny.

Evelyn snorted and waved her off. “Yes, yes, it’s very confusing when you forget where you put a pebble, if making you forget the pebble was the entire point of the exercise.” She pulled the notebook off the table and waved it toward me, pointing at one of the circles. “This, this is the closest I’ve gotten to conceptual and metaphysical invisibility.”

I felt numb, staring at squiggles which meant nothing to me. I should have felt excited, triumphant, on the verge of success. Instead, there was a lump in my throat.

“And … ” I hesitated. “How long until—”

“A few days, maybe a week,” Evelyn answered before I had time to finish asking the question. “I need to scale it up, get it big — really big, big enough for us, Lozzie’s Caterpillars, other magical workings inside. I need to test it on larger entities, things with better perception, different perceptions than us.” She waved a hand. “Hringewindla, Sevens, the Caterpillars, whoever and whatever will cooperate. You too, Heather. We can’t test it on the Eye itself, obviously, not without incredible danger. But I want this as tested as possible. Perfect.” She smiled, genuine, for me. “Give me a week, Heather, and I will make you invisible to the Eye.”

Evelyn was so full of optimism and pride, so eager to do this thing for me, so happy to finally help me take this step — to go to Wonderland, to save my sister, my Maisie.

In her own way, Evelyn was also dedicated to her guardian angel.

But I wasn’t so optimistic.

Before we knew what I was doing, we had reached out with two tentacles and gently — oh so gently — taken Evelyn’s hand, her maimed hand with the missing fingers. We asked for silent permission with every brush of pneuma-somatic flesh. We raised Evee’s hand to my lips so I could kiss the back of her palm.

Evee sat frozen, blushing, speechless.

“Um … ” I came back to myself a moment later, blushing bright red. “Evee, I— um— sorry, I— thank you. I was trying to thank you, just, my mind, I’m—”

“Tch!” Evelyn huffed. “Don’t apologise for kissing the back of my hand, you … ” She trailed off with a glance at Tenny and Grinny, but neither of them seemed interested in what had just happened. Just the adults messing around with serious stuff again. Evelyn’s eyes jabbed back toward me, lancing right through my flesh. “Heather, what’s wrong?”

We took a deep breath. This was nothing new. The same old problem. But now it was so close, only a week or two away. Any further delay only did more damage to Maisie.

“Evee, I still don’t know what to do about the Eye. Fight? Talk? Draw pictures in the ash? Throw paper air-planes at it? Hide under a rock? Sing it a song?”

Evelyn huffed. “That’s the point. We get to Wonderland, and then we can explore, examine, make a plan and—”

I shook my head gently. “That’s all well and good. But I need to talk to somebody about the Eye. Somebody who might understand. Somebody who can help me think of options.”

Evelyn frowned. “Who?”

I smiled a sad little smile. “I can think of a couple of potential sources. But none of them are going to want to talk, not about this. Not easily, at least.” I took a deep breath and let out a big sigh. “I think it’s time I got my shoes on. Time to go out.”

“Out?” Evelyn said. “Or Out?”



Heather's got a lot to think about, in this sweltering aftermath of the last few weeks, not least the biggest question of all: what is she really going to do, on the soil of Wonderland, beneath the Eye? In the meantime, Evelyn is a little more relaxed than usual, and Tenny gets a new friend. And Heather's thoughts turn to those she might ask for advice, out beyond the walls of reality ...

New arc! Arc 21! This one might be a bit shorter than usual, depending on how various plans shape up? We'll see!

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Next week, Heather puts her shoes on and goes for a walk, a ... planeswalk(?!)