mischief and craft; plainly seen – 21.2
252 9 12
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Content Warnings:


None this chapter.


Any decision to go out — or Out — is easy enough to make, because it feels good. The resolution to get moving tends to fill one’s heart with determination and optimism, makes one want to hop into one’s shoes, swing the front door wide open, and call out: “I’m just popping down to the shops! I’ll be back shortly! Does anybody want an ice cream?”

But then, as one lingers on the threshold to await an answer, one is stealthily assaulted by all the little practicalities ignored by such extroverted energy: one must locate one’s purse or wallet, and then find a suitable pocket in which to hold it, unless one now wishes to be weighed down by the inconvenience of a handbag, thus spoiling the free-spirited abandon with which one threw open the door in the first place; one must observe the sky for clouds and make an inexpert weather forecast — does one need a raincoat? What if it’s too hot for a coat? Where is the umbrella? — and so on; one must intuit the fullness or otherwise of one’s bladder and stomach and measure those against the predicted journey; one must account for the neglected necessities of sun-cream and insect repellent; the troubles of the road loom, no matter how short the journey; one is tempted to retreat, back into the house, and perhaps try again another day.

Motivation and determination are esoteric forces for somebody like me — like us. Easily summoned, easily lost.

I wasn’t quite that bad, not anymore; I wasn’t teetering on the edge of true hermit-dom or agoraphobia. I meant what I’d said to Evee — it was time to go Out, with my shoes on — but my muscles were sore and my stomach was empty. Postponement and procrastination came unbidden: I pottered about to find more suitable clothes for a jaunt Outside; I ate lunch and accepted a dose of the multivitamin gummies that Praem had purchased; I hugged Tenny and suggested a couple more names for poor Grinny — none of them acceptable, though one of them at least made Tenny laugh; and last but not least, I wanted to wait for Raine, to give her a hug, before I jetted off into the ocean depths on my stream of water.

Raine returned from her own quest less than an hour later, in the sweltering metal box of her car, with all the windows down. She brought us a bounty of three massive electric fans, to augment the interior cool air of poor Number 12 Barnslow Drive.

“Yo yo yo, guess who’s baaaack?” she announced at the front door. “And I bring the miracle of modern technology! And — Heather! You’re up!”

“I am!” I chirped — I couldn’t help it; Raine was back and I felt like preening for her.

Raine swept back into the house like a conquering hero, already pulling the fans from their casings of cardboard and polystyrene, shelling them like unfortunate molluscs caught by a predatory bird. At one point she shook a fan free of plastic wrap with one hand while she slipped the other arm around my waist, dipped me, and kissed me right on the lips — which made me squeak and flail and made Raine laugh. She was wearing a white tank top and jean shorts and very little else, which nearly threatened to derail my plans to be elsewhere for a while.

Several tentacles suggested we could do all that Outside business tomorrow, because today we should really stay here and get done. By Raine.

I didn’t say that part out loud. There may have been seven of us now, but we were still Heather.

And I couldn’t waste this determination.

So, twenty minutes later, we were standing in the magical workshop, shoes firmly on our feet. Sevens’ beautiful yellow cloak-mantle was wrapped around our shoulders in a golden gauze of diaphanous protection. We weren’t quite certain where the cloak had come from; we’d been rummaging in the bedroom, getting ready to depart, and then suddenly there it was, butter-soft folds pressing against my neck and forearms, somehow cooling rather than insulating. My squid-skull was tucked under one arm, modified hoodie draped over the other — too hot to don there in reality, but ready to pull on once we had escaped beyond the muggy heat of an English summer.

“You’re going alone?” said Raine. “By yourself, flying solo, lone operator?”

Before I could answer, Evelyn snorted from down in her chair: “Need a dictionary, Raine?”

I sighed and smiled at the same time; I couldn’t help it, not at that look on Raine’s face, that gentle cocktail of amusement over concern. “I’m not going to get lost, or trapped, or stuck. There’s nothing to get in my way or knock me off course. And it’s not like I haven’t done this before. Technically, I’ve been doing this since I was a child.”

Raine cracked a grin, beaming bright — oh gosh, we really did want to stay there. Some of my tentacles even tensed up with reflected pleasure. Raine raised one hand. “Hey, hey, Heather, it’s cool, we’re cool, I’m not trying to stop you, nothing like that. Just wanna get this totally straight—”

“Ha!” Evelyn barked. “Was that intentional?”

Raine shot a finger gun across the magical workshop. “Point to Evee. Heather, I just want to get this clear in my mind. You’re going out — Outside out — alone, by yourself? No Loz, no Sevens, no Knight. Just you.”


Raine puffed out a very long sigh, put her hands on her delightfully framed hips — just below the visible temptation of her very well-defined abdominal muscles — and gave me an indulgent smile.

She was very unhappy with me — and no longer so skilled at concealing that as she once was.

Evelyn snorted again, still sitting in her comfortable chair in the magical workshop, in front of her neatly organised papers. She apparently found all this extremely amusing, though I wasn’t sure why. When I’d first announced my intention to head Outside, alone, to seek certain advice and inspiration, Evee had frowned for a moment — then just shrugged and sighed and seemingly brushed it off. We’d been simultaneously too tired and jittery to interrogate that reaction, but now it left me puzzled once more.

We three were alone together in the magical workshop. Tenny had led the Grinning Demon upstairs, apparently to attempt a more friendly introduction between the latter and Marmite. Praem was in the kitchen, breaking down the boxes from the new fans and stuffing them into the bin.

“Raine, you can be honest,” we said with a sigh. “You don’t want me to go. You think I’ll get hurt.”

Raine laughed, easy and confident and bubbly, enough to make me melt into her arms. “I didn’t say that, Heather. And hey, seriously, I’m not trying to stop you. Not trying to control what you can and can’t do.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “You are trying to stop me, a little bit.”

Raine cocked an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”

“You’re being all … sexy. At me. On purpose. To get me to stay.”

Raine laughed again — nothing fake about her amusement. She spread her arms and glanced down at herself. “Am I now?”

Evelyn winced and put her face in one hand. “Heather, please never use the word ‘sexy’ in a sentence. Actually, don’t even pronounce it. Just omit that from your vocabulary. Forget the word exists.”

We blinked, blind-sided from two different directions. “Excuse me? Evee? What’s wrong with ‘sexy’?”

Evelyn just threw up her hands, totally done. “It makes you sound like a tabloid newspaper.”

“Heather, Heather, Heather,” Raine purred, shaking her head. “You think this is intentional?” She gestured to herself. “You should really know better by now than to tempt me with that. If I was trying to keep you here on purpose … ” Raine trailed off with a thick and sultry vocal fry, enough to make me shiver inside a little. Her musculature shifted — chin higher, shoulders back, chest out, her entire posture slanted to one side. Toned muscles slid and adjusted, more on display than clothed. She grinned like a blowtorch. She ran one hand through her own rich, chestnut hair, and then took a step toward me. “When I speak, you’ll know you’ve been spoken to.”

She took another step and reached out to stroke the nearest of my tentacles, which gladly wrapped around her hand; her advance somehow boxed me in despite the lack of a wall behind me.


“If I was doing it for real, it would look more like … ” Her other arm went over my shoulder. She suddenly seemed so very much taller than us, ready to push us down; other parts of us betrayed our intent, reaching behind her legs and bottom to wrap her with tentacles. She leaned in close.

“R-Raine I mean it, I’m not—”

“Like this,” she purred, dipping her head down next to my ear and making me shiver all over. A feathery kiss brushed our cheek.

Our tentacles went all over the place. We squeaked and whimpered. We almost gave in. Outside could wait until tomorrow! Now was time for mating!

And then Raine stepped back, pulled herself free from our nest of tentacles, and took a deep breath. “But I’m not. Just a little demo. For if I was serious, you know?”

“Raine!” I squeaked at her, half outraged, half frustrated.

She was laughing again. “Is that a complaint? Want me to keep going? Changed your mind? Got a bit clam-jammed?”

Evelyn banged her walking stick against the nearest chair leg, thwack-thwack-thwack. “Not in here! Do not make me call Praem with a bucket of cold water for you two! Bloody hell, you’re like stray cats.”

“I wasn’t doing anything!” I squeaked. “That was all Raine!”

Raine sketched a bow for Evee, full of smug amusement. But she stepped back again, giving me more space to breathe. She had achieved her real aim — lowering the tension, making it clear that she was still delighted and besotted with me. Now came the shift. I’d grown very familiar with Raine’s techniques; she knew that, but she used them anyway, because they worked, they were hers, and I loved her. It was just how she operated.

“For serious,” Raine said. “Heather, I ain’t trying to stop you, but I am worried. We don’t have a great track record with expeditions Outside. Stuff tends to go off the rails pretty fast.”

“It’s not an expedition,” I said. “It’s just me, going for a little walk.”

“At least take Lozzie with you?”

“Lozzie is busy,” I said. “She’s busy with the House in Camelot, with the Knights, the clean up, all that. And I might take all day, even a portion of the night too. I can’t monopolise her time like that.”

Raine raised her eyebrows. “Have you asked Lozzie? She said no? Said she was too busy?”

I pursed my lips. “Raine.”

“Take me, then,” she said. “Hey, I’ve got all day.”

“I can’t! That would defeat the entire purpose. I’m planning to go to places where a normal human being would not have a very good time, to put it lightly.”

Raine flashed a massive grin. “I can take it.”

“No, Raine, you can’t. Don’t be silly.”

Raine thumbed toward the kitchen. “Take Praem? Chaperone style?”

Evelyn snorted. “Absolutely not. Praem needs a day off. After she’s finished cleaning up your mess, she’s to sit down and relax.”

“Thank you, Evee,” I said. “No, I’m not taking Praem.”

Raine shrugged. “Then ask Lozzie.”

I lifted my squid-skull mask; instinct urged me to retreat inside the metallic-bone donation from some unknown Outsider cephalopod, to hide from difficult conversations, to slip away into a dark nook in the cold water, but my love and respect for Raine stopped me. I placed the skull on the table instead, sighed heavily, and looked away, chewing on my lower lip.

Raine said: “It’s not about Lozzie being busy or about me being too squishy, is it?”

I shrugged. “This isn’t about anybody else. It’s about me. Me and the Eye. Sort of. I have to talk to some people, yes — but first I need to have a think, a good long think, and I need to do it somewhere conducive to the kind of subjects I need to think about; I got the idea from how Lozzie and I defeated the big weird ball of Edwards. I need to think carefully, and I need to do it Outside.”

Raine nodded slowly. There it was — the total acceptance of my plans, now that she understood, now that she’d peeled the truth out of me, the truth that even I wasn’t fully aware of until she made me say it. A truth that even with seven of us, we still couldn’t have articulated until prompted. “Okay, so,” Raine said. “What are you hoping to— oop!”

“Oh, Raine.”

We silenced her with a hug — a bit too much of a hug, actually. It was rare for Raine to be surprised or wrong-footed, but a hundred and twenty pounds of squid-girl hurling herself at you in a ball of strobing tentacles can make anybody pause to take stock, even the world’s most adaptable butch. To Raine’s credit she didn’t flinch as all our tentacles went around her waist; she caught us, lifted us up, and spun us around, laughing.

I peeled myself off after she put us back down. Evelyn had averted her eyes briefly.

“Raine, thank you,” I said, clearing my throat. “I love you. Thank you for trying to understand.”

Raine shot me a wink and ruffled my hair. “Love you too, octo-girl. Okay, now, serious time: what are you hoping to achieve out there?”

Doubt gripped my heart again, but Raine’s eyes gave me confidence, warm and brown and believing. “I know I can’t find answers about the Eye, not direct ones. But I need inspiration, I need to look where I can, for any possible source of comprehension. I need insight.”


I pulled a self-conscious grimace. “Nowhere I’m going has a name. A few different places, just to look and think. I might pop by the library too, I have an idea there. And I’ll also be coming back to reality to talk to … well, a couple of people, maybe. But perhaps not until tomorrow.”

Raine nodded along. “I’m still worried, but now I know why. Practical question number two: aren’t you sore as all fuck, my girls?”

I nodded. “Yes, and I want to stretch my muscles. Metaphorically speaking. It’ll be okay! If I get physically winded I won’t stay Out.”

“You’ll text us when you’re back in reality, right? And if you’re gone much past dusk, check in now and again?”

“Of course! Raine, I’m going to be fine. I promise I’m not going to Wonderland or anything like that. I’m not going to go somewhere I can’t handle. I’m not going anywhere I haven’t been before. I’m all ready, and prepared. I’m a bit sore, but that shouldn’t matter. I’ve even eaten lunch!”

Evee snorted with laughter. “Heather, half a dozen lemons are not ‘lunch’.”

“They are,” I said, affronted on behalf of lemons. “They were nice. I feel energized.”

“You need protein.”

“Ahhh,” said Raine. “Yeah, you do need protein.”

As if summoned by the mere notion of anybody requiring refreshment or nutrition, Praem appeared from the kitchen doorway, still resplendent in her new maid uniform. Before anybody could react, she clicked neatly across the room and pressed something into my hands.

“Snack,” she intoned, then stepped back, hands folded before her, spine straight, head high, eyes empty white.

“ … a cereal bar?” I asked, holding up the packet.

“Twenty grams of protein,” Praem said. “For good girls.”

Evelyn sighed and rolled her eyes. Raine said: “Eyyyy, there she is! Thank you, Praem. Looking sharp, by the way!”

Praem took a pinch of her skirt between thumb and forefinger and did a twirl, right there on the spot, skirt spinning outward. Then she dipped her head and one knee in a quick, bobbing curtsey.

Raine cheered, clapped, and whistled. I gave a polite little round of applause too. Evelyn rolled her eyes and joined in. Praem curtseyed again, retreating backwards into the kitchen, leaving us alone with an additional cereal bar.

“Well then,” I said. “I suppose that solves that.”

Raine nodded slowly, shrugged, and said: “How about taking the gun with you? The new one. I know all the spares are stashed in Camelot but mine’s upstairs.”

“Tch,” I tutted. “No, Raine. That’s pointless. What would I need with a gun?”

Evelyn let out a grumbling sigh. “Oh, do stop bellyaching, Raine. She doesn’t need a gun, she’d be a danger to herself — no offense, Heather.”

“None taken.” I cleared my throat. “I wouldn’t know which end to hold.”

Raine shrugged again, but at least she was smiling. “I’d feel a hell of a lot more comfortable knowing she’s armed. At least take the pepper spray? Or the—”

“She’ll be fine!” Evelyn huffed. “What the hell is pepper spray going to do Outside?”

I burst out laughing.

Raine and Evelyn both stared at me, with amazement and a frown respectively. I spluttered and giggled and waved a tentacle in front of my mouth, trying to calm down. “You’ve switched roles!” I said. “Evee, you’re usually always so concerned, well, paranoid actually, but in a good way, sort of? And Raine, you’re almost never like this. What’s gotten into you two?”

Raine raised an eyebrow at Evee. “Yeah, hey, good point. Evee, what has gotten into you?”

Evelyn leaned back in her chair, stretching out both legs, her matte-black prosthetic and her withered, twisted muscles side by side out in the open. “Well, we’ve won, haven’t we? The Sharrowford Cult is gone, all their mages are dead, or worse. Sharrowford is my territory. There’s nothing to stop Heather Slipping as she pleases, nothing hunting her but the Eye, and that’s still blocked by the Fractal. I’m … ” She sighed in a strange way. “I’m in my post-war era. For now.”

Raine inhaled through her teeth. “Life’s not a young adult novel, Evee. There’s no telling what could move into the city. Or what might be keeping an eye on us. Right?”

Evelyn waved a hand. “Yes, us, certainly. Soon enough, I’m sure. But Heather?”

“Actually,” I said slowly. “There’s the remnants of Badger’s segment of the cult. Ten people, according to him and Jan. She’s going to put us in contact with them. Remember?”

Evelyn frowned, sudden and sharp. “I haven’t forgotten that, no. I don’t like those people being out there.”

“And I’ll deal with them,” I said. “Later this week. Maybe even tomorrow.”

Evelyn’s frown turned hard with alarm. She and Raine shared a glance, Raine’s eyes alert and surprised.

I huffed and said: “I don’t mean I’m going to kill them! I mean reassure them about the Eye, maybe see if I can do anything to help them. Maybe … maybe ask them questions. But not right now.” I stepped back over to my squid-skull mask on the table. “Right now, I want to get going.”

Raine chewed on her lower lip. Evee poked Raine’s leg with her walking stick. Then Raine nodded.

She said, “How about letting Sevens know where you are, so she can tell us? Can you at least wait for her to get back?”

“Oh!” We wiggled our tentacles, an instinctive display of mild confusion. “Back from where? We assumed she was with Aym or something. She didn’t leave us a note or anything.”

Evelyn and Raine shared another look; Raine shrugged, Evee shook her head. Praem appeared in the doorway too, staring at me with milk-white eyes.

“Well,” we sighed. “She can always find us, wherever we are. Let her know, when she comes back with Aym and Felicity, or wherever she’s gotten to.”

I lifted a corner of Sevens’ golden-yellow gauze, the piece of her attached to my flesh and soul, to illustrate my point. Then I kissed it, for no particular reason.

“Sure thing, will do,” said Raine. “Look, Heather, just be safe, okay? Don’t visit the dimension of head-eating monsters or something.”

We giggled. “I’ll be safe. I promise.”

Raine gestured at me for another hug. I wrapped her in my tentacles and she squeezed me tight, then kissed me on the forehead. I couldn’t help but notice Evelyn averting her eyes again, looking away from this public display of affection. As Raine let me go, Evee started to voice a question.

“So, Heather, what exactly are you going to be doing, in all these unknown dimensions and—”

Before Evelyn could finish, I hopped away from Raine, feeling as mischievous and graceful as Lozzie so often appeared. I draped a tentacle over Evee’s shoulders — gentle, oh so very gentle, barely a touch, a feather-ghost on her twisted musculature. Then I leaned in, and planted a kiss on her left cheek.

She made a noise like uurrp!

Evelyn spluttered, boggling at me as I hopped backward again, going for my squid-skull mask. I scooped up the mask and turned back to Raine and Evelyn, my special pair, beaming at Evee’s blush and Raine’s grin.

“What am I going to do?” I echoed — partially to cover up my own mortified embarrassment. Had I really just done that?

I slipped the squid-skull mask down over my head and face, becoming another part of the real me.

“I do think I’m going to go look at things, with my eyes.”


Leviathans of shining carapace ridged with bones the size of continents stride endlessly toward the dying blood-red triple-sun formation in a sky of rotten oils running down frosted glass — chasing photosynthesis or some esoteric analogue, scales falling from their monolithic hides to crash to the jungle floor a million feet below.

I have not been here since I was fourteen years old, when a nightmare Slip trapped me in those crawling jungles, to scream and flee for hours on end, believing all was just a bad dream.

Now I ride a thermal on outspread membranes — terrifying, but necessary, and I can always Slip out to the soft grass of Camelot if I mess up. I watch the leviathans in their forever migration, their giant legs striding through jungle deeps.

I think as an eyeball thinks. I watch. I observe. I collect light and transmute it to comprehension.

I think about what it means to be very large.


Fourteen thousand feet below the surface of an alien ocean which is not liquid or gas or solid but some other state of matter not found in reality, a jellyfish-giant the size of a moon fights something that is not quite a cephalopod — something with a hundred tentacles made of pulsing, throbbing, pumping matter, and a central lobe like a dark star lost between the folds of galactic arms.

The combatants whirl and twist in the Stygian darkness, their own bioluminescence strobing and flashing as they attempt to blind each other. Beaks tear at broken flesh, earning mouthfuls of toxin; suckers inject poison, and receive a backwash of paralytic surprise.

They will fight for weeks. Neither will die; these things do not die, they change and go on, even after their spirited conversation. Whole ecosystems will rise and mature and die off in the space of their strikes, upon their skin and in the eddies of water stirred by the bodies.

I hang in the water column, suspended in a sphere of not-quite-air, golden-yellow cloak marking me as not-food, not-for-approach.

I watch. I think about what it means for giants to duel.


A city of dead plazas and empty squares, echoing stone houses and dusty halls, dotted with eroded five-sided statues of barrel-like sapients. This empty place stretches out in the bend of what was perhaps once a river. A home to teeming millions, now an ossified abscess in the hide of a hard-packed dry-earth desert.

Creatures of a kind still live in the shadows — nothing so sweet as rodents, not Outside, but things that slice the air and drink the age that seeps from between the stones, things that hunt echoes and memories, things that suckle on decay and melancholy. Vegetable life still stirs, deep underground, locked in long hibernation between epochs of civilization, their machines and magic and machinations forgotten for now.

I wander the streets at random, protective layers of triple-eyelid closed against the dust, my skin strobing bright warning here, then fading into sandstone camouflage there, depending on the manner and size of passing scavengers.

I look at everything I can reach. I think about ruins and ruination, about giants that visit the small.


I walk across a dozen Outside dimensions, places that as a teenager I tried to forget, nightmares which haunted me for a decade. Rock-faces reveal hidden watchers; hyena-laughter echoes down bleak mountainsides; empty castles built for giants howl with passing doom.

But now I walk with six more of myself, wrapped in our own protection, tentacles packed with threat and toxin. My skin glows and brightens and coruscates with warning colouration, or fades to nothing, drab and dark and lurking quiet. We hiss into the vastness of the unknown; we show my sharpened teeth; we swish a sharp-pointed tail, once I’ve grown it fresh again. None of these places are as far from reality as Lozzie tends to go, none of them are sensory overload, or incompatible with the human mind, or require a complete overhaul of the self — but they do require us to be ourselves.

My bioreactor gurgles and aches, but it is online, running smooth, powered by lemons and love.

Outside was never that scary — as long as one was never fully human.


As I walk, as I watch and observe things I haven’t thought about for years, I chew on my problem. I chew hard. I also chew on the cereal bar Praem gave me; thank the heavens for Praem. What would we do without her?

I needed insight. Not answers, nobody could give me answers. Nobody knew the Eye. Except perhaps Maisie.

But I would not go to Wonderland burdened by the sense that my life was incomplete, or that it was ending, that the whole process was just a futile suicide mission, embarked upon for the sake of principle rather than practical outcome. I was going to rescue my sister.

So I thought about giants, communication, and ruination.

There were certain people back in reality who I needed to speak with, people who might be able to supplement or catalyse my own insight: the last remnants of the Sharrowford Cult, Badger’s unfortunate friends not yet freed from the Eye inside their heads; and Jan’s as-yet unspoken contact, the one we hadn’t talked about — Mister Joe King, who had been studying the Eye.

Others might provide context or experience — Hringewindla perhaps, or the King in Yellow, or maybe even Saldis, or others I’d met beyond the boundaries of the eldritch truth. But I doubted anybody else had specifics they had yet to share.

Except for one source. One potential repository of experience. The one I didn’t want to confront. The one I was avoiding.

I spoke the words Outside, in a dimension filled with distant volcanic plumes of purple and red, the smoky air feasted upon by swooping flyers like whales in the sky. I whispered to myself, my flesh wrapped in biological coolant against the heat.

“My parents.”

In the distance, some volcano-dwelling Outsider went: Screeeeeketch!

“Oh, Heather. How can mum and dad be more intimidating than this?”


Four or five hours later — I’d lost track of time by that point, though I knew that back in reality it was barely the edge of evening — I arrived with a soft pop of air and a scuff of my trainers on the exposed wooden floorboards of the last stop on my Grand Tour of Outside: the Library of Carcosa.

I didn’t aim at any particular point, just not the canyon bottom; I didn’t fancy walking up all those gigantic flights of stairs to reach what I was looking for. So I popped through the membrane and onto a random library floor, a few feet back from the edge of the cliff-face canyon-wall, with bookcases marching off behind me into the gloaming darkness, stuffed with millions of tomes.

No time to soak in the beautiful view, however; I was too busy hissing with pain and falling onto my backside, like I’d just stepped onto the stage for the sole purpose of taking a pratfall.

Nobody was here to laugh at me though, not even Sevens — but her robes did cushion my landing.

“Ahh- ow- ah— tch!” I tutted and sighed and groaned. “Okay. You should have expected that, Heather.”

All this Slipping was not, as Raine might say, a ‘free action’ — I was paying for it with every dimensional hop, but I’d been shunting the effects down into my endocrine system for hours. I’d been accruing a debt in my tissues, riding the high of abyssal changes to my biology, relying on the sheer unreality of the places I was visiting.

The Library of Carcosa, however, was entirely survivable for a human being, at least on a physical level, as long as one didn’t step into any funny-looking shadows or get too obsessed with the books. My various pneuma-somatic Outsider modifications were already folding themselves away, shedding layers of ablative chitin and supercooled gel sacks, re-metabolising tetrodotoxins and paralytic agents, discarding the need for eye-searing warning colours and enhanced nerve clusters.

I still would have looked like a horror if I’d materialised in the middle of a Sharrowford street; I kept most of the fun bits — the chromatophores in my skin, the flexible pointy tail, and the webbing between my fingers — but all the protective parts fell away, leaving me feeling very sick, very slow, and in need of a proper sit down.

So I had that sit down, right there on the floor of the Library of Carcosa.

It was a good place to sit; the library was beautiful, after all.

For a long moment I stared out over the library’s central canyon — the empty gulf between the two infinite cliff-faces of wood, punctuated at regular intervals by the ‘floors’, like a pair of gigantic bookshelves facing each other across a quiet room. Rickety wooden bridges spider-webbed their way across the canyon, crawling up into the air and down toward the book-strewn floor. Small grey-robed figures moved between distant shelves, carrying armfuls of books, reinserting volumes here, taking them out there, shoving them into their wriggling, be-tentacled faces now and again. The librarians, the catalogue, hard at work. They were not the only evidence of life and activity — I heard a distant piping whistle far to the left, and saw the greenish hanging underbelly of some vast library patron far above on the opposite side of the canyon — but the librarians were by far the most numerous.

Behind me, the floor on which I had arrived was one of the less haphazard and disorganised parts of the library: massive dark bookcases marched off beneath flickering glow-globes, their shelves stuffed tight with volumes, additional books standing in stacked towers, as if waiting for some interloper like myself to come knock them over and make a mess.

We sighed — probably sounded awful, through an Outsider throat.

“Am I really doing this?” we whispered to the library.

Abyssal hybrid squid-girl, with skin like a giant cuttlefish, with six other layers of me pressed into networks of neurons inside six rainbow-strobing tentacles; we had no less than three lovers, a ‘sociopath’, a demon, an Outsider princess — and maybe even a mage; we had fought things from beyond the walls of reality, walked a dozen worlds at a whim, and sat down for tea with things very much like gods.

But this was proof that in the end I was still me, still Heather Morell.

“Yup,” I sighed. “I’ve scurried off to the library, to avoid a difficult conversation with my parents.”

I got up, dusted off my bum, and went to find the nearest librarian.

The last time I’d visited the Library of Carcosa had been a significantly more traumatic experience: I’d been lost, trapped Outside, and in desperate need of help. I’d been sick, bleeding, ready to vomit up my entire intestinal tract. I’d inched my way across the library floorboards for fear of running into something I couldn’t survive, lacking Evelyn’s ingenious method of throwing bolts ahead of us to test for safety.

But now I was meant to be here. We still went slowly, testing the air in front of me with a carefully shielded tentacle, but I didn’t have to drag myself painfully along, step by step, biting down on terror.

We plunged into the bookcases, walking at random. We skirted areas of darkness, and avoided a bookcase entirely full of green books — no reason, just in case. We heard other footsteps — booted, too rapid and smart to be a Librarian — and shrank back from their passing. At one point I heard something like a pig, and avoided that too, doubling back to take another route. Once we had to hiss at something white and ghostly reaching over the top of a bookcase to feel for my head, and another time I had to brandish a tentacle, banding it red-and-yellow, at something dark and thin and grinning, which peered from between two bookcases up ahead.

All in all, a quiet little library visit.

Eventually, down a nice orderly row of weird-looking wax-wrapped books, I found a Librarian.

The squid-faced librarians never got less weird-looking, no matter how many times one saw them. Roughly human-sized and shaped, with thin lumpy bodies concealed by long ragged grey robes, they had massive exposed feet and hands — also human-like — but a head like a cross between a squid and a sea-urchin. No eyes, no nose, no real facial features. All forward-facing spines and a knotted fist of grey tendrils. I knew from experience the bizarre structure did not contain a brain, but was just a sort of book-return slot connected to the larger network of librarian creatures. I did not ask myself how they sensed, or saw, or ate. I didn’t want to know.

The squid-faced librarian ignored me when I stopped to stare at it, totally focused on its task. It was pulling books from a particular row and piling them on the floor in a little tower. Every few books it would pause, raise a selected volume, and feed the tome into its own face.

“Right then,” we said, steeling myself for the task. “I know what to do here, um … here we go.”

Watching the librarian like it might whirl and bite me, I approached slowly, but of course the creature didn’t care. It went on sorting books. I didn’t bother saying hello — I knew it wouldn’t respond. I drew to within arm’s length, took a book off a random shelf, and held it out to the squid-faced librarian.

“For you!” we said, chipper and polite; I was still half-Outsider, so it probably sounded awful, but the librarian didn’t mind.

It paused, turned toward me, and accepted the book in one bony grey hand.

I watched in fascination as it fed the book into its own face, grey tentacles closing over the pages and cover, until the book was swallowed up, returned for sorting, wherever sorting happened.

The Librarian then stared at me. Without eyes.

“Right, okay, um,” I said, stalling for time — I didn’t want the librarian to return to its work, I needed the attention of the Catalogue, but I hadn’t practised what to actually say here. “I know you can direct a library user to a particular volume, because that’s what you did for Evelyn. She had a list, with names and authors and everything. But I want to search by … category, or internal details. I want information. And I don’t have titles. If you’re a real librarian — in a human sense — then you should be able to help me with this. Library science is a very respectable field. Can you do this?”

The Librarian stood and stared — or at least faced in my direction. Grey face-tentacles wiggled in the air.

“Oh,” I sighed. “I don’t know why I’m talking to you. I know you can understand, we’ve established that, but you can’t answer.”

A scuffling shuffle came from behind me. I glanced back and saw a couple more librarians had appeared at the end of the row, peering at me. Eager to help, or gathering to do something unsuitable for a proper library?

We frowned at them delicately, from safely inside our squid-skull mask. “Thank you, yes, thank you. I don’t need additional help. Don’t make me say Hastur three times.”

The floorboards creaked in a shuddering wave. Okay, maybe I wasn’t going to say the H-word three times, not again.

I turned back to my initial librarian. “Okay. I’m just going to go for it.” We pronounced the next words very carefully: “I want information on the Eye. It doesn’t have to be in English. It doesn’t have to be of human authorship. It doesn’t have to be complete or make sense or anything. Exclude the book Unbekannte Orte, because Evelyn already has that, I already know what’s in it.”

The Librarian stood. Nothing happened. I sighed; had I really wasted all this time and effort?

“The Eye,” I repeated. “Magnus Vigilator. Great big eyeball in the sky. Anything? Nothing? No?”

The Librarian did not react. Several more grey squid-faces had gathered behind me, at the end of the row. I really did not want them to call my Hastur bluff.

“Big watcher. Large lookie-looks. Observer,” I tried, about to give up — then I pointed at us, at me, at myself, before I could consider the implications. “Like me, but big. Anything on me? Anything on a ‘little watcher’?”

And to my surprise — and more than a little horror — the librarian pointed.

Upward, to his left, somewhere through the ceiling and likely far away.

“Oh,” I said. “Oh. Oh dear.”

The other squid-faced librarians were all pointing too, in approximately the same direction. Some of them were off a bit, but they all agreed on the general area of pursuit.

We sighed and put my tentacles on my hips. “Oh, fiddlesticks. I’d rather started to hope that wasn’t going to work.” I frowned up at the portion of wooden ceiling the Librarians were all pointing toward. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of an estimate of how far away the book is? No? Can’t tell me if it’s the next floor or three hundred floors? No?”

The Librarians continued to point. And point. And point.

I grumbled — because I was already quite tired and being seven very petulant young ladies all at once — and then prepared to use my reality-shattering brain-math powers for a very mundane act of labour-saving.

“Okay, well, um, thank you! See you again in a moment, I suppose.”

And Out I went.


The first teleport took me a mile up the library floors; I used the very same trick I’d once used to help Saldis and I flee from the King in Yellow’s less friendly and charitable form — a sort of slingshot, skimming the membrane like a flat stone across the surface of a pond. It was significantly more headache-inducing than just Slipping — literally, I landed with a groan and then curled up with my head buried inside all our tentacles, rocking back and forth on the floor for several minutes as we focused on not vomiting.

But it was better than walking. Even with six tentacles to help.

Once I could stand up without risk of upchucking my cereal bar, we repeated the process: I found the nearest Librarian and asked the question again, phrasing it as closely as I could to avoid any confusion.

He pointed upward, as did several who had gathered nearby.

So up we went, again.

Arrival, headache, pause, get up, find a librarian, ask the question. Up? Up.

By the fourth cycle of this process, I didn’t even have to ask the question — a librarian was just waiting for me to happen upon him, as if the Catalogue system had gotten impatient. I opened my mouth, panting for breath, and he pointed. Down.

“Down?” I asked. “Oh, finally. Okay. Triangulation is stupid. This was such a bad idea.”

The fifth and sixth jumps brought me to the correct floor at last: an area full of weird hexagonal bookshelves filled with metal ‘books’ which looked more like angular footballs than anything one could read. I briefly experimented by taking one off a nearby shelf and letting it flower open in my hands, like a rose made from steel petals. The writing looked like crop circles. It weighed so much my tentacles got tired. And it smelled like motor oil.

“Translating this is going to be fun,” we tutted.

The seventh jump took me into the rear of that floor, among melted stacks and weird little pools of glowing light, like radiation had puddled into milk filled with glitter. I was very careful not to touch any of that, and then I set out looking for another librarian, to bring me even closer to the unknown book which I was seeking.

But then, before I had the chance to pester the library Catalogue for the eighth and hopefully final time, I heard an echo.

A wordless shout, behind a wall, in a distant room, half-heard beyond the wall of sleep.

I paused in the middle of a row of metal ball-books and tilted my head, trying to catch the sound again. Something felt familiar about it, like it was my name, spoken in my defence. A memory surfaced all of a sudden: me at eleven years old, lurking at the top of the stairs in the night, listening to my parents talking with the doctors on the phone. Listening for my name, to people talking about me without my presence.

Either I was the subject of a nasty trick by something in the library — in which case it was time to hiss and puff myself up — or the only person who could possibly reach me out here had done so by accident.

I lifted a corner of the golden-yellow membrane which hung about my body, the butterscotch and bronze robes of Sevens’ affection, which was, in a way, part of her body.

We pressed the fabric to our lips.

“Sevens? Was that you? Do you need me? Or are you talking about me?” I waited, then sighed at how silly this was, mumbling into a bit of fabric. “The cloak isn’t a walkie talkie, Heather. She can’t hear you just by—”

-ther? Oh, you’re— you’re here! Why are you here?!

Seven-Shades-of-Sensory-Simulation was talking inside my own head, with an echo of my own voice. I winced and blinked rapidly, because it wasn’t the most pleasant sensation she’d ever supplied me with. My eyes watered and I felt the urge to sneeze.

She also sounded vaguely panicked.

“Sevens?” I said out loud. “Where are you?”

I’m— look, Heather, darling, it’s nothing. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s a domestic event. A family matter, a—

“Are you talking to your father?” We said. Something up on the ceiling must have heard our voice, because it scuttled away into the shadows, shocked by what it heard. “Is that why you’re here in Carcosa? You didn’t tell anybody where you went.”

Mmm. Sort of.

“Are you in trouble? Do you need help?”

I said! It’s a family matter. You don’t have to—

“Sevens, I’m your fiancee, aren’t I?” We glanced around, as if we’d see Sevens sitting on a nearby bookshelf, but there was only darkness and dust. “Which means I’m family. You’re my family. So if you need help, if you’re in trouble, I want to help you.”

Haha! she laughed, a soft bubble of melting butter. I’m not the one in trouble. But I am losing my temper. Father can never take anything seriously if it doesn’t involve plenty of blood and guts. He’s in a ridiculous mood. And I don’t want you to have to deal with him when he’s like—

Sevens stopped. Her voice went out like a cut broadcast.

“Sevens? Sevens?”

We turned on the spot, peering up and down the row of bookcases, fearing the worst; if this turned into another Outside fiasco, I would never live it down in front of Evee and Raine, not after I’d spent so long reassuring them earlier. And more importantly, I could not afford to get sidetracked for days, to be put out of commission by some absurd chain of events, not when we were so close to Wonderland.

But I was not about to leave Sevens behind. Nobody gets left behind. Not with the Eye, or with difficult parents.

We straightened up, spread our tentacles, and called the King’s bluff.


Glow-globes brightened and dimmed. A pained whispering rose from deeper in the library stacks. Far away across the canyon, something screamed, like a bird lost in a storm.

“That’s twice now,” we said. “If you’re stopping Sevens from contacting me, I suggest you cease.”

We waited three heartbeats.

“You made me prove myself once. I will do it again if need be. She’s my fiancee, O’ Yellow Monarch. I am not bluffing.”

Three more heartbeats.

Long enough.


Kitten! Kitten! Sevens’ voice burst into my head. Stop stop stop stop! Oh my gosh, what are you doing?! My father is having a laughing fit. Stop!


A sigh. A tut. A whine. My father the King extends you a formal invitation to join us for a brief conference. Well done. He didn’t even know you were here until you started throwing down the gauntlet! And I could have played it off if I hadn’t needed to stop you!

“Well, I was worried about you!” we squeaked. “And a formal invitation to what?”

Nothing. Nothing important. Turn it down, Kitten. Go home. You don’t want to see any of this. We’re having an argument about your cultist—


Yes, him. Look, you don’t want to—

“Oh, Sevens. I accept. I’m on the way! Right now! I can follow your location, it’s easy, easier than with anybody else.”

Heather! Oh, damn and blast. You best brace yourself for a bit of sensory—

But we had already thought the thought and moved the machinery, our hands grasping well-worn levers.

Out we went, across Carcosa, to the King’s Chambers.


Our little planeswalking squid goes for a wander! By herself! A girl on a quest for insight, into the nature of a thing that is all sight. Ahem. And a trip to the library, how delightful, even if it is an excuse to avoid a difficult conversation with her parents. Let's hope this book is quicker and easier to find than the last one. Meanwhile, Sevens is already talking to her dad. Uh oh, is it time to drop in on the Yellow Monarch? I think so.

It may amuse you to know that a reader has created a meme rendition of Heather's little journey here, based on her line of dialogue at the end of the last chapter! If you visit the memes page and scroll all the way to the bottom, you will see it!

Meanwhile, if you want more Katalepsis, you can get it by:

Subscribing to the Patreon!

All Patrons get access to two chapters ahead! No matter what level you subscribe at! That's almost 18k words at the moment. The more support I get through Patreon, the more time I can dedicate to writing, and the less chance of having to slow down the story or get interrupted by other responsibilities. The generous and kind support of Patrons and readers is what makes all this possible in the first place, I would literally not be able to do this without you; thank you all so very much! You can also:

Vote for Katalepsis on TopWebFiction!

This helps so very much! A lot of readers still find the story through TWF, which still surprises me. It only takes a couple of clicks to vote!

And hey! Hey you, thanks for reading my story! I know I say this every week, but Katalepsis would be impossible without all the readers, on here, on patreon, all the support and comments and interest from you. Thank you so much!!!

Next week, Heather drops in on her future father-in-law, and hopefully he's still in a laughing mood ...