None this chapter.
“Huh,” Evelyn grunted from the other end of the phone call. “I hadn’t realised you took me for so totally heartless, Heather.”
“ … p-pardon? Evee, no, of course I don’t! I just—”
Evelyn sighed down the phone, many miles away on the other side of Sharrowford, safe and cosy inside Number 12 Barnslow Drive; I could practically see the roll of her eyes, the exasperated shake of her head, the soft light in her bedroom shading her features peach-cream pale in the late evening summer heat.
“Heather. Heather, I’m winding you up,” she said. The phone flattened her tones just a touch, but I could still hear the almost apologetic amusement. “You make it far too easy, you know that? I’m starting to understand why Raine teases you so hard.”
“Oh, um.” I cleared my throat, feeling a blush creep up the sides of my neck. “Well, uh, I just— about, Twil, I needed to check, it’s just that—”
Evee interrupted: “The serious answer to your question is yes, of course I’ve spoken to Twil. You don’t really think I’d let her help us with a genuinely lethal situation — including almost getting herself blown up — and then I’d just be all ‘toodle-pip, see you later, rental werewolf’? Do I really seem that callous? Still? Even to you?”
We couldn’t help but laugh, just a tiny bit. “No, Evee. Of course not. We just got … worried.”
“Mm. Well, Twil and I talk a lot these days, on the phone. I just don’t mention it very much. It’s rarely of any consequence, beyond personal things.” Evelyn cleared her throat, trailing off with faint embarrassment.
Jan and I were still sitting on opposite sides of the little table in her hotel room, with the remains of our Jamaican food between us. She gestured at me with a roll of her hand: ‘Ask the important bit, Heather!’
“Evee,” we said. “It’s just that, after that fight outside Edward’s house, the one with the mercenaries — I suppose that’s the correct term — well, Twil seemed … ”
“Shaken,” Evee said with a smart click of her tongue. “I know. I spoke to her about that, too.”
Jan shrugged, eyebrows raised in surprise. I breathed a sigh of relief, then said: “Okay, that’s good. That’s really good. Has anybody been to actually see her? To see how she’s doing? Make sure she’s okay?”
Evelyn went quiet; a moment of awkward silence crept past us both, broken on our end of the phone call by the sound of July’s fingers pressing the buttons of her video game controller, and the various clicks and boops and anime sword fight noises from her game.
Evelyn sighed sharply: “Damn it all. I’m not sure. I think Raine may have spoken to her — today, yesterday? Fuck. You’re right, Heather. For God’s sake, I always—”
“Evee, it’s fine!” I blurted out. “It’s fine. If you spoke to her, that’s good. That’s important. I’m just thinking of going to check up on her, in person. Just to make sure. Thank you. Really. You did the right thing, even if you didn’t think of everything.”
Evelyn grumbled a wordless sound, then said: “She seemed alright. Fuck.”
We summoned additional courage: “Evee, I know you care about Twil, very much. Even if you and her aren’t … close, in the intimate sense, you care a lot. And it shows! I think she knows that. She knows she can come to you for help. Even if she’s still shaken up, talking to you undoubtedly helped already.”
Evelyn was silent. Then she swallowed, loudly. “Thank you, Heather. Look, when are you coming home? It’s late. It’s almost ten.”
“After I go see Twil. If she’s awake, I suppose.”
Evelyn snorted. “Good luck, she sleeps like a log. Has your little Outside walkabout been fruitful?”
“Very. I’ve got things to share. But I’m going to go see Twil first.”
Jan nodded in approval. She gave me a silent double thumbs-up.
“Alright, alright,” Evelyn grumbled. “Just be safe, you … you … ”
“I love you too, Evee.” We said it quickly, before we could doubt ourselves and screw up the moment. “Don’t wait up for me, get some sleep! If I’m not back soon, then I’ll see you in the morning! Good night!”
Chirpy-chirp-chirp, like we were channelling Lozzie; I gave Evelyn a moment to stammer out an incandescent ‘good night’ of her own, then ended the call.
Behind me, Sevens made a soft, throaty gurgle of deep approval. July ignored the whole thing, fully focused on her video game once again. Jan reached out and tapped the table between us.
“Now, call the werewolf,” Jan said. “Or do you want to text her first, make sure she’s awake? Is that how you lot do things?”
We shook our head, already scrolling down through the rather scant contact list in our mobile phone. “Calling is easier than texting. I don’t always feel comfortable with text messages. At least not with people other than Raine.”
Jan boggled at me, then chuckled softly. “Damn. You really are a secret boomer, aren’t you?”
“Pardon?” I raised the phone to my ear, squinting at Jan. But she shook her head and waved the comment away.
Twil picked up halfway through the third ring.
Click-click. A scuff of wind against the speaker. Then, surprised: “Heather?”
Twil’s voice was airy, open, lost amid vast void-like reaches; she was outdoors, beneath the sky. At this hour? In the last dying rays of sunset?
“Twil! Hello! Hi! It’s me, yes, Heather. Um … ”
Twil laughed her easy chuckle, a canine rumble hidden below the sound, just beyond human hearing. “Yeah, it sure is you, Big H. I have got your name in my phone and all, you know? I can like, see it was you?”
“Of course, yes. Sorry. Um, Twil, I-I know it’s quite late, you weren’t getting ready for bed or anything, were you?”
A pause dragged out much longer than I’d expected. Then Twil puffed out a big, tired sigh. “Naaaah. What is it? What you need? There’s no emergency going down, right?”
“Oh, no. Not at all. I don’t need anything.” Was that how Twil thought of us? Only calling on her when we needed a bit of extra muscle? Guilt prickled inside my chest. “I just wondered if … if maybe I could come over for a little bit. Just to say hi. Check on how you’re doing. A social call.”
Another pause — way too long for Twil, with her irrepressible energy and good-doggy attitude; I could almost see the droopy wolf-like ears, the hangdog expression, the sad canine eyes. But her voice reflected none of that sudden, ghost-like impression: “Well, uh, you might struggle with the ‘coming over’ part, ‘cos I’m not actually at home right now.”
My eyes went wide. Across the table, Jan’s eyebrows shot upward.
“Oh!” I said. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
Twil chuckled. I heard the scuff of trainers on concrete or tarmac — Twil really was outdoors, wandering the streets of some unknown place, her face stained crimson and orange by the last droplets of a blood-red sunset. Her hair was teased by the winds of summer dusk, her pale skin raising goosebumps against the coming night, her eyes fixed on unwary prey with its back turned, her lips peeling away to reveal a row of teeth too sharp for a human mouth.
But then she said, in her casual rolling tone: “Nah. I’m just out for a walk, ‘round Brinkwood, like.” She cleared her throat, and added, much quieter: “Actually, truth told, I’ve been ‘out for a walk’ for the last three hours.”
Politeness slid off me like a constricting raincoat, so I could slip into the waters unbound. We said: “Twil, are you sure you’re okay?”
Another big sigh. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m alright. Not in crisis or nothing. Just … kinda … feelin’ fucky.”
“Do you want some company on your walk?”
Twil chuckled. “You can do that? Guess you can teleport, right. Last train of the night doesn’t mean much to you, does it? If it’s you, Big H cool. But … not like … not … ”
I eyed Jan; she made a side-to-side gesture with both hands, palms down: take me or leave me, it’s up to Twil.
“Jan is currently with me,” we said. “Sevens is—”
We glanced over my shoulder at Seven-Shades-of-Silent-Sprite; to my surprise, Sevens shook her head and bared her teeth. Count her out, for this. Why? I’d ask that later. Or perhaps she would follow as a non-physical presence. Twil barely knew her, after all.
“—here too,” I finished. “But not coming. Sorry. So, you can have me, or me and Jan. Lozzie might turn up later, I don’t know when though.”
“Jan?” Twil asked, voice suddenly brightening. “Sure. Whatever. Why not? Lozzie’s cool too.”
“Okay, so, where are you, Twil?”
Twil chuckled again. “You don’t know Brinkwood, do you? I’m by the school, Brinkwood Comp. Well, I’m out the back, over the bus lanes, by the park. That narrow it down?”
“I’ll check a map,” we said. “Be right there, Twil. Though, um … is there anybody around? I don’t want to scare a bystander by appearing out of thin air. I suppose I’ll have to hide our tentacles too …”
Twil laughed, but there was no humour in her voice.
She said: “This time of night, in Brinky? You must be joking. Nah, nothing out here but little old me.”
A few minutes later, we — seven Heathers and Miss Jan Martense — appeared as if from nowhere, touching down on a sunset-drenched pavement in the middle of the village of Brinkwood.
We — me, myself, and I — recovered with a deep breath and a steadying stretch of our tentacles; a shame they had to be folded away into pneuma-somatic invisibility, but we were still us, all of us still present and correct, seven very good girls out on a summer evening in the North of England. The Slip-induced nausea slid down and out of our combined neural web, a brief flash-wave of sickness, there and gone again.
Jan, on the other hand, staggered sideways, almost fell over onto the concrete — caught by one of our tentacles to avoid a graze — and made a horrible throaty grunt. She screwed her eyes shut in an effort not to vomit up all her lovely Jamaican food.
We had told her she didn’t need to come, but she’d insisted.
“I’m fiiiiiine,” she rasped. She wrapped her arms tight around her stomach, eyes squeezed shut. “Give me a— urp— sec. Be fine. One sec. Don’t make me talk.”
“Take your time,” we murmured.
The street on which we had arrived was called — rather ironically — Blueslip Road, though there was nothing either blue or slippery about the place. Blueslip Road was one of the widest and most open places in the entire village; it ran east to west, with the east rising up the brow of a hill and the west trailing off into the beginnings of little residential streets, demarcated by the imposing upright bars of a large pedestrian crossing.
Sunset poured down from the west, flooding the length of the street, draping the broad tarmac ribbon with sticky orange sunlight, slowly fading into rotten dusk.
Pneuma-somatic spirit life gambolled and strutted in the open width of the street; tar-like clinging tree-structures sprouted from distant rooftops; a spirit halfway between polar bear and giant raccoon snuffled along the gutter; tiny imp-like figures darted here and there among the bus lanes; ghoulish forms lurked in the shadows; a thing like a deer — but twenty feet tall and made of leaves — stood on his hind legs to stare at us in alarm.
“Shhh, shhhh,” I whispered, mostly to ourselves. “Not here to disrupt. Everyone carry on.”
We made sure to reel ourselves in — our tentacles, the rest of us, trying not to flash an unintentional threat display to all the local wildlife.
To our left — over a waist-high safety railing and across the black river of the road itself — was a series of pavements and painted bays for buses: the ‘bus lanes’ Twil had mentioned. Beyond that was a simple chain-link fence, separating the lanes from the jumbled buildings of Brinkwood’s one and only secondary school.
The school dominated that angle of the landscape. Sunset rays clipped the top floors of not one, but two four-story buildings — one looked like it was from the 1960s, the other quite recent, all soft orange brick and new guttering. A huge spirit crouched on the older building, a sort of bird-lizard-dinosaur thing with wings made of broken glass and a eyeless face, perhaps incubating invisible eggs. Other buildings clustered around the skirts: a long, low sports hall, pre-fabricated classroom blocks, and even the jutting addition of a community swimming pool. Dark shapes hovered around the pool, strange spirits with massive mouths and bleeding eyes. One side of the school grounds extended outward, flat and level and very, very green — a sports field, bordered by the ever-present Brinkwood trees. Beyond the school the hills rose toward the Pennines, thick with woodland.
On our right, next to the pavement where Jan and I were standing, a small grassy incline was badly overgrown. Concrete steps climbed upward at either end of the street. The incline levelled out into a small park, a little messy with long grass and some very old oak trees. The park trailed off into yet more Brinkwood forest, as if the woods were jaws waiting to swallow this unwary snippet of village.
Two massive black tentacled spirits dozed just beyond the tree line, with vertical tendrils in imitation of the trunks, massive hooves blending into the leaf-strewn earth, and many mouths closed and comfy in dreamless slumber.
Standing at the top of the incline was a petite, dark-haired figure, her curls tugged outward by the gentle breeze, her angelic features side-lit by the last of the sunset. She was dressed in jeans and a thin lime-green hoodie, unzipped and open down the front on a plain white t-shirt, which did very little to hide her athletic physique.
Hands in her pockets, amber eyes flashing in the sunset, a light pout on her lips; the sullen look dawned into a grin when she spotted us.
Twil raised a hand. “Heya, Big H! Up here!”
Twil was not my type; I had figured that out long ago, just after our first meeting, when I had discovered that she was not a scary bully, but actually a bit of a softie inside, a fuzzy werewolf with a heart of gold and a bit of a hero complex. But standing there, side-lit by the dying sun, so casual and easy in her hoodie, her angelic, porcelain face like a life-size, animated doll, her body promising to bound and leap at the slightest touch — well, I could see why she would be somebody’s type.
Jan finally recovered from the Slip, huffing and puffing and bending over to put her hands on her knees. I kept one tentacle around her for a while, until she was able to stand up straight and face the front. Then we scaled the incline together, to join Twil at the edge of the little park, looking out over the school on the other side of the road.
I briefly eyed the dozy tree-imitator spirits at the rear of the park; didn’t want to wake the dears with all our noise, they needed their sleep. But we were far enough away.
“Yooooo,” said Twil, at normal volume. She put her hands back in the side-pockets of her hoodie. “Big H, Jans. Welcome to Brinky.”
“It’s good to see you, Twil,” I said, and smiled for her.
Twil, however, pulled a sceptical grin — a good dog, but not quite sure what was going on. “So, uh, yeah, good to see you too. What’s up, serious like? You sure there’s no crisis?”
We sighed. “Yes. I promise. This is a social call.”
Twil’s grin did not shed any scepticism. “The others told me you were still sleepin’ off the damage. Good to see you’re up and about.”
Jan was looking around, up and down the street, her storm-tossed eyes highly alert; she’d put her black sweater back on, and foregone the protection of both her massive coat and her flak jacket.
“‘Brinky’, right,” she echoed the village nickname. “Quiet at this time of night, is it?”
Twil snorted. “Yeah. Not used to small towns, huh?”
“Oh, more used to them than you are,” Jan said, eyes still roving over the sights. “I can guarantee you that much.”
Twil tilted her head at Jan — a very canine gesture — but then shrugged and sighed, deciding the question was not worth pursuing.
I, on the other hand, glanced across the street, at the school buildings and the distant hillsides beyond. We said: “Brinkwood is really beautiful. We didn’t get a chance to stop here, before, on the way to your home, Twil.”
Twil chuckled. “Yeah, barely feels like England sometimes, right?”
We frowned a little frown at her. “England can be beautiful.”
Twil shot me a shit-eating grin. “Yeah, but it’s all the fucking English what get in the way!”
I tutted and rolled my eyes; Twil guffawed; Jan dipped her head to acknowledge the self-deprecating joke. The atmosphere softened by more than I’d expected, binding the three of us briefly together.
“So, hey.” Twil cleared her throat. “Big H, what’s this all about? I’m not buying this ‘social call’ thingy.”
Jan and I shared a glance; Jan raised her eyebrows at me. Twil was my friend, this was my show, Jan had just wanted to catalyse it, but she was ready to jump in if we needed to talk to Twil about combat stress and PTSD.
I said: “Twil, we were just worried about you — I was worried about you. You said you’ve been out for a walk for three hours. Is everything alright at home?”
Twil squinted at me. “Home? Yeah! Shit’s pretty good lately. I mean—” She broke off and laughed for real. “The house is kinda fucked up, still. After all that shit with Edward’s blob-monsters? Had to get my whole bedroom stripped out and cleaned. Like, deep-cleaned. Which suuuuucked. But yeah.” She shrugged, hands still in her pockets. “Home’s fine. I’m not like … wandering around ‘cos I don’t wanna go home. Just doing a lot of thinking.”
“That’s good to hear, then,” we said. “That’s good.”
Twil frowned, suddenly suspicious. “Wait a sec. You called me — then I told you I was walking around for hours. You thought there was something wrong with me first, right? How’d you know?”
Jan and I shared another look. I hesitated.
Jan jumped in: “Nobody’s been to see you since the fight at Edward’s house.” The con-woman was gone, for once; Jan’s tone was plain and simple, almost blunt. “You killed a person there, probably for the first time. Or at least, that was my guess. I was concerned you might be suffering.”
Twil stared at Jan, floored, mute, mouth hanging open. Then she closed her jaw and cleared her throat. “You?”
Jan nodded. “Mmhmm. I have some experience with these things. That’s all.”
Twil blew out a long sigh. She glanced up and down Blueslip Road, hunching her shoulders. “Yeah, well. That ain’t why I’m out here.”
We said: “Then, why are you wandering the night, Twil?”
Twil nodded — over the road, past the bus lanes, at her school.
We frowned in confusion, not following what she meant, but Jan’s eyes lit up with sudden comprehension. Jan said: “Oh. Ooooooh. Twil, you’re a Sixth Form student, right?”
“Was,” Twil grunted.
Jan smiled, suddenly soft and knowing, almost motherly. “Exactly. Do you want to talk about it?”
Twil shrugged. “What’s to talk about?”
Jan pulled an expression of infinitely gentle reproach. Twil looked down and scuffed her trainers on the grass. I looked at her, then at Jan, then back at Twil, then over at the school.
“Um,” we said. “Twil, I’m sorry, I don’t follow.”
Twil looked up at me with a frown — not just confusion, but almost offense, her amber eyes scrunched as if I’d said something rude. I blinked back at her. We suddenly felt like we were swimming through a cloud of ink, our senses scrambled, unable to see the obstacles in the deep water.
Jan cleared her throat. “I gather Heather didn’t have a normal teenage life.”
Twil’s expression cleared. She blinked with surprise. “Oh, shit, yeah. Ha! Big H, I finished Sixth Form, right? Exam results are on the 15th of August. So, I’m not a student anymore. I’m done.”
We had to venture a guess: “You’re … yes, you’re going to university. I mean, if you get the results you wanted. Which I’m sure you will! You’re very smart, Twil! And you studied really hard, and—”
Twil laughed, but she didn’t seem amused “Yeah, I’m fucking smart, cool, whatever. Heather, I ain’t worried about exam results.” She glanced at the school again. “All my old friends, they’re all going to different places, different unis. Everyone’s … moving on.” She swallowed, sniffed, and stared down at her trainers. “Don’t know if I want to, anymore. Don’t know what I want.”
Realisation dawned inside our chest.
For us, university had never been a question — literature was the only thing we were any good at, mum and dad were eager for us to have some kind of future prospects, and the idea of learning a trade or going straight into work was scarcely imaginable with the depth and extent of our ‘mental illness’.
And we had no friends to leave behind in Reading. No old friends going off to do their own thing. Just Maisie, a fading dream. And I could pine for my lost twin anywhere, in any concrete box, alone.
“Oh, Twil,” we said.
Jan said: “Do you want to sit down?”
Twil took a deep breath. “Screw it, sure.”
“Are there any benches, or—”
Twil sat down right where she was standing, right on the edge of the grassy incline, facing the school. Legs out straight, leaning back on the support of her own arms. Jan and I both stared at her in mild surprise. Twil frowned up at us and said: “The benches are all covered in bird shit. And hey, ground’s dry and warm. Why not sit right here?”
Jan laughed. “Why not, indeed. When in Rome.”
We both sat down as well, myself next to Twil and Jan on my other side, a tiny touch more distant. Jan stretched her legs out and leaned back too, staring up into the gloaming sky as the stars began to come out. I peered at Twil’s face in profile as she looked out over the school grounds.
For a moment, nobody said anything. We bunched our tentacles in tight; Twil couldn’t see them, after all. I didn’t want to make her flinch at a phantom touch.
“So,” I said eventually. “Twil, you’re not certain if you want to go to university? Is that what you mean?”
“What?” Twil looked at me briefly. “Oh, nah. I’ll go, sure, but it’s not that. It’s like … ” She gestured helplessly at the school buildings. Empty and deserted at this time of day, windows dark, canyons between the brick walls filling with shadows. She couldn’t see the spirits lurking there; a tall white-faced thing peered back at me, then looked away quickly.
Twil trailed off with a big puff.
“I never had that,” I said after a moment. “Jan’s right. I never had a normal teenage life. No friends as a teenager, no friends in school. There were people I knew, but no friends. I was in and out of school all the time, after all, the weird girl who might disappear for a few weeks. I’m sure they called me crazy behind my back. I did manage to sit my GCSEs, and A-Levels, but only with special permission. They classed me as disabled, so I could have extra time. I took the exams alone, under supervision. But … never had any friends in school. Nothing to move on from. I’m sorry, Twil. I didn’t get it at first.”
Twil nodded slowly. She watched the sunset creeping up the school buildings. “Yeah. Maybe that’s better.”
“No, no,” we said. “That’s not true.”
“I’m gonna go to Sharrowford Uni, right?” she said. “Do bio-medical science and all that. Emily and Abi, they’re going to Sharrowford too, but like, I was never that close with them. Knew them since primary school though. Kelsie’s going to Manchester, so … guess that’s not too far. Ossie’s going to London, so fuck him.” She laughed, with great affection. “Fucking dick head. Stace is going all the way to bloody Edinburgh.” She puffed out a sigh and glanced at me. “Stacey Baker. She’s uh, my ex-girlfriend. Or, one of them.”
“Oh,” I said, without any need to mime my surprise. “Uh, you mentioned her once before, I think? But you didn’t tell me her name.”
Twil nodded again. “Yeah. She’s the only one who knows about the werewolf thing. Showed her a few times. We went steady for eight months. She’s still really really into me. Like, not creepy like, but just … yeah. I thought she might … I dunno, maybe not … not go so far away.”
Jan murmured: “Does that make you feel selfish?”
Twil laughed. “Fuck yeah it does. I broke up with her! I ain’t got right to expect anything. She’s gonna study law.” Twil looked back at the school again. “Milly is going to Durham, for mathematics. Jess got into fucking Oxford — Oxford, bitch.” Twil laughed again. “And Rose is going all the way down to Bath.”
Jan muttered: “Young people all go their own ways, eventually.”
Twil snorted, staring at the school. “I’ve got the hots for Milly like you wouldn’t believe. Kinda wanna do something about that.”
Jan and I shared a quick glance. Jan went wide-eyed. I blushed faintly, then said: “You mean … Twil, do you want to tell her that, before you all go off to university?”
Twil grimaced. “Nah. She’s straight. Well, I think she’s straight. I’ve got this like, mad thought that I should rock up to her house, climb up, knock on her window, and ask if she wants to go lezz once before uni. Maybe like, show her I’m a werewolf and all.” Twil snorted a single, humourless laugh. She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. “Or maybe I should go visit Stace, give her what she wants again, fuck her blind.”
We blushed extremely hard; the sunset hid most of it, but we missed our chromatophoric skin. “Oh. Um. G-gosh. Okay.”
Jan cleared her throat gently, from over on my other side. She said: “I wouldn’t recommend resorting to casual and-or hasty sex as a balm for interpersonal uncertainty and anxieties about the future. But, that’s just me.”
Twil finally looked away from the school buildings and their deep orange sunset stains. She gave Jan a very sullen, grumpy-teenager sort of stare. I leaned backward, out of the firing line.
“Yeah?” Twil said with a lazy sneer. “And what would you … know … about … ” She trailed off and grimaced in apology. “Uh, sorry, yeah. You’re like, not actually the same age as us. Easy to forget. Sorry, Jan. Uh. I’m being a right bitch.”
We grimaced inside; Twil knew that Jan was older, but not how old. In Twil’s imagination, was she deferring to the wisdom of a two-century old immortal?
Jan smiled with equally awkward embarrassment. “That’s quite alright. I’m not going to tell you off for venting. Being a teenager is shit. I do remember.”
We eased ourselves forward again now the argument had been averted.
We said: “Have you been spending time with any of your friends this summer, Twil?”
Twil shrugged. “Ehhhh. Some. I mean, I went to a party a couple of weeks back. Got a bit drunk. Made out with some girl from Manchester I’ll probs never see ever again.”
“That’s not what I asked, is it?” I said with a little tut.
Twil snorted. “Yeah. I know.” She stared across the broad ribbon of tarmac once again, at the school buildings. “Everyone’s moving on. Moving apart. Some of them, I’ll probably never see again either.”
We reached out — with a human arm, not a currently-invisible tentacle — and patted Twil’s hand. “You can always stay in contact with people, Twil. And we’re here for you too. Me, Evee, Raine, everyone else over at the house. We’re your friends, too.”
Twil cleared her throat awkwardly, smiling without much happiness. She shot me a weird look. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. Don’t get me wrong, Big H. Being friends with you lot — you, Raine, Evee, everyone really — it's cool, I love you guys. Wouldn’t stand by you if I didn’t. But it’s like, different spheres, you know? I didn’t grow up with you lot.” She nodded at the school. “Brinkwood Comprehensive Secondary School and Sixth Form. And then before that, Brinkwood Primary School. Some of my mates I’ve known since we were what, three, four years old?” She chuckled suddenly. “I remember Jess shat herself in assembly, when we were like, six. Milly, eh, I never liked Milly when we were little. Stuck up cow. Now she’s fucking genius, hot shit. Runs like the wind. Fuck me, I wanna … ahhhh.” Twil sighed a big, sad sigh. “Grew up with some friends I might never see again. Kinda sucks.”
“Twil,” we said slowly. “Twil, there are such things as phones. And the internet. Text messaging? You can stay in contact with old friends these days. It’s entirely possible. It’s not like this is the 19th century and you have to wait weeks and weeks for a letter. They’re not all being whisked off Outside.”
Twil frowned a difficult little frown, gritting her teeth and clenching her jaw as she stared at the school buildings. I tilted my head in curious incomprehension. There was more to this than I was seeing, wasn’t there?
Jan said: “All my old friends are dead.”
Twil looked up and around, wide-eyed, her face backlit by a sunset halo-glow. “For real?”
“Okay, well, not literally,” Jan said. “Maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration. But some of them are — just for natural causes, accidents, the like. And the people I did grow up with, when I was a child? None of them would recognise me anymore. None of them would know me. They grew up, had kids, got older, and I … ” She spread her hands and smiled an ironic little smirk. “I became something else. I became a mage, then more.”
Twil swallowed loudly. “R-right. But—”
“Being involved in this world changes your perspective and your position,” Jan went on. She drew her legs up, hugged her knees, and leaned her head on her arms; it seemed like such an innocent gesture. She was caught for a moment between fellow teenager and the wisdom of decades. “That’s what you’re feeling, isn’t it? You grew up with a bunch of normal people, not the supernaturally baptised, and now you’re worried that you’re going to leave them behind, or they’re going to leave you behind. But it’s not about physical distance.”
Twil hung her head, morose and melancholy; she looked so much like a sad hound, caught in the rain. For a moment I was worried she might start crying. We almost put a tentacle around her shoulders.
But then Jan said: “Werewolf anxiety. A new one on me, but I get it, I—”
Twil snorted and raised her head. She gave Jan a squinty frown. “Fuck off, hey? Being a werewolf is cool as shit. That’s not the problem! Being a werewolf is like … granddad wanted me to have a normal life. That’s why he did it. The whole point is that it’s good for me!”
Twil raised a hand as she spoke; translucent spirit flesh coalesced from the air, whirling around her slender fingers for a split-second before condensing into a clawed hand-paw, covered in luxurious fur, halfway between teenage girl and wolf. She grinned.
Jan glanced at me for assistance — she didn’t actually know Twil’s family background, how her grandfather had been a mage, and had bound some kind of wolf-spirit to Twil’s flesh, to keep her safe from the touch of the Brinkwood Cult’s god. That she probably didn’t need ‘keeping safe’ from Hringewindla had unfortunately been beyond his understanding at the time, or so we guessed. His desires for the safety of his granddaughter were pure, even if his full comprehension had not been so perfect.
I ventured, “Being a werewolf is cool, yes. But that’s not the problem.”
Twil’s grin dropped away. So did the transformed wolf-paw. She shook her hand and it was human flesh again, tucked into the sleeve of her lime-green hoodie.
“I dunno, really,” she said. She swallowed hard. “Just feels different.”
Jan said, “Because you killed a person.”
Twil snorted and stared across the road; she couldn’t see the massive spirit currently lumbering into one of the bus-bays painted on the tarmac, a huge creature with dozens of legs and a front end all flat and made of eyeballs.
Jan went on: “I mean back during the fight outside Edward’s house. The mage who was controlling Edward’s demon-host. You killed her during the fight.”
Twil leaned back on her hands, stretching out her back; her long dark curls hung downward, the tips brushing the grass. “Yeah, some fucking mini-mage who was trying to kill us, right?” She snorted. “Who cares?”
“Twil,” we said gently. “That’s not a healthy attitude.”
Twil shot me a sudden, sharp, stinging frown, with a lot more wolf than human behind her eyes, flashing amber in the dying sunlight; I flinched, hard. If she’d looked at us like that a few months ago, we probably would have scrambled back and squeaked like a mouse. But now our tentacles rose outward in a defensive display.
Twil couldn’t see that, of course, but half the spirit-life in the street sprinted for cover. We blushed and huffed and drew our tentacles back in. We hadn’t wanted to cause that.
Twil must have taken my blush as mortified retreat, because she growled at us — actually growled, a deep rumble down in her chest. “Yeah, cheers, Big H, I fucking guessed that. It was her or us—”
“And Stack killed the rest of them! With bullets and shit. Why aren’t you bitching at her, huh?”
“Twil!” We tried to snap, but it came out weak and confused. She was in more pain than we’d expected. “I’m not ‘bitching’ at you, please—”
“Sounds like it to—”
“You can’t just shrug it off!”
Twil sneered. She wriggled an absurdly exaggerated double-shrug motion with her shoulders, then threw up her hands. “There! Shrugged off!”
I hadn’t seen Twil this combative and obstinate since the very first time we’d met, when she’d ambushed me and Evee in the corridors beneath Sharrowford University Library. Back then, I’d stood up to her, I’d slapped her across the face, and Evee had followed up with her walking stick. We were more than capable of standing up to Twil all over again; we knew that a good shout would make her back down and apologise for being rude.
But that wasn’t what she needed. She wasn’t being a bully; she was in pain.
“Twil,” we forced ourselves to be gentle. “T-that’s not— not what I’m trying to—”
Jan said: “Did you vomit?”
Twil squinted past me. “Eh?”
“Did you vomit?” Jan repeated. “After you killed the mage — the woman, in that gunfight. If I remember correctly, you broke her skull on the side of a fountain, right? Did you vomit?”
Twil stared, then squinted, as if Jan was insulting her. “Of course I fucking vomited. You were there! You saw me. Those corpses were fucked up, anybody would—”
“That’s not what I mean,” said Jan. Somehow the softness of her voice cut through Twil’s anger better than my tentative politeness ever could; her eyes, like blue flame seen from orbit, seemed untouched by the distant sunset. “I mean later. When you sat down and thought about it. When you washed the blood off. Did you vomit?”
Twil could not maintain her craggy frown; the anger collapsed. She hesitated, then said: “Y-yeah. Like, that night.”
Jan nodded. “There’s no shame in that.”
Twil swallowed hard. “I couldn’t stop— couldn’t stop thinking about it. I mean, a lot happened that day — the great big Ed-ball thing? Fuck me, that was much worse. And the Orange Juice guy? Nightmare fuel. Total nightmare fuel. Fuck no to all of that.”
“But those aren’t what stayed with you,” said Jan.
Twil swallowed again. She hesitated, rubbed her nose, and looked away. We held our breath, worried that the slightest twitch would send her scuttling once more for the emotional cover of grumpy anger and teenage sulking.
But then she said, slowly: “Yeah. I just … when I tried to go to sleep, at like three in the morning, I just kept … I kept hearing the way that woman’s skull went crack. Just like, crack! Crack! On the fountain, like. Bone on … on rock. I kept thinking about the … the like … the damage.” Twil grimaced, uncomfortable. “I don’t get it. I mean, I’ve fought lots of times before, done all sorts of shit. I killed those fucking zombies, back in the castle! You remember that, Heather?” I nodded; Twil raced on: “And that was like killing people. I mean, humans. It felt the same, physically? What’s so different about this? And when I was younger — like thirteen? — my family and the Church had to deal with this thing that tried to move into the woods. And I dealt with that! Pretty sure I killed it, too.” She trailed off, her energy flagging. “But … I dunno. Smashing a person’s skull. That was different. First time I’ve ever done that. I don’t … I didn’t like it.”
She looked down at one hand and turned it over, staring at her fingers.
We had no idea what to say; we tried to dredge our own experiences for a nugget of wisdom, but it seemed like Twil was going down a different route, thick with cloying, dark mud. We longed to follow, to drag her feet back to the path.
Jan took a deep breath, and said: “I’m personally responsible for the deaths of nineteen people.”
Twil and I both looked around; I felt surprised but not shocked. Jan was a mage, after all. Twil’s eyebrows climbed.
Jan went on, softly, but with a streak of confidence we had not heard from her before: “Most of those people were trying to kill me first. Some of them were trying to defend the people who were trying to kill me. Three were innocent — not quite bystanders, but they didn’t deserve to die. One was a sort of a living weapon, who I tried to save, but I couldn’t. So I had to kill her, too. Or she would have killed me.”
“Fuckin’ hell,” Twil murmured, wide-eyed at Jan.
“Mmhmm.” Jan sighed. “There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about them, even if just a little bit. And for me it’s been a long time.”
We blurted out: “I still think about Jake.”
Twil squinted at me, shocked out of her Jan-awe: “Eh? Who? Who the hell is Jake?”
We almost laughed. “The man I killed in self-defence. When the Sharrowford Cult tried to kidnap me, before I had that meeting with Alexander. Twil, you must remember — it was you who ran off and left me alone, and then you who came to rescue me, with Praem.”
“O-oh. Uh. Yeah. Right. Uh, I never saw the guy.”
“Nobody did,” we said. “I only know his name because Alexander asked where he’d gone. I didn’t mean to kill him — I just wanted him to go away, stop holding me down, let me go. So I reached up and put my hand on his face and — poof.” I smiled a sad little smile. “And that was long before I figured out how to send things to specific dimensions, or retrieve them again. I have no idea where he went. Maybe he died instantly. Maybe he lingered for days, and died of thirst. Maybe he got eaten by something. But I killed him. Didn’t mean to, but I did. And I still think about him sometimes. I don’t even really know who he was.” I sighed a big sigh, and then pantomimed scrubbing my hands. “Out, damned spot,” I quoted. “Lady Macbeth was right, it never really goes away.”
Twil stared at me for several long heartbeats. She blinked hard, then reached up to find her eyes had filled with moisture.
Jan said: “Heather is right. You can’t shrug this off. You can’t bottle it up, or avoid thinking about it. If you run from it, it fucks you up.”
Twil wiped her eyes, surprised that she was crying a tiny bit. “I-I wasn’t run—”
“Yeah you bloody well were,” Jan said, more amused than compassionate. “You were running so hard you took it all out on Heather, just now. You got rude and aggressive. And that’s just a few days later, a few days after the deed. If you let that wound fester, it’ll eat you up from the inside.”
Twil looked at me, wide-eyed and shell shocked. Slow tears ran down her cheeks.
“I’m— I’m sorry, Heather, I—”
“No, Twil, it’s fine, it’s fine! I—”
“You’re like, a real good friend, and you were just trying to—”
“I forgive you! It’s okay! You are forgiven.”
“I’m sorry I was like … ”
We both trailed off, then hugged; it was not quite the most awkward hug in which we had ever participated — Evelyn still holds the top spot there — but it was close. Twil was shaking a little. I didn’t know where to put all my tentacles.
But then Twil let go and wiped her eyes properly. “Fuck me, I’m crying and all. Over what?”
Jan sighed. “You killed a person. And you had to do it, yes. Don’t look away from that.”
Twil nodded to herself. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Alright.”
Jan went on. “And your friends aren’t going to drift away from you because you killed somebody — justified or not. It doesn’t stain your soul, it doesn’t warp your being. It is a moral act like any other — for good, or bad. And you had to kill a person in self-defence. Just don’t look away from it. And don’t fucking tell your friends.”
Twil snorted. “Yeah, I wasn’t exactly planning on that, thanks.”
“But you needed to hear it,” said Jan.
Twil nodded to herself again. She puffed out a big, long sigh, then looked across the road, at the hills on the other side, the heavily forested Brinkwood hillsides, the mouth of the valley, climbing away toward the Pennines. I realised it was the first time since we’d arrived that she’d raised her eyes to look beyond the old school buildings.
The sunset was dribbling away to nothing; a dripping glow on the horizon, a touch of orange leeching from the sky. Twil and Jan and us, our faces and bodies seemed to blend into the darkening gloam of the falling night. But the air was warm, Twil’s breath was close, and Jan smelled of Jamaican food.
I mouthed a silent thank you to Jan; she nodded in equal silence, pulling a self-conscious smile. Neither of us had expected Twil to be feeling this bad. We’d done what we could, for now.
All of a sudden, Twil said: “Raine actually came over to see me earlier.”
We looked back at her, a pale-faced angel in the last moments of dusk. “Oh? She did?”
“Ah,” said Jan — in the tone one uses upon discovering the culprit who has deposited the cat turd in one’s shoe.
“Yeah,” Twil grunted. “To like, talk about exactly this.”
“Oh,” we said.
“Yeeeeeeah,” Twil went on. “It didn’t … uh … help. She said all this weird stuff about like, self-defence, and how I had to do it, and I didn’t have a choice, and not to blame myself and all that. And she wasn’t, like, wrong. But … I dunno. Like she wanted me to look away from it all. Thought I couldn’t handle the responsibility? I dunno.”
Jan sighed. “Raine. Right. I don’t know her too well, but … ” Jan glanced at me.
I nodded and pulled an awkward smile. “Raine has helped me before, with these kinds of feelings. But, um … ”
“Different strokes for different folks,” said Jan. “She should have let us know.”
My turn for an awkward sigh. “She probably will do, when I get home; it’s not the sort of thing she would forget to mention, or hold back.”
“Mm,” Jan grunted. “Well then.” She stretched her arms above her head and took a deep breath, putting a punctuation mark on the topic for now. “Twil, while I’ve got you here, I’d like to ask some technical questions about your whole lycanthropic transform—”
A pantomimed cough interrupted — from right behind us.
We wiggled our tentacles in surprise. Twil flinched so hard she almost jumped to her feet. But Jan just went, “Oh!” and turned to look.
It was Lozzie.
Framed against the distant dark tree line at the edge of the little park, with her pentacolour pastel poncho gleaming blue-pink-white in the last spiral of sunset, her long blonde hair all wispy and floaty down her back — and a chunk of Jamaican banana bread in one hand — Lozzie looked very sheepish, more than a little nervous, and vaguely embarrassed.
The pair of tarry-black imitation-tree spirits had woken up and lumbered across the park to join her, like a pair of curious puppies — though they hung well back from us. Top-Left and Bottom-Right waved to them; one of the spirits waved back with a single massive trunk-like limb.
“Lozzers!” said Twil, laughing. She got up and spread her arms out wide. “How long you been there?”
“Lozzie,” I joined in. “Come sit with us.”
“Hey you,” said Jan.
Lozzie pulled a rather overwhelmed smile, and said: “Actually I’ve been standing here for fifteen minutes but nobody noticed and then it got more and more awkward and everyone kept talking and I didn’t meant to eavesdrop but if I said anything it would be super weird so now I’m here finally and hi!”
Twil laughed, then paused. “Oh, uh, you mean, like, you heard all of that?”
Jan was frowning delicately as well — how much did Lozzie know about her past? How much had she just accidentally revealed?
But Lozzie didn’t seem to mind. “It’s okay! It’s fiiiiine!” she chirped, then bounced forward to distribute hugs.
Twil got the first Lozzie-hug, then me, as we didn’t get to our feet, at Lozzie’s urging. Jan got the third hug, but then to my surprise Lozzie cycled back to Twil again, hugging her a second time before settling down on the ground next to me. Her poncho flowed over our knees, lovely and warm, as if she had absorbed the power of the dying sunset. She patted the grass.
“Sit, fuzzy!” she chirped at Twil.
Twil squinted. “Fuzzy?”
“You’re fuzzy and fluffy and pettable! Fuzzzzzzzy! Don’t think I’ve forgotten! You owe me some belly rubs!”
Twil laughed — and blushed.
Our mind completed the circuit: Twil had told me in confidence that she rather liked Lozzie, in that sort of way. It made sense; they were both the same age, both slightly outside the norm, and Lozzie was so boundlessly energetic and full of life.
I glanced quickly at Jan. Did she see? Was she jealous? Was she even aware of this?
Jan’s storm-drenched eyes were quiet with resigned acceptance.
Worse than jealousy then — surrender, because these two would go together better than her and Lozzie.
But this was not the time for that discussion; we kept our mouth shut for now.
Twil said: “I’m not a fuckin’ petting zoo. How many times?”
Lozzie yelped out a giggle. “How many times?! Never! You’ve never let me pet you properly! Go full wolf and let me fuzzleruzzleraaaargaaaa!” Lozzie mimed shoving her entire face into a fluffy belly.
Twil cleared her throat awkwardly. “Not … not here. And not right now. I can’t just transform in public, right here.”
“Yah!” went Lozzie. “Not right now. We have more important things to talk about right now, duh!”
Twil frowned down at her. “We do?”
“Oh … ”
We cleared our throat too. “Lozzie … ”
“It’s fiiiiine, Heathers!” Lozzie chirped for me, leaning into my side with a wave of physical affection. “It’s an important thing, you know? Important for me and important for wolfies to learn, too!”
“Alright, alright,” Twil grumbled. “Fine.” She consented to sit back down, right next to Lozzie, so little ‘Lozzers’ was now sandwiched between myselves and Twil.
To my surprise, Lozzie did not reach out and touch Twil; despite all her rhetoric about fluffy-fuzzy pettings, she respected Twil’s personal space. Instead she leaned harder against us. Several of our tentacles snaked across her back to support her weight. She got comfy. She gestured with her torn-off chunk of banana bread.
Jan said: “July showed you the food, then?”
“Yup!” Lozzie chirped. “And thank you, Janny!” She turned back to Twil, and cooed: “Sooooo. I had to do a murder once.”
Twil blinked at her. “You did?”
Lozzie nodded up and down. Very serious, big nods. Very important. “Heather saw it happen, when my brother was going to kill us, in his stupid throne room. One of his friends was in there too and he would have gotten in the way of Heather doing what Heather did. So I had a scalpel hidden in my sleeve, and I went — stab!”
Lozzie mimed ramming a scalpel through a human throat.
We did recall the moment, with great clarity. Just before I had killed Alexander, Lozzie had sprung from her faked attitude of cowed passivity, and stabbed one of the Sharrowford Cultists through the throat. A big man, the man who had been helping Alexander pluck Raine’s bullet from his torso. Lozzie and he had gone down in a tangle of limbs and spurting blood.
She’d barely spoken about it since, except to recall how much she disliked the violence.
“Y-yeah,” said Twil. “But like, I mean, that was big, important self-defence. Your brother was gonna kill—”
“Mm-mmmm-mmm-mmm!” Lozzie shook her head. “Not the point! Not the point!”
Twil put her hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright.”
“Point iiiiiis,” Lozzie grew quieter, softer, more serious — at least for her. “I hated it. I hated having to do it. I hate remembering it. I hope I never ever ever ever ever have to do anything like it again.”
We didn’t mention the way Lozzie had helped us kill the Ed-ball; perhaps that didn’t count.
“Aaaaand,” Lozzie continued. “I don’t want Tenny to ever have to do anything like that. Oooooooor Jan.” She pointed sideways, at a blinking surprised Jan. “Or Heathers, but Heathers has to do it a few times, I suppose. But but but, I don’t want Tenny to have to do that, ever. So I helped kill my brother, and killed one of his friends, so there’s less chance of Tenny ever having to do it. See?”
Twil listened to this whole speech with a growing frown of tender care; when Lozzie was done, Twil just nodded. “Yeah, Lozzers. I get it. Hope you never have to again, either. Or Tenns.”
Lozzie shook her head, hard. “Never Tenns.”
We all fell silent for several moments. There was nothing more to say on the subject. After a little while, Lozzie climbed out of my tentacles and went to sit next to Jan instead. She broke a piece off her banana bread and held it out for Jan, to hand-feed her. Jan blushed and hesitated. Lozzie went ‘aaahhh’. Twil and I politely looked away.
Darkness filled Blueslip Road; the sunset was done, leaving Brinkwood in the deep night that never truly touches real cities. Trees creaked and swayed in the gentle wind. The school was a blur of angles in the midnight shadows. We could only see each other by the faint, distant light from the low-powered village street lamps. Behind us, the pair of massive tree-like spirits waited, as if wondering when Lozzie was going to play with them, too.
At length, I said: “Twil. I don’t want you to come with us to Wonderland.”
Twil squinted at me. “Eh? What?”
“I … I don’t … ”
I don’t want you to die?
What was I saying? Hadn’t we told Jan, earlier that very day, that nobody was going to die? That we weren’t checking on our friends and allies one by one, to make sure they were up to the risk, the threat, the possibility of failure? Where was this doubt coming from all of a sudden? Was it because Twil had a bright future ahead of her, and I didn’t want her to end up as a cold corpse on the ash of Wonderland?
But I didn’t want that for anybody; no, nobody was going to die out there.
“Hey,” Twil said. “Hey, Heather, yo.”
“Y-yo?” We looked up.
Twil was grinning, wild and wolfish. She held up both hands and made them into wolf-paw claws.
“I’m fucking invincible,” she said. “I’m the Brinkwood werewolf. I can get shot through the head and get back up like thirty seconds later! My granddad, he knew what he was doing when he made me. He made me for stuff like this, so I could deal with anything.”
Jan and Lozzie had gone quiet, but Lozzie whispered: “Fuzzyfuzzyfuzzyfuzzy—”
“But,” we said, “Twil, you have no obligation—”
“You’re my fucking friend! That’s an obligation! You think I’m not gonna be there? Okay, sure, maybe I can’t do any of the magic shit, but if that big sky bitch has got minions, maybe I keep them off Evee? Maybe I do what I was made to do? Fuck that big eyeball. We’re gonna kick sand into it!” Twil shot to her feet, suddenly more wolf than woman. “Fuck yeah!” she growled — low and long and lilting off into the night.
We wondered if anybody heard, tucked up in bed behind their closed curtains; we wondered if any little children dreamed of wolves that night.
“Fuck!” laughed Lozzie. She got to her feet too and threw her arms up, dragging Jan after her.
At a total loss of how to thank our friends, we climbed to our feet and bowed our head.
“Thank you, Twil. Thank you. We promise we’ll try to keep you safe, too, if you come with us, out there.”
“If!?” Twil laughed. “When! You just say the word, Big H.”
We nodded, but we couldn’t say more.
What we did do — carefully, covertly, without wanting to alert the others — was look around for any tell-tale signs of a certain Jaundiced Princess.
Twil’s resolute loyalty and dedication to her friends was worryingly close to the attributes of a ‘doomed hero’. Or at least, I thought so. Evidently Heart did not agree, for we saw no flitter of pearl-white above the trees, no slinking sprite slipping away along the streets, no golden glint deep in the jumble of school buildings.
We had a sneaking suspicion that was why Sevens had stayed behind. Perhaps she was having a word with her little sister.
“Twil,” Jan said, suddenly professional and serious. “I was saying earlier, I really want to study your transformation, if that’s acceptable to you?”
Twil gave her a frown, a wolf peering out of the gloom. “I’ll go petting zoo for Lozzers, but not for you, hey?”
Lozzie giggled madly. Jan blushed and held up a hand. “Not like that. Look, you know I’m making a body for Heather’s twin — for Maisie. Your grandfather apparently achieved something with you, a forced union of flesh and spirit. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I … well … this is my area of study, even if you’re a little out of my wheelhouse. But I’m looking for things out of my wheelhouse right now. I need to find a way to perform a soul anchoring without the soul already present — or at least, very rapidly, the nano-second she shows up to inhabit the vessel. If I can comprehend a little more about how you work, maybe I can … improve some of the binding techniques. Whoever your grandfather was, he was a genius. I would like to learn from his work.”
Twil’s sceptical look softened a little — but only a little. “For real? You’re not fucking me about?”
“I am not ‘fucking you about’ no,” said Jan. “I’m deadly serious. And I would treat your body and your grandfather’s work with the most solemn respect. I’m not trying to get an eyeful of your tits, here. I’m a professional. Sort of.”
Twil let out a big huff. “Yeah, alright then. Just, like, not here.”
I murmured: “Thank you, Twil.”
Jan chuckled. “No, no, of course, not here. I need to take pictures and measurements of Heather as well, in great physical detail, so perhaps we could all get together and do that tomorrow?”
“Night’s young, ain’t it?” said Twil.
“Actually … ” we said, raising a hand.
“Mmhmm,” Jan said, nodding slowly. “Heather’s got a big day tomorrow. And so have you, probably. Both of you need some sleep.”
“Eh?” Twil squinted at us again.
“Oh!” we said. “Oh, no, I won’t need Twil as muscle. I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
“Heather,” Jan said, a little too gently. “You haven’t met those people. They’re very twitchy.”
“Hold up,” said Twil. “What is this about now? I thought there was no crisis?”
“There isn’t,” we sighed. “Not yet, anyway. Tomorrow, Evee and I are going to meet with Yuleson, the lawyer, about … well, about a money thing. But then Jan’s going to set up a meeting between me and the cultists. The ex-cultists. Badger’s friends. The remains of the Sharrowford Cult.”
“Oh,” said Twil. She grimaced, the wolf showing through in the way she flashed her teeth. “Oh, fuck me. Like — like Badger was?”
“Like Badger was,” I said. My mouth was going dry. “They need salvation. I can’t leave that unanswered, before we go to Wonderland. Even if I can’t do anything much for them, I need to try. I need to answer their prayers, one way or the other.”
Turns out that actually everybody did not forget about Twil; Heather was just assuming she was the center of the universe, as usual.
So like, Twil has a whole life outside of the main cast, and seems to have had several girlfriends. Quite the school prince, perhaps? What we need now is a prequel Twil-based dating sim, where she has to balance her werewolf reveals with dating like four girls at once (and Evee, and Lozzie?) and not getting treated like a petting zoo. You think I'm joking? What do you think her POV in Book Two is gonna be like? (Okay I'm joking, sure. But only a little bit.) On a more serious note, turns out Twil did actually need to talk about murder. And she got help from some very well-placed people. Good for her.
No Patreon link this chapter, as it's almost the end of the month! Feel free to wait until the 1st if you want to subscribe for more chapters ahead! In the meantime, go check out some of the other wonderful web serials out there. I don't have any specific shout-outs this time, as nobody has asked me for any lately, so, uh, go read Feast or Famine if you haven't yet!
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Next week, Heather's got serious matters to attend to. Cultists in trouble, phone numbers to call, insight to chase. But which one first? Well, probably the lawyer again ...