Paper Starlings: a scene about missing things

Boxer was the scariest man I’d ever met in my life. I’d bet an arm that he had twice as many teeth as a normal person.

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Paper Starlings is the first of six books in the not*the*same*river series. They follow the life of Violet who, after a childhood in care, figures out that her birth family’s heritage is more complicated than she believed possible.

The series features vampires, angels, demons, werewolves, vaewolves and other vae breeds. It’s set mainly in Oxfordshire, England.

***

I spent an awkward couple of hours on a hilltop with Daniel, Sean, Amethyst and an axe-wielding giant. We met on the clumps in a little clearing. I’d been sitting on the mossy ground, my arms wrapped around my knees, for ten minutes before I spotted the man sitting in the tree. It was the scruffy guy, Old Bones, looking less scruffy than usual. He was still a mess. A tropical mess in a Hawaiian shirt with muscle-split sleeves, cargo shorts and muddy, brown builder’s boots. He watched me like I was an equation, giving no thought to how I might feel about being stared at.

Boxer was the scariest man I’d ever met in my life. I’d bet an arm that he had twice as many teeth as a normal person, and he was easily as wide as Magnus, though not as tall. His blue tinted goggles were pushed up into his hair, and every time the sun shone through the trees even a little, Boxer’s pupils practically disappeared. He glared at Daniel like he was his mortal enemy, but he barely spared me a glance, for which I thanked a god I didn’t really believe in and the sweet baby Jesus for good measure. Amethyst spoke to him like he was her favourite pet. They sat as far away from Daniel as Amethyst could manage without being rude enough that Sean would notice.

Daniel and Sean talked about werewolves and gargoyles and demons, but it was easier to hear all the things they weren’t saying to each other. Amy wasn’t even a whisper. Sean said that Albert sent his apologies for not being with us, but I knew he hadn’t. Albert was somewhere in the trees; I felt his eyes on me. OB knew he was there too. He kept staring into the trees behind Sean. I refused to look.

I wasn’t even sure why I’d come. Daniel had arranged to meet Sean, and Amethyst said I might not get another chance to talk to him once Mara returned, so there I was, being ignored. I thought about heading into the trees to confront Albert, and snorted at myself. Why would I even want to do that? I did not need the approval of that grumpy-faced, misery-inducing, socially incompetent geriatric. He was almost enough to put me off oranges.

I shrieked and jumped when OB leapt out of the tree like a predator, landing in a crouch. He sat by me, smelling of moss and pine trees and rain.

“You have seen me in your dreams, yes?”

I nodded. “Aren’t I lucky?”

His laugh roared out of him. “Amethyst didn’t say you were funny girl. I think you are good for her. She needs female influence that is … healthy.”

“Sean said you’re not Mara’s greatest fan.”

“He talks too much. He has Irish mouth.” He made sockless sock-puppet hands. “Always flapping.”

“Heard that,” said Sean.

“Ears like elephant.” OB side-eyed Sean, to see if he’d interrupt again. “Ah, and now he pretends not to listen.”

“What do we need the mirror for?” I said.

OB choked. Sean laughed. Somewhere behind us, a twig snapped itself in half.

“Didn’t I say she’d ask you about that?” said Sean.

I shrugged. “Well?”

“Mirrors show us more than ourselves, and sometimes less,” said OB. “Not everyone knows what they’re looking for, but you will figure out what you’re supposed to see in mirror.” He ran his hand over his face. “Don’t worry about mirror. You will need it. You will use it. End of story.”

“That’s not much of a story.”

You will provide story,” he said. “I provide beginning and end.”

“Thanks for paying your respects at the cemetery.”

OB nodded. “You’re welcome.”

“What did you and Albert argue about the day of the Blackmore picnic?”

Sean made a garbled hissing sound, that turned into a full belly laugh when Daniel joined in.

“Brazen trumpet,” said OB.

“Brazen as a trumpet,” Sean corrected. “It makes no sense if you miss out half the words.”

“A?” said OB, making a short A sound. “That is just noise old people make when they try to move, and their bodies try to stay still. As sounds like insect.”

“We all know you don’t use articles out of spite for the English language.”

OB huffed. “It has more stupid rules than all world’s governments combined.”

“This is the worst distraction tactic ever,” I said. “Will you tell me what the argument was about?” A flurry of nuts hit the ground behind us, but I saw nothing when I turned. I smirked anyway. If Albert was there, I wanted him to know that I knew it.

“I’m not going to tell you what argument was about. It was private.”

“I knew you’d say that.”

“But you asked anyway.”

“You expected me to, didn’t you?”

“Yes. You are nosey, like your sister.” Before Amethyst could open her mouth, OB said, “Yes, I know you heard that. You are master eavesdropper. You forget I taught you how to be spy. You forget this when you creep around house saying I look like gnome.”

Boxer laughed, all guttural noise and teeth. Amethyst grinned sheepishly.

“Worst dressed gnome in history,” said Sean.

As the conversation got lighter, Albert’s presence felt heavier. We all felt it, and we all ignored it. It was like I’d had a Sean dream, like something was creeping beneath my skin. It disappeared so suddenly, leaving me cold and hot at the same time. It was loss, which was kind of sickening, and relief.

***

The source image above is from jplenio on Pixabay

So, I upgraded my Pinterest to a business account by accident

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The last time I signed up to something by mistake, it was Camp NaNoWriMo, and I repeated that mistake until I’d written six books.

Anyway … I’d been planning to upgrade my soggy Pinterest account to a business account for a while, but I was put off by the complaints about how difficult it was. Everybody made it sound like I’d need a degree in computer science to do it, but it took twenty seconds to upgrade. Twenty seconds. And that’s why it was an accident. I hit upgrade, expecting there to be another hoop to jump through. I expected hours of waiting and technology-induced crying before my account was actually upgraded. Or rather, I expected to look at all the hoops and back out of the process entirely to save myself the tears. But there were no hoops, just a pretty, new, upgraded page.

For anyone else put off by testimonials comparing it to brain surgery, please be assured that I—a tech potato—only needed an extra few minutes to figure out where to put the Pinterest generated HTML that allows me to access the analytics. I figured I’d help you out with my potato proof instructions below.

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All you need to upgrade your Pinterest account is your website URL and a business name. I used my pen name for this. The upgrade button is in the top right-hand corner of the browser. I filled in my details, and as soon as I hit the upgrade button, the profile view changed. Ta-da!

So, if you’re a WordPress user (and I hope you are because I only speak WordPress Potato), and you want to enable the analytics for activity from your website, here’s what you do. Once your profile is upgraded, you’ll find the analytics button on the top left of the screen. There will be 3 boxes: your pinterest profile, people you reach and activity from your website. The last will ask you to verify your site, then generate a line of HTML for you.

Here’s where you put the HTML in WordPress. First click on My Site, then Settings on the left hand menu. At the top of the screen are four options— click on Traffic. Scroll down to Site Verification Services, then paste the HTML into the Pinterest box and save. This enables you to see what’s been pinned from your WordPress site and how far it’s travelling. That’s all there is to it.

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Those of you interested in following me on Pinterest can find me here.

Feel free to post a link to your Pinterest account in the comments. Happy pinning!

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Meet Si Moore

“Do you ever feel like … life is just waiting there, behind a curtain or something, waiting for you to earn it? Sometimes I feel like there’s this whole tribe waiting. My people. But I don’t know what I need to be to make the curtain fall, you know? I’m stuck.”

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Context: Violet’s crush becomes a hero when he stands up to the biology teacher. Violet’s best friend is moving to Cornwall. From Paper Starlings (book 1).

***

Si did return to school a week after his escapade, and Nicholls upgraded his disdain-o-meter to a hate-o-meter purely for his benefit. But Si smiled through every loathe-encrusted look and hateful comment because he was untouchable. He cared about Nicholls’ opinion like he cared about algae.

Leia’s last day was messy and wet. She had rarely seen me cry before, and though it didn’t happen until we got to her house, it brought out her maternal side so that she became all warm and gushy like Eden. We promised each other we’d talk or text every day. She’d made me a photo album, and I’d painted a picture of the two of us in our Stitch onesies as a going-away present. On Friday morning, my brain checked out while my class watched Life of Pi. I might as well have been in double maths.

By the end of the day, I’d solidified my plan to speak to Si. My plan was this: get changed into my art overalls so that when he invited me to the scrubs, I could say yes. It was a good plan, if I didn’t factor in the probability that he wouldn’t invite me anywhere ever again, considering I’d said no last time. Leia sent me mileage updates, accompanied by crossed boxes because my crappy phone couldn’t deal with emojis. It didn’t matter; I knew they were turds. Turds were her favourite. Leia had travelled three hundred miles away from me in the five hours it took for me to formulate a half-plan. Maths felt like my enemy.

As much as Leia would’ve hated to miss it, I geared myself up for some loitering with intent. I looked ridiculous. At art club, I forced myself to wear a chronically beige boilersuit which did an admirable job of protecting everything but my hair, and made me look like a ghostbuster that had been mugged by Jackson Pollock. I stood beneath the bald tree that had offered Si anonymity before it lost its leaves, but offered me nothing. I looked ridiculous for twenty minutes while the crowd thinned. It was much harder trying to spot Si on a non-uniform day. When everyone wore navy, his hair was a beacon. When they didn’t, his hair was just another slash of orange, because apparently people who weren’t me wore orange.

By the time Si wandered out of the foyer, I’d counted to twenty another dozen or so times, twenty being the number at which I’d give up and go home. My heartbeat slowly climbed up my oesophagus, pulsing like a beast. I watched Si’s eyebrows climb, then a slight hitch catch the corners of his mouth, but no smile. He looked around like he thought I might be waiting for someone else, so I raised my hand in a half-wave. Then he smiled.

A million useless bits of sentence fell over each other in my brain while I waited for him to get to me. Then he was standing where I had stood the day he reminded me where his face was. He was looking at my overalls, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say, I’m up here, when he spoke.

“You’re in the mood to paint a masterpiece?” He sucked on his bottom lip.

I tried to avoid a full-body spasm. “No. I just didn’t want to get dirty.”

He moved closer. There was no canopy now, just spiky fingers. But it wasn’t the leaves that had made the air beneath the tree dangerous.

“Where are you going that’ll get you dirty?”

“The scrubs.”

He grinned. “Me too.”

His feet were two pairs of shoes away from mine. With each breath, I released less air, until I got to the point where breathing in became impossible. I lowered my head, then let it all go in an embarrassed gush. I didn’t know whether he heard or saw or not, but I vowed to use whatever time we spent together proving that I did actually know how to breathe.

He half-turned to the gate, waiting for me to step in beside him. The dull winter light did nothing for his complexion, but I didn’t mind his bleached face. He wasn’t cold enough yet for his cheeks and nose to turn rosy. His knuckles were pink though, and shredded.

“What happened to your hands?” I said, while we walked side by side towards the gate.

“I don’t get on with my mum’s arsehole boyfriend.”

“Shit, sorry.”

“What are you apologising for?”

“I shouldn’t have asked. It’s none of my business.”

He shrugged. “It’s nice to be worried about.”

We ate up the pavement at twice the speed I walked with Leia, who could dawdle for Britain. We were quiet for a few minutes, the only sounds our shuffling breaths and synchronised footsteps.

“Leia moved today, right?” he said, side-eyeing me cautiously.

“Yeah. How’s Lewis?”

Luckily, Si knew how to take a hint. “He’s okay. He’s been making the most of his five minutes of fame.”

“How about you? Il a un point, Jeff has become a meme. You’re a legend.”

“Today, a meme. Tomorrow, a movie.”

“Exactly. You can’t buy that sort of notoriety.”

We were laughing when an obnoxiously toxic car pulled up alongside us, something dangerously black seeping from its rear-end. The window hummed down, and the driver leant across a huge plant taking up most of the passenger seat. Si groaned.

“Hey, boy. This your wifey? She’s fi-iii-ine.” I wasn’t sure where this London boy thought he was from, or why he thought fine had eighteen syllables.

“She also has ears, and class, and she isn’t my wifey.”

“Bet she knows her way around a car.”

That was an inexplicable sentence. Was it a euphemism? What the hell was he talking about? And also, Si thought I had class.

“What the hell are you talking about?” said Si.

“She’s a mechanic, right?” I laughed at his earnest expression, until it gave way to sleaze. “You can fondle my gearstick whenever you like, baby.”

“No, she’s not a fucking mechanic.” Si was no longer winter-white.

“I’m a ghostbuster,” I shouted.

Si laughed, then dropped all humour. “What do you want, Ryan?”

“Just checking in, bruv. You want a ride someplace?”

“No. And stay away from the flat. The new one’s huge.”

Ryan tipped his head dismissively, then roared away leaving a black fog behind.

“The new one’s huge?” I said, flapping my arm across my face to avoid choking.

“My mum’s boyfriend.”

My eyes were in danger of drying out, they’d gone so wide. “He’ll hurt you.”

He smiled gently. “He’s not that big. I just said that so Ryan wouldn’t turn up at the flat.”

“Right.” I laughed. “Did he really have a seatbelt on a marijuana plant?”

Si didn’t laugh. “There’s probably worse in his glove box.”

“So, how do you know him?”

“I don’t. Not really. He’s just a twat my mum knows. I’m sorry he said those things about you.”

“It’s not your fault. I’ve heard worse, and I definitely do not know my way around a car.”

By the time we got to the scrubs, I remembered the other reason I didn’t go there. An eight-foot chicken wire fence.

“Shit,” I said.

“I can give you a leg-up.”

“Your hands are already broken.”

“I can take your weight.” He leant close to my ear, and said, “I already did, remember?”

I shuddered. “You mean I didn’t dream that particular humiliation?”

He shook his head. “Totally real.”

“So you give me a leg-up, then what? I face-plant into the chicken wire, and go home looking like I’ve been griddled?”

He laughed. “Fine. There’s a weaker spot in the fence we can crawl through, but it’s around the other side.”

“You just wanted to see me get scuffed up. That’s evil.”

***

Meet Kite

“In my dream, this was the beginning. Errol said the domino is a figurative thing. He said the events of this dream signal Newton’s third law. The domino that topples the rest. The start of a new war.”

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Kite first appears in Of Blood and Oil, the third book in the series. A trans nephilim with a gross and scaly green coat, a fondness for fire and Doritos, the inability to eat while sitting, and an apocalypse cupboard in their room.

Violet’s twin sister has gone missing while looking for someone who was believed to be dead. The only clue is a shrine of surveillance images of the London Underground, where Violet encounters vicious, hairy panic.

***

From Of Blood and Oil …

A station platform passed by in slow motion, its curved, tiled walls reflecting the yellow lights above. Standing on a metal bench, fists bared, was a tall, skinny somebody in a black hoodie, a curtain of moss green hair covering half their face. They roared at a vaewolf, one fist finding its throat, the other its nose. It yelped when its attacker leant to the side, aiming a kick square into the beast’s chest. It staggered backwards across the platform where two more vaewolves lay unconscious. The somebody jumped down from the bench, but more vaewolves were pouring through the archways behind them.

“Violet,” Daniel whispered, turning his head sideways to get one last look before the platform disappeared from view. “They’re like us.”

“Go get them then.”

***

A tangle of flailing limbs and scratching hands landed with a thump on the carriage floor.

“Hey!” I bellowed at the stranger, whose nails were sinking into Daniel’s neck. “A thank you will suffice.”

She scrambled to her feet. She was taller than me and built like a pencil. The corner of her mouth quirked into a half smile, and she snorted at me. She had curious hazel eyes, mostly a mossy green flecked with honey. She pulled her hood back revealing short, jet black hair. Dyed black hair if the greenish tinge was anything to go by. A thick green fringe, the exact colour of mushy peas, fell forward, covering half her face. She was striking, her long face giving the impression of being reflected in the back of a spoon.

“What would I be thanking him for?” she said, her raspy voice low and incredulous.

“Rescuing you,” I said, scowling up at her. She was like an exceptionally tall pixie.

“Did I look like I needed rescuing?” she said, leaning forward as her hands went to her hips. She winced.

“Yeah, you did. You’re hurt,” I said, reaching for her waist. She swatted my hand away and glared at me. “Let me see,” I said, reaching out again.

“I’m not hurt,” she said, taking a step back.

“If one of those things bit you …”

“Fine,” she said, pulling up the back of her jacket and turning her back towards me. “See, no bites. I had a tattoo coloured this morning and it hurts when I touch it, that’s all.”

The lower portion of her back on her right side was covered in gauze, which disappeared into the waistband of her jeans.

“Wow, how far up do they go?” I said, tracking the column of tattoos until they disappeared beneath her jacket. I caught sight of a bandage wrapped around the middle of her back, before she hastily tugged her jacket down.

“All the way up and over the opposite shoulder to here,” she said, chopping at her left arm at a point midway between her elbow and shoulder.

***

“You can sit, you know,” said Caleb, nodding at an armchair.

“Nah, it’s alright,” said Kite. “Have you got any food? I’m starving.”

Caleb sauntered off to the kitchen, coming back with an armful of snacks and dumping them on the coffee table. Kite opened a bag of tortilla chips. Perching on the very edge of a chair, so she could escape at any moment, she stuffed the snacks into her mouth, packing her cheeks and rolling her eyes.

I laughed. “When was the last time you ate?”

She choked on her tortillas. Caleb handed her his beer bottle, and she grabbed it, taking a large swig to clear her throat. “It’s been a while,” she said. “I got fired.”

“Where did you work?”

“Scuzzy little café at Elephant and Castle.”

“Why did they fire you?”

“Punched one of the customers and smashed a plate on his head.”

“That’ll do it,” said Caleb.

***

From Cascadence of Truth …

“This is like that crazy old shop in Gremlins,” said Kite.

I laughed. “Gremlins?”

“What? I’ve seen movies. Darryl had a really bad addiction to shitty eighties films. Don’t go near anything that moves. Or sings. See, look, a gremlin.”

Kite pointed across the room at a creature perched on top of a teetering stack of suitcases.

“It’s a cat,” I said. “A very bald and reptilian looking cat.”

“Fuck, if that’s a cat,” Kite said sceptically.

***

When Kite arrived to a full drawing room, a statement was made. Without a word, or any thought for the assorted ornaments on Uriel’s fireplace, Kite unfolded his wings. They were the colour of charcoal, with silver tips, and huge, knocking stuff over left and right. Kite stood, hands on hips, chewing his lip ring, and glaring around the room. In the usual black skinny jeans and vest, and with a newly-shaved undercut, freshly dyed a dark silver, he looked exactly like he was meant to. Like an angel with the devil’s attitude.

A few minutes later, everyone started to filter outside, where it was warm and breezy. Kite nodded sideways at the French windows and set off.

I followed. “Uriel said you had balance issues.”

Kite’s voice was deeper than I was used to. “I did. I do. Everything’s the wrong size since the wings came in. And I feel … heavier. In really weird places.” Kite shrugged. “I’ll get used to it.”

***

Roots and Wings: Being Human

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.

From the second book in the not*the*same*river series. When you find out you’re powerful and have a real-life nemesis, and all you want is to be normal, to be human. Violet goes out with neighbourhood bad boy, Jed, earning herself a hangover.

The series features angels, demons, vampires, vaewolves and a mesmerising nipple ring.

This isn’t one scene, but snippets of a few.

***

I didn’t remember much of what came next. We spilled out of a kebab shop, throwing salad at the gutter, leaving just greasy meat and pitta bread behind in the paper. I couldn’t even eat mine, because, a) who the hell thought greasy meat was good drunk food? And, b) I was assaulted with brain pictures of Leia’s will-somebody-think-of-the-animals face. Jordan’s Scottish friend, who was called Shelley, even though he was at least six-four, and built like Archer, kindly offered to take the unwanted kebab off my hands.

I fell over a hedge into someone’s garden, then insisted Jed count all the scratches on my arms while the rest of us tried to make him lose count. I sang an Elvis song that I knew almost none of the words to, from a horizontal position in the middle of a grassy roundabout. I told a knock-knock joke using Ollie’s nipple ring as a door-knocker. Then I listened to him waffle on about job opportunities in London, and watched him get dragged into an alley by Jordan’s enormous Scottish friend, where they kissed the life out of each other. And I got pissed on. Violently and inadvertently—when I leant against a wall that wasn’t there and landed on my butt in a shop doorway—but pissed on nonetheless. I would like to claim the urinator wasn’t human. I can’t claim that. Me and alcohol are not friends. The less said about it, the better.

***

Eden and Daniel looked at me in a way I should’ve recognised but didn’t. At least I didn’t smell like I’d slept in a skip anymore. I tried to remember the night before, but my head was a noisy room. My ears buzzed, some synapses died, the backs of my eyeballs got pins and needles. My stomach felt like it had been taken out and rolled in salt and vinegar. It shrivelled and spat and itched.

I was vaguely aware of shouting voices when Jed carried me into the house, but I didn’t remember the drive home. I only had snatches of memory—Jed arguing with Daniel, Jed sticking up for me, Daniel asking why the hell I smelled like piss, and did Jed know that I was only sixteen, Eden and Glenda making clucking sounds, and threatening Daniel and Jed with something unrepeatable if they didn’t keep the noise down. Not unrepeatable because it was too rude to repeat, though it could’ve been—Eden did a fine line in Shakespearian put-downs—but because I couldn’t remember the actual words. It may have involved genitals. I was pretty sure something unsavoury was peeled off my face at one point.

Maybe this was my second shot at being ordinary. I got drunk and stayed out late when I shouldn’t have gone out at all. Shouldn’t I get grounded for that? Or have my cracked phone taken away? Or my laptop? I shuffled in my chair. Apparently neither of them planned to say anything.

“I’m sorry. I drank shots. I stayed out late. I came home reeking of unholiness.”

***

Jed: How are you feeling?

I dragged my scaly tongue around my rancid, dry mouth, wishing I’d brushed my teeth before leaving the house. Magnus’ hangover cure was grim with a furry residue.

Me: Like I licked my way home.

Jed: Shit! I should’ve stopped you. I thought you just liked the taste of pavement.

Me: Funny boy. Hope Daniel didn’t give you too much grief.

Jed: Not really. Eden called me a vexatious skank-maggot. I felt kinda proud to be worthy of one of her insults.

Me: She’s Queen Shakespeare.

Jed: Grandad writes them down. What are you up to?

Me: Right now? Multi-tasking. Dying, hating myself, praying for clarity, wondering if birds have always been this loud, and exploring the feasibility of a brightness slider for the sky.

Jed: You’re not dying. Please don’t hate yourself. Clarity might just be wishful thinking. That’s what earplugs are for. And sunglasses.

Me: You can’t see me right now. Let me wallow. Clarity will be mine. Nobody likes a smartarse x2.

I rolled onto my back, feeling a bit less on the verge of death. Someone had turned the brightness down, or maybe the sun had taken pity on me.

I marvelled at the size of the sky. It felt different here. When I lived in London, there were buildings crammed in everywhere, making the sky smaller and further away. Even the parks had trees shielding the sky. People who planned cities made it that way to hole us in. There was too much freedom in the sky. It made us think of escape. But lying on my back in the north field, arms stretched out in the grass above my head, the sky reached from the tips of my fingers to the toes of my boots. I stretched my body, butt and shoulder-blades connected to the earth, to its heat, and all around me, sky. Thick, rolling waves of it. Tickling, whispering puffs of it.

Jed: I kind of want to see you right now. I want us to be proper friends. Are you busy?

Me: Yeah, picking Leia up from Heathrow. I should go actually. But I can’t get a signal indoors, so don’t think I’m ignoring you.

Jed: OK, some other time then.

Me: Sure. And thanks for being there last night.

Jed: No probs.

Me: I don’t hate you.

Jed: I know.

Big-headed arse. I hate you.

***

Picture by Prawny on Pixabay.

Moonstruck Consent: Costumes and Cascade

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Excerpt from book four of the not*the*same*river series. After Violet escapes her captors, she strives to get back to normal. Note: Leia is Violet’s best friend. Seth (and the other boys spoken about—Ezra, Ben & Archer) are her brothers. Amethyst is Violet’s twin. Sean is the man who brought her up. Cascade is an un/holy organisation protecting humanity from those seeking to destroy it. Asgaut Scarth is a two hundred year-old vaewolf.

***

“Leia, I need your help,” I said, staring at the horrific costume that Seth was currently assembling on my body.

“She’s exaggerating,” Seth bellowed.

Leia huffed. “I’ve only been back home for two days.”

“I know, and I’m sorry, but I need a costume for the party. Even if I wanted to wear this, which I don’t,” I added for Seth’s benefit, “my dad would freak out.”

“Not as much as Mum did when she found Ezra going through her underwear looking for a corset,” said Seth.

Leia laughed. “What does he want a corset for?”

“Frank … N … Furter,” said Seth.

She snorted down the phone and kept crying out, “oh god.”

Ezra put on his fiercest pout yet when Eden declared her wardrobe off-limits. He threatened to buy a corset of his own, and there was a massive argument about how going through your parents’ clothes was a rite of passage, and how Magnus’ wardrobe was too pedestrian—if pedestrians were giants—and that she wouldn’t have any objection if he was a girl, and she said he was too young regardless of gender to prance about in sexy underwear, and he accused her of not seeing how fitting it was for him to go to the party as a cross-dressing scientist. The whole thing fizzled out with lipstick bribery and Ben using diplomatic skills I didn’t know he had.

Then there’d been an argument about my hair and, for once, Amethyst was completely on my side. Seth was sitting in his empty bath while Kite perched on the edge, buzzing his hair off at the back, when Seth suggested I try to straighten mine, and my mouth was so full of what-the-hell that Amethyst jumped in on my behalf. She told us how she tried to straighten her hair a few years ago, and how everyone told her not to—like she was going to listen to a bunch of old white people. She said it looked like shredded wheat afterwards, and Sean bought her some hair clips with little birds on to put in her nest. And apparently Boxer had laughed so hard he fell off a ladder into a rain barrel and killed it. Then Sean had spent thirty-six hours trying to fix Amethyst’s hair but ended up taking her to one of Tabby’s friends to sort it out because it still looked twiglety. Nobody mentioned straightening my hair again.

“So, what do you need?” said Leia.

“Something that covers my whole butt,” I said, glaring at Seth, “and that won’t give my dad a coronary.”

“The jacket covers your whole butt,” said Seth.

“But I’m melting, and I’ve only been wearing it for five minutes. There’s no way I can keep this on all night.” I sort of liked the tattooed t-shirt and the purple glove, but … “All these chains are heavy. I feel like Mr Harvey.”

“Who’s Mr Harvey?” said Leia.

“Just … you know, never mind. Point is, I feel horrible in this, and I really need you to make me something nice, and not something that makes me look like an extra in GTA.”

“The party’s in three days, Vi, and I haven’t finished my costume yet.” She was silent for a few seconds, then said, “But I’ve still got—”

“What? Still got what?”

“You remember when I made my phoenix costume,” she said, and I could practically feel the heat of her blushes bouncing off the satellite. “And remember I was going to make you one, but you told me not to because you’d look like a black pudding in a catsuit?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly.

“Well, I ignored you and made it anyway,” she said.

“A catsuit?” said Seth, bouncing around my room. “Yes. Yes. That’s perfect.”

“I’m not going to the party dressed as a black pudding.”

“No, I have the goggles already,” he said. “They’re purple, it’s perfect. All we’ll need is the headpiece. And best of all, we’ll still match.”

I huffed. “Now say it again in words I can understand.”

“Catwoman,” he said.

“I’ll be even hotter in a catsuit,” I said.

“Yeah, you will,” said Leia, “but not in the way you mean.”

“Your man will love it,” said Seth.

I bit my lip, then against my better judgement, I said, “Sold.”

“I’ll only need to make minor adjustments, I never got around to putting the V on it anyway, and the headpiece shouldn’t take long at all. I’ll make it so you can still wear a ponytail.”

“Thanks, hobbit. You’re the best.”

“Do you know who Archer’s going as?” she said. “He won’t tell me, wouldn’t let me help with the costume, nothing.”

“Not a clue,” I said.

“He won’t tell me either,” said Seth, raising his voice so Leia could hear him from across the room. “He hinted that Violet was his primary motivation though.” He looked at me in an Alberty-x-ray way. “He wants to make you laugh. Someone with a beard, that’s all I know.” He ran his hand across his own chin. “Time to get rid of mine. It’s not really having the intended effect anyway.”

“What intended effect?” I said.

“If we’re done, I need to go,” said Leia.

“Okay, we’ll see you on Saturday.” I hung up and turned to Seth. “What intended effect?”

He chewed his nail until I batted his hand away from his mouth. “I thought it might put off a certain person.”

“The postman?” I said excitedly.

“No, not the postman,” said Seth, frowning at me like I was an idiot. “Though Archer was right about that.”

“You found out who sent the scarf?” I said, trying to pull the chains off without getting any caught in my hair.

He went red, then gathered up the chains so I had two hands to hold my hair out of the way while he slipped them off me. “Yeah, but there’s nothing to tell there, and I’d rather spare them the embarrassment, especially since they’ll probably be at the party, and I’d rather you didn’t flap your mouth.”

“Oh, oh, is it one of the Blackmores? Oh god, is it a woman like you thought? It’s not Sarah Tully, is it?”

“Please drop it,” he said. “I know you want to get back to normal, but this isn’t something I want people gossiping about, okay?”

I nodded. “Sorry. Just … yeah, you’re right. I’m trying too hard to find normal things to get excited about.”

“You’re not excited about the party on its own?”

“I’m not feeling too into people right now,” I said, shrugging off the thick purple coat. “I … haven’t told anyone this yet, but I have to make a drawing of Asgaut Scarth for Cascade.”

If he’d been drinking tea, he would’ve spat it. “Cascade came to you? And Dad let them in the house?”

“No, we were at Tabby’s, and they were subtle. I met Daniel’s sister and one of Uriel’s line and one of Lucifer’s line. They said they were there to check her security, but they didn’t all need to be there for that. And apparently, nobody has ever seen his face. Not even Albert, and he tried to kill him once.”

“Albert tried to kill him?”

“Other way round.”

“How come you saw his face?”

“You can’t tell anyone.”

When he nodded, I told him everything. With each memory revealed, he held me tighter. I let him have my tears, crying until I ran dry, and letting myself believe they’d be the last. Just like I let myself believe the nightmare was over every morning when I woke up soaked in my own sweat with leeches and needles and wolves disintegrating in the light.

***

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