“The World Is a Stage, but the Play Is Badly Cast

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

Content Warning: TORTURE

Elisha tugged a polo shirt over his head, tucked his wallet in his back jeans pocket. Paused in his bedroom doorway, peered back through the darkness at the familiar shape under the bedclothes, at the perfectly smooth brown pate poking over the top of the sheets. “Hey, doll—you asleep?” he whispered.

The silence that followed stretched on for so long that he thought the answer was yes.

But as he was turning to leave—

“What do you think?” came his husband’s drawl.

DeShay sat up slowly, switched on the bedside lamp. He slouched forward, elbows on knees, passed a hand over his scalp, blinked at Elisha with bleary eyes. “You know perfectly well I can’t get a wink of sleep when I know you’re about to be out there running around doing Lord knows what.”

Elisha sighed. “I thought we said you were gonna pick yourself up a sleeping draught from work.”

“Your bossy ass said that. I said you’d be up Shit Creek without a paddle if I did that. What if you needed a healer, Elisha, and here I am dead to the world while the phone goes ringing off the hook? Some other little friend of yours gets hurt, or you yourself, God forbid, and you’ve got nobody else you can turn to but me, ’cause you’re out there doing shit that would get a stone mask slapped on your big stubborn head if anybody found out?”

“I’d figure it out on my own, babe. I never wanted you involved in the first place.”

“Well, you better get over it, Lish, ’cause I am involved.” DeShay’s eyes glistened in the dark. “I got a good, close-up look at the kind of places you go, the kind of things you do when you leave this condo at night. I’m up to here in it.” He gestured with a flat hand, palm down, toward his chest. “And nothing you do now can change that. You walk out that door at eleven o’ clock in the P.M., like you’re getting ready to do right now, you better believe I’m gonna be sitting right here till you walk back in, staring at the damn phone like I’m sixteen years old, my name’s Sally, and I got no date to the prom yet. That’s just the way it is.”

Elisha sighed again, stood with his eyes downcast.

After a beat, paced over to the bed, clambered across it to DeShay. Planted his forehead on his husband’s shoulder.

“Don’t you go trying to be cute right now.” DeShay’s vocal chords rumbled against the top of Elisha’s head. Elisha could hear a little wobble in his husband’s voice.

“My worst regret in all this is what I’m putting you through,” mumbled Elisha.

DeShay let out a sigh through his nose. “Can you not at least talk to me about it? I wouldn’t feel half as crazy if I at least knew what the hell you were up to. Maybe I could even help.”

Elisha shook his head. “I tell you what I’m doing, that makes you complicit. Then you’re in as much legal danger as I am.”

“Would that really be so bad? It used to be me and you against the world, Lish. We used to raise hell together when we were kids. You going off like this, getting in trouble without me…it just feels wrong.”

Elisha’s shoulders rose and fell in a sigh. “Look, Shay…the shit we used to pull when we were kids? Raising hell at Rising House protests, throwing Tic Tacs at the Ordinators? Enchanting the family portrait in ol’ Dunstan Nimri’s office to sing the opera section of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on a loop? That was fun. But what’s happening now…it’s not kids’ stuff. It’s fate-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stuff. And these days, we have Lil’ Shay to worry about. Lately, Dev and I are both putting ourselves in harm’s way on a semi-regular basis. Who can Leshayva trust to always be there for her if you start doing the same?”

DeShay fixed him with a bitter stare. “Whatever,” he breathed finally, his gaze trailing away. “Just don’t go expecting me to get no damn sleep when you’re out there. Ain’t gonna happen.”

Elisha tilted his husband’s chin toward him with a hooked finger. Kissed him. “For me, babe, please try. I’ll see you in the morning.”

DeShay grunted, then reached out to clasp Elisha’s hand, just briefly, as he moved away. Elisha squeezed his fingers, turned to blow him a kiss on his way out the door.

His legs felt heavy as he started down the hallway.

The Prefect stopped short as a small figure loomed out of the darkness in front of him. “That you, pumpkin pie?” He squinted into the shadows, clutched his chest. “You scared the gee-willikers out of me. What’re you doing out of bed so late?”

His eyes adjusted, picked out the details of his daughter’s face. Her features were scrunched in a little fixed frown. “I had to go to the bathroom,” she grunted. “You going somewhere?”

“Yeah. I, uh, got called to an emergency meeting at the Enclave. Boring elder stuff.”

… WTF, old man? Couldn’t come up with a better fib than that?

“Right.” Leshayva’s frown didn’t budge. Things had been weird with her ever since the night of Elisha’s birthday party at Annwyn, when the two of them and Dad had had that awkward run-in with the Greydales. Elisha knew everything that had been going on since the attack must be weighing on his daughter’s mind, especially after she’d had Hunter’s dirty politics rubbed in her face, and in her own grandfather’s house, where, of all places, she should have been shielded from all that. For all Elisha’s efforts since that night to touch base with Leshayva, she seemed more withdrawn than ever—from him in particular. He supposed it made sense. He’d been away a lot lately, all but catatonic from exhaustion whenever he was home. And it surely wasn’t helping that his brain had been Swiss cheese since the showdown in the cathedral. Whatever had swallowed up Amelia had swallowed pieces of Elisha with her. Memories, bits of knowledge…important stuff, like Leshayva’s favorite subject in school, and how DeShay liked his eggs.

“I gotta go, pie, okay?” said Elisha, after an awkward silence. “Daddy’s still gonna be here if you need anything.”

“Why would I need anything? I’m twelve. I’ve stayed home by myself a million times.”

“I know, I know. Just sayin’.” Elisha gave a mild hands-off gesture. 

Leshayva looked him up and down a moment, then stumped toward him, awkwardly spread her arms.

“What’s this?”

“A hug. Don’t make it weird.”

“Oh. Okay. Sorry.” Elisha clasped his daughter as long and as tightly as he dared. She buried her face in his shirt, patted him hard on the back with both hands. He heard her mumble something to his chest. “What was that, hon?”

“I said have fun and be careful.” She released him. Her face was still locked in its sullen pout.

“I will, pie. Thank you so much for the hug. I really needed that.”

Shay nodded, her eyes downcast, then shuffled on toward the bathroom. Elisha looked after her with a small, bemused smile, then turned, heaved a sigh, and continued down the hall.

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Jules stepped into the familiar vestibule of Lit Sister , pushed his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose. Dug in the black bag hanging from his shoulder, slipped his new fake ID out of his wallet.

Approached the new bouncer—who was equally as large as, slightly less bald than the one Jules had parboiled—with a smile and a tilt of his head. “Hi, there. How are you.”

He handed over the card, prepared to rip the arm warmer off his left arm if he was somehow recognized. But the man only looked him up and down with a grin, hardly sparing a glance at the card. “Not too bad, hon. Come on in.”

“Thanks.” Jules kept his smile fixed in place as he stalked past the bouncer, let it dissolve the second he entered the barroom. The place looked pretty much the same as he remembered it—less busy now, since it was later in the evening and a weeknight.

He didn’t bother stopping by the bar this time. Just made straight for the mirrors.

… Halted halfway there, seeing that they’d both been removed. A pair of large cork boards on easels stood in their place.

“Fuck.” Jules glanced around once to make sure no one was watching, then continued forward. Visited each of the bulletin boards, scanned for anything posted on them that might contain some coded clue to the mirrors’ new location. If the looking-glasses were, as Draven suspected, a portal to someplace important to the Nihilites, then the Nihilites surely wouldn’t have disposed of them completely.

But at a glance, nothing jumped out at him. Discreetly, he photographed the contents of both boards with his phone for later analysis.

He glanced back then, surveyed the rest of the barroom. There were a couple of solo patrons at the bar, a few more gabbing around the jukebox, a group of young women playing a noisy game of pool in the back. Jules checked the time on his phone, slipped it back into his bag. Almost twelve-thirty. The place closed at two A.M. on weeknights. Jules supposed he’d wait till a few more people trickled out before carrying out his plan. Mirrors or no mirrors, he wasn’t leaving here tonight without some kind of breakthrough in the investigation.

The same woman was working the bar as last time. She seemed less friendly than before, which hopefully meant that she, too, was fooled by his disguise. “Stoli rocks,” said Jules simply. When his drink arrived in front of him, he discreetly laid his left palm overtop of the glass and tilted it, let a little of the liquid touch his skin. It was vodka, and ice, exactly what he’d asked for, no extra ingredients—alchemical or otherwise—added. He sipped it slowly, gingerly, mostly just chewing the ice, leaving the vodka behind.

“You come here often?” grunted a man seated a couple stools down.

Great. “No,” said Jules, without sparing him a look.

“I, uh, didn’t mean that as a come-on, believe it or not.” The man let out an odd, scraping chuckle. “Was just tryin’ to make conversation. I mean, Christ, look at me and look at you. I ain’t delusional.”

Jules stifled a sigh, shot the stranger a chilly look from behind his sunglasses. The man cut a truly strange figure, garbed as he was in a loose black suit like some kind of forties gangster, his hairless scalp and face a lumpy pudding of shiny red scars. “Never mind,” he amended, showing Jules his gloved palms. “Sorry for botherin’ ya. Just was wondering about some shit I heard went down here a few weeks ago, that’s all.”

Jules narrowed his eyes. “What kind of shit?”

The man remained silent while the rainbow-haired bartender replaced his drink, then watched her with sharp gray eyes—which Jules, scanning his pockmarked profile, glimpsed behind his mirror-lens shades—as she walked away.

It was suspicion in his gaze, Jules noticed, not admiration.

The man picked up his drink, scooted one stool closer to Jules. “Weird shit,” he said, lowering his voice. “Some kinda fight in the boys’ room. Coupla’ kids gone missing.”

Jules shook his head. “I don’t know anything about that. I’m not from around here.” He hesitated. “Kids, you say? How many?”

“Two. Guy and a girl.”

Jules flashed back to Ollie the Good Samaritan, facedown in that dark pool of his own blood. “A girl,” he echoed, wondering who that could have been, and took an actual gulp of his drink.

Wonder why this guy wants to know this stuff.

“Word to the wise,” the man went on. “You said you’re not from around here. Maybe you should find someplace else to grab a drink. This ain’t the safest spot to be hangin’ around these days, from what I been gatherin’.”

“I appreciate the concern,” said Jules, lips poised over his glass, “but I can look out for myself.”

“I’m, uh, not meanin’ to be sexist or patronizing or whatever. I’d tell you the same thing if you was a guy.”

“In that case, maybe you should take your own advice.” Jules watched the pool players as they closed out their tabs, headed for the door.

Felt the man eyeing him. “What makes you say that?”

The group from the jukebox started making their way over to the bar, digging out their wallets.

“Just a hunch.” Jules crunched another ice chip. Eyed the two groups of patrons as they straggled out of the tavern, leaving behind only himself, this overly inquisitive man, another guy dead-drunk at the far end of the bar who didn’t look like he planned on leaving anytime soon, and the establishment’s skeletal staff.

“Well.” Jules slid off his stool. Now’s as good a time as any. “Gotta make a quick trip to the girls’ room. BRB.”

His high heels clicked on the ceramic tile, a little arrhythmically thanks to his bum leg, as he made his way toward the restrooms. He stole a glance back at the scarred man, saw him hurriedly avert his gaze.

Jules slipped into the ladies’ room, locked the door after him. Checked under all the stalls, then heaved his black bag up onto the nearest sink, pulled off his sunglasses, stuffed them in it.

His alter ego stared back at him impassively from the mirror—long blond wig, pink lipstick, white sheath dress.

He peeled off the black arm warmers, exposing his tattoos, and stuffed them in the bag, then tied his wig back in a low ponytail, dug the gas mask out of the bag, and strapped it over his face.

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Elisha waited till the young blond woman had disappeared into the restrooms, then casually slid off his stool and started after her.

That one knows something.

He trailed her as far as the alcove outside the restrooms, veered into the men’s room for a quick look at the spot where the rumored magical fight had taken place. Beneath the hazy light of a glamor, a large swath of floor appeared melted—confirmation of the reported brimstone fire. There were traces of stains in the grout that might have been blood.

Elisha heard the ladies’ room door swing open; tiptoed over to wait just inside the men’s room door.

He eased the door open a crack, peered through it just in time to glimpse a dull red gleam as the blond woman passed by.

She stopped, peeked around an outcropping of wall into the barroom proper. Her hair was pulled back now, baring her long neck. She was wearing some kind of mask over the lower half of her face; her long, pale left arm listed behind her back, revealing the source of the gleam:

A crimson web of alchemical arrays.

That’s no “she,” thought Elisha. What the fuck.

Jules Nimri vanished around the corner into the barroom.

Elisha darted silently from the men’s room, nabbed the lookout spot the alchemist had just vacated, peered around around the outcropping of wall after him.

Jules was moving with quick strides toward the front entrance, stealing furtive glances over his shoulder at the barroom’s few remaining occupants. “Juicebox” by the Strokes had just started blasting from the jukebox, more than loudly enough to drown out the sound of his steps.

He disappeared into the vestibule.

Seconds later, the bouncer rolled half into view, unconscious. Puffs of violet cloud billowed out of the archway.

The alchemist reappeared, peeking around the doorway across the barroom.

Elisha ducked back out of sight, then peered out again a few seconds later. Jules had discarded his high-heeled boots and was tiptoeing in black stocking feet, his bad leg lagging ever so slightly, across the room, while the bartender’s back was turned.

He dove out of sight behind the bar, then popped up seconds later behind the lone remaining patron; cupped his left hand over the man’s mouth, tracing out a pattern on his tattoos.

Violet gas flowed from under his hand. The patron’s eyes rolled back in his head. He slumped forward onto the bar, looking like he could have passed out drunk.

Kiddo—what the living fuck are you up to?

Elisha eased Buffy from her holster, left the safety on. Continued to watch as Jules sneaked behind the bar, crept up behind the bartender, gassed her like he had the drunk patron, and lowered her unconscious form gently, silently to the floor.

Elisha ventured out, followed at a distance as Jules continued into the kitchen. The Prefect was careful to hold his breath as he passed through lingering purple clouds.

After stepping over a lone, passed-out staffer in the kitchen, Elisha finally caught up with his quarry in the little cramped office at the end of the hall, where he found him standing behind a man slumped witless in the tattered desk chair.

“Hands in the air. Keep ’em apart,” said Elisha in his Caliban growl, as he stepped into the office, firearm pointed, to all appearances, at Jules—though in fact his aim was slightly, deliberately off.

Jules’s left arm snapped up, right fingers poised over his glowing tattoos. Without the giant sunglasses he’d been wearing at the bar, he was recognizable by his eyes alone—those familiar large, humorless black pools—even with the gas mask, the blond bangs, the eyeliner. “Put down the gun,” he warned, his voice muffled by the mask.

“You ain’t no girl. Are ya? You’re that kid everybody’s been talkin’ about. The alchemist.”

Jules fixed Elisha with a stare. “If you know who I am, then you know it’s in your best interest to put your weapon down.”

Elisha would have liked nothing better than to do just that. But he had to keep up his act—and he also had to factor in the possibility, however slim, that Jules wasn’t as trustworthy as he wanted to believe. “I’m betting I can pull my trigger faster than you can tap out a tune on those tats. And I’m a damn good shot. At this range, I won’t miss. Tell you what—you put down your weapon, I’ll put down mine.”

“Not every scary thing I can do requires a ‘tune.’ All some of them need is a single note.” Jules’s arm remained firmly outstretched. “Tell me who you are, who sent you, and why you’re here.”

“Name’s Caliban. And who I’m working for is none a’ your goddamn business. But since I happen to know you’re a Martial Magus, I’d hazard a guess we’re here for the same reason.”

“Which is?”

“Investigating the May 14th attack.”

Jules lowered his arm slowly, his tattoos fading. Hooked a finger through the strap of his gas mask, brought it down to rest around his neck. “The May 14th attack?”

Elisha lowered Buffy, raised an eyebrow. “That not why you’re here?”

“I’m investigating an incident of apostasy, kidnapping, torture, and attempted murder. Unrelated.”

“Huh. Maybe not so unrelated, seeing as how both of us’ve ended up here.”

“Yeah…maybe not.” Jules eyed him. “But you’re not working for the Auctoritas Magicae?”

“Once again—all due respect, Philosopher—not your business. Let’s just say the people I work for are interested in seeing justice done.”

This could be a stroke of luck. We team up, I can keep an eye on him, try to keep him from getting into too much trouble. Then he can report whatever we find through official channels. Keeps me from having to figure out how to go public without bringing Elisha Weyland and Duncan Harper into the equation.

“If you have a common purpose with the Auctoritas Magicae,” said Jules, “then why haven’t you teamed up with them? Arranged to share resources and intel?”

“Let’s just say they might not care for my investigative methods. What about you? Master-General really send a rookie like you out on a case like this alone?”

Elisha could practically see Jules running calculations in his head, selecting the words of his response. “I’m the independent type,” he said, with a suggestive quirk of his brow.

Inwardly, Elisha frowned. “In other words, A.M. might not care for your methods, either?” He forced a conspiratorial chuckle.

Jules’s silence seemed as good as an affirmative.

What the hell, kiddo? I thought you were straight as an arrow. Not that I’m one to talk, but…fuck.

“Well,” Elisha went on, “might be me and you could help each other out, yeah? At least swap stories?”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

Elisha gave a coarse laugh. “You’re as smart as they say you are, you won’t. Just watch me like a hawk and take everything I say with a grain of salt. And don’t tell me anything that might compromise you. That’s my policy, anyway.”

Jules narrowed his eyes. “Fair enough.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Jules sat in the stiff, high-backed desk chair in the office at Lit Sister, his bare tattooed left arm resting suggestively next to his discarded wig on the table in front of him.

He observed the scarred bald man who occupied the seat across from him. He’d told this gun-toting character everything…almost. Not about Draven and the Book of Cipher. Not about his personal relationship with Max. And as little about Rory’s involvement as he could get away with. A friend came to me had been about the long and short of it.

Caliban, in turn, had vaguely outlined an apostate plot to frame Duncan Harper and the Hermetic Order of Khmun for the May 14th attack. He’d spoken, in his gravelly voice, of a woman named Amelia who had sacrificed herself in an act of great magical destruction, and a masked man called the Patient Father who had said the “Mother of Abominations” had “claimed a vessel in this world” and was coming to “devour the blighted fruit of her womb.”

The Nihility gave rise to this world…the Nihility can end it, Draven’s voice echoed in Jules’s mind. It hungers to devour this plane.

“If everything you say is true,” said Jules, after taking time to digest the stranger’s words, “then it looks like these apostates believe a unified Auctoritas Magicae is capable of thwarting their apocalyptic plan. So they set up the May 14th attack to exploit the Alliance’s weaknesses…divide and conquer.”

Caliban grunted agreement. “And from what I hear, that Lockwood brat swallowed the bait whole. Guess you might know a thing or two about that.”

Jules and Hunter’s betrothal had been the stuff of society pages throughout the Western magic world. Now, their facing off in an ugly magisterial campaign, after the former bride-to-be had transitioned to male and leapfrogged the once-groom-to-be’s career, was making headlines almost daily. Much as Jules would have liked to think otherwise, it made sense that even a man like Caliban might be aware of their history. “Yep,” he said simply. “Walking right into their trap.”

“You don’t reckon he’s in on it?”

Jules’s eyes snapped up to meet Caliban’s, which at the moment were just-visible over the frames of his mirror-lens shades. They were points of chromium clarity in an otherwise incoherent face…somehow unnervingly familiar. “Hunter?” Jules considered the question. “No. I really don’t think so. These people sound like they believe in something, fucked up as that something might be. Hunter doesn’t believe in anything except Hunter.”

Caliban nodded understanding. “Well. You prove to everybody these apostates did the dirty deed and not Khmun, that oughtta knock the little carnival barker off his stump.”

“That’s the idea. And it starts with searching this place top to bottom.” Jules rose from his seat, dug his rolled-up trench coat out of his black bag, shrugged it on. Got to work rifling through drawers and file cabinets. “Then I’ll have to see what I can get out of them.”

Caliban’s eyes followed the tilt of Jules’s head, to the trio of unconscious prisoners in Enforcement-issue dampening cuffs who sat propped against the far wall. Jules’s analysis had revealed that the dishwasher and the drunk patron lacked mana seals, which meant they were mundanes and almost certainly uninvolved. By mutual agreement, he and Caliban had put them in cabs with instructions for the drivers to take them to the residences listed on their IDs.

“How long till they come to?” Caliban asked.

“Pretty much anytime now.” Jules peered into an accordion file he’d found in a file cabinet drawer. Most of the folders he’d gone through looked fairly new, but their contents, pages on pages of seemingly mundane requisition orders, were visibly aged and dated to the 1980s. These should have been thrown out years ago…not kept and refiled. Could mean something.

He stuffed them in the black bag.

“At which point we can get some fuckin’ answers,” Caliban was saying.

“That’s the idea. I’ll handle the questioning. You stand watch.”

“Nah. Reverse that.” Caliban made a little one-handed gesture, switching his gloved index and middle fingers.

Jules surveyed his dubious new ally. “Why?”

Caliban stood, cracked his knuckles. “I’m good at gettin’ stuff out of people. And you, from what I hear, are better at settin’ stuff on fire.”

Jules eyed the mercenary. “Is this where those ‘investigative methods’ of yours come into play?”

“The less you know about my methods, kid, the better.”

Jules’s stomach did a little flip. He hadn’t been looking forward to the job of extracting information from the prisoners, so he was certainly tempted to leave that dirty work to someone else. But at the same time he felt uneasy washing his hands of whatever this merc planned to do to the human beings he’d captured. Not to mention he didn’t necessarily trust Caliban to relay his findings faithfully.

“You can handle the interrogations,” he relented, after some deliberation. “But I’m not going anywhere. I’ll keep watch from right outside that door.”

Caliban eyed him with obvious displeasure. “Do what you want,” he grunted, showing his gloved palms. “But don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

Jules studied the merc a moment, then went out in the hall. Settled pretzel-legged on the floor; glanced back, saw Caliban drag the squeaky-wheeled office chair around the desk and park it squarely in front of the prisoners.

The merc proceeded to seat himself in the chair, arms folded over his chest; commenced an expectant watch over the captives, probably waiting for the first of them to wake.

Jules sighed, faced forward, laid his palm flat on the ceramic tile. He closed his eyes; expanded his awareness into the mana veins that streamed throughout the building. Filtered his perception, tuned it to any vibrations in the floors that might signal the approach of unwelcome guests.

He processed what transpired in the office over the next half-hour as if from a far-off distance: Caliban coaxing, cajoling the prisoners by turns as they each awoke. Gradually escalating his persuasive efforts into threats—bellowing, breaking things; demanding to know where Monique and Andrew Harper were being held, who and where the Patient Father was, further details of the apostates’ plot. The captives, through it all, remained intractable. Their stoicism was chilling.

“All right,” sighed Caliban, after yet another stretch of recalcitrant silence. “Guess we’re doin’ this the hard way.” He cracked his knuckles. “Who wants to be first?”

“The end of suffering comes only by suffering,” intoned the manager Jules had found sitting at the desk, with a tranquil smile in his voice. “Whatever tortures you have planned for us, we’ll welcome them, and with thanks to you for helping us toward our ascension.”

Caliban gave a short, harsh chuckle. Jules thought he heard a note of regret. “Oh, dear,” said the merc, with less gravel than usual in his voice. “You just don’t understand.”

Jules inhaled. Exhaled.

Turned his head to watch. If he was going to let this happen and benefit from it, he reckoned he should do it with open eyes.

Caliban squatted over the man, wrenched his head back by the hair, whipped off the mirror-lens shades. Jules couldn’t see the merc’s eyes from this vantage point, but he saw the look of cold terror in the Nihilite’s—before they flooded with clouds of inky black.

Cogimancy. Jules felt a thrill of horror—and hope. We’ll get the truth after all…

He forbade himself to avert his gaze as the man convulsed, snorted, foamed at the mouth. The other Nihilites sat perfectly still, eyes closed, as if in inhibitory gnosis—but on closer inspection the bouncer’s eyes were winched shut a little too tight, the bartender’s lower lip quivering.

Jules’s heart pounded. His stomach churned. For one timeless moment, he had a sense of himself pulling apart inside, of two Juleses lurching violently in opposite directions: one, a younger version of himself, screaming, begging him to stop Caliban by any means possible; the other, if it meant getting what he needed to save Max, prepared to murder the three apostates with his own bare hands.

A dark stain spread over the crotch of the manager’s jeans. A dribble of blood oozed from his nose onto his upper lip. The stench of shit walloped Jules in the face, so noxious he gagged.

He finally let himself wrench his gaze away. Closed his eyes, tried to resume his watch—but couldn’t focus his inner eye.

Took a few slow, deep breaths. Tried in vain to tune out the man’s shrieks and sobs.

Finally, Jules managed to extend his awareness through the building’s mana veins once more—

—and a thrill of terror gripped him.

“Caliban!” He jumped to his feet. “They’re—”

A bolt of what felt like fire struck him below his left collar bone. A howl of pain scorched his throat.

Through clouded eyes, Jules spied a hooded figure in the kitchen doorway at the end of the hall, gripping a discharged athame.

A handful of others stood at the newcomer’s back. There were four at least—maybe more.

Dumbass. Jules’s pain jolted him into excitatory gnosis. He hissed as he raised his left arm. You spent your charge. Your friends are bottle-necked. I’ll drop you all in one shot.

But then the daemon’s voice came thundering into his skull, and Jules’s gnosis shattered.


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