Nightmare Plague – Chapter 5

The city was a mess, literally. Nobody had the resources to clean the garbage riots left on the streets. Not to mention the dozens burnt cars. Fear did horrible things to people. As I passed a torched bus lying by the sidewalk, I called my mother. The phone rang a dozen times before the voicemail answered. I tried two more times and sent her a message, though I doubted I’d receive a different treatment than silence.

That wasn’t great, but I couldn’t afford to loiter with thoughts. I refocused my mind on the task at hand and headed to the Dewin Institute.

As I limped down the concrete staircase, the future became clear. And so I stepped before the entry door, smiling at the tablet strapped at the eye level. They were bound to be unhappy to see me, but I needed to straighten the record because I intended to keep living in New York.

The black screen flashed, and the mahogany-haired woman appeared within. Her oval face twisted with disbelief as her eyes widened. After staring at me for long seconds, she stuttered. “You’re joking, right?”

I wasn’t. “Look, we need to clear this up, and I still need access to the library, so—”

An invisible force grabbed me, cutting my sentence short. The power squeezed me like a giant’s fist would squeeze a leprechaun.  I could barely breathe, much less talk, so I focused on the former. Darkness robbed me of vision, and my ears became deaf. I gave whatever spell they used ten out of ten as I didn’t notice it being used on me before I could no longer dodge. My brain, the asshole, instantly imagined them burying me alive as a revenge for the killed mage. The image of the mages locking me in a coffin that they sealed beneath the Institute’s floor wasn’t pretty.

The blinding and deafening spells faded and I saw myself in a barren, steel room. Not a buried coffin, good. The invisible fist still held me while no exit presented itself to my eyes.

A mage stood before me. He wore a latest-fashion, black business suit, white shirt, sharp-red tie, and had the sides of his head shaved with the top gelled backward. I would be damned if he had never been a successful fashion model. The second I saw him, I knew him to be the person who initiated the renaming of the Mage Guild into the Dewin Institute.

The beating Mina gave me earlier left me no strength to resist. My back was a purple, swollen mold of pain, and the rest of my body didn’t feel much better.

I glanced at the mage, who was still studying me, eyes shining with an inner light. He stood three feet before me and traced one arcane symbol into the air after another.

Ten more minutes of them examining me with spells apparently brought nothing.

The wall opposite of me opened, and Katherine entered, wearing her usual dark green outfit and a scowl on her face. She measured me with a cold glare and stepped next to the mage. “What do you have, Galen?”

“No traces of magic other than his,” he said and waved his hand, releasing the part of the spell that held my mouth shut.

I took a few deep breaths and waited for them to speak. I didn’t know if Katherine told him she knew me or not and had no desire to further anger her by running my mouth.

He pierced me with his gaze, and I felt his aether entering my body, making all of my being tingle. “How did you do it?”

That wasn’t what I expected. “Do what?”

“Don’t bother playing stupid,” he snapped. “How did you get the murderer into our institute?”

They apparently found out I was indeed in the library when Jonathan was murdered, but they had no clue to lead them to Vivian. Well, except for me, and so they figured I helped her to get inside the Dewin Institute. Oh, how I wished I had enough power to pull off something like that. But it felt smarter not to throw my lack of abilities into their faces.

Also, they must have had both magical and mundane security. Vivian bypassed everything. I knew aether based detection didn’t work on her since I couldn’t see her with my magical sight. Apparently, she couldn’t be seen by a camera either. After all, her phone had a very special camera. That was because a regular camera wouldn’t be able to picture her, would it? Not to mention, I couldn’t even see her in a reflection. “I didn’t need to.”

“Nonsense.” Galen didn’t allow much to show on his face. That someone murdered a mage in the middle of their institute without any traces should have been enough to terrify him and all the other mages. “There is no way someone got in and out of our institute without internal help.”

“Let him say his version,” Katherine said, “maybe he wants to tell us something.” She looked up at me. “Don’t you?”

Oh, no, I didn’t. Yet I also needed the library access. “The man died because I told him more than I should had. I can’t tell you anything, or you will share his fate.”

“That’s a bit unfortunate,” Katherine said. “Because that makes you an accomplice to the murder.”

Right, that. I didn’t like how spot-on that was. “Getting a scapegoat doesn’t exactly solve the problem though, does it?”

“You know well that laws don’t care about that.”

Err, yes, I did.  And Katherine looked ready to send me to prison. Which meant I needed the mage to help me. By the name, he was the leader of the Dewin Institute. I looked at him. “From how I understand the recent development, you are getting stomped to the ground by Lucielle. I’m working on a case for her, so I cannot outwardly betray her, but I’m still a private investigator and thus can help you get back on her.”

If he noticed the implicit threat, he didn’t show. “How and why?”

“The nightmare plague is tearing the city apart, including your guild. If I end the nightmares, it should help you focus on Lucielle.”

Galen released a sarcastic laugh. “And how do you plan to do that?”

I finally succeeded in steadying my voice. “If I told you that, you could get rid of me, couldn’t you?”

“Sounds like you’ve got nothing now,” Katherine said.

Correct, but the key to lying was to never stop. “How about you give me three months? If I end the nightmares, you let me go. If I don’t, I’ll be your scapegoat.”

“No,” Galen said in the way that allowed little discussion. “I give you three weeks, Mr. Johnson.” He motioned at Katherine. “Paladin O’Connor will help you coordinate your efforts with the Church’s. If you succeed, my guild will not press charges. Otherwise, you will get a first-hand experience of the hospitality of Tul Sar Naar.”

My mouth dried up. Tul Sar Naar was the prison for everything magical. Nothing ever escaped from there. In fact, the Hand of God was so confident in its prison they said whoever would manage to escape would be pardoned of all committed crimes. The legend had it one person made it out of prison but died minutes afterward.

Also, his instantaneous agreement meant they were ten times more desperate than I thought. That the first victim of the nightmares was the Institute’s former grandmaster wasn’t a coincidence, was it? Still, three weeks weren’t nearly enough time for how I saw things unfolding in my mind. But I didn’t think I could bargain more out of this and, in a twisted sense, he now protected me from Katherine. And she looked as if she wanted to incinerate me on the spot. “I accept.”

The mage let go of me. I managed to remain standing after the sudden fall. He spun on his heel and left through a gap that opened in the wall.

Katherine’s eyes were narrowed, mouth tight. She motioned me to follow her. We left the barren room but stopped in the hallway between two doors. There, she glowered at me. “What are you doing?”

“Solving the nightmare plague.” I put on a bitter smile. “Look, Katherine, I know it’s unpleasant that I suddenly keep secrets from you, but we can still work together on this.”

She did not smile. “You know a lot more than you say, don’t you now?”

I stretched my neck and arms to get some blood into my limbs. “I do. And I need access to information from the higher tiers of the Veil.”

“I should arrest you for the dead mage.” Katherine sighed. “But I can do that after the nightmare plague is solved. Fine, I’ll grant you the access.”

We left the room and headed to the library. The life in the Dewin Institute flowed as it did the last time I visited as if no murder ever happened. Yet an aura of unease hung in the air, like a cloud of bad mood floating under the ceiling. The conversations were a bit too silent, the smiles a notch too fake, and eyes cautious more than anything else.

Katherine led me to the library, where once at the computer, she entered a login to let me into the second tier of the Veil.


I spent the entire day digging through the Dewin Institute’s data. The first thing I learned was that this tier of secrecy was a lot larger than the previous one with three times as many entries in the index. I didn’t dare to search for Vivian, Mina, or Lucielle.

As the second thing, I dug up info on the crystals Evelyn and Amarendra were taking from the Void. Apparently, the gods of old times were mortals who somehow channeled aether directly from the Void. The power granted them thousands of years of lifespan and abilities others could only view as a result of divinity.

Yet after their death, their souls passed into the Void, and the crystals were containers of the souls, called soul crystals. The mechanics of how a soul turned into a crystal and why were unexplained. But what I needed was that the crystals were containers of powerful aether that was dangerous.

This was the common theme of Veil’s second layer. The first layer essentially said ‘magic exists, and some people can do it.’ The second level was, ‘people can do really dangerous things with magic.’

I understood why. If someone from the non-magical public found about the first layer, it wouldn’t be much impactful. Sure, people would shit bricks and write up conspiracy theories, but those would end with disappointment, and most of the Veil would live on.

The second layer, on the other hand, contained stuff like the Titanic being sunk by an angry witch over her husband cheating on her. Or that The Great Fire of 1910 was a side effect of a duel between two mages. If this information spilled into the public, it would cause panic, and a demand for answers and further regulations, which was the last thing the Secret Societies wanted. Mages hated the idea of non-mages telling them what they could or couldn’t do.

What disappointed me in the second layer was the lack of other races. Where were the elves? Or fairies, or something, anything that could explain Vivian? Because if I ever pissed off Lucielle, she would send Vivian to make me an unwilling organ donor. In such a case, I would need a way to defend myself from her.

Now, I needed to get to some nightmare-created corpses to see if I couldn’t discover something with my magical sight. The thing with the nightmares was that the mechanics of how they actually killed the person were unexplained. That meant there was nothing common doctors could find. Hence they attributed the deaths to extreme exhaustion. Sure, my main task was to hunt down Evelyn, but Katherine looked ready to throw me into Tul Sar Naar for the dead mage, so I needed to do something on that front as well.

I called Katherine.

She picked up after two rings. “Tell me you’ve got good news.”

“Wish I did. I need a one-time access to the facility where the Dewin Institute is trying to heal the people with nightmares. They have one, right?”

A few seconds of awkward silence passed. And then Katherine said, “Fine, I’ll pick you up in the library soon.”

Katherine met in the library half an hour later and motioned me to follow her. Since protocol forbade me to know the Dewin Institute’s secret hospital’s location, I had to go blind with my ears stuffed. To be dragged around without hearing and seeing anything didn’t particularly please me. Okay, it was beyond annoying since I had no indication of time and because my imagination decided to feed me more images of the mages burying me alive. Why would my mind think about that? I spent the entire journey breathing shallowly with cold sweat covering my body. I expected myself to get used to it before we got there, but that didn’t happen.

If they were taking me to ritual sacrifice, everything would be the same. I went through an elevator, was put into a car with comfortable seats, was led for about three hundred feet, and then traveled with another lift, this time downward.

When they removed the blindfold, I stood in a pristine, white hallway. The floor was flat, but the rest circular. What wasn’t covered with plaster was made of steel. No windows were on the walls, and a round door with a control panel stood in front of us. Katherine flanked my side, finishing her half-face gas mask from her left pocket. Another underground complex, great. Then again, where else than underground were they supposed to build secret facilities?

Sure, they could build them in the countryside, but no mage would do so. They loved themselves too much for that, and I was certain all their facilities were in Manhattan. New York was the world’s capital of capitalism and, judging by the fancy decorations, the Dewin Institute sure wasn’t missing on that part.

I waited for Katherine to put on the gas mask. Afterward, she slipped on thick leather gloves and buttoned up her coat to cover herself as much as she could.

“Don’t like hospitals?” I asked.

“I hate nothing more.” The mask distorted her voice, making her sound harsher. She jabbed a code into the panel by the door, fast but not quick enough for me to not see and remember the numbers.

The door slid open. Beyond lay similar hallways, but these were full of people. They wore medical clothes, masks, gloves, and boots as they skittered around. This place looked like the most typical sci-fi hospital one would see in movies.

Katherine led me through. The personnel greeted her with nods or words while they all ignored me if they could. The atmosphere was every bit as grim as in the Institute itself. Katherine kept frowning, often twitching as trying to shake something off her.

I lowered my cowboy hat deeper into my face and enjoyed the discomfort it caused. Private investigators were supposed to make people uncomfortable, after all. At least they did that in all the movies and serials I watched to get an idea of what being a private investigator was like.

As the hallways passed, I could glimpse rooms. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people lay in this facility. Okay, the Institute wasn’t just a bunch of fashion models and senile mages, because running a secret facility of this size had to require insane logistic skills.

I leaned closer to Katherine. “Does this place heal other people than Institute’s members?”

She shook her head and led me to a closed, glass door of a room where three people sat in chairs. She stopped in front of the door, motioning me inside. “The one the left had the first nightmare last night. The one in the middle is four days in, and the last one is on her eighth day.”

I measured the two women and one man. All were pale, and looking into nowhere, apparently sedated not to panic. I pushed aether into my eyes and the world’s colors inverted.

Katherine overflowed with green aether, but despite having formed her strongest shields, she spilled only a tiny amount, like drops from a faucet.

The woman after the first nightmare leaked aether like a broken dam, staining the ground around her in yellow. The man in the middle also oozed aether in a stream of blue color. Last, the woman in the eighth day, she dripped aether in a barely visible amount while her body was almost devoid of the arcane energy.

You die if it runs out. That was what Mina said about aether, and I had no reason not to believe her. A theory formed in my mind. I withdrew aether from my eyes and smiled at Katherine. “I got what I needed here. Could we see a fresh corpse of someone who had the nightmares?”

Her eyes narrowed into slits, and her lips pursed. “You lied to me.”

Yes, but… “About?”

“When you told me you could see aether, you forgot to mention you could tell apart aether of different people.”

“You never asked me about that.” I scratched the back of my neck. “Plus, what’s the big deal?”

“Seeing hints of aether is sort of normal among mages. But telling apart different people’s aether and amounts is an advanced aether manifestation. And you aren’t supposed to be able to use that without an incantation or any gesture.” She measured me, looking differently than ever before. “But you do this all the time, don’t you? Without being bothered the tiniest bit bothered about aether consumption.”

Was she finally going to tell me something? No, it couldn’t be. “Okay, so what are the implications?”

“That I need to test you. Come with me now.”

I followed her into a small maintenance room. Neatly arranged boxes containing medical supplies were piled in shelves, and a fan spun slowly beneath the ceiling

When she closed the door, she asked, “Have you ever molded aether outside your body?”


She stretched out her hand, palm up. “Put your hand like this, bend the fingers and try to make a globe out of aether in the palm.”

That was how Evelyn’s darkness-snake spell started. I tried to imitate how I remembered Evelyn moving aether through her body. At first, I managed to gather the energy in my palm. But forming an orb was difficult because the power always fell apart. And so I made the aether spin. Within about five more minutes, I produced a rotating sphere of aether in my palm, which looked like a small globe of rotating wind for regular sight.

I raised my eyes at Katherine. Above the gas mask, she wore a deep scowl, jade eyes shining with an inner light.

“What’s wrong?”

“You aren’t supposed to be able to do this.” Her voice was somewhat unstable, perhaps a touch weak.

What the hell happened? I stared at her, my expression blank.

“When did you discover you could use magic?”

I shrugged. “When I was four, I guess? All I could do until half a year ago was the aether sight though.” Okay, I could have probably done more but never learned how until I saw how she used aether and I could thus start copying her. When I thought about the past, at the start, I couldn’t keep up my aether sight for more than ten seconds. But as I kept trying, I got to the point where I could have it on borderline indefinitely. “My aether reserve is rather large, isn’t it?”

“Something like that.” She straightened her back and raised her chin. “Anyway, enough slacking. We need to get back to work.”

Vivian could tell, right? She brought me into this job because I had the potential to succeed. But why bother telling me, right? As I lost focus on the sphere of rotating aether in my hand, the energy blasted upward.

The spell hit the ceiling, shattering the fan into steel splinters, digging through the steel plates and making a ten-foot tall tunnel into the dirt above. The entire room shook, and the boxes on the sides fell, syringes and scalpels scattering over the ground.

Katherine gave me the you are an idiot look, and my face turned red.

With wide eyes, I stared at the destruction I caused. “Did you test my ability to use aether by making me do a lethal attack spell without telling me?”

She shook her head. “This was a talent test. Creating a stable sphere of aether outside one’s body is borderline impossible. To make it spin is one of the two workarounds, which should’ve been completely outside of your capabilities. Your parents are mages, aren’t they?”

“No…” I paused. My mother for sure wasn’t, but what did I really know about my father? He taught me to shoot guns straight after I learned how to walk, and then he abandoned us. “Perhaps one.” And since I was hyperactive as a kid, he taught me breathing exercises to calm me down. Those were aether reserve building drills, weren’t they?

“Well, be careful what you use the power for,” Katherine whispered and headed to the door. “And in whose name.”

“Two more things,” I said, stepping to the door to block it. Katherine was never this willing to talk and hell, I needed some answers. “I heard a spell, Ius iurandum. What precisely does that do?”

She arched an eyebrow. “That’s the solemn oath, which is where I solemnly swear comes from. Technically speaking, it’s a traditional witch spell that binds the target to whatever promise he made. If you break that promise, you die.”

“Okay.” I gulped. When Evelyn put the spell on me, I didn’t believe her. But this sounded like something I couldn’t ignore. “Is there a way to break it?”

“No. The spell binds your soul chamber, which is where your soul resides and the spell destroys it if interfered with.”

Well, mistakes were made. “Okay, the second thing, could someone be causing the nightmare plague with a spell?”

Katherine hesitated for a long moment. Yes, we were partners, but due to my dealing with Lucielle, we also weren’t. But in the end, she apparently decided that saving the city was more critical than Secret Societies’ politics. “The largest spell recorded were the ten plagues of Egypt, which were comparable in size but were still instantaneous in nature. To maintain such a long-persisting effect, one would need to do a daily ritual.”

“Could this ritual be automated, like through an artifact or a device?”

“That’s not how artifacts work, but a device…” her voice trailed off for a moment as her brain apparently ran at top speed. “Yes, possibly, someone could feed the machine enough aether to never stop.”

I knew the answer to the next question but wanted it confirmed. “Like with soul crystals taken from the Void?”

“Yes… actually, those would be perfect.”

Evelyn’s crystal-gathering was consistent with her causing the nightmares. All right.

I opened the door and let Katherine through. After we passed a set of circular doors, we reached a rectangular chamber. Again, she didn’t walk inside but motioned me to go by myself. Cold blew into my body the moment the door opened. I stepped onto a small platform at the edge of a pit. The room temperature must have been far below zero, which made my teeth clatter and face stiffen. At the bottom of the pit lay hundreds of corpses.

I pushed aether into my eyes. The pit lay empty of aether, without a single drop of color. The nightmares were draining aether, weren’t they? With that, if a device caused the nightmares, that machine could fuel itself with the drained aether, thus not requiring maintenance. Before I turned to leave, my stomach gave out. I bent over, caught my knees, and released my breakfast. Afterward, I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and returned to the hallway. “What the hell is that?”

“We pile the bodies here ever since we ran out of space in morgues,” Katherine said, expression stern. “We tell the relatives the bodies were cremated and give them ash after they bid their farewell. We keep corpses for study and experiments. Only after that, we give them a proper burial.”

We were done here. On the way back, Katherine popped into a maintenance room and came back with two cans of disinfectant spray. Once we left through the main door and stood in front of the elevator, Katherine shook the cans and sprayed the disinfectant on herself. She didn’t miss a single square inch of her clothes and head. Afterward, Katherine dropped the cans and gave me a blindfold. Once I put that on, she deafened me with special headsets.

She released me outside the Columbia University grounds. “I need to handle something. Can you promise me you won’t get into any more trouble?”

“I’ll try.” I smiled, but not convincingly.

She sighed and headed toward the Low Memorial Library.

I spun on my heel and went to check a regular hospital.


The New York Presbyterian Hospital lay in utter chaos. People swarmed everywhere, shouting they had nightmares, were dying, and needed help. Police, the CDC, and the National Guard moved around, trying to maintain an illusion of order while pushing away the rioting crowd. They had no hope to succeed, which worked for me. The hospital couldn’t fit in a quarter of the people who wanted to get there.

I walked by the massive building until I found a door market AUTHORIZED ACCESS ONLY. I felt authorized, but the door was locked, so I stood by the side and waited.

Within fifteen minutes, the door opened, and three men in blue cloth of the hospital’s maintenance staff exited the door. They reached into their pockets for cigarettes and walked to an ashtray standing nearby. I caught the wing and slid inside, almost bumping into a woman.

“You aren’t supposed to be here,” she shouted the second after the door closed behind me. She was small, stocky, wore maintenance crew clothes and dark hair tied into a bun. Bags hung beneath her eyes, suggesting she worked way more than standard hours.

I granted her a calm smile and flashed my Private Investigator badge. “Detective Johnson. I’m here investigating the nightmares and need access to the hospital morgue.”

She eyed the badge suspiciously. “Lots of people are going around investigating.”

“Lots of people are dying and need help.”

She sighed. My false-confident demeanor apparently worked, and she motioned me to follow her instead of studying the badge in detail. We exchanged random chit-chat before we reached the morgue. The hospital staff worked almost around the clock, trying more to calm down the panic than to solve anything. Tens of thousands of people came with nightmares, terrified of death awaiting some of them.

Most survived since they had regular nightmares instead of the killer ones, but the few real cases were enough to maintain the panic. Okay, hundreds to low thousands weren’t few.

Bodies filled the morgue. As we entered, I ignored what the woman was saying and fuelled aether into my eyes. Most corpses contained residual aether, except for two. I brushed past the woman and read the name tags hanging from the toes of two corpses that clearly died from the nightmares.

John Williams and Antonio Jones. I had what I needed. “Thanks,” I uttered, avoided two men who were bringing four new bodies, and turned toward the hallway. While I ignored all around me, I left the building through the door that I used to enter.

Outside, I called Katherine. The second she picked up, I said, “Howdy. I know you cannot give me the list of Institute’s members, but could you verify if men named John Williams and Antonio Jones, recently deceased, were mages?”

“Since when do you think you can boss me around?”

I gulped. Yeah, that. “Sorry, I got carried away. Could you please do that?”

“Better. I knew them both,” she said in a low tone. “So, yes, they were.”

“All right, thanks.” I hung up. While I would never have definitive proof, the nightmare plague apparently killed, if not exclusively, then mostly people with developed aether. While aether affinity could be found in one out of ten thousand people, the concentration would likely be much higher in a big city since mages and witches converged there. And this was why the Institute cooperated with me so readily, helping me with Katherine. They were terrified because the nightmares were aimed at them.

An overly full bus took me to the location of the next beacon. Like hell would I involve my car in this. By the brightness of the aether, I deemed the place needed a day before becoming ready for a portal. Meh, so much for getting things done today.

I returned home, pleased to find a phone in my mailbox. Old, non-smart, unbranded, and with one number saved inside. I texted the number, which was bound to be Katherine’s, ‘Sorry for being an ass and thanks for today… and yesterday.’ Why was this so much easier over the phone?

A reply came within an instant. ‘Apology accepted.’

I smiled and headed to my flat. Inside awaited a mixture of pleasure and pain. Mina was finishing cooking a dinner, which was great. But the new cane tucked behind her belt like a sword wasn’t good news.


I never quite understood the beaten like a dog phrase until the next set of workouts with Mina. Since I found no excuse of why I couldn’t spend the entire next day either working out or being passed out, that was precisely what happened.

When Mina finally had to leave to do… whatever she did, I crawled to my laptop.

Offline was the status next to my sister’s name on every messenger, so I went the traditional route and sent her an email to ask how was the treatment going. The pictures on Amber’s Facebook page didn’t have anything new though. That sank my heart. The money I sent our mother should have been more than enough to start one, so I hoped for some good news from this direction. Then again, perhaps she was too busy with the treatment to update her Facebook.

Yeah, definitely that.

The calls I made to reach my mother all went into voicemail, again. She must have been too busy taking Amber to the treatment while working two jobs. That made sense, so I focused my mind on the case.

The next day, we had a portal location to camp by for the night, so Mina took it easier. After the morning workout, I slid away with the excuse that I had to check on something.

The first thing that stopped me was the billboard towering on the other side of the road, straight in front of my house. On it was a large picture of Lucielle, holding a vial with the text saying that if you’ve got bad dreams, you should buy LMed’s newest food supplement, Bonsomnium, and sleep without nightmares. All for the low price of $99 per bottle with, at a minimum, 85 % success rate.

I ran my hand through my hair and straightened my hat afterward. The scheme was obvious. Most people who thought they had the killer nightmares didn’t, so all they needed was something to stop them from dreaming. Odds were the bottle contained water and whatever standard sleeping pills had. The food supplement status exempted the product from medical trials, and the success rate meant that people who actually had the killer nightmares, and would die anyway, didn’t matter for as long as enough people without them bought the supplement. This was the most apparent scam I have ever seen.

I bought a bunch of GPS trackers with magnetic mounts and practiced putting them onto vehicles. In free moments, I practiced Katherine’s hexagonal pattern, Mina’s octagonal pattern, and the rotating aether-sphere Katherine accidentally taught me. They had to be useful at some point.

Later, I went there with Mina to camp out the beacon. The destined location shone in the middle of the Mt. Prospect Park, west from Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The park itself featured fresh grass, lush trees, and piles of discarded plastic, remainders of today’s demonstration. As we waited, hidden among a thick patch of trees, Mina placed a novel onto the ground and shifted into her wolf form. The title read Sacred Love, the cover contained a bare-chested angel, and she was reading it while wagging her tail.

Half an hour after midnight, two black vans pulled in by the park’s edge. Amarendra, with his crew, filed out of them. I lay onto the ground not to be seen. The plan was to do nothing unless Evelyn showed up. I pushed aether into my eyes to invert the world’s colors.

From the park’s other side, a cloud of pure blackness approached. I recognized this aether as belonging to Evelyn.


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