Dawn in San Francisco

Epilogue - Kevin

As they emerged in the library, Wendy faltered. Kevin tried his best to support her, but they had momemtum from the portal, and the ground was uneven. She fell. The jar cracked open. Satan got out, regarded them with no eyes but so much hate, and lunged towards Kevin. Having barly resisted the last assault, saved only by Wendy using her body to interrupt the spell, Kevin was terrified. It can’t end, not now, not like this.

He wasn’t sure what happened next. Satan’s soul seemed to bounce harmlessly off him, as if something was keeping it out. It screamed in anger, if a soul could scream.
Then, the grandmothers arrived from out of nowhere. With some kind of ritual, they captured or exorcised Satan’s soul.
Kevin was paying more attention to Wendy. She was bleeding heavily from a gruesome wound in her chest. Kevin knelt beside her, put her head in his lap, used his jacked to try to limit the bleeding. She struggled to move at all, and was barely conscious.
They grandmothers seemed quite pleased with themselves, talking and chuckling between themselves, somehow completely oblivious to Wendy bleeding out in Kevin’s arms. “HELP HER!”

The grandmothers had been kind. As soon as they saw the state Wendy was in, they had gotten serious, and done everything they could to help. They taken her to their cabin, Kevin had told them what had happened, and they had nodded and mumbled to each other before going to work on things Kevin did not comprehend, but understood was for Wendy. One of them had told Kevin that he could leave now, there was nothing more he could do for her, they would contact him when she woke up. He had emphatically refused, and that had been the end of that discussion. He had found a chair, placed it next to the bed, and sat there.
He slept only when his brain couldn’t stay awake any longer. He ate only when the grandmothers brought food and demanded he ate it. At all other times he just sat by Wendy’s side, held her hand, talked to her. He told her what Marco and Buddy were up to and what was going on back in the mortal world (all second-hand information, brought when Marco and Hazel visited), or he told her stories or bad jokes… it was as much for himself as for her, he had to believe that he was helping somehow, that she was not lost.

The queens had visited them once. Wendy was still not awake at the time, which was probably good. Kevin, tired from not sleeping, and still worried to death about Wendy, had struggled to show the right manners. Fortunately, they were grateful enough for their mantle returned and their lives saved that they tolerated it – even when he told them that as a reward this time, he wanted them to never contact him or Wendy ever again, never try to enlist them. They had just nodded, and left.

After some time – Kevin didn’t really know how much, because he was barely sleeping and the sun never seemed to set over the grandmothers’ cabin – Wendy finally woke up. It was the happiest moment in Kevin’s life.
He still stayed at her side, but his mind knew enough peace that he could sleep more peacefully, and even leave the room for very brief periods of time to help the grandmothers with food or other tasks. They didn’t really need his help, but allowed it anyway.

She had been awake for three days when he remembered that he was till carrying the ring with him. It’s flaws were still glaring to him, but he knew he was never going to be satisfied with it, and it the end it was not the ring that mattered, but what it represented, right?
He had been so nervous, he had fumbled a bit with the box, but as soon as Wendy saw the ring her face lit up, and he knew everything was going to be ok.

And now, to live happily ever after

One evening, many years later, Kevin looked into Wendy’s eyes and noticed they were different. It wasn’t something obvious, but a tiny spark that had always been there, was gone. He didn’t understand it immediately, but as they lay in bed that night he realised that he could no longer see her fae mien.
It was not surprising, their changeling selves had been weaking for some now. Nor was it sad, not really: because although Kevin did not remember it, this had happed countless times in the past. And fae or no fae, Kevin would always love Wendy.

That night, Kevin Freemark embraced Gwendolyn Hayes-Freemark, his soulmate, the love of his life.
That night, Neth Khadhar’phak left to find his soulmate, the love of all his lives, once again.

Epilogue - Wendy

Wendy collapsed to the floor as they entered Arcadia and her fey form revealed the true extent of her injuries. She felt her grip on the bag weaken along with her control over the soul inside and she wanted to weep as she felt it slip her grasp. They had been so close!

The Devil’s soul ripped free and lunged straight at Kevin. She tried to get up, to push herself between them again but her legs were too weak. It felt like there was a hole in her chest, because right now there was and she could barely breathe. The dark magic had left a gaping wound that had somehow missed her heart, but she was rapidly losing blood. She could see charred skin stretching across her chest and down her arms, and she hoped if she survived this that she could still use her hands. Her ribs were clearly broken, as was her right arm, and probably also her pelvis. She couldn’t move, only watch through a haze of pain and blood as the malicious soul bore down on the man she loved.

But it stopped, bouncing off his chest several times as if it couldn’t quite believe what was happening. There was a faint haze around Kevin, a glow of power that was protecting him from the soul’s attack.

Had the mantle had finally kicked in? Took it long enough.

And then everything became blurry and she could feel herself slipping into darkness. As she keeled over sideways, she half saw people appearing out of the mist. She hoped they were reinforcements. Kevin still needed protecting. Especially if she didn’t wake up.

She woke up to sunlight. It wasn’t her bed or her house and for a moment she panicked. Then the pain hit her and the room became less important. An elderly woman that she recognised as one of the grandmothers bustled around her bed and a small part of her brain registered that she must be at their cottage.

It wasn’t as bad as before. Or perhaps it was worse, now that she was actually lucid enough to acknowledge the pain. She hurt everywhere and she could barely move. But she was alive, which was an unexpected and positive outcome. And Kevin was slumped over asleep by edge of the bed, also alive and apparently unharmed, which was an extremely positive outcome. The busy grandmother came over to force her to drink something that tasted foul and would apparently leave her with ‘skin like a baby’s ass’ once she healed. Where were Marco and Buddy? Were they OK? It was… so hard… to…

She sank back into sleep.

It took over a week before Wendy could sit up with some discomfort and begin to walk again. The burns had mostly healed thanks to the foul unguent the grandmothers poured down her throat whenever she woke, and her bones were setting far faster than they normally would. She still had bandages all over her chest, and it was difficult to breathe. The grandmothers told her she would always have the scars on her front and back in her fey form, and it would be difficult for her to do any strenuous activity in either body. But her hands were safe and her arms could move and she could still create, so it didn’t matter too much. Clothes could cover scars, and even if her skin wasn’t quite ’baby’s ass’ territory, it was still looking pretty good for someone who was blistered and black not so long ago.

Kevin had stayed by her side the whole time. It couldn’t have been comfortable sleeping on the chair in the corner, but he was always right there when she woke up and the happy warmth it filled her with dulled the ache in her torso. He brought her soup and helped change her bandages even with the grandmothers tutting and trying to swat him away. She had never felt safer.
It took him three days of her being awake and lucid before he sat down and awkwardly brought out the little box with the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. She couldn’t wear it at the time because the burns were still healing, but as soon as the grandmothers let her it went straight on. The weight was reassuring whenever she woke or slept and she would sit and just admire it when he was asleep. Of course, he complained that it wasn’t perfect, but she didn’t care. No nocker was ever truly happy with their work. He could have given her a piece of string and it would have been perfect to her. It lifted the tightness in her chest and made all her fears and pain fly to the other side of the stars.
It would have to be an Autumn wedding, of course. It was only appropriate.

Wendy sat in the back garden, dangling their youngest on her knee and watching their eldest making patterns with mud and sticks. It had been seven years since the last time the queens had called upon her and Kevin, six since they had gotten married and four since their eldest child had been born. She had never entirely gotten back the full use of her body – on cold days her chest ached, and long flights of stairs or heavy boxes left her struggling for breath. She told other people that it was too much exposure to sawdust and lacquers without proper safety equipment in her youth, but at night or when they went to visit Marco in Arcadia she could sometimes feel the scars twinge. But they were living comfortably, and safely. She had taken over the master luthier’s shop when he had retired and it was good work helping the apprentices and selling her pieces. They weren’t rich, but it was enough to get by and keep doing what they loved.

Still, she was getting old. Not in human terms, but she could feel her Changeling soul loosening its grip. It wasn’t really surprising – she was almost thirty as it was, and despite her continued creative work the banality had to catch up eventually. She was married with kids and a steady job in a white picket house in the suburbs. It made her sad to think that she wouldn’t be able to see Marco and Hazel anymore, maybe wouldn’t even be able to remember them now that Marco was full fey and was permanently on the other side. Her children wouldn’t know the wonder of Arcadia as she had, would never see the libraries and the gardens and the strange and amazing people. But they also wouldn’t know the danger. Life couldn’t always be fleeing from madmen and evil magic and certain death. Changeling souls didn’t stay forever. But that was OK. That was how it was supposed to be.

The sun was starting to go down, and it was getting chilly. Kevin would be home soon, and she had to get dinner ready. She stood up, calling the little ones inside. Silently, as if little more than a breath of wind, the soul left.

Before the bomb

Wendy crouched behind the tree as they waited for Mr Devil to come home and open his potentially explosive fridge. This… wasn’t quite how she had expected things to go.

In hindsight, she was glad she had taken upstairs. Evil people rarely bothered putting any of the genuinely nasty stuff on the second floor. They only really bothered with lugging things upstairs if there was an ominous tower involved. Still, it had been unnerving to see the empty bedrooms coated in a fine layer of dust, and finding the ‘memoir’ in the box at the back.

When Marco had told her what he’d found down in the basement, she had wanted to be sick. A part of her had wondered when she had found the rooms, but to hear it confirmed… Before now, this guy had been nothing more than a name, a vague threat in the background with a promise of terrible power but surprisingly little action. She had even begun to wonder if this wasn’t some sort of ruse, put on by the queens. After all, it had been years since anything had come up, at least anything that she had known about. But then they had gone into his house, and Marco had found the bodies, Kevin had found the book and what Buddy had found in the fridge… it made her stomach turn, and she clenched her fists with rage.

She wasn’t sure if the… man(?) was stupid, not putting any protections about his home and leaving his ‘property’ out for anyone who bothered to actually look. He couldn’t possibly think nobody would be looking- if not for him then for the mantle he had stolen. The queens were limited in power right now, but they were still rulers and brutally efficient ones at that.

Unless of course he had wanted to be found, and this was all a trap and they were just cannon fodder. They didn’t know what this guy was really capable of, what he had been planning to even do with the power he had stolen. She had thought perhaps that he might go and kill the grandmothers, in revenge for his previous defeat. Or the queens, to teach the grandmothers some sort of lesson and upend the courts. But even with the new mantle at their disposal and the important lessons Willow had given them, Wendy still didn’t know if they could win. Could she actually fight, when it came down to it? What if she forgot her part of the spell, or got distracted? What if the others got hurt? What if Kevin hadn’t actually rigged the fridge properly? He had somehow rigged up the fridge with explosives – apparently it would be ironic that they used the place he had stored those children’s souls as a means to capture his. Kevin always thought interestingly and logically, but not always sensibly.

Wendy found herself reaching for Kevin’s hand. She hoped the mantle had not interpreted liberally what it had found in her heart. It could be difficult to tell, with ancient cosmic powers that transcended beyond mortal ken. Wendy felt sure that she knew herself and what she wanted, but sometimes people were wrong and what you thought you wanted wasn’t the real thing. But she was pretty sure.

She loved Kevin. She loved him with everything she had, even when he tinkered with infernal machines and said hurtful things and put his feet on the coffee table that had taken weeks before she was close to happy with it. She knew that she wasn’t always easy to live with either. That was just how things were – you took the good with the bad, and found the perfect point in the middle. She clutched his hand tightly, knowing that he would understand without her needing to speak.

Please don’t die.

The Basement

The basement had been a smart choice. It would be the first place anyone would check for an evil lair and the Devil was smart so surely he’d keep nothing like that down here. Marco could be in and out in no time. Marco flicked on the light and descended into the room. He was right, it looked quite ordinary, and even had wine in it. Hazel loved expensive wines so it was always a bonus to find something that might fit the bill. The Devil surely had good taste in wine. Some of the names were easily recognizable to Marco. They were probably the crappy wines, he had no idea what a good wine was but he could be sure that the stuff he could see behind the counter of the corner shop probably wasn’t the kind of wine Hazel liked.

One more quick look around the room and he could leave satisfied. Yes, this was a perfectly ordinary basement. Except it was a bit small. Also half the size you’d expect for a house this size. Oh crap. Please no. Just let it be a small basement. Nope. It was never that easy and in fact there was button on the wall. Probably leading into some evil library with old magic scrolls and maps of Arcadia.

Marco pushed part of the wall open. Inside there was no books. No maps. No scrolls. Just bodies. What looked like dead bodies. A woman, a teenage boy and a little girl. This guy definitely deserved his name. What an evil son of a bitch. Marco needed to stop looking at the bodies and calm down. The desk of random crap seemed like a good distraction. He’d probably need to go get Kevin to work out what any of it did. Actually maybe we wouldn’t have to, this stuff looked familiar. He’d read about it in willows library when he gave up on trying to find out stuff about shadow magic. These potions could be used to bring the dead back and act servants. This guy didn’t just kill them but was using this dark magic to desecrate their corpses.

Marco had to leave. The disrespect of the dead was too much. He’d tell the others what he had found and find out what they knew. They exchanged information and were about to leave when Marco realized something. That potion crap took like months to make. If Marco destroyed it the Devil would have to spend ages before he could be that disrespectful again, and they’d have stopped him or died before then anyway.

The Book

Kevin pulled the switch, and the bookcase moved. “Well, this probably merits a follow-up”, he said to himself, and stepped into the newly revealed room.
The walls were filled with diagrams. He didn’t understand much of them, but based on what he did understand he was glad that he didn’t understand more. It looked pretty horrible.
He took a pen out of his pocket, and began to – almost absent-mindedly – make minor alterations to the diagrams. Subtle enough that it might not be noticed, significant enough that it might radically change what it meant.

He had initially wanted to search the basement, but Marco had called dibs on that. Secret evil labs were usually underground. Maybe Satan isn’t big on clichés… or he keeps his evil lab on ground level because he is hiding something even worse in his basement?

Kevin forgot all about the basement when his gaze shifted and he noticed the big book on the table. It looked important, and it looked menacing. And it’s hidden in the secret lab. Definitely worth closer inspection.

He flicked through the pages. It was all written in some foreign language, one he hadn’t seen before. But based on the images and diagrams, he could easily deduce what it was.
Dark Magic.
Forbidden magic.
It was the kind of magic the queens wanted the world to remain unaware of – shadow magic, but also other kinds, by the looks of things. Was Satan inventing new magics? He was unsure if magic could be ‘invented’. Discover was perhaps a better word? Regardless, it was pretty damn impressive. And fascinating.

He ran a finger down the page. I could do great things with you… defeat the Devil, save the world, maybe finally have a breakthrough with my sentient robots project. But at what cost?
Kevin didn’t believe that power corrupted, that dark magic left scars. But Wendy did.
No matter how many times he had tried to explain to her that Morpheus wasn’t evil – and even if it was, the magic and technology behind it could still be used for good – she hated it. It horrified and disgusted her.
If I learn the secrets of this book, if I use it, even once, even to protect her and save the world, she will see me the same way: Scarred. Tainted.
Marked by evil.
Without it I might lose her. With it, I will lose her for certain.

He slammed the book closed, and put it into his backpack.
I’ll give this to Willow. We’ll defeat Satan, but not with his own magics.
Maybe my robots will never work. Maybe the only way is in this book, and this is my only opportunity to learn it.
So be it. She’s worth it.

Before the Bum Rush

Hazel wasn’t home. She’d probably stayed in Arcadia to help with the other ladies and Queens. That was a shame, It’d felt like ages since Marco had seen her and now they were possibly going off to fight this Devil guy. It would have been nice to spend some time with her before that. There was no getting a good night’s sleep tonight, not with this much to worry about. They were about to go up against someone of tremendous power, possibly even fight him in a fair fight. That was quite frankly scary as hell. None of them were exactly fighters and honestly Marco felt no difference since getting part of this mantle. Maybe the others felt it but he pretty much felt the same. A fair fight didn’t seem to bode well for them. Although I guess it wouldn’t technically be a fair fight, with it being four on one and all. And they has to weapon designed especially to take his weapon away. An unfair fight didn’t seem to bode well for then either though.

But that was a thought best not dwelled on. The day had been long and it was probably time to try get some sleep. Although he’d actually had some fun today. There didn’t seem to be much dangerous on the floating island and the cave had felt like a haunted house attraction. Scary but safe. Even the goblins were pretty damn friendly. Not to mention how good it had felt to run through the forest as a wolf. It had been over a month since he last changed. Right? It was hard to remember but it was certainly long enough to have allowed him to forget how free it made him feel. He’d certainly have to make more time for it in the future.
It was also kind of fun the trick the goblins. Even if it was a silly pointless trick. To know something others don’t is fun. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know it, it held no real weight, but it was still kind of nice. In fact it was a bit like being at court. Not that court was fun, or nice. But that actually wasn’t too bad a part of it. Pretending you know things you don’t and that you don’t know things you do. He actually didn’t hate it as much as he’d thought. Maybe he’d try to convince some of the more gullible people at court that he had a pet wolf. That was if any of them survived long enough to go back to court.


Kevin was exhausted, but he couldn’t sleep. He lay awake, staring into the darkness. Wendy slept peacefully beside him, her arm wrapped around him, which both comforted him and fed the worries which kept him awake.
It seems like we get along the best when we’re asleep these days.
When had things gotten so difficult? They used to be able to talk for hours, joking and teasing and laughing about anything, everything, or nothing at all. Now, every time they spoke he ended up hurting her, and every day his foot seemed to be lodged deeper and firmer in his mouth. It was like he was fundamentally unable to think before he spoke, or like his mouth secretly hated him and always picked the worst way to phrase everything.

Rationally, logically, there were more important matters going on right now, namely the queens and the devil and their annual apocalypse. But Kevin found himself caring uncharacteristically little about logic and reason.
…Then again, this was arguably the queens’ fault.
Things had been great until the queens got their damned mantle stolen and they enlisted Kevin and the others to save the world a third time. One could easily make the argument that it was the stress of this that both made him say stupid things, and made Wendy take them the wrong way.
Maybe it was even Satan that was to blame. Being immensely powerful and equally evil, it was not a stretch that he might exert some sort of aura of discord onto the entire world, now that he was awake.

And that, Kevin concluded, was why the Devil needed to be stopped. Granted, the fact that he was a threat to all life and wants to end the world as they knew it was also a pretty good reason, but in the end it was secondary. The primary reason was for them to be done with the queens, to return things to normal between him and Wendy, so that he could move ahead with the project he had been working on for so long.

He had had plans, such great plans. All his efforts, all his work, would finally pay off. He had pictured it in his mind dozens of times, and there it was beautiful. Every day he would wake up telling himself that this was the day, today he would show her what he’d been working on, and she would smile that amazing smile that made him forget everything bad in the world, and they would both know that it had all been worth it.
But at this point he was piling screw-ups on screw-ups, to the point where he was starting to doubt that she would accept it. And why should she? He was, like, the shittiest boyfriend ever. If he couldn’t go a day without hurting her, did he really deserve her at all?

A new mantle

Her fingers touched the light and it was like she was falling. The magic enveloped her and her senses were overwhelmed. It was as if a million voices were talking all at once, in a language she didn’t understand that wasn’t transmitted by sound. She could feel its curiosity, poking and prodding at her mind, trying to understand her and communicate. It was simultaneously amazing and terrifying.


She wanted to put her hands over her ears, but it wouldn’t have done anything. It was like she was drowning in somebody else’s mind. She wasn’t sure where she began and where it ended. It was crushing. She wanted to run away, to reach back to Kevin and ask him to help her, tell him he was right and she shouldn’t have touched it.

And then it stopped. The weight lifted and the… entity seemed to become clearer. It vibrated through her mind like a pulse.

Who are you?

…Wendy. Gwendolyn Hayes.

That is not your True Name. But I feel your fey soul, below the surface. You are changeling.


Why are you here?

We need help. We need to help others by making a new mantle.

No, why are YOU here?

I… want to protect… the world, the people I care about. From people who want to hurt them.

One in particular. Even though you are angry with him now, he is the most important to you.


You need my power.


That is possible. There are enough of you to bear the load.

Is it dangerous? Can’t I do it?

No. There is always a danger, but you are not strong enough. It must be shared.

All right.

Tell me, little one, what do you need me to be? What am I to do for you?

We need the mantle back, the first one. We need a way to get it back, and keep it where it belongs, without hurting anyone. And when it’s done, when the mantle is back where it belongs, we need this mantle to no longer be usable, so that nobody can use it to take the first mantle away.

It is important to be useful, to be shaped according to the needs of many. But that is what others need me to be.

I… suppose?

What do you need me to be?

What? I… don’t need…

All those who shape me need something, even if they do not know, or cannot say. Look deep and speak true. What do you need me to be?

I need…

Yes, I see. That is a good purpose to have.

It lifted from her, like a bubble bursting between her ears. She felt different. She wasn’t sure yet if it was a good thing. She hoped it had worked.

Bathroom break

Wendy sat on the floor in the bathroom, trying hard not to cry. She didn’t know what had made her just snap this time, but something had tipped and she hadn’t been able to be around Kevin. She had stormed off and locked herself in here, leaving Kevin to deal with Buddy and the broken glass.

She wasn’t sure what was going wrong. They just seemed to be struggling all of a sudden, ever since the ball. Kevin had always been kind of blunt and a bit socially awkward, but it had never bothered her before. Maybe because she hadn’t been on the receiving end much before, or maybe things had just been different back then. She stared at her hands, vision blurry with suppressed tears. He had called her thoughtless and reckless, told her she had a tendency to do stupid things and she should be smarter. Maybe not in those exact words, but close enough. It had hurt so much at the time that she had wanted to just stand up and walk away, leave the stupid mantle thing and go off by herself to rage. And then again, just now with the drug remarks! It had been a perfectly civil conversation, a bit of light teasing maybe. She didn’t understand where all this was suddenly coming from, or why it was upsetting her so much.

The worst part was he was right. She was thoughtless and reckless sometimes. Her curiosity had gotten the better of her time and again, and she had made some stupid choices – even if nobody had been hurt, and she felt like she had learned from it. This time had been different though. She had just wandered off into the forest without waiting for the others – always the same, always ‘I’ll just have a look’ and then suddenly she was miles away. But Buddy had gotten hurt, because she couldn’t wait. Kevin had been separated from her, because she was curious. If Marco hadn’t been able to turn into a wolf, she would probably have been lost on her own. It could have been Kevin stuck in the chasm. She had given him the Wayfare ring before they crossed, just to be sure he would make it, but it wasn’t enough. She shouldn’t have wandered off.

She had lain awake most of that night on the ground. Some of it had been because she hated camping and couldn’t sleep outside. Most of it was still fear, lingering from the moment when she had seen the broken bridge and Kevin was nowhere to be found. The realisation that wandering off could have cost her everything important had almost crushed her – if she had been there, she could have done something, stopped it from happening. Her dreams were filled with visions of the bridge snapping, Kevin plummeting into the abyss. She had held tightly onto Kevin the whole night, just to be sure he was OK. She wasn’t sure if he had minded that she was clingy – he hadn’t pushed her away. But he had still said the hurtful things the next day. Even though now the distance had made her see that he was right in his way, she had still behaved childishly at the time, despite the fear from the day before. And she had touched the power source, because she had been angry at him for telling her that she should be more careful. She just didn’t know what she was doing any more.

Wendy rested her head on her knees, tears dribbling down her cheeks. She wasn’t really angry at Kevin, not properly. It was all just petty stuff, brought on by her stubbornness and his bluntness. But she had to sort herself out, make better decisions and patch things up. She was… afraid. She was afraid he had changed his mind and he didn’t want her any more, that they weren’t working for some reason. She was afraid that this Devil guy hadn’t done anything because he was planning something huge, and they would be too late. She was afraid because the idyllic little life they had built over the last few years suddenly seemed to be crumbling around her, and she didn’t have the time or courage to patch things up. It had always been so easy before. Why couldn’t she just fix it?

Tired and Cold

It was cold in the forest. Wendy wished she had bought a jacket. Also blinkers of some sort, so she wouldn’t have to see the horrible trees. They freaked her out, and it was difficult not to hyperventilate and go find Kevin. It was as if somebody had seen the Snow White forest and gone ‘Yes! That, but trippier and with actual monsters!’

She had thought about saying this to Kevin. But lately he would make little snide remarks any time she made any reference to something being trippy or drug related, and she didn’t want to give him any ammunition. It hurt her feelings that he kept bringing it up – she’d told him in the spirit of an honest and open relationship, but she now kind of wished she hadn’t. It was one time! Apparently he was allowed to fiddle around with Nazi dream machines and be rude to people, but she did something stupid that hurt nobody just once and he wouldn’t let it go. It was making her wonder about how strong they actually were.

She sat on the grass as the others dealt with the chimera. Buddy was running around trying to find fish, Kavin was pulling up a plant and Marco had reluctantly caught a pigeon – he would definitely cry about that later. Wendy just stayed where she was. Buddy had pushed her through the hedge, hopefully in some jovial ‘cheer up!’ way rather than with malicious intent. But she had landed at the feet of the chimera, and it had been even more terrifying than the forest. Buddy hadn’t known about the beast, right? Even so, she couldn’t make herself help them. She just stayed curled up, shivering. She wished she had brought a jacket.

Wendy had been surprised when Willow had given her the go-ahead to try to find and make this new mantle. Hopefully the four women would be able to look after the new one better. From what she had understood, this mantle’s purpose would be to take the original mantle from whoever held it. That could be very dangerous in the wrong hands. If the queens could lose their own incredibly powerful mantle due to carelessness, what would they do if someone got their hands on this one and used it to take the other? Hopefully mantles could be destroyed, or they could make it one-use. It wasn’t something she really wanted to think about. Right now she had to worry more about how they were supposed to make a mantle. Knowing their luck, they would find the power source and their heads would get melted.

The others had fed the beast, so she climbed to her feet, following slowly behind as they continued down the path. They travelled onward through the forest in silence, eventually reaching a yawning chasm with a tattered rope bridge. She could feel the power in the other side, but it was clear the bridge wouldn’t hold up even one person’s weight, never mind all of them. Great. The chasm was probably also filled with hungry monsters. Or spikes for when the bridge broke. Or poison gas. Or the bridge was cunningly disguised snakes that would eat them when they stood on it.

It was hard not to cry. She was tired and afraid and it was all just unfair. She was tired of monsters, even when they turned out not to be violent and angry. She was tired of having to visit scary places, and find scary people who wanted to hurt her and her friends. She just wanted to get this over with and go home, curl up in bed and be by herself for a while. Kevin could go and play with his stupid machine. She didn’t care.


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