When it comes into view, the Chancel of the Silent Vessel reminds me of nothing so much as the Soul Sanctuary. Maybe that’s just because I haven’t been to very many churches. A lot of their more important buildings look like this. White walls, rounded edges, sea-colored glass windows. The surfaces here seem less compact than the Sanctuary’s pristine fortress walls, with tiny pores and smooth needle-tips that make it look like the entire structure was grown from a single enormous piece of coral. It’s much wider than it is tall, with at least the front half forming an almost perfect circle no higher than a normal house.

“Liadain? Hey. We’re here.” A man’s voice startles me out of my own head. Irial, the aide I asked to drive me here – I don’t know if they’ve technically updated the parts of my files that say I shouldn’t leave the hospice, but everyone working there knows by now that my files don’t mean anything.

“Hm? Oh. Thanks.” We’d been driving along the shore on the edge of the Weald’s thick canopy for some time, leaving me to stare out the backseat window and think in useless circles.

Irial climbs out, opens the back door, and offers me his arm. Reluctantly, I take it, wobble to my feet, and more or less steady myself on my cane. Standing up makes my head spin and my legs threaten to buckle and snap like twigs.

“Do you need me to wait for you?”

“No, that’s okay. I don’t know how long I’ll be.” And I’m not sure if I could slog through this knowing I can walk out the door and be home in twenty minutes the first time someone looks at me.

“Alright. Well, just call whenever you need a ride back, okay? I’m sorry about your friend.”


“Me too.”

Irial lingers a bit, watching to make sure I can move without dying. By the time I hear him drive off, I’m halfway down the straight, tree-lined approach. I’m alone here – even the parking lot off to the side isn’t as full as I expected. Which’ll make it harder to disappear into the crowd. For once, I actually wish there were more people. This is the last place and time I want anyone paying attention to me.

It’s not even just about what I’ve done and the people I don’t want to see, either. I’ve never understood funerals. I’ve spent my whole life next to death, lost a friend close enough that it’s at least a little bit my fault she’s dead, and I still can’t imagine how they’re supposed to help anyone. They aren’t for the dying – they’re dead, gone to wherever souls go. And for everyone else, it’s not as if a big event where you’re meant to make a show of your pain and judged if it’s not the right kind of pain will make the person you lost any less dead.

Keeper funerals made the least sense of all to me. Keepers never just die, they’re killed – or much, much worse. How are you meant to celebrate their life or thank them for their “sacrifice,” as if they gave their life rescuing a bunch of kittens from a burning building or something instead of making a mistake that got them devoured body and soul, when you know all too well what actually happened to them? When the monster that did it could still be out there, waiting for a chance to do it again? If I got eaten, whether people thought I did any of it for them and held me up as some kind of hero would be the last thing on my mind.

Well. Not because it wouldn’t matter to me, although it wouldn’t, but because I’d have a much bigger problem. And almost no one does know what actually happens when you die, do they? They have no idea how much worse the truth could be, unless they’ve all just decided to be silent about it.

With that in mind, I guess there’s some chance that funerals are for the dead. Whatever it means to return to the sea, though, I really don’t think what happens to your soul depends on whether you had your broken shell’s ashes dumped into the ocean or how sad people were while they did it. It means something different for Keepers, yes, but knowing what I know now, I still can’t see how it would matter.


Still, here I am. What’s even the point? Why am I risking this?

Yes. Why? There’s nothing here you couldn’t take on your own. My voice. My gaunt, bitterly smiling face. My own spectre walks right beside me, leering at me through a shroud of white hair wet with black water.

Well, fine, me. Maybe I don’t NEED their help. There’s so much more to take than I ever imagined, after all. At the true scale of things, I don’t even know if it makes a difference if any given person dies at the end of their lifespan or right now when I drain them dry. But they don’t want to die any more than I do, and I don’t want to be the kind of monster who’d drink everyone in reach up until there’s nothing left.

Wait. That isn’t even right. I’m not here because I’m hungry… not only here for that. This isn’t about me. Shona needs help. I can help her. I just can’t chase after the thing that ate her alone, not in my current state, and this is where I’ll find everyone who’d want to help her if they knew she was still there.

The phantasm at my side says nothing else. She only smiles a little wider before she pops out of being like a soap bubble.

I push the ‘press to open’ button next to the Chancel’s glass doors and lurch into the vestibule. The chamber is lit by evenly sized and shaped coral formations on the walls like little torches, but with no bulbs – they’re just suffused with soft, blue-white bioluminescence. Both walls are lined with decorative niches filled with all sorts of art depicting the saints… I think.

I only really recognize Kuri and Nistla at a glance – one represented as a planter of tiny trees somehow grown together into the shape of a young woman, clad in regalia crafted from flowers and vines, the other an androgynous figure in a white greatcoat with a rain cape decorated in elaborate patterns not so far from the ones on the windows here. A half-sphere of paneled glass blooms from the hand above their head, scattering the light above into prismatic beams.

Ahead, the chamber splits into two wide, curving halls around a central set of opaque, sea-blue glass doors. An attendant in the simple blue mantle and long, wide white skirt of a junior priestess looks me over, squinting slightly, then nods to herself. “Welcome. Are you here for Screaming Hymn Shona’s return?”

Return? No, I’m here to bring her back to life. But I guess that’s just a formal term for today’s service. “Mhm.”

“You’ll find it that way,” she says with a gesture to my left. “Most of the guests we’re expecting have already arrived, but the ceremony proper won’t begin for some time yet.”

“Right. Thanks.”

“Ah, and while it’s by no means required for Keepers to transform, it is customary.”

I look down at one of my usual dresses, which I’d figured would be close enough to funeral wear to count, and shrug. Calling my magic into the world briefly smothers the lights and casts the hall in strange twisting shadows, but the priestess only watches with her head slightly bowed, neither awed nor terrified.

I don’t feel much better or worse for the change, but thinking on it now, I am glad to have my mask. My secrets are mostly out, and it won’t protect me from anything my immunity mist doesn’t, but it still feels a bit like armor against the danger of other people looking at me.

So, that finished, I follow the distant murmur of voices down the hall. That impression of the entire building as an above-ground coral reef is much stronger inside. Its walls are a thick lattice of blue-white ridges, grown together into a gently arched ceiling. Its window frames, decorative niches, and even the benches lining the hall all seem grown rather than crafted, though the benches stand out for still being wood-colored.

I read once that coral comes from millions of tiny little critters who live in a big clump. They make reefs by forming exoskeletons around themselves, and those hard, rocky shells linger after they die, so the next generation of critters can keep building and building their city atop their friends and families’ colorful corpses, then add their own to the pile.

How different is our city? Our world? Do our ghosts just sink beneath the cities they’ve built and pile up forever, an invisible boneyard at the bottom of the world? No, of course not, they “bloom in their fullness and return to the sea.” Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Oh, how bad could it possibly be? They “do their best to minimize pain,” don’t they?

There is that. Vyuji said so, and everyone says Messengers can’t lie. It’s probably true, or else she wouldn’t have said it in the least reassuring way possible. She wouldn’t have left me thinking of all the people dumped on the ocean floor making their own reefs, growing corals with little human faces, staring up through the water and thinking of the lives they no longer live, but are never really allowed to leave.

No longer live, maybe. But they never die.

Yes. And somehow, it’s hard even for me to imagine that as a good thing.

It’s a short walk to the source of the voices, a wide opening on the right. Judging from the sound and the souls on the other side of the wall, a confusing blur of nine or ten Keepers and about as many ordinary motes of human life, there’s… not as many people as I thought there’d be.

I don’t do well with crowds, but I also don’t do well with groups of strangers too small to disappear into. I can’t decide which is worse. I creep along the wall, peeking in through the doorway at an angle I can’t see much of anything from, and slowly work up the nerve to step around the corner. If Shona were here, she’d be the one to drag me inside.

And the one to stand up for me, for some strange reason, if no one else wants me around.

I brush away my first tears of the day. That doesn’t have to be a miserable memory of how badly I treated her. I can fix this. That’s why I’m here. I steel myself and step inside.

The first thing that strikes me, almost literally, is that it’s cold in here. Impossibly so, well beyond the clinging chill of my barrier. It’s like someone bottled a Winter morning where the Sun keeps the breeze from stinging too bitterly and let it loose inside.

Sunlight floods in through a colored glass ceiling stained in wavy patterns of blue and grey and green, gently tinting the white pews the colors of a shallow sea. Azure curtains are drawn over the back walls, and on the altar in front of them, there’s an elaborate arrangement of red coral and black flowers into a jagged lightning pattern, fanning out around a blue urn and a framed photograph of Shona in her regalia, grinning and waving to the camera.

And most of the people scattered around the pews are already looking my way. Right. They can feel me, I can feel them. I’m an idiot.

I glance around, quickly picking the faces I know out of the small crowd. Aisling sits alone near the entrance, one hand raised in greeting. Mide is between two adults and a younger boy, and none of them acknowledge me with more than a quick glance up – they’re all focused on her, and she looks and feels miserably exhausted. Neither she nor Aisling have transformed. In the same row of seats, another adult man sits with his arm around a sobbing woman.

The two Keepers to my left carry right on talking to each other. The girl in the plain black dress and dark leather jacket, only marked as a Keeper by her aura and pale pink hair in a loose side ponytail, does most of the talking. The tall girl in the grey suit and featureless metal mask – Mary Hyland, she was on that Keeper reef – mostly just leans against the wall looking imposing.

And the biggest group in the room, clustered around the middle…

The Stardust Seraph, in an almost priestly outfit rather like his regalia, but mostly white save a red trimming along the hem and entirely sans his armor and headgear, greets me with a soft, knowing smile and a two-fingered salute as soon as I spot him. Tetha Fianata blanches at the sight of me, visibly wincing, and seems to untense only slightly when Roland gives her a gentle clap on the shoulder. The Silver King, dressed in military finery and seated across from one pew in a wheelchair held by a spectral soldier, watches me through the corner of her eye. Tarnished Angel, the swan-winged, bandage-armed girl I met on the night I found Seryana, spares me only a glance up from her conversation with…

Frozen Sun Iona. At a glance, a young woman in a royal blue cloak, in her nineties but forever frozen at sixteen. Skin the blue-white shade of fresh snow under a clear sky. Eyes sculpted from ice, but bright with frozen flame. Our city’s founding hero and oldest, most important Keeper by decades, looking my way with narrowed eyes, flecks of the snow floating all around her settled on her lashes.

“You must be Eyna,” she says mildly.

My trembling fingers tighten around my cane. I’ve spent the last month eating her city. I put her daughter in a hospital. I can’t be here I don’t want to die I don’t even know what that means–

“Hey. I’m glad you made it,” Aisling says, looking at me as one would a bomb that might be armed.

“Um. Hi,” I mutter, flicking my eyes between them.

“I’ve heard a lot about you. Good things, more than you may expect.” She beckons to her pew, inviting me into her group. Asking me to sit right between her and the two Keepers I’ve fought.Stolen novel; please report.

“What do you mean?” I whisper, frozen in place. I can barely hear my own voice. I wonder if the sound is traveling at all or just turning to frozen breath in the air.

A small smile spreads across Iona’s face. It looks curious, almost… warm. “Only that you strike me as someone who’s been running nonstop, never stopping to look at where she’s ended up. Or how far and fast she’s gone.”

“Oh. Thanks,” I croak. That’s a strange way to describe me, because all of a sudden, I can’t imagine taking another step into this room. It doesn’t feel physically possible. “Aisling, I have to talk to you about something. Outside. Could we…?”

Aisling glances over her shoulder, suppressing a grimace, then nods once. “We’ll be back,” she says.

“Of course. Take your time,” Iona calls after us.

Aisling follows me to the nearest bench out of line of sight from the room.

“Thanks. Sorry about that,” I say. It’s hard to sit down without just losing my balance and falling back, but I manage it this time. Aisling plops into place at my side, tapping her foot rhythmically on the ground.

“You’re seriously not in trouble, you know. You saw Roland, and Iona’s… I’d be surprised if she’s pleased about the Tetha thing, but I really don’t think she’s out for your blood. Honestly, sounds to me like she likes you? She wasn’t lying.” Aisling’s dressed in a simple black blouse and dress pants, but still wears her usual beret over her curly blonde hair. She only looks a little more tired than usual, but that’s not saying much. “Keepers get into trouble sometimes, Fianatas or not. She has more important things to do than avenge a fight Tetha lost weeks ago.”

“Okay, fine, but why is she even here? Shona didn’t know her, did she?” I ask.

“What? No. Maybe they crossed paths a couple times, but no. She comes to almost all of these.”

“Oh. Well. Sorry again. It’s just a lot.”

Aisling shakes her head. “It’s fine. Nothing’s really started yet. They’re just talking, telling stories, and I’ve already heard most of them. I didn’t know Shona the best, but better than a lot of them, I think.”

“From your school?”

“From my club. She wasn’t a member, but she had a lot of questions about the Promise before she made it. Good for her, I said. Not enough of us have questions.”

“Really? What questions?” Shona seemed like she loved everything about being a Keeper. Even the nightmare monsters, when they didn’t get too personal. I’d have imagined her jumping at the offer and never once looking back. Shows how little I knew about her. Did I ask Vyuji enough for Aisling’s standards? I don’t know. I doubt it.

“Some were personal. But mostly, she wanted to know why us. What makes someone a Keeper candidate.” Aisling leans back and cups her chin, staring at the ceiling for a long stretch of silence. “I’d have called this part her business, but you’ll see for yourself soon enough. Best if it doesn’t take you by surprise. She didn’t want to be a Keeper if Mide couldn’t be one with her.”

“Okay? That worked out for them eventually, didn’t it?”

Aisling glances back at the room, waiting and watching for a few beats. “When they were together, when you sensed them, how did Mide feel?”

“Not like much of anything. When we first met, I thought they were one person until I actually saw them. I guess she isn’t very strong, but what’s your point?”

“Exactly that,” Aisling says. “Mide lost her magic when Shona died.”

“…What?” How? A Keeper’s power is theirs. It’s them. Nothing but death should be able to take it away, and I’m not at all sure about that anymore. “The Harbinger? Did it do something to her?” I guess.

“No. To my knowledge, nothing like that’s ever happened. I don’t believe it’s possible.” Aisling sighs, slouching down to rest her chin in cupped hands. “I don’t think she ever was a Keeper.”

That feels like it should be shocking, should be a wild, absurd idea… but it really isn’t. It’s just an answer to a set of questions I never cared enough to ask sliding suddenly into place.

Mide felt like nothing to me. She had no soul-sight of her own. They fed her every Harbinger they could and still she never seemed to become anything more than an armed and armored guardian. A weapon at Shona’s side. Did it even matter which of them claimed their hearts?

If this magic is mine, if it’s me the way every other Keeper says, and all it’s given me is weapons and armor and extra skill with using them, I don’t think it’s such a big ask for them to appeal to me, you know?

“Then what? Her… witch?”

Aisling shakes her head. “It’s very rare, but there have been Keepers whose magic works to empower other people. They call those people retainers. I don’t think that’s quite it here, though. They did make the Promise together. You’re on the right track, but it’s probably more like Mide was Shona’s implement. An extra one. An aspect of her magic, only much more distinct from her and her power than usual.”

“That doesn’t sound any better for her.”

“No,” Aisling agrees. “I’d suspected something like it for a while, but couldn’t say if either of them knew. I never saw a point in pressing them on it. Maybe I should have.”

“Maybe. But maybe take your own advice.” She’s the one who told me just a few days ago that there was no point in blaming myself for everything I didn’t happen to do.

Aisling slumps a little further down. “Yeah, that’s fair. Every time I felt like getting nosy about it, I just ended up thinking, well, good for them, right? They got what they wanted. They were doing well together. It might not help them to have some know-it-all tell them their powers might be… I didn’t even know what. I couldn’t tell if it was an actual problem for them.”

“Mhm.” Maybe it would be nice if anyone could be a Keeper just because they wanted to, or it’d make things easier for someone they cared about. Or not – there could be some great reason why it doesn’t work that way. I don’t know. All it means to me is that the person closest to Shona probably can’t do anything to help her.

“I don’t know if it would’ve changed anything. I don’t think so. But that’s not really what we’re here for, anyhow,” I say.

“True. I just thought you might prefer talking theory for a bit. I do, too.”

“Mm. But at some point, I should actually get in and go to the funeral. I guess. How’s everyone doing?”

“Like you’d expect. Mide especially, and Shona’s parents… I don’t know. They aren’t really talking to anyone. Not that I can blame them.” Aisling straightens up in her seat, quickly fixes her hat, and looks me over. “How about you?”

“I haven’t gotten any worse. Um, if it’s not a personal thing, why’d you pick that outfit?”

“Oh, did the lady at the front want you in your magical best too? I just think it’s silly. Feels like they’re trying to frame Keepers as some elite fraternal order instead of a bunch of weird kids with a job that, for whatever reason, only weird kids can do. To borrow Shona’s language, I know she wouldn’t give half a shit what I wore here, and that’s all I care about.”

I can’t help but smile at that beneath my mask. “No. She wouldn’t. Is that what pink hair thinks, too?”

Aisling snorts. “Who, Erika? No idea what she thinks. Her outfit’s just… I mean, I don’t think they’d throw her out if she wore it, but it isn’t really funeral-appropriate.”

“Oh. Hm.” I wonder for a bit what that means, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t care much about what Keepers are to the rest of the world. I’m sure I don’t qualify as whatever they want us to be, no matter what I wear.

“How about you?” Aisling asks. “You seem like you’re handling this better than I’d expected, if you’ll excuse me saying.”

Well, this was always my plan. If anyone will understand, if anyone will have ideas to make this work, she will.

“I am. Because I think we can bring her back.”

Aisling’s face gives away nothing but a nervous twitch in one eye. For a long, long while, she stares at me, almost unblinking. “You’re serious. Please explain,” she says.

I nod. “I’m not sure if you’d already figured any of this out, so… stop me if something needs more explaining, I guess. When we absorb Harbingers, we don’t digest them like food for our souls to grow. They’re still there, only part of us now instead of whatever they were before.”

“With you so far. Absorption or certainly ‘eating’ are shorthand terms for a complex process that may not even work the same for every Keeper.”

“Of course I don’t know if it works the same for everyone, but given how Emergence works, I don’t think any of them get digested. Mine are there enough that they can sort of talk to me.”

Aisling narrows her eyes at that. “Sort of? How do they communicate? What do they say?”

“Not quite in words… most of the time. I don’t think.” I wince as the pain in my head spikes. Jumbled spikes of memory from the night I did my reading stab through my thoughts, melting like splinters of ice before I can grab onto them. “Mostly they can just tell me how they’re feeling about things. It’s easiest to understand the one who likes me and hardest with the one I split in half with Mide. I haven’t figured out how to talk back yet – maybe if I could speak their language instead of just hear it.”

Aisling lets out a low, resigned groan. “Is it important to where you’re going with this that there’s one that likes you?”

“I don’t think so?”

“Leaving that alone for now, then. Go ahead.”

“Um, okay. So, I think… I’m pretty sure the same thing happens when Harbingers eat us. Probably for everyone else who dies, too, but I don’t know what that means for them or what ‘returning to the sea’ actually is. My point is that if we kill the Harbinger that killed Shona… she should still be there. I can steal life, other Keepers can heal, so, so as long as we have her soul, there should be–”

“Wait wait. Hold on. Stop,” Aisling hisses under her breath. “You’re making all kinds of leaps now that don’t follow from where you started.”

“They don’t?” I bite my lip, tracing my own steps backwards. I don’t quite remember how I ended up thinking about normal people that night, but… “Yes they do. We know what happens when magical beings eat each other. We know from your power that ‘they return to the sea’ is a true description of what happens to the dead, and nothing works the way it should for reincarnation to be a thing.”

“Keepers and Harbingers aren’t the same thing! Yes, there are obvious parallels in how magic functions, but we don’t know what does and doesn’t work the same way for us, and if we could pull these rescue operations where we pluck someone’s soul out basically intact any time we kill a Harbinger that’s killed Keepers, then…” Aisling trails off. Her eyes widen. The light in them leaves sunspots in my vision. “Your title’s different,” she says.

“That can happen? Different how?”

“Different like…” Aisling lets out a long exhale through her nose. “I’m not really sure. Just different. You’re still “Ill Wind,” but… you’re good with sensing magic, aren’t you? Does it feel different to you?”

Looking closely enough at Keepers’ souls to really read them is always a confusing, overwhelming thing, enough that I don’t make a habit of scrutinizing everyone I meet. My own is no different, and I’d only barely begun to make sense of what I see in it, so I steel myself before I turn my gaze inward. There is something new, beneath the abstract poetry of my soul’s awful name, but I can’t place it. It’s like trying to smell tea in a coffee shop or identify one of a dozen musty odors in an old attic. Maybe if I pushed harder, dug deeper, but that feels… dangerous. I have enough to worry about right now. And I’ve already made enough of a scene without plunging myself into another nightmare like my last tarot reading.

“I can’t really tell. It feels less like it’s different and more like there’s something new there. What’s it mean?” I ask.

“I’m not sure. But you’ve mentioned talking to Niavh, right? Have you sensed her?”

Pain and guilt deep enough to drown whatever her presence used to express. I nod, shuddering at the memory of it.

“That’s the kind of thing that normally causes distortions severe enough to change how your soul looks and feels. It tends to mean extreme shifts in circumstance, in how you see yourself or your magic. Learning some horrible truth of the world wouldn’t typically qualify. I’m not accusing you, but aside from what we already know, is arriving at this idea the only thing that’s gone on for you recently?”

“As far as I know!”

“I suppose it is a particularly horrible one, if you’re right. And it’s not as if your title’s actually changed, so… we’ll figure it out. One world-breaking mystery at a time, though.”

Aisling chews her lip thoughtfully. We sit in silence, staring across the hall at a mural of some legendary hero who appears to have been a giant fluffy moth with wings of white fire.

“And while we’re working on this… I know what you’ll think of what I’m about to say. I’ve been in your place before. But at least for now… I won’t say keep this strictly between us, but don’t go in there and shout it to everyone, okay?”

“What? Why not? They should know the girl they’re here to mourn isn’t dead!”

“WE don’t know that!” Aisling says. “Listen. I’m not saying you’re crazy. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I can tell that you believe this, and I don’t know anything that would disprove it, but that doesn’t rule out any number of candidate explanations in which you’re mistaken, or manipulated, or experiencing something through the lens of your power that does not extend to the fate of every human who’s ever died–”

“I asked Vyuji about this! She said she already knew and the Messengers ‘do their best to minimize pain for those in their care,’ but she wouldn’t tell me the whole story because something bad would happen if she did!”

“Okay, yes, that sounds bad, but I still think that before we go back to Shona’s funeral and announce something like hey, death isn’t and has never been real, we should make damn sure we’ve verified that idea!”

“Then verify it! You can do that, can’t you?”

“If I dropped everything to go research this, sure! I’d need to dig through everything public about or relating to this subject, make certain I’m not wasting a question on something that’s already been answered, then formulate a version of the question that will get us a reliable answer with the minimum possible risk of setting my mind on fire! I have a process! And a priority listing of other very important questions! I only step outside of it for urgent emergency uses. And yeah, if it’s true this sounds pretty urgent, but it’s not going to change based on whether we start work on the question of…” She pauses to look uneasily back at the room, lowering her voice when she speaks again: “Of how dying even works right this second!”

“You don’t know that,” I insist. “It could be worse for Shona the longer she’s in there.”The sound of Aisling’s teeth grinding practically fills the hall. “It could. And if it turns out that she is in there in some form that can be retrieved, suffering in a way that could have been mitigated if we’d acted faster, I’ll accept responsibility for that then. But it’s not as if you’ve come to me with a concrete plan of action, is it? You have an idea that may be true and something we may, in principle, be able to accomplish if it is. Correct me if we can verify that you have some incredible new resurrection power. But more importantly, we don’t know where this Harbinger is, when we’ll next see it, how we could find it, or if whatever group we could put together right this instant would win in a fight against it without burning even more questions.”

Aisling fidgets frantically in her seat as she speaks, contracting herself into something less like a ball and more like a pretzel atop the bench by the time she finishes. “And meanwhile, what I do know beyond a reasonable doubt is that things will get worse for my stupid friend Isobel the longer I take to drag her out of her current situation. And for the rest of her Harbinger’s active cult, which I’m still working to pin down.”

“…Right. I know that. I’m sorry,” I mutter. I never forgot about Isobel, but between everything that happened after I last saw her, everything I’ve learned, it’s been hard to think much of her. “I still want to help her, too. If there’s any way I can.”

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my soul, in a place hidden from the callous gaze of the Sun, Aulunla seethes in silence. It can’t hurt me, but it can make me feel how very much it wants to.

“Thanks. I’d have understood if you were more focused on this other thing, after how our last disaster went,” Aisling says through a sad smile. “But again. One thing at a time. We should get back to the funeral or people will start asking us what’s taking so long, and that’d be an awkward thing for me to answer.”

“Um.” I wasn’t really thinking about this, either, but… “Could any of them have just listened with magic?”

“Nnnnnn…” Aisling grunts, trying to force out a word that just won’t come. She thumps a fist against the bench, scowling at nothing in particular. “I don’t think so. Not in any ways that wouldn’t be conspicuous to at least one of us. To my knowledge.”

“That was a lot of caveats.”

“Yeah, well, if anyone’s listening, please come offer us any pertinent information you have. If you don’t have any, fuck you and welcome to the nightmare club! You’re here forever!” She throws her arms out in a broad shrug, hops to her feet, and offers me a hand up. “Are you alright to head back?”

There’s still a lot of things whirling through my head. It’s hard to even think clearly of what I came here for. I’m certain I can’t grieve Shona when I’m fairly sure that neither she nor anyone else has ever died, but it’s not like I could if I didn’t believe that. I’m not so good at letting go of anything.

And if nothing else, there are already things in and about this world I’m more afraid of than Iona Fianata.

“Fine,” I say, and take her hand.

“And to get through this without breaking anyone else’s conception of death?"


Why wait? They’ll all know soon enough, won’t they?