Once Nha leaves us behind, carrying whatever final token of Shona he took with him, most of the procession gathers by the dock. Iona sits down on the rocks with Shona’s family, consoling them while they stare out and watch the Sun’s last traces fade. Mide eventually joins them. I just stand on my own, straining against the frozen weight of my body, and try to make sense of everything. It doesn’t work. My shadow doesn’t even have anything snide to say – I barely see her.

Eventually, when night has almost fallen and the crowd starts to thin, Aisling breaks away and approaches alone. She greets me with a tiny nod, then turns, slowly, to watch night fall. “Hey,” she says. “What’re you thinking?”

“Nha’s cute,” I say.

“Right, it’s your first time at one of these. He is. And about your idea, with him in mind?”

“Oh.” I look around, making sure no one’s in earshot. “I don’t know. I mean, of course I knew about him, I just… wasn’t really thinking about him when I learned all this. And I can’t think of any way it’d make sense for him to do this. I was hoping you could. They didn’t go find her body and put her ashes in there, did they?”

“No. Even in cases where someone has killed the Harbinger that got a Keeper, they almost never find their remains in the Wound. They usually just fill those with some of a Keeper’s favorite things. Tokens of them, you know.”

“Then I’ve got nothing,” I admit.


“Well, one more for the pile. All this aside, how’re you managing? You look… any progress on the donation plan?”

“I’d have a hard time thinking of how to ask enough random people to be worth it for something like that on my best days, and I haven’t had any good days since everything last week.”

“Ah. Well, I obviously don’t know the details of your medical situation, but if, for any reason, you absolutely needed to, could your power turn a bad day good?”

My legs wobble as I look inward, feeling the chill in my veins, listening to the strangely dry, rustling sound where I once heard blood flowing through my ears. “Yes. But I’d have to eat people first. I’ve been empty for a while and it doesn’t like that.”

“Of course.” Aisling grits her teeth and exhales through them. “So. Do you have any estimate of the minimum viable amount of people-eating you’d have to do to fix that? Just… making sure I understand where we stand, if you or we have an emergency.”

“Not really? After the first few times, I started looking for big groups and taking tiny bites from every healthy person in them.”


“Well. I’m sure you can see now how it might help to keep logs of these things.”

“Does it really work that way? It doesn’t feel like it does.” I’ve never had a concrete sense of how much stolen health I’m holding or how much it takes to do any given thing with it. The closest I’ve come to thinking of it in amounts is that there is a smallest possible sip I can take from someone – which is more than enough to hurt them – and how quickly whatever I’m doing is burning through my remaining supply.

“Lots of things don’t feel the way they are, and you won’t know how it works if you never even try to quantify it! And not to pile more stuff on you, but it’d probably also help if you could find a specialist in Keeper health issues. The experts will know way more about what’s going on with you than I do.”

“I do already have one of those. They brought her in right before we met, so I haven’t asked her about the feather thing yet, but maybe soon.”

“Oh! Good, then. Who was it?” Aisling asks.

“My doctor? Why?”

Aisling shrugs. “Just wondering if they’re anyone I’ve heard of. Medicine’s not one of my big things, but I have looked into the field.”

“Her name’s Dr. Cantillon. I don’t know if you’d like her, she–”

“Ava Cantillon is your doctor?!” Aisling almost shouts. She’s looking at me the way Shona might’ve if I’d talked about having lunch with Irida.

“Um. Do you know her?”

“Only by her work, but her papers on modern presentations of the Third Scourge are incredible! One of the first things I read about intersections of magic and the material world that made its subject look like something it might at least be possible to understand and systematize! Do you think you could get her autograph?”

“Probably? Or I could make you a squiggle that’d look just like it. She’s got the most doctor handwriting ever.”

“You’re fucking with me. I’m sure you’ve had someone you looked up to enough to know how not the point that is.”

I smile despite myself. She’s right, with a catch. “I used to. It was Tara.”

Aisling purses her lips, holding back an expression. “Ah,” she says, and nothing more. Right, has she been around long enough to know Tara? To have her own awful experiences with her? Does she think I’m some gross serial killer fangirl now? I can never miss a chance to mess something up.

“Um, yes, though, I’m sure that won’t be a problem. I’ll tell Dr. Cantillon she has Keeper fans,” I say.

“Appreciate it. And you know, about the volunteer thing… if you aren’t sure where to start, there’s a lot of people right over there who I’m certain could help.”

“What?” I glance back at the dock. Irida and Nilamai have left, but the priests, the Fianatas, and Roland all sit on the shore, gathered around Mide and Shona’s family, talking quietly amongst themselves. Shona’s mother is still visibly crying, but even she’s part of their conversation. “Now? I can’t. They’re doing funeral stuff. Plus that’s two of the people who’ll least want to help me and one of their mom.”

“One of those people just offered you a clean slate, and meant it, yes. And whatever you think about him, he’s an expert in PR bullshit.”

“Wait. Seriously? You’re serious? Why does it even matter to you?”

Aisling puts a hand to her temple. “Deadly serious. And because I am trying to help you. If you end up in trouble again, or we find Isobel’s Harbinger, I don’t want you out of commission because you didn’t take what might be very simple steps to get you the resources you need, and it’d be very easy to take those steps right now.”

“Oh,” I say. “Right. That makes sense.”

Aisling pulls her phone from a coat pocket and starts tapping away. “Here. If you don’t want to interrupt their conversation, I can call him over right now. He answers Keeper messages pretty much instantly unless he’s in a Wound or something.”

Set against his brilliant smile just a few hours ago, Roland’s voice echoes through my head: I’ll kill you! You’re going to die alone! It doesn’t make sense. Nothing about him makes sense. How could I trust him with anything when I don’t understand him at all?

How can Aisling trust me? How could Shona, who barely even had anything to gain from it?

“…Go ahead,” I say.

“Great. Sent.” Aisling taps a single key and puts her phone down.

Sure enough, maybe a minute later, Roland stands up, approaches us, and raises a hand. “Yo,” he says with an inviting smile. “Is this no longer off-limits?”

“Obviously. I’d say you don’t need to gloat, but I’m not sure if that’s true,” Aisling says.

Roland’s smile widens a little, but he says nothing.

“We thought you might be able to help sort out the logistics of something. I don’t know exactly what you two talked about the last time you… met. Are you aware of the donor plan to fill Liadain’s particular magical needs?”

“Oh yeah!” Roland says, eyes narrowing. “You mentioned it back then. And I told you how easy it’d be to get it going with my help.”

“Yes, you did,” I say. “But why’d you have to be so weird and pushy and creepy about it?”

Roland takes a single step closer. I suppress a flinch. Reflexively, I want to pull back, but it doesn’t feel quite like he’s pressing in on me, and the way I am now, I’m never sure how close people need to be to even hear me talk.

“Why’d you tell me there was no way we could talk to Niavh when she told me the morning after she would’ve answered her phone whenever?” I ask.

“You apparently met Niavh, then continued doing what you were doing for more than another week,” Roland answers immediately. “If I left you for her to handle, how was I supposed to know you wouldn’t go off and keep doing it until she got back?”

“That doesn’t make any sense! If that was my plan, what’s the exit strategy? It’d just be digging a slightly deeper hole that’d cave in around me the next time you two talked!”

Aisling squints at me, very pointedly.

Roland’s smile returns, wry but thoughtful as he glances off into the ocean. “You know, when I found you, I really didn’t know enough about you to say just what I thought you’d do.” His red eyes dart back to mine. “Now, though? Yeah. Sounds about right,” he says.

Fine, yes. I’ve had a lot of stupid plans. I say nothing.

“Look, this is not really the point,” Aisling says. “Roland, whatever your thought processes and the information you had access to at the time, I’m confident you were mistaken about Liadain’s intentions, both before and after your encounter. I also don’t see what any of us have to gain from relitigating this. So, given that we seem to have moved past it to something resembling everyone’s satisfaction, are you willing and able to help now?”

“Oh, sure, I’d be happy to help! What can I do for you?” Roland asks, looking my way even while Aisling speaks.

“Um. I want to arrange some kind of event where people can donate health to my pool in exchange for, I don’t know, autographs or something? It doesn’t sound like a very good deal when I say it like that, but Aisling says people will do it. I just don’t really know where to start, and I haven’t been able to figure it out because everything hurts.”

Roland nods eagerly. “That’s no trouble at all, yeah. I can set you up with my agent. Nice lady, great at her job. She’d at least want you on Flow or Lighthouse to make the arrangements, but either of us could verify you as a Keeper right now.”

I sigh. I was afraid of that. “Okay. That’s fine.”

“As for the ‘or something’…” Roland taps a finger on his chin. After a few seconds, his ruby eyes light up. “Got it! You do tarot, right?” he asks.

I tilt my head and narrow my eyes. “Where’d that come from?”

“Thought your cards looked familiar. Not really my thing, but some of that old occult stuff comes up in training seminars.”

“Ohh. I guess it would. Yes, I do.”

“That’s perfect, then! Offer people selfies or autographs for a little bit of juice, tell their fortunes for a little bit more.”

“Tarot isn’t… Nevermind, that’s actually a good idea,” I say.

“What were you expecting?” he asks, holding up his arms as he shrugs.

“I don’t know. Some sort of plot to make me your sidekick, maybe.”

Roland leans forward with his arms folded behind his back, bringing his face close to mine. The motion is so sudden my heart leaps out of my chest like a startled cat, but the rest of me freezes in place. “Well, if you’re offering…” he murmurs, his voice slightly warm on my cheek. Just like that, all my thoughts scatter, blown away on a passing wind.This tale has been unlawfully lifted from Royal Road. If you spot it on Amazon, please report it.

“I’m, um…” I cast my eyes downwards. I can’t think clearly when I look at him. He’s too bright. As obnoxious as he is, I can’t even begin to deny that he just looks… unbelievable. Like a photo of a supermodel in motion. But he’s right there. He’s so close. I don’t know what’ll happen next, but… maybe it won’t be bad.

I get what Mide meant now when she mentioned wondering why she even bothered every time she looked in the mirror after meeting Roland. Tall, slender in his robes, with a sharp-featured face that could as easily belong to a handsome girl as a beautiful boy, all framed by long hair that flows out like strands of golden silk… and those big, red eyes of his. I glimpse upwards into them and—

—a memory stabs sweetly through me like a jagged shard of glass. The image of a single crimson eye, its frenzied glare peeking out between sullied golden curtains. A burning desire to tear me apart piercing through the night as every bit of breath is crushed out of my chest. But I don’t understand. I’m terrified, but it’s a fear twined together with… with what?

He pulls back and the world snaps back into place around me. He chuckles to himself. I blink.

“Nah, I don’t have to be there. Especially not if you show everyone a face as cute as the one you’re wearing right now,” he grins teasingly.

I point to my face. “I… I’m wearing a mask,” I say tonelessly.

“Oh, your eyes are enough to tell.”

I grab the forearm of my cane hand, folding my free arm over myself protectively.

“Roland, are you quite done?” Aisling asks, voice sharp, arms folded. “We do have work to do.”

“I was just coming back to that. Anyway, I don’t have to be part of it at all, really. You’ll get more of a crowd if I am, but hey, up to you. If you want your debut to be your own thing, I can respect that. Irida tried something like that on me when I was getting started.”

“…I’d feel better that way, yes. Thanks.” I can’t stop wondering why he’s being so helpful all of a sudden, but I also can’t bring myself to ask. I feel like I already know what he’d say, but also like I wouldn’t understand him any better for having heard it from him.

“And… I’m sorry,” I say instead. “For making everything so much harder than it needs to be. I know what I was doing, I get that you had your reasons to see me how you did, and I’m not sure why you’d bother helping me now but I’m… I don’t know. Thanks. I’m glad we didn’t just kill each other.”

Aisling shoots me an odd sidelong look. Roland only blinks. The sound of dark waves breaking on the rocks fills the silence between us. Finally…

“Yeah! Me too,” Roland says blithely.

Is this flirting? Is this what that looks like? my shadow asks, regarding me like mud on her boots. Bizarre. Disgusting. One more thing you’ll never miss when you shed this flesh like snakeskin.

…Is it? Now? Why? It can’t be. It better not be. That’d make even less sense than everything else about him.

That can’t be all it takes to win you over, can it? she growls, Some creepy pushy words and a favor he TOLD you was trivial.

Just shut up. You’re not helping. I’m not dealing with you right now.


It takes a few more days of quiet misery for Roland’s Church-furnished publicist, a lady from Alelsia whose name, Aethelflaed, I’m glad I don’t have to pronounce, to schedule the event. She obliges when I ask to make all the plans through Lighthouse messages, asks some questions about how my power works, what exactly I need from volunteers (my answers aren’t as detailed as either of us would like) and the level of exposure I’d be comfortable with (as little as possible.)

Taking all that into account, Aethelflaed arranges a simple meet-and-greet at a small chancel in the Weald, with the obvious twist that while she can’t stop anyone who just wants to look at the weird new Keeper from showing up, the main event will be a spot where people can line up to offer me their health. The smallest sip I can take will get them a picture and a shaky autograph. A slightly bigger one adds a three-card tarot reading, where I have veto power over the subject if I don’t think it’s a question tarot could help with or someone just asks me something stupid. I’m sure she found a more diplomatic way to phrase that.

By Sunday, everything’s been set up and she’s spread the word around on whichever platforms people get their Keeper news from. Wary as I was of getting their attention, these Church people do work shockingly fast.


I don’t read any announcements about the event. I’m sure I’d find whatever they say about me embarrassing. All I do is show up when I’m supposed to, torn inside between my urgent need for more life and hoping I won’t be the center of some huge horrible crowd.

As it turns out, it’s not too bad. The chancel is a modestly-sized circle of ceramic white and blue glass, and it looks like most of the people coming must already be inside. Out front, there’s only a woman in simple priestly robes, who leads me in through the sanctuary’s back entrance.

I transform before I head in, not interested in putting on any more of a show than I already am. Voices raise as I step inside, not shouting for my attention but speaking among themselves. There’s somewhere between thirty and forty people here. Of those, most of them, maybe twenty-five, have joined a line that winds around the chamber’s edges, while the rest are simply standing around. Some raise their phones to take my picture.

The line has formed up around a booth in the corner closest to us, where there’s a long table covered in black cloth and draped with dark curtains on either side. I don’t suppose I gave them much to work with as far as my aesthetic. The priestess escorts me there, past the small crowd.

“Um. I’ve never done anything like this before. Is there any way I’m supposed to start?” I ask, then sit down and set my cane against the table. This seat is surprisingly soft, at least.

“That’s up to you. Is there anything you’d like to say?”

I tap my throat once. “Even if there was, they couldn’t hear me like this. I have a voice thing. Emergence.”

“Ah. Well, I’m sure that’s fine,” she says with a small nod. “Just do whatever feels natural. All these people are here to help you, after all, and we have volunteers on hand to care for them afterwards. If it’s necessary.” She gestures across the room to a nurse’s station with a spread of snacks and drinks, which makes the whole thing feel more like a particularly fancy blood drive than anything else.

“Alright. I’ll figure something out, then. Thank you. I guess tell them I said so too.”

The priestess nods and steps away, leaving me alone at the table. People at the front of the line crane around each other to look at me, while others reposition to take more pictures.

This is fine. This’ll be fine. I only need to deal with one person at a time. Doing my best to ignore the observers, I unceremoniously wave the first person in line forward. To my surprise, I dimly recognize her – a girl with thick glasses and her red hair in a spiky bun, though she’s wearing a long Spring dress instead of the school uniform I last saw her in.

“Mor, was it? Hi.”

“Oh, cool, it is you. And you remembered!” She sits across from me and cranes almost halfway over the table, probably to hear me better.

“It hasn’t been that long.” And I don’t meet that many people.

Mor shrugs. “Yeah, I guess not.”

“Thank you for coming, in any case. How’d you know it was me? It’s starting to seem like basically everyone knew me way before I thought of doing this.”

“I mean, people talk, yeah. Especially Shona. You two were friends, right? She talked like you were, only sort of half-assedly anonymizing stuff about you. You know how she is with secrets. Or… well. I’m sorry about her,” she says, lowering her voice. “I didn’t know her that well, but the whole school’s… yeah.”

“I don’t want to talk about Shona,” I say flatly.

“Oh. Sure. Sorry,” she mutters, looking a little taken aback.

“Anyway… Are you sure this’ll be okay? I don’t know a lot of things about how this works, really. It’ll hurt, and I’m not sure how much or for how long.”

Seriously? The spectre seated on the table’s edge shoots me an incredulous glare. She has a point. Why should I get cold feet now of all times? Why should inflicting myself on a normal girl around my age living her normal life feel any different from what I was doing before? There’s no way she’s even the first kid I’ve hurt – I wasn’t sorting my victims by age, or by anything. I almost never saw them at all.

Mor shakes her head, smiling. “It’s fine. Happy to help, and I don’t really care about missing school or anything like that. I’ll have people around, books to catch up on, stuff to think about.”

I don’t mention the days where I’m in too much pain to focus on anything. I’m not trying to scare her away, I just… I don’t know what I’m doing.

“Alright. I think it’d be best if I do things for you before I take what I need. So, what’re you here for?”

“I think I’d like a reading. If I’m going to be sick anyway, getting a little more sick seems like a fair price to see the future.”

I point to the bottom of the sign on my table. Tarot is not magic. No one can see the future. All I know about you is what you tell me, the last line says. That part’s there at my insistence. It may not be exactly true, but I expect my magic readings would be just as awful for everyone else, and I’m not using these people as guinea pigs to find out. Maybe if another Keeper volunteers, I’ll tell Aisling to add it to whatever experiments on my power she’s thinking up.

“I’m, well… yeah, I know that. I read a bit about it before I came. Too much to hope that it’d work differently if a Keeper does it, huh?”

“Yes,” I say. “Do you still want it?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

So I pull an ordinary deck from my Keeper pockets, have Mor pile shuffle it, and get started. It’s the first reading I’ve done for someone other than myself in a while, since I’ve either been too busy or too imposing for my seventh floor corner to get many visitors, and it pretty quickly leaves my comfort zone. She asks me some fairly specific questions about a crush she has and what to do about it. She’s not trying to divine someone’s private details or anything stupid like that, which at least one girl did try when I was still in school, but her situation sounds complicated enough that I don’t really understand it. I just explain the cards and let her do the talking about what she thinks they mean. Eventually, she decides more or less on her own that the girl she likes isn’t in a place where that sort of thing would be good for her, even if she did reciprocate.

“I mean, I pretty much knew all of this, being honest with myself. But it helps to unpack it all and sort it out, y’know?” Mor sighs. Her shoulders droop a little.

“That’s the point. That’s what tarot’s actually good for,” I say. “Sorry it wasn’t a nicer answer.”

“Better right than nice. Thanks for listening.” Listening was all I could really do, so I’m glad it seems to have been worth something to her.

Mor steps around the table and poses while she takes a picture of us. I sign her journal and three more books she pulls from a big messenger bag – not that I really have a signature, or practiced for this at all, or could have made my hands cooperate for long enough to practice even if I’d wanted to. Still, she seems happy enough with my shaky scrawls.

“Thanks,” she says as she tucks her books away. “So, uh… how’s the next part work, exactly?”

“You probably want to sit back down,” I say.

She does, balling her fists and steeling herself like she’s about to have blood drawn. If only it were that easy. Without another word so long I’ve already waited too too long I let my famished soul reach out, taking her life in its many-fanged grip. Mor winces at the sensation, face paling. The whole world smells of warm rain and fresh growth. I grin behind my mask, open my maws, and drink, draining first one gulp of essence, then a second.

It takes all my will to pull away with only those drops. The suffering written clearly on Mor’s face helps – she’s trembling, eyes wrenched shut, whimpering and biting her lip hard enough to draw a trickle of blood.

And that was nothing. That’s what carrying the barest fraction of your burden will do to a person.

“Try to breathe the way you normally do. It won’t help much, but it’ll do something,” I say.

Mor nods, but very obviously doesn’t do that. She stands slowly, almost tripping over her own legs, and holds herself up on her chair, doing her best to smile through the pain, until a nurse rushes over to help her across the room.

Watching her limp away, I understand why I hesitated. The reality of what I’ve done was never the point. Without the threat of immediate death on the line, it’s just hard to take a bite out of someone sitting right in front of me, someone whose name and face I know. It’s simpler, easier, less raw and less real to sense an abstract wisp of life in the distance, know at a glance that it belongs to someone who’s never suffered the way I do every day, and take just a little bit of the good fortune I should’ve been born with for myself.

But I wouldn’t be here if feeling bad was enough to keep me from doing anything.


And on it goes. A few people leave the line after seeing my first victim, but only a few. And slowly, like the roots of a parched plant drinking the first rain in weeks, life trickles into my empty well, easing the agony that’s gnawed at me ceaselessly since I wasted everything I had fighting Roland.

It’s more like a too-brief shower or a trickle from a watering can than true rain, though. Compared to the reserves I used to have, I can already tell that these gifts are only droplets. As long as I’m relying on donations like these, I’ll never reach the heights I did in Aulunla’s Wound again.

But that’s okay. It’ll have to be. Pushing myself that hard was a miserable experience, and more importantly, I don’t need to do it. I can already do more than I could then. I just need to make better plans that use the things I’m good at. Maybe there’ll be another Harbinger I can drain the way I did Aulunla. Or maybe it’ll turn out that I can just hide in an alley and feed my targets cursed copies of myself until it withers and dies. At Aisling’s urging, I have tested the range I can control my clones from and found it to be pretty far, but I obviously have no way to tell how they’ll interact with Wounds until I find one.

The shadow at my side leans over the table, filling the corner of my vision, and fixes me with a grim, knowing smirk.

What? What’re you so smug about? We haven’t even tried yet! You don’t know how it’ll work any more than I do!

Of course I don’t say any of that, but the boy next in line is still giving me a weird look. He scuttles off when I scowl up at him, so… Thanks for that. Hope you’re happy. If you want me to stop holding back and eat everyone, you picked the worst possible time to bother me.


I’m exhausted by the end of the event, but physically, I do feel better than I have in a while. A thin trickle of life is enough to keep my veins from freezing and my body from screaming out in constant crippling pain. I don’t even have to feel bad about using it for enough everyday relief to keep myself standing, since all of it came from people who offered it to me freely.

Part of me wants to walk home, just because I can, but that would feel like an extravagance. As part of this event, my donors were all offered treatment at Guiding Light, the hospital that deals with esoteric injuries when they don’t quite merit a stay in the Sanctuary. By the time I need more, there should be doctors with at least some idea of what I’m doing to people and whether any of my harm is lasting. I should make this much work until then, or at least for as long as I can.

So I take the bus home. It’s good practice ignoring the way people look at me now.

When the elevator opens on the seventh floor, the front desk nurse smiles at me. “Welcome back, Liadain! You have a visitor. I told him he could wait for you in the great room – don’t worry, though, you haven’t kept him waiting too long.”

“What? Who?” I ask, gripping the desk’s edge and leaning over it. The only he I can think of is Roland. He could’ve tracked me down or followed me home or gotten my info from his publicist or something. I still don’t know that he’s plotting something weird, but even if he isn’t, I’m not letting my hospital become a meeting room for every Keeper who wants to bother me.

The nurse looks a little unsettled – I’m sure she knows what it could mean when strange things startle me – but relaxes after a moment. “There’s nothing to worry about, dear! It’s just your dad stopping in. It’s been a bit since he’s made it here, hasn’t it?”

“…Oh,” I say. He actually came here? Now he’s decided to remember I exist?

I think that might be worse.

Behind her matted, ink-stained hair, my shadow stares at me with a confusing blend of disbelief and disgust and… fear? Something I’ve never seen or imagined seeing from her, but that’s the only way I can read her face.

I’m about to ask the nurse if she can get rid of him, or just turn around and leave, when she points and waves. “There you are! She’s back, Mr. Shiel!” she calls.

Dad stands at the end of the hall. A big bag from a bookstore slips from his fingers, thudding to the floor. His hair’s gotten long and scraggly since I last saw him, the pale stubble on his chin is thick, and his eyes are wide and wet behind his glasses.

“Hey, Lia.” His voice breaks as he says my name.