Blood Bounty | Comic

Featured in Life & Death from Limit Break Comics, the new comics label I set up with Gareth Luby and Gary Moloney, I bring you: Blood Bounty. Art – including watercolours – by the amazing Clare Foley. Four pages – enjoy!


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The Blackened Witch | Flash Fiction

There was a common misconception about witches that Amanda was sick and tired of hearing: green skin, wicked to the core, covered in boils, and wholly unattractive. She liked to think of herself as being somewhat pretty, even if she was also somewhat short, and even if people assumed that her gal pals were her older sisters – or worse, a parent or an aunt.

She would argue against the wicked nature, if she wasn’t about to contact a demon to make a deal for some power. Just a loan. Just a little bit, enough to make a difference in a spell. She didn’t want to get into the specifics of why she needed the extra power. She didn’t think a demon needed to know that she wanted to separate a couple. She didn’t think it would be right for a demon to know.

She planted her candles on the ground, around the pentagram she’d chalked onto the floor, and lit them quickly and quietly. The summoning spell was simple, a few choice words and the burning of a sigil over a candle in the middle of the pentagram. Smoke spilled from the floor, black and swirling with a storm inside.

“Hey presto, we have a demon,” she muttered.

The demon was like ink when it formed, glistening and hungry, eyes like coal staring at her. It didn’t have a mouth, but she could hear it speak, its voice like burning paper. “Witches,” it scowled. “Such precious little things. So capable of summoning and so ignorant of the costs.”

She glared at the demon. “I request your power. I need to cast a spell. It’s important.”

“And in exchange?” the demon asked. It sidled closer to her, bound by the summoning circle. “What do I get, trapped as I am in this realm because of your desires?”

“Ten seconds inside,” she told it.

“A minute,” the demon replied.

“Twenty seconds.”

“Forty.”

“Thirty.”

“Deal,” the demon said, with something like a smile stretching across its face, if it only had a mouth and if its face wasn’t made from swirling ink. “Thirty seconds of power, and thirty seconds inside.” She nodded, and the demon reached to the edge of the circle. Amanda grabbed its hand. The ink swirled up the length of her arm, around her neck, and through her mouth down her throat. It was like drowning and burning at the same time. She wasn’t sure which would be a more unpleasant way to die.

Inside, she could feel the demon. Thirty seconds began.

Power burned up in her, and she lit another candle. The fire swam around her, licking her skin, and she thought about her spell. She didn’t like it, but it was necessary. A breakup spell. A voice in her head hissed, The soon to be Mister and Misses Irving, and she shuddered. The demon could hear her, swimming around inside like a… well, a demon. Metaphors be damned.

“I’m doing this for you, babe,” she whispered, and she let the spell explode into the air. It took some time to take shape, to identify love and reason and intent. Breakup spells were risky. They played with the true affections of the heart. They were meant as last resorts, and Amanda thought that maybe this was her last chance.

I wonder do they know the truth, the voice whispered. Twenty seconds to go. Does Leonard know that you once wanted to sleep with him? Or does Amy know that the real reason you can’t attend her wedding is because you think she deserves better?

“Shut up in there,” she whispered.

You love them both, but you think they’re going to tear each other apart.

“I mean it, demon, stop it or I’ll end you.” The spell flickered in front of her. “Damn it. Need to concentrate.” The demon wasn’t wrong, but it was annoying, and that was often worse. “Leonard is a good guy, mostly, but he makes stupid mistakes. And Amy… she’s too good. She’d let him hurt her before she ever left him.”

So you have to break them up? And right before their wedding?

“They’re not right for each other,” Amanda told the demon. Fifteen seconds. The spell waivered, and she redoubled her efforts. The demon thrilled at being used like a battery. “They need to break up. They need to never see each other again. Wedding be damned.”

Damned indeed, said the demon. Let me show you something out there. And she did. She closed her eyes, and she saw a graveyard. In that graveyard was an apple tree, black and white and pristine. A few miles away was an orchard. The apples were red and glistening. Connect the black and the white with the red and the green, and your spell will be a lot easier.

“Easier how?” Amanda asked, but the demon merely chuckled. She thought about it a little bit. Ten seconds. Nine. Eight. “Screw it,” she muttered. Demons didn’t always offer free advice. She focused on the apples, and their colours, and in her mind an invisible line connected the orchard to the graveyard. Seven. Six. The orchard turned monochrome.

Good. Good. Much better than a simple break-up.

“What did I do?” she asked. Five. Four. Silence from the demon. “What did I do, demon?”

So much more than you hoped, and so much less than you desired. Three. Two. Next time, a full minute. One.

Her concentrated snapped as her body soared across the room to the pentagram on the floor. She coughed out black ink, practically like tar. Something caught in her throat, and she almost passed it trying to heave it up. Two chunks of coal crashed against the floor.

The demon looked up at her from the floor, a vomit-mixed mess. “A word of advice, witch: stay away from that wedding. And find a good undertaker.” The demon wink as it vanished, and Amanda sank to the floor.

“Something wicked this way comes,” she sighed, defeated.

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Frankie Joins Twitter

Last July, the world was introduced to Frankie: a murder kitty with an arsenal too big to carry and a cheat sheet of cat puns for every occasion. (Okay, the cheat sheet is mine…) We started with How to Live With Your Cat (When Your Cat is an Internationally Renowned Assassin) and later released Meouch: Operation Bad Dog.

Now, with work beginning on a new Frankie book, the cat himself has joined Twitter.

He was less than graceful about it.

We’re planning to have some fun with the account, and to show people what Frankie’s made of. It’s incredibly likely he’ll have said more online than in the book by the time we release it.

For anyone who wants to check out some of the stories featuring Frankie, we’ll have them at The Geek Mart on June 9th, and at Celtic Con on June 23rd and 24th, ahead of Small Press Day on July 7th.

Follow Frankie on Twitter @meouchcomic

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Mental Health and Writing

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d address that most clichéd of subject: mental health and writing.

 

First, some myths:

  1. Depression makes you more creative.
  2. Depression is a normal part about being a writer.
  3. Writing is a solitary process.
  4. You’re only worth as much as you earn from writing.

All of that is crap. Like all crap, it had to come from somewhere. Let’s address it, briefly.

Depression makes you more creative. The problem here, aside from encouraging people to ignore treatments for their mental illnesses, is that it’s fundamentally untrue. Lots of creative people get depressed, yes. Sometimes, anti-depressants makes people feel like creative, because the chemicals in their brain are changing to the typical levels, yes. The thing about medication for mental illness, though, is that (a) there’s more than one because (b) people react to them differently. And, (c) the placebo effect: people think they’ll lose their creativity when they go on medication, so they do. (Side note: There are a lot of different side effects to medication. They’re all more manageable than trying to stumble through life with a mental illness that will only get worse. If you need to take medication to regulate your brain chemistry, then take it. If it doesn’t suit you, tell your doctor.)

Depression is a normal part about being a writer. Statistics are difficult to come across, but I would take a guess that most writers are not depressed. Many are overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, worried, bored, or disappointed, and many of those things can lead to a depressed state, but there is a difference between feeling depressed and being depressed. One goes away by itself, the other needs taking care of regularly. A depressed writer is a false cliché.

Writing is a solitary process. I used to believe this. Then I joined a writing group, and we wrote around a coffee table. At the same time, I had to learn to write using my phone, while riding the bus. Neither of those scenarios are conducive to writing before I realised that I didn’t have to be in a small room by myself to write anything. That said, I still wear headphones to stop people talking to me while I’m writing, because conversation is distracting.

You’re only worth as much as you earn from writing. Stories have value. Poems have value. A thesis on the evolution of birds in Indonesia has value. None of those values are related to how much money they earn the author. Even if no one else ever reads what you write, the point is that you’ve made something.

So, what should you do to take care of your mental health as a writer?

There are a few things I would recommend. First of all: forget about the idea of mental illness being romantic. You don’t need to be depressed to make something worthwhile. Secondly: stop comparing yourself to other people. That includes, but is not limited to: thinking you’re better than people, thinking you’re worse than people, thinking you have fewer opportunities because you’re a woman, thinking you have fewer opportunities because you’re not a woman, thinking you could get more recognition for being white, and thinking you could be noticed more if you weren’t white.

(This is a real thing I’ve noticed: there are a lot of women-only or POC-only calls for submissions. Why did I notice that? Because those are the calls for submissions that need a signal boost. White men: the next time you think there are no opportunities for you, look at the people in the literary mag on the shelf, or the writers are that conference in your town, or the shelves are your local bookshelf – we’re the norm, and while that’s not a good thing, it should at least serve as a reminder that all the extra opportunities for every but us exist for a reason.)

With all of that in mind, here are ten tips to dealing with mental health as a writer:

  1. Talk to people. Talk about your book. Talk about your day. Talk about whether you feel lonely or sad or apprehensive. And ask people how they are, and what they did since you last saw them.
  2. Don’t stick purely to tea, coffee, or alcohol. Whatever about writing drunk and editing sober, you also need to stay hydrated.
  3. Take breaks. Set a timer for 45 minutes, and leave your desk after that. Pick a day to not write, especially if you fill all your free time with a pen in your or a word processor open.
  4. Meet other authors. Solidarity is a wonderful thing. And remember not to compare your success or lack thereof to other peoples’.
  5. Don’t read the bad reviews. Have someone else do it for you, if you really need to know if it’s warranted, but remember this: most people who give a star rating on a book don’t write something to go with it, and not all those that do have put much thought into their words.
  6. Don’t respond to the bad reviews. No matter how bad.
  7. Don’t respond to trolls on the internet. No matter how much your want to put them straight.
  8. Treat yourself when you do something substantial. Celebrating your victories creates a positive feedback loop in your brain. We’re basically dogs, and the celebration is the bell.
  9. Put away the project that’s causing you grief, especially if you don’t have a deadline. You don’t need to hurt yourself because you believe you have to finish everything you start.
  10. When you ask for feedback, find someone who knows what sort of feedback you need, and what sort of tone is best to take with you. On a related note: seek feedback. You might not like negative feedback, but it could make your writing better, and that, in turn, can make you feel better about yourself. You don’t have to write perfectly every time.

There’s a lot to be said about all of this, but perhaps the last key point to take away is this: just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you’re not also human. You’re allowed to feel poorly, and you’re allowed to take time off.

Everything doesn’t have to be okay, and that’s okay. You’re worth more than your book.

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Dream Believer | Flash Fiction

The expression ‘Dream come true’ was never meant to be taken literally. Aspirations, desires, longings and other assorted synonyms, sure; the whole world could agree that those sorts of things can happen, eventually or suddenly, with anywhere between a lot of work and none whatsoever. But dreams were a different ballpark, so to speak. Dreams were temporary and fleeting fabrications, mostly forgotten and impossible to bottle in the same way one might bottle good fortune or good timekeeping or the ability to play jazz for twenty-three and a half minutes.

When the first dream did, literally, come true – that is to say, explode itself into existence in a very physical way – it caught quite a few people off guard.

Sally Northridge did not know what to do with her sudden and profoundly oversized psyche-eating rabbit, and did not have much of an opportunity to figure it out before her sanity was devoured and she was left a babbling mess for three weeks. Eventually her sister, a practiced part-time psychic and full-time veterinarian, found a way to reconstruct her sister’s mind enough that it would repair itself over time by extracting some of the essence of her sanity from the rabbit’s droppings. Sally was none too pleased to discover this.

When asked how she felt, generally speaking, she responded, “Shit,” which was felt to be an accurate summary of how she ought to feel, all things considered. She later broke out in a swearing tantrum when she was told that the rabbit had escaped and was, for all intents and intensive purposes, missing. And, maybe, a little bit pregnant.

Sally’s sister, Harriet, was less concerned with the whereabouts of the rabbit than she was about how it came into existence. “I had a dream about it, I think,” Sally told her. “A nightmare, I guess. And when I woke up, it was at the foot of my bed.”

Harriet quickly formulated a plan. “Can you have a dream about me and, say, Brad Pitt, on a date?”

“Why would I ever dream about the two of you on a date?”

“As an experiment,” Harriet told her, and that was that. Harriet, the mystical scientist of the family, could not be argued against when it came to experiments. Sally slept, and Harriet imagined herself and Brad Pitt dating – and, using her psychic abilities and the somewhat tenuous connection of sisterhood, forced such imaginations into her sister’s brain.

Harriet disappeared mid-sleep.

The problem with dreams is that the details are never quite right. Harriet’s hair was a different colour, and her eyes were a little bit too large. Her lipstick was smeared on one side. Brad Pitt was mostly Brad Pitt, except that he seemed incapable of smiling properly. The bigger issue was that the restaurant they were in did not appear to have an outside.

“Where are we?” Harriet asked, and slapped her hands to her mouth.

“At dinner,” Brad replied. Harriet slapped a hand to his mouth, too. Both of them, Harriet realised with a certain dread, spoke with the sort of inner voice that one imagines when one cannot perfectly recall how someone should sound.

“But where?” Harriet whispered. Brad looked outside at Nothing, and shrugged.

Sally woke up to an empty room. Harriet was gone, though Sally didn’t quite know where. Brad Pitt popped up in the news over breakfast, looking for a woman with a strange voice that he couldn’t get out of his mind, but the whole thing was chocked up to a dream he’d had.

“No,” Sally realised, “I dream I had.”

If she had to guess – and she did have to guess – she would say that Harriet was, at present, locked in the middle of Brad Pitt’s thoughts. She vaguely recalled a black void outside a restaurant in her dream, and instantly assumed it was because human thoughts did not show up on the visible light spectrum. (She was, of course, mostly correct; under certain circumstances, one could see human thoughts. It was rarely a good idea.)

Sally waited until night – impatiently and biting her nails more than she’d like – to dream again, and dreamed that Harriet and Brad’s date would end, and that they would return home.

As Brad was already within his own mind, he simply stopped thinking about Harriet. Harriet, on the other hand, woke up in her own bed the next morning with a flying New York cab outside her window, driverless. She used this vehicle to go to Sally’s again.

“That was wild,” she told her sister.

“It’s insane,” Sally insisted.

“The experiment was a success,” Harriet insisted. “I dated Brad Pitt for three whole years.” Sally informed her of the actual span of time that had passed. “Even better. Speed dating. We could market this.”

Sally outright refused. “No more dreaming of other people,” she told Harriet. “It’s too dangerous. What if I never got you back?”

Harriet paused for a moment longer than Sally would have liked. “Alright, no people. But what if someone dreams about an ice cream machine that can make any flavour you want? Or if people dream about a carpet that never needs cleaning? Or needs a candle that will go stay lit all through the night but will never burn anything?” Sally stared at her, waiting for a point or an explanation. “Three years was a long time, Sally,” Harriet snapped. “The point is that you can monetise this. No one’s ever been able to literally make dreams come true, before.”

When asked to prove it, Harriet pulled a copy of The Black Pages from her purse, which sat in her new flying cab. It took her a while to explain the whole truth of it.

“So, we place an ad? And when does it get printed?” Sally was still somewhat sceptical.

“Immediately,” Harriet informed her. “Northridge Dream Manifestors: Your wildest dream come true, or your money back. Terms and conditions apply. What do you think?”

Sally smiled, and forgot about the rabbit.

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The Protector (Invasion, Part Three) | Flash Fiction

What began as a group of five was down to but one, scared, disciple. Cian watched as Taranis, still half-naked from the waist up, and Esus, inhabiting a female Garda, communed quietly, eyes closed, hands linked. The Thunderer and the Lord, two parts of a trio, and one god more than Cian anticipated meeting when he woke up that morning.

He shivered as a gust of cold air wrapped around them. “Is this going to take long?” he asked them.

Esus glared at him, but the Thunderer smiled back more warmly. “Have faith, disciple. We have almost found the third host. The winds are whispering to me, guiding us. The powers that bind me to my brothers are growing stronger.”

They returned to their silent meditation, and Cian collapsed to his bum, sitting cross-legged on the road. He had a sneaking suspicion that there wouldn’t be any traffic coming this way. “I think I’m in way over my head,” he whispered to himself. He wasn’t sure if the gods could hear him. Esus’s disdain, worn in perpetuity upon his host’s face, gave nothing away about the Lord’s thoughts. “I need help. I need to get out of this.”

The winds themselves seemed to listen and, in turn, respond. “Abominations, both.” The words sent a chill down Cian’s spine, boring through his nervous system. “I can see the truth of them. Foreign invaders.”

“You’re not their brother,” he replied. The god’s name rippled through his head. “You’re not Teatates.”

The wind laughed. “The god is trapped, like all the others. A sacrifice is required. A host. A vessel. Only the true gods are welcome in this land. The Veil is designed to keep all others out.”

He tried to stand, but his legs were held still by some invisible force. He choked out a syllable, and Esus’ eyes snapped open again. “What are you doing?” the god asked. Cian’s eyes bulged as his face turned red. Esus released Taranis’s hands and pointed to the disciple. “Something is wrong.”

The Thunderer turned to his disciple, his last disciple. Without a word, he clapped his hands together with enough force to blast the air in every direction. Cian rolled over, gasping for breath. The gods had no chance to ask what had happened, when the town dissolved around them. Fresh woods grew sprouted through the earth. The trio were surrounded, trapped by trees and a growing crowd that seemed to step from the air itself.

Esus’s eyes fell to the ground. “A summoning circle,” he noted.

“Do not taint the air with your words,” a woman cried. She stood out from the rest of the crowd, weighed down by heavy trinkets, branded by old symbols for protection, for strength, for power, symbols from the old ways and some from the new. Her eyes were solid black, her hair chopped to her scalp, her skin dirty and, in parts, covered with blood.

Cian recognised her voice. “You tried to kill me,” he shouted at her.

Taranis grunted at Cian, raising his fists for a fight. “Do not make conversation with her. She is a witch.” He turned his attention to his brother. “There is a suitable host here. Teatates must enter the drowned body. No other will do. Find the host. I’ll hold off the witch.”

“Alone?” The Lord shook his head.

“I am the Thunderer. I am your warrior, my Lord.” His voice deepened with each word as sparks began to dance along his knuckles. He looked to Cian. “Stay safe, disciple. This will not be pretty.” With that, he launched himself into the air. The witch barely had time to respond when he came crashing down upon her.

Esus grabbed Cian, wrapping him in a golden light. “The light will fade with time, but it will keep you protected. Leave the fighting to us.” The Garda had had a warm face, and for the briefest moment it came through the Lord’s influence. Cian approved of the god’s choice in host. As swiftly as Taranis had thrown himself into battle, the Lord’s disdain returned, and his feet carried him across the forest floor.

Taranis’s blows landed against the witch, but did little to her. Whatever power she possessed, it was enough to rival the god. She slashed at the air, and blood trickled from Taranis’s chest. He roared, shaking the trees all around them. Their whole fight continued in that manner, with Esus darting around them. The Lord pinned the witch’s accomplices to the trees, silver light tying them in place several feet from the ground. With each person Esus struck, the witch’s cuts were less effective, and Taranis’s blows more painful.

Cian may not have fully understood the powers at play all around him, but one thing was clear: of all their captors, only the witch had any power. The others were like him, ordinary humans. He wondered if she, too, had been ordinary before all of this.

“Brother,” Esus called out. “I need a storm.” He held a man in the air by the back of his neck, the last of the witch’s accomplices. The Thunderer smirked, and loosed a scream so feral and untamed that the heavens erupted. Rain ploughed against Cian’s skin like bullets, and the forest floor began to become soggy and waterlogged in a matter of seconds.

Esus waited a couple of minutes before forcing the man’s face to the earth, buried in muddy water. It felt like a lifetime before the body exploded with light, and Esus let him loose.

Slowly, he stood up, and smiled. He was taller and broader than Taranis’s host. “My Lord. Brother. Thank you. The Protector is here.”

The witch collapsed to her knees when she saw him, and she finally took note of her companions, trapped by silver light. It robbed her of her link to them. She was nothing but a common witch now, facing a completed trio of foreign gods. “This can’t be.”

“But it is,” Esus told her. “Denounce your former faith. Vow your services to us.” The witch spat at her. Teatates made to hit her, but Esus stopped him. “Taranis. Do your job. The human refuses to join us, and so she will suffer for it.”

The Thunderer nodded, eyes glowing white hot. He raised his right hand to the sky; without a word or gesture from him, a bolt of lightning ripped through his storm. The complete ferocity of the black cloud above poured to the ground, tearing through the witch. There was nothing left of her, or the clouds, after that. Her scream went unheard against the wrath of the god.

“That’s it, then,” Cian mumbled. “The trio is here.” He fell to one knee, and they assembled in front of him.

“The true war begins, now,” Esus told him. As if on cue, the sky began to turn black. Darkness spread across it, more like ink in is consistency than a cloud, and the gods huddled together. “I only hope we are not too late.”

 

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The Lord (Invasion, Part Two) | Flash Fiction

Even the mightiest of old gods grow concerned with imminent danger. Where the disciples Cian and Cynthia saw an opportunity to celebrate the coming of their Lord, the Thunderer Taranis, the god saw a countdown ticking down to doom. His host was all but dead inside him, his mind scorched away by fear and the blinding lightning that scorched the woods all around them.

“We need to secure a host for the true Lord,” Taranis told them. Through the voice of his host, his power rumbled deep and brooding. Cian and Cynthia looked at him worryingly. “My brothers remain caught in the void, their voices muted against the veil that pulsated around this foreign land. I hear them as I hear the sea storm and the trees break against the oncoming tide of darkness, trapped and in need of your assistance.”

Cian stumbled forward, the black robe that was his favoured clothing for the sacrificial rite of his Lord now torn and muddied and soaked with rain. “But, you are our Lord. You and you alone.” The Thunderer glared at him with a ferocity that hadn’t been witnessed in centuries. Cian stood his ground. “I am here only to serve you.”

The only other remaining disciple of the god, Cynthia, stepped away from Cian. “His wish is to save his brothers. That’s how we serve him.” She turned her eyes to Taranis. “Do you know where to find the next sacrifice, my Lord?” She placed a hand on his bare chest. Sparks danced along his skin, partly the aftermath of his thunderous arrival, partly a demonstration of his unchecked power.

He lifted her hand away gently. “There will be time for flirtations, my child, but it is not now. Not while the darkness hovers on the horizon.” He breathed in the air deeply. “There is a feeding station nearby. My brother’s sacrifice is there.” He led his mismatched disciples through the woods and the rain.

What Taranis called a feeding station was in fact a garage. It sat within a small town that seemed to materialise out of nowhere as they walked. The god smirked as Cian and Cynthia looked back to an open field. “Where are the cars?” Cian asked.

“Where you left them,” the god replied. “But we are nowhere near them, now. We have passed along the width of the storm.” He raised a hand and pointed to a man refilling his car. “There. His name is Dermot. You will grab him.”

Cian rid himself of his robe, wearing his regular clothing underneath, and together with Cynthia they marched on Dermot. “Please, we need help,” Cynthia announced as they drew closer. She sobbed against the rain, earning a sympathetic frown from Dermot. “Our car, it broke down a few miles from here. We’ve been walking in the rain this whole time. Our phones are dead.”

Dermot approached them, getting just close enough that it became too late for him to escape when Cian pounced. “Jesus Christ,” the man screamed. He punched Cian roughly, but the disciple’s determination held still. Cynthia was less fortunate.

“Get off my husband,” a woman screamed. She tackled Cynthia to the ground. “You picked the wrong man to mess with,” she sneered. Cynthia scratched the woman’s face and tumbled her over. The woman’s jacket opened in the struggle.

“You’re a Garda,” Cynthia gasped. “You have to understand. This is for the greater good.”

Dermot finally escaped Cian’s grasp, shoving him to the ground. “Jessica, run for God’s sake,” he cried. He tried to walk, only to find his ankle trapped by the clawing hands of his attacker. Cian yanked at him, dragging him to the ground.

“I can’t leave you here,” Jessica shouted. She received a brutal punch in the face for her words, and a cut from a stray ring. The rain washed the blood to the road with a cold sting.

Finally seeing his opportunity, Taranis entered the fray. He grabbed Dermot’s jacket roughly with one hand, close to the base of his spine, and heaved him into the air. “I always forget how weak humans can be,” he sniped, stepping over Cian. “Grab your ceremonial garment. It has a more appropriate use.” He fashioned Cian’s robe into a noose, wrapping it around Dermot’s neck while his wife watched on helplessly.

The bundles rope that was Cian’s robe stretched into the air as if pulled by a giant, lifting Dermot off his feet. Taranis recalled the efficiency with knots that his disciples had previously displayed in the binding of his host. Cian hadn’t let him down, in the end.

The man’s wife screamed as the life left him, his last breaths failing, catching in his tightened throat. For a few minutes he hung there, to the small audience. Cynthia climbed to her feet, leaving Jessica sobbing on the road.

“Is it done?” Cian asked. Taranis frowned. “What went wrong?”

The Garda staggered upright. “You killed my husband,” she exclaimed. “He was the only person I loved, and you killed him.” She rushed at Cynthia, stopping only when Dermot’s body began to emit a soft light. With an explosive force that knocked the rain from the sky, the light erupted, crashing into Jessica with the weight of a truck.

She was thrown off balance, but caught herself with impossible poise before falling. Dermot’s body collapsed to the ground as a smile grew on Jessica’s face. She ignored him, looking to Taranis. “My brother, you did well.”

Taranis dropped to his knee. “Esus. I was worried I had failed.”

“This is your brother?” Cynthia said with a laugh. “He’s in a woman’s body.”

Esus glared at the woman. “The gender of my vessel means nothing,” she stated plainly. “But mockery. Violence against the true vessel. Those are things that matter dearly to me. I am the Lord. I am the Ruler of the Three.” She stood nose to nose against Cynthia. “We can do without it,” she added,” grabbing the disciple’s neck and twisted roughly in one quick movement.

The Thunderer sighed, the sky rumbling. “I wish you hadn’t killed her,” he groaned.

The Lord shrugged. “It is of no consequence. We have another.” Cian gulped and shrivelled up behind Taranis. “The hour draws near, brother. We need to move on from here. We need to find Teatates, before it is too late.”

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