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Anatomy of a Mask

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One year later

It was a slow day at the PI firm, so Basira worked on a class assignment. She’d failed several classes with that whole ‘on the run for murder’ thing last year and had to repeat them, and now it felt like everything she did was a semester behind. Which she supposed it was, but there was no reason that mattered, really.

Daisy, in Reception, was on the phone. Basira heard the phrase “we were acquitted of all charges,” meaning she was probably talking to a new client worried about the whole serial murderer thing. Basira waited for the call to end before sauntering into Reception and kissing her.

“What’s the case?” she asked.

“Someone whose brother is someone else now but nobody believes it’s a different person.”

“Ugh, that thing again? We really need to find out how exactly Dekker bound it the first time.”

Daisy nodded. “Jun has occult contacts. I’ll ask him if he knows anything.”

“Who’s Jun, Daisy?”

“You know, my old boyfriend from when I lived in Tokyo.” Daisy paused and squeezed her eyes shut. “I’ve never lived in Tokyo, have I?”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Okay. Okay, everything that happened in Tokyo is a lie. I’ll try to remember.” She looked at the two main things on her desk, aside from the computer – a large picture of her and her friends all smiling together, and a mirror. “Right. By the way, the guy from the Hillard case took our advice and went to make a statement, so we’ll have a smoother version of events from the Institute to look through tomorrow. And we’ll know whether it’s actually supernatural.”

“Always handy. Anything else that needs to be done today?”

“I don’t think so, why?”

Because if we get out of here early, we’ll have time to make beetroot dip for the house party.”

Yes! The house party is real. Okay.

Tim and Julia are in town right now, so they’ll probably bring that casserole thing that Tim likes to make. They’ll be late, though. They’re here to do something really important, apparently.”

I bet it’s to kill some fire monster with six heads or something.”

Ha. Probably.”

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The ground had been undisturbed for more than a year, and in that time, the grass and leaf litter of the forest had reclaimed it. If you didn’t know, it would be impossible to tell that you were standing over a grave.

Tim poured a bottle of alcohol out onto the ground while Julia laid down the bouquet of flowers and shiny new hunting knife.

Happy birthday, old man,” she whispered.

They stood over the unmarked grave of Trevor Herbert for a while.

He died protecting us,” Julia said after a little while. “It was about the best death one of us can hope for.”

It’ll take us too, you know,” Tim said.

It takes everyone.”

And you’re okay with that? Hunting, knowing that eventually we’re going to be something’s prey?”

Julia frowned at him. “What’s with the philosophy all of a sudden? Everyone is hunter and prey. It’s how the world works. Turning our backs on it and sitting in an office somewhere wouldn’t protect us or anyone else.”

Yeah. I know.”

You’re thinking of taking Daisy’s route? Plugging your ears and pretending you can’t hear the Blood and growing weak while you play pretend?” Out of respect for Tim and Daisy, she was clearly trying to keep the derision out of her voice. She was failing.

Tim looked at the grave again. That was their two choices, wasn’t it? The two ‘good’ endings for people like them. The fates of their two mentors. Turn your back on everything and slowly wither away, afraid of what you are, or get killed by something before your sins catch up with you and you become as bad as that which you hunt. The other option, continuing to live and chase and kill until… well. It didn’t bear thinking about.

But that was a long, long way in the future. For now, the sun was bright, the wind was cold, their minds were clear, and the world was full of things that very definitely needed to die.

I don’t know,” he said. “Ask me again next year.”

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Melanie was taking a break from the vegetable garden and scritching the Admiral’s fuzzy little chin when Georgie swept into the room, lifted her bodily off the couch, and kissed her. “ W e did it!” she said with a big grin.

I need context for that statement!” Melanie replied with an equally big grin.

The podcast is finally big enough.” Georgie wiggled her fingers dramatically. “They want us to sell socks.”

We’ve reached sock popularity?”

We’ve reached sock popularity! Oh, man, the fans are gonna be so jazzed about this!”

And have warm feet!”

This means we’re getting a, a decent density of people who can actually share information and help each other. This is perfect! We can keep growing it, and soon… nobody will have to be alone with things like this.”

But we’re still keeping Anybody’s Game, right?”

Oh, yeah. Anybody’s Game is basically our brand at this point. Our fans would be heartbroken if they couldn’t ironically pretend to enjoy ‘Anarchist Manifesto’ and ‘The Ballad of Breaking Up’. Should we bring their latest album to the party?”

That would go so badly.”

You’re worried the neighbours will call the cops for what’s essentially sonic warfare?”

No, I’m worried that Mary will try to show us how much better Hanson is. Do you want a repeat of that road trip? I almost took the speakers out of the van.”

Oooh. Yeah. Best not open that can of worms again. Silent party it is.”

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Hello, Jon.” Mary sat next to Jon’s grave and idly snacked on the flowers she’d brought. Jon couldn’t hear her, of course; he was well and truly gone. But this is what people did. They brought flowers to the dead, and they pretended they could still hear them.

We’re having a house party tonight,” she said. “Should be fun. I think everyone wishes you could be there. And Sasha. And Martin. But… the world’s safe, for now, so…” she sighed. “I don’t even know if I’m doing this grief right, you know? Being a person is hard. And bits keep breaking, and I have to remake them, and I’m never the same person as I was yesterday. But you remember what that’s like, right? Or I’ll pretend you do.

Talking to you is the easiest, I think. I can’t do anything about Sasha, and Martin, well, he can see everything that Sasha – sorry, Jonah, I know no one likes to think of her wearing Sasha’s mask – sees, so I guess we could talk to him, but Jonah would be there. I made him some cupcakes for his birthday, but I don’t know if Jonah ate them. She’d probably think I was trying to poison her.”

Mary sat by the grave in peacable silence for a while. She was going to lose all of her friends eventually, she knew. And there would be time to make more, but they would be different. And maybe she wouldn’t want to make more . Maybe she’d lose interest in being Mary, when the last of the people who’d originally helped make Mary were gone. Or maybe she just wouldn’t know how to be Mary any more. She wasn’t sure she knew how to be Mary even now.

Mary put the remaining flowers on Jon’s headstone, and added a small cupcake, one of the ones she’d baked for the party. “I think the others are coming to see you on the weekend,” she told the grave. “I’ll tell them to bring you some leftovers. ‘Bye, Jon.” She turned to walk out of the graveyard.

Mary didn’t know what her future would be like. But today, the sun was bright, and the birds were chirping, and she had a party to get to.

So Mary headed off to have fun with her friends.