Angeline sped through the increasingly mountainous terrain. In the last two days, she and her two companions had driven over a thousand miles across the territory’s dilapidated roads. The likelihood of Rick tracking them down at this point was slim, but he’d proven himself to be resourceful in the past. Angeline knew it was much too early to relax. She checked the rearview mirror for at least the hundredth time.
The narrowing roads and sharper curves forced her to slow down. Her cousin, Crystal, sat in the passenger seat wringing her hands. Ava, their closest friend, sat in the back, trying to soothe an anxious client over the phone.
“Why are you slowing down? Drive faster!” Crystal ordered.
“Do you want to die?” Angeline asked.
“No! That’s why I want you to drive faster!”
Angeline gritted her teeth. The driving conditions were worsening, and maintaining the constant vigilance required to keep them all safe was exhausting. Ever since the Fracture of the multiverse ten years ago, random objects from any universe could slip into this one without warning.
Ava ended her call. She leaned forward and put a comforting hand on Crystal’s shoulder. “Be calm, Crys. He has no idea where we are.”
“I thought you couldn’t sense him anymore,” Crystal said.
“I can’t. His consciousness has been slowly fading from the ethereal plane for weeks, and he’s hidden too well for me to find. But—”
“Then how do you know?”
“But I can still sense his brother, and he’s tense, frustrated, and angry.”
“Gods, I’m not in the mood for your psychic crap,” Angeline grumbled. She sat up straighter in the driver’s seat and tightened her grip on the steering wheel.
Ava sat back in her seat and crossed her arms. “My ‘psychic crap’ is how we knew Rick planned to kill Crystal in the first place.”
Angeline’s mouth slammed shut.
“Thank you both for being here,” Crystal said. Her burgundy eyes brimmed with tears.
“Where else would we be?” Ava asked gently.
“In government custody for murdering that freak she called a boyfriend?” From the corner of her eye, Angeline saw her cousin absently rub the bruises on her cheek. Her fury boiled up all over again.
She jumped when Ava leaned forward in the small car and spoke near her ear. “For the love of all that’s sacred, please slow down. We’re safe for now; I’m certain of it. But if you keep driving at suicidal speeds, we’ll go sailing off one of these five-thousand-foot cliffs.”
“I can’t go faster andslower. Will you people please just let me drive?” Checking the speedometer, she realized Ava was right. Her speed had crept up quite a bit in the last few minutes. She forced her muscles to relax and her foot to ease off the accelerator.
“What’s it like, sensing someone on the ethereal plane?” Crystal asked after a moment.
In the rearview mirror, Angeline saw Ava look out the window and frown. “I’m not sure I can explain. The ability is one of my senses, like hearing or seeing. How would you explain sight to someone who has been blind their entire life?”
“That’s a troll shit answer,” Angeline responded. She glanced in the mirror and saw Ava roll her eyes.
“All right then. How about this.” She folded her hands in her lap and blew out a breath. Her long black hair was wound in a loose braid that rested on her shoulder and reached the seat of the car.
“Everyone’s consciousness exists inside a realm called the ethereal plane.”
“Great. Now we have to listen to a metaphysics lesson.” Angeline ran over a pothole and swore.
“Shut up,” Crystal said. She turned in her seat. “Ignore her. I want to know about it. Go on.”
Angeline briefly caught Ava’s eye before she focused on Crystal.
“The ethereal plane is like… the Internet,” she began. “Each person’s consciousness is like their personal website. Empaths, Psychics, and Casters can all access the, ah, the search engine. In other words, we can, metaphorically, enter someone’s name and locate their consciousness.”
She leaned forward, getting into her analogy. “Once we find their ‘website,’ we can ‘scroll’ through their emotions.”
“I think I get it,” Crystal said. “Like just now. You checked Rick’s brother’s ‘website.’ That’s how you know he’s freaked out.”
“Yes, exactly. I’ve left his site open, you could say, so if something changes, I’ll know.”
“Wait a minute. Are you saying we’re all just websites to you?” Angeline asked, horrified.
One side of Ava’s mouth twitched.
“What about Rick?” Crystal asked, ignoring Angeline. “Since you can’t sense him anymore, would you say his website crashed?”
“No. It’s more like it has moved to the Dark Web. I can’t find him with my search engine, so to speak, but he’s there, nonetheless.”
“And Angeline and I—do you ever leave our sites open?”
After a barely perceptible pause, she said, “Yes.”
“Why?” Angeline demanded. “That’s a total invasion of privacy!”
“I’m not spying on you, if that’s what you think.” Her expression was indecipherable.
“We don’t think you spy on us,” Crystal said soothingly. “Do we, Angeline?”
Angeline saw her scathing glare from the corner of her eye and said nothing.
“I don’t know why we’ve never talked about this before,” Crystal mused. “It’s interesting.”
Speak for yourself, Angeline thought. Unnerving is more like it.
Ava went on as if she hadn’t heard Crystal. “I don’t focus on you, Angeline. I’m just aware of you. As I said, empathic abilities are similar to those of other senses; when you open your eyes, you see everything in front of you. Like right now, you see the road you’re driving on. You also see the terrain on either side, but you’re not concentrating on the rocks on the ground.”
“So, we’re like rocksto you.”
Ava closed her eyes and slumped her shoulders.
“Hmm.” Crystal nodded. She pushed back the chin-length, electric blue hair that framed her face. “Wait. Oh gods, can you sense when we’re having sex?”
Ava snorted. “I assure you, I know when to close your ‘sites.’” She grabbed her braid and ran her fingers over its texture.
Crystal, amused, pointed her finger at Ava. “So, you can.”
“I could. But I don’t.”
“I’ll never be able to concentrate on sex again,” Angeline whined. And Crystal wonders why I think Ava’s abilities are creepy.
“You have to concentrate on sex?” Ava asked, bewildered.
“You mean you don’t already know? You don’t sense me getting bored if I don’t get off?” Angeline’s heart raced. They’d been in this car together way too long.
Letting go of her braid, Ava’s hands dropped to the car seat. “I just told you,” she said quietly. “I don’t. I wouldn’t.”
Crystal’s phone rang, and they all jumped. She picked up her phone with two fingers, as if she thought it might bite her.
“It’s him,” she whispered.
“I’ll take care of it. Give me the phone.”
“No, you’re driving.”
Ava reached for the phone, and Crystal gave it to her instead.
Angeline’s eyes widened. “Crys, did you turn off the locator?”
“I didn’t think about it.”
The phone stopped ringing. A few seconds later, Ava handed it back to Crystal. “It’s taken care of.”
“What did you do?” Angeline asked.
“I took care of it.”
“Guys, he left a voicemail.” Crystal’s voice shook a minute later as she looked at the phone. Angeline grabbed the phone from her hands and tossed it in the backseat to Ava, who caught it and turned it off.
“No! Guys! I have to listen to it!”
“No, you don’t,” Ava and Angeline said in unison.
Angeline saw her cringe. “Then what am I going to do? He’ll be furious with me.”
Angeline rolled her eyes as she guided the car over a rocky hill. Her cousin’s gullibility drove her crazy.
“What you’re going to dois forget that creep exists and move on with your life.” Her face was taut with anger and frustration as she glared at her cousin. “I was under the impression that’s what we were doing. In addition to saving your ass.”
“Troll,” Ava said calmly.
Angeline looked back at the road. “TROLL!” she shouted. She swerved around the greenish-gray creature as it lumbered across the road. Her tires squealed to a stop. She looked in the side mirror to make sure she hadn’t hit the damned thing. The troll made an obscene gesture with its genitals before continuing on its way.
“I can drive if you need me to,” Ava offered.
“I’m fine,” Angeline snapped. “Besides, we’re almost there.”
They drove in silence for another forty-five minutes. As the sun slipped behind the mountains, Angeline reached the end of the highway and eased onto a gravel drive. A faded sign on the side of the narrow turnoff suggested they Enjoy Home Cookin’ at The Aspen Grove Diner! The diner, a rustic structure built from notched logs, sat on the far edge of the unpaved parking lot. It had a broken window, and shingles were loose or missing from the roof. If not for the couple dozen trucks parked haphazardly around the building, she’d have guessed it was abandoned. Angeline suspected a strong wind could blow it over, but after driving nonstop for two days through desolate, featureless terrain, it was the equivalent of a palace. They’d seen no sign of civilization for over 300 miles, apart from an automated refueling station by a crossroads they’d stopped at more than four hours ago.
Angeline stretched her aching muscles after getting out of the car. Her flannel shirt was barely heavy enough to block the wind, and she shivered. Weariness struck her suddenly as two solid days of adrenaline-fueled driving caught up with her. She hoped she wouldn’t fall asleep in her food.
When she walked up to the entrance to the Aspen Grove Diner, she stared at the gold-painted letters on the door. “Wonder how long it took for them to come up with such an original name,” she deadpanned. When she got no response, Angeline glanced around and realized she was alone.
She looked toward the other side of the building, where Ava and Crystal studied the curvy road that led higher into the mountains. Crystal said something to Ava, who nodded and smiled slightly. Crystal trotted over to Angeline while Ava frowned at the ground.
“That’s the road to the village,” said Crystal. “Ava said we’re close.”
“So? You saw the road. Big deal. What’s she still doing over there?”
Only Ava would waste time staring at a road when we could be eating. “Hey!” she shouted. “You can gaze longingly at the dirt later! I need to eat!”
Ava stood, unmoved by Angeline’s desperate desire for greasy food. “Something’s wrong here,” she called. Ava’s voice was calm as always, but her brows were drawn together, and her skin was so pale it matched the snow that covered the mountain peaks. Combined with her ankle-length, dark blue dress and the matching cloak swirling around her, she looked like an apparition.
“Something’s been wrong everywhere since the Fracture!” Angeline threw her hands in the air impatiently.
Ava closed her eyes and grabbed the owl totem hanging at her neck. She mumbled something, and the air around her wavered.
After glancing around the parking lot to see if anyone saw her odd friend’s magic trick, Angeline turned her exasperated glare on Crystal, who shrugged.
Frowning as she walked toward them, Ava said, “Something’s here that shouldn’t be. Or someone. I’m not talking about Rick. This is something unfamiliar. We need to be careful.”
“Don’t worry. If we run into something dangerous, my stomach can growl it to death.” All she wanted was to eat, drink ale, and relax for an hour or two, but listening to Ava’s psychic paranoia made relaxing difficult. Angeline shoved past Crystal and went into the diner.
Polished slats of wood covered the diner’s walls. They were adorned with rusty, antique farming tools, framed local news clippings, horseshoes decorated with wire and flowers, and taxidermied birds. Colorful neon liquor signs contrasted sharply with the low lighting, loud music, and dark hardwood floor. Most of the locals wore various kinds of work uniforms. A few had jackets with company logos.
This must be the place to hang out after work, Angeline thought. She hoped it wasn’t the only place to eat in Aspen Grove, since they’d be relying on restaurant food for a while. Glancing toward the bar, she did a double take when she saw a table occupied by Hybrids.
Hybrids rarely ventured out in public. In most places, they were shunned or mocked. They were a disturbing reminder of one of the darkest times in society’s past. Scientists had tried to “grow” superhumans using genetic manipulation. They’d failed, resulting in a population of deformed beings that weren’t entirely human.
A young, harried-looking woman greeted the three friends and pointed to the last empty booth in the place.
They must be used to strangers around here, Angeline thought as they walked to their seats. She didn’t seem at all surprised to see non-locals.
Angeline slid into the booth, adjusting the leather pouch on her belt so she didn’t sit on it. Ava slid in next to her. Angeline wondered why Crystal was grinning at them. She was about to ask when something unusual caught her eye.
In a corner, sitting alone, was a person in a dark gray trench coat. A hood covered most of their face, and something like a third arm rested on the table. She wondered why they weren’t sitting with the other Hybrids. Ava must’ve also noticed them, judging by the curious expression on her face.
Angeline exhaled and finally allowed herself to relax. All in all, nothing seemed especially dangerous here, except some of the food on the menu. She had no idea what a mountain oyster was, and there was no way she’d eat a pig’s foot.
Her companions seemed reasonably calm, if melancholy. Ava checked the weather on her phone, frowning. Crystal stared at the bar, also frowning. Angeline followed her eyes and saw they were being watched—one of them, specifically. A heavily tattooed woman sitting at the bar couldn’t take her eyes off Ava. She wasn’t even blinking.
“How’re you doing?” Ava asked, drawing Crystal’s attention and meeting her eyes.
After another glance back at the bar and a deep breath, Crystal rested her fidgeting hands on the table. “I’m afraid, okay? I’m afraid he’s going to find us. But I also feel lighter.”
Angeline looked on in wonder as Ava reached across the table and took Crystal’s hands in her own. She couldn’t recall ever seeing Ava touch someone on purpose. Crystal looked equally surprised.
“Everything’s going to be fine, I promise.”
Angeline’s attention drifted away from the conversation as she ran her fingers along a groove in the old wooden table. With her current level of sleep deprivation, it was amazing she hadn’t accidentally driven them into an alternate dimension. Maybe she had, for that matter. Nothing that happened surprised her anymore. After the Fracture, the laws of physics became more like suggestions than rules.
The Fracture was the name given to the catastrophic destruction and re-creation of the multiverse that occurred ten years ago. When the multiverse ‘Fractured,’ the Barriers that kept all the universes apart disappeared. Everything blended together and existed in the same place at once. It was like everything in Reality was sucked into a black hole, then spit back out. But when it came back out, it wasn’t the same as when it went in.
Half of Angeline’s entire universe disappeared and became part of another. It was instantly replaced with the broken-off half of someone else’s universe. The two halves became a whole. The split ran through the middle of the earth, and entire countries with billions of occupants vanished.
The new half of the planet had similar oceans, but desert sand covered much of the land. The overwhelmingly inhospitable terrain included jagged mountains rising twenty thousand feet in the air and canyons that gouged the land for miles.
The two halves of the newly formed planet weren’t entirely incompatible, but the change caused a lot of chaos, and in some places, outright anarchy. It destabilized the global weather system, froze bodies of water, and killed wildlife. Growing seasons shortened drastically, causing food shortages. Earthquakes racked the planet in places that had never seen the ground tremble. Previously unknown diseases wiped out hundreds of millions of people on both sides as bacteria thrived.
Angeline looked up when a server placed a mug of ale in front of her. Crystal distractedly ordered three daily specials and salads.
“No one knows where we are,” Ava said. At some point, she had released Crystal’s hands and rested her own on the table.
Angeline glanced at the bar. The woman who’d been checking out Ava was waving a finger to catch the bartender’s attention.
Ava wasn’t beautiful in the conventional sense, but she had a quiet, charismatic air that caught people’s attention. Her large violet eyes were bright, intelligent, and a shade lighter than the purple streaks in her hair. She looked a bit malnourished but stood almost six feet tall. A pale pink scar began beside her nose, crossed her lips, and curved slightly up her left cheek. Her cream-colored complexion was a telltale sign she’d been brought here during the Fracture. No one on the host earth, as it came to be known, was born with skin as pale as hers.
“Earth to Angeline!” Crystal kicked her leg under the table.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“I was saying, Aspen Grove is just a couple miles up that back road. We should be able to get a motel room there.”
Ava nodded. “Dyevya lives five or six hours beyond the mountains. I’ll give her a call after we eat.”
Angeline scowled. “Oh goody,” she mumbled.
“She offered to help Crystal if she ever decided to leave. You two are adults. You can handle a few days of being around each other.”
Angeline located an elastic band in her pocket and gathered her blond hair into a ponytail. “The woman hates my guts.” She pretended it didn’t bother her, but she’d never understood Dyevya’s disdain for her.
Crystal snorted. “I can’t imagine why.”
Angeline and Ava both looked at her in confusion.
“Anyway. As I was saying,” Crystal began, “the village is small, but—”
The arrival of their salads interrupted her. Angeline raised an eyebrow and smiled at the tall, muscular, dark-skinned server. The guy was beautiful. Although she was exhausted, a little flirting never hurt anyone, and she could use some stress relief. She smiled and coyly twirled a lock of hair from her ponytail.
“Thanks, handsome,” she said melodically. “Got anything else for me?”
He flashed her a quick, indulgent smile before turning and walking to another customer’s table. Angeline closed her mouth and slumped back against the booth. She saw Ava’s eyes flicker toward her, then quickly look away.
“You’re such a dumbass, Angeline,” Crystal huffed. Lifting her glass of pale brown ale, she added, “The guy obviously plays for the other team.”
How did Crystal always know this stuff? She sighed, pretending not to be embarrassed by her impulsivity. “It was just a little harmless flirting. I mean, he has the body of a god and lips that could probably suck an iceberg through a straw, but it’s not like I’m actually in the mood to hook up.” Her mood became serious. “Not after the last few days.”
Crystal’s eyes fell to the table.
“Before you started your ‘harmless flirting’ with the server, Crystal was trying to tell us about a motel,” Ava said. She sounded hostile.
Angeline looked at her. Her hands were on the table, wrapped around her glass. She was staring at it like it was a criminal struggling to get away.
Crystal shook her head as she slid the sheet of paper filled with local advertisements across the table. “It’s not exactly a five-star, but it’s got indoor plumbing and a roof. They take cash with no questions asked, so we can stay off the grid. Not that there’s much of a grid anymore.” She shrugged, tucking a strand of blue hair behind her ear.
“Sounds nice,” Angeline said, not paying attention. She was studying Ava’s face. When Crystal’s words caught up with her, she added, “To tell you the truth, I’d sleep in a box of rocks at this point. Well, smooth ones, anyway.”
Crystal picked up her phone. “I hope that won’t be necessary.”
Angeline touched Ava’s arm. “You said something was wrong when we came in.”
“And you said not to worry,” Ava grumbled.
Angeline stared at her. Ava was mild-mannered unless something upset her. This was the most emotion she’d seen from her in weeks.
“I’m sorry, okay?”
Ava didn’t seem to hear her.
“Look,” Angeline said, almost desperately. “You know how I get when I’m hungry.” Her stomach rumbled in emphasis. “Tell me what’s bothering you. You seemed fine before the server brought our salads.”
Ava turned her stark, violet gaze on Angeline. She felt like she was being judged by an ancient goddess in a desert temple. And not favorably.
Angeline squeezed Ava’s arm before letting go. “I should’ve paid attention. Just talk to me.” Ava looked past her out the window, and for a moment, Angeline didn’t think she’d answer.
With a sigh, Ava finally said, “There’s residue from magical energy covering the ground.” She took a drink of her ale before continuing. “It began in a swirling mist behind the diner and continued up the road into the mountains. As it got farther away, it faded out.”
Blinding light filled the room, followed almost immediately by a roar of thunder. Angeline jumped. Crystal stared at her phone and swore. The sky was clear when they arrived, not twenty minutes ago.
“Damn it. I lost the connection. I’ll never get used to these storms.”
Angeline heard a few of the diner’s other patrons swear at the sudden, random change in weather.
Angeline put her hand over her heart, wondering if the entire diner could hear how loudly it was pounding. She wasn’t usually scared of storms, but that lightning strike was close. Crystal called the motel back. Angeline settled back against the booth’s torn vinyl covering. She looked at Ava, who was as still as a sleeping cat. “What exactly does swirling magical energy look like?”
“This was pink, with sparking purple blotches.”
“Sparking? Like the ground was being electrocuted?”
“No. The ground wasn’t being electrocuted.”
Ava was the only person she knew who could look at her with no expression whatsoever. She couldn’t tell if she was happy, angry, sad, or even alive.
“One room is fine,” Crystal said into the phone.
“So magical energy has colors. Huh. I had no idea.” Angeline supposed that she might’ve known if she didn’t always zone out when Ava talked about magic.
Ava tilted her head. “I thought everyone knew that.”
Angeline wondered if she was being sarcastic. Or did she genuinely think the look of magical energy was common knowledge? Because it definitely wasn’t.
Crystal put her phone on the table and sighed. “Will it kill us before tomorrow morning?”
“Not by itself.”
Crystal yawned. “Okay then. I got us a room at the Aspen Grove motel. We need to rest.”
A few minutes later, the hot-but-off-limits server arrived with a tray that held three plates of food and a fruity pink drink. He put the fancy glass in front of Ava. Tipping his head to the side, he said, “Courtesy of Rae over there.” He winked at her.
Ava looked curiously at her admirer, who motioned her over to the bar with a wave and a flirtatious smile. Ava smiled back at the woman and glanced at Angeline from the corner of her eye. “Crystal,” she whispered loudly, leaning across the table. “Look at her! I’ve got to see all those tattoos up close.”
Crystal grinned. “What’s your thing with tats?”
Ava winked at Crystal, then picked up the drink and slid out of the booth. To everyone’s surprise, her own most of all, Angeline grabbed Ava’s arm and pulled her back. The drink sloshed onto Ava’s fingers. She wrapped an arm around Ava’s shoulder and pulled her close.
“What are you doing?” Ava asked without moving her lips. She looked as startled as Angeline felt.
Crystal raised her eyebrows. Elbows on the table, she tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile as she rested her head on her upturned palms. “Yeah, Angeline, what are you doing?”
“Uh, we don’t have time for random hookups,” she sputtered.
Crystal asked, “But it’s okay for you to flirt with a sexy waiter?”
“I had no intention of hooking up!” she and Ava said at the same time.
Angeline’s eyes followed Ava’s tongue as she licked the spilled alcohol off her fingers. She cleared her throat and pulled her arm back from around Ava’s shoulders, silently cursing her second bout of impulsivity.
“Hey, I’m just looking out for her. That woman… she looks… dangerous,” Angeline stuttered. When did words become so difficult to string together?
“I’m dangerous, too,” Ava said in a low, seductive voice as she looked toward the bar.
“Wow,” Crystal said, looking between the two of them.
Angeline’s eyes flickered down to Ava’s scarred lips. She was horrified to feel her face growing red. She slid as far away from Ava as she possibly could in the cramped booth.
“Since when do you care if I go on random hookups, anyhow?” Ava asked, turning on Angeline.
“You go out all the time. People flock to you.”
“That’s not true!” Angeline said hotly, unsure if Ava was complimenting or insulting her.
“For once, someone notices me—”
“People always notice you!”
“And you—” She looked to the bar, where the woman was now talking to another girl. She sighed and closed her eyes. “You ruin it.”
“I didn’t ruin anything!” Angeline said indignantly. “Nothing even happened!”
“That’s my point.”
“Guys!” Crystal hissed. “Keep it down. We can’t afford to draw attention.”
Ava looked away. Angeline noticed several people quickly turn their heads when she looked around. She shifted uncomfortably in the seat.
“Keep your gangly legs on your own side,” Angeline griped, shoving Crystal’s leg out of the way with her knee. “We barely have any room over here as it is!”
Crystal snorted and moved her legs.
An awkward silence fell over them as they ate their salads. For the first time, it was quiet enough for the trio to overhear the conversation from the next booth. Angeline turned her head to listen, thankful for the distraction.
“It’s not funny, Jackson. Listen to this!” A distraught woman holding an expensive news screen close to her face began reading to her companions.
“Three women in the area, each of whom had ethereal abilities, have been murdered over the past two months. Each woman’s body was found in the same area of Rocky Road Park—”
“They named their park after ice cream?” Angeline whispered in a mocking voice. “Really?”
“Shh!” Ava and Crystal said in unison.
“—has concluded that they were attacked elsewhere before their bodies were dumped among the trees. Constable Flayer has been unable to determine a motive. He declined to comment on the official cause of death. The deterioration of the bodies suggests that the culprit is a serial killer with casting abilities. Local villagers have expressed concern that the Hybrid living in the Forbidden Forest, known only as Torrice, may be responsible. As of yet, no one has offered any hard evidence to support that theory.”
Angeline glanced at Ava, who was frowning at the table. Crystal’s forehead wrinkled as she looked at nothing and listened.
“The Constable advises citizens, especially women, to travel in groups for safety. While he hasn’t established an official curfew, he does recommend all villagers return to their homes before dusk.”
The woman looked at her companions. “Maybe it’s not that Hybrid or a serial killer,” she said in a low, conspiratorial voice. Her eyes were wide, but she seemed more excited than frightened. “Maybe some kind of monster from across the Divide has come over here. To feed.”
“You blazin’ idiot,” the man next to her exclaimed. “Nunna those freaks eat people! It’d be like us eatin’ them.”
“Gross,” the other woman at the table said, making a face and stuffing a fork loaded with mashed potatoes and gravy into her mouth.
“Lovely,” Angeline whispered. “Magical energy electrocuting the ground, tattooed chicks hitting on Ava, and a serial killer or possibly monsters on the loose. What a great village to stay in.”
Crystal started to respond when Ava asked, “Do you have something against tattoos?”
“What? Why?” Angeline asked, exasperated. “I doubt you have any. It’d be pointless since you always wrap yourself up in those prudish dresses.”
“Shut it!” Crystal exclaimed.
Angeline’s heart was racing, but she turned her attention back to the neighboring booth. She pretended not to see Ava glaring down at her plate of food.
“The monsters live in the air and don’t have bodies. They got no reason to eat in the first place,” continued the man.
The woman slammed her screen down with a huff. “You think I don’t know that?”
Angeline flagged down the server, loudly, and ordered another round of ale.
Ava stared after the two couples when they left a few moments later, still arguing conspiracy theories about the murders.
“Do you think the magical residue you saw has something to do with the murders?” Angeline asked.
“I don’t know.” Ava’s dark, violet eyes were troubled.
“Torrice isn’t responsible.”
Crystal jumped, startled by the strange voice.
A guy from the Hybrids’ table slid into the vacated booth. Angeline saw a woman who’d been heading to the empty table with a gray plastic tub and a rag roll her eyes and walk back into the kitchen.
Not everyone accepts the Hybrids, then, Angeline thought.
“Tis no one from the other side of the Divide, either.”
The man had a stump above his right arm, sitting on his shoulder like he’d started growing a third limb. His nose was centered below his right eye; the facial deformity was likely the cause of his nasally, raspy voice. Maybe in his fifties, he was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt with an extra sleeve for the stump. Too-long silver bangs fell over his eyes.
This place gets more interesting by the minute, Angeline marveled. Not only were Hybrids comfortable being in public, they were comfortable talking to full humans.
When he was sure he had their attention, he continued. “A different kind of evil lurks in the forest, an evil that is coming out of the woods to suck the life from these girls. You aren’t safe here.” He lit a pipe, then pointed at Ava. “You, especially.”
Angeline noticed Ava looked alarmed. Ava’s fingers went to the totem at her neck.
“Don’t worry, Caster, your spell for hiding your abilities works on everyone else. I have a shortcut onto the ethereal plane. I can see things others can’t; I just can’t access any power. I can also see you aren’t from around here, so I’m gonna give you some advice. Do yourselves a favor. Get in your car, drive away, and don’t look back.”
With a nod, the stranger took another puff on his pipe, got up, nodded to his friends at the table, and left.