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“…I have my madness, I live in another dimension and I do not have time for things that have no soul.”

— Charles Bukowski

It was fun searching for them. She'd have to hide and camp and be very very quiet. Sometimes she'd play with them. She'd let them know she was coming. It made the time spent waiting easier.

Aryanna was just like all the other copies. She cried and begged, but her eyes were wide as they stared into her own face. Helena's face. Pale and pasty and streaked with dirt.

Aryanna’s dæmon, a white meerkat, clung to her leg and chittered plaintively, tears rolling down her nose.

Akakia had duct-taped the meerkat’s back limbs together; clumsily, but tightly. She now circled Helena’s legs, “Kill the abomination,” she bit out.

She often spoke through her teeth, though not as gutturally as Helena did — her voice always had an edge to it.

She was a honey badger, club-footed and heavy, barely reaching her woman’s knee in height, but she was fiercely strong and possessed uncanny intelligence. It was Akakia who always freed them from Tomas’ cages and it was she who had kept Helena alive in her mind all this time.

Without her to talk to all these years, Helena would have wasted away until she hid within herself. As it is, she barely survived the separation process Tomas had put them through. But now Akakia could go far from her in search of other copies and they would feel no pain, no matter the distance.

“Prego,” Aryanna sobbed, tears dripping from her chin and her nose dribbling onto her lips, reaching for Helena, shaking violently, one hand taped to her side but clinging fiercely to her dæmon, “Prego, prego, prego-”

Helena raised the heavy iron crowbar, cold in her palm, clenching her hands around it as fists — and brought it down.

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“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.”

— Edith Wharton

“Do you have to do that now?” Eulalia complained, rolling over onto her back on the carpeted floor and wriggling away from Cosima, who had just lit up a joint.

The small otter-dæmon was petite and affectionate, with a high, piping voice and a considerate nature, somewhat unlike Cosima, who had almost no filter between what she thought and what came out of her mouth.

“If you have a problem with it,” Cosima gestured towards the door, “Feel free to leave.”

Her dæmon glared at her, “Because, of course, that's physiologically possible.”

“I'd prefer it to your whining.” Cosima bit back, regretting the words as soon as she said them.

A chime from her laptop announced a Skype call incoming. Cosima accepted it to see Beth’s face, drawn and pale, but managing a wan smile.

“Beth, hey! Looking good,” Cosima beamed.

Eulalia placed her paws on the laptop space free of keys and looked into the camera, taking up most of the screen and opening her mouth in an otter-like grin, chirruping, “Hi!” in her sweet voice.

Beth's dæmon Elpis, a black wolf dusted with bronze fur, huffed out a chuckle at the other dæmon’s antics.

“Everything ok? How're you doing?” Cosima’s brow furrowed as she took in Beth's appearance. Her eyes looked more than a little pink... and was she shaking? “What's wrong?”

“Another one, Cos. They got another one.” Beth went to hug herself, but her wolf-dæmon ducked into her arms and laid her head on Beth's chest.

“But it's only been a few months since the last one. I thought…” Cosima bit her lip, unsettled but unsure of what to say. Eulalia took over; however uncommon it was for dæmons to speak to someone who was not theirs, she trusted and cared about Beth just as Cosima did. She sat herself in front of the laptop.

“Where?” she asked, concern making her long white whiskers tremble.

“Italy,” Beth held up a printed-out newspaper article up to her webcam — between the columns of words, the face of a smiling clone with straight dark hair stared out at them.

“Italy…? No-” Cosima whispered, breaking her silence.

Eulalia’s whiskers drooped, “It's Aryanna, isn't it?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Beth looked away from the webcam for a minute, holding onto her dæmon tightly, one arm wrapped around the wolf’s chest.

“When?” Cosima gasped, also meaning how.

“Thursday,” Beth said, and at Cosima’s puzzled expression, went on, “Apparently she died on Thursday night, but- but no one found her... ‘til Saturday morning.”

“Shit,” Cosima cursed, turning her face into her palm and breathing hard for a few moments.

Unable to bear it any longer she turned back to the screen, tears in her eyes, “How?” she demanded.

“My browser translated the article. She was-” Beth’s face, normally so smooth and unfazed, was twisted in agony, “She was bludgeoned. To death.”

Cosima let out her breath in a stuttering gasp, feeling sick. Eulalia turned to her and hid her face in Cosima’s hair, burrowing into her neck.

“Are you okay?” Cosima asked.

Beth stared at her keypad, and forced a half smile, looking as if she were speaking to herself, replied, “Yeah. I'm, you know, I'm dealing with it. It's hard to sleep nights. But I've- I don't even know how to tell Ali, though.”

“Errr…” Cosima cringed, “I don't know. You're the one who gave her the gun. You tell her this, she’ll blast anyone within a half-a-mile radius of her house. But it's up to you.”

“Yeah. Thanks for talking, ‘sima.” Beth reached out to the screen, “You too, ‘lia.” She switched off her webcam; the last image on the screen was of her slim, shaken form still clinging onto her wolf dæmon.

Cosima clicked on the touchpad to end the video call, turned and buried her face in Eulalia’s dense fur, smooshing her glasses against her cheeks as she snuggled her dæmon.

“I'm sorry about before,” she mumbled into the otter’s side.

“It's fine,” Cosima felt tiny webbed paws clinging to her, “We just can't let this get to us.”

Like it's getting to Beth. The words hung in the air unspoken.

“We’ll just redouble our efforts and do what Beth needs us to do, right?”

“Yeah,” Cosima looked around at her new digs, boxes still piled haphazardly around the place, “It's what we’re here for. To help Beth.”

Eulalia pressed her nose to Cosima's cheek in a loving kiss, “To help all of us,” she amended.

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“Have you ever heard your soul breaking and all you’ve done was listening closely in silence?”

— Maram Rimawi

The brisk knock at the back door made Alison almost jump out of her skin as she dashed to the glass-panelled door and opened it to see a smiling, but very tired-looking Beth.

Charis, Alison's dæmon, standing attentively at her feet, was cat-formed; large, lithe and luxuriously furred with the color of a Russian Blue and the coat of a Birman; she was a Nebelung cat.

“Hello, Beth,” Alison ushered her inside and firmly closed and locked the door, “How have you been?”

Beth’s expression was tortured, “Ali, don't do this, please.” She placed a warm, familiar hand on Alison’s hip and felt her tremble.

Ignoring it, Alison said, as if to reassure herself, “The kids are at school, and Donnie’s at work.”

“Mm-hmm,” Beth stepped closer to her, and took her hand, linking their fingers together.

Charis sauntered up to Elpis and briefly touched noses with her as the wolf-dæmon bent her head. She rubbed against the wolf’s legs then tottered away and sprang lightly up onto the sofa.

“I miss you,” Beth said softly, “You haven't answered my calls until this afternoon. What's wrong?”

Alison pulled away and smoothed down her hair that was still in its tight ponytail.

“Nothing,” she said, not meeting Beth’s eyes, not wanting to see the hurt in them. Her gaze fell upon their two dæmons curled up together on the couch.

“This isn't why I came,” Beth's voice was choked.

“Oh?” Alison was looking anywhere but at her.

“I just wanted to tell you to take extra precautions. Lock all the doors, even during the day. You remember- remember I taught you to shoot?”

Alison nodded, the memories of Beth's body fitting into hers during the lesson — and after it.

Beth seemed to be thinking the same thing, and shifted her stance, reminding Alison, “Squeeze the trigger. Don't pull it.”

“Why are you showing up to tell me this?” Alison asked, a faint note of panic in her voice.

“Nothing you need to worry about. And I'm here because you wouldn't answer my calls.” Beth gave a sad, twisted smile, “I'll let myself out. Elpis.”

The wolf-dæmon followed her out of the door, neither hearing Alison's whispered protestation.

After the door clicked shut, Alison's dæmon pawed at her leg insistently, letting her claws press into the flesh.

“What?” Alison demanded.

“You know...” Charis began, tilting her head.

Alison looked down at her.

“You can be a real bitch sometimes.” the cat deadpanned.

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“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

— Anne Sexton

The fading ring of the payphone rang in the wolf-dæmon’s ears after Sarah had slammed it down, cursing under her breath.

Atë loped beside Sarah along the deserted train platform, skimming the edge with her paws.

“C’mon, get away from there,” Sarah warned, “I'm not pulling you back up if you fall over.”

The dark wolf scoffed at the very suggestion of her losing her balance. She was as slender and wiry as her woman, her fur sleek and shining, a mass of colors mixed in with the black that played across her dark pelt under the bright lights of the train station; steely grey, tawny brown, auburn red, and a deep, iridescent midnight blue that had no place in the coat of a canine but lay hidden in the fine hairs and danced across them when exposed to certain light.

This blue made an appearance now as Atë made her way along the edge of the platform.

A distant sobbing made her prick her ears and she lifted her head to sniff, looking across the empty space tainted by cigarette smoke to the form of a woman slowly removing her coat and heels. Her dæmon, a wolf much like Atë, only smaller, was tugging on her skirt with its teeth, trying to pull her away towards the exit, whining.

“Sarah…” Atë growled, the fur over her shoulder blades rising unpleasantly. Something was wrong.

She set off across the cold concrete, claws clicking, ignoring Sarah’s indignant protests, knowing she'd follow anyway out of curiosity.

Atë stopped a few feet away from the woman and gave a deep, rumbling growl of alarm. She felt Sarah come to stand beside her uncertainly, her nose reaching Sarah's waist.

The woman turned, tears cutting shiny wet streaks into her face.

Sarah's face.

Atë stepped back, skittering on the cold concrete, worn smooth from years of foot traffic. Shock made her wary, but it made Sarah curious, despite her fight-or-flight reflexes.

The other woman’s dæmon was still tugging on her skirt, teeth piercing the fabric and tearing it in desperation. She was brushed away with shaking fingers.

Her and Sarah's eyes met.

The other wolf, black fur shot through with rusted bronze, barely glanced at Atë, distraught and intent on getting through to her woman.

But the moment ended, the woman turned and strode directly towards the edge of the platform, stepping into thin air - and into the beam of oncoming lights.

Her dæmon, in a last, desperate attempt to save them, let go of her skirt and jumped after her, hurtling into her ragdoll-like body to force her out of the way.

But the train came barreling on, horn blaring, and caught the both of them, sending them down onto the tracks.

As Sarah screamed, Atë yelped plaintively, shifting from paw to paw, unable to help.

A stream of golden Dust rose from beneath the train and danced around the two of them, shimmering and circling them briefly before dissolving into the air.

Sarah knew Atë would begin to howl, and soon, so she grabbed her dæmon by her scruff and hauled her away, “C’mon, there's nothing we can do,” she muttered, surreptitiously snatching up the woman's bag that had been left on the platform.

Atë whimpered but followed, casting a glance back to the train as it screeched to a halt.

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“You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.”

— Epictetus

Trembling fingers gently caressed the small body of a bird-dæmon, huddled against her breastbone to be close to her woman's heart.

Jennifer lay on her back in the darkened hospital room, feeling every breath like drowning. She lurched suddenly, coughing violently.

Greg went to rub her back, but she pulled away and clutched at her daemon, holding her close, feeling her last resolve to live wavering.

“I knew I was right,” she murmured to the dæmon huddled against her breast, “We’re gonna die here.”

Alida opened her small black eyes, “It's okay, Jenny. Don't think about that now.”

Jennifer lay back and cast her gaze to the ceiling and tried to summon thoughts of her childhood and her family. She had glimpses into her life, as if she was watching someone else's unfold, someone with a happy ending.

— eating Jell-O sitting at the kitchen table with her grandfather — pulling the fire alarm at school after being dared to by her best friend — watching Alida dive into the family pool and emerging as a speckled dolphin with a delighted grin —

She exhaled, her eyes falling closed as her dæmon spread black-tipped blue wings to cling to her, but for her desperation to stay with Jennifer, the kingfisher trembled and slowly dissolved into golden Dust, which billowed, lighter than air, over Jennifer’s sunken chest, mingling with her last breath.

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“The soul is silent.
If it speaks at all,
it speaks in dreams.”

— Louise Glück, 'Child Crying Out'

Finding something between disgust and acceptance from Sarah was hard — reluctant wasn't the word for it. There was a grim, resigned almost-patience in her face, but she'd recoil whenever Helena came near, or her dæmon.

Akakia could barely sniff in their direction and Atë would snarl and slink away in revulsion, tail held quivering straight out from her body.

There was nowhere else to be in the small tent. It was practically a crawl space. So with the tension that Sarah was feeling, it wasn't a pleasant camping trip. Just as well Sarah needed her to go find Swan Man, or she wouldn't even be here.

Helena shifted closer and closer to Sarah as they lay in the dark tent, Sarah curled closely around her wolf-dæmon. The honey badger slunk over on her belly, closer and closer until she was nose to nose with Atë.

The wolf’s brown eyes opened, glassy and dark like light reflecting off obsidian. Her nose wrinkled, lips pulling back to show her teeth, but she made no sound as Helena snuggled against Sarah's back and slung an arm around her waist.

Atë growled softly but allowed Akakia to nestle into her belly, making soft contended grizzling sounds and burying her heavy paws in the thick, dark fur. Helena rubbed her cheek against Sarah's dark hair.

“Goodnight, sestra.” Helena whispered.

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“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter - often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter - in the eye.”

— Charlotte Brontë

“Christ, Ma, would you stop wit’ your smokin’?” Siobhan bit out, shifting in her seat. Her dæmon, a massive wolverine the size of a year-old bear cub, wrinkled his nose in disgust at the acrid stench of the cigarette smoke.

Kendall’s sour-faced cat dæmon glanced over at them and hissed angrily, his lips pulling back over his teeth. He already looked rather rotund, with his thick fluffy coat, but when he was angry, he became a spitting mass of mottled golden-grey fur with yellow eyes. It would look comical, if he wasn't so menacing.

“Allow an old geezer her small vices, would ye? Gawd, you act as if you've never taken a smoke or had a drink in yer life.” Kendall blew smoke out through her nostrils as she spoke, “A daughter of mine, actin’ the saint,” she scoffed, descending into a fit of coughing. Siobhan rolled her eyes as Scott hurried over, a mug of hot tea in his hands, his cat-dæmon with her tortoiseshell markings padding lightly beside him, but stopping a few feet short before he did, the malevolent gaze of Kendall’s dæmon keeping her at a respectable distance.

Scott, however, was comfortable enough handing the tea to Kendall, who had warmed up to him; despite her initial assessment of him as a ‘toothy little git’, she seemed to quite like him now, or as Mrs S put it, gotten “matey” with him, which Kendall staunchly denied every time it was brought up.

“Here, it’s hot lemon juice and honey. It's still sour, but it should help that cough,” he grinned helpfully, and Kendall grumbled over the taste of it, but still took a gulp and grimaced in an attempt at a smile, “Cheers, boyo. Tastes like boiled-down piss, but it helps some.”

Scott beamed at Kendall’s idea of a thankyou, and his dæmon Denise, who normally would have rubbed herself against Kendall’s dæmon, merely blinked slowly and held her eyes closed for a moment in a feline show of trust and affection. The yellow-eyed Pallas’ cat surveyed her suspiciously for a long moment, and then slowly and deliberately blinked back, once, before turning away with quick, jerky movements and a swish of his bushy ringed tail, sprang up onto Kendall’s lap and settled down.

Siobhan, who hadn't missed the exchange, smiled and nudged her wolverine-dæmon, who was watching as well, with interest. He and Kendall’s dæmon had always clashed, but especially when he had settled in his final form. That was when things had really blown up between them, though it was almost five years later that Siobhan left.

Despite the attempt at cordiality between Siobhan and her mother in the last few months they'd spent in Iceland, it was almost impossible for their dæmons to reconcile. There was real underlying tension between them from years of hatred that couldn't be easily broached.

Still, they had their moments. As Kendall’s dæmon, sensing being watched, cracked open one mean yellow eye, Siobhan’s dæmon opened his mouth and his tongue lolled out in an almost dog-like display of goofiness. The Pallas’ cat rolled his eyes in revulsion and the wolverine gave a low, grating laugh that, for now, soothed the decades-long tension that still stretched taut between them.