“In shadows deep and light’s embrace,” sang Cassandra. “We forge a bond, a sacred space,” sang Tom. “With every heart and spirit true,” sang Phil. “Our magic makes the world — fuck me!” spat Lys, ducking as a collie-sized spider leapt at her face. Tom took a quick step and smashed the arachnid with his baseball bat. “Should we retreat?” Phil suggested. “Considering there are about a hundred more of these little buggers, and, you know, that.” He pointed at the eighty-foot tall monstrosity down in the valley, the other-dimensional spider titan Urglash, from whose belly the smaller spiders were dropping like a wave of paratroopers. Fortunately Urglash was too occupied with spitting acid at the U.S. Army’s tanks and helicopters to pay attention to four puny humans. On the other hand, her spiderlings alone seemed more than capable of turning them into human juice boxes. “We don’t need to retreat, we just need to say the rhyme!” said Cassandra. “Try again!” “Okay, on three. One. Two. In shadows deep— ” “In shadows deep— ” Tom came in, a moment late. “No, on three. One. Two. In shadows deep— ” “Sorry, I thought it was like, one, two, three, then go.” “No, that’s why I said ‘on three.’” “It’s just usually like, one, two, three, mark. Like, you start on ‘mark.’” “I didn’t say ‘on my mark.’ I said ‘on three.’” “Can we just — curse it!” Cassandra said, doing as indicated, using her Arcanthalian magic to curse several spiderlings scuttling toward them. The arachnids slowed, frost and ice appearing on their joints. “Speak the rhyme and summon the Avatar!” “Right! On three! One! Two! In shadows deep and light’s embrace— ” “We forge a bond, a sacred place— ” “With every heart and spirit true— ” “Stop!” Cassandra said, clearly irritated. “It’s ‘sacred space,’ not ‘sacred place.’ We practiced this!” “My bad,” Lys said. “Though it seems like kind of the same thing? I mean, space is the place, right?” “We need to say the rhyme exactly, in unison, with our hearts and minds as one.” “Okay, no problem. Although it’s not exactly Shakespeare, is it?” Cassandra glared. “In Arcanthal, every child knows it.” “So it’s like a kid’s song?” “It was written by the mage Isolde Astralweft seven centuries ago, to ward against the Unraveling!” “Guess being a great mage doesn’t necessarily make you a great poet.” “We need to reconsider our position here!” yelled Phil, swinging wildly with his morningstar at more spiderlings. Fortunately the spiky ball was enchanted to always find its mark, or he would definitely have domed himself. “I’m running for that building!” With no further consultation, that’s exactly what he did. Assessing the situation and coming to broad agreement with a glance, the other three turned tail and followed. The building was a public bathroom for the state park. Its high windows were paneless, but it still felt better than being outside. At least they could see where the spiders would come in. “Okay! Now!” urged Cassandra. “Hold hands, that usually helps.” “Right!” And together they went again, ending triumphantly with “Our magic makes the world anew!” An expectant pause followed, in which their eyes flicked toward the ceiling, the walls, waiting for a dragon of blue fire to burst from a glowing circle of runes. “Did we do it?” Lys asked. “Is it outside?” “I’ll check,” Tom volunteered, and cracked open the door long enough for a peek. “No dragon.” “What’s the deal? Do we need to be outdoors?” “It doesn’t matter where we are,” Cassandra said. “We just need to be of one heart and mind.” “Ah. So …” Cassandra sighed in exasperation. “So we’re not.” “My heart and mind were a hundred percent into avatar summoning. What were you guys thinking about?” Phil shrugged apologetically. “Honestly? Probably the smell in here. Like, obviously there’s urine, and soap, but then there’s this other smell, like rotting banana or something. Yuck.” “Yeah, I smell it too. But can you maybe forget about it and concentrate for thirty fucking seconds on saving the world?” “Easier said than done. And now it’s going to be harder than ever. You’re basically telling me not to think about a pink elephant.” 5

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