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Monica: No joke

Monica: Why am I the only one stuck in bloody England with no bloody air con in the middle of a bloody heatwave

Monica: But enough about me. How’s Berlin?

Cynthia brushed her sweaty hair off her forehead, smiling as she scanned her friend’s messages.

Cynthia: 38 degrees C

Cynthia: Not a supernatural in sight

Tucking her phone back in her pocket, Cynthia approached the counter of the ice cream shop she was sheltering in. An array of brightly-coloured flavours promised relief from the unrelenting heat. The waitress was flicking through Instagram on her phone, whilst above her, a TV was showing an interview with a tearful woman. Cynthia couldn’t understand the German, but she’d seen this same story all over the city in the week since she’d been here. A busload of tourists had died mysteriously last year, and the families of the victims were pleading for justice. Lola, Cynthia’s childhood friend and host, had explained the story a few days ago, a pinched expression on her face the whole while.

The waitress looked up expectantly. ‘Kann ich Ihnen helfen?’

Stumbling over the words, Cynthia managed to ask, ‘Vanille, bitte?’

‘One scoop or two?’ The waitress switched to English without missing a beat.

‘One, please.’

German was not her forte, and that hadn’t been the only obstacle in coming to Berlin for three weeks. Cynthia’s mother had fought tooth and nail to get her to stay home. Arguments had been almost nightly at one stage. Spurious excuses had been invented, only to vanish the very next day. Plan after plan had been vetoed. Cynthia had been at the point of just boarding a plane and ghosting her mum for the summer, when a compromise had finally been reached: She would stay with a host family for the duration of the trip.

It was an unideal solution.

The problem wasn’t money—although Cynthia was hardly swimming in it—or maturity—she considered herself more mature than most of her peers—or that she’d never travelled before—she’d lived in seven countries and counting. The problem was a question of species. Cynthia and her family were shapeshifters, people with the ability to shift into the form of any animal. And shapeshifters had been hunted for their magical blood for millennia.

Blowing her hair out of her face with a sigh, Cynthia passed over a handful of euros in exchange for her ice cream. ‘Danke.’

‘Bitte sehr.’

That pretty much exhausted the small amount of German she knew. It hadn’t helped her case with her mother that she’d insisted on visiting a country they’d never been to before.

If Cynthia was being fair, it wasn’t Cathy Rymes’s fault that she was over-protective. She had a pretty good reason to be: She’d had a complex relationship with Cynthia’s father. Her second relationship, with Cynthia’s stepfather Daniel, had ended in tragedy. For most of Cynthia’s life, they’d moved from place to place, living with shifter communities and moving on before they drew the attention of the local witches.

It had been a lonely existence, but they’d enjoyed relative security for the last two years in Oxford, the home of the Supernatural Council.

In Cathy’s eyes, Cynthia was flouting that.

She licked her ice cream and checked her phone once more. But yet… she was eighteen and finally done with school. It was time to branch out on her own.

Her phone buzzed.

Monica: Only you’d think that was a good thing

Cynthia: What, being safe?

Monica: Being bored

Cynthia: Humans aren’t boring

Monica: So are, though. No blood. No death

Monica: Been to any good clubs?

Cynthia: Nope

Monica: … why do I bother?

Her phone vibrated again, and Cynthia switched chats.

Lola: I’ll be at my parents for dinner tonight. You free tomorrow?

Cynthia: No plans yet

Lola: Cool, my friends are doing a BBQ

Cynthia: Sounds fun!

In the end, her mum needn’t have worried. There hadn’t been any supernatural sightings—not witches, the natural enemy of shapeshifters, nor vampires looking for a late-night snack. Cynthia was probably safer here than she’d ever been back in Oxford, surrounded by all manner of supernatural miscreants. Mum needed to relax and stop seeing enemies on every street corner.

After finishing her ice cream, Cynthia braved the heat again. Berlin was sweltering; even worse than England had been. Europe was in the middle of a relentless heatwave.

Checking her phone once more, this time for a map, she began navigating towards the nearest S-Bahn station. It was almost five, and Brigitte Decker would be prompt about dinner—and even prompter about alerting Cynthia’s mother if she was home late.

It was still light, but the late-afternoon sun was starting to cast shadows between the buildings. Cynthia dodged around women with buggies and businessmen making their way home.

It was kind of odd, though, wasn’t it? That she hadn’t seen a single supernatural?

Oxford had a population of a hundred-something thousand, a small city by anyone’s standards, but you could hardly walk down the High Street without crossing paths with at least one witch or vampire. The city was swimming with them. Cynthia had lived in tonnes of places, from Athens to Malmo to New Orleans, and cities always attracted supernaturals. Berlin was young, trendy, and chock-full of tourists. It ought to have been a haven for thirsty vampires.

Yet, Cynthia hadn’t seen a single witch or vampire. No werewolves. Not a warlock in sight. The only other supernaturals she’d seen were her host family, who were also shapeshifters.

Where were all the monsters?

It wasn’t even as if they only came out at night. That was pure myth, but Cynthia had been out after dark plenty. She should have at least run across a vampire or two.

Thankfully, it wasn’t her problem. She was here for two more weeks. She’d explore the city, enjoy the lack of parental authority, and hopefully start figuring out who she was and what she wanted to do with her life. She’d leave Berlin’s supernatural problems to Berlin. She wasn’t curious. She—

A man stepped in front of her suddenly, and Cynthia crashed into his side.

‘Sorry!’ She jumped back. ‘Ah, um, entschuldige. Sorry, I—you’re—Justin?’

The man froze, his mouth open to speak. He was tall and blond, with tanned skin and a distinctive scar on his face. For several heartbeats, they stared at each other. He’d emerged from the S-Bahn stairs. He was wearing a white polo shirt and jeans, clean and neat. Cynthia scrambled for words.

‘Justin Gastrell?’

Abruptly, he turned on his heel and broke into a sprint.


Cynthia dashed after him. She was a good runner, but he was better. He cut through the crowds with ease, as Cynthia stumbled and bumped into people. Within moments, she lost sight of him. Still, she jogged until the crowds cleared a little. She peered into side streets and examined a little park. Finally, she leant against a wall, panting furiously.

He was gone.

But she was sure, absolutely sure, that she had recognised him.

That had been Justin Gastrell.

Her father.



‘Absolutely and utterly.’ Cynthia adjusted the phone against her ear, pouring over a selection of peaches. Lola wanted fruit for a salad. ‘It was definitely him.’

‘I thought you didn’t know what he looked like.’ Monica’s frown was audible in her voice. ‘You only saw him that one time.’

‘Nathan found me a photo of him, uh…’ Cynthia hesitated, ‘before we broke up, I mean.’

Nathan was Cynthia’s ex, as well as a vampire hunter. It was a prickly subject.

Monica brushed right over it. ‘Seeing a photo isn’t the same as seeing him in real life.’

‘Monica, I’m sure.’ Cynthia chose a few peaches and took them for weighing. ‘It was him. He recognised me, too.’

‘Okay, okay. I’m just making sure. I’d hate for you to set yourself up for disappointment.’

Cynthia scowled. ‘Thanks.’

‘I mean, I know that’s why you wanted to go to Germany…’

This was a secret that Cynthia had kept close to her heart for the last year and a half. She’d seen her father once before, in a very brief encounter in Oxford, where he’d saved her life. A few months after that, the postcards had started arriving. He’d written to her more than half a dozen times, each time from a different city. Sometimes, he’d tucked a few euro notes, or a small souvenir into the envelope, and each time, he’d ended by requesting that she didn’t reply or try to look for him.

Monica had been the one to pry the secret out of Cynthia. She’d also been the one who encouraged Cynthia to do the opposite.

‘Why would he write you if he didn’t want you to look for him?’ she’d asked.

The most recent postcard was from Berlin, so Berlin was where Cynthia was starting.

‘It’s so weird. A week and not one witch, then suddenly he’s right there.’

‘Where’s there?’ Monica asked. ‘For research purposes.’

‘Hackescher Markt—hold on.’ Cynthia lowered the phone, smiling carefully at the lady behind the counter. Mum had always insisted on being polite when they travelled.

Don’t pick fights with the locals unless you can shout at them in their own language.

Weird advice, but Cynthia was quite happy to follow it. She didn’t really like confrontation.

‘Guten Abend.’

‘Abend,’ the woman replied, ringing up the purchases.

Through the phone, Monica said, ‘I’ll check with Nathan and see if he knows of anything in that area. And I’ll speak to Jeremiah again for you.’

‘Don’t bother Jeremiah. I’m sure he’s much too busy.’ Jeremiah was the head of the Vampire Council. Monica treated him like her personal gopher, a relationship that had always made Cynthia a little uncomfortable.

‘Chill, he won’t mind.’

Cynthia was pretty sure he would mind, but she bit her tongue. Arguing with Monica was pointless. Monica was incredibly intelligent, ruthlessly bitchy, and had almost no filter. Great when you needed support, but terrible as an enemy.

‘Thanks,’ she said instead.

‘You’re welcome. Listen, I have to go. I’ll text you as soon as I hear something, alright?’

‘Sure. Bye… and thanks.’


Cynthia hung up and pulled out a twenty euro note to pay.

The supermarket was a way away from the Deckers’ apartment, but Cynthia was borrowing Lola’s bike, so she made quick work of the cycle through the Grünewald. The western outskirts of Berlin were green and littered with lakes, perfect shifter territory. Finally, she locked the bike outside a three-story faux-Tudor house on a cobblestoned street, where the Deckers occupied the top floor apartment.

‘I’m back,’ Cynthia called out as she let herself in. ‘Brigitte?’

The skittering of claws over the ground alerted her to the impending arrival of the family dog, Gracie. A moment later, the large German shepherd slid around the corner and leapt up to lick Cynthia’s face. Laughing, Cynthia pushed the dog down.

‘Gracie, nein!’

It was always strange to lay eyes on a new animal. Cynthia’s shifter nature allowed her to pick up the form of the most recent animal she’d seen. Just that day, she’d seen a smattering of pigeons, four different dogs, a stray cat, and a squirrel. Now, her last form was edged out by Gracie. Cynthia had a sudden, intense desire to run through the forest, sniff things, and chase squirrels. For a few seconds, she could imagine exactly how it would feel to be a dog, and she was seized by the urge to transform.

Brigitte interrupted the moment.

‘Cynthia! How was your day out?’

Cynthia nudged Gracie back down to the ground, breathing in the reassuring smell of polish and slightly stuffy air. Human. Right.

‘Great, thanks.’ She waved her shopping bag at Brigitte. ‘Can I put this in the fridge? It’s for Lola.’

‘Of course.’

Brigitte followed Cynthia into the kitchen. As Cynthia put the groceries away, she asked, ‘Did you go anywhere interesting?’

‘I saw the Otto Weidt Museum—that was my last stop. This morning, I just walked around Mitte. And I had döner at that place Lola suggested for lunch.’

‘Brilliant, lovely.’ Brigitte leaned past her and pulled out a bottle of sparkling water, pouring them both a glass. As she passed one to Cynthia, she awkwardly asked, ‘Did you… see any…’

‘Not a single vampire, nor witch,’ Cynthia assured her. ‘I’ve been careful. Like I promised.’

‘Good, good. I know you’re careful.’ Brigitte smiled. She was in her fifties, with bottle-blond hair and crow’s feet around her eyes. As usual, she was immaculately made up.

Cynthia didn’t mind staying with the Deckers, per se. Brigitte was nice enough, although Wilhelm was a little intimidating. It definitely saved her money, not having to pay for a hostel. But all shifters were a bit over-protective—Monica called it Mama Shifter Syndrome—and it was a little grating. The point of this trip had been to stand on her own two feet, which was kind of difficult when someone was peering over her shoulder all the time.

Cynthia forced a smile. ‘I might take a quick shower before dinner.’

‘Go ahead. Wilhelm will be back from work shortly. Oh, and Lola will be here, too.’

‘Yeah, she said.’

‘Great.’ Brigitte shooed her out. Cynthia crossed the open plan living and dining room and took the little corner staircase up to the attic. There was only one room upstairs, Lola’s childhood room. The walls were covered in old sketches and paintings, and a standing fan kept the heat at bay. Cynthia pulled out clean clothes and checked her phone once more. She’d found that sending an update to her mum every so often kept the oppressive parental worrying at bay.

Lola arrived just as Cynthia was coming out of the bathroom. Her entrance was heralded by excited barking from Gracie. When Cynthia entered the hall, Lola was laughing.

‘Gracie, stop!’

Cynthia had first known Lola as a pigtail-wearing nine-year-old with an aversion to boys. That had been eleven years ago. Now, Lola was a buff twenty-year-old who served with the Berlin police force. She wore her blonde hair in a pixie cut, and was diminutive in height but incredibly strong. When she saw Cynthia, she smiled.

‘Hey, you’re looking tanned.’

‘Finally!’ Cynthia returned the grin. ‘How was your week?’

‘Eventful! I’m so glad it’s weekend.’ Lola turned to her mother. ‘How long until dinner?’

‘We’re just waiting for your father.’

Dinner was ham sandwiches, eaten on the balcony. Lola told them what she could of her work, which ranged from tracking down stolen bicycles to helping out lost tourists. After that, she asked Cynthia about her plans for the next week.

‘I have a few days off coming up, so if you want, I could get a group of friends together and we could go out.’

Mindful of Monica’s chiding about being boring, Cynthia said, ‘Sure, sounds fun.’

‘We’ll show you Kreuzberg by night.’

‘Lola,’ Wilhelm said sternly.

‘Relax, Papa, nothing’s going to happen.’

‘That’s no reason to invite trouble.’

Lola rolled her eyes and mouthed, ‘Later,’ at Cynthia.

After dinner, they clambered up to Lola’s old bedroom and cracked the skylights open. This was the most pleasant time of the day, by a long way. The heat had turned down a notch, and there was a light breeze. Lola stood beneath the window and lit a cigarette.

‘I hope Dad’s not getting you down too much.’

‘He’s been fine,’ Cynthia said, rummaging through her suitcase for clothes to wear the next day.

‘You don’t have to lie. I know he’s strict. If he had his way, I’d never go to Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, or Prenzlauer Berg. All the fun places. All the places where witches hang out.’ Lola rolled her eyes and took a drag of her cigarette.

‘He doesn’t say much to me,’ Cynthia admitted. ‘But I don’t really want to run into witches or vampires.’

‘Eh, you’ll be fine. Mostly, Berlin’s supes are a cool lot. Anyway, not a lot of them around at the moment.’

Cynthia sat on the edge of the bed. Seizing the opportunity, she asked, ‘Is it usually like this?’

‘Couple of months, now.’ Lola shrugged. ‘I’m not complaining. No draining victims, no weird stuff to explain away. Berlin’s safer than ever.’

‘How come?’

‘Hmm…’ Lola blew a smoke ring, which dissipated into the night air. ‘No one really knows. Vamps blame the witches, witches blame the vamps… The usual. Who cares? They leave us alone.’

She was right. Vampires and witches were always at odds. And yet… not. Vampires needed fresh blood to survive. They had to be getting it from somewhere.

‘Do they steal blood from the hospitals?’


‘The vampires,’ Cynthia elaborated.

‘No idea.’ They heard footsteps on the stairs. Lola hastily stubbed out her cigarette, putting a finger to her lips. Cynthia nodded.

‘So, tomorrow,’ Lola said, ‘the barbeque will be at twelve. There’s a bunch of my school friends coming.’

‘Lola?’ Brigitte asked, knocking lightly on the stair railing as she stuck her head through the floor. ‘Papa is looking for you. He wants to ask you something.’

‘Coming.’ Lola shot Cynthia a significant look, though what it meant, Cynthia wasn’t sure. The older girl followed her mother back downstairs. Cynthia grabbed her pyjamas, her mind still on the vampires. It wasn’t that she wanted to see conspiracies everywhere, but her mother had taught her to be suspicious of everything. When everything was a potential threat, you got a bit edgy if someone suddenly told you there was no danger.

No vampire or witch activity?

Too weird.

Later, lying in bed and trying to find a cool spot, Cynthia still couldn’t get it out of her head. Where were the vampires feeding? Witches didn’t need a food source; they were mortal and ate human food. But vampires needed blood. Even so, the lack of witch activity was just as strange. About one percent of the global population were witches, and large amounts of magic left traces in urban areas, especially dark magic. And it was unthinkable that there were no dark mages around, doing wicked things. Cynthia could name at least one.


But so not her problem.

Cynthia forced the thoughts from her head and closed her eyes. The heat gave her enough trouble sleeping; she didn’t need to make it any worse.

Lola woke Cynthia at the crack of dawn the next morning.

‘I’m going running, if you want to come.’

‘Whuh?’ Cynthia croaked, still half-asleep. ‘Running?’

‘Shifting, I mean.’

‘Oh! Sure… give me five minutes to get changed.’

Ten minutes later, they locked their bikes against a tree and began trudging through the underbrush of the Grünewald. It was just starting to get light, the sun casting gentle rays between the thick foliage, and making the whole world glow green. The air was still cool, and there wasn’t a soul around. It was perfect.

Cynthia loved the outdoors, the smells, the wind in her hair… This was paradise.

Eventually, Lola paused next to a massive tree and indicated a little hollow in the trunk, about a metre from the ground. ‘We can leave our things here.’

‘Will they be okay here?’

‘Sure, I always do that.’

With impunity, Lola yanked off her T-shirt and bra. Cynthia looked away awkwardly, toeing off her flip-flops. Okay, getting naked in a forest. It wasn’t the worst thing she’d ever done. Shifting always caused clothing-related issues. She’d gotten eyefuls of both her mother and sister, and had definitely flashed Monica a few times by accident. She could do this.

After a deep breath, she pulled her top and shorts off.

Once she was naked, Cynthia reached inside herself for the knowledge of the dog. She pictured walking on all fours, having a long tongue and a snout. The dog awoke inside her, excited to have a form. The change rushed over her, and she was being pushed, pulled, and squeezed, uncomfortably but not painfully. Finally, her human-self slipped into the background, and the dog took over.

Cynthia stretched, testing out her new paws. The world had become very simple, reduced to scents, sounds, and a sense of excitement.

Beside her, a second dog yipped. Lola, Cynthia’s human brain supplied.

Dog-Lola barked again. It wasn’t a language Cynthia could put into words, but she understood on a primal level: Dog-Lola wanted to run. Cynthia barked in reply, nosing her way through the brush. Dog-Lola trotted away, and Cynthia chased after her.

For the next hour, they ran. Cynthia’s human worries slipped away as she enjoyed the feeling of the breeze in her fur and the smells of summer. She chased squirrels and batted at butterflies. She picked up sticks and sniffed at flowers. She rolled in the dirt and play-fought with Lola.

Finally, her spine began to itch with the effort of holding back her human form. She signalled Lola with several urgent barks, and they ran back to where they’d left their clothes. Moments later, Cynthia was being poked and prodded back into her human body. When her vision settled, she was crouched on all fours in the grass, her chest heaving.

Lola scrambled up beside her and passed her a T-shirt.

‘Have fun?’

‘That was great!’ Cynthia used the outside of her T-shirt to brush dirt away. She was caked in it. Yuck.

‘Mum and I used to do that every weekend.’ Lola slipped her flip-flops on. Cynthia clambered unsteadily to her feet, her body relearning how to walk upright.

‘You don’t anymore?’

‘Now I live in the city. Sometimes I become a bird and go flying. It’s not the same though.’ Lola smiled fondly. ‘Mum doesn’t really like it. She says shifting gets boring as you get older.’

‘I don’t think I’d ever get bored of this,’ Cynthia said enviously. Back in Oxford, they were in the city. The most she got to do was curl up in the sun in her garden as a cat. This was completely different. ‘A bird could be fun. I’d want it to be a big bird, though.’

The smaller the form, the harder it was to maintain.

‘Owls are the best.’ Lola dropped Cynthia’s flip-flops in front of her. ‘Come on, I’m dying for breakfast.’

‘I’m dying for a shower!’

Lola laughed.

They passed a few early-morning dog walkers and cyclists on the way back, but the paths were mostly still empty, so no one saw two rather dirty young women meandering back, still exhilarated from their run. Wilhelm was up already when they entered the apartment, talking on the phone in terse German. He nodded sharply at them and retreated to his study. Lola made a face.

‘You want to shower first?’

‘Thank you,’ Cynthia said in relief. She loved shifting whilst she was doing it, but it was always an adventure to return to human form. You never quite knew what you’d get—strange tastes, mud in weird spots… Animal brains and human brains just didn’t have compatible priorities.

At lunchtime, they headed out again, this time loaded up with fruit salad and bags of crisps. Cynthia had donned a bikini under her shorts and T-shirt, which Lola assured her was appropriate. ‘Don’t expect to swim, though. The others are lazy.’

The pleasant morning had developed into sweltering, sticky heat. The twenty-minute walk down to the lakeside left Cynthia with rivulets of sweat on her face and back. She dried herself self-consciously with her T-shirt as they climbed onto a grassy bank where people were scattered about, sunbathing and picnicking.


Lola glanced around and broke into a grin. Up the hill were a group of young adults, standing around a portable barbeque. Everyone had their shirts off. A pretty girl who had to be over six feet tall was waving.

‘Come on.’ Lola dragged her up the hill, and they were immediately engulfed in a wave of chattering and excited hugs. Eventually, Lola pulled back to invite Cynthia into the circle.

‘Guys—guys, English,’ she interrupted. ‘This is Cynthia. I’ve known her since I was nine. Cynthia, this is Fritz, Luisa, Klara…’ She pointed to each person in turn. Fritz had very curly blond hair and a nice smile, Klara was the tall girl, and Luisa had dark skin and very even teeth.

‘Hi!’ Fritz greeted in a thick German accent. ‘New to Berlin?’

‘Yeah… I’m staying with Lola’s parents.’ Did that sound lame? That sounded lame. ‘I just finished school, so I decided to travel.’

‘Cool,’ Luisa said brightly, linking arms with Cynthia. ‘Has Lola taken you to Kreuzberg yet? Lola!’

Lola had drifted off a few feet and was talking to a tall man with several tattoos. She waved a beer at Cynthia.

‘You want?’


‘Lola, we have to take Cynthia out to Kreuzberg!’ Luisa called.

‘Next weekend!’ Lola re-joined them, passing Cynthia a bottle. ‘Kreuzberg has great bars and clubs. You’ll love it.’


Lola’s friends were a pretty easy-going group. There were about twenty-five people there in total; Lola didn’t know all of them, and Cynthia only remembered the names of about half of the people she was introduced to, but no one seemed to mind. Lola got sucked into an intense debate with Fritz, and Cynthia ended up by the barbeque watching a handsome blond man cook the meat. His name was Jesse, and he was half-American and quite happy to chat to her in English.

After lunch, another group joined them. Cynthia and Jesse found a spot to sit out of the way.

‘You thinking of travelling anywhere else?’ Jesse asked, waving to a few girls who were unpacking more beer.

‘I’m not sure yet.’ Cynthia hugged her legs. ‘I’d love to go to Amsterdam, maybe Brussels and Paris. A friend of mine is also travelling around the US at the moment. It’d be kind of cool to meet up with her.’

‘Where is she?’

‘Uh…’ Cynthia had to think back to the extensive itinerary Lily had produced. ‘Either San Francisco or Los Angeles. I’ve been to Los Angeles, though. I’d like to see New York or Chicago.’

‘I could give you some tips.’

The sun highlighted the outline of Jesse’s chiselled muscles. Was he flirting with her intentionally, Cynthia wondered, or did he speak to all girls like this?

‘I’d like that.’ She smiled.

At that moment, Lola squeezed out of the crowd.

‘Hey, there you are.’ For a second, she seemed worried, but it was gone too quickly for Cynthia to be sure. ‘I think maybe we should head back. I’m just going to the toilet, okay?’

‘Sure,’ Cynthia said. ‘I’ll wait here, alright?’

‘Okay.’ Lola darted a glance at her friends. ‘Be right back.’ She hurried off.

‘You known her a long time?’ Jesse asked.

‘Yeah, since I was seven.’ Cynthia fiddled with a strand of grass. ‘You?’

‘We met at school.’ Jesse shrugged. ‘She’s kind of… weird, no? Secretive.’

‘You think?’ All supernaturals came across as secretive, by the very nature of hiding what they were. Still, Lola struck Cynthia as pretty straightforward.

‘I don’t know. Sometimes it just seems that way.’ Jesse shrugged again. ‘How long are you still in Berlin for?’

‘Two weeks.’

They chatted for a few more minutes, before Jesse was summoned away by a few of his friends. Cynthia watched him lope off, frowning. It was always worrying when people got suspicious of supernaturals. Bad things happened if you got found out, and shifters often copped the worst of it. She’d have to warn Lola.

‘You keep dangerous friends, Dog-Girl.’

Cynthia jumped. Twisting around, she came face-to-face with a short girl with long brown hair. She was about Lola’s age, and her eyes were narrowed in anger. Cynthia had never seen her before in her life.

‘Can I help you?’

The girl tilted her chin up haughtily. ‘Not if you’re friends with Lola, you can’t.’

‘Um, okay.’ Cynthia stood, brushing grass off her legs. ‘Well, I didn’t come over and insult you or your friends—’

‘You think she’s really your friend? I suppose one snake likes another—’

‘Oi!’ To Cynthia’s relief, Lola had returned. She jogged over to them. ‘Get the fuck out of here.’

The brown-haired girl’s expression turned deadly. ‘You.’

‘You have no business harassing my friend.’ Lola crossed her arms. ‘Keep it up and I’ll book you.’

‘I’d like to see you try.’ The girl shot an angry look at Cynthia, then snapped at Lola, ‘Wonder if this one will go the same way as the last one.’

‘Fuck off!’

The girl stomped off. Lola watched after her, arms still crossed, expression furious.

‘Who was that?’ Cynthia asked in confusion.

‘No one important. I used to know her.’

‘Jilted lover?’

‘No, nothing like that. Her name’s Renata. We were at school together.’ Lola shook her head. ‘Look, just forget about her. She’s a sour, jealous bitch. Let’s go.’

‘Alright,’ Cynthia said, grabbing her bag. Lola was already marching towards the footpath. Cynthia waved to Jesse and chased after her, putting the altercation out of her mind.

She had no right to pry into Lola’s old friendships.

Even if Renata had a light blue aura.

She was a witch.

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