Day 28: Stay home from work and school from now until the end of the challenge.

Day 29: Go up to your high place. Take a selfie and post it with the hashtag #Emergence. Stay there until dawn the following morning.

Day 30: Jump.

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Day 19: Contact your sponsor. Make sure they know how far you have come, and they will confirm your Cocoon status.

Day 20: Your sponsor will send you a film. Watch it.

Day 21: Watch the film all day, from when you get up to when you go to sleep.

Day 22: Delete the film. You will never need to watch it again.

Day 23: Locate a high-up place that is also secret. A railroad bridge or an abandoned building are good candidates.

Day 24: Take a selfie in your high-up place. Post it with the hashtag #CocoonGoesHere.

Day 25: Take a razor blade and cut yourself on your inner lip, your inner arm, and your inner thigh. Do not take a picture of this.

Day 26: Write down a date four days from today. Leave it in a place where it can be found, but not easily, in your room.

Day 27: Go to the high place you found and stand on the very edge for one hour. If you are seen, you fail the test and must go back and find another high place.

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Day 10: Call or Skype your sponsor. Make sure they have seen everything up to this point. They will give you a task to do as confirmation of your Caterpillar status. Do it without question.

Day 11: Your sponsor will send you a piece of music today. Listen to it.

Day 12: Listen to the piece of music from yesterday for 1 hour.

Day 13: Listen to the piece of music from yesterday all day. Have it on in the background or in your headphones from when you wake up to when you go to sleep.

Day 14: Delete the song. You will never need to listen to it again.

Day 15: Choose a spot on your body that no one will notice, like the inside of your arm. Draw a butterfly with permanent marker and take a picture. Do not wash it off afterwards.

Day 16: Post your body art with the hashtag #Larva.

Day 17: Cut the form of a butterfly into your flesh, lightly, with the tip of a razor. Follow the drawing from Day 15. Take a picture.

Day 18: Post your carved butterfly with the hashtag #Cocooning.

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Castrato opened his hand, revealing a pair of scratched and dinged diopters. “Tiberia thinks this was lost down a drain,” he said. “She ain’t so good at knowing what’s lost and what a clever bloke with a piece of wire can get.”

“You mean…?” Claudia began.

“I’ve peeked through them enough to know that ain’t a single glow changed in all the fifteen years since I’ve worn the shackles,” Castrato continued. “Not a one has got brighter, not a one has got duller. Much as it kills me to have a look without their say-so–not that it bothers Tiberia none–I just had to know.”

“Miss Tiberia says that if they don’t dim, they’re kept here forever,” Miss Claudia whispered.

“Think about it, missy,” said Castrato. “I been here all of fifteen years in the shackles, and that oughta mean there’s some girls at least 20, maybe even 30. What’s the oldest girl you seen? 15?”

“No,” Claudia said. “That’s not-”

“You wanna know why no assistants last longer than two years here? You wanna know why no one ever leaves? It’s on account of Tiberia taking ’em below, to the catacombs, and ending ’em.” Castrato let out a strangled sob. “The shackles, they keeps me from doing anything about it. Half the time I can’t even get the assistants alone to tell ’em. The other half, they just up and leave.”

Castrato’s face was streaming with tears now, and the shackles were aglow at his wrists and ankles, the smell of searing flesh welling up in Claudia’s nostrils.

“Please, Miss Withers,” Castrato said. “Do something for ’em. Do right by these girls. Even the nastiest of ’em doesn’t deserve a screaming death in the catacombs at that hag’s claws.”

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“I know that the daemons ever seek to invade and influence our world,” said Claudia.

“Yes, but do you know that all too often that influence takes the form of, shall we say, tainted children?” Miss Tiberia said. “I presume that I need not go into further sordid detail.”

Claudia nodded. “No, Miss Tiberia,” she said.

“Good. Tainted girls are brought to us from all over the countryside, just as tainted boys are sent to our sister school at Illumoor. Our job is to see that the taint is extinguished.”

“You’ll pardon me for saying so,” said Claudia, with a nervous glance upward as her words echoed into the Gothic rafters of the ex-cathedral, “but how do we do that, and how do we know it’s done?”

Miss Tiberia harrumphed a bit. “It is intuitively obvious, is it not, that the daemons are reliant on lies and illusions in their dealings with mortals?”

“Yes, Miss Tiber.”

“Then it ought to be equally obvious that the girls in questions will be protected by the very same.” Miss Tiber reached into a pouch on her chatelaine belt and produced what appeared to be a set of reading spectacles. “But with the diopters, all becomes clear.”

She unclipped them and handed them to Claudia, who donned them. Suddenly, the scene before her was awash in a yellow glow; it took a moment’s adjustment to see that the glow was coming from the girls in their dormitories, perfect silhouettes visible even through walls and fading only with considerable distance.

“They…they are aglow!” Claudia whispered.

“Indeed so,” said Miss Tiberia. “They are aglow, each of them, with a daemonic taint from their ancestors’…intimate…dealings with the unholy. It is our charge, Miss Withers, to diminish this glow through discipline, rigorous virtue, and moral certitude.”

Claudia was still agog from the view before her. “So when a girl is no longer glowing, she will be released from St. Gaius’s?”

Miss Tiberia nodded. “Naturally. But if the glow remains, or strengthens, it is our duty to see that the taint is contained.”

“So the girls remain here?”

“That they do,” said Miss Tiberia. “Forever.”

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“At first it was only a few minutes, but it’s been getting longer and longer each time. Nobody says they see me when I’m…out…but I turned on the GPS on my phone to see if it could track me.”

“Uh huh,” Mike said. “And so that’s why we’re at a cell phone tower in the middle of nowhere.”

“It’s where Locate My Phone says it is,” snapped Emmy.

Sure enough, a few moments’ poking around led to a phone, thankfully still in its weatherproof case, lying by the massive support girder for the cell phone array. There were no footprints in the soft earth nearby, nor were there any signs of disturbance.

“I’ll be damned,” whistled Mike. “There it is.”

“Run the GPS to see where I went while I was…out…” said Emmy. “I can’t bear to watch.”

Mike opened the app and scrolled through the data. “It says that you haven’t moved.”

“What?”

Flipping the phone over, Mike held it out. “See? 0.0 miles. It has you in your apartment until 1:01AM and then suddenly it’s here without recording a single inch of travel.”

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It looks human enough, with feminine curves and limbs, but all made of feathery tendrils bound tight. We think that the seadragons have pressed themselves into a form similar to ours, but why? We don’t fish for them, and they’re clever enough to avoid being bycatch.

The thing–the “seadragon queen” as the boys have taken to calling it–appeared again as we were putting out our nets. It mimed some of our actions under the water but didn’t touch the food we threw. It didn’t interfere with the nets, either, but just swum around them. Even though it doesn’t–can’t have–eyes like ours, it turns its head to “look” at us.

Our gaffer knows signs–his brother can’t hear–and he’s been teaching them to the seadragon queen as it swims around us. It’s begun signing back, though he says that it’s touch to understand as its mushy “fingers” are the equivalent of an atrocious accent for signs. Since it seems determined to be near us whenever we’re netting, I’ve taken him off his duties to keep an eye on it.

The “seadragon queen” asked us for something. The gaffer says “she” just wanted some food, but she’s never shown any interest in what we’ve thrown her before. I’ve told the men that they can give her anything that we don’t need.

She asked for a knife, and the damn fools gave it to her. We needed it–they don’t come cheap–but now for the first time she has the ability to do more than fascinate the men. She can kill them.

My gaffer is gone. He disappeared sometime after lunch. He’d taught some of the linemen signs, so we’re not completely blind, but I don’t have a good feeling. Why did he have to give her that knife?

Our fishing lines have been cut, clean through. I suspected the seadragon queen until I saw the parting myself–done at an angle, like a fisherman. There’s no way she could have known that.

Three more men missing, even though I’ve set a watch. We got a report of a second seadragon-thing around the new nets, and a third. They say that they aren’t as curvy as the first one. I’m not sure what to think, but I don’t care. The boat goes up for sale tomorrow. Let the new captain figure this out.

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