I hadn't seen Mathew as agitated as he was then, pacing up and down the room as though this was his life that was changing several times in the course of about five minutes while he could do nothing about it, instead of mine. Because that's what it felt like to me - like everything I had known was being taken away, and I couldn't help. I wanted to take control, to decide what was happening, to make my own decisions, but I couldn't. Because other people were doing it for me. My own body was doing it for me.
"So you take this skin off, too." It didn't sound so hard to me. "Surely that's it? Surely that's all you have to do? They probably wanted to hide the fact that I'm actually a hideous monster underneath, in case some enemy accidentally took the glamour off without realising, so that they didn't die." As it happened, I was closer to the truth than I thought. It was for people's safety, but not in the way that I thought.
"It's not as simple as that," spat Mathew. "You don't understand, you couldn't possibly understand."
"Well, no, I couldn't, because you WON'T EXPLAIN!" I didn't mean to shout but all of a sudden I was on my feet, yelling at him. "I'm fed up of this, all right? Either tell me the whole story or say nothing at all, because I am sick and tired of these hints and whispers and teasing glimpses of the whole truth. I want to know everything or nothing. Not half the story. Not the lies."
Mathew nodded, looking at me. He didn't seem to know what to say, but he looked like he was going to say it anyway. "You're a brave girl, El," he said. For the first time he wasn't using my full name. I liked that. It felt nice. "Not many people would have spoken to me like that. They would have been too afraid of what I would do to them."
"Well, I don't know what sort of thing you'd do to me that wouldn't be worse than what's already happened," I replied, pretending I wasn't flattered. I wasn't afraid of him, because I didn't know what he was. But if I did, would I be frightened like these' others' he spoke of? Would I be running for my life? I'd already lost most of it.
"I see." Mathew frowned. I hadn't pleased him. "Tell me, El, do you want to know what you really look like? It's probably not what you expect. It might ... hurt you."
"Yes, I want to see." I knew it would be hard. I was probably hideous. But I couldn't live a lie any more. "Go on then. Peel off me skin. Onion girl, prepare to be skinned..." I was laughing, making light of the situation. It was the only way I didn't freak out and run from the room screaming.
"You don't seem to get this. How serious it is." Mathew walked over to the double doors at one end of his sitting room, which were made of glass and led out into the garden, drawing the curtains across to give us some privacy; I hadn't realised before then how much of the light in the room was natural, but now that it was gone the electric bulb on the ceiling was pathetic and gave out next to nothing.
"I do," I told him. "This is my defence mechanism. I'm trying not to panic."
I stood facing him, as before. Waiting. Watching. Wondering. "Do it," I said quietly. And he put his hands on my shoulder and muttered something, and I felt the first cut of the magics stab through my heart and tear away at my body.