Landgraab Chateau, Windenburg
Bloodvein watched her through the windows, making note of the way she tossed her dark glossy hair over her shoulder and swiveled her hips in time with the music as she worked.
She was mortal, but he could see the appeal. Unlike the vampires he had tried to tempt Vladislaus with in the past, Jimena was soft…vulnerable. If the stories of the vampire king’s past were to be believed, he was helpless in the face of such weakness.
The sickening smell of freshly baked bread floated through an open window. Like any vampire seeking to become old and powerful, Bloodvein had long given up the ability to eat. Consumption is desire and desire is weakness, Vlad once told him.
Bloodvein had grown up on stories of Vladislaus—that he was not quite a vampire, that he fed in unspeakable ways. 175 years ago, when he’d first been recruited, he believed these tales. Giving up his mortal life was infinitely better than eking out a living as a displaced third son.
And if the first sims he fed on were his older brothers? Why, it was no cost at all, Bloodvein thought.
He had planned to kill them anyways.
Jimena stepped out onto the porch, setting her bread down to cool. Warm light poured out of the windows and the bulbs from the artfully placed string lights swayed in the breeze. As she posed in front of the camera, Bloodvein considered what other fun he could have before he drained her and snapped her pretty little neck.
She hardly let out a gasp before he silenced her with a compulsion. Even as her eyes went blank, he could still smell the sharp spike in her adrenaline, hear her pulse beating out an erratic rhythm.
“Hello poppet, there’ll be time for screaming later after you answer all my questions.”
StrangerVille Apartments, 2015
Ben sat down on one of the metal folding chairs in front of the apartment building. Although “sat” was probably not the right description. The thing about being a god was that you could be both nowhere and everywhere all at the same time.
Alice often accused him of being a pervert, but he didn’t stay with her when she was hooking up. He was bound to her life force, not her body.
Even before he got there, she was brimming with all the tools for godliness. Alice was smart, resourceful, inclined to follow the spirit of a rule, but not the letter. Her sense of how sims worked was uncanny and she really could hold her nectar. With time, Ben was sure she’d be able to out-drink even a Windenburg nun.
It was a shame she’d never get the chance.
The air in front of the table wavered and Miko Ojo appeared, her face a mask of frustration. “B’Ollithiranon! What are you doing here?” she screeched, stamping her foot.
The Fates and their Threads were a constant irritant. For them, every realm was a game board with pieces to be moved and manipulated. That they could travel back and forth in time in all directions made them the master chess players of the universe.
He sighed. “I go by Ben now.”
“Oh you do? You go by Ben? Have you lost your ever-lovin’ mind? This is what your conduit is doing with her free time?”
Miko took a seat without being invited, which was to be expected. Gods, even non-corporeal ones, were bound by time and could not supersede a Thread of Fate. And the Threads never let them forget it.
He knew his time was almost up. Not a single conduit over the last 1,995 years had survived. Even the ones he liked—and he liked Alice most of all—died.
“Why shouldn’t she enjoy her life? Or as much of it as she has left?” Ben snapped.
“That’s exactly the damn point! I’m trying to make sure she has plenty of life left! The Owl is going to reappear—”
Yes, yes, Ben knew. The Owl was going to reappear in four years and they’d need to get their hands on it before any other creature and Kyle wouldn’t be any help in keeping Alice—
Wait. How did he know Miko was going to say that?
How could he…unless he…unless they had been through this before.
Miko wasn’t just nudging her pieces into place, she was looping time—resetting the game board and breaking every universal law to do it.
“…so forget about Kyle. I need her to learn how to bake and to understand how to use her power without burning through the rest of her life force. Now, she and Vladislaus won’t meet until…”
Vladislaus Straud. Yes, he remembered now. The Good Order Monks had been trying to get his attention for centuries but Ben never really had time to return their call. Well, he had time, but no calendar…or record keeping system…or answering service for that matter.
Plus, he didn’t like them. It wasn’t his business what a bunch of mortal heretics got down to.
But if they couldn’t get him, they must’ve summoned—
“I agree,” Ben said.
“You agree?” Miko repeated hesitantly. “To my whole plan? Your godsworn agreement?”
“Of course,” Ben replied, crossing his non-corporeal fingers.
The spirit of her plan was to ensure Alice lived and used The Owl to become the God of Death. Ben could get behind that.
The letter of her plan, well, that was another matter entirely. The only reason for Miko to loop the timeline was if something catastrophic had happened. Why would he follow her exact instructions? Everyone knew there were no do-overs.
No, Ben would go about this in his own way. Why worry about baking when there was Vladislaus Straud? In the absence of his godly presence, the Monks had summoned Fear, and if there was anyone who could keep Alice alive, it was good old Phobus!
At least theoretically. Ben had no idea what it would be like to bind Fear into a living creature, even an immortal one. Fear was bloodthirsty and unhinged in the best of situations, unleashing that on the mortal world was probably not wise.
Though, if Miko was breaking rules, so could Ben. He was a god, after all. A few sacrifices, a poltergeist, a couple of blood rituals, meetings with the Grimm Reapers—it would cost him. But these were desperate times and Alice was his best friend.
She came stomping outside just as Miko disappeared. As far as she was concerned, Ben had never been anywhere at all.
“Are you even listening to me?” she demanded.
“Of course,” he assured her.
“Like I said, Kyle is garbage. Cat’s Meow? What a fucking idiot. We can go home now.”
“I agree, very good idea. Have I ever explained the twelve guardians who live along the main river of the Underworld?”
“Ughh Ben, not now. I’m hungover,” she groaned.
“What if I agreed to stay quiet during an entire episode of Real Homemakers?”
“Fine,” Alice grunted and started walking.
“Phobos, or Fear, lives at the mouth of the river. Rows of sharp teeth, lives for bloodshed, bit of a grouch…” Ben began.