I have been teaching myself to make poses because I need this hobby to somehow become more time-consuming lol. You’ll see my labors in this chapter (Akira on the floor, Alice in the tub). All I can say is that I would not have gotten through these first attempts without the tutorials posted by the very awesome Katverse!
Somewhere along the outskirts of Windenburg
When he and Gwendolyn finally rematerialized, everyone else was already there. Traveling with her was different. As a mist, he could float effortlessly through the air, but Gwendolyn’s light had been a force. It took everything to steer her out of the sky and she was terrified when they began to reform, clutching his hand so tightly she fractured two of his fingers.
But that fear wore off as soon as she saw Alice. Then she was exuberant, chattering about her newfound ability.
There was a tightness in Vlad’s chest at the sight of it. They were safe. This time he listened. Maybe there was no great catastrophe coming, and they could have stayed, but he was not willing to risk it.
That they ended up here seeking protection was an irony that was not lost on him.
The past was present sometimes.
“What is this place?” Cyrus asked, running a finger through the dust on the table.
“Windenburg Keep,” Vlad said softly, the words sharp and painful. He didn’t strike out; he was getting used to his pain being dragged to the surface. To feel it without needing to destroy something. But it wasn’t easy.
It would never be easy.
“My father had three castles built: The summer palace by the bluffs, the main palace in town, and this—a fortified location on the outskirts of Windenburg.”
“Because he was a king?” Valeria asked, a note of wonder in her voice as she gazed around.
“Because so many sims wanted to kill him,” Caleb quipped. “And he was a king.”
Alice’s father stared at Vlad like some critical pieces of information were finally shifting into place. “You’re that ‘Vladislaus.’ Deceased son of the Villain King. We studied him in the Academy, he was—”
“Impressive,” Vlad finished. It wasn’t an unexpected response. From a distance, Josef Straud was an incredible strategist. In fact, he was an incredible strategist up close too. That he was a monster mattered approximately zero percent.
“I was going to say a ‘cautionary tale,'” Cyrus clarified gently, “We covered him in the unit on pyrrhic victories.”
That pulled Vlad up short, and some of the tightness in his chest eased. “Oh,” he coughed, “I should show you the rooms, so you can get settled.”
Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
“We’re not going to do anything?” William demanded. “What about that green-haired creature? We should—”
“No,” Morgyn replied, dragging a hand through their hair. They could sense strong magic around, but they couldn’t figure out the signature. “You don’t know the Queen of the Fae. She is a force, and if she wants to kill her husband, then we don’t need to get in the middle of it.”
“We do if it means she has the book!” William cried. “You said we needed it, and now you’re willing to let it go?”
They weren’t willing; they were panicking. The Book of Longings wasn’t in any of the other timelines, which was how Morgyn knew it was important. The Fates were playing at some sort of endgame; what was it?
William gritted his teeth, “After all of this, I’m returning empty-handed and—”
“You are not coming back empty-handed. You are coming back with the knowledge of the gods’ identities.”
“Knowledge you could have told me without the trip! Do you mean to make a fool of me?”
Why had they thought getting Aurelius into bed would solve everything? Last night, they let the vampire lay his head on their chest and listen to their heartbeat. Today, the walls were up, and Universe help them; Morgyn wanted to tear them down.
“You are nothing but demands now, vampire, but before you brought me into your bed, you believed me an enemy. Do you think anything would have grown between us if I told you I knew who the gods were? If I laid out how L. Faba and I sought to use Phobos to get our hands on The Owl? Would you have kissed me?”
William reared back. “You’ve lost your ever-loving mind,” he breathed, “This is not about only you. A crush on me? That’s what matters to you?”
It is all that matters to me, Morgyn thought automatically, but found they could not say it out loud.
“And what did you want with The Owl?”
“What does anyone want with The Owl?” Morgyn snarled, pushing past him.
Don’t do this, a small voice told them, don’t punish him. For Morgyn, it had been a thousand times, but not for this Aurelius. Of course, he had not yet learned to love them.
The hint of magic whistled past them again, and they surveyed the yard, trying to determine if it was a welcome or a warning.