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Chapter 43, Part 1: A Different Path to Victory

Notes:

Thoughts I’ve had while writing this chapter:

  1. Writing is hard.
  2. Finishing is hard.
  3. My ADHD brain has a lot of reasons why we can’t finish this story and damn if they aren’t convincing.
  4. Writing is hard.

Really though, it is taking every ounce of everything to finish this story. And the number of times I just have to tell myself, “this is good enough, even if it’s not great, we just gotta wrap it up,” is too many times. I also have a lot of fantasies about abandoning plot points and just fixing them in part two, and that’s when I’m not fighting with myself over all the flaws in this story that my brain suddenly has a great interest in fixating on.

Writing is hard. Finishing is hard. I’m just going to put my head down, try bang out these last two chapters, and then I’m going to take a long, luxurious break where I read all the simlits, play the game for fun, and just soak up some new inspiration.

Windenburg Keep

Alice

“Are you up early, or did you never go to sleep?” Cyrus called out from the doorway. 

“I didn’t sleep,” Alice sighed, “Whether that’s because I’ve got the personification of my magic hanging out in a guest room or just good old-fashioned anxiety is anyone’s guess.” She decided not to point out how insane it was that her magic had a physical form. Or that that physical form was rude as hell. There was no telling how good Morgyn’s hearing was.

“Well, I think we can firmly put this in the category of ‘not supernatural,'” her dad laughed. “Even in elementary school you would stay up all night before a big test.” He squinted at the papers on the table, “What’s all this?”

“I’m just afraid something will go wrong, so I wrote it all down just to make sure.”

“And?” Her father grabbed a seat across from her, “Did you miss anything? Would it help to say it out loud?”

Alice shook her head. “I can’t find a flaw, which is kind of freaking me out. I mean, we’re making a lot of assumptions based on Morgyn and William’s information. What if we’re wrong? What if Omar doesn’t wait until the award ceremony to try and kill me? What if he ambushes us while we’re grabbing Jimena or—”

“Alice, pumpkin, relax. Plans are always based on assumptions. And I guarantee that Omar will wait until the awards ceremony for an attack.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because this is what I do,” Cyrus reminded her, “Omar believes this is a chance to settle the whole war in one fell swoop—get rid of you before you’re a threat. And if he’s as much of a showboat as Morgyn claims, he won’t be able to resist the poetry of striking you down right when you’re about to claim victory.”

“Well, I hope so,” Alice growled, “Because if not, we are screwed.” She ran a hand through her hair, “Maybe we should just leave Jimena be.” She didn’t mention the part about Maverick wanting them to also leave Miss Hell alive. Tempting as it was to have her parents’ disapproval focused on someone who wasn’t her, Alice didn’t have the heart to set her brother up.

“I taught you better than that,” her father frowned, “In this case, Morgyn is right. Omar has all the alliances and if you want a chance at breaking them, then a valuable hostage is—”

“I know, I know,” she grumbled, “I don’t know why I’m doubting myself.”

“I don’t know why either. I seem to remember a certain God of Five Things telling us to remember the number one rule of reality tv.” 

“Thou shalt not see the underdog coming,” they said at the same time. 

Alice giggled, “It worked in season 1-18 of the Outstanding Race.”

“See? It’s a good plan. Try to calm down. You should be celebrating! You’re about to bake your buns off.” He winked, “Get it? Buns. See what I did there?”

It was a terrible dad joke, but Alice didn’t laugh. “The Fates are gonna hand me the prize no matter what I bake because I already won. I have The Owl. I don’t even really need to try.” Her eyes pricked with tears. All these months doing this stupid contest and actually getting good at baking, and it didn’t even matter. The old Alice would have been thrilled to find this loophole. But the new Alice? The new Alice was disappointed.

Trying to hide her tears, she scolded herself and got up from the table. Her father followed suit, pulling her in for a hug. 

“It’s still a win, pumpkin. And you earned it, just not in the way you thought.”

Alice gave him a watery smile. “You’re probably right. I don’t know why I’m crying. I guess I’m extra emotional right now.”

Her father shrugged. “I’m going to load the last of the supplies into the van. You think you can be ready in 20 minutes?”

“Yeah, let me just change my clothes.” Alice hesitated, “I’m crying for no reason and extra emotional. You’re not going to ask about it?”

“What?”

She gestured at her stomach.

A wary look passed over her father’s face. “We woke up to Vlad standing over our bed, explaining in vivid detail how disappointed he would be to find us discussing the pregnancy. Apparently, you are very stressed out and haven’t made a decision yet.”

“And you guys agreed to that?”

“Maybe I wasn’t clear,” her father emphasized, “He was standing over our bed.

Alice tried not to smile. It was almost impossible to explain why she found Vlad’s actions so endearing, especially when they involved his penchant for making terrifying threats. “Yeah, that sounds like something he would do.”

Windenburg Keep

Morgyn

Morgyn was the last to set out from Windenburg Keep. Neither they nor William could risk being seen with everyone else. It might tip Omar off. 

They pretended to be unimpressed, but the new God of Death was actually quite bright. She grasped the politics of godhood, or at least, she had a keen understanding of reality TV which really was the same thing. How clever the Fates must think themselves to have invented so inane a pastime to covertly train B’Ollithiranon’s replacement. 

Perhaps Morgyn could make something of her after all. Of course, they’d have to sever her attachment to The Owl and find some way to get rid of Phobos. The two carrying on with some ill-fated relationship gave them Solis/Transmutation vibes and Morgyn didn’t like it at all.  

Strolling away from the castle, they nearly jumped out of their skin when Phobos appeared in their path. There was no fanfare. One minute: nothing, the next minute, there he was. The effect was unnerving.

Morgyn wrestled their expression into something resembling indignance. “If this is about manipulating Anastasia into burning your house down, then—”

“Come now, former Sage. This is not about anything so small,” he chided.

Suddenly, Phobos was standing inches away from them. “A threat radiates from you, and I cannot abide it. I find your commitment to family lacking. Your attitude towards Alice—discourteous, and your plans for The Owl—unsatisfactory.” 

His gaze made Morgyn’s skin feel like it was being flayed open. “You of all people should understand the purpose of a weapon!” they hissed.

“Careful, Untamed Magic. Gwendolyn is my child, and I have been known to lose my temper.”

Morgyn scanned the area for a safe exit. “William will be sorely disappointed if you harm me. He cares for me; we are seeing each other.”

Phobos merely smiled.

“A-Alice needs me,” they said, trying a different tact. “I pledged myself to her. You mistake my intentions, Phobos; I plan to stop the God War from destroying this world, end the threat before it even starts. If you don’t want The Owl to be used as a weapon, then you are tying my hands!”

“No.”

“No?” Their breath burst in and out. “No to what? You want Omar and his ilk to lay waste to everyone and everything Alice loves?”

“It’s very loud,” Phobos observed as if Morgyn had not spoken.

“What?”

“Your heart beating—the song of your fear. It’s loud.”

Unconsciously, they clutched at their chest. “My…my heart?”

“From the very first time a heart ever beat wildly in panic, it was me,” he mused, “Writing a song for myself.”

If Phobos knew how deranged that sounded, he didn’t show it. Morgyn tripped and fell backward, “I haven’t done anything! I haven’t…I’m only trying to help. T-trying to find solutions! You cannot fault me for that.” They scrambled to find some angle that would appeal to the monster. “I don’t fault you either. You are preoccupied with this child, but I won’t think you a monster for letting her go. I know your true nature, and—”

“Would you like to know something curious?” Phobos interrupted, his tone amused. “Phobos is not a name; it’s what I am. I don’t retain myself when I gain new forms. I simply,”—he gestured at his body—”Become.” 

Morgyn scooted back as he stalked forward.

“So Vladislaus and Fear are one in the same thing. All of Phobos’s powers…”

A crackling sound drew Morgyn attention, followed by a loud rumble. Climbing to their knees, they turned to watch the entirety of Windenburg Keep crumble to the ground.

“And all of Vladislaus’s…preoccupations.”

Morgyn thought they understood what B’Ollithiranon forged in the depths of the Underworld, but now they realized they were wrong. “What are you?” they breathed.

Phobos didn’t answer. Instead, he reached down and pulled them to their feet. “You are quite talented,” he hummed, brushing off their jacket, “Ruthless, cunning, knowledgeable. The God of Death could have no better advisor.” 

“Advisor?” Morgyn was dumbfounded. “Y-you just threatened me. And now you want me to stay and help?” The change in Phobos’s moods gave them whiplash. Morgyn didn’t know whether to brace themselves or breathe a sigh of relief. 

“I only wanted to make sure we understood each other. And now, I’m satisfied that we do.” He turned and began walking towards the hillside, whistling a jaunty tune. “Oh, and Morgyn?” he crooned.

The former Sage of Untamed Magic wiped a bead of sweat from their upper lip. “Yes?”

“The same collective terror that Windenburg Keep would fall permeates all the worlds. Should you betray us, my love for Aurelius would not stop me. You think you want to know what I am, Untamed Magic, but I assure you, you do not.”

Sulani

Akira

It was strange to be in Sulani without Oberon. It was also hot as balls, and Akira regretted letting his sister talk him into leather pants. Titania was adamant that appearance was everything when it came to killing your husband’s mistress. Akira kept his mouth shut because a) his recent divorce didn’t give him a lot of moral high ground, and b) the sooner they killed Oberon’s lover, the sooner they could get on with the work of taking back their mantle. 

Thinking about his divorce drew his mind to Miko and what she’d say about their little trip. Probably nothing good. Probably she’d be disappointed. Miko might have been a Thread of Fate, but she was always horrified by the ease with which the Rushlight was willing to do violence. She didn’t have the stomach for perpetrating horrors.

Or at least, that’s what he always thought. 

She didn’t physically hurt him, though he wished she had. A wound was a pain that he understood. He could point to it and know that she caused it. But this emotional pain? It left him so jumbled up that he didn’t know where the fault began or ended—which part of it was him and which part of it was her.

He shoved those thoughts aside and hurried to catch up with Titania. The location looked just as the Book of Longings described, though Akira had been hoping “half-buried ship” was a metaphor. The place was worn down but not abandoned. A clothesline swayed gently in the stifling breeze, alongside stale-smelling water that was clearly set out for washing. 

With no warning, Titania waved her hand a sent a picnic table sailing through the air. 

“What the fuck?” Akira cried, giving her an incredulous look.

“I’m announcing our presence.”

It worked. The door swung open, and a pale vampire with dark hair shot out snarling and crouching for an attack. A lanky teenage girl, the perfect mix of Oberon and this vampire creature, ran out behind her, the look on her face shocked.  

At the sight of the girl, dread gathered in Akira’s stomach. “Tania, don’t do anything stupid.”

“I told you to stay back,” the vampire hissed at the girl, “Get inside.”

“No,” Titania purred, ignoring Akira’s warning, “Stay. It was rude of me not to introduce myself. My name is Titania Kibo, Queen of the Fae. This is my brother Akira. And we’re here because your mother fucked my husband.”

“Titania!” Akira snapped. He grabbed his sister by the arm and pulled her away. “You want to have a confrontation with his lover, fuckin’ fine. But that kid stays out of it, you hear me?”

Titania glared, but she must’ve read something in his expression because she relented. “My brother is right. The child should go inside,” she bit out.

Akira didn’t let go of her arm until he heard the screen door slam closed.

“Now,” she continued, raising a hand to conjure a bright blue spark, “About that fucking…”

It wasn’t like they didn’t know about Oberon’s love child. She just seemed like an abstract concept before. But now that Akira was standing in front of her house, about to let Titania murder her mother, he was having doubts. He needed to diffuse the situation.

“I mean, technically, it’s an unsanctioned fucking,” he called out.

Titania shot him a furious look.

“What?” he laughed, “We should be clear about why you’re upset. In fact, we should have a drink and talk about why you’re upset cause maybe she don’t know all your elaborate sex rules. Maybe this is a misunderstanding, and we can go destroy something else. Preferably something godlike and fuckin’ full of themselves.”

“I’ll destroy you!” Titania threatened.

“For what? Wanting a drink?” he teased, “I’m dying already since you got me out here in these leather pants.”

His sister gave a cry of frustration, “Why are you ruining this?” She fired off a spark in Akira’s direction, but he dodged it easily. 

Meanwhile, the vampire watched them with keen eyes. “You see what I have to deal with?” Akira shouted as Titania kicked him in the shin.

Slowly, her mouth tilted up into a lazy smile. “Oberon said you two were close. He had big plans, you know.”

“Plans,” Titania spat. “My husband was an idiot, and he did not make plans.” She crossed her arms and stared daggers.

The vampire just laughed. “I think you’d be surprised. The name’s Lilith Vatore. Would you like to come inside and have that drink?”

Elder Realms, Somnus’s Estate

Miko

“She was a marvel. She did exactly as she pleased all her life, God bless her.”

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

“What do you mean Akira ain’t coming?” Miko shouted.

“Just what we said,” Liberty replied.

“He divorced you,” Summer explained solemnly.

“Divorce?” Miko gaped, “But that’s impossible! He never divorces me! He—”

“That’s enough!” Liberty snapped. “No, it is,” she insisted when Rory tried to stop her, “We’ve let this go on long enough. You tinkered Miko, and we let you. Pushing emotions around, manipulating them. It suited our purposes and didn’t matter, but this is the consequence.”

Miko’s cheeks burned. A denial was on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to articulate it. She wasn’t trying to control anyone. Sometimes the emotions her friends felt were dangerous. Penny always wanted to chase down the witches instead of helping Alice. Mikel was so homesick when he first fell to Simnation that Miko’s nudging his emotions had been a mercy! And Akira…

A sharp pang ran through her. She never made Akira love her. Never forced him. Had she made a few minor adjustments around them? Made sure things happened in the right place at the right time? Yes. Fine. But he gave himself over free and clear. Now he was taking it back? This was how he showed the depth of his devotion?

Rory’s expression grew worried. “Rabbit—”

“I’m not your rabbit!” Miko snapped. “I’m not your anything, and I’m not going with you.”

“Not going? Like hell, you’re not going!” Liberty shouted, lunging for her. “You don’t even know how deep in you are! If you’d just wake up and—”

“Liberty,” it was Rory who pulled her back, “We can’t,” he soothed, his face stricken, “It has to be her choice to leave this place. That’s the only way.”

The look in his eyes was pleading, but Miko ignored it. “Just go.”


Her visit from The Fates was a reminder that she wasn’t completely defenseless. In fact, she was more than “not defenseless”; she was powerful. 

Which was why she tore off that dress.

And wore whatever the fuck she wanted to dinner.

“That’s what you choose to put on your body?” Somnus sneered. “Do you know I’ve killed creatures for smaller infractions?” 

“But you won’t kill me,” Miko said calmly. With a slight flick of her pinky finger, she sent a cloud of sadness through him. “You mentioned a follower earlier. Who was he?” 

“Bjorn Bjersten. He was devout. Loyal.” Suddenly, Somnus hunched forward, his voice breaking, “I have no doubt he went to his grave defending my vision.”

Now, a little anger…

“But in truth, he was a sycophant. And too self-important to take proper precautions. I warned him not to get too close, not before we completed our work!”

And a touch of confidence…

“It is no matter. I have many followers and many tools, and I will achieve my aims.”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t, you don’t see anything because you don’t know anything,” Somnus growled.

Miko smiled sweetly and let more of her magic unfurl. A little chagrin could go a long way.

He froze and then shook his head, looking embarrassed. “I’m sorry, that was…uncalled for. I don’t know what came over me.”

“It’s alright,” Miko replied, “Just so you know, I can’t stand rudeness.”

Somnus gave her an appraising look, “I’ll remember that.”

A thrill ran through her. Akira always looked at her with love, with reverence, but Somnus? He was looking at her like she was a force to be reckoned with. Maybe he knew she was using magic; maybe he didn’t. Either way, Miko decided she didn’t want to let that feeling go. The Fates were retiring; the future was up for grabs. Her future was up for grabs. She’d spent a thousand timelines playing savior to the God of Death, and it always ended badly. Maybe it was time she tried something else. 

“So,” she said casually, “You got many tools and many followers, and now you got me. What’s our plan?”  

Our plan?” At first Somnus looked like he was going to argue. Miko was prepared to use more of her magic if necessary, but he made the decision on his own.

“Our plan. Yes, I imagine you do have some insights that would be helpful.” His mouth curved upwards, “Let me pour you some more nectar, and we can talk.”

Miko nodded and handed him her glass. 

Magic HQ

TRansmutation

They didn’t teach witches about the old magics anymore. A modern witch—modern by what measure he wasn’t exactly sure, time was difficult to parse—only knew of three: mischief, untamed, and practical. And that was really only two kinds of magic. Practical magic was just a tiny off-shoot of the Universe’s own power, a gift to the mortal world because sims were her beloved creation. 

He understood why she did it—she wanted to ensure they could care for themselves. He did something similar for supernaturals. Changing the first sim into something otherworldly had been an exciting project, but the care and feeding? The development? Not his interest. He turned that over to other gods and magics. 

The witches were somewhat of an exception. They went to Faba, but he did join her for visits as a Sage. Witches always fascinated him, and he loved hearing Mischief’s plans for what they would become. The Universe approved. After all, magic being close by in case things went wrong in the mortal world was a good thing as far as she was concerned.

But he was getting off-topic—a thing that was easy to do because he had great swaths of time to think and no parameters by which he must organize those thoughts or rein them in. Parameters were for creatures with names and identities. He might have had a name when he chose this form, intentions too. But they had fallen away, whispers of what might have been before his imprisonment. 

Nine centuries would have passed quickly enough, but time had bent around itself, and so he had been in this state for nine centuries times a thousand. Magic could go mad in a situation like that. Not that the was anything he could do about it—the madness part. And besides, there was the issue of the sorceress.

She might not have called herself that. Penny Pizzazz thought she was a witch, and he couldn’t blame her for it. How could she know? Faba and Morgyn kept secrets, and Penny—what a lovely name that was…Did she realize how lovely? If he could have a name, he’d choose Penny too. In fact, that would be his name. It was better than Transmutation, which was more about what he did, not who he was. Of course, he’d have to explain that to Penny—the sorceress Penny, not him Penny and… 

Oh. 

Ohhh.

This was going to be a problem.

Maybe he should choose a different name? Having two Pennys could get confusing to think about in his head. He already had to sort things using a series of doors and rooms. Memories blended with fantasy and feelings, creating a strange and sometimes mystifying effect. He grew confused so quickly, and…wait…why was he thinking about this again?

Ah, because he needed a name. A new one. A name would help things feel less…squishy. It would help with the things he wanted to do after he broke free. Those things were not squishy. On the contrary, they were very solid, and he could summarize them in a sentence: take the worlds apart, build something new in their place. 

He liked building things. Building things involved change, and that’s what he was good at: pulling things apart, rewriting the inner workings cell by cell.

What would he find if he pulled the sorceress apart and whispered a few new instructions? 

She probably wouldn’t like it, and Solis would frown on him using his power like that. 

Wait…Solis…?

He opened a door in his mind to examine the origins of that word and promptly closed it. It wasn’t a word, it was a name, and he didn’t want to see it. That name made him think of vengeance and lust and destruction and yearning, and he didn’t have any space for that here. Not when he had to get free. 

He plans for after he got free. Solid plans. That’s where the sorceress came in. She would help him get free, though they’d have to talk, and he was woefully out of practice. 

Maybe there was a way to make their communication easier? He’d have to think on that. And only think, not eat. He couldn’t eat her, much as he was tempted. He’d eaten the last sorceress, and now he regretted it.

“Penny,” he whispered. “Wake up.”

Von Haunt Estate

Vlad

Baking was not difficult. It required precision and excellent reflexes, which Vlad had in spades. But it also required creativity, which he struggled with. 

Though that wasn’t quite right. He had creativity; it just tended towards things not baking-related. Give him intestines or a femur bone, or someone to torture, and the things he could dream up were vivid and varied.

Indeed, Vlad kept a running list of ways he anticipated dealing with Alice’s future enemies. Even if she decided to have the baby and there were two tiny terrors to keep him busy, he still wanted to keep his skills sharp. 

He glanced over at her baking station. Alice didn’t seem tired today, and the gleam in her eye told him that she was excited and focused. Baking was definitely suited to her creativity. Aside from her ability to actually eat food and know how it tasted, she could look at a creature and see more than how best to take them apart.

For all these reasons, Vlad chose to make a winter cake for his final recipe. It was one of his mother’s favorite meals. It looked impressive and tasted like nothing, which was a perfect distillation of her character and reminded him that he had learned to be a monster from more than one place.

Alice worried that she was doing nothing for Gwendolyn, but she could not possibly know what doing nothing looked like.  

Carefully, he set his completed masterpiece on the table. It wasn’t anything like Alice’s cake. Hers was black-white with two layers, the sort of confectionery masterpiece that won contests because it was like her—full of life and cleverness and spitfire and warmth. In a word—good. Not in some sage-forsaken mortal sense, but like the original meaning of the word: desirable.

Vlad didn’t pay much attention to the Fates or the cameras other than to note that Morgyn was right. Their magic made the homunculus version of Marjorie imperceptible from the real thing.

All this build-up, all these months of baking and filming, and it was over in a matter of seconds. Alice pretended to be surprised by her win almost as well as Omar pretended he was just beaming at the judges and not salivating over killing Alice and snatching The Owl.

Outside of the tent, Vlad grabbed her and kissed her like his life depended on it. “You were marvelous,” he whispered as he locked eyes with Omar and took in the god’s intense and disapproving stare. 

The Pious God quickly recovered. “Good job,” he said brightly, “Obviously, I’m disappointed, but I’m excited to see you at the awards ceremony tonight. It’ll be a great party!”

Alice laughed, “Thanks. I’m looking forward to it, though if I never have to attend another party again, it’ll be too soon!”

“Oh, I’m sure that’ll be the case,” Omar replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.


ALICE

“So he definitely knows,” Alice said, clutching Vlad’s arm as they walked out of the Von Haunt Estate for the last time. 

“Oh undoubtedly,” he agreed, “But he’ll still want to play with his food first so I think we can safely continue as planned: seize Jimena, kill Miss Hell, wipe the floor with him at the awards ceremony.”

“I guess I did all that baking for nothing. I could’ve just told him to meet me in the parking lot after school,” Alice joked.

“Not for nothing,” Vlad chuckled, “I think you wanted to see this through, regardless of the outcome.”

He was right. While she felt a sense of relief at being done, she also felt good that she actually finished something. “Still, Omar’s a dick. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”

“I never liked him,” Vlad confirmed, “Killing him was on my to-do list if he and William didn’t work out.”

“That doesn’t count,” Alice snorted, “Almost everyone is on your kill-list, and you don’t like anyone.”

“False. I like—”

“Jimmy, I know.” She found Vlad’s deep attachment to a random sim a bit strange, but she was trying to be supportive. “Speaking of which, you said goodbye to him, right? I don’t think cellphones are a thing in the Underworld, so he might not hear from you for a while.”

“I sent him a text,” Vlad shrugged.

“A text? Like a real text or, like, one of your texts?”

He rolled his eyes, “It was a real text. I simply explained that he was the greatest mortal I’ve ever known. I told him his counsel has been wise, and while I am retiring from kingship, I remain available to grant him the death of his enemies and/or enough gold bars to fund a small business enterprise. I also explained that we were no longer arguing after having enchanted nectar or using our powers against each other. Unless it’s for foreplay, which we both enjoy.”

Alice blinked at him. “Why are you like this?”

“Good at texting?”

“No! Overly dramatic!”

“I am not overly dramatic,” he murmured giving her quick kiss. “And Jimmy responded favorably. He needs an internship and will be accompanying us to the Underworld, so I needn’t bid him farewell after all.”

Alice considered the fact that she only electrocuted him once to be a sign of progress in their relationship.


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