Of Love and Monsters

Chapter 2, Part 1: Greetings from the Shadow Monster


Yep. Definitely gonna need a week and a half between chapters especially when I attack myself by writing a scene that takes place in an upside-down graveyard. Anyways, enjoy!

The Underworld

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.”

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane


William barreled into the bedroom, following the sounds of the screams. Alice’s parents were holding their ground against what at first appeared to be creeping shadows.  

“Back! Back!” Valeria shouted, thrusting out a torch as Cyrus assumed a defensive stance. 

The room had a heavy atmosphere that didn’t match the rest of the house. As the shadows started to form, William could finally see exactly what was causing it: Two glowing red eyes and a sinister smile were painted a lanky figure with wiry hair.

“Get back!” William growled.

“That’s what I’ve been telling it,” Alice’s mother hissed, gripping her sword. 

Where in sages’ names had she gotten that thing? William clenched his fists and tried to maintain a sense of calm. “Not the monster, youYou get back unless you intend to throw down with a supernatural beast.”

“We don’t,” Cyrus said quickly, tugging her back. He blew out the torch. “Drop the sword honey, the vampire is here.” 

Valeria looked positively mutinous.

Ignoring the daggers she was staring into his back, William transformed into his dark form.

“Run,” he told them before turning his attention back to the shadow creature. “Alright, beasty, you can come easy, or you can come hard. It’s up to you how much this will hurt.”

The shadow stood and tilted its head, but its expression didn’t change. For a second, the heaviness lifted, and the room felt like it was spinning.

As soon as the door shut, William and the beast were plunged into darkness.

Swallowing down his nausea, William delivered a smooth kick. The creature dodged with surprising dexterity, and the last great knight of Windenburg had to spin to regain his footing. In another powerful kick, he arced his leg, bringing it down, but the shadow blocked and ducked. 

Shite. That should have laid it flat! William thought.

Faking like he was lowering his leg, he waited for the shadow creature to straighten before he drew back and threw another kick. It landed, and the creature broke apart into a swirl of bright colors.

The fight could not have been that long, but William was exhausted. It felt like he was making every move underwater and any ground he gained from that powerful kick quickly evaporated. The shadows gathered again, resolidifying as something shaggier…


And very werewolf-like…

It leaped into the air, casting off the darkness. William stood, rooted to the ground, his entire body in shock.

He recovered as soon as the beast landed, and the two began to grapple.

Pinned and choked, he grabbed the creature’s wrist, tensing until he heard the sound of breaking bones. 

The injury didn’t slow it. The hand clutching William became a shadowed manacle, pulling him ever closer while a large set of teeth and wide-open mouth clamped down.

Dimly, the old knight wondered about the irony of being a sharp-toothed monster dying while caught in the jaws of another sharp-toothed monster.  

Mikel’s Ship


Mikel paused to make a few measurements and then continued soldering the hull patch. “Hand me that wrench; I’m almost done.” 

“I can’t believe I’m in a spaceship with an alien, and the tools we’re using to make repairs are just a wrench and a soldering iron,” Anastasia said, handing it over. “You might want to get a jump on that; I can hear the air whistling through the lock,” she added.

It turned out a vampire was a convenient thing to have on a spaceship. So far, she’d sussed out several structural issues just by sound alone. And thank the Sixam suns for that; Mikel’s internal systems were severely damaged. He was surprised he could hear her, let alone see what he was repairing. 

“Okay, here we go,” he said, lifting the metal grate off the table. “You’ll hold it in place after I secure it to the inner hull.”

“Don’t you need the soldering iron?”

“Nope,” Mikel pulled out a bottle of Galatic Glue and tossed it to her. “Never travel without it. You want space age? Here it is.”

She peered at the bottle and then coughed delicately into her hand.


She raised her eyebrows in sheepish amusement. “I just thought it’d be more impressive.”

Mikel groaned, “What’s not impressive about a colloid that bonds with the surrounding matter to create an impenetrable hold?” He liked almost everything about this planet and its creatures except their bizarre characterizations of alien technology.

“Alright, alright,” she held out her hands, “Don’t get your space suit in a twist.”

“It’s not a spacesuit; these are just—”

“I’m kidding.” She rolled her eyes and took the grate out of his hand, “You are clearly the brains of this little intergalactic adventure. I’m happy to be the brawn. Lead the way.”

Mikel laughed. He thought it would be harder to think of Miss Hell as Anastasia. After all, he knew her as the well-coiffed murderer who conspired against Alice and Vlad. But she was actually enjoyable to be around and a good teammate, which made him feel a little sad. Penny was MIA, and his other friends were in danger while he was up here floating through space.

And what would he say when he finally got these repairs done and launched a rescue mission? Sorry that it took so long to come and help you. By the way, the vampire who conspired to kill you is pretty cool.

“Come on,” he said, his expression sobering. “Let’s finish this repair.”

The Underworld


Five hundred years ago, William would have been embarrassed by passing out during a fight. Now being older and wiser, he was just glad to be opening his eyes.

“Alright?” Vladislaus asked.

He had dislocated a shoulder and broken two fingers—nothing that wouldn’t heal shortly…and painfully. But William had grown used to the agony of having an immortal body. “Once a knight, always a knight,” he joked instead, wincing as Vladislaus helped him up. “Your timing is impeccable,” he slurred, “I was just getting warmed up.” 

“Oh, I’d be careful about that,” B’Ollithiranon warned. William hadn’t realized the former god was in the room. “There are things in the Underworld that even a vampire would find difficult to tango with.”

It was hard not to bristle at the Ferryman’s statement. Was the shadow monster really that strong, or had William spent too much of the last few centuries playing mortal? “Yes, well, thank you for saving me. I’m sure it was alarming to…” he glanced around the room, “Where is it?”

“Where is what?” Vladislaus looked perplexed.

“The shadow monster! The thing that kicked my sorry arse!”

“There was nothing in here when I arrived,” Vladislaus replied, “Merely you on the floor in a pool of your own plasma,” He paused and sniffed the air, “Yes, definitely your plasma. It’s like the former Sage of Untamed Magic is standing in the room with us.”

William groaned. He had been single for centuries, and how he was in love. Was it too much to expect a little more support? Rubbing one of the open puncture wounds in his neck, he shot his friend a warning look, “Well, clearly I’ve been attacked; you needn’t flounce around making declarations that suggest I imagined it.”

“No, obviously, you had it on the ropes,” he drawled, “I imagine that’s why it hasn’t taken this opportunity to eat us too.”

Cyrus frowned, and Valeria marched over to William, gripping his chin to examine his injuries like he was one of her children. 

“I’m fine,” he croaked.

“Stop squirming,” she snapped. “I know toddlers that are better at holding still than you.” William wanted to point out that he was ten times her age, but he was a little afraid of her response. Mothering was not a thing he had experienced in ages, and now that it was upon him, he found it unsettling.

“He is fine,” Vladislaus’s tone was cool as he echoed William’s statement, “Aurelius is no mere mortal, and he’s certainly been in worse fights.”

“He is not fine,” Valeria poked a finger in Vladislaus’s chest, “Some days, hell, all days, I don’t know what my daughter sees in you. He is your friend, and it wouldn’t kill you to act like you give a damn!”

Valeria was wrong. He did give a damn. That arrogance was a mask, a language they’d created long ago in a place where showing emotions was akin to showing weakness. Many a night, he’d watched Vladislaus carelessly declare him “fine” only to find his old friend in the barracks later with bandages and a poultice, ready to patch him up.

“And I don’t care if he is a vampire,” Valeria continued, “He needs tea and a rest. And we need to wake the rest of the house up in case they’ve got shadow monsters too.”

“I see, and you’re in charge?” Vladislaus purred, the glint in his eye dangerous.

“Vladislaus,” William chided. They had long since left Josef’s castle; it was high time they found a new way to be, “She’s Alice’s mother, not a—”

“Martin women are always in charge,” Valeria interrupted.

William watched a series of emotions play over his friend’s face as she swept from the room. Laughing, he placed a hand on Vladislaus’s shoulder and squeezed. “I’m surprised that after six months, you don’t know that already.”

“I’m surprised you’re able to comment after sustaining such grievous injury from an imaginary creature.”

William chuckled as Vladislaus shook off his hand and stormed from the room. The beast was not imaginary, clearly. But the fact remained if it was so powerful that even the former God of Death couldn’t control it, why did it go running?

And why hadn’t Vladislaus seen it?

Downstairs, with the sun peeking through the windows, Valeria stared at the former God of Death. “What in llama’s wool would possess you to make a creature like that?”

“Mom, please,” Alice was bleary-eyed, along with the rest of the household. She tilted her head, indicating Gwendolyn. For all the trouble the child gave Vladislaus at bedtime, the Underworld’s tiny queen was curled up in Alice’s lap, snoring softly.

Valeria lowered her voice, “Well, Benjamin, what’s your explanation?”

“It’s not Benjamin—”

Valeria glared. 

“Just Ben,” he finished mildly. “The Underworld is full of things that others would consider terrifying,” the former god conceded, “We welcome all kinds. It’s part of our aesthetic!” He laughed as if making a joke, but no one else joined in.

“Declarations of a fool,” Morgyn sneered. William was wrong before. Everyone was bleary-eyed except Untamed Magic. They looked flawless. He shot his paramour a soft look and received a scowl in response.  

“So anyone can just wander in, and you just add them to the decor?” William asked, trying to cover the flash of hurt at Morgyn’s response. Why were they upset? 

“No! Not at all!” B’Ollithiranon declared, “We’ve got tight security. In fact, the monsters help with that. You can’t just barge in here willy nilly if the shadow beast or something equally terrible is waiting to eat you.”

“Yes, well, it’s not helpful if the security measures eat the things they are supposed to be protecting.” Vladislaus leveled B’Ollithiranon with a dark look, and the mortals in the room shivered as if the temperature had dropped a few degrees.  

Suddenly, the answer was clear. That was why he didn’t see the shadow beast! Phobos was a thing even the Underworld didn’t want to tango with. William sprang to his feet. “I think it’s high time Vladislaus went hunting.”

Mikel’s Ship


“How long do I hold this for?” Anastasia asked. She had successfully maneuvered the piece of sheet metal in place over the top of Mikel’s dots of glue. “Five seconds? Thirty?”

“Ten hours.”

“You’re joking.” 

“Nope. Sit back, get comfortable; we’re going to be here a while.” Mikel grabbed a box of food rations and plopped himself on the floor to prove his point. 

“When we get back on the planet, the first thing I’m doing is letting everyone know they’ve got it all wrong. Alien technology is positively prehistoric.” She snatched a food bar, “What the hell are we supposed to do for ten hours?”

“You could tell me about your life as Anastasia,” Mikel blurted out before he had a chance to think. He hated to admit how curious he was, but the entire course of her life and plans had shifted overnight, and yet here she was, taking it in stride. How?

She gave a sarcastic laugh. “You want to hear about the time before I died and became this monstrosity? Is the requirement for sitting here being bored too?” 

Stupid. Anastasia didn’t owe him any backstory. “I’m sorry, you’re right. You don’t have to—”

“I’m joking.” She sighed, “You know, alien, you really do need to adopt a sense of humor. I’m three hundred years old; nothing about me is boring.”

Mikel let out a breath and gave her a nervous smile. “Okay, I’ll try, but you’ve gotta admit, you don’t make this easy. You don’t even use your real name. I mean, what is your real name? Anastasia…?”

“Barrister. Not likely the name I was born with, but that was the name of the family that found me. Witches, if you can believe it. One of the most powerful witch families in Glimmerbrook.” She laughed, but there was a sad note in it. “I still take that as a point of pride, even if witches are terrible, and I’ve unwavering dedication to making every last one suffer.”

The Underworld


“I said I would handle it,” Alice hissed. She felt irrationally grumpy–probably from lack of sleep—and desperately ashamed at the same time. Turns out, the Underworld was a death trap because of its shoddy construction and the literal monsters creeping through it. 

She could feel Vlad’s eyes on her, but she pointedly did not look at him.

“You are handling it,” he replied in the tone of someone who everyone trusted to fix a problem. He went to kiss her, but she put a hand over his face and pushed him back.

“How can I be handling it when everyone knows that I’m going on patrol with you?”

“Is this about the Martin women always being in charge?”

“What?” she dropped her hand.

“The Martin women. In charge and apparently fond of swords.”

Alice gave him a bewildered look. She didn’t have a sword, and the entire Martin family was mortal except for her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. My family is under attack, and they need me to protect them, which I’m trying to do because this is my realm.”

“You are protecting them,” Vlad said, “Now, would you like a snack before we go?”

A snack? Was he fucking with her? “I don’t need a snack! I’m not a child!”

He didn’t say the words “you’re pregnant and hungry all the time,” but he was thinking it. 

Apparently, her body was thinking it too. Her stomach rumbled. “One snack,” she allowed. “But do not look smug about it.” 

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, pausing to kiss her hand. 

The Underworld


First, they checked the bedrooms and then the various halls and closets. It took forever since they had to double back more than once to find the right way out. As soon as Alice learned how to manipulate the realm, she planned to make the entire layout of this house less confusing. 

Not that it mattered. There was no inkling of the shadow monster, not even in the darkest corners. “You are ruining this,” Alice growled after they encountered yet another empty room. “You’re jacking up the vibes, and now the monster won’t come out.”

“And you are clomping down the hallway as if you’re leading a small army. You sigh loudly, and you’re grinding your teeth. The shadow beast, I’m sure, can hear you coming a mile away.”

“Me?” Alice was incredulous, “I’m trying to save everyone’s asses, and you are gliding through the hallways like a…a…” very sexy, dangerous assassin, her brain filled in unhelpfully. “Just stop swishing through the halls like this is some dark academia Sims Tok!” she sputtered. 

He caught her wrist as she poked a finger in his chest. “I don’t even understand enough of those words to be insulted. Why are you so anxious? I can keep hunting; I don’t sleep. And you can join me again when you’ve rested and had breakfast.”

“I’m not anxious, I’m just…it’s….” Alice couldn’t make herself say the words. Yes, she was anxious. Anxious that someone else was going to get hurt and desperate to prove that she could manage this very big, very terrifying responsibility. 

“Your family seems more than capable of extricating themselves and calling for back-up,” he added gently.

As if to punctuate his point, the sound of Mayra shouting filled the air.

They both took off running, in the direction of her voice. 

“There!” her sister cried, pointing down the hall. “I almost stopped it. If you would’ve let me rig a set of—”

“I’m not letting you rig explosives inside the house,” Alice grumbled. Vlad was wrong about her family. They weren’t capable; they were impossible! Why couldn’t they just sit back and let her protect them? 

“But it’s not a house, it’s a realm,” her sister argued, “And if you want to kill something fast, you blow it up.

Alice sucked in a breath, the memory sweeping over her. Mayra didn’t mean it, but…

“Did it try to attack you?” Vlad asked, oblivious to Alice’s distress. Mikel’s death honestly didn’t bother him? He wasn’t going to give it a single thought?

“I’m trying to determine what kind of threat it poses,” he explained at her stark look as if that’s what she was worried about.

There was no point in even trying. Alice threw up her hands and marched past them. “If you two want to discuss the finer points of shadow beast communication, be my guest. I’m going to kill a monster.”

When she rounded the corner, she heard a low rumble of breath, almost like a growl. It made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck, and she had to will herself to keep creeping forward. 

“Come on, you asshole, show yourself,” she hissed under her breath, letting her power pool at the tips of her fingers. 

Suddenly, a flash of red eyes appeared. Alice quickly fired off a bolt of lighting. It crackled through the darkness, giving off a faint burnt smell before the shadows gathered themselves and began to flee. 

“No!” Alice shouted, firing off more bolts as she chased it to the door at the end of the hall. Without thinking, she flung it open and ran through until her feet caught on nothing. Windmilling her arms like a cartoon character, she tried to grab hold of the upside-down markers, but her fingers slipped on their smooth, bronze coating.

They say don’t look down…

But Alice did anyway…

And as she saw the night sky swirling at her feet, it wasn’t clear which came first—the sound of her sob or the sound of her scream.

Del Sol Valley – Omar’s Realm


Omar took a deep breath before peering at himself in the mirror. “I will achieve my aims. I am in perfect control of my faculties. The things I desire are reasonable, and I deserve them.” He wanted to go through his affirmations a tenth time, but he knew everyone was waiting upstairs. 

Heading back to his guests, he took his customary seat at the head of the table trying to ignore his sister taking up the exact same position at the opposite end. 

“So,” Elmyra began as if she were opening the meal. “The little cretin disappeared with The Owl and has already ascended.”

Omar took an annoyed sip of nectar. By rights, he should be the one to begin the conversation. Even if he forced everyone to attend these dinners, he was still the host.

“It was very flashy,” Sol observed in that pleasant tone of hers. The one that said, “I’m not a threat, you’re a threat,” and which anyone who spent even a second with her would know was a lie. Perhaps that falsehood was how she kept her sham marriage to Nyx afloat.

“And tricky,” Nyx sighed, but her eyes sparkled in a way that belied her sullen tone. The the two goddesses winked at each other.

Definitely a sham marriage, Omar decided. Gods were not meant for long-term relationships and he should know. He was the most pious out of all of them and he’d never managed it.

“It was tacky,” Omar insisted. “A demonstration of how little she knows about our politics and—”

“And have you seen the new painting in the Library of Magic?” his sister taunted, “They’ve replaced B’Ollithiranon with Alice, and she’s positively glowing.” 

“Will Alice be joining us, then?” Sol asked, “She could take up B’Ollithiranon’s old seat. Or Somnus’s.” The Goddess of Sound smiled demurely as if she were making an innocent observation.

“No,” Omar hissed with a vehemence he’d meant to keep under wraps. He quickly smoothed out his tone, “We don’t seat that reprobate and charlatan. He is no more a god than that beast Phobos is.”

“Do you mean the God of Death’s most ardent follower?” Elmyra asked sweetly. “You can be forgiven for failing, brother. The Fates were involved, so it was going to be their outcome no matter what.”

“Yes, Jimena did fail,” Omar sneered, “Tell us, sister, what is it like to have such a disappointing offspring? Skilled with the hunt and yet she couldn’t bring that animal to heel?”

“So the God of Death likes to fuck the things that belong to her,” she snapped, “You and she have that in common.”

“I—” Omar never finished his statement, his attention caught by the Goddess of Reason calmly getting up from the table and listening for something in the air.

Suddenly, she dropped to her knees, her magic a swirl of chaos around her. Molecule by molecule, something began to form, its movements harsh and desperate.

Sulis rose gracefully as the mass of energy solidified into one of her followers. The girl turned for just a second, her mouth opened to let out a keening sound that set Omar’s teeth on edge and twisted his stomach. 

She reformed wrong.

The gods fought not to show their horror, but it was to no avail. Whatever had happened to Transmutation Magic all those centuries ago, it threw Sulis’s power out of whack. Once, the goddess could change a speck of dust into a mountain. Now, she transmuted things into horrors.

“Sulis, please,” Nyx’s voice was small and desperate.

But the goddess didn’t hear, or if she did, she didn’t care. She kept whispering, and her follower began to squirm, skin peeling back until she was flayed open. The goddess whispered a last unintelligible word, and the mortal’s heart burst, sending a spray of plasma everywhere.

Sulis never flinched.

Calmly, as if nothing had happened, she gave them a placid look before retaking her seat at the table.

Omar knew what others whispered about him, that he was power-hungry and a monster. But monsters didn’t maintain order; they were agents of chaos and bloodshed like Sulis or Phobos.  

“Um, excuse me, sir.” His head acolyte coughed delicately to get his attention. 

“Yes, Eliza, what is it?”

“Here,” she said, handing him a slip of paper.

He read the note: L. Faba requests an audience to discuss The Owl of Undoing.

No, Omar thought as he sat down to resume his meal, he was not a monster; he was a savior. He would find a way to destroy The Owl of Undoing, and the other gods would thank him for it.



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Emotions by Simmerberlin

Male Stand Poses 5 by Natalia-Auditore

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