Our story continues
Alice got sick after her release from jail and grew even more stressed when Lilith filled her in on the horrors of the supernatural world. Vlad struggled to maintain stability, but after a huge fight with Lilith, he turned to his ex-wife and estranged son for help. His conversation with Anastasia began with a swordfight and ended in an uneasy truce. His conversation with Caleb included some cringe-worthy discussion about safe sex before they also agreed to work together. Bella, who was busy eavesdropping on father and son, decided on her own plan to “save Alice,” and in a bit of good news: Caleb figured out why Titania was so upset.
This chapter contains strong language, adult situations, violence, gore, and depictions of grief, trauma, and severe depression.
Vlad was sitting in the dark. Though, to be fair, he wasn’t just sitting. He was thinking—trying to figure out how to manage the many conflicts that had popped up without getting Alice involved.
When he returned from Caleb’s, she was shaking so badly she couldn’t hold a cup of water. Eyes full of panic, she asked him about witches being hunted, Operation Eternal Flame, and whether Gwendolyn could die from displaying any sign of magic. By the time he calmed her down, he didn’t have the heart to give her any more terrifying news—like how he could finally sense the magic thrumming beneath her skin and the fine vibrations that indicated it was growing in Gwendolyn.
“I know you love Alice and Gwendolyn, but you can’t choose them over your own children,” Latimer announced. He tried to flip on the light, but Vlad snuffed it out with a thought.
Consuming magic had a strange effect on him. He couldn’t command it, but for a while, certain things just responded to his thoughts. It should be enjoyable—the rush of power—but Vlad had learned not to trust it. He liked it too much; it made him feel out of sorts even as it ostensibly gave him more control over his body. The aches and pains? Gone. His nerve endings fired correctly, he could see out of both eyes and the limp he pushed his body not to acknowledge never materialized. Without the sheer effort he spent keeping himself upright, he had time to observe the world.
And unfortunately for the world, Vladislaus Straud found it lacking.
“I talked to Lilith, and she said you threw her out,” Latimer continued.
“Yes, and on her way, she put the fear of the occult in Alice,” Vlad didn’t spare him a glance, “Or did my dear daughter leave that part out?”
“She said that because she’s hurt. She don’t understand what happened with you and Ethren, and despite what you know about his intentions, she has a good relationship with him. He did stay for the conference.”
Latimer blew right by Lilith’s offense, and Vlad couldn’t decide if he was annoyed or grateful that his daughter had such staunch defenders. “I stayed,” he snapped.
“Well, she couldn’t see you! How was she to know? You know I love you, but I can’t for the life of me understand why you do the things you do. In what world does it make sense to just fuck off to a hotel room and watch something that you should be experiencing live with your damn child!”
In a world where his ex-husband riled him, his body hurt, and every interaction with a sim felt like a thousand pinpricks across his skin. But Vlad couldn’t explain that, so he let Latimer keep going.
“And Alice don’t know shit about Oasis Springs. You plannin’ to break your promise to Caleb too?”
“Obviously, not.” Vlad wanted to take care of everything, but every time he thought he was getting some relief, like Eliza’s death being ruled accidental, something else popped up.
“Are you even listening to me? That’s the choice you’re going to make?”
“I haven’t made a choice,” Vlad pinched his brow.
“You have! You’re making it now by not talking to your children and sorting out what’s going on!”
“And say what?” His voice echoed through the room. “Lilith will only be satisfied if I re-enter a toxic relationship with my ex-husband because she has fond but delusional memories of him. If I follow through with Caleb, I’m forcing Alice to take on a life she didn’t want and never asked for at a time when she’s completely traumatized by her first brush with it. But if I say no to Caleb, he will have all his worst thoughts about me confirmed—that I am listless and selfish and care not for him. I don’t have choices, Latimer; I have a devil, a deep blue sea, and endless waves between in which to drown myself!”
There was a long beat of silence before Latimer spoke. “I…what can I do?”
Vlad’s phone vibrated, flashing Alice’s name. “Nothing,” he said as he picked it up, “I’m full up on help from members of this family. I’ll sort it myself.”
Anastasia leaned against the bar, examining the bottle she was holding. Carbonated plasma was surprisingly good. It gave her the feeling of drinking beer but with the pleasant flavor of someone else’s life force.
The owner of the bar, an ancient vampire named Lily Feng, smiled—her Champs Les Sims accent a warm purr, “I haven’t seen you this down since the death of Evelyn Rose. What’s got you so bent out of shape? Is it the press? That ex-husband of yours?”
“Please, the press loves me.” Or they thought that she was a psycho and a robot. “Vladislaus remains as miserable as ever.” Or stupidly happy and in love. “And I haven’t thought about Evelyn Rose in over a century.” Or every day. Especially now as her life crumbled and she felt what she desired most slipping away.
“If that was you pretending to be convincing, you should pick another trade, Anastasia.”
“And if your new business model is harassing your customers instead of serving them, I can find somewhere else to get mediocre plasma in a cheap bottle.”
Lily cocked a brow. “I’m going to take that to mean you need to blow off steam. Victor and I are available. Of course, if you like your stress relief tinged with revenge, I hear Ethren is looking to reassemble the Vampire Council. Vladisalus loves power and loathes witches, so imagine how disappointed he will be to hear his ex-husband has gone to war with the Sages without him. And you,” a slow perusal that hovered at Ana’s hips before moving back up, “You love violent conflict with no discernable end date. It’s one of your most attractive qualities.”
The answer was no to all of it. Anastasia was well aware of Ethren’s plans, and she already regretted the part she played in them. And Ancient Vampires were lunatics, so no matter how transformative the sex was, the likelihood of survival was low.
“Write your phone number on that napkin,” Ana instructed, ignoring Lily’s smirk as she pulled out a tube of red lipstick and dotted the “i” in her name with a heart.
“And the Vampire Council?”
“Wars are for the young,” Ana snorted, “The world has changed. Nowadays, it would take a miracle or mastermind to wrangle an army of vampires. And the mortal headaches it would bring would hardly be worth the effort”
“Speaking of mortal headaches,” Lily licked her lips as Luna walked in. As usual, the sim was dressed in a pink confection of a suit. Ana asked her about it once, but the girl would only say that it was an old habit from her days in a high school club, and she liked the color.
“Don’t ogle my assistant,” Ana snapped, waving Lily away. She turned her attention to Luna, “How did it go with the lawyers?”
“Fine,” she frowned, “I think they were expecting you and not your assistant, but they threatened to tie the police department up in so much litigation it’d take a century to get out if they so much as thought the name ‘Alice Martin.’”
“Uh…is Alice a friend?”
“A favor for my ex-husband.” Vlad and Alice’s devotion to each other still stung. Ana’s jealousy wasn’t sexual—she’d rather be drawn and quartered than sleep with him again—but she did want something similar with Penny. As it stood, her devotion was one-sided.
And probably psychotic.
“You seem bummed about it.” Luna moved closer to the bar but didn’t take a seat. She was doing a surprisingly good job of acting like she wasn’t scared out of her mind.
“Yes, well, I thought he was going to ask me to fly around the world and steal into the minds of every law enforcement official until they forgot Alice existed and barely remembered how to piss.”
“Holy llamas!” her assistant took an involuntary step back. “Y-you can do that?”
Ana shrugged. “Did you get anything on the twat that set Penny off?”
“Bella Goth? She was getting fired.”
Satisfying, but not nearly enough suffering for what she put Penny through. Killing Nina was quick, but Ana needed to take her time with Bella—come up with something truly creative. “You stole her personnel files?”
Luna set them down on the bar, her hands trembling. “It wasn’t hard. No one was paying attention to me, but…” she bit her lip, “Won’t Penny be mad at you for interfering with her friendships?”
“No.” A lie. Penny would be pissed. Not that it mattered. “We have an understanding.”
Luna was smart enough not to voice the doubt that was splashed across her face. “Oh, okay, that’s good. Um, where is she? I thought you two might want me to book dinner or something to celebrate your award.”
“You won Best Supporting Actress,” the sim prompted, “At the Starlight Accolades. Remember?”
Ana had forgotten or blocked it. It seemed she was cursed to have every one of her meaningful career moments destroyed by whoever she was in a relationship with. “Penny’s busy,” she replied airily, turning back towards the bar. “And I have plenty to keep me busy without worrying about some stupid dinner to celebrate an accomplishment I don’t care about.”