Alice didn’t expect Latimer to still be up when she padded downstairs.
“Some argument,” he remarked as he set two steaming mugs of tea on the counter. “Where’s his Highness? The hot toddies are for you and me; I have a bottle of Prarie Grass Nectar chilling in the fridge for him.”
Alice flinched. “Vlad is sleeping.”
“Voluntarily?” If Latimer’s eyebrows lifted any higher, they’d be in space.
“I don’t think so.” Alice had put a towel under his head in case he started bleeding again, and he didn’t even react. “He’s exhausted, and I’m such a shitty partner I didn’t notice until it was too late.”
“Please,” Latimer snorted, “He is immortal. It ain’t never too late. And also, he’s stubborn as a mule. Do you know how many decades I’ve been trying to get him to even take a nap? You are an excellent partner. Vlad is just cranky.”
A knot formed in her throat as she tried to answer. “He is,” she sniffed, with a smile she couldn’t quite pull off, “It’s like his baseline vibe.”
“You alright?” Latimer asked, brow furrowed in concern.
“No,” One tiny sob became two, and then the floodgates opened. Haltingly, she told Latimer everything that happened, unloading all of her guilt and fear. Halfway through, she started to make her way back upstairs, determined to wake Vlad up and apologize, but Latimer stopped her.
“No, no, come on,” he soothed, “You’re not gonna interrupt the first sleep he’s had in seventy years. Just hang down here with me, and we’ll sort this out.”
“Thank you,” Alice hiccuped, hugging him tightly.
Morygn & William’s House
“Just the creature I wish to see,” Sulis slurred when Morgyn walked out onto the terrace.
“Why? Do you also think I’m trying to poison our baby?”
She squinted, “No. I’ve been talking with B’Ollithiranon and the Grim Reaper. I have updates.” She rattled the table as she got to her feet, “We need to go to Oasis Springs.”
Morgyn sighed. They weren’t sure if they had the patience to deal with a drunk goddess. “Please don’t make me sit through another round of speculation from those two idiots. I am not concerned about Alice; she is not a god. Let Vladislaus be happy in the one universe where his trauma is long past, and the love of his life is merely an anomaly.”
Sulis narrowed her eyes, “I could have sworn I said I was the one with updates.”
Morgyn waved a hand for her to continue, though they were only half-listening. Was it just a few months ago that their little family sat up here, planning to relocate? It was supposed to be the beauty of their arrangement—three immortal parents to ensure no one got burned out. “Why haven’t we looked at real estate?” they interrupted. “I’ll compromise on Sulani. We’ll baby-proof the villa, and you can go be worshipped by the mermaids or whatever it is you want, and William can study marine biology, and I will take our son to the beach.”
“On the eve of an apocalypse?” Sulis frowned, “Are you addled?”
“No, because there won’t be an apocalypse here. Didn’t you hear me? Alice is not a god.” Morgyn tilted their head back, trying not to whine, “Come on, Sulis, we agreed we’d stop after this time. We left to start over.”
“We left because my siblings and your siblings would have used their combined power to destroy or imprison us.”
“Semantics. And also, Faba is here, so not all of my siblings want to destroy me,” Morgyn scoffed. “Is this why you’re going on about Oasis Springs? You’re bored?”
“I’m a goddess,” Sulis sniffed, “I don’t get bored. I’m not sticking my head in the sand like you are.”
“You are not,” Morgyn growled, “Not anymore.” At the flash of pain in her eyes, they softened, “It’s painful to destroy your magic, like killing a part of yourself. I know. It haunts me, too, even after all this time.”
They rarely spoke of it anymore, the horror of fleeing from the God of Death, tossing themselves through the swirling red of the last gateway the Fates left open before they retired. When the three sisters stepped down, they took with them the ability to manipulate time and space, effectively severing the ties between a multitude of universes. It was for the best. A nearly endless supply of worlds meant that gods treated apocalypses with little to no respect.
“We had to do it. We left the gateway open longer than was sane. That’s how Miko got in, that’s how Vladislaus…” Morgyn swallowed, surprised they could still feel the sharpness of sorrow after so many centuries. “We suffered, Sulis, I’m not saying we haven’t. But if the threads binding the universe dissolved with the magic we sacrificed, then it was worth it.”
“That’s why we need to go to Oasis Springs,” she insisted. “Did you know Alice’s mother is an expert in momentum conversion? We were meant to find her. Science could open and close that gateway for us, and we wouldn’t need to give up our magic.”
“Wouldn’t need to…? It’s already gone!” Morgyn cried. “We can either spend eternity whining about it or get the hell on with it!” Sulis’s expression was stricken, but they didn’t stop. “Aren’t you tired of lying? I am. I want to live. I want William and our son to know what we are and how we sacrificed to have them. I’m not the Fates. I don’t intend to spend all my days watching, nudging, and playing 18-dimensional chess. The worlds are closed, there are no gods here, and I, for one, am delighted.”
“Obviously, you’re not the Fates. You don’t even listen,” Sulis scowled. “Now that we’ve applied some pressure to replicate what created the God of Death—”
“What pressure? B’Ollithiranon and Grim were given strict instructions. Hijack the nanny’s reaping; grab a quick peek at Alice and confirm whether or not she carried all of B’Ollithiranon’s former powers. They shouldn’t even still be here!”
“B’Ollithiranon and I decided it would be best to do a test. She was never in any real danger,” Sulis snorted, “Vladislaus hovers like a vulture. She didn’t even spend the night in jail.”
“Excuse me?” Morgyn did a double-take. “Is this a joke?”
“Why would I be joking? Don’t chastise me because you did a half-assed job.”
“Unfuckingbelievable!” Morgyn shouted, “Why are you like this? Why must you bring your desperate need for drama and plotting to everything? If the situation requires a hammer, you bring a fucking steamroller and then act like the outcome was inevitable.”
“I do not. Next, I’ll be forced to listen to your whining about formula too.”
William was being crazy about giving the baby formula, but that wasn’t the point. “You are picking a fight with me over pumping?”
“No, but since you mentioned it, let me remind you, Untamed, I am the Goddess of Reason. I don’t need some supernatural telling me the best way to feed our child. Last time I checked, William had not sprung a set of tits, so I don’t know what makes him an expert.”
“Don’t be petty, ‘goddess;’ it doesn’t suit you.”
Sulis’s eyes flashed. “Neither do apocalypses. Unlike you and the rest of my siblings, I’ve never caused one. Maybe that’s why you haven’t found your brother yet. You still haven’t figured out how to make Janus needlessly suffer and break my heart. After all, what could be more dramatic than a sibling rivalry turned world-ending event? Oops, I forgot, you already did that.”
Morgyn went still, but they could hear their plasma pounding in their ears. They were old enough to remember the founding of the universe. Old enough to have regrets. Generations of regrets.
“You miscounted. I have crushed many worlds, some for far pettier reasons than a fight with my brother. We gods and magics are selfish creatures. We never thought twice about dooming a world after we took what we wanted. But then came B’Ollithiranon and the Owl of Undoing, and suddenly, all that loss we’d visited upon others came back to us.” They flashed Sulis a grim smile, “I haven’t seen Janus in ages despite scouring this world, and do you know why, Goddess? Because he is not here. He is not anywhere. The Owl took from us just like it took from everyone else.”
“How did you avoid the sniper?” Latimer asked after he topped off their drinks.
“A ghost. Would you believe that?” Alice barked a laugh. “He looked strange though, all see-through and glowing.”
“That ain’t how ghosts look?”
“Not to me. He was dressed like a pirate and dripping wet. I half-expected him to float back up to a ship. He told me to run, and he was right alongside me, but by the time I got to the tree line, he was gone.” She snorted, “And then Vlad came through like a fucking wrecking ball.”
Latimer smiled. “That’s his gift.”
“It is,” Alice took a huge gulp, hoping the burn would fortify her nerves. “Jail and Lilith threw me for a loop, and I fell apart. Vlad kept filling in, and I kept letting him. Then, when I was ready to take things on, I just expected him to stop and make room for me. But Vlad doesn’t do well with shifting gears.”
“No,” Latimer agreed, “It’s not in his nature to stop once he’s set his mind to a thing. It is his best and worst quality.” He gave her a sad smile. “We both owe him an apology. Life with him is also good. Better than good. Lovely,” the old man sighed, “Sometimes I forget that.”
“So, about Vlad’s list. I don’t understand half the stuff on there. How does he know Clive Beeden? And he talked to Caleb?”
“When you were sick, yeah.” Latimer caught Alice up on Vlad’s promise to Caleb and Lilith, as well as their time in the military under Clive. When he was finished, he rubbed his eyes. “Good llamas, this is a lot. We’re gonna need help.”
“Yeah. I tried to call my friend Penny. She’s good in a crisis. But her phone keeps going straight to voicemail.”
“Well, unless your friend Penny is a member of the occult, we can’t use her help no how.” He scratched his head, “Did you call your parents?”
“No. My mom is the world’s foremost expert on momentum conversion, which is great for science, but no help to us.” Alice cringed. “We’re not close. And my dad…”
The old man gave her a sympathetic nod. “I know you don’t want to think your father might be trying to kill you.”
“But we can’t be too careful,” Alice replied hollowly. “We used to have Sunday dinner at the Beedens. Clive’s son Jerry tried to date me, but I said no. My dad was pissed; he thought Jerry was a catch—a ‘nice guy’ who would keep me on the straight and narrow.”
“At the end of his fist,” Latimer’s eyes darkened. “You’d have spent your life cowering in the corner, spinnin’ tales about being too clumsy and falling down the stairs, just like—”
“Justine,” Alice finished. “I know. Jerry’s mom was always perfectly polite, but at dinner, she’d be so on edge that Clive would ask her to leave the room.” Alice shivered, “What an asshole.”
“An asshole and a problem,” Latimer replied. “Clive is vain enough that he’d want to keep his failure to catch you a secret. But he’ll be back, and we are gonna need to get gone. Add to that your suspicious babysitters and this damn wand, and we got way too much heat.”
Alice agreed. She wasn’t so worried about what her babysitters were—she had no idea what she was. But the lying was suspicious, and she had no intention of putting Gwendolyn in danger.
“I’ll get help with the bodies,” Latimer announced, “You talk to Lilith about Ben and Eyepatch McGee.”
Alice nearly choked. “But Lilith hates me. The last time she was here, she threatened me.”
Latimer smiled, “Oh, Alice, you’ve got a lot to learn about vampires.”