This was a hell of a week, y’all. Writing this is what kept me sane.
I cannot adequately express what it means to have a Biden/Harris win. I cannot describe how it feels to look at the White House and see that there is a woman who looks like me as VP. My father grew up in a world of segregated schools and separate drinking fountains. When I took him to vote for Obama in 2008, it was the first time he had ever done so in his life. I remember him remarking that the ballot did not have “colored” on it and that we needed to be quick before they took it back.
This victory is for me, but it’s also for him. He died before ever seeing this day, and I imagine if he were alive and I called to tell him, he wouldn’t believe me. But we have done it, daddy. We are here. And if you think we didn’t come to roll up our sleeves and clean up this mess, fuck around and find out. Gritty for Secretary! Wawa forever! Please rise for the new national anthem.
Now, onto the story. CW for some child abuse stuff in Vlad’s past. Fluff warning for your heart.
Von Haunt Estate
A towering cascade of cupcake mania—that was how Rory described this week’s bake. Vlad pictured, very vividly, wrapping his hands around the sim’s neck. He was retired, of course, but that was from large scale bloodshed.
A sim here or there was perfectly acceptable.
Like Caleb’s book of affirmations said—all things in moderation.
The book was one of the many things Caleb left behind. Neither he nor Deacon had packed, which gave Alice hope. She mentioned it repeatedly, hoping to draw Vlad into a conversation. She wanted to talk about what went down last night and Vlad, categorically, did not.
“Hey! Don’t you see that I’m standing here?”
Gwendolyn’s voice distracted him. She was humming some inane song from a TV show that he just knew would haunt him until the end of days. Staring down at her, he reminded himself of William’s words. She was no replacement. He cared for her on his own merits because now he was capable of such a thing.
“And what is the plan this week, hellion? Another batch of stolen pastries?”
She jutted out her chin. “Stealing is very risky.”
“With great risk comes great reward, but no matter, we have money. You can simply buy the required desserts.”
Presumably, they had money. Caleb had always handled details like converting Vlad’s vast wealth into a form of payment sims in this era would accept. But Vlad could learn, and in the meantime, there were credit cards. Why no one told him companies would give him access to thousands of simoleons and not demand a single payment was beyond his understanding.
“Your boss called you out for cheating,” Gwendolyn countered loudly, again drawing his attention.
“Lies,” Vlad huffed, “What makes you think she’s my boss and not the other way around?”
The look on her face was loud and clear: do not insult my intelligence.
He pressed his fangs into his lip to keep from laughing. He intended for Gwendolyn to be someone’s boss and for the world to quake in fear when she walked.
“Touche,” he replied.
Gwendolyn soldiered on, clasping her hands behind her back and tilting her eyebrows as if in innocent contemplation. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if she couldn’t prove you were cheating?”
Her emphasis on the word “prove” caused Vlad to pause. He’d taught her to ignore whatever her adversaries offered and zero in on what they truly desired. She proved again that she was a fast learner.
Deliberately, Vlad raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”
When Oberon and Titania stepped out of their room, Akira was already dressed and stowing his weapons.
“What are you doing?” It was a question, but Titania didn’t sound surprised, just tired.
It was as he expected, then. Flexing his hands, he tried to get control of himself. “She’s gone, but you probably fuckin’ knew that thanks to your oracle. She tell you the exact date? The time?”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Titania scoffed, “You think I would—”
“Yes!” Akira growled. “I think you fuckin’ would. Queen of the Fae, She Who Is Most Wily. Ain’t that what they call you? Yeah, I think you knew, and you couldn’t wait to see the look on my face.”
“Don’t be stupid!” she shouted, balling her hands into fists.
She couldn’t slap him; she’d already played that card. Akira crossed his arms and smirked.
“I told you what the Oracle told me!” she insisted, “I’m your sister, I’m—”
“A liar!” he bellowed.
Oberon looked up, eyes as bright as Akira had ever seen them, “Watch yourself, Rushlight.” He jerked his head in Titania’s direction, “Tell him.”
“You don’t own me, Oberon!” The look on Titania face was mutinous. “King of the Fae? That’s nothing. I’m Queen around here, Akira is my brother. I’ll tell you when—”
Akira cut her off with a sharp laugh. “You don’t gotta worry about me, sis. I don’t hold it against you. It’s ya nature to lie to me.” His voice was cold, even to his own ears, “Keep ya fuckin’ secrets.”
“Where are you…” Titania started as he pushed past her, “You can’t know where she went; she could be anywhen!”
“Then, it’s a good thing I’m bound to her.”
Titania lunged forward and grabbed his arm, forcing him to turn towards her. “You won’t find her! You never do! You want to know what the Oracle told me? Fine. Miko has been breaking the laws of Fate and the Universe to loop all of time over and over again. Once, you cheated on her. ONCE! In one time-loop out of a thousand. And she’s been punishing you for it ever since.”
“She broke your heart a thousand times. None of us remember, but she does. And I…”—Titania’s voice broke—”I hate her for it. I hate her and I can’t forgive her. You are my brother, and you deserve better.”
He stumbled over to the couch, clutching at the sides of his face.
But it couldn’t be…
Akira scrambled to catch the thing that broke loose inside him before he completely fell apart.
He was not fast enough.
It was hard to get Jimena to focus. She had good instincts, was clearly the daughter of a goddess, but the demigod lacked discipline.
“Just wait until you see their faces!” she exclaimed, dabbing the applicator brush into her palette, “I’m going to make vanilla cupcakes. Perfectly, of course, but I’ll still be at the bottom. Can you imagine?”
Miss Hell could imagine. It was a ludicrous plan. “I need you to focus. Your schemes for the baking contest are well in hand, but think about The Owl, where would the Fates be keeping her?”
Jimena rolled her eyes and began applying her eyeshadow. “It doesn’t matter. The Owl must be earned or freely given. That’s what Mother says. That’s why I had to enter the contest.”
Miss Hell fought to stay calm. “Earned or freely given” was a good rule, just the sort of thing the Gods might invent to ensure their servants and children didn’t go running off with the prize.
She softened her voice, “I understand that, but it’s good to have a back-up, isn’t it? If I were to steal The Owl, just in case, then I could give it to you freely, and the rules would not be broken.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?” Jimena laughed. “I am Elmyra’s child, not some supernatural creature, or worse,”—she paused for dramatic effect—”a mortal.”
She focused on her mirror, voice dripping with condescension, “You think you have perpetuated great horrors, vampire, but you have not tangoed with the gods. You don’t know what they’re capable of or what their war would truly look like. You think you, some singular paranormal creature, can stop Somnus? Can stop a god?”
She looked up, an ugly twist to her mouth, “Don’t be ridiculous, Anastasia. You don’t even know who The Owl is or why she’s so important.”
It was an old trick, but Miss Hell used it now, digging her nails into her hand until the pain kept her from making a snide remark. True, she did not know, but she could guess—love or jealousy or both. Why else did creatures do anything?
Her phone buzzed with a text, grateful for the excuse not to look at Jimena’s face, Miss Hell scrolled through it:
Amisyia broke. The mermaids stripped a spaceship. Got a lead on an alien who can fly it. Hold her until you get here?
Miss Hell replied in the affirmative. Her exit plan was shaping up. Now, all she needed was The Owl’s location.
“Here, let me,” she said, crossing to take the lipstick out of Jimena’s hand.
Von Haunt Estate
Vlad watched through the windows as he calmly added ingredients to his mixing bowl and began to stir them. It was strange to observe himself outside of his own body. Was this how ghosts felt?
He turned to Gwendolyn and lifted her off the wooden crate she was using to peer into the tent. “Are you sure this going to work?”
She shrugged, “The witch said the golem would last for 7 hours.”
“Seven hours! Where in Sages’ name did you get access to that level of funds?”
Even the gold bar he gave her wouldn’t cover seven hours of a golem with impeccable pastry skills. Had someone forced her into some kind of unbreakable contract?
A frisson of something familiar zipped up his spine. Being the thing did not stop him from feeling the thing, and for a moment, Vlad was afraid. If it was an unbreakable contract, he’d find a way to break it. He would rend whole worlds and decimate populations to do so. It may have been an unreasonable response, but he was finding that he was prepared to be unreasonable when it came to Alice and Gwendolyn.
“Money?” Gwendolyn scoffed, “She didn’t want money! I only needed to trade my Vield voidcritter, but jokes on her, I still have my Dicoatl card, and anyone who isn’t a dummy knows wind beats void.”
A wave of relief rolled over him. He didn’t know what a Vield or a Dicoatl was, but her description of them sounded juvenile.
“How old was this witch who sold you this golem?”
“She’s in my math class. I went to school for part of the day,” she wrinkled her small nose, “She’s the best witch I know, and she never shuts up about her ancient bloodline, so I thought…” Gwendolyn trailed off as a loud commotion sounded from the baking tent.
Vlad sighed and lifted her back onto the crate. “You, my dear hellion, are about to learn a very important lesson.”
And then they watched as Golem Vlad tilted his head to the side and squawked.
Alice was prepared to master cupcakes without any sort of magical intervention. Spending all that time letting Contessa’s pastry chef hurl insults had helped. Nothing was more intimidating than him screaming “more butter” and “you are not yet fully formed!” while she was frantically mixing her batter.
It was Alice’s parents who inspired today’s recipe, though. Since her first phone call a few weeks ago, they talked every night. Occasionally, her mother would jump in or Maverick would say hello on one of his rare visits from base. Mayra was home on a semester break, but she and Alice had not managed more than a stilted greeting.
Maybe after the contest was over, Alice could try harder to reconnect. For now, she was just hoping that when her parents saw her spinning these bowls and whipping this batter, they told everyone that was their kid; she had inherited her mother’s stubbornness and her father’s (thank llamas) coordination.
Funny that she always thought herself awkward and clumsy.
Over the past few months, Alice had discovered that awkward and clumsy was just a story she told about herself. She wasn’t clumsy while zapping the life out of the succubus sent to kill her, and she wasn’t awkward when she put the Grim Reaper in his place.
No, Alice had finally begun to approach her life with something resembling a good, honest to llamas, effort. She missed Ben, but she didn’t miss who she was when he was in her head.
Tossing a bottle in the air, Alice let it flip one time before catching it in the other hand. “A splash of McDillan’s Single Nect to add a little sweetness,” she explained, winking at the camera.
The show was just getting started.
With a devious glance around the room, she sprinkled in a bit of cayenne.
And continued her tricks by flinging an egg behind her back, catching it, and breaking it open with one hand. Not a single piece of the shell landed in the batter.
Swinging her hips, she poured maple extract over her shoulder and hummed happily when it filled the bowl.
She wasn’t the weirdo from the San Myshuno auditions, wearing her otherworldliness as a mask. She was a God and a force to be reckoned with, and they better be glad she restricted herself to baking.
The only thing that could have improved this baking experience was Jimena watching her pull it off without a hitch. But the “Queen” had decided that it was totally fine to drag her feet this late into the contest.
Vlad didn’t help. For whatever reason he had chosen this day to start acting crazy as fuck.
She finally had her “I’m Good At Baking Now,” montage and both of those assholes were depriving her of an audience.
And not just depriving—distracting. Alice could hear Vlad arguing with Dylan over the cupcake machine in a deep, garbled voice. Growls, she understood, but the squawking sounds he was making were downright bizarre.
It was like he was on drugs.
Did vampires do drugs? If he did drugs on the day that she finally got it together and kicked ass in the kitchen, she was going to smite the ever-living shit out of him.
“I’m told I’m quite good at this,” Miss Hell mused, tilting Jimena’s chin. She slid the cap off with one hand. “I used to do make-up for all the girls back at the brothel. I honed my skills there, you know. Learned at the feet of 1723’s most infamous madam.”
She swiped the lipstick across Jimena’s lower lip, “And do you know what that taught me?” Miss Hell let all of her vampire magnetism pour into her look, “Survival. I’m not stupid, demigod; I am a survivor. I know which side my bread is buttered on.” She licked her lips, “And I think you know exactly how I feel about you.”
She finished the application, taking her finger to smooth a few errant stripes of pink. “There. Stunning.”
Jimena jumped up and ran to the full length mirror. She grinned and Miss Hell found she did not have to fake admiration. She slept with the demigod once and she would do it again.
“You’ll find it difficult to rein Somnus in since you’re just his servant. But if you work with me to get The Owl, Mother will put him in his place. Or else take you off this sorry little world before he destroys it.”
Miss Hell gave her the perfect compliant nod. It took years of training to perfect it. Too enthusiastic, and it came off false. Too demure, and it came off flippant. The nod had to hint at subjugation. Had to say: I recognize you as the bigger and stronger creature, and I am showing you my belly.
Jimena’s eyes shone with approval. She scribbled some names and an address down on a piece of paper and handed it over.
When Miss Hell read it, she had to work to keep her eyes from widening. Somnus had talked endlessly about the Fates, but every time Miss Hell tried to get an introduction, he demurred. She never imagined they’d be the half-rate production company running the contest, but it did make a certain perverse kind of sense. They were fickle and cruel, fond of inflicting drama and pain. Reality TV was probably their invention.
“You made the right choice,” Jimena purred, “Once Mother has The Owl, she’ll be happy. And we’ll have so much fun at my place in the Elder-Realms when Somnus destroys this world!”
With that callous exclamation, the demigod turned back to admiring herself in the mirror. Miss Hell was grateful that she lacked a reflection.
Von Haunt Estate
Eventually, Jimena waltzed into the tent and worked on her cupcakes. It was a weird time to be putting in less effort, but Alice wasn’t going to complain. Jimena wanted to win for vanity reasons and maybe to launch a career as a reality TV star. Alice wanted to win to stay alive. Staying alive being a feat given how often they were engaged in supernatural battles. It was amazing that she had managed to avoid any significant injury. Outside of overheating—which was miserable—there wasn’t so much as a scratch on her.
But that luck wasn’t going to last.
And frankly, neither was Vlad’s if he didn’t stop acting so fucking crazy.
From their location in the judging corner, Rory and Marjorie gave their feedback on everyone’s bakes. It was an agonizing process that Alice should be used to by now, but she still found herself anxious.
Dylan was up first with his red velvet cupcakes.
“One was partially iced and raw in the middle,” Marjorie sighed.
“I think I got a raw one too,” Rory added, but he took another bite and closed his eyes as if to savor it.
“I will say that your ambition in making your own icing is worth applauding, and”—Marjorie licked a finger—”What is it that makes the cake so moist?”
“Er…b-buttermilk,” Dylan admitted, “I made my own. That’s part of why I was running behind.”
Jimena was next. For reasons that had to be pure hubris, she went with a classic vanilla cupcake.
“Flawless delivery, but you had three hours, and you gave us the most basic of basic,” Marjorie tutted. “What in the worlds…” she cleared her throat, “Excuse me. What in the world did you do with the rest of your time?”
“Are you hinting that I might possibly be at the bottom?” Jimena gave a fake pout, “I guess this is the classic plot twist in the story of my rivalry with Alice. Think of the views!”
The views? Was Jimena insane? Was Alice the only one without the luxury of dicking around in this contest?
As if to punctuate her point, Vlad gurgled. Alice said a brief prayer as the judges approached the table to select one of his cupcakes. Would it help? Who could say? Technically, she was just praying to herself, and herself didn’t have any power to stop them from seeing how completely batshit he was being.
“Are these laced with something?” Marjorie asked, “Because I can’t stop taking bites!”
“Well, this is new,” Rory murmured, “Didn’t think he’d actually be competing, much less learn to bake.”
It was a strange statement. How could he not know Vlad was competing? During Pie Week, he called him King of Taste. Before Alice could comment, the judges selected one of her cupcakes and Rory was…complimentary?
“It’s hard to keep your sense of focus amongst all this chaos, but you, Alice Martin, are a baking savant!”
Majorie agreed, “For once, I don’t think you’re over the top. Alice, your cupcakes were divine. An incredible mixture of sweet and savory. The addition of bacon was unexpected, but once I tasted it, it was necessary. Bravo, my dear.”
“Alright, everyone, before we move onto declaring the winner, let’s get these losers out of here!” Rory lips curved but Alice would hardly call it a smile.
“Will it be Dylan with his half-baked cupcakes?”—he paused for a rimshot—”Or will it be Jimena with her minimal effort vanilla concoctions?”
Alice winced; Dylan was definitely going. It was unfair. His cupcakes weren’t perfect, but they were ambitious, and he used every second to do something bold. Not that Alice was going to rock the boat over it, she and Vlad made it into the finale and, well, winning was kind of a life or death sort of thing.
“Jimena, if I were you, I would have brought a stronger showing,” Rory said with Alice was sure amounted to fake solemnity, “Baking is chaos, untamed, some might call it, but you really do need to stay focused. Keep that in mind for next time.”
“I’m just kidding!” Rory shouted, breaking into a laugh, “There is no next time. You’re out of the contest!”
A whirring sound in Alice’s ears drowned out everything else. Jimena was out of the contest?
Jimena seemed in shock too; she stood there, frozen, mouth agape. There was a glow around her that Alice never noticed before, but she could hardly give it the attention it deserved because Vlad chose that exact moment to squawk and pass out.
“Tell me again,” Akira demanded. He had been draped across the couch, but agitation had set in again. He paced, running his hands through his hair and looking out the window every so often to assure himself of the time.
“It’s been three days. You should eat something,” Titania begged. Her voice was…
Never mind what her voice was, he couldn’t think about that right now.
“Again, Titania! Walk me through it again. You went to see the Oracle…” he prompted.
She sighed and shared a look with Oberon, who was serious in a way that Akira rarely saw except right before a battle. She repeated her story.
“It doesn’t make sense, Tania. Both can’t be true. The oracle says there are no do-overs, but also Miko is looping time?” Akira sped through his questions, aware that his lack of sleep was probably catching up with him, but also feeling like he was seeing clearly for the first time. “She said, looping? But how? If she’s looping time, it’s a do-over. And what about us? Are we in loop right now? If so, how do we know she left? She can’t be doing it over and over again and we ain’t notice for a thousand times until literally today!”
Titania opened her mouth and then closed it again. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her speechless.
He ran a hand through his hair again. It came back greasy. He should—
No. There was no time. He wiped it off on his pants. “Describe the Oracle,” he demanded.
“Dark hair, always looked bored, orange wrap dress…” Titania thought for a moment, “She looked like an oracle. You know they’re insane. She was wearing a page boy cap for goddess sakes! I’m surprised the studio let her dress like that.”
“Studio? As in TV studio?” Akira repeated in disbelief. “The contest for The Owl is on TV and you didn’t think an oracle wearing a production badge was suspicious?”
Titania leapt to her feet, “I knew a witch who worked as a fortune teller on movie sets. I don’t judge!”
“You do nothing but judge!” Akira was beside himself. “They played you. You ain’t seen no Oracle. You seen the Fates. Liberty, from the sound of it.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know? The last time I saw the Fates was at your wedding, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t wearing these forms.”
Akira narrowed his eyes.
“Or I was very busy! It was a wedding and I had a lot to do,” she sniffed. “I can’t be expected to remember every detail from 600 years ago.”
“I was blitzed out of my mind and I remembered!” Akira shouted.
He took a deep breath. Titania was so sure of him, but she was family. It wasn’t just about the cheating, it had been about the drinking too. He barely forgave himself, how could he ask Miko to do it?
“She gave Oberon the dossier?” he asked, relaxing his shoulders.
“Y-yes,” Titania admitted.
Akira tried to respond, but a sharp, tight pain wound through him. He doubled over, coughing.
Titania yelped when he collapsed onto to her, hugging her to keep himself upright. “Is this because you’re bound to her? Akira, answer me!”
He felt like he had been kicked in the stomach. Breathing heavily, he tried to get his bearings. He was bound to Miko, yes, but this would only happen if…
“Her magic is failing. Something…bad,” he managed.
Titania pushed him back. “Sit down, before you pass out, and let me think a minute.”
Akira stepped back, but he couldn’t make himself take a seat. Worry was pinging around his head, making it difficult to focus.
What happened to Miko? How was he going to find her?
“What do we know?” Oberon asked.
“What do we know, babe,” Titania corrected. “You’ve been acting weird. You’re all wartime Oberon, not Oberon who snuck off to Sulani to screw that mermaid and—”
He dropped the severe look from his face. “You know about that?”
“Know about how you got wasted on kava juice and banged her brains out? Of course. You think you make those trips to Sulani in secret? Who do you think sent Akira to find you?”
“The Fates gave you the dossier. Why, husband?”
Oberon tried to stammer an answer, but Titania pressed on. “That’s the question I’ve been pondering—”
“Since five minutes ago?” Akira croaked.
His sister gave him a queenly look and he closed his mouth. “If you would stop interrupting me I would tell you. In fact, pack your bags, dummies. We’re going on a trip.”
“Where?” Akira shook his head, trying to clear it, “Windenburg? We don’t even know that’s where she is.”
“No, to the Library of Magic. The Fates are involved which means there’s some outcome they mean to ensure. We’re going to check the Book of Longings and prove I’m right. And on the way, Oberon can tell us the name of his love child.”
Oberon choked. “How did you…?”
Titania ignored him. “Was there a woman there in Sulani? Following him around like a puppy dog?”
Akira nodded reluctantly. He did not need to get involved in his sister’s weird ass sex life, but Oberon had clearly broken their rules. “He’s a fuckin’ idiot, you know that.”
She looked down, picking at her sweater.
“Tania, are you okay?”
“Stop looking at me like that!” she screeched. Storming back towards the bedroom, she kicked Oberon in the leg. “I am obviously fine! Take a godsdamned shower! And don’t forget to pack my boots!”
The little extortionist that she was, Gwendolyn managed to get Vlad to agree to a movie in exchange for remaining mum on his weird behavior. It was just as well, he did not want to talk about Caleb and Deacon’s departure, and it was all Alice wanted to discuss. The movie at least gave them a reason not to argue about it.
Was peacing out with no comment a supernatural thing?
Gwendolyn chose a horror movie, which would have been terrifying if not for Vlad’s constant complaining. They got through 45 minutes of him yelling, “This is absurd!” at the screen before Alice pressed pause.
“Are you going to be like this every time?” she hissed, his behavior from earlier still riling her.
“Like what?” Vlad asked, tone innocent as he blinked way too many times.
“Like a lunatic!” Alice exploded, “This is a movie, we talked about what movies are. They don’t require your commentary.”
“Don’t they? This,” —he gestured at the television—”is a patently false representation of supernatural life.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Oh, so vampires and zombies dancing in a cemetery is fake, but sex demons are—”
“Sex demons?” Gwendolyn piped up. “What are sex—”
“Nothing,” Alice answered. “There’s no such thing as demons,” she added in a too bright voice, “And you should go to bed!”
Tugging Gwendolyn up, she ignored Vlad’s amused look.
“Yep, it’s really late, and you should definitely be asleep,” she continued as they reached the bedroom.
Gwendolyn gave her a dubious look. “I can’t go to sleep. I might have nightmares about the—”
“Don’t say it,” Alice pleaded.
She did not want to explain sex demons to a nine-year-old. In fact, describing sex needed to be avoided at all costs, or at least until she was old enough to have already read it in some young adult novel.
“I will literally give you anything not to say it.”
Gwendolyn tapped a finger to her chin, “Okay, but if I have to go sleep right now then you should probably answer my questions about it.”
Shit. Was this how Vlad got manipulated so easily? If she caved now, would he ever let her live this down? Alice pictured enduring his endless mocking and then imagined explaining what the word “succubus” meant and decided that she could deal with Vlad’s smug expression for the rest of eternity.
“Nope! Did I say bedtime? I meant, do what you want!”
Before Gwendolyn could check a look of victory, Vlad burst through the door with a growl, “I only devour creatures who have stayed up too late.”
Caught halfway between a giggle and a yelp, Gwendolyn hopped immediately into bed.
Vlad looked Alice and winked. “Adequate effort,” he mouthed.
“Yeah, you wouldn’t be saying that if we traded places,” Alice muttered.
Vlad chuckled and tucked the blankets around Gwendolyn’s small form, murmuring about crushing the windpipes of her enemies and dining on their entrails.
“Uh…won’t she have nightmares?” Alice interjected. This couldn’t possibly be their bedtime routine. “Maybe we should tell her something else…”
Vlad stared at her blankly.
“Like sweet dreams?” she prompted.
“Sweet dreams,” he whispered, gently patting Gwendolyn’s head. “If your enemies try to harm you, we will take their bones apart at the tendons.”
Alice put her head in hands and smothered a sigh. If anyone ever doubted that Vlad and Phobos were one and the same, this exchange certainly proved it.
The Bluffs, Windenburg Island
They didn’t go far. Neither Vlad nor Alice said anything about it, but they silently agreed to stop just a mile or so away at the Bluffs.
“You needn’t wait. I’ll hunt here tonight,” Vlad said, gaze flickering around the cliffside as if searching for some unseen enemy.
Alice felt a churning in her stomach. Even though it would make everything harder, she wanted to go back. “I’m worried too.”
Vlad’s shoulders tensed.
“It’s the complete opposite of what I said before, but fuck waiting until the end of the contest. I don’t want to leave her in that house tonight.”
“Are you sure?” he hesitated. “I agree, I’m thrilled, but it has come to my attention that I am…” he looked around as if searching for the right word.
“Like a giant ass planet pulling everyone along in your orbit?” Alice finished helpfully.
“That is certainly one way of describing it.”
He gave her a dark look before continuing, “But yes. I am aware that this is a large step, and even though we talked about it, I am, as the books say, checking in.”
“That’s very sweet,” Alice replied.
“I’m nothing if not romantic,” he smirked, leaning in to kiss her.
“Nope, hold your horses,” she put a hand in his face. “First, I want to talk about Caleb.”
“You want to talk about Caleb. Now?” His voice was muffled by her hand, but she could tell he was annoyed.
“We are not bringing a kid into your crazy dysfunctional bullshit,” Alice insisted, “She can’t grow up in a situation where the men around her refuse to discuss their feelings and solve everything by stabbing each other. It will give her a fucking complex!”
Vlad’s eyes flashed, and for a minute, he looked like he wanted to argue. “Fine,” he said after a long-suffering sigh.
Alice turned to give him some space. She wasn’t a fan of talking about her shit either. The least she could do was not stare him down while he did it.
“I turned Caleb and Lilith in 1755,” he began. “It was a brutal thing, purposefully done because,”—his voice hitched—”that’s what was done to me. The old adage is true, we repeat the sins of our fathers. I deserved that dagger to the chest.”
Alice bit her lip to keep from interrupting. Vlad was simultaneously the most open creature she knew and full of the most secrets.
“By the 1890s, Caleb had come into his own as a vampire. He’d conquered just enough dark skills to be dangerous. I was not good for him at that time,” Vlad confessed, “Forgotten Hollow was conquered and I found the modern era stifling. Too much business, not enough bloodshed.”
She knew what those words cost him. Pulling his arms around her, she coaxed him to continue, “I’m going to ignore the fact that you called the 1800s the modern era,” she said, keeping her voice light, “What happened between you?”
“It was…it started before…” Vlad struggled, his throat working as he blew out a series of unnecessary breaths.
“Phobos was made because my father wished for power. The Good…”—he stopped himself—”a heretical order of monks convinced him that I would make an ideal guinea pig, and so he raised me to be both obedient and broken.”
The shape of Vladislaus’s life began to materialize in Alice’s mind and she fought to suppress her horror. Holding her breath, she squeezed his arm.
“He had a punishment and reward system, but both were punishments,” Vlad said, his voice hollow. “Suffice it to say, I went willingly to the ritual. I wanted to be consumed. I wished not to exist.”
“When Phobos was made it was like…my fury had been set ablaze. I killed everyone in the room—the Monks, my sister, Neva…my mother.”
He stopped again and Alice pressed a kiss to each one of his fingers. “You can’t say anything that will make me feel differently about you.”
Vlad responded by kissing the top of her head. “I saw in Caleb the same pit of rage that was in me. I sent Lilith away lest he do as I did, and displace his anger. I wish I could say it was completely altruistic, but the fact that it was cruel appealed to me. It seems I have a penchant for that—a gift of inheritance.”
Alice kept her voice calm, trying to tread carefully. She heard all sorts of things about Josef Straud but Vlad had never mentioned his mother. It was clear what she read in that history book wasn’t completely true and she had a sinking feeling. “Did your mother know—”
“Enough,” Vlad said sharply, then softened his voice, “Enough. I…in 600 years I have not…this has to be enough, Alice.”
“Okay,” she whispered, patting his arm. Swallowing down her own emotion, she brightened her voice. “Clearly, it’s complicated. Like ‘you should get a therapist stat’ level complicated.”
His tone was wry, but she felt his body finally relax. “Would you be surprised to know you are not the first one to tell me that?”
“Nope,” Alice turned and leaned her head on his chest, “Alright, I’m satisfied that we’ll only give her a small number of emotional hangups, sex demons least among them.”
“Oh she knows what sex is. She was torturing you,” Vlad laughed.
“One of the old tomes I procured for her had a very dubious section on medicinal herbs for getting rid of pregnancies. She had questions, so I explained it to her.”
Alice glanced up at him, “Really? You explained it?”
He made an insulted sound. “Many things have changed over the course of centuries, but sex is not one of them. It’s ludicrous how ill-informed children are about their bodies and how they work.”
Alice raised her eyebrows in surprise, “I didn’t think the man who believes Simstagram is an instrument of darkness would have such a progressive attitude.”
“It’s not like I explained role play,” Vlad huffed, “It’s sex. She can hardly go around believing that babies are conjured forth by the click of a button.”
“And all this time, I thought I was the strange one,” Alice chuckled, grabbing his hand to lead him back towards Gwendolyn’s house.
The In Between Inn
The Inn was quiet without Miko. Penny tried to tell herself it didn’t bother her, but it did. She had grown weak in her time with the pixie. Usually, she was closed off, a brick wall with barbed wire to keep people out of her heart. Miko, though, had worked her way in. The little pink-haired troublemaker was her friend. And maybe Mikel was too, but Penny was not prepared to even think about that.
She sighed as she sorted through the papers they stole from Bjorn’s office. It was all copies, except for one thing: a summons to Magic HQ that was currently burning a hole in her pocket. The invitation was fancy—gold lettering, an enchantment charm that made the paper shimmer. Penny had only ever seen such a thing one other time in her life.
When her family was invited for the Solstice, it had been a point of pride. She was too young to go, but she had this crystal clear memory of her mother sitting at the vanity in her gown, pinning up her hair.
Penny closed her eyes, conjuring up the memory. Even though the invitation was dangerous to keep, she was unable—unwilling—to let it go. Sometimes, she felt like two Pennys. One who would throw caution to the wind, hop on her broom and fly to Magic HQ, and one who would take the safer route, setting aside her selfish desire to figure out this mystery and exact revenge.
Shaking her head to dispel the negative thoughts, she pulled out another folder to examine. It contained an application to an academy run by The Good Order Monks. It was for Gwendolyn, and it would have been unremarkable but for a strange sentence. Gwendolyn was to be secured for transport to school at 9pm this evening.
It made no sense! What school picked up a kid that late at night? And wasn’t Gwendolyn on vacation with the Bjerstens?
“Mikel, get in here,” Penny called. She could use a computer, but an alien was faster. “Look at this school, what can you tell me about them?”
He began to protest, “Penny, I’m not a computer. The processing section of my brain can link into the wireless but—”
“Mikel! I don’t give a shit about the details. Can you look it up or not?”
His eyes went blank for a minute, a small whirring sound filling the room. When they focused again, his face was creased with worry.
“I don’t know how to explain this. That school doesn’t exist, and the search results for the Monks are multiplying exponentially.”
“You mean like, across websites?”
“Not just websites…something’s wrong with time, Penny. There should only be one internet, but instead, there’s a thousand.”
Slow Show by Simmerberlin
Shocked/Scared Animation by Steven Studios
Mega Talk Animation Pack by FlowersSimsFactory
Acting Expressions Animation Pack by FlowersSimsFactory
High & Low Poses by Atashi77
Sephiroth Outfit + Accs by Natalia-Auditore
Elf Ears by Sikoi
Arguing [in-game poses] by Radioactive
Talking by Simmberlin
Emotions 6 by Simmerberlin
Emotions 5 by Simmerberlin
Emotions 2 by Simmberlin
Make-up Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Lookbook V. 14 Poses Set by Flower Chamber
Make-Up Poses by Katverse
Make-up Set by A-luckyday
Unicorn Brushes by Pietro
Get Ready with Me Posepack by Kikovanitysimmer
The Sims 4 Animation Mega Pack: Talking Emotions by Steven Studios
Random Vampire Power Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Female Stand Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Male Stand 04 by Natalia-Auditore
From the Sims 4 Gallery
1800s homestead by 241maxi0
Studio Apartment by MeekaDenimore
Up & Up Inn by Kulthero777