Myself: Put down that pie! And stop watching the Bridgerton trailer!
Me: [mouth clearly full of pie] What pie?
Myself: [growls angrily]
Me: I thought you only came out to yell at me when I wrote smutty chapters.
Myself: Don’t pigeon-hole me.
Me: [confused] Okay….
Myself: You have a machinima to finish for next chapter! Get off of YouTube!
[But if you want a preview, check out the end of this chapter]
Windenburg Island, Bjersten Residence
“No,” Grim said as soon as he appeared. He pointed angrily at his eye. “I don’t know what you want, but I was lured here under false fuckin’ pretenses.”
“You mean yes,” Vlad corrected. In a flash, his hands were around the Reaper’s neck, “Alice has succumbed to her power in a way that no one understands, the Good Order Monks have taken our child, and I need, very shortly, to be pointed in the direction of the things to kill, or I will actually lose my mind.”
“Child? As in kid?” Grim croaked out. “Did I miss something? Is there some secret sex spell I don’t know about?”
Vlad squeezed tighter.
“Mercy!” Grim gasped, “I’ll do it, I’ll help!”
Flinging the Reaper away from him, Vlad watched dispassionately as he hit the ground. Without the distraction of keeping Alice calm, it was harder to reign himself in. Phobos was restless, hungry for the sharp taste of violence and fear.
“Bad joke,” Grim huffed, panting as he brushed off his robes and struggled to his feet. “Listen, I belong to the God of Death, so do you, so does this kid. Ipso facto, we are family, and no one fucks with this family. You mentioned the Good Order Monks?”
“You know of them?” Vlad asked, both disturbed and mollified by Grim’s declaration.
“Assholes and heretics. Always praying to the God of Death, always gettin’ denied. Benny hated those fuckers, but they got some powerful patron because they wield way more magic than should be possible.”
He swiped a hand across his forehead and groaned, “Fuck. Alright, I am about to do something but Phobos, my man, you are going to need to keep your cool.”
Vlad smiled in a way that communicated many things, least of all that he could be trusted to “keep his cool.”
Grim swallowed nervously, “Let’s just say I have a feeling about where she metaphysically went and thus, am in limited contact with the best creature to lead her out.”
Lead her out? There was a chance Alice could get lost? Alice and Gwendolyn could both be gone? Vlad clenched his fists so tightly he felt the bones in one of his hands break. The pain helped him refocus. With a nod, he stepped aside and let the Reaper through.
Once he was satisfied that Grim was working on Alice, he turned his attention back to Penny. He expected to find her wide-eyed and slack-jawed—the Grim Reaper tended to have that effect—but she just stood with her arms crossed, staring Vlad down.
“So, how exactly is it that Gwendolyn came to be your child?”
Alice fell through the darkness, her arms flailing, a scream having died out hours into her descent. A sense of peace had almost washed over her. This was fine. It all made sense. She just completely lost her fucking mind, and now she was falling into a pit of nothingness forever.
“Not forever,” a familiar voice called out.
She turned her body in mid-air, hoping to land with a front tumble. Why Alice thought this was possible was a mystery.
Watching gymnastics on TV did not teach you how to do it.
Her speed increased as she got closer. This was going to be a rough landing.
“Just until you hit the ground.”
And Alice did hit the ground. Her knees, stomach, elbows, and face all crying out in protest.
A hand reached out and pulled her to her feet. That familiar voice filled her with joy and longing, even as her whole body throbbed with pain. She pulled Ben into a hug, sobbing incoherently as she tried to find the words to greet him.
“Where the fuck have you been?” she accused when she could finally talk without crying.
“Here and there, all around. I—”
“You left me!” she shrieked and shoved him. Just then, her brain registered that he actually had a physical form. “Wait. Why can I touch you?”
“You’re the God of Death,” he replied, “And four other things that make you sigh angrily when I name them.”
Alice didn’t know what to say. She had whole reams of speeches rehearsed for the day she finally found him, and now: nothing. Maybe this was all in her head?
“A-Are you dead?” she asked dumbly.
“Gods can’t die,” he sniffed, looking at her like she was a complete idiot, “They become lesser things or forgotten things, but they are made of Magic and cannot cease to be.”
Okay, no. It wasn’t in her head; she would never make an imaginary version of Ben be this big of an asshole.
“Fine. Then what are you?” Alice snapped as she glanced around, taking in the miles of unformed darkness stretching in every direction. “And where are we?”
“I’m a ferryman. I mean, for now. That’s just a starter position. Eventually, I could move up to Reaper though Grim is notoriously difficult to impress. You would think with all the millennia of camaraderie we’ve built he’d—”
“Hold up,” Alice demanded, raising a finger. “Are you trying to tell me that Grim knew where you were the whole fucking time?”
Ben looked around as if searching for backup. When none materialized, he took a deliberate step back. “It was for your own good! You needed to accept your godhood!”
“A lot was going on!” he wailed, dropping to his knees, which was more drama than substance. She had been with “he of the unknowable name” long enough to know when he was putting on a show.
“Get up,” she sighed.
“Really?” he cracked open an eye, “You’re not upset?”
“Not upset?” Alice put a hand on her hip, “Of course, I’m upset! I’m fucking fuming! You lied to me and ditched me and then asked the Grim Reaper to lie too. Speaking of which, when I figure out how to get back into my sim-forsaken body, I am going to kill him! “
“As is your right,” Ben agreed, nodding amiably.
Alice opened her mouth to keep yelling but stopped. This entire exchange felt familiar and not in a good way. Over the past few months, she had told everyone, including the Grim Reaper, all the things she’d realized about her relationship with Ben. Now she was going to waste this opportunity yelling and fighting with him like always? They didn’t even share a body anymore.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Sorry?” Ben repeated, disbelief written plainly on his face.
“Yeah. I didn’t ask a lot of questions,” she admitted, “Not about you, not about the contest, not about the world. You dragged me, kicking and screaming, and as a result, I discovered that I’m really not that awkward. I made friends, learned to bake, fell in love. Hell, I even smote two bitchy basilisks that were trying to kill me.”
Ben perked up, the look in his eye downright devilish. “A smiting? That’s impressive; I wish I could’ve seen it.”
“It was…something,” Alice laughed. She wiped her hands nervously on her shorts. “It hurt when you left. But I know…how I am, so I probably wouldn’t have grown as long as you were still there to fall back on.”
“I wanted to save your life,” he said solemnly, “I wanted you to be strong enough because—”
“This godhood business sucks?” she joked.
“I was going to say because you’re the Alice I’ve grown most attached to, and since the Fates were killing off all your copies in the thousand other timelines, I wanted you to be one that survived.”
You still have pie left?!
Oh, so, this chapter. This chapter. Something about the storytelling caught my attention. It’s not that the other chapters weren’t tight—they were—but something here struck me as particularly cohesive, and I was mulling it over. I think it’s a couple things: the underlying themes become particularly prominent in this chapter, and several divergent storylines are merging together. Ben is one word shy of saying “found family,” for example, Alice gets to reflect on morality, Vlad went full murderpuff, and Penny is throwing the vibes you get when you read a news article about a woman who shot her husband while he was beating her and you sarcastically mumble “oh no. Killing is bad” to yourself. I.e., “Goodbye Earl” vibes. Speaking of Ben, as soon as Alice heard “Not forever,” I immediately thought, Ben’s back! You didn’t have to say anything. And that is tight storytelling.
I mean, holy shit, this planning. Everything’s starting to converge and it is GENIUS.
Still some mysteries, like where the Good Order Monks get their magic from. I’m trying to figure out the Lady in the Lake, too: I thought it might have been Lilith, but now it seems like it might be Gwendolyn’s half-sister… maybe? Oh. Shit. Lilith isn’t running the GOMs, is she? Nooo.
But since we know what happens to Alice in all those timelines—oh no, we’re not just going to see what happens to her in the good timeline, are we? Oh no.
Now for random crap!
Subtle, but boy, it landed. It got an actual verbal “whut” from me.
And maybe this is overdue, but I heartily welcome Ben into the Bisexual Disasters club. Ben! I knew you were my favorite!
Short comment, but… damn. This was a satisfying chapter on every level.
I am flattered. Actually, no, I am double-flattered (is that a thing? I’m gonna make it a thing). I really admire your writing, its twisty and delicious, and so this coming from you is high praise.
Yes! Writing this chapter felt really good. There are other chapters that were more fun or had more jokes (you know I love a Gwendolyn/Vlad adventure), but this one was really the emotional pay-off and the one where I got show my hand. Baking By Death is definitely about found family, love, and morality (Vlad/Alice/Gwendolyn are the morality chain trope).
Speaking of morality, I really wanted Alice to be a female character who could happily exist in the gray (her challenge was accepting that about herself). It’s why she and Vlad work. Alice is not actually a sweet cinnamon roll. She’s been to jail, she generally hates people, her attitude towards Vlad’s murder activities is not “murder is wrong!” it’s “don’t be a dick about it.” I don’t feel any desire to make a female lead who is good or nice or a caretaker (lol that’s Vlad’s role. The plans I have for stay-at-home living embodiement of fear are many).
BEN IS BACK and in the Bisexual Disasters Club! Yay! I actually wrote some great scenes with him and his lovers but I had no time for an extensive Ben flashback so it’s coming in Underworld Summer Vacation. Man, I missed writing him. It was a real bummer to have him on ice for so long but I just couldn’t figure out any other way for Alice to grow as a character without being able to (literally) hear her own voice.
Ohh Mikel…yes…our cinnamon roll alien. What is tech support on Sixam? We’ll have to wait and see, though we already know from past chapters that he is…uh…handy with a ray gun.
Whew, yes, that is spot on Penny. The plans I have for her are…well…let’s just hope I can pull them off.
Speculation: Lilith is not running the Good Order Monks, but I’m going to plead the fifth on the rest because I cannot be trusted to not reveal information and you’re so—GAH SHUT UP, FEROSH!
Good! You deserve it! (And, right back at you :D)
I don’t know if this helps but I don’t even see Alice as a female grey-moral character, just a grey-moral character full-stop. Like, you’re right, I get what you’re going for and it’s a stack of BS that needs to be directly addressed, but it goes beyond that. She comes off as being written as if those stereotypes never existed. There’s none of that “she kicks ass… AND she’s a girl too!” patronizing trash.
Honestly, ignoring stereotypes is nerve-wracking for me because by constructing the character with no regards to stereotypes, you’re not going out of your way to actively avoid or subvert them, and so they can end up doing some stereotypical things and some non-stereotypical things. And then ill-meaning people can come along and say “a-HA! Why’d you make [character] do this stereotypical thing, you bigot??” Screw that. I’m sticking to my guns: liking pink and crying at the opera isn’t “feminine,” it’s normal behavior for people of both sexes, for example.
Ahahaha, I was ready for Ben to be back! So Lilith’s not running the GOMs, huh? Pay attention to the stuff you don’t comment on—got it. Got it.
Aww her hugging ben was very emotional. But Ben, what a way to just drop a buttload of info onto someone. “Oh, btw, there are thousands of other versions of you in other timelines and are getting killed of, no biggie.” I mean, those other versions of Alice can’t be *that* different.
Well what do you know. Not only are Penny and Vlad refreshingly honest and open with each other, it doesn’t even take them all that long to get on the same page. I suppose we have Gwendolynn to thank for that, at least to some degree.
Ah, so Alice is experiencing the same thing Morgyn is experiencing, regaining the power from the thousand destroyed alternate timelines. This is starting to feel like a race, who will be the last one standing? Time is of the essence now, ironically – even though Alice is currently somewhere that’s not even within bounds of time.
Oh there’s another decapitated head. Should start a BBD headcount, haha! Penny is taking all this like a champ mind. I’m so impressed with her. I didn’t really like her much at first, but she’s really grown on me, especially since that chapter where we found out she too was an orphan a few parts ago.
D’aww, more feels with Ben. I’m ever more confused a out what will happen with him when (if?) Alice fully reaches godhood. I suppose he no longer is the god of death, since Alice is, so will he just stay a ferryman? We do get told that gods can’t die in this chapter, so there’s hope he won’t fully disappear. And yet, their moments here feel so final. Bah.
And ooooooh! Loving the sneak preview machinima! Eek! Can’t wait for the big rescue, whatever happens, I know it will be badass!
Ben is back!!! Don’t worry, he’s not gone. He just got a lil’ demotion. He’s just busy bringing souls across the River Styx. We’ll see a lot more of him in Underworld Summer Vacation. And he 100% has no sense of scale. Like, my dude, you can’t just drop that info on somebody.
Yes! Alice is also regaining power from all the timelines being shut down. I didn’t want to answer your last comment because you figured it out. Who will be left standing? GOOD QUESTION.
Oh man, Penny and Vlad have such an interesting dynamic. I mean, he’s the witches’ boogey man and now she is supposed to be working with him, and he’s telling her he’s basically adopted a baby witch as his daughter. That’s A LOT to process. It will be really interesting to see the impact of this rescue on that dynamic (which btw I just finished editing so it will be live on Sunday! Hooray!).
Like Miko, Penny is at the beginning of her journey. She’s got some really messy stuff to figure out RE her relationship with witches. Penny says she doesn’t care and she doesn’t need anyone, but that’s not the case on the inside. On the inside, she really wants to be loved and feel a part of something. That sort of thing can be dangerous in the wrong hands…
Ok, from now on I’m totally expecting the Underworld vacation to be a cruise on the river Styx 😀
Yes, I definitely get that sense from Penny, she likes to act like nothing gets to her, but that’s a behaviour she’s had to adapt, with her grim orphan past, how else could she have coped? Her tough exterior totally had me convinced when we first met her, but now that we’re seeing more of her layers she’s quickly becoming one of my unexpected favourites 🙂