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.”
Windenburg Island, Bjersten Residence
“Wow,” Penny said, leaning back in her chair when Vlad finished filling her in, “I didn’t think you were capable of loving another living thing.”
“Of course, I’m capable of love,” he scoffed, clearly indignant.
“That’s not what the stories say about you. They say you’ve killed whole armies, tortured creatures of every kind, and hunted witches. The last of which I know from personal experience. You’re telling me that’s not true?”
Vlad stared at her for a long moment. “No. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of love.”
Penny cracked her neck. Maybe she wasn’t the best choice for Gwendolyn, but the alternative could not be Vladislaus Straud. There had to be other witches who could do a better job.
“So, you love a witch?” she challenged.
“I love Gwendolyn.”
“But she’s a witch.”
“She’s a child.”
“No,” Penny said, her fury rising, “She’s a witch. She’s a child and a witch, and you killed lots of her people, and you may say you love her, but what’s your plan for reconciling that when you raise her?”
“Reconciling what I did?” Vlad’s voice lashed out like a whip. “I know how you witches treat your cast out children. Covenless orphans, you call them? Believe them to be wicked. Corral them, abuse them, abandon them to dark manors where they are raised as spell workers, to be of service.” His smile was cold, “My memories are long, Penny Pizzazz; I know all about the care and feeding of witches.”
Penny blinked rapidly as the shock reverberated through her whole body. She expected him to hate witches because of their power or because he was greedy and had evil plans.
She had not expected this.
“I’m a covenless orphan too,” she found herself saying, staring down into her lap. Her skin felt hot and prickly. “I’m like Gwendolyn, except not as lucky. No one came to rescue me, no one made me part of a family, no one showed up willing to kill my abusers.”
It was a half-truth. She didn’t say that some of her abusers had died, and it was because of him. Penny didn’t want Vlad to hear the longing in her voice—the small, stupid part of her that wanted him to say that it was not a fluke. He had hunted those witches for her too.
When she glanced up, Vlad was staring at her. His face was not kind exactly, but his words were carefully chosen. “I did kill my abuser. It was bloody and agonizing and not nearly long enough,” his gaze moved to Alice, “It did not heal me.”
“But you don’t regret it?”
“No,” he agreed, still not looking at Penny, “I don’t regret it.”
It did not excuse him or make him less guilty of his crimes, but it was an explanation—a feeling she could understand.
“One day, when she is old enough, I’ll tell her,” he said softly. “I won’t perform sorrow I don’t feel, but perhaps by then, I will have evolved to be the sort of creature that can hold more than a few beings precious in my heart.”
Penny studied him, trying to decide if she should feel unnerved by this statement or warmed by it. When she dreamed of family, Windenburg’s Vampire King was not what she had in mind.
“You don’t regret the witches you killed?” she asked instead.
“I don’t care for them,” he said simply.
It was a different way of saying they didn’t matter and magic help her black heart; Penny understood that too. Mikel was always worried about her feelings, always trying to protect them, but Vlad made it unnecessary to apologize for her hate and anger.
“Tell me about the files,” he demanded, breaking into her thoughts, “This lady of the lake, who or what is she?”
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what you are,” Penny said honestly, smoothing her skirts. “But as far as I can tell, she is—I can’t believe I’m saying this—water. Or at least, she is supposed to be. They tried to summon her into the body of some teenage Sulani girl, but then shit gets murky.”
Penny narrowed her eyes. She wasn’t exactly sure how Alice could stand him, although being a God probably helped check his arrogance.
“The records they kept were meticulous, even going back as far as you.”
Vlad’s eyes flashed, and Penny rushed through her explanation. Not because she was scared, though, yeah. She just felt this unwanted stab of sympathy now that she understood how he had been picked apart and sewn back together again with a monster inside him.
“The girl was supposed to be a mermaid, but they didn’t know who her father was. There are guesses that he was fae and a crazy powerful one at that. Anyway, things went to shit. They made her, but they couldn’t train her. Hence Gwendolyn. The Monks figured someone younger would be infinitely easier to control.”
His eyes flashed again, but he managed to compose himself. “Infinitely easier if the process doesn’t kill her.”
Penny nodded. Suddenly, she felt idiotic for even trying to defend witches. And what the fuck was taking so long? She was so aware of every second ticking by that she was shaking. She placed a hand on her knee to still the nervous movement.
“It only feels as if it is moving slow,” Vlad said. At Penny’s confused look, he continued, “Time. You are nearly vibrating with your anxiety over it. Now, tell me about the Good Order Monks. I took great pains to eliminate them. What do you know of this powerful patron?”
Penny was grateful for the distraction. Maybe he wasn’t so cruel. Maybe he was like her, all barbed wire on the outside but inside, something squishier.
“Well, when I disguised myself as Bjorn, the Sage of Practical Magic showed up for a meeting, so I’d put my money on him.”
“The Sages?” A scowl passed over his face. Vlad leaned forward in his seat, “Tell me everything.”
“And you did survive!” Ben exclaimed with a smile, but Alice was still staring in disbelief.
“So that’s good. Now we just have to stop everything in the world from dying when Somnus goes to war with you over the Underworld, and we’ll be golden!”
Don’t lose your shit, she whispered to herself while clenching and unclenching her fists.
“All of that sounds”—horrific—“really interesting, but I need to”—not freak the fuck out—”focus on the immediate situation. What happened to me? How do I fix it?”
“You’re teeming with power, and your body is overwhelmed. Your magic is no longer split between a thousand Alices; it’s all contained in one.”
Alice pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay, try again, in simlish, please.”
“The Fates are—”
“Actually, no,” she interrupted, “I just…Ben, I have a kid I have to get back to. I have to save her. So if we can somehow have this conversation in transit…” she gestured around her at…well…nothing.
“You have a child?” Ben frowned, “How long have I been down here?”
He nodded, and without any kind of preamble, they were suddenly on the deck of what appeared to be a giant pirate ship, sailing into nothingness.
“As I said, you’re the God of Death, and I’m a ferryman. This is the in-between, but I can sail you back so long as you know the direction you want to go.”
“Spirits get lost down here?” Alice asked nervously.
“Yes. When they can’t decide what direction they want to go. They don’t know whether to embrace what’s behind or in front of them.”
Alice wrung her hands. Her motto had always been that decisions were “tomorrow” problems.
But there was no in-between, even in the in-between.
“That way,” she pointed, following the tug of her heart.
Windenburg Island, Bjersten Residence
He only meant to call the Entity back to examine the body. Entity being an appropriate name for Vladislaus Straud. Alice was a God, or back home, they would have called her an Upper-Level Radiant Being, but Vlad wasn’t anything so pure.
It was probably best to think of things in terms of magic since that was the system that functioned on this planet. Back home was inaccessible anyway and better left as a memory. He was a sim now, or at least as sim-like as an alien could be.
Not that it stopped him from almost saluting when Vlad issued an order to investigate the body. Mikel had not been tech support in years, but old habits die hard. He now knew all about this sim—their customs, their character traits, their relationships. It was why he didn’t want Penny back here. No matter how much she wanted to save Gwendolyn, she’d be heartbroken to find this witch was a friend.
“You’re sure they’ve connected with the Sage of Practical Magic?” Vlad asked. His voice was calm, but the look in his eye…Mikel had seen that look on other members of his unit right before the Great Sixam Games. Brutality would do that, make creatures hungry for it.
“Yes, besides the energy…er…magical signature, there’s the contents of their pockets and a spell ingredient list on the Sage’s letterhead.”
Penny was utterly silent. “I can cover her up,” he told her. “Ulrike was…I mean, the witch was…she didn’t suffer,” Mikel lied after stumbling over his words.
Penny gripped herself tighter and gave a small shake of her head.
“What a pretty lie,” Vlad mused, kneeling down to get a closer look. “She suffered. The sword cut through the layers of muscle, straight through to the large intestines. Not her cleanest work, but effective.”
He picked up the tiny sword, examining it. “Very effective.” There was a note of pride in his voice.
“Not her cleanest work?” Mikel flicked a worried glance at Penny, “You…taught her?”
“Of course. The world is full of monsters,” Vlad replied, without a single trace of irony.
Penny was still staring, so Mikel tried to step in front of the body and block her view. “Penny—”
“I don’t care,” she said flatly, though anguish flashed across her expression. “She was just a witch I saw sometimes. It doesn’t matter.”
When he first crash-landed on this planet, Mikel scanned every sim he came across. All it took was one conversation, and nearly everything about Penny was laid out like a book. After realizing what a violation of customs this was, he deleted the chapters. But he saw enough to know what she valued.
“I can tell you the rest in the living room,” he said gently, “I’ve gleaned everything I need to know.”
“Wonderful,” Vlad chortled. Without warning, he stood, drew the sword, and sliced off the witch’s head.
Penny screamed and Mikel lurched forward, his body leaping to intimidate even as his mind knew it was a fool’s errand.
“What are you even thinking?” he cried, “I know tensions are high but she’s already dead and Penny’s standing right—”
“If you think I mean to show mercy where those who hurt my family are concerned, you have me confused with a far less vengeful creature.”
With that, Vlad gouged out the eyes and tossed the head over his shoulder. He strolled from the room whistling.
Mikel stared after him. How could he have forgotten? On Sixam, Entities were volatile, and his attempt to reason with them was just as unsuccessful.
Penny gasped, shaking violently. He hugged her and let her cry on his shoulder. He hoped Alice woke up soon because without her to reign the Entity in, it would be all he could do to keep him and Penny alive.
The In Between
Sailing in unformed darkness was boring as shit. While it gave Ben plenty of time to fill her in on a mind-boggling amount of god-level politics and explain more about her power, she struggled to focus. How long had it been? Did time work the same back up above? Was…was Gwendolyn scared?
“So you’re saying I could do a resurrection, but it might kill this body?”
“Die! Yes, I fucking know!” she shouted, covering her face with her hands.
Ben stepped away from the wheel, which continued to turn on its own. “You’re going to save her,” he said softly, reading Alice’s underlying emotions as if they still shared a body. “Do you know why I made Fear, Agony, Discord, and the rest?”
Alice shook her head.
“I knew I couldn’t rule a domain alone. I needed…”—he hesitated—”I wanted a family. And so I took the magic that the other Gods considered undesirable, and I gave them a home. Gwendolyn has more than just you looking out for her.”
Alice’s eyes filled with tears, and she swiped them away. “Yeah…okay… I’m… you’re right. I’m sorry I keep freaking out. I’m just overwhelmed and worried. More than worried. I’m scared.”
Ben raised his eyebrows, giving her an imperious look. “You’re a new God. It’s to be expected.”
Alice snorted, well aware that he was being pompous on purpose just to get her to laugh. “So this is the trip to the Underworld?” she observed, “It’s really…er…long. Seriously, no one complains?”
“It made sense when I made it,” Ben muttered, clearly offended. “Communication wasn’t so easy in the old days. A long trip meant plenty of time to catch up. And there is a complaint box, but it’s been a little while since I’ve checked it.”
“How long is a little while?”
“Two thousand years.”
Alice sighed. “Yeah, that tracks.”
“Be feared,” he said suddenly.
“Be feared. Death is already the Great Unknown, and you have Fear. Let go of the reins and use him.”
“Use him? Why would I—”
“I don’t want you to turn out like me,” Ben said quickly, his shoulders pulled low. “I loved Elymra and Omar, and before you say anything, I know sleeping with both twins was a mistake. Elmyra manipulated and betrayed me while Omar just stood by because they didn’t think I was a force to be reckoned with. I became cunning, but far too late.”
“It may be hard to believe this, but my method used to be flying under the radar,” he winced and then looked away. “I didn’t become the God of Death because I was tough; I did it because no one wanted it. Who knew the position came with an entire world?”
“W-Why are you telling me this?” Alice stammered.
Ben pressed his lips together and adjusted his coat. “The Gods will devour you if they sense weakness. Your reputation needs to precede you. You need to make them think twice before they come after you.
“But the war—”
“Will still happen,” he confirmed, “Better it come later when you’re actually ready.”
Water sloshed against the edge of the boat, signaling that they were almost to shore.
“Please,” he added, “It’s why I gave up everything to bring you and Phobos together. You’ve pretended to be normal all these years, what is it to pretend to be evil? To let creatures fear you if it will keep you safe?”
His voice was so earnest and Alice didn’t think his advice was wrong, exactly, but she hadn’t come this far without learning a few things.
“Ben, I don’t want to pretend anymore.”
“Alice, I don’t think—”
“I hear you,” she continued, “You want me to survive. And I will, but…” she paused, thinking of Vlad’s words back in Britechester.
To be a god is to choose, to make one thing possible and not the other. Your choices will be big, enduring…You can be fair, you can avoid being cruel, but you cannot be something so simple as bad or good.
“I’m a god, and if I run around pretending to be something I’m not, there’s a chance I could make a really terrible choice. Elmyra, Somnus and the rest? They think being a god is just about them, but it’s not. And that good/evil shit is for the birds. Life is mostly gray area. I’m mostly gray area.”
The boat stopped, and Alice’s heart gave a resounding thump. “I don’t have to pretend to be feared. They should fear me. I’m a fucking badass. You think I’m the one holding Fear in check? Ha! Phobos and I keep each other in line, so everyone better be really fucking worried when we’re both on the same page.”
Ben cleared his throat. “I…I knew you’d be better at this job than me.”
Alice pulled him into a fierce hug.
“You were a good teacher.”
“Don’t forget what I told you about The Owl,” Ben instructed with a watery smile.
“I know,” Alice assured him, “I promise.”
Windenburg Island, Bjersten Residence
His jaw tightened with emotion as he ran his hands over Alice’s face to convince himself that she was real. “Alright?” he managed to croak out.
“Yeah,” she smiled, “I’m okay. Mostly. With a few caveats.” At his worried look, she put a hand on his arm. “I’m strong enough to deal with getting Gwendolyn. Let’s do that first, and I’ll explain the rest to you later.”
Her emphasis on “you” was subtle, but he didn’t miss it or the look in her eyes. He stowed his questions and nodded.
Mikel smiled and elbowed Penny, “We’re glad you’re okay. We were worried.”
Alice’s expression warmed, and she dipped her head, “Thanks guys…I didn’t mean to try and explode you with my god powers. I’m sorry.”
Vlad did not strictly agree that she needed to apologize but he kept it to himself. They didn’t need a repeat of Britechester.
Mikel filled Alice in on what she missed, albeit, with far more detail than either he or Penny thought was necessary.
“Oh for the love of practical magic!” she exclaimed. “Here is what you need to know. Ulri—the witch recently absorbed motes which you can only get from Magic HQ. Usually that would be an issue, the place is warded within an inch of its life, but I’ve got an invitation. If we scout ahead, clear the area of—”
“Clear the area?” Vlad scoffed, “You weep over the head of a witch who assisted in Gwendolyn’s kidnapping, now you wish for us to announce our arrival so Bjorn and his ilk can prepare?”
“There are innocent witches who didn’t mean to get caught up in this!” Penny shouted and she looked…betrayed? “If you storm in there without any warning, you’ll put them in danger and eliminate any leads on other missing witches.”
But why did she look betrayed? He had been perfectly clear about the fact that he cared for almost no one save for his family and Jimmy. Penny and her witches weren’t on that list. “I’m not concerned about witches. I’m concerned about Gwendolyn and how to—”
“Penny, do what you can,” Alice interrupted, “We can’t give you a ton of time, but anyone who doesn’t stand with the Monks will take that warning and run.”
Vlad felt his entire body go cold. Without any conscious effort, he began boxing up his emotions. Maybe he supported Alice, but she clearly didn’t support—
Alice grabbed his hand and squeezed it before folding her arms. “And if they don’t then they better pray to another God because I will tear that fucking place apart.”
He wanted to tear that place apart, but side-by-side with Alice as she did so was even better. Vlad affectionately pressed his hand into the small of her back.
Mikel looked uneasy. “I support this rescue mission and I’m going to do everything I can but”—he lowered his voice as if Vlad did not have excellent hearing—”The Ent…er…Vlad has already made it clear that he won’t show any compassion and I’m afraid we’re going to end up crossing a line. So maybe you—”
Alice’s eyes glowed, and Vlad could almost taste the magic pouring off of her. He found it strangely beautiful and delicious. Even more so than the haze of anxiety and slight terror that was currently coating Penny and Mikel.
“I’m the God of Death and they took my kid. What would make you think I’d show them anything like mercy?”
Chapter 37 Preview
I’m hard at work on Chapter 37. Do a machinima, I said! It’ll be fun, I said! Welp, it’s a shit ton of work, and I have two words for you: fucking keyframes. Seriously though, I’m knee-deep in Youtube tutorials, I have a new appreciation for people who do this, and my goal is to have this ready to go in a week or two. The entire rough cut is done, but there’s still a crazy amount of editing.
(the song is “Madness” by Ruelle)
Sims in Distress Part Four by JoanneBernice
Male Stand Poses 5 by Natalia-Auditore
Male Stand Poses 4 by Natalia-Auditore
Male Posepack 2 by Natalia-Auditore
Stand Male Poses by Natalia-Auditore
Sims in Distress Part One by JoanneBernice
Arguing and Grieving Poses by JoanneBernice
Stay with Me by RayGun
Sims 4 Animation Mega Pack: Talking Emotions by Steven Studios
Stair Falling Poses by JoanneBernice
Emotions Seated by Simmerberlin
Reunion Poses by Natalia-Auditore
Reunion Posepack 2 by Natalia- Auditore
Sims 4 Animation Pack: Attitude Sassy Pack by Steven Studios
Dead on Objects by Natalia-Auditore
Male with Head Poses by Natalia-Auditore
Kneeling Poses by Natalia-Auditore
All My Life by Simmerberlin
Mega Talking Animation Pack by FlowersSimFactory
Reaper Eyepatch by PralineSims
All My Life by SimmerBerlin