Content Warning because parts of this chapter are violently entertaining and also just violent (I mean, you know me by now).
Oh, and I am over the moon about the skin tones update and the new sliders. The glitch with children from interracial pairings coming out with white skin as the default is not great, but I expect it to be fixed. Plus, I can at least “cas.fulleditmode” a temporary fix in the meantime. Representation is a beautiful thing.
…yes, I know this chapter is really late. End of year is crazy.
Some loss was unbearable, a reflection of things you longed for placed just beyond the length of your fingertips. I cannot be purged, it would warn, I will fester so long as you reach for me. It was this familiarity with the experience that froze Vlad in place as if not moving was an end-run around life disappearing.
“We were too late,” Penny whispered, but the sound of her voice was loud to Vlad’s ears. Both her halting tone and anguished expression grated on him.
“I-I knew it!” the witch continued, squeezing her eyes shut as if that would block out the horror. With a cry, she barreled towards him, only stopping when Mikel grabbed her by the arm. “I knew we were too slow, but you made me feel like it was all in my fucking head!”
Vlad said nothing in response.
It didn’t matter.
Penny didn’t matter.
Folding back his wings, he fixed his gaze on Gwendolyn. Her eyelids fluttered. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? “You needn’t be afraid, hellion, but you must…you must stay,” he commanded softly, “If you leave, you’ll lose the opportunity to make great demands of me and…and I am prepared to visit every arcade, lose every game…”
She didn’t respond, but he kept talking, his promises nestled between gentle nonsense and their inside jokes, “You were wrong; I don’t have one boss, I have two. You and the God of Death. She is here, and you’re—”
“Dead,” Penny rasped, still trying to pull out of Mikel’s grip, “She’s dead.”
Miss Hell made a dramatic show of studying her nails. “I’m not really even interested in you, Amisyia. I have the spaceship; I just need the identity of the alien. What good would it do me to kill you?”
“You mean it will not do you good to kill me before you have your information,” Amisyia’s Champs Les Sims accent was laced with threat.
It would have had more impact were she not shivering with dehydration.
Gesturing at the bathtub, Miss Hell sought to remind the siren of her desperate situation. “I don’t have to kill you. Mermaids need water to survive. At this rate, you’ll be dead before—”
The urgent ring of a cell phone cut Miss Hell off. Jade, her newest underling, gave a choked cry of surprise.
“Answer it,” Miss Hell commanded with a dismissive wave of her hand. Baring her teeth at Amisyia, she continued with her threat. “As I was saying, mermaids need water to survive. At this rate—”
The phone rang again.
“Is this a joke?” Miss Hell whirled around, “What part of ‘answer that’ was not clear?”
“Nothing! I mean everything! I mean…” Jade looked worried, “It’s just you said if I ever answered your phone, you’d tear off my head and sell it to the dryads for fertilizer.”
Apparently, good help was impossible to find, even when you made it yourself. “That was then, this is now,” Miss Hell encouraged, her tone saccharine.
Jade nodded but held out the device as if it were an explosive or an offering.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Miss Hell groaned, snatching it out of her grip. “This had better be good!” she growled into the receiver.
Jimena? She hadn’t thought a lick about the demigod since the simpleton handed over the location of The Owl and got herself booted from the baking contest. It was a lovely parting gift, The Owl’s identity. Miss Hell didn’t even care that the little traitor immediately took up again with Bloodvein.
“What do you want?” she seethed.
“I’ve been thinking about you,” Jimena said, her voice a low purr.
“You can’t con a con,” Miss Hell deadpanned, “I was a prostitute, remember?”
“You say I can’t seduce you, Anastasia, and yet, you’ve always watched my every move.” She laughed, “Admit you’re curious; you want to know why I called.”
Miss Hell was not curious; she was busy. Busy trying to find an alien to pilot her ship, busy trying to figure out the best way to kidnap The Owl. She would not let that creature’s appearance fool her. Wrinkles did not mean anything when it came to magic.
“I am not,” Miss Hell insisted, glancing over her shoulder at Jade as she stepped outside the door for privacy.
“Take her out,” Vlad said with more calm than he felt. Gwendolyn was breathing, but just barely. He tracked the slight rise and fall of her chest, trying to decide if it was speeding up or slowing down.
“It’s not anyone’s fault,” Mikel tried, “We did all we could. Penny is just—”
“Out!” Vlad shouted, “Take her out now or I will—”
He crouched back down without finishing the threat. “You are safe, hellion. Not dead, safe.”
“Hey!” Grim called out, “Being as taking out the dead is my line of work, I’ll be the one making the determinations.” He motioned at Penny and Mikel, “If you two are cracking under pressure, take five and come back. We got work to do.”
“No,” Alice cleared her throat, “Penny, Mikel, thank you, but if you don’t want to stay for this, you don’t have to. You did a lot, and I can—”
“You can what?” Grim snarled, “Resurrect her? I see those wheels turnin’, but now is not the time to play that card.”
“God of Death and also Resurrection. I know. But you are not thinking clearly. Do you see The Owl of Undoing around here? Because without it, you’ll wipe yourself out, too.”
Vlad shot to his feet. That got his attention.
“Thank you for joining the conversation,” Grim jeered, “You are finally fuckin’ listening, which is good because you have work to do too.”
He didn’t know what the Reaper meant. Even in the realm of the supernatural, Vlad was not a creature built for healing. Inflicting punishment? Great horror? Yes. But he could not give Gwendolyn back her life. Magic did this. Magic would have to undo it.
“The Owl?” Vlad croaked, “It can fix this? It can save her?”
“Forget about The Owl for a minute. You think I intend to carry your kid’s soul down to Benny? No. Fuck no. But we need to stop thinking like a bunch of mortals and start thinking like the powerful supernatural creatures we are.”
Vlad looked at Alice. She was tired, too tired to handle the level of magic she was suggesting. “If not a resurrection, then what? We have a witch, an alien, a god in a mortal body, and whatever it is you would categorize me and you as. If there is a potion or object or—”
“None of the above,” Grim interrupted. “We are gonna finish what these assholes started.”