I delayed this a lot. First, because I needed some time to get my head in the right place, and then (more insidiously) because I started second guess myself.
I think I’ve always known what a massive story this was, but it became glaringly apparent as I’ve tried to wrap up book one. I obsessed over whether I was delivering the goods, following my world-building rules, or evolving my characters while also staying true to their flaws. I know that the key to pulling myself out of this desperate place is to actually do the thing, but I was stuck. Pandemic Times is hard in general. It’s doubly hard if you’re non-neurotypical. I feel like I am in a constant hostage negotiation with my brain (Me: can we do the thing? My brain: No, I don’t think we can).
But then came death—a dear family member who went in with COVID and did not make it out.
Death is clarifying. It has a way of making all your prevaricating seem insane. Do the thing. It will never be perfect. The timing will never be good. Do the thing.
So I present to you the final six chapters of Baking by Death Book One.
Yes, I forgot Grim’s eyepatch. Please fill it in using your imagination.
No, that wasn’t a sex joke.
Oh, and my simself makes a guest appearance in chapter 2.23 of the incredible Almost Eternal. If you’re not reading it, what the heck are you waiting for?
Selvadorada, Library of Magic
The lobby of the Library of Magic was not at all what he expected. After running through the jungle, fighting in the temple, and jumping through a wall of infinite smoke (which still had his stomach doing flip flops), William expected something ancient and dusty.
Something with reverence and solemnity.
“More cappuccino? And we can bring you another pillow if you want to rest your neck,” the barista offered.
“N-no, thank you,” William’s tongue slipped over the words.
“You seem displeased,” Morgyn observed as he continued typing something into a datapad.
“I was expecting—” William lowered his voice when a few witches turned their heads, “I was expecting something with a bit more gravitas.”
Morgyn hummed. “I wouldn’t call this lacking in gravitas. There’s a spa and a movie theater.”
William was not one to eschew the joys of modern life. In fact, he generally availed himself of all the comforts that modernity and unending wealth had to offer. But this felt wrong.
“There! I’ve made dinner reservations. We have plenty of time to shower and visit the archives. We won’t meet with the Rare Book Curator until tomorrow.”
William growled. Tomorrow? A whole night in this place? His brain did not agree with his body’s excitement. “You’ve been typing for nearly thirty minutes, and all you did was make a reservation?”
“Well, they have delicacies from every realm; that’s a lot of menus to sort through,” Morgyn pouted. “Let’s just check into our rooms and enjoy the evening. We’ll be all about business tomorrow.”
“I cycle off the board for ten years, and this whole place goes to shit!” Titania screeched, “Look at it! It’s a dump!”
Akira snagged her arm, “Will you keep your voice down?” he glanced around the room, trying to make sure they weren’t drawing too much attention, “Why don’t you announce our presence a little louder, so the Fates know exactly where to send the assassins?”
Titania scowled, “They are not going to send someone to kill us, you idiot. Look around, we’re safe as houses. Now,” she motioned at the front desk, “Which one of these peasants is going to validate my portal permit?”
Akira rolled his eyes. Fifteen years ago, the Library of Magic was desperate for Titania to retire from the board. In fact, they drew down half their endowment paying bribes to contract killers, and when that didn’t work, they begged. In exchange for a voluntary leave of absence, Titania got all the perks of board membership—including direct portal access—without any of the work.
Which was what she wanted all along.
“Look around you, Tania. In that corner is the head of the Willow Creek witches who you lit on fire. Over there is the Centaur King, who I’m pretty sure is not happy about the time you levitated his entire summer home and dropped it off a cliff. And you’d have to be fucking blind not to notice the Sage of Untamed Magic or William Redding, neither of whom I’m eager to tango with.”
Titania raised a shoulder, “The summer home thing was just a joke. And William doesn’t have a reason to kill us. He’s probably on some errand for the God of Death.”
“Errand. Yeah. Like the Book of Longings.”
Titania put her hands on her hips and Akira groaned, “Can you just for one second take my advice?”
“Fine.” She stormed over to the counter and glared at the attendant. “Even though this place is a veritable empire of sub-par, we need three rooms and an appointment with the Rare Books Curator for tomorrow morning.”
“Three rooms?” Akira cocked his head.
“If you think I’m sleeping with Oberon, you’re even stupider than I thought.”
“Y-yes Miss…uh…Queen Titania,” the attendant squeaked, “We’ll open the Chairman’s wing. Would you like to make dinner reservations?”
“No, have it sent to the rooms,” Titania growled, “We’re keeping a low profile.”
The woman gulped and nodded.
Titania was clearly done with this interaction but Akira was not. “Tomorrow morning?” he wrinkled his forehead, “Why wait? I thought this was an in and out sort of deal.”
His sister released a long-suffering sigh. “You, nameless staff person. What’s on the new acquisitions list for the morning?”
The woman rattled off a list of titles, including the Book of Longings.
“See, dummy? It’s not here yet. Now text Oberon our room number so he can bring up the luggage.”
Akira wanted to ask why she was forcing Oberon to carry the luggage when it could easily be transportalated in, but one look at the dark glint in Titania’s eye, and he shut his mouth.
“Stop looking over your shoulder,” she snapped as they headed towards the elevators.
“Oh, stop looking for the three most powerful beings in the Universe to show up because we are fucking with their plans? Oh yeah, fine. I’ll do that post fuckin’ haste.”
Titania turned on her heel. “They aren’t going to kill us because they need this timeline.”
“What are you talking about?” Akira demanded, “We don’t know how this time bullshit works! “
“Of course we do,” Titania flapped a hand in dismissal, “I figured it out ages ago. Miko was obviously creating parallel timelines; that’s why she disappeared. The harpy didn’t step on your heart a thousand times; she stepped on the hearts of a thousand different Akiras. You just happen to be the most recent one.”
Akira winced and then sighed. “Alright, fine. Your genius is unmatched. How does that prove they won’t kill us?”
“The Fates don’t do anything by accident. The manuscript is on this week’s acquisition list because they want someone in this timeline to have it. And speaking of timelines, the only reason they let Miko create a thousand of them was that it served some purpose, and since you’re bound to her, you serve some purpose too. They might kill the other Akiras, but they aren’t going to get rid of the one in the timeline they need.”
With that, she marched up to the elevator and jammed her finger on the button. “Who the hell installed an elevator in here!” she shrieked, “I told them I wanted spiral staircases!”
Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
“You’ve been carrying on with this God thing for sixteen years, and you never said anything!” her mother cried.
Carrying on. As if godhood was some kind of gang or bad influence. “You think I chose to be a 13 year old kid with the power of a god? Unbelievable!” Alice retorted, her anger sparking. A bolt of lightning flashed in the house and zapped the computer.
“Was that you?” Her sister’s voice went shrill.
“I…yeah,” Alice shuffled her feet, “Sorry. I get upset and sometimes its…er…messy.”
Grim opened his mouth, probably to explain that they were still working on her training, but Alice shook her head. The Martin family was not a fan of excuses.
“Right,” her mother said, crossing her arms.
“And Vlad murdered you too?” Alice’s dad asked mildly, pointing at Deacon.
“Nah, Alice made me after I was murdered by our enemies. The same dude that came to your house. She even kept my body parts fresh in a cooler,” he sniffed himself, “Well, mostly fresh.”
“Fresh enough for me,” Grim winked.
“You made a zombie!” Mayra shrieked, “What the actual fuck?”
“The actual fuck is they are only considered zombies in this realm,” Grim fumed, “The rest of the worlds don’t have so short-sighted a view of life states.”
Alice’s eyebrows rose at his furious expression. Maybe he did actually like Deacon?
“I’m sorry,” Valeria squinted at him, “Who are you?”
“The Grim Reaper, at your service. Now that we are all meeting, I can see where Alice gets her great set of—”
“Grim!” Alice shouted.
Why was he such a pain in her ass?
“And I’m perfectly made!” Gwendolyn insisted, shoving her way back to the center of the room.
Mayra balked and looked at Alice, “Yeah, so about this parent thing. You weren’t here that long, right? Is she talking about… ” she trailed off and pantomimed two creatures getting it on.
“I know how babies are made; I’m not a baby,” Gwendolyn huffed. “Vlad and Alice didn’t do it to make me. They chose to be my family.” She looked up at them, “But you do ‘do it’ don’t you? Lucas Munch says his parents do it all the time.”
Alice cradled her head in her hands.
“Hellion, the purpose of knowing about sex is not to interrogate creatures about it in polite conversation,” Vlad chastised.
“Well, that’s rich coming from you,” Caleb snorted.
“You call her hellion…as a term of endearment?” Cyrus asked. He looked at Gwendolyn, “And you like this nickname, sweetheart?”
“Yeah. It’s my other name. I’m a vampire and magic from my Owl friend and hellion.”
Caleb froze. “What did she say?”
Vlad’s eyes flashed quicksilver. “You were right about The Owl of Undoing. It is indeed the most precious thing in the world, and I would do literally anything to keep it.”
At that statement, the room erupted into complete chaos. Caleb shouted at Vlad about the God War. Amisyia insisted that The Owl of Undoing was Majorie. Cyrus wondered why the prize in a baking contest was a child. At one point, Alice’s mother accused her of making Gwendolyn a target, and Mayra questioned how she knew what the Fates wanted if she had never even talked to them.
“So they didn’t tell you to do this,” her sister accused, “You decided.”
“Alice is a god,” Vlad replied, his voice lethal, “Deciding is what they do. And if someone finds they are confused about that decision, I help them find their peace. Are you confused, Mayra?”
“Do you see?” her mother warned, “He’s dangerous!”
“He’s not!” Alice protested, well aware that that statement was an outright lie.
Mayra clenched her fists, “What kind of god would choose—”
“Enough!” Cyrus shouted. “Alice, we came barreling in here because we thought you were in danger, and nothing I’ve heard so far convinces me that isn’t the case. You may be a god,”—he shook his head as if he still couldn’t believe it—” but you’re running around here putting an innocent child at risk, and for what? You say this is a safe-house, but we tracked your phone in five minutes flat. You know better!”
“No!” Cyrus barked. “I don’t know the supernatural, but I do know politics, and once everyone starts fighting over one of anything, the war has already begun. So first, you’re going to tell us everything. Second, we’re going to figure out how to get you out of this mess. And third, I’m going to call the military because if what you say is true, the entirety of SimNation is at risk!”
“This is not my mess! This is just…a mess…that I’m caught up in,” Alice faltered, “For the love of llamas, dad, I’m working on it.”
“You are not,” Cyrus blew out a breath, “I love you, Alice. I’m always going to bat for you. But this is…irresponsible doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
The hurt uncoiled in Alice so quickly, it took her breath away.
Selvadorada, Library of Magic
Akira peeked out the door into the hall again. It didn’t matter what Titania said; he couldn’t shake this restless feeling. “I’m gonna get some air,” he called out, shutting the door behind him.
Downstairs, he hovered at the entrance to the bar. Temptation had been riding him hard for the past few weeks, and now, knowing that Miko wasn’t even in this timeline?
What am I even doing this for?
His sobriety was for Miko—to show how much he had changed and to make him worthy.
But time loops or timelines—it didn’t matter. Either way, Miko had encountered him repeatedly and found him lacking.
Why were they even trying to track her down? What was the point? She didn’t want him. If a thousand times had not convinced her, nothing he did now would.
It was so ridiculous to be consumed by this mundane problem. As if a creature was only given one great love in a lifetime. Meanwhile, war threatened all the realms and a weapon his brethren had tried to prevent for generations was holed up with the God of Death. Oberon insisted that Alice be convinced to fight on their side, but the King of the Fae was clearly keeping secrets.
Not to mention, hurting Titania.
Miko was obsessed with Alice too, but it was obvious his “wife” could not be trusted. She had secrets upon secrets, and never saw fit to share them.
A thousand times, and she never chose me.
He motioned to the bartender and plunked down a keycard. “Your strongest Gnomes Brew. You can charge it to the room.”
The shower felt divine. At first, he worried there would be nothing to wear, but then he remembered: magic. The whole place was swimming in it. With a growl, William stalked from his bathroom in his towel.
“What in the—”
“Just putting on the final touches,” Morgyn called out, admiring themselves in the mirror.
Mother of Sages. William’s lips parted. How could he like the Sage even more with clothing on?
Because you’re thinking about undressing them, his mind supplied unhelpfully. “How did you get into my room?”
“Magic,” the Sage smirked, “I’ll expect you to be dressed shortly. I’m looking forward to giving you a tour of the archives.”
Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
Alice lowered her chin to her chest, avoiding eye contact with her family. For one brief, bright moment, she was in control of her life. But that was all in her head. It turned out she hadn’t come very far at all, and she resented them for showing up to remind her of that.
“Thanks, but no thanks” was on the tip of her tongue, but before she could say anything, Vlad picked Gwendolyn up and quickly tucked one of Alice’s stray hairs behind her ear. “Gwendolyn, say goodnight to our guests. Deacon will come and sit with you after we put you to sleep.”
Alice watched her father’s face soften, but Gwendolyn turned her head and buried it in Vlad’s shoulder.
“Caleb, check their trail and make sure they weren’t followed by something their mortal senses can’t pick up,” Vlad continued.
The vampire nodded and sped from the room.
“Amisyia, if you can call in a favor to reset the spell on the house, we’ll make sure you are reimbursed. Grim, get the Martins settled with whatever they need,” Vlad glanced out the window, “We are nocturnal in this house, so the God of Death will need coffee.”
His emphasis on the word god was not subtle. For all his protestations about no longer being a king, Vlad had not forgotten how to give orders.
Upstairs, they tucked Gwendolyn in, and for the first time in a week, she didn’t fight. Her subdued attitude was just another sign that Alice needed to get her family out of their house as soon as possible.
Alice shut the door to their bedroom quietly and turned to face Vlad. “They need to go. Caleb is here, and like you said, William will be back soon so we—”
“We are not sending them away,” he said firmly.
“Are you fucking kidding me? Do you see what’s going on? I’m not going to sit there while they paint me as a fuck-up and question my every decision.”
“You are not a fuck-up.”
“You keep saying that, but you want me to entertain a bunch of sims who think that I am.”
“No,” Vlad asserted, his tone far too reasonable for Alice’s liking, “I want you to be willing to have someone question your decisions.”
“Question my…? You defended me!”
“Because I love you,” Vlad said patiently, “Just as you defended me. We will always choose each other, but that is not a strategy for ruling.”
“What the actual fuck are you talking about? Who said any fucking thing about ruling?”
Vlad flashed his fangs in frustration. “Do you know what made me a poor king? I rarely tolerated anyone, save William and Caleb, questioning a single thing I did. And when I did not wish to hear them, which was almost always, I sent them away. You will not make my mistakes. I don’t intend that you be a failed god; I intend that you be a great one.”
Alice shook her head, “I can’t be a god at all with them around! They think I made Gwendolyn a target on purpose! They think our relationship is toxic and we’ve been galavanting around Windenburg having a party, not trying to survive a constantly changing situation. My dad wants to call the military. The military, Vladislaus, as if unilaterally deciding to reveal the entire supernatural world won’t cause a war!”
“So tell them.”
“Tell them?” Alice gave a humorless laugh, “Have you met my mother? I can’t tell her a fucking a thing. And my dad…” she gasped, an angry tear slipping out, “They can’t be here. My…my sister doesn’t even like me.”
“You don’t need them to like you!” Vlad roared, “My father didn’t like me; he owned me. He owned my whole sage-forsaken family. We were tools to do with as he pleased.”
“But he abused you,” Alice cried.
“Of course, he did!” Vlad shouted, “It was the 1400s!”
Alice immediately backed off. He had been abused viciously and repeatedly, that was crystal clear to her. But she had no idea how to respond when he said things like this. “I know you don’t have my experience with family,” she said softly.
“No,” he snarled, “I don’t have your expectations. What a failed modern concept that you must like the family you are born with. The family you are born with is a debt. Do you know what I value? The family we’ve chosen. Are you at all worried about it?”
“Fuck you,” Alice breathed, more out of shock than anger.
Vlad was not deterred. “Are you worried about any of the information we’ve just learned? Somnus, in case you’ve forgotten, wants to start a war to build an army of the dead to invade the Underworld. Your Underworld. Does that weigh on you?”
“Of course, I’m worried!” Alice exploded, “I’m worried I still don’t know a ton about my powers, that I’m sick almost every morning because immortality is a fucking racket! I’m terrified that I made the wrong choice; I’m heartbroken that our kid’s first interaction with my family was them questioning her very existence. I am nothing but worries! I don’t need them here to tell me I’m doing a shitty fucking job,” she sobbed, “I already know it!”
Vlad grabbed her, and although she sent a bolt of electricity through him, he pulled her closer. “I’m not crying!” she growled, even though the tears were already streaming down her face.
“We need them,” he said quietly. “Your father is an international spy and military expert, your mother is a world-renowned scientist, and your sister is a demolitions expert. Cyrus is right. The God War isn’t coming; it’s already begun.”
“So I’ve been a god for five minutes, and I’m already losing my first war,” she sniffed, “The only thing missing from this scenario is Maverick reminding me about all the money I owe him and the ‘Dressing Down of Alice Martin’ will be complete.”
Vlad rubbed her back, “I promise a long bath and a dressing down in a different way if you go downstairs and suffer your family.”
Alice looked up and gave him a watery smile, “Promises, promises. And where will you be during all this?”
“As the resident supernatural warlord and your toxic lover, it seems only fitting that I suffer along with you. And before you ask, no, I have no advice other than to suffer. I’ll thank you to remember that I killed my whole family in a magic-fueled plasma rage six centuries ago.”
Alice sighed and leaned her head on his chest, wiping her nose with his shirt, “Yeah, maybe we don’t lead with that.”
Selvadorada, Library of Magic
The archive was more along the lines of what William expected: wooden paneling and low light, rows of books and cabinets.
“Those are not the treasures I wish to show you,” Morgyn beamed. “We are after a much rarer prize.”
The Sage grabbed his hand and led him to a large wooden door. With whispered words and a bit of magic, they opened the lock.
William had seen Morgyn perform magic plenty of times. Usually, what they sent forth was a flashy display, but this was like a kiss—a gentle breeze that sparkled and caught the light.
“I didn’t know you had so much restraint,” he said honestly. And he meant it as a compliment.
“I can’t fathom what it must feel like,” they laughed almost nervously. “I mean, I am used to it but…untamed magic must feel like a storm to everyone else.”
Not waiting to see William’s response, they pushed open the door and walked into a portrait gallery.
“This is the Hall of Great Terrors, so named by the famous fairy queen, Titania, who has an apt sense of humor,” Morgyn explained, leading William through the room. “Most of these are the younger works, but this is not what I want to show you.”
William looked at the dates on a few of the paintings and raised his eyebrows. Even a creature as long-lived as he could still be in awe of age. That Morgyn referred to something from two thousand years ago as “younger” was almost mind-boggling.
They strolled through a set of double doors to the final room of paintings.
“These are the gods,” Morgyn said softly.
William froze. “It can’t be,” he whispered.
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