Of Love and Monsters

Chapter 39, Part 2: Marching Orders


Happy Valentine’s Day! This is the right chapter for a day of luvvvvvvv.

Grim’s eyepatch is back. Is it on the wrong eye? Honest to god, I have no idea anymore.

Selvadorada, The Library of Magic


“These are the gods,” Morgyn repeated. “The first thing you should know is that there are less now than there used to be.”

William didn’t interrupt. He was trying too hard to wrap his mind around this new piece of knowledge.

“They live in the Elder Realms, each a master wielder of one of the nine schools of magic. From there, they are meant to rule as a collective, but you know how these things go.”

The gods as William knew them looked so ordinary—so mortal. But here, in these portraits, they appeared perfectly preternatural. The paintings almost seemed alive, and a voice in the back of his head whispered: You were in always danger, even before you knew what the danger was.  

“Know thy enemy starts here, vampire,” Morgyn turned to him, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

William squared his shoulders. He was the Last Great Knight of Windenburg. Even if there was one god he wished he could banish from memory, this was his task. 

“Tell me everything.”

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory


Vlad stood in the doorway, watching Caleb examine Gwendolyn’s broken dollhouse. “Thank you. I know you did not wish to return, but for Gwendolyn, there is nothing I would not ask.”

Caleb turned and shifted uncomfortably. “It’s fine. I want to help. I knew what you were asking and that once family was involved, you would be…” his expression faltered, “You’ve always been like this, haven’t you?”

Caleb had asked some version of this question over the years, and Vlad had always dodged it.

“I’ve been thinking about him,” the vampire continued, “It’s ridiculous, really, all that damn zombie’s fault. But, when I look back on things I’ve…I’ve always wondered. And knowing how you are…”

He let the statement linger. 

“Your father believed us equals,” Vlad began, “He told me so one night, even as he gambled away your fortune. I, who had starved and begged and suffered every indignity to save my family, and that useless charlatan dared to say we were alike.”   

“Did you kill him?”

“Yes,” Vlad forced out, letting the truth hang in the air, sharp and dangerous. 

Caleb folded his arms. “And yet you still came for me and Lilith.” 

“Yes,” Vlad echoed, quieter this time. 

When they were first thrown back together in this house, Vlad dreamed of forgiveness. But now, that seemed infinitely selfish. More important than forgiveness was stopping Caleb from continuing this cycle.

“Something has to give. I suffered, and so I brought suffering to you. But I fear—I’ve always feared—that you will carry it forward to fill some hole I’ve opened up inside you.”

Caleb looked away.

“Passing on the sins—my sins,” he corrected, “It will not cleanse you. You will carry it with you the whole of your immortal life and you won’t just be nothing, you’ll have nothing.”

“I can’t ask your forgiveness; I likely don’t deserve it. But, Caleb, know this, even before the curse, turning you and Lilith haunted me. I never made another creature until now. And I swear I—”

Caleb stopped him, “I don’t think Gwendolyn was made with anything less than your absolute love and devotion.” 

Vlad let out a breath.

“My father was a monster too,” he continued, “A different kind of monster than Josef, but hateful and terrible all the same. His words were his weapons. And his neglect. He was a lousy, venal creature, and the only reason I ever suspected you did it was that after I was turned, I went back to do it myself.”

Vlad’s head jerked back. “You never told me that!”

“You are not the only one for whom familial relationships are complicated.”

The tension between them lessened, and Vlad dared to crack a smile. “Yes, well, let us hope that Gwendolyn sees fit not to continue our tradition.”

Caleb laughed and Vlad crossed to examine the dollhouse. Perhaps he could repair it before the tiny terror woke up?

Behind him, the younger vampire cleared his throat, “You know you don’t have to invalidate what Alice wants from her family. She can be loved and liked. Her relationships—Gwendolyn’s relationships—they needn’t be as broken as ours.” 

Of course, Caleb heard their argument. “And what would you have me do?” 

“Get to know them. Make them like you. You can be quite charming when you try.”  

“For a creature that hates me, you are very full of compliments,” Vlad grumbled.

“I don’t hate you,” Caleb maintained, a gleam in his eye. “I’m angry, and I would very much like to put a dagger through your chest a few more times, but I don’t hate you.”

Vlad rolled up his sleeves and cocked an eyebrow, “Alice said she needs an hour. I think stabbing me in the chest a few more times can be arranged.”

Selvadorada, Library of Magic


Akira sat on the edge of the bed. His head was killing him. There was a downside to drinking that had nothing to do with Miko. The fae he met at the bar was still sleeping, which was for the best. He didn’t really want to talk. 

As he dressed, he gave himself time for the self-recrimination to kick in, but it didn’t show up. He turned to look at the clock—not even nine. The night was young, and so far, it was fun. 

Very fun, he told himself, ignoring the tightness in his chest.

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory


Freshly showered and three rounds of puking later, Alice was ready to face her family.

Well, not ready—hence the three rounds of puking—but prepared. Apparently, her new immorality came with a case of stress barfing.

She ran into a Vlad covered in plasma and smiling Caleb in the hallway. “Were you—”

“Resolving a familial dispute?” Caleb answered. “Yes. It went well.”

Okay,” Alice acknowledged, feeling slightly faint, “I really can’t devote any mental energy to…whatever this is. Please pull it together before you go downstairs.”

Alarmingly, Vlad gave her a thumbs up.

They gathered in the kitchen. The supernatural creatures chatting as if things were business as usual while Alice’s family gaped at the shirt that Vlad had not changed because clearly, Fear Itself did not understand what “pull it together” meant.

Alice tried to get control of the room, but nobody listened.

“Hey!” she snapped her fingers, “Up here. Let’s establish some ground rules.”

Valeria squinted. “Did they just try to kill each other?”

“We were working on healing and communication,” Vlad replied with a placid expression. 

Her mother glared, “This is why we are concerned. And you got a child around all this stabbing and violence?”

“She is not around—”

“Of course,” Vlad scoffed, “Gwendolyn is well on her way to becoming an accomplished swords—” 

Alice kicked him under the table and gave him a look. “Read the room,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

Vlad frowned.

“Anyway,” she said loudly before anyone else could interrupt, “Ground rules. First, you are not going to tell the military about supernaturals. There are more factions and creature-types than you know, hell, than I know. Each has their own politics and culture, and I really don’t want them to all rise up, band together, and kill every single mortal.” 

“I…yes…well, maybe that was a little hasty on my part,” her father coughed.

“Secondly, we’ve had to make every decision under the worst possible circumstances like rogue witches shooting fireballs at our heads, basilisks trying to kidnap me, and a bunch of sex demons at a dance club trying to screw us to death. I mean, my mortal body was dying without the magic of The Owl! And on top of that, we discovered we’ve been fighting this same battle across a thousand different timelines.”

Her mother’s eyebrows shot up. “Alright, point taken. Though, that doesn’t seem like a rule.”

“I need you to trust me. I know how I am,” Alice continued, “But this was not just me being irresponsible. All this shit was simmering before I ever even showed up! And thirdly—”

“There’s a third thing?” Mayra huffed.

“Thirdly,” Alice repeated, giving her sister a withering look, “Our family is not here for you to dissect. Especially Gwendolyn. I mean, yes, Vlad is a murderhobo and a madman. I can’t always stop him from snatching out someone’s eye or eating someone’s heart—”

“What?” Cyrus choked.

“—And yes, Deacon survives on brains and Caleb is an assassin, and Grim is a complete pervert—”

“True,” Grim winked.

“—And I haven’t even gotten to William yet…Actually, never mind. You know what? William is fine. You’ll like him. My point is we don’t need you to judge us. None of them would ever hurt me or Gwendolyn and if worst comes to worst, I’m a god, and I can smite the ever-living shit out of them.”

“It is, on the whole, one of the things I love about you,” Vlad grinned, showing off a pair of sharp fangs, “I am particularly fond of your use of electricity.” 

Despite herself, Alice blushed, which she tried to cover with a cough because, based on the looks her family was giving her, flirting with Vlad while his shirt was still damp with plasma—his own?—was coming off very weird. 

“That being said,” she continued primly, “I’m new to this godhood thing, and you guys have an outside perspective so I’d like to hear it.”

Selvadorada, Library of Magic


“This is Elmyra, Goddess of the Hunt, Mistress of Divination Magic,” Morgyn said, gesturing at the first painting. “She had care of The Owl before her brother, Omar, plucked out its metaphorical feathers.”

The Sage laughed at William’s horrified expression, “Oh, don’t look so shocked. Elmyra is a monster too. Selfish, childish, prone to rages. It is only right that the magic she wields is focused on hunting things down and using them for her own ends.”

“She looks like Jimena,” William observed. 

“Yes, Jimena is a demigod. Insufferable offspring of the Elder Realm’s most vain.”

“No, I mean they really do look alike,” he leaned in, examining the painting, “It’s uncanny.”

“By design,” Morgyn smirked, “Elmyra wanted a child who would be in her image exactly. When she found a mortal she liked, she paid a witch to erase his face. She keeps him around in a state of suspended animation in case the desire for more children strikes her.”

“Alright, that is…disturbing. The gods are psychopaths. What about this one?”

“Ah yes, Somnus, the God of Sleep. Elmyra may deal in Divination, but Somnus deals in Enchantment.”

“That hardly makes a lick of sense,” William said dismissively. 

“What are dreams but fiction your mind convinces you is true?” Morgyn shot back. “Somnus can be quite charming. He is polite, an artistic genius, and utterly untrustworthy.”

“Can’t trust dreams?” William remarked, “That is bleak.”

“Somnus is not pleased by having magic that requires constant promises and deal-making. He desires something more tangible.”

William felt a chill run up his spine. 

“Here we have Nyx, the Goddess of Night. She wields mischief magic. Incredible parties, voracious cult members,” the Sage winked, and William found himself charmed. “And this is Sol, her wife, Goddess of Sound, master handler of Abjuration.”

William breathed a sigh of relief, “I know them; that’s Bailee and her wife. They seemed nice, so at least there is that.”

Morgyn snorted, “If you call a cadre of sex demons nice, then sure, you will enjoy Nyx. And abjuration is the suppression of magic. If Bailee wanted to, she could sing a tune to call out a witch’s power or turn a vampire mortal; in fact, she has done both.”

Sex demons. William was familiar, but he kept his mouth shut. More alarming was the idea that Bailee had such powerful magic.

“She is evenly matched, believe me,” Morgyn smiled, answering William’s unspoken thoughts, “The Universe likes balance. A vampire or a witch is a small thing. Were Bailee to try her magic on another God, she would disperse herself.” 

“Oh, so Gods can die?” William asked, hopefully.

“No, they become lesser things or forgotten things, but they cannot cease to exist. Bailee could become a lesser form supernatural, or even sound itself.”

They turned away, but it was too late; William could hear the dark note in their voice. “There are worse fates.”

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory


Four hours and a change of clothes later…

“Okay, okay, hold on,” Alice said, taking another sip of her coffee, “When Vlad and I were fighting earlier—”

“Fighting or fighting?” Mayra asked. She took in their parents’ squeamish looks, “What? You saw the way he looked at her earlier.”

“For your information, I used an angry bolt of electricity,” Alice clarified.

“The difference is subtle,” Vlad murmured.

Alice schooled herself not to laugh. It was not going to go over well with her mother, who was—

Not happy.

“The point is,” Alice continued, her voice overly bright, “He was right. We have a big problem. Miss Hell was holding Amisyia hostage to get info on an alien and his spaceship, probably Mikel, because she wants to steal The Owl.”

“And The Owl is supposed to be Marjorie Barr, the contest judge,” Caleb pointed out, “But that can’t be right because we have The Owl. It’s Gwendolyn. And yet, this ridiculous contest rages on.”  

“And therein lies the rub,” Alice’s father added, “We have a substantial lack of information, don’t you think, Valeria?”

Alice rolled her eyes. The more worked up her mother got, the calmer he would act. Did he not see how much hostility was radiating off of her? Why did he placate her like this?

“How does The Owl work?” he wondered, “Can it be in two places at once? What is the nature of The Owl, metaphysically speaking?”

Her mother jumped up, an excited gleam in her eyes. “Let’s set aside all the things we don’t know for a minute. We’ll call them ‘x,’ and then work backward from the information we do have. Do you have something I can write on?” 

“There’s Gwendolyn’s chalkboard,” Deacon suggested. “But I’m not allowed to touch it,” he tacked on, looking worried.

Alice sighed. They really needed to rethink him as a babysitter. “Deacon, she’s still sleeping. Just go get the chalkboard.”

Selvadorada, Library of Magic


Akira paused outside the Certificates and Files Office, taking a quick sip from the flask he stole from the room. He was fine. More than fine! He had never been more sure of anything in his life. Whatever stasis he’d been in over the past few centuries, it was over. 

So much time wasted thinking that the only answer was Miko. What the hell was he thinking, living like a godsdamned monk and chasing after her like a puppy dog? No. No more. 

He strolled to the desk, not quite whistling but definitely feeling lighter. 

“Can I help you?” the notary asked.

“Yeah,” Akira said, “I’d like to file for divorce.”

“Are you sure, sir? You seem…” the notary hesitated. “Have you been drinking?”

Akira fixed him with a cold stare, his fingers itching to conjure his bow. “Is that gonna be a problem?”


Something made him want to banish that note in Morgyn’s voice, so, despite his own misgivings, he put on a show of humor and lightness. “And who might this fair creature be? Vladislaus’s mother would have had her put to death for wearing a crown as fine as that,” William joked.   

“Sulis, Goddess of Reason, wielder of Transmutation.” Morgyn’s voice still had that strange note in it.

“I don’t recognize her.”

“Sulis would not deign to come to the mortal world and chase after The Owl. Besides, she’s…she has other concerns.”

“Fair enough. That’s one potential enemy off the list. And what, oh wise and powerful Sage, does reason have to do with Transmutation?”

Morgyn turned away again, but not before William saw the haunted look in their eyes. “The wisest creatures know that change is the center of all things. It is the only constant, the lifeblood of creation.”

The next space was bare, but William could see the faint outline where the painting used to hang. He read the sign in front of it: “Removed to the Hall of History: Marshala, Goddess of Fertility; Pinot, God of Nectar, and their son, Orbalis, God of Agriculture. Not pictured: their second son B’Ollithiranon.”

“Why has it been…” William trailed off. The Sage was staring at the blank space on the wall, stricken. 

“I don’t understand,” William said, shaking his head. “The story says they gave up their godhood to a dying B’Ollithiranon, but that doesn’t make sense. You already said gods cannot die. And how can a god receive godhood from another god?”

“It’s complicated,” the Sage tried to push past him, “Let’s move on.”

“Wait,” William stepped in front of them. Morgyn placed a hand on his chest as if to push him away.

“Unless you intend to use magic, you’ll not move the likes of me. Any other day I would allow for your cryptic answers and evasions, but I’ve come too far, Sage. Do not mistake my liking you for weakness.” 

Morgyn relented. “Pinot dealt in Cryptomancy; it’s why oracles are notorious drunks,” they began woodenly. “Orbalis commanded Conjuration. He could summon plants, animals, even creatures. Marshala,” their voice broke, “Marshala was the wielder of Untamed Magic.”  

“Just like you?”

“I am not a wielder of untamed magic; I am untamed magic.” 

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory


“What if Alice is right about the Fates?” Mayra asked, squinting at the chalkboard, “I mean, it makes sense given everything they did to make sure she could put the magic into Gwendolyn.”

“Oh, so you don’t think I made her a target?” Alice quipped, pouring sarcasm into her voice.

Mayra shrugged, undeterred. “Yeah, but not on purpose. And maybe it couldn’t be helped. The thing I don’t get is why you? I mean, you’re new to this god stuff. You wouldn’t be my first choice.”

“True,” Grim agreed.

“You know I am sitting right here,” Alice complained.

“Relax. I’m just pointing out that The Fates don’t see time the way we do,” Grim explained, “They are at the beginning, end, and middle of a story all at once. Maybe Alice ain’t the right god right now, but she will be.”

“Yes, she is practically brimming with unrealized potential. So we’ve said. What are we actually going to do about it?” Caleb grumbled.

“It is a simple thing,” Amisyia beamed, “We buy her time. Miss Hell wanted to steal The Owl, and I suggest we let her.”

Alice got to her feet. “That’s crazy. We are not going to help Miss Hell steal Gwendolyn from us and if you have a problem with that, then—”

“Child, sit down,” her mother snapped. “No one is talking about Gwendolyn. We’re talking about Marjorie, obviously. And the heist is just a decoy, to get the heat off your back. Really, it’s like we didn’t raise you at all.”

Alice frowned but retook her seat.

“It could work,” her father said, putting his hand on his chin. “Remember Komerebi in ’90?”

For a moment, Alice’s mother got a dreamy look in her eyes. She glanced up at Cyrus and smiled. “Yes, they never even knew I disabled the electroflux generator until it was too late.”

“If you even mention the part about repelling down from the ceiling, I will barf,” Mayra insisted.

Alice nodded her head in agreement. “Or the part about conceiving me while you hid out in a hijacked train car.”

Her parents were insane. She turned to roll her eyes at Vlad, but he was just standing there with a thoughtful look on his face.

“I think,” he said slowly, “That I am beginning to understand how you developed such a unique perspective on romance.”

Selvadorada, Library of Magic


Titania didn’t say a word when she found him. He didn’t even hear her come in.

“You’re drunk,” she said, her tone derisive.

“Don’t forget happy,” he added, draining his glass, “Drunk and happy and divorced and free.”

Titania didn’t say anything but the tight-lipped look she gave him rankled.

“What?” he bellowed, stumbling to his feet, “Are you calling me a liar?”

Titania continued to stare. It was just like her to look so smug.

“Yeah, lap it up. Must feel good, right?” He picked up a glass and threw it across the room. It shattered against the wall. “You should be glad. I finally listened! Finally woke up. I wasted fuckin’ centuries, but now I’m free!”

“I’m happy,” he insisted, but instead of laughter, there was a broken sound.

He didn’t know why Titania was rushing towards him, but he dropped to his knees. “I’m happy,” he sobbed, as she smoothed back his hair, “I’m finally fuckin’ happy.”

Selvadorada, Library of Magic


William couldn’t help it. He reached out and gently stroked Morgyn’s cheek, “How?”

“Magic can be given form. There are rules because…because the Universe prefers rules and…” they didn’t finish and William realized this was the sort of confession that he could not force.

“So the god that wielded you became,” —he chose his words carefully— “A lesser thing or a forgotten thing.”

“They became mortal. And then they died, as mortals are wont to do,” Morgyn replied, voice full of barely suppressed rage. 

“So they went back to the Underworld with B’Ollithiranon?”

“Why would you ask such a foolish question!” Morgyn spat.

“Well, I can’t very well be expected to understand why you’re upset, seeing as how this whole plot of politics and powers came about before I was even born. And that’s saying something because I was born in the 15th century!” 

He expected a fight, but Morgyn surprised him, whirling around and gently grabbing hold of his face. They were inches away, and for one long moment, all William could think about was kissing them. 

“Forgive me,” they murmured, “I forget sometimes that you are so…young.”

“How old are you?” William whispered.

“Not old, infinite. I existed as a swirl of magic when Time began to form the Universe. I have seen ages pass, slept for more centuries than you have walked this plane. What are myth and story to you are my truths.”  

It was unfathomable. William’s wonder must’ve shown on his face because Morgyn stepped back, the spell broken. “I should explain,” they said, gesturing at the next painting. “The dead go to the Underworld. But spirits go to the Elder Realms. To Omar, Elmyra’s brother. Pious God of the Sun.” 

“Pious?” William croaked. The halo around Dylan’s head was made of knives.

“Irritatingly so,” Morgyn’s tone was bitter. “Pompous, cruel, deals in Evocation—the calling forth of spiritual energy and manipulation of unseen power. Gods don’t have your morality. They are in the business of doing the thing. There simply is, or there is not. Omar does his work with great accuracy and to enviable completion. Pious.”

The implications of his tryst all dawned on him at once. The god knew William was on the search for the Book of Longings. He’d almost been invited to the house with Alice, and— 

“He holds the spirits of B’Ollithiranon’s family,” William said weakly.

The horror. There wasn’t a word for the horror. 

“Yes,” Morgyn confirmed, their voice hollow, “Omar considered that quite a coup.”

It was a long while before either of them spoke again. Morgyn reached for William’s hand and pulled him to the next painting, “Come, this night will not be all sadness. We should discuss the former God of Death.”

“Alice called him Ben,” William confided, suddenly nervous.

“Ben?” Morgyn chuckled, “So friendly a name for a not so friendly creature.”

“What do you mean?”

“The former God of Death is the most complicated of them all,” Morgyn said, the curve of their lips drawing William’s attention.

“Alice said he’s sweet…a bit of a lush and a layabout, but not complicated…”

“Clever and cunning was B’Ollithiranon. A demigod from a lower house, Master of Necromancy,” Morgyn explained.

William’s breath hitched. “But that’s ten schools, y-you said—”

“Clever and cunning,” Morgyn reminded him with a wink, “Before B’Ollithiranon, there was no such thing as necromancy. The dead became spirits, spirits went to Omar, and that was the end. Then along comes this half-god upstart, combining magics to create something new. Oh, and how the Universe missed the old ways, it allowed that magic to grow. He became a god through sheer effort. Gauche does not even begin to describe it.”

At that moment, William realized two things: He did not fundamentally understand what gods were. And he could not stop wondering what Morgyn would taste like.

“Do you see now?” the Sage said, drawing William in closer, “B’Ollithiranon became a counter to Omar. He ruled a realm that none of us can ever see, wielded knowledge that we cannot really know because death is not something for which Gods or magic have the capacity.”

“A creature who can use cast-off magics to make himself a veritable army? Who can call up Fear Itself? Bring Agony to heal? Command Discord?”

“That god cannot afford to be friendly. They must ruthlessly protect that which they have chosen to love. And woe be unto the creature who crosses them.”

The Sage kissed the way they moved through the world, all danger and grace and sly assurances.

But there was hunger there too.

“Come to bed with me,” they whispered.

It was a siren song, and William’s entire body hummed along with the tune. 


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