Chapter 40, Part 1: The Best Laid Plans

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory


“Step two,” Cyrus instructed, “Is to make sure Marjorie does everything we say and doesn’t give us away. Now, I would usually suggest money or blackmail, but I’m out of my depths with immortal beings.”

“Dad!” Alice gasped. “She’s an old lady. We can’t—”

“This is my forte,” Vlad interrupted, an idea already forming in his mind. “I am quite good at making creatures comply. Gwendolyn is restless; it’s about high time we had an outing.”

Restless was an understatement. Gwendolyn was struggling. She had an abhorrent sense of time, so even though things would be wrapped up in a week, it felt like an eternity to the tiny terror. She swung from being quiet and withdrawn to outbursts of rage and frustration. Vlad recognized the behavior all too well.

“Torture,” Alice corrected with a scowl, “You mean you’re good at torture. And you want to take our nine-year-old kid with you.”

She was practically vibrating with hostility, which meant Vlad had to remain calm. It would be better to burn it off with a few rounds of sex, a violent sparring match, or preferably, both, but he was making an effort to charm her parents.

He gave her a serene smile. “You say torture; I say quality time.”

Downtown Windenburg

Vlad drummed his fingers on the table, wearing a flinty expression. Despite his earlier claims, he actually intended for Gwendolyn to learn the finer points of negotiation. If you killed everyone outright all the time, you’d have nothing to bargain with. It was why his father would, on occasion, actually keep his word. Kingdoms were willing to send envoys on the off chance they could make some deal.

“This needn’t end violently, especially since you play a very pivotal role in our plans. Simply acquiesce, and there will be no more threats issued to you.”

Beside him, Gwendolyn squirmed impatiently. Like Alice, she could not keep her every emotion from playing across her face. 

“It was a perfectly good Dicoatl card!” she barked.

The tiny witch sitting on the other side of the table crossed her arms and gave them an unamused look. Whoever was training her was doing an admirable job. 

“You tricked me,” she retorted, “When I was playing against Tim the other week, I lost because of you, and I hate losing to boys. No deal.”

He gently patted Gwendolyn’s head, a reminder to take a breath even if she didn’t need one. She could quickly lose control of her dark form, and now was not the time to show weakness.

“Are you a vampire now?” the girl asked, “Is that why you’re out of school? Everyone says it’s because you’re covenless but—”

Vlad’s nostrils flared.

Gwendolyn squared her shoulders and answered calmly. “Everyone at school is stupid, that’s why I don’t go anymore. But if you don’t want my Suintor card, then I can just take my business elsewhere.”

The witch’s eyes widened, “You didn’t say you had a Suintor…”

“Did I say that?” Gwendolyn feigned concern, “I didn’t mean to let that slip.”

“Give it to me!” the girl cried, already reaching across the table.

“I can’t just give it to you.” His tiny terror looked thoughtful for a moment, “But you could try to win it. That would be more fair. If you beat him” —she jerked her head towards Vlad— “at Space Invaders, then I’ll let you have it.”

The girl smiled, but Gwendolyn wasn’t finished. “But if you lose to him, then I get to keep my card, and you make us another homunculus. A good one this time.” 

That was his cue. This was not his favorite part of the plan. Even if he disliked arcade games, he disliked pretending to be bad at them even more. “Infernal machines, my harried adult brain can hardly understand how they work,” he muttered.

“I can beat some old man!” the girl cried.

Old man? Vlad was mildly insulted.

“You have to swear to it with a binding spell,” Gwendolyn insisted.

The girl nodded. Vlad had never been more proud. 

“You did well, hellion,” Vlad said as they walked out of the arcade. “It’s a shame we’ll have to wipe her memory as soon as she completes her task. I quite enjoy the part of video games that is lording your win over your opponent.”

Gwendolyn shrugged. “I guess. I’m starving.”

She was rarely not starving—vampirism wreaked havoc on the system. Still, Vlad worried that her constant demands for plasma were more about comfort than hunger. “You are quite sure you don’t wish to return to the arcade?”

She stopped short and turned on her heel. Vlad could see she was crying. “I miss ice cream! And cookies and candy and soda. I’m hungry, but I don’t want to eat someone,” she hiccuped, “I mean, I do, but I wish sims were ice cream. Everything is terrible and I hate this!”

For a second, her dark form wavered.

Vlad ushered her out of sight.

She regained control, but continued crying. “I miss being a witch. Even if I was alone, I was more like everyone else. And I didn’t like school, but now that I don’t go, I miss it because being home is boring. I don’t have any friends, you guys are always busy, Alice is always angry,” she sniffed, “Actually, everyone is always angry. I’m beginning to think this having a family thing is a racket!”

Vlad hid a smile at her use of Alice’s favorite phrase.

“And I like Deacon, but I think he’s dumber than I am.”

The zombie was guileless, which had to be frustrating. And the household was on edge as they rushed to set everything in motion. Vlad crouched down and gently wiped her tears. “I know things are not ideal, hellion. Everything is hard and demanding, and we are asking a lot of you.”

“Ya think?” she said flatly.

“Alice is not angry at you…” he hesitated. Vlad had suspicions about Alice but there was only so much information Gwendolyn could handle. “She’s just angry in general, right now. Being a god is difficult.”

“Cyrus says she’s going through an ego adjustment and it’s making her cranky.”

Vlad sighed, “Yes, well, let’s not repeat your grandfather’s observations to Alice. Now, look at me, hellion,” he tilted her chin up, “I know you are not getting a lot in return at the moment, but we are doing this to keep you safe. Just be patient a little while longer, and then I promise we will find ways for you to feel happy again.”

“What about ice cream?” she stressed.

Vlad stood and gave her a sad smile, “Your diet will not change, I’m afraid. You are more like me than other vampires. Mortal food will always taste like ash on your tongue.”

She frowned.

“The heart is a delicacy,” he reminded her, “I know you like them.”

Her lips twitched, but she still looked forlorn, and Vlad mourned all the things it was not in his power to give her. 

“Perhaps there is a happy medium,” he offered, “I am in a baking contest after all. Let us experiment with turning your favorite food into the dessert of your dreams.”

She finally smiled, “Okay!”

He grabbed her hand as she twirled around, “Not so fast,” he said, faking a stern voice, “First, we have to go shopping for ingredients.”

  • Dolly Llama
    Feb 21, 2021

    Oh man. This chapter is so tight and sets up so much suspense that I don’t have anything major to speculate on because I have no clue what’s going to happen next. Every single one of these vignettes was brilliant. So please accept this disjointed, not-at-all insightful comment that pretty much recaps most of the chapter.

    Starting with the observation that I don’t think Cyrus is allowed to touch that chalkboard.

    Penny. Penny! I feel you, girl. Sometimes one person makes all the difference. And I do appreciate the message in some fictional works that we need to recognize those people when they come along and honor them for the good they do, but we certainly need more stories where a person’s true friends/found family don’t come along until they’ve suffered years of emotional damage. So, so hard to internalize it’s not your fault. True to form, the problem’s not being solved clearly or immediately either. And Penny of course does what one does when there’s no clear path forward. (guess who’s been dropping the ball on making a BBD TV Tropes page for months)

    “She was practically vibrating with hostility, which meant Vlad had to remain calm”: Interesting—Valeria and Cyrus also explicitly have this same whose-turn-is-it-for-the-emotions dynamic, and it’s a favorite of mine. (It’s like leashing a chihuahua to a tree.) But for prose snippets that reveal way more than the character intended, it’s hard to beat “how to be a par—“. Man, you’re really driving it home that she does not need this right now.

    Of the screenshots this chapter, it’s hard to beat the orgy pose with Ben chilling there holding a foot. Like I was about to say something about the hitherto-unseen giddy smile Vlad gets at the prospect of teaching Gwendolyn how to torture, but this brain of mine is like naw, mention again how Ben’s fallen asleep with some dude’s sneaker on him.

    Okay, so, the bonding. LMAO. The interrogation reveal got the biggest laugh out of me this chapter. Dear Goodman, Vlad just has infinite patience when it comes to this kid. Enough for Voidcritter Go even. But Boomers, note that even Vlad understands that talking on the phone is the worst.

    From what we’ve seen so far, Gwendolyn needs to get used to people being dumber than her, and fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Gwendolyn who finally tells Alice “oh my god, just take a pregnancy test already.”

    Is Gwendolyn’s and Vlad’s ice cream flavor called…

    Candy Heart?

    (For real, are you just saving all the premades with food names for these stealth jokes???)

  • feroshgirl
    Feb 25, 2021

    Didn’t you hear? NO ONE is allowed to touch that chalkboard.

    Thank you! I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again, I LOVE A HEIST. So much so that I needed to shoehorn one into here. In fact, this is my favorite part of the heist movie when a plan is starting to take shape and they are gathering resources but for what? And what will they do with them? And you know the twist is coming but how?

    But Penny was the star of this chapter in my heart. Yeah, you are not wrong about Penny and for reasons that have not yet been revealed, this really is like she is waking up for the first time and the grief and desperation is hitting her all at once. Penny is finally getting to feel her feelings, and the result is one of my favorite tv tropes of all time (I purposely made Penny’s hair long because I wanted this scene so badly lol).

    YES! Hahaha thank you for spotting those matching relationship dynamics. Another reason why Vlad and Alice work. Vlad has had centuries of other people carrying his emotions for him while he has the outbursts. Alice/Gwendolyn is the first time he’s doing that for someone else in a long (600 years) time. He’s willing to do that work because he loves her, but I wanted that to be a big part of his evolution. Meanwhile, I wanted the women in the story to be allowed to have freak-outs and breakdowns and be pissed off without having to reign themselves in and do a bunch of emotional labor because this is a fantasy and I get to reform patriarchy however I want! Yay!

    I told you there’d be more sneakers.

    Every scene with Vlad and Gwendolyn is just me having the best time. I mean it had to be Vlad, right? The reasons why he can be so long-suffering are traumatic, but its really a lovely thing in the end. CANDY HEART IS A DEEP CUT! YOU GET A MILLION POINTS.

    But seriously, who is going to tell Alice to take a pregnancy test? Grim?

  • ThePlumbob
    Mar 5, 2021

    Ah yeah, I can see why this would make Alice feel ungodlike; her parents are trying to help and being supportive, but definitely cramping her style. She’s only just stated to feel in control of all of her powers too, so this is a tocuhy territory. Does Gwendolyn need to be dead to enter the underworld in her vampy form? I suppose it’s more their godhood than their undeadness that lets them go in 🙂 Still not sure what the deal with Alice’s brother is. Is he rebelling by being a knob? In a family of misfits?

    Aww, I like that you brought focus to how Gwen is adjusting to this whole thing. She’s had a lot to process in a very short time, her life changing so drastically and now she’s on the run ith an adoptive family and all the grown ups talking tensely about her being the owl which she probbly doesn’t even know what means (not that we do, exactly, haha). Oh, and casual murder that somehow feel like daddy and daughter going out for ice cream, lol.

    Oh that romantic barn so clashes with Amisya and Caleb’s actual scene, which I’m sure was deliberate. Dang.

    I have a tough time thinking of that painting as anything but the Carys painting, heh. Aww, Penny. Poor Penny. She really did not get a good deal here, taken for a ride because she’s attached to Gwen/feels for Gwen as a fellow orphan, and helping destroy everything that meant something to her. And what does she have to show for it? Nothing. I’m not surprised she’s pissed. Alice should have come herself. I know she has a lot going on, but I feel like Alice and Vlad do owe Penny that much,a t least, not send errand boys, err, gals. Poor Penny. I do feel for her. What does she have left, really? And here go Alice and Vlad being like “you better play ball or else” … because why, exactly? Why are their agendas and egos more important than hers? I’d not be impressed if I were her either. #TeamPenny

    • feroshgirl
      Mar 6, 2021

      I am obsessed with calling Maverick a knob hahahaha. Yes, Alice is going through quite the adjustment. I was hoping her family would bring a new sort of dynamic into the mix. Yes, Gwendolyn should be fine getting into the Underworld. Interesting that you referred to her as a god…hehe.

      Yes! I wanted to find a moment to deal with the fact that Gwendolyn is struggling. It’s hard with so many characters as I come down the home stretch, but I wanted to foreshadow some of the stuff I’ve got planned for “book two.” Also, just wanted her and Vlad to have some quality time together, you know, with ice cream and murders hahahaha.

      I mean, are Amisyia and Caleb fighting or flirting?

      LOL that painting. You know, as I was writing this I was getting mad at my own characters. I mean, I did this to them, but you’re right. Alice is a bit self-absorbed and even if there are good reasons, it still affects other people. She isn’t use to thinking about her actions as having far-reaching consequences in that way. And frankly, Vlad is no help, he only cares about the small number of creatures in his orbit. Basically, Alice needs a better advisor.

      You picked up on the fact that Alice wasn’t the one to go see Penny!! Yes!

      But really, I just love Penny so much. I can’t wait to write more of her. She’s struggling and trying to find her place in the world. And she’s really been thrown for a loop. I think she’s gonna get back on her feet, but…eh…it might get worse before it gets better.


  • Yimiki
    Mar 30, 2021

    “Then we’ll help our enemy steal it from us in a very public way”
    But… the owl has to be earned or freely given, doesn’t it? I guess this depends on your definition of “earned”, but if they can get away with Marjorie that easily, won’t some alarm bells start ringing with the enemy, too?

    Her parents do seem to be a little quick at jumping down her throat, especially her mother and sister – but to be fair, Alice is also incredibly stubborn at accepting help when she needs it, recognizing that she needs help, and analyzing herself in general. She’s essentially a baby god. She’s a natural at it, but still. Accept all the help you can get, and if it’s a bad plan they serve you, then work with them to come up with a better one. They’re trying very hard to help. 😅

    Haha, Gwen and Vlad tricking people together will never not be entertaining to watch. Aw, their bonding moment was so precious. She’s really having a rough time and that’s without the added problem of not having anyone her age to bond with. Poor kid. At least Vlad is there to help her. Aaaaand then you remind me that Vlad is a stone cold killer and eats people’s hearts because it’s a delicacy and they’re gleefully murdering innocent bystanders as a father-daughter activity. How can it be so disturbing and so funny at the same time? 😂

    “It’s not enough for Miss Hell to steal The Owl,” Cyrus continued, “She needs to be seen stealing The Owl.”
    But… but.. it has to be.. earned or freely given… 🤔

    Poor Penny. Everyone keeps using her and then casting her aside when she’s no longer useful to them. First the witches, then Miko, and now Alice and Vlad. All she wants is to find out what happened to her family. I still wonder why Miko was so dead-set on keeping that information from her – what link is there between Penny’s family and Miko not getting what she wants?
    Oh gods, Penny is not doing well. I hope she’s not close to snapping but it sounds like she is. And everyone just keeps pushing her instead of helping. This can’t end well.

    Did… did Gwendolyn put the sims version of Pokémon Go on Vlad’s cell phone? xDDDD

    • feroshgirl
      Mar 31, 2021

      Lololol you need to be on Alice’s shoulder giving her the business!

      Umm yes Gwendolyn totally installed Pokémon Go and Vlad is both annoyed by it and unsure if it’s actually a game or a hunt for creatures in real time.

      Oh yeah, I’m really giving Penny a rough time. But you are definitely asking the right questions about Miko.

      I wish I could say it gets better for Penny but ::looks off in the distance:: I guess we’ll see…

      Vlad and Gwen quality time! There’s an arcade! There’s a comforting chat! There’s the indiscriminate murder as a means to make ice cream out of people’s organs!

      Wait, what?

      Lol glad you enjoyed it!

      Oh The Owl, yes, I mean, why are you so worried about it? I’m sure it’s *fine* and the plan is perfect and no one is missing vital pieces of information at all 😉

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