Chapter 40, Part 1: The Best Laid Plans

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory

Alice

“Now step four, and this is important—” Cyrus started.

Alice cut him off with a groan.

“Child, what ails you? You are especially irritable,” her mother chastised, “Let your father finish.”

She was not irritable! She had a raging headache, though weirdly, she could not stop thinking about jumping Vlad’s bones. Every time she tried to get some rest, a bunch of voices invaded her dreams babbling about everything from crop yields to nectar flavors. Add to that the fact that no one in the house would turn off a damn light or stop watching the TV so loudly and—

Oh.

Maybe she was irritable.

Alice slumped back in her seat. “Go ahead, I’ll be quiet.”

“Like I was saying, Miss Hell needs to get away and believe she’s getting away. This is where the alien comes in. Mayra, you’re up. And keep in mind you won’t be reimbursed for supplies, so try to keep it within reason, alright?”

Her sister nodded, “One alien and one completely controlled decoy explosion coming right up.”

The In Between Inn

Penny

Penny heard the knock at the door but didn’t answer. She didn’t do a lot these days, numb as she was. The first night they returned to the In Between Inn, she was almost giddy with indignation. Part of her hated those words when she said them, “monster,” “nightmare.” But another part of her—a larger part of her—thought being so broken had earned her the right. 

The knock came again. Dragging herself out of bed, Penny trudged down the stairs and banged on the bathroom door.

Mikel threw it open and stepped out, the shower still running. 

“Someone’s here,” she said flatly and then turned on her heel without waiting for a response. 

She flopped back on the bed, feeling just shy of angry. Vladislaus, the selfish creature he was, didn’t get a single useful piece of information out of Bjorn’s head before he carved the witch up for dinner. When she confronted Alice, it was all excuses. “I’m sure he just got carried away. We’ll help you figure it out, just as soon as we take care of this other stuff.”

Empty promises from an empty God, and this was why Penny always made her own fucking way. She sat up, her head spinning from lack of food. 

What in the name of practical magic was Mikel doing?

Silently, she opened the door and crept back down the stairs. In the kitchen, she saw a woman who looked a lot like Alice talking to Mikel. 

“Oh, Penny,” he said, turning around, “You might be able to help. This is Alice’s sister, Mayra. They need—”

“They as in the God of Death,” Penny snarled.

The young woman narrowed her eyes. “They as in my sister, Alice and the rest of my family. We need to protect The Owl and—”

“No.”

“Penny?” Mikel took a step towards her, “I know you’re angry, but Gwendolyn is just a kid, and we should—”

“I said no!” Penny yelled. “We don’t have to do shit. You talk to your sister? Ask her about the witches. About Grim killing Simeon and why the last lead on my family is lying in a pile of bones in some abomination’s basement!”

“Penny.” The sheer level of reasonableness in Mikel’s tone made her want to scream.

“Get out!” 

The woman didn’t flinch. Mikel put a hand on her arm, “Just give me a few minutes. I’ll help.”


Penny didn’t know how long she stood there. Long enough for Mikel to get dressed and the woman to make a call outside. She was still standing there when they left, something desperate and wild winding inside her. 

Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory

Vlad

“I don’t prefer the phone,” Vlad said when he answered his cell. 

“What? You text all the time, I’ve seen you,” Mayra accused. 

He smothered a sigh. Texting was not so different from writing letters. That is, if the rest of the world would stop persisting in such egregious breaches of grammar. He liked to hear Alice’s voice, and he would tolerate a call from William or Caleb, but it was not something he enjoyed.

Besides, Gwendolyn had put some infernal spell on it that kept playing ringing notifications every time a different imaginary creature was spotted.  

“Are you in trouble with the alien already?” he asked.  

“Not the alien; he’s fine. I’m bringing him back to the house. But what’s up with Penny? I just mentioned Alice’s name, and she sort of lost her shit.”

Vlad had to school himself not to break the phone in his hand. “The witch is of the mistaken belief that Gwendolyn is a monster. I would like to help disabuse her of that notion, but the God of Death does not wish me to take her confession.”

“So Alice yelled at you and told you not to be a dick?”

Vlad chuckled, Mayra’s response cooling some of his anger. “As you say.”

“She and my mom, so similar,” Mayra sighed, “Anyway, I don’t like how she was acting. And not just because she hates Alice, there was something in her eyes. I…”

The note of uncertainty in Mayra’s voice made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying we might have a problem,” she lowered her voice, “I know we’ve got a big exit plan but is there somewhere else we can go in the meantime?”

“What did she threaten to do?” Vlad demanded. Once before he made the mistake of delaying when danger was at his door, it cost him everything. He would not do so again.

“That’s just it,” Mayra said softly, “I don’t know what she might do. And that scares me.”

6 comments
  • 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.

      #TeamPenny

  • 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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