Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
“So that’s the plan,” Alice’s father announced, pointing at the board. “Straightforward. Simple.”
“Yep, simple,” Alice rolled her eyes, “I’ll just win the baking contest so we can pretend to get The Owl, which we already have. Then we’ll help our enemy steal it from us in a very public way before somehow eliminating her and making a completely impossible escape before anyone notices.”
The logical part of her understood that they had to get the heat off her back. Gwendolyn’s status as The Owl had to remain secret, and Alice’s family couldn’t very well stay here—they would be targets. Just thinking about how they were uprooting their lives filled her with guilt, and yet, watching them swoop in to save the day made her feel decidedly ungodlike. She didn’t use to mind taking a back seat, but now?
It kind of pissed her off.
“Not impossible,” her mother said, “Grim and I are reviewing the tenets of inter-dimensional portals and the metaphysics of being in more than one place at a time.”
“Oh, sorry, excuse me. I mean an escape that works perfectly fine save for the fact that everyone except me, Vlad, Grim, and Deacon need to be dead to enter the Underworld!” Alice eyed everyone at the table angrily.
“Gwendolyn can probably go too,” Deacon suggested. “Because she’s like a bird.”
This time, even Grim shook his head. “Gwendolyn is not a bird, Deac. The Owl is a metaphor.”
“And the plan has phases,” Cyrus reminded everyone. “First step, help Miss Hell and her accomplice get back to Windenburg.”
“No, no, Corporal Maverick Martin,” Alice repeated, impatience creeping into her voice. She motioned for Gwendolyn to go outside with Deacon.
The tiny terror pouted, her gray and pink eyes shining in the light. She had gotten some control of her dark form with Vlad’s help, but it was by no means consistent, and apparently, the eyes and the fangs were permanent.
Alice smothered a sigh and pulled the dagger out of Deacon’s back. The last thing she needed was her parents catching sight of that. She already got a lecture about Gwendolyn’s sleep schedule and lack of schooling, as if it wasn’t glaringly apparent that this was not an ideal situation. The joke was on them. She hated school even before this fucking chaos. The kid was probably delighted to not have to sit in some elementary school classroom.
And where did her parents get off telling her how to be a par—what to do with her kid?
“Stop stabbing him!” she mouthed and then angrily pointed at the back door.
“You’re looking for Corporal Maverick Martin?” a different voice on the phone asked, “You want us to pull him from his shift?”
Alice groaned; StrangerVille base was insanely bureaucratic. This was the third person she’d been transferred to. “Yes!” she snapped. Then remembering that Miss Hell could be there already, “Don’t tell him it’s his sister calling.”
“Oh, it’s you,” the voice turned flat, almost mocking. “You need bail money or bar tab money?”
Shit. Alice finally recognized who was speaking: Dylan Sigworth, a friend of her brother’s. He’d been over for dinner a bunch of times and flirted with Alice. The night they were supposed to go out, she’d been administering rites to a group of sims Ben swore had the spirits of ancient warriors inside them. They all came back to the house, drunk and rowdy, and drank some more.
Which was how Maverick and Dylan found her, passed out on the couch, and, for some reason, missing her shirt.
Hot shame burned through her. Not so much about the date, though it was a pretty dick move on her part. It was more from the fact that she’d borrowed money so liberally from Maverick that she was notorious for it.
Well, no more! She didn’t need money. The perks of being a god with a supernatural warlord meant she had plenty of money. Most of it in gold bars, priceless treasure, and off-shore accounts only Caleb knew how to access, but still.
“Okay, asshat, listen. I don’t need—” Alice paused. If Miss Hell got even a hint that they were manipulating her, the whole plan would go to shit. She did have an important role to play, apparently the role she had always played: the fuck-up.
Ignoring the way it cut at her pride, she sighed and made her voice sound pleading. “Uh yeah, you know me! Bail money. I’m in another country, which is technically a parole violation, so I’m in deep trouble. If he knows it’s me, he’ll hang up right away.”
Alice heard a snort of disbelief on the other line and then a long beat of silence before Maverick picked up the phone.
“Okay, they didn’t say who it was, but I know it’s you, Al—”
“What is your damn problem?” he hissed.
“Listen very closely to me. I’m with mom, dad, and Mayra. I know all of this will sound crazy, but you’ll confirm it if you look at dad’s notes. The woman in your custody was with a group of vampires, yes they are real, and I’ll get to that in a minute. One of them, Miss Hell, is super dangerous and might show up trying to get her back.”
She gave Maverick a minute to argue, but he didn’t.
“Actually,” he said wryly, “I believe you.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
“It’s not enough for Miss Hell to steal The Owl,” Cyrus continued, “She needs to be seen stealing The Owl.”
“Simple,” Amisiyia scoffed, “Event planning is a key part of my business. We will offer our services to the production company for free. It is clear they are cheapskates.”
Valeria lifted an eyebrow, “And that business is…”
“Imports/Exports,” Caleb answered brightly. No need to make it even harder for Alice’s family to accept them. His ears were still ringing from Mayra’s scream when she discovered Vlad and Gwendolyn trying to stuff a mortal heart into the ice cream maker.
“It has to be a location with good sight-lines, preferably close to the woods. It’ll make our exit more efficient,” Cyrus explained.
So far, Alice’s father was the most reasonable out of all of them. Caleb quite liked him.
“I have just the location in mind,” Amisyia purred, “And I solved our other problem too. We will not lose track of our mark.”
“Mark?” Valeria raised an eyebrow, “That’s an interesting choice of words.”
“Imports/Exports,” Caleb repeated with a tight smile.
He glanced around the dock again, ensuring that they weren’t being watched. Caleb was still dubious about this part of their errand. He was pretty sure Amisyia was doing it just to have an excuse to change into her siren form.
Before his talk with Vlad, he would have denied caring about it—caring about her. But what had that gotten him? Three hundred years and barely a close relationship to speak of.
Though the solution was anything but straightforward. Caleb did not like being lonely, but if he wasn’t lonely, he was overinvolved. There was no in-between. Even now, he couldn’t think of a single relationship where he wasn’t either holding back or engaged to an extreme.
How did he even begin to form relationships that weren’t co-dependent?
Amisyia finally popped up from the water, waving her hand, “Right where I left it,” she preened. A surge of carnal hunger hit him as he took in her sharp-toothed smile.
“Your clothes are on the dock,” he said, turning around. Not that it helped. The image of her half-naked body standing in his bathroom was burned into his memory. “We should finish setting up,” he called over his shoulder, cringing at how hoarse he sounded.
Crumplebottom Barn, Windenburg Countryside
Caleb tried to focus on his phone call, but Amisyia was making it incredibly difficult. He was sure her dress had been created for the express purpose of trying to kill him. He put a hand over the receiver, “There are not enough things bolted down. Are you trying to encourage the gnomes to rob everyone blind?”
Amisyia put a hand on her hip. “They are witnesses, Caleb; what do I care if they are robbed? So long as they see us being robbed.”
“Robbed?” On the phone, the postal service worker made a disapproving sound. “Sir, we cannot in good conscience allow for the shipping of illegal—”
“Nothing has been stolen. We only deal in the finest antiques,” Caleb assured him. “Now, we need this to go to the StrangerVille Military Base, care of…” he trailed off.
Why had she chosen those flowers? “Hold on a moment.”
He lowered the phone from his ear and marched over to her. “You want to put out these flowers? Are you insane? If someone tries to make a grab for The Owl before Miss Hell, the poison is too slow-moving.”
Amisyia smiled innocently and flashed him a peace sign.
“What are you doing?” Caleb sounded unsure.
“Counting down to—” he broke off, choking as his throat began to close up. The phone slipped from his fingers as he dropped to the ground.
“Is…there…an…antidote?” he croaked.
“That depends on your answer,” she said calmly, “Nod your head if you’re finished offering your unsolicited opinions.”
Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
“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—
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 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—”
“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.
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
“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.”
The In Between Inn
She didn’t have a name for it, this feeling that overwhelmed her. What made creatures look at Penny and decide that she did not warrant any kind of sacrifice? What made her so unworthy of being chosen? Maybe the witches were right. There was something inherently wrong with her.
She was alone because she was wicked.
Gwendolyn got saved—by a God, no less. And Vladislaus Straud, who was infamous for how little he cared for anything, outright adored her. A revolving door of caring adults had swooped in to ensure that Gwendolyn was safe.
That she lived.
That the ones who hurt her suffered.
That she was loved.
Practical magic help her; Penny was jealous.
Forcing herself out of bed, she trudged to her bathroom and switched on the light.
Was the wickedness inside her truly visible?
She was jealous of a fucking nine-year-old, that had to prove her cursed nature.
With her long dark brown hair and honey-colored eyes she looked just like her mother. To Penny, it was like being haunted by a ghost.
Seized with a desire to feel free from her ongoing misery, she tore off her top and grabbed a pair of scissors.
After leaving her keys and phone on the table, she closed and locked the door behind her. There was a feeling of lightness. She had been feeling stuck ever since a certain pink-haired pixie waltzed into her life.
At first, Miko’s departure was devastating. But that feeling faded to ambivalence so quickly, Penny was beginning to wonder if she simply imagined their entire friendship.
She conjured her broom, reveling in the warm feeling the magic gave her.
Magic and gods were different.
Magic had not betrayed her; it was there when she needed it.
Not like gods.
Penny had only had experience with one of them.
But one was enough for her to know…
Gods could be false.
Thank you to all the incredible cc and mod creators who made this possible. Check out my credits page for links!
New CC This Chapter
Male Modeling Poses Set 2 by Katverse
Model Poses 28 by Helgatisha
After Party Knockout by BinSuiSimmer
Daddy and Me by Sim_plyreality
Pick up the Phone by Princess Paranoia
Crying in my Bed by Sim_plyreality
Animation Pack #3 by Storysimmer
Cutting by NaroKissims
Windenburg Barn by Devon Bumpkin (honestly, his YouTube builds are ICONIC and I am obsessed)