I don’t have to tell you what a beast finishing this story is. It’s been a month! I’m a bit rusty, but I’m back in the game. There are only two more chapters left in BBD Book 1! That means we should wrap things up by the end of the month.
Have I said thank you already? Thank you for reading and going on this wild journey with me. Enjoy the story. And don’t worry, I’m sure it’s all gonna be *fine.*
::cue maniacal laughter::
StrangerVille Military Base
Miss Hell shifted in her seat. She had elected to wear something demure and conservative—it was part of her strategy—but it still rankled that she had to make herself small to suit the egos in the room. Most sims did not know enough about the law to understand whether a degree was obtained sixty-four years or sixty-four seconds ago. The two high-ranking officers in the room certainly did not.
Miss Hell had passed the bar, twice in fact, though she never actually had a chance to practice. There was the problem of being a woman and Somnus’s plans for Vladislaus, which most definitely did not include her JD. She didn’t understand the god’s obsession with Windenburg’s vampire king. So Vladislaus was rumored to have a few skills other vampires did not? Why would that warrant the God of Sleep’s attention to say nothing of his visceral hate?
Men. They were all idiots.
“I’ll have my firm forward you particulars once I’ve concluded meeting with my client,” she replied, forcing her expression into something resembling gracious.
The officers nodded their agreement and instructed Maverick to escort her back to the holding cells.
Once outside the door, he stopped her. “Your plan is going to fail,” he said flatly.
“I said: your plan is going to fail. I don’t know what it is, but you’ve only been here a few days, and you’re by yourself, so I can’t imagine it’s that good.”
Miss Hell narrowed her eyes. “And yet you led me back here instead of alerting your superiors.”
“We are in a military facility, ma’am. I can alert my superiors at any time, and you’ll be surrounded in five seconds flat.”
Ma’am? She almost didn’t care whose brother he was; Maverick was skating on thin ice. “Do I look like the kind of creature who is concerned about a few soldiers?”
She was concerned. Mortals were weak, but they bred like rabbits and had numbers on their side.
“I don’t think being a vampire will help you in this situation.”
“How did you—”
He smirked, “It’s not that hard to figure out. We’ve got that other vampire in holding, and your ‘client’ definitely isn’t a sim. Dr. Cordenali knows that, and once your little delay tactic is over, she’ll deliver her report to my superiors, and they’ll know too.”
“And you care because…?”
“Because you are obviously here to break her out,” Maverick explained as if she were somehow dense. His expression softened, “And I’m not trying to hold you back. In fact, I want to help you.”
Clearly, Jimena had been a busy bee even behind bars. Miss Hell didn’t know whether to celebrate the fact that everyone was so easily seduced by the demigod or give into the jealousy that threatened to eat her alive.
“How could you possibly help me?” she sneered.
Maverick was not cowed. “Well, for one, I can tell you that in addition to cameras in that holding room, there’s also now a guard on duty. Whatever distraction you create won’t work because the first thing they do is check the cells and, security for civilians is tighter on the way out, so even if you did escape, they’d detain you at the exit.”
Her lips parted, “Shit.”
Fuck. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Now the little jerk was standing there looking smug, and she was going to be forced to accept his help. He was supposed to be her captive, not her partner in crime!
Remember your goals, she told herself. With effort, she managed to arrange her face into a pleasant if flirtatious mask. “I’m sorry, what I meant to say was just what did you have in mind?”
The Elder Realms
2500 Years Ago
“I would have never invited half the creatures on this list,” Morgyn huffed.
“Then it is good, Untamed Magic, that this is not your party,” Marshala replied. The Goddess of Fertility gave a small laugh as she adjusted her dress. “My son compromised. If it were up to B’Ollithiranon, we’d be on the streets of the Elder Realms with every level of creature.”
Morgyn rolled their eyes, “He is foolish.”
“He is an idealist.”
Marshala did not disagree. Tensions were high in the land of the Gods. Just the other week, Omar had announced a trip to one of the far-off planets—Sixam or Sixsim, or some other such name. They had something called the Great Games, and the God of the Sun was enamored of their brutal methods for maintaining their hierarchy. Though Morgyn was sure his fascination was due in no small part to his desire to punish B’Ollithiranon.
Becoming a God was one thing. Becoming a God and throwing Omar over for his sister was quite another.
Sighing, Untamed Magic made their way to the chocolate fountain only to be intercepted by L. Faba.
“Say yes, Morgyn. I will not accept another answer.”
“Then you will not have an answer,” they replied, arching an eyebrow. “I have no interest in going to the mortal world. I am quite busy here.”
“Yes, I can see how needed you are,” Faba quipped, her gaze flicking to Marshala and Pinot canoodling in the corner.
Morgyn refused to the take bait, “I don’t expect you to understand.”
Untamed Magic was not like the other magics. None of them seemed to take having a god very seriously. Even if Marshala didn’t need them this exact second, they should still be close by.
“Don’t be cruel,” Janus warned, putting a hand on Faba’s shoulder. Transmutation Magic smiled warmly at Morgyn before giving Solis a heated look.
The Goddess of Reason’s decision to take up with her Magic was at best gauche and at worst…well…Morgyn heard the way the other Gods talked about her, and they agreed. Transmutation Magic belonged to her, there was an order to things. Blurring all these lines was how B’Ollithiranon ended up sleeping with Omar in the first place.
“You’re going to be a Sage?” they looked Janus up and down.
“Sage of Transmutation,” he laughed. “Eamus is supposed to be the third Sage but that’s not written in stone. Come with us.”
They rolled their eyes. Being trapped in the mortal realm alongside Eamus—Abjuration Magic—sounded like a special kind of torture. “There are only three Sages at a time,” they sniffed, “That’s how the Universe intended it. Who am I to question her?”
“Come on, Morgyn. She’s not opposed to change,” Janus insisted, “We talk about it all the time.”
Untamed Magic suppressed a snort. Janus was just as frivolous as Faba. When he wasn’t lying with Solis, he traveled the realms checking on his beloved projects. That was something he and the Universe had in common. Sims were her “special” experiment. The demands she made on other, stronger creatures to care for them were beyond ridiculous.
Still, Morgyn kept their mouth shut. They knew when to keep their own counsel. “I’ll think about it,” they lied. “If you’ll excuse me, I believe the festivities are starting.”
They had practiced B’Ollithiranon’s entrance multiple times. And yet, candles extinguished at random, green smoke filled the air, and rather than the intricate throne of bones Morgyn spent weeks sourcing, there was a coalition of zombies who were, alarmingly, beginning to rot in the summer heat.
The only benefit was that Omar stopped his side conversation with the Titans to look both intrigued and disgusted.
And who could blame him? B’Ollithiranon was striking, even as he bumbled around the platform.
Discreetly, Morgyn relit the candles with a flick of their hand. They worried about Omar and the Titans. The Rushlight had made it clear he did not agree with Omar’s plans and that spelled trouble. Shaking their head, they tried to refocus on B’Ollithiranon’s speech but he had already veered off course.
“…I am not the only demigod worthy of being granted godhood. Should the rest remain locked out simply because they cannot gain enough power to achieve great works?”
If B’Ollithiranon ever gave a care about what anyone else thought, he’d realize that the gasps filling the courtyard were of insult and horror. Morgyn covered their eyes.
The newly minted God of Death continued, “That’s why I’ve created something to ensure that I am not the last to be added to the pantheon of great gods,”—he paused to pull Elmyra up—”I know it’s not traditional, this being my ascension, but my love shares my vision….”
Marshala and Pinot beamed and Morgyn was reminded that they were the only one who saw the danger in B’Ollithiranon falling in love. Again.
Just then, a giant purple owl flew through the air towards the stage and landed on a perch. Elmyra blushed as the God of Death pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Everyone, this is The Owl of Ascension. With it, Elmyra and I plan to make lots of gods, from all levels of houses…”
Morgyn didn’t hear the rest of what B’Ollithiranon said. They were too distracted by the rage on Omar’s face.
StrangerVille Military Base
Miss Hell marveled at Maverick’s ability to set everyone at ease wherever he went. Favors fell to him like cities used to fall for the kings of old. When she first met Vladislaus, he had the same energy, and she had been drawn to it. Oh he was half-broken now, carrying on a misguided obsession with the God of Death, but in his early days? He had been beautiful and cruel.
Shaking off the memory, she dutifully leaned up against Maverick as he negotiated with his friend.
“You got ten minutes,” the soldier stage-whispered, giving them a wink.
“Thanks, man, I owe you one.”
He led Miss Hell to the far end of the room and lifted her against the wall. “Remember,” he murmured, “The cameras blackout when they first activate night vision; that’s your window.”
His hands gripped her thighs and she wondered, briefly, if she might have gotten it backwards. Maybe it was Maverick who seduced Jimena. Either way, she hoped the demigod was watching this part of the plan with envy. She hoped Jimena was practically dizzy with it, so when Miss Hell finally showed her why there was no need to be jealous, the half-god almost passed out from relief.
The deafening sound of a zipper drew her out of her fantasy. Over Maverick’s shoulder, she could see his friend winking and pointing, fly open. How many times would he wink if she ripped his throat out with her teeth?
Without warning, Maverick dropped her legs and flipped her around, so she was facing the wall. “Easy does it,” he warned, “We need him alive for this plan to work.”
Miss Hell flattened her palm against the wall, trying to tamp down her rage.
“Hey Maloney,” Maverick shouted, “Fuck off.” He leaned in close, “Are you good? We don’t have to—”
The door banged closed, and Miss Hell let herself dissolve into bat form without answering.
She could have swept through those vents on fury alone, but she slowed down, counting the turns until she reached the research office. Discarding her bat form, she slammed her hand down on the light switch. The lone scientist in the room, turned around and shrieked.
“Oh, gosh, you scared me,” she panted, “I didn’t realize anyone else was in here.”
“I’m sorry,” Miss Hell replied, voice dripping saccharine.
“Y-You don’t have to apologize—” she started.
“Oh, but I do.”
The Elder Realms
2500 Years Ago
“What are you doing?” Morgyn seethed when they found B’Ollithiranon on the back balcony.
“Come, drink,” he shouted, “Be merry! Pinot’s enchanted all the nectar!”
Morgyn growled, checking again to make sure they were alone. “Are you insane? Elmyra cares for nothing other than torturing her brother. She will not help you make more gods, at least not in the way you’re describing, which is, Universe help us all, ridiculous. The Owl of Ascension—”
“And Undoing,” B’Ollithirnanon hiccuped. “I didn’t mention that part, because it’s a secret…no, fail-safe…wait, no, it’s a secret, but it has a fail-safe and—”
Morgyn shushed him and then tried to quiet their own panic. Did the idiot not realize what would happen if word got out that something could unmake Gods? “Undoing? You must see that Omar is furious. Have you not read a single one of my briefings? The God of the Sun talks of nothing but cullings and dynasties. And his sister—”
“Dynasties, schmynasties,” B’Ollithiranon paused to burp, “Elmyra would never use The Owl for bad. She doesn’t even know what the bad is. It’s a special secret. That’s a little gift from me,”—he hiccuped again—”to you!”
“I don’t want a special secret!” Morgyn snapped, “I hate secrets!”
In response, B’Ollithiranon hunched over and threw up on their shoes.
StrangerVille Military Base
Miss Hell tried to ignore the rough feel of the cotton lab coat against her skin. After a quick change of clothes, she washed off her make-up and brushed out her hair. A glance at her cell phone camera showed her how plain she looked. But there was nothing for it now; it was a necessary part of the plan.
Holding the limp researcher up, she shuffled forward, pretending to struggle with the weight. “Help!” she cried, letting the woman drop. “Please help!”
Maloney rushed over, and just as Miss Hell predicted, he didn’t recognize her.
“Maverick! Get out here, man! We got a problem!”
“Alright, alright, relax,” Maverick soothed. He walked over to the prone researcher and knelt down just as the smoke bomb they planted earlier detonated in the vent system.
Maloney began to panic. One of the officers from earlier came running, Dr. Cordenali right beside him.
With the smoke acting as a cover, Miss Hell sped over to the holding cell door and slipped inside.
“Quickly,” she hissed, throwing Jimena a set of clothes. “You’ve got one minute before the smoke in here is so thick, you won’t be able to see.”
Jimena gave her an arch look, “You want me to wear that?”
“I want you to survive, though gods help me I don’t know why,” Miss Hell growled. This was not the reunion she had pictured. Using the keys Maverick gave her, she unlocked the cell. “When you get in the hall, you’ll have to drag and dress your replacement. We can give you a few minutes of distraction, but that’s it. So work fast, demigod.”
“Work fast? I can hardly—”
Miss Hell ignored her and dashed out the door, coughing loudly as she made her way towards Maverick’s superior. Before the man could even open his mouth, she swooned and “fainted” in his arms.
Meanwhile, she could hear Maverick shouted confusing and horrifying instructions at Maloney like “Check your skin for sores!” and “Don’t breathe through your right nostril!”
Miss Hell remained limp, but it was almost impossible to keep a straight face as the instructions grew increasingly ridiculous. Finally, she peeked open an eye and saw the smoke clear.
To her credit, Jimena was a good actress even if she didn’t know the plan. She stumbled to her feet, clutching her side, “I’m alright; I just need to go to the med bay.”
The officer nodded and motioned at Maverick and Maloney, “I want a read on that smoke bomb. If this is some sort of terrorist attack, then—”
“Oh my,” Miss Hell simpered, “I heard two soldiers talking about playing a practical joke earlier. I didn’t think about it until just now, but do you believe these incidents are connected?”
“Idiots, ” the officer sighed. “Maloney, go and check the prisoner. Maverick, bring these ladies to the med bay.”
“Yes, sir!” they saluted.
The Elder Realms
2300 Years Ago
The lanterns burned low, if they burned at all. With the portal masters having fallen to Omar, almost no one was willing to be out on the streets anymore. Morgyn watched helplessly as Marshala paced by the window and then went uncharacteristically boneless when Pinot hugged her.
“I want to call Orbalis home to replenish his energy,” she sobbed, “But I don’t want him to have to cross through the portal. They’ll make a note of him, and then Omar will use my own child against me.”
No longer conduits between worlds, the portal masters were now Omar’s spies. Orbalis was a god, but he was so young that he had no followers yet. He still needed to come home for a few weeks at a time to be closer to more powerful gods, like his parents.
“Is no one willing to carry him forth for you?” Morgyn tried.
Pinot shook his head as Marshala pulled away, “Gods with their own realms are loathe to trek to here for fear they won’t return. Maybe it’s for the best he can’t come back.”
For the best? Could Pinot not see how she was hurting? They sliced a hand through the air, “That is absurd! We will talk to the Fates. Surely, they can’t allow this.”
“They deliver Fate,” Pinot shot back. “They don’t make it. They will not intervene, even you aren’t naive enough to—”
Marshala’s sob cut them both off. She took a deep breath, trying desperately to compose herself. “What if he becomes forgotten?”
Forgotten gods were lost to Time. Where she took them, no one knew. But their magical signatures, even their names, became a hazy memory and then nothing at all.
“He won’t,” Morgyn insisted, furrowing their brow. “I’ll sneak him in with the next round of Threads. A thousand are expected for the birthday celebration; no one is likely to notice one extra creature milling about.”
The dust kicked up as they surveyed the plane. She hadn’t been to StrangerVille in at least a hundred years. Back then, they called it Strangetown, and it was a barely-there outpost with one bar and a half-constructed church.
She nudged a tumbleweed with her foot.
Not much had changed.
“What are we doing here?” Jimena complained, “It’s hot, these clothes are ghastly, and I’m tired of this world.”
Miss Hell snuck a look at Maverick. In her fantasy—the one where Jimena was grateful, not a whiny little brat—she imagined them both having a bit of fun with the mortal before they figured out the best way to leverage him. They were supposed to be partners. Even now, Miss Hell threw her entire plan into chaos just to take a detour for this rescue. She didn’t imagine the attraction that had burned between them since Windenburg. Where was the powerful huntress who dared to call her Anastasia and spoke of them together in the Elder Realms?
I thought you were just using her, an insidious little voice whispered.
Maverick let out a long-suffering sigh, “We are here because they will be hot on our tails and assume we left town. This is a place we can rest overnight and then get a change of clothes and set out tomorrow.”
“This is your place?” Jimena frowned.
“No, it’s a secret palace owned by your mother,” Miss Hell snapped, “Of course, it’s his place. Now shut up, and let’s get the hell off the street before someone sees us.”
Maverick snickered as they walked inside. “It’s not my place,” he whispered, “I know a guy. But still, thanks.”
Miss Hell hated that she wanted to return his smile.
“What in the worlds took you so long?” Jimena complained, “You expect me to shower in this filth trailer, and you used up all the hot water?”
“The phrase you’re looking for is ‘thank you, Miss Hell, for coming all the way to west bumblefuck to bail me out of a military prison. You can take as long as you want in the shower.’“
Jimena rolled her eyes and stomped into the bathroom. Somehow, Miss Hell managed not to strangle her.
“She is…” Maverick hesitated, as they sat on the floor.
“Insufferable. I know. Great tits, terrible attitude.”
He laughed, “But you like her.”
“I’m using her,” Miss Hell corrected, though the lie sounded ridiculous even to her own ears.
He rested his elbow on his knee and gave her a long look. “I loved someone like that once. They took up so much space, I didn’t even realize I was suffocating.”
Am I suffocating? The thought was automatic. She kept her mouth shut as Maverick poured out his story and tried to ignore the buzzing against her skin as he listed the red flags that sounded painfully familiar.
“As a last resort, I bought her this necklace: the ‘heart of Sulani,’ and she threw it in my face. Called it cheap. I still carry it around in my pocket like an idiot.” He rubbed the back of his head, “Or maybe not an idiot. Maybe just as a reminder that I can’t chase after someone who didn’t choose me.”
The buzzing grew almost unbearable. If he was an idiot, what did that make Miss Hell? “Love is such a mortal emotion. You’re all so desperate to belong to someone or something. Let me give you some advice, Maverick. Stop caring. I don’t. It’s how I’ve survived so long.”
They stopped talking when Jimena stepped out of the bathroom. She didn’t spare them so much as a glance before she commandeered the bed and shut off the lights.
The message could not have been more clear.
“Why would you risk everything to help us?” Miss Hell asked quietly. Jimena hadn’t seduced him, and she couldn’t fathom another reason he would willingly do something so dangerous.
“You don’t know this, but my sister is different,” he said finally. “Like you. A…something I thought couldn’t exist but does. And if she ever got into trouble, I would want someone to help her. Like I’m helping you.”
“You mean Jimena.”
“I mean you,” he said firmly.
Miss Hell tried to ignore the warmth spreading through her. Maverick was not meant to be her friend. She knew exactly who and what his sister was, and she was planning to leverage him to get what she wanted: a ticket off this planet with The Owl. And she’d bring the demigod along not because she was stupid but because…
She slid down the wall and pulled her knees in close.
“Why are you helping her?” Maverick asked, taking a seat next to her.
Miss Hell pinched the bridge of her nose. Why indeed?
She meant to lie, to hold him at a distance like she held everyone else. But she was so exhausted, and no matter which way she tried to turn it, she wasn’t executing a master plan. She wasn’t a hundred steps ahead of everyone else. She wasn’t avoiding their mistakes.
“I’m stupid,” she said numbly. “I’m in over my head, and I don’t know how to get out.”
His eyebrows rose.
“I made a deal with a god. A terrible deal, and of course it was, because gods are liars and cheats and the worst kind of monsters. And I’ve been paying for that deal my whole long life. Suffering for it. And I can’t get away.”
“Can’t you?” His question was so earnest, so naive.
“No.” It was a truth she had not even verbalized to herself. She swiped at her eyes. “All this time, I’ve been walking a path that someone else laid out for me, and every time I think I’m breaking out, I find myself manipulated again. Now, I’ve risked everything for…for…” she choked, unable to say make herself say the words, to articulate what must be evident to him now. “I’m propelling myself forward on nothing but hope and a prayer to the gods out me in this situation in the first place.”
“Can I?” he asked, his hand hovering next to her.
She froze and then nodded, letting out a long breath as he gently rubbed the back of her neck. It had been a long time since anyone comforted her, and for a few minutes, she let herself enjoy it.
They made quick work of the blow-up mattress, and even though she wasn’t tired, Miss Hell curled up on her side and closed her eyes. She felt Maverick sit down on the edge of the bed beside her.
“Are all gods really liars and monsters?”
“Yes,” Miss Hell answered without hesitation. “It’s their nature. How or why I don’t know. But I’ve never had cause to meet one who didn’t have cruelty at the core.”
Maybe it was wrong to say. If Alice got her hands on The Owl, she would become a god, and Maverick would undoubtedly relay all of Miss Hell’s commentary.
“They are dangerous,” she warned, “Even if you think you know them.”
Belatedly, she realized that she already decided to let him go. They could part ways in Windenburg. She and Jimena could still get off this planet, and that would be enough. They didn’t need The Owl.
“Maybe you can get away this time,” he breathed, “If you just run and don’t look back.”
She didn’t know why, but his words felt like he was warning her too.
The Elder Realms
2100 Years Ago
Darkness flooded the vestibule. Morgyn materialized and stepped out from the shadows to meet the God of Death.
“The Realm Gods are gone,” they hissed by way of greeting, “Not even I can recall their names or even their worlds. Is this what you had in mind with your little Owl?”
“They are not gone. The Realm Gods are the oldest among us. They’ll return.”
Morgyn clenched their fists and advanced on the god, “They are Forgotten.”
“Perhaps that’s best for now,” B’Ollithiranon shrugged, pushing past them. “I need to see my mother.”
“Best for now?” they grabbed for him. “There is no such thing as a Remembered god!” They hated how desperate they sounded, but they couldn’t help it. The God of Death sat in the Underworld. He had no idea the suffering going on above. “Marshala took you in because she cared for you, and this is how you repay her? Her son is—”
“My brother is in the Water Realm visiting the Gods of Mer. Yes, I know.”
Morgyn narrowed their eyes but said nothing.
“Is it the word ‘brother’ that bothers you? The fact that I am so lowly, and yet, I count myself part of this family? If you feel so similarly to Omar, you need only trek to his palace. I’m sure you know the way.”
The insult burned. All these centuries helping gods and demigods escape, working with the Titans to try and mount some sort of counter, and B’Ollithiranon dared to compare them to Omar?
“Marshala worries herself sick!” Morgyn chastised, “And what use is that stable of monsters you keep if you won’t use them for anything? What about Agony or Fear?”
As soon as the words left their mouth, they cringed. Phobos was a foul creature and fundamentally unhinged. It wasn’t exactly clear how B’Ollithiranon had personified concepts, but making Fear had been a mistake.
Something unreadable flashed across the God’s face. “That’s not their purpose. And anyways, Phobos would find godhood prohibitive.”
“What about Somnus?” Morgyn tried, “He could be the God of Sleep. He’s reasonably sane and—”
“You don’t know what it’s been like here. Just destroy The Owl and Omar will stop chasing it.”
B’Ollithiranon shook his head and Morgyn found themselves unwilling to accept another refusal. “If you don’t,” they said quietly, “I will.”
Conjuring a ball of power, they let the full weight of untamed magic fill the air.
“You are young,” they rasped, “Foolish. And ages from now, you will thank me for saving you from your naive preoccupations.”
The blast knocked B’Ollithiranon off his feet.
“Don’t bother getting up,” Morgyn spat, “I’ll send word when I’m finished.”
But the God of Death did get up. Faster than Morgyn would have thought possible given the strength of their attack. He extended a clawed hand, angry energy swirling around it, and lifted Morgyn into the air.
A thread of terror lit through Untamed Magic as they found themselves choking and struggling to get free.
“What is that saying you are so fond of? Ah, yes, magic cannot die. But magic is not a body. A body can bend and break and struggle and suffer.” He punctuated every word with another flash of power that felt like lightning shooting through Morgyn’s veins.
Vision swimming, they let out a pained, gurgling sound.
“Is that an apology?” he chuckled, the cadence of his words cold and unfeeling.
Panic warred with agony as Morgyn felt the blood vessels burst in their eyes. There was no warning before B’Ollithiranon released his magic, dropping Untamed Magic to the ground.
The God of Death had grown stronger over the past few centuries, crueler too. “You’ve changed,” they panted, “What happened to you?”
“I forgive you Morgyn. These are hard times and it’s not surprising that you lost your temper.” He reached for the handle on the door, “But if you ever mention destroying The Owl again, I will show you the many things that lie between here and oblivion.”
San Myshuno, The Spice District
Maverick pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store. They had been driving for hours and were now cutting through San Myshuno.
“It’ll be easy to lose anyone following us here,” he explained. “The city is pretty big and we can lose the car and make our way to the airport on public transportation.” He quirked an eyebrow and lowered his voice, “It would be easy to lose her too.”
The “her” in question was already in full form. She hated the clothes they wore, the truck was uncomfortable, and she wanted to book a room in the hotel they used during auditions for the contest. That they had next to no money and were trying to avoid attention didn’t seem to matter.
“Don’t tempt me,” Miss Hell warned, her eyes dancing with laughter.
As soon as they walked in, the store clerk went on break. Not that it gave them an advantage. There were cameras everywhere.
“Do vampires eat?” Maverick asked as they browsed the aisles.
“We can,” Miss Hell explained, “Though we don’t have to. In fact, sometimes it’s easier not to. The more mortal things you do, the easier it is to get confused…to forget that you’re different.”
Maverick rubbed his chin, “I have a hard time imagining you forgetting you’re not mortal. How old are you even?”
She never gave away accurate information about herself, even to Vladislaus, and she had spent centuries by his side. “350,” she confessed. “Or thereabouts. I was born sometime around 1670. It’s…”—did she dare continue?—”It’s a guess. In those days, there was no such thing as a birth certificate, so the nuns did the best they could.”
Maverick turned to her, surprised on his face. “You were—”
Jimena’s complaints saved her from responding.
“I am the daughter of the Goddess of the Hunt, and you expect me to eat pre-packaged meat!?”
“The alternative is starving,” Miss Hell muttered under her breath. But out loud, she said, “Just pick something and be done with it. We’ll leave the cash on the counter.”
They made their way to the front of the store only to find two mysterious brown bags and a pile of simoleons.
“Don’t touch it!” Miss Hell cried.
But it was too late. Jimena grabbed to the stacks of cash, stuffing them into her pockets. “Do what you want, but I’m flying first class with this!”
San Myshuno Police Department
They were booked quickly and separated. There wasn’t a prison that could hold Miss Hell, given her vampiric abilities. But even if she could escape, Jimena and Maverick couldn’t. Getting out of this situation would require finesse. And fast-thinking, the last thing they needed was for these officers to check the APB and discover they weren’t just holding a group of petty thieves.
“You can keep your mouth shut, but if I was you, I’d be singing like a canary. Your little friends will. How did you know the drugs were being dropped off?” he demanded.
Miss Hell glanced nervously at the two-way mirror, trying to buy herself time to think. He looked over too and laughed, “No one on the other side will help you. Now, give me a name!”
Of course, no one on the other side was going to help her! She wasn’t a fool, she could see—
She could see nothing. Vampires had no reflection. That was the case ever since a powerful witch cursed every mirror in an attempt to root out the threat of “plasma-suckers” in one fell swoop. Their numbers had thinned considerably as vampires scrambled to avoid detection by suspicious townspeople adorning their entryways with mirrors.
But the officer gazed at her lack of reflection and didn’t even flinch. Which meant…
“Whose territory am I in? And don’t play stupid. I am a vampire, and I request an audience.”
She didn’t have to wait long, though when the vampires finally did show up, she almost regretted her request.
“You are in the territory of the Contessa,” a vampire detective in a purple blouse announced, “And when you are in her presence, you will bow.”
Miss Hell hesitated but only for a moment. If there was a vampire worth fearing, it was the Contessa. She was very old and bloodthirsty to the core.
But she also craved power, and that meant she could be negotiated with. After affecting a perfect curtsey, Miss Hell jutted out her chin. “I have a proposition for you.”
“Proposition?” Contessa purred, “How quaint. Danielle, bring me a chair.”
Danielle raced out of the room and returned a few minutes later with a chair and a glass of plasma. It was a power play, but Miss Hell could manage that. She clasped her hands behind her back and lowered her head, giving the best performance of “obedient servant” she could muster.
The Queen of San Myshuno didn’t respond right away. Sipping at her plasma, she sized Miss Hell up. Finally, she spoke. “Your name?”
“Miss Hell, I’m from—”
“Windenburg. Yes. I am aware. You and your king are making quite a habit of traipsing through lands that don’t belong to you.”
Miss Hell swallowed. “I—”
“No,” she replied pleasantly, “This won’t do. When you come into my territory as an enemy, you negotiate with me on your knees.”
Miss Hell blinked. It was stupid not to just tamp down her pride. Pride wouldn’t keep her alive. Pride wouldn’t get her a deal. And yet, she couldn’t make her muscles comply.
“Are you having trouble with your hearing?” Danielle asked. “I can help with that.” Her feral grin made it clear exactly what kind of help she intended to give.
“I’m here with a request,” Miss Hell said stubbornly.
“You’re here with a request, and you have nothing to give,” Contessa growled. Her eyes glowed, “Your knees, vampire, or get out of my sight so I can have my meal.”
She couldn’t just leave. She needed Jimena and Maverick freed too. With effort, she forced herself down to the ground. One calming breath, then two, and when she was sure she could speak without bitterness coating her tongue, she made her pitch.
“Myself and my two compatriots were caught up in an unfortunate misunderstanding. We have no intention of interfering with your territory. In fact, we plan to return to Windenburg as soon as possible. We’re retrieving The Owl of Undoing…”
She let the sentence hang in the air. It was always best to let the mark fill in the rest, or else you risked promising them something they didn’t really want.
“I have heard of this Owl,” she shrugged, “But still, you have nothing to offer me, and I am not inclined to grant you anything. Now, which one of your little friends should I start with, and would you like to watch?”
“Yet,” Miss Hell corrected, suppressing a tremor, “I have nothing to offer you yet, but I will once I have The Owl, and then I’ll owe you a favor.”
Contessa paused. “Favor? I do love favors…what do you think, Danielle?”
Danielle was smart enough to know this was not a real question. “A favor is always good,” she agreed.
“It’s settled then,” she lifted her glass in the air as if to toast.
Relief flooded Miss Hell’s veins.
“There is still the small matter of my dinner. Tell me, vampire, which of your little friends are you most attached to?”
The Elder Realms
2000 Years Ago
The courtyard bore all the hallmarks of the trial Omar conducted earlier that week. A few more demigods had their power drained. They became mortal, and that was when the Pious God’s real fun began. Executions would have been better—a mercy even. But the Pious God of the Sun did not believe in mercy.
“You don’t return any of my messages,” L. Faba complained.
Morgyn balled their hands into fists, “I don’t have time. Are you not paying attention? Look around you, Faba. This world is nearly empty, and you want to complain about Cryptomancy as a Sage?”
“Yes!” she cried, “The mortal world has none of these problems. The witches, oh, you should see them. They will really be something once they’ve learned all the magics. And Cryptomancy is insufferable, even you know that. Come with me. Leave this behind.”
Morgyn stared at her, an incredulous look sketched across their face. “Solis called Janus home. Don’t you see how serious this is?”
She crossed her arms and looked away. Faba felt no sense of responsibility for the Elder Realms. Morgyn might be untamed magic, but she was the one who led an untethered life.
“We finally have The Owl back from Omar. I don’t have time for this conversation.” They turned on their heel.
“Morgyn, wait!” Faba cried, grabbing their arm. “Is Nyx on his radar yet? Does he know we helped you?”
Her desperation was familiar. Up until this moment, Morgyn was sure their’s had hardened into something else. They shook their head, “No, Omar does not suspect Nyx is anything other than loyal.”
Faba threw her arms around them, crying softly. “Thank you, thank you. I don’t know what I would do if…he can’t find out that…”
It was surprising the way Mischief Magic clung to them, her shoulders shaking with some combination of relief and fear. Her time in the mortal world was changing her. This affection was a weakness. Morgyn could see that now, even if they couldn’t ignore the way it tugged at their heart.
“Don’t worry,” they said softly, “It’s our secret.”
B’Ollithiranon stood by the doorway, rubbing absently at his arms. Elmyra sat in a chair by the corner, exhaustion hunching her shoulders. The Owl was severely broken, packed in a box with some sort of machine attached. It wasn’t clear how the device would help. The God of Death would only say it came from Sixam, which did not quell Morgyn’s worry.
“It won’t make it,” the Goddess of the Hunt whispered, her eyes haunted.
“How convenient for you to be worried about that now,” Morgyn snarled. Elmyra had not once acted to stop her brother, and she hadn’t used The Owl to make new gods either. Why had they even helped these two idiots retrieve the damn thing? It would have been better to let The Owl die in Omar’s hands.
“Centuries and not a single new god!” they hissed, pulse speeding, “You have no army! No recourse! And yet you sob.”
“That’s not true,” B’Ollithiranon insisted.
“Don’t,” Elmyra warned.
“We made Somnus,” he admitted, ignoring her. “He wanted to fight, and I thought…I thought you might be right. But that went sideways.”
“Well, that’s another enemy god to add to the list.” Morgyn scrubbed a hand over their face, “We should go to the Fates. They looked the other way when we brought Orbalis back. They always know what to do.”
“No,” B’Ollithiranon closed his eyes. “They always know what must happen. And they’ll push you towards it regardless of whether it will destroy you.”
“Then we are out of options! We should turn right back around and drop The Owl on Omar’s doorstep.”
“I would never!” the God of Death shouted. “And he won’t back down. Omar’s magic helped make The Owl. He feels entitled to it.”
“What?” They could not be hearing him right. “What are you even saying?” they whispered.
Elmyra crossed to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. B’Ollithiranon sighed, resting his chin on the top of her head. “The Universe told me the magics I would need. You, to give it a chaotic nature. Abjuration to suppress other magical effects, Transmutation to manipulate forms and outcomes. I still needed Evocation to manipulate energy and unseen forces. I knew Omar would disapprove, so I went behind his back.”
“You had help,” Elmyra admitted, “There was no betraying my brother without my assistance.”
“I thought he would get past it,” B’Ollithiranon continued, “I thought he’d see the benefits of more gods, and he’d let it go. I thought he’d let me go. I underestimated the depth of his possessiveness.”
The same terror that lit through them all those centuries ago returned. Gods as powerful as Omar couldn’t die, not without The Owl.
“Why do this? Why curse us like this!” Morgyn cried. Only the Titans made efforts to stand against The Pious God of the Sun, and they were failing miserably. Everyone was failing. “Tell me!” they shouted, firing off a blast of power.
The God of Death did not fight back.
But neither did he answer.
Shrieking Llama Pub
“Tell me!” Morgyn woke up screaming, “Tell me!”
William’s voice was so gentle. “I am trying, you’ve not been hearing me. Are you alright? I thought rest would have helped.”
“I’m fine!” Morgyn snapped, swinging their legs over the side of the bed. They rubbed their eyes in frustration. The nightmares—memories—always left them feeling out of sorts. They hadn’t even realized the vampire was talking.
“We need to get to them. Omar doesn’t know where they are but the things he talked about, the things he knew,” William hesitated, “It was concerning.”
Morgyn nodded, and stood, but immediately gripped the wall for support.
“What is happening to you?” the vampire asked.
What was Morgyn supposed to say? That they were unstable because the Goddess of Fertility was gone? Were they supposed to confess every ruthless sacrifice they had made in hopes of maintaining this form? In hopes of getting The Owl?
Did they tell the man they loved that they still meant to get The Owl and use it as it was intended? That to do so would involve a small betrayal but it would save his life?
A whole world.
Morgyn was going to destroy Omar the only way they knew how. “I’m fine,” they lied instead, “My power is just unsettled at the moment. It will pass in a bit.”
San Myshuno Police Department
“Finally,” Jimena sighed. “We’re free and clear. How soon before we can be on a flight to Windenburg?”
Mavericks’s screams had gone on for nearly an hour. Contessa made sure their discharge went on long enough to hear—a reminder of her ruthlessness.
Some combination of grief and nausea swirled in her gut. She was glad to have lied to the Queen of San Myshuno. Let her wait for her favor from The Owl; she’d be waiting forever.
Miss Hell put her hand in her pocket, running her fingers against the Heart of Sulani necklace Maverick left for her.
She had tried it on before they left, staring at the blank space in the mirror, wishing she could see it.
Don’t chase after someone who won’t choose you, he scrawled on a note next to the jewelry box.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, Miss Hell believed herself worthy, and she did have a reflection.
Before Somnus and Madame Caliente—
Before she was Miss Hell or Jimena’s caretaker or Vlad’s lover and enemy—
Back then, she was just Anastasia. She lived in Glimmerbrook, where a lovely couple picked her up from the orphanage and took her in.
She was Anastasia Barrister, her parents were Gwendolyn and Robert, and she loved them.
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