CW: Strong language, adult situations, violence, gore, and a character experiencing PTSD.
Sims InTouch Magazine
She was choking, muscles spasming, eyes fluttering as if her body was not yet ready to give up the ghost. Panic exploded in her veins as the wolf opened its jaw. Her heart gave one last desperate thump and—
With a sharp intake of breath, Penny sat straight up. Not again. She reached for her mug of coffee, only to find it empty, which—of course. Why did she even bother coming into work? At least at home there were soft pillows to roll onto when she woke up screaming.
“Hey,” Billie tapped on her cubicle wall.
It was a light tap, but it still scared the living daylights out of her. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Me? I was just coming by to ask about the Anastasia story. Are you okay?”
“People who are fine don’t usually yell.”
Penny scrubbed a hand over her face. She could say it was the coffee making her jumpy, but that would be an even more apparent lie. “I’m meeting with Anastasia tonight to get a few more quotes. I’ll have it wrapped up by the weekend. And I know it’s late; I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately.”
Billie’s expression softened. “I’m sorry. You’ll let me know if you need anything?”
Real concern? Offers of help? Was this the same woman she broke up with?
“Because this is a big story,” Billie continued, “We already got scooped when everyone else wrote about how she flipped out on you.”
Nope, definitely the same woman. Penny stood and started packing her bag, not trusting herself to say anything more than “noted” before shoving past her ex/boss.
Why were her romantic partners only ever concerned with what she could do for them?
Willow Creek, Goth Household
Mortimer whistled as he waltzed into the kitchen and flipped on the coffeemaker. “Ready to face the demons?”
The bright expression he wore grated on Bella, even though he was clearly joking. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, and she tried hard not to feel resentful. The result of their last argument was that she would fill in more while Mortimer went back to work.
I let you pursue your career, and now I’m asking you to return the favor.
“Glad to do it.” She resisted slamming down her phone before trudging upstairs.
Alexander was the first and easiest to rouse. “Morning, mom! Can I wear my Voidcritters shirt under my uniform?”
“Sure,” Bella ruffled his hair. Smugglesworth Prep probably wouldn’t love it, but then again, she wasn’t the one who wanted the kids in a private school.
Cassandra was next, and the genuine challenge of the morning, but surprisingly the teen was up and ready.
“Have you seen my black boots? Dad said I could go to the cast party after the play, and I want to wear them.”
Shit! The play! Bella forgot that was tonight. “In the laundry room, next to the box with the winter sweaters.”
Thanks? Was this really her kid? “I’m proud of you,” Bella added, enjoying the rare moment of non-angst. “You’re gonna be amazing tonight.” She glanced out the window, “But boots? It’s gonna be hot today.”
“Not to me. And anyways, it’s called fashion,” Cassandra deadpanned. “How does dad know more about it than you?”
Downstairs, Bella stared at her husband, trying to figure it out. Did he really know more about fashion? Cassandra had to be joking.
“You’ll pick up flowers for Cassie before the show?” He phrased it as a question, but it was a reminder.
“Yep, I got it. I’ll swing by the shop this afternoon.”
“Afternoon?” Mortimer’s lips pressed tight. “Why afternoon? I thought you weren’t working today. Bella, we agreed that—”
She held up a hand to silence him while she worked to throttle her temper. “You asked me to get flowers last night, and I said I’d do it. This is my day off, so excuse me if I want to practice a little self-care with a long run before I do errands.”
He flexed his fingers, but gave her a tight smile. “Right, of course, you’ll handle it. I’m sorry I suggested otherwise.”
Her run took her through their neighborhood and down past the trolley station where the suburbs of Willow Creek met up with San Myshuno.
A familiar house came into view, and Bella cut through the garage that she and Penny left unlocked.
It was just a hunch, but she wondered if Penny’s source and the werewolf were one and the same. The tabloid headline made the story sound salacious but what Penny actually wrote was empathetic. The unnamed source gave a series of instructions about how to avoid werewolf altercations which—looking back—she and Penny probably should have heeded. They took great pains to warn everyone about a dangerous black wolf in Oasis Springs. Clearly, they weren’t trying to implicate themselves. So what did they know? Was the black wolf connected to Eliza’s tooth necklace? Was Eliza a wolf?
In the kitchen, Bella started rifling through drawers. She didn’t know jack shit about tracking werewolves, but werewolves weren’t always wolves, right? Sometimes they were sims—
And sims left a record of themselves.
Sages’ Estate, Glimmerbrook
Caleb crumpled to the floor, released from Liberty’s binding spell. Just because vampires could regenerate limbs or close wounds didn’t mean that they didn’t feel pain.
“We’re not trying to be mean,” Summer said. “We just wanna make sure you’re aware of the stakes in this werewolf case.” She rolled her eyes when no one responded. “Get it? STAKES?”
She dissolved into laughter as Caleb coughed, trying to get his muscles working again.
“If you’re finished,” Rory drawled. “175 years old, and you still act like a child.” His piercing gaze turned to Caleb. “What level is beyond Grand Master Vampire?”
His hand pressed against a rapidly healing gash in his abdomen, Caleb gave the Sage an angry look. “Nothing. Grand Master Vampire is it.”
Like witches, vampires had ranks and power specialties—Caleb, for example, had incredible speed. An industrious vampire might master their occult energy enough to have a few powers—hence the Grand Master Vampire rank, but it would be impossible to go beyond that. For one, elder vampires (his parents included) were generally out of their occult-forsaken minds. They lost any connection with their mortality, many of them electing to only drink plasma or walk around in their dark forms. And though they had infinite time, their emotions were so dampened they couldn’t help but court danger in a sorry attempt to feel something.
What was beyond Grand Master Vampire? Death.
The Sage of Practical Magic made a noncommittal sound and lowered himself into a chair. “That’s not what it says in The Ultimate Vampire Tome.”
A memory tugged at Caleb, but he stuck with what he knew, namely that the Encyclopedia Vampirica was a ridiculous set of books. “The Ultimate Vampire Tome is nonsense,” he bit out. “The ravings of a silly mortal obsessed with using vampires as a metaphor for his patriarchal viewpoints.”
Rory shrugged as if Caleb’s annoyed tone did not affect him, and it didn’t, really. The Sages treated the vampire like a cross between a hated step-child and an errant student. “It always struck me as strange. Some vampire goes and spills a bunch of secrets to a mortal who publishes a book. And then the Vampire Council, known for their love of punishment, never bothers to hunt them down? Your family controlled the Council once, didn’t they? No interest in protecting vampiric secrets?”
“I wouldn’t call them secrets,” Caleb snorted. “Supernaturals already know the extent of vampiric power, and mortals are just superstitious fools. Who cares if they hear about it?”
Summer raised an eyebrow, and he knew he was pushing it. If he wasn’t careful, his flippant attitude would read as defensive. “I can look into it.”
After stammering through a few more updates, Caleb thought he was in the clear, but Liberty, stopped him on his way out the door.
“Still living in that apartment in Glimmerbrook?” Her voice was like ice.
Caleb forced himself to relax. Liberty was always ready with a sharp question. Once, she’d asked him if he thought vampires actually deserved eternal youth and immortality. The best answer he could manage was that only the strongest vampires were truly immortal and even then, “hard to kill” did not mean impossible. He always got the sense that she respected his honesty.
“Yes, I find it more comfortable than the barracks,” he told her.
“Pity. You know you always have a room here at the manor. It would make it easier for us to keep an eye on you. Teach you. Make sure you don’t go the way of your biological inheritance.”
The urge to defend his family rose up, but Caleb squashed it. She wasn’t wrong. The discipline and isolation of the MIU kept him from becoming a monster.
“Speaking of inheritance, how’s your father?”
A sharping, stabbing pain started at the base of Caleb’s skull. He acted on instinct, emptying his mind of all thought, allowing him to turn and face her with a calm, placid expression. “It’s been 140 years since I spoke to my father, so your guess is as good as mine.”
The library lamps burned low. Caleb pinched the bridge of his nose, half in exhaustion, half in frustration. The Ultimate Vampire Tome sat open in front of him. Mortals called it rare, but only because those who were around when Goodley Mather was hawking copies from a tattered wagon were dead. The sim only made money when supernaturals began buying the book as a joke.
Caleb knew more than he told the Sages but he still remembered his Uncle William’s wise words: never volunteer information you don’t understand. Caleb’s memories about The Ultimate Vampire Tome were definitely something he didn’t understand.
The year Goodley published it, the Strauds were staying in Magnolia Promenade. Caleb, like most 10-year olds, was deeply curious, a troublemaker, and always on the lookout for information he wasn’t supposed to have. He made a habit of spying on his parents, though he wasn’t usually successful—Caleb and Lilith were adopted as mortals and as a result, had none of the heightened senses or reflexes of vampiric children.
That’s why one night in his memory stood out. He was eavesdropping, Lilith was being annoying, and Caleb snapped at her, a sure way to get them both booted from the room.
But the adults didn’t even notice. Everyone was arguing. His father was covered in plasma, his uncle was growling, and his mother was…crying?
He couldn’t recall who was visiting but they were covered in plasma, too…and shouting. He knew it was about Goodley’s book. Vladislaus always referred to it as “that fucking book,” which Caleb got a kick out of because he wasn’t supposed to use foul language around them. The man kept saying something about pamphlet sets and summons. Legal trouble maybe? Either way, Morgyn shut the whole conversation down and finally took Caleb and Lilith to bed.
That was around 1715. His parents seized control of the Vampire Council in 1783. He was sure that was why no one cared about Goodley Mather. For 68 years, vampires were in open war; who gave a shit about a mortal and his book? As for why his family didn’t pursue the sim? Well, Vladislaus and Anastasia abdicated in 1882. All that terror and bloodshed and they couldn’t even be bothered to rule the Council for a whole century. His parents were self-absorbed. They also didn’t give a shit about some book either. Just like they didn’t give a shit about Caleb. He was a perpetual disappointment. Likely because he had an ounce of conscience.
The librarian cleared his throat, signaling it was time to close up shop.
Caleb sighed and started gathering his notes, but something strange caught his attention. He opened the book and flipped to the end, just to make sure he didn’t miss it.
Another cough from the librarian and the smell of a spell building had Caleb moving quickly out the door. He took The Ultimate Vampire Tome with him, figuring the library could make do with the ten other copies on the shelf. He needed to examine it again because despite what the Sage of Practical Magic said, the book was very clear on what came after Grand Master Vampire:
BBD Studios, Del Sol Valley
Being hot for Penny was a problem. Even attending one of Jimena’s hot yoga classes was not enough to shake Anastasia’s attraction. Over the course of the week, her interest grew as she considered all the things she liked about the sim. She was prickly, deliciously so, with a biting sense of humor. And there was something else, too. Miss Pizzazz had tossed Anastasia off of her like it was nothing. The knife she expected, a smart—if flirtatious move, but the shove? Where did she get the strength?
The first clue came when Penny walked into the studio, veins pulsating and smelling…different.
“What’s wrong with you?” Anastasia demanded.
“Yep. Hello to you, too. And nothing is wrong with me.”
“Nothing my ass.” The sim’s heart was beating a mile a minute. “Lying,” Anastasia began, “doesn’t suit you.”
They stared each other down before Penny sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. “Remember, I said I saw some weird shit?”
She looked so bereft, so…vulnerable. What was this feeling? Anastasia wanted to to screw her, not hold hands and swap sentimental declarations!
“I can’t get it out of my head, no matter how hard I try. I mean, I’m fine, I shouldn’t be scared, but…” she trailed off, eyebrows drawn in, mouth in a flat line.
The reporter was upset and Anastasia was upset, too? Why? She never cared if someone else was sad. Jimena’s emotions were a nuisance. Vladislaus’s were…well, she did actually care if he was upset. She hoped he was downright miserable. “But what?” she snapped, trying to cover just how rattled Penny’s discomfort made her.
“It’s stupid. I’m not scared. I’m not even injured anymore.” She clenched her hand into a fist, burying whatever emotion was trying to claw to the surface. “I’m fine.”
She was not fine. She was hurt, scared, and probably in the midst of transformation she didn’t know about.
Rage was a clarion call, but after so many years with the Good Order Monks, Anastasia had learned to empty her head of all thought to avoid giving witches access to any emotions. Even in a mortal world, the skill was useful.
When she turned to the receptionist her voice was calm and her expression placid. “We won’t be needing the conference room. Find Miss Pizzazz a sports bra and some sneakers.”
Downtown San Myshuno
“Yes, well, we’re not sure if she’ll need braces, but maybe you can tell us the best course of action,” Bella dangled the carrot of expensive mouth hardware like the dentist was a cute, floppy-eared bunny.
His expression contained unrestrained glee. “Just give me a minute to work up a few estimates.”
It was a simple slip of paper that led her here—a dental appointment reminder for Nina Caliente shoved into the back of the silverware drawer. Turned out, the office where Nina had her appointment was barely an office and the dentist, Reynard Holyboles, was a medical professional only in the loosest sense of the term.
But sometimes investigations went to strange places. Her sergeant said it from day one: a good detective follows the clues and looks for the connections. Only once they’ve made the connections do they worry about whether or not they’re crazy.
“How old is your daughter?” he asked.
“Thirteen.” Cassandra was nearly sixteen, but Bella rounded down a few years since the prospect of more simoleons would make the dentist happier and more cooperative.
When he emerged from behind the desk, she’d already zeroed in on the information she wanted.
“Those trophies,” Bella pointed at the wall, “Do they belong to that woman in the photo?”
“Nina Caliente? The Heatbringer?” Reynard suddenly looked nervous, “Y-yes. Why?”
“Says here she schedules all her fights around the full moon.” Bella played dumb, “Is that some sort of superstition?”
“Were–uh, I mean, boxers are superstitious.” He laughed, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“My son’s a huge fan. I’d love to get an autograph. Where can I find her?”
“Oh, I don’t know that I can reveal that kind of personal information.”
“Did I mention my son might need braces too?”
“Elmyra’s Boxing Gym. And you know, she’s a patient, so if you have any other children who need braces…”
“I’ll be in touch,” Bella promised.
BBD Studios, Del Sol Valley
“Stop, please!” Penny staggered off the treadmill and swiped a hand across her brow. “I can’t just run away from my problems.”
“Not at the pace you’re going.” Anastasia hopped off the treadmill.
She probably didn’t realize it, but Penny had run far longer and far harder than most mortals, which further confirmed Anastasia’s suspicions. She led her to the cafeteria and handed her a sports drink. “Here, you’ll get dehydrated.”
Penny took a few desperate gulps. That ruled out vampire. If her “injury” came from one of Anastasia’s kind, the sim would be gagging on mortal food until her body finished the transformation.
“Are you insane?” she narrowed her eyes, “Is this what you do to relax?”
Anastasia considered that question.
“This is what I do when I’m stressed out,” she corrected. “Tell me you don’t feel better.”
Penny rolled her eyes, but the corners of her mouth tilted up. “Weirdly, I do.”
Of course she did, her body was probably producing an excess of adrenaline while it adapted to whatever she was becoming. Anastasia ran through other creature possibilities in her head. Arachne were virtually extinct, there were skinwalkers, and the Fae—though the Fae only used their teeth for sport. You were born a fairy, you couldn’t be transformed into one. “And your injury? You mentioned it was healed? How’s the scarring?”
“Yeah, let’s try a new thing where we don’t piss each other off by crossing personal boundaries. I said I’m fine, I want to talk about the interview. So what are your no-go zones?”
Difficult creature. “Are you asking about my hard limits? Because I should tell you, drawing plasma is definitely on the table.”
It took a minute for Penny to recover, though there was a flash of interest in her eyes. Unfortunately, she got them back on topic and the conversation took a boring turn.
“Wait, you asked to audition for The Sheriff of Alpha Centaura? I just want to get this right for the story because Thorne Bailey gave an interview to The Times about writing the script, and—”
“Adapted,” Anastasia interrupted. “The Sheriff of Alpha Centaura was a play based on a true story. Thorne merely rubbed his two brain cells together and adapted it for screen.” Poorly, and with all the wrong information—an oversight Anastasia would correct now that she was on the film.
“How do you know that?”
Because it was her true story. “Before pretending to do heart transplants on TV, I was a stage actress.”
Penny leaned in close, “What? Theater? I never heard that. Why did you quit?”
“I didn’t quit, I–”
“Someone died,” Anastasia said finally.
“I’m sorry. Were they close to you?”
Even after 140 years, the pain had not dulled. “She was,” Anastasia replied softly.
Penny reached across the table and squeezed her hand. “I’m not really smiling in that picture because I knew my parents were disappointed in me. It didn’t matter that it was my graduation day, all they could talk about was how my only job offer was a tabloid. I took the position out of spite, but”—she waved a hand over herself—”31 and here I still am.” She sighed, “Anyways, I just thought if you shared something, I would too.”
Anastasia struggled with how to respond. Even though Caleb was so self-sanctified, he made her threaten to put a stake through his heart, and Lilith carried herself with an excess of “Big Vladislaus Energy,” she couldn’t imagine being disappointed in her children. “That’s absurd,” she scoffed.
“Your parents. They’re obviously idiots. Look at you: smart, capable,”—sexy— “interviewing celebrities.”
“That’s a good self-compliment,” Penny snorted.
She stood and stretched. Anastasia took the cue. “Here, let me show you the showers.” They left the cafeteria and cut back through the gym. “So, what was that weird thing you saw?”
Penny shook her head, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Oh, I think you might be surprised. Try me.”
Elmyra’s Boxing Gym
Caleb scanned the front entrance of the gym Mikel mentioned. Apparently, a detective was asking around about werewolves, so Akira and Caleb pretended to be mortal cops for the day.
“Why do you do that?” Akira asked
“Go to your dad’s house all the time.”
“Straud Manor is not my father’s place,” Caleb countered. “He’s abandoned it. And I don’t always go there.”
“You do always go there. I had to drag you out hungover and cranky this morning. It’s getting a little suspect.”
The back of Caleb’s neck prickled with embarrassment. “It’s not suspect. I hate him. There’s nothing weird about going to the home of the creature you despise and reminding yourself of why you hate them.”
“It is weird, and I don’t think that’s hate.”
“It is not and it doesn’t matter. We have a cop to question.”
Shaking off his partner’s comments, Caleb stormed into the gym and froze. The detective questioning Nina was not at all what he expected.
He didn’t have a word for what she was…
“You don’t have to waste time pretending with me,” she told Nina, “I already know. And can I tell you something? You schedule your life around the moon’s phases, and your alias has the same sim security number, so you’re not being that careful. Just answer my questions.”
What would it take for her to turn that razor sharp observation on him? How would it feel for her to peel his secrets from his—
Caleb gave himself an internal shake. His whole family was a bunch of lovesick idiots with weird kinks, and he was not like them. If he did decide to pursue someone, it was going to be in a completely normal way—Simder, a movie date, a list of shared interests. He cleared his throat and flashed his badge. “Excuse me. Caleb Vatore and Akira Kibo, Glimmerbrook County. What exactly is going on here?”
The woman turned and gave him an intense once over. “Bella Goth. San Myshuno Police Department. And what’s going on here is that you’re in my jurisdiction.”
“I think you’ll find our jurisdiction is quite flexible.”
“Flexible?” She frowned, “What does that mean? A jurisdiction covers a set location.”
“Yes,” Caleb agreed, “But a set group of sims in our case. Specifically, any citizen of Glimmerbrook. Check it with your superiors; I’m sure they’ll confirm.”
She looked like it was the absolute last thing she wanted to do, but she picked up her phone. After she hung up, he watched with interest as a myriad of emotions played across her face. What tactic would she choose? Friendly? Camaraderie? An outright lie?
Her expression settled on smug. “Well, you’re right. We can’t impede you arresting a suspect for a Glimmerbrook County crime so I’ll just step out of your way while you bring her in.”
Shit. Interpreting the law literally as a means of manipulation was a power move that his whole body was responding to.
Nina began to panic, “What? I ain’t done nothing wrong! I’m training! I didn’t commit any crime and I don’t know nothing about no teeth! I got all mine, see?” she smiled.
Teeth? “Hold on,” Caleb held out his hand, “What do teeth have to do with your case?”
“Oh?” Bella gave him a faux vapid look. “Would you like to waive your claim of jurisdiction and share information?”
Yes. No. Yes? Fuck, he needed to get a grip! Caleb kept his mouth shut.
Her expression morphed into determined annoyance. “Well, I hope you took a very good look at your crime scene for Nina’s sake. It would be a shame to arrest the wrong super-strong boxer who avoids the full moon.”
Just as he was about to capitulate, her phone buzzed. She took one look at it and was out the door in seconds.
“That detective is gonna be a problem,” Akira said.
Caleb agreed, but for different reasons. At least Bella Goth had given him food for thought. “Akira, put in a call to the acolytes. We’re going to revisit our crime scene.”
San Myshuno, Fashion District
Old Rundown Home by Jessieg154
The Magic Library by StrifuhnEsuna
Small Rococo Villa 2.0 by BaroqueBirch