Same deal as the last part – Content Warning for the whole blog, but this chapter gets pretty violent.
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while, Pondering his voyage…” ― John Milton, Paradise Lost
Something had become of Vladislaus Straud in the yawning dark of the Forgotten Hollow woods.
He who had crushed his enemies with sword and fang—
Seized Forgotten Hollow and led the Windenburg vampires out of darkness—
A vampire so deadly that others of his kind called him the Reaper, called him King—
He and what had become of him crouched and scented the air, a single clear thought taking hold: Find Alice.
And Vladislaus Straud was good at finding things.
“It is a myth that the God of Death grants favors. Sure, it would be correct to say that the God of Death has granted favors, but that’s past tense. The God of Death doesn’t do that anymore. They’re busy doing “god” things. Yep, that’s right: straight up god business. – The Book of the Dead, Revised Edition
Contessa wanted an undefined favor from a god? That was way too big and too vague of a request. It was like when customers asked if the store would honor any coupon. She couldn’t possibly agree outright. The coupon could be from a competitor or have an expiration date that passed ten years ago. You couldn’t trust customers who asked questions like that.
They were crazy.
And because they were crazy, they had to be steered away gently, lest they start screaming and demanding to speak to management.
“Oh! I see…” Alice began, taking her time as if she was really thinking about it, “I don’t know how I could grant something like that without more details. Godhood is so…uh…new to me so maybe you could be a little more specific about how I could help you?”
The disdain could not have been more clearly written on Contessa’s face. “It’s simple. You are on the cusp of full godhood. Win the Owl of Undoing and then as repayment for my kindness, you use your newfound power to help me with a problem that I need solved.”
Alice suppressed a groan and struggled to keep her tone cheerful. Customers always did this. They didn’t actually need a discount on toilet paper, they just wanted to know that they could get a discount on toilet paper…whenever they wanted. It was a power play.
“So you can’t tell me what the favor is right now?”
“Well, I haven’t thought of it yet so no,” Contessa replied, irritation leaching into her voice.
Lie. Whenever customers said they didn’t know what they wanted, it meant they knew exactly what they wanted: someone to listen to them complain about their actual problem. Alice had heard it all—shitty in-laws that refused to stay in a hotel when they visited, wayward nephew trying to get his hands on grandpa’s will, an ex-boyfriend who the customer just can’t stop sleeping with—the list was endless.
She glanced at the Whipped Dream Cupcake Factory tucked into the back of the kitchen. “Do you mind if I work on some recipes while we talk?”
Contessa shrugged and then smirked, her eyes glittering. “Oh absolutely not my dear, I’m just itching to see what kind of baking the God of Death has in mind for the win.”
Don’t take the bait, don’t take the bait, don’t take the bait, Alice told herself. This was a key moment in negotiations, whether Contessa knew it or not.
Alice gave her pleasant smile. “Thank you!”
But as soon as she turned around to walk to the back of the kitchen, she grimaced. Given her earlier performance, she was going to need all the practice she could get. Ben didn’t say “I told you so,” but she could feel him whispering it to himself in her head.
Contessa followed, perched elegantly on a small chair, and proceeded to pour a liquid that Alice was fairly sure had no place in a tea kettle into a porcelain cup. Alice tried not to shudder. The idea of Vlad drinking plasma was fine, but Contessa set her on edge.
Damn it! Could she stop thinking about him for five seconds?
She wiped her hands on her jeans trying to give off an air of confidence. Alice didn’t have a recipe in mind, in fact, she didn’t have any idea what she was doing. She could barely use an oven, let alone an industrial grade pastry machine. Still, she gathered ingredients, humming softly to herself, all to signal that there wasn’t much to see here.
She was just some background feature, barely even listening, and Contessa could complain freely.
And if Contessa let her actual desire slip out? All the better.
Alice had no intention of embracing full godhood, but even as she was pretending she wasn’t dumb enough to let some vampire manipulate her into an impossible contract.