Of Love and Monsters

Chapter 17: What Becomes of the Dark

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.

The Spice District


It was hard to keep the parameters of why he was searching for Alice in mind, though Vlad tried like the dickens to keep that thought in his head. In this form, it was difficult to stay tethered to reality. There was no nuance. Everything was black and white; obstacle, threat, or prey. 

The vampires he tore limb from limb on his way through the streets? Prey. 

The djinn tracking him from a third floor window? Threat

But when he thought of Alice, a new word was added to the list: Desire.

Yes, Vlad could feel the beginnings of a slip and there was no William standing by with a silver sword. If he wasn’t careful, not-quite-Vlad would be all that was left.

He could see Dolly’s in the distance, but he could also see the well-dressed bone creature blocking his path. Something nagged at him, a shriveled piece of recognition…

Obstacle, thought not-quite-Vlad.

Obstacle, Vlad agreed, cracking his neck and stretching his wings.

They practically spanned the narrow street, those wings.

And as he shot into the air, he remembered that flying was like breathing. 

Remembered what it was like to spar in the dark depths even demons called the “chasm of loss.” 

Recalled the particular way the fire swayed when the old gods came calling. 

Pulse pumping ribbons of adrenaline as the creature motioned him forward, he remembered that he had a name in some unpronounceable tongue and it was meant as oath to break obstacles.

And belatedly, perhaps too late, Vlad remembered that he couldn’t remember these things at all.

Dolly’s Restaurant


After a few moments, Contessa began to relax. She sipped daintily from her tea cup.

“You know, I used to torture and maim for fun. I mean, it was the days of the Magnolia Promenade Wars. What else was there to do? Feasts, sure, but those were some kind of boring once you gave up food.”

Alice gave her a quizzical look. What did she mean “gave up food?” Vampires preferred plasma, needed it for sustenance (she understood Vlad’s joke). But clearly they could eat. Right?

“Oh honey, most vampires, once they get a few centuries in, let their stomachs wither. Why hold on to the ability to eat food when you can gain something far more useful, like mind control?”

Alice turned away so Contessa couldn’t see her face. That jackass declared Jimena the contest winner and he couldn’t even taste her food? 

She knew he wasn’t following her, but she kind of wished he was, just so she could tell him to go fuck himself.

“About that, you see, we and by ‘we’, I mean you, summoned…” Ben began.

Alice folded her arms and didn’t answer. Instead, she thought deliberately about how fitting it was for Ben to be unable to keep his mouth shut even when they were in a precarious situation and Alice needed her wits about her. So much for his weak ass promise of “I’ll be helpful.”

“Nevermind.” Ben sighed. 

“Anyways,” Contessa continued with her own dramatic sigh, “I grew weary of it over the years. I mean, how many times can you hang someone by their legs and drip plasma into a bowl? I slept for a few decades, tried different things—building a grand mansion to throw great parties.” 

Her voice took on a wistful tone. “I was an actress for a short while in the 50s, that was alright. Last year, I even renovated my penthouse and became a style influencer. Still, nothing quite fit…”

Alice nodded sympathetically as she studied a set of knobs and dials on the machine. What sort of monster would make two different handles with no labels?

“I mean, I guess being a style influencer was fine. I had a shopping day with Judith Ward. Didn’t take a lick of my advice though. Still wearing that sage forsaken red dress…” 

Contessa sighed again, this one somehow even deeper than the last one.

Alice paused. Was Contessa bored? She sounded bored. Immortality seemed great and all in theory, but being around for centuries was probably boring as shit. Ben snorted in her head and Alice bit her lip to keep from laughing. 

Was this Vlad’s problem? Was he bored?

Damn it. She needed to get him out of her system. Alice bent over and pulled a lever that she hoped started the machine’s mixer.

Contessa was still chatting. “Oh, but I have to tell you! A few months ago, I again found my way back to my first love. Only this time, it was some minor crimelord threatening the flower shop owner down the street—Zepar, a djinn. Very handsome. Great in bed,” she paused for emphasis. 

“Anyways, I hung that fellow from his feet until he cried!” she exclaimed, her tone gleeful. “And then he returned all the money he stole and Zepar and I used it to throw the best block party the city had ever seen!”

Alice stopped fiddling with the mixer speed. Wait, Contessa wanted to catch criminals, not help them? Her methods were a bit…illegal, but couldn’t that energy be turned in the right direction? 

Alice cracked her knuckles and smiled. Now that she understood Contessa’s desire, she had reached the most important moment of the entire negotiation. But she still needed to proceed carefully. Customers had to think that giving up the coupon was their idea, not hers.

And Contessa was definitely going to give up her coupon if Alice Martin had anything to say about it.

The Spice District


Vlad crouched, panting, his wings twitching with exhaustion. He had never met a creature he could not subdue. He had never been bested. Not when he was like this, the thing inside him awake and singing.

His thoughts were beginning to slow and he could feel a driving need to attack even as the part of him that was still Vladislaus Straud recognized the futility of the situation. Bones reset, tendons healed, and his power recharged.


How much longer could he go before he was unable to pull back?


Vlad shook his head to clear it, to try and form some semblance of a plan but the need to charge the creature in front of him was too great.


They tumbled mid-air, the creature knocking him to the ground.

Enraged, Vlad flew at him again, landing blow after blow and striking with his claws.

But like him, the creature seemed to reset and recharge. This time when he struck out, a flash of blue light cut through the air bringing Vlad to his knees.

Had they fought for hours or days? There was no way to tell.


Dimly, Vlad realized that he was out of options. 


He was going to have to leash this darkness inside him. And then, this creature was probably going to kill him.

Dolly’s Restaurant


Alice took her time reeling Contessa in. She turned from the machine, plastering a surprised smile on her face. 

“Wow. You know my mom got into science because she really liked blowing things up…that and she really likes bossing people around, which she can do because everyone wants her stamp of approval on their research.” 

She gave a careless shrug for effect. “Not to get into your business, but it sounds like you want a job. Something like law enforcement?”

In a flash, Contessa was on her feet. “Law enforcement? Of course. Why hadn’t I thought of that? And I would get to hunt and punish…”

Whoa. Alice could not unleash a torture-crazed vampire police officer into the world, that would be chaos. “Uh, well, technically. But there are laws that you would have to uphold. And due process and all that.”

“I’m very good at learning things. I’ve been around for 800 years. I can do anything. Yes, that’s it. That’s my favor. I would like you to make me Queen of Law Enforcement.”

Queen of Law Enforcement? Was arrogance a trait of all vampires? Alice sighed. It was like Ben told her earlier. She didn’t have infinite powers, but she could use the ones she had to manipulate the world around her. 

“I don’t think that’s the exact title, but if you get started in the career, I could make you a nectar that ensures you get promoted. Something that brings out your entrepreneurial spirit.”

And knocks the Chief of Police on her ass so hard that retiring and giving her job to a slightly unhinged vampire queen seems like a good idea. But Alice kept that part to herself. You never told the customer they could take that quart of ice cream for free because the flavor was being discontinued. You let them think that they were getting one over on you.

Contessa smiled, prompting her. “I think we have an accord…”

“Oh! I’m Alice. Alice Martin.”

“Alice. What a lovely name. Yes, Alice, we have an accord. Enjoy the kitchen, if you need anything call Reynaldo,” she looked down at the plate of half-raw cookies that Alice set on the counter. “He’s head chef and he’d be happy to help you with your…er…training.” 

And with that, she turned into a bat and flew out a small window over the top of the door. 

“Well, that’s one hell of an exit. I stand corrected. Third Underworld, at least. So where should we start? I see you’ve got…are those…cookies?

Alice rolled her eyes and then laughed with relief. “Barely. You were right. We’ve got a lot of reading to do, and baking…” she clenched her fist. “Especially if I’m going to win.”

The Spice District


Vlad remained crouched, swiping a hand over his mouth while the creature in front of him recharged, readying itself to fight all over again.


It was now or never. 

He put both hands on the ground to steady himself. Whispers of memories and knowledge not his own swarmed in his head until he could barely make sense of the world around him.

Obstacle. Obstacle. Obstacle—

He clung to a vision of Alice like it was a single thread back to reality and at the mere thought of her name, his attention shifted. 

Find Alice.

A brief reprieve in which to grab hold of the dark, and shove it back behind his ribcage.

The pain was white hot as it slithered around his bones. 

For one desperate, shameful moment, he cried out for help reaching towards the creature as the darkness inside him clawed and fought against the cage.

He gave a reflexive sigh of relief when he felt the wings recede. A mistake. His lungs were shredded, the simple useless movement a punishment. 

Black dots swam in front of his eyes but he kept himself conscious.

He touched a hand to his mouth. Was that plasma?

It was no matter. He’d have to be fast, retreat to the other end of the neighborhood and come around a different way. He could call William and Caleb, get some back up, he could—

He heard the sound before he felt it. A loud snapping as he was lifted off the ground.

His spine? 

Vlad’s mind blanked from the pain. When the creature sent a blast of power tearing through him like a hailstorm of blades, he never felt it.

He had not a coherent thought and made not a sound as he dropped to the ground. 


From the fabulous Natalia-Auditore:

Emotion Poses 2 by Cassandra Grusel

Emotions 9 by Simmerberlin

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