Chapter 9: Sanguine

Amelia wasn’t used to bursting into other people’s houses without warning. Sure, she could be impulsive, but her impulsiveness usually allowed for phone calls in advance. Then again, she had a feeling that Vanja Leifsdóttir wouldn’t mind them interrupting her evening if it was about the thief. She had seemed very interested in the whole case, and very bitter about it too. Amelia hoped she wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about punishing criminals. They were here to solve a mystery, not to do jobs meant for the police. What was the police like in the supernatural world, anyway? Tad hadn’t seemed to even consider it at any point. When Amelia had asked about it, he had just shrugged and said he wanted to take care of it himself. Amelia hoped that Tad knew what he was doing.

They rang the doorbell of the already closed shop and shattered the quiet evening of one sorceress. At first her expression seemed sour, the kind of “I just had to leave my book in an exciting part” -sour. It quickly turned into surprise and interest once she realised who were at her door, though.

“Oh, it’s you!” she said almost excitedly, “Well? Did you find the thief? Come on in! Tell me everything!”

Amelia stepped into the shop right behind Tad. The cinnamon incense had been changed and now the place smelled like patchouli. Vanja combed her fingers through her immaculate bob cut as if it needed adjusting and then spoke again in an excited tone:

“Well? Don’t keep me waiting!”

“Good evening to you too, Miss Leifsdóttir,” Tad said and Amelia wondered if he realised he had just managed to sound sarcastic, “We are not sure if we found the thief, but we did find quite a few leads to the next person we could ask. He was the one who asked a person here in Riverview to take the spell package ordered from you and deliver it to an entirely different address.”

“Really?” Vanja said, “What are we waiting for, then? Who is it?”

Tad closed his eyes, and Amelia knew he was probably seeing somewhere far away. It was one of the least unnerving things about Tad.

“A man who goes by the name Novak Sanguine,” Tad said.

Vanja’s excitement suddenly plummeted into obvious confusion.

“Wait, the sort of popular blogger?”

Tad shrugged.

“I do not know. Perhaps.”

“But he’s… really?” Vanja pulled out her cell phone, “It’s the same name, and I doubt many people are named… of course it could be faked, but… Ah! Here we go.”

She thrust the phone towards Tad and Amelia. Amelia leaned forward instinctively to read the text on the screen.

“Universe in a Margarita Glass?” she read out loud, “That’s a… mouthful of a name.”

“Well, some universes do fit in a glass if looked at in a right angle,” Tad said.

“Rrrrriiiiight,” Vanja said dubiously, “Artistic or pretentious, take your pick. But his texts are quite entertaining. He travels a lot. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be involved in any kind of crime. He’s supposed to be a computer guy.”

She sighed.

“Well, it’s probably a coincidence. So… where is he now?”

“In a city called Bridgeport,” Tad said confidently.

“Wait, what?” Amelia blurted out, “But that’s hundreds of kilometres away from here!”

“Great,” Vanja muttered, “Getting authorisation for long distance teleportation takes hours! And the office isn’t even open this late!”

“Oh, that is no problem,” said Tad, “I can easily convince the reality that we are there instead of here.”

“Really?” Vanja’s eyes shone with rather disturbing glee, “You have to let me study you! How about an interview in the near future? And perhaps a sample I can put under the microscope?”

“Tad is a person, and not a… specimen,” Amelia said automatically.

Vanja snorted with laughter, but sobered very quickly.

“Well, we can talk about that later. Right now we just have to get to Bridgeport.”

“Indeed,” Tad said and extended his hand, “You may want to hold onto me.”

Vanja grabbed Tad’s shoulder, but Amelia hesitated. She again stopped for a second to think about what she was doing. When would she reach the point of no return? Such a phrase hadn’t been a part of Amelia’s vocabulary before, but now it started to sneak its way into her mind. But she couldn’t back away now. And yes, perhaps that meant she had already reached that point she tried not to think about. She grabbed Tad’s hand before she could properly chicken out.

What followed was over quicker than Amelia could keep up. One moment they were in the little shop in the familiar, rural town, the next there was concrete and far too high buildings everywhere. Amelia took a deep breath, breathing in incense-free but pollution-heavy night air and looking wide-eyed at the shining beacons that scraped the skies. They had just travelled hundreds of kilometres! All the way from the idyllic landscapes of Simomon’s banks to the shore of the Simuyan Sea. In the blink of an eye! The whole thing was just wondrous, and…

“Ow!” shrieked Vanja, “The weather’s awful here!”

Amelia’s disoriented brain finally got back into the now and her skin realised that it was being pelted with hail.

“Oh, my apologies,” said Tad, “Then again, I am hardly responsible for the weather.”

“You could have warned us first!” Vanja said.

Tad sighed.

“I am sorry. There are so many places… so many weathers to keep track of at once, and they hardly matter compared to the stopping hearts and lingering spirits.”

“Ugh, whatever you say!” Vanja huffed, “And… wait, this is some kind of a club, isn’t it? Is he in there?”

Amelia glanced upwards and saw a flashy neon sign above them. It read Plasma 501 in burning bright letters. The building the sign was attached to was almost impossibly high. Amelia felt like a total country mouse – which she was for the most part. She had visited big cities like this only a few times in her life. She felt like she was getting lost while just standing still. And she had already, hadn’t she? After Tad had just told the reality to take them here, or whatever it was he had claimed to be doing.

Vanja pulled an elegant-looking stick out of thin air.

“You could have warned me about the club as well!” she said irritably, “Is this… this looks like a fancy vampire lounge! I could have come prepared instead of wearing these old rags…”

Amelia looked confusedly at the simple yet stylish dress Vanja had on.

“Um… you look just fine,” she managed to say. They had just travelled all the way here just like that and were about to talk to someone who could be a criminal and Vanja was worried about her outfit? Her priorities were rather… odd.

Vanja swished her stick – wand? – impatiently, and a few sparks struggled through the hail. Amelia couldn’t help feeling a burst of excitement. Magic had always been a part of her fantasy-oriented childhood. Not real magic, of course, but the magic of dreams and drawings and books. To have concrete proof that there was real magic after all… in sparkly form, was just too inspiring. Vanja didn’t seem inspired, though. She cast Amelia a slightly condescending look.

“Look,” she said, “if I’m about to apprehend a criminal in a vampire lounge, then I might as well do it with style.”

Amelia’s excitement was gone in that one sentence. She turned to Tad, who seemed rather unbothered by anything around him at the moment. Amelia noted that the ice shards that had fallen on him didn’t seem to be melting.

“We’re not apprehending a criminal, right?” she asked, “I mean, that at least should be left to the police.”

Vanja gave a short burst of laughter again.

“Wow, you really have no idea how this works, do you? Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

She held up a finger like a very patronising teacher.

“Let me educate you: Anthropomorphic personifications – that is to say, human-like forms of abstract things – have no rights in the eyes of the law. Whenever they get in touch with flesh and blood creatures like us things usually get too messy for legislation. Besides, they should be powerful enough to handle their own problems.”

Amelia stared.

“Really?” she managed to ask.

“Yes, really,” Tad said and cleared his throat in embarrassment, “Worry not, this is not a big deal. Shall we go, then?”

Plasma 501 was indeed one of Bridgeport’s fanciest supernatural lounges. To be fair, it didn’t have a whole lot of competition. Bridgeport was one of those places where the supernatural had integrated into the natural a little more seamlessly than in the smaller, more oblivious towns, but it wasn’t anything like the carnival of the strange called Moonlight Falls. Most of Bridgeport’s supernaturals were vampires. It made sense. Bridgeport was a city with bustling nightlife. What would be a better place for creatures of the night to spend time in? A lot of mingling, dates, plenty of plasma-based drinks, and the occasional too-drunken partygoer no one would miss in time. And after that a relaxing evening in a lounge among the own kind. That was where Plasma 501 came in.

At least that was what the majority of the customers were after. Novak Sanguine wasn’t a part of the majority. He took some pride in that, actually, not that the others needed to know. On the surface, he was just another fun-searching soul getting inebriated at the bar. But the surface wasn’t reality. In reality his drinks had more in common with those horrible glowing energy drinks – well, with the difference that these drinks didn’t taste like liquid sugar laced with plutonium – than alcohol. If Novak needed to run from someone, he wouldn’t do it drunk. And yes, in reality he was running. Or hiding. But running sounded a bit less undignified in his head. “Tactically staying out of sight while thinking up his next move” was even better. Yeah, that would do.

“Hey, handsome. I haven’t seen you around? You like the drinks here? I think they’re just perfect.”

Novak slowly raised his gaze from emptiness to the pale woman who had slunk next to him almost unnoticed. She was dressed fancily and smiled seductively, in a sort of pretend-down-to-earth way that was probably meant to be endearing as well. Novak sighed. She was probably not here to kill him for money, but perhaps for other reasons. One never knew. Time to put the defences up.

“Sorry, sweetheart, don’t bother. I don’t feel like donating blood today.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed.

“Hey, I’m just looking to have a good time here. Can’t a girl talk to a nice guy without being immediately accused of attempted murder? Around here we call that stereotyping.”

“Well, sorry,” Novak said, “Though it’s not that smart to pull the stereotyping card when you yourself are reinforcing the stereotype.”

“I am not!”

“My eyes are up here by the way. Those are my arteries.”

The woman stood up and huffed in annoyance. Before she stormed off she leaned in to mutter in his ear:

“Well, you’re no fun. Bastard.”

Novak didn’t reply. The bartender said something about respecting others, and Novak wasn’t sure if it was to lecture him or her of bad behaviour. Maybe both. The bartender said it with such disinterest that Novak could tell this was nothing new, though. This place might have been nice and shiny on the outside, but it had its fair share of crooked people in it. Still, it was a pretty safe place to hide, aside from the occasional pickup attempt by a loose vampire. Even the boldest of criminal organisations didn’t usually send people to places that were filled with undead, bulletproof bloodsuckers.

Novak grabbed a drink and stood up. He was feeling restless tonight. He’d been feeling that too often lately. He glanced around, but the only people left at the bar were him, the bartender, and the easily irritable old regular – a middle-aged witch who came here to sometimes drown his sorrows, and sometimes to just get wasted and pick fights. No real threats.

Really, Novak should stop being so jumpy. But he couldn’t. There were too many people after him. People with guns and a lot of money and little patience. He tried to remind himself that he’d survived fine so far on his wits, quick feet, good money-managing and the occasional reluctant grovelling. But now he had a feeling that he was reaching some sort of cosmic line after which everything would just descent into madness in his life. It was intriguing, sure, but perhaps not worth it.

“Mr. Sanguine?”

Novak almost choked on his drink and immediately mentally slapped himself. He should never get too wrapped up in worries or self-pity. He spun around and faced whoever had finally caught up with him.

It was no one he could recognise on sight. There was a woman who glared at him. A witch by the looks of it. Possibly one of the academic ones that called themselves sorcerers and sorceresses. There was also a young man, who looked barely old enough to drink, and a woman who stayed back and looked so out of her element that Novak could immediately label her as both a small town girl and a newbie in the supernatural community. Novak forced himself to relax. This didn’t look like a group of hitmen. Not that anyone with brain cells would send obvious hitmen to do their hitmanning. Still, he wasn’t full of holes yet, so he smiled and started scanning his surroundings and forming an escape plan. Just in case.

“Who’re you?” he asked.

The kid tried to speak, but the witch beat him to it. She jabbed an index finger towards Novak with a needlessly dramatic flair.

“You! Did you buy spells from me?”

Well, he hadn’t expected that. Novak blinked.

“No, seriously, who are you?”

“I’m Vanja Leifsdóttir! And my spells are not an accessory in thievery!”

Novak blinked again. He looked towards the stairs and the door to freedom. The out-of-her-element woman was standing near the best escape route. Maybe her nervousness was just an act and she would grab him if he tried to flee. One never knew. He needed to get out of this situation.

“Look, lady,” Novak said and turned back to Vanja, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re here to drink, then buy a drink and let the others get plastered in peace.”

“Oh, you’re not getting away with this that easily!” Vanja snapped, “Why, I should-“

“Miss Leifsdóttir,” said the young man next to the witch, “Calm down. Perhaps it is better if I do the talking for once.”

He smiled a bit shyly. Novak was immediately unnerved by him. There was something very… familiar about the kid.

“I am very sorry to bother you, Mr. Sanguine,” the kid said, “We just needed to ask you a few questions.”

Seriously, who was this kid?

“We will not take too much of your time,” the kid went on, “You see, there has been an unfortunate… incident. Theft, like Miss Leifsdóttir kindly told you.”

Something… odd… about him. He had a very strange aura. Novak could feel some of his protective charms trying to work against it. Wait… those particular charms were supposed to protect him from…

Oh, shit.

He moved before he could think properly. He pushed the witch out of the way, right into the irritable drunk behind her, and jumped before anyone could react.

Someone shouted. Many someones. The live music coming from downstairs halted when Novak stumbled down the stairs and tried to catch up with his feet.

He jumped over the last six steps and rolled, stopping only for a moment to gather his bearings.

Above him, the shouting turned into shoves. Now the bartender was yelling too.

Novak stood up and walked past the security guard who was talking into her earpiece and would soon be running to the bar. Novak couldn’t help a fraction of a smirk crossing his face as he stepped into the elevator that would take him down to the street. Starting bar fights was always fun.

This time he couldn’t really enjoy that feeling for long, however. He was too busy running away. From Death.

Frickin’ Death.

To be honest, Novak had known that it would be inevitable, but he hadn’t been able to resist stealing that hunk of rock. He had crossed paths with Death before. A couple of times in passing and once a bit more closely in an incident he didn’t have any fond memories of. Aside from that and from being prime fodder for his more philosophical moments, death was nothing interesting. But once he had been asked to steal from Death he had immediately been intrigued.

It had been a challenge. The best kind. There had been no way he would have backed out.

Gathering the materials had taken a lot of time, but the actual planning had taken the longest. He’d studied unconfirmed theories, history, sightings, and read countless of interviews from those who had been beyond and back again. He had bought the best mix of gear and spells he could have. He had put it all together to work out something no one else had been able to before. Or so he liked to think, at least.

Novak let out a breath once he was far away enough from the lounge and actually smiled as he walked in the calming outdoors air. It had been raining some time ago, but it had finally stopped. The stars were peeking through the light fog that was a constant visitor in Bridgeport’s airspace. And Novak had just run away from Death again. Life was g-

“Holy sh-!”

Novak felt his heart skip a beat and then try to compensate by tripling its speed for a while. The three people from the bar stood in front of him, and the kid who was really Death was smiling at him almost smugly. The bastard.

“I am sorry for scaring you,” Death said, “But we really need to talk. About the spells. And the theft.”

He paused and then smiled again.

“I am actually surprised you even tried to run after you realised who I am.”

Novak let out a long sigh.

“Hey, one can always try.”

“Yes, of course.”

“You’re here about the gemstone, right?”

The witch stepped forth again at that. She pulled out her wand and waved it towards Novak threateningly. He could feel a wave of cold hitting him in the face and his protective charms flared.

“So it was you!” she shrieked, “You used my spells for stealing, you… you… thief!”

“Oh, ouch. Burn,” Novak put his hand to his chest in mock-hurt, “Well, yeah, I did steal the gemstone. And yeah, I did use some magic from you. So what? I don’t think you quite understand the concept of customer feedback. It’s supposed to go the other way around.”

“I’ll show you-!”

“Miss Leifsdóttir,” Death said suddenly very pointedly. It sounded a little like a glacier hitting a boat, “Calm down. We agreed on not hurting others.”

The witch gritted her teeth.

“But I… oh, fine!”

Death smiled.

“Thank you. And you,” he looked at Novak, and Novak instinctively stiffened, “Let us talk.”

It was going to be a long night for Novak Sanguine.

For Amelia Sprigg, on the other hand, the night felt very short. It had been a mess, and Amelia found it hard to catch her breath. Too much was happening at once. Amelia hadn’t been sure what she had expected to happen once they finally discovered the thief. Perhaps something magical, hopefully something not tragic. Escaping a bar fight and then calmly sitting down on a creepy alleyway with the thief hadn’t been very high on her list of possible scenarios.

She looked nervously at Vanja, who was tense and looked like she was about to claw the thief’s face off at any moment. It was scary. Scarier than the thief named Novak Sanguine. Mr. Sanguine looked very… non-thief-like to Amelia. She hadn’t really bought into the stereotypes and expected the culprit to be wearing stripes and a black beanie and carrying a loot bag or anything, but electric blue dreadlocks and mismatched trainers didn’t really fit her mental images either. He seemed oddly relaxed too after the initial shock, considering he had just been caught by the Grim Reaper. Not that Tad was trying to be threatening, really. He had sat down on the pavement and introduced himself as Tad Dustpine as if they were new friends meeting at a coffee shop. Novak stared incredulously at Tad.

“So let me get this straight,” he said, “You took this human form to play detective among mortals?”

“Yes.”

“And you could have chosen any form you wanted, and you went with that?”

“Yes,” Tad said again, obviously missing the insult.

“And now you got me,” Novak sighed, “Alright. It’s not like I can run – we already established that. So what are you going to do to me?”

Tad frowned slightly.

“Well, I was just going to ask where that gemstone is.”

Novak blinked.

“Wait, so you’re not mad about this?”

Tad actually chuckled, his laughter like a window breaking in the distance.

“Mad? No. Of course not.”

“WHAT?!” Novak, Amelia, and Vanja blurted out in unison.

“Why would I be?” Tad asked, “I am impressed by the skill that went into this, actually. Both the magic and the planning that led to someone just waltzing into my home is quite inspiring.”

Vanja glanced almost bashfully at her shoes.

“Oh? I mean, of course my magic can achieve amazing feats.”

“In the right hands anyway,” Novak muttered and then turned to look at Tad, “No, seriously, what are you up to? You’re not this nice.”

“If you are talking about our last meeting, then I apologise for that,” Tad said defensively, “I had a very bad week! Everyone has those. We can leave the past behind and begin anew. We all did things we might want to do differently. I apologise for my rudeness in the past, and I also forgive you taking the gemstone. I was not that attached to it. I would like to have it back, though.”

Wait, what were they talking about? Amelia wanted to ask about it, but Novak kept talking before she could:

“No, really. This is weird,” he said.

“If you want to be punished for this, then it can be arranged,” Vanja said threateningly.

“No, I’m good,” said Novak and sighed, “Look, I don’t have it anymore. The whole thing was a commission through some dude who turned out to not be real. I checked afterwards. I don’t know who really hired me, but I do know that they didn’t pay me the money we agreed on.”

He sighed.

“But I can show you where I took it,” he said, “And tell you everything I know about the whole thing.”

“Just like that?” Vanja asked dubiously.

“Yep. I don’t have much sympathy for bad clients. You should understand.”

Vanja frowned dangerously, but Novak didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he flashed Vanja a rather smug grin.

“Face it, sweetheart, we’re all pawns here.”

Vanja huffed.

“Oh, I am so unfollowing your blog when I get back. If that even is yours.”

“Oh, you’re a follower of mine? I’m flattered.”

“Not anymore.”

“I can live with that. Now come on.”

Novak led them through neon-lit streets and into the dingier parts of the city. Amelia shivered and was glad that at least it wasn’t hailing anymore. The buildings turned from flashy skyscrapers into cracked concrete blocks and then into old industrial warehouses. Amelia remembered hearing that Bridgeport was an old port town that had nowadays been more focused on the entertainment industry. It seemed like some of the old shipping businesses had left behind husks of buildings that now littered the outskirts of the city.

It was unnerving. They were following a blogger/thief into the dark streets of a big city that no doubt had all sorts of criminals lurking behind every corner. Could Novak be guiding them to a trap? Amelia wrapped her arms around herself and kept her eyes on Tad, who walked in front of her. He was at least something familiar.

Novak didn’t lead them into a surprise mugging, despite all of Amelia’s fears. Instead he stopped when they were up on a hill that overlooked the still active parts of what looked like a shipping dock. A brilliantly beautiful view of the city spread around them, gleaming like diamonds covered in Snowflake Day lights. Amelia couldn’t help it. For a moment all of her anxiety and fears melted away at the sight of it.

“Do you see that?” she whispered, “This place is beautiful!”

“Sure,” Novak said, “Like a landfill wrapped in tinfoil. And here’s more of the landfill part.”

He pointed at the warehouses at the docks. They were like long boxes with roofs over them. Amelia reluctantly tore her eyes from the city lights and squinted into the dark.

“So you took it there?” Tad said, “And then?”

“Some guys were waiting for me,” Novak said, “Like we’d agreed. I didn’t get enough money, so I said some choice words and the next thing I knew I was running away from bullets. Not the nicest experience.”

Amelia shuddered. The thought of guns wasn’t a pleasant one. She had always hated those things. Good thing they were usually very rare in SimNation. Usually. At least in Riverview. Though this was so far away from Riverview that they might as well be on the other side of the planet.

“Anyway,” said Novak, “I checked who the gunmen worked for. Turns out pretty much anyone with enough money could buy their services. And I thought I was trying to cover up my tracks. Not that it helped much.”

He smiled bitterly.

“Do you want to check the place? I could convince the security cameras to not work for about ten minutes. Unless Grimmy here has some better magic up his sleeve.”

“I prefer Tad,” Tad said politely, “And there is no need to go in. I can see it just fine. The gemstone is not there.”

“Exactly. And neither is anything else that would help,” said Novak, “The only possible lead is that those warehouses belong to the Landgraab Industries.”

Amelia frowned.

“So then… why don’t we ask the people who work there?”

Novak actually laughed out loud.

“Yeah, right! The Landgraab Industries is huge. The people at the bottom don’t know anything, and the higher ups there are practically untouchable. Almost no one can really find everyone who’s connected to them. And starting to bother the Landgraabs without a very good reason would be like trying to tear down the economy for laughs: useless and just causing unnecessary trouble for everyone.”

He thought about it for a moment.

“I did do some searches. I can do more, but it’ll take a while before I get anything concrete. This is delicate stuff.”

He smiled like a man lost in the mountains encountering a rescue dog.

“I could let you know if I find something. You know, if you let me go.”

“We don’t make deals with thieves!” said Vanja.

Novak raised his hands.

“Hey, I’m not just a thief. I’m mostly in information technology. You know, legit stuff. Stealing is just a side business for the difficult times.”

“Of course,” said Tad, “Your help would be more than welcome.”

What?!” Vanja snapped, “But he… I… you don’t really care about any of this, do you?”

Tad frowned.

“Of course I do.”

“Yeah, right!” Vanja actually took a step towards Tad, her hands sternly on her hips, “This is all just a joke to you! A game of Clue!”

“You’re one to talk,” said Novak, “This is obviously just a reputation thing for you.”

“Says the guy who wanted attention by robbing Death!”

“Calm down!”

Everyone turned to look at Amelia, who realised it was her who had just ordered everyone to shut up. She clapped a hand over her mouth.

“I mean… if you wouldn’t mind,” she mumbled.

“Amelia is right,” Tad said, “There is no reason for any of this arguing. Miss Leifsdóttir, you have met your thief, and you got to yell at him. There is no point in continuing this, as he is clearly sorry.”

“I am?” Novak said, “I mean yeah, sure.”

“Besides, Mr. Sanguine has promised to help us, and he meant no harm.”

Tad closed his eyes and his eye twitched in an odd way.

“Oh, sorry,” he said suddenly, “Extinction. And anyway, as Miss Leifsdóttir said, your laws do not apply to me. This is my mystery, so I will decide how I go about this. And I say Mr. Sanguine goes free.”

He turned to Novak.

“You promise to find information for us, then? Do you have something you can give as proof of this alliance?”

Novak raised his brow incredulously.

“This is really happening, isn’t it? All right.”

He dug a phone out of his pocket and tossed it to Tad. Tad caught it and held it at arm’s length as if it would burn him.

“There,” said Novak, “Miss Paranoid can probably do some kind of check to see that it’s safe. It has a secure connection to Silva.”

“Who?” asked Vanja, who had immediately grabbed the phone when Tad vaguely offered it in her direction.

“My main phone,” Novak said and pulled out a more modern-looking device decked out in graffiti, “You can call me and I can call you. Give me… three months. If I haven’t called back before then, feel free to seek me out and see what I’m up to.”

Vanja narrowed her eyes. Tad, however, nodded approvingly.

“I like this plan. It seems very… spy-like. I will give you five months.”

What?” Vanja said again.

“Deal!” Novak said, “In fact, I think I’ll go do some searches right away. Thanks for visiting, and we’ll be in touch.”

Amelia watched it all unfold like a surreal dream. This was just… she had hoped that things wouldn’t turn for the dangerous, but this was just unnervingly pleasant. Novak put his hands in his pockets and turned away. Vanja pulled out her wand.

“Now, wait just a minute-!”

Amelia felt Tad lay a hand on her arm, and saw him reach out to grab Vanja too. The city lights disappeared, and Amelia felt the smell of patchouli invade her nostrils.

She coughed at the sudden shift in atmosphere and blinked furiously in the light of the ceiling lamps. Next to her Vanja pointed her wand towards her own front door, eyes blazing with fury. She spun around to face Tad.

“Why did you do that? What in the world were you thinking?!”

“I thought it was quite good a deal,” said Tad, “We got a… phone out of it and everything.”

“HE STOLE FROM YOU!”

“Yes, I know.”

“And you let him go? Just like that?”

Tad shrugged.

“Now that I know who I am looking for, I can find him whenever I want. He does not have the gemstone anymore; he said so himself, and I believe him.”

Vanja opened her mouth and closed it again. Suddenly her eyes snapped at Amelia, who cringed back in shock.

“And you!” Vanja snapped, “What are you even doing here? I doubt he,” she pointed at Tad, “needs an enabler for his insane little game!”

“Miss Leifsdóttir,” Tad said icily, “Do not raise your voice at my friend.”

Despite her anger Vanja had enough sense to realise she was treading on very dangerous ground. She gritted her teeth, but quieted and just crossed her arms in silent defiance. Tad smiled.

“Good. Now, I think it is getting late. We all have work to do tomorrow. Miss Leifsdóttir, would you please hand over Mr. Sanguine’s proof of alliance?”

Vanja sighed and reluctantly gave up the cell phone, which Tad put in his pocket quickly as if he didn’t want to be in contact with it for more than a second.

“For what it’s worth, it doesn’t seem to be bugged or traceable,” Vanja said.

“Thank you,” said Tad, and then glanced at Amelia, “We should probably leave. You must be very tired.”

Amelia was. But she was also too confused and rattled by all of this. The events had just rushed by her, but now they had made a U-turn and come back, stampeding her in the process. She did want to go home. She wanted that more than anything right now.

“Yeah,” she said, “Let’s go.”

Tad opened Vanja’s front door and stepped back out into the night. Before Amelia had time to follow, Vanja spoke. This time her tone was devoid of the previous anger and just sounded like… genuine worry?

“Be careful around him,” she said, “He might try to be a person, but he’s not.”

Amelia turned back around.

“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” she said.

Vanja smiled sadly.

“It’s not an insult; just the truth. Everything about him aside from his purpose is just fabrication. It’s how they work, remember that. In the end he won’t care who suffers or dies, because we all do in the end. In his eyes, we’re all already dust.”

Amelia frowned.

“I doubt you know him that well.”

She hoped she could have sounded more certain.

“And you don’t know me well enough to be the judge of that,” said Vanja, “You’ve lost someone too, right? Pretty recently, in fact. I read obituaries, so I know who dies around here.”

Amelia bit her lip.

“Was it fair?” Vanja asked, her voice suddenly very fragile, “Did it feel like death cared about what was right?”

Amelia opened her mouth to answer, but she couldn’t find the words. There was a lump in her throat, and she looked back outside where Tad was standing, his lanky silhouette dark against the sky.

Her unasked questions and unvoiced doubts flooded her mind again. Vanja smiled, this time without any smugness that she quite often displayed.

“I’ll see you both later,” she said, “His bizarre morals aside, I still want that interview. And that sample.”

Amelia walked out, her legs suddenly numb. Vanja said goodbyes behind her and closed the door, but she barely heard anything. Tad looked at her worriedly.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

Amelia shook her head.

“Don’t… worry about it.”

“Oh, well, if you are certain.”

“I… yeah. I am.”

The night felt far less pleasant than it normally would have on the way home.

“…What the hell just happened?”

Author’s Note: Whew, this chapter took a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun to make and I’m pretty proud of how it came out! Also I redecorated Vanja’s shop because I just couldn’t stand it. My original idea for it was to make it look kind of cosily tacky and unstylish, but I came to the conclusion that Vanja wouldn’t stand for something like that even if it was to create a contrast between the shop and her home. So now it’s still kind of chaotic but has more of her colours and style in it. And yes, I reshot the previous scene in the shop too and updated that chapter so there won’t be continuity errors.

I hope you enjoy and I’ll see you later!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Chasing the Messenger

NEXT Chapter: Clear Waters

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18 thoughts on “Chapter 9: Sanguine

  1. This was an awesome chapter! As usual, of course. Novak is an interesting one– he seems to be good at living on the edge and loves a challenge. Vanja is very touchy about stuff. And has really high standards for everything! It doesn’t surprise me that Tad is impressed with the theft, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yay, I’m so glad you liked it. Yeah, Novak is a survivor, though his love for the challenge tends to also get him into more trouble than even he can handle. And Vanja is a… challenging person to be friends with. I’m sure we’ll see them both again later… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • 😀 Thanks! Amelia really is in very unfamiliar territory. When I was taking the pics, Amelia seemed to be lit much more brightly than anything else in most of the pictures. Maybe it was just her bright clothes but it was kind of funny and just made her look even more out of place.

      And yeah, Tad isn’t really a person. It’s fun to write parts when it becomes clear that his mind works really differently from that of people in many regards.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Of course death doesn’t care about what some humans think is “right”. That’s not how the universe works. If you’re alive, you gotta die at some point. I mean, the planet is struggling to deal with how many humans are alive on it right now. If no humans ever died, life would be incredibly horrible because of the pollution and the overcrowding and the trash everywhere and also…but if no one ever died, I guess we wouldn’t have killed off all the other species? But how would that even work?

    I guess….like I said before, I was seven when my father died. And it seemed pretty obvious to me even then that he died of a heart attack, and that all it meant was that his heart stopped working. I never thought about fairness in relation to it. I mean, I wish he hadn’t smoked, because he was developing emphysema and I’m sure that didn’t help, but I also understand because in the culture he grew up in, smoking was pretty much expected. And they didn’t know about the health risks as much back when he started.

    But anyway, yeah. It happened because his heart stopped working. That’s it. The universe is chaos and things just happen as a matter of cause and effect and “fairness” is a human invention, but that doesn’t mean that it’s meaningless. It just means that humans have to take action if they want things to be fair. Like, you know, heart attacks just happen, but humans are free to arrange their societies in such a way as to NOT make people go into bankruptcy if they have a serious illness, despite what my fellow Americans believe, and they are free to care for those left behind.

    And the personification of Death is free to care for its friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see (again) that our worldviews match in many, many ways. 🙂 I probably shouldn’t respond to such thoughtful comments at 1 a.m when I’m too tired to be very profound, but if I didn’t it would bother me. So if I say something really stupid or accidentally insensitive, then I blame my tiredness.

      Anyway, I love this comment, and I totally agree. And I’m still sorry about your father. Life isn’t fair, and at least I don’t see that it would have been given some universal, greater meaning, so that’s why human-made concepts like fairness and purpose and other good things are all the more important.

      As a person who lives in a country with basically free health care (though of course it’s not without its problems; nothing is), I can totally agree that yes, it is possible to do. I really hope that it would become more widespread. But I guess it’s complicated, although sometimes I feel like it’s one of those things that have been made even more complicated than it needs to be.

      Like

  3. Vanja really wanted to get Novak! I guess he has five months – what will they do in that time? Honestly if I were Amelia I would be excited to be in a supernatural mystery and be all in instead of awkwardly on the side, but I guess I am a supernatural fan. Great chapter!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thought with the teaser pic they might be going to Bridgeport. Fun teleportation sequence. The pelting of hail did make me smile.

    Novak is an interesting character. I like his style… it fits vampire/blogger/thief. I thought Tad handled the whole situation graciously.

    The Landgrabbs 0_0 the plot thickens.

    Vanja seems a bit jaded, hmm? Maybe she’s not. Maybe she’s right about Death not caring about humanity because everyone has to eventually die and Death doesn’t care when or where or how. But Tad seems different and complex and like he does care on some level, and that’s why I love your intriguing, complicated, and unique personification of Death. It would be hard to relate to him if he didn’t care at all. I think too, if he didn’t care at all, he wouldn’t be hanging out with Amelia. He wouldn’t need to do so, and I think they bring out the good in each other. They have an odd friendship, but most intriguing one.

    This was probably one of my favorite section of lines of all time from your stories.
    ” Magic had always been a part of her fantasy-oriented childhood. Not real magic, of course, but the magic of dreams and drawings and books. To have concrete proof that there was real magic after all… in sparkly form, was just too inspiring.”
    I loved escaping into the magical world of books in my childhood and still do. I love appreciating the magic of a beautiful piece of art, or waking up after an inspiring dream. “Real magic” as Amelia is discovering is pretty sweet in the Tango world. I am looking forward to reading more and seeing more sparkles. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 Novak’s actually not a vampire. He just hangs around them at the moment because they’re good meatshields in case people with guns come after him. 😀 Sorry about possibly not being clear enough about that.

      I’m so glad you like Tad and his friendship with Amelia. They do bring out sides about each other that otherwise might stay hidden. Tad’s normally pretty aloof, and his ability to care is very often questioned by others, as will become pretty apparent in some of the future chapters as well. Buut… well, I think he does care, but I can also understand Vanja’s point of view. I’d imagine caring would be rather painful and difficult for Death.

      The magic in this world is amazing, and I’ve always loved finding magic in art and stories and nature too. Amelia’s lucky enough to encounter the really flashy stuff. Though the sparkles can get pretty dangerous too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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