Amelia couldn’t concentrate on her work. That was surprising. Usually she was a very dedicated worker and enjoyed what she did. But now her thoughts kept slipping to Bridgeport and beyond. To bizarre supernatural legislations and to talks with a criminal. And to Vanja Leifsdóttir’s words.
“Everything about him besides 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.”
She wanted to walk back to Vanja’s shop and tell her that she was wrong. That Tad was her friend and that she was teaching him how to be more human. But the recent events had made her wonder if all of her work was going to be in vain. Her goal of a dark stranger turning into something approachable seemed so far away now. It was becoming shaken up by a night in a treacherous city and the nonchalance Tad had displayed about the whole thing. About just… dragging these people into a mess that could become much bigger than even he could guess.
What was he really doing here? Was Vanja right after all?
Maybe this all really was just a game for him.
The other thing that made Amelia wary was Novak Sanguine. The thought of making a deal with a criminal – not to mention the thought of said criminal’s cell phone being in her house – was not a very pleasant one.
The by now annoying What have I got myself into? kept playing on repeat in Amelia’s head again.
Amelia was supposed to be checking some customer information, but soon after starting the day she found herself straying to read Novak Sanguine’s blog on her work computer. Perhaps that would give her more insight into things. And perhaps it would somehow ease her mind a little bit.
At the very least, it really was quite interesting. Novak had indeed travelled a lot like Vanja had said. But instead of generic travel stories the blog was filled with legends and myths Novak had both collected and sometimes even tried to investigate and witness in his destinations. It was all very innocent, even though some of the photos that illustrated the stories made Amelia wonder. They were a bit too good to have been taken without some illegal trespassing.
There were terracotta soldiers from China that were said to sometimes walk around. There were many legends of mummies and the secrets of tombs and pyramids from Egypt. There were possibly haunted houses from around the world and alleged sea monster sightings from places like Windenburg and Isla Paradiso. It all made Novak Sanguine feel more approachable, Amelia admitted. But it didn’t change the fact that behind all the almost normal if slightly quirky writing was a thief, who was affiliated with some clearly dangerous people. Nevertheless, Amelia found herself immersed into the stories and her thoughts drifted to her mother all the way in France. She had basically invited Amelia over there. Could she just go there? To forget about her problems and have a bit of fun? To be honest, Amelia didn’t think she dared. Besides, there were too many things in Riverview to sort out. Like this whole mess she had started by just wanting to rent out a room to somebody. And in many ways she actually wanted to sort this out.
Amelia sighed. She was tired. Tired of all the thoughts in her head. The surprisingly warm almost-summer day made things even hazier and harder to process. Normally Amelia would have called her friends or her parents when she had too much on her mind. But this wasn’t something she could talk about to people who didn’t know about the supernatural. So who would she talk to? Tad? Eventually, yes. But Amelia felt that right now she needed to talk to someone who was easier to understand first. Vanja? She sure knew about this all, but she was a bit frightening, as much as Amelia hated to think negative things about people. Or… well, there weren’t many options left, really.
Amelia reluctantly closed her web browser and stared at the customer information in front of her, but couldn’t find the energy to concentrate. Today she was definitely not going to prove herself worthy of that raise she had requested. She almost wanted to let her head fall against the keyboard. But that would have been too alarming to her co-workers. She needed to do something, though, before these thoughts drove her crazy. Amelia opened her browser again, and with a few clicks and a little bit of typing, she had a silent cat video in front of her and she was stifling her “awws” and giggles.
Brigitte was right. Cat videos can really make one feel better… wait a minute!
Why hadn’t she thought about it before? Of course she didn’t need to be alone with her worries!
Amelia called Brigitte right away and asked if she could stop by after work. Brigitte said yes, to Amelia’s endless gratitude, and when the clock hit 16:30 Amelia was driving towards the Ley Line Nexus.
The old farmhouse looked as inviting and deceptively ordinary as before. Now the only difference was that someone was at the large balcony above the front porch. Or at least there was movement behind a huge block of ice that sat there looking out of place in the late spring. Amelia parked her car and wiped a few beads of sweat from her forehead. Summer had definitely got tired of being pushed around by the remains of winter and was now very determined to invade Riverview. Amelia cast another look at the movement on the balcony.
There was apparently a man there, and he seemed to be sculpting something out of the ice. The roar of a chainsaw assaulted Amelia’s ears once she got out of her car. Amelia hurried to the front door and rang the doorbell. No one answered. Amelia rang again, but after waiting a while longer she walked back where she could look up at the balcony.
“Hello? Excuse me!” she said and struggled to be heard over the chainsaw-whine, “EXCUSE ME?!”
The noise stopped, and the man leaned over the wooden railing. Now that he wasn’t mostly hidden behind the block of ice Amelia noticed that his ears were long and pointed. His eyes were a startling shade of turquoise. Amelia could see them all the way down to the front porch.
“What?” the man shouted a bit irritably, “What do you want?”
Amelia waved her hand in an awkward greeting.
“Hi! Sorry to bother you, but I came here to meet Brigitte! She was supposed to be home!”
The man shrugged.
“If she’s not answering, she’s probably in the backyard. Hold on, HEY, BRIDGE! ARE YOU HOME?!”
Amelia was startled momentarily by the man’s sudden shouting. The man’s ears twitched a couple of times, and then he turned back to look down at Amelia.
“Yeah. She’s there. Feel free to go around the house.”
“Oh, thank you!” said Amelia, “Uh… I’m Amelia, by the way.”
“The lady who freaked out Mimosa?” the man said, “Back when Tad got bit? Yeah, I’ve heard about you. I wasn’t home then. I’m Dewey. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sculpture to finish.”
“Of course. Sorry. It was nice meeting you.”
The gravelly sound of the chainsaw was the only answer she got to that. It was clear that Dewey had used up his social niceties.
Amelia hurried to the house’s backyard, out of the chainsaw-noise’s way.
There was a small vegetable garden in the back, and Brigitte was tending it together with her son. She looked up as soon as Amelia was about to say hello.
“You’re here already!” she said cheerfully, “I guess I got a bit carried away with our little garden here. Again. Oh, the time just flies here! Do come in! Basil, honey, you’ll be fine here, right?”
“Well, duh!” said Basil, “Of course I’ll be fine. This is basically my turf.”
“Just don’t cast any fireball-spells here.”
“That was one time, mum!”
Brigitte laughed. It was an especially warm, contagious laugh. Amelia stepped indoors with Brigitte, a spontaneous wide smile on her face. Brigitte led her to the dining room again and there was soon a plate of cookies in front of her.
“There we go,” she said, “Cranberries, macadamia nuts and chocolate chips. Mimosa made them a couple of days ago and they’re still just wonderful. Do you want some tea? Or juice?”
“Juice would be nice, thank you.”
“Yes, it is pretty warm today, isn’t it?” Brigitte said from the kitchen, “Summer will be upon us soon! It’s a lovely time, though Mimosa doesn’t like it for understandable reasons. I hope you don’t mind the blinds. They’re for her safety. That reminds me… we have to buy more sunblock for her… is orange juice fine for you? I have juice boxes.”
“That’s fine, thank you,” said Amelia again. Brigitte reminded her a lot of herself when she got into her fussy hostess mode. She wasn’t sure if it made her feel more like at home or just question her own fussiness. It could be a little overwhelming at times.
“So, you said on the phone that you wanted to talk,” said Brigitte once she had finally settled down at the dining room table. She grabbed a cookie, and Amelia did the same. She set her cookie on a small white plate, where it looked a little bit like a moon that had got lost from the sky.
“Right… talk…” Amelia said slowly, “I think I just wanted to clear my head a bit. And maybe find out more about the supernatural world. Things have been happening, and I feel like I can’t keep up.”
“That’s life, a lot of the time. That’s how I feel like anyway. I’ll help you in any way I can.”
“Thank you,” Amelia said, “Just… I think I’m just now starting to realise how much I haven’t known about this world, or even about this town. Not that I was an expert in anything to begin with, but all these supernatural secrets… I feel like I’m getting lost all the time.”
“I understand,” Brigitte said gently, “Like I said before, it can be difficult at first. Just remember that it isn’t that different from the world you’ve seen before. The ‘normal’ world is just as full of wonders and confusing things as the more magical side of it.”
Amelia slowly pushed the cookie around. It left crumbs behind it as it moved.
“I guess you’re right. But it’s still very different. I’d like to know some of the basics at least.”
“Of course. Ask away.”
Amelia paused for a moment to really think about it. About what she wanted to know the most and how much she could tell without ruining Tad’s undercover game. Was it really a game? That part at least felt like it. And perhaps that wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t like that part was playing with other people’s lives or anything. Except maybe with Amelia’s a little bit.
“So, are there supernaturals all over the world?” she finally asked.
“For the most part, yes,” Brigitte said, “It varies a lot. Some places are much friendlier towards us, others are more ignorant.”
“And you have your own society?”
Brigitte finished her cookie and took another.
“Well, yes, and no. We go along with the majority in most societies. In some towns and cities where we are the majority we may shape the rules according to our preferences, but for the most part the supernatural legislation and officials just take care of the more magical side of our lives and of the world, and for the rest we just follow the ‘natural’. Keeping up the masquerade to keep the peace in many areas is of course important as well. You know, to prevent all sorts of hassle.”
“Oh,” Amelia said, “I think I understand. So you do have your own laws? For the use of magic and everything?”
“Yes. It’s mostly things about not hurting others or trying to mess with the laws of nature too much. We also have monster hunters for keeping the more… animalistic of us in check. Dewey used to be one of them. Have you met him?”
“Yes. He was at the balcony.”
Brigitte nodded and beamed with almost motherly pride.
“He wants to become a professional artist. He especially likes to sculpt. You know, to use those very efficient slicing and stabbing techniques for something creative. In fact… DEWEY!”
Amelia was startled again.
“WHAT?” came Dewey’s shout through the ceiling.
“DO YOU WANT TO TELL AMELIA ABOUT YOUR OLD JOB?!”
“NO WAY IN HELL, AND YOU KNOW THAT!”
“ALL RIGHT, WORTH A SHOT. THANK YOU!”
Brigitte smiled serenely, and Amelia forced her shoulders to relax again.
“Well, anyway, that’s our laws in a nutshell,” Brigitte said.
“I talked to Vanja and she said they don’t apply to… everyone,” Amelia said uncertainly.
She knew she was close to dangerous grounds as far as secrets were concerned, but she couldn’t help her curiosity. Brigitte didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious, though.
“And she’s right,” she said, “Beings that have the power to influence reality and who are a part of the natural order, such as some anthropomorphic personifications and gods, are outside of the protection of the law. It’s a bit discriminative against them, but then again, they mostly take care of themselves anyway.”
Amelia stared at Brigitte.
“Wait, gods?” she finally managed to say.
“Ah, yes, that can be a bit strange to some,” Brigitte said with a small chuckle, “What we call gods are just beings – usually very powerful ones – that have managed to somehow convince some that they should be worshipped. Some of the things people worship don’t even exist. Some do. Sometimes anthropomorphic personifications are seen as gods, and they are given many names.”
“Oh,” Amelia said. So her optimistic agnosticism was still fine as a worldview. Maybe, “So… when it comes to religious things…”
“We are just as unsure as you are,” Brigitte smiled, “Just because we are called ‘super’, doesn’t make us better – or worse – than ‘just the natural’ world. We’re just a little different.”
It was a comforting thought, if not entirely something Amelia could believe yet. At the moment she certainly felt rather pathetic compared to this group of magical and superpowered beings. Amelia finally took a bite out of her cookie. It really did taste heavenly. It was crunchy and had huge chocolate chunks and sweet cranberries hiding in it. It was almost enough to make her forget that she still had tons of questions.
“These are really great!”
“I’m glad you like them.”
“I love them! Thank Mimosa for me if she doesn’t stop by.”
“I will,” Brigitte smiled, “So, is there anything else you wanted to know.”
“Oh, right…” Amelia cleared her throat, “So do these… gods and other things often just… play games with mortals?”
“Not as far as I’m aware of. They usually watch each other. If someone steps out of line, others are there to stand up against them. Of course there are some incidents in recorded history, but it really isn’t anything that different from natural disasters, a few people going mad, or… cosmic explosions.”
“That doesn’t sound very comforting,” Amelia remarked.
“I suppose it doesn’t,” Brigitte admitted, “But that’s how it goes. Life is crazy, but almost everything can be understood on some level, given a bit of effort and time.”
“I… I guess.”
Brigitte leaned forward.
“If you want some advice, then I’d say you should maybe give yourself a little more time. Don’t start worrying about gods when you can worry about what to make for dinner. That’s what I always say, anyway.”
She paused and regarded Amelia thoughtfully.
“Am I helping at all? I can tell that all this isn’t easy digest right away.”
“It’s not,” Amelia admitted, “Not all of it anyway. But I think you cleared some things up. And it’s good to know there’s someone I can talk to about this. Thank you.”
After Amelia had finished her cookie and her juice, she was again on her way, with her thoughts still buzzing, but with a bit more happiness in her heart.
She bought some flowers from the nearest flower shop and stopped by the cemetery, where she said hellos to her father’s grave and basked in the sunlight that had again turned from stifling to comforting. Almost, at least. Amelia smiled gently at dad’s gravestone and then left, the chrysanthemums she had brought to the grave waving at her in the breeze.
Once she got back home she did something she hadn’t done in a while and dug out dad’s old fishing rod.
She shed her neat jacket and put on her yellow rainboots before she walked to Simomon’s shore. Dad had loved fishing, and Amelia remembered going with him to the river, in both stifling heat and pouring rain, to catch something that they would then cook together into a delicious meal.
Her stomach rumbled as she watched the white and red bobber dance in the water, but she didn’t feel like eating yet. She’d do that once she was a bit more relaxed. She thought of the fishing trips with dad, with dad explaining to her how they would only catch as much as they’d need, and no more. How they should treat the fish with respect. How she had been six years old and afraid to touch the tiny vendace that had caught on the hook. How dad had laughed and let the still-living fish go on its way. That day had been a sunny one, just like today…
She felt a fish tug at the hook. Amelia’s eyes brightened and she started reeling in her catch with almost too much force. It was quite a big one, she estimated. Medium size, so perfect for food. Maybe she could make dinner out of it. It would be delicious and last for a few days.
Amelia didn’t want to break her concentration, but she did anyway. Tad’s voice hit her like a shard of ice.
“Um… hi,” she said and kept struggling with the stubborn fish, “What are you doing here?”
Tad’s eyes gleamed in the sun.
“Work,” he said.
“Are you thinking of expanding your garden all the way here?” Amelia asked.
Tad looked meaningfully at the orange fish that now struggled helplessly in the air. Amelia looked at it blankly for a second before it clicked.
She bit her lip, and in a bout of sudden rebellion she gently caught hold of the fish and eased it back into the water before it could drown in air. She took small pliers from her fishing equipment and took the hook out. She could feel Tad’s eyes at her back and she gritted her teeth. The fish was free, and it went on its way, stressed out but only slightly wounded. Amelia straightened and met Tad’s eyes again. The silence was pointed, full of tiny needles.
“It didn’t die,” Amelia said quietly.
“No, it did not.”
“But you’re here.”
“Yes. It could have died. It would have, but you changed your mind.”
“This was my and dad’s thing,” she said, “Fishing. We used to do it a lot. Let me have it.”
“It was not my intention to make you feel guilty or strange. I am not here to judge you – or anyone – for going along with the food chain.”
“What are you here for, really?” Amelia asked before she could stop herself, “Why did you come to this world?”
“I thought I told you.”
“You did,” Amelia said, “To look for the stone. Because you’re curious. But is… was Vanja right? About the game? I just… I want to understand you.”
Tad watched the river. The water reflected in his eyes, cold and slowly fading like a dying stream.
“I do not want to upset you, Amelia,” he said, “And I am trying to help you understand, just like you are helping me. Perhaps this is a game. Perhaps I could do this in a much quicker way, but I just do not want to. So in a way Miss Leifsdóttir is right. But she is also wrong, because I do care. I have to care if I want to keep doing this job. And I do want to. It is what I was born – figuratively speaking – to do. And to be.”
“I want to believe you,” Amelia said, “But sometimes… it’s a bit difficult.”
“Do you want me to curl up in a corner and… cry because of the injustices in the universes and because of the dying children and the people who would have deserved better? I cannot do that, because if I did, I would do nothing but cry. And I do not see you doing that either. Yet you still care. So much that sometimes it seems to hurt.”
Amelia bit her lip again.
“I don’t know what I want. Except for things to make sense.”
“Things rarely make sense in a world that is alive.”
Tad lifted his hands, and a faint spark was in between his fingertips before it faded away.
“It wasn’t your fish,” he said gently, “It was another one nearby. Many others, really.”
“Oh,” was all Amelia could say.
“You must know that this world is not fair,” Tad went on, “No life is. The only way I can try to be fairer than life is to guide everyone through, no matter how regrettable their end.”
Amelia said nothing. The river was humming in her ears.
“If I did not care about this world, I would hardly be here now, trying to make sense of it,” Tad said.
“I… I guess so,” Amelia managed to say, “Sorry. It’s just that… what happened in Bridgeport wasn’t very… I mean, are you sure it’s going to work?”
Tad looked at Amelia uncertainly.
“What? Finding the gemstone? Perhaps. I cannot see it, so I do not know for sure.”
He smiled again, this time actually rather gleefully.
“In fact, it is very exciting! Not seeing, I mean.”
“Well, not that I would see everything anyway. But I see even less when it comes to this. For what it is worth, I do not want to cause any trouble that I could not fix. I am very strict about that.”
“Um… good to know. I’m just a bit… worried about all this. And about Novak… I mean, he’s a criminal.”
“I know him somewhat,” Tad said, “He is not a bad man. Trust me.”
They fell silent. Amelia couldn’t really classify their silence. Was it awkward or comfortably friendly? Maybe awkwardly friendly. Yeah, that sounded about right.
“So are we alright?” Tad asked suddenly.
Amelia thought about it.
“I think we are,” she said.
“Thank you. Amelia?”
“You are a good friend.”
Tad stared at his shoes rather shyly.
“Do you… think that you could teach me more about humanity again?”
To her own surprise, Amelia found herself smiling.
“All right. How about we go out in the town and eat dinner there?”
“Oh? That sounds… intimidating.”
“It’s really not.”
“Well, I suppose I can do that,” Tad said, “After all, I have caused you a lot of worries of late. It is only fair if you scare me a little bit in return.”
Author’s Note: Here you go, a calmer chapter after the more action-y one! I’m pretty sure these calmer chapters will get fewer and fewer as this story progresses, so embrace them while they last. Or don’t, if you’re not into that sort of thing.
Uh… not much to say about this. I hope you enjoy and have a good time!