Amelia had never been to Twinbrook. It was rather far away, and to be fair it didn’t really have anything that would have drawn her to it. The only reason she had heard of the town to begin with was because it had been on the news a couple of times because of some unfortunate events involving some criminals. Amelia couldn’t remember what it had been exactly. She usually just skimmed over the more tragic news. But now she was looking at an unfamiliar swamp that was apparently situated at the edges of Twinbrook, and realised that it was very beautiful, in its own soggy and overgrown way. It wasn’t as dark there as it was in Riverview yet, and Amelia tried to remember if Twinbrook was in a different time zone than her hometown. It probably was. The air was cool, and a wind chilled with humidity blew through the thicket of trees. Amelia was glad she had changed into some warmer and more swamp-appropriate clothes before they had left.
“So, here we are,” said Novak, glancing at Tad with a crooked smile on his face, “That space-jumping thing really saves time and money. Ever thought of starting a transportation business?”
“No,” Tad said, “These small jumps alone make dents in reality. Besides, my job is transportation enough.”
“I was kidding.”
“You know, to lighten the mood before we go to confront the creepy necromancer-guy.”
“I thought you said he’s not a necromancer anymore.”
“He is not,” Tad said, “I have not felt anything amiss around his home for years now.”
“Yeah, but didn’t you just say you can’t see him very clearly now?” Novak said, “Maybe he knows that too.”
Tad thought about it, his eyes narrowing in what Amelia assumed was uncertainty. Then he shook his head.
“Then we just have to go and see.”
He didn’t look very pleased by the possibility of a necromancer planning something behind his back. Amelia suppressed a shiver. If something was enough to make Death squeamish, it had to be unpleasant.
“Oh, fantastic,” Novak muttered.
“Is it really that bad?” Amelia asked.
Novak crossed his arms.
“Look, undead or no, being a necromancer, not to mention defending necromancy, takes a certain kind of person. You know, the kind that doesn’t really care about stuff like human rights or good taste. I’m not an expert on what goes into raising the dead, but from what I know, the way the necromancers did it was basically enslaving souls or something.”
“It was worse than that,” Tad said quietly, “But like I said, he has been behaving for decades now. That is a long time for a human. I will try to stay optimistic about it.”
He looked at Amelia, managing a small smile.
“Worry not, things should not get too dangerous.”
Amelia laughed nervously.
“Uh, good to know.”
They started walking deeper into the swamp, and Amelia watched the beautiful surroundings in amazement. It wasn’t the flowery, cosy kind of beauty Riverview had, nor was it the polished, glimmering beauty of a big city. This was the faded, forgotten kind. Like old yellowed newspaper clippings, or dried flowers that still kept their shape despite their fragility. The cattails swayed gently in the chilly wind, and the last rays of the sun played on the unfamiliar waters. Amelia felt like an explorer on her way to the unknown. Because that was what all these trips to the supernatural were becoming to her. It wasn’t about a good mystery, really, even though they were trying to solve the case of the stolen gemstone. Because according to what Amelia had read in detective stories, good mysteries should have included less new and amazing things and more skeletons in the closets of people the reader at least somewhat knew. But she tried to think about this from the perspective of Tad, who knew everyone in the world. In that sense, it was a mystery too.
And here it is important to note that Tad did know Mr. Deacon rather well. He had been following the necromancy-discussion very intently back when it had been relevant. In fact, some of the graffiti protesting against necromancy back in the day may have been carved with an exceptionally sharp scythe. Tad didn’t remember Mr. Deacon very fondly, as he had said, but he naturally included the man in his personal circle of Universal Compassion despite some of the man’s less than pleasant experiments.
Really, he hadn’t spared Mr. Deacon much thought after the man had straightened out and stopped committing soul-enslavement. But now he tried to recall the man, and it was all a blur.
He caught glimpses, as if the man tried to hide himself without perfectly succeeding. That was not a common occurrence in the existence of Death.
It didn’t take long for them to reach their destination. Tad had made them appear close to the small cabin that stood near the shore of what Amelia assumed was a large river or a lake. She couldn’t quite tell in the quickly approaching dark. Amelia’s boots sunk into the suddenly soft ground, and she gasped before pulling her feet free. The squishy sound echoed in the sudden silence. Amelia looked up at the cabin, and then blinked. Then she blinked again, but nothing changed.
It was too dark. Hadn’t it been sunset just a while ago?
“What happened?” she breathed.
She heard a small gasp in her right, and realised it was Tad. She turned to him and saw that his eyes had widened. He looked eerie in the foggy, unnaturally bluish dark.
“I think we passed a line,” he said, frowning, “It is… strange. It is like an area of forgetfulness.”
“Whatever it is, it works on me too,” Novak said, “Or at least it makes things dark and cold. You think that stone of yours could be used to create something like this?”
“Perhaps. Mixed with some magic, definitely. But it does not seem to be completely working.”
The wind blew again, but this time it was downright chilling. Amelia rubbed her hands.
“Let’s hope he’s home,” she said, noticing that her voice trembled a little. She wasn’t sure if it was just because of the cold. The whole swamp looked far more eerie now. She wondered if everything would turn back to normal if she just took a few steps back. But finding that out had to wait, because they weren’t turning back now. They walked across the small front yard, and Tad knocked on the slightly water-damaged door.
“Mr. Deacon?” he said, “I need to talk to you.”
There was a long silence. Tad knocked on the door again. Amelia felt more chills going down her spine. Then:
“I’m not buying anything!” said a cranky voice from behind the door.
“And I am not selling anything,” Tad said, “I have to ask you something. My name is Thanatos Dustpine.”
“I don’t care about any religious crap either!” the voice yelled.
“I am just a fact of life. Open the door, please.”
“Get out of my property right now!”
“No. This is important. Stop trying to keep us out.”
Suddenly, there was laughter. It was hoarse and worn out, but it made Amelia extremely nervous. Mr. Deacon’s laughter was caught in the blue fog and amplified until it was a suffocating blanket around them.
“You believe in magic, don’t you, kid?” he said.
Tad folded his arms.
“I can just ask my questions through the door, if you want. Have you recently had a magical gemstone in your possession?”
Silence. Then the same laughter sneaked through the door again.
“Get out right now, kid. You get three seconds.”
“Tad…” Amelia said, “I don’t think he’s going to cooperate.”
Three seconds passed. The silence became threatening.
Then a light exploded on the porch, and Amelia felt something hit her in the chest hard enough to send her flying from the porch and landing on the muddy ground. She heard Novak grunt when he landed next to her and immediately rolled into a kneeling position.
Tad spun around, still on the porch and seemingly unaffected by the blast that had knocked Amelia and Novak down.
“Are you-? Be careful!”
Amelia looked behind her when she heard a small groan there. A flash of light briefly illuminated the ground near her and Novak, and something scrambled up from it. Amelia suppressed a shocked yelp.
A greenish, rotting corpse stood up from the ground, letting out a gravelly, horribly mangled sound that could only be produced with half-composed lungs and frayed vocal cords. The smell of dead things and something pungent Amelia couldn’t identify assaulted her nose, and she gagged. Next to her, Novak cursed:
“Shit! I knew it! Why can’t the old swamp-dwelling hermits stick to the good old-fashioned shotguns instead?”
The zombie swayed, and then, with another disgusting gurgle, it started lumbering towards them.
“Oh, crap,” Novak said, “Get up!”
Amelia didn’t need to be told twice. She scrambled to her feet and backed away against the cold foundation of the old house. More sounds, like a collection of horrible, water-logged parodies of breathing, surrounded them. More lights flashed, and more corpses shambled from the bushes.
Throughout the years, many people had died or been dumped into the waters of the swamp around Twimbrook. Amelia didn’t know it, but now she came face to face with the majority of them. Or at least what was left of them.
“Mr. Deacon?” Amelia heard Tad say in an oddly strained voice, “Stop this at once!”
“I told you to get off my property!” came the defiant reply, “I’ve got nothing to say to trespassing kids!”
A sickening crack made Amelia jump. Novak had just hook-kicked the nearest zombie, and its head had snapped into an unnatural angle. Amelia cringed when she heard old joints snapping. Novak grimaced.
“Gross. Hey, old man! What the hell is wrong with you?! Are you trying to kill us?”
There was no response. Maybe Mr. Deacon hadn’t heard Novak’s yell. Or maybe he just didn’t want to answer anymore. Novak kicked the zombie to the ground, and watched it try to get up with its head twisted almost completely around. A couple of the other zombies just shambled over it like it was just a bump in the road. More and more corpses shook the bushes around them. Amelia couldn’t see them all, but she definitely heard them; a small army of zombies lurked nearby. Novak raised his fists, but Amelia could tell he wasn’t feeling very confident.
“Well, that’s a lot more than I expected,” Novak said, “This guy has put up a real zombie-factory, it seems. Hey, Tad, any help?”
Amelia glanced at Tad, who stood frozen on the porch.
“So many of them,” he whispered, and then he raised his voice, “Do not hurt them! They do not know what they are doing!”
“Are you kidding me?” Novak snapped, “I happen to like my internal organs to stay internal!”
Tad hit the door again with his fist, this time more angrily.
“Mr. Deacon! Stop this! Let them go!”
Amelia wanted to run, but there wasn’t really anywhere to run. There seemed to be dozens of corpses lying in wait in every bush. And one by one, all of them inched their way towards them. They were slow and unsteady, but they didn’t need speed when their target was cornered between a house, a swamp, and them.
“Mr. Deacon!” Tad said, “You know this is not allowed!”
The man laughed.
“What do you know about this, kid? You’d just better run, you all!”
“Hey, Tad, he’s not going to listen!” Novak shouted, “Just. Do. Something!”
Novak kicked the nearest zombie in the stomach, but by now there wasn’t much room to move. Amelia felt panic rising in her chest, and she backed away until she almost stumbled at the stairs of the porch. This wasn’t just a misunderstanding or frenzied, otherwise friendly supernatural beings. This was a real danger.
“Mr. Deacon? Mr. Deacon!”
Amelia faintly heard the tension in Tad’s voice. Like a bowstring at the breaking point. A zombie made a grab at her, and she ducked under it and frantically pushed it away. Her hands hit its soft, bloated arms and almost tore them off. She quickly withdrew her hands in disgust, but at least the zombie lost its balance and stumbled back. Another one fell after Novak managed to sweep its legs from under it, but it immediately latched onto Amelia’s ankle. This time Amelia screamed.
Amelia gasped. The voice wasn’t Tad’s. Or well, it was, but it wasn’t what Amelia had got used to hearing from him. It was cold and dark, echoing from the beginnings of the universes. The zombie grabbing onto Amelia’s leg let out a howl and scrambled away from her. It writhed on the ground for a moment before it went still. The other zombies swayed and froze, and then they too slumped to the ground, unmoving. The bushes around them quieted.
“Well, about time…” he said, but then he frowned, “Hey, Tad? Grimmy? Anybody home?”
Now Amelia turned on shaky legs to look at Tad too. He stood on the porch, fists clenched and face frozen into a look of anger. Something cold rolled over the yard. Amelia felt her extremities go numb.
“Tad?” she asked in a fearful voice.
Tad didn’t seem to hear her. He turned around and marched into the house. Amelia and Novak hurried after him.
The door flew open in a hurry to get out of his way before he even had time to touch it. Mr. Deacon, who had been standing behind the door, was thrown to the floor with some invisible force that threatened to tear the paintings from the walls.
Amelia felt something in her being curl into a ball. It was probably her soul. Air seemed to try to rush out of the room, and shadows gathered into the edges of Amelia’s vision. Some of them draped around Tad like a cloak. Mr. Deacon looked shocked and cast one look at Tad before yelping and cringing back.
“It… i-it’s you!” he stuttered, “Gods, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to… I wasn’t going to really hurt you or your friends! I just wanted to scare you, I swear!”
Tad took a step forward, his clenched fists trembling.
“Scare?” he said quietly, but the voice echoed so that it might as well have been a yell, “That is why you felt the need to torture all those souls? Just to frighten trespassers?”
“I… I just thought-”
“No,” Tad’s voice sliced through the man’s plea like a knife. Or like something else that was sharp, but more suited to agricultural work, “You did not. You did not spare a single thought to the spirits you tore apart and forced into those bodies, did you?”
“I’m sorry!” Mr. Deacon sobbed, “I was just protecting myself! I needed something to back me up! And I had nothing else! I swear, I just wanted to be safe!”
“And yet, when we came in peace you still decided to force them to attack? I gave you many chances to free them, yet you refused! Instead you tried to make them hurt my friend!”
Amelia could barely breathe. It was just so… terrifying and surreal. Death or no, this was Tad, after all. The admittedly occasionally creepy but mostly shy, overly polite kitten of a person. Tad took another step, and Mr. Deacon cried out as if in sudden pain. Amelia felt her own soul almost trying to push through her skin just to get away from Tad. Mr. Deacon was probably experiencing something similar, if not something worse.
“Those souls do not belong to you,” Tad said in an even quieter voice, his eyes like shards of ice, “They do not belong to anyone but themselves. You should know that by now.”
“Please! I told you I was sorry! Just… stop it!”
Amelia didn’t know what she was doing. Fear made her movements sluggish, and she wanted nothing more than to just get away from Death. But another part of her, the one that kept tugging her forward, knew that Tad would never want to truly hurt anyone.
This is a terrible idea, her mind said. She didn’t listen to it.
Her hand closed around Tad’s arm. All feeling disappeared from her fingertips, and the numbness started climbing up her forearm. She tried her best to ignore it.
“Tad,” she said in a barely audible voice. It was all her constricted throat could manage, “Tad? Stop. Please.”
Tad’s fingers twitched. The numbness reached past Amelia’s elbow.
For a moment, everything was still.
Then Tad’s shoulders relaxed. The shadows retreated into their places. Amelia felt warmth slowly inching its way back into her arm. Tad slowly lifted a hand to his forehead.
“I… I apologise,” he said quietly, “We… we had a point here, did we not?”
Mr. Deacon seemed to be able to breathe properly again. He gasped and opened his eyes, which had previously been screwed shut.
“Mr. Deacon,” Tad said. His voice was still cold, but at least it sounded more human again, “Are you willing to answer my questions now?”
Mr. Deacon nodded furiously, unsteadily getting on his knees.
“Yes! Yes, of course I will!”
“Good. Now, you had a gemstone in your possession some time ago, did you not?”
“I… yes. But I don’t have it anymore! And I didn’t steal it! It was my children who brought it! They asked me to cut it up without destroying the magic in it! That’s all I know, I swear!”
“Children? But you do not have… oh. Right.”
Novak, who had stayed quiet and stood rather nervously in the background, pulled out his phone and tapped it a couple of times.
“He has two kids, actually,” he said, “Lydia and Gaius Deacon.”
“Yes,” Tad said, “So they have it… wait…”
He put his hands to his head when the rest of Mr. Deacon’s words sunk in.
“You… cut it? Into pieces?”
“Yes. They asked me to,” Mr. Deacon said, “Not too small ones. Four, to be exact. I saw no harm in it. I mean, I knew what it was, of course, but I didn’t know they’d stolen it!”
“Funny,” Tad said in an anything but amused tone, “Because I do not recall saying it was stolen.”
Mr. Deacon gulped.
“Okay, so maybe I did know,” he admitted, “But you know, I was just glad the kids had finally achieved something great. I let them use my pseudonym for renting a warehouse to get the stone from that thief they hired. You know, proud dad and all that? But… lately I’ve been worried. Feeling like I was just a tool in something big. That’s why I… well, you know, wanted to make sure I was protected. I used the dust from the stone I cut, along with some magic, to hide myself the best I could, and then started… getting help.”
Tad frowned at the reference to the zombie army.
“Where are your children now?” he asked.
“Hell if I know. They’re adults. They don’t tell all their goings-on to their old man. They tell me barely anything, really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! I’m not lying this time!”
Tad glared at the man, but then sighed.
“Very well. Then I suppose we are done here.”
He turned around, but then spared one more glance at the still cowering old man.
“I will be taking back the souls you hurt. Try not to do it again.”
Mr. Deacon nodded again. He looked old and ashen, the wrinkles like cobwebs on his face. Amelia felt a small twinge of pity towards him when they stepped back outside and closed the door, leaving the man alone in his cabin.
The prone zombies were still lying in front of them. Tad looked mournful when he walked down to the corpses and raised his hand.
“Necromancy is not just about enslaving spirits of the dead,” he said, “Those who wish to raise armies like this find it easier to catch just a few souls – usually in-betweeners, whom you call ghosts – and cut them into smaller pieces. A walking corpse has no need for an entire sense of self, after all.”
He said the last part bitterly, clearly echoing someone else’s words. Amelia shivered. Small rays of light rose from the zombies and gathered to hover over Tad’s open palm. Tad watched as the rays fought and then reluctantly merged into a ball.
“It is all right,” he said gently to the soul-spark, “I will do my best to patch you all up.”
He closed his hand into a fist, and the light was gone. Amelia didn’t know how many spirits had been there, but judging by Tad’s reaction, she didn’t even want to know. So she didn’t ask, and for a while there was only silence and the smell of swamp, corpses and embalming fluids.
Tad wrapped his arms around himself.
“We should go,” he said in a tired voice, “At least we have a new lead now.”
“I am sorry about… losing my temper.”
He started walking past the corpses, towards the hopefully less dark parts of the swamp. Amelia and Novak shared a worried glance between each other, and then hurried after the retreating form of Death.
They passed the magical line of darkness in sombre silence. In the dimming remnants of daylight, Amelia glanced back towards the cabin once more. She shuddered and caught up with the others.
Author’s Note: Angry Tad is angry and kind of creepy. And really difficult to write. I’ve got so used to writing him as his usual shy sweetheart self that it’s hard to break away from it even when his rage buttons are pushed. Also I finally had an excuse to liken Tad to a cat/kitten, because I’ve realised that he kind of looks like one. I don’t know how clear it is in still pics, but especially in-game he somehow reminds me of a cat. I don’t know what it is, but in any case I think it’s adorable because cats are the best.
I have no idea if it’s believable for Twinbrook time to be earlier than Riverview time. I guess it’s possible, seeing how I’m imagining that SimNation is basically USA but more Sims-like. And Twinbrook is apparently situated in Simisouri a.k.a Missouri, so it’s kind of in the middle time zone-wise. But since I figure Riverview could be almost anywhere where there are small farming communities in this sort of northern and western hemisphere area I guess it’s fine. Also note that my grasp on the geography of USA is pretty abysmal anyway.
Doing a photoshoot with zombies was a total pain. Especially since I thought I would get away easier by just setting the moon phase to full moon (and that way I got that lighting effect that I think made for some really nice pics) and waiting for the zombies to appear instead of getting zombification elixirs, but those buggers refused to show up in larger numbers the first couple of nights, and when they did they usually just stood around without doing anything that would have made for good shots. Gah! Well, at least it’s over now. Rest in peace, random zombie-townies and the chopped up souls in them.
Have a great time!