Amelia was happy. There was a certain skip in her steps, and she had the light-headed, knowing look of a person who had discovered something about age-old questions. Because she had, in a way. There was also a bit less fear in her, though Tad didn’t have time to properly assess just how much less. For in the morning she left for work, just like in many other mornings, and Tad pretended to go to the university while in reality he went to work as well.
It was a fairly good day. A less than average amount of species dying out, and many peaceful moments of passing. Tad knew that he should have been content. He had done a lot of things right lately, it seemed. Not just as Death, but as Tad Dustpine as well. They were nearing the gemstone, and Tad had managed to sort out the difficult act of gift-giving better than he had thought. To him, he felt like he was on his way to understanding something. Something about humanity and about himself. But still, there was something missing, and he couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was.
He felt like all of the things he had learned so far in the human world were a bit disjointed. Like he needed something to tie them together. Sure, just the good feeling of learning new things was a start, but Tad figured there was more to the human experience than just new things and feelings. He knew that people’s lives were a collection of meanings and meetings… of learning, loving, and leaving, among other things. It all came together into something that was greater than the sum of its parts. And that was what his journey had been like too, at least in a way. But what was the thing that held it together? What were the things that made a life?
He supposed the answer was different for everyone. But what could it be for him?
He felt like he didn’t have enough time. After he found the gemstone, he knew he should go back. But the more the days passed, the less he wanted to go.
What had Amelia said to him when he had been worrying about it again?
“…maybe instead of thinking what you should do, we could think of what you want to do?”
Yes. He had started to do that more… and so far things were going well. The universe hadn’t gone into shock when he had wanted to visit Emily or start working as a gardener. He had even bended the rules just a bit to let Amelia visit his realm – no matter how much he had assured Amelia that it was perfectly alright to do so – and nothing bad had happened. It was Fate who was worried, but she tried to antagonise him a lot anyway. Otherwise, only when the things that he did seemed more forceful, more selfish than simply curious or gentle did the universe get worried as well. Like when he had for a moment wanted to keep Emily. Besides those small moments, everything had been fine.
Perhaps he had been figuring this out all along. Being him among mortals, that is. Pretending to be human was simply a way to become more him, he supposed. But then… what was it that he was missing?
He got his answer a few days later. Or at least a part of it.
That day was a rather chilly one. It was the kind of chill that stubbornly lingered even in the deceptive sunlight. Tad left early in the morning for work, and towards his answers he didn’t yet know he’d get. And Amelia was even more oblivious to Tad’s answers and even his questions. After the birthday she had been on her own little cloud, which had been created from certainty, closure, and happiness. She left for work with a light heart and returned equally happy. By that time, Novak had gone out on his own, and Julia and Philippe had also got up and were probably engrossed in some fun activity to pass the time. Amelia didn’t feel like disturbing them.
Mum had been so tired after being a party-arranging hurricane just a few days ago. She had then rediscovered her easel in the library, and had dug out her oil paintings and spent a lot of time just painting happy flowers and beautiful forests that lacked any of the creative anguish she had claimed to have in her youth. Amelia could hear her humming all the way to the front door, and turned towards the living room with a plan to get a good book and relax after the day.
But a shard of awkwardness cracked her joy a little bit when she realised that Philippe Bouchard was in the living room as well.
“Um… hello,” she said. She hadn’t purposefully avoided Philippe and she certainly didn’t want to be rude. But she still wasn’t sure what to make of him.
“Ah, hello, Amelia,” Philippe said in his heavily accented Simlish, “I was trying to find a book. To learn more of your… langue… language, and to pass time.”
“Can you recommend something?”
“Sure,” Amelia thought about it, “What kind of books do you like? We have a lot; if mum lets you disturb her painting, you can go look from the library too. Here we got some romance, mystery, fantasy… and my dad used to love historical fiction, so there’s a whole shelf of that too…”
She trailed off. Philippe didn’t seem to mind.
“You must miss your father,” he said.
“I do,” Amelia whispered, “But I know he’s somewhere nice.”
“So do I,” Philippe said, his tone surprisingly gentle. Amelia realised that Philippe had lived for long enough to have lost someone for sure too, “Your mother misses him too. She missed you and this place as well. She read Riverview Times every morning from her tablet in Champs Les Sims.”
“Of course. We talk lot about loss. She talks about your father, and I talk about my late wife. Perhaps not most… joyous thing to bond over.”
“My condolences,” Amelia said automatically, “About your wife.”
“Likewise about your father.”
“I like mysteries,” he said.
“Oh…” it took a while before Amelia remembered what they had been talking about in the beginning, “Oh, right! Have you read The Case of the Red Bicycle? It’s really clever.”
“I haven’t. I’ll… how you say… give it a try.”
Amelia had to admit that she had maybe been a bit unfairly wary about Philippe. She found the book she had recommended and handed it over, feeling the splinter of awkwardness starting to tentatively fade away. Sometimes it was the smallest things that could spark an epiphany.
In Tad’s case, the spark came from the house of one Lucky Perkins (no relation to a certain god-turned-archivist). The house was situated at the edge of Riverview, far away from the centre and the fields. Lucky Perkins was far from the most prominent members of the community, but he wasn’t exactly the most isolated one either – though that was rather given considering the town had housed two people who had locked themselves away from the world completely, and a man who lived in a bunker and waited for the world to end. Lucky did his own thing, lived in his own pace, and had his own dreams, most of which were bigger than what he actually bothered to pursue.
For him, mac and cheese for lunch wasn’t a dream come true, but it was passable enough to be happy about.
“I hope you don’t mind that I eat while you’re here,” he said while stirring pasta on the cracked but still perfectly functional stove.
“Of course I do not mind, it is your home, after all.”
“Good. Aren’t you going to call someone to pick you up now?”
“I uh… I need to remember the number first.”
“Right. That’s the problem with cell phones. All the numbers are in there, so there’s no need to remember. Soon everything’ll be digital and nobody remembers nothing. People’s brains are turning into mush, is what I think.”
“Let us hope it does not go that far.”
“There’s a difference between useful and mind-numbing.”
Lucky Perkins hadn’t been expecting visitors that day – or in many days in general. He had some friends, but not many, and he was quite happy being in peace in his small ramshackle kingdom – which could have been less ramshackle, really, but he was working on it. In small steps. When he actually bothered. But today his peace had been interrupted by a sickly-looking kid who had been wandering in his yard. When Lucky had asked what the kid was doing there, the poor thing had looked like a deer in the headlights and muttered something about being early, and then claiming to be lost and without a way to call anyone. Lucky had let the kid in, but was keeping an eye on him. Not that Lucky had anything worth stealing, but he’d read the papers. Some people were getting more and more desperate nowadays. They weren’t the honest kind of people who borrowed things without a fuss and then just forgot to return them. You know, people like Lucky. Nowadays people had weapons and no mercy.
“So, remembering the number now?”
“Not yet,” the boy said, sounding almost embarrassed about the whole situation.
“You know, I have a knife, so don’t even think about attacking or robbing me,” Lucky said, turning around to face the boy, “Also, that’s my seat, and I need to sit on it when I eat.”
“Oh, sorry,” the boy stood up quickly, almost skittishly, “And I am not here to rob or attack you.”
“Good. Not that I have anything worth stealing,” Lucky said, “But I’m getting there. Just the other day I got that radio.”
He pointed at the radio on his chest of drawers. He had found it from a garbage heap, but it worked. So what if some of the wires were a bit exposed? He had tested it and it worked fine with the generator he had made from spare parts in one of his active moments.
“It looks very nice,” the kid said, “You should probably watch your food. Those stoves have caused many deadly fires.”
Lucky spun around to take his now done pasta off the stove.
“I know what I’m doing,” he said. He slapped the mac and cheese on a plate and then made his way to his chair.
“Sorry, I didn’t make enough for two,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting lost people on my yard.”
“Oh, that is fine. I do not need to eat,” the boy said, “Mr. Perkins, can I ask you a question?”
“You just asked.”
“Yes. But I… well, you seem like a happy person.”
“I am. Mostly.”
“What is it that makes you happy? What is it that makes a life fall into place?”
Those were at least questions a burglar or an axe-murderer probably wouldn’t ask. Well, maybe the poetic ones did. Lucky was… well, lucky in that he hadn’t really encountered many dangerous people in his life, so he wasn’t sure what they said, really. In any case, the questions were reassuring. Maybe the kid just needed direction with more than just finding his way back home.
“Well,” he said between forkfuls of delicious macaroni and cheese, “That isn’t some recipe you can buy from a store and then make happen just like that. It’s different for everyone. As for me, I got dreams but I’m also happy with the things I’ve done. Some people call me lazy, but what do they know? I can do plenty of things when I just bother. I’ve got my place in the world, and I’m not saying that in a giving up kind of way. Just as a state of mind, you know? Like I know that I’m where I should be, and going where I should go. Of course, I could have a nicer house. And a car. But I’m working on it. Really.”
The kid thought about it. Lucky could see something working behind the kid’s unusual eyes. He couldn’t really figure out what it was before he got dizzy and had to look away.
“You seem to be very wise, Mr. Perkins,” the boy finally said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You going to make that call now?”
“Ah, yes. Call… I uh… I suppose so.”
Lucky set aside his now emptied plate and stood up.
“You know, I think you’re lying to me and you don’t really need my phone,” he said.
The boy blinked.
“Yes… you are right,” he admitted.
“Right. So if you could just go, so I won’t have to call the police.”
“I… very well. I am sorry to bother you.”
“Right. Now move along. There’s a radio drama I want to catch.”
He went to switch on his radio.
“I was so sure the exposed wires wouldn’t be a problem!”
“We all make mistakes, Mr. Perkins.”
“Darn! I would’ve wanted to know how the play ends… And it’s not my time yet!”
“It is now, I’m afraid.”
Lucky knew he should have been freaking out way more about this. After getting a shock from his radio and then realising that he was looking at himself – who was lying on the floor after convulsing on it for several seconds, it had all sunk in pretty fast. Maybe being a ghost dulled emotions, because even after he had realised what had happened, he was still oddly at peace. Like he was wrapped in bubble wrap. Maybe it was a shock of some kind.
“So… I’m really dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the boy, who didn’t seem to be at all fazed by seeing an elderly man get electrocuted. More pieces fell into place.
“And you are…?” Lucky left the sentence into the air, feeling like he didn’t need to finish it.
He sighed, even though he didn’t have air in his lungs – heck, he didn’t even have lungs for that matter – anymore.
“Well, this was it, then,” he said, “Do people… you know, get stuff after they die? Like, say… a mansion?”
“Perhaps. I think you should go and find out.”
Lucky nodded. “Perhaps” was better than “no”. In a flicker of mysterious light and fog, he was gone.
After Lucky Perkins disappeared, Tad looked around in the rather messy yet very charming yard. It really seemed like Lucky Perkins had a place in the world. Perhaps not what he had dreamed of, and perhaps one that secretly took something from others, but one that he was – in his own way – happy with.
It was one of those things Tad had known for a long while, but one that he had also needed to hear many times before he could fully start thinking about it. Maybe it was because he hadn’t really questioned his own place in the world. As Death, at least. But as for Tad Dustpine… well, things weren’t quite so clear. Yet.
It was a late evening when Tad returned home. By then, everyone else was in their places. Julia and Philippe had gone out to see a film, and Novak had locked himself into the guest room. Amelia was brewing evening tea, and smiled when Tad knocked on the door.
“You can just come in,” Amelia said when she went to answer the door, “No need to knock.”
“It feels a bit impolite,” Tad mused, “But I will keep that in mind.”
“Do that. Anyway, you’re just in time for tea. I made chai, since you seemed to really like it.”
Amelia laced her hands together and looked around.
“It’s weird… things are going back to a routine again.”
“I take it Mr. Sanguine hasn’t found anything?”
“I doubt it. I think he’d already be arranging briefings if he had.”
“Well, it does not matter.”
“Of course it does.”
“Well, yes, but… I have been thinking.”
Her question was in the air, a bit awkward and waiting to be answered. But Tad seemed to be thinking intently on what to say, and Amelia had got used to it, so she waited patiently. They walked across the hallway into the backyard, and Amelia grabbed the kitty tea set on the way. She put the tea set on the backyard table and then sat down. Tad slumped on his own seat and finally seemed to find his words:
“Did you know that it took me this long to realise that when one is everywhere at once, finding one’s place in the world – you know, as a state of mind of feeling happy and right where you are – is a bit… difficult.”
“I uh… haven’t thought about it.”
“Me neither! Isn’t that odd?”
“For you? Maybe? But… don’t you have a place? I mean, your home and your job, right?”
“Yes,” Tad sighed, “I suppose that has helped. And I am not about to leave it. It is my place. But here… in the human world, I do not think I have found it yet, and I feel like I should. Some are happy in their place of having no place, but that feels like… too much like what I already have. I would like something else as well.”
“But how can I find it? I feel like that is one of the things that would help me figure this out. Humanity, I mean. One of the things that would tie this all together. I feel at home here, in your house, but I know I am more like a welcome guest, rather than a person with a place.”
Amelia pondered it and idly moved the teacup on the table. Some tea had spilled over, and the teacup left a trail after it.
“Well, most of the time you don’t realise you’ve found it until you’ve been there for a while, I guess,” she finally said, “Like… I wasn’t sure if I’d be happy with where I am when I took up taking care of the old house. I didn’t even think about it, really. I just wanted to keep the house alive, you know? But looking back, it was a good decision.”
“That does make sense.”
“And I think you’re building something for yourself here already,” Amelia went on, “With the garden, and the friends… you know, me, Emily, the Grisbys… even Novak, I guess. And Vanja wants to get to know you better too… or at least she wants to do some weird science-magic experiments on you; I guess that counts. And as for this house, well, you always have a place here as long as I have a say in it.”
“Thank you,” Tad smiled, “And I think I know what you mean… those things about me are not really real… but they are becoming realer. And they are not manipulating or trying to force my way into the human world. They are not hurting anyone.”
“Of course not.”
Tad suddenly stood up. It was very startling how he could be slumped over in one second and then spring into sudden, precise movements in another. He really reminded Amelia of a cat sometimes. Tad started pacing.
“That’s right… when I first came here, it was because of curiosity… because I wanted experiences, but now…”
He stopped and looked wistfully at his real-world garden, which neatly grew in the corner of the Spriggs’ backyard.
“I have been thinking about this for some time now, but I think all this talk about places made me decide.”
“Decide what?” Amelia asked.
“We are perhaps nearing the gemstone,” Tad said, “Every clue takes us closer and closer. And if we can surprise the Deacons… it could be possible that it will all be over soon.”
He took a deep breath even though he didn’t need it.
“But I do not think that matters if I have not reached all these answers when that happens.”
He raised his arms as if feeling for falling rain, and closed his eyes. All fell silent, and Amelia wasn’t sure if Tad was somewhere far away, or if this was something else.
Then, Tad opened his eyes.
“Did you hear that? Or feel that?”
“The universe! It did not mind me saying that.”
“Oh. I’ll take your word for it.”
Tad closed his eyes again.
“I feel… lighter,” he said, “I do not know why.”
“Maybe that’s happiness.”
There was something very lovely about it all. Amelia felt like they had reached some sort of turning point in the humanity lessons. She had thought it would be more dramatic. But sometimes, it was the little sparks that lit the biggest fires.
“Yes,” Tad said quietly, “Maybe.”
It was a partly unspoken decision to not leave when the gemstone had been found.
However, it was also the spark that lit some very explosive indignation in the being known as Fate.
“Hello? Yes, the meeting isn’t cancelled, I’ll just be there a little late. Keep them entertained.”
“Again? This had better be important. What are you even doing?”
“I’m going to conduct and unholy summoning ritual.”
“Oh, ha-ha. Sure you are. Fine, I’ll keep the suits company. See you later, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Willows, I’ll be discussing your raise when the meeting’s over.”
Lydia pressed her phone shut after her assistant’s voice had told her a rather overly happy goodbye. The promise of money was usually a good way to cheer people up and make them forget about any extra work they were just asked to do. Lydia tucked her phone into her jacket pocket and turned her focus again on Gaius, who had set a ring of candles and drawn a magic mark on the floor of the emptied room they sometimes used for Gaius’s more hazardous spell training. There were also some seemingly random items near the circle. Apparently they were an important part of the ritual. Something about breaking, mending, and growing. Lydia rubbed her eyes. The preparation and studying for the summoning had taken way too many all-nighters, and today Lydia had an important meeting, where she was supposed to look professional and be alert. Well, she would fix that with a couple of extra strong energy drinks and a quick, refreshing shower. Provided that they got Fate dealt with quickly.
To be honest, Lydia wasn’t perfectly certain that summoning Fate would lead to anything but more difficulties. But the thought of leaving the situation unaddressed bothered her far more than anything that might go wrong.
“It’s ready,” said Gaius.
Lydia looked at the ring of candles.
“That’s kind of… traditional,” she said.
“Hey, if it works…” Gaius shrugged, “We can still back away.”
“No,” Lydia said, “Do it.”
“You do remember dad saying that dealing with gods and other-”
“Father is also disgraced because of zombie experiments and chooses to live in that dilapidated house so he could dig up swamp-corpses even though he could be living in one of our actual houses, so I wouldn’t say he’s the best person to listen to when it comes to smart decisions. Now start summoning!”
Gaius hesitated, but then raised his wand. He started chanting in a low voice, using an ancient language that had at least allegedly been one of the languages that had at some point in time changed and combined with others to form the modern Simlish:
”Kutsun kohtalon neitiä,
elon teiden laittajata.
Kutsuni käy kuulemahan,
The candles seemed to become the only things that lit up the room. The mark on the floor glowed, and sparks and smoke started to form around it. Lydia checked that her gun was still in its holster at her thigh.
The smoke cleared, and the familiar shape of the marble-skinned woman stood in the circle. Well, at least she had told the truth about her true nature; the summoning spell was addressed specifically to Fate. The woman looked around, and then let out a quiet, amused chuckle.
“Well, this is unexpected,” she said.
“Don’t try to cross the circle, Ma’am,” Gaius warned.
“I know the etiquette,” Fate replied, “Well, what is it you want? You told me to go away, and yet now you want to see me. So much that you dig up all this old magic. I have to admit that I am even more curious now.”
She studied her nails. They were long and sharp. A mildly unnerving detail.
“And I have to say this is also refreshing. People so rarely bother to summon me anymore.”
“Don’t get too excited,” Lydia crossed her arms, “We summoned you because we want to know what you really wanted.”
Fate sighed dramatically.
“Is that all? Oh, back in the good old days, mortals actually had interesting requests.”
“Well, this is what you get,” Lydia said.
“They also showed a little more respect.”
“My sister isn’t trying to be disrespectful, Ma’am,” Gaius said meekly, “We were just a bit rattled by this all. I mean, we did do a thing that could get us into a lot of trouble.”
“Gaius…” Lydia warned, but Gaius completely missed her tense tone.
“Indeed,” Fate said, “I am willing to enlighten you, if you first tell me why you did all this to begin with.”
“We’re not here to-” Lydia started, but Gaius beat her to it:
“Oh, well, it all started by a silly thing, really…”
Lydia sighed and rubbed her face with her hand. They really should have agreed that she’d do the talking. At least Fate seemed rather interested in Gaius’s tale. Maybe that meant that she could be dealt with at least by using her curiosity. Anthropomorphic personifications were usually depicted as being incredibly fascinated by the complicated world of mortals, after all. So she reluctantly let Gaius speak, even if it did mean distantly reliving the embarrassing family reunion. When Gaius was done, Fate actually laughed almost incredulously.
“So… if I understand correctly, this all started because of a bet?”
“A slightly drunken bet,” Gaius added helpfully, “Well, father was drunk, but Lydia wasn’t. My sister’s a really smart drinker.”
“Oh, well that is even better,” Fate said and proved that years and years of practice had helped her develop a very effective sarcastic tone, “But I should know that big things usually start with little ones. Especially tragedies. Speaking of tragedies, what are you planning now?”
Lydia put her hands on her hips.
“You first. What are you going to do now that you know?”
“I have not told anyone that I know where you are, if that is what you are asking.”
“Did you know that you humans are much better at getting yourselves in trouble than someone like me could even dream of putting them in?”
Fate laughed again. The sound was dry like old book pages.
“I hope you really do,” she said, “As for what I am going to do now: it all depends on you. I do not like those who have no right to mess with life messing with it, but the living ones – that means you – are of course free to do it. It is your right. Should a mortal outwit an immortal being, then that is the immortal’s problem. As we speak, Death is scheming with his selected group of mortals to retrieve what you stole. All I need to do is watch and wait. Unless of course, you can give me a reason why I should actually do something.”
“Is that a threat?” Lydia asked, “Or do you actually offer your help?”
“Perhaps,” Fate grinned.
“You don’t seem to like Death getting involved with mortals,” Lydia pointed out, “And now you perhaps offer to do the exact same thing? That’s either hypocritical, or then you’re just messing with us.”
This was getting irritating. But Lydia knew that they needed to be careful, that they couldn’t lose their cool. They may have had Fate in the summoning circle, but Lydia wasn’t convinced that a mere circle was enough to truly detain the creature in front of her. She considered her options for a while, and then decided to bank on Fate’s curiosity:
“I was planning to study the gemstone further to maybe make new discoveries on my father’s field of study, and to prove him that I could do better than him,” she admitted slowly, “But then I thought… if I had a bit more time, I could do something more ambitious. To delve even further into the world of magical artefacts and to see if I could make something… more out of this.”
Fate raised her eyebrows.
“But if I’m caught now,” Lydia went on, warily trying to gauge Fate’s reactions, “This all will just go down the drain. And that would be such a shame after I’ve done so well.”
Fate nodded slowly. Her enigmatic, coldly amused smile was still in place. Lydia had no idea whether that was a good or a bad thing. Probably both, depending on one’s point of view.
“Well then, I can give you time,” Fate said.
Lydia blinked. She wasn’t sure she had heard that right. Fate laughed.
“Do not be so surprised. If Death forgets his place, then it is only right that he is taught a lesson. So, I am proposing a deal: when Death gets too close, I will divert him once. But only once.”
“And what do you want in return?”
Fate’s smile widened.
“An entertaining chase. I like your ambition, and I think you and your brother have the potential to do some interesting things.”
It was definitely a trick. But if Fate thought they were gullible enough to fall for it, then Lydia didn’t mind keeping up the illusion if that meant they would get Fate on their side, if only for a moment, in what seemed to be quickly shaping up to be a game indeed. She hesitated for a second, but then clapped her hands together.
“We have a deal.”
Author’s Note: Fate is being confusing. I guess right now she’s just angry and wants to throw a wrench into things because reasons. Also fear my decision to make Gaius’s spells be in The Kalevala meter (a.k.a the only meter I know the rules of enough to dare to write in it). In Finnish because it’s one of the many languages that were used as a sort of base for Simlish at least structure-wise and because I can’t do poetry in any language but I suck at it slightly less in Finnish. At least in Finnish I know how the syllables work. :S Though it was still a total pain and probably took me more time to write than the rest of the chapter combined, and it’s still all kinds of wrong. But after some things happened I kind of don’t feel like obsessing over it anymore. It’s kind of okay and that’s enough.
Here’s the translation to Gaius’s spell (not in any meter because I suck at poetry):
”Kutsun kohtalon neitiä, I call for the maiden of fate,
onnetarta oikukasta. for the fickle Lady Luck.
Kultalangan kutojata, The weaver of the golden thread,
elon teiden laittajata. the maker of the paths of life.
Kutsuni käy kuulemahan, Hear my call,
vierahaksi astumahan. come forth as my guest.
Kuolevaisen kuulijaksi, To listen to a mortal man,
eksyneitten auttajaksi.” to aid the ones that are lost.
Also sorry, Lucky, but I introduced you just to get you killed for the story :(. Lucky Perkins is a premade sim with a cool dilapidated house and an awesome hat. But at least I didn’t kill him for reals in-game. So don’t worry, people. He did manage to set his stove on fire during the photoshoot and I was tempted to use the pics I took of that as his death scene, but that would have been a bit too brutal and I couldn’t think of good ways to implement it without either making Lucky totally dumb or making him be distracted by talking to Tad, which would have meant that Tad would have indirectly caused a death (something he is very strict not to do, at least if he can help it).