Philippa Honeyrose was feeling curious. She had been thinking about the visit of the blue-haired man. Then she had been thinking about the vampire who had almost assaulted her because she refused to disclose customer information. And now she thought about the whispers that had been going around in some circles. That it all connected to the fact that something had been stolen from Death and that Death was getting too involved. Fate had been especially peeved about it – unsurprisingly. She had visited Philippa like she often did – they had “girl nights” they used for planning chance encounters between couples that seemed destined to be together – but she’d spent most of her visit complaining about things Philippa had missed while living in her own cosy corner. And lately Fate had stopped visiting altogether without giving any explanation. Maybe she too had strayed too much into humanity … although that wasn’t really her style.
Philippa frowned. This kind of thing hadn’t happened in a while. Whenever one of them got active, things got interesting. Especially if it was one of the Truths, like Death was. Philippa tapped her fingers against the desk in her bedroom and considered her options. She could try to wait it out, keep her eyes open, and hope she wouldn’t miss all the fun. Or she could try to do some snooping and hope for the best. Or then she could just ask from someone who knew the answers for sure.
That last option sounded the least tedious.
Philippa had long ago learned to take care of her health. It wasn’t really about healthy eating or exercise in her case; it was about taking some extra strong painkillers whenever her chronic headaches got too splitting, and about occasionally dedicating some time for rest and taking some distance so she wouldn’t get too stressed out. And it was also about not leaving her body just lying around whenever she needed to shed her physical form.
She lay down on her bed and closed her eyes. In a short, focused breath she was air and then just emotion. Then she opened her eyes and was in a white corridor that was only one of countless others.
Most would have hesitated before walking to the end of the corridor and simply opening the plain white door there. Especially those who knew that he didn’t want visitors. But Philippa had never been good with polite awe. Sure, she knew that he wasn’t sociable and he didn’t like the others just barging in, especially the slightly more practical beings like her. But she also figured that she was always welcome everywhere. She opened the door without knocking.
The sound of too many clocks ticking in unison filled her head immediately. The white walls continued from the corridor around the room until they ended in a large window with a view to what seemed to be nothing but impenetrable darkness. The kind of abyss that definitely stared back.
A figure was seated in a chair, gazing at a globe that was set between him and the abyss. Philippa stifled a giggle.
“You know, the world is way more interesting than that globe,” she said.
A sigh that was like the passing of years came from the seated man. The sigh also indicated that Philippa ought to know that the globe was the world.
“Okay, sorry,” Philippa pursed her lips, “How’re you doing?”
“You know I do not like being disturbed,” the man said.
“It won’t take long!” Philippa said quickly, “I just want to know what’s been going on! You know… with things! You know what things I mean; you’ve seen them, right?”
That was a dumb question. The man in front of her saw everything that happened in the universe. And he was always present, though he had distanced himself from it as much as he could. Philippa had never seen anyone else take their non-involvement rule quite as seriously as he did.
He had no name that he himself bothered with, and his more humanoid shape was there just for the sake of some obligatory symbolism. He had been there from the beginning, and he would probably be the second to last thing to leave if everything ended. He was the one who kept the metaphorical clock of reality turning. He was Change, or Time, however one wanted to name him. He was Growth and he was Entropy. They were quite formidable names for someone who had no real say in anything that happened and whose only job was to just be and make sure that the universe didn’t run out of batteries. And he was also – at least in Philippa’s opinion – a supremely stuck-up, apathetic being. And she knew that she wasn’t the only one who thought that. Then again, if Philippa had been given a job of extreme importance that however required no actual effort or involvement at all, she might sink into some level of apathy as well. And really, she didn’t hate the man – it was almost impossible for her to even feel that emotion. She even liked him a lot and saw him as the cold yet calm grandpa -type of being, but she had to admit that he wasn’t the most pleasant company even to her.
The man – whom Philippa often called Father Time as a joke – sighed and stood up. He crossed his arms, his eyes like tiny star charts on his dark, greenish blue face.
“Fine, ask away,” he said.
“Yay! Awesome! Philippa cheered, “Okay, so what the heck’s going on, really?”
Father Time shook his head like an old man who wanted the kids to get off his lawn. Then he started telling what was going on with the blue-haired man and Death and what had made Fate disappear. Philippa listened, going from bewildered to worried and then just amused. When Father Time was done, Philippa burst out laughing.
“Oh man, I’ve got to see this up close!”
Father Time frowned.
“I was hoping that knowing would dissuade you from getting into the middle of it. I suppose I should have known better.”
“Yes. Maybe you should have. Hey, you wanna come with?”
Father Time sighed and turned his back on Philippa.
“I can see it all just fine from here, thank you.”
“Worth a shot,” Philippa said, “Let me know if you change your mind!”
“I will not. Good bye.”
And with those words, Philippa was being pushed away. The white room vanished, and was replaced with the familiar smells of home.
Philippa opened her eyes and sat up in her bed. She could already feel excitement making her stomach tingle. She smiled to herself.
“Well, this should be fun!”
Mr. Sanguine had returned in the morning after sleeping through the night either on a park bench or in a garbage bin – his story varied depending on who asked. And he had a plan. He sat down at the dining room table, excitedly opened the computer he always carried with him and then tapped on the keyboard until he had what appeared to be a bunch of messages on the screen.
“I knew they were going to some kind of party,” he said, “Rich people always have these things. A good chance to show off one’s wealth by pretending to do good with said money.”
“Is it some kind of charity event, then?” Amelia asked.
“Yes. It’s in Sunset Valley, hosted by the Alto family – probably to balance out their karma; they’re not legit business people – and it’s some kind of opening of a small natural history museum, and afterwards a dinner party at the Altos’ mansion. I think the museum is to raise money for a bunch of endangered cats. Snow leopards, Iberian lynxes, tigers…”
“Aaaw, tigers are so cute!” Amelia gushed.
“Sure, cute and endangered. Anyway-”
“I love charities that protect endangered animals!” Tad said, “The cuddly ones usually bring in more money, so the cats may even have a chance!”
“Could we focus on the point instead of the cute, dying animals?” Mr. Sanguine snapped, “The point is that the Deacons are going there, according to the emails they’ve been sending and receiving lately. And it’s only a week from now, so we have just enough time to prepare for confronting them there.”
“So we’d be crashing a cat-party?” Amelia asked, and Mr. Sanguine nodded, “We’re not going to start trouble, right?”
“Of course not,” Tad said, “It is simply a good opportunity to meet the Deacons. And hopefully even get to talk to them.”
“It might escalate to more than talking,” Mr. Sanguine muttered, “From what I can tell, the Deacons are nice and educated and all that fancy stuff on the surface, but they definitely have ties to criminals. And the brother is a powerful witch, so things have a chance of getting dangerous.”
He laced his fingers together.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say that we don’t have to worry because we have our game breaker with us, but you’re obviously not keen on starting fights with mortals, right, Grimmy?”
“I do not like fights, no,” Tad said, “And besides, if they keep the gemstone in their possession while they are there – which I assume they will – I cannot even properly see them.”
“Yeah. There’s that too,” Mr. Sanguine said, “And I’m not too eager to show myself near the Altos. Not that they have anything against me, but right now I’m just not very comfortable around bigshot business-people. And Landlady over there isn’t very good backup.”
“Hey!” Amelia huffed indignantly, “That’s… probably true, actually.”
“So, do you guys have anyone else who knows about this and could be good for some extra firepower just in case things go south?”
Tad thought about it for the duration of one rather clean and fast murder. Then he smiled.
“Well, there is one… though I am not sure if you will like it.”
Mr. Sanguine shrugged.
“Hey, I’m not picky, as long as it’s not the neurotic… It is the neurotic witch, isn’t it?”
“If you wish to put it so impolitely, then yes.”
Vanja Leifsdóttir was even less happy to see Novak Sanguine than Novak Sanguine was to see her. At first she was reluctant to listen to what her guests had to say, but once someone mentioned the Deacons, all her previous grudges melted away, at least for a while.
“The Deacons?” she repeated once she had ushered them into her living room, “They are the ones who commissioned the theft?”
“Yes, it appears so,” Tad said.
Miss Leifsdóttir let out a strange noise that sounded a bit like a suffocating, very haughty mouse.
“I take it you know these Deacons?” Amelia asked cautiously.
“Know them? Of course I do!” Miss Leifsdóttir said, “The family’s father has been a laughing stock in the academic circles for decades now, and his children are struggling to be taken seriously. Despite their… rather questionable deeds and qualities, I can admit that at least the brother – Gaius – has talent, and he has spoken in some conventions and seems smart. Though he’s a bit awkward, and definitely obsessive.”
“Takes one to know one,” Mr. Sanguine muttered.
“I’m nothing like them!” Miss Leifsdóttir suddenly shrieked, “My work is strictly legal and honourable, whereas they have been routinely suspected of tangling with criminals and practising illegitimate necromancy!”
“Well, the last part is definitely accurate, at least,” Tad said and didn’t bother to mask the distaste in his voice, “So, can we count on your help, Miss Leifsdóttir?”
She thought about it.
“Well, I can’t possibly turn down an opportunity to work on getting to the root of this whole mess. And to show what a dedicated, law-abiding sorceress can do.”
“Wonderful!” Tad smiled, “Then we will see you in a week.”
Miss Leifsdóttir looked at them all very critically.
“Just remember to pack some more presentable clothes.”
Amelia’s head was spinning, but it wasn’t an entirely unwelcome kind of spin. They had agreed to leave for Sunset Valley a day before the actual event, so that they had time to – as Novak put it – case the place. To Amelia it all sounded quite enchanting, if a bit dubious. Secret plans… party-crashing… pretty clothes and good food… as well as hopefully dancing before a dramatic meeting between the thieves and the Grim Reaper – all kept civil and under the guise of a charity evening. Such excitement!
Amelia wondered at what point it had stopped sounding scary and started to feel like some kind of fairytale. Well, maybe a bit of a non-traditional one, but still definitely wondrous enough. In any case, when the time to leave was upon them, Amelia was more than happy to leave her mother and Philippe to take care of the house for a couple of days while she enjoyed the trip to the unknown.
Amelia had never been to Sunset Valley before, though she had heard about it on the news many times. It seemed like a quaint, medium sized town. It was less rural than Riverview, but not big city -like enough to feel cold and too full of people.
It was warmer than Riverview, for sure, with palm trees and weather that reminded Amelia of an endless summer vacation. She let herself be warmed up by sunlight that felt somehow more exotic than that of Riverview as they walked along the roads in the town centre.
“Please tell me our hotel isn’t too far away anymore!” Vanja said impatiently, “I want to get off the streets before we all get skin cancer.”
“We booked a hotel?” Novak asked, “Awesome. Five stars and everything?”
Vanja snorted and crossed her arms.
“Shouldn’t we all be aware of what we’re actually doing here?”
“Hey, we have a system,” Novak said lightly, “I take care of the computer stuff and the sneaking around, Landlady does the legal preparations, you’re the magical backup person, and Grimmy’s the one who says weird crap all the time.”
“I wonder if that man knows how many paths he passes on a daily basis,” Tad said while looking at a man who seemed to be entering a hospital.
“See?” Novak said, “Point proven.”
Vanja rolled her eyes.
The hotel didn’t have five stars, and it actually resembled an inn more than it resembled a hotel. It was called The Snoozing Kitten, and it was just a large, repurposed house. Its owner had at some point wanted to become a kind, sharing person and decided to let travellers bunk in the place. For a reasonable fee, of course. It had been marketed as cosy and affordable, and it had a small but well-stocked restaurant and bar on the first floor. And Amelia had figured while booking the rooms that with such a cute name it had to be good. They stepped inside and the too-widely smiling receptionist gave them two sets of keys. Amelia found herself sharing a room with Vanja, who didn’t give a very reassuring first impression as a roommate.
“Ugh,” she scrunched up her nose as soon as they got the door open, “it looks like the Easter Bunny threw up all over this room!”
“I think it’s cute,” Amelia said, looking at the yellow, plaid walls and the matching… everything, “Yellow’s my favourite colour.”
Vanja put her hands on her hips.
“Well, I guess it’s not too bad in the dark. And by day we’ll be gone anyway. Mostly. So… are you sure you’re ready for this sort of thing?”
“What sort of thing? I’m fine with the room.”
“Not the room!” Vanja said impatiently, “I meant… all of this! What we’re doing.”
“Isn’t it too late to have second thoughts now?” Amelia asked, “And yeah, I know what I’m doing. I’m helping a friend, and going on an adventure.”
“With forged invitations to a charity event.”
“You could have said no.”
“Are you kidding?” Vanja almost laughed, “And miss out on all this? Never.”
Amelia managed a tentative smile. Maybe she and Vanja had something in common after all.
Vanja wiped some dust from the wood-panelled television that was set up opposite the beds.
“Well, I hope you guys at least got that appropriate formal wear for your fairytale adventure. Some that actually doesn’t scream ‘working class’.”
Amelia shrugged awkwardly.
“Well, Novak isn’t attending, so he didn’t bother. Tad on the other hand worked really hard to create something for himself – he actually made something with a bit of colour this time. As for me, well, I can’t afford any too fancy clothes. I brought this really simple blue dress, and I have some nice jewellery my friend made me. It’ll have to do.”
“Oh,” Vanja said slowly, “Well, I suppose that can work. I can transmute your dress into something less simple, if you’d like.”
Amelia’s eyes widened.
“You can do that?”
“Of course. It’s easy, practical, and saves money.”
Amelia actually jumped up and down a couple of times.
“So you’d be like my fairy godmother?” she blurted out, “Because that’s so amazing!”
Vanja shifted nervously and took a couple of steps away from Amelia. But then she cracked an amused smile and this time actually laughed.
“Sure…” she said, “if you say so. Though my spells don’t have inconvenient expiration times. At least not the ones I use on clothing.”
It was the first time when Amelia felt a connection between her and Vanja. It was the laughter that did it. She hoped Tad and Novak were also getting along.
“So… this is… nice I guess.”
“You know… I never expected to share a room with the Grim Reaper.”
“Most people do not, I suppose.”
It was safe to say that things were a bit awkward. Especially since the room didn’t have a whole lot of seats where one didn’t end up shoulder-to-shoulder with one’s roommate.
“So…” Novak cleared his throat, leaning back on the small couch he was sitting on, “you haven’t forgotten about our deal, right? About paying me?”
“Of course I have not,” Tad said. He had found a seat on the floor and didn’t seem to mind the spartan levels of comfort.
“Good. And I know people like you may have a bit of a… skewed perspective on time, so I just want to make sure…”
“I know how humans perceive time. You will have your reward soon.”
“Okay. Good. I guess.”
Novak tapped his fingers against his knee.
“So… just out of morbid curiosity – and this conversation never leaves this room – are my parents still…?”
Tad glanced at Novak.
“I am sorry to say that they have both passed away.”
“Oh. And they’re not ghosts or anything?”
Novak’s facial muscles twitched with a hidden smile.
“Wow. That’s… good riddance, I guess. So… did mum drink herself to death?”
“I am not very comfortable with this conversation right now,” Tad said.
“It is starting to have a rather clear undertone of schadenfreude.”
Tad got up and nodded towards the door.
“I think I will go and see if Amelia and Miss Leifsdóttir want to join me in the bar downstairs. I feel like drinking something cold. You can come too, if you like.”
Novak stood up from his seat and slung his backpack over his shoulder.
“I’ll pass. I’m gonna do some scouting. But hey, you guys have fun, though.”
Novak left through the balcony door, perhaps out of some deep-rooted habits.
The hotel bar that had been advertised on The Snoozing Kitten’s website looked like someone had taken a traditional, brick-walled tavern out of some stereotypical pub-catalogue, and then put cat pictures all over the walls. Amelia didn’t mind – the cats were adorable, and besides an impressive selection of drinks the place served some real food as well. There was even a small stage for live music. A woman was sitting behind the grand piano there, and her lovely music made everyone feel at home.
Vanja had left to do some “ingredient shopping” and Novak was “scouting” as they put it, so Amelia and Tad were the only ones who descended the stairs into the cat pub. Amelia didn’t mind that either.
“Do you think they’ll be serving tiny food at the party?” she asked when she moved rather good wok around on her plate, “Like those tiny pieces that are really expensive and fancy but don’t really fill anyone up?”
“I do not know,” Tad said, “Perhaps.”
“Because that would be cute. I’ve always wanted to make a food tower out of tiny buffet foods.”
“Mm-hm. You know what? Vanja promised to tune my dress!”
“That is nice of her,” Tad said, and then went quiet for a thoughtful moment, “You seem to be very excited about all this.”
“Well, yeah!” Amelia said, “It’s going to be an adventure.”
“Yes. I know. I thought it frightened you.”
“Well, this is different than creepy swamps or shady clubs,” Amelia shrugged.
“Well, it’s less shady. And I really think I’m getting the hang of this all.”
“Well, that is good to hear, just remember to be careful if things get complicated.”
“I know, I know,” Amelia said, “I just don’t want to think about the complicated things yet.”
“I guess that-”
He suddenly quieted. In the background, the pianist had started to sing. She had a sweet, delicate but hauntingly happy voice. It made Amelia feel warm and fuzzy inside. The woman kept singing a song about love and longing. It was all very romantic, and almost made Amelia feel sad about her own current situation as a single thirty-three-year-old. Sure, she and Jon Lessen had gone on a couple of dates, but it wasn’t serious at all. And after their latest date Jon had gone to his gig in Newcrest and hadn’t called her since. Or, well, he had called once, but that had been just to apologise for not calling and then ending the call abruptly when something had suddenly fallen off of his living room wall.
The music seemed to work on others in the place as well. Most quieted to listen to the beautiful, red-haired woman behind the piano. Some had been swaying in tune with the piano music from the beginning, but now something almost magical seemed to settle over everyone in the tavern. Well, everyone except one; Tad’s eyes narrowed, and he looked at the woman as if he was just now noticing her.
“You cannot be serious…” he whispered to himself.
“What?” Amelia frowned, “She’s just singing. I think it sounds nice.”
Tad slowly stood up.
“I know,” he said, “It is just… what is she doing here of all places?”
Amelia tried to ignore the music – although she didn’t want to – and studied the woman. She didn’t look familiar to her.
“Do you know her?” she asked.
“Yes…” Tad said slowly, sounding almost worried, “Excuse me, I need to talk to her.”
He almost made it to the stage before a burly security guard stopped him.
Amelia stood up in alarm, ready to come to Tad’s aid if things got threatening. Then she let out a small scream when she took a step to the side and accidentally bumped into someone.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” said a startled, warm voice.
Amelia looked around and saw a man raising his hands as if in surrender. She smiled reassuringly.
“It’s okay. No harm done.”
The man returned Amelia’s smile nervously.
“Good. But I still should’ve watched where I was going.”
“Well, so should I.”
The man sighed.
“I’ve been driving for hours today, and I feel like I’m seeing the road even now. No wonder I run into things.”
He looked at Amelia and smiled tentatively again.
“Although, running into a pretty woman is way better than crashing into a wall.”
Amelia blushed. The pianist started another song. Tad didn’t seem to be getting into further trouble and had now settled for waiting for the pianist to finish her gig, so Amelia figured it was safe for her to talk to the nice stranger for a while.
“I guess it is,” Amelia said, “I’m Amelia, by the way.”
“Oh, I’m Jay Arkwright,” said Jay Arkwright, extending a hand. Amelia noted how lovely the man’s grey eyes were. There was also something very adorable about his slightly boyish haircut and the fact that he wore a knitted cap indoors. Amelia didn’t know what was affecting her. Maybe it was her newfound, slightly adventurous spirit. Maybe it was the songs about love that the woman behind the piano kept singing. Maybe it was just that Amelia was always ready to make a new friend. Whatever it was, that something prompted her to ask Jay Arkwright to sit at her table and talk for a moment longer. Jay hesitated for just a moment, and then said:
“It would definitely be nice to have someone to talk to after hours of silence in the car.”
Amelia beamed at him.
Author’s Note: …apparently I figured this story doesn’t have enough characters yet. So here’s Father Time/dude-with-no-name! He’s mostly here to be a sort of not often seen foil to Tad, and to be someone to watch the other personifications… alongside the other rule-sticklers.
Also uh… plot? Yay? I don’t know what to say about this. I’m tired and recovering from a kind of aggressive flu (or mild influenza or something, I don’t know). I’m also really busy with schoolwork. And I’ve been struggling with sorting out some technical issues with some of my TS3 saves. Thought not for this story, but it has been delaying my Fey of Life -update a bit. Thought now I have even that story’s next chapter screenshotted and I just have to finish writing it and put it back together!
When I was describing Philippa’s singing voice I was thinking of Johanna Kurkela (and Philippa looks a bit like her too, with the red curly hair and all). She’s a Finnish singer (and also the wife of Nightwish’s Tuomas Holopainen). I really like her voice and several of her songs and I imagine Philippa sounding somewhat like her. Anyway, I found some translated lyric –videos on some of her songs so if you’re curious about what she sounds like, here’s an example:
And of course the song I picked wasn’t a love song even though she has so many of those and the love songs would have been a bit more appropriate. I suck. But this song does fit Philippa’s more hidden side more and I just really like how Johanna sounds in it.
I hope you enjoy, and I’ll try to get some Fey of Life chapters done soon too!