Some people believed that there was a force that directed their lives. Some also believed that this force had a somewhat humanoid form and a mind of its own. And some believed that there was no force, that nothing was preordained. Some talked about cause and effect, some about chaos and butterflies. Some figured that things just happened.
All of these beliefs were true.
Although, it’s good to remember that they all worked together. And that Fate could be fickle and sometimes obsessive. And that cause and effect was hardly ever a string of events, but rather a web of them. A web woven by a very drunk and sometimes rather spiteful spider.
It was a web of events and coincidences that had brought Jay Arkwright and Amelia Sprigg together in the pub of The Snoozing Kitten. It was also a web of events that had made the red-haired woman behind the piano choose to be there as well. And it was Fate who had wanted it.
Well, she hadn’t known exactly what she had wanted, but it was still getting the job done.
However, Amelia didn’t know about any of these things. All she knew was adventure, excitement, the music in her ears, and the pleasant surprise of a new – not to mention attractive – friend. Or at least the possibility of one.
“So…” Jay leaned forward once they had sat down at Amelia’s table, “What brings you here, Amelia?”
“Adventure. Well, road trip, really. With some friends.”
She didn’t like lying, even to random acquaintances. Jay didn’t seem to notice the guilt in her voice, though.
“Sounds nice,” he said, “Me, I don’t remember the last time I’ve had enough free time to go on a road trip with my friends,” he sighed, “I’m here for work, actually. I just stopped here for a drink on my break.”
“Really? What do you do for work, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I’m a bodyguard,” Jay said, and Amelia raised a brow in surprise. Jay laughed, “I know, I don’t look the part, but hey, it’s no fun being all suits and earpieces all the time.”
“I can imagine.”
“Though that’s exactly what I’m gonna be doing tomorrow. My boss is attending this fancy party. I can’t go into more details, though. Sorry.”
“Really?” Amelia lowered her voice like a conspirator, “Is the party at the Altos?”
Jay’s eyes widened.
“You know about that?”
Amelia nodded excitedly.
“We’re going there as well!” she suddenly wondered if she should have said that to begin with. But it wasn’t a secret, right? And there was something very relaxing in the air that night. Something that made her feel trusting and secure.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” Jay laughed, “Small world and all that. I guess that means there will be at least one down-to-earth person there.”
Amelia felt her cheeks grow warm. She wasn’t sure at what point their conversation had gained flirty undertones, or if they had been there from the beginning, but in any case she liked it. It was like a part of her fairytale adventure. Meeting a mysterious, handsome stranger by chance and then ending up in the same party.
She leaned her elbows against the table, and their conversation turned quite organically from work to hobbies, and then to books and films.
Amelia didn’t even notice when the pianist stopped playing and left the room with Tad in tow.
For a moment Tad suspected that he had been mistaken. But then he had to admit that the woman behind the piano couldn’t possibly be anyone but… what did Love call herself nowadays? She changed it fairly often. Though the who wasn’t the most pressing question, really. The why was. Tad stood near the stage she was playing on, and waited for the songs about love and attachments to end. When Love finally stood up and made her way towards the back door near the stage, Tad stepped forward only to be stopped again by the security guard, a rather large man with a slightly elevated blood pressure and what appeared to be a cat-related propaganda T-shirt.
Obey the kitty?
“Hey, kid, I told ya: only the staff and performers get on the stage.”
“I know her,” Tad said, nodding towards Love, who spun around at the sound of his voice.
“Yeah, sure,” the man snorted, “You and all the other horny guys in the audience.”
Tad frowned and considered just slipping by the man, invisible and forgotten. But that wouldn’t be very human-like. Instead of subterfuge, he needed diplomacy and reasoning.
“This is not about horns; it is about me knowing her and wanting to talk to her.”
It didn’t work.
“Just get lost, kid!”
“Hey, Bernard,” Love spoke up, clearly addressing the security guard, “We really do know each other. Let him through.”
The man’s eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. It was quite a curious sight.
“Really?” he said in an almost entranced tone – Love had that effect on people when she wanted to, “Well, alright, if miss says so.”
“Miss does say so,” Love turned to smile and wink at Tad, “We can talk at the back.”
“The back” was really just outside the inn, but the small yard at the side of the building was at least empty of people. Tad gently petted the leaves of the nearby flower bush, spared a moment to reap the victim of a stabbing that was happening around ten kilometres east, and then crossed his arms. Love smiled back at him, green eyes made of attraction and jealousy glimmering in the shifting light of the nearby lighthouse.
“Thank you for seeing me,” Tad said, “And I hate to be so suspicious and negative, but what are you doing here?”
Love let out a feather-light laugh that sounded like endearing first meetings and butterfly kisses.
“I just figured I’d want a little break from the office, that’s all. And then you barge into the place I totally randomly picked! Without anyone even dying! Small world, huh?”
“The world is not that small,” Tad said, “Have others besides Fate also started following me around now? Or is it just her and you?”
Green eyes wandered innocently without meeting Tad’s gaze.
“Hey, most of us don’t really even care much what you do,” Love pouted, “And, well… okay, so I was curious! I mean, you’re usually not doing this kind of stuff, and it’s cool to see you in human form. It’s kind of cute!”
“Um… thank you?”
“You’re welcome, sweetie,” Love smiled cheerfully, “Anyway, the other reason why I got curious was because it sorta feels like things have been happening and I didn’t even know it. I mean, there was some guy who attacked me because I’d met that blue-haired hunk who apparently now hangs out with you, and Fate has been complaining about things, and now she’s gone missing, and-“
“Wait,” Tad raised a hand to slow Love down, “Fate is missing?”
He had to grudgingly admit to himself that he hadn’t been keeping tabs on the others as much as he usually did. The human world could sometimes get distracting, after all.
“Well, not missing-missing,” Love said, “But she hasn’t showed up to complain for a while now. I heard it’s because of a summoning. Wherever that is, it seems like it has taken a lot of her attention. And her being. You know, a bit like what you’re doing, but… I mean, she’s less everywhere anyway. But she can take care of herself and all, so yeah… I’m here because I just wanted to see what’s going on. And I’m even doing my job in the process! I mean, did you see how romantic that place was after I’d stepped in?”
“No. But I am sure you are doing a great job.”
“Right. But did you at least see the sparks that kept flying between people?”
Tad thought about it.
“The only sparks I see right now are coming from the ceiling fan in that gym over there.”
Love looked towards said building, a hint of distaste in her eyes.
“Why do I even bother…” she muttered. Before she could continue, however, a small crash indicated that something had fallen on someone, “Whoa! Was that the fan?”
“Yes. And one unfortunate person standing underneath it. Hold on… I will get him through.”
Love pursed her lips.
“Ouch. Oh, well, let’s not let that ruin the mood here! Did you at least see how even that friend of yours met that cute guy in the beanie?”
“What? Who?” Tad frowned and directed his attention to Amelia. She indeed had company. Company, which… “Well, he seems rather… shady.”
“What?” Love asked, “Something wrong? They’re just talking. And that guy’s so dreamy! Did you know he works as a bodyguard? And he has a collection of pet rocks from his childhood – so he’s adorably dorky too. He also gets excited about tiny foods, and underneath all that there’s this sexy bad boy aura even that retro dress shirt and an adorable knitted cap can’t cover up.”
Tad spread his arms impatiently.
“He has also killed a person. How is that attractive?”
Love’s eyes widened.
“Really?” she repeated, “No way! I wouldn’t have pegged him as the killer type. But hey, your friend is really hitting it off with that guy. And I mean, he’s a bodyguard, so you know, sometimes they have to pull the trigger and all. His boss is pretty rich, at least. And besides, why do you care? Don’t things kill each other all the time in your world?”
A series of shots and some less noisy sounds of murder rang in Tad’s ears. He sighed.
“Well, yes. If I remember correctly, Mr. Arkwright’s kill was on the job. But…”
He trailed off and wasn’t sure what he was going to say.
“I get it,” Love said, “you’re friends, and you worry. But I think you’re overreacting.”
Suddenly she grinned.
“Or maybe you’re just jealous.”
“Jealous?” Tad repeated incredulously, “Why would I be?”
“Well, you know, you’re afraid that now that you’ve finally made a real friend, she’s going to find someone like Cutie McBeanie over there and forget all about you.”
Tad wasn’t impressed.
“I am more worried that someone is unknowingly getting involved with a possibly dangerous man because of your actions.”
Love raised her hands.
“Hey, I’m just helping people along! Chemistry, pieces falling into place, and all that good stuff aren’t my doing!”
“But if you’re really that worried, we can go back inside and keep an eye on things. You wanna get a drink? I can buy you one.”
“Really?” Tad said, “That is very nice of you.”
“Of course I’m nice!”
Yes, she really was. Love was friends with everyone, though even she wasn’t exempt from one of the rules of the universe. And that rule was: if one was born as an anthropomorphic personification, a certain level of deep loneliness was always written into one’s being from the start. In Love’s case her loneliness, quite ironically, stemmed from the fact that she exuded love and made friends with everything. It made almost all of her friendships smaller and more distant, and as far as Tad knew, she didn’t have many deep attachments of her own.
But even a friendly gesture offered out of habit and obligation was welcome to him, and maybe to Love as well.
“All right,” Tad said, “What do you call yourself now?”
“Is that a ‘yes’?” Love clapped her hands, “Because that’s so yay-worthy if it is!”
“That is a ‘yes’.”
“Yay!” Love smiled, “I’m Philippa now, but you can call me Phil.”
“Thanatos. But most people call me Tad.”
“You think the party will have tiny foods?” Jay asked.
“Oh my gosh!” Amelia exclaimed, “I was just wondering that! I’d love to stack tiny foods and make a tower!”
“Really?” Jay laughed, “That’s cute! I think of the food as one of the perks of the job. You know, whenever my boss has to attend a party. He isn’t usually the partying type, but he does go when he’s invited.”
“Who’s your boss?”
“I shouldn’t really talk about that in a place like this. Safety reasons. Besides, you’ll meet him at the party. Right now he’s doing some paperwork and said he doesn’t need me.”
“Yeah, but enough about work again. Do you like sitcoms? I think they’re a great way to relax.”
“Oh, I do! I kind of watch them to relax too. I know my job isn’t as exciting as yours, but you know, watching people mess up on TV makes me think of how I don’t need to handle their insurances. Plus they’re funny.”
“Awesome! And my job isn’t as exciting as it sounds, really. Mostly it’s just a lot of standing around.”
“It sounds pretty exciting to me.”
“I guess it’s the title that does it.”
Amelia felt something warm in her chest. She figured it was connection and happiness. Behind her, Death and Love walked into the bar. And it wasn’t the beginning of a joke. Generally speaking it sounded more like the ingredients for a tragedy. Though in this case, all it started was a conversation that at some point started going downhill.
Amelia didn’t notice any of that.
“You know, these are really good,” Phil said and held up a glass of something pink that smelled like sweetness and inebriation, “And if I drink enough of these and imagine they work, they actually do kinda affect me. C’mon, try one!”
“No thank you,” Tad said and poked the bottle of ice tea in front of him. He wasn’t really in the mood to try to get drunk. Well, he almost never was.
Phil pursed her lips in a pouty manner.
“Come on! When was the last time you’ve had a good drink?”
“I think it was back when we had that big get-together.”
“Right. That was ages ago! Wasn’t War our bartender back then? Oh, man, he was really good at mixing drinks! Remember the spicy ones on fire?”
Phil hummed fondly.
“Good times. Did you know he’s finally almost recovered from that Apocalypse party?”
Tad shook his head. Phil downed another drink.
“Well, he has,” she said, and then paused to ponder the emptiness of her glass before ordering one more drink, “Centuries of mediation and sleep, finally paying off… Yup… The circle of life. We rise and we fall. We do the… stuff that needs to be done. And watch as other things rise and fall while we keep getting back up again and again.”
“In the end we all fall,” Tad said.
Phil snorted into her drink.
“You know, maybe you wouldn’t be so lonely if you weren’t such a downer all the time.”
“I meant to sound comforting.”
“My point exactly. But hey, you’re getting better at it. I mean, you’re almost smiling now, that’s a start! And you’ve got a friend too.”
Phil nodded towards Amelia, who was still engrossed in a conversation with pet-rock-collector/bodyguard/killer Jay Arkwright. Tad almost-smiled.
“You are right,” he admitted, and didn’t want to think about the inevitable goodbyes that being less alone automatically meant. The thoughts came through despite all that, “For now, at least.”
Phil looked at Amelia for a long while. Amelia didn’t seem to notice the eyes at her back. At that moment, all she saw was Mr. Arkwright.
“So… how long were you planning on staying as her tenant?” Phil asked, “If you found the gemstone now, would you just return and be like ‘yay, it’s all done’? Or would you invent more excuses to stay because you didn’t get to do enough ‘living’ yet.”
“Do you have to start that as well?” Tad sighed, “I… I have been thinking about it, and I decided I need to figure myself out before I go. And I also do not think we should be discussing this here.”
“Oh, fine. I wasn’t going to complain; I was just being curious,” Phil leaned to the bar, her envy-green eyes suddenly reflecting some form of wistfulness, “That’s probably what keeps us all coming back, isn’t it? Or maybe we just want something we don’t have. I mean, that’s why I’m here.”
“Does someone bother you about it too?”
“Nah. I guess the others don’t mind me that much. Maybe because I do my real job as my human job too or something. And because we all know we can’t help it. We’re so similar to the living ones.”
She frowned, her hand going up to her head. She stood up from the barstool.
“Sorry, my headache is starting again. I think I should rest for a bit.”
“Is it still that bad?” Tad asked.
Phil smiled a somewhat tacked-on smile.
“I’ll manage. And some potent pain-killers actually help a bit.”
“I am sorry,” Tad said quietly, “They should have never-”
“Just stop!” Phil said, suddenly a bit angry. The people around them seemed to wake up from their haze of romance as if someone had just poured a bucket of water on them. Not that there were many people left anyway; most had already gone outside, most of them with a chosen partner, “Give it a rest already! I wanted to be erased, and you know it!”
“I did not want to-”
“Then don’t!” Phil spun around, turned her back to him, “I’ll see you later.”
Tad watched her leave with a sting of sadness and regret somewhere in his chest. Her clicking footsteps went for the door and then left the building. Tad took a deep breath and let it out. It was oddly calming, even if it only accentuated the sadness. The bartender leaned towards him, most of the conversation she had just eavesdropped on gone from her mind. It was a handy mix of the anthropomorphic personifications’ special skills and the humans’ natural penchant for ignoring weird things.
“Tough luck, kid,” the bartender said, “But hey, if it makes you feel any better, she was way out of your league anyway.”
Vanja Leifsdóttir had been pleasantly surprised to find that Sunset Valley had several nice shops that specialised in herbs and even the more magical ingredients. The downside of living in a picturesque rural town like Riverview was that it didn’t have many services. She normally had to order a lot of her alchemy ingredients online, even though one would have thought that a place so close to nature would have had plenty of appropriate flora and fauna. And it had, but it wasn’t exotic enough for things like vampire sunscreen or potent melancholy serum, not to mention the even more powerful elixirs. And sometimes Vanja liked to actually have things done for her instead of her making everything from scratch.
After a meandering trip to Sunset Valley’s centre, and after giving some constructive customer feedback to a store that didn’t seem to realise the importance of labelling their products with an actually presentable font, Vanja was walking back to their accommodations, happy and with several bags and jars full of essential alchemy supplies stored into a portable pocket dimension she had got as a reward for her accomplishments on the field of magical study two years ago.
Vanja’s thoughts slowly turned to the upcoming party. The air was humid and uncomfortably warm, but she barely noticed it because of the buzz of excitement in her head.
This should be fun.
The thought had repeated itself over and over in her head ever since Death and his entourage had told her about their plan. She was more than happy to be backup if that meant she could see the showdown.
She arrived to the cutely named inn, and to her surprise saw that Death was leaning to the sign in front of it. He looked rather melancholic. Vanja wasn’t sure what to make of it. Her mental image of Death as the uncaring, merciless jerk had suffered some blows after all this had started. Though the recent evens definitely weren’t enough to fully shatter it.
Or make her forget.
Vanja frowned at the memory and tried to choke down the grief, anger and defiance it always brought forth. Right now, Death wasn’t being the fascinating jerk he usually was in her head. He was an ally. So she could talk to him, ask him what was wrong. That would surely help her understand the damn thing a bit better.
She approached him.
“Is something the matter?” she asked.
Death – or Tad, as he called himself in an attempt to appear more human – looked up. Vanja defiantly looked him in the eyes for the few seconds she could before she started to feel like she was staring into a void. There were too many ages in there for any human to understand. Even Vanja, who had made a profession out of striving to understand hard-to-comprehend things about the more magical side of the world had to admit that. She took comfort in the fact that a lot of the things she took for granted were probably just as incomprehensible to the being in front of her.
“All is well,” Death said, “I just had a… bad conversation with an acquaintance. I never seem to get it right.”
“With whom?” Vanja asked.
Death shook his head.
“It does not matter. She was not a part of our group, if that is what you are asking.”
“What do you say to a person when you are sorry for what happened to them, but they are not sorry?”
“Isn’t Amelia supposed to be your humanity coach or whatever she calls herself?”
“Amelia is busy. She is apparently quite smitten with a person she met in the pub.”
He was quiet for a while. He looked almost human, in a way, when Vanja didn’t look him in the eyes.
“There is something at work here,” he said.
“Right. Hormones. Human interaction.”
“No, I meant here… in general. Sorry, I was thinking. It was not the best segue into a new topic.”
“Uh-huh,” Vanja crossed her arms.
“Do you not feel it?” Tad asked.
Vanja thought about it.
“Feel what?” she finally asked, “I can feel a lot of things.”
Tad frowned, clearly thinking intently on something.
“It feels like our influence,” he said, “People… things like me, I mean. Just… be on your guard.”
“How can you tell?” Vanja asked. Ominous words or not, she wasn’t about to let an opportunity to know more about the anthropomorphic personifications slide.
But it seemed that Tad was done talking.
“I think you all should rest. Tomorrow could be a difficult day.”
He smiled. Almost. It didn’t look very convincing.
“But let us stay optimistic, shall we?”
“Sure. And alert.”
She left Tad alone and walked into the hotel. She closed her eyes and tried to feel the disturbances Tad apparently felt. There were many magical forces in the air, as well as many natural ones. But she couldn’t tell if any of them were particularly askew or ominous.
Still, it was maybe for the best to make sure all her magic was in working order for tomorrow.
The next day Amelia found it hard to focus on anything but the upcoming party. It didn’t help that she had talked with Jay until it was way past midnight, so she was also tired. In the morning Novak took them to see the gorgeous Alto mansion, where the celebration would take place, and told them that he would hijack the mansion’s security cameras and be on the lookout outside, making sure that if “some crazy shit would hit the fan”, as he put it, he’d make sure there would be no video material of it. And as for the rest, they would just have to locate the Deacons, try to point them out to Tad, and get into conversation with them. It sounded rather simple, but it still felt like a super-secret mission. And Jay would also be there, guarding his boss. So Amelia could see him again too! Things had rarely clicked as easily as they had with Jay. Amelia knew it was maybe a bit silly and nothing would come out of it, since Jay was busy and lived all the way in SimCity, but she wished they could at least become long-distance friends.
Despite her giddy excitement, Amelia somehow managed to nap after lunchtime and woke up around the time when they started to really prepare. Vanja enchanted Amelia’s dress like she had promised, making it from a plain blue dress into a sparkly one. It was lovely and made Amelia feel like Cinderella for a second. Vanja also helped Amelia put her hair up. It was surprisingly nice of her, especially when she even asked if Amelia had had fun with Jay.
“Oh, so you heard about him?” Amelia smiled, “We talked for so long. It was so nice! I know it’s a bit silly, but I have to admit that I may already have a bit of a crush.”
“You never know where you meet the great guys,” Vanja said.
“I know right!” Amelia beamed at her, “Have you ever met someone…?”
She trailed off when Vanja’s expression turned sour.
“Yes,” Vanja said in a clipped tone, “He’s dead now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“At least that maybe sheds more light on why I’m not that fond of your tenant.”
“I didn’t know-”
“Of course. I’m not offended. But this isn’t really a discussion I want to have with you.”
After that Vanja went back under a colder, steely façade. She finished twisting Amelia’s hair into a bun and then turned away. She didn’t speak much, and mostly just kept glancing at the watch she had methodically laid on the table.
At five thirty p.m. they were on their way towards the Alto mansion again. This time it looked even more breathtakingly majestic than before. There was a certain buzz in the air. Maybe that of excitement. Or maybe it was just the faint music that seemed to be coming from the manor.
“Well, here goes,” Novak muttered, “Good luck. I’ll be nearby.”
Amelia nodded and then looked at Vanja, who seemed – in her own way – just as excited as she was. Then she met eyes with Tad, who was a bit uncomfortable and nervous in the conjured-up suit that was actually surprisingly nice. He managed an unsure smile.
“Let us go.”
Author’s Note: Oh, wow, those flashback pics of Vanja and her boyfriend are old! I had to crop them so the proportions wouldn’t clash with the rest of the pics because they were taken with my old computer. Vanja and her yet unnamed boyfriend were my University-testers!
Also I admit that in order to have Grimmy show up for Vanja’s boyfriend’s death scene, I kinda actually killed said boyfriend (I don’t remember if I knew I could cheat Grimmy to show up or not at that time, but in any case I’ve been a bit wary of summoning Grimmy that way)! I’m awful… well, I can always resurrect him I guess… though not in-story.
I hope you enjoy and have a great time!