Note: Once again, this has a bit of my crappy poetry in Finnish. The translation will be in the author’s notes.
Also WARNING: Contains a tiny bit of blood and gun violence.
Lydia Deacon’s day had started out splendidly. Well, as splendidly as it could in a cramped bunker and with father around. She woke up feeling refreshed and her mind clearer than in days. She hoped that the incident in Riverview would be over by now, and hopefully with minimal casualties. Father had promised to look into it and report on the situation. Meanwhile Lydia had had time to sleep. She had been doing way too little of that lately. And father was still somewhere in Riverview, which meant he wasn’t around when Lydia made breakfast. Oh, such peace.
In the afternoon she decided to take a walk. Staying hidden was all well and good, but she was getting stir-crazy and needed to get out for a moment. She asked Gaius to take care of things while she was gone, and Gaius had nodded enthusiastically from behind a book.
“Be careful, okay?” he had said, and Lydia had nodded before heading out.
The day was unusually beautiful for Twinbrook’s swamps in autumn. The ground had a slowly melting hint of frost on it, and the grey skies loomed very peacefully that day. The smell of fallen, damp leaves reminded Lydia of the autumns of childhood. The good moments in them, that is. Because there had been those too, even when her parents had done their best to crush her under the weight of disappointment.
She found a rickety bridge going across a pond and sat between the railing’s old, wooden planks. It was a good place to reminisce. She remembered the occasional laughter of father when mum told a joke. She remembered playing chess and reading books with Gaius, and running away alone to see her friend who lived across town. It was where she always went when she couldn’t take it anymore.
It wasn’t much. And the happiest moments were spent outside of family.
Lydia frowned at her distorted reflection in the swamp water. When she really stopped to think about it, she realised how pathetic her life had become again. At one point she had been doing so well! She had a successful business, her own home, and that intelligent, friendly and good-looking man who frequented the same café as her had been looking at her with some interest for a while. But then the bet had happened. And father had again gained a grip on her life.
Lydia wasn’t stupid. Far from it. She was smart enough to realise that father was using her and Gaius to continue the family legacy. The Deacons had been all about fighting death for as long as their family trees could remember. It was an obsession passed down from generations to generations. A legacy of study, magic, experiments and crimes against nature. Sometimes Lydia wanted nothing to do with it. But now she had a chance to prove herself again, and she had hopped back in just like that. It wasn’t healthy, and Lydia knew it. But knowing it didn’t make stopping any easier. Maybe after this it would finally be over. She would dazzle father once and for all with this crazy plan. If it worked, that is.
She looked at the swamp again and briefly wondered if she could just somehow run away from it all. Or swim. Sometimes she felt like she was trapped in a spiral she could have got loose from if she just tried. Got loose and continued her life. But trying was so hard. And then she would be leaving Gaius. He was deep in the family’s obsession, but he was a good kid. Well, not a kid anymore. Hadn’t been for years. But some big sister instincts made her still see Gaius as a child. A gentle, fully grown child who played with real zombies instead of action figures.
Lydia shivered. It could have been just the cold, but it could also be that she had a feeling something was about to go wrong. It was an almost constant feeling in her life, but now it felt stronger.
Oh, come on! Not now!
She had to go back.
She reluctantly left the pond and the memories and marched back through the swamp to father’s cabin.
Just when she was about to put her hand to the bunker’s door, Gaius slammed the door open and almost ran into Lydia. His eyes were wide and worried.
“Oh, you’re here!” he cried, “Good! You need to get down there. Dad’s back, and he…”
The bad feeling intensified. Lydia’s voice turned into ice when she asked:
Gaius fidgeted uneasily, and he could only point towards the small brick and concrete doorway and the trapdoor behind it.
“You should see for yourself.”
Lydia saw as soon as she had climbed down the ladder and walked into their living space.
Her mouth opened, but no sound came out at first. Father was grinning smugly at her, and on the couch next to him slept a little girl. Lydia knew who she was. Father had showed them her picture while explaining his twisted version of Lydia’s idea of taking down Death. And now… there she was.
“Father!” Lydia gasped, “What the hell did you do?”
Father just kept smirking.
“It seemed that you weren’t getting anything done, even with such an opportunity. So I took the matters into my own hands.”
Lydia clenched her hands into fists, took a step forward, but father stopped her with a raised hand and a short laugh.
“I wouldn’t waste my time with that if I were you. Soon we’ll probably have a very angry Grim Reaper on our doorstep. I suggest we get ready.”
Fate led them to Twinbrook, to the familiar swamp and towards the familiar cabin. Tad had initially been surprised to see that the Deacons were hiding in such an obvious place, but on second thought, he realised that it was probably a good hiding place because it was so obvious. Tad had to admit that it wasn’t the first place he would have looked.
“There they are,” Fate said when they were just a few steps away from Deacon’s grounds, “I still do not think this is a good idea, though. Neither does Time.”
“Time tends to look at the big picture,” Tad said. He had managed to calm down a bit, but not enough to really want any more arguments about this. He had to save Emily, “And that leads to missing little details.”
“And you look at the details too much,” Fate countered, “Sometimes, the big picture is good.”
“Well, what is your big picture, then? The end of the universe? Something close to that? I know it is possible. I danced around the rules before, and the universe did not like that, I know. But you know that this is something I have the right to do. I have been attacked directly.”
“It would not be direct if you had not got so attached to a little girl.”
Tad looked crossly at Fate, who averted her eyes and muttered an apology. But he had to admit that she was right. Tad had made this personal by caring about Emily. Oddly enough, he had never even entertained the possibility of someone trying to get to him through mortals that were close to him. Then again, before now he hadn’t had any mortals close to him like this. And it was true that most mortals hated him, and sometimes wanted to do something to dodge or defeat him, but their hate was usually very passive aggressive. Fear and a certain type of awe-filled respect usually deterred them from acting so directly against him. The Deacons were one of the exceptions. Their family wasn’t the only one with a generations-long tradition of trying to find ways to stop dying, but right now, it was the most aggravating one. And one of the most morally questionable ones too.
The cabin was still shrouded in gemstone dust. In the waning light it flickered in and out of Tad’s sight. He focused on his more human eyes. In fact, he could feel everything about him gathering around his almost-human form. He was getting too emotional. Making this part of himself too important again. Fate noticed that as well.
“You should be careful,” she said, “I told you: you grasp at straws until they tie you down. And then you are an easy target. Relatively speaking, of course.”
Somewhere nearby, a rat was drowning. Tad tried to focus on that, but as soon as the rat’s soul flitted towards its next destination, his attention was again on the cabin. Somewhere far away, a humanoid was being crushed under some debris. Insects and microbes were dying everywhere. Tad’s vision of them blurred, their dying pains feeling more and more ghostly. He had to get Emily to safety quickly and then really sort himself out.
The cabin was closer, and Tad wanted to just tell reality that he was already there. But rushing into things would be even stupider than coming here in the first place. It was obvious the Deacons were waiting for him and had something planned. They had probably made sure to defend themselves. Not that it would deter him in the long run, but their magic was advanced enough to probably incapacitate him temporarily if they got in a good hit. And then they would have even more time to hurt Emily.
Tad froze in mid-step and looked down.
“Ah, I thought so.”
Fate stopped next to him and looked at the ground as well. The ground had been basically turned inside out in order for it to be carved and chalked full of magical marks. They glowed faintly in the dark, some almost hidden under the fallen leaves. Fate crossed her arms.
“Well, that is a lot of protective runes. And all those circles… yes, they are definitely planning something. Or then they have just realised what they did and are terrified. Maybe if we ask them nicely, they will just give up now.”
“You really think so?”
Tad glared at the circles in the ground until the ones in their way retreated, leaving a path all the way to the cabin’s front door. It wasn’t polite to mess with someone else’s magical marks, but right now they were almost past politeness. Tad almost started walking again, but something stopped him.
“Something feels… off.”
“I know. It could be this myriad of spells on the ground. They are making my senses go haywire, at least. Or then it is just that we should not even be here.”
“I cannot stay away either,” Tad said and then raised his voice, “Mr. Deacon?”
There was no answer. Tad sighed.
“Mr. Deacon! I know you can hear me!”
The door to the cabin opened, and Demetrius Deacon walked out. Tad was prepared for a fight, for defiance, but he got none of that. Mr. Deacon stared at Tad and Fate with… relief?
“Oh, thank the gods! My children have finally crossed the line!”
Fate frowned and stepped forward. So did Tad.
They were across the yard in a flash. Mr. Deacon shrank back.
“Th-they told me they’d taken a little girl. To lure you here,” the man stammered.
“Oh, and I suppose you had nothing to do with that?” Fate said mockingly, “You are in on this as well, Deacon. I know you and the disgusting experiments you have done in the past.”
Mr. Deacon looked at Fate with wide eyes.
“Are you… the one my daughter told she summoned? Fate?”
“Where is Emily?” Tad cut in.
Mr. Deacon took a step back.
“She’s not in the cabin!”
“Is she under it, then? You have a bunker, correct?”
“Oh… you know about that?”
“Even that place has microbes that are dying. Now answer my question.”
“Yes! She’s in there! My children locked themselves in there too, and I can’t get in!”
“He is lying,” Fate said, “At least about something.”
Mr. Deacon’s eyes darkened.
“What do you know?” he snapped.
“I know you will fall hard before this is over.”
“As if I should be afraid of you! I’ve done my research. You’re just an excuse of a spirit people needed once to blame their misfortunes on. But I don’t think you’re that relevant anymore.”
Fate didn’t react, but Tad could feel her cringe. Mr. Deacon had – knowingly or not, managed to push one of Fate’s buttons.
“Do not talk to her like that!” Tad said, and Mr. Deacon looked at him fearfully, “If you will do nothing about this, then I will. I would rather do this without unnecessary suffering to anyone, so I advise you to stay back.”
Was it a warning or a threat? Maybe both. Tad didn’t know anymore. He wasn’t feeling right. This anger was so distracting! He had thought he had managed to deal with that ages ago. But here he was, losing control because this stupid not-quite-human form managed to amplify his emotions! It had to stop. Now. He turned away from Mr. Deacon and walked towards the bunker.
The locked door was no problem, and soon enough Tad and Fate stood in the small underground space that was decorated quite richly for being a small emergency shelter under an old cottage. The floor was covered in circles as well, and Tad coaxed them aside while they walked further into the room. There, on the couch, was a vague shape that could be Emily. Fate walked over to her and reached out to gently take something out of what turned out to be Emily’s earlobe. Emily wavered back into existence. Tad couldn’t see what Fate had found, but Fate looked at it with a raised brow and dropped it to the floor.
“An earring with a piece of gemstone in it,” she explained.
Tad felt anger spiking again. They had stuck a piece of metal through a five-year-old’s ear without her consent just to hide her? At least Emily seemed to be in a deep sleep. Other than the small hole in her ear, she seemed to be unharmed as well, but Tad could smell magic specifically on her even through the mess of spells that made the whole place reek of reality distortions. Emily had probably been hit with a simple sleeping spell to keep her under. Her face was scrunched up slightly, possibly in distress. She was probably having nightmares again. Tad wasn’t sure if dream-nightmares or waking nightmares would be worse for her at the moment.
Tad looked around and saw air wavering at random places. He could see a shape that looked a lot like Lydia Deacon in the corner if he really tried. He stepped around more circles and stood next to Emily.
“I have come to take her back,” he said in a deceptively calm voice, “Please, do not resist so I do not have to get very angry with you.”
Lydia Deacon reached up with her hands and pulled something from around her neck. She let it drop to the floor, and an echo of a clink Tad couldn’t hear told Tad that it had been her piece of the gemstone. As soon as she let go of it, Tad could see her again. She too was back in the universe and on his radar. She looked tired but determined. She moved, and a gun was in her hand. She pointed it at them.
“Oh, please. That will only make things worse for you.”
“Fate,” Lydia said in a strained voice, “I didn’t think you’d suddenly be working for Death.”
“I work with whomever I want,” Fate said, “What, did you think I would somehow be loyal to you? I did you a favour after you summoned me. That is all. And now you are going towards a point where even a mortal free of most cosmic rules should not go.”
Lydia nodded towards Emily.
“I didn’t take her, you know. My father did.”
“That does not surprise me at all,” Fate said.
Tad had to admit that he too was more ready to believe Lydia than Demetrius Deacon. But at this point, what did it matter?
“I am going take Emily away from here,” Tad said, “Then I will take the gemstone back. And you will not bother Emily or any other person connected to me ever again. This game of yours has gone far enough.”
A gunshot. Tad felt a bullet hit him in the stomach. Lydia had a good aim, he had to give her that. That was the last thought he had before he frowned. The bullet hurt again. He was way too human now. He looked down and saw blood dyeing his shirt red.
“Oh,” he said, “Well, that is… annoying. Could you please stop doing that?”
He looked at Lydia, and her gun fell into pieces. Lydia gasped and stepped away. For the first time, real fear sneaked into her eyes.
“N-no, wait…” she stammered, “I…”
Suddenly, Fate stiffened.
“Death,” she said, “Her brother is not here. He is outside. Casting.”
“What for? We are not-”
Then Tad felt it. Or more like realised what had been feeling off ever since they had stepped into the cabin’s grounds. The small circles had been there just to confuse them. The real spell circle, the one that was really being used… they were standing inside it already. It was probably surrounding the entire cabin and the yard. They had walked right into the trap despite trying to be so careful.
Clearly not careful enough. Stupid, distracting anger!
“Stop him,” he said at once, “Non-lethally.”
“Wait!” Lydia began, but Fate had already disappeared.
Lydia stared at Tad for a moment, and then she laughed a bit hysterically.
“Well, no matter. You think she’ll have time to stop us?” she said, “Trust me, we’re all trapped here already.”
The trapdoor behind Tad clanked and Demetrius Deacon slid through. He aimed a wand at Tad and smiled triumphantly.
“Well, we finally did it,” he said, “We got Death.”
“Congratulations, Mr. Deacon,” Tad said wearily, “That is quite a feat. Very opportunistic and clever. And I fear I have made it far too easy for you.”
He turned and lifted Emily into his arms.
“But now, we are leaving. Give me back the gemstone, please.”
“You can’t leave. You may be able to kick our magic around, but you can’t get out of a circle you’ve stepped into. The rule-“
Tad turned and glared at Mr. Deacon, who doubled over when air left his lungs for a few seconds. His wand fell and snapped in two. Mr. Deacon howled as if in pain and dove after the pieces.
“Then break the circle,” Tad said, “I am done with this.”
He tried to focus on Fate, who was outside, facing Gaius Deacon. It was difficult to be so focused on many places at once. The anger and the pain, as well as the magic around them was making things that should have been easy so much harder. Fate shouted out at Gaius Deacon, who looked fearfully at her and was slammed to the ground with the force of Fate’s words. Gaius Deacon looked close to passing out, but his mouth was still moving. And the spell he had needed clearly wasn’t a long one. Fate said another word that took Gaius Deacon’s consciousness, but the damage had already been done.
The entire yard, the house, and even the bunker lit up, burning with ancient power tailor-made to hurt beings tied to the natural order of the universe.
Tad heard Fate scream, and then he was screaming as well.
It had been a long time since he had felt agony like that. The spell was a good one, prepared carefully with tar and life fruit and all the old ingredients, with a touch of gemstone dust to hide its power from him. Tad burned and froze from the twisted wrongness of the energy that bathed the entire bunker with its unnatural, white glow. His carefully created human form didn’t stand a chance against it, and he felt his bones breaking, his nerve-endings turning back into darkness and wishes. It lasted for just a few moments, but it was the first time in a long while when a moment had felt like three eternities instead of just one.
When it was over, Tad found himself back in his human form, which was now lying on the floor, unable to do more than bleed and mimic heavy breathing while his body started to break down. Emily was lying next to him, but thankfully she still seemed physically unharmed. That was good, at least. No matter what, she had to be safe.
Tad reached out and caught Emily’s hand in his own. Everything else felt too difficult at the moment. Even thinking or seeing was difficult. He was faintly aware that everywhere in the universe, he had frozen for a few seconds while on the job. And that the entire collective he was now at least partly focusing on his small, bleeding, slowly disintegrating form on the bunker’s floor.
It was not good. Sure, if he could just get himself to focus, he could easily make a new human form. And even without a shape he could easily incapacitate the Deacons and take Emily home, which he should have done already. But his politeness and his desire not to hurt anyone was even more powerful than childish rage. Maybe he could fix that still. To do something. He could even take the gemstone that was now basically within his reach. But it was just so hard to focus. To do… to d o a n y t h i n g…
He heard Demetrius Deacon pulling out another wand while lamenting the loss of his favourite one. Lydia Deacon snapped at him to focus, and Demetrius Deacon started to chant:
”Kuule kuolo käskyjäni
Taivu Tuoni tahtohoni…”
And that was all he heard before the circle activated again, and Tad did something he didn’t remember ever doing before:
He passed out.
Lydia Deacon stood up from the corner she had shrank into when Death had started threatening father. She stared at the spot where Death had been. There was only a little bit of blood left of him, and even that started to fade rather quickly. Then Lydia looked at the sleeping form of the little girl and let out a breath she had been holding for too long.
“We really got him, didn’t we?” she managed to say.
Father lowered his wand and smiled with genuine happiness, something Lydia hadn’t seen him do ever since mother had died.
“Yes. We did. For now.”
He scooped the little girl up and lowered her back on the couch. He then put the earring back into her ear. Lydia frowned in disgust.
“We have sunk so low, father. All this because of a bet… I…”
Suddenly father was laughing like Lydia had told the best joke ever. Lydia frowned and wanted to grab her gun just in case. But then she remembered that her gun was in pieces. She needed to get her spare one from under her bed as soon as she could. But at the moment father didn’t look aggressive at all. In fact, when he finally stopped laughing and looked at Lydia, there was almost… affection in his eyes. He looked like a father who was watching his child’s endearing naïvete with amusement.
“Lydia… you still think I care about that bet?”
Lydia blinked several times.
“I had to do something to motivate you,” father waved his hand impatiently, “You had strayed so far from what the Deacon family stands for. Sure, you were successful with your business, but that’s just… a stepping stone! Lately you weren’t even trying to make up for your lack of magic and do your part in our quest. But all I had to do was motivate you a bit, and then you kept going back to what our family had tried to teach you and even thought they were your own ideas. And now… you’ve done more than I could have ever dreamed of.”
Lydia took a step back and stared at her father. Father smiled.
“I mean, hell, we did it! We finally did it! The Deacon family hasn’t had such a breakthrough since good old great-great-great-grandmother Ambrosia! I dare say we did even better than her!”
Lydia was still stunned. Her fingers felt numb when she curled her hands into fists.
“I see,” she said, “I did know you were doing this partly out of wanting to use us. But… I really thought you wanted me to prove something to you as well.”
“Well, I needed to know you were useful, of course,” father said, “Lydia… I do care about you. I want what’s good for my children. And I needed this done before my time runs out. I’m not young anymore, Lydia. This had to work.”
Lydia kept staring. Coldness settled into her stomach.
“And you didn’t want to take the blame if this failed,” she said, “Did you take us into your project just so you could have a scapegoat if everything went wrong?”
“What do you take me for, Lydia?” father snapped.
“I heard your act when Death came here! You were ready to blame us just to get him to leave you alone!”
“You’re listening in on what goes on in my cabin? That’s not very respectful towards your father!”
Suddenly father smiled.
“But I’ll let it slide because of our success. You did your job as a distraction here, Lydia. Nice touch with the shooting. It bought us more time. As for Gaius… that magic was so impressive! I knew he could do it! And now… all we have to do is make sure we can really keep Death contained.”
Lydia looked at the little girl again and felt regret gripping her.
“We had to do this… we had to defend ourselves somehow because of your recklessness, father! But you… we have to get a better prison. We can’t let-”
“You know this is an excellent choice,” Father interrupted, “As long as it lasts. If this goes well, we’ll have the Grim Reaper under our power. It’s more than we could have dreamed of. And no one has to die needlessly anymore. Everyone wins.”
Madness shone in father’s eyes. Lydia was about to fire a very sharp retort, but the bunker’s trapdoor opened, distracting them both.
“Um… Lydia? Dad?” Gaius sounded dazed and very frightened. Lydia was immediately alert, “I think something went really, really wrong.”
“What do you mean, son?” father asked.
Gaius sounded very unsure when he cleared his throat and said:
“There… um… there’s a hole in the sky.”
Because those who thought that crippling something so essential to the natural order of things even temporarily without consequence were not very good at thinking things through. Sure, the Deacons had thought about the possibility of the natural order going haywire if they ever succeeded in cheating Death. Especially when their plans involved trying to deal with the Grim Reaper directly instead of just making corpses walk. They had come to the conclusion that trying to kill Death was, well, first of all it was probably impossible, but it was also very, very stupid. As much as they hated it, they had to admit that Death was a part of the natural order. And that was all well and good. It just had to stay away from people and things the Deacons wanted kept alive.
The Deacons’ current plan had been to simply imprison Death and to bind Death to their will, making sure it did as they wanted. It was overly ambitious, yes, and it was bound to backfire, but they had assumed that things wouldn’t go wrong quite so quickly. But the reality was that no one – no matter how much they thought and researched – really knew what happened to the world when Death was even momentarily out of the picture, unable to perform his duties.
To say that the universe would fall apart was… an overstatement, fortunately enough. Nature had a way of making things work and building backup plans in case of disasters. In this case, the universe was more than happy to call out to another universe near it, and open a path for a substitute that could fill in until the universe’s own Death put himself back together.
However, opening a path between universes wasn’t as easy as one would think. And one probably didn’t think it was easy to begin with. For when a universe’s door was even a little ajar, many things were more than happy to take the opportunity and get through. Most of these things were fragments of destructive force that caused the universe to crack open even more.
In Time’s tower, another clock blackened.
Author’s Note: Aaannnd… Death and Fate went down easily. Yeah, I know. File your complaints here. I’ve been trying my best to explain this away with mentioning that mortals are allowed to mess with the cosmic beings and that the cosmic beings are bound by rules and that magic CAN harm the anthropomorphic personifications (temporarily). And especially with establishing that Tad is being wilfully weak AND also very distracted. And too polite to really wreck these guys. So the moral of this story is that excessive politeness could get you seriously hurt? I don’t know. 😀
Anyway, this is just the beginning of the end, so this needed to happen. Sure, this may be too unbelievable for some, but I don’t know how else to do what I’ve been planning for quite some time for this story. I mean, that may just be a sign that the whole story is really shoddily constructed in parts, but ehh… hold on while I try to wallpaper the shoddily constructed parts out of sight with some “witty” narrator-lines that are aware of how shoddy this is… maybe in the next chapter or something. I don’t know. Or then I should just be a bit more confident about what I do.
I’m not a legacy writer… or player… or even reader most of the time, but if I was, I’d probably make an evil necromancer legacy starring the Deacons and lots of zombies! 😀
Also here’s the translation to that bit of spell that Mr. Deacon was chanting:
Kuule kuolo käskyjäni Death, hear my commands
Taivu Tuoni tahtohoni… Death, bend to my will…
Both kuolo and Tuoni are somewhat old/poetic Finnish words for death, with Tuoni being the name of the old Finnish death god and also a word for death used especially in sentences where death is personified. For a random fact, the word for death (we have quite a few of them) most often used nowadays in Finnish is kuolema.
Have fun with the random Finnish lesson. And with the chapter too. And have a lovely time in general. I’m trying to get this story arc done before August. There are still a few chapters left, but not that many. I’m pretty excited!