Chapter 42: Askew

WARNING: Contains some violence and blood. Also there’s a word or two about child abuse, but it’s really brief and not graphic.

One might have thought that something as integral as Death disappearing from the universe would cause an instant calamity. That dark matter and paradoxes would swallow the universe up before anything could be done. Or that the fall of the universe would be a spectacular one. Something that could only be stopped by a small, ragtag group of heroes who would fight to the last dramatic moment against some kind of huge distortion in reality. Sacrifices would be made, and tears would be shed.

However, this was not that kind of story. As said before, the universe could hold on for quite a while before damage started to really show. And thanks to the quick intervention of our ragtag bunch of heroes – because even in this story, there is one – most people in the world probably didn’t even realise anything was wrong. And while sacrifices were made, and tears were shed, it was – all things considered – not very flashy at any point.

Of course, the universe itself noticed that something was very wrong. Some might think that the absence of Death was a happy thing because that meant that their loved ones could keep on living when their time came. And yes, perhaps that would have made some happier. But the sad truth was that dying is an important part of life. Something without which the world would quite quickly become unbalanced. Even now, those who should have died stayed, but not happily as some may have hoped. They fell into deep comas, not yet dead, but with their souls screaming to be set free. The air became saturated with fragments of lost souls, ectoplasm and dying wishes. Nature started to sense that its capacity would not be enough for all the things that lived if nothing was recycled. And the hole in the universe that had been opened to let in a substitute for Death had also let in… things. Things that were quite harmless at the moment, but that would cause quite a scare for the universe and some of its people soon enough.

None of this, however, was a cause for concern for one Demetrius Deacon.

Demetrius Deacon had been raised with an iron fist. Sometimes almost literally. He – like many generations in the Deacon family before him – had been groomed for becoming a new head of an old, respected family, where the most valuable legacy was an obsession with magic and necromancy. Prolonging life and stopping dying had been the goal of many in the Deacon family, and Demetrius’s parents had made sure that he too would carry on the tradition. He remembered hours of being locked in a small room when he couldn’t get his spells right. He remembered mother hitting him for wanting to become a woodcarver instead of a sorcerer at some point. He vaguely remembered the endless lessons that blended together until he couldn’t discern his own ideas from those of generations past. And now, years later, he didn’t really even care. Why should he? He had been a stupid child, but he had grown past it. A woodcarver? Please! Would that have helped him achieve what he had in life? Would that have helped him take down Death itself? No. Of course not.

Now, everything was going better than ever in his life, all thanks to the family’s old traditions. He had defeated Death. It felt all the sweeter after Death had so easily intimidated him and destroyed the zombie security system he had worked so hard for earlier. From now on he would not bow down to such eldritch beings anymore. Now he would be the one Death listened to. He had won. He had his children with him, and soon he’d have his wife – his lovely, beloved Gaia, whom they had lost to cancer far too early – with him again too. And then… who knew? There were very few limits when one controlled Death. It wouldn’t be easy, he knew, but he was willing to try. After he and his children had taken care of the strange phenomenon that Gaius had called a hole in the sky, that is.

Demetrius Deacon stared at the night sky with more interest than in a long time. There really was a hole there. Or well, had been for a while. It had fluctuated, drawn in light and spat it out in slightly different form. And something else had leaked through it too. Something he couldn’t see but felt anyway. Some kind of energy that was probably best be left outside of reality. And then the tear in the sky had disappeared as if it had never been there. But they all felt that it wasn’t really fixed. That something had got through. And that maybe the door was still open even when they couldn’t see it.

Next to Demetrius, Gaius was wringing his hands.

“How do we fix it, father? It looked bad.”

Next to Gaius, Lydia was quiet. There was something in her eyes, something Demetrius had thought years of teaching had weeded out: deep regret. Deacons weren’t supposed to get too caught up in regret. Sure, one had to own up to and learn from one’s mistakes when it was called for. But little setbacks or side effects were a natural part of the path they had chosen. Did she really still think that she could keep screwing with nature like this and not face some oddities? This was surely something they could fix.

“We have to make this right,” Lydia finally said, “if we even can.”

“Of course we can,” Demetrius said, “We’ll stay protected and hit the books. And the internet. There’s bound to be something somewhere.”

“Maybe…” Gaius said uncertainly, “But what if there isn’t? What if we just have to… let Death out? I mean…”

“No!” Demetrius snapped, and Gaius was startled. Demetrius didn’t usually talk to his dear son with such hostility, “No one is taking this from me. We can fix this. Just…”

He looked away from his children when he felt rather than heard something move. It was a vague… something somewhat person-shaped that flickered and fluctuated in and out of sight. Demetrius aimed his wand at the mass of light and air and fired a spell at it. It shattered into nothing. Demetrius frowned.

“Great, now something is making minions,” he said, “I have a few books on multiverse theory in the cabin. That’s probably the best place to start. We create shields around the cabin and start researching. Now move!”

His children moved with delightful efficiency. Demetrius clenched his hands into fists while he made another distortion-creature vanish into thin air with a well-placed fire spell. This was just a small bump in the road. Nothing that would derail everything now. He wouldn’t – couldn’t – allow it.

Amelia scrambled out of bed in a near-panic, breathing in air that felt thicker than before. Tad was gone? Really gone? That couldn’t happen, right? He couldn’t be hurt, right? But… was that why she was getting such a bad feeling about… something? Oh, gods, what could have happened to him?

Amelia threw on some clothes, forced herself to calm down when her hands shook so much that she could barely get her shirt on. She forced herself to calm down and didn’t stop trying until her hands were steady enough to put on earrings. If she couldn’t even get dressed, how could she even try to help Tad? Only after she was dressed she stopped to look at the clock. It wasn’t even seven in the morning, but what did it matter? It could already be too late! For what, she didn’t know. But if something had really happened to Tad, there was no time to lose.

Amelia was almost out of the room when she realised a few important problems. First of all, she had no idea where Tad could be. “Gone” didn’t exactly rule much out. Secondly, even if she did find Tad, what could she really do? She was just an insurance woman with no special skills suited for saving anthropomorphic personifications. She hesitated for a minute, but then decided that it didn’t matter. Tad was her friend, and she wanted to keep him safe, no matter how powerful he was or how much in over her head she was. She steeled her resolve and walked out, almost into something… something Amelia couldn’t really describe at first.

It was vaguely humanoid, made of bending light and what looked like distorting air around it. Amelia gasped and stepped back, and the creature wavered in the air and its empty eyes turned to stare at Amelia. Amelia let out a strangled shout, and the creature dashed towards her.

It didn’t get to take more than a few steps, however, before something quick and efficient struck it down. It shattered from the force of a strike to the back of its head. Amelia held a hand over her racing heart and stared at her saviour.


Dewey warily looked around the room and then at her. He was still dressed in his day clothes, and he had probably been sleeping with his shoes on. Normally Amelia would have been saddened to know that a guest of hers had to feel so unsafe, but right now she was immensely happy about his alertness.

“What was that?” Dewey asked, again looking around as if searching for potential threats.

“I don’t know…” Amelia said, but her frightened mind soon managed to put two and two together despite her shock, “But I… I think I know why it was there.”

She took a deep breath. She knew that Tad probably wouldn’t appreciate her telling his secret to people he himself hadn’t told it to, but this was an emergency.

“Dewey, I need to tell you something. About Tad. About a lot of things, really.”

Dewey listened with his eyebrows raised, but didn’t interrupt until Amelia was done hastily explaining what Tad was and why he was here. And that he was probably now in trouble. When Amelia finally stopped to take a breath, Dewey massaged his temples.

“So… you’ve been the Grim Reaper’s landlady, and now you think that he’s in trouble because a ghost in your dream told you so?”

“I… um… yes. Wow, when you put it that way, it sounds crazy.”

Dewey shrugged.

“No, not really. A lot of lore and facts add up. But it is an even bigger mess than I thought it was.”

“So you believe me?”

“Sure. And if the ghost in your dream was right, then this is not good. I don’t know much about godlike things, but I do know that them not functioning properly will usually lead to complications. With reality. The creature we saw was probably a part of that.”

Amelia looked around, almost expecting to see reality starting to bleed right when Dewey said that.

“Nothing looks too bad yet, aside from that… thing. Maybe that means Tad is somewhat okay too.”

Dewey didn’t look convinced.

“Maybe, or maybe these things just take time.”

Amelia shivered.

“We have to do something!”

“Sure, if we can figure out where he went. And then… well, I think we’ll need some help.”

“The people who’ve been helping us with this are Vanja and N… Flannery,” Amelia said, “But they’re still in the hospital.”

“We’ll go see them anyway. That Flannery-guy seems capable enough, and I know that Leifsdóttir is good with her magic. Still, you think that would be enough?”

“I have no idea! I don’t even really know what’s going on!”

“Okay, okay. Calm down. Or at least try to. Panicking won’t help.”

Amelia waved her hands wildly.

“I know! But I can’t stop either!”

Dewey sighed.

“Yeah… I know. Okay, let’s go see Leifsdóttir and that Flannery-guy at the hospital, let them know what’s going on and see if they have any ideas. Do you want me to call Bridge?”

Amelia managed to think about it for a while. She nodded slowly.

“I think they should know that something’s wrong and that there might be weird creatures around. But please, don’t tell them about Tad. It’s not really a thing I should be shouting on the streets.”

Dewey nodded.

“Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll call them, and then we go. You think your mum’s man is going to be fine here?”

“Well, I hope so…” Amelia frowned, “… do you think you could stay here and watch over him? In case those things come back?”

“And let you go alone?” Dewey asked, and his protectiveness almost made Amelia blush.

“Well, I’d be with Vanja and… Flannery,” Amelia tried to sound more confident than she really was, “And I’ll just be going to the hospital and we can plan further from there. I just… I’d hate to have mum wake up and hear that something had happened to Philippe. She really loves him.”

Dewey hesitated, clearly hating the idea of letting Amelia go alone. Then he seemed to realise that they didn’t have time for arguing and simply shook his head.

“You’re way too gutsy for a civilian. Fine. You have a better idea of what’s going on, so try to make sense of this. The Nexus and I’ll stay and watch over the town the best we can. I’ll call Bridge and alert the supernatural authorities. But you have to call me or Bridge and keep us updated.”

He moved as if wanting to lay his hand on Amelia’s shoulder, but then changed his mind.

“Take my number and don’t hesitate to call. And if things start to look too cosmic out there, back off and get some more help. Just… try to come back in one piece.”

Amelia wanted to hug Dewey, but he looked a bit too appreciative of his personal space. So instead she just said:

“Thank you so much! And sorry about dragging you into this mess. Again.”

Dewey just smiled.

“Hey, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever had to face… well, it is weirdness on an extra-large scale even for me. But I’ll survive. We’ll survive. Now go.”

Amelia saved Dewey’s number into her phone and then stumbled out of the house and into her car. She sped towards the hospital, screamed when she ran right into one of the distorted wisps from some other reality – or perhaps a half-formed soul of some unfortunate dead person – and hoped that they would still have time to do something about the chaos that seemed ready to erupt. And that they’d figure out what they could do.

A part of her also hoped that this was all a mistake. Or a dream. But those wishes hadn’t really come true lately.

Emily started to relax more and more the longer they walked. The darkness around them sometimes gave way to the landscapes of her mind. The landscapes were always quite small, probably not only because of the general limits of what a human mind could perceive at a time, but also because Emily’s waking world had so far been fairly small as well. Her world consisted of two houses, a kindergarten, and pictures of places she was both afraid of and interested in.

They all mixed into vast playrooms and cramped forests and pink waterfalls, all sometimes fading into darkness that represented Emily’s fears. Those were the places where Emily huddled close to Tad, looking around wildly in search of monsters. But so far they had been left alone.

Tad wasn’t sure how far they had walked, but he could still feel the place keeping a firm grip on him, and he still felt quite human-like and couldn’t see anywhere that wasn’t here. Perhaps the Deacons had put the gemstone earring back in Emily’s ear. That would definitely mess up Tad’s sense of direction.

“Maybe they’re afraid of you,” Emily said optimistically after a while, “Maybe that’s why the monsters don’t want to show up.”

“That would not be the first time someone was afraid of me,” Tad said.

“Because of what you are?” Emily guessed, “Are you scary?”

“Many think so, yes.”

“Well, I don’t,” Emily said at once, “I like you, uncle Tad. You’re nice. You make me feel safe.”

Tad couldn’t help smiling. Emily’s trust and affection made him feel like he mattered more than he could have ever imagined. He was on his way to being a Significant Adult, one who could help a child’s life become better. Well, he could have tried that if he hadn’t just been locked into said child’s mind, where he was probably doing all kinds of damage. He wasn’t really worthy of any positive titles, but at least Emily had other adults waiting for her back in Riverview. Others who could help her grow up into a good, happy person. If she survived this with her mind and body somewhat intact, that is. Tad hated the thought of her being hurt. He had to do his best to keep her sane and get out fast. And then take her home.

He tried not to think about how he would probably still be stuck even if he could get Emily to focus on helping him properly by figuring out what he was. The Deacons had probably made sure he could not just walk out even when Emily’s mind was ready to let him go.

One problem at a time, please.

“I am glad that you like me,” Tad said to Emily, “I like you too. But you know… I can understand people being scared of me.”


Tad hesitated only for a moment before asking:

“Do you know what the Grim Reaper is?”

Emily nodded.

“Harper likes Grim Reapers. They’re usually skeletons or cloaked guys with scythes. Oh, are you saying you’re one? You like scythes too, and you kind of look like a skeleton.”

Tad smiled again. Maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all. Now that Emily was calmer, she was quite receptive to new ideas.

“Yes,” he said, “I am the one. The real Grim Reaper.”

Emily stared at him for a long while. She seemed to struggle between backing away and staying still. Between being afraid of and finding comfort in Tad’s presence.

Finally, she managed a quiet:

“But you’re the nice Grim Reaper, right? Sometimes they’re nice, at least that’s what Harper says.”

Tad tried to find his words again. Emily had the habit of rendering him speechless with her trust and innocence.

“I am nice,” he finally said, “Well, I try my best to be, at least. But… Emily, do you really know what the Grim Reaper does?”

Emily thought about it for a while. She looked unsure, and that seemed to be enough for the peaceful moment to be broken. Emily looked over Tad’s shoulder, and yelped:

“There they are!”

Tad turned around and saw it at once. He wasn’t sure if all the monsters looked the same, but at least this one was quite large. It looked like a somewhat simplified griffin and walked on four limbs. It had bleeding claws. Its eyes shone hungrily in the dark.

“Make it go away,” Emily whispered.

Tad nodded quietly. Now wasn’t the time for speeches about how Emily was the one who could make the monsters go away. She had to heal for the monsters to really fade, but for that, she needed help. And while violence wasn’t the best kind of help, right now it was probably the only thing that could make Emily feel safe.

“Of course,” Tad said, “Stay back.”

Tad took a fighting stance, his scythe held sideways in front of him and the curved blade pointing towards the monster. The nightmare-creature lumbered through the shadows, half-covered by the darkness. It hissed like a broken water pipe. Sometimes it gurgled and even growled. It was clear why it was intimidating to a traumatised, five-year-old child, but it was definitely not even close to being the worst thing Tad had faced before. Sometimes the universe needed even its cosmic beings to take up arms, to engage in old-fashioned, somewhat physical combat with beings that would otherwise hurt reality. And although the situations where it was acceptable for Tad to kill or even fight were extremely rare, eternity was still a long time to hone one’s fighting skills.

Tad may have been largely bound to Emily’s will as long as he was in her mind, but at least he still had control over this representation of his physical form. It would move just the way he wanted it to. And now he waited, studied the creature and located its most likely blind spots and less guarded places. Behind him, Emily held her breath even though her dream-self didn’t really breathe all that much in the first place.

At first the monster didn’t even seem to react to their presence. Then its eyes slowly locked onto Emily, who tensed and backed away a few steps. Tad kept himself between her and the beast, calmly looking it in the eyes, not really focusing on the eyes but rather on the whole creature. The monster turned towards them and started running quite fast for its size. Well, not that Tad had expected it to adhere to Earth’s normal rules of physics to begin with. It was just a dream, after all.

Tad started moving when the monster launched itself at them. The monster swiped with its long, sharp claws, but Tad was no longer where it thought he was. He was slightly off its line of attack, tilting his body so that its diagonally slashing claws passed over his head, and with one swift movement his scythe had cut through air and dream-flesh.

Emily stared at the now severed monster-head that fell into the darkness and disappeared. The headless monster swayed, but then Emily’s mind seemed to agree that it couldn’t live without its head. The monster slumped to the ground, and Tad straightened to his full height. He smiled at Emily, who looked at the monster’s quickly vanishing body with renewed bravery and slight disappointment.

“That was… a short fight,” she remarked, “Usually it takes really long to fight the scary monsters on TV.”

“Real life is often quite different from television,” Tad said, and Emily’s eyes started to shine.

“But you really are a really really good fighter, uncle Tad! Wow! I mean, I knew it, I guess, but most adults can’t really fight all that well in real life.”

“You are right,” Tad said, “You are lucky to live in a place where knowing how to fight is not a necessity. Some humans do take it up as a good hobby, though. But I… well, for me it is different. I am not a human.”

Emily thought about it.

“Yeah. It makes sense that the Grim Reaper could fight.”

“I suppose.”

Emily smiled.

“Then I’m really safe here!”

Tad sighed.

“Emily, do you know what dying is?”

Emily hesitated, and then she shrugged.

“It means going away. Mommy’s gone away. Can we not talk about it? Thinking about it makes the monsters come.”

There was movement in the darkness. There was more hissing, and even a sound that was like a noisy crowd.

“I am sorry,” Tad said, “But we have to talk about it. It can be difficult to think about, I know. And normally developing an understanding of death takes time. But now… as long as you refuse to talk about it, I will remain powerless to truly help you. If you cannot understand me, I cannot properly recover . The wizard man probably knew that, and that is why he took you and locked me up into your mind specifically.”

Emily kept shaking her head.

“But… but mommy is… I… I don’t wanna talk about it.”

The monsters kept approaching. Tad readied his scythe. The darkness started to feel even darker. Great. Now he was not only traumatising Emily further, but his presence had also probably started to affect her.

“You have to try to stay calm, Emily,” he said quietly, “I know it is not easy, but you have to…”

The monsters attacked, claws and teeth and blood slicing through the dark.

Amelia rushed into the hospital’s waiting room and only vaguely realised that she had no plan for convincing the hospital staff to let her see Vanja or Novak. But it turned out she didn’t need a plan. Novak was already sitting in the waiting room, still in his hospital clothes and waving wildly at her.

“Well, at least you’ve got the decency to show up!” he said angrily, “I’ve been trying to call you for ten minutes!”

Amelia checked her pockets and realised that she had managed to switch off her phone in her hurry.

“Oh, sorry! My phone was switched off.”

“What?!” Novak exclaimed, eliciting a disgruntled look from the receptionist near him, “That’s like… modern city survival 101! Always have your phone with you and functional unless you really need to stay hidden! That’s right up there with ‘always have enough change for at least the local bus and a cup of coffee’.”

He ran a hand through his messy hair.

“Ugh… never mind… We’ve got a situation. Though I’m guessing you noticed already.”

“Yes, but…” Amelia frowned, “Wait, how did you know?”

Novak nodded towards one of the chairs.

“First of all, the hospital staff is freaking out because some of the patients keep getting stuck in not-quite-dead states. Aaaand then the situation kind of knocked on my door, so to speak.”

Amelia spun to look at the woman who was sitting in the chair. Her pale, moon-like eyes stared back. Amelia gasped.


The woman looked mildly amused.


She looked around in the room.

“Perhaps we should talk in private.”

She waved her hand, and nothing seemed to change. Novak looked around with some alarm, though. Then he glanced at the receptionist.

“Hey, you!” he said, “I think I’m about to cough up a lung.”

The receptionist didn’t react. Novak nodded approvingly.

“Just making sure your ‘private’-magic worked again. Okay, lady… Lady Death. Tell her what you told me. Amelia is Death’s special friend. I still don’t know why you didn’t go straight to her.”

The woman looked at Amelia, not blinking at all.

“She is not his official champion. However… yes, I do feel a very significant bond between her and this universe’s Death.”

“Um…” Amelia said and shifted uncomfortably under the woman’s billions-year-old stare, “Who are you?”

The woman tilted her head.

“I am Death’s substitute. Your Death is incapacitated, unable to perform his duties. Very unprofessional. Things have stopped properly dying, and that should not happen. Therefore, another Death sent a fragment of herself through the barriers between universes to keep at least some kind of balance here. That fragment is me, in case you did not fully understand.”

“Where’s Tad?” Amelia asked at once, “Is he okay?”

“Of course he isn’t”, the woman said a bit impatiently, “If he was, I would not be here. Meshing universes like this is not healthy, and as long as I am here, there will be disturbances on top of all the things that are going wrong because your Death is not doing his job. Someone has to find him soon.”

“And you really have no idea where he is?” Novak asked.

The woman lowered her head for a moment and closed her eyes, as if listening to the echoes of the world.

“No,” she then said, “He is hidden from me. However, I can tell that when I was sent here, I first ended up in a place called Twinbrook.”

Novak smirked.

“Really? Then I think we have all the clues we need.”

He looked at Amelia and nodded towards the woman in the chair.

“If she’s really Death and can’t find Tad, then that means the Deacons got him. He’s been hidden with the gemstone. That would make the most sense, at least.”

“But why would he go to them now?” Amelia asked with a frown.

“Maybe he didn’t want people to suffer anymore because of his antics,” Novak said with a shrug, “I don’t know! I’m not a therapist for anthropomorphic personifications! My point is, he’s probably with the Deacons. And I think the best place to start looking for them would be with their daddy dearest.”

“You mean Mr. Deacon? He said he didn’t know where they were.”

“And you believe him? Puh-lease! He’ll at least know something. Maybe Lady Death here can knock him around for a bit.”

“Absolutely not!” Lady Death said with distaste, “I am just a fragment! I cannot be in that many places at once, and I definitely should not get involved in this. No, I need to make sure this world can stay somewhat functional, and you need to figure out how to get this universe’s true Death back to work.”

She talked in a much colder way than Tad, but looked so much like him. To think that she sort of was him from another universe was rather mind-bending. Luckily Amelia was too worried to really think about things too much. For now, she was only focused on getting Tad out of whatever trouble he had got himself into. She turned to Novak, whose mind seemed to work incredibly quickly and who was clearly ready to work.

“So you’ll help me find him?” she asked, “We’ll go to Twinbrook, and… figure things out?”

Novak nodded. There was admirable determination in his eyes. He looked like a formidable opponent for any reality disturbance even in the bird and flower patterned hospital pyjamas he was wearing.

“Sure,” he said, “I’d like the universe to stay intact. That’s where all my stuff is.”

He grimaced.

“Even when it means probably having to face grouchy magic users.”

Lady Death stood up from her seat and elegantly stretched her arms.

“Well, it seems that you have things under control here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work. I have already had to freeze most of the dying things into a state between life and death because I simply cannot be everywhere at once.”

“Wait,” Novak lifted a hand to stop her, “how about a lift to-“

But the woman was already gone. Novak’s hands dropped to his knees.

“Well, that sucks,” he said, “You know what this means?”

“That we need to get to Twinbrook on our own somehow,” Amelia guessed, “And fast.”

“Yeah. And for that we need someone who can do teleportation magic. And in this town that means…”

Novak sighed.


Probably thanks to the chaos in the hospital, Amelia finally managed to convince someone that they were good friends of Vanja and wanted to talk to her. They were led to a hospital room where Vanja was, glaring at them and looking very displeased. Amelia didn’t know what had happened to her, but she was glad that she seemed to be on the mend. At least she was sitting up and looked very much alive, if tired and still in some pain.

“You?” she said at once when they entered, “What’s going on? I heard other people were attacked as well. I don’t need to be a genius – though I am – to deduce it was you.”

“Yes,” Amelia said, “I’m so sorry this happened to you too. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Mostly. I was shot, but I can manage. Good thing I’m great at first aid, otherwise I’d be dead”, Vanja studied their faces for a moment and then frowned, “You look like something is definitely not right. Does it have something to do with the chaos that’s right outside the door?”

Amelia looked around, and Vanja noticed her hesitation. She mumbled a few words, and then sat up even straighter.

“I placed a muffle spell on the door. Talk.”

They talked. Vanja listened and didn’t even look very shocked to hear about fractures in reality and Tad being gone. She let out a long, deep sigh.

“I felt something was off. And to be honest, I’m not surprised that Death would do something stupid. I am more surprised that he managed himself this well for this long.”

She moved as if to get up, but winced and gingerly felt her abdomen. Suddenly she didn’t look very confident.

“Well, it’s… it’s up to us now, isn’t it? We are probably the only ones who know enough to do anything.”

“Yeah,” Novak said, and the fact that he didn’t snark about it was a testament to the gravity of the situation, “I mean, sure, we could try to call someone… some über-sorcerer or sorceress or something, but really… I think it would just make things messier. Besides, this actually isn’t that difficult to fix… I hope. I mean, we just have to get Death back and it’ll be fine. Right?”

“It sounds plausible,” Vanja said, “So you think he’s with the Deacons, right? Oh, I would love to teach those creeps a lesson. And I will! The Deacons are notoriously secretive, so they probably haven’t told about their plans to anyone outside of family, so we shouldn’t face that much resistance in numbers. However, we need to be careful about this. Numbers or not, they’re still a force to be reckoned with.”

She smirked, looking a lot like her usual self. Amelia felt much more confident about the whole situation.

“Well, but so am I,” she glanced at Novak, “And I suppose you can be useful as well, thief.”

She looked at Amelia, suddenly very solemn.

“Do you think you’ll be fine out there, though? You have no combat experience of any kind.”

There was real concern in her voice. Amelia bit her lip.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, “But I want to help. I promise I won’t get in the way.”

She wondered if she should call Dewey and ask him to help them. But she had already forced him out of retirement and back into a job he clearly didn’t like. And Riverview needed protectors as well. Fixing reality wouldn’t feel like such a victory if there would be no home to come back to afterwards. This was something that had started with mostly just the four of them: Tad, Amelia, Vanja and Novak. They all had actively been there from the beginning of this mess, whether they knew about it or not. They had to be there for the end. It was poetic, right? Symmetrical.

One could have pointed out to them that symmetry and poetry weren’t the things that usually saved the day. But then again, wasn’t this whole problem just one big pseudo-poetic metaphor for fighting death gone overboard? So perhaps some symmetry was called for. In addition to a sufficiently effective set of skills and good planning, that is. And some firepower, just in case.

About an hour later they were dressed, prepared, and ready to leave. They had a plan… somewhat, and they had a direction. And a lot of determination. They even had a plan for getting out of the hospital unnoticed, but it turned out that they didn’t need it. The hospital staff was too preoccupied by not only the mysterious comas the people who should have died were in, but also vaguely humanoid shapes that wavered through the medicine and disinfectant-saturated air. Some were calling the police. Some didn’t know who to call. And no one noticed when three people vanished with a flash of light and a bit of smoke.

Amelia really hoped that they would return to a Riverview that was still standing.

Fate didn’t remember being hit so hard in ages. She had been burned into pieces and melted into mist in swamp grass. And when she came back to awareness, it was with a shocked, breathless – not that she needed to breathe – scream. She clawed at the earth as she regained her shape, pain lingering and feeling like fire and needles had been stuck in her. She got to her feet and took a moment to shake off the pain. She couldn’t be this easily taken down! Not that the spell had gone easy on her. It had been a very powerful, old one. Probably the only reason she managed to recover as quickly as she did was the fact that the spell hadn’t been specifically designed for her. It was meant to strike down Death. And from the looks of it, it had succeeded. For as Fate regained her bearings, she noticed that reality had started to fray and tear, and that Death was… probably not in a good condition.

Fate looked around. She was still inside the huge magic circle that surrounded the Deacons’ grounds. The Deacons had apparently gone inside their little cabin and surrounded the place with some more protective spells. And all around them, reality started to show signs of weakening. The swamp was full of dead things whose souls were stuck in their corpses. Fateful moments that ended up not being quite so deadly were giving Fate a terrible migraine. Beings from another universes flitted into view and then back out. Some of the poor things had probably been shoved through by accident, but others felt hungry. Those were the creatures that lurked between universes and were quick to attack and in the worst cases devour what was left of dead worlds. The Deacons had done more damage than they could have even imagined.

“Those fools,” Fate hissed out loud and glared at the cabin behind her. The Deacons had to have noticed what they had done by now. And Death… how could he be such an idiot?!

Fate took an experimental step over the faint blood-and-tar edge of the circle. There were no flashy force fields to hold her back, unlike some may have thought. What held trapped anthropomorphic personifications in place was the overwhelming feeling of not wanting to break a rule as sacred as “do not step out of the circle, it was put there for a reason”. It was quite frustrating and even a little embarrassing. Fate let her foot hover above the edge for a while and then backed away with a sigh. Well, at least she was inside their stupid circle instead of outside it. If she could just get inside the bunker, she might be able to fix things. Without interfering too much, of course.

Fate’s planning was interrupted when she spotted a small group of people in the distance. Death’s mortal entourage had arrived. Fate smirked. Yes, the Deacons would soon get what was coming to them. Fate was more than happy to help with that.

Author’s Note: Hi guys! It may look like my flow streak was interrupted, and… well, it was for one very work-filled weekend, but the more important reason why I took a little “break” from publishing was because I wanted to write the story arc all the way to the end before continuing with the photoshoots etc. So now I have at least the first draft of all the chapters. There will be three more after this, so the total chapter count for this story arc will be 45! Darn, 44 would have been cooler, but since the text kept coming, I had to split the chapters differently, and this way it works better so…

Also I have almost all the screenshots I need for all the chapters. After I publish this, I’ll go into my game and take the rest of the pics. So you should be getting the rest of the chapters pretty quickly… I think.

Okay, about the chapter… “Lady Death” makes a cameo appearance here! She is a very minor character who may or may not even be real in my Fey of Life -story. In that story she is called Tuonetar, but it’s not mentioned here. She of course has many names.

And I would like to thank my fiancé and my roommate for sharing ideas and helping me think up a fighting style for someone who uses a farming scythe (which, according to my research and basic common sense, is NOT an easy or a practical weapon to fight with at all). Their input was very valuable, even for the very brief fight scene here. I now have quite a clear idea of how Tad fights in those rare occasions he needs to. And that helped me make those scythe poses, though the pose-making was a bit limited by the fact that the scythe is an accessory and is always attached to his right hand from the same spot. Still, fun times.

I hope you guys enjoyed this… thing. I feel like I’m okay at details and dialogue and stuff, but a good, cohesive plot is… always difficult for me to maintain. Gah. Anyway, have a good time you all!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Mindscapes

NEXT Chapter: Timely Interventions


7 thoughts on “Chapter 42: Askew

  1. I’m always so excited for a new chapter from you because it’s so pleasantly much to read! I’m excited for the end of the arc (not that I want it to end! :)) and those fighting pictures were so awesome! I’m always squealing when Tad is seen doing something cool like this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m glad you don’t mind my long chapters. And I’m glad you like my fighting pics. They were kind of difficult to shoot because of the limitations of the game, but with some dramatic angles and lighting and sometimes a bit of photo-editing they turned out alright. It is indeed pretty cool when Tad sheds his shy persona and gets dangerous.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, I am angry at Fate. How dare she be angry over the turnout of things after she worked with the Deacons? She’s equally at fault.
    The gang has a lot on their plate now. At least Vanja and Novak sort of know what’s up

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The fighting scene was very impressive. I would not have had the patience to pull something like that off, props to you! I think that is one thing that makes this story so intriguing is the amount of work and dedication that had been put into it. I hope they show those Deacons who’s boss for all the terrible stuff they did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m really grateful you appreciate the work I did. It did take plenty of time and extra work, as I had to make the scythe poses (and finding that scythe CC took a lot of time too) and edit the pics a lot. It was a lot of fun, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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