Chapter 49: Ghost in the Mail

There are many ways to deal with grief, some healthier than others. Amelia Sprigg had tried many of them, and what felt right seemed to vary from grief to grief. When her dad had died, she had managed to keep going and even make friends with Death – literally. When mother had died as well, while Amelia was still weighed down by her grief over father, she had managed to spend a few weeks pretending she was still alright.

But her new reality crept in sneakily, like a burglar who – instead of silverware and antiques – took away joy and the constructive ways of handling loss.

At first it stopped Amelia’s calls and visits to her friends. She didn’t even see Katie or Sandra, or the Ley Line Nexus people much anymore. She sent cat pictures and messages on important days and sometimes managed to go out with her colleagues for lunch, but it was all done with a nagging feeling that she shouldn’t. That she had More Important Things to do.

Second, it made her stop thinking too much. She went through the motions during the day and waited for the nights she could talk to Connor and plan ways to help him. She waited for visits from Tad, who seemed like the only appropriate guest she could welcome right now.

She was sure it was only temporary, that once she figured out a way to help others, especially Connor, she would be back on her feet again. Helping had helped her before. Why shouldn’t it help now?

Lately, Amelia had been contemplating calling Tad. Metaphorically, of course. She hadn’t seen him all week, and while that probably wasn’t a long enough time to start missing him, she still did. She never knew when Tad visited nowadays, and that made things worse. If she had had something to look forward to, it would have been easy to wait. And now she had something to ask him too.

That made her a bit nervous. Tad was her friend, but Amelia knew she would be asking Tad a huge favour. She wasn’t certain at all if Tad could do anything to help Connor, and she was even less certain that he would even if he could. He had his rules, that had become clear enough, and Amelia couldn’t bear the thought of putting him in a tough spot again.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to ask, right?

Amelia cooked too much food again without even thinking much of it. The kitchen filled with the scent of mushrooms and eggs. She ate in silence, in a half-empty house and tried to taste the mushrooms instead of just mush. She gasped when there was a knock on the door. She hurried to open, and wasn’t sure whether to feel happy or more nervous when she saw it was indeed Tad at the door, just like she had hoped.

“Come on in!” she said with a bright smile on her face to mask her nervousness, “I was just thinking about you.”

Tad looked at her rather uncertainly.

“You were?”

“Yeah. I haven’t seen you around lately.”

“You have not?”

Amelia frowned. Tad seemed to be somewhere far away, and while that was normal for him, it always made her a little worried because she could never tell where he went. Sometimes it was for work, but sometimes something bothered him.

“Well, you haven’t been here in weeks.”

“Yes… I have been busy. May… may I still come in?”

He asked it so uncertainly, like he had gone back to the time he always assumed he wasn’t welcome. Amelia felt a frown creasing her forehead – definitely not for the first time when it came to talking with Tad. She thought back to the time she had been a kid. At an age everyone had had (usually) silly, lofty dreams of adventures, dream jobs and riches. Amelia had wanted to live in a castle made out of chocolate wafers and strawberry meringue. That had been a silly dream, but a fun one. When she had grown up, she had of course realised that houses – let alone castles – made out of wafers wouldn’t be structurally sound and that the whole dream was something she should just leave behind. And she did, because then she could start building more realistic dreams about cute houses made out of proper construction materials – though she never necessarily ruled out the possibility of making walls look like wafers someday.

But Tad… he seemed to have made wafer-meringue castles out of even the smallest possibility that he could have the right to expect any humane treatment from anyone. That wasn’t good. Not good at all.

“Um… I can go if you-“

“Oh, no, don’t!” Amelia said, startled because she realised she had probably been very quiet for a long while, lost in weird metaphors about pastry castles, “Come in! Of course you can. I just told you to, and you’re always welcome!”

Tad nodded slowly, stepping indoors when Amelia made room for him. Amelia offered him tea, just like always, and Tad managed a small smile. Something was on his mind, and because something was on Amelia’s mind as well, everything felt more awkward. It was like they were suddenly back to that new-born foal version of social situations, awkward, stumbling and cautious. They sat down in the living room with cups of tea and Amelia’s favourite, cat-themed teapot. The porcelain kitten was the only thing that seemed to be without care at the moment. Amelia sipped her green tea with jasmine, put her cup down and glanced at Tad. He had curled up on the couch, like he often did when he was feeling insecure or when he was somewhere else.

“So, how are you?” Amelia asked, “Any progress with the… probation?”

Tad nodded.

“Yes, actually,” he said, “I was assigned as a mentor to a young muse named Disegno.”

“Muses are real too? Like… they’re like you?”

“Yes. If I mentor him for a while, I have proven myself and can go back to normal.”

“Oh? That’s great news!” Amelia beamed at him, “So… what do you have to do? What do you teach to uh… a muse? They’re beauty-beings… or art-beings, right? At least they are in stories.”

“Yes,” Tad stared at his teacup, “Knowing what to teach him is one of the challenges, really. He does not want to learn anything from me at the moment, and… well, now he seems to have disappeared.”


“So… I came here to… well, to see you of course, but also to ask… what do you know about runaway teenagers?”

Amelia stared. The situation had turned surreal very fast once again.

“Um… me?” she chuckled, “Not much, really. I never ran away. One of my friends did, back when I was fifteen. She ran away with a boy. The police found her three days later, and she was pretty eager to get home. But I don’t think this is the same. Is Disegno really a teenager?”

“Technically. He is older than your version of it, but he seems to have assumed the role of one.”


“He does not seem to like me very much,” Tad shrugged, as if it was normal – and it shouldn’t be, darn it! “I have given him time, but he has not come back, and as much as I would not like to disturb him, I need to find him if we want to get anywhere.”

Amelia looked at Tad for a long time. Then she closed her eyes and listened to the fireplace that crackled and popped behind them in an erratic rhythm. Tad was a mentor now. At first she felt like the role didn’t suit the Tad she knew. But then she realised it did suit the other Tad. The one she didn’t know so well. The Death-Tad, who was incredibly at home with the job he did, and who seemed to know all the rules of the universe. And Tad was gentle and patient. Surely he could teach an unruly teenager a thing or two about… whatever it was he was supposed to teach. The thought brought a smile to her face, but then she remembered what Tad had just said.

“So… you can’t find him at all?” she asked, “I thought you could find anyone.”

Tad looked a bit embarrassed.

“It is… different with those who are not mortal. And especially with those who are not living ones. They can hide from me if they focus hard enough. I am not usually supposed to reap them, after all. Not until the death of the entire universe.”

The last sentence made Amelia shudder, so she decided to ignore that for now. She figured it was a long way in the future. Hopefully.

“And… do you think he could have gone to someone he knows? Does he have like… a family?”

“The muses are a fairly large group,” Tad said, “I did go see them first, but they claimed they did not know where he was. So now… I am at a loss.”

“Maybe he’ll come back?” Amelia suggested, “He just needs more time, maybe. Though… do you know why he doesn’t like you?”

Tad shook his head. The tea in his cup shrank back from him, if that was possible.

“I hardly remember meeting him at all before now. I think Time mentioned him a few decades ago… not favourably, I think. I mean, this is a punishment for him as well. Perhaps he just has a problem with the situation as a whole.”

He sighed.

“But I should not gossip about people like this. I just want to move things along and to find him so we can talk.”

Amelia nodded slowly. She tried to think. Lately thinking had been harder. Her mind was so clogged up with grief – which she was getting back under control, of course.

“Uh… well, have you tried places that are beautiful? If beauty is his thing, he might go to places like that?”

Tad’s eyes widened.

“Yes… with many clear shapes. I can start with all the places that boast sleek, geometric and functional design from a human standpoint.”

“There you go!” Amelia said, a smile brightening her face and mind, “I should just leave you to it, then… though-“

“Hold on…” Tad squinted at something, his nose scrunching up. Then he shook his head, “No, he is not in any of those places. But I will keep looking, your idea was a good one.”

He looked at her again, and this time he actually looked. Amelia felt uncomfortable. She still couldn’t meet his eyes for too long. Perhaps she never would. It was a built-in feature in mortals to not be able to take long looks at things that were too unknown and incomprehensible and that spelled out their end.

“Are you okay?” Tad finally asked, “You seem… like you are still grieving in ways that hurt you more than they heal.”

Amelia laughed a little, but it was forced and she knew it.

“Oh, I’m getting better all the time.”

She trailed off, clutched her shirt sleeves for more security, and gathered her courage.

“But… there was something I wanted to ask you. A favour… or advice.”


“You know Connor, right?” Amelia took a nervous sip of her tea, “I mean… you remember him, right? He as the one who met my dad in your garden and who talked to me as your birthday present for me.”

“I do, yes. He is a good young man.”

“He’s stuck in my head,” Amelia said and felt a bit foolish saying that all aloud. It sounded crazy, “I mean… he sought me out when you were gone, and now he can’t seem to properly leave. So sometimes I talk to him in my dreams. And he’s pretty miserable because he’s haunting a place under a mall and he’s been stuck for so long, and I… I want to help him.”

She said it all in a long, frantic exhale. Tad listened, thoughtful and not put off by any of it at all. Amelia reminded herself that of course he wouldn’t be. It was his job to help ghosts, after all. Finally, Amelia let the living room go quiet again. Fire crackled and Tad finished drinking his tea before putting the cup down.

“I am glad you want to help,” he said slowly, “But what exactly were you planning to do?”

“Well I… I want to un-stick him,” Amelia said, “And keep him company. I don’t want him to just stay under a mall where there’s no one to talk to, so I was thinking that… would there be a way to get a ghost to haunt some other place?”

“Wait…” Tad said, suddenly much more serious, “You want him to haunt your house? You want to adopt a ghost?”

He frowned, and for a while Amelia could see a dozen fatally bad ideas in the air around them, for some reason. As if to remind her that she should really consider before she did things. But she wasn’t going to stick a knife in the toaster or try parachuting with a live tiger. She just wanted to help a friend! A good kid who had passed away too soon and who deserved better than what he had.

“Is that so bad?” she asked out loud, “Then he wouldn’t be stuck in my head either! Maybe. And I could help him.”

“If you want him out of your head, I can take care of that,” Tad said, “Do you want him out of your head?”

“I… yes! But I also want to talk to him! Help him move on!”

“I have heard that some grieving people adopt pets. Could you not do that? You like cats, right?”

“I don’t need cats!” Amelia said, almost raising her voice, “I have you! And why is it so bad that I want a ghost in my house?”

“Because I am not an adoption agency!” Tad stood up, his edges sharper than usually. Amelia realised vaguely that she was probably soon treading dangerous territory, but she couldn’t stop now.

“It’s not adoption! He would just be staying for a while. Like you did.”

“And you are grieving. I am not saying I suspect that you would do anything out of selfish reasons. but-“

“But you’re thinking that I want to help Connor just to cope with my grief?!”

“I…” Tad frowned, “no, I… but are you?”

“Well, maybe…” Amelia sighed, her shoulders slumping, “Oh, gods, is my coping mechanism inviting over macabre young men? That’s… oddly specific.”

She shook her head.

“No. I just want to help. That helps me too. I do really care about him!”

Tad turned his back on her and wrapped his arms around himself. He looked very tired. It was a look Amelia saw on him far too often. But then again, it probably couldn’t be helped when one was billions of years old.

“Committing to helping a ghost is a huge responsibility,” Tad said, his voice gentler again, “And it is different than usual friendships. You will have to help him find his way – something only he can do, in the end – and then let go as soon as he finds it. And it will all be uncertain… finding the way could take only days, but it could also take years. Lifetimes, even.”

Amelia paused for a moment at that, and then Tad turned and she met Tad’s eyes again. They were endless depths she feared she would get lost in – and not in a good way – but she held his gaze for far longer than she felt comfortable before she said with as much conviction as she could:

“That’s okay.”

Tad sighed and closed his eyes.

“Fine,” he said, “But I need to talk to Connor first.”

“Of course, I-“

“He says yes.”

Amelia again had to wonder when she would get used to Tad being everywhere. Then what Tad just had said sunk in.

“So he wants to be here?” she asked hopefully.

“Yes. Do you want him here now?”

Amelia nodded. Tad smiled thinly and then let his gaze travel around the room. Amelia could have sworn that the television’s wires sparked a bit threateningly.

“I cannot just hand him over to you. That would not be proper. But… you know where he is buried, yes? It is a mall, with many little stores.”


“Buy something from there. I will make sure his spirit is bound to whatever you buy.”

“It’s in Ireland!” Amelia protested, but then she felt a spark of whimsical joy in her chest. It was like a new, crazy adventure, but hopefully one that would involve less collapsing realities, “But I’m sure there’s at least some store that ships overseas. I’ll do it!”

“Alright. I hope you know what you are doing.”

He looked at the walls, probably seeing a dead forest where others saw planks.

“Right now, I am not so sure I know what I am doing.”

The library wasn’t his first choice, nor was it his last. That was why it was the perfect hiding place. That and it was one of the few places in the universe that held nothing that could die. Even the dust there was fake, with no real micro-organisms nor living cells. And there was something oddly pretty about the old books, their rectangular yet rounded shapes and the rhythm they made in the shelves that were pleasantly straight-lined and nicely carved. It was empty at the moment, yet Disegno knew at least its keeper was around. The old, obsolete god, who went by the name Mr. Perkins, was always around.

But right now, he wasn’t at his desk, where he kept the most important books. Such as records of the failings of everyone in the community – if it could be called that – of anthropomorphic personifications and gods.

Disegno gave the bookshelves he had admired a second ago a grimace of distaste. Yes, it was definitely not a pleasant place if he thought about the books on him that were there. Well, one book, probably, but sometimes few failings were apparently enough to warrant prolonged punishments.

He knew he had done wrong, damn it! Why was he still paying for it? Couldn’t Time just let it go? Apparently not. Now he had even thrown Death at him!

He was sick of this all. He just wanted it to end.

So why was he running?

He knew it was stupid. Irrational. Emotional. Probably exactly why Time thought he needed to be mentored.

No. Time was doing this because Time was a petty idiot who couldn’t let things go. That was why!

Disegno clenched his hands into fists. He’d had to get out. He couldn’t stand Death’s fake smiles and oh-so-friendly talk. It was weird. Usually everyone treated him dismissively and just did what they had to. Some were even actively malicious. Like the previous guy he had been assigned to. Who’d that been? Oh, right, the insecure, insignificant prick working in the nature department. Something something Lord of Winds or whatever. He had been hostile and abusive, thinking it would be fun to force Disegno to “test out” his storms. He’d been ripped apart by tornadoes more times he could count during that time. Disegno took great pleasure in knowing the wind-guy was already obsolete and everyone had had enough of his crap. The others hadn’t been that bad, but they were never even trying all that hard, and they were always cold towards him. Even though all of them didn’t even know what Disegno had done, they still sensed that he had done something pretty bad.

It wasn’t even that bad! He had just-

Disegno spun around when he heard echoing, melodious footsteps. Mr. Perkins stepped from between the bookshelves, looking garish yet scruffy like old gods tended to do. They knew their time was up, so they needed to compensate for it by at least drawing the eye. Even when it was in distaste. Disegno scrunched up his nose. Mr. Perkins looked at him for a few seconds, gears turning in his old head.

“Well, I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said, “Are you finally free?”

He knew. Of course he knew. He was the keeper of the archives. Every failing, every broken rule, came to his attention sooner or later. Disegno didn’t really want to talk to him. He shrugged.

“Oddly quiet, are we?” Mr. Perkins said, “Well, at least tell me what you are doing here, behind my desk. This is my domain, you know.”

“I felt like coming here,” Disegno said, aware that he sounded a bit childish.

“Most usually respect this place enough to say their business from the other side of the desk.”

Disegno shrugged again.

“I don’t have any business here.”

“So you’re hiding?”

Disegno sighed. News travelled fast.

“I can leave, if you want. I don’t care for this dusty dump anyway. So just get out of my way, old man.”

Mr. Perkins didn’t move at first, but he still seemed to somehow grow. Disegno shouldn’t have been intimidated by him. Mr. Perkins was a lowly god, someone who had once been either a spirit or a mortal – even Mr. Perkins himself didn’t remember which – while Disegno was a muse and still relevant, so he actually held power. Mr. Perkins was just an archivist, and he only had power in his domain. Still, when Mr. Perkins frowned, Disegno found himself stepping back.

“I’d check that attitude if I were you, son,” Mr. Perkins said in a quiet growl, “I can take you back to Time right away and tell him you got out of line again. That you should go back into the dark.”

Disegno backed away again, even though he was almost pressed against a bookcase already. Why did he pick this place to hide? And why did Mr. Perkins have to know so much about him?

“You shouldn’t,” he managed to say and even sound somewhat confident, “Death is my mentor now. He might not like anyone meddling with his probation.”

That had some effect, at least. There was a flash of fear in Mr. Perkins’s pale blue eyes. Everyone knew not to mess with Death, and only idiots tried. Disegno didn’t like bringing his new mentor into this, especially since he had zero respect for his friend-act and he was just running away from him, but whatever got him out of this place without Mr. Perkins doing anything stupid was welcome right now. Unfortunately, Mr. Perkins seemed to get over it quickly.

“Well, I’m sure he’ll understand. And Time can think up something else for him. So don’t make me mad.”

He grinned, revealing his sharp fangs.

“Some of you young ones think you’re so high and mighty because you were created from wishes and thoughts and whatever pixie dust it is you come from, but here, everyone answers to good old Mr. Perkins.”

Mr. Perkins suddenly turned his head, and his whole demeanour changed.

“Oh, hello, lady.”

Disegno looked back as well.

Oh, great…

Now he had an audience as well.

He recognised the woman with the porcelain skin and white hair as Fate. Disegno had been taught to be wary of her. She was beautiful but fickle, and no one really knew what she was up to at any given time. Right now she looked at him and Mr. Perkins with an almost amused interest.

“Am I interrupting something?” she asked, voice like coming from a cello with golden strings.

“No, of course not!” Mr. Perkins said hastily, and all his previous bravado and his “everyone answers to me” -attitude were gone. Apparently, if the high and mighty wishes-and-thought being was powerful enough, Mr. Perkins was easily cowed, “What do you need, lady?”

“Nothing, really,” Fate said, “I just heard a commotion and came to investigate. I see you have found the young muse Death is looking for. I can take him off your hands so you can keep working.”

Disegno groaned inwardly, but he had to admit that right now even being around the fickle Fate was better than being around the definitely hostile Mr. Perkins. Mr. Perkins nodded quickly and practically pushed Disegno over the counter and to Fate. Very undignified.

“Of course! Take him back! I won’t report this if you wish.”

“Yes, I do wish it,” Fate said, “Time is very busy right now, so I think we should let him work in peace.”

“Of course.”

Fate guided the somewhat stunned and very annoyed Disegno out of the library and onto the streets of some insignificant small town. They walked in silence. Where to, Disegno didn’t know. But he was glad about the fresh air, and about the fact that Fate hadn’t forced him to go back to Death yet.

He looked up at Fate, but she said nothing. The silence that grew between them was tense, ugly. Disegno didn’t like it at all.

“He seems to respect you,” Disegno said just to say something, “Mr. Perkins, I mean.”

Fate let out a curt laugh.

“He fears me. I tend to keep him on his toes.”

She smiled almost proudly.

“I tend to keep everyone on their toes.”

That was certainly true. Disegno hadn’t had much dealings with Fate – he had been cut off from almost everyone for so long – but he too realised right away that he definitely needed to be wary.

“Well, thank you for helping me,” he said.

“My pleasure,” Fate said, “So, care to tell me what you were doing there, angering Mr. Perkins?”

“Nothing,” Disegno said quickly, “I just… I need to be going.”

“Where to?” Fate said, “I thought you weren’t even allowed to work yet. You are being mentored, aren’t you?”

Disegno sighed.

“Yes. I know. I am… actually in the middle of an assignment.”

It was a lie, and clearly Fate saw through it.

“Oh, really? And what might that assignment be? Death never lets anyone go behind Mr. Perkins’s desk.”

“It’s… why am I even talking to you?!” Disegno snapped. It was easier to be angry than to try keeping up with the friendly act. Fate would probably betray him at any moment anyway. Somehow.

“Because I just rescued you from the wrath of an old god,” Fate said amusedly again, “Do not underestimate them. For little muses like you, they can be dangerous. And they have a long memory.”

“I already said thanks.”


She still didn’t leave, and neither did Disegno. He wondered why. A thin layer of snow crunched beneath their shoes. Trees swayed gently in the wind, trying to make the dull white sky more beautiful by casting their bare, forked branches against it. The place they were in was sleepy and quaint enough, a countryside town similar to many other little towns that were slowly being sucked dry by the larger cities around them. Disegno suddenly stopped, remembering that he was supposed to avoid mortal places. Death was probably already closing in on him. There were bound to be microbes dying all around him!

“I really have to go.”

“Why the hurry?” Fate asked, “I would have thought that you wanted this over and done with as soon as possible. I think that running away from your mentor is slowing things down quite a bit.”

Disegno huffed.

“I don’t need to explain myself to you!”

“Of course not. Do you want to know what I think?”

“Not really.”

Fate laughed.

“I thought so. Well, let me give you a piece of advice, then. They say that one cannot predict the future by looking into the past.”

“And who are ‘they’?” Disegno asked, not impressed. Fate smiled her mysterious smile. Like she was playing a game. And she probably was.

“Those who are rarely right, but when they are, they are really right.”

“Oh, them,” Disegno laughed, “They also say you can’t be trusted. Why did you help me anyway?”

Fate seemed pleased. Like Disegno had just played the game right, or right the way she wanted him to.

“Why indeed? I see things many don’t. And since no one usually listens to me, I usually just… do things my way.”

Fate caught a snowflake on her long-nailed hand. It didn’t melt, and instead remained in its hexagonal perfection.

“Perhaps I see that things will get interesting again,” she said and waved the snowflake away. Her smile turned too sweet, “Well, since you don’t want my help, then I will just be on my way.”

And then, she was gone. Disegno was alone, and yet, he had a feeling that he was being watched.

He couldn’t see it nor feel it, but he knew that around him, millions of little things died, blinked out as if swept away by an unseen hand, watched over by pale eyes.

Amelia was excited. Almost. She quickly suppressed the worst of it as well as she could. It still bled through her forced seriousness. She felt like she had a purpose again. Like she could do something productive that wasn’t inappropriate in the time of mourning. She could help. She could help someone else move on.

And then… probably grieve him too.

She tried not to think about that. Or about how unhealthy this probably was.

It was weird, browsing an Irish webstore and thinking that she was about to order a ghost in the mail. But she did as Tad had instructed her, bought a cute lamp that she probably couldn’t get from many stores in SimNation, and then informed Tad of her purchase. It was odd, but she had by now started to get desensitised to a certain level of oddness.

Then, she waited. She did her chores, either ignored or kept her calls short, and barely got out of the house aside from going to work. She kept telling herself that she needed to be ready in case the package arrived. That she needed to welcome Connor to his new temporary home and then start figuring out how to help him move on.

At some point she stopped to wonder what had happened to the sunny, glass-half-full Amelia, who had managed to breeze through her father’s passing with a healthy dose of denial and slowly realised ways of the universe. She wondered what had happened to the lovely, actually happy Amelia she had been before the loss and sorrow.

She’ll come back, she knew, I just need to help others be happy so I can be happy too.

Yes, it was a good plan, she kept telling herself. Though it should be said that things one needed to keep telling oneself were usually not very true.

But she had already committed to it, and soon enough, a package that only barely fit in her mailbox arrived, wrapped in cardboard and brown paper, battered after being inspected at some point. Amelia hurried inside and set the purchase – a small table lamp in the shape of potted yellow flowers – on the nightstand in the guestroom and waited, trying not to feel foolish about it all.

When clock struck midnight, something started happening.

It began with light and continued with smoke. And ended with a pair of translucent, charcoal-hued legs, an old, charred jacket Amelia recognised, and hair alight with meteor fire.

Connor, a 16+189-year-old dead boy, stretched his back as if he was experiencing muscle cramps and then opened his glowing, white eyes. A mildly displeased look crossed his face.

“Okay, so you couldn’t think of anything less embarrassing to stick my spirit into?”

Then his face broke into a smile.

“Well, it’s much better than the foundations of a mall. I’m glad you got me out.”

Amelia clapped her hands and her laughter felt real, bubbling like a small springtime stream.

“I’m glad too!”

Author’s Note: What’s this? An update! Man, I’ve missed this story, and I’ve missed TS3. But I’ve also been very stuck with this story. But now this somehow sneakily formed and I realised that hey, it’s done! And it doesn’t feel sucky right now so I’ll post it before I’ll start regretting things.

I’ve been waiting ages for a chance to show Connor’s ghost form, because it’s so cool-looking! I love meteorite-ghosts!

Also Fate seems to like hanging out in Mr. Perkins’s library and occasionally intimidating him. Everyone needs a hobby, and I suppose Fate doesn’t find enough amusement in her main hobby, which is drama. 😀

I hope you enjoy and have a lovely time! I’m hoping to keep updates more frequent form now on, but I can’t make any promises. It depends on how stressful the work shapes up to be during summer. But I’m hoping to see you guys again soon! 🙂

PREVIOUS Chapter: Teen Angst

NEXT Chapter:


Chapter 48: Teen Angst

Amelia Sprigg had got very used to odd things lately. Having Death as her tenant had really opened her mind to the possibility that nothing was impossible. Nothing except – apparently – life being fair for anyone. So when she again heard the voice of the young dead boy Connor in her dreams, she wasn’t all that surprised. At first Connor had apologised – a lot – and explained that apparently something had got stuck when he had contacted her in her dream. Then he had cursed his bad luck in old Irish curses, his accent turning thicker. And then… somehow… he had settled. And Amelia had welcomed the presence in her subconscious without too many questions.

She liked to occasionally meet up with Connor in dreamworld, talking to him and sitting down on imaginary clouds or fluffy dreamgrass. A few months ago Amelia would have questioned this, pointed out to herself that she was probably just drifting farther and farther away from reality because of her grief, but right now she could tell herself that she just wanted a new friend and that Connor deserved someone to listen to and to spend time with him. Being stuck in the afterlife-gate seemed to be an unpleasant experience despite all the work Tad did to make things more bearable.

So no, Amelia wasn’t talking to a ghost stuck in her dreams because she was lonely and because calling her real friends felt like too much trouble too many times.

…and that wasn’t because she was depressed and grieving.

No, Amelia didn’t feel like she was all alone in the world when her mum was gone. She was grieving in a healthy way!

And no, Amelia didn’t think that Tad’s absence had left another void. That the house felt too empty now.

Or, well… maybe. Maybe she just tried to deny how messed up she was. How the fact was that she had lost both of her parents in too quick succession and she wasn’t over it at all and she was just trying to find increasingly desperate ways to cope.

And yet, she didn’t mind that one of her escapes was a dream-ghost.

“So, what did you do today?” she asked Connor when they sat at a distorted pond with crystal clear water and pink and purple bunnies swimming in its depths.

“Today?” Connor asked, “I don’t know what today is. How many nights has it been since we talked?”

“About three.”

“Oh,” Connor pressed his hands into his messy hair. It was a familiar sight by now, after all the weeks this had been going on, “I lost count again. It’s so hard to keep up with time!”

“Have you gone outside? To the place you haunt?” Amelia asked. They hadn’t talked about his haunting place a lot, “Wasn’t it a mall?”

Connor snorted.

“I would just get stuck in the floor. I’m buried underneath it and it’s really hard to navigate. And there’s nobody around at night. Well, there was some thieves a month ago. Or maybe a year. Or maybe it was last week. I don’t know. Anyway, it’s not fun.”

He sighed.

“Sometimes I really wish I could just be somewhere else. At least here it’s different. Even with the hippos.”

“I’m trying not to dream of them. But thinking about not dreaming of something actually makes them appear in dreams easier.”

“Right. What did you do today, Amelia?”

“I did some cleaning around the house. And worked. I work from home some of the days now.”

“You didn’t go out? You seem like the kind of person who likes to go out.”

Amelia shrugged.

“I tended to Tad’s garden. It’s in my backyard.”

“Okay. And… what else?”

Amelia shrugged.

“Not much else. What else do I need? I’ve got everything right at home!”

She spread her arms, catching some dreamdust on her palms. Connor looked at her for a long time.

“You know what I think? I think you’re not doing so great. It’s okay to mourn your mam. And everyone else you lost.”

Amelia glanced at Connor. Shouldn’t teenagers be the ones needing advice and adults telling them not to be so angsty? Except Amelia wasn’t that angsty. She was fine! Maybe… And if she was being depressed, it was for a reason. So it was okay, and she would start healing with time.

“I’m fine,” she said, because saying it made it easier to believe.

“Sure you are,” Connor sighed, “Look, I… you’re a nice person. I like talking to you, but I need you to… keep living. I don’t want you to get stuck too!”

His voice almost broke.

“Is it so bad,” Amelia asked, “being stuck? What’s it like for you?”

Bad,” Connor said, his eyes suddenly very tired and old, “Ages an’ ages of not knowing where to go, being in a place where time just… plays tricks.”

“Doesn’t Tad… I mean Sir Death help?” Amelia asked.

“Sometimes, but I think we need to find our way ourselves or it doesn’t work. It’s all about us in there. Except this is not. This is about you. And it’s your dream.”

“It doesn’t have to be just about me, Connor,” Amelia said and smiled gently, “I appreciate that you want to help me, and I want to help you.”

Connor looked confused for a second. Amelia wondered if anyone had offered him help lately. Or in a century or two.

“Maybe you should focus on… I don’t know… being happy first,” he finally said, “Just… taking care of yourself.”

“Helping others does make me happy,” Amelia said.

“You can’t help me,” Connor said and let out a sad laugh, “Unless you can figure out a way to get me unstuck from under Barbara’s Bargains that’s beyond an ocean for you.”

Amelia nodded in contemplation. In dreams nothing seemed very shocking. Not even the parts she knew were really happening. She found herself wondering how to free a ghost. She stared into the water and at the leafy penguins that were near it for some reason. She was startled when she felt Connor suddenly glaring at her.

“Don’t try to change the subject!” he huffed, “I’m supposed to help you here! What good am I for, stuck in someone’s mind – partially – if I can’t even help them heal their obviously broken head!”

“I’m not broken!” Amelia snapped, but then she sighed, “I… I know I’m not totally okay. But I’m not a lost cause either. I can…”

Her dream was cut off by an alarm. Connor’s face faded from view, and Amelia blinked in the lonely darkness of her bedroom. She reluctantly got up and made a mental note to ask a few important questions when Tad came to visit next time.

She would help Connor somehow. And her surprisingly lonely mind seemed to have already got an idea about how.

The kitchen door didn’t really need to let through the smell of cinnamon and bread when opened. But then again, the entire kitchen didn’t really need to exist in Death’s house, so what was one more pointless, nice thing on top of another. But it was okay; it didn’t inconvenience anyone. All of Death’s house was made entirely by him by using only his will. Made by Death for… well, partly for him, but mostly for the lost souls who wanted to have some semblance of a homely inn to stop their wanderings in for a while. Sometimes he had other guests over too, but most of the time they were dead souls who wandered in and had a good night’s sleep in beds or ate food in a dining hall or spent time in front of a fireplace. Tad steered clear of most of the guest areas, because the souls usually shied away from him. Such as now, when he walked into the kitchen past his library and the dining hall, and felt the souls subconsciously shifting away from the wall closest to him. Disegno walked behind him, eyeing the rooms and the walls with a critical eye.

“Well, at least black and white are a classic combination,” he said with some approval in his voice, “But what was up with the outside? You had a good-looking façade and the rest was just a… blank box.”

His last words dripped with venom, like blank, boxy buildings were a sin against nature. Tad shrugged his shoulders.

“There was a lovely architect who spent some time here,” he said, “She was inspired to sketch a new house for me, but she found a way to move on before she had anything besides the front drawn. I liked it a lot, though, so I changed the house to look like it.”

“She must be rolling in her grave for having her unfinished sketch used.”

Disegno looked at the kitchen next, when Tad let him past and through the doorway. The took note of the green in the cushioned chairs.

“Colours, huh? Hope you didn’t hurt yourself too much while making this.”

“Colours are difficult,” Tad admitted, “But I have had a lot of time to work on them. Do you want some tea? Or coffee? Or something else?”

Disegno shrugged. His contempt returned, so strong Tad could see it. It seemed that Disegno had formed an opinion of him even before they had properly met. Tad was used to that, but he also felt it was unfortunate to have the person he was supposed to mentor being so hostile.

“We don’t need to start any… shows for anyone,” Disegno said, flute-voice laced with something Tad couldn’t quite recognise, “We don’t need to pretend to like each other. You just teach me – though I’m not sure what you can teach me – until Time is satisfied. Then we can go back to our… ways, and that’s it. This never takes very long.”

“It sounds like you have been in this situation before,” Tad said and put some mugs with hot drinks in them on the kitchen counter. Disegno shrugged again and reluctantly sat down. His perfect posture had changed into a slight rebellious slouch. He didn’t speak, and Tad waited a long moment before he said:

“Well, I would still like to do this as well as possible. You are right that we are very different, and when it comes to your Purpose, you are probably taught elsewhere. Am I correct?”

“Yes. Us muses learn from each other,” Disegno said and tilted his chin upwards a little bit.

“I thought so,” Tad smiled in what he hoped was a friendly way, “So I was thinking that we can find something I could teach you first. Now, I have not been mentoring in a long while, but I always start with going through the current situation and getting to know each other a bit. So I would like to ask you a few questions first.”

Disegno stared at him. Tad nodded towards the mugs.

“Do you now want something to drink?”

Disegno let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Coffee, then,” he said, “With a bit of rum and cream.”

Tad set a cup of the requested drink in front of Disegno and poured some lapsang souchong into his own teacup. He sat down across from his guest.

“Now then, I need to know how old you are, how long you have been actively working, and what exactly your Purpose is.”

Disegno sighed again.

“I was born in the 1700s on Earth,” he said, “I was active for about forty years before going to sleep, and have been active for some decades here and there after that. I’m specialised in composition, design, in proportions and geometrical beauty, but I am also a muse to several other kinds of artists.”

“That sounds nice,” Tad said and gave him another pale smile, “How do you like it?”

Of course I like it,” Disegno frowned, “It’s what I’m here for. Any other obvious questions?”

Tad dismissed the hostile tone again. He leaned forward and took a sip of his tea.

“Is there anything you want to learn more about in this world? Emotions? Those are often difficult. Social aspects? Getting a different point of view on things?”

“Aren’t those things you suck at?”

“True, I am not good with emotions nor social things,” Tad said, “But we can learn together, if that is what you wish.”

Disegno’s eyes became steely, hateful. Tad wasn’t sure if Disegno hated him or something else.

“I wish for this to be over quickly. I don’t need anything from you.”

He got up.

“Well,” Tad said in a calming tone, “Maybe you can think about what you really want for a while. I am in no hurry. But you do know we need to work together if we want to make Time happy.”

Disegno stared at the wall now. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep and then said:

“Right. Sure. I will.”

“You are free to stay here or go elsewhere,” Tad said, “I can find you.”

“I know.”

“If you stay here, I need to tell you a few rules. First of all, this is first and foremost a place of peace and resting for the souls. They have to be treated with kindness and spoken to politely. And fighting is not accepted here.”

He leaned to his elbows and said in a quieter voice:

“I can see you have a problem with me, Disegno. I hope we can make this work. If you have anything you would like me to do differently or something you want settled between us, I hope you will talk to me about it.”

Disegno let out a small noise. Maybe of agreement. Maybe of displeasure. Then he raised his hand in a dismissive goodbye before walking away. He left behind an untouched coffee cup and the awkward feeling of distrust and something else Tad couldn’t recognise.

Tad listened to the sounds of the skeletal maid – whom he kept around mostly so he wouldn’t feel so alone at home – sweeping the floors. He had a feeling that he needed some advice on how to deal with an angry teenager. He wondered if Amelia had any experience with that.

Disegno walked through the garden that looked like a resting place of a bunch of hungover unicorns. There were so many colours and the plants were scattered so haphazardly that it hurt his eyes. Sure, wild nature could be beautiful, but this was… not wild nature. This was the creation of a thinking being. If one asked Disegno, creations like that needed to be at least a bit more planned than this.

Then there were the souls. A bunch of misfits who couldn’t see their way even when it was right in front of their traumatised noses. Disegno knew how Death’s garden worked, and he thought that it all sounded very… confusing to those who had to wander there. But Death apparently hadn’t managed to think up a better solution even after all these eons.

Just like the cosmic truths to stick to the old and forget about the little ones. Those who didn’t share such endless life spans and all-encompassing forms. They were all so… focused on just one thing.

Sure, Disegno didn’t know Death well on a personal level, but he had heard about him. The sentimental fool had messed things up on Earth because he had wanted to feel something. At least that showed some refreshing change, but it had been stupidly done. And now he was getting “a punishment” which in Disegno’s opinion was far too light.

He kicked the nearest patch of grass in frustration and sat down on a stone bench. Why did Time put him up to this again? Well, he knew the answer to that, but he still had to ask that question over and over again. He knew that he could have been more positive about it, but why should he? Disegno had been to this situation before. He knew what was going to happen. Death may act all nice in the beginning, but ultimately Disegno was just a tool, like a set of keys Death needed to take good care of before he could use them to open the door to freedom. Disegno was fairly sure about that. And even if he at least did try, Death was an incompetent idiot, from what Disegno could tell. The others had told him that Death was a scary stickler to the rules as well. Oh, joy.

Disegno wondered how long it would take for Death to find him if he just got out of his realm and went to the other muses. He didn’t particularly miss home, but he wanted to have some company he actually cared about. And he also wanted to work. But he knew this was work for him. Going through this stupid dance of being mentored so someone else could prove they were responsible enough. And what did that make him?

Disegno sighed and got up. He focused, and the garden melted from around him.

Katarina Walsh had her own fair share of problems. Sure, everyone had problems and some people liked to make themselves into one. That was why her job existed. As a detective in Supernatural Crime Reconnaissance and Investigations, she was supposed to find and apprehend those in the supernatural community who would use their time to wreak havoc in the world. Katarina was good at her job, even though her father had always wanted her to be something safer. She had been his princess. Princess Katinka, as he had called her back when she’d been a child. Now she was just detective Walsh for most people, Tinka to her friends. Dad had finally stopped calling her princess when she had gone past her thirtieth birthday. Reluctantly, though, and that was a part of one of her problems.

Tinka always had trouble with people taking her seriously. It didn’t matter how conservatively or boringly adult-like she dressed nor how much makeup she used to make her face look more mature, she was and always would be mistaken for a teenager. She had been turned into a vampire in a stroke of bad luck when she had been sixteen, and her aging had stopped. And now, when teen vampires were taken less seriously than ever, she was a joke in the community, in a large part of the SCRI, and among anyone she had to act like a detective towards. At least until she had to get dangerous. Then no one really questioned her.

The only person in the whole SCRI unit she worked in who took her one hundred percent seriously was her partner, Nate Webster. They made for a slightly comical yet incredibly effective team. Nate looked like a scary, big man, but he was the more poetic and gentler one of their pair. Sure, both of them could break joints and walls with the best of them, but Nate was much more likely to talk his way out of sticky situations than Tinka was. Tinka, on the other hand, was the one who looked at things and saw little details others missed. And Nate put them together. Together, they were nearly unstoppable. Or as unstoppable as one could be with a limited budget.

They were a part of SCRI’s vampire division, so they specialised in crime that vampires were involved in. Right now they didn’t have anything big on the table. A few stray attacks, one case of a young vampire going feral, and some clues on some vampire crime gangs. A day in the life. Or unlife. Undeath. Whatever one wanted to call it. In any case, it was just another day. That was maybe Tinka’s second problem. She wanted more action. More complexities. More lines on their boards. She was forty-eight, but some things stayed teen forever when one didn’t have life to grow. Things like patience, or lack thereof.

Thankfully for Tinka, then, a couple of visitors were about to make their work a bit more interesting, at least for a while. The phone on Tinka’s desk rang to signal that the front desk had sent people to their office. Soon, footsteps and scents of mortals filled the corridor near their office.

“Hello? Is this the vampire division whose area extends all the way to Riverview?”

Tinka and Nate both looked up at the newcomers. They smelled like trouble, but not bad kind of trouble. More like the interesting kind. Recognition flashed in Nate’s eyes immediately.

“Yes,” he said, “You were involved in that vampire attack there a while back.”

The visitors nodded. The man of the pair tilted his head and said in a smooth, almost carefree tone:

“We might have some clues about where their lair’s located. You guys interested?”

Tinka smiled and immediately put the report she had been writing aside.

“Of course. We’re listening.”

Author’s Note: After all those fun taggy things I figured I should finish this one. 😀 I hope you guys are still there after all this wait. Thank you so much for your patience!

I hope you enjoy and have a lovely time.

PREVIOUS Chapter: Fear. Happiness. Beauty

NEXT Chapter: Ghost in the Mail

Chapter 47: Fear. Happiness. Beauty.

Emily Sato was dying.

Well, no, not really. She tried to remind herself that it was all just a nightmare. A bad dream where she just thought she was dying.

Still, it didn’t make her feel any better. She felt her breath leave her, and there was a pain in her chest. She tried to keep her eyes open, but soon all she saw was blackness anyway.

She woke up screaming. Like she had during many nights before now.

She tried to get her bearings back. She was in her own room, which was a relief since she had often had to sleep in the pastel coloured room of the facility when the Grisbys sometimes sent her now. They said it was to help her with her fear and with what had happened. That it was therapy. It was nice enough, but Emily was always extra scared to wake up in there.

She breathed frantically, almost choking on her tears, and heard heavy footsteps hurrying to her door. Walter opened it and looked at her with sadness.

“Emily, it’s okay,” he said at once, in a voice Emily found comforting, “You’re here. It’s just a dream.”

Walter quickly hugged her, and Emily closed her eyes and Walter put his hand on her back. That made it easier to breathe. Emily gulped in air and then slumped against Walter’s side.

“You’re here,” Walter whispered.

Yes. She was. And she was alive. She was not away in… wherever she would go if she did die. Wherever mum was right now. Emily slowly opened her eyes and saw Walter smiling at her.

“There we go. Better?” he said.

Emily nodded.

“Good. You know what? It’s time to get up anyway. It’s finally Snowflake Day!”

Emily stared at Walter, trying to process that. She knew it was coming. She knew about Snowflake Day, but she had never really celebrated one. Mum had never felt the need to do it. She said that Snowflake Day was just to get people to buy unnecessary things and put up lights that hurt the eyes anyway. Emily disagreed. She had watched the lights from her window. Seen how pretty and bright they were against the dark nights. Like stars that had travelled all the way down to the Earth. She had also seen people celebrating Snowflake Day on TV. It was as close to the outside world as mum had dared to go. The celebrations had seemed so nice and warm. With candles and trees that were decorated, and with presents and chocolates and families coming together.

Mum had said that they had no family besides each other, so they were always together anyway. And as for presents… sometimes mum might have called some man who would drop off a package that had had a new toy in it. Emily had been happy about that, but it had felt different without the colourful wrapping and pretty bows on top.

And some time before now, the Grisbys had told her that Snowflake Day was almost here, and that they should decorate things and get to the festive spirit and be joyful. And Emily had been swept into a whirlpool of confusing things they called traditions, and millions of reasons why the day was special.

It was because of winter solstice. It was because of snow. Because of gods. Because of family…

“Emily?” Walter said, “Do you want to come downstairs? Yvette has made some Snowlake Day breakfast, and then we’ll decorate the tree and go outside to play, and then there’ll be dinner and gifts! Sounds like fun?”

Emily knew about their day. Walter and Yvette had told her about that many times. They always told Emily many times if something new was about to happen. It made things easier to process and less scary.

It was still scary.

Emily thought back to Spooky Day. She had been a bit scared too then, but also excited. Right now she just wanted everything to be just like every other day. That she would wake up and eat normal breakfast and play normally and go to therapy or stay at home. Or maybe go back to kindergarten. The Grisbys had said that it was better if she stayed out of there for a little while. Until she was better from what had happened. From the kidnappings and nightmares and realising what dying really meant. Emily was relieved that she didn’t have to go back. Aside from Malika, all the kids in the kindergarten were a bit scary and always got angry when she couldn’t talk or when she didn’t understand something. But a part of her also missed it. She missed her teachers, and all the things she could do there. Like fun crafts and music and games. Sure, she could do all that at home too, but it was different there.

Walter kept talking when he helped her get her Snowflake Day clothes. They were pretty, and made Emily feel a little better. She wasn’t a tiger, sure, but she was a Snowflake Fairy, at least. Maybe she could fly away and no one could hurt her.

Walter didn’t ask her about her nightmare. They had made a deal about that. No one would ask her unless she gave a sign that she wanted to tell about them. Emily had only told Uncle Tad. Uncle Tad had looked so sad when he had heard it. He had told her that it was his fault.

“When I was in your mind… it changed things,” he had said, “There is a small thread. A connection. When you have those dreams, you are getting a glimpse into the connection between me and the dying.”

She didn’t fully understand it, and it frightened her. Like a lot of other things did. Maybe she would tell Walter or Yvetter or Laurel or Harper about the dreams one day. But for now, it was better if they didn’t know about wizards or real Grim Reapers. Uncle Tad had said that she would have to wait for a while. That if Emily had anything to ask about magic, she could go to him. That was fine for now. Having a family that didn’t know about the scariest things while also having one who could keep her safe from it was comforting.

Walter told Emily to come downstairs when she was ready, and after a long while Emily did just that. The others were already there. Miha and Harper were looking at a tree in the living room and arguing about how to decorate it. Miha was wearing a cute red cap, and Harper looked badass like always. They all wore Snowflake Day colours. Red, green, white, blue. Colours of snow and trees and love.

Yvette was like a Snowflake Day queen in the kitchen. Laurel was there as well, and she looked really pretty too. She had invited a friend over. Emily knew that her name was Ari, and that she was Laurel’s best friend. She smiled at Emily when Emily peeked from the kitchen’s doorway.

“Hey there, kiddo!” Ari said, “You look great!”

“Like a snow angel,” Yvette said, “Come on, I made some cinnamon and cardamom pancakes with cloudberry sauce on top. They’re on the kitchen table.”

Emily didn’t know how those kinds of pancakes tasted like, but she was ready to try. It was good, like all of Yvette’s cooking. It tasted like a spicy, fluffy cloud with berries on top. Afterwards they played in the snow, and then Yvette called them indoors for more food. It was delicious, and everyone was so calm and happy. Emily felt happy too. It seemed like Snowflake Day wasn’t so scary after all.

It was still a bit funny that people wore certain colours and ate foods they didn’t eat at other times of the year. And it was a bit odd to have a tree indoors – though it was fun to decorate and it looked so pretty! Emily decided that she liked it all. She liked her new family and she liked celebrating that. And that was what this day was about. Maybe.

They got presents too. Emily got new toys, like a cute pink bunny. She also got some drawing supplies, just like Laurel did. And there were skis too. Emily had never skied before. She wondered what it was like. The wrappings and the bows on top were almost the best part, though. Emily loved the sound of wrinkling and tearing paper and the excitement of opening the presents. She loved the mystery. The not-knowing but also knowing the unknown thing was going to be nice. And it was cool to get new stuff too.

But maybe the best part was the rest of the night. When everyone gathered around a crackling, warm fireplace and were tired and happy and together. And they played with their new gifts and talked about random stuff. Emily curled up with her new bunny toy and Miha smiled at her while he played with his new tank robot. And then the doorbell rang, and Emily had a feeling she knew who it was.

It was Uncle Tad, who smiled and said he couldn’t stay for long. He just wanted to say hello and wish a happy Snowflake Day.

“Did you have a nice day?” he asked in his quiet voice.

Emily nodded, and then she hugged him. She wanted to tell him about her nightmare, but it was Snowflake Day. Surely Uncle Tad wanted to celebrate Snowflake Day without feeling sad because of her. So she stayed quiet and hid her nightmare into her mind. Uncle Tad didn’t need to know.

“It’s so great you had time to stop by,” Yvette said, “You’re always welcome here.”

“Thank you,” Uncle Tad said, “I wish I could stay, but there is a matter that requires my full concentration.”

He looked at Emily and waved his hand again.

“I will see you later,” he said.

And then he walked through the snow and into the street. And was gone. Emily wondered if he used his Grim Reaper powers to travel far, far away from here.

Snowflake Day and the following holidays passed. New Years went by with their fireworks. There were stunning ones and the malfunctioning ones – the ones that kept Tad busy. It was a familiar routine, with smoke inhalation, singed faces, and sometimes impaled body parts. It made Tad not think about the interdimensional shadow or the fact that he was still on probation. Instead, it made Tad focus on the happy things. On the feeling of family and the Snowflake Day sweater that was now a part of his wardrobe. On Amelia, who was grieving but who always welcomed him despite all that. On Emily, who was hopefully slowly healing from everything she had had to go through because of Tad.

Tad wished he could visit Emily more often. But for now, it was better that he kept his visits brief and rare. Emily needed time to heal, and he needed time to not get too attached once again. It hurt, but in the long run, it was for the best. He could wait for a better time. Tad could be very patient, though he had a feeling that five-year-old children didn’t have a similar luxury.

It was nearing February when Time called Tad into his realm again. This time he didn’t even shed his more solid form, and that made Tad instantly a bit suspicious. What had Time planned? Usually Time only kept his humanoid guise when he was dealing with the younger personifications, the ones who were more grounded in the world. So why now?

They exchanged stiff greetings, and Time studied Tad for a long time.

“You took care of the being,” he said.


“But you let it attack you first.”

“It was… an unexpected move,” Tad admitted, “But it helped me push it away easier.”

“Did it? It may have escaped instead of going through the wall.”

“If it did, then I will find it again.”

Time narrowed his eyes. The ticking in the room got louder for a moment. A shooting star – or a moving galaxy – swept through his eyes.

“Yes, you will. That is not why I called you here, however. It is time for you to prove yourself.”

“I am ready.”

“Are you?” Time folded his hands behind his back, “I need you to prove to us that you can take care of your job and that you know your place and can communicate it to others.”

“I have been doing that,” Tad said.

“And that is a start. However, I also want you to show that you are still capable of being responsible and inspiring responsibility in others, as you have done throughout the ages.”

Tad nodded slowly.

“So, what do you want me to do?”

“I want you to become a mentor.”

Tad blinked.


Time waved a hand, and someone walked through a door. It was one of the young anthropomorphic personifications. Human-thought had clearly made him. He looked like a young boy that had been chiselled like an old, human-made statue. He greeted Time with great respect, bowing his head, and then looked at Tad. He looked very unimpressed. Tad had a vague memory of him, or others like him. He was possibly a manifestation of beauty or aesthetics.

“This is Disegno,” Time said, “One of the muses.”

Ah, so Tad had been right in his assumption. There were many muses around the worlds, all created to personify different aspects of beauty. They were closer to nature spirits than full-powered anthropomorphic personifications, and their job usually was to send sparks of inspiration into the minds of the living, enhancing the creative process that had been started by a living one.

“He has been in a deep sleep for the last few centuries,” Time went on, “And he is now seeking to get back to his duties. I want you to reintroduce him to our ways.”

“Our Purposes are rather different,” Tad pointed out.

“It does not matter,” Time said, “What matters is responsibility.”

“Which I do have,” spoke Disegno. He had a very melodious voice. Like notes from a cold, metallic flute, “I still don’t think this is necessary, sir.”

“You can help each other,” Time said, “Death, once you have reintroduced Disegno to Purpose and his place, he can continue his work, and you will have proven yourself to be able to continue working as well.”

Tad glanced at Disegno. This was… not what he had been expecting Time to think up. In a way, it was easier than he had feared. He had mentored before. Eons ago, when many new personifications had been created and had needed someone to guide them. But a muse was very different from him, and Disegno really didn’t seem to be looking forward to being mentored by him. His face, pretty by the aesthetic standards of many humans, was twisted into a scowl that made him look very much like a child about to throw a temper tantrum. Tad had a feeling that they wouldn’t have the smoothest start. But first impressions could be deceiving, and Tad knew all about that. So he smiled a bit uncertainly at Disegno and extended his hand.

“Well then, I accept this as my trial,” he said, “It is nice to make your acquaintance, Disegno.”

Disegno looked at him in disgust.

“Let’s just get this over with.”

He wasn’t even trying to hide his contempt. Right. So Tad’s feeling about a rough start was probably right. Tad lowered his hand.

“Right,” he said awkwardly, “Um… let’s.”

Author’s Note: Happy holidays everyone! Here’s my present to you: a chapter! 

Sooo I’ll be very busy from now on at least for a while. My husband and I bought a house, and it takes a lot of time to settle in, unpack and fix all the things that need fixing. Also I have a lot of work, and even a lot of my free time will go to either my other hobbies or my other writing projects now. I’ve given Sims-stories so much time lately that maybe it’s good to do other things a bit more for a change. I’ll still try to update all of the stories that aren’t on hiatus, and I’m planning on getting back to a good writing pace after the new year starts. But who knows if that’ll actually happen. Fingers crossed.

Thank you so much for your patience, people! You’ve been awesome! Whoo, I’m excited to get back to writing this story! I hope you enjoy and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Snowflakes and Shadows

NEXT Chapter: Teen Angst

Chapter 46: Snowflakes and Shadows

This is the beginning of Arc 2

Snow was falling slowly like in the postcards or in the advertisements on television. The ones that told people about the joys of commercial Snowflake Days. Appropriate, since it was Snowflake Day. The celebration had evolved throughout the ages but still held so much power in so many places of the world. Once it had been a celebration of winter solstice, and still was in some places. Then it had been repurposed for many other things, for celebrating births of gods or deaths of old years. Now, it was perhaps all of those things and more. It was all spiced up with ginger, cinnamon and love, and it often found its heart in family.

Many families had gathered together even now in many countries of the world. Around trees and dinner tables. Under stars and in snowdrifts. In holy places and candlelight. Among gifts and togetherness.

It all sounded very nice. Very cosy and warm, mixed with crispy cold or humid heat, depending on the place.

For many, trudging through abandoned mineshafts was not the ideal way to spend a Snowflake Day. But Death had never really celebrated Snowflake Days anyway.

The caves were dark. Darker than the usual darkness on planet Earth. It was a good place to look, then. The beings from between the universes were usually drawn to dark places. The darkness of the world was nothing compared to the invasive, tangible darkness of not-being that saturated the spaces between universes, but it was something those who came from the outside might feel comfortable in.

And this place radiated shadows that were not all from this world.

Death stepped inside the dark. Or well, let his more visible form step inside. A part of him had already been there.

He had been told to find the beings that had slipped through the cracks when he had been temporarily incapacitated and the neighbouring universe had had to send a fragment of its own Death to fill the void. Most of the beings had slipped through accidentally or drawn by curiosity, and had been more than glad to return home from the strange world, but some – such as this one – had eluded him, possibly on purpose. He had spent the entire Snowflake Day chasing after them, and now only one was left. It was one of the hungry ones, a being that ate leftovers of dead worlds. One of the beings that might one day eat him too, should things come to that.

But here, alone, it would not stand a chance against Death. This was his world, and he was in charge of his domain here. He was powerful. As long as he allowed himself to be. His recent adventures as Tad Dustpine may have made him appear weaker than he was, but now he was again focused on his job, and on guiding the beings that were not supposed to be here back home. He was not going to fail this one. Time was surely watching him all the time, trying to determine whether or not he was still capable of doing his job even after all the mistakes he had made.

He knew he could do it. He knew he was capable. He was Death. He was his job, and he would do it well. He always had, even when he had otherwise slipped.

He brushed aside some of the shadows with a skeletal, or perhaps gloved hand. The being was close. It wasn’t quite there, in the material world. It was immaterial like the dark. Immaterial in a different plane as Death was. But it would hear and see him. Perhaps even smell and taste him. That thought was unnerving. Death tried his best to push it aside and walked further inside.

“Hello?” he called, “Come out. I mean no harm.”

He knew it was close. He didn’t have to see it to know it was there. But for the sake of convenience, he could imagine faint shapes of a creature with empty holes for eyes. It sat in the corners, draped around loose stones, clawed the air in front of him. Sometimes it took a shape that vaguely resembled a grey canine, with sharp teeth and a tail that tore through the air like hooks. It was poised to flee or to strike. Death stopped his more tangible form in front of it.

“I have come to lead you home,” he said, his voice ricocheting from the walls and sinking into the almost-living hunger in front of him.

The greyness shifted. Death almost felt its sharp teeth in his shoulder. He didn’t flinch, even though the gesture was more than invasive and uncomfortable.

“Please, follow me,” Death said, “This is not a place for you. I can show you the way.”

The being let out a laugh. Well, it was more like a ripple in the shadows. A quiet, stuttering hum between worlds.

“We are where we want to be,” it said, “We have been waiting too long in the between. We are hungry. This world has so much we can eat.”

Its words weren’t in any language, but more like shifts in the reality around it.

“It is not your place to do that,” Death said, “Universes die, you step in. You know that.”

“But why should we accept it? Why should we be the carrion-eaters, the scavengers?”

“It is an important task.”

“Maybe we are too hungry to care,” it hissed, “Maybe we want to eat here. Maybe we want to start with you.”

The almost-there fangs grazed Death’s arm. There was a promise of pain. Death brushed it aside with a wave of his hand.

“If you try, I will force you to leave. You will not like that.”

The being hesitated for a moment. It knew that if it really tried to attack, it would have to enter fully in Death’s realm. And the moment it did that, it would be at Death’s mercy. It hissed angrily, the faint light in the mine shuddering away from it.

“Maybe we will start with something else, then. You cannot stop me. You aren’t allowed.”

“I am.”

Invisible teeth curled into a malicious grin.

“We know what you did before. You broke the rules when we got in. You can become weak when you do mortal things.”

It rippled again with laughter.

“Maybe we start with the humans you like. The little girl who now goes to sleep into nightmares because of you… Because-“

Death’s movement was more like a historical fact – stopping it had become impossible long ago. The being was silenced when a skeletal, gloved hand grasped its edge and sent a warning feeling of mortality through it. It trashed and shifted between light and dark. Between material and immaterial, but Death held fast.

“You even look in the direction of the living ones, and I will shred you into pieces and send them through the universe walls.”

The being hissed and writhed, and suddenly it lashed out, biting through Death’s metaphorical sleeve and into his arm. His arm was little more than imaginary bone, and the being’s teeth easily sunk through. Death stared at it for a while with unseen, moonlike eyes, and tightened his hold on the being. It trashed for a while, its canine form changing to more humanoid and then back. Death felt its bite, felt a piece of him going missing. It hurt, but he knew it was not dangerous. Not here. Not now.

“Get. Out.”

He pushed the being off, through the universe’s walls, and it shrieked as if burned. It cowered between this universe and the in-between state, and finally dispersed. Vanished. Death didn’t need to breathe, but he felt like sighing, so he did.

He walked outside the mineshaft, absently holding the arm that had been bitten. It would heal. It wasn’t even a real wound. It was more akin to isolating some air into a smaller space. He would soon recreate the part. But it still hurt, and lately being hurt was easier to translate into wounds similar to those of the living ones.

He let himself morph, change into a more human form entirely. Bones were surrounded by muscles and tendons. Decayed, grey skin gained as much life as he could muster. He took off his cloak and blinked in the faint winter sunlight through Tad Dustpine’s almost real eyes.

He looked at his arm again. Deep teeth marks were spilling blackness into his sleeve and the cool air. He sighed again.

Well, that was one mission accomplished. One part of fixing what he had ruined was now done. He didn’t feel like going back to Time to report it. Time already knew anyway.

Tad walked through the snow, looking at the unsuspecting village near the hill the mine was located in. Snow was falling on the gingerbread house –like homes of people. People with families, friends, and sometimes just peace. Maybe not always even that. The image was nice, if Tad ignored the people freezing to death or dying of alcohol poisoning or by their own hand. His thoughts turned to Amelia.

What was she doing right now? She was also preparing for Snowflake Day. Alone this time. Had she ever been so alone at this time of year? Amelia appreciated family, and so far she had always had someone there with her. Maybe.

Tad cradled his hurt arm and wondered if Amelia wanted some company. Wondered if he too might have a place in a Snowflake Day. He felt like he needed something like that. He felt like he wanted the company of someone other than a creature that had wanted to eat him.

He knew that Time wouldn’t mind. No one really minded much what he did, as long as he did what he was supposed to do.

And he figured that now, at this time of year, he was supposed to visit his friend.

Amelia stretched her arms and hung the last glass crystal onto the branches of a Snowflake Day Spruce. She stepped back and admired her handiwork. Everything was in order. The tree was sparkling and adorned with decades old heirloom trinkets. The kitchen was full of delicious smells of roast, vegetables, and plum sauce, and chocolate-ginger cookies and pumpkin pie were cooling near the oven. She was wearing her best cutesy red dress and the fireplace was crackling merrily. Cheery snowflake songs were playing on the radio, and the TV was showing an old cartoon that always made Amelia cry. It was the perfect Snowflake Day.

Well, except for the most important thing. Amelia was alone, whereas Snowflake Days were supposed to be a time for family, at least in their household. After dad had died, Amelia had spent a couple of Snowflake Days with friends, occasionally calling mum to see how she was doing in France. But now mum was dead too, and going out with friends just didn’t feel like something Amelia could muster at the moment. Not now. Not yet. Maybe next year.

Amelia had called her dad’s parents in Spain. They were old, but still doing very well. They weren’t fit enough to travel all the way to SimNation, though, and they had simply talked to her long into the previous night, comforting her and asking if the gifts they had sent had come through.

It had been nice enough, but now Amelia’s only remaining grandparents were wrapped up in their own, quiet Snowflake Day across the ocean, and Amelia felt the weight of loneliness that came with the realisation that she had very little family left.

Not that she needed family, right? As long as she had friends. That was enough. Right. Maybe someday she could feel that way. But now… Amelia missed what she had lost.

Amelia sat in the sofa in front of the fireplace and stared at the flames. She felt rather silly and empty realising that she had just put up all these decorations and cooked for at least four people, and she’d be spending the day alone with only radio songs for company. She had even got gifts for people she hoped might show up. For mum and dad and for some of the friends she couldn’t just send gifts to. How silly.

She sat there for about an hour before the sound of the doorbell made her jump. Who could it be? She hoped it would be someone like Tad, even though Tad was probably busy handling his cosmic duties. Amelia remembered again that no matter how lonely she felt, Tad was probably much more alone all the time. Maybe it could be someone else who was a close friend. Amelia stood up and walked over to the front door. She opened it and gasped when she realised her wish had been granted.

“Tad?” she said, “What are you… oh, gods! You’re hurt!”

Tad glanced absently at his right arm, which seemed to be dripping with black blood. He shrugged his shoulders.

“Oh, it is still there. Do not worry, it should heal soon enough.”

“What happened?” Amelia asked while gently guiding Tad inside the house and automatically rushing over to get some first aid supplies even when logic dictated that giving bandages to the Grim Reaper was probably a waste of resources and time.

“Nothing bad,” Tad said, “Just an encounter with a being that eats dead universes that had made its way here when the universe’s wall briefly opened. It… did not want to leave when I asked it nicely.”

He was quiet for a moment and then added:

“It should be gone now, though.”

Amelia carried an armful of disinfectant and bandages to the living room where Tad now sat. She pulled Tad’s sleeve up, and Tad let her do it with the apathetic but trusting eyes of someone who was very tired and was looking for a safe place to crash in. Tad’s spindly arm was covered in what looked like deep, vicious bite marks, and Amelia grimaced at the sight.

“What did it do to you?”

“I told you, it usually eats what is left of dead universes. Those leftovers almost always include a Death as well.”

“It tried to eat you?”

“Do not worry. It cannot do that here. And even when a Death gets consumed by those things, I doubt it is permanent.”

Amelia stopped to stare at Tad. He was so nonchalant about it all. She should have got used to it all by now, but her protective, sane side screamed at her that it was not okay for anyone to eat her friends. She pressed a disinfectant soaked cloth to Tad’s arm, and Tad didn’t even seem to register it. He looked around in the room and smiled softly at the decorations.

“It is Snowflake Day,” he said, “It looks beautiful here. And warm.”

“Thanks,” Amelia replied, “I… well, I tried. Now I realise that it was all pretty stupid, all things considered. I mean, I’m all alone here.”

“Then it is good that I showed up, I suppose,” Tad said, “Because you are not alone anymore.”

Amelia smiled.

“You’re sweet.”

“I suppose. The thing that bit me seemed to think so.”

“I mean… oh, right, it was a poor choice of words, considering…”

“It is alright. I got it.”

Amelia stared again. Then she burst into laughter.

“D-did you just make a joke?” she asked between giggles.

“I thought it would make you feel better. I… I do not know if I did it right.”

“It was pretty good.”

Tad smiled shyly, tiredness giving way to joy. Amelia noticed that the teeth marks in Tad’s arm had faded when she took the cloth away. They sat on the sofa in the light of the fire for a moment before Amelia got up, dusting her skirt and giving Tad a radiating smile.

“Well, now that you’re here, you think you could stay for a while? I’ve got way too much Snowflake Day food, and, and… ooh! I even got you a gift! I was going to give it to you the next time you visited, but this is a perfect timing! Wait a second, I’ll get it.”

Tad blinked.

“You got me a gift? I… I did not get you anything. You should not have…”

“Nonsense! I want to give this to you. It’s pretty silly, anyway.”

She handed Tad a wrapped box, and Tad stared at it for a long moment as if trying to find some deeper meaning in the snow white wrapping paper and red bow.

“You can open it,” Amelia said, “Go on!”

Slowly and methodically Tad pulled the ribbon away and then got the wrapping off without tearing it. He lifted up a tacky Snowflake Day sweater. With reindeer and small sprues and everything. His eyes started shining with joy.

“It is a shirt.”

“Yeah. It’s… for Snowflake Days,” Amelia said and rubbed the back of her head, suddenly feeling embarrassed, “My grandparents used to be traditionalists regarding this. Giving family members tacky sweaters, I mean. I thought it would be fun, and it’s really more of a symbolic gesture, since you’re always welcome here and… I mean, you don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to, but-“

“I love it,” Tad said, “I think I will wear it today. And on other Snowflake Days, as it is meant to be worn.”

Amelia chuckled.

“I’m really glad you liked it, and- and you can just wear it over your shirt!”

Tad pulled the already half off shirt he was wearing back down, but not before Amelia got an eyeful of angular ribs and translucent skin that stretched over them. No amount of Snowflake Day dinners could probably make Tad look anything but emaciated.

“I… I’ll go put the dinner on the table, okay?” Amelia said awkwardly, “If you want to stay, that is.”

“I would love to.”

Amelia hadn’t even realised how much she had wanted to hear those words. How much of her sadness and longing she had buried beneath gift wrappings and tinsel and candlelight. Now she felt like some of the sadness was lifted from her shoulders. At least for a little while.

Maybe this Snowflake Day wouldn’t be so lonely after all.

For either of them.

Author’s Note: I wasn’t supposed to take this thing off hiatus yet, but I had too many ideas in my head and this chapter pretty much wrote itself. And it’s a short-ish interlude-ish thing anyway, so this isn’t necessarily a sign that I’ll go back to more regular updates. Sorry if I got anyone’s hopes up.

Anyway, here’s the start to the second story arc! Yayyyy! And it’s an almost better timed holiday episode than my previous one. Nothing says Chirstm- I mean Snowflake Day like creepy pseudo-wolf monsters trying to eat Grim Reapers.

I hope you enjoyed and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: The Not Quite Perfect Life

NEXT Chapter: Fear. Happiness. Beauty.

Chapter 45: The Not Quite Perfect Life

WARNING: Contains a lot of discussion about the deaths of loved ones.

Inside the hospital, Amelia was immediately faced with more apologetic looks. The small spark of hope that had been ignited in her when she had heard that Philippe had got a call was immediately gone. Ice replaced it, almost suffocating her right there in the hospital’s waiting room.

No… I can’t walk out of a possible tragedy and right back into another… I…

“I am sorry, Miss Sprigg,” the doctor who had been called to see her said, “I think you should come with me.”

“Is mum…” Amelia started, but couldn’t finish the sentence.

The doctor said the words pretty much every loved one of a patient hated to hear:

“We did everything we could.”

With that, Amelia’s world was shattered. Again.

Julia Sprigg had died less than half an hour before Amelia had got into her room. Philippe was sitting at her bedside, refusing to let anyone move the body before Amelia got in too. Mum looked so peaceful, almost like she was sleeping. Except something was missing. She looked more like a puppet version of the real mum. Amelia shuddered at the sight, but in a painful, twisted way she needed to see it anyway.

“Philippe?” Amelia choked out through her tears, “I’m sorry.”

Philippe didn’t say anything. He just moved out of the way and let Amelia take his place. Amelia placed her head on her knees and cried for longer than she cared to keep track of. Mum was gone, and it… it wasn’t fair! It never was. And it hurt so much! Amelia was alone now… well, as far as family went. Just when she was almost starting to get over dad’s death! Mum… mum couldn’t… they hadn’t even managed to have a proper, long, honest conversation after dad’s death. And now they would never have it.

“You know…” Philippe said very quietly, his French accent thicker than usually, “For what it’s worth, she was happy. Both in Champs Les Sims and here.”

He paused and shook his head.

“She missed your father a lot. But I… I was glad to know her for at least this little while.”

His voice broke, and he had to take deep breaths in order to stay calm.

“I’m so sorry you had to lose both parents like this… life is just not fair.”

“No. It’s not,” Amelia managed to say. She stroked mum’s hair, “I’m so sorry, mum. I… I hope you can be with dad again, at least.”

She stayed with mum even when Philippe went to talk to the doctors. Or perhaps to be alone and let her be alone. Or with mum. By that time Amelia had reached some sort of numbness. When dad had died, she had been so distraught. It was as if a part of her had died with him and that had made her fear the world more than she had before. Now… this… mum’s passing hurt as well. It was still breaking her from the inside. But something in her mind was different. More accepting. Like she may be able to deal with this better.

It still didn’t hurt any less, though.

Amelia wiped her tears and took a few deep breaths like Philippe had some time ago. It helped a little. But little didn’t really mean much when her world was in shambles. Why did mum have to die just when they had fixed everything?


Amelia was startled when she realised that Tad was standing next to her. He looked sad and apologetic. Amelia was so tired of seeing those expressions.

“Hey,” she said wearily, “I… I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

Or did she? Maybe she did. How long had she been alone in here, crying because of mum? Hours at least. Not enough. Tad turned to leave, but Amelia raised her hand.

“Wait. I changed my mind.”

Did she? She didn’t know anymore. It was difficult to think when she was so broken and so empty. So alone. Tad stopped and turned back. Amelia looked at mum’s face and tried to ignore how something was clearly missing from it.

“Why do we die?” she could only say, finally letting some of the questions she had stored for later get through, “What is this all about?”

“It is about the natural order of things,” Tad said, “And no, it is not fair.”

“But… we fixed things. We made it through this,” Amelia said and the tears began to fall again, “I… I was just brought back! Why did mum have to die, then?”

Tad sighed.

“Because even at its most adventurous, life is still life. It has no narrative, no sense of what is appropriate. Things just… happen.”

Amelia knew that. She had started to realise that some time ago.

“It doesn’t make things any easier,” she sniffed.

“No… I did not think it would.”

Tad shifted, looking at Amelia hesitantly, almost fearfully.

“Amelia… your mother’s spirit is still in my garden.”

Amelia looked at him, eyes wide.


“Yes. She is stuck. Sometimes it can take a lot of time for a ghost to figure out how to get unstuck. But in this case, I think I know what she wants.”

Tad paused and then added sheepishly:

“Mostly because it is what she asked of me.”

Amelia blinked.

“What? What is it?”

“She wants to talk to you.”

Amelia was on her feet in an instant. Some twisted form of her hope-spark was back. She could see mum again! She could… she tried not to think about how it wouldn’t be the same. How it would be a goodbye anyway.

“Could I?” she asked, voice shaking.

“Of course,” Tad smiled, “It is a part of my job… to help souls pass on, that is.”

Something about his tone told Amelia that he was perhaps again bending the rules a little bit. But at the moment she didn’t pay it much mind. She had other things to think about.

Tad’s garden was still as gorgeous as ever, with every plant imaginable painting a beautiful mess of colour and flowers. With fake birdsong in the background and with the sound of almost real water calming Amelia down. And there, not far away from where Amelia found herself, stood Julia Sprigg, smiling sadly when she noticed her.

“Amelia,” she said, without a hint of the fake French accent in her voice, “I’m so glad to see you, honey.”

Amelia walked over to mum and for a moment they just hugged. Amelia didn’t want to let go, but she realised with growing sorrow that she had to. That this was what she had come here to do.

“Mum… I…”

“No, I’m sorry,” mum said, “I should have been more careful. And maybe… maybe listened to what was going on around me more. Also not walking into a gang fight would have been smart.”

She stepped away from Amelia and smiled again. It wasn’t one of her overly happy fake smiles. This one was real, with the genuinely happy and real mum shining even through her sadness.

“Well, what’s done is done. I didn’t want to die, but here we are. And I… at least I can see Alex again now.”

She sighed.

“I love him so much. And you… and Philippe… I wished we could have been a family again. But I was too caught up in my own grief and my denial about everything. I knew that. But… it was so difficult to stop, you know? And then I saw you in danger in that gang fight and I realised again how short life was and how I should talk to you and really start listening again. And… well, it’s pretty ironic, isn’t it?”

“I don’t care about irony,” Amelia said a little childishly, “I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go either. But I have to.”

Amelia nodded. She suddenly found it very difficult to form words.

“I know it’ll hurt,” mum said, her hand brushing Amelia’s cheek, “But I know you can get through it. You’re my brave baby girl. Well, not a baby anymore. You’re a grown woman, and you’ll be fine. I’m just sorry Alex or I can’t be there to see you find a man and have kids and all… if that’s what you want, that is. But you know, grandkids would be great.”

“Mum… how are you so calm about this?”

“Oh, I’m slipping into denial again, aren’t I? Sorry. And I’m sorry we couldn’t really talk when I was still alive. And that I ran from this… left you alone… I haven’t been a good mum, lately. If ever.”

“You were a great mum,” Amelia said, “I love you.”

Mum smiled gently.

“I love you too. And so did your dad.”

“I don’t know how I can… I don’t want to let you and dad go.”

“You don’t have to,” mum said, “But you can’t let the grief… take over too much. I think I let it. And sure, I managed to land Philippe somehow, and that helped. But… oh, I didn’t handle it well at all. You can do better. I know.”

She looked around.

“You know, I think I know where I need to go now. Our tenant told me that I would know when I could move on.”

She frowned.

“So, the Grim Reaper was our tenant this whole time? Did you know about that?”


“Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed. Or believed if you had told me. It’s a quirky world we live in.”

Despite everything, Amelia chuckled.


Mum looked around again, and then at Amelia, looking so motherly and like herself that Amelia wanted to cry and grab onto her and never let her go. She restrained herself, but only barely. Well, she couldn’t suppress the tears, but what did that matter?

“Is there anything else you want to say?” mum asked, “I think it’s my time to go.”

“No!” Amelia blurted out, “I… You… I’m so glad that you came back, mum. Even though you… ended up… That part I’m not happy about.”

“It was good to be back,” mum said, “Riverview was always my home, no matter how much I loved France. You take good care of our house, Amelia. If you want to, that is.”

She opened her arms and they hugged one more time. They exchanged teary “I love yous” and whispered goodbyes. Amelia didn’t want to let mum go at all. But mum pulled away from her, the part of her that knew she could not go back trying to make things easier.

“Goodbye, Amelia,” she said. Then she turned and walked away into the brightest flower bushes.

Amelia thought she saw a silhouette that looked somewhat like her dad waiting for mum at the end of her path. But her vision was too blurred by tears to tell for sure.

The next few weeks were a blur, just like after dad had died. Just because Amelia knew that she had a new kind of understanding of things didn’t make the emotions any weaker. She cried a lot. She had to ask her friends and distant relatives for help with the funeral arrangements because she could barely even start anything before she dissolved into tears.

At this time, she was especially glad that she was a social person. Both new and old friends were around her, expressing their sympathy to both her and Philippe and helping her the best they could. She was infinitely grateful, and as the funeral approached and especially after it was over, she felt like she could breathe easier. Like all the shoulders she had cried on and all the hugs and all those who listened had really helped.

She knew it was still not going to be easy, but she also knew that she could keep going. She was alive, with things to be alive for.

Less than a week after mum had been buried into the same grave with dad, Philippe left Riverview and travelled back to France, stating that there was nothing for him here anymore. Amelia wished him all the best and also hoped that she could have known the man mum had loved a bit better.

And then Amelia was alone in the house again. Just like she had been before this all had started.

Except almost everything was different.

Tad’s room was empty again, but Tad had still visited her a couple of times. He told Amelia that he would have to keep his visits brief in the near future, but soon he might be able to spend more time with her. He said he was very busy and that the other cosmic beings were watching him extra carefully. Amelia missed him when he wasn’t there, but she was also glad that she had time to mourn. To sort things out before she was ready to really be comfortable around Death again.

Both Amelia and Tad visited the Grisbys sometimes as well. After getting back from Twinbrook, the first thing Amelia and the others had done had been returning Emily back to her new family. The Grisbys had been overjoyed to get Emily back, but they had also immediately got concerned after Tad had told them that Emily may have some psychological trauma after her kidnapping, though he stressed that she hadn’t been physically assaulted in any way. They had promised to do their best to help her. There had been uncertainty in Walter Grisby’s eyes as he had said that.

“Sometimes I think that we’re not cut out for this,” he had said tiredly, “That… well, we are so privileged. Sometimes we trick ourselves into knowing what these kids have been through, but it’s… maybe it’s not enough.”

Tad had looked very sad at that. He had tried to smile.

“I know what you mean,” he had said, “I… I have another job aside from gardening. I guide people through a difficult transition in life. And I know what it is like to feel second-hand pain. Understanding is important, but I think what matters even more is making sure they know that they are cared about, that they can feel safe.”

“Yeah,” Yvette Grisby had spoken up with a gentle smile, “That sounds about right. We’ll do our best.”

She had then shaken Tad’s hand.

“Thank you again. Thank you so much.”

Emily was apparently sleeping a lot lately, having a lot of nightmares. She had been put in some more intensive therapy, and the Grisbys were reluctantly even talking about letting her spend some time in a specialised hospital for troubled children that was located near Riverview. Amelia really hoped they could help Emily get better. Nowadays Emily was even quieter than before, with eyes that had seen a bit too much and desperately tried to comprehend where she was.

Amelia wanted to think that Emily would get better. She too had things to live for now, and people who helped her live.

Amelia herself spent a lot of time with the Nexus. Basil had recovered from the vampire bite excellently and didn’t exhibit any symptoms from the vampire venom aside from slightly sun-sensitive skin. He could even joke about it, and said that he wasn’t planning to get a lot of tanning done in the summer anyway. Brigitte was her usual, happy self, and Amelia was so glad to have her as a friend. She was so patient and supportive with Amelia, always ready to listen and often inviting Amelia over to talk or enjoy a dinner with the Nexus.

Even Dewey and Mimosa sometimes came out of their shells and talked a bit more. Dewey, who clearly had his own trauma to deal with, offered to talk to Amelia about it, to share some not-too-painful experiences. Amelia often found herself watching Dewey sculpt something while they talked, sometimes about trauma and sometimes about happier things.

Other lives were also moving forward. Novak had told them soon after officially getting out of the hospital that he would find a way to take Beagle down for good.

“That son of a bitch is going too far,” he had said, “I’m not going to run anymore.”

Vanja had surprised them all by immediately declaring that she wanted to help.

“Don’t look so shocked,” she had said, “He had me shot too.”

After that, no one had asked any questions. Vanja and Novak had stayed at Vanja’s house for a while, but now they were gone, and Vanja’s shop had been temporarily closed. Sometimes Amelia wondered where they were and hoped they’d be okay.

Life was like a rollercoaster, and Amelia often felt exhausted when she realised how many times her rollercoaster had not long ago almost tumbled off the tracks. And she felt a spike of grief in her chest whenever she thought of those who really had been derailed. Sometimes she felt so alone and like things should have gone differently. But now things were at least settling down. Amelia was breathing. Many of her friends and so many other good people were breathing too.

That short moment when Amelia hadn’t been breathing had made her truly realise how precious it was. Even though Death was not so bad and was in fact quite sweet when you got to know him.

“Hey,” said Tad, who had appeared on Amelia’s backyard once again “I uh… I was checking up on you.”

“Oh, go ahead,” said Amelia, who sat at the table with a cup of tea in her hand, wrapped in a sweater and enjoying the contrast between cold and warmth, “I can get you some tea too.”

“That would be nice.”

As the sun started to set, they sat down with Amelia’s kitty tea set, looking out towards the frozen river behind Tad’s small, hibernating garden. Amelia took as sip of her jasmine tea and felt it warm her.

“How are you?” Tad asked.

“Better,” Amelia said, “Well, getting there. I think.”


“And you?”

“I am well. I am still on… pro… probation, as you might say. But I am back to a good routine. I think that perhaps I can visit you more again very soon. If you want that.”

“I’ve told you, you’re-“

“-always welcome here,” Tad finished for her, beaming like a sun, “I know. Thank you.”

Amelia spun her teacup between her hands.

“I was thinking of… well, life,” she then said, “You know, it’s weird to be back to… all this.”

“Back to what?”

“To what I was before you moved in. Except with… well…”

“Except with more people to grieve? I am sorry.”

Amelia sighed.

“That part isn’t so great. But I… I think that things are different otherwise too. You helped me heal.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. And I’m glad I met you.”

Tad looked almost bashful and tried his best to hide behind the steam rising from his tea.

“I am glad that I met you too, ” he said, and there were so many other things he seemed to want to say as well, but he settled for a, “Thank you, Amelia. For everything.”

They sat in a comfortable silence, and Amelia realised that despite her pain, there were very few things she regretted in her life. She had friends, she had a home, and a life to look forward to. Her house was still half empty, and she still had some money troubles. She was still quite broken but again healing. In a way, things had gone full circle like in some of the books she had read. Sometimes it was corny, sometimes it was effective. Sometimes it was just life. It wasn’t perfect, because it never was.

But maybe it was enough.

The End of Arc 1.

Author’s Note: So, there we go. It’s done. Yay! And it didn’t take more than… slightly over 400 pages in word with 11 Calibri font? Oh, well, I’ve pressed lots of enters. 🙂

I debated whether or not to really kill Julia for SO LONG, but eventually I had to admit to myself that she doesn’t really have much to do in the story except to die at this point. If she didn’t die now, she would have died later or at least talked about death to give some closure to Amelia’s character arc. Sure, it wasn’t necessary for Amelia to be taught how to deal with the death of a loved one and then kill off ANOTHER loved one, and I’m still wondering if it was needlessly mean, but it was also a part of this story’s theme, which is that despite its fantastical moments, it’s still about life. And life sucks- I mean, life is unpredictable and merciless. I’m sorry, Julia! I liked you a lot! 😦

Thank you all who have been reading this and giving lovely comments, likes, support, or even a passing glance! You have inspired me an encouraged me to write this and given me ideas! You guys are way too kind to me. I’m so glad that you have liked this story.

As you can see, there are still plenty of loose ends that can be bloated into more story arcs, so this isn’t the end of the story! I’ll take a break from this now, focus on my other stories that I have neglected because I’ve had a flow about this one, and then I think I’ll maybe write some shorter story arcs for this story. I have some ideas for them already.

In the meantime, I’ll still be writing pen pal letters and publishing them on this blog. And you guys can find me on my other blogs and on the Sims Forums.

Take care and have a lovely time. Thank you!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Trial and Error

NEXT Chapter: Snowflakes and Shadows

Chapter 44: Trial and Error

WARNING: Some more gun violence and blood in this one.

Before the world stopped, it felt Death returning. Every star and planet, every animal and plant, every microbe, every atom and quark felt the order settling back into the universe. Things lived. Things died. It was as it should be.

Or well, that was what the universe would feel once time started flowing again. Now, the return of Death was simply a promise felt only by those who were not bound by time.

The fragment of Death from another universe, who took the shape of a young woman and had many names – though in this universe no one cared to call her anything – looked up at the skies, through the atmosphere and stars. And she felt peace. The mission she had been given had been too much for a tiny fragment of Death. When one gave a finite piece the job of an infinite concept, work was bound to become too much. But now she was free again. She took hold of some of the stray energies and beings that had come to the universe with her and detached herself, breaking through the barrier of the frozen world.

Soon, she was back home. And the universe she had just left behind could patch itself up properly this time.

Tad sent a silent thank you to the fragment of foreign Death he never got to really meet face to face. Not that the meeting would have mattered. Deaths only crossed paths in very specific, rare circumstances anyway. And right now Tad had far more pressing – and depressing – issues to think about. Like his best friend lying dead in front of him in a bunker in Twinbrook. And the white room where another part of him stood, facing Time, Fate, War, Love, and others like them. They were all very official and stern. Time especially made sure to keep his form wise yet still youthful. Had a mortal been watching the scene, they would have seen a row of colourful, very impressive-looking people and perhaps sensed more of the impressive beings nearby. And they would have also seen one slightly worn-out young man in too big clothes.

Tad knew what was going on. He had often been a judge in these kinds of trials. He was usually the most impartial of them, of anything in the universe. Normally he would be in the row of serious beings, wearing his best cloak and holding a ceremonial scythe. But now… he was the one being judged. He was the one who had messed up.

And he realised with a small shock that there were very few things he truly regretted.

He regretted endangering the universe, breaking things and the rules. He regretted letting this go too far. He should have done things differently and not let the Deacons go along with their plans for so long. He should have acted quickly, and then… perhaps he should have left. Or then he should have just forgotten about excuses and stayed anyway. Because he didn’t regret meeting Amelia, Emily, or the Grisbys, or Miss Leifsdóttir or Mr. Sanguine. He didn’t regret the small garden in Amelia’s backyard. He didn’t regret seeing through almost-human eyes, or eating parts of plants that would form new limbs soon enough. He didn’t regret learning or experiencing new things. He didn’t regret being less alone. In fact, he would do so many of those things all over again. If he had the chance.

“Death,” Time said sternly, “You have fixed the damage you have caused. That is good. However, your actions in the recent Earth months have been very irresponsible. I have been watching it all unfold with increasing worry. And you did not stop even with all the chances you had. Not before things got too far. You should know better.”

“I do know better,” Tad said quietly, “I am very sorry for causing so much trouble. I promise I will be more careful in the future.”

“That is not enough,” Time said, “I have seen how this goes. Curiosity, attachments, excessive feelings… they are not good for us. You have shown that you cannot handle any of that.”

There were quiet murmurs of approval. Tad glanced at Love, who looked less like Philippa and more like a goddess, and saw worry in her eyes. Time straightened his back and spoke again in his ancient yet only moments-old voice:

“So therefore I propose the following: Death will have to take distance from the mortal world again and purge all these distractions by erasing himself.”

Now the murmurs became concerned. Death had never erased himself before. None of the more ancient beings had. Tad was terrified. He hadn’t thought that Time would take this so seriously. Sure, he had made mistakes – a lot of them – but… erasing? Taking away everything he had just gained? Everything he was? What would be left of him? A wisp of mindless darkness? The pain of lost self? The Purpose? He knew that the Purpose was not enough for him. He had tried it before and almost gone insane. He always thought too much. He needed a self.

“No, you cannot do that!” he said and hated how powerless his words sounded, “Please. I can accept any other punishment!”

“Would it really be so bad?” Love asked, “Do you know how wonderful it is? That moment when everything is washed away. And you’re free… there’s nothing but the clear Purpose that guides you.”

“And how long will that last, Phil?” Tad said and sounded harsher than he had meant, “It may work for you  for a while, but not… I do not want it! Not for anyone! It is cruel and temporary. Besides, do you realise what it could do? This is not centuries of memories we are talking about here. It is eons! Please, Time… I have done my job as professionally as I can all this time. You cannot suggest erasing after just one set of mistakes!”

Time looked at him sternly, as if Tad was being an unreasonable child. Tad glared back. At the end of the row, Fate stepped forward.

“I do agree with you in that he went too far,” she said to Time, “However, perhaps you should reconsider this. We do not know what could happen to him. He is old and integral to the universe.”

Tad looked at Fate in surprise. Fate was defending him? He hadn’t expected that.

“We do not,” Time admitted, “But we do know that he is out of control and will continue to be.”

“I have learned my lesson, Time,” Tad said, but Time didn’t even seem to listen to him.

“Well, if he really doesn’t want it, then… maybe he can handle ‘the distractions’ now,” Love suggested, “He’s smart. He wouldn’t let things go too far again.”

“I doubt that,” War grunted, “I’m surprised you’d think that way, Love, with your addiction and all. Maybe you need another shot of sweet oblivion.”

Love narrowed her eyes. Time raised his hand.

“Please, War, do not antagonise anyone here.”

“That’s what I do. At least I know what I’m in this world for, unlike Death lately!”

“I do know what I am here for!” Tad snapped, and War immediately quieted, looking at him almost fearfully, “And I just fixed what I had done wrong. I… what will it matter if I learn something now if it is then taken away? I promise I will do better in the future. Just… I do not… I…”

And he had been doing so well before his words turned into mush. He was so close to showing how terrified he was despite his best efforts not to – which was pointlessly prideful considering everyone in the room probably knew how scared he was anyway. Almost all of them feared erasing.

“I say we give him a chance to learn from his mistakes,” Fate said, surprising Tad again. She looked at Love for support. Love hesitated only for a second before nodding.

“He does try,” she said, “I know that. And… well, I like what he’s become.”

The voices in the background started to talk over each other. Some agreed with Time, some with Fate. Some suggested making the punishment lighter simply because they were afraid of Tad. And some… well, Tad liked to think that maybe they cared, even though it was unlikely. He was just the scary, disliked colleague who did his work and was terrible at jokes. He should really try to mingle with the others more too. If he was in any condition to mingle after this.

Finally, Time sighed. It was a very good sigh, containing the weariness and frustration of a spiralling history.

“Very well. I am prepared to let you remain yourself. However, I have some conditions.”

“Of course. Name them,” Tad said at once.

“First of all, you have to make sure your little adventure has not done any more damage and fix all the possible things that may threaten the integrity of the universe.”

Tad nodded. Not a problem at all. Perhaps the situation could still be salvaged.

“And secondly, you need to punish the one who did you wrong, who overstepped his mortal boundaries and planned all this.”

Again, no problem.

“Thirdly, we will think up some form of punishment for this. Probably a test so you can prove you are still capable of handling your responsibilities.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“And lastly,” Time stopped for dramatic effect, “I expect you to do your job.

Tad frowned.

“Naturally. I have been doing it all this time.”

“Oh, really?” Time said coldly, “Then why is Amelia Sprigg’s soul still in her body?”

Amelia woke up. Or her soul did. She was still lying on the floor of the Deacons’ bunker. Tad was sitting next to her, looking mournful and scared. Amelia looked down and saw her body, something which would have made her heart leap in terror had she still had a heart. She looked at herself, then, and realised that she was translucent, ghostly, and very, very dead.

She had been afraid of this so much in the recent years. She had spent sleepless nights bothered by the thought that something could just end her life, or the lives of those around her. And now… now it had happened. What would happen now? She hadn’t really decided what she thought there was after death. Or if there was anything at all. Right now it felt more like whatever. Amelia realised that at some point she had stopped wondering what it would be, because she had had the joy to know and trust the one who would lead her to the whatever after death. Maybe she had reached some kind of acceptance. Not that it made the situation much less scary.

She was probably still in shock, because she could process it all quite well. Or then she didn’t process it at all. She looked around, saw that the world was frozen into a strange, grayscale moment. Like someone had paused a film. Amelia tried not to look at Mr. Deacon, who was thankfully now unconscious. Novak was there too. He had probably saved her from… well, something even worse than this. If there was something worse. Right now Amelia had to conclude that there probably was. All in all, she didn’t even feel so bad, as long as she didn’t think about her situation too much. Or that was what she could keep telling herself in order to keep from panicking. She turned to look at Tad, who clearly was thinking about something too much.

“Tad?” she asked and was surprised by the echo of her voice. Panic tried to get through her numbness, but she forced it down. Tad looked so distraught that she had to talk to him before she too dissolved into incoherent terror.

Tad looked up at her, eyes dull and empty. There was even more redness around his eyes than normally, even though he didn’t cry.

“Amelia,” he said quietly, sounding very heartbroken, “I am so, so sorry.”

“Are you okay?” Amelia asked.

“Yes,” Tad said and didn’t sound convincing at all, “Thank you for freeing me. Though you should not have… you risked your own life, and… and now it is over.”

“Can we please not talk about that now? I think I’m close to panicking.”


“Um… What’s going on? Why’s everything frozen?”

“Time was stopped because Time intervened. But I… I wanted to talk to you, so I have temporarily detached us from the universe’s time. It is harmless, do not worry.”

“Oh… oookay. Thanks. I wanted to talk to you too,” Amelia frowned, “Are you sure you’re okay, Tad? Is the world okay again?”

Tad gave her a hollow smile.

“Yes. When I got back, it fixed things quite quickly. There might still be some stray beings from between universes out there, but the others and I will hunt them down quickly and either send them back out or destroy them if they will not comply. Once Time lets the world turn again, everything should be fine.”

“Oh… so… so people are dying normally again?”


Amelia looked down at herself. At the ghostly body that was still halfway stuck in the corpse she’d rather not look at. She didn’t want to think about it too much either, but the questions came to her mind anyway.

“Then why am I…?”

Tad looked almost embarrassed.

“I… I had a moment of weakness,” he said, “And you did not… you died because of me. I want… want to fix it.”

“Oh,” Amelia looked down at herself again, “That would be wonderful.”

Something nagged at Amelia at the back of her mind. Something she should have remembered. What was it?

Tad smiled again. It still didn’t reach his eyes and looked more like a cry for help than anything else.

“It is the least I can do. Thank you, Amelia. Thank you for everything you have done for me.”

“Oh, it’s… nothing. Well, it is, but nothing I wouldn’t do again. We’re friends, right?”

“Yes… yes,” Tad smiled, “You are… thank you. I… I will miss you when I am gone.”

Amelia frowned.

“Gone? I told you you’re always welcome to my home.”

Tad was quiet for a long while.

“Tad?” Amelia asked.

“It is-“

“Don’t say it’s nothing! It’s not and I can see it!”

“I…” Tad closed his eyes, fought against something, and then seemed to pull himself back together.

“I have broken too many rules. Some of the others wish to…” he grimaced as if just saying it hurt him, “…to erase me.”

Amelia’s eyes widened.

“What? They can’t do that!”

“They are debating it as we speak.”

Something nagged at Amelia again. This time much more stubbornly than before.

Not now! I can’t let Tad be erased! He can’t… he can’t just lobotomise himself after all this!

“We have to stop them!”

Tad shook his head.

“The only way they will agree to lessening the punishment is if I do what I am supposed to do and – among other things – let you die. I am never allowed to refuse a soul, after all.”

Amelia wanted to cry. She couldn’t let Tad do this to himself. Especially if it was her fault. And she definitely didn’t want to become a bargaining chip over her friends’ identity. She had promised she would not let anything like this happen to Tad!

“It is not your fault,” Tad said, and then turned his head away, “It is all mine. And you… if you are thinking of sacrificing yourself again, then forget it! I will not accept that. I… I do not want you to die yet. And that alone shows that… that I have become too attached. Some say that this is for the best.”

“What about you? Are you saying that you want to be erased?” Amelia asked very quietly.

Tad didn’t look at her. Amelia had a feeling that he would have cried if he could have.

“No,” he whispered, “It is the last thing I want.”

There has to be a way to fix this! There has to be some compromise… Some loophole or tradition…

Amelia froze when she realised what her mind had been trying to remember. She looked down and opened her numb, ghostly hand. Then she smiled in relief.

“Tad,” she said, “Take me to those others you talked about. Now.”

Tad looked perplexed.

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yes. I think I have a say in this too.”

Tad looked unsure, but eventually he nodded.

“Very well.”

And then Amelia was somewhere else. She was standing on her feet and felt more real again. Real, but not alive yet. She was standing in a white room, where Tad stood at the centre, surrounded by majestic-looking, too ancient and too abstract beings. Looking at them made Amelia’s mind reel before she managed to look at them as people instead of as concepts. She clutched her hands into fists, confident when she felt some of the contents of the pouch Novak had given her still in her spirit hand. She was fairly sure that it was there just because some power of tradition demanded it. She raised her voice:

“Excuse me? Hello! I have something to say!”

Everyone stared at her. The being who looked the oldest – a blue-skinned man in white – glanced at Tad with eyes that reflected the entire universe.

“Death? What is this?”

“Like she just said, she wants to talk,” Tad said in a defeated monotone, “I believe that is allowed, as this concerns her as well.”

“She is a mortal human!”

“Yes. And our work is all about accommodating mortals.”

The blue-skinned man wiped his hand over his universe-eyes.

“Fine. Speak then, mortal.”

Amelia stepped forward, intimidated by thousands of invisible eyes that were on her. How many beings were in the room, really? She stopped next to Tad, in front of the most intimidating, most visible row of people, and took a deep breath.

“With all due respect, you can’t erase Tad… Death,” she said, “He has just wanted to learn new things. That’s not a crime, is it?”

“I do not expect a mortal to know much about our rules,” the blue-skinned man said, “He has disturbed the universe, and is now about to refuse a dying soul.”

“Yes. Me,” Amelia said, “Well, you know what? I won’t let you do this! Because he told me the universe is fixed again, and really, it didn’t seem to even be all that broken at any point! I think you’re just being unreasonable. And as for me… well, I think you’ll want to make an exception on that too.”

“Why? Because you are his ‘friend’? If you think you can sway us with an emotional speech, then you are mistaken.”

“No. Not because of speeches,” Amelia said with her best insurance worker’s voice and couldn’t help a triumphant smile that formed onto her face when she took something out of her pocket, “But because I have this!”

Everyone stared at the Death Flower in Amelia’s hand. Then they looked at each other and started murmuring amongst themselves:

“Did you know she had that?”

“No… I do not think she knew she had it until a minute ago…”

“Yes, but… would…”


Tad looked at the blue-skinned man with wide eyes.


“Did you know she had a Death Flower when you were about to revive her?”

Before Tad could answer, Amelia cut in:

“Of course he did! He just recently gave me a speech about how he wouldn’t bend the rules even for me! And I know he was serious; he’s a terrible liar.”

“That is true,” Fate admitted.

“Time,” Tad said quietly, “Sometimes, looking at the big picture makes you miss little details.”

He smiled.

“I accept your conditions, but I also have to acknowledge the power of tradition, do I not?”

There was a silent moment that seemed to stretch into eternity. Amelia felt the world dissolving around her.

When she woke up again, the world was moving, and she was breathing. She felt light-headed and exhausted, and her back ached horribly, and she was cold and uncomfortable, but none of that mattered. She took a few deep breaths and then looked at her hands. Her solid, skin, flesh and bone hands.

I’m alive again.

She felt tears in her eyes and was close to hyperventilating when it all finally crashed down on her.

Oh, gods… I was dead. I was…  Just like that… I… oh, gods!


Amelia looked up at Tad and managed to calm her breathing a little bit. Tad seemed to be just fine. He was unharmed, still the sweet, awkward, somewhat creepy but still lovable young man who wasn’t really a young man. Amelia launched herself at him and hugged him fiercely. Thinking about death could wait. Right now she was alive, and Tad was there and seemed to be okay. That was much more important.

“Do you think they know I was just guessing when I said you knew about the flower?” she managed to say.

“Oh, they definitely know,” Tad replied, “And they also know that I did not know about it. But tradition is tradition, and I think they were impressed by your boldness.”

Amelia was quiet for a very bewildered, overwhelming moment. Then she burst into laughter.

“I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Tad hugged her back, and Amelia realised that he was trembling a little.

“I am glad you are okay too,” he said.

They stayed like that for a moment, but then someone cleared their throat. Tad let go of Amelia, and Amelia realised that her legs felt like jelly after all she had been through, but otherwise she was remarkably okay. She looked around and saw that they were still in the bunker. Emily was still sleeping on the couch, and Novak and Vanja both stood in front of them. Demetrius Deacon was slumped against a kitchen counter, unconscious. The other Deacons were nowhere to be seen.

“You guys took them all down?” Amelia had to ask.

“Why are you so surprised?” Vanja asked, “We have already proved ourselves capable in many situations.”

“And it also helped that there was this weird moment when everyone got this bad feeling… like we’d been frozen in time for a bit or something, and Vanja managed to recover a second faster than the Deacon kid,” Novak explained.

Vanja glared at him, but Novak raised his hands in a peaceful gesture

“Hey, I said you were faster than him to recover. It was a compliment!”

“Thank you all,” Tad said, “Once again. I… I owe you so much.”

Amelia looked at Novak and smiled at him. He looked immediately uncomfortable.

“Thank you for the Death Flower,” she said, “It saved us both.”

“Oh, it was in the pouch I gave you?” Novak slapped his hand to his forehead, “Damn it! I forgot all about that stupid weed! Well, great, now it’s wasted. Thanks a lot!”

He sighed, but Amelia saw him barely repressing a smile.

“Well, glad it worked for you, I guess,” he said dismissively, “Just don’t get all mushy over it. So, it’s over now, huh?”

“Not quite yet,” Tad said darkly, “I need to talk to Mr. Deacon. Step aside.”

Novak and Vanja immediately complied, and soon Tad stood above Mr. Deacon’s unconscious form.

“Wake up, Mr. Deacon,” he said in his threatening, echoing voice.

Mr. Deacon immediately stirred, and when he realised what was going on, he cringed as well.

“Please, don’t do… whatever it is you’re planning!” he begged.

“You have put the entire universe at risk because of your own, quite frankly petty goals,” Tad said, “And as you attacked me directly, I have the right to punish you. So I will make sure you will have a much more difficult time breaking things from now on.”

Mr. Deacon flattened himself against the counter, suddenly terrified. All his previous smugness had disappeared again. He looked less like a mighty wizard ready to play god and more like a frightened old man.

“Please! Don’t-!”

Tad clenched his hand into a fist in front of Mr. Deacon. Mr. Deacon gasped and slumped against the wall. He was still breathing, but something had changed. Amelia didn’t know what until Tad said in a very tired voice:

“I severed his connection to this world’s magic. I believe that is quite fitting.”

Vanja looked quite horrified.

“Really? Just like that? I mean, I’m not complaining or anything, but…”

“Yes,” Tad said, “To answer your unasked question, I can do that.”

He looked around and walked over to Emily. He looked so regretful, so ancient and weary that Amelia wanted to hug him again.

“I am sorry, Emily,” Tad said, “I hope I did not hurt you too much. I promise I will help you get better.”

“I read some of the magic traces,” Vanja said quietly, “Did they really lock you up inside her mind?”



“Indeed. Now… I think we should go. Mr. Deacon has received his punishment, and the rest of the Deacons… well, they can settle their differences here. I may have work to do here soon enough.”

“We’ve already called the authorities,” Vanja said.

“Good. Then I suppose we will have to talk to them.”

Tad lifted Emily into his arms.

“But after that, I would like to go back to Riverview. Could you please find the pieces of the gemstone? Mr. Sanguine knows what it looks like.”

When they were leaving the bunker they heard Mr. Deacon wake up again and – most likely after realising what had happened to him and his magic – let out a desperate howl.

Lydia Deacon woke up to a killer headache and ruined plans. She had been left outside in the swamp after that bastard Sanguine had managed to get a jump on her and had proved to be quite good at blood chokes. She stood up and tried to regain her bearings. The swamp was deceptively quiet, but as Lydia approached the cabin, she could hear noises coming from their bunker. Lydia groggily fumbled her way through the ajar door and down the ladder, where she found father and Gaius. Father was yelling incoherently in a mix of rage and anguish. Lydia knew that a part of it had to be because everything they had fought for had just clearly been ruined. But perhaps there was something else to it as well.

“Gaius?” Lydia asked, “What’s…?”

“Apparently, Death took his magic away,” Gaius said, “He’s been trying to cast spells for the last ten minutes.”

Lydia knew that she probably should have felt sorry. Magic had been father’s pride and joy, the way he had succeeded in life, and a part of the legacy of the Deacon family. Yeah, right. Maybe she could be sorry in another life. Right now she only felt some twisted schadenfreude. Even their ruined plans didn’t sting that much anymore. She realised that she felt… almost relieved. Sure, she had failed, and that was always a harsh blow. But she was also much more aware of how much of her success would have just been for father anyway, and how little control she still had over her life. Even the brief period of freedom before the bet hadn’t really been real. Father would never let go. Never.

“Dad,” Gaius tried to say, “It’s okay. We should just get out. I think the police are coming! I just avoided them when I was running here. We’ll help and take care of you. We’ll-“

Suddenly father tried to grab Gaius by the arm and looked at him with eyes filled with insanity.

“Yes…” he hissed, “You will! You can… Gaius, I love you so much, son… You can help me. We can fix this. We need a better plan. We can get back at them… all of them… whoever was a part of this.”

“Dad…” Gaius said fearfully, “It’s over now. We should forget about it. We made mistakes, and we should find something else to do.”

Father shoved Gaius backwards, and he hit the floor. Lydia saw Gaius’s future in father’s wild eyes. And her future as well. More and more endless years of manipulation. Being nothing more than tools for their family, for father and his growing insanity. Losing his magic had clearly been the last straw.

“We? Give up? How dare you suggest that?!” father growled, “You are this family’s only hope now, Gaius! You have to continue what we started. You can’t abandon me! I will make things right again.”

They would never be free…

“You’re scaring me, dad…” Gaius shifted away from father, but father stepped forward.

Gaius… Gaius had to be kept safe.

“You will listen to me, son. I am your-“

His words were interrupted by a gunshot.

Father slumped to the ground, head partly exploded by the force of the bullet.

Gaius screamed, and Lydia screamed as well and tried not to look at the gun she had just killed their father with. Lydia rushed to hug Gaius, who was still screaming and wailing in terror and grief. Lydia realised that she was crying as well.

“Gaius… it’s okay, it’s okay…” she chanted, “I’m so sorry… I’m… I had to do it… otherwise… we would have never been free.

Gaius kept crying, and Lydia tried her best to form words through the tears and regrets:

“We… We’ll make a new life out of this… out of… something…”

Gaius hugged her back, and they sat there – alone except for the passing presence of Death that made them both shiver. But Death didn’t seem to care about them at all. They didn’t see him, but they knew he had taken father. Lydia and Gaius stayed together with the corpse until they heard the authorities approaching. By the time any kind of police – supernatural or otherwise – was there, they were already gone. They ran away, minds filled with regrets and trauma, but also a spark of hope.

Amelia was overjoyed to notice that Riverview was where they had left it. There was barely a trace of anything having gone wrong at all, aside from some vague, scared memories and rumours and the fact that a couple of grocery stores had suffered a few odd cases of shoplifting by invisible people. Dewey and Brigitte were waiting in front of the hospital, looking slightly dishevelled but otherwise okay.

“Oh, I’m so glad to see you!” Brigitte gushed, “Dewey told me that you were right in the middle of this mess! Are you okay?”

“Yeah, we are,” Amelia said, “And you?”

“Yup,” Dewey said, “Things weren’t as bad as they looked. Yet. I think most people will dismiss all the weirdness as just a really bad day. Or hallucinations.”

“So, what really happened here?” Brigitte asked.

Amelia glanced at the others. Novak shrugged and Vanja was really trying to fight against slipping into smug know-it-all mode.

“It was just a bad day,” Tad said, “Cracks in the universe. The cosmic beings fixed it. It should not happen again.”

It wasn’t enough of an explanation. But Brigitte was socially adept enough to realise that it was the best they were about to get.

“Well, I’m really glad you’re okay,” Brigitte said, “Universe breaking always sounds bad. But… well, who are we to really try to figure out things of that scale, right?”

“Right,” Amelia smiled, “So… what are you two doing here?”

Brigitte suddenly got a rather awkward, very apologetic look on her face.

“We came here because your mother’s boyfriend wanted to get to the hospital. Apparently he got a call, and since Dewey wanted to make sure he was kept safe…”

Amelia’s eyes widened. Suddenly she was back in reality. Reality where there were no cracking universes, and the worst problem was worrying about the survival of her mother.

Wait… Can we go back to the universe-problems?

“About mum?” she asked, “How is she?”

“We don’t know yet,” Brigitte said, “I didn’t think it would be polite to butt into your family affairs. But Mr. Bouchard has been in there for quite a while. I think you should go in too.”

Amelia didn’t need to be told twice. She rushed into the hospital, not noticing the sad look on Tad’s face.

Author’s Note: Yeah… at first I thought it would be over with this chapter, but then I realised that it would be way too crammed full of stuff if I included the conclusion to what happens to Amelia’s mum as well as the epilogue-type character moments in this too. So… one more chapter it is.

I’m getting so scared that I’ll stumble hard on the finish line. But I hope this is still something that feels worth the read. It had a lot of scenes I’ve wanted to write for AGES, and some ideas I’ve really wanted to pull off. And I guess you’ll be the judge on how I managed. I personally think I did… passably I guess. <– Wow, I managed to compliment myself. Uh… success?

I hope you guys enjoy and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Timely Interventions

NEXT Chapter: The Not Quite Perfect Life

Chapter 43: Timely Interventions

WARNING: Contains some violence, guns, blood, and slightly macabre imagery and descriptions.

Tad wondered if it would have been better for him to stop already. The monsters had kept attacking, and he had swiftly and cleanly sliced them to pieces. Had the monsters not been dreams of a little girl with a limited understanding of how living beings worked, it would have been quite messy and graphic. Tad always went for the clean, quick kills, but very few kills were truly clean. Luckily these monsters vanished into stardust instead of slumping down in gory heaps of severed heads and corpses. These monsters only bled when they were stalking them and wanted to scare Emily.

Tad ducked under a monster’s horizontal swipe and at the same time sliced its throat open. Instead of a shower of blood, only darkness spilled out, and the monster vanished. Tad looked back at Emily.

“Okay, Emily, I really need you to focus. This kind of thing is… probably not good for someone so young to see.”

He nodded towards the vanishing monster corpse.

“Besides, that one looks familiar.”

Emily nodded, looking fearfully at the spot where the corpse had been.

“You already made it go away. Why did it come back?”

“Exactly,” Tad said, “I am glad that I can make you feel safe, but that is not enough. Not like this. They will keep coming back. We need to get out of here. And for that, we need to talk.”

Emily looked up at him, eyes wide.

“About mommy? But… you’ll just say she won’t come back.”

“Yes. Because she will not.”

Tad put his scythe down and crouched down in front of Emily.

“I am so sorry to put you through this, but you have to know what I am so that I can get out.”

He paused and waited for Emily to reluctantly look at him. There were tears in her eyes. Tad would have preferred to do this without making her cry, but it was probably inevitable. It was moments like this that made him hate himself.

“Dying means that one’s life is over. When your mother was hurt, I came for her. And you are right about me helping her, but I only helped her to die. I gave your mother’s soul a way to pass on, to leave her body and go away to wherever people go when they die. That is what the Grim Reaper does. I am Death, the gatekeeper for souls who need to leave their bodies because the body is too broken or old to keep on living. Your mother died because her body could not survive the wounds she sustained.”

Emily stared.

“What’s ‘sustain’?”

“It… in this case it means she had got many wounds.”

“Oh. I… I know she did,” Emily whispered, “It was scary. But you… she thought you were nice. Why would she think that if you were going to take her away?”

Tad sighed.

“Because she knew that she would not have survived. All those who live have their time. That was your mother’s. I am sorry it came too early.”

“So… so why does life have to end? Why can’t she come back?”

Tad hated doing this more and more. But he had to. He hesitated for a moment before laying a hand on Emily’s shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting gesture.

“Like I said before, that is just how this world works,” he said, “I… well, think of it like this: this world lives in a constant cycle. Things are born, and things have to die as well so that the world doesn’t get too crowded. And life… life is something one can do only once. Well, some believe that they do come back after they die, but even then they would never return in the same form. Your life is unique, and when it is over, you pass away and leave space for others to have a chance at their lives too. Do you understand?”

Emily nodded slowly, and tears started to fall. Sure, it was a lot for her to handle, but some locks in her mind were opened, so to speak. Tad felt stronger, more like himself.

“B-but I want mommy!” Emily cried, “If you made her soul go away, can’t you bring it back too?”

Her tears broke Tad’s metaphorical heart, but he still had to say the words she would hate to hear:

“No. I cannot. It would not be fair.”

“But mommy dying isn’t fair either!”

“No. It is not.”

This was usually when people said something along the lines of: “I hate you”. Tad braced himself for it. It would hurt a lot more than usually if it was Emily saying it. But Emily just sobbed and didn’t seem to be able to speak at all. In a way that was even worse.

He put his arms around her, and she cried for a long time, when the death of her mother finally started to sink in deeper than it had before. Tad knew that even if he could get out in time so that he wouldn’t cause too much damage to Emily’s psyche, she would still need a lot of time to heal.


Wet, sloshing breathing interrupted his thoughts. Emily gasped and curled up tighter in his arms.

“Emily… there you are.”

The voice that Emily had told belonged to the worst monster was right behind them. Out of the corner of his eye, Tad saw blood pooling under his knees. Emily started breathing in short, panicked breaths.

“Emily, stop running.”

Tad slowly turned his head. He met the monster’s eyes and sighed mournfully.

“Oh, Emily. I am so sorry.”

A bloodied mockery of Erica Sato’s face stared back at him.

Twinbrook looked the same as before, but something still wasn’t right. It was as if a few pieces in a huge jigsaw puzzle had been switched around, but it was difficult to tell which ones. The air was heavy with stuck souls, and they cried out for help somewhere at the edge of hearing. Amelia, Vanja, and Novak crept towards the cabin, all the while on the lookout for danger or signs that they’d been spotted. So far it had been quite easy. So easy that Amelia still had a hard time believing that it wasn’t a dream, that they had made it here.

Back in Riverview, Vanja had gathered them around herself, advised them to keep their eyes closed, and muttered a long litany of foreign-sounding words. After that Amelia had felt a strange feeling of the world vanishing for a millisecond, and then her feet hitting a different kind of terrain. Her heart had skipped a beat upon landing. She had taken a moment to feel the ground under her to make sure it was real. The hospital floor had been replaced with soggy grass. It wasn’t quite like travelling with Tad; Tad’s teleportation was somehow smoother, more like they had always been where they ended up in. But Vanja’s method felt effective as well, if slightly more uncomfortable.

Amelia had looked down at herself to make sure she was still intact, and then she and the others had started walking. A motley crew of mortals bent on saving the world. It sounded like something straight out of a fantasy story. Or an action film. Or almost any story with high enough – sometimes overly dramatic and too often used – stakes, really. A small part of Amelia was excited. Another part – a much larger, much more sensible part – was screaming at her to think about what she was doing. She tried to ignore it. She was here to help a friend. If there was even a small chance that she could do something, she would take it.

They still had their plan… though it was still only half ready. It was mostly just: scout out the situation (Novak), counter possible magic (Vanja), and try to locate Tad and figure out how to help him. Amelia was supposed to tag along, help them spot possible danger and stay out of the way. It was at least something. Something she felt capable enough to do. She still wondered if she should have called Dewey after all, though. He would have been much better at this.

They were close to the cabin when Vanja stopped them. They hid behind a steep incline when they spotted a pale woman who stood in front of the house’s yard. Something about the woman felt familiar. Amelia tried to search her memory for the beautiful, violet-eyed lady, who… Amelia’s eyes widened.

“I know her,” she whispered, “She was in my backyard once.”

“And I know you, Amelia Sprigg,” the woman said, and Amelia was startled. She hadn’t though the woman had heard her so far away.

Vanja and Novak were immediately alert. Vanja raised her wand, but the woman didn’t seem to mind. She beckoned them closer.

“The Deacons are inside,” she said, “It is relatively safe to approach. Do not worry; I am a prisoner just like Death is. I am asking for help, and I can help you in return.”

Amelia grabbed Vanja’s arm in excitement.

“She knows Tad!” she said.

“Yes, I got that part,” Vanja frowned at the woman, “Who are you?”

“I am Fate,” the woman said, “I have been at odds with Death because of his little adventure, and now we can all see that my concern was warranted. But I want to help. Despite our differences, I never wanted him to get in trouble like this.”

“Where is Tad?” Amelia asked, “Is he hurt?”

Fate nodded towards the cabin.

“He is inside. The Deacons have a bunker under their cottage. Death went in there to save the little girl the Deacons took.”

“Who?” Amelia asked.

“Emily Sato.”

That explained why Tad had left to face them. Amelia paled. The Deacons had taken Emily? How dared they? She was just a child! Amelia stepped out of her hiding place and walked over to Fate, ignoring the frustrated warnings of her companions.

“What happened?” she asked.

“The Deacons had set a trap, and we both knew that,” Fate said, “But Death was too emotional, too careless. He was trapped by the Deacons’ spell, and I was caught in it as well. I am standing at the edge of their spell circle now.

“It’s huge,” Vanja said with some respect in her voice. Amelia started. She hadn’t even realised that Vanja and Novak had come to stand behind her, “They must have needed a lot of rare ingredients to pull this off.”

“Yes, yes, you can give them a medal later,” Fate said snippily, “Can you free me? Break the circle? Then I can take you to where I last saw Death. I will even help you break the protective spells they have set up closer to their cabin.”

“Why should we trust you?” asked Novak.

“You do not have to,” Fate shrugged, “But I did just give you a lot of information for free. Besides, you will have to break the circle anyway if you wish to free Death. That is what you are here for, is it not?”

Vanja crossed her arms. Novak hesitated, but eventually stepped forward.

“Fine. I wish to break the circle, and free the spirits bound by it.”

“Wait!” Vanja snapped, “Don’t-!”

He kicked the dirt in front of him. The faint line in the ground was disturbed, and Fate nodded approvingly. Amelia stared at the now slightly broken line in the ground.

“That’s it?” she had to ask.

“Yeah. I mean, for humans it’s just a circle.”


“But breaking it must have alerted the original caster!” Vanja huffed, “Now we’re sitting ducks here!”

“No we’re not,” Novak said, “Yet. And we had to do something anyway, right?”

“You seem to have your own plans we’re not privy to-“

“Would you shut up? I’m trying to wing it. Now hide!”

He ushered them all back behind the incline and crouched down into the grass. He was pulling something out of his pocket. Amelia still couldn’t figure out where he had got all his gear. Or even his clothes. Sure, Vanja had asked Amelia to bring a lot of obscure items from her store, but it seemed that Novak had a way of “finding” things he needed on his own. Now Novak had pulled out a small pouch and quickly checked that it had everything he needed, whatever that everything was. He nodded approvingly and then looked back up when someone emerged from the old cabin.

It was a blond man, whom Amelia recognised from the Altos’ party in Sunset Valley and from the pictures she had seen. Gaius Deacon, if Amelia remembered correctly. He would have looked mostly very friendly if it weren’t for… well, the fact that he had just emerged from a necromancer’s cabin where a little girl and one of Amelia’s best friends were being kept against their will. He walked over to the disturbed part of the circle, clutching a wand in his hand and looking around warily. Amelia realised that Fate had disappeared from view.

“Hello?” the man said quietly, and then waved his wand around skittishly, looking for targets, “Fate? Is that you? You know you can’t break the circle.”

Novak and Vanja shared a soldier-like glance, and Vanja pulled out her wand.

Gaius Deacon may have been expecting Fate or some strange universe-breaking phenomenon to leap at him, but he apparently hadn’t been prepared to be thrown off his feet by a flash of light from a sorceress’s wand. Gaius hit the ground, and Vanja muttered another spell that seemed to restrict Gaius’s movements. She rushed out of her hiding place, and Amelia scrambled after her without really knowing what to do except try to talk some sense into the man who now lay on the ground.

Vanja pointed her wand at him.

“Okay, Deacon,” she said sternly, “Stop this madness at once or I’ll turn your lungs into ash!”

“Wow, I wish I had your diplomatic skills,” Novak said flatly, “Look, man, we’re not here to hurt anyone who doesn’t want to turn reality inside out.”

Gaius stared at them, and Amelia tried to look at him comfortingly. It didn’t work as well as it could have. She didn’t really want to comfort a person who had possibly done something bad to her friend.

“Did you hurt Tad?” she had to ask.

“Who?” Gaius asked, “What the hell are you doing here? Get lost!”

“We’re the universe fairies who protect reality from idiots who play god,” Novak said, “Did you guys think it would be an awesome idea to start bullying the Grim Reaper?”

Gaius glared at them.

“I remember you now. You all were at the party. With Death. You tried to ruin my sister’s plan.”

He paused for a moment.

“Well, dad’s plan, really.”

Vanja stepped forward.

“Gaius Deacon,” she said, “I know you’re a very intelligent person. And we both know that meddling with the order of life and death is what sorcerers like us do. I’ve done my fair share of tampering with the world too. But you have to realise that something has gone wrong now. What did you do?”

Gaius was quiet for a long moment. Amelia was afraid that he was using that moment to telepathically summon reinforcements or something. She didn’t know what wizards could exactly do, but she had read enough books and seen enough magic to think it was perfectly plausible. Next to her, Novak seemed to brace himself for a fight. Or flight. She wasn’t sure which.

Finally, Gaius sighed.

“We managed to contain Death,” he said with a mix of worry and pride, “And dad said that no one can take that from us. We can fix this.”

“Yes, you can,” Amelia said, “By freeing him.”

Gaius tried to shake his head, but the spell held him in place.

“No,” he said, “I can’t let you. I… I’m sorry. But… I have to protect dad and Lydia.”

Vanja raised her wand, but Gaius was faster. He said a couple of words and was suddenly moving again. Amelia didn’t have time to react before she felt Novak grab her arm and yank her to the ground when lights started exploding above their heads. Vanja had stepped in front of them and was furiously chanting and waving her wand. She conjured a wall of light that was shattered by a blast of blue energy, and Gaius approached her warily while holding his wand in front of him like a sword. Vanja took a stance as well, and without even looking at her companions, began to fight. Light and smoke and foreign words filled the air, and Amelia felt her skin starting to tingle with the forces battling around them. It was scary yet beautiful, like a thunderstorm that made Amelia want to curl up underneath a blanket and watch the lightning from a safe place. This was not a safe place at all.

“Move!” Novak hissed at her, “And stay low. You don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.”

Amelia and Novak crawled and ran away from the duelling mages and the explosions and sparks, towards the cabin that was surrounded by more spell circles and probably even more magic. Amelia’s lungs burned and her heart beat too quickly out of fear and exertion.

“That Fate-woman said something about a bunker,” Novak said and didn’t even sound all that out of breath, “We have to find it quickly.”

“I can help with that,” said Fate.

Novak yelped, and Amelia too felt her heart skip a beat.

“What is it with you guys and your fetish of suddenly appearing and startling people?” Novak gasped.

“And I assume you would not exploit being able to instantly transport yourself to any place you wanted?” Fate countered, “Follow me. I too want this to be over as soon as possible.”

“Sure, whatever, as long as we get this done.”

They broke into a run again and circled around the cabin. Whatever shields had been around it broke down into invisible shards with a wave of Fate’s arm. The cabin’s door was slammed open once they stepped foot inside what used to be protected by magic. Lydia Deacon ran to the porch, leaped quite athletically over the old wooden railing and pointed a gun at them. Novak and Amelia instinctively retreated a little, and Novak pulled Amelia behind the nearest tree for some cover.

“Don’t move!” Lydia snapped, “You… oh, it’s you. I should’ve known.”

Fate sighed.

“Really? Surely you are smarter than this, Lydia. How long are you going to keep bending to your father’s will?”

“Shut up!” Lydia snapped, but Fate didn’t seem to listen at all.

“When you stole the gemstone and responded to my visit by summoning me, I thought that you really were shaping your own life. Your… well, fate, if you will. And you even had the potential to do some entertaining things with the gemstone, to dodge Death in creative ways. You had the smarts and the ambition. But no. Instead you turned out to be just a little girl craving for her father’s approval. How disappointing.”

Lydia’s eye twitched.

“Get the hell away from here,” she hissed, “Or I will shoot.”

“Why, because your father told you to?”

“Shut up!”

“Wow, somebody has daddy issues,” Novak whispered.

Another shape had appeared on the porch. Demetrius Deacon stood behind the railing with a look of rage on his worn-out face.

“Kill them, Lydia,” he said, “And then go help your brother.”

Novak put his hand to his face.

“Yeeeah… I don’t think these guys are going to listen to us,” he whispered, “I was kinda hoping Leifsdóttir would still be with us here, but I guess Deacon Jr. is a bit tougher than I thought.”

He pointed towards what looked like an entrance to something underground.

“C’mon, we have to keep moving when Fate distracts them.”

They started running, but were almost immediately stopped by a warning shot that made the ground sizzle. Amelia let out a small scream. Novak cursed.

“Okay, so Fate won’t distract them,” he muttered, “Run!”

They dashed through a field of explosions and sparks, with Amelia panicking and trying her best to keep up with Novak, who seemed to move like a professional soldier, quickly and effectively and managing to shield himself from debris without really slowing down. He dodged a nearby wisp of light and let it explode when Demetrius Deacon’s spell hit it. Amelia almost doubled over to stay as small a target as possible and wished once again that this all was just a bad dream. Mr. Deacon was advancing, firing spells and shouting like a madman. Lydia was following him, not firing her gun but still apparently ready to shed blood.

“Damn it!” Novak sighed, “There’s no way we can get anywhere like this.”

He took something out of his pocket and swerved left, away from the cabin. Amelia followed, not wanting to be left alone in the midst of chaos. Novak threw himself behind some bushes and started drawing something to the ground. Now Amelia could see that he had a piece of chalk in his hand.

“Stay low,” he advised, “This isn’t witch magic, but there are some things even regular guys like us can do.”

Spells flashed above them, and Novak waited until they were uncomfortably close before he finished the runes he had been scribbling and whispered a few words. Something flashed, and smoke started billowing from the runes in the ground. Amelia tried not to cough, and she only dimly saw Novak move. He turned and shoved something into Amelia’s hands. It was the pouch he had been carrying. A quick look told Amelia that it was filled with more pieces of chalk.

“Go,” Novak said, “I can distract these guys, but you have to get into the bunker. If the door’s locked, call for Fate and hope she’s as helpful as she claims she is. And if there are spell circles – there probably will be – mess them up with chalk and tell the circle you want the spirits freed in case it’s needed.”

“But I-“ Amelia began, but Novak shoved her shoulder.

“No time! Just go!” he hissed, “I’ll be fine!”

Amelia hesitated but knew that there was nothing she could really do at the moment but follow Novak’s instructions. She crawled across the smoke that was thick enough to obscure everything around her and hoped that she was going the right way. The smoke made her want to cough again, but she forced it down and listened to Lydia and Demetrius’s footsteps that were all too close to her. Demetrius was muttering some kind of spell again, and Amelia felt the smoke starting to disperse. Then Demetrius yelped, and something hit the ground. Amelia started crawling faster.

When the smoke cleared, Amelia saw – to her relief – the cabin and the bunker’s door again. Thank goodness her sense of direction hadn’t been completely messed up. She stood up, stumbled but managed to keep her footing, and started running. Behind her, the cloud of smoke kept dispersing and lights started flashing again.

Around her, the air was thick with all things wrong, and Amelia was very aware that she was not cut out for these kinds of heroics. She tried to push aside the pressure, and threw herself against the bunker’s door, hoping against all logic that it wasn’t locked.

To her surprise, it wasn’t. It swung open and Amelia stumbled straight through the hole in the floor. She tried to grab the ladder next to her, but only managed to clumsily reach for the steps before she hit the very hard floor and all air left her lungs. She got up and sat gasping on the cold, stone floor and hoped that nothing was broken. She had to keep going. She had to find Tad!

She managed to stand up and look around in the surprisingly comfy bunker. Tad was nowhere to be seen, but in the middle of a living space there was a couch, and on it slept Emily Sato. Amelia shivered at the thought of a little girl being pulled into this. Her foster family must be sick with worry. Emily was surrounded by more magic circles. One was directly underneath the couch she lay on. This one was the most elaborate, and seemed to radiate sinister energy. Amelia didn’t even want to look at it, but she knew she had to. She didn’t know if Tad was somewhere around, or if he had… she didn’t want to think about it. He had to be okay. Maybe if she broke the circles, he would be freed. She stood up and took the pouch Novak had given her. She reached for a piece of chalk, frowned when her fingers brushed something that didn’t feel like chalk at all, and then found a piece. She closed the pouch into her other hand and held the chalk in the other. She had a lot of circles to break.

Emily had buried her face into Tad’s shoulder.

“Make it stop!” she begged.

“Emily…” Erica – no, not Erica – rasped, “I found you again.”

Tad let go of Emily and turned to face not-Erica. He was unarmed, but that didn’t matter. He would not make Emily watch her mother – even a monstrous nightmare-version of her – get killed again.

“I will not fight you,” Tad said, “Please, leave us alone.”

Not-Erica gurgled like water pipes, struggled to draw in air like the real one had when she had been dying.

“I’m her mommy,” she said.

“No, you are not. Please leave.”

Not-Erica lifted her arm, her nails long and sharp. Tad looked at her wearily.

“Do you think you can scare me? Do you think I care whether or not I get hurt? There is nothing you can do that I have not seen before. However, you are scaring Emily, and I do not like that. This is not a good time for her to be facing her inner demons. So please, leave. We were having an important conversation.”

Not-Erica hissed. It did sound quite realistic and unnerving. This was really what Emily went through in her bad nights? He would really have to talk to Emily’s foster parents about this. She needed even more help than they had thought.

“Go away,” Emily chimed in in a very small voice, “Please… go away!”

Not-Erica let out another hiss and took a step forward.

“Leave,” Tad said and surprised himself. Had he just…? He felt more like himself again. More like Death and less exclusively like Tad Dustpine. He glanced at Emily, who stared at him with wide eyes. She probably had no idea that some pieces had started to fall into place in her mind. Once she woke up, she would have a lot to digest and to come to terms with.

Not-Erica had frozen, and suddenly she screeched like rusty metal and vanished. Emily started crying again.

“She’ll be back,” she managed to say between sobs.

“I know,” Tad said, “But I hope we can wake you up before that happens. You were very brave.”

Emily wrapped her arms around him again. She trembled, but at least she didn’t cry as much anymore.

“Thank you, uncle Tad.”

“Thank you,” Tad said, “And I am sorry.”

They stood in silence for a long while. The darkness felt a bit less heavy around them.

“Your mother loved you very much, Emily,” Tad said, “Do you remember the last thing she told me?”

Emily shook her head.

“She wanted me to help you,” Tad said.

Emily was quiet for a long while. Tad looked up from her only when something alerted him. It was the feeling of someone calling for him, trying to break the metaphorical bars of his prison. Relief made him smile. Someone was trying to free him! Just in time when he was feeling like himself again, when freeing him would actually work. Just when he was about to start wondering how he could call out to someone.

Emily looked up at him, alarmed.

“What is it?”

“Someone is out there,” Tad said, “Soon this will all be over.”

Many times, the fate of the world – well, usually a smaller part of the world – was decided through violence. Both in stories – usually far more glamorously – and in real life – more depressingly. And despite this particular battle being somewhat low-key and not outwardly earth-shattering, it was still a bunch of people clashing, firing spells, tricks and sometimes throwing punches.

It was Vanja and Gaius shouting words of power at each other, carving up the earth around them and filling the already saturated air with sparks and misfired spells.

It was Novak running through the woods, taking cover from magic and trying his best to keep Demetrius and Lydia’s attention away from Amelia and staying alive at the same time.

It was him taking chances to subdue them even for a few precious moments and then dashing back into cover, his head still hurting from the last time he had tried to play hero.

And it was Fate, watching it all without really seeing anything new. People almost always ended up taking up arms or waving their fists. Though in this instance, Fate had to admit that she too was almost ready to resort to some aggressive behaviour. She felt the universe struggling to keep together as whoever was substituting for Death tried their best to keep up even though they were probably just a tiny fragment of the Death that had sent them. She felt the energy and creatures that had been let in through the tear in the universe, some scared and some hungry, mostly invisible. She felt so many people going about their lives without even realising anything was wrong. When it came to cosmic truths facing problems, they were often quite unnoticeable on the grassroots level despite – or perhaps because of – their enormous scale.

Fate found herself rooting for these mortals. Not enough to interfere too much, of course – aside from helping with a locked door or two. Not even when she noticed that Demetrius Deacon managed to escape his fight with the thief. She could see many paths for these mortals, and some for the world. All in all, things looked quite good. Fate hoped Time was watching this. He had to be worried already.

Down in the bunker, Amelia Sprigg had no idea about what she was doing. She scratched lines over the circles in the floor, wishing spirits to be free like Novak had instructed her. So far nothing had happened, and Amelia moved on to the circle underneath the couch.

“Emily?” she called out, but just like the previous times she had tried to wake her, she didn’t even stir, “Hey, Emily? Can you hear me? Wake up!”

Emily was frowning in her sleep, but otherwise she seemed to be fine. Thank goodness for that. There was an earring in her ear, though. Amelia didn’t remember seeing it there back in Riverview. It had a piece of some kind of stone in it. A thought struck Amelia. Could this be a piece of the gemstone that had been stolen from Tad? Without hesitation, Amelia took the earring out. Emily still didn’t stir. Nothing felt different, but perhaps Amelia had done something to help. Amelia didn’t dare do more until she had broken the circle around Emily. She knelt back down next to the red marks in the floor, again recalling the litany of words Novak had used outside:

“I wish to break this circle, and… and free the spirits bound by it.”

She felt something. A small spark of power somewhere near Emily. Amelia drew a line over the circle’s outer edge. Another spark. Amelia felt her heart pounding. Maybe this was it! Maybe this would free both Emily and Tad, wherever he was.

She started to draw another line when she felt intense pain blossoming in her heart. She screamed, doubled over, and found herself twitching on the floor under the power of… something. She felt her heart slow down, and coldness dulled everything.

She breathed with difficulty, her vision dimming. She could faintly see Demetrius Deacon standing near the ladder. The man was frowning.

“What? You’re still alive? How… oh, right. Yeah. Death is not here now.”

Amelia felt her heartbeat struggling to keep going, and something told her that she was dying. That had Tad been where he should be, she would probably already be dead. Somehow, the thought didn’t freak her out as much as it should have. Maybe she was in shock.

Yep, definitely shock.

“Oh, well,” Demetrius Deacon was saying, “I can always burn you to bits. That ought to stop you from ruining my work.”

Amelia moved her hand, drawing more lines over the circle, furiously messing it up as well as she could with her numbing fingers. Demetrius raised his wand, but then he turned just in time to see Novak Sanguine drop down from the hole in the bunker’s ceiling and kick him in the face hard enough to muffle all possible spells that he might have been trying to cast.

That was all Amelia saw for a moment. That and a flash of darkness as something started to form in front of Emily, at the edge of the now broken circle. Then her vision dimmed, and she somehow realised that she had stopped breathing.

When Tad felt the magic that bound him shattering, he also felt hollow. Like something had gone horribly wrong. Like someone had to pay the price for getting him out. He saw Emily looking at him fearfully and hoped she would be alright. He felt far less disoriented, like he could see outside of Emily’s mind again. Then he saw nothing for a moment before the metaphorical curtains, the coffin and earth around him were gone and his senses were assaulted by the delayed deaths and the stuck spirits and the holes in the universe.

He reeled under the sheer volume of it all. How long had he been gone? Hours? Days? It had to be more than a day. He blinked and focused on regaining some kind of form. Tad Dustpine was the easiest at the moment, and he latched onto the memory of his presence that remained where he had been attacked. He let his feet touch the bunker’s floor and noticed the circle around Emily. It had been broken, and Emily was still asleep on the couch, the gemstone still – or perhaps again – gone from her ear. Novak Sanguine was standing next to an unconscious Mr. Deacon, staring at Tad with relief and worry.

“Hey, boss,” Mr. Sanguine said, “Um… sorry about not taking this son of a bitch down sooner.”

At first Tad didn’t know what he was talking about. He was still feeling dizzy from his sudden return. But then he noticed Amelia.

She was lying on the floor. She wasn’t breathing, but Tad didn’t even need to see that to know that she was dead.

Tad’s legs failed him immediately. He sunk to his knees in a perhaps needlessly melodramatic manner and let his hand brush Amelia’s shoulder. She wasn’t moving. Of course she wasn’t. Tad felt the pain of the deadly spell that had burned through her ribs, into her heart.

“Amelia?” he managed to choke out, “You… why did you do this?”

He didn’t need to hear an answer to that. He already knew. It didn’t make things any better. He was the last person in the universe anyone should die for. And yet, that was what Amelia had done. She had rescued him, and that was why… this had to be something he could reverse. He could… he could refuse her soul, right? This had to be an exception to the strictest rule in his existence. Amelia deserved more than this!

“I will fix this,” he said quietly, without thinking, “After… after I fix the universe.”

Time seemed to stop when he looked at Amelia’s surprisingly serene face. She had been his first real friend. She had cared about him, and he had cared about her. He had wanted to see her happy… And now… he had messed it up in the worst possible way. This was all his fault! Why did he have to…?

Wait, I should not have this much time to lament.

He looked around and realised that time had indeed stopped. The people around him were not moving, frozen into a nanosecond that stretched out for eternity in that moment. And Time himself was standing above Tad. He looked as furious as someone so unemotional could look.

“Death,” he said coldly, “You were finally freed. I trusted your judgement at least enough to think that you would not get so easily taken down. You put the entire reality at risk!”

“I know,” Tad said, “I am sorry.”

“Do you think that will be enough?”

Tad sighed.

“No. I will fix this.”

“You will,” Time replied, “At. Once.”

He looked around critically before he said the words that made Tad feel even more abysmal than he already did:

“After you are done with that, we will discuss your erasing.”

Author’s Note: Iiiiit’s a trainwreeeeeeck! Everyone, get out before it’s too late! I don’t even know if I’m talking about the quality of this story or the recent “plot”-developments.

I promise that the next two chapters will be dedicated to giving some closure to this mess.

Also Time apparently can’t make an appearance where he isn’t a stuck-up rule stickler and kind of creepy. To be fair, it comes with his job. It’s implied that at least in the past (and in the present in some cases), Tad has been similar but with slightly more emotion and more endearing awkwardness.

PREVIOUS Chapter: Askew

NEXT Chapter: Trial and Error

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

Chapter 41: Mindscapes

Amelia woke up to find out that sleeping didn’t really help much when she was so worried. She still felt exhausted, and she immediately wanted to go back to sleep. But she had to check on mum first. Or at least ask the people at the hospital how she was. She rubbed her eyes and looked around. Philippe was almost asleep, but Dewey was still completely alert. He immediately noticed that Amelia was awake and launched into a status report:

“Hey, they still don’t have news of your mum. Also, Dustpine’s gone. Don’t know where.”

“Okay…” Amelia mumbled sleepily, “It’s fine. We talked and had a bit of a… disagreement. But nothing bad. I told him that I needed some space. He probably left because of that.”

She frowned a bit.

“I hope he doesn’t feel too bad. Or get in trouble.”

“He can probably handle himself,” Dewey said, “How’re you holding up?”

“Still not well.”

“I can imagine.”

“How’s the Nexus?”

“Better. Basil’s sleeping and stable. They counteracted the venom. Once he wakes up, they can continue diagnosing him. He’ll probably be fine. He’s a strong kid.”

“That’s a relief.”

“The cop Brigitte called is probably on his way here, now that it’s dark,” Dewey said and worry flashed in his eyes, “He’ll probably want to talk to you, but if you don’t feel ready, I’ll tell him to wait.”

Amelia managed a small smile. Dewey’s worry was quite endearing and definitely comforting.

“Thanks. But I think it’ll be fine.”

“If you say so…” Dewey said and didn’t look very convinced.

And maybe he was right not to be. Amelia didn’t feel well at all. The worry was still eating at her. And the guilt. Why did mum have to be there? Why did Amelia have to get other people dragged into this mess? All because she wanted to rent out a room! And now Tad was gone… Amelia hoped he would be fine. He had a habit of getting too caught up in his worries and angst.

Nothing I can do about that now. He’ll come back.

Amelia wanted to believe that. There wasn’t really much else she could do. She settled more comfortably into her seat and waited.

Just like Dewey had predicted, the supernatural vampire police arrived soon. He was the same man Amelia had seen during the hazy part of the fight, back when mum was still lying by a tree and Amelia was freaking out too much. The man looked around at the door of the waiting room and then walked over to Amelia and Dewey. Dewey coaxed Amelia to get up, and they all stepped away from the chairs and tried not to look too suspicious.

“Hello,” the vampire policeman said in a low voice. It was a voice very well suited for ordering criminals to drop their weapons, and it was a bit odd to hear him manage to slip a very friendly tone underneath it, “I’m detective Nate Webster from the SCRI.”

Amelia blinked, still sleepy.

“The Scottish Crop Research Institute?”

“Supernatural Crime Reconnaissance and Investigations,” Detective Webster droned and looked like he had had to correct people many, many times before. He looked around in the pastel-coloured hospital hallway, “You two are the only ones in this room who are in the loop, right?”

Dewey nodded.

“Okay,” detective Webster said, “so we’ll keep this quiet. I’d prefer if I didn’t have to do any extra mind wipes.”

“What?” Amelia asked, alarmed. Dewey put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“It’s a standard procedure for the safety of the civilians. Nothing harmful. And besides, they probably won’t even need to do it at all for this.”

“Yes, as long as everything goes well,” detective Webster said, “Now, I need statements from you. I know this may be a bad time, but I really need to get this case moving fast so we can launch an investigation about possible larger scale vampire gang activity in our precinct.”

“Oh… I don’t think we can help with that,” Amelia said quietly, “I don’t really know where they came from, or… anything really.”

Detective Webster opened his mouth, but a voice interrupted him.

“If you got questions, I can answer them.”

They turned to look at Novak Sanguine, who looked quite different than Amelia remembered. He had at some point cut off his locks, and his hair was now red and messy. He was hurrying towards them clad in hospital pyjamas and with a disgruntled nurse – whom Amelia recognised as Jebidiah Wilson – on his heels.

“Sir! You can’t leave just yet! You have to-“

“Hey, I’m fine!” Novak snapped without looking back, “It’s not the first time I’ve walked off a concussion! And you guys said it was just a scratch. I’ll be back in a minute. The cops are here and they need a statement.”

Detective Webster seemed to be the quickest to recover from Novak’s sudden appearance. He looked at Jebidiah, and something flashed in his eyes.

“We would like to be alone for a moment.”

A look of dazed serenity spread on Jebidiah’s face.

“Of course, sir,” he said in a monotone voice and walked away. Amelia stared after him in shock and confusion.

No one else seemed concerned by this. Novak was already stepping forward to shake detective Webster’s hand.

“I’m Flannery Chase,” he said, “And I know why those guys were here.”

That was a line that seemed to get things rolling. Detective and Novak (“Flannery?”) walked out of the waiting space to talk somewhere else. Amelia and Dewey were left behind, and Amelia felt quite lost.

“How did he even know that detective was here?” was the first thing she could think of to say.

“Did you see his tattoos?” Dewey asked, “Most of them are probably full of protective charms and alarm spells.”


That didn’t explain much, but Amelia was a bit too tired to really want a more complicated explanation. Dewey nodded towards the door Novak had walked through.

“So he’s the reason those people attacked you?”

“Sort of,” Amelia said, “He’s mostly a good person, though.”

“Sure,” Dewey said in a very unconvinced, gruff tone, “Well, at least he seems to be taking care of the aftermath. Maybe this’ll all be sorted out after all.”

His ears twitched and he scrunched up his nose.

“I hope. I have a bad feeling that something’s about to go wrong.”

“Like what?” Amelia asked worriedly.

“Don’t worry,” Dewey said, trying to smile, “It might be nothing.”

Amelia definitely worried. She too suddenly got a bad feeling. A small voice in her head was whispering that things would get even worse before they could get better. She shuddered.

Death woke up.

It was a weird feeling. Before now he hadn’t really known what waking up was like. He had never been able to sleep before. Or pass out. Oh, that’s right. That was what he had done. Curious.

Well, he was always happy to have new experiences. Usually, at least. This time it… wasn’t so pleasant. Mostly because it negatively affected people around him. Wait. Who exactly had been near him when…?


That thought yanked him back into full awareness. He was on his feet in an instant, and… wait, he still had feet? That was… odd. Hadn’t his human form been destroyed?

He looked down at himself. He was still Tad Dustpine. Or more accurately his Tad Dustpine -part was still intact. Or was it? He didn’t feel completely right. In fact, he felt quite ill. As if he had been locked in a box for too long. Like the people who had been buried alive. Claustrophobic, without enough air. With a box or earth pressing down on all sides.

But why? Why was he…?

He realised that he didn’t know where he was.


That was definitely not right. That was why he felt like he was locked up, metaphorically suffocating. He always knew where he was, because he was everywhere. But now… he was just here, and this looked like nowhere. It was just… darkness. Something akin to what some souls experienced when they were so lost that they could barely reach his garden. But this wasn’t even that. It was more like… an uncreated place. Like someone had started to make it and then given up before adding any features or light.

Tad tried to see somewhere else, to feel the dying pains of… something. Anything. But he got nothing. If he concentrated hard enough, he could feel the hint of the rest of himself, unresponsive in the… wherever was outside of the prison he had been put in.

Because it had to be a prison, right? That was what the Deacons had wanted. Tad could recognise the spells the Deacons had used. They had been from an old branch of magic, rituals designed to hold or deter Death. They were old enough to have gained power of both magical knowledge and tradition. He had walked right into an old imprisoning ritual! How stupid could he be? This hadn’t happened in… well at least centuries!

Tad knew that he could break free from the spells, but first he needed to figure out where he had been sent. The spells the Deacons had used usually bound Death to something, most commonly an artefact of some kind. But this felt different, more alive. It shifted, hummed with energy. And something about it made Tad feel very scared. He definitely shouldn’t be there. He had to get out.

And more importantly, he had to save Emily.

There was no real direction in the place he was in, but that was fine; once Tad pulled himself together, he didn’t really need directions. Even in this place, life echoed. He could sense a soul very near. So near that it was almost blinding. Tad still didn’t feel well enough to really determine who or where the soul was, but he could feel a part of it calling out to him. He started walking towards the call.

He walked in a fog, in almost complete darkness. He tried to call out, but no one heard him. Even reality didn’t hear him. He felt powerless, blinded and tied down to one place. It was difficult to know how much distance he had covered. Was this how mortals felt? In a way, it was easier to concentrate on being him. But the he he could concentrate on was screaming at him. Telling him that this wasn’t what he was supposed to be. He knew that. He had to get out before things got too bad.

A horrible thought struck him. What if things were already beyond repair? He knew he was unable to perform his duties as Death at the moment. Not only did it hurt him, but more importantly, it would also hurt the universe. Things had to keep dying. That was how things went. But now… would the souls of the dying be left lost and alone in the world? Would they stay stuck in the rotting, broken bodies? Or had another universe already sent a substitute? Had the arrival of the substitute hurt reality? None of the options sounded good. He really needed to do something fast.

Tad walked for a long time. Or maybe not long at all. He couldn’t tell. At least now his feelings felt more manageable, less likely to take too much of his attention. But everything else seemed determined to make him feel confused and vulnerable. He felt too trapped in his skin that felt even less like skin than usually. He felt like someone else’s thought. A wisp of an idea no one knew what to do with.

Focus. You have to get out. Keep walking.

He took a deep breath, not really feeling air in his lungs, and did as his mind told him. He walked until the darkness around him gained a sliver of light.

It was shining from under a white door. Doors in nothingness. Very lost soul -like. Tad reached out towards the door handle, but then hesitated. He knocked instead.


His voice echoed, this time without him even trying to make it echo. A small voice behind the door let out a frightened squeak:

“Please, go away!”

The voice was one Tad could recognise at any time.


Silence. Then, a hopeful:

“Uncle Tad?”

Tad cracked the door open, and it didn’t resist him. Behind the door there was a pretty bedroom that had a colour scheme somewhat reminiscent of Emily’s room in the Grisbys’ house. Emily’s real room didn’t have this many doors, though. Nor the more fairytale-like elements.

Emily herself was peeking from under a bed, her eyes fearful. She stared at Tad for a moment, and then hastily crawled out. Tad stepped further into the room, and immediately got hit by a very frightened child. Emily hugged him tightly.

“Uncle Tad! It’s really you! Ithoughtyou’dbescarybutyou’rereallyallyou!”

Tad hugged her back. He still wasn’t sure where they were, but at least this was really Emily. This was the soul he had been sensing and now recognised easily. And for a moment, he decided that it was more important to calm Emily down than to start thinking too much about the bad feeling Emily being there as well gave him.

He hugged Emily a bit tighter.

The vampire policeman talked with Novak for a long while and then got brief statements from Amelia and Dewey. And then he was gone and they were back to waiting again. It was getting really frustrating. Amelia finally got news of mum when the clock was ticking close to midnight. A doctor called her and Philippe up and led them to a room. By the door she smiled wearily, and Amelia had a feeling that the news weren’t exclusively good.

“We’ve stabilised her,” the doctor said, and Amelia let out a sigh.

“Oh, thank you so much!”

The doctor nodded, but then worry creased her forehead.

“However, she is in a coma now. There is some swelling in her brain in addition to all the other injuries. She’s still not out of danger. And even if she does wake up… she has damage in her spinal cord. It’s possible that it might lead to some paralysis. But it’s too early to tell yet. Right now I’m more worried that she might not wake up at all. I’m sorry I don’t have better news.”

Fear constricted Amelia’s throat.

“So… so what can we do?” Philippe asked, his brow furrowed.

“Right now we can wait,” the doctor said, “You may go see her for a moment, but then I think you two should go home and rest properly. We will call you if something comes up.”

She glanced at both of them.

“Well, provided you’re feeling safe enough to go home.”

Philippe nodded.

“We were told there would be police protection,” he said. The doctor smiled again.

“Good. Then try to rest. I know this is difficult, but there’s nothing you can do for Julia except take care of yourselves. I’m sure she doesn’t want her folks wasting away.”

“Ah… of course,” Philippe said, “Merci, madame.”

Amelia didn’t want to go home, but she knew the doctor was right; there was nothing they could do.

Their visit to mum’s room was brief. Mum was hooked up to machines and lay completely still. The sight made Amelia shiver.

Mum was never lifeless like this. She was always happy and almost overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It was all wrong. Everything about this whole situation was.

“We’ll be back, mum,” Amelia whispered, “You just… get better.”

Philippe leaned over mum and kissed her on the cheek. Amelia’s heart broke for him too.

They left in a sad, worried silence. Dewey was waiting for them, looking awkward and unsure whether or not it was okay to approach. Amelia walked up to him.

“Thanks for being here,” she said, “We’re… we’re going home now. Mum’s stable.”

“Okay,” Dewey said simply, and then he tilted his head, “You could use a rest.”

“You too,” Amelia said and almost smiled, “Really, thanks.”

“It’s no problem. You sure you’ll be fine there?”

“We have police protection.”

“Right. I’m sure country cops are enough,” Dewey said and didn’t sound very convinced, “Look, if you need someone for backup… I can be there. It’s no trouble.”

Amelia was about to decline at once out of courtesy. Dewey looked like he had slept too little as well. But Amelia still found herself thinking about it. Dewey’s presence made her feel calmer, and they did have a spare room. Two, in case Tad hadn’t come back yet. Amelia spared a thought for Tad. She wondered where he was. Probably somewhere contemplating the complexities of mortal lives or something. Amelia still hoped he wouldn’t feel too guilty about this. Sure, his way of looking at things was… different, and Amelia had to admit that she was feeling a little angry at him. But she knew that she had to try to think about it from a different perspective. Maybe she could do that once mum was better. If she got better. The doctor’s news hadn’t been very uplifting.


Amelia blinked back into the present.

“Oh… right. Sorry. I was… lost in thought. I mean… yes. Yes, you can come with us. If it’s no trouble, of course.”

“I was the one who suggested it,” Dewey said, “I already talked to Bridge about it earlier just in case. She was okay with it.”

He smiled grimly.

“It’ll make us all feel better, knowing there’s someone looking out for you. I’ll do my best.”

Amelia felt a tiny spark of warmth in her chest.

“I know you will. Thank you.”

They got a taxi back home. The house looked so forlorn without its inhabitants and with the knowledge that there would be a police car near it. Amelia would have wanted to go right back to the hospital to check on mum, but she reminded herself that the doctor had promised they’d call if anything happened. And they all really needed some rest. Philippe looked dead on his feet, and he crashed into bed with his clothes still on. Amelia would have wanted to do the same, but she first showed Dewey the guest room and told him to sleep there. Then she realised that she needed a shower. She stank of disinfectant and cold sweat and felt absolutely dreadful. After some contemplation she decided that a bath would be even better. She filled the tub with hot water and bubbles and tried her best to relax and somehow become cleansed of all the awful things that had happened. It didn’t really work.

Her usually relaxing time was spent worrying and with imagining horrific outcomes to this all. Maybe mum would die. Slip away without even getting to talk to Amelia again. And maybe others would die too. Maybe Novak wasn’t as fine as he claimed. And what about Vanja? They didn’t even know how she was. The hospital staff hadn’t told Amelia because she hadn’t been able to convince them that she was a close friend of hers. And what was this extra bad feeling she kept having? That things would get even worse? How could they even? How dared they?

Amelia trudged out of the bathtub and into her bathrobe. She dragged herself into bed and fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She was so exhausted that even worry and fear couldn’t keep her up.

She dreamed of cemeteries and fear and vampires. And of monsters and of mum dying.


She was running away from something, even though it was difficult to move. She felt like she was stuck in invisible syrup.

“Amelia? Miss Sprigg? Hey, Alex’s daughter?”

A voice was calling out to her. Amelia didn’t want to stop, but something… the voice sounded strange for a dream. Not that dreams were very logical or coherent in the first place. But something about the voice told Amelia that it didn’t really belong in the dream.

“AMELIA! Listen to me! Oh, bollocks… PLEASE? I think I’m about to be eaten by a dream hippo if I don’t go away soon…”

Amelia blinked.

“Hello?” she shouted, “Who are you?”

“Oh, thank the Watcher!”

A shape wavered into Amelia’s view. It was short, and had a messy hair and an old-fashioned jacket. And Amelia knew him. She frowned, thoroughly perplexed.


The young dead boy named Connor looked at Amelia with a worried expression on his scarred face.

“I’ve been trying to contact you for hours!” he huffed, “I was mauled by a dream-bear once already. Could you stop dreaming about such violent things?”

Amelia stared.

“I… um… sorry?” she managed, “But you know… I’ve had a pretty rough time. My mum could be dying.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Connor suddenly looked embarrassed, “I mean… it’s not like you can really control them, right? Dreams, I mean. But, um, that’s not the point. I remember you being Sir Death’s friend, right?”

Amelia nodded slowly.

“Yes! I remembered correctly!” Connor said excitedly, “So… when was the last time you saw him?”

Amelia frowned.

“He left this evening. I don’t know where he is.”

“Oh. So… you haven’t heard from him after that?”


Connor suddenly put his face in his hands.

“Oh… I knew it! We all felt it! The spirits started gathering and asking what was wrong and if someone knew… and I remembered that Sir Death had a mortal friend so I’ve been trying to contact you. Sorry about invading your dreams… it’s the only way I can really communicate with you. My haunting place is under a stupid mall. In Ireland.”

Now Amelia was getting concerned.

“Felt what? What’s going on?”

Connor looked very serious when he said the words that made Amelia’s dream-blood freeze:

“Sir Death’s gone. Completely gone. The garden is without a lord, and we all felt it… being left alone. I don’t think the universe is going to like this at all.”

He looked somewhere over Amelia’s shoulder.

“Shite! Dream hippos! Please, if you can find Sir Death, help him!”

He faded out of sight. Amelia snapped back into the waking world. Once again, she was terrified.

Emily was talking. A lot. Tad didn’t remember ever seeing her so verbose. She barely took a breath between sentences and words tripped over each other in a hurry to get out:

“There… therewasthis… Walter came to pickmeup an’ he saidthatwe’dbegoingtoaniceplace and then he was actin’weirdan’ suddenly we were in this other place this really wet forest an’ then we went into a cottage and then Walter wasn’t Walter he was this scary old… scary wizard man! An’thenIgotreallysleepy and woke up here. And I was so scared and I’m so glad you’re here!”

Emily looked up at Tad, her eyes wide and teary.

“Is Walter really an old scary wizard man?”

“No,” Tad said at once, “That man was not Walter Grisby. This… wizard man had disguised himself as Walter. Some people can do that. The real Walter Grisby is your foster father, and cares about you very much. And he is not a wizard.”

Emily was still staring. A tentative spark of amazement snuck into her eyes.

“But there really is wizards? Real magic-wizards?”

“Yes,” Tad said rather impatiently. He hated being this blunt with Emily, but he had a feeling they didn’t have much time, “There is. Magic put us here. And we have to get out. Do you know where this is?”

Emily shook her head.

“No. But the monsters are here.”


Emily nodded vigorously.

“The scary ones. From my dreams…” she lowered her voice into a whisper, “They don’t go away.”

She suddenly gasped and buried herself into Tad’s arms. She was shaking in fear.

“There’s one! The worst one!”

Tad looked around in the room, and it didn’t take him long to notice it: there was blood leaking from under a door that someone had barricaded with furniture. Someone knocked. Emily squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

“Emily?” a waterlogged, hoarse voice called through the door, “Let me in, Emily.”

“NO!” Emily shouted and started to cry, “GO AWAY!”

“Let me in. Stop hiding, Emily.”

Tad stared at the blood that spread from under the door. It all made sense now. Emily speaking so much when in reality it was still difficult for her to talk in many situations. The monsters. The feeling of being locked away. The feeling of being… human. Emily thought he was human, didn’t she? And Emily dreamed of “the monsters”… the monsters that were here now.

This was bad. Very bad.

The door was knocked on again. Tad sighed.

“You there!” he shouted, “Do as she said. You cannot get in. So go away!”

The being behind the door let out a gargling hiss, the sound of someone dragging air through punctured lungs.

Then the blood slowly retreated, leaving the floor untouched.

Emily relaxed in Tad’s arms.

“It’s gone, right?” she asked in a very small voice.


“It’ll come back.”

“I do not doubt it.”

Emily looked up at him again.

“But now that you’re here, we can do something, right? We can make the monsters go away.”

Tad sighed.

“I wish we could. But right now we have a bigger problem. We have to get me out of here as soon as possible.”

“No!” Emily shouted, “You can’t leave me here!”

Tad was quick to hug her again.

“Of course I will not leave you. In fact, we both have to leave this room.”

“No! Then the monsters will get us!”

“They will not. This is not real. This is a place your mind went to when you were locked into sleep, and it is keeping you stuck. We have to keep walking if we want to get me out.”

Emily looked at him questioningly.

“What do you mean?”

“You… listen… first, we have to get me out, but we cannot do that if we stay here. Here the magic that binds me is the strongest. And to get out I need your help. So I need you to listen to me very carefully now. I know where we are.”


Tad lifted Emily up and lowered her to her feet. He had the strength to do that both in the waking world and here. Here because Emily believed he did.

“You are still asleep, Emily,” Tad said, “This is your mind, and it is dreaming now. But I am real. The… wizard man used magic to make you sleep and then locked me up into your dream. So you can get out of here when the spell he uses to keep you asleep wears off or someone wakes you. But I have to get out through another way.”

Emily’s eyes widened.

“Really? But… people can’t be in dreams for real,” she said, “Only ghosts can, right?”

“How do you know that?” Tad asked.

“Miha told me. He reads books.”

“Then he has read good books.”

Suddenly Emily took a step back, scared.

“Are you saying you’re a ghost, uncle Tad?”

Despite the situation, Tad managed to laugh.

“No, not a ghost. But I am not a human either. And… you need to try to understand what I am. That will make it easier for me… for us to escape.”

Emily nodded. She was at that age when things like this weren’t unbelievable at all.

“So if I know what you really are, then we can leave?”

“Exactly. Well, that is not quite enough. But it is a start. I-“

A crash at one of the doors made Emily scream.

“The monsters are back!” Emily said, “Please… make them go away! There’s no way we can go out of here if the monsters are there!”

“This is your dream, Emily,” Tad said while something crashed against the door again, “You can control it.”

“I’ve been trying, but I can’t! I mean… Sometimes I can wake up but now it doesn’t work. And… sometimes I’ve managed to hide from them but I can’t make them go away even when I know it’s a dream and I’mtooscaredtheyhavetogoaway!”

Tad sighed. This was not going to work if Emily was in such distress. He needed her to be able to think about the situation clearly. Before he… oh, this was bad! How could the Deacons think that they could lock an immense, ancient being inside a little girl’s mind without breaking the child? Sure, the human mind was incredibly good at adapting, but it definitely had its limits. It was only a matter of time before Emily’s mind would start to crack under his presence. And as long as Emily didn’t have even a slight understanding of death as a concept, he was powerless to do much of anything, let alone leave. Emily needed to focus. And they needed to get moving.

“Okay,” he said as calmly as he could, “It is alright, sometimes even lucid dreams are stubborn. You may not be able to get the monsters to leave, but maybe you can think up something that can.”

Emily nodded slowly. Then she smiled excitedly, all the fear momentarily forgotten.


Tad looked down at her, surprised.

“What? Me?”

“Yes. You can fight monsters, right? You helped mommy, and Harper always says you’re really cool. And I also know you’re cool! So you can chase the monsters away, right?”

Tad stared, but Emily stared back with such conviction. Such trust. Tad had no choice but to smile and say:

“Well, I do know a thing or two about chasing away monsters.”

“And fighting, right?” Emily said, “On TV, they almost always have to fight monsters. Laurel and Harper watch these cartoons they call anime because they’re from Japan. Just like my mommy, you know? They told me mommy is from Japan. I’ve sometimes watched anime over their shoulders, but when they notice me they say I have to wait ‘till I’m older. They have let me watch anime like Totoro, though, and there the monsters are usually nice. But the not-nice monsters in the other shows need to be fought.”

Emily didn’t seem so scared anymore. In fact, she was lost in her explanations and the prospect of having Tad fight monsters.

“Okay, fine,” Tad sighed, “I can fight the monsters. And you need to watch some other kinds of cartoons.”

The crashing at the door had stopped. The monster had given up for now. It had probably lost interest when Emily had stopped being so scared anymore. But it would be back. A moment’s distraction wasn’t enough to cure the trauma Emily had suffered through. Nor the manifestations of it. Because what else could the monsters be other than a mix of trauma and the imagination of a scared little girl?

Tad knew that despite Emily’s hope, he couldn’t vanquish them for good. But perhaps he could make Emily more confident. It seemed to be working already. Emily looked at him critically.

“You need a weapon, right? What kind of weapon do you like? Maybe we can find you one.”

Tad laughed again. If the situation hadn’t been so dire, it would have been fun.

“Okay, I will play along. Do you know what a scythe looks like? If not, I can work with a sword. Or a knife… or any weapon. I prefer bladed ones, though.”

Emily had seen Harper Simmons and Laurel Grisby watch something that had taught her what a scythe looked like. So once Tad opened a door in order to face the darkness of Emily’s nightmares, he was armed with something that almost made him feel like himself. And maybe it was a way – albeit an unorthodox one – to help Emily see what he really was as well. Before it was too late.

Emily took his hand, and together they stepped into the dark.

Author’s Note: So… this whole fighting the monsters -thing is either a symbolic way of helping a person coping with their trauma – which is largely what this story is about, OR an excuse for me to write a fight scene AND have Tad wield a scythe… it can probably be all of them. 😀

Also maybe if I keep bringing back elements and characters from past chapters (Connor, the mention of spirits and Tad being able to possess people and enter their minds etc.), this all will seem thoroughly planned! To be fair, this chapter does consist almost solely of events I have planned ages ago so yay?

I hope you guys enjoyed this! Have a great time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Cheating Death

NEXT Chapter: Askew

Chapter 40: Cheating Death

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:

“He what?”

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.”

Tad sighed.

“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.”

Fate nodded.

“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.

Fate snorted.

“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.

“But you…”

“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!

PREVIOUS Chapter: From Bad to Worse

NEXT Chapter: Mindscapes