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!

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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

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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

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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!

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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

Chapter 39: From Bad to Worse

Emily woke up frightened and crying out for mommy. The nightmares had been bad again. With monsters that had claws and teeth and that bled so much. Like mommy had bled when the pipes had burst. Emily shivered and hugged her teddy bear Nemo while staring at her nightlight in order to get back into the waking world.

It’s not real it’s not real it’s not it’s not!

Emily breathed in deep like Walter had told her to do if she got scared. Rain was drumming the roof above her, a sound she found somehow ominous in the dark. She hugged her bear even tighter. She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep again. Not if she was alone. She wondered if Walter and Yvette would let her sleep next to them. They weren’t mommy, but they were safe.

Emily got up from her bed and made it to the upstairs hallway. There she heard a sound that made her freeze. The rustle of cloth followed by a small, distressed noise. After a while Emily realised that it was coming from Miha’s room. Maybe Miha was having nightmares too. He had them often. Maybe Emily could wake him up so he wouldn’t have to see his monsters.

Emily cracked Miha’s door open and saw him tossing and turning in his bed. Emily walked to Miha’s bed and poked him in the shoulder until he sat up with a small cry. He stared at Emily and then rubbed his eyes.

“Emily?” he asked, “You havin’ nightmares?”

Emily nodded. Miha smiled.

“Me too. We could go to mum and dad, but that’s for little kids, you know?”

Emily nodded again, even though she didn’t mind being a little kid in this regard.

“Hey, I got an idea,” Miha whispered, “When I wake up from a nightmare, I usually read something nice. I can read for you. Cool, right?”

Emily smiled and nodded. Miha dug out a book and he and Emily settled onto the bed.

“Okay, so this is a nice story. It’s not scary at all, but it’s got some big words and it’s smart. Just like we’re smart.”

Emily curled up and listened with a smile still on her face. Maybe this night wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Amelia felt hollow. Sort of like back in that cemetery in Sunset Valley, but this time the hollowness had gone on for hours. The night had been horrible in every possible way, and the morning hadn’t dawned much better. Sure, they weren’t being chased anymore, and no one was shooting guns or trying to maul anyone with claws, but now they had an aftermath to deal with. And horrible uncertainty and fear that went along with it.

The police had arrived to the scene quickly, but the damage had already been done. Amelia didn’t remember much about it. If she tried to think about last night, she could only think about the fear, the people on the ground, and the blood coming from mum’s mouth. She remembered sirens as first the police and then the ambulance arrived. She also faintly remembered talking to someone with glowing eyes, who had arrived later. Apparently he was the magical police or whatever Brigitte had called. Amelia had almost had a panic attack when the man had arrived and turned out to be a vampire. Thankfully he had been friendly and told her that he and his colleagues would take the hostile vampires away to be properly contained. Now the man was probably at Ley Line Nexus, along with a couple of healers, who were tending Basil.

Basil had been bitten. Amelia had asked if it was bad, and Brigitte had tried to smile optimistically.

“Sometimes, but he didn’t lose that much blood, and we can counteract the venom if we’re quick.”

But Amelia hadn’t heard of them after they had been gone. She really hoped Basil and the others would be okay.

Amelia sat in the hospital waiting room, where she had been ever since the paramedics had checked that she was okay. The whole incident had been labelled as a gang attack, and the police was looking into it. The incident was probably already on the papers. The people of Riverview would have fuel for gossip for at least months. After they had got over the fear caused by a gang in their idyllic little town. The police had – probably with some manipulation from the magic police – apparently told the press that the gang was from out of town and there was no reason to think they would strike again. They still encouraged everyone to report any suspicious activity in town. Amelia had to agree that the people didn’t need to know what had really happened.

She wished she could be one of those people and bathe in blissful ignorance. But it was impossible, as her mum had been in the operation theatre for hours now, and there was no guarantee she would survive. Riverview’s hospital wasn’t big or well-equipped enough to deal with mum’s injuries that well, but they couldn’t move her into a bigger hospital either without doing some emergency surgery first. Mum had crashed against the tree so hard that she had broken her spine and got some internal bleeding. It was awful, too awful to really think about. Amelia squeezed her eyes shut. Mum had to make it. She had to. Mum couldn’t die now! She shouldn’t even have been there. This had nothing to do with her, and now she was paying the price. And Amelia couldn’t lose another parent when the loss of dad still felt raw.

It wasn’t fair. Things had to turn out okay. They had to!

Amelia looked up from the chair she had sat in for who knows how many hours. The woman in behind one of the reception desks looked up from her computer and asked if Amelia needed anything, but Amelia shook her head and asked how mum was doing. They still didn’t know for sure, but the woman gave Amelia an encouraging smile that had to have been practised. Normally it would have helped, but right now Amelia couldn’t really draw any strength from a smile.

The waiting room was mostly empty at this hour, but Amelia could hear that there were a few people with mostly non-threatening problems in the bigger waiting hall nearby. And then there was what was left of the sorry group that had got attacked last night: Amelia, Tad, Philippe, and Dewey. Everyone else was either back at the Nexus or being treated. Novak had been shot in the head, but he had been lucky, as the shot had only grazed him. Apparently they were all lucky; so many guns and hostile people, and no one had died. Yet. Well, aside from one of the criminals, the one that Novak had shot in the leg. He had bled out before he could have been saved. Amelia shuddered at the thought, but felt too numb and too scared to feel worse about it now.

Dewey looked up at Amelia, but Amelia shook her head and didn’t say anything. Dewey was the only one from the Nexus who had stayed at the hospital. He called Brigitte frequently to ask about the others. Dewey had explained that someone needed to be there in case Amelia or the others needed help, and Dewey was the logical choice. He was almost human and didn’t need to be scared of the sun. And he also didn’t have a son in possibly critical condition. Right now Dewey was slouching in his seat and staring into space. He had tried to make small talk with Amelia on several occasions, take her mind off things or even ask her how she was doing. He had once even tried to clumsily say that it was going to be okay. But he had become quiet once he had realised Amelia needed space.

Or did she? Maybe she needed someone instead? Most of all, she needed mum. But mum was not here. She was being treated, probably dying. Probably…

No. Don’t think about that.

Amelia glanced up when Philippe shifted in his chair. He looked almost as worried and shaken as Amelia. He was constantly asking the nurses what was going on, how Julia Sprigg was doing. He was so out of his element. He should have never got involved in this.

Then again, should Amelia have either? Should she have ever agreed to stick her nose in the matters of cosmic and supernatural beings? Should she even have rented out her room in the first place?

Yes. Otherwise I wouldn’t have met Tad.

She looked at Tad, who sat in one of the spare chairs like a statue, still and lifeless. He was probably elsewhere again, doing his job. The coldness of it all made Amelia shudder again. Had he known this would happen? That question had kept nagging at Amelia ever since it had sprung into her mind. Her exhausted, fearful thoughts always came back to that. That and mum.

Did he know?

She had many times thought about asking him. She needed to know. But worry about mum had always overwritten that. What if something happened while she was talking to Tad? Then again, the nurses and the doctors had said that the surgery could still take hours. And Philippe would definitely be there, right? To make sure things were going well. And maybe it would even do some good for Amelia, trying not to think about mum for a few minutes. She felt like she was going crazy with her mind conjuring up all sorts of horror about what would happen.

Robotically, Amelia got up. Her limbs felt stiff and weak, but she walked somewhat steadily over to Philippe, who tiredly looked up at her.

“Hey,” Amelia said quietly, “I need to go and take care of a thing. You’ll be here in case something comes up, right?”

Philippe nodded.

“Of course. There’s nowhere else for me to be now.”

“Yeah. I hate to leave, but I’ll only be away for a few minutes. How are you holding up?”

“Not well,” Philippe frowned, “But I think you are not so well either.”

“No. It’s awful.”


“She’ll be fine,” Amelia said more to herself than anyone else, “She has to be.”

Philippe nodded quietly.

“I’m glad police got those people… it was… who would do such a thing?”

Amelia sighed. She almost wished she could have told Philippe. But it was best he didn’t know.

“Sometimes even places like this are hit with the harsh world,” she said, and the words felt empty and meaningless, “I’ll be right back.”

She walked over to Tad, who didn’t show any signs of having noticed her. Dewey looked questioningly at Amelia, and, after a moment of thinking, Amelia walked over to Dewey and asked him to talk. They stepped aside from the chairs to be slightly more in private. Somehow it felt more appropriate. At least they could whisper about potentially supernatural things that way. Amelia tried to smile.

“I need to talk with Tad for a bit. You can make sure Philippe will be okay, right?”

“Sure,” Dewey said, “Hey, you know… it wasn’t your fault, okay? Any of this.”

Amelia nodded.

“I mean it,” Dewey went on, “Those people were scum. And everything happened so fast. I think you may have saved your mum by just slowing her down a bit when she was thrown.”

“I… hope so.”

“Many would have lost their cool, but you managed to deal with the situation really well,” Dewey smiled gruffly, “You were awesome.”

Despite the situation, Amelia had to blush a bit.

“Oh… I didn’t do much. You were the one who was awesome. You and… everyone else, really.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself.”

For a while, they looked at each other in an almost comforting silence. Then Tad’s voice returned Amelia quite abruptly into the situation.


Amelia saw Tad blinking owlishly at her. She excused herself and walked up to him.

“Oh, you’re… awake. Good,” she said, “I want to talk to you. In private.”

“I guessed as much. What do you mean private? I can make it so that no one hears us even here.”

Amelia shook her head and pointed towards the door.

“Out. Now.”

It came out more clipped and stern than she had intended. Tad stood up and followed her outside like a meek kitten. The morning air was cold and wet, and Amelia regretted not grabbing her jacket. The hoodie the hospital had given her after checking her for injuries and telling her to rest for a few hours did nothing against the cold nor the rain that had started some time during the night. But right now that wasn’t important. Amelia wrapped her arms around herself and stopped.

“Did you know?” she asked.

Tad blinked slowly. He didn’t need to ask what Amelia was talking about. Amelia turned to look at him in the eyes, fighting not to look away.

“Yes,” Tad said.

Amelia tried to swallow down the hurt and the tears, but it didn’t work.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she whispered, “You could have warned us! And…”

“Saved you?” Tad said without any emotion in his voice, “I… I had hoped you remembered; I do not save people.”

Amelia felt the tears falling.

“But we’re… we’re friends, right?”

“Yes. Of course we are.”

“Then why didn’t you help us?!” Amelia raised her voice, “My mum could die! She had nothing to do with this, and now she’s hurt badly! And Basil… Brigitte… all of them, they were also hurt! We could have all… and you knew?”

Tad was silent for a long while. Amelia shivered and tried to wipe away her tears. They just kept coming.

“I am sorry,” Tad finally said, “I… Things should not have come to this. I should not have got you into a chain of events like that. I should have just looked for the gemstone, taken it back, and left things at that. I…”

He shook his head.

“I let things go too far. I was selfish. And now I have broken rules by nudging events like this. It is not… like me.”

Amelia stared at Tad.

“What are you… talking about? Nudging events?”

“All the little things I did to help you,” Tad said as if it should have been obvious, “Of course, you did the most important things, but I… was not as passive as I should have. Had things gone according to the most probable outcomes, I would assume the criminals would have gone to your house, taken you unawares and shot you all after interrogating you. But you were not at home. Neither were your mother nor Monsieur Bouchard. But you happened to get in the criminals’ way once they were leaving Miss Leifsdóttir’s house.”

“Wait, what happened to Vanja? Is she okay?”

“She is at this hospital as well. But that is not the point.”

“Not the point? She could be dying too!”

“I know,” Tad said calmly, “People die all the time. And I am always there. I should always just let that happen. But now I almost broke the rules. Because I did not want to lose you. I… care about you, Amelia. I believe you may have been right about me friend-loving you. But we have known each other for less than a year. A year of friendship is bound to lose against eons of Purpose.”

Another silence. A shocked one, maybe. Amelia didn’t even know anymore.

“So… you’re sorry that you helped us even a little bit?” she asked.

“Yes. But for what it is worth, I am also sorry that you got into that situation. And I also hope that your mother and Miss Leifsdóttir and everyone else involved in this will survive. If they do not, however, I will be there. And no one will be able to stop me from taking them.”

His voice had got more melancholic again, more emotional. But there was still a detached coldness that made Amelia take a step back. She didn’t miss the spark of sadness in Tad’s eyes.

“I have made many mistakes lately,” Tad said, “I think my first one was thinking I could be something I am not. Simply because I was lonely and wished to understand the world a bit more. To have a different point of view. But almost human eyes do not make me any more human, nor do they make me see more clearly. And I understand now that Fate really was right all along.”

“What do you mean?”

“I will go find the gemstone. And I will get it back. Then I… I should probably go back to normal.”

“So… you’re leaving? For good?”

Tad nodded.

“If that is what you wish. I know you feel I have done wrong… that I should have helped. I have said this before, and I will say it again: all you have to do is say the word, and I will be gone and never bother you again. Well, until the final moments of your life, of course.”

Amelia’s breath hitched, and she began to cry harder. The emotions were spilling over now, after all those hours of emptiness. She heard Tad shift, look at her helplessly for a while before hesitantly putting his arms around her. He was definitely not very good with hugs, but at the moment Amelia didn’t mind. Amelia hugged him tightly, even though his coldness made her shiver.

“I… I need to be alone for a while,” Amelia managed to say, “I need to know mum will be okay. And I need to try to understand this… and you. But I… I don’t want you to go for good.”

Tad was quiet and still like a statue again.

“Thank you,” he finally said, “You are extraordinarily forgiving, Amelia.”

Amelia couldn’t say anything to that. She was too busy crying.

It was a good day for Emily. A kindergarten day. That was always nice, if scary. Emily had woken up refreshed after finally falling asleep again. The nightmares and the monsters didn’t seem so bad when some of her new family members were near her. And Miha’s stories had made her dreams a bit less dark and more colourful. In the morning, Yvette had made some really delicious French toast and had told Emily that Walter would be picking her up today from kindergarten. Then Miha, Laurel, and Harper had gone to school – the place where Emily would too be going in a couple of years already! There she could learn many cool new things. Hopefully the place would be as nice as the kindergarten. Emily hoped Malika would go to school with her. Emily had packed up her communication folder that had all the pictures she could point at when the words wouldn’t come and signing felt difficult, and got in the car with Yvette. Yvette had hummed along with the car radio, and for a moment she reminded Emily of mum. Mum loved to sing too. She had a pretty voice. Prettier than Yvette had. But Yvette’s singing was okay too.

They got to the kindergarten, and Mrs. and Mr. Williams were there waiting. They were the kindergarten teachers in a couple of groups, and they were also Malika’s parents. Mrs. Williams was in their group, and sometimes kids complained that Malika got special treatment because her parents were teachers. But Malika said that she didn’t. She said that this was a small town and didn’t have that many kindergartens, so she had to be in her mum’s group. And she liked it because she could be around mum. Emily wished her mum could be teaching too so she wouldn’t have to leave Emily for the day. Then again, mum was still missing and hadn’t come back, so now just seeing her every once in a while would have been good enough.

But she wasn’t coming back. Emily still didn’t get it.

Malika was waiting for Emily in their group’s room. She waved at Emily, and Emily smiled back. The other kids looked at her and greeted her, and Emily tried not to freeze. She waved her hand. Good. She had managed to do that at least. Talking at kindergarten was still really difficult, but gesturing was usually easier. Malika hurried to Emily, dressed like a princess. With a pretty skirt and a paper crown. Emily brought her hand to her face and then away from it, and then made the outline of a skirt with her hands.

Beautiful skirt.

Malika squinted at her for a while, and then Emily pointed at the skirt and smiled. Malika nodded.

“Right! It’s pretty, right?”

Emily nodded.

“I know!” Malika said loudly, “We play princess today, ‘kay? I’m Princess Simderella. You can be some other princess. Or something else too. We got many skirts. You haven’t even seen them all yet, right?”

Emily shook her head. She had already been in the kindergarten for months, but the place still had new things to find almost every day. Malika grabbed her hand.

“Come on! I show you clothes. And then mommy can show you how to make a crown. Mommy! We’ll go play princess!”

“That’s great. But remember that we’ll go outside when the big clock hand is at nine and the small at ten.”

“’kay! Come on, Emily!”

Emily followed Malika and smiled. It was going to be a good day.

And it was. Emily and Malika played all day, and a girl named Susie joined them sometimes. At one point Mrs. Williams called them to do some art – something called collages. She told them it meant gluing things on paper to make pictures. It was fun too. And then they went outside even though it was raining.

Emily could wear her new rain clothes that she really liked, and she and Malika flew in the swingset and ran around the playground and were adventurous princesses and sometimes tigers and astronauts.

Malika was so good at coming up with ideas. She knew so much about the world and about things like space and stars and castles. It was always great to play with her. Emily wished she’d know more about the world too. Then she would have ideas too. And maybe more dreams instead of nightmares.

The only slightly annoying thing that happened was that Walter came to pick Emily up almost an hour earlier than normal. Emily was smart enough to tell the time already, and Walter said that he got out of work earlier. Mrs. Williams smiled at Walter and told him that Emily had had a very good day while Emily said goodbyes to Malika.

“Right. I’m sure Emily has been good,” Walter was saying, “Well, Emily, shall we go now?”

It was a bit weird that Walter didn’t stop to ask more about Emily’s day. Usually he talked with Mrs. Williams for long enough for Emily to get bored of waiting. Emily nodded and waved at Malika one more time and walked over to Walter, who led her out of the kindergarten’s playground.

They didn’t seem to be taking the car this time. That was a bit odd too, and Emily looked up at Walter questioningly. Walter didn’t seem to notice it.

Suddenly Emily started to feel worried. Was something wrong? She hoped not. She didn’t want anything to happen to her new family. She started running so she wouldn’t get left behind.

Amelia had at some point fallen asleep in the hospital’s waiting room. One of the nurses had asked her if she wanted a ride home, but she had said no. And soon after that she had passed out. Perhaps her mind was too tired to deal with things now. Tad could understand that. After she had cried herself out in his arms, she had looked ready to collapse. Tad had felt useless while escorting her back indoors and then sitting back to a chair to get his mind sorted out. To plan things.

He knew he needed to stop playing around. Finally. He hoped he could have admitted it sooner than now when he had almost slipped and had already caused so much needless grief.

What had he been thinking? That he could stop being so alone? To matter to someone as a person? And do all that without messing things up? He must have had a moment of delusional self-confidence.

He got up and walked away from the others, taking care not to cause needless worry. Mr. Kaarne and Monsieur Bouchard didn’t seem to even care that he was gone. Because why should they?

He put a hand to his face. He was so tired. The universe didn’t feel so wild or unsteady at the moment, but something was still wrong. These things didn’t fix themselves in mere moments, after all.

Tad spared a thought for Mrs. Sprigg. Her heart was still beating, and the mark of death on her was not so clear. She still had a chance. Hopefully she would heal, and Amelia would heal as well. Miss Leifsdóttir was doing quite well too. She was too stubborn to die to this.

Tad should leave, he knew. He would locate the Deacons and kindly ask them to give the gemstone back. And if kindness wouldn’t be enough, he would take the gemstone by force. Nothing too harmful, of course, but he would not take no for an answer either. And then he would have to stop pretending to be anything but himself. Death.

Perhaps he could still visit Amelia, though. She had still wanted him around, after all. Tad still had a hard time wrapping his head around that. Amelia was so kind, so forgiving. So bright that looking at her soul almost hurt. Tad wanted to be worth all that kindness, to do his part in making her life a happy one. And yet… because of him, she and her family were in shambles.

Tad thought about his options. He would have to ask Fate or someone else to help. He still couldn’t see the Deacons at all unless he brought this almost human form very close to them. Fate would help him, right? She wanted this whole farce to end even more than Tad did. And if she was working for Time now, she would probably be more than happy to be the one to report him that she had got Death back in line. Yes, that was probably…

Tad was distracted when his phone rang. Or, well, he didn’t really have a phone, but he had given a phone number to some people, and they now thought they were calling him whenever they used it. And convincing reality to transport his thoughts to a phone wasn’t difficult at all.

Yes? he asked.

The voice on the other end belonged to Walter Grisby, and it was clear that he tried very hard to sound calm without much success.

“Tad? Hi. It’s Walter.”

Yes, I know. How are you?

“I’m fine… except… is Emily with you? I went to pick her up at the kindergarten, but she wasn’t there. Her teacher claimed I had already picked her up, but I didn’t. So I figured that maybe there was some mix-up, or that maybe she went to see you or…”

Tad frowned. Emily being picked up by someone the people at the kindergarten thought was Mr. Grisby? It sounded like sorcery. But why…? Well, he just had to locate Emily and find out. After all, he was everywhere, so he could just focus on Emily Sato and…


Tad suddenly felt very cold. He tried to find Emily again, but the result was the same: nothing. It was as if she had disappeared from the universe altogether. That could only mean that she had died and moved on – which was not possible without him knowing – or that she…

Tad let out a quiet, almost feral growl that made air molecules around him retreat in fear.

The Deacons.


Um… nothing. Be calm, Mr. Grisby. Emily is not with me, but I will try to find her as well.

“Thank you! I just… how could this happen? Emily wouldn’t just go with some stranger! She’s way too careful for that. So how can she be gone?”

You will find her, Tad thought and tried to sound convincing even when his mind was screaming in rage, I will get back to you if I find her.

“I… okay. Thanks. I’ve already called the police, but they’re busy with some other case. They said they’d start asking around, though.”

Good. Keep looking. I hope Emily will be found soon. Good bye.

“Good bye.”

Mr. Grisby hung up, and a beeping echoed in Tad’s mind until he shook it off. He clenched his hands into fists. The Deacons had Emily. There was no other explanation. That or they had somehow thrown away a piece of gemstone and Emily had somehow found it and somehow decided to take it. That was too many somehows, and wouldn’t explain a Walter Grisby -lookalike appearing at the kindergarten.

They have been watching us and Emily. And now they took Emily… but why? To get me there?

Not that the why mattered. Tad was furious. He turned towards the hospital doors that crashed open so hard that the nearby people yelped in shock. Mr. Kaarne, who had been purchasing something from a vending machine, jumped back, hyper-alert and ready to fight. Monsieur Bouchard let out a startled shout in French. Only Amelia was so tired that she didn’t even stir. Tad marched out of the hospital and the molecules in the doorway pressed closer together to get away from him. The trees outside bent away from him and small pebbles tried not to get under his feet. The raindrops collided with each other while trying to avoid falling on him.

This time there were no rules. The Deacons had surely known what they were doing. The Deacon family had conducted all sorts of experiments in order to fight or conquer Death for generations. Some of them had even managed to hurt him in the past. The gemstone theft had probably been just the beginning. This had to be another part of whatever the Deacons had been planning when or after stealing the gemstone. So he was more than allowed to act.


Tad was reluctant to stop, but he still resisted the urge to walk right through Fate, who now stood in front of him on the street. She was tense and didn’t feel like her usual smug self. She was almost… worried?

“I hope this is important.”

“Yes. You are about to walk into a trap.”

“Well, that would not surprise me. It is fairly obvious. Was there something else you wish to discuss? I am busy.”

Fate frowned.

“You cannot go there. They have been preparing. I think they have set up one of those ancient spells.”

“Again, not surprising.”

Tad was about to start walking again, but Fate blocked his way. A completely symbolic move, but Tad still stopped out of basic courtesy. Even though he wasn’t really in the mood for courtesy, and stopping again just made him angrier. Trap or not, they had taken Emily. What was he supposed to do? Send more people to get their lives ruined? His current champion was hospitalised, and it wasn’t like he kept hordes of people on his payroll.

“I think this is what the universe was so worried about,” Fate said, “I tried to warn young Miss Sato, but it seems the Deacons were clever enough to pose as someone the girl knew.”

“Yes. Her foster father.”

“Oh. That is quite clever.”

“I am going to get her back,” Tad said, “They could hurt her. They probably will, just to get me to show up.”

“No,” Fate said sternly, “You cannot. That is exactly what they want, and according to my premonitions, they will very likely succeed.”

“I do not care!” Tad snapped, “Emily trusts me! And now she is taken because of me! I will fix at least some of the things that have gone wrong because of me.”

“Really? This is where you admit you were wrong to come here?”

Tad’s patience was running out. This was not the time for Fate’s attitude.

“I am going.”

Fate grabbed his arm.


And that was it.

Fate was thrown to the street with the force of Tad’s anger. She looked up at him, surprised and maybe even a little shocked.

“If you are so worried about me,” Tad said in a dangerously quiet voice, “Then help me. Or stay out of my way. But you are not going to stop me.”

Fate stared at him, and then, with a sigh, she stood back up.

“Fine. I will go with you. But we have to be on our guard.”

Riverview seemed to let out a sigh of relief when they disappeared from its streets. Though it was perhaps celebrating too soon, as it would shortly have to worry about much more than just an angry Grim Reaper.

Author’s Note: Early update for those who follow this on Reader! 🙂 Or just randomly clicked on my blog. I’ll announce this on the forums later. I just felt like updating it already.

Yay, I got to make a hospital set with cutesy colours! And set up the story arc’s climax. And take pics of happy kindergarten moments featuring adorable raincoats.

So remember when I kept insisting that this story would take a turn for the dark like… forever ago? Well, here’s finally some slightly darker stuff. But even now I’m trying to keep this somewhat fun adventure-ish. Kind of.

Feedback is very much appreciated. I hope you guys enjoyed this and have a lovely time.

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Chapter 38: Hunted

WARNING: Contains violence, guns, and blood.

Amelia stared at her phone. Dewey and Mimosa exchanged glances, but Amelia didn’t even notice it.

“We heard,” Dewey said, “I don’t know the whole story behind that phone call, but I can tell this is bad.”

Amelia was still frozen. What could she do? Call the police? What if Jay was lying? And what if he was not, but the police would be faced with angry vampires or worse? What if it was already too late? Or what if it was some kind of trap? What could she do? What should she do?

“The ‘witch-woman’,” Dewey said slowly, “They’re probably talking about Vanja Leifsdóttir. She’s the only female witch in town.”

“She can’t die!” Amelia blurted out as at least one clear thought managed to get through the fog of fear and panic, “No one should die… if Jay was telling the truth… we have to do something! We have to… call the police. Yeah, police. And then… oh, gosh, this really is bad!”

“Yeah,” Dewey let out a deep, weary sigh, “Okay, Mimi. Scouting time. We check if Leifsdóttir is okay and try to figure out what’s really going on. And Amelia needs to call her folks.”

Amelia tried to keep her breathing steady. She needed to focus. Or at least not panic.

“Okay… I… yeah. That sounds… yeah.”

She hated that she couldn’t even form complete sentences. At least Dewey seemed to have a grasp on the situation.

“Now, Amelia. Please.”

Amelia nodded and called her mum with shaky hands. It took several agonising beeps before her mum answered.

“Hi, Amelia!”

Amelia could have fallen to her knees out of relief. Mum sounded perfectly fine.

“Mum, hi!” Amelia said and tried her best to sound nonchalant, “I just wanted to make sure everything’s okay. I heard some… weird news that some- wait, you sound like you’re outside. Where are you?“

Philippe and I decided to take a walk since everyone else was out too. The weather is so lovely and the trees won’t be this gorgeous for long anymore.”

Amelia let out a breath she’d been holding.

“So you’re not at home?”

“That’s what I just said. Is something wrong?”

“I… just…” Amelia thought quickly. If nothing bad was happening, she shouldn’t worry mum for no reason. She smiled, even though mum couldn’t see it, “Everything’s fine. I heard that there might be some unsavoury people running around, but I’m with a couple of friends. But uh… don’t go back home yet. Maybe we should meet up somewhere? Near the river?”

“Oh… we’re not planning on going back yet anyway. The river is so romantique! But unsavoury people, huh? Is it the Bagley gang again? Those hoodlums act up from time to time, but they’re mostly harmless.”

“Just keep your eyes open, mum. Maybe you and Philippe should go to a café or something for a while until this dies down.”

“Oooh, a moment in a café late at night sounds parfait! I’ll call you later Amelia, take care!”

She hung up, still sounding happily unconcerned about news of possible gang activity in their quaint, peaceful hometown. Amelia wasn’t sure whether to be worried or happy about her mum’s ability to block out worries.

“Well, at least she’s okay,” Dewey said, “I think we should get Bridge here, and then get Amelia to a safe place while I check if Leifsdóttir is okay. Mimi, call Bridge.”

Mimosa did as she was told, and Dewey steered them all towards Vanja’s home without actually getting too close to it. Mimosa hung up after a few quiet thank yous and smiled weakly.

“They’ll be here soon.”

“Good,” Dewey nodded, “Okay, so… Amelia, what exactly is going on here? I didn’t think you’d be the type to attract the attention of people who like to hire hitmen.”

Amelia rubbed her arms even though she wasn’t even that cold.

“There was an incident in Sunset Valley,” she said, “We got… we got attacked by some criminals, but it all went fine and they were arrested and… well, I guess they’re free now.”

“Wow. Well, that’s-”

Dewey quieted when Mimosa suddenly stopped walking. Mimosa’s violet eyes glowed fearfully in the dark.

“I’m smelling them nearby!” she whispered, “They’re headed this way.”

Dewey didn’t seem very fazed by any of it.

“Okay. Mimi, you and Amelia get out of sight and then keep moving. I’ll get a jump on them if necessary.”

Mimosa nodded, and Amelia felt Mimosa grab her by the arm and pull her off the road with surprising strength. Or maybe not so surprising, considering she was a vampire. Amelia followed her because she didn’t really trust herself to be able to do… well, anything. This wasn’t a situation for her. Then again, a lot of the situations she had been in lately weren’t.

Amelia looked around and realised that Dewey was nowhere to be seen. Mimosa had dragged Amelia behind one of the nearby houses and was now staring intently at the road they had left behind.

“Those vampires’ll know I’m here,” she said in a very small voice, “They’ll smell me just like I smelled them. But… you stay quiet and it should be fine. This way they may not know you’re here because they’ll be focused on me.”

She said it all as if it was easy. Maybe she too had experience in this sort of thing. Though if Amelia had been a bit more alert and able to study Mimosa’s body language better, she would have noticed how tense Mimosa was, and how the wideness of her eyes wasn’t just for watching the surroundings. Mimosa nervously licked her lips and bared her fangs.

“There’s humans too,” she whispered so quietly that Amelia barely heard it, “I didn’t think they were with them… but I guess they are after all…”

Her eyes followed something Amelia couldn’t see from her position. Not that she wanted to see, really. Mimosa ushered Amelia further across the house’s yard and towards the town centre. Riverview was so quiet at this time of day and year. Not many people wanted to brave the darkness of late autumn that felt especially dark before the snow started falling. In the distance, some late-evening café and pub goers were probably chatting and having a good time, but none of that could be heard all the way to where Amelia and Mimosa were. Amelia wasn’t sure whether the mostly empty streets were a good thing or not. On one hand, if these vampires were really after them, innocent bystanders shouldn’t get involved in it, but on the other hand, having people around would probably deter the hostile people from attacking. Amelia tried her best to keep up with Mimosa and ignore the foreboding silence of the streets.

Mimosa moved from the very centre of town and towards the police station. Dewey was still out of sight, and Amelia couldn’t even begin to guess if he was anywhere near them anymore or not. He was either already far away or very sneaky. Amelia almost jumped when she heard a car turning in an intersection a bit farther away, but Mimosa sniffed the air and smiled at the sound.

“It’s Brigitte’s car. Soon everything will be okay.”

As soon as she had said that, she halted again and stared at the shape that flitted between two buildings before stopping at the street and sharpening into a woman. She looked innocent enough in her sporty jacket and fedora hat, but Mimosa let out a small hiss of fear and yanked Amelia across the street and behind a tree so quickly that Amelia barely realised they had moved.

Mimosa didn’t need to say anything for Amelia to know that it was one of the people who were after them. Mimosa nodded towards where they had heard the car, and they started running, staying low and on the smaller paths. Before this, Amelia couldn’t have imagined that she’d one day know what it felt like to be hunted, but here she was now. She didn’t really like the experience. It made her feel small and easily breakable. A tiny, helpless person in the midst of monsters. Her only comforts were Mimosa and Dewey – though he was still nowhere to be seen – and the promise of them soon reaching Brigitte. She tried to keep her breathing and even her heartbeat quiet and tried not to wonder how good a vampire’s senses were.

She also tried not to have a heart attack when Dewey suddenly walked out of the shadows and fell into step with them.

“I’m counting five people,” he said very quietly, “Three vampires, two humans. And from what I could see, Leifsdóttir had some kind of shield around her house. Let’s hope she was quick enough to put it up.”

Mimosa nodded but didn’t say anything. Amelia stared worriedly at the shadows as if something could jump out at any minute. A perfectly valid concern, all things considered.

When they approached the bigger streets again, Brigitte was there with Basil in tow. Mimosa quickened her pace and Brigitte met them with open arms. Amelia hastened her steps to reach the others before she could feel too unsafe. Brigitte smiled at her.

“Hi. I called the authorities. Supernatural ones. We need to get the vampires dealt with before normal police can be called here. The guys I called won’t be here in a while, though. Small towns like this don’t have a very active watch on supernatural crimes. So it’ll be up to us to keep things in check before the cavalry arrives. So what exactly is going on?”

Amelia tried to calm herself in order to answer properly. It took a while, but she managed, and Mimosa and Dewey were there to help her explain. Brigitte listened with a look of growing concern on her face.

“Oh, this won’t do at all,” she said, “Mimosa, take Amelia and Basil to the police station. Then Dewey and I can-“

“Uh… mum?” Basil said in a fearful voice.

Brigitte’s eyes narrowed when a man stepped into view behind her. One look at his glowing eyes told Amelia enough.

“Hello there,” the man said, “What’s this, a local gathering?”

Amelia tensed and Mimosa clenched her hands into fists, but otherwise they managed to keep impressively calm. Brigitte stepped forward. Dewey bent his knees. The vampire didn’t seem to pay much attention on anyone who wasn’t Amelia, though. A horribly triumphant smile revealed his fangs.

“Some things at least have the decency to go smoothly. Hello, Miss Sprigg.”

He said Amelia’s name as if it was something funny. A playful insult. Amelia and the others backed away, but the vampire followed them without a care in the world.

“What’s going on?” Amelia asked, as if playing dumb would somehow help her.

“Me and my friends just want to talk to you,” the man said.

“We have a reason to expect that you’re up to no good,” Brigitte said in a surprisingly stern tone and pushed Basil behind her, “Please, I need to ask you to stop scaring these people and either act peacefully or leave.”

The man rolled his eyes and kept smiling. And suddenly Amelia realised that they had been surrounded. There were more shapes in the darkness, some with glowing eyes and most with glowing guns. Amelia could count about five people, just like Dewey had said, but even that seemed more than enough when they were armed and dangerous. She felt the circle of people pressing down on her and the others. It was definitely not good.

“Aw, man, I thought we would avoid collateral damage,” a gunman complained.

“Well, at least this way it’ll be more fun,” said a woman who looked quite out of place in her floral top and curly hair. The image was wrecked by the fact that the woman’s eyes were shining with something murderous – not to mention vampirism – and that she had an unnerving smile on her face.

Dewey snarled quietly but very dangerously:

“Last chance to get out of here and leave these people alone.”

“Oh, sure,” the woman in the floral top giggled, “I think we should do as the big guy says.”

“Shut up and let’s get this over with,” the fedora-woman growled, “I hate interrogating people. Messes up the stealth. We’re way too much in the open here anyway.”

“Well it was pretty obvious that they were expecting us, so this is the best we get now,” the floral woman said.

“Shut up, Kitty! Okay, Sprigg. Where’s that thief you were with in Sunset Valley?”

All the criminals’ eyes were on Amelia all of a sudden, and Amelia felt her breathing become much more difficult.

“I… I don’t know.”

“Sure you don’t.”

Something clicked in the darkness. The people surrounding Amelia and the Nexus stepped a bit closer, and Amelia backed up, feeling Dewey brush her shoulder as he positioned himself slightly between Amelia and some of the gunmen.

The tension grew, and then-

“Hi there!”

-everyone turned to look at Novak Sanguine, who was standing next to Tad, only a few steps away from the circle of threats and guns. A shocked silence fell, and Amelia had to take several seconds to realise that she was not hallucinating.

What the-?

“You were looking for me, right?” Novak said cheerfully, “I’m flattered. And you’ve got a circle and all set up just for me. Aww, you guys shouldn’t have. But hey, I’m here, so let’s talk.”

One of the gunmen was the first to regain his composure.

“What the fuck?”

Well, sort of.

Novak walked around the circle until he was standing in front of two of the vampires. A whole bunch of guns was immediately aimed at him. Novak raised his hand and stepped back a bit.

“Oh, okay. Fine. Let’s not talk, then. I’ll just talk to the guys in the middle. Does any of you know any good shields?”

No one answered, but Basil looked at Novak with a mixture of disbelief and understanding. Amelia saw his hand move experimentally as if testing if he was allowed to reach for his wand. One of the vampires near them glanced venomously at Basil, who stopped moving immediately. Meanwhile, the others were still focused on Novak.

“Since you’re here, we’ve got nothing to talk about,” the nearest gunman said and clicked his safety off.

Novak didn’t smile or speak anymore. He started backing away, letting the people shift slightly so that they weren’t packed quite so tightly around Amelia and the others anymore. Then Novak raised his other hand, but as he did, he let something fall from it.

Amelia didn’t see what it was, but it hit the ground and detonated with a burst of sunlight.

In the defence of the people working under Mr. Beagle, they were actually quite competent. It was just that, as people working for a somewhat large criminal organisation specialising in non-magical crimes, they didn’t have that much experience with the supernatural side of things. Sure, guns could kill even an experienced witch, but werewolves and vampires were another matter. That had been partly why – after finding out that there were indeed such things out there – Beagle had made sure he had some vampires on his payroll. Vampire communities in larger cities were more open about their existence than the other supernatural groups, and some of them had already embraced the life of a criminal, so hiring vampire hitmen was quite easy. Beagle’s men – both mortal and undead – had completed many successful assignments and arranged many even quite dangerous people six feet under. However, all of them had precious little experience with the workings of beings older than gods. And even ignoring that, the people who had been sent to invade the home of one Amelia Sprigg hadn’t quite been prepared for the small, sleepy countryside town to fight back with such ferocity.

Sure, they had expected resistance when they had been sent to kill the witch. Witches often protected their property with sometimes nasty spells. They had even requested Mr. Beagle to hire a witch or two, who could specialise in cracking spell-based locks and getting through protective shields. But Beagle hadn’t managed to get into contact with any competent witches yet. So not getting to see Leifsdóttir die of her wounds had been a necessary loss. But they hadn’t expected things to get any more difficult from there.

They didn’t expect to run into their other target on the streets. Some of the vampires had got curious about the scent of an unfamiliar vampire, and had soon realised that the vampire was there to protect one of their targets, and had reacted accordingly without worrying about it too much. Sure, the situation could have more easily been turned into their advantage had Sprigg not been with some other supernaturals, but even that could have been handled without causing too much of a mess.

However, they definitely hadn’t expected Novak Sanguine to be stupid enough to just walk right up to them even though he clearly knew what they were in Riverview for. That small moment of confusion was enough for Novak to detonate his remaining sunlight flashbang and then take cover behind the nearest bulletproof thing – which in this case was Tad Dustpine. Tad didn’t seem to be very concerned with being hit by bullets – which thankfully didn’t seem to do any damage to him this time, as he had promised. He did seem quite surprised to be used as a human shield, though. Novak pulled out a gun of his own and watched chaos erupt in front of them.

The people belonging to the local supernatural commune seemed to work quite well in a stressful, threatening situation. Sure, the vampire woman screamed and curled up to try to escape from Novak’s sunlight flashbang –

Yeah, sorry about that.

– but the teenaged witch boy quickly pulled out a wand and cast some kind of protective shield around all the people surrounded by Beagle’s hitmen. And at that time, both the werewolf woman and the guy who seemed to have fairy blood in him were moving. The woman howled, sounding immediately more animalistic and less pleasant, and the vampires immediately turned to defend themselves when the threat of being mauled by a werewolf became more pressing than the threat of Novak shooting them in self-defence. Meanwhile the fairy-man started moving like a very well-trained hurricane, pulling out a dagger and attacking seemingly all of the hitmen at once. Novak had to blink. He had to remember not to get that guy angry.

If any of them even survived this, that is.

So far it looked surprisingly good. Novak had counted on the hitmen being at least a bit surprised to see him right there on Riverview’s streets. And at least the witch boy had interpreted his clumsy request for a shield correctly. But other than that, it was still a mess. Claws, teeth, and guns, with a civilian in the middle and with one of the vampires – the creepy woman who always wore pink and as far as Novak knew took some sick pleasure in killing – and one gunman – Jeff-something, who had tried to catch Novak on Beagle’s previous planned attack on him – doing their best to get through the fighting and towards Novak. Novak raised his gun and – despite not being a fan of shooting people – had no problem with shattering Jeff’s kneecap.

Jeff went down, yelling and swearing, and Novak’s mood went up at least a little bit.

The pink vampire – from his days working for Beagle, Novak could remember that her name was Kitty – was still advancing, though, and Novak was out of flashbangs.

I knew I should have stocked up on them…

Well, at least he had grabbed a few sharp objects that could be used as improvised stakes as soon as he had heard that Beagle had sent people. He reached for a tent stake in his pocket, but Kitty was faster. She swatted Tad aside, or at least tried to. Her arm hit Tad, and Novak heard Tad mutter something along the lines of:

“Please, do not hit me.”

Then Kitty went flying, hitting the ground in a position that would have broken a mortal human’s neck.

If Tad had moved, Novak hadn’t had time to see it. From what Novak could see, Tad looked vaguely apologetic. Then he seemed to lose interest in his own self-preservation again and his focus dispersed around the battlefield.

The witch boy was tackled by a vampire, and his shield shattered. Amelia moved frantically when the fairy-man yelled at her to move. An enraged howl drowned out all other possible commands, though, as the vampire who had by now bitten down on the witch boy’s neck was attacked by the werewolf woman. Vampires may have natural speed that exceeded that of werewolves, but this particular vampire didn’t have the enhanced strength and reflexes of an enraged mother.

The werewolf caught the vampire by the back of his neck and tore him away from her son. The vampire resisted, but the witch boy reached into his jacket and threw something that made the vampire hiss and back away before the werewolf woman attacked again. It wasn’t pretty and lacked finesse, but it seemed to do the job, and the vampire would definitely stay down.

One of the gunmen was already down as well, probably unconscious. Novak hadn’t even realised when that had happened. But the only friendly vampire in the scene, who now skulked away from the downed gunman, probably had something to do with it.

The fairy-man elbowed the fedora-wearing vampire to the ground and twisted her arm behind her back into a professional hold. He looked around, ready to act if someone needed him, but the others had the situation quite well under control. Novak found his rarely used optimistic side waking up before being silenced again by the pessimism.

Hey, we might actually survive this.

…don’t jinx it now, stupid.

Novak focused his attention again on Kitty, who was getting up after the initial shock of being thrown like a ragdoll by a kid who was built like a stick figure. Novak raised his gun, but then his attention was grabbed by an elderly couple who was hurrying towards them.

Oh, you have got to be kidding me.

He should have seen it coming, really. When one walked into fire with a plan this flimsy, the universe was bound to kick one in the head eventually as a lesson to not be so frickin’ stupid!

But Novak had really hoped that the universe wouldn’t at least direct its kicks at some passers-by. Especially the people who were clearly Amelia’s annoying but still perfectly decent mother and her mild-mannered boyfriend.

Julia Sprigg considered herself a cheerful, friendly person, who didn’t let the little things in life get her down. Sure, Alex’s passing had hit her hard – harder than she could handle, in many ways – but she still managed to stay mostly positive. And she also considered herself a believer in things turning out alright. As long as she just stayed happy, she would also stay on track with life and the world.

So things like Amelia’s worried call or odd noisy behaviour on the streets of the normally peaceful Riverview didn’t bother her that much. She simply told Philippe that they should check it out from a safe distance. When the noise turned out to be fighting, Julia had immediately called the police and been prepared to let things sort themselves out.

But then she spotted Amelia’s red jacket in the distance, and no amount of positive thinking could drown out the sheer, primal fear of losing a child.

That was why Julia hurried into the scene where what seemed to be a gang of people was harassing not only Amelia, Tad, and Mr. Sanguine, but a bunch of nice local people that Julia had seen once or twice but never really interacted with as well. It made Julia more than a little distressed. And Julia didn’t deal with distress very well.

“What is the meaning of this?!” she said in a commanding tone, “I’ve called the police, now STOP THAT!”

It took a while for the people to realise that she was yelling at them. Philippe was telling her that they should back away, but Julia wasn’t listening. She put her hands on her hips and glared at the few people who still remained standing.

“Mum?” Amelia blurted out and looked terrified. Julia would have wanted to run to her and comfort her right away, but she had at least enough sense not to walk to a battlefield without a clear sign that people had actually stopped fighting.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she said instead, addressing the whole group, “Brawling on the street like some hooligans? The police will be here soon, and they’ll stop this kind of nonsense! This is a peaceful town, and this kind of behaviour isn’t accepted here! And why are you attacking my daughter? I’ll have you know that everyone who started this fight is in serious trouble!”

The people looked at each other, and Julia felt quite proud of herself. Amelia was staring at her, eyes wide, and Julia tried to comfort her with just a look. It didn’t seem to work. Amelia seemed so scared. The poor thing. Julia took a careful step forward.

“I’m glad you’ve calmed down,” she said, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just pick up my daughter.”

She could already hear the police sirens. Good. Soon this would all be over. She took another step, and the nearest person – a nice-looking young woman in pink and flowers – was… suddenly right next to her.

Julia’s eyes widened when a surprisingly strong pair of hands grabbed a hold of her and violently hurled her through the air.

Amelia had already thought that she had seen the worst this day had to offer. But then her mum walked into the scene and the vampire woman in pink grabbed and threw her at them, shouting something about not getting caught because of a few dumb hillbillies. The vampire fired a gun at someone – probably Novak – who yelped and hit the ground, but Amelia didn’t really register that. She was moving without even thinking about it that much.

She practically threw herself at mum, trying to do something – anything – to cushion her fall. She didn’t care how many more of their attackers were still up. Her vision had tunnelled and all she saw was mum’s shocked expression. All she heard was the frantic I can’t lose mum! NoIcan’tlosehernoIcan’t… in her mind. All she felt was terror.

Mum almost bowled Amelia over when she hit her with unexpectedly harsh momentum. Amelia was thrown to the ground, and mum crashed against the tree behind Amelia, slumping to the ground in a boneless heap.

Amelia didn’t see the temporarily frozen people burst into action. She didn’t see Philippe grabbing a tree branch and hitting the running vampire woman in the throat with it, sending her sprawled to the ground. Nor did she see Dewey get up and run to the pink vampire in order to bring her down more permanently. Amelia lay still and stared at mum’s unmoving form until something caught her eye. Tad sat down next to Julia and let his hand hover above her as if waiting for something. It took Amelia several seconds to realise why the sight horrified her so much.

Don’t touch her!” she snapped before she could stop herself. Tad flinched and pulled his hand away, and Amelia pushed herself up and crawled next to mum.

“Mum?” she whispered, “Mum?”

She didn’t reply, but at least she was still breathing. Amelia noticed to her horror that there was a bit of blood running from mum’s mouth.

“Call an ambulance!” she said to no one, and everyone.

Behind her, the authorities were already in action. Brigitte kept saying soothing words to someone in the background. Whoever they were directed at, they weren’t working nearly as well as they should.

Amelia slowly took in all the bodies around her, and hoped with all her might that this nightmare would have a happy ending.

Author’s Note: This chapter contained my most ambitious photoshoot so far, at least in terms of sheer number of Sims. It was quite the hassle, but it was also a fun challenge. Also this used to be a lot different, with the thugs actually invading Amelia’s house and them having to fight there. But I felt like it would be a bit too repetitive, as it would have boiled down to a hostage situation, which was what the previous scene involving the Beagle-plot did as well. Of course this time the tone would have been much darker. But I figured this would work better, so here we are.

Also I hadn’t originally intended for the fight to happen so close to a cemetery, but it was the place in Riverview that made the most sense considering the story. I mean… it was of course a well thought-out symbolic choice and a call-back to the previous actiony scene happening at a cemetery. Yeah. The diminishing amount of leaves on the trees was symbolic as well and not just the result of this photoshoot taking several in-game days. Totally.

I hope you guys enjoyed, and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter:  Champions and Pawns

NEXT Chapter: From Bad to Worse

Chapter 37: Champions and Pawns

WARNING: Contains guns and blood and depiction of grievous injuries.

Jay Arkwright looked at his watch. He knew that around this time, Mr. Beagle’s hit squad would be nearing the small town of Riverview, where they’d try to get that bastard, who had got away from them one too many times. And to get back at the people who had got Mr. Beagle and Jay in jail.

Normally it wouldn’t have bothered Jay at all. Jay was a professional. Sure, he hadn’t killed that many people during his career – only one, actually – but he was more than prepared to kill more if his boss asked him to. It was usually for the good of the organisation, after all. Jay hadn’t spent that much time as an official hitman, but he had worked as a bodyguard for people in Beagle’s organisation for much longer, and he knew full well what he had got himself into.

It was just a job like any other. It paid well and let him use his skills of handling difficult people and shooting guns for something useful. Jay liked it. And he liked Mr. Beagle’s determination and his way of getting things done. So why did the thought of Beagle sending people to Riverview bother him so much?

It wasn’t the fact that over half the squad were vampires, even though they did make Jay feel a bit uncomfortable. Vampires were a good addition to the organisation, as long as one got over the fact that holy shit, vampires were real. They had become less and less uncommon in bigger cities. They were useful as long as one remembered to keep one’s mouth shut about them where secrecy was needed. So no, it wasn’t the vampires. And it wasn’t the general fact that the squad was on its way to kill and possibly torture people either.

So why, then?

Jay had racked his brain about it and had finally realised that it was because of Amelia Sprigg.

Jay couldn’t deny it; he had been seriously attracted to that woman. She had seemed so genuine and had looked both elegant and sexy in her shiny formal dress, with her round but pretty face and soft curves. Not to mention how kind and enthusiastic she had been. Normally Jay liked his women with a bit more edge, though he had had to admit that Amelia wasn’t all soft either. Walking into the line of fire was definitely edgy, if stupid. Still, she wasn’t the type Jay usually went after. But there… in that bar with those sweet piano tunes in the background, Jay Arkwright had felt something. A genuine attraction that had had the potential to spark into love with time. And with more matching moral codes.

Jay shook his head. He was being stupid. He shouldn’t get so hung up on a woman he’d met twice and with whom he had no future with. He should have just been angry that she had punched him. But even that had just shown that she had attitude, made her even sexier in Jay’s eyes. And now Amelia would probably die horribly because Jay’s boss wanted that idiot thief and some payback for prison.

It felt like such a waste. Jay looked at the blank TV screen front of him, and then at his phone where he had saved the contact information Beagle’s men had dug up in order to find Miss Sprigg and the others Beagle wanted dealt with. He was being so stupid. He should just forget about her and move on. There were plenty of fish in the sea. He repeated to himself that he had never had a chance with Amelia anyway. It was better this way.

He bit his lip and looked at his phone again.

Far away, in the town of Bridgeport, Philippa Honeyrose got a happy feeling in her chest. She smiled. It was the feeling of a job well done.

Novak Sanguine, or ­– as his passport now said – Flannery Chase, was feeling agitated. It could have been just his normal paranoia, or even the fact that he felt like he was about to fry in his tent. Al Simhara was at least far away from SimNation and – more importantly – from Beagle and his men, but the newly named Mr. Chase had to admit that he wasn’t a fan of such hot climate. It made him feel sluggish and tired. But he was stubbornly determined to learn to deal with the weather, and to make life work in a new country. Nothing he hadn’t done before. He could handle it. Or so he had felt so far. But now his survival instincts that sometimes bordered on morbid sixth sense were telling him that today would suck. A lot. He found himself tossing and turning in the tent he had set up at a lush campsite, where he could pass as a regular, thrill-seeking tourist. In reality, he was waiting for the day to properly dawn so that he could meet up with his newest contact. He needed to establish some kind of way to get money quickly. He needed funds to be able to keep running. And to maybe one day establish some kind of stable life.

He almost chuckled at that.

Yeah, right.

He wanted to believe that things would go smoothly, but then restlessness and paranoia drove him out of his tent, into the rising sun that coloured the pyramids on the horizon with gorgeous pink.

“Hello, Mr. Sanguine.”

His pulse jumped up into marathon pace in a millisecond. He was ready to go for his gun – something he had made sure to buy as soon as he had the chance – but then he realised that he probably wouldn’t need it. In front of his campfire – which was now lit even though he had made sure to extinguish it after cooking his dinner last night – sat the familiar skinny young man who was also his boss. He took a deep breath in order to calm his racing heart and quickly looked around to see that they were alone and no one had witnessed the kid’s sudden appearance.

“Is this how it’s going to be every time we meet?” he said, ”You almost giving me a heart attack?”

“Not my intention,” Tad Dustpine said in an oddly clipped tone, “Sorry. I need your assistance.”

“You? Need me?” Novak/Flannery said while he dragged a spare folding chair to the fire and sat down, “Why?”

“You are still my champion, are you not, Mr. Sanguine?”

“Champion? Is that what you call it now? Also my name’s Flannery Chase.”

“Ah, of course. Mr. Chase. Is that not a bit… obvious considering people are after you?”

Novak snorted.

“Oh, well damn, Thanatos, you’re right. Obvious names are so frickin’ annoying!”

“Right. Sorry. Again. I am… I should not even focus on that. This is urgent.”

There seemed to be genuine worry in the Grim Reaper’s voice. He even looked rather shaken. In fact, were the shadows around his eyes even darker than before? They definitely were. Could Death get sick?

“Okay, you know what,” Novak said, “Forget names. Call me whatever you want. Something must really be up. You look like crap.”

“I am trying to fight myself. It is not easy. That is why I need you. Amelia and the others in her house, as well as Miss Leifsdóttir, are about to die.”

Novak stared at Tad for several silent seconds.

“What? Why? How?”

“Violently. I am quite sure that it has to do with the criminals we met in Valley. The men who wanted you dead.”

For a while, they sat in complete silence. Then Novak hid his face in his hands.

“Well, fuck.”

He had never wanted innocents to become a part of this. Especially people like Amelia Sprigg. She was a perfectly decent lady. The kind who had been ready to help a thief like him out even when it made her uncomfortable. Novak had thought that he would have been able to keep Beagle and his men off the others’ trail by leaving. Either he hadn’t been quick enough or then Beagle’s men had got some intel on Amelia just from that brief meeting at that damn party.

“That’s… not good.”

“No. It is not. The people who want Amelia and the others dead are already in Riverview. There is a high chance they will succeed in… what they are there for.”

“And you’re asking me to help because…?” Novak let the question hang in the air, “Couldn’t you just explode their heads or something? Yeah, yeah, you can’t interfere too much, but this is kind of your fault.”

“Is it?” Tad asked wearily, “It was your past that caught up with you and with them by proxy. Yes, we were there because of me, but Mr. Beagle was not. And yes, I could have made them forget Amelia and the others, but I… forgot. And at this point it would be…”

“Against your weird rules, as usual.”

“I was going to say frowned upon.”

“And you’d rather let your friends die than face a few frowns? Wow. Talk about spineless.”

“It is not just that… I… these things… are complicated,” Tad fidgeted in his seat. He seemed to be getting sicker by the minute, “I am trying to do my best to help them and still play by the rules. And I have a plan. But I need people. Champions. You work for me, and you have a reason to face these people. They are ultimately after you, after all.”

“So you’re asking me to walk into the arms of hitmen who want me dead? After all this time of running away from them? Yeah, not a good idea.”

“You would have allies. And you would be protected. You still have the Death Flower, do you not?”

“Yeah, but this isn’t the kind of thing I’ve been planning to use it for!”

“I would also be with you.”

“Yeah, sorry, but you just made it clear that you can’t save anyone. And you didn’t exactly fare that well against one gunman back in Valley.”

“Oh, I can assure you that I am much more alert this time,” Tad said, even though he didn’t look alert at all, “I had let myself think too… humanly back then. Right now I am not feeling human at all.”

Novak sighed.

“Yeah, I can see that. Seriously, this is all you’ve got? Always asking mortals for help in situations you could solve in a millisecond? The Grim Reaper can’t even protect his buddies from a couple of thugs?”

“Well excuse me for having a difficult time breaking billions-year-long habits!”

Novak stared. Did Tad just… sass him? Things were really going badly. Tad’s eyes had narrowed, and despite him looking too pale and too sick, Novak was reminded that it really wasn’t a good idea to piss off Death. And besides, he really did owe Amelia for helping him out and giving him a roof over his head for a while. He sighed. He was getting soft. Soon this kind of charity would cost him his life.

“Okay, so what’s your plan?”

Tad’s eerily pale eyes brightened.

“Oh, that is quite simple! I will just inspire you into action and then take you to Riverview.”

“Action as in… what?”

“Well… helping people of course.”


Tad shrugged.

“Hopefully in a way that will not cause even worse harm.”

“So you don’t have a plan at all?”

“Not outside of giving Amelia and the others some support. A fighting chance.”

They sat in silence for a while.

“Wow,” Novak finally said, “This is probably the worst plan I’ve ever heard.”

He leaned back in his chair.

“Okay, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but when exactly does it start?”

Tad smiled sadly.

“It is already happening.”

The pain was so intense that Vanja almost blacked out immediately after hitting the floor. Her entire torso was on fire, her blood flowed onto the floorboards from the hole in her abdomen.

She could see the faint form of the burly man through the fog in her head, caught a flash of metal in the man’s hand. Vanja coughed up blood and her mouth started almost automatically forming words. The man stepped forward, and Vanja could imagine that the vampire woman wouldn’t be far behind.

Vanja closed her eyes and shouted out a protective word.

Lights flashed, and Vanja could hear a muffled shout and the slamming of her door as the charms she had put around her home and store shut her entire house off from intruders by creating a magical shield around it.

If Vanja hadn’t been in so much pain, she would have been proud of how well it worked. Her attackers were outside and wouldn’t get in without some seriously advanced magic.

It was a good thought to end with. Vanja slumped into a heap on the floor. She knew she had healing potions behind her counter in case she got hurt. And now – as her mind rather needlessly pointed out – she was hurt. Badly. She’d been shot, and the bullet had torn through her insides. If she didn’t get to her potions, she would probably bleed out quite quickly. Or possibly suffer an organ failure.

She tried to drag herself up and towards the counter, but her arms refused to support her and her legs were even more useless. She was exhausted already. And really, her quickly quieting brain reasoned, was it even that bad? It was an underwhelming way to go, sure, but at least she wouldn’t be alone anymore.

“Linus…” she gasped, “I’ll see you… soon…”

That was all she could say before blood filled her mouth again. She coughed and let blackness swallow her.

“Vanja Leifsdóttir.”

Vanja’s eyes snapped open.

Oh. Right. Of course he’d be here.

She blinked and her vision was sharper again. The pain had dulled, but it was still there, so intense that it made breathing difficult. But at least she was still breathing.

“You…” Vanja said with spite, but couldn’t muster up any more words.

“I would not have imagined you to give up like this,” Death said, “But we all have to go someday, do we not? I am thankful for all the help you could give me.”

Give up? Me? Oh, hell no!

Vanja tried to get up again, and this time managed to get to her hands and knees. The pain made her want to scream or throw up, but all she got out was a bloodied gurgle.

I’m not giving up! Not in front of you!

“Your stubbornness is admirable,” Death said. Vanja faintly realised that he was sitting on her counter like he had no care in the world. Smug bastard.

Vanja started crawling towards the counter. She wouldn’t quit! Her beloved Linus would have to wait for a while longer. She would see him when she figured out how to get him back to life. And for that she needed to stay alive. Linus needed her to stay. And her pride refused to go in such an undignified manner after she had on several occasions gloated how she would conquer death.

“I have been following your research with interest, did you know that?” Death went on, “Ever since you summoned me just to declare that you did not need my help. What was it… seven years ago? It was bold. Very refreshing.”

Vanja scrambled forward, gritting her teeth and wishing she would’ve had enough air in her lungs to tell Death to be quiet. His talking was not helping! It was just making her more and more annoyed. He was trying in vain to distract her with chit-chat while he obviously waited for her to draw her last breath. Well, he could keep waiting; Vanja was not dying today! She reached her counter and grabbed one of the bottles of healing potion she kept ready in case of attacks or a volatile product. So far she hadn’t needed any of them very often, but right now she was glad her overly orderly and somewhat paranoid mind forced her to always keep her stash fresh and functional.

Now she just hoped that the potion was enough to heal a gunshot wound at least enough for her to get back on her feet.

On the counter, Tad shifted. And for a moment Vanja realised as an afterthought that he looked quite terrible.

“It will not stop here,” he said, “The people outside are giving up trying to get in, because they have other targets to take care of tonight as well. They want Amelia and the others dead too. It looks quite bad, but perhaps you all will prove crafty enough to survive.”

He paused when Vanja took a frantic gulp of her potion. Vanja gasped for air as her stomach started burning in a different way than before.

“Screw… you… Death…” she coughed out.

She could have sworn she saw Tad smile before she finally lost her fight with the darkness.

Amelia had promised herself that she would (once again) get Tad to talk about what was bothering him so much. Hopefully sooner than later. Things seemed to have got even worse after their talk by the river. And now Tad was getting sick. Probably. Or maybe not. The whole thought was so surreal that Amelia couldn’t wrap her head around it. Cosmic beings couldn’t get sick, right? Then again, Tad had been hurt by a bullet before. So maybe he could get sick too. Maybe it had something to do with him being so human now.

Amelia wasn’t sure how it all worked. Even after all this time and all these explanations, the nature of her friend remained mysterious. Amelia supposed that mortals weren’t even supposed to make perfect sense of it all. Still, she would have to try. When Tad came back, that is. Until then all she could do was wait. And get that tea she had promised.

Amelia surprised the Ley Line Nexus by appearing on their doorstep late in the evening, but it was a happy surprise. Brigitte beamed like a sun when she saw Amelia.

“Oh, how lovely to see you, dear!” she said.

“I hope I’m not a bother?” Amelia said.

“Of course not! It’s been such a quiet day that some surprises are more than welcome.”

Hadn’t Tad claimed that the Nexus were busy before this hour?

“Is something wrong?” asked Mimosa, who had followed Brigitte, her eyes glinting in the shade, “I heard your worry all the way inside.”

“It’s nothing, really,” Amelia said, “Just some friend… stuff.”

“Oh. Okay. I thought it had to do with… well, the fact that there’s an ominous scent in the air tonight. And by that I mean I smell vampire blood. There usually aren’t any vampires here. Other than me.”


Mimosa frowned.

“They smell aggressive. I don’t like it.”

Brigitte nodded.

“I smell it too. Did you walk here, Amelia?”


“I don’t think you should walk home alone. They might be strays or completely innocent, but vampires sneaking into small towns can also mean they’re hunting.”

Amelia suddenly felt cold.

“They hunt people?”

“They shouldn’t,” Brigitte said, “It’s not allowed. But sadly every larger group has its rule breakers.”

She suddenly smiled.

“Oh, but where are my manners? Come on in, Amelia!”

Amelia suddenly remembered why she was at Brigitte’s door.

“Right. I actually just came here to get some herbal tea from Basil. Then I’ll go back home to watch a film.”

“Oh. Well that sounds lovely. BASIL! GET AMELIA SOME OF YOUR TEA!”

Amelia wondered if she would ever get used to the Nexus people spontaneously yelling at each other from different rooms. Brigitte turned back to Amelia once Basil’s footsteps had gone towards the kitchen.

“And don’t worry about the vampires. Mimosa and Dewey can walk you home. And really, they might just be strays, like I said. Or even visitors! I like to stay positive about these things even when my nose says otherwise.”

Mimosa giggled shyly.

“I wish I could be so optimistic.”

A few moments later Amelia was walking home with a bag of herbs and with two friends. Amelia preferred not to think that there might be dangerous vampires roaming about. She wanted to cling to Brigitte’s – and her own – optimism. But with the threat of vampires and with Tad acting so strange, Amelia had a bad feeling that something was about to happen. Something scary. Despite not wanting to think of Dewey and Mimosa as bodyguards, Amelia had to admit that having them around was comforting.

“They’re not too close yet,” Mimosa said quietly, “If we keep to this road, we should stay out of their way.”

“Good. Let’s hope they stay far away from our route. And that they’re not here to hunt,” Dewey said and grimaced, “I don’t know what Bridge was thinking… I’m retired from this crap! And I’d like to stay that way!”

Amelia tried to smile encouragingly.

“Well, let’s hope you don’t have to… un-retire. But you know, I really appreciate you coming with me.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t about to just leave you to walk home alone. Or just with Mimi. It’s good to move in groups when vampires are around. Stay focused.”

Dewey seemed to have slipped quite naturally into some kind of professional vigilance. Amelia wondered if he had been like this all the time when he’d been working as a monster hunter.

They walked in silence in the suddenly much more oppressive darkness and made it all the way to the bridges before Amelia’s phone rang. Dewey and Mimosa were both startled by the mellow Spanish rhythms, and Dewey especially seemed to be ready to attack anyone or anything that moved. His muscles tensed, but relaxed immediately again. It wasn’t the relieved kind of relaxation, though. It was more the “I’m ready to act but it would be stupid to lock myself into place with tense muscles” -kind of relaxation. Even Amelia, who knew roughly as much about martial arts as a snake knew about tap-dancing, could notice it.

Amelia picked up the phone and mouthed “sorry” at her two jumpy companions.



Amelia immediately frowned. She recognised the voice, and it didn’t bring good memories to her mind.


“Yeah. It’s me. You okay?”

“I am… but… why are you calling? You…”

“Yeah, yeah. I acted like a jerk, to put it mildly. I know. But this is not about that. I have to tell you… look, you’re in danger. Boss didn’t like getting put in jail. He wants the thief who was with you, and he wants payback.”

Amelia’s stomach suddenly froze. She froze too, and both Mimosa and Dewey snapped into hyper-alertness.

“Wh-what?” Amelia managed to whisper.

“They’re probably already there. Boss’s men. Even some vampires. I think they’ll shoot the witch-woman first, and then they’ll go to your house. If you’re in there, then get the hell out before it’s too late.”

Amelia’s heart skipped a beat and then started racing. Jay’s words got stuck in her head in a terribly ominous loop.

Shoot. Witch-woman. House. Before it’s too late. Shoot. Witch. Shoot. House. Too late.

“I…” Amelia started shakily, but Jay had already hung up.

Author’s Note: I’d like to give a special thanks to my fiancé, who is not only awesome in general, but also thought of Jay calling Amelia and therefore sort of gave this previously one-note side character some kind of an arc. And he also helped me tweak the next chapter so that it made much more sense and wouldn’t make the end of this story arc feel too repetitive (I hope).

I hope you guys enjoy this even when it gets more plotty and violent for a bit. Have a great time you all!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Out of Time

NEXT Chapter: Hunted