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. 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.”

“How?”

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.”

“Really?”

Mimosa frowned.

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

Brigitte nodded.

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

“Yeah.”

“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.

“Hello?”

“Amelia?”

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

“Jay?”

“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

Chapter 36: Out of Time

WARNING: This chapter contains some gun violence.


While Amelia was thinking about the matters of romance and about where she stood with some of the men in her life, Tad was feeling the weight of worry pressing down on him. That worry was born out of premonitions.

Contrary to what some might think, Tad was not the most adept at predicting the future. Sure, he always knew when something was about to die, but most of the time he wouldn’t even see the cause until a few moments before it actually happened. There were too many variables, too many possibilities. And to be fair, Tad had at some point allowed himself to become rusty at seeing the future. He knew that if he really wanted, he could become more non-linear, to consciously exist all over time. But that made him mentally nauseous and more detached from his work, so he preferred not to do that. But now, despite his lack of proper foresight, he could still sense when things were a bit off in the universe. Such as now.

A part of him feared that it was because of what he was doing. Because he was getting too close to humanity. Perhaps Fate had been right all along, even though she had acted questionably while trying to deal with her worries.

His concern wasn’t exactly helped by the fact that soon after Amelia had tried to talk about her relationship worries with Mr. Lessen, Tad was alerted by a summoning. It wasn’t an ordinary summoning by a mortal – which happened every once in a while, often when mortals were desperate enough to think that Death could help them. This summoning came from something much older and much, much less involved.

Tad knew that he had to respond immediately.

He hadn’t been to the white hallways of Time in quite a while. Usually he avoided the place because he knew that he and Time would almost always end up in a disagreement over the nature of their work. Time was a supervisor, and he stressed the importance of being emotionally detached from everything that happened in the mortal world. Tad’s job was all about fieldwork, and it showed in his investment. Time was so apathetic towards everything that it made Tad worried that it might interfere with Time’s Purpose – which was keeping the metaphorical clocks of the universe turning. And Time was worried that Tad would become too emotional and get swept away by the mortal world.

Those were both valid concerns, Tad had to admit. Especially considering what had happened lately. But he was doing so well now! Making just the tiny, not earth-shattering changes by being among mortals. So why was Time calling him now? Something had to be going wrong. Or about to.

Tad stepped into the corridor leading into one of Time’s chambers. He heard the ticking of the clocks that were there just for metaphor’s sake and braced himself for possibly haughty and more than likely cold behaviour.

“Hey there, man!”

Tad stopped and turned when a rather unexpected voice called out to him. There was something familiar about the muscular man with blood-stained, blond hair and casual clothing, but he was also completely different from what he had looked like when Tad had last seen him.

“War?” Tad asked out loud, “Is that really you?”

War nodded enthusiastically.

“In the flesh! Well, sorta. It’s a joke, get it?”

“Technically, yes.”

“Awesome! Then you’ve grown as a person too, I see! What’s with the new look? No, don’t tell me… I heard you were slumming it with the mortals!”

“I am among mortals now, yes,” Tad said warily, “And I thought you were… well, still recovering from the… uh…”

“The time you crushed me?” War laughed. It sounded like the footsteps of thousands of soldiers, “Not gonna lie, that was a dick move. But hey, it worked for the best. Meditation, training, and lots and lots of time spent trying to pull myself together… it did me a lot of good. I’m a new guy now. And besides, it’s not like the living ones have needed me in the last few centuries.”

He grimaced.

“I mean, have you seen the stuff they’ve come up with? All those bombs and germs and chemicals? It’s sick, man. There’s no glory anymore. I tell ya, I’m just a relic now.”

He shook his head.

“You’re lucky, man. Concepts like me… we change so much that eventually we fade away altogether while what we represent continues. You remember Pestilence and Famine? They’re around, but they’ve basically lost meaning as personifications. People’ve started to just focus on the gritty reality. On the damage and healing instead of the myths. But Death… Time… those will always exist. Those will always make an impact.”

“Oh, I do not know,” Tad said, “Things like you have much more impact as real things instead of as personifications. And mortals will always try to manage Time and I as well. To conquer and to manipulate what we are. We change too.”

“I guess…”

“I am glad you are well.”

“So am I! Existence is great! Aside from the whole becoming obsolete -thing. Time offered me a chance to stay here as a sort of security guard. I mean, even after all these centuries, I can still kick almost everyone’s ass. Hey, we should spar sometime again!”

“I… I will keep that in mind.”

“Speaking of time, didn’t the man himself call you here?” War nodded towards the white door at the end of the corridor, “You shouldn’t keep him waiting.”

“Of course. Take care.”

“You too.”

When Tad walked over to the white door, he heard War mutter a barely audible:

“Stuck-up bastard…”

Tad decided to ignore it.

He walked through the door and was greeted by a stronger feeling of ticking clocks and an empty space. And he may have shed his human form for the meeting. Time usually preferred to meet Death as a force without a shape. But for the convenience of the reader, the next meeting will be told in metaphor, in a legible language, with almost humans and more or less tangible objects.

“Death.”

The cold voice came from above, and Tad looked up at the windows in the ceiling of the room he was in. Time stood in the upper level of his tower. He was wearing white and the universe reflected in his eyes. He made a point to look slightly older than Tad’s human form, even though Tad and Time were around the same age. At least as old as the universe, and probably much older.

“I need you to see something,” Time said, his voice having a slight echo of something older and something younger than he would have appeared to mortal eyes.

“What is it?” Tad asked, idly looking at the clocks that were set on small stone displays that surrounded the room Time was waiting in. Empty blackness loomed where walls could have been. Time glanced at Tad a bit condescendingly, or at least projected the idea of the feeling around himself for show.

“You have been meddling with the mortal affairs and put yourself at a risk,” he said.

Tad sighed.

“Yes. Are you now going to tell me how stupid I am too? Fate has already given me enough grief about this.”

“I do not care what you do as long as you keep the world and yourself together,” Time said, “I know about your little quarrel with Fate. She may be immature, but she is also right.”

“She has left me alone of late,” Tad said, “We talked things through.”

“Fate has been working for me lately. After I reprimanded her for meddling with your affairs, I told her not to focus on you too much and instead to use her foresight to fix things.”

Tad spun around to face Time.

“What? Is something really going that badly?”

Time nodded towards one of the clocks on the displays. Unlike the rest of the clocks, which were white and ticked forward smoothly, this one was blackened as if dipped in tar. Its ticking was sluggish and uneven.

Tad stared at it.

“Oh,” was all he could say.

“Exactly,” Time narrowed his eyes slightly, “This is why I called you here. It is one of the universe clocks.”

“I know that.”

“Then you also know that them not working properly is a sign of things getting bad soon. A sign of chaos. This world needs to be put back on its rails.”

Tad looked at the clock hands. They struggled forward, and almost lost their fight against non-existent gravity.

“The universe can fix itself of the smaller cracks. This is nothing to worry about.”

“Have you really not felt it? The wrongness of what could happen soon?” Time asked, a slight wave of not-quite-anger causing ripples in the void around them, “Has your excursion into the mortal world blinded you that badly? Something will happen, and we all need to be especially careful not to make waves when the universe is showing signs of descending into disarray.”

Tad sighed.

“I know.”

“I do not know what you think you are accomplishing with what you are doing, but at least be careful with yourself.”

Tad turned his back on Time.

“I will. I am trying.”

“I hope so. And I hope your trying will be enough.”

“Thank you for… for caring.”

Time looked at Tad blankly, his universe-eyes letting no real light or care through.

“The clocks need to keep turning. And things need to keep dying no matter how much that might hurt your new acquaintances.”

With that, he was gone. Or Tad was gone, more like. Thrown out of Time’s home and into the void. Tad let himself solidify again and clenched his hands into fists. Fate’s complaints he could handle, but this was Time. The one who usually didn’t care. If he was worried enough to take action, something really had to be going wrong.

Tad knew that the best he could do to keep the world on its tracks was doing his job well. Keeping things together. And so far he had managed that just fine. But Time’s warnings echoed ominously in his mind. Everyone seemed to think that it would be Tad who messed things up this time. That after all these eons of doing his job as well as he could, he would finally slip up and fail spectacularly.

Normally Tad wouldn’t have thought that to be very likely. He took quite a bit of pride in his ability to do his job well. After billions of years of perfecting a good kind of routine and the best methods, he was more than capable of handling things professionally. And even now he could have managed the situation just fine. But then he felt the marks of death over everyone in the Sprigg household. And he knew that he would probably soon be very close to slipping.

It wasn’t a visible mark. Not even close. But Tad could always feel it with every sense he had. He always knew where he would be needed, sometimes days or even years in advance.

Sometimes it was a false alarm, and now he tried to take comfort in that. But most of the time it wasn’t.

Right now it really looked like something was going to happen. Something that would possibly kill everyone in the Spriggs’ house. Amelia, Julia, and Philippe. All of them. Dead. In a few days, maybe. If things went according to the cause-and-effect net they had at one point been tangled in.

Tad was terrified.

He had never thought about losing a loved one. At least not as something that happened to him. The grief of the ones who were attached to the dying was always something Tad hated facing. Sure, he knew that he had to do his job no matter what. Not letting things die would just cause more grief. More suffering. And more planets dying because of overpopulation, among other things. Still, the grief always stung. And now he realised that he would have to face it first-hand as well.

How would he deal with it? How could he? The thought felt foolish, in a way. After all the horrible things he had seen during his career. After all the times he had watched things die, many times unfairly. After all the suffering and anguish he had witnessed and never intervened. He had always made a point to care, but never in a way that stung too much. This time it would be personal.

Of course, he had known this would happen at some point. He had started preparing for it the moment he had started trying to make friends with the living ones – which had happened a long time ago, though before now he hadn’t had much success. Mortals were destined to die by nature. It was something he had accepted long ago. It would be unprofessional not to. To become too sentimental and affected by his work. He had never really had a problem with it before. But now he found himself lost in painful grief at the mere thought of losing Amelia.

But he was never allowed to refuse a dying soul. And he wasn’t going to. He wasn’t allowed to save a person who was destined to die. And he wasn’t going to…

He hoped. And a part of him hoped that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. When he looked at Amelia and imagined her leaving him, he realised that he really didn’t know what to do.

And then Amelia talked to him about love and all his remaining determination shattered.


Miles away, in a hidden bunker beneath the old cottage in Twinbrook’s swamp, Lydia Deacon worried as well. She stared at her phone. Beagle, that man who had unknowingly helped her and Gaius dodge Death in Valley, had called a few moments ago and asked her about that thief Sanguine. Lydia had told him she knew nothing and pretended to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but after Beagle had hung up, Lydia had immediately made some calls from her cell phone and asked her contacts about Sanguine. No one knew where Sanguine was now, but Lydia had a feeling that Beagle would still trace the man’s last known location to Riverview. Where Death also spent his time, along with his mortal friends.

“This isn’t good,” Lydia muttered, “We’re running out of time.”

“What is it, sis’?” asked Gaius, who seemed so carefree after they had again moved their hiding place, this time into a bunker father had built below his cottage. Lydia would have preferred to stay near Strangetown, because it meant she could be far away from father and father would have less opportunities to claim that Lydia’s accomplishments meant nothing because he always had to help her. But father had pointed out – and Lydia had to agree with him for a change – that here they were much closer to the ingredients they needed for their plans and the air was still saturated with the gemstone-dust-empowered shielding spell that made it difficult for Death to see what was going on in the area.

Lydia sighed.

“Trouble,” she said.

Gaius picked a book from the bookshelf near the thick brick wall and sat down on the couch nearby. He still didn’t seem all that concerned. He probably thought that father’s spells and the bunker’s walls would protect them. Or maybe he was just glad that they had been mostly peaceful together. Lydia knew that was simply a calm before yet another storm. She had a feeling a whole bunch of storms were stirring up, to be honest.

“What trouble?” father asked.

Lydia sat next to Gaius.

“That criminal boss Beagle called. He’s tracking Sanguine, but I have a feeling that he’ll find Death and his entourage first.”

Gaius looked up from his book, now slightly alarmed.

“Really? I hope they won’t hurt them too badly.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll try,” Lydia shook her head, “And if the criminals succeed, I’m sure it’ll make Death very eager to get the stone back before he causes more grief to the people around him. From what we’ve gathered, he doesn’t want to cause trouble.”

“It would likely make him speed up his search,” father nodded, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

There was that question again. Lydia had grown to hate it and the smug way father always said it.

“We need to be ready for him,” Lydia said, “He’ll no doubt find us when he really wants to. Then we’ll have to strike.”

“Oh, just like that?” father chuckled, “You really think you can do that without some serious preparations? This is Death we’re talking about.”

“If his new friends get killed, he might be quite distraught,” Lydia pointed out, “It would be our chance.”

“Our chance to really make him distraught.”

“If you’re thinking about your previous plans, then forget it! I’m not risking that kind of wrath, and what you planned is distasteful and plain evil!”

“When you play a game with cosmic beings, you can’t afford to be soft,” father said, “Well, suit yourself, then. I’m just saying that this is a good opportunity for us. If we want to make it so.”

Gaius had dropped his book and was staring warily at Lydia and father. Lydia was struck by the sudden urge to protect him from all this. All the quarrels she and father had… and now father suggesting they cross a serious line. She leaned towards Gaius just a bit.

“We’ll be fine,” she said.

“Are you sure?” Gaius asked, “This is getting… messy.”

“This was already a mess a long time ago.”

“Yeah… I guess you’re right,” Gaius looked at Lydia with widened eyes, “We just have to see this through, right?”

“Exactly.”

Gaius looked at the book in his lap.

“You know, I hope those criminals won’t hurt those people too badly. I mean, they didn’t really do anything.”

“They tried to hurt you,” father said, “Or at least help Death hurt you. If you ask me, they deserve everything they’re going to get.”


Tad wasn’t sure whether talking with Amelia about dying would be in poor taste or not. Especially after their latest talk. The one about love. Somehow he felt like what they had was more solid after they had talked about it. And solid things were easier to break than intangible ones. It had shaken him, and Amelia had noticed it. She was quite perceptive, or then he was just too easy to read in this form. She had been worried about him, asked what was wrong. Tad hadn’t exactly lied when he had said he worried about extinction – he always worried about that – but it wasn’t what had put him into such a confused, frightened state.

Amelia had said that she loved him like a friend. It was a… foreign concept to him. It made his mind all knotted up. But it also made him feel… happy. More like a person. More grounded. And now… he was afraid that it would all end when it had barely begun. That people who didn’t deserve to die would die because he had wanted to feel more real.

He had a vague idea of how it would happen by now. It would be violent. Possibly involving someone with a vendetta against someone. Tad found it quite unlikely that anyone could hold a grudge against someone like Amelia. Then again, this world was full of people with quite odd reasons for grudges. Tad supposed the criminals they had apprehended in Sunset Valley might have a motive. That would make sense, especially since the mark of death had extended to hang above Miss Leifsdóttir as well now. Tad hoped that was not the case, though. Those criminals had seemed like the kinds of people who could make things very unpleasant. Besides, he had made sure to wipe their memories of the…

Tad’s eyes widened. He had remembered to do that, right? His mind had been so preoccupied with a lot of things back then. Such as Fate and a gunshot wound that hurt. He had probably meant to do it. Not enough to mess with things, but at least enough to make sure the criminals didn’t remember the odd events in the graveyard. And his friends. But he had…

Tad wasn’t one to curse, but at that moment he decided to let out a quiet:

“Oh. Darn.”

He had forgotten. And now he wasn’t allowed to interfere before things escalated too far.

It wasn’t right. It couldn’t be right. Tad wanted to believe that he was feeling things wrong. But… if this really was because of those criminals, then Tad could technically think that it was his and Fate’s fault that the Spriggs were about to die. If Tad really had caused these people to be in mortal peril, he had the right to intervene. But if it was just some stroke of bad luck… he would just have to watch it happen.

The whole situation was all sorts of complicated. Technically even the criminals had been there because of mortal actions. Because of Mr. Sanguine and possibly because of the Deacons as well. He and Fate had just been there to nudge things a bit.

Perhaps he could nudge things a bit again. Just a little…

“Amelia?” he asked at one point, not really sure how long after their latest talk. They were sitting in the Spriggs’ library, and Tad was only faintly aware that he had sat in an armchair for a few Earth’s hours without really being able to focus on reading, “Do you ever feel like you have to break the rules in your job in order to stand it? To stand… living?”

Amelia looked at him with a bit of confusion, but then she smiled. She was too happy. It seemed like their talk by the river had made her more at ease with everything. Tad hated to ruin it even a little bit.

“Sometimes,” Amelia said, “When a client gets some paperwork so wrong that we need to spend a lot of time just getting it right even when I see the person needs the insurance money right away. And sometimes we don’t get to give money at all even though I know a client would need it. But I think with your job it’s probably… a bit more serious than that.”

“Everything counts,” Tad said, “So… what do you do at those times?”

Amelia thought about it for a moment.

“Sometimes I try to find a compromise, but when I can’t, I just… try to think that the rules need to be there, and that I’m doing my best to help people.”

“Right…” Tad tried to smile, “I suppose… I do too. I…”

He didn’t know what to say. He regretted this conversation already.

“What?”

“Amelia… I… is there a place that you have always wanted to visit?”

Amelia frowned.

“Why do you ask?”

Tad shrugged.

“I just… do not know. I feel… off.”

“Are you sick? That can’t happen, right?”

Tad shook his head, but when he thought about it, he realised that he was feeling a bit ill. Light-headed and almost nauseous. That was odd. He had never experienced anything this close to first-hand illness. It was like his being knew he was so close to breaking the rules, and was reacting appropriately. And his human form was translating it as a sickness. Interesting.

“I am fine. Just thinking about things.”

He fell silent for a moment, and then added awkwardly:

“And it would be nice to spend time with you. To talk. To do something nice.”

“Oh?” Amelia said. She seemed worried, but she smiled a bit when she said, “Well, to answer your question, I have been curious about Champs Les Sims ever since mum came back. She seems to be so in love with it. It would be nice to see it.”

Tad jumped up from his seat, startling Amelia.

“Well, we should go there! Right now!”

“What?” Amelia chuckled, “I have work tomorrow! I can’t just…”

“We can come back any moment you want! It would be a quick glimpse. A quick breath of fresh air!”

Amelia stared at Tad.

“Tad… seriously, this isn’t like you. What’s wrong?”

Everything.

But Amelia didn’t need to know that. She wasn’t allowed to know that. Tad felt the universe shudder, nervous, almost suffocating. He tried to remind himself that he didn’t need lungs. And that he had no reason to feel sick. This would be just a little nudge…

“I…”

He was so close to saying something. To warning Amelia and the others about their approaching death. But he knew he couldn’t. It would be one of the worst mistakes he could make. Stepping above his Purpose and the natural order of things. He knew that, and going against his nature was incredibly difficult after all this time. Not to mention it would be disastrous. Even at the graveyard in Sunset Valley, it hadn’t really been him who had made much of an impact. It had been Amelia, Miss Leifsdóttir, Mr. Sanguine, and even the ghosts who had subdued Mr. Beagle and Mr. Arkwright. And really, despite how bad it had looked, the danger of someone really dying had felt very unlikely back then. But now…

Tad slumped back into his seat and felt a headache building up somewhere behind his eyes. For a moment he forgot that he was supposed to be breathing to keep up appearances. He heard Amelia gasp and stand up.

“Tad? What’s happening?”

Tad willed his lungs to work again. Air tasted like blood and drowning instead of the familiar, somewhat old wood dust and books.

“No… nothing. I am just not feeling well. I think I should leave again. I will be back in the morning.”

He stood up and walked a bit unsteadily for a few steps before a hand on his arm stopped him and turned him around. He met Amelia’s worried eyes and hated himself for causing her so much trouble and concern. Amelia’s other hand came to rest on his other arm, and Tad resisted the urge to pull away in surprise and discomfort.

“You know you can talk to me, right?” Amelia said, “I don’t want you to be so miserable. I want to help.”

Tad knew she did. Why did she have to? Why did she have to be his friend and why couldn’t he handle this situation better?

“Thank you,” he managed.

“You really look sick,” Amelia said, and her voice gained a somewhat similar tone Tad had heard mothers use when they suspected their children were not well, “Did a lot of things die? Or is something about to happen? Are the Deacons acting up or is something else making you worried?”

Tad blinked. Amelia had become very perceptive of things lately. That was… inconvenient at the moment. Admirable, yes, but inconvenient. Tad thought about the Deacons and then concluded that this wasn’t at least directly happening because of them. Probably. He couldn’t know for sure. Too many variables and blind spots.

“I do not think we have to worry about the Deacons now,” Tad said, “I… I think this will pass.”

“You sure? Is there a way to cure ill anthropomorphic personifications?” Amelia looked at him in contemplation, “Well, a cup of tea probably helps anyone and anything. And I still have some of the flu remedy that Basil gave me when mum was sick.”

Tad managed a weak smile.

“You are too kind to me,” he said, “I do not deserve this kind of… anything.”

“Nonsense! You deserve all the kindness and more.”

No. He didn’t. Because from his standpoint, he was close to straying from his Purpose. And from a human standpoint, well, he knew enough about life to know that not warning a friend when they were in danger was definitely a horrible thing to do.

“I am sorry.”

“For what?”

“For causing so much trouble.”

Amelia frowned again. It didn’t suit her.

“Where’s this coming from? We’re fine. Nothing terrible has happened.”

“Yes… you are right,” Tad sighed, “Do not mind me. I think… I think I would like that cup of tea you mentioned.”

Amelia’s face brightened. The worry was still there, though, so clear that even Tad could notice it without a problem.

“Sure. Come on.”

Tad really wanted to tell her to be careful. But he knew that not only would it hurt the universe, it would also just frighten her. Perhaps for no reason. He knew that it was better if death was unexpected. That one didn’t have to live in fear and to wait for him. Besides, there was still a chance that it was nothing. Just a false alarm…

Just a mistake that would fix itself…

Two days later Tad realised with growing dread that it wasn’t. The marks were still there, stronger than ever, and he still couldn’t see the cause.

Tad stared at the breakfast pancakes that Amelia had put in front of him. Amelia was sitting across from him, emptying her own plate and still looking so happy – if a little worried of Tad. It made the rebellious part of Tad want to shake her and tell her to stop worrying about him and start worrying about herself. But his more natural side silenced it again. It just wouldn’t be right.

“So, Tad,” Amelia said, “I was thinking of going to the store today. And then maybe do something nice, like watch a film that’s on TV tonight. You want to watch it with me? I know you’re not that much of a fan of TV, but today there’s this black and white film about a guy who plays chess with Death, and I figured you’d like it.”

“Hm?” Tad looked up. He had barely registered her words.

“Tad?” Amelia asked, “Are you feeling any better than before?”

Tad stared at his food and thought about the approaching danger. It wouldn’t start here, he knew. He needed to be elsewhere when it began. And he should just stay quiet and perform his duties as needed.

“Tad?”

Tad looked up.

“You know what would be very nice with the film?” he said, “Some of that herbal tea Mr. Hewitt makes.”

“You mean Basil? I can pick up some of his tea for you if you like.”

Tad nodded slowly.

“Yes. That would be lovely. How about you go at… eight in the evening?”

As soon as he said that, he felt the universe shift. He suppressed a shudder. His chest started to hurt and the little amount of pancake he had eaten tried to get back up. That was especially odd considering he hadn’t really bothered making a proper digestive system for himself, and had just settled with something akin to a black hole instead. He was fairly sure pancakes shouldn’t have been able to get back after crossing the event horizon.

“That late?” Amelia frowned, “The film starts at nine.”

“I heard they are busy before that.”

Amelia shrugged and stood up with her now emptied plate.

“Well, okay, I think I can make it.”

Tad closed his eyes. The Nexus people were safe from the violent death. At least at the moment. Amelia would be safer there. She could get some backup from them. Perhaps that would give them a chance against what was coming.

He felt his skin turn colder than normally. He knew he was definitely breaking the rules now, and it was hurting him. He didn’t really care about himself, but more about what would happen to the universe. How far could he take it? Giving a fair chance to the people whose lives had possibly been put in danger because of him and others like him wasn’t too bad, but if the situation escalated the way many of the possibilities indicated, he wouldn’t be able to do enough to help without going too far.

He needed more help.

His senses were screaming at him to stop messing with the universe. And for the first time ever, he really, really didn’t want to listen.

“Be careful today, Amelia,” he said quietly. He closed his eyes. It was beginning. He needed to do his part. And break his share of rules.

“Tad, seriously, are you o-? Tad?”

But Tad was already gone.

The day went by with a worried Amelia and blissfully oblivious Julia and Philippe going about their lives. And events were getting chained together, forming a dangerous web that would soon reach many lives in Riverview.

Around eight fifteen in the evening, Vanja Leifsdóttir brewed a cup of coffee and added her perfect measurements of sugar and cream. Her store had been cleaned up after the day and the moment was relaxed and calm. Everything was in their places and Vanja could almost forget the theories and projects that buzzed around in her brain.

She glanced towards her backyard garden and sighed wistfully before sitting down with a good book that she let float in front of her eyes in order to keep her hands free.

A ring of her doorbell ruined her moment. Vanja stood up and narrowed her eyes, wiping dust from her dress before walking over to the door. She looked through the door’s enchanted glass, checking out of habit that her wand was still with her. There were two people at the door. The other was clearly a female vampire, and the other was a somewhat burly man.

“Hey lady!” the vampire shouted through the door, “Is the shop still open? I really need to buy some sunscreen!”

Vanja sighed. Late night customers. So annoying. Why didn’t people check the business hours beforehand?

“We’re closed!” she shouted back, “Come back tomorrow or send someone here! Or order from my web store!”

“But I really need it now!”

“I said no!”

“Lady, we’re paying customers here. We’ve come a long way, and we can charge you extra for this.”

Vanja sighed again. Her perfect moment had already been ruined. She might as well get some money out of it.

She cracked the door open.

“Okay. It’s thirty five simoleons for a bottle, and-”

She never finished her sentence. A muffled bang seemed to drown out everything, and a blinding pain erupted in her stomach.

She hadn’t even had time to scream.

Author’s Note: Um… I’m back. I wanted to write this whole event before starting to publish any chapters so that things would stay consistent and all. So sorry about the wait! But on the bright side, now I have two more chapters almost done so it shouldn’t take long to get them published too!

So yeah… things… happened. We finally got both Death and Time in the same room. So now you know what happens when two of the oldest, in ways the most powerful things in the universe meet. They look at clocks. Metaphorically. EXCITEMENT! 😀

This has been tricky to write, and I have no idea if I’m approaching some kind of corner I can’t write myself out of. But I’m really hoping I can keep things together until the end of this story arc. Which is nearing its end. After this event, there will be one more big event and then the conclusion/hook for the future. If these people survive, that is. :O

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

PREVIOUS Chapter: Heart-to-Hearts

NEXT Chapter: Champions and Pawns

Chapter 35: Heart-To-Hearts

So many stories will at some point quite naturally – or sometimes artificially – gravitate towards a certain theme. A certain topic that touches so many people in life, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes painfully or with something in-between and more. A complicated feeling that can weave many stories on its own. A force, a set of emotions, thoughts and acts known as love.

Well, not her specifically this time, though she does tie into the story in many ways. And perhaps she did have even more of an impact on the events of this story than people may have thought. But this time – like most of the time, to be honest – the love was not a person, but more a set of ties that people build between each other and that they have given many names and forms throughout the ages. And it made sense considering how many flavours love had.

Love was a moment between lovers, or a hug from a friend, a game night with family or a phone call of support on a very bad day.

Love could be lost and mixed with grief. And sometimes it could just cause pain.

Love could be preparing for the worst when one adamantly stayed by the people one cared about. And sometimes it could be something else entirely.

Amelia had been thinking about love a lot lately. Or more specifically, she had been thinking about romance. It was no surprise to her – she was a romantic at heart, after all. The kind who liked grand gestures and small, fluffy moments in the moonlight. She dreamed of a long romance that would make her as happy as her parents had been. Or even as happy as her mum was now with Philippe. Amelia was the kind of person who could usually be patient and just occasionally take a few moments to sigh longingly when she saw a loving couple passing by or watched a romantic film where the best-looking characters happened to be immediately attracted to each other and got together in the end, usually with music swelling in the background. Lately she had managed to push it all to the back of her mind. Or more like it had been pushed to the background for her. Her life had been so strange lately that she had been preoccupied by other things. But now, as her life had settled into somewhat of a routine again, the thoughts about romance and love came back, and Amelia found herself staring into space and imagining a life with a loving spouse.

Sure, she had her dates with Jon, but that was more like a footnote in her life rather than a major chapter. A footnote written by a shaky hand, no less. She didn’t even know if they could be called a couple. They were much closer to being friends. Their more romantic moments didn’t get much farther than some uncertain, meaningful glances and a bit of cuddling. Amelia had tried to convince herself that it was all good. That dating that consisted mostly of talking and doing friend-things together was a good way to go. But it had been going on for almost a year already, and Amelia knew that she wanted something else too. She just had no idea if she wanted it with Jon.

So far she hadn’t had much luck with boyfriends. She had dated a couple of times during university, but those had gone nowhere. And Hal had been very adept at the romantic gestures that made Amelia weak at the knees, but in the end he had turned out to be the kind of man who moved on without a second thought when he got bored. And Amelia didn’t even want to think about Jay – not that he even counted.

Amelia sighed. She knew that love wasn’t something that just happened without people building and nurturing it and pieces falling into place. It was a process. A connection. Something that grew with time and effort. She shouldn’t rush things with it. But she also shouldn’t sit still and do nothing about it either.

So Amelia called Jon and asked him on a date. A serious, we-need-to-talk kind of date. Nothing that would end in walks by the river under the stars, but something that needed to happen before walks and starlight could even be properly thought about.

Jon asked Amelia to come by to his house. He had lit a fireplace, but not really in a romantic context for fireplaces. Amelia had come straight from work, and she was feeling too formal with her suit on and her hair in a bun. Jon was dressed in black, like usually, and he looked mostly carefree, if a little sleep-deprived. He and Amelia sat in one of the many sitting spaces in Jon’s massive house, and after exchanging pleasantries Amelia decided that she would have to get to the point quickly or she would just chicken out and leave things once again floating in the not-knowing they were now in.

“So, Jon…” she cleared her throat, “I’ve been thinking… we’ve been sort of dating for some time now…”

“Um, yeah?” Jon said, and it sounded like a question, “So that’s what this is, huh? Are you breaking up with me?”

“I don’t know if I can,” Amelia said, “I mean, have we even ever been a couple? Sure, we’re friends, but it’s… I don’t know what this is that we have. A couple of dinners and no talk about our future?”

Jon frowned.

“It’s been nice. You’re nice to talk to. Although lately you’ve been kind of lost in your own world.”

“We haven’t even gone out more than a couple of times in the last few months.”

“Yeah. Exactly. Even when I’m not busy with the band.”

He sighed.

“Look, I don’t know if I’m even looking for a girlfriend right now. You’ve been nice, like I told you, and I like spending time with you, but if you’re looking for something else, then… well, I mean, I have the band, and it’s a lot of work.”

Amelia looked at the crackling fire behind Jon. Sure, it wasn’t really a surprise that Jon would say something like that. And maybe this was what she too wanted. Still, it stung.

“Okay,” she managed to say.

“I’m sorry.”

Well, this was rather anticlimactic. Amelia had to admit she had been expecting something more dramatic. Jon smiled apologetically.

“Look, um… so, what would you want out of this, really?”

“I…”

Indeed, what?

“I don’t know. I guess just… some certainty.”

She let out a sombre hum.

“I guess you’re right. This is for the best.”

“Yeah.”

An awkward silence managed to almost drown out the sounds of the fire. Jon fidgeted nervously and then let out an awkward laugh.

“You know, I should get back to practising. Can’t get too rusty.”

He got up, but stopped when a crash resounded through the house. Amelia gasped.

“What was that?”

Jon shrugged.

“Nothing, really. I hear stuff like that all the time. Sometimes I could swear this house is haunted.”

“Really? Are you sure it’s safe here, then?”

“Sure. No one’s ever got hurt. And uh… I really think I should practise.”

“Right,” Amelia said, feeling quite lost and abandoned when Jon started walking away without looking back, “Well, take care.”

“You too. And let’s talk sometime.”

“Yeah.”

That was it, then. Amelia got into her car and noticed that the night was falling very quickly already. Soon it would be winter, a time of lovely snowfalls and hot chocolate. And Amelia would be single and with no one to cuddle up with in front of a fireplace. Again. Not that she minded. Really, she didn’t. Oh, who was she kidding? She did mind a little bit.

But at least now she knew. She was free to find someone, or at least let life give her opportunities to find someone. Someone who suited her and she would suit for. There were no loose ends to tie anymore.

Despite trying to focus on those positive thoughts, Amelia returned home with heavy steps. She brewed a cup of tea and tried to ignore the sounds of her mum and Philippe giggling and whispering while they watched a film with their arms around each other.

Amelia went outside to drink her tea even though the weather was already a bit too chilly for it. Tad was in his garden, probably helping it prepare for winter, and he turned around when Amelia sat down on one of the chairs on the terrace. His eyes glimmered in the dark.

“Hello. How was your day?” he said.

“It was… good,” Amelia said. She spun her teacup on the table. The smell of jasmine made her feel a little better. Still, her gloomy mood must have been obvious, because Tad dropped his gardening tools and was sitting across from Amelia so quickly that Amelia could have sworn he had teleported. She barely managed not to spill her tea out of surprise. She would probably never get used Tad being able to occupy several points in space at the same time.

“Is something the matter?” Tad asked.

Amelia shrugged.

“No, no… well, a little bit. But you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Of course I do. We are friends, are we not? Friends worry about each other’s worries.”

“Yeah, they do,” Amelia admitted, “Oh, alright. I’ve just been thinking about… love and stuff.”

“Oh. Then I am afraid I cannot help you with that much. Sorry.”

Tad smiled and added:

“I do not know much about love. Except that she likes pink, sweet cocktails and sings very well.”

“Um… right… Well, it’s okay if you don’t know much about it. I don’t think I do either. I just… well, I’ve kind of been dating Jon Lessen. You know him, right?”

“Yes,” Tad said, “His grandmother passed away about two and a half years ago. And I believe he is still also grieving the man who used to play guitar with him.”

“Uh, yeah. Him,” Amelia cleared her throat, “He’s really sweet, you know? And it’s nice to be with him, but… well, I don’t think we’re in love or anything.”

Tad stared at her, nodding like a person who had no idea what was going on, but who wanted to pretend they knew in order to be polite.

“I talked to him today, and… well, we decided to be just friends,” Amelia crossed her arms, “So yeah. It’s not a big deal, really. We haven’t really been serious about it since… well, ever, so… I still wish he didn’t get so awkward about it. I mean, sure it is awkward and all, but I… well, my point is it’s over now. And it’s probably for the best, but it still hurts.”

“I am sorry you are hurting.”

“Thanks…” Amelia said, “In a way it’s a relief. To know I’m free to find someone else.”

She sighed.

“It’s just… Sometimes I feel like I’m just terrible at romance. I either pick the worst guys – like Hal or… Jay, though that doesn’t count because we didn’t even properly ever get together – or then just don’t seem to even get to properly dating.”

“I am sure things will work out,” Tad said, “Somehow.”

“I hope so. I mean, I’m mostly fine with just being like this, you know? Having lots of friends and some family. But sometimes… I kind of want lovely walks by the river, or planning a future family, or just dancing with someone to some nice music. I’m sappy like that.”

There was a silence, and then Tad said almost apologetically:

“I like dancing.”

“Really?”

“I am quite good at it. If you ever want to, I can dance with you.”

Amelia stared. If it had been someone else, she would have interpreted it as an awkward attempt at flirting. But this was Tad. A person who just seemed to have no romantic interest in anything whatsoever.

“Um… good to know,” she managed to say.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, I of course understand,” Tad said quickly, and almost looked like he was blushing, “I… I did not mean… well, I should go. There are still a couple of plants I have not talked with today.”

“I…” Amelia began, but Tad was back in the garden before she had time to even form a proper sentence.

She stared at Tad’s bony silhouette in the fading light, not really sure what to think.

Tad seemed to be avoiding Amelia during the next few days. Amelia decided to leave him be. She figured it was one of those times for him. Times when he needed to clear his thoughts or figure something out before he was ready to talk again. Yes, it was tough, because Amelia was bursting with curiosity. If she didn’t know better she would have thought that Tad actually might have a crush on her. A crush. The Grim Reaper in love. Amelia remembered reading a story about that during her university years for her elective literature course. Back then it had been interesting and romantic, but now just the thought of it made Amelia confused. Sure, Tad was sweet, but he was… well, Death. Though of course, it could be that his awkwardness wasn’t actually caused by a crush. It could be something else too. Simply the fact that Tad found such topics difficult or – like he had said – not something he knew a lot about. Amelia wasn’t sure, and she really hoped that she would get an explanation soon.

But while she waited for Tad to come out of his shell again, she figured she could do something else to get her mind off things. Something nice. Treat herself to a bit of culture and rest and relaxation. Yes, culture would do nicely. She had left that aspect of life to the sidelines as well lately.

Amelia decided to see if Dewey would really be okay with her dropping by to see his sculptures. She was interested in them, and it was always nice to see the Nexus people again. She called Brigitte, because she only had her number. Brigitte was overjoyed to hear her voice.

“Of course you can come over!” she said excitedly when Amelia explained herself, “I’m sure Dewey would love to show off his art! He’s a bit shy about it, but I’ll talk to him. Drop by whenever you want!”

It was settled, then. Amelia put on her jacket and walked over to the Nexus, breathing in the cold air and enjoying the deceptively sunny day. About twenty minutes later Amelia knocked on the door of the Nexus, and it opened on its own. Amelia was startled, but then she heard Brigitte’s voice:

“Basil, what have I said about not using magic to be lazy? It’s polite to actually get up and answer the door.”

“Oh, come on, it’s just economical. Hello, Amelia! Come on in!”

Amelia heard Brigitte sigh, and then she heard music. She shrugged off her jacket and scarf and closed the door behind her.

She walked into the living room to see Brigitte playing the electric piano by the living room windows, the happy tune brightening up the room where natural light wasn’t allowed into. Mimosa and Basil were sitting in armchairs, lost in conversation about vampire sunscreen.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t find enough silver on the flea market,” Basil was saying, “I promise I’ll get back to it soon.”

“It’s okay. The nights are getting longer anyway,” Mimosa said, “And thanks.”

She waved shyly at Amelia, and Basil greeted her again. Brigitte looked up and didn’t stop playing. She looked a bit tired, and Amelia remembered that it had been full moon just a few days ago.

“Hey there! It’s so great to see you!” Brigitte said, “Dewey is upstairs. He’s nervous, but he promised to show you his art. It’s so nice that you’re spending time with Dewey. Having friends will do him a lot of good! I’ll brew some tea for you while you enjoy the art show!”

Amelia nodded and smiled.

“Thanks. It’s good to see you too, Brigitte. How are you?”

“I’m doing fantastic! And you look well too.”

“I am.”

“Lovely! And I’m sure Dewey’s art will make you feel even better!”

Amelia walked upstairs and saw Dewey standing uncomfortably against the wall near some bookshelves. He had a frown on his face, but he struck Amelia as the kind of person who frowned a lot anyway.

“Hi, Dewey!” Amelia said brightly, “I’m so glad you wanted to show me your art!”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever,” Dewey said, “Let’s get this over with.”

He shook his head.

“Sorry, I haven’t shown my work to many people.”

“It’s okay. I’m sure it’ll go fine!”

“Yeah, yeah. Right. Well, come on.”

Dewey led her outside to the balcony, where Amelia had first seen him working on something with a chainsaw. He had arranged several sculptures around his workspace. Amelia clapped her hands in delight.

“Oh, they’re really good!”

Sure, most of them were rather abstract, and Amelia was – as she herself would admit – a representational art kind of person. But the work was still beautiful. Some were sturdy and fun, some delicate and looked more like liquid than stone. Amelia admired the smooth lines and the carefully carved details and saw rivers and fish in them. There was also a strangely cute monster bunny in the corner, as well as an unfinished statue that seemed to be shaping into a woman. Amelia looked at it for a longer while.

“That looks like something,” she said.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to sculpt something more realistic too, just to challenge myself,” Dewey said, “Not sure about it, though. It feels weird sculpting people. It’s kinda like cutting them.”

Amelia turned to Dewey.

“I think it’s more like creating them.”

Dewey gave her the ghost of a smile.

“I like that.”

“These really are gorgeous,” Amelia said, “You’re very skilled.”

“Oh. Thanks?”

“I mean it! You should really try to get this into an art gallery or something!”

“Flattery gets you nowhere,” Dewey said, “I already got enough perspective to know that’s not going to happen without some serious effort. And marketing. And I’m not marketable.”

He shrugged.

“But I guess my work could be. I hope. So I’m trying.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Amelia looked at the bunny sculpture in the corner more closely. It had too many teeth and it looked ready to swallow a planet. But it also had adorable bunny ears.

“That’s so cute!” she said, “A bit scary, but cute. I like it a lot.”

Dewey tilted his head.

“Oh, that one? Thanks. It was pretty fun to do. Less weird than people. I fought a killer bunny-thing like that once. Nearly took my head off.”

Amelia turned to stare at Dewey.

“Really?”

“Mm-hm. It had gone feral, but me and a couple of guys from a magical creature shelter managed to detain it. I think the shelter people managed to calm it down later.”

“Oh. That’s nice.”

“They don’t exactly make good pets.”

“But a sculpture-version is nice.”

“Yeah,” Dewey smiled, “You know, I didn’t think you’d like that. You seem more of a non-creepy kind of person. Then again, you have Dustpine as your tenant so maybe not.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“Hey, I’m okay with creepy. It’s not an insult coming from me.”

Amelia laughed.

“You’re really nice, Dewey. You should visit my house sometime. You and the others.”

“Nice?” Dewey repeated with a raised brow, “Not many people have said that.”

“Well, I just did.”

Dewey didn’t seem to know what to say. He smiled and looked at the reddening evening sky. For a quite a long, nice moment, they didn’t say anything.

Then Brigitte opened the door.

“Hi! Sorry, am I ruining a moment?”

“No,” Dewey said quickly.

“I just wanted to say that we’re having evening tea soon. And afterwards we can maybe light the fireplace and warm up before Amelia goes back home.”

Her eyes shone when she looked at Amelia and Dewey.

“Dewey’s really talented, isn’t he?” she said.

“He is.”

“Okay, enough with the flattery. It’s getting embarrassing,” Dewey grunted, but Amelia could see that he was pleased.

The rest of the evening was lovely too. There was delicious tea made by Basil, and after the dark had fallen the blinds were rolled up and starlight was let in. The fireplace was lit, and Amelia sat with the Nexus people and watched them chat.

Even Mimosa and Dewey came out of their shells to tell silly jokes, and Amelia was struck by the feeling of love that surrounded the small, supernatural commune of Riverview.


Amelia was feeling better after the visit to the Nexus, but the matter with Tad was still unresolved. And Tad was looking even more restless. Like something was really bothering him. He seemed to be looking at Amelia almost wistfully sometimes. Like he was afraid she would disappear at any moment. And sometimes he just stared into space even longer than usually. And it could have been just Amelia worrying too much, but she could have sworn Tad’s skin looked even more translucent that normally and the reddish shadows around his eyes had darkened a little bit.

She really needed to talk with him. Again. Not just for her own peace of mind, but possibly for his as well.

She asked Tad to meet her by the river. Fresh air would do them some good, and a somewhat remote place would allow them to talk without mum or Philippe or someone else hearing. The part of the river Amelia chose was near the only industrial area that marred the otherwise very close to nature feel of Riverview. Old, abandoned storage buildings littered the shore. It wasn’t the nicest place to meet in, but it was at least peaceful.

Amelia turned to look at Tad, who was sitting on the riverbank next to her. He looked almost normal in the dark blue jacket and purple scarf Amelia had given to him as a gift back when he had been away. Tad had loved getting the new clothes that would help him blend in, even though he definitely didn’t need them for warmth. Amelia smiled uncertainly.

“Hey. Sorry to drag you here.”

“It is fine. I like this place.”

“Really?”

“I like water.”

“The river is nice,” Amelia said, “You know, when the sun starts to set, this whole place will start to look pink. It’s really beautiful.”

“I can imagine. I have never really looked at it that way, though. Is that why you wanted to meet here?”

“No, I just…”

Amelia didn’t know how to start. What was she even going to ask? She heard a faint rustle when Tad stood up. His large eyes studied Amelia with worry.

“What is the matter?”

“That’s what I was going to ask!” Amelia sighed, “You’ve been so… you look like something’s bothering you. I’m worried.”

“Oh. Nothing is wrong.”

It was a lie. Tad still wasn’t a good liar.

“You yourself said that we’re friends, and friends worry about each other’s worries. Remember?”

Tad shifted his weight nervously.

“Yes… I remember… I appreciate your worry. But I told you, nothing is wrong. Nothing you need to know, anyway.”

“Even after I’ve caught you staring at me so often?” Amelia said.

Tad’s eyes widened. Then he looked away.

“It is nothing.”

A heavy, stubborn silence dropped between them. Amelia bit her lip and – with nothing else to go with – decided to settle what had been bothering her for a while now:

“There was another reason I wanted to talk… I mean… I kind of need to know where we stand.”

Tad looked at her again, this time surprised.

“Um… By the river?”

“No, I meant, as us. As in… what we are to each other.”

This was way more difficult than Amelia had thought. And she hadn’t really imagined it to be easy to begin with. Tad looked just as lost as she was.

“Um… you are you, and I am… a fact of life made somewhat physical.”

“No! I meant… oh, this shouldn’t be this hard… Tad, do you have feelings for me?”

Tad blinked. Several times.

“Of course.”

Amelia stared.

“I… wait, what? Seriously?”

“Well, I am capable of feeling things,” Tad said, sounding almost offended, “I am happy when I get to spend time with you and I am sad when you get upset. Sometimes I fear for you. So yes, I do have feelings for you.”

He smiled almost proudly at his answer, but then he frowned.

“Wait… Are you asking about some specific feelings?”

Amelia nodded slowly. Tad, to his credit, finally got it.

“Are you asking if I am in love with you?”

Amelia blushed. When Tad said it out loud, it sounded so silly.

“I… um… well, no… yeah… Not that… look… I was just wondering… you talked about dancing and stuff, and you’ve been acting strange and dropping hints… so I… wow… this is awkward.”

“Yes. Very.”

“I just want to know for sure, I mean, it’s nice to actually know what my relationships with the people around me are.”

“Right… Well, you do not need to worry about me. I am not in love with you.”

Tad studied his shoes for a long, incredibly awkward moment.

“I… how do I put this…” he cleared his throat, looking so painfully uncomfortable about the whole thing, “I do care about you. A lot. You mean so much to me, and you make me feel like I am someone instead of just… a thing. I wish to see you happy. I want to be a part of your life, if you just let me. I want… I want to matter to you, and I want to do what I can to help you and to spend time with you. I do not know what you would classify that as.”

He paused, a bit unsure.

“I do not, however, feel the need to have walks in the moonlight or… or to hold your hand or kiss you. I do not want to trap you into sharing your life with me too much. I do not desire to see you without clothes and I do not need to touch you in any way, really.”

He thought about it for a moment again while Amelia was trying to wrap her head around the incredibly unromantic ways to describe actions that often were involved in courtship.

“Well, hugs are okay, I suppose,” he added a bit uncertainly.

“I… oh. Well… this is still awkward,” Amelia rubbed her hands nervously, “I’m sorry I assumed… you must think that I’m ridiculous.”

“Of course not,” Tad smiled softly. Amelia realised that he had got pretty good at smiling, “I am flattered, mostly. And I hope I did not… hurt you by saying all those things.”

Amelia chuckled.

“No. I mean, I do care about you, but not that way. Actually, what you said you feel about me pretty much sums up what I feel about you too. It does sound a lot like love, really. Friendly love, but that’s just as awesome as the romantic stuff.”

Tad smiled again.

“So what is bothering you, then?” Amelia asked. She had hoped to catch Tad off-guard with the sudden question, but it was clear that she failed.

“Oh. Just a… larger than usual amount of extinctions,” Tad’s smile became much less convincing, “It will pass. How about you? Are you feeling alright?”

“Me? Sure. Just worried about you.”

“Good. And you do not need to worry. Really.”

Amelia still wasn’t convinced that Tad was telling her the truth about what was bothering him. But she supposed this was the best she could do. For now.

“Okay,” she said, “So, friends?”

“Of course,” Tad said, looking a bit bemused, “I like to think so.”

Amelia smiled.

“Me too.”

The river was turning a warm pink when the sun set. Tad turned to look at it.

“It does look beautiful.”

“Yeah. Come on, let’s go home. I think I want to bake something with berries in it. Do you want to help? I promise you don’t have to touch the oven.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Let’s go, then.”

There, in the rich, waning pink light, the two of them walked home by the river, side by side.

Amelia’s worries weren’t laid to rest. And neither were Tad’s.

Unlike Amelia had initially assumed, Tad was not preoccupied by the matters of love, but rather the matters of death. Specifically, the marks of death that hung heavy over everyone who lived in the Sprigg household.

Author’s Note: Oh man, it’s been way too long since I’ve had time to properly write this story (and my other stories, but I managed to remedy that during the last few days too so yay!). My life has been consumed by schoolwork, and I really hope I’ll soon have a bit more free time again. Fingers crossed.

Well, anyway, uh, I hope you enjoy?

PREVIOUS Chapter: Of Schemes, Corpses, and Birthdays

NEXT Chapter: Out of Time

Chapter 34: Of Schemes, Corpses, and Birthdays

WARNING: This chapter contains a mention of implied child abuse. Nothing is shown but I figured I’d warn you anyway.


Twinbrook’s swamp was slowly starting to become stiff with cold and ice, but no amount of winter chill could mask the watery stench of the somewhat polluted swamp. The ground had become toughened with frost, but the waterlogged areas of the swamp were still ready to suck in unsuspecting passers-by – if there were any – and clandestinely dumped corpses.

Home sweet home, Lydia Deacon thought sarcastically.

Not that Twinbrook had ever really been a home for her or Gaius. They’d spent their childhood in Moonlight Falls, in the old manor that had belonged to the Deacon family for over six hundred years. After their mother had died, father had converted the manor at least temporarily into an old magical museum and a small centre for paranormal biology research. It was the closest he could get to opening a necromancer den now that necromancy was banned and the Deacon family had been disgraced. It had been a boost to their image and a way for father to research bringing dead things back to life – among other things – without raising too much suspicion. But of course he’d also needed a place to hide mum. Preserved human bodies were definitely not something one put on display in respected old family houses. And that was where the small cabin in Twinbrook came in. A place with plenty of dead people and no one living around for miles.

Lydia still hated it, but she had to admit that it was quite handy now that she and Gaius needed a place to cook up the ingredients necessary for trapping Death. Twinbrook wasn’t Lydia’s first choice of places to visit regularly – she would have much rather stayed in their current hiding place near Strangetown – but she had to admit that the swampy, magic-infused terrain had proved excellent for planting the life fruit that she had painstakingly acquired.

Gaius had been taking care of the life fruit whenever he visited father, and by November the fruits were glowing on their branches, small halos around them a sign that they were ripe. And the ground underneath the bushes was frozen, just like the spell for trapping Death required.

Gaius had been ecstatic when he had rushed to tell Lydia. And then he’d also told her that father wanted to see them. Lydia wasn’t sure why, but she had a feeling that it had something to do with their bet. Nowadays it almost always had. So now she was dressed in swamp-worthy gear and knocking on father’s door again. And when he didn’t respond, Gaius nodded towards the adjacent little cottage.

“He’s probably in there.”

Lydia sighed. She didn’t like that place one bit. But she clopped her way to the door and knocked.

“Father? It’s us.”

“Come on in!”

Lydia braced herself and opened the door.

She was fairly sure that she would never get fully used to seeing mother’s corpse laid out on an altar-like stone slab like some kind of human sacrifice way past its expiration date. She seemed very well-preserved thanks to father’s magic and who knows what else, but Lydia could still see the signs of slowly eroding tissue and lost chances.

She was fairly sure that no matter what father or Gaius tried, mother would never rise again unless father stuck some random souls in her – and in that case it wouldn’t be mother at all. Just a shambling shell that would probably try to eat their faces off. Lydia had said that to father once, and father had slapped her for her trouble and then locked her in her room for two days. No one implied that getting mother back was hopeless.

Lydia quickly averted her eyes and looked at father, who was working on something at his spellcrafting and alchemy station. Gaius stared at mother for a moment longer before he waved at father.

“Hey, dad!” he said, “I brought Lydia just like you asked.”

Father quickly slammed his heavy spellbook shut and spun around.

“Good,” he said gruffly, “Let’s go into the cabin. I’ve been thinking about things and I figured you both should too.”

As if they hadn’t already done plenty of thinking lately.

Or maybe, a small, reasonable voice in Lydia’s head said, we haven’t done enough thinking. Like about whether this is even a good idea at all.

Lydia silenced the voice with a shake of her head. They had gone too far already to stop now.

Father had a file open on his small kitchen table. Gaius sat down and Lydia studied the file over her brother’s shoulder. Father leaned to the table and turned a couple of pages in the file.

“So, we’ve got our ingredients for trapping Death soon,” he said, “Congratulations. Now, what are you going to do with them?”

“What they were intended for,” Lydia said wearily, “We’ll trap Death and I win the bet. I’ll have done what you never could.”

“Right, right. But what are you going to do with Death once you’ve trapped it?” father asked.

Lydia frowned. She had to be careful now. If father knew that she realised how powerful she could become if she managed to pull this off, he might not be so helpful.

“I will become its master,” she finally said, “Just like the Deacon family has tried to become for generations.”

“How?”

“Yeah, that part feels a bit hazy to me too,” Gaius said, “Besides, should we really even do any of that? We’ve made Death mad enough.”

“He killed our zombies!” father snapped, “But Gaius is right; trying to deal with a peeved Death is going to end in a disaster.”

Lydia smirked. She loved it when she had a chance to be one step ahead of her dear dad.

“Well, that’s not going to be a problem if we do things right. When we talked with Fate, she revealed – among other things – an interesting fact about her kind. The fact that they can be more easily subdued if they become too much like a mortal. And from what we know, Death is well on its way to that on its own. We just need a proper prison, and I have a few ideas about that. I studied dream theories, and-“

“Sure, right,” father interrupted, and Lydia pursed her lips in annoyance, “I know what you’re getting at. Gaius has been talking about this already.”

Lydia’s face fell, and she glared at her brother. Of course he’d steal her moment. Again. Father tapped his file.

“In fact, I have to admit that your plan is a good one. It’s the perfect way of keeping Death detained for a good while. And if we choose the prison right, we can keep it powerless as well.”

He turned a page and pointed at a blurry picture on it.

“In fact, I’ve taken the liberty of using the info you’ve told me and actually finding the perfect one.”

Lydia and Gaius looked at the picture. It took Lydia a while to realise what she was looking at, and then she gasped.

“Father, that’s too low, even for you!”

“What? My intel said this is the best we’ve got. Easy to acquire and more than likely to make Death vulnerable.”

Lydia stared at her father. Sure, she too had been thinking about taking advantage of all the information their contacts and Fate had provided them with about Death’s current hobby of blending in with mortals and forming connections, but to do what father was suggesting…

“No!” she said firmly, “We’re not doing that. We’ll figure out another way.”

“Lydia’s right, dad,” Gaius chimed in. His eyes had widened and he was looking nervously at anywhere but father, “Death may be bad, but if we do this… then we’d be awful.”

“Like you haven’t already been involved with criminal activity!” father snapped, but then he slammed his hand against the table, “Oh, alright! Your loss. I give you free advice and help, and you just reject it all? So ungrateful!”

Lydia glanced at the still open file and shuddered. Sure, she was fine with stealing and scheming and even a little bit of blackmail. Even some murder was fine as long as the person was deserving of it or if it was done clearly in self-defence. But this… no. What father was suggesting was going too far.

She and Gaius left the cabin with tense footsteps. They made their way further into the swamp, where Gaius’s teleportation spell wouldn’t disturb anything valuable – like the life fruit plants on father’s yard.

“Do you ever feel like we’re going too far, sis?” Gaius asked when they were far away enough, “Like we should just stop and admit that we’re in over our heads?”

Lydia looked into the swamp lake in front of them. She imagined the dead things in there, and wondered how many had actually deserved to be dumped into the waters. She and Gaius had always been taught that everyone in this world had to earn their place and to deserve their fates. She didn’t know what they had already earned or deserved. Maybe not enough.

“Yeah, I do,” she said, “All the time. But we’ve got this far already. And thinking about doing something so amazing… to beat death… it’s what almost everyone dreams about, right? And think about how much power it would give us. We wouldn’t need to worry about father or the family business unless we wanted to.”

“It does sound amazing,” Gaius admitted, “Well, I mean, then dad is going to finally see how great you are for sure. And it has to be the right thing to do… beating Death, right? It’s not like we’re dealing with a living being with real thoughts or feelings.”

“Of course not.”

“Well, except it did get mad when it saw dad’s zombie army. And then there was Fate…”

“It goes against the duty, I’d wager. And sure, Fate may have looked like a human, but it’s all an act. These things are just… ideas.”

“Dad does think that it can be counted on to have some kind of feelings, though. I mean, I think he figured Death liked the-“

“We’re not getting that prison! It needs to be something else!”

“Right. Of course we’re not.”

They spent some time in uncomfortable silence, and then Lydia sighed.

“Come on, let’s go find the rest of the ingredients. As for the prison… we can leave that be for a while. See how things develop.”

She looked at the lake once more. So many things had died there. Some hadn’t deserved it. If her plan worked, then she’d not only show her father, but she also had the chance to do so many things. To earn her place, make a difference in the world. She even had the chance to make sure no one died needlessly.

Many things had died in Twinbrook’s swamp indeed, but many things had also been born there. That just made sense; things died, but were also born all the time after all, everywhere. Even in the dark November. One of the things who had been born in November was Emily Sato, though she hadn’t been born in a swamp, but rather in a small house in Riverview.

Emily was used to celebrating birthdays with just mommy and no one else. But now her new family had asked if she wanted to invite some friends over. She had immediately said that she wanted Uncle Tad to be there. And Amelia, the woman who lived with Uncle Tad, could come too. After some thinking she had also agreed to invite Malika and Bridger and Alexander from the kindergarten, because they were the nicest kids there. Yvette had wanted to bake her a cake, and Emily had been allowed to help decorate it. The Grisbys had given her birthday gifts and made pancakes for breakfast.

Back when she’d lived with mommy, they had just baked a pie and spent the day together. Mommy had bought her toys or just picked some flowers for her. And they’d always go outside, all the way to their mailbox. That had been so exciting and scary. Emily had loved the fresh air on her face, and mommy had helped her walk when she hadn’t been so good at it yet.

But now here she was, getting ready for a birthday with plenty of guests and without mommy. In a world that stretched much farther than the mailbox.

“Okay, there we go,” said Harper and put away the hairbrush she had been using to get Emily’s hair smooth and shiny, “You look adorable!”

Emily spun around in her new dress. It had diamond shapes and skulls on it. Harper had apparently picked it for her. Emily liked the dress; it made her feel like Harper. Like a badass who did what she wanted. She hoped that it would work better than the tiger costume about a week ago had. The memory of the ghost still made Emily shudder, and the ghost had even appeared in her dreams. But her dreams were usually even scarier so there the ghost had been almost welcome.

She forced those thoughts out of her head. Or at least tried to. Today was a day of parties and being celebrated. Emily was scared, but also excited. This all was for her! All these people cared about her enough to throw a party just because she turned five years old!

The doorbell rang, and Harper urged Emily to go open the door.

“Go on, we’ll be right behind you!”

Emily hesitated for a moment, but then let herself begin this new kind of birthday party.

The people behind the door were Amelia and Uncle Tad, who gave Emily birthday hugs and a new picture book about yetis. Emily felt all her worries fading again. Yvette smiled at the guests.

“You got here just in time,” she said, “Emily, you can show Uncle Tad your room and your other presents while we wait for the other guests.”

Emily nodded and took Uncle Tad’s hand. Now this at least was an easy part of the party! She loved spending time with her new uncle!

“Yvette and Walter gave me a new desk,” she said once they got to her room, “It’s a big girl desk, and I can draw and practise my letters on it.”

“It looks lovely,” said Tad, “And I see you still have plenty of room for playing too.”

“Yeah,” Emily said, “Yvette and Walter said I should keep playing for as long as I want.”

She sighed.

“But I’m a big girl now, right?”

“Yes. Congratulations. Five years… That is more than many get.”

“What?”

“Never mind,” Tad smiled quickly, “I see you are talking more and more bravely all the time.”

Emily studied her shoes.

“It’s hard most of the time. But with my new family and you it’s easier.”

“That is a good start. There is no rush to talk to people if it makes you too scared.”

Emily nodded. The nightmares tried to get into her mind again. Why wouldn’t they leave her alone? She tried to smile them away, but it didn’t work so she sunk onto her bed and couldn’t help tears suddenly pushing against her eyelids.

“Emily?” Uncle Tad immediately sounded worried, “What is the matter?”

Emily tried to take deep breaths and shook her head.

“It’s just… I’m a big girl now! I s-shouldn’t b-be so scared o-of everything!”

The bed shifted slightly when Uncle Tad sat next to her.

“Um… look,” he said uncertainly, “Everyone is scared of something. I think you are very brave, handling yourself so well in a new, often scary world.”

Emily sniffed.

“But I’m not brave! I have nightmares all the time! Laurel’s music helps a little, but the monsters are still there.”

She heard Tad sigh.

“Dreams do not tell anything about strength. You have had to deal with a lot of scary things. It is no surprise you have nightmares.”

Emily tried to wipe her tears and calm her breathing. She was so stupid, crying in her own birthday party!

“Do you have nightmares?” she managed to ask.

Tad smiled sadly at her. His smiles were always so odd. They weren’t fake like when some people fake-smiled to be nice even though they weren’t thinking nice things – Emily had seen many adults doing that around her and she knew the smiles were fake because the adults would then say rude things about mommy or her previous home. But Tad wasn’t like that; his smiles were odd because they were so unsure and because sometimes Emily thought she could see something beyond them. Like another world.

“I do not dream at all,” Tad said, “Sometimes I wish I could.”

Emily frowned.

“I thought everyone dreams.”

“Not everyone. And some just do not remember it,” Tad said.

“I wish I didn’t dream.”

“Do not be so quick to say that. Dreams can be pleasant too,” Tad smiled again, “And remember that it is your mind, no matter how much it seems to sometimes be out of control. You can learn to steer your dreams if you practise.”

Emily stared at Tad, wide-eyed.

“Really? How?”

“You just have to know that you are dreaming. It is not easy, but there are some tricks to it, I believe. You can try to teach yourself to check whether or not you are in a dream by seeing a certain thing. Something you see often in your dreams. Or you can try to see your hands. That is usually not possible in a dream.”

He paused and smiled again.

“And if you know you are dreaming, then you can do anything you want in your dream.”

“Wow,” Emily sighed, but then she frowned, “But what if monsters are really real even in dreams?”

“I doubt that is likely,” Tad said, “But if they were real, even they would have to obey your rules in your dream.”

Emily nodded slowly. Uncle Tad wouldn’t lie to her, she was sure. And he always seemed to make her feel better with his words. She slowly got up from the bed.

“Thanks,” she said, “You… you’re the best.”

Uncle Tad didn’t say anything, but he seemed to be very happy to hear her words. He got up too and after a while he said:

“Maybe we should get back downstairs. More guests will probably arrive soon.”

Emily nodded, but when Uncle Tad walked past her, she stepped forward and caught him into a hug. Uncle Tad froze for a second, but then he hugged her back. And she was safe again.

When the other guests arrived, Emily wasn’t feeling scared like she had in the morning. Everyone was so nice and brought presents and were happy that she had grown and was now five years old. She played with Malika, Bridger, Alexander and Miha and then everyone gathered around the birthday cake and congratulated Emily again.

She felt so happy and safe.

But in the evening she still checked under her bed for monsters and made sure her nightlight was on. She listened to the sounds of the sleepy house, to the hum of darkness that sneaked into her room and her ears, made her feel like someone would snatch her away from her bed at any moment.

When she finally fell asleep, she was back in the inky darkness and heard the watery sounds of bleeding monsters around her.

Author’s Note: Maybe some day I make chapters that don’t feel so fragmented… well, except this one kind of wasn’t but whatever.

Oh, well, stuff! Tad’s lessons about teaching oneself to perceive when one is dreaming are based on an article I read in a science magazine, and I’ve actually tried those methods and at one point I was pretty good at getting into a lucid dream state. It’s awesome. But lately I haven’t been practising it much. I really should.

Not much else to say about this. Uh… I hope you enjoy and tell me what you think, maybe? Have a lovely day people! 🙂

PREVIOUS Chapter: The Month of Death

NEXT Chapter: Heart-to-Hearts

Chapter 33: The Month of Death

November had sneaked in soon enough and October had stepped aside without a fight. And then November had all the power to start making the weather colder and catching people unawares with both frozen rain and autumn germs. A flu and influenza epidemic swept over Riverview, and people started complaining about the weather. The days got darker and more depressing to many. It was the month when Riverview would quickly go from autumn colours to barren trees and then to snow. The ground started freezing up from below the surface and even the hardiest of vegetables started to die or hibernate. It was easy to see why November had been called the Month of Death in the older Simlish.

Amelia was pleasantly surprised when the weather got one more warm spell in the beginning of the month. Amelia wasn’t a huge fan of autumn despite its pretty colours, and November often made her feel a bit glum, but in the warmer days she did enjoy watching nature slowly going to sleep. Right now November was only getting started, so the trees were aflame with oranges, yellows and browns and looked absolutely gorgeous. Amelia was more than content to walk all the way to the town centre to buy some groceries for the upcoming week.

It was Saturday, and tomorrow she and Tad would go to the Grisbys to celebrate Emily’s fifth birthday. Tad had been stunned and so happy when the Grisbys had called and invited them. But that would be tomorrow. Today was going to be mostly filled with housework. Amelia’s mum had the flu, so Amelia had been saddled with cooking some garlic-heavy soup and brewing some hot blackcurrant juice. She was going over the shopping list in her head and breathing in the prickly scents of autumn when a shout interrupted her train of thought:

“Oh, look, it’s Amelia. Hey, Amelia!”

Amelia halted when she saw Basil Hewitt and Dewey Kaarne from Ley Line Nexus walking down the street nearby. When Amelia made eye contact with them, Basil waved and broke into a run and Dewey followed more calmly. Amelia smiled.

“Oh, hello, Basil! And Dewey! What brings you here?”

“Food,” Basil said, “It’s going to be full moon soon, so mum’s feeling a bit apprehensive. Mimosa figured we could cook and bake something nice to cheer her up.”

“And to make her less hungry when the full moon rolls around,” said Dewey.

Amelia blanched, and Dewey gave her a ghost of a smile.

“Relax; it’s a joke. Morbid humour, you know.”

“Dewey’s feeling cheerful today,” Basil said, “He just managed to get a ticket to this big arts and design thing that’s going to happen in SimCity soon.”

“Oh. That sounds great!” Amelia said, “Good for you! Are you going there for some inspiration?”

Dewey looked at the ground rather bashfully.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe someday your work will be on display too!” Amelia went on, and Dewey let out a clipped laugh.

“You haven’t even seen my work,” he said.

Amelia beamed at him.

“Well, I’d love to someday! But that has to happen later. I love your idea of cheering Brigitte up, by the way. I’m here to pick up some groceries for my mum too right now. She has the flu.”

“That sucks,” Basil said, but then his face brightened, “Hey, I can make a really good flu-remedy! You wanna try it?”

“Oh. Sure,” Amelia thought about it, “It’s not too magical, right? My mum doesn’t know about magic.”

Basil chuckled.

“Of course not! It’s just some veggies and herbs and maybe a little bit of magic, but nothing that would make anyone suspicious. Hey, maybe we can do our grocery-shopping together and then you can come by our place and I’ll get that remedy done!”

After a moment of thinking, Amelia said yes.

The house of the Nexus looked as inviting and normal as always. Basil and Dewey led Amelia around the house to the backyard, where Basil’s small garden was located. Amelia saw some still green plants and what looked like some kind of witch’s potion pot. Odd how she hadn’t paid much attention to it on her previous visits. Basil cracked his knuckles and stretched his arms.

“Okay, here goes. I’ll just need lots of ginger and garlic, and… hey, Dews, could you tell Mimosa that I’m working with garlic?”

“Sure,” Dewey grunted, and then raised his voice, “HEY, MIMI! BASIL’S WORKING WITH GARLIC AGAIN!”

Amelia heard no answer, but apparently Mimosa said something, because Dewey nodded.

“YEAH, HE’S HERE IN THE BACKYARD! I’M GOING TO MAKE HIM CLEAN UP THE SMELL AFTERWARDS!”

Basil smiled.

“Thanks, man. Now where did I put my dried lavender… ah, there it is! And here go some chilli peppers… You guys may want to stand back.”

Amelia took a step backwards when some kind of peppery and garlic-y cloud of colour and aroma started to rise from the pot. Logically, it shouldn’t have looked so… occult considering the ingredients Basil was using. Maybe smoke and small explosions were just a mandatory side effect of using a witch’s potion pot. Amelia glanced at Dewey.

“Is the brewing process always this flashy?” she asked.

“Yup.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“It shouldn’t take too long, though.”

“Okay. Good. Not that I mind being here, but I sort of left Tad in charge of answering the door at home because mum is sick and Philippe is still not very fluent in Simlish and… well, I just hope he can handle all possible door-to-door people.”

“Do you guys get a lot of them out there?” Dewey asked, “Salespeople don’t really come to our place.”

“Well, not salespeople, but sometimes there are some Jacoban missionaries…”

Dewey snorted.

“Oh yeah, those guys. I think they avoid us because they think we’re already lost causes to them. And we probably are, what with all the occultism and my kill-count.”

“Your what?”

“Huh? Oh, never mind. Monster hunting -flashbacks.”

“Oh…”

Amelia studied Dewey’s face. He looked sad, remorseful and uncomfortable. He also looked like he had said too much.

“Sorry,” he said, “I got too comfortable for a second. Didn’t mean to make this weird. I’m already forgetting that you don’t know nearly enough about our world.”

“That’s alright. I was just surprised,” Amelia chuckled, “I guess I’ve already gone through enough to be okay with a lot of things. And I’d love to learn even more about you.”

She smiled.

“You people are really lovely.”

She could have sworn she saw a faint blush on Dewey’s face. The poor guy probably wasn’t used to being complimented much. Amelia wasn’t yet sure what his life had been like before he’d come to live in the Nexus, but from his reluctance to talk about his past and his reactions to it, she could assume it wasn’t very pleasant.

“You know, I really would love to see your art sometime,” Amelia said to make the conversation less uncomfortable for the poor man, “What kinds of things do you like to sculpt?”

Dewey shrugged.

“Mostly abstract. It’s fun to just do stuff that doesn’t mean anything.”

“I thought art always has meaning.”

“Sure, but with abstract art most of the meaning often comes from the people who see it.”

“Really? That sounds really neat! I usually prefer art that looks like something, but I think I wouldn’t mind finding out what I’d project onto something that isn’t so obvious.”

“I think the more obvious ones can surprise people with what people project onto them too,” Dewey said, “It all depends on your context.”

“I guess you’re right. Contemporary art is difficult.”

“I love it.”

“I guess I know who to take with me if I ever go to a contemporary art exhibition, then,” Amelia half-joked and saw Dewey suddenly become awkward again, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like I’m butting into your lives.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it!” Basil piped up with a bottle of something glowing and aromatic in his hand, “We’re happy to have you in our lives! Heck, mum especially is super glad to have met you. She usually just meets people she’s supposed to help or work with, so having an actual friend is awesome!”

He smiled and walked over to Amelia.

“And don’t worry about Dewey. Dews is always pretty asocial, but he loves to talk about art. So now he’s just conflicted between babbling and being his sulky self.”

“I’m right here, Basil,” Dewey said, crossing his arms over his chest, “So shut up.”

“Hey, someone needs to help Amelia figure us out,” Basil shrugged.

Amelia laughed and could have sworn that even Dewey cracked somewhat of a half-smile. It made Amelia realise in passing that Dewey was very nice-looking with his bright eyes and gorgeous profile. It was all just often masked with a frown.

Basil gave Amelia a full-on smile that made him look quite a bit like his mother and handed Amelia the bottle he’d been holding.

“Put about ten drops in whatever warm drink you want to serve your mum. Repeat after about four hours. She should be better in the morning. You can store the rest in the fridge. Just label it clearly so no one drinks it undiluted.”

“Is it dangerous?” Amelia asked while she studied the liquid. It warmed her hand even through the glass bottle. It was purple and glowing and smelled like a pot of excellent curry but with a chunk of a flowerbed mixed in.

“Nah,” Basil said, “But it tastes surprisingly terrible that way.”

“Right,” Amelia beamed at him, “Thank you! I’ll try it right away!”

“Let me know how it works. I mean, I’ve tested it plenty of times, but I could always use more user feedback.”

“I will. It was nice to see you.”

She waved at them and started walking back home. The last thing she heard was Dewey telling Basil to clean up all traces of the garlic smell.

November felt much less depressing at that moment.

Julia Sprigg didn’t really agree with the non-depressing November. She had woken up with congested sinuses and almost no voice. She especially hated it when the flu took away her ability to talk enthusiastically. She was partly sustained by talking to others. By sharing happiness around her through words. And after Alex had passed away, her words had felt even more important. They drowned out the grief a lot of the time. Silence was too empty and depressing, so Julia didn’t really want to stay in it for long.

But now she had caught one of those darned November colds. And at her age it felt even worse than it had just a few years ago. She hated getting old. And being sick.

She lay in her bed and Philippe was there next to her, reading silently to himself and occasionally checking up on her. Philippe was such a dear. He had immediately sprung downstairs to fetch some coffee for Julia in the morning when Julia had felt lightheaded and tired and miserable. Julia had drank her coffee, taken a quick shower and then gone back to sleep. But now she was feeling the silence in her ears, pushing away warmth and safety and making the air hiss with hollowness.

She had to get up and do something. She stood, and Philippe looked up at her questioningly.

Chérie? Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?

Tout est bien,” Julia responded, “I just need to get up for a moment.”

She smiled at Philippe, and Philippe smiled back. Julia didn’t know what she’d do without him. He made even this lousy day feel better just by being there.

As Julia walked downstairs she also wondered how she’d manage without Amelia. She was such a great daughter, always helping and being so positive towards life and everyone. And she was handling Alex’s passing much better than Julia was. Julia knew that she hadn’t been very considerate when she had just left, but at the time she hadn’t really known what else to do. Riverview… the whole SimNation had been too close to her grief.

Julia was about to walk to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee when she noticed the pale, skinny young man in the living room. Young Tad Dustpine was reading a book and didn’t seem to mind the silence at all. Amelia didn’t seem to be at home. Maybe she had left to get some groceries. There was a fire crackling in the fireplace. Julia sighed contentedly at the warmth.

“Good morning, Tad,” Julia said despite her sore throat, “I don’t see you in these parts of the house that often when Amelia isn’t around. This is a nice change!”

Tad looked up at her when she sat down next to him. She ignored the young man’s nervous shift of weight.

“Um… hello,” Tad said in that quiet, unsure and almost ethereal voice of his, “Amelia left to buy some food. I believe she wants to help you feel better. I heard you are sick.”

“Well, nothing to keep me down for long!” Julia chuckled, “It’s just a bit of flu. It always sweeps over Riverview in November.”

“Yes. It does. I hope you feel better soon.”

“So do I. Being sick is so annoying!”

“What does it feel like?” Tad asked, and Julia raised a brow.

“Have you never been sick?”

Tad suddenly looked away, embarrassed.

“Not really.”

“Oh, you’re so lucky then! Some people have immune systems made of steel, it seems. Well, be glad you don’t get sick often. It’s so tiring and makes me feel like my head is stuffed with plastic bags.”

“Really?”

“Yup. But don’t you worry about that,” Julia leaned back in the couch, “Oh, it’s so lovely here. I’ve always loved our fireplace. It’s one of the things we just had to preserve when we were renovating the house.”

“It is lovely.”

“I could sit here forever,” Julia said, “Or at least all day. Say, would you be a dear and get me a cup of coffee?”

Tad blinked a couple of times, uncertainty in his extraordinarily pale eyes. Julia smiled at him in a calming manner. The poor boy really needed to get more self-confidence.

“I uh…” Tad said slowly and then got up, “Of course. Certainly. No problem. Just… wait a moment.”

Chouette! The coffee beans are in the cupboard under the coffee maker! S’il vous plaît!”

She listened to the clicking of Tad’s shoes against the wooden floorboards and then let herself bask in the warmth of the fireplace. The fire crackled nicely, filling the cold, sad silence. Julia’s sour mood was starting to melt away. Perhaps November wasn’t all that bad. A little pause from all the everyday chores was welcome, really

Here in Riverview, it was easy to be sleepy and take a break if one just had the mind to stop for even a moment. It was just so peaceful and endearingly ordinary.

A sleepy town without that many surprises.

Julia had almost fallen asleep when Tad returned with a cup of coffee in his hand. He was smiling quite proudly.

“I did it,” he declared as if operating a coffee maker was a big deal. Well, maybe it was for the boy. Maybe his family weren’t coffee drinkers. He apparently wasn’t, at least. Julia took the cup and Tad hesitated for a moment before he sat down next to her.

“Mrs. Sprigg…” he started.

“Oh, call me Julia!” Julia chirped and took a sip of her coffee. She frowned when she tasted what could only be described as a hint of seaweed and microplastics in her coffee.

“Oh… right…” Tad fumbled for his words for a moment, “Well, Mrs. Sprigg… I just wanted to thank you for being nice to me.”

Julia smiled.

“Oh, you’re such a sweetheart! Of course we’re nice to a lovely thing like you! It’s the Sprigg way!”

“I have noticed. Thank you.”

Julia sipped her coffee again.

“Well, that’s odd,” she said, “We should maybe wash the coffee maker. I’m tasting seaweed and… plastic?”

Tad sighed.

“Oh, and I was so sure I hadn’t messed things up this time… well, at least nothing exploded.”

Julia laughed. For such a shy, serious young man, Tad had an excellent sense of humour. Laughter made the silence shatter completely and Julia felt refreshed again.

In the evening, Amelia returned and brewed excellent blackcurrant juice and made some lovely ginger, garlic and potato soup. And when Julia woke up the next morning without a trace of her cold, she was convinced that she might actually like this year’s transition to winter.

So while the ground froze from underneath and the plants and other things started preparing for winter, and while more people got sick and depressed and the sky got darker, it was still easy to see the beauty and happiness of late autumn as well. At least in Riverview, where the month of death that year started to look more and more like the month of life.

And really, it was just an old name and had nothing to do with-

“Freakin’ finally! At least my fish are still alive. I need to remember to thank the caretaker guy… what was his name?”

“Colin.”

“Yeah. Good man. But on the other hand, the guy who’s in charge of getting me out of prison should things go south is definitely fired! Getting out shouldn’t have taken months of playing with papers and money!”

“But we’re free now.”

“Yes, but my operations suffered a big dent because of that… farce in Valley.”

“I’m very sorry, boss.”

“You should be… but then again, you did perform pretty well considering the circumstances.”

“Thank you, boss.”

Mr. Phineas Beagle slumped into the leather upholstery of his desk chair and opened up his laptop. He was fuming. And when he was fuming, someone was always going to get burned. Sometimes literally. And he knew exactly whom he was going after. That fucking Brent or whatever his name was. And the weirdos who had helped him escape.

“I really need some time to get things back up and running,” he muttered and then glanced at Jay, who had settled into the couch in the corner of his office, “But then we act. And we act fast and efficiently. And with… well, catharsis. Who was the woman you chatted up at the bar?”

“Um… her name was Amelia Sprigg. She lives in Riverview.”

“Excellent. I’ll ask my intel guys to find her. How many vampires do we have employed right now?”

“About six.”

“Good. Get at least four of them ready for when we go get our target. If the bulletproof kid and the witch are still with the Sprigg-woman and our target, we need something weird to counter that. Also get Mike and a couple of his guys ready too. You’re off this case after that.”

“What?” Jay jumped up, “But I-“

“You were distracted out there. And besides, I need you elsewhere. There are a couple of operations that need a guy with good aim.”

“I…” Jay sighed, “Yes, boss. I’ll call the vampires and Mike. Tell me when you get the bastard.”

Beagle grunted and didn’t take his eyes off the numbers and words that kept scrolling across the computer screen.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give him your regards too.”

Okay, so it seemed that November still had plenty of time to live up to its name after all.

Author’s Note: Remember when I said that I’d get another chapter centred around Emily out next? Hmm… did I even promise that? I think I did. Anyway, it turns out I lied. Or more like changed my mind at the last minute and left the Emily-scene for the chapter after this one. It works better that way, I think. And thanks to that this chapter isn’t TOO overly long. And as a bonus, I now have about half of the next chapter written too! Yay!

So here’s some slice-of-life-y chapter that sneakily and not-so sneakily sets up some future things. I don’t know… these chapters feel necessary, but also like I could kind of leave them out so… I don’t know. What I’m trying to say is, try not to get too bored with me. Or feel free to get bored, if that’s what happens. I’m not one to police your feelings and experiences. 🙂

But I do hope you enjoyed! I guess a Fey of Life chapter should be up next… unless I get into a writing spree with something else. Have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Spooky Day Fragments

NEXT Chapter: Of Schemes, Corpses, and Birthdays

Chapter 32: Spooky Day Fragments

NOTE: I changed Matt’s name (Matt is one of the Grisbys’ adopted kids). He just didn’t feel like a Matt to me anymore. :/ His name is Mihael now, or Miha for short. I updated the previous few mentions of his name to avoid continuity errors.

“So… these lanterns are carved to either ward off malevolent spirits or to show the way to good ones, correct?”

Amelia looked up from the jack-o-lantern she was carving to honour tomorrow’s Spooky Day traditions. Tad was looking pensively at the pumpkin in front of him. He had asked to join her, but so far he had seemed less interested in actually carving pumpkins and more focused on contemplating the reason to use vegetables for something other than food.

“I guess,” Amelia said, “It’s an Irish tradition, or so I’m told.”

“Yes, it is. They didn’t use pumpkins, though, I think. But pumpkins were plentiful here in SimNation.”

“Right. Nowadays it’s just a tradition, really.”

“Yes. Not many truly believe in spirits anymore.”

“I guess not. I think there’s some groups in bigger cities. They arrange séances and make drums and all that,” Amelia said.

“Mm-hm.”

Amelia thought about it for a while.

Are there many spirits, then?”

“Of course,” Tad said, “Everywhere. I thought you knew by now.”

“Well, yeah. But are they just… dead things?”

Tad lifted a carving knife and poked the pumpkin in front of him with it.

“No. There are also many nature spirits who were never alive in the sense you see living. And then there are the demons…”

“Demons?” Amelia repeated, slightly alarmed.

“Yes. They have a much worse reputation than they deserve. Mostly they are just spirit beings that see life a bit more darkly. Sure, they can cause nightmares and sometimes amplify negative emotions, but they are not that bad.”

“Huh. How do they cause nightmares? Do they sit on the sleeper like in some old pictures?”

“They might, but the actual reason for demon-induced nightmares is not related to sitting,” Tad said, cautiously making a cut in the pumpkin, “They like dreams, so they take temporary residence in the mind. All beings who are not physical can do that.”

“Can you?”

“Of course, if I wanted to. But the mind of a living one is private; it is not right to trespass in one. Not to mention someone like me being in a living one’s mind would very easily do a lot of damage.”

He tilted his head.

“Besides, going into somebody’s mind is to subject oneself to their will, in a way. A mind is a world that functions depending on the thoughts and beliefs of its owner. That is why the demons usually end up leaving quickly. After getting a small taste of dreams.”

He looked thoughtful.

“I am not sure, however, whether they are repelled by lit up pumpkins or not.”

“Well, they haven’t caused trouble here,” Amelia said a bit nervously, “How about ghosts? Like, dead spirits? Is Spooky Day really a time for ghosts and all that like in the stories?”

Tad smiled.

“When something is made into a tradition, it gains power, like I have told you. Spirits are drawn to the world on Spooky Day because people believe they are.”

Amelia chuckled nervously. Tad would be excellent at telling ghost stories.

“Well, I hope they won’t scare too many people… then again, Spooky Day is supposed to be scary.”

She frowned at the pumpkin in front of her. She wondered if a jack-o-lantern with a cat’s face was worse or better for spirits. She looked back up at Tad.

“But usually the real danger is just eating too much sugar…” she said, “or partying too hard in silly costumes.”

“Right.”

“I’m going to a party tomorrow, by the way,” Amelia said, trying her best to keep her hand steady while she carved a big kitty-cat smile in the pumpkin, “It’s at Jon Lessen’s place. Do you want to come too? I don’t think he’d mind.”

“I think I will pass,” Tad said, “It sounds… like a lot of people. You know I am not good with parties. And I think that you need a break from looking after me again.”

“I don’t mind…” Amelia started, but Tad glanced up at her almost sternly, effectively shutting her up.

“It is not good for you to become too absorbed by the world of the not-living,” he said, “You should go and have fun with real people much more.”

Amelia shook her head, but then sighed.

“Alright. If it makes you happy.”

“It does.”

“I hope you don’t get bored while I’m gone.”

“You do not need to worry about that,” Tad smiled. He had got quite good at smiling lately. It looked creepy only about half the time, “I will take a walk outside. I quite like Spooky Day. People put on masks and respect spirits – at least traditionally. I almost feel like I am a part of the crowd when I walk around then.”

Amelia laughed.

“Sounds good. Hey, is your lantern ready? We can take these to the front porch.”

“I suppose it is. It is not a very accurate depiction of a ghost, but it is quite close to what people often draw them to look like.”

“It looks great! Come on, let’s try to get them around the house without breaking them.”

Sometimes Amelia found it difficult to believe that time had passed so quickly after the very eventful, almost disastrous summer. Leaves had lost their green colours, and trees were losing the leaves already. It was almost November, and nothing too strange had happened. Amelia actually felt like everyone was adjusting very well to the life that was as close to normal as it could get in their situation.

Tad’s vegetable garden had ended up being very productive. Amelia’s mum had been so excited to find gorgeous lettuce heads and potatoes, lovely apples and limes and plenty of herbs there during the time of harvest. She had graciously taken it upon herself to help Tad actually sell the produce, which had the benefit of saving Tad from awkward encounters with customers at the farmer’s market. And after the money had come in, Tad had proudly paid his rent. And they’d even had vegetables to spare for their own cooking.

Besides gardening, Tad was very slowly working towards finding the gemstone. Sometimes he disappeared for days, and Amelia wasn’t sure if he was taking one of his breaks or actually looking for the Deacons. Sometimes he zoned out and possibly talked to someone who was very far away, but otherwise he didn’t seem to actually make any progress. Amelia found that she was quite glad about that. To her, it indicated that Tad still wanted to stay for as long as he could. Sure, he had told her he wouldn’t necessarily leave after finding the gemstone, but Amelia had a stronger and stronger feeling that some of the other cosmic beings might actually force him to go. In Amelia’s opinion that was stupid. It didn’t require a genius or an omniscient being to notice that staying with the Spriggs was doing Tad a lot of good. He seemed happier, in his own ways, and much less burdened than before.

It wasn’t all unity and loveliness, though. Novak was gone from their lives for the moment. He had left in the middle of the night soon after Tad had returned from his first break. There were no notes, no sign that a criminal had even been in Amelia’s house. Amelia was surprisingly sad about him leaving. Sure, he made her nervous and she understood why he had left, and she could even reasonably think that it was for the best that he wasn’t here. But Amelia had almost begun to understand Novak and his odd sense of humour and slightly dodgy but deep down decent morals. And now he was gone and she had no idea where to – she had asked Tad but he had said it was better if he didn’t tell. And maybe it really was. But Amelia still worried; she couldn’t help it.

Julia was still talking about going away too. About returning to France. But she hadn’t actually got around to doing anything about it. Philippe was still there, hovering in the background or around Julia, still mostly just someone Amelia couldn’t connect with that well. He was nice, sure, and sometimes he asked Amelia for book recommendations, but Amelia just couldn’t yet feel like he was a part of the family. He was more than welcome to stay, but Amelia knew she still had a lot of adjusting to do.

It was funny to think how much easier it had been to accept the company of a criminal and the Grim Reaper than a regular, nice man. The problem was that said nice man happened to date Amelia’s widowed mother. Still, Amelia was ready to keep trying to readjust her thinking when it came to Philippe, because it was clear that he made mum happy.

Despite the little annoyances and worries, Amelia decided that life was going well. She thought back to all the good things as she and Tad stood in front of freshly carved jack-o-lanterns. She smiled.

“Wow, it’s so weird how much time has passed,” she said out loud, “It feels like we’ve found a routine.”

“Really?” Tad asked, “I hope it is a good routine.”

“I think it is.”

“Good.”

The Spriggs’ house wasn’t the only place where life had gone forward during the last few months. Life had been going on everywhere, because that was life’s job. The clocks were always turning, and change was as constant as endings. As were beginnings and growth.

Emily Sato had been growing a lot in these past few months. Her walking had quickly become steadier when she’d been given the Grisbys’ huge yard and beyond to run, jump and walk in. In late August she had finally dared to stay in kindergarten without too much trouble.

The new place had been terrifying at first, even though the adults there were nice. It was noisy and full of people, and Emily had found herself either frozen in fear or playing by herself. She still couldn’t talk with most people. Her words just got caught up somewhere in her throat, and an almost paralysing fear made her just stare helplessly at the person she was supposed to have a conversation with.

The adults at the kindergarten mostly understood that, but the other kids kept trying to talk to her until she got scared or angry at herself for not being able to talk and the other kids gave up and avoided her.

All except a girl named Malika, who had eventually dared to approach Emily and they had slowly formed a language of play and gestures that Emily gradually relaxed to use around her.

That had made things a little better.

Things were better at her new home too. Much better than at the scary public places. Emily still missed mommy terribly, and she kept having nightmares even as her fifth birthday drew closer and she didn’t feel so small and weak anymore. Her new family tried to help her, and that was good. She had started to like her new parents a lot, even though they weren’t mommy. They were nice. Yvette had helped her to adjust to the life at home the most while Walter was busy at work. They both had helped her communicate even without words – although even that felt too scary many times – and had given her a room and care as if they too loved her like mommy had. Before mommy had left, that is. That still confused Emily a lot. If mommy had loved her, then why wasn’t she coming back?

Her new siblings were nice too. There was Miha, who was usually very quiet and who liked reading books. Miha was seven years old, so he wasn’t much older than Emily. They often played together, and when Miha was doing his homework, Emily would often watch him write letters and words and point at the words so Miha could explain to her what they meant. Emily knew that Miha used to be Miha Fitch, but nowadays he was a Grisby. So he too was from a different family like her. He sometimes told her about his brother, who had been nice but who had gone away because his first parents had been bad. Then he got quiet and didn’t want to tell her more about it.

Miha also had nightmares. Emily wondered if he saw monsters too like she did. They didn’t talk about the nightmares much, but they often gathered together during the nights if they happened to wake up from bad dreams around the same time. They’d huddle under a blanket and Miha would read stories to Emily, and Emily would look at the words and slowly start to pick up letters and then syllables.

Her older sisters didn’t have nightmares, or if they did, they didn’t show it. Laurel was the happiest, and she painted pretty pictures and was always smiling and joking. Emily felt quite safe around her. She played with Emily and Miha often, even though she was also often busy with school.

Harper also had an old family, but she never talked about them. Emily only knew that her last name had been Lauryl, which sounded almost exactly like Laurel. Harper was often sombre and dark, but Emily liked her a lot. Harper wasn’t afraid to tell her even scary things.

Sometimes the scary things made Emily have even more nightmares, but Harper was always quick to assure her that her scary stories weren’t real. That made things better. Emily wasn’t sure if the monsters in her dreams were real, but she could believe Harper when she said something about her stories. Maybe that meant that even her dream monsters were just stories. Stories that her mind made up.

Some stories were nice, though. The kind that Emily wanted to be real. And tonight was a night of stories as well. Emily hoped they’d be good ones.

Emily looked down at herself one more time. Tiger stripes looked back at her, bright and reassuring.

“You look awesome, kiddo,” said Harper. She was dressed in some old winter clothes and had a hockey mask on. When Emily had looked at her questioningly, she had explained that she was a hockey player in a way that meant she wasn’t really but didn’t want to tell Emily the truth. So Emily figured it was something so scary that even Harper didn’t want to tell to little kids. Harper took one more look at Emily to make sure her face paint was good and then walked past her, patting her on shoulder, “Come on, we’re ready to go.”

The others had told her that it was Spooky Day. People had been talking about it for weeks now. In the kindergarten they had made bats and spiders out of construction paper, and had even carved real pumpkins. They had done pretty much the same here at the Grisbys. Now the pumpkins were at the backyard and Yvette had told them she would put candles in them when it got dark.

Emily didn’t remember mommy ever mentioning Spooky Day. Then again, they had only ever celebrated birthdays and Snowflake Day. Mommy had never been a party person. She’d said that and smiled afterwards, and then talked about something else. But now there were all these parties and loudness and all kinds of events. They were fun and exciting, but they were also scary.

Apparently this party was supposed to be a little scary. Somehow that made things better. And wearing a costume made things easier too. She wasn’t Emily now. She was a brave tiger who had no problem roaming outside among the others. Her new siblings wanted to go for a round of what they called “trick or treating”. They had explained that they’d dress in costumes and go from door to door asking for candy and other treats. It sounded fun. They had told her to come too, and she had nodded. They had all smiled. She liked how the others didn’t mind that the words got caught in her throat so many times. Some other people got impatient, and that just made Emily lock up even more. But her new family was always so patient with her. It made her feel safe.

Harper led her downstairs, where her brother Miha and her other sister Laurel were waiting. They were in costumes too. Laurel was a cowgirl, and Miha was a Llama Boy. Those were an occupation and a superhero, not half-cow half-girl and half-llama half-boy. Yvette and Walter told them to stay together and be nice and come back before eleven, and then they were allowed to leave.

Emily was usually told to go to bed much earlier. The thought of staying up so late felt really exciting. It was so exciting that Emily almost forgot to be scared when they walked outside into the darkening evening.

Trick or treating was fun. The adults who opened the doors were almost always nice and had some candy or fruit to give them. And they were outside! Emily loved being outdoors, as long as she didn’t have to go there alone. They came across other people in costumes – Emily even saw another tiger, and after they had passed, Harper said that Emily was definitely more badass than the other tiger. Emily had learned that Harper thought a lot of things were badass. Before living with the Grisbys, Emily hadn’t even heard that word. But she knew it was a nice word – even though Yvette sometimes told Harper not to use it too much. Emily smiled at Harper, who was probably smiling at her behind the hockey mask too.

When it was really starting to get dark, Emily’s legs were aching from walking for so long, but she was still happy and proud of herself because she had come all the way around the neighbourhood and then some with her new family. They stopped at a playground Emily loved playing in, and Laurel let out a deep breath.

“Whew, what do you say, everyone? Should we start heading back? Operation Sugar High is well underway, and it’s almost nine thirty.”

“Can we play in the park first for a while?” asked Miha, “We still got plenty of time!”

His eyes glinted like they did when he got excited. At those times he got much less quiet and could actually babble a lot. He leaned towards Emily and whispered:

“Besides, now that it’s Spooky Day, we could maybe see some ghosts!”

Emily blinked and looked at Miha questioningly. Miha laughed.

“You know, they say that a ghost wanders around somewhere in here. A lady in white. Someone who drowned into the river long ago, and now she’s looking for people to drag-“

“Miha!” Laurel said sharply, “Don’t scare Emily! There are no ghosts around here! Or anywhere!”

“Okay, okay! Sorry!” Miha said, “I was just kidding.”

Laurel glanced at Harper.

“You shouldn’t tell so many scary stories to Miha!”

“Hey, the kid loves them!” Harper said defensively, “He’s pretty good at them too, as you just saw!”

Laurel sighed.

“Okay, everyone!” she clapped her hands, “We can stay here for a while. But play nice. And when Harper and I say we go home, we go home, okay?”

Emily nodded, and Miha punched the air triumphantly.

“Yesss!”

He smiled at Emily.

“An’ don’t worry! There’s not really any ladies in white. That’s just an over-used ghost story.”

Emily could only nod. She wasn’t sure if she was really scared or not. Maybe. She didn’t want to run into any ladies in white, but she didn’t want to really run into any strangers in general. Not without any friends for company, at least.

And now she wasn’t alone, so it didn’t feel all that scary.

They played in the playground for a while. Emily and Miha raced on the bumblebees that didn’t go anywhere except in their imagination. It was an exciting race with no real winners – except Miha when he stated that he won because he was older. Then he had raced to the swing set before Emily could protest. Not that she could have, anyway. Her words felt difficult again, even though usually talking to her new family was pretty easy.

Maybe she was nervous about meeting someone she shouldn’t meet, after all.

She left the bumblebee alone and walked up to the fountain in the middle of the park. She liked it almost more than the things that were there to be played with. It was pretty; during the day Emily liked to watch sunlight glint against the fish scale tiles in the bottom of the fountain. The water was soothing. It flowed quietly and Emily was fairly sure that it didn’t spray violently ever like it had when mum had got hurt. When mum…

Emily frowned. She tried not to think about her nightmares when she was awake. Laurel had started playing music for her before she went to sleep some months ago, and it had helped, but the nightmares were still there. Monsters that sometimes tried to eat her up, and sometimes they wanted to hurt. And sometimes they were just confusing. The worst of the monsters was all of those. Emily shuddered. She tried to remind herself that she was a tiger now. She was a ferocious, badass tiger who didn’t need to be scared of monsters or ladies in white.

They weren’t real. The water was. Her new family and friends were real too. And most of them were here with her now. She had nothing to fear.

“Is there something very interesting in the water, child?”

Emily gasped and spun around when a voice rang out right next to her. It wasn’t a voice she knew. It was almost like the water, but not soothing. Emily turned and a white shape made her step back several steps.

The lady in white. She was real after all! Emily wanted to call out to Miha, to tell him it wasn’t just a story. And she wanted to call out to Harper and Laurel so that they would help her. But her voice wasn’t working. All she could manage was a strangled squeak.

I’m a tiger, she reminded herself again, I should roar and everyone would hear me!

But she couldn’t. She was just a girl in silly face paint, a girl who was trapped in her own fear.

The ghost smiled at her. Her lips were too red and when she raised her hands Emily saw that her nails were sharp. Like monster claws. Emily’s breath hitched.

“Worry not,” the ghost said, “I am not here to hurt you, or anyone else either.”

She looked at Laurel, Harper and Miha, who were still by the swings. Emily hoped the others would see the ghost too… or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she could convince herself that the ghost wasn’t real if the others didn’t see her. She opened her mouth again, and managed a small shout. Usually the others heard her easily and usually came by to see what was wrong.

But now they kept playing as if nothing odd was happening. Why? Were they leaving her too? Or did they really not hear her?

“I came here to warn you, little one,” the ghost said. Her eyes were lilac; they would have been pretty if they hadn’t been so cold, “You seem to have good people around you. Someone to keep you safe.”

Emily couldn’t move. She was frozen again. She managed to see the others out of the corner of her eye, but it was as if they were in a different place than her. They weren’t even looking at her or the ghost.

“Still, stay careful,” the ghost said, “Do not let yourself be fooled by kind strangers.”

“You… you’re a stranger,” Emily pointed out, surprised that her words worked. The ghost laughed. The laughter sliced through the air. It reminded Emily of the pipes that had burst in her home.

“So I am,” the ghost said, “And perhaps you should not trust me either. But I know things. I see things, and that should not be ignored.”

She trailed off and then looked around as if worried someone might catch her. She sighed.

“Well, this is all the time we get, it seems. Stay safe, Emily Sato.”

A light flashed, and Emily could feel a blast of cold air on her face. The light broke into small slivers that faded upwards into the sky.

Emily stood still for a long moment, and only then realised that her hands and legs were shaking. All of her was shaking, really. She felt tears in her eyes, and she tried to breathe through the blob of fear in her throat.

She wanted mommy. But mommy was… mommy had left her and hadn’t come back yet!

“Emily?”

Emily looked up at the new voice. This time it was one she recognised and was very welcome. Uncle Tad had appeared as if out of nowhere. And he wasn’t a ghost. He made every place he went feel different just by being there, so Emily knew he was really there.

Emily’s frozen legs managed to move out of sheer relief, and she rushed to Uncle Tad, and he picked her up into his arms. Emily buried her face in his shoulder and tried not to cry.

“Goodness, you just keep growing,” he said quietly, gently. Then his voice changed, becoming more worried: “What is the matter?”

“Oh, hey, Mr. Dustpine,” said Harper, and Emily only now realised that the others had come up behind her, “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Hello,” Tad greeted them, “I was taking a walk and heard you. Is something the matter?”

“That’s what we were about to ask,” Laurel said, “We just noticed that Emily was staring at something. What was it, Emily? You looked scared.”

“I bet it was a ghost,” Harper said jokingly.

“Enough with the ghosts! They aren’t real!” Laurel snapped, “This is probably all your fault for scaring Emily like that!”

“Hey, I keep telling her that she shouldn’t take my stories seriously!”

“She’s not even five years old!”

And there, among her new family and in the arms of her favourite friend, Emily was ready to believe that it was just stories. So when they asked again what she had seen and why she had seemed so shaken, she just shrugged her shoulders and managed to sign “nothing” with almost not-shaking hands.

The others left her be, then. Just made sure that she was really okay and then said that they should go home. They had a whole mountain of candy to go through, after all.

“Too bad we didn’t make it to your house, Tad,” Harper said when they started to walk out of the park, “We could have trick or treated you too.”

“I do have a couple of ginseng roots in my pocket,” said Tad, “And some ginger.”

“Oh, awesome. Mum loves to use those for cooking!”

“I find them quite tasty even raw.”

“Wow.”

Emily stopped and glanced over her shoulder while the others talked. The park was empty. The ghost was gone as if it had never been there. That made her feel much better. She still quickened her steps so she wouldn’t get left too far behind.

We could end the stories of that Spooky Day there. To Emily meeting a ghost and deciding it wasn’t a ghost after all. And being right about that.

Or we could tell about Amelia’s Spooky Day party, where she had a pleasant evening with friends who were all dressed in silly costumes and talked together and ate delicious pumpkin pie. But that story wouldn’t be very interesting.

Then again, perhaps it’s sometimes better to have uninteresting moments that are just peaceful. And sometimes it’s perhaps even better to hint at the peacefulness instead of focusing on the little sorrows that would surely show when one gave things a closer look.

Perhaps that wasn’t the most satisfying or focused thing to end this part of the story on. But that’s life for you. It had no focus or set moments. It had surprises and fragmented little tales and uncertainty.

At least the weather was nice and peaceful that evening, signalling the last almost warm moments of the year before the quickly cooling November swept over Riverview.

Author’s Note: HEY GUYS did you know that I started a new story? It’s an Ambrosia Challenge –story, so it will involve ghosts and fantasy and such. It’s called Forget-Me-Not! It’s set in the same universe as Tango, but it will mostly feature totally different characters and has a very different story and tone. Though there will also be cameos of some familiar faces! If you haven’t checked it out yet and are interested, then now’s your chance!

I also started a side story to Tango, called Letters to Emily. You can find it on this blog, and it features a fifteen-year-old Emily, who gets some very interesting pen pals!

But now back to this story and this chapter: Yes, Tad does carry around random spices from his garden. Also yes, he likes to eat them raw sometimes. That’s a bit of his character I added when his Sim got hungry and decided that out of all the vegetables and fruits in his pockets, he wanted to eat a whole raw garlic. I mean, sure, I love garlic and it’s healthy and all but man, apparently Sims have mouths of steel.

Also random behind-the-scenes fact, all the kids the Grisbys have adopted have names that are partially references to some other video game kids who had unpleasant fates. Harper was originally Lauryl, named after a murdered orphan in Thief: Deadly Shadows. But after I decided the Grisbys would be the adoptive family and realised that there was already a Laurel in there, I changed Lauryl to be Harper’s old last name instead.

Miha Fitch’s surname is a reference to Scarlet Fitch from Silent Hill: Homecoming.  She was also murdered and then manifested as a creepy, doll-like boss monster. Emily’s first name could be a reference to Lady/Empress Emily Kaldwin from Dishonored, though that’s a bit debatable since I wasn’t actively thinking about naming my Emily after anyone while I was first naming her, but I might have been subconsciously thinking of Lady Kaldwin, seeing how she too witnessed her mother’s death while she was young and is also favoured by a supernatural, godlike young man with weird eyes. 😀

I hope you enjoyed this, and I also hope I get the next chapter done a bit quicker than this one. I’m also going to work on a new Fey-chapter next. It needs a little bit of writing and then lots of editing, but all the pics should be taken already.

See you later!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Break. Connection.

NEXT Chapter: The Month of Death

Chapter 31: Break. Connection.

WARNING: Not sure if this even counts as something to warn about, but this chapter contains discussion of a slasher film, so expect desensitised mentions and semi-vague descriptions of gory things (nothing is shown, though). Also I at some point updated Chapter 29 and added Tad agreeing for that interview Vanja has been wanting. Just mentioning that here so that the brief mention of the interview won’t confuse those who read Ch. 29 when it was first published. 🙂

The universe was whispering to him.

Well, it always did that. In fact, he was fairly sure that the universe whispered to everyone. It was all in the movement of particles. In light waves and atoms. Not all heard it consciously, but most could at least get a feeling of it sometimes.

Tad always heard it. But now he realised how much weaker and localised his hearing had become in the last few months. The whispers were muffled, sometimes even broken.

He really should have taken a break some time ago already.

Well, what was done was done. At least it was something he could easily fix. First he kept his promise to Miss Leifsdóttir and let her ask him questions he could at least partially answer to. Questions about his nature and his job. She seemed content with him explaining the basics, the atoms and the universes. She managed to keep the questions of justice and right and wrong out of it – for the most part – which Tad was pleasantly surprised about. But he supposed she had already accepted that he wouldn’t give her answers to those. After she had performed the summoning ritual a few years ago, she had screamed at him in rage and perhaps realised that it would do no good. Or then she thought she had found better ways to deal with her anguish. Whatever the case, Tad hoped it worked for her.

After visiting Miss Leifsdóttir, Tad moved on. He let the part that had focused on being Tad Dustpine get back to work, go around the planets and guide spirits where it was needed. And sometimes he took breaks during which he walked on dark matter and watched stars die. He shed the Tad-form and let himself just be mist, just darkness in the back of the minds of the living ones.

He had missed it. It was easy to remember himself that way. But he knew it couldn’t last. Because soon it would make him feel oversimplified. Just a shadow of what he was. Because Death may have had a simple, if deep Purpose, but over the millennia he had become more complex than his work. Being Tad Dustpine had just been the most recent step. A step he didn’t want to erase even if he did need a break from almost-flesh and blood.

But for a couple of weeks he set those thoughts aside because he needed to cleanse himself. It was a bit like fasting, he supposed. Except only vaguely and most living ones probably wouldn’t see the connection.

But after a week had passed, he started to solidify again. To become limbs and bones and cloaks and scythes. And then he took the more human form again. Three weeks after leaving he was Tad Dustpine again, walking on the streets of Bridgeport. He was visible and felt blood flowing in his veins and his skin almost reacting to the cool night air despite him not feeling the cold. He was renewed. Restored. And less… there. Just like he should be.

He had promised Amelia that he would return to her after he had taken his break. But he wasn’t sure he should do that before he’d first talked to a certain someone.

He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of it before. Maybe he was just too used to doing things on his own. But seeing Philippa in Sunset Valley had really reminded him that he shouldn’t forget keeping up good relations to the others. And that he could perhaps use a friend who was more like him. He and the others had formed some tentative friendships over the eons, but they periodically became distant because of some argument or simply because Tad was a lonely being by nature. And so far he had accepted it. But now… it was perhaps what he needed in order to create a good system for being among humans like this. That was why he had ended up in Bridgeport. Because Love’s human self lived there. It seemed like his best bet; Philippa Honeyrose was everyone’s friend, if a distant one, and she even seemed to make the human life work.

Well, work was perhaps an exaggeration, considering Philippa’s numerous problems even she herself openly acknowledged. But she had nevertheless built a system for herself, one that in a way protected her from some of her problems while still creating new ones. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an admirable start. And spending so much time among humans had clearly done a lot of good to Philippa. Mood swings and occasional more severe problems aside, she was actually shaping up to be a more stable being than before.

And now Tad had something to say about his own experiences as a human too. That seemed like a good start for a friendship. To talk and share experiences and maybe come up with a better system together. And then… then Tad would feel safe enough to go back.

He missed Amelia. He really hoped this would work.

Philippa was apparently on her way to bed when Tad knocked on her door. Tad didn’t know if she could sleep, but she at least seemed to like getting ready for it. She was wearing nightclothes, and she let her red hair fly wild around her face. She smiled widely when she saw him. It was her usual smile, genuinely loving but at the same time stretched a bit too thin.

“Tad!” she exclaimed, kissing air next to his face like people did in some cultures as a greeting, “I didn’t expect to see you here! Come on in!”

Tad followed her into her very red living room. The television was casting coloured lights on the pear-textured sofas. Judging by the rather amorous dialogue, there was some kind of romantic programme going on. Tad inclined his head at the television.

“Does that not remind you of work?” he asked mostly just to start a conversation.

Phil laughed.

“Nah, it’s actually pretty relaxing! It’s like… they’re just acting and there’s rarely real-real romance going on. So it’s like… the stuff I do is sort of happening, but not really. You should try it too! It’s fun!”

“I should watch these… romantic programmes? Amelia showed me a romantic comedy once. It was not particularly effective.”

“I was thinking that watching really gory murder-fests would work better for you,” Phil said, “Ooh! Hey! We should do that! I’ve got Moonlight Massacre II on DVD! Let’s watch that right now!”

“Um… actually, I came here just to talk,” Tad said nervously, but Phil had already started going through her collection of films. She waved her hand in a carefree manner.

“Okay, we can talk, sure!” she said, “But we can watch that thing too. It’s really cheesy fun. You know, generic, obnoxious teens partying at a conveniently isolated place, lots of jumpscares and a gimmicky serial killer who’s totally unrealistic…”

She jumped up and held up a DVD box that had Moonlight Massacre II written on it in blood red letters. There was also a man in a rather cheap clown costume standing in the moonlight, with a pile of what was presumably dead bodies at the man’s feet. Phil hopped to what Tad assumed was the DVD-player and put the disc into it without causing anything to short-circuit. She then walked over to a couch and flopped onto it.

“Okay, so what did you want to talk about?” she asked as music started to play in the TVs speakers and red letters formed actors’ names onto the screen. Tad hesitated for a moment, and then sat down on a vacant seat next to her.

“Well, I-“

“Hold on!” Phil lifted her hand, “The opening kill is about to happen! Look at that random person go! She definitely needs to practise more if she’s going to outrun any killers in those heels!”

Tad glanced at the screen. There was screaming, and then blood, and then the blood was spelling out the name of the film.

“Um… right,” Tad said, “I uh… wanted to ask you how you do it. Spend so much time in an almost real human form, I mean. I can see it has even helped you establish yourself much better than… well, the last time you…”

“Got myself erased?” Phil finished his sentence, “Yeah. It’s been nice. Way better than last time, as you said. I was pretty awful at that one point. I mean, I don’t really remember it. It’s all pretty odd. Like it’s not me doing any of the things I apparently did, but still…”

She looked thoughtfully at the TV screen.

“But anyway… so… how have I managed this well now, huh? Well, balance is important. I’m not here all the time.”

“Yes. I know. I have just taken a three-week break myself. From this form… and now I feel a bit disconnected, but better.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right”, Phil stroked her chin, “The other thing I do is remember who I am at all times. And sometimes I just let loose and do fun stuff that could get pretty messy but that then doesn’t because I can keep it together. You know, to test myself. Plus it’s thrilling. I like that. So yeah, I do my job, have fun, sometimes let loose, and sometimes do something really stupid.”

“Oh. That sounds… risky?”

“Yeah, I know!”

“Right.”

“Hey, look!” Phil pointed to the screen, “Here comes some ominous dialogue, and then the teens come in. Oh, man, those two are already making out. They’re so gonna die first! So, was that all you wanted to talk about? Humanity and how to pull it off?”

“Um… no,” Tad fidgeted nervously, “I also wanted to see how you were. To say hi.”

“Aaww, that’s so sweet!”

“And I was thinking that perhaps we should spend more time together…” Tad trailed off for a moment before he looked at Phil uncertainly, “You know… to be friends? I know we are not… the closest, but I just thought…”

“Friends?” Phil narrowed her eyes, and then she grinned, “Aa-aaw! That would be cool! We haven’t really tried to be friends in… I don’t know… decades?”

“I think so…”

“Well, to be fair I have had my hands full trying to remake myself after the… you know. The thing. But yeah. That sounds-“

Phil suddenly gasped excitedly.

“Hey! You know what we should do right now?!”

“What?”

Phil leaned forward in her seat.

“We should go out to the town! For a walk! Ooh, or clubbing! I haven’t done that in months! So we should totally do that! You know, have fun!”

“I… last time we went somewhere together to ‘have fun’, that one man had a heart attack.”

“Actually, the last time was in Sunset Valley in that cat pub, and the only bad thing that happened was that we had an argument.”

“Oh, right. I was thinking of the time before that. I think it was about thirty-one years ago.”

“Psssh, it wasn’t even a fatal heart attack! He got help almost right away, remember? Besides, now we know that you panic really easily if someone tries to hit on you, so we can avoid those situations!”

Tad frowned at the TV screen, where a group of teenagers were currently talking in a way even he knew teenagers didn’t really talk.

“I still do not know… How about that walk? That sounds… safer.”

“Oh…” Phil’s face fell for a moment, but then she jumped up from her seat, “Okay! That works! Hold on, I’ll go change! I can’t go out in my PJs! I mean, I could… and I have, but now I don’t feel like it!”

She was gone and rummaging through something in her bedroom before Tad had a chance to say anything. He was left alone on the sofa, feeling quite lost and wondering if talking to Phil had been a good idea after all.

It took Phil about half an hour to get ready. During that time, the film she had left on had come to a point where bodies had started to pile, and Tad was watching it all unfold with a raised eyebrow and mild fascination. It wasn’t fun the way Phil made it sound to be for her, but it was… actually surprisingly relaxing. People were acting like they were dying, but they actually weren’t. So it was like seeing something that should require his work but that actually didn’t. It almost felt like a holiday, even though he was always working. He wondered if finding holidays from fake murders was twisted or not. Maybe for some. Then again, people made these films for entertainment, apparently.

The masked murderer in the film had again found another victim when Phil walked back out of her bedroom, dressed in clothes that would easily blend in with the city’s nightlife.

“So, how’s the film?” she asked, “Oooh! This is a neat part! Wait for it… Oh, yikes! Gross! Did you see how that guy was ripped in half?”

“Yes,” Tad said, “When done that way, it should really be much slower. And messier.”

He smiled at Phil.

“You know, this is quite relaxing. Even though it is in a bit poor taste.”

“See? I told you! But we should go when there’s still stuff going on outside! I mean, walks are boring if there’s nothing to see. I can lend you the DVD if you want to finish watching this later.”

“Um… no thank you. I doubt I could play it without breaking it.”

“Really? Wow, that’s weird.”

“I know. I cannot really help it.”

Phil thought about it.

“I guess it’s kind of like clocks and radio waves going crazy around Father Time… you know, when he actually bothers to descend from his ivory tower,” she mused, “I suppose you Cosmic Truths are a bit too ancient for technology.”

She giggled.

“Sorry. I called you old.”

“I am old.”

“But not too old to do something fun!” Phil switched off the TV and the DVD and then spun around towards her front door, her arms wide and embracing the world, “Now let’s go!”

It was just the right hour to be out in Bridgeport. Well, it was the right hour if one wanted to spend their time at the local clubs, getting inebriated, dancing, and possibly having intimate moments with someone equally drunk or equally dancing. Tad wasn’t keen on any of those things… well, except for dancing. But dancing in the current city nightlife was usually rather uncoordinated and involved a lot of writhing, which Tad wasn’t very comfortable with. So he was content to just focus on following Phil, who waved happily at every other passer-by. Sometimes people started staring at each other with amorous looks after Phil had walked past them.

When they got to the heart of Bridgeport, the soundscape had changed. The edge of the centre where Phil lived in had been quieter, and the noises had been that of living and of an occasional heart attack. But here the sounds became wilder and louder, and their feel shifted from everyday life to escapism. The different but still often similar music beats mixed together as they blared from the dance clubs. Many of the people were talking louder as the alcohol had convinced them that they needed to be heard by everyone. Phil took a deep breath.

“You smell that?” she asked, “It’s energy and forgetfulness. Or at least wishes of those.”

Tad mostly smelled the alcohol in people’s blood, but underneath it, he could sense the energy. The enjoyment. This was happiness to at least some of these people. Phil led him through a currently empty street towards a place that was apparently named Brightmore, and it certainly lived up to that. The whole building was lit up rather excessively, making it look more like a cube-shaped, giant lamp. It was situated near a big roundabout that had a fountain in the middle of it. A sculpture spiralled towards the stars. The sounds of flying water created white noise in the air. Phil spared a wistful look at Brightmore, but then stopped and smiled.

“Well, what now? Should we keep going or just walk? Or wait! Let’s sit down! I love this place! It’s so peaceful!”

Phil was quick to drag Tad to the fountain in the middle of the roundabout. At first glance it looked like it should have been very much the opposite of peaceful, but now, late at night, it actually did feel like an oasis in the middle of the emptier streets. The sound of water muffled the noise of traffic, and the greenish, artificial lights in the fountain bathed everything with a slightly sickly, yet somehow comforting glow. Phil lay down on the edge of the fountain, dipping her hand into the water. Tad sat next to her and wrapped his arms around his legs.

Tad closed his eyes for a moment and tried to ignore the sounds of someone drowning and of a large bunch of fish being raised to the surface, also drowning. He shouldn’t think too much of work now. The rest of him could take care of that. He focused on the water in front of him and let the artificial glow calm him down. Phil splashed the water slightly, letting the droplets rain onto the flickers of light in the fountain.

“So… what do you think?” she asked, “This is pretty neat, huh?”

“Yes.”

“We’re right at the heart of this city. From here, it actually looks great.”

Tad looked up at the skyscrapers around them.

“Yes. It does.”

“Even though it’s all gonna crumble down at some point, right?”

“I would say because of that.”

“Right,” Phil smiled, “So… what’s this really about, Tad? Did you really come here to spend time with me? Or did you just want to figure out how to combine pretend-humanity with being you?”

“I… I do not know,” Tad stared at the water sadly. Somewhere in the distance, a car horn blared frantically before the sound of a deer crashing into the car cut off the sound, “Both. I really wanted to talk to you… to find a friend among us, even though I know it will probably all fade again at some point. And I wanted to reassure myself that I am fine now, I think. And to see someone who makes this work.”

Phil hummed.

“I don’t. Make it work, I mean. Not really. But I manage.”

She drew pictures into the water. They turned into ripples and slowly melted away.

“You know what the biggest problem with being among humans really is? Caring.”

“Yes… that seems to always be the issue.”

“I always care too much. I can actually fall in love, at least in some ways, and almost no one else who’s like us can understand that.”

“I am sorry.”

“How many people have you got too attached to now?”

Tad thought about it for a moment.

“If I were to count just the very… risky ones, then two.”

Phil sat up and smiled.

“Okay. Two’s good. You can work with that. Just try to take a moment to figure out how you really feel about them.”

Tad lowered his legs into the water. The lights in the fountain short-circuited and the turquoise glow vanished. Tad cringed.

“Oops. Sorry…” he said and rubbed his neck. Why did technology have to be so jumpy around him?

“Meh. It’s fine. Okay, you’ve got the feelings figured out?”

“Right now?”

Phil shrugged.

“Well, you don’t have to do that right now, but I’d recommend you do it quickly. If you’re going to keep being here like this.”

Tad nodded slowly.

“I will keep that in mind.”

“Good.”

The cool night wind sliced through the air.

“You know, this is kinda nice,” Phil said, “Just talking with you. It’s great seeing you a bit less depressing than usually.”

“Thank you,” Tad said, “But… I am sorry for wasting your time.”

“Hey, it wasn’t a waste! It was fun!”

“Right. I suppose.”

“Mm-hmm. Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about we go back to my place and finish watching that film? The best kills are still coming up! There’s this one part with fish hooks and intestines that’s just really nasty and fake-looking!”

Tad thought about it for a moment.

“That sounds nice.”

“It’s a deal! And… if you don’t mind, I can maybe talk about random stuff while I’m at it. I’ve had a pretty stressful week! You won’t believe how bad the customers can sometimes be!”

“I can imagine.”

“Oh, right. I guess you can. But you’ll never guess what happened yesterday! There was this guy, okay? And he practically broke down my office door because he didn’t like the date I’d set him up with. And it turned out he’d actually gone to a totally wrong place and started harassing a random woman because he thought she was his date!”

“Oh, that does sound rather unpleasant.”

“It was. Well, I tried to be all friendly but then I eventually had to kick the guy out when he got too threatening. Gently, of course.”

As Phil talked, they stood up and started walking back towards Phil’s home. And Tad started to think that perhaps this hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.

He returned to Riverview the next day. He knocked on the door and was welcomed by a surprised Mrs. Sprigg, who spread her arms as if she wanted to hug him. Tad raised his hands up as a meagre defence.

“Oh, Ameliaaah!” Mrs. Sprigg shouted to the living room, pronouncing her daughter’s name with a slightly forced French accent, “Tad is here!”

Amelia hurried into the hall, and Tad managed a soft smile as a greeting. Amelia barely had time to say a “hi” before Mrs. Sprigg started talking in a rather over-compassionate voice.

“Oh, Amelia told me about your uncle! I’m so sorry! How is he?”

Tad stared at Mrs. Sprigg. Uncle? What was going on? He glanced at Amelia, who was looking very uncomfortable, waving her arms and silently telling him to play along. Oh, right. Amelia had probably needed a cover story for him. He opened his mouth and wrestled with his words for a moment before he came up with an elaborate, believable lie:

“Uh, he is fine.”

So far so good.

“Oh, that’s good to hear!” Mrs. Sprigg squealed, “What happened to him, anyway? Amelia could just tell he was injured.”

Okay. Slightly trickier. Worry not… you got this.

“His… leg was injured… in a vicious snapping turtle attack.”

He saw Amelia staring at him blankly over her mother’s shoulder.

“Snapping turtles?” Mrs. Sprigg repeated, “Wow. In Moonlight Falls?”

“Yes. There is a small sanctuary for them there. Quite an uncommon accident, but it could happen. Like I said, my uh… uncle… is recovering.”

Chouette!” Mrs. Sprigg exclaimed, “And you got to see your family too!”

“Yes. Of course. They are… there… being a… family.”

“Can you tell about your family a little?”

Tad stared at Mrs. Sprigg, and then at Amelia. Amelia kept nodding vigorously, smiling at him encouragingly.

“Right,” Tad said slowly, “My family… it is… I have a father named… Erebus. And a mother…”

He paused for a moment, wondering how much these people knew about mythologies. He decided to mix them together a little bit to sound less suspicious.

“…mother named Giltinė. And my uncle of course. The one who got hurt. Yes. He is there too. His name is… Donn.”

“And they also have a dog named Pluto,” said Mr. Sanguine, who had appeared from the dining room, “Hi, Tad.”

“Hello.”

“Your family sounds lovely!” Mrs. Sprigg smiled.

“I suppose. They are just names, though.”

“Okay, I think Tad is tired after the trip,” Amelia said, thankfully interrupting the conversation, “We should let him rest. Mum, we should go uh… get those kitchen cupboards finally cleaned!”

Mrs. Sprigg nodded enthusiastically.

Certainement!”

Amelia almost pushed Mrs. Sprigg into the kitchen, and Tad felt like he could breathe easier. If he wanted to, that is. Mr. Sanguine looked at the two retreating women and then rolled his eyes.

“Any more forced happiness and I want to stab a pencil into my ear. But seriously, good to see you’re still standing.”

“It is good to see you too,” Tad said.

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get used to it, though. I’ll be leaving soon. I just need to make a few more arrangements.”

“I will find you if I need anything.”

“I bet.”

Mr. Sanguine raised his hand in both greeting and goodbye and walked up the stairs. Tad turned the other way, into his room.

The room looked… smaller than he remembered. Then again, everything looked small when he had again spent so much time as an invisible blanket of mist all over the universe. The room was a welcome sight, nevertheless. It was as if coming to a home away from home. And this home felt more stable. More grounded. Even though from Tad’s point of view, it was very fleeting indeed.

But for now, it was the same… well, not exactly the same. Tad stopped in mid-step when he noticed the additions to his room. On his desk, there was a pile of neatly folded clothing. A jacket and what seemed to be a long scarf. Next to them there was a piece of paper. And on the wall…

Tad stood dumbfounded in the middle of his room, staring at the objects for a long moment.

Finally, he took the piece of paper and read it.

Tad,

here’s a welcome gift for when you get back. It’s going to get cold soon, so I figured you’d like to wear something warmer outside. Also, the poster was found by the Grisby kids. I told them you like death-related stuff, and Harper was super-excited. I hope you like it.

– Amelia

He stood there for a long, stunned moment. Then he called for Amelia, and she entered, looking sunny as ever.

He didn’t know what to say, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“Yeah… uh… surprise?” she said, sounding oddly awkward. Usually she was very natural about being nice, “That’s not a bribe, by the way. Or a pity-gift. I just… wanted to do something nice for you.”

Tad smiled.

“I know,” he said, “Thank you. I love them.”

A very clearly relieved smile spread on Amelia’s face.

“Great! You’re welcome, then.”

They stood in amicable silence for a long moment.

“So, are you really staying again?” Amelia asked hopefully.

“Yes. If I am still welcome.”

Amelia smiled.

“I told you; you always are.”

It was good to be back.

Author’s Note: Yes, the fountain lights did really go off when I was done changing Tad’s pose so that his legs were in the water. 😀

This chapter went through lots of rewrites… I kind of wanted to have Phil and Tad go clubbing and it would have been all sorts of awkward. I even had lots of pretty fun pics taken from Brightmore, but in the end I figured it was too similar to their previous meeting so I went with this. Way less hijinks and more… EXCITING TALKING ACTION! 😛

As for the bit with Tad and Phil watching a slasher-film, I can explain: When one of my first TS4-deaths occurred, Grimmy stayed after doing his job, went over to the TV and started watching a film. He seemed to be really into it, cheering and laughing at the screen… turns out he was watching The Moonlight Massacre III. I thought that was funny, but also made sense, in a way. It’s not real death, so for someone who sees real death (and IS real death) all the time, seeing movie death could reasonably be a somewhat fun, if strange experience.

Also Tad was just listing names of death-related gods and goddesses (Donn being an Irish god/lord and Giltinė being a Baltic goddess) when he was making up family members. The kind of exception is Erebus, who is an ancient Greek god of darkness, and in the mythology the actual father of Thanatos, after whom I named Tad. If Tad hadn’t decided to start deliberately mixing mythologies to not make his family sound too obviously made-up (because listing deity-names totally isn’t obviously making up names for imaginary parents…), he probably would have claimed his mother’s name to be Nyx to stick with the Greek mythology theme/canon. And the reason Novak is still here is because I really wanted him to make that Pluto-joke. Terrible jokes for the win!

Also I now have this terrible idea that I really want to make a “Halloween-episode” -chapter next. Because it’s obviously the time to do that. Because who needs good timing when you get random ideas?

Have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Hospitality

NEXT Chapter: Spooky Day Fragments

Chapter 30: Hospitality

NOTE: This chapter contains more gratuitous poetry in Finnish. The translation to the poem is again found in the Author’s Notes at the end, and in this chapter the characters do translate the main points of the poem in-story as well. 🙂

Gaius Deacon tried his best to get excited and go along with his father and sister’s enthusiasm. But he had a very bad feeling about the whole plan. Sure, his father – and his grandparents back when they had been alive – had talked about how proper sorcerers should always strive to bend the laws of nature, but they had also always stressed the importance of being responsible and smart about it.

Gaius was starting to think that his father had at some point let the stress of being the head of the Deacon family – not to mention the death of mum – to break something in him. And Gaius was afraid that Lydia may have broken something too.

Still, he wanted to trust her. Lydia was so much smarter than him. And she had always kept him company when mum and dad had been too busy with work. She had done it even though she had been struggling with the lack of acceptance from their parents. Gaius had always thought it was unfair. It wasn’t Lydia’s fault that she didn’t have magic. But dad had always stressed how the Deacons were supposed to be an old, competent family of sorcerers and sorceresses. And those of them who weren’t had often turned out… not very formidable – such as Cousin Helen, who had descended into alcoholism, or Great Uncle Aris, who had become a car mechanic. Though as far as Gaius knew, at least Great Uncle Aris had been perfectly happy as a car mechanic. Still, Gaius had a feeling that maybe dad was being so harsh on Lydia partly because he wanted to challenge her. Because he knew that Lydia could become greater than any of them.

At least Gaius liked to think that. And he wanted to support his sister with her dreams of accomplishing even more in life. That was why he pretended to smile when dad dug out some more old tomes and started browsing through one.

“Okay, I’m sure it’s somewhere in here…” he said.

“You said that about the last five books too,” Lydia said a bit snippily.

“But this time I’m very sure about it.”

“What are you even looking for? I doubt there’s a ‘how to beat death’ spell in any of those. I mean, sure, those spells are all over the market, but they’re all either hoaxes or just don’t work because they’re idiotic.”

“I’m looking for a binding ritual,” father said after a slightly grumpy pause.

“Oh. Well, that’s actually kind of perfect. Are you sure it’ll work?”

“It has been used before successfully, at least according to some records. It’s not permanent, of course. And you need to figure out a more lasting way if you really want to impress me. And of course to make sure to shield your brother and yourself from possible repercussions.”

Lydia crossed her arms.

“Oh, I will.”

“What are you going to do, Sis’?” Gaius asked cautiously, “I mean… you’re not going to just kill Death, right? How would that even work?”

Not to mention what kind of chaos it would cause if it somehow worked. Sure, Gaius wasn’t really a fan of Death either. That son of a bitch had taken too many of his relatives, and had attacked dad and killed their precious zombies. Those last two were especially enraging. There were three things Gaius Deacon loved more than anything in this world: his sister, his parents, and his work with raising the dead.

“No, of course I’m not talking about killing or simply imprisoning Death!” Lydia said at once, “Those are such short-sighted goals! And something’s bound to go wrong when an integral part of reality is even temporarily incapacitated. No, I plan to bend Death to my will.”

Gaius stared at Lydia. Yes, that sounded a lot like what many Deacons had tried. And what Gaius in a sense also wanted. But he had always just been more interested in the mechanics of zombie-making. Of giving new life to those poor old corpses and teaching them to live again. It was cheating and bending the rules of Death, but not in a way Lydia or father wanted. What his sister was trying was… big. Too big. Why couldn’t Lydia or dad see that?

“Ah, here we go!” dad said suddenly, “This is about cosmic beings in general, but here’s some specifics about Death too.”

He showed the book to Gaius first. Gaius curled up to be more comfortable on the couch he was sitting on, and started reading.

“Oh, it’s in the ancient language… hold on.”

He cleared his throat.

”Käypä kuolon kohtaajaksi,
Tuonen herran voittajaksi.

Ensin etsi elon viljaa,
hedelmä kultainen poimi…”

He paused for a moment.

“So we have to find a… I think that’s talking about a life fruit. And it needs to be… hang on… that’s a lot of poetic filler… ah, here we go: Kuolon kuussa kerättävä/revittävä routamaasta… So we need to pick the life fruit during the month of death.”

Lydia frowned.

“November. So we need to wait. And we need to find a place where life fruit still grows around that time. That won’t be easy; that fruit is rare as it is… and most of them are grown just so some idiots could eat it to extend their life by a few months… Buuut I have some connections that could help.”

“Right,” father said, “Now, read on, son.”

“Um… okay…

Hae vettä mustan joen,
Luovi läpi liekkimeren.
Sillä piirrät taikamerkin,
loitsuriimut raapustelet.”

”The binding circle needs to be drawn with black water,” Lydia translated quickly, ”It could mean literal water that’s black because of some magic, or some kind of water from Death’s realm – I hope it’s not that one – or even some other liquid that’s not water at all.”

“It’s talking about tar,” dad corrected a bit smugly, “And it needs to be gathered from somewhere where there’s fire nearby. But at least the rest of the ingredients are simpler. There’s some ash, and a bit of blood. And then you need to figure out what you’re going to do after the binding.”

Lydia looked a bit hatefully at their father, but then her face twisted into a smirk that usually meant she had a plan.

“I told you; I will.”

Gaius still had a bad feeling about it all. But he wanted to trust Lydia. She was usually right, after all.


The house felt emptier. Maybe even emptier than before Tad had showed up. Amelia wasn’t sure. It felt so long ago, even though this strange adventure had only lasted for a few months. She remembered the time she had wanted breaks from her strange tenant. But now… Amelia noticed that she was sometimes watching out the windows as if hoping to catch a glimpse of the skinny, pale young man. She kept making vegetarian meals as if waiting for Tad to show up for dinner. It was silly, she knew. Tad had promised that he’d be back soon. It wasn’t the time to start acting like he was completely gone.

Too bad having mum around meant that she had to think about it, because Julia liked to bring Tad up in conversations. Amelia figured mum missed having a fellow gardener around. Or then she just wanted to make sure Tad wasn’t getting into trouble.

“So, where did you say Tad went?” she asked about a day after Tad had gone.

“I didn’t say…” Amelia said, and then realised with horror that they hadn’t agreed on a cover story for Tad’s absence, “He uh… went to see his family.”

“Really? In the middle of his summer studies?”

“Right… uh… he didn’t have that many courses. And his umm… uncle was injured,” Amelia stammered.

“Really? Oh no! I hope it’s nothing too bad!”

“It’s… probably not,” Amelia smiled nervously, “He said he’d be back in a few weeks.”

“Oh, okay. Hey, maybe we could get him something nice for when he returns! To take his mind off injured relatives.”

Amelia looked at her mother for a long while. She thought about Death Flowers and bribes and Tad’s sadness about never getting real gifts.

“Yeah,” she said, “Maybe.”

She put the possibility of presents on her to-do list, but otherwise she tried her best to go back to normal. She went to work, took walks, visited dad’s grave, and tried to spend time with mum. Mum was still painting a lot and enjoying her stay at home, but sometimes she made offhand comments about missing Champs Les Sims. This time she wouldn’t be running, though, just chasing after a life she had grown to like during her escape.

“You know when something becomes like home so quickly?” she said when Amelia asked her about it, “Something that takes a bit of your heart right away and never lets go… that’s Champs Les Sims for me.”

Amelia didn’t know what exactly that felt like. She fell in love with places easily, but they didn’t really take parts of her with them. She liked coming back home too much. Riverview was where she’d grown up in and where she wanted to be. But she understood that France had become important for mum, and she also knew she wasn’t going to stop her from returning there. She just hoped mum would stop busying herself with paintings and Philippe at least for a moment so Amelia could really talk to her for more than a few minutes before mum started being almost unrealistically cheerful again.

For a while, Amelia busied herself with being a good hostess to Novak, who to be fair seemed more annoyed than anything by her helpfulness. He insisted that he could take care of himself, and Amelia didn’t doubt that. But she figured she could at least try to form some kind of connection to him. He still made her nervous, but he seemed to have a good heart – despite the bad things he obviously did.

“There’s no need to bother with the friendliness,” he said one evening after Amelia had brought him some refreshments, “I’ll be gone soon. After I get my connections checked and figured out a place to go.”

“Really?” Amelia asked, “You can still stay.”

“Nah,” Novak shrugged, “You guys are too decent people for me to risk your safety by staying for too long. This has been a good place to hide in, but if I stay much longer, someone’s going to figure out where I am.”

He smirked.

“So don’t worry, I’ll be out of your way in no time.”

Amelia gave him an unsure smile. Novak looked almost relaxed that evening. He stopped using his laptop for a moment and went to sit on the guest room’s sofa. He could have easily passed for the normal university student he claimed to be whenever Julia or Philippe asked. Maybe that was what prompted Amelia to ask:

“So, you steal stuff, huh?”

Wow, what an awkward way to start a conversation, Amelia, she scolded herself immediately. Novak didn’t seem to mind, however. He actually laughed a little.

“Oh, wow, you actually wanna talk about it?”

“I… yeah. Maybe?”

“Okay. Sure.”

Amelia blinked.

“Really?”

“I just said I’m okay with it. Except… are your folks around? I’d rather not advertise it to everyone.”

“They’re out on a date,” Amelia said, glancing around as if there could be someone eavesdropping on them, “Philippe isn’t actually ‘my folks’, though.”

“Right. He’s just your mum’s rebound. Gotcha.”

“He’s not-“ Amelia sighed, “I don’t need to explain this to you, right?”

“Nope. I honestly don’t even care,” Novak raised his legs onto the couch, and Amelia decided not to say anything about putting shoes on the furniture, “So… yeah, I steal stuff. And hack stuff. Usually when someone pays me to do it.”

“Right,” Amelia sighed, “And that doesn’t bother you?”

“Nope. I’m good at it. And it has its charm. Adrenaline rushes, choosing my own work hours, challenges… occasional death threat and a much higher possibility of totally ruining my life and/or ending up dismembered in a ditch if I screw up too badly. What’s not to love?”

Amelia shifted nervously. A lot of the times it was difficult to tell whether Novak was joking, lying, or telling the truth.

“You’re good at it?” she repeated, “That’s it?”

Novak leaned back in his seat.

“What? Do you want a sob story about how my parents were drunks who beat me until I ran away and joined a travelling circus where one of the mimes taught me how to pick locks, and how they forgot about me when we were touring in Europe and I stayed there and ended up in crime so I wouldn’t starve?”

Amelia stared. Novak started laughing.

“You’re kidding now, right?” Amelia guessed.

“Maybe.”

Amelia made slightly disgruntled face.

“Maybe the clowns at the circus could have taught you better jokes, then.”

“Ooh, sass… kind of. I like that. You know, you’re tougher than you look.”

“Um… thanks?”

“I’m not just saying that because of you putting up with me, really,” Novak said, and he seemed to get almost serious, “You’ve been getting a lifetime’s worth of weirdness lately, I’d guess, and you’re toughing it out, getting in danger and hiding criminals and being Death’s landlady like it’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Amelia said.

“Exactly. It’s not,” Novak spread his arms, “But here we are.”

He let his arms fall to his sides.

“But you know, you’re not really cut out for all this. This crime and magical intrigue -stuff. You’ve done well so far, but at some point, it’s gonna come back to bite you. Maybe all of us.”

“I’m not trying to be cut out for this,” Amelia said, “I just want to help.”

Novak nodded thoughtfully.

“Like I said: tougher than you look.”

Amelia smiled.

“You know, you’re pretty nice for a thief.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Novak said, “Just don’t get too comfortable around criminals because of me.”

“I won’t.”

Amelia shifted her weight.

“So, you said you’d be leaving soon? What are you going to do then?”

Novak shrugged his shoulders again.

“Survive, pretty much.”

“Right. What did you do to make those people… that man… so angry at you?”

Novak laughed. This time the laugh was somewhat bitter and almost hysterical.

“Funny story, that. I was hired by that guy to do some stealing, but then I realised I was getting in too deep… his gang isn’t the worst ever, but it’s pretty awful. I had to get away, but I figured I’d do it in style.”

He grinned a bit apologetically.

“Long story short, aside from doing some burglary, I ended up having to drive a truck full of money – Beagle’s money of course – as a part of some gig. You know, real movie-like. Big money, secrets, guns, maybe a police chase, even, if things went wrong. I had picked that time to quit the gang, and decided to mess up the gig just a bit as a last secret screw you to the guy. He wasn’t the nicest employer. Anyway, I kinda overdid it, and somehow the truck ended up in the ocean.”

He sighed.

“That wasn’t my brightest moment. I almost drowned. Even saw your tenant. All black cloaks and empty hoods. He just watched me flail underwater as I tried to fight unconsciousness and get out of the truck… It was pretty screwed up, really. And when I did manage to get to the surface, I realised that I had to get out of the town really frickin’ fast if I didn’t want to end up drilled in the eye sockets or something.”

Amelia realised that she was staring again. Novak tilted his head and grimaced at the memory.

“Yeah, like I said, not my brightest moment. But I got away… And this conversation never leaves this room.”

“Of course not.”

“Good. And thanks for the soda.”

Amelia figured that was the end of the conversation. She left the room.


Amelia realised quite quickly that she had perhaps neglected her old friends during her adventure on the supernatural side. She tried her best to make up for that by meeting with Katie and Sandra and sometimes even Jon for something fun, like a couple of hours in a café or a walk by the river. It was nice, a step back to “normal”, though at this point Amelia wasn’t sure what normal was anymore. And in a way she didn’t even mind not knowing. Perhaps normal didn’t even matter that much especially when it came to fantastical adventures and meeting new people.

Still, it was nice to invest into friendships with slightly different complications and responsibilities. Instead of trying to teach humanity and figuring out how a person-shaped concept saw the world, it was more about just worrying about being on time for friendly dinner-dates or – in the case of Jon Lessen – trying to figure out whether one was a friend or a date. So far Jon and Amelia seemed to have settled for a purely platonic relationship. Amelia wouldn’t have minded if they had actually talked about it instead of just assuming and carrying on in a slightly awkward place between friendship and dating. Still, it was genuine, even though Amelia didn’t know what it really was, and at the moment, she didn’t even care that much. She felt happy.

That didn’t mean she didn’t miss Tad, though.

To be fair, she and Tad hadn’t even known each other for that long. They had first met around six months ago. And the first few months Amelia had spent afraid and confused. But after that, Amelia had started to care very deeply about the shy, friendly young man who wasn’t really young… or a man. It was the kind of caring that came from truly trying to understand, and from true compassion and fondness, and all that being returned. It was the kind of caring that didn’t even need that long a time to form. Sometimes things just clicked. And now Amelia was already feeling a void where Tad should have been.

Sometimes Amelia knocked on Tad’s door, wondering if he’d maybe appeared back into the house. His room remained empty, and for the first time Amelia truly realised how barren it looked. She didn’t really want to start criticising Tad’s taste in décor, but the simple, quite impersonal black and white furniture and the lack of anything on the walls didn’t really make the room look like a home. Compared to the gorgeous, lush garden that seemed to be Tad’s real home, it was about as inviting as a wet cardboard box.

Amelia thought about her mum’s suggestion of getting Tad a gift. A real gift. Something to maybe make him feel even more welcome and at home even at the Spriggs’ house. Amelia felt excitement in her veins now that she spared a longer time for the thought. It would be fun! Finding something Tad might like, surprising him and…

Amelia frowned when she again remembered the Death Flowers and Tad’s sadness about bribes. She remembered what she’d felt back then. Mostly she thought about the pity.

Was she planning a pity-gift to her friend?

No. Of course she wasn’t. She was just trying to do something nice! Why did even niceness have to be so difficult now?!

She felt like she needed something to clear her thoughts. So when Brigitte Hewitt called her and asked if she wanted to join the Ley Line Nexus for what could be the last barbeque of the summer, Amelia again took a moment to berate herself for not thinking of calling Brigitte right away. If there was someone who seemed natural at being nice and helping people clear their thoughts, it was Brigitte Hewitt. And seeing Brigitte and Basil – and Mimosa and Dewey too – again sounded lovely. Her last visit hadn’t been very pleasant, and after that she’d been busy with work and with trying to figure out the Deacons, so she had only called the Ley Line Nexus a few times. That needed to be fixed, too.

So the next Saturday, when around a week had passed since Tad had left, Amelia made her way to the Ley Line Nexus and enjoyed some of the last rays of summer that year.

“It’s so great to have you here!” Brigitte said as a greeting. She looked sunny, and Amelia had a hard time connecting her to the scary, out-of-control werewolf she had seen her as the last time she’d been there.

“It’s nice to be here again,” Amelia said, “We should really meet more often.”

“Definitely! I’m hoping this will be a start of something like that.”

“That sounds nice,” Amelia smiled, and then pointed to the backpack she had with her, “I brought some potato salad. I made it vegan, since you mentioned Basil and Dewey have been going vegan lately.”

“Oh, how considerate of you!” Brigitte beamed at her, “Thank you! And come on in! Everyone wants to meet you!”

Brigitte led Amelia to the Nexus’s lovely living room. Dewey, the dark-skinned, pointy-eared sculptor Amelia didn’t really know much about yet was sitting on the sofa there, and he greeted Amelia with a small grunt when she waved at him. Amelia noted that he was wearing a T-shirt with a Freezer Bunny and a rainbow on it. She remembered her dad having a shirt like that.

“Oh, you’ve finally come out of your room!” Brigitte said cheerfully when she saw Dewey.

“Yep,” said Dewey, “I made that ice tea too. It’s cooling in the fridge.”

“Wonderful! And just in time too! Amelia, Dewey can keep you company while I help Basil with the barbeque. Mimosa is in the kitchen, making salad. It’s going to be delicious! And I can take your potato salad to the kitchen too!”

“I can help in the kitchen, if you want,” Amelia offered, but Brigitte shook her head.

“Nonsense! You’re a guest! You just relax. The food’s almost done anyway!”

With that, she left Amelia in the living room. Amelia hesitated for a moment before she put her now potato salad -less backpack next to the front door and sat down on an armchair in the living room. She smiled a bit nervously at Dewey. She didn’t really know what to make of him. So far she’d only seen him yelling and refusing to tell about himself, and later cutting werewolf-Brigitte with a knife. He seemed like the quiet, serious type who didn’t want to let people in easily. But Amelia was ready to find out more about him, now that she had the chance.

“Hi,” she said, “We haven’t really talked much before.”

“No,” said Dewey.

“Do you like it here?”

“Yes.”

“Um… well, I hope you don’t mind Brigitte inviting me to your barbeque.”

“No.”

“My dad used to have a T-shirt like that.”

“Well, it is retro and somehow turned into a meme later.”

“It did, didn’t it? Funny how that works.”

“Hm.”

Well, this wasn’t going quite so well. Dewey certainly wasn’t the most talkative of people. Amelia settled better into her seat.

“Um… do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” she asked, “About this… commune and you people.”

Dewey shrugged. Amelia took that as an invitation to continue.

“Right, so, I know you guys are a supernatural commune and such… what made you settle here in Riverview? It’s not very supernatural, at least that’s what I’ve gathered.”

At first, Dewey didn’t answer. Amelia hoped she hadn’t said anything inappropriate. Then, finally, Dewey shrugged again.

“It’s peaceful and quiet,” he said in his slightly gravelly yet oddly melodious voice, “Brigitte is a member of this larger facility that takes care of wayward, troubled supernaturals. It’s in a larger city, and Brigitte says she wanted to move to the country so she started this.”

He tilted his head.

“Works for me, really. I like the peace. And the fresh air.”

“It is nice. I love it too.”

Dewey grunted.

“So… what kind of supernatural are you?” Amelia asked, “I mean, Mimosa is a vampire, Brigitte is a werewolf, and Basil is a sorcerer…”

“Witch,” Dewey said.

“You’re a witch?”

“No. Basil. He prefers to be called a witch. Sorcerers and sorceresses are what the academically trained witches call themselves. Basil thinks it’s elitist, and he likes how witch is a gender-neutral term.”

“It is?”

“In their culture.”

“That’s neat,” Amelia smiled, “And uh… if you don’t want to tell me about yourself, it’s fine. I don’t want to pry.”

“Right,” Dewey sighed, “I guess there’s no harm. If Bridge trusts you enough to tell you all about us, then I guess I’ll trust you too… I’m mostly here because of my old profession, really. I was a monster hunter, and no, I still don’t want to talk too much about it. Let’s just say I got tired of having to fight a bunch of frenzied creatures who could potentially still have been saved. As for what I am… well, I’m part fairy.”

“Wow. Like… wings and magic and all?” Amelia asked in amazement. She loved fairy stories. They were full of the sparkly kind of magic.

“Yes. Though in my case, all I got to show for that bloodline is purely… cosmetic, I guess. Ears, eyes, that sort of thing. I can’t actually do any kind of magic. Or get wings.”

“Oh. But your ears do look really nice.”

“Sure. They do let me hear things better,” Dewey gave her a ghost of a smile, “And thanks.”

He leaned back in his seat.

“So, what are you, then?”

“Me? I’m just a human.”

“No one’s just anything.”

Amelia hummed thoughtfully.

“Well, I’m a native of this town. I live in an old house that has belonged to the Spriggs for generations. I work in insurance, and I like making friends and I’m still a little lost in this new supernatural world.”

She paused, and then added a meek:

“Well, it’s new to me, anyway.”

“That’s no surprise; we’re pretty secretive,” Dewey said, “But I think the fear of becoming an oppressed minority or just being taken advantage of justifies that. Though of course there are also places where the non-supernaturals are the minority, and they’re pretty secretive in return, so I guess it all balances out.”

“Huh… I guess so,” Amelia frowned, “It would be nicer if we could all just live together and be nice to each other.”

“Sure. But we sentient beings tend to usually end up messing that up.”

“Right… well, maybe someday.”

“Maybe. Up until then, well, it’s not a perfect setup, but it’s… something.”

Amelia nodded and paused for a moment to think of what to say next.

“So… you like sculpting, right?”

Dewey seemed to immediately perk up.

“Yeah,” he said almost fondly, “I figured I’d want to use my skills with sharp objects to create something for a change.”

“Are you thinking of becoming a professional?” Amelia asked.

“Maybe a freelancer of some kind. I also paint, but that’s way more difficult for me. Still, I like it, and I’m learning.”

“Um… Dewey?” the timid voice of Mimosa said from the dining room, “I’m done with the salad, and Brigitte told me I could go in the living room. Are the blinds closed?”

“No,” Dewey said back, “Want me to close them for you?”

“Yes, please.”

“Sure. Hold on.”

Dewey stood up and then went to the nearest window, where he pulled down the white curtains above them. Amelia watched with interest as the man moved from window to window until the living room was protected from sunlight. Dewey spared a glance at the lit lamp on an end table near Amelia.

“Could you switch that off too?” he said and pointed to the lamp, “It’s not dangerous, but it hurts Mimosa’s eyes.”

“Of course,” Amelia said and reached out to switch the light off.

“Thanks. Hey, Mimi! It’s safe to come in!”

Amelia turned to look at Mimosa, whose bare feet tapped against the floorboards when she approached. She smiled shyly at Amelia, and they both quickly settled into the uncomfortable silence of two people whose last meeting had been a mess of awkwardness and attempted blackmail. But Mimosa at least didn’t seem skittish or freaked out by Amelia’s thoughts – which Amelia tried her best to keep as quiet as possible – and she actually dared to approach Amelia and sit down on the vacant armchair next to her. Dewey sat back down on the couch and stretched his toned arms.

“Is everything set?” he asked.

Mimosa nodded.

“Brigitte and Basil are still outside,” she whispered, “Soon we can eat. Before that we should apparently chat…”

“Wow, we’re not the best people to do that,” Dewey laughed a bit nervously.

“I think we’re doing well, actually,” Amelia smiled, “Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, good,” Mimosa laughed a very fragile laugh, “Um… I hope you’re doing okay.”

“I am,” Amelia said, because it was the easiest answer, “It’s lovely to see you guys again.”

“Oh… thank you. Even though we haven’t probably made the best first impression…”

“Well, neither did I, I think,” Amelia smiled, “But I hope we’re all past those now.”

Both Mimosa and Dewey smiled back at her. Amelia felt like she was really getting somewhere with these new friendships.

Her feeling was also helped by the fact that they were then called for dinner and gathered around a dining room table, where Brigitte and Basil served some tofu hot dogs and green salad, as well as Amelia’s potato salad. There was also a porcelain teapot filled with ice tea, and in front of Mimosa there was a juice box full of blood – Amelia tried her best not to think about that last one. They chatted about nice, everyday things like Basil’s school projects involving goldfish. Then they talked about the weather and how it would soon be time to do some harvesting in the vegetable gardens, then about their jobs and even about tedious, work-related paperwork – though that last part was mostly glossed over. Brigitte talked about her latest visit to her workplace out of town, and even mentioned curtly how Basil’s dad had been there. That subject was dropped even quicker than the paperwork, so Amelia figured there wasn’t a very loving relationship there. She remembered Basil mentioning at some point that his dad was never around. She didn’t have time to dwell on it that much, though, since the conversation quickly moved on to more light-hearted subjects that everyone wanted to talk about more.

It was a lovely dinner. Good food, nice conversation and great company. It took several hours, and when they were done, Brigitte rolled up the curtains and they all saw that it was already dark out.

Mimosa suggested that they should all go outside, so they did. The sky was full of stars, and the evening and slowly approaching autumn were turning the weather fresh and comfortably cool. Amelia breathed in deep and saw most of the others do the same. They didn’t talk in a long while. They just enjoyed the air and sat down on the lawn next to the Nexus’s house. Basil started at some point muttering spells, and light and intricate, glowing designs soon surrounded him. Amelia stared at the display in wonderment. Basil smiled at her.

“This is mostly just fancy lights… but it’s good practise,” he said, “And maybe a little something to make this a bit more festive.”

“It’s lovely,” Amelia said.

“I’m glad you like it,” Basil said, “And I hope you liked this evening in general.”

“I did. Very much.”

“That’s great to hear. Mum loves it when she manages to make people feel like they’re at home.”

Amelia glanced at Brigitte, who sat next to Mimosa and who seemed to be lost in the stars for the moment.

“She definitely succeeded,” she said.

And she realised that she and Brigitte had even more in common than she had thought.

She too wanted people to feel at home.

She made her decision, then. She wouldn’t care about pity or bribes and she would get something nice for Tad. Something to welcome him back home.

Author’s Note: Happy New Year to those who celebrate it around now!

Here’s the clunky translation to my newest crappy poem that’s not actually a spell but rather just instructions on preparing the actual spell:

Käypä kuolon kohtaajaksi,                          Go forth against death,
Tuonen herran voittajaksi.                          become the victor over the lord of the Underworld.

Ensin etsi elon viljaa,                                    First, look for the crop of life,
hedelmä kultainen poimi.                           pick the golden fruit.

…                                                                         …

Kuolon kuussa kerättävä,                            [It] must be picked in the month of death,
revittävä routamaasta.                                 [It] must be ripped from the frosted ground.

…                                                                         …

Hae vettä mustan joen,                                Get some water from a black river,
Luovi läpi liekkimeren.                                wade through the sea of flames.
Sillä piirrät taikamerkin,                             With it you shall draw the magic mark,
loitsuriimut raapustelet.                             scribble the runes for the spell.

Also November is the month of death here because the Finnish word for November, Marraskuu, has the word ‘marras’ in it, which apparently means either an omen of death or a dying person… though it also refers to the ground being frozen. I don’t know. I’ve never heard the word ‘marras’ being used outside of the month’s name.

Also Dewey’s Nyan Freezer Bunny shirt is now apparently retro… because I realised after taking those Amelia’s childhood pics in Ch. 6 that Amelia’s dad wears too… 2000s clothes in some of them. So here’s me clumsily making them ‘retro’. Hey, it’s the Sims universe… and my Sims universe at that, so I can do that. Muahahahaha. Also Dewey is probably the fastest ice tea -maker ever and he must have sneaked right past Brigitte and Amelia while Brigitte was welcoming Amelia at the door…

Have a lovely time, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this. I should get the next chapter out pretty soon, since that just needs a little bit of editing. Until then, I’ll see you in the comments and in the Sims forums! 🙂

PREVIOUS Chapter: Paying Debts, Saying Goodbye

NEXT Chapter: Break. Connection.

Chapter 29: Paying Debts, Saying Goodbye

In one reality-shifting second the warmth of Sunset Valley was gone, replaced by the familiar breeze of Riverview. They had appeared in front of Vanja’s shop, and Vanja quickly ushered them into her living room and left them alone so she could – as she put it – quickly shower the germs of public restrooms and overused sheets off of her. Amelia and Tad sat down on one of Vanja’s rather cute couches while Novak paced agitatedly in front of them.

“There is no reason to worry so much,” Tad said, “Your pursuers are still in Sunset Valley, which is quite far away from here.”

“Sure,” Novak muttered, “But I’m still not too keen on waiting. Especially here where I’m not exactly welcome either.”

He ran a hand through his hair, frowning when some of his dreadlocks got knotted together.

“I just want to get my payment and… you know, be on my way for a while. If that’s fine with you. I mean, we’re cool for now, right?”

“If you mean to ask whether we are on good terms, then yes,” Tad said, “You have been very helpful.”

“You do know he helped just to save his own skin, right?” said Vanja, who stepped out of her bathroom, still stylishly groomed and with a new woollen dress on. Novak made a face that was something between amusement and disgust.

“Nobody asked you,” he said, “I think we all know why we’re here.”

Vanja walked across the room and sat down on a vacant sofa.

“I sure hope so. And not to sound rude, but I also hope you won’t be here for long. Right now I just want this whole mess debriefed so I can forget about it and move on.”

“Whaaaat?” Novak said in mock surprise, “I thought you wanted the adventure and the opportunity to prove yourself and all of that other self-entitled crap.”

“I… I think we should move on to… something else before this gets too toxic,” Tad said nervously, “I assure you; you all did great.”

“I still think it was all a giant failure,” Vanja argued, “What did we accomplish, really?”

“Well, we got to take down two dangerous criminals,” Amelia pointed out, feeling like she should do her part in keeping things civil, “And now we know who exactly we’re… uh… dealing with.”

“It’s cute when you guys try to sound like you know what you’re doing,” Novak smirked and started pacing again, “But there was more going on in that party than what we saw. There was no way all that mess could have been caused by mere coincidence. They anticipated us, and they probably managed to somehow dig up info on my debts to Beagle.”

“I know,” Tad said, and everyone glanced at him in surprise, “The Deacons summoned Fate. Or then she came to them, I am not sure which. She does not like what I am doing here, and she thought it was best I was taught a lesson. By making our quest fail, and by getting us in trouble.”

“And you were planning to tell us about this… when?” Vanja asked with a frown.

Tad shrugged his shoulders.

“I did tell you to be on your guard. It hardly matters anyway. Fate and I have our disagreements, but we usually manage to sort them out without too many disasters.”

“’Hardly matters?’” Novak repeated, clenching his hands into fists, “This… whatever the hell you beings are doing just landed me in even more trouble than I was before! This is exactly why I hate cosmic forces interfering with the world! We can screw up our own lives without your help, thank you very much.”

“I’m sure you know all about that,” Vanja muttered.

Tad rose from his seat, along with Amelia, who was alerted by the possibly upcoming argument. Tad raised his hands defensively.

“No one really got hurt, and that is what matters…” he paused for one thoughtful moment, “Well… except for those two criminals, but they should be okay too. And I appreciate your help, accept this as your atonement and am willing to pay you – all of you – to compensate for all this aggravation I have caused.”

“I don’t need payment,” Amelia said at once.

“I know. We can talk about that later. As for you two…” Tad looked at Novak and Vanja, “What would you wish from me? I cannot actually pay with money, because Amelia has forbidden me from changing reality for that. And I am not going to grant just any wishes , but I do accept suggestions.”

He looked at Vanja meaningfully.

“I also of course cannot directly do anything to resurrect anyone.”

“You’re seriously going to give us what we want?” Vanja asked.

“Within reason, yes.”

Vanja stared at Tad dubiously for several moments. Amelia could almost hear the unspoken past disappointments and pleas that had perhaps been the basis for Vanja’s sour relationship with Death. She could try to guess what exactly had happened, but in the end it remained a mystery to her, something between Vanja and Tad.

Finally Vanja said in a barely audible, reluctant voice:

“Well, I of course want to interview you for my studies, but I also want a clue. A hint. On the… well, project I’m working on. Nothing too detailed, of course. I can work on it on my own, thank you very much.”

It was very vague, but Tad didn’t seem to need any further clarification. He leaned in towards Vanja and whispered something to her. Vanja listened intently, and then her eyes widened.

“Really? So I’m on the right track after all?”

“I just recommend adding more pomegranate,” Tad said in a slightly louder voice.

Vanja clapped her hands.

Ha! I knew it! I’ll show you yet, Death!”

“I am looking forward to it. And as for the interview, I will get back to you later.”

Novak glanced at Amelia as if making sure he wasn’t the only one who had got totally lost at some point of the conversation.

“Uh, yeah. This is weird,” he said, rolling his eyes at Vanja, “But whatever gets you excited… I’m not gonna judge. As for me, I’m not too picky. I just want something that would get me out of my situation with Beagle.”

Tad frowned, actually looking like he was struggling with something in his mind for a long while. Then he nodded slowly.

“I… I think I have just the thing. Or at least a thing.  Hold on, I need to get it from my home.”

He closed his eyes, and then – to Amelia’s horror – collapsed on the floor.

“Tad?” Amelia gasped, “What’s going on?!”

He wasn’t responding. It was as if he wasn’t even there anymore, and it reminded Amelia all too much of last night, when he had been shot in the head. Vanja walked up to Amelia, a fascinated look on her face.

“Calm down, he probably just left this form again. Just prop him up against a wall or something.”

They did just that, and Amelia sat down next to Tad’s unmoving body, hoping he had made it home safely and would come back soon.

After what felt like an eternity, Tad woke up. Amelia moved quickly, her hand hovering near Tad’s shoulder as his pale eyes blinked open. He frowned slightly when he noticed he was on the floor.

“I… did I get this detached?” he mumbled.

“I guess so,” Amelia said, “Are you feeling okay?”

Tad slowly stood up.

“Yes… yes, I am. I just… no worries.”

He brushed off all attempts to help and turned to Novak. He handed Novak something, and Novak stared at his hands for a moment before he sunk to the couch behind him.

“You gave me… a flower,” his voice was laced with disbelief, “This is a… please tell me this isn’t just a random plant!”

Tad nodded sombrely. His eye twitched. Odd. Amelia had never seen that kind of a reaction in him. She looked more closely at what was in Novak’s hands.

It was indeed a flower. A scrawny yet oddly beautiful one. It had an eerie, skull-shaped centre and delicate, purple and scarlet petals. Amelia had never seen anything like it.

Somewhere in the background, Vanja gasped.

“That’s not… that is a Death Flower, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Tad said quietly, “It may seem worthless to many, but I am sure people in the right circles will pay well for it, if you wish to sell it. Or if you do not… well, it is a way to stay my hand once, should you end up in mortal peril.”

Novak raised a brow.

“Oh yeah, now that I think about it, I have heard of these. I thought they were extinct, though. That… yeah, that does make things better. I… wow.”

“Oh, they really are almost extinct,” Tad said, “Hardly anyone knows where they grow any longer. I used to have a lot of them, of course, but I have thrown them away. That one is the last I have. Do not worry; it will not wilt or otherwise get damaged. It has spent quite a lot of time in my realm, after all.”

Vanja gasped again, this time more angrily.

“And you’re giving it to him?!” she snapped, “He’s just going to waste it for something stupid! Do you realise how valuable that really is for people like us?”

Tad’s expression hardened suddenly.

“I can do what I wish with my property. And if you are being bitter about you not getting the flower… why? Would you really be happy with me just handing it over to you? I thought you wanted to discover these things by yourself, as you so tastefully pointed out back when you summoned me all those years ago.”

He glanced almost hatefully at the flower in Novak’s hands.

“Besides, it is not nearly as valuable as you make it out to be. It is just… an old bribe.”

Vanja had clenched her hands into fists, and Amelia had a feeling some sort of intervention was in order. Besides, everything had turned way too confusing again, and Amelia was missing several puzzle pieces she needed to really take part in the conversation. She spoke up:

“Um… what exactly is a Death Flower? What does it do?”

Vanja immediately snapped into some kind of lecturer mode. She turned to Amelia and cleared her throat.

“The Death Flower -myth is an old one, but it’s still very much researched in some circles of the magical science community. Documented cases of successful uses of the Death Flower are quite numerous. Though those records are old, as the Death Flower is – as we already established – almost extinct nowadays. They’re – as you can see – usually easily recognised by their peculiar, skull shaped stigma, and they have interested scientists, mages and the common folk for a long time because of their very unusual value.”

She kept a dramatic pause, during which Tad fidgeted a bit nervously. Then Vanja put her hands to her hips and declared:

“The Death Flower is used to stop someone from dying. After it has already happened.”

Amelia stared.

“What? Seriously?”

Vanja nodded.

“There’s an old tale about it. The whos and wheres have changed throughout the years, so I’ll tell the version I like the most. This one is about familial love and about not giving up in the face of tragedy.”

She took a deep breath.

“Long ago, there was a family. A happy family with a new-born baby. I’m sure you can see where this is going so I’ll be brief. Not long after the birth of the baby, a harsh winter struck, bringing in sickness and, of course, Death.”

“Death swept across the land and took many people, including the baby of the family. The mother and father pleaded for Death to spare their child, but Death would not be moved. He took the child, leaving the mother and father devastated. Grieving. Feeling unimaginable pain from the loss of their dear-”

“I think everyone already understands how terrible it was, Miss Leifsdóttir. Just… go on with the story.”

“Okay, fine. So the mother and father made a promise in their time of grief, a promise that they would devote their lives to finding a way to stop Death from taking anyone else again. A common goal for people, I admit, but this was quite unusual during a time when Death was a constant visitor. The mother and father started researching, finding books, doing experiments, asking magicians and saints for answers. Eventually, their quest consumed their lives and they forgot to live altogether and it was all ironic and has a moral people can learn from and all that. And all along, Death walked among their loved ones, ferrying them away one by one, not caring that they were doing everything they could to fight him. All of their attempts to save their loved ones failed. Every plea fell on deaf ears. Until finally, Death took away the father as well, and only the mother remained.”

“By that time, she was old and tired. She knew that her time would soon be up too. She sought answers more frantically, tried forcing Death away from her like she had done for so many years already. But she knew that it would all be in vain. She spent days and nights thinking about the solution, and finally a desperate idea came to her. She knew it would be her last chance, and she put all her faith in it. So when Death came for her, she was waiting.”

“She had realised that force and tricks wouldn’t work, so she thought that perhaps Death could be defeated with kindness instead. When the dark shape of Death loomed above her, she picked a flower – a morbid-looking flower that usually grew around graves – and offered it to Death. And it’s said that Death was overjoyed by such a gift. He took the flower with withered hands and promised to let the mother live in return.

“And the mother did. She got her second chance, and it’s said that she used that second chance to live the life she had missed during her quest, and to tell others about her discovery.”

“So after that people started looking for more Death Flowers, and whoever could present Death with one would be granted a second chance. Needless to say, people started picking way too many of them, and they quickly became rare. Soon, they were almost completely gone.”

Amelia looked at Tad. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all. Tad was looking rather pensively at the Death Flower, but his eyes had narrowed, and he didn’t seem to enjoy hearing the story at all. In a way, Amelia understood. It did paint quite a bleak picture of Death. But Amelia figured there was more to it than that. Tad seemed to be rather used to being misunderstood, after all.

“Tad?” she said, “Is that story true?”

Tad shrugged stiffly.

“What matters is that the Death Flowers do work just as in the story. You give me one at the moment you should die, and I will take the flower instead of your soul. Or you can give me one at the time of someone else’s death, and you can ask me to spare them. A second chance, so to speak.”

“Awesome,” Novak said, “I’ll keep that in mind if Beagle’s men catch me and start removing my internal organs with a screwdriver or something.”

He stood up and carefully put the flower into the pocket of his jeans. Then he crossed his arms.

“But yeah, seriously speaking, thanks. I’m sure someone will pay something for it…”

“And that’s going to be such a waste…” Vanja lamented under her breath.

“Hey, I can let you get a sample of it right now, if you want to study it.”

“Really?” Vanja’s eyes lit up.

“Sure,” Novak said, “Let’s say for… a few thousand simos.”

Vanja blanched.

What?

“Well, if you don’t want this incredible opportunity…” Novak started inching his way towards the door.

“Wait! How about a hundred?”

“Now that’s just insulting.”

“Five hundred?”

“You serious about that?”

“Eight hundred!”

“Please, I can get that much in one good day of pickpocketing.”

“Oh, you are such a leech on society… fine! Three thousand and five hundred!”

Novak blinked.

“Where the hell do you get that kind of money?”

“Research funds. Now will you let me study it for a while or not?”

Novak laughed almost disbelievingly.

“Sure. I mean, I guess I can check the authenticity of this thing that way too.”

Vanja extended her hand, but Novak took a step back.

“Money first.”

Vanja grumbled for a moment, but then actually procured a wad of cash from… somewhere. Amelia really wasn’t sure where Vanja could keep that much money. She didn’t even have pockets! Novak smirked.

“Hey, this thing is starting to pay off already!”

“I am… glad you like it,” Tad muttered, “Do with it what you wish.”

He shrunk away from the Death Flower, but his eyes were still fixed on it. He lingered awkwardly in the living room until they finally left to return home.


Julia was ecstatic to see Amelia. She rushed to hug her as soon as Amelia, Novak and Tad stepped into the hall.

“I’m so glad you’re okay!” Julia gushed.

“Of course I’m okay,” Amelia said, “I mean… why wouldn’t I be?”

Julia’s forehead creased in worry.

“Because I read on the news that there was an incident in Sunset Valley! With criminals and police and shooting and everything! And I didn’t know where you were and you didn’t answer your phone so… I know I shouldn’t to worry so much, but I still kept thinking… what if you were there? What if something… oh, I’m so glad that I was just being silly!”

Amelia cleared her throat. Trying her best not to sound nervous or guilty.

“Yeah… silly. Don’t worry, mum. I was in good company.”

She looked at Tad, who smiled a bit sadly back at her. The smile was even farther from real than it usually was.

She really needed to talk to him.

To her pleasant surprise, she didn’t have to actually force Tad to talk like she had planned. Because as soon as they had settled back home, Tad asked if Amelia had a moment and led her to the backyard. He leaned against the wooden railing Amelia had painstakingly varnished in the beginning of summer. Amelia stood next to him, looking out to the garden Tad had tended so carefully for all these months. Apple and lime trees were bearing delicious-looking fruit, and Amelia could almost smell the herbs, spices and garlic that were growing in the bushes among the other vegetables. It looked amazing. Amelia heard Tad sigh, and turned to him again.

“It is time for harvest,” he said quietly, “In the garden, I mean. I can finally pay my debts to you. I hope, at least.”

Amelia frowned. She had almost forgotten that Tad hadn’t yet paid rent for his room. That all of this had started because of her money-making Plan.

“That’s nice,” she said, “But you don’t have to worry about it…”

“Yes, I do,” Tad argued, “I want to put things in order here too. In my… well, not life, but existence.”

He straightened and looked Amelia in the eyes for a brief moment before he turned away.

“I told you that Fate has been bothering me about this. In many ways, she has no reason to worry… but in others… she was right. I have let this take too much of me. I have got too invested, and I… I need to find a way to take care of myself while still caring about others.”

Amelia felt something well up in her chest. It took her a while, but she recognised it as sadness. She wasn’t sure why she was feeling it. Maybe she already had a hunch about what Tad was going to say.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

Tad looked at the garden again. The branches of the trees swayed in the late summer breeze, heavy with fruit.

“I need to take distance again,” he said, “To leave.”

That was it. The reason for the sadness.

“For… for good?” Amelia dared to ask. She knew she couldn’t stop Tad if he really had to go, even though she wanted to make him stay. It would be selfish.

“No,” Tad said, much to Amelia’s joy, “But I need to take more breaks from this form. From humanity lessons. From… all this.”

He took a step back, his gaze shifting somewhere beyond the yard. Maybe beyond all of Riverview, even beyond the world.

“I want to experience so many things,” he said, “I want to know what it feels like to be alive, and I want to understand the living ones better. But I cannot forget that I am not – and never will be – alive or human.”

He closed his eyes, but Amelia had a feeling he still saw perfectly well.

“I am just as much human as the reflections on the water are real trees. I am hazy and muddled, and if I try to become more than that… I become less myself, even though I cannot change into anything else either. It makes me hurt… and in the end, it would make me fall to pieces. That cannot happen.”

He was quiet for a long moment. Amelia wanted to hug him, but then decided not to. Maybe because Tad looked ready to turn into mist at any moment. Like he wanted to stay while something was pulling him away. He looked at Amelia, his eyes blank one moment, and then filled with sadness.

“I am sure I will feel better once I really focus on just my job and not on… all this. I will leave for a few weeks, and then come back. Then I can leave again when I need to, but I will not need to stay away entirely. Does that sound like… it would work?”

“You can do what you want,” Amelia said, “I’ve told you that you’re always welcome here.”

Tad smiled weakly.

“You asked me if that Death Flower story was true or not. It was very accurate. I did accept that flower back then. And that was the moment it gained power. People started believing that it worked, so it did. We had created a tradition. It is a very persistent force.”

Amelia frowned.

“So you didn’t have to take it in the beginning?”

“Of course not,” Tad said, “But I… it was the first time anyone gave me a gift out of kindness. Or so I thought. I realised later that even that wasn’t a real gift. It was just a bribe like all the other sacrifices and exchanges that had taken place before that. And yet… I kept accepting them until the others put a stop to it by hiding the few flowers that were still left. Because it ‘caused problems’. Cheating Death was never meant to be easy, after all.”

He laughed bitterly.

“I did not mind the others stopping it. I had grown to hate those flowers anyway. The pretend-kindness they represented.”

“But you kept one,” Amelia said, “Why?”

Now Tad was almost embarrassed. But in the end, his sadness won over and he looked like he wanted to cry. But Amelia wasn’t sure he could cry to begin with.

“Because pretend-kindness was better than nothing, I think,” he said in a barely audible voice, “What I mean to say is… very few people have ever showed me true kindness. Truly cared. And I understand; I am not someone a living one can usually care about. But I… thank you, Amelia. For being my friend. I just wanted to say that now… before I go. I want you to know that I do want to come back. And that I do not want to pay my debts simply because I wish to be free of you.”

“Oh, Tad…” Amelia shook her head sadly, “I never thought that.”

“I… I guess you do not. That’s one of the reasons why you are so wonderful.”

The sadness seemed to leave Tad, or at least as much as it ever could. His smile looked more real again. Amelia smiled back.

“I think I should leave right away,” Tad said, “So I can come back sooner.”

There were thousands of words Amelia wanted to say, but they all got muddled together, as did her emotions. Sadness, compassion, happiness… even pity, even though she wasn’t fond of that feeling.

“I’ll see you later, then,” she said, “I’m looking forward to more humanity lessons. After you feel better, of course.”

Tad nodded.

“Good bye, Amelia.”

Then, as if he had never been there, he was gone.

Just a few months ago, Amelia would have never guessed that she would ever be so sad about the absence of Death.

Author’s Note: Putting in lots of sappy feels to distract you from the fact that this is just setting up a time skip chapter that comes next… I should probably stop pointing out my weak tricks because that makes them even weaker.

Anyway, this chapter did have some other points to it. I mean, Death Flowers and friendshippy bonding, yay! The Death Flower backstory is one of those things that came to me in a sauna, a.k.a my best place for random thoughts. Nothing like an 80-100oC (176-212oF) temperature and stuffy air to get that creativeness flowing! 😀 I drew those Death Flower –story pics during class (again), and they were fun to do… though the end result was kinda meh. Also for some reason I find the idea of Tad storing something so valuable in a random cardboard box really funny. I wasn’t planning on doing it that way and I tried some ideas and wanted to make it more dramatic or sombre but in the end my brain decided that nope, cardboard box it is.

Also the reason I started thinking that Tad doesn’t like Death Flowers was actually because raerei made Tad react in a kind of displeased way to Julia Pigglewiggle mentioning Death Flowers during Tad’s cameo in the awesome Ghost of a Chance, so thanks for that, rae! 🙂 It inspired a lot of drama in my head so that’s awesome!

NaNo’s still going on, and I’m on schedule so yay! I managed to squeeze in some Tango-writing too, as you can see. I’ll see you later, and I hope you all enjoy this and have a good time in general!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Water under the Bridge

NEXT Chapter: Hospitality