Monday, December 11, 2017

Chapter 112: Criminality


Carlos has perfected his grandfather's french toast recipe and is very pleased with himself for doing so. Tonight's dinner will be very special.


It may look like they're saying grace or something, but that's just everyone clapping because they each get to eat their favorite food.


 Fish 'n chips for Acheron... extravagant potato and truffle torte for Dysen... key lime pie for Lela...


More fish 'n chips for Ceth, mushroom omelette for Carlos...


French toast for Orazia, Monte Vista style spaghetti for Milo, and yet more fish 'n chips for Fairuza.


When food is this perfect, all one can do is eat it in stunned silence and wonder what the occasion is. Orazia is graduating in a few days, so technically they could be celebrating that...


"We should get a dog!" Fairuza exclaims.

The household already has a snake, a snail, some fish, and now a cat. Milo would definitely break and allow his daughters to adopt a puppy, now that Carlos has broken and allowed a cat. Orazia isn't keen on the idea, though. She thinks dogs are too high-maintenance. That, and their father is a werewolf half the time, so it would be redundant...?


Unrelated: Dysen adopts another cat, this time from the shelter.


"Moby?" Acheron questions the name.

"Yeah," Dysen says. "Like Moby Dick."

"Like Moby Dick?" Orazia also questions the name.

Dysen shrugs. "I wanted an M name to go with Maggie, and it sounded better in my head I guess. It's like, an intellectual name."

"Maybe if he was like, a white cat," Fairuza chimes in on the criticism.

Dysen folds his arms. "Damn, tough crowd." 

Moby plays with the cat dancer toy, happy and oblivious.


Maggie mistakes Moby's brindled fur patterning for mankyness...


...and tries to groom him.


"You do realize we are werewolves, with two cats," Milo complains.

Carlos blinks. "What's wrong with cats?"

"I just think if other werewolves ever met us, they'd think we were weird."

Carlos rolls his eyes. "Really?"

"It could happen! I could find myself a hot werechick. Any day now."

"The cats stay. My wife thinks the cats are cute. And your daughters also have a pet."

"Nicholas is a snail, he barely even counts."

"Wow, rude?" Dysen interrupts. "Nicholas is an important member of this family."

"Do your homework," Carlos shoos his son.


"Whaaat are you doing in the garden?"


The answer is pretty obvious.


Maggie worries her skills will grow dull, if these humans keep preventing her from hunting!


The garden has expanded quite a bit over time.


Carlos keeps getting calls from travel agencies, asking him to go to France. Where are these fools even getting his number?


"You look stunning," Dysen greets Molly for their date at the arcade. He's been rolling romantic wishes about her all day, and the chance to finally act on them fills him with a nearly overwhelming sense of anticipation.

Molly accepts the flowers he presents her with. He's always trying to buy her love, and she must admit it's effective. "You dressed up for me, too," she observes. "You didn't have to."


"Do you like it? I tried to look for a badass motorcycle jacket, but this crap is all I could find."

"It suits you," she says, not bothering to define how she sees him, or what traits she thinks the jacket matches. "How is our cat?"

"Mags is doing well. She still hides under a lot of furniture, but she's getting more friendly. And she's getting along with Moby. I sent you the pics."

"So cute," Molly gushes. "So, what should we do tonight? In this very... colorful place?"


"This is where we first properly met," Dysen reminds her.

"Next to the gumball machine," she giggles, a light and happy noise uncharacteristic of her quietly judgmental demeanor. "Yes, I remember."

"We'd seen each other in school before then, but this is where I finally said hello. This is where the chase began," he dramatizes the tale.

"I never ran, Dysen."

"Let me glorify the hunt, would you?"

"I'm a lady. Not prey," she admonishes gently. "If your thrill is for the hunt, I fear you'll eventually tire of me, in favor of more elusive quarry."

"I didn't mean it like that, Molly." He frowns, still spinning her around in their little dance. "You're my best friend."


It's an arcade date, so most of it is dedicated to childish pleasures, like games of whack-a-gnome.


They go upstairs to play foosball, and hope to sneak some bubbles from one of the bubble bars, but the proprietor is sitting up here specifically as a deterrent to kids trying stuff like that.


They try to get amusing pictures from the photo booth, but it's still broken in my game.



Molly almost wins a Scary Bears from the claw machine.


"Tough luck," Dysen tries to console her. "Those machines are rigged you know."

"They're still fun," Molly says.

"I'll buy you a Scary Bears from the retailer if you want."

"That's expensive."

"Don't worry about that! My family's in a good place. Might as well enjoy it." Of course, if Carlos retired, Dysen's available funds would dry up very fast. If Dysen wants to continue not worrying about money forever, he'll have to have a job someday, unlike Acheron.


"Sometimes I think you're too far out of my socioeconomic bracket," Molly says, touching their foreheads together and placing her hands heavily on his shoulders.

He nuzzles her cheek. "It's all circumstance, Molly. I didn't earn shit. You know that."

"I... I have something to tell you..." She stares into his violet irises. They're so captivating. She's often imagined they glow. "But I'm losing my nerve."

"You can tell me anything," Dysen says quickly, though he's not sure he likes where this is going. A quick scan of the top of her thoughts shows she's thinking about her dad, a failed DJ who accrued so much gambling debt the family almost lost their house, and her mom, who's always fighting with her dad about finances.

"I've been forging documents for money." 


Dysen stares at her, smiling blankly. "Go on..."

"It started when Lauren Foster-Savage heard about how I get out of school... and wanted the same. Through her, other people heard about me."

"What kind of other people?" Dysen asks. As the words leave his mouth, he sees flashes of memory from Molly - business fronts hiding the trafficking of drugs, stolen goods, and even people from other sectors moved around by their organization to evade the law. It's weird, it's scary, it's exciting...

"Shady kinds of people," she murmurs, before elaborating about how fake but official-looking notes of little consequence became false documentation of increasing difficulty and magnitude. Even a few art forgeries, to see if she could pull it off, each of her replicas passed off as the real thing to rich fools who believed they could squirrel away long lost cultural treasures in their private collections. One thing led to another. And just like that, Molly is part of an expansive criminal organization. It sounds too surreal to be true.

"You don't have to do this," Dysen says, his voice hushed and his smile unfaltering.

"I don't think this is something I'm allowed to just walk away from." Another memory. A pair of glowing red eyes, staring at her from the darkness.

Dysen gasps, "No, no, no. You're just a minor, you can go to the police..."

"Half of them might be in on it."

"My Mom would love to bust that case," Dysen snorts, not meaning to mock the situation.

"Are you ashamed of me?" she whispers.


"No, Molly..." He lowers his arms, releasing her from their embrace. "I'm just confused about why someone with a bright future as an artist would do this."

"It's harder to turn a profit with art than you'd think." Her gaze drops to the floor, and in that moment, he gets it. Something isn't right. She's been coerced, somehow... and he needs to get to the bottom of it.

"I don't think less of you, Molly," he says.

Maybe he should, but it's Molly. His best friend. The girl he's always wanted to be with. He's always been all in with this relationship, and if it doesn't work out it doesn't work out, but that's no excuse not to try, he tells himself. Nothing works out on its own. He has to make it work.


Dysen leans in to kiss Molly, trying to prove his sincerity. At first he intends to storm off then and there to confront Lauren, but on second thought, he remembers his training. He will confront Lauren, but he won't do it when he's this emotional. A werewolf must stay calm and in control. Instead he suggests he and Molly take a walk outside under the stars. They'll defy curfew, he adds, half-joking that it will add more criminality to her record.


Orazia, up late to read, gives Dysen a bit of a look as he brazenly walks in the front door.

"Acheron bunched up the covers so your mother thought you were already asleep," she says.

Dysen blinks, surprised. "Good to know he's got my back."

"Is that all you have to say?" Orazia demands.


"Piss off, 'Zia. I was taking a walk with Molly." Dysen plops down on the sofa next to his oldest cousin. "Something's going on with her."

Orazia's tone turns more sympathetic, "Oh."


Dysen takes a long bath, in desperate need of a tranquility moodlet.

Something is wrong. He can practically smell it, taste it in the night air drifting in through the poorly sealed window.


He feels compelled to look outside. He has the odd idea something is watching him. But there's nothing out there out of place.


The blankets on Dysen's bed were piled up convincingly. At least convincingly enough to fool Lela; Carlos would have sensed his son's absence, had he been the one to check up on him. As Dysen straightens out the sheets and blankets he glances at Acheron, who twitches and whines in his sleep. Dysen will have to remember to thank him in the morning.


Or now. "Acheron... hey... wake up..."


Acheron slams Dysen against the wall before the younger teen can even register the waking attempt succeeded. Defensive glyphs pop up around them, sparkling in the air as two fists press down on Dysen's chest.

"Who are you... where am I..." Acheron demands, in a low voice.

"Dude. It's me? Hi? What were you dreaming about?"

Acheron's glare softens. "...You're still alive..."

"You, uh, say that like I shouldn't be."


The glyphs fade as Acheron releases Dysen. He hides his face in his left hand and turns to walk out of the room, not sure where in the house he's going to sit awake, but too ashamed to be in this room. "Don't wake me up like that. It's... it's hard to wake up. Sometimes I just forget who I am."

Dysen throws his hands up in frustration. "What's going on with you?"

"Nothing."

"Talk to me!"

"I'm sorry."

"No. Don't be sorry. Tell me what's wrong. Ever since I started becoming more sensitive to the metaphysical I've sensed you're messed up. You're so upset about something, it's scaring me. Do you know how much it hurts my tough guy image to say this to you?" Dysen fakes a horrified expression. "Sometimes I just want to make sure you're not going to hurt yourself but I can't explain why. And don't tell me I'm full of shit."

"You're full of shit, Dyse."


"You know what? Fine. I'm too tired for this crap, I've got my own problems!"

Molly, Acheron remembers. The reason he had to hide Dysen's curfew violation.  It seems paradoxical, but the adults getting involved would make things even worse.





__________________________________________
Etc.: Molly, you done fucked up.

Gourmet is finally achieved, and with little time to spare!

If you'll recall, I upped the challenge of it by requiring Carlos to cook everyone perfect quality meals. Not the easiest task. Good job, Carlos... and special thanks to Milo for catching all those fish.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Chapter 111: Other Ways



"Did you sleep well?" Dysen chirps.

I'm going to put your skull through that window, Acheron thinks.


"Well, I got you a thing to help," Dysen claims.

Acheron stares blankly as Dysen plops a white box with red giftwrap into his hands.

"You know you want to open it," Dysen encourages.

Acheron peels the wrapping away carefully, frowning, irrationally annoyed he has no clue what's in the box. Turns out it's a wooden hoop with a woven net, decorated with extra fabric and feathers.

"It's a dream catcher," Dysen claims. "Found it at a stand at the Fall Fest. It's supposed to catch bad dreams. I figure since you won't talk to anyone about your problems, this is the next best thing."

"I'm pretty sure you understand this is just a decoration."

"Nah man, it's real if you believe in it."

"Not your most convincing sales pitch."

"Sales pitch? It's free. It's a present."


Acheron grabs Dysen for a sudden tight hug. "It's the thought that counts."


Yup. That is a thing on the wall now.


The Spooky Day Feast is a ways off, but that doesn't stop the festival grounds from going all out. It's that time again, and as Milo stokes a fire, his thoughts return for the first time in a long time to Kirstin, who was unhappily pregnant with Fairuza the last time autumn decorations were out here.

It's been a long time, and she must have moved on, but Milo is still alone.

Time. Time. Time.

It's better this way, he reminds himself. He can't trust anyone with what he really is. And if he can't even tell a lady he's a werewolf, what right does he have to want to get serious with anyone? What right does he have to want someone to be honest with him, when he can't be honest with them?


Huh? Where are you going, Ceth?


Walking over hot coals?! In pantyhose?!


Stop it before you hurt yourself!


Oh wow, you did it! You madwoman!


Carlos and Lela are around too.


With the kids at school, the adults have a fun day making fools of themselves.


Molly's mother, Holly, wins the apple bobbing contest.


So much food!


Chomp.


Ceth La Mer and Holly Robins don't like each other for some reason.


Like, really don't like each other.


Did Ceth accidentally flirt with Holly's husband or something???

Nah, I'm sure I'd have taken screenshots if Ceth ever interacted with a guy named Seth.


Poor Holly is already in a bad mood after being thoroughly upstaged by her elderly competition at the SimFest going on.


Milo catches someone staring at him. "Do I know you from somewhere?"

The elder woman blinks slowly at him. "Not really. Just a fan."

"Kirstin." He didn't believe what his senses were telling him at first, but once he hears her voice, there is no mistaking the mother of his second child. "What are you doing here?"

With a branch of the syndicate reestablishing itself in the area, Kirstin was called in for assistance on a particular job, given her familiarity with the target. She knew Milo still lived in the area, of course, since he still plays for the Gnomes, but she didn't intend to run into him... until she noticed Fairuza hanging out with the rest of that vampire's lackies. There's no way Milo knows about this, so Kirstin has been trying to summon the willpower to tell him... but as she stares at his wide-eyed, moronically innocent face, she can't do it. She just can't.

"I won't be in the area long," she says. "I hope you won't cause drama about this."


"You didn't even think to call?"

"Is it customary for an ex to call when she's in town?"

"I... you... you know what I meant."


"No, I don't know what you mean at all. I'm not someone you want in your life. I thought you'd have realized that by now."

"I... yes. Obviously." Milo grits his teeth. "Stay away from my daughter."

"Gladly."

"You don't even want to ask about her?"

"Maybe if you'd get off of your pedestal of righteous indignation, you'd understand how that would be painful for me?"

"Well she's great. Fairuza is a sweet, intelligent and beautiful young woman."

It's all Kirstin can do to keep from rolling her eyes.


Just then, Milo's phone rings. His next words are an incomprehensible string of expletives...


...because he has to rush off to work!

Kirstin Law grins and shakes her head. She needs to get out of this town.


After school, Dysen and Molly celebrate the arrival of autumn with traditional pumpkin carving. It appeals to Molly's artistic side.


I'll let you guess who carved what.


Molly can't stay over long, so after she's gone Dysen is bored. He settles in to watch Sports Universe.


"Uncle Milo's winning yet another game. Yaaawn."

"I hate this couch," Acheron groans.

"Do tell."

"You wouldn't understand."


Dysen glares. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Let me sleep."

"You're in the living room, Acheron."

"But you could be lying to me."

"You get weirder every day, you know that?"


Acheron doesn't respond, already passed out.


Dysen is worried about Acheron, and tries to approach Ceth with his concerns.


"I think my son has the Night Owl trait," Ceth brushes those concerns right off. "Awake at night, asleep in the day."


A migratory agama lizard spawns in the back yard.


Maggie isn't sure what to make of it.

Is it danger? Is it food? Is it a 'toy'? The humans have provided many brightly colored 'toys'.


Maybe she'd better keep her distance until she is sure. Caution has served her well in the past.


Maggie the cat was born feral, and had a difficult life before Dysen and Molly found her.


The being that shares her mind rarely exerts its will over her, but steered her to trust these humans, in spite of her instinct, and she finds here she is not scorned or harmed or chased away but loved and fed, given soft pillows to sleep on and colorful toys to play with.


Maggie quickly becomes a mild-mannered cat, safe and happy in her new home.







Only issue: the always-sharp-fanged one does not like it when Maggie goes near the bird bath.


The fluffy headed young human, Acheron, has words with her sometimes, but she doesn't understand him. The spirit that shares her body occasionally stirs from its private thoughts to answer in the humans' peculiar language.

Fluffy-head is different from the others, but he tolerates her presence, and his bed is warm.


Maggie greets Dysen, her most favorite person, with a happy purr and stretch when he finally returns late at night. She has no clue he was trying to sneak in as quietly as possible. He broke curfew yet again, and got away with it this time, but he isn't as pleased with himself as he thought he'd be.

Dysen sighs at Maggie's cute antics. "Keeping watch, huh?" he whispers, in a soft tone she finds soothing despite her lack of comprehension for the words.


"Yeah, I don't know what's going on with Acheron either. I get feelings from people, you know, auras and junk. I can even get their thoughts if I try hard enough. But Acheron's mental wards are too strong for me. I can't see his dreams. I just catch this overpowering feeling of dread." Dysen has no shame talking to his cat. Maggie is a safe thing to talk to. She can't ever tell anyone what she hears. She can't even understand him.


"He won't talk to me."

Dysen rests his chin on his arm and just sits there a while next to Acheron's bed, feeling like some kind of ineffectual guard dog, exactly as useless as the feathered trinket on the wall.

He thinks about all the times he treated his cousins' emotions like toys to be played with. Even as a child he could read their minds, a little bit, and delighted in their fears and annoyances. Dysen wonders if he's to blame for Acheron's social maladjustment. Maybe if he hadn't been so cruel...?

Dysen shakes his head. He can't explain why what he senses from a dreaming person frightens him so much. The room is quiet. There is no danger. Why does he feel like screaming?


Remember me more kindly than that...


Claire is dead. All that's left is the mission.

There is a barrier between Acheron and his quarry.


With a wave of a hand, Cayenne summons light to this dark place. "Who... who is there?!"


Loki's eyes widen. "It's... Acheron."

This time, this sequence, Acheron's presence in the holding cells is unexpected. He wonders why. He cannot connect why.

He wonders if the twins are in the same cage, or if they are miles apart. He's only seeing them through a psychic projection. They're probably not looking so well.

"I am the mage who followed your research. I can free you," Acheron claims. "I have the waters of the Lethe."

"You separated the waters from their source?" Loki fidgets uncomfortably, squeezing his wrists with his hands.

"I did," Acheron claims.

It is Cayenne who grows suspicious. "Why are you helping us?"

Unlike her brother, she doesn't see what was. She can only see what is.

"I haven't helped you. Yet. I'm trying to see what happens if I do. You see... this woman, Eris, has hurt me. Or, will do so. And you can stop her."

Loki narrows his eyes. "SC thinks the same thing. That's why they captured us..."

Cayenne frowns. "...and turned us into these monsters..."


"They want us to kill her," Loki finishes their story.

Acheron's patience wears thin. His face doesn't show it, but he'll be impatient until he's dead. "You've been restructured. Different gene expressions. I know! It's me, I know. I also know something Supernatural Control doesn't. Eris cannot die."

"Who told you that?" Loki demands.


"You did. Future you, that won't exist now, because of my actions here. In any case I don't want you to kill each other. I want you to talk sense into her."

"Have you seen that as possible? Since her memories were erased... she's had quite the adventure. Decided she was the last of her kind. Decided to go on a rampage."

"Against the few people left in the world who know what she is. Yes. I've seen the wreckage Eris leaves behind. She destroyed the Firelight Sanctuary." Acheron deftly avoids the first question.

"What makes you a target?" Loki pries. "Why do you fear her?"

Acheron could claim it's altruism, he wants to save innocent people from Eris, but for some reason he says: "My wife, and her coven. Eris is a danger to them. If anyone is to blame for getting rid of the elves, witches are. Claire even tried to kill me, when we first met."

"Yet you married her."

"People do... interesting things... to be happy," Acheron says.

Wait, is Claire alive again? Or is this later? How old am I? All of the visions are blurring together. He tends to rescue Cayenne, and sometimes her brother and the little vampire Chet, only after Claire is gone, but this time... this time he's not sure...

"You know about Kir." Loki's stare grows more intense by the moment.

"I know about your war against the reality loop." Acheron continues, telling just enough truth to get away with a lie, "I don't care about it. As far as I'm concerned... this is the only me."

"And you must save your wife," Cayenne finishes for him. "I see."


 Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee...


Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-bee--



 "Stop-stop-stop-stop-st-"


Acheron observes the faerie's destruction with interest. Larkspur doesn't bleed as he's torn apart by Acheron's magic, he just starts to spew purple sparkles and eventually explodes in a puff of glittery dust. The reaper does not appear to harvest any residual energy.

"Sorry," Acheron grumbles, as he gathers up a handful of dust and tosses it in the river.


The river changes. It has a second form, one with skin and hair and shape. "You did not have to do that," it tells Acheron, its eyes downcast in grief.


"I looked for other ways to summon you," Acheron answers.

"How can that be true, when I have never seen you at my shores before today?"

"...Try to keep an open mind, alright?"


"You separated the waters from their source?"



If Larkspur has anything close to his father's power, there's no sign of it. He doesn't even fight back.

"I didn't expect this," are his last words this time around.


Acheron could swear he's watching events through his victims' perspective, sometimes.


It's a bit...


...disconcerting...


...zzzz...



The dryad had intended to drown Acheron's great-grandson in the river.

Now she will be the one thrown into its waters.

The poison has paralyzed her, and she can barely struggle against this man she does not know. The town of Hidden Springs is tiny, she knows every human by sight, yet she has never seen this one.



The elderfae appears once the dryad's life is extinguished.

"Who are you," he demands.

The change of sacrifices to his binding curse makes a small difference; the fairy is not sad, merely indignant about the summoning. It certainly took long enough for Acheron to figure out the river and the dryad colony were connected enough for such a substitution to be possible, but in the end, he wonders, what does it matter? Larkspur or Jasmine? Who is he to choose one?

"I'm called Acheron."

There's a lengthy pause, as the the creature rises from its throne of rocks and looks him over. "You are not one of mine," he finally responds. "You dare speak this name?"

"Sorry, Lethe, I didn't name myself."


I didn't name myself.

Those words may have confused the elderfae, as he shrinks backwards is silent for several more minutes. Lethe's luminous wings beat slowly, humming faintly as the water ripples.


When he speaks again, his tone is even more contemptuous, "You have not observed the full ritual. I do not have to honor the contract. You have murdered this woman for no purpose."


Acheron's smile does not reach his eyes. He feels like his face is going to break. Like something is broken. "Oh, I wouldn't say that. All I needed was for you to assume a form that feels pain."








__________________________
Etc.: When the nightmare supplies its own fuel!

I didn't intend to ever have Kirstin in the story again, but she just showed up at the festival lot and started chatting with Milo so I went with what few pics I got before Milo darted off.

The place Milo and Fairuza were eating lunch at last chapter was a modified version of this lot.