Friday, January 26, 2018
Chapter 122: After Cake
"I'm not upset about the love charm anymore," Claire tries to reassure Acheron, but he's still awkward around her. Now that they have no project to summon a goddess, he spends most of his time sitting quietly near her. She finds it a little unnerving.
"It's weird, you know," she says, when he doesn't respond, "I went from one crazy idea straight to another one. First I wanted to believe you were evil, then I wanted to believe you were a messenger from a higher power."
"You were under a spell," he reminds her.
"Your family's gotta be so worried about you, huh?" Fairuza mumbles, as she texts her boyfriend for the five hundredth time today.
"I'm sure they are," Claire replies, thinking briefly about her cover story ("parents away from town on a business trip") but worrying primarily about her real family, a bunch of witches who will be deeply unhappy with her new choice of friends.
No work, no school... plenty of time for play fighting.
"We should not be doing this with Claire around," even in were form, Carlos manages to fret.
"Eh, she's too busy making eyes at Acheron to notice us! Oh, and Orazia's perception wards. Remember?"
"Those work?" Carlos is skeptical.
"Yes, Dad." Dysen smiles.
Claire was told to pretend to be affected by the wards, anyway.
Moby seeks out the most busy person in the house to pester: Fairuza, who is doing her homework, unaware school will not resume for her, ever.
Acheron is just trying to do laundry. Claire tries to sneak up on him, but fails, and as he's turning around she blows dust in his face anyway.
"Friend or foe?" she asks.
"Arhg, can we not? You have to be careful with that stuff! We don't know what it does."
Claire giggles. "We'll have to find a foe to be certain. Maybe I should try it on your cousins."
"You'd better no-...oo...ot? What is happening!?"
"You can fly!" Claire cheers.
Acheron bumps into the ceiling and grabs onto a light fixture. "Now I have a crippling fear of floating out into space, thanks."
"Oh, lighten up." She stands on her tip-toes and takes hold of his shoes. "I'll save you, little boy."
"I'm serious. Gifts from the fae are dangerous. Even when they claim to be beneficial, it could be a "The Monkey's Paw" situation."
"Yeah, yeah. I won't use any more." She smirks. "It's a finite resource, I need to conserve it."
Acheron falls to the floor just as suddenly as he floated to the ceiling. "Ow!"
Claire barely has time to jump backwards. "Oh no, are you okay?"
"Do you actually care?"
"Yes... I care. I didn't mean to scare you with the dust. I'm sorry."
He won't look at her.
"It's not every day you meet your cult founder and find out your life is a lie and you're a horrible person. At least give me credit for not going into denial and insisting it's all some trick?"
"This in-between phase is awful. All I want is for you to grab onto me again and not let go," he says, "but how can I ask that without freaking you out? How can I tell you I've known you my whole life, but not really?"
"When we first met, you said you saw me in a dream, and that's how you knew what I was planning to do." Claire blushes. "Dysen talked about precognition later. I was intrigued. I've been waiting for you to talk to me about it, but you don't trust me yet. I guess I wouldn't trust me either. But when you look at me... I can tell there's more you want to say. Despite your every reason to, you don't hate me."
For the first time in years, the overbearing sense of dread Acheron has carried since early childhood evaporates, for a little while, and he starts to think everything may turn out okay.
It takes time, but with persistence, Claire gets bits and pieces of what's going on in his head. The precognitive issue should frighten her, but it excites her instead. She is still convinced she found him for a reason.
And she thinks he's cute.
"Your coven probably isn't going to believe you met your goddess," he gives words to the fears that have been creeping up to the surface of her mind.
"They'll have to," she argues. "You've seen them interacting with you peacefully in your visions."
"Yeah... but I don't know how much of that was subterfuge."
"On their part or yours?"
"I don't know. Both maybe."
Claire is sorry about her prior behavior, but Orazia isn't going to be won over with apologies. Orazia probably isn't going to be won over at all.
Dysen is too lazy to hold a grudge forever though, so when it becomes apparent Claire isn't going to hurt anyone, he doesn't mind hanging out with her.
Orazia cooks up a zombification potion, just in case.
Witches are easy to dispose of if they're zombies, right?
"You've never played a video game before?"
"Nope! Dad likes them, but the other witches say they're a waste of time, and I won't become a strong witch by wasting time."
"So your dad isn't a magic user?"
"Nope, he's just a disappointment." Claire frowns. "But I miss him. I haven't seen him in a while."
Ceth spends the downtime making social media posts about how lame all this is.
"I can't even jam with my friends," she complains, when Carlos checks on her. "And Phil died before I could visit him again!"
Carlos frowns, trying to remember which person Phil is. We haven't seen Phil since chapter 100.
Ceth glares. "Mohawk guy?"
Carlos picks at his sleeves nervously. "Oh. Right. I'm sorry."
"My birthday is coming soon!" Ceth wails. "I'm going to get old and die!"
Carlos pats her shoulder. "...There there."
"Don't you condescend me Carlos."
Moby's born killer instincts finally take over, after being put to shame by Maggie so many times.
Dysen challenges his father's position as pack alpha.
And kicks ass.
"Don't look smug," Carlos groans. "All this means is you graduate to challenging your uncle from now on."
"I've made a mistake!" Dysen yips.
"Why is Milo running around in his fancy work suit?" Ceth questions.
Carlos rolls his eyes. "Maybe it comforts him. I think he's going stir crazy."
"Right. He's been a werewolf all day. Yuck."
"He'd just better keep his claws out of my garden."
"And awaaaaay from our guest?"
"Apparently Orazia's perception wards work."
"Oh. I forgot about those. I wish they worked on me."
"Dare I question..."
"I'd pay money to not have to see Milo's wereface. Oh, and yours."
Maggie has a litter of three kittens. Two male, one female.
To say she is pleased would be an understatement. It's her first healthy litter.
'What to name the kittens' becomes a family argument, so in the end Dysen puts everyone's names into a randomizer and lets it choose who gets to have the honors.
Acheron didn't want to name any cats, but the RNG picked him anyway, so this odd-eyed kitten's name is Entropy.
This one is 'General Zod'... so thanks for that, Lela.
The female kitten is named 'Ambiance', by Molly, via the power of text message.
"Now there are FIVE cats," Milo expresses his displeasure.
Orazia is nervous about her birthday, but for some reason her uneasy feelings melt away when Acheron gives her a present. "I'm sorry everyone else has been too stuck inside to get you a gift," he apologizes. "I've had this a while."
"Awww, thank you! Do I have to wait until after cake to open it?"
"Nah. It's not that exciting."
The box is heavy. Opening it reveals why: it's packed full of books. Orazia has the bookworm trait, so it is a thoughtful gift. "The Forever War?" she's amused by the title at the top of the stack.
"I read it in a future and I hate it, but I remember thinking you'd like it. So I tracked down a copy for you."
"You're sweet," she says, hugging him warmly.
Neither teen has mentioned the awkward love confession from the day they found Claire. Orazia has come to understand there's nothing she can do to make Acheron not insane about Claire.
Orazia puts on a happy face for cake...
...and becomes a young woman.
Milo wonders where the time went.
"Have you thought much about a career, 'Zia?" her father asks.
"Dad..." Orazia chuckles. "That's something you start worrying about long before your adult birthday."
"I just... I just assumed you had a plan," he admits. "Because you're so smart."
"I'll start my own garden and sell the produce. Like Aunt Izalee did."
"I noticed you're growing spotlight mushrooms," Claire says, once Milo steps away to take a phone call from his boss.
"You noticed and you stole some," Orazia replies through clenched teeth.
"Eheh... I could set you up with buyers, if you want... it's good money... my coven sells to a lot of different types of supernatural people..."
"Oh, we're people now?"
"...I said I was sorry," Claire whines.
Ceth teaches Orazia how to adult.
"...And the only time your Uncle Carlos had bubbles, he turned into a werewolf."
"Wow," Orazia breathes. "Is that a bubble a llama?"
Before Milo can believe it, it's Fairuza's birthday too.
She makes a wish and blows out her candles.
The wish is for her boyfriend to be here, but she keeps said wish to herself.
Aging up means that in-depth analysis of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner will not ever be due, right?
Growing up sure is weird in this universe.
Young adult Fairuza! She's ready to follow her father into professional sports.
Just as soon as they're allowed to leave the house.
Wow, Ceth, could you have at least gotten out of your sleepwear?
Everyone else did.
Acheron has seemed uncomfortable all day. "Fairuza, I... um.."
Fairuza smiles at him. Unaware of what really happened with Claire, and ignorant about the true circumstances behind the weather changing, she's just pleased all has seemed tranquil in their household and nobody, to her knowledge, has freaked out recently or suicidally wandered around on roofs in the rain. "Yeah?"
Acheron grits his teeth. He can't warn her. It wouldn't do any good. "...Nothing. Happy birthday. Sorry no clubs are open for it."
"Yeah, kind of a bummer. I really wanted to party. Don't worry about it though. The city can't keep us confined to our houses forever."
"So, Claire seems to like you..."
Acheron rolls his eyes and carefully calculates a response that will get her off his case, "Mooommmm!"
Cat pic spam.
I think I've played this song before ♪
The melody is different
but I hear the drums of war
So it seems my mission is the same
What always ends in bloodshed
begins as just a game
I know I can win
I've done it before
Get out of my way
I've gotta settle the score
One last time ♪
"If it wasn't for you, I'd still be with those criminals. So thank you."
Whee! Fairuza hopes she will never get too old for this.
"You don't plan to move out or anything?" Fairuza is shocked her sister can be so complacent. "This house is like, so cramped!"
"Living on my own might be fun, but, I'd want to stay close to our family. I have to keep all those werewolves out of trouble you know," Orazia sips at her drink.
Fairuza grins. "Rock and I are renting our own place as soon as we can."
Unfortunately a wrench is thrown into Fairuza's plans when Officer Worthington shows up to arrest her for a burglary at the Gooder home.
"I didn't..." she pleads weakly. "Please, believe me..."
"My daughter did not leave the house last night!" Milo bellows, though he didn't exactly stay up all night to watch her.
Lela is shocked. "Francis, why didn't you tell me someone in my house was under investigation?"
"I'm sorry, Lela. The evidence against Fairuza is pretty solid."
"It has to be faked..." Orazia protests.
"What kind of idiot would dare to frame my daughter?!" Milo cannot keep his cool.
Francis is all business, appearing unmoved. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to let the justice system do its job."
"Back off Milo," Lela whispers.
Officer Worthington leaves with Fairuza, ushering her into the back of his police cruiser and driving away.
"This is unacceptable! You let him take her when she hadn't done anything!"
"Milo, I can't be certain what she did or didn't do! Francis said they had evidence!"
"Fairuza would never do anything like that!"
Carlos has had enough, and lets his little brother know it with an ear-piercing transformation howl and a toothy growl afterwards. "Don't yell at my wife!"
Orazia sighs, watching the interactions between 'the adults' descend into chaos.
She stops Acheron from slinking away. "You knew this would happen, didn't you."
"The evidence against her is fake," Acheron stammers, "but the authorities and the victims believe it, and the Gooder family has a lot of sway in the town. They intend to see her behind bars a long time."
"I can't accept that, there has to be something we can do."
"There is. You break her out of jail, escape the sector and change your names."
"What?! I'm not doing that just because you saw it in a vision..."
"You had to have guessed this is about the vampire I... m-murdered. It's my fault, I'm sorry. Tabira waited for Fairuza to be an adult just so she could punish her like this. She isn't going to stop trying for revenge. Cold, dispassionate revenge. If... if anyone needs your help to protect them from supernatural weirdness, it's your sister. Not the werewolves."
Orazia is forced to come semi-clean on some of Fairuza's prior activities.
"You share a room," Milo grunts. "You see her leave last night?"
"No, Dad, but I think I know what this is about."
"What? What! Tell me. Tell me now."
Orazia keeps her voice low and soothing, "A friend got her involved with the local criminal element in high school. She did one or two things for them, and then she got out. A long time ago."
"What?!" Milo roars. "What friend!"
"It doesn't matter. 'Ruza felt terrible. That's not the life she wanted. But apparently you don't just walk away from organized crime. If you know what I mean. The evidence is faked."
"Get Lela's ugly cop friend here! Tell him that!"
Orazia sighs. "Dad... that's not how it's going to go down."
"Why?" Milo is nearly in tears.
"...There's a vampire involved, Dad."
Dysen and Acheron quietly listen in on the living room conversation.
"She's really going out of her way not to mention your involvement," Dysen comments.
"Or yours," Acheron hisses. "Or Molly's."
Dysen glares. "Alright, I take your point."
Compounding the family's grief, Emmy the snake unexpectedly passes away.
Dysen feels pretty bad; he has no idea what killed his pet, and neither does the narrator.
Looks like Emmy just decided to explode.
If I were Dysen I'd be lining the household mages up for questioning.
After cleaning up the horrifying mess in Emmy's terrarium, Dysen notices Moby has been trying to present him with comfort food.
Moby made the mistake of not killing the prey first. His stupid human checks it for injuries, then lets it go! Humans are hopeless.
Dysen salutes the little parakeet as it flies away. "Be more careful!"
In the safety of the shade, he checks his messages.
MOLLY R.: I'm stuck with my parents... so lame... they're always fighting. And I can't even order any pizza.
LYSANDER L.: I can only watch Screaming Fashion Agent so many times before life loses all meaning.
Nothing to say about those things, apparently.
Etc.: Ambiance and ambience are both accepted spellings, OK?
Lyrics under Ceth and Acheron's jamming pic are from this bunch of songs. The lyrics read like video game characters having an existential crisis. Other lines include "if it was up to me, I'd rewrite history", "today I change the end", "if it was up to you, you'd always choose to continue", ""you are the one who wrote the end; you wanted war, now I just want revenge", and "will any choice that we make matter at all?", so I always smile stupidly when I'm trying to write for Acheron and they come up as background noise.
It's probably classical music to Ceth or something. Like Rick Astley.