Saturday, December 29, 2012

[Prologue] Chapter 8: Plan B

Cyrus Delmar stares blankly into the fire, his eyes glued to the flames in an almost hypnotic trance. He feels anxious, waiting for her to arrive, but he won’t let his attachment to her interfere with his plan. As his grandfather always said, love is a liability, a weakness, and any man who suffers from the affliction deserves whatever failures life brings them.

In a cloud of dust, Isadora suddenly appears before him, coughing and sputtering as she struggles to breathe through the vapor.

“They’ve got Kieran!” she cries, her voice trembling with desperation.

Cyrus rises to his feet and slowly walks over to his lover. “Did you get it?” he demands, ignoring her frantic sobs.

Isadora nods and hands him the ring.

“And Ephraim?” he asks as he gingerly tucks the charmed object into his pocket. “Did they-”

“Atticus killed him,” she replies bitterly. “Just like I predicted he would.”

“Excellent,” Cyrus grins.

“But what about Kieran?!” she pleads. “Our son is in danger, Cyrus. We need to save him!”

Cyrus narrows his eyes and scans Isadora’s tearstained face. “Our son?” he repeats, sounding bored. “I thought he belonged to your vile excuse for a husband, my dear friend Ephraim.”

Isadora lets out an infuriated scream. “How many times do I have to explain this to you?!” she shrieks. “You are Kieran's father!”

Cyrus knows it’s the truth. He’s only met the boy a couple of times, but they have the same eyes. Yet, Isadora’s hiding something from him. He can sense it in her nervous gaze and the uneasy lilt of her voice.

“Come here, darling,” he whispers as he pulls her towards him.

Cyrus wraps his arms around Isadora’s shoulders and begins to stroke her cheek, allowing his magic to flow freely through his hand.

“Tell me about your vision,” he commands after a minute.

Isadora yawns, suddenly feeling drowsy and relaxed. “I’ve told it to you before,” she reminds him as her eyes begin to glaze over.

“I want to hear it again,” he replies tonelessly.

“I see you standing in a battlefield,” she tells him quietly. “Soaked in blood and holding a sword. You are the head of a massive army, thousands upon thousands of soldiers under your command, but they are frozen in their tracks, completely motionless. A small child kneels before you, your nemesis I believe, but just as you are preparing to administer the final, fatal blow a knife rips through your heart, mortally wounding you.”

Cyrus’ eyes flash, but he lets Isadora continue with her tale.

“Your army unfreezes as you fall to the ground, but, distracted and disoriented, no one comes to your aid. You glance up to see who holds the blade that took your life, and with your last breath you mumble the word ‘traitor’.”

“Who did it, Isa?” he presses. “Who stabbed me?”

Isadora pauses, subconsciously fighting Cyrus’ spell. Sensing her resistance, he pushes even harder.

“Tell me, Isadora,” Cyrus orders as he places both hands on her face. “Who was it?”

She takes a deep breath, feeling dizzy. “No,” she whispers. “You’ll kill him.”

“You said that Ephraim was the traitor. Were you lying, my darling?”

Unable to stop herself, she nods.

“Then it's Atticus,” he surmises.

Isadora shakes her head.

“Who, then?” he demands.

“I- I won’t-”

In a burst of rage, Cyrus forces himself into the very core of her mind, desperately searching for his answer, but the deeper he digs the more volatile and dangerous the spell becomes, until Isadora finally collapses onto the floor in a seizure.

As soon as she finishes convulsing, Cyrus numbly reaches down to check her pulse, but he struggles to locate a heartbeat. Panic immediately takes hold of the mage, and after quickly wiping away all traces of his presence he flees the library and vanishes into the night.

Hundreds of miles away, dawn breaks over Jericho, and Atticus finds himself in a tricky situation. After his encounter with Ephraim last night, the mystery of the plague has been resolved, but Ephraim’s ring, the source of his long life, disappeared with his wife Isadora. However, their son Kieran remains under the old mage’s care, and if the power he demonstrated yesterday is any sort of gauge the little toddler could prove to be quite dangerous.

“Absolutely not,” Atticus declares. “It’s far too risky to leave him here with you, Maeve. No, Kieran comes back to Arundel with me.”

Maeve sighs and rolls her eyes. “Dad, we’ll be fine!” she exclaims. “He’s just a baby. What’s the worst he can do?”

Atticus glares at his daughter. “We already went through this, dear. It would have taken an enormous amount of raw magic to deflect Ephraim’s spell and shield you from that curse. A toddler of his age and size simply shouldn’t have been able to do it, especially considering his lack of training. He’s just too powerful and too unpredictable to leave in the care of an inexperienced, untrained hedge witch.”

“What do you know about babies?” Maeve demands. “Have you ever even changed a diaper?!”

“Certainly,” he nods.

“How many centuries ago?” she smirks.

Atticus turns a dull shade of red. “About four, but that’s beside the point!”

“He’s a baby, and he has the same needs as all other two year olds,” Maeve persists. “How do you expect to keep him safe if you can’t even keep him clean, fed, and rested?”


Luca places his hand on Atticus’ shoulder. “I know you’re concerned,” he tells him, looking the mage straight in the eye, “but Maeve and I can handle it. It’s only temporary after all, until you can locate his mother.”

Atticus sighs and rubs his head, feeling outnumbered. “Fine,” he concedes at last, “but I will be back as quickly as I can. I must speak with the council about everything that has happened here, and their deliberations could take months. Unfortunately, I will have to remain in Arundel until they reach a decision about how to proceed, but I will try to stay in contact. Don’t expect regular updates, however.”

“And Luca?” Maeve whispers softly. “You promised to talk to them about Luca and me…”

Atticus glances away uneasily. “I will do my best, Maeve, but there is a deep-seated fear of humans within the magical community. It’s a long shot at best.”

“Just try, okay?”

He nods, his face full of concern.

Atticus leaves that very morning, but not without first saying goodbye to Esme, Maeve’s mother. During his brief stay in Jericho, the pair rediscovered their old feelings for each other, and the abrupt separation feels heartbreaking to Atticus.

“I will return for you,” he promises as he tenderly strokes her cheek.

Esme just smiles and nods, fighting back a sudden wave of tears.

As the days turn to weeks, Maeve throws herself into her job as Kieran’s caretaker, fussing over the boy at any chance she gets. He hasn’t reached any of his major milestones yet, and so she decides to take on the monumental task of teaching him to walk.

But Kieran, for the most part, seems to shy away from the attention that she lavishes on him, and he usually prefers to play quietly by himself in the corner rather than interacting with other people. Even as he grows more familiar with Luca and Maeve, the tot remains stubbornly timid and antisocial.

However, despite her disappointing lack of progress with the boy, Maeve settles easily into her new life at the McKinley house.

One evening, a surprise visitor shows up on their doorstep. Emily Lockwood, Luca’s longtime friend and next door neighbor, seems upset tonight, so Maeve invites her inside for a chat.

“It’s about the baby,” Emily explains.

“I didn’t realize you were expecting,” Maeve answers impassively. It’s not a judgment or a criticism, merely an observation.

Emily nods. “Due in a few months. But-” she freezes, hanging her head in shame.

“Yes?” Maeve presses.

“I- I don’t want to turn into my mother,” Emily admits, letting the tears spill down her cheeks. “She had me as a teenager, and I just- I want so much more for my kid. And- And myself.”

“You have options, Emily,” Maeve tells her kindly. “Have you considered adoption?”

“Yes, but the idea of giving my baby away to a total stranger...” she trails off, carefully avoiding eye contact. “I know I’m not ready to be a mom yet, but I can’t imagine the heartbreak of never seeing my child again.”

Maeve smiles at the teenager warmly, sensing the question that is about to come. “It would be a heart wrenching decision to make,” she agrees.

“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” she says shyly. “I want my baby to grow up with the best parents possible, and frankly I can’t imagine anyone else I’d rather see raise the kid than you and Luca.”

To Emily’s surprise, Maeve’s eyes light up at the prospect. “I- I don’t know what to say,” Maeve stammers, suddenly overcome with emotion. “I’m flattered, Emily, and I know Luca would be too, but… Are you sure? I don’t want you to make a choice that you are going to end up regretting.”

Emily nods enthusiastically. “Yes, I have never been more sure of anything in my life. I have a future ahead of me, Ms. Saville, and I want to make something of myself. Luca thinks that I show a lot of promise as a future doctor, and medical school just isn’t possible if I’ve got a child to look after.”

“Well, let me speak with Luc about it, but as far as I’m concerned the answer is yes.”

Emily is ecstatic. She finally has someone to share the aches and pains of pregnancy with.

The following week, Maeve brings up the adoption with Luca. Before they get a chance to really talk about it, however…

…She goes into labor.

Challenge Notes:

Yeah, I’m a bitch. Sorry, I know people hate those kind of cliffhangers (and I do too!), but this was the most logical place to stop. Because… Maeve gets a haircut next chapter. Yeah, stupid reason is stupid, but I need to show some time passing and that’s easier to do with a new chapter. (Or maybe I’m just a bitch. You decide. =P)

Anyway, I really, really, REALLY hope that was all clear. I couldn’t figure out a clean way to include a more detailed recap of the events last chapter, but basically Isadora and her lover Cyrus plotted her husband Ephraim’s murder. Well, in truth, Isadora (who is a seer, in case that wasn’t obvious) had a vision of her husband’s death (unrelated to her vision of Cyrus’ death), and together she and Cyrus pulled the strings and made it happen. As in, she knew that his death involved Atticus, so she convinced Ephraim that he needed to face his old foe again in order to learn the “true” secret of immortality (versus the temporary life-extending method of the ring), and by using her visions as a guide Isadora helped her husband locate and infect Maeve, Atticus’ daughter, which she hoped would get Atticus involved. Then, once Ephraim died (she believes Atticus killed him and is unaware of her son Kieran’s involvement), she stole the ring and returned to Cyrus, and that’s where this chapter starts.

…Probably should have found some way to include that info dump in the story, but oh well. I’m a horrible writer. Sue me. However, I’m secretly hoping that you all understood this chapter before my little summary, but I know it’s been a while since my last update. If you have any other questions though, I’m more than happy to answer them! =D

Oh, also, there are two discrepancies which I want to clarify: 1) How Atticus knows Kieran's real name and 2) Why Emily isn't living in Luca's house anymore (like she was last chapter).

1) He looked at a tag inside his clothes. =P
2) It would be breaking the challenge rules. (But, story wise, I figure she made up with her mom and moved back in with her.)

And now I'm going to go read How NOT to Write a Story: 101 Common Mistakes Writers Make. (Because lord knows I need the help!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

[Prologue] Chapter 7: Fire and Ice

As the early morning sun streams in through the leaded glass windows, little beams of light begin to dance playfully around the living room floor, but Luca and Maeve barely even notice. After such a tumultuous and eventful evening last night, they are completely caught up in each other’s company, totally lost in the moment.

“She moved!” Luca gasps as he gently places his hand on Maeve’s belly.

“She?” Maeve laughs.

“We’re having a girl,” he tells her with a small smile.

Maeve glances up at him skeptically. “How can you be so sure?” she asks.

Luca leans in and kisses her. “Trust me,” he whispers as he nuzzles her neck. “I’m a doctor.”

Coming down the stairs, Esme watches the lovebirds dubiously. All her doubts and suspicions about Luca, all her concerns about his motives and his feelings toward Maeve, have been more than put to rest by his actions over the past few days, but still their relationship makes her uncomfortable. Magic and humans do not belong together- It’s a belief that has been driven into her over the years, and for her own daughter to defy tradition and break the council’s law in such a serious way… Well, she’s finding it very hard to accept.

A loud knocking erupts from the back door, shattering the peaceful silence. Luca and Maeve show no inclination to get up, so Esme reluctantly goes to answer it.

Before she can get there, however, Atticus bursts into the room.

“WHERE IS HE?!” the mage shouts furiously, his voice echoing off the old plaster walls.

Esme folds her arms across her chest and glares at him, suddenly feeling protective of the man who saved her daughter’s life. She may not approve of Luca, but she’s not about to let him get killed by an enraged sorcerer with a badly damaged ego.

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” she replies coyly.

“Don’t play games with me, Ezzy” Atticus spits. “I need to find that… that boy before he does anything stupid.”

“Stupid?” she repeats. “Like what?”

“The flower,” he snaps. “I need it back, and I need it back now.”

“You’re too late,” Esme tells him triumphantly. “It’s gone. The reaper took it.”

Hearing those words, Atticus explodes in a tirade of incomprehensible swearing.

“I’ll kill him!” he roars. “I’ll tear him to shreds! I’ll rip his nasty thieving hands off. I’ll-”

“Don’t you touch him, Atticus!” Esme bellows, facing him dead on. “He’s under my protection now, and I swear if you set one finger on him I’ll take you before the council, have you stripped of your position and imprisoned for the rest of your sorry little life.”

…The feeling is mutual.

As their yelling escalates, Luca and Maeve come running into the kitchen to see what all the commotion is about. Atticus seizes upon the brief moment of confusion…

And with a wave of his hands sets Luca on fire.

Maeve doesn’t hesitate. She recognizes Atticus from the stories Esme used to tell her about her father and immediately goes to confront him.

“How could you DO that to him?!” she screams, ignoring Luca’s calls for help. “He saved my life, and this is how you repay him?!”

Atticus waves his hand dismissively. “That human stole from me,” he replies angrily. “He deserves to die.”

“He stole from you to help ME!” Maeve cries. “Your DAUGHTER!”

Atticus’ face hardens, but he remains unmoved.

“Do you even have a soul?” Maeve demands, feeling her frustration boil over. “Does family mean nothing to you?! Does love mean nothing to you?!”

“Love?” he laughs. “Love only leads to heartache and grief. Here’s some advice for you, from father to daughter. Don’t bother. I stayed out of your life for a reason, child. I don’t need family, and I don’t need love.”

Maeve feels the tears streaming down her face, but she wipes them away defiantly. “Maybe you don’t need it, but I do. And I love him, Atticus. I love him with everything I am. You may have forever, but I have one chance, a single lifetime, to find happiness. Don’t take that from me. Don’t take him from me.”

Gazing at Maeve’s distraught, tear-stained face, Atticus is suddenly struck by how incredibly similar she looks to her mother. The sight brings back long forgotten memories of the night that Esme told him she was pregnant, the emotional announcement that shattered the harmony in their relationship, the difficult decision he made to remain with his job, the confusion in her eyes when he asked her to choose between him and the baby, the heartbreak he felt when she refused him. He wouldn’t wish that agony on anyone.

“Fine,” he whispers at last. “Fine.”

While Maeve and Atticus spend precious time quarreling with each other, Esme decides to take matters into her own hands. Grabbing a fire extinguisher, she desperately tries to put Luca out.

But it takes an ice spell to completely douse the enchanted flames.

Charred, frozen, and humiliated, Luca and Maeve leave without another word.

After their departure, an uncomfortable silence hangs in the air.

“I- I’m sorry,” Atticus says after a minute. “I lost my temper.”

“Don’t tell it to me,” Esme retorts. “I think your daughter is the one that deserves an apology.”

The mage nods and hangs his head. “But will she forgive a prideful old fool?” he wonders out loud.

A whole day passes before Atticus gets up the courage to speak with her. The conversation goes as expected, stiff and awkward at first, but friendlier towards the end.

Maeve can’t hide her gleeful smile as she pulls Atticus in for a hug.

“That’s all I ever wanted,” she tells him softly. “An apology.”

“What about Luca?” the mage asks as he backs away. “Will he still help us with this curse?”

Maeve shrugs. “I can be pretty persuasive when I want to,” she replies with a wink.

And so she can.

At Maeve’s insistence, Luca gives the blood samples he stole from the hospital to Atticus, and the mage immediately gets to work creating a remedy. Meanwhile, Luc enlists the help of his best friend and resident computer whiz Gibson to process the data he surreptitiously “borrowed” from the lab, and tonight Gibson wants to show them the results of his handiwork.

“I think I’ve found our source,” he exclaims excitedly as Luca leans over his shoulder to get a better look. “There appears to be a convergence of cases concentrated around this area.”

Luca frowns. “Bluetree Hollow? That’s just a short drive from Esme’s house…”

Gibson nods. “The Hollow is the common denominator,” he explains. “By charting each victim’s movements in chronological order, I was able to determine that the first dozen or so cases all spent time within a two mile radius of this point here, and only as weeks pass does the disease become more widespread. It must be originating from the valley somewhere. ”

“That’s right near the old Manor Place,” Luca muses. “I wonder if-”

“Let’s go check it out,” Maeve interjects enthusiastically. “See if we can’t discover what’s causing this virus.”

“I suppose it won’t hurt to go have a look around,” Atticus agrees.

Gibson opts to stay behind, and so the three of them pile into Luca’s car and head to the mysterious old house known as “The Manor Place”. Built centuries ago during a time of great prosperity in Jericho, the lovely Victorian has changed hands several times over the years, eventually ending up under the ownership of a wealthy, but highly secretive businessman named Edmund Everett. According to the legend, Edmund spent his whole life living alone in the house, and on his deathbed he vowed never to let another soul reside there. True to his word, the manor remains empty to this day, for strange as it may sound no one knows who owns the place anymore. Adding to the mystery, the property taxes are paid every year, always hand delivered to city hall in an unmarked envelope.

Tonight there are lights on inside the dilapidated old structure, so ever the gentleman Atticus bangs on the front door before letting himself inside.

“You two take the upstairs while I look around down here,” he whispers as Luca and Maeve follow him into the house. “We’ll meet out front in fifteen minutes.”

As soon as they separate, Atticus heads to the back of the house. He can sense the presence of another mage here, lurking in one of the rooms, and so he keeps quiet and listens.

“Why don’t you come in?” A voice, male and vaguely familiar sounding, echoes down the hall. Atticus traces it to a closed door at the far end of the room and boldly steps inside.

The man grins at him and beckons him over. “Atticus Thorel,” he smirks. “Now what do I owe the honor?”

Atticus pauses, desperately trying to place him. He’s seen that face before, but where?

“Old age has made you slow, my friend,” the man laughs. “How could you forget someone you once upon a time condemned to die?”

And then it hits him, like a punch in the gut. “Ephraim!” Atticus whispers, his voice trembling with rage. “Ephraim Everard. But- How- I- You’re dead!” he stammers.

Ephraim chuckles, apparently pleased by Atticus’ reaction. “You didn’t think I’d let you outlive me, did you?” he sneers. “How… foolish.”

“Then you’ve been behind the fever!” Atticus exclaims. “This whole mess… It’s all been you!”

“Such a shame,” Ephraim says, shaking his head in mock disappointment. “And here I thought you were an adversary worthy of fearing, but you’ve been two steps behind me this whole time.”

Atticus narrows his eyes angrily. “How?” he demands. “How did you do it?”

“The plague? It is a fairly complicated curse, but I always did love a challenge.”

“No. This. You. Your immortality. How are you still alive?”

“Ah, that. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let you in on my little plan. It all comes back to you, actually.”

Atticus look appalled. “Me?!”

Ephraim nods and continues with his story. “When I first started on the journey to achieve eternal life, however many centuries ago, you refused to part with your precious little secrets, claiming that it was safer for only one man to have access to the knowledge. ‘I don’t want a repeat of the Vivician Wars’ you told me. I tried everything from bribery to threats, but nothing I did or said could convince you to part with the information. So I gave up and began seeking other alternatives, eventually stumbling across a powerful binding spell. Well, as I’m sure you are aware, every Sim’s lifespan is predestined. Barring accidents or other unplanned occurrences, each Sim lives to a certain, predetermined age, usually in elderhood, when the reaper ascends from the netherworld to take them to the afterlife. However, using my new spell, I discovered a way to capture the extra years from people’s lives and use them to extend my own time. By binding their years to a ring, I could essentially achieve immortality. The issue, however, became how to cut their lives short?”

“So you created the Great Plague,” Atticus breathes.

“Yes, but I never expected it to work as well as it did,” Ephraim says. “I wasn’t prepared to handle that large an influx of years, and now I’ve begun to run low on time. Which is why I cast the spell again, hoping to prolong my already lengthy lifespan.”

“But you see, Atticus, my lovely wife Isadora had a better idea,” he continues. “As a seer, she foretold that by casting the spell near the city of Jericho I could potentially infect the guardian’s one and only daughter. And I take it I was successful in my mission?” he asks with a small smirk.

Atticus frowns. “But why would you want to hurt Maeve?” he demands.

“Bargaining power, of course. You give me the true secret of immortality, and in exchange I reverse the spell, sparing your daughter’s life. What do you say, my old friend?”

“I say you’re despicable,” Atticus snarls.

“Yes, I am well aware,” Ephraim chortles. “But I meant about our deal…”

 “I’m afraid you have made a slight miscalculation,” Atticus replies quietly.

Ephraim’s face falls. “Miscalculation?” he snaps. “How so?”

And then, as though on cue, Maeve’s voice resonates down the hallway. “Dad?” she calls out. “Dad, where are you?”

“In here, Maeve,” Atticus answers, his eyes never once leaving Ephraim’s face.

“What’s going on in here?” Luca demands as he and Maeve burst into the room.

“You said she was sick,” Ephraim growls to Isadora. “You said-”

“I lied,” Isadora retorts in an icy cold voice.

Ephraim lets out a furious howl. “I’ll deal with you later,” he spits. Turning to face Atticus, he adds, “If you won’t give me the secret voluntarily, then I guess I’ll just have to force it from you.”

Assuming a defensive stance, Atticus prepares for a duel. “You’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead lips,” he roars.

“I’m not as dumb as you think, old man,” Ephraim yells as the power courses through his hands.

A gruesome cloud of death begins to swarm around Ephraim, but instead of hitting Atticus it heads directly for Maeve.

She freezes in terror as the curse lunges in her direction, but just before it completely engulfs her, a blinding light explodes around Maeve, shielding her from the spell.

…And causing it to bounce back at a wholly unprepared Ephraim.

Ephraim falls to the floor, writhing and screaming in agony.

Maeve and Luca watch in horror as the curse completely overtakes his body, killing the mage in a matter of seconds.

As Ephraim collapses in a lifeless puddle, Isadora hurriedly removes a single ring from his finger.

Standing up, she turns toward Atticus. “My child, if you don’t mind,” she commands calmly.

Luca bends down and picks up the small boy, who’s sitting quietly at his feet.

“You give me that ring, Mrs. Everard, and I’ll give you your son,” Atticus replies.

Her eyes narrow furiously. “You’ll regret this!” she shrieks as she takes a small pouch out of her pocket and throws it to the floor.

And in a poof of smoke, she’s gone.

Challenge Notes:

I hope that was all clear. I know there was a lot going on in this chapter, and I’m not sure I explained it all that well, so please don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any questions. I don’t mind clearing anything up! =)

Also, I don’t blame you if you didn’t notice the child before the third to last photo at the end, but he does make a (minor) appearance in two other screenshots. One of them is actually quite important for the story, as you will see in future chapters, but I’m not sure if anyone will pick up on it or not.

As always, thanks for reading! =D