Wednesday, October 31, 2012

[Prologue] Chapter 6: Risk Management

Looming like a shadow in the dark, Maeve feels death creep closer with each passing hour. Exhaustion is her constant companion these days, but yet sleep provides no relief for her tired mind. She struggles to stay coherent, often blurring the lines between the dream world and reality, but even in such a fragile state Maeve recognizes the man sitting at her bedside.

“Luca?” she whispers in a faint voice. “Is that you?”

“Hush,” he soothes, getting up to put a cool, wet rag on her forehead. “You need rest, my darling.”

Maeve starts to protest, but the effort proves too much for her. Luca watches in pained silence as she collapses onto the bed and fades out of consciousness once again.

As soon as he’s certain that she’s asleep, Luc reaches into his backpack and pulls out a single flower, gently placing it in the palm of her hand.

“For you, love,” he murmurs with a final kiss.

Maeve’s mother catches Luca as he’s walking out the door.

“She will be alright, won’t she?” Esme stammers.

Luc glances away uncomfortably. “I- I’m not sure,” he admits. “She doesn’t have much fight left.”

Esme nods, trying to remain composed, but Luca can see the despair in her eyes.

“I will be back later tonight,” he says as he squeezes her arm reassuringly. “I have some business to attend to at the hospital, but Maeve should be fine until I return.”

I hope, he adds silently.

After leaving Esme’s house, Luca heads home to change into his uniform and check his mail, but an unexpected surprise awaits him as he walks through the front door.

“Emily?” he frowns. “What are you doing here?”

Emily jumps up, aghast. Apparently she wasn’t expecting to see Luca either.

“I’m sorry, Mr. K!” she cries. “I wouldn’t have come here, but I thought you were going to be out of town for the week and the house was completely empty and I didn’t have anywhere else to go and-”

Luca glares at her irritably, and Emily immediately stops talking. He has so many other things on his mind right now that the intrusion feels particularly invasive.

“I don’t appreciate my house being broken into,” he snaps. “You need to go home, or I will have to call your mother.”

His tone makes Emily cringe, and before she can stop herself the teenager bursts into a fitful bout of tears.

“I have nowhere to go home to!” she sobs. “My mom kicked me out when she found out I was pregnant.”

Luca reaches over and awkwardly pats her arm. “I’m sorry, Em” he tells her distractedly. “I didn’t mean to-” He freezes, replaying her words over again in his head. “What did you say?”

“I’m p-pregnant,” she repeats in a trembling voice.

Luca’s eyes widen in horror. “But- How- You- You’re only a kid!” he sputters. “Are you… Are you sure?”

Emily looks up at him through tear filled eyes and nods. “I should have told you sooner,” she whispers dejectedly. “But you seemed so happy with Maeve, and then you were so sad when she broke up with you, and then there was the outbreak of the fever and you got so busy at work, and- and-” She trails off feebly, out of excuses.

Luca sighs and rubs his aching head. “You can stay here tonight,” he tells her after a minute, “but when I come back tomorrow you and I need to sit down and have a long conversation about this. Understand?”

Sobbing, Emily throws herself into Luca’s arms.

“Thank you, Mr. K,” she cries. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Luca would have liked to have had that discussion with Emily tonight, but unfortunately he has other, more urgent tasks to take care of right now.

Sneaking into the lab at work proves to be an easier feat than he had expected. Before he left town, he asked his boss for a week’s worth of time off, claiming that he needed to visit his dying mother in Lucky Palms. He was worried that showing up at the hospital two days before he was due back would seem suspicious, but at eight o’clock at night no one even blinks an eye at him.

He quickly locates the samples he needs for Atticus’ potion and tucks them into his briefcase. Just as he’s about to leave, however, a thought crosses his mind. Luca’s team spent hours collecting and compiling data about the White Fever and its victims, from their genders and ages to where they had lived and worked and any places they’d visited recently. Atticus specifically mentioned that the first plague, the Great Plague, had magical origins, but he had explained that they were never able to isolate its source. However, the disease was extremely widespread back then and much more advanced than it is now. If Luca could show Atticus their research, perhaps the old mage might see something that he and his team had missed. It’s definitely a long shot, but he is willing to take the risk. Luca wants to get rid of this disease once and for all.

Hurriedly Luc logs into the computer at the lab and scans through the files. There are literally dozens of hard drives full of information about the fever, but he doesn’t have the time or the space to take them all. Being careful not to trigger any security alarms, Luca copies over the most important documents to his flash drive.

He’s just saving the last file he needs when a familiar voice echoes over his shoulder.

“What are you looking for, babe?” Bridget murmurs as she comes up behind him. “I can’t imagine its half as pretty as I am.”

Luca frantically closes his browser. “Bridget,” he exclaims. “What are you doing here so late?”

“Are we keeping secrets?” she purrs. “Well, well. I never thought of you as the type, Dr. McKinley.”

“Um, no,” he stammers, standing up to talk to her. “No secrets. It’s just… I’m not supposed to be in town until Monday. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m skipping work at a time like this.”

Bridget smirks. “I see. What a dilemma. It does look rather suspicious after all, since you’re supposed to be at your mother’s funeral right now…”

Luca feels his palms grow sweaty. “Right. I am. I mean, I was. At her funeral. But… it’s over. It ended.”

Silence hangs in the air.

“But maybe we could, you know, keep this a secret between you and me?” he asks her quietly. “I mean, no one needs to know that I was here tonight…”

“Of course, baby. I would do anything for you. My boyfriend.”

Luca frowns. “But we’re not-”

“Dating?” she laughs. “Well, in that case, I guess I’ll just have to report this incident to the-”

Luca doesn’t even give her a chance to finish. He leans in and kisses her, desperately trying to distract her.

“I thought that might be your answer,” Bridget whispers with a seductive grin. “Why don’t we take this somewhere more private?”

Seeing no choice but to oblige, Luca reluctantly follows her to his office, where things take a predictably steamy turn. He tells himself that he’s doing this for Maeve, for all the victims of the fever, but deep down he knows that keeping Bridget quiet helps one person and one person only. Luca loves being a doctor, and he won’t risk losing his position over this.

What he doesn't realize, however, is that while he fights to save his beloved job, something far more precious is in jeopardy across town. Maeve has finally succumbed to the fever, and the reaper is here to claim her life.

…Or so he thought.

With a lovely new flower to add to his collection, Grim returns Maeve’s spirit to her body, healing her physical form in such a way that only he can.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Esme sobs as Maeve rises to her feet. “I thought you had died.”

“I did,” Maeve soothes. “Only, I came back.”

Esme has so many questions to ask her, but for now all she wants to do is hold her daughter close and never, ever let go.

A short while later, Luca arrives back at Esme’s house. Leaning up against the front door, he tries to prepare himself for whatever scene awaits him inside, but worry and guilt quickly overwhelm him. Although he’s eager to see Maeve, to check up on her condition and offer her what little comfort he can, Luca feels tired from the evening’s events and sick from his encounter with Bridget.

Defiantly, determinedly, he takes a deep breath and opens the door.

Maeve heard Luca’s car pull up, and as soon as he walks inside she throws her arms around him, kissing him passionately.

“You’re alive,” Luca breathes when they finally break apart.

Maeve nods. “The flower, it saved me. You saved me,” she smiles.

“I can’t believe it worked,” he exclaims. “That’s incredible! The book at your father’s house said it could charm death, but I-”

“No,” Maeve whispers, putting a finger over his lips. “I don’t want to know. Let’s just enjoy tonight, okay? We can talk about it tomorrow.”

Pulling her closer, Luca kisses her again. “I couldn’t agree more,” he replies with a grin.

Challenge Notes:

Did you know that you can’t kill a pregnant Sim in TS3? I was, like, shocked. Floored. Blown away. I literally couldn’t keep my pregnant Sims ALIVE in TS2! And now they won’t even let you kill them?!? I tried everything from starving her with TCE to twallan’s debug enabler mod/kill option, but it glitched out every time. So, as you may have noticed (or not), Maeve isn’t actually pregnant in the death scenes. Because, really. She needed to die. But how stupid is that that pregnant Sims can’t get killed?! I understand the whole “let’s not piss off the parents” issue, but seriously. What bullshit! Just one more way that EA fails! /rant

(By the way, I swear I’m not a horrible person IRL…)

Back on topic, I really dislike the way the death flower works. The Sim dies and then gives reaper the flower. As a ghost. It’s like, why would they still have the flower on their person as a incorporeal being?! But I guess it comes back to the whole inventory issue. Where do they store all those items? I did an interesting experiment though. FOR SCIENCE! In an alternate save, I gave Maeve the flower after she died (but while she was still human, if that makes sense), and reaper refused to take it. The whole interaction just didn’t happen, and she died for realsies. I guess that’s to keep you from cheating or something.

Yeah, I need to think of more to write in this section…

Sunday, October 21, 2012

[Prologue] Chapter 5: Cover Your Bases

After two long days of travel, Luca finally reaches the remote, untamed forests of northern Sim Nation. As per Esme’s instructions, he follows an abandoned railroad track through the thick, overgrown wilderness, only stopping once every hour or so to catch his breath and drink some water. The towering old trees seem to dwarf him as he hikes the rugged, desolate trail, and the dense forest growth feels stifling and claustrophobic. Within a few hours, Luca reaches the end of the tracks, but he hikes on, until at long last he finds the frog pond that Esme spoke of.

Three stones into the water, she had told him. Three stones are all it will take to summon the mage.

“Now tell me, child, did you travel all this way just to skip rocks on my pond?”

Luca jumps back, startled by the man’s sudden appearance.

“My name is Luca McKinley,” he announces, sounding much braver than he feels, “and I have come to speak with Atticus Thorel. I was told that he lives around these parts.”

The man crosses his arms across his chest and glares at Luca. “You were told wrong,” he replies gruffly. “Now leave, or else the bears might eat you for supper.”

“Are you not Atticus?” Luca demands. “The guardian of eternal life?”

Atticus growls, a low and threatening sound that sends chills down Luca’s spine. “You have come to steal my seeds!” he spits, his face reddening with rage.

“No, no!” Luca shakes his head vehemently. “I want nothing of your seeds, Mr. Thorel! I am here on behalf of your daughter, Maeve Saville.”

“Saville?” Atticus furrows his brow in thought. “As in Esme Saville? But- She said-”

Luca frowns. “Esme never told you about Maeve?” he asks.

Atticus turns a deeper shade of red. “I knew about the pregnancy of course,” he mumbles. “But a daughter? No, I had no idea…”

Luca awkwardly shifts his weight back and forth, feeling uncomfortable. “I realize this must be a shock for you,” he says at last, “but Maeve is sick, sir. Horribly sick I’m afraid. Esme thinks that there is magic at work, a curse as she puts it, but she doesn’t know much more than that. She sent me here in the hopes that you might be able to help us.”

“Esme sent a human? To speak with me?” Atticus looks him up and down. “She really must be desperate.”

“We are,” Luca replies, ignoring his disapproving stare. “I am a doctor in Jericho, the head of the hospital’s research department, and we are completely stumped by this disease. It is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The White Fever, as it is commonly known, has already killed over three dozen Sims in our area alone. We need to cure this illness, and we need to cure it fast.”

“What do you want me to do about it, boy?” Atticus snaps. “Esme knows very well that I am bound to this forest by the very magic I protect.”

“The virus appears to bear some resemblance to the Great Plague. We were hoping that you might be able to provide some useful insight.”

Atticus sighs and rubs his head. “I remember very little about that period of time. The Dark Days, as they are known, were very dark days indeed. I might, however, have some information about it in my library.”

“Well? What are we waiting for?”

“I do not allow humans on my property,” he sneers.

“But you need me!” Luca insists. “I have studied the fever for months now, and I know everything that science can teach us about it. And besides,” he adds with a small grin, “Esme baked you her famous angel food cake. If I have to hike all the way back to the trail today, then I guess I will just have to eat the whole thing myself…”

Atticus scowls at him moodily. “Fine,” he relents. “But don’t touch anything and don’t go near the garden.”

Then, with a flick of his hand, the surrounding trees suddenly fade away, and a large cottage appears in their place.

“Now how about a bite of that cake before we get started?” the old mage suggests.

Once they’re safely inside the house, Atticus begins to let his guard down a little.

“So you said you’re a doctor?” he asks between large mouthfuls of cake.

“Yes sir,” Luca nods.

“You must be quite devoted to your practice to travel all the way here from Jericho,” Atticus smirks.

Luca feels his cheeks grow warm. “Well, it’s a very serious problem,” he explains. “There is a lot of pressure on the medical community to figure out what’s going on, and as the lead researcher I do feel a certain obligation to cure this disease. No one wants a repeat of the plague.”

“And how long have you been in love with my daughter, Dr. McKinley?”

Luca stutters and chokes. “I- I-”

“I thought as much,” he frowns. “I am sure you are aware that the council does not allow magic and humans to mix,” Atticus tells him sternly. “I will have to insist that once we cure Maeve, you distance yourself from my daughter.”

Luca hangs his head. “Esme said the same,” he admits dejectedly. “I just want her to live, Mr. Thorel. She means everything to me.”

The old man’s eyes flash with something like understanding, but the emotion is quickly replaced by their characteristic disdain. “Well then, what are we waiting for?” he barks. “Let’s get started already.”

Silently, Luca follows Atticus down a winding staircase and through a narrow hallway, eventually stopping before a large wooden door. The room they enter is pitch black, but with a snap of his fingers dozens of candles flicker on, revealing a large library lined with dusty old bookcases.

“Look at this place,” Luca gasps. “It’s so… antiquated!”

Atticus glances around the room and shrugs. “I suppose it could do with an update,” he concedes. “It has been a few hundred years since I last touched it.”

Luca shakes his head in disbelief, wondering how hundreds of years could seem so trivial to anyone.

The two men spend the entire afternoon down in the dank, musty room. While Atticus busies himself poring over an ancient spell book, Luca searches through volumes and volumes of old documents and battered texts, but even after hours of reading they are still no closer to finding a solution.

Luca does, however, stumble across one book that proves to be of great interest to him. Buried in the pages of a yellowing old manuscript, he discovers a fascinating excerpt about the duties of the “Guardian”. While the book fails to go into much detail, it briefly mentions a beautiful flower that can “charm even the most cold-hearted of souls.”

“So lovely are these blooms,” the passage reads, “that not even the harbinger of death can resist their allure. One blossom is all it would take to distract the reaper from his mission and upset the precarious balance of life. But a flower for a soul is a dangerous bargain to make, and so the Council established a guardianship to care for and protect these precious plants. Only he is allowed access to the gift of immortality, and only then under the watchful eyes of the Council.”

A flower? Luca muses. I wonder if those are the seeds that Atticus mentioned…

“Luca!” Atticus shouts, interrupting his thoughts.

Luc quickly snaps the book closed and turns to face the mage. “Yes, Mr. Thorel?” he asks. “Did you find something?”

“I believe I may have. You said it’s called the White Fever? How did it get such a name?”

Luca frowns. “Each victim turns deathly white before they succumb to the disease. It’s a colloquial term, but it suits the illness well. The virus targets the body’s white blood cells, essentially destroying the Sim’s immune system, and-”

“White, you say?” Atticus taps the book impatiently. “White as snow?”

“I’ve never seen snow before, sir, but I can only imagine-”

Atticus cuts him off. “It doesn’t matter,” he says dismissively. “Luca, I believe that this fever does not merely resemble the Great Plague. I believe that it is the Great Plague.”

“But, sir, the plague was eradicated centuries ago!”

“Or so you’ve been told,” Atticus retorts. “According to popular belief, the virus ran its course and never resurfaced again. Most Sims, most humans, believe this theory. It’s comforting to them, see? But at the time, people attributed the plague to magic, and as is the case with most urban legends there is a shred of truth behind this story. The disease itself was most definitely a medical condition, a virus as you modern practitioners call it, but it originated from something much more arcane. Something…” he pauses, waving his hands for emphasis. “Something magical. The council was never able to establish what, or who, started the Great Plague, but through the determination and perseverance of the entire community we managed to discover a remedy for the disease. It did not cure those Sims who had already fallen ill, but it prevented the rest of the population from contracting the virus.”

“Like a vaccination?” Luca asks.

Atticus nods. “Yes, but on a much greater scale. We slipped the antidote into the rain and let it soak into the earth and wash into the rivers. For three days and three nights, it rained, and by the next full moon the plague was gone.”

“But how does this help us? We can’t possibly-”

“I can recreate the elixir,” Atticus tells him, “but I will need the assistance of a weather mage to manipulate the skies.”

“The virus is not widely spread yet,” Luca interjects. “Surely it wouldn’t be such a large task to make it rain over Jericho.”

“Perhaps not,” he muses. “And I think I know just the woman who could help us too. Which brings me to our next problem- Luca, the potion requires an active sample of the virus. Will it be possible to obtain one?”

Luc chews his thumb anxiously. “There are blood samples at the lab, but it might be tricky to sneak them out without anyone knowing. I can head back to Jericho tomorrow though to see what I can do.”

“But Maeve is ill, right? Can’t she-”

“If they teach you one thing in medical school, Mr. Thorel, it’s that you need to cover your bases. One sample is just not enough.”

Atticus nods. “Fine, then you can leave first thing in the morning.”

Later that night as Luca mulls over their earlier conversation, a realization strikes him.

“What about Maeve?” he asks suddenly.

“What about her?” Atticus demands.

“You said the elixir doesn’t cure Sims who are already sick. How are we going to save Maeve?”

Atticus doesn’t even glance up from his book. “We aren’t,” he answers simply.

Luca feels like the wind has been knocked out of him. “But- But she’s pregnant!” he blurts out.

Slowly, Atticus closes his book and turns to face Luc. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do for her,” he tell him quietly. “The solution we found prevents the virus from spreading, but it won’t do anything for Maeve.”

“That’s not good enough!” Luca cries.

“It’s unfortunate, yes, but death is a part of life I’m afraid.”

“How would you know anything about death?!” he exclaims angrily. “You’ve lived for centuries without ever having to face your own mortality!”

“I know nothing of death?” Atticus laughs, but the sound feels cold and empty. “I have lived a dozen lifetimes, boy, and in that time I’ve seen more death than you can ever imagine. My family, my friends, my lovers, everyone I’ve ever known grows old and dies, and yet I must live on without them. Grieving their loss only makes things harder.”

“But can’t you do something to help her?! Surely as the guardian of eternal life, you could-”

Atticus holds up a hand to silence him. “That is not an option, Luca,” he replies before turning back to his book.

Luca folds his arms across his chest and sits back, glaring at the mage.

Not an option, he seethes silently. Well, we’ll just see about that.

The rest of the evening proceeds in relative calm. Atticus questions Luca about the current state of affairs in Sim Nation, and they discuss everything from politics to sports. After a while, Luca casually offers to prepare dinner for them both, and the mage eagerly agrees. Cooking is not one of his favorite chores.

Halfway through dessert, however, Atticus begins to feel… funny.

“Right on time,” Luca smirks, watching as he collapses onto the table. “I may not be magic, but we humans have a few tricks up our sleeves too. Crushed sedatives. Works like a charm.”

After checking his pulse, Luca drags Atticus to the couch in the living room and hurriedly gathers his belongings.

He then heads outside to the garden, and after a few minutes of searching Luca finds it. Defiantly, he cuts a single flower from the tangled, thorny bush.

“Beautiful, huh?” he mutters, gazing at the black and red blossom in the palm of his hand. It looks cold, lifeless, and haunting, like a dying tree in the middle of winter, and he shudders as its icy petals brush against the tips of his fingers.

Luca carefully tucks the bloom into his backpack and quickly rushes off. He has a long hike back to the trail, and he wants to get as far away from this forest as he possibly can before Atticus wakes up.

Challenge Notes:

This plot is taking FOREVER! Dear lord, I didn’t expect it to get so complicated! Lol. I know that I keep saying I will move on soon, but there’s at least one, maybe two, more chapters before we’ll meet the first kiddo. S/he hasn’t actually even been born yet, as I don’t like to play too far ahead. Ugh...

Also, I know I’m not supposed to do this, but to avoid any confusion I just want to clarify that Atticus’ source of eternal life is, in my mind at least, a combination of the death flower and the ambrosia dish. In my world, that’s the only (known) way to reliably achieve immortality. I realize that there are probably a dozen other ways to get the same effect in game, but they feel way too simple to me and so I’ve banned them. In my opinion, something as powerful as everlasting life and eternal youth should be a challenge to obtain, and the Lifetime Rewards just ruin it for me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

[Prologue] Chapter 4: Pressure

She’s dying. Maeve feels it in each agonizing beat of her heart, every labored breath of air, the exhausted trembling of her hands. Her mother watches her closely, the older woman’s eyes filled with worry, but she doesn’t seem to realize the severity of Maeve’s condition.

“Luca?!” Esme spits the word out like poison. “That human? How could he possibly help?”

Maeve takes a deep, shaky breath, struggling to stay upright. “He’s the lead researcher at the hospital,” she rasps. “If anyone can figure out what’s wrong with me, he can.”

“I can heal you, Maeve. I can-”

Maeve silences her mother with a glance. “Your remedies aren’t working,” she says simply. “We need a doctor, and he’s the only one I trust.”

Across town, Luca sits in his office, fighting to remain focused on the work in front of him. He closes his eyes for a second and distractedly digs his fingers into his forehead, trying to massage away the throbbing pain in his temples. He never used to suffer from migraines, but lately he can’t seem to go a day without one.

Over the past few months, twenty-two more people have died from the White Fever, and still Luca and his team are no closer to finding a cure. Hell, they can’t even figure out what’s causing the virus yet, let alone how to stop it from spreading. As the head of the research department at Jericho’s one and only hospital, Luca is the face of the disease. He has to deal with the press day in and day out, calm the terrified masses, and explain to them why they haven’t been able to solve this mystery yet. The pressure from his bosses and the media, from the public, is enormous, but the pressure he puts upon himself is even more overwhelming. Luca feels personally responsible for every single new case, every single excruciating death, every single broken family.

A knock at the door interrupts his musings, and Bridget Callahan, a medical intern working under Luca, lets herself in.

“Dr. McKinley,” she purrs, her voice like silk. “I didn’t expect to find you here so late on a Friday.”

Luca frowns at the pretty young woman. He always works late these days, ever since he and Maeve broke up, and it’s rare to find him anywhere besides his office or the lab.

“How can I help you, Bridget?” he asks, motioning for her to sit down.

Instead she leans in closer until their heads are mere inches apart. “You can help me out of this dress,” she murmurs barely loud enough for him to hear.

Luca’s eyes widen as Bridget walks over and seductively begins to unbutton his coat. “Bridget, I don’t think-”

“Don’t think,” she whispers, placing a finger over his lips. “Don’t argue. I know you want this just as much as I do.”

Luca falters, feeling ambushed. Sure, Bridget is the most beautiful woman at the hospital, and most guys would kill to be in his shoes right now. But… His thoughts flash to Maeve, her smile and her laugh, her enchanting purple eyes, and he suddenly feels guilty for even looking at another woman that way. Just as he’s about to push her away, however, he suddenly stops himself.

Maeve doesn’t love me, he thinks bitterly. She never loved me. Why shouldn’t I enjoy myself a little? After all, it’s only sex.

And so he fucks her, desperately, defiantly pushing aside any thoughts of his ex-girlfriend.

Afterwards Luca feels nothing but disgust at himself. He doesn’t love Bridget. He doesn’t even like Bridget. Why did he allow himself to be tempted by her?

Bridget, however, seems oblivious to Luca’s indifference. She smiles at him coyly, wiping a smudge of lipstick off his face before casually inviting him over to her place for the evening.

Luca declines, claiming that he’s overwhelmed with work right now, and Bridget seems to accept this excuse.

“But don’t think you can avoid me forever,” she smirks. “I’m eagerly awaiting our next… encounter.”

A few minutes after Bridget leaves, Luca hears another knock at the door. Thinking that she must be back for round two, he reluctantly goes to let her in, only to be greeted by none other than Maeve’s mother.

“Mrs. Saville? What an… unexpected surprise.”

Esme snorts her disapproval. “I want to be here just as much as you want me here,” she chides. “But I need to speak with you, Dr. McKinley. It’s about Maeve.”

Luca doesn’t even bother to hide his irritation. “Maeve is no longer my concern,” he tells her flatly. “She broke up with me, as you very well know.”

“So she did,” Esme replies with an edge of satisfaction in her voice. “But she needs you now. She’s been asking for you.”

“Asking for me?” he frowns.

“She’s ill. Terribly ill I’m afraid. She thinks that you might be able to help her where my remedies have failed.”

“If she’s sick, you should take her to the hospital,” Luca says, waving his hand dismissively. “There’s not much I can do for her without the proper equipment.”

Esme glares at him. “I forgot that you modern medical practitioners rely so heavily on your gadgets,” she chastises.

“Our ‘gadgets’ are our tools,” he snaps. “Technology is the foundation upon which modern medicine stands.”

Esme shakes her head. “She doesn’t want to go to the hospital. She doesn’t want to see just any doctor. She wants you.”

“Why?” Luca demands.

“It is not my place to say, but I strongly advise that you put whatever you are feeling for my daughter aside and pay her a visit. You owe her that much, at least.”

“I owe her nothing!” he fumes.

Esme takes a deep breath, fighting the urge to argue. “Please, Dr. McKinley? All I ask is that you treat her the same way you’d treat any patient.”

Luca hesitates, eyeing the old woman warily. The idea of seeing Maeve again terrifies him, but as a doctor he has an obligation to help those in need.

“Fine,” he says at last. “But I can promise you no more than a few minutes.”

Back at Esme’s house, Luca finds Maeve in far worse condition than he could have imagined. When he first arrives, she greets him with a weak smile, but exhaustion soon overwhelms her and Maeve quickly falls into a fitful and restless sleep. With one glance, Luca knows her diagnosis, but wishing, hoping, praying that he’s wrong, he goes through the entire examination procedure, taking her temperature, checking her vitals, feeling her lymph nodes, and so on. However, the color of her skin, white as snow on a mountaintop, definitively confirms his worst fears.

Maeve’s mother takes the news as well as can be expected, lashing out at Luca with furious desperation.

“You did this to her!” Esme shouts, cornering him in the kitchen. “If you hadn’t seduced my daughter, she never would have gotten sick!”

“No one knows what causes this disease,” Luca snaps, trying to hold his own emotions in check. “We are trying to isolate the underlying agent, but it-”

“No!” Esme cries, breaking down into sobs. “You exposed her to this- this plague, and you are going to cure her!”

Hearing those words, Luca feels his temper break. He loves Maeve too, and seeing her wasting away like that hurts him just as much as it hurts Esme.

“We are TRYING!” he yells, his voice trembling with anger. “But there is nothing I can do for her at this point. Take her to the hospital, Esme, where they can make her last few days more comfortable.”

“You’re just going to leave?!” she demands, tears pouring down her face. “Without even trying?!”

“I AM trying,” he screams. “I have the entire lab working on it, but this disease is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

Esme pauses. “What do you mean?” she asks quietly. “How is it different?”

Luca sighs, rubbing his temples. “Most microbes can be replicated, studied, and analyzed, but this one… This one can’t. It attacks the body’s white blood cells, leaching onto and taking control of them before turning on the body’s healthy organs. The person’s immune system responds to the attack by creating more white blood cells, which quickly become infected and continue the attack. The whole destructive process repeats itself until the Sim dies, their body basically killing itself from within.”

“And you can’t study it?” she gasps. “Why?”

“Without a host, the virus dies. We’ve had some success keeping samples alive temporarily, but this particular microbe can only live for a short time outside the body, which is why we are completely baffled by how it is spreading. Normal, everyday contact does not appear to provide sufficient exposure to transfer the disease from Sim to Sim, but we’ve yet to find another solution.”

Esme’s eyes narrow in thought. “Sounds like a curse,” she mumbles.

Luca feels emotionally exhausted and completely spent by the evening’s events, and his patience for Esme has run out.

“A curse?” he sneers. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Of course,” she exclaims. “I should have seen it from the get go! I can heal most ailments, Dr. McKinley, but I’ve never encountered one like this. It feels… different. Unnatural.”

Luca frowns. “Esme, I-”

“You must believe me!” she cries. “I know of a man who can help us, but I cannot leave Maeve right now. You must go to him at once and ask for his assistance.”

“I am sorry about your daughter, Mrs. Saville,” Luca tells her as he inches his way closer to the door. “I realize you are under a great deal of stress right now, but the best thing you can do for Maeve is take her to the hospital.”

“Luca, please!” she begs, her voice fraught with desperation.

But Luca just shakes his head in response. “I must leave now, Mrs. Saville. There’s nothing else I can do.”

He turns to go, but Esme follows him to the door.

“She’s pregnant!” she blurts out, the words spilling from her lips.

Luca freezes, his whole body glued to the floor.

“What did you say?”

“She’s pregnant, Luca,” Esme repeats. “And you are the father.”

“That’s not possible. We- We- We were careful. We-”

“I don’t need to hear the details,” Esme interrupts. “Please, just listen to me.”

Reluctantly, Luca follows her down a narrow hallway lined with dusty old bookcases.

“A curse?” he asks as she fiddles with one of the books on the shelves.

“Maeve didn’t tell you anything, did she?” Esme frowns.

Luca shakes his head, feeling more confused than ever.

“I am a witch, Luca. A healer. I primarily make potions, herbal concoctions that dull pain or alleviate nausea, but I can do a bit of illusionary magic as well.”

“Illusionary magic?” Luca repeats, sounding skeptical.

“Yes. Colorful lights, flashy sparkles, small mirages, and the like. Magic that tricks the senses.”

“I don’t believe in magic,” he states matter-of-factly.

“Of course you don’t. Most humans do not, and that is how we like it.”

Maeve pulls a book off the shelf, and a door suddenly appears. She leads Luca into a dimly lit room that smells strongly of sulfur and spices.

“What is this place?” he asks, gazing around.

Esme ignores his question and immediately heads to the cauldron in the middle of the room.

“You suffer from headaches,” she tells him as she pulls a strange looking bottle down.

Luca is stunned. “How’d you-”

“I’ve been a healer for much longer than you’ve been a doctor,” she replies. “I can see it in the way you squint your eyes against the light.”

“Drink this,” she commands, pouring the bottle’s glowing contents into a glass of water.

Luca looks horrified at the prospect. “No!” he refuses.

“It will help. You have enough on your plate right now that you don’t need to deal with migraines on top of it all.”

“It won’t do any good,” he says, eyeing the glass suspiciously. “I’ve tried painkillers, herbs, diet changes, vitamins, and more. Nothing ever works.”

“This will,” Esme answers confidently. “This recipe has never failed me yet.”

Closing his eyes, Luca takes a big swig of the mystery drink, downing it in one swallow. He feels lightheaded for a second, but when he opens his eyes the pressure, and the pain, are gone.

“Well?” Esme grins.

“That’s incredible!” Luca exclaims. “You should sell your formula to the drug companies. You could make a fortune!”

“It cannot be replicated by human hands,” she snaps. “And besides, I’d rather sell my soul to the devil than make a deal with a pharmaceutical company.”

Luca frowns but holds his tongue. She makes a fair point, after all.

Esme leads Luca outside to her garden. “So, Dr. McKinley,” she begins, watching him closely. “Are you ready to listen to me now?”

Luca nods. “I’ll do anything to save Maeve,” he tells her.

“And her baby,” Esme adds as she plucks a few pieces of fruit from one of the bushes.

“Our baby,” Luca amends.

“There is a man,” Esme tells him while she slices the fiery fruit into razor thin pieces, “who lives in the wooded hills outside of the enchanted town of Arundel. His name is Atticus Thorel, and he is Maeve’s father.”

“Arundel?” Luca repeats, letting the name roll off his tongue. “I’ve never heard of such a place.”

“I grew up in Arundel," she explains, "as did my daughter. It is an ancient village nestled deep within the remote forests of northern Sim Nation and veiled by a powerful magic that hides it from human eyes. These dense woods contain more than a few secrets, but perhaps the most valuable is the one that Atticus guards. He is the keeper and protector of eternal life.”

Luca rolls his eyes. “Eternal life?” he laughs. “Are you kidding me?”

“Don’t believe me,” she scowls. “But Atticus is the only mage I know of with enough power and resources to help us.”

“What is so special about this mage?” Luca demands.

“As the guardian of everlasting life, Atticus himself enjoys an immortal existence. He was alive during the Great Plague, and he knows every curse, blight, and scourge that has ever beleaguered Simkind over the last seven hundred years. If anyone can solve this mystery, Atticus can.”

Luca isn’t sure whether to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of this story or cry at the hopelessness of his situation. Instead he remains quiet, watching as Esme continues to fiddle around in the kitchen.

“You must go to him,” she continues. “You must find him and convince him to help us reverse this curse and save my daughter.”

“Why don’t you speak with him yourself? Surely, as Maeve’s father-”

“Atticus and I did not end on good terms,” she says simply. “I wanted us to raise Maeve together, and he refused. I have not seen or spoken to him since before she was born.”

“Why did he refuse?” Luca asks. “I can’t imagine not wanting to be a part of your child’s life.”

Esme shrugs. “It doesn’t matter,” she replies. “Hopefully, the years have made him more compassionate and kindhearted, but I somehow doubt it.”

“Give him this cake,” she says, “as a token of our good will. I will give you a map of the forest he lives in, marked with the location of a small frog pond. Throw three stones into the water to summon him, and as soon as he arrives explain that Maeve has sent you. Hopefully he will be patient enough to listen.”

Luca frowns. “And if he’s not?”

“He will turn you into a toad,” Esme smirks, almost enjoying the idea. “But don’t worry about it too much. Atticus always could smell fear.”

Healing witches, powerful curses, enchanted towns, and immortal mages? Luca finds this all a bit too fantastical for words. Sensing his skepticism, Esme smiles at him encouragingly.

“Once you cure Maeve, I’m sure she will explain everything to you much more clearly than I can. Just trust me on this, okay?”

And for some reason, he does.

Challenge Notes:

So, I succumbed to temptation and decided to go for a magic/fantasy type story. I thought this arc was going to be short and sweet, but it keeps growing and growing; however, there will be babies soon, I promise! (But who’s to say which Sims are the parents... ;)

A whole lot of this chapter was done in an alternate save, for which I apologize. I hope it didn’t detract from the story’s authenticity too much! I just couldn’t get the right pictures without taking control of certain Sims for certain scenes.

Also, I know absolutely nothing about diseases, viruses, microbes, etc. I made all that stuff up, so hopefully it was kind of believable. Please forgive any mistakes in terminology or whatever, as it all sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook to me. =)