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…
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.
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.