Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 1

[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

“Just sign here on the dotted line and you’ll be all set.” 

It was a Friday afternoon. Webb sat across the table from a trio of would-be thrill-seekers—adventurers, investigators, hunters, whatever these ones wanted to call themselves—drumming their fingers on their desk in time to the pattering of rain outside their window and trying not to look too impatient. 

This would be their final sale for the week: one that would make the very important distinction between being able to spring for a nice hot pizza delivery or having to jockey for discount sushi of questionable origins on their way home. Webb was very invested.

And their clients seemed to be getting cold feet.

“You know,” Webb pointed out reasonably, drawing the group’s attention back from where they’d begun to mutter to each other, “just because you’re buying the intel doesn’t mean you have to use it. Though, if I may say so myself, it is an interesting job…”

“You say that, but we don’t know,” responded one of them gruffly. A lycanthrope of some kind, Webb would wager, judging by the slightly shaggy appearance and the way his hackles raised when Webb raised their eyebrows. “If you told us what it was…”

“If I told you what it was prior to payment,” Webb said very patiently, “I would not be making very much money in my business of selling information. Once I’ve told you something, I can’t very well take it back, hmm?”

That wasn’t quite the truth. But they didn’t need to know that.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” said one of the others, a brunet with a steely disposition. She patted her companion on the arm when he continued to grumble. She picked up the pen, giving Webb a small smile. “He’s just a little protective, that’s all. We’ve heard this line of work can be quite dangerous, but…” 

Webb flashed her a smile, feeling momentarily grateful that she wouldn’t be able to see their eyes behind their sunglasses. “It can be dangerous,” they admit. “But that’s part of the whole thing, right? Money, power, fame, keeping the peace, dispensing justice… there’s lots of reasons people come looking to get into the business. You’ll figure out quickly enough if it’s for you.”

The brunette nodded, turning the pen around in her fingers and examining it closely, watching the way the green-gold wisps of magic ghosted around the tip. “One way or another, hmm?”

“One way or another,” Webb echoed. Indeed.

The brunette signed the contract, then handed it to the others, who also signed with minimal lingering complaints. Webb gave them all another smile, accepting their pen back and signing their own name with a flourish; the pen gave off a pulse of light that formed into a plume, leaving lingering motes dissipating in the air as its enchantment sealed the contract as binding.

“Now,” Webb said, feeling much more pleasant about the whole situation now that dinner was secured, “we can begin. In the town of Tranquil Hollow, about two hours north from here, there have been reports of nocturnal housebreaks…”

Webb felt pretty good about this one, all things considered, as they ran through the details. Their source for this investigation was one they’d worked with many times before. Petty break-and-enter cases in small towns were usually simple enough to sort out, but would build their confidence. Webb was in the business of making repeat clientele, not instant regrets, after all. 

They entertained a few more questions, exchanged a few more pleasantries, and finally oozed back in their chair with a long sigh of relief once the group had seen themselves out. With a little flick of their pen, Webb sent the contract slithering across the desk and into the filing cabinet and began to gather together their belongings for the night.

The bell over their door jingled.

“The divorce curse removal specialists are next door,” Webb said immediately, without looking up, already starting to scroll through their phone. Pizza had been their first thought, but the Pizza Hut nearby had grown legs a few months ago and had a tendency to wander off, so their delivery times were unpredictable these days. Maybe HexMex instead…?

“… oh,” said a quiet voice from the door. “No, I’m not here to curse anybody. Or uncurse anybody. No curses. I was looking for you. You’re Mx. Webb, aren’t you? The quest broker?”

Ugh. Webb hated that term. Quest. Something coined by idiots who thought there was some kind of grand purpose or calling associated with hunting vampires that got a little too murder-happy or clearing out rampant pixie infestations from vegetable gardens.

It hadn’t always been like this. About two decades back, the mundane world had undergone an abrupt transformation as rifts spontaneously opened up across pretty much every continent, connecting the “normal” world with the worlds beyond, and all the strange magic and creatures that lived within them. Most of the strangeness stayed more-or-less contained within the Uncanny Valleys that formed around the rifts, but some of it bled out into the cities and towns closely around them… which was where Webb’s work often came in.

“I deal with paranormal jobs and information and the exchange and selling thereof, and I am closed,” Webb said. “And by appointment only. You can fill out a form on my site.”

“Oh, good,” was the answer, and although it was a bit of a weird one, Webb thought that was the end of that, until they heard the door close, followed by a creak as someone sat down in the chair across from them.

Webb spun around in their chair to face the Person Who Couldn’t Take a Hint and discovered that it was, in fact, Two People Who Couldn’t Follow Basic Instructions. The one in the chair was slim and curvy, dressed from head to toe in black riding leathers and wearing a helmet with two small protuberances on top. Webb swore they’d seen something like that in an anime, once. All that Webb could make outside from that was their long blond hair, and the way they leaned forward onto the desk, posture tense and eager.

The other stranger was resentfully handsome, tall and broad-shouldered. He had warm brown skin and an absolute mane of long, wavy dark hair that cascaded over the shoulders of his long, brilliantly patterned and brightly-colored coat, and Webb hated him on sight.

“We do apologize for the disturbance, but we have some news for you that we think you’d very much benefit from hearing,” said the Dapper Man. His voice was deep and warm and rich, and he didn’t actually sound sorry at all.

“I also take tip submissions online,” Webb said, the phone in their hand practically vibrating with the force of their knee jumping up and down with agitation. “So if you really don’t mind—”

“You’re being used,” blurted Motorcycle Helmet. “The Grimm clan has been feeding you tainted information, and using it to lead people into deadly traps, and the Inquisitors are starting to look into it and are going to trace it back to you..! You’re in danger, Mx. Webb.”  

Webb fell still. The rain continued its persistent dreary pattern against the glass, and for a moment, it was the only sound in the room.

“… that was a lot of information all at once,” said the Dapper Man in that damnably gentle tone, putting a hand on his companion’s shoulder. “But… she’s right. We’re just here to help, and… well, to ask for your help as well. Please, give us a chance.”

[Please suggest an action in the comments.

As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]

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9 Comments

  • Vikarmic

    Well, you can’t say an exchange of information is exactly out of your wheelhouse, is it?

    Consider plausibility, first. What do you know about the Grimm clan? Does this fit with how they operate? If what you’re being told is true, how would they benefit? Are they angry enough at you to try to set Inquisitors on you, and if so, why?

    Regardless, with a lead-line like that, it seems like it’s worth hearing these people out. Information is your business, and you can’t fail to get at least a little from this — even if it’s only information about how they’re going to try to scam you, you can find a use for that. And if it’s not a scam, you’ll be a lot happier having listened than otherwise.

  • Prince Charming

    I think you should listen to them and help them.
    Ask them how they know all this and what it is they want your help for.
    And yes, let them pick where to order food from.

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