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    Halloween I.F Update ♥

    Hey everyone! Just a quick lil update from me! I’ve been having some stuff popping up with work and health that’s been making it a little hard to always get parts out sometimes as regularly as I’d like, so I wanted to give heads up on what to expect as we head into the next stretch!

    • I, personally, am loving this and having a grand time, and will 100% be finishing it off, and I hope you are enjoying it too!
    • There is a high certainty that I might actually go past October 31st and wrap up in early-mid November, just to hit all the beats I want to along the way without super rushing, and also…
    • … so that if I have to take a day off occasionally I’m not losing that time, just pacing it out a bit

    Some posts will still go up a little later in the night (though I’m trying to walk those back) just because it turns out I’m actually a bit of a late night writer (who knew?), so please don’t worry about cutoff times in terms of getting your comments in. The earlier the better (e.g. I appreciate having comments in earlier in the day so I can start thinking about your ideas earlier and knowing where the story is going) but if you’re like, oh shit, I forgot, and it’s 7PM, feel free to drop something in anyway.

    Your comments and suggestions really help keep me motivated and encouraged, so a big grateful shoutout to y’all for helping me write the longest thing I’ve ever written and the thing I’ve been enjoying most.

    Thanks for reading! Have a cute picrew of Webb as thanks xoxo

    read from the beginning ♥ jump to the latest chapter

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 22

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb reached out and flicked Pax lightly in the forehead. “Please curb your enthusiasm,” they said, without any expectation that would have any effect whatsoever.

    Predictably, Pax squirmed a little closer. “Absolutely not,” he said, tail thumping as his smile widened. “But? You were saying?” His gaze flickered over to the others, looking them over with great interest.

    “I wasn’t saying anything,” Webb griped. “But, fine. This is Ariadne, and this is Faraday. Why is it a strange time, Pax?”

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Ariadne cut in, reaching out to offer her hand to Pax, who seized it and kissed the back of her knuckles, obviously delighted. Faraday looked amused.

    “And it’s very delightful to meet you,” Pax enthused. “I’m sorry for being so excited, but Webb never brings anybody in to see me! I just don’t know what to do with myself! To whatever do I owe the pleasure? I have been very good lately—”

    Pax,” Webb interrupted, gritting their teeth a little. “Focus up, please. I’m kind of… in a hurry. There’s been a lot going on.”

    Pax gave them a sidelong look, humming slightly, but released Ariadne’s hand and settled back with some semblance of acceptable behavior, crossing his ankles and hooking them under the bench as he perched comfortably. He surveyed Webb again with that knowing gaze.

    “You’re more surly than usual, kitten,” he murmured softly. “Alright, I’ll behave. But I am so curious, you understand? I really will want to know more about it.” His eyes glittered as he tapped one fingertip against his cheek. His nails were razor-sharp and painted gold today, metallic and gleaming.

    “I know,” Webb said quietly, begrudgingly. “And I’ll.. tell you what I can. But you first. You said things were strange. What’s going on?”

    Pax sighed, stretching his arms out overhead with a little whine. “Ohh, me first, it’s always me first, isn’t it? Well, fine, I have a generous nature, you see. It’s a strange time because I’d heard that the Inquisitors were about and about in force tonight. It’s the talk of this fine establishment. Oh, I don’t think they’d raid us or anything, they haven’t the power or the guts, but everyone is very curious about why they’ve been crawling about all night.”

    Webb stiffened slightly but tried not to let it show too much on their face. Pax, for his part, looked utterly unreadable, as usual. Whether or not Pax knew more than he was letting on… Webb couldn’t tell from Pax’s charming smile and relaxed, playful posture.

    “Is that so?” Webb asked in what they hoped was a measured, disaffected tone. “And you don’t know anything more about that?”

    “I don’t,” Pax sighed. “I’ve been asking around, and nobody seems to know anything more! But I’m sure it’ll just be a matter of time before word gets around.” He wiggled his fingers, nails catching the light. “By sunrise, I’ll have my curiosity sated in that regard, at least.”

    The harpy had come by with their drinks. As Pax turned their attention briefly to chat with her, Webb exchanged a brief glance with Faraday, who seemed uncomfortable but doing his best to just keep an affably bland expression on his face. Ariadne, still wearing her helmet, gave Webb’s knee a little squeeze under the table.

    “How odd,” Faraday spoke up, after they were left alone again. “That’s interesting, indeed. The server also let us know that Veracity Yun is here, one of the vampire lords. Is she… a regular?”

    “Oh, yes of course,” Pax said with a dazzling smile. “Veracity is a frequent patron of the Drawing Dead. Why do you ask?”

    Webb fiddled with their drink rather than drinking it, rubbing their thumb against the condensation on the glass.  “We’re sort of… dealing with a thing,” they said vaguely. “And Veracity was one of the people that came up as a potential lead that might have more information. We didn’t actually expect to come across her here, so that was lucky…”

    Pax’s attention was immediately caught, his back straightening, eyes brightening. “Dealing with a thing?” he echoed coyly. “I see, I see. So this isn’t just a social visit, and if you’re not here for Veracity, then you came here for a reason. And what was that, Webb?” He resembled nothing so much as a cat who’d gotten a glimpse of its prey, tail lashing, nails going tik-tik-tik against the table in excitement.

    Webb dipped their fingertips in their drink and flicked a bit of alcohol over at Pax, who ducked back, letting out a faux-wounded little whine. “You’re feral,” Webb muttered. “I came here looking for you, obviously. I’m—listen. Can you keep a secret?”

    Pax looked momentarily surprised, though that look was quickly replaced with a smug grin so quickly it was almost imperceptible. “Oh, yes, for the right price,” he answered immediately. You should know that, my dear.”

    “I should know that,” Webb sighed. “I do, yeah.”

    “What’s your price?” Ariadne asked, before Webb could stop her. They tried to shake their head, mouthing no

    I want to know why you let your cute little vampire friend put her mouth on you when you haven’t let me put my mouth on you in over a decade,” Pax declared without hesitation.

    Ariadne let out a squeak, accidentally poking herself with the straw that she had been in the process of trying to thread through the gap in her helmet. Faraday’s eyes narrowed and he leaned a little closer to Ariadne protectively, uncertain.

    Webb groaned, pressing their mouth against their hand to hide their flush. “It’s not—not like that,” they muttered. “Pax, c’mon. I’m trying to be serious here.”

    I’m serious,” Pax said hotly, crossing his arms. “I have not seen your face in that long, kitten. We used to be close, you know,” he continued, talking to Faraday and Ariadne now, body turned to the side to pointedly shut Webb out from the conversation. “Webb used to be soooo cute. Just this fresh-faced little occultist, ready to take on the world, always hanging around here with their little group of adventurers trying to make a name for themselves—”

    Pax.” Webb slammed their hand down onto the table so hard that the glasses rattled. Ariadne jumped. Faraday reached for them in an abortive movement before withdrawing his hand, brows pinched in concern, looking back and forth between Pax and Webb uncertainly. Against the back of their neck, Webb felt the cold sensation of Lore stirring, wary.

    Pax turned back to Webb but didn’t seem threatened, his chin tilting up stubbornly. “What?” he demanded. “Was that a secret?”

    “It’s none of your business to tell—”

    “It’s been over ten years and you haven’t let go of it—”

    There was a tinny sort of humming sound in Webb’s ears, an unpleasant, sickening chill in the pit of their stomach. “I haven’t let go of it because everybody’s dead, Pax!”

    Distantly, Webb noticed that Ariadne had taken her helmet off, and that Faraday’s hand was resting firmly on her arm as if to stop her from clambering over the table to get to Webb, or Pax, or both.

    Pax was looking back at Webb with a serious expression for once, arms crossed. He didn’t seem contrite, nor taken aback by Webb’s outburst, but his tone was lower and a little gentler when he spoke again.

    “I remember what happened,” Pax said. “I remember the accident. And I’ve watched you refuse to live your life every day since then, when you were the only one who came back. Were you going to tell your new little friends?”

    “If they wanted to tell us,” Ariadne interrupted, her voice shaking with anger, “they could tell us on their own time. When they were ready. And not before.” She pulled out of Faraday’s grip, starting to clamber up onto the bench, and this time Faraday didn’t make a move to stop her. “Come on, Webb, let’s get out of here. We’ll figure out another way.”

    Pax’s eyes had narrowed. Webb felt dizzy, hot and cold and sick to their stomach, as they always did when they thought about—it. What had happened back then. They closed their eyes, hunching over their drink, trying to take a deep breath.

    “Take a deep breath,” came Lore’s soft whisper from next to Webb’s ear, loud enough for only them to hear. They felt a presence against their side, invisible but still reassuring. “It’s alright. We’ve got you.”

    Some of the red drained from the edges of Webb’s vision. They inhaled through their nose, then exhaled, long and slow and shaky, trying to tune back into the world around them, the cacophonous sound of the Merry Gentry warbling back into some semblance of music rather than an amorphous jangling in their head.

    “Someone needs to make this thing go down before I jump down and take you with me,” Ariadne was threatening, crouched like a mad thing and making the table sway.

    Pax had held up both hands in surrender at this point. He didn’t look intimidated, but he no longer looked like he was making a game of everything, either. His gaze flickered between Webb and the others, thoughtful.

    “Sit down, please, sit down,” he said with a deep sigh. “Webb, darling. You’re right. That was out of line of me. But you have to understand. I’ve been worried about you all these years. You were quite literally never the same afterwards, and I—suppose I’m a little jealous, truth to be told, that you seem to have found something, someone, to make it worth your while again. But that was very selfish and ill-tempered of me, I must say. And my dear Ariadne, please do sit down again. If you really want a cage match with me, I can arrange for one downstairs, but—”

    “It’s fine,” Webb cut in hoarsely, reaching out to squeeze Ariadne’s hand, trying to tug her back down. She went, reluctantly, though she crowded close to Webb’s side afterwards, still glowering with her eyes flashing red in Pax’s general direction.

    “It’s… it’s alright,” Webb said again, because Faraday was also looking politely furious to the point where some of the embroidery on his coat had woven themselves into flame patterns and were crackling all along his shoulders. “Pax… yeah, that was kind of a dick move, but… you’re right, it’s been a long time, and—”

    And things were different now? Were they? Webb wouldn’t have said so a few hours ago. It wasn’t like they were doing any of this voluntarily. It wasn’t like they woke up this morning deciding to move on. As though they could just… choose to do that.

    Pax sighed, raising up a hand as though to forestall any further comments. “Consider me in your debt and at your disposal following a tacky faux pas,” he said. “You said you came here looking for me, and that you wanted me to keep in confidence, which I will swear to, with no further strings attached. If this is what you truly desire and I can be of service, please, by all means.”

    “I don’t trust him,” Ariadne said warily, not bothering to keep her voice low as she glanced over at Webb, who shook their head.

    “We need to know what you know,” Webb told Pax quietly. “If possible, we need an introduction to Veracity Yun. Is that something you can do for us?”

    Pax’s eyebrows raised. “I can do that, yes,” he said after a moment. “Get you an audience with Veracity, I mean. But I would like to know what it’s about. And what you mean when you’re asking what I know, darling, that’s very vague—”

    At this point, Webb glanced around uneasily at the others, and at the somewhat exposed position they were in. Although it was high up in the air, and the band was quite loud, they had made a bit of a scene, and there were some glances being thrown their way.

    Should they try to get Pax to take them someplace more private before continuing to talk? Or should they just try to get Pax to take them straight to Veracity and just share the whole story there in front of both of them? How honest should they be about everything? And given what Pax had said about the Inquisitors… how long did they have here before word started to get around?

    [Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.

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

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  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 20

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb gave the place a cursory glance, but didn’t spot Pax or his brightly-colored horns anywhere in the crowd. That didn’t mean much—the place was huge. They didn’t really want to ask about Pax directly, since things like that could get around. But they could either spend time wandering around trying to find him and looking more and more suspicious, or they could settle down in one spot with a good vantage point and try to reel him in.

    “We’d like a table,” they decided on the spot. “Live music—who’s performing tonight?” 

    The moth-girl fluffed up slightly, smiling, gesturing for the three of them to follow her deeper into the practically labyrinthine gambling hall. “Oh, you’ll love it,” she said, wings fluttering as she swayed through the crowd. “Tonight’s performers are Dandelion and the Merry Gentry. They’re quite the energetic bunch.”

    Webb doubted it, but they gave Nettle a distracted smile, adjusting their sunglasses as they glanced around the hall without trying to look too pointed about it. Faraday and Ariadne walked close behind him, sticking next to each other, and for the first time, Faraday seemed visibly out of his element, stiff and stony-faced.

    “What’s wrong?” Webb murmured to him, leaning back a little into his space as they walked so that Faraday could hear Webb over the noise of the crowd. “Don’t get out much?”

    Faraday gave him a brittle grin in return, a sidelong glance. “The last time I was someplace this busy, it was a community center craft market.”

    “Ah, yes, beacons of night life, those are. Don’t worry, grandfather. I’ll keep you safe from grifters out to take advantage of your charming innocence.”

    Faraday made a face, rolling his eyes. “Thanks very much.”  

    Webb could understand how the Drawing Dead would be unsettling even for those who were used to dealing with various denizens of the valley. It was all flashing lights and sounds and glitz painted over a sense of something darker. A raucous chorus of howls split the air as a rowdy group of lycanthropes jostled for supremacy over a game of roulette. On the other side of the hall, a trio of unnervingly tall and thin individuals dressed all in black stood clustered in front of a slot machine, taking turns pulling the lever very slowly with emaciated-looking skeletal hands. Occasionally they’d hum in unison, swaying slightly.

    More than just the casual attendees there to have a good time, Webb was always wary of those that were clearly here for reasons other than fun. There were tables all around the edges of the floor, and even some in overhanging balconies—private, and much too expensive for Webb to even consider—behind which there were further secluded rooms where private parties and clandestine dealings were held.

    It was a great place for information, but Webb always got the impression that they were giving up a little more than they realized in return.

    Nettle led them to a vast area full of tables that were enchanted to float at different heights surrounding a central stage. Each table was draped with a fluttering white cloth, which combined with the moody blue lighting, created the illusion of bobbing jellyfish drifting ghostlike around the room.

    “Please, have a seat, and enjoy your stay,” Nettle murmured, coaxing one of the tables down to ground level so that they could slide onto the attached bench seating. “A server will be around to tempt you presently.”

    Webb slid around easily, waiting for Ariadne and Faraday to join, which they did with considerably more trepidation on Faraday’s part and excitement from Ariadne.

    “Oh wow,” she gasped as the table shuddered and started to idly drift away, joining the orbital circuit around the stage. “This sure is… something else.”

    Webb caught themself smiling over at her, then ducked their head to the side, flustered. “It’s—well, enjoy it while you can. I figured it was one of the best places to get a view of the floor while also keeping our conversation a bit private.” They paused, lowering their voice. “Lore, you’re still with us, right?”

    “Mmhmm,” came a soft hum in return. “Sorry, I also, don’t get out much…” 

    “Do you think you’d be able to safely sneak around a little to see if you can find Pax, without being seen?” 

    There was a little pause, then: “Yes, I can certainly try. Do you… want me to get his attention if I find him, or…?”

    “No. It’s best if nobody knows about you for now, just in case. Just come find me again to let me know. And be careful,” Webb felt themself adding hastily. “If you feel like you’re in danger at any point, come right back.”

    “I will, Webb,” Lore murmured back. Webb couldn’t really hear when Lore was no longer there, but they felt something shift, leaving them more alone than they were a moment before.

    They shifted a little closer to Ariadne and Faraday, who were leaning over to get a better look at the band.

    “Ugh…” Webb muttered, resting their chin in their hand as they caught sight of the singer. He had a burst of fluffy white hair and seemed to be some kind of high elf, one of the sidhe. He was glammed up in glittery makeup and strutting around the stage with an overt amount of enthusiasm as he railed at his guitar. There were a few other fae that made up the rest of the band as well: a satyr, a nixie, and a tall woman in white who was playing the keyboard. 

    “I think they sound nice…” Ariadne mumbled.

    “I’m allergic to the fae,” Webb muttered. “You could say they are not my fae-vorite.” 

    Faraday looked pained. “You could say that, but why would you?”

    Ariadne laughed at least. And Webb was saved from Faraday asking any further prying questions by the arrival of one of the servers, a sleek harpy woman that alighted on the far side of their table, folding her wings around her. Her black-and-gold uniform did little to keep any part of her contained, and she gave the table an overly wide smile, mainly zeroing in on Ariadne. 

    “Well, he-llo there. We will be closing about an hour prior to sunrise, but you’ve still got plenty of time to enjoy the night. And what will it be for you fine people…?” 

    As the others placed orders for drinks—Ariadne specifically requesting that hers be provided with a straw, at which point the harpy seemed to flirtatiously be trying to coax her to take the helmet off—Webb let their attention wander back down to the floor, keeping an eye out for Pax’s obnoxious, brightly-colored horns. He should be like a pylon, if he were making his way around this way.

    They found their attention caught, instead, by an unusual looking procession of people making their way towards one of the stairwells up to the private balconies. The woman in the lead was alarmingly tall and dressed from head-to-toe in red—which was what had caught Webb’s eye. All around her were half a dozen others dressed in black that seemed to be some kind of entourage. The crowds parted around her like water. 

    Webb glanced back at the others and got their server’s attention. “Hey, you.”

    The harpy turned with some mild irritation away from flirting with Ariadne, then did a bit of a double-take, feathers bristling. They smoothed down again after a moment of surprise, and she shifted closer. “Mmhh, yes?”

    Webb shifted, uncomfortably aware of how far off the ground they were, and jerked their head back towards the group they’d spotted. “Who’s that over there? The tall woman in red.”

    The harpy followed their gaze, her own golden eyes sharpening into focus. “Oh,” she said, coyly surprised. “You don’t know? Well, I suppose she does run with quite exclusive crowds.”

    Her talons scratched lightly at the tablecloth, and she tilted her head to one side, expectant. Webb sighed heavily, fishing out a couple of crumpled bills from their wallet and dropping them on the table. The harpy picked them up and examined them with a show of mild discontent.

    “If she’s that well known, I can ask someone else,” Webb pointed out.

    “Oh, I suppose,” the harpy hummed, sliding the bills away to Webb-cared-not-where. “That’s Veracity Yun. Quite the influential vampire lord around these parts.” 

    It took all of Webb’s effort to keep their face schooled into mild disinterest. “Good to know,” they said with a shrug. “I’ll get a Dark and Stormy. That’ll be all for now.”

    The harpy gave them one more sharp look over her beaky nose before giving the group a gallant bow, wing folded in front of her, before vaulting back down off the table and plunging away into the hall.

    Ariadne had leaned all the way forward on the table like an excited housecat. “Veracity!” she hissed at Webb. 

    “I know, I know,” they muttered, rubbing their temples. “That’s… I mean, that’s not surprising, but it’s definitely convenient.” Too convenient? It was hard to say. Webb rubbed their jaw uneasily, glancing back down again, but Veracity was long gone—the door was closed tightly.

    They jumped as they felt a cold, slithering sensation against their ankle.

    “Webb,” came Lore’s voice, soft and urgent. “Webb, I found Pax.”

     “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Webb grumbled. “Great, you found him. Where is he? Why do you sound upset?”

    “He, um, he saw you, too.”

    “He what—”

    The table rocked as a heavy shape hit it. Webb jerked their head up to see—well, exactly what they expected to see: an imp half sprawled across the table like a cat who’d just pounced on its prey, his arms outstretched, his knees braced on the bench, his back curved, his ass in the air, his tail swishing wildly back and forth as his small, batlike wings flapped to counterbalance him.

    Pax hadn’t changed in all the years that Webb had known him. For someone that small—barely five feet tall, and weighing a hundred pounds on a good day—he seemed to be entirely made of presence. Like the other employees of the Drawing Dead, he dressed in black and gold: today it was a corset vest ribbed in gold, tight-fitting black pants that laced up the side, and gold-buckled heels that looked untenable to walk in. His skin and horns were a color that couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be red or pink; his hair, eyes, and tongue a vivid shade of blue-green.

     And as always, that incorrigible grin, and those cross-pupilled eyes that always seemed to be able to look right through you. He was looking at Webb, now, easing down to rest his chin in his hands, elbows on the table. 

    “As delighted as I am to see you, lovely, I must admit, you have come at the strangest time,” Pax said, draping dramatically across the table with his arm outstretched. “But still, I’ll always make time for you. But—and, oh! Who is this? Are these your friends? Webb, have you been holding out on me?”

    [Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.

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

    previous | next

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 19

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    “Can someone turn on the lights?” Webb grumbled. “I want to see if Faraday has bedhead.”

    “I don’t,” Faraday said smoothly, at the same time Ariadne cheerfully added, “He definitely doesn’t.”

    Lore did, however, obligingly turn the lights on—dimly, bless their shadowy little heart. Webb didn’t have to claw themself into wakefulness hissing and scratching. They reluctantly sat up, flushing a little at the sight of Ariadne sprawled happily back and grinning over at them. The undershirt she’d worn to bed left much less to imagination than her hoodie or biker leathers. They quickly averted their gaze.

    Ariadne stretched out even more, letting out a laugh. “It’s okay if you look,” she whispered loudly. “I paid good money for these. I want people I like to enjoy them.”

    “You didn’t pay for them, darling,” Faraday said patiently, sitting up as well. Irritatingly, he of course looked charismatically sleep-rumpled, though it was odd to see him out of his outrageous coat, which was folded carefully over the chair immediately next to the bed. Webb was relieved to see that Faraday, though tall and lean, wasn’t overly muscled—that would have been deeply unfair, and an absolute disaster.

    “That’s true, but it’s less of a fun joke that way,” Ariadne stuck out her tongue. Webb was looking again, obviously, having been invited to. She gave them a smile, soft. Her cheeks were still much pinker than they had been earlier in the night. “Faraday did it, uh, pro bono.”

    Webb snorted, but gave her a quizzical look. She gave them a nose-wrinkle in return, which Webb had begun to realize was an Ariadne thing that was, unfortunately, endearing.

    “I spent, you know, the first thirty years of my life hating my body and how people viewed me,” Ariadne clarified, matter-of-fact, “and then I met Faraday. He helped a lot, both with helping me figure out gender shit, and weaving the magic to—to make me look the way that felt right.”

    Webb resonated with that viscerally; they had no particular desire to change up any of their parts most days, but as an agender person, the less that other people perceived them incorrectly—or at all, ever, in any way—the better. They simply did not care for the mortifying ordeal of being known.

    “Would that every trans person had a dreamy wizard boyfriend that could cast shapeshifting spells,” they said dryly, though they tried to keep their tone soft, lightly touching their hand to Ariadne’s.

    Faraday laughed softly. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that’s completely off the table for your future, is it, Webb?” he teased.

    Webb sat bolt upright, immediately trying to scramble directly off the bed and onto the floor. “Nope,” they called back loudly. “Pizza time! Pizza and planning time! No time for feelings!”

    For some reason they both seemed to think this was funny, which was again, unfair, given that Webb was serious about these things at all times. They stole Ariadne’s hoodie, putting it on and stomping out into the other room.

    Lore morphed in beside them as Webb flopped down in front of the fire. They too seemed to be in a good mood, which was frankly discrimination, as Webb was obviously a victim here.

    “I hope you slept well,” Lore said softly.

    “It was fine,” Webb muttered, flicking open one of the pizza boxes and grabbing a slice. “I’m ready and raring to go be social and imperiled.”

    They weren’t ready. The situation with Lore had ended up so unexpectedly that Webb was now doubting everything they’d hyped themself up for in terms of meeting with Pax, and they were getting very nervous about it. Pax knew things. Pax had known them—a long, long time ago, when Webb was a very different person.

    Pax was one of the few people from before that Webb had begrudgingly let back into their life, and that had only been by accident. Webb had agreed to a business meeting at the Drawing Dead with a third party without realizing that Pax had started working there in the intervening years. Pax had been strangely emotional, especially for the usually unflappable demon, and Webb had to be very firm that their relationship was, under no circumstances, going to return to what it had once been.

    Over the last few years, their relationship had fallen into more of an acceptable pattern with occasional meetings that Webb tried to keep as business-forward as possible. Still, Pax was a fantastic actor—Webb really had no way of knowing what was actually going on behind his inscrutably cheerful façade. It could fall anywhere between “I’m actually madly in love with you” and “I’m fucking you over, no hard feelings, it’s just business” and Webb wouldn’t be particularly surprised by either.

    “What’s this ‘Pax’ person like?’ Lore asked softly. Webb jerked their head up in surprise and raised their eyebrows.

    “…were you reading my mind, Lore? That’s rude.”

    “No!” Lore protested. “I mean. I’m able to, if I wanted to, but I wasn’t then, no. It just seemed… relevant.”

    Webb… filed that bit of information away for later. “He’s… energetic. Charismatic. A big, in-your-face extrovert that likes to be the center of attention. But he’s clever, too. He likes to have fun, but he knows that life can become unpleasant very quickly, even for a demon, if you don’t have powerful people on your side.”

    Ariadne and Faraday had come out to join them as well by this point, settling down on either side of the pizza box and helping themselves. Technically only Faraday and Webb needed to eat, but Ariadne obviously liked to.

    “What does Pax do at the Drawing Dead?” Faraday asked curiously.

    “He’s a host. One of the people whose job it is to just walk around looking attractive, trying to keep people coming back, getting them to spend more money and buy more drinks, that sort of thing. Tries to resolve ruffled feathers and de-escalate things before security needs to, if it comes to that.”

    “So it shouldn’t be too hard to get his attention, and it won’t be weird if he talks to us for a bit,” Ariadne nodded, pleased with that answer.

    “And you said he was an imp, a demon,” Faraday said. “Is he likely to try to pull anything questionable in terms of making deals? What do you usually offer him in exchange for intel?”

    Webb shrugged. “Other information, usually. Sometimes I’ll come across something that’s useless to me, or too advanced for my clients, and I’ll pass it along.” They made a face after a moment, grabbing another slice of pizza. “Sometimes he just makes me try drinks or play cards with him when he’s bored.”

    “Ah,” Faraday murmured noncommittally, just giving Webb an infuriatingly cryptic shrug when Webb glanced his way. They scowled.

    “Don’t expect it to go as well as things have with Lore,” they warned. “Pax is smarter and more cutthroat than he looks, and he will try to fool you into underestimating him.”

    “Do you think it’s safe to just approach him directly?” Lore asked quietly. “If he’s potentially allied with Grimm… ”

    “I think approaching openly is the safest way. There’s a lot of dark dealings going on at the Drawing Dead. They have a reputation to maintain as appearing to be a safe, neutral ground. Nobody wants to risk getting banned, or dealing with their security.”

    Reminded of dangerous enforcers, Webb fetched their notebook and flipped it open to the most recent page. Disappointingly, it was blank. They shrugged and snapped it shut.

    “No luck?” Ariadne murmured.

    “Guess they don’t feel like talking,” Webb said. “Either that or they’re actually getting a full night’s rest.”

    “Speaking of which,” Lore said apologetically. “We… should probably get going soon. Do you… have a way of getting there?”

    “Assuming you can make yourself compact and don’t blow away in the wind at high speeds, I think we can make It work,” Ariadne said brightly.

    Lore nodded. “It won’t be a problem.” They didn’t elaborate, but then, Webb wasn’t particularly expecting them to.

    Webb stole the last pizza slice before Faraday had a chance to, rising to their feet while still eating. “Onwards to mayhem and anxiety-inducing social interactions,” they muttered.

    Ariadne grabbed Webb’s discarded cardigan, shrugging it on before grabbing her leather jacket. “You’re going to be great,” she told Webb quietly. “We’re going to be right there with you.”

    “I know,” Webb said.

    That was at least half of the reason why they were worried.


    The Drawing Dead was much deeper into the heart of the valley, but it didn’t take very long to reach it with Ariadne zooming along the darkened, largely-empty streets. Faraday, in spider form, was tucked against the back of her neck, clinging securely to her hair out of the worst of the wind. Lore had vanished when they reached the bike, but assured the rest of the group that they would be with them at their destination.

    Webb had been to the Drawing Dead dozens of times before, but it never failed to impress as it did the first time and every time thereafter. Multiple stories tall, the vast, sprawling complex loomed brightly in the darkened streets, casting the immediate area in a pool of red and gold light. A wide balcony that skirted the western side of the building opened up to a riverside view; Webb could see it crowded with people in fancy dress, clinking glasses and filling the air with the swell of voices. It was clearly enchanted to repel the rain.

    “I immediately feel underdressed,” Ariadne whispered after she’d parked her bike and let Faraday free in a secluded spot to transform back. She patted herself down anxiously.

    “I could fix that for you,” Faraday offered, running both hands through his hair, with the air of a man who hadn’t felt underdressed a day in his life.

    “Save your strength,” Webb shook their head. “You’ll get all kinds in there. Besides, being a looming figure in a helmet and full leathers is a look all on its own.”

    “I don’t loom,” Ariadne protested, but seemed content enough with that logic, falling into step slightly behind Faraday and Webb as they headed towards the doors. Webb heard a sibilant murmuring that reassured them that Lore was still with the group, though they’d clearly opted to remain unseen, for now.

    Inside, the Drawing Dead was even more overwhelming. Bells, sirens, and the sound of laughter clashed from the vast casino floor. The ceiling in the entrance hall was dizzyingly, physics-defyingly high, lined with enchanted windows that swirled with clouds and crackled with lightning, like a contained storm. There was an enormous fountain front-and-center that contained both an alluring, naked statue of a water nymph pouring water out of her cupped palms—as well as several actual water nymphs who draped themselves over the sides and called out beseechingly to passers-by.

    A dark-skinned young woman with wide red eyes and fuzzy little antennae gave them a bright smile as they headed in, immediately stepping forward to greet them. She was dressed in a version of the Drawing Dead uniform—sleek and black and showy and lined with gold—that allowed her long wings to drape comfortably against her back, like a cloak.

    “Welcome,” she murmured, “to the Drawing Dead. My name is Nettle. What pleasures suit your fancies tonight?”

    [Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.

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

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