• Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 27

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb was deeply envious of how nonchalant and unsurprised Veracity and Pax managed to keep their expressions. At most, the demon’s eyebrows quirked a little, and he let out a low whistle, tapping his foot. Veracity just sighed, rubbing her fingers against her temple.

    “How inconvenient,” she sighed. “Either you were trailed, or there really is a rat among us.”

    “Come again??” Ariadne demanded, high-pitched. She had started to rise to her feet, expression alarmed, only to have Faraday firmly holding her back.

    “A rat?” Faraday murmured, his eyes narrowing as he glanced back and forth between Webb and Veracity.

    Webb, for their part, felt a little as though someone had drained all their blood and replaced it with bees. They felt the hair at the back of their neck shifting, icy cold, with Lore’s agitation.

    “That will be all for now,” Veracity was saying, rising up and nodding to the vampire guard at the door. “Make it known that they are not permitted in here, of course. If they have requests, they can make them, and I will hear them on my time.”

    “… do you think you can keep them out?” Webb asked uneasily as the guard gave a curt nod and slipped back into the other room, closing the door firmly.

    Veracity waved a hand, just a minute flick of her fingers, setting down her glass and adjusting her hair, smoothing it back. “What a question, child. Not even the Inquisitors would dare force their way into my private territory and risk the resulting implications. Not for the likes of you, anyhow.”

    “Still,” Pax mused thoughtfully. “The fact that they arrived so quickly, and are even willing to make a stand like that… that’s very strange…”

    “Listen, can we please—” Webb’s voice rose a little, strained, before they quickly clamped down on their swell of panicked temper. That seemed like a good way to make this particular bad situation even worse. “Your… lordship.” Gross. “It’s possible we were followed, but not super probable, given that we’d been at a secure location for hours after losing them in the first place.”

    “And I set up a cloaking spell on us as we travelled here,” Faraday added. Webb shot him a surprised look, but he was looking at Veracity, his expression grimly serious. “I can assure you, it’s highly unlikely.”

    “You said—there could be a rat,” Ariadne ventured. “Did you already know about something…?”

    Veracity held up a hand to forestall further questions. “I’ve suspected for some time that someone—or several someones—at the Drawing Dead is in Grimm’s employ. If what you’re saying is true, then clearly someone saw you come in, identified you as people of interest to the Inquisitors, and notified them.”

    “And they’d only recognize you as people of interest if they were aware of the Inquisitors being sent after you in the first place,” Pax added thoughtfully, his eyes narrowed. “Even though news of the chase had gotten around, nobody I spoke to knew who they were after.”

    “That said,” Veracity murmured, with a slight nod to Pax, “I am very curious about why there’s been quite this level of… enthusiasm.”

    “What do you mean?” Webb asked warily.

    Pax leaned forward slightly, eyes bright. “She means you’re one skinny nerd who only might have been the cause of some disappearances that hardly anybody noticed for a long time,” he pointed out. “Sure, it’s not so strange that they would show up at your door and try to force you to confess, or if they just killed you, like, just in case, darling—they don’t much like loose ends. But to have a standoff here? We host dozens of high-profile criminals they’ve never had the guts to come near, not all at once. If they decided anybody was getting particularly out of line, they might try to take them out privately, but…”

    Veracity moved a little closer to Webb, looming, leaning down to look at them with a thoughtful expression on her face. “So what is it about you?” she murmured. “What do they think you’ve done? How much are you worth? And who’s sent them?”

    “What do you mean, who’s sent them?” Webb demanded breathlessly, rubbing their clammy palms on their legs. “Who… who sends them anywhere?”

    “We don’t know!” Pax said cheerfully. “Nobody knows where they get their information, or who they work for. They just showed up one day after everyone was getting settled and started doing their thing, and they sort of stuck. And, even though nobody’s been able to completely eliminate them, they never push hard enough to really cause a big stir with those who have real power, so… it’s this careful equilibrium.”

    “And they do dispose of garbage sometimes,” Veracity said. “So it hasn’t been a priority to try to pursue it. Though of course I have my theories. That said…” Her gaze travelled over the group. “I am not in a position where I’m willing to blatantly flaunt my power to deny them.”

    “But—” Ariadne protested. Pax gave her a warning little shake of his head, and she fell silent, glancing helplessly over at Webb.

    “…well, that does make sense,” Webb said slowly. “I mean. People saw us come in here. If you don’t hand us over, or if it looks like we escaped…”

    “Not only would that potentially cause quite the scuffle with the Inquisitors—interesting, but possibly with much more casualties than is worthwhile—there are quite a few people, creatures, and otherwise here that might capitalize on the situation, either to make a strike against Veracity, or to try to get you in their hot little hands, my dear,” Pax said, cool and matter-of-fact.

    “You can’t just—you can’t just give Webb up like that!” Ariadne burst out, her eyes a fiery red. She’d risen up again, her fists clenched. “I won’t let you!”

    Next to Veracity she looked very, very small. A sharp chill seized at Webb’s chest. Before they knew it, they were rising to their feet, and saw that Faraday had done the same.

    Veracity’s lips curved in a cold smile as she looked down at Ariadne, as immovable as granite. “I’m afraid you’ll find that I’ll do as I please,” she said, lifting a hand and reaching for her.

    Webb felt their body move before their brain caught up, jerkily lunging forward between the two vampires. They heard a roaring sound in their ears, the rush of wind, and found themself staring up (up, up) at Veracity, who now had a look of mild surprise on her handsome face.

    Webb was also objectively surprised by their own actions, and it took a moment for them to realize that what she seemed startled by was the solid shadow wrapped around her wrist, preventing it from going any further towards Webb.

    “How interesting,” she said thoughtfully. “How very interesting.”

    Webb could see Pax and Veracity’s two vampire guards moving to flank the group on either side, unthreatening for now, but very present. Webb wasn’t entirely sure what Pax would do if it came to a fight—though they suspected they had an idea—and they didn’t know what any of the others were capable of. They decided very adamantly that they weren’t interested in finding out.

    “Listen,” Webb said quickly. “I deeply respect your ruthless self-interest in this situation. Really, I do. But I don’t think that just letting the Inquisitors at me is the best thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure you don’t like the idea very much, do you?”

    Veracity’s hand was still pinned tightly in place by Lore, though you wouldn’t know that it wasn’t her idea, from her expression. “I’m not overly enamored of it,” she acknowledged. “You’re an interesting puzzle, and I don’t like having my hand forced.”

    “Right, exactly,” Webb nodded. They reached back their free hand as they spoke, groping around for Ariadne’s hand. Trying to make sure she was there—trying to make sure she wasn’t going to do anything reckless. There was a pause—but then they felt her fingers curling against theirs in return.

    Emboldened, they continued: “We both want a creative way out of this. One where you can save face and come out looking in control. I, you know, don’t want me and my friends to get kidnapped or murdered by a pack of sociopathic ghosts. And, we both want to fuck up Grimm and figure out what the hell is going on, because I have way more questions than answers, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be sleeping at night until I get to the bottom of it. And I think you might know something, or have something—something, anything!—that can help us in that, but only if you let us go after him.”

    Veracity’s dark gaze bore down on Webb, intimidating, alluring. But—Webb noticed, with a wild leap of hope in their chest—not aggressive. She was considering it.

    “Perhaps,” she allowed, after a moment. “I would be open to a creative solution… if you have one.” She paused. “You do have a proposal for me, don’t you? A good one, I hope.”

    Webb opened their mouth, then closed it again. “I—” They hadn’t quite gotten that far. They just knew that they had to do something, say something. And that there had to be a way out—and for them to get out of Veracity what they came for. “That is…”

    The shadow around Veracity’s wrist suddenly shifted, twining, solidifying into the shape of a hand. Webb felt the chilling sensation of Lore unwinding themself, unfolding from within Webb’s shadow, straightening up to their full height in front of Webb.

    Lore looked at Veracity, whose eyebrows were raised, but who seemed otherwise nonplussed, and gave her a polite nod. Then, they turned to look at Webb.

    “I can go with the Inquisitors instead of you, Webb,” they said softly. “I… can take your shape. If you’ll allow me to. They won’t be able to tell the difference. It’ll look to everyone else like Veracity is handing you over, but as soon as I’m alone with them—I’ll be able to get away. And in the meantime, the rest of you can escape.” They hesitated, leaning in a little closer, their soft tone almost pleading.

    “Please, Webb. Let me help.”

    [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 25

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb saw Ariadne immediately go on alert, her eyes bright, her posture tense. Faraday had the better poker face, but even so, he stood up a little straighter, his chin tilting up, his grip tightening on Ariadne’s arm.

    Before the tense moment could linger too long, Pax immediately swept in between the two of them, casually looping his arms around their waists and trying to usher them towards the sitting area. “The boss does like to be direct,” he said cheerfully. “But I think everyone’s had quite the stressful evening, already. Ayesha, can you bring us some wine?” he called back to one of the vampires near the door.

    Ayesha raised an eyebrow, glancing at Veracity, who simply inclined her head very slightly and took a seat in one of the armchairs with a smile that Webb wouldn’t call unfriendly, but was impressively devoid of any emotion at all. The other vampire seemed to take this as a “yes,” however, slipping back out into the main room.

    Pax was glancing back at Webb, his bright blue eyes slightly narrowed. Try to let me guide you a little, here, he’d said.

    Webb drew in a breath, shoved their hands in their pockets, and slumped down in one of the armchairs as well.

    “Thanks for hearing us out,” Webb said. Negotiations, they reminded themself. You’re good at this shit, if you’re good at anything. “I mean, first of all, the Inquisitors seem like they’re a bit of a pain in the ass to deal with. I tried to see if they were even willing to talk about this and that was a big zero.”

    “Did you,” Veracity said dryly. She swirled her glass, looking Webb over thoughtfully. They felt the uncomfortable pressure of her gaze and tried to keep their own eyes fixed somewhere near her ear—radiating weirdness and social awkwardness and wearing sunglasses inside did have its perks.

    “I did,” Webb agreed noncommittally.

    With the pressure off them, Ariadne and Faraday had also taken a seat, though they still looked quite nervous about it. Webb was filled suddenly with an unexpected, almost panicky swell of emotion. The two of them had shown up at Webb’s door and dragged them off on an unexpected romp across the city, sure, but they’d done so with good intentions—and probably kept Webb from an even worse fate. And in many ways, they were here, right now, in this room, because of Webb and the decisions they’d made.

    Webb felt protective, and was not at all sure what to do about that. The feeling caught in their throat like fire, and they swallowed, rubbing their palms on their knees.

    Pax, to his credit, also seemed to be picking up the general vibe, and perched lightly on the arm of a chair, tail swaying, tapping one golden toe as if in time to music only he could hear. “I’ve certainly heard that they aren’t the most compelling conversationalists.”

    Webb shrugged. “Really not. Though, I am curious about, like, how eagerly pursued and how valuable are we in this situation. Even if the rumors were true—and they aren’t—they weren’t exactly maniac cultist level. If I wanted to be hunted down, I could have done something way more interesting.”

    “I’m glad to hear you’re concerned about your professional integrity,” Pax quipped, though his tail had gone still. Webb could see that he was watching Veracity out of the corner of his eye, gauging her reaction, wary.

    Veracity had raised her eyebrows, reclining back slightly in her chair, but Webb was fairly sure they saw her mouth twitch, just a little.

    “We’re talking value, aren’t we?” Webb pointed out. “You seem like a person who just wants to get the best deal out of this situation, and I just don’t think the Inquisitors are gonna give much for me.”

    “Perhaps not,” Veracity agreed smoothly. She hardly looked up as Ayesha returned, setting down a tray of wine glasses that absolutely nobody except Pax bothered to touch, though Webb noticed Ariadne sniff the air slightly, surreptitiously. “But then, you haven’t indicated that you’d be of any use to me at all.”

    “I was just trying to get an understanding of the current going rate in the marketplace,” Webb said.

    “We want to take down Grimm,” Ariadne said abruptly. “We thought… that might be relevant to you. Eliminating competition.

    Veracity frowned at that. Webb could tell from Pax’s reaction as much as hers that that was not the right thing to say—the tip of the demon’s tail vibrated like a rattlesnake’s, silent but agitated.

    Competition isn’t exactly the right word,” Pax cut in smoothly.

    “Nuisance,” Webb said immediately. “He’s a trashy would-be interloper with bad taste and delusions of grandeur, and he’s waving his dick too close to your nice neighbourhood, here. He’s been messing with me, and I have no idea why—but more to the point, we’re offering to be useful to you in that you don’t really have a lot to lose by letting us go loose to be feral in his general direction. We might disrupt him a little, at the bare minimum. Or, with your help, we might be able to do more.”

    “I somehow doubt that,” Veracity said, but her tone was much lighter, that ominous expression gone from her face. “But… games of chance do have a way of surprising you, now and again.”

    Pax drained his wine glass and picked up another. “You didn’t specify what exactly it is you’re planning to do,” he told Webb.

    “I have no idea,” Webb admitted, betting on honesty for now, glancing back over at Veracity. “I had barely heard of the guy before tonight. All I know is that apparently he’s been pulling my strings. If we figure out who’s behind that, it might turn up an informant that’s on his side. Maybe here, maybe somewhere else in my network… but I’d more than happily turn them over to you.”

    Veracity considered this, lashes heavy over her dark eyes. “You’re right that he’s a… minor irritant, at best,” she said slowly. “But I’m not in the habit of allowing pests to breed in my garden. So, perhaps, if you did manage something, I wouldn’t exactly feel remorseful about it. However, you haven’t quite made it clear what you’re hoping to get from me.

    Webb exchanged a glance with the others. This seemed to be going pretty well: even Pax seemed a bit more eager and bright-eyed, and Ariadne was sitting up a bit straighter. What did they hope to get out of her, though? Were they just hoping that maybe she’d heard something, or knew who might be involved in the plot that involved Webb? Or did that not really matter in the grand scheme of things and what they really needed was as much intel on Grimm.

    In case they did… what? The thought caught Webb up short. They knew all along that Ariadne’s plan was to deal with Grimm, but what did that look like, exactly? What could the four of them—assuming Lore came along, which wasn’t necessarily to be taken for granted—do against an established vampire lord in his own home?

    Lost in thought, Webb jolted in shock at the sudden fierce rapping at the door. Everyone’s heads turned that way as it opened and the door guard stepped urgently inside, closing the door firmly behind her and pressing a hand to her chest.

    “Lord Veracity,” she said, obviously keyed up although she was keeping her cool, eyes bright but tone steady. “My apologies for the interruption, but we’ve just received word—it’s the Inquisitors. They seem to have the place surrounded, and they’re…” Her gaze fell on Webb. “They’re here for them.

    [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 24

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb sat up without taking Pax’s hand, rising to their feet. They weren’t overly tall, but they had quite a few inches on Pax, heels and horns aside. It didn’t reassure them as much as they might have hoped.

    “What are we shaking on?” they asked, reaching out to lightly tilt Pax’s chin up with their thumb and forefinger. “You know I don’t trust like that.”

    Pax’s eyes brightened, and he licked his lips with a grin, dropping his hand. “I wasn’t toying with you, darling,” he said. “But have it your way. Are we going to do this? This being, I’ll take you to Veracity, but I do know her best, so try to let me guide you a little, here.”

    Webb glanced at the others briefly. Ariadne gave a little shrug, though she still seemed slightly huffy. Faraday gave Webb a slow nod; why not? his expression seemed to say.

    “Fine.” Webb turned back to Pax, tucking a strand of the demon’s teal hair back from his face. The small shows of affection seemed to be mollifying him slightly, though he had a knowing air about it, as though he knew exactly what Webb was doing but was enjoying it anyway. Webb was fine with that. “… tell us about Veracity. What’s she like?”

    “Along the way, my dear,” Pax said, catching Webb’s hand and giving their palm a little kiss, before dropping it. “Come on now, the lot of you. No time to waste.” He led the way back to the door, tail swaying.

    Webb watched him go, then hung back slightly to fall into step with Ariadne and Faraday as they rose up as well.

    “Are you sure about this?” Faraday asked softly, taking Ariadne’s hand and squeezing it.

    “No,” Webb admitted. “But I don’t know that we have much of a choice.”

    “There’s always a choice,” Faraday answered immediately, firm. “And you should go with the one that your heart tells you is right.”

    Webb dropped their gaze with a low laugh. “It’s a nice thought,” they said dryly. “But following my instincts has not exactly led me to, uh, you know, thrive.”

    Faraday was quiet for a moment, then reached out and put a hand on Webb’s shoulder, squeezing. “Honestly, I don’t know what ‘s happened in your life, Webb. We only just met, and under some pretty wild and stressful circumstances. But… from what I’ve seen of you so far, I don’t see anything I don’t like. And I don’t see anything to lead me to believe that relying on your intuition and your experience is a bad idea.”

    Webb jerked their head to look up at him, feeling like a deer in headlights, frozen in place and unable to step away. Faraday’s grip on his shoulder was incredibly light, but felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, burning like a brand through Ariadne’s borrowed sweater.

    Ariadne reached out and squeezed one of Webb’s hands. “If you think Pax is going to do right by you here, then I’ll be right beside you. I didn’t like what he did to you earlier, but I mean, I wasn’t the one that got hurt, so…”

    “I’m fine,” Webb said, too quickly, their voice rasping slightly in their throat. “This makes the most sense, and, I don’t know, I’m sure we can figure out some way out of things if they go sideways.”

    Faraday gave Webb’s shoulder one more squeeze, then dropped his hand. “Alright. We’re right beside you, then.”

    Webb turned quickly, almost stumbling, and slouched their way after Pax. The demon was leaning against the door making a show of looking patient and examining his nails.

    “Everything alright, kitten?” he asked. “My, that’s a cute face you’re wearing.”

    “Can it, sparkles,” Webb muttered. “Let’s go. You were going to tell us about Veracity.”

    “Ah, just so,” agreed Pax, with laughter in his voice as he led the way back out into the hall. “Veracity likes to keep her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in Hallow Point, which suits me just fine. She doesn’t want there to be too much disruption. Things rest in quite the comfortable equilibrium, you see—mostly where she likes it, with her boot resting securely on top of the people and things she wants it to.”

    “How is she with her people?” Ariadne asked, tone a bit worried. “I mean, in terms of making sure they’re not causing too much… trouble. And does she have any particular issues with vampires that aren’t… hers?”

    Pax waved a hand. “Oh, she won’t take too unkindly to you, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said. “She doesn’t find unnecessary infighting or making enemies profitable or efficient. As for how she runs her territory—she doesn’t keep her people on a short leash, but she does have expectations that they not get caught doing something wildly out of line and embarrass the boss, you know? If she has to clean up after your mess…” He made a cheerful throat-slitting gesture, walking backwards and giving Ariadne an exaggerated wink.

    Ariadne relaxed slightly with a sigh. “Vampires need to drink blood to survive, but we don’t need to be monstrous about it,” she said quietly. “That’s… that’s the big problem with Grimm and what he’s been doing. It was bad when I was with him, and if it’s been getting worse…”

    “She knows about all that,” Pax said, nodding. “I’m not saying she cares, exactly, you know, altruistically. What some messy fucko is doing over on his own mountaintop is frankly none of her concern. But he’s starting to get louder about it and, it seems, starting to eye her backyard, what with Hallow Point being the biggest, closest city, with a greater proximity to the valley. If Grimm is getting bored with being a backwoods vamp daddy and wants prime downtown real estate, then that becomes Veracity’s problem really quickly, my darlings.”

    “It seems like it’s become her problem already,” Faraday said in a low voice. “If I understood what you were saying correctly.”

    “Oh, she’s got her eye on it, certainly,” Pax agreed cheerfully. He was leading them through another locked door and down a series of hallways that seemed to criss-cross, labyrinthine, behind the public glitz and noise of the Drawing Dead. Occasionally they’d pass by other workers standing watch at doors, or passing by with trays, but they simply nodded to Pax or walked by without comment. “That doesn’t mean she’s ready or interested in making a move quite yet, mind you, but she might, theoretically, be interested in lending a hand if an interesting and efficient option were made available to her…”

    That might be the catch, Webb thought, exchanging a slightly worried look with Ariadne. If they had a way of proving to Veracity that it was worthwhile to help them out, she very well might. But what, exactly, did they have to offer?

    “Stay close, please,” Pax said as he came to a stop in front of a fairly nondescript door that, again, took one of Pax’s keys to open. Webb watched him also press his thumb against the door, which flared briefly with a fiery light before it opened with a click. “I intend to get you out of here alive and well, my turtles, but there’s a lot of potential results on this roulette wheel…”

    Webb felt Ariadne reach for their hand. They didn’t pull away, squeezing lightly as they followed Pax inside.

    Compared to the unrestrained indulgence of the room Pax had brought them to before, this one seemed surprisingly sensible—though still intimidatingly luxurious. It was on one of the upper floors with darkly tinted windows along a wall overlooking the river valley and the mountains in the distance. A wide pillar in the center of the room contained a fireplace that lit the room with a warm orange glow, accentuated by decorative lamps hanging at different lengths from chains dangling from the ceiling.

    The overall décor was done up in glossy onyx stone and rich mahogany wood, and appeared in many ways to be an upper-class, private lounge: there was a full bar with a snappily-dressed bartender who had more than the average number of arms, and several servers who moved back and forth between tables draped in black cloth.

    Not everyone in here was a vampire, Webb wagered at glance—they spotted a handful of humanoids without the telltale sharp teeth, as well as several guests who were not remotely humanoid at all—but there were a lot of bloodsuckers in this classy little den. A few glanced their way as the group headed inside, following closely behind Pax; Webb felt eyes lingering almost tangibly on them as they made their way through the crowd. They pulled their hat down a little further and nudged up the edges of their hood.

    Pax led them through the room and to yet another pair of doors on the other side. A dark-skinned young woman with short curly hair and a sleek business suit looked up as Pax approached, giving him a toothy smile.

    “Evening, Pax,” she greeted. “Is the boss expecting you?” She glanced curiously at the ragtag group shadowing him, raising her eyebrows, but not commenting.

    “I try to always do the unexpected,” Pax answered brightly.

    “That’s a no, then,” the vampire said dryly. But she seemed in good enough humor about it, and stepped aside, gesturing to the door. “You’re in luck. She seems to be in a mood to be entertained.”

    “Oh, I’m sure we’ll make things lively for her.” He opened the door, flicking his tail for the others to follow. As with many of the others, Webb felt the guard’s gaze watching him keenly as they accompanied Pax inside.

    This seemed to be, as much as anything else, a private study. A large desk took up much of one wall, though there was also a comfortable sitting area, with a plush rug underfoot. Two more vampires sat at a small table just inside, chatting quietly, though they turned immediately to look at them as Pax led them inside and the door was shut firmly behind them.

    And then there was Veracity herself. She stood by the window, still looking out over the glittering pinprick lights of the city, though she’d clearly heard them arrive. She was a very large woman, both exceedingly tall and on the heavier side of curvy, with thick black hair that fell in a sheet to her waist. She was wearing a crimson suit that accented the rich bronze tones of her skin, the front plunging in a deep V almost all the way to her navel, and wore heels that seemed practical, expensive, and wholly unnecessary, as in Webb’s opinion, there was no reason why she needed to be even taller, except to be even more intimidating.

    She turned after a moment, giving them a thoughtful once-over, smiling very faintly. Her dark eyes revealed very little, calculating and considering. She held a goblet in one hand of what Webb was very sure was not wine.

    “A very good evening to you, my lord,” Pax said with his usual enthusiasm. “You will not believe what’s been going on tonight.”

    “I actually think I might have something of an idea,” said Veracity, her full lips curving in a fanged smile. Her voice was intoxicatingly low, and Webb felt an immediate rush of something implacable—desire, trust, an eagerness to please…

    They jolted slightly as they felt a sharp chill at the back of their neck. Shaking their head to clear it, they felt a sudden shock of revulsion as the sensation faded—thanks to Lore, it seemed. Webb didn’t think Veracity had done it intentionally, but she quite literally radiated power and the kind of mesmerizing charm that could ensnare the unwary without a thought.

    Alright on guard, Webb became even more wary and alert, taking a small step closer to Ariadne and Faraday and feeling them shift closer to Webb in return.

    “Ah, well, I always try to surprise you, and yet, you’re always one step ahead of me,” Pax was saying, completely undeterred. “I suppose that just makes things easier, then.”

    Veracity looked amused again, surveying the group before turning fully away from the window, walking over to the sitting area and gesturing with one perfectly-manicured hand.

    “Take a seat,” she said, both an invitation and a command. “The witch, the Grimm spawn, and the human—” she paused, deliberate but almost imperceptibly brief, “who are being so eagerly pursued this evening. And tell me—what use can I make of you that outweighs the value of turning you in?”

    [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 23

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb rubbed their temples, looking down at their untouched drink, and rolled their tense shoulders a few times.

    “Listen,” they said. “Can we… go somewhere else to talk for now? All of us, I mean. I’ll tell you… more, but I’m feeling kind of exposed out here.”

    Ariadne looked a little displeased at the idea, but Pax brightened, giving the table a few sharp raps with his knuckles. It started to slowly decent, gliding away from the stage.

    “Don’t you worry about that, my dear,” Pax assured them. “We’ll go someplace quiet and comfortable, and you can tell me all about it.” He seemed to be on his most sensitive behavior—for Pax. The demon was incorrigible at the best of times, but to Webb, at least, he had never been outright cruel.

    Webb wondered if Pax really had been feeling jealous and left out. They weren’t sure it excused his outburst either way, and Webb didn’t know how they felt about Pax reading their showing up with Faraday and Ariadne in an overdramatically meaningful way, but… that was just one more thing to add to the teetering stack of things to be anxious about later.

    Pax led them all to one of the many doors leading out of the stage and dining area; it was dark and narrow and lined with gold, and opened with a soft click when Pax pulled out a heavy gold key that he then slid back inside a tight pocket where it looked like it objectively should not fit. Webb caught Faraday watching that with a perplexed expression, brow furrowed.

    Demons, Webb mouthed at Faraday when he caught his eye. Faraday seemed surprised, then gave Webb a relieved little smile, crooked, and shrugged in return.

    Webb dropped their gaze and followed quickly behind Pax.

    The demon led the way down a darkened hallway, their heels chiming on the glossy floors as they stepped into what seemed to be a spacious, elaborately decorated hotel room. A large, circular bed took up much of the room, draped in black and piled high with pillows. There was an oversized jacuzzi, a fully stocked bar, and a plush sitting area made of several large, cushioned steps forming a pit in front of a fireplace.

    Pax snapped his fingers. Soft, golden lamplight filled the room, and the fire instantly roared to life. “Here we are,” he said cheerfully. “Please, have a seat wherever you’d like.”

    Webb felt their cheeks heat up hotly—not because they were shy about the thought of the kind of entertaining Pax often, obviously, used this room for, but because they had quite a few memories of one much like it. They shot him a look they hoped was reproachful rather than sullen. Pax, who had never felt reproached once in his terrible life, just winked.

    Ariadne set her helmet aside and immediately went to flop on a pile of cushions near the fire. She was still watching Pax with a laser-focused expression like she was ready to pounce on him with her fangs bared the moment he made a wrong move, but she also seemed ready to treat the situation with determined grace and established control.

    “Very nice and private,” Faraday said politely. He waited for Webb to sink down next to Ariadne, and then rather than sitting next to her, sat on Webb’s other side.

    Pax swayed his way over as well, dropping down onto another one of the cushions, crossing one ankle over the opposite knee and bracing himself on his elbows. He had a bit of an odd expression that Webb couldn’t quite puzzle out as he looked the three of them over.

    “Go ahead and start whenever you’re ready, darling,” he told Webb. “I’m dying to hear about it.”

    Webb rubbed their hands on their thighs, feeling a little chilled despite the fire. Maybe getting Pax someplace secluded hadn’t been the best idea if they were planning on looking him directly in the eye and saying hey, actually, are you fucking me over? There would be no witnesses if Pax decided to cover their tracks.

    But Webb felt the reassuring touch of Lore’s chill presence against the back of their neck, and Ariadne just barely keeping herself from growling next to them, and Faraday just being quiet and respectful and near, and they took a deep breath.

    “I’ve been led to believe,” they said slowly, “with some compelling evidence, that the vampire lord Grimm has been feeding me info in order to lure some of my clients into traps so he can have a steady stream of Level One magic snacks to crack open with the cold ones on Fuck Mountain, and I’m not really all about it.”

    Pax blinked a few times, his eyebrows raising. He looked well and thoroughly surprised, but then again, he was a very good actor, so that may or may not mean anything. “My goodness,” he murmured. “That would be troubling for you to find out, I imagine. And since I’m one of your sources of information…”

    Webb shrugged. “I’m trying to cover as many bases as possible,” they said. A little pause. “Does the name Sia Sileny Belmont mean anything to you?”

    Pax shook his head, frowning slightly. “No. Should it?”

    “Not necessarily. She’s a vampire. She wasn’t when I last saw her, but that was a while back. I sent her on a job I learned about from you.”

    “Ah,” Pax said. “Well, that certainly has implications. But no, if I can be trusted to say so bluntly, I am not aware of anything relating to Ms. Belmont, and although I’ve heard of Lord Grimm, I’ve never met him, and I’m not being bankrolled by him.”

    Webb exchanged a glance with Ariadne, who frowned slightly, looking Pax over. “I mean, you could just be saying that…” she ventured.

    “I could be!” Pax agreed cheerfully. “You’re right. And yet, you did come and ask me to my face, so I’m getting the impression that you were at least hoping that I wasn’t going to be sitting here rubbing my hands together gleefully and watching Webb be sad about things.”

    “I just want to figure out what the hell is going on,” Webb said. “I keep finding out—little things, like a puzzle that’s slowly putting itself together, but it’s not enough.”

    Pax crossed his arms, foot tapping idly. “Do you intend to go confront him? Lord Grimm, I mean. Or just trying to clean up your supply chain so you can keep going about your business?”

    Webb let out a laugh so rough they saw Ariadne flinch slightly out of the corner of their eye. “There’s no… going about my business,” they said. “There’s no going back to normal. Those Inquisitors are all prowling around the streets tonight looking for me, Pax. They somehow caught wind that there’s been a pattern of my people going missing, and I decided not to stay around for their gentle questioning.”

    That had Pax’s attention. He sat up, more alert, his eyes bright and his expression serious. “Oh. You should really have said so earlier, darling…”

    “I’m sure you can understand my reticence,” Webb muttered, teeth gritted.

    “I do understand, but that is quite alarming.” Pax steepled his fingers together. “Troubling. If you really are innocent, you could try to work with them, but they’re sometimes a kill-first-question-later sort of crowd… mm, it really depends on if they think they’ll be able to find out something useful from you. I mean, I’m not recommending that,” he added hastily, when Webb grimaced. “It’s often smarter to run. But now you’ve run right into my lap and might be bringing more trouble with you.”

    “I’m sorry,” Webb said helplessly. “I can’t—listen, that’s why we need to talk to Veracity. We heard she was starting to feel like Grimm was leaning in too much on her territory, and thought she might either have heard something, or be interested in lending some support in dealing with him, or both. And obviously I wanted to talk to you, too.”

    “To see if I was involved or aware, yes, yes…” Pax said distractedly, seemingly lost in thought about something.

    “There are ways of telling if people are being truthful about things,” Faraday commented idly. “Truth spells and potions and the like…”

    And Webb’s eyes. Webb picked up the implication that Faraday was subtly putting down. They shook their head as imperceptibly as they could. Their power worked just fine against regular people, but the more powerful or unusual a creature or magic-user, the less reliable it was.

    Against a vampire and a witch who had little or nothing to hide, Webb was fairly confident. Trying to influence or mesmer a demon or a vampire lord would be daunting—if not completely impossible, and could in fact backfire spectacularly. No matter how much Webb thought Pax regarded them fondly, they’d seen what could happen to people who were no longer on Pax’s good side, and did not intend on becoming one of them.

    “There are such things,” Pax was saying, waving a hand, “but it’s not necessary. Listen, kitten. With all this in mind, I really do feel like your time is ticking. I’ll get you in to speak with Veracity, but you must follow my lead. It seems like at the end of the day you need to figure out who’s been toying with you and why, deal with this Grimm fellow, and also get the Inquisitors off your back. That is a lot of trouble, and you don’t want to seem like more trouble than you’re worth.”

    Webb swallowed, grimacing again. “If you think I’m more trouble than I’m worth, we can just leave. We’ll find another way. I don’t intend to put anybody in danger—” Did they mean Pax, or Ariadne and the others, or themself…? It was hard to say.

    “Oh, please,” Pax sighed. “You’ve been self-centered for years, my little succulent. Don’t get weird about it now when you need to protect yourself the most.” He tapped a gold-tipped nail to his lips. “Listen. I’m saying, you’re right that Veracity would like to see Grimm stomped off the map. I think if you play your cards right, you could come out of this with more in your pockets than you came in with, which not everyone can say at this casino.” He winked. “And, you’ll be pleased to know, I may have several patrons, but I am rarely a double-crosser, due to its displeasing odds, and hopefully learning that I am bankrolled most often by Veracity herself may make you feel a little better about my prospects when it comes to working for Grimm. Even without taking into account the fact that I just simply wouldn’t be doing that to you.”

    “… you did always like to hear the sound of your own voice,” Webb tried to keep their tone light, but their heart was racing. They chewed on their lower lip, looking up at Pax as the demon rose up and extended a hand to them.

    “You know me,” he agreed brightly. “Now then, kitten—how about it?”

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

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

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