Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 3

[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

Webb considered Ariadne’s offer, casually looking up the restaurant on their phone in a show of deliberation. The reviews seemed decent. No one-star reviews proclaiming that the servers dragged them into a hidden back room for ritual purposes. ‘Locally sourced’ could be hit-or-miss with some places near the valley, but Webb could always opt for the veggie burger, just in case.

“Sure,” they said. “Dinner and drinks sounds fantastic. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a date, anyway.” They exaggerated the tone of that as they stretched out and stood up, amusing themself with watching the way Faraday’s expression became slightly put-upon, his brows creasing.

“Hmph. You’re not worried about being in her debt?” Faraday asked, stepping aside to let Ariadne rise up as well.

“If it were that easy to gain actual sway over someone, everyone would be doing it,” Webb said, grabbing their raincoat from the hook near the door. “I’m sure you know all about the particulars of contracts and deals, Mr. Witch. It’s a simple verbal exchange: you’re offering information and dinner, I’ve agreed to accompany and listen for the duration thereof.”

“And I don’t mean anything by it,” Ariadne pipes up, nudging Faraday lightly. “Don’t be prickly and make things worse.”

Webb half expected Faraday to continue protesting, but he just sighed and leaned over, dropping a brief kiss on the top of Ariadne’s helmet. “You’re right,” he murmured. “I’m sorry. I’m just… worried.”

“You do overthink things when you’re anxious.” Ariadne took his hand and squeezed it.

Webb glanced away, busying themself with their phone again. The restaurant was about a fifteen minute walk from here, in roughly the opposite direction from where Webb lived—a little outside their usual stomping grounds, but not far. They wouldn’t be stranded if anything strange happened.

“Are we walking?” they asked, opening the door and gesturing for the others to step out first.

Ariadne nodded, stepping past, waiting in the hall for Faraday to join her. “I rode here, but I can only carry one passenger. I parked nearby. We can walk back here after to pick up my bike.”

“Let me guess, your witch here has it charmed and protected for you?” Webb asked as they locked up.

“He has!” Ariadne enthused. “He’s amazing.”

“Ria…” Faraday mumbled, looking visibly flustered, in that pleased, faux-humble sort of way that Webb couldn’t stand. They let out a visible huff of breath that curled in the chill air.

The sound of rain pattering along the metallic eaves was even louder out here. It was barely past six o’clock, but the heavy cloud cover meant that the late autumn evening was already deepening into heavy twilight. Webb tugged their hood down a little to shield their sunglasses from the drizzle.

“And what is it that you specialize in, Mr. Witch?” Webb asked casually to break the sudden lull in conversation, leading the way down the narrow stairwell to the street.

Witches were typically humans who had either lived on the other side of the gate their entire lives, or who possessed some sort of magical ancestry dating back somewhere in their lineage—witch blood. Although there were common spells, rituals, and shared knowledge, most witches had a particular specialty, the way that they chose to channel their magic. Webb had met witches of all sorts: nature witches, baking witches, some that used crystals, other who manipulated the ebb and flow of social media engagement. Like to charge, reblog to cast.

How a witch worked often said at least a little about who they were as a person and what made them tick.

To Webb’s surprise, Faraday answered openly. “Threadwork,” he said. “I sell a lot of patchwork and embroidery charms. Protection and luck, mostly.”

“Oh, that does explain the… attire,” Webb observed dryly. Faraday’s outer coat was a patchwork rainbow thing that nevertheless presented a dazzling, cohesive whole: delicate embroidery around the hems, eyes and sigils and magical creatures poking out of pockets or chasing each other across the breadth of his wide shoulders.

As Webb watched, they noticed that the rain simply wasn’t touching Faraday at all—his unnecessarily luxurious hair was perfectly dry, and his boots gleamed.

“It’s been a personal project of some years,” Faraday agreed.

“And how exactly did a stitch ‘n bitch witch end up privy to vampire games?”

Faraday grimaced slightly and glanced aside at Ariadne. Ah.

“Let’s maybe wait until we’re somewhere a little more private,” Ariadne said, putting a gloved hand on Faraday’s arm and squeezing.

Webb didn’t really mind at this point, but honestly, these two. “I’m sort of getting the impression that you haven’t done this a lot before,” they said dryly. “This whole do-gooder, come-with-me-if-you-want-to-live routine.”

“Oh,” Ariadne said weakly, their soft voice still muffled. “No, I mean. No. It was sort of… an accident. But you could tell?”

“Yeah, you’re dreadful at it,” Webb sighed, turning in a lazy circle as they walked, arms outstretched. “Simultaneously cagey and altruistic. Nobody trusts anybody around here. Or at least they shouldn’t, if they want to stay safe. Of course I’m going to question what you’re telling me.”

Ariadne hugged her elbows. Faraday wrapped an arm around her shoulders. His expression was thoughtful this time, quiet.

“I know,” Ariadne said after a moment. “I mean… yeah. I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I need to do something. You know?”

“I don’t know,” Webb said firmly. “But I certainly intend to find out.”

The route to the Witch’s Brewery took them deeper into the valley. The streets became narrower, more active—in a lot of districts in the area, the night life really thrived. It wasn’t long before they made it to the restaurant, a sprawling thing with vaulted ceilings and a warehouse aesthetic. Enormous, kitschy fake spiderwebs were strung between the ceiling beams, and each table had a little cluster of candles that created a dim, intimate pool of light in the atmospheric gloom.

Webb jammed their hands in their pockets and slouched a little more aggressively as Faraday graciously engaged the hostess and arranged for their table. They’d cracked a joke about not having been on a date in a while, but they genuinely couldn’t remember the last time they’d actually gone out for dinner with someone. All of their recent partners, frequent but fleeting, had been pick-ups from bars or the Bonegrindr app (“Find your boo and don’t get ghosted!”), and to call them one night stands would be significantly overstating how long Webb let the interactions last.

This was the polar opposite of a date, but Faraday was inconsiderately handsome and Ariadne had a banging bod and a literal je ne sais quoi going on. Plus, the two were obviously fucking.

Webb pulled up the menu on their phone and started to resentfully scan for the most expensive things they could possibly order.

“Right this way, please,” said the server, leading the way to a curved booth near the back of the room. Webb felt a spike of anxiety, quickly followed by a swell of appreciation as Ariadne immediately slid in and put herself in the middle, leaving Webb and Faraday to sit on either end.

“Nice place,” Webb commented after the server took their drink orders and headed off. “I particularly dig the fake spiderwebs.”

“I don’t think they’re fake,” Faraday mused, looking up.

“… so anyway,” Webb said after a pause, “is this finally private enough for you? I’m not going into a back room even if that’s an option, by the way.”

Ariadne sighed, folding her arms on the table and slumping forward slightly. “This is enough,” she said quietly. “You have to understand, all this has the possibility to be dangerous for us, too. But…”

She reached up and unfastened her helmet, easing it off. Webb, who had expected some kind of weird and hilarious pantomime when their drinks arrived, was briefly caught off guard, staring openly.

Ariadne was exquisite, because of course she was—this was just part of how Webb was meant to suffer. Her eyes were a startlingly vivid ruby red, her ivory skin bloodlessly pale. The little bumps on the top of the helmet suddenly made a lot of sense: she had two blackened little horn nubs poking up from the peak of her high brow.

As Webb watched, she self-consciously patted at her pale hair, fingercombing it back from her face and giving him an awkward smile, lips curving back over sharp incisors.

“Sorry,” she said. “Um. Helmet hair.”

“Yeah, that was definitely what I was looking at,” Webb said dryly. “Honestly, vampire seemed like the obvious choice, but I was sort of holding out for dullahan, still.” They were still staring at her, unable to pull their attention away.

She was gazing back, wide-eyed and nervous. “Faraday and I dated a dullahan once,” she stammered.

“Oh yeah? How was the head?”

“Can we please,” Faraday breathed out, pained, “focus.”

Webb was rescued by the server coming by with their drinks. It gave them an excuse to turn their attention onto something else for a moment, taking a deep breath to reset. They drained half the pint in one go before setting it back down with finality.

Then they let out a helpless laugh. Ariadne had grasped hers in both hands and still had it tilted back, chugging the entire thing in one go.

“Okay, okay,” Webb said helplessly, shoulders still shaking. “Take your time.”

Ariadne gulped, then gasped a breath as she slammed the now-empty tankard down on the table. “Listen,” she said breathlessly. “Grimm is my sire. Our clan operates far enough outside the valley that they’ve been getting away with… with a lot of really dreadful things over the years. Eventually it became too much for me, and I ran away. That was years ago. But recently I happened to find out that they’re—they’re getting worse. And that you were involved, and you were in trouble.”

She drew in a deep breath, squeezing her hands together in a tight grasp, worrying at her lower lip with one fang as she met Webb’s gaze. “I thought, if you were a good person, you probably didn’t deserve what might happen to you. And… and I thought, maybe you’d be willing to help. If I decided to stop running away and decided to do something about Grimm once and for all.”

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

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

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6 Comments

  • Noelle

    How did she find out about your involvement if she’d been away from Grimm for years? How much does she trust her information source?

  • Vikarmic

    It’d be useful to have some examples of transactions that went bad, if they have any. That would let you get a start on trying to figure out whether your sources are compromised, and if so, which — and it lets you verify directly if what you’re being told is true. It also lets you recheck what you currently have and lock down anything you’re not sure is safe; if the Inquisitors are in town, you’re going to want to be careful anyway, and you don’t really want to be handing out bad information anyway, right? It gets people hurt, and it’s bad for your reputation even if it doesn’t.

    Aside from that, the big question is still what Grimm is even getting out of this. You said it yourself; you’re strictly small-time, and presumably the people you deal with are too. So why is a big-shot malevolent vampire clan picking you to mess with? What does it gain them? You don’t get to _be_ a big-shot malevolent vampire by wasting your time and resources with petty sadism, right?

    Once you know their angle, you can figure out how to turn it against them — or make sure the information gets to people who can do that for you. They’ve obviously got enemies — two of them are currently sitting across from you — and some of them would be certainly interested if you manage to figure out something juicy, in addition to whatever plans you make with these two. But until you know why this is even happening, you can only react, and that’s not a great place to be.

  • Prince Charming

    If dreadful things are happening to the people you send on adventures, you should definitely do something about it.
    Ask her if she can give you examples about what happened to your clients.
    And ask what she is planning to do and how you can help.

  • meredithakatz

    Play along. If they’re serious, you’ll benefit from it, and if not, they might let something slip if they think you’re all-in. But I guess either way — how did she find out? This information seems awfully specific for something just through the grapevine. Does she know more about it? Why you?

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