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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  • Prince Charming

    Ask Pax to get you someplace more private. If he can tell you something more, I think he wouldn’t do that in front of Veracity Yun.
    And after everything, I think you can be honest with him. He‘s clearly worried about you and wants you to heal and be happy again.

  • meredithakatz

    You know him best — is he talking out of his feelings, or is he habitually cruel?

    Either way, I agree, private is best. This isn’t something you want to be overheard, and he said he wanted to know why before you saw Veracity, so he’s likely to go along with it more (and feel better about it) if you respect his wishes in this and have the exchange of information before he sets up the meeting.

    Then Veracity. She just got here — she probably won’t be leaving that fast. I mean, obviously the Inquisitors are a concern, but places like this have a backdoor I’m sure you could get smuggled out of (for a price) in a hurry if you needed to be.

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