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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3 Comments

  • Prince Charming

    All that Pax‘s said sounds good to me. So yes, take his hand and go with his plan.

    And he knows Veracity. Ask him what‘s she like and what’s the best way to approach her about the situation.

  • Noah

    Do demons have a thing where they can ensnare you in a deal by shaking hands with them? If not, it’s probably safe to take Pax’s hand. If so… well, take it anyway, what choice do you have?

  • meredithakatz

    +1 to Noah here. On the one hand, with just any demon, it’d be a terrible idea to agree to let them help you without setting terms. And this might still be a terrible idea? (I’ve played Fallen London, I remember how tempting and nice the demons are right until you sign a contract and then they stop paying you any mind because they got what they wanted! But that’s Fallen London.) And Pax’s history with you isn’t uncomplicated. But… maybe agree, and if Pax then sets terms, you can check those terms before going further with it. If he doesn’t… maybe this will come back to bite you, but still, Pax clearly had some kind of feelings for you, and besides, you do need to see Veracity.

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