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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  • Noah

    Call her bluff. Would she really want the Inquisitors on her doorstep? That sounds like it would be an awful inconvenience for her almost as much as it would be for you. Moreover, what kind of value is there in helping the Inquisitors? They sound like they’d be nothing but a nuisance to someone with as much power as her.

    That aside, ask yourself what someone like her wants. Is it more power? Is it visibility? Is it attention?

  • Prince Charming

    Oh, the insult! Ask her what she‘d possibly gain from turning you in. When she knows everything already, she surely must know that you are a victim here too. And tell her that she would benefit greatly from your help against the Grimm clan.

  • t a

    Just so you’re on the same page, how eagerly pursued and how valuable turned in are we discussing? You don’t want to start the bargain without knowing the latest estimate on the competing offer, obviously.

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