Halloween 2022 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F. – “Body of Work” – Day 32

[As a reminder, the story will run for a few days more.
Please read the instruction post before commenting.]

“You know what?” Augustus said, “Why lie?” There were certainly parts of the truth he could share with Yujin, and it felt like it might make things a little fairer between them, given that Yujin had been forced to share a ruinous secret with him.

Emmet’s brows rose. “You’re certainly changing.”

“Am I?” Augustus asked, surprised. “I don’t think I’ve changed at all.” He cleared his congested throat disgustingly. “My darling, can you get some tea and food together for us? Soren and I haven’t had anything for a day now.”

“And delay your child for you a little longer. Sure, why not?” Emmet sighed, then stubbed out his cigarette into his own palm, making it go up in black flames, before heading out into the main part of the townhouse again.

“I’ll be right back,” Augustus murmured to the still-groggy Soren. He left, using the bathroom and washing his face briefly to try to banish some of the haziness.

When he came back, Soren was sitting up and staring at his palms, deep in thought, but he looked up when Augustus came in. “I think I understand better now,” Soren said slowly.

“Yes, me too,” Augustus said. “What did you see while I was … gone? I couldn’t see it since, well. I wasn’t there.”

Soren briefly gnawed on his lower lip. “Well,” he said slowly, voice low. “As you know, you ran. You scuffed the line as you went. I don’t hold it against you, you know. I … in retrospect, I’m not sure the wards would have held long enough for us to deal with our mistakes anyway.”

The churning in his stomach was simply appetite, having not eaten for so long. “But you don’t know that for sure.”

“No. There’s no way to know.” Soren met his gaze, calm and sad. “We don’t know what we don’t know. You scuffed it, and it felt the gap in our pathetic protections. It lashed out at me. I don’t know why me. Maybe because I was less connected to this world than either of you two, who had each other. But it lashed out at me, and Vii flung himself … flung himself between me and the Beast.”

Augustus drew a breath in. He’d anticipated deliberate sabotage, not panicked mistakes and conscious self-sacrifice.

“It caught him instead, drew him back in, ate him. It … it bulged all over, and its face was peeled off, replaced with Vii’s face. Screaming. He was screaming.” Soren rubbed at his own face with his hands in some kind of unconscious sympathy. “I. I don’t know why he would have done that.”

Augustus had a suspicion, based on what little he could remember of their complex interrelationships and massive personal issues, but he wouldn’t voice it. As Soren had said, there was no way to know. He couldn’t know what he couldn’t know. He let the thought go, not wanting to examine that tender wound any further. “I see. But he did. And you lived.”

“I lived, though for a long time I wished I hadn’t,” Soren said, low-voiced. “That said, I don’t think the Beast had deliberately attacked our minds or our memories. I think we were just underprepared for what it was. We didn’t know enough to ward against it specifically, and we were summoning something that went beyond an intrusion into the world. Planar definitions should have made it impossible for us to do it and any sign of its intrusion to remain in the world after it left. So perhaps that’s why we forgot.”

“Yes,” Augustus said slowly. Something was scratching at the edge of his memory, but he couldn’t quite pin it down, and he soon gave up on pursuing it.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to use the toilet,” Soren said, pushing himself out of bed. “Sorry. I’m not running from you.”

It’d be only fair, also died unsaid on Augustus’s lips. “It’s just down the hall. Emmet is making breakfast, and my research assistant is here. Come down when you’re ready.”

After Soren left the room, Augustus quickly changed his outfit, distractedly grabbing something morose and rainy-sky blue from his closet, and then went back out to the kitchen. As Emmet had said, Yujin was sitting at the table, knees up and feet pressed to the seat of the chair as if curling up might inexplicably make them more comfortable, a cup of tea in their hands that was no longer steaming. Emmet himself was at the stovetop, making some light breakfast for dinner. He was wearing an apron over his white suit that Augustus knew he didn’t actually own, a coarse thing with Good Morning, Thou Lowly Beast embroidered on the front in actual gold thread. 

Augustus felt his heart swell at the sight, and he sat across from Yujin while still gazing at Emmet. It was like he was falling in love all over again at the incongruity, he thought helplessly. Here was a demon lord cooking him dinner—cooking him breakfast at a completely incorrect hour—in an apron and, yes, slippers. Of course, Em was obliged to obey him to some extent, since he hadn’t yet resolved his part of their agreement—hadn’t yet fully uncovered Augustus’s memory and his past, though at this rate, it was only a matter of time. But that was fine. Regardless of whether Em’s part was done soon, Augustus had sworn himself to Em for eternity in return. He planned to make good on it.

Yujin sipped their tea loudly. “So can I ask exactly what happened? I mean, Mr. Darkfire was very clear about being unable to wake you.”

“Yes, well, about that—thank you darling,” he said, as Emmet put a cup of tea down in front of him as well, this one steaming. He cupped it between his palms. “I’m actually an amnesiac. I have a large part of my past missing, and I was divining for it. I thought it might be related to why a blackmailer might be targeting me. Unfortunately, I was correct. Something went a bit wrong and it took longer than expected to recover from it. Also, Soren Kincaird is here, and will be joining us for our meal. Please do not ask about that.”

“Huh,” Yujin said in a very strange voice. 

Augustus thought about asking what they’d realized there in particular; given the events of the last few days, it could be any number of things, accurate or inaccurate. Then he decided not to bother. What was even the point? “I’m sorry for worrying you,” he said instead.

“I, that’s—” Yujin stared at him for a long moment, then sucked a deep breath in. They ducked their head. “That’s okay. I was, though. Worried, I mean. A-anyway. Anyway. A few things have happened, but I wanted specifically to let you know about the blackmail.”

“Ah, yes, how was your blackmailing experience?”

“Lousy,” Yujin said, but seemed to relax a little, letting out a scoffing laugh and dropping one foot to the floor. “I went to the woods earlier this evening, like you asked, and pretended to be … ready to be blackmailed, I guess. The blackmailer showed up, but they were in disguise. Heavily cloaked, muffled.”

Odd. “That’s interesting,” Augustus said. “The blackmailer hadn’t shown up to Fitzfleming in person and only communicated through notes.”

“Maybe they’re someone Fitzfleming would be more likely to recognize even through their disguise,” Yujin suggested. “Or maybe what they wanted was too complicated for notes, because they asked me for all my thoughts and suspicions about you.”

Augustus lifted his brows at that. “And what did you say?”

Soren came in and moved to join them at the table, listening but not interrupting.

“I didn’t share my actual suspicions about you,” Yujin said hurriedly, but with a sideways glance—at Emmet, of all people. They seemed more nervous now that Soren had come in, but that was fair; they had no idea of how Soren was involved. Augustus didn’t want to share that without Soren’s permission, but it did seem very unfair. “I mean, mostly I said that you were a lazy, undisciplined hedonist who liked stepping on other people’s boundaries just enough to make you both aware of them. Not that that’s true! I just wanted to feed the blackmailer something.”

Soren and Emmet both snorted audibly, simultaneously. Augustus shrugged slowly. “Not that it’s true,” he echoed back. He was still Yujin’s boss, after all, it was fair that they’d try to cover for their honesty. “That was it?”

“No, they asked what I knew about your past. And honestly it’s not very much, it’s not like we had a deep personal relationship,” Yujin pointed out. “I said that I knew you didn’t have family, because you never wrote home and never went on vacations or had anyone come up. That your choices not to talk about your childhood or your student years had become deliberate rather than incidental, from what I could tell. I said I knew your husband doesn’t live with you, and that you had plenty of affairs, but that from what I could tell you were genuinely in love with him, and that I didn’t think he was, like, made up even though I’d never met him. Um. I’d never met him at the time I was saying it, anyway. For some reason, talking about your love life upset the blackmailer.”

Hm. Augustus too glanced at Emmet, but couldn’t see his face as he was at the stove still. He did flip a pancake showily, so he must not be terribly concerned about it himself. Augustus was relieved by that, and even more so to think that if there were to be a confrontation soon, Em would be here for it, both for the support and for the power levels at play here. He knew he’d only have Em for about one day more, give or take a little depending on how much power Em expended and attention he drew from the planes, so he might have to force a confrontation tomorrow if it wasn’t going to be one naturally. But knowing who was doing this might make it possible. “What else?”

“I was pretty nervy at that point, and I asked what else they needed from me to keep my secret.” Yujin made a sidelong glance at Soren, who was accepting his tea and a plate of food from Emmet. “The blackmailer said they needed nothing for now, but to keep an eye out for further letters. They also said that they’d thought of asking me to steal something, but they’d found something that would work better.” Yujin sighed. “Obviously, they didn’t say what it was.”

That wasn’t exactly promising, but was just vague enough to not be worth worrying about. “Well, thank you, Yujin,” he said, and accepted his own plate. “I don’t suppose it’s great, but it’s not as bad as it could be—”

“Tell him about the other part, Yujin,” Emmet said. He put a smaller plate down in front of Yujin. Presumably they’d discussed it beforehand.

Soren was being very quiet, eating and listening. Augustus felt nerves stir in his stomach, but he was too hungry to keep from eating, so he dug in as well.

“I don’t see how it’s really super relevant, and I don’t want to worry the Professor more,” Yujin protested.

“Mm, yeah, tell him anyway,” Emmet said. “It’s important, actually.”

Yujin sighed heavily at that. “Interdepartmental squabbling sounds less important to me than blackmail, even if it’s personal, but sure. Okay.” They ate a strip of bacon, then sighed again. “It looks like Olivia Spiders stole your ideas. They wrote a paper—and it’s been released to the public. Today, actually. Somehow, she found a way to get it put into the magical interlibrary system early, so it was available to academic libraries around the world immediately.”

“Oh dear,” Augustus said, softly.

“Since it’s kind of scandalous and full of very new ideas, a lot of people are definitely reading it,” Yujin said. “I’ve watched the numbers tick up and it’s pretty wild. I’m sure retorts and reviews will start coming in soon, but the barn door is definitely stuck open now. There’s no way you’re getting credit for your own ideas, not given how publicly Spiders’ name is plastered all over it. Which sucks, but—”

“No, no, this is bad,” Augustus said. “It could be a disaster.”

“The thing is, the paper proposed a redefinition,” Emmet cut in, somewhat urgently. “It’s not redefining the ‘other planes’ as simply another part of your own plane, like you‘d wanted to propose,” meaning that Emmet was still considered an intrusive outsider, of course, “but instead it defined non-planar space as being itself of planar substance that might be more similar to this plane than others. As in, it’s filling the gaps that lead up to the other planes, but is hazardous in understandable and manageable ways. The paper set up definitions around interacting with it, and suggested contracts for containing it when creating intrusions. Essentially, Olivia Spiders has made it so summoning something from the space between planes might be as easy as summoning something from standard planar space. Easier, perhaps. More controllable, depending on the specifics of a contract they might have created.”

“I mean, yeah, it’s fascinating, but why is that a concern?” Yujin asked.

“Because it’s not theoretical. It’s practical. She’s going to summon something from between the planes, and I know what she’s going to summon,” Augustus said softly. Soren had stopped eating and seemed deep in panicked thought. 

Olivia was going to summon the Beast Beyond into this world, and was going to do it soon. But how soon? Augustus wracked his mind, trying to view this like any other conjuration, trying to make sense of it. Surely Olivia would want there to be enough time to guarantee that a significant number of other magicians had read her paper, but not enough time that they had formed a response to it that might re-stabilize the planar boundaries. 

If it were Augustus, he’d act on it tomorrow. It’d be the ideal amount of time between reading and taking in the redefinition, and people spending their weekend composing retorts.

So what should he do about that, he wondered, half-frantic. It was night now, late evening. Should he go out for the night, try to act now, or wait until things were to go down tomorrow and try to stop it then? Given that it was personal, Olivia would probably try to drag him into it, but he had no way of guaranteeing that. 

And if he were going to act, what exactly should he be doing, given that he had no idea where Olivia was right now or where she was going to do this? It wasn’t like the caves of his old school were anywhere around here; Olivia would have picked a new location, hidden and private. It didn’t even have to be somewhere wild, just somewhere that Olivia could guarantee nobody would wander into.

[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]

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  • Noah

    Well, shit.

    Since you’ve been asleep for a while, now seems like the time to act, right? Even if it is nighttime. You’re fully rested right now and have a limited amount of time left with Em. If you all work together as one, you’ll be a stronger force right now than if you waited. You might be able to catch Olivia in her preparations, but you’ll want to move quickly. Ask Soren what he wants to do, as well.

    As for the location, it could be anywhere. But maybe you might find some clues at the location Yujin was at. Or perhaps Fitzfleming might have some useful input.

  • Seth

    +1 try to get information from Fitzfleming, and +1 you need to act NOW. Olivia’s clearly not pulling her punches and she’s trying to move things along as fast as possible.

    Also, it might not narrow the field a ton since she might be able to get away with it just by renting a basement somewhere, but do you know any locations in this school/area that would fit the bill for privacy?

  • AvelineReynard

    Oh dear. Yeah, time is of the essence – can you scry/pinpoint her location (maybe with Em’s help?) if you have a focus? You could always check to see if she’s in her office (unlikely) and just use anything there to have Em track her down. You probably don’t want to bring Yujin along since it’ll be dangerous, but make sure they know the story so they can call for help or let people know what the issue is if needed.

    That said, like, you probably want to decide if you want Olivia to be successful or not. Like… she’s clearly trying to (save?) her brother, which is something you do want as well. Right? Is it just that you think she’s going to cause chaos and not actually be able to rescue him, and instead it’ll go out of control? Do you want to sow the seeds for fucking up what Olivia wants to do (in which case, is there a way for Yujin/Fitzfleming to start publically lambasting Olivia’s paper ASAP to depower it?)… orrrr do you want to try to HELP Olivia?

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