• 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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  • 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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  • News and Announcements

    Halloween I.F Update ♥

    Hey everyone! Just a quick lil update from me! I’ve been having some stuff popping up with work and health that’s been making it a little hard to always get parts out sometimes as regularly as I’d like, so I wanted to give heads up on what to expect as we head into the next stretch!

    • I, personally, am loving this and having a grand time, and will 100% be finishing it off, and I hope you are enjoying it too!
    • There is a high certainty that I might actually go past October 31st and wrap up in early-mid November, just to hit all the beats I want to along the way without super rushing, and also…
    • … so that if I have to take a day off occasionally I’m not losing that time, just pacing it out a bit

    Some posts will still go up a little later in the night (though I’m trying to walk those back) just because it turns out I’m actually a bit of a late night writer (who knew?), so please don’t worry about cutoff times in terms of getting your comments in. The earlier the better (e.g. I appreciate having comments in earlier in the day so I can start thinking about your ideas earlier and knowing where the story is going) but if you’re like, oh shit, I forgot, and it’s 7PM, feel free to drop something in anyway.

    Your comments and suggestions really help keep me motivated and encouraged, so a big grateful shoutout to y’all for helping me write the longest thing I’ve ever written and the thing I’ve been enjoying most.

    Thanks for reading! Have a cute picrew of Webb as thanks xoxo

    read from the beginning ♥ jump to the latest chapter

  • 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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