• Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 16

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb rose up, rubbing their face with their hands, and let out a sigh. “I’ll take you up on that offer of a bath,” they said tiredly. “And then I think lying down, at least, is probably on the agenda.” They weren’t entirely sure that sleep would actually happen, but they were willing to make an effort.

    “I’m good here by the fire for now,” Faraday offered up, tugging Ariadne a little closer to him again. “Though if there’s another shower, we might make use of it…”

    “I’m sure you will,” Webb said dryly. Rather than wait for another retort to that, Webb just turned to Lore. “Well, lead the way, gracious host.”

    Lore’s cheeks puffed a little, and they huffed out a coil of smoke and shadow. They seemed a little pleased, though. “This way… Faraday, Ariadne, I’ll be back for you soon,” they promised. Faraday just waved a hand amicably as they headed out.

    Lore led the way into the bedroom, drifting lightly ahead of Webb. They seemed like they were able to walk and move like anybody else, but also didn’t strictly need to, and made no sound. The loose coils of their dark hair reached to about mid-back, and swayed with startling realism as they walked.

    Before they could stop themself, Webb reached out and lightly ran their fingers through the tips. It felt simultaneously like hair should, shifting silkily under their touch, while also yielding a little too much, cool and flowing.

    Webb tugged their hand back, flustered, as Lore turned to look at them. “Sorry,” Webb muttered. “As exhaustion increases, impulse control decreases.”

    Lore shut the door to the bedroom behind them, giving Webb a smile that was a little shy and more forgiving than Webb probably deserved. “It’s alright,” they murmured. “You’ve had a very long night. And I doubt you’ve ever seen somebody like me before.”

    “You’d guess right about that,” Webb agreed, pausing to look around the room. It was, much like the rest of the tower, tastefully but elaborately decorated—every inch the rich eccentric collector’s home, with an edge of the arcane, like a storybook wizard. The rugs were plush and comfortable, the bed piled high with pillows and a deep red duvet. Velvet curtains muffled the sound of raindrops from outdoors. There were even more bookshelves in here, and a set of kaleidoscopic stained glass lamps that cast a soft reddish-gold glow.

    The bathing area that Webb had spotted earlier was set off to one side—able to be part of the room, like some fancy hotel rooms Webb had seen, but with a curtain for privacy. The actual facilities other than the bathtub were through a separate door into an ensuite.

    “There are towels there,” Lore offered. “I’ll… I’ll leave you to it, you can just, if you need anything you can—” They started to stammer, drifting messily towards the door again.

    Webb tugged their cardigan off and hesitated. Their impulse was to just toss it over the back of a chair, but the chairs here were so nice. They settled for awkwardly draping it onto one of the towel racks instead. “Go get Ariadne and Faraday set up with… whatever,” Webb grumbled, finding that their own cheeks were burning for some reason. “Then… I mean, I’ll pull the curtains around, so… I guess, I’d like it if you came back in after? So we can just… talk a bit.” They huffed a laugh. “It’ll be just like old times, with me speaking to empty air.”

    Lore seemed to almost vibrate at that, hugging their elbows and ducking their head. “Sure, sure, I’ll, um. I’ll do that. I’ll see you soon, Webb. Help yourself to any of the soaps.”

    They vanished back into the other room without bothering to open the door again—they just phased directly through it. Webb stared after that for a moment, decided not to think too hard about it, and started the water running in the tub. The room felt too big and empty and open now that Lore was no longer there with them, so they tugged the privacy curtains firmly closed before pulling off their shirt and binder and pants.

    Skirting around to the little set of drawers next to the tub, Webb found—to their surprise and faint amusement—a vast array of little bath bombs, bubble baths, and soaps. They’d have to ask Lore more about that, later. They chose one at random, tossing it in and watching it instantly foam up pink, which was, sure, good enough. They could work with it.

    Sinking into the warm water felt like an immediate mistake. They’d been barely holding themself together all night, their emotional composure strained and taut like a favourite t-shirt from high school they’d long since grown out of. Feeling the relaxation and warmth and vulnerability all at once—it was almost too much to handle. They felt their head buzzing with it.

    “Fuck,” Webb breathed out, sinking down a little further into the water. This was all so fucking surreal. They didn’t even have a bathtub in their apartment, just one of those cramped glass showers. They were trying not to breathe too hard and rapidly inhale bubbles.

    “Um, Webb?” Lore called through the curtains, uncertainly. Webb jumped, accidentally launching their foot across the tub and sloshing water inelegantly over the side.

    “Shit!” they stammered. “Hi, yes hello.”

    “Hi,” Lore said, their voice sounding concerned. “You… are you alright?”

    “I haven’t drowned myself yet, so I’m calling that a win,” Webb squeaked. “Don’t worry about it. How, how’s it going? Your place is nice.” They half-heartedly tried to mop up the spill by tossing the towel at it.

    “It’s… fine,” Lore answered, still sounding a little dubious. Webb could see a little bit of smoke coiling around the edges of the curtain. “Ariadne and Faraday are taking turns using the shower on the third floor and charging their phones. We discussed ordering pizza at 3AM, but they opted to leave it to you.” Their tone turned slightly amused at that.

    “Delivery pizza sounds like the sort of horrible breakfast you’d want to have after your life falls apart and you get not nearly enough sleep,” Webb said agreeably, splashing a bit of water onto their face. After a moment, they sighed. “Listen, the bubbles are covering all my naughty parts. You want to just come on in here…? I’ve spent years talking to the air not knowing if you’re listening, and I’m sort of over it, you know?”

    There was a pause in response to that, and for a moment Webb wondered if they’d overstepped. But then the curtains shifted, not parting so much as unfurling, and Lore’s shadowy-yet-solid shape reformed, perched uncertainly at the end of the tub.

    “I’m sorry,” Lore said, after the silence hung for a moment. “I didn’t… I should have shown myself to you years ago. I’d wanted… but I was afraid.”

    Webb tilted their head back and waved a hand, sending some tiny bubbles scattering and drifting. “I imagine you had your reasons,” they said. “Besides… sometimes you have to wait for the right moment.” They weren’t altogether sure they’d have been receptive to Lore making any sort of overture up until now. The letters, the occasional meeting… that was about all that Webb had been willing to commit to in terms of a friendship, or any relationship at all.

    Tonight had obviously changed things, but what that would look like after all the chaos had faded and things were back to normal… Webb couldn’t even fathom it. All they could do was just take it one moment at a time in the frenetic sort of fog one entered into when each moment might very realistically be their last.

    Lore had scooped up some of the bubbles in their palms and were looking at them very fixedly. “Shadowfolk are very secretive types,” they said quietly. “There are things that I just can’t tell you about me, or what I am, but on a personal level, I just always found myself very interested in people, yet… unable to connect with them.”

    “I can relate to that a little,” Webb said dryly. “Honestly, sometimes it’s just more trouble than it’s worth.”

    “Yes,” Lore said earnestly, “I was… I mean, for the most part, I thought I’d been doing fine. I was able to watch, and learn about people, and build up my home and my collections, and usually that felt like enough. But sometimes…”

    Sometimes, Webb thought, you were alone in the middle of the night with a world that seemed very vast and very empty, and the realization of your own infinitesimal lack of consequence was stifling. Loneliness was a word for it, but cosmic insignificance came just as close.

    “Sometimes you wondered what it was like to invite a cute creeper such as myself to get naked and indulge in your impressively extensive bubble bath collection?” Webb teased.

    Lore’s hair started smoking like a snuffed candle. “Wh—that’s not what I was going to say!” they protested. Their voice was still mellow and soft even when they were visibly and audibly flustered, which Webb found charming. They gave Lore a lopsided grin.

    “What, you’re saying that the bath bombs were for you?”

    “Yes!” Lore said helplessly. “They’re mine. As is the bed, and even the tea. I don’t enjoy the hassle that’s required to be able to eat, but otherwise I can… I can engage with most physical things on… on some level…”

    “I see,” Webb mused. “That’s very interesting.” They let the teasing tone drop, and sat up slightly, looking at Lore more seriously. “I mean it. I… do want to know more about you. What you get up to, what you think about all this, and—”

    Don’t do it. Stop. That’s too much. We’re not doing that again.

    “—and, I mean,” they trailed off, suddenly hoarse, pulling their knees up to their chest. “This is already… a lot. Thanks for helping us out and not throwing me out into the street in the middle of the night. Are you—do you want to come with us, later? When we head to the Drawing Dead? I’d… if you’re willing, I’d really like to have you around. You’re powerful and all,” they add hastily. “Useful.”

    “Ah, mm,” Lore tilted their head to the side, that thoughtful look on their face again, their dark eyes wide. Somehow they seemed a little brighter in their face, though it was all inky shadow. “… I’ll go with you. If the Inquisitors really are after you, and the vampires… it would be… cowardly and irresponsible to stay out of it. Even if I’m not really accustomed to getting involved in such things. Though… if it’s alright with you, I’ll probably just—stay out of sight, unless I’m needed.”

    Webb let out a breath, a little line of tension between their shoulders easing. “… I’d appreciate that more than I can say,” they told Lore. “I really… could use all the help I can get.”

    Lore smiled. “I think you have more people willing to help you than you realize,” they said gently. “Don’t worry, Webb. We’ll figure things out.”

    Webb broke eye contact hastily, clawing some of the bubbles closer to their body. “… it’s starting to get a little thin in terms of coverage here,” they muttered, rather than acknowledging that. “So unless you plan on sticking around to get an eyeful—”

    “Should I pretend I wouldn’t like to?” Lore asked demurely.

    Webb’s jaw dropped. “I,” they managed, scrambling to find a quick retort but not expecting Lore to try to gain the upper hand. “I, you can. Do what you want?”

    Now Lore seemed flustered again, unfolding themself and practically oozing across the floor and back under the curtain. “It’s fine, I’m sorry!” they called back softly. “Please, take the time you need, and make yourself comfortable. I’ll make sure the bed is—ready, for you.”

    At a loss for anything else to do, Webb just laughed, tilting their head back and closing their eyes, letting out a long breath. “For me and the weird hot couple in the other room, yeah,” they muttered.

    “I do have other rooms that I can prepare downstairs,” Lore said slowly, “though they’re quite chilly at the moment. But I thought you’d perhaps, mm, enjoy the option of…”

    “Lore, you little scamp,” Webb said with appreciative amusement. “No, it’s fine. I’m sure it’ll be fun, as long as the two of them don’t get too handsy.”

    “Ohhh, nooo, whatever would you do…”

    “Oh, you’re meddlesome, I see. That figures.”

    Webb hadn’t slept in a bed with anybody else for about a decade. On some level the idea filled them with an existential level of dread. On the other hand, the idea of being alone right now yawned like a sucking void of terror in the periphery of their subconscious.

    They heard Lore laughing softly, and relaxed a little more. Somehow, knowing that Lore would be around—whether or not they were visible—regardless of what happened was reassuring. Webb tried not to examine that though too deeply, either.

    Hauling themself out of the tub, Webb drained it and grabbed their towel, hastily drying themself off and running their hands through their slightly damp hair. They shimmied back into their underclothes, loose pants, and tank top, then grabbed a throw blanket from one of the armchairs to wear as a makeshift cape as they padded back into the sitting room.

    Ariadne was sitting by herself immediately in front of the fireplace, hands wrapped around a mug of tea. She, too, had opted for the blanket cloak school of fashion, and her blond hair was slightly damp, drying with a bit of a wave to it in the heat from the fire. Her expression was pensive, lost in thought, but she looked up quickly when she heard the door, flashing Webb a little smile.

    “Hey,” she said warmly, with an unusual edge of something Webb almost thought was shyness. “Faraday’s just taking his turn getting washed up. He takes about three times as long as I do, generally. Do you… want to have a seat?”

    [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 15

    It’s the end of a loooong week, and we’re halfway through, so I’m taking a break tonight ♥ Thank you so so so much to everyone who’s been commenting and engaging and cheering me on.  I love y’all so much and it means so much to me to get each and every comment. I’m looking forward to the next couple weeks and I hope I can do you proud!

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  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 14

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    A pair of cool hands cupped Webb’s face; a feeling of pressure, of skin-but-not-skin, firm yet yielding.

    Webb’s eyes snapped open.

    “You looked like you were thinking very hard,” Lore murmured. They were leaning over Webb, kneeling in midair as though it were nothing, expression somewhere between sympathetic and amused. “And like you were giving yourself a headache.”

    “I’ll give myself a headache if I want to,” Webb muttered sullenly, cheeks heating up under Lore’s touch. “… more of a headache. As many headaches as I want.”

    “Yes,” Lore agreed patiently, releasing Webb and letting their hands rest in their lap. “But I don’t like to see you hurting yourself.”

    Webb slid bonelessly down in their chair until their head was practically on the cushions. “Frankly, how dare anybody in this room be nice to me.”

    Ariadne let out a helpless laugh. “Could it be that you inspire it in others?”

    “They do,” Faraday agreed.

    “I do not,” Webb protested, deeply offended.

    “In any case,” Faraday said in the same even tone, as though Webb hadn’t said anything at all, “my vote is that we spend a little bit of time here resting while we have the opportunity. If anything happens, or if we pick up a particularly interesting lead, it’ll be easier to react and stay sharp if we’re well-rested.”

    “Mm,” Ariadne agreed. “And even if we head out at three or four o’clock, we’ll still make it to the Drawing Dead before closing time.”

    Webb had a sneaking suspicion that the concerns about rest and well-being were for their sake, given that they were in a room with a vampire, a witch, and an otherworldly living shadow, but the more petulant their thoughts became, the more they thought that perhaps the others were onto something.

    “We can rest,” they allowed, letting out a deep sigh. “I mean, no promises. But I’ll at least try.”

    Lore gave them an approving smile. “Please, then, make yourselves at home. Feel free to get out of some of your wet outer clothes. We can put them in front of the fire, here…”

    Ariadne hopped up to help move some things around to make that easier, launching into an immediately animated conversation with Lore about their book collection. Webb closed their eyes again and let the quiet chatter and the heat from the fire wash over them, peaceful, for a moment—

    “… I can feel you watching me,” they muttered, without bothering to open their eyes.

    Faraday let out a soft laugh. “Ah. Caught,” he said. “Nothing gets past you, does it, Webb?”

    Webb was silent for a moment. “Well. Clearly some things do.”

    Faraday also paused at that, almost an audible wince. “… I suppose.” He let out a sigh. “I wanted to ask you something, if you don’t mind.”

    “What’ll you do if I say I mind?” Webb drawled. They shifted in the chair, kicking off their boots so they could curl their feet up underneath them, looking over at Faraday. The witch had his hands lightly resting on the embroidery hoop in his lap, his expression rueful, a bit displeased.

    It was the most interesting expression Webb had seen him make. “Never mind that. Fine. Go ahead,” they prompted impatiently.

    Faraday sighed. “… I wanted to ask why you seemed, in particular, to dislike me. Was it something I did? Something I said?”

    Webb picked up a little decorative coaster from the side table and began to fiddle with it, spinning it around on the glass and watching it fall. “Maybe you just have that kind of face.”

    “There’s no need to be childish, Webb,” Faraday said, and he just sounded so disappointed that for a moment, Webb just saw red.

    Childish?” they hissed, with the presence of mind to keep their voice down. “You don’t know anything about me. And I don’t know anything about you. I’m working with you because I have to, not because I like you.”

    Faraday’s lips were pressed into a thin line, his dark brows drawn together tightly. He sat up a little straighter. “I’ve been getting the impression that you don’t want to let anybody know anything about you,” he retorted, voice still low but now with an edge of impatience. “And you’re clearly miserable about it—”

    “Nobody asked your opinion, Jasper! Just let it drop!”

    Faraday’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he said, very quietly.

    Webb shut their mouth and stared back at him, frozen, the coaster in their hand clattering back onto the glass.

    If Faraday had said anything further, Webb would have felt justified in lashing out again. But he just drew in a deep breath, and exhaled, looking remarkably sad for something that was clearly none of his business, and looked back down at his embroidery.

    Webb just felt tired.

    “… you didn’t do anything wrong,” Webb said, closing their eyes and letting their head thunk back against the armchair. “You just reminded me of someone whose ghost I was already having trouble letting go of, and I was prickly about it, and that was shitty of me. It’s not on you.”

    “I’m sorry I pried,” Faraday said after a moment. “I should have assumed that you had a good reason and that it wasn’t any of my business.”

    “It wasn’t any of your business,” Webb agreed. “But I am of course a very hot riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, and I can’t blame you for wanting to get inside of me.”

    Faraday laughed like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to. Webb allowed themself a thin sliver of a smile, cracking one eye open to look over at him. He’d relaxed slightly again and was looking over at Webb with a small smile, brows creased in relief.

    “I know we don’t know each other very well,” Faraday said. “But I thought perhaps we could eventually… perhaps. And you see, I felt like I was getting off on the wrong foot. I am a very competitive person by nature, and Lore is obviously lovely, and Ariadne is a dream, so I was feeling quite put out about it!”

    Webb laughed despite themself, leaning forward and resting their elbows on their knees. “Oh, you’re blaming your bad attitude on my overwhelming charisma, is it?”

    “Yes—no! Honestly, good grief, whatever makes you happy, you strange thing.”

    Whatever makes you happy. As if Webb knew what that was. But they just stretched out and gave Faraday a lopsided grin. “Oh, I’ll keep that in mind.”

    Ariadne was padding back over to join them, but stopped just at the edge of the rug when she saw them chatting. Webb could see her teeter in place, as though she were trying to undo the fact that they’d already caught sight of her, and made a face when Webb caught her eye and beckoned her closer.

    “Sorry,” she murmured, taking a seat again next to Faraday and crossing her legs. She’d taken off her outer leather gear and was wearing a pair of loose black lounge pants and a thin hoodie. “Didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

    “It’s alright,” Webb drawled. “Faraday was just being nosy about my personal traumas. But we’re past it.”

    Faraday made a face again, and Ariadne looked confused and mildly alarmed. Webb took the opportunity to pull out their notebook and wave it around, shifting in their chair as Lore drifted back over to join them as well.

    “In the spirit of sharing secrets,” Webb said, “I do have a line of contact to the Inquisitors. In a manner of speaking. Maybe. I thought I’d write them a little note, but I didn’t want to be furtive about it.”

    They filled the others in on how the notebook worked and thumbed it open to the most recent page. Written in spiky, crabbed writing across the top of the page was a single sentence:

    No matter where you go in this town, we will find you.

    “Oh no,” Lore murmured, leaning closer to peer at it. “And we want to… try to correspond with these people?”

    “I’m going to write them a message, and they can take it or leave it,” Webb shrugged. “Technically, I didn’t do anything wrong, and they can’t do anything to me right now. I don’t think we have anything to lose.” They paused. “Alternatively, I can just start writing fuck, fuck, fuck, and getting the pen to just cuss everywhere…”

    “Maybe that can be the backup plan,” Ariadne suggested.

    Webb flashed her a little grin. “Can one of you lend me a pen? I don’t want to write it in Waffle House crayon, I’d look like a serial killer.”

    Faraday handed them a pen. Webb hunched over the notebook, trying to keep the message brief, professional, and to-the-point, and feeling like they were at least moderately successful at some of the above:

    I understand that you’re probably a little frustrated. It seems like you’ve got a tough job to do, and I’d be willing to bet that you don’t receive health and benefits.

    My name is Webb. Clearly, you know. What you probably don’t know is that I’m innocent. I’m working to try to deal with the asshole that’s responsible for the things you think I’m responsible for. If at the end of the day you care more about actually eliminating the real threat here, and you’d like to call a truce and propose an exchange of information, I’m willing. You know how to reach me.

    Webb snapped book shut and slid it back into their jacket. They had no other means to get in contact with Jenny at the moment—they didn’t often collect personal details about their clients when they booked in online, though that would clearly have to be a policy they would need to revisit in the future, if there was a future in that sense—and none of them knew how to get in contact with Veracity yet. Sia, Webb wasn’t sure if they wanted to actually reach out to directly in case she was in league with Grimm, in case that tipped him off, but they could—

    Webb felt a finger flick their nose. They jerked, looking down to find Ariadne kneeling next to the chair, reaching up to poke at them with a playful, fanged grin.

    “Enough thinking for now,” she said, faux-sternly. “I could see the wrinkles gathering on your face like spiderwebs. Let’s put the book aside and leave our phones alone for a bit, and just try to relax for a few hours. Faraday is right—we’re all going to need to be in good shape later on. Body, mind, and soul.”

    Webb glanced over to where Lore was hovering nearby. They gave him a little shrug in response.

    “I don’t know why you’re looking at me,” they said softly. “I’m obviously going to agree with her.”

    “Surrounded by traitors,” Webb muttered. “Fine… we can… we can relax…”

    Somehow, the idea of figuring out how to relax seemed almost as daunting as sorting through the options of which vampires to get in contact with and when and how. Clearly some of that showed on their expression, because Lore laughed a little, leaning over the back of the armchair to look down at Webb.

    “The bed in the adjacent room is made up for use,” they said softly. “If anybody else wants a different private room, I can set one up on a lower level, though it will take some time to get warm. Anyone is welcome to use the bathing facilities if you’d like, and although I do recommend sleep at least at some point, I also have books and games if you’d like that.” They hesitated for a moment. “I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of food, though, if anybody gets hungry… I tend to keep only tea snacks on hand, since I don’t exactly eat. I can order something to be delivered.”

    “I won’t be hungry for a while,” Webb said honestly, “probably not until morning, so I’m good.”

    “I’m, uh,” Ariadne mumbled a bit. “I don’t need any human food, but thanks.”

    Webb abruptly felt very aware of Ariadne’s presence pressed close to them, her arms curled up next to their thigh. They glanced down to see that she’d apparently realized the same, her eyes going wide, a very faint flush crossing her pale cheeks as she leaned back a little, knocking over a pillow in her haste.

    “I see…” Lore said thoughtfully. “Well, if you need anything, don’t, um, be shy. Webb…? What would you like to do?”

    [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 13

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    “I think it’s probably up to us to start,” Webb said, huffing at the steam wafting from their teacup, still too hot to drink. “… and by ‘us’ I mean I’m nominating Ariadne, as I am currently having the vapors.”

    The Curator looked worried. Faraday looked faintly amused, chin resting in his hand.

    “The vapors?” he murmured.

    “Yes. Due to my agonies.”

    Faraday grinned, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. Ariadne scrunched up her nose, nudging him lightly, and shifted so she was leaning forward, elbows resting on her knees.

    “I don’t mind getting you up to date,” she said, then glanced over at Webb, expression plainly saying: everything?

    Webb took a careful sip of their tea, closed their eyes, and nodded.

    “Well, alright.” She drew in a deep breath. “My name is Ariadne, and this is my partner, Faraday. I’m a vampire, um, obviously. And Faraday is a stitch-witch. I guess this all starts a while back, with my sire, a vampire named Grimm…”

    Ariadne recounted the story from the beginning: her involvement with Grimm, her escape with Faraday, the years in between, the chance encounter with another vampire. Her lingering guilt and concern about Grimm’s growing power. Their meeting with Webb, and the events of the night so far.

    There, she hesitated. “So… Webb mentioned that you were one of the people they got information from, and… we wondered if you might know something.”

    “You wondered if I was involved in giving you false information,” the Curator said in their soft, sibilant voice. “Working with this vampire to hurt people.”

    “No,” Webb blurted, sitting up a little, the blanket sliding off their lap. “Well—a little. I considered it, obviously. I was afraid. But—”

    The Curator waved their hands, gently trailing smoke. “It’s, it’s alright, Webb. I don’t blame you. You’d be fully within your rights to be suspicious. You’d never seen me for what I was, and you knew someone had betrayed you…”

    “So you’re saying you’re definitely not involved?” Faraday asked quietly. He had made himself comfortable and pulled out an embroidery hoop, stitching as they discussed.

    The Curator’s shoulders hunched and they shook their head so hard that bits of them seemed to drift away like scattering ashes. “No,” they said, firm yet tremulous. Despite the emotion in their voice, they seemed unable to raise it much louder than a soft murmur. “Not… deliberately. But of course it’s possible that I might have been a source of some information that was misused…”

    “Where do you… learn everything that you share with me?” Webb asked, sitting up, a little more prepared to re-enter society again, despite their headache and the bruises to their ego. “You—I mean, you don’t really owe me an explanation, about you, or about anything, but…”

    The Curator shook their head again, looking at Webb with an earnest expression. “I don’t… owe you, but I’d like to tell you. You’re in trouble, so if there’s something I can do…” They trailed off again before seeming to gather their thoughts. “I’m a collector. Of many things… books, and antiques, and art, and all those things, of course, but I also collect… stories. And information. About people, mostly.”

    “Collecting teacups and collecting information strike me as slightly different hobbies,” Faraday said, tone slightly cautious.

    “I’ve heard things about shadowfolk…” Ariadne trailed off. When the Curator looked over at her, she sat up quite straight, looking flustered. “I mean, they’re rumors, and obviously I’m sure you’ve heard shitty things about vampires, too.”

    “It’s alright,” the Curator said quietly. “I’m well aware of our reputation. It’s part of why I don’t really… I try to stay out of sight, so I don’t frighten people.”

    “Sounds lonely,” Faraday commented, still focused on his stitching. The Curator seemed slightly startled, looking down at their hands.

    “… I suppose it can be,” they agreed.

    Webb wasn’t sure what to do or say to that, fidgeting with their now-empty teacup. “So… you mostly stay here, out of sight? Do you ever go out?”

    “I do. Just to watch, and listen.” They seemed flustered, after having said that. “I’m sorry, that probably sounds quite… creepy. I don’t mean it to be. I just… want to be involved, without anybody having to—to deal with who, I mean what, I am.”

    “There’s a shadow person who’s a famous actor,” Webb protested, feeling their chest tighten for some reason they couldn’t quite pin down. “If you wanted to just go around being yourself, people would just get used to it eventually, right?”

    The Curator examined them with those inky black eyes, thoughtful. “I’d often wanted to say something very similar to you,” they said gently.

    Webb grimaced at that, dropping their gaze. “Fair enough,” they muttered.

    “Back to the topic at hand…” Ariadne said hesitantly into the silence after it had lingered for an uncomfortable beat too long, “I’m willing to take it in stride, this whole shadowfolk thing. And trusting that you weren’t trying to do anything to hurt Webb. But we do actively also still have the Inquisitors after us, and need to decide what we’re doing next.”

    The Curator nodded. “As long as you’re here, I don’t think we need to worry about the Inquisitors,” they said. “Or anybody else for that matter. I don’t want to make grand promises I can’t keep, but in my tower, I’ll keep you safe.”

    “It feels safe,” Webb said quietly. “It’s a beautiful place.”

    The Curator looked equal parts pleased, startled, and flustered, their dark eyes going wide. They were clearly incapable of blushing, but smoke began to rise from their glossy hair at an alarming rate.

    “You’re welcome to stay here tonight, if and when you need to rest,” the Curator stammered. “I understand if you’d rather not, of course. But there’s plenty of room. And as, I mean, as for the situation with Grimm…” Their demeanour grew more serious. “I had heard some rumors about him recently that might be of interest to you.”

    Ariadne perked up immediately. “Rumors?”

    The Curator coiled their fingers in an idle circle, trailing smoke. “Yes. I’m not really that interested in political power struggles, but it’s something that’s important to keep an eye out for… they like to make it your business whether you’d rather stay out of it or not. I’d heard that for some time, Grimm was building power in the north without really intending to do anything with it, exactly. Violence and hedonism, obviously, which we can hardly condone—”

    Webb felt their lips twitch a bit, despite themself. The Curator’s quiet way of speaking made everything they said come out with somehow the same amount of emphasis.

    “We cannot condone it,” Faraday agreed. He also seemed to find it funny, and caught Webb’s eye. Webb glared half-heartedly back.

    “But it was very localized,” the Curator continued. “Then all of a sudden, within the last five years, he started to grow more ambitious, more hungry. Uncharacteristically combative, to the point where his clan got into an altercation with another nearby clan and wiped them out—absorbed them.”

    Ariadne looked anxious. Faraday set aside his embroidery and rested one of his hands on her knee, squeezing.

    “Do you know why the sudden change of heart?” he asked.

    “I don’t,” the Curator admitted. “But I do know that one of the vampire lords here in the city has been a bit displeased about the situation, and has made her feelings on the matter known. Veracity Yun. I’m sure you’ve heard of her.”

    There was a chorus of nods around the room. Veracity was known to be influential and clever, a vampire lord who had no qualms about flaunting her status, but also no interest in disrupting the status quo enough to risk anybody taking up arms against her.

    “I don’t know her personally,” Ariadne said, “but I’ve heard she’s not, like, the worst, as far as vampire lords go.”

    “Not someone you want to mess with, certainly,” Faraday said.

    The Curator nodded. “I’d heard—and again, this is just a rumor—that Veracity and her clan are eying the situation with Grimm with a mind to take care of him now before his power grows any more and starts to threaten hers. If that’s the case…”

    “She might know something,” Webb finished. “And it might be in her best interests to help us out. If we can make it worth her while. Do you know how we can get in touch with her?”

    The Curator shook their head. “I’m sorry. Not directly. But I can… I can try to find out.”

    “We’d appreciate that very much,” Ariadne said sincerely. “You’ve been a great help, Mx… Mx. Curator.” She tripped over the words.

    Webb glanced between her and the Curator. “… do you have anything else you’d like us to call you? It doesn’t have to be your real name or whatever. You can join the club.”

    The Curator looked thoughtful. “Real names… I’m not sure I have a ‘real name’ in that sense… but you’re right that it seems a bit unwieldy.” They ducked their head. “… you can—you can call me Lore. If you’d like.”

    “Lore,” Webb echoed, with a little smile. “I like it.”

    Lore’s hair started to coil with smoke again, like an overclocked teapot. Ariadne was politely pretending not to notice.

    “What do you want to do next, Webb?” she asked, leaning her head against Faraday’s shoulder. “Should we head back out right away? We’d planned to go to the Drawing Dead to meet with another one of Webb’s contacts…”

    “Though I’m less confident that interaction will end positively,” Webb said dryly, rubbing their face with their hand. They glanced at one of the clocks on the wall. It was just shy of around nine o’clock in the evening. The Drawing Dead would just be getting into full swing shortly, they knew, and since it catered largely to creatures of the night, it typically wouldn’t wind down until shortly before sunrise—around five or six o’clock in the morning.

    That gave them plenty of time. They were a little on the tired side, and there was more that they could do here, where they knew they were safe: research, rest, spending a bit more time with the others and seeing if there was anything more that they knew that might be useful. They still had their notebook to check in on to see if the Inquisitor had written anything back. And it was possible that something unexpected could happen when they were out, leaving them in a bad place and low on fumes.

    On the other hand, they now had a whole new lead to add to the pot, and the longer they delayed, the more likely it was that something could happen to Jenny Lim and her companions before they had a chance to intervene. That is, if they were targets for trouble, and if Webb could do anything about it either way. There was also Sia Sileny Belmont to potentially get in touch with or learn more about, as well as the vampire that Ariadne had met with before.

    [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 12

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    “Things… aren’t okay,” Webb said, very slowly. The words felt leaden on their tongue. “Actually things are a bit of a mess. I came… to ask for your help.”

    As soon as the words were out of their mouth, Webb realized they were true. They weren’t entirely sure they knew until that moment, and they weren’t quite certain how they felt about it, either. They licked their lips, crumpling the paper slightly in their hand.

    “I’m… being targeted for some reason. Or, more like, being used. I don’t think that the targeting is personal except that someone is using me to lure my customers out to become eternally dispensing Vampire Free Slurpee Day machines, and the Inquisitors are after me, which is, you know, extremely stressful! They’re ghosts with swords! They’re probably lurking in my house playing my Nintendo Switch! I don’t know if I can go home now, or ever, and I don’t have anybody to turn to, which is why I’m here talking to the air in a haunted-ass castle in front of two people I met this evening and one person who I’ve never actually seen and might be one of the people fucking me over, I don’t know—”

    Ariadne made a little noise under her breath. Webb saw Faraday reach out and squeeze her arm, his expression drawn, his eyebrows furrowed.

    “But the thing is,” Webb continued raggedly, “either you’re an extremely twisted asshole with way too much time on your hands, or you’re innocent in this, or you’re being used like I am, because otherwise me spending time here, and, you know, all the rest of it, it would be a pretty messed up game, you know? I don’t know why you are the way you are, whatever that way is, but you’ve been kind to me, and since I’m apparently really over this whole evening, let’s just be out with it and call it a night.”

    Webb flung their arms out wide, heart hammering so hard they swore they felt like they’d just been sprinting for their life. Their breath was coming fast, audible and ragged in the sudden silence. They pointedly turned to face the room, not ready to look at Ariadne and Faraday now, or maybe ever again.

    Something impacted the back of their legs. They let out a soft curse, losing their balance and overbalancing, falling back abruptly—into the embrace of an armchair that had suddenly slid across the rug directly behind them.

    “Whoa—” Faraday’s voice, startled, followed by Ariadne’s concerned, “Webb??”

    “I—” Webb began, voice failing as one of the thick blankets draped over the nearby ottoman lifted up and was unceremoniously dumped over Webb’s head. They heard a thump from the fireplace and tugged the blanket down to see ash and embers drifting down from where a fresh log had just been tossed into it.

    For a moment, Webb thought that the smoke curling around them was coming from the fire. But there was too much of it, and it was too dark, and it seemed to be coiling closer, slowly forming into a humanoid shape. It stretched out its arms, wisps of inky blackness—that Webb suddenly realized was more shadow than smoke—forming into delicate hands that lightly picked up the blanket’s edges and tucked it properly back around Webb.

    As Webb stared up at the shape forming in front of them, they watched glossy black hair tumble down around the shape’s narrow shoulders. They had a heart-shaped face with expressive brows—despite being entirely made of shadows—that were creased in worry, and they visibly seemed to draw in a breath, though surely they didn’t need one.

    “It sounds like you’ve had a very rough night,” they said in a soft voice. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I can help, but if I can, I will.” They bowed their head. “You’re safe here with me.”

    Webb’s breath caught. They heard a ragged noise from their throat that they weren’t emotionally ready to claim as their own.

    The Curator straightened up, a motion that was both very real and somehow very other, still looking down at Webb. Despite them not really having eyes to speak of, Webb still felt their gaze keenly. “Why don’t you, um, both of you, go ahead and… have a seat,” they offered to Ariadne and Faraday. “I mean you no harm, I promise.”

    Webb glanced over to see Ariadne slowly relaxing from where she’d hunkered down in a feral-looking crouch, eyes gleaming, blackened claws extending from her fingertips. The brightness in her eyes faded as they flickered between Webb and the Curator, then slowly relaxed, although her posture still remained attentive and wary. Protective—not of Faraday, who seemed to be feigning nonchalance, but of Webb.

    They didn’t know how to feel about that, either.

    “It’s fine,” they muttered, tugging the blanket a little more tightly around themself. “We wanted to talk so let’s just… sit down and talk.”

    The Curator watched as Ariadne and Faraday sat down in the other chairs, then turned their attention back to Webb, ducking their head slightly.

    “Can I… fetch tea for everyone?” they offered. At the chorus of polite agreement, the Curator took a drifting step towards the other room, then paused again. “Webb generally prefers Earl Gray. Milk, extra bergamot, rose, or lavender if available. However, as it’s already growing quite late, if you’d like something else…”

    Webb started to answer, but found that their voice had completely given up the ghost. They felt a stinging sensation in their eyes, a burning at the back of their throat. Rather than respond, they just nodded helplessly, shoving their face into the blanket and breathing in deeply, trying to keep their shoulders from shaking.

    “… maybe something like a chamomile,” they heard Faraday suggest politely. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”

    “Ah, a-alright, I’ll… be right back,” the Curator stammered, still in that breathlessly soft tone, sounding somewhat flustered. Webb felt the breeze stir their hair as they vanished from sight.

    It was quiet in the sitting room after that. Rain continued to patter gently against the roof and windows, and the fire crackled. An armchair creaked as Faraday or Ariadne shifted; Webb heard them murmuring softly to each other.

    Webb tugged their hat off, pushing their sunglasses back up into their unruly hair, and pressed the heels of their hands against their eyes, rubbing until they saw spots and stars. They breathed in through their nose, then out through their mouth, and looked up at the others balefully.

    “I don’t suppose you’ll let me make you forget this ever happened?” they suggested.

    Ariadne had jumped a little when addressed, but then just made a face, wrinkling her nose. “Not likely,” she huffed. Then, more gently: “It’s… it’s fine, Webb. I get it.”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Webb said breezily. “Obviously this is all going to plan, isn’t it?”

    Faraday raised an eyebrow. “Well… we are, in fact, here and speaking with the Curator, yes. I suppose in that sense you are perfectly correct.”

    “So just follow my lead and try not to think about my feelings at all, ever, at any time,” Webb suggested.

    “Ah, yes,” Faraday said dryly. “I do see that works out so well for you.”

    “They have a bed, and a bathtub,” Ariadne interrupted. “Do you think they can use it??”

    “Ariadne! That’s rude,” Faraday murmured.

    “It’s not! I’ve just never met one of the shadowfolk before. I’m curious!”

    Shadowfolk. Webb had heard of them, but the stories surrounding them were even wilder than most. Unstudied, usually unseen… they were the monster’s monster. All that Webb knew for certain was that they were able to shapeshift and pass through shadows, and that—supposedly—they showed themself to portend doom.

    That figured.

    Doom reappeared very shortly bearing a tea tray piled high with steaming teacups and a pile of Little Debbie Devil Cremes. Webb knew what kind of cakes they were specifically because, they suspected, the Curator kept them on hand just for Webb.

    “What the fuck,” Webb whispered, immediately shoving one directly in their mouth.

    The Curator settled themself on one of the other chairs, legs crossed, fingers fidgeting slightly. At rest, they seemed perfectly formed and humanoid, down to the smallest details; Webb could make out the thread pattern of their shirt and the small indent to their upper lip, despite the fact that they’d reformed entirely out of nothing right before their eyes.

    “So…” the Curator said hesitantly, looking back and forth between them all. “I got… a lot of what you were telling me, but I’ll admit, it was all a bit… much. I did mean it when I said I wanted to help, but perhaps… proper introductions are in order, first? And then… I suppose I owe you something of an explanation, and I’m happy to… to answer questions, though I’ll admit… I’m not sure where to start.”

    [Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.

    As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]

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