• Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 20

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb gave the place a cursory glance, but didn’t spot Pax or his brightly-colored horns anywhere in the crowd. That didn’t mean much—the place was huge. They didn’t really want to ask about Pax directly, since things like that could get around. But they could either spend time wandering around trying to find him and looking more and more suspicious, or they could settle down in one spot with a good vantage point and try to reel him in.

    “We’d like a table,” they decided on the spot. “Live music—who’s performing tonight?” 

    The moth-girl fluffed up slightly, smiling, gesturing for the three of them to follow her deeper into the practically labyrinthine gambling hall. “Oh, you’ll love it,” she said, wings fluttering as she swayed through the crowd. “Tonight’s performers are Dandelion and the Merry Gentry. They’re quite the energetic bunch.”

    Webb doubted it, but they gave Nettle a distracted smile, adjusting their sunglasses as they glanced around the hall without trying to look too pointed about it. Faraday and Ariadne walked close behind him, sticking next to each other, and for the first time, Faraday seemed visibly out of his element, stiff and stony-faced.

    “What’s wrong?” Webb murmured to him, leaning back a little into his space as they walked so that Faraday could hear Webb over the noise of the crowd. “Don’t get out much?”

    Faraday gave him a brittle grin in return, a sidelong glance. “The last time I was someplace this busy, it was a community center craft market.”

    “Ah, yes, beacons of night life, those are. Don’t worry, grandfather. I’ll keep you safe from grifters out to take advantage of your charming innocence.”

    Faraday made a face, rolling his eyes. “Thanks very much.”  

    Webb could understand how the Drawing Dead would be unsettling even for those who were used to dealing with various denizens of the valley. It was all flashing lights and sounds and glitz painted over a sense of something darker. A raucous chorus of howls split the air as a rowdy group of lycanthropes jostled for supremacy over a game of roulette. On the other side of the hall, a trio of unnervingly tall and thin individuals dressed all in black stood clustered in front of a slot machine, taking turns pulling the lever very slowly with emaciated-looking skeletal hands. Occasionally they’d hum in unison, swaying slightly.

    More than just the casual attendees there to have a good time, Webb was always wary of those that were clearly here for reasons other than fun. There were tables all around the edges of the floor, and even some in overhanging balconies—private, and much too expensive for Webb to even consider—behind which there were further secluded rooms where private parties and clandestine dealings were held.

    It was a great place for information, but Webb always got the impression that they were giving up a little more than they realized in return.

    Nettle led them to a vast area full of tables that were enchanted to float at different heights surrounding a central stage. Each table was draped with a fluttering white cloth, which combined with the moody blue lighting, created the illusion of bobbing jellyfish drifting ghostlike around the room.

    “Please, have a seat, and enjoy your stay,” Nettle murmured, coaxing one of the tables down to ground level so that they could slide onto the attached bench seating. “A server will be around to tempt you presently.”

    Webb slid around easily, waiting for Ariadne and Faraday to join, which they did with considerably more trepidation on Faraday’s part and excitement from Ariadne.

    “Oh wow,” she gasped as the table shuddered and started to idly drift away, joining the orbital circuit around the stage. “This sure is… something else.”

    Webb caught themself smiling over at her, then ducked their head to the side, flustered. “It’s—well, enjoy it while you can. I figured it was one of the best places to get a view of the floor while also keeping our conversation a bit private.” They paused, lowering their voice. “Lore, you’re still with us, right?”

    “Mmhmm,” came a soft hum in return. “Sorry, I also, don’t get out much…” 

    “Do you think you’d be able to safely sneak around a little to see if you can find Pax, without being seen?” 

    There was a little pause, then: “Yes, I can certainly try. Do you… want me to get his attention if I find him, or…?”

    “No. It’s best if nobody knows about you for now, just in case. Just come find me again to let me know. And be careful,” Webb felt themself adding hastily. “If you feel like you’re in danger at any point, come right back.”

    “I will, Webb,” Lore murmured back. Webb couldn’t really hear when Lore was no longer there, but they felt something shift, leaving them more alone than they were a moment before.

    They shifted a little closer to Ariadne and Faraday, who were leaning over to get a better look at the band.

    “Ugh…” Webb muttered, resting their chin in their hand as they caught sight of the singer. He had a burst of fluffy white hair and seemed to be some kind of high elf, one of the sidhe. He was glammed up in glittery makeup and strutting around the stage with an overt amount of enthusiasm as he railed at his guitar. There were a few other fae that made up the rest of the band as well: a satyr, a nixie, and a tall woman in white who was playing the keyboard. 

    “I think they sound nice…” Ariadne mumbled.

    “I’m allergic to the fae,” Webb muttered. “You could say they are not my fae-vorite.” 

    Faraday looked pained. “You could say that, but why would you?”

    Ariadne laughed at least. And Webb was saved from Faraday asking any further prying questions by the arrival of one of the servers, a sleek harpy woman that alighted on the far side of their table, folding her wings around her. Her black-and-gold uniform did little to keep any part of her contained, and she gave the table an overly wide smile, mainly zeroing in on Ariadne. 

    “Well, he-llo there. We will be closing about an hour prior to sunrise, but you’ve still got plenty of time to enjoy the night. And what will it be for you fine people…?” 

    As the others placed orders for drinks—Ariadne specifically requesting that hers be provided with a straw, at which point the harpy seemed to flirtatiously be trying to coax her to take the helmet off—Webb let their attention wander back down to the floor, keeping an eye out for Pax’s obnoxious, brightly-colored horns. He should be like a pylon, if he were making his way around this way.

    They found their attention caught, instead, by an unusual looking procession of people making their way towards one of the stairwells up to the private balconies. The woman in the lead was alarmingly tall and dressed from head-to-toe in red—which was what had caught Webb’s eye. All around her were half a dozen others dressed in black that seemed to be some kind of entourage. The crowds parted around her like water. 

    Webb glanced back at the others and got their server’s attention. “Hey, you.”

    The harpy turned with some mild irritation away from flirting with Ariadne, then did a bit of a double-take, feathers bristling. They smoothed down again after a moment of surprise, and she shifted closer. “Mmhh, yes?”

    Webb shifted, uncomfortably aware of how far off the ground they were, and jerked their head back towards the group they’d spotted. “Who’s that over there? The tall woman in red.”

    The harpy followed their gaze, her own golden eyes sharpening into focus. “Oh,” she said, coyly surprised. “You don’t know? Well, I suppose she does run with quite exclusive crowds.”

    Her talons scratched lightly at the tablecloth, and she tilted her head to one side, expectant. Webb sighed heavily, fishing out a couple of crumpled bills from their wallet and dropping them on the table. The harpy picked them up and examined them with a show of mild discontent.

    “If she’s that well known, I can ask someone else,” Webb pointed out.

    “Oh, I suppose,” the harpy hummed, sliding the bills away to Webb-cared-not-where. “That’s Veracity Yun. Quite the influential vampire lord around these parts.” 

    It took all of Webb’s effort to keep their face schooled into mild disinterest. “Good to know,” they said with a shrug. “I’ll get a Dark and Stormy. That’ll be all for now.”

    The harpy gave them one more sharp look over her beaky nose before giving the group a gallant bow, wing folded in front of her, before vaulting back down off the table and plunging away into the hall.

    Ariadne had leaned all the way forward on the table like an excited housecat. “Veracity!” she hissed at Webb. 

    “I know, I know,” they muttered, rubbing their temples. “That’s… I mean, that’s not surprising, but it’s definitely convenient.” Too convenient? It was hard to say. Webb rubbed their jaw uneasily, glancing back down again, but Veracity was long gone—the door was closed tightly.

    They jumped as they felt a cold, slithering sensation against their ankle.

    “Webb,” came Lore’s voice, soft and urgent. “Webb, I found Pax.”

     “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Webb grumbled. “Great, you found him. Where is he? Why do you sound upset?”

    “He, um, he saw you, too.”

    “He what—”

    The table rocked as a heavy shape hit it. Webb jerked their head up to see—well, exactly what they expected to see: an imp half sprawled across the table like a cat who’d just pounced on its prey, his arms outstretched, his knees braced on the bench, his back curved, his ass in the air, his tail swishing wildly back and forth as his small, batlike wings flapped to counterbalance him.

    Pax hadn’t changed in all the years that Webb had known him. For someone that small—barely five feet tall, and weighing a hundred pounds on a good day—he seemed to be entirely made of presence. Like the other employees of the Drawing Dead, he dressed in black and gold: today it was a corset vest ribbed in gold, tight-fitting black pants that laced up the side, and gold-buckled heels that looked untenable to walk in. His skin and horns were a color that couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be red or pink; his hair, eyes, and tongue a vivid shade of blue-green.

     And as always, that incorrigible grin, and those cross-pupilled eyes that always seemed to be able to look right through you. He was looking at Webb, now, easing down to rest his chin in his hands, elbows on the table. 

    “As delighted as I am to see you, lovely, I must admit, you have come at the strangest time,” Pax said, draping dramatically across the table with his arm outstretched. “But still, I’ll always make time for you. But—and, oh! Who is this? Are these your friends? Webb, have you been holding out on me?”

    [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 19

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    “Can someone turn on the lights?” Webb grumbled. “I want to see if Faraday has bedhead.”

    “I don’t,” Faraday said smoothly, at the same time Ariadne cheerfully added, “He definitely doesn’t.”

    Lore did, however, obligingly turn the lights on—dimly, bless their shadowy little heart. Webb didn’t have to claw themself into wakefulness hissing and scratching. They reluctantly sat up, flushing a little at the sight of Ariadne sprawled happily back and grinning over at them. The undershirt she’d worn to bed left much less to imagination than her hoodie or biker leathers. They quickly averted their gaze.

    Ariadne stretched out even more, letting out a laugh. “It’s okay if you look,” she whispered loudly. “I paid good money for these. I want people I like to enjoy them.”

    “You didn’t pay for them, darling,” Faraday said patiently, sitting up as well. Irritatingly, he of course looked charismatically sleep-rumpled, though it was odd to see him out of his outrageous coat, which was folded carefully over the chair immediately next to the bed. Webb was relieved to see that Faraday, though tall and lean, wasn’t overly muscled—that would have been deeply unfair, and an absolute disaster.

    “That’s true, but it’s less of a fun joke that way,” Ariadne stuck out her tongue. Webb was looking again, obviously, having been invited to. She gave them a smile, soft. Her cheeks were still much pinker than they had been earlier in the night. “Faraday did it, uh, pro bono.”

    Webb snorted, but gave her a quizzical look. She gave them a nose-wrinkle in return, which Webb had begun to realize was an Ariadne thing that was, unfortunately, endearing.

    “I spent, you know, the first thirty years of my life hating my body and how people viewed me,” Ariadne clarified, matter-of-fact, “and then I met Faraday. He helped a lot, both with helping me figure out gender shit, and weaving the magic to—to make me look the way that felt right.”

    Webb resonated with that viscerally; they had no particular desire to change up any of their parts most days, but as an agender person, the less that other people perceived them incorrectly—or at all, ever, in any way—the better. They simply did not care for the mortifying ordeal of being known.

    “Would that every trans person had a dreamy wizard boyfriend that could cast shapeshifting spells,” they said dryly, though they tried to keep their tone soft, lightly touching their hand to Ariadne’s.

    Faraday laughed softly. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that’s completely off the table for your future, is it, Webb?” he teased.

    Webb sat bolt upright, immediately trying to scramble directly off the bed and onto the floor. “Nope,” they called back loudly. “Pizza time! Pizza and planning time! No time for feelings!”

    For some reason they both seemed to think this was funny, which was again, unfair, given that Webb was serious about these things at all times. They stole Ariadne’s hoodie, putting it on and stomping out into the other room.

    Lore morphed in beside them as Webb flopped down in front of the fire. They too seemed to be in a good mood, which was frankly discrimination, as Webb was obviously a victim here.

    “I hope you slept well,” Lore said softly.

    “It was fine,” Webb muttered, flicking open one of the pizza boxes and grabbing a slice. “I’m ready and raring to go be social and imperiled.”

    They weren’t ready. The situation with Lore had ended up so unexpectedly that Webb was now doubting everything they’d hyped themself up for in terms of meeting with Pax, and they were getting very nervous about it. Pax knew things. Pax had known them—a long, long time ago, when Webb was a very different person.

    Pax was one of the few people from before that Webb had begrudgingly let back into their life, and that had only been by accident. Webb had agreed to a business meeting at the Drawing Dead with a third party without realizing that Pax had started working there in the intervening years. Pax had been strangely emotional, especially for the usually unflappable demon, and Webb had to be very firm that their relationship was, under no circumstances, going to return to what it had once been.

    Over the last few years, their relationship had fallen into more of an acceptable pattern with occasional meetings that Webb tried to keep as business-forward as possible. Still, Pax was a fantastic actor—Webb really had no way of knowing what was actually going on behind his inscrutably cheerful façade. It could fall anywhere between “I’m actually madly in love with you” and “I’m fucking you over, no hard feelings, it’s just business” and Webb wouldn’t be particularly surprised by either.

    “What’s this ‘Pax’ person like?’ Lore asked softly. Webb jerked their head up in surprise and raised their eyebrows.

    “…were you reading my mind, Lore? That’s rude.”

    “No!” Lore protested. “I mean. I’m able to, if I wanted to, but I wasn’t then, no. It just seemed… relevant.”

    Webb… filed that bit of information away for later. “He’s… energetic. Charismatic. A big, in-your-face extrovert that likes to be the center of attention. But he’s clever, too. He likes to have fun, but he knows that life can become unpleasant very quickly, even for a demon, if you don’t have powerful people on your side.”

    Ariadne and Faraday had come out to join them as well by this point, settling down on either side of the pizza box and helping themselves. Technically only Faraday and Webb needed to eat, but Ariadne obviously liked to.

    “What does Pax do at the Drawing Dead?” Faraday asked curiously.

    “He’s a host. One of the people whose job it is to just walk around looking attractive, trying to keep people coming back, getting them to spend more money and buy more drinks, that sort of thing. Tries to resolve ruffled feathers and de-escalate things before security needs to, if it comes to that.”

    “So it shouldn’t be too hard to get his attention, and it won’t be weird if he talks to us for a bit,” Ariadne nodded, pleased with that answer.

    “And you said he was an imp, a demon,” Faraday said. “Is he likely to try to pull anything questionable in terms of making deals? What do you usually offer him in exchange for intel?”

    Webb shrugged. “Other information, usually. Sometimes I’ll come across something that’s useless to me, or too advanced for my clients, and I’ll pass it along.” They made a face after a moment, grabbing another slice of pizza. “Sometimes he just makes me try drinks or play cards with him when he’s bored.”

    “Ah,” Faraday murmured noncommittally, just giving Webb an infuriatingly cryptic shrug when Webb glanced his way. They scowled.

    “Don’t expect it to go as well as things have with Lore,” they warned. “Pax is smarter and more cutthroat than he looks, and he will try to fool you into underestimating him.”

    “Do you think it’s safe to just approach him directly?” Lore asked quietly. “If he’s potentially allied with Grimm… ”

    “I think approaching openly is the safest way. There’s a lot of dark dealings going on at the Drawing Dead. They have a reputation to maintain as appearing to be a safe, neutral ground. Nobody wants to risk getting banned, or dealing with their security.”

    Reminded of dangerous enforcers, Webb fetched their notebook and flipped it open to the most recent page. Disappointingly, it was blank. They shrugged and snapped it shut.

    “No luck?” Ariadne murmured.

    “Guess they don’t feel like talking,” Webb said. “Either that or they’re actually getting a full night’s rest.”

    “Speaking of which,” Lore said apologetically. “We… should probably get going soon. Do you… have a way of getting there?”

    “Assuming you can make yourself compact and don’t blow away in the wind at high speeds, I think we can make It work,” Ariadne said brightly.

    Lore nodded. “It won’t be a problem.” They didn’t elaborate, but then, Webb wasn’t particularly expecting them to.

    Webb stole the last pizza slice before Faraday had a chance to, rising to their feet while still eating. “Onwards to mayhem and anxiety-inducing social interactions,” they muttered.

    Ariadne grabbed Webb’s discarded cardigan, shrugging it on before grabbing her leather jacket. “You’re going to be great,” she told Webb quietly. “We’re going to be right there with you.”

    “I know,” Webb said.

    That was at least half of the reason why they were worried.

    ***

    The Drawing Dead was much deeper into the heart of the valley, but it didn’t take very long to reach it with Ariadne zooming along the darkened, largely-empty streets. Faraday, in spider form, was tucked against the back of her neck, clinging securely to her hair out of the worst of the wind. Lore had vanished when they reached the bike, but assured the rest of the group that they would be with them at their destination.

    Webb had been to the Drawing Dead dozens of times before, but it never failed to impress as it did the first time and every time thereafter. Multiple stories tall, the vast, sprawling complex loomed brightly in the darkened streets, casting the immediate area in a pool of red and gold light. A wide balcony that skirted the western side of the building opened up to a riverside view; Webb could see it crowded with people in fancy dress, clinking glasses and filling the air with the swell of voices. It was clearly enchanted to repel the rain.

    “I immediately feel underdressed,” Ariadne whispered after she’d parked her bike and let Faraday free in a secluded spot to transform back. She patted herself down anxiously.

    “I could fix that for you,” Faraday offered, running both hands through his hair, with the air of a man who hadn’t felt underdressed a day in his life.

    “Save your strength,” Webb shook their head. “You’ll get all kinds in there. Besides, being a looming figure in a helmet and full leathers is a look all on its own.”

    “I don’t loom,” Ariadne protested, but seemed content enough with that logic, falling into step slightly behind Faraday and Webb as they headed towards the doors. Webb heard a sibilant murmuring that reassured them that Lore was still with the group, though they’d clearly opted to remain unseen, for now.

    Inside, the Drawing Dead was even more overwhelming. Bells, sirens, and the sound of laughter clashed from the vast casino floor. The ceiling in the entrance hall was dizzyingly, physics-defyingly high, lined with enchanted windows that swirled with clouds and crackled with lightning, like a contained storm. There was an enormous fountain front-and-center that contained both an alluring, naked statue of a water nymph pouring water out of her cupped palms—as well as several actual water nymphs who draped themselves over the sides and called out beseechingly to passers-by.

    A dark-skinned young woman with wide red eyes and fuzzy little antennae gave them a bright smile as they headed in, immediately stepping forward to greet them. She was dressed in a version of the Drawing Dead uniform—sleek and black and showy and lined with gold—that allowed her long wings to drape comfortably against her back, like a cloak.

    “Welcome,” she murmured, “to the Drawing Dead. My name is Nettle. What pleasures suit your fancies tonight?”

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

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

    previous | next

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 18

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    This section contains moderately mature content.

    Webb prided themself on their witty repartee. Their cunning linguistic ability. Their capacity for shittalking in virtually any situation. It was quite embarrassing to find that the only thing they were capable of mumbling was: “Please don’t stop.”

    They felt Ariadne’s lips move—a grin, maybe. But she seemed too eager to say anything in response, leaning in and pressing her mouth against the curve of Webb’s neck, letting out a little sigh as her teeth grazed Webb’s skin, stinging faintly, before sinking in.

    It was every bit as good as Webb remembered it being. Better. Embarrassingly good. The sharp, sudden prick of Ariadne’s fangs, exhilarating in its own right, was followed by a swell and bloom of heat that rushed through Webb from head to toe, drawing an involuntary gasp out of them. Ariadne’s mouth was hot, her tongue dragging against Webb skin as she swallowed, and Webb bit down hard on their own lower lip to stifle a groan.

    This part was heady, dizzying, in a masochistic sort of way—feeling pleasure seep in as they palpably experienced the sensation of something being taken from them, their lifeforce starting to ebb away. Their senses were heightened. They felt everything keenly—the scratch of the carpet under their palms, the heat of Ariadne’s body pressed against them—and every sound was loud, from the rustling of Ariadne’s hoodie to the crackling of the fire, the audible parting of Ariadne’s lips as she drew back briefly, her breath coming fast.

    Webb clenched their hands briefly, then recklessly draped both arms around Ariadne, tugging her back down, tilting their head further to the side with a breathless noise. “Again,” they demanded in a low voice.

    Ariadne let out a startled noise, hoarse and almost delirious. “Bite, again? I don’t, don’t need to—”

    She bit again, a little higher up, a sharp nip followed by a deeper puncture. Webb let out a shaky gasp this time, their fingers rucking up the hem of Ariadne’s hoodie, clutching onto to her. She responded by sucking eagerly at their neck, moaning a little as she drank greedily, one of her hands framing Webb’s face, tangling in their hair. She was half on top of them now, braced on her knees and one elbow, nipping and nuzzling her way up until she nipped at the edge of Webb’s pointed ear.

    Something absolutely short-circuited in Webb’s head and they made a noise they really hoped Ariadne wasn’t paying attention to.

    Unfortunately, with her face pressed so closely against Webb’s, it seemed like she had heard it, which meant that Webb was forced to take drastic measures. When Ariadne tugged back with another breathless gasp, turning to stare at Webb and probably to ask them to explain their whimpers, Webb did the only sensible thing to stop her from speaking, sliding their hands up her back and tugging her down into a kiss.

    It was a light kiss at first—they were both in a bit of a frenzy, but Webb didn’t want to wildly misread the mood and apply tongue where tongue was not wanted. Ariadne seemed startled for no more than a hot second, though, immediately easing into it and parting her lips more than willingly.

    The kiss was hot and wet and fast and eager and messy. Webb felt teeth clack, and didn’t stop. Ariadne’s fangs caught briefly on Webb’s tongue piercing, and she retaliated by dragging her tongue against one of the rings in their lip. Her hands were rucking up Webb’s curls, tugging and petting. They felt a little pinch at the tip of their ear and bit at Ariadne’s lower lip, earning a pleased growl in return.

    Somewhere around the time they were hauling Ariadne up to straddle their waist, their hands skating up her back and over her bare shoulderblades, Webb heard footsteps on the stairs. They weren’t altogether certain that alone was enough to get them to stop, but Ariadne clearly heard it as well, pausing to sit up slightly, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Her cheeks were flushed a bright, rosy pink, and she had blood smeared on her mouth all the way down her jaw.

    She looked dazed and bright-eyed and a little feral, looking down at Webb with an expression that was surprised and delighted and faintly confused, and that was a little too much for Webb to handle—a thousand watts of someone frankly way too good for them.

    Webb turned their head to look towards the entranceway as Faraday appeared at the top of the stairs, wearing his gaudy coat loosely as he towelled off his hair. He froze in place, eyebrows going way, way up.

    “Oh,” he said politely. “By all means, don’t mind me, I was just. Passing through. Carry on.”

    At the same time, Lore rematerialized halfway into one of the armchairs, their hands over their face. “I’m sorry Webb, I should have noticed him coming and stopped him, I was just, I got, um, distracted—”

    Webb let their head fall heavily back against the floor, throwing an arm over their eyes and groaning. “I hate everyone in this room. I’m going to bed. Wait, give me all the Devil Cremes, and then I’m going to bed, with the cakes…”

    “I’m sorry, Webb!” said beautiful, traitorous Ariadne, who was laughing so much that she could barely disentangle herself from where the two of them had gotten frenetically handsy on the rug. “Oh no, oh dear, you’re a mess, I’m a mess…”

    “I’ll fetch you two some washcloths, shall I?” Faraday offered mildly, heading into the other room without waiting for a response. Webb groaned, sitting up and shuffling back to give themself space. They couldn’t quite see how much damage was done, but they felt a significant degree of stickiness from their mouth down to their collarbone. At least they made a frankly zealous effort to wear black.

    Ariadne was eying them keenly, licking her teeth clean. “Are you sure you don’t want me to help you clean that up a little…?”

    “No, no, I think it’s well and thoroughly crossed the weirdness event horizon…!” Webb protested. They tried to acknowledge Faraday as little as possible when he returned with the warm washcloths, though they did take theirs to start wiping down their mouth and neck. The wounds were already almost completely closed, though they’d likely bear the little pinprick marks for a couple days.

    Faraday sank into an armchair opposite, idly patting Ariadne’s hair as she cleaned herself up as well. He looked infuriatingly amused. “You didn’t really need to put that many holes in them,” he told Ariadne fondly in a not-that-quiet aside.

    “I’m sorry!” Ariadne wailed softly into her washcloth. “They tasted like, like macarons…”

    “Macarons?!” Webb echoed, affronted.

    “Like moist tres leches cake…”

    No. Which is it? It can’t be both, those are nothing alike!” Webb demanded.

    “… besides,” Ariadne told Faraday, ignoring Webb pointedly, though the color was still high in her cheeks, “Webb likes that sort of thing. Webb, you have a tongue piercing?”

    Webb obligingly stuck their tongue all the way out, rolling their eyes. “Sure,” they drawled. “It’s because piercings are stainless steel, which is mostly iron. One day, I’ll cross paths with the fae that wronged me, and I’ll suck his dick off as punishment.”

    Ariadne looked like she didn’t know whether to laugh or be horrified, and settled for doing both. Faraday raised one of his unnecessarily perfect eyebrows.

    “I think it has to be cold iron, Webb.”

    Webb shrugged. “Maybe regular steel is effective in close range. I’m willing to vengefully suck dick to find out.”

    Lore chose that moment to ooze out of the ceiling like an enormous, precipitous droplet of condensation, dumping about a dozen pre-wrapped snack cakes into Webb’s lap.

    “You should eat,” they advised Webb seriously. “After a blood donation.”

    Webb gathered up as many of the cakes as they could, which meant shedding them in a haphazard candy trail back to the bedroom as they stalked away. Pausing to fling them all onto the bed, they realized that nobody had followed, let out a sigh, and dragged themself back to the door, draping themself dramatically against the doorframe.

    Please,” they sighed. “I’m exhausted. Are you all coming, or what? It’s colder in here, and I demand to be the functionally platonic and utilitarian sandwich filling.”

    The slightly worried expression on Ariadne’s face cleared up immediately, and she gave them a wide, toothy smile, rising to her feet and seizing Faraday’s hand. “Yes, yes,” she said. “We’re coming. It’s the least I can do, right?”

    “It is,” Webb agreed, “the least you can do.”

    They turned to find Lore watching with a little smile on their face, head tilted to the side. Before Webb could react, Lore leaned in and lightly brushed up against Webb, an ephemeral embrace.

    “Get some rest,” they murmured. “I’ll keep an eye out for any danger, and keep the fire lit. I’ll wake you all in a few hours.”

    Webb swallowed, their throat suddenly dry, and ducked their head. “Thanks,” they said roughly. “I owe you a lot.”

    “It’s my pleasure to help,” Lore said softly. “It’s nice to feel… meaning.”

    Meaning. That stuck in Webb’s head as they stripped down to their tank top and boxers, crawling under the heavy blankets that smelled nothing like home. They pulled them over their head and shivered, hearing Ariadne and Faraday moving around in the room as they dimmed the lights and moved to join them.

    The thought of sharing a bed with them was foreign and terrifying, but, they were loath to admit, the idea of being alone tonight was even worse.

    The blankets shifted, the room dark enough now that Webb—even with their enhanced vision—could only see in shades of gray. They felt Ariadne climb in first, wriggly and hot to the touch, now, after feeding; Faraday followed a bit more cautiously, giving Webb their space.

    Webb immediately shoved their cold feet against him.

    “Ah, fuck—” Faraday protested. “Webb.

    There was a crinkle from the other side. “What is—is that a cake wrapper?” Ariadne complained.

    “Shhh,” Webb murmured. “I’m trying to sleep.”

    And despite everything—the strangeness, and the despair, and the discomfort of an unfamiliar bed curled up between two people that were already too familiar—Webb found that sleep claimed them quickly, swift and deep and relentless.

    ***

    They dreamt, as always, of the hunt.

    ***

    Morning, if it could even be called that, came far too quickly. They awoke feeling warm and secure and blissfully comfortable—only to find that they’d curled up in the crook of Faraday’s arm in their sleep, their head resting on his shoulder, face pressed into his hair. They jerked upright so quickly they almost smacked into Ariadne, who had been shaking their shoulder to wake them, and who let out a squeak.

    “Oh! Sorry…” she whispered apologetically, her bright eyes almost glowing red in the dim light. “Lore says it’s time to get going if we want to make it to the Drawing Dead before it closes closer to dawn…”

    “I also ordered pizza,” said the shadows at the foot of the bed, which made Webb jump before recognizing Lore’s soft, sibilant voice in the darkness. “Not, um, the healthiest breakfast, but the options are limited in terms of who’s willing to risk delivering out here at 3AM…”

    Webb groaned, rubbing sleep from their eyes, and flopped heavily back onto the bed. They definitely had to get going… They had let themself relax enough that much of the night’s events and the looming threads had vanished from their mind for a bit, but now they had work 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 17

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb took a seat in front of the fire next to Ariadne, stretching their legs out and resting their weight back on their hands. “Thanks,” they said. “It doesn’t surprise me that Faraday takes forever in the shower. I’ve seen that hair.”

    Ariadne laughed. “I like to be supportive, especially because I do enjoy looking at him.”

    “Fair enough,” Webb said agreeably. They let out a sigh after a moment, watching the fire rather than Ariadne, feeling the light heat on their face. “He’s… he’s an alright guy.”

    “You two… seemed like you got off the wrong foot, a little,” Ariadne said hesitantly. “Though, I suppose—it’s been a bit of a stressful night for all of us.”

    Webb’s lips twisted in a wry grin. “You noticed me barking at him all night, you mean. It’s alright. I… he just stirred up some memories of someone I didn’t want to think about, and I have, understandably I think, not been at my best tonight. It’s nothing personal.”

    Ariadne exhaled. “Ah… that can be tough, I know. I’m… I mean, that doesn’t sound fun, but I’m glad it wasn’t anything more personal. He can be stubborn, and vain, and kind of cocky at times, but he really is the kindest, most wonderful person…”

    Webb rolled their eyes, making a face and nudging her in the side. “You don’t need to sing his praises,” they complained. “I’m too single and stressed out to handle it. You two are fine. You’re remarkably good, beautiful people. The type that stories are written about. Adventurous romances with heaving bosoms and great hair. He’s a romance cover Fabio.”

    Ariadne let out an indignant, hysterical giggle. “No!” she gasped, horrified.

    Webb glanced over at her, grinning widely at the expression on her face. “Feel the power of his passion! Experience unforgettable ecstasy in his arms! With one look, he ignites the fire in your—!”

    Ariadne grabbed a couch cushion and smacked them with it, still laughing. Webb joined in, sprawling backwards, letting her continue to weakly smush it onto their face. “Nooo,” Ariadne groaned. Then: “Wait, were those real taglines? How did you know those?”

    Webb grabbed the pillow and swung it back, using it to prop up their head instead. “Such violence,” they sighed. “And then unfounded accusations…”

    Ariadne rolled her eyes. She had a nice expression on her face, Webb thought—more relaxed, now, that little worry line vanished from between her brows. Without thinking, they reached up to lightly tug at her hair, earning a surprised blink in response.

    “Webb?” she asked uncertainly, looking down at them.

    Webb hadn’t thought that far in advance. They stared back at her, then dropped their hand again, turning over onto their side. “You’d seemed a bit… troubled, before I came to sit down. What’s… I mean, obviously there’s a lot on your mind, and I imagine I know the worst of it, but if there’s anything I can help with…”

    Ariadne’s expression softened. “Oh. That’s… very nice of you.”

    “I need you focused and in proper form so we don’t all die horribly at the hands of vampires or sword-wielding phantoms,” Webb muttered. “My niceness has nothing to do with it.”

    “Uh huh.” Ariadne grabbed another pillow and flopped down beside Webb. “That’s true. I’m so sorry I accused you of altruistic intentions.”

    “Well. Just don’t do it again.”

    Ariadne laughed. It was a pleasant sound, light and airy, like it surprised her every time she felt that happiness bubble up. She sobered again after a moment. “I’m… fine. I feel like maybe to you it’s come across like I’m a woman with a plan, here to drag you into my noble and self-sacrificing quest, but I’m honestly just… a big scared idiot that tumbled into this by accident.”

    “You could have just stayed out of it,” Webb pointed out. “Let me get apprehended by the Inquisitors, left me to my fate. Let the vampire clans sort out their own shit. You’ve clearly had a good thing going with Fabio for a while. Why risk it?”

    Ariadne twitched a bit at the nickname, but managed to stay focused, which Webb found honestly impressive in its own way. “I could have,” she agreed quietly. “But I’ve still got quite a few years ahead of me, and that’s a very long time to have to live with being a coward.”

    Webb whistled softly, draping one arm over their eyes. “Some of us manage,” they said lightly. “But yeah, I’m aware that’s a common sentiment.”

    Ariadne was quiet for a moment. “Yeah,” she said eventually. “Anyway, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a hero or anything, but… I’m going to do my best to keep you safe. And to do something about Grimm before more people get hurt.”

    “I don’t need…” Webb started, then just trailed off uselessly. Who were they kidding? Of course they needed protection. They always had. “… I mean. I appreciate it. Try not to do anything stupid. I don’t want any of you getting hurt.”

    They jumped a little when they felt Ariadne tangle her icy cold fingers with Webb’s, giving their hand a squeeze. They moved their other arm so they could peek at her with one baleful eye. She was leaning close, her eyes bright, one fang lightly indenting her full lower lip.

    “I am so good at doing stupid things,” she said earnestly. “But I’m willing to do my best. For you.”

    “Fuck,” Webb gasped. “Those are so cold. You were holding tea, under a blanket, in front of a fire, are you fucking Elsa? Please actually do let it go.

    Ariadne let out a flustered noise, tugging her hand back. “Sorry! I’m—”

    Webb dragged both of their hands down their face, already internally chiding themself for their impending decision, and rolled over to look down at Ariadne. “I said literally thirty seconds ago that I needed you in good shape to protect me from ravenous vampire hordes who have a specific bone to pick with me. You’re hungry, right?”

    Ariadne’s eyes widened. “I… am running a little, a little light… I’m sure I can pick up, um, you can get blood from some of the corner stores, in little packages like a Capri Sun, I can just—” she rambled, looking flustered.

    “And they probably taste like the equivalent of getting one of those horrible prepackaged cold hamburgers,” Webb said impatiently. “Also, who knows what’s in those? Besides,” they added, looking her over, raising an eyebrow. “You haven’t exactly been subtle.”

    Ariadne whined, covering her face with both hands and stomping her feet against the rug. “You smelled good before only then you took a bath and now you smell like a cupcake!” she wailed softly.

    Webb stared down at her for a long moment, then abruptly burst out laughing, collapsing back down, half on the pillow and half on top of Ariadne. They heard her let out a surprised little oof, before she started to tremble, then helplessly start to laugh as well.

    “… okay,” she gasped after a moment. “Okay, okay. If you don’t mind—I won’t take a lot. I don’t want you being too out of it later, either.” She shifted slightly, hand skating lightly up Webb’s arm, touching at their jaw. They felt an impulsive desire to pull away, but forced themself to relax, letting out a heavy breath and trying to make themself more comfortable.

    “I can promise you that this is not the first time that I’ve let someone bite me,” Webb said dryly, which was completely true. But this was the first time that it was with someone they actually planned to continue having some sort of meaningful interaction with afterwards, which had to be why they felt a little strange about it, their stomach fluttering, their heart beating a little faster.

    Ariadne, of course, would have to have noticed that. She swallowed, licking her lips.  Her expression was more focused now, her ruby red eyes heavy-lidded as she eased Webb back, leaning over them, her pale hair sliding down like a curtain on either side of their faces. For a wild moment, Webb imagined closing the distance and kissing her; had to force their hands to grip the carpet to keep them from sliding down her waist.

    She tilted Webb’s chin up with two fingers, leaned down, and pressed her lips lightly against Webb’s neck, letting out a warm gust of breath. Webb felt their heart hammering, their breath catching in their throat. They heard the crackle of the fire and breathed in the scent of Ariadne’s hair, sweet and freshly-washed.

    “Are you nervous?” Ariadne whispered. “Should I stop?”

    [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 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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