Halloween 2021 IF

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 48

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    All Webb could think of to say under the circumstances was: “Fuck!”

    Ariadne had put herself between Webb and the sliding doors, but the gondola was, unfortunately, almost entirely made of windows. Great for sight-seeing, not so great for being harassed by malevolent birds.

    Birds was the best descriptor Webb could manage, but that fell woefully short. These were snowy-white, raven-shaped, and enormous—each one easily half the size of a fully-grown adult. They each had four wings, a wickedly sharp beak, and what appeared to be seven bright blue eyes: three up each side of their face and one splitting it vertically down the middle.

    In other words, “What the hell are those?” Webb demanded.

    “Bad??” Ariadne yelped, taking an offensive stance and baring her teeth out at them.

    Something from the other side, clearly,” Faraday said in a low voice, crouching down next to Webb. “Stay in the center of the car, Ariadne.”

    “I want to fistfight a bird.”

    “I know you want to fistfight a bird, but I think things will go very poorly for us if we open the doors,” Faraday said with teeteringly tense patience.

    “I think the birds are going to have a say in that whether we want them to or not…!” Webb said, their voice raising in alarm as one of them rapped loudly at the glass with a wickedly sharp beak, causing it to splinter very slightly. “Isn’t that stuff, like, massively reinforced?”

    “I haven’t really researched it personally but I would assume so!”

    “I’m calling vampire OSHA!” Webb hissed back, wincing and ducking down as another one of the not-ravens swooped down, smashing bodily into the side of the car and making it bounce unsettlingly on the steel cable.

    “Is that—I don’t think giant evil attack birds are a result of lax application of workplace safety regulations—”

    Please,” Ariadne hollered. “Am I gonna pry this door open and brawl with the birds or not??”

    “No!” Webb and Faraday yelled back.

    That said, it wasn’t like Webb had any better ideas. Faraday already said that his magic wasn’t particularly well-suited to combat, and as far as Webb knew, Ariadne wasn’t well-suited to being suspended on a wire hundreds of feet in the air, vampire or not. Which left—what? Trying to talk to the birds? Trying to convince the birds to leave them the fuck alone like they were some kind of one night stand that had overstayed their welcome?

    It was worth a shot.

    Hauling themself up, Webb leaned up against the glass, pressing their face close to one of the creatures who had perched on the rail outside, making eye contact with its many, many eyes.

    “Fuck off, bird,” they said. Then, when nothing seemed to happen, they added more forcefully: “What do you want? Leave me alone—!”

    There was a raucous chorus of calls and croaks, followed by the reverberating thud of another not-raven smashing against the side of the gondola. Up above, Webb started to hear a rhythmic pitter-patter of sharp beaks against the metal roof.

    Faraday looked up, expression growing even more concerned, brows drawn heavily. “Are they—going after the cable attachment?”

    Ariadne looked up as well, clawed fingers flexing. “Faraday, we have to do something—”

    Webb turned back to the window again. This time, rather than trying to say or ask anything, they just focused all their energy—their fear, their anger, their frustration—and willed as hard as they could. It’s not going to happen. Don’t even fucking think about it.

    For a moment, they were sure this had failed again, and they felt a humiliated sense of bitterness welling up in their chest, burning their throat. What exactly had they been expecting to happen, there? With useless borrowed abilities that they didn’t even want—

    Then the not-raven in front of them abruptly seized up, its wings freezing mid-stroke. No longer being held aloft by anything, it toppled directly backwards, sinking with rapid finality towards the ground far below.

    A splitting pain pierced Webb’s temple, and they clutched their head with both hands. All around them, the not-ravens suddenly burst into a flurry of croaking screams and beating wings.

    “Webb?” That was Faraday’s voice, concerned and startled, warbling into focus like a poorly-tuned radio. Faraday’s warm hands gripping Webb’s shoulder. “Webb, what happened?”

    “They’re leaving…!” Ariadne gasped.

    Webb looked up, their vision still swimming slightly, and found that she was right. The not-ravens, still croaking and cawing loudly, were peeling off and soaring away towards the treeline. Webb wasn’t sure what had happened to the one that had fallen, but it seemed to have set something off in the others.

    As they scanned the darkened woods below, though, they thought they saw it again—a hint of movement between the trees. A large shape. The sensation of someone watching them. Patient. Waiting.

    This time, they didn’t say anything to the others.

    “Webb!” Ariadne’s voice this time, as she flung her arms around Webb from behind. “What did you do? Are you alright?”

    “I’m fine,” Webb said with a shaky sigh, tugging at them both and sinking back onto the bench again. “I don’t… know. I just—looked at them really hard? I guess?”

    “That sounds really dubious but I don’t know enough about your magic to argue,” Ariadne whispered, kissing at Webb’s temple. Webb grumbled a little, but didn’t pull away. Their head still hurt, but it was fading to a dull background throb.

    Faraday still looked concerned, eyes scanning the skies around them, but eventually he relaxed a little, giving Webb’s hand a squeeze. “Just take it easy for now,” he said softly. “But let’s keep an eye out. That was… lucky, but we don’t know if anything else is going to be on the lookout.”

    “What do you think that was about?” Webb asked, tilting their head back, eyes closed. “If they were sent by the vampires, I don’t exactly see why they’d try to harry us on our way to gently and politely deposit ourselves into their open mouths…”

    Ariadne shook her head. “That wouldn’t make any sense…” she agreed. “Besides, I’ve never seen anything like those things in my life.”

    “Then it was either a random event, or…” Or something and somebody Webb really didn’t want to think about. They especially did not enjoy the idea of that person being aware that Webb was back in the forest. Despite what had just happened, they felt somewhat relieved, for a moment, that they were this far up in the air where creatures on foot probably wouldn’t be able to reach them.

    Faraday seemed to pick up on that stress, giving Webb’s hand a little squeeze. “Try not to think about it too much for now,” he suggested quietly. “One thing at a time. We’ll deal with whatever’s waiting for us at the chateau, and worry about what’s lurking in the woods later.”

    “If it’ll let us wait that long,” Webb pointed out dryly.

    Ariadne sighed, flopping against Webb and sticking her legs out in front of her, wiggling her feet back and forth. “Now I’m all riled up without a release,” she complained. “My adrenaline’s just—AHH!

    Both Webb and Faraday jumped as Ariadne let out a shriek. Following her gaze, Webb felt their own heart give a little leap in their chest as they saw a face looking back at them from the darkened glass.

    A moment later, Webb heaved a sigh, thrusting their arms out in front of them. “Lore,” they scolded, cranky. “Do you have to do that?”

    The face in the window faded away into nothingness, but a moment later, shadow and smoke unfurled at Webb’s feet, taking the shape of a body filling up their arms, a weight on their lap. “I’m sorry,” Lore murmured, looking genuinely apologetic. “I didn’t mean to…”

    “I know, I know,” Webb sighed. “You’re just naturally spooky.”

    Ariadne grumbled, reaching out to pinch Lore’s cheek. “Welcome back,” she said begrudgingly, then continued more fondly, clearly forgiving them instantly for the momentary fright. “How was everything? What did you see?”

    Lore looked a little shy at the touch, then more serious at the question. “Nothing we didn’t really expect,” they said slowly. “It’s pretty lively. Lots of lights, music. There are what appear to be guards around, slick-looking vampires in dark suits standing around in pairs, but nobody is getting identified or checked out on their way off the gondola.”

    “What about the chateau?” Faraday asked.

    Lore nodded. “Some guards at the door there, but they didn’t seem to be paying much attention to anybody coming or going—more like just keeping an eye out for trouble.”

    “So we could pass on through, if we went in the front door,” Ariadne mused. “Unless they are looking out for Webb, or Faraday and I, in which case…”

    “We could do Operation Makeout if someone looks at us too closely,” Webb drawled. They grinned at Faraday’s expression. “What? It worked for Captain America.”

    “I’d prefer to have some kind of alternate plan in mind…” Faraday said, polite but a little pained.

    “Do you know another way around?” Webb asked Ariadne. “Any side or back entrance, or anywhere you think it would be more likely to find… prisoners? Unwilling guests?”

    Ariadne made a bit of a face. “Grimm always liked to keep his… guests… in the guest quarters, not thrown away in a dungeon or anything. Taking care of people properly makes their blood taste better.”

    “Gross, but go on.”

    Ariadne shrugged. “It might be different now, but there’s definitely big balconies on various levels of the chateau, what with the view and all. Grimm always stayed in the highest rooms—there’s a balcony there too, of course, but…”

    “He, or whoever, is not likely to be in his rooms during the party,” Faraday pointed out. “If we wanted to take a look around. But it depends on our priority, here.”

    “Some of those missing people might honestly be in the middle of things,” Ariadne said. “As… entertainment? In which case…”

    Gross,” Webb emphasized again, with a grimace of a grin. “Right. Our original plan here was just to gather some information and figure out who’s in charge up here these days—Grimm, or some kind of imposter. But now, obviously, we need to figure out where Eli and Jenny are being kept, and try to spring them as well…”

    There were a couple ways about it, and they’d obviously adapt as they went along. As for what they tried to do first…

    [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 47

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    “Why do you keep wanting to go on ahead?” Webb complained. “At this point, it almost seems like you want to leave me—mmph.

    Webb fell silent as a shadowy hand clamped over their mouth. “Shhh,” they felt Lore exhale next to their ear, tone gently chiding. “You know it’s not like that. I just… want to do what I can to help protect you. To make sure things are successful.”

    Webb tried to open their mouth, then found themself flushing heatedly as shadow crept in, pooling against their tongue. They made useless little noises instead until Lore released them. “Fine,” they grumbled, exhaling in a plume of smoke, glaring at Faraday who was trying not to laugh. “You’ve got a point. If you can get up there safely and scope the place out, that would probably be smart.”

    “I like that you’re concerned about me,” Lore says softly. “I haven’t… felt this way before. Having anybody who was worried about what happened to me. That is to say—I’m still not sure the concern is needed, but it’s still… nice.”

    Webb felt a light pressure wind around them, tightening briefly. A soft squeeze, then a slithering whisper as Lore vanished into the night. Webb watched in that general direction for a long moment, quiet, chafing their arms although they weren’t really that cold.

    Ariadne bumped up against their side. “They’ll be alright,” she murmured. “They’re a grown up big scary monster shadow. For all we know, they might be able to wipe out a whole vampire clan without breaking a sweat. Er, a smoke? You know.”

    “I know,” Webb said, huffing as they glanced back at her. “Maybe I’m more worried about me than I am about them, did you think of that?”

    Her eyes glittered, flashing reflectively like a cat’s in the dim light. She flashed her fangs in a big grin. “Of course not,” she said confidently. “Why could you possibly be worried, when I’m here to protect you?”

    Webb spluttered a little, giving her a little shove towards the gondola. “Oh, I wonder.”

    “Not a very elegant comeback,” Faraday mused, strolling along with his hands behind his back. “You’re getting soft. Compromised…”

    “Make yourself useful!” Webb grumbled. “Weren’t we talking about disguises? Plans?”

    Faraday nodded, looking at Webb sidelong, with a thoughtful smile. “I think I can manage something for you,” he said. “Nothing fancy, but we can convince your hat to help make your face a little less… remarkable.”

    Webb stared back at him, then huffed, tugging their hat off and handing it over. “Your magic is weird,” they informed him.

    “All magic is strange,” Faraday said lightly, unbothered. “That’s what makes it wonderful.”

    Webb didn’t know what to say to that. They took their hat back when it was offered and yanked it back down over their ears.

    Boarding the gondola was remarkably easy. The ticketing attendant ran Faraday’s card and handed over three paper ticket stubs, waving them along. “Keep it moving,” she said, sounding bored. “Don’t make a mess in the cars.”

    “What kind of rule is that?” Webb whispered sidelong to Ariadne as they made their way up to the boarding platform behind a small cluster of would-be partygoers who were taking an endless array of selfies.

    She shrugged. “One that they probably put in place after servicing vampires day in and day out. Night in and night out…?”

    Webb rubbed their face, sighing, and winced a little as they caught sight of their reflection in the glass of one of the enclosed gondola cars as it glided to a stop. They had to believe Faraday that their eyes were obscured and looked a little different to anybody else who was looking at their face—to Webb’s gaze, they saw their own narrow freckled face staring back at them, their eyes unusually bright and their expression looking scared and small.

    They looked away, gaze drifting towards the edge of the woods—

    They froze, tensing up suddenly, certain that just for a moment they’d made eye contact with… something. Someone. It was over in the blink of an eye, but Webb’s heart was racing, their palms sweating, their breath suddenly coming fast.

    “Webb…?” Ariadne moved a little closer to them, concerned, sniffing at the air. Faraday turned as well, wondering why Webb had stopped as the other group had gone ahead and an empty car had stopped in front of him. “What is it?”

    “Nothing…” Webb said uneasily, under their breath. “I—no, wait. I’m not going to tell you that it was nothing. That’s way too victim-in-a-horror-movie. I saw… something. I felt like I was being watched. But I didn’t get more than a glimpse. Fuck.”

    Ariadne worried at her lower lip with her teeth, eyes narrowing as she moved a little closer to Webb. “Should we turn back?” she asked uncertainly. “That doesn’t sound good…”

    Webb hissed out an irritated breath between their teeth. “Of course we should go back, but we’re not going to. If we were doing the safe and sensible thing, we wouldn’t be here at all.”

    Ariadne considered that, then just made a face, shuffling after Faraday as the next empty gondola car began to glide to a stop. She reached back to take Webb’s hand, squeezing. “Onwards and upwards?” she suggested.

    “Anything to get this night over with.”

    Webb sank heavily down onto the padded bench inside the gondola car, continuing to stare out the window as the doors slid noiselessly shut and sealed with a click. With a little rumble of the engine, the car began to slide upwards along the cables, rising up off the ground and rapidly beginning to leave the town behind.

    Webb had to begrudgingly admit that the view was impressive. During the day, they imagined they’d be able to see mountains all around in the distance, and the vast expanse of trees. In the darkness, the town of Shadewick and even nearby villages were visible the higher up they rose, glittering clusters of gold and silver lights amongst the trees.

    “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Faraday murmured.

    “It’s fine,” Webb said quickly, turning back to face the two of them, a little flustered. “I’ve just never… been up here before. Or seen anything like this.”

    “Not at all?” Ariadne looked surprised. “You lived so close, though.”

    Webb rolled their eyes, crossing their arms over their chest and sinking down a little in their seat. “I just never had a chance when I was younger. My family wasn’t really… well, I just didn’t. And then later on, when I was on my own, I developed, you know, a crippling fear and paranoia of that which lurked in the woods, so…”

    “That’s… fair,” Ariadne said, wrinkling her nose.

    “I can see how that would get in the way,” Faraday added lightly.

    Webb looked out the window again, exhaling softly. “I’m… glad you two are with me,” they said quietly. “Thanks… for everything, tonight. I mean, other than the part where you waltzed into my life and turned it completely upside-down—”

    “I think it was better than the alternative!” Ariadne protested. But Webb figured that she saw them grinning a little, because her tone was mostly fond.

    Faraday extended a leg and tapped his foot lightly against Webb’s ankle. “I used to come here a lot as a kid,” he said. “My grandmother lives not far from here. A little cabin on the lake.”

    Webb raised their eyebrows. “Oh, is that how you ended up as vampire prey? Just plucked like a ripe fruit from grandma’s house?”

    “Oh, no,” Faraday waved a hand. “I went up there all on my own.” He paused. “That was obviously a mistake, but you know, when you’re young…”

    Webb gave him a scandalized look. “And here I thought you were just a victim of circumstance! Serious and reliable…!”

    Ariadne snorted, leaning over to kiss Faraday’s cheek. “He was,” she said, sticking her tongue out. “He was a big nerd in over his head, and he was very lucky he was charming.”

    “… it sounds like you were both pretty lucky to find each other,” Webb said quietly, then flushed deeply as both of them turned to look at him, expressions touched and startled. “Don’t—don’t get weird about it, I was just saying—”

    “I’ll take you to the cabin one day, Webb,” Faraday said warmly. “I think you’d like it. Give you a chance to relax.”

    Webb opened and closed their mouth a few times, then tugged their hat a little further down. “Right. Yes. As we were talking about, my love for all things wilderness—”

    Ariadne rose up, balancing carefully as she sank down next to Webb, wrapping her arms around them and pulling him close. “You’re right,” she said seriously. “We can take you wherever you want, after all this is done. You’re not going to be facing any of this alone, is all we’re saying.”

    Webb hadn’t thought very much about what came after this. They’d made it this far without necessarily thinking there would be an “after this.” The thought struck them as a bit chilling. They’d always planned for contingencies, gathering information, playing it safe… and here they were, just flying into the open fanged maws of uncertainty—why?

    Because it’s the right thing to do, they thought. Because there were people that needed help, and people that had been wronged, and people that they’d come to care about that wanted to see this done. It was important to them. And they were important to Webb.

    Absolutely disgusting.

    Webb clonked their head against Ariadne’s. “If I was alone, I’d have less of a headache,” they sighed. “Come here, Faraday, you’re making it weird sitting over there by yourself.”

    “You were the one sitting by yourself to start with—” Faraday protested, but obediently rose up and came to sit on Webb’s other side, wrapping his arm around their waist.

    Webb grinned lazily, leaning their head back to look up at Faraday, their head on his shoulder. Ariadne let out a pleased sound and leaned forward a little, resting her head on Webb’s chest. “Don’t try to poison my mind with your… mmh, facts and truths…” Webb said.

    Faraday snorted, nuzzling a little against Webb’s temple, where just a few curls had escaped Webb’s hat. “I know you try very hard to stay in denial,” he murmured, voice low, breath warm against Webb’s ear.

    Webb drew in a breath then found themself startled into a laugh, surprised to find how much their breath hitched. “I’m just so very good at it,” they murmured. “Hey, how long is this gondola trip…?”

    “Oh, you know,” Ariadne said mischievously, nuzzling at Webb’s neck on the opposite side. “Long enough…”

    Then, abruptly, she sat up straight, eyes flashing and nostrils flaring in alarm. “Something’s coming,” she said urgently, shoving Webb down onto the bench—just as something large and pale impacted the glass hard enough to make the car sway and bounce on its cable, hundreds of feet off the ground.

    Webb found themself without the best view, startled and a bit winded. Through the slightly fogged, frosty windows, they could see half a dozen white shapes starting to take form, many-winged and many-eyed and ghastly. And over the sounds of the gondola’s mechanism humming, they heard the heavy sound of wingbeats, and the rasping, raucous calls and shrill shrieks of something monstrous as they began to peck and tap and try to get inside.

    [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 46

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Niall was giving Webb a thoughtful, suspicious look over the rims of his glasses. Emboldened by the thought of giving the man a migraine out of spite, Webb found their lips curving in a tired little challenge of a grin as they shoved their free hand in their pocket, rocking back onto their heels.

    “I have no idea how things are gonna go, but we’re not about to give up on them when we’re this close,” Webb said.

    Artem’s brows creased in confusion. “What… do you mean?”

    Niall grimaced. “I was afraid of that.”

    “Listen,” Webb said. “We’re not big damn heroes or anything. In fact, I distinctly would like to be literally anywhere other than here, in this specific situation. But I didn’t come up this mountain to go whoops, oh well, guess the vampires got ’em and we’re just gonna let that happen.”

    To Artem, they added more seriously: “We’re going to go try to find out what happened to Jenny and Eli. If the logic follows, it’s unlikely they just killed them, so they’ve got to be somewhere…”

    Artem’s eyes lit up a little with a faint hope that made Webb feel uneasy. They didn’t do well with people having expectations. They were allergic to optimism. Still… it was better than the dull, defeated look he’d had moments before.

    “You have no idea what you’re getting into,” Niall warned.

    “We have some idea,” Webb said. “Not a lot of idea, but less than zero. And besides—like you said. Who else is going to help?

    Niall sighed, glancing aside at Artem, then gave Artem’s shoulder a little squeeze. “You rest up,” he told him. “That’s about enough excitement for today.”

    “But I should go with them—” Artem protested.

    “Absolutely not,” Webb said firmly. “You’re staying here.”

    “I’ll give you my cell number,” Ariadne offered. “We’ll keep in touch with you.”

    “And if anything happens, you need to be prepared to train and become a dark knight in the future,” Webb suggested.

    No,” said Niall.

    “Like that one anime where the cute goat’s family gets killed by wolves and then he grows up to be a vicious killer—”

    “Absolutely not!”

    Webb held both hands up to their head like horns. “An avenging were-Bambi.”

    Niall was scowling heavily, but Artem’s expression had moved from distressed to helplessly amused, his shoulders shaking. Webb gave them both a little grin, then dropped their sunglasses back down onto their nose, turning and gesturing for Faraday and Ariadne to follow.

    “I don’t think you should actually become The Punisher if we don’t come back,” she murmured.

    “The Fawnisher,” Webb suggested.

    “Webb!” Ariadne scolded. Webb would have bet good money that she was grinning behind her helmet visor, though. To Artem, she continued: “The best and most important thing you can do is try to live a good life. Don’t let the past eat at you too much.”

    “Maybe get a good therapist,” Faraday suggested lightly.

    “You two are going to make me feel self-conscious,” Webb complained. They sighed, leaning against the doorframe. “They’re right, though. I spent the last decade blaming myself for shit that was out of my control because… because I didn’t have good people around me to shake me and tell me to take care of myself. Or even for those who tried in their own way, I was too stubborn to listen to them.”

    “You got away,” Ariadne said gently. “Don’t leave your heart behind with those that meant to harm you.”

    Artem dropped his gaze, weakly squeezing Ariadne’s gloved hand when she offered it to him. “Good luck,” he said hoarsely. “Try to come back safely, okay?”

    “We’ll try,” Ariadne promised, which was more than Webb was willing to do. They’d used up all their energy and had none left for reassurances, just lingering quietly by the door as Ariadne gave Artem her phone number and chatted briefly with him and Niall.

    They all made their way out into the entrance hall. Niall joined them after a moment, dimming the lights in the infirmary again and shutting the door all but a crack.

    “I don’t suppose there’s any talking you out of this?” he sighed.

    “Why, do you still want to?”

    Niall scowled, shrugging one shoulder. “Don’t like to see people putting themselves in danger unnecessarily, and I know what those vampires can do. But you seem pretty set on what you’re doing, and it’s not like I don’t want to see those kids rescued.”

    “There’s more to use than meets the eye,” Faraday assured him.

    “Artem gave me more specific details on where exactly they got jumped,” Ariadne said. “So we can always try there first. But… it’s awfully close to the gondola up to the peak, which one way or the other, is where I suspect we’re going to end up going.”

    “Honestly, if you have any advice for a bunch of people about to do something terminally stupid, I’m all ears,” Webb told Niall, spreading their palms wide.

    Niall looked very put-upon. “Other than don’t, no. But nobody ever listens to me, anyway.” Webb decided they were growing a bit fond of the lines that furrowed in Niall’s brow when he seemed concerned about the absurdity of those around him, which seemed often. “… did hear something about a party going on up at Sharp Pines tonight, though, if that’s relevant to you.”

    “Sharp Pines is the chateau…?”

    Niall nodded. “They have… revels, often enough, let’s put it that way. Shadewick isn’t the only town that has a gondola leading up to the peak—we’re just the closest to Hallow Point. There’s another village a ways up the road that’s a bit more popular with the partying crowd. Some people come up this way for the nature and the sports, obviously, but ever since the vampires moved in up there, it’s been worse and worse every year.”

    “And people just go up there knowing that it’s run by vampires?” Webb asked.

    Ariadne shrugged. “When I was there, it happened a lot. A lot of people were actively into it, you know? Horny for the thrill of it, enjoying the occasional bloodsucking and getting charmed… some were enthralled, some chose to stay, some chose to go and return, some chose to get turned. Some, I assume, went back to their normal life as accountants or Ph.D candidates or whatever…”

    Niall gave her an odd look, but didn’t comment. “Exactly that. So… it’s not too strange for you to show up and just pretend you’re there for the drinks and all the rest.”

    “Great,” Webb said dryly. Then, more seriously: “No, actually, that’s helpful.”

    “Do you mind if I leave my helmet here for now?” Ariadne asked. “It’ll probably stick out more than hide anything at a party, and it’s dark now, so…”

    Niall stared at her for a moment, then sighed. “Go ahead,” he said. “Just try to come back to claim it, alright?”

    Ariadne pulled the helmet off, shaking her hair free, and gave Niall a little toothy smile. “We’re going to do our best,” she assured him.

    “You’re sure nobody’s going to recognize you?” Webb murmured quietly to Ariadne as Niall went to set the helmet aside.

    Ariadne shrugged. “It’s been a long time. And I look very different. And if anybody does, then we get to have a very fun conversation.

    Webb couldn’t argue with that. They did, however, cup her cheek in one hand and lean in for a quick kiss.

    “Mmph—” Her eyes widened, startled, but she leaned back into it after a moment, her expression softening. “What was that for?”

    “Are you doing alright energy-wise?” Webb asked. “Bet the clinic here has some blood bags, if you need one.”

    Ariadne’s eyes brightened. “Oh, great point. I’ll ask Niall.” She paused a bit, still with her forehead pressed to Webb’s. “That—still doesn’t explain why you kissed me?”

    Webb grinned. “Just reminding you of what you’re missing out on.”

    Ariadne gasped, pinching up and down their sides. “Rude! Rude, rude…!” Her red eyes were bright, her cheeks a little flushed, her hair rumpled still from her helmet.

    Webb knew that they were grasping onto the last moments of levity before heading into a menacing unknown, but they wanted to let it linger, just a little longer. They weren’t exactly keen on heading into danger regardless—but now it felt extra bitter, now that they felt like they had something to lose.

    They glanced uneasily outside through one foggy window, looking at the shadowed shapes of the trees in the distance, and swallowed.

    “You’re not alone,” whispered Lore’s soft voice next to their ear. “We’ll be fine, Webb.”

    “We’ll see,” Webb muttered. But it did make them feel a little better.

    A few of the stores in the village were still open, so at Niall’s stern recommendation they took a few minutes to pick up some additional gear and winter clothes before setting out. Travelling with a helpful witch meant that Faraday could keep them warm enough, but even then there was only so much he could do with dark woods and what was likely to be a snowy mountain peak.

    After a quick meal, with night truly starting to fall, they headed out along the path through the woods that led towards the gondola.

    Ariadne was rubbing her hands together, exhaling a puff of frosty breath as she looked around. “It really is beautiful around here,” she said softly. “I kind of missed it.”

    “I think I prefer the city,” Webb said lightly. “In fact, I’d prefer to be on an island, maybe? Out at sea? In a desert. Anywhere except a frozen-ass murder forest heading up to Vampire Fuck Mansion.”

    Ariadne wasn’t wrong, though. The clouds had started to break up a little throughout the evening, letting through faint glimmers of starlight from a sky darker than any Webb was ever able to see from within the light-polluted city. Behind them, the warm streetlamps of the village cast pools of light onto the snow-frosted cobblestones. Ahead, a foggy mist hung over the trees like jewels, lending an ethereal quality to the woods.

    Webb, obviously, was absolutely miserable about it.

    They heard a crunch of boots on snow, then felt Faraday’s arm wrap around their shoulders.

    “Ready?” he murmured.

    “Absolutely not,” Webb muttered back, letting their head fall against his shoulder. “Why would you ask me that?”

    Faraday laughed, soft and low. “I have faith in us,” he said lightly. “… anyway, the gondola’s nice, if you’ve never taken it before. It’s a beautiful view, even at night. Romantic,” he added with a bit of mischief.

    “Don’t get any ideas,” Webb grumbled. But it did feel a little better to walk into the woods with Faraday close to their side, Ariadne up ahead and visibly on alert. They felt a little whisper of air as Lore shifted against their hair, and saw their own shadow elongate strangely for a moment as Lore seemed to vanish on ahead, keeping watch.

    The trip to the gondola was disappointingly uneventful—some part of Webb wanted to be jumped in the woods by vampires, just so they’d have something concrete to deal with. But no, it was just the long, thin stretch of cable leading up to the peak of Bloodstone Mountain to contend with, and the knowledge that they had very little idea of what was waiting for them at the top.

    “So what’s the plan?” Ariadne asked quietly as they approached, dropping back to walk a little closer to Faraday and Webb. There wasn’t much of a lineup at this time of night—just a handful of people wandering around, some with snow gear, some dressed up under their winter clothes—but there was still someone selling lift passes.

    “I don’t think we need to have much of an excuse to go up there, right?” Webb said. “Unless this is like, an invite-only deal…”

    Ariadne shook her head. “It shouldn’t be. Should we give you a disguise, though? And like… once we’re up there, do you just want to… walk in the front door? Or sneak our way around? I mean, we can talk more in the gondola, probably, but…”

    She had a point. They’d have a bit of time heading up on the gondola to hash things out in terms of plans, or as much planning as they could do before they were able to scope things out. Then again, maybe they shouldn’t stress out and over-plan, and instead just enjoy the last time alone they had with a cute witch and a vampire…

    They flushed, feeling their hair stir. “I can also try to go on ahead,” Lore suggested softly. “I know you don’t want me to get into trouble, but under the circumstances, maybe I could see something useful or dangerous if I scouted ahead…”

    [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 45

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Niall’s expression immediately turned stormy, which Webb took as very much not a great sign.

    You’re responsible for what happened to those kids?” he growled.

    Webb raised both their hands immediately, then followed that up by extending an arm to prevent Ariadne from immediately putting herself between the two of them. “Yes and no,” they said hurriedly. “Yes, in that I’m aware that there’s been a compromising situation, but—I didn’t think they’d get hurt. I didn’t get them in trouble on purpose.”

    “We learned that there were some… bad-faith actors,” Faraday cut in calmly, moving in to stand a little closer to Webb. “Webb here has been quite desperate to find Artem and his friends. We’d hoped to try to catch them before something happened, but…”

    “Obviously we fucked that one up,” Webb said roughly. They’d been trying to keep their gaze steady on Niall’s, like they read you were supposed to do with, like, scary dogs—but something twinged unpleasantly in their chest, and they felt their eyes sting, their breath coming a bit fast. “But if he’s still okay, and if there’s still any chance of rescuing Jenny and Elijah…”

    Niall didn’t say anything for a moment, and Webb let the silence linger.

    From the other room, a voice called: “… Niall? Is everything alright? I heard raised voices—”

    “It’s fine, kid,” Niall called back, mostly sounding tired. Webb flicked their gaze up to see Niall with his glasses off, rubbing the bridge of his nose. To Webb, he said: “I don’t know that I believe that completely, and my responsibility is to those under my care, but… you stay here, and I’ll ask him if he wants to talk to you. And if he says no, you get the hell out of here, you understand me?”

    Webb grimaced, but nodded. Even if Artem said no, there could always be a way… As always, there was an uneasy sort of tug towards the various ways that Webb could make it happen, but—

    They had something they were committed to doing. But at the end of the day… especially being around Faraday and Ariadne and Lore, and seeing what those around them had been willing to do to help them along their way, Webb was feeling this unsettling urge to be a good person about all this. It seemed like a dangerous, unpleasant, and very uncomfortable idea, but…

    “Wait here,” Niall instructed, letting his gaze linger for a moment before he stepped back into the infirmary area and approached Artem’s bedside.

    Webb felt Faraday’s arm wrap around their waist, giving them a little squeeze.

    “Hey,” Faraday murmured softly. “There’s still a chance the others are alright.”

    “I wasn’t—” Webb started to say, then just fell silent. What was the point of protesting? They turned into Faraday’s embrace, pressing their face against his chest, breathing in against his coat. Faraday seemed surprised for a moment, then just lifted both arms, squeezing them tightly around Webb and kissing the top of their head.

    Footsteps, then the sound of a throat being cleared. Niall leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed, still frowning, but looking a little thoughtful as his gaze travelled over them. “Artem says he’ll talk to you,” he said. “Come with me. And nothing weird, you got it?”

    “Nothing weird,” Webb agreed, pushing away from Faraday and following Niall into the other room, the others closely behind them.

    Artem was sitting up in bed, wearing a faded, oversized t-shirt and clutching at the sheets. Webb was relieved to see that he didn’t appear to be angry, nor grievously injured, though one arm was bandaged from hand to elbow. As Webb had remembered, Artem was a freckle-faced young man in his early twenties with a mop of light brown curls and a skittish sort of attitude. His gray eyes were wide as he looked around the group—from sunglasses-wearing Webb, to Faraday in his vivid coat, and Ariadne still in full motorcycle gear.

    “Mx. Webb…” he said uneasily, a bit breathless. “What… what are you doing here?”

    Webb stared back at him for a long moment, unsure how to answer that question. What were they doing? What did they want? What had they done?

    They settled for cautiously sitting near the foot of Artem’s bed, fingers curling in the sheets, and lowering their gaze.

    “I’m sorry,” they said. “I had no idea I was sending you out into a dangerous situation. I thought it would be clean and easy. But I found out that someone had been using me to lure in innocent people just looking to do a bit of good and have some adventures—and that probably you were in danger.”

    They drew in a deep breath. “We came as fast as we could, which… obviously wasn’t fast enough, but… I never meant for anything to happen to you, and honestly, feel really fucking shitty to learn that something did. And I’m not good at this kind of thing, but—just… what did happen? Where are Jenny and Elijah? Please, tell me as much as you can.”

    Webb fell silent and found that they were staring at their own hands, rather than at Artem. They didn’t really want to look at his face, but snuck an uneasy glance up at him, preparing for the worst.

    Artem seemed grim, sober and thoughtful, his breath coming a little fast—but he seemed more worried than anything, looking up at Webb with a pleading gaze. “We headed up this way like you had suggested,” he said in a trembling voice. “You know, part of the job said that there was a little cabin about ten minutes’ walk through the woods that was having some trouble with jackalope infestations in their garden…”

    Webb grimaced, just nodding along. They remembered. Small, benign… “Yeah. And you got ambushed, huh?”

    “Almost as soon as we went into the woods,” Artem nodded. “It was after dark, but still early evening, so we figured we’d check in once we got there to make sure the work was still needed and it was worth staying the night here. It was a pretty well-lit path, and Eli prefers being out at night, anyway, so… we thought it was fine. Then—we got jumped.”

    “By who?” Webb asked. “… or, I guess, by what?”

    “Vampires,” Artem said miserably, surprising absolutely nobody in the room, but serving as an unpleasant confirmation, at least. “There were at least six of them, and they moved so quickly. Eli and Jenny put up a bit of a fight, but they…” His voice wavered.

    “It’s alright, Artem,” Niall said, voice low and reassuring. “Take your time.”

    Artem shook his head as though to clear it, rubbing his face with both hands. “They didn’t seem to want to kill us. I saw one of them tie Eli up and sling him over his shoulder. Jenny tossed up a barrier, but it wasn’t strong enough, and she told me to run, so I…”

    Webb had already been feeling sick to their stomach, but at that their chest clenched unpleasantly with memory and distress.

    Niall reached over and squeezed Artem’s shoulder as the young man shuddered, his eyes prickling with unshed tears. “It’s alright,” Niall repeated, slow and steady. “You’re doing just fine. There’s nothing wrong with running away. You did the right thing.”

    Webb looked down at their own hands again, clenching and unclenching them against their knees. “You—” Their voice caught in their throat. They tried again: “Niall’s right. You were set up, outnumbered. At least now… we know for sure what happened.”

    Faraday had turned to Niall. “Did you report this to anybody?” he asked. “If we have Artem’s word that vampires ambushed and kidnapped his friends…”

    “Who am I going to tell?” Niall shot back. “Artem’s going to let their friends and family know, but if it’s the Grimm clan that did it—they’ve had a grip on this whole area for years. Nobody is going to confront them about it. Best we can do is just try to keep people from wandering off where they can run into too much trouble. Once they’re gone…”

    Artem let out a little sob. Webb, heart beating like a rabbit’s inside their ribcage, rose up and began to pace restlessly.

    “Did they say anything to you?” they asked Artem. “The vampires—either when they were grabbing you, or when you were running away?”

    Artem swallowed, shaking his head miserably, then paused to consider, hesitating. “I don’t… think so,” he said slowly. “I mean, they were talking a lot between themselves, but they were just—sort of bantering. I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention. They said—something about us being a nice catch.” He hesitated. “One of the vampires seemed… a little worried? Like he kept… looking over his shoulder and telling the others to hurry up.”

    Webb exchanged an uneasy look with Faraday. “Did you get an idea of what he was concerned about?” Faraday asked.

    “No,” Artem said. “I’m sorry… just… a vague sort of “them” that kept getting referenced. It sounded like the vampires had been really, uh, pissing someone off lately.”

    “Well, isn’t that interesting,” Webb said slowly. “… well, it sounds like you were pretty damn lucky, Artem.”

    Artem’s cheeks were blotchy with feverish color, and he grimaced. “I… I shouldn’t have… I mean, I’m—I’m a were-deer. I was able to transform, and I ran, because… that’s what I do, that’s all I can do, but I should have stayed with her—”

    Letting out a deep, sharp exhalation of breath, Webb came back over to the bed and leaned over it, pushing back their sunglasses and looking directly at Artem, hand braced against the mattress.

    “Listen to me,” Webb said. “It’s not your fault. None of this was your fault. You and your friends… yeah, you agreed to do something a bit stupid and reckless, but that’s… that’s okay. We’re all just out here living our lives. We’re not always making the perfect, safe decisions. Sometimes that goes great, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, that’s just life. You’re not responsible for the shitty things other people do that end up hurting the people you care about. And in that moment… your friend Jenny told you to run, didn’t she? It’s fucked up, when you can’t save the people that you care about, and survivor’s guilt is a real damn thing, but… you’re allowed to be here. You’re allowed to be alright… even though it’ll probably take some time.”

    The room was quiet. Artem stared back at Webb, then let out another shaky sob, leaning his head back against the headboard and closing his eyes. “Maybe,” he said softly. “I’ll think about it. I just…”

    “Good,” Webb said, trying to keep their own voice from shaking. “And, I mean, definitely think about that and everything, but also…”

    They hesitated. They didn’t want to tell Artem that they were going to try to go rescue Jenny and Eli, and get his hopes up unnecessarily, in case they fucked up. On the other hand, maybe it’d help him feel a little better in the moment. And maybe Niall might have something else to offer or suggest, if he knew…?

    One thing was for certain: Webb was going up there. Tonight. Immediately. Glancing at Faraday, they could see the same determination on his face. Ariadne, beside him, reached out to take Webb’s hand, giving it a firm squeeze. If there was still a chance that Jenny and Eli were alive, every second wasted could be precious time sliding between their fingertips.

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

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

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    Thanks for sticking with me on this, everyone! I hope you’re enjoying the story despite it making itself a liiiittle longer than we originally planned ♥ I’m most likely looking to wrap up within the next 3-5 sections this week. Looking forward to seeing it through to the end with you!

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 44

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Out of fucks to give for the whole day and perhaps longer—truly, a fuck deficit—Webb gave Ibis a broad shrug, raising their eyebrows. “I think whether or not we get into trouble is something completely out of your control,” they told them bluntly. “I have no idea what we’re going to do with the information, but I’m pretty confident in saying it won’t be dumber than what we choose to do without it.”

    Ibis blinked, then let out a soft laugh. “Well said, well said. In that case, I take absolutely zero responsibility, but it seems as though you weren’t expecting me to.”

    “I couldn’t possibly,” Webb said dryly.

    “Very well,” Ibis said. “The disappearances… now, these are all just rumors, of course, and I, a humble business owner, have no intention of causing trouble with any parties that may or may not be involved.”

    “Of course, of course.” Ariadne was nodding helpfully. She’d put her helmet on already, so Webb wasn’t sure she was the most reassuring sight, but under the circumstances, maybe it was better than flashing her fangs about.

    “I appreciate the discretion,” Ibis murmured. “Now, being quite close to a Valley and all, there are, as you’re clearly aware, quite the number of non-human folk in the woods, here.”

    “And out of the woods.”

    “And out of the woods!” Ibis said, nodding. “Hmm, what I mean to say is, compared to some of the other places across the world where the valleys are quite concentrated, or the folk from the other side stayed quite close to the portals, it seems that they took one look at this pristine wilderness and decided to just… spread right out.”

    They made an illustrative gesture with their thin, pale hands that Webb found simultaneously evocative and strangely uncomfortable.

    “So you’re saying this whole area is kinda dangerous because there’s so many of the Otherworlders hanging out getting their après ski on?”

    Ibis’s eyes flashed briefly with amusement. “Oh, not just that. They—well, we, I should say, of course, but do bear with me—have actually immersed themselves so deeply in the world that their magic and their natures have transformed this side to be more like that side. The fae especially have long been fond of blurring those barriers, of course.”

    Faraday was nodding. “Areas where passage and overflows between worlds are easier. Where the barriers are thin. Mushroom circles, fairy mounds…”

    “Exactly so,” Ibis nodded. “But do that enough, consistently enough, for long enough—or exert enough concentrated influence—and the lines really begin to blur. It’s their territory. Their world. And we just happen to live in it… or near it.”

    Webb was feeling a bit of a headache coming on. “So,” they said, “this all being a somewhat roundabout way of saying, people are disappearing because the woods around here are teeming with the Otherworldly? Or…”

    “It could be a great number of things, stemming from that,” Ibis nodded. “There are a great deal of vampires and fae around here especially, and the occasional roaming were-pack. Some people just might, unfortunately, have become lunch. Others might have strayed a little too far from the path, and…”

    Ibis mimed legs walking across their desk with two fingers, then made a soft whoosh sound effect and accompanying hand gesture.

    Webb frowned, exchanging a glance with Faraday. “Is that likely to happen to us?”

    “I doubt it,” Faraday said thoughtfully. “But we can take measures to keep an eye out, regardless. We appreciate the information,” he added to Ibis. “I’d heard about things like that before, of course, but I wasn’t sure how prevalent it might be…”

    Ibis rested their chin on their interlaced hands. “Of course,” they said. Then, thoughtfully: “One other thing I’ve heard… though I’m not sure how much truth there is to it…”

    Webb, who had started to turn towards the door, turned back. “What’s that?”

    “Well,” Ibis said, “our little town is… mostly human, of course. Though they do tend to look upon those like myself fairly kindly, I’ve found. Still, if it’s as I say, and there are plenty of Otherworlders out living in the forest and the lakes and the mountains, then I wonder if all things are well with them, too…”

    Webb narrowed their eyes. “You wonder?” they echoed. “Or you know it’s not.”

    Ibis just shook their head, long pale hair swaying. “Some struggle for power is inevitable. But there’s been a strange sort of energy out and about, the last few years. Malevolent and hungry.”

    Webb thought of the wild hunt, the Erl-King, and the stories of the power Grimm had been amassing, and wasn’t surprised by that at all. They hesitated.

    “We’re looking for a couple specific people,” they said. “Do you recognize the names Jenny Lim or Lekha Gill?” They opted to leave Sia and the others out for now—just testing the waters.

    Ibis turned back to their tablet. “No Jenny Lim,” they said. “I have a Lekha Gill from a few years ago, but nothing recent…”

    “Don’t worry about it,” said Webb. “We’ll just keep an eye out. Thanks for all your help.”

    “My pleasure,” Ibis said softly. “Do be careful out there.”

    Webb was quiet as they headed back outside, rubbing their face with both hands. Faraday and Ariadne both fell into step beside them.

    “… ah,” Ariadne said, suddenly drawing in a breath. “We forgot to ask about where we can find Niall.”

    “I think there’s a tourist map near the town center,” Faraday said. “Octavia mentioned that it was a first aid station near the edge of the village, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find…”

    “Yeah. It should be fine,” Webb said, a little distracted, looking out uneasily over to the edge of the forest as they walked.

    Faraday caught their gaze, nudging lightly against Webb’s side as they walked. “… I don’t think any of that changes anything,” he said quietly. “We’d already sort of realized…”

    “I know,” Webb said. “It doesn’t really change anything. And I guess that’s why I’m… I don’t know. When I thought that this all might be a big misunderstanding, or some petty nonsense, some personal grievance or something, that was—well, it obviously wasn’t fine, but it was… digestible. Something I could realistically be involved in. But now—now it might be a whole big thing, and I’m just not equipped to be able to deal with that…!”

    “I think…” Ariadne began, then hesitated. At Webb’s glance, tired and curious but not hostile, she continued: “I think you’re more capable than you know.”

    “I agree,” Faraday said firmly.

    Webb made a face. “I didn’t say I was incapable,” they muttered. “I just… I don’t want to.”

    When they were younger… maybe things had been different. A younger version of them would have found this heart-poundingly exciting. A chance to be involved in something important. A mystery to solve in a remote location involving fae and vampires and missing people…? Exhilarating. A dream come true.

    But a younger version of them also had all their friends get killed while out recklessly chasing adventure, so they got absolutely no say in this, that, or anything anymore.

    “It’s not too late to turn back,” Ariadne told Webb, squeezing their hand. “If you don’t want to, I mean…”

    “No, it is,” Webb said bluntly. “It is too late. I’m committed to this. But if you think I’m going to stop complaining about it for a hot second, you’ve got another think coming.”

    Faraday snorted softly. “I think we know you well enough not to expect anything but, Webb.”

    “Complain away,” Ariadne said.

    “No, I mean, I don’t think we should encourage them,” Faraday said patiently.

    “Jerk,” Webb sniffed, not at all actually offended. “Cad. Monster.”

    The insults continued, casual and consistent, as they made their way across the village to the infirmary—as Faraday had suggested, it was fairly clearly marked. It was in a quiet area just past a row of townhouses and a redbrick pub called the Tipsy Sprite, surrounded by a fenced-in little garden and overlooking the darkened edge of the forest.

    The gate was open, so Webb led the way up to the front door, hesitating. It seemed as much someone’s cottage as anything else, which was a bit of a weird vibe for an infirmary. But then, Octavia did say that Niall was a witch, so that sort of checked out. They lifted a hand and knocked.

    “Coming!” Heavy footsteps approached. A moment later, the door to the cottage opened. “Is someone hurt? Come on in, then—”

    Niall, or so Webb assumed, appeared to be a man in his mid-forties with dark skin and a stern, somewhat impatient expression. His hair was shaved on the sides, with the top styled into twists and pulled back into a knot at the back of his head. He wore gold wire-rimmed glasses and was currently pushing up the sleeves on the most librarian-ass grandpa sweater Webb had ever seen in their life.

    “Nobody’s hurt,” Ariadne said with what was probably a pleasant smile, but was totally hidden from sight. “We’re actually just looking for a few people, and someone mentioned you might be able to help…”

    Niall let out a heavy sigh, taking a step back and gesturing with his head for them to step inside. “Not sure how I’m meant to be helping with that, but there’s no use in you standing there in the doorway letting the cold air in. Come along, now… ”

    Webb glanced briefly at the others, but obediently stepped inside, letting Faraday close the door behind them. There were racks for shoes and coats just inside the door. The entrance area was a round, fairly empty room—likely meant to contain people coming in bloody or otherwise. Past that, Webb could catch a glimpse a few arched doorways heading into different areas of the house: a sitting room, a kitchen, and a room with several narrow beds, at least one of which seemed to have a human figure curled up on it.

    “We’re looking for some more information about some of the disappearances and strange encounters people have had in the area recently,” Faraday said. “We thought perhaps someone that tended to the injured might have met some survivors.”

    Niall’s eyes immediately narrowed. “Aye, I might have done,” he agreed warily, crossing his arms across his chest. “And what’s it to you?”

    “I know a few people who were heading up this way,” Webb said. “I don’t know if they came here, exactly, but I was wanting to make sure they were okay.”

    “I promise we don’t mean any ill will,” Faraday assured him. “And if you don’t know anything, we can be on our way, but…”

    Niall’s gaze travelled over the group of them, piercing and unimpressed. Webb frantically wracked their brain for ways to try to convince him. They weren’t keen on using their abilities, or Ariadne’s, but—

    Before they had a chance to follow that line of thought any further, Niall abruptly let out an irritated sort of sigh, rubbing the back of his neck. “Fine,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of time on my hands, but if you have a few questions, I’ll see what I can answer for you. Head on into the sitting room, then.”

    He leaned into one of the other doorways, voice suddenly taking on a softer edge as he called out: “Artem, I’ve got visitors. Ring the bell if you need anything.”

    Webb, who had been obligingly following Faraday and Ariadne into the sitting room, froze in place mid-step so quickly that Niall almost bumped into them when he turned around.

    “What’s wrong?” Niall asked with a frown, automatically bracing Webb with one hand. Faraday and Ariadne also turned.

    “… Artem,” Webb echoed. “Artem Zhuravlev?”

    Faraday looked startled. “Webb…? Someone you know…?” Niall also looked wary, protective; Webb noticed him angle his body slightly to put himself between Webb and the doorway.

    “Might be,” he said casually. “What’s it to you?”

    Webb could barely hear them over the sudden ringing in their ears. “Jenny, Elijah, and Artem took a job from me yesterday,” Webb said with a laugh that made Ariadne visibly wince. “I respect patient confidentiality and all that, but I’m really going to need to know what happened to them.”

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

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

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