Halloween 2021 IF

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 38

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    They ended up checking into a little place called the Wolpertinger Inn, a quaint-looking little place near the edge of the tourist-centric part of the village. There were a few bigger hotels closer to the outskirts, but Webb was feeling jumpy about being too close to the forest, and the others didn’t argue.

    The person at the desk looked charmingly inhuman in a way that Webb couldn’t quite place: angular and tall, with pale hair and golden eyes that were all iris and no pupil or sclera, their head crowned with a row of bone-white horns. They didn’t bat an eyelash at the group requesting to check in at an ungodly early time, just offering a thoughtful smile.

    “Luckily, I have a few rooms available,” the desk clerk said, picking up a tablet and scrolling through, their fingertips making a soft tik-tik. “How many will you be needing?”

    “Just… just one’s fine,” Webb said.

    “King-sized bed?”

    Webb carefully examined the wood grain on the countertop. “Sure.”

    “Perfect,” the desk clerk said nonchalantly, sliding a trio of key-cards across the desk. “I’ll just need a credit card, then, and we’ll be all set.”

    Ariadne leaned in close to Webb as Faraday took care of the deposit, nudging lightly against their side. “You didn’t have to…”

    Webb flushed abruptly, jamming their hands in their pockets. “I mean, I just… I guess I could have asked, and not assumed—actually, if you’d rather have some time alone, or you’d rather we at least get separate, beds, I—”

    Ariadne pressed her gloved fingers against Webb’s lips. “N-no! Shh, shh. Webb, darling. It’s fine. I’m more than happy with it. I just wanted to make sure you were fine.”

    “I’m not fine,” Webb mumbled as Ariadne dropped her hand. They snatched it up, giving it a tight squeeze. “But that—you, and Faraday, and Lore, have nothing to do with my lack-of-fine-ness. Somehow. Remarkably. Very confusingly.”

    Ariadne let out a little laugh, tugging Webb closer and wrapping her arms around them tightly. “Okay,” she murmured. “Let’s just make sure it stays that way, alright?”

    We’ll see, Webb thought. But they just gave Ariadne a hasty little squeeze in response, face pressed against her shoulder as they drew in a deep breath. “Fine, fine,” they muttered. “Look, Faraday’s ready, let’s go. I’m sure the desk clerk already thinks we’re here for a day-fuck we don’t need to make things more suspicious—”

    “That happens a lot,” the clerk called out. “Don’t even worry about it.”

    Webb, who had been very sure they’d been whispering quietly enough to not be overheard,  made a face and hauled Ariadne towards the elevators. The clerk grinned, resting their chin on their hand and giving a little wave. Ariadne just laughed, still draped on Webb and allowing herself to be pulled, unresisting.

    “Do I want to know?” Faraday murmured as he caught up.

    “No!” Webb grumbled, pushing Ariadne into Faraday’s arms. He caught her readily, just raising his eyebrows at Webb as she gave him a hug, too.

    The whole situation just seemed so… surreal. Joking around with these two like they’d been friends for ages. Booking a shared room with hardly a second thought. Knowing that they planned to share something with Ariadne and Faraday and Lore that they hadn’t revealed to anybody before.

    Webb was anxious, and confused, and there were things looming over them that seemed all-encompassingly terrifying—and yet, it still seemed natural that there was time for this. It was feeling easier and easier the more they let themself relax, and open up, and just… enjoy these moments strung in between running for their life, running from their past, running towards an uncertain and actively distressing future.

    “Come quick!” Ariadne called urgently from where she’d let herself into the hotel room, Faraday and Webb trailing closely behind. “There’s a chair in here that has antlers. And the bathtub faucet looks like a—like a salmon…!”

    Webb kicked off their shoes, weaving their way over to the bed, and flopped directly onto it face-first. They could hear Ariadne rummaging her way around, exclaiming with joy whenever she found something new (“The complimentary robes have BEAR EARS!”).

    Webb didn’t know if they wanted to laugh, or cry, or some kind of incoherent combination of the two. They settled for just kicking their feet up a few times and dropping them, letting out a low whine under their breath.

    They felt the pressure of a hand pass over the back of their head. The bed indented, shifting slightly, as Lore slithered into a solid form again, sitting cross legged next to Webb.

    “Hey,” Lore said quietly. “Webb… you hanging in there?”

    “Don’t,” Webb grumbled, climbing the rest of the way up onto the bed and rolling over onto their back. “The last time you were nice and considerate to me, I had a breakdown.”

    “I… think that means you just might be very stressed out,” Lore suggested. “But… um, you’d know best, I suppose.”

    Webb groaned, sitting up again and yanking off their hat, tossing it and their glasses onto the bedside table. They ran their hands through their hair, scrunching it up, tugging, then dragged their hands down their face.

    “Ariadne,” they called out. “Faraday. If you’re finished with your, uhh, tour, could you come here? There’s some stuff I want to talk about. Like, now. Before I lose my nerve.” They weren’t sure they meant to say that last part out loud, but hey. Now they were committed.

    Ariadne and Faraday came obediently when called. Faraday took a seat in the antler-crowned armchair, facing the bed. Ariadne, who had swapped her leathers and her helmet for her tank top and one of the bear-ear housecoats, took a seat cross-legged at the edge of the bed.

    “Sorry,” she told Webb, tugging a little at the drawstrings. “I just got excited. What is it?”

    Webb opened their mouth, then closed again, glancing aside at Lore. “Maybe… let’s start with what happened with you?” they suggested, voice sounding a bit weak even to their own ears. “How’d you end up getting away from the Inquisitors?”

    Lore tilted their head to the side, but didn’t protest. “Of course, Webb,” they said. “Things went… as expected, when Veracity handed me over. She played her part, really leaning into the whole—’my, my, well this is unprecedented’ sort of attitude. Tried to spin it so she was coming out on top, handing ‘you’ over.”

    “Which she did, I assume.”

    Lore nodded. “The Inquisitors took me and started walking me away from the Drawing Dead. I tried to talk to some of them, but they weren’t… um, very chatty. So… I’m afraid I didn’t get any of them to spill many details about what they wanted, but… I did get one thing.”

    “What did you find out?” Ariadne asked quietly, leaning forward on her elbows.

    Lore hesitated. “They started heading towards the woods,” they said quietly. “Leading the way out of the city. They didn’t seem to want to hurt me—to hurt you, I mean, Webb. And they didn’t have any questions. They just—seemed like they wanted to take you somewhere. Alive.”

    An icy chill passed through Webb at that comment, sinking leaden into their stomach. “Into the woods.”

    Lore shrugged, wisps of smoke drifting out of their mouth as they frowned. “I didn’t stick around much longer than that. I saw some of them break off and head back towards the Drawing Dead, and I was worried they’d realized something, and were going after you. So I escaped. When I searched for you, I realized you’d been tugged further away, up north, so I followed.”

    “Wait, when you searched for them—?” Faraday asked, curious.

    Lore’s expression grew serious. “I’ve already told you a lot more than I ought to,” they said, their tone much firmer than usual. It was clear that on this point they weren’t going to be swayed. “Let’s just say that—wherever Webb goes, I will be able to find them.”

    That thought was unsettling on some level, but mostly Webb just felt tired. Maybe even strangely reassured. “Alright, so, then you found us,” Webb said hoarsely. “Meanwhile, yeah, Pax got us out, but it turns out the harpy that worked at the Drawing Dead was working with the Inquisitors, or ratted me out to them, or something.”

    “So the harpy and the Inquisitors were on the same side,” Ariadne murmured. “But she said it definitely wasn’t Grimm that they were working for. So if not Grimm, then… who?”

    Webb hesitated. “I have… a guess,” they said very slowly. “And maybe there’s more to it, and we’re missing some pieces still, or there’s another player involved, but…” their voice faltered. “I think someone’s been looking for me for a long time. And maybe—maybe this situation with the Inquisitors and Grimm might be… might be wrapped up in it a little.”

    All eyes were on them now, curious, concerned. Webb couldn’t keep their gaze up, looking down instead and fiddling with a loose thread on the duvet, smoothing out the stripes in the soft plaid.

    “I was pretty young when the Valefication happened. Eight or nine. So I grew up actually super interested in the occult, the paranormal, and all the magical stuff that was happening. It was all I ever dreamt of doing, of being involved with. I always thought it was… kind of disappointing that I was normal. No hidden magical or demonic bloodline, no estranged family members inviting me to their mysterious haunted houses… I know, I know,” they waved a hand a little, “that didn’t exactly go, uh, well, for some of you. But I was just a kid. I didn’t know what was best for me. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

    They continued. “During my university years, I fell in with a crowd of… well, of like-minded people, like me. The leader of our little group was called—his name was Jasper.” Webb swallowed, the name feeling like it rasped and caught on the way out, ragged. “Jasper was—amazing. Beautiful, brilliant, confident. We…” they hesitated. “We didn’t always get along, because we were both very strong personalities, but he was… he was important to me. And he was very sure that even if we were mundane, and boring, that we could still be a part of that world, and do amazing things. And for a while, you know, things were going pretty well. We did odd jobs, helped some people out. Got a little bit of a reputation as amateur detectives, problem-solvers, hunters of the magical variety. We hung around with the fantastical and powerful, like Pax. It was rewarding. It was dangerous, but it was thrilling, and it was… validating. I thought it was everything I could ever want.”

    They paused to gather their thoughts. Ariadne reached over as if to squeeze their hand, then seemed to change her mind, tucking her hands back in her lap again.

    “Then what happened?” she asked softly.

    Webb closed their eyes. “I mean, I’m sure you can guess how this story goes,” they said. “We got in over our heads. We accepted a job that took us deep into fae territory and we got caught. They got Dominic first—just swallowed him up inside a tree, devouring him before he had a chance to do more than scream. Jasper tried to get him free, but then we heard just—this thunderous noise. Hoofbeats and horns and the sound of bells.”

    They were breathing too fast, their heart hammering as though they were actively being chased again. They heard Lore make a low noise, curling up against Webb’s back.

    “The wild hunt,” Faraday said quietly.

    “We… ran, of course,” Webb said with a shaky, humorless little laugh. “What else could we do? One by one I heard my friends fall behind, or be taken down, or be lost, and I couldn’t—I couldn’t do anything. And I was never the fastest or the strongest, but maybe I was always the most cowardly and self-interested, because I made it to a stream, and I started to cross.”

    “Oh, Webb,” Ariadne blurted out helplessly. “… escaping from a situation made to harm you doesn’t make you a coward, or selfish.”

    Webb gave a jerky shrug. “Maybe not,” they said bitterly, noncommittally. “But I’m not finished. Partway across, I heard Jasper behind me, calling out. I turned back—but behind him, I saw… him. The Erl-King. King of the Elves. Indescribable and beautiful and absolutely dreadful and awe-inspiring. And it seemed like just a game to him, him on that nightmare mount of his, rising up over Jasper and holding his blade up high, and I met his eyes and I felt like—like everything in me was on fire from the inside out. Like everything was wrong, but also, like I was his, I belonged to him from then on and I knew that with every fibre of my being. And I took a step back towards him and—and I’m sure that I would have walked willingly into the jaws of my own death, then, except Jasper struck. He managed to hit the Erl-King square in the side of one eye with—with a rock, I think? I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore. All I could remember was this searing pain, and feeling like I was suddenly going limp, like a marionette with its strings cut and suddenly falling slack.”

    They drew in a deep breath. “And then I ran. Through the water, and out of the woods. Everything was—off, wrong. Disorienting. Everything about me was changing, and the forest itself seemed like it was trying to drag me down and devour me, like it had done to all of my friends. But I fucking made it out, and it took months in the hospital before they were able to put me back to even the most pathetic shape of a human. Or… or whatever it is I am now.”

    The others were silent. The room was very, very quiet; all Webb could hear was the rhythmic hammering of their own heart, the blood rushing behind their ears.

    “When the harpy said that you’d never be free of him…” Ariadne whispered finally, as though she was also feeling the oppressive weight of the quiet in the air, “do you think that meant…?”

    “I dream of him every time I sleep,” Webb blurted. “Every single time I close my eyes, I dream of the hunt. For years, I’d hear them in the distance—chasing me, calling for me. And recently… they’ve been getting louder.” They drew in a shuddering breath. “Earlier today, I dreamed of the Erl-King himself. And he spoke to me. He told me I should just give up and let myself be caught.” They let out a hysterical little shadow of a laugh. “For some reason, I don’t think he’s very happy that I got away.”

    Faraday was sitting with his fingers steepled, his brows furrowed deeply, elbows resting on his knees. “So the Inquisitors… could be working with the fae,” he said slowly. “That seems to check out, from what Lore said. And—I mean, based on the fact that literally nobody knows who they seem to work for in the first place. They may have been trying to capture you when they found out about you, not because of Grimm, but because of the Erl-King…”

    “But it’s still true that Grimm had been using you to send people his way…” Ariadne said with a frown. “So the Erl-King was after you, and Grimm was manipulating you… are they working together? Or—or against each other?”

    “How should I fucking know?” Webb croaked, sprawling back onto the bed and staring up at the ceiling. “Maybe Faraday is right, and I’m just a ragged chew-toy caught in a tug-of-war between the vampires and the fae. Maybe every bit of agency I thought I’d ever had has been a lie. Maybe I should just go walk out into the forest and be done with it. Maybe—”

    “Shh,” Lore murmured, running their fingertips soothingly across Webb’s hair, leaning in to press a shadowy kiss against their forehead. “Webb. There’s… a lot going on, I know. But… you’re not alone. Nothing… nothing has really changed in that regard.”

    “Lore’s right,” Ariadne said firmly. “If anything, this just makes me feel even more determined to figure out what’s happening here. Things are going to be okay, Webb.”

    “And what if they’re not?” Webb demanded, brushing Lore’s hand away and shoving themself up onto their elbows, glaring around at the others with their breath coming fast. “I just told you—everyone that I cared about died, and I couldn’t do shit to save them. I ran away and saved myself. And then I spent the next decade after that absolutely wasting my life and refusing to get involved in anything like that ever again. They had dreams. They had things that were important to them, and I just—I just gave up on everything I ever wanted and decided to let myself live vicariously through others. Others who I thought I was doing right by, but it turns out I was sending them to their gruesome deaths, too—!”

    They knew this would fucking happen. That they’d tell them everything and it’d just be more of the same—let’s stick together, it’s not your fault, let’s figure it out. Let’s charge up Vampire Party Death Mountain and get ourselves killed. Webb didn’t know what to do or say to make things go differently. Maybe they did want to be caught, just to get this over with. Maybe that would be the easiest way out.

    Because when push came to shove, they hadn’t been able to save their friends, or protect Jasper, and now they’d left Pax behind—how could they risk losing anybody else?

    [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 37

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb let out a rough breath, leaning in close and pressing their forehead against Faraday’s, their noses bumping together. They could feel the warmth of his breath, see the shadow cast by his dark lashes as he leaned in slightly, one hand finding Webb’s and squeezing tightly.

    “Your face is very close,” Webb muttered inanely, closing the gap to lightly catch at Faraday’s lower lip with their teeth, tongue flicking out briefly before drawing back.

    Faraday raised an eyebrow in return, a slight curve to his lips. “You seemed not to mind it there.” His expression was cautious, but warm. With a curious hum, he closed the gap again slowly, carefully, keeping his eyes on Webb the whole time.

    This time, the kiss lingered a little longer. Webb shivered as Faraday’s lips brushed at one of their lip rings, and closed their eyes as Faraday’s hand on their cheek guided them closer, callused fingertips firm but gentle under Webb’s chin.

    Webb wanted nothing more than to sink into it with abandon, to indulge in the intoxicating sensation of someone holding them close, blocking out the world and their fears and the lingering sour taste of their nightmares in their mouth. They wanted to bury their hands in Faraday’s long, silky hair and feel desired and protected and to not have to think

    When will you finally give up on this charade?

    They pulled back with a sharp little noise, breath coming fast and shallow, one hand clutching at Faraday’s shirt and pushing, trying to put a little space between them. Faraday immediately leaned back, expression concerned and apologetic, which Webb hated most of all.

    “You’re fine,” they assured him roughly, hastily. “This is—a me problem, not a you problem. You didn’t—you didn’t do anything weird. But I just… I mean, we should probably—”

    Faraday squeezed their hand one more time, brows creased. For a moment, Webb thought he was going to press further, and they weren’t altogether sure they didn’t want him to. But he relented, leaning back, opening the door and letting out a visible huff of breath as the cool mountain air rushed inside.

    “Let’s get inside somewhere,” Faraday suggested gently. “I suspect there’s a few things we need to talk about.”

    Webb felt their gut twisting, uneasy. “Ohhh, no,” they muttered. “I hate talking about things.” They readjusted their sunglasses and tugged their hat down further over their forehead.

    Faraday let out a soft laugh, warm and patient, holding up a hand to help Webb down out of the truck. “I know,” he said. “And I won’t force you to say anything before you’re ready. But… I just want you to know that I’m willing to listen. When you’re ready.”

    Webb made a face at him, but obligingly took his hand, hopping down. “So gallant,” they said. “I’ll keep it in mind.” They tried to keep their tone as light as possible, because Faraday kept looking at them like he really cared about what they were thinking and feeling and it was absolutely just going to make them scream.

    They needed to tell Ariadne and Faraday and Lore about what had really happened back then, ten years ago. What they’d been going through every night since then. And what that might mean for them—for all of them—if the Erl-King really was involved in what was happening right now. Unfortunately, Webb suspected that they’d be supportive and even more determined than ever to protect Webb and stay by their side, which was pretty much the worst scenario they could imagine.

    Against their best intentions, and despite ten years of hard work trying to keep everyone at a distance, they’d had one bad night and fucked it all up, and now there were contingencies that Webb desperately wanted to ensure didn’t become casualties.

    Not again. Not after last time.

    They shivered again—at the thought, at the cold air, at the feeling of Lore slithering against their neck, murmuring in their ear.

    “Webb?” Lore whispered softly. “Are you alright?”

    “I’m—fuck, Lore, you were there the whole time?” Webb hissed, cheeks flushing as they shuffled across the slick pavement after Faraday.

    “Of course I was,” Lore said softly. “I’m not going to leave your side again if I can help it.”

    Webb’s heartbeat quickened, that sour and fleeting taste stinging the back of their throat again. “There are probably times when I’m—going to want time to myself,” they muttered, even as they crawled their hand back up to try to touch whatever part of Lore was available to be touched. There was nothing at first, then the sinuous sensation of smoke between their fingers, silky and cool and reassuring.

    “I’ll give you space if you want space,” Lore said. “Do you… want me to leave?” They sounded a bit tremulous, uncertain.

    “No,” Webb said, terse and a little miserable but trying not to let Lore get the wrong impression. They swallowed, exhaling in a plume of frost. “No, I don’t.”

    The two of them fell silent as they approached where Faraday had just joined Ariadne and the minotaur, the latter two still in animated conversation. Ariadne looked up as Webb approached, and although they couldn’t see her face with every inch of her covered up, she still seemed and sounded quite pleased.

    “Good morning, sleepyhead,” she teased. “Did you rest well?”

    “Well enough,” Webb lied. “Pillow kept trying to cop a feel, though.”

    “I did not!” Faraday protested, scandalized. Webb appreciated that. It was important to keep people on their toes, even when you were being a little sweet on them.

    Ariadne just laughed. “Well, I’m sure we can find another place to settle in for the day where you can rest a little more peacefully. Octavia here was just telling me a little bit about the town.”

    Octavia, the minotaur, gave a firm nod of her head. She had enormous horns that would put Pax’s to shame—no wonder she needed that big ol’ truck, Webb thought. Then, they tried hard not to think about Pax. “Shadewick’s a real nice place,” Octavia commented in a light, low drawl. “Good food. Nice trails. A lake nearby. Short walk to the gondola up to the top of Mount Bloodstone an’ the Devil’s Pass trails—”

    “Mount Bloodstone,” Webb echoed brightly. “Was that named for any, uhhh…”

    Octavia scratched her neck. “Don’t think it has anything to do with the Valley or anything,” she admitted. “Given that mountains have kinda been there for a while. I think that’s just how humans like to name things sometimes.”

    Webb opened their mouth, then closed it again. “You know what, fair enough. You’re right.”

    “Though,” Octavia added, her tone suddenly serious. “I was just tellin’ Ariadne here, it ain’t been quite right lately. I’ve been hearin’ a lot about folks hearin’ all manner of strange noises out in the woods. Those goin’ missin’ more often than usual. I reckon there might be some manner of trouble about, so just make sure y’all stick together, alright?”

    Ariadne gave Octavia’s arm a little squeeze. “We’ll be sure to,” she assured her, though she sounded a little worried. “You too, alright?”

    Webb didn’t blame Ariadne for being concerned. Hearing that wasn’t a surprise, given why they’d come here at all, but it was still, unfortunately, a little chilling to have it confirmed. “I don’t suppose there’s anybody here who would know a little more about that?” they asked casually. “Like, I don’t know… someone who survived an uncanny encounter, or got away from something dangerous?”

    Octavia looked thoughtful. “None I know of,” she said apologetically. “I’ve mostly been workin’ down in Hallow Point, so a lot of what I know has just been passed along secondhand by friends in the area.”

    “What about a local doctor, or healer?” Faraday suggested. “If anybody was hurt…”

    Octavia did brighten slightly at that. “Oh, sure,” she said. “You can probably pop in to see Niall. He’s a witch that runs an infirmary right at the edge of town. Patches us up pretty well when anybody has a tumble or pushes themself a little too much.”

    “Good to know.” Webb gave her a nod, then glanced at the others. “Well… thanks, again, for the ride, I guess. We’ll see you around…?”

    Octavia grinned. “Yeah, my pleasure to have the company. If y’all are stickin’ around at all…” She gave Ariadne a hopeful, pointed look.

    “We’ve… got some things to do, so I’m not sure how long we’ll be in town,” Ariadne said hastily, sounding genuinely apologetic. “But if things all get sorted—we’ll seek you out, for sure!”

    She managed to sound way more confident than Webb felt, but she also had the benefit of the motorcycle helmet hiding her expression, which was probably a blessing. Webb hung out next to Faraday while Ariadne and Octavia said a few more polite goodbyes, then beckoned for Ariadne to follow them away from the truck and towards the motel.

    “Are we planning to stay here?” Ariadne murmured, falling into step beside them.

    “I don’t think we should,” said Webb. “If this is where Octavia’s staying… the more out of sight, out of mind we are with anybody that could be trailing us, or hearing about us, or looking for us…”

    “I agree,” Faraday said quietly. “Let’s find another place.” He paused. “How do we want to do this? Some of us got a little bit of rest on the trip, but not much. Ariadne’s not at her best during the day, but…”

    “But others are more active at night, too,” Ariadne pointed out quietly. “The chalet on top of Bloodstone Peak is definitely a place we should check out. I’ve been there. I know it’s one of his. But whether or not he’s there at the moment, or at one of the other locations…”

    “I’d like a chance to talk,” Lore said softly, though loud enough for all of them to hear. “About what happened back at the Drawing Dead…”

    Webb chafed their hands together, fingers a little chilled despite the gentle magical warmth from their sweater. “Right. There’s that, too…” They really wanted to know what had happened with Lore—not to mention the fact that they hadn’t checked to see if they had any messages from Pax… “And as for that witch Octavia mentioned, did we want to try to talk to him right away in case he knows something that majorly changes our plans, or…?”

    They trailed off slightly, voice rising in confusion as Faraday and Ariadne, on either side of Webb, both seemed to notice that Webb was feeling cold and stepped in at the same time to try to sling an arm around them. Realizing what they’d done, both of them fumbled in surprise, glanced at each other, then started to laugh.

    Webb just stopped walking and buried their face in their hands, feeling their ears starting to burn and redden from more than just the chill.

    “I’m happy to do whatever you think is best,” Faraday told Webb quietly, “but try not to push yourself too much, alright? It’s okay to take a bit of time before moving on.”

    Spoken like a man who’s not outrunning something at all times, Webb thought sullenly. But then… that wasn’t Faraday’s fault. And despite the anxiety that was beginning to build again in their chest at the very thought, maybe it was about time to just bite the bullet and tell 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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  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 36

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb let out an embarrassingly loud yell of shock, taking a hasty step back and hearing a crunch as their back pressed against a display hung with potato chip bags. Their reflection’s eyes widened in return—before it vanished entirely, leaving behind a much paler, vaguer silhouette in the glass.

    There was sound of footsteps on linoleum, then Faraday’s hands were firm on Webb’s shoulders, bracing them, helping them stand upright.

    “Webb, what happened?” Faraday asked, concerned and alarmed, pulling Webb close and glancing back out the window, gaze searching. “Was there something there—?”

    “I, no…” Webb stammered, mortified at how their heart was still hammering, their fingers clutching at Faraday’s jacket. “I mean yes? I just thought I saw…”

    The gnome behind the counter cleared her throat. “If you’re fucked up, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave…” she said, before immediately seeming to lose interest again.

    “We’re fine!” Webb snapped, then stiffened again as they felt a cool touch at the back of their neck, and heard a soft voice whisper:

    “Webb? I’m sorry… did I surprise you?”

    Lore!” Webb felt their knees weaken, their head thunking against Faraday’s chest in a combination of relief and exasperation. “Fuck! You almost killed me. I almost died. Holy fuck, you’re here, you’re alright!”

    “Lore’s back?” Faraday murmured quietly against Webb’s hair, arms wrapped around them tightly. Webb distantly realized that he was kindly hiding the fact that Webb was talking to someone invisible from the judgemental gaze of the cashier, which was both very thoughtful and extremely embarrassing, and he continued to smell spitefully good.

    “Yes,” they mumbled, still too relieved to do anything except breathe deeply and focus on their heart racing. “Let’s… damn. Get Ariadne, get your coffee or whatever, and let’s go.”

    Faraday obligingly gave them a little squeeze and stepped back, also looking a strange combination between flustered and relieved, a crooked smile softening his expression for a moment. “Try to stay out of trouble for, say, a literal minute,” he suggested quietly. “I’ll be right back.”

    Webb made a face, but couldn’t really fault him for that. They watched him go, then quickly turned, pretending to carefully examine one of the fridges on the far side of the store, as though mesmerized by the unnecessary array of flavored milks.

    “Lore, what happened?” they murmured under their breath, closing their eyes. “Are you alright?”

    “I’m fine,” Lore said gently, a little rueful. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’d just been trying to catch up with you for a little while…”

    “A little while?” Webb demanded under their breath. “It’s hardly been any time at all! I mean, I’m not complaining—”

    “You sound a little bit like you’re complaining,” Lore whispered, but it was fond, and Webb felt shadowy hands running along their arms, inside their sweater. They let out an aborted, flustered little noise, hunching down.

    “Fuck you,” Webb breathed out. “Fucking hell. Alright. We need to get out of here. We’re heading north. You can tell me more about it along the way. I don’t suppose you brought a car?”

    “I… no,” Lore admitted, their quiet voice seeming to just wash over Webb. “I wasn’t… aware that was… I mean, how do you get out here?”

    Webb hugged their own elbows closer, as if that would let them hug Lore, somehow, and let out a shaky laugh. “Again, long fucking story. Let’s go see if Ariadne came up with any other ideas, and just… go from there.”

    It turned out that although Ariadne hadn’t come up with a new idea, she had started up a conversation with a friendly, burly-looking minotaur who was stocking up on snacks for her hiking trip up north, and, wouldn’t you know it? She was driving in an extended-cab pickup all on her own, and her gear didn’t take up that much room in the back, so…

    Webb exchanged a glance with Ariadne as they made their way to the truck, pressing close to her and murmuring under their breath. “I can’t tell if you actually needed to mesmer her or not,” they whispered.

    Ariadne just gave them a toothy grin in response and took a sip of her coffee. “Sometimes there are just nice people in the world!” she chided gently.

    “Well, something might as well go right tonight,” Webb muttered, climbing up into the back seat.

    Even as the words had come out of Webb’s mouth, they realized that they didn’t actually mean them. The night had been terrifying and distressing in a lot of ways. They’d lost their job and home, possibly permanently, and there was some kind of warrant or bounty out for their capture. They were fleeing up north to try to track down and get the dirt on some super-powerful entity that had usurped a vampire lord, and it all had something to do with the painful past that Webb had been doing their desperate best to outrun.

    But… they were still alive, and somehow more well-supported than they could have ever imagined. They felt Lore’s shadowy presence clinging to their hair and coiling up in their hood, and had to shift aside as Faraday folded himself into the back seat next to Webb, leaving Ariadne in the front to continue charming their driver.

    Webb was tired, but they weren’t cold; they were frightened, but they weren’t alone. This was all a big mess, but rather than wanting to flee, Webb felt a quiet sort of determination thrumming in their chest—to figure this out. To see it through.

    It felt very strange, and they weren’t altogether sure they liked it.

    There wasn’t a lot of room in the back; the minotaur had most of her gear stashed in the cargo bed, but there were a couple bags sharing the passenger bench. Grumbling, Webb shoved themself up against Faraday’s side, resting their head against his shoulder.

    “Put your arm around me,” they muttered sullenly as the truck headed out onto the highway. “I’m going to sleep.”

    “I, oh,” Faraday stammered, immediately and automatically obliging. He grinned after a moment, ducking his head slightly, voice dropping a little lower. “You’re a menace, you know that, Webb?”

    “They know,” Ariadne called back in the rear view mirror, grinning. She was wiping down her helmet before tugging it back on. The minotaur made a disappointed little noise. “—eyes on the road,” Ariadne teased. “The clouds look like they’re breaking up a little, and I don’t want a deeply unpleasant sunrise.” To Webb and Faraday, she added: “Get some rest. I’ll wake you up when we get there.”

    Webb stifled a yawn. “Where is there, exactly?” they asked. “Where are we headed?”

    “I’m on my way up to Shadewick,” the minotaur offered. “If you’re going past there, I can’t be of much help, but you’re welcome to go that far with me.”

    Ariadne nodded. “That’s about two hours from here. It’s a fair-sized place. Pretty nice. Close enough to where we want to go. We can rest up there for a bit.”

    She kept her tone purposefully light and vague, which Webb appreciated. There was no need letting their new friend know any more than strictly necessary. If anything, Webb hoped that Faraday’s magic might make it so that the minotaur remembered as little about them as possible once they got out of her hair—for her sake as well as their own.

    Webb wondered why the thought suddenly struck them as a little lonely. They, who had mesmerized every one of their one night stands into forgetting about them over the years. This shouldn’t be anything new. It was obviously just the traumatized exhaustion talking.

    They turned their head and got a little more comfortable against Faraday’s side, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, listening to the soft undercurrent of the radio and the rhythmic hum of tires on wet concrete as they headed north and let a fitful sleep claim them.


    They were always running, in their dreams. They’d often quipped that this was the reason for the shock of white in their hair, the ever-present dark circles under their eyes, but they knew that they actually meant it.

    Rest was a time for fear, and was never truly restful.

    They scrambled through the underbrush, their hands scratched up by brambles, their feet slipping on moss and leaves. This time, when they glanced behind them at their pursuer, something seemed even more sinister than usual. A knowing look, and mocking laughter. He was close, closer than he’d ever been before, close enough that Webb could see the cruel curve of his lips, the brittle brightness of his eyes. 

    “When will you finally give up on this charade?” coaxed the Erl-King, astride his mount of a thousand shifting faces, each more unsettling than the last. It reared and stamped its hooves, its splintering antlers casting ominous shadows. “We both know you long to be caught.”


    Webb jerked awake with a gasp, scrambling. They felt their elbows impact something soft, and struggled to free themself—

    “Oh, fuck,” they stammered, realizing that they’d just jammed an elbow directly into Faraday. “You’re—oh, we’re still…”

    They were still in the truck, though they were clearly no longer on the highway, parked just outside of a rustic little motel. They could see Ariadne and the minotaur outside, stretching and taking a look at the deep, clustered pines and the thin, glittering layer of snow.

    Faraday rubbed his jaw ruefully as Webb drew back. “I think you’d been dreaming,” he said apologetically. “I was trying to wake you gently…”

    Webb pressed their eyes tightly closed. “No, it’s alright,” they said, their voice sounding rough and strange to their own ears. “I mean, I was. I always do. Sorry about your… everything. That I impacted with the sharp bits of me.”

    Faraday’s expression softened. “You seem to be all made of sharp bits,” he commented, then hesitated, reaching out to nudge Webb’s glasses up, thumb brushing their cheekbone. He gave Webb a rueful smile. “That’s… not a bad thing.”

    He hesitated, leaning in a little closer, giving Webb a searching, curious look. What do you want? It seemed to say. How can I help?

    [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 35

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Ariadne and Faraday were quiet for a moment, but didn’t let the silence linger long.

    “Of course, Webb,” Faraday said quietly. “Let’s head out to the road and get our bearings. We can save any further discussion for when we’re out of the rain.”

    Webb begrudgingly accepted Ariadne’s assistance, rising to their feet. She insisted on staying close to Webb’s side as the three of them began to pick their way towards the road. They couldn’t find it in themself to complain.

    “I don’t suppose you have any magic up your sleeve that can help us out here?” Webb asked Faraday, trying to keep their tone gentle. Don’t sound stressed out. Don’t be too weird about it. They’ll wonder if you’re still having a meltdown.

    Webb remembered a moment later when Faraday gave them a very alarmed look that they never took a gentle tone with Faraday and that, in itself, was probably pretty worrisome. They made a face and stuck their tongue out instead, which earned a laugh. Faraday’s shoulders relaxed.

    “If necessary, I might be able to do something,” Faraday said with a nod. “But it’s a little outside my specialty and I’ve already done a few spells tonight. It’s probably wiser for me to save up my energy.”

    Witches had a number of abilities that Webb was aware of. Their bloodline allowed them to live in the Valley proper or even enter the Otherworld—but they didn’t have unlimited power. They could draw on their own life energy, or… other sources. Often familiars, apprentices, slaves… It was pretty clear that Faraday wasn’t that type of witch, though, so Webb figured that he was stuck just with whatever power he was able to generate on his own with his limited battery.

    “Faraday works better on… slower things,” Ariadne said, more or less confirming Webb’s suspicions. “Things that take effect over time.”

    Faraday nodded. “Things like the spider spell, or the bobbin, those I already had prepared. Power that I had stored up—in the thread, or in my coat. Which usually works just fine for what I need it to, but let’s just say I’m not exactly equipped to be an adventuring battle mage responding to unique and unpredictable situations…”

    Webb worried at their lower lip rings for a moment as they continued to walk along, leaves rustling wetly underfoot. “That’s fair,” they said. “Let’s see what we can manage.”

    Faraday looked surprised again, then grateful, giving Webb a nod. “I’ll try to pull my weight,” he said dryly. “After you got to see how cool Ariadne can be.”

    Ariadne snorted. “I’m a brawler with no finesse,” she said lightly. “The things you do are elegant, my dear.”

    “Elegance doesn’t mean much under a lot of circumstances,” Faraday pointed out dryly.

    “I don’t know,” Webb said, managing a smile that felt like it only cracked their skin a little. “Honestly, I think the world would be a much better place if people had a bit more style and panache about things, like you do.”

    “I… think so too,” Faraday all but stammered, ducking his head, a little flustered. He looked at Webb, then quickly away. “Oh, look, I see headlights…” He walked a little faster, leading the way ahead, coat flapping in the wind.

    Ariadne bit back a little grin, bumping her hip against Webb’s. “If you think I’m going to forget that we’re worried about you, you’re very mistaken,” she said with threateningly good cheer, leaning in close to murmur in Webb’s ear. “But… that was cute. Thanks.”

    Webb found themself flushing a little in return, pushing back against her side. “I’m not—being duplicitous,” they muttered. “I’m just trying to…”

    “Mmhmm,” she hummed, squeezing Webb’s hand. “Come on.”

    Webb followed closely beside her as they approached the roadside. The occasional car was passing by in the gloom, headlights flashing before disappearing into the fog. Faraday was standing with his arms crossed, eyes narrowed as he scanned for signs or landmarks.

    “I can’t see much,” he murmured as Ariadne and Webb caught up. “You two might have a little bit better luck.”

    “Doesn’t seem like we’re in the middle of nowhere,” Ariadne observed, tilting her head back and sniffing the air. “The rain makes it difficult, but… I’d wager we’re just outside the city proper. There should be some things along the road here.”

    Webb let out a grumbling sigh. “Gee, thanks, Pax,” they muttered. They fished out their phone, checking first for messages (none), then pulling open Maps. “GPS agrees with you. Looks like there’s a gas station at least about ten minutes from here, at least. Let’s head that way for now. Stick near the road, but out of sight. We don’t want to be spotted.”

    “I can help with that, at least,” Faraday said, almost eager, raking his wet hair back from his face. “Here, it’s just a small thing…”

    Faraday reached out to Ariadne first, lightly running his fingers along the hem of her jacket, straightening it. She gave a little shiver, smiling faintly, the threads in her jacket briefly pulsing a soft silver color. He then turned to Webb, hesitating.

    “What’s that going to do?” Webb asked, hugging their elbows and hunching their shoulders somewhat, trying not to look too wary. Then: “… I mean, go ahead, but…”

    “Nondetection,” Faraday told them, taking a step closer and resting his hands on the shoulder of Webb’s damp sweater. A faint look of concentration appeared between his brows. Webb could feel the warmth of his hands and shivered at the contrast. “I’m just politely asking the threads in your clothes to help you avoid unwanted attention,” Faraday explained with a little grin. “You’re still wearing Ariadne’s sweater, which is quite familiar with me, so it’s pretty easygoing.”

    Webb expected to feel a rush of magic, or notice something different, but there was nothing—then, suddenly, there was a rush of warmth as their sweater dried itself off like a pomeranian shaking and shedding water.

    “The hell—??”

    Faraday let out a laugh, his eyes bright. “Oh, seems like it really wanted to be cooperative. Clearly it likes you.”

    Webb, still feeling a thousand kinds of fragile, begrudgingly yanked the hood back up and pulled on the drawstrings. “That’s weird,” they whispered threateningly. Then, just as quickly, ducking their head and slouching over to join Ariadne. “I mean. Thanks. It’s way nicer.”

    “Let’s get going,” Ariadne suggested, her gaze scanning the horizon. “That’ll help, but… we might still have a long ways to go.”

    As the three of them began to trudge northwards along the side of the quiet, winding highway, Webb tried their best to try to focus on the things that seemed present and real, and as little as possible on all of the things that seemed terrible and looming and so very loud in their head, like the rustling of trees reminding them just how very near the woods were at any given moment. They tried not to think about Lore, or Pax, or how cold their feet were, or how fucking exhausted they were, or how much they really hated cardio, and how terrified they were about their past coming back to haunt them…

    “Ariadne,” Webb rasped out, when it was clear that walking in silence was very soon going to result in them having a full-scale meltdown on the side of the road. They cleared their throat, and tried again. “Ariadne… back there, when Veracity mentioned that Grimm might not actually be Grimm…”

    Ariadne’s shoulders tensed a little, but she fell back a step slightly to walk closer to Webb. “Yeah?” she murmured. “What about it?”

    “How… are you feeling about that, first of all?” Webb asked awkwardly, voice still a little rough. “But also—what did she mean about you being a puppet?”

    Ariadne scrubbed at her pale face with one hand, looking a little tired, but her jaw was set, determined, her chin tilted up slightly. “Vampires… I mean, you already know we have the ability to mesmer, to charm and influence people. The stronger and older the vampire, the more power and sway they have. And for those who have sired or turned others… well, you’re sort of in a perpetual state of thrall. It’s really hard to turn on your sire, and if they order you to do something, well, you’re sort of…”

    “Permanently indebted to your vampire sugar daddy?” Webb suggests. “Damn. That’s rough.”

    Ariadne made a face. “It’s not even debt so much as… I mean. It’s magic. It’s blood. It’s… visceral. It’s part of who you are, and it’s how vampire lords get so powerful. The more their clan grows, the more they have a small army of obedient thralls…”

    “And yet,” Faraday said thoughtfully, “if this information is true, that means…”

    “It means a lot of things,” Webb interrupted. “It means, first of all, Ariadne, what were you planning to do when we came across him before you knew it was possibly a bait-and-switch? Just hope, like, I don’t know, this innate vampire puppet disease was a problem that just happened to other vampires?”

    “No!” Ariadne protested. “I just… I mean, what else was I supposed to do? I was worried about it, obviously, but I had Faraday, and then there was you, and I hadn’t exactly meant for tonight to go like this, it just sort of ended up this way, and one thing led to another, and…”

    Webb sighed, nudging her as they walked. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” they muttered. “But also, I mean… now what? If it’s true… I mean, if vampire lords are a big fucking deal like you said, then… what’s it mean for us if we’re dealing with someone that offed a vampire lord and took his place?

    Neither of them had an answer to that. Webb wasn’t sure they were expecting one.

    They fell into silence again as they walked. After about ten minutes had passed, the gas station came into view, the reds and yellows of its fluorescent signage glowing particularly brightly in the pre-dawn gloom.

    “What’s the plan from here?” Faraday asked, glancing back at Webb. “I still think it would be a good idea to find somewhere to rest…”

    “Either of you ever steal a car before?” Webb asked casually.

    “No,” they said in unison. Faraday looked a little affronted. Ariadne mostly looked thoughtful, then changed her expression to serious when Faraday frowned at her.

    Webb grinned, finding the smile coming a little easier this time. “Just kidding,” they said, though they hadn’t completely been joking. “But I am really fucking tired of being out in the rain. Maybe we could at least, you know, casually convince someone to give us a ride to the nearest motel…”

    Ariadne nodded at that, thoughtful. “That… would probably be fine,” she agreed. “Fastest. Avoids the possibility that rideshare or taxi companies have been asked to be on the lookout for you or your accounts…”

    “Love that thought,” Webb said dryly.

    “Though we’ll have to be careful with any place we check into as well,” Faraday pointed out regretfully. “I could weave together disguises, but it’ll be a little more effort…”

    As Ariadne and Faraday chattered back and forth, exchanging the exhaustingly endless pros and cons and possibilities of how to travel and where to rest and how it was possible that every move Webb was making was being followed and hunted down, Webb suddenly felt an uneasy sensation at the back of their neck. Turning, they nervously scanned the roadway and the edge of the woods.

    “… Webb?” Faraday asked, turning to him. “What is it?”

    “Nothing,” Webb murmured. “I just thought I felt someone watching me…”

    “Let’s get inside at least,” Ariadne said warily, her red eyes flickering as she scanned the horizon as well. “No reason why we can’t warm up and get some terrible coffee while we figure out where we’re going.”

    There was something jarringly intimate and nostalgic about wandering into a little convenience store in the most nebulous hours of the day with the two of them—Faraday with his brightly-colored coat, Ariadne with blood still caked in her hair. Liminal, strange, and yet familiar. The soft whirr of the Slurpee machines. The smell of coffee that had probably been brewed four hours ago. The young gnome woman behind the counter that looked up and could clearly, powerfully care less. Webb had absolutely no idea if that was Faraday’s glamor at work, or simply her own powerful sense of ennui. Either way, they respected it.

    As Ariadne stepped away to get cleaned up in the shockingly-not-out-of-service bathroom and Faraday perused the questionable coffee options, Webb pulled his hood up a little further, lingering near the front of the store and peering back outside, still feeling uneasy. The harsh lighting overhead hummed and buzzed, casting their reflection in the glass into strange and jagged shadows.

    “There’s nothing there,” they said quietly, to their own reflection. “You’re exhausted, your imagination is running wild, and…” they trailed off.

    Their reflection continued to stare directly back at them, and hadn’t mouthed the words in return.

    [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 34

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Webb had never in their life wanted to stand their ground and fight. Their fight-or-flight reflexes had gotten gummed up early on and were stuck on “flight” only. The light on their emotional dashboard was permanently lit with a neon HELL NO.

    And yet, seeing Vyo lunging down at them, they found that their heart was pounding as much with adrenaline as with anxiety, the roaring in their ears fury as well as fear.

    That said, they did not have knives for hands, and so they did the sensible thing and ducked out of the way.

    Fuck,” they cursed, scrambling on wet leaves as Vyo swooped at them. They grabbed the broken umbrella that Pax had dropped at some point, thrusting wildly upwards with it as they felt the brush of wings close—too close—overhead. They didn’t hit anything, but Vyo also didn’t make a second pass, at least not immediately.

    “Webb!” Faraday was crouching beside them, expression grim. Despite the rain and the chaos, his hair still looked perfect, tumbling down in a curtain around them both as Faraday knelt, hauling Webb protectively close against his chest. “Are you alright?”

    “Fiiiii-nuh, I can’t believe you,” Webb muttered. “Stop it, your jacket is going to get muddy—”

    “My jacket can survive a little mud,” Faraday said, face tilted up into the rain as he scanned the dark sky, eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure you can survive getting gored by a harpy.”

    “Maybe not with that attitude,” Webb muttered, but they let Faraday stay protectively pressed over them while they also quickly took stock of the situation.

    Vyo had flown up overhead again before diving back down again, but this time it looked as though either Pax or Ariadne had managed to grab her attention, or her leg, or both. Her wings were beating furiously as she tried to wheel out of the way again, but Ariadne launched up like a feral housecat, raking a swipe across Vyo’s leg with blackened talons that Webb was very sure that Ariadne didn’t have earlier.

    Pax, meanwhile, had materialized some kind of gleaming blade out of seemingly nowhere, a wickedly sharp silver thing about as long as his forearm. He was currently using it to file one of his nails.

    Pax,” Webb hissed.

    The demon looked up, wide-eyed. “What? Your vampire looks like she has it handled.”

    Honestly, Webb couldn’t deny that. That wasn’t the point. “We need to leave,” they insisted. “Get Ariadne and let’s get out of here.”

    Faraday looked thoughtful, biting his lower lip and glancing back along the riverbank towards the Drawing Dead. “Worried this is just a diversion?” he asked, low-voiced.

    “Of course it is,” Pax said agreeably, tossing the blade from one hand to the other. “She wouldn’t go toe-to-toe with me, let alone with the four of us, if there wasn’t an ace up her sleeve.”

    “And I’m not willing to stick around to find out what that is,” Webb said. They rose up, bracing themself against Faraday, who stood up as well, staying pressed close. They hesitated, though, exhaling an irritated puff of breath. “But… she knows something, so if we can just…”

    “Webb, look—” Faraday interrupted urgently, turning Webb towards the direction of the Drawing Dead.

    At first, it seemed like nothing—just a shifting of the mist, the rain, and the shadows of the dim pre-dawn. Then the shapes started to take a more solid form. Still in the distance, for now, but coming closer, with amorphous shapes and wielding blades.

    “I told you!” Webb hissed, because they had.

    “Well, that’s sure our cue!” Pax said brightly. “Or rather—your cue. Witch boy, grab your vampire and our scoundrel here. I’ll chuck you as far as I can throw you.”

    Webb made an alarmed noise. “Yes, but also, no, what? What about you? This had better not be a dramatic sacrifice! I’m not playing that game where I leave my people behind one by one to advance my fucking quest, Pax, this is not that genre—”

    “Oh, please,” Pax rolled his eyes. “You’re so fucking dramatic. We both want to know what this feather duster knows, but you need to get out of town. I’ll deal with the turkey and avoid the ghost army, don’t worry. And I’ll text you later, because I knoooww you’ll want to know what I find out, and I’ll only make you beg a little.

    Webb stared at him, then glanced over at Faraday. Faraday was looking over at where Ariadne had literally just charged up the side of a tree, making it tremble and shake under the force of the impact, hanging from a branch as she tried to swing her way across it.

    “… I mean, I hate to break up Ariadne’s fun,” Webb said in a slightly strained tone. “It feels like taking a tennis ball away from a puppy…”

    Pax brandished the knife threateningly in their general direction. “Go,” they insisted sweetly, smiling so wide it seemed to split their cheeks slightly, showing all of their teeth.

    “Fine!” Webb nudged Faraday. “How do we—??”

    “Get ready to tag out,” Faraday told Pax firmly, straightening up and reaching into his jacket. “I assume you’re readying another portal?”

    “Sir, yes, sir,” Pax said with a little purr. This time he drew a circle on the ground with the tip of one gold-tipped toe, a little pirouette in place before he hopped to the side. Leaves and rain vanished, sucked down into the sudden void underfoot. Somehow, this one made Webb even more uneasy than the first.

    “And where exactly is this one going to send us?” Webb muttered.

    Pax gave them a broad, knifey shrug. “Away.”

    “Fair enough.”

    “Please focus,” Faraday said with a politely long-suffering tone, pulling out what appeared to be a thread bobbin and striding over towards where his significant other was still brawling with a harpy. His long hair and his technicolor dream coat whipped out behind him in the wind and rain, and Webb tried very hard not to feel impressed and excited.

    Pax leaned a little closer to Webb. “What’s he going to do with the arts and crafts?” he whispered.

    “I don’t know,” Webb said, raking their wet hair back from their face, stray pieces dripping wet from under the edge of their hat. “My plan was to try to hit her with a car, but that’s obviously not going to be an option.” The temptation to join in the ribbing was sparking on their tongue, but— “It’s fine, though. Faraday knows what he’s doing. Be ready.”

    Pax raised one eyebrow, a slightly bemused expression on his face, but he obediently stood on alert, blade raised. Webb watched him uneasily for a moment, something nameless stirring in their chest.

    “… are you sure about this?” they asked under their breath.

    “What, worried about me?” Pax asked idly.

    “I am worried about a lot of things, Pax!” Webb said with gritted teeth. “If you hadn’t noticed, there is a lot to currently be worried about. I’ve had nothing but worries the whole goddamn night! My anxiety is about to take physical form like a JoJo’s Stand!”

    Pax laughed softly, flicking his tail. “You could have just said yes,” he murmured. “It’s alright. I’m not glad you’re afraid, but it’s nice to know that you still care, under all those spikes. Maybe things will be better for you, after all this is through.” A pause. “I mean, assuming you survive.”

    “Thanks very much. Dick.” Try as they might, Webb couldn’t manage much heat in that.

    Faraday had reached Ariadne and Vyo. Watching carefully for an opening, he suddenly lobbed the little bobbin, letting it soar easily over the two of them, trailing a little tail of thread behind it.

    For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then, Vyo let out a loud squawk as her wings were suddenly hauled close to her body, jerking her back like a marionette on a string. Webb watched in growing astonishment as the thin little thread snaked around her like a chain, jerking her this way and that, yanking feathers and binding her feet tightly together.

    “Ria! This way!” Faraday beckoned, gesturing frantically. “It won’t last long—”

    Ariadne looked up from her half-crouch, eyes gleaming. She’d ripped off her helmet at some point, and there was blood dripping from her lips. For a moment, Webb wasn’t sure if it was hers or Vyo’s, but after she spat out a loose feather, Webb figured they had a fair idea.

    “But I—” she protested, a little growly, taking a few aborted steps towards Vyo.

    “Inquisitors are coming!” Webb called out, casting a nervous glance back at where they were closing ground much more quickly than they had any right to. “We’re getting out of here.”

    Vyo jerked her head up, eyes bright, even as she continued to struggle against the bindings Faraday had cast on her. Every time she snapped a bit of thread, another tightened around her. She sliced at them with her talons flashing. “Oh, you can run,” she rasped, “and even if I lose you, even if they don’t find you,” she jerked her head towards the Inquisitors, “you’ll never be free of him.”

    “Who’s him?” Pax asked casually as he sauntered forward, swaying. Ariadne cast one last furtive glance towards Vyo before scampering to Faraday’s side, leaning heavily against him as the two of them quickly returned to Webb. “Let’s talk about that, you and I, shall we?”

    Vyo spat off to the side, finally managing to snatch the glittering bobbin from the air, ripping at the remaining thread with teeth and claws.

    “Eat shit, demon,” she said, her teeth bared in a rictus grimace of a grin. Her gaze travelled past Pax to Webb, who still stood at the edge of the portal, posed to jump. “And don’t worry. That one knows exactly who I’m talking about.”

    Webb narrowed his eyes at her, a sudden chill creeping up the back of their neck. “Believe me,” they shot back. “If I knew what this about, I’d be having a much less confusing night.”

    The harpy laughed, ear-splitting and piercing. “You might have forgotten about him,” she said. “But he’s never forgotten about you. The one that got away…”

    Horrified realization seared through Webb like a knife. Dimly, they realized that they’d frozen in place, and that there were voices clamoring for their attention, but they sounded very distant, distorted, like dreaming underwater. The roar of the rain grew stronger, the scent of wet leaves more pungent, and in the distance they heard  them approaching—closer, closer, hooves pounding against the ground in a rapid, urgent patter—

    “Webb, we have to go!

    Webb felt an arm wrap tightly around their waist, followed by the unsettling, swooping sensation of the ground dropping out from beneath their feet as Ariadne hauled them bodily into the portal Pax had made. They exhaled soundlessly, strangled and choked.

    The last thing they saw before their vision went black was Pax’s face, bright-eyed and curious and concerned, before he abruptly spun around and raised his blade, deflecting the next attack from Vyo’s outstretched talons—

    —and then Webb was slammed into the ground, overbalancing, falling hard onto their hands and knees as they were impacted once, twice, and crumpled to the ground.

    Webb…” Faraday’s voice this time, his hands gripping Webb’s shoulders, rolling them over, drawing them upright, cupping their face. Somewhere in the chaos, they’d lost their glasses. They blinked up at Faraday with hazy confusion, head still spinning, mouth tasting like cotton. “Are you alright? Hey…”

    Ariadne’s face swam into focus next to Faraday’s, pale and wide-eyed and worried. “Webb?”

    “Shut up,” Webb managed to groan, pushing at Faraday’s hands, trying to turn their face away. “That’s my name, it’s my name, I’ve heard it so many times today it’s starting to lose its meaning…”

    “They’re fine,” Faraday told Ariadne in a low voice, like he was pretending to say it quietly enough that Webb didn’t hear, but obviously wasn’t trying hard at all.

    Ariadne let out a weak little laugh, shifting a little closer, reaching out to grab Webb’s hand. She was a bit of a mess, her leathers caked with mud and covered in scratches, her pale hair plastered damply and dripping. She looked genuinely worried, and relieved—and confused, biting at her bloody lower lip as she looked around.

    “Where… are we?”

    Webb followed her gaze. At first glance, it seemed like maybe they weren’t that far away from where they’d been last—the edge of some kind of wooded area. But they could no longer see any of the bright lights from the Drawing Dead, and they could hear the occasional hissing rush of tires moving at high speed somewhere nearby.

    “I think that we’re near the edge of town,” Webb said, finding the words coming slow and sluggish, as though their tongue didn’t want to cooperate. It sounded remote, like the voice belonged to someone else entirely. “Pax did say he’d fling us as far as he could… don’t know how we’re supposed to get a car from here, but I guess his aim isn’t always the best if he’s pushing himself…”

    “Do you think he’ll be alright?” Ariadne asked, worried.

    “I don’t know,” Webb said. They knew they should probably get up, the rain-soaked leaves and mud starting to seep through their clothes, but their legs felt heavy. The woods seemed to loom around them, towering and dark, and the whispering of the wind seemed to carry voices that they were trying very, very hard to tune out. “I don’t… know. Lore’s got to be okay. And Pax. I’m not… they said they wanted to help, right? I’m not leaving them behind, I… where are we supposed to get a car, I…”

    Ariadne was crouching suddenly closer, her hands finding Webb’s face, trying to tilt it to look at her. “Webb,” she murmured. “Webb, what’s wrong? Did you hit your head, or—?”

    “Is it about what she said?” Faraday asked slowly, low-voiced, concerned. “When we were leaving… she said, you knew who was chasing you. That you were the one that got away.”

    Webb closed his eyes tightly to avoid Ariadne’s gaze, and covered their ears with both hands, though it wasn’t quite enough to block everything out. The wind, the rain, the voices. Their concern, their questions, the sound of being chased—

    “Webb,” Ariadne insisted, shaking their shoulders, anxious. “Webb, what is going on?

    “We have to get out of the rain,” Webb rasped. “And… figure out where to go next.” Was there a service station nearby? A motel? Should they call a Lyft? See if Faraday could work some sort of magic…? Their head spun with possibilities and the breathless pressure building in their chest.

    “… please. I just really need to get out of these fucking woods.”

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

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

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