Jed woke in the basement, covered in a fine coating of metal chips. Alone. He took a few moments to look about him, trying to piece together what had happened. The door had been burst open; what remained of it was either hanging limply from the frame or scattered piecemeal over the floor. His sword lay to one side, discarded. And Jack had been taken. Jed’s heart caught in his throat as he traced the drag-marks on the floor. He pulled his phone from his pocket and contacted Olivia.
Jack’s been kidnapped! Can you find him?
There was a short delay, and then Olivia’s reply came.
His phone’s just outside Grimouth. Up near Darkmoor. Sending you a map.
Jed sent his thanks and headed off at full speed.
Jack woke on his back, shackled to the earth. The scent of freshly turned earth filled his nostrils.
Reflexively, he began to will himself into the earth, sinking slowly, but something caught the front of his shirt and heaved him upwards.
Joshua stood over him, grinning toothily, his canines unusually pronounced and his hands clawlike.
Fuck, thought Jack. I’m going to die.
“I’m going to ask you a question,” said Joshua. “You find a man laying by the side of the road, his leg is mangled. You have two choices; if you feed him your blood, he will be healed but will live his life as a slave, if you don’t, he will live his life as a cripple. Which do you choose?”
“Um…” Jack looked from side to side. No avenue of escape availed him. Only Joshua, looming over him. “I’d ask them,” he said.
“Oh, really?” Joshua bared his pointed teeth. “You would, would you?”
“Yes,” said Jack, his voice small.
“And what about your homeless friends. Did you ask them?”
Mutely, Jack shook his head.
“And the girl in the tower? And the little winged man?” Joshua’s tone was insistent. “You asked them, before you tried to enslave them with your blood?”
“I didn’t know!” protested Jack. A lie. He panted. “I was just trying to help.”
The werewolf looked at him a few moments, scrutinising him.
Finally, Joshua growled. “You’re an idiot,” he said. He sighed. “Very well. I will not kill you tonight. But neither will I help you.”
With that, the werewolf lord turned on his heel and stalked away into the darkness- gone.
Jack struggled in his chains and found that he could not rise. He spotted a figure at the edge of the field –a hiker?– and willed himself to sink back into the earth. No point in escaping the wrath of the werewolves if he got himself caught in a masquerade breach.
Jed found the field easily enough. Although it backed onto a housing estate, it was empty, save for a lone figure, a man in a coat, hunched over and digging in the earth. Not Jack. The skin on the back of his neck crawled. Definitely not Jack.
Silently, Jed landed, drawing his sword. He padded towards the hunched figure, bare feet soundless on the soft earth, and levelled his sword at them.
“Who are you?”
The stranger unbent, and Jed felt a glimmer of fear as he saw that he was bestial; a long mane of hair and hands ending in claws, coated with fresh earth.
There was a moment of tension, and Jed caught sight of things rising from the earth around him in his peripheral vision; writhing tendrils, squamous horrors, and strange, long creatures emerging pale against the dark soil.
Jed gave a yelp and leapt backwards, briefly airborne, drawing his shotgun from his back.
He shot, and the stranger grunted, staggering backwards, but the creatures were on him, more than peripherally now, blocking his view. Crowding around him.
Jed let out a scream and launched himself into the sky.
Olivia went to Dante’s after Shen left for the chantry. Dante’s mansion was much the same as ever, the multitude of guards eyeing her with a professional wariness. He met her in the accusing parlour, looking like his usual self. His eye was healed, or else his injury well-disguised.
“So, Olivia, what brings you here?” His tone was genial.
“I just met with Eyes,” said Olivia. “As you predicted she might, she asked for Alice.”
Dante’s eyes glimmered. “And so, of course, this was unacceptable, so you came
straight to me.”
Olivia shrugged. “I very much doubt that she would have worked for Eyes of her own free will, and I don’t fancy myself a slaver. So yeah, I guess.”
Dante looked far away for a moment, his eyes unfocused. Telepathy? Olivia wondered. Finally he blinked, and the look was gone. “Yes,” he said, his expression inscrutable. “She’s not been disturbed in, ah, quite some time. You want me to settle the debt, I take it?”
Mutely, Olivia nodded. Was this a con? Probably. But if the alternative was to be a slaver, to leave Alice with Eyes’ crew of villains, then better to let Dante have his way.
“Very well,” Dante looked serious. ”It will be done.”
“Eyes… didn’t seem very interested in Alice,” said Olivia. “I mean, talking about Eldrich, she seemed interested, but she didn’t seem to really want Alice, even. Why is that?”
Dante shrugged. “Eyes and her crew don’t put much stock in oracles. They prefer, ah, more direct methods. Less wishy washy.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how will you settle the debt?”
Dante smiled his inscrutable smile. “I have a great many things that Eyes wants. I will simply throw them at her until she considers the matter settled.” He made a sweeping gesture. “And I believe that this means that I don’t owe you… anything… anymore, if memory serves correctly.”
Olivia felt a pang of worry. Was Dante planning something nasty for her? Something that required him to not be indebted to her? “That’s right,” she said. “Thank you, Dante. Will you be able to get Balrus out?”
“No,” said Dante. “Though I suspect he will soon leave of his own accord.” He looked thoughtful. “Oh, Olivia… could you get Jack to see me, please? And Jed too, come to think of it.”
“Sure,” Olivia pulled out her phone, and Dante peered over intently as she pulled up a map with their current locations. Jack was still in a field up near Darkmoor, and Jed seemed to be going in a large circle near the chantry.