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HFTH - Episode 145 - Heirlooms

Content warnings for this episode include: Misogyny, Talking about Homophobia, Imprisonment, Bugs, Body Shaming, Body horror, Religious Violence

The Interrogation - Built for Judgement


I did only what I had to do.

The Auditor

We will be the judge of that.


What would you know of judgment? You are not even life indescribable. You are an Auditor. An automation of the Industry of Souls, nothing more. A machine half-alive, feasting on stolen flame.

The Auditor

On the contrary, judgment is what I was built for...

Story 1 - Same Melody

Puck glowed softly in the darkness, which was not so good for stalking in the woods at night, but they thought the luminescent patterns of blue-green spots beneath their skin were beautiful. They pressed their moonlight-threaded hands to the bars of the police pen.

The rain fell on Scout City and made the world dark and damp, and tapped on the windows. Inside, there was only a low burning candle, and the sheriff’s son with his boots on the desk and his head against the back wall, half asleep.

“I can’t imagine working a proper job, with hours,” Puck remarked, their whisper still far too loud for the uneasy quiet. “It must be very tiring.”

Cole said nothing, hands folded in his lap. A twinkle of candlelight in his eyes told Puck that he was not sleeping.

“Yeah, I don’t imagine responsibility comes naturally to you,” he said.

“I was just trying to make conversation,” Puck said, and looked down, and scraped their hand across the rough bark of the floor. “The rain is nice.”

“Is it,” Cole said, and stretched, rubbed at his temples.

“I think so,” Puck said, lighting a little brighter. “Do you like the rain? I find it… rejuvenating. Silly that we were afraid of it for so long.”

“Sometimes I wonder if we shoulda stayed that way,” Cole said, taking his boots off the desk.

Puck stretched their arms up, and yawned, and as they did flexed the opalescent green filaments that stretched from waist to shoulder to sky.

“You can’t shame me,” said Puck, and crossed their long fingers beneath their chin sleepily. “I’m very proud of my wings. I love my gifts from the rain. What has the rain given you?”

“Not freakazoid fins,” Cole muttered.

“Surely there must be something,” said Puck. “Yes, I’ve spent most of my life outside, beneath the stars, reveling in every rainstorm. But we all drink the same water. You grew up in this forest too. It’s touched us all, in different ways. Come on. Show me.”

Cole rose from his chair, and cracked his neck and his knuckles, and Puck gulped and backed away from the bars a little as Cole came stomping across the police office. He was practically twice Puck’s size, and in the dim light they could see his threadbare combat boots, salvaged camo trousers, jacket was lined with badges—combat scout, peacekeeper scout, a dozen achievements and merits that Puck had never been troubled to earn. His thumbs were hooked in his belt with its Scout City Deputy buckle, and a telescoping baton lined with bands of silver hung from its loop.

Cole’s square-knuckled hands wrapped around the bars, and he slid down to be eye level with Puck, blonde hair lit by the candlelight, eyes almost black in the shadow. Cole winced, as if testing a loose tooth with his tongue, and then opened his broad mouth, and his tongue slithered out. It was long, black, ridged with segments that glinted with the distant flame, and its sides writhed with tiny segmented legs—it resembled nothing so much as a lengthy centipede crawling from his throat. It twirled and writhed around one of the silver bars before it began retracting back into his mouth.

“It’s lovely,” said Puck.

“I’ve tried just about everything to burn it out of me,” said Cole, swallowing. “Someday I just might. Can’t you see it? Can’t you see that this world isn’t how it’s supposed to be?”

The thunder rumbled, and Puck moved up to the bars again, and clung to them as Cole stepped back into the light.

“Who is to say there is a ‘how it’s supposed to be?’” said Puck. “You can hear it too, can’t you? The rain sings to us both, the same melody.”

“That’s the difference between us,” said Cole, and shook his head, returned to the desk. “I don’t like the song.”

The door burst open, and the thunder was briefly louder, a crash of light illuminating the rain as Virgil Kane was blown in by the wind. He slammed the door behind him, cowboy boots and spurs jingling.

“Cole,” he said. “Round up the boys. We need to talk.”

“It’s past midnight,” Cole said. “What’s the stir?”

“Clementine and her assistant just got back to Scout City,” said Virgil, hanging up his stetson by the door, and he pushed a strand of his silver hair back, and looked to Puck and then to Cole with bushy brows. He unveiled an object in his hands, wrapped in cloth; the silvered head of a Scoutpost javelin.

“And what they found out there is about to be all of our problems.”

Story 2 - The East Wind

Liberty City was huge and shiny, like the chandelier in the Scout City ballroom, which Hope had not been allowed to run around in on account of it being fancy and also having had a crime scene under investigation. There were in fact a number of places like that throughout Scout City, where she had been expected to watch the equipment bag or wait in the lobby or keep an eye on the back exit while her parents did the important things. Nevertheless, a job was a job, and sometimes hers turned out to be important, and someday she was going to be like them. So she tried to stay cool and collected as she waited to leave Liberty City.

They had spent the night in the nicest bed she had ever slept in, while Buck talked things over with their new friend Mr. Spade. After a breakfast with some kind of round bread that had a hole in the middle, they had barely enough time to walk along the waterfront before her mom decided they should arrive early at the docks. She had never seen quite so much water—she was used to Lurch Lake, not water that filled the whole horizon. And the boat itself was gigantic too—a floating castle of metal. They were not even the first people in line, a crowd gathering ahead of a velvet rope that led up a long scaffold to the deck high above.

Hope entertained herself by running around the pier while her parents debated among themselves about how long the journey was, and when she was tired of that, she danced Nighty the Night-gaunt near the water’s edge until it seemed like he was done dancing, and when all her options were thusly exhausted she turned to inspecting their fellow future passengers.

Mr. Spade blended in with the crowd further back, and looked much like any other man in the passenger list. Someone was arriving in the back in a golden carriage, but although several bodyguards in long coats disembarked, no one emerged yet from it. There was a woman in a white lace dress and a coat with sleeves that hung to the ground, surrounded by guards carrying bulky bags. The hilts of swords sat at their sides. There was a woman that Hope found familiar; she looked shockingly like Mayor Val, but with much fancier hair, and her own personnel for protection in black suits spraypainted with patterns. And near her there was a man in tattered robes, wearing a yellow rain boot for a hat.

“Why do you have a boot on your head?” she said.

The man raised an eyebrow nearly an inch long, and set down his suitcase.

“I am the Humble Boot,” he said. He did not seem in a hurry to stop talking to her, as some adults did.

“What’s a humble boot?”

“Well, some would say the Humble Boot is a charismatic leader,” he said, and went to stroke his beard but only found stubble. “But they’re wrong. I am the boot at whose heel all mankind must make their choice to wear or to lick.”

“You lick boots?” she said.

“No,” he said, with a wide gesture. His gloves were missing most of their fingers, and he wore a heavy bathrobe over his suit. “I am neither wearer nor licker. Only the boot itself, the ideal incarnate, recarnate, resoled. I bring the truth to all America.”

“This is the line for the boat out of America,” she said.

“Yes,” he said, and went for the beard again. “I seem to have been exiled by my political opponents. So I will take the good word across the pond. But you see, there’s hardly a need to, for the doctrine of the boot is already inherent in the psyche of every man. Impressed upon him from a young age.”

“What about women?” said Hope.

“I don’t know. I’ve never understood them,” mused the Boot.

“I’m sorry, is she bothering you?” said Hope’s mom, looking up from her nearby conversation with her fathers.

“No,” said Hope.

“Not at all,” said the Humble Boot. “It is never a bother to enlighten the next generation of boot-wearers.”

“Ladies, gentlemen, and other sea buzzards,” a voice crowed from the top of the gangway, and Hope looked up to find a man descending the ramp. He was short, and wrinkled, and browned by the sun, and wore a sloped cap and a bulletproof vest beneath a captain’s coat. “In fifteen, twenty odd minutes we will begin boarding the East Wind. Get your friends, family, and other baggage together, and prepare to depart. Your captain for this voyage is the honorable Benjamin Branston. I am the less honorable captain Eli Shaw, and I will be tailing you in the security vessel the Little David. Once again, boarding in ten or thirty minutes, so pucker up and kiss this continent goodbye.”

He stumbled down the rest of the scaffold, and then meandered across the pier away from the mighty cargo ship to a much smaller boat that sat on the other side, one with folded black sails and a variety of big mechanical devices that Hope did not know the purpose of.

“Marco,” said her mother.

“It will be fine,” said Marco.

“That guy’s name is Boot,” said Hope.

“Look sharp, everyone,” said Buck, and looked up from her to the massive ship. “We’re due to speak with our good captain.”

The Tapes - A Good Detective

What does it take to make a good detective? People don’t ask me that as often as I think about it. You can’t be out here to prove anything. Not to prove yourself, because ego is only going to get in the way. The point is never to make yourself the center of attention, although you might be, sometimes, when the case has public interest. You keep the focus on saving who you can. Helping who you can. Anything else is just gravy.

Story 2, Continued - The East Wind

It was much higher up than Hope would have expected, but especially here. The bridge of the ship was held in a t-shaped tower at the back of the cargo hauler, and it surveyed both the hundreds of container habitats as well as Liberty City beyond, eye to eye with the tallest of its towers.

A burly woman whose face and hands were blanketed with tattoos and whose shoulders strained the seams of her officer’s coat led them through into a bright room. Sunlight glared from the water, and huge rectangular boxes held screens and dials and panels with buttons. Hope felt Buck’s hand on her shoulder as if warning her not to press any.

They were welcomed by a man who was barrel chinned as well as barrel chested, a dark beard and a toothy grin, and his hat was emblazoned with the naval crest of Liberty City.

“A pleasure to meet our guests from Scout City,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed many of the books about your exploits, Mr. Silver. You’ve come a long way, and it’s an honor to have you aboard this vessel.”

“It was like two weeks in the froglin cart,” Hope added.

“And who is this young sailor?” said the captain, turning to her. He underestimated her, which was good. She smiled sweetly. You could get a couple of good hits in if they thought you were a stupid kid.

“This is Hope,” said her mother. “I’m Brooklyn, and this is Marco and Mr. Silver.”

“Please, Buck is fine,” said Buck, wincing as he shook hands with the captain. “Humbled to find that my reputation precedes me. Now I must say, I am flabbergasted by this whole operation. However did you manage to get a ship like this working? The funding, the technology…”

“Well, it’s an alignment of lucky stars,” said Captain Branston. “My father had left the East Wind to me, it had been an offshore home for us since the start of the rains. It’s acted as a floating community from time to time. But now it’s ready for a much larger voyage. The whole expedition has been financed and organized by the Duchess of Boldt Castle, that’s upstate, and the fare from our select list of honorable guests has certainly helped. Over two thousand people wanted to sail with us on this voyage; only two hundred passengers are coming on board.”

“No one has made this crossing successfully before,” said Hope’s mother.

“Well, I don’t believe that’s entirely true,” said the Captain. “No one has sailed back to let us know how it went, that is correct. But there’s a world out there, Miss Brooklyn, and it’s survived much the way we have. We’re taking our precautions, of course. We’ve hired the very best in security. Captain Shaw will be accompanying us in the Little David. You’re familiar?”

All three of Hope’s parents glanced to one another, shook their heads.

“He’s something of a local legend,” said the captain, and gestured to a wall of illustrated portraits—some were of crew that Hope had seen on board, some were not, and several were of Captain Shaw perched next to huge beasts many times his size, with tentacles or fins or needle teeth jutting in all directions.

“Greatest monster hunter on these seas, Eli is,” said the Captain. “We run into any spot of trouble, he’ll take care of it.”

Hope drifted to the window; let her parents continue to needle the captain with questions. She could spot Dashiell Spade on the deck below, as the last of the passengers spilled up onto the platform of the container ship, and were guided by crew to their various abodes. He tipped his hat to her. She waved back. Then, coming up the ramp, there were the last passengers—two women in black, one tall, one short, both wearing veils. They had come from the golden carriage, and were given a wide berth as they disappeared into the maze of shipping containers on deck.

“Excuse me, sir,” said the burly woman, coming back through the door; her tattoos were all words, forming paragraphs of some book Hope had never read. “All passengers accounted for. We are ready to depart.”

“Take up anchor, miss Shaw,” he said, and glanced to Hope. “How would you like to watch from up here as we depart?”

And they did; she kept her face pressed up to the window of the high tower, her parents behind her, as a deep hum shook the ship, and Liberty City began to drift into the afternoon light, and the darkness of the ocean ate away the rest of the land, and the voyage began.

Story 3 - Old Tools

“You’re sure this is something we should bring to them?” Shelby said, in their last moment before the door. “Do they need to carry this?”

“I don’t care. Right now I need answers, and this is the fastest way to get them,” Clem said, and before Shelby could ask her if she wasn’t here for more than answers, the yellow door at Songbird District swung open. On the other side was a woman with a bandolier strapped over her bathrobe, and a loaded crossbow in her hands. She looked a little surprised, and then Clem was hugging her, and the crossbow lowered.

“Clementine? It’s past midnight,” said Bern. The last few years seemed to have been long ones for the old leader of the Scoutpost, and caught up with her suddenly. One of her eyes glinted with a cataract, and her hair was an unruly grey fuzz.

“Is Violet up? We really need to talk,” Clem said, muffled by a bathrobe sleeve.

“She will be, with all your racket,” Bern said, and was left behind as Clem darted inside, the wet three-legged beagle bounding behind her. Shelby hung in the doorway, vampire-like.

“Well, come in and make yourself comfortable, I suppose,” Bern grunted. Shelby nodded and drifted in, removed her mud-and-blood-spattered boots by the door, and wandered in her damp socks. Bern trudged back to the kitchenette to set some coffee on a burner. It was the desiccated, powdered stuff left behind from a bygone era, not the somewhat vile brews of the new one. The drawings on the walls were of faces strange and familiar—and Shelby came to rest at the end of a hall, where Clementine sat on a bed with a pink bedspread, where Violet lay propped up with pillows, grey hair in curlers. These two were Clem’s family, in some ways more than Valerie was. Shelby thought it was interesting, to see what that looked like. A shoulder to cry on. A warm place. A safe haven.

“It’s getting very complicated very quickly,” Clementine was saying, holding Violet’s hand in both of hers. “The killings have that Instrumentalist guy written all over them. But there are new parts too—the pig mask guy has been around the Scoutpost a long time.”

“How long exactly?” said Violet. “Do you know?”

“Well… at least twelve years,” said Clem.

“The Instrumentalist has been dead nearly fifteen,” said Violet. “Maybe some evils take time to grow back.”

“Valerie’s trying to keep it all quiet,” said Clem. “She doesn’t trust me. Why couldn’t you two just have stayed in charge?”

“Well, you know we’re getting older,” said Violet gently. “And besides. Every person we got from a Dreaming Box seemed to think Valerie was some kind of war hero. She seemed excited about it at the time. About a new life here with you both.”

“She’s never excited,” Clem sighed. “Not about being mayor. Certainly not about me.”

“It’s… difficult,” said Violet. “She still carries so much grief about Riot.”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” Clem said, eyebrows down and tears welling. “Why can’t her grief for Riot be separate from her love for me? We’re different people. And I’m not dead. Not yet anyway. I’m right here.”

Shelby noted that Bern was standing beside her, and the old woman nudged her with a cup of coffee. Shelby took it carefully in her hands, as though the porcelain was fragile as an egg.

“I was going to offer them coffee too, but they seem to be in the middle of something,” Bern sighed, and went to sit at the benches that lined the breakfast table, lit a candle for some dim light. Shelby followed her over, and slid in on the other side. The mangled beagle found its way under the bench to curl at her feet.

“What’s the case?” said Bern, sipping her coffee.

“You saw him, didn’t you?” said Shelby. “The Instrumentalist? What was he like?”

“Old,” Bern sighed, a glazed eye fixed on something far beyond the walls of Scout City. “Full of hate. The kind of hate we fled the world to escape. Everything that we were, he wanted to destroy. Thought he’d be doing nature a service.”

“How did you… what made you…,” Shelby started, and failed, and tried again. “How did you get strong enough to kill him.”

Bern blinked.

“You know, it was funny,” Bern said. “Right about that time, I’d stopped killing monsters. Some of them… turned out to be better than I’d thought. But not him. Him we were afraid of. And he took someone we loved. A lot of them. That was when we knew there was no reasoning with him, no stopping him. He wasn’t going to stop until we were gone off the face of the earth, or he was. And we weren’t going to just bite our tongues and let ourselves be destroyed.”

“Did he have any weaknesses?” said Shelby.

“Anything living can die,” said Bern. “And anything dead hates silver and fire and dismemberment. Why, you think we didn’t do a good enough job on that old bastard?”

“I’m not sure,” Shelby said, and found her hand on the cleaver handle beneath the table. “Someone like that has been following me my whole life, I think. He’s not going to let me run this time. And like you said. Only one of us will be left standing.”

Bern looked down at the table a long moment, then unbuckled her bandolier, and folded the belt into a loop.

“You love her?” Bern said, and glanced up to the door where Clementine was crying softly into Violet. Shelby turned back to Bern, and met her gaze, brows furrowed.

“Like nothing else,” said Shelby.

Bern set a chunk of metal on the table; her folded-up crossbow and the belt of bolts.

“I can’t take that,” Shelby said.

“It’s finished its job,” Bern said, and sighed, smile inscribed with wrinkles. “I’ve used it to protect us for decades. It should keep doing that. And to be honest I can barely lift it anymore. The tools of my work now aren’t crossbows and knives, they’re the spade and the beehive scraper. If you see Solomon, or any other old ghost like him, you plant one of these in his chest. Put him back in the ground where he belongs.”

“I will,” said Shelby, and drew the sleek black weapon across the table, and held it close like a holy tome. “I won’t miss.”

The Conversation - You're Back


...Hello, Nikignik.


You’re back.




What does that mean?


For who? Us? The universe? The Industry?


...Let’s start with us.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 26: Violet and Bern', and is available on Because Hello From The Hallowoods is created without advertising or sponsors, we rely on patronage to make this show possible!


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