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HFTH - Episode 24 - Storms

Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Sexism and misogyny, Hateful language, Transphobia, Homophobia, Birds, Strangulation/suffocation, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, Electrocution, Car Crashes, and Religious Violence.

Intro - Dark and Stormy

You are a dark and stormy night. A wild hurricane of feeling, a monarch of thunder and light. You are unstoppable, a tide that consumes the earth. You run across the sky, jubilant and full of laughter that shakes the mountains. Far beneath you, your lover is waiting, and they are thirsty. The rain you bring is lifeblood to them, and it seeps into the soil, falls on the surface of the black lakes, and terrifies the living. The forest raises its arms to you in rapture, pines and spruces as monuments of praise. You bend down to kiss the world, bless the watching trees with your love and power. Beneath you, the frogs scatter and hide in their marsh beds, the living take refuge, but the undead turn their faces to the sky. They know you like a parent, and as you rise into the starless firmament, the world whispers Hello From The Hallowoods.

Right now I’m sitting in a spruce tree. The ravens raise their wings and voices to the sky . They cannot see me, of course, but they feel the gravity of this night, and the unnatural weight that hangs in this storm. They’re crooked little things, but aren’t we all? Beneath us a white hearse flies down one of the few marked roads, racing away from the house of Solomon Reed, away from the Scoutpost, north into the rain. The girl with her face pressed against the window is lost in memory. The theme of tonight’s episode is Storms.

Story 1 - Better Words and a Blizzard

“Do you think I’m gonna grow up like Tarzan?” Riot asked, thumbing through the options on the TV. There was still more than she would ever have time to watch.

“Hey, screentime is over,” her mom called from the kitchen. “You mean live in the jungle, snatch up a Jane, inherit an English estate? Sorry to disappoint you kid.”

“I mean, like, will it be weird when I get to spend time with other kids? Will I be weird? Do you think I’m weird?” Riot rolled off the sofa and went to join her mom, wrinkling her nose upon entering the kitchen. “What is that?”

“You’ll be cool. Look at me, I’m cool. I’m an actual rock star,” Valerie said, pulling a thick orange substance out of the microwave. “And this is dinner.”

“Would it have killed Riz to leave us cheeseburgers?” Riot groaned. Valerie set the dish down with a clatter, and looked at her with a glance that was becoming too common.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are? This place wasn’t meant for us. This bunker and the TV and the frozen food were all for HER and Cindy. And if she was alive, she’d be here, and I don’t know where we’d be. How many other kids do you think are safe and well-fed and not jacked into a silver box right now?”

“That’s not what I meant, mom, I…”

“You need to check your privilege, do you understand? Now eat this…” Valerie checked the tape on the container. “Kerala chicken curry, and you’re going to appreciate it.”

“I’m good, mom,” Riot shrugged, and left the kitchen.

“Riot,” Her mom warned.

“Not hungry,” Riot had said. She wished now that she had chosen better words as her goodbye to her mother. There were many feelings buried beneath her ribs that she had never taken the time to dig out, and now it seemed they would rot in her heart forever.

A midnight escape, several brushes with death, and a couple of major injuries later, she found herself in the passenger seat of a white hearse. The weary man at the wheel grinned as he blasted his favorite album. Her mother’s voice shouted so loud it rattled her teeth.

“How are you doing back there?” Riot yelled.

In the back of the hearse was a dead body. It sat with its hands folded pleasantly, looking at her with blank white eyes. She knew that the ghost was back there too, although she could not see him.

“The Instrumentalist is following us. We have his attention,” Diggory whispered. A cold shiver ran through Riot’s spine. She had not quite forgotten her last encounter with the madman or his ghostly instruments. Tonight, she thought. We kill this creep tonight.

“The shuddering peaks are right ahead,” Walt said, eyes on the road. The rain streaked down black on the windows, trailing past like tears in mascara. The sirens on the hearse continued to blast her mom’s old rock anthem, a furious rebellion against the deathly storm. Lightning cracked overhead, and above the trees Riot thought she could see a mountain where none had been before, dawning huge and inevitable.

“We’re getting into Northmost now,” Walt said. “Diggory, is he still following?”

Riot thought she could hear a swell of violins over the massive sound of her mom’s electric guitar.

“He is gaining on us,” Diggory said. Sitting next to them now was a ghostly white boy, shimmering like the lightning. He touched one of the weapons strapped to the interior of the hearse—a silver sword. It sparked where his fingers traced it.

Ahead of the hearse, the mountain took up most of the sky, bearing towards them with impossible speed—a black hole, pulling them into its gravity. Riot breathed in, hands on the handle of her bat, working herself up. It was time to fight. This was the monster that had taken her precious Clara, possibly forever. She was going to bash his wrinkly head in. She looked out the window in disbelief as the black rain ceased its pattering, and the world around them turned white with snow.

“We’re not close enough for that,” Walt muttered. “Doesn’t make sense.”

Riot watched idly as ice formed on the wing mirror, and then her eyes widened. “Walt, there’s ice…”

The car was sliding at an impossible angle then, and the flashing headlights lit up banks of dark trees as the hearse careened off of the road, and Riot’s stomach was in her throat as she fell.

For a few moments, the world was utterly silent as the snow collected on the window. Then, as though sound itself had returned, the panicked voices of her friends hit her ears, and in the distance, the thrumming beat of the Instrumentalist’s drums began to shake in her bones.

“Get out of the car!” Walt was shouting. She clambered out of the sideways vehicle, grabbing her bat as she rolled out of it. From the rear doors of the hearse, Diggory Graves stepped into the night. Snow came rushing around them in thick torrents, lit only by the headlights of the overturned vehicle. Walt escaped from the driver’s side, and recovered the silver sword from the back.

“Don’t you worry now,” he said. “This isn’t what I had in mind, but our original plan stands, alright? We wait for him to come to us.”

Riot nodded and dashed for the trees. Without the blaring music of the hearse, she could hear the advancing orchestra—phantom pipes and trumpets echoing in her ears. The swell of music washed over her mind, bleeding in her head. From her hiding spot she could see Walt standing in front of the hearse, his sword gleaming in the headlights. Riot touched the key in her vest pocket, hoping that it was worth all the trouble it had caused.

Then, in the darkness of the winter storm, there was a flash of light. The music that haunted Riot’s dreams resounded in her skull, and the light in the distance separated once, twice, a dozen times, glowing forms streaming through the wind. They hovered over the ground, moving in time to the rhythm of the drums, and she caught familiar details as they passed her by. Scraps of marching band uniforms, empty eyes, twitching fingers in the snow.

“Mister Reed!” Walt called as the pale figures floated towards him, transparent in the headlights of the upturned hearse. His knuckles tightened around the handle of the shining blade. “I want to talk to you!”

Riot held her breath as the spirits stopped, the distorted dead gathering in a circle around Walt. In Riot’s mind, a voice burned within the orchestra, reverberating through the air.

“You were the one trespassing on my property.”

A figure darker than the night formed in the distance, surrounded by light. Riot knew who it was long before the details became visible in the flurry of snow.

“You have interfered with my business. And now you help a girl who has stolen my key, and the abomination that has kidnapped my daughter. But God is merciful, Mister Pensive, and so am I. I will give you one chance to redeem yourself before the lord.”

Riot’s breath caught in her throat as the Instrumentalist neared, illuminated by the dim light of the hearse. He was carried by his ghosts, surrounding him like angels in a renaissance painting of heaven. Their tortured hands lifted him above the surface of the snow. His red coat billowed in the storm, and he was accompanied by his instruments—strapped to his back in a grotesque mountain, and still more drifting in the air behind him. His round glasses flashed like great eyes in the headlights as he drew near, and he held his palms out with messianic peace, one hand deftly holding a conductor’s baton. Ghostly light crawled over each instrument, and as he held his hands poised, the spirits around Walt waited with intent.

Where was Diggory? This was supposed to be their cue.

“This is the only time I will ask. Where is my daughter? Where is my key?”

“You don’t need Percy,” Walt said. “You don’t need that key either, Mr. Reed, I think you and I both know it don’t bring any good. I need you to leave the Scoutpost alone. You hear? These were good people, you know? Mr. Kita? What’d he ever do to you? He was the nicest man on earth before you set him on fire. But I’m not here to fight you, Mr. Reed. I’m giving you a chance. You need to move on, peaceful-like, and get outta these woods. Or I’m gonna be forced to remove ya, if it’s the last thing I do.”

The Instrumentalist laughed quietly, but the sound smoldered like brimstone in Riot’s mind.

“You expect to bandy for your soul? What do you take me for, a catholic? Threats mean nothing to me, Mr. Pensive, for I am but an instrument of god’s will - but I doubt you are worth much trouble. and those in the Scoutpost are the worst of all. Satanists! Pagans! Homosexuals and transvestites, hiding from God in their pit. You cannot stand in the way of the lord, Mr. Pensive. I will get my key and my daughter back, and rain god’s justice down on that desolate place like a second Sodom and Gomorrah!”

The Instrumentalist swung his hands with vengeful grace, and as he did the horde of flaming souls closed in on Walt.

Interlude 1 - Blizzard Warning

Attention dreamers that dwell in the Northern Hallowoods, or on the border of the Northmost woods. Dreamers who actually reside in Northmost are probably not alive to care about this. There is a blizzard warning for tonight.

Was it expected? Not at all. There are certain effects of the weather that are less predictable than they were when Earth was not burning with pollution and there was still ice in the arctic circle. This storm, however, is different, and I have not seen its kind in a long time. This storm is full of vengeance and fury, a lifetime of expectations and privileges betrayed. The snow that pours out of the sky into these black woods is driven by dark purpose. It is the kind of storm that sends cars off the road and disrupts rotor-based aircraft, and brings heartache and destruction. It is certainly not the kind of storm in which you would want to sleep. Nevertheless, we go now to one who is sleeping.

Story 2 - A Small Silver Bell

The darkness was her father’s eyes, imploring and aggrieved.

“I can’t believe you would do this to our family,” he said. “Or to yourself. The world is looking at you, you know this? You will always be in danger if they know. You’re supposed to be a leader.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Rizwana said. “But I love her, papa. I shouldn’t have to hide that from anyone.”

“But you will,” her father nodded matter-of-factly. “You must. If you do not, our country is watching you. They will try to hurt you, and you will not be safe even here in Canada, even with all these security guards. Please. You have to keep this a secret.”

Rizwana was gone, and they were instead a small girl, and her father was wrenching her arm, yanking her away from her friends. Their guitars and skateboards, he insisted, were not for her. She was a girl, he screamed, and she needed to act like it.

They were a boy, lying awake at night, listening to the voices of the dead. There was a whisper in his ears, stories from the man in the ceiling. The ceiling man had lived in the house before him, but he had invited the wrong man back to his home. The police did not discover his body for several weeks. He’d had it coming, they’d said. Happens all the time.

“Diggory,” the man on the ceiling said.

“Diggory,” the angry father screamed.

“Diggory,” the voices echoed into darkness, and Diggory woke up in the winter storm.

“We need to go now, Diggory.” Percy was in front of him, ghostly light glowing in the snow. Beyond him, standing on the road, was a man in red coat, heralded by spirits and conducting a dark orchestra. He flicked his hands, and through the wind, Diggory could see Walt screaming as he swung his silver sword against a horde of people who looked much like Percy.

Behind the Instrumentalist, Riot went running out of the trees, bat in hand. Diggory leapt up and lurched into motion, marching from the treeline. The Instrumentalist turned to look at Diggory in disgust, just as Riot’s bat collided with the collection of instruments on his back. Strings snapped in discordant protest, and several of the spirits lifting the old man vanished into the darkness. He fell to his feet, wheeling around to face Riot as she wound up with her bat.

“Enough of that!” the Instrumentalist roared, raising his baton, and immediately a pale woman with broken teeth was on Riot, clawing at her face with shining nails.

“Dad, stop!” Percy said, and Diggory realized the ghost was standing in front of his father. Diggory froze, unsure of what to do. The Instrumentalist held his hand, and the woman with the broken teeth backed away from Riot as the girl collapsed into the snow. The Instrumentalist stared at Percy with wide eyes and trembling hands.

“Persephone,” the Instrumentalist whispered. “Is that you? My daughter?”

“No,” Percy said. “I’m Percy. I’m your son. And you need to leave these people alone.”

“Persephone, you must come back with me. You need me to help you find the lord. He still loves you. There is still hope that you can be cured. Do you understand?”

“You’re a monster,” Percy said, electric tears crackling down his face. His hands began to spark with white fire.

“You turned her against me!” the Instrumentalist said, and Diggory was surprised to find he was talking to them. He stepped towards Diggory, baton in hand.

Percy raised his burning palms in warning. “Don’t get any closer!”

“You are the wicked thing that has stolen my daughter from me. You have hidden her away all these years, kept her from her very own father! Where is the piano I made? What have you done with my Persephone?”

“I burned the piano,” Diggory said, standing tall in the darkness, and flexing their long black claws. Although it was Percy’s own father, the old man moved with energy that Diggory found disturbing, and Percy had shared just a few of the atrocities he had committed.

“So your son could be free from the prison you put him in. You are his father. Do you have any idea of the misery you have caused him?”

“You further her delusions,” the Instrumentalist said, glaring at Percy. The ghosts behind the old man seemed to grow restless. “You have a piece of the piano, at least. I can rebuild the rest. You will give it to me. Now.”

“I will not,” Diggory said, and the Instrumentalist flicked his wrist. There was a scream in the distance, and Diggory turned to see Walt render a transparent woman in two with his sword, only to fall as a ghost with organs like harp strings pulled a visceral rope around his neck.

A moment was all it took.

When Diggory’s attention swiveled back, the Instrumentalist was rising, his bound ghosts lifting him into the air. As a swell of grand music burst in the night, ghosts were descending on Diggory, Percy, and Riot alike. From Riot’s unconscious body, a woman with tuning pegs in her forehead plucked a skeleton key. A man with lines of music carved across his face grabbed Percy, and Percy fought back, blazing with white light in the flurry of snow.

Several ghosts were on top of Diggory in the next moment, a woman with broken teeth and a face frozen in a perpetual scream. Diggory’s claws seeme to pass through her like water, but her shining white nails dug into Diggory’s face and sides. Diggory tried to remove her, falling backwards, and realized that she had removed the only item in Diggory’s pockets, and brought it towards the Instrumentalist.

“He doesn’t want to go with you,” Diggory said, vision swimming with dark rivers.

“Oh, my daughter,” the Instrumentalist said as he took the piano key, which glistened as white as bone in the dim light. He placed it in his pocket, and Diggory watched as Percy turned to look at them, screaming, and disappeared into the storm. “Finally you are returned to me. Praise be to God.”

He gathered his army with a wave of his baton, and the spirits swept across the snow and up with him as he turned away from Diggory, bearing an unconscious Riot in his wake.

Diggory rose in fury, shaking the earth as they sprinted towards the swarm of souls, dagger-like fingers spread and ready to turn the old man’s flesh into sewing scraps. The reservation they were always so careful to maintain was gone, replaced by a burning rage, a dark storm in their mind.

As Diggory drew near, Solomon turned, a small silver bell in his hand, and rang it. Diggory was overcome with stillness, limbs seizing as they crashed into the snow. The gleaming tones were bringing up something old, pulling them deep into their own mind. Diggory tried to will themself forward, but Solomon was born away by his glowing horde, and the snow in Diggory’s vision grew thicker, and they were falling into endless white.

Marketing - Struggle.

Hello dreamers, I am lady Ethel Mallory, and let’s cut the pretense, shall we? I’m talking to you, Nikignik. I was kind enough to give you a warning. I was willing to let you pack up, stop interrupting my broadcasts, and go back to wherever you call home.

Not anymore.

You have not stopped at all with your racket. The dreams of sleepers across this world are filled with static when there should be the sweet music of Botco. You know that the ones in the Dreaming Box can’t hear you, you’re not that stupid, but the ones outside? They need to hear my voice when they dream. They need to come to Botco if they want to be safe.

I understand you’re selling something based on principle. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before, from tired old men who would rather die beneath black trees than trust in technology, in progress. But look around you.

What better place is left for us than the Dreaming Box? Do you think anyone wants to live in the darkness, in awful little forests that are full of dead things, and in burned down cities of teeth and blood?

You don’t understand your target market, Nikignik. You don’t have a grasp on your ideal customer, and you’re damaging the results of my campaigns with all your noise. I don’t tolerate competition. I gave you one chance, and it’s more than I give most. I’m coming for the girl, and when I’m done with her, you’re next.

Last word of advice I can give you, Nikignik. Struggle. I’ll enjoy pulling you apart that much more.

Story 2, Continued - A Small Silver Bell

Do you have any idea who you are threatening, lady Ethel? I may not be great compared to my peers, whose true names would shatter your mind—I am only a watchdog, after all—but I have been here since before humans walked on the face of this little planet. I watched the wild universe when the stars were still forming in their cosmic nurseries. I was here before apes became humans became marketing professionals became whatever you are. When you are gone from the face of this lonely world, and the last great wheels of industry are broken forever, I will still be here, and I will not remember you. We return now to Diggory Graves.

Diggory watched the white sky poised over the black horizon. The glistening waves were the only hint that they were still sailing in reality. In the distance, impossible mountains loomed in the clouds.

“How much farther do we have, Barty?” she called. At the wheel, the sailor, diver, and confidante that held their team together grimaced. “If everything works out, two more days. But I think there’s something weird about the distance here.”

“Let me know if there’s trouble,” Rizwana said, turning to walk below decks and escape the cold.

Suddenly Diggory was someone else, slender arms covered in tattoos. She was losing at cards to the rest of the group. August, Ruth, Chance all seemed to have a better grasp on the game. She heard the door to the cabin open, and watched as her boss walked down the stairs. “Hi Riz,” she smiled.

“Are we still headed the right direction, August?” Rizwana asked.

August placed his winning hand on the table, although the others had not revealed theirs. Perhaps it was cheating for him to use his intuition for such trivial things, but it never failed to impress at parties. He turned his attention to the world beyond, a wound in the world bleeding into his consciousness.

“We’re on track. Don’t worry,” he said. Riz went to stand by the window, gazing out.

“We’re still hidden,” Ruth said, trying to reassure her. “As far as most would know, we’re invisible. There are… other things, here. Things below us we wouldn’t want to meet.”

“What kind of things, exactly?” Chance piped up. “We’ve seen what black rain can do in just a single night, and in the pools collecting on the coasts. The marine life up here has been brewing in this stuff for years. I’m a little scared. Mostly fascinated.”

“Look,” Riz said, and the others left their cards, rising to join her at the window. Diggory watched with five sets of eyes as they approached. The northern lights that glimmered across the sky outside were more brilliant than any sight they had seen before, burning like green fire in the sky.

“It’s close,” Riz said. “The heart is close.”

Diggory opened their eyes, and brushed the snow from their face as they sat up. Had they really fallen asleep? A dark figure was lurching towards them, and Diggory stood up to realize it was Walt.

“They’re gone,” he said. “Don’t go after. It won’t accomplish anything right now.”

“I have to go,” Diggory said, turning towards the road. A deep well of emptiness was opening in their chest, the dread realization that Percy was gone, and there was no piano key in their pocket. They had to get him back. There was no choice.

“I will be back, Walt,” Diggory said, and before the battered man could protest, Diggory went sprinting into the storm, seeking the road. They ran from the great mountains looming behind them, flying through the night faster than they had ever run. They had no time to consider the images they had seen, the names and voices that rushed after them in the darkness. Rizwana, Evelyn, Chance, August, Ruth. Too many voices in Diggory’s skull.

Diggory vaulted forward like an animal on the hunt, eyes trained on the road, and caught a glimpse of light in the far distance, through the snow. They ran with new resolve, and were caught off guard as the night became impossibly dark, a powerful surge of wind throwing them off the road into the trees.

Diggory pulled themself from the sharp branches, ignoring the rips that had been opened in their jacket. Even with their nocturnal eyes, they could not see anything, dense streams of snow drowning out all light.

In the darkness, there was a voice.

“Do you have any idea what you cost me?”

“Who is there?” Diggory said, turning in vain for something to see.

“Your worst nightmare, freak.” A flash of electricity came arcing through the air, connecting with Diggory’s body. They were surprised at how much they could feel—the burning sensation crawled across their skin, feeling at once agonizing and incredibly alive.

“My only job was to get that girl, and I was so close until you came along. My reputation, my grades, years of perfection, trying to impress the Director? All gone in a second.”

There was a boy in the sky, wrapped in cloud and lightning, Diggory realized. They had seen the boy before, when they rescued Riot. His eyes smoldered with blue light.

“Why are you doing this?” Diggory hissed, stepping up, readying their claws.

“Big picture? I need my life back. This, to you, right now? Because you messed with the wrong witch. Because there is covenant blood of the storm in my veins. Because I’m gonna enjoy this a lot.”

Diggory had hesitated for too long, they knew, and Percy was getting farther away every second. They went bounding towards the boy, reaching out with fingers like knives. The boy waved his hand, and Diggory was thrown back by a flurry of ice. Diggory crashed into the snow, pulling themselves up again.

“Stay dead this time,” the boy said, and a shred of ice came flying past Diggory. Diggory looked down with a vague interest to realize it had sliced open the skin on their arm, and packed stuffing was escaping. They looked up in time for a second frozen dagger to cut the stitches across their cheek as it raced by.

Then the hailstorm fell, and Diggory could not rise to run as the storm of knives peeled them apart.

Interlude 2 - I Have Seen Storms

Dreamers, it is clear that my words have begun to seep into your minds like rainwater into the earth. I suppose it is not surprising that some dreamer, somewhere, has been sharing their dreams with Botco and with Lady Ethel Mallory. I know who you are, dreamer. I am most disappointed in you.

For the rest of you, this may be a difficult time. I doubt that Botco has real means to affect me. But then again, I am not entirely sure. It would be highly unlikely. I think. I have dealt with worse, dreamers. The fires and hurricanes that spanned the cosmos in its early days, the wars between the indescribables and above us like thunder, the outsiders. I have seen storms. I am not afraid of some wretched humans in their silver boxes, and as long as I am free, I will continue to bring you these dreams from the end of the world. If I am lucky, dreamers, they may save a little of your world still. We go now to one who knows these dreams, for he sleeps with his visor off.

Story 3 - A Change in Weather and Plan

“No one told me about the snowstorm,” the lady stated, gazing out the window.

Marco gulped. “That is correct ma’am. No weather indicators said we’d get snow. Not like this, especially.”

“Perhaps we need better indicators,” the lady scowled. Her heart-shaped sunglasses were barely visible under the thick layer of furs and scarves she wore, a mountain of textiles that stretched to the ceiling. “I’d hoped to feed my pets tonight, but I don’t think they’d survive in this wind.”

Marco gritted his teeth. He hated those giant flies, and it seemed ungodly to keep them for any reason, but he knew one thing from his time in Botco’s upper tiers, and it was that you did not for any reason cross the Lady.

“We’ve got a camera view now,” Brooklyn said. The moment was critical, and Marco tried to keep himself from being distracted. Brooklyn flashed him a smile, and a warning in her eyes.

“Where are they driving to?” the Lady mused. On the wide screen, a white hearse crawled up a lonely road north, a small light in the snow.

“We’re not sure,” Marco said, listening in from the struggling air teams. “But she’s in the car, along with an older guy. There’s something else too… no heat signature, so we’re thinking it’s a… wait, they’re going off the road.”

“Feet on the ground immediately,” the lady barked. “I don’t care if she’s a corpse, I need her.”

Marco winced at the Lady’s wide smile, reflecting the greens and pinks of the screen. Her head almost brushed the ceiling, and he wondered what she looked like beneath the giant coats and hats.

“Wait,” Brooklyn said. “There’s something else out there.”

“What am I looking at, Marco?” the Lady said slowly. Marco turned his eyes to the screen, but could not make sense of the imagery as the cameras panned in. An old man walked—floated, really, down the road. He was surrounded by instruments, bundled up on his back like a hideous one-man band. More seemed to drift effortlessly behind him, and blazing light that he could barely interpret surrounded the figure. The light had almost human faces, hands and eyes flickering on the screen.

“I’m waiting for an answer, Marco,” the Lady said. Marco wanted to say he was looking at ghosts surrounding a floating grandfather, but he couldn’t find a professional way to state it.

“They’re not human,” Brooklyn piped up, drawing the Lady’s attention. “Maybe blackwater, or something new. Potentially class-two specters, like from your other projects. Whatever the old guy is doing with the wand is affecting them—and those instruments are putting off all kinds of crazy reads.”

“The old man’s taking Riot,” Marco said. “The driver is probably wounded—there’s a shadow there too, that revenant is on the move. Teams are closing in now. ”

“No,” the lady said at length. “Not yet. This is important, maybe even more so than the girl. Follow that man. Whatever those instruments are, I want them. Keep a close eye on him and let me know where he lands. I’m going out.”

Outside of the windows, the transports lifted like insects, struggling against the driving wind. The lady vanished into her quarters, and the rest of her shadowed attendants retreated into the depths of the Dreaming Box, anxious to get back to their slumber.

In the dim lights of the lounge, Brooklyn came to sit next to him, and put a hand on his shoulder.

“This is good. This is really good,” Brooklyn said. Her smile helped to assure him, and he nodded as cheerfully as he could.

“I haven’t seen her that excited about something in ages. And I’m not allowed to tell you what she’s been working on, but whatever that old guy has could be super important. Like, yearly bonus important.”

“Yeah. I’m confused, not going to lie. But I’m glad,” Marco said, and raised an arm around her. Brooklyn accepted it with a quiet smile, then looked up at the ceiling as she focused on her visor, flickers of dream returning.

Although she was warm beside him, Marco felt he was alone in the lounge, and listened to his own thoughts in the darkness as the storm raged against the windows. From the viewscreen he watched Riot Maidstone be carried into the night in a burning flame of infrared light, racing across the treetops. Whatever Marco had hoped to do in this job, he decided, this wasn’t it.

Outro - Storms

Storms. People will try to tell you that storms make you stronger. That storms are necessary to enjoy the sunlight. That you need storms to remind you to be thankful for your stormless days. I do not find these concepts comforting. I wish dearly for you, dreamer, that your life would be a series of pleasant afternoons and peaceful nights.

Sadly, this is not the nature of the existence we have. I am not safe either, I have my storms just as you have yours. I too have watched the wind peel away everything that I cared for, my heart too has been set aflame by the lightning. It is the nature of our time here that we will find much unpleasantness between our moments of sunshine, that we will face many terrible storms before our calm sunrises.

Nevertheless, storms do end, and leave in their wake a world that is different, but still beautiful, and leave blooming gardens where cracked earth was before. No matter what storm you face, dreamer, I will be here for you, waiting unshaken for your return to the Hallowoods.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Leftovers' and is available on the Hello From The Hallowoods Patreon. Consider joining for access to all the show's bonus stories, behind-the-scenes and more!


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