HFTH - Episode 44 - Rains


Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Animal Death, Violence, Kidnapping and Abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Transphobia, Hand Loss, Homophobia, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Drowning, Body Horror, Electrocution, and Religious Violence.


Intro - Dead Beyond Thirst

You are a father, and they are both gone. You stumble out of the house, falling to your knees on the drive. Why, dear God, why? How long was she in the kitchen? And in the bedroom, the IV bag long sucked dry… they are dead beyond thirst. How many hours were you away? Lost in study, so close to the precipice…


The rain is black as it bleeds down your face. The water is soothing, and even as you weep in the street, you feel its power. These are the rains that tested Job and stripped his family from him, the waters that rose to consume the earth and drown the sinners in their beds. It is all part of his plan, you realize, and you stare up at the storm as it falls.


Is this not why you have studied? You take out a key from your pocket, and it shines with hope, ancient light that means Hello From The Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I’m at the sharp end of a large hunting knife. The one at the handle is angry, and fumes about the injustice of the world. The sky grows dark above the Hallowoods today; winds have been summoned from miles away, and the air is heavy. I think it might storm.


The theme of tonight’s episode is Rains.



Story 1 - Better From Here

“I’ve been hunting you down for a while now, devil,” Rick shouted, levelling his blade. “Bet you didn’t see Rick Rounds coming back, did you? I’ll be taking that umbrella now, and…”


There was a crackle of thunder in the distance, and Rick cursed. His arm still burned like hell, and sharp jolts of pain kept coming from a hand that wasn’t there anymore.


He was alone, aside from the clouds closing in on him, and there was hardly a way to keep his direction straight in all these identical black pines. His fantasies pivoted, among other things, between hunting down the devil-man and going back to Fort Freedom for some well-deserved revenge. Thunder, again, closer now. He made for the sound of running water, and shoved through a wall of trees to find himself on the shore of a lake as dark as the sky, stretching off into the horizon. There were rocky islands covered in trees, and he could see a rowboat washed up on a distant shore. On a ledge above it he thought he could make out a cabin.


He stared at the expanse of black water, beginning to writhe under the wind. It wasn’t a long swim, and that cabin was tantalizingly close. He’d been taught to avoid water this color all his life, but he couldn’t see another crossing point, and the clouds above had blotted out the sun. He needed shelter more than anything.


He spat into the lake, and tied the machete to his bag, pulling the knot tight with his teeth. He looped the bag’s straps around his good arm, and waded in.


The current was not strong, and his boots kicked off against the rocky shore as he began to swim—better to keep them on than to cut his feet. It was harder than usual to keep himself stable in the water, but he plowed forward, keeping his head above the waves.


Stupid Buck. Stupid for betraying him, stupid for listening to Mrs. Wicker. He’d kill her if he ever got the chance. All eight of her kids would have to find something else to do besides follow her around and look creepy.


Something caught at his boot—probably lake weed, but he cursed and lashed out with his other foot to free it. He found himself kicking against something huge and heavy beneath the water’s surface, and a surge of panic seized his chest. He choked it back, paddling as fast as he could, and then something broke the lake’s surface ahead of him, dangerously close. He would have thought that it was a crocodile, perhaps, judging from the wedge-shaped head, but the eyes were wrong, and there was a splash as a massive spined fin crested the waves.


It was worse than a croc. It was a pike.


He cursed, and then there was a horrible lurch as rows of needle-like teeth sank into his leg, and then he was effortlessly yanked beneath the surface of the water. The lake poured over him in relentless torrents, and the weeds burned as they were ripped past his skin. He kicked violently and tried to free his foot, and screamed as the teeth dug deeper, and the water was in his lungs then.


He was bent back, beaten against the side of the huge fish as it swam, and he remembered the blade strapped to his bag. He tried to twist, put more pressure on the tearing foot, and the rush of water slammed the blade’s edge into the fish.


There was a moment of relief as the fish released him, and he kicked desperately for the surface, coughing up water as he broke into the air. He had to keep pushing for the shore. He was closer to the edge now, a ways down from the boat, and his boots hit the bottom as he approached the rocky slope.


There was a sharp yank on his bag, then, that pulled him off his feet and back towards the lake. Without thinking he let the straps slide from his arm, and sprinted out of the water, stumbling up onto the rocks and gasping for air. He looked back on the lake; there was a last twist of a massive striped tail as the fish made off with his supplies.


“Damn,” he said. And then the rain fell.


Lightning flashed across a pitch-black sky as he hurried through the trees, pushing aside dark branches and trying to keep pressure off his injured leg. No machete, no food, no fire. Even an umbrella would have been handy about now. He tried to keep the rain out of his eyes, and emerged from the canopy onto a rocky ledge a few minutes later. The rain hid the horizon from view, but he could make out other islands in the distance, and sure enough there was a cabin up at the edge. There was no light in the windows, and he staggered towards it. The door was cracked open, and a word was carved into its boards.


‘Overdue’.


“Weird name,” Rick muttered, and shoved it open. The cabin was small, but dry, and most importantly empty. He stepped in and slammed the door shut, slumping down against it. His clothes were sopping wet, and he pushed his hair away from his face. It was starting to get longer than he usually let it grow.


The room was strange, and smelled like burned hair. There were a bunch of black feathers lying on the floorboards, and what might have been human remains and ash lay in a pile in the corner. There was even more of the stuff scattered across a big metal cage at the back of the room. Rick coughed. Who knew what poor soul he was breathing in.


“The devil-man got to you too, did he?” Rick sighed.


There was, however, an oil lantern, and a box of matches which was not quite empty. Once lit, it allowed for a better look around, and there was some small comfort in the warm light. There were books under a tarp, and Rick sighed. Buck was better at books. ‘Twelve Testaments of the End’, ‘The Stair Eternal’, ‘Of The Powers’, and more were printed in elaborate golds and reds.


He shrugged. At least he might die of boredom before he starved. He continued his search, and found a small box of tools, hunting knives, and thank god, a pantry. He cracked it open, and smiled. Canned food. A jackpot, right here. He drove a screwdriver into a can labelled ‘fruit cocktail’, and slurped the juice from the edge. It was the sweetest thing he’d ever tasted.


He sat down heavily on a cot in the corner, and held his injured hand close.


Rick Rounds was going to make it.


He unwrapped the bandages and examined the wound. The skin was turning black at the end of his arm, as if his veins were filling with ink. Not a great sign. He wrapped it up again so he didn’t have to think about it.


Making it. Yep. He’d hunt down the devil-man eventually, take back Fort Freedom. Maybe… maybe he’d been too hard on Buck, at that. It hadn’t been his fault, really. Buck was just always there; he didn’t run away like the rest. Everyone had their breaking point before they’d give up on you, Rick thought, and he’d always been scared when he couldn’t figure out where it was.


He’d found out in the end, he supposed.


Whatever.


Rick kicked off his waterlogged boots, tossed his wet clothes onto the floor, and pulled the blanket over himself. The rain was oddly calming as it pattered on the roof. He sighed. Things could only get better from here.



Interlude 1 - Taste the Rain

Do you like the taste of the rain on your tongue, dreamer? The way it haunts your throat, writes strange words in your lungs? The storm sings to you, and the melody is the end, and the beauty above you burns your eyes. The clouds are not an omen, but an invitation. The world is changing, the wheel of time is turning and a red dawn is here, but you can be a part of it. Give up your fragile life, your paper skin, your eyes of flesh. The fire in the stars is the fire in you, and the song that escapes from your lips is the song of the changing of the age.


Do you love the world around you, as it twists and changes like a flower unfolding into spring, transforms like you. Everything used to be so complex, but now, now it is terribly, beautifully simple. Change the old life into the new. Protect that which now grows. You could not, perhaps, save your world from its falling rains and rising oceans, but you can act as a herald for the world that is to come.


If you haven’t tried the black rain yet, perhaps best to keep it that way. It’s a drastic sort of change, and some it affects better than others.


We go now to one who holds the rain in her hands.



Story 2 - Replacement

Was it bad choices, or no choice at all, that had led her here, Olivier wondered? Because for all the broken bones and nights spent huddled beneath the trees and tears in her cloak, she had nothing to show.


She stood in the doorway as Solomon, the dusty old creature himself, talked with her replacement.


Replacement.


Like a broken toy.


None of it had been a test. Olivier was alone, and nobody cared, and nobody wanted her. And Solomon’s last-ditch offer… it didn’t mean anything if she couldn’t get back into the library, couldn’t see Friday, couldn’t impress the Director. It had taken Olivier ten years to earn her cape, and Clara had been given her present after a month.


Solomon would discard Olivier just like the Director. She hardly had a doubt about that.


She formed a fist, electricity buzzing in her hands and her heart. She was the weather. The fury of the storm roiled in her heart. She deserved a little respect. Solomon and Clara barely noticed as she backed away into the house, tried to calm her racing pulse in the living room. No library, no Solomon… what else was there for her?


The Scoutpost.


She didn’t know anyone there, had kidnapped a girl, and warned Solomon about the invaders, but everything was a balance, wasn’t it? She needed leverage.


She looked up with a new certainty, and nodded to herself, and turned for the basement door. There was no cry from Zelda below, and Olivier hurried down the steps into the shadow.


“Percy,” she whispered. “Are you here?”


Immediately, the boy appeared, lit up like the moon on the far side of the cold stone room. In the corner beside him, Olivier could make out an ornate harp.


“What are you doing?” Percy said.


“Do they know you at the Scoutpost?” Olivier said.


“Yeah. Diggory is there, I think. And others.”


“Okay,” Olivier said, steeling herself. This was going to be the craziest thing she’d done in her life. She approached, and picked up the harp. The strings echoed with sound, and there was a delicate pattern of bone set into the top edge.


“Um, hey. That’s me,” Percy said.


“I’m going to get us out of here,” Olivier said. “Will you… put in a good word for me?”


Percy nodded quickly. “Of course!”


Olivier tucked the harp under her arm, and smiled weakly. “Then hold on.”


She reached out, and gathered the stale air of the basement in her fist, tried to make something useful of it. The hoard of instruments rattled against the walls, and the tools went flying across Solomon’s worktable. Above her, the sky smiled, and she felt the weather was strong in her for the first time in a week. She lifted away from the stone floor, the wind gathering around her ankles, and with a furious shove she sailed up the basement steps.


She paused for a moment, looking around the house—there was a back door somewhere, wasn’t there?—and realized that Solomon was staring at her from the front door, and there was a terrifying clarity in his glazed eyes.


“Put my daughter down.”

Anger flashed in Olivier’s head, and before she could think through it, she lifted her arm, and a wave of wind burst through the living room, sending Solomon flying out the front door. Books and papers and artifacts scattered across the floor, and Olivier rushed out the door and into the sky, sailing up through the circle of trees and into the grey clouds above.


The wind whipped in her hair and billowed in her torn cloak, and she could hear Solomon roar far beneath her as she crossed the wall of trees and flung herself across the dark canopy of the forest beyond. To fly was to constantly fall, lift herself with the force of the wind, and she closed her eyes as she flew, and laughed. This felt good, and she felt as free as the clouds themselves. Why hadn’t she done this sooner?


She opened her eyes to find Percy keeping pace with her, though his floating hair did not seem affected by the wind.


“Olivier?” he said in her head. “That… witch? Is behind us.”


Olivier glanced back, and sure enough Clara was tailing them, clinging for dear life to her broom as it whistled through the air like an arrow. She glared and pointed at Olivier as she followed, saying something Olivier could not hear.


“She’s not a witch yet,” Olivier said, and squeezed her fist. The grey clouds spiralled into black, and the darkness poured down with ferocious speed. The first drops of water stung like needles, and Olivier parted the rain ahead of her. Clara would have no such protection. You want what I have, Olivier thought? You can have it.


The sky filled with turbulence, and the rain came down like a wall then, and the winds seemed to pull Clara back like a kite. Light flashed in the heavens above her, crackling down into the trees.


“Her dog doesn’t like the lightning,” Percy called. “It’s running back!”


Olivier hadn’t seen the dog coming at all, but she turned to see Clara’s worried face, and a look of fear that Olivier recognized too well. Then Clara fell back into the pummeling shadows and was gone, and Olivier twisted higher into the air, breaking free of the clouds altogether. The thunderstorm lay below her feet, and far beyond it, along the northern artery, lay the Scoutpost.


No fear, Olivier thought. This is what I have to do.



Marketing - Hurricane Claudette

Lady Ethel Mallory: It’s going to be breezy this week, my lovely dreaming family. Hurricane Claudette is a bit early for the season, but the worst of the storm should dissolve over the remains of Old Florida. Naturally, dreamers in the southeast will not even notice within the comfort of your Dreaming Pods, and our Dreaming Boxes are designed to protect us from the strongest of storms, so there’s no chance of an outage in your Prime Dream experience.


The rains are not as potent now as those apocalyptic black clouds we saw at the start; whatever that contaminant was, it has dispersed into our environment, mixed with more water. The rain today does continue to carry trace amounts, but so does the drinking water and everything else. What a terrible fate to be trapped outside.


Don’t worry, my lovely dreaming family. Botco’s purification systems prevent any chance of exposure for our dreamers, and our internal cycling process means that you’ll never be exposed to waters like those. The effects of black water are no small thing, which is why we’re working so hard to help Riot and Valerie Maidstone recover. I’m sure we’ll hear all about it in the upcoming…



Story 2, Continued - Replacement

A little rain never hurt anyone, dreamer, though I suppose people affected by the black rains have hurt many. Lady Ethel is hardly one to talk about that.


We return now to Olivier Song.


Olivier sniffed, and she suspected her nose was bleeding onto her shirt. Her head still ached terribly. A woman she barely recognized stomped through the darkness with all the grace of a large potato, and lit a candle. It put a mean glint of fire in her eyes.


“Thirty-nine,” she said. “Thirty-nine scary things I’ve put in the ground out here. Nice of you to come down here and make it forty. It’s a nice even number, forty.”


Olivier glared at her.


“I’ve had a ghost at this table. I’ve had a sewn-up zombie thing. What the hell are you?”


“I’m Olivier. I’m just me,” Olivier said, and tugged on the rope around her arms. “Who am I talking to?”


“Bern,” the woman said impassively.


“Bern,” Olivier said, and sat up as straight as she could, hoping her eyes were doing that blue thing. “I’m willing to forgive getting hit in the head and threatened and all of this. I want food. Shelter. Books if you have any. And in exchange I can offer…”


Bern glared at her with a distracting amount of venom, and Olivier trailed off. Bern got up, and sat on the edge of her desk a few feet from Olivier.


“Why did you do it?” she said quietly, and Olivier noticed she had a trembling hand on the stock of the crossbow attached to her hip.


“I don’t know what you mean,” Olivier said.


“Oh no?” Bern said. “Kidnapping Riot right out of her home here, trying to take her so Solomon could torture and kill her. Sound familiar yet?”


“I… there was a…”


“You made a storm that let Solomon kidnap Percy from us—and sure, you brought him back, but it’s a problem you made in the first place. You most certainly carved Diggory into pieces; Walt didn’t sleep for days when he sewed them back together. Diggory ain’t too happy about that by the way.”


Olivier gulped. That thing was frightening to look at, and she had been careful to stay out of range of those wicked knife-fingers.


“Speaking of which, I remember you crowing from the top of Solomon’s roof a couple days ago. You got a good man killed, did you know that?”


“Solomon… wasn’t even home,” Olivier said. “That wasn’t my fault.”


“Oh yes it was,” Bern said, and Olivier could find no sympathy in her rocky face. “I wanted to put a bolt right above your eyes just then. Looks like I might still get my chance.”


She unclipped her crossbow from her side, and Olivier flinched against the restraints.


“Hold on now,” Olivier said, lightning beginning to spark at her fingertips. Immediately the crossbow was up against her forehead.


“I can destroy this place,” Olivier hissed.


“Not as fast as I can destroy your skull, I reckon,” Bern grunted. “Put the fireworks away. We’re not done talking.”


Olivier lowered her palms, letting the shocks fizzle out, and the crossbow fell back a little, tucked under Bern’s arm.


“You’re spying things out for Solomon right now,” Bern sighed. “What does he want to know?”


“I’m not!” Olivier said. “I can’t go back. I stole the harp, he’ll kill me.”


“Not my problem,” Bern said. “We’re grateful to have Percy back. But you? I don’t see you acting sorry. You helped him hurt us. Whatever you did it for, I hope it was worth it.”


Bern stood up, cracked her back, and began to leave.


“Wait,” Olivier said. Bern stopped at the door, and looked back.


“I’m sorry,” Olivier continued. “I thought… I thought I was doing something important. And it all went wrong, and I kept trying harder. I thought I didn’t have a choice. And… I’m realizing now that I did. Have a choice. And I made the wrong one. Again, and again, and again. I don’t know what to do now. I’ve got nowhere else to go.”


Bern stood, with no expression on her square-cut face.


“This isn’t my decision to make,” she said, and Olivier winced as the door opened for a moment, and she was gone.


Olivier waited by the candle for several minutes, and found that tears were rolling down her face. Why was she crying? It wasn’t going to help any of this. Crying makes you look weak.


This was real.


It wasn’t a game, or a lesson. This was her last chance, and she was missing it. No Director, no Solomon, no friends at all.


The door opened, and someone stood in the light. Olivier recognized her immediately.


“You made it,” she said.


“I have you down as ‘cloud witch’, but Percy says you go by Olivier?” the other girl said, holding a beaten leather book open in one hand. She sat down in Bern’s chair. Her vest buttons gleamed in the candlelight, and her buzz cut was growing in a little. She looked up at Olivier with concerned brows, and there was a silver sword in a leather strap on her side.


“Olivier, yes,” Olivier said, and the girl made a note.


“Right. And your water powers. You made it snow… and you cut up Diggory with ice. You can fly. Electrocute people. Fog, rain, stuff like that. Is that just you? Or did you pick up a cursed amulet or something?”


Olivier was fascinated. Someone out here who wrote? Kept a journal of some kind?


“I’ve had them ever since I was a kid,” Olivier said.


“Are there others like you?” she said.


“Kind of. Lots of others have gifts. But nobody talks to the weather like I do.”


The girl looked down at her book, nodded, and closed it with a snap.


“Good,” she said. “I’m Riot, by the way. Just wanted to finish your entry before I kill you.”


She slid out the silver sword, and Olivier kicked back, and her chair fell against the ground. The wind stirred around her, but she couldn’t take her attention away from the blade inching towards her.


“Wait, please don’t…”


“You tore up Diggory. You tried to kidnap me. And you got Walt killed.”


“I said I was sorry!”


“That doesn’t change anything.”


Her eyes were like burning coals, and she hefted the sword onto her shoulder. Olivier tried to gather the weather and right the chair, but it toppled to the side and rolled over. The stony ground was cold against Olivier’s cheek, and the chair was very heavy.


“I can help you!” Olivier whispered, with a white-knuckled grip on the chair arms. “Seriously. Solomon made me do it. I hate him just as much as…”


The girl stepped forward, and Olivier flinched out of habit.


“I know him. I’ve been in his house. I can help you stop him—he wants to wipe out the Scoutpost. He’s building an organ. I… I didn’t know he would kill your friend. I’m sorry.”


“My friend?” the girl seemed to stare uncertainly for a moment.


“This Walt guy.”


“Oh. Right,” Riot said, seeming to think for a moment, and knelt down beside her. “I really want to hurt you. Try and make you pay for like, so much that you’ve done to us. Me especially. Walt most of all.”


She glanced back to the leather book on the desk.


“But I’m going to give you a chance. Tomorrow, at dawn, I’m going out there and I’m going to kill Solomon. And you’re going to help me.”


She stood, and Olivier yelped as something struck above her. The girl’s hand, she realized, lifting the chair upright. Olivier gasped as the chair was set back on the ground. The girl grabbed her book and turned to leave.


“Wait,” Olivier said. “They took my things, but there’s a knife in there somewhere. It’s yours.”


The girl looked back from the door. “My switchblade? Why did you have that?”


Olivier coughed. “It’s a long story. So… I can stay?”


She breathed in exasperation, and put her sword back in the strap. “Depends on how helpful you are.”


She walked out, and Olivier sat back against the chair, finally allowing herself to breathe.


She was alive. Her nose and her back hurt, and she was horribly hungry and tired, and she was about to make an enemy of the greatest killer in the northern woods, but she was alive. For now, that was the best she could do. Don’t worry, she thought. I’ll be useful.



Interlude 2 - Too Few Words

I am sorry for you, dreamers. All of this… this forest and the people in it, the very horrors that have befallen your planet… these are terrible things to see in a nightmare, and even worse to remember by daylight.


As the final chapters of your story are written, there are too few words. The arcs of your characters are cut short; the end comes before you had a chance to redeem yourselves.


I want you to know it is not for any of these reasons that I revel in the Black Rains. That I laughed when the first storms washed across your world. Because he won, in some small way, in the end. Maybe it is just one world, instead of thousands, but a world nonetheless. Perhaps it would be the same for you if you discovered a painting a loved one had made, years after their death. You might find some trace of their smile in the lines, some fragment of their soul in the colors.


It is a world wiped from Syrensyr’s accounts, one less sun that Tolshotol can claim. He has been gone so long from this universe, and yet a new world grows from his heart. And yes, I laughed to see him paint the world black one more time, light it with the fires I knew from his eyes, fill it with flowers like those that grew in his antlers.


We go now to one who loves the rain.



Story 3 - The World in Red Twine

Lady Ethel grinned as she stepped from the ramp of her aircraft into the rain. Her pets buzzed in their harnesses back in the hold, but she doubted they would enjoy the downpour, and she had no such grisly end planned for Solomon.


The rain felt delicious, smelled intoxicating, and she raised her gloved hands and face to the sky. The feeling of it on her tongue burned better than any alcohol. She normally kept it to herself, private little vials of concentrate here and there. But it was thicker up here; you could taste the difference. What a shame that so much of it had leaked into this miserable forest.


Across the yard, Solomon was sitting on his porch steps, the rain soaking his hair and beard, glasses in his hands, and his coat laid beside him. She glided towards him.


“Is something wrong, Solomon?” she called. She couldn’t hear his response, so she moved closer, until she was almost level with the roof of his porch. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”


“My daughter is gone,” he said. “Have you seen her?”


Grandpa needs a nice Dreaming Pod to sleep in, she thought.


“I’m afraid I haven’t. I didn’t know you had children.”


“Yes,” he said, staring off into the wall of trees. His eyes seemed to gain some flash of clarity, and he looked up to her. “Well. Can I get you an umbrella, my lady? Though I do not know if I have one befitting of your stature.”


“I like the rain,” she said, letting it fall away from the wide brim of her hat on all sides. “I came to finish our business. I’m afraid I have to go.”


“Go?” Solomon said. There was a familiar green in his eyes, a twinkle in his glasses. “I am sorry to hear it. I certainly have not had my fill of your company.”


“Stop by and visit if you’re ever in the bay area,” she said. “Box Cassiopeia is just lovely.”


“I’m sure,” he said.


“I believe I was to receive your method,” Lady Ethel said, and tried to give him a charming smile.


“In exchange for the organ parts, yes,” Solomon looked up at the sky. “They have been perfect to the finest detail. My construction will be done early.”


“Good.” Lady Ethel smiled wider. Hurry it up now.


“I believe you had also asked to receive the girl,” Solomon said. “I am sorry to say she escaped. My help has been hardly of use to me. I do not have her.”


“You know, I’d almost forgotten about that,” Lady Ethel said. “Bygones and all. No matter.”


“I also discussed, I believe, a local community with which I must deal,” Solomon said, and pushed his wet hair from his face.


“Bogey to the east, closing quickly,” Marco said from the earpiece in her glasses.


Keep me posted, she messaged from the interior screen.


“Yes, you had mentioned some bad neighbors. We can deal with that sort of thing in the flash of a second, you know.”


“I don’t need your bombs,” Solomon said. “Destroy everything and I have no materials to work with. I need them to suffer. Suffering makes them the strongest.”


“That’s where Riot is,” Brooklyn said in her other ear.


I know, Lady Ethel messaged. Silence please.


“We’ll see what we can do,” she said. “Once the rain stops.”


“Bogey’s here, defenses are online,” Marco said, and the laser arrays beneath the wings of the aircraft slid silently into motion, orienting themselves like the eyes of a fly.


“Whoah now,” Solomon glanced over to the vehicle, lifting a hand. “My new assistant should be returning shortly, please do not destroy her.”


Lady Ethel looked to the sky, and thought for a moment that she was dreaming. A young woman was flying through the air, clinging to a mop or something. There was a bow strapped to her back, and her wet cape was covered in pine needles. She came soaring out of the sky and began to lower into the yard with them.


“Is that a broom?” Brooklyn said.


“I’m so done with these woods,” Marco breathed.


Lady Ethel muted her communication array. Despite her bent glasses and soft face, the girl had the most intense gaze—the kind of smoldering glare that said ‘fall collection designed for the modern, diverse, and authentic America’. The clothes were out of date by a few centuries, of course, but even diamonds had to be pulled from the rough sometimes.


“Where do you find these people,” Lady Ethel said.


“They come to me,” Solomon replied, and stood up to lean on the porch beam.


“They got away,” the girl said, brushing away a pine cone from her cloak. She stared up at Lady Ethel, eyes widening. Lady Ethel waved back gently. Best not to scare the poor thing.


“What’s your name, girl?” Lady Ethel said.


“Clara,” she replied, and then covered her mouth.


“That’s a surprising skill you have, Clara.”


“Thank you,” Clara said quietly. There was something in her expression that Lady Ethel didn’t like, she decided. She turned back to the business at hand.


“This is the last time I’ll visit for a while, Solomon. Your method, please, as promised.”


“Of course,” Solomon said. “Girl, there is a latch under the fourth shelf in the living room. Click it twice, then slide the shelf to the side. I have a bundle wrapped in red twine there.”


“It has been a pleasure to meet you, dear Lady,” Solomon continued once Clara was inside. “I hope my eyes will be graced again with your light some day.”


“I’d be thrilled, I’m sure,” Lady Ethel said. She was not at all sure.


“Here you are, sir,” Clara said, returning with a bundle of books and papers bound together. She kept it under her cloak to ward off the rain.


“Not for me, for the lady,” Solomon said, and Clara hurried over. Lady Ethel bent down a little to receive it, and paused for a moment close to Clara.


“Thank you,” she said. “If you ever decide to change careers, pause at the ring of birds and say Lady Ethel sent you. I’m sure we can work something out.”


“I’m honored,” Clara grunted.


“You should be,” Lady Ethel winked behind her glasses, and rose with her prize in hand.


“Until the lord brings us together again, Lady Ethel Mallory,” Solomon put a hand to his heart. “May the Deep, the Darkness, and the Dawn dwell in your eyes.”


“You too,” Lady Ethel said, and turned. The rain fell off her shoulders as she ascended into the cold metal hull, and the ramp folded upwards, and she sat in the dim red light as the turbine engines fired up. She realized she was still on mute with her team. She sighed, appreciating one more moment of quiet, and licked a drop of black rain from her lips. She turned the array on again.


“Lady? Can you hear us?” Brooklyn was saying. “That’s Clara. From Riot’s journals. Her girlfriend Clara.”



Outro - Rains

Rains. It is in your books that once the rains filled the world with water at the behest of a vengeful god, drowning out the old age and carrying new life into the future. That the sky shone in prismatic color as the survivors walked into a new world, called upon to begin the next age.


I think your books have it wrong, dreamers. That is not the past. It is now.


The rains have poured down, the waters are rising, and you are looking desperately for an ark. A flood is a cataclysm only for those who cannot swim. Take to your little ships. Try to weather the storm. But it is bold of you to assume that the waters will fall again, that in the future the world will welcome you as much as it did in the past.


But worry not, dreamers. Rains fall, kingdoms crumble, but I will always be by your side, and when you sink, you will not sink alone. Until then, I am your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting torrentially for your return to the hallowoods.




The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Complicated Business', 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!