HFTH - Episode 55 - Threats



Content warnings for this episode include: Ableism, Abuse, Animal death (Heidi as usual), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Homophobia, Emotional Manipulation, Religious Violence



Intro - The Receiving Light

The phone rings, and you flinch. It has not rung in over a decade, and you would have thought the line long dead. Who is there left to call? It rings again, and you snatch it up, and hold it in both hands.


Hello, you say. Who is this?


The answer puts a tremor in you. Yes, I still read scary stories, you say, and again who am I talking to?


You are losing feeling in your fingers, and the blood leaves your face. The voice on the phone waits for an answer.


You are dead, you say, and the words bleed from your mouth. I went back for you, you and mom, and you were both gone.


Tears fall from your face like broken glass. The light on the receiver flickers, and you know that his voice will soon be gone. You interrupt to say that you forgive him, although his apology comes too late. That you went on to have a better life, and that you are safe and happy, and hello from your partner, hello from your home in the shadows, hello from the Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I’m standing knee-deep in the ocean. The grey waters wash up into strange and conquered shores, storefronts as homes for tidal fish and pavement crumbling into sand. If the water is a question, the silver box gleaming on the horizon is a promise and a terrible answer. The theme of tonight’s episode is Threats.



Story 1 - A Day Off

Brooklyn breathed in the salt air, and felt the beach beneath her toes, and reflected that she should do this more often. Marco, in a flash of shirtless glory, came bounding up from the sea.


“This is one of my favorite places,” he said, stopping to look out at the horizon.


“It suits you,” she said. The wind was a reminder how much she had exposed, and she shivered.


“Why’s that?” he smiled, and began to walk. She followed beside him, keeping her feet out of the waves.


“Just seems right,” Brooklyn said. “I could picture you living on a beach somewhere. Doing… whatever people do on beaches. Wouldn’t you like that more than working as a security guard for a busy secretary and her unhinged boss?”


“Not a chance,” Marco said, and kicked at the sea. Brooklyn wrinkled her face as the water splashed her feet. “I like some things about the job a lot.”


“You mean like dealing with the ghosts and huge bugs and the sudden trips across the country and corporate politics?”


“None of the above,” Marco said, and stopped her, and put a hand on her shoulder. There was a sparkle in his eyes that rivalled the ocean’s. “It’s the company food, obviously.”


She pushed him lightly, although she’d have trouble budging him if she put all her strength into it.


“I do worry about it all,” Brooklyn said quietly. “The Lady has been beastly lately. I’m sure you know. This Melanie has her all…”


“Hey, I know it’s been a while since your last day off, so maybe you forgot the rules,” Marco said, waving a hand. “No work stuff for once.”


Brooklyn nodded, and sighed—that left her with a blank slate. What else to talk about? She used to have hobbies, where had those gone? She hardly had time to sit and think lately.


“Sure. Uh. How are you liking Box Andromeda? Do you miss your… partner, in Orion?”


Marco shrugged, and sat down on the shore, legs in the waves. “This will sound silly, but Andromeda is homier than Box Orion. The local dreamscape is very different. More laid-back. I notice everyone’s a little scared of Lady Ethel.”


“Isn’t it like that in Box Orion?” Brooklyn said, and sat down next to him. “You don’t have to walk on eggshells around our noble founder?”


“Not as much,” Marco said. “Most of us have never seen Mr. Botulus in person. He has his own rooms, and I think he spends his whole time dreaming at this point. Same goes for my partners—they’re both in dreaming pods. Interred, you know. So seeing them is the same anywhere.”


“I see,” Brooklyn said. “What are they like?”


“Well, there’s Mandy,” Marco said. “Are you much into fantasy stuff? Azuria and all that? She’s all about it. And Devon… I wonder if you’d like Devon? He makes me laugh. That’s really my only criteria.”


“Do I make you laugh?” Brooklyn said.


“Oh yeah,” Marco said, and put an arm around her shoulders. She liked the feeling—like her very own body armor, or her weighted blanket. “Not that I can laugh much at work. The Lady would be all like ‘Marco Torres, how dare you express emotion in my glorious workplace…’”


Brooklyn laughed. “Mister Torres, keep ogling my secretary and I’ll feed you to my flies…”


“Are we sure she doesn’t just walk on stilts?” Marco said, laying back against the sand, and Brooklyn fell with him. “Maybe she’s jealous because Melanie isn’t as tall as a street lamp.”


“Among other things,” Brooklyn said, putting her head on his shoulder. “Also that Oswald put Melanie in charge of the whole Valerie and Other Riot situation.”


“Do you have any idea what she plans to do?” Marco said, and Brooklyn felt a hand rest on her side. “Lady Ethel, I mean, with the real Riot driving a rustbucket recreational vehicle with a wizard and a dead goth, bound for the USA?”


“She hasn’t mentioned it yet,” Brooklyn said. Marco’s chest was flat; a change from the few people she had ever seen shirtless. She set her hand on the surface, and he laughed.


“What?” Brooklyn said, heat in her face.


“You hold me like a file folder,” he said.


“Sorry,” Brooklyn said. “How am I supposed to?”


There was a buzz in the wind, then, and the horizon shook. Brooklyn sat up, and changed the environment immediately—her first board room, her first charcoal blazer.


“Marco, get dressed,” she hissed, and Lady Ethel Mallory entered her dreams.


It was the Lady of the commercials and the jingles, the queen of prime time, and a face to adorn America’s billboards—not the towering thing that lurked in windowless rooms and fed on tincture and live birds. There was a black bob around her heart-shaped glasses today, and the Lady’s frown was a dark crimson.


“Brooklyn, I have had it with… oh, hello Marco,” she said. “Had it with the whole thing.”


“Which whole thing?” Brooklyn said, and thought of an iced rose latte with oat milk. The Lady glanced around, as if scanning for hidden cameras to report the indulgence, and sat at the table to take a sip.


“Marco, if you’re going to be part of my inner circle you might as well know,” the Lady said. “Anderson Faust is a disgusting little beetle of a man.”


“I wouldn’t trust anyone named Faust, ma’am,” Marco nodded. He’d taken on an appearance featuring his usual body armor, thank god.


“His amplifier isn’t working, so we keep glitching with that other program,” she continued. “He made a Riot Maidstone for Oswald without so much as asking me—built an android or hatched her out of an egg or god knows what. And now Oswald is playing games. Melanie is a petty press secretary. A shapeless mass. She wouldn’t know a brand identity if it came up and gave her a presentable wardrobe.”


“It sounds like you’ve been very stressed,” Brooklyn said. The Lady nodded, and sipped on her coffee.


“I’ve heard that Anderson’s little puppet is going to meet with Ralph.”


Brooklyn paused. “Ralph? ‘Riot’s dad’ Ralph?”


“It’s absurd,” she said. “I assure you Oswald’s little gift horse has crooked teeth. It’s a risk to let everyone look in her mouth.”


“Maybe you should take a day off,” Marco said, resting his hands on the table. “Get some rest. It might help with the headaches.”


Brooklyn winced, and the Lady turned to look at Marco.


“If I wanted an opinion on how to handle my life I’d call my career coach,” she said. “Just keep your drones in line, and do not lose the genuine article.”


“Yes ma’am,” Marco said.


“Ugh,” the Lady groaned, and laid back in her chair. “I’ve got a ‘state of the union’ in ten. Do I look alright?”


“The reference to your iconic period is great,” Brooklyn said. “Maybe change to the hat from the 2022 spring collection?”


“Good eye,” the Lady said, and was gone.


Marco leaned on the table and half-smiled. “Is it too late to go back to the beach?”


“I should go run damage control,” Brooklyn said. “Thank you for the morning, Marco.”


He looked away from her, and was gone too. Brooklyn rose from the chair to watch the skyline of her younger years; the traffic passed below like an ocean of light, flowing into a world that still made sense.



Interlude 1 - Anxious Questions

I have noticed in dwelling behind your eyes and refracting your thoughts that your kind is full of anxious questions, dreamer. What if they mean me harm? What if I lose what I love? What was that sound? Where do I sleep tonight, and is this water contaminated with black rain or very contaminated?


The world around you does not ask these questions. It stirs, half on the edge of awakening, and stretches out to reach for new soil. The Watching Trees document the changing of the season, and the animals make their dens and nests, and the Hallowed are bestowed their gifts in dark groves and sunlit fields.


The greatest threat to your life as you once knew it, dreamer, holds little fear or hatred or malice. It simply grows, and smiles, and opens its eyes to discover the world in its thrall. We go now to one who sees the world with new eyes.



Story 2 - Half Empty

Riot looked up in awe at the city around her—the buildings reached up to consume the sky, their heights lost in the rainclouds. The lights were glaring in the rain; bleary red and blue neon streaked past her. Faceless crowds marched on all sides, shadows of an older New York City, phantoms walking forever on Broadway. The diner was clearer than everything else, with half an electric guitar blazing three stories tall.


With a blink, she was inside, and her umbrella and raincoat relegated out of existence. The inside didn’t match the outside, she thought. Worn booths lined the windows, and another faceless figure in a pink dress brewed coffee at a bar in the center, and Riot’s wet sneakers squeaked on the checkered floor.


The tables were empty save for one in the middle, where a half-empty soda sat in front of a shiny man with a goatee. His hair looked like it had been stolen from a 70’s glam rocker in a monsoon, and he wore a black leather vest dotted with patches. He stumbled out of the booth as Riot entered, and stared wide-eyed at her.


“Oh my god,” he said. “My kid grew up so cool.”


“Hi,” Riot said. “Are you… Ralph?”


“Yeah,” he said, as if slightly dazed. “That’s me. I’m your dad.”


“I know,” Riot said, and looked across the diner. A fly buzzed somewhere beneath the lights.


“Can I give you a hug?” he said. “Or do you wanna sit down? Let’s sit down. I can’t believe after all these years I finally get to meet you. I wanted this so bad.”


Riot followed him back to the benches, and she slid in on one side. Rain pattered at the glass, and strangers shifted through the night outside.


“This was one of your mom’s favorite places,” Ralph said, and raised his hands to gesture at the walls. There was a license plate for every state. “We used to come here before she got famous. Do you want anything? I’ve tried most of the menu, but it’s hard to beat a good old-fashioned bacon cheeseburger. Extra pickles. Your mom never liked the pickles, so I’d take hers. Pickles are the soul of a good burger.”


“I’m okay,” Riot said. “Eating in my dreams messes with my appetite.”


“Right,” Ralph said. “You’re still getting adjusted. Stupid of me. I should have remembered that. What do you think of the Prime Dream?”


“It’s… a lot,” Riot said, examining the bracelets on her wrist. For a first meeting with her father, she wanted to be as close to real life as she could. “I feel like I’ve been living in a cave for my whole life, and then I walk out and everyone’s in the space age. I can’t believe this is the world. Or how disconnected from it I was until now.”


“Homeschooler’s regret,” Ralph nodded. There was a basket of twisty fried food in front of him then, and he popped one in his mouth. “Any kid of mine is gonna be bright. You’ll figure it all out.”


He caught Riot staring at the entree, and nudged it across the table.


“Curly fries. Peak of human accomplishment right there. Help yourself.”


Riot did, and the flavors flooded her head as vividly as the rain or the lights. Salt and oil and questionably potato.


“I’ve got questions for you,” Riot said.


“I’m an open book,” Ralph said, and drained the last of his soda.


“Okay,” Riot said, and nodded. “First. There’s a lot of things I don’t remember… but you’re barely in my journals, and mom doesn’t talk about you. Why is that?”


“Val doesn’t talk about me?” Ralph said, genuine hurt passing under his pierced eyebrows. “Maybe it’s ‘cause I was the only guy she ever dated. Bad for the reputation.”


“That was one of my other questions,” Riot said. “But I don’t think that’s the only thing, is it?”


“Well, she and I ended on a bit of a bad note.”


“Which was?”


“Ugh. Heavy hitters off the bat,” Ralph said, and slumped down on his bench. “Basically the world ended, right? Governments shutting down. Highways blocked with cars. Undead eating the living. It’s one thing to be like, yeah, anarchy, take down the man! But then the man goes down. What do you do after that? She didn’t want you to grow up in a box—even though that would have been the safest, best place in the world for you. We couldn’t see eye-to-eye on that.”


“We still ended up living in a box,” Riot sighed. “Just one underground.”


“That was the ironic thing,” Ralph said. “Her big plan was a bunker in the literal wilderness, a gift from her friend the bougie zee of Canada. Way to show the government who’s boss.”


“You know about the bunker,” Riot said cautiously.


“Kept it a secret all these years,” Ralph nodded.


“But you did the Recommend a Friend program. You told the organizers where to find us,” Riot said, setting her hands on the table.


“It was really hard for me,” Ralph said, looking out the window. “Getting older every year, knowing I had a little girl out there who’d never seen my face. I had a cupcake on every one of your birthdays. But I held out, for your mom’s sake.”


“Okay,” Riot said. “So why now?”


Ralph looked at her strangely, and raised a finger to his lips, and nodded towards the back of the restaurant. Immediately, they were in a dark bathroom plastered with graffiti—band stickers and illegible scrawls in permanent marker blanketing every surface. Through the doorway, Riot could see her own body, sitting at the table besides Ralph.


“Pretty cool, ain’t it?” Ralph whispered, and she realized he was also standing beside her.


“What is this? Why are we in third person?” Riot said.


“It’s what I call a loophole,” Ralph said. “You know those dreams where you dream that you’re dreaming? Confuses anyone who’s trying to listen in. I may be a customer but I’m not a sheep.”


“You haven’t answered my question,” Riot said, sitting on the counter.


“It’s because I’ve got a secret, kiddo,” Ralph said, and leaned on the stall. “I’m dying.”



Marketing - You Deserve Better

Lady Ethel:

This is Lady Ethel Mallory, speaking on behalf of the Botulus Corporation. As you know, we have worked for decades to create our home—the platform on which the new world of shared dream is built. We have overcome so many challenges together as we work towards a new era of greatness for this country. We are proud to announce that the Botulus Corporation has successfully put an end to the Stonemaid movement.


No more anarchy. No more destruction in our dreams. No more nightmares. To any former Stonemaids listening to this broadcast, we are glad that you had a change of heart. We are glad that you have realized how valuable this life we have built together is. And we are glad that you can now help us to rebuild what you have damaged!


...


And you know what? I am proud to see this.


Because I have been here since this company was in its early days. I was here to guide you into the Prime Dream when it first hit market, and I am here now, and you have come so very far. I have watched you build a new world from nothing.


The crisis is over, and you can rest peacefully at night knowing that I am here for you and every member of our Happy Dreaming Family. No one comes between you and I. I have a legacy. I have…



Story 2, Continued - Half Empty

This is Nikignik, one hundred eyes in the dark, watching in the night, who sits by the gates, sight in all shadows, the loyal host, keeper of the flame of nightmare, guardian of all who dream, with a special announcement on behalf of me. Whenever Lady Ethel Mallory speaks, I am bored and annoyed at the same time.


We return now to Riot Maidstone.


“Dying?” Riot said. She was just getting used to the idea of having a dad. “From what?”


“I’m not sure,” Ralph whispered, and looked at her with harrowed focus. “But my tummy feels weird like, all the time.”


Riot stared at him for a moment, waiting for dots to connect. “And that… means you’re dying?”


Ralph nodded sagely and scratched at his chin. “My health checks all show up green—but I still feel weird. If I was fine I would feel fine. So they’ve got to be hiding something from me. I bet it’s heart disease. But I thought, wow. Suddenly life seems so short. And fragile. And more than anything else I wanted to get to meet you.”


“You waited way too long,” Riot said. “It took a ‘weird feeling’ for you to get me out of mom’s kidnapper doomsday bunker?”


Ralph put his hands in his hair and took a step back, bumping into the door. “Listen. I know. I should have done it sooner. But I thought your mom would kill me if she found out.”


“Wait,” Riot said, staring at the floor for a moment. The memory apparently included a lot of stains on the tile. “Does she know you were the one who called the reunion organizers?”


“Um. Don’t think so. ‘Cause I’m still alive,’ Ralph said, pointing to his chest. “I don’t think she’d be happy to see me anyway. Though she has aged so well. Holy smokes.”


“Gross,” said Riot. “So… how much time do you have left?”


Ralph shrugged. “No clue. But at least now I can die happy, because… wow. You’re like a little Valerie. And a little me. All wrapped into one thing, like a bacon burger omelet.”


A tear dripped down his face and into the thin line of red hair attached to his goatee.


“Why didn’t you come to see me for real?” Riot said. The question surprised her a little. “I know this is how people talk now, but… you’re my dad.”


“Aw. You don’t know about that, huh?” Ralph said, and stuck his hands in his pockets. “It takes weeks—months even—to adjust after getting out of a dreaming pod, you know? It’s risky too. They’re supposed to keep you fresh until the expiry date. I haven’t been out since I got in. Your body gets used to it.”


“Right,” said Riot, and leaned back against the grubby mirror. “But why do that instead of the… like, I just use a little visor they gave me.”


“You’ve still got to wake up and do stuff,” Ralph said. “Everything I hated doing. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Ugh. Worst of all, like… that feeling, you know the one? When you just like, can’t find the energy to get out of bed, but you know that your girlfriend is gonna be back in three hours and all you had to do is tidy up but you just can’t move? I don’t feel that anymore. I do what I want when I want it. It’s not a half-bad way to live, especially when the world outside sucks.”


“What can you tell me about the Stonemaids?” Riot said, leaning closer. “Everyone keeps mentioning them.”


“What a disgrace,” Ralph said. “Your mom’s music was genius, but it was always about helping people in the end. Making people feel better about themselves. The Stonemaids took the name and then went out and did terrible stuff. Box Aries—a million people, right?—went dark. Sabotaged, everyone forced to disconnect. Some didn’t make it, and the rest are still in treatment.”


“That is pretty awful,” Riot said.


“We should get back to the table,” Ralph said. “We’ve been talking about curly fries for five minutes.”


Riot was back in her body then, a fry between her fingers.


“So I guess I should ask normal questions,” Riot said. “Like what do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Why did you have me? I…”


Riot’s words fell short as she looked over to the bar. Behind the counter, the waitress was pouring a pitcher of coffee, but the cup had overflowed, and the dark liquid poured over the counter and down the chrome trim. ‘Danielle’ was written on a name tag attached to her dress, and she stared at Riot with a cold blank expression.


“You’re not the real Riot,” she whispered, and in the next moment was gone.



Interlude 2 - Millions of Teeth

There is no shortage of danger among the stars and there are even those that would dare to raise hand or sword or millions of teeth against the Council of Heavens. There are hunger worlds that consume all they touch; asteroids as eggs for fledgling nebulaic wyrms, great destroyers that sleep in black holes, and the ice reapers that trouble the Ascended Scientists in the rings of Saturn.


Of course, we who you think Indescribable have terrible powers of our own—Tolshotol’s Light of All Days can atomize a god in an instant, and the spores of Rothogroth break apart all worlds over countless millennia. But greater than us all is the Black Eternity, too ancient to reason with and too vicious to join in our troubled council. You cannot imagine the scale of Urnundurn, the expanse of pure nothingness that consumes the edges of an infinitely expanding universe, or the darkness beyond existence which it embodies.


We go now to one who is hungry.



Story 3 - To Protect and Prosper

“Jedediah, watch over your sister,” Kellyanne Wicker called. “Jocelyn, keep the house under control while I’m gone.”


She straightened her dress collar and fixed the grey bonnet—it was dignified, she thought. Fit for a Sunday service.


“Yes, mother,” the murmurs came back. She made a mental note to mention attitude during the next family Bible study, and made for the door. James was waiting outside, practically a child himself. He’d replaced his crutch with a nicer cane as per her request.


“You look great, Mrs. Wicker,” he said.


“Thank you, James. Don’t stare,” she said, and made for the garages. The men were still working in the central space, shoveling soil into the former fighting pit. It hardly seemed to be getting shallower, but it kept their idle hands busy.


James followed closely behind, and her eldest was waiting for them at the truck. It was less flamboyant than Rick’s vehicles of choice, thank the lord.


“You sure about this, mother?” Jacob said. “I don’t like the idea of sharing with… whoever these people are. And hey, nice stick, Buck.”


“Call him James now,” Kellyanne said. “That’s why we’re driving out. To see if they can offer what we need. Now, get ready to go.”


Jacob glanced at the back of the truck; there was a bit of a squirm from beneath the burlap. The vehicle parked beside them was larger by far, chains crossing its tarps. Precaution was simply how you had to proceed when negotiating, and she was not about to go meet the world without leverage.


The drive was longer than she expected, and she spent most of it with her hands clasped and eyes closed, feeling the sun flicker on her face. Please, lord, she prayed. Give us what we need to survive; give us bread for my children to eat. Deliver us from this plague of frogs, and the moon of blood. She thought, for a moment, that she might pray for a second chance at the rapture—but it was selfish to request a savior, when she herself had been left behind as a witness.


Finally, Jacob brought the truck to a halt, and she opened her eyes. The wet banks spread in all directions around them, save for the skeleton of the research station. Its walls had long been picked apart by their crews and repurposed, but the metal bones remained as a landmark in a barren marsh. The black trees were in sight, rising first in small clusters and then into a great wall that stretched into the distance.


She climbed out of the truck, trying to keep her white shoes out of the mud. She was early, as she preferred to be, and she beckoned to the other driver. “Take the cargo around the back,” she called. “Stay in the shadow and remember the signal.”


The flat bed rolled around, and she stepped up to the front of the crumpled building, and stood patiently. Jacob remained by the truck, ready at a moment’s notice, but James came up to lean on the doorway beside her.


“Do you think these folks will be nice?” he said.


“If they’re not, this will be over quickly,” she replied. “If they are, then this is an excellent start to a new era for Fort Freedom. Straighten your collar. And let me do the talking.”


“It’s a lot of fuel to bring that flatbed out this far,” James said.


“No one complained about fuel when Rick was running daily patrols,” she said.


“I liked the patrols,” James said. “I liked seeing what they’d bring back.”


“Our fight does not lie with passing travelers or wolves or even the gentleman Rick thought was the devil,” Kellyanne said. “Our fight lies with this place. This world is full of sin, James. It’s almost in the dirt itself. These are the end times, and we have a responsibility to see God’s plan through. We have to think not just about survival, but how we are going to prosper and protect our flock.”


“Prosper,” James repeated, as the hum of engines carried over the winding lakes, and a few shapes emerged from the trees in the distance, growing louder than the song of the frogs and crickets.


The convoy arrived abruptly—a battered green truck and what looked to be a black sidecar motorcycle. The passengers began to disembark, and she scanned for faces and weapons alike—a woman built like the wall of Jericho with a crossbow, a friendly face with a bushel of white flowers, a silver-haired man with a spear, and the man climbing out of the motorcycle was beckoning two German Shepherds.


“Welcome, friends,” Kellyanne said, raising a hand. “Peace be with you. I am Kellyanne Wicker, from Fort Freedom. This is my assistant James, and that’s my son Jacob… he’s shy around visitors.”


The square woman started to speak, but her friend interrupted.


“It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” she said, and stepped up to place the bushel of lilies in Kellyanne’s hands. “I am Violet Keene. This is Bern, Virgil, and Hector. We’ve been anxious to talk with you after our last interchange on the radio. How is your froglin situation?”


Froglin was a funny word, she thought. A little too fanciful. “It’s been difficult at Fort Freedom this season. They’ve attacked our farms, picked off our suppliers. And we have no weapons to fight them with. How has it gone at your ‘scout post’?”


“Hanging in there,” the woman called Bern said. “Surprised we haven’t run into you before now.”


“We kept to ourselves until recently,” she said. “But we’ve had to reconsider that policy, in light of these conditions.”


“Didn’t talk to nobody before,” James nodded from the door.


“What kind of…” Bern began, but Violet interrupted again.


“We’re awfully sorry to hear about your food shortage. We’ve been there a few winters.”


“Thank you,” Kellyanne said. “My children have struggled the most. But they are so strong. Even my eighth—she’s just turning two.” She looked over to Jacob, who was leaning on the truck, and smiled.


“You have eight children?” Violet breathed. “And you still find time to lead Fort Freedom?”


“It’s not easy, but it’s the work I’m called to do,” Kellyanne said. “My husband passed on, and left it in my hands.”


“And our last boss got kicked out,” James said. “He went wild.”


“Yes,” she said, and shot him a look of reproach. “Which is why I think we must make friends out here if we’re going to get through the spring.”


“What’s the population of Fort Freedom?” Virgil said. His cowboy boots had dirt caught in the spurs.


“Nearly five hundred,” she said. Forgive me a lie, lord, if it spares the lives of those who might attack us. The man standing with his dogs had not spoken, and her smile did little to soften his flint-eyed stare.


“And you didn’t bring any more with you today?” Bern said.


“We didn’t want to alarm you for peaceful negotiations,” Kellyanne said, and held the lilies a little tighter with one hand. With the other, she prepared to signal for her security. Bern and Virgil alike were burning holes through her head with their eyes, and the one named Hector still had not moved.


“I’m sure there are lots of logistics we can talk about,” Violet said, stepping forward. “But if you’re open to an alliance of some kind, we’d be more than happy for friends up in these parts. There are children at the Scoutpost too, and I’d like to think we can still make a good life for them.”


“You truly are sent from the lord,” Kellyanne said, and met Bern’s gaze with polite victory. “Anything you can spare would go such a long way. And we have many talents in our community, I am sure we can be helpful to you. Let us know what you need.”


“Excellent,” Violet said, and put her hands together. “I’m sure we can spare a little to help some friends in need. Let’s find somewhere to sit, and talk about details.”



Outro - Threats

Threats. Many are the promises heaped upon us—that deviance or defiance alike will be punished. We may live believing that the words of others bind us in obedience, steal away our hope of a life free of judgement or retribution if we should fall out of line.


And yet, if you are lucky, you may realize before your time is done that there are no walls around you, no cage foisted on your soul, that the threats of others are toothless maws and blunt swords, that your manacles have no chains to hold you to the earth.


Run, dreamer. Fly freely where you will. Those beneath you may rail and curse at your wings, but their words will fade on the winds of time, and you will one day forget they ever raised their voice. Until every threat is made good upon, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting forebodingly for your return to the Hallowoods.



The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Deep Cut', 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!