Content warnings for this episode include: Animal death (Dogsmell as usual, several deer), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, More Blood Than Usual, Needles, Body horror
Intro - The Precipice
The decision to leave is the hardest choice of your life, but in some ways you never had a choice at all. It is not that you have been half-alive until now, for you can remember the preceding years with clarity, but that you have spent them half yourself. The life you have been given has rules, a simple set of decisions along one ubiquitous path, from school to marriage to children to retirement to death. Although everyone in your life has already taken the next step, they hope you will follow soon.
And follow you have, until now. But you have reached a precipice, and to take the next step will be to fling yourself upon the stones, to put to death what is already voiceless, to bend yourself until you fit in the crevices of someone else’s life.
You take a step. And another, and another, and by the time they notice you are gone, you are racing north, free as the wind that roars around you, as wild as the trees that sing Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now, I’m sitting in the back seat of an automobile. It looks much like it did on my first ride, despite all it has seen—ocean and death and apocalypse. It is a living thing now, one with its sole occupant, who tries to outrun sleep. The theme of tonight’s episode is runaways.
Story 1 - Travel Buddies
Ray was not prone to mechanical trouble. His engine was haunted by the fire of his soul, and so it did not overheat, and his sparkplugs burned with a spirit electric, and so always started. Emotional trouble, however, he felt himself a bad year for, and he had no idea how to fix it.
“How’re you doing, kid?” he said, although he already had a pretty good idea.
“I can’t stay awake,” Moth groaned, leaning against the dashboard and flicking through the radio stations.
“You’ve been up for near on two days,” Ray said. “Maybe a little shuteye would do you good.”
“I can’t fall asleep, either,” Moth whispered. “The dreams are worse, Ray. They’re so much worse. I don’t know if I can handle it.”
“Does that have anything to do with why you’ve flipped through the entire spectrum of the broadcast radio a hundred times over?” Ray said. “What are you doing, looking for secret messages?”
“It’s something I can focus on,” Moth said quietly. “To stay awake. It’s not bothering you, is it?”
Static. Static. Botco jingle. Static.
“Kid, I am long beyond bothering,” Ray said. “You go right ahead. But you’re not a machine, like yours truly. I can drive all night every night. But you’re not built that way. And it seems like you’re running on fumes.”
“I don’t know what else to do,” Moth said, and left the radio to play; the morning hour preamble was blaring. Amazing that Botco still put out radio content at all, but then again, they wouldn’t let a method go untouched if they thought they could snag a new customer.
“What are these dreams like?” Ray said. There was no response. After a long minute he cleared his nonexistent throat politely, but there was still no response. Moth was asleep, head tipped back against the passenger seat, little red glasses in moth’s hands. He wondered for a while whether to wake moth, on account of avoiding the dreams, or let moth get whatever scant rest moth could. What was it with the young people in his life and sleep problems?
The radio caught his attention, an interview segment playing out. An activist of some kind was talking with a too-smug Lady Ethel Mallory. Most of it was diatribe, but a fragment caught his attention before the broadcast disappeared.
Valerie and Riot Maidstone are free.
Ray tried not to rev his engine in elation, and kept steady on the road. Those kids had done it, somehow. Pulled off an impossible heist. Clearly, it had gone better than his last.
“You hear that, Moth?” Ray buzzed. “Your friends are alright.”
Moth continued to sleep, however, and Ray sighed. Maybe it would be alright. He’d never picked up anyone who was marked for death and advertising by a tiny helicopter before. He’d never had a passenger stay on for the long haul, either. But he and moth could drift together, and it would not be so different as his life before: picking up the wayward souls of the highway curb and distributing them to better homes.
Ray, though, had no home, no garage to call his own. In a sense, it was all his own—each stretch of rotten asphalt from San Fran to Bits-o-Boston. And that didn’t trouble him too much, but he wondered now what it meant with Moth in tow. If Moth was built for the restless life.
His pontifications were interrupted as Moth woke up screaming, and he came quickly to a halt, pulled over to the side of the highway, staring into the overgrown plains.
“Easy, kid, easy,” he said. “Take a breather.”
“Ray?” Moth said. “Is… is this real? Tell me something. Anything.”
“Like what?” Ray said. “Good morning, this is your captain speaking. We are eastbound across Nebraska. If you look to your left you’ll see absolutely nothing. On the right, we have a field not even a plowshare could love. Float your boat?”
“I’m never sure anymore,” Moth whispered. “It’s getting hard to tell, Ray. The dreams feel so real too. Just like this, up until they’re not. Where are we going?”
“Well, if you’re sticking with me, you should know there’s not always a where. Sometimes you drive, and the destination finds you along the way,” said Ray. “But in this case I’m making an exception.”
“I’m afraid of what it will be like,” Moth said, wrapped in moth’s half-cape. “When they take me.”
“No one’s taking nobody,” Ray said. “Listen. We’re partners now, you understand? Travel buddies. You look out for each other out here. We got you out of Glass City. We got those new friends to take care of you a bit. And now we’re doing to fix this.”
“How?” Moth said, and looked down at moth’s hands. “Whatever this is, it’s in me, Ray. My body or my blood. And it’s torture. I can’t sleep, and when I do there’s no rest. Just noise and advertising and all the people I know telling me there’s only one way out. That all I have to do is call. I don’t know how much I can stand.”
“I need you to stand a little more,” Ray said. “Listen. A lot of my old buddies are kicking cans in the next life, but we’re going to try to find someone who can help. We’re going to House on the Rock first. And if the Spindle isn’t there anymore, we can see if the bastards at the CPE Institute still have lights on. And if not them, there was this scary old lady from Canada who knew something about needles. I’ve got a list made up. And I’m not going to stop driving until you’re safe.”
“How long?” Moth said quietly. “How much longer do we have?”
“I reckon eight or nine hours, if I’m on track,” Ray said. “Tomorrow morning. Can you hold out for me until then?”
“I’ll do my best, Ray,” Moth said. “But I don’t want you to get hurt. I feel like you will, if you keep hanging on to me.”
“Oh well now, I’m pretty hard to put a ding in,” Ray said. “I’ve had a few wrecks here and there. Shake ‘em off. Straighten out like shirt wrinkles. Just worry about yourself and let me handle the rest.”
“I’ll try,” Moth whispered. “I’ll really try.”
Moth returned to flickering through the radio stations, and Ray sidled back out of the tangled field; strange flowers bloomed amidst curling briars, out to a perfectly flat horizon.
“By the way,” Ray said. “Your new friends pulled it off, I think. They’re scott free.”
“Oh good,” Moth breathed. “Do you think we’ll run into them again? I hope so.”
“That’s the nature of the road,” Ray said, and pulled ahead on the highway, and moved a little faster for Wisconsin. “You see people again when you least expect it.”
Interlude 1 - Home In The Ruins
You are offered a deal. Deals are enticing, and you have little to lose, and cannot begin to imagine what it is you have to gain. You accept, and who could blame you?
Humankind love their little fantasies of being different. A cosmic being chose you. So unique.
Do not accept their meager flattery, dreamer. You are not a god’s special little peon. They are using you for a purpose, as they have used countless before. Be clear on the purpose before you put anything in writing or blood covenant or release form.
One way or another, here you are, a long time later, and it seems your work is done. Your cosmic being is on to other business, and you have been left behind like a tool at a construction site. Or perhaps you still have a task left, something that was never really achievable in the first place, and you begin to wonder… does anyone still care? Would anyone notice if I disappeared? If I take my newfound gifts, battle-weathered though they are, and use them for a life of my own? What happens if I try to build a home in the ruins of all that I was?
To be honest, dreamer, it depends on who dealt you in, but be aware that there are ramifications, however small, however far-away your master is now, and the consequences can bleed down for generations.
We go now to generations.
Story 2 - What The Light Will Bring
The fire grew low, and so did Clara’s patience. She chewed on a dry strip of fish, a welcome relief from the odd mushrooms and lichen that Dogsmell could point her to. She wondered if somewhere out there, her parents were sitting under the same starlit night, and if they still remembered her in some primal sense. Then again, they had seemed fairly willing to devour her when last she saw them grow small in the side mirror of Riot’s RV. Maybe it was easy to forget.
Who abandoned who, she wondered? Was it me, who left when the teeth and claws erupted without stopping to see if I could help? Or was it you, growing quieter each day until you were empty shells, eyes too tired to even look at me?
“This is good,” Arnold said, and pulled another chunk of fish from the birch-bark platter. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for catching all of these,” Clara said, and waved her fish away from the ghostly dog whose long snout followed it everywhere. “I wish I had salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder maybe. I used to cook for my parents a lot.”
“It’s better than we’ve had in a few days,” Victoria said, and wiped her hands on her skirt. “I can’t complain.”
“That must be a first for you,” said Friday. She hid as much of herself under her cape coat as she could.
“Oh please,” Victoria said, chewing. “Cutting words from the most miserable person I’ve ever met.”
“You’re throwing stones from a glass house,” Harrow whispered. You’d almost blink and miss them in the low shadows of the fire.
“Harrow,” Victoria growled, and turned towards the void-eyed student. “Why do you always repeat everything I say?”
“I don’t repeat everything you say,” Harrow said, eyes wide. Their formal Downing Hill uniform was wrinkled and muddy, and they rubbed their hands together nervously.
“You rephrase it,” Victoria said. “I don’t know if you even know you’re doing it.”
“You can hardly blame them for wanting to suck up to you,” Friday said, and shrugged. “Harrow is more afraid of you than anyone.”
“That’s not true,” Victoria snapped at Friday, and then paused, and glanced to Harrow. “That’s not true, is it?”
“Victoria’s not scary,” Arnold said around a mouthful of food. “Just mean sometimes.”
“What?” Victoria said, and looked to the other side where he sat. “You bullied everyone for the first year I was at school.”
Arnold shrugged, and took another bite of his fish.
“Where’s Edgar?” Clara said aloud, trying to change the topic. The palm-sized spider was nowhere in sight. “Usually he’s creeping around on you, Friday.”
“He’s out eating,” Friday said. “He’s getting too hungry for moths. I think he’s getting after the ghost from that body we found in the woods.”
Clara shuddered, and stared at Friday for a long moment, trying to tell if she was joking. The little Soul Weaver had seemed larger lately, but nowhere near the gargantuan size of his mother.
“You found a body in the woods?” Harrow whispered. Victoria looked up to Clara pointedly, and flexed her eyebrows as if waiting for an explanation.
“It looked like just a hiker or something,” Clara said. “Fell down a cliff. Just watch your step and you’ll be fine. Though, Friday, that was… I mean, ghosts are still… there. You’re not kidding? Edgar is really trying to eat him?”
Friday shrugged. “I can only assume. He left. He’ll come back when the time is right. Maybe he’ll have molted by then.”
“Even so, that seems wrong,” Clara said, and crossed her arms. Friday stared back at her, dark eyes in the firelight.
“Wrong? Wrong barely exists in Downing Hill, and it certainly doesn’t out here. This forest is going to do whatever it can to survive, and we will either be stronger or weaker. I’m not going to let it spit out my bones.”
Arnold removed a fish rib from his teeth, and licked at them thoughtfully. Clara opened her mouth to respond, but there was a sound in the pines then; a sort of low and griefstricken wail. When silence returned, it had changed its nature, and the hairs on the back of Clara’s neck stood on end.
“I think we should put out the fire,” Victoria said, and stood up.
“I’m scared of the dark,” whispered Harrow.
“And I’m scared of what the light will bring,” Victoria replied. “God, I wish I had my rapier.”
“It’s okay,” Clara said, and reached for her bow, pulled her quiver onto her back. “Yeah, let’s snuff the fire. I’ve seen some weird stuff out here.”
“Like what?” Harrow whispered, and drew back a little as Arnold stood up, and kicked at the embers, scattering dim coals against the rocks they’d gathered.
“Well, there were these frog things,” Clara said, talking low, and not taking her eyes away from the black trunks of the pines beyond their clearing. The moon glinted in her glasses, and cast only dim light on the forest. “They really wanted to eat me, and they chased me so long my RV ran out of gas. But Dogsmell scared them off eventually.”
Her ghostly hound rose from where it sat, a wisp of a dog staring out into the forest.
“I also almost got eaten by a big snail,” Clara added, although she realized her story probably wasn’t doing much to comfort Harrow. “It kept all this shiny stuff on its back to lure people in. And then bam. It would get you.”
“How did you escape?” Harrow whispered.
“I actually got rescued that time,” Clara said quietly, and glanced across the clearing; her companions huddled close to the fallen logs that formed their fireside seats. “By Olivier.”
“Makes sense,” Victoria breathed.
“I wish Olivier was here,” Friday said, and Clara looked at her with surprise. It wasn’t the kind of thing she usually shared. “We’d already be home.”
There was another strange sound; this time a guttural bellow, almost like a song, much closer to them. The sound carried through the trees, and Clara laid an arrow on her bow, and scanned the dim light for anything hideous. Dogsmell stood at her side, ears and fur curling as if underwater, nose pointed at the treeline.
“That doesn’t sound like a snail,” Arnold whispered.
Dogsmell gave a low growl that reverberated in her bones, and then Clara caught sight of something—three little lights. Not the ethereal glow of spirits, which were always crystal-clear in her vision, but a phosphorescent green that reminded her of fireflies, the pale lure of animal eyes refracting the light.
“Nobody move,” Clara whispered, and raised her bow. By the embers, she could see Harrow, Arnold and Victoria keeping low; there was no sign of Friday, but that hardly surprised her by now. She glanced back, and could finally make out a shape as the lights approached.
It was a deer, the cold shape of its head in the moonlight, with a third black eye in the center of its forehead, and long antlers that curled up like Winona’s fingers. But at the end of the day, just a deer. Clara breathed a sigh of relief, and lowered her bow.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s only a…”
And then the animal ahead of her gave a low, weeping wail, and its jaws split to reveal a second, serrated set inside, and there were more lights in the trees, a herd that descended on their camp like ravenous ghosts.
Marketing - Soften the Hearts
Hello, our happy dreaming family, and my goodness! Look at you all up in excitement. Since that particular Morning Show with mister Spade, you have filled our channels with an outpouring of mail.
‘How brave of you to confront this dangerous man face-to-face’, ‘If I was there, I wouldn’t have been able to remain civil’, and, ‘I hope this opens the eyes and softens the hearts of Stonemaids everywhere’.
To all of these, I agree. But we have also gotten a lot of queries wondering… is what he said true? Is Valerie Maidstone really missing from the Prime Dream? Is our golden child Riot? Perish the thought. According to the information I have, both are in critical condition and fighting to survive in our top-of-the-line medical facilities.
But if you have questions, the official Maidstone personal manager, last I checked, was Melanie Flores, and I’m sure she would be happy to answer any questions you have. Please reach out to her if you have inquiries along those lines. Personally, I can only hope for their continued health and safety…
Story 2, Continued - What The Light Will Bring
The only thing, apparently, that can irritate me more than Lady Ethel Mallory’s ignorance is her attempt at feigning ignorance. I half hope she does devise a weapon that could end me. At least then I would never have to hear her speak.
I jest too darkly, dreamer. My death would burn the heart out of your planet and send waves of destruction across the universe, I assume. I would not know for sure. I have never died.
We return now to Clara Martin.
The thing that was once a deer opened two sets of jaws, and splintered teeth gleamed in the starlight, and three soulless eyes grew large as it lunged for Clara.
She kept one eye open, lifted her bow, watched along the shaft of her arrow and breathed deep. She did not flinch as she let the arrow fly. For a moment the world froze; the arrow travelled, and the three-eyed deer stared in nameless horror, and then the air exploded with sound and soil and hooves as everything lurched back into motion.
The deer came crashing past her, and flipped her off her feet, and she tumbled down a bank of loose soil. She groaned as she hit the ground, and felt immediately for her arm and side; both were on fire, and hot and wet to the touch, and she tried to loosen the strap of her quiver, which wrenched uncomfortably against her shoulder. The huge black shape of the deer rolled to a stop beside her, and was still, grey and blurred to her vision. She realized her glasses were missing, and glanced around, but could not catch any glint of light in the shadow, only a little of her bloodstained hands.
She pulled herself to her feet, and although she could barely make out her friends in the distance, seeming to scatter into the darkness, another great shape rose through the moonlight, stared down from the top of the bank, began to descend. A deer with no antlers, three gleaming eyes, a long snakelike set of jaws extending towards her. Clara began to back away, and immediately tangled her hair in a black pine bough.
The deer loped towards her, and she twisted free, falling through a few more heavy branches as she plunged into the darkness of the forest, barely able to see the ground ahead of her in the dim light. Branches whipped by her on each side, cutting with their little needles, and behind her she could hear the stilted pace of the once-deer drawing close, could almost feel its howling breath on her neck.
“Friday!” she screamed. If there was ever a moment for her to show up with a flamethrower or a salt block or something, this was it—and she could not see her ghostly dog in the rushing midnight of the forest. “Dogsmell!”
There was an impact behind her, then; a crashing and snapping of trees. She glanced behind her and could make out the tumbling shape of the deer, entwined with another animal, just as large, shifting colors and forms that she could barely make out. The two beasts wrestled for a moment, and the deer grew still, a last screaming cry cut short. There was only the sound of a low growl, now, and the rending of wet meat, the snapping of teeth.
She paused, and contemplated which way to go, but took a step closer. If it had noticed her, it made no move yet, and she could not take her eyes off the gruesome horror unfolding in the darkness.
“Don’t look at me,” the deer-killer growled, looking up as she approached, and Clara froze, eyes wide.
“I said don’t look at me,” Victoria growled, and her voice was a hundred swords. Clara put up her palms.
“I’m not,” she said. “I’m not.”
It was part truth, for she was missing her glasses and could barely make out Victoria’s shape at all. But it was also part a lie, because Victoria’s eyes were twin suns, and her hair billowed like a queen’s, and black blood flowed down her lips and chin and the ruffles of her white shirt, and her teeth were sharp like knives.
“That’s… that’s not the rain, is it?” Clara whispered, and leaned against a tree, tried not to look again. Images of her parents lived in the spots in her vision, green eyes in darkness.
“Your heart is beating so fast,” Victoria said, and Clara felt her step away from the broken deer, leave it in shambles. The growl in Victoria’s voice shook her bones. “You see ghosts, Clara. And I think I’m doomed to create them.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” Clara said, and looked up; Victoria was halfway across the clearing now, fingers that seemed far too long and sharp, taller than she had ever seemed before. “Victoria, everyone is in trouble right now. I can barely see where I’m going. I don’t know where Arnold and Harrow and Friday are. Can you help?”
“I can’t,” Victoria said, a sob in bloodstained teeth. “Not after last time. I’m not supposed to let this happen, Clara. I don’t want to wake up and find them all dead.”
“You’re talking to me right now,” Clara said, and pushed away from the tree, stood in the clearing, stared up at the gold-eyed girl with the wolven teeth. “You can use this. It won’t be like last time, whatever that was.”
“That was when I killed Harrow,” Victoria said, ragged breaths, and she stepped back with one overlong leg, a foot with curled black claws. “I’m sorry. I have to go. You never saw me. I’m sorry.”
The wolf disappeared, then, leapt through the trees and was gone, and left Clara standing in the moonlit night, as distant screams resounded from the woods beyond.
Interlude 2 - First In Thoughts
It may surprise you to know, dreamer, that I once admired authority. The strict ordering of all the cosmos. It was tempting to believe that things were simple. No messy moral quandaries. No grey areas. Just all things doing exactly the jobs they were assigned. Syrensyr, to fine-tune his industry, and Tolshotol to protect the universe, and Nikignik to sit at the gates and watch. And if anyone approached the gates, I was to notify the council of heavens of their arrival, and so I did.
But then I found joy, dreamers. Wild, exhilarating pleasure, in running. It came first in thoughts, idle daydreams about leaving my post, to dart and frolick amidst the starlit groves. And then one day it was thought no longer, but I ran, and the stellar winds flowed in my fur, and I saw so many sights, visited the forests and deep celestial caverns where the voice that called me dwelt.
Much has happened since then, dreamer, but at least I lead a more exciting life now, free of anyone who can tell me to sit still.
We go now to one who sits still.
Story 3 - The Weather Smiles
“How are you doing?” Olivier said. “With the whole two Riots thing?”
He sat in the grass, and named constellations in his head. Behind them, the RV was dark, roof half-covered in branches and soil so as to make it less visible from above. There wasn’t much cover to be had out here in the flat expanse that surrounded them, and he could not help but listen, expect that at any moment a swarm of shiny black drones would come buzzing from the horizon to stop them in their eastbound tracks.
“It’s the weirdest feeling,” said Riot, lying beside him, staring up. “Doesn’t feel real. Or right. But she’s here right now and I’m trying not to be a dick about it. How’s your arm?”
“Oh it’s okay. I’ve been able to heal most of the skin,” Olivier said. “A little at a time.”
“How does that work?” Riot said, and pulled her sword up from her side, held it in her lap, played with the homemade straps of its belt. She had threatened to kill him with that weapon, once, he thought. “Healing laser burns isn’t exactly on the weather forecast. Are you immortal? Can you heal other people?”
“Or like, what if you want to give yourself freckles? Or get rid of a mole? Is that technically healing?”
Olivier sighed. “It’s not something I can do by myself, exactly. The weather is mine. Just mine. But at Downing Hill, they figured out other things—do you know anything about indies?”
“Like indie bands? Obviously yes.”
“I do know a couple indescribable indie bands. It’s like, how are you country and grunge and pirate metal at the same time?”
“Well…” Olivier sighed, and shook his head, and breathed away his thoughts. “It’s a lot of work and it’s really hard to do on yourself, and almost impossible to do on someone else. But I guess you could change things, if you really tried.”
“Is that why you have blue hair?” Riot said, and propped herself up on one elbow beside him. “I keep waiting for your roots to grow in and I’m always disappointed.”
“I have lightning in my eyeballs but the hair is what you’re concerned about?” Olivier said, and looked up at her skeptically. “I didn’t fully understand why it was blue either, for a while. Rain is grey. Clouds are grey. If it’s going to be anything it should be grey, right? But then one night Friday was like, ‘let’s go meet god’, and she stuck me with the Binding Stone and…”
“Is that your friend back at Downing Hill?” Riot said. “The girl in the picture you drew?”
“Yeah,” Olivier nodded, and looked down. He could feel clouds gathering on the horizon. “Speaking of which, this is for you.”
He reached into his cloak—sure enough, little grey clouds were creeping in across the edges, embroidery moving as if in stop-motion—and fished his sketchbook from the inside pocket, and removed a single loose page.
“Here you go.”
Riot took the picture from his hands, and sat up, and examined it in one of the RV’s dim lights.
“This is amazing,” Riot said, and tears welled up in her eyes and caught the stars. “It looks just like him. You’re really good, Ollie. This is the last page, you know. The whole almanac is full. But I think this will go in the back with a little like, this was the author page thing. That way anyone who reads it knows. When did you even meet Walt? He…”
She trailed off, and her brows darkened her face.
“From a distance, that one time, when you guys were driving north,” Olivier said, and every word hurt, even though it was the truth. “When I threw the hearse off the road so the Instrumentalist could catch up with you. But more close the day he… got killed.”
Riot stared at it, quietly, but the magic of the moment was gone and Olivier knew it, and a deep panic grew surprisingly in him.
“I hope this helps show how sorry I am about all of that,” Olivier said. The wind picked up a little, drew streaks of cloud across the stars. “But I know that it’ll take a lot of work to earn… being here. I’ve been trying to be useful. But if there’s more I can do just let me know.”
“‘Do’ for what?” Riot said, jaw clenched. “I’m confused.”
“To get to stay,” Olivier said, and held the sketchbook close to his chest. “At the Scoutpost. And with you… all.”
Riot stared at him oddly, as if searching for something, before a look of recognition washed over her face.
“Is this about the time I kind of interrogated you? Because I’m not going to lie, right then I felt like you had just killed my friend, and you totally ripped up Diggory, and you tried to kidnap me so your teacher would give you a nice grade in being awful. So I was mean. But that’s not…”
“No, it’s okay,” Olivier said. “I mean. I deserved it. But like, this is how it works. If you want people to let you stay, or like you or anything, there’s rules. Nobody talks about them but there’s rules. You have to do things for them…”
“Maybe at Downing Hill,” Riot said. Olivier could barely see the sky now; it was as clouded as his thoughts. Riot looked over to him, eyes in the darkness. “But that’s not how the world works. You don’t, like, need to be doing anything. You’re not scoring points. It’s not a test. You chose to do some awful stuff to us. And then you chose to help me take down the Instrumentalist and save Percy and go on a road trip to rescue my mom. You make choices and you live with them, and you belong here too.”
Olivier waited a long moment, staring up, and distant thunder accompanied the tears in his eyes.
“So there’s nothing you need right now?”
“Ollie,” Riot said in exasperation, and sat up above him, looking down. “You don’t… it’s not…”
She seemed to lose her thought for a moment, searching for the right words, and then dropped her head low and planted a quick kiss on his forehead, and rolled away to lay on her back.
Olivier stared up at the sky, a sudden heat rushing to his cheeks. Lightning sparked on the horizon.
“What was that?” he whispered after a moment.
“Nothing,” Riot said. She seemed redder than he was. “Forget that. But there’s nothing to earn. You’re here. And that’s enough by itself.”
“Thanks,” Olivier said quietly, and felt it begin to sprinkle rain, hiding the tears on his face.
“Great,” Riot said, and sat up, sheltered the drawing of Walt beneath her vest. “We should go inside.”
“I’ve got it,” Olivier said, and raised a hand, and brought the wind back, racing around them but scattering the rain to each side. They lay in the grass a little while, watching the water dance in the air above them.
“I just… I’m trying to figure out what to do now,” Olivier said quietly. “I’m not in the Arcane Program. All my Downing Hill friends are part of this big glorious destiny thing, for like, the future of the human race. I don’t have that anymore. And I wanted so bad to have anything else after that…”
He was not used to crying in front of anyone, not even in front of Friday, but suddenly he was choking, and sobbed, and the emotion bubbling up in him would not cease. It all cascaded down like a cold front; being expelled from the Arcane Program, the constant terror of working under Solomon, and the fear of failure that had burned him from the inside out, and the fights and the losses and the storms.
Trying to kill people, and the terrible reality of success. Weeks of life-threatening travel, and surviving an all-out assault on a Dreaming Box, and a world he had crossed but had no place in. Friends who would never hear from him again, parents who were probably no more, and above all fear for a future he had no guidelines for.
He found that he was crying into Riot’s shoulder, and she had a hand in his hair, fingers soft against the back of his head. His wind shield had disappeared, and the rain fell on them unapologetically.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “I’m glad you’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Thanks,” he sniffed, and stayed there a moment with his eyes closed, rested his forehead against her skin. “I guess I needed to hear that.”
She patted him on the back, and he rolled away, closed his eyes and felt the rain fall. Maybe this was not so bad, he thought. Not the careful life the Director had planned. Not a series of ever-more-difficult missions. But something wild. Something his own. Something as chaotic as the changing weather and as alive as a storm. The lightning crackled wide over the sky above, and Olivier Song smiled.
Outro - Runaways
Runaways. It can be frightening, dreamer, to break out of your mundanity and give chase to a future, defined or otherwise. It feels like being uncertain. It feels like being out of control.
And as time passes you may find that the trees around you have grown dark, and you can hear strange footsteps growing closer, and regret all the curiosity and joy that brought you to this present danger.
But do not be discouraged. From your empty beds a garden will rise, and the travels will bring you as many friends as enemies. The changing horizon will be easier on your eyes each day, and when the sun rises it will bring no terror, only the peace of the morning. And if you become lost, dreamer, I will be waiting for you in a forest of black pines, farther north than you remember but closer than you think.
Until you find your home, I am your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting bindly for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Hello Ghostboy', 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!