Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Animal death (Bert as usual), Self-harm, Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Birds, Strangulation/suffocation, Static (including sfx), Emotional Manipulation, Bugs, Body horror, Consumption of Inedible Materials (Barb), Alcohol Use, Smoking, Cannibalism???
Intro - Things Will Get Better
Things will get better, say the columnists in the newspapers.
Things will get better, say the financial advisors and real estate agents in their reports.
Things will get better, says the one you love, and they give you a kiss on the forehead before the workday starts.
Things will get better, say your friends, as the wars begin.
Things will get better, say the TV pundits and politicians and influencers.
Things will get better, say the climate scientists, as the rains begin.
Things will get better, says the woman with the wide smile, as a red ribbon falls in two pieces.
Things will get better, says the man in the pinstripe suit, as the power fails and the television falls silent.
When, you wonder? When?
Things will get better, whisper the rains, and you believe them.
Things will get better, whisper the unquiet stars, and you follow them.
Things will get better, promise the black lakes, and the pines, and the endless north, and Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now, I’m standing downwind of someone smoking a cigarette. It does not make them feel less rotten for what is about to come, but it does soothe their breathing, smooth over the worry into a dreadful resolution. They toss their cigarette butt into a heap of garbage; what’s a little more pollution to this junkyard of a landscape? The theme of tonight’s episode is hopes.
Story 1 - The Disgusting Smell of Salvation
Barb finished his smoke, and looked out at the wind, and grinned, and waved to any gods who might be watching. Was the old voyeur still pawing around the cosmos, he wondered? Or perhaps the old razzle-dazzler himself was dreaming about Barb at this very moment? Maybe Big Clank, bored of work, was out for a stroll, thought he’d check up on the most despicable of his botched projects.
You never knew which gods were traveling in the wind, Barb thought. He spat on the junk beneath his feet, and crossed the hillside to find Mort sitting in the scraps.
“You really are one for the birds, arentcha?” he called over to Mort. A cluster of ravens took off from around the metal-shelled revenant; they were not normal birds, Barb knew. They had that Industry stink. He hoped whoever had suggested lending weapons to the fleshies was regretting their decision. “They tell you anything nice?”
“Things from Polly,” said Mort, little skull floating in his glass dome, eyes shining like bright green fires. “He says I’m all grown up. So I know I can do this.”
“Yeah, we’d better hope so, for both our sakes,” Barb said, and ran his hands through his greasy hair.
The bank must have slid a hundred feet towards the shoreline below, where garbage and subway rails and shattered glass were washed smooth with the years. Down there, huge and broken and overgrown with vines, were the half-submerged remains of Lady Liberty, ineffectually salvaged from her little island to die here on the shore.
“I’ll be honest, New York was better in its heyday, Mort,” Barb said. “You shoulda seen it when the lights were on.”
“I think it’s great,” said Mort. “There’s so many seagulls. Bert could make friends.”
Speak of the devil, Barb thought, as the half-dead seagull fell out of the sky to nest on Mort’s shoulder, and squinted at him with a reptilian eye. Barb tugged on his collar—did birds know secrets? Was that a different animal?—and looked out on the titanic remains of the Statue of Liberty, wrapped in crane cable and salvage wire. Best you cover your eyes, babe, he thought. You’re not gonna like what you see.
“There they are,” said Mort, and pointed. Down below, Barb could sense movement—a man with a grudge and a mean left hook, leading little Apollyon on a chain.
“Now?” said Mort, clicking his ridiculous lobster claw hand.
“Hold your dead horses,” said Barb. “We only get one shot. Gotta get this right. How’s Polly looking?”
“He’s only got one hand,” said Mort. “Can’t you see?”
“I don’t have eyeballs, Mort,” Barb said. “You ever notice that?”
“Neither do I,” said Mort. “How does that work?”
“I’ve got like eight different types of vision,” Barb said. “Most of ‘em ain’t so reliable long distance, but hey, comes with the soul hunter dealio. You, though, I have no idea. You and I should visit an optometrist sometime. Give ‘em a heart attack.”
“He’s hurting Polly,” said Mort. “It’s time to go now.”
“Mort, listen to me,” Barb said, and stepped over to the heap of metal, got his attention. “This Rick ain’t going to play fair, you know? He’s gonna use Polly against you. So hit him where it hurts. Go in fast, and no matter what he says, you hit him as hard as you can, okay?”
“Okay,” said Mort. “Now can I go?”
“One other thing,” said Barb, and Mort grunted. “Your claw is the strongest thing you’ve got. It’s pure poison, even for a guy who’s double-dipping. Lead with that. You’ve got a mean left, he’s got a mean left. Swing first.”
“You’re coming with me, right?” Mort said. “To rescue Polly?”
“I’ll be doing everything in my power to help you, Mort,” Barb said, and crossed himself, and spat mucus on the bank. “Scout’s honor. Now, you ready to do this?”
“Yeah,” Mort said, and looked down the incline. “I’m ready!”
“Then go get ‘em, tiger,” Barb grinned. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Fool me once, Barb thought, as Mort began to run down the hill, flying through the garbage like a runaway train. Shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me, and a lot of it. Barb slid down behind him, the first few meters, just so that he could really get Rick Rounds in fidelity, see the pain on Polly’s face as Rick’s thorny hand dragged him across the beach. That slow head turn of Rick’s as he looked up to find Mort on top of him? Priceless.
And then the first punch was thrown—bam, what a wallop! Mort’s claw sent Rick flying back into the disintegrating copper corpse of Lady Liberty.
Rick was picking himself a moment later, of course, and Barb wished for a moment that he could run down there too, get a few licks in. After all, Mister Rounds had made him crash Cherry, and toss his cards, burn his fire, betray his customers.
But he knew how that would go. Because Mort’s eyes, for all a little fire was worth, saw what Barb had seen the day Rick Rounds walked in—a rude human with some excessive facial scarring and great hair.
Mort couldn’t possibly know what Rick Rounds really was—a weapon born of the world-eater, the avenging angel of Typhon the Terrible himself. Barb could burn every drop of fire in his reserves, and every bit of Polly’s stolen hoard, and never come to a fraction of what Rick Rounds had in his payroll.
He watched as Rick Rounds lit one hand on fire, and formed a fist of thorns with the other, and Polly screamed for Mort to run away, get far away from here…
Mort looked up to Barb, and found him still a hundred feet away, up on the ridge.
Mort didn’t have to say anything. Barb already knew everything, deep down, in his gut. He reached into his sleeve, flipped out the last of his cards—one final pinch of snuff for one final trick. It was strange, Barb thought, how betrayal could register in a face that was one hundred percent skull. Barb snapped his fingers, and the card was on fire, and he was gone.
He whirled through starlight, spun through streaking fire. A stupid, nauseating, ridiculously expensive way to travel, but effective enough. He stumbled out uneasy on the other side, a couple miles away, where a carousel sat rusting on a desolate beach, half the horses stripped from its warped metal shell.
He approached, and groaned as he lifted the floor, shifted it a few feet across the beach of rubble. Beneath it, a mound of black fur lay sleeping.
“Hey Lassie. Time to wake up. Your kid’s in trouble,” he said, and whipped off his hotel jacket, tossed it over one of the metal horses’ heads. He slid down into the pit with her, close to a huge face, scarred and blackened with blood. Gold jewelry was caught in the tufts of her fur, and breath rattled quietly in her huge wet nose.
“What are you doing, dreaming about rabbits? It’s time to raise your aspirations,” he muttered, and glanced around the pit of rubble, concrete and metal and paint cans and tarps and perambulators. He found a nice sharp piece of rebar, and grit his teeth, and sliced open his forearm with it.
His blood was as black as a fetid wine, and it smelled like cheap whiskey and gasoline, repulsive, he knew. But there was a twitch in her ears, movement behind her heavy eyelids.
“Come on,” he said, and ripped away the bandage around his eyes. “I know this heart of mine is rotten. All the way through. The years, they undo you, you know? But it’s gotta be good for something.”
Her black gums bared a long row of glinting teeth, a sliver of a gold eye beneath the lid. He gulped, and with a handful of jagged nails, reached into his chest, began to claw through the buttons and the skin.
“Would you get a whiff of that?” he said. “It’s the disgusting smell of salvation. What you have… it’s sweet. It really is. This little family. And I’ll never really belong in one, because, really, do I seem like a commitment guy to you? But the next best thing is knowing that yours stays together. I was shot from the start, but Apollyon, he’s got a chance. He’s got a real chance. And he’s gonna die without you.”
He cracked through the ribs, felt a jolt in his vision. Black blood poured down his chest like a blessing of Dionysus, and his body crawled with embers, trying desperately to repair the damage he wrought. Good fuckin’ luck, he thought.
Yaretzi opened a huge eye, licked her teeth with a gigantic tongue, stirred from her slumber like a mountain in an earthquake.
“Come on, wolfie,” he grinned. “Sure, I’ll taste hideous. I am hideous. But once you’re done, you can go wash down the flavor with some nice vintage blood of Rick Rounds. That’s what you were born to do. To kill some old devils.”
He pulled his heart from his chest, then, a black organ long withered. He might have thought it gone completely. Nope, he thought. Still there. Still intact, but his vision was fading then—first the physics. Then the spatial awareness. Then the sense of fashion. The pattern recognition. The Soul Sight. All of it going.
“Wolfie,” he said quietly, and crumpled to his knees, leaned against her stupid skull for support. “You’re missing your moment here. I did my line and everything. This is the part where you eat. This is the part where you wake up. Come on, this is the one good thing I’ll ever do.”
“Are you sure?” she whispered. The growl shook his crumbling body. He knew she would only ask once.
“Sure as hell,” Barb whispered, and patted her murderous muzzle, and let the last of his cards fall from his shirt sleeve, a blood-soaked joker empty of its fire.
And then, with a snap of her great jaws, the last of Barbatos’s many visions went dark completely.
Interlude 1 - Power Outage
Attention, residents of the Resting Place Hotel in the Moormire of the Hallowoods. There is currently a power outage, expected to last somewhere between now and eternity. Unfortunately, this power outage has led to the disappearance of the entire hotel, and the subsequent expulsion of its decor and inhabitants into the surrounding marsh.
If you have an antique funeral carriage, a large hound made of pure diamond, a snapping turtle with a house on its shell, or any other transportation in the Resting Place Hotel parking lot, it is suggested that you claim your vehicle, as it is no longer a parking lot, simply an expanse of loose stone on which you are parked.
Please be sure to check on fellow guests who may require extra assistance, such as ghosts who are trapped inside of jukeboxes and cannot escape from the mire on their own. Substitute accommodation may be difficult to provide, as the closest operating Resting Place Hotel is nowhere. The same place, coincidentally, as this one, and the one who made it all that it was.
We go now to one who gets lucky in card games.
Story 2 - Seven Secrets
“Destiny,” said Diggory Graves. Their seat was the closest to the Count, and Percy sat beside them, cast in a dim white light, a contrast to the red shadows that filled the desolate bar. “Do you know much about destiny, Count?”
“Destiny is what we make of it, my undead friend,” said the Count, and picked up a cup of blackened metal—the liquid inside was thick and dark. His eyes were little red points of light in the shadow, and a collar of black leather spines held his cloak to his jacket shoulders. “Every person is choosing which road to take. As though journeying across the roads of this country. But a little information can sway the path. Whether you take the scenic route or the highway. This is what secrets are for. Think of me as a distributor.”
There was the sound of breaking glass from somewhere outside, and the wind picking up ever so slightly.
“I thought you said you weren’t robbing us,” said Valerie, glancing towards the door.
“Do I appear to be robbing you?” said the Count pleasantly. “On the contrary, I have presented you with a fine dinner. But my cavalcade… well, they may extract payment for their services. It helps to keep them motivated. Now, to the matter at hand. You have crossed into my domain…”
“And just to be clear, your domain is Belfry, Montana?” said Danielle, leaning in her wheelchair at the end of the table.
“My domain is wherever I go,” said the Count. “This country is a wilderness again, and I am the new king of America, from sea to twice-polluted sea. And travelers in my domain, even distinguished guests such as the runaway Maidstones, owe me homage.”
“I thought you were a count,” said Riot, crossing her arms.
“And I thought you said to be polite,” said the Other Riot, glaring in the crimson darkness.
“I volunteer for queen of America,” said Danielle.
“America is supposed to have a president,” said Olivier, wrapped in her blue embroidered cloak.
“Please, continue to interrupt me,” said the Count, with a gentle wave of his hands.
The table fell silent, then, for a long moment.
“What do you know about my destiny?” said Diggory.
“Plenty, but that’s not how this works,” said the Count. His collar unfolded, and Diggory realized it was not formed of leather at all, but the fingers of great batlike wings, which outstretched from his waist, each nine feet from his chair. The shadows of the room seemed alive, billowing like smoke in the rafters. “I will ask each of you one question. You will answer it truthfully and in full. If I am satisfied, I will give you one secret—the one which you require to escape your imminent fate. We must hurry.”
“I’m sorry, is this normal?” said Other Riot, and she looked to Diggory and the rest of the table. “The wings? We’re fine with the wings? One of you is a killer zombie and one of you can electrocute people. Can we not just walk away now?”
“The quiet twin speaks up,” said the Count, watching her with his piercing gaze. “Yes, you could try to harm me. No, it would not work. And I assure you, without the information I can offer, running will do you no good. So. Let us begin.”
He glanced over to Valerie, who stared at him grimly. “The rockstar herself. Almost twenty years ago, your friend and band member Evelyn Fry boarded an arctic research vessel with the last Prime Minister of Canada, Rizwana Mirza. What were they looking for?”
Valerie turned a little pale, and looked up towards Diggory, stuttered for a moment. “I don’t know exactly. I really don’t. She told me they thought they could fix things… stop the black rains somehow. I wanted to go, but with baby Riot to worry about, Riz wouldn’t let me. So I went into hiding and they said goodbye.”
“Interesting. Sky witch,” said the Count. “Where is the current location of the Downing Hill Public Library?”
Olivier looked immediately flustered, glanced to look at Diggory, a little crackle of blue lightning in her dark eyes.
“I don’t know,” Olivier said. “It moves a lot.”
“Did you know that humans sweat when they lie?” said the Count, and sipped his cup. The contents stained his teeth as he smiled. “Ever so slightly. Try again, please.”
Olivier and Riot exchanged glances, and Olivier looked at her hands, and sighed. “I guess I don’t technically owe them anything anymore. Why do you want to know?”
“Just trying to stay informed in these desperate times,” said the Count. “Maybe I’ll check out some light reading.”
“There’s a place called the Hallowoods,” said Olivier. “Way north in Ontario. As far as I’m aware, Downing Hill is still there. Whatever it is you want with them… don’t hurt them. They’re going to save us all.”
“Really. What a magnificent accomplishment that would be,” the Count said. He turned his gaze to Danielle. Wind creaked in the rafters, although Diggory could find no trace of cloud in the current pattern of Olivier’s coat. “What can you tell me about the Stonemaids?”
“Stonemaids?” Danielle said, looking up. “I’m not a Stonemaid. At least, I haven’t got like an official badge or anything. But they’re still there, despite what Lady Ethel probably wants you to think. There were messages and public statements and movements happening, even when I left. I hope they don’t go quiet.”
“Speaking of quiet,” said the Count, and to Diggory’s surprise looked to Percy. “I don’t need a secret from you, ghost boy. You are a secret. How you’re managing to do that? Stay so… stable? Wrapped up in a little jewelry? How to do that is knowledge some people are dying for.”
Percy glanced to Diggory, and Diggory nodded back. Yes, he’s talking to you.
“Thank you, I guess,” Percy said, became clear enough for everyone to see him, if briefly. “Of course, I still feel like I’m invisible half the time, so I don’t know how much it’s worth.”
“You are worth very much,” said Diggory, quietly.
“You with the knife hands,” said the Count. “If you are here, does that mean Irene Mend has been buried at last?”
“She is dead,” said Diggory. “She was killed. And her creations are free now to do what they wish.”
“I would have thought it impossible,” said the Count. “Congratulations on your freedom.”
Diggory frowned, and looked at their dagger-tipped fingers. Losing her had not felt like freedom, but then again, they had never met her properly. There was a sound that caught Diggory’s attention now; an uproar outside, like distant tornado sirens growing louder.
“I think we should go,” said Diggory.
“For the young miss Maidstone,” the Count said, and both Riots looked up, but he glanced to the one who held a silver sword beneath the table. “I need something more personal.”
“Secrets, right?” said Riot. “I stayed up on the radio every night in the bunker. Sorry, mom. It was a lot. Like… years.”
“I knew,” said Valerie. “Does that still count as a secret? But every time I went to listen in it was… cute. There was that girl on the other side, and I never heard you happy—not like you were with her. And I was like, what kind of mom would I be if I took that away from you.”
“You knew?” Riot said, eyes wide. “How much did you listen in on? You always said not to use the radio…”
“Any daughter of mine is a born rule-breaker,” said Valerie. “You stealing my RV and driving off was still a shock though.”
“What about you, quiet twin?” said the Count, glancing to Other Riot. “You carry a much heavier secret, I think. It is eating you alive about now.”
“Other Riot? What is this about?” Riot said, narrowing her eyes. The Other Riot glared back.
“You want the truth?” Other Riot said, and stood up, and put her palms on the table. “The truth is these last few days have been the most miserable days of my life. My mom and I got kidnapped, and we’ve been chased and attacked and tired and hungry…”
She paused, and grunted as she flipped over the nearest two platters, sending wretched meat spilling across the table, knocking desiccated glasses of wine off the edge to spill out on the floor.
“One of these people can throw you a hundred feet into the air, one of them is sewn together of dead bodies, and my ‘twin’ wants to make my life a living hell. Most of the time you all pretend like I’m not here, like I’m not as much of a person as the rest of you. So no. I’m done cooperating. And hopefully I won’t have to wait very long.”
“I suggest you humor me,” said the Count sadly, and inspected his clawlike fingers. “Think of your sister.”
“Believe me, I am,” said Other Riot, and backed away from the table, and ran for the door.
“Riot?” Valerie called after her. “You just need to tell him what he wants to know, and we can get out of here.”
The sound was impossible to ignore, now, a whining noise from outside, a thunderous wind that pummeled the world beyond the bar, and the roar of dozens of motorcycles revving to life. The Count stood up from his chair, and pulled his wings back to his shoulders like a cloak. Diggory stood in response, just to put themselves between him and the rest of the table.
“Well,” he said, and set down his chalice with a frown. “I regret that things came to this end for you. I hope you will cross into my domain again someday.”
He was gone, then, dissolved into the shadow of the room, and the Other Riot threw open the door, and the sound of a thousand rotors was unmistakable, and Botco drones sailed out of the sky into the street beyond…
Marketing - Worth It For You
If you’re out there listening, hello. How was your day? Good. I’m glad you survived. My day was busy. Every so often, the Botulus Corporation has conversations around marketing method and return on investment. They question whether it is still worth it to pour so many resources into trying to reach sleeping minds across this nation.
Numbers are worse this year than ever for incoming customers, they tell me. We could allocate those resources towards satisfaction for our existing dreamers, our or new Space Line. We could cease external advertising completely. And every quarter, I tell them, no. Do you want to know why?
It’s because I’m not giving up on you. You lived to see an old paradigm fade away and the rise of the biggest company in history. Or, you have grown up in a world that grows more dangerous and deadly every year—a world unfit for anyone to inhabit.
And whether it is a hundred thousand, or a thousand, or just a hundred people that reach out on our contact terminals or are marked by advertising drones or tagged by Clusters, it is worth fighting for those people to be part of our Happy Dreaming Family. To be safe. To be home.
And if you, dear dreamer, are the only person this quarter who finds us, it will still have been worth every single message. Help me save your life and contact the Botulus Corporation today…
Story 2, Continued - Seven Secrets
No, it’s quite alright, Lady Ethel. You can give up. I assure you, nobody appreciates all the time and hard work you do. Maybe take up oil painting and leave your dream advertising equipment turned off forever.
We return now to Diggory Graves.
It was not wind at all, they realized, but the vehemence of many rotors, casting a shadow across the street outside. Immediately Diggory was by Danielle’s side, looking to the others as Other Riot threw herself through the door of the desolate bar, and Riot went sprinting behind her.
“You lying snitch!” Riot shouted. “You brought them right to us!”
“Girls, get back inside, now!” Valerie shouted, and sighed as they both disappeared through the door. She glanced back to Olivier, to Diggory and Danielle. “Stay here. I’ll bring up the RV!”
“I don’t want to go back,” Danielle whispered, head falling back to look up at Diggory. “Please don’t let them put me back.”
“You will be safe,” said Diggory, and patted the spiky shoulder of her jacket. “I promise.”
“Diggory,” Percy whispered, descending from the ceiling to hover in the air beside them. His eyes were wide, and he kept his voice quiet. “There are hundreds of them.”
“Riot!” Olivier called through the bar door, and Diggory watched as the two Riots collided in the street, rolling in the dust. They were not entirely sure which one had the other in a headlock.
“I’ve got this,” said the one with her face in the dirt. “Go help mom!”
Olivier leaped from the door, and the wind that whirled around her feet carried her into the sky, increasingly dark with little metal shapes that whirred with rotor wings and held sparks of light in their eye lenses.
Diggory stepped away from Danielle a few paces, enough to see Valerie running for the RV, still parked in the center of the street. She was almost to the spraypainted door, and…
There… no. That cannot…
I wish I could tell you a different story, dreamers, or that I could find a different pair of eyes, who look on happier moments, far away. I wish these seconds, unfolding relentlessly one after the other, were kinder. But I struggle to find hope as a swarm of gleaming black machines descend on Belfry, Montana.
Valerie Maidstone smiles, with the keys in hand, and takes the first step up the RV’s side to reach the driver’s door, hopes no important engine parts have been pilfered.
And she is overwhelmed, quite suddenly, by a wave of heat as a gigantic black drone hovers above the RV, born by the wind and armed with eyes like armageddon. Its eyes flash a dozen times in a single second, as bright as the desert sun, and the fifty-year-old recreational vehicle expands, dissolving into shrapnel and sparks, and Valerie collides with the ground as the blast sears her vision…
Olivier Song looks down in horror, and sees for a moment the students that did not make it through the Arcane Program, rolling lifeless on the floor. The Weather is still distant, a storm on the far horizon, many miles and mountains away, and the RV is missing its roof, blackened and burning beneath.
She is paralyzed, for a moment, between the storm she has yet to summon, and helping Valerie, and soaring back to pick up Riot and carry her far away from here. She realizes, as the swarm begins to turn, that there is no right answer. This test has no solution. And as she pivots in the wind, something arrives in front of her face—barely six inches across; a tiny drone with a little silver cube in its head.
The cube’s single red eye, caught in a mirror surface, blinks cheerfully, and stares into Olivier’s. Olivier does not know that she is falling, then, asleep as she plummets out of the sky…
But Riot sees, and screams, and shoves away from the Other Riot in the dusty street. She draws her sword from its sheath, and turns away from the traitor to run for Olivier. A swarm of little black machines is already descending over Olivier’s body, and several meters beyond, there is her mother.
Riot does not think; her vision swims red, and she swings at the air as she reaches Olivier, feels a tremor run through her hand as the blade connects with a metal carapace and sends it skittering into pieces. She nicks the rotor on another, and then there is a tiny drone with a silver face, and she is not fighting at all.
She is in an RV bed on a rainy day, with someone sleeping beneath the covers beside her. Her last instinct as she falls is to lunge forward, try to protect Olivier’s body with hers.
The Other Riot looks up, hope and dread inseparably tangled, and holds her scraped shoulder—the one where the tracking chip sings somewhere beneath the flesh. Where is Lady Ethel? Where is the personnel carrier? Her mother lies unconscious by the flaming wreckage of the RV, and Other Riot begins to stumble towards her.
This is not how it was supposed to go. This is not what she was promised, and she wonders for the first time if she has done something terribly wrong. She barely sees as the Boxy drone approaches her head, and with one pulse of its patented DeepSleep Catalyst Wave, she is asleep.
Danielle stares as the drones fill the air like a plague of locusts outside, begin to surge for the door of the bar. She screams for Diggory to close it, and they do, hold their back against it for a moment. It is unfair, she thinks. She has barely begun to learn about the world. She has barely begun to live.
And she realizes for the first time that she is fragile, and the Botulus Corporation may not think kindly of her for all the damage she has wrought. She makes a decision, in that moment, to stay. Selfish, perhaps, but utterly necessary. She asks Diggory to help her hide, somewhere that the drones will not find her.
Diggory is quick to act, bars the door for a moment with a side table, and pulls her from her wheelchair, hides her away behind the decrepit bar—a broken table and a few shattered chairs are her shelter, all that stands between her and the world.
I will not leave you here, says Diggory, and they turn from the barricade to find that the door is exploding, and the air is loud with rotor wings, the first black gleaming shapes hovering into the shadowed room.
“Hello,” says Diggory. “My name is Diggory Graves.”
The hunting drone says nothing, but fires a ten-inch stake of pure silver through Diggory’s chest, pinning them to the back wall of the bar.
Percy screams, and his hand is lightning, holy fire, and he strikes the hunting drone, sends it short-circuiting into the ground, where its many-eyed head shatters against the concrete. But there are three more, then, and a sky of darkness behind those.
He turns to find Diggory staring blankly, mouth trembling as if trying to speak. Percy draws closer, anxious to hear what they are trying to say, and Diggory only twitches, black claws wrapped around the stake through their heart.
Percy looks down through his own chest to find a long, silver digit; the arm of one more drone. At the end of the limb is a tiny grasping claw; it hooks the chain of the locket around Diggory’s chest, and plucks it free with a sharp twist.
Percy is in motion, then, as the locket with hands crossed in prayer, a single fragment of his bone inside, is lifted into the air, and he is pulled away from Diggory as the drone returns to the swarm above. His eyes meet Diggory’s for a last moment, and Diggory is trying to say something, cannot break free, cannot follow…
Can only watch.
I cannot do this, dreamers. I cannot do this. This was not the point. I am sorry. Things are supposed to get better with time, or at least, reach some kind of peace, and…
I am sorry.
This was a mistake.
I am so sorry.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Another Day', 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!