Here's the next chapter of your favorite cross-country zombie/succubus/mimic buddy adventure (with Bigfoot as a guest star)!
I'm posting this toward the end of 2020, and it has been a rough ride. I hope that this story finds you well, and that your holiday season has at least a little bit of light and sunshine.
Thanks to everybody who has supported me so far on my monster-tale journey. Without the readers of Lit, these would just be words on some hard-drive, so thank you for remembering to click those stars at the end. They help people find these stories, and I've had at least a few of you reach out and let me know that they've helped you through some rough times. (I never thought I would be writing sexually-oriented fantasy that actually helps people, so this makes me feel extra good).
Anyway, this story will end on Chapter 12 and my brain will finally be able to live in one timeline. As a reminder, the events of D&H are parallel to the events of HFHM Book 3. In this chapter, we get to see the other side of the conversation that Beth had with Lily in Chapter 33. Hope that helps those of you who have emailed me asking about timelines.
Without further ado, I give you some more time with our family in Oregon. Thanks for reading!
Legs to Stand On
Sunset for Dana was a surreal affair on top of the barn. The view was quite lovely as the sun descended behind the distant mountain, and the breeze was strong enough to create little ripples in Bigfoot's hair, an effect that was magnified by the ripples that traveled across his massive chest.
The sasquatch sipped at his beer and nodded appreciatively. "Lookin' good, kiddo."
"Thanks, Uncle Foot." Eulalie was deftly weaving a long line of spider silk down Dana's back. She couldn't feel the needle piercing her muscle, but she could feel the skin being pulled back together as Eulalie worked her magic.
The last couple of days had been like a mini vacation. Between sword dodging lessons with Velvet, the occasional hot spring trip, and going through surveillance photos at night, the days were rolling past quicker than ever. In two days they would be able to leave, and Dana was starting to think that Eulalie's efforts to find the Dragon's Seed would be in vain.
However, if nothing else, Dana was a quick learner. Eulalie had to patch her up on multiple occasions, but the wounds came less frequently now, even as Velvet had ramped up the speeds of her attacks. They had even given her a bit of practice with the blade, but her dead girl brain was far better at reacting than attacking. If she got into another spat with a member of the Order, she was far less likely to lose another limb over it.
As for winning? Her memory was photographic, which meant she knew which way to move based on the swing and possible follow-ups. Velvet was murderously fast, and she knew that she wouldn't be caught off guard again. But unless someone attacked her in a way that Velvet had demonstrated, she was out of luck in that department. Still, the mental exercise of trying to predict the arachne's movements while relying on her own reactions had done her some good, and it gave her something to process during the long, lonely nights.
Lily had been disappearing in the twilight hours and kept her lips shut on her activities. All she had done was tell Dana that it was nothing to worry about, she just needed some time to think and process some things. Figuring she would be a massive hypocrite to push the issue, Dana had left it alone.
"Okay, all done." Eulalie moved back and Dana rotated her arms. Her back itched, a sign that the wound was healing, and she put her shirt back on.
"Won't get me next time," Dana told Velvet. Velvet was sitting next to Bigfoot, her legs splayed out around her. She held up her own beer in a mock salute and then drained it.
"Blegh." Eulalie made a face at her sister. "You're drinking the cheap stuff tonight."
"I'm drinking to get drunk, which means the cheap stuff." Velvet held up her bottle and sighed. "Unless you want to share some of your wine with me."
"Hell, no, you drink five times what I do and then complain about the taste." Eulalie took the needle she had been using and put it away in a small sewing kit with the word Dana written across the front in black Sharpie. "And then I have to wait a month until Dad can make a trip into town just to refill me. No thanks."
Velvet frowned at her bottle. "Fine. Guess I've got to drink the shit dad doesn't like."
"He's getting picky in his old age." Bigfoot finished his beer and then picked out another from the multi-pack. "Getting too old to waste his day on shit he doesn't enjoy."
Everybody went quiet. Velvet finished her beer and then helped Dana off the roof once the sun was down. While the arachne walked down the sides of the barn, Bigfoot took a casual hop and landed on the ground with a thud, leaving two giant footprints in the dirt. He stopped long enough to wipe them away with his feet, then saw Dana watching.
"Good habit to have," he explained.
Dinner was a quiet affair, and Lily returned shortly after, claiming that she had hiked a nearby mountain and allowed herself to get lost. After dinner, they played a board game as Bigfoot left to scope out some shortcuts that would get them back to Montana, and, if nowhere else, home again. Emory fussed over Velvet, who went to bed early on account of all the beer she had imbibed. Eulalie followed shortly after, leaving Dana alone with her thoughts. Lily left long before everyone went to bed, but would inevitably surface in a few hours.
With everyone gone, Dana let herself into Eulalie's office. There wasn't a chair at the high-countered desk, so she stood and surveyed the small bank of monitors. Eulalie had multiple rigs running, but the ones Dana wanted only displayed on a few monitors.
Data had been pouring in all week, and now it was time to sift through it again. Eulalie had written a quick program that allowed Dana to load one image per screen and then change every second. She stood and watched as the images filtered in, turning just her eyes as each image popped.
The images displayed had been processed by four different research computers located somewhere in the U.S. Many of the images she saw were simply social media posts, but there were also several surveillance pictures that made her question just how little she understood about how much a private citizen was under surveillance at any given time. Hundreds of images of men and women who wore similar jewelry blurred past, and she only paused on occasion to zoom in or contemplate the nature of the image she was seeing.
Hours went by, and the forest around the house came alive with the sounds of insects and birds. She occasionally heard Darren mutter in his sleep, but those were the only sounds she ever heard in the cabin.
Lily made a brief appearance sometime in the early hours. She kept Dana company for a bit, and then went out to the front room and asked Emory to start a fire. The succubus seemed out of sorts, but you couldn't solve a puzzle without opening the box, and Lily, contrary to her nature, wasn't letting anybody touch her box these days.
When it happened, she almost missed it.
It was a social media post, and in it was a picture of a couple of well-known celebrities. However, behind them was a young man leaning forward awkwardly to include himself in the shot. As if by accident, his necklace had slipped free of the confines of his shirt.
She had to rewind to find the image, and just stared at it for a bit. The necklace dangling from his throat looked similar to many other pearl necklaces she had seen (though not very similar to the 'pearl necklace' images Eulalie's search algorithm had returned on the first night). However, the twist in the gold and silver inlay just above the necklace was very close to what had been drawn on the piece of paper she had seen, as well as what Ratu had shown her.
"Hey, Lily?" She waited for the succubus to appear. When she did, she was holding a mug of coffee in her hands, her fingers wrapped tightly around the mug. "I didn't take you for a coffee drinker."
"Not usually, but you know how it is. Plenty of time to think, have a certain someone on my mind." She set the mug down and leaned back against the desk. "Did you find porn? I only go for stuff that's really kinky or has at least five people. Oh, and rubber gloves are a turn-off."
"Actually, I found—wait, really? You're not into gloves?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "What do you think?"
"I think you're watching the wrong kind of porn." Dana pointed at the screen with the necklace on it. "What do you think?"
Lily looked over at the image. "I think he was better off with his last wife. She wasn't as hot, but she had that freak-in-the-sheets energy about her."
"You're being obstinate on purpose, and I need you to be serious for a few."
"Ugh, fine." She turned to look at the screen again and frowned. "Hmm. That's weird, he seems familiar."
"Really?" To Dana, he looked about college-age, which would make sense, but was otherwise unremarkable. "How about the pendant?"
Lily bit her lip for a moment and then nodded. "You might be onto something. When was this from?"
Dana checked the timestamp. "Months ago. Almost a year, actually." It had been a release party in Hollywood, and she did a quick search on one of the other monitors. Lily faux yawned from boredom as Dana got online and looked up images from the party. It took her some time but she was able to spot a few more images of the man and saved them to the desktop.
"What are you doing?" Lily asked.
"Reverse image search, see if I can find out who he is." The first couple of searches she did yielded nothing, but the next one pulled up an image from Facebook. She clicked on it and frowned.
"Ugh, that stuff rots your brain, you know." Lily looked at the page. "His name is Madelline Caldwell?"
"That's grandma's name, she posted a family picture with him in it and never learned how to set her shit to private." She clicked through Madelline's pictures. "I think this guy's name is Tristan. When I look through her friend's list, he isn't on it, but here's a picture of him and she's wishing him a happy birthday."
"Not surprised. Nobody wants to be internet friends with their grandmother."
Dana shrugged. "Depends on when you made your page. But here's something. I think she tagged him in a post, but he's deleted his profile page since then. Look." She pointed at the screen.
"Can't wait to see you at Christmas, Tristan Emilio. I'm not sure I follow." Lily shook her head. "Social media sounds like a special hell all its own."
"Not going to disagree with you." Dana typed in Tristan's full name and hit enter. She was surprised when nothing recent came up, so scrolled through the search results.
"Is this something we should be asking Romeo to do? He's really good with stuff like this."
Dana shook her head. "Don't want to upset the timeline, or whatever. Maybe it's something he can help us look into after we get back...wait." She had scrolled through several pages already and saw something that caught her eye so clicked on it.
"Whatcha got there?" Lily was leaning over Dana's shoulder now.
"He formed a company in Colorado about nine months back. That shit is public knowledge, apparently." The page finished loading, and she just stared at the page for several seconds.
"Maximum Dragon LLC," Lily read out loud. "Absolutely nothing suspicious about that."
Dana was already typing again, and when the search came back, she just shook her head in disgust.
"Looks like our friend Tristan owns his own porn company." Lily smirked, then clicked the link. They were taken to a page featuring several nude women which was soon obscured by a virus warning from Eulalie's computer, and the browser closed, then asked for admin credentials.
"That's not a surprise. Guess we'll have to ask Eulalie to look into it for us." Dana turned in her seat to look at Lily. "But that can't be a coincidence, can it?"
"Oh, I've long given up on the idea of a coincidence." Lily tossed her hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms. "But now that we've got some breadcrumbs to follow, why not enjoy just a little bit of peace and quiet? C'mon, they've got Labyrinth on DVD. I could use some David Bowie right now."
"I shouldn't be watching movies, I need to see what else I can find out! We've actually got a lead, and I want to be prepared to move on it."
Lily scowled, but her face softened. "Okay, how about this? David Bowie is good and all, but what I meant was that I could really use a friend."
"I...yeah, okay. He'll still be there in the morning, right?"
"Yeah." Lily held her hand out.
Dana took it.
In the morning, Eulalie was ecstatic to hear that Dana had found a lead and promptly shut herself in her office to see what she could find. Meanwhile, Dana helped Emory make breakfast for Darren. Apparently, Velvet's cooking skills left much to be desired, and Emory was too small to properly handle a skillet.
Lily sat with Darren at breakfast, but said nothing. Instead, she held her coffee much like he did, and kept giving him the occasional sidelong glance.
After breakfast, Bigfoot arrived to announce that a group of college kids was camping and making a mess on the edge of the property. Darren put on his boots and Lily went with them in order to help, but mostly to break up the monotony.
Dana suspected Lily might try to get a quick bite to eat, but trusted her to avoid trouble. They had talked for hours all night about Lily's dreams, and her thoughts and worries. All of it had come pouring out like a waterfall, catching Dana off guard. She had always been bad at stuff like that, but was even more so now.
However, she was a good listener. She kept her mouth shut and did her best to offer advice. Hopefully a snack would do Lily a world of good.
Velvet and Dana did some chores around the cabin, and then went outside to split up some more wood. After swinging an axe for a bit, Dana took a break from that to practice some more swordplay with Velvet. The same strike that had opened up her back yesterday only succeeded in nicking her shirt this time when she saw it coming, and Velvet spent some time discussing technique with her.
"You talk like somebody who has actually fought in battle," Dana had remarked at one point. "Did you practice a lot with your mom and Eulalie?"
"You assume we've led a quiet life here," she responded with a frown. "What we have now is the culmination of decades of hard work, and this forest has seen its fair share of bloodshed and misery."
"Like what?" Dana asked.
Velvet ignored her and immediately went back to talking about footwork during a sword fight, then launched a surprise assault. Dana watched the arachne's shoulders and slid around, the blade hissing through the air as she moved.
Eulalie came out mid-fight to announce that she had found something, so they ended their practice and went inside. When they reached Eulalie's office, Dana saw that the arachne had different images and websites pulled up on each of her monitors.
"This is totally your guy," Eulalie said, then pointed at one of the monitors. It was a school ID picture of Tristan Emilio, a small smirk on his face. Next to the image was a picture of a muscular man with perfectly coiffed hair and thick biceps. "These pictures are less than eighteen months apart."
"Are they really both him?" Dana moved closer to the screen for a better look. The man on the right looked like a movie star version of the man on the left, but they had the same eyes.
"They are. The man on the right used to be Tristan Emilio, but he changed his name about six months ago, shortly after founding Maximum Dragon. Now he goes by the name Tristan Edge, and he's a professional porn star, influencer and businessman." Eulalie clicked on a tab in her browser and an image of Tristan pulling out his cock for a pair of young women appeared. "He kind of came out of nowhere. Started with his porn company first, but then moved into the business world. Makes eerily accurate predictions when it comes to the stock market, I actually found an insider trading investigation that was launched and then dropped shortly after. He made seed money producing pornography and then made some very smart investments to the tune of twenty million."
"He looks like a douche." Velvet scowled at the screen, but kept looking at Tristan's exposed cock.
"Apparently, he's an arrogant piece of shit, based on some accounts. Tristan Emilio's identity has been scrubbed, but this newer version of him is rapidly climbing the success ladder." Eulalie pulled up a sequence of images with Tristan in them. "You'll notice he's always wearing a shirt in many of these pictures. Even during his porn scenes, he doesn't take them off. But if you look close..." She clicked on one of the images and zoomed in. A small bulge in the fabric was visible through a white tank-top. "I'm fairly certain that he is wearing the Dragon's Seed. It explains the sudden upgrade in, well, everything."
Dana nodded. "He's making a fortune so that he can hoard it."
"That's the assumption. He is also very hard to nail down. Travels constantly, has no known address. However, I did figure this out." Eulalie moved to a different screen. "He's playing the lead in some big budget porno, and I know where he will be for the next few days. You guys will have about three days to track him down, and then he'll be a ghost again."
"Well, where are we going?"
Eulalie opened up a map on her screen. "The big island of Hawaii."
"That's a really long flight." Dana felt her stomach clench. "Can Bigfoot take us there?"
"No." Velvet shook her head. "It's one of the few places he can't go. None of his trees were ever planted there."
"Shit." It was something she would have to talk to Lily about. How many hours was it on a plane? The idea of being trapped in a metal tube surrounded by the smell of so many people made her hungry.
"You're drooling," Eulalie told her.
"Sorry." Dana wiped her mouth. "So, this guy's a ghost?"
"Yep. Only reason I found this out was because one of the women he's shooting with hinted at doing a movie with him. I tracked down her agent and did some social engineering to find out when and where the shoot was. I pretended to be an equipment rental manager concerned about a missing field in the delivery date and address." Eulalie grinned. "Stated that the information on file was bad and we needed to confirm data prior to delivery or we would be forced to rent our gear to someone else, and that Mr. Edge was not responding to our emails. The agent jumped on the chance to be useful to Mr. Edge, as she called him."
"Anyway, you all need to get to Hawaii. Uncle Foot can walk you near San Francisco after you get your stuff, and then you can hop a plane. That's up to you. I'm afraid I can't falsify plane tickets without setting off a thousand alarms."
"Right." Dana looked at Velvet, then Eulalie. A thousand thoughts were running through her mind, but the one that bothered her the most was the realization that she was about to leave the arachne behind. In her brief stay, they had become like sisters to her, and even though she was on a mission of her own, she wished they could come with her.
She wanted to take this moment to express how she felt, to thank them for everything they had done for her. But no matter how hard she reached, she just couldn't connect with her emotional center. Anything that came out would sound flat and meaningless.
"Thank you," she told them. "I guess I need to figure out a plan."
A moment of silence passed, then Velvet put her hand on Dana's shoulder.