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Of Man and Beast

Llamocalypse Dec 25th, 2018 (edited) 15,455 Never
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  1. [PROLOGUE]
  2.  
  3. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  4.  
  5. >Be Anon, your typical 23 year old college student. You and your friends have been playing games all night, talking about your plans for Halloween. There's gotta be
  6.  something all of you can do, why else would you be making your annual costume? A little knack you took up in high school was building a costume every year, partially to show off, but mostly because you really enjoyed the work. You've made them more intricate each year, and your friends think it's cool so why stop? This year is definitely going to be a classic Doomguy build, you don't have the time to make the Praetor suit from DOOM 2016™, that would be a fun project though. You've been playing with your friends for hours, the group only deciding it's time to go to bed after one of your
  7.  friends gets VAC banned because he can't play a game like everyone else. You however, made the mistake of downing two energy drinks at the start of your session, meaning you still had plenty of energy to burn before hitting the sack. You decide to play some Killing Floor 2, can't go wrong with that. Joining the match greets you with a bunch of randoms discussing tactics, what with the difficulty setting being Hell on Earth. one stands out however, N1ghtB3ast. Some girl with a maxed out berserker build, you decide being a medic would be best for the team, with you being a high enough level to be useful in this scenario. The ensuing game was hectic and crazy, a lot of people dying off each round, money becoming scarce, whatever plan they were following before just doesn't exist now. Only constants are you, N1ghtB3ast, and a guy named George, literally his username. Sticking with N1ghtB3ast is good for you because you're trading close quarters protection for constant heals, works pretty well. The boss created a pinscher maneuver at the end that killed off most of the team except you and N1ghtB3ast, which just meant that the two of you had to rely on each other even more.
  8.  
  9. >"/A/, let's just circle the map until he's dead."
  10.  
  11. >Alright
  12.  
  13. >25 minutes of sapping health later, you finally win. Whoever decided to stay in the match reaped their rewards and you congratulated N1ghtB3ast on a good game.
  14.  
  15. >"Thanks /A/, you did pretty good too."
  16.  
  17. >You manage to friend her on Steam and Discord, she gets off soon after that. Then the realization that it's 5:00 in the morning and that energy drinks can only last for so long starts to catch up to you. Ah well, at least tomorrow's Saturday. You slump out of your chair and manage to sulk to your bed before finally collapsing onto your noisy, squeaking mattress. Thinking back to the girl, she seemed like a pretty nice person, maybe she'll be someone you actually play with after adding them. With that thought, you groggily fall into unconsciousness.
  18.  
  19. >Living the dream
  20.  
  21. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  22.  
  23. [CHAPTER 1:TAG TEAM]
  24.  
  25. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  26.  
  27. >It's been a couple weeks since that night. You were able to integrate N1ghtB3ast into your group of friends, more precisely your private discord server. She's on practically every night, a good filler for when you're missing your usual
  28.  group of five to play certain games. Hell her reaction timing is borderline hacking. She gets along with your group
  29.  of friends quite well, you even made a shitty joke about "welcoming her to the pack", something that was meant with a groan of disappointment and annoyance. One thing you haven't talked about is that both her Discord and Steam
  30.  profile pictures are of wolves, so the pun was a little too obvious to make. Her explanation is that she just really likes wolves, nothing wrong with that you guess. She asked about your profile name and you told her how it's an old inside joke that your friends made years ago. It's stupid and you've thought of changing it at times but it just sticks too well now. That was a good enough explanation for her. Both of you are currently hanging out in a voice channel since neither of you are in the mood to play anything right now. The boredom leads both of you to start asking each other about things. New games, whatever mess is happening on the news, nothing really seems to be hitting anything off until...
  31.  
  32. >"Hey N1ghtB3ast, do you think we can just tell each other our real names? You don't have to do it, just makes things easier."
  33.  
  34. >"Oh, sure, my name's Astrid, my parent's are Norwegian, so they decided to give me a Nordic name."
  35.  
  36. >"That's cool, so are they both immigrants to the United States?"
  37.  
  38. >"Yeah, but they managed to learn good English after coming here. They've actually lived here for most of their lives."
  39.  
  40. >"Did they know each other beforehand?"
  41.  
  42. >"Yeah, both of my parent's families worked in an industrial town that was hit hard in the 70s, a lot of people started to move out, most went to other towns and cities nearby, but a large amount of them decided to immigrate to the United States or neighboring countries. Around half of them moved to Wisconsin, most decided to go live in the same communities, sort of like that German town in Michigan, what was it called? Oh yeah! Frankenmuth! So fast forward around a decade and half, they had me. Guess I was a big responsibility for them because they didn't decide to have my sister until I was nearly eight. Only problem now is that she's going through an edgy teenage phase right now.
  43.  
  44. >"How old's your sister?"
  45.  
  46. >"The bratty ripe age of 16."
  47.  
  48. >"What makes her bratty?"
  49.  
  50. >"You know, always snooping into my personal space, being a constant nuisance. Not that I hate her or anything, she just gets on
  51.  my nerves sometimes."
  52.  
  53. >"I can get that. But why are you telling me all of this? You barely know me, hell, you don't even know what I look like and you're just
  54.  spilling out personal information like you completely trust me!"
  55.  
  56. >"If you put it like that I guess it's weird. Stuff like that just doesn't feel that personal to me. I like to build trust with people, even if it's just someone I'm playing games with regularly. Heh, who am I kidding, guess I'm just a little lonely sometimes. Not a lot of friends live near me anymore after finishing high school."
  57.  
  58. >"Social issues? Or just had a small but close group of friends?"
  59.  
  60. >"Well, it was just difficult to meet new kids who I could bond with when I was little. My parents were educated enough to make a good living, so our family lives comfortably in a protected community. The problem I had in school was that I couldn't associate with
  61.  most of the kids that went there. None of the other girls held my interests or hobbies, and the boys were sort of, scared of me."
  62.  
  63. >"Why?"
  64.  
  65. >"I've always been the tallest kid in class, until high school at least. Even then I almost matched the tallest Basketball players."
  66.  
  67. >"Well, you ARE Norwegian."
  68.  
  69. >"What's that supposed to mean?"
  70.  
  71. >"Aren't Norwegians people naturally taller than most people?"
  72.  
  73. >"Yeah, I guess, but there was plenty of other kids who had relatives from Norway and Sweden in my community and none of them grew two inches close to me!"
  74.  
  75. >"Guess you just got keen genes."
  76.  
  77. >"Shut the fuck up."
  78.  
  79. >"Yeah that was pretty bad."
  80.  
  81. >"So, before I tell you anything else, what's YOUR real name?"
  82.  
  83. >"Anon"
  84.  
  85. >"Oh, huh."
  86.  
  87. >"What? Something wrong with that?"
  88.  
  89. >"No, I just thought it wouldn't be "Anon" of all things."
  90.  
  91. >"What else can I say? My name's Anon, I'm American, and I graduate with a Bachelor's in Software Engineering if I don't fuck up my finals next semester."
  92.  
  93. >"Where do you go to?"
  94.  
  95. >"Milwaukee School of Engineering."
  96.  
  97. >"No way!"
  98.  
  99. >"Yeah"
  100.  
  101. >"You could've told me you were from Wisconsin too!"
  102.  
  103. >"I'm not, I used to live in Ohio until I moved out."
  104.  
  105. >"Why didn't you go to a closer school?"
  106.  
  107. >"Because I was accepted to the college here, and it's a trusted college to get a degree from, in my field at least."
  108.  
  109. >"Fair enough, but that means you're really close to me!"
  110.  
  111. >"How close?"
  112.  
  113. >"I live in Caldwell, you're only around half an hour from me!"
  114.  
  115. >"Oh, that's cool."
  116.  
  117. >"You want to meet up sometime?"
  118.  
  119. >"Sure, maybe get to know each other a bit better?"
  120.  
  121. >"Yeah, it's just, the coincidences that I would meet someone on a game that lives so close..."
  122.  
  123. >"That hasn't happened to you before?"
  124.  
  125. >"Not really."
  126.  
  127. >"Well it's not that big of a deal."
  128.  
  129. >"Yeah? and how many people in your group live near you currently?"
  130.  
  131. >"Er, 0. Not like I don't have friends nearby outside of computers."
  132.  
  133. >"Really? Aren't you trying to be a Software Engineer? Sounds like you need to make more computer friends."
  134.  
  135. >"Oh yeah? And who are you Ms. Imgettingadegree?"
  136.  
  137. >"Hey! I am! It's just an online college."
  138.  
  139. >"Yeah? What's your major?"
  140.  
  141. >"3D modeling and Animation."
  142.  
  143. >"Oh, alright. I can respect that."
  144.  
  145. >"Thanks, some people think it's just a useless art degree."
  146.  
  147. >"No way! You actually need to know what you're doing with that. A company isn't going to hire some schmuck who watched two hours of Blender tutorials to make something for them, there's real value to your degree!"
  148.  
  149. >"Yeah, I just wished it would be easier for me to find a job after I graduate."
  150.  
  151. >"It'll probably be hard at first, hell, you might need to move across the country for one. But if you rise up in the industry, you could get a job at some big movie studio like Marvel or Paramount. You could be the person to make a CGI model of a pipe and get paid six plus figures for it."
  152.  
  153. >"Sure, but I really would just like to stay where I am and work."
  154.  
  155. >"Really? Why?"
  156.  
  157. >"My family is really close to each other, and I don't know if I'd be comfortable living far away from them."
  158.  
  159. >"So what's your idea on a job then?"
  160.  
  161. >"I'm thinking I'll do jobs where I can work at home, I'd like to work on things that would be fun, like modeling for a video game or something."
  162.  
  163. >"Guess that could work out. It'd still be better if you broadened your horizons though."
  164.  
  165. >"Sure it would.. So what do you plan on doing after college?"
  166.  
  167. >"My uncle can put a good word in for me at the company he works at, they make those expensive drones with the cameras and gyroscopes on them, among other things. Honestly, I just want to have a well paying job that won't make me suicidal after half a decade."
  168.  
  169. >"That sounds like a good job."
  170.  
  171. >"I hope it is, my uncle says it meets my criteria but I want to look for other options as well."
  172.  
  173. >"Hey, do you live on campus? Or somewhere else?
  174.  
  175. >"I'm renting this apartment to live in. I did the dorm thing for my first two years but after that I just wanted a place to myself."
  176.  
  177. >"Why? Don't you like the lively college life?"
  178.  
  179. >"At first, but trying to finish a project while somebody bangs their girlfriend in the next dorm over got old pretty fast."
  180.  
  181. >"Wait, did that happen often for you?! Sorry, I've just never actually been to a campus before."
  182.  
  183. >"Only first year, some guy named Brad lived in the dorm next to me. Any free time he had was allocated to parties, or being with his girlfriend. Never got her name, wasn't important anyways but despite my description he was a fairly decent guy. Probably because he wasn't the obnoxious meathead you'd think he was if you looked at him, actually kept his grades up."
  184.  
  185. >"Huh."
  186.  
  187. >"Guess it sounds weird for you, since you do online college, but there are bonuses to going to a physical school."
  188.  
  189. >"My parents would only let me go to specific colleges. all of them were either out of state or out of the country and I didn't like any of them enough to go away from home."
  190.  
  191. >"Wait, why couldn't you just go to a local college?"
  192.  
  193. >"My parents have always been strict on where I could go, of course they can't own me now, but I didn't want to anger them by going against their wishes for me."
  194.  
  195. >"Those are some weird wishes to put on a child."
  196.  
  197. >"It's really hard to explain how life works in my family Anon, I don't think you'd really be able to fully understand how we operate."
  198.  
  199. >"Oh come on, you guys couldn't be that strange, what are you in, a cult or something?"
  200.  
  201. >"No Anon! I'm serious, it would be really hard and annoying to explain everything to you, even if I wanted to."
  202.  
  203. >"Alright, alright, but do you still want to meet up and do something?"
  204.  
  205. >"Oh! I, erm, of course I do! When are you free?"
  206.  
  207. >"Next Saturday, I don't have much to work on other than a personal project I'm doing."
  208.  
  209. >"Great! Where do you want to meet up?"
  210.  
  211. >"I don't know, anything nearby that you like to go to?"
  212.  
  213. >"There's this laser tag place near my apartment. My friends like to go there from time to time."
  214.  
  215. >"Oooooo laser tag? I haven't done that in ages! Sure! When do you want to meet up?"
  216.  
  217. >"How about 3 O` clo-"
  218.  
  219. >"Oh, I can't be out past 10:00p.m. by the way."
  220.  
  221. >"Why?"
  222.  
  223. >"Parent rules, they wouldn't feel safe if I were out late at night."
  224.  
  225. >"You could just get a concealed carry permit or buy some mace."
  226.  
  227. >"No, it's not like that. I told you Anon, their rules are weird."
  228.  
  229. >"Alright, I get it, your parents monopolize over your life, fine. Is 3:00p.m. next Saturday a good time though?"
  230.  
  231. >"Yeah, that can work."
  232.  
  233. >"Cool. So do you wanna play something now?"
  234.  
  235. >"Sure, you up for a match in Age of Empires 2™?"
  236.  
  237. >"Hell yeah."
  238.  
  239. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  240.  
  241. >The week goes by without anything special happening, same old boring lectures and classes mixed in with staying up late into the night, only to be revived by caffeinated beverages in the morning. Turns out Astrid really likes to play games at ungodly hours. The first few weeks you just thought she got off after you did, or she just left her computer running at night. In reality she games every night until the sun comes up. Or browses the web for long periods of time, you don't actually know what she does after you go to sleep, for all you know she could be watching cat videos for 8 hours straight, who are you to care? The day
  242.  finally rolls up where you'll finally get to meet her. The main thing on your mind now is what she actually looks like. She never actually told you who to look out for, but your best guess is that she's gonna be tall, blonde, and pale, even more so if her computer reclusiveness spreads into the day, maybe you should ask her... Whatever, probably won't be too hard to find her. Even though you haven't even known each other for even a month, there's just something about her that makes you want to get to know her better. Probably her background, or the fact that she lives close to you, whatever it is, it's pulling you in for a day full of events tomorrow.
  243.  
  244. >You manage to fall asleep with your looming excitement, something you haven't felt in quite a while.
  245.  
  246. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  247.  
  248. >*BEEP*
  249.  
  250. >*BEEP*
  251.  
  252. >"Damn alarm!"
  253.  
  254. >*CLICK*
  255.  
  256. >"Ugh, how long was I out?"
  257.  
  258. >You peer over to your alarm clock, reading the time out to be 11:00a.m.
  259.  
  260. >Well, better than you expected, that gives you enough time to eat, get ready, and work on your Halloween costume a bit. Wanting to maximize your costume building time, you get into your tiny as fuck kitchen and cook up a breakfast (brunch?) of
  261.  toast, eggs, and the remaining breakfast sausages that you had in the fridge, coincidentally best meal you've had all week. Next, a nice hot shower, clean t-shirt and jeans... yep! you're ready for the day! Well, ready
  262.  to continue making this helmet which just doesn't want to ease up on you. Luckily, you have the forgiveness of working with EVA foam before. Doesn't make creating all the side details on Doomguy's helmet a chore. You manage to make some pretty good progress however, until you realize it's 2:50p.m.
  263.  
  264. >"Shit"
  265.  
  266. >Not caring enough to put stuff away, you grab your wallet and phone before quickly heading out. You check your messages in the elevator to see if she's said anything.
  267.  
  268. >Message sent at 2:27p.m.: "Leaving the house now, should get there at the right time. You ready to destroy some nerds?"
  269.  
  270. >Ok good. You give her a quick response, hopefully there's enough time to get there. The laser tag place isn't far from your apartment, hell, you're walking to it, no need to waste fuel on something a few blocks away. You'll just have to move at a faster
  271.  pace if you want to make it on time. One light jog later and you make it to the arena, and only five minutes late at that! Walking inside, you check your phone again to see if she's looking for you yet.
  272.  
  273. >Message sent at 3:05p.m.: "I'm inside, where are you?"
  274.  
  275. >Sorry, I got a little caught up in a Halloween project, are you in the lobby?"
  276.  
  277. >"Yeah, um, should've asked this before, What do you look like?"
  278.  
  279. >"I'm wearing a black t-shirt and jeans."
  280.  
  281. >"There's like eight people in here that match that description."
  282.  
  283. >Scanning the busy lobby, you manage to see someone that pops up over the rest of the crowd, someone that fits your mental image of Astrid quite well. She's really tall for one, kind of hard to not see her, she has shining golden hair, a rough but beautiful complexion, more importantly however, she's nervously switching from looking
  284.  over the crowd to peering down at her phone. Yeah that's probably her. This place is almost always populated but today is some of the worst traffic you've seen in awhile, bad enough that you actually have to slink in between the
  285.  moving sea of people to get to her. Now standing beside her, you moderately tap her shoulder, causing her to jolt back into the wall she was leaning on and putting all of her attention onto you. The height distance between you and her is actually much larger than you mentally thought. Not that you're short, hell, you're six feet tall. But she has at LEAST a good two inches on you, it's almost intimidating in a way.
  286.  
  287. >"Hey, are you Astrid?"
  288.  
  289. >She looks down at you and, realizing who you are, grins.
  290.  
  291. >"Oh hey, it's you Anon! Weird finally meeting you in person! Guess I had a vague idea of what I though you looked like but.."
  292.  
  293. >"What? Thought I was gonna be taller?"
  294.  
  295. >"No, hell I'd be a bit intimidated if you were taller than me! So what were you doing that made you late?"
  296.  
  297. >"Told you, working on a Halloween project, guess I lost track of time."
  298.  
  299. >"What kind of Halloween project?
  300.  
  301. >"It's this annual thing my friends like, I can send you pictures or something after we get our gear and tickets."
  302.  
  303. >"Oh, right! We should probably get in line for our stuff or else it'll take forever to get into a game."
  304.  
  305. >"Yeah."
  306.  
  307. >The two of you get in line to buy your gear and passes along with others.
  308.  
  309. >"So what team do you want to be on?"
  310.  
  311. >"Hm, maybe green?"
  312.  
  313. >"I wouldn't risk it, a friend of mine does shifts here during the work week and said that quite a few of the green guns don't like to work, some kid had his birthday party here awhile ago and after they won a match, him and his friends
  314.  celebrated by taking off their vests and connected tasers to throw them up in the air. Not that the things are cheap but they're not as hardy as some might believe, especially when they land on tile. Of course this place doesn't
  315.  want to sink money into stuff that still technically works so the only good thing you could get from getting one of the bad packs is that enemy hits might not register."
  316.  
  317. >"What about blue then? Blue seems like a good color to pick."
  318.  
  319. >"Sure, sounds good to me."
  320.  
  321. >The two of you get to the register and buy all the things you need, each of you paying for your own stuff. You might be stringent on budgeting, since you're not made out of the stuff, but the last thing you want to do today is mooch off of a girl you've never met outside of the internet. The two of you get hauled into a confined room with a bunch of other players while an employee gives a rundown on the rules and objectives.
  322.  
  323. >The laser tag arena is huge, which is why it's so populated. The three teams, red, blue, and green each start out on their own part of the circular arena. There's walls, barrels, towers, murder holes, and a bunch of
  324.  other stuff that builds up the terrain inside. Other than hunting down other players, the main goal for each team is to destroy a non regenerating static base light in each team's territory, once that is shot out, the team is gone.
  325.  The base takes sustained fire to take out however, and all players from said team will be alerted to it. All three groups are partially divided by walls that go halfway towards the center of the arena before cutting off, giving some
  326.  level of protection for defenders. 24 people fight each other in the arena, with each team having an even number of players. As for rules, it's just the basics. No sprinting, swearing, physical attacks, climbing, jumping, etc. You, Astrid, and six other players make up blue team and there's a minute of downtime before anyone can rush out into the arena though. Immediately, Astrid is confident in taking up the role of team leader which somewhat surprises you.
  327.  
  328. >"Ok guys, we need at least four defenders, who's gonna stay?"
  329.  
  330. >A couple of teenagers awkwardly group up and raise their hands, guess that's good enough of a response.
  331.  
  332. >"Alright, good, now the remaining four of us will split into two groups and attack the opposing enemy's bases. Is that good with you guys?"
  333.  
  334. >The other two people, some college freshman and a girl who's probably his girlfriend both nod in compliance.
  335.  
  336. >"Good, you ready Anon?"
  337.  
  338. >"Ready as I'll ever be."
  339.  
  340. >"Good enough."
  341.  
  342. >A ten second countdown starts ticking, everyone prepares themselves to get into position..
  343.  
  344. >Five
  345.  
  346. >Four
  347.  
  348. >Three
  349.  
  350. >Two
  351.  
  352. >One
  353.  
  354. >START
  355.  
  356. >Generic electronic/EDM music is blasted throughout the circle as you and Astrid race towards the right side of the connecting wall.
  357.  
  358. >"Let me get in front of you!"
  359.  
  360. >"Why?"
  361.  
  362. >"Just hurry!"
  363.  
  364. >You let her slip in front of you and she crouches down, allowing you to fire over her head.
  365.  
  366. >"Watch the corner!"
  367.  
  368. >Like clockwork, five kids from green team speed through a clearing in the center of the map, you and Astrid take shots at them, deactivating one which forces him back to his spawn.
  369.  
  370. >"I totally hit at least two of them!"
  371.  
  372. >"Remember what I told you about the green team gear?"
  373.  
  374. >"Oh, yeah."
  375.  
  376. >"How do you wanna take on the defenders?"
  377.  
  378. >"You go down the right lane towards their base core while I go through the center?"
  379.  
  380. >"Sure"
  381.  
  382. >You run down the right side only to be halted midway by two defenders shooting down from a tower. As you start to fire back, Astrid begins her assault from the center path as they redirect their fire. The guy who you saw Astrid miss had
  383.  come back to help them by now, It takes a few hits but he's taken out just like his buddy before him. A quick glance to your left gives you the sight of Astrid dodging fire while changing her movement direction. In the blink of an eye, she manages to run down the left path, avoiding all of the enemy fire put onto her movement . Since the others are slightly distracted, it gives you the ability to open fire over your cover and knock out the two on top. You and Astrid move up to where their static base is held, Astrid seeming to almost glide across the floor with her pace. Before you could try and communicate some sort of tactic to her, she runs in as you hear someone inside being shot. A few seconds later some kid you don't know walks out, deactivated. You walk inside to
  384.  see Astrid already shooting at the green team's base.
  385.  
  386. >"Cover me, the first guy we took out should be respawning anytime now and the others who went to attack should be here soon."
  387.  
  388. >You follow her commands and peak out into the wall path bordering against red team, yep, three coming towards you. You fire at them, downing one while Astrid gets more nervous in her stance.
  389.  
  390. >"Switch with me! I'll watch the entrances!"
  391.  
  392. >You start firing on the base as she quickly peaks out of the left entrance and starts to fire.
  393.  
  394. >"one down!"
  395.  
  396. >She switches over to the right door and starts to fire blindly. Seemingly ineffective, she takes the chance to just focus on destroying the base. You're almost shot by the first guy who had finally respawned when their base starts to flash and deactivate.
  397.  
  398. {ATTENTION PLAYERS, GREEN TEAM HAS BEEN ELIMINATED]
  399.  
  400. >The team lets out loud groans as they walk back to their spawns.
  401.  
  402. >"We did it Anon!"
  403.  
  404. >"Yeah, that was probably a record based on how fast we did it! Probably got lucky with that first guy, most respawns shouldn't take that long. And red team doesn't have faulty weapons, so we need to be more careful."
  405.  
  406. >"Alright, celebrate later, attack red team now."
  407.  
  408. >"Yeah."
  409.  
  410. >Both of you sprint on the bordering wall, Astrid much faster than you. By the time you're at the cut off you need some time to catch your breath, Astrid however is, totally fine. Must do some insane cardio for her stamina.
  411.  
  412. >"Same as last time?"
  413.  
  414. >"Why not?"
  415.  
  416. >You go down their right wall path while she takes the center, there's one guard on the tower which she quickly takes out, another peaks out of a murder hole and nearly tags her, but she has some inhuman ability to move around like some sort of drugged up Cheetah. You come in towards the center and manage to land a hit on the guy's chest piece.
  417.  
  418. >"That can't be all of them, where are the othe.."
  419.  
  420. >Your wrist pads start to blare out alarms that your base is being attacked.
  421.  
  422. >"Shit! Should we go back and help defend?"
  423.  
  424. >"No, they can probably distract them long enough so that we can both start firing on the base."
  425.  
  426. >Just as she says that your wrist pads stop blaring.
  427.  
  428. >"See? We have limited time though, let's do this!"
  429.  
  430. >Both of you sprint into their base room and start firing on their base, your wrist pads start up again however, telling you that the other's are either dead or out of base, neither are good for you.
  431.  
  432. >"I'm going to check the sides quickly!"
  433.  
  434. >She sweeps across the room and looks through both entrances.
  435.  
  436. >"Nothing yet, let's keep it up."
  437.  
  438. >Tension rises as the two of you keep firing, unfortunately for you, one of the defenders had respawned and gets a shot on you from the doorway. Just before he shoots Astrid however, the game ends.
  439.  
  440. >"Did we win?"
  441.  
  442. [ATTENTION PLAYERS, RED TEAM HAS WON]
  443.  
  444. >"WHAT?!"
  445.  
  446. >"Huh, guess they got the last hit."
  447.  
  448. >"But we totally beat them! There's no way-"
  449.  
  450. >"Astrid, they probably had all of their guys shooting at the base, it doesn't matter if we shot longer."
  451.  
  452. >"That's bullshit."
  453.  
  454. >"Hey! You're the one who didn't want to go back and help them!"
  455.  
  456. >"Yeah but-"
  457.  
  458. >"We lost Astrid, let's go return our stuff and check the leader board."
  459.  
  460. >"Hmph"
  461.  
  462. >All the players are inside the lobby again. Having returned your stuff, you and Astrid move into the small crowd in front of the monitor. It obviously shows who won the match, but then it switches to the players with the most kills. Obviously red
  463.  team is up there more than your team, despite that however you came in at second place, only bested by Astrid with 7 kills.
  464.  
  465. >"See? We won at something Astrid."
  466.  
  467. >"Yeah, guess we did."
  468.  
  469. >"So, what do you wanna do now?"
  470.  
  471. >"Maybe get something to eat?"
  472.  
  473. >"Sure, I can make something at my apartment if you want."
  474.  
  475. >"No, I wouldn't want to put the burden of feeding me on you Anon. Today's been great so far, let's just go to a restaurant or something!"
  476.  
  477. >"Any specific place?"
  478.  
  479. >"I don't know, what about this burger place? It's just a few miles away."
  480.  
  481. >You pull out your phone to show her, and she quickly types the address into her own phone before shoving it back into her pocket.
  482.  
  483. >"Alright, let's do that then!"
  484.  
  485. >You follow along to her car which is a, oh damn. She has a blue pearl Dodge Challenger™ SXT, wonder if it's.. Yeah! It's a 2015 model! Man, you wanted a Challenger so bad when you were in high school, well, until your dad gave his reliable not so old truck
  486.  to you, honestly it's a lot more useful than a sports car, even if you'd prefer the Challenger.
  487.  
  488. >"Eyeing up my girl?"
  489.  
  490. >You quickly turn around to a very smug Astrid.
  491.  
  492. >"Yeah, I always wanted a Challenger™ when I was still in high school, lost the will after my dad gave me his truck but.."
  493.  
  494. >"You've always wanted to ride in one?"
  495.  
  496. >"Yeah, sorta."
  497.  
  498. >"Well then get in!"
  499.  
  500. >She unlocks the door and you step into the front passenger seat. Comfort and high class interior greet you as your eyes take up the car. Astrid gets in the driver seat and turns on the car, letting it roar to life.
  501.  
  502. >"Buckle up!"
  503.  
  504. >You comply while she sets up her phone's Bluetooth for music.
  505.  
  506. >"You ever listen to Powerwolf?"
  507.  
  508. >"I think I've heard a few of their songs."
  509.  
  510. >"Well, I'm putting my playlist on if you don't mind."
  511.  
  512. >Before you can even say anything she swerves out of the parking lot and speeds off towards your fast food destination. She's even more lively than usual with the power metal blasting through the car's speakers, guess you feel a bit more energized too to be
  513.  honest, but that's probably from the fact that she literally swerved out of a parking space which nearly gave you a heart attack. Despite any negatives, which are hard to find for you, your time with her has been great and you hope that it'll last a bit longer after you eat. Before you
  514.  know it, you're at the restaurant. The two of you enter the fairly populated eating establishment and head up to the counter. Some people stare at Astrid for a little bit, probably the height difference between you two. Doesn't matter
  515.  to you as the cashier asks what you want. You just go with a bacon cheeseburger (bless your arteries) and a side of fries with a medium cup that you will fill with brand name Dr.Pepper™. Astrid on the other hand gets
  516.  THREE bacon cheeseburgers WITH fries, and a medium soda cup. The cashier is fine with the order until they ask if it's for here or to go.
  517.  
  518. >"For here" Astrid tells the cashier.
  519.  
  520. >Yep they're a little bit more unnerved now, you're starting to feel likewise.
  521.  
  522. >"Uh, are you going to eat ALL of those burgers here?"
  523.  
  524. >"Yeah, why?"
  525.  
  526. >"How?!"
  527.  
  528. >"I got lightning fast metabolism dude."
  529.  
  530. >You're still miffed at her order, disbelief is the only emotion you can feel as you sit down with your order and she digs into one of the three burgers. She manages to eat the first one in ten seconds. ten. fucking. seconds. You can't even eat with this going on, you're sort of just contempt with watching her eat in awe. With partially chewed burger still in her mouth she manages to pick up on the attention she's getting from you and nearby onlookers, and then she proceeds to swallow what was left down her throat.
  531.  
  532. >"What?"
  533.  
  534. >"You ate that burger in ten seconds!"
  535.  
  536. >"What? Were you actually timing me? What's wrong with me eating some tasty burgers?"
  537.  
  538. >"Nothing, but how the hell were you able to swallow down the whole thing in ten godamn seconds?"
  539.  
  540. >"I eat fast."
  541.  
  542. >"Uh huh, yeah, alright. Well I'm not rushing you."
  543.  
  544. >The two of you watch each other eat, eyes dead set on each other. You manage to pick up your burger and start eating, she had no plan of stopping however, and managed to eat all of her food in just over a minute. Half the restaurant, including staff, just watched
  545.  with the same disbelief you have as she manages to eat three bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and on top of that guzzle down her medium soda. On the bright side, little attention is given to you, as the others see you as much of a bystander as they are in this marvel of a sight. The staring eyes are not lost on her however, and she seems to get a little unnerved at how much attention she's brought upon herself. Enough so that she leans overs and whispers to you.
  546.  
  547. >"Is it that crazy of a thing for me to do?"
  548.  
  549. >"Uh, yeah, sort of, most people can only stomach one burger, let alone eat three along with a side of fries in just over a minute."
  550.  
  551. >"Well all the staring is making me feel a lot more conscious than I'd like to feel."
  552.  
  553. >"And?"
  554.  
  555. >"Can you speed up a bit? I want to continue the rest of the day as fast as possible."
  556.  
  557. >"Yeah, fine."
  558.  
  559. >You pick up your eating pace as people continue to glance at her from time to time. Some seem afraid, others repulsed, all the emotions they show to her are definitely breaking down her resolve though, which is the last thing you would want to happen to your friend right now. Once you're done you both get up and walk back to the car. Other than the nervous self awareness she has, Astrid doesn't emote much until you're both in her car. She seems quite ashamed now, guess this isn't something she's used to.
  560.  
  561. >"Ugh, we should've just gotten the food to go Anon, I'm really sorry."
  562.  
  563. >"Sorry to me? Yeah it's pretty weird watching someone down food like that, and you're not the person that I would think was capable of doing what you did, but you shouldn't apologize to me. It's not like I'm a regular at there either, hell, we'll probably never see any of those people ever again. Also I didn't see anyone whip out their phone, so don't expect yourself to become a viral video or anything."
  564.  
  565. >"Yeah, guess you're right, thanks Anon. So I'm guessing you probably want to go back to your apartment, right?"
  566.  
  567. >"If you're coming with."
  568.  
  569. >"Really?"
  570.  
  571. >"Yeah! I took the whole day off to hang out with you, why waste the rest of it?"
  572.  
  573. >"Oh, yeah, heh, guess I didn't expect you to take the WHOLE day out for me. So what's your address?"
  574.  
  575. >You both head back to the place you've called home for little more than a year. Your complex was built specifically for college students who don't have an infinite amount of their parent's money, so they're not the nicest per say, but your apartment is more than roomy enough for you to live in comfortably. The apartments on your level were actually built to house two roommates, a major plus for you since it gives you another room that you use for your desktop. Of course the bedrooms aren't big, hell they're slightly smaller than the average parking space but who are you to complain?
  576.  
  577. >"So this is your apartment building?"
  578.  
  579. >"Yep"
  580.  
  581. >"What level are you on?"
  582.  
  583. >"4th story"
  584.  
  585. >"Got a decent view from your windows?"
  586.  
  587. >"If you consider a giant brick building decent then yes."
  588.  
  589. >"Oh.."
  590.  
  591. >Taking the elevator up, you remember the mess you weren't able to clean up before you left, shit.
  592.  
  593. >"Uh just saying, I wasn't able to put my project away before I left so the living room might be a little cluttered, I still have the table down in there."
  594.  
  595. >"That's fine, I actually sort of want to see what you're making."
  596.  
  597. >Yep address 404 of the Anon estate, luxury college living! Or at least that's what your roommate said when he moved out of his dorm. Fumbling around with your keys you manage to unlock the finicky doorknob to your apartment with relative ease. Before you can say anything she barges into your apartment without hesitation.
  598.  
  599. >"Whoa."
  600.  
  601. >"What? Never seen an apartment before?"
  602.  
  603. >"Nope"
  604.  
  605. >"Well now you have I guess, Congratulations."
  606.  
  607. >"Hey! What's that?"
  608.  
  609. >She walks over to your jumbled table project, you've made a good portion of the helmet and the chest plate is well, an outline on some foam squares. She walks around the table looking at the half finished helmet from every angle she can with insatiable interest.
  610.  Everything has been planned out for you, reference pictures, material lists, all pinned to a retractable cork board you have up, it's something you're embarrassingly proud of more than you want to be.
  611.  
  612. >"Oh shit man, you're making a Doomguy costume for Halloween?"
  613.  
  614. >"Er, yeah. I know it's pretty nerdy but-"
  615.  
  616. >"Nerdy? Dude, this looks awesome so far! Your dedication is seriously impressive, really."
  617.  
  618. >"Thanks"
  619.  
  620. >"So what are you gonna wear it to? Some upcoming convention or-"
  621.  
  622. >"I always just look for a nearby Halloween party and go to that, usually my friends invite me to one, they like my work and that's what kept me going on with the hobby, plus it's pretty satisfying work when everything is said and done. And if a convention comes around then I have my cosplay."
  623.  
  624. >"Yeah, I have an online friend who does stuff like this for a living, but it's a, for a specific group of people."
  625.  
  626. >"What do you mean?"
  627.  
  628. >"He makes fursuit commissions for furries."
  629.  
  630. >"Oh uh, well I'm definitely not in the sort of costume making for that."
  631.  
  632. >"That's perfectly fine! What? You think I was gonna ask you to make some animal costume for me?"
  633.  
  634. >"Almost, sorta."
  635.  
  636. >"I wouldn't pay for something like that, not really my thing, anyways! Want to do something?"
  637.  
  638. >"Sure, what do you feel like doing?"
  639.  
  640. >"Wanna watch a movie or two? I know we play games a lot but, I don't know, I just don't feel like playing right now."
  641.  
  642. >"Definitely, wanna go with something holiday oriented?"
  643.  
  644. >"You mean like, horror movies and stuff?"
  645.  
  646. >"Yeah, maybe some classics?"
  647.  
  648. >"Totally I just need to know what time it is..."
  649.  
  650. >The clock reads 4:30p.m. as she looks back to you.
  651.  
  652. >"Yeah, I can stay out until 8 or so, my parents sort of a rule in my household not to stay out late."
  653.  
  654. >"Oh, alright, guess we should start then."
  655.  
  656. >The two of you slump down on your well used but still quite comfy couch. Time to start up some good shit.
  657.  
  658. >"You want any snacks?"
  659.  
  660. >"No, I'm still a little full from late lunch."
  661.  
  662. >A little? Jesus her metabolism must be some sort of genetically modified monster if she's only "a little bit" full from that. You don't have the heart to say that to her though, if that's how she works then what the hell are you going to do about it? One bag of
  663.  microwave popcorn in a bowl and two small soda bottles later and you're back to the couch.
  664.  
  665. >"Nice, can't have the full experience without the essentials, huh?"
  666.  
  667. >You nod and turn on The Creature From The Black Lagoon, a personal favorite of your dad who showed you it more times than you could count, luckily she seems to of not seen it before. Stuff like this is really something everyone should experience at least once in
  668.  their life. As you go through the movie and onto Frankenstein, you notice a few things about her. One, she gets spooked by cheesy effects which is pretty cute, especially when she covered her face with the popcorn bowl during an attack scene. And two, there's
  669.  a clear reluctance to eat all of the popcorn for her. Not that she hasn't eaten most of it, but there's always confliction whenever she grabs another handful of the buttery snack, guess she's not "a little bit full" anymore. You've honestly grown to appreciate her in the past few hours more than you'd ever think was possible in such a short time. You haven't known her for a long time yet she feels like someone you've known middle school. As if there was some sort of secret history between you two that neither of you had never known until now. As Frankenstein ends you go back to select a new movie to watch.
  670.  
  671. >"What do you wanna watch next? Maybe Dracula? Or Night of the Living Dead?"
  672.  
  673. >"I don't know, you choose."
  674.  
  675. >Going off on a limb, you mischievously pick The Wolf Man just to screw with her.
  676.  
  677. >"Really Anon? The Wolf Man?"
  678.  
  679. >"What? It's a good movie!
  680.  
  681. >"Fine, if you say so."
  682.  
  683. >"I don't see a problem with the movie, it's about werewolves! You got something against werewolf movies?"
  684.  
  685. >"Sort of."
  686.  
  687. >"Why?"
  688.  
  689. >"I just don't like the portrayal of them."
  690.  
  691. >"Well it's not like they actually exist or something."
  692.  
  693. >Yeah.. definitely."
  694.  
  695. >"So, do you wanna watch this movie or a different one?"
  696.  
  697. >"Eh, let's just watch this one, I can at least make fun of the makeup and effects."
  698.  
  699. >"Hey! These effects were top notch for the time!"
  700.  
  701. >"They aren't now though."
  702.  
  703. >"Alright, let's quit the rambling and start it."
  704.  
  705. >"Ok"
  706.  
  707. >Through the movie, one thing you noticed is that she's much more critical of it than she was with any of the previous movies, which is just odd to you. Who knows? Maybe she's some hardcore furry who has a werewolf OC or something and this is really peeving her out, you're getting a mental kick out of that thought honestly. Another thing you should think about before any thought of a romantic relationship with any girl you meet. Stuff like that could be connected to fetishes, and you're pretty sure she's a furry at this point... Not like there's anything wrong with that, but it does make for some interesting reactions from her.
  708.  
  709. >"That makeup looks nothing like a wolf!"
  710.  
  711. >"Why does becoming a werewolf always have to be a curse or something?"
  712.  
  713. >"God the acting is so bad.."
  714.  
  715. >These remarks go on until you're almost done with the movie, at this point she seems quite bored with it, which in turn makes you feel kinda bad for pressing on with the choice. She looks at the clock and her boredom is replaced by pure panic.
  716.  
  717. >"Oh shit! Uh, it's getting really late Anon, like, I shouldn't even be outside of my house kind of late! Today was really fun though! We should do something like it again soon! Um, here's my number, Discord has been getting sorta awkward to use for talking to me."
  718.  
  719. >She hastily pulls out a food wrapper and lunges for a sharpie on your work table, hastily writing down her number.
  720.  
  721. >"Thanks again Anon, see you later! Goodnight!"
  722.  
  723. >"Uh, yeah! goodnight!" is all that you manage to yell out to your front door as it slams shut.
  724.  
  725. >Ok, that was, weird, maybe her parents really do have some sort of authoritarian rule over her life if her night activities are this strict. On the plus side you can tell your friends that you got a girl's number. Bad news is you're completely vacant on ideas for the
  726.  rest of the night other than to make a small dinner and go to bed. The movie was honestly not something you cared enough about to finish it, you've seen it before. Turning it off, you decide on making something simple to eat, grilled cheese works out. After that you still
  727.  have enough energy left to shower, brush your teeth, and lay down in your bed instead of just collapsing into it, giving you some time to contemplate today. Astrid is certainly weird but she's not the weirdest person you've met, and she has similar interests to you so things
  728.  cancel out. Other than a few minor things, your time with her has definitely been the highlight of your week, and you're hoping to do something similar soon. But that's for you to think about tomorrow as you relax into a goodnight's rest.
  729.  
  730. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  731.  
  732. [CHAPTER 2: HAIRY SITUATION]
  733.  
  734. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  735.  
  736. [OCTOBER 31st]
  737.  
  738. >It's been a few weeks since your first day out with Astrid, and since then she's tried to do something with you every week. Turns out her parents are perfectly fine with everything, as long as she starts to go home by 8:00p.m.,
  739.  still oddly specific to you though. She said that it's a must for her to be home by 9:00p.m. for "reasons", whatever those may be. You have learned a few more things about her too. Other than power metal and a few other rock genres, she likes traditional and classical music too. Weird contrast, but she likes it mainly for study and relaxation, which you can understand. She also has a very strong interest in your costume designing, something about it reminding her of how she makes models in her 3D modeling programs, whenever she's over at your apartment the first thing she does is check on your progress. Lastly, she gets really nervous whenever
  740.  you ask if you could go over to her house and hangout. Not the, "my parents wouldn't like it" sort of excuse, she seems to get seriously nervous whenever you even bring up the subject, which usually defuses the conversation before it starts. Something about it being a really tight gated community is the most you've gotten out of her. But what kind of gated community doesn't allow anybody but the people who live there in? It sort of, well, scares you in all honesty. Maybe her parents are abusive? No, she probably just doesn't trust people knowing where she lives, yeah that's probably it. She doesn't use her state or city on her Steam page, not much of a credibility boost to your theory but it counts as some sort of evidence, right? You don't mind the weirdness going on in her personal life, she's still a great friend to have. You were able to warm up to her over your frequent hang outs together, learning bits of her personality and minor interests throughout the month. She's made you warm up inside in a way that you haven't felt since high school, not something you'd tell her yet. You don't even think she likes you in that sort of way, but still...
  741.  
  742. >Your phone's ringtone goes off on the nightstand, it's Astrid.
  743.  
  744. >"Hey Astrid, what's up?"
  745.  
  746. >"Nothing right now, but I wanted to ask about your plans for tonight, got a party yet?"
  747.  
  748. >"No, my friends don't have any place they're going to, too busy studying for their classes tonight, why?"
  749.  
  750. >"There's this big party going on West of where I live, I know it's far for you but I can drive! I got my own costume ready too, you wanna go?"
  751.  
  752. >"Are you sure about that? Don't you have to be home by a specific time?"
  753.  
  754. >"Er, yeah, but it's only five minutes from my house, not that big of a deal, right?"
  755.  
  756. >"If you say so."
  757.  
  758. >"Good! When do you want me to pick you up?"
  759.  
  760. >"What time is it?"
  761.  
  762. >"About.. 3:00p.m., the party starts at five."
  763.  
  764. >"Come and pick me up in an hour, no need to rush either."
  765.  
  766. >"Alright, thanks Anon, you're the best!"
  767.  
  768. >"Wait, what do you mea-"
  769.  
  770. >Aaaand she hung up, great. Well whatever, better start preparing you guess. With no idea what the party is actually like, you decide to eat a small meal beforehand, might as well take a shower too, you worked out earlier to swell your muscles up a bit to get a better Doomguy
  771.  appearance. By the time everything's said and done it's 3:57p.m., damn, better hurry. Just as you manage to put
  772.  everything together someone knocks on your door. You open it up to the reveal of someone who's certainly taller than you, yeah it's Astrid. And she appears to be wearing some sort of Roman Legionare outfit that you would find at a retail store,
  773.  nothing wrong with that of course. Fit with a sheaved plastic blade, fake leather helmet, and manly legionnaire skirt. You be lying if you weren't staring a bit. One thing that you've noticed over the past month is how toned her muscles are despite eating a shit ton of food whenever you eat with her. She also doesn't lack in her chest either, thank God for the tinted plastic covering your face.
  774.  
  775. >"Hey Anon! Damn dude, you look great!"
  776.  
  777. >"Thanks Astrid, so do you."
  778.  
  779. >"Really? This costume is just something I picked up at the Halloween store. Whatever, we need to go now if we want to get our maximum enjoyment from tonight."
  780.  
  781. >"Oh yeah, let's go."
  782.  
  783. >You both take the elevator downstairs and walk towards the parking lot where Astrid parked her car, thankfully she doesn't try and be a speed demon in the confined driving space this time. You speed off and eventually you're out of city limits and onto the highway. There's a thick overcast of heavy clouds today, hope that doesn't cause any problems for you or your friend. Other than the gloomy sky, you can gladly appreciate the forest surrounding you, colors of red, orange, and brown clutter their canopies, the path scenic enough to keep you contempt for the rest of the ride. But there is one thing that's sort of bothered you about this party, you have no information on it whatsoever.
  784.  
  785. >"Astrid, what's this party even about, does it have a theme or something?"
  786.  
  787. >"Well yeah, it's a costume party silly! That's why I got the Roman gear on me."
  788.  
  789. >"I see... How did you find out about it?"
  790.  
  791. >"The party? Oh it's been an annual thing in the surrounding local communities for nearly a century, started in the early 20's by neighboring towns to sell crops, hold parties, stuff like that. And at the center is a big community building, looks really cool. Apparently some rich factory owner paid for it with his own money."
  792.  
  793. >"Huh, so you've been to it before?"
  794.  
  795. >"Oh, of course not! The Halloween event requires you to have a, well, partner with you."
  796.  
  797. >"So you invited me on a date?"
  798.  
  799. >Her cheeks flush red as she tries to salvage her reasoning.
  800.  
  801. >"No, no! Not like that! You need a partner because there's a big dance at the end and everyone has to participate."
  802.  
  803. >"Sounds oddly specific for a costume party."
  804.  
  805. >"Well, it evolved into a costume party in the eighties, before then it was a sort of like a ball in a way."
  806.  
  807. >"So, we're dancing?"
  808.  
  809. >"If it's not too late and you still wanna."
  810.  
  811. >"Sure, why not, I'll get the hang of the dance if EVERYONE is required to do it."
  812.  
  813. >"Hopefully, just don't think of this as a date thing Anon. Plenty of friends come here together just to enjoy the event with everyone
  814.  else."
  815.  
  816. >"I get it, the date is not a date, that's pretty clear to me now."
  817.  
  818. >"It's NOT a date Anon!"
  819.  
  820. >"Alright, alright, I'm just screwing with ya Astrid, jeez."
  821.  
  822. >"I mean, with us together they're gonna think we're dates, wouldn't hurt to play along a little."
  823.  
  824. >"So it IS a date."
  825.  
  826. >"Shut your trap marine!"
  827.  
  828. >"Hey, if you really want to go with this, I'm more than happy to go do it, platonically I mean."
  829.  
  830. >"That's, what I wanted to do, yeah. Thanks Anon, going to this place means a lot to me.."
  831.  
  832. >"My curiosity is peaked about it, might as well enjoy the situation, right?"
  833.  
  834. >"Ri-ght."
  835.  
  836. >You and Astrid pull up to a building surrounded by a patchwork of stalls and smaller house-like structures. The large building's shape is a lot like the main body of a cathedral. It's main structure is rectangular in shape, with around the same length as a football field and the width of six trucks back to back, the place is quite massive to say the
  837.  least. Most of the length is covered in arched roofing until reaching the center, which has a clear glass dome adorning it, must be the dance area. There's a lot more cars here than you thought there would be, and you can already hear sounds of partying from within the oddly Gothic building. There's some serious spooks emanating from the place.
  838.  
  839. >"Astrid, why does this place look like some sort of medieval cathedral?"
  840.  
  841. >"You know what? I have no idea. Guess the guy who payed for it really liked the design."
  842.  
  843. >"It looks like someone just got a cathedral building and plopped it in the middle of nowhere, did he not bother in developing the surroundings outside of the few other buildings near it?"
  844.  
  845. >"No, and he didn't have the budget to either. What was his name? Franz? Heinz? Fredrick? I don't know, something German."
  846.  
  847. >"So is this event famous in your town or something?"
  848.  
  849. >"Yeah! Everyone local around here needs to go to at least once in their life!"
  850.  
  851. >"Well in that case it looks like they're already starting. We should probably head in now."
  852.  
  853. >"Oh, um, yeah! Of course."
  854.  
  855. >Just as she says that a loud crack of thunder sweeps the surrounding scenery in bright light, getting a small jump from Astrid.
  856.  
  857. >"Damn Halloween weather..."
  858.  
  859. >"Hey, it's atmospheric to the place, isn't it?"
  860.  
  861. >"Guess it sorta is."
  862.  
  863. >The two of you head inside to a very open building plan, seems the only thing splitting the reception room or whatever it may be is a wall that doesn't come close to touching the actual ceiling. A man in formal attire is standing next to a thick double door made of a pretty ornate polished wood.
  864.  
  865. >The man scruffs his collar before laying attention onto you and Astrid.
  866.  
  867. >"Tickets please", he says in a gruff, coarse tone.
  868.  
  869. >You start to have a mini panic when he says that, there is no chance that you bought a ticket, Astrid didn't even say anything about ticke- Oh, she has two of them.
  870.  
  871. >He looks them over, pops each one with a hole maker, and hands them back to Astrid.
  872.  
  873. >"You lovely couple have a great time at the party." He tells you with an unnerving smile.
  874.  
  875. >You decide to take your helmet off when speaking with other people, it'll just be too hard for anyone to hear you under it. Thankfully the other side of the door isn't really crowded, everyone seems to either be grouped on the dance floor or at various event corners. Now the question on how tonight is going to play out rises again.
  876.  
  877. >"So are people going to think we're dating?"
  878.  
  879. >"Probably"
  880.  
  881. >"on a scale of one to ten, how believable does it need to be played up?"
  882.  
  883. >"I'd say about a six, maybe seven."
  884.  
  885. >"Why didn't you tell me anything about this beforehand?"
  886.  
  887. >"I, sorry Anon, seriously! But ever since I was in kindergarten, I've wanted to go to this event. Now that I have you here with well it uh, just works. Don't think much of it, we're just two friends here to have fun!"
  888.  
  889. >"I just wish that you would give me the details on stuff like this Astrid."
  890.  
  891. >"Everything past this, I will, promise. But can you please play along with it, for me?"
  892.  
  893. >"I already promised to you that I would."
  894.  
  895. >A tight floor lifting squeeze hug enwraps you, somewhat embarrassingly. You never though a woman could make you feel so short.
  896.  
  897. >"Thank you so much Anon! You're the best! So what do you wanna do? They have a karaoke corner into the back of the building, wanna laugh at people trying to sing?"
  898.  
  899. >"If that works, this place is too big for me to know what to do without a guide."
  900.  
  901. >"Well lucky you then, I know all about this place!"
  902.  
  903. >"But isn't it your first time inside?"
  904.  
  905. >"Yes, during October. They have regular stuff outside of the holiday, plus I've pieced together a rough overview of the place through my friend's experiences in High School."
  906.  
  907. >"You never managed to find someone else before me? Like a mutual friend our something?"
  908.  
  909. >"Guess that didn't sound right to me, all my friends who were willing to go were girls and I didn't want to come back to school with everyone thinking I'm a lesbian or something."
  910.  
  911. >"Makes sense, anything holiday themed you want to do?"
  912.  
  913. >"I'm still tempted to look at the karaoke space, but there's some classic horror movies playing to if that's what you wanna do."
  914.  
  915. >"Karaoke sounds fun, plus we binged a good few of those movies already."
  916.  
  917. >"Yeah guess we did. Alright, let's get a move on then!"
  918.  
  919. >Before you move a muscle she already has you dragged by the arm towards what you only guess would be your destination. People around you crowd into their own social groups, everyone's wearing costumes
  920.  of varying quality. Some of those stupid inflatable t-rexes, vampire, generic soldier 20534624, a pretty impressive samurai and knight duo, cheap demon costume, werewolf.. the list goes on from there but not only is there so much to see right now, you're also currently being pulled down
  921.  into a steep staircase, almost tripping down a the flight of steep steps in the process. You and Astrid enter a room full of small tables, Victorian-esc decor, and a big stage for the unlucky souls. Couples relax and converse with each other wherever you look, there's even a small bar for drinks and
  922.  snacks. Currently there's a duo singing some country song about Virginia or something that you've never heard before, they don't sound too bad to be honest. The two of you sit down and are handed menus from one of the fastest waiters you've ever seen, she's managing to hop from table to table in mere seconds, only taking a
  923.  little longer when writing down orders. Just as you thought, the menu holds a wide range of beverages, mainly alcoholic, along with small appetizer dishes.
  924.  
  925. >"So is this place meant for just any set of partners? I would think cops would have an issue with teenagers going to a place like this where they just openly sell alcohol."
  926.  
  927. >"Well, that's another thing, the younger people usually stay upstairs during the event and adults usually go down into these places when they want to. If she think's we look too young all you have to do is show your ID, nothing big."
  928.  
  929. >"Alright, so what do you want to drink?"
  930.  
  931. >"I don't know honestly, usually don't drink."
  932.  
  933. >"Never said anything about an alcoholic beverage."
  934.  
  935. >"I guess, but, you know what? I'll drink a martini, ease myself up a bit."
  936.  
  937. >"Tense?"
  938.  
  939. >"A little? I did sorta drag you here without telling you my whole reasoning, I feel pretty bad for that."
  940.  
  941. >"Hey, everything's fine, this place is pretty neat so far. Plus it's always fun do do stuff together."
  942.  
  943. >"Thanks for understanding Anon. A thing about the dance though. I'm serious about you having to do it, and it's almost always a slow dance, at least for the start. Are you fine with that?"
  944.  
  945. >Although you don't show it, the thought of slow dancing with Astrid has you feeling a little ecstatic.
  946.  
  947. >"I'm cool with that, it's not like we have to grind on each other's bodies to get an effect."
  948.  
  949. >Though hard to see in the dim lights, you can tell she's blushing ever so slightly.
  950.  
  951. >"Yea-h, never got why people always had to do that in high school, let alone a dance like this."
  952.  
  953. >"Guess I'll go with a shot of vodka to wake me up."
  954.  
  955. >"Anything else sir?"
  956.  
  957. >"Wait, who what?!"
  958.  
  959. >Unbeknownst to you or Astrid, the waiter's been eavesdropping you two for who know's how long.
  960.  
  961. >"How long were you here?!"
  962.  
  963. >"Ever since your better half said she would get a martini, and a shot of vodka for you?"
  964.  
  965. >"Er, uh, yeah."
  966.  
  967. >"Can you show me your ID? Sorry, I've done it to a lot of people today."
  968.  
  969. >You comply with her request
  970.  
  971. >"Thank you! Your order should come in soon!"
  972.  
  973. >And off she goes, Jesus she's like a roadrunner or something. Astrid starts to speak again only to cut herself off when a viking clad girl about the same height as you walking towards your table, quickly looking back reveals Astrid is certainly not happy to see her. She stands in front of your table with a look of mischief on her face, not overtly malicious but not carefree either. Beside that she clearly has Germanic/Nordic features, you have a bad feeling that there's bad blood between these two.
  974.  
  975. >(???)"Hello Astrid, looks like you found someone to with this year, congrats. A little strange you decided to go with a Roman getup though, don't wanna show your ancestry?"
  976.  
  977. >(AS)"Why? Most people aren't, why do you care Wilmor?"
  978.  
  979. >(W)"Never said it was that big of a deal Astrid. So where'd you meet your guy at?"
  980.  
  981. >It seems in her growing displeasure she was caught off guard by a question that between you and her, has an answer that is much more awkward than most other people's. You'll have to help her out on this.
  982.  
  983. >(AS)"Oh, we met at uh, an-"
  984.  
  985. >(A)"An online forum. We had similar interests and started playing off each other. Over time one thing led to the next and, well, here we are!"
  986.  
  987. >Though not full proof, she seems to buy the story, saving Astrid from embarrassing herself. Online forum sounds better than meeting each other in a video game, right?
  988.  
  989. >(W)"Oh! Strange way to meet someone, but then again you aren't the one for casuals are you? You got a cute one, never seen him before though, he's not a norm is he?"
  990.  
  991. >(A)"Norm?"
  992.  
  993. >(W)"Oh, he is. Quite risque of you to have a norm partner at a meetup like this, isn't it?"
  994.  
  995. >For the first time ever, you see Astrid drop any reluctance or nervousness she had beforehand, only to replace it with a low boiling anger shadowed by thinly veiled annoyance.
  996.  
  997. >(AS)"No Wilmor, everything's fine. Don't you have some stiff plank of a date to talk to?"
  998.  
  999. >(W)"Well you don't have to be that rude Astrid, and Stan is not what you want to call him."
  1000.  
  1001. >(A)"Excuse me but what's a norm? In the way you phrased it?"
  1002.  
  1003. >(W)"What the community me and Astrid come from call an outsider. Not in a derogatory way mind you, more of a, friendly nickname of sorts."
  1004.  
  1005. >(AS)"You done Wilmor?"
  1006.  
  1007. >(W)"Yeah, yeah Astrid, keep to yourself. Hope you and, what's your name?"
  1008.  
  1009. >(A)"Anon."
  1010.  
  1011. >(W)"Anon! Nice name. Yes, you and Anon have a goodnight, hope you two make it home before changing hour!"
  1012.  
  1013. >(A)"Wait, changing hour?"
  1014.  
  1015. >Before you can ask what the hell changing hour is she's gone. Astrid seems to be visibly relieved at that revelation.
  1016.  
  1017. >"What's changing hour?"
  1018.  
  1019. >"Oh um, it has to do with the celebration, hard to explain right now though."
  1020.  
  1021. >"Alright, so what's the beef between you and her?"
  1022.  
  1023. >"Ugh, total Bitch from middle school up until my senior graduation in high school."
  1024.  
  1025. >"Is she still one?"
  1026.  
  1027. >"Yes! It's her personality Anon, nobody sane or rational would want to be with someone like her."
  1028.  
  1029. >"Yet she has a date to get in."
  1030.  
  1031. >"I said sane and rational person wouldn't go for her. What she lacks in personality is made up in physical appearance."
  1032.  
  1033. >"Guess that's a way of putting it. I wouldn't want to be with someone unless I know they're not a hollow shell of personality."
  1034.  
  1035. >"Exactly! It's just, her presence alone, even if she tries to be polite is just, draining on me."
  1036.  
  1037. >"I can tell, say how many people from your community are here?"
  1038.  
  1039. >"A lot, we're one of the major populations that use this place."
  1040.  
  1041. >You're interrupted by the speedy waitress placing your drinks down before you.
  1042.  
  1043. >"Hope I wasn't too long for you two!"
  1044.  
  1045. >"No, not at all!"
  1046.  
  1047. >"Would you like your bill in cash or credit?"
  1048.  
  1049. >"Cash, here. And a tip too, you move much faster than you give yourself credit for."
  1050.  
  1051. >"Aw thanks!"
  1052.  
  1053. >Before you know it she's gone in the blink of an eye. God she's fast, sorta reminds you of how Astrid was in laser tag... anyways!
  1054.  
  1055. >"Cheers to a good Halloween so far?"
  1056.  
  1057. >"You bet, cheers!"
  1058.  
  1059. >With a clink of glass you two begin to down your drinks. Obviously your's is just a shot, it's meant to be consumed fast. But by the time you drop your cup Astrid's Martini including the olive are all gone.
  1060.  
  1061. >"Didn't want to savor it?"
  1062.  
  1063. >"No, why would I? We have more stuff to do than sit around in this sappy karaoke parlor! Come on!"
  1064.  
  1065. >Again with the arm pulling. As she drags you around the building it feels as if she has a mental checklist going down so that everything important is done. You go and take a peak at the films playing, then onto generic party games, then a miniature
  1066.  haunted house, the details are lost on you as time flies by, everything being too fast for you to comprehend which seems to be the theme for tonight. All this pulling around has made you resort to just clipping your helmet to a strap for easier breathing, plus I'd be awkward to dance while holding or wearing it. Before long everyone starts to get pulled in towards the dance floor.
  1067.  
  1068. >"We need to get into place Anon! The main dance is starting in two minutes!"
  1069.  
  1070. >"Two minutes?!"
  1071.  
  1072. >"Yeah! Come on let's go!"
  1073.  
  1074. >Old habits die hard, or at least you'd like them to as Astrid continues to forcibly pull you through the crowd once more to reach the main objective, the dance floor.
  1075.  
  1076. >"Jesus Astrid, can you stop pulling me everywhere? I can keep up with you perfectly fine by myself as long as you move at a more modest pace."
  1077.  
  1078. >"Sorry Anon, but I don't want to lose you in a crowd right now, and the music's starting!"
  1079.  
  1080. >When the two of you are fairly positioned between everyone else, the music starts up and everyone around starts to rhythmically move around as if everyone had instantly gained muscle memory of the dance.
  1081.  
  1082. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZIOkbrX_uU
  1083.  
  1084. >"This is considered slow dance?"
  1085.  
  1086. >"Guess so."
  1087.  
  1088. >She grasps your hands into hers, pulling you close.
  1089.  
  1090. >"Are you ready Anon?"
  1091.  
  1092. >"Yes" you manage to spit out while focusing on her perfect blue eyes. It feels like it's the first time you've really seen her. Despite the situation, or the costumes, or even your surroundings, right now truly feels like it's your first time together. It's, pretty awkward at first but the two of you manage to get into proper rhythm with everyone else surprisingly smoothly. The two of you sway around in sync with all the other couples so smooth that it would make a choreographer blush. Guess the warm feeling in your chest isn't just the vodka anymore. Time doesn't feel real, the surroundings are blurs to you, all that's real to you now is Astrid. The song goes on, switches, then continues as if nothing happened. Everything is so, surreal right now. And just when you thought nothing could ruin the moment, the music stops. People start to move out as quickly as they came in, everyone's in a hurry, except you and Astrid. She too realizes the change in the environment however, and starts to panic.
  1093.  
  1094. >"Anon, what time is it?!"
  1095.  
  1096. >"I don't know, let me check."
  1097.  
  1098. >8:30p.m.
  1099.  
  1100. >"FUCK!"
  1101.  
  1102. >Now she's really dragging you out, the only plus is that it's not through a dense crowd this time.
  1103.  
  1104. >"We need to get you back home, now! Shit, you live like 45 minutes away though, are you fine with a cab? Here, I'll give you money fo-"
  1105.  
  1106. >"Astrid, why are you always so worried about getting back by 9:00 p.m.?!"
  1107.  
  1108. >"I have to get back home before 9:00p.m., always!"
  1109.  
  1110. >To think a night could change so fast. This is getting ridiculous, you've had to put the question back so many times that there's no
  1111.  reason to give her a pass again.
  1112.  
  1113. >"Why?! Don't bring up the parent excuse this time! There's something going on where you live and it's not normal!"
  1114.  
  1115. >"Anon, if I could tell you I would! If I took you back now then your life will never be normal again!"
  1116.  
  1117. >"What do you mean?! What the hell is so special about your community?! Is everyone in some weird cult, are you vampires?! What?!
  1118.  
  1119. >She's starting to get shaky, but still keeps confidence in her tone.
  1120.  
  1121. >"Please Anon, I can't argue and waste precious time, please if you would just-"
  1122.  
  1123. >"Astrid, I want to get to the bottom of this, everything I know about you is offset by the mystery of where you live! Please just take me there or take me home, last thing I want is to wait three quarters of an hour in the dark for a cab driver. I don't care what kind of crazy shit is going on, your family could be crack addicts for all I care!
  1124.  
  1125. >"I'm serious Anon! There will be serious consequences for you if you're brought back!"
  1126.  
  1127. >"What? Is the government going to jail me for going there?"
  1128.  
  1129. >"No, but they'll have a long and complicated discussion with you! Along with limiting your privacy!"
  1130.  
  1131. >"The hell, Astrid?! Why?!"
  1132.  
  1133. >"I told you, it's difficult to explain! Dammit, might as well go now, it's almost my time! I can only ask you one last time Anon to take the cab money and-"
  1134.  
  1135. >"No, this secret is too big for me to not keep me paranoid, I'm coming with you."
  1136.  
  1137. >Whatever anger she maintained leaves her face, replaced by a sudden and looming fear. The kind a child awaiting punishment
  1138.  might have.
  1139.  
  1140. >"Anon, If I can't stop you now without putting distrust between us, then you can come with me, but please don't freak out or panic. Nothing that'll happen will be of any danger to you. Do you understand?"
  1141.  
  1142. >A short fear creeps up your spine at her warning, but it doesn't affect you right now.
  1143.  
  1144. >"Yeah, if it's not of any danger to me why would I?"
  1145.  
  1146. >"You might see me differently as a person after tonight Anon."
  1147.  
  1148. >"As long as you're still you in the end, I won't see you differently."
  1149.  
  1150. >"No promises."
  1151.  
  1152. >The car drive is silent, ominous almost. The car speakers are deaf, and the world around you is made up of black smudges that merely change shape as they see fit. It's not until you drive off onto a dirt road leading into a forest that tension starts to accelerate at a more rapid pace.
  1153.  
  1154. >"I thought you said your home was in Caldwell?"
  1155.  
  1156. >"I lied."
  1157.  
  1158. >You continue onto the dirt path until you're well inside a brush of trees, but something big is ahead of you, something really big. A massive concrete wall stretches through the forest, going further than you can physically see, even with the dotted lights on the perimeter. The entrance ahead is a large steel gate probably half the height of the wall itself, which by your estimates looks to be around 20 to 25 feet high. In front of the gate is coincidentally, a Humvee. Stationed soldiers wearing full combat gear stand around the gate to protect it. She drives up to the gate before one of the soldiers motions for her to halt.
  1159.  
  1160. >"I.D.? Oh! It's you Astrid, a little later than your dad would like. Er, who's your passenger?"
  1161.  
  1162. >"My friend, I'll call you over for his debrief after I try and explain things."
  1163.  
  1164. >"Alright, I'll get a police car ready to deploy in an hour, you have a goodnight."
  1165.  
  1166. >"Thanks, you too."
  1167.  
  1168. >The gates open up as Astrid drives in. It's like an enclosed city within the walls! Residential, shopping, industrial, everything's here, all enclosed in a place you've never heard about whatsoever. The sheer scope of the city coincidentally eases some tension from you, only for you to realize what you've gotten yourself into. Debrief, explaining, late. Time seems to be ahead of you though, before you know it you're parked outside of a fairly large sized two story house. By now all the gear and other junk you had on has been taken off and stripped to a shirt, pants, and boots. No reason for dress up anymore is there?
  1169.  
  1170. >"Come on Anon, this is going to be a roller coaster for the both of us."
  1171.  
  1172. >Any resolve she had beforehand is gone, at the same time it seems to be getting replaced with a stoic and concentrated psyche. The two of you walk up to the front door and she unlocks it with a pair of keys from her pocket. Her house has a clean and spacious opening room where you can see a level of wooden stairs going up, along with two rooms off to each side and a hallway going underneath the steps, expanding out in front of you.
  1173.  
  1174. >"Honey, are you finally home?" A feminine voice yells from the room to the left.
  1175.  
  1176. >"Is she? She's been getting back at some dangerously close times!" A gruff manly voice bellows from the right room
  1177.  
  1178. >Both have a slight Nordic, or you guess Norwegian accent, you could only wait for the inevitable now.
  1179.  
  1180. >Her parents come towards your position, walking through the open doorway from each of their respective rooms. Both tall in height while boasting distinct golden blonde hair, you can see the resemblance between Astrid and her parents almost immediately. Her dad has a strong and fair sized beard along with short, up kept hair. And her mother has the same blue eyes that were distinctly given down to her daughter. They seem inconspicuous to the gravity of the current situation, almost breaking out into conversation with Astrid until they notice you.
  1181.  
  1182. >(M)"Dear, who is this?" Her mother says in a worried tone.
  1183.  
  1184. >(AS)"My friend Anon, you know, the person I told you I would be out with tonight?"
  1185.  
  1186. >They both look back to each other is deep concern, flickering their eyes from Astrid over to you as if to see that you're still part of the material world and not some ghost or illusion, they certainly look like they've seen a ghost though.
  1187.  
  1188. >(M)"He, he's a norm, isn't he?"
  1189.  
  1190. >(AS)"Yes, I know what I have to do now, it's too late for anything else."
  1191.  
  1192. >(D)"Good, remember everything you've learned in school about this situation and, just work with it." His father says in a disconcertingly quiet tone. something that you suspect he rarely does with how he spoke beforehand.
  1193.  
  1194. >The two parents now set their eyes on you, their faces showing as much sympathy for you as possible.
  1195.  
  1196. >(D)"I'm, very sorry that this is the way you truly meet our family Anon, usually events like this happen later on but, I guess your situation sped that up."
  1197.  
  1198. >(A)"No, I genuinely want to know what's going on here. Of course I felt some regret for that decision after seeing the 20+ foot high walls surrounding a city I didn't even know existed in the middle of a forest, but I think whatever this is, I can handle it."
  1199.  
  1200. >(D)"Don't get ahead of yourself boy, the truth about our community might just shock your resolve away quicker than you can regain it."
  1201.  
  1202. >(M)"Astrid, you're turning soon, you two should go up the your room. After that, if either of you still have an appetite, we would be glad to have you eat with us Anon."
  1203.  
  1204. >(A)"Thank you Mrs, er."
  1205.  
  1206. >(C)"just call me Clara, and this is my husband Morton."
  1207.  
  1208. >(A)"Good to meet you two."
  1209.  
  1210. >(M)"Likewise"
  1211.  
  1212. >(AS)"Come on Anon, it'll be easier to explain everything if it's just us."
  1213.  
  1214. >(A)"Oh, alrigh-"
  1215.  
  1216. >Again with pulling you around, this time however is up a flight of hard wooden stairs. She practically carries you into her room right before shutting the door and locking it, no escape from this you guess. Little can be said about her room other
  1217. than some game posters and her rig setup in the corner, along with a king sized bed, something you've never seen any college student have to themselves. You focus on her room more than the situation to calm your nerves, this whole scenario feels like some odd horror flick. What the hell do they mean by "changing"? What the hell have you gotten yourself into?
  1218.  
  1219. >"Please don't panic Anon, but I need to get undressed immediately, just, don't stare at me while I do it."
  1220.  
  1221. >"Why?"
  1222.  
  1223. >"Please, just, do it!"
  1224.  
  1225. >"A-lright"
  1226.  
  1227. >For the next 15 or so seconds all you can hear are the miscellaneous sounds of her taking off plastic armor and cloth, after that
  1228.   however...
  1229.  
  1230. >The awful sounds of bones creaking, muscles tearing and rebuilding, and weight shifting all while Astrid let's out cries of great physical distress. You're genuinely scared now, desperately looking for some sort of way to get out in case you need to run. It happened so sudden and felt as if it went on for hours when it likely only took a minute or so. Out of fear you don't turn around, feeling as if the only thing waiting would be a nightmarish creature that would tear you to shreds if you dared to peer away from your false safety. None of this feels real, it's almost like a nightmare, just without that subtle feeling around you that confirms it to be fake. You wonder how this is going to end up, maybe she's some sort of eldritch horror, or mutant, something that would force her to live in such a secluded and walled off community as this. It's not like you have anything to protect yourself with either, which is by far the worst part. If she's gonna kill you then there's nothing you can do about it at all. Your panicked flight or fight filled mind is stopped dead in thought by a quiet voice that can still be distinctly called Astrid's.
  1231.  
  1232. >"Ah- Anon, I'm done, you can turn around now, Please don't be scared of me, I won't hurt you, I promise on my life."
  1233.  
  1234. >She, sounds like herself still, at least from what you can tell. You slowly turn around, fearing what awaits you. The creature in front of you is at the very least, familiar in a messed up sort of way. Astrid is no longer the blonde and tall human girl you know, instead she's a towering predator on two legs, a woman in wolf's clothing. Jet black fur covers her whole body in stark contrast to
  1235. her former pale complexity.
  1236.  
  1237. >"A werewolf" you mentally spoke, "My God she's a werewolf!".
  1238.  
  1239.  The instinctual urge to run and flee is overwhelming, only stopped by a clear familiarity to her normal self, her eyes. Vibrant blue as always, unchanged, still full of emotion and compassion. It seems to be the only thing that survives of her normal self. It makes you feel, conflicted in a way. On one hand you feel perfectly contempt with getting a running start and diving out of the window. On the other hand however, you know that the creature in front of you, is your friend. Not just your friend, the friend you've known for such a short time yet it feels like you've known each other for years. The one you played laser tag with, ate with, and less than an hour ago, danced with. There's a relationship between you and this beastly combination of man and wolf. To that benefit, it stops you from going through with your window jump plan.
  1240.  
  1241. >"You're scared, aren't you?"
  1242.  
  1243. >"Yea- yeah."
  1244.  
  1245. >"You have to understand Anon, I didn't want you to see this part of me, for privacy sake. People who know about us are, highly monitored. All of this is obviously a secret, a huge secret that I can tell you all about now that you know. Though the CIA and UN officers will go in more detail about it than I could."
  1246.  
  1247. >"Uh yea-h."
  1248.  
  1249. >"Please Anon, calm down, nobody's gonna hurt you. Contrary to popular belief, we don't maul people to death in the night, I'm as much a person as you are."
  1250.  
  1251. >"I ge-t that now Astrid."
  1252.  
  1253. >"My family is hitting their times too, it's completely hereditary, it's impossible for you to become a werewolf."
  1254.  
  1255. >"Oh, ok, good."
  1256.  
  1257. >She walks over to her bed and sits down, patting the area next to her.
  1258.  
  1259. >"Can I talk to you about it now?"
  1260.  
  1261. >"S-ure"
  1262.  
  1263. >You reluctantly sit down next to her, the obviously heavier weight pulling you towards her at a slope, for now you refuse to get closer. She tries to comfort you by rubbing your shoulder with her large clawed hand, making you instantly contract away from mere contact. She realizes her mistake and pulls her hand away.
  1264.  
  1265. >"Sorry"
  1266.  
  1267. >"It's, fine"
  1268.  
  1269. >"So, yes, as you may of guessed I'm a werewolf. The Norwegian town I said my parents were from was a protected community like this one, it was closed down for mostly the same reasons I told you, except everyone had to move out of it, infrastructure for our security was too old. The thing you need to grasp is that I'm serious about my people existing being a huge secret. Over five million werewolves exist worldwide. Not just Nordic or Germanic ones either, the Japanese and Koreans also hold fully Asian populations,
  1270.  and the Mediterranean countries also hold their own ethnic populations. It's hard to say how the gene mutation works, it's so big that it almost accounts for a full extra chromosome. Some people think it's too complex to of happened naturally, possibly aliens or something, nobody really knows. Only thing that holds truth is that werewolves have been around since around 300 A.D., a lot to throw on you, I know. So werewolves have existed for a long time, far before any precise genetic modification ever existed. Some of the top scientists in the world still don't understand how it necessarily works, just that we transform at our own certain times. And that even in my normal state I'm stronger than any person of my equivalence, faster, more perceptive than them too.."
  1271.  
  1272. >"That explains your reflexes in laser tag, so does the extreme ability to eat comes from your metabolism?"
  1273.  
  1274. >"Yes, werewolves have to eat extreme amounts of high calorie foods to survive. We're always hungry after transformation, any energy storage we stock up on during the day practically disappears after night, leading people like me to have very little body fat. It wasn't until the 1950s when werewolf population could rise above 200,000. Now with all the cheap junk food and mass produced grains, meats, dairy, we tend to have children much more often than before."
  1275.  
  1276. >"So, do hybrids exist?"
  1277.  
  1278. >"Sort of? Being as human as anyone else, we can have fertile offspring with any regular person, as long as they themselves are
  1279.   fertile of course. The child either has the genes to change or only a portion of them, which means they're just deactivated entirely, sometimes never appearing on the genome in the first place. And just like anyone else, we don't usually have litters or anything like that, not to say there isn't any, differences in physiology when it comes to that sort of stuff, canid features and all that.
  1280.  
  1281. >You grow suddenly embarrassed when you realize that she's in fact, buck naked sitting next to you.
  1282.  
  1283. >"What? It's not that weird, it just means we have certain things, like extra pairs of-"
  1284.  
  1285. >"No, no it's just that you're still naked."
  1286.  
  1287. >"Yeah? I have fur, you don't, it's covers up most of everything."
  1288.  
  1289. >"Sure"
  1290.  
  1291. >"Yeaah ok, I was going to put on my clothes anyway."
  1292.  
  1293. >"Wait, you have clothes?! Why didn't you put them on sooner?"
  1294.  
  1295. >"Guess that would've made you felt a little less jumpy... What, are scared of being flashed by a werewolf or something?"
  1296.  
  1297. >"Well not anymore!"
  1298.  
  1299. >She continues to speak while putting on new underwear, obviously bigger than normal, along with a pair of large modified jeans and a black tank top. It certainly curbs your embarrassment for now.
  1300.  
  1301. >"Heh! At least your shock is going away, I didn't want to turn this into an interrogation. The government likes to interrogate during their, "debrief". Something you're going to have to go to soon unfortunately. I wasn't kidding about your privacy Anon, they're going to bug your phone, your computer, any communication device you own. And the only thing they do if they catch you trying to give out information on the existence of me or the community is give you a long and dreary prison sentence, the main reason I didn't want to pull you into this whole debacle, yet YOU were the one who refused to just take the cab money and leave it at that.
  1302.  
  1303. >"I wanted to get to the end of your weird house rules. Your excuse only got so far before my I started to mistrust your reasons."
  1304.  
  1305. >"Guess that makes sense, are you still scared though?"
  1306.  
  1307. >"A little, what with you being a wolf creature that could tear me into shreds of flesh if you so desired and all. I know this isn't a dream though, it can't be. Dreams have a certain feeling that makes you realize if your dreaming or not, and I feel completely aware right now. The one thing I can still recognize you with is your eyes, guess that kept enough familiarity to stop me from doing something stupid."
  1308.  
  1309. >"You, recognized my eyes? Yeah, I can see that. Don't worry too much about this whole situation, we're in this together, I'll be with you as many steps as I can.
  1310.  
  1311. >"Thanks Astrid."
  1312.  
  1313. >Though your survival instincts scream otherwise, you experimentally feel her jet black fur, smooth as silk, actually pleasant in a way. Then you carefully reach and feel her hand, along with her sharp claws. It takes some time before common sense overtakes your curiosity, then realization hits you and you realize what you're doing, backing off.
  1314.  
  1315. >"Sorry, it's just, something I've never seen before."
  1316.  
  1317. >"It's fine Anon, do you want to eat with us tonight before you go unto government interrogation? I really hate that you have to do that because of me."
  1318.  
  1319. >"Astrid, I was the one who decided to figure out everything, there's no blame on you."
  1320.  
  1321. >"It feels like there should."
  1322.  
  1323. >You sigh, pondering the current situation.
  1324.  
  1325. >"Tonight's been fucking weird man."
  1326.  
  1327. >"Yeah, it sure has."
  1328.  
  1329. >Lamenting on your current predicament with your friend who is also a werewolf sitting beside you is quite surreal, to say the least.
  1330.  In a way it feels almost comedic. It seems she doesn't have much to say after her explanation, leaving an awkward feeling between the two of you. Looking around her room for a conversation topic, you notice her gaming rig again.
  1331.  
  1332. >"Hey, I've played with you at later hours than this, does that mean?"
  1333.  
  1334. >"Heh, yeah, I still play at night. more often than in the day actually."
  1335.  
  1336. >"I noticed that. But how? Do you have a special headset? Scratch resistant keyboard and mouse?"
  1337.  
  1338. >"You know when I said there's over five million werewolves around the world? That's a market that both werewolves and people who know we exist tap into, even if most of us only become werewolves at night.."
  1339.  
  1340. >"Most?"
  1341.  
  1342. >"Some people stay in their state for nearly the whole day, rarely being a normal human. Bonus for them is that their metabolism is much more manageable without the transformation. And some people only transform during the day. It all works by mutation. I heard a rumor that some Chinese community had this flu-like virus that stopped the transformation entirely. Don't know how, supposedly the people infected were stuck in their bestial state. I hope that doesn't happen to me, then I'd never be able to go out with you again... But hey! It's just a rumor, who knows if it's actually true?"
  1343.  
  1344. >"Sounds dangerous, if werewolf specific items are made and shipped to other communities, wouldn't that infect places a lot faster?"
  1345.  
  1346. >"No, they'd probably quarantine anybody with it, no chances taken."
  1347.  
  1348. >"You think werewolves will ever be let into mainstream society?"
  1349.  
  1350. >"I can only hope so, it would make our days out a lot less dangerous for me."
  1351.  
  1352. >"You mean they've actually thought about incorporating werewolf society into normal society?"
  1353.  
  1354. >"Of course! Plenty of times, many good ideas on how to do it too. It's just that there's the problem on how you would release the truth into the public. It would be pretty panic inducing if the government just said, "Hey everyone! Werewolves exist! They're just like you and me for the most part! Get along with them now!", do you know how bad a scenario like that would go?"
  1355.  
  1356. >"Yeah I see your point.."
  1357.  
  1358. >"I'm honestly surprised how well you're holding up with the reveal, I thought you were going to jump out the window when you turned around, not that I would let you get that far anyway."
  1359.  
  1360. >"That was one of my plans, but luckily I didn't try it. Though my fight or flight reflexes told me otherwise."
  1361.  
  1362. >"See? And you got through it just fine. After this mess is done you'll have permission to visit me anytime you want afterwards!"
  1363.  
  1364. >"Guess it'd be better than being stuck up in my apartment all night."
  1365.  
  1366. >"I can't wait to show you the night life around here, it's like New York city, never sleeps. Well, until morning of course, we still have to sleep too."
  1367.  
  1368. >"Sounds interesting."
  1369.  
  1370. >You're interrupted by your stomach grumbling, a reminder that the last thing you consumed was a shot of vodka more than four hours ago.
  1371.  
  1372. >"Oh, you must be as hungry as I am right now, neither of us got to eat anything at the party, did we? You'll find plenty to eat downstairs, werewolf dinners are like buffets to normal people."
  1373.  
  1374. >"Should we go down then?"
  1375.  
  1376. >"Yeah, just, er, try and ignore my sister if she tries to start up anything, ok?"
  1377.  
  1378. >"Why would she?-"
  1379.  
  1380. >"You know how I called her a brat? Well obviously she knows that I've been meeting up with you for the past month, I tried to tell her that it was just platonic activities but she didn't budge on nagging me about my, "New normie boyfriend.", the little twat."
  1381.  
  1382. >"How would I even be in a relationship with you and not know your secret?"
  1383.  
  1384. >"She's poetic, in a snarky way that is. While I managed to get her to relent on saying we were in a relationship, she switched to the idea that I was going to confess my love to you after transforming like some weird bootleg Beauty and the Beast scenario."
  1385.  
  1386. >"So by brat you mean the obnoxious poet type?"
  1387.  
  1388. >"She's smart and snarky to say the least, but she still hasn't grown out of childish taunting yet."
  1389.  
  1390. >"I don't think that's childish, sounds more like a normal younger sibling thing to me."
  1391.  
  1392. >"Eh, I guess. So, food?"
  1393.  
  1394. >"Definitely"
  1395.  
  1396. >She walks much more casually now, less purpose than beforehand while you trail behind her, somewhat hesitant to meet her "transformed" family. You start to realize the height change too, she's around a foot taller than you now instead of a few inches. If she grew in stature that much, then he might be shorter than her entire family now, only adding to intimidation factor. Ok maybe her sister is around the same height as you now, you haven't seen her yet. The house itself has been designed for these changes, nearly every doorway stands at about eight feet tall, hell, they're a little wider than most doors too. If it weren't for the fact that a family of werewolves lived in this house, you would've thought of it as flaunting wealth. In a way you're happy to not be a werewolf, living must be much more expensive for them than a normal family, especially food cost.
  1397.  
  1398. >"Any limits on how to act with your parents?"
  1399.  
  1400. >"Just don't be an unlikable person, you wuss."
  1401.  
  1402. >Leading you downstairs, she goes through the right doorway where her mother came from. Directly past the doorway is a large dining table covered in an ornate tablecloth, the most noticeable thing about it is that it's perfectly round with six nicely detailed wood chairs surrounding it. Two people have already sat down, Astrid's father and what could only be her sister. Her dad is very in tune to how her older daughter looks, large with the same jet black fur Astrid has. Her sister on the other hand is snow white and quite small compared to them, even if she's just 16. That doesn't mean much however, she still looks to be similar in height to you, and you're a grown man for Christ's sake. Morton is wearing fairly plain clothes, nothing out of the ordinary, her sister isn't wearing anything out of the ordinary either, what looks like a band t-shirt and jeans. You don't know whether the normalcy of how this situation is going makes you feel more or less unnerved about everything. Each of them look like they can maul you at any point, yet they act as docile as dogs, or people in this case. There's a lot of getting used to things in this situation.
  1403.  
  1404. >"Let's just sit down, food should be ready soon.", she whispers.
  1405.  
  1406. >Astrid's sister notices your presence and looks towards the two of you with a toothy smile, tail wagging behind her. Guess you didn't think about it upstairs but you guess werewolves show physical emotion in similar ways to canines, they have the physiology for it at least. Despite it probably not being the best idea, you decide to sit next to Astrid's sister at the table, Astrid herself sitting between you and her father.
  1407.  
  1408. >(S)"So you finally did it huh? You got your normie lover boy home with you!"
  1409.  
  1410. >Astrid lets a low growl rumble out of her throat, already agitated by the first thing her sister says.
  1411.  
  1412. >(AS)"He's not! Whatever, we're just friends Sophie!"
  1413.  
  1414. >(S)"If you say so keh, keh. So what's your name new pack member? It was the one thing I couldn't get out of my sister."
  1415.  
  1416. >(A)"Anon"
  1417.  
  1418. >(S)"Anon huh? Weird name, sounds German."
  1419.  
  1420. >(A)"I'm American, my parents just liked the name."
  1421.  
  1422. >(S)"Guess it makes it easier for people to remember your name."
  1423.  
  1424. >(A)"Yeah, you could say that."
  1425.  
  1426. >You quickly look over to Morton, who's busy reading a book. Although he does have a look of amusement over his muzzle which is another weird thing. With their canine physical features and human emotion, the way they show expressions seems to be a mix of human and wolf. In a way that puts your mind at a little easy, seeing human emotion in something so, different, it adds an odd but welcoming layer of comfort that is very much appreciated right now.
  1427.  
  1428. >Sophie looks like she's about to ask another question when Clara comes through another doorway that was connected to the dining room from their kitchen, a large covered metal platter that most normal people would struggle with in one hand and a wooden bowl in the other. It's actually a little impressive at how easily she carries them. Distinct from her husband, her fur is as white as Sophie's, giving the family a sort of Yin and Yang appearance. Placing the two dishes on the table and lifting the lid off of the metal platter, she quickly rushes back into the kitchen, coming out with utensils for the courses and everyone sitting down, she rushes back into the kitchen again, coming out with glasses for everyone and a container full of water. She pours everyone a glass of water and finally sits down next to her husband.
  1429.  
  1430. >The main dish she made are some kind of ribs, there's probably over twenty rows on the plate. They're not barbecued, instead having a very nice earthy spice smell to them, like some sort of steak rub. And the wooden bowl has what looks to be mashed potatoes inside, can't complain about that.
  1431.  
  1432. >"So..", she finally speaks.
  1433.  
  1434. >(C)"I was going to make something a little more simpler tonight but since we have a guest over, I decided to make my winter ribs
  1435.   for tonight."
  1436.  
  1437. >(A)"Oh, you didn't have to do that for me."
  1438.  
  1439. >(C)"Nonsense! You are a guest and close friend of my daughter Anon, besides, a situation like this calls for something special. We've heard so much about you from Astrid."
  1440.  
  1441. >(A)"Really?"
  1442.  
  1443. >Astrid pulls her ears back in embarrassment, sinking slightly into her chair at her mother's conviction. Sophie gives off short chuckles while Morton adds on to his wife's statement.
  1444.  
  1445. >(M)"When our daughter said she was going to Milwaukee to meet up with a friend she met online, our hairs raised quite a bit. For the most part everyone lives and works inside the city, of course there's certain reasons to leave from time to time but for the most part we stay in. Got on our nerves quite a bit when she came home so close to her changing time."
  1446.  
  1447. >(C)"But she seemed so happy afterwards that we didn't want to stop her from doing what she wanted, she's a young woman after
  1448.     all! We knew how risky tonight would be, Morton was surprised you agreed to do a couple dance with her, you two have known
  1449.     each other for less than a month if I recall what she told us."
  1450.  
  1451. >Astrid is adorably hiding her face under her arms, even more embarrassed as the story goes on. Sophie on the other looks like she's having a field day with her mothers exposition. Though seemingly contempt with holding a unwavering smile instead of interjecting while the conversation continues.
  1452.  
  1453. >(A)"Well I didn't know it was a couple dance, I only found that out on the ride over."
  1454.  
  1455. >(M)"But you still went, didn't cha?"
  1456.  
  1457. >Now it's time for you to be a little embarrassed.
  1458.  
  1459. >(A)"Yeah, I didn't see why I should've just gone back home after being told everything, it's not like it was romantic, unless you count a few couples in the crowd who were grinding on each other."
  1460.  
  1461. >Sophie snorts at the remark, while Astrid seems to have recovered for the most part.
  1462.  
  1463. >(C)"Guess parties haven't changed that much, even after three decades.. So! Anon, Astrid told us that you're pursuing higher
  1464.   education in Milwaukee, are you from Wisconsin?"
  1465.  
  1466. >(A)"No, I'm from Ohio. I was accepted to the Milwaukee School of Engineering after high school, so I took the option. I'm getting a
  1467.   bachelor's in software engineering.
  1468.  
  1469. >(M)"Sound like respectable job Anon, good on you for that."
  1470.  
  1471. >(AS)"Hey, shouldn't we um, start eating before it gets cold?"
  1472.  
  1473. >(C)"Oh, yes! Everyone get your servings while the ribs are still hot."
  1474.  
  1475. >The family members grab large portions from the platter, leaving almost nothing left when they're done, you don't need nearly as much food so there's certainly enough left for you. Conversation seems to be one of the last things anyone would care about right now as everyone is preoccupied with eating. The mashed potatoes are fine, nothing big about them, but the ribs on the other hand..
  1476.  
  1477. >They're, absolutely delicious. Whatever Clara seasoned the meat with reminds you of a very well balanced peppercorn rub, yet at the same time the combinations of spices is something you've never had before. Hell, these are probably the best ribs you've ever eaten in your life. The family finishes just before you do, even though their serving sizes engulf yours, and Clara takes this opportunity to get feedback from you.
  1478.  
  1479. >(C)"So Anon, how's the winter ribs?"
  1480.  
  1481. >You finish up just as she says that, wiping the meat juices off of your mouth.
  1482.  
  1483. >(A)"I have to admit it, those were the best ribs I've ever had, honestly."
  1484.  
  1485. >(C)"Oh thank you! It's a recipe I made myself. I usually only make them during the winter but I'll make them out of season at times."
  1486.  
  1487. >(S)"So how did you two meet anyway?"
  1488.  
  1489. >(AS)"Sophie, you already know the answe-"
  1490.  
  1491. >(S)"Only what you've told me, which was a one sentence explanation! How'd it start Anon?"
  1492.  
  1493. >Astrid looks to you with apprehension, you don't see any reason not to tell her family how this all started.
  1494.  
  1495. >(A)"It was late at night, my friends had just gotten off because one of our team members was suspended from playing after doing something stupid. So I went to play a different game by myself, the others were too tired to stay up any longer. And that's where I met Astrid in a lobby, we played together, had good team cohesion, and friended each other on Steam, the rest is history."
  1496.  
  1497. >(S)"Huh, so she was telling the truth."
  1498.  
  1499. >(A)"Of course I was. Why would I lie about something so mundane?"
  1500.  
  1501. >(S)"I could think of a few good reasons..."
  1502.  
  1503. >(M)"Anon, while it's been nice having you over, I can already see the lights outside, sorry to say but the police are here to take you in for a "debrief", never got why they call them that."
  1504.  
  1505. >You look out a windows to see the flashing of red and blue lights on top of  a dark car, guess it's time to go. Standing up, you speak to the whole family before leaving.
  1506.  
  1507. >(A)"Thank you guys for having me over for dinner and, well everything else. I should be fine Astrid, or not. I have no idea what they're gonna exactly do to me, I'll call you when everything's done, alright?"
  1508.  
  1509. >She meekly nods, the others wishing you farewells as you make your way towards the door, almost forgetting about something.
  1510.  
  1511. >"Oh yeah, Astrid?"
  1512.  
  1513. >"What is it Anon?"
  1514.  
  1515. >"Can you just, hold on to my costume stuff for now? I'll pick it up when I can."
  1516.  
  1517. >"Of course"
  1518.  
  1519. >You open the door only to be presented by a tall, grey figure standing well above you and clad in a black police uniform, another werewolf.
  1520.  
  1521. >"Is your name Anon? We got a report from wall security that a norm came in with one of our usual travelers."
  1522.  
  1523. >"Yep, that's me, I'm ready for whatever the "debrief" is."
  1524.  
  1525. >"Great, you don't know how many norms we've had to chase and tackle after the big reveals an such. Come with me and I'll drive you to HQ."
  1526.  
  1527. >As you walk away from the warped normalcy of your friend's house, you notice slight quirks about the neighborhood. Every house in the neighborhood seems slightly larger than the two story family houses you usually see, not much but noticeable enough. The car you're going to looks just like any other police car in Wisconsin, save for the fact that it's around two times the size of a normal car, suited for werewolves presumably. Climbing into the back seat makes you feel like less of a criminal and more like a toddler, you can't even see through the windows unless you leered your head up.
  1528.  
  1529. >"You ready back there?"
  1530.  
  1531. >"Yeah."
  1532.  
  1533. >The car moves through the neighborhood of cookie cutter houses until you're out onto what looks like a main street for the town. In the distance you can see a section of the massively walled city with a large grouping of office buildings. If this city could they would probably have a multitude of skyscrapers towering over the landscape if it didn't give away the location from outside. Other than that, it looks quite normal for the most part. Lines of open shops and buildings bustling with humans and werewolves alike, nightly traffic that you would make you believe you were in New York city, the just. Your mental monologing is cut short by the officer.
  1534.  
  1535. >"So, how did you and your friend meet?"
  1536.  
  1537. >"Online game, we friended each other after that. She's been going out of this place to do stuff with me for around a month, then she invited me to this party tonight and one thing led to another."
  1538.  
  1539. >"So it's a romantic thing?"
  1540.  
  1541. >"What?! No, no, we're just friends."
  1542.  
  1543. >"If you say so, most encounters with outsiders usually happen like this, becomes inevitable for them to not get suspicious until the truth is revealed to the partner then a whole multitude of things can happen."
  1544.  
  1545. >"What's the name of this city anyways?"
  1546.  
  1547. >"Oh, it's called NA Zone 5 by the government officials, not something we really like. The official unofficial name is Pinetown because of well, all the pines probably, it's an old settlement."
  1548.  
  1549. >"How old?"
  1550.  
  1551. >"Late 1800s."
  1552.  
  1553. >"You've had settlements that lon- wait, never mind. Guess I'm just surprised government involvement goes back so far."
  1554.  
  1555. >"Goes back further than that, try mid 1700s at least."
  1556.  
  1557. >"But werewolf populations weren't very large back then, were they?
  1558.  
  1559. >"No, maybe around 200,000 globally, almost entirely in East Asia and Europe."
  1560.  
  1561. >"Huh."
  1562.  
  1563. >You seemed to of gotten off the main street and are now heading down a much darker path that lacks anything in particular interest. Best to ask a few more nagging questions before getting to the end of the line.
  1564.  
  1565. >"So, how do these settlements work?"
  1566.  
  1567. >"What do you mean?"
  1568.  
  1569. >"You let people out during the day, or whenever they're unchanged. What if they decide not to come back?"
  1570.  
  1571. >"Everyone with the ability to transform has a tracking implant injected into them when they're young, makes tracking much easier than it was before the fact. We have trucks either patrolling or resting in equally distributed areas around a 200 mile radius of each settlement, boats if they're more coastal. If someone is too close to their changing period the tracker will activate, same goes for state or border crossings of any kind. Then they're simply brought back to the settlement and punished.
  1572.  
  1573. >"Why go through all the hassle if you could just keep travel locked to other settlements?"
  1574.  
  1575. >"Some local governments do that, some don't. Americans tend to like a little bit of freedom, even in our predicament."
  1576.  
  1577. >"Sounds like it sucks though, being kept locked up in isolated cities, barely being able to move around the outside."
  1578.  
  1579. >"It's not all that bad, makes neighbors get to know each other better, causes greater social cohesion. Hell, I've known my neighbors for most of my life, we're practically family with how well we know one another."
  1580.  
  1581. >"Guess that sounds, sorta nice."
  1582.  
  1583. >"Take it from me, people living here, in whatever form, place great value on family and friendships."
  1584.  
  1585. >"I think my friend's parents got off to a good start with me."
  1586.  
  1587. >"That's great to hear."
  1588.  
  1589. >Before you know it, you've pulled up to a large building that seems halfway between an office and a headquarters building, it's intimidating glass walls and large insignia don't do much to quell your nerves.
  1590.  
  1591. >"Don't make any sudden moves now, just get in front of me and start walking."
  1592.  
  1593. >You do as he says until two burly guards, neither being a werewolf, come outside to meet you.
  1594.  
  1595. >"We can take him from here", they say in unison.
  1596.  
  1597. >"Alright, he's yours now."
  1598.  
  1599. >Thanks for the ride Officer, uh-"
  1600.  
  1601. >"Officer Winters. And don't mention it, I just appreciate that your were cooperative."
  1602.  
  1603. >He walks back to his car and drives off down the dark path and back towards main street as the two guards take your arms and force you to walk into the building. This is certainly not going to be a fun time...
  1604.  
  1605. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1606.  
  1607. [CHAPTER 3:COLD WITHOUT YOU]
  1608.  
  1609. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1610.  
  1611. >It's been three days since you found out about Astrid's secret. The governmental debrief was just as bad as everyone was hyping it out to be, interrogation, multiple vague questions, and the relinquishment of your personal privacy. After their big talk to, you did get a nice looking card to let you in and out of werewolf settlements. Of course they also went into your apartment and bugged all of your electronics, which means you can't jack off without the undeniable thought that the government REALLY is watching you now. Luckily, you just turn off WiFi and do it to your porn folder now, not much deal there. Oh, and they injected you with a tracker. Now you have to contact them whenever you're going out of state for anything, saying it's, "just like extra airport security", yeah alright. At least when you go to an airport they don't inject a fucking tracker into my body. On the bright side, you can actually spend time with Astrid, even after she's changed. Not that you've had the time to until today, what with school and all. You don't know if the reveal of her secret had anything to do with it, but she's been going on and on about moving out of her parent's house into an actual apartment lately and she wants you to help her with find a stable job before doing so. Currently you're driving through the
  1612. city towards her house at 10:00p.m., so she's definitely changed by now.
  1613.  
  1614. >You arrive at her house which she gave directions to on google maps, the men in black actually being nice enough to bug a real road map of the city onto your phone as well. Parking in her driveway, you stumble up to her front door and ring the doorbell, the noise of frantic movement coming from behind it. You guess they don't usually wear footwear, because it sounds just like how a dog running up to a door would sound like, nails frantically tapping against tile.
  1615.  
  1616. >The door opens up and you're greeted by Sophie who's more than eager to see you.
  1617.  
  1618. >"Heya Anon! Whatcha doing at this place tonight for?"
  1619.  
  1620. >"Astrid wants me to help her find a job so she can move out."
  1621.  
  1622. >"Yeah, she's been talking about that a lot... Bet she just wants to have complete privacy with you, am I riigghht?"
  1623.  
  1624. >She gives you a complete nudge, nudge, wink, wink motion, which makes you feel a little embarrassed.
  1625.  
  1626. >"I really don't know why she decided that now would be a good time to move out."
  1627.  
  1628. >"Oh come ooon Anon! You know she's heart over heels for you! Don't you see the way her heart flutters whenever she sees yo-"
  1629.  
  1630. >Her romantic monologue is suddenly cut off by a large clawed hand moving over her head, placing a firm grip around it. The hand then swiftly flings hear out of the way, presumably into the next room over because you hear something large hit a piece of furniture, yep it's Astrid. Even more intimidating as a werewolf, you still feel at ease when you peer at her eyes. Her expression is anything but nice, more of a, "I'm about to kill my younger sibling" look more than anything, complete with annoyed growl. She turns her attention to you and her expression thankfully softens considerably.
  1631.  
  1632. >"Sorry that I didn't get to the door in time, I really need your help with this." she says, scratching behind one of her pulled back ears. She's wearing a sports tank top that on her usual self would probably fit fine, but in her current state it's straining to even support her modest (for her size) chest, certainly not long enough to cover her midriff either. She's also wearing a pair of skinny jeans that are certainly made for werewolves, otherwise they would never fit her. Her entire wardrobe seems to be a tight fit on her and would definitely be an automatic turn on to you if she wasn't, well, a giant wolf beast that can kill you at any time. It doesn't help that her muscular physique shows through her jeans too. At the same time she's still a good friend that you know wouldn't hurt you, it's just the fact that she's a godamn werewolf is still something you need to get used to.
  1633.  
  1634. >"Well, that's sort of what I'm here for, where are your parents?"
  1635.  
  1636. >"Watching TV in the living room, just follow me upstairs."
  1637.  
  1638. >You step inside and look to the left before heading up the stairs. Sophie is comedically slapped over the table, thankfully not damaging it from what you can see. You're really happy you weren't on the receiving end of that, Astrid probably has the strength to rip your head off if she wanted to.
  1639.  
  1640. >Despite your instincts screaming at you for doing it, you can't help but stare at her backside while heading up the stairs, I mean, she's still a woman despite the fur and all, her body shape is still obviously feminine. But she is your friend, and having thoughts like this makes you feel like a horrible person so it's best to block them out for now. Sometimes you wonder if she ever has thoughts like that about you? What would it even be like to do it with a werewolf? Guess that would just be a very odd death by snu snu situation for your pelvis. On the bright side you're almost to her room, the last thing you want is to have a boner in plain view for her to see.
  1641.  
  1642. >You head into Astrid's room, her PC is on with multiple browser tabs open along with a disheveled stack of papers to the side of her mouse.
  1643.  
  1644. >"So why exactly did I have to be at your house to help you with all this?"
  1645.  
  1646. >"I don't know, it would feel more awkward if you weren't immediately here, plus I don't think the government guys gave you access to Lunaris."
  1647.  
  1648. >"What's Lunaris?"
  1649.  
  1650. >"An extension for internet browsers, it basically decrypts a bunch of websites with information about settlement infrastructure, stores, buildings, maps, forums, stuff like that. We sort of have our own chunk of internet separate from the normal web."
  1651.  
  1652. >"So sort of like Tor or the Deep Web?"
  1653.  
  1654. >"Pretty much."
  1655.  
  1656. >"Cool."
  1657.  
  1658. >"Buut instead of buying illegal firearms and drugs with bitcoin we're just looking for a menial wage job near the cheapest apartment complex I could find that isn't full."
  1659.  
  1660. >"No need to put your excitement down yet, now let me see..."
  1661.  
  1662. >The two of you manage to single out an apartment complex four miles away with reasonable enough rent, for a one person apartment that is. Only problem is the clear lack of low wage jobs in the area.
  1663.  
  1664. >"Oh come on! It's near the industrial area! Shouldn't there be something that doesn't need a degree around that area?
  1665.  
  1666. >"I'm looking... Oh, hey! What about this?"
  1667.  
  1668. >She scrutinizes the job offer you pulled up. Night guard for a wood shop two miles from the apartment. She seems uncertain, giving off a long high pitched whine while thinking over it.
  1669.  
  1670. >"What's wrong? It's not like you're a morning person, and it works with your college schedule too!"
  1671.  
  1672. >"I know but.... Then I won't have time to do stuff at night with you."
  1673.  
  1674. >She's, really thinking about that? Well she certainly knows how to pull at your heart strings a bit, but this is for her sake.
  1675.  
  1676. >"Astrid, it's not like we'll never see or hear from each other again, and it's the best line of available work for you right now."
  1677.  
  1678. >"I, guess."
  1679.  
  1680. >"So, before you rent the apartment, get the job first. Would be awkward if you got a place for yourself with no stable income."
  1681.  
  1682. >"Yeah, wait, what do you do to afford your apartment?"
  1683.  
  1684. >"I had savings from doing jobs in high school beforehand, and I do software fixes for people, IT tier stuff mostly. You'd be surprised but it actually pays better than you think."
  1685.  
  1686. >"Huh, what do you even learn in your courses? They taught us a bunch of stuff for the multiple adobe programs, along with Blender and some code, mainly C++ and whatever you could do in Flash."
  1687.  
  1688. >"I basically know at least two programming languages by heart now, and the technical stuff in between."
  1689.  
  1690. >"Ever thought of making a game? I've wanted make one since I was little, but my coding skills are sort of shit."
  1691.  
  1692. >"We actually coded a game as part of a project last year, yeah I could make a game."
  1693.  
  1694. >"Dude, we should TOTALLY make a game together!"
  1695.  
  1696. >Her tail is wagging frantically back and fourth, brushing over her desk until finally managing to throw the stack of papers she had onto the floor.
  1697.  
  1698. >"Shit, my bad."
  1699.  
  1700. >She picks up the papers from the floor and slaps them down onto the table in an even messier stack than before.
  1701.  
  1702. >"You really think we could make a game?"
  1703.  
  1704. >"Maybe as a side activity? I have plenty of ideas to work on and we have the skills for it!"
  1705.  
  1706. >"I mean, we can. But depending on how big you want to go it might take a couple years of on and off work at least to create it."
  1707.  
  1708. >She gives you a snarky smug expression as if you just lost to her in a competition.
  1709.  
  1710. >"What? Too hard for you to do?"
  1711.  
  1712. >"No! I'm just stating the facts! You haven't even told me if you want to release it to the public or not, or if you want people to pay for it, or-"
  1713.  
  1714. >"Shush, that stuff can come later, I just want to have an outline in it so we can actually do it, plus I do have things that should be taken care of beforehand."
  1715.  
  1716. >"Yeah, you do."
  1717.  
  1718. >"Anyways, I'll do that stuff tomorrow, so what do you wanna do now?"
  1719.  
  1720. >She skids from her chair, plopping down on her bed with a nervously loud *THUD*. You decide to join on her bedside.
  1721.  
  1722. >"I don't know, you want to play something?"
  1723.  
  1724. >"You know, I would say yes, but I don't have a steam box or whatever it's called, and my old consoles are either buried in the attic or too much of a chore to set up right now... OH! We can play truth or dare!"
  1725.  
  1726. >"Really? Truth or Dare?"
  1727.  
  1728. >"What? Isn't that what college kids do at parties?"
  1729.  
  1730. >"I mean, sometimes I guess."
  1731.  
  1732. >"Then let's do it!"
  1733.  
  1734. >"I don't know..."
  1735.  
  1736. >"Hey! Don't wuss out on me! What? Are you scared I'm gonna make you do or say something stupid?"
  1737.  
  1738. >"Sort of."
  1739.  
  1740. >"Well I'll make a deal, no sexual stuff and no outrageous dares that we can't do immediately in this room, deal?"
  1741.  
  1742. >"Deal."
  1743.  
  1744. >"Great! I'll go first."
  1745.  
  1746. >"What do you choose?"
  1747.  
  1748. >"Dare."
  1749.  
  1750. >You have to think that over a little bit, there's plenty of stuff you can dare her to do.. Wait! You have a good one.
  1751.  
  1752. >"I dare you to howl out your window."
  1753.  
  1754. >"Whu- what?"
  1755.  
  1756. >"Isn't that a thing werewolves do? Howl into the night?"
  1757.  
  1758. >"I mean, sometimes but-"
  1759.  
  1760. >"But what? You too chicken to do it?"
  1761.  
  1762. >She rolls her eyes
  1763.  
  1764. >"Fine, I'll do it."
  1765.  
  1766. >She hesitantly opens the window up before letting out a long, drawn out howl. In response you can hear multiple howls
  1767.  from outside in response, Jesus it's just like an actual wolf pack. You can even hear differences in the howls, some sound like "awoo" and others "haroo", probably based on how deep their voice is. She sits back down next to you looking somewhat embarrassed.
  1768.  
  1769. >"Alright, you made me do something demeaning, so I'm not going light on your turn!"
  1770.  
  1771. >Not wanting to do something stupid yet you decide to tell a truth.
  1772.  
  1773. >"Truth? Oh, um, have you ever dated someone? You have to give ALL the details too."
  1774.  
  1775. >"Yeah, in high school I dated this girl named Bethany, she just called herself Beth. Our relationship was something more out of not wanting to look like social outcasts than anything else. We shared similar interests of course, and she kissed me once, but after that it was nothing more than two horomonally imbalanced kids trying to act like they actually love each other when they don't.
  1776.  
  1777. >"So did you guys, like, fuck or something?"
  1778.  
  1779. >"What?! No, of course not."
  1780.  
  1781. >"Do you still keep in contact with her?"
  1782.  
  1783. >"Nope, it started freshman year and by senior year we barely knew each other."
  1784.  
  1785. >"That sounds, really depressing."
  1786.  
  1787. >"Yeah, sort of. She was the one to break up with me too. I knew it was going to happen but I was still stupid enough to think that it would be better if we stayed together, I cried like a little bitch after school when she did it."
  1788.  
  1789. >She snorts out a laugh at the end.
  1790.  
  1791. >"What? Have YOU ever been in a relationship?"
  1792.  
  1793. >"Heh, no, sounded rough though buddy."
  1794.  
  1795. >"Yeah, yeah, truth or dare?"
  1796.  
  1797. >"Truth"
  1798.  
  1799. >"I know you've never been in a relationship before, have you ever tried to?"
  1800.  
  1801. >Her ears fold back.
  1802.  
  1803. >"Oh, there was this one time early into Junior year of high school. Everyone was getting together and me, the hulking tower that I am, decided that I had enough confidence to ask someone that I secretly had a crush on since 7th grade to homecoming. I may have been too forward with him, leaning on his locker didn't help either..."
  1804.  
  1805. >"So what was his response?"
  1806.  
  1807. >"He got scared and ran away! Fucking asshole told anyone he could find too, saying I was a "predator" and shit!"
  1808.  
  1809. >She bears her teeth instinctively, letting out a low, angry growl.
  1810.  
  1811. >"Shit, that's fucked up."
  1812.  
  1813. >"You're telling me! I was mocked for a whole two more years before I could get out of that hellhole!"
  1814.  
  1815. >"Hey, on the bright side that's all behind you, let's just shy away from stuff like that for now, alright?"
  1816.  
  1817. >It takes her a few seconds to calm down, but she relaxes.
  1818.  
  1819. >"Sure"
  1820.  
  1821. >"Good, so, dare? I guess?"
  1822.  
  1823. >"I dare you to punch me in the gut, as hard as you can."
  1824.  
  1825. >"Really?"
  1826.  
  1827. >"I doubt it'll hurt, just do it."
  1828.  
  1829. >"Ok"
  1830.  
  1831. >You attempt to wind up the best bunch you can muster right now and send it straight into her rock hard abs. She barely moves, and you think it hurt your hand more than her stomach.
  1832.  
  1833. >"Ow"
  1834.  
  1835. >"Hehe, normies can't do shit to jacked up werewolves."
  1836.  
  1837. >"Yeah I can see."
  1838.  
  1839. >"It's what I get from years of work out, wanna feel em?" she says, motioning to her stomach.
  1840.  
  1841. >"I'm fine."
  1842.  
  1843. >"Alright, missed opportunity though."
  1844.  
  1845. >This godamn woman. It's like she's trying to intimidate a fear boner out of you.
  1846.  
  1847. >"Truth or dare?"
  1848.  
  1849. >"Dare"
  1850.  
  1851. >"Hmm.. I dare you to put your leg behind your back!"
  1852.  
  1853. >"What?"
  1854.  
  1855. >"Just give it a try, or are you too chicken?"
  1856.  
  1857. >"No, it's just a weird dare I guess."
  1858.  
  1859. >"Oh this will be gooood."
  1860.  
  1861. >What she doesn't know is that you're double jointed, she doesn't have shit on you in this. You try to hide your smugness as you grab your leg and twist it around your head with relative ease, causing her muzzle to drop open.
  1862.  
  1863. >"Wha, what the fuck?"
  1864.  
  1865. >"What, can't do this too?" you reply with a shit eating grin.
  1866.  
  1867. >"No! That's cool as fuck dude!"
  1868.  
  1869. >"I'm double jointed, this doesn't hurt at all. Not like this is useful or anything."
  1870.  
  1871. >"Yeah, but I've never seen anyone do that!"
  1872.  
  1873. >"Well now you have."
  1874.  
  1875. >"Guess I have, alright, truth."
  1876.  
  1877. >"Just going in like that? Ok, let me think..."
  1878.  
  1879. >There is a bugging question you want to ask her, but it might sound awkward to her.. fuck it.
  1880.  
  1881. >"What do you think of me Astrid?"
  1882.  
  1883. >She snaps out of her chuckle high for a moment.
  1884.  
  1885. >"Wait, what do you mean?"
  1886.  
  1887. >"What do you think of me as a person, honestly?"
  1888.  
  1889. >She looks conflicted, like she's reluctantly holding back what she really wants to tell you.
  1890.  
  1891. >"I guess you're good at handling things, at least better than most people. I seriously thought you would do something stupid on Halloween, but you didn't so there's that. And, er, you're charismatic and uh, oh what am I saying? You're probably the nicest person I know outside of my neighbors, not like I see my neighbors as people I would hang out with. Most people either like to use me as a verbal punching bag or are outright scared to get within five feet of me, but ironically the only normie friend I have treats me like, a normal person. I haven't felt like that for over half a decade. It's just, you make me feel better with living Anon. I won't lie, the shit that happened to me in high school put me in some major episodes of depression, I just had too much to live for to, do it.."
  1892.  
  1893. >"Astrid, I-"
  1894.  
  1895. >She forces you to a kneel with her on the bed as she hugs you close.
  1896.  
  1897. >"You're, a really good friend Anon."
  1898.  
  1899. >You can hear her choking up a bit and decide to cautiously wrap your hands around her back.
  1900.  
  1901. >"You are too, Astrid."
  1902.  
  1903. >She's bordering on letting the floodgates open.
  1904.  
  1905. >"I can call people I know friends bu-t even then I'm still the outlier in everything. I'm a weirdo in a society of hidden outcasts Anon. My parents, they, barely see it. The friends I had in high school were re-ally just people who felt bad for me. I've been a social hermit ever since starting col-lege."
  1906.  
  1907. >"You're not the outcast Astrid, at all. At least by werewolf standards. You've just had rough patches that you need to put behind you. There's plenty of people out in the world that would probably love to be your friend, think about it like that!"
  1908.  
  1909. >"Yea-h *sniff* in the world. The only way to get people from the outside to me would be to drag them into this mess as well! I c-an't do that Anon! It would be seen as abusive and they would sentence me jail time for it! I felt guilty enough dragging you into this    m-ess in the first place."
  1910.  
  1911. >"Try making more online friends at least, don't let yourself down. There's too many people that love and care about you Astrid. And you know what's great about high school?"
  1912.  
  1913. >"*sniffle* Wh-at?"
  1914.  
  1915. >"Take Wilmor, who knows where she'll go, right? Her attitude towards things might just drive her down a ditch in the next decade, in comparison to your attitude."
  1916.  
  1917. >"So you, think I'm like Wil-mor?"
  1918.  
  1919. >"What? No! Unless you choose to be! Your personal goal is to make a life for yourself by the time your high school reunion happens, you're going to have one right?"
  1920.  
  1921. >"In arou-nd two years, bu-t I don't see-"
  1922.  
  1923. >You lean up to grab her by the shoulders, shaking her. She seems so out of her normal strength that you actually manage to physically shake her.
  1924.  
  1925. >"Two years! Two years Astrid! That's two years for you to finish college and get a good job, or at the very least improve upon your current situation which is what we're working you towards right now! If you put the effort in, then you'll be able to go back to that high school, to the people that mocked you and stand not only physically, but ambitiously above them. You don't need to rub your hard earned success in their face, the sole fact that you're life is on a better track than their's will be well than enough to give them regret for their own decisions! And the best part about this? You're not alone. You have your family, and you have friends like me that will help you to stay on path!  We're in this together Astrid, this is the platonically mutual deal of your life! You've changed my life, even if you hate yourself for it, and I'll change yours, but only if we keep changing together, because in the cluster fuck known
  1926.  as life you want every advantage you can get. We can officially start this change tonight in fact! You want to make a game, right? Why not start on it right now? Not like we have school tomorrow. What do you say?"
  1927.  
  1928. >She's awestruck by you, seeming to still be processing what you told her. She wipes away her tears, her sad expression now a warm smile that comes with a light hearted chuckle to boot.
  1929.  
  1930. >"You're, a great person Anon. Yeah, I'm in it with you."
  1931.  
  1932. >"That's what I want to hear! Got an ideas notebook?"
  1933.  
  1934. >"For what?"
  1935.  
  1936. >"You said you've always wanted to make a game. Don't you have a place you've jotted down ideas?"
  1937.  
  1938. >She chuckles more heartily, "Yeah, I do actually."
  1939.  
  1940. >You can't help but smile at her.
  1941.  
  1942. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1943.  
  1944. DECEMBER
  1945.  
  1946. >Winter came fast, and finals were over sooner than you expected. They took the job listing surprisingly fast, and you've been living in a small (for a werewolf), if not cozy apartment. Turns out your after school athletics pays off for your job, or at least it did when you had to chase some punk teens off the property. Werewolves are faster than humans, but you're faster than most werewolves. To think that you've been able to do so much in just over a month.. Of course you couldn't do it without Anon. He's so, outgoing for you. He never acted very enthusiastic about things before you started his, "mutual deal", honestly it just mean't that he was over more often than before. You've made so decent progress on the game, coding it in unity because that's what you're used to. An RPG of sorts, well a multiplayer RPG that works like D&D. It's still rough in the works but you've never been more proud of anything else in your life. Your parents love Anon like a son at this point, he's adjusted so well to the limited amount of werewolves he's met, and tonight you're going to show him what you two have been too busy to do, go out on main street at night. You'd be lying to yourself if you said that you didn't have some, unplatonic feelings towards him at this point. But you've never been in a relationship before and
  1947. muddying the only good thing you have going for yourself right now is not something you want to do. You do wish he was with you a couple nights ago when the heater broke for two days. Despite being covered in fur at night it was still cold as shit and you really wanted to just hold his body to your own in bed to keep each other warm... You shouldn't think of him like that though. Besides, you don't know if he even likes you. Hell, he still gets scared whenever you show any expression of anger near him after changing. Maybe it's instinctual to him, or maybe he just sees himself as lucky because the she wolf decided to befriend him instead of shredding him into pieces... No, you bet it's just instinctual.
  1948.  
  1949. /ANON/
  1950.  
  1951. >It's been awhile since your big triumphant speech to Astrid and you honestly can't tell if you regret it or not. She's doing great, and the game you two have started is coming along really well, but sometimes it feels like you're putting too much of yourself into this. Most of your free time is now spent going over to the settlement to be with Astrid in her family, the latter of which now basically see you as a part of them. You've been doing as many odd jobs as possible to not sink into your savings just to visit her so often, the miles DO add up. Your college friends think you're in a relationship with her now, can't counter that line of questioning so you just go with it. On the bright side your long time gaming friends don't know anything other than the fact that you know each other in real life, meaning playing with them hasn't become a minefield yet. At least you don't have to deal with finals anymore, and Astrid wants to go out on main street in her settlement with you tonight, she's been hyping that up for days. Thinking about her now reminds you of all the mixed feeling you have about her. She's a good friend, fun to be around if a bit stubborn. She scares the shit out of you when she's angry in her turned state, why you don't know. It probably has to do with her being able to tear your throat out if so desired, despite you knowing she would probably be the last person to hurt you. At the very least you can say that you've never felt prouder for someone to get a job, she can definitely pull off authoritative in her job uniform which intimidates you in an, oddly good way to say the least.. It's not like you haven't had any lewd thoughts of her, even in her werewolf form. Fuck and you thought furries we're weird before all of this. You've near cuddled her on a couch before more than once, she's just so damn soft sometimes. And the way that her tail and ears act can be downright adorable. Of course you wouldn't admit it to her yet, but maybe later on there could be something more. You can't say yet, despite your psyche screaming at you that it's what you want, despite how safe and comfortable she can make you feel. Currently though, the snowy wind is trying to freeze your feet off as you go from the parking lot to her apartment.
  1952.  
  1953. >Taking the sizable elevator up, you reach the third floor of the complex and start to walk over to her address. She said it was sized for one werewolf to live in comfortably, but in reality it's practically as big as yours! The bedroom is nearly twice the size of your own, counters and kitchen stuff is slightly taller too, not to the point that a normal person couldn't use it mind you, just tall enough to make it less awkward for them after turning. You have no idea how she moved her bed into the apartment, what you do know is that even for a werewolf it's too big.
  1954.  
  1955. >You knock on her door to hear the shuffling of shoes and a sudden click, yeah, it's Astrid. She pulls you into a lighthearted (totally platonic there's nothing between you two right?) hug. She not just beautiful from her athletics, her flowing blonde hair and omnipresent crystal blue eyes always seem to rapture you. She also never deals with makeup, saying it's too unnecessary for her to deal with. In all honesty you think she'd look ugly WITH makeup on.
  1956.  
  1957. >"Hey Anon! come in."
  1958.  
  1959. >Whatever she had in her bedroom at home now decorates her apartment, except for a decent couch that you managed to convince her she needed along with a cheap coffee table. Her parents were nice enough and gave her a small smart TV to put in her
  1960. new living room as a moving out present, damn were they emotional. It's good enough for watching TV shows and movies when games aren't the desired entertainment. Right now there's a Christmas special on that you don't care too much about.
  1961.  
  1962. >"So when do you wanna go out?"
  1963.  
  1964. >"Let's do it after I turn, all the good stuff is opened past changing time."
  1965.  
  1966. >"Oh, alright. What do wanna do until then? We have a few hours before that."
  1967.  
  1968. >"Er, what about Binding of Issac? We can switch off when one of us dies."
  1969.  
  1970. >"Using what? Your computer is in the other room."
  1971.  
  1972. >"Steam box silly."
  1973.  
  1974. >"You actually got one?"
  1975.  
  1976. >"Hey! You're around often enough to the point where I want to play games that aren't on PlayStation or Xbox, plus I have the game on steam."
  1977.  
  1978. >"Alright, alright. Boot it up then."
  1979.  
  1980. >It was more fun than you expected, the little streaming box really does work well enough in her apartment. As time passes she scoots closer to you every once and awhile, not big but still noticeable. It seems like she's only doing it to pester you when it's your turn though, in retaliation you do the same. Your playful back and fourth goes on until it's a few minutes from her changing time. She turns the console off and gets up from the couch.
  1981.  
  1982. >"It'll only take me 10 minutes at most to get ready, just uh, makes yourself at home."
  1983.  
  1984. >Not like you have anything to do so you just decide to look at the certain stores and places on main street. There's a lot of stuff to do, hell there's plenty of brands you know on main street too, guess even corporations can get into a market as secretive as a hidden society. You're searching is cut short by Astrid's bedroom door opening up to reveal her changed self.
  1985.  
  1986. >She's wearing a pair of jeans (go figure) and some black snow boots that fit her digitgrade legs. Her top however is different from her normal casual wear, even in winter. A festive red and white wool sweater that seems oddly disproportioned in a way that
  1987. personally, you can't complain about. While the length of the sleeves and torso are long enough to make it look like a normal comfy big sweater, it's width seems to be a little on the tight side for her. By that, you mean her
  1988. chest is VERY predominant, as much as her sports bras are when she's too lazy to put a shirt on top of them. It catches you a little off guard, not so much that you give a clear reaction to it, just some, questionable thoughts.
  1989.  
  1990. >"How do I look?"
  1991.  
  1992. >"Uh, good, I guess."
  1993.  
  1994. >"What do you mean guess?"
  1995.  
  1996. >"Nothing, it's festive enough."
  1997.  
  1998. >"Alright.. well let's go then!"
  1999.  
  2000. >"We're not taking your car, are we?"
  2001.  
  2002. >"Of course not! Only way I'd fit in that thing right now is if you drove with me stuffed in the back! Anyways, main street is literally one block away from us."
  2003.  
  2004. >"Right, you have any idea what you want to do first?"
  2005.  
  2006. >"Get something to eat of course! I'm really hungry right now."
  2007.  
  2008. >"Any idea on where you want to go then?"
  2009.  
  2010. >"There's this really good Italian restaurant I like to go to before work, it's only a ten minute walk from here."
  2011.  
  2012. >"I could go for some sort of pasta dish right now."
  2013.  
  2014. >"Oh just wait till you see werewolf portions for stuff, the pizzas are almost as big as you! Personal pizzas I mean."
  2015.  
  2016. >"Go figure."
  2017.  
  2018. >She leads the both of you outside, thank God it's not too windy anymore, your weather app said it won't snow again till morning. Despite that the wind still sends a small shiver up your spine every now and then. Your dumbass wore a light hoodie jacket out today with a t shirt. It's noticeable enough for Astrid to take a friendly stab at you.
  2019.  
  2020. >"What's that matter little normie? Night's too cold?~" She says with her claws on your shoulders and her head slouched down to your left ear.
  2021.  
  2022. >"Oh shut up you fur ball."
  2023.  
  2024. >"Hey, maybe I can shed or something and stuff my fur on you to make a yeti!" She says jokingly.
  2025.  
  2026. >"Yeah, well maybe I should put you in a snowball and roll you down a hill."
  2027.  
  2028. >"Hey, that sounds sort of fun actually."
  2029.  
  2030. >You muse as to what that would look like, a giant snowball with ears and a tail rolling down a hill. It gives you a good chuckle.
  2031.  
  2032. >"You know, winter is great and all, but the big thing I like to do in winter is ski and Wisconsin doesn't have shit in terms of good mountains to go down, only some decent cross country routes."
  2033.  
  2034. >"I went skiing once, almost went into a group of trees. I was, 11 or 12, can't remember."
  2035.  
  2036. >"Can werewolves ski?"
  2037.  
  2038. >"Yeah, I've seen places that sell werewolf friendly ski equipment, boots must be monstrosities to set up though. Not many people ski as werewolves though, for obvious reasons. Mostly because there's jack shit in terms of places where they can go to ski. There is this one settlement though that has a mountain in it, REALLY popular tourist location for werewolves.
  2039.  
  2040. >"Let me guess, it's in Colorado."
  2041.  
  2042. >"Yeah."
  2043.  
  2044. >You arrive at a friendly looking brick house building named "Jordi's Pizzeria". The inside is a stark contrast to the cold outdoors, you're immediately warmed up and placed into a space full of commotion and noise. Werewolves and humans alike work and eat in the large sectioned restaurant, waiters seemingly floating on air as they maneuver around the tables, dropping off food and drinks. You both approach the reception stand when a wolfess seemingly flies out from nowhere behind it.
  2045.  
  2046. >"Goodnight Astrid! I see you brought your friend this time with you!"
  2047.  
  2048. >Wait a second, you recognize that voice...
  2049.  
  2050. >"Wait, are you the waitress from the Halloween party?"
  2051.  
  2052. >"Yeah! My name is Bella. We partially cater that place for events, but this is my normal full-ish time job!"
  2053.  
  2054. >"Oh, that's nice I guess."
  2055.  
  2056. >"Is it just you two?"
  2057.  
  2058. >"Yes Bella, no family this time."
  2059.  
  2060. >"You guys waited like, nearly an hour one night! Your dad looked like he was gonna tear this old stand in half!"
  2061.  
  2062. >"Uh huh."
  2063.  
  2064. >She quickly leads you over to a booth where you both sit down at, she promptly speeds off to help with another table.
  2065.  
  2066. >In the warm and cheery light, the smiling wolfess across from you can only fill yourself with contempt joy. You really can't feel anything negative right now, it's all so, perfect. Finals are over, things have started to settle down, and your sitting down to an Italian dinner with your good- no best friend. There's no shame in calling her that. You interact with her so often and you do a bunch of shit with her so yeah, best friend.
  2067.  
  2068. >It isn't long before Bella comes back, pen and paper already in hand.
  2069.  
  2070. >"What will you guys have to drink?"
  2071.  
  2072. >"I'll have a root beer."
  2073.  
  2074. >"And you?"
  2075.  
  2076. >"Just a (mouthwatering and refreshing) Dr.Pepper (Licensed and owned by Keurig Dr Pepper Inc.)."
  2077.  
  2078. >"Alright, those will be out as fast as you should come to expect from me!"
  2079.  
  2080. >"Alright, she's gone so we have a good 45 seconds to order."
  2081.  
  2082. >"Well what do you usually order here?"
  2083.  
  2084. >"Depends, I tend to call ahead of my job to pick up a meatball sandwich or something I can pack in a bag, but I think I'll go with a pepperoni pizza tonight."
  2085.  
  2086. >"I'm guessing it's not sharing size, is it?"
  2087.  
  2088. >"No, not really... werewolf "sharing" sizes consist of table sized pizzas thick enough to be lasagna, and we'd have to order four large human sized pizzas for it to work tonight."
  2089.  
  2090. >"Hm, I'll just go with the human sized portion Alfredo Tortellini, I wouldn't want to imagine what a werewolf sized portion is like."
  2091.  
  2092. >"Alright, I have your orders down! Here are your drinks, enjoy!"
  2093.  
  2094. >God you hate smug werewolf grin and Astrid loves to show it, she knew Bella was behind you the whole time.
  2095.  
  2096. >"Haha! You actually jumped from that!"
  2097.  
  2098. >"Oh shut up! I didn't think it would happen twice!"
  2099.  
  2100. >"Well you should've expected it!"
  2101.  
  2102. >The two of you ramble off about certain things. The game, stuff that's been happening lately, then it moves on to family.
  2103.  
  2104. >"You know, you've never really talked about your family much outside of your uncle."
  2105.  
  2106. >"Yeah, what's the problem with that?"
  2107.  
  2108. >"It's just that, you've met my ENTIRE immediate family, why don't you talk about yours?"
  2109.  
  2110. >"Just not something I bring up often I guess."
  2111.  
  2112. >"Something bad happen?"
  2113.  
  2114. >"No! No, there's just, not much to say about them. They're not nearly as interesting as your family anyways."
  2115.  
  2116. >"Anon, we're werewolves, of course there's something interesting about us. Come on, there has to be at least ONE thing that you can find interesting about them."
  2117.  
  2118. >"Alright, alright. I don't have any siblings and my mom works as a banker, she barely ever had time for me. On the other hand my dad owned a small computer parts shop for a couple years. When I was little he used to show me how every component worked and we used to build PCs together all the time. I still remember how ecstatic I was when I managed to make a computer that would boot up all on my own, heh."
  2119.  
  2120. >"Oh, so that's how you got into coding?"
  2121.  
  2122. >"Partly. When I was old enough he even gave me a job in his store for me to make some money, sadly he had to close the place down because there just wasn't enough business where I lived. My mother didn't even like the shop, called it a waste of time. That didn't slow down my dad however, he moved on to an at home tech support job in the early 2010s, practically everyone with a computer started to get high speed internet by then but a lot of them also knew jack shit about how their stuff worked. He hates feeling useless, even though he could've just became a stay at home dad with no job, he didn't."
  2123.  
  2124. >"Wow, well your dad sounds like he's more interesting than you held him initially."
  2125.  
  2126. >"Really?"
  2127.  
  2128. >"Yeah! Stories like that are nice, I think your dad inspired you to get a good job."
  2129.  
  2130. >"Thanks.."
  2131.  
  2132. >Bella half haphazardly sets down plates between you two, most of the booth table being taken up by a giant party sized pepperoni pizza, your plate could barely sit on it.
  2133.  
  2134. >"Oh yeah, this booth is made for humans, guess that's why your head sticks up so high Astrid.. I can move you guys if you wan-"
  2135.  
  2136. >"We're fine Bella."
  2137.  
  2138. >"Are you sure Anon? Your plate doesn't have much room-"
  2139.  
  2140. >"It's not tipping off the table, and I can still reach my drink, everything's fine."
  2141.  
  2142. >"If you say so.."
  2143.  
  2144. >And off she goes again. You do have to give credit though, the food smells delicious.
  2145.  
  2146. >"We should dig in while the night's still young, we have plenty of stuff to do after this!"
  2147.  
  2148. >"And with that the feast begins, at least for her. Again, she monstrously consumes all of the available food on her plate like she hasn't eaten in days while you eat your pasta at a fairly decent pace to try and keep up with her. It's a useless endeavor as she finishes of her pizza before you could even eat half of your dish."
  2149.  
  2150. >"Ah, that was great. You gonna finish that?"
  2151.  
  2152. >"I was planning to."
  2153.  
  2154. >"Ok"
  2155.  
  2156. >She let's you finish your meal while she starts to pay for everything, making you stop her before putting the cash in.
  2157.  
  2158. >"Hey! I don't want you paying for my food!"
  2159.  
  2160. >"Why? Dude, you can let your chivalry down a bit, plus this isn't really cheap. I don't want you to pay for gas to see me just so you could pay for my meal as well."
  2161.  
  2162. >"Fine, at least let me handle the tip."
  2163.  
  2164. >"Alright."
  2165.  
  2166. >You manage to finish everything up and give Bella a somewhat generous tip, causing Astrid to raise a brow at you.
  2167.  
  2168. >"Hey, she's the best waitress in terms of response time that I've ever had."
  2169.  
  2170. >"I guess that's true."
  2171.  
  2172. >You both leave the restaurant, walking a fair distance before getting to the part of main street that's fully alive. Shops take up any available space they can and there's a giant mall up ahead with a completely domed roof over it.
  2173.  
  2174. >"Wow, there's, a lot."
  2175.  
  2176. >"I know right? Let's go shopping then!"
  2177.  
  2178. >"Where do you wanna go then? It's not like I know this city as well as you."
  2179.  
  2180. >"There's a nice clothing store up not to far from us, and I wanted to get some things from there."
  2181.  
  2182. >"That's fine."
  2183.  
  2184. >"It's a female items only store too, sorry but I don't want to pass off their deals."
  2185.  
  2186. >"Yeah yeah, I get it."
  2187.  
  2188. >"Do you mind staying in the store too? I swear I won't take long."
  2189.  
  2190. >"I don't see any reason to go somewhere else, plus I think we're already here."
  2191.  
  2192. >"Wait what?"
  2193.  
  2194. >She looks up at the store's sign, "Cloud 9 Clothing".
  2195.  
  2196. >"OH! It is! Let's go in then!"
  2197.  
  2198. >The store certainly is a woman's store. Soft fabrics and, somewhat questionable undergarments stock the building. There's a clear split off the cuts the store in two which is labeled by a sign that points human to one side and werewolf to the other. Astrid quickly moves over to the werewolf area.
  2199.  
  2200. >"Just try not to pay attention to me, I'll be quick and then we'll go off and do something fun! Alright?"
  2201.  
  2202. >You can see why she would want to get deals on clothing made for werewolves, that stuff must get expensive for size compensation. While she goes back into the changing rooms to try on a couple things she picked out, you decide to look around a little bit out of apprehensive curiosity. Seems that they sell some pretty high grade underwear here, from everyday underwear to bridal lingerie, sort of makes you wonder what Astrid would look like in some of them... No! Bad brain!
  2203.  
  2204. >"Excuse me sir, are you looking for anything particular?"
  2205.  
  2206. >You turn around only to be faced with a thin and exorbitantly dressed worker, her lips covered in a devil red lipstick.
  2207.  
  2208. >"Oh, no. I'm just waiting for someone."
  2209.  
  2210. >"Is it someone special? I can show you some amazing deals that she might just love you for when Christmas comes~."
  2211.  
  2212. >God this woman is unnerving, and you're definitely blushing right now.
  2213.  
  2214. >"No, no! Not like that! She's just a good friend!"
  2215.  
  2216. >"Well what's wrong with getting something special for a friend hm? I don't have to show you deals on any of the more, "risque" items if you'd like."
  2217.  
  2218. >"I mean, I don't know. Giving my friend underwear for Christmas just feels a little more suggestive than I'd feel comfortable with."
  2219.  
  2220. >"Alright, but if you change your mind our deals are going on until the 24th~."
  2221.  
  2222. >She walks away, giving you breathing room for now. You don't know why such a seemingly insignificant thing has gotten you so heated. Maybe the hidden feelings towards your best friend are too obvious to hide sometimes, as long as you can get through tonight you'll be fine in the morning. Looking into a mirror makes you realize your face is redder than the Chinese flag, on the bright side you may have enough time to settle down before Astrid comes ba-
  2223.  
  2224. >"Hey Anon! I got all the stuff I needed, ready to g- oh man, you alright?"
  2225.  
  2226. >"What? I'm fine!"
  2227.  
  2228. >"Your face looks like a damn tomato man. Something happen while I was gone?"
  2229.  
  2230. >"Yeah-h, one of the employees started getting a little bit nosy with why I was in here, just an awkward conversation that's all."
  2231.  
  2232. >"I bet. Let me guess, they tried to get you to buy lingerie or something?"
  2233.  
  2234. >"Partly."
  2235.  
  2236. >"I don't like forceful employees either, let me just buy these and we can leave."
  2237.  
  2238. >"Good, I'll just be outside then."
  2239.  
  2240. >It doesn't take long for her to walk out and the two of you continue to walk down main street to the fairly massive mall.
  2241.  
  2242. >"Any of the side shops interest you?"
  2243.  
  2244. >"Eh, they're mostly the same, clothing stores and food. I don't need a lot of clothes and we already ate. Let's just keep walking to the mall, they have a ton of shit in there. Even a ice skating ring."
  2245.  
  2246. >"Really?"
  2247.  
  2248. >"Heh, yeah! And it's not some small seasonal thing either, it takes up the entire center of the mall! I've been there more times than I can count."
  2249.  
  2250. >"I've never ice skated before."
  2251.  
  2252. >"Well there's always a first then! It'll be fun, trust me!"
  2253.  
  2254. >"Ok, if you say so."
  2255.  
  2256. >The mall is even more massive up close, a large sign reading "Pinetown Mall" adorns the front of the massive structure. When you head inside it's like being in another settlement, the bottom floor actually goes into the ground with another two floors above you. Looking down greets you to the sight of a massive ice skating rink full of people surrounded by a half wall glass barrier. The place is completely packed. The whole place is filled with people milling about. Hell, it looks like half the damn city is in here right now. Everything is loud and chaotic, the biggest problem for you right now is that you don't know where to start.
  2257.  
  2258. >"I was thinking on just going into stores that we want to get our Christmas shopping in. You haven't started Christmas shopping yet have you?"
  2259.  
  2260. >"I sent my parents stuff already, but I still have a bunch of people that I need to shop for still."
  2261.  
  2262. >"Then let's get started!"
  2263.  
  2264. >Ironically enough, you find yourselves in a general mid to high price clothing store as your first stop, people need clothes, right? Your circle of friends are contempt with anything, or nothing at all. You didn't go out on them, you just bought them steam games that turned cheap during the sales. Some of your college friends don't even use steam, so you're shopping for them tonight, along with Astrid and their family. They've been way too kind to you in the short period you've known them for not to, especially Astrid.
  2265.  
  2266. >"So, what are your plans for Christmas anyways? Going back home?"
  2267.  
  2268. >"I wouldn't of sent them presents if I was going back this year."
  2269.  
  2270. >"Why aren't going back to them then?"
  2271.  
  2272. >"I don't know, it just feels like my home is here now, or anywhere but back there. For the first time in my life I feel independent."
  2273.  
  2274. >"I guess I feel that way too, but you're the one who got me there."
  2275.  
  2276. >"Yeah, you helped me too."
  2277.  
  2278. >"Do you, want to go to my house for Christmas?"
  2279.  
  2280. >"What?! I'm not even part of your family though!"
  2281.  
  2282. >"You sort of feel like it though, my parents think so too. They would love for you to be over. Christmas to us isn't just spending it with your immediate family, house parties are rampant here and people will go over to each other's houses to give presents, it wouldn't feel awkward for you to be with us Anon."
  2283.  
  2284. >"Are you sure about that?"
  2285.  
  2286. >"Of course Anon, I'm sure of it."
  2287.  
  2288. >"Alright, but that means I'm getting presents for all of you then."
  2289.  
  2290. >"I knew you would. You're already the generous type."
  2291.  
  2292. >That makes you blush again.
  2293.  
  2294. >"Hey, I'm serious! You already sacrifice time and money to go over to my apartment all the time, and you've helped me improve myself by doing it!"
  2295.  
  2296. >"Ok, ok, enough glorifying me, let's go shop."
  2297.  
  2298. >"Gotcha."
  2299.  
  2300. >The two of you split off in search for presents with you trying to imagine what Astrid and her family would want. Maybe you could find Morton a nice jacket? From what time you've spent with him he seems to have an interest in history. Maybe they have
  2301.  something here that would fit that. You walk through the men's section, your wallet crying at how expensive some of the stuff is. Then you find it, a leather bomber jacket made exactly like the ones a pilot would wear in WW2. The original price would
  2302.  make you shoot yourself, but it's luckily 60% off. Only problem is that it's werewolf sized, not a big issue in general terms but that means it'd be too big for him most of the day. Ah well, werewolves are most active at night anyways. You snag that up and move on to Claire, but she's hard to think up presents for. You know she likes to cook, along with reading like Morton, but there has to be something else she'd like.. You already decided that Sara and Astrid would be better to buy for somewhere else, but that doesn't stop you from finding something for Astrid to wear. You don't know if it's a self fantasy or a genuinely good idea but you decide to go for a fairly priced biker jacket, it even lets you fold the sleeves up to the elbow, werewolf sized as well. She doesn't even ride a bike from what you know, but you think she'd like it. You can only imagine.. Goddammit, just keep going Anon! You buy the two articles of clothing boxed up when Astrid comes back holding a couple more bags than before.
  2303.  
  2304. >"You ready Anon? Looks like you found some stuff."
  2305.  
  2306. >"Yeah, let's go."
  2307.  
  2308. >The best part so far about the mall is how diverse the store selection is, there's stores that fit oddly specific niches here that you wouldn't expect to exist. Both of you decide to go into a hobby shop next, filled to the brim with intriguing and useful items. Unlike most of the hobby shops you've been to, this one isn't mainly based on arts and crafts, it's more in tune to hardware and computer related items, your expertise.
  2309.  
  2310. >"This place is amazing, where has this been all my life?"
  2311.  
  2312. >"I knew you would like it, let's take a look."
  2313.  
  2314. >They even have older parts here, most if not all used. You remember Astrid complaining about only having 8GB of DDR4 RAM, you wouldn't mind getting her another 8GB stick. You don't want to send her too much of a message so that'll be the extent of your gifts for her, your budget doesn't hold too much left. You find a small musical Tesla coil too, it looks cool and you think Sara would like it. After purchasing the items you go up to Astrid who's checking some speakers out.
  2315.  
  2316. >"Hey Astrid, what does your mom like?"
  2317.  
  2318. >"Oh, she likes music a lot, classic rock and 60s to 80s. She always talked about her old Walkman and how much she'd love a new one, maybe you could find something like that here?"
  2319.  
  2320. >"Why aren't you looking for stuff to get her?"
  2321.  
  2322. >"I already ordered her this floating moss ball magnet thing off of Amazon, she likes gardening too."
  2323.  
  2324. >"Oh, alright, well I'll go look for something."
  2325.  
  2326. >You go into the older electronics section, a lot of VHS players, some old, beat up radios... There! A Walkman still in it's packaging, it even comes with a set of earplugs, and it looks barely used too! You immediately grab it up and start looking at the boxes full
  2327.  of cassette tapes, she said classic rock right? Let's see here, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, maybe put in some obscure ones, Beatles? Your mom listens to Beatles a lot, yeah that'll do it. Making your second purchase it looks like Astrid is ready to leave too.
  2328.  
  2329. >"Hey Anon, what time is it?"
  2330.  
  2331. >"About, 10:30p.m."
  2332.  
  2333. >"Guess we can look around a bit more."
  2334.  
  2335. >You go around and finish up the rest of your shopping, your budget utterly decimated but at least you feel good in the end. Now it's on to the ice rink, something you wondered if you'd even do anymore with all the bags.
  2336.  
  2337. >"Are your sure Astrid? Where will we put all of our stuff?"
  2338.  
  2339. >"They have safe lockers we can put our stuff in, come on Anon it'll be fun!"
  2340.  
  2341. >"Ok.."
  2342.  
  2343. >With your items locked away and a quick rental of ice skates later you're out on ice. Werewolf shoes are sort of weird now that you look at them, what with their digitgrade legs and such, even stranger when they're made to be stiff. Astrid struggles but manages to put her boots on in the end, holding your hand out into the rink as you struggle to stay up.
  2344.  
  2345. >"Just take it easy Anon, think of it as riding a bike, keep up your center balance and remember that the faster you go, the easier it'll be to balance."
  2346.  
  2347. >"Got it."
  2348.  
  2349. >Immediately you half ass your way towards the center, tripping down and sliding straight into the opposite half wall. You can hear Astrid chuckle from behind you as she grabs your arm to pull you back up.
  2350.  
  2351. >"Heh, heh, you're fine Anon. I sucked too when I first started skating."
  2352.  
  2353. >"That doesn't make slamming into walls hurt less."
  2354.  
  2355. >"Of course not! Here, try following my turn movement."
  2356.  
  2357. >She skids off and uses her body to turn around in a circle back to you. Nudging you to try it yourself, you try and follow her methodology to mixed results. While you did manage to turn back around it took a much larger angle of movement to do so.
  2358.  
  2359. >"See? You can do it too!"
  2360.  
  2361. >"Not as well as you."
  2362.  
  2363. >"Doesn't matter, you still did it, didn't you?"
  2364.  
  2365. >"Yeah I guess."
  2366.  
  2367. >"You know what, it's not that fun just sitting around is it? Let's go out on the ice and see where that goes."
  2368.  
  2369. >You both start moving around the rink. Although it's difficult, you manage to stay up for the most part. Astrid even grabs hold of you, making the two of you move in circles before launching off of each other. You barely manage to turn in time, unfortunately for you because Astrid had the same idea, making you crash head on into her. Since she had more momentum, you both skid off backwards until you the two of you fall to the floor along with her entire weight. Blessing or curse, your face is now stuffed into her sweatered chest as well. She carefully gets up and moves to the side of you, looking as embarrassed as you are.
  2370.  
  2371. >"Er, maybe we should call it a night, it's pretty late anyways and we still have to walk back."
  2372.  
  2373. >"That sounds, good."
  2374.  
  2375. >You both exit the rink as Astrid tells you to wait at a bench while she turns in the ice skates and retrieves the bags. Almost right after leaving earshot, another wolfess sits to the side of you, lean, dressed in a black overcoat and long brimmed hat. What little if her fur you can see is grey. Oddly enough, you feel like you know this person for some reason.
  2376.  
  2377. >"Hello Anon."
  2378.  
  2379. >"Um, hello? Who are you?"
  2380.  
  2381. >"I'm Wilmor."
  2382.  
  2383. >"Oh..."
  2384.  
  2385. >You don't know how Astrid would respond if she saw Wilmor sitting next to you while talking, making you apprehensive to open conversation.
  2386.  
  2387. >"I know you don't really know me Anon, and what you've heard of me probably hasn't been great but you're the only one who can help me with this."
  2388.  
  2389. >Oh no, what are you about to get yourself into?
  2390.  
  2391. >"What's that?"
  2392.  
  2393. >"Can you tell her, that I'm sorry?"
  2394.  
  2395. >"What do you mean?"
  2396.  
  2397. >"I've, said a lot of things over the years that I regret saying to her. But, I'm too much of a coward to just go up to her and say it directly, let alone be turned down. I know out of all the people she'd dismiss, you're the last one she'd do that to."
  2398.  
  2399. >"How do you know that?"
  2400.  
  2401. >"Gossip and news spreads quickly around here, especially when it involves someone deemed odd or interesting. Needless to say your effect on her life hasn't gone unnoticed, and I'd be in your debt if you did this for me."
  2402.  
  2403. >"What's with it between you too anyways?"
  2404.  
  2405. >"When we were little, she was my best friend. We used to do everything together and I thought that nothing could get between us. Then there was a divide, she grew much different from me, both physically and mentally, so we just started to not associate with each other after puberty. That's when I went into my own clique of friends. Now that I think back to it, they weren't real friends at all, at least not as much as Astrid. I, made fun of her for a long time, out of jealousy mostly. Men were afraid of her strength and height and people thought she could take any person to a prom if she so desired. You know, mocking was just a way of compensating for my shortcomings back then. An incident happened after she asked someone out to homecoming, it caused the entire school to go down on her, she wasn't seen as a threat that much afterwards so kids thought they had free reign. I started to regret the crowd I was in then, but was too scared of being an outcast to stop.The way she managed to go through the rest of high school even after what happened amazed me, needless to say. It fueled my ever growing regret just by seeing how it wore her down, making me feel even worse for what I've done. Ever since graduation I've tried multiple times to spark a conversation with her, hoping that one day we could be friends again. Understandably,she has no desire to do that. I don't care if she doesn't want to be my friend Anon, but please, all I want is some level of communication so that I can formerly forgive her without being cut off."
  2406.  
  2407. >It's hard to see her emotions under the heavy clothing, but her tone of voice is shaky and remorseful. Although Astrid has always shone her in a purely negative light, you never really held any bitter resentment to her on a personal level. Oh what the hell.
  2408.  
  2409. >"I'll do it."
  2410.  
  2411. >"Really?.. Thank you Anon, if you follow through I'll be in your debt."
  2412.  
  2413. >"You might want to go now, she's coming back."
  2414.  
  2415. >At that realization, she hurriedly gets up from the bench and swiftly moves away, not enough time for Astrid not to see.
  2416.  
  2417. >"Hey, who was that person sitting next to you? The one in the heavy jacket and hat?"
  2418.  
  2419. >"Someone, I'll tell you after we get back to your apartment. Let's just get out of here."
  2420.  
  2421. >"Oh, kay?"
  2422.  
  2423. >You and Astrid exit the mall and start to walk back towards her apartment, which gives you more than enough time to think over what even happened back at the mall. Was she, stalking the two of you? Maybe it's the coat that got you, then again, it's winter and she was technically wearing proper dress all things considered. It happened so suddenly though, no subtly sitting next to you either. How would Astrid even react to this? Should you even tell her about it tonight? You barely know Wilmor, hell, she probably knows more about you than you know about her. But if what she said was true, then there's no reason why you wouldn't help her if it mean't Astrid regained a close friend. But who knows what would've happened if Astrid just saw the two of you talking on a bench, she'd probably go ballistic. Her situation is certainly relatable, a person you used to be friends with becoming a rival in a way. She can't be such a bad person if she can recognize her mistakes. You think it'd be best to tell Astrid when you get back.
  2424.  
  2425. >"Hey Anon, look. It's snowing."
  2426.  
  2427. >She's right, a light snowfall is beginning to fall around the two of you, and you're not even halfway back yet.
  2428.  
  2429. >"We should hurry back."
  2430.  
  2431. >"Yeah"
  2432.  
  2433. >Moving faster now, the two of you manage to get back right before the snowfall turns into a blizzard. You go back up to her apartment in relative silence, dropping your stuff and sitting down on the couch with Astrid.
  2434.  
  2435. >"Good thing we got back in time. I don't know if you can drive back tonight Anon."
  2436.  
  2437. >"Yeah, there's no way I'm going to even try that."
  2438.  
  2439. >"So, who was the mysterious person sitting next to you? They certainly didn't want to talk to me."
  2440.  
  2441. >"A person who wanted to get rid of her guilt."
  2442.  
  2443. >"Wait, what? Why are you being vague? Just tell me who it was."
  2444.  
  2445. >"Wilmor"
  2446.  
  2447. >Astrid's eyes dilated as her muzzle twisted into a snarl. As if the mention of her name alone made a presence in the room that only Astrid could feel.
  2448.  
  2449. >"Why the hell was that bitch there?!"
  2450.  
  2451. >"Astrid, let me explain."
  2452.  
  2453. >"Who does she think she is?! Going over and trying to be with my best friend when she doesn't even have the nerve to stare me straight in the eye when I come back! If I ever see that backstabbing degenerate again I'll!-"
  2454.  
  2455. >"Astrid! Let explain!"
  2456.  
  2457. >"Are you in on something with her? Been talking behind my back? Is that what this is?!"
  2458.  
  2459. >Although she knew nothing about the conversation, she already thinks you somehow betrayed her. You can see it in her eyes, her own self conclusion starting to mix sadness into her rage.
  2460.  
  2461. >"No! She wanted me to tell you that she's sorry for wronging you over the years!"
  2462.  
  2463. >Although mostly angry and disgusted, you swore Astrid was about to start breaking into tears before that, now her emotions are back to the former, a wild look of hate in her eyes.
  2464.  
  2465. >"What? She can't say that to my face herself?! What kind of low life can't even-"
  2466.  
  2467. >"She already told me that she was a coward for doing it. She's tried talking to you face to face multiple times, but you won't listen to what she has to say! So out of desperation the only way of sending her message to you was through me because she knows I'm the person you trust the most! All she wants is to restart her friendship with you at most, the only reason she ever started to mock you was because she was insecure about her own shortcomings. Astrid, she knew what she did was wrong, and she regrets falling out with you all those years ago, she didn't have any bitterness towards you while speaking. I don't know how bad it was between you and her, but it'd be best if you just let her apologize for what she did, then you could say at the very least that there's no bad blood between the two of you.
  2468.  
  2469. >A new conflict seems to be going through her head as she processes what you told her. Her teeth start to grit as she starts to shed tears.
  2470.  
  2471. >"Easy for her to say! I wanted her to be my friend again too but she never gave me the damn chance when I needed it the most! Why should I forgive her for what she did?! There's no reason why I should!"
  2472.  
  2473. >To think everything was calm just a couple minutes earlier. She's openly crying now, tears freely falling down her face as she desperately looks for some sort of support mechanism, only to find nothing that isn't another person she's sitting next to. Her resolve is low again. It would be best for you to calm her down so that today can end on a better note so you wordlessly grab the wolfess and pull her down so that she can lean on you, wrapping your arms around her in the process. She sniffles out in a desperate attempt to stop herself from wailing out but it fails, causing her to ball into your shoulder as you try to get her in a better mood. In turn her arms wrap around you in an embrace that's kept a while longer until her cries turn back into sniffles as her tear ducts run dry.
  2474.  
  2475. >"Do you want to continue having a bad relationship between the two of you?"
  2476.  
  2477. >"No, n-o I don't. But why didn't she d-o something earlier if she's s-o sorry!"
  2478.  
  2479. >"She was scared of you and the "friends" behind her, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place."
  2480.  
  2481. >"Ano-n, am I really that scary to people?"
  2482.  
  2483. >"I'd say people might be intimidated by you, but don't let yourself be judged like that."
  2484.  
  2485. >"Are you scare-d of me?"
  2486.  
  2487. >"No, I'm not."
  2488.  
  2489. >"But when I first transfor-med."
  2490.  
  2491. >"You were the first werewolf I had ever seen in real life, I probably would've reacted similarly to any other werewolf. Remember what
  2492.  I said about improving your life Astrid?"
  2493.  
  2494. >"Yea-h."
  2495.  
  2496. >"This is something you can do to improve your life, passing this up would go against your goals. In the end, when you die, what would make you happier? Knowing that you died surrounded by friends, or surrounded nobody?"
  2497.  
  2498. >"Friends."
  2499.  
  2500. >"Right, and friends will help you when you're feeling low, like I'm doing right now. The only thing I ask for in return is to do the same when I get low, that's what friends do. How low do you think Wilmor is for her to come to me for help?"
  2501.  
  2502. >"Pr-etty low."
  2503.  
  2504. >"So help her out. You know what's better than looking back at people who bullied you and to find out that you're doing better than them? Doing that with friends. It might sound cruel, but it's a deserving cruel, isn't it? Who knows? Maybe they changed their ways and bettered their own lives, then everyone can forgive and forget, start a new. Hell, who knows, you might befriend some of them, maybe they've changed for the better themselves."
  2505.  
  2506. >She gives off a few low chuckles.
  2507.  
  2508. >"I like it when you put so much thought into motivational speeches for me Anon. Yeah, I think, I'll do it."
  2509.  
  2510. >"Great, now since the atmosphere is right and I'm snowed in with you tonight, why don't we watch some Christmas movies with hot chocolate?"
  2511.  
  2512. >She wipes the remaining tears off of her face, showing off a toothy smile.
  2513.  
  2514. >"I'd like that a lot."
  2515.  
  2516. >As she goes into the bathroom, probably to wash her face, you get to work on making two mugs of the heated chocolate beverage. Once they're done you sit them down on the coffee table and flip through before finding "It's a wonderful Life". She comes back and sits down right next to you on the couch. The movie starts and you both start to drink your heated beverages until they empty out around 15 minutes into the movie. Instead of making more you're contempt to just stay with Astrid, she doesn't seem to mind either. There isn't much to talk about, the two of you are too contempt with the mellowed out end to the day for conversation. With the movie nearly done, she starts to doze off with you following suit. The last thing you feel is Astrid pulling you towards her until your head rests on her bosom, any movement you make is stopped by her wrapping her arms around you. You could care less if this was platonic or not, you're so comfortable now that your vision blacks out before you could process her movement.
  2517.  
  2518. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  2519.  
  2520. MORNING, 8:02a.m.
  2521.  
  2522. >Groggily, you start to wake up as a beam of sunlight hits your face. You try to get up but something is holding you in, oh right, Astrid. This morning might be a lot more awkward than you want it to be, at the same time you've never been this comfortable on a couch before.
  2523.  
  2524. >She starts to rouse from your movement, slowly waking up as well. She's as confused as you were when she realized a certain mass is holding her down. She peers down from her chest to see you staring back, both of you embarrassed in your current situation.
  2525.  
  2526. >"Er, good morning Anon."
  2527.  
  2528. >"Morning Astrid."
  2529.  
  2530. >"We fell asleep together, didn't we?"
  2531.  
  2532. >"Well you semi consciously pulled me here if that's what you meant."
  2533.  
  2534. >In fact, she still has her arms wrapped around you, which she immediately frees you from.
  2535.  
  2536. >"S-sorry Anon!"
  2537.  
  2538. >"It's, fine. So, breakfast?"
  2539.  
  2540. >"Sure! Yeah! I'll go make it right now!"
  2541.  
  2542. >"Well why don't you let me mak-"
  2543.  
  2544. >She's gone before you can finish. Other than the awkward situation, waking up had gone better than it could've. You do wish the two of you could just go back to lying with each other on the couch, but that's obviously not something you could just do yet. If you could cuddle her to sleep every night like that then your life would be complete. If only you could muster up the courage to just tell her. Guess that'll come another day, she just realized that all of her clothes are too big now and she's being somewhat clumsy. Maybe you should at least start the breakfast.
  2545.  
  2546. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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