Vanessa re-entered the room, this time carrying a white, flouncy shirt, and a deep blue dress. She handed the dress to Pinkie and said, "Here, sweetie, go into the other room and try this on." Pinkie took the garment and left the room.
Vanessa then handed the shirt to Pepper. "This should go nicely with that tie. And I'm pretty sure somewhere around here I have slacks you can wear." Pepper didn't bother to ask why or how Vanessa had slacks or ties. He was afraid of summoning up another story of someone that had died or gone missing.
Vanessa stood with her back to him as he quickly changed shirts. "I'm ready," he said, when he was decent. She approached him with the tie and began helping him put it on.
"I have to tell you something, Pepper, and I don't want you to breathe a word of it to Pinkie, okay?" she said out of nowhere, as if in the middle of a conversation they weren't having.
Pepper wasn't sure how to respond, so he said, "Okay."
"You're very good for Pinkie."
Again, he was struck with uncertainty for an appropriate response. This time, he remained silent, hoping beyond hope that Vanessa would cut him a break and explain. He was lucky, because she did continue speaking.
"She's going through a really tough time right now," she said. Pepper nodded. "I know she won't tell you everything, but it's not because she doesn't want to. It's because she doesn't really know all the details herself."
"How can that be?" Pepper said, piping up.
"It's complicated," Vanessa said. "There's more to her than meets the eye, you know."
"Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, whether you know it or not, you're helping her. She's happier than I've seen her in a good, long while."
That's weird, Pepper thought, because he'd seen almost nothing but pain.
"I know you don't see it," Vanessa said, as if reading his mind, "But I do. We do. Everyone here. She's brighter. So, whether or not you even know why you're here, it's a good thing you are."
She stopped fiddling with the tie and patted him on the shoulder. "There, you're all done. Want to have a look?" She pushed him towards a mirror that was leaning haphazardly against the wall.
Pepper had never worn a tie before, not even for picture day at school. His mother had typically put him in a nice shirt and jeans and brushed his hair and that was that. So he felt quite grown up, in fact, he let his mind wander and imagined himself a great, important man, who went to work carrying a brief case and made important decisions about something important.
But his day dream didn't last very long, because Pinkie came back in the room, wearing the dress.
"It's a little too big," she said to Vanessa, tugging at it awkwardly.
Pepper couldn't say anything. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Were murffles allowed to be beautiful, he wondered? It didn't matter, murffle or no, she WAS beautiful. She had taken her hair out of the pigtails, and for the first time, Pepper saw her curly, blond hair cascading around her face, framing it, making it stand out. The dress held tightly to her upper body until it got to her middle and fanned out after that, making it appear as if she were floating somehow, moving without using her legs. There were sparkles in the fabric, sparkles which drew Pepper's attention to her sparkling eyes.
"Oh, my goodness," Vanessa said.
"What?" Pinkie asked, alarmed. "It looks silly on me, doesn't it?"
"Not at all, sweetie, not at all." Vanessa sniffed, as if she might be crying, and hurried over to Pinkie. "Oh, and I might have a nice clip we can put in your hair." She leaned over and hugged Pinkie from behind. "You are going to be the most beautiful girl there!"
Pinkie smiled, holding onto Vanessa's arms, and looked up at Pepper.
He looked back, only for a moment, then had to look away, afraid she might be able to see in his eyes that he thought she looked pretty. He couldn't have that. He was already dangerously close to thinking of her as a girl rather than a murffle, and the moment that happened... well... he didn't want to think about it.
"Okay, okay," Vanessa said, standing up. "We've got to head out if we're going to make it in time."
** ** **
They decided not to take the undergrounds, because Pinkie was afraid of her dress getting crushed, so they went above. Pepper hadn't expected to see anyone else, as that is what he was used to, but they actually spied a few other people walking around in the evening air. The sun hadn't completely gone down yet, so the sky was a beautiful shade of pink and orange. Clouds on the horizon were wispy and light. Pepper felt like he was royalty, on his way to a special party thrown just for him, with the princess at his side.
The three walked in silence. He wondered how far away the Throwbanger's Ball was, figuring it couldn't be too far. Besides, he'd almost lost track of time since he hadn't had any reason or way to keep track for the past few days.
His hair, which Vanessa had taken the time to brush back, was getting rumpled by the slight breeze that surrounded them. He smiled. He felt happy.
He watched with fascination at the other people walking around in the open Dune air. They were all in formal wear. He wondered where they lived, what kind of lives they led.
(something happens that makes sense for a transition)
Suddenly, he heard a shrill scream. Pepper froze, the sound chilled him to the bone. He looked at Pinkie to see that she was frozen, too, fear plastered across her face.
She was shaking her head. "No," she said, "No, no, no, not tonight, no."
Pepper had the feeling he knew what she was talking about. It.
Vanessa reacted much quicker than Pinkie and Pepper had, she was sprinting off in the direction the scream came from. Pepper glanced around and saw that everyone else who was out had also frozen to the spot; some of them had turned around and appeared to be going back to their homes.
"Pinkie," he said, "What's going on?"
Pinkie stared at him, wide-eyed. "It's got someone."
Pepper had no idea what to do. He didn't feel safe just standing out in the open. He had no idea where the Ball was, or how to get there. As a matter of fact, he had no idea where anything was. But he did feel like they should be moving.
He grabbed Pinkie's arm. "Come on," he said.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"I don't know. Away. Away from here."
"We can't! Vanessa!"
"She'll be okay," he said. He tried to say it with certainty, but the truth was, he had no idea if she would be okay. "Quick, Pinkie, let's try to get to the Ball, do you know how to get there?"
Pinkie nodded. "But what if that's where It went, too?"
Pepper thought quickly about what he knew about It. Very little, admittedly, but he wracked his brain, replaying the instances he'd dealt with It until he thought of something. "It can't get us inside, can it?"
Pinkie considered that carefully. "I... I don't think so?"
"Then get us to the Ball," Pepper said firmly. Pinkie stood momentarily, pondering, then nodded and started walking.
The panic was in full force, now. People were running in all directions, trying to get somewhere safe. Pepper and Pinkie, however, were walking right into the fray.
Pinkie was muttering to herself, "I'm not doing this, I'm not doing this, I'm not doing this," over and over again, but she was moving forward. And that was the important thing. They had to keep moving. As long as they were moving, Pepper felt productive, and as long as he felt productive, he wasn't panicking.
Every so often, an image would slip into his memory of lying in a pool of someone else's blood, and he did his best to push it out of his brain.
Moving. Moving. More screams. Pepper tried not to think about whether Vanessa was okay. He didn't even want to consider the idea that she wasn't. His heart was pounding in his chest, time had leapt from untrackable to irrelevant.
He couldn't tell what was had happened in the space between when they left and when they got there, but there they were, finally.
The building was already above ground. It was a grand, white building, with tall columns and festive decorations, but Pepper didn't have much time to take it all in, as he and Pinkie were too busy trying to get in the door. A very tall, muscled man was guarding the entrance.
"Name?" he said, in a bored manner, as if nothing was going on outside at all.
"Please, we need to get inside," Pepper pleaded with him.
"Are you on the list?" the man said.
"Yes," Pinkie piped up. "We have an invitation. Show him, Pepper."
With sinking realization, Pepper remembered that Vanessa had the invitations. And neither he nor Pinkie knew where Vanessa was. He longed for his Lucky Thing, this would have never happened if he still had it.
"You do have the invitation, right Pepper?"
He shook his head. "Vanessa has it."
Pinkie shook her finger at the guard. "Yes, that's right we're here with Vanessa Stykle!" she said boldly.
The guard snorted. "Right. And where exactly is Vanessa Stykle?"
Pepper brought himself to full height. "She's off investigating a recent attack by It, and if you know what's best for you, you'll let us inside so that there isn't another one."
The guard took a step forward, staring down at Pepper menacingly. "Is that a threat, little boy?"
"Um... no..." Pepper muttered, backing off.
"What's all this?" came a voice, and another man, shorter, wearing a dashing top hat, emerged from the doorway. "Walter, what is the problem?"
The guard gestured to Pinkie and Pepper. "These kids are trying to tell me they have an invitation. That they're here with Vanessa Stykle, the Pound player."
"We ARE!" Pinkie yelled.
The short man's eyes fell on the two of them. He looked them up and down, then his eyes grew wide. "Er, Walter, would you please come with me?" He lead the menacing man into the building and shut the door.
"We should just go inside," Pepper growled.
"We can't," Pinkie said. "It's most likely protected to only let people in if Walter says so. That's how most of these high functions are."
"But what would happen to us if we went through anyway?"
"Well, for one thing, we wouldn't be able to. For another thing, if we tried, we'd probably end up in a great deal of pain."
"Oh." Pepper looked the door over. It didn't seem that strong or unyielding. "I can't just stand around and do nothing!" Pepper cried as another scream rang out. How could that guard not realize what was going on? It seemed very strange, standing on the threshold of such an elaborate, elite event while such havoc was going on unrecognized just outside.
The two men came back outside. Walter had a strange look on his face. The short man nodded encouragingly at him.
"Okay, erm, you kids, you can, uh, you can go in." He didn't look as though he was okay with them going in, his face was forced into a terrifyingly strange smile.
But Pepper didn't bother being unsettled by this. He took Pinkie's arm and led her in through the door.
They stepped through and suddenly, it was as if everything Pepper was worried about simply sloughed off of him. He didn't bother to wonder why the short man had allowed to let them in. He even let It's re-appearance slip to the back of his mind. He glanced at Pinkie, and saw that she seemed much calmer herself. Holding her arm in his, they walked towards the middle of the room.
It was filled with people, all dressed in formal wear, swirling around a grand dance floor lit by what must have been hundreds of elaborate chandeliers. Pepper let his eyes wander, staring up into the ceilings that seemed to go on forever. The walls were decorated with detailed portraits of people who must have been very important, to have portraits painted of them. The room had a gentle, yellowish white glow to it, coming from the light of the thousands of candles from above. In the corner, Pepper could see that a table had been set up with refreshments: crackers and cheese, a punch bowl, several exotic looking dips and garnishes. The music playing was lilting and beautiful, causing Pepper to feel even more at ease with each passing second. He looked to the floor, where everyone was participating in a very graceful dance, turned to Pinkie and said, "Would you care to dance with me?"
She looked at him, green eyes glowing sweetly in the light, and smiled gently. She nodded wordlessly, and they made their way to the dance floor.
Chapter 1: Pepper
Chapter 2: Pinkie
Chapter 3: Dune
Chapter 4: Mugget
Chapter 5: Deltiology
Chapter 6: Umbrella
Chapter 7: The
Chapter 8: Exsanguination
Chapter 9: Oubliette
Chapter 10: Ferret
Chapter 11: Defenestrate
Chapter 12: Pound
Chapter 13: Aerodynamics
Chapter 14: Callipygian
Chapter 15: Cosmonaut
Chapter 16: Ensue
Chapter 17: Translucent
Chapter 18: Shindig
Chapter 19: Pseudocyesis
Chapter 20: Plantation
Chapter 21: Filch
Chapter 22: Detumescence
Chapter 23: Gelid
Chapter 24: Murrain
Chapter 25: Homunculus
Chapter 26: Somnambulate
Chapter 27: Delight
Full Story at pepperadventure