The Tower loomed over the city, the shroud over all creative outlets now long gone.
Gwen crouched in its shadow in an alley, looking up at the imposing building and trying to gather her courage.
"What if we fail?" she muttered to herself. She bit her tongue, filling in the rest of the quote: "We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail." She sighed inwardly and stood. No time like the present to get started, she thought. But how to get in?
She glanced over the crate she was hiding behind... An old loading door! And it was ajar! Perfect! She glanced towards both ends of the alley before sprinting to the door and slipping through its void.
"Well, that was easy," Gwen muttered. Almost too easy... She jammed her blue wool bucket hat firmly onto her head. Well, as firmly as a low bun would allow.
If I were an interrogation room, where would I hide? She'd made her way through the bottom five floors with the same amount of both detection and success. In fact, she hadn't seen any sign of inhabitants at all. There was something funky about all of this, that much was certain. If she'd been reading this in a story, she would've been yelling at the page to not go any further, get out, it was probably a trap. Unfortunately for me, this ain't fiction.
A scuffle met her ears. Footsteps, coming on fast. But from which end of the hall? The acoustics were weird; it had a strange reverb that made sounds from in front of the listener seem to come from behind. Or maybe that was Gwen's stressed mind playing tricks on her? Either option was plausible at this stage of the game. She ran to her left, but almost immediately regretted it: three Antagonist officers were rounding a corner. Hastily she dove into a side hallway, but it was a dead end. The footsteps quickened. Gwen turned on heel to attempt an escape, only to find the three officers forming a tight semicircle around her.
"Well, well, well," the middle one (whose voice Gwen recognized as the captain from earlier) sneered. "What have we here?"
She swallowed. It was probably the worst time for a flip reply, but it was all Gwen could think to do. "I don't know. What do we have here?"
The two side officers looked a bit taken aback. The captain's eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to be funny or something?"
"I'm not sure. Am I?"
"What do you think you're doing here?"
"What do you think I'm doing here?"
"Why have you replied to every question with another question?"
"What do you expect me to do?"
His face grew steadily redder. He answered through gritted teeth, "I expect you to answer with a statement."
"Oh," she said with mock surprise. "Why didn't you say so?"
"In case you're not up on conventions, if a person asks another a question, the other person usually replies with a statement."
"But if that's what you wanted me to do, why didn't you specify before?"
"Because it's implied! It's assumed!"
"Guess that goes to show you can't always trust assumptions, now can you?"
Had she crossed a line? Gwen couldn't tell; the captain looked fit to burst for a moment, but quickly regained his composure. "Can I trust my assumption that you are, at the very least, an Anomaly, if not a Protagonist?"
Gwen tried to conceal a swallow. "What makes you assume that?"
Smirking the captain pulled a hat from his pocket. "Does this look familiar?" he asked, an uncomfortable smirk flitting over his face. Her hand drifted to her head in disbelief, feeling only her bun under her fingers. She thought something was missing! Her eyes widened with worried recognition.
Sinister satisfaction set into the captain's face. "How 'bout this label? Recognize this?" He turned the blue bucket hat inside out, showing Gwen the inside top. An old piece of muslin cloth bore a few lines written in her hand, with a few words stitched out after the Antagonists took over.
"Can you read that aloud?"
She shrugged. "'Course I can."
They waited in silence. "Well?"
"Oh! You actually wanted me to read it!"
"That's the idea."
"A wonderful idea, if I may say so."
"Just read it, chickee," one of the officers snapped.
She read over the lines, cleared her throat, then read: "It speaks, I try to listen/It calls, I attempt to respond/It spins a tale, I try to write it down/But I'm not alone./They all help me do my thing/For we are the ---/And I am ---."
"I think you left some words out," the captain observed smugly. "Call me crazy, but it almost seems like there would be a name or two in there. A group name, or perhaps your name, hm?"
"How do you even know this is my hat?"
The captain nearly laughed. "Do you seriously think we haven't followed you? Not necessarily to here, but before this. We've noticed a redhead with a blue bucket hat; they're few and far between, you know. You'd be surprised how much we know, chickee. Besides..." he teased a long red hair from the edge of the hat, "do red hairs magically appear on the brims of odd hats?"
Gwen stayed silent, trying not to tremble.
"They know a Protagonist was brought here for interrogation," one of the officers murmured, "but they don't know which one, turns out he escaped. Any'll do, for all intents and purposes." She really didn't like the look on the officer's face; she tried pressing herself against the wall.
"Well, let's not be too hasty. Maybe she can be useful. She seems to know quite a bit, and I'd assume she's an asset to the Protagonists. They probably need her."
"What are you saying, sir?"
"I'm saying we hold off on the Furnace for the moment. We may need this one if we're to get rid of the Protagonists once and for all."