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Jay turned his hand over under Camden’s, taking it and giving it a squeeze. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “You’re right, I think. I’m letting myself get kind of overwhelmed and that’s no good. I’ll try to remember to put some time in to relax and make things normal again.”
Camden flushed, glancing aside at him. “Okay. Good.”
“And I want to take you up on your offer,” Jay said, more gently. Camden seemed a little unused to compliments or affection, and he didn’t want to overwhelm the other man, or make him think Jay was coming onto him when he wasn’t. Finding a balance of appreciation without embarrassing him seemed tricky. He squeezed again, then pulled his hand back. “But I don’t even know enough to do that.”
Camden nodded slowly. “Like, you, uh. Don’t know what to ask for help with?”
“Right, exactly,” Jay said. He cracked his neck, stretching it. “I think what I really need to focus on right now, if you can help with this, is figuring out the main factions. I’m guessing there’s Nyarlathotep—” Maybe next door, he didn’t say. “—and Hastur, and if you and your sister count, the Deep Ones. What others? I met a woman in my dreams who… was probably Keziah, and she said she had an agent in town. Do you know who that might be?”
Making a face, Camden shifted uncomfortably on the loveseat. “I personally wouldn’t name them all so openly,” he muttered, “but I mean, I already got attention I don’t want. Ummm. You’ll probably want to talk to the most powerful person in the area for each cult rather than working your way through. People less involved are often more suspicious of outsiders because they’ve got less control, so I wouldn’t go blabbing about this to just everyone, if I were you. It could go… badly?”
Badly how, Jay didn’t ask. “Ugh. Noted.”
“For the Dream Witch,” Camden said hesitantly, “I think the person you want to talk to is probably Hannah Dylan? Hannah runs the antique shop in town. There are others as well, yeah, though I don’t know if they’re as…approachable. There’s a small but fervent group here dedicated to the Gate, The Key, and the Guardian; they run most of the town groceries. It’s their family business; the cult, um, he keeps it all in one family, mostly. I don’t think you want to get involved with them, but ask after old Wilbur Whateley if you do. Outside of town, most of the farmers give thanks to the Black Goat of the Woods for their fortune. I’m not sure who’s best to talk to there, I don’t… know anyone personally.”
This was way too many eldritch gods already. Jay wrinkled his nose. “I guess I’ll think about if it’s necessary,” he said. “Do you know anything about the dreamscape other than what you told me already? Anything to help me get around there?”
Shaking his head, Camden said, “Sorry. I, uh, don’t know much about that side of things. Everything for me has been really, um. Physical.”
“Right. That’s fair. It’s just that to get there, there’s four Signs—” he realized he might be about to say too much and got up, pacing. “I saw something about that, anyway. So I don’t know if I want to start talking to cults past those, at least not yet. And I think I’ve met someone from each of those except Keziah’s group, so maybe I should meet that Hannah next. Besides, I was planning on running down some of Aunt Grace’s stuff to the antique shop anyway.”
Camden glanced around at the mess that still filled every possible surface of the house, then offered Jay a somewhat sickly smile. “I can see why.”
“Right? Maybe later I’ll need help just moving this junk,” Jay said, and smiled back. “For now, though, honestly, I think I need the space to decide what to do most of all. I really appreciate the offer for help but I don’t want you to pull you into all this.”
Eyes widening, Camden nodded. “…That’s kind of you,” he said. “But, uh, I did mean it. Outsiders got to stick together.”
Does someone cursed by the Deep Ones really count as an outsider? Jay closed his mouth on the words unsaid. Camden had run away here to try to get away from all that; why had he come here, of all places, to do so? But still, Jay understood how he might feel like an outsider anyway. Not his city, not his gods, and he just wanted a better life for his sister, even if he couldn’t get one himself. Respectable, even if Jay felt like maybe there was more to it than Camden was saying.
“Thank you,” he said. “Seriously. If I need help with something, I’ll remember the offer and get in touch—though, uh, where do you live? I’ve checked in with the neighbors on either side, so I’m not exactly sure how close you are…?”
“Oh, jeez.” Camden flushed a mottled red. “Sorry. Yeah. I’m just down the street, at 1028. I’ll, uh, give you my number?”
Jay smiled at him encouragingly. “That’ll do,” he said. He dug his cell phone out and put it into his contacts as Camden said it aloud. “Sorry, I don’t mean to seem like I’m kicking you out after you came by to offer help and bring me the flowers and all.”
“No, of course,” Camden said, flushing harder, almost croaking. “I gotta pick Candace up from school anyhow. I’ll talk to you later? Remember to take care of yourself. And remember you’re not alone.”
“I’ll remember it, thanks,” Jay said. He rose, seeing Camden to the door. “…And seriously, I really do appreciate it. I could use a friend around here, so… I’m grateful.”
“I can be that,” Camden agreed, ducking his head. “Luck, Jay.”
Once Jay had the door locked behind Camden, he headed back to the kitchen and frowned down at the book that had occupied so much of his afternoon.
Talking to Camden had definitely been helpful—finding out who Keziah’s agent probably was could be super useful—but he realized that he had a limited amount of time to do things tonight. If he started right away, he could pack up a bunch of Aunt Grace’s stuff and use it as an excuse to start talking to Hannah Dylan, but if he did anything else first, he wouldn’t have time to get there before the antique shop closed for the afternoon. Going down without bringing anything might still be okay, of course, but would still take time and a trip into the city, and might put her more on her guard than if he had a legitimate reason to visit her business.
And then there were the keys. Ashesh had given them to him, so he was sure they’d be important, but if he tried to find where the new keys went right away, in case any of that would be of use or interest to Hannah, or for his own purposes, he would run out of time to see her today.
And there was the question of if he wanted to try to hunt down at least one Elder Sign tonight, before he slept again. That would also take time, and he wasn’t sure how much of it, or when to start—let alone where to start, though Louis might be a good choice to get his hands on the sign.
Among other things, he couldn’t help but think, and found himself flushing. Focus, he told himself, indignantly.
And if he didn’t go for a sign, he might want to see what he could find of Aunt Grace’s on dreaming, on seeing what could help with that, since he might need to be practicing his dream-walking without the protection of a sign or using the door. Which should still be possible, he reminded himself; he was just more aware of its dangers now, and the librarian—Keziah, maybe—wouldn’t let him take any information away from the library without a sign.
Then on top of those things, as Camden had pointed out, he might want to leave himself enough time to decompress. To not let this take over his mind and his health and leave nothing else left.
And all those things would be way too many things to do in one night. He had to decide what to do immediately, and at least make a rough plan of what he should do later tonight, and what to leave for another day.
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