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“I think it’s probably up to us to start,” Webb said, huffing at the steam wafting from their teacup, still too hot to drink. “… and by ‘us’ I mean I’m nominating Ariadne, as I am currently having the vapors.”
The Curator looked worried. Faraday looked faintly amused, chin resting in his hand.
“The vapors?” he murmured.
“Yes. Due to my agonies.”
Faraday grinned, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. Ariadne scrunched up her nose, nudging him lightly, and shifted so she was leaning forward, elbows resting on her knees.
“I don’t mind getting you up to date,” she said, then glanced over at Webb, expression plainly saying: everything?
Webb took a careful sip of their tea, closed their eyes, and nodded.
“Well, alright.” She drew in a deep breath. “My name is Ariadne, and this is my partner, Faraday. I’m a vampire, um, obviously. And Faraday is a stitch-witch. I guess this all starts a while back, with my sire, a vampire named Grimm…”
Ariadne recounted the story from the beginning: her involvement with Grimm, her escape with Faraday, the years in between, the chance encounter with another vampire. Her lingering guilt and concern about Grimm’s growing power. Their meeting with Webb, and the events of the night so far.
There, she hesitated. “So… Webb mentioned that you were one of the people they got information from, and… we wondered if you might know something.”
“You wondered if I was involved in giving you false information,” the Curator said in their soft, sibilant voice. “Working with this vampire to hurt people.”
“No,” Webb blurted, sitting up a little, the blanket sliding off their lap. “Well—a little. I considered it, obviously. I was afraid. But—”
The Curator waved their hands, gently trailing smoke. “It’s, it’s alright, Webb. I don’t blame you. You’d be fully within your rights to be suspicious. You’d never seen me for what I was, and you knew someone had betrayed you…”
“So you’re saying you’re definitely not involved?” Faraday asked quietly. He had made himself comfortable and pulled out an embroidery hoop, stitching as they discussed.
The Curator’s shoulders hunched and they shook their head so hard that bits of them seemed to drift away like scattering ashes. “No,” they said, firm yet tremulous. Despite the emotion in their voice, they seemed unable to raise it much louder than a soft murmur. “Not… deliberately. But of course it’s possible that I might have been a source of some information that was misused…”
“Where do you… learn everything that you share with me?” Webb asked, sitting up, a little more prepared to re-enter society again, despite their headache and the bruises to their ego. “You—I mean, you don’t really owe me an explanation, about you, or about anything, but…”
The Curator shook their head again, looking at Webb with an earnest expression. “I don’t… owe you, but I’d like to tell you. You’re in trouble, so if there’s something I can do…” They trailed off again before seeming to gather their thoughts. “I’m a collector. Of many things… books, and antiques, and art, and all those things, of course, but I also collect… stories. And information. About people, mostly.”
“Collecting teacups and collecting information strike me as slightly different hobbies,” Faraday said, tone slightly cautious.
“I’ve heard things about shadowfolk…” Ariadne trailed off. When the Curator looked over at her, she sat up quite straight, looking flustered. “I mean, they’re rumors, and obviously I’m sure you’ve heard shitty things about vampires, too.”
“It’s alright,” the Curator said quietly. “I’m well aware of our reputation. It’s part of why I don’t really… I try to stay out of sight, so I don’t frighten people.”
“Sounds lonely,” Faraday commented, still focused on his stitching. The Curator seemed slightly startled, looking down at their hands.
“… I suppose it can be,” they agreed.
Webb wasn’t sure what to do or say to that, fidgeting with their now-empty teacup. “So… you mostly stay here, out of sight? Do you ever go out?”
“I do. Just to watch, and listen.” They seemed flustered, after having said that. “I’m sorry, that probably sounds quite… creepy. I don’t mean it to be. I just… want to be involved, without anybody having to—to deal with who, I mean what, I am.”
“There’s a shadow person who’s a famous actor,” Webb protested, feeling their chest tighten for some reason they couldn’t quite pin down. “If you wanted to just go around being yourself, people would just get used to it eventually, right?”
The Curator examined them with those inky black eyes, thoughtful. “I’d often wanted to say something very similar to you,” they said gently.
Webb grimaced at that, dropping their gaze. “Fair enough,” they muttered.
“Back to the topic at hand…” Ariadne said hesitantly into the silence after it had lingered for an uncomfortable beat too long, “I’m willing to take it in stride, this whole shadowfolk thing. And trusting that you weren’t trying to do anything to hurt Webb. But we do actively also still have the Inquisitors after us, and need to decide what we’re doing next.”
The Curator nodded. “As long as you’re here, I don’t think we need to worry about the Inquisitors,” they said. “Or anybody else for that matter. I don’t want to make grand promises I can’t keep, but in my tower, I’ll keep you safe.”
“It feels safe,” Webb said quietly. “It’s a beautiful place.”
The Curator looked equal parts pleased, startled, and flustered, their dark eyes going wide. They were clearly incapable of blushing, but smoke began to rise from their glossy hair at an alarming rate.
“You’re welcome to stay here tonight, if and when you need to rest,” the Curator stammered. “I understand if you’d rather not, of course. But there’s plenty of room. And as, I mean, as for the situation with Grimm…” Their demeanour grew more serious. “I had heard some rumors about him recently that might be of interest to you.”
Ariadne perked up immediately. “Rumors?”
The Curator coiled their fingers in an idle circle, trailing smoke. “Yes. I’m not really that interested in political power struggles, but it’s something that’s important to keep an eye out for… they like to make it your business whether you’d rather stay out of it or not. I’d heard that for some time, Grimm was building power in the north without really intending to do anything with it, exactly. Violence and hedonism, obviously, which we can hardly condone—”
Webb felt their lips twitch a bit, despite themself. The Curator’s quiet way of speaking made everything they said come out with somehow the same amount of emphasis.
“We cannot condone it,” Faraday agreed. He also seemed to find it funny, and caught Webb’s eye. Webb glared half-heartedly back.
“But it was very localized,” the Curator continued. “Then all of a sudden, within the last five years, he started to grow more ambitious, more hungry. Uncharacteristically combative, to the point where his clan got into an altercation with another nearby clan and wiped them out—absorbed them.”
Ariadne looked anxious. Faraday set aside his embroidery and rested one of his hands on her knee, squeezing.
“Do you know why the sudden change of heart?” he asked.
“I don’t,” the Curator admitted. “But I do know that one of the vampire lords here in the city has been a bit displeased about the situation, and has made her feelings on the matter known. Veracity Yun. I’m sure you’ve heard of her.”
There was a chorus of nods around the room. Veracity was known to be influential and clever, a vampire lord who had no qualms about flaunting her status, but also no interest in disrupting the status quo enough to risk anybody taking up arms against her.
“I don’t know her personally,” Ariadne said, “but I’ve heard she’s not, like, the worst, as far as vampire lords go.”
“Not someone you want to mess with, certainly,” Faraday said.
The Curator nodded. “I’d heard—and again, this is just a rumor—that Veracity and her clan are eying the situation with Grimm with a mind to take care of him now before his power grows any more and starts to threaten hers. If that’s the case…”
“She might know something,” Webb finished. “And it might be in her best interests to help us out. If we can make it worth her while. Do you know how we can get in touch with her?”
The Curator shook their head. “I’m sorry. Not directly. But I can… I can try to find out.”
“We’d appreciate that very much,” Ariadne said sincerely. “You’ve been a great help, Mx… Mx. Curator.” She tripped over the words.
Webb glanced between her and the Curator. “… do you have anything else you’d like us to call you? It doesn’t have to be your real name or whatever. You can join the club.”
The Curator looked thoughtful. “Real names… I’m not sure I have a ‘real name’ in that sense… but you’re right that it seems a bit unwieldy.” They ducked their head. “… you can—you can call me Lore. If you’d like.”
“Lore,” Webb echoed, with a little smile. “I like it.”
Lore’s hair started to coil with smoke again, like an overclocked teapot. Ariadne was politely pretending not to notice.
“What do you want to do next, Webb?” she asked, leaning her head against Faraday’s shoulder. “Should we head back out right away? We’d planned to go to the Drawing Dead to meet with another one of Webb’s contacts…”
“Though I’m less confident that interaction will end positively,” Webb said dryly, rubbing their face with their hand. They glanced at one of the clocks on the wall. It was just shy of around nine o’clock in the evening. The Drawing Dead would just be getting into full swing shortly, they knew, and since it catered largely to creatures of the night, it typically wouldn’t wind down until shortly before sunrise—around five or six o’clock in the morning.
That gave them plenty of time. They were a little on the tired side, and there was more that they could do here, where they knew they were safe: research, rest, spending a bit more time with the others and seeing if there was anything more that they knew that might be useful. They still had their notebook to check in on to see if the Inquisitor had written anything back. And it was possible that something unexpected could happen when they were out, leaving them in a bad place and low on fumes.
On the other hand, they now had a whole new lead to add to the pot, and the longer they delayed, the more likely it was that something could happen to Jenny Lim and her companions before they had a chance to intervene. That is, if they were targets for trouble, and if Webb could do anything about it either way. There was also Sia Sileny Belmont to potentially get in touch with or learn more about, as well as the vampire that Ariadne had met with before.
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]