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Webb was deeply envious of how nonchalant and unsurprised Veracity and Pax managed to keep their expressions. At most, the demon’s eyebrows quirked a little, and he let out a low whistle, tapping his foot. Veracity just sighed, rubbing her fingers against her temple.
“How inconvenient,” she sighed. “Either you were trailed, or there really is a rat among us.”
“Come again??” Ariadne demanded, high-pitched. She had started to rise to her feet, expression alarmed, only to have Faraday firmly holding her back.
“A rat?” Faraday murmured, his eyes narrowing as he glanced back and forth between Webb and Veracity.
Webb, for their part, felt a little as though someone had drained all their blood and replaced it with bees. They felt the hair at the back of their neck shifting, icy cold, with Lore’s agitation.
“That will be all for now,” Veracity was saying, rising up and nodding to the vampire guard at the door. “Make it known that they are not permitted in here, of course. If they have requests, they can make them, and I will hear them on my time.”
“… do you think you can keep them out?” Webb asked uneasily as the guard gave a curt nod and slipped back into the other room, closing the door firmly.
Veracity waved a hand, just a minute flick of her fingers, setting down her glass and adjusting her hair, smoothing it back. “What a question, child. Not even the Inquisitors would dare force their way into my private territory and risk the resulting implications. Not for the likes of you, anyhow.”
“Still,” Pax mused thoughtfully. “The fact that they arrived so quickly, and are even willing to make a stand like that… that’s very strange…”
“Listen, can we please—” Webb’s voice rose a little, strained, before they quickly clamped down on their swell of panicked temper. That seemed like a good way to make this particular bad situation even worse. “Your… lordship.” Gross. “It’s possible we were followed, but not super probable, given that we’d been at a secure location for hours after losing them in the first place.”
“And I set up a cloaking spell on us as we travelled here,” Faraday added. Webb shot him a surprised look, but he was looking at Veracity, his expression grimly serious. “I can assure you, it’s highly unlikely.”
“You said—there could be a rat,” Ariadne ventured. “Did you already know about something…?”
Veracity held up a hand to forestall further questions. “I’ve suspected for some time that someone—or several someones—at the Drawing Dead is in Grimm’s employ. If what you’re saying is true, then clearly someone saw you come in, identified you as people of interest to the Inquisitors, and notified them.”
“And they’d only recognize you as people of interest if they were aware of the Inquisitors being sent after you in the first place,” Pax added thoughtfully, his eyes narrowed. “Even though news of the chase had gotten around, nobody I spoke to knew who they were after.”
“That said,” Veracity murmured, with a slight nod to Pax, “I am very curious about why there’s been quite this level of… enthusiasm.”
“What do you mean?” Webb asked warily.
Pax leaned forward slightly, eyes bright. “She means you’re one skinny nerd who only might have been the cause of some disappearances that hardly anybody noticed for a long time,” he pointed out. “Sure, it’s not so strange that they would show up at your door and try to force you to confess, or if they just killed you, like, just in case, darling—they don’t much like loose ends. But to have a standoff here? We host dozens of high-profile criminals they’ve never had the guts to come near, not all at once. If they decided anybody was getting particularly out of line, they might try to take them out privately, but…”
Veracity moved a little closer to Webb, looming, leaning down to look at them with a thoughtful expression on her face. “So what is it about you?” she murmured. “What do they think you’ve done? How much are you worth? And who’s sent them?”
“What do you mean, who’s sent them?” Webb demanded breathlessly, rubbing their clammy palms on their legs. “Who… who sends them anywhere?”
“We don’t know!” Pax said cheerfully. “Nobody knows where they get their information, or who they work for. They just showed up one day after everyone was getting settled and started doing their thing, and they sort of stuck. And, even though nobody’s been able to completely eliminate them, they never push hard enough to really cause a big stir with those who have real power, so… it’s this careful equilibrium.”
“And they do dispose of garbage sometimes,” Veracity said. “So it hasn’t been a priority to try to pursue it. Though of course I have my theories. That said…” Her gaze travelled over the group. “I am not in a position where I’m willing to blatantly flaunt my power to deny them.”
“But—” Ariadne protested. Pax gave her a warning little shake of his head, and she fell silent, glancing helplessly over at Webb.
“…well, that does make sense,” Webb said slowly. “I mean. People saw us come in here. If you don’t hand us over, or if it looks like we escaped…”
“Not only would that potentially cause quite the scuffle with the Inquisitors—interesting, but possibly with much more casualties than is worthwhile—there are quite a few people, creatures, and otherwise here that might capitalize on the situation, either to make a strike against Veracity, or to try to get you in their hot little hands, my dear,” Pax said, cool and matter-of-fact.
“You can’t just—you can’t just give Webb up like that!” Ariadne burst out, her eyes a fiery red. She’d risen up again, her fists clenched. “I won’t let you!”
Next to Veracity she looked very, very small. A sharp chill seized at Webb’s chest. Before they knew it, they were rising to their feet, and saw that Faraday had done the same.
Veracity’s lips curved in a cold smile as she looked down at Ariadne, as immovable as granite. “I’m afraid you’ll find that I’ll do as I please,” she said, lifting a hand and reaching for her.
Webb felt their body move before their brain caught up, jerkily lunging forward between the two vampires. They heard a roaring sound in their ears, the rush of wind, and found themself staring up (up, up) at Veracity, who now had a look of mild surprise on her handsome face.
Webb was also objectively surprised by their own actions, and it took a moment for them to realize that what she seemed startled by was the solid shadow wrapped around her wrist, preventing it from going any further towards Webb.
“How interesting,” she said thoughtfully. “How very interesting.”
Webb could see Pax and Veracity’s two vampire guards moving to flank the group on either side, unthreatening for now, but very present. Webb wasn’t entirely sure what Pax would do if it came to a fight—though they suspected they had an idea—and they didn’t know what any of the others were capable of. They decided very adamantly that they weren’t interested in finding out.
“Listen,” Webb said quickly. “I deeply respect your ruthless self-interest in this situation. Really, I do. But I don’t think that just letting the Inquisitors at me is the best thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure you don’t like the idea very much, do you?”
Veracity’s hand was still pinned tightly in place by Lore, though you wouldn’t know that it wasn’t her idea, from her expression. “I’m not overly enamored of it,” she acknowledged. “You’re an interesting puzzle, and I don’t like having my hand forced.”
“Right, exactly,” Webb nodded. They reached back their free hand as they spoke, groping around for Ariadne’s hand. Trying to make sure she was there—trying to make sure she wasn’t going to do anything reckless. There was a pause—but then they felt her fingers curling against theirs in return.
Emboldened, they continued: “We both want a creative way out of this. One where you can save face and come out looking in control. I, you know, don’t want me and my friends to get kidnapped or murdered by a pack of sociopathic ghosts. And, we both want to fuck up Grimm and figure out what the hell is going on, because I have way more questions than answers, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be sleeping at night until I get to the bottom of it. And I think you might know something, or have something—something, anything!—that can help us in that, but only if you let us go after him.”
Veracity’s dark gaze bore down on Webb, intimidating, alluring. But—Webb noticed, with a wild leap of hope in their chest—not aggressive. She was considering it.
“Perhaps,” she allowed, after a moment. “I would be open to a creative solution… if you have one.” She paused. “You do have a proposal for me, don’t you? A good one, I hope.”
Webb opened their mouth, then closed it again. “I—” They hadn’t quite gotten that far. They just knew that they had to do something, say something. And that there had to be a way out—and for them to get out of Veracity what they came for. “That is…”
The shadow around Veracity’s wrist suddenly shifted, twining, solidifying into the shape of a hand. Webb felt the chilling sensation of Lore unwinding themself, unfolding from within Webb’s shadow, straightening up to their full height in front of Webb.
Lore looked at Veracity, whose eyebrows were raised, but who seemed otherwise nonplussed, and gave her a polite nod. Then, they turned to look at Webb.
“I can go with the Inquisitors instead of you, Webb,” they said softly. “I… can take your shape. If you’ll allow me to. They won’t be able to tell the difference. It’ll look to everyone else like Veracity is handing you over, but as soon as I’m alone with them—I’ll be able to get away. And in the meantime, the rest of you can escape.” They hesitated, leaning in a little closer, their soft tone almost pleading.
“Please, Webb. Let me help.”
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]