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There really was no question in Webb’s mind about whether or not they’d hear these two out, regardless of their intentions. Webb couldn’t imagine being able to sleep at night without learning more about what was going on. It went against everything they prided themselves on as a dedicated Batflix binge-watcher.
“The Grimm clan,” they echoed, resting their chin on their hand and looking between Dapper and Motorcycle Helmet with bemusement. “They don’t exactly operate much around here.”
Vampire clans weren’t anything to trifle with; Webb knew and respected that, of course. On this side of the gate, vampire lords were some of the most dangerous monsters you could come across, both from a personal power standpoint as well as their social and political influence as leaders of their respective clans.
Here in Hallow Point, the crowded valley-adjacent town that Webb called home, there weren’t a ton of big-name power players like there might be in, say, New York, or Paris, or (for some strange reason) Mississauga. But there was a hierarchy, and there were clans and groups and territories that operated within it, and as far as Webb knew, the Grimm clan simply wasn’t one of them.
“No,” Motorcycle Helmet acknowledged, fiddling compulsively with the ends of her hair. Webb watched the gesture, thoughtful. “They’re mostly based further to the northeast, in some of the mountain towns. But Lord Grimm has been getting more… um. Ambitious, in recent years.”
“And his ambitions somehow factor in me?” Webb let out a little laugh. “Darling. Look around. I’m a lightweight. A tiny feral kitten. I run Baby’s First Adventure tours. I send people out to trap wolpertingers and set up scarecrows for were-ravens. I’m not the kind of broker that arranges vampire assassinations. Why would Grimm have a bone to pick with me?”
All true, as much as it made Webb grimace a little to admit. There wasn’t a lot of pride or glory in their work. They knew they had the potential for more. And maybe sometimes they found the end of an interesting thread of information and longed to pull on it to see what would unravel—
But they never did. Dramatic adventures only ended in tragedy. They stayed out of trouble and did their best to ensure trouble stayed well away from them.
“Well,” Motorcycle Helmet pointed out, “if that is true… maybe that’s why. You’re not a big enough deal to retaliate. And the people you work with aren’t strong, right? So they’d be easier to hurt.”
There was an unpleasant ringing sound in Webb’s ears, an ashen taste in the back of their throat. They bit the inside of their cheek, fiddling with one of their lip piercings until they faintly tasted copper instead. Thoughts buzzed through their mind in spiteful sequence.
“… who are you?” they asked finally, chafing their palms together in annoyance. Buying themself time. “I mean, say I believe you. I don’t, not yet, but pretend I do, for a minute. How’d you find out about this? Why’d you decide to help me? And what do you need my help for?”
Dapper smiled like he thought Webb’s slight capitulation meant he’d won this round, or something. Webb seethed a little. “My name is Faraday. This lovely one is Ariadne.”
“That can’t be your real name,” Webb muttered sidelong at Motorcycle Helmet.
She tilted her head to the side. “It is now. Has Webb always been yours?”
“—you know what? That’s fair. I deserved that. Ariadne it is.”
Faraday was still talking: “I’ve lived not far from here for the past few years, though I spent a fair amount of time on the other side of the gate prior to that, of course.”
“Is that so?” Webb did lean a little further towards him at that, giving Faraday another scrutinizing look. Unfortunately, although plenty of the denizens of the valley and from beyond the gate were recognizably other—serpentine bodies, horns, tails, you name it—others could appear completely, unremarkably human. All Faraday had going on was his perfect hair and his stupid fancy coat.
“Faraday is a witch,” Ariadne piped up, and honestly, bless her and her apparent need to compulsively share information at all times. “Though that’s not… I mean, I’m the one who learned about this. Faraday is just… helping me.”
Webb filed that first bit away for later: witches could be good news or bad news, honestly. They sighed, leaning back in their chair and bracing their sneakers against the edge of the desk, making it creak as they rocked perilously back and forth. “Alright,” they drawled, “so you’re the I-knew-she-was-trouble-when-she-walked-in dame in distress in this scenario, then. You and the helmet you’re mysteriously refusing to take off.”
Ariadne touched her gloved hand to the motorcycle visor. “And you’re wearing mirrored sunglasses and a toque and a hood indoors. I think we all have our secrets here don’t we?”
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Webb offered.
Ariadne hesitated, glancing aside to Faraday, who looked a little concerned. “… really?” she ventured after a moment.
“No,” Webb said blithely. They dropped forward again, their chair wheels rattling, and picked up their phone. “Listen. You’ve obviously got a lot going on here, and I’m prepared to do business at this point, but you’re going to need to sweeten the pot a little.”
“Sweeten the pot?” Faraday echoed, visibly affronted. Webb got the impression that people didn’t tell him ‘no’ very often. “We have come to warn you that you’re in danger. The Inquisitors may be coming for you as we speak. We have absolutely no obligation…!”
The Inquisitors. That idea admittedly did give Webb a little bit of a chill. The valleys didn’t exactly do law enforcement, not really: humans and their laws stayed in their lane, and the closer you got to the gate, the more that safety and order was maintained by interlocking structures of territory, power, making the right allies, and keeping your head down. Contract law was a whole thing, sure—but Webb made very sure they were always on the right side of their contracts.
But in some towns that spilled over into a valley, like Hallow Point, it was natural that new organizations might spring up. The Inquisitors were one such faction, usually called in to deal with those who were a significant danger to the safety of others. Even though Webb had a clean record, the Inquisitors didn’t exactly have a reputation for their fair trials and their compassionate willingness to negotiate.
If the Inquisitors thought that Webb was putting others in danger, that was a big problem. But even more than that—if it were true, and Webb was responsible—
They realized they’d fallen silent, staring at their hands, and that Faraday was still talking, and that Ariadne was still watching them from behind that mirrored helmet visor.
“Listen,” they said, raising their voice over Faraday’s, sitting up straight and feeling their spine crackle in protest. “Before we move on, I have one very important question. Come here. Come closer.”
“… yes?” Ariadne prompted nervously, leaning in, eager and a bit uncertain.
Webb slid their phone across the desk, tapping one finger on the screen. “I’m starving, and I can’t decide. What do you think? Tacos? Burgers? There’s a couple of these places I haven’t tried. You said you lived nearby. Any recommendations?”
Faraday opened his mouth, then closed it again, and rubbed his face with one hand. Ariadne was silent for a moment, then began to laugh.
“Oh, there’s this place I really like,” she said. “The Witch’s Brewery. Amazing craft beer.”
“Nice,” Webb said casually, spinning the phone around to face them again. “Not on the app, though. Do they do delivery…?”
“… why don’t we go out together?” Ariadne suggested, tone thoughtful. “You said you wanted me to sweeten the pot. How about it? Dinner and drinks on me, and I’ll tell you anything else you want to know.”
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