[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
“I’ll take you to meet the Curator,” Webb said finally, drumming their fingers restlessly on the table. “For a limited definition of meet, anyway. I don’t really know what makes them tick, but it seems equally unlikely that anybody else is working through them. They’re… unique.”
Webb had to admit that they had a small amount of fondness for the mysterious Curator. They were almost like a pen pal, in a strange way. They had no way of knowing what the Curator thought of them in return, but they were curious. And if it turned out that the Curator couldn’t be trusted, well, best to know now.
“I’m really grateful, Webb,” Ariadne said fervently, reaching out to squeeze Faraday’s hand tightly.
“… I’ve only ever been over there during the day, though,” Webb warned. “And I’ve never dropped in unannounced. If there’s no luck there, another one of my contacts will be working over at the Drawing Dead all night. We could drop by.”
They’d be unlikely to be able to reach Pax during the day, and Webb figured he was the next best bet for useful information and not stabbing them in the back. Pax had a pretty good thing going on with his current gig, and unless one of his powerful clients were the ones behind this, it seemed like a big gamble to risk it.
And if it turned out that Pax could be trusted, they might be in the best position to connect Ariadne and Faraday with someone else that could help them.
“The Drawing Dead…” Faraday echoed, raising his eyebrows. “A little too exclusive for my blood, but if you’ve got an in…”
“I’ve got an in,” Webb grumbled. “Pax and I go way back.”
“Way back?” Ariadne echoed, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Like…?”
She seemed very eager to latch onto something she thought might be a glimpse into Webb’s personal life. Webb felt their cheeks heat up slightly. “Way back,” they said as flatly as they could, trying to keep a straight face as brief, heated memories flickered through their mind, curling at the pit of their stomach.
If there’d ever been an opportunity for something more between them—well, Webb had made sure that hadn’t happened. They’d met Pax long before getting into broker work, when things were… different. Long before a lot of things had happened.
“Don’t get excited,” they added after a moment, their tone a little cooler. “I wouldn’t say I’m close to any of these people at all, so don’t get your hopes up.”
Ariadne raised her hands in mock-surrender. “Fine, it’s fine,” she assured them. “We’ll see what we can find out, and we’ll go from there.”
“What are you planning to do after that, Mx. Webb?” Faraday asked casually, leaning back and taking a sip his drink.
Webb grimaced. “I suppose that’s going to depend on how those conversations go. And what’s going on with the Inquisitors. And…” they trailed off.
It depended on a lot of things, Webb realized. Even if they figured out where their sources were poisoned, it wasn’t as though they could just pick up their job again like nothing had happened. They’d need to clear their name with the Inquisitors first, and that could be complicated. And even if they managed that and figured out what was going on, there was always the potential Grimm might come after them to tie up loose ends.
“—we should talk to your source, too,” Webb said with an abrupt realization. “Or get some confirmation on which of my clients have gone missing. Don’t take it personally, but I still want some confirmation that the assumptions we’re going off are true.”
Ariadne looked uneasy, but nodded. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to track her down again, but we can try. Of course.”
“We can do some preliminary searching for some of your clients’ names online,” Faraday suggested. “See if anybody’s been reported missing.”
“Or if we find their social media accounts and they haven’t been updated in a while,” Ariadne pointed out. “Do you have their names, and a record of where you got your tips? Do we need to stop by your office again?”
“I have it,” Webb said. “I keep everything with me. That’ll take a while, but yeah. Let’s start there.”
Webb wasn’t too optimistic that they’d turn something up, but surely there’d be something to find—people shouldn’t just be vanishing without leaving some kind of imprint, digitally or otherwise, not even this close to the valley. There had to be some kind of trail, and they might feel more prepared meeting with Pax or the Curator having a bit more of an edge on who’d been doing them dirty.
As for the others… well, the less Webb had to deal with the fae, the better, honestly. They were capricious and unpredictable, but at the same time, Webb couldn’t think of many reasons why they might want to ally with a horde of vampires. The Hallow Society would probably be the easiest place for things to have gone sour, but also the hardest place to get a read on any one individual.
Besides, Naeemah and the Hallow Society headquarters were a little further away than the Curator’s tower and Drawing Dead. If Pax and the Curator turned up anything interesting—or if they didn’t—they could always pass through the park on the way north, out of town.
—not that Webb intended to go with them. They smacked at their cheeks with both hands, exhaled a sharp breath, and picked up their fork again. Their dinner had gone cold, and their appetite wasn’t quite back, but they had to make good on their promise to hurt Ariadne’s wallet a little bit.
Ariadne and Faraday both looked genuinely troubled when they didn’t order dessert.
“What?” Webb snapped. “We have work to do. I just want to get started.”
“Fair enough,” Ariadne said gently. Faraday pulled out his credit card and exchanged a look with her that Webb pretended not to see. Webb finished off the rest of their beer, and stole Faraday’s mint when the server came by with the cheque.
Ariadne offered her own out, silently. Webb shoved it into their pocket.
The walk back was mostly quiet. Faraday and Ariadne fell back a couple steps to talk softly between themselves after a few failed overtures at conversing with Webb. Webb, exhausted and at their social limit, slouched on ahead, hands jammed in their pockets, breathing in through their nose and watching their breath coil out in front of them in the chilly air. It was still drizzling lightly, painting the streets in the wet, hazy colors of neon reflections.
As they approached the crossroads near Webb’s office, Ariadne abruptly reached out and grabbed Webb’s arm, hauling them back. They let out a curse, stumbling, leaning heavily into her as Ariadne crowded them back behind the edge of a bus shelter.
“They’re here,” Ariadne breathed out. She’d put the helmet back on, but the visor was up, and her eyes were glowing faintly like rubies in the streetlights. “The Inquisitors.”
An icy chill lanced up Webb’s spine. “Already?”
“We got to you just in time,” Faraday murmured, voice a low rumble. His usual slightly affable expression was intensely serious, and he’d drawn himself up to his full height, leaning slightly in front of Ariadne and Webb, as though to block them from sight. “If they’re sniffing around here, they’re going to be heading to where you live, too.” He glanced back at Ariadne. “My helmet’s with your bike. Take Webb and get out of here. I’ll catch up.”
Ariadne looked visibly conflicted, letting out a loud breath, but she eventually nodded, turning back to Webb. Her face was so close that they could see the pinprick points of her fangs as she spoke. “Come on. I’ll get you out of here.” She hesitated. “We’ll meet up… where should we meet up? Our place?”
Webb glanced back towards the building where they’d rented out an office for the last eight years of their life. There was a cheery little pastry shop on the bottom floor; the logo was a brightly colored donut wearing a cape. It had little fangs in the open donut hole, like a gaping mouth.
At first, they didn’t see anything amiss. Nobody or nothing out of place. But then—
A ghostly shape materialized in the pool of light cast by the streetlamp. Tall and translucent, their hair streamed behind them like steam in the night, an ever-guttering candleflame. Their hand rested idly on their hip where a very real and very long sword jutted out, dripping with rainwater. Curved horns thrust back from a pointed face, with empty eyes scanning the horizon.
Ariadne tugged at his arm. “Webb,” she whispered. “Please—”
Maybe the Inquisitors could be reasoned with. Webb didn’t know for sure. There was only one of them here, at least, as far as Webb could see. Surely if they went around trying to take care of the worst of the worst throughout the city then they’d be interested in hearing what Webb had to say. Maybe they could help. But did they want to risk it?
On the other hand, it’s not like Webb could just go home. If the Inquisitors were raiding their office, they’d probably be at their apartment within the hour, if they hadn’t been there already. More of them might be there waiting.
Should they head straight to the Curator’s tower, quiet and somewhat isolated, and hope that they were there? Or was Drawing Dead a better choice right now, where it was open and lively and full of people that might be able to intervene… or who might make things worse. Or should they scrap that altogether and go someplace to regroup with Faraday and Ariadne and rest for the night—either their home, which might be warded, or someplace more neutral, like a hotel?
As Webb watched, the Inquisitor tilted their chin up, as though they’d suddenly caught a scent on the wind.
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]