[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
“Things… aren’t okay,” Webb said, very slowly. The words felt leaden on their tongue. “Actually things are a bit of a mess. I came… to ask for your help.”
As soon as the words were out of their mouth, Webb realized they were true. They weren’t entirely sure they knew until that moment, and they weren’t quite certain how they felt about it, either. They licked their lips, crumpling the paper slightly in their hand.
“I’m… being targeted for some reason. Or, more like, being used. I don’t think that the targeting is personal except that someone is using me to lure my customers out to become eternally dispensing Vampire Free Slurpee Day machines, and the Inquisitors are after me, which is, you know, extremely stressful! They’re ghosts with swords! They’re probably lurking in my house playing my Nintendo Switch! I don’t know if I can go home now, or ever, and I don’t have anybody to turn to, which is why I’m here talking to the air in a haunted-ass castle in front of two people I met this evening and one person who I’ve never actually seen and might be one of the people fucking me over, I don’t know—”
Ariadne made a little noise under her breath. Webb saw Faraday reach out and squeeze her arm, his expression drawn, his eyebrows furrowed.
“But the thing is,” Webb continued raggedly, “either you’re an extremely twisted asshole with way too much time on your hands, or you’re innocent in this, or you’re being used like I am, because otherwise me spending time here, and, you know, all the rest of it, it would be a pretty messed up game, you know? I don’t know why you are the way you are, whatever that way is, but you’ve been kind to me, and since I’m apparently really over this whole evening, let’s just be out with it and call it a night.”
Webb flung their arms out wide, heart hammering so hard they swore they felt like they’d just been sprinting for their life. Their breath was coming fast, audible and ragged in the sudden silence. They pointedly turned to face the room, not ready to look at Ariadne and Faraday now, or maybe ever again.
Something impacted the back of their legs. They let out a soft curse, losing their balance and overbalancing, falling back abruptly—into the embrace of an armchair that had suddenly slid across the rug directly behind them.
“Whoa—” Faraday’s voice, startled, followed by Ariadne’s concerned, “Webb??”
“I—” Webb began, voice failing as one of the thick blankets draped over the nearby ottoman lifted up and was unceremoniously dumped over Webb’s head. They heard a thump from the fireplace and tugged the blanket down to see ash and embers drifting down from where a fresh log had just been tossed into it.
For a moment, Webb thought that the smoke curling around them was coming from the fire. But there was too much of it, and it was too dark, and it seemed to be coiling closer, slowly forming into a humanoid shape. It stretched out its arms, wisps of inky blackness—that Webb suddenly realized was more shadow than smoke—forming into delicate hands that lightly picked up the blanket’s edges and tucked it properly back around Webb.
As Webb stared up at the shape forming in front of them, they watched glossy black hair tumble down around the shape’s narrow shoulders. They had a heart-shaped face with expressive brows—despite being entirely made of shadows—that were creased in worry, and they visibly seemed to draw in a breath, though surely they didn’t need one.
“It sounds like you’ve had a very rough night,” they said in a soft voice. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I can help, but if I can, I will.” They bowed their head. “You’re safe here with me.”
Webb’s breath caught. They heard a ragged noise from their throat that they weren’t emotionally ready to claim as their own.
The Curator straightened up, a motion that was both very real and somehow very other, still looking down at Webb. Despite them not really having eyes to speak of, Webb still felt their gaze keenly. “Why don’t you, um, both of you, go ahead and… have a seat,” they offered to Ariadne and Faraday. “I mean you no harm, I promise.”
Webb glanced over to see Ariadne slowly relaxing from where she’d hunkered down in a feral-looking crouch, eyes gleaming, blackened claws extending from her fingertips. The brightness in her eyes faded as they flickered between Webb and the Curator, then slowly relaxed, although her posture still remained attentive and wary. Protective—not of Faraday, who seemed to be feigning nonchalance, but of Webb.
They didn’t know how to feel about that, either.
“It’s fine,” they muttered, tugging the blanket a little more tightly around themself. “We wanted to talk so let’s just… sit down and talk.”
The Curator watched as Ariadne and Faraday sat down in the other chairs, then turned their attention back to Webb, ducking their head slightly.
“Can I… fetch tea for everyone?” they offered. At the chorus of polite agreement, the Curator took a drifting step towards the other room, then paused again. “Webb generally prefers Earl Gray. Milk, extra bergamot, rose, or lavender if available. However, as it’s already growing quite late, if you’d like something else…”
Webb started to answer, but found that their voice had completely given up the ghost. They felt a stinging sensation in their eyes, a burning at the back of their throat. Rather than respond, they just nodded helplessly, shoving their face into the blanket and breathing in deeply, trying to keep their shoulders from shaking.
“… maybe something like a chamomile,” they heard Faraday suggest politely. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
“Ah, a-alright, I’ll… be right back,” the Curator stammered, still in that breathlessly soft tone, sounding somewhat flustered. Webb felt the breeze stir their hair as they vanished from sight.
It was quiet in the sitting room after that. Rain continued to patter gently against the roof and windows, and the fire crackled. An armchair creaked as Faraday or Ariadne shifted; Webb heard them murmuring softly to each other.
Webb tugged their hat off, pushing their sunglasses back up into their unruly hair, and pressed the heels of their hands against their eyes, rubbing until they saw spots and stars. They breathed in through their nose, then out through their mouth, and looked up at the others balefully.
“I don’t suppose you’ll let me make you forget this ever happened?” they suggested.
Ariadne had jumped a little when addressed, but then just made a face, wrinkling her nose. “Not likely,” she huffed. Then, more gently: “It’s… it’s fine, Webb. I get it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Webb said breezily. “Obviously this is all going to plan, isn’t it?”
Faraday raised an eyebrow. “Well… we are, in fact, here and speaking with the Curator, yes. I suppose in that sense you are perfectly correct.”
“So just follow my lead and try not to think about my feelings at all, ever, at any time,” Webb suggested.
“Ah, yes,” Faraday said dryly. “I do see that works out so well for you.”
“They have a bed, and a bathtub,” Ariadne interrupted. “Do you think they can use it??”
“Ariadne! That’s rude,” Faraday murmured.
“It’s not! I’ve just never met one of the shadowfolk before. I’m curious!”
Shadowfolk. Webb had heard of them, but the stories surrounding them were even wilder than most. Unstudied, usually unseen… they were the monster’s monster. All that Webb knew for certain was that they were able to shapeshift and pass through shadows, and that—supposedly—they showed themself to portend doom.
Doom reappeared very shortly bearing a tea tray piled high with steaming teacups and a pile of Little Debbie Devil Cremes. Webb knew what kind of cakes they were specifically because, they suspected, the Curator kept them on hand just for Webb.
“What the fuck,” Webb whispered, immediately shoving one directly in their mouth.
The Curator settled themself on one of the other chairs, legs crossed, fingers fidgeting slightly. At rest, they seemed perfectly formed and humanoid, down to the smallest details; Webb could make out the thread pattern of their shirt and the small indent to their upper lip, despite the fact that they’d reformed entirely out of nothing right before their eyes.
“So…” the Curator said hesitantly, looking back and forth between them all. “I got… a lot of what you were telling me, but I’ll admit, it was all a bit… much. I did mean it when I said I wanted to help, but perhaps… proper introductions are in order, first? And then… I suppose I owe you something of an explanation, and I’m happy to… to answer questions, though I’ll admit… I’m not sure where to start.”
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]