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A Shepherd of Moths

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Down in an unassuming part of the city, at the end of an unassuming street, stood an unassuming building. If this had been the kind of street people walked down, they would've walked past this building without giving it a second thought. Which suited the occupants just fine. Because in actuality this unremarkable pile of drab bricks was the headquarters of the Wildwood Club. Few enough people knew about the Club and those that did were either members or couldn't yet prove anything. Behind those dusty walls, secret histories were studied, fascinating dreams discussed, and peculiar cravings satisfied.

At the moment the Grand Master of the Club was busy in the attic, preparing their next work. Their name was Alex. Possibly. Certainly that was the name the other members of the Club knew them by.

Alex lit the last of the candles. They weren't really necessary for what they were going to do. Neither were the heavy, red curtains covering the walls. But they gave the crowded room a safely mystical feeling Alex appreciated.

They turned, opening their mouth to say something like 'Let's begin', when they noticed the spot where Ysabet should have been standing was quite empty. Instead, the disciple stood near the open window. She was looking up at the grey clouds drifting across the grey sky, though what she was actually seeing was anyone's guess.

"Ysabet, didn't I tell you to stand right here?" Alex said testily.

"Have you ever wondered what it'd be like to climb the trees in the Wood?" Ysabet said, possibly to Alex, possibly not.

"Can't say that I have," said Alex. "But I am wondering why you're not standing in your spot."

"I think I shall climb them next time I dream there," Ysabet said. "Imagine what I'll see."

Alex, who had over the last few months or so cultivated quite the imagination, tried not to.

"Yes, well, that's for another time," they said. "For now, you're to help me with my work and to do that, you need to get away from that window."

"Yes, Lord," said Ysabet. "Where should I stand?"

Alex gave the woman a silent look. It was supposed to be a disapproving, perhaps even intimidating, stare, but it passed through Ysabet as though she wasn't there.

"Right there," they pointed. "Where I've taped the X on the floor."

"Oh, yes," said Ysabet. "I'd forgotten."

Alex watched Ysabet wander back into place. Watched every single one of the woman's aimless steps like a hawk. Until, at last, Ysabet stood where she was supposed to stand.

"Good," said Alex. "Now don't move."

Alex strode to the table where they'd set out their tools. They were about to grab the essentials when they noticed Ysabet looking curiously over their shoulder.

"Ysabet," Alex said flatly.

"Such interesting things," Ysabet remarked. "Such pretty colours."

"Ysabet, why are you standing next to me?" Alex said.

"Isn't it obvious?" said Ysabet with genuine surprise. "I wanted to see your things."

"Get back to your spot," Alex instructed.

"Yes, Lord."

Ysabet withdrew quietly from Alex' side. Alex grabbed their implements somewhat more hastily than they'd intended and turned around. To an empty room.

"Y- Ysabet?"

Ysabet was nowhere to be seen. But how was that possible? She was just here, just a moment ago. Just here. Almost certainly. Had she wandered off? Out of the room? But Alex hadn't heard the door open or the creaking of the stairs. And, yes, there were thick curtains hanging over the walls, but Ysabet couldn't hide behind them.

Alex felt a peculiar breeze across their face. They spotted a moth flying fitfully near the open window.

Had... had she...? But no. She couldn't have. Not even with all the Club's secrets she could have... No. No, no, it was impossible.

Alex crept up to the small moth madly zig-zagging in the air. They felt tension filling every muscle as they prepared for... what? What were they expecting to happen here? It was just an ordinary moth. Wasn't it?

"Lord, aren't you going to get started?"

Alex almost jumped out of their skin. Figuratively. They turned to see Ysabet standing serenely on top of the X. Exactly where she was supposed to be.

"What?" Alex said. "How? Where? What just...?"

Alex took a deep breath and tried to calm down as much as they could.

"You know what, I don't think this is going to work," they said.

"No?" said Ysabet. "Oh."

"No," said Alex. "No, I think it'd be best if you just leave and go... do... whatever it is you do."

"If you say so, Lord," Ysabet said, undisturbed.

"But do send up Enid, please," Alex added.

"Yes, Lord," said Ysabet.

And she was gone.

Alex couldn't actually remember seeing Ysabet walking to the door and opening it before going through it, but she must have done so. She couldn't just up and vanish. Most likely.

Alex leaned against the wall next to the window and took a few carefully measured breaths. They frowned at the moth. It was just a moth. Just a moth. Nothing strange about it. Not that moth, anyway.

The door opened and Renira sauntered in. Her black dress, adorned with excessive lace, whispered across the floor. Elegant and peculiar jewelry glittered darkly around her neck. It was all very subdued. For Renira.

"Ysabet told me you requested my presence, Mistress?" Renira purred.

"Yes, why not?" said Alex. "You'll do fine."

"Oh no," said Renira with a sensuous smile. "I'll do anything."

"I know," said Alex. "But for now, I need you to..."

"You're painting?" said Renira, only now spotting the easel and the brushes and the paints.

"Well, yes, I'd been meaning to," Alex said. "I've been feeling a bit restless lately and I thought I'd release all that troublesome energy with something creative."

"I know all about that," said Renira, walking to the spot marked with the taped X. "Although my preferred outlets are of a more intimate nature."

"Painting is good enough for me," said Alex.

"As you desire, my Mistress," Renira said.

Alex walked to the blank canvas, picked up their palette and brush, looked up at their model, and sighed. They were suddenly feeling very, very tired.

"This isn't going to be that kind of painting, Renira," they said. "So please put your clothes back on."