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A Little Game of Cat and Mouse

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Jonah Magnus smiled as he strolled down the streets of Edinburgh, his cane softly tapping against the cobblestone walkways. The gas street lamps did little to lessen the pervading darkness or the chill that seeped through his skin and down to his bones. On a night like this Jonah would more than likely take a carriage back home, but his townhouse was not far from his meeting with Smirke.

Jonah supposed that it was rather odd that he was so calm walking back in the dark despite just learning that the world was nothing more than a plaything to forces beyond his mortal comprehension. A normal man would be shaking in his boots, but Jonah knew long ago that he wasn’t what anyone would call just an average man. Ever since he was a young boy, Jonah was always fascinated by tales of ghouls and monsters his nursemaid would tell him over dim candlelight. As he grew older and gained access to his father’s study his hunger to learn and to understand and to see grew as well. 

It made sense, Jonah thought, that it was he who was destined to study these entities. 

And it was with this comfort Jonah found himself confidently striding and tapping his cane alongside the brick buildings, only to be yanked by the back of his collar into a neighboring alleyway and slammed against a wall. 

Jonah’s head bashed against the brick wall and he let out an undignified noise. His head throbbed in pain and spots clouded his vision as he felt the cold metallic barrel of a pistol press against his throat.

Jonah Magnus. ” The cloudy silhouette snarled as it’s hand clamped tightly around Jonah's ascot. That was indeed his name, but Jonah couldn’t begin to fathom what he did to have it spat out with such hatred. 

But nonetheless, Jonah was a gentleman and he would kindly address the angry figure as politely as possible, “Yes, and you are?”

“What?” The form spluttered as it slowly came into focus. Ah, yes. That probably wasn’t the proper response to being held at gunpoint by a random stranger. Must have been the blow to his head. 

“Never mind, that doesn’t matter.” The rapidly clearing figure snapped as he pressed the barrel of the gun into Jonah’s trachea causing him to gag, however, all that Jonah could think to do was to stare deep within the stranger’s eyes which seemed to glow in the darkness of the alleyway. The stranger spoke with the growing crescendo of insect wings and with the crackle of a raging fire of a power that Jonah did not understand "What do you know of the fears?"

Now, while Jonah Magnus has only just begun to learn about the supposed fears that Smirke claimed ruled the world, he was not so oblivious to fail to see the connection between those supernatural forces and the impossible man before him. The best plan of action, Jonah thought, would be to play ignorant to what he knows, and then hopefully the being would let him go. If he was lucky, perhaps he would even gain more knowledge from this encounter than he had before. With this plan instilled, he began to open his mouth with the intent to lie through his teeth but what came out instead was: 

“I first began to understand what the powers were through my connection with Robert Smirke, though why he chose to share this information with me, I am unaware. It was on a night just like this, nearly two months ago, when Mr. Smirke pulled me aside from a charity gala for an unremarkable academic institution to tell me that he knew of my keenness to the research of the esoteric and strange. I, of course, was hesitant to confirm Mr. Smirke’s suspicions due to the skeptical disposition of men in his station, but something in his eyes told me that he was sincere, but most of all frightened. It was then I decided that it might be interesting to play Mr. Smirke’s game, only to see if he could provide some entertainment from the, quite bluntly, boring gathering downstairs. It was then that he told me, that he met a strange man named Maxwell Rayner -”

That’s enough.” and then suddenly the words stopped. The buzzing cut off and the man before him expelled a sense of certainty and determination when before there was only frantic anger. 

The man scowled and looked Jonah up and down. Jonah might've been flattered and thought the strange man was admiring him if not for the click of the pistol’s safety sliding off. "It's too late now, if you've already talked to Smirke then there's no fixing you " the man sighed before placing the barrel against Jonah's forehead.  "I would say this wasn't personal, but that would be a lie. This for all of the suffering you’ve inflicted."

Jonah tried to move, to push the mad man away, but found that he was paralyzed. He tried to squeeze his eyes shut but found that he could not look away. He's barely begun to learn about this world and here he was about to be shot down by one of its monsters. 

Jonah braced for the bullet.

Click.

It never came.

Click. Click.

The man removed the gun from Jonah's head and looked at it in frustration. Jonah thought to shove the man while he was distracted, but the stranger glared at him " Don't move. " Jonah stood still.

With a hand still grasped onto Jonah's collar, the stranger slowly opened the magazine cartridge of his pistol and then quickly threw the entirety of his weapon away. 

As the gun flew through the air, Jonah could just make out hundreds of spiders falling out of the magazine. 

"You've got to be shitting me." The stranger gaped. Jonah might've laughed at the blatant misery in his assailant's eyes, if not for the fact that mere seconds ago he was about to be shot point-blank in the head. "I… I don't understand. Why would she send me here if not to-" 

"Might I ask whom you are referring to?" Jonah Interrupted. 

The man looked up at him in surprise, as if he just remembered where he was and what he was about to do, and then he scowled "That’s none of your business.”

“I’m pretty sure that whoever hired you to put a hit on me is certainly my business.”

For some reason, he looked offended by that remark, “I -I wasn’t hired to do this!”

That was interesting, thought Jonah. He had assumed that his would-be assassin was sent by a cult that worshiped the fears. Perhaps, they had learned of Smikre’s own little gathering and thought to eliminate them all before they knew too much. It would align with his assailant’s initial demand that Jonah tell him all that he knew about the fears, which was, admittedly, not much. 

"Oh?" Jonah quirked an eyebrow, fully knowing that the man holding him by his collar could see it in the night, "Then what is your reason for accosting a complete stranger in the night? Is this a hobby of yours or are you just here to make a fool of yourself?"

It's strange, Jonah thought as he watched the man splutter in indignation. Even though there's a high chance of him getting his brains splattered all over the wall, this is the most he has enjoyed himself in weeks. 

Unfortunately, his companion didn’t seem to share his sentiments.

“I didn’t come here because I wanted to! I’m doing this because it’s a necessity to prevent-” the man paused and something seemed to click because suddenly his expression turned severe and he gripped Jonah’s lapel with grave intent. “Listen here and listen well,” he ordered, “For the sake of all that is good do not get involved with-”

 Suddenly the man gagged and stumbled backward letting go of Jonah’s coat, bringing his hands up to his throat.

Jonah against his better judgment surged forward “Dear lord man, are you alright?”

The man now illuminated by gas street lamps held up what appeared to be an extremely scarred hand, “ Do not-” he retched between the ragged coughs that emerged from his throat, “serve the fears or-”

Suddenly his head jerked forward and hacked and gagged and spit out a long jumbled thin silver thread. As the strange man continued to cough, Jonah realized with a start that the material climbing out of the man’s throat was cobwebs.

Once his ragged coughs finally subsided the man looked down at the tangled bunch of cobwebs and blood in misery. "Annabelle Cane.." he ruefully chuckled. In the warm light of the street lamp, the man appeared to be on the verge of weeping.

Jonah has never been one for charity. He always thought it pointless to help others that had no connection to himself or to offer help to those that could give him nothing in return. But, this man… he knew things of the powers that Jonah, and maybe even Smirke, have never heard of. And not only that, it was clear that the haunted man before him was powerful.

What a strange character he made, thought Jonah as he finally took a good long look at the being. Covered in scars and dressed in strange attire, long hair unbound and streaked with strands of silver that did not match the young face of the man that wore it. He couldn’t have been much older or younger than Jonah himself, his face long beyond the features of boyhood yet still not quite old enough to form wrinkles hardened by age. 

But it was his eyes that caught Jonah’s attention. A bright green that still somehow impossibly glowed within the light. How could someone so young have such haunted eyes, Jonah thought, what had he seen? What has he experienced that made him so powerful? What has he witnessed that made him so weary? And why did he look upon Jonah with such hatred?

Jonah was keen to find out.

And so it was with more than some impulsivity that Jonah took a step into the light “Do you have anywhere you can go?” 

The man startled, letting the wad of cobwebs and blood slip from his fingertips. “Pardon?”

Jonah picked up his dropped walking stick and dusted it off. Turning it over in his hands Jonah reiterated “I asked if you had anywhere to go.” It was a rhetorical question, of course. The man looked to be in a particularly awful state. Judging by the state of his clothes he had probably been on the streets for a very long time. 

The scarred man looked at Jonah as if he couldn’t comprehend what he was hearing. Admittedly, It probably wasn’t what anyone would expect the person they just threatened with a gun to say, but Jonah wanted answers and this would be the simplest way to obtain them. “I have a townhouse just a few blocks north from here, If needed I will be able to provide you lodging.”

The stranger gaped at Jonah as if he had just grown two heads, “Are you out of your mind?”

“I’ve been needing an assistant.” Jonah shrugged.

“I literally just tried to kill you!” The man burst out, his expression bewildered but also, Jonah noted with amusement, exasperation. 

Jonah tilted his head and considered his words carefully, “Yes, you did, but as proven by your...” at this Jonah paused to glance down at the discarded gun, small spiders still crawling out of its magazine. “...Situation, it seems very unlikely that you will be able to carry through with assassinating me.”

His foiled assassin looked down at the bloody mess of cobwebs with disdain and… betrayal? “Is this just to gloat, Jonah?” he spat, “Another ploy to feed upon the pain of others?”

Jonah considered the angered man before him, how did this man act with such familiarity when Jonah had never met him before in the entirety of life. He needed to know. He needed to understand and to feed that hungry curiosity that cried out to not let the man get away, lest he lose him before he could fully devour all the mysteries that rested inside him.

“No,” Jonah stated as he took another step forward, close enough to the man to note the many scars curiously splattered around his face, “This is because I want answers, but also I want to keep an eye on you. What’s that old saying about keeping your enemies close?"

 The stranger stayed silent, eyes still brimming with distrust and repugnance, but the visceral hate-fueled anger was fading away, replaced by what Jonah could only describe as confusion. Jonah continued: “And if you really want to prevent me from doing whatever you think I’ll do, then it would be best that you keep a close eye on me as well.”

The man looked at Jonah with disbelief, “You’re insane.”

“No,” Jonah smirked, “I’m just practical.”

“I will see to it that you die screaming.” The man snarled, glaring into Jonah’s eyes

“Well then, you’ll have to be in my presence in order to see to that, won’t you?” Jonah smiled, offering a gloved hand out for the other man, “Now, do we have a deal?”

The stranger stared at Jonah’s hand for a moment or two seeming to weigh his options before reaching out his own hand towards Jonah’s. Jonah’s hand slid between the burnt scars grooved into the man’s hand that fit perfectly within his own. Like a key sliding into a lock, like a puzzle piece finally fitting into place. 

“I hate you so much.” The man spat, despite his hand still placed within Jonah’s.

“I can’t say the feeling is mutual.” Jonah smiles at his new houseguest to only be met with a frown in return. 

Oh yes, Jonah thought as he let the other man retract his hand, he is going to have an enjoyable time figuring this one out. But first things first, “Now then, since we are going to be living with each other, I believe it only proper we know each other’s names. I am aware that you already know mine, but I do not have the pleasure of knowing yours.”

The scarred man considers Jonah before frowning, “It’s Jon.”

An average name for someone so fascinating but Jonah wasn’t one to judge.“Jonathan who?”

“It’s… It’s just Jon.” Just Jon gritted out. 

Ah well, he’d get Jon to open up within time. “Well, ‘Just Jon’, shall we get going?” Jonah questioned offering the other man his arm.

Jon instead shot Jonah a disturbed look and stuffed both of his hands deep within his pockets. Ah, more’s the pity, but Jonah could be described as anything but an impatient man. He is more than willing to wait for Jon to be ready to participate in any acts of friendship.

With this in mind, Jonah turned and gave his companion a warm smile, “Come on then, let me show you the way home.”

And as Jonah watched Jon grit his teeth and begrudgingly follow after him, Jonah knew he was going to greatly enjoy the other man’s company.