Crimson and Magpie took me to a small apartment filled with cheery Christmas decorations. "Sorry we didn't get you any presents," Magpie told me. "We figured that a nice meal and a warm bed would be hospitable enough."
"Christmas truce," Crimson said, echoing Magpie's earlier words.
I turned to him and looked him up and down. "So what's your schtick."
He gave me a sly grin. "I'm very, very pretty."
"Crimson's not going to be coming after you," Maggie said. "He's not much of a fighter."
Crimson nodded. "I'm the brains here. Sure, the boss is the one with the plan, but I'm the one who helps him figure out how to run it."
"The Slender Man takes orders from you?" I asked flatly. He and Magpie both burst out laughing.
"Not 'The Boss,' Kenny," Magpie said. "Just...our boss. The man behind the Ten Masks. Come on. Have a seat and we'll have a nice warm meal, okay? We'll explain a few things over that."
We ate in silence for a bit. They were taking the same food as me, so I trusted that it wasn't poisoned. After I had eaten a bit, I spoke.
"So why are you doing this?"
"Boss's orders," Crimson said. "None of us have anything personal against you, not even our boss. And as you might have guessed--we're not really trying to kill you. In fact, most of us are actually pretty fond of you." He winked at that.
"Could have fooled me."
"We're mostly just testing your strength. At least for now," Magpie said. "If you can beat us, great. If you get killed, well--then you're maybe not the guy we're looking for."
Crimson spoke up. "The boss has a plan. He needs you, or maybe someone like you, to pull it off. Don't worry, you'll still get to make the choice of whether or not to go along with it, so it's not like you're just some puppet." He paused, flinching a bit at his own word choice as he remembered what had almost happened with the Wooden Girl. "That reminds me, though. Mags, it looks like the Wooden Girl and Cold Boy are working together."
"Good," she said, nodding. "The boss'll be happy."
"Happy? About what? What exactly is going on?" As the conversation went on, I was feeling more and more in the dark.
Magpie took a deep breath. "All right, listen, Kenny. There's a storm coming. It's been building up for a long time and hell's going to start breaking out really soon. Any preconceived notions you have, toss them out right now. Things have changed since the Fears started entering the picture. It's no longer light vs. dark. Runners vs. proxies. Everyone vs. the Slender Man and his cronies. This is going to be hard to believe, but...we're the good guys. And we'll need your help, but we can't tell you how. Not yet. You're not ready."
"It sure is taking a long time to prepare him," Crimson said.
"Yes, and we're all trying to move this along a little, aren't we? We were hoping you'd have met at least seven of us by now. Or at least enough of us to catch on to our names."
"What do you mean?"
She snorted. "Really, Kenny. Magpie, Gabe, Crimson, Phones--"
"He doesn't know Phones's name yet," Crimson cut in.
"Oh, right, he doesn't. Yeah, Kenny, that guy in the red hoodie you met earlier? We call him Phones."
"Oh yeah! The Redlight knockoff?"
They laughed a bit again. "I'm pretty sure he's never even heard of Redlight. All just one of those funny coincidences."
"Yeah, there seem to be a lot of coincidences everywhere around me lately."
They grew silent. Crimson spoke first. "Kenny, I want you to remember this. Even if you don't trust a word we're saying, you have to remember this one thing: there are no coincidences. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."
"You rescuing me from the Fears and giving me a place to spend the night seems too good to be true."
Magpie screeched in laughter. Crimson just smiled. "Yes, but we willingly admit that we have shadowy ulterior motive that we're hiding from you. We rescued you because we want you alive for our own purposes."
"That, and we can't just let a cute boy like you freeze to death on Christmas."
"Very true. Special provisions can be made for cute boys." They both had wicked grins on their faces at that point.
After that, they started conversing more casually. I tried to turn the conversation back to the earlier topics, but they always stopped me with "we'll reveal more when it's the right time." I spent the night and then left as soon as possible in the morning.
I've been moving on since then. There are still a few more months of winter and I'd like to head somewhere warmer. I stopped to watch Les Miserables, though. I don't watch many movies, but Lily loved the musical, so I figured that I should at least try to find out what it was about.
I hate to admit it, but Crimson and Magpie really saved me from the Cold Boy there. In more ways than one. Say what you want about the quality of the company I was keeping, but after I left, I had to admit that I was much more in the Christmas spirit.