[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
Webb exchanged a quick and somewhat uneasy glance with Faraday and Ariadne. “Listen, when I told Faraday to go to hell—” they protested.
“Very funny,” Pax said, chipper. “Chop, chop. No time to argue. All aboard the demon train!”
“Pax.” Webb took a few steps closer, regardless. The portal didn’t seem unnaturally warm or anything, and made Webb only a little uneasy to look at. They reached out to try to touch it lightly and got a little smack on their wrist from Pax.
“Where are you taking us?” Ariadne asked, wary but immediately coming to Webb’s side.
Pax huffed, putting a hand on their hip. “Just outside. Unless you want me to take you on a field trip, in which case, I’m down for it, but I don’t know when I’d return you…”
“Outside is fine,” Faraday said peaceably, though he also came up to stand on Webb’s other side. “We need to try to get Ariadne’s bike, anyway…”
“We’ll see what the lay of the land is out there,” Pax pointed out. “But don’t worry. I’m not taking you anywhere too dramatic. Just a little shortcut.”
Webb sighed, glancing back once last time at Lore before approaching the portal. “Fine,” they said. “This is really not the weirdest thing you’ve had me do.”
It was a joke, obviously, and they saw Pax’s eyes narrow and brighten somewhat with mischief—but they also saw the look of slight relief and maybe even gratitude that crossed Pax’s face. There was still a lot going on, and Webb didn’t quite know what Pax’s full game plan was, but this was about as much of an I trust you as Webb was able to give.
Drawing in a sharp breath, Webb stepped through.
They thought the sensation would be stranger than it was. It lasted for a brief moment: heat, then a shock of something cold rushing and crawling along their skin, then a fierce tug that yanked them forward, stumbling. Disoriented, they jerked their head up, feeling a little like they left their stomach behind—and found themself outside, raindrops splattering heavily down onto their head and shoulders.
Webb let out a sigh of relief that immediately turned to bone-deep terror as they realized they were alone. No Pax, no Ariadne, no Faraday—
They whirled around, scattering wet leaves. They were standing on a slope overlooking the darkened riverbank, lit in patches by pools of light from flickering street lamps. Behind them was the edge of the woods; ahead, they could see the bright lights of the Drawing Dead, and dimly hear the sound of music from the balcony over the rushing water and pattering rain.
“Pax—?” They pulled the drawstrings of Ariadne’s hoodie a little tighter, heart hammering at the inside of their ribcage. Had they been tricked? Had this been a ruse to get them alone? Or, worse, to separate them from the others, or—
There was a faint flash of light, and Ariadne and Faraday popped into existence, nearly bumping directly into Webb. A moment later, Pax appeared as well, his wings fluttering as he hovered, holding an umbrella, just keeping the tips of his toes off the wet ground.
“Oh!” Ariadne breathed out, startled. “Where are we? Oh, Webb, are—” she trailed off as she saw the look on Webb’s face, sunglasses be damned. “Are. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Webb said quickly, shoving their hands in their pockets and trying to will their panicky rabbit heart back into submission. Stop it, you’re embarrassing me. “It’s fine. We’re a hell of a ways away, though. Pax, we need to get closer.”
Pax was giving Webb a keen look as well, drifting past them and peering out into the darkness. “I don’t know if that’s such a great idea,” he pointed out, tail coiling around his ankles. “Look.”
Webb followed his gaze, and heard Faraday suck in a little breath. All around the Drawing Dead, they could see the shapes: ghostly, drifting. At least five of them from this side of the building alone, and no doubt each wielding an impossibly large and intimidating weapon.
Fumbling around in their jacket, Webb ducked briefly under Pax’s umbrella and tugged out their notebook. In the same jagged handwriting as before, it read:
Come out, come out, wherever you are.
Pax peered over their shoulder. “Oh!” he said brightly. “Fun. They seem like a riot. Anyway, I thought you might not like to party with them, though, if you’ve changed your mind, I can always…”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Ariadne protested, though she was hugging her elbows, moving from foot to foot restlessly. “… damn, my bike is there, though…”
“They know it’s yours,” Webb pointed out, grimacing. “They saw us ride away before…”
“They might leave it alone, if and when they take, ah, the bait, as it were,” Faraday pointed out in a low voice. “Do you think we should just stick around here for now, out of sight?”
“What are our other options here?” Webb muttered. “I mean, we’re going up to the mountains. Either of you have a fucking car share account?”
“We could—” Ariadne began, then abruptly stiffened, snapping the visor of her helmet up and tilting her head back, sniffing at the wind.
“… what is it?” Webb asked, but Faraday quickly shook his head, making a shushing gesture. Both Faraday and Ariadne were alert, looking around; Pax noticed a moment later, his eyes glowing in the darkness.
“I think we’re about to have an unwelcome visitor,” Pax said with a sudden toothy grin, all fangs. Before Webb could make more than a breathless noise in response, Pax wrapped an arm around Webb and hauled them close against his side, thrusting his umbrella upwards and bracing himself as something slammed into it with enough force to make it crack, sending rain splashing everywhere.
That was Ariadne’s voice, followed by the pounding of footsteps, the sound of Faraday cursing, and the beating of heavy wings. Webb shoved the tangled mess of umbrella aside, looking up to see the wet and ragged shape of the harpy from the Drawing Dead, perched on one of the tree branches and leaning down over them with a leer that showed far too many teeth.
“I thought I’d take to the skies,” she said in her raspy lilt, tapping a clawed finger against her cheek. “And look what I found! I thought I smelled a rat.”
“I always thought they kept you around for vermin control, Vyo,” Pax said blithely, shaking out his shattered umbrella and looking very put upon, his blue-green hair plastered to his horns, his skin steaming a little in the rain. “So nice to finally have confirmation.”
“Shut it,” Vyo snapped, though she immediately favored Webb with that unsettling smile again. “So you were willing to disobey the Inquisitors to protect this one, were you? That’s very interesting! I’m sure they’ll want to know all about it…”
“Are you working with Grimm?” Ariadne demanded. She didn’t sound frightened—on the contrary, her feet were braced, her hands clenching and unclenching. Faraday stood motionlessly behind her, his dark hair heavy and wet around his shoulders, his expression composed but obscured, his eyes narrowed.
The harpy blinked, then let out a sharp laugh, grating. “With the vampire? Oh, my sweet summer child. You really have no idea what’s going on, do you?”
“I don’t suppose you’re going to enlighten us, are you?” Webb called back, swaying a little closer to Pax. “You know, dramatic villain speech and all that?”
Vyo’s gaze focused on him again, and she rose up higher on the branch, spreading her wings wide and adjusting her neck, cracking it audibly to one side. She stretched out her arms, fingers cracking as well as they spasmed into elongated, knife-sharp claws.
“No,” she said, before she swooped down out of the darkened sky, lunging for Webb’s throat.
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]