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Webb had never in their life wanted to stand their ground and fight. Their fight-or-flight reflexes had gotten gummed up early on and were stuck on “flight” only. The light on their emotional dashboard was permanently lit with a neon HELL NO.
And yet, seeing Vyo lunging down at them, they found that their heart was pounding as much with adrenaline as with anxiety, the roaring in their ears fury as well as fear.
That said, they did not have knives for hands, and so they did the sensible thing and ducked out of the way.
“Fuck,” they cursed, scrambling on wet leaves as Vyo swooped at them. They grabbed the broken umbrella that Pax had dropped at some point, thrusting wildly upwards with it as they felt the brush of wings close—too close—overhead. They didn’t hit anything, but Vyo also didn’t make a second pass, at least not immediately.
“Webb!” Faraday was crouching beside them, expression grim. Despite the rain and the chaos, his hair still looked perfect, tumbling down in a curtain around them both as Faraday knelt, hauling Webb protectively close against his chest. “Are you alright?”
“Fiiiii-nuh, I can’t believe you,” Webb muttered. “Stop it, your jacket is going to get muddy—”
“My jacket can survive a little mud,” Faraday said, face tilted up into the rain as he scanned the dark sky, eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure you can survive getting gored by a harpy.”
“Maybe not with that attitude,” Webb muttered, but they let Faraday stay protectively pressed over them while they also quickly took stock of the situation.
Vyo had flown up overhead again before diving back down again, but this time it looked as though either Pax or Ariadne had managed to grab her attention, or her leg, or both. Her wings were beating furiously as she tried to wheel out of the way again, but Ariadne launched up like a feral housecat, raking a swipe across Vyo’s leg with blackened talons that Webb was very sure that Ariadne didn’t have earlier.
Pax, meanwhile, had materialized some kind of gleaming blade out of seemingly nowhere, a wickedly sharp silver thing about as long as his forearm. He was currently using it to file one of his nails.
“Pax,” Webb hissed.
The demon looked up, wide-eyed. “What? Your vampire looks like she has it handled.”
Honestly, Webb couldn’t deny that. That wasn’t the point. “We need to leave,” they insisted. “Get Ariadne and let’s get out of here.”
Faraday looked thoughtful, biting his lower lip and glancing back along the riverbank towards the Drawing Dead. “Worried this is just a diversion?” he asked, low-voiced.
“Of course it is,” Pax said agreeably, tossing the blade from one hand to the other. “She wouldn’t go toe-to-toe with me, let alone with the four of us, if there wasn’t an ace up her sleeve.”
“And I’m not willing to stick around to find out what that is,” Webb said. They rose up, bracing themself against Faraday, who stood up as well, staying pressed close. They hesitated, though, exhaling an irritated puff of breath. “But… she knows something, so if we can just…”
“Webb, look—” Faraday interrupted urgently, turning Webb towards the direction of the Drawing Dead.
At first, it seemed like nothing—just a shifting of the mist, the rain, and the shadows of the dim pre-dawn. Then the shapes started to take a more solid form. Still in the distance, for now, but coming closer, with amorphous shapes and wielding blades.
“I told you!” Webb hissed, because they had.
“Well, that’s sure our cue!” Pax said brightly. “Or rather—your cue. Witch boy, grab your vampire and our scoundrel here. I’ll chuck you as far as I can throw you.”
Webb made an alarmed noise. “Yes, but also, no, what? What about you? This had better not be a dramatic sacrifice! I’m not playing that game where I leave my people behind one by one to advance my fucking quest, Pax, this is not that genre—”
“Oh, please,” Pax rolled his eyes. “You’re so fucking dramatic. We both want to know what this feather duster knows, but you need to get out of town. I’ll deal with the turkey and avoid the ghost army, don’t worry. And I’ll text you later, because I knoooww you’ll want to know what I find out, and I’ll only make you beg a little.”
Webb stared at him, then glanced over at Faraday. Faraday was looking over at where Ariadne had literally just charged up the side of a tree, making it tremble and shake under the force of the impact, hanging from a branch as she tried to swing her way across it.
“… I mean, I hate to break up Ariadne’s fun,” Webb said in a slightly strained tone. “It feels like taking a tennis ball away from a puppy…”
Pax brandished the knife threateningly in their general direction. “Go,” they insisted sweetly, smiling so wide it seemed to split their cheeks slightly, showing all of their teeth.
“Fine!” Webb nudged Faraday. “How do we—??”
“Get ready to tag out,” Faraday told Pax firmly, straightening up and reaching into his jacket. “I assume you’re readying another portal?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Pax said with a little purr. This time he drew a circle on the ground with the tip of one gold-tipped toe, a little pirouette in place before he hopped to the side. Leaves and rain vanished, sucked down into the sudden void underfoot. Somehow, this one made Webb even more uneasy than the first.
“And where exactly is this one going to send us?” Webb muttered.
Pax gave them a broad, knifey shrug. “Away.”
“Please focus,” Faraday said with a politely long-suffering tone, pulling out what appeared to be a thread bobbin and striding over towards where his significant other was still brawling with a harpy. His long hair and his technicolor dream coat whipped out behind him in the wind and rain, and Webb tried very hard not to feel impressed and excited.
Pax leaned a little closer to Webb. “What’s he going to do with the arts and crafts?” he whispered.
“I don’t know,” Webb said, raking their wet hair back from their face, stray pieces dripping wet from under the edge of their hat. “My plan was to try to hit her with a car, but that’s obviously not going to be an option.” The temptation to join in the ribbing was sparking on their tongue, but— “It’s fine, though. Faraday knows what he’s doing. Be ready.”
Pax raised one eyebrow, a slightly bemused expression on his face, but he obediently stood on alert, blade raised. Webb watched him uneasily for a moment, something nameless stirring in their chest.
“… are you sure about this?” they asked under their breath.
“What, worried about me?” Pax asked idly.
“I am worried about a lot of things, Pax!” Webb said with gritted teeth. “If you hadn’t noticed, there is a lot to currently be worried about. I’ve had nothing but worries the whole goddamn night! My anxiety is about to take physical form like a JoJo’s Stand!”
Pax laughed softly, flicking his tail. “You could have just said yes,” he murmured. “It’s alright. I’m not glad you’re afraid, but it’s nice to know that you still care, under all those spikes. Maybe things will be better for you, after all this is through.” A pause. “I mean, assuming you survive.”
“Thanks very much. Dick.” Try as they might, Webb couldn’t manage much heat in that.
Faraday had reached Ariadne and Vyo. Watching carefully for an opening, he suddenly lobbed the little bobbin, letting it soar easily over the two of them, trailing a little tail of thread behind it.
For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then, Vyo let out a loud squawk as her wings were suddenly hauled close to her body, jerking her back like a marionette on a string. Webb watched in growing astonishment as the thin little thread snaked around her like a chain, jerking her this way and that, yanking feathers and binding her feet tightly together.
“Ria! This way!” Faraday beckoned, gesturing frantically. “It won’t last long—”
Ariadne looked up from her half-crouch, eyes gleaming. She’d ripped off her helmet at some point, and there was blood dripping from her lips. For a moment, Webb wasn’t sure if it was hers or Vyo’s, but after she spat out a loose feather, Webb figured they had a fair idea.
“But I—” she protested, a little growly, taking a few aborted steps towards Vyo.
“Inquisitors are coming!” Webb called out, casting a nervous glance back at where they were closing ground much more quickly than they had any right to. “We’re getting out of here.”
Vyo jerked her head up, eyes bright, even as she continued to struggle against the bindings Faraday had cast on her. Every time she snapped a bit of thread, another tightened around her. She sliced at them with her talons flashing. “Oh, you can run,” she rasped, “and even if I lose you, even if they don’t find you,” she jerked her head towards the Inquisitors, “you’ll never be free of him.”
“Who’s him?” Pax asked casually as he sauntered forward, swaying. Ariadne cast one last furtive glance towards Vyo before scampering to Faraday’s side, leaning heavily against him as the two of them quickly returned to Webb. “Let’s talk about that, you and I, shall we?”
Vyo spat off to the side, finally managing to snatch the glittering bobbin from the air, ripping at the remaining thread with teeth and claws.
“Eat shit, demon,” she said, her teeth bared in a rictus grimace of a grin. Her gaze travelled past Pax to Webb, who still stood at the edge of the portal, posed to jump. “And don’t worry. That one knows exactly who I’m talking about.”
Webb narrowed his eyes at her, a sudden chill creeping up the back of their neck. “Believe me,” they shot back. “If I knew what this about, I’d be having a much less confusing night.”
The harpy laughed, ear-splitting and piercing. “You might have forgotten about him,” she said. “But he’s never forgotten about you. The one that got away…”
Horrified realization seared through Webb like a knife. Dimly, they realized that they’d frozen in place, and that there were voices clamoring for their attention, but they sounded very distant, distorted, like dreaming underwater. The roar of the rain grew stronger, the scent of wet leaves more pungent, and in the distance they heard them approaching—closer, closer, hooves pounding against the ground in a rapid, urgent patter—
“Webb, we have to go!”
Webb felt an arm wrap tightly around their waist, followed by the unsettling, swooping sensation of the ground dropping out from beneath their feet as Ariadne hauled them bodily into the portal Pax had made. They exhaled soundlessly, strangled and choked.
The last thing they saw before their vision went black was Pax’s face, bright-eyed and curious and concerned, before he abruptly spun around and raised his blade, deflecting the next attack from Vyo’s outstretched talons—
—and then Webb was slammed into the ground, overbalancing, falling hard onto their hands and knees as they were impacted once, twice, and crumpled to the ground.
“Webb…” Faraday’s voice this time, his hands gripping Webb’s shoulders, rolling them over, drawing them upright, cupping their face. Somewhere in the chaos, they’d lost their glasses. They blinked up at Faraday with hazy confusion, head still spinning, mouth tasting like cotton. “Are you alright? Hey…”
Ariadne’s face swam into focus next to Faraday’s, pale and wide-eyed and worried. “Webb?”
“Shut up,” Webb managed to groan, pushing at Faraday’s hands, trying to turn their face away. “That’s my name, it’s my name, I’ve heard it so many times today it’s starting to lose its meaning…”
“They’re fine,” Faraday told Ariadne in a low voice, like he was pretending to say it quietly enough that Webb didn’t hear, but obviously wasn’t trying hard at all.
Ariadne let out a weak little laugh, shifting a little closer, reaching out to grab Webb’s hand. She was a bit of a mess, her leathers caked with mud and covered in scratches, her pale hair plastered damply and dripping. She looked genuinely worried, and relieved—and confused, biting at her bloody lower lip as she looked around.
“Where… are we?”
Webb followed her gaze. At first glance, it seemed like maybe they weren’t that far away from where they’d been last—the edge of some kind of wooded area. But they could no longer see any of the bright lights from the Drawing Dead, and they could hear the occasional hissing rush of tires moving at high speed somewhere nearby.
“I think that we’re near the edge of town,” Webb said, finding the words coming slow and sluggish, as though their tongue didn’t want to cooperate. It sounded remote, like the voice belonged to someone else entirely. “Pax did say he’d fling us as far as he could… don’t know how we’re supposed to get a car from here, but I guess his aim isn’t always the best if he’s pushing himself…”
“Do you think he’ll be alright?” Ariadne asked, worried.
“I don’t know,” Webb said. They knew they should probably get up, the rain-soaked leaves and mud starting to seep through their clothes, but their legs felt heavy. The woods seemed to loom around them, towering and dark, and the whispering of the wind seemed to carry voices that they were trying very, very hard to tune out. “I don’t… know. Lore’s got to be okay. And Pax. I’m not… they said they wanted to help, right? I’m not leaving them behind, I… where are we supposed to get a car, I…”
Ariadne was crouching suddenly closer, her hands finding Webb’s face, trying to tilt it to look at her. “Webb,” she murmured. “Webb, what’s wrong? Did you hit your head, or—?”
“Is it about what she said?” Faraday asked slowly, low-voiced, concerned. “When we were leaving… she said, you knew who was chasing you. That you were the one that got away.”
Webb closed his eyes tightly to avoid Ariadne’s gaze, and covered their ears with both hands, though it wasn’t quite enough to block everything out. The wind, the rain, the voices. Their concern, their questions, the sound of being chased—
“Webb,” Ariadne insisted, shaking their shoulders, anxious. “Webb, what is going on?”
“We have to get out of the rain,” Webb rasped. “And… figure out where to go next.” Was there a service station nearby? A motel? Should they call a Lyft? See if Faraday could work some sort of magic…? Their head spun with possibilities and the breathless pressure building in their chest.
“… please. I just really need to get out of these fucking woods.”
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]