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That night, for the first time in over ten years, Webb didn’t dream of the hunt.
The forest was quiet and still. Pale moonlight filtered through the heavy canopy, giving the forest an eerie silver glow. Webb found themself curled up in a cradle of gnarled tree roots, half-sunken in a bed of lush moss.
In the near distance, they could hear the gentle burbling of running water. The rustling of leaves in the wind. The occasional buzz of insects, and the eerie call of birds that Webb didn’t know how to identify, mainly because they didn’t know shit about birds.
Despite the tranquility of the scene, Webb’s heart was pounding so hard that it felt like it might split their ribcage open. They tried to sit up, but found that the forest was holding onto them tightly. Vines coiled, snakelike, around their arms; roots shifted and groaned against the earth, trapping their feet into place. Underneath them, the soft ground began to sink, enveloping them, soggy and sucking.
Before Webb could do more than draw in a sharp breath to scream, a hand slid around their mouth from behind, pressing tightly. A mouth brushed against their ear as their head was tilted unyieldingly to the side, baring the line of their throat. Another sinuous arm eased around their waist before hauling them back, locking around them with a grip like iron.
“Will you walk into my parlour?” A voice whispered. Their lips were close enough to Webb’s ear that they could feel the warmth of their breath. “‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy…”
Thrashing in place, Webb tried to bite down on the hand covering their mouth, frantic and furious. A moment later, they felt a sharp, piercing pain in their neck as they felt someone bite down—
They woke up in bed with a gasp, pawing frantically at their throat with both hands. Next to them, Ariadne stirred but didn’t wake, her cheek squished so hard against her arm that there was a soft red indentation. Faraday, who had had his arm draped over Webb, rolled onto his back and half-roused, blinking and confused, rubbing his eyes.
“Webb…?” he muttered sleepily. They’d done their best to try to pin the curtains closed before sleeping, but some thin streamers of afternoon light were seeping through, falling in stripes across Faraday’s body. “Is everything alright?”
“It’s fine,” Webb managed to get out, breathless, heart still racing. “Go back to sleep.”
Faraday seemed hesitant, but still too asleep to fight it, slowly closing his eyes again. Webb watched him until they were sure that Faraday’s chest was rising and falling rhythmically again, then carefully disentangled themself from between the two of them and made their way to the end of the bed.
In front of them, their shadow stretched out, long and distorted, rising up against the wall—before oozing into a solid shape with long hair and a heart-shaped face, brows drawn in concern.
“Webb,” Lore murmured, keeping their distance but hovering nearby, worried. “Another nightmare…?”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Webb finally began to feel their breathing slow. They shakily lifted a hand to their neck, half expecting to pull their fingers away dripping with blood. They were both relieved and surprised when it came away dry.
“Yeah… ” Webb said uneasily. “They happen a lot. It’s fine, though. Don’t worry about it. I’m pretty awake now anyway, so…”
“Mm,” Lore hummed noncommittally at the instruction not to worry, but after watching Webb for another unsettlingly long moment, they just gave Webb a slight smile and leaned in to kiss the top of their head. “We should be heading out shortly anyway, so…”
Webb reached out to catch one of Lore’s hands, squeezing. “Let’s give Ariadne and Faraday a little while longer,” they said. “Let’s just… I don’t know. Can you sit with me for a while?”
“As long as you’d like,” Lore promised.
Would that it could be, Webb thought. They knew very fucking well that they had no time left at all.
The dream still clung to Webb throughout the remainder of the afternoon, though by the time Ariadne and Faraday had woken up and arrangements were had to eat food and brew coffee and make plans, it had faded mostly to an uncomfortable background hum.
“So, we try to find this Niall fellow,” said Ariadne in between bites of takeout, cross-legged on the bed, “and just have a pleasant little chat with him. Then head up Bloodstone and juuust… see what we find?”
“I mean, I was kind of hoping you’d have more of an idea of what to expect, given that you were there before,” Webb pointed out.
Ariadne wrinkled her nose. “It’s been a really long time,” she said. “I don’t know how much has changed. But… from what I can remember, basically you can only get up there via gondola, or by, I guess, travelling up the super long way using the access roads.”
“Or by magical means,” Faraday pointed out.
“I’m not sure we have magical means that would be helpful in that case, do we?” Webb asked. “Actually, now that I think about it, what can the lot of you actually do? Given that we’re plunging into unknown waters here together, I figure that might be relevant? Like obviously Ariadne’s a hard-hitting bloodsucker, Faraday does a mean cross-stitch, and Lore is spooky as shit…”
Lore made a small noise; Webb couldn’t tell if it was protest or approval. Faraday sighed, running his hands back through his hair.
“The easiest magics for me to do are those that let me channel through threads,” he said. “But as for what I can do with them, it can be pretty flexible. Just, the further outside what resonates with me personally, the more difficult and draining it is.”
“Faraday can do a lot of creative things to get us out of a pinch, if needed,” Ariadne said agreeably, glowing with a little bit of pride as she gazed at him. “But something like flying us up a mountain is not really…”
Faraday ducked his head, squeezing her hand. “Yeah, no. But, I can continue to weave some spells that’ll help us from being detected, or to sneak past locked areas…”
Webb nodded. “So we’ll just keep that in our back pocket as needed.” They sighed, rubbing their face. They had their own abilities, of course, but there were only limited situations where they thought those might be relevant. Even among those, they didn’t really want to think too hard about it. “Great. I’m feeling more confident about all of this by the second.”
“Webb… ” Ariadne murmured sympathetically.
“And what about Grimm?” Webb asked her. “And the other vampires, I guess. Whether or not Grimm himself is actually going to be making an appearance, under the circumstances. What’s he like? What should we be watching out for?”
Ariadne worried at her lower lip. “I mean, as a person, I remember Grimm being… kind of egotistical. Hedonistic, self-centered. Not constantly cruel, I mean, not to the people around him. If you were his, he wasn’t exactly kind, but he liked to see his clan enjoying themselves. It’s just that his loyalty to anybody else was very conditional, so it’s not like anybody could ever trust him, they’d just try to stay on his good side.”
“So that’s probably going to be the sort of people he surrounded himself with?” Webb wagered, trying to wash the sour taste of that thought out of their mouth with a sip of coffee. “The general, I don’t know. Vampire sex party vibe.”
Ariadne made a face. “I mean, not everybody, obviously. But I guess. You’re likely to see a lot of people just trying to have a good time, no matter the cost. And potentially with very bad taste.”
“Though it’s not like we’re immediately going to be walking into a heavily-guarded fortress or anything,” Faraday pointed out. “It’s an actual functioning ski resort. Normal people go up there all the time.”
“Just not everyone always comes back,” Webb said wryly. “Fuck. Skiing vampires.” They looked at Ariadne. “They do ski, right? Like, these are actually vampires who live there and engage regularly in winter sports?”
“I prefer snowboarding?” she hazarded.
Webb groaned. “Of course you do.” Heaving themself to their feet, they raked both hands back through their hair. “Let’s just get this over with. I am so resigned to heading into the spooky fucking wilderness and making my way to vampire fuck mansion. This might as well happen.”
As a group, they had nothing to speak of in the sense of baggage or belongings—regrettably, Webb had realized, when they had to wash their boxers and tank top in the sink, earlier—so there was no point in not checking out of the inn. The desk clerk, the same one from earlier, favored them with an easy smile as the three of them (plus Lore, hidden) made their way into the lobby.
“Ah, good evening,” they said. “I trust you slept well?”
“It was fine,” said Webb.
“And the room? How did you find it?”
“It was so cute,” Ariadne enthused, her eyes bright.
“The bear robes were a big hit,” Webb said dryly.
The desk clerk pressed their hands together, smile turning foxlike, pleased. “I’m so happy to hear it,” they said. “Business has been somewhat slow lately, so if it wouldn’t trouble you to leave reviews in all of the usual places, you know, Welp, Fourscare…”
Webb exchanged a look with Faraday. “Slow, huh?”
The clerk—Ibis, Webb noticed from a little placard on their desk—let out a little sigh, before favoring them with a curious look, resting their chin on one hand.
“Ohhh, yes,” they said. “Had you not heard? It’s been quite… contentious out there as of late. Really impacting my bottom line, if you know what I mean.”
They said it like it should be some kind of innuendo, but Webb either couldn’t understand it, or couldn’t be bothered, under the circumstances. “We’d heard some things about people going missing,” they said. “Our, uh, our ride up here told us not to go wandering off alone.”
“Do you know anything more about that?” Faraday asked, thoughtful.
Ibis tapped a long fingernail against their lips. “I don’t know if I should say,” they said. “Are you the type to stay out of trouble because I warned you about it, or the type to go haring off after it?” They grinned, leaning forward on both bony elbows, folding in on themself somewhat as they looked the group over, thoughtfully.
Webb fought not to glance too obviously towards the door, a little antsy. A few questions were rising to their mind: about the vampires and the fae, the disappearances, the Hallow Society, the various people they were keeping an eye out for—Jenny, Lekha, Sia…
But on the other hand, they couldn’t be sure of the ulterior motives of anybody they met, not really. Especially not this close to one of Grimm’s strongholds. What if Ibis already knew who they were? What was safe to say, or ask about? Not to mention that Ibis seemed to want some kind of convincing…
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
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