[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
Niall was giving Webb a thoughtful, suspicious look over the rims of his glasses. Emboldened by the thought of giving the man a migraine out of spite, Webb found their lips curving in a tired little challenge of a grin as they shoved their free hand in their pocket, rocking back onto their heels.
“I have no idea how things are gonna go, but we’re not about to give up on them when we’re this close,” Webb said.
Artem’s brows creased in confusion. “What… do you mean?”
Niall grimaced. “I was afraid of that.”
“Listen,” Webb said. “We’re not big damn heroes or anything. In fact, I distinctly would like to be literally anywhere other than here, in this specific situation. But I didn’t come up this mountain to go whoops, oh well, guess the vampires got ’em and we’re just gonna let that happen.”
To Artem, they added more seriously: “We’re going to go try to find out what happened to Jenny and Eli. If the logic follows, it’s unlikely they just killed them, so they’ve got to be somewhere…”
Artem’s eyes lit up a little with a faint hope that made Webb feel uneasy. They didn’t do well with people having expectations. They were allergic to optimism. Still… it was better than the dull, defeated look he’d had moments before.
“You have no idea what you’re getting into,” Niall warned.
“We have some idea,” Webb said. “Not a lot of idea, but less than zero. And besides—like you said. Who else is going to help?
Niall sighed, glancing aside at Artem, then gave Artem’s shoulder a little squeeze. “You rest up,” he told him. “That’s about enough excitement for today.”
“But I should go with them—” Artem protested.
“Absolutely not,” Webb said firmly. “You’re staying here.”
“I’ll give you my cell number,” Ariadne offered. “We’ll keep in touch with you.”
“And if anything happens, you need to be prepared to train and become a dark knight in the future,” Webb suggested.
“No,” said Niall.
“Like that one anime where the cute goat’s family gets killed by wolves and then he grows up to be a vicious killer—”
Webb held both hands up to their head like horns. “An avenging were-Bambi.”
Niall was scowling heavily, but Artem’s expression had moved from distressed to helplessly amused, his shoulders shaking. Webb gave them both a little grin, then dropped their sunglasses back down onto their nose, turning and gesturing for Faraday and Ariadne to follow.
“I don’t think you should actually become The Punisher if we don’t come back,” she murmured.
“The Fawnisher,” Webb suggested.
“Webb!” Ariadne scolded. Webb would have bet good money that she was grinning behind her helmet visor, though. To Artem, she continued: “The best and most important thing you can do is try to live a good life. Don’t let the past eat at you too much.”
“Maybe get a good therapist,” Faraday suggested lightly.
“You two are going to make me feel self-conscious,” Webb complained. They sighed, leaning against the doorframe. “They’re right, though. I spent the last decade blaming myself for shit that was out of my control because… because I didn’t have good people around me to shake me and tell me to take care of myself. Or even for those who tried in their own way, I was too stubborn to listen to them.”
“You got away,” Ariadne said gently. “Don’t leave your heart behind with those that meant to harm you.”
Artem dropped his gaze, weakly squeezing Ariadne’s gloved hand when she offered it to him. “Good luck,” he said hoarsely. “Try to come back safely, okay?”
“We’ll try,” Ariadne promised, which was more than Webb was willing to do. They’d used up all their energy and had none left for reassurances, just lingering quietly by the door as Ariadne gave Artem her phone number and chatted briefly with him and Niall.
They all made their way out into the entrance hall. Niall joined them after a moment, dimming the lights in the infirmary again and shutting the door all but a crack.
“I don’t suppose there’s any talking you out of this?” he sighed.
“Why, do you still want to?”
Niall scowled, shrugging one shoulder. “Don’t like to see people putting themselves in danger unnecessarily, and I know what those vampires can do. But you seem pretty set on what you’re doing, and it’s not like I don’t want to see those kids rescued.”
“There’s more to use than meets the eye,” Faraday assured him.
“Artem gave me more specific details on where exactly they got jumped,” Ariadne said. “So we can always try there first. But… it’s awfully close to the gondola up to the peak, which one way or the other, is where I suspect we’re going to end up going.”
“Honestly, if you have any advice for a bunch of people about to do something terminally stupid, I’m all ears,” Webb told Niall, spreading their palms wide.
Niall looked very put-upon. “Other than don’t, no. But nobody ever listens to me, anyway.” Webb decided they were growing a bit fond of the lines that furrowed in Niall’s brow when he seemed concerned about the absurdity of those around him, which seemed often. “… did hear something about a party going on up at Sharp Pines tonight, though, if that’s relevant to you.”
“Sharp Pines is the chateau…?”
Niall nodded. “They have… revels, often enough, let’s put it that way. Shadewick isn’t the only town that has a gondola leading up to the peak—we’re just the closest to Hallow Point. There’s another village a ways up the road that’s a bit more popular with the partying crowd. Some people come up this way for the nature and the sports, obviously, but ever since the vampires moved in up there, it’s been worse and worse every year.”
“And people just go up there knowing that it’s run by vampires?” Webb asked.
Ariadne shrugged. “When I was there, it happened a lot. A lot of people were actively into it, you know? Horny for the thrill of it, enjoying the occasional bloodsucking and getting charmed… some were enthralled, some chose to stay, some chose to go and return, some chose to get turned. Some, I assume, went back to their normal life as accountants or Ph.D candidates or whatever…”
Niall gave her an odd look, but didn’t comment. “Exactly that. So… it’s not too strange for you to show up and just pretend you’re there for the drinks and all the rest.”
“Great,” Webb said dryly. Then, more seriously: “No, actually, that’s helpful.”
“Do you mind if I leave my helmet here for now?” Ariadne asked. “It’ll probably stick out more than hide anything at a party, and it’s dark now, so…”
Niall stared at her for a moment, then sighed. “Go ahead,” he said. “Just try to come back to claim it, alright?”
Ariadne pulled the helmet off, shaking her hair free, and gave Niall a little toothy smile. “We’re going to do our best,” she assured him.
“You’re sure nobody’s going to recognize you?” Webb murmured quietly to Ariadne as Niall went to set the helmet aside.
Ariadne shrugged. “It’s been a long time. And I look very different. And if anybody does, then we get to have a very fun conversation.
Webb couldn’t argue with that. They did, however, cup her cheek in one hand and lean in for a quick kiss.
“Mmph—” Her eyes widened, startled, but she leaned back into it after a moment, her expression softening. “What was that for?”
“Are you doing alright energy-wise?” Webb asked. “Bet the clinic here has some blood bags, if you need one.”
Ariadne’s eyes brightened. “Oh, great point. I’ll ask Niall.” She paused a bit, still with her forehead pressed to Webb’s. “That—still doesn’t explain why you kissed me?”
Webb grinned. “Just reminding you of what you’re missing out on.”
Ariadne gasped, pinching up and down their sides. “Rude! Rude, rude…!” Her red eyes were bright, her cheeks a little flushed, her hair rumpled still from her helmet.
Webb knew that they were grasping onto the last moments of levity before heading into a menacing unknown, but they wanted to let it linger, just a little longer. They weren’t exactly keen on heading into danger regardless—but now it felt extra bitter, now that they felt like they had something to lose.
They glanced uneasily outside through one foggy window, looking at the shadowed shapes of the trees in the distance, and swallowed.
“You’re not alone,” whispered Lore’s soft voice next to their ear. “We’ll be fine, Webb.”
“We’ll see,” Webb muttered. But it did make them feel a little better.
A few of the stores in the village were still open, so at Niall’s stern recommendation they took a few minutes to pick up some additional gear and winter clothes before setting out. Travelling with a helpful witch meant that Faraday could keep them warm enough, but even then there was only so much he could do with dark woods and what was likely to be a snowy mountain peak.
After a quick meal, with night truly starting to fall, they headed out along the path through the woods that led towards the gondola.
Ariadne was rubbing her hands together, exhaling a puff of frosty breath as she looked around. “It really is beautiful around here,” she said softly. “I kind of missed it.”
“I think I prefer the city,” Webb said lightly. “In fact, I’d prefer to be on an island, maybe? Out at sea? In a desert. Anywhere except a frozen-ass murder forest heading up to Vampire Fuck Mansion.”
Ariadne wasn’t wrong, though. The clouds had started to break up a little throughout the evening, letting through faint glimmers of starlight from a sky darker than any Webb was ever able to see from within the light-polluted city. Behind them, the warm streetlamps of the village cast pools of light onto the snow-frosted cobblestones. Ahead, a foggy mist hung over the trees like jewels, lending an ethereal quality to the woods.
Webb, obviously, was absolutely miserable about it.
They heard a crunch of boots on snow, then felt Faraday’s arm wrap around their shoulders.
“Ready?” he murmured.
“Absolutely not,” Webb muttered back, letting their head fall against his shoulder. “Why would you ask me that?”
Faraday laughed, soft and low. “I have faith in us,” he said lightly. “… anyway, the gondola’s nice, if you’ve never taken it before. It’s a beautiful view, even at night. Romantic,” he added with a bit of mischief.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Webb grumbled. But it did feel a little better to walk into the woods with Faraday close to their side, Ariadne up ahead and visibly on alert. They felt a little whisper of air as Lore shifted against their hair, and saw their own shadow elongate strangely for a moment as Lore seemed to vanish on ahead, keeping watch.
The trip to the gondola was disappointingly uneventful—some part of Webb wanted to be jumped in the woods by vampires, just so they’d have something concrete to deal with. But no, it was just the long, thin stretch of cable leading up to the peak of Bloodstone Mountain to contend with, and the knowledge that they had very little idea of what was waiting for them at the top.
“So what’s the plan?” Ariadne asked quietly as they approached, dropping back to walk a little closer to Faraday and Webb. There wasn’t much of a lineup at this time of night—just a handful of people wandering around, some with snow gear, some dressed up under their winter clothes—but there was still someone selling lift passes.
“I don’t think we need to have much of an excuse to go up there, right?” Webb said. “Unless this is like, an invite-only deal…”
Ariadne shook her head. “It shouldn’t be. Should we give you a disguise, though? And like… once we’re up there, do you just want to… walk in the front door? Or sneak our way around? I mean, we can talk more in the gondola, probably, but…”
She had a point. They’d have a bit of time heading up on the gondola to hash things out in terms of plans, or as much planning as they could do before they were able to scope things out. Then again, maybe they shouldn’t stress out and over-plan, and instead just enjoy the last time alone they had with a cute witch and a vampire…
They flushed, feeling their hair stir. “I can also try to go on ahead,” Lore suggested softly. “I know you don’t want me to get into trouble, but under the circumstances, maybe I could see something useful or dangerous if I scouted ahead…”
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
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