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All Webb could think of to say under the circumstances was: “Fuck!”
Ariadne had put herself between Webb and the sliding doors, but the gondola was, unfortunately, almost entirely made of windows. Great for sight-seeing, not so great for being harassed by malevolent birds.
Birds was the best descriptor Webb could manage, but that fell woefully short. These were snowy-white, raven-shaped, and enormous—each one easily half the size of a fully-grown adult. They each had four wings, a wickedly sharp beak, and what appeared to be seven bright blue eyes: three up each side of their face and one splitting it vertically down the middle.
In other words, “What the hell are those?” Webb demanded.
“Bad??” Ariadne yelped, taking an offensive stance and baring her teeth out at them.
“Something from the other side, clearly,” Faraday said in a low voice, crouching down next to Webb. “Stay in the center of the car, Ariadne.”
“I want to fistfight a bird.”
“I know you want to fistfight a bird, but I think things will go very poorly for us if we open the doors,” Faraday said with teeteringly tense patience.
“I think the birds are going to have a say in that whether we want them to or not…!” Webb said, their voice raising in alarm as one of them rapped loudly at the glass with a wickedly sharp beak, causing it to splinter very slightly. “Isn’t that stuff, like, massively reinforced?”
“I haven’t really researched it personally but I would assume so!”
“I’m calling vampire OSHA!” Webb hissed back, wincing and ducking down as another one of the not-ravens swooped down, smashing bodily into the side of the car and making it bounce unsettlingly on the steel cable.
“Is that—I don’t think giant evil attack birds are a result of lax application of workplace safety regulations—”
“Please,” Ariadne hollered. “Am I gonna pry this door open and brawl with the birds or not??”
“No!” Webb and Faraday yelled back.
That said, it wasn’t like Webb had any better ideas. Faraday already said that his magic wasn’t particularly well-suited to combat, and as far as Webb knew, Ariadne wasn’t well-suited to being suspended on a wire hundreds of feet in the air, vampire or not. Which left—what? Trying to talk to the birds? Trying to convince the birds to leave them the fuck alone like they were some kind of one night stand that had overstayed their welcome?
It was worth a shot.
Hauling themself up, Webb leaned up against the glass, pressing their face close to one of the creatures who had perched on the rail outside, making eye contact with its many, many eyes.
“Fuck off, bird,” they said. Then, when nothing seemed to happen, they added more forcefully: “What do you want? Leave me alone—!”
There was a raucous chorus of calls and croaks, followed by the reverberating thud of another not-raven smashing against the side of the gondola. Up above, Webb started to hear a rhythmic pitter-patter of sharp beaks against the metal roof.
Faraday looked up, expression growing even more concerned, brows drawn heavily. “Are they—going after the cable attachment?”
Ariadne looked up as well, clawed fingers flexing. “Faraday, we have to do something—”
Webb turned back to the window again. This time, rather than trying to say or ask anything, they just focused all their energy—their fear, their anger, their frustration—and willed as hard as they could. It’s not going to happen. Don’t even fucking think about it.
For a moment, they were sure this had failed again, and they felt a humiliated sense of bitterness welling up in their chest, burning their throat. What exactly had they been expecting to happen, there? With useless borrowed abilities that they didn’t even want—
Then the not-raven in front of them abruptly seized up, its wings freezing mid-stroke. No longer being held aloft by anything, it toppled directly backwards, sinking with rapid finality towards the ground far below.
A splitting pain pierced Webb’s temple, and they clutched their head with both hands. All around them, the not-ravens suddenly burst into a flurry of croaking screams and beating wings.
“Webb?” That was Faraday’s voice, concerned and startled, warbling into focus like a poorly-tuned radio. Faraday’s warm hands gripping Webb’s shoulder. “Webb, what happened?”
“They’re leaving…!” Ariadne gasped.
Webb looked up, their vision still swimming slightly, and found that she was right. The not-ravens, still croaking and cawing loudly, were peeling off and soaring away towards the treeline. Webb wasn’t sure what had happened to the one that had fallen, but it seemed to have set something off in the others.
As they scanned the darkened woods below, though, they thought they saw it again—a hint of movement between the trees. A large shape. The sensation of someone watching them. Patient. Waiting.
This time, they didn’t say anything to the others.
“Webb!” Ariadne’s voice this time, as she flung her arms around Webb from behind. “What did you do? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Webb said with a shaky sigh, tugging at them both and sinking back onto the bench again. “I don’t… know. I just—looked at them really hard? I guess?”
“That sounds really dubious but I don’t know enough about your magic to argue,” Ariadne whispered, kissing at Webb’s temple. Webb grumbled a little, but didn’t pull away. Their head still hurt, but it was fading to a dull background throb.
Faraday still looked concerned, eyes scanning the skies around them, but eventually he relaxed a little, giving Webb’s hand a squeeze. “Just take it easy for now,” he said softly. “But let’s keep an eye out. That was… lucky, but we don’t know if anything else is going to be on the lookout.”
“What do you think that was about?” Webb asked, tilting their head back, eyes closed. “If they were sent by the vampires, I don’t exactly see why they’d try to harry us on our way to gently and politely deposit ourselves into their open mouths…”
Ariadne shook her head. “That wouldn’t make any sense…” she agreed. “Besides, I’ve never seen anything like those things in my life.”
“Then it was either a random event, or…” Or something and somebody Webb really didn’t want to think about. They especially did not enjoy the idea of that person being aware that Webb was back in the forest. Despite what had just happened, they felt somewhat relieved, for a moment, that they were this far up in the air where creatures on foot probably wouldn’t be able to reach them.
Faraday seemed to pick up on that stress, giving Webb’s hand a little squeeze. “Try not to think about it too much for now,” he suggested quietly. “One thing at a time. We’ll deal with whatever’s waiting for us at the chateau, and worry about what’s lurking in the woods later.”
“If it’ll let us wait that long,” Webb pointed out dryly.
Ariadne sighed, flopping against Webb and sticking her legs out in front of her, wiggling her feet back and forth. “Now I’m all riled up without a release,” she complained. “My adrenaline’s just—AHH!”
Both Webb and Faraday jumped as Ariadne let out a shriek. Following her gaze, Webb felt their own heart give a little leap in their chest as they saw a face looking back at them from the darkened glass.
A moment later, Webb heaved a sigh, thrusting their arms out in front of them. “Lore,” they scolded, cranky. “Do you have to do that?”
The face in the window faded away into nothingness, but a moment later, shadow and smoke unfurled at Webb’s feet, taking the shape of a body filling up their arms, a weight on their lap. “I’m sorry,” Lore murmured, looking genuinely apologetic. “I didn’t mean to…”
“I know, I know,” Webb sighed. “You’re just naturally spooky.”
Ariadne grumbled, reaching out to pinch Lore’s cheek. “Welcome back,” she said begrudgingly, then continued more fondly, clearly forgiving them instantly for the momentary fright. “How was everything? What did you see?”
Lore looked a little shy at the touch, then more serious at the question. “Nothing we didn’t really expect,” they said slowly. “It’s pretty lively. Lots of lights, music. There are what appear to be guards around, slick-looking vampires in dark suits standing around in pairs, but nobody is getting identified or checked out on their way off the gondola.”
“What about the chateau?” Faraday asked.
Lore nodded. “Some guards at the door there, but they didn’t seem to be paying much attention to anybody coming or going—more like just keeping an eye out for trouble.”
“So we could pass on through, if we went in the front door,” Ariadne mused. “Unless they are looking out for Webb, or Faraday and I, in which case…”
“We could do Operation Makeout if someone looks at us too closely,” Webb drawled. They grinned at Faraday’s expression. “What? It worked for Captain America.”
“I’d prefer to have some kind of alternate plan in mind…” Faraday said, polite but a little pained.
“Do you know another way around?” Webb asked Ariadne. “Any side or back entrance, or anywhere you think it would be more likely to find… prisoners? Unwilling guests?”
Ariadne made a bit of a face. “Grimm always liked to keep his… guests… in the guest quarters, not thrown away in a dungeon or anything. Taking care of people properly makes their blood taste better.”
“Gross, but go on.”
Ariadne shrugged. “It might be different now, but there’s definitely big balconies on various levels of the chateau, what with the view and all. Grimm always stayed in the highest rooms—there’s a balcony there too, of course, but…”
“He, or whoever, is not likely to be in his rooms during the party,” Faraday pointed out. “If we wanted to take a look around. But it depends on our priority, here.”
“Some of those missing people might honestly be in the middle of things,” Ariadne said. “As… entertainment? In which case…”
“Gross,” Webb emphasized again, with a grimace of a grin. “Right. Our original plan here was just to gather some information and figure out who’s in charge up here these days—Grimm, or some kind of imposter. But now, obviously, we need to figure out where Eli and Jenny are being kept, and try to spring them as well…”
There were a couple ways about it, and they’d obviously adapt as they went along. As for what they tried to do first…
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]