Halloween 2021 IF
So, back in September, I’d been complaining to Meredith about a lack of fantasy novels with polyamorous protagonists, which was what I was really in the mood to read. I’d even had a dream about a cute trio, one of whom was a vampire, who were doing some smooching, and I wanted that to exist so I could read it…!
Well. Well. One thing led to the other, and around the time we took a day-trip up to Whistler, I’d come up with a vague outline of some ideas for this story. Many of the initial ideas were spun up as we wandered around the ski village, including, yes, taking the gondola up to the top of the peak. Spoilers: there were no vampires there. It was foggy and we just turned back around again.
This is starting to read like the introduction to a recipe blog. Anyway, the point is, you unfortunately have the power to manifest dreams into reality, it just takes a lot of time and effort. I really did originally plan for this just to be a much shorter story captured within October (maybe 20K to 30K at most) but it quickly developed a life of its own, and I figured, I was already committed to this, why not just let it be the story it wants to be?
My cats (and both of us, I suppose) have suffered from a series of late bedtimes, and I’m looking forward to a restful December, but I’m happy to have written this and happy that so many of you came along the way to encourage me to keep going and to give me some fantastic ideas for how you wanted to steer the story along the way. This is the longest piece of writing I’ve ever completed (by far), and I’m very happy with the characters and the story I was able to tell! I have lots more in mind for future adventures with this crew, just… not right now.
In the meantime, one more huge THANK YOU to my lovely readers, and of course the most maximum thank you to Meredith for letting me play in the Uncanny Valley world that she created, and for her endless and unwavering support and brilliance ♥
Now, ask me questions! About the story, about the writing process, about the characters! There are some things I will decline to answer, of course, if I plan on circling back to them later, but AMA is open! (In lieu of questions if you don’t have anything to ask, feel free to share a favourite character or line or thing you’d love to see more of in the future!)
[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
“They’re going to be fine,” Niall said, stepping out of the infirmary and shutting the door gently behind him. “They’re resting now.”
Webb startled, immediately trying to sit up from where they’d curled up on their side, head on Ariadne’s lap. They’d lost track of time and had clearly dozed off. They scrambled to catch Faraday’s coat before it slid off them onto the floor.
“Oh—good,” Webb said. “All of them? How’s Jenny doing?”
They’d made it back to Shadewick with the help of Pax and some of the other demons allied with Veracity and her clan. Pax had ducked out again to go back and, in his words, help everyone finish cleaning up the mess, while Webb and the others took those who were injured to get treated by Niall.
“A bit of blood loss, but we were able to get a transfusion going. A few smaller injuries here and there, but I don’t think I’ll need to call in any outside help.”
Webb exhaled, their shoulders slumping in relief. Niall was a bit cranky and obviously proud of his work, but he also clearly put his patients first and wouldn’t mess around in that regard.
“Thank you,” Faraday told Niall seriously. “Is there anything we can do?”
Niall crossed his arms. “I need you to get out of my hair,” he said gruffly. “You showed up in the middle of the night with a dozen people needing treatment. Go make trouble somewhere else for a bit.” His severe expression softened slightly, and for a moment Webb was sure they saw a hint of a smile. “… you did good out there. Reckless, and crazy. But good.”
Webb ducked their head, cheeks burning slightly. “We got lucky,” they said quietly. “But yeah. I’m relieved, too.”
Niall shrugged a shoulder. “Luck can be a factor. It’s rarely the deciding one as often as people think it is, at times like these.”
“… I think that’s a compliment,” Webb said, “but I think I’m as uncomfortable taking compliments as you are at giving them, so why don’t I just—”
“Yes,” Niall nodded vehemently. “Get out of my house.”
Ariadne snorted, sliding her arm under Webb’s arms and tugging them to their feet. “Come on, come on, everyone,” she said. “Time to go…”
Webb wasn’t altogether certain where they were going after this. Their priority—after making their way around the chateau unlocking doors and freeing people and dealing with the occasional spicy vampire—had just been to get everyone to safety, and to get themselves off of Fuck Mountain before the vampires got really rowdy.
Now—they didn’t know. Was it really time to rest? There was still so much on their mind, so much they were unsure of. So many questions they still didn’t know the answers to.
They headed with Ariadne and Faraday towards the door—Lore still, as usual, present but quiet in Webb’s shadow, contributing the occasional murmur to keep Webb reassured that they were still there.
As they passed through the hall towards the front door, the door to the infirmary opened slightly. Webb could make out one wide gray eye peering through the crack.
Thank you, Artem mouthed at them, giving Webb a shaky smile.
Webb felt their ears burning again and hastily gestured with their fingers for Artem to close the door before Niall caught up with them and noticed him out of bed. Artem gave them a grin in return and nodded, closing the door once more.
Jenny and Eli hadn’t been in amazing shape when they’d found them, but it had been mostly scrapes and bruises from brawling with the vampires in the forest. Eli had a mild concussion, and Jenny some significant blood loss, but they’d made it before anything worse could happen.
Webb was trying not to think about it too hard, because thinking about it made them feel dizzy, and they were already a little shaky on their feet. They bid Niall a final farewell and drew in a deep breath before stepping out into the street.
It was quiet in the village at night, and peaceful—a dramatic contrast to the chaos they’d just fled from. The light dusting of snow crunched softly underfoot as they made their way back down the pathway towards the center of the village. Fresh snow had started to fall at some point while they were inside, fluffy flakes spiralling down, illuminated in every pool of lamplight.
Webb tucked their hands into their sleeves, exhaling a visibly frosty plume of breath. “Now what?” they murmured. They weren’t sure why they felt compelled to keep their voice low, except that raising their voice felt like it would be jarringly out of place. “Back to the inn…?”
Ariadne worried at her lower lip with her teeth, glancing over at Faraday. “It’s a bit late to try to get back out of town.”
“We probably should at least find somewhere quiet to talk and rest for a bit,” Faraday pointed out. “And I’m not sure a small town like this has a lot of late-night spots.”
“The inn is fine,” Webb said. They heard a loud caw from somewhere nearby, and started to pick up their pace a little. They knew there were normal birds around, but they weren’t about to take any chances.
The lights were still on in the inn, though Webb was surprised to see Ibis still sitting at the desk, looking up from their tablet with a smile.
“Oh, welcome back,” they said. “I hope you’re well. I trust you had a fruitful evening?”
“It could have been worse. Yeah, that’s… yeah. Let’s just go with that,” Webb said, well aware that the dark circles under their eyes were close to generating their own gravitational force at this point. “Any chance we can get a room again?”
“Not a trouble at all.” Ibis rested their chin on one hand, twirling their fingers in an idle circle. “If it’s of any interest to you, I typically charge… a little extra for additional services, such as enhanced security.” They blinked, smiling, their gold eyes bright. “But I’ve taken a bit of a shine to you. How about tonight on the house?”
Webb raised their eyebrows, shoving their hands in their pockets and rolling back onto their heels briefly. “That’d be very kind of you,” they said slowly, a bit wary.
Ibis laughed. “Before you ask, my cautious one,” they said, “I did feel a bit of a shift in the wind, shall we say. The situation as it had been was a bit troublesome for me… so really, it’s one good turn for another. This time, anyway.”
“Fair enough,” Webb said. There was a time for paranoia, and there was a time for this might as well be happening. “We’d appreciate that a lot, actually.”
Ibis gave them a wink, handing over the key-cards again, and waved them off to their room.
The three of them took turns washing up—quiet, for the most part—and didn’t bother to turn on most of the lights before just stripping down to their underclothes and piling into the bed. Ariadne fetched a few extra blankets, mumbling something about Faraday getting cold, but then spent most of her efforts piling everything on top of Webb until they were so heavily flattened that they couldn’t move if they wanted to.
Luckily, they didn’t want to. They lay flat on their back as Faraday finished turning out the lights and came to bed with them, sliding in on Webb’s other side and draping an arm around them both.
“Hey…” Ariadne whispered into the silence. “Webb… are you okay?”
Webb closed their eyes, letting out a slow breath. They could hear the soft tick, tick of a clock nearby. Faraday’s hair smelled like lavender. Ariadne’s cheeks smelled like hotel lotion. The sheets made that soft rustling sound that only hotel sheets seemed to make.
“I don’t… know,” they said eventually, reaching up to touch their hand to their neck. They felt a little stirring of cold and shadow there, and felt the sensation of fingers threading between their own. “Do I have to answer that?”
“No,” Faraday said gently. “And no matter how you answer—it’s okay either way. But if there’s anything that we can do…”
“Or anything you want to talk about,” Ariadne added, nodding, pressing her face against Webb’s hair, a quick kiss against their temple. “We’ll listen.”
“I feel like there’s a meltdown just barely being held at bay,” Webb admitted. “Like there’s just too much that happened and I’m going to have to process it and I have no idea how that’s going to go, but right now I’m just… worn out.”
But despite that, they also felt warm. And despite everything, they felt safe—if only for a moment.
Out there in the darkened woods, the Erl-King still lurked. Watching, waiting, with his innumerable spies. Vyo the changeling, the Inquisitors, the birds that attacked the gondola… it had been well over a decade and Webb knew without question that they were still being hunted. The hunt would not end until Webb had been caught, or had dealt with their pursuer once and for all.
Then there was Jasper. As though she’d read Webb’s mind—or more likely, just had her thoughts drift in a similar direction, Ariadne said hesitantly, “I’m sorry for what happened with Jasper. I know you said you two… used to be close.”
That did sting a little. Webb swallowed, feeling tears of mingled grief and anger burning at the back of their throat. “I’m sorry, too,” they said, unable to keep the bitterness out of their tone. “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him either way. Disney death rules, right? I already made the mistake of assuming he was dead once—can you imagine if I did it again? I’d never hear the end of it.”
Ariadne choked out a horrified laugh. “No, I suppose not.”
“So that’s at least two people after me,” Webb said lightly. “Maybe three, depending on what actually happened to Grimm. I imagine we’ll probably want to find that out, yeah?”
Ariadne seemed slightly surprised. “It’s… on my mind, still,” she admits. “What Jasper said, it could be true, but…”
“But Jasper clearly has the trustworthiness and predictability of a bag of angry squirrels,” Webb said. “So… we can keep that one on the list.”
“Is there going to be a list?” Faraday asked quietly.
Webb tensed up slightly, breath hitching. “I, uh—”
They realized they had been automatically thinking this was going to continue. This… whatever this was. Them, together, doing things. But Ariadne and Faraday had really just wanted to make sure Webb was safe from the Inquisitors, and to interrupt whatever was going on with people being kidnapped by the Grimm clan, and that was all sorted, so maybe they just wanted to go back to their nice life and their nice magic shop and their—
Faraday put a finger on Webb’s lips. “Hush,” he chided gently. “It wasn’t a trick question. If you want to pursue this—Jasper, the Erl-King, Grimm, anything… I’ll be right there with you. Until you decide it’s done. I can’t speak for Lore and Ariadne, of course—”
“I can speak for myself,” Lore interrupted. “I’m going with you.”
“I’m in,” Ariadne agreed instantly.
Webb felt their cheeks heat up and tried to bite Faraday’s hand out of long habit. Faraday just laughed, and let them.
“… I have to do something,” Webb muttered eventually, turning to press a gentle kiss to Faraday’s palm instead. “I don’t think it’s safe to go back home, but… honestly, there’s nothing… nothing really back there for me, anyway. And I can’t just… go on looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life.”
“I want to go back to my tower eventually,” Lore said softly. “But it’s been there for a long time. It can wait a while longer. And maybe you can stay a little longer this time. And properly enjoy it.”
“I want to show you our place someday, too,” Ariadne said with a smile that Webb could feel against their shoulder, even in the darkness. “So maybe it’s less of a going back, and instead, a going forward…?”
Webb couldn’t find anything to say to that. Their throat worked, but all that came out was a little choked breath.
Faraday bumped his forehead against Webb’s. “We can figure that all out… later, perhaps,” he said. “I know there’s a lot looming out there right now, and it feels like you have to solve everything at once, but… you don’t, actually. We can go somewhere for a bit to recover and make some plans. And we’ll deal with everything when the time comes—and no sooner.”
“That sounds… nice,” Webb said helplessly. They felt like there was something, anything else they should say under the circumstances, but they kept rummaging around for words and just pulling up television static instead. Their eyelids felt heavy, their chest tight.
“… he wasn’t right, was he?” they asked hesitantly, after a moment. “That I’d done anything wrong. That I’d abandoned him.”
Both Ariadne and Faraday tightened their arms around them in unison.
“Absolutely not,” Ariadne said fiercely. She sounded like she might try to climb out of bed right the fuck now and go stomping off to find him.
“He was being a real dick,” Webb said, hoarse. “But I did miss him. I grieved for him. I loved him. He was my best friend, and more, so I guess I’m still…”
“I think you’re going to probably feel a bit messed up about that for a while,” Faraday said. “And honestly, we should probably get you a professional to talk to…”
“Multiple professionals,” Ariadne agreed. “Ones that can help you work through trauma. Others that can help us get really good at hunting down intolerable, abusive megalomaniacs and kicking their asses.”
Webb let out a startled laugh, feeling the knot in their chest easing, just a little. “Yeah, okay,” they agreed. “We can… we can look into that.”
They let their eyes drift closed. After a moment, they felt several pairs of lips trying to kiss them all at once—on their temple, their nose, their cheek. They heard Ariadne giggle.
“We can look into that,” Faraday agreed. “But not right now. Right now… you need to rest.”
“And celebrate,” Lore suggested softly. “You did something big, Webb. You should be very proud. You all should be.”
“Yes, let’s celebrate,” Ariadne insisted, wriggling a little closer. “Webb, where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Spa day? Hot springs? Expensive sushi? Oral sex??”
Webb burst out into helpless laughter, blindly trying to put a hand over her mouth. They felt the playful prick of her fangs as she tried to frantically gnaw at them, aching gentle.
Faraday laughed as well. “I did mention that my family has some lakeside property not too far from here,” he said. “It’s not too deep in the woods, and the wards are good, so…”
Webb gently tuned them out as they chattered back and forth about all the ideas they had in mind. As far as Webb was concerned—and they were mortified to realize it even as the thought crossed their mind—they’d already been given something unimaginably rewarding.
They didn’t know what was in store for them in the days, weeks, or months to come—but they felt strangely calm about it. Maybe even a bit excited. For the first time in a very long time, they had a future they actually wanted to bother showing up for. Their life was a story they were in charge of telling; it wasn’t just a story they watched others living while they let their own pass them by.
Lore stirred next to their ear. “Lively…” they whispered disapprovingly, but they sounded a little amused as well. “Should I get them to let you rest?”
“No, I’m good,” Webb said. “I’ve got this all figured out.”
They gave a little tug at Ariadne’s hair, pulling her into a kiss. She made a startled little noise, then smiled against Webb’s mouth in return, kissing back eagerly. In the dim light, it took Faraday a moment to realize what was happening, but when he did, he let out a soft chuckle.
“Alright, alright,” he murmured. “I get the idea—mmph—”
After that, there was no more talking. Outside, the snow was beginning to pick up into a storm, and the wind howled down the mountain and through the trees, dark and cold and forbidding. But inside, Webb was warm, and not alone, and they had everything they needed.
Thank you, thank you, thank you if you’ve made it all this way with me ♥ I’ll follow up tomorrow with a little author’s note and Q&A for a chance to ask any questions you’d like about the story, the process, or the characters!
I’m very grateful to everyone who commented and helped to drive Webb’s choices, as well as those who just quietly read along! For all those that got here one way or the other (either now or in weeks or months to come), I’d love if you dropped me a comment to let me know. I hope you enjoyed it, and that my not-so-little story about a grumpy gremlin finding their way brought you a lil bit of happiness in these wild times!
[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
It took a moment for the sheer horrified and confused paralysis to fade. Drawing in a sharp breath, nerves jangling, Webb tried to fill their chest with enough to get out—something. A yell. A scream. Maybe hollering DEAD EX ALERT! as loud as possible to summon the others from the adjacent room, so close and yet so far away.
Webb barely managed to inhale before they sensed a sudden rush of movement and felt a body impact them hard enough to wind them. A hand slid over their mouth, ice cold. Their yell came out more like a choked wheeze as they were yanked backwards.
They felt their back hit something soft—the couch, they realized after a feverish moment of confusion. They struggled to try to sit up, but Jasper’s grip was like iron, and a strange sort of heaviness was sweeping over Webb, leaving them dazed.
“You always were so dramatic,” Jasper murmured, leaning over into view. “Calm down, kitten. I just want to catch up.”
In many ways, Jasper looked exactly as Webb remembered him: tall and angular, with brilliantly bright blue eyes and long, straight hair dyed a shocking candy apple red. Of the two of them, he’d always been the one to turn heads—a fact that was probably vastly amplified these days.
“I’d say I like what you’ve done with your look,” Webb managed, choked and breathless, “but I’d be fucking lying.”
Jasper gave Webb a toothy, fanged grin in response. He’d always had a way of smiling with his whole face. When he was being kind, that had always been charming, bringing mischief or delight into his bright eyes. Under the current circumstances, it looked jaw-splittingly menacing.
“Oh, you know,” Jasper murmured. “A few things happened.”
“I’ll bet,” Webb croaked.
They spared a thought, staring up at the face of the man that they’d loved and mourned for well over a decade, that it was possible this was some kind of trick. They knew intimately at this point how Shadowfolk could mimic both a person’s appearance and their mannerisms, sampling their memories. They also knew about rumors of doppelgangers, or witches who could use spells to modify shape or memory.
Some of that uncertainty seemed to show on their face, because Jasper sat down next to them on the couch, reaching out to brush Webb’s hair back and lightly tug their hat off. Pinned like a butterfly under Jasper’s gaze, Webb found they literally couldn’t resist, their arms leaden and unresponsive.
“Before you ask,” Jasper said, “of course this is the real me.” His eyes glittered. “I’d be happy to prove it, if you like. We have all sorts of experiences that I could recount…”
“No, I’m good,” Webb stressed through gritted teeth. “Nobody else is quite a shit like you are.” That was true enough, even in the times when the two of them had been thick as thieves. “Though, if you’re in the mood for talking, I could stand to know what the fuck is going on.”
Jasper faked a hurt expression, his eyes still cool, heavy-lidded. “Oh, my dear—it’s Webb you’re going by these days, yes?—I’m so disappointed. I was expecting a tearful reunion, open arms…”
“At the very least not such open hostility.”
Webb shifted, narrowing their eyes. “Give me back the use of my body and let me call my friends, and I’m sure we can have much more pleasant chat—”
Webb recognized their mistake instantly as Jasper’s gaze grew hard and a bit manic.
“Ohhh, yes. Your new friends…” he purred.
“Give me a fucking break, Jas,” Webb said, a burning heat starting to swell in their chest. Their breathing was coming sharp and shallow, and they felt despair and anger both starting to well up, making their eyes sting. “I—grieved. I mourned you. For years. I finally started to let myself live a little again, and you’re the one… I don’t know, apparently lording it about in a mountaintop castle? Alive, aware that I was out there, but—but what? You’re not the victim, here!”
“I was the victim, Webb,” Jasper said with a pleasant nonchalance that made Webb very nervous. Jasper was endlessly combative. The sweetness was the kind that always rang false on his foxlike face. “You left me behind in the clutches of the Erl-King. I watched as you ran and didn’t turn back.”
“Would you rather I had stayed behind to die, too?” Webb demanded. “You were the one that intervened to save me!”
“And look at how I was repaid.”
Webb stared up at Jasper and had the distressing realization that if they’d had this conversation a mere few days ago, Webb’s response would have been shockingly different. They had been forcing themself to live with that guilt for years. What if, I should have, I could have… They’d blamed themself, and questioned themself, and told themself that they didn’t deserve to have anything good after what they’d let happen to Jasper.
But now, hearing those words from Jasper’s mouth, and knowing—even for such a short time—what it felt like to have people around them that actually cared for them and supported them and would never even have a thought like that cross their mind…
“Go fuck yourself,” Webb said calmly. They closed their eyes briefly, then—as they had on the gondola—opened their eyes again and willed Jasper away from them as fiercely as possible, fuelled by all of their heartbreak and betrayal and sheer, miserable spite.
For a heart-sinking moment, Webb was sure it hadn’t worked, and kicked themself for even trying. Jasper had clearly become incredibly powerful—when? how?—and Webb had experienced difficulties dealing with birds.
But then a faint look of surprise crossed Jasper’s features, and Webb felt Jasper’s hold on them weaken, just for a moment. Just long enough.
“HELP!” Webb hollered as loudly as possible, shoving Jasper with both hands.
He didn’t go far—Webb hadn’t expected him to—but he did overbalance slightly and stand up, which meant that when Lore’s shadowy form launched over the back of the couch like an avenging blur, they struck Jasper dead-on, sending him reeling back towards the wall.
“Oh,” Jasper breathed out, staggering as Lore pooled down in front of him. Lore planted themself bodily between Jasper and Webb, shadowy hair roiling like a medusa. “I’d heard you’d gotten yourself involved with the Shadowfolk, yes. How interesting.”
Fast, heavy footsteps heralded the arrival of Ariadne and Faraday in the doorway, both of them also rushing to Webb’s aid.
“Who the hell are you?” Ariadne demanded. She looked like she wasn’t going to wait for an answer before launching herself directly into his face with teeth and claws at the ready, so Webb hastily sat up, grabbing her elbow.
“He’s—someone I used to know,” Webb said roughly, their voice coming out hoarser than they’d like. “And honestly, I’d really like to know why he’s here right now and what the fuck is going on, so if you could hold off on going for his jugular for thirty seconds…”
Ariadne looked very hard-pressed to agree to that, but she managed to rein herself in. Lore, too, was shifting restlessly, still half-pinning Jasper to the wall with shadowy appendages on his arms and legs.
“Go on,” Lore murmured softly, with an ominous undertone Webb hadn’t heard before. “We’re listening.”
Jasper stretched out underneath Lore’s grip, idly testing the bonds, and sighed. “Kitten, you don’t really expect me to do the whole evil-overlord-explains-all-his-plans bit, do you? I can’t really see that playing out the way you want it to, realistically.”
Webb rose shakily to their feet, leaning heavily against Faraday when he immediately reached out to brace them. “Don’t be ridiculous, Jasper. Of course I do. You love dramatically pontificating.”
Jasper tilted his head to the side and looked thoughtful. “Oh,” he murmured. “You are right about that…”
“Jasper…” Faraday echoed quietly, his grip tightening on Webb.
Ariadne hissed in a soft breath of recognition as well. “What happened to Grimm?” she insisted.
“Oh, him…” Jasper said dismissively, despite the fact that he was talking about a prolific, rich, and powerful vampire lord. “He decided after a while that he was sick of all the people crawling around him. So needy, always wanting. He was looking for a worthy successor to take over… management of the day-to-day, so he could retire in peace. I’m not sure where he is now, but good on him for following his dreams.”
Ariadne had an expression a little like she’d bitten into a lemon, gaze flickering briefly over to Webb. “Alright,” she said slowly. “Even if we believe that, how did you end up in that position? I don’t recognize you…”
Jasper gave her a thoughtful once-over that quickly turned dismissive. “Oh, you’re one of Grimm’s spawn, too.” At Ariadne’s continued insistent glare, he continued, sounding put-upon: “Well, you see, despite being someone that was growing tired of the rabble, he and his did like to grow the clan. They picked me up one day, wandering the forest and quite delirious, and thought I’d be quite fun to play with. But the old man took quite a shine to me, made me a successor instead of a snack, and after that, the rest was history.”
“Like hell it was that easy—”
“You’d gotten away from the Erl-King?” Webb interrupted. “You escaped?”
For the first time, Jasper’s gaze turned dark—something about that question had hit home. It was subtle enough that Webb didn’t think the others noticed anything at all, but Webb picked up the slight tensing of Jasper’s jaw, the dull anger that pulsed in his gaze.
He smiled, a rictus grin. “Oh, not right away,” he said with feigned nonchalance. “Not for… some years. And you know, Webb, when I finally got out—I couldn’t find you, much as I looked. And when I finally heard about you from Sia… well, honestly, I was surprised that I was able to play with you as long as I did before you noticed that it was happening.” He paused. “Though, I’m not sure I should give you credit for even that much…”
Webb stiffened. Next to him, Ariadne let out a growl under their breath. Frantically trying to piece this all together, Webb put a hand on Ariadne’s arm again and squeezed, even as their mind was racing a mile a minute.
“You were the one seeding my contacts with misinformation,” they said slowly. “To… punish me? Some sort of misguided way of getting my attention like a cat leaving dead rats at my door?”
Jasper’s haughtily amused expression turned into a faint scowl at that. “I thought you’d have caught on more quickly,” he said, looking smug again after a moment. But it wasn’t a no—just a deflection. “After a while, I really just wanted to see how long I could make it last.”
“You’re right, I didn’t figure it out,” Webb said. “Until the Inquisitors showed up, and Ariadne and Faraday. But you didn’t send them.” Not based on what Vyo the changeling had said, and the information Pax had shared. “The Erl-King was looking for me, too. The one that got away. They were sent by him.”
Faraday looked a bit horrified. “The Inquisitors are in league with the Erl-King…?”
Webb nodded. “They’re all some kind of fey,” they said. “They’ve got to be. Jasper wouldn’t have had any reason to call out his own game and try to take me by force, not after all this time. But the Erl-King was trying to find me, and wanted to try to steal me away before Jasper got me. Before Jasper realized that the Erl-King had picked up my trail, maybe.”
“It meant I did have to snatch those most recent kids of yours quickly so you’d be sure to come this way,” Jasper said lazily, seeming pleased with himself. “But you came to me obediently like a good little lamb. Which reminds me…”
Webb, still thinking hard and trying to tie together the last threads, reacted much too slowly as Jasper moved sharply, ripping away from Lore’s shadowy grip. He was inhumanly fast, faster even than Ariadne, as he all but teleported directly in front of Webb, his hand grabbing Webb’s throat.
“Nothing personal,” Jasper said brightly. “But we have one more thing to do to make sure the Erl-King knows you’re mine, not his, once and for all.”
Everyone seemed to move at once, then. Ariadne launched herself at Jasper, only to be slammed back with one quick, sharp movement of his fist, catching her hard in the chest and leaving her winded and snarling. Faraday caught her as she stumbled. Lore pummelled into Jasper from behind, but seemed startled to be repelled by some kind of magic that shimmered around him briefly, causing Lore to slide off like an oil slick on water.
Webb’s vision had already started to blur as Jasper tightened his grip. They tried to blink, tried to refocus their gaze, to do something, but Jasper just gave them a self-assured smile, brittle and cruel.
“Oh, kitten,” Jasper said, “that’s not going to work a second time. Now, do stay still, unless you want this to hurt.”
Webb tried to draw in a shuddering breath and squirm away as Jasper moved his grip from their neck to their waist, pulling Webb’s hair to the side to bare their neck. Webb felt their heart racing helplessly, their blood pounding. Helpless, useless—
An enormous rumbling bang shook the building so hard that both Webb and Jasper staggered in place. Jasper’s head snapped up in surprise, eyes wide.
Close your eyes, Webb heard-slash-felt Lore’s soft voice reverberating through them. They obeyed instinctively, closing their eyes tightly.
Even through their closed lids, the sudden flare of light and heat in the room was palpable. A heartbeat later, Webb flinched back at Jasper’s sudden shriek of pain and the sudden scent of smoke and searing flesh. Falling heavily backwards, cursing as their elbows hit the ground, Webb squinted one eye open as the bright light seemed to fade, trying frantically to get stock of the situation.
Jasper had reeled back several steps towards the back of the room, both hands pressed over his face, which was streaming viscous smoke. His hands were mottled and burned, flaking away in dusty fragments.
Suddenly panicked, Webb looked around for Ariadne—just in time to see her crawling out safely from within the safe embrace of Faraday’s coat, which had expanded to cover both of them. Without missing a step, Ariadne charged forward, slamming into Jasper bodily and sending him staggering backwards towards the open window.
Jasper looked for a second like he was about to catch his footing and lash back out at Ariadne, despite being blinded and in searing pain. Webb saw Ariadne brace for impact, her fists swinging up to deflect—
But Jasper’s foot became ensnared in the curtains that entwined around him as though they had a mind of their own, hauling him backwards as his momentum carried him over the edge of the frosty windowsill, pitching him out towards the forbidding, frozen ground with one final, infuriated scream.
Webb braced themself for the crunch of impact, but another heavy boom rattled the chateau, along with a cacophonous rising of screams and shouts from down below.
“What—the fuck is that noise?” Webb hauled themself shakily to their feet, feeling bruised and battered both physically and otherwise, but without the reprieve to even begin processing those feelings or treating those hurts. “Ariadne, Faraday, are you okay? Lore—??”
Webb felt a soft whispering movement next to their ear. “I’m here,” Lore said, voice softer than usual. “I used up a lot of energy there, but I’ll be fine after I rest.”
“Did I know you could erupt into a fiery pulse of sunlight?” Webb demanded. They whirled on Faraday. “Did you??”
Faraday was striding over to the window, taking a moment to look down and get a view of the situation down below. “Lore whispered it to me right beforehand so I could protect Ariadne,” he said. “… it looks like we have—guests? There’s some kind of fighting. Something’s on fire.”
“Fighting with who?”
As if on cue, there was a soft pop behind them. All of them whirled as one, ready for trouble—and saw a high-heeled and soot-smudged Pax pop out of a portal, looking worried and alarmed.
“Webb!” Pax took a few slightly wavering steps forward on impulse, his eyes going wide. “Thank the nine hells, you’re alright!”
Webb stared back at him. “Pax? What happened to you? Is that—is what’s going on down there your doing?”
Pax flashed them an eager grin, tail lashing. “Oh, yeah. Veracity really got to thinking after we got more information outta Vyo, and did some digging. I’ll fill you in more later on how those talks went, but basically she decided that maybe right now was the most opportune time to make a move on Grimm’s stronghold, here.” He crossed his arms, glancing aside and looking suddenly, uncharacteristically flustered. “Especially after you sent me that… last somewhat cryptic text, I may have… strongly advocated for us taking advantage of the opportunity to—”
Webb took a few shaky strides across the room and gathered Pax up in a tight hug, pressing their face into Pax’s brimstone-and-strawberry smelling hair and inhaling deeply.
“Thanks,” Webb said quietly. “I owe you one.”
Pax seemed to be reeling somewhat. “I, um,” he stammered. “It’s nothing—I mean, actually, it was pretty outstanding, you’re right, but—”
“This is really cute,” Ariadne said very loudly, “and I am here for it, but I think the building is on fire and we still have people to rescue??”
“We should probably do that!” Pax agreed, taking a hasty hop back out of Webb’s arms. “I think we’ve got some people working on freeing the unwilling guests, but it couldn’t hurt for us to start helping from the top down, especially if there’s someone in particular you’re looking for.”
Webb nodded. “There is, yeah,” they said quietly. “I made a promise to someone that we were going to rescue his friends, and I plan to make good on that.”
They cast an uneasy glance back at the open window, but nothing ominous was materializing there. Snow had started to drift in, and the heavy curtains slowly drifted in the cold night air.
Ariadne approached Webb’s side, giving their arm a little squeeze. “Webb…?” she murmured gently. “Are you gonna be okay?”
Webb tore his gaze away, giving her a little smile. “I think some therapy is probably in my near future,” they said. “And also, we’re currently on a mountain in a burning building that’s full of warring vampire clans. Objectively, I’ve been in better situations. Rarely in worse ones, actually. But—”
They paused, hesitating as their gaze fell on their hat, cast aside where Jasper had dropped it. They thought about symbolically leaving it behind, then immediately reconsidered because they were still on a fucking mountain and even pointy ears they were no longer ashamed of could still get frostbite. One had to be realistic about these things. They grabbed it.
“I’ll be alright,” Webb said, taking Ariadne’s hand and tugging her along as they followed Faraday and Pax back out into the hall.
An epilogue will be posted tomorrow evening ♥ For today’s comments, please let me know any lingering questions that you’d like to see addressed in the epilogue or any scenes or specific things you’d like to see resolved or touched on onscreen. I can’t promise to fit everything in, but I’ll do my best to grant as many wishes as possible. I’ll host a Q&A this upcoming week to answer any additional curiosities you may have that might not necessarily be onscreen-worthy or able to be worked in.
Again, thank you so so much for coming along with me on this ride that took longer than originally planned for (wheeze). I really hope you enjoyed it! And yes, there will be a sequel to deal with the Erl-King and other outstanding mysteries… some day. But I promised my cats normal bedtimes from now until the end of the year at the very least.
The final chapter will go up tomorrow (Saturday) followed by an Epilogue on Sunday! ♥ Thanks for sticking it out with me on this wild ride! xoxo
[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
“I think it’s probably smarter to go into the balconies upstairs first, then straight into the heart of things later, if we don’t find what we need,” Webb said slowly. “It’s much easier to be loud after being quiet rather than the other way around, right?”
Faraday nodded. “It’s early in the night, too, so it’s maybe more likely that those we’re looking for are still in their rooms, at least until the party is really getting started.”
“I can also sneak around a little,” Lore pointed out quietly. “To help cover ground more quickly.” They paused. “You could always try to stay out of sight and let me do all of the snooping…”
Webb shook their head. “Absolutely not.”
Lore’s cheeks puffed slightly, and they exhaled smoke. “Why not? I can go around without being seen…”
“One, we’re on a time limit. What’ll we do if Jenny was safely in one of the rooms, but before you get to her, the vampires decide to kick it up a notch? And two—” Webb faltered slightly. “We’re in this together. And I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Also, I don’t think there’s any place that’s necessarily any more safe than anywhere else,” Ariadne pointed out lightly. “Not up here.”
“That really makes me feel better, Ariadne, thank you,” Webb said dryly.
“By the way…” Lore trailed off, looking around. “Why… are there scratches all over the gondola?”
“Giant evil birds,” Webb said promptly. “Big white-feathered things with seven eyes and four wings. Ring any bells?”
Lore looked very concerned. “Not… really, no,” they admitted softly. “That… doesn’t sound very vampiric, though, so…”
“So either a random act of nature—unlikely—or… other involved parties deciding to come out to make themselves known.”
“Why, though?” Ariadne murmured, looking thoughtfully out the window, her breath fogging up her reflection. “Is it just that they’re still after you? The same… situation? After all this time? It seems a little…”
Webb felt their anxiety rising like steam in a teakettle again. They shifted restlessly, feeling claustrophobic and pinned under the weight of their three companions, the glass walls around them, and the inescapable sense of being trapped—emotionally, physically, and otherwise.
“I don’t know,” they said roughly. “And I don’t—I don’t think dwelling on it right now is going to help anything, so let’s just… let’s just not, alright?”
Ariadne looked worried, but just nodded. Faraday gave Webb’s leg a firm squeeze but shifted back, as though he’d picked up that Webb wanted space.
Lore started to unravel themself, fading back into shadow and weightlessness. Webb felt a light touch against the back of their neck as Lore seemed to attach themself to Webb’s shadow again, close enough that their soft voice could still be heard.
“Let’s just keep an eye out,” Lore murmured. “Whatever we do… you’re not alone.”
Webb knew that should feel reassuring, but once again, remembering that they had people to lose this time rarely brought them reassurance.
“Look,” Ariadne murmured, nudging Webb and pointing ahead. “There it is…”
In the distance but rapidly getting closer was a sprawling multi-storey chateau, lighting up the peak with warm lamplight pouring out of its many arched windows. It looked both cozy and grandiose—rustic, even—with log beams and pointed peaks.
Webb stared up at it, then back at Ariadne. “Do the vampires… night ski?” they asked slowly.
Ariadne made a face, nodding. “Sure, sometimes. There are some slopes all lit up, but on a moonlit night, vampires don’t need more than that. Others go out during the day in full gear and helmet, like I do when I’m riding.”
“What about the windows?” Webb asked, not because they really wanted to know, but because they were somehow offended by the idea that vampires might be hoarding a view like this and not even using it.
Ariadne shrugged. “You get a pretty nice view at night,” she said softly, then wrinkled her nose. “Also, curtains? You learn to be pretty creative when the sun makes you go up in smoke.”
“Seems pretty rough,” Webb said dryly. “Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the sun with me.” A little pause. “Or a silver weapon, for that matter. Fuck. Do crosses work?”
“Only sometimes,” Ariadne said. “Not on most. Why, did you bring a cross?”
“As much as I hate to interrupt this thrilling conversation,” Faraday murmured, “we’re just about here…”
Webb grimaced, making a face as Faraday and Ariadne positioned themselves to either side of the door, but didn’t protest. They knew by now to just give up on trying to stop them from trying to play protector. They just hoped nobody would end up regretting that by the end of the night.
The blast of cold air as the gondola doors slid smoothly open made Webb shiver. They tugged their hat down a little further over their ears and cautiously followed Ariadne and Faraday outside.
As Lore had reported, nobody in particular seemed to notice or care as they stepped out onto the wooden platform. Partygoers were quickly sweeping away up the cleanly-shovelled wooden walkway towards the entrance of the chateau. Even from this distance, Webb could see revellers mingling on covered balconies under the canopies of cheerily blazing space warmers.
“It looks so… normal,” Webb murmured as they fell into step beside Ariadne.
Ariadne shrugged. “Vampires are normal,” she pointed out, unoffended. “We just also, you know. Drink blood.”
“And host elaborate parties with captive human bloodbags as entertainment?”
Ariadne sniffed. “That’s not because they’re vampires, it’s because they’re assholes. There are humans like that too, you know.”
“Point taken,” Webb whispered back.
The walkway continued up to the front doors and the entrance hall. As the doors opened to allow other partygoers inside, Webb could see a roaring fireplace, a curved wooden banister, and dozens of people chatting, dancing, laughing…
An unpleasant sort of bitterness curled in the pit of their stomach. Glancing at the others, they saw that feeling reflected in Ariadne’s narrowed eyes, the hard line of Faraday’s mouth.
“This way,” Ariadne said softly. “The walkway continues in a perimeter around the chateau.”
“It’s busier than I thought it would be,” Webb muttered. “And… better lit. Are we sure the balconies are the best bet?”
“There are back doors, too,” Ariadne said. “Probably locked, but between us, I’m sure we can get in, especially if Lore can scout ahead to make sure the path ahead is clear.”
“I can scout,” Lore agreed quietly. “I can pick locks, too.”
“What can’t you do?” Webb grumbled appreciatively.
Lore, of course, didn’t bother to answer that one, but Webb felt a whisper-soft brush of lips against their neck. Webb shivered, not from the cold this time, but felt a little better about things.
The woods were thick and dark, even up closer to the peak. Webb kept an uneasy eye on them as Ariadne led the way around to the back of the sizeable chateau. Somehow, the bright lighting and the sound of chatter and clinking glasses from inside made the forest seem even more foreboding.
They caught that thought as it crossed their mind and let out a soft laugh.
Faraday glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. “Hmm?” he murmured. “Something funny?”
“I was just thinking,” Webb said. “We’re sneaking into the den of one of the most feared vampire clans, and here I am getting nervous about trees.”
They gave Faraday a wry grin, but Faraday didn’t return it. He looked thoughtful, gaze scanning the woods, before he slowed his steps a little to walk closer to Webb.
“I’m nervous, too,” Faraday said quietly. “Something feels strange in the air tonight.”
That didn’t make Webb feel better, either.
As they approached one of the back doors, keeping an alert eye out, Webb felt their hair stir as their shadow elongated, stretching out towards the doorknob. A moment later, Lore seemed to vanish in, reforming with their hand against the keyhole, hair swaying as if caught in the cool breeze.
With a soft click, the door eased open.
“The coast looks clear,” Lore murmured after a moment, slipping in through the gap. “Quickly, now.”
Exchanging a look with Ariadne, Webb gave a little nod. They scanned the line of trees one more time, then stepped into the chateau after Lore.
The hallway they were in seemed to be some kind of back hall for staff. Several heavy coats hung on hooks near the door, next to a shovel propped up against the wall. Around the corner, they could hear the banging of pots and pans, and the occasional burst of chatter.
Lore had swooped on ahead, their shadowy form solidifying halfway up a narrow stairwell. “This way,” they whispered, beckoning. “Quietly…”
Ariadne took the lead, with Webb behind her and Faraday carefully taking up the rear.
“Once we’re up in the area with the guest quarters,” Ariadne murmured, “let’s still try to stay out of sight, but if anybody sees you, just… pretend like you belong. It’s not like everyone knows who everyone else is, here.”
“Classic strategy,” Webb agreed under their breath. “And when in doubt, make out?”
Ariadne bared her fangs in a grin. “Yeah.”
Although their heart was still beating like a rabbit’s inside their chest, Webb found themself slowly relaxing as they quietly made their way through the halls, following Ariadne’s hazy recollections and being mindful of Lore’s instructions to pause or stop or duck out of the way.
More than once, Lore heard someone coming and ushered them all into an empty room until the person had passed. At a few unavoidable intersections of people, they had to take Ariadne’s advice, chattering brightly to each other as they walked along like hotel guests who had simply decided to take a friendly little detour and were absolutely where they meant to be.
“I’m shocked that worked,” Webb muttered.
“Were you?” Ariadne demanded under her breath. “Why did you decide to do it, then??”
At Ariadne’s prompting, they headed up to the top floor. “Grimm always liked to keep his… guests… close by,” she whispered. “So his rooms will be up here, as well as some of the suites. They’re not guaranteed to be here, of course, but…”
“It’s a good place to start,” Webb agreed, then frowned. “Will there be guards?”
Ariadne nodded. “At least a couple wandering around, at least in this area.”
“Between us, I’m sure we can deal with them,” Faraday said. “Quietly,” he added after a moment to Ariadne. “Leave it to the rest of us unless necessary, love.”
Ariadne wrinkled her nose, but seemed to find this sensible, and didn’t object.
The air seemed cooler up here. Webb wasn’t sure if it was simply that the halls weren’t as well-heated this far from the central rooms, or if they were imagining some sort of ominous miasma the closer they came to danger.
“There’s two guards around the corner, here,” Lore whispered. “On either side of a really big door.”
“Grimm’s chambers,” Ariadne murmured.
“Before we deal with them, Lore, can you check to see if there’s anybody inside?” Webb whispered. “There’s no point in us busting in there if To Grimm Or Not To Grimm is just waiting there with his dick out…”
A bit more smoke than usual poured off of Lore before they folded it back into themself. “I’ll go,” they agreed. “I’ll be right back.”
They vanished. A few moments passed. Webb tried to count the seconds, but their heart had begun to beat so quickly and so loudly that it kept interrupting them and they lost count.
Abruptly, they heard two soft thumps from the hallway ahead, then heard Lore call out: “Come on. The coast is clear.”
Webb immediately beelined around the corner to find the two guards slumped against the wall, deeply unconscious but visibly uninjured. Lore stood in the open doorway, peering out with earnest curiosity.
“You said you were just going to scout…!” Webb hissed.
“I made no such promise,” Lore said with gentle, passive stubbornness.
“Help me drag these two inside…” Faraday muttered to Ariadne, who looked slightly put-out, but obligingly helped Faraday haul the guards inside the rooms.
“Be gentle with them,” she said softly. “I was Unnamed Guard #1 once upon a time. You never know what anybody’s going through, you know?”
Grimm’s suite was lavish and grandiose. On the far wall, peaked floor-to-ceiling windows were covered by dark, heavy velvet curtains. The main area was an elaborate sitting room with gold chandeliers, currently dimmed, hanging from high beamed rafters. The stone was a cool, mottled stone, and plush throw rugs sprawled in front of the enormous, unlit fireplace.
“Lore, try to keep an eye and ear out from the hall,” Webb suggested quietly. “Faraday, Ariadne, let’s split up and try to take a look around. We’re looking for anything to help identify this guy, if he isn’t Grimm after all. Papers, electronics…”
Ariadne nodded. “I’ll take the main room.”
“I’ll go to the left,” Faraday said. “Seems to be an ensuite bathroom. I’m not great with that type of sympathetic magic myself, but if there’s a hairbrush, that could come in handy…
Webb took the opposite side of the room, peering into what seemed to be the bedroom. Like the rest of the suite, it was lavish and stately in every way. There was a huge four-poster bed with a mattress unimaginably larger than king-sized, piled high with red and gold pillows. Somehow, it still seemed appropriately-sized for the room, which said an uncomfortable amount about its dimensions.
A rack full of wine bottles lined one wall; several shelves of books lined another. Webb let their gaze pass over both, then headed towards the far corner where they spied a television larger than some cars, a plush seating area, and most importantly, a computer monitor on a vast mahogany desk. Behind it was another floor-to-ceiling window with deep red curtains, heavy and still.
“Oh, just great,” Webb muttered under their breath, running their fingers lightly along the desk. The cords that would connect the monitor to anything—presumably a laptop—lay unplugged on the desktop. They crouched to test the desk drawers, but found them locked, rattling them quietly with frustration.
Rising up, Webb turned back towards the door, intending to go grab Lore or Faraday to deal with the locks—and stopped short, a sudden chill prickling at the back of their neck.
The room looked exactly as it had moments before, but they still scanned it uneasily. After a long moment, Webb realized that they were feeling an actual chill coming from the window behind them—they heard, after a moment, the dull flap of the curtains shifting in the breeze, and saw their next exhalation come out, frosty and visible.
“Oh, no…” Webb breathed out. “Fuck you. I’m not turning around.”
A laugh came from behind them, bright and cold, and Webb knew they’d been caught—but that alone wasn’t what turned Webb’s blood to ice.
They knew that laugh.
“Oh, I did miss how you made me smile,” said Jasper—who, as Webb’s long-dead ex, really shouldn’t be standing behind them right now. “But come now, let’s be reasonable. After all these years, you’re leaving me again already?”
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]