“Run, I’ll try to buy you some time,” you instruct Circe and Jim. “There’s a door over near the rear. I have no idea how long I can keep her occupied, but maybe you can get somewhere safe.”
“Wizard, that’s touching,” Circe replies. “Stupid, but touching.”
“It’s the least I can do,” you tell her. “You at least tried to honor our bargain. I screwed things up so much that we never got around to your price. Now hurry up and go already.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Circe says. “I have no intent to run. Especially not into that door. The things behind it are… less than friendly.”
“Same here,” Jim agrees. “I didn’t even get a magic costume, so I don’t owe any price.”
“Not to mention, I’d have found all of you easily anyway,” the old woman from the shop says, her voice coming from over your shoulder. You leap nearly a foot in the air, coming down on both feet but certain you just lost a few years off your life. “Now then, I think it’s time we settled up.”
“Me first,” Circe says. At the sound of her voice, the air around her ripples. Moments later the witch you know is gone, and in her place is an woman in a long black robe wearing a hideous, but plastic, mask. “My price was met.”
“Yes, yes, able to win the trust of a mortal without use of your looks or powers,” the shop-keeper replies. “Though you left it down to the last minute.”
“Dramatic flair,” Circe replies. There’s something about her voice that’s familiar, however you find yourself unable to place it.
“Right then, which brings us to the wizard.” The old shopkeeper looks you up and down, eyes lingering on the tattered remains of your robe. Jim edges slightly closer to you in a protective fashion. The effort is appreciated, but you aren’t sure what he’s going to do against magic.
“Looks like you paid yours off too,” she says at last.
“I, wha… I did? When? How?”
The shopkeeper points to Circe. “She’s always wanted to be appreciated for more than her power, position, and beauty. Tonight, through you, she was able to showcase her own type of wisdom. You took her advice and thanked her sincerely for it. You made her dream of showing she had her own talents come true. Dream fulfilled.”
“But… I didn’t make any of my dreams come true,” you point out.
“When did I ever say the dream had to be yours?” With that the old woman vanishes off to claim the price from someone who was likely less fortunate than you.
“Um, what did she mean power?” Jim asks, peering at Circe with uncertain eyes. “And why did yours sound more like a bet?”
“Because it was,” Circe informs him. “I wagered with my father that I had the talent to beguile mortals even without any magical means. The beauty thing was merely him upping the stakes.” Circe reaches up and pushes down her hood, revealing a long tumble of blue-black hair. As she peels off the mask, you’ve already figured out what’s waiting beneath it. The plastic facade falls to the ground, revealing Victoria Dempsey’s stunning face in its place. “Not that you fools made it easy.”
“Wait, but, I saw… you dancing when I met… you.”
“Did your loss teach you nothing about illusions? The girl you saw was the same fairy who cut away your costume,” Victoria tells you.
Suddenly you become aware that you told your secret crush that she was the dream you were trying to fulfill, and your ears begin to burn with a bright redness. Victoria pretends not to notice, which is made easier by Jim continuing to pester her.
“Okay, so you were the old lady, and the you we saw was a fake you,” he surmises. “I still don’t get why you made a bet about winning people’s trust.”
“Because trust, my dear dragon-turtle, is the first step in illusion.” These words come from Doctor Willowbrook, who has stepped into the conversation right out of the shadows. “And illusions are the beginnings of all magic. You did well, Pumpkin.”
“I appreciate the compliment, Father, but I care more about the wager,” Victoria shoots back.
“I am a man of my word,” Doctor Willowbrook replies. “Next Halloween, you shall be part of the planning. We shall see how you do from there.”
“About time,” she mutters.
“I thought your name was Dempsey,” you blurt out at last, finally recovering from the case of stupid-tongue that struck you during your embarrassment attack.
“Mother’s maiden name,” Victoria tells you. “In our family, wearing the Willowbrook name is a right that must be earned. We are no mere aristocrats, you see, we are one of the high families of All Hallows Eve.”
“Oh, well that makes sense,” Jim says, sipping the beer.
You stare at him. “How does that make sense?”
Jim shrugs. “I dunno, I mean this was a lot of crazy shit. I doubt I’ll understand it any better if I pry, so it seems like just rolling with this is easier. The girl you like is some sort of super-Halloween-witch.”
“The drunk one is surprisingly adept,” Doctor Willowbrook comments. “I think I might like to take a look at his brain.”
“Be good,” Victoria chides. “You already got your winner.”
On cue, a horrifying, gut-wrenching scream pierces the air. You can’t see the source, however you think it sounds vaguely familiar.
“Ah yes,” Doctor Willowbrook sighs. “She was so lucky to win the prize: a permanent position in my mansion. With someone like her, our haunted maze will be all the scarier next year.”
Your eyes darts between the two of them, brain finally breaking down after nearly a whole day of impossible piled onto impossible. The top-hat wearing magical mansion owner and his beautiful daughter.
“It will be quite a spectacle,” Victoria agrees. “And you, Wizard, will have to join us. I promise, next year’s events will be far more spectacular than the paltry offering my father has made. Bowser, you are welcome too.”
You decide to swing for the fences