“I was just sort of wondering… what exactly were those ghouls taking from people, anyway?”
Victoria tips her head back, taking in the bright light of the moon while Annabeth and Jim lead the way home a few feet ahead. “To answer with exactness is difficult. There are many names for it across the mortal cultures: soul, spirit, essence, identity; my personal favorite has always been ‘the spark of life’. The culmination of your mortal existence, the thing that is irreplaceable in every person. It’s why a re-animated corpse comes back as a mindless hunk of flesh, rather than a person.”
“Wait, you re-animate dead bodies?”
“I didn’t say I did it, just said that’s what happens when someone does it,” Victoria corrects.
“I’m not really sure that’s better,” you admit. “Okay, so the ghouls take the spark of life. Is there any reason why they wouldn’t want someone’s? That they would think it’s… broken?”
Victoria’s gentle grin never wavers, but you notice her almost miss a step. It’s a small thing, one you’d dismiss in anyone else, except that Victoria is made of grace and strength. For her, that might as well have been a giant prop fall onto the ground.
“There are reasons I can think of,” she tells you. “Sparks that are too pure cannot be handled by such beings, for example, though I’d hardly call those broken. Those touched by certain forms of power present a more difficult challenge in extracting, as with Annabeth and myself. For a ghoul who lacks much sense, that might feel like a broken thing. Also, there are certain forms of… trauma, that can have unexpected effects.”
“What sort of trauma?”
“Nothing you’d need to concern yourself with,” Victoria says. “Not unless your spark has been forced across the veil between life and death multiple times.”
“More or less. Taken any three day naps in a cave that you recall?” Victoria asks.
“I feel like I’d remember dying.” And you don’t have those memories. But… you do have the nightmares.
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” Victoria lays a comforting hand on your shoulder. “In just our time together, you’ve been exposed to multiple forms of magic, and that’s to say nothing of the other misadventures you and Jim have. All that mojo has probably just given your spark some sort of abnormal hue, which confused the ghoul.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” It does make the most sense out of all the options. And just because you dream about deaths that never happened, devouring demon jaws and explosions in mid-space and being beaten to death by evil clones, it doesn’t mean anything. Lots of people have strange dreams. Hell, given the shit you’ve survived, it would be weirder if you didn’t have nightmares.
Ahead of you, the cemetery gates are standing there, swung open and leading back onto the normal world of Carver Street. Annabeth and Jim go ahead, but Victoria stops you before you two can step through. From thin air, she produces your hat and duster, draped over her arm.
“Can’t very well have you going out there without a costume. There are monsters about,” she says.
“And here I thought I was already with the scariest thing out tonight.”
“Who did you think I was talking about?” She smiles, a charming grin that shows off her teeth, which always look a little too sharp when you see them up close. “Rules are rules, you know. Think of it as a trade, if you like. Two for two.”
It takes you a minute, but you click to what she’s talking about eventually. Digging into your holster, you hold out the book and the pearl. Victoria accepts the former, but holds open her bag and has you drop in the pearl without laying so much as a finger on it.
“What was that thing, anyway?” you ask as you slip your hat and duster back on. It pales in comparison to the stolen power you had minutes ago, but at least the duster still looks cool.
“Concentrated disbelief. Very potent, very dangerous, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter. As you can imagine, it’s not in our nature to freely discuss things that can hurt us,” Victoria tells you. “Now, let’s see about getting all those scarecrows restored.”
“After that, maybe we can hit up a bar or two. Seems a shame to turn in so early on Halloween,” you tell her.
“My father’s yearly party is certainly still in full swing. We can drop off Annabeth and then enjoy ourselves, if you like.”
A tempting offer, especially coming from her, but you shake your head slowly. “I’ve come close to dying enough times today. If I have to, I’m fine with heading home, watching scary movies, and drinking whatever Jim manages to whip up.”
“Drinking Jim’s cocktails? But you just said you were done tempting fate,” Victoria teases. “That actually sounds rather nice. I think I may join you two, when the work is done.”
The two of you finally cross through the cemetery gates, back into the real world. It takes a few hours, but eventually all the scarecrows are people again, and only two of them try to shoot you when they find strangers in their home.
Before midnight hits, you’ve all returned to the apartment, where Annabeth is eating what you really hope is candy from her pail, Jim is mixing more ingredients than your comfortable with into a cocktail, and Victoria is laughing her ass off at what passes for scary monsters in cinema.
For you, this Halloween peacefully draws to a close as you finally reach
You made it without dying once, so time to choose your reward! Since this is mostly for the people who’ve been following along, this poll, just like the others, closes on November 1st at Noon (CST). Thanks for playing along, look forward to seeing you all next year.