Despite the absolute torrent of rage and power currently coursing through you, killing someone, especially in cold blood, seems just a step too far. Maybe if it were self-defense, but thanks to you Talbot Whispers has more broken bones than whole ones. Hell, he’s probably hating that immortality a little right now. But people need to be restored, take back what was stolen as Victoria puts it, so it looks like this is his last Halloween. Just… not by your hands.
“All yours,” you tell Victoria, lowering your hammer and stepping back.
She lifts an eyebrow in surprise before a soft grin uncurls on her lips. “All this time, and you still surprise me, Merlin. Walking away from all that power, I’m not sure if it’s noble or idiotic. Perhaps it is simply you.”
But Victoria is ignoring you, grabbing Talbot Whispers by the scruff of his neck and dragging him over to the same table he strapped Annabeth down on. She pulls him like he weighs no more than a limp doll, not unlike the very scarecrows he made so many of the other Carver Street residents into. With a fluid motion, she throws him onto makeshift headstone table, though given his broken limbs she doesn’t bother strapping him down.
Near you, Annabeth bends down and picks up the knife meant to be plunged into her, dropped by Talbot when you were beating him like a rented mule. She looks up at you for a moment, gleaming weapon in hand, and then walks slowly over to her sister. The ghouls are trying to stop them, but a drizzle of beer still rains from the sky, reinforcing your golems as they hold the line. You really need to talk with Jim about character balance when this is over, Godpunch Lightning-Fucker is way to overpowered.
“Talbot,” Victoria says, her voice appropriately a whisper, yet still carrying across the graveyard. “You laid hands on my kin tonight, and for that you have to die. But you also interfered with the Willowbrook gathering of tribute. That sin, however, is forgiven, since you were kind enough to set up this ceremonial altar so perfectly. And now, at last, the moon is in alignment. Tribute can still be paid. A different kind, an older kind, but it will suffice for the year ahead.”
Annabeth slips the knife into Victoria’s hands, then wraps both of hers around the pumpkin pail and steps back.
“We thank you for your tribute, Talbot Whispers. At long last, you once again have a purpose in this world.” One motion, too fast for even your augmented vision to trace, and suddenly Talbot’s neck opens into a red yawn. You brace for the spray of blood, but it never comes. Instead, something far worse comes rocketing out.
A tornado of shadows tears from Talbot’s form, some shaped liked people, others animals, and some are creatures you have never seen before, and would gladly give up your vision to never see again. Wails and moans from the ghouls echo through the graveyard as their rags fall away, more shadows rising, joining with the swirling mass that has risen from Talbot’s neck hole. The mass spins, faster and faster, moving slowly forward. For a moment, you think it’s all gone to shit and they’re coming for you, but then you see their true destination.
The shadows are being sucked, slowly but surely, into the pumpkin pail clutched in Annabeth’s hands. It’s eyes and mouth are definitely glowing now, no small flashes like with the candy, as it devours the monsters shade by shade. Part of you suspects the only reason you can see this so clearly is the power you’re hopped up on, and that same part of you secretly curses Jim for giving Godpunch such good vision.
At last the final shadow goes into the pail, clawing with ethereal hands as it vanishes into the orange depths, and suddenly the graveyard is as quiet as… well, a graveyard. But, you know, one that’s not magical and filled with monsters. Hurriedly, you race over to Jim, only to find him still a lifeless scarecrow laying on the ground.
“Relax, Merlin. He, along with every other member of my territory, will be restored. But we had to take what was stolen first.” Even as Victoria speaks, she and Annabeth have walked over to join you. Leaning down, Annabeth dips a hand into her pumpkin, carved triangular eyes now permanently aglow as if by some inner candle, and pulls one of the shadows out. She pushes it into Jim’s jack-o-lantern mouth, and suddenly he begins to fade and warp just like the ghouls did.
When it’s over, Jim is lying there, back to his normal body, but unmoving. Just when you’re about to voice more concern his eyes spring open and he sits straight up. Reaching into the depths of his costume, he pulls out his flask, tips it to the sky and doesn’t stop until he has emptied the last few drops.
“Holy shit I have like the worst cotton-mouth ever,” Jim says at last. You wrap your roommate in a careful hug, but still notice Victoria roll her eyes and mumble the word “theatrics” under her breath.
“Whoa, what the floppity fuck man? Are you Godpunch?”
“Yeah.” You pull back, then extend the hammer to Jim. “I had to borrow this for a while.”
“You know, I’m not that mad about being a scarecrow, but missing my character come to life, that sort of chaps my ass. Oh well, I plan to turn this night blurry anyway.” Jim reaches out and takes his hammer, and as he does all the power goes draining out of you. The magic is gone, as is the costume, and now you’re just a guy wearing cheap holsters with a book and a pearl stuffed inside, since the rest of your cowboy outfit was thrown off. Oddly, Jim doesn’t seem to transform, the magic merely evaporates off the hammer like fog in the morning sun, turning back to the same prop it was before.
“I thought this stuff lasted until sunrise,” you tell Victoria.
“The dust is an ingredient, nothing more,” she replies. “I cast quite a different spell on that than the one cast on you. Unless you wanted to try and gamble a dream before morning’s light?”
“No, no, this was enough gambling for now.”
“Good, because we have many homes to visit if we are to set things right,” Victoria says.
Annabeth is helping Jim to his feet, which are unsteady either from the massive flask draw or the hours as a scarecrow. While they struggle, you look out at the graveyard, contemplating the insanity of what just happened. Part of you wonders, just what the hell was Talbot? For that matter, really, what is Victoria?
And deep down, in the scariest part of yourself, you wonder what about you is so broken that the ghouls didn’t even want to steal it.
“Hey, Victoria, can I ask you something?”
“After your aid tonight, it would be wrong to deny you something as simple as information,” Victoria responds, clearly catching the weight of your tone. “But be warned, Merlin. Sometimes, things are unspoken for a reason. Often, that reason is your own protection. Break that silence carefully. Some truths cannot be re-covered, once they are unearthed.”
What do you ask?