“Forget it, I know how this goes. We walk away, then half an hour later we’re getting attacked by a giant monster made of discarded candles that we totally could have stopped if we’d just dealt with the problem sooner.”
“One Columbus Day candle monster and he won’t let it go,” Jim mutters from the top of the branch.
“Point stands,” you say. “We’re going to look inside and make sure nothing weird is going on.”
“So authoritative,” Victoria notes. “Be careful not to push yourself too far into danger, Merlin. I already have one charge to look after tonight. But I agree that it is better to be forewarned and forearmed, so let us proceed.”
She starts up the walkway, and after a few seconds you realize she has no intention of waiting for you. Quickly, you yank Jim down from the tree and hurry to catch up, while Annabeth keeps that same constant pace and somehow ends up by her sister’s side once again. Victoria’s claws flash in the yellow light of the porch as she slips one effortlessly into the front door’s lock. Just like that, she twists the knob and it opens, revealing the muffled sounds of a television playing somewhere in the house.
The door leads into a hallway which quickly splits in two directions. Victoria heads to the right, her hand holding Annabeth’s, and silently motions for you to take the left. You are really hoping that whatever magic protects those two is extended to you and Jim, otherwise this night ends with you in handcuffs for breaking and entering.
Turning down the left hall, the sounds of a television get stronger, and after only a few steps you make it into the living room, where a Halloween special is playing on a flat screen. You spot two figures on the couch and nearly yelp out a half-formed explanation, but mercifully your brain notices the big, orange heads and you realize that you’re looking at decorations, not owners.
Two scarecrows, straw sticking out of their clothing, are seated next to each other, heads made of large, well-carved jack-o-lanterns. One is even leaned slightly on to the shoulder of another, as if they’re cuddling while the show plays. The whole effect is quite unsettling, which is exactly what Halloween decorations are meant to accomplish, so kudos to the owners for setting it up, especially since it’s only barely visible through the front window.
“That way only led to a bathroom,” Victoria announces as she and Annabeth come up behind you. “Have you seen any…” Her voice trails off as she enters the room, eyes fixed on the cuddling scarecrows. For a moment, the composed calm of Victoria Dempsy slips, and you see a flash of rage flicker through her temporarily feline eyes. It quickly fades as she moves forward to examine them, though you can still feel the anger bubbling off her like smoke from a witch’s cauldron.
Leaning down, she traces her fingers along the hard surface of the pumpkin faces, so delicate you’re not certain she’s even making contact. Finally, she turns and looks at Annabeth who dips her head, giving a slight nod of agreement.
“The Whisper family has been here,” Victoria announces. Presumably this is for you and Jim, though you have any idea what the hell that means. From context clues, you’d take a wild shot that it isn’t a good thing, though.
“Are they like the Garrote? Another high family of Halloween?” you ask.
“No, the Whisper clan is a former family. The magic and spirit of All Hallows Eve has changed over time, as the beliefs of those who celebrate it have altered. Most of the families have made the change along with it, but some refused to let go of the older ways. The Whisper family is one such example. They refused to accept the new form of tribute, and as such lost their connection to The Graveyard Accords. Now they are nothing more than monsters, wandering about, taking the old tribute by force whenever necessary. I cannot believe they would come into our territory, though. We are not renowned for our hospitality.”
You don’t always understand everything Victoria is talking about, but from what she’s saying and the way she’s looking at the scarecrows, which are wearing quite modern, fitted clothes you just now realize, you can put at least one bit of it together.
“Ah shit, are those the house’s owners?”
“They were,” Victoria says. “And perhaps they will be again, if what was stolen can be reclaimed before sunrise. But this changes things greatly, Merlin. Trespassing such as this cannot be ignored. I will alert my family of the transgression, but tonight demands much of us. It will take time until they can lend aid. Until then, it will be up to us to find and subdue as many of the Whisper clan as we can get our hands on.”
“But I wanted to get some caaaaandy,” Jim says, shaking his empty pillow-case.
Victoria frowns, looking from him to Annabeth several times. “Damnit, Jim is right. The gathering of tribute cannot be ignored, even for situations such as this. Though I loathe to say it, we will have to split up to accomplish all that is needed. One of us will escort Annabeth as she gathers tribute, while the other two will search for the Whisper family.”
“Isn’t don’t split up like the first rule of horror movies?” Jim points out.
“That rule only applies when you’re being hunted by a monster,” Victoria tells him. “Tonight, I am the monster who is hunting.”
“Shouldn’t you be the one to take Annabeth,” you say. “She is your sister, and you’re better equipped than us to keep her safe.”
Annabeth snorts from beside you.
“My sister is quite capable in her own right, though with a fallen family out there anything is possible,” Victoria says. “However, if I were to take her, you would have no one with knowledge of how to track or defeat our prey. Though I suppose your dumb luck has suited you well before. It is up to you, Merlin. Who takes Annabeth while the rest of us go on the hunt?”
Damn, that’s a tough one. Victoria would be the best to keep her safe, but she’s the only one of you who knows dick about these Whisper people. Annabeth seems to like Jim, but trusting Jim with a kid is like… you know what, I can’t think of an example worse than trusting Jim with a kid. Still, he did well with the prank, maybe he’s on a roll tonight. Or you could take her yourself and trust Jim and Victoria to handle the dirty work. That doesn’t seem cowardly at all, right? Right? Of course, if you manage to screw up you’d probably much rather be turned into a scarecrow than face Victoria’s wrath. No sense dilly-dallying, everyone is looking at you. Make a choice!