“Much as I’d like to hurry, if even Victoria thinks we need to load up on gear before this fight, then I’m inclined to side with her.” Jim’s pumpkin face looks a little disappointed, so you quickly tack on, “And besides, if the driver comes, we can get you more of that herb to buy time.”
“I’m afraid not,” Victoria tells you. “One cannot start a new day while the noon sun hangs in the sky, just as one cannot begin a new magic when one is already at work. The only way to restore Jim is by using the time we have to recapture what was taken.”
She makes a quick call on her cell phone and around ten minutes later, each one feeling as through it stretches on far longer than the normal sixty seconds, the town car whispers up to the curb. None of the windows unroll, but the trunk pops open, and Victoria pulls a slender black back from its depths. She slams the trunk closed and the car takes off again.
“That’s not very big,” you tell her. “Is it full of handguns?”
“After all this time, Merlin, I’d thought perhaps you had a better idea of what constituted weaponry in my world. Regardless, I’ll explain when the time is right. For now, we must get to Annabeth.” Victoria begin stalking down the street, only slowing when she realizes you have a reduced pace from helping Jim along. She comes back, gets under his free shoulder for support, and together the three of you make your way down the street.
About two blocks later, she lets go, walking to a shady little area full of trees. It’s a patch of wilderness maybe twenty feet long, but evidently it suffices for her needs. Victoria raises her hands, peers deep into the foliage and lets out a single word that makes your mind involuntarily try to remember if you’ve gotten a last will and testament put together.
The shadows cast by the streetlights near the trees seem to pool, rising up and joining together until they’ve taken on the appearance of familiar cemetery gate, the front of which is currently sitting wide open. She throws a glance over her shoulder and motions for the two of you to follow.
“I thought you said the shadows were friends of the Whisper family,” you say as you help Jim forward. He seems to be getting a little slower, which you convince yourself is a symptom of the rough terrain and nothing more.
“They are,” Victoria says. “But they fear the Willowbrook line, and that is often better than friendship.”
“That philosophy… is a real… bummer.” Jim’s words are getting slurred and oddly spaced, but hey, that’s Jim, right!
“You okay man?” you ask, pretty sure you already know the answer.
“Not one bit,” he tells you. “I think getting turned… into a scarecrow made me… sober, and it is just… the worst. I feel like a… freshman again.”
“Just keep thinking about the cup of infinite beer, cause soon you’ll be back home with it.” Even you don’t know if you’re lying at this point, but you’re pretty sure it’s okay if you’re being genuinely hopeful.
The three of you move past the front gate, onto a sea of lush grass dotted by massive white headstones, like teeth jutting up from a misshapen green mouth. The place seems to sprawl on forever, but Victoria never wavers as she leads you deeper into the cemetery. Maybe it’s some of her usual magic, maybe it’s a sister thing. All you know is that she seems set on a course.
After some time, it’s hard to gauge with any reliability in this place, she motions for you to hunch down. Together, the two of you and Jim, more dragged than walking at this point, take cover behind a giant headstone. Now you can hear voices from nearby, though the words coming out of their mouths don’t seem human in the slightest. Victoria crawls along the ground to the next headstone and you follow with Jim still in tow. After several more minutes of this, she stops and gestures for you to look around the marble slab currently at your back.
There’s something of a clearing out there, and in it are dozens of those ghouls in tattered rags, some the same size as what you’ve seen, others so big they put giants to shame. They’ve gathered around a headstone that’s been turned into a makeshift table, on top of which rests Annabeth. Well, maybe rests isn’t the right word. She’s struggling against her bonds, more of those same rags, and casting dirty looks in every direction, hoping for the chance to visit some violence on her kidnappers. At that moment, you can definitely see the family resemblance to Victoria.
A lean man with a gaunt face is near her, dressed in a dirty gray suit and holding a gleaming knife. He isn’t using it, yet, but you can’t imagine that’s going to last for long.
“The bastards.” Victoria’s words are a hiss as she readies to strike, hand already dipped into the black bag she sacrificed time to get. “They’re trying to take an ancient tribute, to force their way back into the Graveyard Accords.”
“Will that work?”
“In terms of restoring their power? I highly doubt it. In terms of killing my sister? Yes, most certainly. We need to be quick, Merlin. I’ve brought a few tools, but the first one must be used the soonest, for it will be the most potent.” Victoria holds up a small vial, inside of which you see a very familiar dust. It’s just like what the old lady sprinkled on your wizard hat to make your costume… real.
“Yes. One of us can tap into the magic of All Hallows Eve and truly become something else. It is potent, powerful magic, but it is so strong that the wielder will be unable to use any of the other tools I brought, they would simply be absorbed into it.”
“What do you think, Jim?” You turn to your friend, but a lifeless jack-o-lantern stares up at you. You’ve been dragging a scarecrow for the last five minutes. But, deep down you knew that, didn’t you?
“Maybe… maybe if we make his costume real, it will fix him,” you say. “Godpunch Lightning-Fucker probably isn’t vulnerable to being turned into a scarecrow.”
Victoria gives you a long stare. “If that is what you want, then I will use it on Jim. Or you can turn yourself into a true cattle driver, or I can become a witch’s familiar.”
“Wait, if you turn into a cat then how will I know what to do?”
“Familiars can speak, among many other things, Merlin.” She smiles, just a bit, despite the situation you’re in. “And I chose tools that you would be familiar with anyway. At least, for the most part. But the time for talk is done. We must sprinkle this on the truest part of one of our costumes and move. Annabeth doesn’t have long.”
Looks like it’s go time.