Peggy marched into Hertzfeld’s lab. It was a action that none but her was even willing to attempt. Especially while he was working. Especially when he was working on his pet project, the phasing glove.
“You’ve got the polarities switched.” She commented over his shoulder, making the hand soldering the delicate circuitry together, twitch. It was a small move that now connected half the circuit board to the rest, rendering it useless.
“Peggy. Nice to see you. When are you leaving?” He asked, giving her a scowl that would have sent other researchers running. She didn’t notice or care.
“I’ve come to pick up the three recursion keys. My group are set on finding a way to Crow’s Hollow.” She made a face that was either frustrated at leaving her experiments behind once more or disgusted at the stubborn single mindedness of the others to find the home of the crow people.
“Of course.” Hertzfeld put aside his soldering iron, picked up the circuit board he’d been working on and threw it in the bin. As he rummaged through his filing cabinets for the bucket, the first aid tin and signet ring, Peggy glaced at the circuit board and snaffled it for her collection of oddments. She’d learnt long ago that one person’s trash is another person’s portal to another world.
“Here they are, anything else you’re needing from me?”
“No, I understand Bruce is dealing with the heavy firepower at the moment.” She replied, toying with the three keys.
“And yet you’re still here.” Hertzfeld sighed, “What’s up Peggy?”
“I think I touched the mind of something….of the Strange.” At that moment she looked uncharacteristically unsure of herself.
“Your report hinted as much. Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” That look of disgust passed across her face once more, this time mingled with fear. “Not at all, I want to forget it.”
Hertzfeld thought for a moment. Psychology was not his field. There were counselors on staff for this purpose, but he didn’t think Peggy would go to one even if he ordered it. Probably especially if he ordered it.
“Sometimes work is the best medicine. Work and time. Focus your mind on a difficult task. You know getting away to one of these recursions could be just the ticket.”
“I suppose.” She looked down at the three item unconvinced. “Any that you would suggest?”
“No. You were right they are all linked to recursions, but from this end we can’t determine which. I’d suggest your group take a vote on one.”
She looked up a puzzled look on replacing the fear. It was a start.
“But that would allow the stupid ones a equal say in where we go, wouldn’t it?”
Hertzfeld thought of Peggy’s group. Bruce, a practical forthright character who thought through his actions. Algernon, a brilliant though naive mind who always looked for the strategic advantage. Cecilia, the newest but most experienced investigator who would undoubtedly see things from all angles. Rain, a contrary character whose leaps of intuition had been useful on more than one occasion. And then there was Peggy, brilliance bottled and kept away from the light.
“Even the less…scientifically minded still have good suggestions. Trust them.”
She made a face again, this one was one of her more regular suffering martyr looks. Without another word she left, leaving Hertzfeld to draw up a new requisition form for a blank circuit boards and parts.
Collecting the group was usually a chore. Peggy had spent most of a day previously hunting out each of her party members and gathering them in one location. Today they seemed to collect naturally. Bruce’s request for heavy armour had been rejected as not in keeping with the covert nature of their enterprise. He had gravitated to the firing range where he was practising with Algernon at long range targets with his new Glock 40. Cecilia seemed almost to find her and Rain turned up at her labs still stuffing his pockets with the essence of a survival kit. She laid the three keys in front of them.
“Which one first?” She asked, looking to the group.
“Do we know anything about the keys and where they go?” Bruce asked.
“Nothing, only that they are keys.”
“Well, as to their use I’d say the first aid box is the most intimidating.” Rain suggested.
“And the bucket, the most innocent?”
“Out of context, who knows.”
The conversation wandered around the three items that were minutely examined once more and placed back in their line on the lab bench. In the end the bucket was chosen for no better excuse than it was cheery and fun and reminded several of them of childhood.
Peggy placed the bucket on the floor and the group sat in a circle around it. Bruce instructed Cecilia in what to do, saving the rest from his usual monologue on the ridiculous nature of this”…hippy touchy-feely kum-ba-ya ceremony.” Eyes closed and their thoughts focused on the jack-o-lantern’s deathly grin, the lab around them slowly melted away. The sensation of travel through the fractal blackness and down into the new world as its latest dizzy installments. The bright fluorescent lighting was replaced with the soft darkness of evening lit by gas lamps. They were standing on the uneven surface of a wet cobbled street surrounded by wooden houses that leaned drunkenly out over them. Between the eaves, a crescent moon lit the sky, its cool glow making the cobbles shine. From far away the group heard the howl of an animal.
They looked at each other, noting how the recursion had changed their clothing and appearance. Out of the three recursions so far, this transformation was the most radical and strange. Peggy was a tall Pumpkin headed creature with flowing, fiery hair and a faint orange glow to her exposed skin. She was wearing a leather duster that went down to her mid-calf and gently moved in an ever present breeze.
Algernon was dressed in a homemade fancy dress of a white t-shirt, blue jeans and a red piece of material tied around his neck, his black hair was spiked up wildly. His skin was green and covered in tattoos that seemed to move when seen from side-on. A long pointed nose and unusually sharp teeth completed his look. To those who had sat through at least one viewing of Algernon’s favourite documentary it was obvious he was a tattooed goblin dressed as Tetsuo Shima, from Akira. Besides his crossbow, which had changed to suit the location, he carried a bucket exactly like the recursion key, a plastic jack-o-lantern.
Bruce was even larger than usual, also wearing a leather jacket that went down to the ground. Underneath he wore a padded gambeson with heavy metal plates across his chest and vitals. Along with his hammer and crowbar that were strapped across his back as usual, in his arms he held a massive crossbow that fired fletched wooden stakes instead of bolts. His usually actively aware expression was replaced with a hunched and hungry look. It was as if the police dog had gone feral.
Cecilia’s look was darker than her usual style of leather jacket and jeans, including a collar made of one inch spikes and heavy black makeup. Her black hair was cut short and a long fringe swept across her face and over her right eye. Across her jacket, studs had been hand stitched into place, so that she too looked like she’d make her own costume. As with Algernon, she was also carrying a jack-o-lantern bucket containing a number of candies of various sorts.
Out of the five of them, Rain looked the most pleased with his new look. Stepping into the limelight of the gas streetlight, his suit of swirled colours glowed. His 50s retro plaid vest was replaced with a white one and the whole look was topped with a tall white top hat, decorated with a swirling rainbow band. He spun, mixing the colours of his jacket and flicking his top hat into the air. He juggled it a moment before throwing it up and catching it back on his head.
“I like this place already.” He said, turning to the others who weren’t as sure, “This is going to be fun.”
“Okay, so where now?” Bruce asked, impatiently hefting his crossbow.
At that moment, the sound of raucous laughter caught the group’s attention. Down the street, alternatively lit by gaslight and thrown into darkness, a sign with a painted noose swung back and forward. For those with keener eyesight, the sign read: The Old Hangman’s Pub.
“Just what we were looking for.” Rain slapped his hands together and started walking towards the pub. The others, still confused by their new personas, just follow.
Swinging open the double doors, the tap room of the Old Hangman was lively with all sorts of people. It was actually hard to tell if some of them were people. Along with green skinned goblins and pumpkin headed folk, there were rag wrapped mummies and nightmarish snake people to name a few.
” What are undead spawn of hell doing here?“ Bruce scanned the group with a predatory eye. He spotted the mummy drinking with a few friends like ordinary folk. His heavy crossbow creaked with the force of his grip. “What are we doing here?”
“We don’t know, Bruce. We have to find out.” Rain replied looking up at the big guy beside him with some concern. This was not the Bruce he was normally able to rely on.
Brief confusion flicked across Bruce’s scowl. He lapsed into a tense introspective silence, his hand still firmly gripping his crossbow.
“Maybe I can be of service?” I small smartly dressed goblin wearing a monocle stepped up, “I couldn’t help but hear, you’re new to town? My name is Morris, is there something you’re looking for?”
“Sights and adventure.” Rain beamed, flicking the top hat off his head, he bowed, “My name is Pavel Nuystul. What do you call your charming town?”
“This neighbourhood is the Hollow. The town is the town for that is all there is. If it were to have a name it would be called Halloween.”
“Halloween?” Peggy almost lamented, “Everything is so odd.”
“It’s excellent.” Rain grinned
“It makes no sense.” She replied as if trying to speak reason to the insane.
“Yes, isn’t it wonderful.”
“Maybe we can drink and chat a while, I too am a traveller and would love to hear about your travels and home.” Morris led them to a large table. Bruce noticed the goblin look at a snake man sitting at the bar, and then turned to the bar keeper. Rain noticed too and saw the subtle nods of understanding from each. He smiled, noting the makings of a con, and sat down at the table.
“I would like nothing better.”
Algernon held out his bucket to the goblin.
“Trick or treat?” He said waiting expectantly for the response.
“Ah, I see you are familiar with our ways.” The goblin took a sweet, “But be aware, you must follow the rules. Trick or treating is a protected activity here in Halloween and none will abide rulebreakers.”
“I see we have a lot to learn.” Rain said as the others took seats.
“Maybe we can help each other.” Morris beamed as drinks, that they had not ordered, arrived at the table. “You tell me about your home and I’ll tell you what I know of Halloween.”
With pure delight, Rain wove a story of their adventures that was as compelling as it was fictional. Some truths he told, mentioning giant mole rats that breached the sand like whales, blotting out the sun. He whispered of broken worlds where beyond thick cloud cover madness lay and he praised home in ways that even those around the table found it hard to recognise. He coloured the whole thing with details drawn from fiction, history and from his own head. The only real person he added to the stories was the name that was most closely linked to his own, that of Elvin Lightfeather.
To go with the stories, three dimensional illusions seemed to appear across the far wall of the bar. The sound of the mole rat hitting the sands (though no trains or rails in sight). Thonics flapped across a clouded sky, their screeches sending shivers down everyone’s spines (but no view of the Estate buildings or broken Seatle could be seen). Illusion creating was nothing new to Rain, but the ability to manipulate the images of his mind and project them into reality was, and he relished every moment. He filled the goblin’s ear and eyes (and everyone else in the bar) with all the nonsense they could stomach only stopping to learn what he could about Halloween.
“This world is just the town of Halloween. Trick or Treat is a favourite and revered pastime whose rules are strictly abided.” Morris listed three rules on long clever fingers, “While you trick or treat you must not use, but save for later. You must always keep your candle burning, that is your sign. But while your candle burns you must not do anything other than trick or treat. To break any of these rules, breaks the protection provided to trick or treaters. Without that protection… “ The goblin shook his head flapping large ears, “…you are vulnerable to the mean and vile of this city.”
“And what are they like?” Bruce asked once more glancing over at the mummy, “What do these fiends, these spawn from hell want, heh?”
“I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you.” Morris replied confused, “I don’t usually have anything to do with those sorts.”
The rest of the group had heard Rain mention Lightfeather. Instantly all their senses, new and old were turned on. Algernon scanned for surface thoughts picking up on the goblin’s insatiable curiosity. Peggy’s new form allowed her to Discern Sins and she felt the blackness of a baleful sin lodge in the heart of Morris the goblin. Bruce stretched out a new sense for him, sniffing the air for undead and found several more in the vacinity, but could . Rain watched the goblin’s body language, noted his words and intonations. He also felt the curiosity about the group, he recognised a fellow traveller and above all, understood that Morris was not unaware of Crow’s Hollow and one of its more formidable citizens.
Peggy seemingly stretched, kicked out at Rain. He was about to comment when he realised a mental connection between the two of them had been created. Sucking in his breath he envisioned the fractal night sky that was never very far away, shielding Peggy from his thoughts, or him from hers? He watched her scrunch her pumpkin features up in frustration.
Suddenly Algernon sat bolt upright in his chair and stared at Morris.
“How do you know Mr Lightfeather?” He asked out of the blue. In the confusion of Morris’ mind he had picked up one clear thought, I wonder what old Elvin is up to?
Morris, seemingly nonplus, leaned back in his chair.
“We’ve done business in the past.”
Bruce leaned in,
“And how long ago was it when you last did business?”
“Several months, maybe a year.”
“We’re not here to find Lightfeather.” Peggy interrupted, the flames of his hair whipping back and forward menacingly, “This is a research trip.”
“Really?” Morris, having found himself temporarily on the defensive, turned his focus on Peggy. “What research are you into?”
“Doorways.” She replied simply.
“Fascinating subject, do go on.”
“I’ve never understood, “ She continued, “How do you determine the edge of a barrier?”
The others sat back and just listened as Morris and Peggy chatted technically about portals and how to move between. Rain noticed Bruce’s agitation grow steadily worse, and followed his line of sight to a table were two individual with bright red skin and horns growning from their temples horns sat playing cards.
I never thought Bruce racist. He thought and Peggy picked up on it via their mindlink.
Not racist, fiendist. And undeadist. I don’t think this recursion agrees with Bruce.
That could be bad.
“So what you really need is data.” Morris summed up his and Peggy’s discussion, “You’ve seen only a small part of this place, let me furnish you with a map and then you can make some decisions on where you’d like to go to next.”
From a pocket in his neatly tailored jacket, Morris pulled out a map of the township of Halloween.
Labeled were the Hollows, where they currently were, the Midnight Circus, House on the Hill and at the centre of everything a huge necropolis that was just named, Graveyard.
“Any other scholar we can visit? Places of education?”
Morris shook his head gravely,
“Sadly the locals are not educated by nature.”
“So you’ve traveled?”
“I’ve been around.” He sidestepped the question.
“Where are you from?”
“Here and there.”
“Hmph, haven’t heard of that place.” Bruce stood and leaned over the table at Morris menacingly. It shut down the conversation for a moment until Peggy returned the group back to topic.
“Yes, tell us of other places, spare no details.”
“You know Elvin and have done business, have you been to Crow’s Hollow?” Rain added conversationally.
“I’ve been there from time to time.” Morris went back on the defensive as the group started peppering him with questions.
“Did you get there from here?”
“No, not here, other places.”
“What sort of business do you do?” Cecilia waded in having stayed quiet and listening.
“Hmm, this and that. I work mostly at the Glittering Market, buying and selling.” Morris seemed to relax into his subject at this point, “A fascinating place, they use a particular currency, a Crow coin that is quite unusual. You have to be wary of the price you pay.”
“The Crow coins materialise out of your very life force. You will always have Crow coin to spend until…you don’t”
“And you’ve met people who have overspent?” Bruce asked once more, picking up some unseen trail, “What happened to them?”
“It is very unpleasant and not worth dwelling on.” Morris became defensive again, but this time it seemed that the subject itself was very unpalatable.
“Six feet under?” Peggy intimated and Morris nodded sagely.
“Something like that.”
“Eldin, “ Rain brought Morris back on the subject that most interested him. “What’s his position in Crow Hollow society?”
“Oh, he’s a senior associate of one Whitecliff Drood, he’s one of the leading lights in Crow Hollow society. Very well respected and connected.” Morris relaxed once more talking about something that he felt comfortable in sharing. “You see there are two major families, the Drood and the Cornaro so you can see our friend runs in the highest of society.”
“Whose side do you follow?” Cecilia asked simply.
“Me? Oh, I don’t take sides. No, no, no I’m a businessman, I make deals.”
“How do you stop from being murdered?” Peggy asked and all who were present were reminded of Lightfeather’s brutal dagger attacks.
“I have my way.” The little goblin smirked.
“And if they want to deal with you?”
“They have their ways of getting in touch.” He shut down again. It looked like that was all the group was going to get out of him on Crow’s Hollow, “Now, tell me more about this place with the giant mole rats, that sounds fascinating.”
Rain filled in a little more detail, leaving out Caw Eh Carve, their altercation with Lightfeather or the purchase of the keys. What he didn’t know he made up and once more filled the far wall with stunning visuals.
“And you came straight here from this wondrous place?” Morris asked as the last sights and sounds of the Rumour markets faded away.
“We went home for a while.” Peggy replied making Rain wince through their shared link.
“Home?” Morris jumped on the mention of Earth, but Peggy was well practised when it came to dodgy salesmen.”
“Yes, I wanted to continue my research.”
“So you work for an organisation?”
“I’m independent, but I have many groups interested in my work.” She smoothly sailed past his probing questions to fall into a whirlpool of her own making, “My mentor is very keen to see my work continue.”
“Mentor? A fellow intelectual, that must be such a comfort. What’s their name?”
Sensing that she may have said something she shouldn’t, she started filling the air with her usual complaints about Hertzfeld, being very careful not to mention him by name.
“They’re a pain in my arse. How dare they tell me my maths did not add up?! They’re always denying me vital equipment and think too highly of fieldwork for my taste. No, I can’t say they are a comfort at all.”
Rain let Peggy have her rant, before once more returning back to Lightfeather.
“Well, I never knew our friend Elvin was so well connected, he seemed so unassuming.” He said casually as if the past thirty seconds hadn’t occurred.
“The best ones are.” Morris agreed without adding any more details.
Meanwhile, Algernon had been studying the map Morris had provided. Morris now seized the moment and directed attention to him.
“I see you’re interested in our little town.”
“Yes, “ Replied Algernon pointing to a tent in the Midnight Circus individually labelled as The Five-headed thing. “What is the five-headed thing?”
“Ah, an old institution, a singular fellow. He may tell you a secret but only one at a time.” Morris’ silver-tongued salesman routine went into action. “He is well worth a visit, as are many locations in Halloween.”
Now the group were focused on the map.
“The Midnight Circus sounds interesting.” Cecilia pointed to the large circular tent that dominated that area of town.
“What’s in the House on the hill? Peggy asked and gestured to a large estate set on the only highground in town.
“You can go in and see.”
“Only with the owners permission of course.”
“Hazel Jenkins, that could be arranged.” It was obvious that Morris was very keen for the group to go out and explore the town and Bruce was getting more and more on edge the longer they stayed at the table.
“Why don’t we visit some of these places, we can walk and talk.” Rain suggested as a way of moving out of the pub and away of temptation for Bruce. As it was, Bruce got straight to his feet, his massive crossbow ready.
“Good idea, let’s go.”
As the group got up to leave, Algernon once more scanned Morris’ surface thought. He didn’t pick up any intent, his purpose for wanting them out in the township, but he did hear over and over,
Who are you? Where do you come from? Who do you work for?
The evening air was cool after the stifling warm taproom of the Old Hangman’s Noose. People didn’t seem to mind the chill as many of them were out on the street walking in groups or running from house to house, their blue flamed candles in hand. Cecilia and Algernon found a similar candlesin their pockets, but kept them unlit, not wanting to join the Trick or Treaters just yet. Certainly the people on the streets were just as varied as the ones they had seen in the bar and Rain made comment on it.
“It’s certainly a very cosmopolitan city you have.”
“Yes,” Algernon replied with a look of mischief in his eyes, “When we get back to CONTROL we’ll have to report all the different types of people we have seen to the Chief.”
“Of course, “ Rain replied equally as seriously all the time playing a television theme show music to Peggy in his head, “He may let you use the cone of silence.”
“Don’t get smart, kid.” Bruce growled, but Algernon ignored him.
“It seems KAOS hasn’t come across here as yet.” He added and Rain nodded his agreement, trying not to smile.
Walking through an open square, they passed a statue of a Jack-o-lantern humanoid like Peggy, only nine foot tall. It’s carved hollowed eyes seemed to follow them as they crossed to a connecting street. On a whim, Peggy put her hands under her pumpkin head and lifted it off her neck to get a better look at the statue. It wasn’t long after when they found themselves on the outskirts of the Midnight Circus. In front of them was a small tent with a large poster in front.
See the five headed thing, but never alone.
Morris who was standing back, watching the group’s response. Rain and Peggy stepped in as Algernon hesitated outside the tent flap
“Is it safe?” Algernon asked Morris.
“As safe as anything around here.” He replied honestly as Bruce pushed Algernon inside.
Inside was dark and empty except for a bell on a stand. Upon ringing the bell, a curtain moved and a partitioned section was revealed as was the creature waiting there. It’s size and shape was that of a regular human with one head firmly affixed to its body. When it opened it’s cloak, four other heads made up the torso of the creature. Each of the four was bound with rags across their mouths so they couldn’t make more than indistinguishable mumblings.
“It’s rude to muffle people.” Peggy protested the treatment of the four torso heads that seemed to be desperate to be understood.
“He’s muffled himself.” Rain defended the creature, more out of the promise of the show than out of pity for the heads.
“That sort of thing is not done in public, “ She complained, her sometimes prudish nature getting an airing, “Is it recreational?”
“This is entertainment, is it not?” Rain turned to the creature, “I understand you can tell secrets?”
“Yes, but only one at a time and only alone.” The five-headed thing’s main head replied as it stifled the noise from the other four.
“But the sign clearly says….” Algernon gestured to outside the tent remembering the warning on the poster.
“How much?” Peggy asked, stepping up ahead of Rain. He had his secrets, but he could wait so he stepped back.
“A few pieces of candy, that is all.” The creature put it’s hand out for the requested fee.
“Cecilia, could I have a few pieces of candy.” Peggy turned to Cecilia who offered up her bucket. She took out three pieces and held them out in front of the five-headed thing. “I have a secret.”
The creature nodded and took her offering.
“I don’t think anyone should be alone…” Bruce started and Rain cut him off.
“She’s connected. The lady is well protected.” He said tapping the side of his head. With a huff, Bruce allowed himself to be led out of the tent.
Now alone, Peggy stood in front of the creature and asked the one question that had driven her for twenty years. The one question she wanted to know above all else.
“John and Athena Martin twenty years ago, what happened to them?”
Outside, Bruce turned on Rain,
“You better tell us everything that happens in there.”
Rain nodded and closed his eyes. He focused on the link and quietly repeated everything he sensed from inside the tent, including the question. The rest look at each other, but say nothing.
Inside, the Five-headed thing stepped closer, leaning in as if to whisper in Peggy’s ear. She stood her ground, visibly uncomfortable with the closeness. The creature took a breath in as if to speak, but instead Peggy felt a tugging, then a draining of something vital to herself. Mentally and physically she realised she was being held and pulled away with such force it startled the creature. She stuck out slapping the creature in the face. As her hand pulled away flames shot out from her palm lighting up the tent and her expression of pure anger.
“He’s moved in close, she hates this so much but she has to know…..what, something…somethings happening. She’s being attacked…go, go, go!”
Bruce flung the flap aside and strode back into the tent to see Peggy’s fiery hand held above the surprised Things main head. Without warning he shoots his crossbow, the bolt roars through the air missing the creature and cutting straight through the tent wall. The creature stepped back and slipped through the curtain and out of the tent.
“I want a refund!” Peggy yelled and followed the creature. She tried to Discern the Sins once more, but this time sensed nothing.
Rain, still linked with what’s going on inside the tent, ran around the outside to where it connected with another smaller tent. Dropping to the ground, he, Algernon and Celcilia slipped under the second tent wall only to find it empty, the smell of hot buttered popcorn in the air.
The flap between tents tore aside as Bruce and Peggy were visiblethrough the gap, lit by Peggy’s flames.
“It’s gone.” Rain said as Algernon, putting his goblin nose to good use, followed the smell of buttered popcorn to the door where Bruce stood.
It was at that moment that Morris combat rolled into the first tent, two hand crossbows ready. Rain rolled his eyes reading the scene and dismissing Morris’ bluff. Bruce lashed out, grabbing the little goblin around the scruff.
“Er…what’s the problem, friend?” Morris asked Bruce who pulled out one of his stakes and pressed it into the goblin’s neck.
“What is the five-headed thing?”
“Rumours, I only know rumours.” The little goblin squirmed but couldn’t break free of Bruce’s grasp.
“You owe me.” Peggy said
“It’s like the poster says, never be alone with it. Some people have said the faces… they change.”
“Yeah, what’s in it for you, then?”
“Just my little experiment.” Morris giggled nervously, “You looked like you could look after yourself, and look you did! Well done.”
“I’m getting really grumpy here and I don’t know how long I can stop from skewering you with this stake…”
“Who was the main object of this investigation of yours?” Peggy cut in.
Algernon pointed at Peggy as if it were obvious the reason for the experiment.
A tearing of heavy fabric from the other side of the main tent had Bruce turning to see two nine foot tall Jack-o-lantern golems, fires burning deep in their hollow heads, flickering through their eye sockets. They stared down at Bruce.
“Great, the police are here.” Bruce said as both golems grabbed him and lifted him off the ground. He dropped the goblin who was quickly grabbed by Peggy standing nearby. Without a word or gesture the golem started walking away with the struggling Bruce.
Trying to find a way to stop the giant walking scarecrows, Rain conjured an empty bucket out of thought alone. It appeared in his hand, not where he’d wanted it, on a golem’s head. Swinging the bucket over one arm he ran and jumped trying to climb up the nearest. At nearly twice his height he had no hope of climbing the creature and slid down once more. Bruce still had his crossbow. With effort he swung it around and pushed it up under one of the pumpkin heads. Pulling the trigger, the stake went up through its head and out the top, but it didn’t stop the golem as it continued to carry him away. Having a burst of inspiration, Cecilia grabbed Rain’s imaginary bucket and filled it with water from a nearby fountain. Throwing the water, bucket and all she succeeded in getting most into one of the pumpkin heads putting out its fire. It didn’t stop the golem, but it didn’t like it as it turned his baleful look on her.
Peggy’s scream didn’t seem to touch the golem so she settled for tightening her grip on Morris and followed.
“ Come on Morris, let’s go see where this goes.”
The golem with his fire doused by Cecilia lashed out at her, but she dodged away. Algernon levitated Morris into the air so Peggy was holding onto him like a helium balloon.
“Call off the pumpkins!” Algernon said but never heard an answer as one of the golems fell to the ground. Pulling a thin paracord from his coat like a magician would scarves, Rain had swung the loose end around the legs of the golem still lit by a fire. The golem tripped up and crashed to the ground taking Bruce with him. Rolling away, Bruce was free if not unbruised.
As all eyes were on Bruce and the fallen golem, Morris started climbing down Peggy. No matter how she grabbed at him, the slippery goblin evaded her. Bruce rolled to his feet, his crowbar in hand and brought it two handed down on one of the prone golem’s legs. It smashed to pieces in a shower of dry kindling.
“Okay you, hop it!” He punned showing that old Bruce was inside this more aggressive version.
Cecilia seeing Rain’s success pulled out her whip and was surprised to find it was all liquorice. A liquorice whip! Trusting in the mad rules of the recursion, she swung it out and caught the legs of the dampened golem. It too came crashing down, the sound of cracking pumpkin shell ringing across the cobbles.
“Oh! Smashing pumpkins!” She also quipped, rejoicing in the victory.
Peggy screamed again and this time her focus was true, stunning the golem with the broken leg. It swung out at Bruce who was it’s nearest enemy but Bruce deflected the attack. The other golem rolled across the cobbles and toward Peggy wrestling her to the ground. Touching one of his many tattoos, Algernon cast enchant creature on the golem holding Peggy.
“Release the prisoner!”
Before it could though, Rain grabbed up the ever trust bucket one more time, filled it and dumped its contents over the golem and Peggy. The golem’s flames went out, Peggy’s spat and sizzles , steam rising in plumes around her. The golem let Peggy go, and she screamed again, and again the golem was sent reeling. Bruce, leering over his fallen golem swung down with this crowbar and smashed its pumpkin head clean off.
The last gollum let go of Peggy, stood up and moved away following the instruction of Algernon’s enchantment. Cecilia pinned an arm to its wooden body with a well placed bolt. Algernon tried to do the same bringing up his crossbow, fired and missed. The bolt sailed over the open ground around the Midnight Circus to into the arm of a large werewolf talking with two friends.
“Ah…It wasn’t me, it came from over there…somewhere.” Algernon tried bluffing as he awkwardly hid his crossbow behind him. The werewolves were not convinced and all three strode towards the party.
“Apologise kid.” Bruce whispered hoarsely, not taking his eyes of the remaining golem as it stood passively before him.
Rain saw the werewolves, almost seven foot tall each, all with inch long claws and teeth, Algernon had no hope against such beings. He glanced at the golem and saw the last was well taken care of and stepped out towards the three oncoming bruisers.
“Gentleman, I am so sorry for my little brother. You know how they can be with a new toy, got to shoot at everything. But I can assure you he’d not want to harm a living soul, it just got away from him.” His words said, but throughthem he let the power of the Strange flow to the injured werewolf. For that werewolf, time stopped, all he could do was stand and listen as Rain made his apologies. The other two uninjured friends seemed modified by the words and stood back, waiting to see what their companion would do.
“Do you speak? Why do you attack?” Bruce asked, his crowbar loose and ready in his hand. The golem said nothing, bound by the magic Algernon had imposed on it. Peggy and Cecilia backed away as the enchantment broke and the golem’s empty eye sockets turned to Bruce. Straining it snapped the bolt pining its arm, and swung it at Bruce’s face. He batted the attack away, and ready his final onslaught.
“Bad dog!” Algernon mumbled to himself wondering if he could deal with these three like he had the dogs at Lydia Lance’s home. Realising each one was quite a bit bigger than him, he had to admit to himself that his levitation would not be able to hold them. Returning his crossbow to his back, he contritely walked up behind Rain playing the part of the ‘naughty school boy’.
“I’m real sorry, Mister.” He said just as Rain released the injured werewolf from his enthrall. All three werewolves relaxed and stood by as Bruce dealt a deathblow to the last golem.
“I always like making pumpkin soup.” He punned slinging his crowbar on his back before turning to the werewolves.
“Yeah, sorry about that.” He said to the injured werewolf pulling out his first aid kit, “Can I help treat your wound at all?”
Pleased with Bruce’s generosity and the politeness of the others, he turned to reveal the bolt wound and gestured to the two now broken golems.
“Got yourselves into an altercation? The gollem are set to protect the performers.”
Rain nodded, turning away as Bruce cleaned and bound the wound.
“We didn’t like when the five-headed fellow got handsy with our friend.”
“Ah, so the rumours are true then. You see the signs but you wonder if it’s just for show or you really shouldn’t be left alone with the guy.”
“That’s what Morris said, he was using us to conduct a little experiment.”
“Professor Morris?” The werewolves laughed, “He sure hates it when you call him that. Yeah, he’s an odd one, but he gets by here because he’s friends with Gomez Snake.”
“Ah, I believe we saw that gentleman at the Old Hangman’s Noose tonight.” Rain gestured, miming the snake guy who’d been at the bar.
“Yeah, Morris has been coming and going for years and the only reason he hadn’t been dealt with before is that Gomez owns the Hollows.”
“Powerful friends, I see.”
“We’re new in town,” Bruce said as he tied off the dressing and Rain walked away to talk to Algernon “Do you gentlemen know anything worth doing?”
“Well, the Circus is fine, but you have to pay attention to the signs. Take for example the Carousel of Chance. You can have a fun ride, or something very good could happen. Sometimes bad things happen as well.”
Over to one side Algernon was dolefully picking up bolts that survived the battle.
“I really did my part in that, didn’t I?” He grumbled seeing Rain standing off at a distance. “Real slick.”
“I thought you did a great job talking down that werewolf. And the tattoo, was that a spell? I was impressed.”
“You saved Peggy” Cecilia added overhearing the conversation, “Don’t sell yourself short, you did what we all did, our best.” She stepped up and patted him on the back. “Come on, did you hear, the Carousel of Chance is a bit of fun. You have candy, why don’t you go try it?”
“I certainly want to, could I borrow some more candy?” Peggy said as she strode up to Cecilia. Ceclia obligingly held out her bucket for Peggy who took another two.
Bruce, Rain and Cecilia watched as Algernon and Peggy took a ride for a piece of candy each. It looked fun, but at the end of the ride, it was just a ride and they both stepped off wind blown and breathless.
“Are you staying out?” Bruce asked Rain as Peggy and Algernon both went back for a second ride.
“I don’t play games of chance unless I control it somehow.” Rain replied, watching the other two carefully. “I’ve noticed.” Bruce replied as he too watched the carousel spin.
“I don’t have a good relationship with Lady Luck.”
This time Peggy and Algernon had more than just a ride. As the music ended and the spinning slowed, hands that had been empty at the start of the ride, were now holding cyphers. Peggy studied the small box in her hand and discovered it was a pocket Recursion, a small emergency space in which to hide. Algernon didn’t know what his was,but pocketed it for later investigation.
The riders, having spent their cand,y rejoined the rest of the party and they started walking towards the main tent of the Midnight Circus. Here they met up with the werewolves who had been deep in conversation.
“Say, you guys really know how to handle yourselves. We have a friend you might be able to help.”
“That’s very fortunate, “ Rain quipped cheerily, pleased to find a way of building allies out of these possible enemies. “We’re in the business of helping friends.”
“I’m in.” Peggy agreed and the group followed the werewolves out of the Midnight Circus to a string of shops that lined the road nearby. They stopped outside a small shoe shop, inside they could see an old gentleman polishing up a pair of shoes. The werewolves said nothing,but entered the store where the lead wolf was greeted by name.
“Harry Worgen, nice to see you my friend.” The old man looked up from his work and was introduced to the group
“These people can handle themselves and they’re willing to help. They might be able to get your son back.”
“Yes, my son died a couple of years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Rain said, taking a seat.
“Death for us is another stage of life, his spirit lives but is not at rest. A group of ghouls are seeing to that. I’ve tried talking to the NIghtwatchman about leaving my son alone, but it hasn’t done any good. Now these ghouls have my son’s body and they won’t give him back. “
“This is too dangerous, we shouldn’t get involved.” Algernon said after hearing the old man’s story.
“A parent looking for their lost child…I have to help.” Peggy admitted with a shrug. All thoughts returned to her question to the Five-headed thing.
Rain nodded silently also thinking of family lost, and looked up at Cecilia.
“Well, I’m for it. Bruce?” She replied and turned to Bruce.
Bruce thought for a moment, refreshing after a night of Bruce on the edge.
“I’m worried this is over our heads…”
“If we go ahead then we’ll be fighting undead.” Cecilia mentioned and instantly Bruce’s demeanor changed. He grounded his crossbow slamming it into the shop flooring with a crunch.
“Then it is our righteous duty to destroy them!”