By now, the sky had lightened to grey, but the sun had yet to truly rise up and burn away the early morning mist that crawled and winded through the trees. Birds chirped, but the sound was dull to Scott as he lifelessly tromped through the forest, feet moving on their own, with no set destination. Occasionally, he stumbled into a tree, but paid it no mind. He had other things to think about.
He had no idea how long it had been since he ran away. All he had wanted to do was get out, get out and think, but even that was taken from him. For the last few hours, all he could see was the hurt in Amber's tearful eyes as she resolved to stay by him, help him however she could. And what had he done? How had he repaid her? By lashing out at her. By running away from his problems like a coward.
By breaking his promise.
He had run mindlessly in the dark; however, completely unknown to him, his feet had somehow carried him to the vast woods behind Amity Memorial Cemetery, deeper than he’d ever gone before.
"Heh." he barked humorlessly. "Of course. Back to where it all started." It seemed for all his desire to escape, it was a necromancer's fate to return to the graveyard. He could still remember the first night he'd snuck out, heart hammering and arms trembling with the strain of effort and both excitement and apprehension of what he was about to do; was it really possible to raise the dead? Academically, he knew the answer from previous trials on bugs and small rodents. But it was an entirely different matter when skulking about in the night, glancing for any sign of detection, digging in the hard earth for his unearthly prize. With the sigils drawn, the incantation recited, to see what had been dead move again...it was intoxicating. The feeling, the rush of defying the supreme natural order. All the possibilities now open to him. For Scott Havenbrook, the planets had aligned that night. The stars were right. Armed with the knowledge and might of the Elder Gods, it was his time to rise.
“And now look at me.” he muttered, hot tears streaking down his face. The only one in the world with the knowledge and ability, and he found himself lost and helpless. The early morning chill helped ease the heat on his face, but could do nothing about the burning in his chest. He stumbled and fell face-first into the dirt. “Heh. Heh heh, heh heh heh.” He chuckled mirthlessly. He considered just lying there. Just give up and stop moving until he died of thirst or exposure. Silent and unmoving, like a dead thing himself. “I wonder if this’s what it’s like for a corpse.” he considered.
Yet, no matter how corpselike he might have been, his heart still beat, a constant tightness reminding him of his failure. No, more than that. His betrayal. He had promised never to use the chain, never force her to do anything. And when the first real problem came along and she’d ticked him off, what had he done? But no, that wasn’t right either. He hadn’t felt truly angry when she said she was coming with him; he was scared. Frightened out of his wits. And, deep within his heart, he knew exactly why. Scott groaned. He doubted the dead had such worries.
He reached out a hand, half dragging, half pulling himself up into a sitting position. There was a patch of grass with fewer trees around it, so Scott crawled over and sat down with his back against a tree. Evidently, this disturbed a feeding hawk, making it take flight. He looked over to see a dead crow, entrails on the ground, already gathering ants. The heart had been removed and half eaten. Scott shuddered.
“Seems like no matter how much I wanna, I can’t get away.” he said to himself, sighing. “Damn it.” If only he could come up with a plan! This was ridiculous. He thumped his head against the tree, mulling over the last few hours. Amber, the coven, Stephanie, the daemons, the ritual, the crow, eating hearts. He didn’t know how long he just sat there, ruminating on his problem. The hawk…the daemon…Amber’s heart being eaten…
It clicked. Suddenly, it all clicked. His eyes shot wide open. Hurriedly, he took out the Necronomicon and flipped through the pages, frantically searching to see if one of the spells he vaguely remembered glancing at was actually there. The plan, forming as it was, relied on it as the key to victory. Just where…there. He devoured the page, and there the spell was, written in blood. The perfect spell for what he needed to do. His face lit up. He grinned, then began laughing. He had a plan. It was half-formed, half-baked, and all mad, but it was a plan. It could work. It would work. He had a plan, and he could use necromancy. The world was his for the taking. He threw back his head and laughed madly, laughing at his plan, laughing at the witches, at the world, and at the slimy tentacle gods that were surely laughing back at him.
Gasping for breath, he looked around at the woods, at the dead crow, grinned, and got up. Dusting himself off, he barely noticed the blood and dirt as he pulled out his chalk and ripped out the rest of the bird’s innards.
“Don’t need that, fly faster without it.” he muttered as he drew sigils around a circle in the dirt. Whether they were holy or unholy, it was not for a mere mortal to decide. He placed the bird in it, and began to chant. “Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha. Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha. Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha. Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha.” He clapped his hands, there was an emerald flash, and slowly, the crow sat up, flapping its’ wings. “Good. A crow. How appropriate. Now Mr. Crow, I need you to fly overhead. Help me find the fastest route out of the woods. But your job’s not done there.” He checked his phone, and cursed. “It’s already time to meet Cross. I’m gonna need you to fly around and look for her. Let me know when you spot her, okay?” The crow cawed, and he grinned. “Perfect. Take flight!” He threw the avian corpse into the air, where it spread its’ wings and after a rocky start rose above the treeline. Scott grinned widely and started running back. He jogged through the woods following the crows’ path, but noticed a flash of movement out of the former of his eye. Slowing down, he could only stare in amazement.
“Well. Now I know the gods are laughing at me.”
Detective Cross huffed impatiently and tapped her foot against the tire, anxiously checking her watch. It was almost eight thirty and Scott still hadn't shown up, despite the fact he usually left for school half an hour ago. She ground her teeth and frowned; could she have been wrong, and the witches had attacked during the night? She looked up and saw with no small relief that Amber was floating over to the car.
"Finally. I've been waiting too long already. Where's the kid? Doing some last-minute packing?" Cross paused when she saw Amber's face. "What's wrong?"
"It's Scott." she answered sorrowfully. "He-he's gone." She gulped, trying to hold it together.
"Gone? What do you mean, gone!?" Cross barked.
"Last night...when we got home, he started to go crazy. I think all the pressure was getting to him and he cracked. He jumped out the window and ran off. I haven’t seen him since then." Amber said, hugging herself.
"Ran off!? Now!? Cripes, this's a nightmare! Rrrg." She had to take a moment to rub her temples. She had gotten more sleep last night than she had lately, but it still hadn't amounted to much. It was entirely too early to be dealing with the antics of teenagers. "Great. That's just freaking great. He was the ace in the hole. Great. Why didn't you follow him? Not to be a pain, but he's necessary for anything we can come up with."
"I tried! Really, I did!" But," She tugged on the chain. "He said not to follow him, and no matter how much I wanted to leave, I couldn't. I think the only reason I got out now to meet you is because I didn’t intend to search for him." she said. Cross considered for a moment, her eyes closed.
"Hmm. Well, that doesn't leave us a lot of options. Great." She sighed, angrily. "I guess two will have to do then. C'mon, get in. We'll get out of here and come up with something we can do on the way." She bit her lip. This was big; she would do what she could to stop the ritual, but Cross honestly didn't see herself making it through this one. "If that's what it takes, that's what it takes." she muttered, eyes burning.
"What?" Amber asked.
"Nothing." Cross said, starting the car. "Let's go."
They drove in silence for a few minutes, both of them considering their bleak prospects. The air in the car was oppressive and depressing. Amber wondered how many would join her on the other side before it was over.
"So." Cross said, finally breaking the silence. "Let's review what we know. We have five girls, with magic powers, trying to summon a demon tomorrow night. They're going to host a party that they'll use to brainwash the whole town. They've already got the mayor and the police force, and we're the only two who know about any of this. And you're dead, so no one can see you."
"Yeah. Sorry about that."
"Which means even if I try to call in backup from the Nahumville precinct, they won't believe me. Hell, I wouldn't believe me. I barely believe it now, and I'm living it." She moaned. "So it's us against the town. Fantastic." Off in the distance, there was some indistinct shouting, too far for them to make out.
"Maybe we can do something during the ritual to disrupt it. Like, I don't know, drive a bulldozer through it." Amber put forth.
"And just where would we get a bulldozer?" Cross asked wryly. "Besides, it's much easier to set fire to something. I'm wary of doing that, though; they plan to do it at a party for the whole town, and I don't want to put people in danger if I can help it." She straightened up and stared straight ahead. "What I'm thinking is trying to take 'em out before the ritual starts. Assassination."
"Really?" Amber said, taken aback. In her wildest dreams, she'd never considered planning an assassination attempt against her closest friends.
"Yup. And I'll need your help to do it. My hand's being forced here. There's no option for due process with what the girls are doing, not in the time frame we have. We have to catch each one of them unawares. I hope we'll be able to. I'll gladly take any punishment later. If it comes to an actual fight, I'm not sure about my chances, so I've got to take them out as quickly and quietly as possible. Listen to me." Her knuckles went white on the wheel. "If-if for whatever reason this fails, there's no way this ritual can be allowed to go off. You can move small objects. If worst comes to worst, get some lighter fluid. Start an electrical fire. Put rat poison in the refreshments, make sure they eat it." Amber's eyes went wide.
"I know, I know." Cross quickly cut her off. "I know. But if this danger is as real as the kid said, then one town is nothing compared to what's coming. I need you to do whatever it takes to ensure the girls' plan doesn't happen, understand?"
"Promise me." Cross stared at her, hard. Swallowing, with great reluctance, Amber nodded.
"I promise. I'll do what I can." She cocked her head. "Hey, do you hear-"
"Aaaaagghhhh!" Cross and Amber screamed as a black bird slammed itself onto the windshield, squawking indignantly. Cross hit the brakes.
"What the hell!?" Cross screeched. A moment later, a hand smacked the driver's window too. There, sweaty and out of breath, was the exhausted teenage necromancer. "Kid!?"
"You...car...running..." he gasped, about to keel over. His heart was hammering so hard he thought it would explode. He staggered over to the curb and collapsed to a knee. "Water?" he croaked. Cross parked at the curb and offered her water bottle. He greedily drank it down, then took a moment to catch his breath.
"Hah...sorry 'bout that. Having the crow, ahh, get your attention, was the best thing I could think of while I was trying to catch up to your car." he managed at last.
"I'd say it worked. Kid, what happened? Where were you?" Cross asked. While she was talking, Amber slowly drifted out of the car and stood on the sidewalk. Scott's eyes locked on her, then looked down.
"Uh, yeah. I'm, I'm really sorry about that. I, uh, needed to...get away for a bit. I think I thought of something, though. Should be fun." He glanced form Cross to the ghost girl. "Um, Detective? Could you, uh..." Cross looked at the two of them, rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Right. Try to make it quick." She went back into the car. He turned back to Amber with trepidation.
"Right. Uh, well. Um." he started nervously. She was staring at him blankly. Why was she staring at him blankly? It was messing up everything he was going to say. “Okay, look. I will admit to being an ass. I-I was a coward, and taking it out on you was the wrong thing to do. I can’t apologize enough, and especially for…breaking my promise never to force you to do anything.”
“Why?” she said simply. Scott cringed.
“I was under pressure, I was really tired and low on sleep, everyone keeps expecting me to come up with something…but that’s not the truth, not really.” She stared at him, and he sighed. “That stuff didn’t help, but they’re just excuses. The reason I ran is…I was scared. Not of the coven, well not just them. I was scared of letting you down, again. I promised to bring you back, and all this crap happened, and…I don’t know, I panicked. I try, I really try to be the guy who always knows what to do and can deal with anything, and…I couldn’t be him when we needed it most. I made you a promise, and having you with me…I couldn’t face you. You just reminded me constantly that I’m a failure. I’m trying my best, but…I’m scared it’s not good enough. We’re all probably gonna die. I’m sorry.”
“Scott…” She walked up to him, her face scrunched up and unreadable. He flinched, and turned away. She smacked him upside the head.
“You are stupid and an idiot!” He suddenly found himself wrapped up in a hug, spectral tears evaporating on his shoulder. “Don’t you know how worried I was? Don’t do that again!”
“Moron! Don’t just run off like that again! How many times do I have to say it before it penetrates that thick skull of yours?” She squeezed harder.
“Huh? I…huh? You’re not mad about the chain commanding thing?” he asked. She rolled her eyes.
“Of course not! Okay, I’m not exactly thrilled about it, but that’s beside the point! You just ran off. The state you were in, anything could’ve happened, and I couldn’t have helped you. We have actual enemies out there, and I wouldn’t have known what happened, and I was worried about you, dummy.”
“Huh? Why? I ran away from everything.” He said, confused. She shook her head.
“Because you’re my friend, you idiot.” Amber said, softly smiling. Scott was gobsmacked.
“F-Friend? Really? You wanna be my friend? But…why? I’m kinda not the best sort of person. I know I can be condescending, and prickly, and I don’t really care about most other people, and I can’t do anything else besides necromancy, and, well… I’m a creepy, moldy necromancer who goes out at night to rob graves. You…really care about me?” he asked quietly, his voice cracking.
“Yeah. I do. The people who I thought were my friends teamed up and killed me. You may not be perfect, and panicked and ran away, but you came back to try and make things right.” she said resolutely. “Even if you’re a creepy, moldy, graverobbing necromancer, you’re still a better person than the people I know. Which, ahh, kinda doesn’t say much about who I’m friends with.” she laughed.
“Amber, I…” His chest was hurting again. But this time, it was a good feeling. He gave up on words and hugged her. “Thank you.”
“Any time.” she said, smiling. A jogger went past them, giving him a funny look.
“What? You find something weird here?” the necromancer snapped. Cross honked the horn.
“C’mon, time’s wasting here!” she called out. Scott climbed into the passenger seat, Amber hovering between them. “So kid, what now?”
“I’m glad you asked.” he said, grinning. “First, we go to your place so I can claim your bed. I’d love to get started right away, but I’m badly in need of sleep. My time in the forest was fruitful, I thought up a plan. I’ll need some stuff, get it while I catch up on my z’s. Oh, and call those guys from Nahumville, we’ll need some minion-I mean, extra helpers.” he corrected. She glared at him. “Never fear, I will reveal my five-step plan after I’m rested. I also obtained a secret weapon. Ladies,” he gave them a wide, predatory, mad grin, his eyes glowing a toxic emerald green. “It’s time to show those fools just what a necromancer can really do.”
"Morning." Clayton said as he lumbered his way down to the tale, pouring himself a bowl of cereal.
"Morning, Clay. Do you know where Scott is? I called him and he's still not down." Rebecca Havenbrook asked. He shrugged.
"I saw a note on the geek's door, said he had to get to school early to work on some dumb project."
"Don't call your brother a geek." she scolded mildly. "Hmm. School? This early? That doesn't sound like him."
"Sound like who?" Michael Havenbrook said, stepping into the room and turning on the radio. He headed directly for the coffee pot.
"Scott. He didn't come down yet and Clayton said there's a note on his door saying he went to school already."
"Huh. Weird." his father said, pouring a cup. Rebecca frowned.
"Dear. This is your son. Show a little worry."
"What? He's got something he has to do, we should let him take care of it." he said.
"And what if something happened? What if he's in trouble and ran off somewhere?" she countered.
"Personally, I think he took off early to meet his little girlfriend before class. “Clay snickered. Both his parents fell silent and turned to stare at him, openmouthed.
"Scott. Our Scott..."
"...has a girlfriend?" Clayton laughed.
"Yeah! I overheard him the other day on the phone. Oh, he tried to deny it, but the dweeb's been holing himself up in his room and disappearing a lot more over the last few days." His parents looked at each other, mulling over this new information.
"Huh. A girlfriend. I wonder why he didn't say anything?" his mother asked.
"Beat's me." his father said, shrugging. "I had money on him being gay."
"So, if it's alright with you guys," Clay said, heading off the argument before it could begin. "I'm gonna head to Phil's place for a Halloween party tomorrow night. Okay?" Rebecca frowned.
"I don't know, honey. They still haven’t caught that maniac out there..." she said.
"Aw, c'mon. I can take care of myself. Besides, what else am I gonna do? Go to that stupid town-wide party thing? Lame." Clay said, scowling.
"Look, I'd rather you stay home if that's the case. They cancelled trick or treating. I know it's lame, we're not going either-" Michael was cut off by an announcement on the radio, prepared by the girls.
"-and that's right folks! The first annual Craven Falls Halloween Party, and everyone's invited! Bring your friends. Bring the kids, bring grandma, heck, bring her grandma out, all are welcome! We got hayrides, apple bobbing, local bands, free food, a bonfire, we got the works. Remember folks, come on out tomorrow night. Party starts at seven, but you're wanna going to get there early!" the announcer said excitedly.
"-but we'll be leaving for the party at six, and it'll mean a lot to us if you can be there. You don't have to hang out with us, but I'd feel a lot better if you were there. Huh?" Michael blinked after a moment of disorientation, then nodded to himself. "Yeah."
"Yeah, okay I guess." Clay shrugged. "I think I heard Phil talking about going to that instead, so whatever. Whoa, getting late. I gotta get moving. See you!" He threw his dishes in the sink and headed out the door, shaking a feeling that was similar to deja-vu.