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"Welcome, welcome everybody!" Mayor Whipstaff said into the microphone, stepping up on the stage. "I know we're running late, some minor technical difficulties with the sound system. But let's kick off what I hope to be the first annual Craven Falls Halloween Party with a bang!" The milling crowd gave a half-hearted cheer and applause. Many of them were still confused as to why they came in the first place. "Thank you, thank you. Well, we got a lot lined up for you tonight, folks. Kids, there's an apple-bobbing booth over on the right, with a mega pack of candy as the prize, donated by one of our sponsors, our own Stanford Dentistry. Bet that's just an investment, eh Denny?" The town's resident dentist laughed and shook his head, receiving chuckles and a smattering of applause. "Now, I'll be here all night, but you don't want to listen to me all night. So allow me to turn you over to our first musical guest, a local band called Boris and the Spiders! Give 'em some love, folks!"

The band took the stage to applause and howls. Drums and guitars sang in the night as Whipstaff got off the stage, Spotting Courtney with some technicians.

"I have done as you requested, mistress." he said quietly as he came over. Courtney glanced at him in annoyance.

"Fine, fine. Go...do whatever, okay?" she dismissed, then turned back to the tech crew. "So, the sound levels are okay now?"

"Yes mistress. The broadcast of your will shall go off perfectly." the crew head said dully.

"Good, make sure nothing happens to it from now until showtime." Courtney said, running fingers through her hair. It was just one thing after another; the sound system had shorted out twenty minutes before the party started, some of the refreshments had arrived forty minutes early and had to be kept chilled, the idols had reacted to the dark magic and tried to float away, and one of the speakers had nearly caught on fire. Courtney felt like she was going to tear her hair out running around putting out fires (literally for the speakers).

"Okay, you good? Good. Now go out there and do your jobs, you've got other things to do than bother me!" she declared.

"Yes, mistress." the group around her mumbled, and shuffled off. Courtney sighed in relief, then shook her head and got a cup of punch from the refreshment table. Frowning at the noise of the band and the crowd, she slunk over to a quiet spot to take a breather. Carla slipped out of the shadows, making her spit punch and jump.

"Ack! Stop doing that!" Courtney scolded, rubbing the punch out of her robe.

"Sorry. But I'm finished on my end. How are things on yours?" Carla said.

"Oh, just peachy." Courtney growled. "The idols keep reacting negatively to their placements and the speakers nearly caught on fire. I had to conjure some ice to keep the drinks cold too, and the tech crew keeps bugging me with the stuff that keeps popping up! It's insane!" She rubbed her forehead. "I never knew this party would need so much work, let alone the ritual stuff."

"I know what you mean. I've been shadowwalking all over trying to keep an eye on the party." She cracked her neck and looked down. "The ritual went off, you know. I went back and checked. There's an ungodly daemonic aura everywhere, and the place is a mess, holes blasted in the ceiling everywhere."

"So why hasn't she called us yet?" Ivory said glumly, coming over and sitting down with a can of soda.

"Don't know. She's probably off having some fun before getting down to business. You know how she is." Carla said, her face as expressionless as her voice. Courtney grunted and looked up at the stars.

"So I guess that's it, then. We've won. The only thing left is to spring the ritual here." she said.

"Mmm." Carla nodded, while Ivory sipped her drink noncommittally.

"You know..." Courtney started, then trailed off. Her anger, never far to begin with, began to coil and simmer. I just...mrgh. I don't know. You just ever feel like...maybe this wasn't such a good idea?"

"Hrn. Maybe." Carla said flatly. "But it doesn't matter now. We've made our choice. We'll live like queens. It's too late now. We can't go back. We have to see this through to the end.

"But when is the end, though? The end of tonight? When we conquer the world?" Courtney ground her teeth, crushing the plastic cup in her fist. "Or when we die? Or even then? Because with Stephanie, I'm not sure when the end will come."

A shotgun cut through the noise of the party, even over the wailing over the singer. People started falling to the ground, yelling, screaming, and a stampede was imminent until one voice cut through the confusion.

"Everyone back down! Remain calm! There's no need to panic, we are here to protect you!" Cross shouted through a megaphone. The police with her fanned out through the crowd, guns drawn. "I repeat, do not panic! Everyone stay very still! We have it on good authority that the Craven Falls Killer is among the crowds tonight! We have identified the suspect and are moving in as we speak!" There was more screaming, but the citizens of the town were trying to give the police more berth to search. Courtney's eyes narrowed and she drew her knife, but Carla held her back and shook her head.

"No, the town isn't ours yet. We should escape and regroup." Carla said.

"Screw that!" Courtney snapped, wrenching her arm free. "I don't care anymore! But that cop bitch isn't interfering with anything we do!" She charged ahead, heedless of the consequences.

"Courtney! Damn it!" Carla cursed in her wake.

"W-What now?" Ivory asked, terrified. Carla grit her teeth.

"We stick together. It's the only thing we can do right now. C'mon, let's run some support and and damage control." She grabbed Ivory and with a muttered incantation stepped into the shadows pooled around them.

Cross climbed up on the stage, using the microphone to address the assembled crowd and officers.

"Everyone remain calm. We will shortly be asking you to return to your homes. To prevent a stampede, I must ask that you remain here until my officers can direct you to do so. Thank you for your cooperation." Mayor Whipstaff clamored up to the stage.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he hissed coldly. "I'll have your badge and your head for this!" Cross regarded him, nonplussed.

"Sir, you are currently influenced by an outside agent and are impaired in the performance of your duty. I ask that you please step down and let my men and I handle the situation," she said calmly, while the mayor bristled at every word.

"You pathetic rent-a-cop! You are nothing but a walking pile of trash! The mistresses-"

"Are suspects in several murder cases, along with conspiracy charges. I recognize that you are not in your right mind, so please allow me to do the right thing in your stead." she cut off, face as cold and expressionless as stone.

"I will not stand for this! You and all the rest will belong to the mistresses before the night was over!" His face was turning red as he shouted, frothing at the mouth. "All glory to our overlords! You shall be ground beneath their heels! Your soul set aflame, consigned to be a contemptable slave for eternity! She must not be allowed to remain any longer! Get her!"

The bewitched policemen tried to obey, but the crowd had moved closer and tighter to watch the mayor rant, and they had a difficult time pushing through. "Argh! You fools are useless!" Whipstaff glared at Cross, who had crossed her arms and was glaring right back. "All glory to the mistresses!" He raised his arms and charged clumsily at her.

“Pathetic.” she sneered, easily evading his hands. She raised hers and twisted her hips, driving a right hook into his jaw, lifting him off his feet and sending him tumbling off the stage. “Ouch,” she winced, “didn’t mean to hit that hard. He okay?” The mayor groaned, trying to sit up but being restrained by Pete.

“He’ll be fine, you just rung his bell.” Pete called up amid the applause and cheers from the crowd.

“Good.” Cross growled, spotting a girl in a purple robe rush out of the wings. “I think the next challenger’s here.” She cracked her knuckles.

“You’ll never stop us! Die!” Courtney shrieked, and threw the knife into the floor of the stage. Muttering strange words, she snapped her fingers and the metal snake exploded forth to the gasps of the crowd. Courtney jumped up and landed on the snake’s back. “Ha! You’re a fool if you think you can win against me!”

“You’re an idiot if you think I didn’t learn from last time!” Cross countered, blasting a bullet into the snake’s fang to dent it. “Guys!”

Three officers with rifles and a shotgun opened fire, forcing the snake to abandon the attack to defend its’ creator. Courtney howled in frustration and blasted curses at the cops, but Cross pulled her off the snake and slammed her into the stage. The snake wheeled around to face her, but Cross had her gun to the girl’s temple. The snake hissed.

“Uh-uh.” Cross warned. “Little girl, call off your monster. Your magic words aren’t’ faster than my trigger finger.”

“Screw that!” Courtney spat. “You’re a cop, you can’t just shoot me.” Cross yanked and twisted her arm as hard as she could, making Courtney scream. The metal snake rattles its’ metal scales, agitated.

“You seem to be under the misconception that I care.” Cross said, glowering at her. “You are literally planning an apocalyptic genocide. We are beyond the law now. You will either call the thing off or I decorate the stage with your brains. It may attack me after that, it may not. I’m betting it’ll drop when you do though. So. You have five seconds. What’s it gonna be?”

Courtney tried to return her glare, but it felt like her shoulder would be pulled out. She swore loudly, out of options. “Fine. Astosh.” she spat out, and the metal snake shuddered and collapsed into the knife again. The crowd applauded.

“Hey!”

“No-!”

“What the!?” Cross turned to see Carla flipping in and out of the shadows, yanking the guns out of her men’s hands. Ivory nervously approached the stage, lightning sword in hand and trembling.

“I believe these are yours, Detective.” Carla said, shifting out onto the stage and placing the guns on the ground. “Cstnith, cstnith eshumbrades.” A hand made out of night came out of Cross’s own shadow and pulled her gun arm away, holding it down in a grip like a vice. “Release her or the next one strangles you.” Cross’s eyes narrowed to slits, but she complied.

“Finally!” Courtney cried as she scrambled to her feet. She rounded on Cross, burning with hate. You…aargh!” Losing the capacity for words, Courtney slapped her face as hard as she could. Detective Cross reached a finger to her tingling cheek, and smirked.

“That’s all you got, you punk kid?”

“Rrrrrgh!” Courtney seethed.

“Calm down. We have the upper hand now.” Carla ordered. “All we have to do is wait for Stephanie and Brxthilas. Ivory, try her cell.”

“Who made you the boss!?” Courtney snapped.

“Our boss did, in case you don’t remember.” Carla replied coolly. “When she’s not around, I am to be in charge and carry out her will.”

“Hrmph. You’re no Bess.” Courtney grumbled, but Cross smiled on the inside. She saw an angle of attack.

“Yes, Courtney. Obey your superior. It’s what you girls are only good for, isn’t it? I just bet you thought you’d be on top. But it turns out that Stephanie girl will always be higher on the food chain than you.” she said smugly.

“What!?” Courtney snarled, rounding on her.

“Courtney! No!” Carla’s eyes went wide, realizing what Cross was up to. She started forward, but Cross’s grin only got wider.

“Best get used to it. You’ll be her little bitch lapdog forever.”

“YOU!” Courtney exploded, unconsciously drawing magical energy in. Her eyes flashed white and flames poured off her body, igniting the band’s instruments and rolling across the stage. Carla’s concentration was shattered, and Cross dove off, getting only minor burns. “YOU WILL PAY!” Courtney started screeching syllables in a foul tongue.

The ritual had been designed to react to magical energy. The coven had intended to activate it with the sheer magical force of the daemon, and thus gain an army of slaves. To this end, they had placed idols in the corners of the town square. The idols were of the turtle, tiger, bird, and dragon, the four gods of Asian Mysticism. Normally their powers were invoked for divination and purification. But Stephanie had redesigned the ritual, placing them in the ordinal directions instead of the cardinal, twisting and corrupting the forces to brainwash a large population. The idols had reacted to the design before, without any power. Now Courtney was outputting as much as she could, and had nowhere near the daemons’ strength to direct the ritual.

“N-No way!” Pete cried out. A twisting dragon, flaming bird, gigantic tiger and a large turtle made of stone burst forth into the air above the crowd, writhing and screaming.

The circle on the ground lit up, and the whole crowd fell to their knees in unison, screaming and clutching their heads, all staring at the same point into nothing. Carla grabbed Ivory and Courtney and sank into a shadow.

Cross grabbed her head. It felt like a crown of drills was trying to pierce directly into her brain. She moaned, but somehow was still able to move for now. She took aim at the creatures with her Glock, her vision blurring. With a prayer on her lips, she fired. The shot hit the dragon’s head and exploded into plaster. The pressure on her head lessened, she rolled over and her hand brushed the shotgun. She picked it up and started blasting away, breaking the others into pieces, showering the crowd below.

Once the creatures were gone and the pain faded away, she dropped the now-empty gun and breathed a sigh of relief until she noticed the whole crowd was staring at her dumbly, a soft aura illuminating every citizen. Cross groaned and pulled out her cellphone, hitting Scott’s number.

“Yo, Detective. What’s up?”

“The girls got away, but I think the ritual went off prematurely. There were these…creatures in the air, I busted em’ up good. But now everyone’s staring at me stupidly and glowing. What now?” She said, drained. The adrenaline was fading, and right now all she wanted to do was crawl into bed.

“Hmm…sounds like it only started, but the ritual collapsed. Can’t be sure, but it sounds like the failure only managed to put the town in a suggestive trance. Tell ‘em anything right now and they’d probably believe it. How’d you manage stay on your feet?” he asked.

“Don’t know. Don’t care. I’ll meet up with you in a bit. Think I know what to do.” she said, and hung up. She cracked her neck and stretched, wincing at the pain. She picked up the megaphone, then climbed up onto the smoldering stage.

“Alright everybody, thank you for remaining calm during our little accident! We hope you enjoyed our live special effects show! Please feel free to enjoy the rest of the party until you go home in a couple hours! My men, to me please! Thank you and goodnight!”

Given an order, the glow faded and the people got to their feet, dazed.

“Maggie-what the hell? What was that lightshow? It looked so real…” Tommy said, but Cross just shoved the megaphone in his arms.

“The ritual went off, but I managed to use it to make people forget about it. Now come on. We’re not done yet.”

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High up in the sky, Hastazemus felt his stomach rumble and a new burst of power. The thir heart had been digested. He licked his lips in anticipation, but frowned. Magical energies flared and whorled around on the surface below him, but he couldn’t get a lock on them.

It was a strange sensation. Before, he could only sense things roughly a hundred feet away from him. But now the ritual was complete, his strength and senses had been buzzing and expanding, wider and wider. It was exhilarating, he could feel out for miles. However, he was having trouble adjusting; all these new sensory inputs were so confusing, it took a good portion of his attention to keep everything in order and make sense.

“My lord.” An emaciated, skull-faced daemon clutching a walking stick hobbled on the clouds over to him. I sense foul tidings. The human numbers below have not been decreasing, yet the daemons have. I feel great magics at work, and not of our origin.”

“Hmmm.” Hastazemus closed his eyes and concentrated. He tried to focus on the town, but his senses were working on reaching out. He could no more sense the details of the town than look up his own nose. Such control would come in time, but even his limited ability could see something was wrong down below. His eyes and wings snapped open, demolishing his throne.

“My lord?” the daemon asked.

“It is hard to tell. I must rely on my physical senses. I shall go and identify the issue, then...resolve it.” He said smiling, mouth full of fangs and growing more every minute.

“Yes, my lord.” The daemon bowed as Hastazemus flapped his mighty wings and descended on the town, burning as hot as a meteor.

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“Gaaaaahhhhh!” Courtney howled, hands curled into claws and trying to tear the sky apart. “Why!? Why did you drag me out of there!? I had her!” she snarled at Carla, crouched on the curb. Carla looked down the hill at the town square, seeing the glow fade after the idols were turned to dust. She shook her head.

“No you didn’t. We failed.”

“What!?” Courtney screeched. Carla gave her the evil eye.

“You guys know what happened. Thanks to you being goaded by that cop, the mind control spell activated, and failed immediately without the daemon. We have to reconvene with Stephanie, see what’s to be done now.” Ivory finished throwing up in the bushes.

“So…will we still have to fight?” she said, teetering over on unstable feet.

“Dunno. Maybe.” Carla grunted.

“You’re damn right we do!” Courtney said, jabbing a finger at her. “Forget about the control stuff! We have powers far beyond mortal men! I say we go down there and start blasting until they surrender the town to us!” Carla sighed and put her head in her palm.

“I don’t have the time to explain all the ways why that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” She said wearily.

“Up yours!” Ivory patted their shoulders.

“Uh, guys…?” They turned and looked at what she was staring at.

“Uuugh.

“Auugh.”

“Uuuuhh.” Zombies, a dozen, a score, a multitude of them crawled and shambled across the yards and streets, all heading to a singular direction.

“Zombies!?” Carla exclaimed.

They must be more of that guy’s work!” Courtney shouted, remembering how tough just the one was. Ivory shuddered and trembled, teeth chattering. “He must be up to something! Let’s get ‘em!” Carla slowly turned her head towards her, disbelief and exasperation clear on her face.

“Are you for real?” she said. Thump. Thump. Far out, nearly half a mile away but still very visible cresting over the houses and trees, the zombie giant tromped onward, Scott laughing maniacally on the shoulder.

“Holy crap.” Courtney said breathlessly. “Wow. He really went all out. Carla, Ivory, I know we can take him, but-huh?” She and Carla turned to see Ivory gone, blazing down the street as fast as her feet could take her. Carla sighed again and sank into the darkness, muttering incantations.

“H-Hey!” Courtney squawked indignantly. “Ivory?” she called at the retreating back, disappearing around the corner. “C-Carla?” She glanced around, then back at the zombies. She sighed. “All right, then.” She opened her hands and mouth to summon up a couple fireballs. Carla, rolling her eyes, popped up and dragged her into the shadow. “Eeep!”

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“There!”

“Got ‘im!” Evangeline landed on the hapless spider daemon, making it collapse to the ground. “Heads up!” She grabbed its’ legs and swung it like a hammer throw. Leo took its’ head off, then chopped the legs into pieces. The body parts melted into foul-smelling goo as the two collapsed to the street, panting heavily but smiling.

“How many was that altogether? Thirty?” Eva asked.

“Twenty-seven.” Leo said, leaning on the sword. He regarded her in the cold moonlight under the red sky, his perfect barbarian princess. “You’re beautiful.” he said.

“Heeheheheh.” she giggled, brushing hair out of her eyes and looking down. “You’re too much, you know that?”

“Maybe.” He used the sword to get up and held out a hand to her. “But I fear I may not be enough. I’ve recovered, we should get moving if you’re good too.” She accepted his hand and they started forward again.

“So, tell me.” Eva said as they jogged. “This whole…sword thing. What happens next?”

“What do you mean?” Leo said.

“Well, after the daemons. If we beat ‘em, do you give it back or what?” she said. Leo stared at the sword, a charm on the bracelet at the moment. He considered, recalling Lagdinras and his message.

“I…don’t think so.” he said after a minute. “You heard what Scott said, he made it out like it was a big deal. And…I get the impression that even if we make it through this, there’ll be more to it. I…dunno. Just a feeling I have.” He shrugged as he turned the corner. Eva rolled her eyes and followed.

“Maybe, but you couldn’t-” She bumped into his back. He was stock-still, tense. “Leo?” She looked past him to see a ten-foot daemon, with four wings and eyes each, black-skinned, covered in spikes and sprouting more as they watched, sneering imperiously at them. Power radiated off him, making the hairs on the back of her neck stick up. She shivered. There could be no doubt.

“Hastazemus.” Leo said quietly.

“I see my reputation precedes me.” he said, grinning. Leo pushed his cell phone in Eva’s hand and gave her a gentle smile.

“Eva, call him. Tell him we found him, first. And stay back, I don’t want you in on this one.”

“Oh? You refuse help? Not wise, boy.” the daemon said. Leo turned back to him.

“L-Leo? Eva whimpered. This one wasn’t like the others.

“Stay back, no matter what. It’s too late to run, he’s seen us. I’ll do what I can.” He whipped his arm out and the sword flashed. “Are you ready, daemon?

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A note from Dreadwizard Siegfried

Cross has averted the ritual. Now let's all hope they survive.


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Dreadwizard Siegfried

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