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This page last viewed: 2017-08-15 and has been viewed 958 times
by Joy Riddle
It wasn't fair . . . one of his favorite holidays, and he was stuck in the VA and had to go to bed early, to boot. Worse, he was alone.
Hannibal and Face had taken off to some sort of fan thing -- Thriller, Chiller Theatre, something like that -- because the Aquamaniac was supposed to appear. After signing autographs and having pictures taken, Hannibal was taking off to Bad Rock and some quality time with Maggie Sullivan, while Face was sure he could pick up any number of bikini-clad Scream Queens and was staying to talk over future appearances by Hannibal . . . B.A. was off to visit his mother. Wouldn't do to get her mad, and she wanted her Scooter to be with her this year for some reason.
He hadn't been able to go because a new doctor was running all sorts of psychological tests on him -- shoot, going to see B.A.'s mom would have been better! -- and so Hallowe'en this year had been relegated to some candy, a popcorn ball, and a caramel apple . . . oh, and an old Boris Karloff movie, Bride of Frankenstein.
Murdock felt like pressing his nose against the window and making faces, at least, but he knew that might get him thrown into a straitjacket, and that he didn't need. So he watched the movie with Mikey and some of the other guys, then shuffled off to bed like a good little Do-Bee when the patients were told to go.
But he didn't WANT to be a good little Do-Bee, he wanted out! Out into the crisp autumn night, to run in the brightly colored fallen leaves, just have some fun. California didn't have too much of the leaves, but he could make do if he could just get out somehow.
Unfortunately, all the exits were blocked by orderlies -- and getting caught and stuck in his room was as bad as if he'd gone willingly to bed. He didn't have to go to sleep, but he did have to stay in his room. He wasn't sure just why it was so important nobody got out tonight or even got to greet any of the trick-or-treaters that staff members might bring by, but this year -- Hallowe'en just wasn't much fun.
He opened his room door, went in, then leaned against the door with his head hung down and his hands in his pockets. Just wasn't fair . . . he always liked Hallowe'en best since he could wear odd outfits and still fit in. Once in a while he wished he was a little more normal, but then he wouldn't be true to himself. After all, he was the only Howling Mad Murdock there was -- no one else was qualified for the job!
"What's th' matter, Sport -- someone steal yer candy?"
Murdock's head shot up and he looked into familiar blue eyes behind grey-tinted glasses -- Harry St.Cloud, dressed in his grey suit and hat, a blue shirt with red stripes, and a tie that was just a riot of color as if it had been splattered by a mad painter, stood in front of him. His hair wasn't very long, though -- at first Murdock thought he had it back in a ponytail, but this time it was actually cut at about shoulder length and shaped, at that.
"That's a bit of a new look for you, isn't it?" he grinned as he pulled a little tuft of hair forward so Harry knew what he meant.
"Got too long t' be handled easily, so it went. F'r a while, anyway. 'Sides, m' hair grows real fast." The street performer glanced around the room. "I thought you'd have this place all decorated up -- no bats, no cobwebs, nothin'. What's up with that?"
Murdock kicked his toe on the floor. "Dunno. For some reason, we aren't really getting to celebrate Hallowe'en this year." His disappointment showed clearly on his face.
"Doubt it has anythin' t' do with ol' Shreck -- he's layin' low. Now would be th' perfect time f'r him to be out and about, but people would be expectin' it, too."
The pilot shuddered; the one time he'd met Shreck -- or whatever the man's real name was -- he'd almost had his heart cut out. "I don't wanna think about Shreck."
Harry shrugged, then gave a crooked grin. "Who said ya had to? This place is worse'n a tomb -- let's blow this pop stand an' go out an' have some fun, what say?"
"You mean it?"
"Sure. Make a dummy in th' bed, an' we'll split. Don't wanna use any real magic right now; f'r some reason, it usually twists on me at this time o' year an' works TOO well -- we don't want two Murdocks runnin' around gettin' inta trouble, now do we?"
Murdock stuffed some clothes in his bed, rearranged the pillow, put an extra hat -- a cowboy hat, in this case, as if he were celebrating in his own way -- where his head would be, and turned to Harry expectantly. Then he turned back around and grabbed his flight jacket and blue cap; if they were going to be outside for any length of time, he might need them.
"Lookin' good. Take m' hand -- " Harry usually didn't like being touched, but he had never seemed to mind if Murdock did, " -- an' we're off!"
The room dissolved and Murdock could feel the cool breeze hit him even before he could see where they had landed . . .
They were outside, in a woodsy area, but Murdock wasn't quite sure where it was. Harry walked a short way ahead and Murdock followed. At a clearing, Harry gave a sharp whistle and was rewarded by a distant-sounding howl.
Murdock glanced over at Harry, who leaned against a tree and found a pack of cigarettes in his jacket pocket, tapped one out, put it to his lips and lit it with a flame from a forefinger. "What do we do now?"
"Just wait a minute or two," Harry blew out a cloud of smoke that curled in whimsical shapes and smelled like peppermint. "This shouldn't take too long, an' then we c'n have some fun."
Furry dark arms suddenly grabbed Murdock from behind and wrestled him over to a stump where the creature made him sit down. "Hey! What's goin' on?" The pilot had been too surprised to fight back and now regretted it.
"Relax, it'll be over before ya know it." Harry blew out another cloud of smoke, which smelled like burning leaves, and nodded his head at someone coming towards them.
Murdock caught his breath; it was a beautiful redhead wearing a close-cut dark velvet dress. She glanced at Harry, who nodded, a crooked grin on his face. "Give 'em th' works," he said cheerfully. "Murdock's special."
The woman drew closer, and Murdock realized she had fangs. "Harry, I thought we were friends!"
"Oh, we are, 'Dock; I have a reason f'r this, believe me."
Murdock shut his eyes as the woman went for his throat, pressing her lips warmly on one side, then the other, leaving bright red lipstick smears on both sides. Suddenly impish, she pulled up his shirt and blew a loud raspberry on his tummy. He yelped in surprise. "That tickles!"
"It's supposed to, silly," the vampiress giggled. "Now you're marked as mine, and no one else will bother you while you go exploring."
The costumed werewolf let Murdock go, barked at him, "Arf! Arfarfarf!" and began to gallop away.
"Thanks, Ysengrim -- you did good."
Ysengrim gave a long howl, which Harry echoed, and faded from view, presumably to wait for a new victim.
"Okay, Burgundy, now what do we do?"
"You can thank me later, or your cute friend can," the lady cooed, tickling Murdock under the chin. Then she too disappeared into the woods. "Go have fun!"
"You set me up," Murdock grumbled. "That was all play-acting. You actually had me worried for a while -- I thought I was gonna be werewolf food or vampire nibbles!"
"Yeah, that was your trick -- let's go find a treat." Harry stubbed his cigarette out into the palm of his right hand, closed his fingers, then opened them to reveal nothing there. "But if one o' th' girls hadn't marked you, you'd be dodgin' them all night. Our ladies of the night tend to freak th' mundanes, an' if someone really reacts, that's even more fun."
"What is this place?"
"Bit of a new concept; part RenFaire, part haunted house. Instead o' baudy wenches, we got vampire females to mark certain people so they don't get a lot o' unwanted attention. You c'n give Burgundy her fee before we go, after she's got that lipstick wiped off."
"Uh . . . what's her fee?" Murdock wasn't sure he had any money on him, come to think of it; he hadn't expected to need any, all things considered. He searched his pockets and came up empty. "Ooops . . . didn't get my allowance yet, sorry."
Harry snorted. "Not money, 'Dock. A nice, long kiss. Doesn't have t' be open-mouthed or anything, just a friendly kiss. Big fee, huh? O' course, if she kisses back good enough, you might find yerself with a girlfriend . . . "
That didn't seem to be such a bad thing, and with that fear allayed, Murdock followed Harry out onto the grounds proper. There was a big midway there, more like a carnival than a haunted house, with games, a few rides, and several concession stands. The pilot's mouth watered at the thought of all that food and him with not even a penny to his name . . .
"Relax. Even if you had money, it wouldn't be good here." St. Cloud pulled a wallet out of his hip pocket and opened it to reveal several large bills. "I've been workin' th' marks here, scarin' a few, doin' some magic -- an' I get paid f'r it. Thought th' best way t' celebrate was t' bring a friend out here who'd appreciate it all -- don't think th' other guys would care f'r this all that much."
Harry pulled a couple of bills out and handed them to Murdock. "Here. Get some grub, souvenirs, whatever. Wander around, have some fun. I'll be around if you need me f'r more money -- or t' go back to th' VA, whatever. Oh, yeah . . . " He jerked his head at the ticket booth. "We need t' go over here f'r a minute, first."
Murdock watched as Harry sweet-talked the girl at the booth -- not a vampiress, she sported a witch's costume that showed a lot more than a traditional hag would -- as smoothly as Face ever had. Another talent he hadn't known the busker possessed; he filed that away in his growing mental folder of things about Harry St. Cloud. He gestured Murdock over and introduced him to Phoebe, who then stamped the back of his hand with some sort of animal that he quickly found glowed under ultraviolet light.
"That gets ya inta th' house, or the hayride, whatever, as many times as ya like. An all night ticket -- just don't wash it off or you'll have to pay yer way in. Th' midway an' th' outside area is free; you just have t' pay t' be scared."
"You already accomplished the scaring part," Murdock muttered, still unhappy about being scammed.
"Hey, Face woulda fainted! You're made o' sterner stuff. See ya in a bit -- I gotta go change inta m' costume an' work th' crowds . . . " With that, Harry strolled off, leaving Murdock to his own designs.
What to eat first . . . that was the biggest decision of all. Murdock knew he'd go into the haunted house and on the hay ride, but . . . he hadn't eaten any of the VA's goodies, and here were things to be tried he'd never heard of before.
He quickly learned that an 'armadillo egg' wasn't any sort of egg at all, but a cheese-stuffed, breaded and quickly fried jalapeno pepper. Good, but a bit hotter than he'd thought it'd be -- he fanned at his mouth and decided to get something to drink and find something else to munch on.
Murdock ordered a cherry limeade since there was no ice cream to be had -- although there were snowcones --and watched some of the visitors go into the swamp before entering into the haunted house. There was a path through the boggy area so people wouldn't get wet unless (he found out later) one of the spitting rubber alligators caught them unaware and sprayed them with water. A sudden roar made him glance up and see that what he'd thought was a big hump of dirt with an old tree growing on it was actually a skeletal dragon -- the tree turned out to be the neck and head, which usually stayed low, the hump of dirt was the body, and ragged wings jutted out on either side of the body, partially obscured by the weeds and plants that grew in the marshy area.
The zombie dragon spat out flame, making some of the girls shriek and grab their boyfriends, who didn't mind that at all . . . "Neat!"
"That's Nefarious," a voice commented beside him. Murdock glanced over to see a pale face with darkened skin around the eyes, black lipstick, and bright blue eyes. He frowned and tried to figure out who this was, when the apparition winked and the eyes seemed to glow brightly for a second. "He's new. An animatronic effect. These guys also hire out to do special effects for movies."
"Harry . . . ?" Murdock still wasn't sure; he'd never seen the busker without his grey-tinted wireframes.
"Yup. Got it in one, sport. Quite a new look, eh?"
The pilot had to nod at that one; Harry was wearing a ragged-edged dark cape over a costume of red, purple, and black motley, as well as a jester's coxcomb hat which matched the cape. "What are you supposed to be, exactly?"
"Undead jester . . . like I said, some people I scare, sometimes I do a little magic -- sleight-of-hand, close stuff, nothing any normal person couldn't do with training -- sometimes I juggle . . . whatever I feel like." He nodded towards the house. "Gone through, yet? Or waiting for Burgundy to escort you through? If you have one of the players take you through, you don't usually get scared, though. Then again, you might not want to . . . "
"No, I want to, but I wanted to sorta look around first. Are you sure you meant to give me this much?" Murdock wasn't used to having a great deal of money on him anymore; the VA gave the patients a small allowance so they could buy treats, or comics, once in a great while, but nothing like what Harry had handed him.
Harry waved a hand, refusing to take any of the cash back. "You may need it; some things here are expensive. 'Sides, where I come from, we tend to barter rather than use money of any sort."
"Where do you come from?"
The blue eyes changed slightly, turning silvery; Harry's glasses usually hid them from too much scrutiny. "Not from around here," he said evasively, as he had commented more than once before. "Not from any place you know."
Murdock sighed; Harry would never admit to whether he was from another planet, another dimension, or just what. "Okay . . . but one of these days, you'll slip and actually tell me."
"If I think it's time, yeah, I'll tell you. I'm a bad liar, but I don't have to tell the whole truth or even answer . . . "
"You have some weird rules," Murdock decided. "You're definitely not from around here."
"That much, I'll agree to. Well, gotta go, 'Dock -- there are people to scare, kids to entertain, marks to be fleeced," he winked once more and disappeared into the darkness by the concession stands, if that were possible. That was the reason for the dark cape -- it hid the bright colors until Harry decided to flash that garish outfit. He was wearing dark tights and black boots, so when he flipped the cape into place, nothing particularly showed except his painted white face.
Murdock decided Harry must be a bit of a practical joker; his sense of humor was definitely a little odd. Not that Harry would hurt anyone, but he might pick a pocket or remove a watch or ring and then hand it all back. Since Harry was a Healer, he probably couldn't stand pain he'd caused accidently, and being telepathic he'd be able to tell who he could scare -- not badly -- who needed some entertainment, all of that. No wonder he was working here! It was a perfect place to blend in more with the "culture" that had been created and to watch people . . .
The pilot was a people watcher; he knew how much fun it could be to pick someone out and then follow them around, learning about them. Harry apparently did the same thing, but he had an added advantage.
Finishing his cherry limeade, he dumped the cup into the trash and headed for the haunted mansion. He had to have his hand checked, and the blacklight shown onto it revealed the fact the stamp had been inked with something that glowed under the special lamp. Then the gates opened to the voodoo bayou and he entered into something else again . . .
The weeds were high, some of them over his head, and the path, though clearly marked, was muddy. Anything could be hiding in there . . . but nothing much was, other than various scenes that he could study as closely as he wanted to. There was one thing moving, however; what appeared to be a little old lady cackled and rocked on the porch of her shack; Murdock studied her for a bit, deciding from the movements that it was another animatronic figure like the dragon, and then moved on.
One scene he didn't care for much; demons were around a bound figure, knife upraised for the final slash down -- Mudock shuddered. Much too close to what had almost happened to him with Shreck. That particular scene he didn't study or linger at, and the next one was someone being roasted on a spit, which he didn't like much better -- and then he found out the alligator he thought was just for looks spat water all over his hightop tennis shoes.
"Now I know why there's mud all over the pathways," he grumbled, sloshing his way closer to the house and the dragon. Squishy shoes and soggy socks weren't nice things to have on when it was getting a bit nippy as the night wore on. "Shoulda had a warning -- caution! Alligator may spit! Somethin' like that . . . "
An ear-splitting roar sounded just ahead of him, and he jerked his head up to see Nefarious, the zombie dragon, raising its head and screaming a challenge to whoever would dare to approach it. There was a short path to the dragon, but there was also a chain across the path, as if to say, "If you're smart, you'll run before he decides you look good enough to eat!"
Murdock watched the beast spout flame high into the air, not at the people passing by, and grinned admiringly. Boy, what that could do to some of the patients at the VA! They wouldn't sleep for days . . . and it had wings. If it were real, then, it could fly . . . He briefly imagined himself riding a dragon, but it wasn't a skeletal thing, it had whirling eyes and warm skin and -- he shook himself out of that, quick. Didn't need to go hallucinating and get himself thrown out! It'd get Harry into trouble, too.
There was another zombie thing caged up ahead, near to the entrance to the mansion; it might have been a werewolf or just something hairy and nasty with long fangs and longer nails . . . but it didn't move. The creature standing to one side of it, though, was someone in a ragged peasant outfit that followed him to the entrance. He glanced back at it a bit nervously, simply because it was expected more than he was frightened by the man. Probably a security measure to make sure no one tampered with the different scenes in the swamp. As if they'd want to mess with the things . . .
Up ahead a ghoul in a greent tattered velvet dress motioned him closer -- uh-oh. Stuck between a lady and a zombie whatever-he-was-supposed-to-be. She looked at his neck and murmured, "So you're the one Burgundy claimed tonight! I don't blame her . . . " Murdock had almost forgotten that he'd been marked with red lipstick; that might be why none of the ghosts and such had tried to scare him.
He might be startled, but he probably wouldn't be scared. There wasn't anything real here to hurt people; it was all in fun. The ghoul gestured him up and through the doorway, and he was in the haunted house.
It was pretty dark, and he had to feel the wall just to find his way forward until a light showed in his eyes. A recorded speech came on, daring him to come further and become a victim or go back through a side door and chicken out.
Murdock went on and a passageway was revealed . . . it was a ballroom, and a crumbling bride and groom whirled about in an eternal dance . . . more strange things showed up as he worked his way further into the house; Audrey 2 or its cousin, a punk werewolf band -- "Anachronism!" snorted Murdock, although he did like the fact the wolves wore leather jackets -- and of course, some of the supposed dummies were actually costumed people who would follow him for a short distance. None of them tried to jump at him and scare him, although at the end, after he'd gone through two floors and was down in what should have been the basement, the pig-headed creature with a chainsaw did manage to worry him a bit. It wouldn't back off and he didn't see any way past it for a few minutes.
"I take it you're Burgundy's boyfriend?" Murdock finally asked. "Hey, it wasn't MY idea for her to go for my throat!"
The pig shook its head and pointed to the left, where Murdock had been unable to go until the boar moved out of the way.
"Thanks!" He scampered out the door and into the souvenir shop located at the end of the boardwalk. There were a couple of video games, a couple of pinball machines, and he thought of his room at the VA, but didn't stop to play. Murdock saw all sorts of masks and costume pieces, jewelry with a Hallowe'en theme, special effects such as wounds and axes through the head, but didn't care to buy any of it. He was searching for something different.
There had to be something special out there . . . maybe on the midway?
Murdock waved at the lady behind the counter and exited. Outside was a fence and a path back towards the midway; the fence kept people from walking down and into the stream or moat below the house. In the moat was a Loch Ness sort of monster; it didn't move, either, but it was nicely sculpted.
His shoes and socks were slowly drying a bit, but they were still not the nicest things to have on his feet . . . but no one was selling shoes that he could find. Murdock slowly toured through all the booths and shops, not finding anything he particularly wanted to buy. He hoped to find Harry and get something else to eat, something solid rather than junk food, which wasn't filling him up.
At the end of the midway was a shop a little distance away from all the other buildings, and a little more dimly lit; Murdock decided that would be a good place to snoop. Inside were all sorts of perfumes, soaps, make-up -- and a small box full of charms and spells. At least, that was what it claimed, and the pilot hunted through the various baubles and scrolls before finding . . . well, he wasn't quite certain what it was.
It seemed to be a pewter casting of a dragon of some sort, and embedded in the chest with the claws pushed over to hold it was some sort of stone. There wasn't another one quite like it in the box, although there were a few other charms with crystals and other polished rocks. Murdock wasn't certain whether the dark greenish stone with the red flecks was a bloodstone or what, but it was interesting, and for some reason, he thought Harry needed to see it.
He replaced the box on the shelf and took his find up to the man who ran the place; he had dark hair and eyes, and was pale enough naturally that he wasn't wearing make-up like Harry was (and Harry wasn't a real dark complectioned guy in the first place). Something about him struck Murdock as a bit too creepy, so he was glad to make his purchase and leave.
Walking back up to the brighter area, he looked back and almost couldn't see the shop he'd just left. Strange way to try and make a living, all that stuff and then out in the dark where it was hard to find . . . maybe when it was earlier it was easier to see the place.
He looked about for Harry and walked over to the corn dog stand. Within a few minutes of thinking hard about his friend, Harry suddenly seemed to materialize out of the dark and walked over to him, a big grin on his face.
"Been havin' fun, 'Dock?" He glanced down at Murdock's feet. "Uh-oh. You found Wally, or he found you."
"Wally?" Murdock didn't quite believe what he was hearing.
"Yeah, Wally Gator. He's rigged to spit when you cross an electric eye beam. No reason to waste water when there's no victim nearby." Harry stretched, flashing the motley beneath his cape, and then yawned. "I think it's about time t' get somethin' t' eat. I could go f'r some nachos."
Murdock was surprised by the choice, but Harry seemed to like the melted cheese, triangular corn chips, and jalapeno pepper slices. He chose a chili cheese dog, and saw Harry wrinkle his nose a bit at the stuff he put on it -- onions and pickle relish -- but he didn't care. On second thought, the street performer might not be into meat . . .
After getting soft drinks, they found a table and ate together in companionly silence. Undead things weren't supposed to eat regular food, so maybe Harry was just staying out of sight until after he was finished; no reason to break the illusion until absolutely necessary.
"What're you up for now, 'Dock?" Bright blue eyes flashed at him from the darkened eye sockets. "Knowing you, twenty questions . . . you're too curious f'r your own good."
Murdock shook his head. "Not exactly askin' you questions, but seein' if you know what this is." He pulled the dragon charm from his pocket and handed it to Harry who frowned.
"Where'd you pick this up?" He pulled off his glove and closed his hand over it as if he could read something off of it that way.
Murdock pointed in the direction of the darkened lane. "Down there. There's this place full of all sorts of stuff, most of it soap an' candles, but there's this little box down on a low shelf that has some charms an' spells in it. Or so it says. The spells must be in the little parchment rolls in one corner of the box, 'cause I don't know what else those could be."
Harry slowly raised his head from the charm he still clasped. "There are no shops down there. At least, there wasn't yesterday."
A chill ran down Murdock's spine as if Wally Gator had managed to spit on his back as well as his shoes. "The guy in there wasn't wearing any make-up, wasn't trying to fit into the whole pattern of undead things, but he was pale enough without it. His hair goes down a little past his collar, and it's blue-black. I couldn't really see the color of his eyes, but they were dark, too."
"Looks like I may have to do a little investigatin'." Harry dropped the charm back into Murdock's palm and stood up. For a second, it looked like the busker's blue eyes strobed brightly, then went back to normal. The pilot knew that probably wasn't a good sign. "Stay here until I get back, 'Dock. I may be wrong, but . . . well, then I c'n apologize."
Harry strode off, not looking right nor left, down the darkened path.
Murdock looked at the charm closely; he could still feel a little warmth from Harry's having held it so long. He didn't see anything except a two-legged dragon holding a stone, wings outspread. Sutdying it further, he almost dropped it as the stone began to glow.
Shuddering, he wrapped the charm in a napkin and stuck it in his pocket. Harry wouldn't have given it back if it would hurt him, but it obviously wasn't something meant for most people to handle. Magic! And Harry was going to face the man alone?
Not if he could help it. Murdock scrambled up from his seat, almost upsetting a passing ghoul, and ran down the road, looking for his friend.
When he got to where the shop had been, it wasn't there. He couldn't've been mistaken, could he? No, he had proof -- the charm he bought. Slapping his pocket, he could feel the napkin with something hard inside it; good. He didn't think he was close to snapping into a delusion yet, but sometimes they did sneak up on him. Then he looked up and found himself in a clearing he didn't recognize -- how did he get there?
Murdock glanced wildly around; it seemed like it was even darker than it should be, and he couldn't see the midway or the row of shops. He snapped into soldier mode in self-preservation; if something hinky was going down, it'd be better to be stone cold sane than to let his imagination wander.
Keeping close to the edge of the clearing, slinking through the bushes as silently as possible, he scanned the area for possible enemies. No weapons, just his fists -- not a real good feeling there, although he could hold his own if he kept focussed -- against who-knew-what.
He didn't see Harry, either. Nothing but this clearing, as if it had been set up for some special purpose . . . no light but the moon, full and orange, above . . . no traps as far as he'd been able to ascertain . . . but he still felt a tingle of apprehension, despite not being able to figure anything out.
He crouched behind a bush for cover, trying to sort things out. It had to be magic -- had to be! And although Harry mostly hid it, he was more magical than any charm, and knew things most people never imagined existed. But he didn't see Harry, didn't even know if he was around --
Hands suddenly clamped onto his shoulders and before he could react, Murdock could feel some strange energy surging through his body. It was almost as if he were being electrocuted -- he couldn't move! -- and his entire body shook from the force raging through him. It was difficult to breathe -- couldn't get his breath -- panting -- brain feeling like it was burning -- blackness.
Murdock abruptly went limp and his attacker let him slump to the ground. His breath came in soft gasps that were steadily growing weaker. As if satisfied his victim would not recover, the assailant stalked off, searching for something else . . .
A short distance away, Harry's head came up as if he scented something. "Spit," he commented softly to himself. "I told 'Dock to stay behind." Somehow, the pilot had managed to walk the portal and was trapped here in the dueling area; the man Harry was seeking must have found Murdock --
Searing pain flashed through Harry's mind, and he knew Murdock had not only been found, but attacked. Using the telepathic link between them, the busker teleported.
Murdock lay sprawled on the ground, and it didn't look good. Harry threw up a force shield around the wounded man and himself, then made the contents of the shield invisible to whoever was hunting him -- he'd obviously intended Murdock as bait -- and knelt down to examine his friend.
He straightened the twisted limbs and turned Murdock on his back, then placed his right hand over the pilot's faltering heart. "Gods! He MEANT to kill him!" Burnt synapses in the brain, fused nerves, failing respiratory system, and a heart that grew weaker with each beat -- too much to repair, he'd kill Murdock if he tried . . .
Harry beat his fists on his thighs in frustration. Then he cocked his head and lightning thoughts raced through his mind. He couldn't Heal Murdock while the pilot was alive, but --
It was risky, but Murdock's only chance. Since it was Hallowe'en and his powers were always stronger now, he might be able to pull it off. One way to try and make doubly sure, though, was for him to shift into another form, one that could Heal even better than he could in a human shape.
Rapidly, Harry forced the change -- two-legged horse-man, rippling into an anthropormophic Unicorn -- and again placed his right hand over Murdock's heart. It was laboring, slowing . . . the beating stopped.
A silvery cloud escaped Murdock's parted lips. Sighting his objective, Harry made a snatch with his left hoof-hand, which consisted of two thick fingers and a thumb, and captured a glowing spark in the middled of the cloud. He closed his fingers around it, letting it rest in the white-furred palm, and touched his spiraling, curved horn to Murdock's forehead.
He'd had to practice on dead and near-dead comrades once upon a lifetime ago, it seemed, and some damages could be undone on the newly dead and sometimes -- if the Healer was lucky -- the person brought back. In this case, he had the essence of what was Murdock firmly cradled in his left hand -- he felt the pulse as if the spark was content to be there, as it wasn't trying to escape -- while his horn and right hand sped Healing through the silent body.
The brain Healed first, which was necessary to start the heart beating again, as well as restarting the lungs, and the other damage was quickly undone after that. Thanking the Supernals that he had accidently learned he could shapeshift, he checked for any other harm. Everything seemed back to normal -- if not alive -- and he knew if he managed the rest, Murdock would be a bit achy, but better to know he was alive and in minor pain rather than not try and leave a shattered husk behind.
Taking a deep breath, the UnicornMage brought his left hand down to the pilot's chest, fingers downward, and slowly released the spark. It was firmly cupped between the hoof-hand and the still heart; it had no place to go but to retreat to the body it belonged in. It resisted slightly, and Harry pushed down, forcing it back into the shell where it belonged.
Murdock's body jerked as if galvanized, and Harry nodded. Better than he'd hoped for; only a little more help from him and life would be completely restored to his friend. Using his hands like a defibrulator, he shocked the pilot's chest, making the heart resume its normal rhythmn. He breathed a sigh of relief as Murdock's lungs began to respond, filling with air on their own, the heart settling down and the body taking over its involuntary functions of breathing, keeping the pulse normal, the brain coming online, as it were, and resuming its patterns.
Abruptly Murdock coughed, then gasped for air, flailing as if in a nightmare. Harry quickly changed back to the form Murdock knew best; it would be better not to let him have too many surprises this quickly after such a major undertaking. He was pretty sure Murdock wouldn't remember much more than being attacked, and he was right.
He captured the waving hands and spoke softly to his friend, "Shhh, 'Dock, it's all right -- I'm here. Do you remember what happened?"
Brown eyes snapped open and Murdock stared sightlessly for a second before he blinked and relaxed. "Thought I was a goner -- dunno what that guy did, but it was effective. And it hurt! You've never done anything like that, have you?"
Harry bowed his head. "Yes, I have . . . and I'm not proud of it. It's the opposite of Healing, more disruptive, and the Mage who did it to you may have hoped to use your death to augment his powers. I know he did it to use you as bait . . . and that worked, it drew me out. From now on, though, it's going to go by the rules and not his whim."
"I don't understand . . . "
"No time to explain -- I'll do that later, if I survive. At any rate, I'll make sure you get back home safely." Harry pulled off the jester's hood he'd been wearing and wiped off his make-up with it. An odd unfurling gesture later, he was dressed in a blue tunic that had stars, planets, and comets decorating it; the dark tights and boots remained the same.
Murdock propped himself up on his elbows, wincing as he felt muscles stretching that had been abused. He wasn't sure what that -- Mage? -- had done to him, but he was definitely hurting. But better to hurt and know he was alive than not hurt and be . . . dead . . . ? He shook his head to banish the thought, and watched Harry remove the shield.
A short distance away stood the man from the shop; he was dressed similarly to Harry, but the designs were like dragons of different sorts. "So," he said with a sneer, "you're a Healer." He wasn't speaking English, but Murdock could understand him, probably because he was still a little in telepathic link with Harry.
Harry's eyes went hooded and silver; he replied in a more musical tongue than the attacker used, as if he were an aristocrat and the other a commoner somehow raised to Mage status. "Healers have their uses. Do you seek to challenge me? You tried to kill my friend; I can, by right, challenge you as well."
"He has no magic! He doesn't deserve to be around those with power!" The other man practically snarled; Murdock winced and felt his skin crawl. He'd met others like this, who liked to hurt and kill because they found it enjoyable.
"He is my friend and under my protection. By attacking him, you've attacked me, as well. Name yourself," Harry commanded. **Don't worry, 'Dock, I won't let him get at you again. I think he's mostly bluster and believes I can only Heal by touch.**
The pilot gulped and pulled himself into more of a sitting position. *I . . . I'm not worried about that, Harry, I'm worried for you!*
**Don't worry about me; I can more than take this young upstart. I'm much more than what he thinks I am.**
The dark-haired man pulled himself up to his full height -- which was possibly six foot, but probably shorter -- and seemed to swell with pride. "Sean StormCalled."
"A Shifter," snorted Harry. "One of the new wild talents born after the last MageWar, I'd wager. You're not old enough to have fought in that."
"Neither are you," StormCalled shot back, stung at the nonchalant reaction. "And I can control the weather, as well."
"Do you think you can scare me? I was forged in the last War; I know magic you could never hope to learn. As for how young I look -- my appearance hasn't changed in the last twenty years." Harry crossed his arms and just stared at the younger Mage. He never raised his voice, only spoke in the level tones of an adult facing down a precocious youngster who was getting far too full of his own self-importance.
"You wear your hair no longer than I do -- our powers are evenly matched."
"Perhaps, except I cut my hair to fit in with the world I currently live in. It was much longer."
"I challenge you to a duel!" Stormcalled hissed, his nerves fraying.
"You don't even know my name. You don't know who I am, what my powers might be. I will tell you this; you cannot win a duel against me. Back down, go home, leave me and my friend alone."
Harry nodded, as if he'd thought as much. "Is this to the death, then, or will you admit defeat and leave once the duel is over? Whatever your answer, you will leave Murdock -- my friend there -- out of it and he will get back to where he belongs. Agreed?"
"I make no such promise!"
"Back down, go home. It is no disgrace to admit defeat without any magic being shown." Harry paused, then added, "I am Herald CloudMage; you are no match for me."
"Herald CloudMage? He's a legend -- he vanished after the last War! You can't be him!" StormCalled fell back a step just the same.
Harry smiled and shook his head. "I've become a legend? I return to MageWorld now and again, but there's nothing to hold me there unless Wyvern decides to start another War. You are one of his followers, are you not? A Shapeshifter . . . I was the first. I not only Heal and control weather, StormCalled, but I also Shift. I command earth, air, water and fire -- all the elements power my spells. I can walk Time and Space, dance along leylines and never tire. What can you do?"
In answer, there was a sudden wind and the Mage calling himself Sean StormCalled changed shape into a tiger-like creature, black as night, with faint stripes showing on the pelt. He roared in defiance.
Herald CloudMage clapped his hands. "Very well done. But that animal exists. I become those that do not."
"Prove it," growled the tiger-thing, stalking around the Mage, who didn't bother to follow the motions, let the other one be at his back. The black cat crouched, readying itself to spring, as the other suddenly turned, Shifting as he did so.
The UnicornMage faced down the black tiger that was Sean StormCalled, raised one hoof-hand skyward, and clouds gathered to cover the moon. The slanted blue eyes strobed, flashing with each beat of the heart, and the tiger cringed back, suddenly afraid.
"You've been touched by the Supernals! No Mage, Master or not, can do such things!" StormCalled snarled, but there was fear in the voice. "Who ARE you?"
"Herald CloudMage. At least, that's the name I was given by Master Blaise, after I was found on the battlefield, memory gone and body nearly burnt black from a magical blast that hit me while I was on divergent leylines," Harry stated softly, his eyes on some distant point. "My true name is long gone; my original powers altered to some never seen or used before on MageWorld. Whether I was touched by a Supernal or not, that was done before I woke up to this life."
Murdock listened in rapt fascination; this was better than a movie! Too bad he didn't have some popcorn . . . he was learning a lot more about Harry than he'd ever thought he would.
StormCalled hissed, raised a claw as if to attack the UnicornMage, then thought better of it. He slunk sideways, still trying to get behind the Healer, but Harry turned and followed his every motion. As he turned, blue energy began to gather in a ball around the horn, crackling as the power built.
Suddenly the cat charged towards Murdock, who gaped for a moment before throwing himself to the ground and curling into a ball, hands behind his head, so the feline couldn't disembowel him or clamp its teeth on his neck and break his spine. At least, he hoped StormCalled wouldn't be able to do much damage to him before Harry came to help.
A sudden roar just in front of Murdock brought his head up for a second before he tucked it down again; a second, larger cat-thing was standing there, but this one was white with light yellow stripes. The white cat's tail lashed as it snarled at the smaller dark one, daring it to come any closer. Murdock managed to see a little bit as he slowly relaxed and uncurled; he'd done it without thinking and now his body was beginning to hurt. He couldn't stay in a fetal position even if he'd wanted to.
StormCalled snarled back, but slunk just out of reach of the white tiger. He seemed to be gaging whether he could still get past it to Murdock, who was slowly creeping further into the undergrowth in an attempt to get out of sight. If he moved too fast, the cat might try to reach him; on the other hand, he was too sore to move really quickly, and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
The larger feline lowered its head as if taunting the smaller cat to charge, but it was too smart for that. It seemed StormCalled only had the one shape, or he would have changed to another by now. Harry had at least three others that Murdock knew of; two-legged horse-man, UnicornMage, and a very large, four-footed Unicorn. Now he'd shown he could also be a tiger -- and he could pass for human, as well.
Squawling its rage and fear, the dark cat suddenly turned and ran; as it did, the pale tiger again changed shape back into Harry, who raised his hands to the clouds he'd called on earlier and pulled down the rain. Lightning flashed, chasing the defeated Mage back through the portal to his own world. Murdock shivered as the cold water began sprinkling him, glad just to be alive.
Harry flipped his tunic off and offered it to Murdock, who gladly put it on; underneath the tunic, Harry had had on a long sleeved shirt. He snapped his fingers and the motley once again graced his slender form, the make-up had been reapplied, and --
"Your hair! It's grown!" Murdock's eyes were wide. "How'd that happen?"
Shrugging, Harry just pulled back the long mane and shaped it into a ponytail before tucking it into his costume. "It just does. When a Mage does magic, the hair grows. If I'd kept it, as long as it was getting lately, I'd've been trippin' over it every time I tried t' walk. You ready t' get back t' the fairgrounds?"
"What if that other Mage comes back?" Murdock glanced around the glade as if StormCalled might return at any minute and try to get them again.
"I doubt he can. He was defeated before he started, but he wouldn't admit it. Besides, he had to use a scroll spell to get here if I'm not mistaken. I doubt he had more than one to get to the haunted house, one to get here, and one to go back to MageWorld." Harry gave a wicked grin. "I also trapped him in that tiger form for a while; he can't change back to human form yet!"
The light rain stopped as Harry and Murdock walked back, and the moon came out from behind the clouds. In a few minutes, the two friends were back at the midway; there was no sign that a booth had ever been there. Murdock frowned and slapped a pocket, finding the napkin and the dragon charm. The stone no longer glowed; it just looked like a piece of bloodstone.
"That's Wyvern, there," Harry tapped the charm. "StormCalled came looking for me; Wyvern must've been testing him. I can't afford to do any major magic with him still around, or he'll figure out I'm still alive. Luckily, I haven't had to, and when I first met you . . . well, I was in no shape to be destroying imps then, let alone trying to send demons back to where they came from . . . "
"You could've taken that kid, though -- couldn't you?"
"StormCalled?" Harry snorted, reminding Murdock of a horse. "He thought he was better than he actually is. Yeah, he could've taken a Healer and defeated him, maybe killed him; but I'm not just a Healer. I was trained in every branch of magic Blaise could think of; some I could handle and some I couldn't, but I can do far more than most MasterMages can, just the same. Maybe the Shifter was right; maybe the Supernals did touch me . . . "
"Supernals? He mentioned them -- what are they?" Murdock pressed for just a little more information.
"Supernals are . . . like the Greeks' idea of gods, or the Romans', as far as I can figure out. The Supernals are worshipped, but they don't seem to have the time to really look after their followers. At any rate, Wyvern was a Supernal, but he went rogue, tried to take over the world. He gathered an army of deluded Mages, taught them Necromancy, turned a few into WarMages -- their spells are powered by suffering and death, and eventually a WarMage goes insane -- and launched an attack on what he thought were unsuspecting people."
"They weren't expecting the attack?" War Murdock understood only too well; he just wished he didn't have such a personal acquaintance with it.
"Oh, they were, but they didn't expect the full savagery Wyvern rained on them . . . eventually, though, the War was won by Blaise and his students; Wyvern lost the ability to remain corporeal and is only on a metaphysical plane right now. That doesn't mean he's dead, just inconvenienced. He can still influence weak minds and take them over if he wants."
"Like Sean, there?" Murdock nodded; he could see how a weaker Mage could be taken over by something as powerful as a Greek god. "But the Greeks thought their gods were fallible, made mistakes, fell in love -- they were just like humans in a lot of ways."
"Uhm . . . yeah, like the Shifter. And the Supernals are a lot like the Greek myths, even if they don't think they are. They can make mistakes, they can turn their backs on the ones that worship them, but they seem to think they're perfect and don't have to handle their rogues."
"You do that, don't you? You track the ones from your world to here and send them back before they can hurt too many people. And whatever mystical things that are natural to this world, you tackle even if you don't know how to defeat them." Murdock grinned and slipped the hood of the tunic off and glanced around the midway. "I'm right, aren't I?"
Harry chuckled and made a slight face. "Yeah, you're too smart for me . . . but that's also because we had to be telepathically linked for a while there when I was facing down the Mageling. I can't lie when I'm in telepathic conversation -- not that I usually do, anyway -- so you know I was telling that kid the truth. Too bad he'll probably be punished by his master when he gets back, possibly severely; I doubt Wyvern will really believe he was faced down by a Mage that's been killed more than once."
"Who killed you the first time?"
"Wyvern, of course -- he tried to corrupt me and couldn't, so he swallowed me." Harry shrugged as if it was common to be swallowed by two-legged dragons. "He thought I was dead. I panicked, I Shifted, and a Unicorn tore its way out of the dragon's throat, destroying him physically in the process. But like I said, he's still around, just not able to manifest in the flesh."
"Harry . . . are you a Supernal?" Murdock wasn't really sure he wanted the answer.
"I don't think so, 'Dock. I've seen one or two besides Wyvern, but I . . . I care too much about others. I can't stand by and let people get hurt or killed by supernatural things, creatures from MageWorld that manage to get through the occasional portals . . . " Harry sighed and shook his head. "Besides, if I were a Supernal, I'd be stuck on some cloud, being bored and just watching the people below. I'd much rather have fun and be with the few friends I've got.
"Which reminds me -- you still haven't gone on the hayride or into the sideshow for the kids!"
The rest of Hallowe'en night was spent in fun pursuits, eating treats, and just being silly. At midnight, there was a fireworks display, and Murdock enjoyed that more than he'd thought he would, as fireworks generally made him think he was back in Vietnam.
All too soon, Harry teleported them back to the VA; Murdock was still a little sore, but he had souvenirs, a full stomach, and for a Hallowe'en that almost wasn't, it had turned out pretty well.
"Wait'll I tell the guys about this -- they'll never believe me!" He crowed, dumping his prizes on his bed and turning back to Harry. He pulled off the tunic and tried to give it back, but Harry just shook his head.
"Keep it, 'Dock -- I've got more. And you're right -- your friends will never believe you. Bye, now . . . " Harry twiddled his fingers at Murdock and slowly faded from sight.
The pilot sat down on his bed and nodded. Harry was right; they wouldn't believe a word of it. He sighed and started clearing his souvenirs off the bed -- and the dummy he'd made -- so he could lie down and go to sleep. Murdock left the cowboy hat on the pillow until last. It stuck on something beneath it, and he yanked the hat off whatever it was.
He froze as he saw a knife stuck in his pillow, holding down a note. With trembling fingers, he pulled the knife out and picked up the piece of paper.
It read simply, "Sorry I missed you."
The note was signed, "Shreck."
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