Cross-Dimensional Tricks and Treats
The sweet aromas of sugar and butter flavor the air. High white ceilings and an almost inconveniently spacious hotel suite, tastefully decorated with modern furnishings in shades of black, white, and beige, make pointedly obvious the clashing neon and ultraviolet colors often used in the Halloween decorations currently placed throughout the room.
"Hurry—the party is starting soon," Zilpha croons. She flits around the fully stocked kitchen in a huge black wig and gravity-defying low-cut, slitted black dress that're instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever come across a late-night horror film.
The scents of baked goods clings to Zilpha's turkeylike feathers, an aroma that's only gotten more delicious over the course of her various attempts at the many recipes she finds online. Balanced in her hands is a huge platter overflowing with cat, ghost, pumpkin, and spider-shaped cookies, each individually wrapped in gossamer-thin plastic bags with spiderweb prints, and tied with bright orange ribbon.
The burning crystal eyes of a skeleton hanging from a hook on the wall light up when Zilpha passes from the kitchen to the living room. The skeleton's mouth drops open; its entire bony body trembles and it emits a gleeful chuckle.
"Do try not to get too excited, Grand Mother," Quill warns, not wanting Zilpha to wear herself out before they even have a chance to attend the party Zilpha's been so busily preparing for over the course of the last month.
Quill follows Zilpha out of the kitchen with a sloshing jug of of punch in one hand and a crystal pumpkin punch bowl nestled under her other arm, her presence triggering the skeleton's elated jig for a second time.
Quill's flawlessly angelic wings are a stark contrast to her tattered black and no-longer-white bloodspattered cheerleader's uniform. The vibrant faux blood clings to her body and costume in splashing patterns so realistic that both crime scene investigators and zombie makeup artists alike would take note, particularly of the almost fleshy-looking stuff that's formed a chunky crust on her daggerlike heels.
"Let me help," Fallon offers immediately upon opening the french doors connecting her and So-Rin's suite to Zilpha and Quill's. The redhead's unmistakable hair is almost invisible beneath the broad lavender rim of her witch's hat, her usual airy sundress traded for a dark as midnight lace-up minidress with a ruffly skirt and silky waist cape.
The silver moon charm on Fallon's choker necklace tinkles with her every swift step over the plush white carpeting in her faux-suede shoes. She places her handcrafted straw broom atop a high-modern style coffee table in the middle of the room, and turns to Quill.
"Careful not to break it," Quill says. Just as she is about to transfer the crystal pumpkin over to Fallon's capable velvet-gloved hands...
All three females look up and toward the open french doors, each with a very different expression on their faces.
Standing awkwardly in the doorway with a pair of olive pants draped in his arms is So-Rin. His usually braided forelocks hang loose on either side of his face after exchanging his usual furs for an oversized secondhand suit that makes him look like a vintage Frankenstein's monster... who also somehow managed to get his hands on a pair of bright blue fish-print boxers.
With a look of concern on his face that would melt any mother's heart, So-Rin asks, "Can you help me with the buttons?"
"Sure," Fallon nods, the cardinal red spider lily bouncing energetically on the band around her hat. "You'll need to take off your boots first."
"Hurry now, we don't want to be late." Zilpha smiles as Fallon and So-Rin return to their cozy modern rustic-styled room to put the finishing touches on So-Rin's costume.
"So fussy," grumbles Quill with a roll of her diamondlike eyes, impatience twitching in the corners of her frowning lips as she sets both the pumpkin bowl and sloshing jug on the table.
"I think he's taking well to human clothes. Much better than when he refused to wear anything that wasn't fur," Zilpha nods. She sets the platter of cookies on the table as well. "They're like watching a pair of nestlings flutter their wings," she chuckles. She smooths her turkeylike tailfeathers to one side, but before she can assume a classic position befitting a Mistress of the Dark on the backless divan behind her, a light rapping on the wide balcony doors make both her and Quill stop in their tracks.
"Were you expecting anyone?" Quill leaps at the door. She reaches into a flourishing pot of thyme, and yanks out a black stiletto knife.
"Not until after the party," Zilpha says, tapping her chin with one finger. Through the thick white curtains obscuring the balcony doors, Zilpha's keen eyes make out a large shadow blocking the city's perpetual gleam. "Unless they're here for Fallon or So-Rin," Zilpha assumes.
It wouldn't be the first time Zilpha's had a knock at the balcony from someone looking for her neighbors, and with an unfortunate zero problem with door-to-door salesmen on the 9th floor of a relatively exclusive hotel, she makes her decision.
"Open the curtain."
"As you wish, Grand Mother," Quill dutifully responds to Zilpha's request. Still with the stiletto poised in one hand, Quill presses a button on the wall and triggers the ghostly white curtains to drift apart.
Standing at the other side of the window is a familiar valkyrie with turkey-patterned wings not too dissimilar to Zilpha's, her amicable grin and wave more than enough to convince Zilpha of letting her inside.
But before she can even open the doors, Zilpha's eyes boggle at who else she sees standing at the other side of the window.
With no one else around but her most trusted confidante, Zilpha emits a ghoulish shriek of overwhelming delight. She runs to the balcony and throws open the doors.
"Trick or treat!" A pair of young voices cheer.
"Finn and Eloise!" The whites of Zilpha's wide eyes are all the more striking thanks to her dark eyeliner. She scoops the valkyrie fledglings—darling Eloise dressed as Gretel with a violet dress and her dark hair done up in twin braids, and the adorable Finn as Hansel in a pair of purple overalls and a little hat—into her arms.
The hulking figure standing behind Finn and Eloise, Phedra of clan Aubergine, bears a striking resemblance to the famed Nordic god of thunder tonight, complete with heavy-looking armor, a bright red cape, and an impossibly gigantic warhammer gripped in one hand.
"Come in, come in!" Zilpha insists, the invitation being one neither Finn nor Eloise can turn down.
"Sorry to barge in on your Halloween." Phedra grins sheepishly, an unusual expression for the typically boisterous warrior. She scrapes the bottoms of her boots on the weatherproof tiles before she obliges Zilpha's invitation and steps across the threshold.
"You're welcome any time," Zilpha says as she continues overwhelming the two fledglings with more affection than they've likely received in their entire lives.
"Finn and Eloise... and Phedra?" Fallon says when she reappears in the door. She ticks her head to the side and her hat almost flops off her head.
"Phedra's here?" So-Rin pipes in. He plops his hand down atop Fallon's hat before sticking his head beside hers. "Are we investigating something?"
So-Rin glances at Fallon for confirmation, but the redhead shrugs her rosy shoulders, just as much at a loss as So-Rin.
"Not this time," Phedra shakes her head. Her warhammer makes a subtle thunk when she sets it down on the thick carpeting.
Phedra reaches behind her neck with both hands and unfastens a deep purple cloth embroidered with clan Aubergine's markings that's slung about her torso.
Zilpha abandons the two traumatized fledglings and shoots to her feet, her ears perking at a sound only she seems to hear. Her wide eyes bore into the bundle, and by the time Phedra has the purple cloth in her arms, Zilpha's already poised to take it off her hands.
"Hello little one," Zilpha coos to the bundle as she receives it into her toned arms, her attention 100 percent on the petite nestling tucked inside.
"Her name's Nora," Phedra announces the name of one of the newest members of her clan with pride.
"She's so little," Fallon tentatively approaches, her violet eyes stretching to their limit once she discovers Nora hidden among the folds of the purple cloth.
"She's almost as small as you were," Zilpha whispers while subtly rocking her arms.
"What's everyone looking at?" So-Rin pokes his head into the empty space over Fallon's. His sharp eyes locate Nora in an instant, the curious expression on his face shifting to one of puzzled bewilderment. "What is it?"
"She's a nestling," Quill says, too enraptured at the sight of Nora herself to add any of her usual biting charm.
Nora, suddenly awake from all the commotion around her, open her tiny eyes. She gawks at all the unfamiliar faces with just as much amazement and wonder as those looking at her.
Finn and Eloise, their costumes, hair, and feathers only slightly disheveled after their brief encounter with Zilpha, need only confirm that their precious plastic pumpkins remain safely in their grasp to regain their previous energy. They scamper up to Fallon and So-Rin, armed with their own ways of seeking attention which, while not as utterly devastating as Nora's, are still a powerful force.
"I've seen all your videos with aunt Phedra on AvinTube big brother!" Finn flutters his wings with excitement behind So-Rin. "Can you do a shout-out for me next time?"
"What's AvinTube?" So-Rin inquires, barely needing any convincing to take his eyes off the motionless Nora and refocus his attention on the more relatable Finn.
"May I have a cookie big sister?" Eloise tugs softly on the hem of Fallon's fluffy skirt. "And one for my little sister too?"
Fallon rips her eyes away from Nora and looks down at Eloise. She stammers, "little sister..." and, her eyes wandering back to Nora, "...s?"
"Organic, fair trade, non-gmo, hypoallergenic formula only," Phedra reminds the thoughtful Eloise before Fallon can give in to the temptation to heed the every desire of her "little sister." Phedra reaches deep into her pocket and pulls out a baby bottle. "No cookies or candy until she's bigger."
"Formula?" Zilpha snorts a laugh and waves off the bottle. "We can do better than that, can't we little one?" She wiggles her pointer finger in front of Noras nose, causing the little nestling to cross her eyes in an attempt to trace the worming movement.
"You are the professional," Phedra nods and places the bottle on the table.
Platter of cookies in hand, Fallon kneels down and allows Finn and Eloise to each select a cookie while she mutters "little sisters" and "little brother" with quivering lips.
"I'm really glad you're all here," Phedra wipes her glistening brow with the back of her muscular arm. "I have a favor to ask you all."
"You never went trick-or-treating for candy before?" Finn gasps at So-Rin's unbelievable claim, pumpkin-orange cookie crumbs falling from his lips onto his dark plum-colored suspenders.
"But you're all dressed up for trick-or-treating," Eloise looks up from the black cat cookie she's playing with on the floor like it's her new pet.
"Grand Mother said we had to create outfits for a special human gathering," Fallon explains her and So-Rin's unusual attire.
"It's tight and scratchy," So-Rin grumbles and adjusts the belt of his slacks before plopping down on the floor beside Fallon.
"Then we'll show you how to trick-or-treat!" Finn shoots to his feet. He takes So-Rin and Fallon by the hand and leads them to the balcony doors, with Eloise hefting their all-important pumpkins behind them.
While the two valkyrie young instruct their elders in the ways of trick-or-treating, Phedra explains her situation to Zilpha—currently seated on the divan with Nora squirming on her tiny elbows and knees atop one of the cushions, and Quill standing close at hand—between thirsty gulps of punch.
"I gave my word to Colin and Matilda I'd watch Nora while I took Finn and Eloise trick-or-treating so they could have a relaxing night off, but I have a theory things are going to get kinda crazy tonight. I'd take them home," Phedra glances out the balcony where Fallon and So-Rin have just been shut outside by Finn and Eloise. "But I wouldn't make it back until dawn, and I'm needed here in the city."
"Up you go!" Zilpha lifts Nora out of her sling, revealing Nora's dark purple eggplant onesie she's costumed in, and raises the giddy nestling up high.
"Grand Mother," Quill elbows Zilpha between her wings in a failed attempt to break the old bird's impregnable attention on the nestling.
"You're the only ones in the city I could think of who'd know how to take care of a hatchling and fledglings," Phedra bows her head and slams the empty jug on the table. "So could you please watch them for me tonight? I swear on my honor I'll return the favor!"
The only sound in the room is that of Nora's chirruping laughter.
"Anything would be better than going to a human gathering," Quill sighs after a moment, taking over the negotiations in place of the indisposed Zilpha.
"Great!" Phedra shoots up and leans across the table. She clasps Quill's perfectly manicured hands in her burly grip. "And if you're looking for places with few humans where you can relax and let your wings out, I know a great spot in the city that serves the best early bird breakfasts. It just opened recently; have you heard of Robyn's Egg?"
"I haven't," Quill answers, an uncharacteristic smile lifting the corners of her plump lips.
"It'll be my treat then, er..." Phedra's grinning face goes blank. "What was your name again?"
A knock at the balcony doors is soon followed by Fallon and So-Rin saying "Trick or treat!" in near-perfect unison, just as they'd been instructed.
"We haven't officially met," Quill says. "You're Phedra... the one who defeated So-Rin 28 times at arm wrestling?" Quill's budding smile blooms into a beaming expression few have ever seen. She politely dips her wings in greeting. "I'm Quill, Zilpha's -"
"Your name's Quill?" Phedra gasps. She pulls back her hand from Quill's, and assumes a thoughtful pose with her chin resting between her finger and thumb while she looks Quill over.
Quill takes a step back, extending her legs and lifting her chin like a model posing on a runway.
"You're the fifth Quill I've met," Phedra muses on the uncanny coincidence. "The Quill I replaced as protector of the city—she's taken some leave to lay and care for her eggs, you see—insists there's nothing going on, but I've got this theory I've had for a while..." Phedra hesitates, but not for long. She focuses her eyes on Quill's and, her voice full of determination, asks, "Have you ever heard of the Quiver of Quills?"
"I can't say that I have." Quill shifts her weight and sets her knuckles against her hip. "I haven't been here long."
"Then they haven't made contact yet?" The gears in Phedra's mind spin faster, her grin enlarging as her theories quickly mesh with a plan to smoke out the mysterious shadow organization known only as the Quiver of Quills.
"Aunt Phedra! Aunt Phedra!" Finn and Eloise call, causing the whirring gears in Phedra's mind to grind to a squealing halt.
"Can we take Fallon and So-Rin trick-or-treating with us?" Finn bounces in sugar-fueled excitement, his candy clattering loudly inside his plastic pumpkin.
"Please?" Eloise joins in, her pouting face almost as powerful as Nora's sleeping one.
"It does sound fun," Fallon smiles, which puts a grin on So-Rin's face too.
"Actually, we're not..." Phedra stops again mid-thought, inspiration striking like a thunderbolt in her mind. "That's a great idea! Fallon! So-Rin!"
Phedra tromps up to her co-host and cameraavin with a revived spring in her step. "You have a smartphone, right Fallon?"
"I do," Fallon says. She takes out a sunflower-embossed yellow phone case from somewhere among the folds of her dress and flips it open to reveal her smartphone. While it's no longer the latest model, her phone hasn't a single scratch on it thanks to Fallon's diligent care.
"Good." Phedra nods and crosses her arms over her chest in a leaderlike manner. "I have a theory I need to investigate. I'll check things out from the sky and you, So-Rin, Finn, and Eloise will investigate from the ground while undercover as trick-or-treaters!"
Finn's candy pail hits the floor with a hollow thunk.
"WE GET TO BE ON PHEDRA AND SO-RIN INVESTIGATE!" Finn jumps and takes off flying around the room. It's the best standstill-takeoff he's ever had.
"Just be sure to have Eloise and Finn in bed by 9:00," Phedra says loud enough for everyone to hear. She leans close to Fallon and So-Rin, "But you can let them stay up a little later if they're well-behaved. It's a holiday, after all!"
So-Rin slips his hands under Eloise's arms and lifts her off her purple-slippered feet.
Eloise presses the downward arrow button on the hall elevator. The button light flashes red, signalling the elevator to make its first trek from the lobby to floor 9 since the floor's residents moved in.
"I can't believe we get to go in an elevator and we're on Phedra and So-Rin Investigate!" Finn shoots through the shiny metal doors the moment they slide open, his candy pail swinging in one hand and Fallon's broomstick gripped in his other.
"It's bigger than I thought it would be," Fallon observes while she records the unusual group entering the elevator. She captures the spotlessly polished metal interior with her smartphone in one hand and balances the tray of cookies in her other.
Luckily there's some copyright-neutral generic music playing in the elevator, so Fallon won't have to edit the recording later before uploading to AvinTube.
"We want to go down, so..." So-Rin squints at the panel of buttons labeled with a dozen numbers and symbols beside the door.
"Star!" Eloise jabs her finger down on a button near the center of the panel.
"It goes all the way up to the stars?" So-Rin gasps as the star button illuminates and the elevator doors shuffle quietly closed.
"We're going down now," Fallon says for the 14 viewers watching the stream live.
The elevator speakers bing eight times on the way down.
Once the elevator reaches the main lobby floor, the shiny doors shudder open...
So-Rin's hand—the one not currently gripped in Eloise's valkyrie-strong grip—shoots out the door. His jawlike fingers latch just below the head of an impressively large cobra stretching its long neck into the elevator.
"Cool!" Finn bounces around the elevator while Fallon leans in for a better shot.
"What's a cobra doing here?" Fallon traces the snake's scaly body until her camera comes to a rest on the smiling face of a suited man wearing glossy sunglasses.
The snake's body is coiled around the man's shoulders, but the man doesn't appear disturbed by the snake at all. In fact, the man appears quite giddy, and is holding an official-looking briefcase in one hand and spinning an antique cane in his other.
"Control that damn snake, Nathan!" A gruff man with sun-darkened skin hisses with a voice as intimidating as the cobra's.
"Lucius was only playing, Ganabati," the smile carved into Nathan's cheeks grows wider with his grin. He sets down his briefcase, slips off one of his black gloves, and strokes the snake's scaly belly with his fingertips.
When So-Rin feels the snake retreat, he releases his grip, and an unharmed Lucius returns to coil his body entirely around his master's neck and shoulders.
"Excuse us," Fallon says with a polite nod. She leads the way when Nathan and Ganabati step aside for those inside the elevator.
"You sure do have a knack for finding interesting places," Ganabati grumbles once he thinks the group of trick-or-treaters is too far away to hear him.
"This is the only hotel in the entire world that both supplies my favorite mints gratis, and has a terrarium suitable for Lucius," Nathan answers while he and Ganabati board the elevator. "Such a place is bound to attract interesting people as well."
"You got that right," Ganabati presses the button for their floor. "Never thought I'd ever see a Frankenstein with wings."
"Frankenstein's monster," Nathan corrects him. A moment later he chuckles and adds, "I wonder if that witch even needs a broom to fly."
"Very funny," Ganabati retorts as the elevator doors close.
The lobby of the Silver Sea Hotel is meticulously decorated for Halloween.
Ghostly grinning holograms light up the ceiling, and there's a comfy velvet-lined casket where a couch would normally be. Spooky cobwebs (the fake kind from a bag, mind you) drape in every corner, and countless hand carved pumpkins with flickering LED tea lights inside scatter the area. A towering silver water feature rises at the center of the lobby where intentionally placed red lights make the trickling water gleam like running blood.
Finn runs through the fog blanketing the floor to a particularly goofy looking pumpkin and tries copying its expression, while Eloise admires a tiny light-up village full of even tinier plastic people being chased down by a cranky looking werewolf.
"I've never seen a cloud inside before," So-Rin says, swinging his heavy boots through an undulating mist. He sniffs the fog scented like graveyard-in-a-can wafting from who-knows-where and pinches his nose. "Indoor clouds smell funny."
Fallon giggles beside So-Rin, the tiny sound no louder than the tinkling of her necklace charm. It's a response that instantly puts a boyish grin on So-Rin's face while they make their way to the front desk.
A silver bell waits in a centralized position on the desk.
Next to the bell is a glittering silver notecard which reads in an elegant handwritten script:
"Ring Bell For Service"
"What's it say?" So-Rin asks, at least familiar enough with the appearance of written language to tell it apart from random squiggling lines.
"It says to ring the bell," Fallon tells him. "I think if you touch the top..."
"Eloise wants to ring the bell!" Finn appears with Eloise and informs So-Rin just like when they arrived at the elevator.
So-Rin nods. He again lifts the young valkyrie, and she bops the little nub on top of the bell with her balled-up fist.
A poof of sparkling smoke explodes on the other side of the counter, making Fallon and So-Rin jump at the sudden noise while Finn and Eloise clap their hands like at a magic show.
Once the smoke clears, a being with eyes like gigantic black almonds and radiant green skin is standing behind the counter. Her welcoming smile, the first thing weary travelers see after often long and stressful journeys, exudes the sort of "how can I help you?" attitude much befitting both the silver star pin on her lapel and the heroic green jumpsuit she chose to wear for tonight's costume event.
"Will you be participating in the costume contest-myoop?" The green-skinned creature cups her rounded cheeks and wags her fluffy tail.
"Some things have come up, and unfortunately we can't attend the party," Fallon apologizes. "Grand Mother and Quill are watching a nestling, and we're going trick-or-treating."
Eloise rustles her plastic pumpkin and shows off the candy inside.
"But, here are the cookies we promised we'd bring, Silver." Fallon slides the tray of homemade cookies across the counter.
"I understand," Silver nods. "Thank you for the cookies. I am certain the other guests will appreciate them," Silver says with a smile as bright as as a colorful photo of space dust taken by the Huffle Space Probe. "I have candy for trick-or-treaters." Silver reaches under the collar of her jumpsuit and produces a silver keycard that looks like it's from some sci-fi futuristic space age.
Turning around, Silver pulls on the edge of a painting depicting a silver heart that's hung on the wall. The painting arcs away from the wall like in so many whodunnit mysteries, revealing a small silver safe.
Silver slides the keycard through a slot in the wall before entering a 10-digit combination on a number pad.
About a dozen tings and clicks later, Silver pulls open the small wall safe. Inside the safe are 2 super jumbo-size Tik Tak bars.
The feathers stand up on the back of So-Rin's neck. It's a sensation similar to when the first stranger ran up to him screaming about his AvinTube fame.
So-Rin sets Eloise on her feet, his golden eyes darting around the shadowy room in search of danger. He sees no one else in the lobby, yet, So-Rin can't resist spreading a protective wing behind both Fallon and the valkyrie young.
Sensing the transaction about to happen, Finn and Eloise get into position beside the desk. They raise their plastic pumpkins, and once Silver has the candy in her hands, they yell in unison:
"Trick or treat!"
The two candy bars plunk into Finn and Eloise's buckets amid an incoming hail of multicolor water balloons.
So-Rin grabs onto Fallon and stoops down around the valkyries, shielding them all with his waterproof wings. At the same time, Silver makes a heroic leap out from behind the counter and catches every last one of the water balloons before they can strike their intended targets.
"Aunt Phedra's theory was right!" Finn grabs Fallon's smartphone that's fallen on the floor. He rushes out of So-Rin's protective huddle, eager to make his mark as Phedra's number two cameravalkyrie.
"We'll beat them for clan Aubergine!" Eloise announces and crawls out too, parroting what she's heard so many times whenever a valkyrie discovers her worthy adversary.
Her eyes glittering with fury, Silver points an accusatory finger at the water feature in the center of the room and yells, "Mikey STOP throwing water balloons at the guests!!"
Perched atop the water feature in a bleach white men's medium t-shirt is a little girl with tiny white wings. A gold star hair elastic makes an awkward mini ponytail near her bangs, and a dented halo crafted from a bent bronze clothes hanger bobs above her head.
In her hands Mikey clutches two plastic bags, one from the local Stop-n-Gas and the other a generic Thanks for Shopping! bag. Stuffed inside the bags are every last one of Zilpha's increasingly-famous handmade cookies.
The little angel turns around, and with a maniacal look in her eyes squawks at Silver, "U R NOT MY DAd!" before chomping through the plastic packaging surrounding a ghost cookie—its terrified expression reminiscent of The Scream—and gobbling the sugary goodness down.
"Those cookies are for everybody!" Eloise huffs at Mikey, her pride as a valkyrie growing stronger every day. "You can't take them all!"
"Way to go Eloise!" Finn takes a step back to get a better angle of Mikey and Eloise's standoff.
Already on her third cookie, Mikey glares down at the little valkyrie with the aura of an evil queen.
Somehow the honorable Eloise seems to strike a chord with the seagull princess... or perhaps it's the sight of Eloise's pumpkin already half full of sugary sweets that makes Mikey's eyes gleam. Mikey puffs out her cheeks.
"aLL tHe CanDy is MinE!" Mikey squawks, her arms and wings flailing awkwardly in the space around her. She flutters down to the floor on her tiny wings and bolts for the revolving front doors, leaving a trail of cookie crumbles behind her.
Once Mikey is gone, Silver whips out a silver remote. She presses a button and triggers dozens of tiny mouse-shaped robots to zip out of the vents and gobble up the mess left behind by the sugar-rushing seagull princess.
"You did a great job Eloise," Finn throws his arms around his little sister in a giant hug. "Everyone will be so proud when they see!"
While the young siblings revel in Eloise's heroic internet debut...
"Are you alright?" So-Rin asks Fallon, only lowering his wings once he no longer senses danger threatening his most precious friend. He picks up Fallon's hat off the floor, dusts it off, and places it atop her head.
"I'm alright," Fallon says, her fingers making wrinkles in So-Rin's sleeve. She picks up her broom off the floor with her free hand, and they wobble up together like a pair of leggy newborn fawns.
Fallon's hand lingers on So-Rin's arm. So-Rin stares into Fallon's soothing lavender eyes with his piercing golden ones.
"So-Rin..." Fallon fidgets under the imposing male's intense gaze. Her wings and tail twitch with the urge to flee, but So-Rin's arm around her waist prevents Fallon from slipping away.
So-Rin's arms nearly lift Fallon off her feet. He nuzzles the side of his face against Fallon's, and sighs into her ear with honest relief. "I'm glad."
"Do you need some 'mommy and daddy time?'" Finn astutely inquires while directing the camera lens at Fallon and So-Rin from point-blank range.
Fallon's strawberry blush turns tomato red.
"Wow!" Finn gasps. "67... 84... there's 108 viewers; it's a new record!"
"The revolving doors are bigger than a department store's," Fallon notes while recording So-Rin push his way out. Behind him are Finn and Eloise in their own compartment, Eloise doing all the heavy-pushing while her big brother cheers her on.
So-Rin sticks nervously beside Fallon and glances up and down the unfamiliar streets crowded with strangers dressed up in costumes.
"This is the Halloween I have seen on TV!" A teen girl with batlike rainbow wings sprints up the crowded sidewalk. She easily draws attention in her bright, multicolor girls' sailor uniform and kitty thigh-highs, her gossamer hair streaming behind her. She spins around while flying forward. "Come, Iku, or I will leave you!"
"I am coming, April!" A teen boy with deerlike ears and a tail struggles through the dense crowd. His ocean blue eyes sparkle behind the sleek black rims of his glasses.
"Are those antlers?" So-Rin asks, gesturing to the deerlike protrusions sticking from the boy's head that appear to have been spraypainted green.
"April said since I like aliens so much, I could be one for Halloween," Iku's cheeks redden and he adjusts his crooked glasses on his nose.
"Aliens are real," Fallon says before So-Rin can ask what the vibrant green ink-blot writing on Iku's black shirt says.
"IKUUUUU!" April cups her hands around her mouth like a megaphone. She stomps through the crowd in search of him, her cheeks puffed up in an adorable fury. "We will miss the party!" April grabs for Iku's hand.
"Sweet cosplay," a man in a blow-up t-rex costume stops on the sidewalk and compliments April. He holds up his phone, "Is that an original character? Can I take a picture?"
April's not-actually-a-headband ears prick at the compliment and request. She spins dramatically around on her toes, her colorful skirt fluttering, and strikes a classic pose.
"I am the charming fighter of darkness and rainbows, Magic Schoolgirl April!" She holds the position for several camera flashes before shifting to her next pose with her fingers in a "v" across her eyes. "In the name of the Motherland, I will discipline you harshly!"
Eloise tries spinning like the Magic Schoolgirl April, but her long dress doesn't flutter in the same way as Aprils' short skirt.
"Let's hold hands so nobody gets lost," Finn latches onto both Eloise's and So-Rin's hands. He looks up at So-Rin and Fallon and asks, "Where are we investigating next?"
"I'll ask Sasha." Fallon pokes a small symbol on the corner of her phone's screen. "Sasha, where can we trick-or—"
An immense bolt of lightning thunders through the cloudless sky.
In the split second between the lightning flash and the time it takes to blink an eye, something unusual occurs.
An immense shadow, one swirling with a magnetic darkness deeper than that of a black hole, appears amid the crowd. At the center of the swirling mass is what appears to be a collection of toothy shards which somehow manage to resemble a distorted grin.
Any who might've witnessed the horrible thing in its flash of existence shove it deep down into their subconscious with the desperate prayer that it was nothing more than a trick of the light on a Halloween night.
Seconds later, once all has returned to normal, bright pink and green packets of Poppin' Rocks shower from the sky. There's enough candy for every reveler on the sidewalk to grab two or three packs to add to their night's spoils, a sugary gain that serves to only further push the unbelievable image from their conscious thoughts and back into the darkness where it belongs.
"Don't eat candy off the ground," Finn reminds Eloise when she misses catching one of the cotton-candy pink packets, while Finn catches enough for both of them in his pail.
"My car!" A distraught pedestrian yells upon realizing his parked sports car has inexplicably transformed into a gigantic gourmet cheese flan.
"Sasha?" Fallon tries again to talk to her smartphone AI, but the screen has inexplicably gone dark. "Oh no, the livestream!"
The crowded sidewalks around Fallon, So-Rin, Finn, and Eloise are suddenly deserted.
Empty of all other life, that is, save for that of a woman with bob-cut honey brown hair wearing a smart blazer and round sunglasses. She strides toward the group of winged trick-or-treaters with footsteps so light and airy she might pass for a ghost.
While Fallon does her best to get the livestream up and running again, the strange woman—appearing all the stranger tonight for her apparent lack of a costume—reaches into her front pocket and produces four differently colored pieces of hard candy.
"What an amusing group of trick-or-treaters," the woman purrs with a catlike grin. She presses a candy each into Fallon and So-Rin's hands, and drops the remaining two into Finn and Eloise's candy buckets.
"Have fun," the woman waves and strolls away, melting into the returning throngs just as mysteriously as she appeared.
"Is this candy?" So-Rin eyes the electric blue raspberry candy through its transparent wrapper.
"Sorry for the technical difficulties everyone," Fallon apologizes with the camera pointed at herself. She finally notices the black cherry candy that's mysteriously made its way into her palm. "What is this... candy?"
"Give me that candy," Finn says to Eloise. She pulls the groovy grape sweet out of her bucket without a fuss and hands it to her brother. "We're not allowed to take candy from strangers," Finn says, holding his hand open for Fallon and So-Rin to relinquish their candies as well.
"I didn't know trick-or-treating had a rule like that," Fallon says and hands over her candy.
"Trick-or-treating is difficult," So-Rin hands over his candy too. Finn lets go of So-Rin and Eloise's hands so he can dutifully toss the strange sweets into a nearby trash bin.
A chirp notification sounds from Fallon's phone. She swipes open her messages and finds a text from one of her contacts, Aqila.
"'Come to the Fire Escape Tavern for a trick-or-treat special'..." Fallon reads aloud.
"We can trick-or-treat at Aqila's!" So-Rin's eyes light up. He spots the runway-like bike lane between the busy street and crowded sidewalk and scoops the two valkyrie fledglings under his arms, and takes off running. "Let's go!"
Nearby, on the rooftop of the Silver Sea Hotel...
A woman gazes upon the city's lively streets, her half-masked eyes watching for what's to come. Her thick hair undulates in the wind like the dark smoke of an unstoppable summer tire fire. She smashes a fist into her other hand, sending a shower of sparks flying in the breeze. It's a menacing action that's made much less sinister thanks the heroic red dress and golden cape she's wearing.
"So, you're name's like, Medina, right?" A tall blonde in a skimpy skintight suit and mask asks. "And you said your a genie? Like with magic powers?"
"That's right," Medina smiles. She looks up from the city streets and smiles at the companion she happened to meet only moments ago after sending Phedra to another part of the city. "I'm happy to have such an experienced superheroine protecting the city alongside me tonight, Leah."
"I'm not THAT experienced," Leah's face flushes. She crosses one arm behind her back, "I mean, I can't even land without blowing up my boyfriend's parent's backyard like some meteorite..."
About 20 minutes later...
In one of those quintessential old-town city neighborhoods is Aqila's Fire Escape Tavern, a red brick building whose age is given away by it's hard-earned patina rather than from any sort of neglect. Above the bar is a well-lit second-story apartment, the sort perfect for those who prefer to work no more than a dozen steps from home, where black cardboard cut-outs of spooky trees, pumpkins, and ghosts create a unique and fun collage of shadows in the windows.
"We're going to trick-or-treat here?" Finn asks when So-Rin sets Finn and Eloise on their own two feet again.
"Aqila's not a stranger, she's our friend," So-Rin explains with a nod. His shoulder dips down when Eloise grabs onto his hand with all her might to keep from getting separated in the unfamiliar, relatively quiet neighborhood.
"One second, I need some B roll." Fallon makes sure to keep the camera on the tavern's name for several seconds, showing off the circular sign depicting a pair of salamanders circling what looks like a cross made by 4 long arrows meeting in the center. Sometimes viewers ask to know the places they visit, so she'll include directions when the video is uploaded. She approaches the door for one final shot. "Okay, let's go inside—"
The door to the tavern swings open and releases loud, classic Halloween music emitting from the vintage jukebox inside out into the streets.
Standing in the doorway is a man not decked out in colorful or fun Halloween fare, but a rather typical sweater and jeans as well as what appears to be more like military boots, albeit with a futuristic sci-fi twist. He looks no different from any other human, and his pale skin, dark hair, and the severe lines on his face wouldn't stand out among a crowd.
Yet, something about the way the man carries himself, with his shoulders squared and an imposing gait, seems to put even the air on-edge.
The metallic fwick of a lighter is followed by the man's gruff tone.
The bright red end of his cigarette quickly chews its way up toward the man's mouth. "Get out here," the man throws over his shoulder. The acrid cloud of smoke spewed along with his words makes Fallon sputter and cough just outside the door, and prompts So-Rin to run up behind her.
"Are you okay?" So-Rin blows the smoke away with a flick of his wings.
"Thank you," Fallon backs away from the door. She coughs into her gloved hand a couple more times before her lungs clear up.
Appearing in the doorway behind Mitch is the living embodiment of a cat girl—or rather, a cat woman—wearing a skintight leather outfit more revealing than anything seen in any mainstream comic book.
"In about six minutes," Mitch breathes out another lungful of smoke and flicks his spent cigarette onto the diligently swept and cleaned sidewalk.
Rana struts out ahead of Mitch, her brown-ringed tail lazily flicking the air like a proud feline's. Her blue and yellow eyes quickly appraise the exotic So-Rin and Fallon, Fallon's camera already pointed at the ground to keep from offending the powers-that-be over at AvinTube for streaming someone with an appearance as provocative as Rana's on a family-friendly channel.
"Care to join us?" Rana purrs just like a cat. She ruffles the hem of Fallon's skirt with the tip of her tail.
Finn and Eloise poke their heads out from behind Fallon's violet waist cape.
"Are you Aqila?" Finn asks, both he and Eloise ready to deploy their candy buckets at any moment.
"I'm not interested in a bunch of snotty kids." Mitch smacks Rana's backside, and yanks her away from the group of candy-seekers.
The tavern doors hang open, the sounds of good-hearted revelry lessening the awkward atmosphere.
A woman with dark skin appears in the open doorway. Her smile is as bright as the circular medallion of gold depicting a bird with one giant ruby eye hanging from her neck by a robust chain. Her white linen shirt and brown wool pants are an excellent pair to the vintage tavern's atmosphere.
"Come on in!" Aqila points her thumb over her shoulder and holds the door open for her friends. "I've been waiting for you!"
The old tavern is packed to the rafters with patrons both human and humanlike, all mingling in the same space and enjoying Halloween night to the fullest with amazing drinks and food that, while not as amazing as the drinks, is still pretty good.
Aqila guides the four trick-or-treaters carefully through the dense crowd until they arrive at a relatively quiet corner beside her fully stocked bar.
"Those are some nice costumes," Aqila looks over the four trick-or-treaters. Her appraising eye not only sees the costumes for their quality and craftsmanship, but for how well they match their wearers. "They suit you all very well!"
"I helped daddy sew our costumes," Finn beams at the compliment of his and Eloise's costumes, his wings fluttering excitedly behind him.
"Fallon helped with mine," So-Rin turns around and shows the extra panels of dark cloth sewn almost seamlessly into his suit both above and below his wings.
"This is some nice stitching. I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't pointed it out," Aqila peers closely at So-Rin's back, noting the nearly imperceptible change in color between the secondhand suit's original cloth and the tailored panels.
Fallon brings her phone close to So-Rin's back in an attempt to show the viewers Aqila's observations, however, her digital zoom camera doesn't seem to have high enough resolution to pick up any difference.
So-Rin nods, looking over his shoulder. "And I helped Fallon with her costume. Zilpha took me to a place where she said I could pick any cloth I liked, so I chose ones that reminded me of Fallon," So-Rin adds unnecessarily to the conversation.
"You have a good eye for quality cloth," Aqila fingers the dark velvet bow tied around Fallon's left arm, breaking Fallon's concentration on her duties as cameraavin. "Did you design your costume then?"
"I looked at some costumes online and made one that wouldn't interfere with my wings or tail," Fallon's wings perk behind her, and her tail shifts in the violet ruffles of her underskirt. Her eyes flicker between Aqila and So-Rin, unable to keep eye contact with either of them for long.
"A very practical approach," Aqila nods with approval. "You look cute."
Fallon's wings tense, and her upper chest takes on a strawberry-pink hue.
So-Rin's expression lights up to the point he could illuminate an entire city with his beaming grin. But, before he can express his joy at finding someone else who said the exact same thing as him when he first saw Fallon in her costume...
Eloise tugs on Aqila's slacks.
"Do you have any candy," the little valkyrie asks point-blank.
"You wish for candy?" Aqila rephrases. She reaches a hand behind her back.
"Yes!" Eloise replies as eagerly as one might expect a child to respond to such a question from an adult with the power to procure such an invaluable commodity.
"Say the magic words," Aqila says with a wink, "and your wish just might come true."
"Trick or treat!" Finn and Eloise hold their pumpkins up high, eager to receive whatever goodies Fallon and So-Rin's friend Aqila might provide.
"Let's see what you get," Aqila squats down before the two fledglings. She reveals a burlap shoulder bag she somehow acquired, a bag that goes remarkably well with her choice of costume.
Finn and Eloise plunge their hands into the burlap bag. They root around inside, and at the exact same moment both pull out a not-exactly-banned Kiddo Eyeball, the limited-edition Halloween variant of another world-famous brand.
"Thank You!" The two fledglings announce, earning a chuckle from several nearby patrons while they tear the wrappers from their candies. Inside the wrapper is a strawberry-drizzled white chocolate shell that's almost indistinguishable from an eye.
Rather than admire the tenacity of such a popular brand to always create the highest quality treat, the two eager fledglings squish the eyeballs and the chocolate shell pops in two at the seams to reveal black, pupil-like toy capsules inside.
"I got a Shohisha-no-Shinda!" Finn shows off his rare find after assembling its three parts. It's a palm-sized figurine of a character resembling a demonic bull's skeleton from a popular adventure show on TV.
"Cloudpuff!" Eloise presses her tiny thumbs into the adorable cloud-shaped squishy with big round eyes she found inside her capsule.
Aqila holds the burlap bag out for Fallon and So-Rin. So-Rin peers from his high vantage point into the bag, but there doesn't appear to be anything inside.
"Say the magic words," Aqila hints and shakes the cloth bag.
"Trick or treat," the two say together and reach inside.
So-Rin pulls out his treat first, a palm size black licorice gummy shaped like a fish. "I've never seen a fish that looked like this before," So-Rin turns the single piece of wrapped candy over in his hand.
After a few more seconds of rummaging around in the bag, Fallon pulls out a single piece of candy wrapped in glittering purple foil and printed with happy little ghosts. She clasps the thumb-sized candy between her palms and looks at Aquila. "Thank you so much," she says for her first legitimately earned piece of Halloween candy.
"You are very welcome," Aqila grins and sets the burlap bag on the bartop.
"What does it say?" So-Rin holds his candy in front of Fallon for her to read the letters embossed on the fish's gelatinous sides.
"It says 'Sweetish,' Fallon says. She tucks her candy into the folds of her skirt for safekeeping, and helps So-Rin tear the fish's plastic wrapper.
"You're the first one who's ever pulled salted black licorice from my candy bag," Aqila chuckles. She steps behind the bar counter to serve some out-of-towners who've just come in. They're dressed as characters from The Sorceress of Ka, a fairly average looking woman with big gold hoop earrings wearing a Dorothea costume complete with rose pumps, and a man with long, elflike ears in a fluffy Craven Tiger costume.
"Doesn't this make you nostalgic, Jackson?" The woman leans against the fluffy tiger's shoulder.
"Pauline, I'd rather think about our future than the past," the tiger sighs and grips Pauline's hand below the counter.
Aqila places a peachy yellow cocktail in front of the woman.
"We didn't order any drinks yet," Pauline pushes away the tall glass.
"It's on the house," Aqila raises a hand. "It's called a Baby Bellini. Congratulations!"
"How did you...?" Jackson's eyes widen in surprise at the amazing perceptiveness of The Fire Escape's sole owner and operator.
So-Rin's head whips around at the sound of a familiar voice calling him by his nickname, the gummy licorice fish's tail steadily disappearing into his mouth.
So-Rin swallows his salty "like a fish but not actually a fish" snack with a loud gulp.
"Hi, Tareq!" So-Rin waves to one of his few male friends, a djinni with a flare for all things extravagant and superfluous.
Tareq's usual gaudy gold jewelry is especially stand-out tonight, with enough gold chains clanking together over his neither brawny nor scrawny physique and cuffing his arms to bring to mind that famed middle eastern conqueror whose mastery of the arts of war brought him everlasting recognition from haters and admirers alike.
"If you're done with that pitiful excuse for a Halloween treat," Tareq dramatically turns his tattooed left arm, and two boxes of black and red circular candies appear in his gold-ringed hand. "Why not give one of these a try?" Tareq smirks, his gold-studded left eyebrow lifting in anticipation.
"Sure!" So-Rin picks the darker of the two types, a pure black specimen with just a dusting of white powder on top. "You try one too Fallon," So-Rin steps aside so Fallon can reach the boxes.
"May I?" Fallon asks before taking from a box.
"Of course," Tareq's voice pitches with excitement when Fallon selects a glossy red candy from the second box. He coughs into his right hand to stymie his excitement at the sight of the two candies disappearing into Fallon and So-Rin's mouths. "Although I doubt a pair of hopelessly uncultured birdbrains like yourselves will be able to entirely appreciate such fine delicacies. Allow me to explain. These 90% cocoa truffles and ULTRA Ghost Pepper Bubblegum were made by a master djinni confectioner who imbibed them with—"
"This is pretty tasty!" So-Rin exclaims after devouring his morsel of extremely bitter dark chocolate. He swipes the little black box of truffles from Tareq's hand.
"Those are $3,200 Limited Edition Çocodei truffles your're snarfing like W&Ws!" Tareq fumes when So-Rin downs the 9 pieces remaining in the box in a flash. Still seeking satisfaction of some sort, Tareq looks over at Fallon and is disappointed to find the easily flustered female's face isn't so much as a smidgen red.
Fallon lifts her supple fingers to her lips, the wide-eyed expression of surprise growing on her face giving Tareq some vague wisp of hope.
"I've never had gum before," Fallon admits while she delicately chews. "You're not supposed to swallow gum, right?"
"How..." Tareq pulls one of the bright red pieces of gum from the box. "Did I receive defective products?"
Tareq, not realizing the foolishness of assuming a master djinni confectioner would incorrectly fulfill an order for their most famous delectable and gag goods, pops one of the 9 remaining balls of ghost pepper gum into his mouth.
Within 2 seconds of chewing, Tareq's expression changes from fuming indignation to one of pure horror. He collapses dramatically to his knees like some actor in a tragic play. Tears streaming from his eyes, Tareq conjures up a crystal pitcher of the finest organic whole milk from a rare breed of highland cow; but, even after downing the entire thing his mouth and throat still burns.
Truly, such a fine gag confectionery capable of bringing even another heat and spice-loving djinni to his knees could only be devised by a truly wicked master prankster djinni's power.
"Tareq!" Aqila bellows over the din of the barroom. "You better not be handing out any more of your gag candy!" Aqila stomps over, sparks leaping up from under her feet with every furious step.
Tareq opens his mouth to plead his case, but flames leap from his lips and make it impossible for him to speak.
"I warned you not to mess with that stuff! That's it: you're banned during open hours!" Aqila lifts Tareq by his solid gold choker necklace and shows him out without listening to a word of his garbled speech.
"Where are we going to get candy... and investigate next?" Finn asks, his new toy clutched protectively in his hands. He doesn't notice Eloise pick up a piece of red gum off the floor and pop it in her mouth.
Not impressed with a gummy texture alone without any sort of perceivable flavor, Eloise soon spits the gum out into a spare candy wrapper.
"It's 8:17," Fallon reports the time once the four again stand on the sidewalk outside Aqila's Fire Escape Tavern, unsure of where to head next. "It'll take about 20 minutes to fly back to the hotel, so we can't go too far," Fallon advises and quickly pulls up a map on her phone.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the street stands a little girl with white wings and a dented halo. Clutched in her tiny hands are two empty Stop-n-Gas and Thanks for Shopping! bags.
Her eyes are ablaze with spirit as she stares down a huge cauldron of extra jumbo-sized Mercy's, Tik Tak, and Dos Amigos bars left unguarded save for a well-meaning sign which reads,
Except, there's one problem.
Between Mikey and the candy is a patch of well-kept lawn, a rarity in the concrete jungle. And for some reason, whenever trick-or-treaters get close...
A little boy in a Seven Nights at Steven's costume steps off the sidewalk onto a well-kept paved stone walkway leading to the house's front porch. He skips along in blissful ignorance of what's about to happen, until an in-ground sprinkler system activates.
Water spews from the tiny sprinklers like from a firefighter's hose and sends the little boy flying back onto the sidewalk where he's luckily caught by a pedestrian walking by.
All night Mikey's been staking the place out, biding her time and snacking on Zilpha's cookies while she analyzes the sprinklers down to the tiniest detail.
And now, with her cookies all eaten and without any fear of them getting soggy, Mikey takes a deep breath, and...
The little seagull princess scurries down the paved stone pat. She makes a beeline for the cauldron of delicious sweets:
Jump! Left! Duck! Right!
One step at a time, she makes the impossible possible as she draws nearer to the bowl and the ultimate prize.
Just when the bowl seems to be within reach...
The last stone in the walkway lifts up, revealing a line of canon-like sprinklers pointed straight down the path and that leave Mikey with no room to dodge.
"Ugh. I totally hate water levels."
The space between Mikey and the sprinklers shatters like a once-invisible pane of glass. Out from that broken glass reaches a giant hand that smashes the sprinklers back down into the ground. A giant arm then reaches around the lawn and plays a game of whack-a-mole with every last one of the sprinklers that've been threatening innocent trick-or-treaters all night.
The arm retreats back into the shattered space before a young woman with long brunette hair steps out. She's in a costume exactly like that of one of the most famous princesses in all gaming, specifically in her regal navy adventurer's outfit from the game series' latest installment, Sigh of the Wilderness.
Emerging from the portal behind the woman is a young man with mussy brown hair dressed in a hero's sky blue tunic and cotton breeches, a shield with a familiar game's logo clutched in his hand.
"Doesn't this seem like a bit of overkill Megan?" The young man asks while he looks around at all the damage the goddess managed to make within seconds of creating a portal. "I mean, using your OP skills to smash through a puzzle challenge is kinda like cheating."
"We're not cheating Davis, we're speedrunning," Megan hops over the shattered debris of her fallen enemy and claims the spoils of her victory, a single Dos Amigos bar. "What is this, some kinda indie brand?" Megan turns the almost familiar candy bar over in her hand.
Megan looks through her portal to the broken image of a little girl in an angel costume who's laying on her belly on the ground. With tears welling in the corners of her eyes, the fallen angel drags herself weakly toward Davis and Megan.
"What kind of jerk leaves their sprinklers on during Halloween anyway?" Davis kneels down and generously helps the sniveling, scratched-up Mikey to her feet.
"Here ya' go kid," Megan carries the entire cauldron of candy over to Mikey. "But don't think you can party up with stronger players all the time. Sometimes you just gotta' grind and level up."
Mikey wipes the tears from her eyes. She reaches for the candy with her trembling hands...
However, instead of taking a single candy bar, she swipes the bowl and runs off with the entire raid's worth of loot.
"MY CaNDy!!!" Mikey yells, half scuttling and half fluttering away with the heavy bowl nearly half the size of her scrawny body.
"D'you think she might be a secret boss," Davis comments.
"Whatever she is, we definitely triggered some kinda event," Megan muses. She looks down at her Dos Amigos bar. "So long as we have this key item, I think we'll have a chance of meeting her again."
"... do we really have to keep talking like this the entire night?" Davis adds.
"Yes." Megan replies in full seriousness.
Mikey crosses the street gripping the spoils of her conquest. She stands in front of Aqila's Fire Escape Tavern at a conveniently placed bus stop. Her arm disappears into her shirt's sleeve and, after a little rummaging, her hand re-emerges with a dirty, dinged-up bus token clamped between her fingers.
At 8:19, a bus stops and Mikey climbs aboard. She sits at a seat and, looking out the window, meets Eloise's gaze. Mikey makes a ridiculous face at the little valkyrie who hardly seems to have gained any candy at all in her little bucket, but, rather than be offended, Eloise makes a funny face back and waves to her new rival as the bus doors clatter shut and the eco-friendly bus putters quietly down the road.
"Everyone's too far away," Fallon laments after looking her map over for the last couple minutes.
"I wish I had more friends," So-Rin sighs, his shoulders slumping in disappointment. "The ones I have all live really far away. I wish I could see them."
"Is that your wish?"
A young woman with snowy white hair tied up in a bright yellow bow appears under a flickering street light. She's dressed in the mysterious dark robes of a traveler, and although her costume looks foreboding, her friendly face doesn't give off the vibe of someone who needs to be feared.
"I'm Makda, a relative of Aqila's and a friend of Phedra's," Makda walks forward and extends her hand in greeting to So-Rin, however, it's the more socially-adjusted Fallon who picks up on what Makda's trying to do and shakes her hand.
"Nice to meet you," Fallon says. When Fallon pulls back her hand, she finds a gold coin in her palm.
"You're aunt Phedra's friend?" Finn says.
"I am," Makda replies. There's a black gap visible between her two front teeth that makes her smile truly one of a kind. She holds her hands over Finn and Eloise's candy pumpkins, and a gold coin plops into each of their buckets. "Happy Halloween!"
"Thank you!" The fledglings smile broadly in return.
Makda hands a gold coin to So-Rin as well. Once he accepts her friendly offering, she says, "Now for the second part of your wish."
Makda's body seems to stretch larger, her flowing robes growing along with her until they drape from her shoulders like a large tent. She parts her robes and takes a single large step back.
A man and woman, both with orange and red-hued hair appear beneath Makda's robes dressed in the snowy linen and sparkling gold jewelry of a pharaoh and queen. The woman reaches for a nonexistent sword at her waist, and the man's eyes glow with a fiery passion as both quickly assess their sudden change in surroundings like true warriors.
"Samura and Valor!" So-Rin tosses up his arms and shouts in complete and utter disbelief, nearly scaring his old friends out of their skins.
His gold coin goes flying, and lands in a sleeping vagrant's paper cup with a metallic "clink."
"So-Rin?" Samura relaxes her stance upon recognizing the voice of a friend. She looks around and has no trouble locating the over 7 foot birdbrain excitedly flapping his long arms and bright blue wings. "Hey So-Rin!" Samura flashes a happy grin and waves back.
So-Rin rushes forward with his arms open wide. But, rather than go for the similarly open-armed Samura, he bypasses her completely in favor of his grumpy prior cave buddy, Valor.
"I missed you buddy!" So-Rin clamps his arms around Valor's arms and torso, and lifts him up off his feet. Beyond words, So-Rin joyfully bawls into Valor's shoulder.
"Nice to see you again too, you stinking birdbrain," Valor half chuckles, half wheezes from within So-Rin's tight grasp.
While the two boys catch up, Samura looks around her other-worldly new surroundings. She's in awe of the high buildings and electric lampposts no different than someone from this new world would be upon visiting one of the great magical forests of The Gale. During her assessment of the sprawling city around her, she lays eyes upon Fallon.
"Red hair and wings..." Samura mumbles, past conversations with So-Rin quickly bubbling up in her mind. "Are you Fallon?"
"I am," Fallon nods and tentatively approaches the unfamiliar female who for some reason seems to know her.
"So-Rin often talked about you," Samura walks up to Fallon. She casts a look behind her to make sure Valor's too focused on So-Rin to listen in before she asks, "I may be just assuming, but based on your attire... you wouldn't happen to be a follower of Obsidian—" but stops when, during the process of assessing Fallon's clothes, she notices Fallon's feminine curves beneath her frilly sorceress' attire.
"Obsidian? Like the volcanic glass?" Fallon tucks her hair behind her ear.
But, rather than continue on the topic of Obsidian, Samura has another pressing question on her mind.
"You're a woman, right?" Samura raises an eyebrow, as if there were still room for doubt.
"I'm female, yes," Fallon cocks her head.
Samura furrows her brows in thought. "I could've sworn So-Rin said you were a man," she says.
"Ah—!" Fallon gasps, her red blush returning at the sudden memory of a time in the not-too-distant past when So-Rin was convinced she was male. "He probably did say that... but I'm really female," Fallon says in earnest, not wanting the misunderstanding to occur again after finally straightening everything out.
"Hi! I'm Finn, and this is my sister Eloise!" Finn announces their presence to Samura.
"Hello," Samura automatically responds to the two young fledglings who're nearly 2/3 her height. She glances back at So-Rin, and then at Fallon, "These wouldn't happen to be your and So-Rin's—" Samura begins.
"I refuse to believe for even a moment this birdbrain is capable of reproducing," Valor huffs after finally wriggling free of a still emotional and teary-eyed So-Rin sniveling behind him.
Fallon shakes her head. "So-Rin's bigger than I am, so it's been a little difficult..." Fallon twirls a lock of hair around her finger.
"But we practice all the time!" So-Rin puffs out his chest with pride at how much more experienced and knowledgeable he's become compared to before. "We have lots of fun now, just like you and Samura!" So-Rin's eyes sparkle at Fallon, eager for her to agree.
"It is fun," she nods and lowers her pointed ears. She holds her broomstick between her and Samura, but it's too thin to mask her blush.
"That's great!" Samura says, all smiles. She bumps her shoulder against Valor's. "Isn't that great, Valor?"
"I suppose it is," Valor grins slightly, his impression of So-Rin improving somewhat.
Ecstatic to receive the approval and acceptance of his closest friends, So-Rin flops his long arms around his three favorite individuals and pulls them all in for a giant hug.
Suddenly, Samura's grin disappears. She scans the air around her and mumbles, "What's going on?"
"What is it, Samura?" Valor asks, regaining his previous edge and alertness.
"It's the spirits. They're all confused," Samura tries to explain, but even she seems at a loss for words.
"Weeeeeelll..." Makda chimes in, an apologetic expression on her face. "Things can get kinda hectic on Halloween night, what with people making Halloween wishes to see strange and unusual things," the djinni tries to explain. "We get so busy, we sometimes outsource wishes to save on time..."
The street lights flicker. An otherworldly howl echoes from some other part of the city, followed by what sounds like the footsteps of giants thudding in the night.
"... but temps, you know?" Makda shrugs. "Things should be all straightened up by 2..."
A human figure blasts through the air and strikes the center of the street with the strength of a ballistic missile, sending shards of debris flying in all directions.
Thinking fast, Valor transforms in a blaze of magic into his fiery dragon form. He blasts a wall of fire between those on the sidewalk and the source of the impact, vaporizing the tar and concrete with his magical flames long before they can threaten anyone.
"... make that 4 a.m.."
"Z-z-zaigatz?" Fallon's voice shudders. Her camera's shake-correction features can do little against Fallon's trembling at the sight of Valor in his natural scaly, firebreathing form.
"Big sister?" Eloise tugs on Fallon's fluffy skirt. Both she and Finn pick up on Fallon's nervousness, and begin to feel afraid themselves.
Valor looks over his shoulder, a sad emotion coming into his starry blue eyes when he sees Fallon's reaction to his untransformed state.
Fallon takes a single shaky step in front of So-Rin and the fledglings, ready to become their shield—
"Valor's a dragon, not a zaigatz," So-Rin explains. He steps between Fallon's wings and circles his arms around her shoulders, snuffing her utter anxiety with his absolute trust in his friend.
"A dragon?" Fallon blinks, and again sets her eyes on Valor.
It was true; while Valor's overall appearance was very similar to a certain type of zaigatz, zaigatz never had as bright or as beautiful of scales as the dragon before Fallon now.
Valor nods, a subtle smile growing on his scaly dragon lips.
The dust slowly settles in the streets.
Climbing from the terminal pit of a deep slash cut in the street is a woman with coal grey hair. Cuts crisscross her bruised body, her bright yellow and blank midriff-revealing tank top and black shorts obviously providing little value as any sort of viable armor, yet, somehow she's able to scrape out of the pit even after such a devastating landing.
"Are you alright?" Samura leaps into the street, concerned more about the injured woman than about what might've caused her to go flying in the first place. "Let me help you!" Samura aids the gasping, bleeding, injured woman out of the pit—a towering woman taller even than So-Rin—and offers her shoulder for support.
The sound of thunder—or rather, laughter—booms high in the sky.
Towering in the sky like a true giant is a beast of epically mountainous proportions, with leathery white skin and long horn-like protrusions willowing from its head. Pointed black thorns protrude from its body where a beard and eyebrows might've been on a human, as well as from its hands, feet, knees and shoulders, doubling as both weapons and armor—although weapons and armor against what, being so large as it was, left even more horrors to the imagination.
"I appreciate the help," Jane smiles exhaustedly, and lifts herself from Samura's short shoulders. She takes in a big breath, her voice starting small...
"I won't let you harm THIS WORLD... XEENATH!"
... and eventually growing more than 25 times along with her body until she needs the space of two streets side-by-side to stand without crushing any of the historic buildings underfoot.
Jane pounds a glowing blue fist at Xeenath, but he easily blocks the strike, knocking what looks like a giant stone from Jane's hand.
"Looks like you could use a hand!" A costumed 250-foot Medina appears toward Xeenath's back left, a ball of raging flame burning in the hand not firmly planted on her hip.
"I'll help too!" A similarly giant Leah chimes in from Xeenath's back right, completing the pincer formation around the terrible foe.
"What sort of noob player drops a key item?" Megan rises from another part of the city, the stone once gripped by Jane clasped firmly in the gaming goddess' hand.
"WHO ARE YOU ALL???" Xeenath furiously roars.
"Seriously," Jane adds, unable to hold back a smile at the backup and support these similarly gigantic strangers are so willing to throw her way.
"Hey, birdbra—," Valor corrects himself, "So-Rin." He gapes in awe at the spectacle before him.
"... we're not in The Gale anymore, are we?"
"Nope," So-Rin grins.
"So cool!" Finn leaps for joy at getting front-row seats to his first ever real-life battle between giants.
Laughter echoes amid the whipping winds created by the giants' movements.
The maniacal laughter of the now familiar stranger who gifted candy to Fallon, So-Rin, Finn, and Eloise draws the attention of everyone around as an immensely foreboding gravity of terror and fear grows.
"HOW DO YOU LIKE MY SPECIAL HALLOWEEN ENTERTAINMENT XEENATH???" The deranged woman screeches, her voice a multitude of voices all emitting from a single mouth. She peels off her sunglasses, revealing the bloody and deranged eyes of what could only be described as a monster.
"IS THAT YOU... KIIIIIIIP?"
Fallon yelps when her phone zaps her fingers with a jolt of electricity. She drops the phone, the screen going dead along with the livestream and, as she will discover later, irretrievably corrupting all her apps and data.
"Oh boy... sorry to have to cut the reunion short," Makda winces when a giant Converse shoe slides down the street and carves a giant rift all the way down to the sewers and water mains. "But it'd help me out a lot if everyone would start heading back home."
"But Samura and Valor just got here," So-Rin gripes.
"... I'd rather deal with my cousin and his gang of thugs than this mess," Valor snorts a lungful of black smoke out his nose and shrinks back down into his human form.
"Thanks, I appreciate it." With a flick of her cape, Makda opens a rift for Samura and Valor to use to return to their original world.
Meanwhile, Samura, a natural-born warrior of great power and skill, stands with her eyes glued on the battle raging above her. A battle she's nowhere near strong enough to join.
"Samura?" Valor calls out to Samura's cold, turned back.
"I want," Samura spins around on her heel. She gestures up at the battle and pouts, "I want to learn a spell to become a giant too!"
"That can be arranged," the demon-eyed woman shifts her gaze from the epic battle and sets her sights on the granddaughter of Raze. Her razor-like grin cuts between them like an unholy blade. "What world did you say you were from?"
"Don't say another word," Makda picks up Samura, and shoves both her and Valor as gently as possible through the portal beneath her robes.
Makda continues to grow until she's big enough for Fallon, So-Rin, Finn, and Eloise to all fit on one hand. She scoops them up, and elevates them twice as high as any building in the old town borough.
"Fly straight home now," Makda grins. She blows a stream of fragrant, warm air across her hand that lifts the four avians' wings and sends them fluttering away like tiny scraps of paper, straight back to the Silver Sea Hotel.
"That was awesome!" Finn hops around the balcony, the metal clasps on his overalls clinking with each leap.
Eloise looks over her shoulder at her wings in wonder, thinking only of how it felt to fly such a long distance for the very first time.
"You can sleep with us in our nest tonight," Fallon holds open the door to her and So-Rin's suite, and the sky-high fledglings rush in.
The spacious room's vaulted ceilings and gray stone walls create a cozy atmosphere, with a mix of leather, wicker, and wooden decor that, while obviously new, has an aged and lived-in feel.
Fallon presses a knob located just inside the balcony doors. A dim chandelier hanging from the high brown rafters that looks like it's made from a rusty barrel hoop flickers on. She spins the knob, turning the dull yellow lighting up to maximum strength.
Finn and Eloise clamber onto the humongous 9x10 bed set further in the room before a just as impressive stone fireplace. They throw many of the coffee brown, white, and raspberry-red embroidered decorative pillows onto the floor, and dump the contents of their pumpkins onto the dark brown comforter.
"For Candy Cake?" Eloise offers Finn four Count Discount candies for one of her favorite fluffy cupcake treats.
"Yeah!" Finn's eyes light up when he sees Eloise is offering one of his favorites in exchange. Deeming the trade to be a fair and good one for both parties, the two siblings begin their night's bartering and trades in earnest.
Fallon sets her broomstick beside the door and places her now-defunct smartphone on a tall wooden end table.
"Fallon," So-Rin calls for her from outside.
Fallon steps back out onto the balcony and finds So-Rin waiting there for her.
He holds out his fist and says, "You dropped this."
Fallon cups her hands beneath So-Rin's, and he drops into her palm the purple-foil candy she'd tucked into her skirt. She quickly checks the tiny pocket sewn into her dress where she'd put the purple candy and her golden coin, and finds a hole.
"Did you have fun trick-or-treating?" So-Rin asks. He leans back against the latched-shut balcony railing, his sky-blue hair glowing by the light of the silvery full moon.
"I had a lot of fun," Fallon smiles, and so does So-Rin.
Fallon carefully unwraps the piece of candy so as not to injure the happy ghost printed on the foil.
"What candy did you get?" So-Rin pushes away from the railing, and in two steps is standing beside Fallon. He peers right along with her at the curious chocolaty-brown morsel.
"I think this is paper," Fallon gently picks at a brown paper cup around the candy's base. She peels the paper away and a bit of the outer coating goes with it, revealing a lighter brown-colored middle. "It smells nice, and a little like peanuts."
Fallon lifts the candy to her lips—
"Let me smell too," So-Rin says. He wraps his arms around Fallon's waist and stoops down low enough to slip his head underneath the brim of Fallon's hat.
So-Rin shuts his eyes. His nose wiggles a little while he takes in the scent. So-Rin straightens a little, and Fallon's hat falls toward the back of her head. She lifts her right wing to keep the hat from falling off.
"What are you smelling?" Fallon stifles a sneeze when So-Rin's wispy forelocks tickle her nose.
So-Rin follows his nose in the direction of Fallon's right ear.
"You smell a lot nicer than that candy," So-Rin opens his gleaming golden eyes.
"You're silly," Fallon chuckles a little, and grabs So-Rin's baggy sleeve.
Fallon pops the bite-size morsel into her mouth. Before she can bite into the chocolate shell, it melts on her tongue, revealing an unexpectedly delicious salty-sweet peanut butter center.
In a distant corner of the city, red fireballs fly through the air and light up the sky. Murky clouds of smoke and debris rise toward the milky blue moon and color its glowing edge with a pinkish chemical haze.
Fallon's ears droop and she closes her eyes. She grips So-Rin's sleeve tighter, a tiny, mewling sound emitting from her closed lips.
So-Rin's eyes sharpen.
"Let me taste too!" So-Rin draws Fallon's waist closer. He bumps Fallon's already unbalanced hat with his hand, and it tumbles down at their feet.
The balcony doors next to theirs swing open.
A tall figure cloaked in heavy black cloth steps outside, their heavy boots thudding mutely over the stone. Clasped in their hand is a long spear with a glittering crescent hook that curves out to one side.
The hooded figure silently observes the activity on the next balcony over.
"There's still a little time left; you should talk to him before you go," Zilpha says. She's leaning against the doorframe with Nora held securely in one arm beneath her comfy leopard-print robe. "He might remember you."
The figure's hood rustles as if the one inside is shaking their head.
Zilpha's practiced smile takes on a hint of disappointment. "I'm glad we could meet again, even if it was only for a little while."
Sparks bloom into a rose-shaped flame between them. A moment later, the flower's fiery petals fall away and reveal a woman with dark skin and a lengthy black ponytail held up by a golden cuff. Her bright red sleeveless top and billowing harem pants are exactly like those of a famous half-genie from a classic game series.
"Nawra of the Desert Rose Temp Agency, here to finalize your wish at 9:00 p.m. right on schedule," the perky young woman says. She takes a clipboard out from under her arm and hands Zilpha a pen. "If I could get your signature here and initials here. And rate how well I did at granting your wish on a scale of 1-10, 1 being worst and 10 being best. There's also room to leave a testimonial if you'd like..." she politely looks away while Zilpha fills out the form.
Once Zilpha's finished with the form, Nawra double-checks to make sure everything's in order. "A 10 out of 10? Thanks ma'am!" Nawra hops up and down, flames shooting out from underneath her feet in the shape of tiny roses. "I finally have a high enough customer satisfaction rating to become a full-timer! Oh yeah—" she turns her wrist, and a thin sheet of glowing fire agate appears. She clasps the sheet in both hands and bows, handing the sheet over to Zilpha. "If you ever have another wish, I'd appreciate your repeat business!"
"Thank you," Zilpha says and accepts the djinni's business card.
A beeping noise comes from Nawra's gold tiara. "9:01 already?" She hops over to the hooded figure's side. Sparks whorl around their feet in a tornado of flame that slowly grows into a magnificent bloom.
Zilpha waves at the hooded figure as it becomes engulfed in flames. The figure lifts its gloved hand and waves back, before both it and Nawra disappear right along with the petallike flames.
A cool breeze chills Zilpha's skin in the absence of Nawra's searing fire.
Zilpha closes her eyes and presses her cheek against the doorframe. Her ears prick at the sound of So-Rin's voice on the balcony over.
"I think you taste sweeter without the candy," So-Rin states with certainty while Fallon licks the chocolate smearing her lips.
Fallon looks up at him, her eyes catching on the corner of So-Rin's mouth. She crosses her arms behind So-Rin's neck, and stands on the tips of her toes. Fallon touches the corner of So-Rin's lips with hers.
"I think it's a little fun," Fallon gently caresses the plush green down behind So-Rin's ears with her velvet fingers.
So-Rin touches his lips to the side of Fallon's chin. The two snuggle their cheeks together.
Fallon stifles a chirp when So-Rin nibbles her earlobe. He traces along her jaw with his lips, gradually moving lower until he finds his favorite spot on Fallon's soft neck.
"Softly," Fallon whispers in a voice too quiet for anyone but So-Rin to hear. She relaxes in So-Rin's supportive arms, the two communicating only with the subtlest of gestures and movements as they guide each other along.
So-Rin knows exactly where Fallon's hands are, her arms, her legs, her wings and her tail. He feels her heart, hears her breath, and tastes the fineness of her skin.
Which is why he's so surprised when he feels an unexpected tug on his slacks.
He pulls back from Fallon's neck just enough to shift his glazed eyes toward the spot in question, and finds Finn standing beside him rubbing his sleepy eyelids with his wrist.
"Eloise wants to know where the bathroom is," Finn half whines, half yawns, no sugar or excitement in the world enough to keep him awake and distracted more than ten minutes past his usual bedtime.
Many thanks to the friends and fans who contributed their characters to this OC crossover story!