Heads Will Roll

It was a very peaceful, very early morning on All Hallows' Eve. A day most people would anticipate. 

Most people who did not have errands on that certain day that spelt impending doom if not completed, at least. 

Tak tak tak

The sound of tapping on the windowsill pierced the room of its slumbering owner. Maybe if she ignored it the sound would go aw- 

Taktaktaktaktaktaktaktaktak-

As soon as the window was opened, there was a flutter of wings, and a raven swooped into her room, circling the ceiling a few times before dropping a bound, ancient scroll on her bed, scattering dust and feathers. He then perched atop the curtain railings and started to preen himself proudly. 

Upon inspection, the message, in bold, serif font, read as follows: 

Dear Ms. Briar Grimm, 

I hope you are doing well. After all, you have to be prepared for the matter at hand, as we have discussed previously. 

Well, it was more that he mostly spoke, not letting her get a word in, and then disappeared, leaving her in that café with the two lovebirds snogging. 

Unfortunately, I am unable to join you and assist you today, as I have very urgent business to attend to. So I will be sending over my son to be your partner. I hope you will be able to cooperate well and collect all the lost souls before midnight. I would wish you both good luck, but I am... feeling very pessimistic about your success rate. 

P.S. Please accept every cookie he gives you, and do NOT ask him about his eye. 

The raven started to hop around the room curiously. Noticing something shiny and bright, he flew over and started to peck at it. 

    • Mother Goose
      Mother Goose

      Happily for the raven, the majority of Briar's bedroom was shiny or bright or glittery, so the messenger had plenty to play with before Briar finally noticed the wandering corvid in her just-woken-up haze.

      "Hey! Shoo!" she shouted at the bird pecking at her ribbon collection. "You leave that alone, you big feather duster!" The witch bit back a groan at the loose black feathers messing up her pretty pink princess aesthetic."Ughh..."

      It could only be Death's bird.

      Who else would send a raven with scroll, stamped with a skull-embossed seal?

      Honestly.

      She'd only met the skeleton once, which was overall a terrifying experience complete with evil scythes and haunted vegetation but ended oddly pleasantly in cute little diner? Death had stuck her with the check before disappearing, which was amusing in a dark kind of way. (She guessed there were no pockets on those robes.)

      Not good he was sending her personal mail.

      Fumbling for glasses on her bedside, the goose skimmed the letter. Aside from the general upsetting idea of Death having more important things to worry about than actual lost souls, one worrying part stood out:

      'SON'.

      Death had a kid?!! With who - and... how??? And what was wrong with his eyes?? There were a lot of questions to be explored and Briar wasn't sure that she really wanted the answers.

      At least there would be cookies...?

      "...how long do you think until Death Jr gets here?" Briar asked the raven. The temptation to hide under the covers and pretend this wasn't happening was strong.

      • Harmonizer
        Harmonizer

        The raven ignored Mother Goose and continued to peck peck peck at the ribbon. Soooo shiny~ 

        He only perked up, a bit of a glittery-yellow ribbon in his beak, when Briar spoke to him. 

        "...caw?" he tilted his head to the side, acting dumb. After getting a response from her, he burst into noisy laughter and flapped onto the dresser. "I'm sorry, it's been a while since I've messed with humans! You have no idea how many of them want to kill me! Name's Steven, assistant to Death and his sons. When is Victor arriving? Hmm, let's see... it won't be long. He has trouble with teleporting, personally the other one is better at it but he had to help his dad so he won't be showing up. Buuuuusy time o' the year!" 

        Downstairs, there was a quiet, ominous knock on the door. Although the knocker probably didn't intend for it to be. Letting her deal with answering the door, the black bird started nosing around her belongings. Particularly the rounded, beady ones or shiny sequins. 

        "Oh, by the way, do you happen to have any eyeballs? You're a witch, right? You definitely have eyeballs. I won't turn my beak up at eye of newt." 

        • Mother Goose
          Mother Goose

          She really shouldn't have been surprised the bird talked, but it still gave her a jolt.

          Especially when it laughed at her.

          Clearly the raven had learned tact from its master. No wonder everyone wanted to murder him.

          Though judging by the general mange, angry mortals wouldn't have to wait long for the raven drop dead. "Steven?" That was a terrible name for a raven. "Should it be Quoth or Nevermore or something spookier?" Mother Goose frowned at the bird. "Sons? He has sons?" As in multiple, more than one? How many baby deaths were lurking in the streets?!

          "Don't be so stereotypical!" Briar snapped. She did, in fact, have nice bowl of eyeballs chilling in the fridge for trick-or-treaters, but she wasn't going to tell him that.

          The witch eeped at the sudden knock. It seemed to echo, getting creepier and louder.

          He was here.

          She threw a bathrobe over her pajamas and crept down the stairs. "Um- hello?" she whispered nervously, barely cracking the door open.

          • Harmonizer
            Harmonizer

            "Oh, don't be silly, he only has two!" Steven snorted. "And also, rude? Just because I'm a raven doesn't mean I should be associated with books written by a sad man! Ah like mah name!" 

            Despite Briar telling him she didn't have eyeballs, the raven continued to poke around the place with his beak. "I'm sure you have 'em somewhere..." 

            When she answered the door, a very cold breeze, along with the familiar stench of Death greeted her. Followed by... something else that didn't belong. 

            The happy smell of freshly baked cookies. 

            "Hello!" 

            A tall, thin vulture with long silver hair parted over his right eye peeked back through the crack with a shy smile, just as an ominous flash of lightning and a clap of thunder sounded behind him, making him look skeletal and horrifying for a moment. 

            "It's me, Death's son. I'm Victor, but you can call me Vio. Nice ter meet you. Can... uh, can I come in?" 

            • Mother Goose
              Mother Goose

              It was hardly fair for Steven to be calling her rude.

              "I certainly don't keep them in the bedroom," Mother Goose insisted. There were brightly wrapped foil stamped with pupils in a dish, but those were only cleverly made-up chocolates.

              Briar slammed the door.

              Oh no.

              Oh no. Nononono, she didn't- That was Death's son, she couldn't just shut the door in his face! She'd have to nail it shut, get the bricks up, escape out the kitchen window...

              But there was no running from Death.

              "Muscle spasm," she apologized weakly, cracking the door back open. The goose tried to rearrange her face into a welcoming smile, but worry edged all around it. "Please..." she swallowed hard. "Come in..?"

              • Harmonizer
                Harmonizer

                The next time she opened the door, Vio was still smiling, but looking a little hurt. 

                "Tha's o'right," he said, accepting her apology and stepping in. Her lovely little home started to stink up a bit as the stench of Death invaded ever dark corner and crevice. "I, uh, I brought you something. Made them myself this mornin'." 

                He held out a ziplock bag full of chocolate chip cookies. Very fresh, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies. But it was held in a way like he was expecting her to smack his hand, or grab the cookies and toss them out. 

                There was a loud crash in the kitchen, which made him jump and disappear behind a curtain... not that he was doing a good job, being inky black purple against the pastel fabric. 

                "Oops. I mean-! It was... uh, it was broken already," called Steven as he flapped out from the kitchen, looking as innocent as can be. Except there was a sparkle of foil, and some chocolate stain on his beak. 

                "Steven?" Vio peeked out from the curtain. 

                "Hey! How's my favourite boy doing?" Steven chuckled as the vulture hugged him happily. 

                "I've missed you! Is Vic treating you well?" 

                "Ah, same old, same old," Steven waved a wing. "Hey, do you have eyeballs?" 

                • Mother Goose
                  Mother Goose

                  Death did say to accept any cookies.

                  And they did smell good...

                  Briar took the bag, trying not to offend the junior reaper anymore than she already had. Thankfully, he seemed to have put his skin back on but it was terribly awkward just standing there in the hall. She was almost thankful the raven was making a nuisance of himself, if only because it gave her an excuse to run into the kitchen.

                  "Steven! Out, OUT!" The witch shouted. "How'd you like to be a blue bird? One that only goes cheep, cheep?" she threatened, carrying Vio's cookies, now nicely plated on pink serving dish. A coffee pot followed behind her, pouring a cup of sweet coffee that was immediately made sweeter by a truly ludicrous amount of cream, foam, and sprinkles.

                  "Um, Vio," Briar asked. "Would you like coffee, or tea, or juice- I wasn't really expecting anyone this early, so I don't have anything made... but I could whip something up if you want! If you want. Do you want- I mean, haha, you've brought all these cookies, I just..."

                  Now it was awkward again.

                  • Harmonizer
                    Harmonizer

                    "I ain't done nothin' wrong!" Steven protested as he perched on top of the curtain railings again, hopefully out of reach. 

                    "I am so sorry," Vio apologised as he followed Briar into the kitchen, even though he was not at fault. "I'll pay fer any damage, and... I'll help clean up..." 

                    He pulled out his wallet and cringed slightly; he'd forgotten to exchange for American Dollars. "Um... would you accept euros? An' coffee will be fine, thank you..." 

                    Although, upon taking a sip, he immediately regretted it, but he wasn't Death's son for nothing. Keeping a poker face, he managed to swallow down the cavities-inducing beverage without gagging or writhing on the floor, foaming at the mouth. 

                    "It's okay if you jus' woke up, ye don't have ter give me anything!" Vio held up his hands. "My father tends ter ferget mortals sleep. After all, he only collects them when they, uh... you know..." 

                    He blushed slightly, a black-purple tinge on his cheeks as he started playing with his hair. 

                    "He wants ter make sure you have better reflexes than, uh... last time... by the way, Death wants ter know, how is Fluffy?" 

                    • Mother Goose
                      Mother Goose

                      The hexbolt that singed Steven tail feathers a bright, cheerful blue said otherwise.

                      Briar grinned at the hit, before switching from vengeful glee to host mode. "Oh, nononono, you're the guest, Vio sweetie! You don't have to do anything- relax! I said reLAX!!!" The witch (slightly) bullied Vio into sitting down at the kitchen table, refilling his cup. She joined him at the table, dunking one of his cookies into her own coffee, just about to compliment the vulture on his excellent baking skills when he brought up the reason for the visit again... 

                      "Oh no, we don't want that..." Briar faltered. Her hand went to her heart, in nervous, just-checking-it's-not-a-gaping-hole-there manner.

                      "...Fluffy?" She blinked and perked up. "Oh, he's fabulous, I think he really learned his lesson~ in fact he just sent me a letter!" The goose shuffled through the mail, pulling out a thick envelope to show Vio. It said RESTRAINING ORDER in big red letters. "Isn't nice he wants to stay in touch~?" 

                      • Harmonizer
                        Harmonizer

                        Steven cawed in surprise, then glared at Briar. "Oi! Now that there's uncalled for!" He started to attack, when something caught his eye and he smirked. 

                        "Really, I'm fine, I'm- eep," Vio sat down obediently, his tail waving nervously until his cup was refilled. He started to sip the hot beverage, out of nervousness than actually wanting to drink it. 

                        "It's just a few lessons in dodging. I'm sure you'll do very well. Oh, I shouldn't forget..." 

                        He pulled a scythe out of thin air, decorated with a pink sparkly ribbon. Its handle was striped like a red and white candy cane even though it wasn't Hogswatc-, err, Christmas yet. It looked all cute and pretty, but also slightly wrong, like the blade was repulsed by what it was wearing and wanted to reject it, but couldn't, like a kid all dressed up at a photoshoot. So it would cooperate, albeit grudgingly. It didn't seem to be Death's cranky aggressive scythe, at least. 

                        "For you. We need ter use it against the possessed pumpkins. Also... do you have something practical or should I get you an outfit too?" 

                        He stared at the restraining order and forced a smile. "Wow. That's... nice of him. I'm sure he's learnt something." 

                        Probably to avoid Mother Goose at all costs in the future. 

                        Something fell with a plop on Briar's head as Steven finally retaliated, fluttering above her. A hairball Fluffy had left behind in a dark corner, out of spite. Probably not as bad as what she'd originally think it was. Just sliiiightly less bad? 

                        "Okay, that's enough, Steven," Vio stood and scowled at the bird, looking momentarily skeletal again. 

                        "She started it!" 

                        "Yer fifty years old, you should be mature enough ter know better!" 

                        "Viooooo, shhh. I'm younger than I look..." Steven faltered as Vio glared at him, then pouted and landed on the table, muttering something to the goose as he looked off to the side. 

                        "Steven..." 

                        "Fine! I'm sorry, Miss Briar, about breakin' your stuff, and messin' up your hair," the raven grumbled, and held up a wing in apology. 

                        • Mother Goose
                          Mother Goose

                          Hmpf! What was with the skeleton crew and just assuming that she didn't have practical clothing. Her clothes were very practical! Those sparkles were weaponized!!! And the excessive floofiness was-

                          well, ok, maybe Death had a teensy-tiny point about her Mother Goose wardrobe not being 100% practical.

                          "Ummm.... well, your dad's outfit is still... here." Briar made an involuntary face. It still hadn't turned all the way back yet, even after a vigorous scrubbing with spell-remover (clearly Death lingered) so she'd stashed the now weirdly split gothic adventurer-fluffy pink tutu abomination in the back of the closet.

                          "But if you have something better-" Please give. You look like you have taste.

                          "Vio, are you sure you really, really need me for this? I mean, Death is..." Briar floundered. What was the right word to describe the Unflinching End of All Beings and Ultimate Destroyer of Life Itself to his offspring? "...sweet to ask, but you and Steven must be better at this kind of thing, right? I'd only slow you down! I'm just a witch, it's not like I've got a scythe-"

                          Oh.

                          Clearly some work had gone into customizing the weapon for her. That was both thoughtful (such a nice gesture, aww! ) and terrifying (no getting out of it). "I guess this is what it feels like to get deputized, huh," she said. 

                          EW-EW-EWWWWw!!!

                          There was screaming and flailing at the splat of there's something GROSS IN MY HAIRRRRR. It was not good for the witch's kitchen that she screamed and flailed while holding onto her new scythe, accidentally reaping several more dishes and a tea towel before the hairball fell off. Briar shrieked again at the sight, possibly to be as dramatic as possible. 

                          • Harmonizer
                            Harmonizer

                            Despite her satisfying reaction, Steven looked small and forlorn... and also doing his best to not cackle out loud. His chest was puffing from the trapped laughter. 

                            With surprising reflexes, Vio reached out and snagged the hairball. In his other hand, he presented a pack of lavender wet wipes to the screaming and flailing witch, also managing to grab the scythe as soon as the hairball was deftly deposited in the bin. 

                            "The first rule would be ter always practise scythe safety," he said meekly, the blade inches from his face. "And, uh... yes. I did make you an outfit. It's a rush job, but..." 

                            When she'd calmed down enough, he presented her the outfit. It was... well, it was dark purple. Still a shade lighter than black! The loose turtleneck collar would cover her slender neck and the lacy sleeves ended at the upper arms, with black velvet ribbons. The tassled skirt was quite short , probably just for show, but it came with thighs and more ribbons. There were also gloves. With ribbons! Someone had a good memory.Or rather, a good shared memory. 

                            The whole thing was still very chilly. 

                            • Mother Goose
                              Mother Goose

                              Briar took the wipes, scrubbing away at her hair, glaring at the raven. "He's such a-!"

                              But then new clothes. And this outfit- OoooooOOOoooohohoh! Much more in style. So dark, but so femme! She could live with this!

                              "Thank you!!!" the goose squealed, kissing Vio's cheek. "You made this? It's so PRETTY!" she gasped. "I'll go get changed~! Back in a flash~" she sang, pressing the scythe into Vio's arms and bouncing off to the next room with the Mort Couture. 

                              • Harmonizer
                                Harmonizer

                                 Vio started to tell her she was welcome, but his brain shut down upon being... wha-what was that? Was that what he thought it was? A sappy smile broke out as he touched his cheek delicately, watching her departing figure. Surely no one would kiss a monster like him. But it had just happened. That was real. 

                                "She's already seeing someone, you know?" Steven offered unhelpfully. 

                                "I know. And I won't interfere. She's just so... sweet," he sighed happily. 

                                "She turned me blue!!" 

                                • Mother Goose
                                  Mother Goose

                                   Briar was gone for slightly longer than a flash.

                                  There was the sound of running water- a shower?- a snatch of melody- oh, yeah, definitely from singing in the shower- a spritz and- muffled heavy construction noises? (makeup routine??)

                                  "It's a good look on you~!" Briar sang brightly, sweeping back into the room, clearly having overheard the last part of the boy's conversation. She even patted Steven on the head, to show no hard feelings. No removal of the spell though... He'd probably be able to shake it off his feathers sooner or later.

                                  "Well, what do you think, boys?" The witch gave them a little twirl, mainly for showing off the ribbons. "Is it to die for, or what~?" she giggled.

                                  • Harmonizer
                                    Harmonizer

                                    Steven puffed up and grumbled to himself about how his forefathers and the forefathers before them would peck people's eyes out while they were still alive and how his kind never gets respect anymore. 

                                    Vio ignored the raven and clasped his hands together when he saw how the outfit covered Briar. "It suits you beautifully!" he smiled, almost like a child for a split second, and politely held out his hand, his scythe materialising in the other. 

                                    "Shall we practise outside, Miss Grimm?" 

                                    The entire practise would take a whole two hours, and a couple of bruises, until the reaper's son deemed Briar able to reap well and keep herself alive for at least fifteen minutes in battle. He could be kind and soft-spoken, but he was surprisingly strict on performances. 

                                    "Remember, they can escape fairly quickly as souls if you only break through the pumpkin shell. It needs to go right through the soul, or we may never catch them again. The consequences - for them - will be severe." 

                                    Steven brought out some tea for them, and then hopped away to help himself to the birdseed. 

                                    • Mother Goose
                                      Mother Goose

                                      The goose gave a small gasp of delight. She never turned down a dance and scythe-training was almost exactly like dancing! Briar couldn't help but hum as Victor guided her through the new steps-

                                      (Shall we- fight? On a bright cloud of music shall we brawl~?)

                                      -but it was a relief to accept a glass of sweet-tea and rest a moment. The goose fanned herself as she sipped the beverage, hoping the actual soul collection would be easier.

                                      "Aww, poor lil' pumpkins. Can't you go easy on them?" she asked. In the bright afternoon light, it was hard to believe that the lost souls could be anything that scary... "I'm sure we can find them all and be back in time for trick-or-tricking- OOOH, do you want to go trick-or-treating with me, Vio?" Briar asked eagerly, already thinking up cute couple-costumes.

                                      • Harmonizer
                                        Harmonizer

                                        Vio subconsciously fiddled with his fringe, flopped over his blind, scarred eye, and shook his head. 

                                        "Absolutely not. They are going t'be very scared of us, Miss Grimm. But once we send them on their way, they will feel so much better. Trust me," he smiled at her sincerely. 

                                        That smile disappeared as his jaw dropped. 

                                        "You... you want me t'go treat or treatin' with you??" he looked incredulous. But for different reasons. "B-but I'm repulsive. An' I stink. No one wants t'stay near me fer so long! And yer so sweet an' nice and- oh I'm terrible at this," he blushed and burst into tears and quickly rubbed at them, embarrassed. 

                                        • Mother Goose
                                          Mother Goose

                                          "You don't smell that bad-" Outside. With a light breeze. Surrounded by the much better and stronger smell of burning pumpkins and hay and untended apple-ciders...

                                          Briar turned a frantic eye towards the raven. Steven, help. Steven. Help, Steven, your reaper is broken!!! He's leaking. Help me!! I made Death's little boy cry- very awkwardly, she reached out a hand to pat his shoulder. "You're nice too!" she tried. "Not scary- well, not on purpose-"

                                          • Harmonizer
                                            Harmonizer

                                             Steven waved a wing. "Oh, he'll be fine. Just give him some space." 

                                            Sure enough, Vio had already calmed down and was just rubbing at his eyes. 

                                            "I'm sorry," he apologised to Briar. "This happens ter me sometimes. And I was afraid it would be a... a prank..." his voice became small. "People are never friendly towards me... I'm sorry for misjudging you." 

                                            He gently took her hand in his cold ones. "I'd love to go trick or treatin' with you! ...If you still want to, that is..." 

                                            A particularly bold possessed pumpkin flew up just then, cackling madly as it attempted to give them both a nasty concussion. 

                                            • Mother Goose
                                              Mother Goose

                                              AwwwwwwwWWWWwwwWwwwWw, the poor little psychopomp-!!! Briar would have reassured him, totally, but due to maniacal gourd, instead she shrieked, yanking the vulture towards her. They hit dirt just in time.

                                              "P-p-pumpkin!" Briar explained, letting go of Vio. Somehow, she expected to confront the spirits at a haunted house or a pet cemetery or something, dunno, more thematic- a hayloft?! She wasn't ready yet! It was still light out!

                                              The pumpkin swooped back like a cheesy 80s movie effect.

                                              The witch swung her scythe at it, hitting at an awkward angle, sending it flying like an overgrown baseball. "Sugar!"

                                              "There's more?!" she cried, spotting more orange shapes headed their way.

                                              • Harmonizer
                                                Harmonizer

                                                 Vio yelped, then blushed when he realised he had fallen atop her, almost bumping beaks. Quickly, he stood and helped her up, just in time for her to deflect the pumpkin with her scythe. 

                                                "Excellent work, Miss Grimm!" he complimented her, and drew his own scythe, swinging it down upon a pumpkin. The ghoulish gourd exploded and pale mist seeped into his scythe. Fortunately, hollowed pumpkins did not have innards. But they did have ectoplasm. "And those are th' early birds! The ones who usually sleep in late only show up at night!" 

                                                Steven squawked a complaint as one of the possessed pumpkins attempted to use him as a pillow, and fluttered off to hide in the house. 

                                                • Mother Goose
                                                  Mother Goose

                                                   Of course they had ectoplasm, what kind of haunted object didn't explode into a Kid's Choice Award-level of green slime?! Not ones attacking her garden, that's what!!!

                                                  "Ew..." And ick! And yuck! And- Steven was a total traitor! "COWARD! Get out here and heeeelp!" Did he just lock the door?! Rude!

                                                  "Vio, darling~ did you say they were sleeping?" she asked, stabbing her first pumpkin, doing her best not to recoil from the resulting ectoplasm explosion. "And coming at night? When the children are swarming the streets?!"

                                                  Not that the witch particularly cared about the safety of random kids, but pumpkin was a worrying popular costume this year. What if there was an... accident?

                                                  • Harmonizer
                                                    Harmonizer

                                                    "I am so sorry, Miss Grimm, I will try to clean up when we're done with the ones tonight, I promise," Vio said, breaking the last of the pumpkin poltergeists. "And yes. I was going ter suggest scoutin' by air, but you gave me an excellent idea. Mingling with th'crowd!" 

                                                    He pulled out a map of St Canard. 

                                                    "We can teleport from area ter area, starting from Bayton. That way, we'll make sure we did a proper clean-up and keep everyone safe! And we will be posing as trick or treaters the whole time!" 

                                                    "Good idea! I could be a prop!" Steven grinned. He had shown up again after the danger was gone, perching on Brair's head innocently. 

                                                    • Mother Goose
                                                      Mother Goose

                                                      "Oh, it's ok, Vio," the witch said, rather dismally, but not wanting to put Death's son on chore duty. "- it's good for the boogonias?" Probably good for them anyway. There was a lot of slime to absorb...

                                                      "Ack!" Briar said, swatting at the surprise crow. "Does this look like a scarecrow costume to you?" she demanded.

                                                      The idea of trick or treating, even just posing as trick-or-treaters, brightened her attitude considerably. "Oh! Yay! OOH- we'll need pillowcases!" the goose said, magicking up two colourful, bottomless pillowcases just for them. "Do you want Cute Little Lost Bunnies, oooor this skull and cross bone- ohgosh, is that really insensitive?" she gasped. Maybe skeleton people didn't like little stereotypical cartoon heads on things.