Before we begin, I'd just like to point out that the Friend-Gets-Friend competition is now officially CLOSED. I'll spend the next day or so compiling all the names of the people who took part, and then I'll pick ten random winners.
But for now, my Minions, here's Tanith and Billy-Ray, in Trick Or Treat.
Tanith wiped the blood off the carving knife and, ignoring the body of the man she had just stabbed to death, went back to carving her jack-o-lantern.
Her skill with a blade always came in useful this time of year. While other people would be satisfied with triangular eyes and jagged teeth, Tanith transformed her Halloween pumpkins into works of slowly-rotting art. Tonight, she was carving a portrait of her dear friend and object of worship Valkyrie Cain. By all accounts, poor Valkyrie still refused to embrace her destiny as destroyer of the world, but Tanith could forgive her this little bout of self-doubt. After all, if Tanith herself hadn’t been corrupted by a Remnant then she would have been helping Val run from the inevitable.
It was the Remnant inside her, the thing of cruelty and nastiness, that had shared with Tanith this vision of the future, when Valkyrie would become Darquesse and burn all life to a cinder. It had been a glorious revelation, one that had spurred Tanith on to schemes and plans she had never before thought herself capable. But the fact was there were no more Remnants out there. Her kith and kin were all trapped and locked away and hidden from her- so Tanith was on her own. More or less. She had a Texan psychopath who was besotted with her, and there were times when he certainly did come in useful. But she didn’t love him. Her love was reserved for Darquesse, and Darquesse alone.
She put down the carving knife and picked up a candle, placed it carefully inside the jack-o-lantern. She lit it and stepped back. It was a good likeness. No, it was a great likeness. Valkyrie was such a pretty girl, and Tanith had to resist the urge to take a picture and send it to her. But she knew that Valkyrie would only tell Skulduggery, and Skulduggery would trace the picture back here to this small town in Ohio, and suddenly there’d be Cleavers, Cleavers everywhere. It was all so unfair. All Tanith wanted to do was protect Darquesse from the people who were planning on harming her, after all. She was on Valkyrie’s side, in a way. Why couldn’t Val see that?
Headlights looped in around the room, and Tanith went to the window, looked out. A battered old car lurched to a stop outside the house next door, and a shabby middle-aged man climbed out. As she watched him hitch his trousers higher around his waist, Tanith made sure to keep her mind calm and free of violent thought. There were Sensitives who could pick up feelings of hostility, and while she didn’t know if Jerry Ordain was one of them, she couldn’t take the chance. There was too much riding on tonight to risk a stray thought at the wrong time. The fact that he came home at all meant that he hadn’t foreseen tonight’s events, and that was a promising start.
Of course, it was entirely possible that Jerry knew full well she was there, and he had a trap waiting for her the moment she made a move. But that was the trouble with Sensitives- it was very hard to sneak up on them.
She took her sword from the table and left through the back door. She sprung lightly over the fence, landed without a sound in Jerry’s yard as lights flicked on in the house. She crept to the window. No sign of an ambush. She saw Jerry ambling into the kitchenette. If he sensed her watching him, he gave no sign.
Taking a breath, Tanith moved to the door, and rested her hand against the lock. It clicked open and she moved in silently. Jerry was a bachelor, and lived like it. The house smelled of dust and old socks. She slid her sword from its scabbard and walked up the wall. Those floorboards were old and she didn’t trust them not to creak. She crept upside-down along the ceiling, careful not to disturb the bulb as she passed it or cast her shadow onto her target. Jerry had his back to her, and was making himself a massive sandwich. She reached the far wall and walked down until she was standing normally again. He still didn’t turn around. She took out her phone, sent a text. A few moments later, Billy-Ray Sanguine rose up from the floor beside her.
They waited for Jerry to sense the hostility that only a psychopath of Sanguine’s stature could muster- the kind of hostility that he could never conceal, no matter how hard he tried. Instead, Jerry continued making his sandwich. Tanith was impressed at how cool and collected he was. It was almost as if he wasn’t even aware of their presence. Jerry started humming to himself, and Sanguine looked at her. She frowned back. Now it really seemed like he wasn’t aware of their presence.
Once he had piled every conceivable type of meat onto his sandwich, Jerry cut off the crusts, and then sliced it down the middle. He picked up one half, raised it slowly to his mouth and bit into it as he turned. He saw them and shrieked, spitting it all out again as he stumbled back against the fridge. A bit of lettuce hung wetly off his chin.
“Hi,” said Tanith. “Just checking- you are Jerry Ordain, right?”
The man stood there, eyes bulging. “Whuh,” he said.
“Jerry Ordain? You are Jerry the psychic, aren’t you?”
He shook his head. The piece of lettuce fell away. “No. Not me. No. Wrong person.”
“Then who are you?” Sanguine asked.
The man gaped at him. “Me?”
It was Jerry. It was obviously Jerry, from the look on his face as his fear-frozen mind tried coming up with a false name. “I’m... I’m...”
Sanguine added an edge to his voice. “What’s your damn name?”
“Jerry!” Jerry blurted. “But not the Jerry you’re looking for! I’m a different Jerry!”
Jerry had to be the worst liar Tanith had ever met.
“I’ll get him, though,” Jerry said, stepping sideways. “If you stay right there I’ll get him. Just stay there. I’ll be right back, with Jerry. The Jerry you’re looking for.”
Sanguine strolled over to intercept him, and Jerry reversed direction, started heading for the window.
“Make yourselves at home,” he was saying. “Want a sandwich? I just made a sandwich. You can have my sandwich. I won’t be long. Thirty seconds, tops.”
“Jerry,” Tanith said, “we’ve come a long way to talk to you.”
He shook his head. “”You’ve come a long way to talk to the other Jerry...”
Tanith showed him her sword. Jerry stared. And then he bolted for the window.
In his haste, however, he completely forgot about the coffee table, and when his shin smacked into it he barely had time to howl before his face hit the floor. Tanith watched him contort in pain, one hand at his shin, the other covering his mouth. He’d bitten his tongue. She winced. She hated that.
Tears in his eyes, Jerry launched himself up and ran into the wall. He rebounded impressively, gave a little whirl, and staggered to the window. Clumsy hands fumbled at the latch. He finally raised it, glanced behind him to make sure he still had time, and in that moment the window closed. Jerry turned back and dove into the glass, cracking it and careering backwards. He collapsed onto the rug and curled up into a sobbing, moaning ball.
“Pleathe,” he lisped, “shtop hurting me.”
Tanith sighed. “We haven’t touched you, Jerry.”
“I seen a lot of things in my time,” Sanguine said, “but I ain’t never seen a man beat himself up before. That was highly entertainin’.”
Tanith walked over to Jerry as he continued to sob.
“Pleathe don’t kill me.”
“Don’t worry,” Tanith said, her voice soothing. “We weren’t planning on it.”
Sanguine looked at her, surprised. “We weren’t? Why not? He’s clearly an idiot.”
She glared. “We’re not here to hurt anyone. We’re here to ask some questions and leave.”
“But we’ll be killin’ him before we go, won’t we?”
Jerry squealed softly.
“No we won’t,” Tanith insisted. “Violence is not always the answer, Billy-Ray. This time, Jerry here gets to live out the rest of his life in peace- understand?”
She hunkered down and patted Jerry on the shoulder. “Don’t mind him, Jerry. He’s cranky. He’s used to being the only American in my life, but now there’s you. Jealousy is a terrible thing in a grown man, isn’t it?”
“I ain’t jealous.”
“Of course not, dear. Jerry, what do you say you answer our questions and then we leave you alone? Does that sound good to you?”
“Good man. How’s your tongue?”
“I bith it.”
“I can see that.”
“I can see that too.”
He stuck his tongue out at her. “Ith it bad?”
His tongue was bloody and horrible. She took a small leaf from her coat, and placed it delicately into his mouth. “Don’t say anything for a few seconds. Let that heal.”
Jerry blinked at her. His eyes were wet. He wasn’t an impressive human being.
“Show me,” she said, and he stuck his tongue out again. She nodded. “It’s healing. It was only a small bite. Now you can answer our questions, can’t you?”
He nodded, and she stood.
“You’re involved with a group of people, aren’t you? A group of sorcerers from different Sanctuaries around the world.”
“How... how did you know that?”
“I’ve spent the last few months asking a lot of people a lot of questions. See, I figured there’d be someone out there who would be trying to do something about Darquesse before she even turned up. That’s when I heard your name for the first time. You’re a psychic, aren’t you Jerry?”
“I... I prefer the term clairvoyant.”
Tanith did her best not to roll her eyes. “Clairvoyant, of course. And as a clairvoyant, you would have seen visions of Darquesse.”
“Of course,” Jerry said, nodding. He was still on the floor, but he was sitting a little straighter now. His chest puffed out slightly. “Even low-level Sensitives picked up something. For a clairvoyant of my ability, it was a veritable tsunami of images and sensations and emotions. Very powerful.”
“What did you see?”
“I saw death.”
Sanguine gave a barely-suppressed sigh.
“What do you mean?” Tanith asked, smiling at Jerry.
“I saw a city destroyed. Streets cracked and broken. Buildings burning. And I saw her. I saw Darquesse.”
“Did you see her face?”
“Alas, no, I did not,” said Jerry, and Tanith resisted smacking him for using the word alas in an irony-free context. “But there is no doubt in my mind that it was her. Ten foot tall, she was. A terrible sight to behold.”
“Ten foot tall?” Sanguine asked.
Jerry nodded. “Oh yes. Easily. And the way she moved... like a cat.”
Sanguine frowned behind his sunglasses. “What, on all fours?”
Sanguine continued. “I heard from another psychic- sorry, clairvoyant- that Darquesse had long black fingernails that she used to cut off people’s heads. Did you see that?”
Jerry nodded. “It was awful.”
“And she shot laser beams out of her eyes.”
“Well,” Jerry said with a shrug, “I don’t know if they were laser beams, but yes. Devastating blasts, they were.”
“This clairvoyant friend of ours,” Sanguine continued, “he also caught a glimpse of red hair beneath her cloak. Did you see that? Don’t worry if you didn’t. Our friend is probably the most powerful Sensitive in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t see as much as him.”
“Red hair?” Jerry said. “Yes. Yes, I saw that too, now that you mention it. Long, tousled red hair.”
“He said it was straight.”
“Long straight red hair, yes.”
“He said it was short.”
“Short straight red hair, that’s what I meant to say.”
Sanguine looked at Tanith, who glowered and poked Jerry. He screamed. She had poked him with her sword.
“You’re lying to us,” she said. He screamed again. “We don’t have a psychic friend. Billy-Ray made all that stuff up. You didn’t see a vision, did you?”
She twisted the sword and his screams reached a new pitch. “No! No I didn’t! I’m sorry! Please stop stabbing me!”
She withdrew the sword, and wiped the tip of the blade on his shirt. “Are you even a Sensitive, Jerry?”
“I am,” he whimpered, cradling his wound, “but I’m not a very good one. Sometimes... sometimes I can predict the weather, if it’s a nice day.”
“Is it going to rain tomorrow?” Sanguine asked.
“I don’t know,” Jerry confessed. “I can only predict a few minutes into the future. Most of the time I have to watch the forecast like everyone else.”
“You,” Sanguine said, “are the worst psychic I’ve ever met.”
“Does anyone else know that you’re a fraud?” asked Tanith.
“No,” Jerry said, sobbing. “I’ve managed to keep them fooled. It hasn’t been easy, but whenever they ask me to look into the future I always try to be as vague as possible. I talk about shadows and death and ominous feelings, and they generally infer their own meanings onto that and then leave me alone.”
“So when this group of sorcerers asked you to find out more about Darquesse,” Tanith said, “you basically just copied what every other Sensitive was saying?”
“Essentially, yes,” Jerry said. “Can I have a bandage? I’m bleeding quite badly here.”
“First you tell us what they’re planning, and then we’ll see about bandages.”
“I’m losing a lot of blood.”
Tanith let the veins rise beneath her skin, and her black lips curled into a smile. “Tell us what they’re planning.”
Jerry paled, his face going slack. “Yes. Yes, of course. They’re going after weapons. Four weapons, that they think could hurt Darquesse.”
“Where are these weapons?”
“Scattered,” said Jerry. “All over the world. They’re going to go after them.”
“And you know where they’re goin’?” Sanguine asked.
“I have a list of the possible locations.” Jerry took out his wallet, rifled through it, came out with a crumpled piece of paper.
Tanith took it from him, examined it, and nodded. “Looks like we won’t be needing you anymore.”
He brightened. “So that’s it? I can go?”
She pulled him to his feet. “You can go,” she smiled, and her sword flashed and she took off his head.
“You,” Sanguine said, “are delicious when you’re vicious.”
She gave him a smirk, and led the way to the front door. She opened it and froze.
Six little children in Halloween outfits looked up at her.
“Trick or treat,” said the little witch. Surrounding the witch was a pirate, a zombie, a vampire, a Mad Hatter and a rabbit. They rattled their buckets.
“Uh,” said Tanith.
Sanguine appeared at her elbow, and grinned at the kids. “Look,” he said, “there’s a little zombie. Smells a darn sight better than the real thing, doesn’t he? And a vampire! Doesn’t she look cute? And a rabbit!” He faltered. “A rabbit. That... that ain’t exactly scary, though, is it?”
The rabbit looked up at him. “It is if you’re scared of rabbits.”
Tanith nodded. “You’ve got to admit, he makes a good point.”
“You talk funny,” said the witch. “Where are you from?”
Tanith smiled. “I’m from London.”
The pirate frowned. “Is that in France?”
The Mad Hatter scowled. “It’s in England, dummy.” He looked at Tanith. “You’re English. Why do you have a sword?”
“Because I’m an English ninja,” Tanith replied. “We’re just like regular ninjas, except we wear leather and flirt more.”
The kids nodded, satisfied with the definition, and then rattled their buckets again. “Trick or treat,” they chorused.
“This actually isn’t our house,” Tanith told them, “but whatever you find in there, is yours to keep.”
The pirate perked up. “Even the TV?”
“Especially the TV.”
The kids glanced at each other, then stormed the house. Tanith waited a moment, watching them approach Jerry’s headless corpse warily. The rabbit hesitated, then nudged Jerry’s head with his fluffy foot. The head rolled in its own blood, and the rabbit shrugged. “That’s so fake,” he said, and turned to help the pirate with the TV.