Equinox's Rise

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October 30th

At 4:00 in the morning, Charlie Brotzman woke up at his home away from home.

He was in a large apartment building in Duluth, within driving distance of Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin, his home. All of his friends were in Superior, he had to go to school in a grey, dull building, and he didn't even get to trick-or-treat at anywhere that gave out the big candy bars, because all the adults who gave them out were in Superior. This was the worst Halloween ever.

"It doesn't have to be."

Charlie sat bolt upright and looked around the room, his skin clammy. Someone had just whispered to him, in a soft, sweet voice, which felt like caramel on his ears.

"Halloween's a fun holiday, Charlie. and you're not having fun, are you?"

"Who are you?" He pulled his stuffed kangaroo close to him.

"I'm Martha! I've come to give candy to the good boys and girls of your town. You've had such a rough time…"

A caramel candy appeared over Charlie's bed, and landed in his lap. The boy picked it up and unwrapped it, chewing on the sweet, cooked sugar.

"Good, isn't it?"

"Y-yeah." He smiled. "I-I like it."

"You can have more! As much as you want. And there's apple and pumpkin pies, and cider, and Hershey's Kisses…"

The door to the boy's bedroom slowly swung open.

"You want that, don't you, Charlie?"


"Follow my voice." The door creaked further open.

Outside of this dream, Charlie Brotzman and eighteen others departed from their buildings in Duluth and Superior, and walked all the way to Sloth's Pit, Wiconsin in their sleep, guided by the honeyed words of a woman whose voice was stained with the sweet scent of rot.

At 9:00 in the morning, half a dozen men and women convened in Site-87's briefing room. Several hours earlier, over a dozen perimeter alarms had been tripped, and surveillance had picked up nineteen children bound for the fairgrounds where SCP-097 was located.

"Why the hell weren't they stopped?" Dr. Partridge snapped at the commander of Sigma-10, Harold March. "You said you had an airtight defense around the zone after the Scooby Gang rammed through!"

"Partridge, you've read 097's file. You know that… that kids can show up on cameras and not be seen." He held his head in his hands. "But… we've confirmed all the kids are from Sloth's Pit. They vanished from the safehouses in Duluth and Superior last night."

"Nineteen of them. Same number that were sacrificed to her in the sixties." Katherine Sinclair rubbed her face. "She's trying to… gain power. The Williamses said that she was trapped here, and after forty-eight years, I can only imagine how badly she wants out."

"So, instead of eating kids to feed her cult, she's eating kids to feed herself. Fan-fucking-tastic!" Malcolm Guillard put his head in his hands. "I should have seen the connections. I'm a goddamn forensic analyst!"

"Mal, you're not an investigator." Tristan Bailey patted him on the back. "I think the only reason Partridge figured it out as quickly as he did is because it's a botanical anomaly. But at the same time…" he sighed. "We need to get in there."

"We can't." Claire Hennessy, acting director of Site-87, shook her head. "We'd be violating about nine dozen pieces of Foundation protocol—"

"Fuck the protocol!" Partridge snapped. "Nineteen children are— are going to be eaten by a… thing that's going to turn them into pumpkins like some fucked-up version of Cinderella! I've got over five-thousand liters of the most potent herbicide developed by the GOC in storage. If I have to, I'm going to load it into a tanker truck and ram it into the pumpkin myself!"

"Let me finish!" Hennessy snapped back. "We'd be violating protocol, but we have loopholes."

"Like what?" Sinclair frowned.

"Well, if a member of Foundation personnel — let's say, for the sake of example, Claude Mattings — were to be out on a drive near the north end of town, bound for Duluth to grab some candy for his ailing fiance, and just happened to see anomalous activity…"

"He'd have to report it in." Partridge smirked. "And when he does…"

"I can deploy as many members of any task force as I feel is necessary to contain this anomaly. Completely hypothetical, of course." She pulled her phone from her pocket. "He should be on his way back soon…"

Claire Hennessy's phone rang. "Look who's calling. Ladies and gents, let's do this."

At 1:00 in the afternoon, Seren Pryce loaded her rifle. She was a sniper, so her usefulness here was questionable, at best, but she, and most of Sigma-10, had come along for the ride.

"Gotta give it to Hennessy," Ruby commented from the cab of the transport. "Woman knows how to find loopholes."

"Probably half the reason she and Bailey haven't been reprimanded for being in an undeclared relationship." February shook his head.

"Wait— what?" Nick Ewell said as he finished loading his grenade launcher. "Bailey and Hennessy— seriously?"

"You didn't know?" Blake frowned. "Literally the entire site knows."

"Keep in mind I try to avoid Multi-U as much a possible," Ewell frowned. "Three words: July 4th, 2011."

"Oh god, right. The Ultra-Patriotic Universe." Pryce shuddered. "I heard about that. Was it really that bad?"

"They still find chains of firecrackers in the vents," Blake affirmed.

Pryce nodded as she loaded her pistol with beryllium-lead slugs. "Ruby, you see the zone yet?"

"Not yet. Convoy ahead of us probably has, though." She got on the radio. "S10-L, this is 10-25, visual confirmation of the Zone?"

«Affirmative.» 10-L responded. «It looks… uh. 10-25, you got the time?»

Ruby looked at her watch. "Five past one."

«Then why the fuck can I see stars?»

Ruby looked up at the sky as they passed the outer perimeter of 097's containment zone, and gasped. Above her, the stars in the autumn sky shone. She could see Orion's belt as clear as she could see her own face. "Holy shit."

"Fuck me." Blake cocked his shotgun. "That's… really not good."

«10-25, we're preparing to breach. Respirator on, and make sure your heavy has herbicide grenades loaded.»

"Copy that." Ruby pulled alongside the rest of the convoy and kept her headlights trained on the wall.

"It's now or never," February checked his rifle. "We destroy that thing, or die trying."

"First volley, fire!"

Half a dozen grenadiers raised their launchers high. Balls of plastic filled with a deadly herbicide sailed through the air, over the walls of what had formerly been Zone-097. The exterior of the site had been covered by vines and gourds. Several of them were arranged in the shape of human bodies, no doubt growing over what had once been Foundation agents. Overhead, a red alarm light flashed, barely visible through the plant matter growing over it. A weak klaxon sounded from vine-choked horns.

As the grenades exploded, they could see clouds of green smoke over the walls, and plants withered. Some of them could swear they heard screaming.

"Breaching team!" Commander Harold March yelled. "Tear down this wall!"

Six men and women primed defective portable containment spheres— they had managed to get working ones from another universe, but the old models served a different purpose. They opened, and the vacuum created by them tore down the walls around the site, the sheer vacuum force seemingly deleting matter from existence.

"Second volley, fire!"

Six more herbicide grenades sailed through the air, and they saw the swaths of plant life before them wither and die through the hole in the wall. Vibrant orange pumpkins turned into black husks, and disgorged the skeletons of children as they shriveled and died.

Katherine Sinclair and Montgomery Reynolds moved in through the wreckage, along with members of the task force. Sinclair hoped to god she wouldn't throw up in her mask. "Is that…" she asked.

Reynolds knelt to look at the corpse, and shook his head. "Shows signs of polio. Not one of ours."

"Good." Sinclair looked up at the fairgrounds, taking in the desolation.

The most prominent feature, of course, was the rotting Ferris wheel, held up by vines and a prayer. One of the baskets had fallen off and crushed several others on the way down, and half of the wheel was carriageless. It once had a large, grinning Jack-O-Lantern face at the center of the wheel, but all that was visible now was the faded orange paint, behind a crucified scarecrow.

Pryce looked through her scope, and saw that the scarecrow was wearing a Foundation uniform— not a lab coat or combat armor. A dark, blue jacket, reserved for those who worked in RAISA and other parts of the Foundation's archival administration. "That's Pickman," she sighed. "Guess we know what happened to him."

Thunder rumbled overhead, and clouds starting blotting out the stars. As the task force made their way through the fairgrounds, they were met with various grisly sights; an agent whose torso had been replaced by a bundle of cornstalks. A series of little dolls, made from bones and skin, hung from strings which once held lightbulbs. A human head with a candle in each eye and the mouth, mounted over a Pepsi stand.

What troubled the task force the most, by and large, were the stuffed animals. Hundreds of them, on the ground, most of them rotting away, covered in dirt and leaves and bugs. These had once had names, been cherished by children at night as shields to keep the monsters away, and held as protection until the monsters had finally gotten them.

A pumpkin loomed in the distance, growing ever closer.

The sky over Sloth's Pit was pitch black at three in the afternoon. The giant pumpkin at the center of the former Douglas County Fair Grounds had grown a beaming Jack-o-lantern face, and from within, hellish orange light glowed.

Sitting atop the pumpkin was a woman in black, who had been set free by the unlucky gunman. Her eyes were the color of the last light of summer. She smelled of stagnant water and cold wind, and in her arms, she cradled a child, who whimpered for his mother.

"I'm your mother," Mavra insisted, her cold, wooden hands raking through her hair. "And mother is hungry. Are you hungry?"

"You're not mommy," Charlie insisted. He looked over the rest of the fairgrounds, which were littered with dead leaves and the forms of sleeping children. He didn't know what else they could possibly be doing, other than sleeping. They were lying still, some draped over pumpkins, others in odder positions. The boy let out a soft sob. "I want mommy."

"I am mommy," the woman tugged at his hair, pulling a clump out of his scalp. She frowned as Charlie slipped from her grasp. The child screamed as he fell off the pumpkin, and with a sickening crack, slumped at the base of the gourd. He sobbed, and then laid still.

The woman felt her strength grow. She could feel the barrier around the town starting to bend for her, the bars of the prison being eaten away by acid, the bubble giving way to the ever-sharpening needle she wielded.

Eighteen remained to be consumed. She started to come down from the pumpkin—

"Infernus sepulchrum dolores!"

A voice cut through the park, and the Black Autumn found the right side of her face replaced by a gout of fire. She flinched in pain as it cut through her being and coiled around her. She wanted to scream, but it would give her attackers satisfaction.

Three dozen people surrounded the pumpkin, popping from the shadows, aiming various weapons at her. At the forefront was a woman with her hands glowing with flames the same color as her hair, flanked by a man with a glowing sword that could cut through spells, and a pair of twins— ones that her followers had entrusted the traitorous fool Jeffery Hubble to dispose of so many years ago. They all had the same insignia on their armor, two circles with three arrows pointing in. The same cursed sigil of sealing.

"Foundation," the Black Autumn hissed.

Several of the agents began inspecting around the children, and muttering to themselves. The red-headed mage simply stood over the spirit, scowling, her brow furrowed in concentration as she kept it bound in flames.

"What the hell?" one of them frowned— a woman, with blonde hair.

"They're alive." The male one of a set of twins stood back. "They're alive."

"That's a good thing, isn't it?" Another asked from the black mass of soldiers.

"It's a weird thing." The mage glowered at Mavra Isimeria.

Mavra laughed, and frost appeared on the guns pointed at her. "I've consumed hundreds of children when I slept, but I got nothing from it. I feed on their fear, not their death! Gideon ate of their flesh to regain his youth, but I have no need for that."

With a flick of its wrist, the Black Autumn dismissed the flames, and the mage collapsed from the recoil of the spell breaking. She was caught by the arms of a portly man. "I suppose that when Hubble bound me here, I was… well, acting off of reflex more than anything. Muscle memory. Taking children, mutilating them for a cult which has long since gone." She laughed. "Death is fleeting. The fear of death is delicious. And you have all gorged me these past thirteen days!

"Forty-eight years." Mavra Isimeria clenched its blackened hand into a fist. "I have been stuck in this town for forty-eight years. Tonight, it ends…"

Harold March gritted his teeth as the task force finished moving the last of the children out of the line of fire. "Thank you for the monologue. Agents? Fire at will."

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