Autumn's End

rating: +92+x

October 30th

A single beryllium-bronze bullet landed between the eyes of the Black Autumn, fired from a revolver. It staggered back slightly, and then glared at the shooter, the hole in its head healing.

Ruby Williams stood there, with her revolver trained on its skull. She fired another shot, then another, keeping her other hand on her arm to stop the kickback from dislocating her shoulder. Normally, a revolver had six shots, but Ruby had always been a fan of the LeMat. Nine bullets pierced its form before her revolver hit empty chambers.

"That almost hurt!" the Black Autumn laughed, watching the voids in her seal themselves. "Now, stop wasting my time—"

The air was filled with the brrrraaaaaappp of gunfire as three-dozen assault rifles filled the Black Autumn with beryllum-bronze. Its form looked like someone had made a paper doll and had let their little brother take a hole punch to it.

The noise only died down when their magazines emptied. The Black Autumn raised its single remaining hand, and a gust of wind came through, rustling leaves and causing the task force to stagger. "ENOUGH!" it snapped.

The Black Autumn looked behind her at the greying, pockmarked face of the giant Jack-O-Lantern. Something that passed for worry appeared on its face as it began to heal.

Reynolds cursed and hoisted Katherine onto his shoulder. "She's too powerful. Where are our reinforcements?"

"Fall back!" March snapped. "Get the kids to safety! Load them into transports and get out!"

"We're staying," Pryce spoke for her squad. "We've seen the worst of her, we can handle this."

"Good luck, agents." March retreated. Most of the task force took up the children and retreated with him. All that were left were Squad 25, along with Montgomery Reynolds and an unconscious Katherine Sinclair.

Mavra glared at them, and a thin layer of autumn frost formed on their skin. She was growing in strength, but she was still too weak to break free from the Nexus. She needed to put a little more fear into those who were remaining.

Pumpkins around them burst open, disgorging dozens of child-like beings, dressed in Halloween costumes. They all groaned, moving for the task force. They all muttered a collective "trick-r-treat, trick-r-treat", holding rotten canvas bags out to them, as if asking for candy.

"Jesus fucking CHRIST!" Ruby gaped.

"A-aim for t-the heads!" Blake swallowed, recognizing some of the costumed entities as children from one cold, October night forty-eight years ago.

The gunfire was more hesitant, single shots, as bullets went through the skulls of the beings that looked like children. February was the first to falter, his gun dropping at the sight of a child wearing a witch mask coming up to him. He backed away from her, whimpering as it asked for candy.

Pryce dropped it with a shot from her sidearm. "Ray! Focus! Do your Choir Boy thing!"

He nodded, taking a knee and praying as he fired his gun. "P-pater noster, qui es in caelis," He fired a shot with every line of the prayer he recited."Sanctificetur n-nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuum, f-fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra." February had killed far worse than this with prayers and a pistol. But still, he couldn't help but wonder if they were laughing or crying when he shot them.

"Someone shoot her too!" Ewell raised his rifle and shot Mavra through her temple, only for the spirit to look at him sideways.

"When are you going to get this through your skulls?" She cackled. "I am immortal! I am the Black Equinox, the Black Autumn! Mavra Isimeria! I am the Last Rot that Eats Summer, the Usher of the Red Winter—"

Mavra was, once again, interrupted by an attack— this time an axe thrown from its side, impacting in what passed for her skull. Its blade bore the image of Baphomet, the goat-headed god. The Black Autumn groaned, and turned to face her attacker. "Troublesome little—" it began.

When she was distracted, a man with a wide-brimmed black hat and a hook replacing its left hand appeared from the shadows. The Hook-Handed Man put his arm around Mavra's body, and slit her throat with one clean motion of his hook.

He shoved her away, into the path of a sonic wave emitted from a one-eyed woman wearing what could only be described as a "sexy" Foundation task force member Halloween costume. The scream reverberated throughout the fairgrounds, and into the agents' ears.

"Motherfuck!" Pryce winced, looking at the half-banshee half-succubus. "Bit of warning next time?"

"You'd rather we let her decimate you?" the Goatman stepped out from behind a booth that had once served funnel cakes. His appearance was demonic, with black fur, red eyes, and six horns arranged in an alien pattern sprouting from his skull.

"Sorry we're late," Singing-or-Sinning Jessie coughed and straightened out her costume. "It was hell trying to break through the barrier around this place."

"You're here. That's what counts." Ewell trained his rifle on her head again.

The Black Autumn rose up once more, and turned to face the Hook-Handed man. The Goatman's axe flew from her skull back into his hand. "These are your reinforcements?" she hissed.

"This is our town!" the Hook-Handed man barked. "You've killed god knows how many people, and now you're going after our children!" He took an impossibly long step forward and slashed at her throat again. Mavra let out a gurgling laugh.

"For the love of…" Jessie put power into her sentence, "Just die already!" Glass broke from the sonic force, and the majority of the children seemed to fade into nothingness, as the Black Autumn's concentration broke.

"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Ewell called, taking cover behind a caramel apple stand and firing an herbicide grenade at the giant pumpkin. The leaves on the vines of the great gourd shriveled, and for a brief moment, the Black Autumn stumbled.

The Goatman came up behind Mavra, his axe raised high, glowing red hot. He brought it down, only for the Black Autumn spun around and hiss something in a dead dialect of Greek. A pumpkin's vine grabbed the Goatman by his neck and snapped it with a horrific wet crack.

The caprine entity looked unimpressed as his head hung from an odd angle. "You do realize I'm immortal, don't you?" he asked, bringing his hands up to right his skull.

"Oh." Mavra had a frown in her voice. "Well."

All the while, bullets filled the Black Equinox, and Reynolds knelt behind the task force members, trying to get Sinclair to return to consciousness. He rummaged in his rucksack for smelling salts, and looked up to view the futility of what they were doing.

"This isn't doing shit!" Blake cursed. "We're just burning ammo!"

Ruby silently agreed, her eyes drawn to the pumpkin behind her. She noticed little pockmarks appearing on the gourd with each shot fired, resembling those inexplicable spots of grey scar tissue that were present on pumpkins that had been sitting on the vine for too long. "Going to Plan B!"

"Don't say it, do it!" Pryce barked, reloading.

Ruby took aim and fired at the pumpkin. As the shot hit the back of the Jack-o-Lantern's casing, traveling through its left eye, the Black Autumn recoiled, and turned to face her, its one remaining eye glaring.

"Plan B it is!" Pryce grinned. "Call me Billy Corgan, because I'm gonna be Smashing Pumpkins!"

Sinclair came to, and the first thing she heard was Seren Pryce's quip. She suppressed a groan, and surmised, "If we can't destroy the spirit, destroy what's containing it." She sat up and looked at the truck that held 097-1. "Goatman?"

"Here!" The Goatman brought his axe down on one of the vines trailing away from the great pumpkin, causing the entity to shriek.

"We need to completely destroy it! Chopping it up isn't going to cut it!" She looked at the undercarriage of the truck, wondering if it still had gas in it, and if that gas would burn.

The Goatman followed her eyes and nodded, bringing his axe up.

The others served as a distraction. Ewell loaded up another herbicide grenade, and with a cry of "Fire in the hole!" he let the volley off towards the pumpkin. It landed right in the Jack-O-Lantern's mouth, green gas hissing out. The Black Autumn stumbled as her vessel rotted, and was met with an uppercut from the Hook-Handed Man's hook.

With a loud, sickly cough, the Black Equiniox shouted "ENOUGH!"

The entity spread its arms, and rotten vines sprouted from the ground, slamming Legends and Foundation personnel alike into the sides of buildings. Already, the Goatman started to escape, chewing at the vines.

"All I want to do is get out of here. This place seals everything that you consider 'anomalous' —" it pointed an accusing finger at Sinclair in particular — "and seals us in. I want to be free of this place!"

"Join the club," Sinning Jessie snorted, wiggling against her bindings. "Seriously. None of us can leave either. I've never seen Paris, and Jasper's always wanted to walk down Times Square," she nodded at the Goatman, who had managed to chew through the vines holding his hands.

"The difference is," the Hook-Handed Man said, "we were created here, by superstition and stories. You came here uninvited and wreaked havoc and destruction. You've killed townsfolk, maimed Foundation agents, and you're responsible for killing the best pumpkin farmer in the entire state!"

"Hubble used black magic for that!" Sinclair protested. "He literally killed people to grow his pumpkins!"

"Yes, well," the Hook-Handed Man shrugged, "nobody's perfect."

"In other words," The Goatman growled, having eaten his way out of the vines. "Get out of our town!" He raised his axe, and brought it down onto Mavra's head.

The Black Autumn dove out of the way, and the Goatman's axe landed in the truck, cutting clean through the chassis. She laughed. "That's all you have? Empty motivational speeches?"

"That and a severed fuel line." He looked down at the ground, where sludge-like fuel was pouring out of the pipe cut by his axe. It was ancient by gasoline standards, but… "Sinclair! Burn it!"

Sinclair, still bound by pumpkins, projected her Will into her hands. She had to make this count, to amplify her power. She started to hum a song under her breath, something to amplify her magic to the heat of a thermal lance.

"…is that…" Reynolds frowned.

"You can't be serious," Pryce groaned.

"If it saves our asses, I'll sing along!" Ewell said. "Come with us and you will see, this our town of Halloween!"

Sinclair began singing aloud, softly, her hands burning bright. "This is Halloween, this is Halloween, pumpkins scream in the dead of night…" Autumn-orange flames leapt from her fingers, finding the sludge-like gasoline and traveling up the fuel line. "This is Halloween, This is Halloween, Trick-Or-Treat 'til you neighbors go and die of fright!"

The truck exploded into flames, erupting and consuming the pumpkin, the already-rotted, grinning face of the Jack-O-Lantern melting and oozing. Before it, the Black Autumn caught fire as well, and with a shriek, exploded into a cloud of burning rot.

Sinclair's heart fell along with her, the vines that bound them all dissolving. With the pumpkin burning, Mavra had died as well. As a last, spiteful act, she had spread the fire through her, and it was consuming the entire fairgrounds. "Oh hell."

"With us!" the Goatman yelled, waving them forward. "There's another exit this way!" He started down the passage he had come out from, only to find it blocked by a wall of fire. "Nevermind!"

"Out the way we came!" Pryce called, keeping low. "Move move move!"

The fairgrounds blazed around them. Autumn leaves stoked the fire, and despite the damp, rotten state of most of the plant matter in the area, it provided adequate fuel. The looming Ferris wheel creaked and started to falter, the heat melting its supports, as well as burning the vines that had been keeping it up for decades.

"We're not gonna make it!" Ruby yelled. A carriage fell off the wheel and crushed another ride nearby. "Holy shit!"

"Move it!" Pryce yelled. "NOW!"

The flames grew around them. The smell of molten metal filled the air, mixing with burnt leaves and rotting pumpkins. The front gate of the fair, with a smiling pumpkin bidding them to "Come back soon!" overhead was in sight. They ran for it—

And the Ferris wheel gave way. It loomed overhead, its shadow coming over them. Blake and Ruby embraced one another, and Monty and Sinclair held one another tight as well. Pryce and Ewell held hands and braced for impact, while February spoke a prayer. All of them shut their eyes tight, and prepared for the end.

Then, with a sudden crash, the shadow stopped growing. They opened their eyes, and saw a legion of burning vines holding the wheel up. Intertwined with the plants were dozens of skeletons— men, women, children. Some of them bore Foundation uniforms, and others were covered in bedsheets. Sinclair noticed, briefly, that the one at the very top of the vines holding it up was a scarecrow wearing a Foundation-issue uniform—a RAISA jacket. "Pickman," Sinclair swallowed.

"OUT!" Reynolds grabbed her and hustled outside the fair, and then several hundred yards beyond that.

The Ferris wheel collapsed with only autumn produce beneath it. In the field by the perimeter, in what was once a pumpkin patch, Seren Pryce vomited, the adrenaline finally getting to her. "H-holy… fucking… shit."

Ruby, standing stunned, eventually had the presence of mind to feel at her radio. "S-Sigma 10 Command, this is 10-25-2. The anomaly has been…" she looked at the burning wreck of the fair. "We believe it has been neutralized. Causalities?"

«One kid has a busted leg and some hair missing from his scalp, and they're all spooked. But beyond that…» Harold March sighed. «We're in the green.»

The sky overhead began to turn a cool, autumn blue. It was 2:00 in the afternoon on October 30th, and the sun was shining on Sloth's Pit for the first time in almost two weeks.

The Goatman tapped Sinclair's shoulder. "Sorry for asking," he began, "But… you have access to the Black Garden, yes? Keys or something?"

"Something like that," the mage responded. "Why?"

"Because I feel like we all could use a drink." The Goatman groaned, bleating into his hand. "Either to celebrate, or to forget. And they have the only good alcohol in town."

Pryce looked towards their transport— only to find it crushed by the Ferris wheel. She sighed. "Bad idea to put unsecured anomalies in Foundation transport anyway."

"Beautiful day, not too cold out, and," February smiled. "It's not that bad of a walk into town."

"It's five miles!" Reynolds protested.

"Task force members run a loop around the town every morning as a warm-up," Blake sighed. "Don't give me that."

"And y'could stand to lose weight," the Hook-Handed man chuckled, prodding at Reynolds's girth. The alchemical consultant was not amused.

"There's a shortcut through the woods." Sinning Jessie led them onwards. "Follow me."

"Where'd you get that costume anyway?" Ruby asked. "Or is it some kind of weird anomaly thing?"

Various conversations continued throughout the five-mile trek. Somewhere in town, the last leaf fell off of an oak tree, and landed in a vacant bird's nest, long since abandoned for the flight south. The birds would return, in time.

October 31st

'There was a traffic jam on Main Street' is not a phrase often heard in many small American towns, let alone Sloth's Pit. But, with the danger passed, families began moving back into their homes, prepared to bury their dead and start healing. And the influx of twenty-thousand people did, indeed, create a traffic jam on Main Street.

Jeffery Hubble, despite his crimes, was ultimately given a proper funeral. His body was cremated, per both his wishes and vampire disposal protocols. All profits from the pumpkin pie his family sold for the next month was put towards a fund to help those who had lost loved ones in the crisis, Foundation and townie alike.

Similar arrangements were made at Rudy's cafe, with fifty percent of every drink's sale price going towards grieving families; Rudolf Dyer had put aside a fund to put his children through college, with enough to keep his cafe open in the meantime. Caitlyn Dyer, his daughter, made better cappuccinos than her father ever could, but it would take her almost a year to get his iced tea recipe right.

A candlelight vigil was held outside of St. Jame's Episcopal. In the woods behind it, another vigil was held by fictional creatures, their heads bowed in mourning. But they could not stay for long. They had a danse to attend.

Newly-reinstated Director Nina Weiss stood at a podium in the front of the auditorium. Chairs and tables had been cleared out to make room for the bevy of Site members within. She sighed, and rubbed her face. "I have… never been one for giving speeches. Brisby attempted to give me an entire stack of notecards of congratulatory words to spout at you all, but, in all honesty: I only have one thing to say." She beamed at S & C Plastics. "Thank you. Thanks to you, the inhabitants of Sloth's Pit are now settling back into their homes. This town has been through a lot in the past two weeks. But it could have gone through far, far worse. And thanks to the efforts of everyone at Site-87, children are safely able to trick-or-treat tonight.

"That being said…" She looked at those by her side, almost a dozen in all. "Several of you have done far beyond what is demanded of your station. For bravery in the face of adversity, distinguished service, ingenuity in the face of certain death, and going above and beyond the call of duty, I hereby award Nicholas Ewell, Raymond February, Malcolm Guillard, Christopher Hastings, Claude Mattings, Keith Partridge, Cassandra Pike, Isaiah Pickman, Seren Pryce, Montgomery Reynolds, Katherine Sinclair, Blake Williams, and Ruby Williams the Foundation Star."

The hall erupted into cheers and applause as the director pinned a medal on each of the personnel in turn, leaving one on an empty seat with a photograph on it, representing Pickman. Pike and Hastings were confined to wheelchairs, for the time being, and Weiss knelt down to pin them on. They were the only two to see that Weiss's eyes were wet.

Weiss raised her hand once the last medal was given, and the hall fell silent. "Now. This has been a difficult time. But I believe we can begin to heal. The annual Halloween Party will be happening, for those who wish to attend it. I know some of us have spent a fair amount of time on costumes, and, quite frankly, I'd hate to see all that work go to waste for another year.

"That is all." She rolled her shoulders. "You are dismissed. The party will be in the ballroom on Surface Level 2 at 6:00."

'Those who wish to attend it', as it turned out, meant almost all of Site-87.

The mood was slightly sober, with the music muted and the lights low. There was no dancing, no singing. But there were smiles, laughs, hugs exchanged, and groans at horrible jokes made by members of Sigma-10.

What was not sober, however, was Tristan Bailey, who had gotten drunk off of a flask he kept on withdrawing from his labcoat. The only evidence that he was in costume was a poorly-made grey wig on his head.

"Hey, hey M-Monty," Tristan belched. "Who's the fox on your arm?"

"Go home, Bailey," Reynolds sighed, fiddling with his black duster and fidgeting with his prop wand. "You're drunk."

Katherine Sinclair rubbed the foam-and-white-fur mask of her fox costume, and shook her head. "You know, Tristan," she said in a heavily muffled voice, "I think you play Rick Sanchez a little too well."

"H-he said he was cool with the costume!" another belch. "And I ain't really drunk! This flask is nothin' but Antarctic wine! Gift from Tom, late birthday present for me and Trev." He belched once more, and took another drink. "It only makes you think you're drunk! It's crazy shit. Also, was that a meme? I didn't know that Monty Chemical Romance could meme!"

Reynolds stood stunned. "…Monty Chemic— I'm Harry Dresden, you fool!"

"You don't have the hat."

"Dresden doesn't have a hat!" Sinclair objected.

"And he doesn't have a furry for a girlfriend either— oh." His heart dropped as he saw a pink light emit from Sinclair's paws. "You're hexing me right now, aren't you?"


"I'll go bother Claire some."

"You do that." Sinclair watched him run off, and then brought her hand up, clicking the fingers together. They glowed with soft, pink light. "LEDs in the pawpads. Took me months to get the wiring right."

"Interesting," Reynolds nodded. "…do you think perhaps one of those could be made for me? These costumes, I mean?"

"Maybe." Sinclair smirked from behind her mask. "We'll see."

"I'm not sure whether or not I'm offended, Hastings." Keith Partridge looked down at his subordinate. Partridge had dressed up as Gregor Mendel, and Hastings had… well.

Christopher Hastings corrected his face and pushed up his glasses, but kept his arms in the same position. His motorized wheelchair had had a tablet attached to it in a manner similar to a famous astrophysicist. "Stephen Hawking was the best costume idea I could come up with on such short notice. Gimme a break. Not like Pike's is much better."

"What's she going as?" Partridge asked.


Partridge blinked. "Beg pardon?"

"Christopher Pike, from Star Trek? Guy in a wheelchair that could only communicate by beeping?" He looked through the crowd to see her and Mattings — who was dressed as Spock, he noted — conversing with the Blake and Ruby, who had gone as — what else? — the Wonder Twins. "We're going to have to go back to work tomorrow. Any idea what you want to work on?"

"We still have some of those vampire pumpkins that need analysis. We'll want to talk to Mattings and Reese about it, find some new test subjects."

"Why not just use rats?"

Partridge frowned. "I forgot you weren't here for the infamous Vampire Rats of 2009."

"Wait— vampire rats?"

"I'll tell you when you're older."

"I'm thirty-two!"

"When you're older," Partridge teased, looking towards the side. "Ooh, they brought out another bowl of punch."

"Fifth bowl of the night, isn't it?" Hastings asked. "They usually start spiking them around this time. Best not."

"One or two drinks isn't going to hurt," Partridge mused, not knowing that he would wake up the following morning the subject of a new Site-87 in-joke. He headed off towards the punch, and grabbed a plastic cup.

Seren Pryce stood outside of Site-87, uncostumed, smoking a cigarette. She was not in the partying mood at the moment. Bad things had happened to good people in an okay town, and she wanted none of that atmosphere.

The door by her opened, and Raymond February stepped out, still dressed in his Dracula costume. "If you're gonna brood," he said, "at least share your smokes."

Pryce produced a pack and pushed out a cigarette for him, looking at his costume. "Knowing that you were part of Stoker's Stakers at one point? That's a really fucking ironic costume, Ray."

"Mu-29," he laughed. "Best vampire hunters outside of the Initiative." He lit it up and sighed.

"Why aren't you at the party?" Pryce asked.

"I left once Partridge started shotgunning the punch." He took a puff.

Seren nearly dropped her cigarette. "How the hell do you shotgun punch?"

"Stab a hole in the bottom of the cup and ladle it in. Last I heard, they were taking him to the drunk tank."

"Why the hell do they always spike it?" Seren blew a ring of smoke. "Alcohol is awful."

"So's smoking, yet here we are."

"I do this, like, once a month." She sighed, looking at the cancer stick. "The rest of the time I just use nicotine patches. I just… mmm." She looked up at the second floor windows. "I don't see how they can move on from this so quickly."

"I don't think they are. The fact that this is happening… any sane person would just say 'heck with Halloween' and never celebrate it again. At the same time, it's a fun holiday. None of the stress of Thanksgiving or Christmas, none of the fraudulent feelings of Valentine's Day, none of the token appreciation and excuse for no work that Columbus and Presidents' Day has, and none of the dangerously overpatriotic attitudes of July 4th."

"It's just…" He rolled his shoulders. "Something that people like, and something that's easy for most of them to do. It doesn't take much to make a costume and hand out candy. Pretending to be someone else is one of the easiest ways to forget your troubles. Heck, in the Foundation?" Ray tried to blow a smoke ring, and failed. "This might be the only time we really get to be ourselves."

"Talking of," Pryce asked, "does Sinclair really have a fox costume on?"

"Yeah, I got pictures. It's actually kinda cute." February took out his phone. The clock on it read twelve midnight.

November 1st

In the woods, the Goatman walked back to his hovel. The Eight Rings Nightclub had just finished its annual playing of the Danse Macabre, and the night was still, except for the rustling of leaves. Children had long since gone to bed and put their costumes away, some for a year, some for the last time. Now, the autumn wind had turned cooler, and he could practically feel all of the households in Sloth's Pit thinking of their own ways of making Thanksgiving dinner as stressful as possible.

On his way back, he stopped at the edge of the great Pit, where Jackson Sloth's manor had once stood. His home, at one point, long ago. Jasper Phineas Sloth felt like a name that scarcely belonged to him anymore, but it was still his. And he still stopped to visit the doorstep every now and again.

As he turned to leave, he frowned, coming upon a large, orange pumpkin that had been deposited by the pit. He shook his head, producing his axe from somewhere where it wasn't a second ago, and brought it down on the pumpkin. Impulsive? Yes. Cathartic? Definitely.

Only the pumpkin's skin refused to give under his blade. He frowned, and chopped at it twice more, but it still refused to give. Perplexed, he nudged it with his hoof, and rolled it into the pit, before starting to walk away.

He heard the pumpkin impact on the bottom with a loud splat. His heart stopped; the pit, while not bottomless, went down far enough that climbing out took two days without rest. There were outcroppings here and there, but most of them were too deep down to hear anything impact onto them.

The Goatman looked down into the pit, and saw a pair of beady eyes staring back at him. Something had caught the pumpkin with its head. The eyes met the Goatman's, and a wide, white grin broke out on its face, too wide for anything human— or even humanoid— to have a face to accommodate it.

The Goatman fled, dropping his axe, trying his best not to scream, and hoping against hope that whatever had appeared down there would not surface anytime soon.

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