Helloween: Such a Deal!

From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: Helloween: Whispers by Astra Kyne Murdock (Monday, November 06, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: News Flash! by Astra Kyne Murdock (Tuesday, November 07, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, November 07, 2006)

Astra froze as her father came to a sudden stop, and looked around. She must not have been as successful at freezing out the “family channel” as she had thought.

Circus Master cackled, “Enter, stage left.”

“What's going on here? Kai? Alek? Astra?” he demanded. “What the hell is going on here? Mandy? Astra?”

Mandragora rumbled out her reply. “Astra is intent on sacrificing herself. :: Someone is slaughering innocents, and using this to draw your daughter out to the Rogue Isles, John.”

Circus Master chortled. “Some call it someone, but is it really? I would say yes, most would say thing, but what do they know! hehehehehehahahahah!”

Blaze Phoenyx looked piercingly at the spot where Astra was. “Kiddo, come out where I can see you.”

As Astra faded into view, Mandy added, in the multitoned voicem “Also, she has decided to dress up as you for Halloween.”

Blaze Phoenyx cocked his head to the side, as if listening to a side conversation, then returned his full attention to the moment. “Astra, come here, please. I insist.”

She was torn between running to him for protection, and standing her ground. Slowly, she walked towards him, and gulped. “Daddy---Father.....the killing won't stop until one of us goes to Grim Gambol.”

Blaze Phoenyx held her hand and looked into her eyes. “What do you intend to do, kiddo?”

She bent down and picked up the bundle wrapped in her cape. He unwrapped a corner of it, and winced, covering it back up again.

Circus Master: sighed, rolling his hat back over his arm and popping it up on his head.

“Man in the top hat,” Mandy rumbled, “Is Grim Gambol the name of the being who is killing innocents?”

Circus Master shrugged. “Only words to a face, not a name. I was feeling lonely,” he added plaintively.

Blaze Phoenyx turned his attention to the bizarre magician. “Don't worry. You'll have plenty of company in prison.”

Circus Master laughed. “Fat chance bozo, escape artistry is one of my finer assets!”

She tried to recapture her father’s attention. “I have no choice. I know I only have his word that it will stop--But---if he doesn't keep his word no one else will bargain with him.”

“That is no word at all,” the multitoned voice said quietly. Astra turned her head to look at Mandragora.

“Mandragora, if he doesn't keep his word, then he cuts his own throat in the Isles,” she said. Even a criminal must keep his word to survive—“

She was imterrupted by Circus Master erupting into raucous laugher. “What throat?!” crowed and laughed harder. “HAHAHAHAHA!”

Her father raised his voice. Not a lot, but it got everyone’s attention. “Everyone, stop the bullshit. Right now. He's how this will play out.” He glared around at everyone. Astra will make her own decision here. Whatever that involves, I'll stand by. If she choses to meet with Gambol, it's on one condition. She does it to fight him.”

This was not what she had expected, and it through her thoughts right out of the path they had been. “All right,” she said cautiously.

“She wins, he capitulates to our request to stop killing children, same as with Aedan's deal. She loses, then the alternative is there, as with Aedan's fight.” Her father sounded confident that she would win…. “He'll be bound by this deal. I mean that with a capital 'B'. Mandy will enact the magic for it.” He looked to Mandy. “Can you do that?”

“Only if both parties consent to the magic.” Mandy replied.

Circus Master shook his head. “Bindings are such tricky things, so many loopholes.”

“I consent,” she said.

“It'll be worded and made without any loopholes,” Blaze said firmly.

Circus Master laughed. “I've never seen a contract I couldn't break, but alas, I toot my own horn. HONK HONK!”

Blaze Phoenyx scowled. “One moment, while I talk with my daughter. You still have your 'line' open with Grim, clown?”

Circus Master slapped the top of his hat, looking offended. “I'm no clown, and until you apologize, I'm afraid I'm experiencing networking difficulties.”

Her father snorted. “Cut it. We can contact him on our own, if necessary. You want in on the fun, play ball.”

Circus Master frowned back. “Play ball, that doesn't sound like sorry. I mean, here I am, helping out the goody-two-shoes clan, and getting talked down to! How rude! Kiddo, you'll find those of us in the Isles have a bit more civility and treat one another with respect.”

And then the negotiation began. First, the important thing, that the agreement would mean Grim would stop the killings until she and he met. Then that no matter who won, he would stop the killings.

And then it got complicated. She tried to get Circus Master to agree that if she won, Grim would leave her, her family, and all their friends alone. Circus Master objected, and she cut it down to just the Congress. He objected to that, and then said, “Talking to me won’t get you far.” And it became obvious he wasn’t going to negotiate for Grim.

Mandragora finally rumbled impatiently. “Are you allowed to negotiate for Grim Gambol?”

“Let me check, a moment---mmmmmmballiiballli….” He intoned, and then smirked. “The gentleman ghost would like to make it clear, it all seems quite simple for him. He gets the brats, he quits killing kids.”

“No.” Astra said, holding down her anguish.

“Note the plural usages, they are key elements of english, or so I'm told,” he grinned.

“JUST me,” she insisted. “He gets one or nothing, just like the deal with Aedan.”

“His high and mighty says ‘ain't agreein' to anything' besides the kids.’” His imitation of a ghostly voice was uncanny.

“And I'm not agreeing to anything besides myself,” she repeated.

More negotiation, the deal getting narrower and narrower, Astra getting more and more desperate with every moment. Finally….

Circus Master shook his head. “In the words of his ghostliness: ‘If'n she's got anythin' ta say to a lad named Daniel Murdock, she'd better say it soon.’”

The words struck her like a blow and she began to cry silently. He had another child! And he was going to kill the baby while she was trying to talk to him!

Her father squeezed her hand. “Don't cave in for them. Don't show them anything,” he whispered. She nodded but—she could almost see a frightened little boy in front of her, his eyes begging her to save him—

“Be strong, kiddo. Right now more than ever.” She felt his love, support, and understanding through their connection, but---

She tried and tried, cutting the deal down finally to just protecting her and Aedan, and that was all. And then—

Circus Master shook his head, in mock pity. “It seems little daniel wasn't made of stamina,” he said.

She felt the blood drain from her face, and the room began to spin.

“But this relay line junk is getting to annoy me,” the madman continued. He rolled his hat down his left arm, catching it, as it glowed softly. “You know the drill littlebit.”

“All right!” she sobbed. “e fights! If he wins, he gets me and only me! If he loses he still walks and just leaves me and Aedan alone! And regardless he stops killing kids!”

“Satisfactory?” her father growled.

“This offer is far more than fair,” Mandragora added.

Circus Master began tapping his foot impatiently while the hat glowed brighter. In her mind, she heard Grim Gambol’s reply. “Nope! My terms are the same as always. Surrender and I spare the children. Don't and they're up shit creek without no paddle.”

“You wouldn't believe how much this thing weighs,” Circus Master said conversationally. “I have to keep like eight rabbits in there for various tricks.”

She looked up at her father, her face streaked with tears. “Daddy.....he says he won't do it. He says that if I surrender he stops killing kids and that's all. I have to!”

Blaze Phoenyx shook his head. “He accepts the deal, or there is no deal. If he's a man, he'll accept and fight. Our way, our concern is satisfied; kids stop dying. His way, he gets what he wants, and is free to continue killing children. It's a zero sum game. So, he accepts the deal, which satisfies both parties, or he doesn't, and I kick the shit out of him anyways.”

The voice echoed in her aching head. “The other offer I made yer mother is still open, missy. Find out what I'm wantin' and my hunt is over. I won't have no reason to keep on ya.”

“Daddy—“ she begged, “I have to—“

Blaze Phoenyx held her so he could look into her eyes. “No. You are not turning yourself over to this bastard without a chance to defend yourself, with no guarantee for the safety of those kids.”
“But, I ain't tellin' ya what it is. Watchin' ya'll squirm is part o' the fun.” The voice in her head sounded gleeful.

Wordlessly she relayed this to her father, whose rage was so monumental by now that it terrified her.

“I talk into this thing to communicate with Grim?” He said, turning to Circus Master, his eyes blazing.

Circus Master nodded. “You talk in the hat, and your head gets the answer. It's magic!”

Blaze Phoenyx bent over and growled into the hat. It would have been funny if it wasn’t all so horrifying. “Take the deal, or this is the last communication. You stand only to lose gaining my children from accepting it, and only if you aren't smart or strong enough to beat one of them in a fight. You won't be ‘taken anywhere’, since the deal doesn't cover it. Simple.” He paused. She sensed he was hearing something, and then his face grew dark with rage. “I'm not handing over my children to you. They will never come near you nor fight you, unless a deal like this one is in place. So, now I'll have to come after you. And when I beat you, I'll make sure you never hurt a child ever again.”

Frantically, she tugged on his hand. “I have to go. I can't let him keep killing kids--I have to,” she said, desperate, as Mandy reached out. “If I don't go, I'm the one killing them!”

“Astra, beloved Goddessdaughter,” said Mandragora in a voice full of compassion. “Forgive me.”

She had barely time to hear the last from Grim—

--“Tell ya'll daddy that it was 19 feet.”<--

And in a sudden flare of fire and ice, the room was gone.