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Halloween World: Scorched Earth

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Halloween World: Emerald Hope". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Even under the Red Sky, the past isn't dead. It isn't even past.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > General > Theme: HalloweenVatharaFR1515,279341,42328 May 0928 May 09Yes
Halloween World: Scorched Earth
A/N: Set in spaceman's "Halloween World" Buffyverse AU; none of the various canons involved are mine. Kat Smith, however, is. Part of the "Emerald Hope" series. Axel Vigil is what happens when some idiot gameplayer was rearranging his shelf of videogames with KH: CoM, KH2, and a bunch of Star Wars too close together. Warning: some disturbing images. And backstory.
------

There's something painfully ironic, Vigil thought, landing facedown in the gray sand that passed for dirt, about getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis by a lady literally half my size.

Oh, space, the assassin's been in my vocabulary again.

Only just a little, said assassin purred, radiating wry amusement as the healer tried to get his breath back, call his lightsaber back to his hand, and not inhale any of the practice ground's sand, all at the same time. More like three-quarters your size, anyway; we've always been this skinny. And didn't Yoda say "size matters not"?

Vigil cast the Nobody the mental image of a specific raised finger.

And got Axel's Cheshire grin back. Wonderful.

"Are you alright?" A familiar hand gripped his, hauling him up with effortless strength as Kat looked him over, violet eyes worried. "I could've sworn I pulled it enough…."

"No, you did," Vigil said ruefully. "Forgive me. I was… distracted."

Oh, I'm a distraction now, huh? Axel snickered.

"Finding more of James' memories?"

"Some. I think." James. The person he'd apparently been, before Halloween. Now just a name, and a handful of memories. Enough to keep Vigil from blowing up a gas grill or jumping at firearms; not enough to make this place feel anything like home.

At least it's a real world, Axel put in practically. Beats white, white, white any day of the week.

And at least Kat's words didn't sting; not like they would have from most normals in Emerald Hope. She remembered everything, both Kitten's life and her own. But she never held it against anyone who didn't.

"You are what you remember," she'd said once, when he asked. "Leon's real. Bowman's real. You're all real. If you remember Earth before Halloween, fine. If you don't, what business is it of anyone who didn't know you before? Your mind, your memories, belong to you. Don't let anyone tell you what you should remember."

There was a story there, Vigil could sense it. Far deeper and darker, he suspected, than even what they'd learned when the Fenris werewolves had tried to take control of them all. Somewhere, somehow, someone had wounded Kat to the soul, and the scars still ached in the darkness.

Sometimes, scars make you stronger, Axel mused. I know you want to help. Hell, I want to. But we've got to do this carefully. Think about it: whatever she went up against, hurt more than her own brother sticking a honkin' big silver knife through her heart. A wry smirk. Not to mention, she could give Strife a run for his money with that sword….

The monster-hunter was shaking her head, the end of her silver ponytail flicking up over her shoulder. "I know you want to get better, Vigil. Hells, if I can see everybody's emotions pushing at you, I can't imagine what you sense through the Force. But if your head's not all the way here, you shouldn't be sparring."

"It's difficult," Vigil admitted. "Apparently most here who recognize a lightsaber seem to believe-"

"You're supposed to be a 'great warrior'?" Kat rolled her eyes, Sunlight going back over her shoulder without even a whisper of steel on leather. "Wars not make one great."

"You're at least two feet too tall to carry that off, you know," Vigil pointed out. "And not green."

That won him a rare smile. "Try not to hold it against them," Kat advised. "The movies kind of emphasized the ass-kicking part of the Order. The healers, the librarians, the archaeologists and agricultural division… they didn't exactly make it into the spotlight. Weren't even mentioned, much, unless you were enough of a hardcore geek to track down every last book and comic. Which is a shame. Jedi Indiana Jones type, that would've been cool to see."

"A Jedi doesn't hold people's preconceptions-"

Kat held up an empty hand, then pointed at herself. "Vigil. Geek, remember? I know Jedi are people. Very well trained and usually very ethical people, but people. It's okay to get a little frustrated when someone wants you to be something you're not." A wry shrug. "At least I can usually arrange to join a scrounging party and kill a few things when I can't take… some people, anymore."

Only she'd offered to help him out rather than join today's expedition; between the lingering varieties of infective aliens and more ordinary injuries, Emerald Hope's infirmary was always busy. He sometimes had trouble finding enough time to meditate, let alone practice sparring. Not to mention, there were very few people among their fighters willing to risk going head-to-head with a lightsaber, student-level setting or not. And of those who were - well, not all of them could teach.

And most of 'em can't teach what you're trying to learn, Axel commented. Killing's hard. At least for anybody halfway decent.

Deirdre and Mithil don't seem to have problems, Vigil pointed out. The two priestesses were rather gleeful when it came to combat - at least, against those they considered rightful enemies.

I rest my case.

Kat didn't claim to be a great teacher. But she remembered Gyre walking Kitten through various kinds of weaponry, and the mindset needed to use it. It did help.

"You know, you might be looking at this the wrong way," Kat offered. "You're a healer first, right? So don't train like you're going to be on the front lines. Train like you're in the infirmary, and something got past us, and it's just you to keep them the hell away from your patients."

"…Oh."

Yeah, 'oh'. But Axel's voice was wryly amused. Y'know, if things really get so bad they need another front-line fighter, I'd enjoy the time out.

It's not ethical to ask another to do what you won't do yourself, Vigil argued. And you… I remember what you've done.

Not ethical to ask for something you wouldn't do yourself, if you had the skills, Axel argued right back. Right now, you don't. You want to do brain surgery on somebody, just 'cause you don't think it's ethical to ask an expert instead? And if you remember, you know I'm not a damn sadist. I use fire, sure. It's what I can call, and it's what I'm good at. It's not a pretty way to kill. None of 'em are. Even lightsabers.

Vigil sighed, and nodded. Lightsabers might allow for a very neat corpse, but it was a corpse nonetheless. "You're right." Green looked down to meet violet. "You're very kind."

Kat eyed him. "Maybe I didn't pull that one enough," she muttered, and flicked her hand up. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

"I'm not concussed," Vigil protested. "You are kind."

She was still looking at him as if he'd started spouting nonsense poetry. "Did you miss the part where I pounded Eric into a thin paste?"

"He stabbed you through the heart first. Any sentient being should call that reasonable provocation." That's still bothering her?

Can you think of a day this week Grace or Deirdre haven't brought that up? Axel pointed out. Not that he and his little furry band were going to make us all their personal werewolf-breeding puppy mill, oh no. It's all Deirdre doing subtle little bits of, "ooo, scary half-demon dragon better not lose her temper, you saw what happened last time". Punctuated with wide-eyed hints of "gee, why don't we purify the whole fort, it'd be such a good barrier against the monsters". And Grace… doesn't say anything. Which is almost worse.

Indeed; if your own mother wouldn't argue for you, who would?

And if by "monsters" they meant some of the various part-demons and youkai who'd trickled in to take refuge in Emerald Hope, then yes, purifying the fort would work. As for the actual creatures they'd ended up fighting…. A holy barrier wouldn't stop a Xenomorph! It wouldn't even slow one down!

Yeah. Says me, and says Kat. You notice they don't listen to Kat?

Damn. Vigil had thought that was his imagination. Hoped, more accurately. How could anyone not listen to a woman who was almost always right? Who, when she didn't have a clue, bluntly said, "I don't know."

"If what you really need is time to meditate, I don't mind," Kat said honestly. "Nobody's watching us. I'd know if they were."

A reminder, not that he needed one, that not every danger in this world could be sensed through the Force. At least, not by him, and not yet.

Yeah, well, you're working on it, Axel said confidently. Give yourself a break. I learned my tricks under don't-get-killed conditions. You were peace-trained. Makes a difference.

True; he knew that from training with other Corellian Jedi who had faced smugglers, slavers, and the like. He'd never have the power of a Jedi Master, but he would get better. So long as he kept focused.

And part of that focus was knowing why they were in the farthest training ground possible that was still inside the outer perimeter. First, set on student-level or not, a lightsaber would inflict burns, and it was just easier to be as far away as possible from any children who'd strayed out from under an adult's eye. Second - Kat did not like to be watched.

Especially when she's at the end of her rope with want-to-kill-somebody and can't, Axel observed. Hate to say this, but I almost wish something would jump us right now. She could use the chance to spread blood all over the place.

Vigil frowned. She's a kind, decent-

Half Hellfire Wyrm, Axel finished wryly. Who, even though her shape-shifting daddy came straight from Hell, wouldn't lay a finger on any innocent soul here. I know. Doesn't mean she doesn't really want to kill something, once in a while. It's the only time she gets to just move, and not think.

Because if no one wanted to face a lightsaber, that went doubly so for eldritch flame. Outside of Ashton and Dias, who were usually more than busy enough, there were very few people with both the magical and martial skills to even try facing Kat in an all-out, armed spar-

Vigil's brows lifted, and he clipped his 'saber back onto his belt. "Would you be interested in an alternative?"

Kat cocked her head. "Alternative to what?"

You serious? Axel exclaimed, following the healer's thought. Thought you wanted practice.

And if we do end up in a scenario like you proposed, I need practice not to panic, don't I? Vigil countered. Besides. Wouldn't this help her? If we can do it.

Think we can, the assassin stated. And yeah; if anybody could use a chance to cut loose and kick ass… you ready?

No, Vigil admitted. Do it anyway.

A hand seemed to grasp his, and the world faded.

------
The world always seemed sharper when he was looking through green eyes, instead of hovering in the back of Vigil's mind. Axel drew a breath, and looked about a foot down. "Yo."

Kat's eyes crinkled with silent laughter. "Hi, Axel."

"Sure I'm memorable, but how did you know?" the pyrokinetic asked.

"Yo?" Kat almost chuckled. "Besides, your whole aura shifts when you two trade places. Like Ashton with Gyoro or Ururun, only without the glowing eyes. It's kind of pretty."

"Let me make a note," Axel said wryly. We'd better, y'know, he told Vigil. If magic-users can see us switch off, they might try to do something about it. Dunno what, but it probably wouldn't be pretty.

I'll speak with her about it later, the healer said abstractly. If it's energy-based, a proper use of the Force might disguise it…. Ask her. Before I lose my nerve.

"So." The pyrokinetic grinned. "You really want to go at it?"

Amber flickered in violet depths. "How serious?"

"Live steel. Live fire. Magic," Axel said confidently. Oh yeah, he knew, seeing that hunger in her gaze. Lady wants to play.

But she reined it in, tension just barely quivering in her muscles as she rounded the stomped perimeter of the training area, carefully tracing sigils in the dust. "Hang on just a minute…."

Having made a full circuit, she let a finger grow a claw, and nicked the side of her hand. Blood dripped down into a sigil, and there was a brief flare of violet.

Axel yawned to clear his ears at the sudden feeling of pressure, buffering magic inside the line from filtering out. "Temp ward?"

"Just in case." Skin already healed, Kat straightened. Nodded-

Ducked and rolled, as a snap of fingers raised a fireburst under her feet. Sunlight whirled off her back, moving way faster than any sword that size had a right to.

He dodged a haircut by the skin of his teeth, the world trembling around him as Darkness and Fire blazed into red-and-steel chakrams in his grip. Oh yeah. Bring it!

For one moment, Axel held her there, sword and violet-wreathed hand held back by spiked chakrams. Sparks blazed between them, around them, thicker and brighter as the air itself rippled like glass-

Let's light it up!

Flames seared up inside the ward's perimeter, sandy soil melting into magma. Everything about them was fire-

Which gave him all kinds of options.

Man, I have so missed fire-walking.

He grabbed hold of that twist of will and magic just in time for Kat to miss him, fading into one flame and surging out of another-

Steel met steel, and violet flames lashed at him.

Damn, she's quick.

Which, of course, made it all the more fun. He was flame and smoke and never quite where anyone expected, which had killed a lot of things over the years he'd been a Nobody-

But Kat was lightning, there and gone and irresistible destruction in her wake. Like Roxas. Like Sora.

It was almost home.

The fight had long since left the ground; blades swooped and rang in midair, feet only touching down when gravity started pouting at them. Fire loved to fly, the better to dance and burn and sear tainted ground to the purity of ash and stone. And they were Fire, laced with enough Darkness to anchor them both in living flesh….

Sunlight got blasted out of her grip by a fireball, and violet flames incinerated one of his chakrams, and they both wobbled in place, panting.

Well, would you look at that? Axel murmured to the healer curled, incredulous, in the back of his mind. She's smiling.

"That? That was great," Kat got out between breaths. Amber was still flickering in violet; with this much fire around, her demonic side didn't subside easily. "That was… you were…."

Grinning, he let his remaining chakram vanish, and blew off the tip of his finger. "Yep. I am."

Laughing, Kat hugged him.

And froze, just for a moment, before carefully disentangling herself from his
surprised grip. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." She bowed politely, and headed for Sunlight.

Yeah, that was kind of the point. "Sorry for what?" Axel asked, careful to keep his tone just mildly surprised. Because the key was here, he didn't need Vigil thwacking him with a sense of the Force to feel that. "Hey. You want to do that again sometime?"

Sword sheathed, she almost - almost - didn't stiffen. "If you and Vigil work something out - yes. I'd love to spar with you again. Either of you."

How can somebody stay that cold in the middle of an inferno? "Yeah. Yeah, that'd be good." Shaking his head, Axel let the fires die-

And got an icy face-full of salty, perfumed water for his trouble.

"Gack-pfft!"

Holy water, Axel realized, placing the perfume as drow-style incense as Kat swore and swiped more - that stuff Deirdre's, by the slightly scaly stink - out of her own eyes. Great. We got the Deity-blessed Duo.

I tried to tell you, Vigil sighed.

"What the hell is your problem?" Axel snarled at the white-haired dark elf. And a few more wide-eyed highly flammable idiots; great, the clerics had company. Mostly regular people drawn out by the flames, not good, but also Leon looking impressed and Conan looking downright interested.

Which was probably not something most people wanted to see on a way-too-smart little girl's face when staring at the aftermath of an all-out firestorm, but what the hell. Emerald Hope had no shortage of nasties knocking on their doors, fire was good against most of 'em, Conan had the smarts and nerve to make good in pyrotechnics, and the kid had to start somewhere. And- ah, shit.

Grace Smith, fix-it tools still tucked in various pockets of her denim jacket, staring at her eldest daughter with thinly disguised horror.

"Hell, indeed," Mithil sniffed, prepared to splash another vial on him. "I don't know how deep you are in the darkness to resist Eilistraee's power, but-"

"Do we have to have the Dark Is Not Evil talk again?" Kat eyed Mithil and her frowning sister through steaming silver bangs, avoiding Grace's gaze. "I know you're good, but that stuff still takes a while to make. Can't you save it for the conquistador skeletons?"

"Oh, please. It's overkill on skeletons. I just don't know why it's underkill on you." Deirdre crossed her arms, glaring. "You melted the ground!"

Oh. Axel looked down, shaking a bit of cooling glass off his boot before it could harden there. Looks like we did.

I wish I could bring you two in front of the Order's Masters, Vigil reluctantly snickered. They never did approve of using the Force to create fire.

Wimps, Axel declared. If you're gonna use telekinesis, why not use it all the way?

"We were sparring," Kat said, each word clear and sharp as diamond. "We had everything contained." She took a breath. "And if you'd read the reference books, you'd know exactly why holy water won't work. On either of us. It's charged with positive energy, it specifically interferes with undead beings' connections to the Negative Plane or the forces linking evil outsiders to their home outer planes, and we don't have those."

Yep. Hair wasn't all of Kat that was steaming.

"Of course you don't," Mithil tapped her foot, all genteel, polished elven disdain. "I was born in the Underdark; I know how to deal with demons, and their pacts. There's powdered cold iron and silver in there. A warlock should be vulnerable to at least one of those."

"She right?" Axel muttered under his breath; Kat's hearing put the bats to shame.

"She might be, if I'd written up a formal character sheet," Kat sighed. "Mithil, the closest Vigil's powers are to something you understand is psionics. I don't care what you put in it; holy water is not going to work."

And she's not flinching even when she knows Mithil deliberately tried to throw "acid" on her, Axel thought wryly. Tough cookie.

I'm not sure tough is the word, Vigil murmured. Grace has seen holy water used. Why isn't she flinching?

…Damn.

"Whoa." Conan managed to sound completely innocent, though Axel saw the scheming in the glance she'd traded with Leon. "And I thought maybe you just couldn't see through the fire! You mean you both threw - what'd you call it, Leon?"

"A magical version of hydrofluoric acid," the green-haired teenage scientist said wryly, cat ears twitching. And not in a good way.

"Yeah! You mean you threw that on them on purpose?"

I like that kid, Axel decided.

So do I, Vigil mused.

"Of course she didn't," Grace sighed. "And besides, Kat, you knew it wouldn't hurt you."

Conan and Leon both stared at her.

Exactly what world is that woman living in? Axel sputtered mentally.

I'm not certain, but I doubt you could make a portal there, Vigil said dryly.

"If I'd been a full Hellfire Wyrm, it might have eaten half my face off," Kat stated, voice level. "Of course, if I'd been that, I would have regenerated. And promptly shifted back into dragon form and fried the both of them." Fingers almost clenched on the cloth of her coat; deliberately relaxed. "I realize the two of you are very zealous devotees of your deities, but if you don't learn to do a bit of threat assessment before you start slinging spells and blessings, the next person you think is a concealed demon just might be one. And given what I've seen of your spell-casting level, an erinyes could hand you both your heads left-handed."

What's an erinyes? Vigil wondered.

Dunno, Axel shrugged. We'll have to hit Kat's books later. But from the sound of it, we could probably toast it easy as an Assassin Nobody.

Unless there's a few thousand of them…?

Axel tried not to roll his eyes. Am I ever going to live that down?

You didn't, remember? Vigil sobered. Sorry.

"The ground was on fire," Deirdre insisted. "What were we supposed to think?"

"That we were practicing?" Kat said dryly. "You need to do that, with magic."

"No, you don't," Grace sighed.

"Yes, you do," Leon said, puzzled. "How else do you know how much power to put into the spell?"

"Spells don't work like that," Grace argued.

"Deirdre and Mithil's spells don't work like that," Kat said tightly. "And if I have to explain the difference between Vancian magic systems and mana-based one more time…. Mom. Deirdre's a fairly standard cleric of Bahamut. She learns set spells that work the same way every time. She doesn't have to practice. Leon's Heraldic Magic is… more flexible. You can light a candle, or set a house on fire, and it's the same spell. Just a different amount of energy. And since I liked that system - D&D uses it for psionics, and warlocks are supposed to have spell-like abilities, anyway…." She blew out a breath, and shook her head. "Yes, I do have to practice. And I was."

"And exactly when are you going to need to set sand on fire?" Grace said in annoyed disbelief. "People are going to want to use this spot, you know."

Axel hadn't run into that many half-demons during his time as a Nobody, but apparently they gave off the same back-of-the-skull pressure as any other lethal fighter barely restraining their battle aura. Enough of this. "You know," said the pyrokinetic wryly, "there's just one more thing I wanted to practice."

Hand on Kat's shoulder, he swirled them both into Darkness.

------
"Ow."

Vigil staggered slightly as they stepped out of the Dark portal onto the rec center's roof. "That's… not the most friendly way to travel."

"Yeah, well; I wasn't exactly in a friendly mood. So thanks. Again." Kat cast him a worried look. "Are you okay? With - switching, like that?"

"It's a little odd," the healer admitted.

Kat raised a brow at him.

"Very odd," Vigil admitted. "But if what he remembers is right, we are part of each other. And for a Force-user to ignore part of himself… well, it's not wise."

"And that pretty much sums up the plot of three movies." Kat gave him a rueful smile. Which faded. "Whatever it is, just ask."

Yeah. Only we're gonna be disarm death-trap careful, Axel murmured. Got a plan?

I think so, Vigil replied. Cleared his throat. "Does your mother not understand that holy water can be lethal to demons?" That your sister could have killed you?

Shoulders stiffened, but Kat's expression didn't change. "She doesn't believe Deirdre would deliberately hurt anyone. She's such a nice girl, after all."

"Nice," the healer repeated in disbelief.

A long silence. By her side, fingers curled, almost into a fist. "I guess you should know this. You and Axel," Kat said carefully. "Because you're my friends. And it's… not always good for other people, being that."

She mean what I think she means? Axel murmured.

Space, I hope not.

"My family… tends to filter what they see. And don't see," Kat stated. "A coping mechanism. I guess I can't blame them; reality was… well. Reality was too much for anybody to take, straight on."

"You did," Vigil said softly, somehow sure.

"Finding a body tends to do that," Kat said flatly.

Vigil blinked, feeling Axel tense. "…Finding what?"

"It was cold. Snowing. I hate the snow," Kat said quietly. "Even now, years later… snow thaws on a pile of wood, and freezes, so you end up having to break ice to get your firewood. Sometimes you need a hammer, and that really hurts your hands when you're already cold… so you look for where the wood comes apart the easiest. I worked my way around the pile, and - there she was." Her lips pressed together; she closed her eyes, and sighed. "It would have been easier for them. If I hadn't found it. Do you understand?"

Oh gods, yes. "Never let someone tell you what you remember," Vigil whispered.

"Sometimes I wish I could forget," Kat said honestly. "But that would be a lie." She looked straight at him. "Never lie to me. Tell me you hate me. Tell me I've screwed up. But tell me the truth."

Slowly, Vigil nodded.

Kat let out a quiet breath, and looked away, tilting her head toward one of the outer gates. "Sounds like the scroungers are back. I should go meet them. They were planning to hit a health food store, among other places, and if they found any St. John's wort - Kitten knew at least three recipes for healing wafers, and that'd make one of the simplest."

Running, Axel remarked.

I can't blame her, Vigil admitted. "I wouldn't mind staying up here a little longer. Meditating."

The relief in violet eyes was painful to see. Kat stepped briskly toward the edge - and halted. "You know, you could talk to Ashton. He'd understand what it's like, having more than one person in your head."

A glint of silver hair, and she was gone.

"Well." Vigil walked along the roof to where the upper level over the center's gymnasium provided a convenient wall to lean against, and sat down. "That… wasn't what I expected."

Makes two of us, Axel said grimly. You serious about meditating? I think we need to talk.

"We are."

Where I can show you something.

All right. Closing his eyes, Vigil willed his focus inside-

Opened them on snow and cold; a small farm homestead on one of the many worlds Organization XIII had seen destroyed, smoke rising from a stone chimney.

A Nobody memory, then. "Axel?"

"Over here."

The Nobody was a shadow among melting snowflakes, hood pulled over spiky red hair. His long coat shushed through drifts as he strode around the corner. "Take a look."

Oddly shaped snow, piled against one wall of the cottage deep and thick enough to hide a tank in-

It's not snow.

Axel nodded at the topmost, icy layer of split wood. "Don't know if this is anything like what Kat dealt with, but I'm betting it's close. Try getting a piece out of there. Without the Force."

The most effective way, Vigil eventually discovered, was to find a piece that had been badly aligned with the rest, so ice hadn't locked it as solidly into the pile. That, you used to knock a more massive piece free, and so on.

"You thinking what I'm thinking?"

Gauging the soreness of his mental muscles, Vigil gladly stopped to breathe. "Whoever placed the body must have had a lot of time to work on it." He thought that through, recalling what he'd picked up from various CorSec agents. "Either they knew when the family would be away… or they had a very good reason to be there."

Axel nodded. "Which means, Kat's family knew the killer."

"…Blast."

"And?" the pyrokinetic added.

And. Oh gods, and. "If they knew they could hide the body successfully… they probably also knew it would be found." Vigil paused, hating his next words. "And who would find it."

"How you do one thing-"

"-Is how you do everything," Vigil finished, remembering the wry smile of CorSec's master crime scene analyst, bane of murderous sentients' existence. "If something bad happens to them, her family notices. But if it happens to Kat-"

"-Didn't happen, wasn't that bad, she's just exaggerating," Axel finished. "Yeah."

Vigil swallowed, fighting an irrational urge to be sick. "You think… someone killed that woman, and left her where Kat would find her, because-" He couldn't say it.

"Because nobody would listen." The assassin's green eyes were uncharacteristically cold. "Don't you?"

Force help him, he did. "That's - evil."

"I was thinking more along the lines of sadistic and psychopathic, but yeah." Axel smirked, sudden as a razor slash. "Wonder just how she turned the tables on the bastard."

Because she had, Vigil knew they were both certain of it. The woman they knew did not let violent death pass unchallenged. She'd have found justice for the dead, or died trying. "I wonder who it was?"

"No, you don't," Axel said, almost sadly. "You just don't want to think about it."

"What do you-"

Axel held up a finger at a time. "Esmeril. Gyre. Grace." He waggled his fingers. "What's missing from this picture?"

Well, that was obvious. Kitten's parents, and Kat's mother- Vigil went white.

"You don't waste sadism like that on perfect strangers, trust me," Axel said dryly. "Malice that cruel and vicious? You use that on people you know. To the bone."

"But… how…."

"Who knows? Hell, I could be wrong. But they never talk about him." Axel shook his head. "All over Emerald Hope, everybody talks about family. Who's missing. Who's dead. Who got changed. Parents, spouses, kids - everybody talks. Except them." A shrug. "Maybe Deirdre doesn't remember dear ol' Dad. But Kat and Grace have their memories, and
they're not saying boo." He paused. "Add that to what Bowman found out about people's DNA…."

"That we're all different, now," Vigil recalled. "We're not who we were. Genetically, even."

Axel nodded. "Ever see anybody so happy to find out they're half demonic dragon?"

"Sithspawn, no." Hearing his own words, Vigil winced. "But we don't know."

"Yeah. And I doubt she's gonna tell us." Axel grimaced, obviously worrying at the problem.

"Conan," Vigil said abruptly. "We should ask Conan."

"She didn't talk to us," Axel argued, "she's not gonna talk to the pint-size detective. Even if she does like her."

"Not Kat." Vigil smiled, and briefly wondered if it looked akin to Axel's. "Grace. And Deirdre."

The pyrokinetic grinned, stance easing back to its usual deceptive laziness. "Well, what do you know. A sneaky Jedi."

"Goes along with the honorable assassin." Vigil tried not to hold his breath, waiting….

The grin softened. Just a little. "Figured out I'm sticking around, huh?"

"I'm not comfortable with what you were, or what you did," Vigil admitted. "But you're not exactly thrilled to be part of me, either. And I know we can help each other." He held out a hand. "Could we try being friends?"

Black-gloved fingers took it-

And the healer was back on the roof, blinking at the red twilight.

I'll go for that, Axel chuckled. And paused. So what are we up to next?

"Infirmary," Vigil decided. "I want to know what the scroungers brought back. Intentionally and otherwise."

Good call. And after we stomp monsters?

"We've got a detective to find."

-End.

The End

You have reached the end of "Halloween World: Scorched Earth". This story is complete.

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