Jack smiled at the Pumpkin King, fangs silver in the dim light. His blood-soaked hands smeared runes into the altar. Dead at his feet was the broken body of the Hunter. Her blood drained, the precious fluid poured into small stone containers under the altar. He lifted up the lifeless husk and dumped it into compost heap near the back. A special fungus that thrived on dead flesh grew in large clusters in the compost pile. In time, her body would safely decompose and he could use the fertile soil to help feed the forest. Spell complete, he stepped away from his work. His guest crossed his arms over his chest, the light inside the Jack o' Lantern was bright. Face smug, Jack gave a bow.
"If it isn't the High and Mighty Pumpkin King! Welcome to my personal work area," His flippant greeting didn't get any response from the King. The Pumpkin King stood motionless and Jack could feel the glare he couldn't see. Jack sighed and his shoulders slumped. Both hands balled into fists and he fought to remain composed.
"I ordered you to stay in Nuevo Muerte," The Pumpkin King's voice boomed in the small space. He remained still and waited. Emotions boiled off the King like thick, black smoke. No, wait, that was the natural state of an upset wraith. Jack forced his fangs back inside his mouth, the smile dropped.
"I don't take orders from the likes of you," Jack snapped out words like sharp daggers. An annoyed hiss left the Pumpkin King slowly. One pale hand rubbed his chin, blood smearing across his lips. Mindful to not lick the enchanted substance, Jack turned his attention to getting clean. Cloth rags stored nearby did the job. He held up his now clean hands and did his best to put on a friendly face. "Can we start this conversation over? I have important news."
"If you agree to have it at Nuevo Muerte," The Pumpkin King snapped his fingers. Next to him, a portal opened. He stood off the side and motioned for Jack to walk through first. "Please."
Jack's eyes darted between the portal and the Pumpkin King. He had honored his word to protect the woods, he didn't need to stay. It was the sincere please that made up his mind. With a quick nod, he strode through the portal. On the other side was the study attached to the Pumpkin King's bedchamber. Death Blossom greeted him with wet, slobbery kisses. Jack tolerated the mess but he refused to pet the warm head that pushed against him. Her tail thumped against his legs, hard enough to bruise.
"She likes you," The Pumpkin King walked past Jack, portal already closing. He took a seat behind his desk and offered the spare chair. Jack didn't sit down, rather he leaned against the chair with boneless grace. "I have questions that need answers, but I'll wait for you to speak first."
"My meal wasn't of age," Jack rolled his eyes at the hellhound before he leveled them at the Pumpkin King. He pushed down his own misgivings, there was more at stake than his own personal bias. Smoke comes off the Pumpkin King in thick waves. Jack gave his most sincere look at the upset Wraith. "I know it wasn't deliberate on your part."
"That's…," The Pumpkin King tapped a finger against his desk, light inside his Jack o' Lantern dim. The smoke that poured off him slowed down. "Bad. Very bad. I appreciate your understanding."
"It gets worse," Jack pulled out the chair and sat down hard. Not once did his gaze waver. A weight settled in his gut. Pressure built at the back of his skull. Inhumans were magically bound to honor their word. Not once had the Pumpkin King treated him badly. Jack no desire to demand recompense, but the pressure continued to build. "Whoever did this wanted to sabotage you. The boy, my meal, mentioned that it was a trap meant for you."
The silence stretched between them. Jack let his thoughts wander, fighting their way through the magic that bore down on them both. It had been a long time since he had been entangled in a serious problem. First, it was the return of the Blood Pox, now it was someone trying to use him to trick the Pumpkin King into becoming Undone. These aren't isolated problems! I don't know or why they're connected, but I just can't shake the feeling that this is part of a bigger threat. Finally spread too thin, the quiet shattered with the Pumpkin King slamming his fist into his desk. Words spilled from the Jack o' Lantern, a torrent of curses from a language long gone. This went for a moment before the King regained his composure.
"It would appear that I am in your debt," The Pumpkin King spoke slowly and his magic started to repair the damage done by his fist. He swept the shattered pieces of wood off to one side. "Is there anything you want from me?"
"Well, if you'll not hold me accountable for the wall I destroyed to get out of here, I'll call us even," Jack drawled out, the pressure painful. A lazy smile crossed his face. I'm no King! No, that isn't right. I'm not a ruler!
"You destroyed…! So that's how you got out, the risk you put my people in…" The Pumpkin King growled out, the light inside dying down to almost nothing before it flared bright enough to blind. His entire body shook slightly, smoke started coming off in thicker waves.
"I sealed up the barrier right after I left," Jack soothed with a calm voice. He kept his fangs in check, voice level and respectful. This was a dangerous game they had both been unwilling dragged into. "I learned my lesson with Satya. Considering the circumstances I might've stayed put, but... I needed out, I gave my word to protect Overwatch. If I don't replenish my protection spells, I fail at my given word."
"Thank you," The Pumpkin King's voice was low and soft. Under that soft voice a dangerous tone, sharp and hard, cut at the edges of Jack's awareness. It wasn't directed at him, but Jack got to tolerate it. "I won't hold you accountable. We're even, is that agreed?"
"Agreed," Jack felt the smile behind the Jack o' Lantern, one that danced with the light inside. The pressure building between broke. Excitement hummed in his body. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. He clasped his hands together and placed his head on them. "I don't like it when people try to play games with me. And someone has been pulling both of us into a very dangerous game."
"Yes. It has been a long time since my position was challenged," The Pumpkin King also leaned forward. An intensity came from him in heavy waves. "Do you have something in mind, Jack?"
"Mhmm," Jack yawned and he fought against the sleep that came with the predawn hour. He gave the Pumpkin King a lazy grin that showed off his fangs. Red eyes glowed in the dim room. "I would be willing to change the terms of our agreement. I think there could be better arrangements for both of us. I think it would be wise if we worked together until whoever is behind this is… dealt with permanently."
"That is an excellent suggestion, one I wholeheartedly agree with. What is that you want Jack," The Pumpkin King sounded eager, his body tense. The smoke stopped coming off him and the world around them went still.
"My freedom, easy access to food, and a safe place to sleep," Jack rattled off the basics without pause. He let out another yawn and he sat up straight. His arms rose above his head and he stretched. "Right now isn't the best time to discuss the specifics."
"I can work with that," The Pumpkin King pushed away from his desk and he stood up. He nodded in the direction of the bedchambers. "We can continue this conversation after you've slept for the day."
"One thing before I doze off," Jack sat up and he looked in the direction of the bedchamber. The desire to sleep in that divine bed was shoved aside. He forced his mind to stay alert, he had one last thing to ask. It was easy to ask when he was sleepy, too tired to be afraid. "Before that, I…," Another yawn escaped him. "I need to know what you want from me. Why are you always so… good to me."
"I desire your companionship," The Pumpkin King replied softly. One gloved hand reached out and rested lightly on his shoulder. It squeezed gently before moving away. "I'm lonely. We can talk about this later."
"I don't know," Jack failed to keep the yawn back. He blinked, eyelids heavy. His heart ached and he silently cursed his weakness. Warm hands nudged him in the direction of the bedroom. Jack walked slowly, thoughts fuzzy. He felt full, safe and content, the words slipping out before he realized it. "But, I'm willing to see where things go."