Prompt #5 – jack-o-lantern (Hurt/Comfort)

Tsukiko half-stomped and half-fled down the dungeon stairs, barely slowing to duck into one especially musty door. ("Keep Out! Under Pain of Experimental Necromancy!") Only when she had shut herself inside did she stop, trembling as she leaned against the door and slumped to a low sitting position. It just— It just isn't fair…

The troops had cracked another storehouse, and she'd been overjoyed to find not just another magic item, but several bottles of incenses and perfumes, genuine Western continent imports. She'd only ever seen this stuff in catalogs with rather oversized pictures. Her fourth magical academy had threatened to expel anyone wearing it! Naturally, she'd set the whole case aside and prepared to give another status report. Maybe more than one. Plus overtime...

It took several conversation starters, several dozen half-choked hobgoblins, and absolutely zero eye contact from her dear ruler before Redcloak pulled her aside and told her she might as well take her little Cloudkill research project back downstairs, because Xykon wouldn't be noticing anything this side of the afterlife.

Holding her knees, she choked back a few wet sniffs and wiped her eyes off as best she could. Well, anyone could have forgotten that liches have no sense of smell. Swallowing, she pushed herself back to her feet. "D— dancing Lights."

The simple spheres of light brightened the room, but not too much. Just enough for her to make out the soothing shapes of the heads, bodies, and faces all around her. Every few feet along the wall ran a set of metal platforms stacked like shelves, as solid and durable as she could find. On each shelf lay the remains of one of her babies. As she walked to each one, she felt the usual pang that some were incomplete and would always remain so (…teach those worms not to use fire on my darlings…), but this melted into the background as she gazed between the parts that she still had.

Every single one of them still had its head; it would just have been wrong to leave any of that behind. The back of her mind remembered them as reformed hunters, farmers, students... but as she looked at each one in turn, she thought, poor Kyosuke and Carly, dear Ysabell and Mort, my little Pip and Tom… Each one, taken away before their time. Here, she could shed tears of loss, and her remaining children would not have to see. Though she had lost these, they always reminded her of so much she could yet do for the rest. Walking reverently down the aisles, she could never forget them, Aliph and Hannah and Wanda and—

"What the hell is this?!"

Out in the corridor, the umbrella-toting monster paused in mid-step and mid-whistle at the sound of the shriek piercing the door. Seconds later, the door flew open, and Tsukiko glimpsed him, sputtering her words.

"You, do you know how in Rat's filthy bowels this thing got here?"

"Oh, you found Jack!"

"I- wha- Jack?" She looked back down at the hollowed-out pumpkin in her hands. It was about the size of her head, and there was a face carved into one side. Or rather, there were a couple of mismatched triangles above a semicircle. "You named your… carving Jack?"

"Yeah! He looks like a Jack, doesn't he? Or maybe a Gordon…"

"But why is he—it here? And why is the inside glowing?"

"Well, I know you said it was your private room, and I shouldn't even have looked inside, but I really thought it was so dark and gloomy in there – and boy, do I know dark. So then I thought, some color would be really nice, and it could be okay if it's a head, 'cuz you collect them so much. So I looked for something to carve, and… and, well, I wound up in the kitchens, I do that a lot, and then I made Jack there."

"But… the glowing?"

"Oh, it did that as soon as I started carving. Those mean old cooks wouldn't let me borrow their knives, so I borrowed yours. Maybe I shoulda washed it off first."

"You used—that's my best potion-making knife!"

"But I washed it off real good afterwards, I promise! And I put it right back!"

She shoved the luminous pumpkin into his grasp. "Get that thing out of here! And you, get out, out, out! Never come anywhere near here again!"

The thunderous slamming door made the monster wince. "Aw, shoot… See, that's why I think she could use a colorful face around her." He looked wistfully at his carving, then got an idea and held it close to his chest.

The glow didn't reveal anything.

"Aw, shoot! Oh well – sorry, Jack. Now what do I do?" Eventually, he sniffed the air, his stomach burbled, and he raised the pumpkin up a bit, but the face was pointed right at him. "Ooh, I can't do it." But soon, he shrugged, cheered up a bit, and trotted over to the stairs, whistling softly again. "I wonder if wights like pumpkin heads?"