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Mortal Jeopardy

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A week into his sophomore year at Halloweentown University, Dylan finally had his room set up exactly the way he wanted it. Books organized by subject, alphabetized by main author's last name. Clothing sorted by weather condition then color. Every pen in its holder, every stray piece of paper in its binder.

Now, he had a little time to relax before he had head to Marnie's room. Marnie and Aneesa were leaving for their semester studying abroad, but he had an hour or two before it was time to say goodbye. Settling at his desk, he figured it was a good time to get further ahead on his required reading. Instead the electric hum of magic started to crackle in the air around him and a flickering image started to coalesce in front of him.

When figure resolved itself into something recognizable, Sophie stood there, forehead wrinkled and hands on her hips while she peered around.

"When am I?" she demanded

"Uh? What?"

"When. Am. I?"

"Sophie, aren't you and Grandma Aggie on your way to Egypt to study hieroglyphic magic? I thought you were done with the timeline hopping?"

Dylan knew for a fact she was, because he'd spent the entire summer being jealous once he found out their plans for the fall. He never regretted his choice not to study magic, but sometimes he envied the training his sisters got for the chances it gave them to learn about history, culture, even geography. All the stuff that, so far, he'd only read about in books.

"I'm not timeline hopping, exactly. It's a slipstream and… oh, never mind, you wouldn't understand. I had to contact you and this was the only way."

Dylan lifted his wrist, and pointed at the portable witch's glass. "What about the—"

"Dylan, I don't have time," Sophie hissed, looking back over her shoulder at something he couldn't see. "What day is it? What time?"

"September fifth. About six at night."

"Good, I'm in time. It's still today." Her shoulders sagged in relief. "Someone is going to steal Merlin's Talisman from the pumpkin in the town square tonight. You have to stop them or something bad will happen on Halloween."

"Bad? How bad? Sophie, what's going on? Why are you telling me, not Marnie?"

The sound of Aggie's voice carried from where/whenever Sophie was.

"I have to go. Remember. You have to keep Merlin's Talisman from being stolen. If you can't then you have to stop it from being used on Halloween." The image started to break up but Sophie's voice remained clear. "Try not to hurt the thief, though."

"Wait. Sophie? Who will steal it? How…"

But she was gone, the room eerily quiet and still without the buzz of magic.

Witches.

Always so cryptic and mysterious. He'd have to go talk to Marnie before she left. Maybe she could figure out what Sophie meant.

#

Dylan hesitated outside the open door to Marnie and Aneesa's room listening to the giggles and watching multicolor sparks flashing. The two roommates sat on Marnie's rumpled bed surrounded by a pile of what looked like every piece of clothing both of them owned. Ethan was there as well, stretched on Aneesa's perfectly made bed laughing and offering his own opinion while the girls debated what clothes to pack and what to leave behind. The black t-shirt he wore was just tight enough to show off the smooth muscles of his arms and sleek breadth of his shoulders. Every time he laughed, the hem hiked up a little to play peek-a-boo with a hint of sculpted ab muscles. Dylan swallowed hard and tried not stare at Ethan while he waited for them to notice him.

He wasn't quite sure what Ethan's relationship was with Marnie and Aneesa. It had been obvious from the time the girls had started rooming together that they were more than just roommates. Yet Ethan continued hanging out and didn't seem to mind that Marnie had relegated him to 'just friends' status after a couple of dates. Not that Dylan minded either. Hanging out with the group was about as close as he'd ever get to his own date with Ethan.

After Julia, Natalie and the Sinister sisters, Dylan was tired of having crushes on the unobtainable, so he buried his feelings deep and tried not to notice how attractive the guy was. At least not when anyone else was looking. But stretched out on the bed, eyes warm with laughter, it was hard not to.

Of course, that was when Ethan looked up and caught him staring.

"Dylan, hey, how's it going?"

At least Ethan always seemed happy to see him. And hadn't once asked for help with his homework.

"Hey," he mumbled in return, fiddling with his glasses in hopes of hiding the blush burning his cheeks.

"Dylan, I was starting to worry you weren't going to get here in time to say good bye."

Marnie jumped up and hugged him, squeezing him so tight he had to wait for her to let go before he had enough air to speak.

"Of course I wouldn't let you leave without saying goodbye…" 

He was talking to his sister's back, however, as she scooted across the room.

"Where is it? Where'd I put it?" she muttered to herself sorting through what looked like a pile of miniature toys on her desk. "Aha!"

She came back and pressed a small wooden rectangle into his hand.

"I need you to take care of this while I'm gone. Don't lose it and don't let anyone get their hands on it."

He peered at it, brow furrowing. "A dollhouse sized trunk? Who would want it?"

"Don't be ridiculous. It's a regular trunk and it's filled with things like Aggies extra spell book, some rare potion ingredients I've collected and my witch's glass. I shrank it down to make it more portable because I was going to take it with me, but the stupid rules say clothes and toiletries only."

"Rules?" he smirked at his sister. "Since when do you obey the rules?"

"Since the Amazons only allow one group of exchange students every century. If I get kicked out of this group, I'll never have a chance again. This is way too rare of an opportunity. I've been looking forward to this all summer."

Dylan bit his lip, remembering the spontaneous fireworks over their house when she'd gotten word that both she and Aneesa had been accepted for the program. It was the chance of a lifetime and he couldn't blame her.

Dylan sighed and smiled at his sister. "I know. I'll hang onto this for you. Can't let anything stand in the way of learning the secrets of the Amazons."

After saving the world three or four times, Marnie had an over developed hero complex. If he told her about Sophie's cryptic message, she might stay and miss out on a unique opportunity.

So he'd deal with this on his own, for once, instead of depending on his sister to save the day. How hard could it be to stop one measly thief?

He swallowed hard but it was too late to change his mind. Professor P. arrived and the girls were hugging everyone one last time. Marnie lingered in Ethan's embrace, whispering something that made him flush and turn his head while she and Aneesa giggled. Then, with a last wave, the three women disappeared in rush of blue and pink

"Have you eaten yet?"

Dylan blinked, realizing he was alone with Ethan. Something he tried hard not to do, since he always got ridiculously tongue-tied around the guy. Not to mention the humiliating blushing.

"Huh?"

"It's getting kind of late, but I skipped dinner to make sure I got a chance to say goodbye. I figured, if you hadn't eaten, we could go grab something."

"Uh. Okay. If you want, I mean…"

He closed his eyes and willed his mouth to stop talking but Ethan just laughed and patted him on the shoulder.

"Let's go."

If Ethan noticed the way Dylan shivered and leaned into the brief touch, he didn't say anything, to the eternal gratitude of Dylan's pride.

#

The sun had already set by the time they sat down in the dining hall and the tables were mostly empty, except for a handful of nocturnal creatures grabbing an early breakfast.

Dylan stared morosely at his plate, pushing the literal blood pudding around more than eating it, trying to figure out how to stop a thief with no magic and no knowledge of what was really going on.

"Okay, what gives?"

Startled, Dylan looked up to find Ethan frowning at him in concern.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you've barely said two words to me, you've massacred your food without taking a single bite and you have your 'Marnie dragged me into another magical crisis' look. Only Marnie left an hour ago."

"I have looks?" he asked, not sure if he was more surprised that he was that transparent or that Ethan had paid enough attention to him to notice.

"Yeah," Ethan laughed a little. "You get tight around the eyes, your lips pinch into a permanent line. And you fiddle with your glasses."

Dylan dropped his hand from where he'd been about to readjust his frames and considered obfuscating. Ethan had already gotten embroiled in two of their crazy family dramas. Probably, the polite thing to do was leave him out of this completely.

On the other hand, Dylan didn't want to do this alone.

"Sophie," he blurted out.

"Sophie?" Ethan's frown deepened. "I thought she was off training with your grandmother somewhere."

"She is, I guess. She just popped in long enough to tell me I had to stop someone from stealing Merlin's Talisman from the pumpkin tonight at midnight."

"Okay, well, it's nearly nine. We probably want to get to the square ahead of time, to make sure we catch them before they get their hands on it."

"We?"

Ethan froze and leaned back in his chair, looking uncertain. "That is, if you want my help, I mean."

"Of course, I do. It's just," he pushed his hand flat on the table to keep from fidgeting with his glasses again. "It's just these things never work out quite as easy as it seems they should in the beginning. I don't want to drag you into anything dangerous. Again."

"Dylan, I'm not going to let you walk into anything potentially dangerous on your own, either."

Ethan smiled again, and reached out to pat Dylan's forearm where it lay on the table between.

#

Outside the dining hall, the moon was up and shining brightly over the campus.

"Well, I guess if we're going to make it to town before midnight, we should start walking," Dylan said and turned toward the front of the University. "At least it's a warm night."

"No broom, huh?"

Though he smiled when he asked, he sounded a little sad.

"No. I leave that to Marnie."

"Too bad," Ethan murmured wistfully. "I really miss flying."

"Have you considered petitioning the council? You gave your magic up voluntarily, they might help you get it back. You didn't do anything wrong."

Ethan tucked his hands into his pockets and ducked his head.

"I helped. I mean, I didn't know what he was really doing. How far he'd go. But I knew it wasn't right." His laugh, this time, sounded more painful than amused. "I did it because he bought me a new broom."

With a sigh and a shrug, he tilted his head to look at Dylan. "You have generations of good witches in your blood. Witches like Marnie and Agatha, who always do the right thing. I have generations of selfish pricks who sold their integrity for power. I just don't think the temptation is worth the risk."

Dylan didn't know what to say. He chose not to use his magic because there never seemed to be anything he needed that he couldn't get the other way. Except knowledge. Even then, he just needed to read faster, to get that. He'd never been tempted to break the rules by his power.

"Hey, is that Benny?"

Dylan twisted around to see where Ethan pointed and spotted the familiar cab stopped in front of the University, letting out a pack of fairies.

They jogged over before the car pulled away and Dylan leaned in the window. "Hey, Benny, can you give us a ride into town?"

"Sure thing, kids. Hop in."

"Hey, did you guys here who won the skeleton beauty contest?" Benny asked, once they were on their way. "No body. Get it? No body."

Dylan groaned but Ethan chuckled politely, which Benny took as encouragement to regale them with puns the entire drive.

The town square was already quiet and empty when the cab pulled up to let them out.

After he closed the car door, Dylan leaned in the window again. "We might need a ride back, later."

"No problem. Just give a whistle and I'll find you guys."

Once Benny pulled out of sight, Ethan and Dylan were completely alone in the darkened town square.

"Over there," Ethan pointed. "The doorway to the candy shop is pretty deep. We can sit in the shadows and no one will see us, but we'll have a perfect view of the pumpkin and anyone coming for it."

They settled in to wait and Ethan was right. The recessed doorway made them all but invisible in the dark square, yet the light from the pumpkin made it easy to see anyone approaching it. The opening was ridiculously narrow, however, and their bodies pressed tightly together from shoulder to ankle. The feel of Ethan's warm, sleek muscles leaning into him was torture enough, but somewhere around the second hour, Ethan dozed off, head drooping onto Dylan's shoulder. It took all the self-restraint he had not to run his fingers through the tempting blond hair.

It was a distraction, to say the least. Which was why he missed the appearance of the cloaked figure skulking through the square until it had already climbed halfway up the pumpkin.

"Hey, wait. Stop," Dylan shouted, struggling to get up with Ethan dazedly jerking awake next to him.

The thief paused, and turned to stare at them, the cloak's heavy hood shading his face from view. Then he hurried up to the top of the pumpkin, reached inside, jerked the talisman free and jumped down before Dylan made it even halfway across the square. He gave chase when the cloaked figure ducked down a side street and started weaving in and out of alleys.

It had been a while since Dylan had had to chase a villain or run for his life and he'd gotten a little out of shape. His lungs burned, his sides ached and his legs felt like lead but he refused to give up even though the thief was getting farther and farther ahead. Ethan, however, easily caught up to Dylan despite his head start.

Then the thief turned down another alley, Ethan pushed past him and put on a burst of speed to follow. By the time Dylan got around the corner, Ethan had launched himself at the cloaked figure and they both landed hard on the ground. Ethan quickly got the upper hand, straddling the thief's back and pinning him to the pavement. Dylan stopped next to the struggling pair and pressed one hand against the wall while he bent over to catch his breath. 

"Who…" he tried to wheeze around his gasping for air."Who is it?"

Ethan grabbed a handful of hood and yanked, revealing all too familiar red hair, wide ears and large goblin nose.

"Luke?" He and Ethan asked at the same time.

The goblin clutched the talisman like a child with a teddy bear. His eyes, wide and panicked, darted between Dylan and Ethan.

"Help," he croaked, voice raw with pleading. "You have to help us."

"What? Us? Us who?"

A violet mini-tornado whirled to life at the other end of the alley. Dylan crouched down, closer to Ethan and threw his arm in front of his face to protect it from the whipping wind, dirt and debris. When it chaos subsided, he dropped his hand to gawk at the creature now floating in front of them. Like Luke, it wore a heavy cloak that covered it completely. Unlike Luke, though, the hood didn't just shadow its face. The thing had no face. Only an empty swirl of violent mist. It carried a heavy, dangerous looking staff in one hand and lowered it threateningly at Dylan and Ethan.

"Who are you?" Dylan demanded, standing up and trying to channel Marnie's in your face brashness. Unfortunately, it came out more stuttering and pathetic.

"I am the end and the beginning."

The voice had a grating, metallic sound that made it impossible to tell if the creature was male or female. Or if it had any gender at all.

"Well right now is the beginning of the end for you." This time he didn't need to fake his sister's righteousness. His own irritation and anger bled away the fear and uncertainty. "You're not going to do anything to Halloweentown and you're not getting Merlin's Talisman."

The dark, echoing laugh that answered him wasn't really unexpected. Sometimes Dylan wondered if Halloweentown had a second, Villain University where they learned all the clichés.

"Who's going to stop me? You're the only Cromwell left in Halloweentown and you're not even a witch." The tip of its staff started to glow. "You're no threat at all."

"Dylan, look out!"

Ethan surged to his feet, twisting to put himself between Dylan and the faceless demon.

The violet streak hit them like a rampaging elephant, knocking them both back fifteen feet and leaving them in a bruised tangle on the ground.

"Come, Luke. As entertaining as this has been, we have other things to do tonight."

The goblin reluctantly got up and trudged toward the cloaked figure. He glanced back, silent pleading in his eyes, before they both disappeared in a violet mist.

Dylan let his head drop back to the pavement and sighed in resignation.

"Why is it never as easy as catching the thief and turning him over to the authorities before going home to a celebratory cupcake and a good night's sleep?"

"Because you're a Cromwell. I'm pretty sure an addiction to adrenaline is in your blood, even if you pretend to prefer books to potions."

They laughed, a little hysterically, then Ethan whistled and they limped to the mouth of the alley where Benny's cab met them.

#

After waving goodbye to Benny, Dylan sighed, shoulders slumping, and turned to trudge back toward his dorm. Ethan's fingers wrapping around his wrist stopped him, though, and he stared tiredly down at the contact. What was it with all the touching lately? No way it was what he wanted it to be. Probably his exhausted mind seeing things and making connections that weren't really there.

"Are you okay?"

Dylan looked up at Ethan, eyes blinking a couple of times in order to force himself to focus.

After a minute, he managed to gather himself and give a self-depreciating smile. "Bruised, battered and exhausted. I'm a Cromwell. It's par for the course for us at this time of the year."

"What are you going to do now?"

"Now? I'm going back to my room and getting some sleep. Tomorrow, I'm going to my classes. In between homework and papers and studying, I'll try to figure out who wants to destroy, enslave or take over Halloweentown, this time."

"Is that all?" Ethan laughed sympathetically and squeezed his wrist. "My last class is at one, tomorrow. I'll come find you and we can put our heads together to try and figure this out. Get some rest."

Rest was exactly what he wanted when he closed and locked his door. Instead, though, he opened the pumpkin face of his personal witch's glass and tried to contact Sophie. The irritating buzzing denied him the possibility. Whether she was ignoring him or somewhere beyond his ability to connect, he was on his own.

He considered trying to talk to Aggie, but, chances were, he wouldn't be able to make contact with her either. And the sixth sense he pretended not to have prickled with the suggestion that that wasn't a good idea.

Marnie was out, as well. Her bracelet was tucked away in the tiny trunk hidden in the bottom of his t-shirt drawer. Complete isolation was part of the 'experience' according to his sister.

That left his mother. She'd be in Halloweentown in a heartbeat, of course. But Dylan wasn't quite ready to go crying to his mommy, yet. He'd like to hold on to what little dignity he had left on campus after the Sinister sisters had tromped all over his self-worth.

Instead, he closed the pumpkin and a terrifying thought occurred to him. He crossed to his book shelf and plucked the thick book off of it, holding his breath while he flipped it open. The amulet remained nestled snuggly where it was supposed to be, and he let the air out of his lungs with a sharp exhale of relief. 

He and Marnie were the only two who knew for sure it even still existed, though their mother suspected. He hadn't really believed it was in danger, but it was a relief to know it was safe, anyway. He closed the book and put it back where it belonged. With an exasperated groan, Dylan flopped down on his bed and tried to turn off the thoughts spiraling in his brain long enough to get a good night's sleep.

He had a feeling he'd need all his wits about him in the days ahead.

#

The next afternoon, Dylan grabbed a quick sandwich from the dining hall for a late lunch. Then he met Ethan in the memorial garden separating the back of the campus from the ancient, nearly forgotten Halloweentown cemetery. It was the quietest place he could think of to talk. Most people avoided the garden because the whole area had an eerie, restless feeling.

Dylan actually found it kind of peaceful. Maybe because half the headstones belonged to Cromwells or close relations. He'd spent a lot of time studying there after the embarrassing first quarter of his freshman year. Marnie had regularly accused him of hiding. He preferred to think of it as strategic retreat.

"Hey," Ethan greeted him, shifting his own lunch out of the way so Dylan could sit next to him on the stone bench.

"Hey," Dylan answered and dropped down beside him.

"So, any ideas yet?"

"No. Not really. I don't even know what Merlin's Talisman does. Other than end the dark ages or break Kalabar's spell."

"Maybe someone wants to recreate Kalabar's spell? His son disappeared after his last, failed vengeance attempt, right?"

"Yeah. It doesn't explain why Luke is working with him, though. Luke has been close to our family since he helped Marnie stop Kalabar senior our first trip here."

"Yeah, when I work for your grandma in the summers, he's always hanging around. He and Sophie are practically inseparable," Ethan said, taking a thoughtful bite of his sandwich. "I can't believe he'd do anything to hurt her. Since the amulet's gone, he can't be controlled. Maybe he's being coerced somehow?"

"How, though? I mean. What could someone offer or hold over him? I don't think being made more human looking is important to him, anymore."

"No. Sophie seems to like him the way he is."

"What?"

Ethan blinked and looked a little guilty. "I thought you knew. That's what I meant by inseparable. If they aren't dating, they have pretty strong mutual crushes."

"Sophie's only fifteen," he blustered.

"How old were you when you had your first crush?"

Dylan swallowed and shifted his gaze to his hands. His first crush had been Julia at fourteen, who'd laughed so hard when he asked her out, milk came out her nose. As pathetic and unattainable then, as Scarlet and her sister's had been last year. He glanced under his lashes at Ethan. At least he'd learned not to put his heart out there to get stomped all over, anymore. Actually, at least he'd learned to have crushes on someone who'd probably let him down gently, if he knew. Dylan considered it progress.

"Well, if he's not doing it to impress Sophie maybe he's doing it to protect her somehow," Dylan mused.

"From what, though? Aren't your sister and grandmother somewhere in Egypt right now?"

"I don't know," he pushed his glasses up his nose. "They're supposed to be. Sophie never actually said where she was. I have no idea what's going on."

"Well, maybe we should go to Aggie's house. If they're still in Halloweentown, that's where they'd be. If not, we can see if we can find some kind of clue to where they went."

"That's a good idea," he jumped to his feet. "Let's go see if we can whistle up Benny."

#

Benny pulled up to the gates of Agatha's house with a whistle and chuckled. "You Cromwells, such practical jokers. That's a good one, though."

Dylan didn't answer right away, to busy staring at the large, empty square of dirt where the Cromwell house was supposed to be.

"Dylan?" Ethan murmured.

"Uh, yeah. Funny, Benny," he finally answered, pushing down the sick feeling in his stomach and got out of the car. Numbly, he pushed through the gate after Benny drove away. He walked the perimeter first then tentatively shuffled to the center of the wide open space.

He tilted his head back, but the blue sky and shining sun mocked the foreboding squeezing his heart so he squeezed his eyes shut.

"This is not good."

 Ethan stepped close, his arm slipping comfortingly around Dylan's shoulders. He wanted to stiffen up, move away and hide how pathetic he was, but he just didn't have it in him. Instead, he let himself sink into the warmth, let himself accept the strength and compassion Ethan offered freely.

After a few minutes of comfort, Ethan started talking.

"All right. Let's think our way through this. I was here a couple of weeks before classes began. Everything seemed pretty normal. Aggie was as chatty as ever. Sophie was a little quiet, but I assumed that was because Luke wasn't around and she was pining. How about you? When was the last time you were here?"

Ethan squeezed his shoulder and Dylan let himself absorb a few more seconds of his caring and his steadiness before he forced himself to step away.

"The night before we moved back on campus, Marnie and I stayed here," Dylan waved his hand over the depressing plot of ground, trying to indicate the vague shape of the house that used to stand there. "Grandma bustled around telling Marnie stories and offering last minute advice. Sophie seemed more agitated than usual, but I figured she was jealous of having to share our grandmother's attention, for a change."

He shook his head, thinking about his little sister. She and Marnie were so much alike, it was frightening sometimes. "If she knew something was wrong then, though, she'd have told Grandma. Or us. She'd have shouted it from the rooftops until somebody listened or roped me and Marnie into helping her fix it. She wouldn't have kept a secret."

"Okay, so what happened between then and yesterday?"

Ethan's calmness was contagious and Dylan felt grounded enough, again, to reach for the comforting shield of sarcasm. "Well, an evil, faceless demon-y thing possibly did something to Luke, Sophie, my grandma and a whole house. Before stealing Merlin's Talisman."

"Or, Aggie did this herself to protect the house and all her stuff. The way Marnie threw everything in a trunk, shrank it and gave it to you. Maybe your sister and grandmother are in Egypt, but Sophie stumbled on some ancient prophecy or something. Your family is a magnet for that kind of thing."

"She could have just had a hunch. We—" Dylan stumbled to a halt then quickly corrected himself. "I mean they, have weird feelings all the time. She could have just known the talisman was in danger and figured I was here, I could deal with it. That kind of thing is old hat."

"From what I've seen, you're mom is kind of, er…" Ethan's nose scrunched and tried to find a diplomatic way to say what he was thinking. "She seems kind of overprotective."

Dylan sighed and rolled his eyes. "That's putting it mildly. But you're right. If something was wrong, she'd have noticed. I'll call her, see if she's noticed anything weird."

It took a surprisingly long time for his mother to answer, and, when she finally did, she was whispering from somewhere dimly lit.

"Is everything okay, Mom?" Dylan's heart started hammering in his chest. If his mother was in trouble too…

"I'm fine dear. Just showing a house. They're in the kitchen now and I'm pretty sure they're going to make an offer. Don't want to scare them off by talking to myself."

"Oh, okay," Dylan let himself take a calming breath before plunging in. "Have you heard from Sophie or Grandma? I mean they've been gone awhile, so…"

"I talked to Mom this morning. She said Sophie's having the time of her life. She's made friends with a couple of mummies and a sorceress. I'm not sure I approve of her being introduced to the Book of the Dead at such a young age, but there's no stopping your grandmother. Why, dear?"

"Uh, well, the last time I talked to Sophie she seemed, uh, odd."

"Well, she's a teenager now. Unlike you, she wasn't born an eighty year old curmudgeon." Dylan flushed when he heard Ethan stifle a chuckle. His mom's eyes went wide then narrowed down into her 'I-see-through-you' look. "Oh. I get it. You're missing Marnie, aren't you? You're so use to being your sister's sidekick, you're getting lonely? It's perfectly normal for a middle child, dear."

Leave it to his mother to humiliate him in front of a hot guy, even when she was in a different dimension.

He closed his eyes and straightened his glasses. "No, mom that's not—"

"Mrs. Piper? Yoo-hoo…"

The sound of his mother's clients echoed through the connection.

"I have to go Dylan. Don't worry about your sisters, they're both fine." Her hand hovered over the image in his bracelet before pulling back so he could see her face again. "Try to make some friends of your own, dear. It will be good for you."

Then the connection ended and Dylan wished he could disappear to wherever Aggie's house had gone.

He dropped his chin to his chest and stared at his feet, unwilling to look at Ethan with the blush scorching his cheeks.

"Moms are humiliating," he muttered.

"Parents, in general, are. Look on the bright side. At least your mom was never part of a super-secret alliance bent on taking over Halloweentown."

Dylan winced with guilt at his thoughtlessness. "Ahh, Ethan, I'm sorry…"

"Nothing to be sorry about. I was trying to cheer you up. So it sounds like Sophie and Aggie are okay. Now where do we look?"

"Well, I guess we need to figure out what's going on. Maybe we can talk to Grandma Aggie's friends. See if they noticed anything strange in town the last couple of weeks or find out if they know more about the talisman than I do."

Ethan nodded. "Good idea. We can also talk to Luke's friends and family. Try to track him down, or at least figure out what he's got himself caught up in."