Taako bursts through the swinging doors (installed tonight on a whim, courtesy of Magnus), nearly hitting Merle, carrying a tray laden with various styles of bruschetta. The whole family is there, and then some: all the IPRE (even Lucretia); Kravitz and Angus, although Angus all but lives with them now, when he’s not in the dorms at the most second-rate magic school on Faerun; some of the old BoB members, including Carey, Killian, and Avi (that last already deep in his second glass of wine), and Ren, who is watching Mookie jump all over Magnus with mild concern.
They’re all sprawled around Taako and Kravitz’s expansive living room, Barry and Lup lying on one half of the couch, Carey and Killian taking up the other half, while Magnus lies flat on the floor, providing both a pillow and a gym to Mookie, Lucretia, and Ren. Angus is curled up next to Mavis on the floor nearby, both of them bent over the newest Caleb Cleveland novel, while Kravitz takes bets with Avi on the outcome of Merle and Davenport’s card game. The cats are draped over various warm bodies, most of them on Magnus or Lup, although one loyal skeleton cat is curled up on Kravitz’s shoulder.
“Who wants some hors d'oeuvres?” Taako announces, resting an elbow on Merle’s head.
“Yeah, pass me some of those horse divorce!” Lup hollers from the couch, Barry laughing behind her.
Taako looks down at the plate and then stares at his sister. “What the fuck, Lulu?”
Lucretia laughs like some sort of fantasy anime villain behind her hand.
“Something to add, Lucy?” Taako asks with false sweetness, glaring at her.
“Oh, nothing,” Lucretia says. “It’s just embarrassing for you. I would have thought a real chef would have known it’s pronounced horse divorce.”
“What’s this about horse vore?” Merle asks from underneath Taako’s elbow.
Everyone laughs at Taako’s shriek, as he throws the bruschetta in the air and smacks Merle with the tray. Magnus wiggles to position himself under the falling bruschetta, but Kravitz, through his own traitorous laughter, catches them with a Levitate.
“You’re all heathens!” Taako yells, kicking at the swinging doors behind him. “None of you deserve my food! None!”
Through the continued laughter, and Mookie asking very loudly what vore is, there’s a brisk, business-like knock on the door. Mavis and Angus share an amused glance before Angus stands up to get it. With all the usual commotion, it’s likely none of the actual adults heard it.
Angus reaches the front door, batting through the reaper cloaks and feathered cuirasses and wizard hats, the red and denim and other robes hanging around the door, and opens it to find two ambiguously gendered people standing in front of him, backs straight, dressed in identical sharp black suits and carrying identical black briefcases. The one on the right is carrying a file, but that is the only noticeable difference between them.
“Hello sirs and/or ma’ams,” Angus chirps brightly, wondering what law Taako’s violated this time.
“Is this the current residence of Taako Taaco?” the one on the right asks briskly.
“Yes,” Angus says carefully, feeling Mavis at his back. “What do you need him for?”
“Is Merle Hitower Highchurch, current designation Earl, currently at this residence?”
“What’s this about?” Mavis puts in, pushing forward at the mention of her step-father.
The two people nod to each other once, sharply, and push past Angus and Mavis, seemingly without effort.
“Hey!” Angus yelps, turning and running back towards the living room. “Sir, there are people in suits here to see you and Merle!”
“What law did you break this time, guys?” Magnus asks from the floor, craning his head up as the two people enter the already crowded living room.
At that, Magnus sits up, dislodging Mookie and the cats. The animals, upon seeing the agents, hiss as one and dart away, into the kitchen or up the stairs, vanishing in the space between breaths. Everyone in the room straightens even more at that, several pairs of narrowed eyes on the two besuited intruders to the home. Kravitz has already summoned his scythe, although everyone else is mostly confused.
“Queen have mercy,” he mutters, loud enough in the silence that everyone can hear him.
“Pumpkin, what have we said about letting solicitors in?” Taako says, pulling his wand out of his bun and glancing at his husband in concern.
“Taako, Merle, don’t talk to them,” Kravitz says sharply. “They shouldn’t be here.”
“You know these fools, Ghost Rider?” Lup asks, pushing off Barry to stand up.
“Taako Taaco,” the one on the left says. “Merle Hitower Highchurch.”
The one on the right snaps open the thick folder in their hands. “I am Agent Green,” they say briskly.
“And I am Agent Day,” the other continues.
They both ignore Lucretia’s and Barry’s surprised coughs into their wine.
“We are senior agents from the Celestial Tax Collection Agency-” Agent Green says.
“Also known as FIRS,” Agent Day continues.
“And we are here to collect both you, Mr. Taaco, and you, Mr. Highchurch, for the following list of offenses.” Agent Green reads off the file as Davenport moves protectively in front of Merle, and everyone else in the room closes ranks before the agents. “Mr. Taaco: you have four hundred and twenty one--”
“Damn it,” Taako mutters, although his grip on his wand has tightened.
“Four hundred and twenty one counts of fantasy tax evasion, eighteen counts of improperly filed taxes, and thirty one counts of identity theft, presenting yourself as one ‘Angus McDonald’ on all thirty one occasions.”
“Sir,” Angus says, rolling his eyes.
“This is nothing, boychik,” Taako assures him, although Kravitz is slowly twirling his scythe, fully in front of Taako by now. “None of it’ll stick.”
“Mr. Highchurch--” Agent Green continues.
“That’s Earl to you,” Merle calls from behind Davenport.
“Earl Highchurch,” Agent Green corrects without a single change in expression. “You have nineteen counts of failing to properly claim your dependents-”
“Merle!” comes Mavis’s exasperated voice, although she still can’t get past the agents blocking the doorway. “I told you to claim us!”
“I’ve never done taxes in my life,” Merle laughs. “I’m a beach dwarf! We don’t have to pay them!”
“Incorrect!” Agent Day booms, loud enough to shake back Lup and Angus, who are closest to the agents. They calm when Agent Green glances at them.
“You are also guilty of sheltering a known tax evader and allowing said tax evader to pass on without paying his proper dues.”
“What?” Merle says. “That one doesn’t sound familiar.”
“One John Ocras.”
“Oh, was that his last name?”
“A moment,” Lucretia calls, slipping into her Madam Director gravitas as easily as she would pull on an old, well-worn coat. “You would not have jurisdiction over John and the rest of the Hunger, as they did not originate in this plane.”
“No,” Agent Green acknowledges. “But they ended here. That places John Ocras, otherwise known as The Hunger, solely in our jurisdiction. Concurrently, all the tax burdens of all the planes it consumed are the responsibility of John Ocras. Because he was then allowed to pass on through the actions of one Merle Hitower Highchurch, that places the Earl in violation of those laws that prevent sheltering of a known tax evader.” Agent Green snaps the folder shut authoritatively and looks up, finding Merle and Taako despite them each being behind at least ten other people.
“You’re coming with us,” Agent Day says.
A chorus greets that statement, mostly in the vein of “I think the fuck not” and assorted similar sentiments. Kravitz cuts through it all with a sharp “No.” and a sharper scythe, advancing to the front of the group, skeletal and blazing.
“You have no power here,” he declares, and somehow he’s wearing his cloak again. It spreads out behind him in a wind no one else can feel, shadows dark as night itself gathering at his sides. Barry and Lup nod to each other and take their reaper-lich forms, cloaking themselves in red. Lup, her hair and hands on fire, a violent light glowing in her eyes, and Barry, darker, colder, whips of red electricity crackling off him, join ranks behind Kravitz.
They three stand arrayed against the two agents, who look insultingly calm, while Angus and Mavis scamper behind the three reapers. Magnus is stretched to his full height, Railsplitter in one hand and Chance Lance in the other, while Lucretia stands by his side, wand at the ready. Ren is pulling the children away, although her wand is out too, while Davenport’s hands shimmer, his eyes hard and sharp as he prepares his spells.
Behind it all, Merle and Taako exchange glances.
“Why don’t you pay your taxes, old man?” Taako asks, pulling his hair out of his face.
Merle shrugs. “Why’d ya pretend to be the kid anyway, pointy hat?”
“Thought it’d be funny.”
“Yeah, it was.”
“The power and protection of the Raven Queen, Istus the Lady of Fate, and Pan the Grower, extends over these two souls,” Kravitz continues. “You will not touch them.”
Agent Green and Agent Day exchange a glance and shrug.
“Visiting hours to the prison will be extended to each of you through each of your respective deities,” Agent Day recites. “Generally, Monday through Friday, 2-3pm, no visitors on Thursdays.”
“You’re not touching my brother!” Lup snarls.
“Or our weird dad!” Magnus adds from behind her.
The agents exchange another glance, more tired than the last, and then they disappear.
And several things happen at once.
They reappear immediately behind Taako and Merle, Agent Green with their hand on Taako’s shoulder, Agent Day with their hand on Merle’s. Taako yelps and attempts to cast Magic Missile, while Merle thwacks his soulwood arm against the agent’s iron grip.
Magnus yells too and hurls both his axe and his lance towards the agents.
Lup screams, launching a powerful Fireball directly at Agent Green’s face.
Kravitz growls, flying towards them at impossible speed.
Lucretia casts a wave of force, shaping it around Merle and aiming for Agent Day.
Davenport grunts sharply, daggers already thrown with pinpoint accuracy at Agent Day.
Angus scrambles for his crossbow, aiming it with surprisingly steady hands.
Mavis and Mookie scream as Ren pulls them away, her wand out protectively.
Killian throws Carey, the latter with her daggers out, ready to hit both agents at once.
The agents, holding onto Taako and Merle both, simply sigh.
And all four of them disappear.