Happy holidays Team Owlet! Told you all I had something planned!
I could not resist the urge to publish this on Dana Terrace's birthday when I found out shortly after this chapter was complete. So, here we are!
For those of you new to this series, this is a continuation of the Owl House fic Welcome to the Haunted Mansion, first of the Team Owlet series. Hope you all enjoy it!
It has been witnessed that on the longest night of the year, the slitherbeast gathers with its kind beneath the Dragon Ash, an ancient tree located at the highest point of the Knee. On this night, the slitherbeast selects a single tree branch to present to their chosen mate, whereupon they remain together until the end of their time, proving this reclusive beast mates for life. There has yet to be discovered the reasoning for this unique gathering, but it is this act of the slitherbeast that has inspired the holiday known throughout the Boiling Isles as Slithermas.
Thus, as the slitherbeast gathers, so do all witches and demons to present a special gift to their chosen loved one, whether that be spouse, friend, or family. In the beginning, the witches of the Savage Age honored the tradition of the slitherbeast by presenting a branch of the Dragon Ash tree, but after many years of subsequent hunting and poaching of the slitherbeast, and the thinning of the Dragon Ash, the tradition was altered to any chosen item. However, it is said the practice of presenting a branch from a special tree is still honored by those who wish to show their deep devotion to the one they love.
Entry from Stories of Slithermas in The Unabridged History of the Boiling Isles
There was something in the air, and Luz knew it. A buzzing energy in the halls of Hexside that reminded her of Grom, but they were well past that event, unless there was some sort of sequel she didn't know about? Was there such a thing as a homecoming for Grom too? A Grom-coming? She frowned. No, that didn't make sense. Grom was a once-a-year kind of thing, and besides, the demon was locked away in the tree conjured from her and Amity's combined magic. That spooky mass of shapeshifting goop was not going to see the light of day for a long time. Or, the light of the night? Shaking her head, Luz hurried down the halls to her second period class, eager to continue another day of lessons and maybe also find out what had everyone so hyped up.
One of the coolest things of Beast Keeping 101. Well, there were many things, like, actually getting to play with baby griffins and learn how to incubate a legit dragon egg, but mostly, it was the fact that Luz actually got to interact with so many creatures that had only been in her literal dreams until just six months ago. The classroom was inside the school, but the stables housing the multitude of creatures the students cared for were located outside nearby the grudgby fields. A perfect place for the creatures to run around and stretch their legs, when there wasn't a practice going on, of course. Luz remembered one time when the griffin chicks broke free during a game against Glandis High. It made for quite the entertaining match, and did help give Hexside the upper hand. Glandis had argued against the win, but since there were no actual rules that stated beasts could not interfere with the players, the challenge was overruled and Hexside took home another win.
Still, watching Boscha griffin-surf and fall flat on her back had left Luz laughing until her sides hurt for hours, even after the team captain tried to hit her with a fireball. Thankfully, Amity was there to deflect the attack by redirecting the ball to loop around and cream Boscha square in the face.
"Payback for my leg," she had said, leaving Boscha with nothing but to concede.
If only, Luz thought, she had known then what she knew now, how much Amity had felt for her. Funny that it took being trapped in a haunted mansion and breaking a curse for her to come to discover not just Amity's feelings for her, but that she was in love with her. Just like Luz had discovered she was in love with Amity.
The voice broke Luz from her reverie and she looked up to see Viney waving to her from the desk they shared, her signature fish hook earring winking in the classroom light. Luz waved back and jogged over to slide onto the bench next to the dual-track witch. "Heya Viney! What do we got going on today?" She could see the excitement radiating from the witch's eyes, the same excitement that everyone else vibrated with.
"A pack of baby slitherbeasts were rescued from poachers over the weekend, and Professor Dirgah was able to have them brought to Hexside for rehab! Just in time for Slithermas!"
Luz blinked. "Slither...mas?"
"Oh, right," Viney scratched the back of her head. "I keep forgetting you're from the human world, so you're not used to our traditions. Slithermas is how we celebrate the longest night of the year by spending time with our families. It's based on the idea of the slitherbeasts gathering at the Knee, where they present a tree branch picked for their chosen mate."
"Oh! That sounds just like Christmas! But...without the giant snow beast part." Looking up at the professor as he began to write out the instructions for the beast keeping tasks, Luz pulled out her notebook to jot down what she was to do. Luckily, because she and Viney were both multi-track students, they were almost always partnered together, which meant an easy A for the human. "What's with the tree branch giving? Do witches do that too?"
Viney shook her head and got up from the desk as the professor paired them off. She and Luz were going to be in charge of feeding one of the younger slitherbeast babies. "That was how it started, but over the years, witches and demons turned it into just simply giving one another a gift of any kind. The tree branch is how one slitherbeast would ask another to be their mate, kinda like a proposal. Some witches still do that, but only for very special situations, because of what it represents. Others like to share their Wish with someone special, but even less witches do that because they're so rare to find."
Luz nodded as she followed her into the cold storage to get milk, their breath turning into clouds of vapor in the air, but her face had turned warm the moment Viney had said "proposal". A memory flashed across her eyes, of staring up at Amity, a golden band held between her fingers as she kneeled before the witch, their bodies under the command of two spirits. It was only because of the spirit possessing her body that Luz had not passed out from the overwhelming mess of joy and nerves at the prospect of proposing to Amity. What had surprised her even more was the small pang of jealousy that it was the spirit in her body proposing to the spirit possessing Amity's body, and not Luz asking Amity herself. That realization had her face burning hotter than ever before and hiding in her pillow when she came to that conclusion that very night. They were both fourteen, and only just starting to date! She couldn't be thinking of something like that already! Besides, they still had one major hurdle to face, and it had two names: Alador and Odalia Blight.
"Hey, Luz? Can you grab the milk bottle for me? Luz?" Viney tapped her arm and she jumped.
"Wha - sorry, what was that?"
"Can you grab the milk bottle for the slitherbeast?"
"Oh, yeah! Sure!" Luz opened the massive cabinet and pulled out a bottle that looked much like what would be found in the human world, only this was as long as her arms and at least five times as wide. Thankfully, because it was empty at the moment, it was easy for her to hand to Viney, who popped the cap off and proceeded to fill it with cold slitherbeast milk. Luz preferred to not know how a slitherbeast could be milked.
"You alright?" Viney shot her a look as she secured the cap to the bottle, hefting it with both hands. "You're looking a little...distant."
Shaking her head, Luz grinned and waved her hand. "Nah, I'm good. It's just...it's a little hard to think that the Boiling Isles has its own winter holiday just like back at home, only, we had a whole bunch of them in December. Mami and I celebrated Christmas, and lemme tell you, we have a blast doing it." Her grin fell as the realization hit her, stopping the human in her tracks. They had a blast.
Right, it should be Christmas time back home by now...I wonder if Mami put up all the house lights? She probably didn't use my Azura doll for the tree topper this year since I'm not home…
Had she really been gone from home that long? Halloween and Thanksgiving had passed by now, it only made sense that the rest of the holiday season continue on as well. With Luz no closer to finding a way back to the human world since the day she had destroyed the portal. Just how long would she remain in this world before she could find a way back? And, even when she did find a way, would she go back? Eda, King, Hooty, and even Lilith had worked to the best of their abilities to make her feel at home when she recounted what had happened during her fight with Belos. The Owl Lady attempted to lighten the mood by saying her 'Human Collectibles' business had been slow anyways, might as well let that business plan go, there were still plenty of snails in potion making. It took time, but eventually, Luz found creature comforts added to her room that had not been there before, such as a small desk, bookshelf, and an actual bed. Granted, the bookshelf was missing a section, the desk drawers jammed when she tried to close them, and the bed frame clearly had been cobbled together from at least three different sets, but still, it was an attempt to make her feel more at home. Besides, now that she was going to be in the Boiling Isles for a little while longer, who said she couldn't still celebrate human holidays herself?
Luz's eyes widened suddenly as she gasped. "What if I taught Amity about Christmas? I'll bet Guss and Willow would love that too!" Squealing with renewed excitement, Luz hurried to catch up with Viney, having returned from warming the slitherbeast's milk, and into the hay-filled pens where the beasts were kept. If Slithermas and Christmas were so similar, why not show her friends how humans celebrated? Overjoyed, Luz hardly found the will to concentrate through the rest of hers and Viney's task, or third period Bard Acoustics, or fourth period Potions and Lotions. When the lunch bell screamed, Luz vaporized down the hall to the cafeteria, knowing Amity would be there waiting for her. Gus had Advanced Spelling, Willow was working as Teacher's Assistant for the Plant Track, and Amity had her free study period, but the star student was happy to spend it with Luz. Especially now that she was her girlfriend.
That thought still made Luz blush and she giggled to herself, bouncing on her heels as she waited in line for her lunch. Once she had her tray full of food, Luz zigzagged around the cafeteria and to the scattered tables outside where students could eat when the weather was pleasant. Amity preferred to study inside where she could have peace and quiet, but after spending time with Luz, that had flown out the window. Luz loved eating outside in the fresh air. She loved being outside, period, especially since the Boiling Isles was in a perpetual state of summer. The air had cooled down a little as the nights lengthened, but nowhere near as cold as it did in the human world. Spotting her favorite table shaded by a large tree, Luz saw the familiar head of bright mint-green hair, currently facing away from her. Clearly Amity was already deep in study mode to have her nose buried so far in her book, and Luz was immediately inspired.
Why not give the witch a little surprise?
Grinning deviously, Luz tiptoed towards the table until she was a few inches from Amity's hunched shoulders, and carefully set her tray of food off to the side. Either she was really on point at being quiet today, or Amity was in the zone. Luz leaned over her shoulder.
"Hola senorita," she whispered in her ear.
"Titan!" Amity sprang vertically from her seat and whipped around, her amber eyes saucers, green hair standing up in the perfect imitation of a startled cat. Until she recognized the doubled-over human holding her sides as she shook from laughing. "Luz…"
The threatening growl in Amity's voice should have sent Luz running for the hills, but she knew just how to fix that. Before Amity could even begin to form what would no doubt be a threat on her life, Luz stood up and pressed a kiss to the witch's lips. The muffled squeak was all she needed to hear and Luz pulled back to see Amity's face turn a deep scarlet shade that spread all the way to the tips of her ears, and she smiled.
"Do you know how cute you are when you blush?"
Amity squeaked again, slapping her hands to her face in an attempt to hide. "I hate you…"
"No you don't." Snickering, Luz grabbed her lunch tray and plopped down on the bench across from Amity's collection of books and assignment sheets. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist! You were just so in the zone, it'd be a waste to pass up an opportunity like that!"
Rolling her eyes, Amity sat back down in her seat and gathered the papers she had sent scattering about the table. "Remind me again why I decided to spend my study period with you?"
"Because you wuv me?"
Amity shook her head, biting back a smile at Luz's big eyes, and sighed. "Yes, I suppose that's true. Still, that was mean."
"Lo siento, mi amor. I'll try not to spook you next time, but only if you try not to make it so easy." Luz looked at the small stack of books to read the titles, taking a bite of her sandwich. It was an interesting collection; Ghost Tales of the Boiling Isles, Poltergeists and You, How to Perform Exorcisms. Raising an eyebrow, Luz swallowed and looked at Amity. "What's with the ghost stories? Are you doing something for history class?"
"Not exactly," Amity sighed, rubbing her palm against her face. It was then Luz noticed the dark circles under her eyes, the unfocused light in her gaze, and the fatigued way her shoulders hunched forward.
"Amity?" Luz leaned over the table to look at the witch's face. "What's wrong? Why do you look so tired?" When she didn't get a response, Luz reached across to take her hand and give it a squeeze. "What's going on?"
Sighing, Amity looked up at Luz and pushed the books away to rest her forehead against her arm. Instantly, Luz jumped up from her seat to scoot next to Amity, wrapping her arm around her back.
"Amity, what is it?" She felt Amity's back expand as she took a deep breath and sighed before sitting up to turn to face Luz.
"Blight Manor is haunted."
Luz's eyebrows shot to her hairline. That was not the answer she was expecting to hear, but at the same time, it did not surprise her. Apparently spending an entire night in an abandoned mansion packed full of ghosts numbed one to the idea of hauntings being possible elsewhere. But, Blight Manor? Blinking, Luz pulled back to study Amity's face.
"How is that possible? It's been a month since we were at Pandor Mansion!" She gasped and pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "Don't tell me a ghost actually followed you home?"
Amity shook her head. "I don't know, everything seemed perfectly normal when I got back. It was only when we started decorating for the Blight Slithermas party things started happening."
Scooting closer, Luz watched her carefully. "What kind of things?"
"It was small at first, objects disappearing and reappearing in different places, pictures in the hall hanging at odd angles, lights blinking in empty rooms. I honestly thought it was Ed and Em just playing another prank, that is until," she paused and Luz held her hand, lacing their fingers, urging her to continue. "Things actually started moving on their own. Not just levitating, but actually moving, smashing against the walls, being torn apart in invisible hands. My parents don't know what to do and I've been trying to figure it out, but I can't find anything that explains it."
Frowning, Luz glanced around the area to make sure no one was listening and leaned in close. "Have you tried to talk to GH?"
GH. The Ghost Host. The shadowy figure that had guided them through that fateful night, who had asked their help to break the curse. Once a witch named Mezzanotte who had made a deal with the ancient Nowhere Demon to bargain away her own identity for the magic to watch over the souls trapped inside. A creature of terrifying power who had fought to protect the band of witchlings from a psychotic necromancer bent on their destruction. The demon who looked every bit the monster that could have easily devoured them, and yet, had cared for them as deeply as if they were her own. Most of all Luz and Amity, who had been tasked with helping the doomed souls of Chiaro and Emilia, a human and a witch, reunite to cross over.
Staring at her, Amity shook her head and closed the book before her, tired of rereading the same page for five minutes straight. She was tired all around, of the hauntings, trying to understand their meaning, and most of all, her parents' insistence they still uphold the fast-approaching party. "If they so much as caught me walking in the direction of Pandor Mansion, I would never be allowed to go out on my own again."
"Apparently Blights don't associate with houses belonging to the twisted and insane." Amity winced as she recalled how her parents had handled learning where she had actually been the whole night and the events that took place within the mansion. She had managed to find a way to omit hers and Luz's confession to each other, as well as just how they had helped Chiaro and Emilia's souls pass on to the afterlife, and the existence of the Ghost Host. Hiding the scar from the shoggoth's claws was a simple twirl of the finger from Emira, giving Amity the excuse that she had tripped and fallen, tearing her shirt sleeve.
Luz sighed and sat back. Amity had told her how her parents took the news, and that was just with what she wanted them to hear. If they had learned the full scope of everything that had happened? Luz shuddered, crossing her arms as she tried to think of a solution. "If the hauntings started happening right after you began decorating your house for Slithermas, then they must be linked somehow."
"But, how? And why?" Amity turned to her. "What would make Blight Manor a place for spirits to haunt during Slithermas?"
"Hm," Luz hummed, rubbing her chin as she mulled over ideas of what to do. Then it hit her. They didn't have to go to anyone to take care of this ghost, they could do it themselves! After all, they were part of Team Owlet.
"Luz?" Amity's voice wavered cautiously as she watched a grin slowly stretch across the human's face. It was a look she knew all too well, one that always meant trouble was just around the corner, wrapped up in the wild and outrageous packaging that was Luz. The same very face she had right before agreeing to break the curse of Pandor Mansion. "What are you thinking about?" Her eyes widened when Luz turned that knowing grin to her and started to scoot back on the bench, but Luz just followed her, making the witch's face turn a bright pink. "L-Luz! What is wrong with you? People can see us!"
Chuckling, Luz took Amity's hand and lightly tugged her forward to lean in. "I think I've got an idea what to do. Meet me at the front steps after school, and make sure Skara and Boscha are with you. If a bunch of spooks bother one member of Team Owlet, then we'll be there to stop 'em. Besides," Wrapping her arm around Amity's shoulders, Luz hugged the witch to her chest, resting her head atop mint-green hair. "What kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn't help you celebrate Slithermas? I don't know anything about it, but, if it's enough like the human version, then we'll be rockin around the Slithermas tree in no time!"
"Why would we have a tree…?" Sighing, Amity hugged Luz back. Resistance would be futile now that Luz had set her mind to it, might as well let her ride it out. "Okay, I've got class with Skara and Boscha next period, I'll tell them to meet up with us after school. But Luz," she pulled away and grabbed the human's hands. "The Slithermas party is more than just another social gathering for my parents to throw. It is a huge event, one they plan three months in advance. If they learn what we're up to," she squeaked when Luz pressed a finger to her lips, silencing her instantly.
"Don't worry, mi amor. Remember, we're Team Owlet! There's not a problem we can't solve, no curse we can't beat, and no ghost we can't bust!"
"As I recall, I was saving your life most of the time in that mansion."
The eager grin on Luz's face fell. "Wha? That's-that's so not true! Name one time that happened!"
Amity raised an eyebrow. "Well, let's see," she began to tick off her fingers. "There was the undead army in the crypt, the shoggoth in the catacombs, Damien's palisma, Damien himself,"
"I get it!" Luz huffed, crossing her arms and turning around so Amity couldn't see her pout. She relaxed the moment Amity leaned against her back to brush a light kiss to her cheek, and the witch giggled.
"And I would do it all again just for you."
"Same here," Luz smiled, turning to look over her shoulder, but the shrieking bell stopped her from returning the kiss, and she jumped. "Alrighty then! I've got history class with Gus and Willow, I'll let them know what we're doing after school." Pausing as she grabbed her lunch tray, Luz glanced around the emptying school yard and quickly pecked Amity's forehead. "See you later!"
The rest of the day passed by at a brisk pace, either because Luz was too excited to concentrate on her classes or time had actually decided to speed up for a change. Whatever the reason, the moment the bell screamed out that school was done for the day, Luz's feet barely touched the floor when she zoomed out of her final class towards the main steps leading up to the school, only pausing for a moment to grab her school bag from her locker. It was hardly a surprise to her that Amity was already waiting for her at the bottom step, Willow and Guss beside her. Which probably meant Bosch and Skara would be on their way soon, at least, Luz hoped they would be. There had been little change in the way the grudgby captain interacted with Luz and her friends; aloof when they were in the same room and completely ignoring their presence any time else. Skara had always been on more friendly terms with the group, but after Pandor Mansion, she too had started to spend more time with them, though she had yet to agree to hanging out at the Owl House. Apparently having a wanted criminal as an adoptive mom did not move one's social status to the top of everyone's best friend list. Still, it was progress.
"Heya gang!" Luz snapped a pair of finger guns at them as she jogged down the stairs, leaping off the middle step to land on the ground beside Willow, swinging her arm around her shoulder for a side hug. "You guys ready to get down to busting some ghosts in Blight Manor?"
"Just as long as we don't have to deal with solving another riddle to break a curse," Gus groaned, rubbing his forehead. "My brain still hurts from trying to understand it all, and I jumped two grades in school!"
Luz shrugged. "At least you got to take Madame Leota home with you. I'll bet that's fun."
"Oh yeah, waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and have a giant talking crystal ball greet me from the next room is a blast. Willow at least got to take home something useful!"
Grinning, Willow nodded. "He is right about that. Jacob and Jacque just started growing their vines, and they're only three weeks old! Jacqueline is still attached to the main vine, I think she's a little bit shy."
It only made sense that when each member of the team got to take home a memento from their night in the mansion, Willow had been given the seeds from a large pumpkin monster the Ghost Host had called Jack the Pumpkin King. While Luz had yet to see Skara's torch or Amity's shadow pen in action, she guessed Boscha had probably turned the silver axe once belonging to Chiaro into another trophy for her collection.
"How's Rex?" Willow asked. "Has he woken up yet?"
"No," Luz shook her head, sighing. "Not since Eda and I got back home to the Owl House."
The four turned their heads to see Skara hurrying down the steps with Boscha following behind, though the three-eyed witch appeared to be far more interested in what was on her scroll. When the two witches finished descending, Boscha looked up at the rest of the group and groaned.
"Okay, let's get this over with. What's so important you had to drag me away from grudgby practice? We're playing for the Slithermas Cup, and I don't want to lose just because you weirdos called a pow-ow to talk about our feelings."
Even after having spent an entire night with her, Luz still had to clamp down on the bitterness of Boscha's constant jabs and bullying, reminding herself there were far more important things than care about social status and school sports. "Something's haunting Blight Manor, and we need to find out what it is."
All three of Boscha's eyes rounded and she looked at Amity. "What?"
"It started right after my parents began laying out their plans for the party."
"Right…" Skara mused. "The big Slithermas Eve party...I got my invite last week, and Boscha was planning for us to go dress shopping Friday." She noticed the side-eye Willow was giving her and held up her hands. "Not important right now. Sorry!"
Boscha took a step towards Amity, her face now furrowed in a rare act of concern. "What's going on? How do you know it's ghosts and not something else? Don't Ed and Em usually play some big prank right before the party just to mess with everyone?"
"They pull a big prank before any party, Boscha, and no, this isn't them." Sighing, Amity rubbed at her eyes, and Luz felt her heart twinge with sympathy. "It started happening just after Mom and Dad began to have the servants set up decorations. Things are being destroyed, the refreshments all went bad, and now.." she stopped, a look of fear flitting across her face. Luz slipped her hand into hers and laced their fingers together, squeezing gently.
Swallowing, Amity continued. "Last night, I was woken up by this strange sound, like someone knocking on my door, but when I opened it, no one was there. I went back to bed, but heard it again. The third time, I walked out into the hall and saw ...something."
"Ghost Host?" Gus asked, but Amity shook her head.
"No, its whole body was made of some sort of rusty-red fire, and when it looked at me, it's eyes were pitch black. Then I blinked and it disappeared, but no matter where I looked, I couldn't find it. After I got back to my room, I did not sleep for the rest of the night."
A pang of fear jolted in Luz's stomach as she felt the skin on her back and along her arms throb with a light burn. "Rust-red fire?"
Amity looked at her to see the fear slowly simmering into anger and grabbed both the human's hands. "No, Luz, it's not Damien."
"But, rust colored magic?"
"Damien was consumed by the Nowhere Demon, Luz. He can't hurt us. And this spirit did not look anything like him. It was small," she held a hand over the ground at hip level. "About there is where it stood. I don't know what it was, but I know it was not Damien Pluto."
Luz felt the memory of the boiling rain against her skin slowly fade away when Amity took both her hands again, and nodded. "You're right, he's gone."
"Have your parents tried anything?" Skara asked, but Amity shook her head.
"Every single exorcist and oracle who's come to Blight Manor ran screaming, whiter than a slitherbeast, refusing to come back no matter how much my parents would offer."
The group shared a look of unease. The Blight family would have picked the best of the best to solve their problem, and if they couldn't fix it, whatever was the cause must be bad.
"Think they'd let us give it a try?"
Everyone stared at Luz.
"Think about it! We beat the Pandor curse and fought a whole tone of badies in that mansion! Why not give it a go ourselves? You told your parents at least enough about what happened, they'd have to have realized by now we're just as good as any other exorcist! What do you guys say?" She grinned eagerly and punched the air. "Let's bust the ghost of Blight Manor!"
Somewhere behind them, a squirrel chattered in a tree. Luz waited for someone to say something, but all she had was five pairs of eyes gaping at her as if she had just announced she was having brunch with Emperor Belos. Slowly, Luz lowered her hands. "Don't everybody speak up at once. What's wrong with that idea? We did it before! We're Team Owlet!"
"But last time, we had the Ghost Host to help us," Gus tapped his fingers together.
"Besides Luz," Willow adjusted her glasses, glancing to Amity. "This is Blight Manor, not an abandoned house. We can't just run around fighting monsters like before. Plus, how do we even know Mr. and Mrs. Blight would let us?"
"She's right Luz," Amity placed a hand on the human's shoulder. "I appreciate the offer, but if I brought up the idea of you all coming to the party, then my parents would-"
Luz blinked at her. "Wait, you weren't going to invite us?" She watched the witch's face pale and she slowly pulled back as Amity quickly tried to find an answer.
"No, Luz! Of course I want you to come to the party! All of you! It's just, my parents,"
Oh, right. That problem. "Yeah, you've got a point. They wouldn't want to be seen with a human in their house fighting a ghost. I guess I can try to ask if Eda has any ideas and let you know what I find out." Shouldering her bag, Luz turned her back to the group, to Amity, and walked away. She heard Amity call her name, but Boscha stopped her.
"Let her go, she'll be fine."
Luz felt like anything but fine. She knew she shouldn't have been surprised, really, Amity's parents didn't know what happened between them at the mansion. As far as they were aware, their daughter had fought side by side with a human just to break a curse, and that was enough of a strike on Amity's record as a Blight. To think she would be able to convince her parents to allow Luz, Willow, and Gus to attend a party hosted at their house was nothing short of a pipe dream, and a very narrow pipe at that. Still, learning that Amity hadn't even bothered to ask if she wanted to go stung, more so than Luz would have expected. She cared so much for Amity and wanted her to be happy, even if that meant tiptoeing around her family. But, knowing that Amity was not putting in the effort to at least try to put in the effort?
"Maybe I'm not worth it after all." She muttered, eyes focused on the ground, not bothering to look to see where she was going. Not like she really needed to pay attention to the path back to the Owl House, Luz could have walked it in her sleep if she wanted. Fog slipped across the ground over her shoes and Luz jumped, looking up to realize that maybe she should have been watching where she was going after all.
A huge iron gate loomed before her flanked by two massive stone gargoyles that stared down the path from which Luz had come. Though both crouched in the same predatory stance, fangs bared in an endless snarl, they each had a different design. One had two wide wings spread ready for flight while the other had no wings, but instead four arms that clutched its base, the second pair tucked against its abdomen. Sharp horns curled up and back from the demonic creatures' foreheads and a long wiry tail that ended in a single jagged point wrapped around the posts on which they crouched, flanking the metal gate and the thick chain wrapped around its bars to hold it together. However, one of the doors had been pushed in far enough to leave space for a witchling to squeeze through. Or a human.
Luz stared at the two gargoyles and the wall of fog spilling through the bars of the gate, obscuring the faint silhouette of Pandor Mansion and the secrets that hid inside. This was the first time she had been back to the mansion since the curse was lifted. Funny that in the clear light of day, without the gloom and doom of a boiling rainstorm, it looked like just another run-down old house.
Looking at the statues, Luz could not help but smile shyly at the unsurprising likeliness they shared with the true guardian of the mansion. "Hey, GH," her eyes went from one statue to the other. "Long time no see. I, uh, don't know if you can hear me, but apparently it's going to be Slithermas this weekend? I guess that's your version of Christmas, not sure if Chiaro told you about that holiday or not since it's a human thing." Shifting her feet, Luz rapped her knuckles together. "So, um, there's a bit of a problem. Amity's home is being haunted, and her parents are throwing this big party and she hasn't been getting much sleep. I want to help her, but Amity doesn't want me going to the party. Or Willow and Gus. She's scared about what her parents will do if they find out what really happened between us. I don't blame her but...she didn't even ask me and that made me feel…" Luz sighed and shook her head. "I'm talking to a couple of stone statues, you're probably not even listening. I just...I don't know what to do. I guess finding out that it's almost Christmas time back home and Mami still doesn't know where I am, Amity not asking me to the party kinda made it worse. It's probably better anyway, I'd end up making a mess or knocking over something expensive." Raking her fingers through her hair, Luz shrugged. "Well, I guess I'll see you later? Bye GH." Turning around, Luz walked down the pathway and turned in the direction of the Owl House.
By the time she finally entered the clearing in which her adoptive home resided, the sun had already touched the horizon and turned the sky a deep mauve. Luz caught sight of Hooty's head bobbing up and down as he jammed along to whatever music was pouring out from his headphones. However, the second he saw Luz approaching, the headphones tumbled from his body.
"Hoot-hoot! Hiya Luz!" The house demon shot from the door to snake around Luz in what she guessed was his version of a hug. "You ready to get into the Slithermas spirit? Eda's already getting out the decorations, but she says no more lights on the house because I ate them last year. I was hoping maybe she could get some fake snow for the roof and-"
The door snapped open, throwing Hooty to the side, and Luz watched four massive boxes stagger their way out the house with Eda's heels beneath them.
"King! Hurry it up in there! Mama's back is about to snap in half!"
Luz ran to her mentor and quickly grabbed the bottom of the box stack to support.
"Oh, is that you kiddo?" Eda grunted as she craned her neck around the boxes to see Luz. "What took you so long getting back? I've already had to chase King off the cookies three times now and Lily's working on a cauldron of hot cocoa. I'd stay away from the greggnog for someone your age, it goes down way too easy, if ya know what I mean?" The Owl Lady snorted before catching the downcast gaze of her apprentice. "Hey, what's up with you? Got a case of the Slithermas Blues?"
"Sort of," Luz sighed and they set the boxes on the ground. "Eda, can I ask you something?"
The witch glanced at her as she began to haul massive streams of thick white fluff out of the box. If Luz had to guess, that was the fake snow. "I don't know, can you? Oops, a little knot here, you work on that."
Staring at the massive lump dumped in her arms, Luz began to unravel the fluffy material as Eda continued to pull the strand from the box like a magician's unending scarf. "Well, it's about me and Amity…"
Eda stopped and looked at her with a suddenly serious expression. "Hoo boy, I was wondering when we'd have to have this talk." Dropping the material back in the box, Eda dusted her hands and held Luz's shoulders. "Listen kid, it's totally normal for you to get these feelings at your age. It's just a basic part of nature, granted, you both are still kinda young to take that particular route. I'd say it be best you wait at least another four, five years before you take that next step."
Luz stared at her blankly. "Um...what are we talking about?"
"You know," Eda waved her hand in the air. "When two people love each other very much and they have very strong emotions," Her voice trailed off as she arched an eyebrow to punctuate the unspoken point. The second Luz's brain made the connection, her face turned an intense red and her eyes widened.
"WHAT?! No! That's not even close to what I wanted to talk to you about!"
Laughing, Eda shook her head and plunged back into the box. "Sorry kiddo, I gotta mess with you once in a while! What did you want to talk about involving you and Minty Fresh?"
The mention of Amity, even Eda's nickname for her, made the blush in Luz's cheeks darken even more, but she patted her cheeks in an attempt to focus. "See, Amity's parents are throwing this big party on Slithermas Eve,"
"Oh yeah, that big shindig. Never was really my scene, mostly cuz I could never get on the guest list. But that didn't stop me from sneaking in and hexing everyone's punch." Eda slapped her leg with a snort. "To see ol' Wolfie Blight actually barking like a dog for an hour straight was the best Slithermas Wish I could ever get!"
Rolling her eyes, Eda stood back up and ruffled Luz's hair. "Lemme guess, your girlie didn't invite you because she's worried her fam isn't going to like her playing Juliet to your Romeo, so now you're feeling left out."
Luz flattened her bangs with a huff. "More like feeling I'm not worth it to her. But, that's not even the real problem. Her house is being haunted by something that doesn't seem to want them to have the party. I thought we could go help, like back at Pandor Mansion, but she said no." Sighing, Luz slumped down on one of the unopened boxes and wrapped her arms around herself. "I just thought that after all we'd been through, Amity would at least try a little harder to include me in her life outside of school. And Willow and Gus. But we hardly get to see each other! I just don't know if she really even wants to be with me."
There was a crunch of heels on dirt and creaking cardboard as Eda sat down beside her to pull the human into a side-hug. "Now you listen to me kid, there is no way in all of the Isles Little Miss Perfect would not want to be with you. If that lil kiss you two had when we found you tells me anything, it's that she's head-over-palisman in love with you. Sure it's crap she can't be with you all the time because Odie and Wolfie are breathing down her neck, but that doesn't mean she isn't trying. You kids only just started a relationship, it's gonna take time for her to figure things out, and you too." Taking Luz's shoulders so she could face her, Eda hooked a bony finger under the human's chin to lift her gaze to hers. "So, don't pout or cry, and don't take it all so seriously. You'll figure it out in the end, you always do."
Luz swallowed the lump forming in her throat and threw her arms around the Owl Lady in a tight hug. "Thanks Eda, you're the best."
"Yeah, I know. Tell ya what, why don't you go inside and make sure King's staying out of the cookies? I got this."
Picking up her school bag from where she had dropped it, Luz walked into the house and headed towards the stairs to her room, briefly calling a hello to Lilith and King. The intoxicating scents of baking cookies and hot chocolate called to her from the kitchen, but she was not in the mood for anything sweet. Too many thoughts pulled at her mind; the Blight Slithermas party, Amity's choice to not include her, missing home, and Slithermas itself. Pushing open her bedroom door, Luz trudged over to her rickety bed and flopped face first onto the blankets before rolling onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. How could she help Amity if she didn't want to include her? If only there was something she could do to help. But, what?
A beam of light from the sunset flashed through the window in Luz's eyes, making her wince and she turned towards the open glass, her eyes falling on the sentient palisman standing in the far corner. Rex, Mezzanotte's palisman before her transformation into the Ghost Host, and Luz's gift for breaking the curse. Composed entirely of a black wood that seemed to draw in any light cast its way, the large king cobra's body wrapped around the interlock at the top, his long tail spiraling around the staff where it just barely touched the end. Two white stripes stretched from across his closed eyes to curved down the sides of his hood, currently folded within itself, mouth shut tight. Luz remembered how swiftly Rex had carried herself, and Amity, through the twists and turns of the halls of Pandor Mansion to escape Damien's murderous powers, and the explosive magic housed within his body. Ever since the day she returned home, Rex had fallen into a dormancy that Lilith had described as a sort of power transference.
"He spent so much time with one master, only to go without any use for so long," the ex-coven leader told Luz. "To suddenly use so much power with a new witch no doubt was a change his magic was not ready for. Give it time, and he will come around to recognize you are someone he can trust."
A month seemed like more than enough time to transition, but still Rex remained silent, nothing more than a staff carved in the shape of a cobra sitting in the corner of Luz's room. Sighing, Luz sat up from her mattress and shuffled over to her window to lean against the sill, shooting a side-glance at the palisman.
"What am I gonna do, Rex? How can I help Amity bust her ghost without getting her in trouble? Being away from home during Christmas is hard enough as it is, but, not being with Amity for the Boiling Isles version? For once, I just wish things could be easy!"
The door creaked open and she turned to see King strut into the room, a plate of cookies stacked five-high clutched in his paws. "C'mon! You gonna leave all the cookie-eating and cocoa-drinking to the King of Demons by himself?"
Giggling, Luz walked over to the tiny demon as he tossed the plate up onto the mattress and shimmied his way up the bedpost to sit on the blankets, immediately snatching one up and began to gobble it down.
"Save some for me!" Luz snatched up a cookie and took a bite, savoring the familiar flavor of chocolate-chip. The day she learned the Boiling Isles had actual chocolate chip cookies and not some gross-wacky take on it, she all but fainted with delight. Granted, she was positive the recipe did vary considering where she was, but being the only human in a world of witches and demons, beggars couldn't be choosers. "Hey, King? What's something super special you can do on Slithermas for someone else?"
Pausing with a cookie halfway to his mouth, King looked at Luz. "Whaddya mean? Slithermas is special all around! You get cookies, hot cocoa, Wishes, what more could you want?"
"Wishes?" Luz repeated, tilting her head.
"Yeah!" Chomping down on his cookie, King jumped up to scurry over to the bedside table to grab a large worn book and toss it onto the mattress. Luz recognized it as The Unabridged History of the Boiling Isles, the same book King had read from before she left to face off against Belos. Carefully, King opened the cover and flipped through the pages before coming to a chapter titled Stories of Slithermas, and pointed to a section.
"Right here! It talks about the Slithermas Wish: an extremely rare occurrence where the magic of a witch manifests a physical representation of their deepest hope in the form of a small star-like object. Though there is no conclusive evidence as to what causes this creation, it is believed the celestial powers present during the long night somehow influence this special gift. While this is a separate act from the gift-giving inspired by the slitherbeast, many witches still believe in the power that their Slithermas Wish may one day come true."
Intrigued, Luz scooted closer to read the page, her half-eaten cookie forgotten in her hand. "And, the gift-giving comes from the slitherbeast giving each other branches, right?"
King nodded and turned another page to show an illustration of a slitherbeast placing a long branch before another. "Yup. Witches and demons stopped giving each other branches a long time ago, but once in a while, you find some sap who wants to show their undying love and respect by giving a stick to someone else. But, it can't just be any stick you find on the ground, it's gotta be from a very special tree. Or a bush." The demon shrugged and snatched up another cookie to crunch on. "As the King of Demons, I vastly prefer all the offerings presented to me this time of year, mostly the food. A powerful ruler such as myself must have sustenance if I am to stay appeased with my loyal subjects."
"Uh-huh, yeah," Luz mumbled absently, her eyes gazing out her window at the setting sun and the tops of the trees that had turned a blazing pink in the dying light. A special branch from a special tree, huh? To show the undying love and respect from one to another? Maybe she wouldn't go to the party at Blight Manor, but that didn't mean she still couldn't do something for Amity, even if it meant just honoring a holiday tradition. Besides, she trusted Amity's abilities as a witch. If anyone could find a way to beat a ghost haunting their house, it was her. With that thought, Luz nodded to herself and turned back to King and their almost empty cookie plate. She would talk to Amity tomorrow at school and they would figure out something. For now, she would let things play out.
A soft hiss tugged at Luz's consciousness through the deep sleep she was in, pulling at her from somewhere above in the darkness. Groaning, Luz swiped at her face and rolled onto her stomach, covering her head with her arms. "King, you're a big boy, you can go to the bathroom by yourself."
Something slick and muscular traced up her back and along the muscles of her shoulder to her bicep, tickling her skin with the rigidity of smooth scales, and a sharp object flicked her ear.
"Ow!" Luz jerked away, pinching her earlobe. "What the heck was that...for?" Her voice faded, along with her frustration, as she stared into the glowing violet eyes of a black king cobra, hood spread wide to reveal the glimmering white interior and swirling purple markings. "R-Rex?!"
The palisman hissed at her, his body stretching along the entire length of her bed, and he reared back to slide to the floor, heading for his staff. Luz was up in an instant, socked feet hitting the cool wood floor as she watched Rex climb the staff to settle on his interlock, his gaze remaining on her.
"Wh-what are you trying to tell me?"
Tongue tasting the air, the cobra jerked his head to the window and a shimmer of purple light unhinged the lock, swinging it wide open in a cold breeze. Luz looked from the window to Rex and back, an uneasy feeling settling into her stomach.
"You want me to see something, don't you?"
The cobra nodded his head, hissing urgently. Not sure what to do, Luz looked around her room and darted to the dresser Eda had pieced together for her, quickly yanking out a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie, pulling them on over her pajamas. Snatching up a pad of paper and a pen, Luz shoved the items into her pockets, always feeling reassured when they were with her. Hopping across the room as she tugged on her shoes, Luz grasped hold of the magic staff and yelped as they bolted out of the window, hardly giving her the time to properly seat herself. The door creaked open and Luz heard King''s startled cry, but by the time she could recover enough to respond, Rex was already sailing over the forest, the Owl House a vanishing spec in the night.
"What is going on?" Luz yelled over the wind, wrapping her fingers around the staff. "Where are you taking me? Pandor Mansion is back that way! The only thing this way is…" her eyes widened as the uneasy feeling in her stomach turned into a ball of molten lead. "Blight Manor." Hearing Rex's hiss turn into a faint growl, Luz leaned forward, her eyes focusing on the direction they were flying. She didn't know how she knew, or even why, but something told her that if Rex was taking her there, then that meant only one thing. Amity was in trouble. The cobra hissed and exploded forward, the edges of his hood slicing through the air. Up ahead, Luz could make out the distinct shape of what could only be Blight Manor and somewhere in that massive house, a certain witch in need of her help.
"Hang in there Amity," Luz whispered, taking out her pen to begin tracing a glyph on the back of her hand. "I'm coming!"