"Are you telling me that the witching hour is actually a thing? Do you have to sacrifice something?"
"No!" She laughed. "Well, kind of. I could leave an offering of some sort. My magic just grows slightly more powerful."
It was around 9 PM when Jack O'Lantern and Comet decided to escape to the outside world. Endsville was a ghost town by this time of night, so there was no worrying about someone seeing Jack.
He was clad in a long navy blue coat over usual outfit while a comfy purple scarf hung around his neck.
"Does this offering have to be living?" Jack continued pestering the Comet about her yearly rituals.
"Oh my god, Jack, no! It's not that kind of ritual!" Unlike others, she actually found his shenanigans quite funny. Comet wore a fuzzy grey hoodie that she had stolen from a street cart, along with her black leggings.
"Hey I was just being curious," Jack waived his hands in a nonchalant manner.
As they passed by a small market, Comet snatched an apple from the display out front and bit into it.
"Klepto," Jack snorted.
"Pumpkin-spice," she mumbled back through a mouthful of apple chunks. It was a harmless game that the couple often played. Who could use the worse nick-name? There was no winner or loser. Everything was in good fun.
"Witch of the west."
"Ooh, don't make me use a pie bomb on you."
"I dare you," Comet smirked before biting into the apple again.
Jack was about to make a snarky remark, but cut himself off as he looked up. "Where are we?"
Thick trunks of oak trees lined the thin trail before the pair, most of them dead and leaf-less. The ground was littered with shrubs and fallen branches. The farther you looked into the forest, the darker it seemed. "I didn't know Endsville had a forest on this end." Comet scratched her nose. "It's rather beautiful, don't you think?"
Jack furrowed his brow. "A little eerie, if you ask me. Let's head back."
"Come on," she pleaded. Comet nuzzled against Jack's side, looking up at him expectantly. "Can we please check it out?"
"No, it's way too dark and we have no idea what could be in there."
Then came a rustling from the shadowy bushes. Something big was on the move. "Stay behind me," Jack stated firmly, placing a hand on Comet's shoulder. He reached into his pocket for a weapon, but settled for a nearby rock. He raised his arm and readied himself for the attack.
"Are you sure you should be-"
Before she could finish her question, a large figure suddenly leapt from the brush, and Jack threw the stone.
The figure let out a pained chuff and shook itself off. It appeared to be a taupe-colored wolf that stood about four-feet tall; its glowing green eyes dead-panned Jack's hollow ones.
"Atka!" A childish grin spread across Comet's face. She dove for the fluffy oversized wolf, tackling the her to the ground.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Jack could only stand and stare at the pair in confusion. "She could've killed you!"
"Oh, Jack! I'm so sorry if I scared you!" Comet scratched Atka behind the ear, causing the wolf to bounce her leg. "She's harmless. See for yourself!"
Jack definitely wasn't the animal type of person. "I'm fine, thanks." He waved off the offering, cringing a little at the slobbery canine.
"The wolves don't usually travel this close to town. Where's your pack, Atka?" She cupped the wolf's snout in her hands.
The large wolf pointed her snout towards the dark woods and dove back into the thick bushes. Atka poked her head out of the brush with an expectant stare.
Comet raised a brow. "She wants us to follow her."
"You're kidding, right?"
"I'm afraid not. She wants to show us something, and it seems important."
Jack rolled his eyes and let out a defeated sigh. "Alright then, let's go. I don't want to take long, though."
The forest looked much smaller from the outside than on the inside. Atka had taken them off-trail, and the ground was becoming more damp with every step. As if on command, Atka scuffed at the ground and knelt down next to Comet.
The witch grabbed a chunk of her thick, brown fur and proceeded to climb onto the large wolf. "Are you coming?" She smiled.
Jack hesitated. "Is it safe?"
"Of course it is." She offered him her hand. "You can trust me."
"This is the weirdest thing I've ever done in my life." He took her palm in hers and hoisted himself onto Atka's back.
"You're going to want to hold on."
Without asking any further questions, Jack quickly wrapped his arms around Comet's waist. Within seconds, Atka took off through the muddy forest. Branches of the robust trees came pelting past as the wolf traveled farther into the woods.
Jack held onto his hat with one hand. "So, when were you going to tell me that you could talk to animals?"
"Not every animal; Just wolves and street dogs," she called back.
"And you never thought to tell me?"
"I thought it wasn't a big deal! I'm usually alone when I see the wolf pack." Comet shook her head. "I'm sorry, okay?"
The abnormally large Atka came to an abrupt stop, skidding into a grass clearing.
Comet then realized it wasn't just a clearing. Most of the grass was brown, dead, or just dirt. The witch dropped onto the ground with a thud, and began to walk through what was once a forest. Acres and acres of trees had been cut down for reasons unknown.
"Everything's gone." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
What once were trees now resembled jagged stumps. Some were uprooted and chopped into smaller pieces. "They cut everything down."
It wasn't until Comet came across her nature altars, the one thing she put the most passion into.
She knelt in front of the broken altar and held up a broken talisman. The crystals were stolen away and her sigils were torn apart. Any sort of offering to the gods was trashed and rotting.
Her heart felt as heavy as a cinderblock, and it sank to the bottom of her stomach. "All of my work..."
She didn't pay any mind to Jack placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Any fertility that this land once had is gone. There's no life, meaning that the wolves are gone, too." Comet could feel her eyes start to burn. She finally took her eyes off of the talisman to gaze upon the broken landscape. "Who would do this?"
Comet absentmindedly dropped the charm and instead hugged her clenched sides. "Why?" She shook her head. A thousand questions came bubbling the witch's throat, yet they refused to expel from her mouth.
Jack knelt down beside her. "Comet, please let me help you." He didn't know how to handle a situation like this. He'd never seen her like this before.
"Everything's gone," Comet repeated, this time a pang of sorrow in her voice. Too many emotions clouded her senses to actually hear Jack's second response; Confusion, fear, sadness and finally, anger.
She stood up from where she knelt and turned to wander into the remainder of the woods. "Everything...everything..." Comet mumbled to herself. The trees seemed to sway around her as she ran her fingers through her tangled hair. "There's nothing left!" Comet hid her face in the palms of her hands.
"...You have me."
She stopped in her tracks. "What did you say?"
Jack cleared his throat. "You have me. It breaks my heart to see you like this. Please, if there's anything I can do to help you."
The witch grew silent for a moment, then the freckles on her face seemed to twist. Before she knew it, warm tears dripped down her reddened cheeks. She slowly raised her arms and pulled Jack closer to her.
His arm snaked around her back while the other combed through her locks. He kissed the top of her head. "We'll figure this out. Together."