All Hallows’ Eve Masquerade Pt. 01-1

Holinite Village resided in the western most part of the land right next to a dense wall of the hollowed woods and the unpredictable currents of a temperamental sea. Along the north were the high peaks of the treacherous mountains, but the residents never feared the elements nor what lurked in the dark. They made their offerings to the gods that protected them and celebrated the good in their lives. Some of what they believed were legends of old, passed down from generations of grandmothers to mothers to daughters and so on until the stories were thought to have sprung from the most fertile of imaginations.

And some of what they believed was real.

Sitting cross-legged atop her thatched roof, the witch of the wood, Rubina, shook the three blessed bones in her faded brown leather bag and peered inside with a frown.

The answer was still the same.

With a groan, because despite her youthful appearance, three hundred years could take a toll on an old gal, Rubina stood and opened her magical sight to see the three young women at the beginning of the path that led through the forest, knotted and twisted with birch and oak, to the cottage that had been her home ever since she’d returned all those years ago.

The witch never ventured to the town for what she needed was always there in her cottage, and though the villagers came to see her, few dared come more than once in their life. Her kind of magic was best hidden away behind silly spells to entice her neighbors and never scare them for if they guessed the real extent of her magic, they would be terrified.

These three women, with their gold spun hair and their obvious love for one another, were different, and different, in Rubina’s opinion, did not always mean good.

Even from far away, the witch could see the satchels the women carried, containing objects that would strip them to their souls, hummed with power. They themselves would not know the immense magic within the items they’d chosen. At least, not until it was too late.

Idly, she wondered if they would regret their decisions. Most of them did.

True offerings to the gods. It was rare, and despite her disappointments in the past, her fingers tingled with hope. Maybe, at long last, she would finally have what she wanted.

A way to be set free.

Next to her, a husky disembodied voice chuckled faintly. “An offering to lead them to their true loves at All Hallows’ Eve. It is our favorite time of year.” Despite the words, the voice dripped with contempt.

A twinge of emotion settled in her. After two hundred and seventy years, she would have thought to be used to it, but the clawing feeling inside her was always the same. “You ask a steep price,” she murmured, unable to let the ill feeling go.

“For love, no price is too steep. After all this time, we should know that,” he said with a wisp of a smile as he materialized in a purple haze. His body was still faint as he and his two brothers were unable to touch anything in this realm. “And you should know that we did not name the price. We merely play our parts, as do you. You seem, on edge, my sweet little witch. What is bothering you?”

“This year will not be like the rest.”

“Is that a hope or a fear?”

Afraid of what her face might reveal, she turned from him. The truth was that she didn’t know how she felt, she only knew that one of the pretty faces currently walking toward her house was about to take the first step into a journey that could break her.

It had broken all the others.

For she belonged to him.

“She is not like the others. She may soothe his soul, or she make bring damnation to us all.”

***

Cecily gripped her black cloth satchel tightly in her hand and had to remind herself that there was no need to look in it again. She hadn’t forgotten to put her object inside. Three different times that morning she’d looked, and all three times, the dried up husk of what had once been the most beautiful pink flower was nestled at the bottom.

There was no weight to reassure her, and she was nervous, so as usual, she was second-guessing herself again and again.

It was a sad object. Not because it had died. All living things died, but it was sad because she’d kept it for years. The very first flower a lad had brought her, presented to her on a sunny day by the lake. He’d told her that he’d chosen it because it was the exact shade of pink as her lips.

That was three years ago, and the lad had since then wed another and proudly fathered two children. Cecily was happy for him, for the flower didn’t represent what she’d felt for him.

No, it represented the first moment her heart had fluttered and yearned for love.

Since then, there had been no love. No suitors. No more flowers. The only time she’d ridden a cock had been after she’d buried her parents, and she’d been so desperate to feel anything other than horrid isolation that she’d let a handsome face woo her away from the night.

It had been a miserable experience.

Sandwiched between Althena and Pryanna because they were always so protective of her, she tried to hide her hope as they skipped merrily down the path and laughed as though they were out to pick flowers. For them, this was a silly endeavor, only done to bring a smile to Cecily’s face because they feared she was plagued by melancholy.

Her two closest friends were like that. Always ready to do whatever it took to bring her joy, and even if she didn’t want to admit it to them, she was so lonely for a companionship that they could not provide.

People visited the witch of the wood for various reasons. Medicine to cure their loved ones. Curses to bring their enemies to their knees. Elixirs to make the nights more pleasurable.

But a spell to lure in one’s true love was rumored to be powerful dark magic. It could only be cast the day before All Hallows’ Eve and required a personal symbol of one’s truest desire.

And a piece of their soul.

They’d giggled about it as children. When they were older, their school mates would whisper about their trips to the witch although nothing ever came of it. One of their schoolmates had gone three times to the witch, and she was still unwed. Cecily didn’t know why this would be different, but she desperately needed to believe that something about her life was about to change.

“I heard that Margeurite was the last to visit her,” Pryanna said, her dark eyes flashing merrily. They were all blonde, which was one of the reasons that they had bonded as children. The three blondes in the village, but that is where their similarities ended. Pryanna was tall and willowy with the bluest of eyes and hints of silver. Althena was tall and curvy with eyes so dark they were almost black, and Cecily was nearly half a foot shorter, curvy from all the sweet cakes, and eyes of green.

“After she married the drunkard?” Althena laughed. “I would too. Perhaps that’s how she came to be fucking his brother!”

Cecily gasped. Althena knew all the good gossip. “Really?”

“And good on her.” Althena winked. “I can tell you that he has a talented tongue.”

They dissolved into laughter, lightening the mood until the walk brought them to the unassuming cottage. Nobody except the witch lived in the woods for it sometimes took on peculiar properties as the trees tended to move about as though they were not rooted to the ground. Still, the trees never bothered the clearing where the small cottage stood. Perhaps the witch and the woods had a understanding.

Perhaps the witch was the one ordering the trees about.

Privately, Cecily always wondered why the witch didn’t have a grander home. The eldest in the village whispered that Rubina hadn’t aged since they were children, but that couldn’t be right. Rubina looked barely older than her own twenty-two years.

Stopping short of the stones that led to the door, they stared up a the cottage. “Do you really think she consorts with the demons?” Cecily asked hoarsely as she clutched her satchel. Perhaps they were making a terrible mistake.

“There must be some perks to being a vessel of the gods.” Despite her teasing, there was a hitch in Althena’s voice.

“Indeed,” a sweet voice chuckled. “Although I’m afraid that nights of pleasure with the demons are not one of the perks.”

The three women whipped their heads around at the sound of the new voice. Rubina had surprised them from coming around the corner and was watching them with some amusement as her fingers trailed up and down the handle of a broom.

That was standing upright on its own.

“Mistress,” Cecily, Althena, and Pryanna said in unison as they curtsied in respect. Although she rarely went into town, the witch was revered by all. No one would dare tread on her property without the utmost respect.

She was tall and slender with hair so light it glinted like the dewy web of a spider and as wild and untamed as the sea. Her eyes were pearls of grey and her skin always so translucent and creamy as though it had never been touched by the sun. She was a strange beauty, but there was no mistaking the power that emanated from her.

This was not a woman to cross lightly.

Today, she looked just as pleased with the sunshine and warmth of the day as they were, and she smiled pleasantly at them. “Please, call me Rubina.”

“We apologize if we have caught you in the middle of your chores.”

Rubina glanced at the broom in her hand and snapped her fingers. It immediately fell against the house. “I was just sweeping my roof. I’m done now and am completely at your disposal.” With that, she waved her hand in the air, and the front door opened. “After you.”

Cecily swallowed hard. Of course Rubina had magic. That was never in question, but to see it manifested before their very eyes! Her pulse quickened. Perhaps the All Hallows’ Eve ritual could work after all.

They walked in with some trepidation. There was no point in turning back now.

Inside, she glanced around nervously. She’d never been in the witch’s home, and despite the whispered rumors, it all looked so pleasantly ordinary. There were no frogs hopping around on the floor or furniture floating in the air. Just a scratched and dulled wooden table and several chairs pulled up to it. There wasn’t even a spell book or a cauldron.

It made Cecily no more at ease as the witch walked around them, appraising them, with a strange glint in her eyes. An aura of light seemed to circle her fingers as she danced them in the air while she moved

“Now then, let me see. One of you has been to see me before and left disappointed. You have brought nothing but dour expectations with you for tonight’s ritual, but that is all right. There is still much I can work with for our doubts are never enough to overshadow our desires. One of you has come with nothing but hope in her heart, and for you, this will be the easiest, and the last, well, she comes to me with fire. I am afraid your path is already set before you, and there is little I can do but give you advice.”

Cecily looked at her two friends, astounded by the witch’s comments, but to her shock, her friends were still as stone.

“Not to worry, my dear Cecily. ‘Tis nothing more than a spell to slow time for us. You each deserve privacy. When our time is up, they will be well, and I will have spoken to each of you individually.” Rubina held out her hand. “The one filled with hope. Let me see your flower.”

Her hands trembling, Cecily withdrew her offering. Rubina took it gently, her eyes blazing with delight. “A symbol of one’s first love. That fleeting moment when you realized what love meant. Darling Cecily, I envy you. It has been so long for me that I will never recapture that moment, but you are so unlike me. You will never forget.”

Cecily frowned. “You don’t remember your first love?”

“My story is not important.” With a sad smile, she held up the flower high above her head. “An offering for All Hallows’ Eve so the spirits may guide her to her heart’s desire.”

Her voice was thunderously loud, and Cecily gasped as the world seemed to drop away. Her friends, the cottage, even the floor beneath her was now gone, leaving only her and Rubina in a vast stretch of darkness.

A strange purple light lit from below, and Cecily looked down in a panic as the colored fire danced along her feet, but she could not move. She could not walk or jump or fly as the flames rose behind her, encircling them.

Three shadows circled and danced among the purple smoke.

“See her heart. Strip her bare. Feel the shiver of her heat. Mark her to taste her truth, so that her love she will meet.”

The flower disappeared. “Mine,” a voice hissed, and Rubina dropped her arms.

Suddenly, they were back in the cottage, and Althena and Pryanna were looking around, stunned. It was if nothing had happened, as if she had imagined it all.

“Enjoy your dreams tonight,” Rubina said mischievously. “And may the gods fulfill your heart’s desire.”

***

Althena and Pryanna seemed just as shaken as Cecily when they walked back to town. She wanted to ask them what they had seen, but it was like Rubina had said. They deserved their privacy.

Still, which one had visited Rubina already, and why hadn’t they said anything? What had the others experienced? Had they seen the shadows and the fire? Were their satchels as empty as hers?

“Cecily, do you want us to walk you home?” Pryanna asked. Her voice was as stable as usual as if she had done nothing more than enjoyed a walked in the sunshine.

Maybe Cecily had hoped so badly that it would work that she had made it all up in her head.

The sun had already set, and it was getting dark. It had seemed as if only a few minutes had past in the witch’s cottage, but it must have been hours.

A strange tingle ran down her spine. What had happened?

“No, I’m spending the night with my grandfather. Grandmother needed to deliver some things to Mossvale and won’t returned until tomorrow. You know how he gets when he’s alone. I doubt the man has eaten all day.” She hoped she sounded as grounded as her friend.

“All right.” Pryanna smiled gently down at her. “Then I suppose we’ll meet up tomorrow before the masquerade. Cecily, are you certain that you want to go?”

“More than anything.” Nothing was going to keep her away.

After an embrace, the three separated, and Cecily headed to her grandfather’s. He was a joyful man, although age had sobered him some, but she always enjoyed the days she spent with him and her grandmother. He greeted her with a large smile, and she didn’t dare tell him about seeing the witch. It was a childish thing, and she was embarrassed to admit that the more time had passed, the less she could remember about the journey.

After making them both some dinner and playing some games, Cecily retired to the small room on the other side of the cottage where she spent her nights when she visited. By the time she closed her eyes, the whole trip had seemed like a dream and far too embellished in her mind.

Pulling the blanket over her, she settled, and as sleep started to claim her, a strange weight pushed her deeper into the bed, and she an overwhelming floral aroma started to overtake her. Had her grandmother put fresh-cut flowers in the room?

Sleep folded her into its embrace.

“Open your eyes, little one, and drop that blanket for me,” a voice crooned in the dark. “There is no need to be modest. You called for me and carry my mark.”

Confused, Cecily opened her eyes. She was no longer in bed but standing in a familiar meadow by a lovely blue lake that shimmered under the sun.

“Filladale lake,” she muttered to herself. “How did I get here?”

“I brought you here. Or, some might argue, you brought me here, my sweet.”

There was that honeyed husky voice again. Cecily clutched the blanket tighter and whirled around. A man lounged in the grass, leaning back on one elbow with his legs stretched out. He was dressed in a dark pair of trousers with a white shirt open in the front. Beneath the edges, she could see the strangest purple markings on his chest. Handsome, with dark hair and glittering eyes, he was a stranger to her. She would have remembered seeing him, especially because there was something distinctly otherworldly about him.

“Who are you?” She asked nervously.

“My name is Damien,” he said softly as he stood. “And I am one of three who can lead you to your heart’s desire.”

This was part of the spell? With a frown, she looked around. As far as she knew, all the magic in the world couldn’t make the sun rise before its time. Had she lost more hours again? “Am I dreaming?”

“Something like that.” He glanced toward the lake and smiled. “Pretty. Peaceful. I had a feeling that I should choose you. I don’t get out much, and this, well, let’s just say that the spell doesn’t always bring me to places such as this.”

“Where are you from?”

“Nothing for you to worry about, my little fairy. A pocket dimension with my brothers. Technically, this is also a pocket dimension, but one that you created and far more interesting than the one where I dwell.”

He was making less and less sense. “How did I create this? This lake was here long before I was born.”

Instead of answering, Damien reached into his pocket and pulled something out. Her eyes widened.

“Rather withered, isn’t it?” He murmured before waving it in the air. Suddenly, her little flower was alive, robust, its petals full and dewy with a gorgeous pink tinge. “That’s much better.”

She longed to reach out and take it. “Why do you have that?”

“I need it to strip you bare. Not just your clothes, mind you. I can do that with a snap of my finger.”

Cecily squeaked and took a step back, but Damien didn’t seem to mind. “No, with this flower, I can strip away the walls that surround you to see what you need.” He winked. “Shall we begin?”

“I don’t know.” This was sounding far more intense than she had imagined. She’s simply hoped that her true love would just knock on her door and whisk her away, but then, things were never that easy, were they?

“Turn around, Cecily. Let me remind you of what this flower represents.”

Hearing voices behind her, she slowly turned and gaped. It was her, three years prior, when she was still so innocent. As she skipped rocks into the lake, she had no idea that Jarvis had followed her with a hopeful smile on his face and a flower behind his back.

“The first time a boy gave you a flower,” Damien whispered in her ear. A shock of awareness flooded her, but she didn’t move away. Slowly, he peeled the blanket off her, and she felt the petals of the flower touch her skin.

“The only time a boy gave you a flower.” There was surprise in his voice.

“Yes.” Her heart broke a little as she watched her younger self blush and accept the flower. Oh, how she wished she could feel that giddy again.

The petals stroked up and down her arm. “You never even allowed this one a kiss.”

“He liked to play. I knew that even before he gave me the flower. I liked the attention, but I was after something more than what he could give me at the time.”

“A beauty like yourself should have been littered with flowers and gifts of love. What happened?”

This was a peaceful place, and she didn’t want to relive that painful memory. The flower brushed up her throat and over her lips. It was a strange and seductive sensation. Need unfurled inside of her unlike anything that she had ever felt. “Tell me Cecily,” Damien whispered and kissed her neck. She moaned.

“There was another,” she whimpered, wishing that he would kiss her again. “I gave myself freely to him because I wanted to feel pleasure. I wanted to feel joy in a time of darkness.”

“There is no shame in that.”

“He told.” Tears pricked her eyes, but Damien’s hands were on her, and the darkness dissipated. “He told everyone that I had no skills and there was no warmth or dew in me. I was laughed at for months, years, and the men lined up at my door, all betting that they would be the one to make my toes curl. None cared for my heart.”

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