All Hallows’ Eve Masquerade Pt. 03-1

Thanks for reading the first installment of the Holinite Village stories. All Hallows’ Eve Masquerade is just the first story, and this is part three (and the conclusion), so if you haven’t already, go back and read parts one and two! I hope you enjoy!

***

A stone weighed down Pryanna’s satchel.

It was a strange stone, triangular and tarnished cream in appearance, and smooth to the touch. She’d found it a year ago by the river when she’d been exploring the mountains. Craw peppers grew in abundance along the shores, and she’d wanted some to season her fish for the dinner she’d been preparing and found herself drawn to the stone.

Then, it sat on the counter by the door for a year until now.

The journey to the witch of the wood was a foolish endeavor. Cecily and Althena had been so down of late, and Pryanna was plagued by dreams. Dreams of hot fires and terrorizing winds. They all desperately needed a break, and while Pryanna had no plans of finding love or believed that a single woman could hold enough power to find love for others, she did wonder if the witch could interpret her dreams.

Silence was peppered with moments of tense conversation and forced laughter. It seemed they all were affected differently from their short journey.

The witch of the wood was a strange thing. The eldest in the village claimed that she did not age, but that was certainly not possible. Instead, Pryanna suspected that the witch of the wood was a title rather than a single witch, and perhaps daughter simply looked very much like the mother.

People went to her for solutions to all sorts of problems, and they seemed satisfied with the results, although Pryanna didn’t know anyone who would dare say that the witch of the wood was a fraud.

Although Pryanna often had problems, she’d never gone to the witch. From an early age, she learned that everything came with a price. When her mother kissed her cheek and told her what a good girl she was, it was often because she wanted Pryanna to do something. When her father told her how smart she was, it was because he wanted her to go place a wager for him. And when her suitors came to bring her flowers, it was because they wanted the land on which her house sat.

Nothing, not even love, came for free, and Pryanna suspected that the witch was no different. The tokens she required, objects symbolizing their greatest desires, was merely a smokescreen of the payment that she truly wished, so Pryanna didn’t bother bringing anything of importance.

She would learn soon enough what the witch truly wished for, and then she would decide if knowing the truth of her dreams would be worth paying it.

With Cecily in the middle and Althena on the other side of her, they stopped short and stared up at the cottage. “Do you really think she consorts with demons?” Cecily asked quietly.

Oh, Cecily. So pure inside and out. Pryanna just smiled, and Althena, glancing at

Cecily over her head, winked. “There must be some perks to being a vessel of the gods.”

“Indeed,” an amused voice said from the side. “Although I’m afraid that nights of pleasure with demons are not one of the perks.”

If she meant to surprise them by sneaking up on them, she would be disappointed. Pryanna had sensed her before she appeared. Turning her head, she stilled.

The witch’s eyes were strangely bright and fixated on her. For a moment, Pryanna thought she saw a shimmer of flames in them.

“Mistress,” they said together, and Pryanna dutifully dipped into a curtsy out of respect.

“Please, call me Rubina.”

They apologized for interrupting her day, an apology that she waved away with a comment and a snap of her fingers.

The cottage door opened, and Pryanna blinked. A strange sensation came over her.

Had she been here before?

Of course not. That was ridiculous. Obviously, she was just feeling odd from her lack of sleep. She followed her friends into the witch’s den.

It was brimming with items. Bookshelves ran from floor to ceiling and overflowed with books. There were two fireplaces, one small one by several chairs and a couch, and another that took up half the wall. On a rack, three pots hung, all bubbling and hissing. Embers from the fire sparked in orange and purple.

Strange and yet, it didn’t surprise her.

“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 that 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 will be the easiest. And the last, well, she comes to me with fire. I am afraid you path is already set before you, and there is little I can do but give you advice.”

Althena had been to the witch before? Pryanna, turned her head to look at her friend, stunned. What had she needed that her friends had not been able to provide for her?

Why hadn’t she said anything with Pryanna had first suggested this?

“My, my, aren’t you a curiosity?” Rubina murmured as she walked around Pryanna. “Not beautiful, mind you, but striking.”

Pryanna opened her mouth to object of the witch openly appraising her when she realized that her friends were frozen in time. “What kind of witchcraft is this?” She demanded as she rushed to Cecily, but when she tried to touch her, there was something blocking her. Her friends were both there and not there at the same time.

“Not to worry, child. They had their moments with me when you were frozen as well. Just a little magic to manipulate time. The young and pretty one came for love. The bolder one came for pleasure, which she will find in her love, but you are an enigma. All I can see are the flames inside of you.”

Flames. It wasn’t the first time she had mentioned that. “I have been having dreams,” she said carefully. “Of fire and smoke and horrible winds. They have plagued me since last All Hallow’s Eve. I am here to ask what they might mean.”

Robina eyed the satchel. “Are you afraid of what I might reveal?”

“I am not prophetic, so I am not worried. I don’t think the village is going to go up in flames.”

“Hmm, don’t be too sure of that.” Almost hungrily, Rubina reached out and touched the satchel. “You come here speaking of dreams, and yet you brought an offering for the All Hallow’s Eve ritual. Are you looking for love?”

There something strange about the way the witch was looking at her, almost as if she knew what was inside the bag. How would she react when she discovered that it was just a stone? “I brought an item because I did not want my friends to know about the dreams. I want them to think that I also came for ritual. I would know the real price you ask before we get started.”

Rubina snorted. “Aye, there is a price for everything, isn’t there? I cannot tell you what you will pay, my dear, because I am merely a conduit. If the gods who allows me to practice here want more from you, that is not for me to say.”

Heart hammering in her chest, Pryanna squeezed her fingers around the satchel. “So you do get your gifts from the gods?”

“No,” the witch snorted. “Although I believe they like to think so. No, my powers from from the earth herself.”

“So you have seen the gods? You believe in them?”

Pryanna’s curiosity came from years of hearing about the gods, praising them, and yet she’d never seen one. Sometimes, she wondered if they were real.

“There are many, you know, and one watches over this village.” Rubina narrowed her eyes even as she didn’t answer Pryanna’s question. “You doubt them?”

“I am not one for faith, but I would not deny them,” she responded thoughtfully and the implication struck her. To owe a god? “On second thought, perhaps I don’t need to know my dreams.”

Greedily, Rubina reached out and closed her fist in mid-air, at least it looked like mid-air, but when she opened her palms, Pryanna’s stone sat in the middle of her palm.

“Hey!”

“It is too late to turn back. Your path was set before you long ago, and I have waited far too long for this.”

Waited for what? Afraid now, Pryanna thought to run, but she wouldn’t dare leave her friends, and she could not take them with her when she couldn’t even touch them.

Throwing her head back, Rubina thrust her fist in the air. “An offering for All Hallows’ Eve so the spirits may guide her to her hearts desire.”

The floor fell away, and Pryanna gasped, and knelt down, but there was nothing but blackness all around her. Blackness and purple flames.

Like the flames from her dreams.

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

Three shadows moved and undulated in the smoke behind the witch. When Rubina opened her hand, the stone was gone.

“Mine,” a voice roared in the darkness, and the three figures stopped and froze.

Rubina turned and faced the unfathomable depths. A strange light sparked from her hands as she held them out. “The ritual has begun and the requirements must be met. You cannot have her until the masquerade.”

A strange warmth caressed Pryanna, and she closed her eyes and sighed. Was this what pleasure felt like? “Mine,” the voice whispered again, and the smoke wrapped around her.

Panic flared, and Pryanna held her breath. Would the smoke suffocate her? Struggling, she tried to pull away, but the smoke had a mind of its own.

“Enough,” Rubina thundered. “This is my domain. If you want her, you must wait.”

There was an angry hiss, but the smoke retreated, and Rubina gave her a strange smile. “He is who he is, and he will never change. If you can, tame him. If you cannot, distract him. That is all I can ask of you.”

Then, the darkness abruptly winked out as did the smoke, and they were back in her cottage. Cecily and Althena were glancing around, wide-eyed, and Pryanna stared at Rubina.

What in the world was that? She had so many more questions, but she couldn’t ask them in front of her friends. They would worry about her sanity.

In fact, she was worried about her sanity.

“Enjoy your dreams tonight,” Rubina said in a wistful tone. “And may the gods grant your desires.”

***

Purple smoke curled around the room when Rubina was alone and a figure appeared. With hair as dark as night and skin smooth and tan, he was a breathtakingly beautiful as the first day she’d laid eyes on him.

But centuries had passed since then, and time had taken it’s toll on him. In small ways, from the tightness of his jaw and the hardness of his eyes. If he was not carefully, he would be as cold as the rest.

“Slyvern,” she murmured as she bowed her head in respect even though most of the time, she had little but disdain for him.

Amusement danced in his eyes. If nothing else, they had always been honest with each other.

Opening the palm of his hand, he revealed the stone inside. “I saw her pick this up,” he murmured in a husky voice. “The moment she touched it, I knew that she belonged to me, but she was cloaked, and I could not find her again. Tell me her name.”

Rubina was annoyed that he’d just shown up without notice. At least this time, he was in human form, but the purple wings were still receding, so he’d traveled in flight rather than through the smoke that followed her.

That always followed her because that was how Slyvern tracked his slave.

The mark on her shoulder pulsed and heated.

“If I give you her name, you will go to the village and look for her. You must have patience,” she said as she stirred one of the pots in the fire. Inside, the black liquid bubbled and hissed. It was the potion that would allow the three demons to enter the consciousness of the two women and draw them close. The spell required concentration, something that Rubina found difficult whenever the god was near, and it could only be cast at midnight on All Hallows’ Eve.

“You want to council me on patience, witch?” Slyvern chuckled at his own thoughts. “Are you jealous of what will happen when they drink the potion?”

She didn’t need him to explain for they both knew full well what he was talking about. The whole reason that she’d become enslaved to him begin with. She and the three brothers.

Because she didn’t know how to be patient.

“My feelings are none of your concern.” It was a futile effort. He would know how she ached inside. After the spell was done, she put the liquid in three vials and lifted her hands to the air. With a few murmured words, the vials vanished in purple smoke.

“I would think that you would be more excited,” he continued. “It has been a long time since I’ve taken a sacrifice. You always say I am somewhat appeased afterward.”

Hardly appeased or even sated. More like grounded, but it never lasted.

She wouldn’t tell him, but she’d felt hope at all the others who’d come to her with fear in their voice as they explained the fire in their dreams. Every few decades or so, a woman would be born with his mark.

And every time she thought her enslavement might end, they proved that they could not handle the god.

But still, she felt something different in this one. Something she hadn’t felt in the others.

Strength that had nothing to do with Slyvern and everything to do with Pryanna.

“I am always excited,” Rubina said with a smile as she turned to him and curved her head up. “After all, it means that I won’t have to see you for a year or two.”

Or however long it took to drag his sacrifice to the brink of insanity.

“Mouthy little witch.” He curved his hand under her chin and forced her to look up at him. “I had such hope for the powerful vessel that held my mark, but you gave yourself away.”

“I did not want you, and I tried to tell you that from the beginning.” Defiant as the day she turned him down, she stared him down. “You told me yourself that I had to be willing, and I gave you all that I could. Then you punished me, and I am not saying that I didn’t deserve it, but I am still giving you all that I can. I have served you faithfully, kept from my heart’s desires while I searched for yours. When will it be enough? When will you release them?”

Slyvern dropped his arm and turned his back on her. Dark hair curled down his bare shoulders, and the last of the purple wings dissolved into smooth skin. “Might I will remind you that without my assistance, they will once again be mortal. And age.”

“For a chance to love again, they would gladly live as mortals.”

“And yet you do not ask for your freedom,” he taunted. “Perhaps you have grown

fond of me?”

Hardly. But then, for her sin, she knew she would serve him until the day that she died. Perhaps that is how he felt about their sins.

Lifting the stone, he studied it. “I think you know the answer to that. And that is mine.” With a hiss, she snapped her fingers and the stone disappeared from the god’s hand.

He glared at her but didn’t try to retrieve it. After all, they were playing by the rules he’d created. “Love is nothing but weakness.”

Then, he was gone, and she exhaled slowly. Being near him was always an exhilarating experience, sharpening her senses and creating a carnal ache inside of her, but it was never for him.

Not once had she wished that it were for him, despite the centuries of pain. No, she wasn’t willing to give up that which she’d fallen for. Even though she knew there was a chance she could never have it again.

***

Dagon sat in his bed, a shape formed and held firm by the smoke. His brothers were already gone, the smoke having whisked them away so they could create their worlds, but as Dagon studied the object in his hand, he knew that he would need no world. There was only one memory that he could see clinging to the stone that would lead her to her mate, and it was a memory he didn’t dare create.

After all, the stone that was not a stone at all.

The boundary of his realm was thin now, and the object drew him to her. Closing his eyes, he allowed it to lead them to a neutral setting, a parallel realm that spied onto hers, where he could claim her spirit but never her body.

As he called to her, Pryanna’s spirit rose from the bed, and she calmly picked up something from her bedside table.

A rolling pin. Dagon grinned. She was an interesting one.

“Who’s there?” she demanded. “I can feel you watching me. Come out from the shadows and identify yourself.”

Dagon lifted the veil that separated them, pleased that she had felt his presence. The power was strong inside her. “I do not mean you any harm,” he said smoothly.

“My name is Dagon, and you summoned me.”

“I assure you that I did not,” she snapped, still holding the rolling pen.

“I’m afraid that you did.” He let the purple smoke curl up from his feet. “I believe you had some questions about your dreams. It’s possible that I can answer them, although I was enslaved for a different purpose.”

“Enslaved?” she echoed suspiciously. “You are not a demon?”

“My brothers and I have been called many things over the centuries, but I was mortal once. A servant rather thana slave, but we broke a rule, and this is how we atone for it. You may call us demons if you wish. It is close enough to the truth.”

Slowly, Pryanna lowered the rolling pin. “The witch would not answer my questions.”

“She does not have the same magic as I do.”

“And what magic would that be? “

He took a step closer, and she took a step back. Her suspicion was an amusement for him. She would make the god furious. “Reading people. Knowing the intentions in their hearts and their soul’s deepest desires.”

Pryanna frowned. “And how is that going to help me explain my dreams?”

“I already know where your dreams come from. And what they mean.” Her eyes widened, and he grinned. “The question is whether I’m going to tell you.”

“I paid for answers.”

“You paid for an All Hallows’ Eve ritual,” he reminded her. And he had half a mind to follow through with the spell’s demands. She might belong to Slyvern, but they hadn’t even met yet. Right now, she was fair game.

But this wasn’t about revenge. This was about doing his duty so that at some point, he might taste his love’s sweet lips and warm body again.

Pryanna might very well be the key, but first, he needed to know.

“What do you require,” she asked warily.

“A kiss. No more and no less.”

“And what will that accomplish?”

A slow smile spread across his face as he suddenly yearned for a taste. “It will tell me whether you are ready to know the answer.”

Blinking, she pursed her lips. He could practically see her mind racing to decide what she was willing the bargain for answers. Did she think everything through like this? If so, the path that was before her might tear her apart. She might not even last as long as the others, and here they were, hoping that she might last longer.

“The dreams feel like they are speaking to me. It’s as if they are trying to awaken something inside of me.”

“Maybe they are.”

“Dreams can’t do that.”

“My dear, you have no idea what dreams can do. I think it’s more likely that you’re afraid of how the dreams make you feel. You should be, you know.”

She took another step back. “Then maybe I should leave well-enough alone.”

Dagon used the smoke to hide himself for just a moment while he moved until he was right of her. She gasped as he appeared and lifted her chin. “It’s a little late for that. The dreams will continue, more and more intense until they will consume you. There is only one way to help you.”

“Just tell me and stop playing these games!”

” I will not. I care little about whether you live or die. I could take you right now, mind, body, and heart, and there is little you can do about it. This little token you offered up to me gives me immense power over you until the twelfth bell of midnight. That’s two whole hours to do whatever I want to your delicious body, and I know someone who can slow time in any dimension, but I won’t, and do you know why?”

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