From the author: A Halloween horror story because you can't think I'm not going to post one of these in October! This story was an honourable mention in the Tales From the Moonlit Path Halloween Challenge.
Diane huffed, watching the wind blow leaves past her on the road. The moon was up and bright enough to cast a stark shadow, coating everything in the spiderweb light that wasn’t quite snow, wasn’t quite greyscale. Her footsteps kept her company while she grumbled about parties and assholes.
She’d been walking for twenty minutes and hadn’t even seen a car to thumb a lift from yet, no doubt because sensible people were either asleep or still enjoying themselves. Even the scattered country houses were dark, owners out or safely in bed.
It was a beautiful night, easy to see her way home. She didn’t love the idea of the five mile trek in her outfit though.
“Walking on your own?” asked a voice ahead and she yelped, arms up in a fighting stance. A woman chuckled, stepping from a shadowed driveway and into the moonlight.
“Sorry, I was just surprised,” she said, hands up to show no threat. Her costume was ornate: a flowing white dress with a hood that crept down her face and over her eyes, glittering jewels lining the neck and waistline, and drooping, fluted sleeves that pooled at her elbows. The look was offset by a bloody hole in her chest and a long sword pinned against one arm, but the detail was impressive and she glowed in the moonlight.
“Sorry,” Diane said with a laugh, dropping her hands. “I didn’t realise anyone else was mad enough to be out.”
“I was waiting for someone, but they left me.”
“Asshole, when you’re looking like that?” Diane shook her head, holding her hand out. “I’m Diane, or the good witch of the north. Sort of. I didn’t want to look like a meringue, so it’s been adapted.” She glanced at her thigh highs and skirt, shrugging.
“It looks lovely on you. I’m Indriel.” She shook Diane’s hand, skin chilled in the night air.
“Thanks, your costume’s amazing. Are you lurking in the shadows for a reason, hun?”
“I hoped company might arrive.” Her voice wasn’t exactly drunk but it was distant, enough that Diane wondered if she’d been watching her drinks.
“Do you have somewhere to be? I’m walking home, I could wait till your lift gets here.” Diane glanced around them, into the long stretching dark.
“Are you walking to the village?” Indriel asked, drawing Diane’s eyes back to her. Her lips were blood red, or would be in normal light, the moonlight made them almost plum.
“Yeah, are you staying there?”
“Can I walk with you?”
“Course, we can go together.” Diane held her elbow out, smiling when Indriel linked arms. The material was butter soft and cool, warming against her skin when they began to walk. “Is that silk?”
“Yes,” Indriel said with a breathy laugh, leaning into Diane.
“You ok there?” Diane asked, nudging their shoulders.
“I think I am,” she said, shaking her head a little, “Just gotten cold.”
“You and me both, it’s a way chillier than I expected. We’ll warm up on the way though, think of the cardio.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” asked someone and Diane span on her heel, yanking Indriel behind her.
A tall man was stood at the driveway they’d left, leaning against one of the boundary pillars. He was dressed in a crisp white suit, red hair loose and tumbling down his shoulders, spilling over the front of his jacket. A flower crown perched on his head, fist sized blooms threaded with dark leaves and what might have been feathers. His eyes gleamed in the light, luminous as the costume, and he held a cigarette between his lips.
“Who are you?” Diane asked.
“Her other half,” he said. The air changed, crackling like electricity.
“He your company?” Diane asked over her shoulder, keeping eyes on the guy. He smirked, ashing his cigarette.
“He’s not who I was looking for.”
“No, you always run off from me, don’t you?” he said, pushing off the column and walking towards them. Diane stood her ground, squaring her shoulders as he stopped a couple of steps away. “I’ll take her back.”
He had height on her, which was unusual for Diane, and he was broad enough across the chest that he’d probably be difficult to fight.
“She’s not going your way,” Diane said, reaching back to give Indriel’s hand a squeeze.
“She will be. I always get my way,” he said, giving a wink. “I’m Isaac.”
“Nice to meet you. You guys at a party?” she asked, letting go of Indriel so she had both hands free.
“A gathering,” he said with a laugh, those weird lenses making his eyes flash.
“You put something in her drink?” Diane asked, stepping forward to be a barrier.
“I don’t need to do that; she likes me really.” His skin was as white as Indriel’s dress and the back of Diane’s head was screaming danger.
“Right, that’s coming off real date rapey dude. I’m going to go ahead and walk her to the village and you can melt back into the shadows. Or you can walk a bit ahead of us so we can see you, either’s good.”
“You’re going to take her from me?” he asked, smiling like a snarl.
“I’m going to walk her home.”
“I can’t have that,” he said, taking a dagger from inside his jacket.
“That’s not a replica is it?” Diane asked with a sigh, wondering how effective stabbing someone with a heel would be.
“Mine’s not either,” Indriel said and Diane froze, glancing at her. She was offering her sword, handle beside Diane’s thigh.
“Hun, why do you have a sword?”
“Because he has a knife.”
“You know him?” Diane hissed.
“Told you,” Isaac said in a sing song voice.
“He’s my brother.”
“Why does your brother have a knife?”
“For stabbing,” Isaac provided.
“Back it up edge-lord, why do you want to stab someone?” Diane said, bumping into the sword handle as she stepped back, getting them both in sight.
“He wants to seal the gates, he has to keep his power,” Indriel said, shaking her head. “He always does this.”
“Is this some extended prank?”
“He just can’t help himself, even for his sister,” Indriel said, a hand going to the bloody mark on her chest.
“How could I sacrifice anything other than the thing I love most?” Isaac asked.
“Maybe I didn’t watch my drink, this could be a hallucination,” Diane said, feeling her forehead with the back of her hand.
“I’m not yours to take,” Indriel sobbed, other hand gripping the sword as blood started to pour out of her wound.
“Jesus Christ,” Diane cried, lurching over to her.
“You’re so dramatic,” Isaac sighed, “Why’d you get a mortal involved?”
“Hun, are you ok?” Diane asked, hand going to Indriel’s chest and yanking away as the hot liquid splashed over her. “Fucking hell, that’s a lot of blood.”
“She’s full of it,” Isaac said, lighting another cigarette.
“Don’t just stand there.”
“I didn’t think you wanted me near,” he said with a snort.
“We need to get an ambulance,” Diane said, grabbing Indriel’s shoulders and steering her into sitting down, “Can you look at me?”
“Don’t think you want that,” Isaac said and Diane growled in the back of her throat.
“Can you shut up and call 999?” she shouted, glaring at him as she rubbed Indriel’s shoulders. “We need to get pressure on this.”
“Stick the sword back in, that’ll stop it,” Isaac offered.
“Are you just off your rocker?” Diane said, panic starting to creep in as the blood kept coming.
“She has to die or they open up again,” he said, pointing a thumb over his shoulder.
“What are you talking about you mad pri-” Diane’s voice died in her throat as she saw the looming shape of something behind him, vast as a cathedral and shrouded in smoke. It went higher than she could look, stretching into the sky, and crawling with something, flitting shadows with hooked limbs that seethed in the darkness. There was a rumble like tearing rock, shaking Diane’s bones as a seam of light started to pierce down the middle of it all.
“The gates call for sacrifice, sister, will you not answer?” Isaac asked, voice rich as velvet. “They’ll take it all if you don’t.”
“Help me stand,” Indriel said and Diane turned, eyes dragging away from the impossible thing before her.
“Look at me,” Indriel said, a hand cupping Diane’s cheek to turn her head. The hood had slipped away, revealing cascading dark curls, and then Diane saw her eyes. They were beautiful; flooded black, with swirling lights of galaxies and stars twinkling brighter than the jewels on her gown, smouldering like Isaac’s. Diane made a choked noise between a sob and a laugh, her throat tightening.
“Finish this,” Isaac said. “Time draws on.”
“You did so well,” Indriel said, bringing Diane’s face closer and kissing her cheek, lips bloodied as they came away. “No one else tried to help me.”
“Well they’re assholes,” Diane said, because nothing else seemed right, and Indriel gave that breathy laugh again.
“May I see you another year, my good witch.” She stood and walked towards the structure, blood blossoming on her dress in line after line, blade marks dotted all over her body opening.
“Don’t hurt her,” Diane said, tears in her eyes as she looked to Isaac.
“The pain stopped long ago,” he said, plucking the sword out of Indriel’s hand as she went past him. “Occasionally she likes to see the world, test if it’s still worth the cycles.” He turned after her, shoving the blade between her shoulders and Diane shrieked, voice wringing out of her lungs in jagged fear.
Indriel stopped, posture going stiff as she began to glow. She rose up and Isaac let go of the blade, watching her spark and fizz like new flames. She flooded bright as sunlight for a moment that burned itself into Diane’s eyes, then winked out and was gone. The sword clattered to the ground and Isaac bent to pick it up.
“I suppose it would be kinder to end you too, wouldn’t it?” he asked, turning towards her. She shook her head, unable to speak, muscles screaming to run.
“No,” she managed. The shapes behind him had gone, replaced by stars and darkness. “What was that?”
“Something bigger than you, little witch. Something that began wrong then became necessary, as bad things often do. I do love my sister.”
“You stabbed her.”
“She loves your silly world enough to let me. Usually.”
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Preferably not on me,” he said, wrinkling his nose. “No, maybe you’re hearty enough to keep your mettle. Let sleep have you instead.” He stepped closer, plucking one of the roses from his crown and folding the stem into her hand. The thorns stung angrily against her skin but he crushed it into her palm, wrapping his hand round hers. “For your bravery.” He pecked a kiss where Indriel had and Diane felt it like lightning, rippling down her spine and pushing her into blackness.
She awoke to early morning light, aching like she’d been hit by a car. Sitting up made everything hurt and she did it slowly, curling in on herself.
Pulling up on one of the stone pillars beside her she hissed as the wounds on her hand opened, nearly toppling over. This must be a roofie, something in a drink that made her fragile and shaky as a fawn.
She glanced around and recognised the back road, about five miles till home. There was a fat, oversized rose beside her and she picked it up, grimacing at the effort. She didn't recognise it from anyone's outfit last night but it was gorgeous, inviting. It smelled metallic, coppery and cloying so she tucked it behind her costume hat, high enough up that it wouldn’t make her gag as she walked. With any luck she could catch someone going in for early shift and thumb a lift.