Screams—unrelenting, piercing, full of utter horror and pain. They rattled in Oberon’s ears, rousing him from his deep slumber, his eyes finding a grey dawn, cold and dewy, a thick mist rolling off the lake and blanketing their camp as the embers in the fire glowed in their final moments before extinguishing. Rolling out of instinct, he clapped a hand over Hollis’ mouth, staring in bewilderment down at her. She thrashed in her sleep, and horrific images filled his mind, making him hiss at the pain she was experiencing. Eyes. Red eyes. Black, shaggy hair. A pale face with a long, aquiline nose. His heart cinched in terror.
“Hollis,” he urged gently, giving her a shake, but her muffled screams turned to sobs beneath his palm. He pressed himself on top of her, chest to chest, hip to hip, blanketing her, shielding her with his body. She thrashed her head from side to side, flailing her legs as he tried to pin her down.
“Get off her, you bloody monster!” the young man raged, still tied to the tree, straining with all this mite against the rope. Oberon’s eyes blazed to meet his, and he realized how this situation must appear from his angle. Cole hollered, kicking dirt and rocks in their direction as Hollis tightened and screamed again beneath his grasp.
“Enough!” Oberon bellowed at the man, who only strained harder. Ignoring his angry words, Oberon turned his attention back to Hollis.
He shook her again, harder, and her bright, tear filled eyes fluttered open, wide with fear, her chest heaving. He cupped her face with both his hands, releasing her mouth, feeling the coolness of the tears that stained her red cheeks.
“Shh, shh,” he soothed. She lay beneath him, hands surrendered by her head and trembling, her ashy hair loose and wild, her face pale in the predawn light. He frowned, for this nightmare had been far worse than her others, and he had an inkling as to why. He just hoped he wasn’t correct in his assumption.
He reached for one of her hands, grasping her frigid fingers, pressing them to his lips to help warm them. She was cold all over, and his worry deepened.
“Come here,” he said, pulling her close, wrapping her in his arms, pressing her cheek tight to his sweltering chest as he chaffed her arm.
“You’re freezing,” he said, but she could only shake in his grasp, the adrenaline pulsing through her ebbing.
“Here is Teddy,” he said, snuggling the bear between them. “You’re safe, mel.”
He trailed his fingers up and down her back as they laid facing one another, hoping to warm her quicker, his own heart racing at the direction of her nightmare. Her cries quieted after a time as the sun began to rise, golden but not yet warm. Oberon’s heart raced, and he needed the clarification—needed to know if her dream had been a fictitious rendering due to her overworked mind, or if it was rooted in something much more sinister.
He pulled her away, frowning at the red that rimmed her eyes, and she sniffled before rasping:
“What did you see?” he asked, eyes probing her psyche. She stilled, blue eyes so earnest and trusting and frightened. He held her face, lest she attempt to dissuade him from his line of questioning. A fresh wave of tears rolled down her cheeks as she shook her head.
“Tell me,” he commanded, heart racing. Terror, dread—these weren’t normal emotions for Oberon, not unless he was dealing with something beyond his own capabilities, which was very rare. Trepidation settled heavy upon his shoulders, like carrying a load of granite.
“You know,” she whispered, realization sparking in her gaze. Lips twisting further into a frown, he could only stare back.
“What did he say?”
They stared one another down for a beat more, until Hollis relented.
“He…he was just like you,” she whispered, eyes falling to his chest in concentration. A steady tremble took root in her core, and Oberon gripped her tighter.
“But he…he had the most awful red eyes, like blood, and he…he asked me to follow, he was kind,” she said. Oberon sneered, raising his gaze to the trees to steady himself, but waited for her damning words.
“He asked where we were,” she said, voice so small. His wild, golden eyes snapped back to hers, and he pushed away to study her at arm’s length. His change in demeanor frightened her, sending her heart racing once more.
“Did you tell him?” he hissed. Hollis’ gaze became one of petrified curiosity, her brows furrowing slightly. And though Oberon’s look screamed death, she felt safe in his arms.
“No, Obe, I don’t even know where exactly we are,” she said, searching his gaze. He visibly relaxed, but his eyes bounced around in rapid thought.
“What…who was it? Was it real?”
“What else happened, after he asked that?” he said, voice biting. Now, it was Hollis’ turn to become withdrawn. Her eyes skirted to her hands that clasped Teddy, her cheeks reddening.
“I need to know what we are up against,” he urged, fingers biting into her back. Her watery eyes travelled back up to his face, bottom lip quivering.
“So…so this was real?” she whispered, anguished.
His eyes blazed.
“What did he do?”
She jumped at the veracity with which he spoke.
“He…it…turned into you, I ran to you…and then you…you…” she fumbled, chin wobbling as well now. Oberon slipped his eyes closed, drinking in her torment as he quietly seethed. That damnable trickster, that wretched fiend.
“I thought I was dying,” she whispered, voice thick with tears. He pressed his lips to her forehead, cradling her to his chest.
“I made my vow to you, tiny Hollis. I will never harm you.”
“Then what…what was that?” she sputtered. It would only be fair for him to give her some bit of the truth, but he wasn’t sure how to go about explaining it, for it was more complicated than anything a human had ever dared to conjure up in their timid imaginations.
“Oberon, I don’t want it to happen again,” she said, burying her face into his chest. He stilled at her words, glancing at the sky in thought, before his gaze worked back to a very interested Cole.
“Scientist,” he called, and Cole perked up, sitting forward as best he could. “Is tonight a full moon?”
Cole gave him a curious look, before glancing at the watch on his wrist. He returned his gaze, nodding slightly. Relief pooled in Oberon’s stomach. He pulled away from Hollis, leveling her blotchy face with a serious look.
“I need you to listen closely and obey, with no questions, do you understand?”
After a stunned moment, she nodded, mouth clamping shut.
“I don’t know how this is possible, but another being of my…kind…has found us, through my connection to you,” Oberon explained, leaving out many major details, to which he saw Hollis itching to ask, but he pushed on.
“If he is able to visit you through your subconscious, his hold on you will only grow stronger. Why he is seeking me, I do not know, but he is very dangerous.”
“You know him?” she whispered, eyes wide with angst. He frowned at her question, and she backed down. With an exasperated sigh, he pushed forward in his tenuous explanation.
“I can perform a…a protection rite, tonight, since it will be a full moon. I doubt it will hold him off for long, but it will give me time to figure out a better way to deal with him, either way.”
Hollis turned a shiny red, about to burst forth with a thousand questions, but she controlled her tongue. He listened, felt her energy, and his face became dark with something akin to sadness. Her fear was directed toward him this time, and it wasn’t for any reasons she’d conjured up in past dreams. No, this time, she was afraid of what he was, for in the unknown, that sort of dread festered like a fetid wound. She took a shuddering breath, and her newfound calmness helped ease his own worry.
“What is mel?” she asked, changing course quickly, voice quiet, gravelly from her screams. He stiffened, not realizing he’d used that word aloud.
“It’s…a term, of endearment,” he explained, voice low. Her brow furrowed deeper, the lines between them a near permanent occurrence now.
“We must prepare for tonight,” he urged, sitting up and towing her with. “We need mugwort, and sage, possibly some rosemary…” Oberon wracked his brain for the ingredients. He’d never performed this specific ritual before, but he’d witnessed it about a dozen times. Hollis wouldn’t approve of how it was conducted, so he chose to keep those thoughts to himself for now.
She glanced over her shoulder to Cole, remembering his screams for Oberon to let her go. She gave him a small smile, but he was too stunned for a moment to return it.
“Come,” Oberon prattled, still talking to himself as he pulled her to her feet. Her cheeks flashed in a fit of fire when they fell upon his nakedness, but he was so distracted he didn’t even have time to tease her about it, which only added another layer to her worry. Dressing quickly, he stomped to Cole, wielding a sharpened, glinting knife. He leaned away, eyes bulging as Oberon waggled it near his face.
“If you run, I kill you,” he hissed in reminder, reaching around to untie the young man. His bewildered gaze fell upon Hollis, and both humans were at a loss as to what was transpiring. They’d never seen him this crazed and out of control before.
“Do you know what mugwort looks like?” Oberon asked over his shoulder to Hollis. A thrill ran through her, because she actually did know something useful.
“Y-yes,” she stammered. Oberon’s eyes blazed into Cole’s.
“If you let any harm befall her, I will make your death slow and painful,” he hissed, and Cole nodded quickly, rubbing his wrists where the rope had bitten into him over the long night.
“Follow the edge of the lake to find a stream. Mugwort grows along—”
“Stream banks, I know,” Hollis interjected, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. She did not like this side to Oberon, this commanding, frenzied man that had leapt forth all of a sudden. He nodded tersely, standing, and Cole hesitantly followed. As he made his way to Hollis, gripping her elbow, she stiffened.
“Why are you staying behind?” she glared up at him, and his face became closed off in an instant. It made her heart ache a bit, for she was afraid he was somehow abandoning her, and she yearned for that closeness they’d begun to grow. In the face of this new threat, though, he was so rigid that it was causing her rather unrelenting turmoil. He chose not to answer her.
“You owe me a better explanation,” she hissed up at him, and his gaze softened, a smirk snaking its way back onto his face. Her heart leapt. There he was.
“Yes, I do, but not until this ritual is complete,” he argued. She stuck out her hand, and with a wider smirk, he gripped it, and they shook.
“Take the scientist, he can carry your supplies. Be back before dusk,” Oberon said, cupping Hollis’ cheek gingerly. She leaned into it, a thrill of quiet fear coursing through her.
“Why aren’t you coming?” she pressed.
“These woods are safe, tiny Hollis, and there are…things I must do, here, to prepare. Alone,” he added. With a shuddering sigh, she relented, peering around his thick, muscled arm to glance at Cole. He stood, disheveled, but eyes bright and burning and eager to accompany her. She didn’t miss the way his stare lingered, having seen that look time and again in Oberon’s eyes. It set her stomach flopping, making her feel sick rather than intrigued—guilty, she thought. As though just by thinking about Cole she was somehow forgetting the feelings Oberon had awoken within her. She hated the conflict and the bitter taste it left in her mouth.
Oberon moved, blocking the young man form sight, golden eyes searing, and she worried idly if he had sensed her train of thoughts. Distracted as he was, she felt she was in the clear.
“Be back before dusk,” he repeated, a look of hesitation flitting in his gaze, before he leaned down, pressing his lips firmly to her forehead. Fire coursed through her veins, a small tremble of pleasure prowling down into the pits of her stomach. With a sigh, he pulled away, leaving her a reddened mess. Curious, Cole stepped around him, to Hollis’ side, but she turned with a growl and stomped along the rocks to tie on her boots, a confused, annoyed mess.
Oberon watched them go, their silhouettes diminishing into nothingness as they disappeared into the trees across the lake. With a grunt, he set to work, clearing their camp, speaking in his own tongue, the words more ancient than civilization itself. They became his mantra as he worked, sweat dotting his brow and trickling down his bare chest and back, the push and pull of his muscles a relief to him. Before long, he stood back to admire his work.
There, in the damp, upturned soil, was a large circle, surrounded by fat, pointed stones. He kicked off his clothes once more, no need for modesty in a time such as this. He smirked when he pictured how angry Hollis would be at the knowledge she would have to be nude as well for this to work. Bringing the tip of the knife to his finger, he pressed until a drop of blood oozed out, capturing it on the shiny metal before the wound healed before his eyes.
With a satisfied smile, he pressed his blood to a rock, granting himself entrance into this sacred space. There, he sank to his knees, face clouding over as ravens circled above, a few raindrops smattering against his bare skin, making it prickle.
He was frustrated, to be truthful, for the only real way to give Hollis every protection he was capable of was to make her his, but she was in no way ready for that. What he’d not chosen to share with her in his incessant flirtations was just how painful the process would be. Some even perished under that amount of strain.
So for now, this ritual would have to suffice, until he found it in his heart to explain to Hollis his origins and hope she would not flee in fear when he did so.
Any guesses as to what Oberon is? I won't tell you if you're correct because that would ruin the fun. I just want to know your thoughts! Happy reading!