Hollis stood outside the rock formation, wrapped in a blanket, shivering and afraid as she watched Oberon prepare his strange circle. Her eyes kept flashing to Cole, who was now seated by the fire, observing with fascination. The thought of him seeing her nude was somehow worse than Oberon seeing her nude, but the fact that both would see her churned her stomach. Her toes gripped the upturned dirt, small pebbles poking her feet.
Oberon muttered things in a language she seemed to sense no living human had ever heard—that no human for eons had heard. He walked around the circle what felt a thousand times, scattering the plants, pricking his thumb with a knife and smearing his blood on certain stones. Before long, Hollis realized there was a pattern to it. At the top, he’d placed the sage, pressing his blood to the rock. Then to the side, he placed the mugwort, and another bit of blood was smeared. And then directly across from that, rosemary, and more blood. Outside the circle, the shape of a triangle formed in her mind’s eye.
The knowledge resting on her shoulders of what Oberon was felt a great responsibility, and she knew she’d not be the one to tell Cole. But as soon as Cole had said the word, had explained the origins of those beings to her on their hike back, she’d known in her soul that was what Oberon was. Ancient, powerful, somehow majestic. She watched as the fire danced upon his tanned skin, his muscled thighs pushing him around the circle again. He raised his face to the sky, and she followed his gaze, a breeze echoing through the trees, seeming to sing to them as the full moon rose. She clutched the blanket tighter about her shoulders, a steady tremble taking root in her core.
She’d never seen something like this—could never even imagine it, having never been pointed in such a direction in her studies. It was new, alluring, and she could see from her glances at Cole that he felt the same. This moment, whatever he was doing, had no place for facts or science. Only gods, only magic.
His deep baritone rose in pitch, the words on his tongue winding, curling, enchanting her. Again, around the circle he went. Her eyes swept to Cole, but he was watching Oberon with intensity, his jeans caked in mud, his simple black shirt tattered. She gnawed her lip, worried, seeking Cole’s support in this, though knowing she wouldn’t find it, not now. Cole was as curious as she was, and he wanted to see what would happen.
Shaking harder, she turned her attention back to the circle, Oberon paused at what she considered the bottom. His blazing, golden eyes found hers, and—slow—he reached out, curling his fingers and beckoning her. With a final, bashful glance at Cole, she stepped forward, dwarfed by Oberon’s presence. His face held no hint of humor, no hint of teasing as he stared down at her. He cupped her chin, brushing his thumb across it, his eyes trailing to her shoulder peeking out from the blanket. He reached up with his other hand, resting it on her bared skin, gentle, sliding the fabric down her arm. The power he exuded as she watched his eyes was unmatched, and she let the blanket fall on that side, still clutching it in her trepidation.
His eyes found hers, then glanced past, and she knew he was communicating with Cole. This was no time for a silly rival over a girl—this was time for both humans to obey an ancient entity. His hand reached for the covering on her other shoulder, pushing that down as well, a steady blush rising in her cheeks as her eyes found his feet, hers between his. She could feel the heat he exuded, his body so close to hers.
“This will not be fast,” his deep voice warned, and her eyes flashed up to his. She nodded, pressing her lips together.
“There will be pain. How much, I cannot tell you. It depends on how strong his hold on you already is,” Oberon said, voice low, cautious. Hollis hugged herself against the rising breeze, nodding, feeling Cole’s eyes on them. Even in her nudity, Oberon’s eyes stayed locked on her face, and she was comforted by that fact. She’d wanted to argue when he first demanded she strip, but after hearing what he was, all fight had left her body. He held out his hand, and she placed hers in his palm. He gripped her wrist, flipping her hand so it faced the sky.
Wielding the knife, eyes locked on hers, he pressed the tip to the meaty underside of her thumb, the steel cold against her flesh. She winced, but he waited, the idea of hurting her in any capacity enough to bring him to his knees.
“I will protect you, Hollis,” came his low, rumbling voice. Swallowing, she nodded, for in his words she saw there was truth. He pressed down, swift, and she barely felt the prick of the knife, mesmerized instead by the instant flash of sanguine blood. Tugging her wrist, he bent them both, pressing her bleeding hand to the largest rock at the bottom of the circle.
“Go in, lay flat on your back,” he said, and she obeyed, watching as he sliced his palm without so much as a blink, trapping his blood and pressing it atop her own dark splotch. She laid in the cold dirt, the earthy, musty scent familiar and comforting to her, a few rocks biting into her shoulders and hips. She rested her hands, clasped, on her bare stomach, sliding them lower to cover her more private area, blushing profusely. She trembled, from dread of the unknown and the rising chill in the air.
Oberon stood above her, and she averted her gaze to the stars, until he straddled her, his weight heavy yet somehow reassuring, and blissfully warm. She yanked her hands back up, feeling him on her, not soft by any means, but not completely hard, either. She turned her head to the side, staring into the fire, thankful she couldn’t see Cole from this angle. The jagged tops of the rocks surrounding them reminded her of the craggy mountain range in the distance, the one they drew closer to every day.
Her attention was drawn back to Oberon as he wrapped his fingers around her wrists, so gentle, so cautious. He held her eyes as he pulled her hands away from her chest, stretching them out as though she were about to be pinned to a cross, baring her to him. Again, his eyes did not stray from her face, but she blushed all the same, completely surrendered and at his mercy.
He released her, and she knew to stay in that position, wriggling her hips beneath him to bring some feeling back into her legs, for he was heavy. Her eyes widened to saucers as her innocent motions caused him to harden more in a flash of heat, but as he smirked down at her, her palpitating heart calmed a bit. Oberon wasn’t completely gone in this moment, and she was thankful, for she could use some of his lighthearted teasing right now.
He brought the knife forward again, pressing it to his palm, and she watched in fascination as he sliced a long, deep cut into his skin, his dark blood spilling forth as he trapped it, cupping his hand. She knew the wound had already healed, but wished she’d been able to witness it.
Turning his hand over, he pressed his palm in the flat space between her breasts, holding her there, his eyes searing into hers.
“Once I start, I won’t be able to speak to you until this is complete, or it will break the rite,” he said, tone serious. Shivering, she nodded, feeling a trickle of his blood escape the slight valley between her breasts and slide down her ribs.
“At one point, I will cut you, here,” he said, pressing harder with his palm. She parted her lips to voice her concern, but he shook his head.
“It will heal, just as I heal, I promise,” he said, tone calm, authoritative. Lips trembling, she nodded.
“I will be gentle, the cut won’t be too deep, but after that point, you will feel pain. It will be like…like drawing out poison, from your soul,” he explained, hovering over her, bringing his face closer. The reflection of the fire danced in his eyes, and Hollis saw, not for the first time, how dangerous he was.
“O-Ok,” she muttered. He offered her a tense smile.
“I will take care of you, Hollis. Once I finish that part, once the drawing out begins, I will be more able to help you, understand?”
“Yes-yes,” she said, fingers biting into her palms in dread.
“Wh-who is he, Obe?” she said, her timid voice so frightened. He frowned down at her, but knew it would be rather stupid to hide the truth from her at this point.
“His name is Tiberius. He’s my brother.”
Her eyes widened in shock, and he felt beneath his palm how her heart fluttered like a caged bird.
“We must start,” he whispered, bringing his face closer to hers, his chest grazing her erect nipples. She nodded. He leaned up, pressing his lips firmly to her forehead, before leaning to whisper in her ear.
“I am here, Hollis, no matter what you see or feel, it is me, and I will never hurt you,” he repeated. He knew, as he drew out the hold his brother had on Hollis, that Tiberius would used Oberon against her, would make him seem the evil one bent on torturing her, when that was the furthest from the truth. She shivered, and he pulled away. With a final look, he began once more to chant his ancient words.
He droned on for what felt hours, as the air changed around them, stilling, becoming colder. His warmth on her was the only thing keeping Hollis from freezing to death, of that she was sure. Her heart calmed, watching him, the way his full lips moved, the way the muscles on his stomach slid beneath his tanned skin. Hollis spent the majority of the time simply admiring him, in awe of what he was, the implications not lost on her.
Her eyes often strayed down from his belly button, following the line of sandy, dark hair, but she was always too bashful to really look, and after a while, the stiffness from the beginning had disappeared. She knew the mechanics of it all, but seeing it firsthand was not what she’d expected, and she was left flustered and stumped. She remembered a moment with her and Willow, after asking their mother how babies were made, their grandmother chuckling and waving goodbye, leaving her to explain on her own.
Afterward, her and Willow had discussed it, still trying to process the onslaught of such graphic information.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” Willow had asked, wrinkling her nose. Their mother had informed them, as tactfully as possible, that it had the capacity to be rather painful, but that it could also be enjoyable. As Hollis glanced at him once more, she felt heat pool between her legs, felt herself redden. His words faltered, and her eyes shot to his face in worry, but as she felt him harden once more against her, she knew he was sensing her thoughts, her emotions. She pinched her eyes shut in morbid embarrassment.
Oberon tried to stay on task, to keep himself from chuckling and hardening to his full length, biting his cheek with enough force to taste blood. Her every, curious thought centered on him, on how he would feel. It seemed he’d awoken something within her, but he wasn’t upset about it. He wanted her, had wanted her from the beginning, but he knew in his heart she wasn’t ready. She was still naive, young, and there were other things he’d rather do first to prepare her.
He glanced at the moon, checking its position. With a heavy sigh, his words changed, and he felt Cole tune in once more. Hollis stiffened beneath him, seeming to know the pain was coming. He brought the knife forward again, positioning it between her breasts, along the bone where his dried blood was coated to her skin, his eyes finding hers. Her gaze was wild, frightened, and she shook from head to toe.
He took a steadying breath, nodding, free hand reaching out, lacing their fingers together and pressing them further into the dirt. He didn’t want her to move too much out of fright. She gripped him with every ounce of strength she had.
He pressed the knife through her delicate skin, and she winced. In a fluid motion, he brought it down, further in, and sliced. Hollis yelped at the intrusive pain, squirming beneath him. In quick succession, he cast aside the knife as her blood spilled, trickling down her ribs and around the small mounds of her breasts. His other hand found her free one, interlocking their fingers and pinning her down completely. She whimpered, and he drank in her fear, having to tune her out and be louder than she. It pained him greatly.
He watched her cut, waiting, needing it to sew itself shut, needing to know this would work. It was taking too long, and he became agitated, gritting his teeth, gnashing them like a rabid dog. But there, there, he could see it begin to heal before his eyes, and he knew it was working. He was elated, but knew this next part would take everything he had in him to not crumble.
Her rapid breaths strained the cut, pushing her chest high. Still chanting, he knew he needed to calm her, and he bent his face, pressing his warm cheek to her frigid one, feeling for himself her tears. He nuzzled her, and she pressed back, seeking any comfort he was able to offer. He glanced down, the cut almost healed, watching for the final few moments as it sealed itself.
Once done, he released her, chants ceasing, gripping her cheeks instead and waiting.
Her eyes held relief, and her cold body beneath his quivered. There was nothingness, and he wasn’t sure it had worked. She seemed afraid to move, to speak, so he pressed his thumb over her lips, feeling her warm breaths. She relaxed more, sighing against him. The woods around them hushed in anticipation.
“Hollis,” he breathed, searching her face. Had it worked? She smiled up at him, lips wavering, unsure.
And then, she screamed.