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Hospitality

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Rules of Hospitality:

  1. Never give a gift. You wouldn’t wish to imply your host is lacking, would you?
  2. Never eat or drink what is offered to you, or else you will stay bound there forever.
  3. Do not follow the music or step into a ring, you shall be trapped on the other side for all eternity.
  4. Never tell them your full name, for then you shall belong to them. 
  5. Be polite to your host. 

“Where are you going?” Essek’s brother Verin asked of him. In the darkness and flickering candle light, music slipped through the cracks of the manor house. Women and men flitted between rooms like phantom, mouths dripping with jabs and laughter and gossip-obscured by masks and veils and whatever costumes had caught their fancy. There was the clink of glasses and the tap of shoes, as the normally mausoleum quiet home was filled with activity. Essek was dressed simply in black, having long ago tossed aside his mask. He had no such use for these things-and he had hoped to slip out of the party without someone noticing. He apparently had no such luck. 

“Does it matter?” Essek asked, dawning his cloak and fixing his satchel. 

“You always disappear at times like this,” Verin groaned, sounding resigned to his fate regardless. “You haven’t even fed tonight.” 

“Please, as if I could have much of an appetite watching Mother seduce her fifth husband in ten years,” Essek said, jabbing his thumb towards the ballroom. Verin cringed sympathetically and Essek sighed. “I am just going out to get some fresh air and actually enjoy my All Hallow’s Eve. I’ll be back before morning-no one will even miss me.” 

“What should I tell them if they ask where you went,” Verin asked as he pinched the bridge of his nose. 

“I got eloped,” Essek said flatly, before leaving without allowing his brother to get another word in edgewise. He shook off the unpleasantness with a shudder as he quickly made his way down the path and past the line of carriages-quickly garbing himself in the shadows themselves to slip unseen past the footmen, and the servants, and the couples who had found dark corners for the clandestine meetings. He didn’t pay any of them any mind, after all, he had his own appointment to keep that night as he hurriedly found his path and headed into the woods. Essek didn’t enjoy the outdoors, but, it was worth the brief discomfort to make his appointment for that night. After all, there were only four times a year when he could. 

The forest was dark, its branches reaching up into the sky like long twisting fingers that grabbed onto the blanket of fog and refused to let it go. Brambles caught at the edges of Essek’s cloak as he delved deeper into it’s dark recesses-past the crumbling gravestones marked with the long forgotten dead, past the brook that bubbled with water that was pitch black in the deep night and the slick river-stones, past even the forgotten cottage that sagged into the earth like a long forgotten husk. None of that scared him, after all, how could he be scared if he was one of the horrors that haunted this forest? There was little threat to be had from a drifting shade or will o'wisp-not when Essek was walking willingly to one of the forest’s deepest secrets on the night of greatest danger. The danger was worth the reward in Essek’s eyes. 

Essek came to the fairy ring, the innocuous circle of mushrooms that sprouted between the hollow trunks of two dead trees. Essek barely paused before stepping foot into it. The moment he did, reality shifted and refracted like falling through a slightly cracked mirror. He almost lost balance but caught himself before he did. The forest was the same but even more vibrant-the shadows darker, the sounds louder, the sky pulsing with a violet hue. He heard the distant sound of merry-making and laughter-screams and howls-but the echoes didn’t quite carry weight. After all, those who were not invited could not enter the domain of another in the Feywild. Beyond was a line of trees-with light flickering from beyond. Essek quickly dusted himself off to the best of his ability, fixed the satchel on his shoulder before stepping through to the other side. 

Beyond the trees and the darkness was drenched in the colors of autumn, so bright that Essek needed to take a moment or two to allow his unaccustomed eyes time to focus. Jack-o-laterns glowed with their craggy faces open in grins-clearly having been carved with an astute attention to detail, while fat golden candles dripping with wax were affixed to the branches of trees set on fire with red and gold and yellow leaves. Clusters of dandelions and marigolds popped up from between twisting roots, and a stream bubbled a merry welcoming tune. Spiderwebs glimmered with dew and waved like drapes, and then appearing amongst the leaves and light a cat looked up at him and meowed in greeting. 

“Happy All Hallow’s Eve,” Essek greeted, knowing better than to be rude as he bent down and offered his hand to the cat. The cat moved in and pressed his head to his fingers, questing for attention and pets and happy to receive them. “Is your Master in?” 

The cat, who Essek knew was named Frumpkin, gave another meow before turning and trotting off beyond the trailing vines of a willow. Essek followed suit, pushing beyond that and seeing a banquet table set up in the clearing-filled with food that would have been irresistible for the senses...for a creature unlike him. Instead the more tantalizing thing was the books-the bookshelves carved into trunks of trees and into stones-magical crystals that buzzed and whirled caught by the wind. Crystal cases of scrolls and maps and other oddities that shimmered and shifted in their contents as you looked. Sitting at a smaller table, with a book open upon it was the one that Essek had been seeking. The Master of this domain was dressed finely, clad in robes of ember and ash. He looked up, eyes a dark blue-flitted with vibrant shocks of gold and violet as the light caught them. His features were strong and striking-ears long and hair curls of flame and braided through with leaves and blooming chrysanthemum. He smiled in pleasure at the sight of him, reaching out fingers darkened as if by soot and glowing with cracks of gold magic.  

“Happy All Hallow’s Eve,” the master of this slice of the feywild greeted. “I was wondering if I would see you again.” 

“I, of course, would never pass up the opportunity...so long as you’ll invite me in,” Essek said, remaining on the edge of the space. The barrier between him and the fey pulsed and stretched taut over Essek’s skin. The fey smiled a sharp knowing smile. 

“Of course,” he said. “You are welcome here, and are owed all of my hospitality.”  

Essek felt the barrier give, and allowed him into the space. Though, he knew better to think it came without strings. After all, hospitality was its own protection for something of his kind. Essek sat in the empty seat at the table-the one that had been clearly prepared for this visit. Essek didn’t touch the glass of mulled wine that had been poured and that filled the air with heady spice. 

“It has been months since our last talk,” Essek said, pulling out the three tomes that he had brought along. “And I couldn’t help but continue to think about our conversation from last time.”

“Ah, yes, about the use of transmutation magic to permanently change the form of another,” the fey said, eyes flashing excitedly. 

“I was wondering if you would like to look at these,” Essek said, offering the tomes. “As they could be a great aid to our discussion. I scoured libraries and many shops in search of them, they were quite a rare find.”

“Are you intending this as a gift?” His tone was curious, and he trailed his fingers along the edge of the closest spine with a gentle sweep. 

“Of course not,” Essek said. “Nor a favor. But instead, it is something I wish to share with you given freely.” 

“Very clever,” he laughed, tapping his fingers in rhythms of three. “I appreciate your diligence on such things.”

“These nights we share I hold close to my heart, I wouldn’t wish for you to feel obligated to pay back a favor,” Essek explained. 

“A gift for a gift I would repay,” he said, hand catching Essek’s. The heat of it nearly singed Essek’s cold flesh, and Essek was half sure he would pull his hand away and find it scorched. The fey turned his hand over though instead, thumb running along the veins of Essek’s wrist. “If you would allow me...if you would give me your name.” 

“You may not have my name, you may call me Essek,” he reminded him.  

“Stingy,” the fey hummed, sounding humored. “You are too brilliant by half, my friend.”  

“And what shall I call you tonight?” Essek asked him in turn. 

“You may call me Caleb,” he said, tilting his head to the side as if listening to the name for a moment. He appeared to be satisfied with the sound. “Yes, Caleb will suffice.” 

“Then, shall we Caleb?” Essek said, motioning to the books. 

The following time-though time was a strange slippery thing in the Feywild, was spent in deep conversation and sharing brilliant realizations. Every time he met Caleb like this, he wondered how he had gone on before. The first time he had stumbled upon this place and the master of it, he had been confused and defensive-but despite their differences they shared a kinship that Essek had never known among any of his kind. Others in his coven were hoarders of valuables, owing to centuries of gathering wealth. But he hadn’t ever met a person who valued knowledge as much as Caleb-who delighted in magic for magic’s sake. As they continued, Caleb spoke about his friends-other denizens of the Feywild or regular visitors. Essek only could make the trek to this place when the veil was the weakest four times a year, owing to his nature. But Caleb delighted in telling stories of his companions, the comings and goings of his adventures. Those seemed to just fuel his creativity, and he shared with Essek a host of spells he had created since their last meeting. Essek had met Caleb’s friends all at various points when he had visited Caleb, and somehow they were nearer and dearer to him than his coven who interacted daily with him. Caleb’s life was full of movement and activity, which was fitting for him. Essek supposed that was the difference of their immortality. Essek didn’t mind his undeath, nor did the particulars of his situation bother him. But despite having a coven, he was a solitary creature by nature as most of his sort were. After all, his kind could claim they were of high society, but there were no debates or agreements to resolve bad blood. Instead they would claw each other’s guts out at the slightest show of weakness.  

Finally though they came to a natural ebb where Caleb stretched much like a cat, and Essek watched the lines of his figure with a pang in his stomach. His body seemed determined to remind him that he, indeed, hadn’t fed yet that night. He, of course, could go a while without feeding. But it was difficult to remember that when looking at Caleb. 

“Is there anything I can get for you, I would hate to be neglectful of my duties as your host,” he said, nodding his head over to where the spread of food lay-piping hot soups and roasted duck with golden skin and cakes frosted with sumptuous frosting. “Perhaps something to eat?” 

Cheeky bastard, Essek thought as he resisted the urge to bite the inside of his own cheek. The taste of his own blood would do nothing but make it worse. Caleb had noticed. 

“As much as I appreciate the offer, I must decline,” Essek said stiffly. “Food like that doesn’t appeal to me.”

“The intricacies of your peculiar state,” Caleb said, with a knowing blink-much like a cat. 

“There is something you could offer me,” Essek said, standing up and throwing caution to the wind. He pressed his hands to the arms of Caleb’s chair, feeling a dark thrill at being taller than him for once, seeing the way that Caleb’s head turned up to give Essek a purposeful view of his neck. Essek could feel his fangs begin to ache at the sight of pale-freckled skin and blue-violet spider-web veins-the perfume of his scent like fragrant wood set to smoke and the charge of golden-honey magic. “If you were to give it freely, to nourish and sustain me. Certainly no one would doubt your capabilities as a host and I would be so very grateful.” 

“Ay, there’s the rub my dearest friend,” Caleb chuckled, eyes dark with longing and crinkling with humor, allowing Essek to move down and finally-finally begin pressing kisses to his neck-the taste of him nearly throwing him into a frenzy. But he held back, the dark hunger that boiled over in his body contained by the skin of his teeth. “This game we play would still be at a stand still.”

“How so,” Essek asked, kissing the junction of his jaw, pepping kisses as he slid his fingers along the edge of Caleb’s shirt.He wanted to feel more, taste more. After all he was a selfish creature not used to denying himself anything, but denying himself of this was the sweetest torture he could imagine. After all, it would make savoring it all the sweeter. 

 “If you feed from me, I belong to you and I would have to follow you. But by consuming within my domain, you belong to me and you would have to stay here forever,” Caleb said, catching Essek’s face between his hands. He brought their mouths together for a bruising hungry kiss, smoldering with desire that ran so hot that Essek couldn’t help the growl at the back of his throat. Neither of them needed to breathe-not really, but Essek pulled back so that he could settle his mind and thoughts on the matter. 

“I want you to come with me,” Essek said, his whole heart poured out for Caleb to see. 

“And I want you to stay,” Caleb told him with just as much conviction. “So it appears we are at an impasse.” 

“It appears we are, my friend,” Essek said, curling a lock of Caleb’s hair around his finger and then tucking it behind his ear. 

“And out of time,” Caleb said, standing up at full height. He kissed Essek again with a tenderness that Essek had only ever been given by him. Essek stood there and let it wash over him like the heat from a gently minded hearth. Caleb’s hands traced down his spine and settled at his hips, as if once again mapping him for his memories as Essek savored this moment for all it was worth. Eventually Caleb pulled away. “The veil begins to thicken, and the night draws to an end. I would not have you hurt, so I must bid you goodbye.” 

“And so we part...but only for a little while,” Essek said, taking Caleb’s hands again.  

“My friends and I will make flower crowns again for the winter,” Caleb said with a hum. Frumpkin twined at his feet purring with affection. “Lavender roses perhaps. Shall I expect you?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Essek said, kissing Caleb’s hands one last time before they parted. They shared one final look. I love you, Essek wanted to say. I love you, I would stay for you, I would remain here for you . But he knew better to lie to a fey. There was some part of his heart that was still selfish-and though he did want to stay and he did love him...he also couldn’t give up the world outside. Not with all the things he could continue to learn and discover there. One day he would figure out a way to have both, but until then, this would need to be enough. 

And so Essek left the grove with his books tucked safely in his satchel. He slipped back through the fairy ring. He didn’t once look back, knowing that if he spared a single look he would be bound to that place and run back into Caleb’s arms and stay there. He walked past the trees, past the graveyard, and all the way back to the manor he called home. He slipped down the stairs, down to the basement where the sun wouldn’t reach it’s clawing fingers to wrench him from his slumber. He still felt it though-the moment the sun began to rise above the horizon. With it, the chance of that beautiful and terrifying future faded away yet again. 

 And so Essek settled down in his coffin, slipping into the dark recesses of a dreamless breathless sleep-with the last thought in his mind being a kiss.