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=] SALVATION FROM SAMHAIN [=

---| by: lira-chan |---

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[AUTHOR'S NOTE] As any good reader on fp.com should know, nanowrimo is a contest held yearly in November, and it tends to disrupt the normal writing schedules of many a writer. Naturally, I'll be participating for the second year in a row. My point? I'm writing this note in word on the twenty-seventh. If all goes well, I'll be POSTING this on the twenty-eighth of October. Thing is, this is my entry for Rae-chan's romantic Halloween challenge. Problem is, I should have started writing back in July, when the contest began. Ah, well, no use whining about it now. The "rules" were as follows:

"Just in time for the holiday season… You know, my birthday, All Hallow's Eve, etc. The important dates.

Last year was my unromantic ghost challenge. This year is my… Romantic challenge. Whee-hoo! Costume nookie, please.

1.) The primary scene should be a costume party of some sort. This can be interpreted as freely and as oddly as you wish.

2.) There should be kissing in costumes.

3.) Mistaken/confused identities are optional."

Now that everyone thinks they have an idea of what to expect… My entry. I can't guarantee its brilliance, or the merits of its plot… But this SHOULD be fun to write, and seeing as I'm trying to write an entire storylet in five days… Well, it'll be a good warm-up for nanowrimo.

Enough of my babble. This is dedicated to Rae-chan, seeing as I wouldn't even have written the story if it weren't for her. Love also goes out to my "best people on the web." You know who you are. I've been trying to get away from long author's notes, so now- the story!

The weird scene breaks are just an "innovation" of sorts.

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- CHAPTER ONE -

          Meriel was, by the standards of her world, a "psychic." She was able to use psychic abilities in a manner that would cause most humans to think of "magic." Of course, Meriel wasn't particularly fond of the term "psychic." She much preferred… Oh, say, "spiritualist." She thought that being referred to as a "spiritualist" gave her… Hobby- of sorts- a much nicer sound.

          Carrying a crystal punch bowl filled with an odd, fizzy purple liquid in one hand, Meriel gestured with the other. The motion of her hand was an abrupt, angry one; she'd forgotten to finish adjusting the positioning of the refreshment table before going into the kitchen for the punch, and was regretting the action. The white-draped rectangular wooden table jerked, and readjusted itself. Meriel set the punch bowl down.

          Simple telekinesis. Of course, Meriel probably could have used the same trick to hold the punch bowl in place while adjusting the heavy table by hand, and that way she would have expended less energy. Meriel largely preferred to just do the things she could accomplish on her own, as opposed to abusing psychic abilities. It was a religious sort of thing- a matter of principle.

          Meriel considered herself a Wiccan.

          Funny, that. Even in a world where the "spiritual" were almost too real for comfort, there were the religions that denied such things as a whole- and there were the ones that viewed the world at large using considerably clearer sight. It was All Hallow's Eve- Halloween, to the average human child- and Meriel was throwing a party.

          For some Wiccan girls she'd met on the internet and never seen before in her life.

          To practitioners of Wicca, Samhain- yet another name for All Hallow's Eve- was a bit more important as a holiday. Some believed that on that one night, the veil separating the world of the spirits and the world of the living was thinnest, and could be the most easily penetrated. Meriel, for one, knew that quite a few "spirits" were content to live in the "world of the living"… But that didn't stop desperate widows from trying to contact long-dead husbands on that one night. Nor did it stop practitioners all over from holding their rituals.

          Altogether, Meriel had invited three girls- the three frequenters of the forums she haunted who she saw the most often, and knew the "best" and for the longest periods of time. Their online monikers were "AshenPaperWings," "EcSENNAtric," and "w00dNymph." After over a year of contact, she'd finally gotten their "real-life" names- just so they'd know what to call each other on this one night not spent typing frantically on a notebook keyboard. "AshenPaperWings" was Katril, "EcSENNAtric" was Senna, and "w00dNymph" was Rylaine. Easy enough.

          As she'd been thinking, Meriel had been carting more platters and trays out to the living room. She'd bought all sorts of snacks for the occasion, and hoped she was truly suitably prepared. As far as she knew, Katril didn't eat red meat- not a big deal, seeing as it was a party and not a dinner- Senna was vegetarian, or vegan, or something, and Rylaine… Rylaine just had odd tastes in food. The three would have been difficult to shop for, if it really had been a dinner Meriel was inviting them to…

          But it wasn't, and Meriel would manage. She had platters of veggies, bowls of candies, little saucers of salsa, and bags of chips. There was something for everyone- and then there was the punch. It was her private creation, and a drink which was really quite tasty, despite the somewhat odd coloration.

          Meriel stood back, and raked her eyes across the table, decorated nicely with fancy plates and a lacy tablecloth. Black, of course, in proper holiday spirit. Even if she and the other girls all knew that Halloween wasn't truly about scaring each other witless… The childish games and superstitions were fun to keep up with, thus the fake cobwebs in the corners, and the dimmed overhead lights. Preparations were almost complete, and the guests would be arriving soon.

          The doorbell rang, a low chiming which echoed all throughout Meriel's small townhouse.

          Funny, none of the girls should be showing up just yet. Meriel abandoned the table full of treats, while shaking her head as if to dispel her slight confusion. She headed back through the kitchen and into the entranceway. She opened the door- and laughed.

          Out on the porch, draped in layers of black and looking like a lost little puppy, was Ian. Meriel had completely forgotten about one of her best and closest friends, and she almost couldn't forgive herself. She'd known Ian half of forever, and when she had decided to hold this little get-together… Well, of course she'd asked him if he would like to help set up. Ian hadn't had plans, had said yes, and the plans were finalized.

          Meriel had clean forgotten about him.

          Mottled hazel-green eyes gazed up at her imploringly from two steps down, as if Ian wanted to ask why he hadn't yet been invited inside… But couldn't quite press his shy little self into voicing the question. Meriel laughed again, and gestured for the boy to slip past her. He did as she suggested, leaving Meriel with time to notice the cold breeze blowing into her townhouse from the outside. It ruffled the few stray strands of light brown hair which hadn't quite made it into Ian's ratty looking ponytail- but then the boy was inside, and the wind didn't matter. Meriel closed the door behind him, before turning and grinning.

          "Ian!" she exclaimed happily, revealing for the first time that evening the happiness and bubbly-ness which was truly only part of Meriel's nature. She threw her arms about his neck, hugged him tightly, and then stepped back to give the boy a proper study. "Who are you supposed to be?"

          "Wh-What?" Ian managed, after a moment. "You mean… I really had to dress up for this thing? I thought it was just one of your Wiccan rituals… I thought I could just move things around, and then slip off to a corner with a bag of chips or something. You mean you actually want me to socialize?"

          The boy sounded aghast.

          "Of course!" Meriel agreed. Her eyebrows drew together, and her bottom lip quivered slightly. She was pouting, and she actually looked hurt. Of course, she was just cranking up the "charm" for her best friend's sake, but hopefully he wouldn't notice.

          "Meriel…" Ian said, not sounding as if he bought the act at all. Judging by his stern expression, he didn't. Not only that, but he was changing tactics. "Who are you supposed to be, then?"

          "…I'm a siren. Like from Greek mythology?" Meriel's eye twitched slightly, revealing the edge of her annoyance. Wasn't it obvious?

          Ian took in the revelation, slowly allowing his gaze to roam over his friend, in an attempt to reconcile her appearance with her "identity." Blonde hair, done up in tiny braids, a bun, and streaked through with strands of both coral-pink and sea-green. Oooh, elaborate. That hairstyle must have taken quite the while to achieve. When he'd first seen her dress… Well, Ian had assumed that the result was Meriel's attempt at making her own evening gown. He now supposed that the green-blue material swathing her legs- and almost matching her eyes! Nice touch- was designed to mimic the tail of a mermaid. He supposed the costume worked. He merely didn't understand why she thought it was so damned obvious.

          "Of course you are," Ian agreed, in response to the "I'm a siren" comment. His tone was a pacifying one- "just don't make her angry, and you've halfway won." Ian's philosophy had never failed him in the past. "Aren't we supposed to be setting up?"

          "Actually…" Ian leveled her with an even stare; just daring her to spit out whatever it was that had gone wrong this time. "It's not that anything is wrong- it's just that I've pretty much finished already. I wanted to light a whole bunch of these white votive candles I bought- but that's pretty much the only thing left undone. Want to help?"

          "Sure," Ian agreed, reverting to "introverted best friend slash servant" mode. Truth was, he'd never truly left that method of thought. "Where do you keep these candles?"

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          Meriel had led Ian to the storage closet, swiftly equipping him with armfuls of little boxes stuffed with white, black, and red candles. Black and orange? One could only take "traditional Halloween" so far! Meriel much preferred the color scheme she'd come up with on her own. After showing Ian where the lighters were as well, she'd left him to the task of arranging and lighting well over one hundred little candles. That would keep the boy occupied for quite the while.

          …Not that Meriel was trying to keep Ian occupied… She was merely taking advantage of his innate ability to pull off remarkably striking table arrangements and the like. No matter what Ian chose to do with the candles, she was sure that it would be spectacular.

          It was seven o'clock on a Sunday evening. That was around the time Meriel had requested her online friends show up at, so she hadn't wanted to assist Ian in the lighting of the candles. Meriel was sure that someone would be ringing her doorbell soon, and she would not be disappointed.

          For a second time that evening, the low chiming of Meriel's doorbell echoed throughout the building. This time, Meriel was prepared for the sound, and was ready to answer the door at a moment's notice. By that point, she's slipped upstairs to turn off all the lights on the upper floor, and the majority of lights on the main floor were dimmed. Carefully picking her way through the kitchen, not wanting to bump against her "kitchen table" and sustain any noticeable bruises, Meriel appeared beside the door to the outside moments after the chiming of the bell had ceased.

          Meriel adjusted her sparkling sea-blue "gown," and opened the heavy wooden outside door. Standing at the bottom of her steps, there waited a skinny, diminutive little woman, with skin so pale and milky-white as to nearly glow in the dim yellow-orange street light illumination. The girl smiled tentatively, deep ruby red lips quirking upwards just slightly. If Ian had been draped in black, trench coat and all, then this newcomer was positively swathed in white. Her pristine, snow-white robes also seemed to glow in the glare cast off by the street lights, and they rustled slightly when the girl moved. Meriel would have bet money that they were starched.

          "Katril," the girl breathed out, by way of introduction. On the second syllable, her mouth formed an adorable little shape, much like an "O," and the sound of her voice was like the whisper of papers being rifled through. Even without the revelation being made, Meriel would have been able to guess the girl's identity- her screen name actually suited her quite well.

          "Meriel," Meriel countered warmly, before backing out of the way, against the door, so Katril could pass her by. The other young woman graced Meriel with yet another strange little smile, before slipping past Meriel and into the house. She was polite enough, but she didn't stop long enough to stand and make small talk with Meriel in the entranceway. Katril waited just long enough for Meriel to close the door against the cold, smiled, and turned to walk farther into the house. As she turned, Meriel noticed that her raven-wing black hair had been done up in a messy, spike-y bun, and that tiny origami cranes folded from paper as snow-white as the girl's robes dotted her shining hair all over.

          Meriel shook her head lightly as she continued to watch Katril go. One down out of three, and she was already in awe. She wasn't sure if Katril had fully understood the silly idea of a "costume" party, in conjunction with their ritual… But even if she hadn't, the "costume" the girl had donned was more than interesting enough to make up for the confusion. Slowly, as if still in a bit of a daze, Meriel made her way down the hall after the first of her party guests.

          In the "living room," Meriel was greeted by the sight of dozens of multicolored candles, all winking at her out of the dimness. Ian, too, was in the room- although his back was to her, and he was still lighting candles. Katril had seated herself on Meriel's couch, and glanced up when her hostess entered the room. The girl smiled softly, in the curious way of hers Meriel was already beginning to pick up on, and said simply, "Meriel."

          "Hello again to you, too," Meriel answered, by way of response. Of the three girls from online, she'd known Katril the second longest, and her curious way of speaking was actually something used both on the internet and in real life, as far as Meriel had been able to tell. When first "meeting" Katril, it had taken Meriel a bit by surprise- in truth, Meriel had thought Katril's manner of speech online to be an internet quirk- but she was rapidly going accustomed to Katril's assumed "shyness" and odd speech.

          Katril, who was still smiling, nodded, and pulled a sheet of white paper from one of her sleeves- at least, Meriel assumed the paper had come out of one of the pouch-like sleeves. She saw no other place of origin for the paper, and she was sure that it hadn't been in her house to begin with… Meriel shook her head; the paper's source wasn't ultimately important.

          "Watch," Katril said shortly, as she smoothed out the single sheet upon Meriel's coffee table. With swift, sure movements, Katril went through a sequence of folds, until the paper was replaced by a perfect little origami crane. "For you."

          Meriel held out her hands, and Katril placed the crane into them. "Thanks," she said simply, unsure of the true meaning behind the gift.

          "Don't lose it," Katril suggested, her wide eyes and tone of voice indicating that she was being deadly serious. "That crane will keep you safe."

          Meriel wasn't sure about the last bit, but the crane was the most perfect specimen of origami she had ever had the pleasure of holding in her own two hands, so she  would be attempting not to damage it. "Is it okay if I put this somewhere safe? Somewhere I'll remember?"

          "Of course," Katril said simply, tone of voice even and mellow.

          Rising, Meriel smiled brightly down at her guest, before looking around for a "perch" for the crane. After a few moments of thought, she settled upon resting it in with a collection of decorative stones. Placed on top, it should be safe enough, at least for the time being.

          Meriel looked back at Katril, who was still gazing up at her and smiling. Ian was still lighting candles, and the other two guests had yet to arrive. The evening was early still- so she poured herself a glass of punch, and took up her seat beside Katril for the second time that evening.

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          It was scarce minutes before that Meriel had sat down beside Katril, and already the doorbell was chiming for the third time that evening. Meriel placed her punch glass- newly emptied- down on the table and rose, promising Katril and the silent Ian that she would be back shortly. It was just one of their two other guests, after all.

          Breezing cheerily through the hallway by the kitchen, Meriel stopped by the front door. She figured her dress would be straight enough, and opened it… Only to be greeted by what she initially assumed was an old hag.

          Upon closer inspection, Meriel realized that the woman standing on her step wasn't truly old, but was actually a girl around her age in a costume. The girl hadn't bothered to do up her own dark brown hair before donning her wig, and when Meriel looked closer, she could see brown strands tangled in the mass of charcoal-gray topping the crone's head. The woman was wearing drab brown, with something similar to a cowl pulled up over the gray of her head. The entire thing was lined in fur, which Meriel found to be a bit odd, although she didn't say anything. The costume of "old crone" was a bit strange… But apparently the woman wearing it was happy enough with her choice, so once again, Meriel remained silent.

          "Are you here for the party?" she asked, instead of commenting either on the young woman's choice in costume, or the fact that her costume's fur lining did look particularly real. As she spoke, she smiled brightly, lest the person on her stoop actually have the wrong address.

          "But of course," the young woman agreed, with a particularly toothy grin. Her teeth were far from perfect, and Meriel couldn't help wondering if she'd gotten a set of dentures, to complete her costume. "It's Senna- and you'd be Meriel?"

          Meriel smiled in relief, then. "Yeah, it's me. I'm so glad you could make it! Katril's already here… And she's exactly the way she is online. I was actually a bit taken aback by it, to be honest!"

          Meriel realized after a moment that she was babbling, and managed to cease speaking- and to keep from covering her mouth with her hands in panic. Senna didn't appear to notice. In contrast to Katril's starkly white skin, Senna's complexion was more of a cinnamon-y color, Meriel noticed idly. She wondered how she looked to the two, what with their costumes and the preconceptions they'd doubtlessly had. It sure was weird to be meeting someone you'd felt a connection with online for the first time, for real!

          "I wonder what your impression of me will be, hmm?" Senna said, by way of response. Meriel almost would have said she was smirking as she spoke, but… That would be a bit out of character, at least judging by the Senna she knew. If asked to describe Senna, Meriel would have called the woman "wise" for sure- she was twenty-one, but she came off as sounding much older. Senna was, by far, much too motherly and wise to smirk at someone- wasn't she?

          "I don't know," Meriel admitted, albeit a bit weakly. "We'll just have to wait and see."

          So saying, Meriel stepped out of the doorway, beckoning for Senna to precede her inside, and out of the cold. Senna smiled gratefully, and stepped into the house. She waited for Meriel to close the outside door, as Katril had done, but didn't immediately go running off as soon as the cool night wind was sealed away.

          "If we're going to be making impressions," she began, her tone of voice a conspirational one, "then I have an offer to make you."

          "An offer?" Meriel asked, dumbly. Senna had lowered her voice, but the mock-secrecy of the situation hadn't yet affected Meriel to the point where she would be whispering as well. Of course… Strange as it sounded, Meriel was curious. "What kind of an offer?"

          "This kind of an offer," Senna said, just a bit triumphantly, before throwing open one side of her cowl-cloak-thing. The hood stayed over her head, but as she held out her left arm, the reek of rotting meat swiftly made its way across the scant distance between Meriel and Senna. Whatever was hidden in Senna's costume smelled positively putrid.

          "What is that?" Meriel asked, horrified, as she backed away from the stench. Where conspiracy and secrecy had failed, pure, simple horror easily succeeded in dropping Meriel's tone of voice to a whisper. She was shocked.

          "Squirrels," Senna said proudly, folding back layers of fabric to reveal the small, furred bodies of six dead squirrels, each one carefully secured to the other young woman's arm. "Dead squirrels."

          "Well, I can see that," Meriel said, still sounding rather surprised, more than a bit horrified, and just the slightest bit annoyed. "Why in the name of the goddess did you bring dead squirrels to our party?"

          "To sell them!" Senna exclaimed, as if it were obvious. "Care to buy?"

          "No thanks," Meriel said, making sure that both tone and expression spoke clearly of the firmness in her refusal. Her? Buy a dead squirrel? Not likely! Perhaps Senna's moniker- "EcSENNAtric"- suited her just a bit more than Meriel had first thought.

          Defeated, Senna merely shook her head, as if disappointed that Meriel would pass up such a great opportunity to buy a dead animal. Giving up with surprising ease, she continued out into the living room, where she sat down on the sofa and immediately struck up a conversation with Katril. If Meriel hadn't known better- she didn't know better, in fact- she would've said that this wasn't the first time Senna and Katril had met in real life.

          Instead of following Senna, Meriel remained in the hall, once again stunned. Apparently, even if the ritual didn't go well at all, her online friends were fully prepared to make Samhain a "night to remember."

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          Meriel remained in the hall just long enough to recover from her conversation with Senna- "just long enough" coming out to ten minutes, what with Meriel's slow recovery process- before deciding she'd head back into the living room and check on her guests. She wasn't given time enough to act on her plans, however, seeing as that was the very moment at which her doorbell chimed for what would hopefully be the final time of the evening. She'd come up with the idea to hold a get-together on Samhain herself, of course… But she'd never expected she'd be stressed out before all of her guests had even arrived!

          Standing at the door, as the last peals of the bell died away, Meriel didn't even bother straightening her gown or checking up on her appearance. She'd been ruffled by Senna, and didn't quite care any more. Meriel opened the door, and braced herself for whatever might be waiting for her out on the other side.

          The last guest, of course, had to be Rylaine. Katril had been short, Senna average, and Rylaine… Well, by comparison, she was more than tall enough. Meriel tended to think her own five-foot-six was impressive, but she would place Rylaine as a five-nine or five-ten, and that was even more awe-inspiring. Rylaine's hair was down, shoulder-length, and auburn in color. It was streaked through with black, of all possible colors, and Meriel assumed that the red of Rylaine's eyes was to be attributed to color-contacts. Rylaine had done up her face in the palest shade of foundation Meriel had ever seen, so Meriel wasn't entirely certain how dark her complexion really was.

          Adding up the hair, the eyes, the pallid skin, and the overly-pointed canines just hinted at when Rylaine smiled, Meriel didn't even need to see Rylaine's silly black-and-red get-up to place her as a traditional vampire. At least someone still knew which monsters used to be all the rage to dress up as, come Halloween. Meriel grinned at Rylaine, both in response to the other girl's slight smile, and the costume in general, before greeting the young woman aloud.

          "Meriel, of course, and you're Rylaine?"

          "That would be me," Rylaine agreed, in what was either a naturally silky voice, or a put-on vampire tone. "Have the others already arrived?"

          "Yeah, Katril and Senna are both here. Katril is just what you would expect, from conversations online, but Senna… Well, let's just say her moniker has come to suit her. She seems a bit eccentric."

          At that, Rylaine laughed. "Cute. Definitely cute. Mind if I come in?"

          "Oh!" Meriel said softly, embarrassed at herself for almost forgetting to invite her guest into the house. "Come on in. The party's already getting started."

          Meriel moved out of the way, Rylaine brushed past, and Meriel shut the door firmly. She shouldn't have to open it again until late, so she might as well make sure that the cold stayed out.

          Rylaine thanked Meriel softly, and headed on into the living room. Her "vampire tone" hadn't faltered once throughout the short conversation, so Meriel was left assuming that the girl naturally sounded as if she were trying to set some boy's pants on fire. At least she made a nice vampire.

          Well, the party guests had all shown up. Meriel would go over everything, and they'd be able to get their party started.

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[AUTHOR'S NOTE] Just my traditional quick finishing note. All of the guests have shown up, but there is ONE more "main" character, to be introduced NEXT chapter. This doesn't take place on earth, but on a sort of earth-clone. For the most part, it's the same world, but with minor differences. Therefore, for the most part, Wicca is the same religion… But with minor differences. Just to cover my ass, because I've looked into Wicca before, but with five days to write this, I don't exactly have time for the crash-course. Meriel also happens to be a minor character in my nanovel, just FYI. Oh- I know there's no nookie yet, but there will be- of a kind. *grin* Despite this… Considering that pretty much everything I write is SOMEWHAT romantic, it's a bit weird that I do a "romantic" challenge, and it's one of my LEAST romantic stories. There's romance, but it's not a ROMANTIC story, got it? And I think that's everything. Rae-chan… I hope you like. It'll be special, I promise- even if I DON'T get it all uploaded in time. Whether I do or don't, I'll try to write it by midnight on the thirty-first. And if I fail? Well, I'll finish anyway! Tell me what you think, all!

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