Lich Sentinel Alaric Daray rested his clipboard on his lap and glanced at his mate, Arch Lich Chander Daray, as he took a seat next to him on the sectional. Within moments, Chander leaned against a pile of throw pillows and tucked his socked feet under Alaric’s thigh. Around the pair, sentinels and a single fallen knight found their own chairs. They were joined by the only reaper and his resurrected dog, Hekate. A cat cleverly disguised as a man bustled in with a pitcher of sangria and cups that he passed around while Skeleton Lord Brynnius Daray brought over two plates of sweet goodies he’d no doubt baked for the singular purpose of their meeting.
It wasn’t usual for the Daray household to hold a weekly gathering, and Alaric certainly hadn’t expected snacks, but he found himself graciously accepting his drink. Setting it on a coaster next to him on the end table after a large gulp of what he found to be an odd beverage, he waited for his family to quiet down. Patiently, he sat there for five full minutes while they guffawed, chatted, and stuffed food into their bellies.
“This isn’t a party,” Alaric finally intoned. Silence swept the room, giving the ambiance a funeral-like atmosphere as they stared owlishly at him.
“Someone needs a little more sangria,” Victor Antonov, their live-in housekeeper, murmured sotto voce, annoying Alaric; he certainly didn’t need any more of the strange wine mixed with fruit.
“Babe, what’s wrong?” Chander asked after chugging the contents of his cup, which Victor hopped up to refill.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Alaric nearly snapped.
“Really?” his other half questioned. “Because you sound like something crawled up your ass.”
“Speaking of asses, did I tell you guys—”
Baxter’s tale, which would likely interest no one, since the Daemon Lord often filled their ears with sexual comments that Alaric was sure he made only to annoy them, was cut off by his mate, Benton.
“Let Alaric talk,” Benton told Baxter with narrowed eyes.
“Kill a guy for wanting to liven things up,” Baxter muttered.
“We’re already dead,” Venerable Knight Arvandus Ruarc-Daray, the only man to ever be permanently resurrected twice, pointed out.
“Can we have a meeting?” Alaric inquired, quite proud of himself for not yelling, as he was sure the room was soon going to delve into chaos. He had no idea how High King Aleksander D’Vairedraconis managed to gather his family each week to discuss issues. After all, Alaric mainly had to oversee sentinels, and they were more disciplined than the average folk.
Pointed looks were exchanged, but Alaric ignored them. When the quiet stretched, he nodded. “Good. Let’s get started. As you know, we’ve volunteered to host a party for the entire extended D’Vaire family that we’re lucky to be a part of. It will be on All Hallow’s Eve, and I’ve put together a list of things we need to handle based on the solstice gatherings we’ve had at D’Vaire. My first item is decorations. I have selected Chand to be in charge of that.”
Chander’s dark brows drew together as he frowned. “What the fuck?”
“Um…no offense, Alaric, but he is clearly missing the entire chip in his brain that gives him any taste. Have you forgotten what our place looked like when you two first met?” Baxter asked.
“Please don’t get me started on his home decor,” Victor begged. “I still have nightmares.”
“I don’t need shit from the peanut gallery, but seriously, why me?” Chander asked.
“Because you’re the only one in the room with ample magic, and it’s vitally important that we go as grand as possible,” Alaric pointed out.
“They barely use magic at D’Vaire for decorations. I think they use it for outdoor lights and for hanging stockings.”
“It is not my fault they are underutilizing their resources. If we’re going to win this, then we need to pull out all the stops.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not a competition.”
“I disagree,” Alaric stated and was pleased that his fellow sentinels were nodding their heads. “And we certainly do not want anyone leaving with the thought that we’ve not provided a festive atmosphere.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t use magic, but how the fuck do you expect me to put something together when I have no clue where to even start?”
“Honestly, I thought we were just going to buy or make decorations and put them up,” Arvandus threw in with a shrug.
“And we find another way in which sentinels are superior to fallen knights—you lack imagination,” Alaric told the Venerable Knight, who only grinned.
“I used to be a sentinel, and there’s no way I’m lacking anything, right, Apple?”
“My mate is not lacking,” Skeleton Lord Albrecht Ruarc-Daray said. “However, I do believe it would be best for us to go with Chand’s magic. It’s imperative we live up to and exceed the D’Vaire party standard.”
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here, planning a party,” Chander mused. “I’ve spent most of my life trying to keep people out of it, and look at us now. This is fantastic. But I still have no fucking idea where to begin.”
“I hope to hell he’s not in charge of food. No one is going to enjoy an all-pizza buffet,” Baxter snarked.
“We’ll discuss food after we finish decorations,” Alaric stated. While he was fond of pizza and enjoyed it often with Chander—much to the distress of the Daemon Lords—he wanted something more spectacular than just delivery for their party.
“I have an idea,” Lich Reaper Grymington Daray interjected. “I’ve been reading spooky stories to figure out my costume. I’m going as Ichabod Crane, and Hekate will be the Headless Horseman. Those characters are from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. What if we turned the downstairs of our condo into a magical hollow?”
“What is a hollow?” Skeleton Lord Ducarius Daray asked.
“Technically, it’s a hole, but in the book, there’s this scary place with trees and stuff,” Grymington supplied.
“Oh, my gosh. You could do a bunch of dead trees around a hollow,” Victor enthused.
“With some creepy-ass mist,” Skeleton Lord Cassius Daray added. “Could you temporarily resurrect some animals to fill it?”
Chander bit his bottom lip, and Alaric could see the wheels turning in his head. Although Chander was always sexy, when his brain kicked into full gear, Alaric’s hands always itched to touch him. “Yeah, that’ll work. We’ll have to decide how much of the house we want to be affected by the spell.”
“Can you invite spirits?” Victor asked.
Chander shook his head. “The veil is thinner on All Hallow’s Eve, so I can do more with less magic, but spirits can’t cross on their own. Some necros receive messages in dreams, but I never have. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know my bloodlines, but in recent years, I’ve had ones with winged creatures. I think that goes back to my fascination with demons since I found out I was one, though.”
“As much as possible of the condo should be enchanted; we want an immersive experience,” Alaric told him. “The party is in fourteen days. I suggest you work on ideas and convert it into a hollow perhaps a week before, so we can fine-tune any issues.”
“Yeah, like how I can keep the kitchen and bathrooms functional while being scary as fuck,” Chander mused.
“It’s going to be awesome. Our very own Lich Hollow.”
“Grymmie, that’s the perfect name,” Victor gushed.
“Are we still going to carve pumpkins and have them somewhere?” Arvandus asked. All Hallow’s Eve was the fallen knight’s favorite time of year, and he always took Albrecht to a pumpkin patch.
“I think those would fit in somewhere,” Chander promised.
“Could we all carve them this year?” Brynnius asked.
“Sure,” Arvandus responded. “I’ll take everyone to the orchard where we get our apples and pumpkins.”
“We should have a pumpkin-carving contest,” Skeleton Lord Eduard Daray suggested.
“I do like that idea,” Alaric stated. “Is everyone available on Saturday to go and have our contest?”
After everyone agreed, Alaric moved on to his next issue. “We need to discuss food. I do not want Noirin and Kendrick involved. Not only do they work hard year-round to feed their immediate family, but they always have an extra plate for any of us. I want them to have the night off. Brynn, you will be in charge of the menu.” Seneschal Duchess Noirin D’Vairedraconis and her mate, Seneschal Duchess-mate Kendrick D’Vairedraconis, were the chefs at D’Vaire and served a buffet meal three times a day, every day of the year, as far as Alaric knew.
“Can I ask Victor to help me?” Brynnius asked.
“Victor feeds us five days a week and should also get to enjoy his holiday.”
“I would like to help, though,” Victor pleaded.
“Very well, but if you change your mind, no one will be upset. Do either of you have any ideas off the top of your head for food?” Alaric asked.
“I’ve been thinking about it since I figured I would at least volunteer to make some sweets,” Brynnius explained. “One idea I had was to make an edible graveyard. We could make tombstones for everyone who has been resurrected, even Hekate.”
Victor’s expression was horrified. “That’s really morbid.”
“We are dead, Victor,” Alaric said with a laugh.
“Fine, have it your way. Brynn, you and I can do some research on themed food ideas. I want it to be spooky.”
“We will need music, and since Eduard is the only one of us that plays an instrument, he will be in charge of it,” Alaric stated. He wasn’t sure the Skeleton Lord had any talent since whenever he picked up his saxophone, Alaric wanted to smash it into pieces, but he was a sentinel and would persevere. Or so Alaric hoped.
Eduard smiled. “I am dedicated to practice, and I enjoy my saxophone. I’d like to ask Gavrael and Gedeon to assist me. Gavrael is always giving me new artists to listen to.”
Gavrael and Gedeon were the only two Skeleton Lords who didn’t live at the Daray condo, and Alaric was pleased that Eduard wanted to include them. “Good idea.”
“I think since we’re going to have our Lich Hollow, we should have some scary sounds along with the music. I think if I do a search for ‘moaning and groaning,’ I can find some good stuff.”
“You need to search for All Hallow’s Eve sounds, or you’re going to get nothing but porn,” Chander said.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with porn,” Baxter threw in.
“If he begins discussing his penis or his ass, I will ask for this meeting to be adjourned,” Ducarius stated firmly.
“Have no fear, I do not believe we have anything more to discuss,” Alaric assured him.
“I have a topic we should address,” Baxter supplied. “An essential part of a successful All Hallow’s Eve season is to play pranks on one another. Should we construct some large-scale things for the party? We can keep them secret and play them on each other to find out which ones work.”
“I love you guys,” Chander said. “But if any of you assholes play a prank on me, you’re going into a box until well after the party is over.”
“It was Baxter’s idea—therefore, he should be the only one considered an asshole. I’m not playing pranks on anybody,” Brynnius interjected.
“There will be no pranks in this household,” Alaric stated emphatically. “We do not wish to sow discord within our family, and there is always the chance that such shenanigans could upset or hurt someone’s feelings.”
“Where did you read that we needed to prank each other, anyway?” Benton asked his mate.
Baxter shrugged. “The Internet.”
“We could do a scary movie night,” Cassius suggested. “Maybe after I win the pumpkin-carving contest on Saturday?”
“I highly doubt you’re going to win since Apple and I have years of practice, but I’m down for a scary movie night,” Arvandus responded.
“Should we start buying candy to stock up for any trick-or-treaters?” Cassius asked.
“Fuck, no,” Chander shot out. “We hardly have any kids in this building, so we don’t need much, and none of it gets into this house until it’s necessary. You sentinels get too fucking hyper because you devour it like you’ve never seen sweets before.”
“We will have another meeting ahead of our trip to select our gourds,” Alaric told the group. “Be ready with your food ideas, music suggestions, or decor thoughts. It will be your final chance to get them accepted by the men in charge, as we want plenty of time to purchase or create what we need. I do not want anyone to have to scramble at the last minute.”
“Does everyone have their costume ideas?” Victor asked.
“We are sentinels. Do we require costumes? We have never worn them in the past,” Ducarius stated.
“We’re hosting a costume party, Duc. All of us should have one,” Chander told him.
“Damn, I will have to think of something, then.”
“Victor, I wondered if you could help me with mine?” Brynnius asked. “I think I’m going to go as a black cat, and I want it to be as accurate as possible.”
“That’s an awesome idea, Brynn. I’d love to help.”
As the room erupted with costume ideas, Alaric turned to Chander. “What is your costume?”
“I guess you’ll find out on All Hallow’s Eve.”
“Have you not thought of one, or did you want to surprise me?”
Chander’s grin was infectious. “A little of both. What are you going as?”
“I guess you’ll find out on All Hallow’s Eve.” Alaric set aside his clipboard as Chander scrambled up to lie across his lap. Their mouths met, and the excited voices in the room faded away when they kissed. After years together, Alaric could still be moved by nothing more than a simple caress, and he was grateful for that bit of magic.