Behind the receiving desk in Moonlit Shores Manor and beneath the staircases up to guest rooms. laid a small office crammed to the ceiling with teetering boxes and aged ledgers. “This will be your first task,” Ziah told Lorelei, gesturing to messy paperwork and unmarked files as they passed, then took her through another door at its end. The hall they came out into was familiar to Lorelei–they’d taken it to the ever-changing white room before–but Ziah led her down a new corridor off of it that ended in a locked door.
Inside was a common space with a fireplace, a set of rocking chairs, a downy couch, bookshelves, and a kitchenette at its back. Grier was lounging with his feet up on the back of the couch and head hanging just above the floor when he saw them enter. He pulled out his earbuds and shot up, “No way!”
“Yes way,” Ziah pointed at him, “And if you say anything, I’ll tell Arista you were complicit in this, so good luck.”
They left the boy with his mouth agape, and traveled down a short hall at the back of the room, three doors off each side. She pointed to the rooms one by one, “That’s me, Grier, Hotaru, Chef Aoyagi, and a spare. Ren has a room above the barn and Conrad stays downstairs.” Ziah brought her to the furthest back on the left side. “And you,” she handed her a long, brass key with a purple ribbon tied to it, “I’m quite excited to see what the manor’s cooked up for you.”
Lorelei thought for a minute to ask what she meant, but decided the room itself would show her better than could be explained.
Blue, like what she’d had upstairs, but this was somehow on a different level. The space was bigger, a four-poster bed in its center piled with more blankets than any one person needed. Well, anyone who wasn’t Lorelei, she thought, smiling when she saw them. Along the back wall was a deep-ledged window topped with a silvery paisley cushion. Lorelei went to the window and pulled back gossamer curtains to reveal rain pelting the window, obscuring a grey sky.
“Window’s not real,” Ziah was looking around excitedly and began fiddling with a box atop the dresser, “We’re in the very heart of the manor, but it’s a nice touch, isn’t it?” She pulled open another door in the room to find the bathroom, a massive glass shower at its back and a wall of vibrant plants lining the inside. “Not a bath person, hu?” Ziah giggled, “Rare breed.”
Lorelei took in the natural rock basin that was the sink and silver frame that ran along the mirror, all things that seemed vaguely familiar to her, but she knew she had never actually seen before. “Are you saying the manor, just like, made this stuff?”
“Of course,” she shrugged and sat on the edge of the bed, running a hand over a grey fur.
Lorelei hung her bag in the wardrobe just outside the bathroom door.
“The only rule is, no guests beyond that door out front. This is our sanctuary.”
Ziah brought her back down to the office behind the check in counter and set her to work organizing things. She gave her free range to do with the paperwork what she wanted, as the room had “always been a mess” and “gods know where anything is now, so if you can remember any of it, we’ll be better off in the end.” She left her alone to the task and a few hours flew by until the door to the room creaked open.
Grier’s white eye fell on her as he came inside and shut the two in, alone.
“Yes?” she spun around in her chair fully and eyed him. If not for the scar and eye, he’d look like any other teenager on the brink of adulthood with unkempt hair and a frown like he might want to start a fight at any moment.
“You don’t belong here.” Apparently, he did.
“Wow,” she said mostly to herself, turning away from him and flipping through the yellowed inventory pages from two years prior, “And what makes you so sure?”
“You’re not one of us.” She could hear the incredulity in his voice. She knew he wasn’t wrong, but maybe he wasn’t right either.
“Are you going to say anything to Arista?” She tried her best to keep her voice from wobbling.
“No,” he answered quickly, “I promised Ziah. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.”
“You don’t like humans,” she said softly, standing up and taking the papers to a pile she’d made on a folding chair in the corner. When she looked up at him, he rolled his eyes and nodded emphatically, and she couldn’t help but stare at his milky eye. Lorelei thought back to Ziah’s explanation of their world as a safe haven. Her own world would not have been kind to Grier, even without the whole turning-into-a-dog thing. “Well, I’m sure you have a good reason.”
Grier’s face fell, then he quickly snarled again, “Yeah, I do.”
“I respect that,” she told him, giving him a little nod, “I’ll do my best not to step on your toes.”
He was still snarling, but raised his chin up as if to see her better. He pushed the hair away from his scar, then let it fall back. “Okay. Good.” He clearly wasn’t sure what to say, and Lorelei did her best to hide an amused smile. The boy shuffled from one foot to another, “What did you say your name was?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but a crash from somewhere beyond the room made them both jump. They piled out into the entryway to see the massive chandelier that hung from the second story firmly implanted in the wooden floor below. Hazy smoke curled upward from the crater it had made, the iron ring of the chandelier tilted upward, candles scattered on the floor though they had gone out in the fall.
Thankfully no body laid beneath it, but Lorelei scrambled around to be sure. A few guests had come from the dining room to see the commotion and were staring from the doors there. When she’d seen no one was hurt, Lorelei floated over to the French doors. “For everyone’s safety,” she bared her teeth in something reminiscent of a smile and latched them out. Then she sped to the doors that lead to the sitting area. Inside there was only one soul, an older man asleep in a rocker by the fire. She quietly shut the doors so as not to disturb him, not realizing in her panic how odd that actually was.
Grier was peering upward at the iron chains that had once held the chandelier in place. There was no sign the ceiling had given way. “This shouldn’t have happened.”
“Thank god no one was under it,” Lorelei half whispered, covering her mouth.
“This…this should not have happened.”
“Of course not,” she looked around as if she could find something to move it, but it was massive and there was no way, “How do we–what do we even do?”
“This,” Grier scowled up at her, “is your fault.”
Before she could ask how that could possibly be, Ziah came in through the front door with a young couple in tow, speaking over her shoulder, “The manor has been here for over–oh!”
They were all stopped at the sight, and Lorelei could only stare back at them in her own amazement. What could she say? It fell? Well, of course it did.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Ziah shook her head, composing herself. The couple looked aghast and were staring around her as she tried to herd them out of the entryway, “I can assure you this kind of thing is not what normally happens here.”
The woman took a breath and nodded, “Obviously,” she placed a hand on her chest, “It’s just a little shocking to see.”
“Yes,” Ziah agreed, standing inside the threshold as the couple stood on its other side, “Just a fluke.”
Then the door slammed shut, locking the couple on the outside and Ziah inside.
“What in seven hells?” Ziah grabbed at the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. She put a foot up on the frame and pulled, but nothing. Grier and Lorelei ran to her aid, all three tugging to no avail. Just when they thought they were trapped, both doors came flying open, sending the three backward onto the ground. The couple was storming away, and though there was desire to pursue in her eyes, Ziah let them go.
“Do you want me to stop them?” Lorelei offered weakly.
Ziah sighed, “No. It was all going terribly anyway. She stepped in every possible kind of manure, and he couldn’t stop staring at my boobs. This was not the right place for their wedding.” She hopped up and admired the dent in the floor, “But this is really something else. I’m impressed.”
“It’s the manor,” Grier said, standing up, “It’s rebelling.”
Grier pointed at Lorelei then turned and stormed off through the open front doors. Lorelei felt her heart drop into her stomach. Maybe it was. Maybe it had made a mistake showing itself to her. Maybe she did not belong there at all.
“Pshh,” Ziah rolled her eyes, “No such thing.” Ziah tapped her fingers together before her face, contemplating what to do, but Lorelei could see somewhere in the back of her mind, that she was second-guessing herself, and they stood in silence a long moment.
“What in the world?” A young woman stood in the doorway, face twisted in disgust. Lorelei got to her feet and moved to stand by Ziah. Immediately, she could feel a change come from the woman.
“A little accident,” Lorelei offered as Ziah was saying nothing, but glaring coldly at the newcomer.
“Whatever,” she fluttered her lashes and waved the explanation away. Tall and thin with a fall of blonde, wavy hair, she pursed her lips, “Your dog, by the way, seems kinda pissed off.”
It took Lorelei a minute to realize she meant Grier, but when she did her insides went cold and she knew she didn’t like the woman.
“Conrad is downstairs,” Ziah said through grit teeth.
“Yeah,” she looked at her knowingly, “I figured,” then threw open the doors to the sitting room and stomped off.
“Conrad’s girlfriend,” Ziah said, turning back to assess the fallen chandelier, “We tolerate her.”
The new piece of information did nothing to help Lorelei’s affection for her, “Is she related to Arista?”
Ziah returned a throaty laugh, “Ew, of course not.” When Lorelei didn’t respond how she’d expected, Ziah nodded to herself, “Oh, that’s right, you don’t know. Arista is Conrad’s aunt.”
Lorelei tried to put the pieces together in her head, but Ziah interrupted her, “I guess there are a whole lot of things about this place you don’t know that you probably should.”
Ren appeared in the doorway then, suspicious of the whole scene, “Grier said Lorelei pulled the chandelier down. I thought he was merely being hyperbolic.” His voice didn’t convey the surprise his words did, but the creature in his pocket chirped as if to add an exclamation point.
“Well of course she didn’t pull it down,” Ziah was still assessing the damage.
“I suppose not. But he also blamed her for the gate’s latch failing this morning and the goats scattering.”
When Ziah eyed Lorelei, the girl gasped, “I didn’t, I swear!”
“No, I know,” she shook her head, “It’s just a lot of coincidences, right? Don’t worry, we’ll get the bottom of this.”
There was a clatter behind the reception desk, small in comparison to everything that had just occurred, but enough to make all three, even Ren, jump. After exchanging looks with them, Ziah went to investigate, disappearing for a second behind the counter and popping up with a plaque in her hands. It was obvious it had dislodged itself from the wall, leaving a sun-damaged spot suggesting it hadn’t moved in years. It read:
Moonlit Shores Manor