“They’re dead, idiot.”
Conrad winced, and thunder cracked across the sky as the third floor landing lit up. “I know. But have you been to their graves?” He was still staring out the window though it was pitch dark beyond the torrents of rain.
Byron was silent, and Lorelei studied his face in the darkness that her eyes had become used to. His lips moved, but he said nothing, as if the words were trying to come but he wouldn’t let them. His eyes softened, and for a moment she saw a striking resemblance to Conrad and almost felt sorry for him until she remembered the wooden spike hovering inches from her throat.
“You think it’s there?” Byron finally broke the steady sound of the rain on the roof.
Conrad glanced at him, his eyes flicking over Lorelei and back, then nodded.
“Would make sense,” his brother snorted, “taking it with them.” Byron snapped his head to Lorelei, and she instantly straightened, “Ladies first.”
Following his gesture, she took to the stairs, the splintered wood toying with her as she had to move toward it with each step, but it managed to leave the smallest of gaps so as to not turn her into a vampire’s fantasy. She was annoyed, but equally impressed, especially as she listened to the nonchalance in Byron’s voice, “Maybe it’s better you never joined the Omphalos; they wouldn’t appreciate how easy you made this.”
“Omphalos,” Conrad’s voice repeated behind her, “You mean the order?”
“What else would I mean?”
Lorelei saw in her mind the hilt of the sword Conrad had shown her in his office and its engraving of “OoO.” Order of Omphalos? she questioned silently, though it meant nothing to her. She ran a hand over her pocket to feel that the brooch was still there. Ms. Pennycress had signed her name with the same acronym.
Off the kitchen there was a back door that emptied them out onto a porch. The air was heavy and cold and smelled of the ocean, and when Byron’s elbow nudged her off the edge, Lorelei’s breath caught in her throat at the freezing rain. They marched across the field, the storm raging over them, until they reached the tall hedge that encircled the garden.
Conrad entered first, and Lorelei followed, keeping her eyes on his back, the shadows of the foliage and statues eerie in the distorted darkness. Deep in the garden, a set of headstones stood at the base of a thick tree trunk. Overhanging branches staved off a bit of rain, and Lorelei pushed her hair away from her face before quickly recrossing her arms to hold her own body still. She could see both brothers were staring uneasily at the stones.
“What are you even going to do with the deed?” Conrad had to shout over the rain, “Arista’s not going to just hand anything over.”
Byron’s face changed, and he eyed his brother, “It won’t be up to her.”
Conrad sneered at him then pointed to one of the stones, “There, on the back, there’s a compartment.”
Byron took wide steps around the graves, not treading directly in front of them, and leaned down behind one of the stones.
“Wait!” the urgency in Conrad’s voice made Lorelei jump. He was staring intently at his brother, and thunder cracked across the sky. They locked eyes for a long moment until Conrad sputtered, “Can you just…just tell me what happened?”
Byron put a hand on the stone and bit his lip, then let out a long sigh, “Maybe when you’re older.” Then he dipped back behind the headstone, and Conrad made a quick move to Lorelei’s side, grabbing her arm. There was a spark and Byron yelped, then a squish as he fell back against the wet earth. The spike dropped from the air at Lorelei’s feet and she instinctively threw a hand up around her throat, taking a deep breath, but was immediately back on edge when Byron shot up to his feet.
But his eyes were different, wild, and his hands were out in front of him as if he were searching in the dark for a light switch, “What the hell was that?” he cried, spinning around and looking up into the branches of the trees, “Who’s there?”
Conrad took a long step back, pulling Lorelei with him, “It’s not safe,” he shouted over the sound of the rain.
Byron swore, looking left then right and left again, crouching low and gasping for air. He backed into the tree, then cried out, jumping forward. Lorelei covered her mouth to keep from laughing.
“We gotta get outta here,” Conrad insisted, but didn’t move, his eyes locked on his brother, “They’re coming!”
Cursing, Byron eyed him, grimaced, then turned and fled into the darkness. When his figure disappeared, Conrad did the same, pulling Lorelei back out in the full brunt of the storm and through the garden in the opposite direction.
“What just happened?” she shouted after him after they’d cleared the hedge, trying to keep up with his long strides in the mud.
“Paranoia.” Lorelei could see the house through the torrents of rain and her own hair. “Arista set it years ago. I’m just thankful it still worked.”
Conrad bypassed the manor entirely on his bike, riding up to the cottage and coming to a sharp stop across three rows of what were once dahlias. He dismounted, instructing Lorelei to follow him in a voice she dared not question, and before she knew it, they were inside the cottage’s front office entryway, and he was banging on the door the lead to the rest of the house, shouting for Arista.
Lorelei had not been inside the cottage since Arista had okayed her to work at Moonlit Shores, and on a temporary basis at that so she could get rid of her easily, as Ziah had said. She glanced down at the floor and what appeared to be a very expensive carpet she was dripping mud and rainwater onto just as the door opened.
“Conrad, what on earth?” Arista’s voice was nothing like she expected, concerned and even shaking, and when she caught sight of the woman hurrying in, bleary-eyed and pulling a robe tightly around her as she reached out for Conrad’s arm, she thought she even looked motherly.
Seamus was on her heels in bright green boxer shorts and nothing else, scratching his belly and blinking out at them. He ran a hand through his fiery beard and beamed at Lorelei, “Good evening, lass!”
It was then Arista noticed Lorelei was even there, and her mouth creased into a tight frown. She stood straight and lifted her chin, “Explain. Now.”
“Is there a deed?” Conrad never blinked as he tried to catch her eye.
“A…a what?” she faltered, her eyes pingponging from Conrad to Lorelei.
“A deed. Byron said he wants the deed, but I’ve never even seen the damn thing. Is there a deed to Moonlit Shores Manor, and do you have it somewhere safe?” He somehow looked taller than normal, his green eyes intense, his jaw tight. Lorelei had never seen him like this, and she suddenly felt like she needed to sit down.
“Byron?” Arista appeared to crumple, “You spoke to Byron?”
He sighed, blinking slowly, then finally nodded.
“He’s…he’s alive?” She began to stagger backward and Seamus pushed the desk chair under her just before she fell blindly backward. “Byron’s alive.”
“And trying to take the manor from you,” Conrad lowered his voice, “So where’s the deed?”
Arista’s lip quivered then just as quickly she sat up, “We cannot discuss this in front of strangers.”
Conrad grunted, “Considering Byron just tried to kill her, I think she’s earned hearing whatever you have to say.”
“Tried to kill her? Bryon?” her mouth fell open, and then she frowned, “Well, what in the world did she do to make him try something like that?”
Lorelei sucked in a sharp breath, and Conrad stared at his aunt blankly, “I’m not my father, you know.”
Arista rolled her eyes, “Nothing like that exists.”
“He seemed pretty convinced. He tore up dad’s office looking for it.”
“He got into the house?” she squinted up to the ceiling, “The spells must have worn off. Or he’s not one of them–”
“That doesn’t matter,” Conrad slapped his hand on the desk, and they all jumped, “Is this place safe or not?”
“Yes!” she shouted, coming to her feet, “There is no paper deed, Conrad. Nothing he can get his hands on. You, on the other hand,” she crossed her arms, but softened slightly, “You know this place is yours. You just have to–”
“I know,” he relented then, turning away from her, “Listen, he’s out there, somewhere. I had him trigger the psychosis trap at the headstones so we could get away, but who knows how far he’ll run.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Seamus put a hand on Arista’s shoulder before she could say anything more. She looked like she wanted to reach out to him, but instead touched her hand to her own face.
Conrad’s eyes flickered over to Lorelei then. She had been trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, but under his gaze she felt completely exposed. He strode up to her and opened the door, nodding for her to walk out with him.
Outside, the rain was still coming down hard, but their walk to the manor was not hurried. They entered through the back, and Lorelei remembered the first time she walked into the manor, soaked to the core and afraid, but for wholly different reasons. She followed Conrad into the kitchen, the swinging door plunging them into an even deeper silence when it finally stopped. An orange light from the hood vent was all that illuminated the space, but it was enough.
Conrad’s voice cracked when he finally spoke, “I am so, so sorry, Lorelei, I–”
“It’s fine,” she stopped him with a raised hand then wiped at her face and flicked the water in the sink, “It’s not your fault. But are you okay?”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” he studied the floor.
“I’m serious,” she dipped her head to try and see his face better, “That was…a lot.”
He looked up at her then took an awkward step, closing the space between them. She stiffened as he put his arms around her, but when her chest filled up with warmth and the realization that any immediate danger was gone kicked in, she felt herself melt against him. It was nice, she thought. Very, very nice.
When he pulled back, she sighed, then caught herself. She’d stopped shivering, and lifted up her arms, completely dry, “Magic?”
He half smiled.
“How expensive was that?” she chuckled, “I could have just grabbed a towel, you didn’t really need to do that.”
“No, I definitely did.” She couldn’t be sure under the warm orange glow, but she thought she saw the color of his face change. “Anyway, I’m okay. You’re the one who almost got, well,” he ran a finger across his neck.
“I’m used to it,” she waved him away, “You can pay me back in answers.”
“Or next week, next month,” she grinned, “We’re here, we’re safe, we have plenty of time.”
“Right,” he nodded as if he were assuring himself, “Right. Thank you.”
Lorelei watched him as he hesitated at the door then gave her a little nod before heading off for the basement. She felt dreamy as she headed for her own room, as if her feet took her there, but her mind was somewhere else. She’d almost died tonight, she thought, but that seemed like a distant memory in the wake of the brief moment in the kitchen, and her core was still warm.
The sound of the rain reached even her bedroom, in the heart of the manor, as Ziah had called it, and though she knew the man who had threatened her life was somewhere out there with plans to get into and take over Moonlit Shores Manor, she felt as safe as she did her first night there when she’d been lulled to sleep by low rolling thunder. But this time, she thought, slipping the brooch from her pocket and pressing it against her chest, this time she wanted to return the favor, and as both good sense and dumb luck would have it, she spoke this thought out loud, “I promise I’ll protect you too.”
Thank you so much for reading the first season of Vacancy! After a short month, the second season will be posted again on Mondays right here on my blog. For updates, you can follow the blog or my Twitter or Instagram for reminders of new posts.
If you enjoyed the first season, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!