Vacancy – 1.18 – Something That Was Stolen

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 1.18

At the head of the stairs, Lorelei, Conrad, and Britney were promptly stopped in their tracks. The blackness of the entryway was lit up as thunder cracked across the sky, and two hunched figures, no more than two-feet high, scurried across the foyer with a dog gnashing its teeth at their heels. There were more.

Grier skidded around on four paws through to the dining room behind the halflings, crashing into a table and littering the hardwood with place settings. Lorelei followed, the gash in her leg long forgotten, as they burst through to the kitchen where Hotaru was waiting atop the center island. The girl gripped the faucet hose in both hands, gritting her teeth and blasting the creatures with near-boiling water. The halflings knocked into the metal cabinets with a ping, tripping over one another’s soaked forms as they tried to escape.

Growling, Grier lunged for them, but one managed to grab the handle of a cast iron skillet with an obscenely long arm, and swung it around, making contact with his snout. Hotaru scurried across the length of the counter and jumped down. She took up the broom beside the door that lead to the store room and looked as though she would try and sweep them outside, but upon opening the door she found another batch of halflings tearing through the crates of fresh food. They turned on her with a snarl and she yelped, running full speed back at Lorelei, dropping the broom in her wake.

The three piled out of the kitchen with angry, hissing halflings on their figurative and literal tails. “How many of them are there?” Lorelei shouted breathlessly, tripping over a shattered plate.

“Too many!” Hotaru grabbed the edge of the door as she spun around it and into the foyer.

They were met with multiple sets of beady eyes coming at them from the sitting room. If they didn’t immediately stop they would collide, but they didn’t have to make the choice.

As if she were in a dream, Lorelei tried to propel herself forward, but a pressure on her chest held her to the spot, suspended in mid air just at the main entrance. She couldn’t move her head but could just glance down to see Grier mid-bound and Hotaru with her arms straight out ahead of her to brace for an impact with the floor that apparently wasn’t going to come. Frozen in place, she found she could still breathe, but only just, and the panic that was beginning to settle in her chest was doing nothing to help.

“Oh crap, we got them too. Was that me or you?” Conrad stepped into Lorelei’s view, his arms crossed and eyes narrowed as he bent down to inspect one of the halflings as the creatures following them and coming at them had all been frozen as well.

“Definitely you.” Britney swept past them all and to the front door.

Then the room brightened as the candles in the chandelier and lining the walls sprung to life all at once. Lorelei could hear footsteps on the catwalk above them, then Ziah’s voice, “What in seven hells is going on?”

“Trow, looks like,” Conrad called up to her, “They came up from the pools.”

“The manor’s defenses were taken down,” Ren’s typical drone was laced with suspicion, “Seems a bit complicated for a pack of trow.”

“Ren’s prejudice aside,” Ziah came down the stairs, sweeping her long black mane over her shoulder, “we’ve never had trouble with halflings before.”

Conrad grabbed the back of one of the frozen trow’s necks then with his free hand snapped his fingers. The creature started to thrash wildly and chatter in an incomprehensible language, but Conrad held it firm. “Britney’s taken all sorts of language courses, she should be able to ask it what it wants.”

Britney had just cracked open the main door, a cold wind slipping in and the sound of the rain intensifying. She grimaced, “Probably just to ransack the place. Come on, let’s unstun them and throw them out. You’ve got security up again,” she gestured to the candles, “They won’t get back in.”

“No, we need to know.” Lorelei didn’t need to see Ziah’s face to know she was glaring at the woman. “You’re here, may as well make use of you.”

Britney sighed and closed the door. Rolling her eyes, she shouted something that sounded more like dry heaving than words.

The creature stopped trying to escape, holding still, then grumbled a response.

“Says they were hired,” Britney shrugged.

“By?”

After trading garbled phrases, Britney rolled her eyes again, “A warlock.” The trow spewed more words, and Britney listened, raising an eyebrow. She hesitated, then spoke, “They were sent here to retreive something that was stolen.”

Lorelei wanted desperately to see the looks they all wore, but could only see Britney. The blonde woman’s normally sour face was twisted in discomfort and her eyes were trailing the ground.

“If anyone’s got anything they shouldn’t, now would be the time to speak up,” Ziah cautioned.

“I don’t believe they can,” Ren said lowly over her shoulder.

“Oh, right,” Conrad nodded to Britney and the two snapped their fingers in unison.

The force pushing against Lorelei was suddenly gone, and she stumbled forward, her breath coming back all at once. Hotaru landed on the ground beside her, and when Grier made contact he instantly transformed back into a human. Groaning, the boy rolled over onto his back, blood running down his chin from his nose.

Ziah pulled Hotaru to her feet, “What exactly are they looking for?”

“They don’t know,” Britney responded without addressing the trow.

“Then how are they supposed to find it?” Lorelei helped Grier sit up and tilted his head back. The boy moaned, pinching his nose.

Britney threw her hands up, “I don’t know! They don’t really speak in full sentences!”

“Enough,” Ziah waved her hands, “Tell them they need to go.”

With a huff, Britney shouted again in a mishmosh of growls and groans and then with a look to Conrad they both snapped again. The trow were mobile, but when she opened the door they hustled out without complaint or pause into the rain.

“They just get to leave?” Lorelei gestured to Grier, “Just like that?”

“Just like that indeed,” Ren was standing very stiffly by the counter.

“We weren’t getting any more information out of them,” Ziah glared at Britney then turned away, “They didn’t get whatever they were after, and they won’t try again. Not like that anyway.”

Lorelei sighed, assuming they didn’t have a charmed police to call. Britney took Conrad aside into the sitting room, and while she wanted to follow, Lorelei instead went to the dining room. She tried the light switch when she entered and to her delight the bulbs overhead flicked on, breaker box unneeded.

Ziah came in after her to help pick up the shards of plates that had broken. “All this cleaning for nothing, hu?” Lorelei chuckled, gathering up silverware.

“Maybe,” Ziah glanced back out to the foyer and back to her, “Maybe not.”

 

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Vacancy – 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v - 1.17

Lorelei nudged the door open again, her candle illuminating the hall and the watery footprints. “Should we assume whoever left these is responsible for this no light situation?”

Conrad grimaced but nodded, “Most likely.”

“They look small.” There were no sounds coming from outside the room, and she stepped out into the hall, holding her candle out to see further. Though her light didn’t reach its end, it appeared the footsteps trailed the entirety of the hall, “Like a child, maybe?”

“It could be a lot of things,” he sighed.

“Many its.” The breathy voice came from back toward the water. In the light of the rocks, Lorelei could see a set of hands gripping the end of the boardwalk, long, thin fingers, then wet, black hair, plastered against a white forehead rose up from the water until two eyes peered back at them. “They came all at once, we could not stop them,” she hissed, her head bobbing hypnotically with the gentle wave of the water, “and they scuttled away.”

“What were they?” Conrad didn’t appear frightened by her sudden appearance, but Lorelei’s instinct was to bolt the other direction despite that that was down the pitch black hall behind some unknown monster. Instead, she just inched behind him as the woman spoke.

“I don’t know what you call them,” with her mouth hidden below the dock, it was even harder to place her voice as it echoed back off the water and over the rocks, “but they do not belong in the seas. And they do not belong here.” With a plunk in the black waters, the woman disappeared as if she’d never been there at all.

“It seems all of the manor’s defenses are down,” Conrad looked back to the dark hall, “except us.”

“Should we go get Ziah?” Lorelei questioned the back of Conrad’s head as he inevitably followed the footprints into the darkness.

“It might be too late by then.”

She found herself following close behind him, hugging the wall to avoid the wet prints and noting it did appear as though there were more than one of whatever had climbed out of the pool from the marks across the stone floor. “Too late? For what?”

“I’m not sure.” They came upon another door, this one already pushed open. It appeared to have been storage, but the boxes inside were open, canister lids stacked on shelves, and cabinet doors swinging wide. Nothing, however, was strewn across the floor, ripped, or pushed over.

The prints continued beyond the room into the hall. “Didn’t find what they were looking for?” Lorelei whispered and continued to follow Conrad into the dark.

Two more doors had been opened and rooms had been raided, but when they came to the laundry, a sound made them stop. Sheets had been strewn about so that every machine and line was covered. Candlelight fell into the folds of the sheets, moving with them as they tiptoed across the stones. Lorelei found the source of the shuffling, thrusting her candle toward a sheet that had been tossed down and was hanging from a rack. She could see movement beneath, and she reached out for the sheet.

Pulling it back revealed a creature no taller than two feet with grey and blue skin, hunched away from her and digging furiously into a box of miscellaneous socks. It spun toward her once uncovered, abandoning the box and letting out a creaking, wet screech. The thing lifted an arm so long it trailed the ground when it stood at its full height, curled claws at its end. Lorelei shrieked, jumping back as it moved on her, slashing a jagged, yellow talon.

Her jeans ripped on the thing’s claw as she stumbled away, but it kept coming. Lorelei pulled back her foot and connected with it, sending the creature across the room until it hit the wall with a splat. Another two of them emerged from under the sheets, muttering a garbled, guttural language to one another. When they spied the two, they brandished their claws, but Conrad was quicker, pulling a vial from his pocket and throwing it to the ground at their feet. An orange dust filled up the room, obscuring everything and Lorelei began to choke on it. Conrad’s hand was around her arm, pulling her back from where he’d thrown the vial, and she stumbled into one of the washing machines with a reverberating clang, knocking a box of powdered laundry detergent to the floor, the white dust mixing with the orange.

The two creatures, followed by the third, scurried from the room amongst the clatter. They followed, but the creatures were impossibly fast, already disappeared by the time they skidded out into the hall. In the distance they heard three tiny splashes.

“What were those?” Lorelei asked breathlessly, grabbing the door frame for support, her candle having gone out in the run.

“Trow?” he screwed up his face, turning back to her, “Kobold maybe? I’ve never seen anything like them around here though. Hey, your leg!”

His candlelight revealed that the creature had sliced through through her pants and left a long scrape down her shin. “Woah,” she took a step, suddenly feeling the pain pulse across her shin.

Conrad dropped to the ground and took her ankle in his hand, throwing her off balance. She dropped her candle and scrambled for the doorway to stay upward. “It’s not too deep. I have something for this.”

“Oh my gods.”

At the hall’s end stood Conrad’s girlfriend. She looked more than a bit disgusted, carrying her own candle that illuminated her face in a fiery glow.

“Britney?” Conrad looked over his shoulder, “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing?” she gestured wildly to him.

Conrad stood, turning to her, Lorelei’s ankle still in hand. She squealed and gripped the frame more tightly, managing to stay up, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Lorelei was just attacked by some type of halfling.”

She pursed her lips, but couldn’t deny the blood, “Ew.”

Conrad glanced back to Lorelei then, realizing, dropped her foot. “Can you walk?”

Lorelei found she could manage down the hall, declining Conrad’s offers for assistance. He grumbled at Britney as he passed her, “I told you I was working tonight.”

“Oh? Down here in the dark?” she sniffed, leaning up against the wall outside his office. Conrad went inside to rummage for a salve and Lorelei stood beside her awkwardly. She had a candle, after all.

“The lights went out,” Lorelei offered meagerly.

“Duh,” Britney rolled her eyes then looked off down the hall toward its dark end and away from Lorelei. She really was quite pretty, even when she turned up her lip and exuded disgust, Lorelei thought, and that certainly counted for something. Today she wore her hair in a thick braid over her shoulder and a dark grey knit sweater, seasonably appropriate but she didn’t appear wet from the storm. There was a buzz in the silence of the hall, and Britney pulled a phone out of her pocket. She held it close to her face, illuminating her skin with a blue glow in the dark, then scoffed. She banged out a message with her thumb and quickly pocketed the device, mumbling to herself, “I’m twenty three, father, not thirteen.”

Lorelei watched Britney lean her head back against the wall and close her eyes with a deep sigh, the repulsed look she typically wore gone. “Hey,” Lorelei pointed at her, “Your phone works!”

Britney flashed her eyes as if realizing she was there for the first time, but Conrad emerged from his office at that moment. He got down on his knees to apply the salve, but Lorelei was quick to take it from him and insist on doing it herself. As she sat on the ground, and slathered on the beige paste, she listened to the uncomfortable silence between them, wanting only to break it.

“Wow, this really takes the sting out,” she had put on her peppiest of voices.

“Thanks.” She didn’t even have to glance up at them to know they were glaring at one another. “I make it myself.”

“That’s great,” she faltered, “Uh, so those little halfling things, kinda crazy, huh?”

“Yeah,” Britney sucked her teeth, “It is pretty crazy that a halfling thing would be here. Almost unbelievable.”

Lorelei scowled at herself. How had she dug this hole deeper? She knew there was little she could say to smooth the moment over, hoping for a distraction, when fate answered her in the sound of a crash from upstairs. “Oh, thank god,” she sighed, jumping to her feet, “Let’s shift all our attention to that, shall we?”

 

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Vacancy – 1.16 – Here’s The Thing

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

pexels-photo-695644 (1)

There were no footfalls on the stairs, no clinking dishes in the dining room, not even turning pages in the den. The only sound filling up Moonlit Shores Manor was the creaking of the rocker by the fireplace in which their omnipresent–and that night, their only– guest sat. But as always, he was very little trouble.

It was so quiet, in fact, that if Lorelei closed her eyes and strained, she could hear the gentle patter of rain as it began on the windows, something she wouldn’t normally notice until it had turned into a complete downpour.

It had been all hands on deck once the last guest checked out that morning, with Arista overseeing the scrubbing and polishing of floors, deep-cleaning of bathrooms, the removal of mysterious stains with both cleaners and the right words, and come evening the staff collapsed into the sitting room. Arista and Seamus had retired to their cottage with strict instructions to hold any and all issues until the morning, and Aoyagi had headed to the city with equally strict instructions regarding the kitchen. This left Hotaru a bit giddier than normal and Grier, well, exactly the same as always, and he kept trying to steal her seat out of shear force. She’d finally given up with him squeezing alongside her into one of two identical overstuffed, purple paisley chairs. Across from them, Ziah splayed out on the couch beside Lorelei paying no mind to their antics and sinking into the cushions. She still wore the over-sized, dirty flannel she’d worn to clean all day, unfit for welcoming guests. It seemed the manor was closed.

“Does this happen often?” Lorelei asked hesitantly, pulling a foot up under her on the couch. She certainly hoped the hotel didn’t regularly sit empty with no income.

“Almost never,” Ziah bobbed her head back and grinned, “Isn’t it lovely?” Thunder rumbled far off in the distance.

“The quiet is good,” Ren entered carrying in a tea tray for the group, choosing to sit with them instead of retire to his room above the barn. The little winged creature popped out from his shirt pocket and let out a squeaky mew. “Of course it could always be quieter.”

Conrad followed behind him laden with mugs, handing out the cups as Ren poured, then took the seat beside Lorelei. He lifted his mug, “To a job well done.”

Then, the lights went out.

No one moved for a rather long moment until Lorelei finally spoke, “I bet that almost never happens either.”

“Strange,” Ziah sat up, the faint glow of candles still illuminating the room, “But it’s probably just the storm.”

Then, as if they lived atop a birthday cake, the candles were all snuffed out with one massive blow.

Grier whistled, “And that never ever happens.”

The sounds outside, rain and wind, intensified as their sight was taken away. They sat with their cups, listening to the building storm, their figures silhouettes of shadow against the darkness of the room. Then there was a crash and lightning lit up the room.

Ziah jumped to her feet with a growl, “Conrad, you and Lorelei go flip the breakers downstairs. Ren, come with me to reset the candles. You two,” she pointed at Hotaru and Grier as if they had already committed whatever crime she’d made up in her mind, “stay right here.”

Lorelei took out her phone to light her way as she followed Conrad toward the basement stairs. The darkness in the sitting room had been familiar, but the illumination of her screen made the surrounding darkness that much darker, and approaching the basement steps made her a bit queasy.

The temperature dropped as they descended, the unlit candles eerie in the dark. Lorelei squeezed her arms in tight beside her, “I’m afraid to ask, but how do these candles go out all at once?”

“It’s a spell, sometimes they malfunction.”

There had been hesitation in his voice, and against better judgement she decided to prod, “At the same time the electricity goes out?”

“Yeah,” he grunted, “It…happens.”

At the bottom of the stairs, the pool remained lit in blues and purples from the bio-luminescent creatures that crawled across the rocks, but without additional lighting, their colors were magnified. Lorelei covered the light on her phone and stared out at it, “Wow.”

“You should go swimming sometime,” he gestured out at the water, “It’s warm year round.”

She dropped her voice to a whisper, “With whatever lives in there?”

“Why not?” he smirked, “You’re probably cousins.”

Lorelei screwed up her face then forced out a laugh, “Ha, oh, yeah.” She’d figured out a lorelei was some kind of water being that sang, something like a siren, but sometimes she thought the less she knew the better. An air of mystery–that was the plan.

“Speaking of,” Conrad started down the boardwalk across the water to the basement’s other side, “Is that why you came east? To get closer to the ocean?”

Lorelei swallowed, then spoke assuredly, “Yes.” It was as good a reason as any, better than hers, anyway.

“Well, Moonlit Shores is great for that. Have you been to the beach yet?”

“No.” This realization was odd to Lorelei–she hadn’t thought that the city of Moonlit Shores, the manor’s namesake, was in fact a shore. “I haven’t even been to town yet.”

“It’s not much,” he shrugged, “But I really love it.”

“Did you grow up there?”

“Sort of.” They came around the large rocks that lined the back of the pool and found themselves in the block corridor of the more traditional basement, “I went to school in town, I played there as a kid. My first job was at the fish market.”

Lorelei smiled, “Sounds nice.”

“Yeah but I smelled terrible for a year and half straight,” he sighed, “Okay, so where is the breaker box?”

“You’re asking me?” she lit up his back with her phone.

He turned back to her, the light from his own phone too bright for her eyes, “Yes?” It was more of a question than an answer.

“Haven’t you, like worked and lived here for years? And you don’t know where the breaker is?”

“That does seem like a thing I should know, huh?” She nodded vigorously. “Thing is, it moves a lot, and I haven’t seen it in probably six months.”

“It moves?”

“Well, the manor doesn’t like us messing with it.” There was a decidedly loud creak like the house was settling. Or agreeing. “See?”

Then they were plunged into darkness as their phones died. Simultaneously.

Lorelei tried waking hers up, pressing buttons and flipping it around, but nothing happened. The dwarf had said this couldn’t happen, hadn’t he? She felt a sudden panic at being trapped in the dark with a large body of water between her and the topside of the earth.

“Well, that’s not right,” Conrad’s voice was lower, darker, having lost its typical lilt, and it did nothing for her confidence.

Then a candle flickered before her, illuminating his face in a warm glow. He’d taken one down from the sconce in the wall and lit it.

“Thanks,” she took it a bit more aggressively than she meant when he handed it off, watching him as he took down another and squeezed the wick between his fingers. Snapping, a flame jumped to life. She stopped herself from asking him what the hell he’d just done and just nodded. “Right, you’re a witch, this makes sense,” she tried assuring herself.

“Well, that’s accurate,” he scratched at the back of his head, the candlelight contouring the muscles in his arm as he moved, and chuckled, “but warlock is a little sexier.”

That’s accurate,” she mumbled, then shook her head.

“The breaker has never not been in the basement, so I guess we just have to look. It was in my office for a week once, so let’s start there.”

The first door off the corridor was the apothecary’s chamber, and even in the dark it was identifiable by the smell alone. Spicey and a bit medical, the room woke you up when you entered it. Lorelei had only been past the open door a time or two, but never inside. With her candle, she took in the space as much as she looked for the breaker box. The walls were lined with open shelves, much like the store they’d been to, but his jars were mismatched and mostly unlabeled. She hoped he was as good at what he did as he seemed.

“So, Lore, what did you do before you came here?”

She felt herself go red at his shortening of her name, glad for the lack of light, “Oh, well, I guess you could say I’m a serial receptionist. I don’t have a big dream like you,” she touched one of the jars filled with a bright yellow seed.

“You don’t?” He had gotten down onto his knees and was peering under the exam table, “When we met you seemed kinda interested in Hagan’s.”

“The Academy?” she didn’t want to admit she’d just been jostled into staring up at the sign, “I actually went to school for a while, but it got expensive,” she sighed, running a finger over the spine of a book on curative snake bites, “Especially just taking elective after elective. I was on the road to a degree in everything and nothing.”

“That’s why you left? To sort of…find yourself?”

“Yeah, actually, I think so,” she turned toward him unsure why she was telling him this. He was already looking at her.

“Is it working?”

She bit her lip, “I’m not sure yet.”

There was a muffled noise from the hall and they both jerked toward the door. Lorelei ran through who it could possibly be in her head, but none of them seemed likely. Without a word, the two looked at one another and told the other to creep toward the door. Conrad eased the door open and slipped his candle out into the hall. On the stone floor they could see the shine of small puddles running from one end to the other. They were wet and misshapen but unmistakably footprints.

Lorelei leaned against the wall in the office when Conrad eased the door shut again. She started chewing on a nail, her voice at a whisper, “You know when the lights went out, I was like, okay that’s normal, but then the candles went out and that seemed kinda weird, and then our phones died, at the exact same time, and that seems extra weird. Is there something I should know?”

“So, here’s the thing,” Conrad tugged a hand through his hair, “Those are all normal things for Moonlit Shores Manor. Magic is finicky, spells overload, you get weird electrical things in the air. Any one of those things it totally legitimate.”

She looked at him eagerly to go on, “But all of them together?”

“That seems a bit more…purposeful.”

 

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