Vacancy – 1.20 – Better Off Not Knowing

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

v 1.20

Well after the sun had risen the next morning, Lorelei was shocked to see Ziah and her siblings pile in through the front door. They were shouting and laughing, and when the sun filtered in behind them, their golden skin lit up, sparkling like precious stones.

“I just keep remembering the look on his face,” Ziah mocked what she’d seen, jaw dropped, eyes bugged, “Priceless!”

The lot of them devolved into giggles, and then Farrah took a deep breath, “Well, I know how to wrap up my thesis now.”

“Great!” Kamille punched her in the arm, “I think I’m going to go run a quick 10k.”

Altair nodded, “I’ll join you.”

With smiles plastered on their faces, they sprinted off up the stairs, and Malachai set his sights on Lorelei, “Well, good morning!”

“You were out all night,” Lorelei looked from one enthused face to the other, “How are you not exhausted?”

“It was a rather good night,” Ziah smirked, revealing sparkling white teeth, “But I do have some work to do.” She turned to her brother, “And you need to stay out of trouble while I’m at it. Understand?”

“Of course, of course,” he managed a sneaky wink at Lorelei when Ziah turned away, “I’ll just be up in my room, composing, arranging, blah blah blah.”

They parted ways in the foyer, leaving a shocked Lorelei in their wake.

“Who was that?” Britney was standing in the entryway, looking after Malachai. She leaned against the door, twirling a curl around her finger.

“Ziah’s brother,” Lorelei offered, though she hated to do so. She didn’t want Britney to know him, she didn’t want Britney to even look at him.

“Nice,” she licked her lips, then walked past her without another word, taking the hall to the basement stairs.

When lunch time came, Lorelei was greeted with a still peppy and smiling Ziah. The woman regaled her quickly with the tasks she’d completed, some of which were Lorelei’s for later in the day, and even presented her with a sandwich she’d made. To Lorelei’s surprise, she hadn’t slept at all and was planning to keep going right through the day, shooing her away to take her break with a final word, “Lorelei, I truly am sorry about before. I know you’re capable of taking care of yourself and free to make whatever decisions you want.” Confused, Lorelei just nodded, but didn’t really have time for questions as there was something else she wanted to do.

Lorelei found Conrad in his office pouring over a stack of papers. She watched him from the doorway for a long minute as he tapped his pen on the table, shook his head, and marked the page, muttering something to himself with a long sigh. She remembered seeing Britney earlier, but didn’t find her as she glanced around the room. Taking a step inside, she did hear the faint sound of running water coming from the room beyond the office.

“Well, hey,” Conrad put down his pen when he realized she was there.

“Hi,” she gave him a little wave, the spicy smell of the room waking up her senses, “Are you busy?”

“These are just tests,” he pushed the papers to the side, “It’s a slow day: nobody’s getting sick.”

“Bummer,” she chuckled, “but that means you might have a couple minutes to spare?”

“Sure,” he nodded and stood, striding over to her, “What do you want to do?”

Lorelei laughed again, his enthusiasm adorable, then she stopped abruptly at that word in her mind. I’m out of control, she thought, feeling Malachai’s earlier presence had something to do with how she was feeling.

“Look at this,” she pulled the letter from her pocket and went to hand it to him, then hesitated, “I guess I should tell your first. You know the lady who left me the note that opened the safety deposit box? I sent her a letter for more information on the brooch, and she wrote me back.”

“Oh,” his face fell slightly, and he read the note with a furrowed brow, “That’s ominous.”

“Right?” she took the paper when he handed it back, “So this doesn’t mean anything to you?”

“About as much as it means to you, but I am familiar with that acronym,” Conrad tapped his lip in thought a moment, “I went looking through a box of stuff from my parents’ house after we went to the bank.”

“Your parents’ house?” she followed him across the room to a large cabinet with a pair of cranes carved into the doors.

“Well, I guess it’s my house now, I just don’t really stay there.” He removed a cardboard box, open with miscellany sticking out, and set it on the desk with a clang, “I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but there is this.”

Long and metallic, it caught the light as he pulled it from the box and offered it to her.

“Conrad,” she stared at him blankly, “that’s a sword.”

When she didn’t take it, he turned and held it over his head and against the wall, “It used to hang in my father’s office over his desk. I wasn’t sure why Arista brought it here after…the thing, but it’s been in one box or another ever since.”

Lorelei assumed by the thing he meant his parents’ death. She watched him lower the sword and place it beside the ragged cardboard box and atop the stack of crinkled papers. It was particularly good at catching the light, and even the candles’ flames danced in its reflection.

“There’s an inscription here, on the hilt,” he pointed to the handle where in metal the words were etched:

Avail
OoO

Lorelei had certainly never seen a sword in person before, at least never close enough to touch, but Conrad had handled it like it had been an old crock pot. She bit a lip, “So is having a sword normal for you people?”

“Maybe?” he squinted, “I never thought about it before. It’s just, well, my mother always said there would be others.” He was staring down at the hilt still like it was telling him the story. “I remember yelling at my father, saying I didn’t want to be part of his secret society if he wasn’t going to tell me about it beforehand. It was a stupid argument that kid me thought made perfect sense. Anyway, my mom tried to make me feel better about the whole thing. She said there would be others to take my place. She said it would find them.”

“That’s really…cryptic,” Lorelei scrunched up her face. They stared at one another for a moment, then Lorelei heard the water shut off. She wanted desperately to stay, but wanted even more to not see Britney again, at least not while she was alone with her boyfriend. “I gotta get back,” she told him quickly, knowing she was betraying her anxiety with her eyes, and tried to make up an excuse, “Ziah’s family is visiting, and she’s being a little weird.”

“Ziah’s family?” he raised an eyebrow, “Here? At the manor?”

She nodded.

“Did you, uh,” he cleared his throat, “meet them?”

Nodding again, she looked at him sidelong, unsure what he was really asking.

“There actually might be something of interest at the house,” he said, surprising her with the change of subject, “It’s been awhile, but if you want, we could go check out the place.”

“That would be awesome,” Lorelei was instantly drawn to the idea for reasons she wasn’t entirely sure she could place, but then heard shuffling from the other room, “I gotta get back to the desk though, for now.”

“Wait. Are you, uh, doing anything tonight?”

Lorelei stared at him as he awkwardly shuffled from one foot to the other. “Working,” she offered meekly.

“Oh, right, okay,” he shook his head, “It’s a really busy time at the academy right now anyway, and I have a lot to do. We’ll set something up later?”

“Definitely,” Lorelei smiled, slowly backing toward the door. He was still looking after her, so she gave him a thumbs up, “Okay, good talk,” and sprinted out into the hall.

***

She walked with a purpose toward the stairs and surprised herself with the speed she took them. At the room, she paused, holding the tray of covered food. What was she doing?

Somehow Lorelei knew that tray was for Malachai when she spied it on the counter that evening, and when Hotaru confirmed, she told her she’d take it up to him instead. Aggressively. Feeling emboldened, and as if she had Ziah’s blessing, Lorelei had let her feet take her there, not her mind, but now that she stood outside Malachai’s room, the door already ajar, her brain started protesting.

Was this a good time? Could it ever be? For a moment her thoughts meandered, reminding her of others. She wasn’t beholden to anybody, not anymore, so what did it matter? With silent footsteps, and a too loudly beating heart, she crept up to the door until she could just barely see inside. She spied the back of Malachai’s head as he sat, looking out the window, and rapt on the door with her knuckles.

When he didn’t respond, she meant to knock louder, to call his name, but instead she found herself inside the room, placing the tray on the dresser, and creeping up to the chair. Malachai was leaning back, eyes closed, wearing headphones with a laptop balanced on his knee. He really was handsome.

“I’m so glad you came to see me.”

Lorelei jumped back and covered her mouth to keep from screaming, and Malachai stood up with a smirk. She didn’t bother asking him how he knew she was there, it would be the same reason she was compelled to be there are all, and she knew there was no explanation. “I’m sorry,” she breathed, “I didn’t mean to–”

He slipped a hand around her wrist and pulled her to him. She took a heavy breath and smelled the subtle spices he wore, eerily familiar, felt the heat off of his body against her own, felt his breath on her face, “I’d just like to look on you a second longer, if I might.”

Lorelei lingered there, feeling her eyelids flutter down, his hand slid up her arm and around her waist, then she pressed her hands against his chest, “Ziah says you’re dangerous,” she almost giggled as she spoke, realizing how silly it sounded, “What should I be afraid of?”

“Everything.” His mouth was on hers, and she kissed him greedily back.

Then, she felt weak. If not for his arms around her, she would have fallen on the spot. Fighting to open her eyes, she let her own lip go slack until she mustered the strength to push at his chest and mumble against his mouth, “Stop.”

He immediately pulled back and released her, but quickly grabbed at her again so she did not fall to the floor. Lorelei’s head was swimming and she felt faint. “I apologize,” he looked pained, “I thought you wanted…” His voice became muffled and her vision tunneled.

Lorelei opened her eyes to find herself in her own bed, in the employee quarters. Blinking, she pushed herself up and saw Ziah sitting in the window, her figure poised against a black night sky. “You’re awake!” The woman rushed over to her and grabbed her head, pulling up her eyelids and peering into her pupils, “Do you feel alright? Can you understand what I’m saying? What’s my name? What’s your name?”

She knew the answers, but they were inconsequential. She looked down at herself, still fully clothed, then searched the room for signs of anyone else.

“He’s not here,” Ziah told her with a sigh, “but he did bring you here.”

Lorelei wiped at her face, as if she were removing the remnants of Malachai’s kiss. That kiss. She sighed, it had been so good, if only for an instant, but she remembered now. He’d carried her down the stairs and to Ziah the moment she was unable to respond to him. “I think I’m okay.”

“I should have told you right away,” Ziah began carefully, sounding out the words, “but I hoped I could keep it a secret from you.”

“I already know the big one,” Lorelei still felt foggy and leaned back, “how much worse could it get?”

“Well,” Ziah stood from the bed, wringing her hands, “It’s just, I don’t often have this conversation, not with humans anyway. And when I do they usually try to kill me.”

Her words cleared the haze from Lorelei’s mind and she sat up straight again.

Ziah began to pace, “Thing is, I’ve never been clear with you about what I am because humans tend to think I’m a…a demon or something, and I didn’t want you to think that. I wanted you to like me, you know?”

When she looked up, Lorelei could see her skin had sallowed. Drastically different from the morning, she looked like she had wiped off all of her makeup, her lips pale and cheeks pockmarked. Her hair had fallen flat and even her body seemed thinner, almost sick. “I do like you,” she told her earnestly, “You’re the closest friend I have.”

“I just need to say it,” she mumbled to herself, staring at the ground. She looked like she was trembling.

Then it hit Lorelei. “No, you don’t,” she pointed at her, “I already know.”

Ziah’s eyes went wide, her lips parted but no words came. She froze.

“Your family, with your one parent in common and your, like, freakish good looks, and your hunting, and the vibes,” she wiggled her fingers in the air, “You come back from staying out all night, and you’re totally pumped. I get it.” Lorelei nodded to herself, smiling, “You’re a vampire.”

Before Lorelei’s eyes, Ziah transformed. The color came back to her skin, her lips darkened to a wet ruby hue, her lashes even seemed to grow into heavy fans, and to her greatest surprise, the woman doubled over into laughter. Holding her stomach, she stumbled to the edge of the bed and flopped down.

“What’s going on?” Lorelei pulled her knees up to her chest, “Why is that funny?”

“Oh, it’s just that,” Ziah wiped a tear from her eye, “I never thought about it before, but yeah I can see how a human, with your movies and books, would think that.”

A bit annoyed, Lorelei slapped the bed, “Are you kidding with me right now?”

Ziah recovered, fanning her face, “I’m a succubus.”

Lorelei was sure she had heard wrong, “A suck-your-what?”

With a deep breath, the woman fully composed herself. She smoothed out her dress and tossed her tresses over a shoulder, “A succubus. And Malachai is an incubus, but same difference.”

Lorelei was quiet for a moment. She knew she had heard the term, but it had never been anything she thought she’d encounter, but then that was kind of the theme of her life lately. Then she thought back to when she first met Ziah, how the woman was enchanting and attractive, and how even she felt dangerous. “So you are a demon?”

“No! I mean, well, our ancestors originated from a hell-like dimension, but that’s besides the point. All my brothers and sisters have the ability to bring out people’s desires, embrace them, and act on them. We give people the warm fuzzies.”

“So that’s why you’re so pretty,” Lorelei was squinting at her, hard.

Ziah looked relieved, and a bit embarrassed. “We get our energy and inspiration from other beings, and one of the best ways to do that is, well, sex. We look a little different to everyone, but basically whatever features you find most attractive are going to be what you see when you look at us. It’s kind of an illusion, I guess, to fulfill that purpose.”

“I wish I could do that.”

Ziah snorted, “Well, most people think we’re just tricking them, so I appreciate that.”

“So when you say you can bring out people’s desires…”

“We can reach into you and figure out what you’re feeling, and we can intensify those feelings,” she admitted coyly, “but only if you’re already feeling that way. If you had no interest at all in Malachai, then you wouldn’t have been so drawn to him. I was really worried about you though because you’re human. You’ve got less energy to give and sometimes that ends up disastrous. Like coma or death disastrous.”

The word caught in Lorelei’s throat, “Death?”

“Malachai’s never killed anybody that I know of,” she looked a bit concerned, “but I certainly didn’t tell him you were human, and there’s a first time for everything.”

Lorelei brushed her bangs out of her face, not sure if she preferred not knowing just how much danger she was in to being acutely aware like when the werewolves had threatened her life.

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t die,” Ziah told her, patting her knee, “I would have really missed you.” Lorelei let out a huff and nodded. She would have probably missed herself as well. “Wait,” Ziah narrowed her eyes and leaned forward so that her nose was close to Lorelei’s, “How long did you think we were all vampires? Before you went to see Malachai? Weren’t you worried he might, like, you know…rip open your throat with his teeth and drain you of all your blood like a stuck pig? That he might kill you?”

Lorelei felt queasy.

“Ya know what, no, don’t answer that,” Ziah shook her head, “I feel like I’m better off not knowing.”

***

The next morning, Ziah hugged her family as they gathered in the foyer to leave. Malachai winked at Lorelei, and she nodded back at him, his charm a little less effective now. As they said their goodbyes, Farrah came thundering down the stairs with her bag slung over her shoulder. She gave Ziah a quick hug and tried to rush out the door, but was stopped by a voice on the stairs.

Grier was leaning on the railing as he slumped down to the foyer, exhaustion all over his face, but wearing a big, dopey grin nonetheless. Ziah’s jaw dropped open as she looked from the boy to her sister and back again.

Finally, Farrah could no longer contain her smirk, “He’s eighteen, he told me himself.”

As they left, Grier tried to follow in a daze, but the girl shoved him back inside. With a peck on the cheek she quickly shut the door between them, and he slid down the wall to the ground, promptly falling asleep.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment – Monday 5/28/18

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Vacancy – 1.19 – More Fun In Packs

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

V - 1.19

Manning the front desk had been easy, almost boring, that morning, and for that, Lorelei was thankful. She’d checked in a pair of dwarves on their honeymoon who she recognized from the convention, and twin vilas with white-blonde curls and thick eastern European accents. They were all still on high alert since the break-in of mysterious motive, but without a single hiccup all week, Lorelei was feeling particularly pleased with herself, and though the past month had been the strangest of her life, it had also been the most rewarding. Habian, the black-haired, dreary-faced fairy that was under permanent employ at the manor, had just brought her a ring to add to the lost and found box, and he hadn’t even changed her hair color or stolen her lunch this time. She smiled to herself at the small victory as she locked the ring away in the office when she heard the front door open.

“Good afternoon, how can I he–” Lorelei’s voice was caught in her throat when she saw him.

With golden skin and black curls, he sauntered across the foyer all smiles, honey-colored eyes set on Lorelei and unwavering. He clenched a perfectly sculpted jaw, only enhanced by rugged stubble, and stared down a long, slender nose when he made it to the counter, “Well, I’ve not seen you before.”

His tone was smooth, immediately sending a shiver down Lorelei’s spine. She stood up a bit straighter, and cleared her throat, “Uh, haha, yeah, hi, I’m new.” What an idiot, she thought.

“Yes, you certainly are.”

Lorelei suddenly felt her tongue was too big for her mouth and couldn’t swallow, “I can, um, grab Ziah if you want?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary,” he purred leaning forward, “I want you.”

“Oh, Jesus,” she heard herself saying before she could stop.

“Far from it,” he managed a dry laugh then smirked, “I’m hoping you can help me secure four rooms for two nights.”

“Of course,” Lorelei fumbled under the counter for the book, slamming it down so loudly that she scared herself. She flipped to the current day, a birds-eye layout of the manor spread out on the page, “I’m assuming you’ve stayed here before? Could I have your name?”

“Malachai.” Of course it was.

She picked out an empty block of rooms and wrote his name into one of them. The wet ink swirled around on the page, spreading out across the diagram of the four rooms, changing the shape of the map ever so slightly and filling in extra information about the returning guest.

“And may I ask yours?”

Feeling already wobbly in her knees, she told him.

He extended a hand to her, and she took it clumsily. His voice was like butter, and Lorelei wished she were bread. Toast, specifically. “It is so very nice to meet you, Lorelei.”

At the sound of her own name on his lips, her spine shivered once again, and she gripped the edge of the counter to keep from turning into a complete puddle. It was then she noticed that three others were with Malachai. Tall and lean, two women and a man meandered in the foyer, all dark-haired and warm-skinned, and Lorelei gaped at herself: had they been there all along?

She finally released his hand, but instantly regretted it. His skin had been soft and warm and her own longed for it to return. She looked down at her hand, a little shocked at herself, then back up at the others. One of the women had come over to the counter and was leaning against it. She bit a lip so full Lorelei thought it might burst, then winked at her, “Don’t worry, he has that effect on everyone.” She nudged him with her shoulder, and the two exchanged playful glances.

“And we need to keep an eye on Mr. Elkin’s griffin bec–NO!”

Ziah had entered the foyer with Grier at her side. The moment she saw Malachai, the color drained from her face, and Lorelei could have sworn her eyes flashed red.

“Ziah!” the other, younger woman ran up and threw her arms around her, but Ziah kept her eyes locked onto Malachai. She took a long, deep breath and rubbed her temple, “Oh, brother.”

“That’s me,” he grinned at her, and she glared back.

“Lorelei,” Ziah’s face was a mixture of frantic, overwhelmed, and a bit disgusted, “This is my oldest sibling, Malachai.”

“Oh, we’ve met.”

“I’m sure,” she scowled at him and motioned to the woman hugging her, “And my baby sister, Farrah.” Ziah released her and came around the counter to stand very close to Lorelei, “And Altair and Kamille, right in the middle.”

“So these are all your siblings?” Lorelei realized then she should have known, seeing them all together: the resemblance was striking. “Your family is ridiculously good looking.”

They all laughed, even Ziah, but in low, sultry tones that made her feel like she was in on the joke. But Ziah was quick to stop, “What are you doing here? And with absolutely no notice?”

“It’s my first hunt!” Farrah’s face lit up, and she licked her lips. Lorelei couldn’t imagine any of them with shotguns, knives, or even hiking boots.

“You know,” Malachai winked, “It’s more fun in packs.”

“You’re done with school?” Ziah was eyeing Malachai, but speaking with Farrah.

The girl rolled her eyes, “I’m turning in my thesis next week.”

She glared openly at her brother, “This celebration seems a little premature then, don’t you think?”

“That’s exactly why we’re here,” he told her with a smirk as if she should have known.

Ziah paused, looking them all over, then relented, “Fine. Some of you might remember Grier,” she pointed to the boy standing in the doorway, his mouth abnormally shut, “He’ll show you to your rooms.”

“Your friend,” Malachai nodded at Lorelei, “I’m sure she would be willing to show us where we will be spending the night, no?”

“No.” Ziah was quick to respond, “My underaged bellhop will be more than happy to do that instead.”

As Grier very nervously picked up some of their bags and began to lead them up the stairs, neither he nor Lorelei bothered to correct Ziah about his age. Malachai lingered as the others passed, frowning, but even that was attractive, “I trust you do know where my room is?”

Lorelei could feel herself blushing down to her feet and quickly turned her eyes away. He chuckled and disappeared to the second floor.

“Gods,” Ziah grumbled, “He always does this.” She slammed her hand onto the open ledger and scowled down at it.

“Surprises you?”

Ziah scrunched up her face, “Mal has slept with every single one of my assistants: Robina, Ainsley, Michael, Gretchen.”

“Michael?”

“And now you!” she threw up her hands.

“Oh,” Lorelei felt both a pang in her chest and a sneer cross her own face, “We only just met. But, what, this is some game he likes to play?”

“It’s not a game,” she rolled her head back, “He’s just trying to…to prove something to me.”

Lorelei couldn’t see how the situation had to do with Ziah, “I don’t understand.”

She flipped absently through the pile of outgoing mail on the counter, “No, you wouldn’t.”

“Because I’m human.” Lorelei crossed her arms and glared at her.

“Oh gods, it’s already starting.” Ziah took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She placed her hands on Lorelei’s shoulders, her voice sweetening, smile widening, “Lore, I didn’t mean anything by that, okay? My brother just puts me on edge, but I shouldn’t take that out on you. I’m sorry.”

Lorelei suddenly felt light and almost flustered. She giggled, warmth returning to her face, biting her lip and nodding. Then she pulled back, recognizing how similarly she felt to when Malachai spoke to her. She squinted at Ziah, “Yeah, it’s fine.”

“Just be careful around him, okay? Don’t let him trick you or–”

“I’m not stupid,” she said a bit more forcefully than she meant. Ziah nodded and shuffled off to the dining room. When she was gone, Lorelei glanced down at the page in the ledger. Malachai’s name was listed there along with pertinent information that the ledger had recalled on him, and beneath it all, a word in big, bold letters: DANGEROUS.

***

Lorelei stayed busy that day, not seeing Malachai again, but found him hiding around corners in her mind. She thought she’d hear his voice, but when she looked he wasn’t there, thought she saw his shadow, but it was always someone else. She couldn’t hide the disappointment on her face, and it was hanging heavy over her even at the end of her shift, but Ziah’s cautious words were echoing around her brain as well. But before she clocked out, she organized the mail that had come in that day, a bill from Faust and Sons, a flyer for puca repellent, a package for a guest that was growling, and was so surprised at seeing her own name in a delicate handwriting across a square envelope that she forgot about Malachai and Ziah completely.

She gently slipped the envelope open, inside the same beautiful script:

Dearest Lorelei,

It is good to learn your name. I cannot say much about what has been left to you in a letter, but please do not think the brooch has come into your possession by mere coincidence or, worse, error. I trust you can do what needs to be done.

Unless of course you cannot which is entirely possible. Gods know many have failed.

I am traveling the Amazon for the time being, so it may be some time before I can be in touch with you again, but keep your eyes open for the signs, my dear, and eventually I will return to the manor. Perhaps then we can discuss more over tea.

Sincerely,

J.S. Pennygrass, OoO

Lorelei reread the letter as she wandered out from behind the counter, wholly engrossed in the words. She hoped Conrad could offer more insight, but as she folded it up and slid it into her pocket, she looked up to see Malachai and her mind went blank.

So close that she could feel the warmth of his body, she felt the familiar tingles that came with his presence. She swallowed and took a step back, but that didn’t stop the feeling from traveling through her core, out into her limbs, and back.

“Join me for dinner.” The man was purring. Who purrs? she thought as his words coursed through her. Damn, who cares?

“I can’t,” she shook her head even as she walked through to the dining room with him, “It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“But I’m alone otherwise,” he motioned to the room. Both Altair and Kamille were seated at separate tables, Altair with a young man who’d shown up to the manor two days prior, and Kamille with a couple that had checked in that afternoon.

Malachai’s hand was on the small of her back and electricity shot through her body. She didn’t hate it. He motioned to a small table in the corner, “Please.”

“Well, okay.” Lorelei practically sprinted to the table. In the shadows and against the back wall, it was unlikely Ziah would see them, and who was Ziah, or anyone, to tell her what to do anyway?

She dropped down onto the chair and watched Malachai slither into his own. The candle on the table cast demonic shadows across his face. She thought about what it meant to be possessed by something, then shook her head, embarrassed to have considered the thought. Malachai was simply staring at her from across the table, the flame flickering in his honey eyes.

She forced herself to look away, noting Hotaru’s diminutive frame coming out of the kitchen. She wouldn’t see her, but she was coming their way. Making a beeline, in fact. The girl’s eyes were focused on the food, but she was getting closer, traversing the maze of tables and chairs until she was on them, and before she could duck, Hotaru was sitting the plates down before them, her face almost as pink as Lorelei’s when their eyes met.

“I already ordered for us, I hope you don’t mind.” Malachai thanked Hotaru politely, but didn’t take his eyes off of his dinner companion.

Hotaru hurried off, and Lorelei felt nauseated, then she snapped her head back to him, “You ordered for me before you even knew I’d agree to eat with you?”

“Well,” he picked up his fork, “I hoped.”

She felt her head get dizzy again, but wanted to focus. “Tell me about growing up with Ziah,” she heard herself saying, “What was that like?”

“We actually didn’t grow up together, none of us did,” he smiled, “We were raised by different mothers. It is our father who we have in common. It was only when we were much older that we met.”

“Oh, Farrah too?” Lorelei realized she hadn’t seen the youngest in the dining room.

“Yes, we found her just a few years ago. We have other siblings as well, but none like us.” He winked, and she wasn’t sure if she was meant to understand. “It’s nice when we can all get together, but Ziah so infrequently obliges us, so we come to her,” he leaned closer, “And I’m very glad we did.”

Lorelei pulled her gaze away and picked up her own fork. Keep things formal, she told herself, “That’s nice. So what do you do?”

“Uh,” he seemed to stumble for a moment, then caught himself, “You mean my occupation? Of course, I write music.”

“Oh? Anything I might have heard?”

“It depends on how much time you spend in the human world,” he smirked, “They’re a lovely target audience. Almost too easy.”

Lorelei felt her heartbeat quicken, but not from excitement, “Oh, not much really,” she lore-lied.

“Then it isn’t likely. And you, what did you do before you came here to work with my sister?”

“School,” she told him truthfully, hoping he would assume the academy, “I studied a lot of things, like literature.” They definitely had books in this world, and he didn’t need to know the specifics of how wide a net she’d cast over her academics.

“Poetry?” he asked.

She felt that tingly sensation again. He was going somewhere with this. Somewhere she wasn’t sure she should follow. “I really like horror actually,” she stuffed a forkful of pasta into her mouth, “The bloodier the better.”

Malachai’s grin grew under the candlelight revealing sharp canines, and he laughed, “I knew I liked you for a reason, Lorelei.”

At the sound of her name again, she wanted to fling herself at him, but memories of Ziah’s hesitation to reveal what she truly was to Lorelei held her to the spot. They continued on, him attempting to lead her down a different path than she knew she should go, and her redirecting, almost against her own will. Once the plates had long been empty and the others had trickled out of the dining room, Lorelei was mentally exhausted, and her body ached. For what, she was unsure.

“It’s so late!” she exclaimed, barely making out the time on the clock in the shadows of the dining room, “I should be in bed!”

“Indeed,” he smirked and stood, “Let me take you there.”

Her eyes went wide. He hadn’t suggested anything untoward, not really, had he?

“Ready to go then?” Ziah appeared at his side, her arms crossed.

“Ah, sister–”

“Don’t you ‘sister’ me,” she held up a hand, “You said you came here for a hunt, and we’re waiting for you.”

Lorelei tried to sit very still, hoping Ziah wouldn’t see her, but couldn’t help screwing up her face at Ziah’s words. A hunt? In the middle of the night?

Malachai looked from one of them to the other then relented, “Yes, of course. If you will excuse me.”

When they both left, Lorelei barely caught Ziah’s unapproving eye. She was unsure whether she was relieved or annoyed, but once she was no longer in Malachai’s presence, she felt so completely sapped of energy, she almost leaned back and fell asleep.

 

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