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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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