Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.
If there truly were seven hells, as Ziah so frequently swore about when miffed, Lorelei was sure she’d entered at least the fifth circle.
“Ew, ew, ew, EW!” Britney’s voice echoed out into the long hall of the basement. “I just walked through another spiderweb,” she leveled her light at Lorelei, blinding her, “Don’t you ever clean down here? It’s disgusting!”
Calm down, Gwen Stefani, why did you even want to come? was what Lorelei wanted to say, but instead she offered her the sickeningly sweet smile she gave to guests who were beginning to get on her bad side, “Actually it’s the faeries in charge of the housekeeping.”
She couldn’t see Britney’s reaction, but imagined a hefty eye roll.
Conrad had stared at her dumbly for far too long when Britney quizzed him about what he and Lorelei were discussing in hushed whispers at the Harvest Festival. His brain seemed to land on the truth, and Lorelei supposed she was appreciative of that in a friend, but she was surprised to find that Conrad hadn’t told Britney anything else up until that point–not even about his brother. She was slightly less surprised when the woman declared she would be accompanying them on their search for the deed.
Arista had insisted there was no deed, and Conrad’s only clue that it might exist was the contention of his homicidal, prodigal brother, but he was more determined than ever to find it that night. Determined enough to take both Lorelei and Britney into the depth of Moonlit Shores Manor’s basement to search.
There were plenty of store rooms and closets to hunt, including doors that Conrad would point out and remark he didn’t remember which instilled very little confidence in Lorelei. But at the same time she felt a certain excitement at crossing over unknown thresholds and rummaging through unmarked boxes. Anything could be inside, even if they didn’t find the deed, and if they did, well she had no idea what that even meant.
Still empty-handed, the three entered a room down a dead end corridor that Lorelei swore hadn’t been there moments before. Inside, the walls were rough stone and there was no light to be flicked on, not even candles, ever-flickering by the manor’s magic. Their steps became more careful, scuffing quietly against the dirty stone beneath their feet, and they each inched toward a different wall.
Lorelei found a small cabinet and crouched down before it. The wood was coarse and hand-carved, but the doors fit together tightly. She pulled at the brass knob, and it gave after a hearty tug. She shone the light of her phone inside, but could see almost immediately it was empty. The sides and base of the cabinet were the same rough wood, but the back of it had been painted black, though–she cocked her head–her light didn’t reflect the way she had expected. The blackness of the back of the cabinet seemed to swallow up the light instead, and she reached out to touch the paint, intrigued to find the back was much farther from her than she perceived.
“What do you think this is?”
Lorelei turned at Britney’s voice to see her standing before a tall object draped in a heavy canvas cloth. “Not the deed,” Lorelei half whispered, though she wasn’t entirely sure of that what with everything she’d seen at the manor, but it was intriguing enough to get her to stand beside Britney and stare up at it.
Conrad circled the thing, his lips drawn into a pout and brow furrowed. It towered over even him, and Lorelei wondered how it was maneuvered down the hall and into the room in the first place. “I guess we need to see it,” he said, coming up to its side and pulling off the cloth with a great heave.
The canvas kicked up dust and Lorelei inhaled a mouthful of it. Her lungs stung and she exhaled so sharply, she lost her balance. At her side, Britney was sputtering and waving frantically at her face, and Conrad’s voice was saying something but was muffled and distorted as if he might have pulled the canvas over his own face.
Before them was a frame, as wide as the two of them standing beside one another. Polished and smooth, the wood spiraled up on both sides to meet at the top far above their heads in a point, and the bottom was flat, the whole piece suspended on a rack of sorts. Lorelei would have thought it was a massive mirror, but neither she nor Britney were reflected in the glass, and instead, she saw Conrad stepping into the frame on the other side.
“Uh oh.” His eyes were wide, his face illuminated by the dull blue of his phone.
Britney coughed once more, her tongue sticking out, “What?”
“This might be a problem.”
Lorelei squinted at him on the other side of the frame. The wall behind him was dark, even with his own light, but the room she was in felt brighter, and she thought her eyes had gotten used to the darkness. But something was…off.
The urge took her before she knew why, and Lorelei reached out, her hand stopping abruptly in the air between them, hovering just inside the frame. There was something there, a barrier, hard and smooth, and it didn’t give at all when she pushed.
“What are you doing?” Britney scoffed, her hands on her hips.
Conrad reached forward as well, rapping his knuckled solidly against the invisible barrier.
“You two,” Britney shook her head and walked around to the other side of the frame, “I just don’t–”
The woman’s voice caught in her throat. She should have appeared beside Conrad, but instead his face turned more panicked as Britney disappeared. She popped back up on the other side with a gasp, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Lorelei swallowed, taking her hand away from the barrier and peering around the frame. As she expected, there was nothing but a small sliver of space between it and the wall.
“I’ve seen this before.” Lorelei came back around the mirror at Conrad’s words. “But not this one specifically.”
“How are you there, but not there,” Britney’s lips were pursed tightly, but she managed to growl, “And why are we here?” When she gestured to the room, Lorelei glanced around. It was not the place they had just been, but a bedroom, small and sparsely decorated, and she could smell something distinctly sweet coming from the hall.
“Hephaestian mirror,” Conrad sighed, “Happened to Seamus when I was thirteen. Apparently the manor’s home to a few.” He ran a hand along his side of the frame, inspecting it, “Problem is they only have one good jump in them at a time.”
“We’re stuck here?” Britney shrieked, throwing up her hands.
“No,” Conrad was quick to answer, then screwed up his face, “Well, I don’t think so. Seamus got back he just had to find the other one.”
“Well, where the hell is it?”
Conrad stared back at them sheepishly, “We destroyed it.”
“Oh my gods!” Britney crossed her arms, stomping away.
“Wait, I’m sorry,” Lorelei found her voice, glancing back from Britney to Conrad, “What exactly is going on?”
“Hephaestian mirror,” Conrad repeated, his face a bit more shadowed than a moment earlier, “They work sort of like…like the portals at the train station, but with time instead of space.”
“Like the portals? So why can’t we come back through?”
Conrad scratched the back of his head, “Way stronger magic, really complicated, usually just one way.”
Britney came storming back to the mirror, jabbing her finger into the glass, “And they destroyed our only way back!”
“No!” Conrad’s features were getting blurry, “This wasn’t the one Seamus fell into. There’s a second one somewhere on your side that will get you back, you just need to find it.”
“We don’t even know where our side is!” Britney snorted.
“Technically you do know where,” Conrad’s image was almost completely gone, “You just don’t know when.”
“When I get back there, I swear–”
“Shh!” Lorelei grabbed Britney’s arm to quiet her. From beyond the bedroom, there was a creak, footsteps on floorboards, coming toward them, and they froze.
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