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:
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?”
“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.
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