Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.
Conrad came around the desk, his steps fast and loud on the hardwoods, “Lorelei, meet my brother.”
So, this man, matching Conrad in so many ways, even in how he leaned against the door to their father’s study, was in fact his brother. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? “So there are ghosts here?” Lorelei felt stuck to the spot though she wanted to step back and away from the stranger, her stomach instantly in knots.
“Oh, no,” the man smiled slowly from the side of his mouth, “I’m very much alive.” Even in the darkness she could make out how they shared the same chin, and had this man’s been unbroken, the same nose, but the feeling swimming in her gut when she looked at Conrad’s brother did not bring about the same comforting familiarity as when she looked on Conrad himself. No, this feeling was one of dread.
Lorelei dropped her voice low, turning slightly over her shoulder though she was afraid to take her eyes off him, “But you said he died.”
The man chuckled, “Telling lies about me again?”
“To be fair, I haven’t seen him in years, so he may as well have been dead,” Conrad’s voice had gone cold and unfamiliar, and mixed with the grin his brother wore sent a chill down Lorelei’s spine, “but I’m pretty sure I was just vague enough to leave it open to interpretation.”
“I’m Byron,” the man extended a hand, pushing himself off the doorway, but Conrad cut him off with a few aggressive steps forward. “Oh, a little touchy, I see,” he glanced down at his own hand then dropped it, “or not.”
“What are you doing here?” Conrad’s voice dropped to a low rumble.
Byron pouted, “The prodigal son can’t come home?”
“This isn’t your home anymore.”
“From the looks of it, it’s not yours either,” he shrugged, pacing around the edge of the study. Conrad moved with him, placing himself between Lorelei and his brother. “Figured by now you’d be all settled in, married to that Blackburn girl,” he raised an eyebrow at Lorelei, “That doesn’t look like her though. Apple doesn’t fall far, eh?”
“Don’t,” Conrad growled then took a breath, “Don’t talk like you know me. Now tell me why you’re here.”
“Well, probably the same reason as you, but it looks like we’re both out of luck.” Byron kicked at some of the papers on the floor then turned, “Unless you already have it?”
Conrad stared at him, steely, and Lorelei said nothing. They, of course, had no idea what they were even looking for.
“You’d share wouldn’t you?” Byron took another step toward him, “Like when we were kids?”
Conrad grit his teeth, “There’s nothing here for either of us.”
“No? Well, that doesn’t mean we can’t catch up,” Byron shrugged, “Maybe play a little game? Remember when you used to be playing with something, and I wanted it?”
Conrad reached back and grabbed Lorelei, his fingers digging into her wrist, and he pulled her so that she was behind him. She suspected she should have felt safer, but absolutely did not.
“Remember how I used to just take it?”
“Yeah, you were a jerk then, and I can only imagine you haven’t grown out of it.”
“I wasn’t a very good brother,” he laughed, “Kind of stupid too because I never really wanted what you had, I just didn’t want you to have it.”
Byron raised his hand and with a flash the room lit up. Conrad’s grip around Lorelei’s wrist was gone as he fell to his knees before her, but before she could react, something struck her core, searing through her body. She too wanted to fall into a ball on the ground, but found herself paralyzed, unable to even draw a breath.
Byron took an easy step over Conrad’s body as he groaned on the floor. “It’s cute you thought I wouldn’t attack you.” He got behind Lorelei and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, holding her up against him and pulling her backward toward the door. She wanted to pull away, but couldn’t move.
Conrad rolled onto his knees and staggered to his feet, “What the hell, Byron?”
“Just tell me where the damn deed is.” Byron’s breath was hot on Lorelei’s ear, and it sounded as though he were trying to hide how fatigued he’d suddenly become.
Conrad was coughing, fighting to stand straight, “Deed?”
“To the manor,” Byron shook Lorelei for emphasis, and she began to feel a tingling in her limbs and managed to catch her breath. “Where is it?”
Shaking his head, Conrad focused on them, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and she’s got no idea either, so just let her go.”
“Make me!” She could hear a smile in Byron’s voice. He was enjoying this. “Come on, Conrad, I know you’re better than this.” Lorelei felt her own weight then, as the feeling fully returned in her legs and arms.
With a grunt, Conrad pulled a sachet from his bag.
“One of your little potions? You still do that?” Disappointment dripped from his words, “Come on now, if you refuse to try I’m just going to kill her.”
Lorelei grabbed onto the arm Byron had around her shoulders and pulled down. Catching him off guard and apparently weakened, she managed to spin around in his grasp and wrench her knee upward until it connected with his gut. He coughed, doubling over and releasing her.
The moment she was free of him, Conrad stumbled forward with a fist balled around the sachet and struck his jaw. Byron’s body lifted from the ground and sailed out through the doorway, crashing loudly on the landing. Conrad glanced at his fist, raising his eyebrows in momentary surprise as the sachet melted away, then staggered out the door.
Lorelei heard them on the landing, a shout, and smash, something–possibly human–breaking, but her own senses were dulled and her limbs shaking with either injury or fear, she didn’t know. She blinked about the room for the flashlight, having lost it when she was struck by, what exactly? Had that been magic? Honest to goodness witchcraft? Shaking her head, she ran to the doorway: the pale light streaming in from the window on the landing would surely be all she needed to glimpse the ensuring battle.
The boys were wrestling. She couldn’t tell who had the upper hand as they rolled into the wall and knocked a portrait to the floor. Conrad threw another punch and it was dodged, then Byron caught him in the face with his own elbow, but it had looked to be accidental. Neither seemed to be doing much damage so close to one another, and with Byron’s threat of murder long forgotten, Lorelei sighed to herself, “This is disappointing.”
Perhaps louder than she meant, her words froze them, and they both glanced back at her. “Uh,” she swallowed, “I mean, you’re witches–sorry, warlocks–I just didn’t expect…whatever this is.”
The two then locked eyes with one another, each grimaced as if they realized it at the same moment, and the room lit up with a brilliant green flash and a deafening crack. Lorelei felt the light like a wave as it passed through her, and she grabbed the doorway to stay on her feet, and when it went out, the two stood on opposite sides of the landing.
The portrait they had knocked down flew up from the floor unaided toward Conrad, and he raised an arm just before it crashed into him. Byron grunted, annoyed, flicking his hand in front of his face, and the finial from atop the stair’s railing was sent toward Conrad’s head. This time, Conrad threw his hand out and redirected the finial so that it took a turn and fell down the shaft, bouncing off the landing with a crack on the stories below.
Again, Byron made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat and swept his arm in front of himself. A chair slid out from against the wall, and Conrad used both arms to send it away, toward Byron, where it stopped at his feet.
“Deflect, deflect, deflect!” Byron started flipping both of his hands into the air from which cracks of toxically green bolts were flinging, “How am I supposed to know who’s better if you don’t do something?”
“You’re insane.” The hissing green strikes died out just at the edge of where Conrad held his hands. He’d taken a wide stance and dipped his head low.
“No, our father was. Insane for leaving everything to you without testing your mettle.”
“Arista manages the manor,” Conrad continued to deflect the sparks, “I didn’t even know there was a deed until right now.”
“Regardless,” Byron’s smile had permanently changed to a tight, angry line, “it was meant to go to you. Father told me the deed was hidden somewhere I would never think to look for it, suggesting it was somewhere you would.”
Conrad threw his hands wide and knocked Byron back, “I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care.”
His brother hit the wall beside where Lorelei stood and blinked. The house fell quiet, the rain echoing outside.
“Fine, a little encouragement should do the trick.” In a swift movement, Byron swam his hand in front of his face and alighted a piece of wood, splintered in their earlier scuffle, to sail through the air toward Lorelei. She gasped, the wind off of it flying past her face, but the sliver stopped just at her throat.
Conrad’s eyes went wide from across the landing. When she attempted to duck away, the spear moved with her, and Lorelei quickly stood again, holding herself as still as possible. Perhaps Byron had been sincere when suggesting he’d kill her.
“Somewhere you’d never think to look,” Conrad was glancing out the window, his voice different now, lighter, detached, “That’s what he said, huh?”
A brilliant flash of lightning followed by a crash of thunder shook the house. In its wake, the lawn behind the house was lit, revealing a massive hedge garden. Conrad turned back to his brother, “Have you been to see mom and dad?”
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