“The red,” you say confidently.
Claremont spins the bottle around to inspect it. “A woman after my heart,” he says to the wine, before turning to you, “but hopefully panting for more. My lady, I did not notice but you are positively trembling. Is it too much to hope it’s due to my inescapable charm?”
You didn’t realize how deep the cold has seeped into your marrow until he points it out. Your teeth begin to chatter and you wrap your arms tighter around yourself. “It-s-s-s very c-c-cold out.”
“Of course. This is the night of the dead after all. We have a nasty habit of bringing the cold grave everywhere with us. Let me help you.”
“I can warm her up really good.” Dominic grins. He wraps his arms around your body and begins to rub vigorously. You find yourself vibrating in his grip, but can’t deny how strong his embrace is.
“Easy, big guy,” Claremont says, pausing the rumbling massage before you fly out of Dominic’s hands. “She’s fragile.” Sweeping the wine into the crook of one arm, Claremont easily guides you through the labyrinth of wine bottles while Dominic lops around behind. Though the werewolf cannot stop playing with your hair, the tender way he brushes your snarls out causing your body to tremble. At one point, the ghost gestures down a long hallway and says, “Avoid that path with everything possible.”
“You do not want the answer. Here is the staircase out of this dank crypt. Come along.” Once again extending his arm, he guides you up a set of stairs carved into rock. A threadbare rug clings to each one, helping to catch your feet as you begin to ascend out of the frozen wine cellar and into a strange hall.
Dark wood fills the floor stretching before you, all manner of rug and carpet gone. But those strange claw marks from the forest’s stones have returned. The wall itself bears blood red wallpaper above a deep oak wainscoting.
Instead of the bat and spider sconces of the cellar, hands dipped in gold hold torches upon the walls. They’re not real, you’re certain, but look lifelike enough to give you a second’s look.
“What shall I delight my lady with next? Perhaps a romantic prelude upon the piano?” Claremont asks, his eyes shining.
“Ooh, the study with its warm fireplace. You could all strip off your clothing as I have and we see what happens next,” Dominic says, straining his body in a long stretch.
A snarl ripples from Claremont. “I’d prefer to never set foot in that room again.”
“So I’ll take her and you go play with your piano by yourself,” Dominic says, cupping a hand to your whole arm.
Claremont takes the other and sneers at the werewolf. “Are you capable of thinking beyond your animalistic urges?”
“Is this about the trousers again?” Dominic fights back, you caught in the middle. You raise your hand to tug them off of you so they can fight in peace, when a great groan breaks from the foundation of the house.
Dominic shrinks back, and even Claremont gazes around at the chandelier now swaying from no breeze. “We need to take her to him,” the werwolf says.
“He won’t wish to see any of us, least of all a mortal.” Claremont breezily wipes away the comment.
You catch the werewolf’s rugged face twisted into concern and turn to him. “Who won’t?”
“Do not concern yourself with him. He’d prefer his books to a beautiful woman, which renders any complaint from him moot,” Claremont declares while slipping his arms around you from behind. One glides over your shoulders, sparks rising when his ghostly pallor touches your skin.
“What else would my Lady like to enjoy for the evening?” Claremont whispers in your ear.
With an elegant ghost and rugged werewolf at your disposal, what don’t you want to do?
You open your mouth, when Dominic interrupts, “We should see him, before she…”
A great groan breaks from Claremont. “I wish I could say the feral beast in our midst is wrong…”
“Hey,” Dominic complains, “I’m as sophisticated as you, Clarey.” Then he flinches and moves to try and scratch his back with his leg. It draws your eyes to the free-swinging pipe, which begins to rise the longer you stare. Dominic catches you and winks, which sends you whirling away with a blush.
“As you say,” Claremont says, tossing you a wry smile. With his hand wrapped around yours, Claremont leads you.
“Where are we going?” you ask. A warm palm rests across nearly the whole of your back. Dominic doesn’t push, but seems to be trying to hold you upright with his single paw.
Together, the three of you walk into what must be the front rooms. You see the main door ahead with a scene out of Dante’s Inferno carved onto it. To leave is to walk into hell? An interesting thought.
Claremont points to a gold chandelier hanging above the entranceway. Flames flicker on the candles, the light rising to reveal a second story. “To the library,” he says. “Forgiveness if you find books dreadfully dull.”
“I don’t,” you respond, trailing up the stairs at the behest of the ghost and werewolf. At the top, Claremont guides you to a large door. Ornate doesn’t even begin to cover it. Made of mahogany, the rich wood is carved to reveal a scene out of a baroque castle. Latticework fills the whole of the outside, the border forming the edge of the world for the man in the middle. He stands alone, one hand holding a book, the other a blade, while every fanged creature in the animal kingdom hungers for him.
As you step closer, you find a new addition to the door. Over the man’s featureless face, someone’s cut two slits where the mouth would be. Strange.
Claremont glides in front of you to grip onto the door handle. He gives a little bow and pushes it open.
The door parts on a room out of a haunted dream. Two stories tower above your head, every inch crammed with books. Spines of such an unending color and size overwhelm the massive shelves, leaving your head dizzy from the multitude of knowledge. Small tables with reading lamps attached at the base and a chair perched beside fill out the top landing stage above. On the lower level where you stand is a chair of richest leather, which gleams as if freshly oiled. A desk is near it, the entire top covered with books.
What’s most haunting are the candelabras, all lit, and all floating in the air. They bob, never drawing close to the books they could threaten. You watch one, its flames circling as if an invisible finger is drawing over them.
And what nearly sends you spinning were it not for the two men behind is a black specter standing the middle of it all. He is turned away, his body cloaked in a black cape, until he turns to reveal a jawbone propped upon his stark white hand. “Ah, the jaw of the world’s last known Lycan. I wish I had a better place to put you.”
The man turns and the air flees from your lungs. Claremont is sophisticated, brandy in a drawing room. Dominic is rugged, chasing quail in the forest. This stranger is sophisticated danger, a sharp dagger hidden in a doublet. Eyes of spilled blood stare at you above cheeks gaunt enough to match the unearthly pallor of his skin.
His hands flare apart, tossing the cape from his shoulders. He’s dressed in fine attire, the kind a man would wear to the opera. But there’s wear to it. The cuffs look darned, the elbows worn and patched. He’s been in those clothes for a long time.
“Another one, delightful,” the man sighs and he places the skull on his desk. He turns his back to you and resumes inspecting the library shelves. “Please exit the way you came in. I’m in no mood for company.”
A chuckle rises from Claremont and he slides in beside you. “When have you ever cared for company that wasn’t a hundred and fifty pages of dry kindling?”
The man spins around and floats to you. Your instinct is to turn, but he zeroes in on Claremont instead. “How have you left the graveyard?”
“With the help of this beautiful and enchanting woman,” Claremont says lifting your hand and placing it to his lips. The stranger scoffs, but his eyes will not leave you. They keep darting over your face as if he expects to find another’s perched there. “And this bloviating dullard is one Orpheus Gravestone.”
The man doesn’t hold out his hand to you, and Claremont doesn’t show any sign of releasing yours. Instead, you’re trapped between the two glaring, when this Gravestone glances behind you. “Dominic?” he whispers.
“Orphy!” the werewolf shouts. He shoves Claremont aside, but brings you with to wrap his arms around the stranger.
The scent of ink, dusty books, and Turkish oils rise from Orpheus as Claremont somehow pulls you into his hug. Slowly, Gravestone lifts his hands to close off the embrace. “I can scarcely believe after… How are you walking?”
Smiling wide, Dominic tips his head to you. “She did it! She found my tooth.”
“You?” Orpheus turns to you, his lips pulled back to reveal what you feared you would find, fangs. But instead of a snarl, his mouth tips back into a great smile. Catching your hands, he clasps both together and begins to shake them. “I cannot believe… All these years that you’ve been trapped and she…”
The vampire cannot stop shaking your hands in his cold grip. You try to give back, but it’s like trying to push a wall. He keeps gazing at you in wonder and begins to lift your hand to his lips. Before they’re about to touch, he turns away and releases you. “I assume the tale is the same for you, Claremont?”
Bowing his head, Claremont says, “She is a delight beyond reckoning.”
Orpheus tips his head, his awkward look shifting to that of a professor about to begrudgingly praise a student. “Thank you for what you’ve done,” he says to you, the shine in his eye increasing. “Less so Claremont, but I won’t hold that against you.”
“I don’t know why my father kept you on payroll,” Claremont huffs.
“Because he’s the best tamer of the wild the world’s ever seen!” Dominic shouts, extending his hands wide into the air.
The ghost sighs, but the vampire chuckles at the werewolf’s exuberance. His gaze slips to you, both of you sharing a laugh at Dominic, when a blush bursts over Orpheus’ cheeks. He turns away and loads his arms with books left on a desk.
“That was another lifetime ago, Dom. Thanks to her…we remain static.”
Who is this her they keep mentioning?
“Do we though?” Dominic interrupts the vampire’s book gathering. “Look at me, on my two back legs. We aren’t locked anymore, Orphy,” Dominic says, catching the vampire’s hand. He stares up into his eyes and shimmies back and forth on his feet thanks to the lack of a tail. “Thanks to her,” he jerks a hand to you, pulling Orpheus with.
“That…that changes nothing. I am glad you’ve regained your humanity Dominic after you foolishly tossed it away.”
The werewolf snorts. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? And Claremont. He’s been an annoying whisper on the wind for so long.”
“A sonorous whisper, if you please,” Claremont interjects.
“Now he’s here, walking around, touching…things.” Dominic turns to find the ghost wrapped around your arm. The werewolf lops back and wraps a hand around the small of your back.
“Claremont, how long do you have until you fade back to your shallow grave?” Orpheus asks.
“A few hours, which I’d much rather spend anywhere else. And with a certain someone else,” he answers, brushing his nose against your cheek so his lips have to press against your skin.
“And I remain trapped in this library under her spell. There is nothing this mortal can do.” Orpheus declares, before he cocks his head and stares longer at you. “Unless…?”
His eyes whip around the library, zipping from one book to another before he turns to take your hands. Claremont clings to your left and Dominic on your right, while Orpheus commands all your attention. “Mortal. Let me tell you the entirety of our tale.”
“So you will understand the enormity of what I ask of you.”