Reverse Harem Adventure-28

You’ve gone this far, no reason to not go farther. Instead of the winding rooms to the left and right, you take the grand staircase. The nailed down carpet tugs under your feet, as if it wants to slither free below you like a large tongue. You raise your head and stare up at the tarnished chandelier. It’s hard to not shake the feeling you’re a disgraced Countess returning to her abandoned manor house eaten up by the forest. All you need are the long gloves and gown.

A foolish idea. Doubtful anyone’s lived in this house for ages. Which means the chances of finding a person, much less one with a working phone, seems impossible. Still, your curiosity’s won over common sense.

The landing slants to the west, as if the whole of the upper floor is being pulled by an invisible force. You place your hand to the wall and find it to be warm. That can’t be good.

Raising your head high, you ease your way to the large door at the end of the hall. Ornate doesn’t even begin to cover it. 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 itself 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.

You grip onto the door handle and push just as you spot the phrase carved above the door. “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.” Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The door parts upon a room out of a haunted dream. Two stories tower above your head, every inch of wall 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 landing stage above. On the lower level upon which you stand is a chair of richest leather, which gleams as if freshly oiled. A desk is near it, the entire top obscured 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.

The sound of tiny squeaking wheels whips your head around to a ladder sliding into the middle of the library. A black cape unfurls like a crow taking wing. As it settles back, it wraps around the body of a man half-clinging to the ladder. He reaches off the edge, his hand pale as moonlight. Once picking up the book he wanted, he adds it to his stack, then dashes higher up the ladder for more.

“Hello?” you say, risking walking closer.

The stranger doesn’t respond. You stop beside a bear, its gargantuan paws extended in rage and swiping above your head. Rather than face the stuffed grizzly, you watch the man. A pair of oval spectacles rest on the end of his sharp nose. His cheeks are gaunt to match the unearthly pallor of his skin.

The hand extends again, 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.

“Excuse me?” you try again.

“You’re excused,” he says, his voice rich with a broad accent, every syllable flat. But the peevishness comes through with crystal clear accuracy. He doesn’t glance your way, but slides down his ladder. With books in hand, the man turns to his desk.

Growing flustered at his continual inhospitality, you say, “Don’t you care that I’m here in your home?”

The man turns to finally look at you, and your heart stops. His eyes are as crimson as freshly spilled blood. With lips whiter than snow, he scoffs, “Do you have any intentions to burn my books?”

“What? Of course not.”

“Then no, I don’t care you’re here. I am also of no help with whatever problem has brought you to this infernal place. A horse’s thrown shoe and so forth,” he says, waving a hand to dismiss you. With a flourish of his cape, he falls to his chair and opens the book at the desk beside a stack of others.

You drift from behind him and stare down at what he’s working on. It appears to be a journal of hand drawn animals. Small cryptic notes are left by each one, but the real detail is devoted to the drawing. He sits, his head in hand, staring at what looks like a four legged animal with a dog-like nose and long tail. Stripes are shaded all along the fur. You inch closer for a better look, when a hand grabs your arm.

“Why are you still here?” the man asks spinning in his chair. “I told you I cannot be of assistance and am quite busy.”

“What are you working on?” you ask, your curiosity increasing.

The man sighs, his scarlet eyes darting to the book. A coy look crosses his sculpted face. “You tell me, mortal. What long forgotten animal is this?”

Your skin tingles, a warning at the back of your brain telling you you’d better get this right or you’ll pay the price. Staring at the animal, your mind races with two options.

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I found the scholarly vampire in Ellen Mint’s Choose Your Own Reverse Harem Halloween Adventure. How far can you get?

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