The lantern, you conjecture, must be the source. Its light touches everything in the room which feeds the other magical relics. That has to be it. The witch yanks on her arm, hurling Orpheus into the air. No time to second guess yourself. Gritting your teeth, you chuck the flask against the lantern.
The glass shatters, purple oozing through the cracks of the lantern’s box.
“You think you can stop me? I am the witch of the woods. These forests answer to none but me!” she shrieks and begins to grow in size.
You watch the purple ooze into the cauldron, the deadly bubbles shifting to a terrifying purple. Did you guess right?
“It’s time I fix my mistakes. Bury Gravestone in a swamp up to his neck and let the insects fester in his eyeballs.” The witch slams a hand forward, her shadow pinning Orpheus to the wall. “The dog will hang from the archway, his skeleton left to rot until the bones rain down on all who tread into my domain.”
She cinches her hand tight, the vines tightening around Dominic until a terrifying welp bursts from him. No!
“And as for my dear husband.” The witch twists her rabid eyes on the bones scattered across the floor. “You will experience tortures beyond your ken in the pits of hell.” She twirls her finger, lifting the bones into the air. Claremont can do nothing, his skeleton dangling in the middle of the room.
A cruel smile twists about the witch’s cold lips and she wrenches her hand apart. You cower, terrified of what torture is about to befall Claremont, but nothing happens. For the first time, fear creeps into the witch’s eyes. She yanks on her hand again, but it’s not working.
The green fog begins to part and falls back to the witch. She stumbles away, glaring at her hands in shock. As the green smoke envelops her, Orpheus tumbles to his feet. You reach to catch his hand and help him up, when Claremont’s scattered remains land in a heap.
Orpheus holds a foot out to block a femur from falling down the stairs. The crack of foliage being ripped apart by bare hands breaks above the scream of an enraged witch. Dominic shreds apart the vines, his body straining as he pops out of the snare shirtless and panting. He wipes off his forehead, spots you, and gives a little wave.
“What have you done?” the witch shrieks.
“That was a disquieting ride,” Claremont says. As the bones rise from the floor, his body races to fill it. In a second, he stands beside you in one piece, all of you watching the witch shrouded in smoke.
Raising the book, Orpheus commands in the same latin as before. The fog dissipates from the witch’s feet revealing skin green as pond scum and rippling with scales. The witch lashes a massive tail out, but Dominic catches the wild attack. With his arms wrapped around it, he pins the witch in place.
She shrieks again, “What have you done to me?!” As she does, the vestiges of fog vanish revealing her face to be without a nose or ears, her body without arms, and her eyes yellow with slits for pupils.
“You’ve been undone, snake,” Orpheus says. “All your power corrupted.” He jerks his head to the lantern and the witch screams, her forked tongue flailing in the air. “Claremont? Would you do the honors?”
“Happy to,” he says. Spitting on his hands, he picks up an axe left by the cauldron. The witch shrieks, her body undulating to try and slam into him, but Dominic has her held fast. She can cast no magic, her illusion ripped away fully thanks to Orpheus’ spell.
“Don’t take this too harshly, Scarlet,” Claremont says lining up the axe. “It’s you.” The blade swings, slicing straight through the giant snake’s neck. “Not me.” Her head rolls across the floor like an errant kickball. It rebounds over the ripped up floorboards until reaching the window, where it flies out of the house.
“Nice try, witch,” Orpheus says. He holds a hand out and, with one quick toss, uses his powers to hurl the head right onto a spike on the iron fence below.
Black ichor drips from the eyes and neck wound, the massive snake head withering and skull melting, until only the translucent skin drained of everything remains on the fencepost. The witch is truly dead.
“Is it over?” Dominic asks, still hanging onto the snake’s tail even though the head is cleaved.
Orpheus walks to his friend and clasps him on the back. All three stare down where the witch ended her last. “It’s done. We’re free of her at long last.” He glances to Claremont who’s dropped the axe and the two share a handshake. The three men endlessly tortured and destroyed by a snake in a woman’s skin breathe while you fiddle with your fingers. You inch back a half step, feeling you’re imposing on this moment, when Orpheus turns to you.
“We could have accomplished none of this without you, Mortal. Er…”
Claremont snickers and tells him your name.
A blush rises across Orpheus’ cheeks. “A pretty one. Please,” he takes your hands in his. “Tell me what we can give you for your generosity. There is no gift on earth worthy of what you’ve risked for us, but…”
“Was what the witch said true?” you ask softly, “About you draining people she brought to you?”
Orpheus frowns deeply. “Part of her plan to keep me caged and pliant. If I could only eat or go mad at her command then I would be easily receptive to her lies. But I found a cure of sorts, a simulacrum that sufficed and kept me from having to harm anyone the witch brought to our door.”
He tries to tug his hands away, as if they’re too soiled for your touch, but you pull them up and place them on your shoulders. The awkward scholar who kept himself aloof from life drifts across the floor. Rising on your tippy toes, you kiss him. Orpheus keeps his lips tightly pressed together, his scarlet eyes screwed up. But as you brush over his jaw, he parts them, letting the tips of his fangs brush over your skin.
“I can do kisses,” Dominic calls, turning on a dime and leaping into the fray to join in.
“She hasn’t made a decision yet,” Orpheus says, but you break from the vampire just as the werewolf hooks a hand to the nape of your neck and pulls you in for a hot kiss that’s all need. He wastes no time rolling his tongue with yours, tasting you as you taste him.
“Mmm,” Dominic pulls back, his hand roughing over your head to play with your hair, “please tell me you want more kisses.”
“I’d—” you start, when a low, sad laugh rises from Claremont.
“Whatever my lady wishes, I pray that you answer quickly.” He points out the window to the lightening horizon. “My time is at an end.”
You dash to his side, taking his hands in yours. “No, that can’t be. We defeated the witch.”
Claremont brushes your hair back behind your ears. “Such a beautiful face. Such a beautiful heart. Do not shed tears for a dead man who was gifted one last chance to gaze upon a grace never before seen in this world.” He pulls you closer, your lips nearly touching, when Claremont adds, “Well, perhaps one or two would tell me you care.”
As the fingers of dawn sweep through the window, he takes your lips in a sweet kiss. You cling tighter, straining on your toes to touch him for as long as possible. The light increases from outside your closed lids. Dawn’s fully come and taken the dead back to their graves.
You raise your eyelids to find…Claremont yet standing before you. His face is twisted in agony, but he stands solid before you. Tugging on his hands, you say, “Claremont. You’re still here.”
“What?” He pats down his chest, then touches his cheeks. “I am standing in morning light. But how…?”
Together, you turn to find Orpheus with his face buried in the book, hand outstretched as he recites the last words on the page. “You?” Claremont stutters, “You saved me?”
Closing the book, Orpheus stands taller. “It was my failure that caught you in the loop. I owed it to you, even if…” A painful smile twists about his lips as his eyes sweep over you. “You deserve happiness, Claremont. Even in death.” With a bow, Orpheus begins to walk back out of the room.
“Wait!” You reach over to catch his hand while hanging onto Claremont’s. “You don’t need to be alone, Orpheus.”
“She’s right, Orphy. I think,” Claremont brushes your hair off your neck. He traces the tip of his fingers down your throat as he says, “I’m ready to share now.”
“What makes you think I want to?” Orpheus bridles.
“Because you like her,” Dominic shouts. He smashes into his friend’s shoulders, causing the vampire to buckle closer. Then he dashes to you and takes another hard kiss. The last man who’d been left in the cold for so long stands apart.
You gaze at him, your cheeks warming in a blush. “I’d be quite interested in spending time with you, Professor Gravestone.”
A low chuckle rumbles from the vampire. “Please,” he says. In one fell step, he sweeps you into his arms. “I only want to hear Orpheus from your succulent lips.” He kisses you deeply while Claremont presses your hand to his lips and Dominic scratches his nails down your back.
A werewolf, a ghost, and a vampire make for a most delectable Halloween treat. As you slip from Orpheus’ lips and turn to Dominic’s, your nose crinkles. “What do you say we leave this attic and get away from the horrible stench of dead witch.”
All three men stare at the witch’s snake corpse bubbling over onto the floorboards and begin to laugh. Together, the four of you descend down the house’s stories to discover that the manor’s decades of rot and abandon have vanished. Pristine fixings and fresh candles decorate the walls. Torn wallpaper’s repaired, and rugs are no longer moth-eaten. The entire place looks brand new.
You’re in shock, gazing at the beauty you never realized was right under your feet. As you step outside and stare at the fully revitalized manor, black vines retreating from its windows and archways to slink back into the forest, a stream of sunlight pierces the clouds. Lightness invigorates you on this November first morning. Holding the hand of a vampire, the other of a ghost, and feeling the palm of a werewolf on your back, the four of you gaze in wonder at the future before you.
You only needed a dark Halloween night to bring you back into the light.
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