“I want to help you,” you say, lighting a fire in the other’s eyes. Orpheus jerks his head and flies off, quickly filling his hands with books.
Claremont draws the tip of his finger from the middle of the back of your hand down the divots between each knuckle. “Brave and beautiful. Shame the Lord had to break the mold after you.”
Your cheeks light up at his flirting, your fingers trembling, when a strong hand clasps to your chin. You’re pulled to Dominic, who growls, “My hero,” and he kisses you hard. His tongue plies with yours, and you open your mouth to answer back, when another takes your cheek.
“You never did know how to share,” Claremont chides. He tugs you from Dominic’s parted lips until you’re falling into his gray eyes. A blue flame bursts from inside the irises and he leans for your mouth.
“I’ve gathered up a potion I believe will…” Orpheus says, descending in front of you while he drops a cork into a glass flask. “Could you refrain your advances until we’ve dealt with our enemy?”
Claremont shrugs. “Have you never heard of a kiss for good luck? Speaking of…” He reaches for you, but Orpheus tugs you away and places the bottle in your hand.
A purple iridescent liquid sloshes inside and the confidence you felt evaporates to uncertainty. “Our only hope to stop the witch is by destroying the source of her power with this.”
“What is the source?” you ask.
Orpheus pulls in a breath. “I don’t know. But I pray you have enough foresight to determine it while we…we do battle with the one who cursed us.”
“The witch who broke our hearts,” Claremont sneers.
Dominic flexes his muscles, a loud ripping sound echoing through the library. “The bitch that’s owed one.”
Orpheus takes the lead, directing everyone to the door. Dominic steps out first, then Claremont. It leaves you standing beside the vampire who’s clinging tight to a book. “Be careful,” he whispers in a soft voice. “The witch is a dangerous foe. She is selfish but not vain. Cruel but not foolish. She will shield the source of her power, but never let it stray far. I wish I could tell you more.”
“You’re not coming with?” you ask.
“The curse…” Orpheus says extending a hand to the door.
You stare at the threshold you so easily crossed as well as the others. But he reaches his fingers for it and winces in pain before yanking them back.
Claremont sticks his head in. “If you think we’re going to our possible second deaths without you, you’ve learned nothing, scholar. As the rightful owner of this manor, I give passage to Orpheus Gravestone…”
Awe builds in Orpheus’ eyes. He reaches a hand out past the pillars of the door and doesn’t wince in pain.
“Except for the bathroom,” Claremont tacks on quickly. “I like your hair better that way. No chance you’ll be a threat to any of us in such ridiculous do.”
Orpheus scowls at the addition, but he takes your hand and together you pass out into the hall. Traveling to the right, he opens the last door and reveals a final staircase. While every other room is dilapidated by time and rot, this looks new. Not a reconstruction, but as if someone perfectly preserved the steps of a Victorian manor in a time bubble.
“You’ve left your library, book slug,” a voice crows from above your heads. Green lightning crackles, striking the ceiling and raining dust down. A woosh of air shatters from the last story and you feel a strange pressure rising in the air.
“I’ve come to put an end to your torture, witch,” Orpheus shouts. He takes the steps first, but Dominic overruns him.
Leaping the stairs two at a time, he cries, “I’m gonna enjoy ripping your throat out.”
No voice responds, but the hair on Dominic’s head rises straight up in a line like a natural mohawk. With hands slapping against the stairs, he runs up the case to the landing now striking with green and purple lightning. Orpheus is close on his tail, his shoulders tossed back, one hand holding open the book he carries. Only Claremont remains beside you, holding your hand.
“We should join them,” you say and take a step.
He tugs on your hand and your heart catches. Does he mean to leave them to their doom? Spinning you back, Claremont catches your cheek and says, “Promise me you will survive tonight.”
“I…” you begin when he kisses you with a heat that swarms up your legs and ensnares your heart. It leaves you lightheaded, your vision swirling as the ghost releases his hold and chases after his friends. You pat the flask, making certain it’s still in your hands, and begin the long climb after them.
Green fog tumbles from a dead fireplace, curling around a gilded room with a four poster bed and a massive mirror set in a frame carved with three crows at the top. To the right is a table etched with strange symbols and a cauldron embedded inside the desktop. Your eyes catch the last piece of furniture. A small lantern, with a single flame burning inside, rests by itself on a table secured by a tiny lattice of fencing around the edge.
The men stand ready, but there is no one to fight. Only the fog rolls around them, curling over their ankles. You move to step closer, and find it’s difficult to lift your foot. Panic climbs up your spine and you try again.
This time, your foot is stuck as if the floor has turned to taffy. The fog snaps tighter, pinning you in place. The circular stained window bearing a black flower and thorns flings open into the October night. Three crows fly through the hole, each landing on the mirror, the table, and beside the lantern.
A voice laughs from below the floorboards. “Look at you, little vampire. Finally growing a pair.” Lightning erupts from the mirror’s surface, striking the table, the bed, and cutting across the ceiling. You follow it to find a gouge cut through the roof. But instead of stars you stare up into a pit of burning flames.
The air twists, your vision blurring as the three birds converge. Feathers burst through the air, one striking your cheek and slicing it open. You cup the wound and watch a woman of darkest night rise from the ground. She snickers and extends her hand. A mass of rings clatter off her long fingers, one of which holds an eye that blinks at you.
Orpheus sneers and raises his head. He opens the book and begins to read in Latin. The fog parts slowly, letting you shuffle your feet. It’s enough for Dominic to get a foot free and leap into the air. His arms extend as if he intends to grab the witch’s head and rip it from her body.
She sighs and raises her hand. Dominic nearly has her, his claws grasping, when she clenches her fist. Vines burst from between the floorboards, enveloping the werewolf in a flurry of black snarls. He struggles against the foliage snapping around him, even with thorns embedding into his skin.
The witch holds his chin in her hands. “You were the slowest of the lot. Of all of them you knew what I was, but swallowed the lies without a second’s thought. You’d have made a good puppet, but then you had to go and touch the skull. It was destined for you, Orpheus.”
His eyes open wide at his name, but he keeps reciting the same passage, wiping away more of the fog.
“Tis true. I thought how delightful it would be for the nosy human who thinks himself a magical expert to become my pet. To keep you on a leash day and night, perhaps even let you sleep in my lap…if you were a good boy.” Her callow laugh shatters the dark black and purple glass of the window. Another jolt of lightning strikes the air. She doesn’t release Dominic, but swirls a finger, warping the fog until it lashes together to form links, each one building on the other. The links stretch out to chains lashing around Orpheus’ wrists. They tug on his arms, ripping away the book.
“You bitch!” Claremont screams.
“Husband,” the witch crows.
“Yes, I feel I should inform you, I’d like a divorce on the account of you being the bride of Satan.”
“Who let you out of your coffin? Well, never you mind. You’ll be sent back there soon enough.”
“Then I’ll take you with me,” Claremont declares. He moves fast through the fog, untethered by the fog’s trap. The witch turns her eyes to him, puckers her lips, and blows a kiss. A green arc bursts from her lips. When it strikes Claremont, the whole of his body evaporates. Only a pile of bones scatters across the ground, helpless.
“Out of every husband in my past, you were the worst. Believed yourself to be some debonair man of the world. You couldn’t charm a spinster in heat.” She raises her foot about to crush Claremont’s skull.
“Stop!” you shout, drawing the witch’s powerful eye straight to you.
Her head tilts. “What is this mortal doing here?” She darts her eyes to Claremont, then Dominic, and finally Orpheus. “Of course. You’re the one who’s been mucking everything up. Found the little doggy and gave him his tooth. Revived the annoyingly cloying ghost from his effervescent form. And the vampire… I’m disappointed in you, Orpheus.”
The witch opens her hand causing the chains to tug his arms and legs wide. You hear a sickening snap but he doesn’t even blink from the pain. “Mortal!” he cries.
“Now, now,” the witch says waving her finger at him. She tosses her finger and the chains wrap around his mouth, silencing him. “Let a lady speak.”
“You’re no lady,” you say, your heart pounding harder than ever before.
She scoffs, her eyes narrowing on your. “Do you always let your meals talk back?” the witch says not to you but Orpheus.
“What?” you gulp, turning to the vampire unable to speak.
But the witch ignores you. Instead, she advances past the werewolf caught in the thorns. Claremont tries to wiggle a hand after her, but it can’t do anything. She draws the tip of her fingers down Orpheus’ cheek, the vampire struggling to tug away. But the witch holds him tighter.
“How can you be such an ungrateful guest to your patron? I bring you these young morsels for your benefit.”
“And you don’t even have the decency to give it a little taste?” the witch says in his ear while staring right at you.
He’s a vampire. He has to have blood to survive. All those years trapped in the library, then…
A voice whispers in your ear, Claremont somehow able to tell you, “The witch lies.”
Your eyes dart down to find Orpheus’ lost book on the floor. Twisting your head around, you begin to recite what he’d started.
“What are you doing?” The witch snarls and reaches for you, but a hand snaps out of the chains to grab her. You’ve eclipsed her magic enough for Orpheus to break free.
“Mortal!” he shouts, shaking away the chains. “The flask.”
You weigh the bottle in your hands and stare around the room. Where is her source of power? The mirror bears the mark of the crows and lightning rises from its surface. Or there’s the cauldron tucked away in the back, bubbles shaped like a skull and crossbones rising from inside of it. The last piece is the unassuming lantern, its flames flickering in the surface of the mirror.
Where do you pitch the flask to end this?
Orpheus tugs back on the witch’s arm, inverting her enough for the vines to loosen. Claremont’s hands climb up them trying to break the snarl for Dominic. They’ve only given you a second, you have to do this now.
You turn and throw the bottle at…