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Gravedigger's Lullaby

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It’s a shitty way to spend a Saturday night, and Trevor knows it.

He should be out at a bar with Alan and Chesca, maybe throwing darts badly at an ancient dart board in the Argus, or arguing about something pointless and existential with Liam in his shitty ground-floor studio that stinks of weed and old Greek take-out. He should be warming up a bed with that gorgeous redhead he met a few days ago, what was her name—Dani, he thinks. Dani and her boyfriend both seemed pretty interested in having him over, and God knows Trevor would’ve liked to take them up on their very enticing offer, but he couldn’t.

Unfortunately, then, as now, Trevor had a job to do. It’s a duty he can’t tell any of his would-be friends about, but it’s his duty nonetheless.

“This job sucks,” he says to the night air and the huge, looming house in front of him. The house doesn’t answer, just stares at him with its vacant windows. Trevor squints at it; above him, a waxing moon peeks from behind her cowl, barely a sliver of white showing in the sky above. The lack of moonlight shouldn’t really matter, not with being on the outskirts of a northern suburb like they are—it’s not as if there aren’t a dozen streetlights on this avenue.

But the street lights don’t touch this house. The cozy warmth of an early September evening falls short at its edges, as though the place has a permanent chill. The house is huge; once it was probably palatial, with a grandeur Trevor readily associates with a lot of really old neighborhoods in this part of Massachusetts. Now it squats like a sullen ogre in its abandoned lot, the thick, weedy grass coming up to nearly Trevor’s knee, behind what remains of the rotting wooden fence posts that ring the property. Only the faint moonlight gives it any illumination, and nothing it shows is the least bit reassuring: rotting wooden boards across maybe half the windows, the other half staring black and hateful out at the world. No-color paint peels off the sides of the building; its porch is collapsing in on itself, looking as though it’ll give way the minute someone dares to put their weight on it.

And most interesting of all is the fact that no one else in town seems to ever notice the house. Everyone who lives nearby will walk right past it as if it isn’t even there. And every attempt Trevor has made to ask his usual historical sources—the librarians at his favorite branch, Professor Emmerich in the history department, every half-decent historical site on the internet—no one even knows what he’s talking about. It’s like the house doesn’t exist.

Except, apparently, for Trevor.

He spotted it almost three weeks ago by pure freak coincidence. He’d been in the area hunting a rogue unicorn (talk about a weird realization, that unicorns would fuck you up if given half a chance) when he’d driven down this street and first spotted this weird fucking house. Trevor had actually lost track of the unicorn that night in favor of getting out to stare at the house; something about it had prickled every hunter’s sense he’s cultivated in fifteen years of doing this bullshit. The huge, unfriendly house had shone pale and sinister in the light of the full moon, and Trevor had been unable to put it out of his mind since then. When he’d been similarly unable to find out a damn thing about it, his resolve to look closer had only hardened.

Now the ruined manse looms in front of him, exuding an aura of menace and threat, a pointed warning to anyone stupid enough to try to come investigate. Trevor wonders what that makes him. Extra stupid? Cursed? Or just the poor schmuck left holding the bag?

Doesn’t matter, really. He crouches, sliding his backpack off his shoulder so he can dig through it and double-check everything he brought one last time. As he moves, the sheathed dagger on his hip shifts in its holster. It’s so long it’s really more of a short sword, but Trevor doesn’t have a license to carry a short sword in the state of Massachusetts. Just one of many small details he chooses to ignore on a regular basis.

Maybe he’ll call Dani and her hot boyfriend when he’s done here. Assuming he isn’t covered in something foul again like he ended up the night Dani gave him her number. Nothing like spectral ooze to really make your dick soft.

Trevor digs out everything in his bag, one by one, not content with his mental review before he came here. Maybe this place just sets him on edge—creepy abandoned house that no one but him can see, can’t imagine why that would make him nervous. Even as he goes through his equipment, he’s got one ear out, strained for any sound of… well, he doesn’t know.

Nothing good, probably.

Flashlight, rope, empty Aquafina bottle now full of holy water—side note: apparently it doesn’t do much if you drink holy water on accident—an electric lighter, a set of matches, a multi-tool, a dried bundle of wood tied up with twine, a container of salt, a baton Trevor nicked off a drunk police officer and subsequently doused in holy water, a First-Aid kit with lots of extra gauze and Ace wrap, a noisemaker, a thick wooden stake. Trevor puts it all back in his bag except for the flashlight and the baton.

Right. Might as well get it over with. Trevor stands up, slinging the backpack over his shoulders again. With a flick of his wrist, he extends the baton; he aims the flashlight at the front door of the house. (The short sword stays on his hip, to be drawn only if he’s actually being attacked.) Trevor takes a deep breath and forces himself to approach the front door, all the hair on the back of his neck standing up at the same time.

He gets all of fifteen feet before he takes a step, his foot catches on some unseen snag, and he pitches forward flat on his fucking face.

Trevor yells, an abortive squawk of outrage that’s cut off when he gets a faceful of evil scrub brush and haunted grass. He scrambles to his feet immediately, unharmed except for his dignity and maybe a scratch on his chin. He’s already reaching back to try to find what he tripped on when he hears something he’s definitely not expecting: female laughter.

“What,” he says, and looks around. It only takes him a second to spot her where she’s half-hidden behind a Scrub Brush of Hate And Evil, mostly because of how she’s cackling. “Hey, come on…” It takes a second to occur to him that this woman might not be—well, normal, but she’s already straightening up from behind the Bush of Evil, still grinning at him.

“That was spectacular,” she says, and she clasps her hands together. “How did you manage to not notice the warding spell like that?” She’s shorter than him, with a lilting accent and shoulder-length red-gold hair that floats around her face in unruly but attractive waves. She’s also got bright blue eyes, a cute button nose, and a grin that’s already making him wish her first glimpse of him hadn’t been him face-planting in front of a likely den of horrors.

Abruptly, Trevor realizes she asked him a question. “How did I manage to miss the what?” He turns around, glaring at the spot where he tripped, expecting to find a root sticking out of the dirt or something, but he sees exactly nothing. “Wait, seriously, what the fuck did I trip on?”

The girl is at his side in moments. “It’s right there,” she says, and points.

“I don’t see anything,” says Trevor.

“Ah,” says the girl. “I had thought—since you were here, it looked like…” She trails off, her expression going shifty in a way that Trevor is intimately familiar with, mostly from how it feels to wear it. It’s the same look he gets on his own face when he’s abruptly having to explain how he got so fucking dirty and covered in scrapes, because he can’t exactly tell anyone he spent his Wednesday night wrestling with a troll in a dumpster and have anyone think he’s not fucking crazy.

“You thought I was going into the house,” Trevor says on a sudden hunch. He sees her eyes go wide. “I was. You can see it too?”

“Yes!” She actually jumps in place a little bit, doing an excited little dance that is seriously cute. Trevor finds himself wishing hunting evil monsters didn’t require him to wear his dirtiest, shittiest clothes. “You can see the house! I knew it!”

“But I can’t see whatever else you’re talking about,” Trevor says, and he sighs. “At least it didn’t bite my face off, I guess.”

“You are lucky,” the girl acknowledges. “I’m Sofia, by the way.” Her accent makes the name sound amazingly elegant—Spanish, maybe. She smiles at him, watching expectantly.

“Oh, I’m Trevor,” says Trevor. He shoves his flashlight in a pants pocket and sticks out his hand, and Sofia takes it, giving him a nice firm handshake. “Sooo… why are you here?”

“Probably the same reason you are,” says Sofia significantly, and she puts her hands on her hips. The look on her face is blaring “DANGER” in the back of Trevor’s mind like a klaxon alarm, but he blunders ahead anyway, never one to let a nice obvious warning like that one stop him.

“You really shouldn’t be here,” Trevor says. “It’s, uh, probably not safe.”

Sofia glares at him. “And what exactly are you planning to do?” she demands. “What do you think you’re going to find inside that you can handle and I cannot?”

Ugh, this is why he’s always single. No one likes being told they can’t do something, no matter how much of their intestines are gonna wind up on the pavement because of their ignorance. “Probably something with a lot of teeth and a taste for human flesh,” Trevor says bluntly.

He’s not sure he’s expecting her to believe him. He’s not sure of much, honestly; the fact that she can see the house like he can is a big surprise. Maybe she’ll slap him, or demand a better answer than that, or accuse him of making things up. What he’s definitely not expecting is for her to give him a devilish grin, hold out her palm, and holy shit her fucking hand is on fire

“Holy FUCK,” he blurts. Sofia laughs. She gestures, and the ball of flame hops out of her palm, blooming up and out into a tree made of pure fire. Then she slashes her hand in front of her body, and the flames simply vanish.

“Whatever is inside this house that apparently only the two of us can see, I promise I can handle it much better than you,” she says with no small degree of smugness.

“Okay, hold on,” he says. “Look—first of all, that was really fucking cool, alright, but have you ever actually, uh. Done this before?”

Sofia raises both her eyebrows at him as if he’s an idiot. Hell, he is an idiot. That’s never been in contention. Trevor sighs. “I just meant I’ve been on a lot of—hunts, before, and they get weird and shitty pretty fast, and I just…”

“I could set your head on fire if that would convince you,” Sofia says. There’s a manic glint to her eyes.

“You have really got to work on your flirting technique, you come on way too strong,” Trevor says, and feels a spike of giddiness when she can’t entirely suppress her smile even as she’s rolling her eyes at him. “Alright, whatever, I give. I don’t even know what’s inside this fucking place, it just seems really fucking creepy that it’s hanging out here playing keep-away with everyone else in Boston.”

“Agreed,” says Sofia. “But before we go any further—you said you cannot see that, right?” Again she points at what to all intents and purposes looks like an empty patch of ground.

“Not a damn thing,” he says. “What do you see?”

“It’s—a spell, sort of,” Sofia says. “I think it’s meant as an extra layer of security to persuade people not to come inside the house. You know, trip them up, hurt them a little, make them want to turn around.”

Trevor squints at her. “I mean, that makes sense,” he says after a moment, though his tone is dubious. “But you can see that?”

“Yes,” Sofia says. She’s staring at the spot on the ground, squinting a little, as if trying to make her eyes focus. “It’s hard to describe. I can just see the outlines, and the gesture of a spot to catch your foot on, like a drawing, or an idea.”

“…Right,” says Trevor. He has no idea what shape an idea is supposed to have, but this girl is clearly three times as magical in an evening as he’s been in his entire life, so he’s just gonna take her word for it. He glances around at the yard before them, eyes scanning over the facade of the house. “Do you see anything else we ought to watch out for?”

Sofia glances at him. Trevor thinks he sees a flicker of approval in her face for just a moment, and then she turns away and starts doing the same thing he’s doing, scanning the lawn and the front of the house. “A few things,” she says after a moment. “None of them look actually dangerous, though. All really the equivalent of a slap in the face.”

“Weird,” says Trevor. He stares at the ground, distracted for a moment. All these things about the house are adding up to a strange picture: don’t look at me, I’m too much of a bother, I’m just annoying, I’m not even really here. “Whoever’s here really doesn’t want to be bothered, do they?” he says out loud.

He looks over at Sofia and sees her frowning, staring at the front of the house. “Seems like it,” she says at last. She looks back at him. “Should we leave?”

Now it’s Trevor’s turn to frown. “Just because they want to be left alone doesn’t mean we should,” he says. “Whatever’s in there might be doing, I don’t know… human sacrifice.”

Sofia snorts. “Human sacrifice,” she says. “Really? That’s the first thing you reach for?”

“Hey, it’s not that weird!” Trevor says defensively. “Come on, haven’t you ever watched X-Files?”

“X-Files! That’s what you watch to prepare you for this? No wonder you tripped over that spell!” Sofia throws her hands in the air in obvious exasperation like he’s a child that’s just drawn all over the walls. Trevor thinks this is a bit unfair, considering they just met maybe five minutes ago. Give him a whole evening to fail to meet her expectations, at least.

“Fuck off,” he says grumpily. He re-adjusts his backpack, directly his glower at the front door. “It’s not like there’s a fucking manual that comes with the job, is there?”

There’s a pause, and then a sigh. “No, you’re right,” Sofia says; she sounds chagrined. “I am sorry.”

Trevor exhales. “It’s fine,” he says. “Come on, let’s get on with it, this place isn’t getting any less creepy.”

They have a brief, remarkably lively conversation about the best way in, before ultimately deciding to sneak around to a side entrance and crawl in through a ground-floor window, reaching it by virtue of Sofia growing a block of ice on the ground beneath it. “The front door is definitely spelled,” Sofia says. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be thrown out directly on our asses if we try to go in that way.”

“Perfect,” mutters Trevor. “It’d go right along with me falling flat on my face.”

Trevor insists on going first. It’s his job, after all; that’s the whole point of this, that he put himself in harm’s way so that some poor feckless bastard doesn’t get his head ripped off. Sofia objects, but Trevor refuses to be swayed, and finally she agrees, though she’s clearly irritated. Trevor doesn’t care. She can be pissed at him all she likes, and if they’re lucky it’ll all be for nothing—nothing vicious with killing claws and soul-rotten eyes will lunge at them from the depths of a hellscape—and she can just yell at him later about his chauvinism or whatever.

If only. Trevor’s never lucky. Not like that.

The window creeaaaks open, making Trevor wince and all of his hair stand on end, but nothing else happens. Trevor pushes his backpack in first, then eases himself through, then finally stands aside and watches the hallway with his baton out while Sofia pulls herself through after. And at first he’s only looking for motion, for signs of mischief or that they’ve been heard, and then after a second or two he really sees what the inside of the house looks like, and his jaw drops.

“Holy shit,” he says out loud, as Sofia straightens up next to him.

“What—” she begins, and then she gasps. “Oh.

They’re not in a house at all. They’re in a fucking castle.

A full-blown gothic castle, from the looks of it. Trevor might be a shit student at times, but he remembers gothic architecture well enough to know it when he sees it. He stares up, and up, and up, eyes tracking the high sweeping stone, staring numbly at the nesting gargoyles carved in the high corners. Tapestries huge as they are brightly-colored drape the walls, each one the breadth and width of Trevor’s entire bedroom; in other places, paintings take center stage, hung in heavy wooden frames lined with what Trevor strongly suspects is gold.

They’re at one end of a long hallway, lined with dark green carpet thick enough that Trevor would want to dig his bare feet into it if it wasn’t probably haunted and made of curses. Above them, the stone ceiling sweeps high up into intricate points, like the pictures Trevor’s seen of the inside of Notre Dame. Suits of armor line the halls, most of them holding heavy shields with ornate, forgotten coats of arms on their surfaces. Trevor half-expects one to turn and give him an evil look, but nothing happens.

The faintest smell of some resin is in the air, some heavy incense or oil. It tickles Trevor’s nose and brings to mind half-forgotten memories of praying on his knees in a church to a God he was never quite sure was listening. He shivers. “This,” Trevor begins, and then he stops. He lowers his voice to a whisper. “This is absolutely bug nuts. Right?”

“It’s a fucking castle,” Sofia whispers back. Something about her voice makes Trevor glance over at her, and yep, she looks fucking delighted. “Holy shit, someone is hiding a castle in an empty lot outside Boston!”

“That’s big magic,” Trevor says in a low voice. Sofia instantly sobers. “We should be careful. We still need to find out who brought this here, and what they’re doing.”

Sofia bites her lip and nods. She and Trevor exchange a long look, and then by mutual, silent assent, Trevor sets off down the hallway, treading as lightly as he can, Sofia creeping behind him.

It turns out that not only does the castle look different inside than it does outside, it’s also much, much larger. Trevor mutters something about the Tardis and hears Sofia’s muffled laugh behind him, but both of them are having trouble summoning any emotion beyond stunned incomprehension as they cautiously explore.

They follow the stone hallway all the way down, passing open doors that give glimpses of various things: a massive fuck-off library big enough to make any university jealous, full of ancient-looking leather-bound books and manuscripts wrapped in hide or sealed in glass cylinders; a ballroom with a wide polished wooden floor, flanked by huge stone fireplaces at either end; a room that looks an awful lot like a laboratory would look if it was designed by Merlin, full of glass beakers and pulsing lights and huge, intricate mechanisms.

Some of the other rooms look as though they’ve seen better days, however. One room has a thick mahogany door falling down from its frame, partially obscuring the view in. Through one of the holes Trevor can see glimpses of ruined tables and bookshelves, the remains of some apocalyptic fight, as well as what looks suspiciously like skeletons lying broken on the floor.

“That’s what pledge week looks like at BU,” he says to Sofia. She rolls her eyes at him and grabs him by the wrist, tugging him along the corridor. Trevor lets her, but still casts a glance back into the shuttered, forlorn room, wondering what the fresh hell happened.

They walk, and walk, and walk. By now they’ve noticed the interior of the castle seems to be lit by some indeterminate source—Trevor isn’t sure if the lights up above are electric or magic, and despite her second sight Sofia can’t quite tell either. Either way, there’s no reason to have his flashlight out, so Trevor puts it away in his bag. He still carries the baton in his other hand, though since nothing has attacked them he’s just carrying it at this point.

Eventually they come to a large central room off which staircases and hallways spiral like intricate clockwork, more mechanisms built into its walls. Trevor finds his gaze caught and held by an enormous stone gear that spins slowly in the center of the room like a waterwheel missing its river. Its teeth interweave with several other cogs that are all spinning in the faint, eerie light of whatever spell illuminates this strange and empty castle.

And it is absolutely empty. They haven’t come across one living being in the hour they’ve been wandering through it, much less any undead, half-dead, or should-be-dead sorts.

But soon, they find something much more alarming. As they pass through another archway, down another hallway and around another corner, they enter into what appears to be a huge, empty study. Trevor’s eyes fall on a massive desk, behind which a painting as elegant as it is massive is mounted on the wall. His eyes travel over the painting, and he freezes, pinned in place by what he sees there.

“Sofia,” he says in a low voice. She bumps into him from behind with a small oath, and then steps to one side. He hears her soft inhale of breath, and then they both just stare.

The painting is of three people. A tall, elegant man stands in the center, his long blond hair tumbling over his shoulders like pale gold; his clothing is old-fashioned and expensive-looking, his long black velvet jacket hemmed in fine gold thread over a frothy white shirt like something out of a goddamn romance novel. He smiles softly down at the two people leaning against him, and it’s really the two other people in the painting that are throwing Trevor for the loop.

Because the other two are the spitting image of himself and Sofia.

The Trevor in the picture is in similarly ridiculous, old-fashioned clothing, with a shining whip at his hip, shaggier hair, and a large scar that runs down across one eye. Despite looking like he’s trying out for the remake of Highlander, he’s smiling and relaxed, leaning back slightly against the blond man’s chest, the blond’s hand resting lightly at his hip. The painted Sofia, meanwhile, is wearing nondescript baggy blue robes but looks otherwise the same as the girl standing next to Trevor. She’s leaning against the blond man’s back, one arm slung loosely around his waist. All three of them fairly radiate contentment. It’s like looking at Harlequin romance novel cover with his own face on it.

“What the actual goat-shitting fuck,” breathes Sofia.

Trevor chokes, turning to stare at her. “That’s one I haven’t heard. Also, uh. Is that painting magical?”

Sofia is already turning to smirk at him when she pauses to consider the question. After a moment, she shakes her head. “I can’t feel anything magical about it at all,” she says. “Seems like just a normal painting.”

“Normal for the Twilight Zone, maybe,” Trevor mutters. “You see it too, right? It’s not just me seeing this?”

“If you mean, do I see a painting of the two of us plus our very hot blond boyfriend, set a few hundred years ago, then yes,” says Sofia. “I want to take a closer look at it, hold on.” With that, she conjures a ball of flame into her palm and walks closer to the desk and the painting mounted behind it. Trevor is just about to ask her to clarify that observation a little further, mostly because of the visuals it conjures, when another exciting turn of events takes his attention.

Which is a nice way of saying that something rotting and too large comes gibbering through the door at them. Sofia screams, hucking her ball of flame at the wall in shock as the reanimated corpse of what looks like a demented bear lumbers into the room, roaring loud enough to shake the ceiling rafters overhead.

“GET DOWN,” Trevor yells, and he hurls his baton at the bear’s face. It connects with a meaty thud, and the bear screams, staggering to one side as the blessed baton burns a hole through the middle of its rotting skull.

Sofia steps past him before Trevor can stop her in his endless bid to become the world’s stupidest man. She gestures, and fire erupts along the bear’s patchwork hide, hot enough that Trevor can feel it sear his own hair even from where he stands.

Again the bear screams. It rears back, clawing frantically at its own face, and in its agony it crashes sideways into the doorframe it just came through. Trevor crouches, slinging his bag off his back and shoving his hand into it in one practiced movement, coming out moments later with the Aquafina bottle. He rips the top off as he rises, swinging his arm up and across to send holy water splashing across the bear’s face in a wide arc.

The effect is immediate: the bear opens its terrible mouth wide, but no sound comes out, because its face starts to slough off its body. The skull caves in horribly, melting and bubbling like a sandcastle under an ocean wave, and then the bear topples forwards as more and more of its head and neck collapses and melts away in hideous slow-motion.

Trevor has a few moments to stand there feeling both pleased and disgusted as the bear convulses on the fancy carpet. He edges forward, scooping up his baton and wiping it on another patch of carpet, and he’s just looking over at Sofia with hey, nice work on his lips when more roaring noises sound from the hallway just behind him. Noises, plural: it sounds like several more exciting creatures are coming their way.

“We should go,” Sofia says.

“Right,” says Trevor. As one they turn and sprint for the third hallway that lets onto this room.

The roars get louder and louder behind them; Trevor pictures about six more of those enormous demon bears and wishes he hadn’t gotten quite so enthusiastic with his one bottle of holy water so quickly. Goddammit, he really needs to learn to manage his shit better and not just hurl things willy-nilly at monsters hoping for the best.

He gets an opportunity to revisit that thought just moments later, when they encounter another one of the demon bears as it gallops into the room they’re running down through a different doorway. Trevor ducks right as Sofia veers left, grabbing the short sword from his hip as he dodges around the rampaging bear-corpse. It goes for Sofia, lunging at her with tooth and claw, harrying her into a corner and keeping her darting around too much to use her magic.

Trevor keeps running, jumping up onto a low table and then using his momentum to vault off the wall, sword raised. He lands directly on the thing’s back, driving his sword deep into its skull where it meets its huge neck. The bear screams, rearing up and rocking sideways in an attempt to scrape him off or maybe just escape from the pain of the sword in its spine, not yet realizing it should be dead.

He sees Sofia backing away, sees her gesturing, her hair buffeting wildly around her as magic flares in her third eye and her fingers. Trevor jams his feet against the bear’s shoulders and parkours right off its back, just in time for Sofia to set the hideous thing on fire.

Trevor hits the ground and lets his momentum carry him into a roll, scrambling to his feet and jamming his sword in its sheath as he comes upright again. “Just keep running!” he yells, grabbing Sofia’s hand as they tear out of the room, and he gets a hand-squeeze in response.

They hurtle through the dining room they’ve just entered and turn a corner, racing down one hallway after another as things crash and roar and get increasingly multitudinous behind them. Trevor wonders vaguely if the fancy person-monster-whoever that lives here had really planned on having evil demon bears rampaging around, or if that was just a small oversight on their part. Really that seems like it was a bad call, the things are just fucking filthy and this place is weirdly nice—

“Trevor,” yells Sofia as they turn a corner and another massive demon bear nearly takes Trevor’s head off with a swing of its paw. Trevor ducks just in time, sliding along the wooden floor beneath the thing’s paw; he nearly topples over but catches his balance at the last minute to start running again. Sofia, smaller and more agile, has already darted down the hall and is throwing anxious at him looks over her shoulder.

“Run faster,” he gets out as he dashes after her. She swears at him and then it’s her turn to grab his hand and drag him along.

Two more hallways, in one of which Trevor careens into an end-table and sends it crashing to the floor before Sofia can yank him onward. She sends up walls of ice and sheets of flames behind them to slow the creatures chasing them. They’re dashing down a huge entrance hall now, both of them panting, a stitch crawling up Trevor’s side, but the sight at the end of the hall makes his heart lift—a door! Or well, a huge fuck-off pair of stone doors clearly stolen from some cathedral somewhere, doesn’t matter doesn’t matter it’s an exit sweet Jesus get them out

The doors swing open untouched.

Trevor has half a second to register that there’s a figure standing there in the doorway, tall and blond and definitely human, and then there’s a weird shimmer and suddenly the man is right in front of them and is that—

“HELLO, WATCH THE SWORD,” yells Trevor as it slices just inches in front of them.

Sofia snarls something incomprehensible and chops her hand across the air in front of them, and Blondie’s legs are suddenly encased in ice. Trevor dances backwards, Sofia hovering at his side, hands raised defensively in the air and crackling with readied magic. Even as Trevor brings his short sword out, ready to be utterly fucking useless against Mr. Teleporting Longsword, his eyes are darting around the room to look for other things to use as weapons, to see if they have enough clearance to just go around their new opponent.

“Oh my God,” says Blondie. The tone of his voice snaps Trevor’s attention right back to his face. What he sees there is enough to make him hesitate.

He realizes three things in the same moment: Blondie is staring at him and Sofia like he’s seen a fucking ghost, he’s got fangs, and he is absolutely the spitting image of the tall blond man in the painting.

“What is this wickedness?” whispers Blondie. A few pale pink tears trickle down his cheek; he looks like he’s ready to keel over in shock. “Who torments me so?”

Trevor glances at Sofia, who’s looking over at him looking just as unnerved. He looks back to Blondie, ready to ask a dozen questions: what the fuck are you talking about? and who the fuck are you? and why do you have so many dead bears in your house? but at that moment, another furious roar echoes from behind them as one of aforementioned dead bears appears at the end of the hall they’ve just run down.

“Time to go,” Trevor says. In unison, he and Sofia split around the still-frozen stranger, running flat-out for the freedom of the open front doors. “You should do something about all those bears!” Trevor yells behind him, and then they’re bursting out the front entrance and vaulting over the sagging wooden porch onto the lawn of evil.

By some unspoken agreement, the two of them just keep running, sprinting all the way back to the sidewalk and halfway down the street it before they finally drag to a halt. Trevor bends over, panting a little, wincing at the stitch eating up his side. He turns back around, squinting in the direction of the house, but it still looks just as it did: a sullen broken-down manse falling to ruin, with a shitty front lawn and a shittier sagging porch. The front door is closed. No beautiful blond vampire is standing in the doorway crying blood-tears at them; no furious demon bears are chasing them down the street.

“Well,” says Trevor after a few more moments of busily sucking air into his lungs. “That happened.”

“No shit,” says Sofia. She straightens, looking over at him with as thoughtful expression as one can manage while still panting for air. “Do you always have such bad luck on your hunts?”

“Hey,” Trevor says and has to stop to cough a little bit. “I think—that could have gone a lot worse, really. Nobody’s even bleeding.”

“That man was crying, though,” Sofia says, and now she sounds sober instead of teasing. “That was bizarre.”

“Vampire, not man,” Trevor says grimly. He sighs, glancing back at the house one more time. “We should keep walking. It’s not even one am yet, still lots of time for Blondie to decide him and his demon bears want to keep chatting with us after all.”

“You’re really okay with leaving a vampire to his own devices?” Sofia looks at him, her lips pulled into a little moue of irritation that does not take away from the fact that Trevor now knows she could effortlessly set him on fire. “Besides, I want to know why he had that painting of Ren Faire Trevor and Sofia in his house.”

“I mean yeah, me too, but it’s not that simple. If it was just the vampire, that’d be one thing,” says Trevor. “But a vampire and his eighty demon bears, plus whatever the fuck else is in that house—we’re gonna need a lot more holy water.”

He wishes, not for the first time, that he had a better long-range weapon. Guns are fucking useless against the undead; iron and steel work great on the fey but do fuck-all against vampires, especially the older ones that heal so fucking fast. Silver bullets are expensive and hard to come by, and it’s harder still to convince priests to consecrate bullets for you. Holy water is a little easier to manage, but it still involves a lot of ass-kissing and lying that Trevor doesn’t love. Most priests think he’s just delusional if he mentions needing it to drive out demons, whatever they may show on TV. Lately he’s just been telling the clergy he wants to bless his house to please his wife.

He sighs and rubs his face. “Look,” he says. “Um, uh, normally when I ask a girl out there’s at least a drink or two involved first, but—”

“I’m giving you my number, so don’t make me regret it,” Sofia cuts in. “You’re going to die if you keep doing this by yourself. Pass me your phone.”

“Hey,” Trevor says, but he winds up sounding more pleased than anything else, because he is, in fact, a dipshit. He gets out his phone and hands it to Sofia, who punches her number in and then sends herself a text.

“I’ll text you tomorrow,” Sofia says, as she hands the phone back to him. “We need to figure out what to do about the house.”

“Right,” says Trevor. “Of course. I’ll—get right on it.” Sofia raises her eyebrow at him, and Trevor flashes his best golly gee whiz smile at her, which on reflection probably makes him look like a moron.

“Bye, Trevor,” she says. “It was nice to meet you. Maybe next time there will be fewer demon bears.” So saying, she turns and cuts across the street, heading to a small car parked at the end of the block. She reaches into her pocket for something and the car’s headlights flare, confirming Trevor’s suspicion that it’s hers. It’s small, cute, a dusky red-orange color, and altogether about a thousand times nicer than Trevor’s twelve-year-old beater that will start only if he gets down on his knees and sings sweet love songs to it in the morning.

Trevor watches her go. He waits until she’s gotten safely into her car and driven off before he walks over to his own car, but he doesn’t get in immediately. Instead, he turns and stares back down the street towards the old house.

All joking aside, that whole experience was one of the weirdest of his life. He can’t shake the feeling that the blond vampire actually knew him somehow, which is insane—he’s never seen that man in his life. But even weirder than that was that fucking painting. Trevor only got a short look at it, but there was no mistaking the fact that the people in painting were him, Sofia, and the blond vampire.

“Fucking weird,” he mutters out loud, and shakes his head. Then he yanks the car door open and drops in, hucking his bag into the passenger seat and starting the car.

He has only an instant of warning: light consumes the world behind him, blinding in the rear-view mirror, like a bomb has just gone off. Trevor hunkers down in the car, throwing his arms over his head in shock. Outside, he can feel the car being buffeted back and forth in a sudden high wind. Then, as quickly as it started, it’s gone.

Trevor waits a few moments to see if anything else weird or fucked-up is going to happen before he inches himself upright and peers around to see… nothing. The street he’s on is quiet, dark, looking just as it did thirty seconds ago. Trevor glances in the rearview mirror, then does a double-take. He cranks the window down, shoving his head out to stare behind him to make sure the mirror isn’t lying.

It isn’t. The house is gone.

“Shit,” says Trevor.