Erin thought Miles telling her to stay in the inn was probably the worst thing he could have done after everything else that had happened. She watched him run into the woods through one of the windows, and spent the next hour pacing, pulling back all of the shutters on the ground floor so she could see out no matter where she was at, and doing every little thing that came to mind to keep from thinking about Kota.
After catching herself staring at the line of trees for the tenth time in as many minutes, Erin went to the front desk and started sorting the papers, balling up the trash and throwing them as hard as she could at the fireplace. She stopped when picking up one of the receipts uncovered the red leather bound cover of Sollis’s journal.
Erin picked it up and briefly considered hurling it into the fire with the other trash. After a moment of hesitation she sat down in the nearest chair and opened the journal. Any kind of distraction was better than this.
The musty pages crinkled under her touch and stuck together in chunks that she had to pry apart, and more than half were covered in small, loose writing that was thankfully easier to read than Miles’s. Flipping through page after page, Erin was a little disappointed to see that most of it was just a record of the inn’s guests and expenses. Some days just mentioned how many, but there were also names and notes on some guests.
Thumbing through the pages, she stopped and went back at a familiar name and read: Mdm. Elzwig. Complained about the food again. Nosy as ever. She smiled and noticed that some of the other guests that day tried to slip Sollis some bad money, and one unnamed guest, “prob. mer” paid in chel shells, whatever those were.
A snort from the other corner of the room made Erin jump. She looked at the pig, who scrunched up her snout and made a terrible sound.
“Ugh. I guess you’re hungry or thirsty or something.” Erin wondered if Miles remembered animals needed to eat more than he did. Probably not. She dragged the pig’s cage into the kitchen and found a bucket to fill with water.
The only problem was that the pig barely had any room for itself in the cage, much less for the bucket. Groaning, Erin dragged the cage again, this time through the back door and across the yard toward the stable. She had to stop a few times to catch her breath, as the pig was no lightweight.
During one of these pauses, the pig grunted and started slamming against the door of the cage.
“Stop it!” Erin yelled, but the pig took no notice of her. The cage rocked and nearly tipped over, and Erin grabbed the other end of the cage and pulled it into the stable and over to one of the stalls.
She slammed the stall door harder than she meant to and came back a minute later with the bucket of water and some scraps of food. Placing those in the stall, she unlocked the cage door and quickly stepped back through the stall door.
The pig immediately crashed out of the cage and tackled the stall door, and Erin had to lean and put all of her weight on it to get the latch to shut.
“Stupid pig,” she muttered and crouched down with her back to the stall door. Sighing she stared at the patch of sunlight on the floor while the pig hit the door a few more times before turning on the food and water.
Sunlight? It took a moment for what she was seeing to sink in, and then Erin’s expression turned to one of horror.
Had the sun been out before? Erin tried to remember, but fighting with that pig meant she didn’t have time to think about that kind of thing. Even now she couldn’t think straight as she ran out of the stable and to the inn, then back out the front door when a quick search proved that Kota and Miles were still out.
She was halfway to the forest before reason caught up with her, causing her to slow down until she stopped a fair distance away from the first trees. The path led on, but she doubted Kota would have bothered to stick to it.
Erin scanned the line of trees and bushes, but even if she could tell which way they went it would not have made going in any easier. Every snap of a twig, every trill of birdsong, even the wind rustling the branches of the trees made her take a step back whenever she tried to get closer.
She tried to remind herself about what Kota said, that the forest wasn’t like what everyone said, but she couldn’t help thinking that he did not have the same ideas about what was dangerous. The guy had a habit of turning into a wolf, after all.
The clouds gathering overhead did not register to Erin as she took a deep breath and followed the path into the forest. Her chest and shoulders were tight with tension, her steps little more than shuffling, but slowly she made her way along the path, eyes straining to see as far as possible in the dimming light.
A bird shrieked overhead and a squirrel chattered so close that Erin’s nerve nearly broke.
She bit her lip. Stupid, she thought, and took a deep breath. Steeling herself, she broke into a run, deeper into the woods. The only thing keeping her terror down was the constant thought that the sooner she found the others, the sooner she could get out of this place.
So determined was she, Erin missed the sound of footsteps in the distance. She did not even see Miles and Kota up ahead until she rounded the curve in the path and almost ran into both of them.
“Erin” Kota lost his grip on Miles when Erin threw her arms around him.
“Oh, thank God you’re okay!”
“Yes, let’s worry about the guy who could have died later,” Miles said from the ground.
Erin quickly let go of Kota and stumbled out an excuse while he helped the vampire back up onto his feet.
“I’m starting to think you like running into me,” Miles muttered. Now that Erin looked, she could see that the vampire was pale and feverish, not to mention trembling more than Kota in town.
“We need to get him back to the inn,” Kota said. “Do you mind helping?”
Erin took Miles’s other arm and between them they managed to haul the vampire all the way to the inn, with him muttering most of the way. One particularly bad moment came when they cleared the last of the trees and Miles turned his head to look at Erin and say, “I thought I told you to stay at the inn.”
“You might have said something like that,” Erin admitted.
“I also might have said something about a certain pig,” Miles said. He sniffed and Erin wished she could move farther away. “What did you do?”
“Just moved it to the stables,” Erin said, leaning as far away from him as possible while still supporting his weight. “I put her in one of the stalls with some food and water.”
Miles groaned. “You mean the stalls with the incredibly easy to open latches?”
“Er…” Erin could not answer before the vampire suddenly surged forward, dragging the other two along for support.
He struggled with the door until Erin opened it for him, and all three stared at the sight of the pig, or at least the half of her they could see stuck in the small gap between the bottom of the stall door and the floor.
Miles took one look at the scene and laughed. “Really, Melanie? You thought you could get through there?”
The pig huffed and looked as embarrassed as a pig could manage. It took Kota a while to get her unstuck, and then even longer to get her back into the cage.
“Looks like I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to go to the city,” Kota remarked.
Miles felt Erin tense up next to him and he had to steady himself. Speaking around the hand he put to his mouth, he said, “Kota. Inn. Now.”