A thin layer of snow covered the ground when Erin looked outside the next morning, brilliantly white except for the dark trail left by the first lot of guests to check out. To her surprise, Lani was among them, and left without a single word. She did give Erin a small grin as she stepped out the door, which worried her more than anything the tamer could have done, but Erin watched her walk away amid a group of strangers until they disappeared out of sight on the road heading south.
“Kota sleeping in today?”
Erin turned away from the window and saw Terra walk across the room and lean against the other side of the window so that he could look out as well. “Yeah, he’s been pulling a lot of all-nighters lately, so I guess he’s earned it.”
“Hm.” Terra’s eyes roved over the ground and he smiled. “Love snow. Makes tracking easier, if you know how to walk in it.”
“Walk in it?”
“So you don’t scare everything away,” Terra said, and imitated a crunching noise. “No use if the animal knows you’re coming, yeah?”
“Guess so.” Erin watched a drift of snow slide off the roof and crash into the ground. “Don’t think this stuff will be lasting long, though. Lani left this morning.”
“Why do you look so disappointed?” Erin asked, turning on the hunter. “I thought you hated her.”
“Oh, hate’s a bit rough, but yeah. It just would’ve been more fun, seeing the look on her face when I caught the wolf.” Terra shrugged and smiled at Erin. “I’ll just have to settle for when she got licked by the it.”
Erin grinned a little and said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to check on something upstairs.”
“No problem, I was planning to step out anyways,” Terra said, absentmindedly waving Erin on as he went back to looking out. “Tamer distracted me, put me off schedule, I’ll have to make up for that.”
Erin fled up the stairs and, after looking to make sure that no one else was around, knocked on Kota’s door before trying to open it, only to find someone had locked it. She knocked again, and was just about to turn around and get the master key when it opened and Miles peeked out. “Can I help you?”
“What are you doing in there?” Erin asked as the vampire stepped aside and let her in. A quick look around showed the room was otherwise empty. “Is he still in the closet?”
“Yes,” Miles said, but stopped her from opening it. “I haven’t actually checked on him yet, he’s still asleep.”
“How do you know if he’s asleep if you haven’t checked?”
Miles tapped his ear and said, “Different heartbeat. The girl left, yes?”
“Yeah, this morning. I saw her leave. Is Kota okay?”
Miles pulled her a little farther away from the closet and spoke in a lower voice. “I haven’t checked yet, but…Well, let’s say he wasn’t. Maybe we should–”
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Erin said, pushing past him and yanking open the closet door.
A groan greeted them from the bottom of the closet and Kota put a hand to his eyes as he sat up. Voi, who had been curled up in a ball on his chest, looked around and leapt off at the movement to scurry into the corner. “What time is it?”
“You’re okay!” Erin flung her arms around the young man and pulled him up onto his feet.
“I am?” Kota swayed and steadied himself on the doorframe. “Then why does my head hurt so much?”
“Too much noise,” Miles said, tugging on the back of Erin’s shirt until she got the hint and let him go. Speaking louder, he added, “Good to see you again, by the way.”
Kota groaned again and clapped his hands to his ears as he glared at the vampire. “When did you get here?”
“Last night, same time you had your little accident.”
“Accident?” A look of panic crossed Kota’s face. “What accident, where?”
“Ah, so you don’t remember,” Miles said as he leaned in closer to examine Kota’s face, burning mark and all. “Tamer, flute, turning into a wolf, the savage attack?”
“What? No, no,” Kota said, sparing a hand to stop the vampire. “I don’t remember any of that.”
“Oh, good, because that last bit didn’t actually happen.” Miles took a look in the closet and then around the rest of the bare room. “You don’t go in much for decorating, do you? Not even a poster in your little hidey-hole. So depressing.”
“Where is Lani?” Kota asked Erin, glancing at the door as if expecting her to come barging in at any moment.
“She left, Miles scared her off.” Erin heard the vampire scoff behind her as he checked under the bed. “You don’t remember any of it?”
“I think I remember music, and then…” For a fraction of a second, Kota’s eyes widened before he squeezed them shut. “No, nothing else. What are you looking for?”
“Nothing,” Miles said as he straightened up. He spotted the red journal sitting on the nightstand and flipped it open. “Oh, someone’s been doing some reading. Anything interesting?”
“That’s right!” Erin shouted and Kota pressed his hands even harder against his skull as she turned around. “A mer told me that Mr. Sollis was looking for something to break a curse!”
Miles could not quite hide his surprise and he said, “Really?” without thinking. At Erin’s expression, he cleared his throat and said, “I mean, I can’t believe you found a mer. Not very talkative people when it’s cold out. Tell me more about this curse.”
Erin hesitated. “Well, the mer just called it a ‘chain’ or something, and said Sollis was looking for the key to breaking it.”
“I tried asking how to find it,” Erin said, trying hard not to look at Kota right now. “But the mer acted like I should already know.”
Miles looked over her shoulder at Kota, staring hard at him as if looking for something before he went back to the journal. “The mer knew you had this, right? Did the old man say anything useful in here, any maps, anything?”
“No, just a lot of gossip about guests,” Kota said behind her.
The vampire frowned and flipped through the pages so fast that Erin did not think he could have seen any of it, but he stopped and turned over the last couple before holding the book up so they could see the drawing of a sun and moon, interlocked.
“You said you had seen this before, right?” Miles said, looking now at Erin.
“Yeah, I told you, it’s the town emblem.” Erin sighed as she felt her hope draining away. “There’s a couple of them around, at the bridge and the clock tower. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Miles glanced at Kota and Erin again, and to her it sounded as if he were grasping at straws when he smiled and said, “Who wants to go into town today?”