Winter spirits are moaning outside my window. Love. It has its seasons.
The winter of it is heart-breaking. Come. See the snow-shrouded Inn at the End of the World.
DayStar has cast Victor Standish and the Victorian ghoul, Alice Wentworth, far in the mists of prehistory to New Zealand. Alice, in a fit of temper, has bitten Victor on the cheek.
Unlike his other wounds, it is not healing. Along the way, Victor has made another friend, the mystic sword, Morgyn, housing the spirit of Morgyn Le Fay.
Now, drawn by the aroma of hot chocolate, the only non-flesh thing Alice can digest, the two of them stumble on The Inn At The End of the World ...
In the snowy, shadowy glade ahead of us was something right out of an illustration for a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. It was a towering, strange tavern with odd turrets, stabbing into the umbrella of heavy branches from the bordering, misshapen trees.
Jeez, the only thing missing was a sign saying "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." The weathered shutteres were closed. I squinted for a clearer look.
That was when I spotted the claw marks gouged out of their faded wood. I shook my head as I realized just how deep those claws had cut. You could almost imagine Robin Hood's men guzzling ale in such a place.
No, the "feel" of the place was all wrong for that image. Robin of Lockley's men wouldn't be in such a evil tavern. Yeah, it might sound odd to you, but the inn had a feel of evil to it,
as if it were a place where the shades of damned knights would look hollow-eyed at one another, waiting for an unsuspecting innocent to wander in and never leave.
And this time, said innocents were me and Alice. I glanced at her cold, killer's eyes. Alright, said innocent was just me. I looked back at the inn.
Even from as far away as it was from us, it still gave me the shivers. Once in the woods, I had spotted a coiled rattler on the other side of the road.
My head had told me that it couldn't hurt me from that far away, but my goose-bumps had told me different. I listened to them.
And now, my goose-bumps were telling me the same thing. I called out to Alice who was stalking silently towards the shadowed tavern in the much too quiet glade.
"Alice, please stop. I'll even dig our way through the roof. Just stop, and listen to reason for once."
She turned her head as she kept going and hissed low,
"I could grow very old waiting for you to dig through that wooden roof, feeble-fingers."
She looked back towards the tavern. "I wager we could go through one of the windows."
I sighed, "Look at them. The shutters are all bolted and padlocked -- on the outside."
"Listen to him, Ghoul," snapped Morgyn the sword on my back, "Think for once. Why would they lock the windows on the outside?"
Alice's eyes slanted up to become fully flesh-eating ghoul.
"Perhaps because they secured the place before they left for the winter? Why ask me? It is simply deserted."
I ran my fingers through my hair. "Then, who's making the hot chocolate we're smelling from inside the place?"
Alice whipped back her long mane angrily. "Oh, I am too hungry to play twenty questions with a moron and his sword."
I rubbed my face in frustration. "Think, Alice. Maybe those shutters are locked to keep anyone stupid enough to wander in there from leaping back out? Did you ever think of that, huh?"
She didn't even answer me. Alice just spun on her heel and stormed ahead. I followed quickly after her, grinding my teeth.
Where had our love gone? Where? My throbbing cheek told me.
Consumed by her hunger for my flesh that she had awakened.
That's why she was acting so angry. She was howling inside over the death of our love ... and my death ... yet to be.
My steps slowed down as a terrible thought hit me. Maybe the shutters weren't locked to keep somebody in, but to keep something out. But what?
A weird stirring tingled deep inside me, and The Father's low, small Voice spoke one word : "Sunlight."
I frowned. Sunlight? Why would anyone want to keep sunlight out of a place?
My scalp tingled and got tight as the obvious answer came to me.
My headache got worse. And even with the scent of hot chocolate strong in the air, my appetite took wings. I breathed in deep as I came to a decision.
Alright, if I was really going in there, it was past time to start setting up a few surprises of my own. I smiled grim. If those ambushers liked darkness so much, I'd arrange to shed a little light on things ... and them.
I stopped. Very, very carefully, so as not to make the slightest sound, I drew back the shutter bolts with my fingers. I broke out into a sweat. The darn things were rusted and stiff.
But I finally managed it. And with the lock picks Captain Sam had given me, I opened three of the padlocks and gently took them off, laying them ever so softly on the strange grass. I smiled bigger and wiped my sweaty forehead.
Now, let them try something.
Morgyn trilled low, "Truly, Victor, thou acts like Arthur. Unlike the ghoul, who does not act, but merely reacts."
Alice might not have stopped for me, but she spun around at Morgyn's insult. "I heard that, toothpick."
I sprinted up next to her. "Then, maybe you'll hear this : do the names, Hansel and Gretel mean anything to you?"
"Yes, they mean you will read anything. Come, let us spring this trap."
She turned to walk the dozen or more steps to the heavy oak door. I ran after her and managed to catch up to her three feet before she bounded into disaster. I jumped smack in front of her.
"Do you know who was sorriest when the prodigal son came knocking at the door?"
Alice rolled her eyes. "Oh, Victor, if you can remember the joke, then why cannot you remember you have told it to me. Twice. This week."
"Maybe I would remember if the moral of the joke ever sank in with you. The fatted calf, Alice, the fatted calf!"
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