Table of Contents
The Accidental Tourists
Rani put her hand wrist-deep into the floor of the Hotel. It offered surprisingly little resistance, but didn’t give her anything in the way of clues, either. The marble floor remembered nothing more than a river might have. Everything had changed since the last time anyone touched it, and so there were no psychic impressions to speak of. Might even have been peaceful, if not for the deafening roar of a few hundred souls with no physical reality in between them, each other, and Rani. “Fuck me,” she muttered, “why do I keep coming along on these things?”
“Is there a problem?” Mina wanted to know.
“Not yet, but I’m not getting a bead on Tor yet, either.” She swept her hair out of her face and looked directly at the younger woman. “He’s not going to be in one of his evil crime boss moods when I find him, is he? Because if I wanted to get my ass kicked by a villain twice my level, I could have done that back in Rimbor.”
“I’ll handle Ebreth,” said Mina. “You just take care of the finding part.”
Rani blinked. Mina had gotten a lot more confident since that Justin Moore subplot. “What I do best,” she said. “Is it all right with you if I start by finding some of the others? They may be closer at hand.”
“If you think that’s best,” Mina said. “You--don’t think the rest of the Rat Pack is in any danger here, do you?”
“Nah.” Rani strained at the cacophony of souls, trying to isolate the familiar sounds of Asinus, Val, Marty Hu. “I’m sure they’re fine. I mean, it’s just a hotel. What kind of trouble could anyone get into in a goddamn hotel?”
Marty made an anxious second circuit of the hotel room. No scary little bars of soap like the last hotel he stayed in, but there weren’t any windows, either. And no back door. Not that hotel rooms usually had a back door, or anything.
No, there was just the one exit. With a little plastic sign hanging from the doorknob. It had a picture of somebody sleeping on it, and it said in neat print, “DO NOT DISTURB.”
“Dude,” sighed Marty, stymied, and sat down on the end of the bed. “How am I supposed to get out of here, then?”
Seeker of Places galloped down the hall at full speed, which, given that his legs were only about an inch and a half long, wasn’t really all that fast. Sometimes Seeker wished he had been born a dog, or maybe even a rabbit.
This was the house of many rooms from his dream, the dream he had after Jack^1’s death and again the night Jack^2 disappeared. The Rat wasn’t actually as good with prophecies as he pretended to be. Oh he had the mathematical awareness and good whiskersense to know when something needed to be done, but he didn’t usually know what to do about it till the time came, to be honest. He’d been winging that business with Rauvin and the Remnant, and Babe’s campaign against the Lich Lord, and then that Rimbor City negative material problem. He was winging the attempt to keep Jack’s equation viable now. Seeker of Places was a little surprised by how much direction he provided in the King of Kings plotline, actually. He guessed there was nothing like a megalomaniacal archmage trying to tie your tail into an undead mandela of rat corpses to get your adrenaline going.
Seeker of Places turned the corner, his claws scrabbling a bit on the tile, and then jumped almost six inches in alarm as a phantasmagoric face came rushing down the hallway towards him. *SQUEEEEEEEEEAK!* he shrilled in terror, ran to the left and then changed his mind and ran right, and crushed himself into the indentation of the nearest door-frame just as the blue-limned head went screaming past. The Doppler effect trailed off behind it for what seemed like a very long time. The Rat’s heart thudded in his little chest.
This was a dangerous place, this house of many rooms.
Seeker needed to find his friend before he was lost in it forever.
Jack wandered down the pointlessly long hallway.
At least he’d figured out how to control his environment enough to move, Jack reasoned. Floating around in empty space made sitting in the Forgotten Temple watching his fingernails grow seem exciting.
Unfortunately, the hallway wasn’t much better. It was dimly lit, poorly shaped, had no doors leading off it, and whenever Jack caught sight of anybody--
The Hotel matrix rippled, sending another wave of mathematical queasiness through Jack Paris’ thin body. This place did not conform to the laws of physics, and it was wreaking havoc with Jack’s equation.
He recovered in time to get a glimpse of an armored warrior striding past in the other direction.
“Knighthawke!” Jack called after him, fighting down nausea. The High Tradesman ignored him. “Uh, excuse me, Mr. Knighthawke... sir? I’m looking for--”
Another ripple, another distortion, the motion sickness passed and the knight’s image was gone. Jack sighed. From what Crandall had told him that was sort of Knighthawke’s personality anyway, but this was the fourth time Jack had passed somebody in the hall who didn’t react to him in any way, and it was getting past the point of coincidence.
Jack looked down at himself to make sure he wasn’t invisible. No, definitely reflecting light normally. He made an F-sharp, and the soundwave was unmistakeably present.
“I don’t understand,” he said aloud, looking around the empty hallway. “Why isn’t anyone noticing I’m here?”
Vastarin opened the nearest door tentatively, and blinked. Three women in bikinis were sitting on the rim of a redwood hot tub, drinking from tall glasses with silly umbrellas in them. “Ooooo, Vas!” giggled the one in the blue bikini.
“Uh,” said Vas, with a politely rakish half-bow, “good, uh, evening, lovely ladies. Have you by any chance seen a man called Ebreth Tor? Tall black fellow, blue eyes, shaved head?”
“Nope!” said the one in the green bikini, cheerfully.
“We’re here for you,” added the one in the red bikini.
“For... me?” said Vas, not sure if he liked that or not.
All three nodded vigorously. “Welcome to Temptation Island!” chirped the girl in the blue bikini, merrily.
Vas tried to get back out the door, but it seemed to have disappeared.
“Khyrisse?” said Skitch uneasily, pushing aside the dark and wispy tendrils hanging from the ceiling. “Tarrin? Val?”
No one answered. They all seemed to have disappeared. The inside of this Hotel looked eerily like a temple of Rekzyr, but like a temple of Rekzyr that had been abandoned for a thousand years or something. This doesn’t make any sense... what would Ebreth or Jack be doing in a place like this? Skitch ducked under a fallen pillar towards the nave. “Hello... isn’t anybody here?”
Here.... here.... here.... echoed softly in the temple. Skitch opened the door to the outer courtyard. There were figures out there, and loud voices. Skitch recognized them immediately: it was the two bad cops from Dyaromn, and the migrant worker they were beating. This must be a dream, he realized suddenly. Skitch had been having nightmares about those policemen all week. But what else could he do about it, really? Skitch was just a kid. He couldn’t fight two policemen with nightsticks! He didn’t know who it would be safe to report them to, and who would believe him anyway?
Then the older of the two cops looked up and met Skitch’s eyes, and it was his grandfather’s face.
Skitch backed up, his blood screaming in his ears; tripped over the sundial, and ran like the hounds of Hell were after him.
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