Oh...Maa jo. I wasn’t expecting visitors, apologies for all the cobwebs...I have been up here alone a long time...I wasn’t expecting visitors...
You are here for the story, are you not? It’s all I can offer you, after all I am only Anansi, only the god of stories. I know all the stories, every single one ever told, all the myths and legends written about gods and spirits and ghosts. Even about humans...that’s what you want to hear, yes? The stories about the gods, about the Hotel...I am only a mere spider, I have no power, don’t be afraid. All I can do is tell you stories. Sit. Listen. Nobody has listened to my stories in a long time...
Let me see...Nobody knows how old the Hotel is, or who had created it. It does not have a name, it is simply ‘The Hotel,’ a safe oasis, one of the four Sanctuaries where gods and spirits could go to rest...to die...
For you see, Gods and spirits...we are not forever; there are forces far larger than anything we could ever fathom that rule this world, that rule us the same way they rule mortals. Many gods had wandered off into a mist and had never been seen again – vanished into the ether. Nature dictated our lives, destiny decided out luck, and death governs all of us, a force so distant it is impossible to comprehend, even to those deities closest to it. When people stop believing in us, we fade, we lose power.
Few remember Anansi now...the Colonizers came and destroyed my tribes...oh, well, no point crying over what is done. Let’s go back to the story, shall we? Where were we...hmmm, yes...the Hotel; a grand building rising on a hill in the middle of a dense forest – beautiful, majestic - no mortal can find it, unless under bizarre circumstances they appear there, and then they are given a room, and they can never leave, suspended between life and death forever, protected by a patron if they are lucky.
I have lived in this attic room, in the Hotel, for that is where we are now, for many, many centuries before our story begins. The year is 1941, a tumultuous time in human history, from which I am wholly detached but whose story I know from heart, because I know all stories. And it begins with two young men entering the lobby of the Hotel...
The Hotel, 1941
Achuguayo stepped out of the frosty winter evening, through the open double doors and into an elegant lobby made almost entirely of marble, with an ornate chandelier hanging in the centre of the domed roof like an ice sculpture. It was chilly, and quiet, nothing like the ruckus of the bombs falling from the sky that had plagued Ach’s nightmares for the past year. The god exhaled and knocked snow off his boots.
He looked out of place in this impeccably pristine lobby – his curly, messy black hair was pulled back in a low, short ponytail that was partially hidden beneath his big, feathered hat that resembled that of a pirate. His loose pants were an offending, bright red, and his black boots left trails of mud and snow on the white marble. He seemed too tall and hunky for this gorgeous building, an outsider, an alien, a brute.
Achuguayo sighed and dropped his small sack of few belongings onto the white floor, marbled with grey as if the Hotel was alive, and these were its veins. Ach’s brown face impassive, thick eyebrows relaxed in a look of resignation. He hadn’t wanted to come to the Hotel, he had been perfectly happy living in Tenerife, practically forgotten as the Guanche tradition and religion faded, living in a shadow of his former glory...but then the war had come and although Tenerife remained neutral, Ach found he no longer had the strength to cling onto the war-torn, hateful world of the mortals. He had heard of the Hotel, one of the Sanctuaries, for centuries, a place where gods could rest after serving on earth...it was a pretty way to put it. In Ach’s mind, this was the place where spirits went to die.
The cold, immaculate lobby certainly seemed dead.
Ach shuffled to the white, circular desk that stood between him and the grand ivory staircase leading up to gods know where. The desk was empty and abandoned save for a little golden bell sitting on the counter, and when Ach came over nobody magically appeared to welcome him into his new home. He hesitantly picked up the bell and shook it.
No sound came from the bell, but Ach felt it vibrate in his hand and suddenly there was an elegant, regal, woman in front of him, looking vaguely annoyed. Her skin was a similar shade to Ach’s, her black hair pulled back and disappearing beneath a golden veil. Her graceful neck was decorated with golden jewellery that seemed to flow off her like a waterfall, and she was dressed in many golden and aquamarine sashes. She wrinkled her straight nose, which had an intricate ring attached to it, like she smelled something bad. She fit perfectly into the lobby.
“What do you want?” she snapped, jerking the bell out of Ach’s hand in a quick movement. Her sari rustled and it was then Ach noticed that she had four arms, all covered in intricate henna. He had a pretty good idea of who she was.
The boy was a little taken aback by the coldness in her voice, and not for the first time he regretted coming here, “Uh...I’m here to check in,” he said, never one to back down from a situation.
“Ah, yes,” the goddess seemed a little less irritated, “Achuguayo, the god of the moon and the regulator of time,” she remembered, “You’re early.”
“Sorry,” Ach said dryly, “Was getting tired of all the air-raids.”
“Well,” the goddess huffed, “Thankfully your room is ready.” She pulled out a piece of paper from between the folds of her clothes and slapped it down in front of Ach, throwing a pen at him. He caught it with ease, which only seemed to irritate the goddess more, “Sign the contract.”
“Rules,” the goddess gritted out as if she was tired of repeating it, “This is my Hotel, it is under my jurisdiction, and you will follow my rules – understood?”
Ach arched an eyebrow, “And who are you, may I ask?”
The goddess’ cheeks flared red and Ach had to bite back his amusement, “How dare you!” she exclaimed, outraged, “I am Lakshmi! The Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity!”
“Riiight,” Ach drawled in a way he knew was infuriating as he signed away his name, figuring he had nothing to lose. Lakshmi’s dark eyes narrowed – she was the first god he had met that wasn’t a Guanche god, and already he was beginning to form an opinion that maybe he would not get on so well with these other deities.
“I am an ancient goddess!” she barked, “and you are a meagre Guanche god! Know your place!” before Ach could reply Lakshmi suddenly jerked to the side and looked behind him; her mood seemed to sour further, “And who are you?” she demanded, her jewellery jingling gently. Ach turned around and saw a young man standing in a puddle right where Ach’s mud tracks were.
“Uh...,” the boy blinked in surprise. He was wet, Asian, and wore an American navy uniform, “This isn’t...the USS Oklahoma...?” he asked, turning around and glancing at the door behind him as if he expected to see something completely different there. He then turned back to Ach and Lakshmi, his face mixture of shock, awe and confusion.
Lakshmi’s eyes flashed with anger, “Stupid human!” she launched herself over the desk in an almost animalistic way and landed in front of the newcomer with startling gracefulness. He shied away from her, clearly intimidated, and took one step back towards the door.
For a split second Ach thought she was going to kill the mortal, and he was quite looking forward to a bit of entertainment, but instead the goddess waved her hand and magic mop came literally hopping down the hallway to the left, “You’re dripping water all over my floor!” she bellowed, but did not mention the mud Ach had dragged in. The mop quickly sopped up the mess as the boy backed up further.
“Right,” he held up his hands in surrender and smiled sheepishly, “There must be a mistake, I-I...um...,” he frowned and paused, as if just realising something. He touched his throat, “I was underwater. The attack...,” he looked up, a little helpless, “Am I dead?” he whispered, horrified.
“Oh for Brahma’s sake!” Lakshmi groaned and threw up all four arms in frustration, “Everything always on my shoulders! Why did I agree to be the manager?!” this last part she muttered to herself as she passed through the circular desk, putting it between herself and the boys. She continued to mutter as she sifted through the seemingly never-ending sashes of her sari, clearly looking for something.
The soldier drifted away from the magical mop and over to where Ach was standing. He looked at him uncertainly, but seemed to decide Ach was less terrifying than the four-armed goddess of wealth, “Hi,” he said. Ach glanced at him, unimpressed, and said nothing. He was tired, he wanted a bed, and he could smell the humanity on this boy.
Lakshmi slapped a piece of paper onto the desk in front of the boys and threw a pen at the human. It bounced off his chest as he clumsily tried to grab it and landed on the floor with an obnoxiously loud voice. The human scurried to pick it up.
“W-What do I do?” he looked at the paper.
“Fill it in,” Lakshmi snapped, “I hate checking in humans, you always kick up such a fuss. What is the last thing you remember?”
“Uh...I was...well,” the human glanced at Ach as if looking for help or support, but unless he had been in Tenerife, or unless he was a Guanche, Achuguayo had no idea what had happened to him. The soldier bit his lip and ran a hand through his dark, damp hair. He frowned, “there wear bombs. They were bombing us. We thought it was just training, but...it wasn’t. It was the enemy. The Germans maybe? Or the Japanese...I was on my ship. It was called the USS Oklahoma, stationed in Pearl Harbour...,” he trailed off, as if he was lost in memory, “Jimmy was shouting at me to get the door open, but I think it was jammed, but that was hours ago and I-“
“Oh give me that!” Lakshmi clearly didn’t care about the humans trauma as one of her arms snatched the pen from him and started writing down what he was saying on the paper. That seemed to jerk the human out of his trance.
“But I don’t understand how I got here,” he said, “I was underwater, and then I suddenly wasn’t. How did that happen?”
Lakshmi kissed her teeth, “Well, naturally when our esteemed guest over here,” she pointed at Ach with one hand as another continued to write, “was transported to the Hotel a portal must have opened, and you, being close to death, must have gotten thrown through into it. It’s not the first time this has happened, we have a number of humans living in the Hotel.”
“I wasn’t anywhere near Pearl Harbour,” Achuguayo said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lakshmi snapped, “The world – the Hotel – everything has its own rules, I am only here to do the dirty work – sign!” she yelled at the boy, this time handing him the pen. He plucked it out of her hand gingerly, as if scared it would bite, and hurriedly signed his name at the bottom of the paper without even reading it. Lakshmi snatched the paper up, “Luke, huh?” she read his name, “No matter, humans don’t have the pleasure of having names in the Hotel. You will now be referred to as ‘The Soldier,’ you will forget your past, and you will try not to get kidnapped, killed or eaten.”
“What?!” Luke – The Soldier – squeaked.
Lakshmi shoved both of the pieces of paper into her sari without acknowledging his shock and passed back through the table, visibly annoyed.
“Good,” she exhaled and fixed the scarf around her head, “Now, I shall give you a tour of the Hotel, explain the rules and show you to your rooms. Try not to ask questions, this is not a school trip.”
The Soldier glanced at Ach, but the god was unmoved; even though he had never met a Hindu deity before, she didn’t scare him and the Hotel didn’t impress him – he had seen great wars and conquests, the afterlife and paradise and hell, and this winding staircase, despite its beauty, didn’t register in his mind any more than the white lilies spilling out of great Greek vases or the creamy tapestries.
“Uh...,” the Soldier struggled to keep up with the gods as they climbed the stairs; Lakshmi seemed to float, “Does this place have a name?” he asked, clutching the strap of his soaked bag. Lakshmi made an annoyed sound and waved her hand, and in an instance the Soldier was dry. He blinked, startled. Ach almost felt sorry for him...almost. The god hadn’t felt a real emotion apart from irritation in centuries.
“The Hotel has nine floors,” Lakshmi said with practiced ease, as if she had done this a million times, which she probably had, “A basement, a cellar and an attic. The gardens and forest outside are to your disposition. There are some ground rules: no killing each other or the humans-“
“Humans gets killed her?!” the Soldier seemed very hung up about that.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Lakshmi hissed, glaring at him over her shoulder. Her tone returned to its tour-guide tone, “You will be respectful to other guests, you will not destroy property or you will have to compensate for it, I will have no wars or abuse of my staff. Whatever old conflicts you might have with religions or individuals, you best forget about them...” she droned on but once again Ach tuned her voice out, catching glimpses of the world outside as they passed tall, arched windows. He saw a neatly kept field, a garden, and a dark green forest stretching into the horizon, coloured amber by the quickly setting sun. Everything was covered in snow and looked like it was out of a fairytale. Ach felt a pang of loneliness in his heart but he quickly muted it. He would never see the azure waters of Tenerife again; by leaving his home and coming here he had rejected his god status. Not that it matter, he had been a forgotten god for a very long time.
“...gods are immortal,” Lakshmi’s voice filtered back into Ach’s head as they headed down the first floor corridor, “If you kill them they will come back with a vengeance. But to be clear, the humans here are not ghosts, they are still very much alive and if you harm them you shall face mine, and several other gods’, wrath. They are what gives us our power; their belief in us keeps the Hotel standing, and-Oh for Brahma’s sake!” she exclaimed suddenly as a young Japanese child wandered out from one of the rooms.
He had dark hair and sad, grey eyes; his feet were bare and he had an oil-paper umbrella over his shoulder. There was a distant look in his eyes as he approached the window, flinching away from the golden light of the sunset as if afraid of it. Above his head was a little storm cloud, out of which rain pit-pattered onto his umbrella, and the green carpet that run down the long hall. Big tears slid down the boy’s white cheeks silently and he seemed completely unaware of his surroundings.
“Is that a ghost?” the Soldier whispered to Ach, paling.
“Amefurikozo!” Lakshmi bellowed and zoomed through the air at an inhuman speed, landing next to the child in a rage, eyes blazing, “What did I tell you about getting damp in the caret?!” she roared in a distorted, animalistic voice that didn’t seem to faze the boy.
The Soldier flinched and inched towards an uninterested Ach, “Why is she screaming at a child?” he whispered.
“That’s not a child,” Ach replied reluctantly – he had heard what Lakshmi called the spirit, and knew who he was, “That’s Amefurikozo, a Japanese rain deity.”
“Oh,” the Soldier still looked confused, anxiously looking between Lakshmi and Amefurikozo as if he expected a fight to break out.
“You will pay for cleaning! I swear you will! I am tired of your tantrums, stop crying!” Lakshmi screamed obscenities at the rain-deity, who continued to dreamily look out of the window and cry as if he was the last person on earth.
The door he had come out of jerked open and a woman dressed in a conservative brown dress rushed out, her apron soaking wet, her golden hair pulled back into a braid that was falling apart, her face panicked. The faces of curious children crowded in the open door behind her, peeking out at the havoc Amefurikozo was causing.
“Lauma!” Lakshmi screeched, turning her wrath onto the woman, “I told you to keep those children under control! You’ve been singing to them again!”
“I haven’t,” the faerie retorted, irritated. She grabbed Amefurikozo by the back of the kimono he was wearing and tugged him towards her, soaking the sleeve of her dress, “You know Furi is emotional. Come on, mazulis, let’s cry in the room, shall we?” She glared at Lakshmi as she pulled the disorientated child towards the open door, “I can’t control him, you know. Take it up with Guabancex, he answers to her. Besides,” she was in the doorway now, “It’s just a little rain!” she with that she slammed the door shut.
“Insolence!” Lakshmi fumed under her breath. With a snap of her fingers a mop bucket came skipping down the hall and the carpet rolled up. The mop started hurriedly soaking up the puddles on the floor like it had when the Soldier had appeared. “Children,” the manager scoffed as she stomped down the hallway, followed by the two guests, “They live on this floor, have for thousands of years but do any of them grow mature? No!” she glared at the doors as she passed them, “Nothing but trouble, the lot of them!”
Neither the Soldier, nor Ach said anything, letting Lakshmi fume in peace as she got to the end of the corridor and led them up another set of stairs, marble, like the ones in the lobby but shorter. They found themselves on the second floor identical to the first one, except there were half a dozen crazed animals running around it.
“What the-“ The Soldier yelped and jumped behind Ach as a fantastical bird flew above their heads. It was one of three identical one that were circling beneath the high ceiling; their feathers glimmered like a rainbow, their tails stretching out long and flowing beyond them.
Ach stepped over a horned rabbit with distaste as the animal chewed on the edge of the carpet, unbothered.
Rage sparked the air around Lakshmi, and it seemed fury was a permanent state for her.
“MRENH!” she screamed, and the glass in the windows trembled. The Soldier stumbled back. Ach shoved his hands into his pockets.
“I know!” a man came running from down the other end of the corridor, looking slightly frazzled, clutching a little red creature between his palms.
“I-Is that a dragon?!” The Soldier spluttered, pointing like a kid at a museum. Ach rolled his eyes. He just wanted to get to his room and get some peace and quiet, this pantomime was enough to get a god down.
“You will pay for carpet!” Lakshmi screamed like a banshee, waving her finger in the man’s face, as a free arm pulled out a sheet of paper with calculations on and a third started scribbling down numbers, “You will pay for a re-paint! You will pay for- Mrenh your animals are defecating on my floor!”
“It’s fine, Lakshmi,” the man said with charm and nonchalance, tossed back his over-long, wavy black hair, revealing his pointed ears. The elf batted his eyelashes at Lakshmi, “You know I stay on top of my bills.”
“It’d be better if you stayed on top of your animals,” Lakshmi hissed, but his charm seemed to have worked and the steam eased out of her.
Mrenh the elf scooped the rabbit with the antlers off the floor and threw a distasteful look at the Soldier and Ach.
“Hello,” the Soldier said shyly. Mrenh turned his nose up at him. Ach pulled a half-smoked cigar out of his pocket, and lit it.
“No smoking inside the Hotel!” Lakshmi screamed, metaphorical steam coming out of her ears. Her fury put the cigar out.
“Apologies,” Achuguayo said dryly, not apologetic at all. Lakshmi huffed and puffed down the hallway, the Soldier scuttling after her. Mrenh the elf opened the door to what Ach presumed was his room, still cradling the dragon and the rabbit-deer mutant, and whistled a lovely little tune. Immediately the three fantastical birds gracefully swooped through the doorway, with such ease that Ach briefly wondered how the elf had lost them in the first place, then he realised he didn’t care. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his baggy trousers and wandered after his two ‘companions,’ who were halfway up another set of stairs.
“Isn’t there a quicker way up?” Ach complained, but it fell on deaf ears.
On the third floor they encountered a huge brown bear.
“U-Uh,” the Soldier sweated visibly, inching away from the animal that was peacefully sauntering down the hallway, ignoring the trio, “I-I think that guy forgot an animal...”
“How dare you!” Lakshmi scoffed. She bowed quickly to the passing bear, “Apologies, Yeo,” she gushed, but the bear didn’t even look at her and continued on its merry way. Lakshmi glared at the Soldier, “That is Ungnyeo, an esteemed guest, a Korean Shapeshifter.”
“Riiiiight,” the Soldier replied, looking like there wasn’t much else he could handle before he passed out. Ach was almost amused.
Thankfully the fourth and fifth floor were both quiet. The fourth floor had a mystical aura about it, with vines creeping up walls, whereas the fifth was considerably more trashed than the others, with beer bottles lining the windowsills.
“Fucking demons and their siestas,” Lakshmi muttered under her breath, sticking a foot from under her sari and kicking aside a bottle. Loud snoring echoed from one of the rooms.
The sixth floor had a definitely different aura to the rest, an ominous one. By now the sun had disappeared and night was descending onto the earth, deepening the shadows in the hallway which were dispersed only be candles scattered on the windowsills. The air felt ready to choke you. All the doors were shut, intricate symbols painted on the wood in what looked like...blood. Even Lakshmi seemed to walk a bit faster.
“Please don’t let my room be here,” the Soldier muttered under his breath, hands clenched together, “Please...”
“You’ve got witches here,” Ach remarked, a little more alert, “A lot of them. All on one floor?”
“A coven,” Lakshmi replied tightly.
“I-Is there a floor for humans?” The Soldier squeaked.
“Yes, the third floor.”
“U-Um...,” the human glanced behind them at the gloomy corridor, terrified, “C-Can I not stay there?” he asked timidly.
“No,” Lakshmi huffed, “We had a free room but that blue monk moved in. You get a room in one of the towers. A waste on a human like you but it’s all that’s available since Perun decided to move on.”
“W-Who’s Perun?” the Soldier seemed scared to ask.
“Slavic God of the sky,” Lakshmi replied.
“I thought this was the final resting place for gods,” Ach said, glad when they were out of the witch’s corridor and back on another set of stairs, “You know, where gods go to die and all that...”
“Don’t be so foolish,” Lakshmi said coldly, “Gods can’t die,” and that was all she said on the matter, and Ach didn’t care enough to press. Gas lamps lit by themselves as they walked up the stairs, supplementing the lack of sunlight. It changed the Hotel from almost clinical, to mysterious.
A peculiar sight met them on the seventh floor, one which distracted the Soldier from his concerns. By an open window was a boy with wintery-pale skin and hair so blond it might have as well been white. White, thick eyelashes encircled his brown eyes. He wore a white, loose shirt and a look of longing on his face as he gazed at the night sky. The Soldier stopped walking and stared at the boy. He was barefoot, the cold winter air seemed not to bother him, and already stray snowflakes were fluttering in through the window and landing at his pink toes.
A woman stood next to the young man, dressed in red scarves and with a mournful look on her face. Ach flinched, and both he and the Soldier were suddenly flooded with a feeling sense of terrible guilt. Images of sacrifices flashed in Ach’s head, years of fear and all the hurt he caused the human race. Ach recoiled in disgust, the Soldier gasped, and a tear slid down the blond boy’s face. Lakshmi didn’t react.
They hurried past.
“Who is she?” Ach hissed when they were once again on the stairs, “That woman, why did she make me feel-“
“That’s Kardai,” Lakshmi said coldly, “The personification of guilt. That is all she does,” her tone turned bitter, “make people feel guilty.”
The feeling faded as quickly as it had struck, and Ach was glad for it. Emotions weren’t for him, not anymore. But the Soldier wasn’t interested in Guilt.
“Who was that boy?” he pestered Lakshmi, so star-struck he forgot his fear of her for a moment as he jogged to catch up to her, “The blond one, the-“
“He is unimportant,” Lakshmi said abruptly, “Both of them are. There are great legends in this Hotel, Ra and Hecate and the Morrigan-“
“But who is he?” the Soldier wasn’t giving up. It was as if he was star-struck, as if nothing in this world – the gods, the immortality, the Hotel itself – could measure up to a sad boy in a window. Ach smirked, amused by how human the Soldier was.
“Humans,” Lakshmi shook her head as if she couldn’t fathom how the Soldier could have been touched by the sight of such a gorgeous creature.
“Is he a ghost?” the human asked, “A fairy? A terrible being that will drag me into a bog-“
“He is a swan boy,” Lakshmi interrupted his excitement, “There are many of his kind in the world. Shapeshifters. They turn into swans with the help of a feather. He is weak and useless.”
“He’s...breathtaking,” the Soldier whispered, more to himself than to anyone else, “Why...why did he look so...sad?”
“He lost his feather,” Lakshmi laughed, “Can you believe it? The one thing that gives him magic and he has misplaced it! He’s been looking for it for decades!”
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” the Soldier muttered under his breath.
“Enough,” they were on the eight floor, and Lakshmi stopped walking, “gods live on this floor. Lesser gods, but still gods,” she looked coldly at the Soldier, “You have the privilege to be staying in room sixty-four. The one at the end of the hall,” she produced a key from the folds of her sari and handed it to the Soldier. He took it like it was poisoned, “Breakfast is served from-“
“Oh!” a gasp sounded down the hall and all three looked up. A girl was standing in the centre of the hallway, and the moon that fell in through the windows seemed to gravitate towards her. Her eyes were big and silver, her corn-coloured hair falling to her waist in soft waves. She was – objectively – beautiful, dressed in an intricate, silver dress. She was gazing at Ach as if he was one of the wonders of the world, “Lakshmi, introduce me to the new guests,” she said breathlessly.
Lakshmi rolled her eyes, “This is Máni, a Norse goddess and the personification of the moon.”
“Ah,” Ach said. He was the god of the moon, and he felt an invisible thread of connection between him and this creature.
“Hello,” the Soldier waved at her but she ignored him, floating towards Ach and staring at him as if he were a painting.
“And what is your name?” she asked, her fair skin rising with a blush, “You are a moon god, yes?”
“Yes,” Ach said emotionlessly, “Achuguayo. From Tenerife.”
“Tenerife,” Máni breathed, “How romantic. Are you staying on my floor?”
“But I am!” the Soldier replied, excited that his neighbours weren’t obvious monsters.
“That is a shame,” Máni battered her eyelashes at Ach, and the Soldier seemed a little offended, “The moon has just risen, perhaps a walk in the gardens-“
“Máni,” Lakshmi barked, “Take a step back, I’m giving a tour.”
Máni pouted, and Ach had to admit there was something amusingly-adorable about her. Her sudden awe and adoration of him seemed almost to mimic how the Soldier had reacted to the swan-boy.
“Fine,” she sighed wistfully, “Perhaps I will see our new moon god at breakfast?” it was a question that demanded an answer.
Ach shrugged, though the last thing he wanted right now was breakfast, “Perhaps.”
Máni moved aside to let them pass. Only then did Ach notice all the felines lazing about in the shadows of the floor.
“What’s with the cats?” the Soldier asked, peeved again as he got to his door.
“Relax, they won’t eat you...though some of them might kill you. Like Matagot,” she gestured gracefully at a plump black cat lazing on a windowsill – as if in response it flashed its skeleton at them, “Or Phi Cha Kla” she gestured to an even more ominous looking cat with glowing red eyes, who started rubbing up against Ach’s leg and hissed at the Soldier, “but they’re domesticated...mostly. Phi is afraid of humans.”
“Great,” the Soldier squeaked, eyeing up the cat, who eyed him back up with its red pupils.
Another cat with fiery eyes and dark fur barked like a dog.
“On that note!” the Soldier exclaimed, panicked, and delved into his room, slamming the door shut behind him. Lakshmi chuckled and continued on her way. Somewhere in her sari her keys jingled.
“Come along,” she called to Ach, not looking at him, “Not long now.”
Ach glanced down the hallway, but Máni was gone, only shafts of moonlight falling in through the tall windows where she had stood. The god followed Lakshmi upstairs. Ach felt uncomfortable in the Hotel, there seemed to be so much going on. His heart ached for the solitude of his hut. Once upon a time he had lived in a village in the sky with Chaxiraxi and Moneiba and Achaman, but over time they all drifted apart and away, they all moved to one of the four Sanctuaries. Ach had clung onto his old life for as long as he could, until he was the last one left on the island, and now, interacting with all these deities from different cultures and places, he felt like an outsider.
He and Lakshmi reached the ninth floor. It was heavenly quiet. Lakshmi led Ach to the second door, which was white and wooden and looked no different than the others, with a golden number ‘74’ imprinted on it. The goddess reached into the fold of her sari and produced a key. She seemed to have no pockets, and Ach briefly wondered if she was made of a bizarre compilation of all the objects that might be of use to her.
“This is the floor of the gods,” she said with solemnity, staring at Ach in a way that made him uncomfortable.
“Who stayed in my room before me?”
A faint, slightly eerie smile played on Lakshmi’s dark face, “Nobody,” she said, her voice rustling like the wind, “This has always been your room.”
Ach wasn’t sure he believed her, “Right.”
“Your neighbours,” Lakshmi’s voice returned to normal as she gestured to the first door, “Are Ra and Nut, the Egyptian God of the sun and Goddess of the sky. They are much respected in this Hotel and Ra is our protector, so you would do well as to not anger him – this means no loud music past ten pm, no sexual intercourse-“
“I’ve got it,” Ach almost snapped. Lakshmi turned her nose up at him but continued –
“To your right are Olokun and Sedna, water deities, if your room floods just use the phone to ring housekeeping. If you hear screaming from Room 75 that is just T.”
“Dual deity of death, but they don’t cause much trouble. Room-,” Lakshmi paused, “You know what, the others don’t matter. You’ll meet them in due time. All you need to know is that I am only three doors down and I will not take any misbehaving.”
But there was something else Ach needed to know. He pointed at the little dark blue door at the end of the hallway, “Where does that lead?” he asked, the almost forgotten feeling of curiosity sparking in his chest. There was something behind that door that seemed to be...pulling him in? Another moon god?
“The attic. You best not wander about there or you might encounter bizarre characters.”
“Right,” Ach said dryly, as if everyone else is normal.
Lakshmi handed him the key, “Enjoy your stay,” she said, equally as dryly and then floated back down the hallway and disappeared down the stairs. Ach sighed, glanced at the blue door once more, and let himself into his room.
It was a nice size, and partially oval shaped, though Ach had no idea how it fit into the rest of the Hotel’s architecture, which seemed quite square, but he assumed – like most other things - it was magic. There was a circular bed, piled high with ottoman-style pillows, tucked into a window that looked out onto...the sea? Ach’s eyebrows shot up but he didn’t question it, convinced it was an illusion. A blue, partially see-through curtain separated the bed from the rest of the room. Ach noted an ornate, wooden chest of drawers and the matching desk and wardrobe. The ceiling was painted with stars and the moon, slowly drifting around each other’s orbits and glowing a faint silver. Ach watched them move for a moment before dropping his sack on the floor and sitting down on his bed.
He looked out of the window. It didn’t have any glass and when Ach stuck his hand through he could feel the gentle, cool breeze of the sea on his hand. He closed his eyes. He could smell the salt of the ocean, and when he opened them again the waves shimmered beneath the moon delicately. It unnerved him. All he could see was water, and he knew it was the North Atlantic Ocean, the one he had watched from the beaches of Tenerife for millennia’s, or some version of it at least.
Achuguayo sighed and flopped back on his bed, staring up at the moving ceiling.
Coming to a Sanctuary was harder than he thought. What purpose did he have now, what aim? There were no Guanches to protect here, no blessings to give, no people to guide. None of the other deities would have a need for a moon god.
Ach laid there for thirteen minutes exactly – not only was he the moon god, but also the regulator of time and he always knew exactly what time it was. 9:11pm. A perfect time to explore. Ach was one to get bored very quickly, and little ever satisfied his boredom. He rose from his bed and walked straight to the door; he half expected to see Lakshmi in the hallway, waiting to catch him out and enforce some peculiar curfew. But there was nobody there.
He slipped out into the hallway. The arched, tall windows gave him a view of the meadows outside, and the dark forest stretching for miles. It had started to snow. Ach could be sensible and not jeopardise his relationship with the manager in the first day and simply go outside, but there was only one thing in this Hotel that truly gripped his attention, apart maybe for the curiosity Máni sparked in him.
He headed for the dark blue door. It looked so unassuming, made of a smooth material with a golden, polished handle. When Ach opened it, it revealed a dusty, dark staircase winding upwards, illuminated by blue crystals embedded in the walls. He didn’t hesitate in climbing up the stairs and moment later found himself in another hallway, this time smaller with a slanted roof and small, square windows on the wall which was covered with an old wallpaper. It smelled like a dusty old book. Four doors lined the wall, and unlike the rest of the Hotel they lacked any sort of structure. The first was somewhat small and black, with a cobweb in the corner. The one next to it was silver, the one following it black again but painted with colourful symbols. The final was an old, wooden one, with an elaborate dream catcher hanging in the centre.
The attic was silent, save for a gentle whisper drifting from the first door. Ach, never one to think twice, knocked on the door, more out of morbid curiosity and boredom than anything else.
“Come in,” came the raspy voice. It sounded like someone blowing on dust.
Ach pushed the door open and had to duck beneath the frame to get in. The room he found himself in was very much reminiscent of said door, with cobwebs draped from the ceiling like curtains, and everything covered in a thick layer of dust. If there was a bed or proper furniture Ach couldn’t make it out in the little moonlight cast through a tiny, triangular window by the ceiling.
“Ah,” the voice came again, and Ach’s hair stood on end. He couldn’t see whoever was speaking, “A visitor. I have not had one in many months. Welcome, welcome. Sit.”
“There’s no chair,” Ach replied, but crept further into the room anyway. His eyes picked out a stool in the dimness and for some reason he sat on it. He located the source of the inhuman voice – a tiny black spider was slowly descending from the rafters overhead, the moonlight catching on the thin string of web the it was lowering itself on. Ach found he could not look away from it. His hands gripped the stool.
“Would you like to hear a story?” the Spider asked.
“Don’t see why I wouldn’t,” Ach replied, somewhat mesmerised. The Spider ended its descent on the same level as Ach’s face, though it remained a few metres away, perfectly still. There seemed to be a tribal pattern on its back that Ach could not properly make out. Who was this creature? A god? A spirit?
“Which story would you like to hear?” the rustling voice asked, “Perhaps you’d like to hear the story of Nyame’s well? Or of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece? I know all the stories...,” Ach leaned his hand on his chin, staring at The Spider, “But I know which story you truly want to hear. The story of this Hotel.”
“Yes,” Ach replied.
“Wakan Tanka, one of the great gods of this world and the one whom they call The Great Spirit, was made guardian of this place long before tonight. Nobody but he knows when it began its existence, but the real story of The Hotel is yet to come, I can feel it, a story writing itself, a story at the end of which this Hotel may cease to exist and-“
“Anansi!” the angry, snappy voice jerked Ach out of his trance. He felt like he had been dunked in water and he snapped his head to the side to look at the door, which he had left open.
A very, very angry-looking boy stood in the doorway. He had brown skin, lighter than Ach’s, and silvery-white eyes, the same colour as his overlong hair.
Time, Ach thought, and his heart jumped. This had been what had drawn him to the floor. He blinked and looked at The Spider, feeling like he was waking from a dream – he was always confident in time, yet now he couldn’t tell how much had passed. He focused. 11:02pm. How long had he sat here?
In the place where The Spider had been, sitting cross-legged on the floor was an old man. His skin was dark and leathery, his eyes black and sharp, his fingernails crooked and over-long.
“I was only telling a story,” he said in the voice of The Spider.
“I told you no more stories, Anansi,” The boy gritted out, eyes flashing, hands in fists at his sides. A blue feather glinted in the long strands of his hair, “How can I go about my life with you constantly whispering next door? Don’t you ever shut up?”
“Why don’t I tell you the story of time, Etu,” The Spider – Anansi – said, voice sickly sweet, but whatever hypnotism he had used on Ach seemed not to work on the boy. Ach stood. When Anansi had began telling his story he had forgotten the Hotel existed, that anything outside of this attic room existed, and it chilled his blood – he wanted to get out quickly. No wonder Lakshmi had warned him not to come up here. He slid past the boy in the door, careful not to touch him, unnerved.
“Why don’t you shove you story up your arse, you stupid arachnid!” the boy yelled at Anansi and slammed the door shut. Ach found himself alone in the hallway with the fuming boy. He glanced anxiously at the two remaining doors, wondering who they held.
He seemed to already be making enemies.
“And who the hell are you?” the sharp-tongued boy snapped at Ach, whirling on him. Ach could sense his anger, “Didn’t Lakshmi tell you not to come up here?! Fucking newcomers and your ‘exploring.’ The attic isn’t for everyone, who knows how long you would have been stuck with that stupid old asshole if I hadn’t come in!”
Ach blinked, a little taken aback by how aggressive this deity was being, “Excuse me?”
“You heard me! A thank-you will suffice!”
Ach’s eyes narrowed, “Maybe I was enjoying the story.”
The boy rolled his eyes, “Oh please. Anansi is full of shit. He’s the god of knowledge of stories! All he knows are stupid fucking stories that he tells himself all fucking day. Can you believe that!”
Ach didn’t know if he should be amused or annoyed, “And who are you?”
“Etu,” the boy replied coldly, almost defensively. He stood up straighter and crossed his arms over his narrow chest, almost proudly but mostly defensively, “Lakota personification of time.”
“Native American, huh?” Ach smirked, “it just so happens that I am the god of the moon and the regulator of time.”
Etu went a little pale, and appeared uncomfortable for a two seconds, his hands digging into his biceps, before collecting himself, “So?” he scoffed, “Is that supposed to impress me or something?”
“Technically I regulate you you,” Ach said, though he never had any intention to interact with this boy after tonight.
His words, however, didn’t sit well with Etu. His eyes grew a steely grey, “Oh really?” he gritted out between his teeth, and then he exploded, “What, you want me to be your little servant or something? You think you have more power or authority than me? I’ve never seen you in my life, you must be some minor moon deity! You think you can come here and flaunt your authority around?” as Etu spoke his voice rose and he approached Ach. He was shorter than the Moon god, but the anger in his eyes made Ach feel things; not good things – irritation, anger, heat, “Are you Kali to be talking to me like that?! Are you Chronos or Kan-Laon?! Didn’t think so!”
A pinkish, warm light illuminated Etu’s face. His eyes were a cold white now, the silver threads in his hair shimmered in the light. For a second Ach looked at him, confused, drowning out the boy’s angry rant. Then his head snapped to the windows as he realised what was happening.
The sun was peeking out above the dark trees on the horizon – dawn was approaching. Ach’s stomach felt unsettled.
“Stop that,” he hissed, interrupting Etu mid-word. The boy, seeing Ach’s sudden discomfort, smirked.
“Stop what?” he asked innocently.
“Are you doing that on purpose?” Ach demanded, closing the last few steps between him and the boy. Etu didn’t back down, craning his neck to look up at Ach smugly.
Ach felt a little sick. Time was going crazy, he could feel it, could almost picture a clock spinning out of control. All of night had just...disappeared. It was as if the time lost had never existed but Achuguayo could feel the void in his gut, knew that this was wrong.
He grabbed Etu’s wrist and squeezed hard. The boy winced.
“Go back,” Ach growled, feeling a little faint. He had underestimated this deity really, really badly. Etu, no matter how young and brattish he looked, was insanely powerful, to the point that he made Ach feel like he was losing control.
In that moment Ach felt more than he had in hundreds of years. A burning, overwhelming hate.
“ENOUGH!” the shout made Ach release Etu’s wrist and stumble back. For the second time in the last ten minutes he felt disorientated.
Lakshmi had appeared at the end of the hallway, her dark hair and veil rising around her as if lifted by an invisible wind. She was fuming.
“What are you doing, stupid boy?!” she rushed towards Etu, who rolled his eyes. The sun stalled above the trees, hovering at 8:05am. Ach leaned heavily against the wall – there were other deities crowding in the staircase leading to the attic, Máni at the front, looking just as pale as Ach, “Enough, Etu!” Lakshmi growled, “You know how dawn affects Ra! You will pull him out of the Underworld and who will protect us then?!”
Etu looked embarrassed at all the attention focused on him, all the glares. It was as if, in his passion, he hadn’t thought of the consequences of his actions. He took a timid step back, before standing firm.
“I can do what I want!” he shouted, but Ach sensed his resentment and pain. Clearly, Etu did not have many friends in this Hotel.
“Achuguayo!” Máni whispered and ran to him, gripping his hand. Her eyes were big, brimming with fright. They looked like two moons. The moon. Ach had to fix this – he closed his eyes. Máni’s presence grounded him, reminded him what time it was supposed to be. 11: 06pm. Ach gritted his teeth, gathered his strength, gripped Máni’s hand and touched the wall.
Slowly the sun sank back down behind the horizon. Within seconds darkness returned. The other deities gaped at Ach, and Etu took another step back. Everyone turned to look at the newcomer. Moments later, the night was as it should have been and Ach’s nausea had passed.
He opened his deep blue eyes and glared at Etu.
“Don’t do that again,” he growled, releasing Máni’s hand.
Etu’s hands curled into fists at his sides, “Fuck you,” he snapped, and then stormed into the room with the silver door, slamming it shut behind him.
Everything was still and quiet in the hallway for a second, then Lakshmi flew into another rage. She turned to Ach. If he had been human he would have had a headache by now, but honestly he was just tired of getting screamed at.
“I told you not to come up here!” Lakshmi yelled, “That boy is unstable, and Anansi is crazy! You could have disturbed The Great Spirit!” she screamed at him. The people on the stairs dispersed as if afraid of her wrath, but Máni remained.
“Lakshmi, please,” she said in a gentle, timid voice, like a soft evening breeze, “He didn’t know better. Besides, he clearly put Etu in his place, isn’t that good? Isn’t that just what you needed?”
Lakshmi looked between them but calmed visibly, “Don’t agitate him,” she glanced at the silver door, “He will turn this Hotel into dust if he so pleases. Don’t come back up here,” she said and stormed down the stairs.
Ach felt drained. Máni slipped her small, cold hand into his, reminding him the moon was in the sky, in the waning gibbous stage. The moon would always be in the sky, and he’d always know what time it was.
“I’ll walk you to your room,” Máni said warmly.
“Thank you,” Ach managed. They walked down the stairs but all he could think about was Etu. Why was he so angry, and why could Ach sense so much of his anger? Deities were connected; he could feel Máni’s growing affection because she was the moon personified, linked to him. In the same way Etu was linked to him too, he was the little clock reminding him what time it was, except he seemed set on making time spin out of control.
Ach wanted to forget all about him as quickly as possible.
“Isn’t Ra the god of the sun? Why is he affected by dawn?” he asked as Máni happily walked him to his bedroom.
“Ra,” she replied, “is a kind of protector here. Every night at sunset he goes to the Underworld to fight evil forces and prevent them from invading the Hotel, and every dawn he returns.”
“Ah,” things were already looking more complicated than Ach expected when he moved into this ‘sanctuary.’ “Bringing dawn about quicker would make Ra return too early?”
“Exactly,” they reached his door. Máni turned to him with a sweet smile, “What you did in there, the way you beat Etu, it was very impressive. Thank you, he has been a bother for this Hotel for a while now. He is not a very good person.”
“I see,” Ach suddenly wanted to be alone, and not one to sweet-talk he simply said; “Goodnight.”
Máni seemed a little disappointed but she stepped back, her hair illuminated by the moonlight falling in through the window. Like a halo, “Goodnight.”
The Hotel, 1945.
The woman with the large hat that hid her face gracefully climbed up the stairs leading from the burning pits of hell, and right onto the edge of the forest. Mist snaked between the trees as the world held its breath, waiting for dawn. Stars flickered out. The woman stepped aside and the gaping hole in the ground that led to the Underworld knitted itself back over with grass and disappeared.
Behind the woman loomed the dark outline of the Hotel.
“Where were you?” the low, raspy voice that sounded more animal than human drifted from the towering, immense figure that had been waiting in the shadows cast by the trees.
La Diablesse turned on her heel and craned her neck up to look at the shadow, “I was held up in hell. Lots of souls still coming in from the war,” she said gleefully and pulled off her hat, which dissolved into dust in her hand. She was a beautiful, dark skinned woman, and would have passed as such were it not for the two black, straight horns jutting out of her forehead. That, and her eerily inhuman smile, “Apologies, master,” she bowed.
“The souls do not matter, not anymore. The war is lost,” came the gravelly reply, “Our plan failed. I need the Hotel, Dia.”
“Your little Estonian god of the Underworld has given me all the information I need. All we need to do is get past the automaton, break the protective spell cast by some Finnish gnome.”
“Do not make this light-hearted. We must hit now, while our bellies are still full of the war suffering.”
Dia looked a little uncomfortable, “I was hoping you’d change your mind,” she turned to look at the Hotel, “Ra may be in the Underworld but we still have to deal with Bes, Brighid, Bast. Maybe more. Maybe Lakshmi. Maybe even the Great Spirit himself.”
“Don’t be foolish,” the voice scoffed, “The Great Spirit is a peaceful god, he will not engage in a fight. And the others I can take; they are mere pesky gods, and I am the Devil.”
The monstrous figure finally stepped into view just as the sky was tingeing red, as if spurting blood over the horizon. He towered over La Diablesse, his skin black and leathery, muscular and hard as if made of rope. His long mane of blood-red hair melted in with his beard and continued down his body, disappearing beneath his clothes. His sclera were black, his pupils blazed yellow with inhuman slits down the middle, like ones of a goat. Two curled, huge horns protruded from his forehead, and a goat’s tail swung behind him. His feet were cloven hoofs. If there ever were a bogeyman, here he stood, salivating from his ugly mouth at the thought of consuming so many souls, at the thought of never-ending suffering.
“We capture the Hotel, imprison the Great Spirit, Bes and the others, prevent Ra’s return, eat the humans,” Ördög said.
“If we get in,” Dia said sceptically, looking small and fragile next to her master.
“Have no fear, dear,” Ördög bared his sharp fangs at her, “We will accept those who swear me loyalty, the others we shall destroy. I know there are evil, black hearts in that Hotel, and they will follow their rightful master. We shall turn that place into a torture chamber, and feed off the souls of mortals for eternity.”
The prospect of not relying on death to bring them victims was enough to make the two figures say no more. The sun seemed hesitant to rise as they descended onto the Hotel, their figures long and dark in front of them. They passed through the field of poppies shifting in the wind, early morning wind rushed through the trees, making the leaves sing a warning.
As Ördög and his servant neared the open double-doors of the Hotel they could see its marble floors, the chandelier and the grand staircase leading upwards. Ördög’s dead, rotten heart twitched at the prospect of being king of it all, of having control not only over all the deities inside, but also of all the humans that still believed in them.
They stopped at the tall, arched, intricate black gate from which a pathway lead to the steps of the Hotel. It was not attached to a fence, it simply stood freely, encompassing the building in an invisible protective barrier. Dia put her hand out to touch it and immediately jerked her hand away in pain, hissing under her breath. The skin of her palm was already blistering and curling back, as if she had dunked it in acid. She pressed it to her chest.
“The gnome’s spell,” she growled.
Ördög’s hand was already smoking. He smiled, “Gnomes,” he said, as if he was referring to sweet children. He held out his hand and thrust it through the gate. The protective barrier sizzled and melted around his wrist, dripping around his steely wrist and killing the grass it dripped down onto. With no hesitation, Ördög stepped through the gate, and La Diablesse followed.
But before he could so much as put a hoof on one of the four steps leading to the doors, they slammed shut with an echoing bang that carried finality in its sound. Dia and Ördög stopped in their tracks as a silver figure jumped from the roof high above their heads and landed gracefully between them and the Hotel. Her appearance was that of a young woman, with long metallic hair and unmoving steely eyes, but the Devil knew full well she was Talos, an automaton, a creation of Hephaestus of which he made five; his firstborn, and the four that followed, sent to guard the four Sanctuaries.
There was nothing human or emotive in her eyes as she looked on the two intruders, a 98K strapped to her back.
“You have no place here, Ördög,” Talos said coldly.
“This Hotel is his,” La Diablesse growled, “Step aside now and maybe we won’t take you apart piece by piece.”
In response Talos pulled her gun off her shoulder and aimed it between Ördög’s overgrown brows, not even sparing the demoness a second glance. The Devil laughed.
“You think you are strong enough to fight me, little girl?” he snarled, as smoke began to curl up from between his hooves, “I am the King of Hell, I could melt you in a single move.”
“If you’re the King of Hell then why bother with this old Hotel?” a friendly, almost amused voice came from a bald, dark-skinned man who stood in front of the barely open front doors. He held a staff in his hand, and had an almost kind smile on his face, dressed in a silky gold dressing gown and slippers.
“Bes,” Ördög growled, eyes narrowing. He had to admit he was unnerved by the god’s presence – he had hoped it would take more time for his presence to be found out.
A woman with fiery red hair stood next to Bes, the Egyptian god of dwarves and protector of households. She was Brigid, the Irish goddess of the hearth, of spring and poetry. Right now she did not look like that though, dressed in heavy armour, wielding an ancient Celtic axe. Her usually motherly features were marred with anger, “We could smell you from a mile away, you smell like a wet goat,” the woman said icily.
“This Hotel is rightfully mine,” Ördög growled, feeling fury burning inside him, “I am the most powerful, I deserve it.”
“Ördög, old friend,” Bes sighed, “We’ve done this before, let’s not do this again. You caused your war, and you lost. You’ve tried to take the Hotel before, and failed. Go back to Hell, and leave us be.”
Suddenly the lights in all the rooms in the Hotels blazed up, as if every occupant had been awake, had seen them approach, and was ready to fight them. Ördög flinched, a violent anger brewing in his gut at the sight. Dia put her hand on his shoulder.
“Master,” she whispered, “We’ll come back.”
He knew she was right. No matter how much the war had weakened peoples belief in gods, he had made a mistake thinking he could do this alone. He had a single ally in the Hotel, Vanapagan, the god of the Underworld. But he would need many more if he was to take this place. It was clear the Hotel would not be surrendered.
Ördög could have gone after any of the other Sanctuaries, and he would. But first he wanted this place.
“Don’t think this is over, Bes,” he growled, trying to stop his wrath for ruining his plans forever. If he fought the deities he would be weakened, and that would affect the plan already brewing in his head like a cauldron of molten steel.
He tapped his hoof on the ground and with a low rumble the earth opened up, parting and cracking open with a moan, all the way down to its fiery depths. With no fear, Ördög stepped into the crack, with Dia close behind him.
Once they disappeared, the ground slammed together again, shaking the earth. Ravens erupted from the forest trees and took to the sky, and the sun finally rose. Bes and Brighid exhaled, Talos put her gun back onto her back.
“I’ll go back to patrolling,” she said, walking towards the gate, “Someone should check on Haltija, he broke her spell.”
Bes and Brighid exchanged worried looks.
“He broke the spell?” Brie whispered, sheathing her sword.
Bes stroked his white beard in thought, nesting his staff in the crook of his arm, “He has claimed many souls in the war, he will be stronger than ever. We must wait for Ra’s return, call a council and find more ways to protect the Hotel.”
“But how?” Brie asked, “We do all we can. We have children and humans in there, Bes, we must...,” she bit her lip, “Let’s talk to Wakan-“
“Someone’s coming!” Talos turned around suddenly by the gate and looked at Bes and Brighid. She reached for her gun, Brie grabbed the pommel of her sword.
“Wait,” Bes held up his hand, squinting at the forest.
Just past the gate the air shimmered, and an old, white door appeared, suspended. It opened, and out stepped a dark, hooded figure. The door shimmered out of existence the moment it was shut. A portal.
“Who are you?” Brighid demanded, her voice carrying to the stranger. Only the useless gate, an automaton and two gods stood between him and the building, “What do you want at the Hotel?”
“It’s not Ördög,” Bes murmured.
The figure pushed back its hood. It was an old, wizened man with a long white beard and sharp eyes. He looked at Talos, who immediately lowered her gun and dropped to one knee in the grass, head bowed, silver hair falling around her like a waterfall.
“Master,” she said.
“A Greek god?” Brie blinked.
“I mean you no harm, friends,” the man replied in a whispery voice, holding his hands up as if to indicate surrender, “I am Janus, the god of doors, and I have come to offer my help.”
2020 (75 years later)
She hurried through the cold, arched hallways of Ördög’s castle, shivering. Hell was always so cold, she had no idea where the fire and brimstone thing came from. Of course, there were fire pits in other places in Hell and the Underworld, but the Devil’s home was closer to a refrigerator than a boiling pot. She shuddered, her white skirt swishing around her legs. She could feel eyes of destroyed souls peering at her out of the black, smudgy walls, following her every step. The whole castle looked like an inverted cathedral, with eerily green candles burning on the walls and shadowy stained glass images in the windows portraying the torture going on outside. Faint echoes of screams of souls in agony followed La Diablesse as she walked.
The double doors of the throne room burst open in front of her without her touching them, and the woman hurried inside, shaking off the chill. Oh how she yearned for the warmth of the Caribbean. She had once been a human, a mortal woman, and her deals with the Devil got her here, doing his dirty work, and she would never return to the sun again...
“You’re thinking about foolish things again, Dia,” Ördög barked at the woman from his throne, oppressively shoving his conscience into her head. She rolled her eyes and stopped at the bottom of the podium, where narrow, black steps led to a huge throne made of interlinked and twisted in which Ördög resided, eyes a dim yellow. The walls of the throne room, stretching high, high above Dia’s head, were fitted with bones too. Ribs and skulls and joints – the whole place was built on corpses.
“You best be bringing me good news,” Ördög said. Dia smirked, and reached into the leather bag that was hanging over her shoulder.
“Pandora kept to her word,” she said, and produced a little, innocent looking glass jar out of the bag; it looked like something you’d put jam in. Ördög leaned forward, eyes flaring.
“That is not Pandora’s box,” he hissed, spittle flying out from between his sharp teeth.
“Pandora’s box is so 3000BC; besides it wasn’t actually a box, that’s just a mistranslation. This is better,” she smiled, “I don’t know who she got these made from, but they work the reverse of the box. These will help us finally get control of the Hotel, and – get this – I’ve managed to get three.”
“We can hold Wakan in those?” Ördög asked, excitement sparking his voice. Flames licked at his eyelids from his pupils. Dia nodded. The Devil slowly smiled, and if Dia’s soul wasn’t already dead she would have recoiled in horror at the image. His sharp teeth glinted green in the light, “Send word to our allies. We are ready.”
I know there's a lot of characters so here's a very quick recap of who we met this chapter:
Achuguayo 'Ach' - the moon god and regulator of time of the Guanche people, the natives of Tenerife
Amefurikozo 'Furi' - Japanese yokai (spirit) that causes rain
Anansi - the god of knowledge of stories who shapeshifts into a spider, from the Akan people of Ghana/Ivory Coast
Bes - Egyptian god of dwarves and protector of households, but also the god of war
Brigid - Irish goddess of the hearth and home (among a bunch of other things)
Etu - Personification of time for the Lakota people (Native American) - a disliked figure in the Hotel
Hildegard 'Hild' - a swan shapeshifter from Germanic mythology, who lost his feather and now cannot leave
Janus - Greek god of beginnings, endings and doors - the doorman
Kardai - Turkish personification of guilt
La Diablesse 'Dia' - Caribbean demoness who works for the Devil
Lakshmi - Hindu goddess of wealth and the manager of the Hotel
Lauma - Latvian fae and guardian spirit of orphans, babysitter for the child spirits
Máni - Norse personification of the moon
Mrenh, Cambodian elf and guardian of animals
Ördög - Hungarian version of the devil
Talos - Greek automaton
The Soldier - A human
Ungnyeo 'Yeo' - Korean bear shapeshifter
Chapter 2: The Postman
Thanks so much for all the reads and kudos guys :*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Hotel, morning, 1st October 2020. Friday.
The Soldier cheerfully walked into the laundry room, his bag of mail slung over his shoulder.
“Good morning!” he proclaimed to the two Japanese demons sitting on stools between piles of dirty clothes and the washing machines, all spinning furiously. The old couple, dressed in Ancient Japanese kimonos that were several millennia out of date, glared at him.
“Human!” Datsue-ba hissed in fury, with the same energy as she did most days, pointing her sharp-nailed finger at the Soldier as if he had personally offended her, “Give me the clothes off your back and let me weight your sins!”
“Not today, Datsue,” the Soldier replied, unfazed, rummaging in his bag. He shoved a fat stack of papers into the woman’s pale, outstretched hand, “List of incoming souls and clothes to weight.”
Datsue-ba scoffed but hungrily snatched up the papers while her partner, Keneo, cackled. The Soldier turned to leave, happy to live another day; every Friday for the past seventy odd years Datsue had threatened to rip the clothes and skin off his back and send him into the pits of hell, but so far he had managed to sweet-talk his way out of that fate. When he first took up the position as the Hotel’s ‘postman’ he had been so terrified of the creepy old couple that he bribed other spirits and deities to go into the laundry room instead of him to deliver the letters to the demons. After some time, however, the Soldier realised that they too were bound by the Hotel’s contract, which prevented them for killing any human, which included himself. Nowadays, with their empty threats he found them more amusing that frightening.
“Morning Tav,” as the Soldier was slipping out of the room he passed Guatauva, the Taino god of rain and thunder, his long, inky black hair tied back in a braid.
“Morning soldier,” the young man saluted the solider playfully, dressed in pale blue overalls, a tool box in his free hand. As the Soldier headed down the hallway he heard Tauva say “Right, stop kicking that machine or it’ll keep breaking,” which lead to Datsue angrily screeching at him. The Soldier ignored their fading shouts as he rummaged in the pocket of his black jeans for the delivery list. He wasn’t really paying attention to where he was going, and so bumped right into an impressive bosom, which made him stumble back and blink in surprise at the three women in front of him. One was short and round, another tall and old, and the third young and pretty. The first and the last started giggling as the Soldier stumbled back. They wore matching bright green aprons, and held multiple baskets of laundry, including ones effortlessly balanced on their heads. As always they wore no shoes, leaving their green, webbed feet on show. The Soldier learnt long ago not to stare.
“Good morning, soldier,” the short and round one, whose breasts the Soldier had stumbled into, winked at him playfully.
“You should pay attention where you are going,” the tall, old one scoffed in distaste.
“Apologies, ladies,” the Soldier said, employing his charm as he swept a dropped sock off the floor and placed it back into the young and pretty girl’s basket. She giggled and saluted him. The Las Lavandieres were spirits of French washerwomen who had taken care of delivering the Hotel’s laundry to Datsue-ba and Keneo for centuries, and although they lacked vast powers, the Soldier had learnt early on that he should treat them with respect. Right now the tall and old Lavandiere scoffed at him and ushered the other two washerwomen into the laundry room.
The Soldier walked on towards the stairs leading to the third floor, whistling, as angry French shouting joint the argument between Datsue, Keneo and Guatauva, the latter desperately trying to calm down the situation. The Soldier didn’t hear who won or how the fight ended as he skipped up the familiar steps and hurried down the third floor hallway, basking in the morning autumn sunlight that fell in through the windows as he expertly slid letters under doors. At the end of the hallway stood a Native American man with an elaborate, beautiful headdress that seemed much too grand for the rest of his sickly thin, crooked body.
“Good morning, Bakwas,” the Soldier tried his best to avoid the man, futilely. He was an immortal human baring a terrible curse which allowed him communication with ghosts and the otherworld, but which also drove him insane. His only purpose in life had been reduced to trying to trick humans into eating his ghost food, so they too would become like him, suspended between the lands of the living and the dead.
“Hungry, soldier?” the man asked now, extending a trembling hand and looking at the Soldier with unfocused eyes as his other hand absent-mindedly stroked his headdress. There was a cockle shell in his bent, dirty hand.
“Not today, Bakwas, thanks though,” the Soldier replied hurriedly, rushing up the stairs to the fourth floor, trying to shake the uneasy feeling an encounter with Bakwas always left him with. His eyes scanned the list of people he had to deliver mail to on the fourth floor, inhabited for the most part by faeries. With practiced ease the Soldier stepped over vines crawling across the floor, ignoring the bees calmly floating in and out of the open windows.
He walked up to the first door on the floor, where little droplets of water were forming on the white paint of the door. The Soldier sighed and knocked.
“Come in,” came the sing-song reply, and reluctantly the Soldier let himself in. If he could just slide a letter under the door and avoid entering he would, but alas this particular Hotel guest always got huge bunches of love letters that the Soldier had to – regrettably – deliver in person.
The human walked into the ‘bedroom,’ if you could even call it that: a huge window covered the east-facing wall, presenting the depths of the oceans. Fish swam lazily through the water and congregated around coral reefs. It was, of course, an illusion, for the Hotel was not underwater.
Shells and nets full of trinkets hung from the ceiling, and in the centre of the room, where a bed would be, was a huge pool, so deep it died away into darkness. In the pool floated a mermaid. The Soldier – like many other men – had been mesmerised when he first met her, the long, floating hair and the cheeky smile were enough to draw any mortal in. But after dealing with Sirena Magindara, the problematic Filipino mermaid, and her bullshit for almost a century, the Soldier considered himself pretty immune to her charm.
“Good morning,” Sirena purred.
“Morning,” the Soldier pulled out a thick stack of letters from his magic messenger bag that weighed nothing and allowed him to carry around as much as he needed. He waved the stack, which consisted of everything from creamy white envelopes, old, crumbling scrolls and CD’s of people’s mixtapes, in the air, “More stuff for you.”
Sirena leisurely swam towards the edge of the pool and leaned on her arms, her silver tail that resembled one of a bala shark splashing out of the water playfully. She stretched out her hand, “Why don’t you bring them over here?” she said, her voice ringing true and clear.
“Uh...,” the Soldier carefully placed them on the damp floor, “No thanks. You tried to drown me last time. And then time before that.”
“Oh come on!” Sirena laughed, her expression open and innocent and almost believable, “That was fun!” when she noticed the Soldier was slinking back towards her door she opened her mouth. The Soldier, knowing what was to come, shoved his hand into his army jacket and pulled out his IPod. He put on his headphones just as Sirena started sweetly singing, and blasted ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as loud as he could, refusing to let himself be lured in by the mermaid. He gave her a little wave and skipped to the door.
She pouted, “You’re no fun, human!” she yelled after him but he was already back out in the hallway. He went to the door next to Sirena’s, which had a gaping, human-head sized hole in the wood. A little scared, the Soldier threw a small envelope in through the opening.
“Torto!” he called, not turning off his music, “That’s the final call to pay your repair bill! Lakshmi is getting impatient!”
A deafening roar came in response, along with the walls shaking. A robin screeched from the little olive tree that grew by the staircase, and flew out of the window as the Soldier scurried on, praying that Torto – the Basque Cyclops that lived in room 29 – wasn’t feeling particularly peckish today. There were no more letters on that floor and the Soldier was eager to go upstairs; the sweet smell of the flowers all around him was making him drowsy, especially once he reached the last door which belonged to Nicnevin, the queen of the faeries.
There were several rules to successfully navigating the Hotel and not losing his mind: the witches were bad and couldn’t be trusted, but to a degree the faeries were worse because they seemed good, but also could not be trusted.
Before the Soldier could head upstairs he felt a wind rustle the leaves and flora around him. Smiling, he pulled his headphones around his neck and before him, out of the wind, materialised a half-formed figure of a woman. She was partially transparent, her form never fully stabilising, her hair moving wildly around her. The air smelled crisp, like it was from a mountain.
“Any mail for me?” came the sweet voice, like a summer breeze.
“Not today, sorry Illie.”
“No worries, have a good shift,” came the cheerful reply and then Ilmatar, the Finnish spirit of air, jumped back out of the window, undoubtedly to soar among the clouds for the remainder of the autumn morning. The Soldier sighed – he always felt fairly mundane in the Hotel, but at moments like these he really envied the spirits; he wished he too could fly, or even leave the Hotel...
Not dwelling too much on his normalcy – for the Soldier found that it usually put him in a very depressed mood – he put his headphones back on and continued on his merry way, or as merry as if could be – on the fifth floor lived the demons, and the sixth floor were the witches. They were the Soldiers least favourite floors to deliver mail to.
Outside of room 37 the Soldier left an Amazon package for new, light-blocking curtains for Mullo the vampire – he didn’t even knock, knowing the boy was probably asleep considering it was the morning. Room 43, the room of Al Kardai, the woman who the Soldier saw on his first night, guilt personified, got a stack of letters from mournful mortals, asking for advice on how to deal with their troubles. The Soldier knocked, but nobody opened.
He turned to head for the stairs and smacked into a broad, perfectly muscled chest. He stumbled a little and looked up to see a smirking Arabic man in front of him, his black beard immaculate, his glossy hair pulled back into a man-bun. He was tall enough that if he was out in the real world, he would have been scouted to play basketball.
“What’s in the bag, human?” he asked, eyes blazing red as he leaned in close to the Soldier, as always not respecting personal boundaries. He smelled like incense and blood, a peculiar but weirdly appealing mix.
“Sorry Asmodeus,” the Soldier danced around the prince of demons, “Can’t hear you. The Cranberries are playing, they’re great, you should listen to them sometime!” he said and skipped to the stairs.
During his first few years on the job the Soldier had trouble delivering all the mail in one day with all the trickster spirits and gods distracting, capturing or playing tricks on him. More often than not the child spirits on the first floor would pressure him to play some long, elaborate game with them: one time while indulging them in a game of hide and seek, the Soldier got locked in a cupboard for six hours. Sometimes Bast’s cats wouldn’t let him pass without feeding or petting them and for a week in December a few years ago he ended up soaking wet after getting pulled into Sirena’s pool every single time he brought her mail. But seventy five years of living around supernatural creatures finally made the Soldier feel comfortable, and he knew all the tricks to get the more pestering deities off his back, which enabled him to do his job in an hour tops. The reward was having Lakshmi treat him slightly less like garbage in comparison to the other humans.
However this was the one thing he hadn’t been able to hack. He stopped on the top step before the sixth floor and took a deep, calming breath, his stomach knotted with the familiar feeling of dread. They witches can’t hurt you, the Soldier reminded himself as he stepped out into the hallway. He was greeted by an aura of death and misery, and the Soldier always got the feeling that if the coven could kill all the humans in the Hotel and not get evicted, they would. Their leaders, a terrifying Indonesian witch called Rangda who wore a horrifying mask and was more wild beast than human, as well as the goddess of witches Hecate, always gave him the creeps and he hated delivering mail to them.
Unfortunately, today he had a few packages – undoubtedly bones, pendants and crystals – to deliver and all he could hope for was that he’d bump into one of the good ones, perhaps Sunakake or maybe even Yee.
The hallway was murky, the light – which never seemed able to penetrate the Gothic windows – reminded him of a swamp. Supplementary light was provided by candles that littered the window sills; candles that gave an air of mystery, and never went out, dripping wax that never made it to the floor. Instead of vines creeping across the ceiling like the faerie floor, here there were bunches of herbs and little animal bones hanging from above, the hollow eye sockets of bird skulls seeming to stare into the Soldier’s soul.
An overgrown red fox sat patiently in the middle of the hallway, as if expecting him and the moment he appeared, she pranced towards him, her many fluffy tails swinging behind her like a sunset fan. The Soldier breathed a sigh of relief – clearly the witches didn’t want to deal with a human today.
“Hi Kitty,” he said, and the fox transformed mid-step into a beautiful Japanese girl with long, flowing ginger hair. She was completely naked, and completely unashamed, her pointed shoulders freckly, her tails still swinging behind her. If it had been anyone else the Soldier would have been embarrassed, but he had long ago gotten used to this particular Kitsune’s nudity.
“Morning,” she said casually, and stuck her creamy hand out expectantly, fingernails sharp and painted a bloody red, “Gimme those packages before those old hags decide to put a hex on you,” she rolled her golden eyes. The Soldier smiled and dug around in his bag, before dumping several boxes in the girl’s arms. She seemed unbothered by the weight.
“Thanks. You’re a sight for sore eyes on this floor.”
She winked, “Don’t let Yaga hear that, lieutenant,” she said, and sauntered away to one of the doors. When she slipped inside the Soldier all but sprinted down the corridor, happy to be away from the eerie aura.
The seventh floor was deliciously warm and light after the gloominess of the witch floor, but the Soldier’s nerves didn’t stabilise, instead replaced by a pounding heart and a little bit of excitement. This was another place he still could not hack, but for a completely different reason than the previous floor. He double-checked his list of recipients for the day. Sure enough room 61 was not on it. The Soldier exhaled, calming himself as he shoved the list back into his pocket, wondering if he should just add the room on and make up some bullshit excuse later. Thankfully before he could make that decision a distraction came in the form of a woman with long brown hair, a stern look on her face, and deer antlers sprouting from her forehead, throwing open her door. The Deer Woman was – as always – fuming.
“Good morning,” the Soldier blurted, hoping to appease her before she could go off on a tirade. Of course, it didn’t work.
“I could smell you, filthy man,” she snarled.
“I showered today,” the Soldier replied with an awkward laugh, fishing out a copy of The Woman’s Signal magazine out of the bag. He offered it to the Deer Woman, who snatched it up as if disgusted that the Soldier had touched it. The Deer Woman was one of the spirits the Soldier had read up on when he came to the Hotel; she was a spirit of love and fertility, but in her past had lured promiscuous men to their deaths. In her retirement she decided to just hate men in general.
“Don’t get smart with me, boy. All you men stink of the patriarchy!” she yelled at him, and slammed the door in his face.
“A thankyou would suffice,” the boy muttered to himself, but he had long ago given up in trying to convince the Deer Woman that not all men were blood-thirsty, sexually deprived scum.
The figure in the door next to the Deer Woman’s posed the completely opposite problem. The man who stood in it was handsome, looked to be in his thirties, and was smiling seductively at the Soldier.
“Anything for me, stranger?” he asked with a wink.
“Not today, Popobawa.”
“Well maybe you’d like to come in?” the man asked, gesturing at the dark, shadowy interior of his bedroom.
“Uh...sorry, I’m working,” was the Soldier’s reply. Popbawa might have looked like a handsome man right now, but the moment the sun set he turned into an ugly, ravenous bat-monster who committed horrifying crimes, and the Soldier knew not to trust the charming smile.
Thankfully he a firefly floating towards the cracked-open window took up his attention. The Soldier ran towards it and enveloped it between his palms before it could fly out.
“Nice try, Adze,” he said, and released the firefly. It transformed into a stick-thin, bald, old man, a shape-shifter from Ghana whose one bite in firefly form could turn a human into a witch or kill them.
“What do you want?” the old man barked, “I was just going for a walk.” The lie was obvious.
“Yeah, well,” the Soldier handed him a black envelope with a pentagram on it, “Can you pay back your debt to the witches first and then go on a walk?”
Adze snatched the envelope up, glaring, “What are you, a tax collector now?” he snapped. The Soldier walked past him – Pop had disappeared back into his room.
“Don’t be stupid,” the human said, “spirits don’t pay taxes.”
“I should eat your organs and watch you suffer,” Adze scoffed but turned himself and the envelope back into a firefly, and floated out of the window.
The Soldier watched him disappear into the morning. Okay, deep breaths. He turned to room 61 and puffed out his chest, reminding himself that he had done things much more terrifying than this, that he shouldn’t be so scared of... He gripped his messenger bag with both hands to steady himself. What was the worst thing that could happen?
At the end of the day he still had the mail.
The Soldier stepped to the door. The paint seemed whiter than on other doors, the number ‘61’ seemed to gleam more in the shy morning sunlight. If he doesn’t answer, at least I tried. He lifted his fist and knocked. The seconds of silence seemed to drag out and the Soldier thought he would faint as he anxiously gripped his bag strap.
Then came a faint, “Come in.”
The Soldier let out the breath he didn’t realise he was holding and pushed open the door before he could chicken out.
The room was only partially illuminated by sun streaming in through the half-transparent white curtains that covered the oval windows. The stained glass in them cast a multitude of colours around the somewhat messy room, making it look ethereal.
Hildegard sat on his messy, unmade bed, still in the long white nightshirt he slept in, hair fluffy, eyes sleepy. He had been staring out of the window and now dragged his chocolate eyes to the Soldier. His pale eyelashes made a nice contrast with the darkness of his irises.
“Oh,” Hild said, a little dreamily, as if he wasn’t quite sure where he was, but didn’t care to find out, “Hello.”
“H-Hello,” the Soldier stuttered out, blushing and gripping his bag even tighter, “I...uh, I hope I didn’t wake you up.”
The swan-boy smiled prettily, his pale cheeks flushed from sleep, “Have you found my feather?” he asked, looking at the bag, “Or is it another letter?”
“N-No,” the Soldier swallowed down his nerves. He had had a crush on this boy for seventy five years. Seventy five years, and still all he could do was lamely come see him from time to time and have the most basic of conversations. He tried to think of a reason to be in his room right now, and beat himself up over not thinking ahead, “Um, there’s actually no letters for you today. And no feather. I-I just thought I’d say hi?”
“Oh,” disappointment coloured Hild’s voice, but he smiled anyway, “That’s lovely,” he looked back at the window and pushed back the floaty curtain. Whatever view his window showed, the Soldier couldn’t see it, “I was watching the sunrise. It looks so pretty back home...”
Hild sighed dreamily.
“To go home. What a thought. What a lovely, lovely thought...”
“I’m sorry,” the Soldier said lamely, unable to say more. Like all the humans, Hild was stuck in the Hotel, at least until he found his feather and turned back into a swan. The boy let go of the curtain and turned to the Soldier, smiling, perfectly innocent all in white with his pale blond locks.
“No need to be sorry,” he said, “Did you know Samhain is coming up? It’s the Gaelic festival marking the end of the autumn season. It’s like a hello to winter. I think it’s so sweet, don’t you think? If you were a season wouldn’t you love to have a ball to celebrate your coming?” he chuckled quietly under his breath, “Sorry. I talk too much.”
“N-No,” the Soldier protested, “Not at all!” he could sit there and listen to Hild talk about mythology all day.
“Would you like to stay a while? I can get some tea brought up...”
“N-No,” the Soldier blushed even redder, and noticed Hild’s shoulders drop a little, “I-I mean! I’d love to, but I’m working right now and Lakshmi likes to time me a-and-...maybe I’ll see you at the party tonight?” he said too loudly, hopefully.
Hild smiled in the same calm, soft way as he always did, absentmindedly running his delicate, pale fingers over the curtain, “I’d like that.”
“Okay!” the Soldier squeaked, “Um...,” he walked backwards to the door, wanting to keep looking at Hild for as long as possible, “Bye then!” he finally scurried out, shoving the door closed behind him and leaning against it, exhaling.
He stood there for a second, catching his breath as if he had just ran a marathon. He closed his eyes, then opened them again. The sun was rising higher in the sky, and the Soldier was done with delivering mail.
“That wasn’t so bad,” he tried to tell himself in a quiet, uncertain voice. A meow came in response and when the Soldier looked down he saw an anaemic looking Egyptian cat staring up at him with big, dopey eyes. He smiled.
“Hi Mat. I’ve got your food right here,” he patted his bag. Mat turned on his skinny legs and wobbled towards the stairs. The Soldier chuckled under his breath, and followed his four-legged friend, who led him upstairs and then past all the doors, including his own bedroom, until they reached the last. It was propped open by a wicker basket full of yarn. The Soldier walked in with confidence that came from many years of being comfortable in this room, even if it belonged to a goddess.
An old lady sat in an armchair by the window, knitting an ugly red sweater, her hair tied in a headscarf. Looking at her you would never be able to tell that she was Bast, one of Ancient Egypt’s most important goddesses. She was surrounded by cats. Outside her window were the bustling, busy streets of New York City, but the view was often subject to change as Bast was quite indecisive and got bored often.
“Good morning,” the Soldier told her. She smiled at him, her face crackling with wrinkles, and put her knitting in her lap as she pulled out the newest IPhone out the pocket of her long skirt. She showed it to the Soldier.
“Forty two minutes and eighteen seconds. Not bad. Lakshmi would be proud.”
“Proud maybe isn’t the best word,” the Soldier replied. Bast put the phone back into her pocket and interlocked her hands on her belly expectantly.
“Well?” she asked.
The Soldier fidgeted, “Well...I’ve got your cat food delivery?” he said, pulling it out of his bag. The cat immediately perked up.
“Not the cat food,” the goddess waved him off, and then gestured at the intricate African carpet that decorated her floor. The Soldier silently put down the bag of cat food and sat in front of her cross-legged, like he had done for years. When everything had been scary and overwhelming Bast had been here for him, like a figure of a grandma, looking out for him, “Did you speak with Hildegard?”
“Yeah,” the Soldier dropped his eyes and shrugged, awkwardly picking at a loose thread in the carpet, “it went okay.”
A big, ugly orange cat crawled into his lap. When the Soldier started stroking him, Hombre Gato began purring loudly and obnoxiously.
“I’m sure it did,” Bast said comfortingly, returning to her knitting. Her presence reassured the Soldier some, “He’s a sweet boy, that one. I’m sure if you asked him for a date he wouldn’t be opposed.”
The Soldier sighed, “But what can I offer him? We can walk in the gardens, but we couldn’t even go to the forest. I can’t leave.”
“Neither can he,” Bast said.
“For now,” the Soldier rolled his eyes, “I’m sure he’ll find his feather eventually and then he’ll be able to go anywhere he wants,” he sighed dramatically and flopped down onto the carpet, making Gato meow angrily and stalk away, “He’s not a god, he doesn’t need this place to keep existing. He’s a...,” he waved his hand in the air, looking for the right word, “a fairytale character. He isn’t tied down to anything. He’ll probably want to be free, go back to Germany. Which is good!” he said hurriedly, “It’s great, I hope he finds the feather! But I...I...,” he puffed out his cheeks, “I’m stuck here for all eternity.”
“It isn’t so bad here,” Bast said cheerfully, poking him with her slipper. She sighed dreamily, “Ah, young love. You never know until you try, eh?”
“Maybe. He said he’s coming to the party later.”
“That’s something!” Bast said, “Have you picked out a nice outfit, how about that lovely sweater I knitted you for Wepet Renpet?”
“Uh...,” the Soldier remembered the fluffy monstrosity, “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. Someone broke the AC in Comus’ room, it might be a bit warm for that...”
“Regardless,” Bast said, “I have a good feeling about you and this boy.”
“It took me twenty one years to gather the courage to introduce myself,” the Soldier said gloomily, “I don’t think much is going to change in one evening. Or in a week for the matter. Or even a year!”
THE SKINWALKER, a witch.
That same evening.
Excitement was palpable in the Hotel as spirits and deities prepared to attend the weekly party in room 70. Hosted by the Greek god of parties, Comus, it was one of the few events where everybody intermingled, regardless if they were god, spirit or mortal, as Comus said “the more the merrier.” It was one of the events that didn’t get tiring, no matter if you attended it for the first time, or for the one-thousand-and-eightieth, it was always a place for new gossip, a place to find someone new to flirt with.
It was also the reason for the bickering in room 75, where the ruler of all water, Olokun, was throwing a hissy fit, perched on the side of his bed, his dark arms crossed over his chest. He was dressed in tartan trousers and a very tight black t-shirt, his dark hair styled perfectly.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving again,” he snapped at his best friend and roommate, “What is it going to take to make you put on a damn dress and come to one of these parties with me!”
Sedna, the mistress of the sea, fought the urge to roll her eyes at her friend. He was so powerful, yet so childish. The woman finished packing her bags, “It’ll take hell freezing over. What’s it going to take for you to come fishing with me?”
“But the party,” Olokun whined.
“I’ll see you Monday, Olly,” the woman replied, hoisting her bag over her shoulder. She gave her pouting roommate a wave and then walked out into the hallway. She was dressed very differently to many of the other people in the Hotel, a fluffy hat on her braided black hair, a winter coat on her back. Ice-fishing was a very cold activity.
Of course she was not the only deity who didn’t attend Comus’ parties: the more powerful gods such as Ra, Nut or Lakshmi never showed due to their prestige and age, others such as Anansi, Etu and Torto were unofficially banned, while the witches tended to stay away due to their own preferences; only occasionally did the Kitsune or Sunakake steal away to intermingle.
But tonight would be different, because tonight the Skinwalker finally mustered up the courage to go.
In room 53 she stood in front of the mirror in one of her mother’s floor-length black dresses; it was much too low cut for Yee Naaldlooshii, who tended to be quite shy and withdrawn, but the Navajo witch couldn’t help but admire herself in the dimly lit room. The dress was a big change from the flannels and oversized t-shirts that she often wore, the ebony complimenting her wood-coloured skin and the dark waterfall of her hair.
She took a deep breath and smoothed the dress over her hips. It didn’t fit her nearly as well as her beautiful mother and like always Yee was a poor imitation of her, but the girl though she didn’t look half bad, which was a good thought for her.
“I’m just going for an hour,” Yee recited under her breath, staring at her own dark eyes in the mirror firmly. Stand your ground, stand your ground, “I’m an adult, you can’t stop me.”
As if right on time, the door to the huge, two-floored bedroom opened and the Raven Mocker walked in, the edge of her raven-feather cloak swishing against the floor. The candles in the gothic chandeliers flickered ominously, and the flames in the fireplace roared up. Yee immediately felt the courage drain out of her as her mother approached her – tall, gorgeous, with a regal look on her face and all-black eyes, the Raven Mocker was one of the most feared characters in the Hotel, and her daughter feared her too. Unlike many, she refused to adopt modern clothing and still wore long, black gowns and jewellery made of human bones. An intricate ring ran through her septum, and dark tattoos covered her arms.
“Mother,” Yee curled in on herself metaphorically, the words she had just said out loud escaping her.
The Raven Mocker seemed unimpressed as she leaned her cane against the wall – the human child skull on top of it gleamed ominously, “You think me a fool?” she asked, voice raspy and twisted – it didn’t fit her beauty, but it fitted her inhuman, inky eyes.
Yee swallowed, “E-Etsi. I was going to ask- I was going to say-“
“Save your words,” the Raven Mocker replied, “You think I don’t know you? Truly, I must say Yee Naaldlooshii, I am disappointed with you and your desires. But please, enlighten me,” there was no warmth in her voice, there never had been, “what is it you might want at that pathetic excuse of a party?”
“Etsi,” Yee gathered up her courage once more, wringing her hands out in front of her, “Sunakake goes sometimes-“
“Sunakake is a disgrace for a witch,” the Raven interrupted with a snarl, revealing her sharpened teeth. She pushed her hair, which was braided into a thousand tiny, black strands, behind her graceful shoulder, “But by all means, if you want to be in the same class as her, go ahead. I simply expected more of you, I thought I raised you better. Are you a mere, weak mortal to desire such things as attention?”
Yee flinched. Raven laughed, “What? You think I don’t know? Who’s eye are you hoping to catch?”
“N-Nobody’s!” Yee blurted, burning red. She blinked back tears of shame. She should not have stepped out of line, “You’re right. I’m better than this,” she wouldn’t have believed those words if she had carved them into her skin.
“A big day is approaching,” Raven said.
“I know,” Yee whispered.
“By Samhain everything will have changed, and our power will be rightfully restored, and your father will be my prisoner.”
Raven eyed her daughter up and down and Yee knew she wasn’t convincing, but she had never been a good actress.
“Trust me,” Raven hissed, “Trust Rangda and the other witches. Trust Hecate.”
“Us witches,” Raven said, “Have been chosen to play a big part in history once more. Do not ruin this, daughter. Do not ruin this with insignificant wants. Now is not the time to be selfish.”
The idea of the party began to diminish in Yee’s mind – her mother was right, it wasn’t important. Yee couldn’t even remember why she had wanted to go in the first place.
Yee couldn’t bear to meet her mother’s inhumane gaze, “I’m sorry. I’ll focus on the spells.”
“What about the animal sacrifices?”
“I performed them,” Yee said hurriedly, eager to please. She ran to a cupboard, where on one of the shelves there were several jars filled with slightly bloodied bones. Yee reached for them, piling them in her arms clumsily.
“Leave that,” Raven said irritated, “Zonbi!” she called.
The half-rotten carcass of a once-human hobbled into the room, followed by the foul stench of decay. Yee held her breath. Her mother was a necromancer, and she always took care to have at least one resurrected dead at her disposal. The people she brought back were little more than empty, hollow shells that followed her instructions blindly and fell apart after a few weeks.
“Take the jars,” the Raven Mocker said, and the zombie followed her instructions, limping over to Yee. She fought the urge to flinch. No years of training ever made her more ready for the pungent smell of decaying flesh. She turned her face away as Zonbi picked the jars from her and cradled them in his skeletal, crumbling arms.
“Rangda will be pleased,” Raven said as Zonbi waddled out of the room, “These are essential. I’ll take them to her now.”
“Alright,” Yee replied. Raven walked up to her and kissed her forehead, her lips stone-cold. Her affection, like all the other things she gave as a mother, lacked any humanity. Yee fought a shudder.
“Goodnight, my little Skinwalker,” Raven whispered, and headed for the door. She paused on the door step as if she remembered something. She turned to look at her daughter, who wanted to curl up in bed and forget this rotten Hotel existed, “Keep the dress. At least it makes you look like a proper witch.”
And with that she was gone, closing the door behind her. Yee exhaled and turned back to the mirror. She didn’t seem very pretty anymore and suddenly she wanted nothing more than to rip the dress off.
“Well,” a fiery-haired girl melted from the shadows, perched on the edge of the table by Raven’s bed, legs swinging, “That was painful to watch.”
Yee felt blood rising to her cheeks in embarrassment, “Kitty!” she squeaked, “It’s rude to eavesdrop! What if mother had seen you?!” She thought about how stupid she must have looked staring at herself in the mirror. She hated that the other girl could turn invisible.
The Kitsune shrugged, “Just a while. Your mum’s a bitch.”
Yee swallowed, glancing anxiously at the door, “You shouldn’t say that.”
“I know, I know,” Kitty rolled her eyes, “She might be my master and control my actions, but she can’t change the way I feel about her. She treats you like shit.”
“Don’t say that,” Yee mumbled and went to unzip the dress.
“Woah, woah, woah!” the Japanese fox spirit jumped up, yellow eyes wide, “What are you doing?”
“U-Undressing?” Yee offered. Then blushed – “S-Sorry, I should do it in the bathroom-“
“What about the party?!” Kitty interrupted.
“You heard,” Yee said dejectedly, “I’m not going. Mother’s right. I should focus on my studies.”
“Oh please,” Kitsune rolled her eyes, “I can’t believe you still let that hag control you. Why don’t you think for yourself for once?”
“I do!” Yee protested weakly, a little offended, “I-I just...she knows what’s best for me. The witches are planning something, something before Samhain and I-”
“Blah, blah, blah, who cares about Samhain? Halloween! Now that’s more like it!” Kitty proclaimed, jumping off the table and walking up to Yee with confidence that Yee’s heart jump. She took a step away but Kitty was up in her face, smirking.
“I think you know what’s best for you,” she said playfully, and Yee watched as Kitty’s features began to shift. In a whirl of cherry blossom petals that made Yee take another step back, Kitty shapeshifted. Now there were two Yee’s standing in the room, one in pyjamas, and one in a floor-length black dress.
Kitty-Yee stretched and yawned dramatically, “Man, you know what sounds good right now? My bed!”
The real Yee couldn’t help smiling at her friend’s antics.
“This is ridiculous.”
“We’ve done it before, you know it works. Go!” Kitty-Yee pointed at the door, “Go, or I will, and I’ll drink all the vodka and embarrass the witches more than you ever could.”
The importance of Samhain and all of her mother’s secrets faded as Yee looked into her own face with a confident smile that she would never pull off.
“Thanks, Kits,” Yee smiled softly, “You’re a good friend.”
“Off you go, kiddo,” Kitty-Yee waved off the affections. Yee took a deep breath, felt the ancient wind of the Navajo lands in her hair as she shifted. Of course, she couldn’t risk going to Comus’ room in her real form or word would get to her mother and...Yee shuddered at the thought of what Raven would do to her. But she couldn’t let down Kitty either. The Kitsune had been Raven’s servant as long as Yee could remember, and Yee always admired her confidence and the way she wasn’t afraid to do what she wanted, even while forced to do Raven’s bidding.
And in all fairness, Yee just wanted to go to a part, just once.
She shapeshifted into a human girl, still in her mother’s black dress. Yee looked at herself in the mirror – caramel coloured hair, bright green eyes. Beautiful, unlike the real her. Kitty-Yee winked at her, Yee smiled, and then practically skipped out of the room. She ran down the hallway, afraid to be caught by one of the witches, but when she made it onto the seventh floor, she felt the faintest taste of freedom on her tongue. It tasted like cherries.
Etu paused at the end of the corridor on the eight floor, tightening and loosening his grip on the bottle of half-drank bourbon he was holding. Come on your coward, he told himself, even though anxiety was making him choke up, you can do this. After two hundred years of being a complete loner, Etu had finally decided enough was enough, and tonight was the first night he showed up to Comus’ party. He promised himself that – for the first time since coming to the Hotel – he’d at least try to make friends. Comus’ Friday night party seemed to be the best place for that, but by the time the boy dressed in his only clean white t-shirt and pale blue jeans, drank half a bottle of bourbon and gathered up the courage to go downstairs, it was well past midnight and many deities were already intoxicated.
The spirits couldn’t get drunk unless they chose to. It was the same with sleep – gods didn’t need sleep, and yet if they decided to get tired, it would happen. It was the same with drinking, but once a spirit chose to get drunk they couldn’t magically sober up.
So Etu was a little tipsy. And by a little, he was a lot tipsy. He felt warm and soft, and not quite as nauseatingly nervous as he had before he tasted the bourbon. The door to Comus’ room was thrown open, with bottles, cups, goblets and a loose cauldron littering the carpet. Mrenh, the Cambodian elf, for once without his animals, had the Astronaut, a pretty human who always walked around in her spacesuit, up against the wall, trying to flirt over the loud, bassy music.
The song sounded like it was a hit in the mortal world at the time, something Etu couldn’t name, but apart from the couple outside there was nobody else in the corridor.
This wasn’t the first time the time spirit had tried to come to one of the parties. In fact, he had thought about it 64329 times, actually got ready 211 times, and made it down the stairs a whole 32 times. But he always chickened out, and returned to brooding in his room. Tonight would be different though. It was the first of October and Etu would make a friend.
He took another swing of his bourbon just as two children came running down the hall – Etu had never spoken to them but he recognised them; the Chickasaw spirit of fire, Ababinili, and the Benin god of smallpox, Shakpana. Etu stopped, and watched as the two mischievous boys, who couldn’t have been older than twelve in mortal years, slowed down and crept towards the door, giggling and seeming not to notice Etu.
The problem with some child spirits was that, no matter how long they existed, they often still behaved like children.
They youths to sneak into the party, but as they went to pass through the doorway, an invisible shield pushed them back. They stumbled backwards in shock.
“What is this?” Shakpana growled, clearly annoyed.
“Let’s just go,” Abab looked scared, but his more aggressive friend tried to kick through the invisible shield, which prompted the owner of the room to appear. Comus looked like a drunk Jesus Christ, his Hawaiian shirt unbutton.
“Oh-oh,” Abab subtly ducked behind Shakpana. Comus looked down at them.
“Didn’t work last week, or last month, or in December, kiddos,” Comus said unenthusiastically, “You know the rules, no kids.”
“This is unfair!” Shakpana threw his arms up in annoyance, “I’m thousands of years old!”
“Don’t make me call the front desk,” Comus drunkenly wagged his finger at the boys, which was enough to make them run back down the corridor, grumbling something about playing Mario kart instead. Comus turned to go back to his room but then he noticed Etu just standing there. His eyes widened a little and he seemed to sober up some. Etu clutched his bottle so hard he distractedly wondered if it would break.
“Oh,” Comus said, glancing at Mrenh and the Astronaut as if looking for help, “Hi Etu. You here for the party?” he tried to sound nonchalant but Etu knew that he was taken aback. He bit back the no, wrong door response he had on the end of his tongue, and managed a nod. “Uh...,” Comus laughed awkwardly and scratched his three-day old beard, “That’s all cool with me, man, but you know...Ach is in here.”
Etu swallowed, his heart skipping a beat, “So?” he managed to ask without his voice shaking.
“Nothing, nothing, it’s cool man!” Comus said hurriedly, as if he was scared of Etu, “Just don’t get into a fight with him please,” he waved Etu over, “but come on in, man. Plenty of booze, enjoy yourself.”
Hesitantly, Etu followed Comus inside. The moment they passed the door, the host speedily walked away.
His enormous room was lit by huge lava-type-lamps that glowed blue and purple, filled with live jellyfish that swam around leisurely. The floor-to-ceiling windows that took up the entirety of one of the walls showed a city bustling with night-life and glimmering with many, many nights. Perhaps Las Vegas, or London, or New York, Etu wasn’t sure. Dozens of couches were strewn around, there were two dance-floors packed with people, a beer pong table, pillows on the floor, fairylights, chocolate foundations, snacks, bottles upon bottles of alcohol, anything anyone could have ever wanted. Laughing and chatter and music, it was a sensory overload, as if someone had taken the most eccentric frat party and mashed it together with a sophisticated cocktail party.
Etu was overwhelmed. He stood by the door, face burning and feeling like everyone was judging him when in fact nobody had even noticed him. He was glad for the dim lights as he scanned the faces for someone who looked even a little friendly and familiar, but nobody was looking at him.
Most people didn’t know this, but Etu was painfully shy.
His eyes landed on Agloolik the protector of seals, excitedly talking to a fidgety Mullo on one of the couches. One of the humans – the Pirate – was perched by a tank in which Sirena laid in with a martini, looking bored as he tried to, unsuccessfully, flirt with her. She might have saved him from a shipwreck over six hundred years ago, but her interest in him didn’t seem to have stood the test of time. Near the tank Father Jack, a human priest made immortal in debatable circumstances, was taking a giant rip of a bong held by Asmodeus and the Hotel resident Succubus, Meridiana. An unfamiliar human girl in a long black dress stood alone in the corner, seeming just as out of place as Etu.
Maybe she could be my friends...
Etu’s silver eyes landed on him, and he forgot the strange girl. Achuguayo was nestled into one of the couches with Máni by his side, excitedly talking with some other spirits while Ach’s deep blue eyes circled the room. He looked bored. His gaze landed on Etu. He tensed.
“Shit,” Etu whispered.
Thankfully before Ach could find his way to Etu and begin a fight, Etu’s salvation appeared in the form of the goddess of love herself.
“Etu!” she gushed, hurrying over to him with an expression that indicated a long and intimate friendship. As always, she was the most beautiful woman in the room, her hair a shock of beautiful blonde curls that secretly reminded Etu of ramen noodles, her smile stunning. She was dressed in a skin-tight shimmering gold dress and heels that made Etu feel very, very underdressed.
“Hello,” he said tensely. Aphrodite had always been very kind to him but Etu knew his reputation: he was a trouble-maker, he got into people’s ways. He was surprised the girl bothered to come up to him so openly.
“Ain’t this a surprise? Who would have pinned the broody Etu for a party-animal!”
“Y-Yeah,” Etu managed. He didn’t know how to talk to people. He contemplated pausing time and gathering himself, but with Ach here he didn’t want to risk it. Regrets about showing up flooded him, and Aphrodite clearly saw – or maybe sensed - that. She unceremoniously slid an arm through Etu’s and steered him towards a dark corner where some gods were standing and drinking. Before he could protest or make an excuse, she started chatting away, her voice loud and clear over the music.
“Honestly, I’ve waited for an opportunity to befriend you,” Aphrodite said, her grip firm but somehow welcoming. She swiped a bottle of champagne from a random bookshelf stacked with beer rather than books, and then pulled Etu down onto some floor cushions. The boy blinked at her, but the goddess was already happily pouring herself a perfect glass, “Let’s be friends, why don’t we, Etu? You can call me Aphy.”
He didn’t understand her enthusiasm; emotions were hard for him to comprehend, but when she held up her champagne glass he clumsily cheers’ed his bottle of bourbon against it. The goddess raised an eyebrow, a look of worry on her face.
“Not to start off this new friendship with harassing you but did you drink all that by yourself?”
“No,” Etu lied. Aphrodite grabbed his face, yanked him forward and peered into his eyes with intensity. She was sending Etu a lot of mixed signals, and it was hard to think that this young, bubbly girl was an ancient goddess who had placed bets in deadly wars.
“Are you drunk?” she asked. Etu shrugged, feeling like he shouldn’t lie to her. She let go of his face.
“That’s okay,” she said with a smile, leaning back on her pillow and taking a sip of her champagne. She inspected the bubbles, “That’s what you do at parties. But I know you didn’t come here to drink,” she gave Etu a sly, knowing smile that indicated an inside joke he was unaware of, and made him uncomfortable.
“And what did I come here for then?” he asked, a little unnerved by Aphrodite treating him like an open book, as if she knew all her secrets. The goddess looked pointedly across the room, where Ach had wandered away from Máni and was now standing impassively in front of Agloolik, who animatedly explained something about seals to him.
“I came here for...Agloolik to explain seal mating patterns to me?” he guessed drunkenly.
“No, silly! Ach!”
Etu’s face burned up and he looked at Aphrodite in shock, “What? Why do you think that?! Why would I come here for him!?” he blurted, probably incriminating himself. Aphrodite giggled.
“Come on, Etu. I’m the goddess of love, I can see you’re infatuated with him.”
“I-I’m not!” Etu spluttered, taken aback. Aphrodite rolled her eyes.
“You don’t have to be a god of love to see the underlying sexual tension in the fights you guys have been getting in for the past seventy odd years.”
“I’m leaving,” Etu proclaimed and went to stand up, wobbled, and fell back down. Aphrodite smirked. Etu glared. It was clear she had an agenda; she was known around the Hotel as a sweetheart who worked to put deities into pairs and improve their eternal lives together. But Etu wasn’t going to fall into that trap, especially not with Achuguayo.
“Stay,” Aphrodite said when he tried to stand again, and when she put her hand on his arm he found himself grumpily sinking into the pillows, “Listen,” she said gently, “We have both been in the Hotel for hundreds of years, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen you out of the attic before Ach showed up. Ever since 1941 you’ve bumped into him on purpose to start all those fights-“
“Stop it,” Etu gritted out, ashamed. He refused to admit Aphrodite was right. Fighting with Ach was one of the only ways he got to interact with anyone else. But he wanted to put a stop to that, that’s why he had started venturing out more, that’s why he was here: because he was lonely, because he wanted friends, not because of that moony bastard.
Thankfully before she could say any more offending things they were interrupted by a huge, ugly man speed-walking towards them with a look of panic on his face. He was huge, bulky, muscular and towered over most people at the party. He looked to be in his early thirties, with pushed back brown hair and a rough beard across his jaw. He was clumsy, awkward and not very attractive, and he was also Ilmarinen, the Finnish god of blacksmiths and Aphrodite’s next door neighbour.
“Aphy!” he gushed, collapsing on a pillow in front of him and Etu. He was beet-red, and stuttering like an awkward teenager, his mannerisms akin to a friendly giant, “She’s here. S-She’s here and I don’t know what to say to her,” he squeaked, stumbling over his words. Etu blinked at him, not sure what to make of the man. They’d never spoken before. Ilmarinen glanced at him but seemed too preoccupied to acknowledge how bizarre Etu’s presence at the party was, “Hi Etu.”
“Hi Ilmarinen,” Etu replied.
“Calm down, Ilmar,” Aphrodite said in her soothing, silky smooth voice. She reached out and touched the man’s hand and he slumped down a little, “Just say what I taught you. Repeat after me ‘Hi Morri.’”
“H-Hi Morri,” Ilmarinen replied shakily.
“Hi Ilmar!” came the cheerful reply as the Morrigan dropped down onto the pillow next to the blacksmith, blissfully oblivious to the exchange that had just taken place. He dwarfed her willowy frame, and flinched away from her as if afraid.
Many people in history were afraid of the Morrigan, the harbinger of death, goddess of war and fate, who had a hand in deciding the winning side of a war, but since coming to the Hotel some millennia ago she had really embraced her true self; she didn’t look like a fearsome war queen, but more like a hippie in her early twenties, her raven-black hair cut funkily at the chin and streaked with purple, her black eyes sparkling. She was pale and had forgone the dress code in favour of sauce-stained pale blue jeans, sneakers and a sunflower crop-top. With the heart-shaped sunglasses perched on her head she looked terribly out of place.
Aphrodite peered at the other girl as Ilmarinen sat there, frozen. Etu watched the interaction with curiosity and confusion. He hadn’t been around so many people and personalities in a long, long time and he wasn’t sure how to act, “Have you taken something?” Aphrodite asked suspiciously.
Morri rolled her eyes, “Fuck off, Aphy. I’m just drunk!” she exclaimed cheerfully, throwing up her arms and accidentally hitting Ilmar’s huge bicep, “Oops, sorry Ilmar. Hey, I like your shirt!” she giggled and tugged on the sleeve of his red flannel that made him look like a lumberjack.
“Thanks,” Ilmar squeaked and mouthed ‘help’ at Aphrodite.
The Goddess of love hid her smile, plucked Etu’s bottle of bourbon from his hand and placed it on the ground.
“Alright!” she stood and clapped her hands, roughly pulling Etu up with more strength than her little body seemed to possess, “Let’s have a dance, shall we?” she offered her other hand to the Morrigan, who happily clasped it and – without asking – weaved her other one through Ilmar’s. The four of them stumbled to one of the packed dance floors and Etu realised that Ilmar had some kind of crush on Morri, and apparently this was an on-going thing with Aphrodite acting like some bizarre love guru.
And then he realised what was happening, and he panicked.
Etu wasn’t a social person, he wasn’t even back when he lived with the other Lakota gods in the height of their power, and now being wedged among writhing, scented bodies, he started to freak out. He couldn’t pin-point who was around him, but the feeling of having arms, legs and knees brushed against him made his skin crawl. The crowd gave him anonymity he had wanted when he first came into the party, but the cons of being in this situation definitely outweighed the pros: first of all, Etu hated crowds, second of all, Etu couldn’t dance. This introduction into the social aspect of the Hotel was more aggressive than he anticipated, and he wanted to get out. He felt like he was being smothered.
Aphrodite playfully pushed the Morrigan into a flailing Ilmarinen who tried to dance clumsily. Morri didn’t seem to care about his terrible attempt and jumped energetically to the beat in front of him. Aphrodite laughed and turned to Etu. She grew solemn.
“Hey,” she noticed how pale and flinchy he was, her voice cutting right through the confusing, dizzying music. Someone shoved Etu quite hard and he stumbled. It felt like a battle, like someone would pull a knife out and wedge it between his ribs, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Etu lied, and Aphrodite made the mistake of reaching out to touch his arm, probably to soothe his anxiety. The moment she did Etu felt the panic and discomfort building inside him give way, and his power erupted from him. It did that a lot. He was a liability because he could not control his powers, which was one of the reasons he had isolated himself in the first place.
Stupidly, he had thought he’d be in control now.
It was clear he wasn’t. Time travelled through Aphrodite and in front of Etu’s eyes she shrivelled and greyed, and in seconds was reduced to an old, wrinkled, back-bent woman.
“W-What?” she croaked, confused. Unfortunately everyone around them noticed; some spirits screamed in shock, gasps rang through the room, someone shut off the music. It was like a moment in one of those teen dramas Etu had been binging on Netflix; all eyes turned to him, and he was mortified. Aphrodite looked at her hand, covered in liver-spots, and screamed in horror.
“S-Sorry!” Etu exclaimed, but in his panic he didn’t even know how to reverse his magic. He went to touch Aphrodite, but she jumped away and someone yanked him back.
“Don’t! You’ll fuck it up more!” someone else yelled.
Etu started to internally hyperventilate as the whispers began. He caught snippets – Etu?...Why is he here...problem...mess...He would’ve burst into tears if he wasn’t so scared about what people would think of him. “I’ll fix this-,” he started, but then the last person he wanted to see showed up.
Achuguayo pushed stoically through the crowd, threw Etu an icy glare, and waved his hand. Etu felt the familiar feeling of time shifting in his stomach, just a little tug as Aphrodite returned to the age she usually presented as. She looked a little dishevelled, but beautiful in her disorientation.
“Well that was a wild ride,” she tried to laugh it off, but all eyes were on Etu, annoyed.
“Aphy!” Morri exclaimed dramatically, clearly very drunk. She threw her arms around Aphrodite’s shoulders and hugged her tight, “Oh, Aphy, you’d make a terrible old woman!” she wailed. Ilmar stood beside her, seemingly unsure of what to do.
Someone laughed. Someone else shouted ‘turn the music back on!’ and everything returned to normal. Except it hadn’t, because Etu had now been noticed, and he had fucked up. He had given the other guests yet another reason to dislike him and he could feel their gazes burning into him. It would be another thousand years before he stepped foot in another party.
If he wasn’t scared of people calling him dramatic for the next twenty years, he would have run out. Instead he swallowed down the sick feeling in his gut and headed for the kitchen: it was a separate room with its door open and spilling out a rectangle of golden, comforting light. Of course, when he appeared everyone standing there just happened to drift away so Etu found himself alone in the kitchen. He pretended not to notice, and not to hear the whispers as he grabbed a half-drunk beer off the counters that hugged the walls and were littered with bottles. Etu chugged the beer.
Achuguayo appeared next to him, “What was that?” he growled. Etu’s whole body felt hot with embarrassment as he slammed down the can.
“An accident,” he replied curtly, not looking at Ach in fear he’d lose control of his temper.
“Did you come here to ruin the party?” Ach accused. Etu’s hand crinkled the can a little in his anger. Why could he never do anything right?
“No. Believe it or not I came here to have a good time,” he laughed bitterly. He suddenly remembered Aphrodite’s words. I can see you’re infatuated with him. Etu couldn’t even bare to look the other time god in the eye.
“Oh yeah? How’s that going for you?”
“Fantastic,” Etu snarled.
“Hey, don’t pick a fight with him, Ach,” Aphrodite was back, as beautiful and benevolent as ever. She slid between the two of them, smiling sweetly, “It was an accident. I dragged him onto the dance-floor when it clearly made him uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine,” Etu snapped. He didn’t feel like making friends anymore, and he really didn’t need Aphrodite to embarrass him in front of Ach – his rival already saw him as weak.
Aphrodite tried to change the subject, “So!” she exclaimed, overly cheerful, “Samhain is at the end of the month! You guys excited for the celebrations?”
“Aphy why don’t you go help the Soldier out,” Ach interrupted, pointing at the door, past which they could see the human was awkwardly having a conversation with a dreamy Hildegard, who sat with a glass of water, smiling patiently as the Soldier tried to explain how missiles worked.
Aphrodite winced, “Zeus, he’s hopeless,” she muttered, but rushed to aid yet another potential couple. Etu closed his eyes, waiting for Ach to leave so he too could sneak away unseen. But Ach didn’t leave. He leaned in closer to Etu, and the Lakota’s heart started to pound. No, he tried to stop it, hush.
“You need to learn to control your powers,” Ach said firmly.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Etu was irritated. Ach was irritating. He was always so composed, his powers never got the best of him...
Ach sighed, exasperated, “I’m trying to fucking help you. Stop taking everything as an insult.”
Etu turned to look up at him, angry, “I don’t need your help,” he snarled, “I can-...I-I...,” he forgot his words suddenly as he found Ach looking down at him with his serious, dark blue eyes that looked somewhat out of place in his dark face, and yet fit perfectly. Etu felt light-headed – he remembered how much he had drunk. He remembered what Aphrodite had said. This was a bad, bad idea. Ach smelled like firewood, “I-I...”
“Ach, don’t just disappear mid-conversation,” Máni appeared next to Achuguayo as if she was charmed to follow him around. Etu rolled his eyes in annoyance but was quietly glad for the distraction, even if the distraction was severely annoying. Ever since Ach came to the Hotel, Máni had acted as if they were a pair of soulmates, which was ridiculous in Etu’s opinion because the only thing in common between the romantic, irritating girl and the forever quiet and solemn Achuguayo were their mythical connections to the moon, and if they were going off just that, then Etu had just as high of a chance of being Ach’s soulmate based on their joint connection to time
Not that he wanted that, of course. Personally he found Máni overbearing and childish, and that was why he didn’t like her, not because of her adoration of Ach.
Achuguayo didn’t reply to the girl. She looked at Etu without hiding her distaste, “Do you mind giving us some space? We’re trying to have a chat.”
“Don’t you need at least two participants for a chat?” Etu asked, pointedly looking at the silent Ach, before he could bite his tongue. Be nice, be nice, he reminded himself he was here to make friends, though honestly Máni was at the end of his list alongside some more choice people like Torto the Cyclops.
“Watch your mouth,” Ach barked at Etu. The boy rolled his eyes again.
“Whatever,” he grumbled, “This party sucks anyway. What happened to human sacrifice and pagan rituals, ey? Christianity always ruins all the fun.”
“Etu, you’re not funny,” Máni said icily.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Etu was past caring. He swiped as many beer cans as he could and gathered them up into his arms, wobbling past the couple and already planning on drowning his sorrows in alcohol, and never leaving his room again.
ACHUGUAYO, god of the moon.
As the moon god watched Etu stumble through the crowd – which parted before him as if he had some kind of contagious disease – Ach wondered if he should make sure the boy got to his room alright, before he quickly reminded himself that one, Etu was immortal, and two, Ach hated his guts and it would be a glorious day if he got lost somewhere and the god got a fucking break from fixing all the problems he caused.
“So, Samhain,” Máni leaned on the counter, dainty chin in her equally dainty hand, smiling. Ach forgot she was there.
“Yeah, what about it?” he asked absent-mindedly, eyes still focused on Etu’s silver head as he ducked out of Comus’ room. Máni clicked her fingers in front of his face to get his attention – Ach hated when she did that.
“I’m not a dog,” he told her, finally dragging his eyes to look at the moon. She smiled sweetly, her silver dress shimmering.
“I know, silly,” she said, “but you’re not listening. I was telling you we should go to the Samhain ball together, it is the biggest event of the year after all. Maybe we could do a little moon theme or something.”
Ach wasn’t very keen on the idea; throughout the years his interest with Máni – unfortunately – had remained pretty stagnant, though the girl continued to pursue him no matter how little affection he showed her. Ach had hoped, when he first came, that maybe she’d be different, that maybe she’d make him feel something, but, like with most things, he was pretty uninterested in her. At this point in his existence the most emotion he felt was when he was furious with Etu, and that made for a miserable existence.
“I probably won’t go,” Ach said.
Máni pouted, “What? Why?”
Aphrodite materialised beside the girl, with a perfectly practiced sheepish look on her face, “Hi, sorry to bother you Máni but Ilmarinen is throwing up in the toilet, and he doesn’t want Morri to see him-“
“Oh,” the moon gasped, “Oh no. Oh, the poor dear,” she gushed and rushed towards the bathroom hurriedly. Ach looked at Aphrodite impassively. Somehow he knew Ilmar wasn’t puking.
“What are you playing at?” he asked. Aphrodite smiled and hoisted herself up so she was sitting on the counter, then she casually grabbed Ach by the ear and roughly jerked him to her level with strength she got from gods know where.
“What the fuck was that?” she asked, still smiling sweetly.
“Ouch,” Ach replied.
“Listen,” Aphrodite’s eyes gleamed threateningly, which didn’t fit her girly and soft persona, “I enjoy a bit of love-hate as much as the next butch does, but that was out of line.”
“Are you talking about Etu?”
Aphrodite released Ach’s ear. He stepped back and rubbed it glumly.
“Yes,” the girl said, exasperated, “How long is this charade going to go on for? You two are meant for each other, you should be in here making out, not fighting.”
Ach felt weird just at the thought of touching the other boy in a non-aggressive way. He shuddered, “I don’t know where you pulled this whole ‘Ach and Etu’ thing out of, but please stick it back.”
Aphrodite rolled her eyes, “I’m the goddess of love, I understand the feelings you have for him better than you do.”
“I don’t have feelings,” Ach said coldly.
“Keep telling yourself that. You know I’m right; you’re the only one who can help him control his magic, and he’s the only one that can make you feel things.”
“Turns out you can make me feel things too. Don’t piss me off, Aphrodite, and drop this,” Ach said, and then walked out of the kitchen, heading straight for the door. He hadn’t been in the mood to party in the first place, and now he really wasn’t in the mood – he didn’t want to have to deal with any more moons or love goddesses or time himself tonight.
Not really feeling like walking down the hall and encountering the number of drunk deities leaning on walls, Ach threw open the closest window. Cold October air squeezed into the hallway, the wind rustling in Ach’s hair. The moonlight fell through the clouds, and it felt different for Ach than it did for most other spirits – it was like the brush of warm hands on his face, like a loving caress. He closed his eyes and exhaled.
“Amico!” a human dressed in a 1920s suit with a neat moustache glared at him from where he was smoking a cigar by another closed window. All Ach knew about him was that he was called the Boss, “Do you mind? It’s freezing!”
“They banned smoking inside in 2007,” he said impassively and launched himself from the eighth story window. The stone walls of the Hotel flew past him, the windows flittering like squares of light, blinking. The grass below him came up to meet him, and if Ach had been human, he would’ve broken all of the bones in his body with a sickening crunch as he landed. Instead, he slowed down and his feet gently touched the grass in a pool of moonlight.
“Fuck you!” the Boss’ voice carried from the eighth story window, and when Ach looked up he saw the human flipping him off, cigar dangling out of the corner of his mouth as he slammed the window shut. Ach didn’t care about annoying gods and deities, and he definitely didn’t care about annoying humans.
The fresh air felt good, it helped to clear Ach’s head. The man didn’t think about much, there were no thoughts to sort out in his mind. Everything was pretty black and white, but being outside made him feel at peace with it.
Without thinking about it, he headed for the woods. Had he always been like this – so uncaring? As he crossed the courtyard, walked through the free-standing gate and descended among the dark, rustling trees, he tried to remember his life back in Tenerife. The sun, the constant whisper of the sea, the Guanches soft prayers brought up to him in his hut. It felt like a dream, like it had happened to someone else. Ach had had a god family once, where were they? He couldn’t remember their faces; he hadn’t even been in the Hotel for even a hundred years and already he was forgetting so much.
The worst part was, he didn’t care about remembering.
The trees murmured secrets to him, but he didn’t want to hear what they had to say as he picked his way through roots and shrubbery. The forest was enchanted, little lights flickered among the branches, mythical animals slid through the leaves, but Ach knew them, and they knew him, and they knew to stay away. Blue flames appeared before him – willow o’ wisps – but Ach didn’t follow them – they could lead even a god astray.
Among the whispers, the distant sound of mythical music, Ach’s ears suddenly picked out a very concrete muttering. He steered and headed towards the sound without much thought; he remembered how Anansi had hypnotised him on his first day in the Hotel, and he paused suddenly, his boots planted firmly on the ground.
“But it isn’t that...you mustn’t go...you mustn’t leave...,” the hoarse voice whispered, “Tell me what to do. Tell me how to speak to him...”
In the semi-shadows Ach’s eyes, very well adjusted to the dark, picked out the elaborate headdress. Bakwas. The man rolled his eyes and turned away from the spirit – the half-human was undoubtedly spewing bullshit to the ghost world, and Ach didn’t want to get into a conversation with him.
His eyes followed the moon slipping past the dark branches overhead. Ach felt a tug in his belly, he felt if he reached out he’d be able to touch it. He didn’t try though. He came from the moon, and maybe one day he would return there, but for now he was more than happy to feel their mystical connection.
He headed for the direction of a clearing he frequented, where he knew he could bathe in the moonlight, maybe sleep there tonight. Unfortunately, as the trees thinned, Ach realised he wasn’t alone and that someone had invaded his space.
A young, pretty girl stood in the clearing, barefoot and dressed in a loose white dress, her chestnut hair falling down her back, her cheeks rosy. She had a human, a stranger, by the hand. Not one of the humans of the Hotel, Ach didn’t think.
“Come,” she whispered to him softly, and he seemed completely mesmerised by her, “There is treasure waiting for you there, and when you bring me that treasure we shall marry and live happily ever after,” she pointed her arm in the direction of the forest that was drowned in shadows, where gods knew what was hiding. Achuguayo leaned against a tree, in-sight, just as the human started hypnotically heading to his doom.
“Błędnica,” he said calmly, “I don’t know where you got that human, but you best put him back.”
The girl whirled on him, brows furrowed, “Mind your business, Achuguayo.”
Ach sighed, “I don’t care what you do in your spare time, but I really don’t feel like having Lakshmi rage at the whole Hotel because a dead body has been found.”
Błędnica’s entire demeanour changed. The Polish demoness went from youthful, pretty and sweet, to...terrifying. Her hair rose a little, her eyes turned all-black and her teeth grew into fangs.
“Don’t treat me like a child,” she hissed venomously, her skin greying, “Lakshmi said no killing in the Hotel. She didn’t say anything about the forest. Besides,” she cocked her head to the side and smiled eerily, “I’m not killing him. I’m just showing him the way.”
Ach stepped out into the clearing. Blednica might have looked like a innocent girl, but she was far from that. The moonlight flooded over Ach’s shoulders and Nica realised that even in the best circumstances she couldn’t have a stand off with him, especially not when the moon was hanging right above him. She backed up, returning to her human appearance.
“Fine,” she hissed, flipping her hair over her shoulder, “Human,” she barked at the mortal before he could disappear into the trees, and stomped over to him to lead him back to where she had found him.
Ach rolled his eyes and returned back the way he had come, lacking the patience to wait around for the demoness to evacuate the premises. Being around so many deities was exhausting. Ach rubbed the bridge of his nose as he stalked past Bakwas hurriedly, preventing the man from striking up a conversation.
Within minutes Ach was passing back through the gate and heading for the closed front door. Comus’ party was continuing on as planned, with music blaring from the now permanently open windows on the eight floor. As Ach climbed up the short steps leading to the doors he Asmodeus and Meridiana, the demon and the succubus, hanging Mullo the vampire out of the window and holding him by the ankles as he shouted at them. A gleam of silver on the roof indicated Talos was there, watching.
A hooded figure guarded the door.
“Janus,” Ach said coldly.
“Find anything interesting in the woods?” the god asked casually. Like most others, Ach didn’t like Janus – the old man creeped him out, his eyes always seemed to know more than he let on, always seemed to be watching.
“No,” he replied curtly. Janus inclined his head, and touched the front door, which smoothly opened for Achuguayo. The god hurried past the empty desk, and up the marble stairs, eager for the privacy and peace of his room and glad he had gotten away from the party before Lakshmi shut it down.
Janus watched him go, “So ungrateful, all of them,” he whispered.
The spider creeped out of the shadows behind him, “Don’t worry,” he said soothingly, “In the new story those gods will be crushed like dirt, and you and I will reign free in this Hotel, when he is in control...”
Lots of characters (I know, I know). Here's a quick summary of people mentioned in this chapter:
Adze - a blood-sucking shapeshifter who turns into a firefly, and whose bite causes illness and turns humans into witches, from Ghana.
Agloolik 'Agloo' - Inuit protector of seals
Aphrodite 'Aphy' - Greek goddess of love
Asmodeus 'Asmo' - a demon and one of the princes of hell in Judeo-Islamic folklore
Bakwas - "Wild man of the woods" of the Kwakwaka'wakw people of British Colombia
Bast - Egyptian goddess of cats
Błędnica - Polish demoness that leads men astray in forests
Comus - Greek god of parties, host of the weekly friday night party
Datsue-ba and Keneo - Japanese spirits who weigh the sins of mortals in the underworld by stripping them of their clothes (or their skin if they're naked) and hanging them on a tree - they work in the laundry room
Guatauva 'Tav' - god of thunder and lightning for the Taino people, the indigenous people of the Caribbean - a handyman in the Hotel
Hombre Gato - South American catman
Ilmatar 'Ilmar' - the Finnish spirit of air
Kitsune 'Kitty' - Japanese fox yokai, enslaved by Raven
Les Lavandieries - mystical washerwomen in Celtic and French mythology - collect the guests' laundry
Meridiana 'Meri' - Judeo-Islamic succubus
Mullo - Romanian vampire
Olokun 'Oly' - Orisha spirit and ruler of all water, of the Yoruba people
Popobawa 'Pop' - Evil spirit (shetani) who turns into a monster at night, from Zanzibar
Sedna - Inuit goddess of the sea and marine animals
Sirena - based on the siren/mermaid from a lot of different mythologies, but here focused on Filipino mythology where they are seen as mermaid-like creatures
The Astronaut - a human
The Boss - a human
The Deer Woman - Native American spirit of fertility and love, who lures promiscuous men to their deaths
The Morrigan 'Morri' - Irish goddess of war and fate
The Raven Mocker 'Raven' - most feared, evil Cherokee witch
The Skinwalker 'Yee' - a type of harmful, shapeshifting witch in Navajo culture, and Raven's daughter
Torto - a cyclops of the Basque people
Chapter 3: The Crow
Thank you so much for all the feedback, reads and kudos guys <3 you're da best
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
GUABANCEX, goddess of storms.
The Hotel, the following morning.
Why was this happening?
They had come in from Comus’ party, drunk. They always went on Fridays, and they deserved to let lose. Guatauva had ran around all day fixing leaks and broken pipes and fucked up washing machines in the Hotel, the old place seemed to always be falling apart. He deserved the time off. And Guabancex...she was tired, she was tired of being scared all the time, of being overwhelmed.
So they got drunk, so they made love, they hadn’t in months, and they simply wanted to - they were soulmates after all, they had pledged to be together forever.
And that was why this was happening.
Bance stood in the field, the grass at her field whipping her ankles furiously as it bent to the will of the wind. She watched helplessly as the tornado that had formed from the dirt of the sky headed for the farmhouse. It was the first it would destroy, but not the last, she could sense it.
“No!” the goddess screamed, “No, stop!” tears choked her throat. She was the goddess of storms, the goddess of natural disasters, so why wasn’t this tornado listening to he?! She dug inside her for her power but she felt hollow and empty. She had hoped it would be different this time. Why was this happening again?!
But she knew the answer. This had happened, when she was in Tav’s arms, kissing him and marvelling at the warmth of his body. As she had drowned in pleasure, the lives of these humans had been destroyed. This had already happened, and they were still making her watch even though she could do nothing about it, even though she couldn’t turn back time.
The girl fell to her knees, sobbing as she watched the tornado take apart the farm as if it was a house of cards. There was nothing she could do, and she had caused this. She curled up on the grass, eyes squeezed shut as she screamed into the ground. Where would the tornado go next, how many more lives would it claim-
“Come on, Bance,” Tav said. The goddess stopped screaming and pushed herself up into a sitting position, dazed. The tornado was still wrecking havoc on the farm, but Guatauva stood by her side, a gentle smile on his face as if the destruction she caused didn’t disgust him. He wasn’t dressed in the t-shirt he wore to bed, instead wearing traditional Taino clothing, his hair braided. He looked the same as when they had first met thousands and thousands of years ago.
The sight of him filled Bance with overwhelming love and comfort, and undeniable grief. Her love for him was the reason for all this pain.
Tav held his hand out to her. His skin looked warm, big, calloused. She wanted to be anywhere but in this field. She placed her hand in his.
“There you go,” Tav murmured as Bance came to, shaking in his arms. He stroked her tangled hair and kissed her forehead, running his hand comforting down her back, “There you go, sunshine, it was just a bad dream.”
Calling her sunshine seemed awfully ironic.
Bance blinked sleepily as the last of her tears rolled down her cheeks and soaked into Tav’s shoulder. She sat up, head pounding, eyes sore, feeling very, very human for once.
“What time is it?” she asked hoarsely, glancing at the window with its curtains drawn. She felt terribly cold.
“Coming up to six in the morning,” as always, Tav’s voice was smooth and soothing, like a cup of hot-chocolate after a snowy day. She looked at him in his crumpled t-shirt with some niche band logo on it, his shoulder-length brown hair a mess, a one day old stubble on his sharp jaw. His eyes were the softest thing in the world, always had been. He was the god of thunder and lightning and yet instead of electrifying, he was overwhelmingly comforting.
Bance was afraid that if she touched him, she’d corrupt his goodness, “Did you see?” she whispered.
Tav’s eyes were knowing, but he said, “No, it was just a nightmare. But I can assume you saw something like last time...”
Bance turned her head sharply, “Yes I did,” pain coloured her voice. She stood up abruptly, pushing her choppy hair out of her face, squeezing her eyes shut as she clawed through the strands. She saw the farm burned into the back of her eyeballs.
“You’re agitated,” Tav also stood and headed for his lover, but she stepped away from him.
“Don’t,” she said, perhaps a little harshly, “not now.” She didn’t want him to tell her she was good, that she didn’t chose to be the goddess of disasters, not when her selfishness had caused so much pain. Every time they had sex, or she got emotional about anything, she wrecked havoc on the human world.
“I’m going to kill Inguma,” Tav said. Bance laughed at the ridiculousness of the statement.
“No, you won’t.”
“He’s probably the one responsible for your nightmare-“
“It wasn’t a nightmare,” Bance turned to the window. She walked up to it and pushed the curtains open. A gorgeous valley stretched out in front of her, still asleep, icy peaks of mountains rising in the distance. Wild, untamed land, like it had been once upon a time..., “It was a vision. It was the truth.”
“You don’t know that.”
She felt Guatauva’s warm hands on her shoulders and she wanted nothing more than to melt into him. Instead she pushed him away, as always. She was his mistress, the goddess he answered to. How could she make the man she loved, the kindest man in the whole world, serve her when all she caused was misery and suffering.
“I need air,” she said, pulling on a pair of black jeans and throwing Tav’s biker jacket over her shoulders. It did nothing to warm the chill inside her.
“Can I come with you?” Tav asked softly.
“Sorry,” Bance tugged on her worn out leather boots that she couldn’t bear to part with, “I want to be alone.”
Tav looked like a kicked puppy. She hated hurting him, but having him around was a perfect way to distract herself from reality, and she couldn’t do that right now.
The Hotel was fairly empty at this time, with Lakshmi having shut down Comus’ party only a little over an hour ago. Bance and Tav had left earlier, their desire getting the better of them as Bance was finally unable to hold back any longer. She had hoped that this time she would control herself, but alas...
She rushed through the dark corridors, and saw storm clouds gathering in the night sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Her and Tav’s joint upset was causing it, but Bance didn’t have the energy to stop the storm from rolling over the Hotel.
The lobby was too bright and clinical as she crossed it, glad that she didn’t have to speak to anyone. The double doors opened for her before she could touch them, and Janus stood on the other side, as he always did.
“Bit late for a midnight walk,” he remarked casually.
“Not in the mood,” Bance snapped at him.
“You sure you want to go outside? You might not get back in.”
Bance paused and looked at the old, hooded man who was smiling peacefully. He often spoke in riddles, and although his words stuck with Bance, she already had too much on her mind, “Maybe for the best,” she said, and rushed down the steps.
She rounded the Hotel, walking through the flower garden that was always blooming and beautiful no matter the season, and passed through a gate identical to the one at the front, not attached to any fence. Behind the North-facing side of the Hotel was a great, shimmering lake, encompassed by the forest that stretched on in all directions past reaching the horizon.
Bance loved the lake. It didn’t have a bottom, and mystical creatures lived in its depths, but what really drew Bance to it was its peace and calm, the things she lacked in her own life. But today she wasn’t here to calm down; she needed proof of her fears.
She descended to the edge, where the water lapped gently at the pebbles of the shore. When the goddess turned she saw the Hotel looming some way behind her. The light in her and Tav’s window was off. She knelt by the water and dipped her hand inside, closing her eyes as the cold water enveloped her hand.
When she opened it the water of the lake was calm and still. It stretched on before her for miles, before rounding off and creating what probably looked like a huge puddle from the sky. The waters shifted. Bance stood. She saw her reflection in the watery, dark shallows, and then the reflection rippled and instead she saw the field, and what was left of the farm; crumbled stones and toppled trees.
The lake was a link to the real world, and she had proof now that what she saw was no nightmare.
She turned her back on it with a sob, covering her mouth with her hand. Tav stood a few feet away with a pained expression as always ignoring her commands. Bance tried to collect herself, to stop crying. She was the ruler of the storm gods, and yet she was crying like a child.
“I’m sorry,” Tav said helplessly, “I know you wanted to be alone, but I just...,” he looked like he was having trouble forcing himself to stay away from her, “I just can’t stand to see you upset.”
“We can’t do this anymore, Tav,” Bance whispered, turning her head up to the stormy sky to try and dry her tears. She took a shaky, watery breath, “Every time we’re together I lose control. I...,” she shook her head, “I love you, and my love is killing people.”
“Don’t say that,” Tav rushed towards her, but stopped himself from taking her into her arms, knowing she couldn’t stand being touched right now. He tried to speak to her calmly, “You deserve happiness, Bance-“
“Not like this,” Bance interrupted passionately, “Not if it causes-“
“No,” Bance turned away from her love, her heart cutting to pieces, “I need to think. You need to leave me alone, Guatauva,” her voice grew commanding. The clouds above sparked with lightning, rumbled threateningly, “I’m going around the lake. I need space.”
Tav squeezed his hands into fists at his sides, “Okay,” he said, “I’ll come back at sunset and see if you want to talk,” he was visibly upset as he turned and headed back for the Hotel. Bance bit her tongue and the urge to scream after him to not leave her.
She had to put distance between them – with Tav around she couldn’t think straight, she wanted to be selfish and choose him over humanity. But this was too much. She thought it would stop happening eventually – the catastrophes linked to her emotions...
She looked at the calm reflection of the storm clouds in the lake, and began her walk to the Northernmost point, hoping that maybe along the way she would get some answers.
ACHUGUAYO, god of the moon.
Later that afternoon.
Warm summer sunlight danced on Ach’s face as his eyes flitted open. He laid on his side, under his covers and stared out of his window. A soft, salty breeze came off the ocean as it shifted peacefully, the warm illusion of the sun rousing him from his dreams.
3:12pm, Ach knew instantly. He sat up and rubbed a hand down his face, yawning. He looked blankly at the ocean. It had once filled him with comfort, but Ach no longer ached for Tenerife. The Hotel became a kind of begrudging home to him, one he did not love, but one he was unbothered about settling for.
Ach tended to settle for things.
The god pushed off his covers and swung his legs over his windowsill, so that they hung over the water. He slept only in his underwear and enjoyed the sunrays on his skin, even though to him the sun didn’t feel nearly as warm as the moon.
Once, out of curiosity, he had jumped out of this window. His feet never touched the ocean, and instead he had materialised in the lobby in front of a fuming Lakshmi in just his underwear. She waved his contract in his face, screaming “Rule number seventeen! No jumping out of windows!” So Ach never did it again, though he did enjoy the illusion of the sea whenever he woke up. He sat there now, legs swinging as he pulled out a packet of cigarettes and lit one. Gods couldn’t get addicted, but he enjoyed smoking more out of something to do in the mornings than anything else.
Gods could, however, get hungry. Ach’s stomach rumbled – after last night’s party and wandering out to the woods he was famished. He finished his cigarette, pushed back the curtain that separated his bed from the rest of the room, and got dressed in his favourite pair of black cargo pants, the same boots he wore when he first arrived in the Hotel, and a clean white t-shirt.
The dining room was a communal area situated on the third floor between the rooms of the Blue Monk and Father Jack. It was usually loud and rowdy in the mornings and around dinner time, a place for deities and spirits to socialise, but at this time in the afternoon it was mostly empty, which was perfect for Ach. The mis-matched tables and chairs had been cleared after the morning madness, and warm October sunlight streamed in through the two tall windows, on which homely, flower-printed curtains hung. On each table, in equally mismatched vases, bloomed purple and orange dahlias.
The huge fireplace taking up the east wall was roaring with warm flames, and Brighid sat in a deep armchair that had been dubbed as ‘hers,’ filling out a Sudoku puzzle on the back of a magazine from 1998. Her fiery red hair was braided, and the soft, beige sweater she wore made her look like someone’s mother, rather than an important Celtic goddess and a protector of the Hotel.
She looked up the moment Ach walked in.
“Good afternoon, Achuguayo,” she said warmly. Ach liked Brighid; she didn’t pry, didn’t try to act like they were best friends. She was simply there to care for others, and provided him with warmth he subconsciously searched for in his life.
“Good afternoon,” he replied. If it had been most other deities, he would have picked the table furthest away, but because it was Brighid he sat down at the table closest to her – a two-seater square table that looked right out of a cute, homely coffee shop, the flowers stuck in a wine bottle from 1978.
The moment Ach sat, his favourite breakfast appeared before him – smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel and a black coffee. It was basic, but Ach was never one to overcomplicate things.
“How was the party last night?” Brighid asked, returning to her Sudoku and giving off the air of casualness and familiarity, even though Ach knew she was listening. He dug into his bagel.
“Pretty uneventful,” he said.
“Chew with your mouth closed, Achuguayo,” Brighid said breezily.
Ach chewed, swallowed, thought for a moment, “Etu came.”
“Etu,” Brighid’s eyebrows shooting up in surprise was more out of politeness than anything – of course a dozen other deities had already informed her of everything that had happened at the party that morning, “Did he enjoy himself?”
Ach snorted humourlessly, “No. He was drunk, turned Aphrodite into an old woman and ran away.”
Brighid glanced at him briefly, “You seem angry.”
“I’m not,” Ach all but snapped. He swallowed a gulp of coffee and realised he was getting a little heated, “I’m not,” he repeated more calmly, “I just don’t see why he always has to ruin things.”
Brighid carefully wrote in a number, completing her Sudoku. She looked pleased with herself, “Maybe he wasn’t trying. Perhaps he was nervous and his powers got the best of him again.”
“Yeah, well...,” Ach didn’t want to entertain that though. Etu was bad news and not some poor misunderstood creature. He loved to cause trouble, “He’s an ancient god, he should know how to manage time by now, it’s not so hard.”
“To you it’s not,” Brighid said calmly, “You are a great god, your connection to the moon grounds you the same way it grounds the ocean. If it were to disappear from the sky, you would run wild and chaotic. Etu does not have that moon.”
“Enough with the poetics, Brie.”
Brighid smiled knowingly, “You know I can’t help myself,” she chuckled.
It was hard for Ach to imagine some gods as participating in wars and violence, and Brighid was one of those gods. It seemed she had always been here, by this fireplace with her Sudoku, enlightening people.
A group of rowdy boys exploded into the dining room suddenly, shouting and chasing after the oldest looking one, who only had one leg and was hopping backwards on it, smoking a pipe with a devilish grin. In his hand he held a red cap out of which he was pulling out coins, and throwing them at the other two boys – Shakpana was at the head with his best friend Ababinili close behind.
“You asshole!” Shakie yelled as he tried to catch a coin, only to have it disappear mid-air, “stop cheating!”
“Enough!” Brighid stood up abruptly, and the three boys stopped. The instigator grinned at her and she glared at him.
“Saci, enough,” she said, “I told you to stop causing havoc in the dining area.”
“Aw, c’mon querida,” the spirit drawled. Ach narrowed his eyes, ready to back Brighid up against the troublesome boy. He might have looked like a teenager, but he was a Brazilian trickster spirit known to cause trouble through the Hotel, often pulling the impressionable Abab and the hot-headed Shakie with him, “It’s just a bit of fun.”
“Don’t make me report you to Lakshmi,” Brighid said, “And put that thing out!” she pointed angrily at his pipe. Saci rolled his blood-red eyes but pulled the pipe out of his mouth, shoving it into the pocket of his red shorts. His hands had neat holes cut in them, so you could look straight through.
“You’re too serious, querida,” he said, smirked, and spun in a circle.
“No-“ Brie started and Ach stood up, but it was too late. Saci continued to spin and dust filed the air – the two younger boys, Brie and Ach all covered their faces as Saci turned into a sand devil, disappearing into thin air and leaving the dining room looking as if a sand-storm had just passed through.
Brighid’s eyes filled with thunder, “That reckless child,” she huffed to herself as Ach brushed sand out of his hair. His breakfast was ruined. Abab and Shakie backed towards the door but Brighid pointed at them and they froze, “I don’t know where you think you’re going but this mess isn’t going to clean itself.”
“But it wasn’t us!” Shakpana protested, “It was Saci! We only wanted to get three wishes off him!”
“You’ve been trying that for decades, when will you realise he’s tricking you?” Brighid sighed and shook her head like a disappointed mother, “Lakshmi will punish him accordingly. Now, I can report both of you to her as well and have you spend some years in the dungeons, or I might forget I ever saw you if you get rid of this mess,” she gestured at the piles of sand on the tables.
Shakpana and Abab exchanged a look. The younger boy smiled sheepishly at Brie, “We’ll get the brooms,” he said, and tugged on Shakpana’s arm. They both left in a hurry.
“Those boys,” Brighid sighed tiredly, “Sometimes I think looking out for them is harder than fighting the Formorians.”
“You know you could just magically clean this place,” Ach said, stepping away from his unfinished bagel. Brighid smiled a private smile.
“I know, but then they’ll never learn,” she sat back down and returned to her Sudoku, “Have a good day, Ach.”
“Yeah, you too,” the moon god replied, passing a sulking Shakie and Abab as he walked out of the door.
Later that evening.
The sixth floor was solemn, most of the bedrooms empty as the witches living on that floor all gathered in room 49, the room of the head witch and Queen of demons, Rangda.
The room could not even be called a bedroom. The frames of the single large circular window on the west wall were fastened into a pentagram, and outside the sun set over the never-ending forest. Rangda’s window did not carry an illusion, but instead showed her the true exterior of the Hotel, allowing her to spy. There was no bed or wardrobe, the only furniture consisting of shelves holding jars of pickled eyes and preserved organs. From the ceiling hung human ribcages, suspended on string, and in one of the corners cages were stacked on top of each other, filled with malnourished dogs, cats and rats. Despite the setting sun, the room was full of shadows, the only light coming from candles burning in the medieval chandeliers overhead.
A pentagram was drawn in the circle of the room with the blood of a slain cat whose body now laid discarded carelessly by the cages, and five witches stood at each of its points. At the northern-facing point stood the Raven Mocker, with a caribou’s skull on top of her head and a cloak of raven feathers pooling around her feet. Behind her stood her zombie, mindlessly moving its jaw as it gritted the salt she had just fed it between its teeth – that was how she kept its reanimated corpse enslaved to her. Next to her at the east point, tense and anxious, was her daughter Yee, her eyes downcast as she kept anxiously glancing towards the cages where animals whimpered and mewled pathetically. At the south-east point was Sunakake Baba, a kind Japanese sand witch who always wore the same oversized, lopsided witch hat that looked somewhat out of place in the solemn, gloomy room. Next to her, oozing frost onto the floor, was an old, bent woman – Cailleach, the Irish ruler of winter, dressed in a frosty white cloak, the hood pulled over her wrinkled face and stringy white hair. Her eyes were icy blue, unnerving and unmoved. The fifth witch at the west point to Raven’s right, was Rangda’s second in command, Baba Yaga, the haggish Russian witch with long, braided silver hair and an ugly, grotesque face.
Rangda was in the centre of the pentagram, her hair like a bush around her, wild and unkept, her hands clawed. She was more monster than human and always wore a grotesque mask on her face, with blazing red eyes and a space that allowed her long, lolling tongue to fall out when she spoke.
All the witches could feel something approaching.
“Where is Hecate?” the Raven Mocker asked, “this is a historic moment for witches, where is she?”
“The goddess doesn’t answer to you, Mocker,” Rangda hissed in a distorted, eerie voice that sounded child-like and did not fit her monstrous appearance. Raven’s black eyes narrowed and she bared her fangs at the coven leader.
“I was simply saying-“
“We have our orders,” Rangda snapped, and Yee flinched next to her mother. The Indonesian witch stepped back and touched the centre of the pentagram with a clawed, striped arm. The ground opened up into a hollow tunnel going downwards; a well. The witches crowded in around it and peered into its depths – the vision passed through the rooms below them, revealing the oblivious Hotel guests in their rooms, and at the very bottom inky-black water pooled. The witches could not see their own reflections.
Instead they saw an empty throne.
“He’s coming!” Rangda said with excitement as the witches stepped back and the well disappeared, “All must be in order for the Lord to arrive!”
“We have done as he asked,” Baba Yaga croaked, smiling and revealing the few teeth she had left in her mouth. Excitement gleamed in the eyes of the witches – dangerous, deceptive, “Everything is ready; once the sun sets and Ra leaves the Hotel, all will be in motion.”
“We cannot get ahead of ourselves,” Raven said coldly, growing serious once more, “Things can go wrong, this place is full of unpredictable characters.”
“All taken care of,” Yaga assured her, voice dripping with sweetness, “Vanapagan is waiting in the dungeons, he will chain the gates shut. The others don’t suspect a thing.”
“Still,” Raven said, “I will send the fox to spy on them and report back that all is in order.”
“Yes,” Cailleach agreed, icy eyes blazing, “Vanapagan cannot be trusted.”
Sunny turned her head to the side, her big hat flopping, “You’ll think he’ll betray us?”
“No,” Baba Yaga cackled, “Stupid woman. What she means is that Vanapagan is a clumsy oaf who’d sabotage us without even realising.”
“Yee, get the fox,” Raven all but barked at Yee. The girl flinched – she was happy to be ignored at the coven meetings, but now she scurried towards the cages, not wanting to anger her mother and happy to get out of the pentagram. The animals pressed their faces up against the bars of the cages as she passed, whimpering at her pleadingly.
“Sorry,” she whispered as she knelt by one of the bigger ones. Golden eyes shone at her from its depth, “I’m sorry you must be here.”
She opened the cage and the many-tailed fox jumped into her arms. For a moment Yee held her warm, soft body against hers, and then the Kitsune jumped from her arms, transforming into her human form mid-air. Cherry blossom petals fluttered through the air, and then died as they touched the floor. She faced the witches with an impassive look on her face, proud and unmoving despite her nakedness. Yee found her most admirable as she herself curled into the shadows and tried to disappear.
“You will go to Ra,” Raven instructed her immediately, “You will follow him, make sure he truly leaves the Hotel, make sure Vanapagan does his job. Understood?”
“Do I have any choice?” Kitty asked monotonously, golden eyes staring right ahead.
“No,” Raven said coldly, “Do as you are told.”
“I shall, mistress,” Kitty said with bite in her tone, mockingly bowing to Raven before turning back into fox form. She headed for the door and as Sunakake opened it for her, she turned invisible.
Once she was gone, Sunakake went to shove the door closed but a white hand with perfectly manicured and perfectly sharp red nails wedged itself between it and the doorframe. Sunny stepped back, baffled.
“Guests?” she asked.
“Osakabe,” Rangda said, and a middle-aged woman entered the room, an air of superiority around her. She wore a twelve layered, intricate kimono and her black hair was pulled back into the Ofuku hairstyle of the highest form of Geisha, her face painted accordingly.
She was very clearly a demon.
“You called for me, my lady,” Osakabe’s voice was crackly, one of a woman much older than she appeared, sending shivers down Yee’s spine. There were many loving creatures in the Hotel, creatures of light, but Osakabe was not one of them.
“Yes,” Rangda turned to her, the long tongue lolling from her mask and twisting in the air, a furious-red and wet. She salivated over the floor, “He is coming.”
Osakabe smiled without any of the muscles on her face moving, “Thanks be.”
“I want the demons out of this,” Rangda continued in her high-pitched, giggly little-girl voice, “They are meddlesome and troublesome, and I know Asmodeus can’t follow the rules. Tell them to stay put until I give them instructions.”
“And me, lady?” Osakabe asked.
“You have a part in all this, but not yet. For now we wait for sunset.”
Kitty was glad to be away from the pungent air in Rangda’s room. To her, the witches stank of decay and corruption. Only Sunny smelled like the sun, and Yee like a forest, the others made Kitty want to gag.
The girl wanted nothing more than to be free of their biddings but many years ago, when she first came to the Hotel on a whim, her hoshi no tama had been taken. The magical pearl, her literal soul, had been on one of her tails as she stole through the corridors, wondering if she should settle in this place. After some days she decided against it, but when she left the Hotel she found herself weakened and sick. It was then that she realised that her hoshi no tama was gone; she knew that if she was separated from it for too long, she would die, and so she was forced to return to the Hotel.
The Raven Mocker was the one who stole her soul. With the hoshi no tama in her possession, the Kitsune had no choice but to do her bidding and serve her with hope that maybe some day, the witch would return her soul to her and release her from captivity.
However with the new plan brewing among the witches Kitty knew it would not be anytime soon. She dashed through the corridors and up the stairs to the ninth floor, passing unregistered. She wanted to rip the wallpaper from the walls, to set fire to this place. She hated the Hotel like no place else; it might have been a sanctuary for others, but to her it was a prison, and whatever the witches were preparing for, Kitty hated that she would have to be on their side for it.
The door to room 73, the first door on the ninth floor, was slightly open, allowing the Kitsune to slip inside. She felt uneasy being here, in the room of some of the most powerful gods in the Hotel. She knew how she was viewed by them – a servant of an inherently evil witch that could not be trusted, and if she was found in this room her fate could be much worse than just being locked in a cage.
“...I’m sorry,” Ra’s voice was deep and low, velvety. He stood by the window where night was falling quickly, a mournful look on his dark, handsome face. The Egyptian god of the sun was dressed all in black, a spear of pure light strapped to his back. The Kitsune watched as he held out his hand to his lover. Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky, took his hand in both of hers and pressed it to her chest. She was a beautiful woman with dark blue skin that glinted with starry constellations, her curly silver hair falling down her back like a waterfall. There were tears in her moon-filled eyes – every night Ra left, and every night she mourned his absence.
Ra’s wife in the mortal world had been Hathor, but after serving the humans and fading to allow new religions to take over, many gods found love elsewhere. Such was the case of Ra and Geb.
“I will wait for you,” Nut said, tracing her fingers over the calluses on her lover’s hand. He smiled gently and drew her near, kissing her indigo lips.
“And I will come back,” he murmured, then stepped back a little, still holding her hand. His face shifted, the neat haircut and strong nose gave way and in a dizzying-shift that made Kitty squeeze her eyes shut and fight nausea. Ra’s head was replaced by one of a mythological falcon.
Nut smiled, cradled the falcon’s face in her hands and kissed his beak, “I love you,” she whispered. He squeezed her hand and headed for the door. Kitty flinched away and scurried back but neither of the gods noticed her. Nut went to close the door and at the last moment the Kitsune managed to slink out. She exhaled a sigh of relief, and followed Ra’s heavy footsteps as he headed for the stairs.
Then, suddenly, he stopped. Kitty’s heart started to pound as he turned around and for a second she thought he had sensed her, that she was about to be found out. But instead Ra turned his falcon head to the window and frowned. Night was almost upon them. He seemed to change his mind about something and walked briskly to room 77, and Kitty scurried after him.
No, no, no, she thought, go to the dungeons. Go on, go!
The god knocked on the door, “Lakshmi?” there was urgency in his voice. The Kitsune quietly sniffed the air. She, too, felt something was amiss, and whatever the witches were brewing, Ra seemed to know something was off.
He knocked again, but there was no reply. Agitated, Ra headed for the stairs, knowing he had little time left – he had to get to the dungeons.
Kitty followed him, unnerved. The god walked fast, but the Kitsune was able to keep up, to the point where she almost bumped into his legs when he stopped abruptly on the eighth floor.
The door to Bast’s room was open, and the old woman sat in her armchair, looking out of her window.
The heads of all her cats, lounging around the room, turned to Kitty. Despite her invisibility, they were very much aware that she was there. Bake Neko, the ghost cat, hissed at her but Bast didn’t turn to look.
“Bast,” Ra said, with desperation. The woman looked from the window but didn’t seem surprised to see him. She was his secret protector, and he came to her in time of need. “Something isn’t-,” he started.
“I know,” Bast replied calmly. She stood, her old bones creaking. She could choose to look any way she wanted, and yet she chose this wrinkled old woman with a headscarf and reading-glasses, “Something isn’t right, but it’s not your job to find out what. Your job is to get to underworld.”
Ra exhaled, “Find Lakshmi, find out what it is.”
Bast inclined her head, “Have a safe night.”
Ra looked at her for a little longer than normal, “You too,” he replied on an exhale, and hurried out of the room. Kitty looked at Bast, saw the worry flicker in her cat-like eyes, before remembering what her mission here was. She turned on the spot and fled, knowing that Bast knew she was there. Alas, she hadn’t said anything. With her heart in her throat the Kitsune rushed after Ra, who had already made it to the third floor with his incredible speed. Within a minute they were in the empty, pristine lobby, and Ra was wrenching open the wooden, out of place door hidden behind the grant staircase that led upwards.
Beyond the door were rough stone steps, illuminated by strings of colourful Christmas lights that had been strung across the equally rough stone walls. Ra rushed down them, and Kitty went after him.
The basement was a bizarre place that housed several spirits. Unlike the neat white doors of the rest of the Hotel, here the doors were colourfully painted and each different from the next, with mismatched furniture piled at the bottom of the stairs. There were lamps strewn around, casting a soft golden glow onto the otherwise quite sketchy-looking place. Ra walked around the furniture and headed down the short hallway with all the doors.
A bald man with a white beard and an intricate staff stepped out of one of the doors, a solemn look on his face.
Ra stopped, “Bes.”
“Can you sense it?” the Egyptian protector asked. Ra nodded.
“I must get to the Underworld. When I return we will call a meeting.”
“Does Lakshmi know?” Bes asked.
“Bast will tell her, she wasn’t in her room,” Ra said, voice coloured with worry.
“We shouldn’t panic,” Bes said, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I will speak to Brighid. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe a malignant spirit is at the borders.”
“Maybe,” Ra didn’t seem convinced. “I must go. I shall see you at dawn.”
“Good luck, friend,” Bes replied.
Ra walked down the corridor and turned left sharply. There he pulled open another door. Kitty could feel the cold emanating from the dungeons as she descended down the steps with Ra. This set of stairs was very long and crooked, and very, very old. There were no railings and it felt like it was suspended mid-air, like it would crumble away any moment.
The dungeon looked like a cave, like it didn’t belong underneath the carefully laid out Hotel, and yet here they were. Mystical silver lights came from gods know where, giving off enough light to illuminate the cells carved into the walls of the dungeon– they looked like hollow eye-sockets, with bars suspended halfway open. These cells had not been used in centuries – the bars on one of the cells were steel, perfect to keep vampires in.
Kitty shuddered: it was freezing. She hated this place, and fought the instinct to turn and run back up the stairs towards the comfort of the lobby, which now seemed the warmest place on earth.
Ra didn’t feel the same; as Kitty subconsciously slowed her walk the god continued confidently striding towards an entrance at the far end of the cave. Well, it wasn’t much of an entrance, and looked more like a drain – narrow and slanted. It was inky black, blacker than anything Kitty had ever seen, and a cold wind came from it, alongside soft, barely tangible moans. Kitty shuddered again.
Ra stopped and in a smooth movement turned into a falcon, and Kitty was filled with the same nauseating feeling as when she watched his head transform. When she opened her eyes again, he had slipped down the drain. He was now in the Underworld, where he would fight all night to keep the evil spirits at bay until dawn came. And Kitty was alone.
The fox exhaled: her job was done.
She turned to leave the wretched caves when she saw movement in one of the cells and froze. Her heart started to pound as she stared into the murky darkness.
A large figure stepped out of one of the cells, ducking under the iron bars. It was a man, burly and fat, dressed like a farmer with a white, unkept beard and two horns protruding from his cap. He looked like a devilish grandad.
Seeing him filled Kitty with so much relief, not only did she turn visible again, but she turned human.
The big man jumped in surprise, hitting his hair on the iron bars and turned around clumsily. His eyes narrowed and a pitchfork appeared in his hand, “Fox!” he snapped, “Are you spying on me?!”
The Kitsune felt irritated, and very cold now that she stood there, naked. Vanapagan was the Estonian god of the Underworld, but he wasn’t very good at being that. Kitty realised Raven never told her what she was supposed to check he had done, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing!” Vanapagan rubbed the bump on the back of his head and glared at Kitty. Only then did the girl notice the huge chain slung across his shoulder.
“What do you need that for?”
“I’m doing my part,” Van said, a little proud and aloof as he headed for the drain, “Ha! I see the witches don’t tell you everything!”
With him here, Kitty didn’t feel so afraid, but rather annoyed, and she approached the drain. She watched as Van pulled the chain off his meaty, flannel-covered shoulder and started fastening it to the drain, muttering under his breath. The chain began to glow. Kitty’s stomach fell.
“What are you doing?” she breathed, “If you do that Ra will have trouble coming back-“
Van looked at her over his shoulder and smiled coldly, “That is the point, little girl,” he said, “You really don’t know, huh?”
“Know what?” Kitty asked, agitated.
“This is all part of the plan. The pieces are falling together.”
“So you’re working for the witches?”
“Not for,” Van scoffed, continuing his work, “with. Just like you.”
Kitty pulled a face. She hated being associated with the coven and wanted to reiterated that no, she was not in fact working with them, more like being forced to do their dirty work.
She didn’t know what was coming, but she didn’t want to stick around to find out, “Right,” she flicked her hair over her shoulder, faking nonchalance, “My work here is done. Enjoy your chain.”
She shifted back into a fox, and all but sprinted for the stairs.
THE MORRIGAN, harbinger of death.
She stood on top of the corpses. They were everywhere, strewn across the field, grotesquely hanging from the naked trees of the forest. She breathed out, panicked, and her breath clouded in front of her face. She could smell the blood, thick in the air.
They spilled out of the Hotel. So many bodies, their bones broken, their eyes hollow. The Hotel itself was dead too, splintered down the middle as if lightning had hit it, its windows black, the glass smashed to pieces.
The Morrigan slowly picked her way through the corpses. The sun bled red, suspended just beyond the horizon, just beyond reach. Her skin froze. Ravens circled overhead, landed on bodies, pecked at the flesh.
It was reminiscent, a habitat the Morrigan was familiar with. Battle, death.
Her naked foot slipped and punctured through a ribcage. She pulled it out in disgust, rotting flesh clinging to her skin. When she pushed the dark hair from the body’s face she saw that it was one of the humans of the Hotel, dead longer than some of the others...
She woke with a start, tumbling off of the bed and landing on the floor with a painful sound. Her head spun, she could still smell the blood and the decay as she looked up at the domed, Greek ceiling. She was not in her room.
“You okay?” Aphrodite asked groggily, poking her head around the edge of her bed. Her blonde curls were a mess, her eyes bloodshot. She did not look like the goddess of beauty in that moment, “Are you going to be sick?”
The Morrigan sat up on the floor. She was in one of Aphrodite’s t-shirts, in her pretty, spacious room. Outside of the window the sun had just finished setting over ancient Greek ruins.
Morri must have looked wild, breathing hard, because Aphrodite looked worried.
“Nightmare?” she asked. Her eyes flashed, “Fucking Inguma.”
Morri shook her head, squeezing her hand to her chest, “No,” she could still see the carnage in her head, just like all the wars she had preceded over in the ancient times, like all the battles of the Celts..., “No, this wasn’t his doing. This was a...a-a vision.”
“What?” Aphrodite asked, brows furrowing. Morri scrambled to her feet.
“I have to speak to Brie.”
“Wait,” Aphy stood up, but Morri was already throwing open the door to the circular balcony, “Maybe you’re just freaking out-“
The Celtic goddess didn’t wait for Aphrodite to finish as she transformed into an inky black crow and flew out of the window and into the quickly falling night. Aphrodite ran out onto the balcony; the vision of the Greek ruins outside flickered for a second as the Morrigan exited it, and for a moment Aphy saw the field and Hotel gardens and the never-ending forest as Morri circled around the building. Then everything went back to normal. Aphrodite sighed.
The crow flew down to the third floor windows, whooshing past them, her little heart beating in her black, feathered chest. Everything was at it should: the silver gleam of Talos as she climbed onto the roof to protect the Hotel during the night, the warm lights burning in people’s bedroom windows. And yet something made the Morrigan choke up.
One of the windows in the dining room was open, as if Brighid was expecting her. The Morrigan flew through it and when she landed in front of the fireplace, it was as a girl, dressed in Aphrodite’s t-shirt.
Brighid wasn’t in her armchair, instead she was absent-mindedly pacing.
“Something’s coming,” Morri said breathlessly. The redheaded goddess looked at her kin and inclined her head solemnly. Morri felt panic grip her, she felt light-headed, “What is it? What do we do?”
“Nothing,” Brighid said firmly. Morri noticed the sword gleaming at Brighid’s side. She was terrified. Long ago she had forsaken her violent nature; she was the goddess of war, but now nothing terrified her more than the prospect of it. “Come here, leannán,” Brighid could sense her nerves and opened her arms in welcome. Morri rushed into the hug Brie squeezed her against her bosom and smoothed down her hair. Her sword pressed into Morri’s arm, icy cold.
The whispering woke Etu from a dreamless sleep. As he filtered into reality, sitting up in his bed and rubbing his face to chase away the last of the daze, he was met with a cloudy night sky overhead. His ceiling, or much of it, was a glassed dome that showed him the sky and – often, but not tonight – the stars and the moon. 7:43pm, his internal clock immediately told him and Etu groaned. He had overslept again. He had hoped to catch the sunset, but now...he sighed.
The whispering continued. Irritated, Etu climbed out of bed naked and banged on his east wall.
“Shut up Anansi!” he yelled, and the muttering stopped. Etu stalked to the full length mirror that was leaning against the opposite wall and glanced at himself. His silver hair was in disarray, dark circles under his steely eyes. He looked a mess, and there were several unidentifiable bruises on his brown skin.
He turned away from the mirror angrily, the bitter memories of the party the previous night swarming his head. He looked miserably at his messy bedroom.
“Well,” he said to himself, kicking aside the shirt he wore the previous night, “looks like it’s just me, myself and I until the apocalypse comes.” He couldn’t imagine showing his face to the other deities after making himself a fool in front of most of them.
He curled back up under his satin sheets, content to wallow in his shame for at least the next decade. But after a few minutes he started to realise that it wasn’t shame that was making his stomach feel so heavy. He sat up and paid attention to his surroundings.
The air prickled with electricity. The boy stood and opened one of his huge windows which took up most of the walls, looking out at snowy peaks of mountains. The vision made him feel as if he was in a little wooden cabin nestled somewhere away from civilisation.
He sniffed the air, the cold of the illusion pricked at his cheeks. He hurriedly shut the window and went back to bed, but the more he tried to push away the unsettled feeling in his stomach, the worse it got. The anxiety crept through his bones, pushing dark thoughts into his head – something bad was coming, something bad would happen, he could feel it.
The boy jumped out of bed. Looks like the apocalypse is here quicker than anticipated.
The deity got dressed in last night’s clothes and speed-walked to the door. He wrenched it open and stopped, looking out at the dusty, old corridor of the attic. Where can I go? He thought. Wakan Tanka? The boy peeked out at the last door on the corridor. His skin was crawling, he was feeling more and more on edge, like any sound could set him off. But there was no sound – Anansi was silent, not whispering stories anymore, as if he too was listening and wondering what Etu’s next move was. It was as if eyes were watching the boy from the walls.
He crept out into the corridor, wringing his hands out nervously. Over the years he had been here he had only seen the Great Spirit a handful of times, and now he was terrified as he approached his door. The dream-catcher swayed gently against the wood as if moved by an invisible wind.
What will I tell him? Etu gnawed at his bottom lip until he tasted blood, that I’ve got a bad feeling? Wakan Tanka was, arguably, the most important spirit in the Hotel and Etu felt that, as one of the troublemakers, he had no right to bother him...
A hand rested on his shoulder and Etu yelped and jumped away, heart hammering in his chest so hard that for a moment he thought he might have become a human and was experiencing a heart attack.
The woman behind him smiled gently, “Sorry,” she said, “I did not mean to scare you.”
“Muerte,” Etu exhaled, “Jesus, I could’ve died.”
Santa Muerte smiled, amused, “No, you couldn’t,” said the Mexican personification of death, whose warm smile on her warm, pretty face didn’t seem very deathly. She poked the tip of his nose playfully, “You can’t die, silly. And since when are you Christian?”
“I’m not,” Etu grumbled.
Santa Muerte was his next door neighbour, a lovely deity who appeared as a Mexican woman in her forties, always wearing a long skirt, intricate earrings and amber flowers in her thick dark brown hair. She was one of the few people in the Hotel who always treated Etu kindly.
This time, however, her smile melted quickly. She, too, seemed unsettled, “Were you going to Wakan?”
Etu rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah, I...you know, it was nothing,” he laughed awkwardly. She reached out and took his hand in hers. Immediately Etu relaxed, though whether it was because of some magic Muerte was using, or because people rarely touched him and it was comforting, Etu didn’t know.
“I feel it too,” Muerte said comfortingly, “Something evil. But whatever happens, we will protect the Hotel, and the humans in it,” she said warmly.
“Can you protect me too?” Etu asked. Muerte laughed and let go of his hand.
“I’m sure you’re more than capable of protecting yourself,” she said kindly, and turned to her brightly painted door, “if you do not wish to be alone, just knock for me.”
“Okay, thanks,” Etu waved at her awkwardly as she shut her door. He then leaned his forehead against the closest window, cooling down. Muerte was nice, but intimidating, and the moment she was gone the feeling of unease returned though Etu was too shy to take her up on her offer of company.
He gloomily looked out of the window. The anxiety crept back up. Etu knocked his forehead against the window in frustration. What was wrong? His eyes scanned the landscape. Was there someone in the woods? If there was he couldn’t see anyone...
Etu’s eyes widened, “Oh no,” he whispered as he felt his grip on his power slip. Whatever was unnerving him was unnerving time too, “Stop,” he hissed, digging his fingers into his chest, “Calm down, stop,” he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to find his centre, to focus on what time it really was. Was it 8:11? Or 8:12 by now? Or maybe 8:10?
He felt himself spiralling. Normally staying in his room was a safe way to ensure nothing triggered him into losing control and lashing out, but this time he hadn’t done anything – he felt unstable, like the ground was shifting beneath his feet. Time was spiralling out of control.
Etu’s instincts kicked in and he threw himself down the hallway and down the narrow staircase to the ninth floor. He couldn’t fix this by himself but he knew who could and maybe in normal circumstances he would have thought twice about it, and probably never actually gone to him, but this was bigger than him and he felt like if someone didn’t help him he’d die.
He had never felt that before, and it was terrifying.
Everything was fuzzy around the edges, but the number 74 floated out at him against the white door. Etu meant to knock, but instead in his panic he threw his whole body weight against the door, busting it open.
“What the-?” Achuguayo jumped up from his desk, a pocket-watch in his hand, “What the fuck Etu?” he demanded, “Why the fuck are you bursting in here? Does this look like a hotel to you?!” his anger was palpable as he stalked up to the shorter boy and shoved the pocket watch in his face, “You’re doing it again, you’re fucking up time!”
The hands was going anti-clockwise at a rapid speed. Seeing it made Etu even dizzier.
“It wasn’t me!” he gasped breathlessly, clawing at his chest as if it was possible to dig out the horrible feelings he was experiencing, “I-I mean it was b-but this time I didn’t do anything, I swear! I-I just can’t make it stop, it k-keeps going back-“
He was having a panic attack. How pathetic, a deity was having a panic attack like a pesky human. Etu’s chest was heaving, he felt like he was going to be sick, “I-I can’t breathe,” he whimpered. The only thing his eyes could focus on was Ach in front of him; he saw the man’s expression change from fury to concern.
“Hey, hey-,” Ach tried to grab him but Etu spotted the window and stumbled past the moon god towards it. The fresh ocean breeze brushed against his flushed cheeks as he clambered over Ach’s bed and towards it in blind desperation.
He just wanted to get out of there, he wanted to get away from the feeling of impending doom and-
He had one leg out the window before Ach got to him and hauled him back. They both tumbled backwards onto the man’s bed and Etu tried to claw his way out of the moon god’s much stronger grip.
“Let me go!” he was practically crying, feeling like the sky had just crashed on his head. He didn’t know which way was up or down, he was so scared, “I-I need to leave, I-I need to-“
Ach shoved him down onto the bed and when Etu tried to kick him the god pinned him down forcefully. Now his face was a mixture of fury and concern.
“Cut it out you fucking idiot!” he yelled, wrestling with Etu.
“N0, no, no,” Etu gasped, “It’s all wrong, it’s all fucked-“
“I know!” Ach gritted out, “I can feel time spiralling- just calm down!” he yelled and managed to wriggle an arm beneath Etu’s, placing a hand over his heart.
Time stopped. The breeze from the ocean stilled. The horrible feeling that had been growing on Etu disappeared for the moment as time ceased to move. The Hotel froze mid-motion.
The silver-haired boy laid there, panting and staring at Ach in shock as he felt himself find his centre,stabilise.
“There you go,” Ach said, surprisingly softly, not breaking eye-contact with Etu. His eyes were like pools of dark water, “Find your footing, you’re okay.”
Etu closed his eyes. He heard the soft tic, tic, tic as time returned, the quiet murmur always in his head.
8:14. Etu exhaled with relief as he found the right time. And then darkness swarmed over him.
ACHUGUAYO, god of the moon.
“Etu?” Ach asked. The boy was gripping the hand he had up against his chest, but his head had lolled to the side, “Oi,” Ach shook him, but Etu didn’t react, “Fuck,” the man sighed, realising Etu was unconscious.
He carefully eased his hand free and looked at the boy on his bed. When Etu had exploded in unceremoniously Ach was furious, but none of that emotion remained as Ach looked at the boy’s soft, relaxed face. He had no idea what just happened, but in all the years and all the altercations he had experienced with Etu, none had been like this. The sheer, intense panic in the boy had been palpable even to Ach, who couldn’t imagine ever feeling such raw emotions.
He didn’t know what set Etu off, but he was glad the boy had calmed down. I calmed him down, Ach thought with a little pride. It had been a weird interaction though, and now Ach didn’t know what to do with the other boy. He hated his guts, but throwing him outside the door seemed a bit rude and excessive.
Thankfully before Ach could take advantage of Etu’s momentary vulnerability and think of some cruel and horrible way to punish him for annoying him for all these years, yelling from down the hall spiked his interest. In his panic Etu had left the door open and now Ach followed the desperate female shouting out into the corridor.
He found a Native American woman with long, straight brown hair and an elegant straight nose banging on door number 77.
“Lakshmi!” she yelled, slamming her fist against the wood desperately, “Lakshmi please open the door!”
“Do you have a death wish, Tia?” Ach asked, kind of impressed by the goddess’ bravery, though her behaviour caught him off-guard. Tia, the Haida goddess of peaceful death, tended to be quiet and polite, and this banging and shouting was very much unlike her.
“She has to open the door!” Tia said desperately, “She has to-“
“Why is everyone freaking out?” Ach asked, irritated, “What is going on? Why do you need Lakshmi? Did Tikoloshe pee on the carpet again?”
“Can’t you feel it?!” the goddess turned to Ach. The intense panic in her dark eyes reminded Ach...of Etu. His stomach dropped.
“Feel what?” he asked, unsure if he wanted to know.
“Something’s coming,” Tia said. She gasped suddenly and doubled over, “No. Ta’xet no!” she yelled, and looked up at Ach pleadingly, “He’s trying to come out, he’s excited. Whatever is going on he’s happy about it.”
If Tia was the goddess of peaceful death, Ta’xet was the opposite. They came to the Hotel as one being, and Ta’xet rarely took over their body, but when he did, he was not pleasant. Ach much preferred Tia.
“Alright,” the moon god didn’t know what to do, “Go back to your room, try to calm him down,” he said, and the goddess was already stumbling backwards. She slammed the door shut behind her.
Ach was left alone in the corridor, the silence echoing in his head after all the yelling. He rubbed a hand down his face – was he the only one that wasn’t feeling anything? He looked out of the window. The night was quiet and still. The Hotel seemed normal, nothing was amiss.
Slowly, hesitantly the man walked up to door 77. He knocked gently, “Lakshmi?” he called, but there was no response.
Here's a catch up list of all the new deities we met this chapter!
Baba Yaga - Russian witch
Bake Neko - Japanese ghost cat, one of Bast's pets
Cailleach 'Leach' - Irish witch and ruler of winter
Guabancex 'Bance' - Taino goddess of storms (basically all weather gods answer to her)
Guatauva 'Tav' - technically introduced last chapter but briefly. The Taino god of thunder and lightning, and a kind of handyman around the Hotel.
Nut - Egyptian goddess of the sky, and the soulmate of Ra in this story
Ra - Egyptian god of the sun and a key protector of the Hotel
Rangda, Indonesian witch and queen of demons
Santa-Muerte, Mexican personification of death
Sunakake-baba 'Sunny', Japanese sand witch
Saci, a Brazilian trickster spirit that can grant wishes
Ta'xet/Tia - Dual Haida god of violent death/goddess of peaceful death
Vanapagan 'Van' - Estonian god of the Underworld
Chapter 4: The Automaton
Thanks for all the love guys hope you're liking the story so far and sorry if it's confusing <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
TALOS, the automaton.
The Hotel, the same night.
The sky was stormy, clouds brewing, but Talos wasn’t alarmed – she knew it was nothing sinister, just the storm gods fighting: at sunset she had seen Guatauva exit the Hotel and head towards the lake, which Guabancex had been circling all day.
The automaton stood poised on the roof of the Hotel, the wind whipping her silver hair about her face, her sharp eyes zooming in and out of the forest as she scanned her surroundings for any trouble. This was her one purpose in life, the reason for which she had been created. Protecting this Sanctuary was what she was good at.
Satisfied with the silent, peaceful forest, she picked her way among the tiles and drains of the roof, her eyes adjusting to the darkness that fell over the world as the storm clouds rumbled above her. She shifted the gun against her back, brushed her fingers over the sword at her waist.
Hmm, she thought suddenly, pausing, there’s no birds. She turned back to face the forest, narrowed her eyes – normally she’d see magical creatures stealing between the branches, she’d hear their calls and cries. But tonight everything was eerily still and silent save for the clouds rumbling overhead. Weird, Talos thought, more on-guard now – how long had it been quiet? She had to pay closer attention...
A crow fluttered overhead, but as Talos’ enhanced eyes zoomed in on it she knew immediately it was no normal bird. The crow circled overhead, cawing, before it landed on the roof next to Talos, shifting into a pretty girl with short, black hair the moment it touched the ground. The Morrigan had forgone her whacky earrings and funky sunglasses, and was dressed in a sombre black outfit that reminded Talos of when she had first arrived, before she grew into the bubbly persona she was today.
“Morrigan,” Talos said politely.
“Something’s coming,” Morri said solemnly, her dark eyes lacking their usual cheer as she looked at Talos, “Brighid sent me to warn you.”
Talos was virtually a robot – she felt some emotions, but she did not have premonition like many of the other deities. She also didn’t feel fear. She inclined her head though, trusting the goddess,
“Alright,” she said, “I’ll keep an eye out, but you should get inside. If something is coming we have a bigger chance on our home turf.”
The Morrigan nodded, gnawing at her bottom lip in anxiety, “I...,” she looked at the dark forest with fear in her eyes.
“Oh!” came a high-pitched squeak behind them and both the women turned to see a third, short, curvy girl with a tangle of ginger curls and aggressive splatters of freckles on her chubby, flushed cheeks standing by an open trapdoor. In her hands she held a steaming cup, “M-Morri,” she spluttered awkwardly, as if she hadn’t expected to see the goddess up here, “Hi. Um. What are you doing here?” she laughed nervously and gestured to Talos, spilling some of her drink and not giving Morri a chance to answer as she continued, “I-I was just bringing Tal some hot chocolate! If I had known you were up here I would have made you a cup too!”
Morri smiled tensely, her mind elsewhere, “So nice of you, Haltija,” she said, “But I have to go,” she added hurriedly and seconds later she was beating the wind with her black wings. Talos watched the crow until it disappeared from her sight, then she turned her attention to Haltija.
The girl was a Finnish gnome, a healer and a protector tied to the Hotel, much like Talos. She walked up to the automaton with a big smile and held out the ceramic, flower-printed cup out to her.
“Your hot chocolate; it’ll warm you up!” she said brightly – she was so emotive it often baffled Talos; a lot of gods and spirits felt muted emotions, but Haltija was not one of them.
“You know I don’t get cold, right?” Talos said, but couldn’t help the warmth creeping through her chest as she took the cup. It was nice that Hattie cared. The girl came to stand next to the automaton; she was very short, the top of her head only reaching Talos’ upper-arm.
“So...,” Hattie said, and suddenly there was a little daisy in her hands. She plucked at the petals, “How has your shift been so far?”
“It’s not really a shift,” Talos took a sip of her drink. It was sweet, “I don’t get paid for this.”
“R-Right,” Hattie laughed awkwardly and tucked an orange curl behind her pointed ear, whose tip was as red as her freckled cheeks, “U-Um...how’s your night then?”
Talos smiled, amused. Hattie did this often – came up here to chit-chat. She was just being polite, but Talos enjoyed it nonetheless, “Uneventful, as always.”
“Oh!” Hattie suddenly exclaimed, smacking herself in the forehead, “I’m so stupid! I forgot! I was coming up here because I have this feeling-“
“That something bad is going to happen?” Talos interrupted. Haltija blinked her big, green eyes.
“H-How did you know?”
“Morrigan just told me.”
“O-Oh! Of course...,” Hattie looked at her feet, fit snugly in some winter boots even though it was just October. Her eyelashes were brown, a similar colour to her freckles.
Stop staring. Talos turned her attention back to the forest. She found Haltija fascinating with all her bizarre quirks and stumbling over words. She was extremely ungraceful, but in an endearing way, “I’m sure it’s nothing,” Talos said in a tone she hoped was comforting.
“Me too,” Hattie tucked a curl behind her ear again – it was a habit she had when she was nervous. A habit Talos was very aware of. Focus, focus. “Right!” Hattie exclaimed with fake cheer, too loudly, breaking the awkward silence that Talos couldn’t fill, “I won’t bother you then! Have a good shift – I-I mean night!” she waved at the automaton and scurried to the trapdoor that led down to the attic, disappearing beneath it.
Talos smiled fondly after her and went to take a sip of the hot-chocolate when something peculiar caught her eye. A single sheep was wandering out of the forest, nipping at the grass beneath its feet and heading for the freestanding front gate obliviously. Talos’ silver eyes narrowed – there was a multitude of creatures in that forest, but a sheep was not one of them. Maybe one wandered in from the human realm...it happened rarely but it did happen. But there was something unsettling about this particular sheep...
With no hesitation, Talos launched herself from the roof. The feeling of free-falling through the air was familiar to her, and by the time Tal’s feet touched the grass she already had her M16 drawn and pointed at the sheep. It grazed just past the gate that Haltija had erected many years ago, the one which created a protective barrier around the Hotel, not paying attention to the weapon being pointed at it.
“Talos,” Janus called to her from the front doors of the Hotel where he was standing guard, leaning on his staff. Talos didn’t move, her finger hovering over the trigger of her weapon, “Talos! It’s just an innocent animal, child.”
“There’s no sheep in the forest, master,” Talos replied, unblinking. As if proving a point, a figure emerged out of the shadows of the forest. Overhead, a perfectly-timed lightning bolt sliced through the air, illuminating the old, wrinkled face of the shepherd as he walked calmly towards the gate.
“Oh!” he smiled kindly at Talos, “You found my sheep, you have my thanks!”
“Take your animal, old man,” Talos said, unflinching, “and get out of here.” The shepherd was no human, Talos could tell, though exactly what he was escaped her. Regardless, there were measures that prevented him from becoming a real threat – Hattie’s magical gate wouldn’t let him pass unless he was invited in by Janus, who was their keeper of doors. Even if that happened, he’d have to face Tal, and if he managed to get past her there was the matter of the other Protectors.
The shepherd pulled off his cap as the sheep wandered towards him. “But I am so tired. I have travelled very far to come here,” he said, “Won’t you offer me a room at your hotel?”
“No,” Talos said.
“Yes,” Janus replied, walking down the steps and towards them. Talos flinched, finally dragging her gaze from the intruders to look in shock at her fellow Grecian – he was heading down the steps, face unreadable, “You are welcome here, dear friend.”
“No!” Talos hissed, “What are you doing?! We don’t know this man-“
But it was too late. With Janus’ permission, the shepherd passed through the gate with no trouble, his sheep waddling in behind him.
“Thankyou, kind strangers,” he called amicably but as he got closer, Talos’ nose was hit by the stench of sulphur. With no hesitation, she fired her gun. Nothing happened. She pulled the trigger once more, but all that sounded was an empty clicking.
The shepherd looked at her sadly, “You’d shoot an innocent, old man, child?”
“Cut the shit,” Talos growled, throwing her gun aside and pulling her sword from her belt.
The shepherd smiled in a way no human should ever smile, and Talos watched as he grew suddenly, grotesquely as if his true form was bubbling out of a vessel too small. Shadows gathered around him and a low chuckle sounded, making the ground rumble. Talos stumbled backwards, but Janus stood there calmly, his hood over his face, as if he had expected this, as if...
“You!” something clicked in Talos’ head. She felt the hot fury of betrayal by one of her own, by one of the Greeks, and she threw herself at Janus, sword raised.
But a great Hungarian axe parried hers. Where the shepherd had been, now towered the familiar figure of the Hotel’s nemesis, his horns curved, his fangs bared, eyes blazing real fire.
“Stupid little girl,” Ördög growled and used her sword as leverage to throw her back. Talos slid across the grass, turning it to dust as she caught herself. Behind Ördög, where the sheep had been grazing, stood a smiling La Diablesse, beautiful save for the grotesque horns protruding from her forehead. She picked grass blades from her mouth with distaste.
“You would do well to let the master pass,” she informed Talos, “You are no match for his power anyway, and you saw yourself – he has been invited in.”
“If you think an invitation is all you need for us to let us in, you’re gravely mistaken,” Talos snarled, gripping her sword in her hand, “You didn’t get in last time, and this time will be the same.”
Clouds of black smoke billowed from Ördög’s mouth when he spoke, “This time is different, automaton,” he smiled a smile that didn’t reach his fiery eyes, “This time I have allies who want what I want,” Janus stood firmly on his left, Dia on his right, “I have an invitation, I have a plan.”
“Fuck your plan,” Talos snapped and threw herself at the Devil. She didn’t feel fear, or adrenaline, she just felt familiarity. She had been designed to do this.
She launched herself into the air, coming down hard onto Ördög, sword raised. But he swung his great axe over his head, throwing her backwards once more. Now there were two dirt tracks in the grass. Talos circled Ördög, ready to pounce again.
“You really think you are a worthy opponent against the master?” Dia laughed mockingly, hands on hips. She was dressed as if she was still in the Caribbean, as if she didn’t feel the biting October air.
“Maybe I’m not,” Talos replied coldly, “But he can’t beat all of us. If you take me down you will still have to deal with Bes and the other protectors, and Ra when he comes back at dawn.”
With an animalistic roar Ördög threw himself at Talos. He dwarfed her with his size, and brought his axe down with brutal force. But Talos was built stronger than she looked, and she held up her sword with both hands, holding him back. Her knees bent as she took his weight, the blade of her sword dug into her left palm. But she was made of metal, and she could not feel pain. The Devil’s face was dangerously close to hers.
“Ra isn’t coming back,” Ördög snarled, grabbing Talos’ sword with his free hand. The steel melted in his red-hot grip and Talos managed to slide from beneath him before he brought her to the ground. His axe and the melted remains of her sword slammed into the grass, setting a small portion of it on fire. Talos jumped backwards, drawing one of her daggers from her belt.
The doors to the Hotel were thrown open and Haltija ran out, looking awfully small.
“Get away from her!” she screamed, holding up her hands. She began muttering an old spell under her breath, runes glowing on her freckled palms. Ördög laughed.
“Too late, little gnome,” he said, “your protective spells won’t work, we’re already inside.”
“Janus, how could you?!” Hattie yelled at the cloaked man, who didn’t reply.
“Hattie, get back inside,” Talos told her, dagger drawn.
“Tal, he’ll kill you!”
“I’m just an automaton,” Talos gritted.
Dia cocked her head to the side as if watching an exhibit at a museum. Ördög strapped his axe to his back, “She’s right. You can’t kill someone who isn’t alive in the first place.” He held up his hand. His black and red palm glowed like coals, and Talos felt herself...shifting.
With mechanic clicks her limbs unattached themselves from her body, exposing the wires and circuits beneath and crumpling to the ground.
“You bastard,” Talos gritted, though she felt no pain, just shock at watching her arms on the grass in front of her. It was a surreal experience.
Haltija screamed as Talos was taken apart by Ördög, piece by piece. Her feet fell, then her legs and Talos landed on her back on the ground. The last thing Talos saw before her head was unattached from the rest of her body was Dia approaching, the stormy sky above her and a big sack in her hands. The demoness smiled.
Then Talos’ wires snapped, and Hattie’s scream faded away.
“Enough!” Bes bellowed, standing on the steps leading up to the Hotel, behind the gnome girl who now had fat, dramatic tears rolling down her eyes. La Diablesse tied off the sack holding the parts of the automaton and turned to face the god of dwarves.
He looked much angrier than the last time she saw him in 1945, his dark eyes brewing with danger similar to the storm overhead. The arm he held his staff with was muscled and wired with veins. Dia was sure if she had to fight the god, she would lose in a heartbeat.
Thankfully, she did not have to fight him, and thankfully she had the Devil on her side.
“Have you not made enough damage in the human world?” Bes demanded, descending the steps and heading for the duo. Dia slid her hand into the pocket of her long skirt, her fingers pressing up against icy-cold glass. She smiled, but Bes was focused on Ördög and not her, “You have your domain, you have hell!” the god stood in front of Ördög, and although the Devil was huge and monstrous, Bes stood tall and proud, not at all intimidated, “Why do you want this Hotel too?”
“The Sanctuaries will be mine,” Ördög rasped, “I do not want humans at my will, I want gods. I want the earth to fall into desolation and darkness.”
“Return the automaton and begone,” Bes said, “Or you will invoke the wrath of the gods.”
“I don’t care about your wrath,” Ördög replied mockingly.
“Fine,” Bes took a step back, raising his staff, “Have it your way.”
“Oh,” Dia smiled, “We will.”
Bes finally paid attention to her, but it was too late. As he turned to look at her, she unscrewed the lid of the jar she had acquired from Pandora. Dia expected theatrics – she expected thunder and lightning and tornado-like wind.
Instead the inscription of Bes’ name in Ancient Egyptian at the bottom of the jar glowed and when the demoness blinked, the god was just...gone.
“No!” the gnome screamed, the sound piercing as she fell to her knees; the loss of her friends was clearly overwhelming for her. Weakling. Dia quickly screwed the lid of the jar back on; the glass was so cold it burned her skin. Thunder crackled in the distance, but it was not Ördög and Dia that were causing the storm, and neither cared about who it was.
The demoness slid the jar into her pocket and smiled at Ördög, “Two down, one to go. What do you want done with the automaton?”
“Bring her along,” Ördög said dismissively, “We can melt her for a new axe for me.”
“I won’t let you!” the gnome screamed at them from the ground. She dug her fingers into the grass and closed her eyes, muttering under her breath in Ancient Finnish. A blue, glowing circle appeared around the Hotel, joining the two free-standing gates. As Haltija continued her spell, Dia and Ördög’s feet slowly started dragging backwards to the gate.
“Enough,” Ördög growled. Out of the open doors to the Hotel stepped a grotesque, masked creature. She crept up behind the concentrating gnome, and her dark, clawed hand crept up onto the woman’s head like a claw. She clasped it over her forehead and Haltija’s green eyes flew open in shock, before she crumbled sideways, unconscious.
The blue light of her spell faded, and Ördög and Dia grew still.
“Rangda,” Ördög said, “about time.”
The masked witch bowed in a way that made Dia think of bones breaking – she was unnatural and unsettling.
“Master,” Rangda said in her sickly sweet, childish voice, “We have waited.”
“Dia,” Ördög turned to his servant, “Put the gnome in the bag. We will dispose of both of them later.”
“Yes sir,” Dia playfully saluted the Devil, excited – they were getting much farther than the previous times they tried. As the demoness stuffed the short body of the gnome into the bag alongside the metal parts of the automaton, she thought for the first time that maybe it would all work out this time.
She threw the bag over her shoulder and her back screamed in protest, “Ay, fuck!” she swore and dropped the sack, “How do you think I’m going to carry that?” she complained. Rangda turned her mask to look at her, and Dia had to admit that out of all the demons she had seen in her existence, Rangda was definitely one of the uglier ones.
The witch didn’t even address her, just clicked her clawed, striped fingers, and the burden of the two spirits in Dia’s bag lessened to a comfortable weight. Rangda turned back to Ördög.
“The genie awaits, master.”
“Perfect,” a pale smile appeared on Ördög’s face – his fiery eyes died down so it looked like he had two coals in his face, with flames only occasionally leaping from them, “Janus, Dia, come along now.”
The four of them climbed up the short steps and entered the lobby of the Hotel with nobody else attempting to stop them. Janus shut the door behind them and Ördög turned his face to the chandelier. He let out a rattling breath.
“Finally,” he exhaled, “Finally, I am here.”
Personally, Dia didn’t understand the appeal of the Hotel, she much preferred hell. Alas, she had signed her soul away to Ördög, and whatever his plan was she was happy enough to follow along. What did spike the interest was the sudden wind that filled the spacious room, curling in the air to form a shadow of a tornado. It took a few seconds for it to change into what it truly was – a dust devil. The grains filled the lobby, whipped by the wind. Dia cried out and covered her face as Janus pulled his hood down over his face. Rangda and Ördög stood, unmoved by the sand quickly gathered on all available surfaces.
In seconds the whole place looked like a ruin in a desert rather than the pristine, marble lobby it had been only moment ago, and where the storm had formed stood a one-legged teenage boy with a red cap and a big smile on his face.
“This is not a genie!” Ördög roared.
“Oh, but he will do,” Rangda replied sweetly.
“So you’re the devil, huh?” Saci crossed his arms over his naked chest and looked over Ördög’s huge form, unbothered, “I’m here to bargain.”
“Bargain?” Ördög scoffed, “I need a genie, not an insolent little boy.”
Saci’s smile didn’t fade, “I can grant you three wishes,” he said, “and in return I want to get as many humans as I want, and do with them as I please.”
Ördög seemed a little appeased by Saci’s claim, “When I take over, there will be no more Humans in this place.”
Saci chuckled, “Oh please. I know you won’t just settle for the Hotel. Whatever souls you get, I want twenty percent.”
Ördög’s eyes narrowed, “Fine.”
“Perfect,” Saci smirked, “All you have to do to get the wishes is steal my hat,” he pointed to his head.
Ördög glanced at Dia, she shrugged. Awkwardly the bulky creature walked up to Saci and plucked the hat off his head.
“Oh no,” Saci said in a monotone, waving his hands in the air half-heartedly, “You stole my hat. Now I must grant you wishes. Boo-hoo.”
“It reeks,” Ördög threw the hat at La Diablesse.
“Ew!” she jumped away from it, kicking up sand, “I don’t want it!”
“It’s fine,” Saci rolled his bloody eyes and extended his hand. The hat flew back into it, getting stuck in the hole in his palm. He plucked it out and put it back on his head, “The wishes are yours. So what would you like the first to be?”
Ördög looked at Rangda. She bowed her head, “He is in the attic, master.”
Ördög wrinkled his crooked nose, “Why has nobody come to challenge me?”
“Once you took Bes the witches cast a cloaking spell,” Rangda said, “Nobody knows we are here until you are ready for them to know.”
It was bizarre walking through the Hotel, past all the rooms, even past spirits, and not having anybody so much as look at them. Janus remained by the front door as to not raise suspicion and although some spirits paused in confusion when Ördög, Dia, Rangda and Saci passed, as if sensing something, they never stopped for long and they never saw the intruders. Outside the wind had picked up and lightning flashed more often, occasionally and illuminating the monstrous forms of Rangda and Ördög.
They reached the attic unstopped. Waiting for them in the corridor was an old African man with wild white hair, muttering to himself.
He looked up when he saw the group approaching. There were cobwebs in his beard.
“Maa jo. Here you are,” he breathed, “the characters of the story.”
“Anansi,” Ördög said curtly, “You have done well to turn Janus to our side. Now lead the way.”
“Yesssssss, master,” Anansi hissed, and crawled to door 343, the one with the dream catcher. There was something insect-like and unnerving about the way the man moved, “He knows you are here,” Anansi whispered, “He knows everything.”
“Let us in,” Ördög barked. Anansi pushed open the door – it was not locked, and the group entered.
They found themselves not in a bedroom, but in a moon-filled forest. The trees echoed with the singing of night-birds, everything smelled of moss and the wild. It was as if they had been transported hundreds of years back, when land was unexplored and untamed.
There was a clearing directly before them, and in the clearing, sitting cross legged in a pool of moonlight, was Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. His eyes were closed and deep-set in his wrinkled, wise face. He, unlike many of the other spirits, did not wear modern clothing, instead wearing breechlout, with beads and feathers in his long hair. His face was painted with yellow symbols, and he looked completely at peace.
“Wakan Tanka,” Ördög barked. The Great Spirit opened his eyes. They were dark brown and painfully human. He was not surprised to see the people before him, and did not move, looking at them with serenity.
Dia felt like all the air had been sucked out of her lungs. Ördög stood there, staring. Slowly, Wakan smiled warmly as if Ördög was an old friend who he was happy to see.
Ördög’s legs trembled. Dia wanted nothing more than to sit down and stay in this eternal paradise, to be in the Great Spirit’s grace. But before she could do that, Ördög forced his gaze away from Wakan.
“Don’t look at him. Don’t let him speak to your soul, he will disarm you. Diablesse,” he hissed, somewhat bringing Dia to reality, “the jar.”
“R-Right!” the woman scrambled in her pocket and her fingers closed over the cold glass of the third jar. Unnerved, she clumsily unscrewed it and pointed it at Wakan. His name, inscribed in all the Quechuan languages on the bottom, glowed but when Dia dared to look, the Great Spirit continued to sit there, unmoved. He was like a great rock, and in that moment the demoness knew she was powerless against him. He was ancient, he was the earth, “It’s not working,” Dia whispered, panicking.
“Saci,” Ördög snarled, eyes focused on Wakan, “For my first wish I want you to force the Great Spirit into the jar.”
And just like that, Wakan was gone from his sitting spot. Dia turned to face the door – they were open and showed the corridor outside, with Anansi crouching in the shadows. It was bizarre, like a portal to a different world.
Dia felt a little nauseous.
“Well,” Saci seemed surprised, “That was easier than I thought.”
“He didn’t put up a fight,” Ördög spat onto the grass beneath his feet, “He is a pacifist, he never puts up a fight.” Birds started crying in the trees, lamenting the loss of their father. The shadows deepened. Ördög turned to Saci, “Take the sack from Dia.”
“Is that your second wish?” Saci teased.
Ördög’s eyes blazed with fire, “Take it.” He seemed afraid to be in Wakan’s space.
Saci hurriedly pulled the sack off the girl’s shoulder, “What’s in it?”
“Some unfortunate creatures,” Ördög’s eyes swept over Wakan’s ‘bedroom’ one more time and he turned to the door, “I trust you know a place to put them.”
Saci smirked, “Oh yes – I have spent my fair share of time in the dungeons. They are not a very nice place.”
“Fine. There is a jar inside the sack. Keep it on you at all times and do not betray me. That is my second wish.”
“Of course,” Saci’s smirk widened and he bowed. Ördög turned to Dia.
“And you,” he glared at the jar in her shaking hands, the one holding Wakan, “Take that jar back to hell, I don’t want any of these pesky deities getting a hold of it.”
“W-Wouldn’t it be better for you to keep him?”
“Do as I say.”
Dia flinched but Hell sounded really, really good to her right now. She didn’t like this Hotel, so she nodded, “Will I be waiting for your return?”
“I will send for you when this is all over and the Hotel is mine,” Ördög replied curtly.
“What if someone follows me?”
“They won’t,” Rangda spoke up, “My witches will ensure nobody leaves this place until the master wants them to.”
Dia nodded, pushed the jar back into her pocket, and eagerly went back out into the corridor.
Something smelled really nice, peaceful, and Etu felt like he was walking on a beach at sunset somewhere safe and warm. It was comforting. He pressed his face further into the pillow and let out a quiet, content moan.
The pain at the back of his head jerked him awake and he sat up immediately, realising that he had been cuddling into none other than Achuguayo’s pillow. The owner of said pillow was standing by the bed, looking less than pleased, hand still suspended over where he had hit the back of Etu’s head.
“Get up,” he barked. For a moment Etu thought Ach was going to beat him up. The last thing the silver-haired deity remembered was Ach on top of him, his hand against his chest, calming his panic.
Now, night had completely fallen and Etu realised he had passed out in his nemesis’ bed. Embarrassment made his face flare up as he realised he would never be able to live this down.
“S-Sorry!” he stammered, even though apologising wasn’t really in his blood. He jumped from the bed and made to run for the door but Ach grabbed his arm. Etu flinched, waiting for the attack, but Ach just pushed him back towards the bed. Etu’s heart jumped in his chest and sudden, unexplainable heat flooded him. Ach was looking at him with dark, intense eyes, “W-What are you...”
“We need to leave,” the god of the moon said firmly. Etu blinked. Somehow that wasn’t what he had expected Ach to say.
“Huh?” he asked intelligently.
Only then did he notice the black cat perched on the headboard of Ach’s bed. Her eyes were bottle-green and she had an abnormally long tail that was flickering behind her in agitation – Bake Neko, one of Bast’s pet cats. In her mouth she held a piece of papyrus paper. Ach impatiently pulled it out of the cat’s mouth and showed it to Etu. A few words were scribbled on in a shaky hand.
The Devil is in the Hotel. Get out NOW. QUIETLY.
“W-What?” Etu asked, as the sinking feeling in his stomach returned. Ach slung a bag over his shoulder and pushed Etu towards the window.
“I don’t know, but we need to go,” there was urgency in his voice, “The window will get us to the lobby.”
“No buts!” Ach climbed onto the bed, shoving Etu onto the window-sill. The Lakota wobbled dangerously, looking at the calm ocean waves below him. Personally he had never tried jumping out of his own windows, and wanted to quiz Ach about how he knew it would take them to the lobby, but the god’s urgency shut him up. Ach turned to Bake Neko, “Are you coming with us?” he asked.
In response the cat jumped off his bed and ran from the bedroom, undoubtedly to get back to Bast.
“What about the others?” Etu was freaking out a little bit.
“I assume they got the message too. They can fend for themselves.” Ach snapped, climbing onto the window-sill next to Etu. He had never been a team player – neither of them were, “If you wanna play the hero and run around like you’re evacuating children to the country side then be my guest. But Bast said to go, and I’m going.”
He launched himself off the window-sill. Etu flinched and yelped, but before Ach’s body could touch the waves, he disappeared. Heart hammering, and pushed more by the feeling of not wanting to be left behind than anything else, Etu squeezed his eyes shut and threw himself forward into the very realistic looking ocean.
When he opened his eyes he was standing in the too-bright lobby of the Hotel, facing Ach. Relief was visible in the moon god’s eyes, like he was glad Etu had listened to him.
“Come on,” he said hurriedly and held out his hand to the Lakota, before quickly dropping it as if remembering who they were to each other. Etu didn’t know what to make of the situation, but when Ach headed for the closed front doors he rushed after him. He never thought there’d be a situation in which he’d be happy to follow Ach’s lead, but in that moment he was glad for the other god’s presence.
That was, until Ach pushed the front doors open, and then was promptly thrown back. He slammed into Etu, who stumbled but managed to keep them upright.
“What the fuck?!” the moon god exclaimed, shrugging Etu off roughly. He tried to leave again but it was as if there was some kind of invisible barrier pushing him backwards. Etu’s stomach dropped – it was too late.
“What now, genius?!” he exclaimed, panic burning up his throat with a sudden force, just like it had when he had come to Ach.
“Oh fuck off Etu!” Ach looked furious. He kicked the invisible barrier and it made him stumble backwards, “If you hadn’t passed out maybe we would’ve made it out!”
“Well maybe if you had listened to me when I told you something was wrong-“
“Listened to what?!” Ach took his anger off the doors and turned instead to Etu. His nostrils flared as he tried to hold himself back, “You babbling incoherently as you stumbled about the place like a madman?!”
Etu went red with fury, “Fuck you! At least I knew something was wrong! You’re a god, you should’ve felt it too!”
Ach shoved at Etu’s chest. He was physically stronger, and Etu tripped backwards, realising he had pushed Ach too far: as much as the god acted like he couldn’t feel anything, Etu knew that in this moment Ach was afraid. Thankfully before the moon god could actually beat him up this time, they froze.
They both felt it this time – a tugging at their stomach.
“What the...,” Etu whispered to himself, pressing a hand against his gut. It felt like an invisible string was lightly pulling him forward. Surprised shouts echoed through the Hotel, and then Ach and Etu began being pulled to the left, down a short corridor that led to the Great Hall. Etu braced himself against the feeling, but the pull became stronger and he stumbled on the marble floor.
“What’s going on?!” he panicked, swiping his hand from where he felt the string. But there was nothing there, “We need to stop time!” he told Ach.
“What? No!” the moon god snapped coldly, obediently walking forward. He always hated meddling with time, but unlike him Etu couldn’t think of anything worse than following the string right now – wherever it was taking them, it wasn’t good.
From behind the stairs, the gods who lived in the basement appeared, some of them struggling with the invisible strings, others walking calmly, faces tense. Etu twisted to look at them – Kokopelli, Axomamma, the demons Datsue-ba and Keneo, arguing loudly, monster Akaname...Etu anxiously noted absences: there was no Tikoloshe, the gremlin-like sprite who served the Shaman Nun’Yunu’Wi...and no Bes.
“Ach-,” he turned to his unexpected companion, but they were already being pulled through the arched, grand doorway into the Great Hall, where many other spirits were already gathered, most looking frightened and confused, and Etu lost Ach in the crowd. The Hall was usually used for big celebrations like Samhain, and Etu almost never came here. The arched, cathedral-like ceilings and stained glass windows made him feel claustrophobic for some reason.
His heart hammered as he swivelled around, trying to find Ach. More deities were forced into the Hall, yelling and complaining and pushing up against Etu’s back – Etu saw the children, the faeries, the demons. The only ones that seemed to be missing were humans and the truly powerful gods: Nicnevin, queen of the faeries, and Hecate, the goddess of the witches, and Ra, and Lakshmi, and Bes. The Great Spirit was nowhere to be seen. Even Torto, the Basque Cyclops, was present, towering threateningly over the other deities.
Etu felt sick. Once all the spirits were wedged into the Hall like sardines, the doors slammed closed behind them, the sound echoing. Immediately shouting ensued as people demanded answers: Lauma ran around trying to keep all the child spirits at her side, Wulver – the German werewolf – was roaring, everyone was screaming and shouting. Etu saw Ach’s dark curls in the crowd and tried to reach for him but it was impossible.
“Hey!” Aphrodite was suddenly next to him, jostled by the crowd. Etu was suddenly flooded with relief he never thought he would feel at the sight of the goddess. She griped his arm, her blue eyes flashing with determination, “Stay close.”
“What’s going on?” Etu asked breathlessly. He had never been with all the spirits before, there were so many people...the blonde goddess pointed in front of them and Etu turned to look at where the invisible string seemed to be leading.
Except it wasn’t invisible anymore. On a podium of ice, floating slightly above the rest of the crowd at the head of the Great Hall, was the Devil. He was as they described him in fairytales: hairy and half-man half-beast, with cloven hooves and spiralling horns. In his great hand he gripped dozens upon dozens of black threads that extended out and into people’s stomachs. Gasps of shock sounded from the spirits – Etu had heard from Anansi, back when he actually listened to his stories, that many times Ördög had tried to take over the Hotel. And it seemed he had finally succeeded.
The threads he held looked like a giant spider web, stretching out over the Hotel. Spirits tried to wrestle it free, or slice it in half, but it didn’t work. Outside lightning struck, illuminating Ördög with a flash of cold light as if they were all in one of the cheap B rated horror movies Etu loved to watch alone.
“Silence!” the Devil roared suddenly, clawing his hoof against the podium. The walls of the Hotel shook and the spirits – in shock – shut their mouths. Aphrodite’s fingers dug into Etu’s arm, grounding him.
“Spirits, deities, gods,” Ördög called now that he had everyone’s attention, “I am here to tell you, that you have lost. I am the new ruler of this Hotel, your new King-“
“Where is Wakan Tanka?!” someone yelled.
Little flames erupted in Ördög’s eyes, but he remained calm when he spoke, “He is gone, as is Bes, and as will all of you if you do not listen to me. There is nobody left to protect you. The blissful life you have lead here, away from responsibilities, is over. This place is no longer a Sanctuary, it is the new hell, and I have great plans for it.” His eyes, despite burning, were icily cold as they scanned the room, devoid of any emotion, “Now, I will give you all a choice: join me, destroy the humans of this Hotel and their souls, and reign in brimstone and fire alongside your new master. Or stand your ground with your non-existent Spirit,” his moustache lifted as he smiled, “and live the rest of your existence out in captivity, until you all eventually fade as you are forgotten.”
A grave silence fell over the Hall as everyone tried to comprehend what Ördög had said. Since it had existence, the Hotel had been a safe haven, and now...in the space of what seemed like a few short hours everything the spirits had known for millennia’s had fallen apart.
And then people started moving. Etu, who never had much loyalty to the Hotel or any of the other creatures, hadn’t even thought of the possibility that some people might pick the first option. In his head, he was already seeing the worst case scenario: everyone locked in cages for all eternity, bored to death...but creatures were moving towards the podium that extended icy steps to the ground to allow them to climb up and join the Devil. And Etu couldn’t believe it.
The witches were not a surprise, all of them, the whole coven climbed up and stood behind Ördög like a wall, the Kitsune and the zombie loyally at the Raven Mocker’s side. The silence was broken: shouts of anger, cries of betrayal, yelling and pushing and shoving as more creatures turned against their Sanctuary.
The hooded Janus joined the Devil, his eyes gleaming mischievously beneath the dark hood of his cloak – Etu’s own neighbour went next, though the boy wasn’t surprised to see Anansi in cahoots with the Devil. The stupid farmer and lord of the Underworld Vanapagan joined him, the demons Datsue-ba and Keneo, clearly tired of their never-ending shifts in the laundry room, then Adze the vampiric firefly in his human, lecherous form, and Saci the trickster. Bakwas crawled up the steps, muttering to himself and picking at feathers in his headdress. He was joined by Aobozu, the blue priest who stole children, and many, many more. Popbawa – the usually handsome man – was now in his monstrous form as he screeched and flew towards the podium. Night had fallen and so he, cursed, was now a one-eyed bat creature, repulsive. Torto the Cyclops rushed to stand next to the podium, shoving other deities aside as if they were dolls in his haste – then came a surprise: Shakpana, the child deity of smallpox and illness, eagerly rushed forward.
“No!” Ababinili, his best friend and partner in crime, yelled out, trying to grab him. But Shakie slipped past his grip and, not even looking back, climbed up the stairs. Abab gaped after him, tears filling his child-eyes. Lauma grabbed him and jerked him behind her where the other kids were cowering, some crying quietly. The thing about child spirits was that they never really grew up.
Ördög stretched out his hand and his palm blazed red, and the threads connecting his new allies to him were severed.
“You have your freedom,” he bellowed.
“Enough of this foolishness!” the defiant voice came from Nanook. The woman stepped forward into the empty space beneath the podium, from which the other spirits had fearfully backed away. She was not a strong spirit, in fact, she was barely a spirit at all – she was the Inuit master of bears, immortalised in legends. She stood firmly before Ördög, a middle-aged woman with dark, serious eyes, a cross-bow strapped to her back. “You will stop this at once,” she commanded, never once wavering in the face of the Devil himself.
The huge bear Shapeshifter Ungnyeo waddled through the crowd and stood at Nan’s side, a low growl coming from her chest.
“A hunter and a bear,” Ördög said, bemused, “That is all the resistance the Hotel has to offer.”
“Where is Bes?” Nanook demanded, pulling her crossbow free and aiming at Ördög, who didn’t even flinch, “Where is the Great Spirit?”
“I told you,” Ördög growled, “they are gone.”
They knew they weren’t going to get any answers. Nanook shot the crossbow at the same time that Yeo charged forward with a deafening roar that shook the stained glass in the gothic windows of the Hall. But they never so much as reached the podium – Ördög calmly raised his hand and Nan’s bolt melted mid-air. The witches chanted a spell under their breaths in unison and just as Yeo was going to smash into the ice steps of the podium, she suddenly let out a pained roar and fell to the ground. The bear’s body contorted – deities gasped in horror as the bear shifted...into a Korean woman, with a disoriented gaze, clothed only in the bear skin completely covering her like a blanket.
“Yeo!” Nan forgot her attack and rushed to her companion’s side.
“Cyclops!” Ördög commanded, “Seize them!”
With a garbled yell, the huge humanoid rushed to the women as Nan was helping Yeo up from the floor – his fists closed around them, ripping the two women away from each other. They struggled in his grip, beating at his huge hands.
“Stop this madness!” Bast yelled, her cats missing. Several deities were trying to get the Hall’s doors open, but they wouldn’t budge.
“Can’t you see, it’s over!” Ördög turned to Torto, who was grinning as he stared at his new prisoners, his mouth open in almost child-like glee, “Take those two pathetic excuses for spirits down to the dungeons – do as you please, torture them for all eternity if you want,” he turned back to the others, “That is going to be the fate of all of you if you do not submit!”
Torto wadded through the crowd, who parted before him in terror, stumbling back against the walls and pressing together. Etu felt like he was suffocating, but he knew that it was all in his head. Aphrodite’s grip on him reminded him to breathe.
The doors to the Hall opened before Torto and the Cyclops exited with no problem, still carrying Nanook and Ungnyeo, gripping them so tightly if they had been human, he would have crushed their spines. However the moment the other deities tried to rush after him, the doors slammed shut again violently, the rush of air forcing several spirits down to the floor. Their companions helped them back up.
“You have no chance against me,” Ördög informed the crowd, who turned from the door to glare at him, “Your strongest players have been eliminated, nobody is coming to save you, and if you think spirits from the other Sanctuaries will be your heroes, think again. Those selfish gods think only of themselves. You are left alone, and I shall cast eternal night on this Hotel until you bend to my will or perish,” he gestured proudly at Popobawa, circling overhead with his leathery bat wings, “Night is for monsters to be monsters, to embrace your true selves. Why live in peace with humans when you can feed off their fear? Have we not done so for centuries? Have we not embraced human sacrifice to us for thousands of years?” Ördög smiled, “This night shall last forever.”
“This night...,” Aphrodite whispered under her breath. Etu ripped his eyes away from Ördög to look at her. He was trembling – he knew he had cowardly tendencies, but right now he was more terrified than he expected. He wanted nothing more than to run from this place, to abandon everything and everybody..., “If this night lasts forever Ra can never come back from the underworld...but in order to do that, Ördög would have to control time. He’d have to...,” Aphrodite’s bright blue eyes turned on Etu, and he felt as if suddenly she could see right through him, “He’d have to have someone who controls time on his side.”
The moment she whispered that, it was as if everyone heard. Ördög’s words and their implication registered, and suddenly Etu found dozens of pairs of eyes staring at him in horror.
He spotted Ach in the crowd and he felt sick. Several people looked at the moon god too but they knew if one of them would join the Devil, it was Etu.
The personification of time could smell their resentment. His knees shook. He wanted to disappear.
Ördög laughed, deep and guttural, “I’m surprised you all realised my means to an end. I am powerful, yes, but without my allies I could not do this, and now I need one more ally to help complete my plan.”
Rangda stepped to his side, and he handed the witch the bunch of threads he had been holding. All except two. He yanked them, and Etu suddenly found himself flying forward – Aphrodite tried to futilely grab him. The crowd stumbled aside, and Etu found himself right before the podium, next to Ach. Everyone else stepped away from them.
Etu looked at Ach with wild panic, but the god’s deep blue eyes looked surprisingly grounded. If he was scared, he wasn’t showing it.
“Achuguayo, the god of the moon and the regulator of time,” Ördög’s voice sounded almost like a purr, which was most unnerving, “And Etu, the personification of time itself,” he smiled, “Which one of you will join me, and gain the glory and power you have been deprived of for many years?”
“No,” Ach said, strong and calm and collected as always. It subconsciously really pissed Etu off – here he was almost pissing himself and Ach looked like he was having a casual conversation with an old mate. Asshole.
“Isn’t that disappointing,” Ördög said though he didn’t seem surprised, “See, I really hoped I wouldn’t have to resort to threats,” Etu wanted to point out this whole thing was one, giant, messy threat but he was sure if he spoke, his voice would come out sounding like a little girl’s, “You creatures ask where Bes is, where Wakan is. Well, let me tell you. I have locked them away for years, in places where they can never escape from. And I will do the same to all of you,” his gaze swiped over Ach and Etu, “and you two...I will lock you in eternal isolation forever, separate from any interaction with anyone. For ever. Your only visitors will be demons who come to torture you.”
Etu was trembling – he wanted all of this to be one of Inguma’s nightmares.
The Devil descended the steps and the whole room held its breath: Etu was horrified when the man turned and headed towards him, and by some miracle the boy didn’t turn around and run, though it was probably his fear that was making him freeze. Ördög smiled and leaned down to Etu’s eye-level. He smelled like a burning house full of burning people, “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” he mused, “and it seems to me that you, Etu, are the weakest link.” He straightened up, “These spirits hate you, I can feel their hate, you can feel their hate. Join me, and exact your revenge on this prejudice they hold against you.”
Etu stared at him, at the thread connecting them. Then he managed to choke out two words, “Fuck...off.”
The crowd behind him gasped, probably as shocked by Etu’s defiance as he himself was – he felt woozy, like he was going to pass out any second now. Ördög’s smiled died away and his eyes filled with fire and hatred, and Etu was sure that somehow this creature had the power to destroy his immortal being. Steam poured from Ördög’s nose and he opened his mouth –
“I’ll do it,” Achuguayo stepped forward calmly, eyes unmoving.
Etu’s head snapped to him just as the crowd let out a collective, sharp yell of shock, “What?!” he demanded, breaking out of his terror for a moment to look at Ach in disbelief, “You can’t!”
“Well, this is a surprise,” Ördög remarked with a laugh, pleased.
“I have nothing to lose,” Ach said emotionless, “I have not felt a thing for centuries. Perhaps it is time for change.”
“Ach what the actual fuck?!” Etu hissed, but the man didn’t so much as look at him. Etu was shocked by the hot, sour feeling of betrayal spreading through his chest. Ach was supposed to be the good one, and Etu was supposed to be the mess, and why was this happening?!
“Ach, please!” Máni shoved her way through the crowd, looking awfully delicate with her caramel hair and her pretty blue dress. She looked at Ach pleadingly, “You can’t be serious, you can’t do this!”
Ach kept his back to her, “If you can’t beat ‘em...join ‘em. He is right – we’ve lost,” he said with a shrug of nonchalance that sent an uproar through the room – suddenly everyone was furious, everyone felt betrayed. Etu could just stand there in silent, incomprehensible shock as Ach climbed up the icy steps and onto the podium.
He was handsome, and good, and he looked so out of place among all the monsters.
Máni started sobbing - her knees gave out and she almost collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed by the weight of Ach’s betrayal. Thankfully Ilmatar the air faerie flew forward and caught her in her partially invisible arms, dragging her back into the crowd before Ördög could focus his wrath on her.
But the Devil seemed appeased. He returned to the podium and stood next to Ach.
“You have your freedom,” he said, the black thread connecting him and Ach dissolving. He still held Etu’s, and the boy felt like his stomach was full of acid, “For as long as you keep the moon in the sky, and the sun away, you will have all you desire.”
Etu still hoped Ach would change his mind – the moon god hated messing with time, even Etu setting off a few minutes wrong here and there infuriated him and started one of their explosive fights. But this time the man stood there stoically.
“It will be done,” he said.
Sure enough, the ticking in the back of Etu’s head changed pace. He could picture all the clocks in the world – stuck at 11:21pm, the second hand getting to a second before 11:22, and then starting to go backwards. It made Etu nauseous, but Ach didn’t react to such an obvious crime on nature.
“No,” Etu whispered weakly, gripping his stomach where the thread was connected.
“NO!” a voice much louder than his screamed as Nut ran out beside him. The goddess was distraught, her curls rising above her, the constellations on her skin moving with agitation. There were tears in her eyes, “No, this cannot happen!” she looked at Ach, “You cannot let this happen! You must let Ra return!” her voice was raw with emotion, raw with heartbreak. But it did not move Ach, things rarely moved Ach, “Achuguayo please!” the woman screamed, a sob choking her throat, “This is unnatural, this is wrong, I beg you-“
“Silence!” Ördög exploded, “Your lover is not coming back! Nobody is coming back!”
Nut – a powerful goddess – fell to the floor in her distress, sobbing.
Ördög looked at her in disgust, “Pathetic,” he grumbled. Then he straightened up, “But – I am not without mercy!” he proclaimed, “I will give you time. 264 hours. The equivalent of 10 days, if days were still happening,” he chuckled, “My witches have made it so nobody on a thread can leave the Hotel, and nobody can come back in. You have 264 hours to think about your decisions, and think carefully – you join me, or you suffer for all eternity.”
Brighid stepped in front of Nut on the floor, dressed in full armour. She was one of the last protectors left, her sword drawn, “You are a fool if you think we will not fight!”
“Oh, I do not want to fight,” Ördög gestured at Cailleach. The witch stepped forward, bones creaking as her breath turned to icy mist in front of her face, “I want to conquer – and I have.”
Cailleach was an Irish witch, and Brighid was an Irish goddess. They had known each other for thousands of years and now stared at each other, the familiar air between them crackling with tension. Brighid’s deep green eyes were unwavering, but Cailleach’s were like two pebbles made of ice, sinking beneath her snowy-white wrinkled skin.
“Don’t do this, Dark Mother,” Brie said calmly, “You’ve done enough harm.
The old woman smiled, ice particles in her hair and eyebrows, “Oh, Brighid,” she croaked. Looped in her arm was a basket full of stones, “It is not spring, and you cannot turn me to stone. Winter is close now – I am the stronger one. Do not presume to threaten me, child.”
She reached into her basket. Brighid’s eyes widened – she dropped her sword and yanked Etu by the arm.
“Get back!” she yelled to everyone, grabbing Nut with her free arm. With incredible strength she hauled both the deities back as the crowd rushed towards the door.
Cailleach threw her stone. It bounced on the floor, landing in the middle of the room. For a moment all was still, then all hell broke loose. A great moan came from the earth and the Hotel shook; wallpaper and plaster rained from the ceiling as suddenly the ground parted and a huge cliff erupted from the ground. The doors to the Great Hall opened and the deities all fell backwards as everything around them shifted. Dust rained from all directions – Etu was blinded, there was screaming. In the chaos Brighid had let go of him and he was now alone, half blind, stumbling with the rush of the bodies to get away from the cliff that kept growing up.
He made it into the corridor that connected the Hall and the lobby but there he stumbled and fell – footsteps sounded, sprinting away from the Hall as fast as they could – shouting and screaming and panic. Etu was disorientated, his head rang. He curled up in a ball on the floor, fighting a sob. He just wanted to go home, he wanted to go back to a time where his lands hadn’t been colonised, when he lived with the animals in the forest, when everything was peaceful...
“Get up,” Aphrodite was tugging on his arm. Around them things were mostly silent. Etu blinked in surprise as if waking from a sudden dream. He looked up to see the goddess squatting next to him with a stern expression. Even covered in dust she was still beautiful.
Etu’s head spun. He tried to figure out how much time had passed, how long he had laid on the floor for. But the time was still 11:22.
GUATAUVA, god of lightning.
The storm raged overhead, angry purple clouds rolling over each other, obscuring the stars and the moon as they spat lightning at one another, colouring the world beneath in a harsh, white light, their screams of wraths rumbling like a rock-slide.
The two gods causing the storm weren’t much better.
At the northernmost point of the lake, surrounded by dark, eerily silent trees, Guatauva stood facing Guabancex. The same lightning that flashed in the sky, flashed in his eyes also.
“I love you!” he yelled; he didn’t get angry much, but arguing with Guabancex for what felt like hours, trying to persuade her she wasn’t a villain, was exhausting, “Why can’t you understand that?!”
“I do!” Bance exclaimed in frustration, turning on the spot as if stopping herself from running away. Lightning struck somewhere behind her, catching a piece of grass on fire but the goddess didn’t even flinch. She was distraught, eyes red from crying all day and thinking about the disaster she cause in the human world, “And I love you too, so much, but this-“ she took a deep, borderline-sobbing breath, “But this is wrong.”
“Me and you are wrong?!” Tav yelled, pain curling through his chest. He wanted to cry. He had spent so many years pining after his mistress like a kicked puppy, and when he finally got her, he was being told that they were wrong for each other. To him it was the most right thing in the world.
“Tav, stop twisting my words!” Bance ran her hands through her tangled hair. She tried to calm down but the storm just got more and more intense overhead as both of their emotions ran wild, “Even now I’m terrified that this fight will cause something bad to happen in the human world! Do you know how scary that is? Do you know how overwhelming it is to know that the moment your emotions run lose, you might kill a lot of people?”
“I do know,” Tav snapped, “I hold you when you have nightmares, I wake up with your screams. I’m here for you, Bance, I’ll always be here for you, so stop acting like you can fix this mess by yourself!”
“I can’t fix it,” Bance said helplessly, “But with you involved it just becomes a bigger mess.”
“So what now? You just want me to stay away from you? Do you really think I can do that?!”
“You will when I leave,” Bance retorted. Tav froze. Thunder crashed all around them.
“You’re not serious,” Tav whispered; the sound was awfully quiet after all the shouting. He felt himself deflate – he had hoped this was another lover’s quarrel, that they would make up and fall asleep in each other’s arms. The Hotel was supposed to be their last ‘resting place,’ where they stayed forever, together, “Y-You want to leave the Hotel?”
“I don’t know,” Bance looked at the sky as if looking for answers, “I just know I need to learn to control all this, I can’t live like this-“
The ground shook suddenly, and both the gods stumbled. The trees let out a unanimous, haunting moan, and Tav and Bance barely kept their balance. They exchanged wild, scared looks.
“That wasn’t us,” Tav muttered as the storm settled a little, the clouds remaining angry. Both of the gods felt a sinking feeling in their stomachs.
“No,” Bance whispered, horrified, “N-No. What if I did something, what if I caused harm to the humans-“
“It wasn’t you,” Tav turned to look at the Hotel at the far end of the lake. It was tiny from where he stood, but something looked off. A cloud of dust rose above it, “We need to get back to the Hotel.”
The angry storm wind carried them, so instead of taking a couple hours to make it back like it took Bance that morning, they found themselves by the back gate of the Hotel within half an hour.
What greeted them was the sight of their home, split in half. A huge rock erupted from the centre like some kind of monument, and around either side of it the jagged edges of the floors and walls hung limply. Dust was still settling from whatever caused it, but all was silent.
“What happened?” Bance asked, horrified. “It couldn’t have been us, right?”
“No,” Tav said, his eyes dancing over the dark windows. The feeling of dread was now instilled inside him, “Something’s happened...”
Bance tried to walk through the gate, but jumped back with a hiss of pain. The space beneath the gate crackled with electricity. Tav pulled the goddess to him.
“Are you okay?” he asked with concern.
“Yeah,” Bance shook him off and looked at her hands. The skin there looked burned but was healing quickly, “There’s a spell on it. Whoever put it on doesn’t want us inside.”
“But who could it have been?” Tav asked with worry, “You don’t think it was Wakan, right?”
“No. I’m thinking witches. It stinks of black magic,” Bance said darkly, rubbing her hands. Thunder muttered angrily in the sky, reflecting her mood.
Then a wind picked up. Bance and Tav looked at each other but they didn’t have to say anything – neither of them was creating the wind, their storm was dying down. This was someone else’s wind – cold, tasting of metal, smelling like distress.
It swept towards the forest, picking up fallen autumn leaves and then curling back towards the gods. Tav blinked – the leaves had formed a sort of human form...
“Ilmatar?” Bance whispered as the wind brushed over their clothes and hair. It felt distinctively female, and Tav felt fingers brush his face.
The wind rustled, forming a weak, faint whisper that undoubtedly belonged to the spirit of the air.
“Invaded...,” it whispered into Tav’s and Bance’s ears, and it sounded so much like leaves rustling that they had to strain to make out the words. Clearly Illie was trying very hard to convey this message, “Ördög...Wakan is in the Hell...go...”
Just as suddenly as the wind had appeared, it faded, the leaves drifting limply to the ground.
“Did you hear that?” Tav asked Bance, eyes wide. She nodded, and Tav could see something forming in her eyes already.
“I knew he’d come back eventually. We need to get in,” she went to try the gate again but Tav jerked her back by the arm.
“No,” he said firmly, “You heard Illie – if Ördög somehow managed to get Wakan to Hell we need to save him. This Hotel can’t stand without him.”
Bance brushed him off, “There is no way that old goat managed to move the Great Spirit,” she scoffed, “Maybe we misheard. Regardless we...,” she stopped talking when she saw Tav’s expression. He could feel the absence of the Great Spirit, a little missing link, and he knew Bance felt it too.
The goddess exhaled and looked at the gate for a little while, “Fine,” she said eventually, pained, “Let’s go to Hell.”
As every chapter, here is a reminder of the new hoes in the story:
Aobozu - Japanese yokai who looks like a blue priest and kidnaps children
Haltija 'Hattie' - Finnish gnome that looks like an elf: Haltijas are protectors, and this particular Haltija is tied to the Hotel as one of its protectors
Nanook 'Nan' - Inuit master of bears, a woman in this story
Ungnyeo 'Yeo' - Korean bear shapeshifter mentioned briefly in Chapter 2
Wakan Tanka - The 'Great Spirit' and supreme being of many Native American tribes.
Chapter 5: The Guardian
As always, thanks for the reads! Drop a kudo or comment if you're feeling extra nice. Stay safe xx
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
BRIGHID, goddess of the hearth.
The dining room was packed with anxious spirits, their eyes glued to the window where the unrelenting darkness prevailed. Ördög and his allies had retreated to the eastern part of the splintered Hotel, while the majority of the others had gathered in the dining room on the western side of the hotel under the guidance of Brighid and Bast; fearful and uncertain, they were happy to follow the instructions of the two women.
Brighid stood by the window now with her back to the room, hiding her own anxiety from the people she had subconsciously taken under her care, younger, more vulnerable spirits. Bast, Brie’s grounding force in this mess, was sat in the armchair usually occupied by the fiery-haired Celtic goddess, knitting by the fire with an air of calm around her, all her cats lounging around, filling the dust-covered, scared deities with at least some resemblance of peace as Brighid fought the urge to pace. She noticed absences of quite a few spirits, ones who undoubtedly had filtered back into their rooms if they could to make their decisions, the ones on the fence about the whole situation. The goddess didn’t fool herself – she knew that some of the spirits had probably snuck away to join the Devil, too afraid to stand against him. The important thing was, there were still a lot of them here, in the dining room.
“What is the time, Etu?” Brighid asked tensely.
“Still 11:22,” Etu replied quietly. The time deity was sat on the long bench by the Viking table, a bucket between his legs. Aphrodite was by his side, rubbing his back in comfort. The boy’s light brown skin had ashened as he had spent the last few hours throwing up violently, the shift in time making him sick. His nausea seemed to have lessened now as the ‘hours’ dragged on, though he still looked sickly and was trembling, “The same minute has gone by 355 times,” he reported faintly, “That should be six hours...”
Brighid tensely looked at the moon – there had been a storm earlier but the sky had cleared now and the moon hung in the sky, silver and swollen, a bitter reminder of Achuguayo’s betrayal. Brie had to face the music, she couldn’t put it off any longer.
“Dawn is not coming,” she said conclusively.
It was as if the other spirits hadn’t truly believed Ördög until now and had been waiting to hear the finality of it from her mouth and they all exhaled collectively. Caoineadh, the resident banshee, started wailing dramatically about the end of the world and the end of all spirits, Ilmatar’s anxiety spiked and a strong gust of wind rushed through the room as she flew over everyone’s heads. As the questions and shouting began, the resident Selkie threw back a shot of strong Russian vodka with Jarylo, the Slavic personification of spring, and Jack o’ Kent the immortal monk.
“What do we do now?!” Olokun asked in a panic, dressed as always in lavish silks and bright colours. The Orisha god of the ocean and ruler of water was stood by the door, hugging himself and looking petrified. His partner in crime Sedna wasn’t in the Hotel, gone on her weekly fishing trip and he knew very well that with the new spell on the Hotel, she was not going to be able to get in. Clearly that was proving too much for him.
“We don’t panic,” Brighid said calmly, “Someone needs to get Nut from her room, she’s in pieces, and she needs to understand that Ra is not coming back for now.”
“But what do we do without him?!” Alara demanded. She was the Turkic water fairy, a young girl with a short-temper and a mass of black curls on her head. In her hands she cradled her timid best friend and roommate, Yosei, a Japanese fairy who was only about twenty centimetres tall and was having a mental breakdown in Alara’s dark hands. They both served Nicnevin, but their mistress had been suspiciously quiet since the whole invasion had begun. Despite this, the two of them as well as Ilmatar and Lauma, all of the faeries in the Hotel, had firmly sat in the dining room for the past six hours, covered in dust and determined to stand against the Devil with or without the support of their mistress. At least Alara was, because currently Yosei was inconsolable, her purple iridescent wings trembling at her tiny back, Ilmatar was going so wild she had turned almost invisible and was rushing through the room in wind-form, and Lauma was busy standing guard over the children.
Brighid, a little naively, hoped the presence of the faeries would persuade Nicnevin to join forces with them – she would be a powerful ally to have, but one that ultimately could not be trusted.
“We stand our ground,” Bast said calmly, not looking away from her knitting. Everyone’s eyes turned to her, she had the power to draw people in. Flames from the fireplace reflected in the thick glasses perched on the end of her hooked nose, “I am Ra’s protector, I can feel his life force. He is fighting in the underworld, and he will not stop fighting to get back to us, to get back to Nut. But without the sun he cannot leave the Underworld, and we cannot wait on him to save us. We must resist Ördög for as long as it takes.”
“All we need is to raise the sun again, right?” Selkie, a Scottish seal Shapeshifter with fiery ginger hair and an even fierier personality, stood up with passion, holding up her empty shot glass towards a certain silver-haired boy, “We have Etu, he can do it!”
“No he can’t,” Máni replied sharply before Etu could even say anything. She was curled up by Bast’s feet, the goddess’ cat Matagot in her lap. Her pretty blue dress was torn and dirty, and her silver eyes full of pain. Ach’s betrayal had touched her deeply and she wore her pain on her shoulder for everyone to see, “Achuguayo is his regulator, he is more powerful.”
“I’m going to need you to shut up,” Etu said in a hoarse, strained, irritated voice, before bending over and puking into the bucket for the first time in over an hour.
“This is all your fault!” Máni leapt to her feet, throwing an irritated Matagot onto the floor – the cat hissed at her and dashed under Bast’s armchair. Máni was not an intimidating deity, often timid and proper, but now anger filled her silver eyes and her hair rose around her as if forsaking gravity, “If you had just used your brain and stepped up Ach would have beat you by now and we could have had Ra back, and this nightmare would be over!” the last part was a scream.
“Hey,” Aphrodite said sharply, “Quit the bullshit, Máni. Ach made his choice.”
“Don’t get involved,” Máni’s pale nostrils flared, “You know how important Ach is to me, he sacrificed himself for this-“
“No, he didn’t,” Etu almost moaned in pain, “He’s a fucking asshole, stop putting him on a pedestal like he cares about any of you.”
“Well he certainly doesn’t care about you!” the Moon’s words dripped in poison, “You’re the reason this is happening! He probably left because he was tired of babysitting you and fixing all your horrible mistakes!”
The tension that had built up over the last few hours exploded. As Etu had his head in the bucket other spirits joined the argument. Surprisingly some took Etu’s side.
“The boy has shown his loyalty!” Wulver rumbled; the 6’7 man was made of pure muscle and despite his age showing in his white hair and beard, the German werewolf was at the height of his strength, “He has proven himself more than that traitorous moon god!” he spat in his thick German accent.
“We can’t trust him!” Selkie protested, a little tipsy.
Máni continued, “Etu has never shown us any love, so let’s not hail him a hero!”
“He’s no hero,” Wulver agreed reluctantly. Whatever Etu replied was swallowed by the bucket.
“Anger isn’t going to solve anything right now,” Aphrodite argued, “Now more than ever we must stand united!”
More voices joined the fight. Brighid rubbed the bridge of her nose, exhausted, and tried to do a mental count. Ördög had a lot of allies, and Brighid hoped to turn the remaining band of unruly spirits into something akin to a team so they could prove at least some kind of opposition against the Devil, at least for the ten days they were given. She had gotten reports that Guabancex and Guatauva had left to the lake and so were now inadvertently locked out of the Hotel; if Ördög was telling the truth then Bes and Wakan Tanka were gone too – though Brie had no idea where he had taken them. Furthermore nobody had seen Talos and Haltija in hours and as the Hotel’s protectors Brie would have expected them to be right in here with her and Bast; she presumed the worst. They had already lost Nan and Yeo but many spirits were unaccounted for: the Lavandieres were nowhere to be seen, and neither were any of the demons. Tia – or Ta’xet, depending if they had shifted – were also not present, neither were the likes of Sirena, Kardai or the Deer Woman though Brie expected little support from them. What did concern her was that nobody had seen Lakshmi in a while – the goddess would never hand over the Hotel to Ördög...unless she was working with him...Brie didn’t entertain that thought.
As the fighting among the spirits escalated and Brie stared intensely out into the night, Hildegard walked up to her with his usual dreamy expression. He seemed completely unaffected by the whole ordeal and the white ash died away in his pale hair. The shapeshifter tugged on her Brie’s in a child-like manner to get her attention, and blinked his white eyelashes at her once he had it, “He’s not here.”
“Who isn’t here, dear?” Brighid asked kindly. Hild looked at her, puzzled.
“The boy who brings all the letters.”
“Yes, leannán, none of the humans are here,” she said, then a cold feeling filled her chest. She turned to the room in shock, “none of the humans are here,” she whispered in horror, only truly registering that fact in that moment. Hild, seemingly satisfied that he had brought her attention to this crucial detail, tottered off.
“We must get the humans,” Brighid called loudly, interrupting the bitter exchange between Etu and Máni. Eyes turned to her as the room fell silent, then everyone looked around, for the first time realising they were missing the mortals.
“I have the children,” Lauma was at a couch in the corner of the room, where the spirits Amefurikozo, Ababinili, Shojo and the baby Abura-akago were curled up under a blanket. Thankfully the two human children of the Hotel, fittingly named The Boy and The Girl, were also present, asleep. “Most of them, anyway,” pain laced Lauma’s voice. Shakpana’s absence was visible, his best friend Abab was the only one of the children not asleep, staring right ahead with eyes red from crying.
“Where are the other humans?!” Brighid demanded, and when nobody answered she asked, “Where’s Santa Muerte? She’ll know.” Muerte, as the personification of death, had a close connection to humanity and cared for the humans at the Hotel deeply. But she was nowhere to be seen in the sullen faces looking back at Brie.
“She could be in her room,” Agloolik, the Protector of Seals, piped up, “It’s on our side of the Hotel, I could go check.”
But before he could be deployed to go get her, two things happened at once: the Morrigan gasped, jerking up from the armchair she had been occupying in the corner of the room. Her eyes were wide open and with no explanation she shifted into her crow form, flying for the exit so hurriedly that she whacked into the closed door. At the same time Caoi, the middle aged Banshee who liked atrocious pink sweaters and being dramatic, grabbed her short grey bob and screamed such a horrible scream that all the vases full of flowers, as well as the windows, shattered, spitting glass shards at the shocked spirits and spilling water down tables.
Spirits yelped and covered their ears against the shrill, penetrating scream, but the Morrigan beat frantically against the door until Ilmarinen clumsily ran towards it and let her out.
“What is it?!” Brighid asked, “What’s happening?!” she ran to Caoi and grabbed her hands. The woman stopped screaming but her normally cheerful brown eyes had turned completely black.
“Death,” she wailed, falling to the floor with a sob. In the aftermath of her scream, people looked around, disorientated. Brighid held Caoi half suspended over the wooden floors.
“It’s alright, my dear,” she said soothingly, jerking her into a standing position. Caoi leaned heavily on her, weeping quietly, “You’re just exhausted. Sel; make her a cup of tea.”
The teenager threw her arms up in annoyance but headed for the kitchenette at the back of the dining room, the alcohol she had drank showing in her zig-zag pattern of walking. Agloo followed timidly behind her.
“I’m fine,” she barked at him, “I’m not one of your seals.”
Ilmarinen stuck his head through the door, “Morri felt something too,” he said, worried, peering out into the deserted hallway.
“We’re all exhausted,” Bast said calmly, finally looking up from her knitting. In her hands was a soft woollen blanket, in a horrendously pink colour. She stood and Brie led the shaking, weeping Caoi to the armchair, where the woman sank. Bast covered her with the blanket. When she turned the room was solemn, the fighting long forgotten, “It is important now, more than ever, for us to stand together,” she croaked, “No more arguing, no more fighting,” she looked from Máni to Etu and Aphrodite, “Achuguayo made his decision, now we must make ours.”
“I won’t fight against him, I refuse!” Máni proclaimed passionately, turning to the door.
“Máni-,” Aphrodite started, clearly feeling a little bad about their fight.
“No,” the Norwegian girl replied firmly, “I’m no use to you anyway. The moon has slipped my control, it belongs to Ach now,” she turned her face to hide her tears, “It’s best I go,” she whispered, choked up, and left the room – nobody stopped her. Bast looked at the others.
“It will not be held against you if you decide you do not want to partake in this fight,” she said, “But leave now so the rest of us can come up with a plan.”
Before a decision could be made a frazzled crow flew into the room, bumping against the awkwardly tall Ilmarinen and landing on the carpet before the fire-place. When it shifted back into Morri, the girl was white as a sheet of paper.
“I found the humans,” she whispered faintly, and then headed back for the door like a zombie. Before Bast or Brie could say anything, the other spirits threw themselves to go after her, Ilmarinen at the head, pestering Morri to see if she was okay, though the girl seemed too shocked to reply. Selkie came out of the kitchen, hurriedly handed Caoi her tea and followed after them – only Bast, the banshee and Lauma looking over the groggy children awakened by the screaming remained in the dining room.
The corridor to the left of the dining room door that normally held the rooms 19 to 25 was covered with rocks and debris, and just a short walk took the agitated spirits to the split which had ruptured the Hotel. Here the cliff had gone somewhat sideways, curving outwards and allowing for a good view of the floors below.
And a view did they see. In the corridor of the second floor and spilling out onto the cliff were the mutilated bodies of the majority of the humans of the Hotel. They were barely recognisable, their bones snapped, their heads smashed in. Only some objects helped identify who was who: The Princess through her blood-splattered sari, the Crusader by his ripped apart armour decorated in his own guts, the King of the Vikings by the bits of flesh in his grey beard, the Soldier by his messenger bang still slung across his chest. It was a true, horrendous blood-bath illuminated by the harsh light of the moon.
And standing at the edge of the third floor, looking proudly at the carnage below him, was Ta’xet. The god of violent death had overpowered his duality, Tia, and taken over their shared body. Her kind eyes and soft curves were gone, replaced by his sharp features and icy-cold dark eyes.
Screams of shock and horror echoed from the deities as they took in the massacre. Ta’xet, pleased that they had seen his work, smiled and headed off down the dark corridor, disappearing into the eastern side of the Hotel.
“Everyone, back to the dining room,” Brighid instructed sternly, the stench of blood and death drenching into her nose. Nobody had to be told twice, nobody wanted to look at the horrifying crime any longer; even the spirits who didn’t care for the humans were overwhelmed.
When they all gathered back in the dining room, it was eerily silent, the weight of the situation crushing everyone. Brighid went up to Lauma who was gnawing at her finger-nails. She rushed away from the children and asked in a hushed voice, “What happened?”
“You need to keep the children safe,” Brighid told her quietly, squeezing her arm, “The evil forces had killed the humans,” Lauma’s dark eyes widened, and Brie squeezed her harder, “Listen to me,” she hissed insistently, “Take them up to the attic, to Wakan’s room. It’s on our side of the Hotel, it’s the place where you’ll be safest.”
Lauma looked at her for a moment, comprehending the instructions. Then she whispered, “What about Nicnevin? Maybe she’d take us...”
Brie dug her fingers into her arm a little harder, “Don’t be a fool,” she murmured, “Nicnevin is too unpredictable.” Lauma was loyal to her Queen, but she was more loyal to the children – she was their sworn protector, “Will you manage?”
“Of course,” Lauma replied, slipping from Brie’s grip and rousing the children from the couch. She ushered them out of the dining room. Abab broke away from her, however, and ran towards Brighid.
“I’m staying,” he proclaimed.
“Abab,” Lauma hissed, half the kids already out the door, “It’s not safe. Come on.”
Amefurikozo started crying quietly – outside it began to rain. He pulled out his little umbrella and stood beneath it as a storm cloud formed over his head, sadly spitting water at him.
“No,” Abab said firmly, “I’m staying.”
“Let him,” Bast croaked.
Lauma looked conflicted but Brighid nodded at her in understanding. The faerie sighed and slipped out of the dining room with the children. Ilmarinen closed the door behind them and Brie turned to address the remaining spirits.
She took a deep breath, “I know that after what we just saw many of you think we don’t stand a chance-“
“No shit,” Selkie interjected sarcastically.
Brie ignored her, “But we owe it to our protectors to fight this invasion. I refuse to back down, and I know Bast will stand with me, but we will not hold it against you if you withdraw from this situation, or even if you decide to join Ördög to protect yourselves. I ask only that you leave now, so we can work to reverse this tragedy as soon as possible.”
She waited tensely, and sure enough spirits began drifting towards the door – Mrenh, muttering something about having to care for his animals, Comus the god of parties, Kokopelli and Axomamma, Chantico the Aztec goddess of fire, even Hildegard...Caoi stood from the armchair, trembling.
“Forgive me,” she whispered, not looking at either Brighid or Bast, “I am not strong enough,” she cradled the blanket around her plump shoulders as she went to the door.
Olokun also stood, looking ashamed, “I can’t do this without Sedna. I need to be alone and think,” he muttered. He was the last one out, shutting the door behind him.
Brighid’s heart felt heavy. Apart from her only thirteen people and a bunch of cats remained in the room, including a child spirit, an air faerie that was barely solid and another faerie that could be crushed in someone’s hand . It was certainly no glorious Celtic army she would rally into battle. No, they’d have to be smart about this, because Ördög had the numbers.
“Etu,” Brighid addressed the boy, who had put the puke-bucket away but still looked fairly pale, “I’m surprised you stayed.”
“Yeah well,” he grumbled, “I’d never play for Ach’s team, though I don’t see what we can do to fight that horned dick.”
Aphrodite smiled next to him.
“It’s simple,” Bast resumed her place in the armchair and went back to knitting now that Caoi had deserted, “We get everyone back, including Ra.”
“But how?” Etu asked impatiently, “I’m really not just being a spoiled brat when I say I can’t physically bring the sun up if Ach doesn’t let me.”
“Well then we’re going to have to find a way for Ach to let you.”
LAUMA, guardian faerie.
The Hotel unnerved her, the presence of the forces of evil made her skin crawl and her senses sharpen. The children were afraid, clinging to her long skirt. Amefurikozo was crying softly, abnormally fat tears spilling down his fat cheeks and mirroring the sad rain that pattered against the top of his umbrella and the dark windows looking out onto the forest. Lauma had the baby, Abura-akago, resting on her hip and her free hand gripped the hand of Shojo, a Japanese sprite that manifested as a boy no older than five and had a tendency to wander off. The Boy, a nine year old mortal who almost passed from smallpox in 1898 in China, and the Girl, a six year old Polish girl from 1754 whose barn was used to summon a demon, walked in front of Lauma, each holding a hand of Odinani, a three year old Ogbanje, an African demon child who was reborn onto earth every few years only to bring anguish to its mother and return to the Hotel for some more years. They were a vulnerable mix, with only one faerie to guard them.
“Come on, children,” the straw-haired woman muttered urgently. Even though they were on ‘their’ side of the Hotel, she didn’t want to spend any time out in the hallways – a room was easier to defend. The absence of Shakpana and Ababinili was painful to Lauma, but she could not dwell on that, she had others to protect.
They climbed up to the seventh floor by the backstairs the invisible servant spirits used at a sluggish pace. Everything was silent. The hole at the end of the hallway where the cliff had splintered the Hotel seemed to breathe icy air. When Lauma faced it she caught glimpses of the dark side of the Hotel and she shuddered. On the seventh floor bricks and plaster piled up by Adze’s bedroom door where the Hotel had split. All the doors were closed, save for one.
Lauma frowned. The laundry room. The doors were white like the bedroom doors, but painted with delicate flowers and slightly ajar. The laundry room had the power to teleport around the Hotel, and now it selfishly appeared between the bedroom doors of Wulver and the Deer Woman, making them smaller squishing them into their neighbours in order to make space for itself. Wulver was probably still in the dining room, and Adze was most likely with Ördög in the dark side of the Hotel, but Lauma had half the mind to knock on the Deer Woman’s door to see if she was there, if she would answer. No, best to go straight to Wakan’s room.
The faerie had been staring too long. With a happy squeal, the dark-haired two year old she had on her hip leapt out of her arms, turning into a fire-ball mid-air.
“Abura!” Lauma yelled, jerking to reach for the girl but it was too late; the spirit had burst through the laundry room door. Hurriedly Lauma and the children ran after her; the fae feared the worst, that Datsue-ba and Keneo would be waiting there to snatch the kids up and skin them alive.
But the laundry-room was undisturbed, the washing machine’s turned off, the piles of fresh laundry still stacked neatly. Lauma and the children were the only spirits inside. Abura-akago was sat on one of the washing machines, back in her human form, licking the wax out of a stray candle. Lauma exhaled.
“C’mere,” she muttered, plucking Abura into her arms, “naughty girl. You gave me a fright,” the child gurgled cheerfully in reply. Lauma turned to the door. It was closed, “Oh no,” she breathed.
“What’s wrong?” the Girl asked, still squeezing Odidani’s hand. She wore a thick sweater, her blonde hair in two pigtails.
“Nothing,” Lauma bit back her fear as she crept to the door, “Everyone stay close,” she said, and pulled the door open.
As she had feared, the doors had moved and they were no longer on the seventh floor. In the dimness of the hallway, lit by flickering lights, she made out numbers. 341, 342...they were in the attic. Lauma exhaled; the Hotel had helped them, and they made it.
“Come on,” she nudged the children forward and stepped out into the hallway. And she froze. The Split, breathing cold air, was on the left. The fae’s blood ran cold: they were on the wrong side of the Hotel.
A soft click sounded behind her.
“No!” she whirled around but Shojo had innocently pushed the laundry door closed, and it was gone. Lauma swallowed past her panic; nobody had seen them, the corridor was quiet, but she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t risk making her way over the Split with the kids – she looked at the closed blue door at the end of the hallway, leading downstairs onto the ninth floor. Should she risk it? But what horrors waited for her below? She squeezed Abura to her chest and tried to remember who lived on the ninth floor...there was Ra and Nut’s room, but he was gone, and the fae had no idea if the goddess would be there. There was Oly’s room but he was a coward and no use, then Ach’s room, but he was a traitor and could be inside. What about Tia’s room?
No. Tia was gone, she was Ta’xet now.
I have nobody, Lauma squeezed her eyes shut and tried to feel for her link to Nicnevin, My Queen, if you hear me, I need your help. But the faerie queen was a cold woman, and she remained silent. Lauma wasn’t surprised by that – Nicnevin was undoubtedly seeing how things would play out, and no meagre faerie was going to force her into action prematurely. Lauma surveyed the doors in front of her: the one on the left was small, black and decorated in cobwebs, the one on the right was silver. Anansi or Etu, which to choose...
“What’s going on?” the Girl, as always, was full of questions.
“Nothing,” the Latvian woman replied firmly, “Everything is going to be alright, mazulis. We are just going to have to-,” Lauma tried to think of a plan, but before she could, she heard a bizarre sound. It was a drawn-out whoooooosh. Her head snapped to the side and she saw a dark figure rise from the Split, its leathery wings beating the air as it landed at the edge of the ragged floor.
The lights flickered. Lauma saw one blood-shot eye, a twisted monstrous face. The children backed into her, the Boy started to cry.
Popobawa, Lauma felt sick. The monster, who often presented as a young man tended to fly out at sunset and so rarely showed his monstrous form to the guests of the Hotel. Clearly whatever had been holding him back all those years was gone. He opened his jaws now, revealing rows of sharp teeth, and let out a roar that shattered the glass in the windows on the wall.
Lauma threw up her hand and the silver door to Etu’s room flew open, “Get in!” she screamed, practically throwing the children inside just as Pop rose into the air again and headed straight for them. Lauma lunged into the bedroom, kicking the door closed behind her. Clearly Pop wasn’t very good at braking because Lauma heard a crash as he slammed into the blue door leading downstairs.
The children had jumped onto Etu’s bed and now cowered beneath his covers as Lauma pulled out a piece of chalk from the apron she always wore, and hurriedly scribbled a lop-sided rune on the door. It shone a golden colour, like wheat catching the sunlight. Lauma exhaled and dropped the chalk back into her apron. Her fingertips also glowed a faint gold where the chalk had smudged on her skin.
Second later Popobawa tried to burst through the door, but the protective spell held him back and the door did not give. He roared in rage and continued crashing his body against it, but Lauma’s spell was too strong for him. She looked around the room; she had never been here before, and was shocked by the sheer amount of windows that decorated the walls and the dome overhead which showed the stormy night sky.
She frowned at the windows. Either Etu didn’t have an illusion to see, or that part of the Hotel’s magic had been broken because Lauma saw the forest stretching out on one side, and the lake on the other. Both were still, dark and silent; no reinforcements had amassed to try and help win the Hotel back. Nobody cared. The guests were alone.
“Are we going to die?” the Girl asked, big blue eyes wide and full of fear.
Lauma calmly re-braided her corn-coloured hair as it had gotten lose in the chaos, “No,” she said calmly, comfortingly, getting a grip on herself, “The rune will protect us.”
“A-Against the monster?” Furi had stopped crying, thus stopping the rain, but he still looked out of it.
“Against everyone,” Lauma said, “We’ll stay here, where it is safe,” she reached into the pocket of her apron, pulling out a thermos and trying to find her centre and not show the children how shaken she was. She had almost failed them, “Now, who would like some tea?”
ANANSI, the spider.
Many great things were happening in the Hotel and where most people knew only bits and pieces, the Spider knew all, saw all. The story unravelled before him like cobwebs, the events inscribing themselves in his head, promising to be a story he would tell for generations.
Nut, the goddess of the sky, was sat in front of the tall, narrow window in her bedroom. The clouds had parted, the storm gods had gone, and in the moonlight slanting in through the glass, her tears shimmered the same silver of the constellations that decorated her face. In her arms she held a dark jumper belonging to her lost lover, Ra. She had risked coming to the eastern side of the Hotel, just to hold a part of the god.
She was in pieces. The soul of the Hotel had been stolen, the protectors captured, its head locked in the underworld. And now its heart was crumbling.
Nut let out a heart-wrenching sob of despair and cradled the sweater to her chest. She bowed her body so her forehead almost touched the polished wooden floor of the room.
“Come back to me,” she whispered helplessly, her tears splattering onto the wood and forming into pools of starlight, “Come back to me, please.”
But Ra did not appear in her door, Etu did. Anansi watched from the shadows. Nut was at the edge of the cliff, a wrong word could send her over, a good one could pull her back. Anansi could whisper this story to her and she would never rise from this floor, but if someone from the other side got to her first...
The spider hung in the shadows, unseen, watching, waiting.
Etu stopped beside Nut, the moon catching in his silver hair. His eyes were sad, his voice trembled when he said, “The humans are dead.”
Nut opened her eyes, breathing shallowly. Slowly, she sat upright as if realising for the first time she was not alone in this Hotel. She looked at Ra’s sweater in her hands, dazed, then up at Etu.
“All of them. Most of them,” Etu squeezed his eyes shut, “The children are hidden somewhere, and the demons have taken some of them, but...but I don’t know what’s happening with those ones either. But most of the humans...Ta’xet killed them.”
“H-How?” Nut didn’t understand, “How did Santa Muerte let this happen?! How did Wakan-“
“Wakan’s not here, remember?” Etu said harshly. His hands clenched into fists at his sides and he was visibly upset, “Look, you best stay here, okay?”
“B-But Ra...,” Nut shook her head, “I must go find him.”
“Ra’s not coming back,” Etu said.
“No,” Nut snapped. For a moment it seemed her mind returned, “We must get the humans back or we will all fade. We must get Ra and Wakan back. This Hotel cannot stand without them.”
“Can’t you see that this fight is hopeless?” Etu asked, “Ördög has won.”
Nut stared at him, “How can you say this? You are the key to winning this, to bringing back the sun-“
“But I won’t,” Etu said suddenly, harshly, “This is nonsense. I’m joining him. There’s no point trying to fight this.”
“W-What...y-you...,” Nut reached for him as if begging him to rethink. Etu stepped back, pained.
“There’s no more hope left,” Etu whispered, “Please. Do the easy thing and don’t put up a fight. Join Ördög and he might spare you.”
But Nut wasn’t listening to him anymore. She bowed back over, tears flowing silently and running together on the floor, creating a puddle. She started rocking back and forth, clinging onto Ra’s sweater. Etu’s words were all she needed to drop over the metaphorical cliff.
Etu looked at her, then quickly turned and rushed out of her room. Anansi followed before the doors slammed shut.
In the hallway, instead of Etu stood a dark-skinned girl with long black hair and a pained, regretful expression.
“You did well, child,” The Raven Mocker was smiling eerily beside the window, her inhuman black eyes filled with pride. On her head the caribou’s skull seemed to be drilling holes into the Skinwalker’s face, as if gauging to see if following her mother’s instruction had caused her pain. It was clear it had, but Raven didn’t seem to care.
“Will Ördög spare her?” Yee asked softly, hiding behind a waterfall of dark hair.
“Perhaps,” Raven said dismissively, “it doesn’t matter. For now she is no longer a threat. Once we get Bast and Brighid there will be no more big chess pieces on their side of the board, and the rest of the sprits will submit quickly.”
“What about Etu?”
“He will be a problem,” Raven said, making a dissatisfied sound, “But once we get our hands on him we’ll ensure he doesn’t cause any trouble.”
Yee looked up timidly, “And what will become of us after that?”
“That is none of your concern,” Raven snapped, “Just listen to me and all will be well.” When Yee didn’t reply her mother came up to her and used her talon-like fingernails to lift Yee’s chin, forcing the girl to look at her, “Look what I am helping you become,” Raven said, almost fondly, “You will make a great, powerful witch and everyone shall bend to your will. Now think about what would have happened if your wretched father had gotten his hands on you.”
“I know, etsi,” Yee dropped her gaze again, “Thank you.”
Raven didn’t seem all that satisfied, but she let go of her daughter, “Fox,” she barked. The Kitsune materialised out of thin air, clearly having been invisible. For once she was fully dressed. She looked at Yee with concern, “New orders,” Raven barked at her, forcing the Kitsune’s to look at her, “Get Popbawa up here to guard the goddess of the sky.” A faint smile appeared on her face.
“Uhhh, yeah, about that,” Kitty said, “Dunno if y’all use Whatsapp messenger or something like that, because you should. Y’know,” she shrugged, “to check people’s schedules. Popobawa is currently busy banging his big, fat, ugly head against Etu’s door. I can get you a pigeon if you want to send him a letter asking if he’s maybe available later.”
“Don’t get mouthy with me,” Raven hissed, “Why is Popobawa in the attic?!”
“Lauma has the kids hidden in that bedroom,” Kitty replied.
“They don’t matter,” Raven barked, turning to walk towards the stairs, “Hmm. On second thought the more separated they all are, the better. Get Inguma to swap him. I need him down here, guarding Nut – Rangda’s orders.”
“I don’t speak monster,” Kitty replied.
“Do it, you stupid fox, or I’ll cut your tails off one by one and make myself a new shawl,” Raven spat. Kitty didn’t flinch, but the Skinwalker did, “Come, Yee, we have other things to attend to,” the witch glared at the ceiling, “And Anansi, stop eavesdropping.”
HILDEGARD, the swan.
The room with all the tables and the chairs was loud and Hild didn’t like it. He wanted to go back to his bedroom, maybe sleep a little, or watch the birds if they were out tonight, but Brighid told him it was dangerous and he couldn’t go there.
But where would he sleep? He was so sleepy.
The room with all the tables and the chairs was loud and Hild didn’t like it, and he didn’t like the big crack in the building either, and he really didn’t like how weirdly bent all the people in it were, but he knew he had to go there, and find his friend.
So he slipped out of the room with all the tables and the chairs, sliding the door shut behind him. Nobody noticed his absence, but all the voices shouting at each other got quieter. The hallway was dark, the lamps on the walls seeming dimmer somehow as if they had lost the determination to give the world light.
Hild sighed. He wished he could inspire the lamps to burn more brightly, but he himself felt too tired for that.
He walked down the hall, not wearing shoes. They didn’t make a sound on the carpet and when he reached the edge where the floor had given way (it looked like a giant had taken a bite out of it) he barely noticed the stones and splinters digging into his soles. The cold wind ruffling through his hair and the view of the night sky open above his head made him want to transform into a swan and fly. But for that he needed his feather.
The bodies were still there. They made Hild feel cold. He gracefully climbed down the rocky side of the cliff, stepping over pale hands and cold stares.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered distractedly to each body he passed, “I’m sorry...I’m sorry.”
He saw familiar deep brown eyes, so dark they looked almost black, except they weren’t. Hild had seen black eyes in the heads of the spirits, and they didn’t look nearly as alive as these ones, even if they were dead.
Hild crouched by the body. He was like an apparition, all in white with his pale eyelashes and pale hair. He reached out and brushed just the tips of his fingers over the corpse’s dark bangs.
“I’m really sorry,” Hild murmured.
“Hey, don’t be,” the boy replied. Hildegard looked up and saw the dead body sitting up on a sort of ledge that had formed on the side of the cliff. His boots swung over the huge drop to the ground. His shoe-laces were perfectly tied. Hild looked at the body he had just touched – still there. He looked back up at the boy that came to say hello most mornings.
“Oh,” he said, “I thought you died.”
“Uhh...I kinda did,” the boy replied, jumping off the ledge. His feet made no noise as he landed by his body, “It didn’t feel great,” he laughed with an awkward quality.
Hild smiled, but he wasn’t sure why he was smiling, “Are you a ghost?
“I think so,” the boy replied.
“Where are the ghosts of the others?”
The boy shrugged, “I have no idea. I think they might have moved on.”
“Have you not moved on because you have more letters to deliver?” Hild asked curiously, tapping the bag crushed under the boy’s dead body. He blinked his dark eyes. They looked even more alive when they moved.
“No. I don’t think so,” he sighed sadly, a sweet sound, “I’m not really sure what’s going on, if I’m honest. Do you?”
“You’re dead,” Hild said, “and you’re a ghost.”
A splutter of laughter came out of the boy’s mouth as if he wasn’t sure what to do with the information. Hild smiled again. This boy had a comforting presence.
“You should come for tea,” Hild said.
“Maybe another time,” the boy replied, “It’s kind of an apocalypse now.”
“What’s an apocalypse?”
“It’s...,” the boy shook his head, “Nevermind.” He looked at Hild. When he looked at Hild it was different than when he looked at his surroundings. Softer. His eyebrows were expressive and Hild wanted to touch them, “You should wear shoes, you’ll cut your feet,” the boy told him.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Hild replied. He stood up, “I would bury your body but we can’t leave, I don’t think.”
“That’s okay, I never much cared for being stuck six feet under,” the boy smiled.
“What’s your name?” Hild asked. I should be embarrassed, he thought distractedly, He has come to see me so many times but I don’t even know his name.
“Nobody’s asked me that in a while,” the boy laughed. He had a lovely way of laughing, almost as if he was shy about it. His eyes closed, his mouth stretched a little too big. It was so lovely Hild wanted to listen to it for a while longer, but it stopped, “My name is Luke. But everyone calls me The Soldier.”
He didn’t look much like a soldier, “You look like a Luke,” Hild smiled at him. Luke smiled back. Hild’s chest fluttered in delight – there was that smile again. I’ll tell him about his lovely smile later, Hild reminded himself.
He held out his hand, “I’m Hildegard. You can call me Hild, because I don’t look like a Hildegard.”
“I know what your name is,” Luke held out his hand too, “it’s on all your mail!” he added quickly, a lovely sunset rising on his cheeks. His hand passed through Hild’s when he tried to shake it, it was like a cold sea breeze.
“Oh,” they both said, staring at their hands in dismay.
“I really am dead, huh?” Luke murmured. Then he perked up, “Well! At least I can’t feel any pain! And at least that old hag from the laundry room won’t get me now!” he laughed again. Hild smiled.
“Are you busy?”
“Huh?” there was still a big smile on Luke’s face. He looked around, “Um. No. Not really. Don’t have any plans for the moment.”
“Would you like to help me?” Hild asked. His own voice was surprisingly sweet in his ears.
“With what?” curiosity appeared like two sparks in Luke’s eyes.
“I seem to have lost something...,” Hild murmured.
“Your feather?” the air around Luke grew solemn, and he was not smiling anymore. Hild didn’t like that, but Luke quickly said, “I would love to help you.”
THE MORRIGAN, harbinger of death.
Morri didn’t know how much time had passed, and Etu had disappeared somewhere so it wasn’t like he could tell her. It felt like forever. A while ago Brighid had confiscated the bottle of liquor Selkie had been drowning her sorrows in, and before that all the fighting and arguing about what to do next had died down and now people were wallowing in their own, personal misery.
Morri had curled up in an old armchair in the corner; the fire in the fireplace had died down some and the shadows in the dining room were deep and long. Morri felt tired and wanted nothing more than to fall face-first onto her bed, except it was on the side of the Hotel currently belonging to the Devil.
She closed her eyes and pulled the blanket Brie had given her a little more tightly around herself, trying to get to sleep. But her head was brimming with death – she could sense it all around, the death of the past, of the humans laying outside, and of death to come. This wasn’t over and that terrified Morri. She thought that by coming to the Hotel she would finally sever her link to death and battle and yet here she was, unable to sleep. Ovinnik, one of Bast’s pets, a little, black, Slavic cat with fiery eyes who sometimes barked like a dog, climbed into her lap and curled up in it. She stroked his fur lovingly.
She opened her eyes and looked around. Brighid had resumed her place in the armchair by the fireplace, and her head rested heavily in her hand, her sword gleaming dully at her side. She was awake, staring into the low flames as if they would give her answers as to what to do next. The faeries had retreated, undoubtedly to the bedroom of their Queen which was on their side of the Hotel, to discuss what was going on. Lauma and the children had left ages ago. Wulver and Jarylo had gone to rest in their bedrooms too, but others such as Aphrodite, Selkie and Agloolik had no way of getting to theirs because their rooms were on the eastern side of the Hotel. They curled up in chairs and on the floor under blankets, therefore, taking naps. Agloo was snoring loudly. Aphrodite wasn’t really sleeping at all, just laying there with her eyes open. Abab was curled up on the floor by the fireplace.
Morri’s eyes landed on Ilmarinen. The big man was sitting by the door to the dining room, a self-proclaimed guard. He was very much awake, and he was looking at Morri. The moment their eyes met he quickly looked away, pushing his huge hand through his dark brown hair as if in nerves. Morri smiled, watching the red stain his cheeks. It was endearing how shy and nervous Ilmarinen was, given he was huge, muscular and had a big, bushy beard. He looked every part a Viking, but was sweetly bashful.
Stop staring, Morri dragged her eyes away, feeling a blush rising to her own cheeks. What are you thinking about, stupid girl?!
“Morri,” Bast had approached her, wobbling on her old bones. Ovinnik jumped from Morri’s lap and nuzzled into Bast’s ankle. The girl stood up immediately.
“Do you want to sit down?” Bast looked exhausted. The old woman shook her head.
“No, child, thank you,” she said, “But there is something I need you to do for me,” she said.
“Anything,” Morri said hurriedly, her tiredness lifting. She suddenly felt fiery with the desire to help.
“You know that gods have an ancient links to others in their pantheons,” Bast said, and Morri nodded mutely; even now she could sense Brie just a few feet away, “I can feel all of my kin in this Hotel. I can feel Nut in her bedroom, but I cannot feel Ra in this Hotel at all,” she sighed.
“D-Does...,” Morri swallowed, “Is he...”
“No,” Bast smiled a little, “He’s fine, but he is stuck in the Underworld. What interests me is that I can still feel Bes.”
Morri’s eyes widened, “He’s still in the Hotel?” she whispered. Bast nodded, lowering her voice.
“I believe somebody on the eastern side has captured him, I just do not know who.”
“You want me to find out?” Morri’s eyes lit up with excitement.
“I want you to free him, if you are able,” Bast said, “It is not an order, simply an ask. After all, who knows what powers Ördög possesses.”
“I am the goddess of death,” The Morrigan said proudly, “I’m not afraid.”
Bast smiled, “Good. Take Ovi with you, he carries a part of me in him like most cats, and he might be a guide to Bes.”
The cat let out a little bark and jumped onto the armchair before launching himself onto Morri’s shoulder. She smiled and petted it, and then realised the severity of the situation. She had not been in combat in centuries, she was not a violent person and she was about to delve into a situation that could end very, very badly. Ördög’s threats echoed in her head: if she were to be locked away by herself for thousands of years she would lose her mind.
Bast seemed to sense her unease, “Take someone with you,” she whispered, looking over their allies gathered in the dining room. Morri wasn’t spoilt for choice, but it didn’t matter because she already knew who she wanted to come with her, and she hoped he’d say yes.
Ilmarinen was sat staring at the floor as Morri approached, even though the girl knew he could see her coming, he pretended he didn’t, fiddling with a screw in his big, calloused hands.
“Hi,” Morri said.
“Oh,” Ilmar looked up, and his act of surprise wasn’t really enough to fool the girl, “H-Hi.” He scrambled to his feet, endearingly clumsy and towered over the petite girl. Ovinnik assessed the situation and then jumped from Morri’s shoulder to Ilmar’s much broader one. The god’s face seemed to be permanently red whenever he spoke to the Morrigan, but she didn’t mind.
“Bast just sent me on a mission to find Bes,” she told Ilmar cheerfully but quietly, as to not wake or disturb the other worried deities, “I was wondering if you’d like to accompany me,” she smiled brightly.
“Yes!” he exclaimed, too loudly. Brighid and Bes looked up at them from where they had been conversing quietly by the fireplace. Ilmar smiled sheepishly in the dim light, “Yes,” he said, much more quietly, unwavering, “I’d be happy to do something.”
Morri’s shoulder sagged with relief; she had thought that would be the answer, but she was glad anyway. “Thankyou,” she reached out and squeezed the man’s bulky arm, and he went even redder under his beard.
Brie and Bast came to say their goodbyes, after which the two slipped out into the corridor, which was not much lighter than the dining room. Morri liked the darkness, a lot of her old life in Ireland she had spent the nights walking through battlefields. It was familiar.
“So...uh...where do we start?” Ilmarinen asked, looking at the ravaged hole at the end of the corridor to their right.
“Bast says she felt Bes on the evil side of the Hotel, Ovi will help us find him when we get closer,” the cat barked in confirmation, nuzzling Ilmarinen’s side-burns, “We should try get into my room – I should have my sword in there somewhere.”
“Oh,” Ilmar said. He held the screw he had been fiddling with between both palms and then spread his arms; the screw grew and melted in his grip and Morri watched in surprise as it formed into a beautiful Iron-age Celtic sword, with a forked golden handle and runes inscribed on the blade.
“Oh,” Morri echoed Ilmar’s words dreamily, “I knew you were the god of blacksmiths but that is really impressive!” she laughed.
Ilmar smiled bashfully and held out the sword to her, “I can make weapons out of anything. Here, keep this one.”
Morri carefully plucked the masterpiece from his hands; it was perfectly weighted for her, not too light and not too heavy. Her face was staring to hurt from smiling, “This is amazing, thankyou.”
“N-No bother,” Ilmar stuttered, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly, looking somewhere to the side. Morri couldn’t help but think that despite his huge size and full beard, he was adorable.
“Alright,” Morri said, shoving the sword through a belt loop, “I say we get down to the basement and work our way up.”
“You’re the boss,” Ilmar muttered.
They headed for the servant’s stairs leading down.
TALOS, the automaton.
Talos ‘woke up’ once all the wires connecting her head were magically reattached to the rest of her body – her eyes just snapped open and she was conscious once more with none of the grogginess or disorientation that a human would have had.
She immediately took in her surroundings: freezing, damp air. Rough stone walls glistening with moisture. Heavy iron bars jutting from the ground to the ceiling in front of her, beyond which a great cavern opened up. Torto the Cyclops sat at the base of stairs suspended mid air a little way away. Talos’ eyes adjusted to the darkness. They were in the dungeons, that much was clear, but why did it smell like a forest?
All this information took a fraction of a second for the automaton to process, and another half second for her to realise there was somebody behind her. So by the time a full second passed from her regaining consciousness, she had the person pinned to the cold floor.
She had no weapons on her so she pressed her forearm against the jugular, kneeling on top of the perpetrator. Surprised, fearful green eyes looked up at her from a face full of freckles.
“Haltija,” Talos registered, gracefully leaping off the gnome and righting herself into a standing position. The redheaded girl was still sprawled on the ground, her clothes dirty and slightly tattered, looking dazed. Talos felt something akin remorse, “Apologies,” she held her hand out to the girl and helped her to her feet. She noticed the tear tracks down the girl’s round cheeks, moments before Hattie lunged herself at Tal, hugging her fiercely around the middle and pressing her face into the automaton’s somewhat flat-ish chest.
Tal was a little embarrassed at such a blatant display of affection and didn’t know how to react. She patted the girl awkwardly on her head.
“Um...everything will be okay?” she offered, copying what she thought was the right thing to say.
Hattie squeezed her a little harder, knocking a screw lose somewhere, “Thank Ukko,” the girl’s voice was muffled and full of emotion, “I thought...I thought my magic wouldn’t be enough. I was s-so scared. I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Ah. Her magic smells like the forest.
She finally let go of Talos. The automaton moved her arms a little; they felt awkward, but manageable, “Thankyou for putting me back together.”
Instead of the usual bright smile, Hattie gave her a sigh. She sat down on a remotely dry bit of the floor with her back against the wall and curled her legs up to her chest, fitting her chin onto her knees. She looked depressed.
“How long have we been here?” Talos asked, inspecting the iron bars keeping them in their cell. They seemed awfully sturdy, though their guard was the opposite, having fallen asleep.
“I don’t know. Feels like hours,” Hattie said, “but time’s stopped moving so I can’t really be sure,” moss had started to creep across the floor and walls where she sat, “I’ve tried to free us but the witches must have put some spells up because every time I use magic I feel awfully drained. It’s why it took me a long time to put you back together.”
Talos sat down next to Hattie, unsure of how to feel. Her emotions were already so dulled they were hard to decipher and now..., “They took all my weapons,” she said.
“I know,” tears welled up in Hattie’s eyes, “It’s so cold,” she whispered, then exhaled shakily as if fighting a sob. She buried her face in the long skirt covering her knees, “This is a horrible way for all this to end.”
“I don’t think it’s the end,” Talos said. “It can’t be.”
Haltija started crying quietly, her shoulders shaking. Once again Talos was stunned by the sheer intensity of Hattie’s emotions. Sure, the situation wasn’t the best, but it could be much, much worse. They were just in a cell, and people got out of cells all the time. Talos was hopeful this would end soon, and yet Hattie seemed crushed by the situation. Undoubtedly she was exhausted from trying to bring Talos back. It must have been hard, Tal thought, still feeling the ghost of Hattie’s fierce embrace on her.
If she were human, she would have held the girl’s hand. She kind of wanted to.
New spirits/deities that appeared in this chapter:
Abura-akago - Japanese child-spirit that licks oil out of lamps
Alara - Turkic water fairy
Caoineadh 'Caoi' - Irish banshee, who foresees death
Odidani 'Odi' - African evil spirit called an Ogbanje that brings a family repeated misfortune by being born and dying at a young age. The only way to stop an Ogbanje from dying is to find its iyi-uwa, that it has hidden somewhere in the mortal world.
Ovinnik 'Ovi' - Evil Slavic cat that barks like a dog
Selkie 'Sel' - Scottish seal shapeshifter
Shojo - Red-haired Japanese healing sprite
Ta'xet - Haida god of violent death, in this story sharing a body with Tia, the Haida goddess of peaceful death
The Boy - a human child
The Girl - a human child
Wulver - German werewolf
Yosei - Japanese fairy
Chapter 6: The Demon
Thanks for all the support guys! Hope this story isn't too slow for you x
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
22 hours and 16 minutes should have passed since Ördög invaded, but the clock remained stubbornly stuck at 11:22pm. Thankfully by now Etu’s body had grown somewhat adjusted to such a vile change in time structure, and although he still felt on edge the vomiting and head-splitting headache had passed.
His brain was still all over the place though and without time to hold onto Etu wasn’t really sure what to think. He found the dining room loud and overwhelming but his room was on the wrong side of the Hotel and he didn’t want to risk going there to rest lest he encounter some dubious characters. Instead he had chosen to adopt Nanook’s room as his own, knowing full well the woman would not be returning any time soon and would remain Ördög’s prisoner for gods knew how long. Nanook slept primitively on a pile of furs on the floor. One of the walls of her bedroom situated on the third floor was made of rock, and fashioned into a large cave in which undoubtedly Ungnyeo, the bear shifter, slept. Ancient Inuit bows, a couple Remington models and hunting spears decorated the remaining three walls. It smelled like pine, wood smoke and dog and the room was devoid of any windows.
Etu had dragged Nan’s bedding into Yeo’s cave, curled up beneath the furs and fallen asleep. When he woke up six hours later, disorientated, it was still 11:22pm and the Hotel was eerily quiet. Etu wasn’t really sure what to do with himself: he was a loner by nature but now that the loneliness was enforced on him he didn’t want it anymore, but the thought of fighting with the others in the dining room again made him want to fall asleep forever.
Nevertheless, spurned by his growing anxiety at his isolation, he found himself back in the dining room. When he poked his head through the door he found that the fireplace was almost out and most of the deities were asleep in chairs and on the floor, apart from Bast who, surrounded by her cats, knitted peacefully. Ilmarinen was gone from his spot by the door, as was the Morrigan. Etu had half the mind to wake up Aphrodite as she was the only thing close to a friend he had, but he decided against it. Instead, his feet took him to the Split and he found himself standing on the edge, looking down. The sight of the moon was crushing. The building creaked, every so often the wind picked up. It was cold.
Somebody had moved the dead bodies of the humans, leaving behind only pools of dried blood and some lost belongings. For a moment Etu just stood there, overwhelmed by the sheer helplessness of the situation. He wracked his brain for a way out of this, for something they could do to reverse what had happened. What about other deities? Etu thought of the other three sanctuaries, and all the powerful gods that resided there. Etu thought of American gods he had met before he came to the Hotel; there was Wiyohipeyata, who was the overseer of endings and events of night or Ahsonnutli the mother creator of the Navajo people...would they be powerful enough to help? But how would Etu even find them? He couldn’t leave this place...the boy was terrible at this. He was not a fighter, barely even a witness. He tended to stay out of complicated things like this.
A faint sound caught the boy’s attention, distracting him from his musings. He frowned and focused on the sound. What is that? Wind? He thought. No. It seemed more...melodic.
Etu’s eyes widened and he stared at the dark depths of the eastern side of the Hotel. Somewhere in there someone was playing music. For some reason Etu’s heart jumped with excitement; he turned and ran for the hidden servant staircase, practically flying to the fourth floor. Here the music was louder: the boy continued going up all the way to the eighth floor, where he could definitely make out the singing and feel the walls vibrate. Are they putting on fucking ‘Phantom of the Opera’? He thought in shock, staring intensely at the other side of the Hotel.
“Fuck it,” the boy muttered. Curiosity got the best of him and before he could soberly consider what he was getting himself into, he was already climbing across the cliff, the rough stones that jutted out serving as perfect hand and foot holds.
The eastern side of the Hotel didn’t feel colder or smell like brimstone and fire, at least not to him. In fact, Etu wasn’t really scared, just irritated and mildly amused as he strolled towards the source of the music. He found himself almost at the end of the hallway, right outside Bast’s bedroom door.
He banged on it aggressively, and it swung open almost immediately, revealing the tall, handsome figure of Asmodeus, the Prince of Hell.
“Oh,” a lazy, alluring smile spread on the Hebrew demon’s face as he leaned on the doorframe, “What a surprise. I was betting it would take you at least another day to come over to the dark side,” he glanced over his shoulder and into the room, “Meridiana, I owe you two thousand shekel.”
“I don’t want your shitty money,” the succubus Meridian grumbled from where she was sat cross-legged on the floor. Her hair was an electric blue and she was dressed in a skimpy golden bikini despite the fact it was October. The demoness was playing cards with Kishi, a two-faced demon from Congo who’s second hyena face was very visible to Etu as he had his back to the door, “Dollars only,” she slapped down a card.
“Merde,” Kishi swore in French, throwing down his cards in defeat. Meridiana smirked as he counted out his money.
“What exactly are you guys doing in here?” Etu asked coldly. He had never been to Bast’s room before but he could see that the demons were wrecking it – the furniture had been haphazardly shoved to the side alongside all the kitty litters, to make space for tables, chairs and counters that looked like they were straight out of a bar. The room was stocked like it was a bar too. The weird thing was that instead of techno or even the radio, the demons were listening to the opera.
“Just having some fun,” Asmodeus said, and before Etu could react the demon’s arm was around his waist and he was gently easing him into the room, “Orders from Rangda; we’re to stay put. So we’re staying put,” he chuckled. He was abnormally warm, and smelled like incense and sin, if sin had a smell. It was weirdly appealing.
I shouldn’t, Etu thought, but he didn’t exactly have the best moral compass. Besides, he had already crossed the line by coming here. Why not cross it a little more?
He allowed, albeit a little reluctantly, for Asmodeus to drag him in and close the door behind them. The music was loud, the woman singing in Latin making the bottles in the bar clink against each other.
“Why the opera?” Etu asked as Asmodeus guided him to the island made of marble and littered with booze.
“It’s relaxing, no?” Asmodeus asked. His big hands on Etu’s shoulders were definitely relaxing. The boy had initially thought it was only the three demons in the room, but now he saw that an older-looking Geisha sitting in an armchair by the window, watching him like a hawk. Mullo the forever-pale-teenage vampire was also there, sitting in the corner with a can of beer and looking awkward and uncomfortable.
“He doesn’t look happy to be here,” Etu pointed out as Asmodeus fixed him a drink in a tall glass. The demon barely spared the vampire a glance as he prepared a blood-red cocktail decorated with maraschino cherries.
“Well, he isn’t. Weird kid. But,” he sighed dramatically and with a smile and a flourish offered Etu his drink, “He is still a demon, and we all answer to Rangda. If she says we stay here and don’t cause trouble,” he winked, “we don’t cause trouble.”
“Seems unlikely,” Etu pointed out. Asmodeus snickered as if he had said something really funny and slid into Etu’s personal space, backing him up against the counter. Etu felt warm. Asmodeus was giving him a lot of attention, and Etu barely ever got that.
“Try the drink. It’s my speciality,” the demon’s eyes blazed red in his tanned face. The dark room made it feel really intimate.
“Why’s that old cow staring at me?” Etu said, not looking away from Asmodeus.
The Prince’s grinned, “That’s Osakabe. She’s pissed because she thinks she’s more important than she is, and the witches are going about their business without her help. But let’s not talk about her,” Asmodeus reached out and slid his hand under Etu’s chin, silky smooth. The boy froze as the demon ran his thumb over his bottom lip, “You’re awful pretty. Shame you always stay up in your room, I think we’d make great friends.”
Etu shivered, subconsciously leaning into Asmo’s touch. It felt nice.
“I’m changing the music!” a familiar voice proclaimed. Etu’s head snapped to the side and he saw none other than Comus, the god of parties, stumble out of the bathroom and towards the laptop plugged into the speaker. Seconds later hard house was blaring through the room.
“No!” Meridiana moaned, throwing down her cards, “I can’t focus like that!”
“Comus,” Etu whispered, “Why is he-“
“He’s made his choice,” Asmo said, “He doesn’t want any trouble, and we all like to party. We’re an obvious choice for him.”
Comus’ and Etu’s eyes met and the god hurriedly looked away, seemingly embarrassed at his betrayal. Not that Etu cared; he wasn’t much of a team player himself.
“What the fuck is this shit?!” another person appeared – a young, pretty girl with long dark hair and a nose ring who climbed out of the heap of Bast’s furniture in the corner, like she had made it her lair or something. She wore a very short skirt, and looked like she just smelled something bad.
“That’s Błędnica,” Asmodeus seemed amused, “Or just Nica.”
“Never seen her before,” Etu muttered.
“She’s a Polish demoness. But let’s not talk about her either.”
Asmodeus turned his face so they were looking at each other again, and he was a lot closer than before. His legs were on either side of Etu’s and he pressed his body against his. Etu almost moaned at the contact, and shivered, which didn’t escape Asmo’s notice.
Błędnica, Comus and Meridiana bickered over music in the background and Etu drowned in Asmo’s eyes. This room was the escape he had been searching for: here people fought about trivial things like music choices, and drank alcohol and gambled. Here he didn’t have to worry about the world falling apart.
Nica gave up the fight and stormed out of the room, slamming the door shut behind her.
Etu took a sip of his drink. It was sweet.
“Good?” Asmodeus asked, his breath ghosting against Etu’s lips.
“Yeah,” the boy stuttered, a little out of his depth.
He knew the kiss was coming but it still took him by surprise. It had been centuries since someone had kissed him, and it was more electrifying than he remembered. His blood heated up and Asmo wasted no time, shoving his tongue into Etu’s mouth and kissing him with expertise that made his legs shake. The room, the music, everyone else melted away.
Etu wasn’t sure what to do but he kissed back clumsily.
“You’re adorable,” Asmo laughed breathily, latching onto Etu’s neck. Etu’s eyes fluttered shut and he leaned into the man as the demon’s hand found his hips, then the quickly-growing bulge in his trousers...
Etu gasped, burying his face in Asmodeus’ broad shoulder. The demon chuckled, squeezing, “Someone’s excited, huh?” he murmured.
A muffled scream sounded from next door and Etu jerked away from Asmodeus in surprise, “W-What was that?” he asked breathlessly, turning his head to look. The geisha, Osakabe, had disappeared from the armchair. Asmodeus turned his head back.
“Just the humans,” the demon prince seemed irritated by the disruption and went in for another kiss but Etu pushed him away.
“What humans?” he asked coldly, “I thought they were all dead.”
Asmodeus shrugged nonchalantly, “Not all of them. Obviously we need some playthings or we’d die of boredom.”
Suddenly Asmodeus didn’t seem so appealing, and suddenly everything smelled like blood, “I have to go,” Etu muttered, avoiding Asmodeus’ eyes as he slipped under his arm.
“Aw, no, wait,” Asmodeus said, “Don’t leave so soon! I thought you were on our side now.”
“Yeah, sorry to disappoint,” Etu said. He felt thrown off his axis, “Do you know where Achuguayo is?” he didn’t know why he bothered asking. Asmodeus snorted and rolled his eyes.
“Ah, yes, of course. Osakabe was right.”
“About what?” Etu frowned.
“I don’t know where your lover boy is.”
“Right,” Etu didn’t care to find out why Asmodeus was being cryptic. He just wanted to get out of there. He rushed to the door and thankfully nobody stopped him as he stumbled into the hallway, cooling off.
He leaned on the cold wall and caught his breath. Why did he feel so guilty? It’s not like he had any loyalty to Bast or Brighid or any of them...
“Wait!” the call was desperate. Etu whirled around, fully ready to fight beat Asmodeus up, but instead he saw Mullo. The boy was pale, his eyes ringed with black, his hair floppy and overgrown. He was wearing a hoodie, his fangs protruding at the corners of his thin lips.
“Tell Brighid I don’t want to be here,” he whispered.
“What?” Etu asked, puzzled. He had never spoken to Mullo in his existence.
“I-I don’t want to be on the Devil’s side,” Mullo seemed scared, wringing out his hands, “B-But...But I can’t go against Rangda, I have to stay here with the others...,” his eyes dropped, brimming with shame, “They make me drink from the humans. T-Their blood is so bitter because they’re scared a-and I just...,” he bit his lip as if fighting a sob, “It makes me sick.”
“Right,” Etu breathed, “I’ll tell her.”
Mullo looked at him with watery eyes, “Thankyou. Achuguayo might be in his room.”
“Oi,” Asmodeus appeared behind Mullo like a huge shadow, and he didn’t seem friendly or alluring anymore. His eyes were icy, “If you’re not gonna hang about don’t bother my friends,” the way in which Mullo flinched when Asmo’s hand landed on his shoulder made it clear they were not friends at all.
The demon Prince dragged the vampire into Bast’s old room and slammed the door shut. Seconds later, opera music filtered into the hallway, grating Etu’s ears. He wanted to get out of this side of the Hotel immediately.
Instead his legs moved on their own accord and Etu found himself walking towards the stairs. He knew it was a foolish idea, he knew the best he’d do was anger Ach and probably make the situation so much worse...but his heart was pounding at the prospect of seeing the god. He needed to talk to him, to understand this whole mess.
He crept up the stairs, heart hammering. Maybe it was stupid of him to think he and Ach were anything alike, but their link to time made Etu feel that he did kind of know the man. But this he couldn’t understand – Ach was neutral, he was always neutral, so why bother joining Ördög in the first place? Etu was expected to be the bad guy, so by all accounts Ach should have been happy to step back and let him assume that role.
Had he been evil this whole time? No, it’s not as black and white as that.
The ninth floor was quiet, only the glass trembling in the windows as a howling wind passed by. But it was not empty.
A figure stood guarding Ra’s and Nut’s door. The size of a human, with one bulging, white eye in his head and a lipless mouth spilling out sharp teeth that didn’t quite fit, Popobawa guarded the door, his leathery bat wings folded against his back.
Etu hovered in the shadows as the monster stood tall and stiff. The faint lamentation of Nut could be heard through the door as she continued to mourn the absence of Ra.
Etu bit his lip. He knew there was only one thing he could do, and he knew it would make him feel sick but he couldn’t risk taking Popobawa in a fight and alerting Ördög to his presence. Time was already askew, but Etu reached inside himself and stopped it all-together.
Surprisingly, it made him feel more awake and alert. The second hand in his head stopped speeding towards 11:23 only to be roughly returned back to 11:22. For a moment, it just hung suspended in a peaceful state of unmoving. The wind stopped howling, the trees outside stopped mid-sway.
Etu dashed past Popobawa who was frozen, and threw open the door to Ach’s room, slamming it shut behind him.
“I knew you were here,” Ach said bitterly and actually seeing him made Etu jerk and lose his grip on time – it went back to its relentless loop and Etu started to get a pounding headache behind his eyes.
Ach stood by his bed as if he had just stood up from it. His window through which he and Etu had tried to escape not so long ago showed the dark forest outside – the illusion of the sea was gone.
But Ach looked the same. Stormy blue eyes, thick dark eyebrows pulled into a frown. He did not look happy to see Etu, “Why’d you stop time just now?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Etu pushed himself off the door, a little awe-struck. What now, genius? What are you going to say? He started at Ach, unable to get a word out. Thankfully the moon god spoke first.
“Why are you here?” he asked, sounding more tired than angry, “Don’t tell me you’re joining Ördög.”
“No,” Etu said bitterly, “don’t worry, I won’t ruin the dream team for you.”
He and Ach stared at each other for a painfully silent second; they took each other in, for the first time, as real enemies.
“Then why?” Ach asked.
“I...,” Etu realised he didn’t have an explanation for being here. He wasn’t spying, he wasn’t gathering information. He had come here for his own, selfish reasons. So he asked his own question, “Why are you doing this?”
“Oh for god’s sake,” Ach barked, “Why would you think I’d tell you that?” he asked, anger rising. He seemed on-edge too, his temper shorter. It was weird to see so much emotion in the man who was so rarely moved.
“You always get so mad at me for messing with time,” Etu snapped – it was surprisingly easy to settle back into their usual bickering relationship, “And yet look at you! You’re the biggest fucking hypocrite!”
“Trust me,” Ach rumbled, “I’m doing the best thing here.”
Etu rolled his eyes, “Oh yeah, sure. Handing the keys to the Hotel to the literal Devil is oh-so-best for all of us. Hey! I’m sure Nanook thinks so too, let’s get her to fill out a customer satisfaction survey-“
“First of all,” Ach’s nostrils flared, “Ördög isn’t the actual devil. There is no actual devil. He’s just a devil.”
“Oh, so that makes it all okay then?”
Ach exhaled and rubbed between his eyes, “You’re giving me a headache.”
“No, this fuckery is giving you a headache. I spent six hours puking because of this mess!”
Ach dropped his hand, surprised, “It made you that sick?” he asked, a little softer.
Etu snorted, “Sorry, Mr. Moon, but time is all I have. I don’t have anything else to ground me. So when you mess with it – yeah, it makes me that sick.”
Ach looked almost sorry for a moment. Then he cleared his throat, “There’s a way for you to get out,” he said, “Join Ördög – his allies can leave the Hotel but not come back. Get yourself out and...I don’t know. Go somewhere nice, away from this mess.”
Etu stared at him, “Gee, Achuguayo,” he said faintly, “One more word and I’ll think you care about me,” his heart fluttered.
“You should go,” Ach said.
“You should stop with this bullshit,” Etu interjected, “Look, you’re the key to everything. If you come back to our side we can think of a plan that raises the sun long enough for Ra to come back-“
“Don’t be naive,” Ach said sharply, “Ördög will have us all imprisoned before that happens, and will take us god knows where for all eternity. You think Ra will come for us?”
“Someone will,” Etu said firmly.
“Then why haven’t they come now?” Ach asked.
Etu opened his mouth, closed it, “This is wrong,” he whispered. Ach laughed humourlessly.
“You’re a deity, you should know better than ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’”
“You don’t really believe in Ördög’s, do you?”
Ach looked tired, “I’m picking the lesser evil.”
“No offence but he’s literally the biggest evil in this building right now.”
Ach’s eyes darkened, “You really need to go,” he said, “Ördög wants to get his hands on you.”
“Isn’t that what you’d want to?” Etu said snidely.
“I wouldn’t want my hands on you, no,” Ach replied dryly. Etu remembered Asmodeus kissing him and all of a sudden he felt gross and insecure and like Ach hated him more than anything in the world.
And in that sudden burst of negative emotions, he found a thread. Surprised, he grabbed it.
And just like that, for a moment, he had a grip on time. Ach’s eyes widened as he felt his own slip, “Don’t-“ he started, but Etu was already pushing.
He felt so light he started laughing. The sky began to lighten outside. He was doing it – he was raising the sun! For once he had complete control over his power-
“No!” Ach rushed towards Etu and slammed him against the door. Time started slowing down but it was still moving forward as Etu tried to throw Ach off. They grappled mentally for the time thread, “Stop it! You’ll get everyone killed!”
Ach looked panicked, and for the first time Etu was stronger.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Ach growled.
“Yeah, you do,” Etu gritted out.
Ach grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head against the door. Pain spread through Etu’s skull and he grabbed Ach’s hand as stars danced in front of his eyes, trying to wrestle the man off – in the process he completely lost his grip of time: Ach leapt away and time reversed again.
Etu cried out in pain as nausea washed over him again and fell to his knees, pressing his forehead against the cold wooden floor. 11:22. 11:22. 11:22.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it,” he moaned, fighting the urge to vomit. He tried to find that thread again but it was gone. Then Ach’s hand was on his arm, jerking the disoriented time deity to his feet.
“You need to get out of here,” Ach said firmly, his fingers digging into Etu’s arm, “Someone’s coming. Stop time and go.”
“C-Can’t-,” Etu wobbled. He could barely figure out which way was up and which was down, much less try and pause time even for just a minute. He could see the second hand taunting him as it slid almost all the way to 11:23 only to spin back around.
“Fine,” Ach growled. That damned second hand stopped in place and Etu’s world stabilised. He exhaled and looked at Ach. They were pressed together, Ach still holding him up.
Etu jumped out of his arms hurriedly. The clouds outside hung suspended in the air, seeming to hold their breath. Everyone in the Hotel but the two deities who could control time stood like ice statues, “You know you can’t beat me,” Ach said coldly, “So go.”
Etu was conflicted but he didn’t know what to say, he didn’t even understand why Ach was so bothered about Ördög not catching him, “Just-“
Ach turned his back to Etu. The boy clenched his hands into fists. “Fine,” he hissed, the anger he had felt for Ach for years rearing its ugly head, “Have it your fucking way, see if I care.”
He turned on his heel and stormed out of Ach’s room. In the hallway he froze – sure enough Ach was right and someone was coming. It was Osakabe, the old Geisha Etu had seen in Bast’s room just minutes ago. Her red lipstick was slightly smudged, and she reeked of blood as she stood still next to Popobawa, clearly heading for Ach’s room. Despite time being frozen, Osakabe was looking right at Etu and seemed to see him.
“Fuck you,” Etu hissed at her as he passed. He glared at Popobawa, feeling drained, “Fuck all of you,” then he ran down the stairs.
ACHUGUAYO, the moon.
Ach stood facing the window trying to calm his hammering heart and swallow down the unfamiliar burning feeling of pain caused by internal turmoil. He waited until he sensed Etu climb over the cliff and disappear into the Western side of the Hotel. It was easy for Ach to feel him, just like it was easy for him to feel Máni. But he didn’t want to feel them, this whole situation had turned him into an emotional wreck, something he really, really didn’t want to be.
He finally unfroze time when he knew Etu was safe, and heard the footsteps continued down the hallway and towards him. He didn’t turn around as he sensed the woman enter, her overpowering perfume of cherry blossoms and blood drenching the room.
Osakabe began to laugh, and it sounded like glass shattering. Ach gritted his teeth – he might have not bore a lot of love for most of the spirits in the Hotel, but he found his newfound allies particularly grating.
“What do you want?” he managed to force out, “I told Ördög I needed rest.”
“Is that what you call rest?” Osakabe asked, amused, “Fraternizing with the enemy?”
Ach turned around, ensuring none of his emotions showed on his face, “I don’t know what you mean,” he said impassively.
The Geisha smiled unnervingly, her hands clasped together and drowning in the sleeves of her kimono. Her painted face was eerie and distracting, “Don’t think I am a fool, moon god,” she said, “You and the witches might underestimate me but I see right through you. I know that time boy came to see you. I wonder what Ördög would think of you if he knew you let him go.”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Tell me,” Osaka sauntered over nonchalantly, her smell intensifying, “What did he want?”
Ach really, really hated her smile, “If you know so much, don’t you already know that too?” he asked, baring his teeth at her.
For a moment the facade was gone. The painted Geisha face slipped away, revealing the twisted, bulge-eyed demon face beneath, “I do know,” the voice echoed through Ach’s room, poisoning his furniture, his clothes, his heart, “I know your heart.”
Osakabe’s ‘normal’ face returned. She smiled politely but Ach’s heart wouldn’t calm down. This woman scared him.
“Do you know who I am, Achuguayo?” Osakabe asked. In the shaft of moonlight coming from his window she looked white and dead.
“Osakabe-hime. Demon,” Ach replied, trying to hold onto his calm exterior, “Japanese Yokai.”
“Hmmm,” Osakabe mused, “That’s very vague, isn’t it? There are plenty of demons and Yokais in this Hotel alone. But we are allies now, you and I. So let me tell you the powers I have. I can see parts of the future,” she started to circle him and for some reason Ach couldn’t think of a place to escape her – he followed her with his eyes until she circled behind his back, then stood, tense, “I can cause death just by being looked upon,” Ach felt her cold breath on the back of his neck and fought a flinch, “I can manipulate spirits and people alike once I know their deepest, darkest desires. And I can read people’s heart, Achuguayo. I have just read yours.”
She came back around to face him and lit a cigarette. She offered him one – it was a packet of old camel cigarettes, from the 1920s. For some reason Ach took one. She pulled out a box of matches and lit it for him. The smell of sulfur dioxide filled the room.
“I know what you want, child,” Osakabe said, her voice low and calming. Ach believed her – her crimson-circled eyes stared into his soul, “And Ördög is the only way you will achieve that.”
“I know,” Ach said, taking a drag of his cigarette. It filled his mouth with ash. The hopeless feeling that made his bones feel heavy – the one he had been feeling for the last day and one that had gone away when Etu appeared – was back.
“If you follow him,” Osakabe said, “He will give you all that you desire.”
“I don’t even know what I want,” Ach said harshly, “I haven’t for centuries. I don’t feel things properly. I don’t know what I desire.”
“But I do,” Osakabe smiled in a way that was almost comforting, “I see your heart as clearly as you see the moon. Trust me and all will be well.”
“Cut the bullshit, old hag,” Aphrodite snapped from the doorway to Ach’s room. Ach had no idea when she had gotten there and her storm of blonde curls and furious blue eyes seemed too bright and out of place in this gloomy bedroom. She had changed out of her usually skirts and heels and into golden armour, with a white cape floating down her back. The Greek goddess of love was ready for battle.
She strode in confidently, as if she was not behind enemy lines.
“You,” Osakabe spat with such hate that even Ach flinched – her eyes twisted into its demon form, her hair falling from its careful up-do to float around her face. A forked tongue slid from her swollen lips when she spoke, “What do you want here?! How did you get past Popobawa?!”
“A little persuasion works on everyone,” Aphrodite said coldly.
Osakabe managed to find her cool and returned to her Geisha form, her hair doing itself back up again. She slid her hands into her sleeves and regarded Aphrodite with composed distain, “What business do you have here?” she barked.
“I need to talk to Achuguayo,” Aphrodite said.
“I have nothing to say to you,” Ach replied immediately. Osakabe was right – Ördög was the answer. Ach didn’t want the love goddess filling his head with ‘what if’s’ and ‘maybes,’ or worse, telling him some stupid story about Etu and how they should give each other a go. Just moments ago Ach had been ready to kill the boy and he didn’t need advice from his enemy.
“Why must you meddle?” Aphrodite exploded onto Osakabe, who smiled and came to stand by Ach’s side, “Why must you dip your poisonous claws into love?”
“Oh Aphrodite, sweetheart,” Osakabe said patronizingly, “Lets not forget your history and act like you are the saviour of love. How many deaths did your meddling cost?”
Aphrodite’s pretty jaw clenched, “That is in the past. I do what is right now, what everyone’s heart want. I know what Ach wants.”
“Do you?” Ach demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.
“We both see his heart,” Osakabe said, “But unlike you I know what he truly wants. Life is more than just soulmates and Valentine’s days,” she said coldly, “What this man desires is more than just pesky love.”
Love. Ach blinked. A foreign concept to him. Had he ever even loved anyone? Mani’s face flashed in his mind. No. Even if they made sense together, Ach didn’t feel anything strong enough to even resemble love for the girl.
Osakabe is right. I don’t know my own heart.
“I don’t need your advice,” he told Aphrodite, “I’ve made my choice.”
She turned to him with desperation, “Don’t be stupid, Ach! I know you care for Etu, I can see it! I came to find him – he was here wasn’t he?!”
“So what if he was?” Achuguayo demanded.
“Don’t you see?! He’s drawn to you, he wants you as badly as you want him!”
“That’s bullshit!” Ach snapped emotionally, “I don’t want him, and I never have!”
Osakabe cackled, “And he doesn’t want you either. If he did would he be kissing the Demon prince?”
Ach felt pain. He looked down at his chest in surprise, expecting to see a knife lodged there. But there was nothing, just this bizarre, untouchable pain. Weird.
“W-Why...,” Aphrodite looked shocked, “Why would he...?”
“Your theories aren’t always right, Aphrodite,” Osakabe said spitefully, “Maybe leave the love to me for once, eh?”
“This is ridiculous-“
“Get out,” Ach said quietly. Aphrodite looked at him, opened her mouth then closed it. Ach stared at the floor and she seemed unsure of what to say to him.
“You heard the boy,” Osakabe smiled coldly and triumphantly, “Get out.”
ANANSI, the spider.
The ninth floor had gone quiet and empty since it had all of its visitors. Etu, Anansi’s old neighbour, had gone, and Aphrodite the goddess of love had stormed past. Finally, the god of the moon and Osakabe had also gone downstairs, leaving Anansi snuggled in the doorframe of Achuguayo’s room. Only Popobawa remained, stood outside of Nut’s bedroom door loyally.
Ah...somebody is approaching...the Spider’s senses tingled and he turned the multitude of his eyes to the end of the corridor on the left, where the hole that Cailleach had created breathed its icy breath.
The floor trembled, and a large humanoid figure could be seen climbing the cliff and heading for the attic. Anansi deployed a web, dragging himself through the cracks in the ceiling and scurrying up the wall and into the shadows above his own bedroom door just as the werewolf exploded through the Split.
Wulver was still mostly human, bulky, tall and angry, but his incisors had extended and his nails had turned to claws, his white hair overgrown and covering his jaw and naked chest. Although the moon was circular and hanging heavy in the sky, it was clearly not full as the man could not shift completely. Regardless, he still posed a threat to the figure standing outside of room 341, the one right next door to Anansi’s. The spider hungrily watched the scene unfold as if reading a novel.
The burly werewolf stood opposite the guard, growling low in his chest. His opponent had four bizarrely long arms that ended in deathly sharp nails and long crimson hair that fell down his back like a waterfall of blood; the top half of his body was naked, muscular, and painted red, and his lower half died away into a dark mist that spilled onto the floor. His face was hidden behind a red mask with dark holes for eyes and spikes on top.
He was Inguma, the Basque god of dreams, but he was not amicable like the title might suggest. He plagued both humans and spirits with cruel, twisted nightmares, and when he could, he murdered mortals in their sleep. Inguma was a monstrous being, a loner in the Hotel who rarely came out – and yet now here he was, flourishing under eternal night, waiting for the faerie behind the door to make a mistake so he could get in and massacre the human children.
He did not seem intimidated by the werewolf at all.
“Get away from ze door,” Wulver growled, his words warped by his anger, making his German accent stronger, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Inguma said nothing, he never spoke, and he did not move, standing tall and cold in front of the door. Realising that his opponent would not stand down, Wulver threw his wolfish head back and howled, before charging at Inguma.
He swiped at the man with his claws, but Inguma disappeared into the mist that took up what his legs should be, and re-appeared behind the werewolf as if catapulted from smoke. His face was invisible behind the mask and he betrayed nothing. Wulver snarled in anger and turned to swipe at the god again – it was a narrow hallway and he almost got Inguma, but one of the man’s four arms came up and he grabbed Wulver’s arm. His own sharp nails sunk into Wulver’s arm and although Inguma didn’t look nearly as strong as Wulver, he was a god after all – the werewolf bent beneath his power, howling in pain as Inguma pulled his arm out of its socket in perfect silence. Blood rushed down Wulver’s arm but Anansi knew it was not over.
The werewolf brought his other muscular arm up and punched Inguma straight in the mask. The god of dreams lost his balance and fell against the wall allowing Wulver to pounce on him, bringing him down to the ground, eyes flaring yellow.
Anansi decided he saw enough. The sound of the fight followed him as he peaceful descended on his web back down to the ninth floor, then continued on down until he reached the sixth.
The witches were gathered in Rangda’s room among the jars full of grotesque ingredients, standing beneath the bones hanging from the ceiling. Sunakake, the Kitsune and Yee Naaldlooshii were not present, running errands for the higher-up witches. Rangda herself was also absent, leaving only the Raven Mocker, Baba Yaga and Cailleach standing on three points of the pentagram drawn on the floor in blood, muttering under their breaths.
Apart from them two other gods were in the room: Achuguayo had left his bedroom and, ratted out by Osakabe for letting Etu go and almost failing to stop the sun from rising, was now under witch surveillance. He was leaning against the single window in the room, broodingly looking out at the night world. Ta’xet, the god of violent death, was sat cross-legged by the cages filled with malnutritioned animals, sharpening a spear.
The Spider lowered himself to the dusty floor and transformed into his human form of the rickety old man. His eyes bulged at the witches who fell silent and turned to him.
“Anansi,” Raven hissed between her sharp teeth, “You have news?”
“I do,” Anansi said pleasantly, “The werewolf is fighting Inguma, who is trying to get to the human children. My belief is he will attempt to free more prisoners also,” he bowed his head, knowing his news had pleased the Raven Mocker.
“Fucking dog,” Cailleach muttered hatefully, her breath clouding in front of her face as the ice particles in her grey eyebrows trembled, “He needs getting rid of.”
“Yaga,” Raven barked, “Make a strengthening potion, now.”
Baba Yaga didn’t ask for what and in minutes the old hag had a cauldron over a fire burning mid-air. With a toothless smile and practiced ease she summoned jars upon jars, throwing them into the swirling, bubbling depths of the potion. Human teeth crushed into powder, a basilisk’s scale, fish’s innards...She cackled under her breath, pleased with her work as she stirred the boiling liquid with her own arm.
The witches didn’t have to explain who it was for – they all knew.
“Achuguayo,” Raven snapped at the god. He blinked, pulled out of his thoughts and looked over at the women with an impassive look on his face. Yaga was ladling the potion into a medieval chalice. She passed it to Raven, who in turn held it out to the moon god.
“What is that?” he demanded.
“A strengthening potion,” Raven replied calmly as Ach approached. They were almost the same height, “It will make your powers more potent for a few short minutes. In that time you will change the moon cycle and make the moon full.”
“I can’t do that,” Ach said carefully.
“With this you can,” Raven held the chalice in her sharp hands. Her black eyes coldly regarded the man, “Or do you mean you do not want to?”
He snatched the cup from her hands without another words, and went to drink but suddenly a dark haired, native American woman with a fearful expression materialised next to him, slapping it from his hands.
The dark blue liquid sank into the wood as if it were carpet.
“Tia!” Raven snarled as the other two witches tensed – sure enough the god of violent death was gone from where he had been sitting and his counter-part had relinquished control.
“Don’t!” she yelled desperately, “Don’t do this! You’ll ruin everything!”
“Meddlesome!” Raven hissed, and clicked her fingers. Her decaying corpse of a slave waddled out of the shadows and with surprising strength seized Tia. She struggled in his rotting grip, and struggled internally to hold onto the body as Ta’xet desperately tried to get control.
Raven lifted her hand and one of the empty animal cages opened, “Throw her in there,” she growled, “Until Ta’xet comes back.”
Still struggling, the goddess of peaceful death was forced into the claustrophobic conditions by the corpse. The animals in the cages around her cowered in fear and backed into their prisons, mewling.
“Chaos,” Cailleach brooded, “Ördög should cleanse this Hotel of pathetic deities like her, they are not needed here.”
“And they won’t be here much longer,” Raven smoothed down her hair and calmed down, “I’m sure the Lord will find a way to separate the spirits of Tia and Ta’xet, and then banish that bothersome goddess somewhere where she won’t get in the way,” she turned to Ach – Yaga waddled over to him and offered him a freshly filled chalice. The god didn’t seem happy to drink it, but did so without complaint.
Anansi scurried into the shadows of which this room was full, watching intently.
If the potion tasted bad, Achuguayo didn’t let it show. He shoved her chalice back into Yaga’s hands with some anger and then looked at Raven, almost in defiance.
The witch’s eyes narrowed, “Do it,” she said, almost like she was daring him to.
Achuguayo closed his eyes and squeezed his hands into fists. His jaw was tense. Outside the night flickered like an old light-bulb, as if the world itself was glitching. Then the silver light that bathed the Hotel grew brighter as the moon filled up in the sky.
Etu, in the bedroom of Nanook, curled up in the cave and gasped at the change in time, before falling unconscious. In the attic, Wulver howled.
Inguma disappeared off him as his bones crackled and snapped – the werewolf grew taller, the white fur enveloped his whole body. His jaw widened, his claws and fangs elongated. His eyes blazed an animalistic golden as he shredded his clothes.
“Now,” Rangda didn’t have to have Anansi’s insight to hear the werewolf howling in pain and confusion.
The three witches resumed their positions on the pentagram, stretching their hands out towards the others, though they were too far to touch. With their eyes closed they began chanting, momentarily lifting the spell that imprisoned everyone within the Hotel, long enough to allow the dark, huge figure of the werewolf to scale down the cliff and – driven by the primal urge to hunt in nature – leap out into the garden. By the time he dashed through the gate and headed for the woods, the spell was back up.
The witches opened their eyes. Yaga started to laugh hoarsely.
“He won’t be a problem any longer,” her dark eyes sparkled with mischief as the wolf’s howls echoed through the forest: a sound crushingly informing the enemies of the witches that they had just lost an ally.
“No,” Tia pressed her face against the bars of her cage, her body contorted in a bizarre manner as it was forced to fit in such a small space.
ABABILINI, spirit of fire.
The howls sounded distressed and far away. Abab sat at Bast’ feet and stroked Gato’s orange fur as the fat cat slept in his lap.
“Will Wulver be okay?” the young boy asked, looking up at the goddess of cats with eyes the colour of the embers that still burned in the fireplace. Brighid was taking a nap by its dying warmth, her face in her hand, her sword in her lap.
“He will be fine,” Bast replied soothingly, looping some more thread onto her knitting needle, “The dangers do not lurk in the forest but here, with us.”
Abab cuddled his face into Gato’s fur. Everyone was sleeping and he didn’t like that: he himself couldn’t do so because every time he closed his eyes, he felt his heart wrench at the thought that Shakpana was will all the bad people, that he had chosen to abandon his best friend.
Even now, just thinking about it, tears gathered in Abab’s eyes.
“Do we have a plan?” he asked, sniffling. Bast’s smile was barely noticeable in the dark.
“Of course we do,” she said.
Abab perked up, “Well, what is it?” he asked.
“Firstly we must free our friends,” Bast replied, “I have already dispatched Morri and Ilmarinen to find Bes,” she put down her knitting and smiled at Abab as if she and him shared a secret, as if she trusted him and saw him as more than just a child spirit, “but, you know Ababinili, there are others imprisoned.”
He nodded his head eagerly, feeling like he was about to be trusted with something big. Maybe he’d be like one of those war generals that he liked to read about so much?
“Nan and Yeo,” he said, breathless with excitement as he leaned on Bast’s old knees, “and maybe Talos and Hattie. And the Great Spirit himself! Oh I’d love to lead a mission to free him!”Abab said dreamily.
Bast chuckled fondly, “I know you would,” she said, “but I have a different job for you, though equally as important.”
“Anything, I really want to help!”
“I know,” Bast said, “What I am going to need to you to do is to go into the Eastern side of the Hotel,” Abab nodded after every word, looking at her with concentration, “and find Błędnica.”
The boy’s brown face paled, “T-The demoness?” he gulped.
“Yes,” Bast said, “Don’t worry, she is harmless to little boys like you. Besides, she’s not all bad, just a little mischievous.”
“Like Shakie...,” Abab deflated. He and Shakpana were inseparable, well...until now they had been.
“Let me braid your hair, little one,” Bast said warmly, sensing Abab’s sadness. He sat with his back to her and she skilfully braided his long, brown hair.
“What do I do when I find Błędnica?” Abab asked, less excited now.
“You persuade her to come here. Tell her I have an important job for her, and she will enjoy it. You are the Spirit of Fire, you are one of the few people who can get in and out of either side. Can I trust you to do this?”
“Okay,” he said, standing up with his new braid, “Where will she be?”
“Probably in her room,” Bast said, “Floor six, room thirty nine.”
Abab perked up suddenly. Maybe I’ll see Shakie too... he held up a thumbs-up, “You can count on me, grandma!” he exclaimed a little too loudly.
Selkie stirred on the floor, “Shut up, dumb kid,” she muttered and went back to sleep after rolling onto the other side.
“Are the flames high enough?” Bast asked. Abab turned to the fireplace with a big, confident smile. Even the embers were enough.
“Be safe,” Bast told him, “Get back here the moment things get even a little dangerous. But you should be okay – Ördög will be focusing on other spirits and shouldn’t pay attention to a child.”
“Cool,” Abab breathed, “I’m like a Allied spy!” he giggled to himself then, without hesitation, walked up to the fireplace and hopped in. When his sneakers touched the embers the fire flared up, enveloping him and waking up everyone in the dining room with its brightness.
Abab was a good fire-teleporter, and now all he saw was fire as he hung suspended in the flames somewhere far, far from the fireplace, deciding where he would want to go. Most of the roads to all the fires in the world that he could usually feel were dark and closed off – the witch spell affected even teleportation. But he could feel several fires on the western side of the Hotel. The closest to Błędnica’s room was on the sixth floor.
He took that one, before realising too late that the sixth floor belonged to the witches.
He was spat out by a fireplace and stumbled out a little clumsily, thrown off his axis by the realisation. His heart pounded as he stood up straight and ready to fight any witchy enemies.
Instead he found himself looking at an equally surprised Sunakake-babaa, her sunburn face visible beneath the rim of her over-sized hat. Her room was surprisingly cosy, all wooden and looking a little like the inside of a medieval cottage, save for a huge hourglass standing by the bed and dripping sand.
Sunny had been sweeping, “Abab,” she said, startled but not guarded as she leaned on her broom, “Whatcha doing here, kid?”
“O-Oh,” Abab glanced at the fireplace behind him which was burning cheerfully. He was covered in soot, “Just visiting,” he gave Sunny what he hoped was an innocent smile.
The woman smiled back and shook her head, “Ah, kids these day,” she said.
“Bye Sunny!” Abab waved at her before she could ask further questions and slipped out onto the vastly more dark and gloomy corridor. He exhaled. Close call, I have to be more careful, he scolded himself.
The boy dashed down the stairs, feeling like there were eyes drilling into his back. As the spirit of fire he was always warm, but the sixth floor made him feel cold.
As he came down onto the fifth floor which was empty and quiet, he tried to remember which door number Bast had said Błędnica lived in. On the eastern side the only doors that remained were 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41. Abab stood on the dusty corridor and stared at them uncertainly. Let’s try all of them, he decided after a moment of simply staring. He wasn’t very scared; it all felt like an adventure to him.
He pushed open door number 37 which was closest to him. The inside was gloomy and messy, like the bedroom of a teenager with heavy WW2 black-out curtains drawn across the windows. The empty blood bags dropped in the vague direction of an overflowing trashcan suggested this was the room of the Hotel’s only resident vampire, Mullo. And it was empty.
A little more anxious, Abab went for door number 38. The handle felt cold and the door was locked. Abab jumped away from it, adrenaline spiking and heart pounding. He felt watched all of a sudden and went for the next door. It was a girl’s room with heavy-metal band posters on the walls and very short skirts spread on the bed as if she had been picking out an outfit – however the girl herself wasn’t there. Is this Błędnica’s room? Abab wandered, retreating hastily. The boy checked the remaining two rooms but they were also empty. All the demons had gone.
Abab shivered and looked at the stairs he had just took – he knew he should return to Bast and report that Błędnica was not in her room; he had no business snooping around behind enemy lines.
But of course, Abab didn’t just come here to fulfil his ‘mission.’ The fire spirit bit his lip, weighing his options for all of two seconds, before dashing into room 40. It smelled distinctly of human, but as far as the young boy knew, none of the humans were out and about and the owner of this one had probably been killed.
The room had a cold fireplace on the eastern wall; Abab grabbed a book written in Romanian from a low coffee-table and ripped up the pages, throwing them into the dead hearth.
“Sorry,” he whispered as he destroyed the book, plagued by guilt. But he needed fire to teleport, and this whole floor was cold, dead and empty like a graveyard.
Abab tossed the half-torn book aside and knelt by the fireplace. When he placed his palm on the paper a spark caught, and cheerful flames flickered out. They warmed and calmed Ababinili and he smiled, stepping into them. The fire enveloped him.
First floor, first floor, he chanted in his head, feeling for open corridors among the orange and the red. He found a candle-flame and grabbed on to it.
Moments later he sprung from a bucket full of water on which Shakpana was placing lit tea-lights in boredom. The Dahomey god of smallpox jumped up in excitement as his disoriented best friend tried to gather his bearings.
“I knew you’d come!” Shakpana exclaimed, “I kept the candles lit for you!”
Abab looked at him in surprise, torn between shouting and jumping into his friends arms, “I-I thought...I thought you didn’t want to be friends anymore...,” he muttered, a little dizzy from the teleportation.
Shakpana rounded the table in the middle of his bedroom, littered with half-finished airplane models and pulled his friend into a hug.
“I’m sorry!” he blurted, “I thought it’d be fun to be one of the bad guys. I didn’t realise...,” he pulled away and looked ashamed, “Ördög isn’t a good deity,” he said quietly.
“I know,” his young friend replied.
“They treat me like a kid,” Shakie said, kicking the leg of his table in frustration, “I’m supposed to just wait around for heck knows what.”
“It’s okay!” Abab said brightly, “Because the good guys are much better!”
“Really?” Shakie asked incredulously.
“Sure, sure,” Abab dropped his voice to an excited whisper, “Actually I was sent here by Bast on an important mission,” he told his friend proudly. Shakie’s dark eyes lit up.
“Really?” he breathed, “Coooooool...What is it?”
“I can’t tell you,” Abab stepped back, “You’re one of the bad guys. You’re the enemy.”
Shakpana rolled his eyes at his younger friend’s antics, “Don’t be daft, Ab. I’m your best friend. I was just messing about,” he perked up suddenly, “Hey, you think if I help you on this mission Bast will let me come back? It’s really boring on this side.”
“Sure!” Ababinili exclaimed excitedly.
“Okay, okay,” Shakpana was also excited as he tied a bandana under his kinky black curls, “What’s the plan?”
“We need to find Błędnica,” Ababinili said.
Shakie blinked, “What does Bast want with that bitch?”
Abab went red, “Shakie you can’t say that word!”
“Right, right, I’m one of the good guys now,” Shakpana remembered, “Okay, but Nica is a bit of a...a butt-hole,” he said.
Abab snickered, “Butt.”
“Stop acting like a child,” Shakpana scolded, “We’re spies now. What does Bast want with Nica anyway? Oooooh, does she want to execute her?” he asked excitedly.
“I-I don’t think so,” Abab stammered, “I hope not...Actually...I’m not sure why she needs her, but she trusted me to find her. Except she’s not in her room.”
“She might be in the lobby. It’s completely on our side of the Hotel,” Shakpana said, “She likes attention and a lot of spirits go through there, so that might be worth a shot.”
And it was; the two boys found the marble lobby empty save for copious amounts of sand and a girl who looked to be about sixteen sitting on Lakshmi’s desk. Her short leather skirt and the music composed of screaming that trickled out of the headphones she was wearing suggested she was the occupier of the room with all the posters on the fifth floor. She wore heavy boots, and was very pretty with long, straight black hair and an angelic, bored face.
“That’s her,” Shakpana grumbled.
Abab shuffled up to the girl, “Um...excuse me.”
She flicked the headphones off her head – they were not attached to anything, but the heavy-metal Slavic music continued to pour from them.
“Wrong turf, kiddo,” she said impassively.
“I-I know,” Abab stuttered, intimidated, “U-Um...are you Błędnica?” he asked.
The girl rolled her eyes, “Just Nica is fine. What do you want?”
“U-Um...I don’t want anything b-but Bast has business with you.”
Nica’s eyes widened as he interest peaked visibly, “Bast? What does that old bitch want with me?”
Abab winced, “Y-You know that’s a bad word...,” he trailed off when he saw Nica’s unimpressed gaze, “She said she has an important job for you, and that’s y-you’ll like it.”
Nica raised her eyebrow, “Important job, huh?” she muttered to herself, then jumped off the desk. Abab was surprised she didn’t seem to need any more convincing, “Fine. There’s nothing to do around here unless you’re a monster or a witch anyway. Besides, Comus and those dickhead demons are hoarding the speakers.”
“A-Are you not...a monster?” Abab asked.
She flashed him a fanged grin as her eyes momentarily turned all black, “Demon,” she said, returning to her normal pretty self, “But Rangda has said we have to stay put. But staying put is fucking boring. So let’s go to the crazy cat lady and see what she has to offer.”
ILMARINEN, god of blacksmiths.
Torto was finally asleep, allowing Ilmarinen and The Morrigan to climb out of their hiding place beneath the stairs where they had been stuck for the last few hours, and clamber back up into the basement.
Ilmarinen’s bones hurt, “We should take that cyclops down and free Hattie and Talos,” he whispered to Morri as they surveyed the two basement bedrooms on this side. The short corridor usually filled with warm light was weirdly cold and distant, but there seemed to be nobody in sight.
Morri relaxed, slipping her new sword back into her belt loop, “We can’t, we’d give away our position. Besides, Bast told us to find Bes.”
Ilmar’s huge shoulders slumped, “I just...,” he shivered thinking about the icy air in the dungeons, “I hate to leave them there.”
“I know,” Morri said and placed a comforting hand on his bicep. Warmth spread from where she touched and the man turned his face away before she noticed his blush, “But we’ll give her a heads up about where they are and she’ll find someone else to free them.”
The girl crept up to the Split; the base of the cliff started here and she poked her head out to catch a breath of fresh air. The cliff was essentially the only ‘outside’ the imprisoned guests could obtain.
The Morrigan looked up into the night sky now and out of her rosy lips came a horrid and jarring caw; the call of a crow. Ilmar flinched, surprised, and watched as a black bird fluttered onto Morri’s shoulder. She leaned in and whispered something to it – its head twitched as it took to the air, flying back out into the night.
Morri sighed, “I wish I could be a normal crow right now. They’re so free,” she whispered dreamily.
“W-What...what did you tell it?”
“I sent a message to Brighid about the location of Talos and Hattie. She’ll know how to read it,” the girl stretched her white, freckly arms over her head and yawned.
“We’ve wasted time,” Ilmar said nervously, “I don’t know how much but Bast will be getting worried. We best get on with our search.”
“Don’t worry,” Morri said cheerfully, “They’ll get our message and know we’re okay. Besides we didn’t completely waste our time – we found out where our friends were!”
Ovinnik let out an impatient bark from where he was perched on the man’s shoulder, as if to hurry them up.
They headed upstairs and emerged from the door at the back of the grand staircase in the lobby. However Ilmar saw a figure sitting on the desk and hurriedly grabbed Morri, pulling her into the safety of the shadows.
“What?” the girl hissed as Ilmar pushed her into the wall with one arm, peeking around the corner.
“One of the demons,” he muttered, and swore in Finnish. The girl looked harmless enough, but Ilmarinen knew better than to underestimate demons.
“Ilmar,” Morri huffed, “L-Let go.”
The god glanced down and saw he was pressing Morri into the wall way too hard. He withdrew his arm sheepishly, “S-Sorry.”
Voices drifted over. Morri frowned. Who is that? She mouthed at Ilmar. The god dared a peek around the corner, and saw two young boys talking to the girl. He turned to Morri, wide-eyed.
“It’s Abab,” he whispered, “and Shakpana!”
Morri smiled, “See!” she punched Ilmar’s arm – fondly, lightly. The man’ cheeks grew rosy, “Told you Bast would send reinforcements.”
“But...kids?” Ilmar made a face.
They waited for the three to disappear before walking out into the lobby, just to be safe and not give themselves away. They struggled through the sand that covered every surface– Ilmarinen pulled the great-axe he had fastened while waiting in the dungeons off his back and scanned the surroundings.
“You reckon it’s here?” Morri asked, leaning down to sift through the sand. Ovinnik’s bark was full of frustration, “Huh, guess not,” Morri said, extending an arm to the cat – it’s climbed into her arms, “Let’s head upstairs.”
All of the children’s rooms were empty, including Abab’s and Shakie’s, which suggested they had gone somewhere else. Ilmarinen didn’t have much hope in finding Bast in one of their cluttered bedrooms, but when they entered the one belonging to Saci, Ovi jumped down and started barking at the furniture.
Morri and Ilmar exchanged a look; the owner of the room was not present, but Ovi must have picked up on something.
“Why are you freaking, kitty?” Morri asked softly, following the cat. The room was messy and the floor was covered in sand much like the lobby, making it clear who was responsible for that mess.
Ovi continued barking and Morri searched through half-open drawers full of unfolded clothes.
“There’s no way Ördög would trust a child with Bes, right?” Ilmarinen asked, standing by the door and listening for anyone approaching.
“Dunno,” Morri said; Saci’s bed was a hammock suspended between two wooden poles, and filled with junk. The girl looked through dirty cups, shorts and fist-fulls of coins of all currencies, hoping to find...? “We don’t even know where Bes is,” she sighed, slumping with her arms elbow-up in Saci’s shit, “He could be anywhere. He could be shrunk or chained up...”
Ilmar looked at the dejected girl and fought the urge to comfort her. He was unused to her dark eyes looking so sad.
“At least we know he’s still in the Hotel.”
“This is pointless,” Morri pulled her arms out of the hammock, “We can’t just go searching through all the rooms one by one - what is Bes was transformed into something else? What if he’s an ant? We’ll never find him.”
“Hey,” Ilmar said, “Don’t lose hope, Ovi caught a trail didn’t he?”
The cat barked and Ilmar knelt to allow him back on his shoulders.
“But it makes no sense!” Morri said, frustrated, “Ördög has a lot of powerful allies and Saci is an unreliable teenager. Why give one of the most powerful gods in the Hotel to him...?”
“We don’t know if he did that,” Ilmar said, “Maybe Bes was briefly here and Ovi is picking up on his old aura?”
“Maybe,” Morri said dejectedly.
“But your right,” Ilmatar mused. He might have not been pretty, but he was pretty smart, “If we continue like this we’ll only get caught and thrown in the dungeons like Tal and Hattie. But there might be someone who could help us.”
“On this side of the Hotel? Doubt it,” Morri grumbled.
“There’s a lot of neutrals staying out of the way in their rooms,” Ilmar said, trying to stay strong and positive for the girl, “There’s a spirit in the basement who has a link to children, maybe he’ll know something about Saci’s involvement.”
Morri perked up, “You’re talking about Kokopelli?”
Ilmar nodded. Morri bit her lip, considering it, “We don’t even know if he’s in his bedroom.”
Ilmar shrugged, “Doesn’t hurt to try, right?”
They returned to the cluttered basement – angry voices came from the bedroom belonging to the demons Datsue-ba and Keneo. Empty wicker baskets were stacked outside their door, a messy inscription of do not disturb written on their door in Japanese. Morri and Ilmar crept past it, to door with the number 0.1 scribbled on it in a cheerful orange paint. Narrow pots full of earth, with little green plants sprouting from the top were positioned outside.
Morri and Ilmar paused and pressed their ears to the wood. The faint sound of a flute floated towards them and their eyes met in a silent question. Morri – never one to hesitate – knocked quickly.
A short, curvy, middle-aged woman with short hair, cheerful eyes and a face that resembled a potato opened the door. She was Axomamma, the Inca goddess of potatoes and Kokopelli’s partner.
“Yes?” she asked with a big smile as if the Hotel wasn’t literally falling apart and everything was fine.
“Uh...,” Ilmar was a little caught off guard by her nonchalance.
“I-Is Kokopelli home?” Morri managed awkwardly.
“Ah yes, please come in!” Axomamma ushered the two gods into their bedroom excitedly. Ilmar had to duck his head to avoid the low door-frame. Axomamma and Kokopelli’s bedroom was part garden, with plants growing up walls and from the floor. A big tipi-style tent took up another wall, and through its open doorway the two deities could see Kokopelli sat on some pillows in the entry-way, playing a flute. He had a little fire going to his left and although it gave out no smoke, Kokopelli’s pet lizard laid in its warmth, content.
The Hopi god of fertility, childbirth and agriculture was uglier than Ilmarinen, with a humped back and stringy grey hair in two braids, with brown feathers protruding from his head as if he was a weird alien-bird hybrid. He looked unassuming, but Ilmar knew he wa powerful and that the music he was playing right now could hypnotise any human – he also had the power to make women pregnant and even to chase away winter.
“Tea anyone?” Axomamma asked cheerfully, setting a kettle on the flames before either of the two disorientated gods could reply.
Kokopelli lowered his flute and looked at Morri and Ilmar grumpily, “The full moon is up,” he said in a low, hoarse voice.
“Koko’s power is in full bloom during the full moon,” Axomamma tittered, “We’re even considering maybe going upstairs!”
“I-I wouldn’t do that,” Ilmar said awkwardly, “It’s kind of a mess up there.”
That didn’t seem to deter Axomamma, who hummed under her breath as she got the tea ready, seemingly lost in her own world. The two of them were a bizarre couple and watching them, Ilmarinen almost forgot why they were there.
“Um, we’re very sorry to disturb you,” Morri said, stepping forward, “But actually we were wondering if you’ve maybe seen Bes.”
“Bes?” Axomamma asked, passing the two cups of aromatic, herbal tea. Ilmar took a sip and immediately felt warm and strengthened, “No, unfortunately, not for many hours now. According to the neighbours Ördög has him.”
“That’s what we know too-“ Morri started, but Ilmar interrupted her.
“Are you on his side?” he asked, before they accidentally gave their plan away to the enemy.
Axomamma and Kokopelli stared at them for a moment, then the goddess burst into cheerful laughter. Kokopelli smiled, amused, “With that old goat? Nay. We are taking no sides.”
“Oh,” Morri muttered – Ilmar could see that it bothered her: she was fiercely loyal and Ilmarinen was sure the thought of remaining neutral hadn’t even crossed her mind.
“Well then do you know anything about Saci?”
“Saci?” Axomamma blinked, “That troublesome boy from the first floor?”
“Aye, the rascal,” Koko spat into the flames of his fire. They turned bright orange and his lizard leapt up, before crawling away with a bored expression on its face. Its back was covered in intricate patterns; Ovinnik went sniffing after it curiously, “Why would we know anything?”
“Well...,” Morri glanced at Ilmar, “You are the god of childbirth, in stories you are said to bring women their children on your back. We thought that maybe you’d know...”
“Saci barely even qualifies as a child,” Kokopelli grumbled, “Try the god of unruly teenagers.”
“Why?” Axomamma seemed genuinely concerned as her guests sipped on their tea, ignoring her partner’s comment, “You think he has something to do with Bes’ disappearance?”
“More like imprisonment.”
“My connection to Saci is weak,” Koko said loudly, as if offended that he was being left out. He smiled mischievously, “but I may know something. What will I get for the information though?”
“Oh, honey, give it a rest-,” Axomamma started.
“Nay,” Kokopelli held up his hand, “I can’t help them for free, that’s taking sides, dear.”
Ilmar looked at his companion helplessly – he couldn’t think of anything to give the god. But the girl, looking unimpressed, threaded her fingers through her chin-length black hair, pulling out a crow’s feather. She offered it to Kokopelli. His smile widened and his eyes sparkled. He took the feather wordlessly, though what he needed it for Ilmar had no idea.
What would I do without you? the Finnish god thought, looking at The Morrigan dreamily.
“Recently Saci has come into a lot of power. Power that isn’t his. He is restless and I cannot tell you where he is precisely, but the new magic he carries with him is ancient.”
“Bes,” Morri whispered, “Why would he have Bes?”
“Let’s search his room again,” Ilmar offered, feeling optimistic at this new lead. If Saci was truly guarding Bes then this would be easy – the young trickster was no match for two powerful gods.
Morri nodded, “Ovi!” she called. The cat came racing out of the tipi and jumped into her arms with a happy bark, “I hope you didn’t eat the nice god’s lizard,” she whispered to him, and Ovi just barked again.
“Thank you for your help,” Ilmarinen bowed to Kokopelli and Axomamma.
“Don’t call it help or Ördög will have our heads on spikes,” Axomamma laughed as if she had just told them some cheeky gossip, “We are simply being good hosts.”
The two bowed again and left the room. Ilmarinen felt a little bit like he had just had a vivid and bizarre dream, but the sight of the familiar, cluttered basement brought him back to reality. He exhaled, and looked at Morri.
“Did you say something?” the girl asked, smiling.
“Um...no?” Ilmar offered, and then he heard it too – voices. The doors at the head of the stairs opened. The two gods froze as a conversation filtered down to them, alongside footsteps. Two male spirits.
“Shit!” Morri swore quietly, as she looked around desperately for a hiding place among all the antiques. Ovinnik launched himself onto the floor and dashed to a door so well concealed in the wall the gods would’ve never found it. He gave a little bark.
“Come on!” Morri hissed, trusting the cat wholeheartedly. She grabbed disorientated Ilmar’s hand and dragged him over. The door handle was covered in dust and the two gods had to squeeze past some antique lamps to get it open, but seconds before the two potentially evil men reached the basement, they managed to squeeze into what appeared to be a janitor’s closet with their cat. They pulled the door shut and held their breaths.
It was tight and cramped and dark, though Ilmar’s godly eyes adjusted immediately. Clearly nobody had come into this cupboard in a long time; the shelves were cluttered with old buckets and sponges and everything smelled dusty.
The Morrigan pressed her ear to the door, her face concentrated, “Can’t tell who it is,” she whispered, listening.
But Ilmar completely forgot about the mission. The cupboard filled with the smell of the sickly-sweet Hollister body-spray that the girl liked to use for some reason, and on her it smelled nice, but right now it made Ilmar violently aware of how close they were. The top of Morri’s head brushed his beard and her chest almost touched his. The god started to silently hyperventilate, staring at the ceiling. Don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy, he chanted in his head, careful not to touch the goddess as he freaked out like some teenage boy that he was not. He was sure if the Morrigan could read his mind she’d be freaked out.
His stupid, many-year-long crush had gotten him nowhere and now was not the time to be creepy. Besides, Ilmar was pretty much resigned to being alone forever as so far in his existence all he did was get his heart broken. And he could see why – he was shy, awkward, clumsy, not to mention ugly. Someone as powerful, funny, charming and kind as The Morrigan would never want anything but friendship from him, and Ilmar had to be content with that.
Except this situation they were in right now was making that really really hard.
“Come on,” Morri muttered, frustrated, “Go away,” she still had her ear pressed to the door. Ilmarinen’s heart started to pound. She shifted and her breasts brushed against his chest.
No, no, no, no, the god panicked as he felt blood rush south. He started to curse internally in Finnish – how was it that he was such a powerful god but he couldn’t even control his own reactions?! He didn’t want this – he was on a mission for gods’ sakes, and the last thing he wanted was to make the Morrigan uncomfortable, or hate him, or-“
“They’re still there!” the girl pulled away from the door, “Can you believe-“ she stopped talking abruptly as her leg brushed against Ilmar’s erection. The god squeezed his eyes shut, feeling his world crashing and burning, yup, he thought miserably, this is it. There was nothing he could cover this up with and he almost wished the two spirits would kick down the door and take them prisoner, just so he didn’t have to deal with this situation.
“A-Are you hard?” Morri spluttered in a whisper.
“I’m sorry!” Ilmar squeaked and tried to back away but the shelves just dug into his muscular back, “I-I’m s-so sorry,” he was all red and spluttering; even his ears burned and he couldn’t bear to look Morri in the eye, “I-I...I-It’s just so tight in here a-and all the s-stress must’ve built u-up a-and I’m so, so sorry-“
Morri giggled, “Relax,” she said soothingly, “It’s just a bodily reaction.”
“R-Right,” Ilmarinen muttered and looked down at the girl. She was smiling up at him, eyes sparkling. Retreat, retreat, Ilmar panicked and went back to staring at the ceiling as his heart hammered in his chest. He felt like he was going to have a panic attack. She’s just being nice, he thought as his breathing sped up, she thinks I’m repulsive-
“Hey, are you okay?” Morri’s worried voice floated somewhere in Ilmarinen’s consciousness. The man’s legs started to shake – yup, definitely a panic attack, he thought distractedly before sliding to the floor. His huge legs knocked Morri over and she landed sprawled across him as he ended up in a slumped sitting up position, breath laboured. His axe dug into his back and he was so freaked out he didn’t even notice the Morrigan’s warm weight on top of him as his vision swam. The walls felt like they were caving in on him, suffocating him.
“Woah, woah, calm down,” Morri’s voice broke through the sound of his heart; it sounded like a hammer on a wall, obnoxiously loud. The girl’s cold hands touched his cheeks, her thumbs brushed across them as he gasped for air, “What’s wrong? Talk to me, you’re freaking me out.”
“I-I think...I might be...claustrophobic,” Ilmarinen managed to wheeze out. He was always a bit awkwardly tall and big, but now it felt like he was much too big for this closet. At least his erection was gone, replaced by paralyzing fear.
“Hey, hey, shhhh,” Morri’s voice was calm, gentle. Ilmar felt soft arms around him as his face pressed into Morri’s shoulder. She hugged his huge body into her much smaller one and it was the most comforting hug Ilmar had ever had. The goddess stroked the short hair at the nape of his neck and murmured word of comfort that drowned in the roaring panic in Ilmar’s head.
But it worked. Shakily the man hugged Morri back, crushing the girl to him as he found his footing again and caught his breath.
“I-Ilmar,” Morri managed, “T-Too hard.”
“S-Sorry,” the god loosened his grip. He became aware of his surroundings. Sitting down, he took up all of the floor space and was unable to even stretch out his legs. Morri was sat in his lap – probably because it was the only available spot for her to sit. Ovi’s eyes shone in the darkness from where he was perched on Ilmar’s knees.
The god went red, “I-I’m so sorry,” he started.
“Shut up,” Morri laughed, pulling away as much as the position allowed. To Ilmar’s relief, she didn’t look horrified, though she might have just been good at acting, “Don’t scare me like that again,” she hugged him again, quickly, and then stood up, carefully placing her feet on the small bits of floor still available. She pressed her ear to the door, “Think they’re gone,” she said, as if nothing had happened at all.
As always, a little run down of the characters introduced in this chap:
Ababinili - Chickasaw spirit of fire, a boy of about 10-12 in this story
Axomamma - Inca goddess of potatoes
Inguma - Basque god of dreams, but known to cause nightmares and kill people in their sleep
Kishi - Handsome demon from congo who has a human-eating hyena's face at the back of his head
Kokopelli - Native American hunchbacked god of fertility, childbirth and agriculture
Meridiana - succubus, a kind of female demon that seduces men
Osakabe-hime - Japanese yokai who manipulates people like puppets, a kind of demon in this story
Shakpana - Dahomey divinity of smallpox, in this story a young boy of about 13-14