Hello and welcome to Story 18. This one is a fantasy story, 2102 words long. It’s set in a world I haven’t written about yet on Story-A-Week, but it is in fact the fourth story that I’ve set in this world. The others are 8000-6000 word short stories that I might upload here as bonus stories. Meanwhile enjoy this first public look at the world of The Hotel Regency.
Hotel Regency – Feline Fanatics
“Damn this forest, damn it back to Ignelhelm!” Cho continued ranting under her breath as she pulled her cloak loose from yet more thorns. It tore, another hole that would need repairing. For a while she’d taken the cloak off but the insects had enjoyed it too much. She had itches in places she really didn’t want itches.
A long but successful journey, that’s how she called her progress a month back. Since leaving the Inn at Ignelhelm everything had gone wrong. She was lost, no richer, and cursed. The scant map she’d bought of the Great Forest had proved less than useful. Of course it hadn’t helped that she’d turned off the wagon trails after two days walking.
Cho believed that to find interesting things she had to get off the beaten path. Spotting a disused trail, kept passable by deer and other large creatures as demonstrated by the abundant spoor, she left the rutted soil road. She hadn’t seen it since. She had, as expected, found a large tomb a few days later. An adventurer by heart and profession, she considered it her job to ransack it. Burying her bags by the entrance, she crept inside with a little food and water and a lot of weaponry.
She spent a week in the tomb, avoiding or fighting the living dead, eating rats and drinking from stagnant pools. The harder the tomb, she believed, the greater the reward. As she dismembered attacking skeletons and gutted rotting creatures held together by decaying spells, Cho kept telling herself that the gold and gems would be well worth it. In the end she found the entrance to a large open room that contained a five-sided pool at its centre; on each of the five corners a pillar rose into the gloom. The pillars glowed softly near the water. Just visible beyond the pool, on a pedestal, sat a large chest.
The water concerned Cho, it looked back, very deep, and it gave off an unnatural cold. She checked what was left of her equipment before entering the room. Her cautious instincts were soon proved correct as a creature that looked like a cross between an eagle and some kind of giant squid rose from the cold water with an ear-splitting cry.
The fight was brief but frantic. The tentacles moved swiftly and seemed to be able to curve into every piece of cover she found. It chanted softly while attacking and that worried Cho more than the suckers and the huge beak. Cho dodged while binding two heat stones to an arrow. They were rare and expensive, she hoped this would be worth it. When they were held tight she hoisted her bow and fired, yelling the ignition word as the arrow arced toward the creature.
At the same moment the creature screamed and the spell it had been creating cast. The arrow flew into its open maw and the stones heated to volcanic temperatures. The creature dove as it burned but the stones were already inside, in just over a minute the body floated back to the surface, cooking from the inside out.
Cho felt the spell hit, she was bowled over by the force of it. A bracelet charm she had worn for years, a warding against magic, flared. It was made from the hair of a mage, laced with unicorn hairs and protective binding spell. It had saved her life more times than she cared to remember. It flashed in a brighter green light than Cho had ever imagined possible, throwing the room into stark shadows, then everything went dark. Her were legs ripped out from under her, she fell hard. Purple danced in her vision and she painfully rolled over.
She checked herself, same number of limbs, same colour. Cho held her hand over her heart, it beat reassuringly. She sighed, relaxing, she wasn’t dead either. So what was the magic, she wondered if her charm shielded her completely. She looked where her charm was, it was gone, a quick search around her on the ground turned up nothing but a few partially burned hairs. Cho giggled in relief, that was powerful magic, and she’d survived. Then Cho noticed her leg was itching.
Cho pulled down her trousers and stared at her left thigh as lines and circles drew themselves over her skin. The itching faded fast but in thirty seconds her thigh was covered with intricate circles with branching lines coming from them. On some circles the lines joined to another circle. Most of them time they didnt. But they were different lengths, at different parts of the circumference. Cho held her hand over the design, it radiated powerful magic. She redressed, muttering. She needed a wizard to understand this, and to remove it if possible.
When Cho smashed the chest it spilt out books. A few bound notes, a couple of scrolls, and six heavy bound and sealed books. After screaming at the injustice of it all Cho gathered the contents of the chest together, wrapped them in burlap, and started back towards the entrance. Cho had never learned to read, at least above a basic level, sentences squiggled as she read them, squirming from her eyes. If the sentence was short enough she could decipher them. Paragraphs were arcane nonsense.
They may still be worth something, but she needed to find a reader, some towns had them, as did churches. Given where they were found, and how old the spells were in the tomb, these were tomes on magic. Cho decided she needed a wizard for second reason. Ignelhelm was far too small for a wizard, in fact it would be a couple of weeks by coach back to High-Flemar to find the last one she’d encountered.
The journey back to the entrance of the tomb was much faster than her journey in, due in part to vaguely knowing where she was heading, and thanks to fortification from the cooked squid beast. Cho had considered her options. The list was very short. She dug up her bags, repacked everything so she could manage to carry it and studied her map. She was at the far south, nothing other than the forest for miles around. Her only choice was to press on, along the coast of the great forest. At the very end of the land, lay the twin city of Alembic and Low-Alembic.
Above that, high on the cliffs stood the Hotel Regency. The greatest hotel on the continent, famous for its age, just how indestructible it seemed and that they took payment in not just either Imperial or Segar’s. They accepted loot. In the Regency was the resident wizard, one of the most famous in the known lands, Osmic. Cho had met him once, they were both young, both starting out, both arrogant. The meeting was hardly one to remember with fondness but nothing bad had happened either.
Now it was over two weeks since the tomb and Cho was cold, wet, angry and sick of eating whatever animal happened to stray too near. She was even more sick of animals and insects trying to eat her; aside from one lucky nip by a wolf, the insects had been having the most success. As darkness fell she reached a clearing. Someone had made it in the recent past as stumps still stood in the ground and the young trees were just saplings. Cho started the routine of setting up camp for the evening. She checked her gear, cooked something furry – it tasted vaguely of chicken – and settled down for the night.
A few short hours later Cho blinked awake. The clearing should have allowed for the moon to shine between the trees, but the clouds must have been thick, as she couldn’t see anything. Cho lay still, listening intently. Something brushed past leaves, its weight softly broke damp twigs. Most interestingly, it moved on two legs; and it was coming closer.
To quiet for a troll or golem, too noisy for an assassin, but that didn’t narrow down the options much. She ran through her list of known enemies, it was modestly short. Cho was of the opinion that if someone was your enemy, either they made amends or they died. An attitude that kept her enemy-list manageable, and those too powerful for her to deal with were a long way from here. A bandit, then?
Whichever, they were too close for Cho’s comfort. Moving slowly, she slid her hand into her leather hip-bag, an elongated messenger style bag that held her small tools and magics. By feel, she located a vial, a sun pattern etched onto one side. She pulled the stopper, sitting up quickly Cho threw the vial at what she recalled as nearest patch of trees.
As it hit she drew her knife and leapt to her feet. The vial’s contents splashed against bark and leaves, everywhere the liquid touched glowed with a bright blue tinged white light. The clearing was suddenly lit well enough for Cho to see her intruder, it was turned to the light, tall, thin and furry. It had looked at the light, Cho hadn’t, when it turned back Cho had a second to assess.
Dressed as male, some white fur, mostly black and gray with a striped tail. A Feliman, humanoid cat. Cho had seen them before, once in battle, a few times at inns or bars, and once at camp. That was the only time she’d been close to one, normally she was looking up at them on stage as they danced and stripped.
He was well armed, with a crossbow strapped to his back, and a sword and a curved dagger. The latter was in his hand as he blinked and stared at Cho. Felimen were intelligent, they could speak the standard language known as Imperial, but this one clearly didn’t want to talk. He hissed, crouching down a little as he saw Cho was up and ready. He looked fit and dangerous, but he was also carrying a spade and an empty sack.
“What do you want?” Cho asked, as calmly as she could manage. His eyes narrowed, tail thrashing. Cho wondered if she could calm him by talking.
“Look, I don’t know you, let’s not …” He dropped the spade and sack from one hand and whipped the knife forward and leapt. Cho fell backwards catching his momentum on her legs she kicked him over her. She only just back up when he was on her again, his knife slashing, she caught it against her own blade and punched him under the chin. He rocked back, with his free hand he clawed up her side, shredding her shirt and creating four bleeding tears in her flesh.
Cho screamed and ducked, one of his claws caught on her shirt and he was pulled as she moved, Cho took the chance and slashed upward at his shoulder. His shirt cloth fell open, he yelled in pain and jumped back. He was fast, way faster than her. Cho gritted her teeth, this wasn’t looking good, he was naturally armed on each hand and had faster reflexes.
Cho could feel blood running down her side. Fur was matting down his front. He looked at her, with a soft hiss he turned and ran. Cho stared in amazement, her head swam and she sat down hard. Why, she thought, why run? When she could she went back to her messenger bag and pulled out healing salve.
It felt cool on her skin, the pain became and ache and her head cleared. It would still take a week or so to heal, but she’d need more salve. She tidied her gear and set the fire going again. The warmth and light were remarkably welcome.
The Feliman had run off almost due south, leaving his spade and sack. He’s heading for either the Hotel Regency or its supporting city Alembic, Cho thought. She checked the gear he’d left. Good quality but otherwise unremarkable. The sack was quite torn up inside, either something sharp had been in it, or something alive and unhappy.
She sat up waiting for the dawn. Now she had a third reason to go to the Regency. Cho wanted to know who he was, and what he was doing. Her curiosity was most raised by that sack. She decided to track him as long as he was heading in the direction of the Hotel. She’d lose the trail fast in Alembic. She shook a little despite the warmth. Sometimes her fights were too close for comfort.
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