This is the sixth part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 5, you can read it here.

Part 6: Telar

Janet came in to her next shift half expecting Smith standing in the lobby, ready to confront her over her crimes the night before. However, there was nobody waiting for her. She made her way to the front desk, where the receptionist, Felicia, was arguing with a tall man cloaked in white.

“You need me,” the man in white was saying. “You cannot afford —“

“You have no true place here, Exile of Durridel.”  Felicia’s voice was cold. “You are a guest, here under sufferance. And you have nowhere else to go. Can you afford to upset us? Where would you go, if we refused you our hospitality?”

So this was Telar. Janet looked at him with interest. He was taller than anyone she’d seen before — over six feet? Seven? His billowing white cloak was perhaps the most outlandish costume she’d seen in the hotel. It fluttered gently, though there was no breeze to move it.

“That would doom Himmeria and Durridel and all the lands between,” he was saying. “You folk with your talk of duty, you are all just the same.” He turned away and caught sight of Janet. His eyes were black and his mouth curled in a sneer. “So this is my replacement? This is your hope?”

“Uh, what?” said Janet.

Behind Telar, Felicia rolled her eyes and said nothing. 

“I see what you are,” said Telar. “A scared little girl who thinks she is brave, but is truly thoughtless. You won’t last. Do you really think you can master the magics here? This isn’t your place.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Exile.” Hela stepped forward. “This is her place more than yours. Don’t you have some business to attend to?”

“The upper levels have shifted again,” he replied. “The portals there are interfering with my work. Either get someone who knows their job, or allow me to close that one off.”

“You are a guest and have no control over the portals. We can send someone to help reposition your rooms, if you’d like.”

“Please.” The word was dripping with sarcasm. Telar stormed off, cloak streaming out behind him.

Hela sighed. “Felicia? Can you send—“

“Already on it,” said Felicia. “His rooms will be back to normal in about ten minutes.”

“Let’s hope they stay that way. I’m sorry you had to see that,” Hela added to Janet as they walked out the lobby.

“What was he talking about? He said I was his replacement.”

“He is wrong. He’s a guest; you’re an employee. Different things. So don’t mind him — nobody else does. The reason he’s here is because he was forced out of both Durridel and Himmeria.”

“How does that work?”

“He was a prince in Durridel who abused his power trying to usurp the Overarching King.”

“Overarching King?”

“The one who rules over the Princes. The title sounds better in the original language. When the King threw him out, he went to Himmeria and got involved in the politics there, became a High Ambassador. That’s the highest office a non-Himmerian can hold there, but it wasn’t good enough for him. They let him rescind his citizenship there.”

“Is that why he keeps trying to order you about?”

“No, it’s because of his position here. He’s close to an anchor for us, if not quite as stable. Being a citizen of both worlds is something like being a citizen between the worlds, just as you are. So he thinks. It’s not quite the same. Regardless, this is as permanent a home as he can get. He can’t go back to Durridel and he won’t go back to Himmeria, not until the ruling council has changed significantly.” Hela sighed. “Anyway, I thought it was past time you had a proper tour of the place.”

They visited the kitchens (the proper kitchens), the restaurant, and the bar. Hela then pointed out the pattern on the corridor walls near the ceiling. It was a strip of gold bent lines, a series of arrows.

“Those will always point you to the lobby. In case you’re alone and things shift, or you get lost. Felicia can direct you from there.”

Janet frowned. Had Paxton lied when he said he’d used magic to lead her there? “Is that on every floor?”

“On the upper floors, the arrows there will lead you to the lift or the staircase, depending on which one is supposed to be closer. There’s nothing like that in the basement — there aren’t supposed to be guests there.”

So he would have had to have used magic there to find his way around, at least. “So what do I do if I ever find myself lost in the basement level?”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that, because we won’t let you alone there. That’s where the laundries are, and the storage areas, and some of the portals. Usually the portals are either in the basement or on the top floor.”

“How many portals are there?”

“Too many. If you end up lost and alone in the basement for whatever reason, best to give me a call and wait where you are. Oh, and this might help.” Hela passed Janet a sheet of paper. “It won’t work unless you’re in the hotel, since there’s no magic in your world.”

Janet took the paper. It was about A4 sized, and seemed blank. “What is it?”

“A map. Give it a moment.”

Lines began to appear on the blank surface, sketching out rooms. “It’s linked to the current structure, so you shouldn’t ever get lost. There are places I’ve blanked out. Best not to make things too complicated.”

“It’s not like the Marauder’s Map, is it? You can’t see other people on there?”

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about. It will show you your own position on the map.”

“That’s great, thanks.” Janet searched the map until she found a dot that matched her position. “Can I stay, after the shift, just to look this over? I mean, if I can’t use it outside this place, I’ll otherwise never learn where everything is without it.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Hela. “Technically you don’t get off for another half hour. How about you finish up and go sit in the lobby for a while and take that time to look?”

“All right.” Janet nodded to Hela and walked off. She had to glance back a few times to make sure the woman wasn’t following her. It was annoying that the basement was the one place she still wasn’t allowed to wander on her own. Still, if they thought she was just trying out other things, if they weren’t monitoring her every move, she might get away with it. Just as long as she wasn’t caught actually on the basement level —

“Miss Ling.” 

Janet turned. Manager Smith was behind her, having apparently come out of one of the many doors she still hadn’t figured out.

“I don’t believe you have any reason to be here.”

Janet held out the map like a shield. Shield, she thought, furiously trying to picture her bedroom wall to block out any thoughts the man might be reading. “Hela gave me this and said I could study it. I was just seeing how it works.”

“You must be careful. There are places in this building that no map can show. Should you wander into those places accidentally, you would be in danger.”

“I’m just sticking to places I can find on here.”

“I’m worried about you. Apparently last night you left quite late. I hope Hela didn’t let you find your way out on your own.”

“She didn’t. I — I left my phone behind and went back to get it. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have done that.” It was a ridiculous lie. But it was probably better than saying that she was helping harbour two — refugees? Illegal guests? Exactly what were Robin and Paxton supposed to be?

Smith gave Janet a long look. “You remember what would happen if you took one step outside the instructions we gave you?”

“I’m out.” Janet tried to not even think. The blood pounded in her ears, either from the effort or the fear, she wasn’t sure.

“Are you trying to test that?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Then be careful. I am watching you.”

Janet went back out to the lobby. It seemed like she wasn’t going to get to the basement for a while.

Want to keep reading? Part 7 is here.