This is the eleventh part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 10, you can read it here.
Part 11: Traitor
Janet got to her feet and looked around. She had never seen this room before. There was a desk to her right, and in the left corner, a bed. A dark suit was draped over a chair. This must be Hela’s room, Janet realised with an uncomfortable start.
Hela was between her and the door, angrier than Janet had ever seen her. “Explain.”
“I didn’t come here on purpose,” Janet began, then stopped.
Hela had turned her gaze onto the two figures behind her. “Robin Foxglove. Paxton Blackthorn. You were refused entry. I watched you leave.”
“It was an illusion you saw, mistress,” said Paxton. “We stayed, and we sought sanctuary from Janet.”
“She had no authority to give that to you. In fact, your presence here is likely the reason the portals and the magic are unravelling at such a rate.”
“They said they were going to die,” said Janet. “I couldn’t let that happen.”
“So you deliberately doomed everyone in this hotel?”
Hela stepped forward. “I told you what could happen if we let them stay. I told you it would upset the balance here, that it could lead to the hotel falling apart. And you chose two people you hardly knew, two criminals, over that.”
“You don’t know why they’re criminals! You don’t know anything about them, and you didn’t try to find out.”
“There wouldn’t have been any point.” Hela sighed. “I have to send them back somehow.”
“The portals are closed,” said Paxton.
“We tried to leave,” said Robin. “Janet was going to open a portal for us. But it didn’t work. We ended up here instead.”
“Janet is a very new member of the staff. She doesn’t understand how any of this works. You took advantage of her.”
“Janet is your anchor,” said Paxton. “She’s the person who links the portals to this land. She is the key to the hotel.”
Hela spoke over Janet’s stuttering. “When — if – she comes into her powers, finds a link to the hotel, that is what she would be. But that hasn’t happened yet, and until then, I am the authority here. I revoke your agreement.” Hela frowned. “You made an exchange, didn’t you? That’s why you think your presence here is allowed.” She turned to Janet. “Return to them what they gave you.”
“They didn’t give me anything!”
“They must have, otherwise – ah. They gave you knowledge. That’s why you can see magic, isn’t it? Here I was thinking you had developed a special affinity with this place.”
“Maybe I have.”
“You haven’t. It was all built on a lie. Never mind. We can fix this.”
“We can?” Janet was surprised at the hurt Hela’s words caused her. She wanted to belong here. She had fit here. Except now it had all gone wrong.
“The exchange is one of the fundamental building blocks of the hotel, a part that cannot be changed or bargained with, no matter the force. If we revoke the agreement, they will be forced back to their world, and the balance will be restored.”
“I can’t give back knowledge.”
“You can’t. I can take it from you. Once you lose that, the exchange will be rendered void.”
Janet gaped at her. “I’d forget everything I’d learned about magic?”
“Yes.” Hela reached out. Janet could see blue-silver threads winding around her fingers. “Don’t you want to fix this?”
“I suppose.” Janet realised with sadness that she was finally seeing the differences in colour in the magic. Soon, though, she would lose all of that.
“No!” Robin stepped between Hela and Janet, knife drawn. “This won’t fix things. We may have upset the balance, but that doesn’t explain how the portals closed.”
“Somebody interfered,” said Paxton. “We saw magic sealing the portal. Somebody used a calling spell to bring us here.”
Hela frowned, but said, “I can deal with that myself, later. After I fix this.” She pushed Robin aside and stretched out her hand to Janet.
From behind, Paxton pushed Janet to one side. She lost her balance, tumbled to the floor, and through it, falling to what was apparently the floor below. She sat up, gasping, and looked up. Nobody seemed to be following her.
This room was empty. It seemed to be a guest room of some kind, but it was empty. She left quickly. She didn’t want Hela to find her.
Or did she? Was Hela right? Was this entirely her fault, happening only because she let Robin and Paxton stay? Surely there was more to it than that. Janet decided she didn’t care. She didn’t regret saving them, and she didn’t regret learning what she had of magic. She wasn’t prepared to give that up if there was another way.
The pieces were coming together. Someone else was meddling, someone who had known she was there at the portal with Robin and Paxton. There was only one person who knew of Robin and Paxton, that she knew of, anyway. Janet headed downstairs.
Janet tried to head downstairs. There was something wrong with the hotel. The strings of magic were fraying. The ground shifted and twisted in odd ways. She turned a corner and found herself in the lobby, watching Felicia, back at the desk, trying to deal with a mass of people. She took another step and found herself just outside the kitchens.
Someone grabbed her arm. Janet looked up into Cory’s panicked face. “The place is coming apart,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an accident, either.”
“What do you mean?”
He pointed. Janet looked. “I can’t see anything.”
“Concentrate. It’s being sneaky.”
Janet took a deep breath and pulled herself together. Another breath, in and out, and she saw it. A thin black thread was looping around the silver ones, dragging them down.
“Someone is doing this. Probably the same someone who tried to get you before. They’re taking the whole place down.”
This wasn’t her fault. She thought she knew whose fault it was. She was going to prove she was right, and she was going to fix it.
Janet pulled away from Cory, ignored his cry, and grabbed at the dark strings. They drew back, out of her reach. Before they vanished, though, a thin gold tendril stretched from her hand to the black strings, and connected.
She had just enough time to think, Was that me? My magic? before she was pulled down beneath the floor. She tumbled for what felt like an hour before her breath was knocked out of her. She reached out and felt concrete.
“You?” The voice came from somewhere above her, incredulous and angry. “Why must you keep interrupting my work?”
Janet looked up. The room spun slowly around her, but looked like it might have been the basement where she had first seen Robin and Paxton. Looking down on her, with fury in his face, was Telar.
Thanks for reading! Part 12 is here.
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