Joseph awoke in a bed that was unfamiliar to him. The clouds outside shielded the stars and moon, casting the room into darkness. Silver lay sleeping at the foot of the bed, with only his outline still visible.
Joseph crawled across the large mattress and patted Silver on the head. “Wake up, Silver,” he said. “We’ve got trouble.”
The wolf yawned and lifted his head. “What’s wrong, master? You smell something foul in the air?”
“No, I don’t think there’s a demon around. But I also have no idea how we arrived here, or why it’s so dark out.”
“Well, let’s scout around a bit. Maybe we can figure out how we got here.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The two slipped off the bed and tip toed through the room, careful not to crash into anything. Joseph held his arms out in front of him so he would touch the wall before bumping into it. A moment later, he found it and felt around for the doorway.
As they left the room, Joseph kept a hand on the wall. He felt strange patterns in the wallpaper and thought that it would be quite expensive to cover every room with it. The bill for their room would likely be quite high as well.
Later, his hand bumped into a guard rail. He took a step forward, only to find a set of stairs before him. As they descended the steps, he thanked the hand guard for keeping him from tumbling down the stairs.
When they reached the bottom, the sounds of idle chatter and tableware could be heard in the next room. It was as dark as the room he awoke in, but the hotel guests didn’t seem to mind. Their outlines continued wearing fancy clothing and eating their meals as if the darkness around them was completely normal.
A woman called to him from the other side of the room. As they made their way to her, Joseph wondered how she knew his name. Along the way, they bumped into several tables and chairs, much to the anger of the guests who used them.
Joseph placed his hands against the counter when they arrived. “Hello? You asked for me, ma’am?”
“Yes, I wanted to know what you wanted for breakfast. The ceremony will be starting soon, and you’ll need plenty of energy for it.”
“Ceremony?” Joseph shook his head. “What ceremony? I just want to get out of this place and get back on the road.”
“The ceremony of Dula. He is coming to meet us, so we must prepare for his arrival.”
Joseph raised an eyebrow at her. “Okay, I hope you all enjoy his company. Can you just get me some bread and meat for the road?”
“Absolutely.” The woman ducked below the counter.
Her sudden disappearance made Joseph’s eyes widen. He leaned over the counter to find her, but she was gone. The only sight was the bare floor with a few clods of dirt.
Silver stood up on his hind legs and put his forepaws on the edge of the counter. “Where did she go, master?”
“I don’t know, but I guess she’ll be back. We might as well wait ‘til then.” Joseph turned around and leaned back against the counter.
He looked out into the diners, some of whom had stopped eating. Beyond them, the room seemed to stretch out into infinity. He wondered how large the hotel was. How long would Joseph and Silver have to walk before they could find the exit?
A bright light interrupted his thoughts. He held up an arm to shield his eyes, groaning. A moment later, his eyes adjusted to the brightness, and he lowered his arm. A large bonfire had formed a few feet from the dining tables. The flames came just a foot below the ceiling.
All the guests forgot their breakfast and turned toward the light. One at a time, they each stood and formed a line leading to the bonfire. Joseph and Silver followed them from a short distance behind.
The guests formed into groups of two and began to dance around the bonfire. The flames seemed to grow wilder as they danced. Below them, the floor started to rumble. A roar sounded out.
The fire grew, engulfing the guests who continued to dance, ignoring the fire. It was as if they were unable to feel pain. Then, one by one, they each collapsed onto the floor. The bonfire exploded into a cloud of ash which spread all about the room.
Joseph covered his mouth and nose, and Silver bent down with a paw over his nose. As the shower of ash blew against them, they slammed their eyes shut. Once the dust had settled, Joseph opened his eyes and dusted himself off, but the sight made him pause.
Across the room stood a demon where the bonfire had been. It’s body was dark red, with black stripes along it’s shoulders and arms. A clump of black hair grew from its chin, and two pointy ears stuck out of the sides of its head. Suddenly, the odor of brimstone hit Joseph, and he covered his nose.
“Dula!” Joseph said. “The ‘ceremony’ was a summoning ritual.”
With the bonfire gone, the room was darker now, with only smaller flames as illumination. Dula stepped toward them, pushing tables and chairs out of his way. He towered a few feet above Joseph and stared down at him.
“I don’t know how you escaped the mind control which held the others, human, but prepare yourself,” Dula said.
Joseph reached for his sword, but his eyes widened when his hand passed through nothing. The sword which he always carried was gone. He glanced back up to see Dula closing in on him.
He picked up a nearby chair and swung it at the demon. It grabbed the leg of the wooden chair, pulled it out of Joseph’s grasp and tossed it aside. The chair crashed into a wall far away, where it broke in half.
Joseph tipped over a table so that it stood on its side between Dula and himself. Then he and Silver ran back through the dining area. Dula kicked through the table like it was made of plywood and stepped through.
Joseph twisted and turned around tables and chairs, while Dula stepped through them as if they were doll house furniture. Silver bolted to the counter from before. He leaped onto the surface and peered behind it. Joseph arrived behind him a moment later.
The woman from before materialized before them. Silver yelped and slipped off the counter onto the floor. She held out a paper sack to Joseph, but as he took it, he looked up at her.
Her skin was dark red like Dula’s, and her long hair was jet black. Two tiny horns poked through her hair. Joseph took a step back as he stared at them. He hadn’t noticed her demonic features in the darkness before.
“Enjoy your meal, sir.” Then she started to cackle and sunk down below the counter.
Dula roared behind him. Joseph turned around. The demon had cleared all the tables and chairs. Only a few feet of flooring stood between them.
Still holding the bag tight, Joseph ran off with Silver into the darker recesses of the room, into the void which he couldn’t see. When he glanced back, Dula’s eyes glowed at him.
Joseph and Silver were panting when they finally lost Dula and stopped. He sat back against the wall and breathed deeply, while Silver lay down on the floor beside him. After a time, they looked at each other in the darkness.
“I’ve got to find my sword,” Joseph said.
“Maybe you left it back at our room,” Silver said.
“Or maybe they took it from me after bringing us here.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Still, it’s worth a look just to be sure. Better to only waste a moment checking it than hours wandering around.”
“So how do we get back there without meeting Dula?”
Another moment of silence passed.
“Is there a way around?” Silver asked.
“Our room is upstairs. Why not find another stairway, ascend those steps, and search on the second story.”
“What if we can’t find another staircase?”
“Why wouldn’t we find one? This hotel is huge, so there must be another one somewhere in this building.”
Sometime later, Joseph and Silver stood and continued searching the dark inn. As they walked along, Joseph though he heard footsteps, but whenever he turned around, all he could see was darkness. He hoped that what he heard was only echoes of his own movements.
They passed many doors along the hall, all of which were locked. This limited their ability to explore, but Joseph realized that their room was probably still unlocked. On the other hand, this meant that anyone could enter and steal his sword. He quickened his pace.
Silver dashed up beside Joseph to keep up with his master. Soon, they came to another set of stairs by the wall and ascended them. Joseph felt for the hand rail and held it, for the room was still dark. A giant rat met them at the top of the stairs. It’s nose poked around the corner as it peered at them.
Joseph stopped just below the top stair and waited. Silver stood in front of him and growled at the giant rat. It was a little smaller than Silver, and Joseph wasn’t sure if the wolf would be able to defeat the rat on his own.
He stepped around Silver, keeping a good distance from the rat, then backed away from it. The rat was about to take a step forward when Silver barked, and it scurried away into the darkness. Silver turned up his head and followed after Joseph. For awhile, Joseph kept glancing back to see if the rat returned, but he stopped after a while.
They continued on in silence for a time, before Joseph noticed another door along the wall. The door was locked, so he shrugged his shoulders and continued on. There were several more along the wall; he tried opening all of them, but all were locked as well. It wasn’t until he had lost count that one finally opened for him.
Inside the room, a bit of moonlight streamed in through the window. The first thing they saw was the unmade bed, as if someone had just slept in it. He stepped closer to find a few of Silver’s white hairs lying at the foot of it. This was the room they had woken up in.
Joseph scanned the room, but his sword wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Nor was there any object which he could use as a weapon against Dula. The only sizable thing in the room was an oil lamp sitting on the bedside table. It looked too fragile to use as a weapon and would be more useful in one piece—if he could find something to light it.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of scurrying feet coming from the hall outside. He stared at the darkness for a moment, before rushing over and slamming the door shut. He leaned back against it and slid down to the floor.
Silver walked over to him. “Something the matter, Joseph?”
“I think this inn has a rat infestation.”
No sooner had he said that than several rodents swarmed the door. Soon, they began gnawing at the wooden door. Joseph stood and pulled the bed up against the door to keep them from bursting in. He panted and held his hands on his knees.
“Come on, Silver,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to escape, before those rats come and overpower us.”
He rushed to the window and threw it open, but the sight outside made him gasp. The inn was perched on the edge of a cliff. If Joseph were to leap from the window, he would fall down into the rocks and water far, far below.
He turned, slumped onto the carpet floor, and looked to Silver. “We won’t to be able to escape that way, Silver. It’s a bit too far to the rocks below.”
Silver’s ears drooped. “Oh, I see.”
“If only…” Then a small light caught his eye. Joseph glanced past Silver to see his sword lying on the floor where the bed had stood. He scrambled across the carpet, took it by the hilt, and held on tight. He nodded to Silver and went over to the door. A hole opened up in the door after only a moment and a rat nose poked through.
Joseph swung at the rat, but it pulled away. The blade struck the door, making a clean cut in the flimsy wooden board. He cursed whoever had been too stingy to buy sturdier doors.
The cut allowed the rat to easily enlarge the hole and crawl through. Joseph swung along the wall and sliced the rodent’s head off. It fell to the floor below, staining the bed sheet crimson. Another rat slipped through the hole, but this time Joseph could only scratch it. Then another went past him before he could even attack.
“Keep watching the door, Joseph,” Silver said. “I’ll handle these two.” Then he leaped at them. The three scrambled around on the floor, and Joseph returned his attention to the door.
Another rat peered into the room. Joseph split its head down the middle. It fell back into the hallway. The rat paws against the door slowed, but there were still many out there. As he focused on the hole, a pair of teeth came through on the other half of the door. Joseph jumped onto the bed as another rat chewed a second hole.
He slashed at it, but the rat pulled back before he could kill it. But another poked through to his right. He stabbed it through the eye. It scurried away back into the hallway. Every few seconds, another rat would poke through one of the holes, and Joseph would attack it, either killing it or scaring it off. After a while, he began to sweat.
One of the rats managed to slip past him as he skewered another. It bit him on the leg before he could back away. Silver dropped the dead rat he had been fighting and leaped onto the bed. He growled at it before snapping his jaws at the rat. The rodent scurried off the bed and Silver chased it.
A crack in the door began to form, going from right hole toward the other. When they connected, the top half of the door burst open and out poured several giant rats. Joseph slid off of the bed, joined seconds later by Silver who had blood dripping from his teeth.
The scratching against the door ceased. The five rats stared at Joseph and Silver for a moment, before diving at them. Silver leaped up and dug his teeth into one of them. They tumbled across the floor. The other four landed in front of Joseph.
Joseph slashed along the three giant rats. The first, he struck in the side, but they all scurried off before he could cut them. Silver continued wrestling with the other giant rat nearby.
As Joseph scanned the room, one of the rats ran across the floor. He slammed the tip of his sword but it missed the rat and struck the carpet floor. Another darted past and was gone by the time Joseph pulled his blade free. He held his sword along his leg and searched throughout the room for any sign of the rodents.
Suddenly, all four of the rats rushed at Joseph. He fell backwards onto the bed, and the rats ran under it. Quickly, he sat up and looked back and forth to each side of the bed. But then he felt one land on his scalp, and he remembered the hole behind him.
“There’s still more of them outside!” Joseph shouted.
He ripped the rodent off him and threw it to the floor, where it scurried under the bed. Then there came a crackling sound. Joseph turned to see what remained of the door crumbling. On the remains lay two large rat claws attached to long limbs, above which was a rat head.
The wererat stepped onto the bed. Joseph stood to meet him, coming up slightly below the monster’s height. The creature breathed a fowl odor on Joseph’s face. It took all he had to keep from vomiting.
It swiped a claw at him, but Joseph brought his sword up to block. As it leaned forward to bite him, he ducked down low and rammed his shoulder into it. The wererat fell back onto the foot of the bed. He aimed the point of his sword at its chest. Before it could move, he pierced its heart.
Joseph looked to Silver, who had killed a couple more rats and was now fighting another. “Forget that one, Silver. Their king is dead now. Let’s get out of here!”
He turned back to the door and jumped through it. On the other side, a couple rat corpses lay but no live ones could be seen. He heard the creak of metal behind him, then paws scraping against wood. Part of Silver’s white coat could be seen from the moonlight behind him. Joseph and Silver took off back into the darkness of the hotel, in search of some way out.
As they ran through the darkness, Joseph continued to hear a cranky metallic sound echoing through the halls. Finally, he stopped to listen. There was a lurch as Silver stopped as well, which caused Joseph to raise an eyebrow.
“What’ve you got there, Silver?” He bent down to the wolf and saw the lamp from their room hanging in his mouth by a wire. Small drops of oil fell from the metal bowl to the wooden floor. “How much oil did you spill getting this out of our room?”
Silver set the lamp down. “Not much. I think it was already half full when we got there.”
“If you say so.” He frowned and stood back up. “Well, hopefully we’ll find more oil when we find a way to light it.”
Silver picked it back up, and they continued down the hallway. Joseph eventually started trying to open doors again, but he didn’t find any unlocked. Soon, the doors were replaced with bare wall, and he gave up searching.
Not long after, they came to set of stairs leading downward and descended them, coming out into a large room. It was just as dark as the rest of the hotel had been, with no windows to provide any light. They went through it, Joseph keeping a careful eye out for anything. Then something bumped into his waist.
Joseph looked down to see a small wooden table covered by a plain tablecloth, decorated with a couple unlit candles and two sets of dishes. The silverware lay haphazard across the plates, all of which were covered in an unknown greasy substance. They stepped around the table and as they continued on, Joseph held his hands out before him.
He kept along the wall and managed to avoid hitting anything else until a counter appeared. He tried peering over it, but met only darkness. Keeping a hand along it, he walked around the counter until he found an opening and went inside. He felt through the cabinets under the counter until a small box found its way into his grasp.
Joseph pulled out the box and stared at it. Inside were several small pieces of wood, and when he held one in his hand, he realized that they were matches. Quickly, he struck one along the floor. A bright spark formed on the tip, and a flame ignited, illuminating the close surroundings.
“Bring me the lamp, Silver!”
Silver set it down beside him, and Joseph lit it, watching the flame inside grow bright. Then he blew out the match and threw it away. He searched through the cupboards under the counter again, but found nothing else which would aid him.
With the new light to see, they looked around at the dining room. As they walked through the room, Joseph noticed a black char mark near the far wall. He realized with a gasp that they were in the same room which Dula was summoned. They had traveled in a circle.
He placed the lamp wire back in Silver’s mouth and grabbed the hilt of his sword. The two searched for any sign of Dula, walking very quietly. There was another hallway which they traveled down. The first door along this hallway was unlocked, but only contained a closet without anything more than a few brooms. From then on the rest of the doors were locked.
Further down the hall, they spotted a picture hanging on the wall. Joseph didn’t remember seeing any other portraits, but he couldn’t be sure since they didn’t have the lamp then. The painting was of a demon stabbing a woman with a pitchfork as a look of horror passed over her face. Broad brush strokes were used in the creation of the art, giving the painting a rushed look.
As he stared at the painting, he could feel himself being drawn into it. The picture seemed to grow larger and larger the longer he gazed upon it. Soon, he felt grass under his feet and a cold breeze against his face, causing him to shiver.
The demon moved its pitchfork toward the woman, who crawled away. It missed and struck the ground, so he pulled it back for another attack. She screamed.
Joseph drew his sword and ran toward them. He slashed through the demon’s pitchfork, slicing off the sharp end. Then he pulled the woman back onto her feet. Up close, she seemed much older now, almost twice Joseph’s age, and he thought that even when she was younger, she was rather plain.
The demon behind him laughed, and he turned to see a spearhead growing out of the broken weapon. It stepped toward them with the newly repaired weapon raised to strike. The woman clung to Joseph’s left arm.
As the demon brought the spear down, Joseph ran his blade though the weapon, slicing off the spearhead. The tip fell to the grass and disappeared. When Joseph looked back up, the demon’s weapon had transformed into a short sword, the same length as the broken spear.
The demon advanced toward them and slashed at Joseph’s face. He blocked the attack with his own sword inches from his nose. It pushed harder against Joseph’s blade until he fell back on the ground. The woman let go of Joseph and ran away.
He tried to stand, but the demon was over him before he could get fully upright again. It raised it’s sword to pierce Joseph through the chest. It bought the sword down, but Joseph rolled out of the way. The blade cut him along the arm as it pounded into the soil. Joseph spun around and cut through the demon’s blade before he could pull it free.
The weapon transformed into a dagger as the demon held it. It rushed across the ground at Joseph. Joseph fell back and brought his legs up, kicking the demon in the stomach. It vaulted over him and fell into the bushes.
Several barks came from his side, and as he stood back up, Silver ran toward him. The bushes behind him rustled as the demon pulled itself free. Joseph ran to Silver, but when he stopped, the wolf didn’t halt. Silver leaped at Joseph, tackled him to the ground, and stood on top of him.
The grassy field and trees disappeared, replaced by the hallway. The lamp sat a few feet behind Silver, giving the room a warm orange hue, a stark contrast with the dull gray sky from the paining. Silver licked Joseph’s face a few times until he protested.
Joseph sat against the wall beside Silver. “What happened? I was transported to another world.”
“Joseph, you were only staring at that painting. You stood there for a long time, as if it had you in a trance.”
“But, I could’ve sworn the demon I was fighting cut me.” He looked down at his arm, but the wound was gone, much to his surprise.
“Demon? You mean the one in the painting?”
“Yeah! I kicked him into a bush, then you went into the painting too and saved me.”
“No, Joseph. You were just standing here in the hallway.”
Joseph stared at his arm for a moment, before standing back up. Careful to avoid looking at it, he took the painting off the wall, flipped it around, and set it down onto the floor. Then he turned back to Silver.
“Come on, let’s keep moving.”
They traveled down the hallway for some time, the walls seeming to stretch toward infinity. There was the occasional door beside them, but all were either locked to led nowhere. After awhile, Joseph detected a slight curve in their pathway, and he realized that it was taking them around the length of the building.
But finally, the hallway came to an end at a large metal door that split down the middle. As they approached it, the door opened to a small closet with a piece of paper lying on the floor. Joseph stepped inside with Silver close behind and picked it up. Written on the piece were several words of gibberish and a horned face at the bottom which had a long, pointy tail and a tongue sticking out.
A moment later, a rushing sound caused them both to turn, and the door closed. Silver pulled his tail out of the way seconds before it would’ve been caught. Then metal chains clanked above and below them. The room was beginning to descend.
Joseph held onto the wall, and Silver crouched down to the floor. They held those positions for some time until the room finally stopped moving. A time of silence passed, then the door opened. Joseph peered around the edge of the door, though only darkness met him back.
“Another hallway.” Joseph stepped out of the room, and Silver followed.
Several pipes ran along the walls down the hallway, and for a time that was all that they saw. Then dust began to appear at their feet as the room grew warmer. The hallway opened into a larger room where the pipes went up into the ceiling, which hung only a floor below Joseph’s head.
Several crates and barrels were piled around the room, and there were two other hallways on the sides of the room. On the far end of the room stood a large wooden chair next to a stack of crates. On the chair lay a large hardcover book with a strange symbol on the cover.
The tome was heavy in his hands when Joseph held it, so he sat down in the chair and opened the book on his lap. The words seemed as much nonsense as the note in the closet before, but as he continued turn through the pages, they began to make more and more sense. The book told of another plane of existence, where powerful beings who had turned from God resided. It talked of spells which one could use to travel to and from this place. Then it began to describe the world.
It was a world without sunlight, without beauty, and without joy. The creatures that dwelled there reveled in their misery and did all that they could to spread it to others. It was a place many millions of miles away from the Earth, yet the residents envied earthlings so greatly that they’d do anything to shorten the distance.
Joseph could feel himself slipping downward into the chair, like it was pulling him in. He remembered the painting from before, and slammed the book shut. The noise the book made echoed throughout the halls. With a grimace, he placed the book inside a nearby box and looked away.
But as he went back to Silver, there came a stomping sound from down the hallway to his left. He bent down next to Silver and stared into the darkness. A moment later, Dula entered the room.
It held a knife in its hand, pointed it straight at Joseph, and ran at him. Joseph dove out of the way, Silver bolted, and the demon struck one of the boxes. It growled and tore the knife out of the crate, pulling free several strands of straw.
Joseph drew his sword and stabbed Dula. It stepped out of the way, and his blade poked through the box that was behind him. The plywood spilled open with more straw falling to the floor.
It ran at him with the knife again. Joseph stepped aside, but the blade cut across his shoulder. A wave of pain ran through his arm, and he almost dropped his sword. He grit his teeth and tightened his grip on the hilt.
He slashed at Dula. It held up its knife to block, but the weight of Joseph’s blade was too great. The knife slipped from Dula’s fingers and flew away. Joseph cut along Dula’s chest, causing him to step back.
It was dark against the wall on the other side of the room where Dula fled to. But when Silver stepped close with the lamp, Joseph gasped at the sight before his eyes. The demon Dula was unwounded. His sword was useless against it.
Joseph slashed at Dula over and over, but none of his attacks even cut through its thick demon skin. Dula only laughed at his futile attempts at harming him, not even trying to dodge. Then it brushed Joseph’s blade away from his chest, where it struck a nearby pipe by the doorway.
There came a hiss like a serpent from the broken pipe, and suddenly a smell of rotten eggs filled the room. Joseph’s eyes went wide. He picked up a nearby box and broke it over Dula’s head as it continued to laugh. Straw and plywood and broken whiskey bottles rained down over it. As it brushed away a large piece of broken wood, Joseph took the lamp out of Silver’s mouth.
“You were brought into this world from fire, and with the same fire you shall leave it!” Joseph threw the oil lamp at Dula’s face. It ducked down so that the lamp struck the wall, but broken glass and oil poured over the demon just the same. The wick touched Dula’s oil soaked head and lit the demon ablaze. The fire spread from its head down to the straw lying at its feet.
Dula screamed over the hiss from the pipes.
Joseph and Silver glanced at each other, then they turned and ran down the hallway across from which Dula had entered. Their surroundings quickly grew dark without the lamp. Behind them, he could still hear the sounds of fire crackling.
Then they saw a faint light up ahead. There was a door at the end of the hallway, and Joseph flung it open. They ran up a flight of stairs and out into the moonlit air and beyond. After running several feet further, a sound erupted behind them and the ground shook.
Joseph and Silver stopped and turned to look back. Flames licked the walls of the inn. The sight brightened the whole area around them. Then the building began to sink down as the cliff gave way, and the light started to dim.
When the hotel disappeared, they ran toward the edge of the cliff and looked down. The crumbled wreck of the inn lay burning at the bottom of the cliff, but there was no movement under the many charred boards. They continued to stare at the glowing sight, until the waves finally extinguished the flames, and all that was left was smoke and burnt firewood.
The first rays of sunlight poked above the horizon. Joseph found a path leading to the beach below the cliff and traveled down with Silver following close behind. They spent half the day searching through the garbage, but found only a few dead rats lying in the wreckage.
Eventually, the tide swallowed the mess, and they had to return to higher ground lest they be swept into the ocean as well. Later that day, after he and Silver had eaten and explored a little, Joseph returned to the cliff’s edge, only to find the wreckage mostly buried. He hoped and prayed that the explosion had destroyed Dula, but at the back of his mind was always a lingering doubt.