After our harrowing escape, we are able to catch our breath momentarily. Entering the darkened chamber, we can tell this place is vast. Using Dil’s flask, Anthony’s t-shirt, and Johnny’s flaming torso, we create a makeshift torch that lights the way.
We have somehow arrived in a hotel lobby, the hotel having distinct Spanish Colonial architecture and furnishings. The walls are covered in sea-glass mosaics depicting California landscapes.
It would be quite lovely if it were not for the fact we were still in The Hedge, trapped inside while at any moment the Huntsman could knock down the door. We decide we have no choice but to explore our surroundings and see if this place is as vacant as it seems.
Sticking together, we find a traditional front desk in what one would assume is the reception area, complete with furniture under dusty sheets. Nearby is a staircase leading up to a promenade.
To our right is a door marked “Pool.” There’s a hallway parallel to it, with another spiral staircase of marble leading upstairs.
I find a lantern, which gives us a bit more illumination. Searching the reception area we discover a trio of leather tomes, along with a dog eared pamphlet.
The first book is dusty and slim but bound in fine Spanish leather. Opening it up, the names begin in Spanish but move to English right around the time California changed hands, “Coyote’s Bride, Glittering Goldie, Natalie Wood.” It appears to be a registry of Changeling names.
Opening the pamphlet, we discover a personnel guide for the Hotel California, all in Spanish, last page stating “Please find additional staff guides in the servant quarters.”
I touch the second volume, stroking its cover made of woven peacock feathers, causing it to laugh and fly around the room. After a moment of panic, it lands in front of me, open. I read aloud the names inside another registry, Red Tooth Red Tooth, Hook man, A Storm Which is Clockwork…
True Fae. I shudder at the realization.
I notice the first True Fae entry is in the same year as the last of the Changeling registry.
The last entry for the Others is 1969.
The third book is simple, plain, unremarkable compared to the other volumes. When opened, gold lettering appears, marking the first day of Spring this year.
Continuing our tour of the hotel, we take a hallway behind the desk into a lavish dining room. An atrium, but with its glass walls overrun with Hedge thorns. A glass door leading outside is seen, but it too is covered with thorns.
Dil taps into this area of the Hedge to gain some insight into our location, and is able to sense a great amount of power is stored here, but it doesn’t seem to belong to the True Fae. Instead, this hotel is a Place of Power, where the power comes from within.
And somehow, “it” senses we are here.
After searching the kitchen and dining room, Anthony discovers an ashtray, where among the ashes lie three precious stones, in princess cut: ruby, emerald, and onyx. He pockets them.
The pool is within an indoor gymnasium, and bone dry. A door leading out into the yard is overgrown with vines. We find a placard on the wall that reads
Lest desert throat thy sad fate be,
Dream once of gold,
Cross twice the sea.
Jonathan is beginning to get irritated with the lack of development, and Anthony seems to be getting more and more frustrated as well. Understandable considering our current predicament.
The rest of the search of the first floor reveals nothing of value. We head upstairs.
The second floor continues with the decor of murals, with waist high thorn-shaped railings of wood. The domed ceiling looks down upon us. There is an old wooden elevator, with its accordion door ajar, but no power to run it. The elevator appears to be the only means of reaching the rest of the floors, and blocks the door to the third floor above us.
The hallways going in opposite directions of each other have various doors, all identical, all unnumbered, all locked. Like the lobby, the walls are adorned with mosaics of sea glass.
The left hallway dead ends in a wall of thorns.
Dil notices a small mosaic tile appear on the wall, pushing the hedge back ever so slightly. Looking closer, each bead of milky glass holds swirling shapes within — a different scene in each piece.
I realize that these are dreams, trapped in time, and they are consumable! This place of power appears to accrue dream moments over time, like a coral reef.
Jonathan, who has been complaining about his endless thirst, consumes one of the dream baubles, and is momentarily satisfied. Not truly quenched, but soothed briefly. Though we may regain glamour from these dreams, we cannot live off them indefinitely. Each of us was only able to pull a piece off the wall once this way — perhaps we shall be able to again later.
Dil explores the outside, forcing his way through the hedge-choked doors. He finds a large courtyard, surrounded by a mostly dead garden. An empty fountain and swimming pool that would flow into a river dividing the courtyard from three bungalows. A dome of thorns shields the courtyard from the sky.
At one end of the courtyard stands a gateway of horn, beyond which is a path to swirling chaos” the true Wyld Father sometimes spoke of. Over the gate is a sign that reads: “Hotel California Guest season April – November.”
Opposite the horn gate is another gate, of bone, overgrown entirely with thorns and sealed with a heavy iron padlock. If the horn gate leads to the Wyld, where does the bone gate go?
The only sound he hears outside is from a wind chime, each long glass piece ending in a different symbol.
Back inside, Anthony climbs up the elevator shaft to explore the third floor. He finds a ballroom surrounded by portraits marked “owners,” decades worth of Changeling motleys. Then one of the portraits shows a Changeling and his True Fae “lover”, with his former companions relegated to bedraggled servants in a sepia photograph underneath that portrait, marked “staff,” which is how all Changelings in the hotel are depicted from that point. The portrait after that, the Other woman is with her own True Fae lover, the traitor’s head hanging from his belt, still very much alive.
The final owner portrait he inspects is empty, dated 1969, with the paint fading away to nothing. Below it, in their photograph, the staff stands defiant, ready to leave.
Anthony drops down the shaft and sprains his ankle. I walk over to help but he flinches at my touch and pushes himself upright. I understand Anthony’s penchant for self-reliance, but a little help never hurt anyone.
Dil rejoins us and says after making it rain (interesting…) he was able to get a few sips of water, which Jonathan chugs down.
Everyone relays what they have learned, with Anthony mentioning the betrayal of the motley and how the staff rose up against The Others and seemingly won.
We decide there is nothing else to do but head downstairs to the basement, the floor we have all been dreading.
We find what we assume are the staff quarters, in a cement-walled room tall enough for one four-person bunk-bed along each wall. There are employee handbooks crammed into the tiny shelf in the room, with dozens of pages of mad rules, some scratched out, others written over previous ones, changing as the management changed hands.
(These are the rules, dawg. You got ‘em all)
Access to the rooms and bungalows is restricted to the holder of the Master Key
The Vacancy light must remain lit all through the Guest Season, or no one outside the hotel will know it exists
Only those whose gate is unlocked using the Master Key will ever notice the Vacancy sign
Staff is forbidden by decree of their masters from partaking of Essence, save for a carefully rationed supply during the off season
The Owner may invest themselves to reshape the Hotel and its things
The Owner will know the song to summon the Master Key
The hotel must be kept clear of Thorns for anyone to depart
“You can check out whenever you like, but you can never leave.”
On the last page of the manual, we find, handwritten, another riddle:
One narrow sea before two wealthy fields,
Then twice for the Ocean of Lies thou pull
Twice the lure of Sutter’s Mill ring
At once praise thrice the Amazons’ Isle
And true mastery shall clap thee applause (applause)
Going further down, we find a vast warehouse, with boxes filled with various…I hate to use the terminology but it’s the best one to describe this…stuff. We manage to find an inventory ledger, but all we find is mundane, albeit useful, items.
After looking around the warehouse, we realized it’s designed to give us what we need, to a certain degree. Jonathan proves this by…summoning…a handful of “super balls.” Why we would need these I cannot say…
We reach another set of stairs that go further down, into what I imagine is the “generator room.” Inside is an intricately complex system of pumps and pipes. The east and west walls are dominated end-to-end by round windows, looking out at mirrored tubes stretching up and away. A raised dais of white glass the same size and shape as the windows lies in the center of the room, etched with lines and divots. Beyond the dias a three-foot-high semicircle of the same material rises from the ground, two round holes worked into it at 45 degrees, one pointing east, the other west. A door leads north.
I’m able to decipher the runes on each of the room’s features::
West window – armed with burning patience we shall enter the splendid cities
East – day was bleeding slowly
Around the dais – so sail the seasons.
As we ponder these machines and their clues, Jonathan goes through the north door to finda a giant ceramic boiler, flanked by bins full of dried thorns — this must be the hotel’s heating system.
After going over the various clues, as well as the poems we’ve found, we knew what actions to take next. At least, we hoped they were the correct ones.
We insert the various jewels into the dais, onyx for the Winter court, emerald for the Spring Court, ruby for the Summer, and we pour ash into the divot for the Autumn Court.
The ash solidifies into a sooty diamond.
The various holes are the perfect size for the wind chimes Dil found, which end in carvings of a spearhead for the Iron Spear, arrowhead for the Silent Arrow, mirror for the Leaden Mirror. What we thought we tree roots were actual antlers for the Antler Crown. Finally, the rosette for Dawn and the axehead for Dusk went into the eastern and western holes on the semicircle, forming levers.
With all the pieces in place, Anthony pushes the Dusk lever, as it must have been night by then.
The entire room springs to life as the dais tilts to the west, triangular sails of ephemera stretching from the gems to their corresponding glass spars. Moonlight shoots down the westward mirrored tunnel, filling the slanted window and hitting the dais, which begins to spin, faster and faster as the bellows flanking the door we came through begin to pump. All at once, the Hotel California has power.
We head to the now working elevator. We go up to the Bell Tower, following the clues we discovered, and find three long crystal bells, hanging down from the rafters, blue green, and gold.
Above each bell is an hourglass.
Anthony rings the gold, its hour glass filling with seawater. Johnny rings blue, a clear C cord, and the hourglass fills with gold dust.
First we follow the instructions in the pool room: ring once for gold, cross twice the sea. Striking the yellow bellow, we ring the blue twice, and reservoir beneath the stairwell fills with clear water.
After thinking back to the longer poem, we puzzle out the order of the tolls, and about the Ocean of Lies. I realize I must be the one to ring the blue. I tell them I will explain why soon. I tell them what to ring:
Blue Gold Gold
Green Green Green
With the final ringing of the bells, the green bell’s clapper falls out, revealing itself to be a large glass key that splashes into the water below. The Master Key. The Hotel California now belongs to us. We have a new home away from home.
Now that we are relatively safe…it is time. I must confess my sins to my motley. I never intended for my love to damn us all, but they deserve to know. They deserve to have the choice about what to do with me, and how I am to be punished.