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Journey Through the Black Oak Door

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Dear New Employee,

    Congratulations on getting hired/conscripted/press gagged/indentured/unwilling conned into working for the Homestead Suites!

    On behlaf of everyone at our proptery, we are exceptionally excited that you of all (inesert physical descriptor) will be working with us. Provided you have rigerouslly digested all twelve audio casette tapes of your manditory employee training, this officially marks your first shift working at our property located in our sleepy town where everyone pretends to be asleep. Of course, we rarely sleep here. First rule, you will be fired for sleeping on the job, or at all, anywhere. Do not fall asleep.

    As I will have been long gone by the time you read this, allow me to make a quick introduction...

    I am a Mage and master of the mystic arts outside of work hours and every other Friday night during the mandatory secret mage meetings. No one knows about the secret mage meetings, not even those who attend. There is only a lingering feeling afterwards that one or more mages were gathered and an hour and a half missing from one’s day. Also as you might suspect, the taste of cheap coffee lingers in the back of one’s throat. Do not tell anyone about the secret mage meetings.

    Outside of adventuring as a master of the mystic arts, I work as the night auditor here at the Homestead Suites Hotel a mile west of Nightvale. Technically the hotel isn’t located anywhere you can physically travel too. However, the majority of our guests arrive if they have mistakenly wandered west at least a mile away from Nightvale. All of our guests arrive at twilight. All of our guests are confused, all of them afraid and always without enough luggage to last the duration of their visit. As a night auditor at the Homestead Suites, it’s my job to check in guests, usher them to their rooms and help them sleep off their despair and confusion of traveling to a place that doesn’t technically exist in time or space.

    Recently, our hotel has had a great deal of maintenance issues I’ve had to deal with. Our Onyx Industries soap recycler (The device used to recycle all the used slivers of soap guests leave behind and convert them into whole bars of recycled soap) has exploded. Fortunately, the explosion was small and contained, injuring only one guest. That guest was a cock-waffle and ultimately nobody cared about their pain. However, the used grime, and hate, and evil, and terrible psychological filth attached to our guests’ used bars of soaps have created an ever expanding black inky mass.

    The dark mass has currently consumed the fourth and fifth floors. As the manager on duty during the night shift, it is my obligation to investigate the pulsing black mass. It wreaks of burnt tar and cinnamon. Using the mystic arts and following the standard “Hospitality and Otherworldly Intrusions” manual I reached out to Lulu; the ghost of the little girl who was murdered in room 224. As a resident of our property and part time employee, I commanded Lulu to phase through the nearest ink covered door. After about forty minutes or so, Lulu returned, covered in blood and confirmed that it was safe to pass through the otherside. So began my journey of opening old black oak doors from our humble discount hotel and journeying into other worlds.

 

Through the Black Oak Door

 

    Thirty minutes before the end of my shift and the hotel just HAD to get infected by an inky mass of otherworldly filth and despair. I suppose these things happen. No one else ever seemed to care about the state of our inn, our guests, or the undefined sentient oil slowly taking over our reality. So as always, the responsibility falls upon me, the only available hotel staff member and licensed sorcerer to investigate the matter.

    After receiving the all clear from our resident ghost that entering the first of many infected guest rooms was plausibly safe, I opened the black oak door before me. After all if you can’t trust the spirit of a murdered child to discern supernatural danger, the world is lost.

---

    Not surprisingly after crossing the threshold, the door slammed shut behind me and disappeared entirely. No longer in the hotel I instead found myself in a field a few hundred meters away from a pitifully small township. Only a handful of buildings stood, horribly dated and constructed in an odd fashion not native to the SouthWest desert. I quickly gained my bearings and noticed that four equally oddly fashioned folk also walked along beside me.

    To my right stood a full fledged elf. Not a half bread like myself, but a an honest to Glob elf in what I initially thought to be authentic Lord of the Ring Cosplay. Like, really well done CosPlay, but not "try hard Cosplay." Beside him stood a hulking Paladin who wore a face ready for war; obviously an acolyte of whatever blood god was native to these parts.

    On my left was an attractive yet forlorn Tiefling. I’ve always found it unfortunate that Tieflings got shat upon because they were half demon, or wanted to bite your face half off, or put your neck in a half-nelson and strangle you with their tail. Honestly, people can be such dicks. Oh, and there was an Emo Rouge. Regardless of whatever proficiency he may had in stealth, the hair gave him away; he was indeed Emo to a tee.

    This strange lot of characters seemed to naturally gravitate towards the dilapidated town through the unnaturally dense fog. None of them seemed to notice or care that I’d simply appeared in their midst. So, it was only natural I strolled along with them. Through the mud, and the brush, and over the poorly kempt gravel path, we five came upon a dreadful excuse of an Inn. Of course, the corporate overlords at Homestead Suites would have bought this property in a heartbeat. Maybe after a stiff drink, I’d ask the Inn Keeper if they’d be interested in franchise opportunities.

---

    Grabbing the only open table in the saloon, our odd band of wanderers sat down. Drinks were served. An awkward silence settled. It felt like being on a city bus loaded to capacity; an uncomfortable game of finding a place to stare at without intersecting someone else’s line of sight. Physically, this place wasn't really unlike a city bus either. It was poorly constructed out of warped and rotting wood and smelled of peanuts, urine, and warm beer. Fortunately, the dull tension that had built up was broken by a rather grizzled barkeep.

    In a hushed tone he asked, “Y’all wouldn’t happen to be the adventures we’d sent out for, are you?” His hopeful eyes beamed at we five strangers. Their collective weary faces stared back.

    Perhaps it was my naturally hospitable attitude, or that I was still technically still on the clock at work as Innkeeper myself, I answered for the table; “It is entirely plausible that we could be the adventures you sent out for. What seems to be the trouble?”

    The Bar Man proceeded to tell the table of four Outsiders known as the Gurr, or Gruu, who had recently settled into town. It wasn’t long before the family of Gruu caused trouble for the whole miserable lot; a stolen wand, stolen weapons, stolen gems, and a poisoned cook to top it all off. Despite initially getting along with the town, each member of the Gruu seemed to have gone off the deep end and buggered everything up. Some people see deviant behavior, but as a newcomer to this reality I see job creation. Thanks Gruu.

    Of the four strangers I’d wandered in with, the Paladin was the first to speak up. His eyes glowed and voice rumbled, “I sense a presence of ill magics about.” Can’t remember the last time someone used the term ‘magics.’ It was at that moment I checked my mobile to discern what century I’d wandered into. Unsurprisingly, the phone was dead. I’d either ended up in another dimension, in the distant past of lore, or an area solely covered by T-Mobile. Or, perhaps, I’d need to finally switch from an iPhone to an Android?

    At any rate, the Barkeep confirmed that the presence of the fog had indeed been malicious and possibly magical in nature. Although the town was scarce of resources thanks to the plundering done by the Gruu, the Barman offered room, board, and any additional information as reward for aiding his poor, pathetic town. As the other strangers appeared to entertain the idea of aiding this sad place in their minds the bar grew quiet as the town’s folk eagerly awaited an answer to their prayers.

    Lucky for them, instead of an answer to their prayers, they got us. Again speaking for the table I blurted out impatiently, “Sounds like you’ve got yourself a deal. Feed us, shelter us, and we’ll right this town back to its former… mediocrity.”

    To my surprise, the others agreed to accept the task. Next came the bit about whom to go after first. It appeared each Gruu had acted irrationally of their own accord and gone off in seperate directions. Each fugitive presumably alone with their stolen goods and shame. With that in mind we were already off to a good start. We rocked the numbers advantage provided we could all work together.

 

Ice Climbers

 

    It took some prying, but eventually I learned most of my new crew’s names. The monstrous beast of a Paladin was known as Arc. He wore a spear and shield like a Spartan warrior and a bitchin’ set of armor. The Tiefling was called many names of which would be terribly inappropriate to write down in the official Night Auditor’s Log. Her legal human name was Neytiri. We all pronounced it differently for fear that if any one of us were to say it thrice in a row she’d haunt or curse us in some fashion. The Emo Rogue called himself Starless. Obviously. The only thing darker than his hair, nails, and eyeliner had to be his name. Lastly, was the full Elf. As most common with high elves, he refused to speak his name to us less refined creatures. He did have a handsome face, so that’s what we called him: Face.

 

    As we made our way up north into the hills, our boots, shoes, hooves, and Homestead Suites issued semi-formal utility shoes crunched into the hard packed snow. It wasn’t long before we came upon a fork in the road. Beyond the fork, what looked like fireworks dimly shooting off in the distance indicated we were on the right path. We had decided to hunt the youngest of the Gruu and our options of catching the little twat that stole the wand came down to a steep icy incline, or snow covered path flanked by exploding thorn plants.

    For an Emo Rogue, credit must be given where credit is due; he immediately ran through the bristled path with Keanu Reeve’s like reflexes; dogging, twisting, and flipping about until crossing to the otherside. Starless simply shrugged under his hooded cloak. No big deal. Just an athletic, misunderstood rogue. Following quickly afterward was the Tiefling. She too nimbly vaulted herself over the thorn covered path. She was quite proud of herself; bowing and gesturing obscenely at the Emo Rogue. No response was given in retaliation, nor praise returned by the other party members. Their minds were on the mission.


    Stepping up to bat, the Paladin readied his short sword, ready to cleave his way through the brush. Ready for war! Unfortunately, he misjudged the distance between the plant and blade, or forgot his contacts. The plants were unscathed. Lowering his head, the Paladin sulked backwards and inspected the path for another plan of attack.

    Not wanting to show my new teammates up and purely coming from a place of being far too cold for comfort, I readied my quarterstaff. My Night Auditor uniform was not meant for serious adventuring and I wasn’t about to let plants stand in my way from staying warm. With a wind up and level swing, I knocked the everloving sap out of those plants. If they were sentient shrubbery, they would have flown high enough to scream having sees the curvature of the earth. Suffice to say, when working in an industry where one must prepare for the supernatural and worst of all, tourists, one must know how to handle their staff.

---

    Further on along the path, our peaceful if frosty journey was interrupted by the sounds of growls and snarls coming from the bush behind us, I looked about and noticed the Emo Rogue was nowhere to be seen. Had he run off at the first sound of danger? Had he set us up for an ambush? Was he wearing too much guy-liner? Any one of those answer could have been true, however the immediate threat came in the form of massive Saber-toothed Ice Cats.

 

    Night Auditor’s notes on felines:

  1. At no time shall any form of feline be permitted into the premises of any Homestead Suites property or subsidiary hotel owned by Onyx Industries.
  2. At no time shall any feline be left alive if seen within the vicinity of the any Homestead Suites property.
  3. Management HATES cats and are subsequently deathly allergic. Kill all the cats. Kill them quickly and without mercy.
  • Homestead Suites Employee Handbook, pg 4

 

    Out of respect to the Handbook, I was not allergic to felines. Furthermore, I was balls-cold. In my discomfort and irritable state I declared, “I shall kill and eventually wear those cats!” This odd battle cry seemed to rally the others (except the Emo Rogue). We that remained huddled together. Back to back we prepared for battle as the massive cats surrounded us equally intent to kill, skin, and wear us as fashionable human suits. I don’t really get cats, that’s just the vibe I got looking into their cold, godless black eyes.

    The first Sabertooth lunged forward only to be deftly knocked back by the Paladin’s shield. A second feral cat pounced at the Ranger Elf who merely dogged out of the way. I almost suspected the cats were simply toying with us until the third cat went for his attack. Instead of mauling Neytiri, the unfortunate cat with not one, but a pair of lazy eyes tackled the fourth cat. This left three of the four cats in various states of uselessness and ineptitude.

    I took the opportunity to attack, and to the new front desk employee who will be reading this during their shift, please take note…

 

Night Auditor’s notes on Feral Sabertooth Kitten Outerwear:

  1. Be sure to flank your opponent for an advantage.
  2. Use your daggers and aim for the throat; make two even incisions along the jugular and be sure NOT to completely remove the head. (If left on, the cat’s head will make an attractive cap if you choose to turn it into a hoodie or sweatshirt later.)
  3. Beware of hind paws and death spasms; one may incur serious injury or death. Remember, make your cut, then step back to a safe distance or: swipe and slide.

 

    Both Face and Neytiri were able to cause critical damage to the remaining cats. Arc even managed to turn one of the beasts into a Kabob. Plunging his spear into the open maw of the feline and lifting the cat up and above his head, Arc’s cry of glory terrified the other beasts as the blood of their furry friend rained down upon the paladin's armor. Not wanting to prolong the skirmish, I simply crushed the skull of the final cat with my quarterstaff. As the Elf and Tiefling gathered up the cats to later be skinned and eaten, we were back on the trail.

    From only a few meters away from the sight of our first battle, the Emo Rogue emerged from a boulder. Out of breath and panting like he’d just now caught up to us he weased, “Whoa, sorry,  what’d I miss?”

    For this comment alone, he was put in charge of carrying the cats the rest of the way up the side of the mountain.

---

    As the night dragged on and frost settled in, our band of misfits finally came upon a cave. Within its icy interior, childlike laughter echoed along the walls. Usually, children’s detached laughter echoing in any dark place is a clear sign to not go into that place. For this reason, we don’t allow any children under the age of thirteen to laugh in the hotel.

    The Paladin perceived the source of laughter with his holy sight, or whatever it is paladin's use. (By contrast, we half-elves use NPR News to precieve threats.) Pointing up to the ceiling, it was clear to see a colony of sentient icicles had grown out like fungus along the ceiling. Much like real human children, these sentient stalactites were a fungus I’ve encountered before. Unlike the children, sentient icicles had an easy solution. Rolling up my sleeves, I cast firebolt. I made sure to cast the spell in such a manner as to disperse outward from the source of the fungus. Pro Tip: when casting spells, always check your angles.

    The sentient childlike icicles exploded into a flurry of white powder and laughter that fluttered down to the ground. Better to evaporate razor sharp icicles than to tolerate their child like laughter. One or all of us could have gotten seriously injured or inconvenienced.

    Breaking character, the Emo Rogue decided to be useful as he whispered, “I’ll sneak up ahead and see if the coast is clear.”

    The rest of us collectively shrugged in agreement, but before giving our verbal consent, the Emo rogue had disappeared into darkness. I braced myself for another attack. Glob only knows what lived in this cave or what was making such horrible screeching noises, but it was our duty as a band of discount adventures to explore this cave of death and find out. And so, together, we ventured deeper into the ice cave with weapons drawn and breath held in our almost frozen chests.