“Faith! Do something!” yelled Dawn as she and Xander backed away from the apparition.
“Cool – it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean,” she answered. “Hey Oz, checkout the groovy skeleton ghost. I wonder if Johnny Depp’s around here somewhere?”
“Now’s not the time to go all hippy-chick on us Faith: make with the slayage already,” said Xander looking around in vain for something that could be used as a weapon.
The slayer’s response, if belated, was none-the-less effective. She vaulted the reception desk, planting her foot squarely on the jaw of her adversary, separating its skull from the rest of its body, which crumpled to the floor. She bounced back over the desk into the foyer, running for the door, the others following quickly behind.
“Happy now? Let’s get out of here – this place is losing its shine.”
The four of them raced through the revolving door, only to emerge the other side... back into the hotel foyer.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” muttered Xander. He tried the door again on his own and at a much slower pace. Once again, he emerged back into the foyer where the other three were waiting. He was sure that he’d only walked through a 180 degree portion of the circular doorway, and hadn’t changed the direction he was facing. “What is this, some kind of cartoon now?” he asked.
“Enough of this shit, stand back,” said Faith as she lifted, with ease, a 3ft stone podium with a carved eagle perched on top. She sent the monolith hurtling into one of the floor-to-ceiling windows aside the door, only for it to bounce back.
“No way! This must be bulletproof glass or something?” This time she picked up the statue and swung it into the middle of the pane, putting full slayer strength into it. Even if the glass had been toughened, her strike should still have forced it free from the frame, but once again her efforts had no effect.
“You may as well give up, there’s no way out,” said a voice from behind them. Faith spun toward the speaker, holding the statue ready for another swing.
“Get back, or you’ll be joining your friend over there,” she warned.
“Relax, I’m not one of them. I’m Harold Armitage. My wife and I are trapped here, just like you.” He indicated an auburn haired lady in her 40’s standing by the entrance to the bar. Harold also looked to be in his mid 40’s; he was a stout man who had seen the back of most of his hair a decade earlier. He was trembling slightly, probably due to being faced with a girl swinging a 200lb statue around like it was a golf club. “Your relatively safe here. As far I know, no one has been harmed, outside of their rituals. Why don’t you join us for a drink, and we’ll tell you all about this place.”
“Stop for a drink? Are you crazy, we have to get out of here now before ghost-boy’s friends turn up! And what rituals?” said a frantic Dawn.
“His friends are all around us dear; they have been since you arrived – hell since we arrived – and that was 15 years ago.”
“Let’s go hear what the man’s got to say Dawn,” said Xander. “He obviously knows a little about how this place works.”
They sat at in a quite area at the edge of the bar, well away from the dance floor. Xander had done a quick scan of the room before they sat down, and neither The Master nor Tiffany were anywhere to be seen.
“Those two? They’ve probably retired to his chambers, preparing for the feast,” Harold had answered when Xander asked about their ‘dates’. “You want to stay well away from them – he’s tied up in this deeper than anyone, and that woman’s mind is definitely twisted.” Xander remembered some of her more outrageous suggestions for activities in which they could participate in her room, and he had to agree on the last point.
“Are they like the night man – ghosts, or whatever he was?” Dawn asked.
“Yes – them and nearly everyone else here. Once you go to spend the night in The Master’s chambers you come back different. They are always trying to tempt the few of us who’ve resisted so far to join them, but they’ve never forced us. I don’t know if they are unable, or if they just find it more fun this way. It’s not as if they don’t have all the time in the world – none of them have aged a day since they changed.”
“How did you get here?” asked Oz.
“Same way you did I expect,” Harold replied. “Driving through the desert late at night with the top down, saw the hotel and decided to stop for the night. Before we realised it was happening, the song had sucked us in.”
“So you know about the song?”
“Of course, how could you not – it seems to govern everything that happens in this place in some way. As far as we can tell, people have become stuck in here ever since it was released back in the 70’s. We haven’t found anyone, or anyone real at least, who arrived before they heard the music.”
“Maybe it’s the key to getting out of here then,” said Xander trying to recall the rest of the lyrics. “How did it go again?”
Oz nipped back into reception to grab a pen and paper from the now abandoned desk, and began to transcribe the lyrics. They’d often played it back in his Dingoes days – Devon said the lyrics called out to him; Oz just liked the solos.
“So what actually happens in The Master’s chambers?” asked Xander. “What exactly is this feast – is that the ritual you mentioned earlier?”
Dawn noticed how Harold cast a hesitant glance in her direction before answering and put two and two together. “It’s some kind of orgy, isn’t it?”
“Any time of year, you can find it here,” Oz provided as he reached the end of the first chorus.
“There’s no need to hold back on account of my age,” continued Dawn, “if Xander hadn’t told me he didn’t buy this dress, I’d probably be up there taking part in it by now,” she said remembering with a shudder how she’d felt on first meeting The Master before she knew what he truly was. Mrs. Armitage, who until now had remained completely passive, leaving it to her husband to do all the talking, shot her a withering glance. It was easy to see why she had never attended.
“Something like that,” replied a flustered Harold. “We don’t know exactly what goes on in that room – only the promises they make, but we do know that anyone who has entered it as a human being has left the following morning as one of those foul creatures.”
“Well, they haven’t had to deal with the likes of us before,” said Faith.
“Anything else we should know about?” asked Xander.
“Well,” said Harold, “apart from the fact that there is no way out of the building, which you already know, the only other really strange thing is this courtyard. It’s always night time here even when its daylight out the front, and they have been dancing continuously, ever since we arrived.”
“I wonder why?” asked Dawn, “Maybe they are compelled? Maybe the dancing powers the spell that locks us in somehow...” Her suggestions petered out as she noticed the others staring at her like she’d missed something obvious.
“Some dance to remember, some dance to forget,” sang Oz, Xander and Mr. Armitage in unison.
“Hello? Teenager here! I don’t listen to geriatric rock songs. If we were stuck in an Eminem track, I might be able to help more,” she retorted.
“What are nemy men?” asked a lost Harold.
Ignoring him, Xander continued with the questioning, “Is anyone else here still human?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Jackson over there by the band.” He pointed towards another middle-aged couple. “They arrived a few months ago, and old Mrs. Tullet, who is usually in the foyer knitting; she’s been here longer than of us. Other than those three, everyone else has surrendered to the temptation. After a while, the monotony becomes too much for most people.”
“Have you been telling these sweet young things all our secrets Harry, you naughty boy?” They looked up to find Tiffany standing over them.
“He sure has,” replied Faith, “so why don’t you go back upstairs to your master, ghoulie girl, and tell him we’ll be along to kick his ass shortly.”
“Such fire! You, my dear, are welcome to stop by any time you want; it will be a riot.”
‘She doesn’t know just how right she is,’ was the thought that simultaneously passed through each of the Scoobies heads in response.
“Ok, suggestions?” Xander asked the other Scoobies once they were alone. Mr. and Mrs. Armitage had retired to their room, and Tiffany had returned to the dance floor, where she was soon descended on by the pretty boys she called friends, with offers to fill her dance card.
“Obviously we have to go to The Master’s chambers – that’s where all the action is,” said Faith, “and we already know from Jeeves in reception that they are slayable.”
“Maybe,” said Dawn, “but I think there is going to be more than just the ghosts to deal with – there’s something here that turns people into the undead, and it’s probably not the ghosts, as they are everywhere in the hotel and the Armitages have been living here safely for 15 years. There must be something else in the chambers.”
“Doesn’t the song mention a beast of some kind?” Faith asked.
“They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast,” supplied Oz.
“Ok, so stabbing’s out,” said Faith. “What about decapitation?”
“With what?” asked Xander. “A bread knife?”
“Maybe it’s like a Vamp,” suggested Dawn, “you have to use wood instead of steel?”
“Possibly,” agreed Xander, “but as we can’t tell what we’ll be facing, we should probably take as big an arsenal as we can find. How about we split up to look for weapons, and meet back here in half an hour, and why are you all looking at me like I’ve grown a second head?”
“Split up?” asked Dawn. “Haven’t you noticed – we’re stuck in a haunted hotel horror story here, and I know you’ve seen the entire Scream trilogy more than enough times to know what a dumb-ass idea splitting up is. If your looking to get sliced to pieces, we may as well just head upstairs and have sex now—” She stopped the rant abruptly, realising she’d taken the movie reference way beyond the point she had intended. Xander found himself performing a good impersonation of a goldfish.
“Hey!” said Faith, “It’s my job to leave them speechless through sexual provocation.”
Dawn smiled sheepishly, hoping that her outburst would slip their minds when they came to tell this tale to the others. Somehow, she doubted it would.
“Let’s go find us some weapons,” said Faith. “Together.”
“This way, I can hear voices.” Slayer enhanced hearing allowed Faith to pick them up before the others. They were walking down one of the service corridors away from the public part of the hotel, trying to find the kitchens. “Jackpot!” she said, emerging through a doorway into what was obviously the food preparation area. Various meat hooks, skewers and carving knives were hanging from the walls.
A few minutes later, four armed Scoobies slipped back into the bar to await the feast. In addition to the loot they had gathered in the kitchens, they had also broke open a janitors closet to make some torches from a torn sheet, the two halves of a broom handle and some flammable cleaning products. It may be caveman technology, but if they were anything like vampires, fire on a stick was still a useful weapon. Finally, they had smashed a dining chair and whittled each of the legs down to make some wooden stakes.
As they waited, Xander reflected that it was fortunate that the effects the pot was having on Faith had completely worn off, and she was back to her usual slayer self. With Oz, it was a bit more difficult to tell – stoned and normal weren’t exactly that far apart with him – but Xander thought he was ready for battle. He looked up at the sound of a dinner bell to see the captain ringing in the start of the feast; several couples were departing, heading towards the stairs to the upper floor. Their mission was a go.