I didn't know this was possible or would ever be a problem. But I bought HFW for ps5 on Amazon. Played through the entire game, platinum completion, loved it. Then bought the dlc Burning Shores on ps store and downloaded it. Dlc would not work, wouldn't show up in game. After trying to troubleshoot online, I saw someone mention out of region game discs. So, I checked mine, and sure enough it's from Austria. I still really want to play the dlc. Is there anything I can do now, or that Playstation or Guerrilla might be able to do to help? Current situation suggestions would be great, shoulda woulda's can't help me now. Thanks!
Ja’vail woke up with a yawn, her eyes squinting in the evening light. Her room was positioned in the castle on the west side, to ensure that Tor’s sun would wake her up for her duties. It was a purpose that it served with perfection, despite the fact that she really would have liked to sleep for a few more minutes.
However, her duty could not be delayed. It was her power that served as the linchpin to Tor’s spell, and she would fulfill her duty to ensure her Diarchy’s, and her world’s, future. With a grunt of exertion, Queen Ja’vail rose from her bed, stretched out her wings, and moved to the balcony before picking up her robe. As soon as she was somewhat decent, the Queen of the Night then opened her wings, looked to the skies, and began channeling her power into the spellform that had been weaved between the planet and its moon, renewing the bonds that connected them, and ensuring the delicate balance between her magic and her husband’s would not come undone.
She performed this ritual twice a day, every day, to ensure the spell’s continued existence. In the past few months she had performed it well before Tor had performed his own renewal, and had had to go remind the foolish drake to not only perform his duties, but to hurry up and get his tail to bed. Without her efforts, and her constant reminder to the king, the entire thing would come undone, ensuring their planet’s rapid descent into division once again.
Without the two dakri turning the planet, the two sides would either become too hot or too cold to sustain life, with the twilight between them ruled by monsters birthed from the nightmares of the oppressed.
It was with some surprise, then, that as she poured her soul into this undertaking, she could feel the thrum of her husband’s power clear in her mind, letting her know that Tor had already renewed his half of the spell for the night. He really did need that sleep,
she thought, giving a self-satisfied nod towards the setting sun before turning back towards her private chamber. She still had much to prepare for her night; even with the most pressing matter out of the way, she still expected a full schedule. Her court wasn’t especially busy, as the dakri found the night to be the best time to sleep and prepare for the next day.
That was besides the point, though, as her duties rarely involved overseeing the day-to-day rule. Rather, her task was to patrol the ǣther, hunt the nightmares that plagued her people, and to do her best to heal the source of those nightmares.
This was especially important now that she had cleared the Forest of Yith and had located the source of that particularly violent nest. It was best to keep those nightmares from returning, and for this cause she was going to attempt to enter the survivor’s dreams again. She doubted she would have as much success this time as she had last time, simply because almost drowning had weakened the creature’s defenses significantly. However, she had faith that she would at least be able to soothe the visitor’s dreams, and possibly gain a little more information on how he thought.
At the very least, she’d settle for a name. She couldn’t just keep calling it ‘the creature’ or ‘the survivor,’ as those ‘names’ grew heavy on the tongue, and wore down her patience. A name would also help the visit she had planned go a lot smoother, and would hopefully help them as they tried to convince him to come to the castle with them.
Once Ja’vail was dressed, she left the comforts of her room and made her way to her husband’s study. As she expected, he was still there, his desk still quite messy, a combination of his daily paperwork and the reports of the crashed alien spaceship forming the majority of the clutter.
Much to Ja’vail’s surprise, however, Tor wasn’t at his desk. Instead, the drake was standing at his window, looking out over the countryside and the eerie sunset before him, a reminder of the twilight that his people had escaped. In his hand he held a memory crystal, its red glow plainly visible in the slowly darkening room.
“Tor, are you alright?” the queen asked as she approached her husband.
Tor turned to look at her, surprise on his face. “Oh, I am well enough, I suppose…” he said, clearly still lost in thought. The king then looked down at the memory crystal in his hand, his brows furrowing in displeasure. “I have just received some… unsettling news. I was actually waiting for your arrival before deciding on anything.”
Ja’vail took a few more steps, her eyes locked on her husband's diminutive form. “What happened?”
Tor looked at her, then back at the stone. “It isn't easy to say this, but… we may have to kill the visitor.”
Ja’vail felt like her stomach had turned to ice. “Kill? Tor, what madness are you spouting? What crime could he have possibly committed while I was asleep to earn him a death sentence?”
Tor looked at his wife, pain in his eyes. “Nothing, dear. He’s completely innocent. That is beside the point, however.”
“Then tell me, what madness has overtaken you that you would murder an innocent?” Ja’vail demanded, her tone brooking no argument. “Or what monster are you, to have taken the place of my Tor? I must say, you have the likeness down, but your impression of his mannerisms leave much to be desired.”
Tor let out a mirthless laugh at that. “No monster or madness, my dark princess. Just a visit from an old friend…” he sighed again, before turning and holding out the crystal for Ja’vail to take. “Lady Siv paid both me and the survivor a visit today. She left me this, as well as a decision to make.”
Ja’vail looked at the crystal, before staring back at her husband, a dubious expression on her face. "And she told you to kill him? I do not remember her being so heartless.”
“And you would remember correctly. She was nearly in tears when I met her, though she did well in hiding them,” Tor said, before approaching his wife. He gently took her hand, and placed the crystal in her palm. “When she saw the visitor, she also looked into his future. This is what she saw. Please, do not force me to bear this knowledge alone.”
Ja’vail’s expression softened ever so slightly before she glanced down at the stone in her hand. “I will look, but I do not promise anything.”
Tor’s crest rose, but he did not say anything else. Instead he turned back to the window, waiting patiently for his wife to see what he had seen.
The memory took Ja’vail less than a second to go through, but she felt like she had been gone for a lifetime when the world came back into focus. She stared at the rock in horror, before throwing it to the ground. It did not shatter, it being made of quartz, but it still felt satisfying after the horrors she had witnessed.
“I was not pleased, either,” Tor said, not even bothering to turn and look. “Even if the visitor was guilty of some crime, I would spare him for what he could teach our people. As it stands, he is lost and alone, hoping for a friend. And I have to kill this lonely soul.”
“But… but we can’t do this! You’re better than this… we’re better than this!” Ja’vail said, nearly in tears. “Would we really sacrifice an innocent for the security of our own realm? Would you… would you…”
“Would I what?” Tor asked, turning to his wife, fire in his eyes. “Would I judge the worth of souls? Would I weigh a single life against the good of my people? Of his people? Would I become my father?”
Ja’vail looked away, her eyes closed as she folded her arms. “I’m… I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be,” Tor said, turning back to the window. “You have no need to apologize. I cannot measure the worth of anyone’s soul, nor would I try. However, this visitor’s life is not worth the lives of every person on this planet. When you include the lives of his own world, as well as the unnamed snake people… well… the choice is quite obvious.”
Ja’vail looked down at the floor, her eyes filling with tears as she thought everything over. “Would it have been better, then, had I not saved his life? Should I have let him drown?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
“Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that the spirits have told us that the lives of others are better off if his is forfeit,” Tor said, his voice filled with bitterness. “I have not even seen this visitor in the flesh, and I do not know anything about him at all. What is he like? Does he have a family? What does he enjoy?” Tor asked, looking to his wife hopefully.
Ja’vail shook her head, not daring to bring her eyes up to meet her husband’s, as she didn’t think she could contain herself if she did. “I cannot say. I was only in his mind for a brief time, and I do not understand much of what I saw,” she said, her form gently shaking, as if a chill wind had entered the room.
Tor looked back at the window, his eyes closed as he thought on this. “Essentially, we are deciding the fate of not only an innocent, but a complete stranger.” Tor took in a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “And try as I might, I cannot measure his worth as greater, or even equal, to the lives of my people’s. If it comes to it, he will be slain, and his body destroyed, just as the spirits have told us to do.”
Ja’vail began crying in earnest, her shoulders slumping with the weight of guilt. This caused Tor to turn to her, lifting her beak gently with one hand until she looked him in the eye. “So… let’s ensure that it never comes to that.”
Ja’vail looked up at Tor, hope in her eyes. “But, Tor, we can’t-”
“Shhhh…” Tor said, encircling his wife in his arms. He was shorter than her, but she still felt comforted, simply because it was him. “I’m not going to murder someone simply because of the damage his life might
cause. Siv’s vision wasn’t that his continued existence spelled our doom, but that we must do everything in our power to ensure he doesn’t leave.” He pulled away from her a little, looking up into her hopeful eyes. “His death will be treated as a last resort, nothing more. For now, let us see how much worth his life
is. What can he teach us? What is his people like? I, for one, do not want to squander this opportunity that the spirits have gifted us, simply for fear of an unknown future.”
Ja’vail’s crest rose as she dried her tears with the feathers on the back of her arm. “Yes… I completely agree…”
The two of them spent quite a bit of time like that, lost in each other’s arms as the sun slowly set on the horizon. Even after the world was shrouded in night, they were still there, lost in the comfort that each other provided.
* * *
Kel’vara’s beak glowed as she wove her magic, pulling the water from the bucket in front of her. It coalesced into a ball hovering inches above her hand, the swishing, splashing sounds of the liquid a soothing counterpoint to the frustration she was feeling.
She liked working with liquids when she was feeling upset. It had always come easy to her, the seemingly chaotic way it flowed and ebbed was a balm on her nerves, instead of a frustrating mess that most other practitioners found the state of matter to be.
She slowly flexed her fingers and extended her wings, the movements giving a tactile presence to the shapes she was forming in her imagination. Slowly, as if watching ice melt in reverse, the ball of water stretched and flowed, extending here, twirling there, molding and shaping to her will to become whatever she wanted.
In this instance, the water took the shape of a dragon, its long, strong legs striding through the air as it looked around, its inquisitive, intelligent eyes searching for prey, or barring that, a dakri to play with. Its long tail wagged behind it as it seemed to spot something, before it shot off like an arrow, dashing towards whatever had garnered its attention.
The small, watery, facsimile of a dragon didn’t get very far across the room before the door opened, breaking Kel’vara’s concentration and causing her happy little pet to lose its cohesion. In an instant, the once watery, spiky, two legged reptile was nothing more than a mess on the once clean floor.
Kel’vara looked up in annoyance, her gaze falling upon an irritatingly unapologetic Valros as he entered the room. “Haven't you ever heard of knocking?” Kel’vara demanded as she used her magic to scoop up the water and return it to the bucket.
Valros was unimpressed. “Kel’vara, you can’t just stay here sulking, we still have work to do.”
“I’m not sulking! I’m just practicing my more precise spell work,” Kel’vara said, turning up her beak as her crest lay flat against the back of her head.
Valros, however, did not look convinced in the slightest. “Kel’vara, The Lady is her own person. You can hardly expect her to stay around and answer every single question you have.”
“I never said that she wasn’t.”
Valros let out a frustrated sigh. “Well, if you’re sure, then I really think we need to go over the plan for tomorrow,” Valros said, trying to get Kel’vara back on track. “I don’t think we’ll need many knights, the thing’s pretty docile, all things considered. Have you given much thought in how we’re going to actually communicate with it?”
Kel’vara thought about this for a while, her beak glowing softly as she played a little with the water in her bucket, causing the surface of the liquid to ripple in odd ways. “Ja’vail said that she was able to communicate pretty well with it while it was dreaming. The only problem with that is that it was dreaming.
I don’t know how dreams work with its species, but for dakri at least, anything that happens to our subconscious from outside forces is quickly forgotten. Bad dreams, flights of fancy, nothing to be taken seriously, or remembered.”
“I’ve been talking with the Captain of the Dreamguards about that too. He told me that we can’t rely upon that for communication, since we’re just as likely to get a straight answer as one about how the creature loves to eat its own pillow and ride a dragon made of Twirly Whirlys,” Valros said, stretching his wings a little and grunting with discomfort. The knight quickly brought his arm close to his chest, searching the broad wing until he found the feather that had been giving him trouble, and quickly put it back into its proper place.
Kel’vara found herself staring a little as the knight preened himself, before she turned away, her feathers fluffing a little in embarrassment. “Yes, and… ah, and in addition, the creature won’t be as weak as when we fished it from the river. It has an ǣon level spirit, after all, regardless of any actual ability it may or may not possess. We’ll be lucky to be able to intrude on its dreams at all.”
If Valros noticed her discomfort, he didn’t show it. Instead, he stood up and made his way to the window. “I remember the Sunrise Tribe had something to communicate, but it was mainly used to control their apprentices during ǣon training. It was supposed to be able to cross language barriers, but I don’t think we want to be dredging up the old ways…”
Kel’vara shuddered a little. “Those ways were barbaric.”
Valros nodded at her, but did not say anything as he stared out the window. “I suppose the only choice we have is to slowly teach the thing how to speak.”
“That’s not as easy as it sounds, though,” Kel’vara said, shaking her head. Valros looked at her, one of his brows raised, prompting her to continue. “When I treated his wounds, I ran a number of tests on him. He’s showing the symptoms of someone who has been transmuted into another shape entirely, except that he has no binding spellform keeping him in that shape.”
Valros looked confused at this. “You’ll have to forgive me, M'lady, but my knowledge of magic is somewhat limited to a handful of combat spells. You’ll have to use less formal terms with me.”
Kel’vara rolled her eyes a little, then used her magic to pull the water from the bucket again. With a thought, she caused the water to take on the shape of a dragon again. “With magic, it is possible to force something to assume another shape or state. Such as turning a dragon into a pig.” With a little exertion, the water took on the desired shape. “I’ll not bore you with the details, but things… well, they remember what they were. Always. If the spell is not properly maintained, the spellform will eventually fall apart, and the thing will revert. This is because things want to return to their old state. They’ll continue chipping away at the spellform, increasing the difficulty of keeping things in their altered state, until it grows beyond the mage’s ability to control. It’s why you cannot turn copper into gold and have it stay that way, or why you cannot turn dirt into food without accidentally poisoning someone.”
“Or purposefully poisoning someone,” Valros pointed out. “I remember history class at least. That happened quite a number of times during the Clan Wars.”
“It was a popular method of assassination, yes, but the old ruling class quickly caught on, and began screening their food before eating.” Kel’vara furrowed her eyes as she twisted the water to appear like the creature. “Whatever the bug-like aliens did to the creature, it didn’t involve magic. ‘The creature’s shape isn’t his own,’ if you remember what the queen told us. It’s entirely possible that it’s lost the ability to speak, even in its own language.”
Valros thought about this for a time. “Well, can’t we turn it back? Reverse the changes, and return it to its original shape?”
Kel’vara thought about this for a little bit, but shook her head. “It’s… possible, but there are so many unknowns. I was even afraid of using regeneration magic on him when I healed him. I had to resort to sealing spells to repair the damage.”
Valros looked confused. “I’m not sure I follow. I thought you healed it up pretty good.”
“I didn’t heal it at all.
All I did was fuse its skin together, and do some very basic repair based on that strategy, to keep it from bleeding internally or externally. It’s why I still applied bandages, in case those wounds reopened; I couldn’t risk regenerating it,” Kel’vara explained, her voice both pained and exasperated.
Valros still didn’t understand what the fuss was about, though. “Why not? What’s the big deal if you use a little regeneration? And what does this have to do with changing it back?”
” Kel’vara said, standing up in anger as she rubbed both hands through her crest. In response, the water in her grip twisted and flowed into strange shapes, a clear reflection of the tormented state of the battlemage’s mind. “This is an entirely unknown scenario, with an entirely unknown species! The spell to do this doesn’t even exist! All we have are spells to change something into something else, not to return something to its original shape. The way we would do this if this were a magical affliction would be to simply collapse the spellform, but this isn’t magic! If I were to try to change it back, any number of things could go wrong, the least being the creature dies a quick, painful death as it turns completely inside out! The closest I can come up with is the regeneration spell, which would force accelerated cell mitosis using the target’s remembered form, not its changed form. If I did use regeneration, it is entirely possible that the creature might revert…”
“...But?” Valros asked, knowing that there was a but in there somewhere.
“But the creature’s body might start attacking itself, killing itself from the inside out! The two different sets of genetic material might merge, making it into something even more monstrous than it is now! Any number of things could go wrong!” Kel’vara shouted, the water next to her turning into some kind of lumbering beast, whose basic shape only vaguely resembled the creature in the forest.
Valros held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Okay, okay, I get it. It’s probably a bad idea… but what do we do, then?”
Kel’vara collapsed into her chair, the water that she had been shaping falling into the bucket at the same time. “I don’t know… I really don’t know…”
Valros rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, there’s always pictures and trying to teach it to read…”
“That would take even longer than just teaching it to talk,” Kel’vara said dismissively. “Especially since it probably can’t-”
Before Kel’vara finished, a voice chimed in, interrupting her thought process. It seemed to be coming from the lieutenant’s belt pouch, and based on the tone of the speaker’s voice, whatever it was was urgent. “Sir Valros! Are you there?”
Valros quickly pulled out his whispering stone and gave it a squeeze, worry building in his heart. “What’s wrong, Calis?”
He almost wished he hadn’t asked, because what Calis said next turned his insides to ice. “Sir, I’m relaying a message. Viar and his drakes need backup, and they need it now. It’s those bug aliens the queen told us about. They’re here.” First Previous
Dun dun dun!!
Remember: if you can't wait, and want to find out what happens now,
you can always just buy the books...
Amazon: What I've Become Nightmare of the Past
Google: What I've Become Nightmare of the Past
Picked up Horizon Forbidden West and Dying Light 2 for $19.00. Both for PS5. Lego Star Wars for PS4 (Free Ps5 up grade) for $9.00.
For horizon I have played zero down, and I heard dishonored and vampyr are very great games.
I parked in the tower's lot, letting my headlights bore into the amalgam of twisted metal and glass for a few moments before shutting them off.
Josh muttered, his voice low. "We're really doing this, huh?"
He ran a hand through his mop of curly hair— a dumb tic he developed last summer when his girlfriend, Annabeth, told him it was sexy. She was beside him now, cuddled up in the backseat across his lap.
I glanced at my own girlfriend, Ellie, in the passenger seat. She was trying her damndest to appear brave, but I knew better. There was no way she was comfortable with trespassing tonight.
I sighed, realizing that Josh would also chicken out.
doing this? You sure you want to come?" I prodded.
Josh shifted in his seat, hand running through his hair yet again. "Maybe it's better if I stay in the truck.”
Annabeth shrugged next to him, unsurprised.
"Me, too,” Ellie chimed in, nodding at Josh.
Annabeth met my eyes, a glimmer of understanding passing between us. Our partners were both boring, god-awful goody two shoes.
"Pussies," I jabbed, swinging open my door without giving them a moment to respond.
Annabeth hopped out behind me, waving at the two losers in the truck before spinning towards me with a grin on her face.
"They're weird," she said, rolling her eyes.
For a moment, I was drinking in the way her golden hair shimmered in the moonlight. A light breeze tickled at our faces, sending sparkles of her moon-lit hair between us.
"Yup," I mustered.
I turned, strolling towards the chain link fence that formed a circular perimeter around the base of Sabe's Tower.
Sabe’s Tower. Thirteen stories of abandoned potential, whispering of times past when our town's inhabitants thought we'd hit a population boom, becoming the Houston of West Virginia. In the 70s, our success was tied to coal. Jobs flooded in, and with them, a myriad of people trying to make their way in life. Then the mines abruptly ran dry, decimating our town's economy. Since that time, our population has done nothing but dwindle.
Sabe’s Tower. Thirteen stories of decaying grandeur, silently rotting from the inside out. Some say that's what happened to Sabe himself— a rot took hold in his core, spreading and spreading until nothing but rot was left. In the end, he took his own life, which some say was for the best. He was a greedy fool, the wealthiest man for miles, owning half the surrounding countryside before the mining industry took off. Made a fortune selling his family's land to coal companies, putting every ounce of profit into making his towering hotel more luxurious than a Ritz Carlton.
Sabe’s Tower. Thirteen stories of failed dreams, now screaming vulgar obscenities at our eyes. It is a truly ugly behemoth, domineering our town's skyline with unmerited arrogance. Sabe thought painting the tower purple would give it an air of majesty, like royalties of the past, swaddled in silky lavender robes. His aspiration, after all, was nothing less than to emulate the sacred Tabernacle of Moses, to make his hotel a dwelling place for gods among men. In its current state of disrepair, however, the tower was no more than an eyesore— a visual cacophony of broken glass, peeling sickly-purple paint, and rusted steel inlays.
Adding to the hotel's disgrace, it was cylindrical in form, perched atop the highest peak for miles, jutting into the sky like a middle finger to the gods. Its phallic outline stood in stark contrast to the run-down strip malls lying in its wake.
The fence surrounding the tower was a bit too tall and a bit too wobbly to safely scale, so we circled, looking for an entry point. Every few yards, a DO NOT TRESPASS sign hung, tied to the fence with zip-ties in each corner. Someone had taken the liberty to spray paint a word underneath each sign, now making them all read: DO NOT TRESPASS ALONE.
"Good thing you're coming with me," I joked, pointing at one of the signs.
Annabeth paused to read it for a moment. "Yeah... kinda weird that someone did that. I wonder why?"
I shrugged, continuing around the perimeter.
Eventually, we found a gate in the fence, held closed with chains at waist level. The gate's post careened steeply outward, creating a manageable gap near the top. The gate post was only held in place by the chains, not even slightly anchored to the ground. Without too much of a struggle, we hoisted ourselves up and through the gap.
Once inside the fence, I found myself spellbound by the abandoned hotel. The stars in the night sky reflected across the windows, bending and warping around the curved perimeter. Each glimmer of starlight turned into dizzying fractals, melding together and slipping between the shards of broken glass with each shift of my gaze.
The result was honestly breathtaking.
At night, the eyesoriffic tower was beautiful. Its silhouette dared to embrace the star-studded cosmos, standing with a quiet dignity that defied its daytime mockery.
I felt Annabeth shuffle beside me.
Suddenly, her phone flashlight was on, illuminating a path through overgrown concrete to the tower. At the end of the path was the structure’s entrance— a gaping hole with no attempt to conceal the darkness within.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!" I yelled, spinning to face her.
"W... What do you mean?" she stuttered.
"Turn that off, you idiot," I explained, lowering my voice. "Someone might see the light and call the cops."
The light flicked off, Annabeth mumbling apologies.
I blinked away the afterimage of weeds eating through the concrete lot, silently cursing myself for being so ridiculously hostile toward her.
"Sorry," I mumbled.
"You're good, Donovan" she whispered, brushing her hand across my arm.
As we continued to the open doorway, the outside of the tower came into focus. It was far further dilapidated than I had realized— each accent of purple paint, faded and peeling, was bulging out from between the glass and steel like it was trying to escape. I rubbed a fingernail on the paint, revealing a soft, rotting wood beneath.
I entered the tower first, pausing to let my eyes adjust. The darkness of the doorway opened up into an atrium that must have once made for a magnificent entrance. It was shaped like a slice of pie, us standing near the crust, peering inward toward the center. Above was pitch black, not yielding any answers to just how high up this mighty room's ceiling stretched.
The musty scent that filled my nose was surprisingly welcoming— somewhere between the smell of fishing trips and century old bookstores. I took a deep breath, relishing in the soft stench.
I could vaguely make out wires dangling down from the ceiling of the atrium. They were impossibly long, stretching upward into the infinite gloom.
"They look like vines," Annabeth whispered, her voice a soft purr.
The air was thick with falling dust, filtering down from the abyss above, twirling between the wires in satisfyingly slow-motion. The falling dust made it even harder to see in the dark, leaving the walls on either side of the room foggy blobs. I waved my hand, sending fleeting dust spirals through the air.
I remembered seeing photos of the atrium online, taken on some of the earliest digital cameras ever made. Those pictures showed marble countertops, intricate wooden carvings, and lushly carpeted floors.
The room, as it stands today, is a barren husk of Sabe's vision. The carpet, only present in scattered clumps, was impossibly dark, soiled to the point of true black. It clung to the concrete foundation, viciously holding on for dear life in a losing battle.
I bent down to examine a clump of carpet in front of me, amazed by the absence of light reflecting back. It was like staring into a pit of nothing, a vague absence, an outline of something that should be there.
I poked the toe of my boot at it. FPOOSH.
It exploded, erupting into my face.
I gagged instinctively, tasting the vile substance mix into my lungs. Annabeth slapped my back as I continued gagging and coughing, begging the mucus to tear itself free from my lungs and just fucking get out of my body because it feels like I'm dying oh GOD.
And eventually, it did.
The violent hacking subsided into slight wretching, then was gone.
"Are you okay?" Annabeth tested. Do you think I'm fucking okay?
"What the fuck was that?" I spewed.
She bent over the clump of carpet. Underneath the blackened top layer that just violently erupted was a pale network of matted spiderwebs.
"Hmm..." she began, "It kind of looks like mycelium."
She met my raised eyebrow with an eye roll.
"You know, like the roots of a fungus or some shit, I don't know. I just saw the shrooms growing in Bryce's closet that one time he showed me his stash. This white stuff looks just like it. So I guess that makes this black stuff like the part of the shroom we eat, or whatever."
"Oh dip," I responded, nodding. "That makes sense. One time I saw a nature show about some plants that shoot their seeds everywhere when something touches them. It's probably just spreading its spores when we touch it."
"Yeah," she breathed, "pretty gnarly."
We shuffled deeper into the gloom, weaving between dangling cables and clumps of fungus. I felt a drop of moisture flick off a cable, sliding onto my arm.
I groaned. "Fuck. That cable was wet."
"Disgusting," she whispered back.
We made our way to the apex of the room, the center of the tower, revealing a rusted set of elevator doors leaning together like drunks at a quinceanera. The doorway to the stairs, however, beckoned to us with the same unobstructed, pitch-black allure that the tower's entrance emanated just minutes before.
In the dark, it's truly amazing how utterly void all open doorways look.
Upon stepping inside the stairwell, the world vanished. The only proof of having working eyes was a faint, vertical glow of light filtering through the door, abruptly fading into all-consuming black.
Every sound in the entire building bored through my soul, bouncing from wall to wall, ceiling to floor, echoing on and on for all of eternity. The stairwell, directly in the center of the decrepit hotel, was the focal point of every creaking floorboard, every popping nail, every howling gust of wind. It was as if I was holding up a monstrous conch shell to my ear— a deafening murmur of echoes in disarray, smelting together to form satanic harmonies.
"Whoa," Annabeth mumbled.
Her word cut through the other echoes, impossibly loud against their monotonous hum.
Instantly, the echo of her voice filled the stairwell, rising like the build up of a dubstep song until peaking, impossibly overwhelming for a few brief seconds. The echoes of her voice then faded as quickly as they arrived.
She put a hand to her mouth, the whites of her eyes barely visible in the glow coming from the doorway.
I reached out, placing a hand where her shoulder should be. There was not enough space for us to stand abreast in the stairwell, leaving us in a comically squished proximity. She was breathing rapidly, barely managing to stay silent. I squeezed, and her breathing quickly slowed. I felt her hand creep onto mine, and we stood for a minute, simply listening to the cries of the dying building echo around us.
As my eyes adjusted, I could make out a staircase spiraling up the curved wall. Clearly this was a service stairwell, as it is much too cramped for the likes of Sabe's guests. Only a few steps were visible through the darkness at a time, making the staircase feel even tinier than it already was. Luckily, no fungus grew on the stairs themselves, leaving the metal alone to rust.
Annabeth shuffled onto the first step, producing a small object from her pocket. She handed it to me, then pointed up the stairwell, careful to not send echoes through the cylindrical chamber again.
I brought it close to my eyes for inspection, straining against the lack of light. A joint... She wants to go to the roof and smoke.
A smile cracked my lips. Classic Annabeth.
Every couple stairsteps, there would be a doorway. Most of them let in a dim glow, offering a glimpse into what must have once been a custodial closet on each floor.
On floor 9, I tugged at Annabeth's hand. We made eye contact in the faint light coming from the doorway. I motioned through it, pointing to the nearly fungus free floor. I wanted to explore at least a little bit, to see if the closet circled around the stairwell or not.
I poked my head through the doorway, freeing myself from the overwhelming cacophony of echoes in the stairwell.
I verified that the closet did, in fact, curve around the circular staircase like a donut. A few steps in one direction led to a terrifying drop— the elevator shaft. Next to it, a sidewalk sized ledge led to an open door, giving a view of the floor's main hallway. The path looked safe— no fungus, cracks, or otherwise obvious defects— so I proceeded, treading as light as a fox, fumbling for Annabeth's hand behind me.
The main hallway ran between the custodial closet and the guest rooms, creating another donut ring around the central stairwell. Throughout the hallway, patches of fungus grew alarmingly close together, threatening to overtake the concrete.
"That stairwell was insane," Annabeth whispered.
I nodded. "Fuck yeah, I wonder what it was like when the hotel was actually open. Must have been miserable for the staff."
We weaved through the fungus filled hallway, coming to room 901. I glanced at Annabeth, raising my eyebrows. The door was slightly ajar, hanging from its one remaining door hinge. I pushed gently, eliciting a monstrous creak.
The room was empty, extending away to the outside in a familiar pie shape. The mold seemed to grow thinner in the room, leaving most of the exposed concrete safe to cross. At the far side, a floor to ceiling panel of windows looked out over our town.
I gasped, taking in the view. Never before had I seen our town from this high up. My eyes drew to the smokestacks by the river, their blinking lights ominously flickering over downtown. Individual streets ran in parallel lines away from the tower, lit with yellowing streetlights. Between the roads, tiny lights cast from window panes twinkled, blending with one another into a starscape of their own.
"Dude," I said. "Look at this."
I spun, looking for Annabeth, frantically scanning the room. My eyes had adjusted to the outside light, leaving me sightless.
" I hissed.
A cold tingle went up my spine, pulling at hairs on the back of my neck.
I crept back across the floor, now aware of the entire room at once. There was nowhere for her to be hiding. No desks, cans of paint, ladders, nothing. Just an empty room with patchy fungus growing on the cement. Something must have happened.
I studied each fungal growth in the room as I passed by. Even with the light cast from the windows, the tops remained impossibly dark. Not a single feature was discernible— only an outline was visible.
Halfway to the door, a three foot wide hole led straight to floor 8. I could have sworn it wasn't there before. I peered into the opening, seeing straight through to the room below. From what I could see, it was identically empty.
" I tried again, nearing the door to the hallway.
I stumbled backward, tripping over my own feet. I landed squarely on a patch of fungus. FPOOSH.
I remembered to hold my breath, close my eyes, and plug my nose.
Annabeth cackled from the threshold of the doorway, standing over me with both hands on her forehead.
"You should have seen the look—" she began, breaking off into another fit of laughter.
"Shut up," I groaned, pushing to my feet. My entire body was covered in squishy fungus gunk. I pointed at the hole behind me, continuing. "You could have killed me."
"Blah, blah, blah," she mocked. "You're fine... you're just being a baby."
Annabeth gave me a playful shove, hands lingering for a moment overdue. Swatting her paws off me, I marched back to the stairwell. I led the rest of the way to floor 13, followed by her snickers.
As I reached the top of the stairs and stepped onto the 13th floor, my jaw dropped. It was a scene straight out of a surrealist painting. An enormous pool room lay before us. Glass walls extended up from the tile floors, creating a massive, clear domed perimeter. A swath of stars twinkled brilliantly through the clear ceiling, their light refracting through the glass, casting ethereal patterns onto the room's otherwise bleak surroundings.
The pool itself was a semi-circular cutout covering half the floor space, starting at ground level and deepening in a corkscrew motion. Its ceramic tiles, once probably a bright blue, were now tinged with patches of the same fungal growth we had come across on the lower floors. The growth was sparse here, though, letting the original floor design take prominence.
In the center of the room— on top of the staircase we just stepped out of— stood a circular pillar that extended up to the middle of the glass dome, like a spine holding up the entire tower. A small antenna jutted out from above the pillar atop the dome. Surrounding the antenna was a low fence, perhaps a safety measure for maintenance workers.
Annabeth, having finally contained her laughter, stepped beside me, her face illuminated by the soft starlight filtering in through the dome. She too stood silent, taken aback by the unexpected beauty of this forgotten space.
As we moved around the room, our steps echoed across the vast emptiness. With every patch of fungus we passed, the same eerie darkness hovered, the undulating mold standing stark against the ceramic tiles.
We made our way back to the central pillar. A ladder, carved into the pillar, connected to the glass ceiling with a trapdoor.
"To the roof?" Annabeth sang, rubbing her hands together in a goblin-like motion.
As she climbed above me, I couldn't help but crane my neck and drool. She slammed open the trapdoor, and we burst through to the roof.
The fenced-in area was covered with a dark spongy surface, gripping at my knees when I stood up. Wind whipped around us, carrying a chill that cut through my clothes and bit into my skin. With each gust, the antenna above us groaned and swayed, almost as if it were joining in a dance with an unseen partner.
We sat on the squishy rubber surface, comfortably in silence. I met her eyes, smiling dumbly. We passed the joint back and forth until it dwindled down, its ember glow flickering one last time before extinguishing completely. A familiar haze crawled through my thoughts, slowing the passage of time to a languishing crawl.
"Hey..." she started, "I think I've finally found inspiration for my next album."
I scooted closer to her, taking her hand. I knew the topic brought about an unusual timidity in her— a blemish in the badass persona she's so keen on presenting. She won't even talk to her own boyfriend about her music career.
"Yeah?" I floated.
She hesitated for a second, settling into the moment. I felt a tug at my crotch, suddenly all too aware of how pretty she looked in the moonlight. I took in every detail— the way her hair fell across her face, the pattern of her freckles, the soft speckling of stars reflecting across her eyes.
"I think you need to take off your shirt, first, though," she whispered, now inches from my face. "You're filthy."
I glanced down, remembering the fungal gunk that had soiled my clothes when she scared me.
Without warning, her hands slid under my shirt, warm and sure. I helped her yank it off, collapsing into her lips.
When we got back to the truck, I was still high enough to see everything in slow motion. Before pulling out of the parking lot, Annabeth and I regurgitated the events of our urban exploration, trying to show our significant others what fun they missed out on. It goes without saying that part of the story was intentionally omitted.
Ellie and Josh were unamused. Their lack of adventure will forever be a mystery to me.
We swung out of the lot, hopping onto the highway headed into town. I swayed between lanes, struggling to keep the double-yellow lines in focus.
"Are you sure you're good to drive?" Ellie asked, gripping the armrest.
"I'm fine," I slurred.
Seconds later, another truck materialized in front of us. I swerved to avoid it, then everything went black.
I woke up to a strong hand pulling me out of the window. My truck was upside down, the roof completely caved in.
I groaned. "Aww... fuck...."
The person who pulled me out looked like the kind of guy to chew tobacco and spit wisdom. His fishing cap cast a deep shadow across his eyes in the moon's glow, concealing his gaze. He was an old timer, that's for sure, one of those folk who came during the coal rush and decided to stay when all was said and done. I could see his truck— the same truck I saw moments before the crash— pulled into the shoulder of the highway with its blinkers on.
"Easy now," he reassured, his voice like gravel under a boot. "Anyone else inside?"
I nodded, unable to speak.
I plopped onto the grassy slope embarking off the side of the road. The old man pulled their mangled bodies out, one by one.
The countryside shrank around me. I felt the corners of my vision pulling in, the weed in my system straining the limits of shock I could take before melting down.
"I'm sorry, son," he whispered, his voice carrying the weight of my guilt. "The police will be here soon. Don't you worry." The police.
I stood up. I knew exactly how the police treated people with my skin color in this town.
"Hey now!" the man hollered.
I kept running.
Away from my truck, away from my dead friends, away from the police.
I ran until my breath came in ragged, uncontrollable huffs. I flopped to the ground, laying on the cool concrete, cradling my head with my hands. Blood flowed between my fingertips, pooling onto the pavement.
I laid there until police sirens wailed through the night, rapidly approaching. They stopped at the wreck, leaving me in silence. Moments later, the sirens picked up their mournful song again, heading toward me.
I sat up.
I was back in the lot of Sabe's Tower. Only then did I realize how little distance I really ran from the wreck— a couple hundred yards at most.
Four, five, maybe even six sirens filled the air. They were all coming for me. They knew what I had done.
I bolted from my position on the concrete. I could hide in the tower. No way the cops would look for me in that rotting place. They wouldn't dare.
I squeezed through the gap in the fence, same as before, vaulting past the DO NOT TRESPASS ALONE
signs in a fluid lunge. The sirens behind me screamed into the night, melding together into a continuous doomsday chant.
Red and blue lights filled the lot. I hit the ground right in front of the gaping entrance to the tower, praying that the weeds poking through the concrete would be enough to mask my form. I army crawled, inch by inch, dragging myself across broken bottles and plywood shrapnell, until I was safely in the darkness of the tower.
A police cruiser parked in the lot. Its siren drowned out all other wails for a moment before shutting off. A chubby white officer hopped out, surveying the scene. His gaze came to rest on the spot where I had lain. He squatted down, raking a finger through the pool of blood I left behind. He took a few steps toward the tower, squatting down yet again. Another splotch of blood, no doubt.
His voice floated through the plaza, slightly nasal and a little out of breath. "Dispatch, this is officer Chetty, badge number 741. I'm on the scene at 1019 Pleasant Valley Lane, in the lot of Sabe's Tower. I've located a pool of fresh blood that may be linked to our hit-and-run suspect. Possible injury, suspect could be close. Requesting immediate backup and forensics for evidence collection." Fuck.
I wormed my way further into the tower's belly, sliding between patches of fungus like a mouse in a snake pit, heading for the stairwell. I had to ascend, to find some nook or cranny out of reach of the pursuing officers. The godforsaken tower was one big game of hide and seek, only this time, losing meant far worse than a bruised ego.
Something gurgled in the darkness.
My blood froze. I halted, my heart hammering a tattoo against my ribs. Holding my breath, I strained my senses, eyes peering into the graying murk, searching for the source of the sound.
It came again, a wretched retching, like an animal choking on its own vomit. Hacking, gurgling, bubbling wetness bursting through strained vocal chords, a sound of fading vitality. It was coming from near the door, just outside the meager halo of light slipping through the hole.
A wet line smeared across the back of my neck. A yelp escaped my lips before I realized it was just a cord dangling from the ceiling.
At my yelp, the gurgling paused.
A heavy hush fell over the place, the quietude of the hunted.
I could faintly make out echoes emanating from the stairwell, only a few feet behind me.
The gurgling continued, sucking at the thick air. It began to drag itself forward through the fungus covered floor— a slow, steady, rhythmic drag against the concrete. FPOOSH.
A geyser of spores bloomed, mingling with swirls of dust in the meager light. The creature, or whatever it was, did not slow its approach. Out of the darkness, a form began to shape— a silhouette clawing its way toward me. FPOOSH.
I could see this eruption envelop the mass on the floor. One hand appeared, then another. Its fingers scrabbled over the concrete, searching for any purchase to grip. They flexed, heaving the thing even closer.
A mop of curly hair appeared between the hands. A body, face down. It pulled itself closer, into another fungal growth, grinding its face through the rough concrete. FPOOSH.
A knife protruded from its back. The handle jutted upward, a grim totem amidst the grime and gore. I shuddered, involuntarily taking a step closer to the stairwell.
It looked up at me.
Or rather, Josh looked up at me.
I stared back, mouth agape.
His face was nearly sanded off from the concrete. His nose took the worst of it, ground down to the bone, leaving only two sucking, gurgling holes between his eyes. His cheeks were a mangled mess of blood and rocks, viscous red flowing freely to the tip of his chin before dribbling off. The chunks of meat hanging where lips should have been flapped against his teeth with every jerky motion, tethered to his face by all too little strands of flesh. Beneath them, his teeth showed bright red and white in a perpetual grimacing smile.
"Josh?" I managed to whisper, my voice a frightened squeak.
Josh opened his mouth as if to respond, ripping both cheeks in half. He hacked, gurgling, spitting up blood that came from deep within his torso. He slowly cocked his head to the side, but instead of stopping at a slant, he kept twisting his neck until bones started to crack and his head dangled upside down.
His mangled, upside down head swung limply as he pulled himself to his knees, his neck like jelly. He wasn't wearing the same clothes he was wearing earlier tonight— no, he was wearing clothes from the night Annabeth first cheated on him with me. He was at a Villanova game, supporting his favorite team since birth. Annabeth knew he would be gone for the weekend, so we took our chance. I was still at her place when he came back, wearing his Collin Gillespie jersey and reeking of beer.
Now in front of me, his prized jersey was in tatters, torn to ribbons by the concrete. He groaned, shuffling and reaching for me with bloody fingers.
I bolted into the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. I pushed myself faster and faster until the door to floor 9 loomed to my side. I didn't pause for a moment, pushed forward by the gurgling echoes reverberating from below.
My thighs, weak from the frantic climb, begged for a break. I wobbled into the hallway, painfully tip-toeing through the fungus. The door to 901 beckoned ahead, hanging open like it had been awaiting my hasty return.
I stumbled over the threshold when Annabeth's singing filled the room. "Oh, Donovan!
Outlined against the window was a two-headed beast. One face belonged to Annabeth, the other to Ellie. The creature swayed, an obscene dance of bare, fused flesh. It wore no clothes, as if to mock God himself. It had two sets of everything— eight appendages total, like a humanoid arachnid. Annabeth's breasts, now side by side with Ellie's, put Ellie to shame, even now.
Annabeth crooned again, "Oh, Donovan!" each syllable laced with acid and honey. The sound made my skin crawl as it floated through the silent room.
"You always did want more, didn't you Donovan?" Ellie sneered, a harsh grin splitting her face.
Annabeth spat, "More than Ellie could give. More than anyone could give."
The thing dropped to the floor with a thud. All eight limbs moved in unison as it crawled.
"Isn't this what you wanted? Both of us at the same time?" Their voices tumbled over each other, mouths moving in synchrony. Together, their laughter filled the hollow room. "Don't you like the thrill, Donovan? Don't you like playing with fire?"
The thing scurried at me, jumping over fungal growths with powerful leaps. The sudden movement broke my paralyzation, spurring my legs to action. I darted into the closet and through the stairwell door, into the gurgling echoes.
Back down the stairwell I ran, the two headed beast in pursuit. Both girls snarled, hindered by their conjoined size in the narrow passageway. Their struggle echoed through the stairwell, mixing with the gurgling. I fled further down, needing to put distance between that thing and me.
I stopped dead in my tracks between floors 2 and 3.
Josh was there, leaning against the wall with the knife removed from his back, now grasped tightly in his hand. I staggered back up the stairs, instinctively retreating, narrowly avoiding the blade as he lunged at me.
Glancing up, I caught a flash of pale skin bearing down on me, cutting off my escape. My only way out was the door to floor 3. I charged through the closet, leaving the echoes behind me.
Floor 3 was empty— no walls, only fungus and windows. The atrium loomed to my left, a pie shaped hole missing from the floor and ceiling. I backed away from the door, eyeing the dangling cords hanging in the atrium. Maybe... Just maybe....
Josh stumbled from the stairwell, filling the air with his wet slurping. Annabeth and Ellie followed, scrambling toward me.
I didn't have time to think.
I jumped, grasping at the dangling wires, praying they would hold my weight.
Time stuttered, hanging suspended like an icicle on a winter's morning. The world spun in a dizzying blur as I twisted, fingers stretching for a grip. Panic clawed its icy fingers up my spine, but it was the surprise that struck me most. The simple disbelief that this was happening.
A wire found its way into my hand, snapping without slowing my fall.
The wind whooshed past, ripping the breath from my lungs. Above me, the third floor retreated, its grimy concrete replaced by a view of the atrium's ceiling, wires swinging back and forth from my desperate escape.
Then came the sensation of falling. It's a feeling that strikes a primal chord, an orchestra of fear and adrenaline that means the end of a life. My stomach lurched, free-falling alongside me, while the rest of my body seemed to hover in a state of disbelief.
The impact came as both a shock and an inevitability. There was a moment of sheer, undiluted pain, a soundless scream reverberating through my very bones. It felt like being shattered from the inside out, an explosion of agony that started from my back and radiated outwards. An iron-hot spike of pain shot through me, and then, a chilling void as everything below my waist slipped into a terrifying numbness.
The echo of my body's collision rang in my ears as the world spun into a disorienting whirl of blurs, shadows, and pain. The cold concrete beneath me felt real, solid, a chilling contrast to the sudden loss of sensation in my legs.
In the throbbing silence that followed, I understood. I had fallen. I was broken. I lay sprawled on the atrium floor, gasping, the world tilting dangerously in my vision.
Annabeth and Ellie emerged from the staircase, scrambling across the atrium floor. Red and blue police lights filtered through the tower’s windows, making shadows dance between the monster's eight limbs. Josh wasn't far behind, still clutching onto the bloody knife, head rolling upside down between his shoulders.
"Police, we're coming in!" a familiar nasally voice shouted.
The moment officers stepped foot in the tower, the monsters vanished in a spray of spores.