First Arc - The House of the Veil
Chapter 1 - A Girl
The first thing I noticed was different was the warmth on my skin. The second thing was the sound of birds chirping. As for the third, it was the sound that woke me from sleep. I heard the light knocking again and finally opened my eyes.
I was greeted by the warm sun through the window in front of me as I sat up in the bed. The room around me was a bright, lovely white, accented by pink flowers in their pots or on vines from the hanging baskets overhead around the room. I heard the knock once more and spoke, “Come in.”
A familiar voice spoke from outside the door, “Are you decent?”
I couldn’t help a smile, “I wouldn’t have said to come in if I wasn’t.”
He finally opened the door and walked in. He was just as I remembered him from the night before. A tall young man with long red hair that hung in waves to his mid-back, red eyes that reminded me of burning embers, and a charming and perfect face that would steal a woman’s heart with a single smile. Though, his long hair was now pulled back into a ponytail, and he was dressed in handsome black and white clothing. He wore a white collared shirt under a black vest and a pair of black slacks. A rather casual and comfortable business attire, especially compared to the clothes he wore when I first saw him.
He smiled at me as he spoke, “How are you feeling this morning? Did you sleep well?” Even the sound of his voice could melt away any walls around your heart.
I nodded, “Yes, thank you.”
He looked pleased to hear that, “Good.” Then a thought seemed to cross his mind as his smile faded slightly, “Now, about your stay.”
I climbed off the large, plush bed, revealing the pretty white nightgown he had lent me, “Of course. I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome. It wouldn’t be right to stay here without some kind of payment.”
He spoke up with a smile, “Well, that is why I thought perhaps… you could pay some other way. Surely I could not allow you to leave with nowhere to go. You could be attacked again.” I remembered the beasts from the night before and my heart began to race in fear.
He saw how I felt, a gift of his as I’d come to learn, and smiled, “Since I fear many would argue if I were to allow a girl like yourself to live rent free in my hotel, I do believe it would be fair if you, say, worked for your stay.”
I felt fright as I stepped back from him, “What kind of work?”
He seemed to understand and looked compassionate, “Miss Kylia, as I said to you last night, I do not wish to harm you in any way. I would never ask you to do such things.” He smiled kindly, “I am not like him. You are far more than property to me.”
I felt that warmth in my heart again. How sad was it that I continued to fear the worse at every possible point? He hasn’t said or done anything to make me afraid of him, yet my years with Bennett had made me so afraid of anyone I met, always expecting them to take advantage of me.
I spoke softly, “I’m sorry, Julian. I know that’s not what you meant.”
He looked sympathetic, but smiled kindly again, “The job I had in mind was perhaps to work here in the hotel. You could work for your stay and meals. Not only that, but it would make you a part of my staff, which in turn would prevent anyone from attempting to hurt you. So long as you work for me, you are under my protection, just as all my staff are.”
I looked at him, “Would that be a good idea? I just showed up out of nowhere with no real credentials and you’re just handing me a job? Won’t that seem strange to everyone else?”
He smiled, “I would not believe so. I have hired others with less.”
I knew there were no better options for me, and the idea of working in such a lovely place so I could stay seemed like the best possible thing to happen to me at this point. So, I nodded with a smile, “Alright. I accept. I’ll work for you, Julian.”
He beamed, “Excellent! Then you will find some clothes in the closet you can change into. You can come meet me in the main lobby afterwards. I will show you around before you get started.” With that, he headed back out.
I smiled. He really was very nice. Nothing at all like Bennett.
I opened the tall white closet to find a couple dresses hanging inside. I was actually starting to look forward to working for Julian. Perhaps the worst day of my life really had led to the best one.
It was time for a new beginning.
I made my way down the large staircase, one of the two that led from the floor above to the main lobby in wide, opposing curves. It had been dark and late at night when Julian had brought me in, so it was wonderful to see the hotel now that it was daytime.
The hotel was white and silver, and full of beautiful flowers and vines that climbed the walls. The vases that held the bushy plants and their pink floral were elegant and pristine, like the tables and chairs they usually sat on or around, all shaped into beautiful designs with soft white striped cushions. The floors were a polished marble with the silvery designs of stars in them, many with full constellations shaped in the starry spread. Tall windows filled the front wall of the room around the large front doors, while a long golden rug ran from the doors to the front desk in a welcoming manner. Then there was the ceiling, where it was painted to look like the sky, full of clouds with small angels, graceful birds, shimmering dragons, and even sparkling fairies. It was so beautiful that I didn’t want to look away. This hotel was the most beautiful place I had ever seen or could have ever imagined. It was perfect.
I soon spotted Julian below in the lobby, speaking with someone as many people of different shapes, sizes, and races went about their day. Julian noticed me and smiled, “There you are, Miss Kylia. Please, do join us.”
I walked over to stand at his side as he spoke to the young man with him, “Orion, this is the girl I was just telling you about.”
This person was a boy maybe about my age with short black hair combed neatly back under a blue hairband and eyes like silver stars. He was dressed much like Julian, except his silver name tag said Assistant Host, while Julian’s said Host. The boy looked at me and raised his left eyebrow in confusion, while his left brow lowered in disappointment, “This is her?”
Julian laid a gentle hand on my shoulder as he stood just behind my left shoulder, “Indeed this is. This is Miss Kylia, and she will be working with us.” He smiled at me, “Miss Kylia, this is my assistant, Orion.”
The boy, Orion, let his eyes rise from my face to Julian’s, “You really want to allow a human girl to work here?” That surprised me a bit. Of course I was human, like anyone else. Why point out that I was human like that? As if, somehow, it was an oddity.
He continued, not noticing my confusion, “Why? It’s not like we were in need of any more staff, and I don’t see what she has that makes her so special.”
Julian smiled, “She needs a place to stay and I want to see that she is treated properly. You cannot honestly expect me to send her away with nowhere to go, especially when she could be eaten the moment she is on her own out here. She barely survived the night on her own. After what all she has been through, would we really be so heartless as to ignore her suffering?”
Orion looked a bit annoyed with Julian, perhaps at the fact that Julian was right, before he sighed, “Fine, but I don’t think it’s wise of you to blind her to the truth. If she’s going to stay here and work for our guests, then she should see everyone for what they really are.”
Julian looked a bit nervous, “Would that not… frighten her away?”
Orion only shrugged, “She’ll see it sooner than later. You can’t keep putting that spell on her forever, can you?” Julian sighed in defeat. I was sorely confused.
Julian then turned me to face him, “Very well. Miss Kylia, there is something I must confess to you.” I waited patiently.
He took a moment to consider how he would say it before he spoke again, “We… are not what we seem. You see, we are not human like you.”
I found that surprising, “Not human? Then what are you?”
Julian gently placed his hand over my eyes, “See for yourself.” I felt something, almost like a paste I didn’t realize was there being wiped from my eyes, as he lifted his hand. I opened my eyes and was surprised by what I saw.
At first, I began to fear the hotel would change, but it was actually the people who changed. Julian now had a pair of curled horns on his head, his pupils were now slit like a cat’s, and his nails were long, pointed, and black. There was even a pair of small black feathered wings from his back.
Before I could even grasp what I was seeing, I noticed some of the people who walked by us. One had cat ears from the top of her head and a tail to match from under her skirt, another had large white angelic wings from his back and four arms rather than two, and yet another was a hulking man wearing only a loincloth and had the head of a bull. I couldn’t speak a single word as I took it all in.
Julian noticed and looked worried, “Miss Kylia? Are you alright?”
Orion came around to my field of vision to see how I was holding up, “I figured this would happen.” Even he had changed. His legs were now replaced by a long red snake tail with a gold-colored underbelly and black stripes over the top of it, his pupils were slit like Julian’s, and he had a few red scales along his arms and his neck.
Julian took my shoulders in his hands and spoke softly, “Please say something, Miss Kylia.”
I finally looked at him. While his eyes had changed, there was still that warmth in them. Despite how he looked, he was still Julian. I spoke softly, “What is this?”
He sighed, relieved I was finally speaking, “You are in a special hotel, Miss Kylia. You see, this is a hotel for supernatural beings like myself, not humans like you. It is called the House of the Veil, the Veil being the magic that keeps humans from being able to see us, much like the spell I was using to keep you from seeing all this.” He looked worried now, “Are you angry with me?”
I could see he really only wanted to protect me from what I didn’t understand. I had to admit, it was rather strange to see that magic really did exist, but that was always a possibility in the world. Now I was seeing it proven true before my eyes. Not only that, but magic and the beings of it weren’t trying to hurt me, so what was there for me to fear?
I answered him calmly, “It is a bit surprising, but no, I’m not angry, Julian.”
Julian smiled, clearly relieved, “I am glad to hear that. I promise, what I said before is still true. As long as you work here, you will be safe under my protection.”
Orion watched us for a moment before speaking up, “So long as everyone is behaved and cooperative. If not, you can be sure you’ll have us of the staff to aid you, Miss Kylia.”
Julian smiled at him, “Why, Orion, is this your way of accepting Miss Kylia as part of our staff?”
Orion shrugged casually, “She didn’t run screaming when she saw the truth, so I don’t see why she can’t manage working here.”
A part of me felt rather proud to hear that. I could tell Orion was not the type to openly give out compliments, but that sounded like his best attempt at one. Clearly he saw potential in me, and that made me feel better about my position. Julian seemed to feel the same way from how he smiled at Orion.
Then he turned his attention on me, “Well then, we should get started showing you around. You should know where everything is before you start working here, and perhaps I can explain things to you, since this is still very new to you.”
I nodded, “Yes, of course.” He held out his arm and I wrapped my arm around it as he led me forward. I smiled up at him, “Thank you, Julian.”
He gave me that gentle smile, “You are most welcome, Miss Kylia.”