Paul let the bleachers empty and filed out of the gym last with his hands tucked into his pockets. He was confident that Jason would make the team, but he would get more details from Kevin later. He had to hurry home now. It was getting late and Paul knew he had to prepare for tomorrow.
"Jason!" he called out as he headed to the exit of the gym. "I'll see you tomorrow, after school!"
Before Jason could reply, Paul was jogging away. He didn't want to miss the bus.
"Hey, ma?" Paul said as he walked through the front door.
"Hey, baby. How was school?" Ms. Brown asked.
"It was fine. But, uh, I'm gonna be gettin' home kinda late tomorrow," he said quickly.
Ms. Brown was in the kitchen cooking dinner and peeked over her shoulder through the kitchen doorway at Paul. "Oh, you are?" she said, implying that Paul had not queried about this sudden late evening previously.
Paul nodded as he walked into the kitchen. "Yeah, I'm uh, gettin' together with some friends. We're gonna kick it for a bit. But I'll be home tomorrow night, for sure."
Ms. Brown shook her head. "Paul. The school year just started. Now, I'm glad you're making friends and all, but I don't want you slackin' off. You don't have time to play games. You just came from a party this past weekend. Now you're goin' out on a school night?"
Paul sighed. "Ma. I'm a straight-A student. You know I keep my shiiii--uh, stuff together. You know I do," Paul said, catching his tongue in front of his mother.
"Your shi-uh is right," Ms. Brown mocked, looking over her shoulder again. "So what are y'all gonna be doin'? What does kickin' it imply?"
"Just hangin' out. It's gonna be me, Jason, and a few others. We'll probably just end up playing some ball or something for a few hours." Paul was lying through his teeth. He hated lying to his mother.
"Alright, now. You just make sure you bring your tail home. You better call me. Don't have me leave my house lookin' for you," Ms. Brown said sternly.
Paul chuckled. "Yes, ma'am. I'll text you after class tomorrow and then when we're wrapping up, as I'm on my way home."
Ms. Brown sighed. "Alright. Go get your sister. Set the table, dinner's almost ready."
Tuesday seemed to drag on during the school hours. Paul was itching to get out of class. He had almost lost focus when he was called on to answer a question in class.
"Mr. Brown!" barked his American History teacher.
Paul sat up straight and looked ahead. "Sir?"
"According to Chapter Two, the U.S. Federal Government adopted a specific kind of tariff in 1828. It was used on imported manufactured goods. What was the name of this tariff?"
Paul thought carefully. He remembered reading this while doing homework just last night. But he only glanced over it!
"The Tariff of... Abominations?" Paul said with an accented question on his words.
"That's right, Mr. Brown. The Tariff of Abominations was adopted in 1828 on imported manufactured goods, as a way of protecting industry around the country. However... "
Paul felt a tad bit smarter for answering that question correctly.
There was a sudden uproar of noise behind them, even in this slightly dreery weather. Still clutching his can, Seer listened to the conversation of the acquaintances he had met only three days prior. They had returned. But there was one person in particular whose presence made even him stir. The tall, silent one.
Three people began to move silently from the darkness of the abandoned homes, but they were stopped as Seer raised a hand. Seer smiled warmly in the darkness. "Reno Howard," he whispered aloud. "We will see him again. We should thank him for his charity. It did not go unnoticed."
The three shadows slunk back into the floor, and Seer turned his eyes to other matters.
Prepare for Trouble
Paul had spent the previous night "preparing" for this big day. It was like he was about to lose his other world virginity. At least one of his virginities would be gone.
He had packed an emergency medkit, gifted to him from his aunt. He also packed several non-perishable snacks, water, a fire making kit, and last but not least, a weapon. There was a sturdy walking cane his grandfather had left behind after he passed. Paul was no staff master, but he could beat someone over the head with this walking cane and easily give them a concussion. Best of all, it folded into smaller parts so it easily fit into his bag without being noticed.
Was he overprepared?
Did he regret it?
Paul had ridden his bike to Kevin's house and asked his parents if it was alright for him to park it there. Kevin was okay with it, and so were they. He walked from Kevin's house over to the meeting spot where Tyler, Reno, Jason, Avery, Haruka, and Piper were all gathered.
"Sorry I'm late," Paul said, lowering his hood. He was extremely grateful for hoodies. "Aren't we missing someone?"
Quinn wasn’t there. To be honest, Paul had forgotten the young man’s name. But not his face. “Yeah. The other dude. He wasn’t too keen on comin’ back. But then, none of us were at first,” Paul thought out loud. “He can come back if and when he’s ready, I suppose.”
Paul secured his backpack on his back. He had left his books with Kevin as well, just to make sure he had plenty of room in his bag. He withdrew his cell phone from his pocket and slowly approached the Dial Zone. Thankfully, everyone was already gathered around the point. Paul peered down the street quickly to ensure that no passersby would see them vanish into thin air.
“Ready?” he asked to everyone.
Without waiting for a reply, Paul dialed the resort line. There was a crackling in the air as the call went through. Each person would feel an immense pressure overtake them, and a tingling sensation in every fiber of their body. They were pulled upward with great force as a pulsing headache ran through their skulls. Their hair stood on edge just as they were propelled upwards.
“Welcome back to Origin Island Resort,” said a woman’s voice. She sounded as though she did a lot of commercials.
It took Paul a moment before he could stand up straight. He still wasn’t used to being projected in and out of other worlds. Anyone who was, probably wasn’t human. As he gathered his composure, Paul laid eyes on the jungle that led back to the hotel. A number of the trees were still trampled over from the sudden battle that had occurred the first time they stumbled upon this place. This led Paul to believe that whatever happened here was permanent.
This made him nervous. It also made him excited. “Let’s go see Georaldo,” Paul announced, and he began to march his way through the jungle.
Inside the hotel lobby, Georaldo was at his post, waiting for his guests.
“Masters! You’ve returned!” the shadow said with glee. “It’s so very good to see you again.”
Paul approached Georaldo quickly. “Sorry Georaldo, but we didn’t come to see the sights. I came to get answers. And if my guess is right, then I need to speak to your manager.” Paul silently regretted those words. “Speak to the manager? What!?”
Georaldo audibly gulped. “Well, Master Paul, I actually am the manager. But, if you’d like to speak with the owner,” Georaldo paused for a moment. “You can find them on the top floor. Floor twelve.”
Paul nodded. “Then that’s where we’ll go. Thanks, Georaldo.”
“Master Paul, wait! Please, wait. There are a few things you should know about the hotel,” Georaldo said quickly. “Please, allow me to take a few moments of your time. Sit, sit. This won’t take long.”
Paul shrugged and plopped down onto a rather comfortable elongated couch that sat eight people.
Georaldo stood in front of the sofa and, from thin air, produced a standing chart. “This world is populated by a race of creatures called Shadows. Of those shadows, there are two types:
Monster Shadows and Anomaly Shadows.
Monster Shadows, as their names state, are monsters of this world. They are highly aggressive and will not hesitate to do you harm. Their numbers can be deceiving, as multiple monsters may hide among a single Monster Shadow. These Monster Shadows may also take on multiple forms. From animals in your world to bizarre entities like myself. Leave their forms up to your imagination, but I can assure you, you will almost always be surprised.
In addition, Monster Shadows can use a wide variety of attacks. They are incredibly dangerous and their threat levels may vary. Some Monster Shadows will glow with a red hue. This indicates that they are either great in number or great in strength. It’s also possible that they are great in both number and strength. Red Monster Shadows are among the most dangerous of Monster Shadows.
Yellow Monster Shadows should also be approached with caution. While they are not as powerful as Red Shadows, their strength may match your own.
Blue Monster Shadows will also appear. These shadows are much weaker than yourself, but the chances of encountering them is low.”
Georaldo flipped to the next chart which held a picture of himself and the Nurse Shadow they had all encountered previously.
“Anomaly Shadows are shadows like myself or the Nurse in your Safe Rooms. We are intelligent, non-hostile shadows. We are few and far between, but we will often be able to offer you assistance of some kind should you encounter us.”
Georaldo flipped to the third chart.
“The entirety of the hotel from the second floor up is populated with Monster Shadows. This also includes the hotel grounds and the rest of the island. You should be wary at all times that you are not near the Dial Zone, the hotel first floor, or a Safe Room.”
There was one final chart, and Paul sighed.
“Last, but not least, there are many treasures among the islands, and some are even in this very hotel. Should you encounter any valuables, you are free to keep whatever you find. We only ask that you use it for your own well being. You may notice chests lying about. Some of them may be locked. Some of them may be open. Some of them may not be chests at all. Take caution.”
Georaldo snapped his fingers and the charts vanished.
Paul rubbed his head. “It’s a lot to take in, but I think I get it. So uh, does that mean that the owner, on the top floor, is a Monster Shadow or an Anomaly Shadow?” Paul inquired.
Georaldo hesitated to answer. “I’m afraid, Master Paul… that the owner is something else entirely. Even we do not have an accurate title to reflect them. We have simply attributed them to being a form of Divine Anomaly Shadows. It’s best to approach carefully.”
“Divine? Like gods?” Paul nodded as he thought to himself. “And where can we get to the second floor?”
Georaldo walked back over to the front desk and began rummaging through it. “Just a moment. I believe I have--aha!”
From the desk, Georaldo produced a dusty map
. “I’m afraid this one only covers the first floor, but I’m sure you can find other maps and their keys scattered throughout the hotel.”
Paul took the map and carefully rolled it up. He slid it gently into his bag for safekeeping.
“Thanks. Oh, uh, Georaldo. One more question,” Paul said as his curiosity began to get the better of him. “Have you ever actually met the owner? Face to face?”
Georaldo shook his head. “No, Master Paul. No one has. They have presided over this hotel for some time now but no one has met--wait a moment. There is one person who’s met the owner. And I believe they’re lazily sleeping the day away on the second floor. Why, ever since they met the owner, they’ve been quite docile. This has led me to believe there was some violence involved. But, if you run into them, you’ll know.”
Paul straightened his bag on his back and began walking further into the hotel. “I’m not sure I like the sound of that. Thanks, anyway,” he said, waving to Georaldo.
“Have a safe journey!” Georaldo wished to his guests.
Paul led the others down the same dimly lit corridor as before, passing his own portrait and the empty ones beside it. Ahead of him was a dusty spiral wooden staircase with deep red carpet sewn into the flooring and every step. Dirty gold trim lined the twisted railings, taking the eye up to the second floor.
“Never known a hotel these days to not have elevators,” Paul thought aloud. He would’ve liked to go straight to the top floor to speak with the owner. The sooner he got his questions answered, the sooner he could get back to his old life. And yet, this adventure stirred another side of him that, if he were honest with himself, did not want to go back.
Paul climbed the creaky staircase and eased toward two large, arched wooden doors with black steel handles. Paul gave the door a good pull. It was incredibly heavy. He managed to heave it open and gave way to an entirely new aesthetic in the hotel.
The dark, plush lavishness of the first floor had not been carried up to the second floor. It was instead replaced by a dingy sandstone which made up the floors, walls, and ceilings. Some of the tiles were badly cracked, while others looked to be brand new. The halls were littered with candlelight on sturdy torches on the walls.
“Hmm. This isn’t so bad,” Paul thought aloud as he pulled the map from his bag. “Now, where do we go to get to the second f--what was that?” Paul asked rather quickly, bracing himself against the wall. He could hear footsteps and a low growl.
Paul began to rummage in his bag for his cane. He felt around quickly for it. He had to defend himself. “Where is it!?” He thought to himself. He felt something cold and metal and Paul dragged it out of his bag. It wasn’t until he realized he cut his hand open that Paul looked down and examined what he was holding. He had latched onto what should have been his grandfather’s foldable cane. Instead, he produced a lengthy staff made of wood with a vicious blade on its end. He must have cut his hand trying to remove it from his bag.
“What the hell?” Paul thought. He had no time to figure out what was happening. He only knew he had to prepare for whatever was at the end of this corridor.
The footsteps were soft, as if the approaching thing was barefoot. That could only mean…
“Shadow,” Paul whispered over his shoulder. He clutched his weapon tightly and prepared to engage the enemy in combat.
A foot rounded the corner and Paul sprang forward anxiously to attempt to get a drop on his foe.
“Whoa, mate! Watch where you’re pointin’ that!” said a surprised voice.
Paul stared down at the voice to see a wolf staring him in the face, or what seemed like a wolf. Paul was sure their fur wasn't normally blue though. It stood on its hind legs, around as tall as Paul himself, and seemed to be wearing a jumpsuit that would remind them all of an infamous wrestler.
Paul quickly backed away and pointed his staff’s bladed end at the animal. “C’mon you fuckin’ monster.”
The wolf tilted its head and pinned its ears. “Now that’s just hurtful, bruv.”
Paul remained cautious. “Well!? Are we fighting or what!? C’mon, Shadow!”
The wolf scratched its head with its front paw and shook its fur. “Do I look like a fuckin’ Shadow to you?”
Paul did a double take. “You… you’re not a Shadow?”
The wolf growled. “I’m a fuckin’ wolf! Majestic and proud, not like a fuckin’ Shadow,” It quickly lowered its guard and let out a stiff yawn. “I get up to go and take a leak and you’re standin’ there with a bloody spear in my face! Outta the way, ya damn kid! Before the real shadows eat ya up.”
The wolf trodded past Paul who stood looking dumbfounded. “Are you the one Georaldo told us about?”
The wolf stopped and turned around. “You been talkin’ to Gerald? Damn Anomalies. Lettin’ anyone with a stick in the hotel. What’s he sayin’ about me?”
Paul breathed a sigh of relief. “Just that you’re lazy.”
“Oy, I resent that! After all, I was the one tryin’ to stop this bloody island from sinking, ya know. Just because I took a small break don't mean I'm lazy, ya hear?” He shook his head as he stretched, bones cracking as he did. “Now, what's the lot of you doing in this bloody hotel anyways?”
Paul shrugged. “I’m trying to figure that out. We ended up here by accident and when a lot of inexplicable crap started happening to me, I just got this deep gut feeling that this is where I would find my answers.” Paul lowered his weapon. “Sorry for startling you uh… what’s your name?”
“It's Grendel, all around badass extraordinaire,” Grendel replied, rubbing his shoulder. “As for you, mate, that answer was nice and deep, very moving, sent shivers down to me tail,” the wolf's sarcasm was quite evident in his voice as he continued, “And that spear is nice and all, but without a Persona, you ain't gonna make it past the second floor, let alone the top of this here hotel. So leave this to the professionals, yeah?”
“Hang on, hang on. Persona? I got one of those. I’m just not one hundred percent sure on how to use it yet,” Paul quickly explained. “I just--I started having weird dreams about some guy named Igor and a Velvet Room and then boom, here I am on this damn island where the orb that popped up in my dreams was being ripped outta my chest. Then a magical African dude tells me he’s a part of my soul and his name is Shango.”
That was probably the most convoluted mess of an explanation Paul could have given.
“Shango, huh? That's a pretty good name for a Persona,” Grendel admitted. “I dunno who this Igor is, but damn that name annoys me almost as much as Gerald… anyways, if all of ya wankers had Personas, you should have just said so. Still, not being sure how to use it would be an issue. Let's fix that now, ey mate?”
Grendel's body began to be surrounded by a blue aura, a wide grin on the wolf's snout as he spoke his next words. “Come forth, Beowulf! We gots some new kids to teach,” a tall figure appeared behind the wolf, decked out in black armor and an oversized claymore resting on its shoulder. The face of the persona was obscured by the shaggy blonde hair it had. “Alright wankers, now you're gonna have to beat me in a mock battle if the lot of ya want to get to the next floor. Come on!”
Faced with this new, powerful foe, Paul was quite intimidated. “You’re, uh, a little excited about this aren’t you, Grendel?” Paul asked as he nervously took a step backward. “Okay,” he said nervously. Paul squeezed his left fist tightly as he recited, “Persona.” Oddly enough, nothing happened.
Paul opened his left fist and he could feel the orb in his hand again. “Uh…” he muttered, looking down at the Lotus Crystal and back up to the Persona that Grendel designated as Beowulf. “Hell of a handicap,” he thought aloud. Paul tried again. “Persona.”
“Oy, I see your problem, amd it's a simple fix,” The wolf stated as it bounced on its toes. “Now, I know that there orb looks pretty and fancy, but it's also holding ya back. Pull it out, and smash it it with all ya got!” the wolf explained.
Paul listened intently to Grendel and grasped the orb tightly in his hands. He could feel the tickle of the fire beneath its glass surface. He was right. This orb was keeping Paul from accessing his maximum potential. Paul grasped the orb more and more tightly until it was crushed in his hands. As it shattered, Paul recited with more emphasis, “Persona.”
There was a crash of thunder that shook the floor, and before Paul, Shango appeared once more.
He stood floating, silent, brooding. Shango looked over the battle and his eyes landed on his opponent. Paul, however, was unsure of what to do next. “Okay. Okay! That’s it! N-Now what? How do I get Shango to… swing his hammer and stuff? Do I just--Shango, swing your hammer!”
Shango didn’t move.
“Ya lucky yer new, otherwise Beowulf would have stabbed ya by now,” Grendel muttered. “Of yer don't know what yer own Persona can do, then why don't you ask ‘im yourself? Then you can tell your Persona to do those moves it knows,”
Paul stared up at Shango and posed a question. “Shango. What abilities do you have?”
Shango turned around to Paul and began to verbally list his known skills. “My skills include Kouha, Lucky Punch, and Sukunda.”
Paul rubbed his chin. He was interested in all of these things, but he wasn’t sure what any of those skills did. “Can you explain your skills to me, Shango?”
Shango nodded. “Kouha is a Bless attack. It deals a minor amount of Holy damage to a single enemy. Lucky Punch is a Physical attack. It deals miniscule physical damage to a single enemy, with a chance to knock them down. Sukunda is a technical skill. It reduces the speed of one foe.”
Paul listened closely. Should he start off aggressive? No. Not against someone with so much experience. He should be more tactical. “Alright then. Sukunda!” Paul demanded.
Shango nodded and began to twirl his hammer in his left hand.
“There ya go, you're gettin’ it,” Grendel praised. “Now, ol’ Grendel's going to take it easy on ya at first, okay?” He said as he reached to his back, pulling off a folding chair that was strapped to his back. “You don't always got to use your Persona for battle. If you just need to feel out your enemy, give ‘em a good wack!” He commented as he ran forward to smack Paul with his chair.
Paul was thrown back as the chair crashed against him. “Ow, shit!” he groaned. “Wha--I thought you said mock battle!” Paul got up, annoyed that he had just been smashed with a chair as though he were in a professional wrestling league. Paul drew forth his Nguni Blade and ran at Grendel aggressively. He flipped the blade around and promptly smacked his opponent over the head with the blunt end. He quickly returned to Shango’s side, satisfied with the retaliation he had delivered.
“Hey. Wait a minute. Do shadows fight like this? Is that why you’re doing this?” Paul questioned.
“Shadows can fight in all kinds of ways,” Grendel stated. “Using magic, hittin’ ya, yada yada,” he waved a hand. “And while usin’ yer Persona makes most fights easy, it ain't easy on your mind or your body, so you can't just depend on ‘em.” he shrugged. “You'll get better at it though as ya do this more, so don't worry.”
“That’s good to know. I guess when Shango told me he was an extension of my soul, he was being literal,” Paul said as he examined Shango from the ground.
“So. To conclude,” Paul began. “My Persona can use a variety of attacks. Once I know what those attacks are, I can issue a command. It’s possible to overexert myself--which only makes sense--and I don’t necessarily have to use my Persona for every attack I make.”
“You're a quick learner,” Grendel commented. “Let's see… oh yeah, blocking is very important. If you see someone winding up for a big attack, blocking will help you stay alive, and also makes instant death curses more likely to miss,” he rubbed his snout in thought before shrugging. “That's all I can think of at the moment,” he looked past Paul to address the others. “Oy, all you wankers got that? Even the ones in the back? Good. That's Grendel's school of Not Dying for the lot of you.”
Paul breathed a heavy sigh. He had been concentrating pretty hard on keeping Shango around and active. He took a deep breath and Shango dissipated, waiting to be summoned again.
“I appreciate your help, Grendel,” Paul said as he continued down the long corridor of the second floor. “Hopefully it will help on my way to see the Owner.”
Beowulf vanished from Grendel’s side as Grendel blocked Paul’s path. “And what are you doin’ goin’ to see someone like that?”
Paul stopped. “I have questions. A lot of questions that need some damn good answers. And I suspect I’ll only get ‘em from the person in charge.”
“Listen, kid,” Grendel said as he planted his paws firmly on the floor. “I dunno you. I don’t really care what ya do. But I’m warnin’ ya. You go and see the Owner, you won’t come back. He’s a right nasty individual. Lots of power. He’s dangerous, dammit. And a kid like you with no experience doesn’t need to go chargin’ to the rooftop to talk to ‘him.”
Paul folded his arms. “I’m not goin’ there to pick a fight. I’m only goin’--”
“It doesn’t matter to him! You’re gonna get yourself killed, ya fuckin’ moron!” Grendel snapped.
Paul looked behind him to the others, then back to Grendel. “Then you can protect them. And I’ll go by myself.”
Grendel growled, gritting his teeth. “Grrr--fine! Fine. I’m comin’ witcha. But the minute this gets nasty, you turn your tale and you get the hell off the island. Deal?”
Paul gave Grendel a pat on his head. “Deal.”
Grendel let it slide this time. “You ever pet me again like I’m a bloody house dog, and you won’t be keepin’ that hand.”
- Clear the second floor of the hotel.
- Meet the Owner.
- Discover new Strengths.
- Find a map key.