Suddenly. There’s silence. A chill envelopes you. You reach out once more, only to find nothing. Again. And again. And again. And then nothing at all.
You groggily open your eyes. Your head is pulsing, begging you to pull the blankets over your head to block out the sunlight hitting them. Quinn’s voice calls out from somewhere nearby, stinging your ears.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.”
You climb out of bed slowly. You want to make sure the voice you heard is really Quinn. You turn around and see Quinn sipping a cup of coffee.
“You alright?” she asks. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I had this horrible dream,” you begin. “We were in this fancy mansion and didn’t know why we were there. And then I tried to go to the bathroom and fell into this endless void. There were these flashing lights. And the floor was warm!”
Quinn slowly hands you her coffee.
“I think you need this more than me,” she says.
“I’m serious! It was freaky.”
You pause for a moment, happy to see your own room.
“We’re not staying the night, right?” you ask.
“Fuck no,” Quinn states assertively. “I’m playing our set then we’re coming home. I’m not letting a fancy gig stop me from playing Mario: Revenge of the Goomba at launch.”
You smile, satisfied with Quinn’s response.
“You know we’re staying right?” she asks.
Your smile fades.
“Don’t worry,” Quinn says. “It’ll be a short evening and then we have the whole night to relax. I’m going to shower and head to rehearsal.”
Quinn heads to the shower, closing the door behind her. You grab your phone, its purple case scuffed from repeated drops, and look up Hobart Estate. The estate’s website is lavish and modern, much like the home itself. You scroll around the site, learning little. You see the site’s event list. Tonight’s event is listed merely as “Private Party”. In reality, it’s the 18th birthday party for the heir the Zieja Hotel fortune, Devlin Zieja. Quinn’s string quartet will provide music during cocktail and dinner time.
Unfortunately, the site teaches you little. You’re determined to learn more. You could call your brother, Arn, who is an architect. You could tag along with Quinn to Hobart Estate for a tour. Or you could go to the library.
You decide to go to the estate for a tour. Quinn returns from the shower and is getting dressed when you pitch your plan to her.
“Mind if I come to rehearsal?” you ask.
“Sure,” she replies. “Everything charged? You’ll be bored.”
“I want to tour the estate. We won’t have time at the party.”
“I can give you the tour now,” said Quinn. She changed her voice to one with a high-pitched, faux-British accent. “And on the left, you’ll find the blue bedroom. It’s the bluest of the rooms and features a blue window. All that you may wear in the room is blue.”
“I’m serious,” you reply between laughs. “It gets me out of the apartment.”
Thirty minutes later you arrive at Hobart Estate. Quinn takes her violin to the grand hall for rehearsal. You head back to the reception area to look for a tour guide. You’re greeted by a diminutive man in a lavender suit. His gold nametag reads ‘Jeff – Guest Services’.
“How may I help you, ma’am?” asks Jeff in a low voice with a slight drawl.
“I heard you guys give tours of the building,” you say, trying to play off any ulterior motives you have.
“10am’s the first one,” replies Jeff. “Come back in a half hour.”
“Okay. But is there anywhere I can wait? My fiancee is in the other room with the string quartet.”
“You can go sit with him if –”
“Her,” you correct Jeff.
“Sure. You can sit with her for 30 minutes. Come back here just before 10. Someone can help you then.”
You make a mental note to yourself then watch as Jeff hurriedly walks away.
You give a quick look around, then dart down the hall away from the foyer. You pass a couple of nondescript bedrooms and a bathroom with a cleaning cart outside of it, but nothing of note. At the end of the hall, you come to a flight of stairs in each direction.
You go upstairs to find a hallway lined with a series of doors. Bedrooms, just like downstairs, you reason. You take a few steps down the hall and are considering heading back to the lobby when you notice name cards hanging from the doors. You don’t recognize the names. Guests for the party tonight, presumably. You make your way all the way to the far end of the hallway, where you’re presented with a T-intersection.
You turn left and make your way down the hallway, examining doors. On the third door on the left, you notice a name you recognize — Benimaru Okada, the viola player from the quartet. It’s weird that he’s staying the night, but before you can think, a noise startles you.
You hear a familiar voice coming down the hallway. It’s Jeff. He’s chatting with someone with a deep, baritone voice. They’re coming this way. The door next to Benimaru’s room is open. There’s a side stairwell at the end of the hall.
You decided to duck into the nearby room and close the door without latching it. You quickly look for a place to hide, just in case you need it.
You hide in the bathroom until the sounds from the hallway are gone. It happens quicker than expected, so they must not have turned down your corridor. You should really get back to the lobby.
You leave the bathroom and exit the room. The name on the door means nothing to you. Undeterred by your delay, you head to the opposite end of the hallway and see more bedrooms. You pass a room with what sounds like a washing machine running. You reach the final two doors before the end of the hall.
“Well fuck,” you say.
On one door is Quinn’s name. Across the hall is the name card for your ex, Noel Meyer. Him being in Quinn’s quartet is fine. Staying across the hall? Less so. Acting quickly, you remove the nametag from Noel’s door. You decide the most logical choice is to swap his nametag with Benimaru’s. Having done this, you crack the door open and sneak into the room you and Quinn will be sharing later.
The room looks nearly identical to the one you were just in, save for the fact that you don’t have a balcony window. The floors, much to your disappointment, are not warm. Then again, considering how your dream went, perhaps it’s best they’re not.
Check-in won’t be until you arrive later. That said, you’re already looking forward to sleeping on what appears to be a very soft bed. You’ve been gone a while.
You decide you’ve done all the exploring you can without anyone noticing you’re gone. You head back to the main floor, through the lobby, and into the grand hall where rehearsal for the string quartet is taking place. You watch the quartet playing, as you’ve done before.
On the viola is Benimaru Okada, an elderly man who founded the quartet shortly after immigrating to the US from Japan, 25 years ago. His hair is gray and disappearing but his face remains kind. You’ve known him for 5 years or so now and feel a little bad for switching his room.
On cello is Carrie Moulu. She’s the youngest member of the quartet – still in her senior year of college – but she plays well beyond her years. She joined last year after the previous cellist, Benimaru’s wife, Rin, died in a car crash. Carrie’s quiet, but seems nice enough.
The first violin part is played by Quinn, who is intently focused on her sheet music. She’s insistent on memorizing as many pieces as she can but always rehearses with the music in front of her, just in case she ever remembers the piece incorrectly. She doesn’t.
Finally, on second violin is Noel Meyer. Though your breakup was not pleasant, most of his resentment is to Quinn, who he feels stole both his girlfriend and his “rightful” place as first violin. You’ve never understood musician drama.
You recognize the piece as the final piece they’ll be playing tonight, though they don’t always practice in order. You might still have a little time to kill. You decide to head back and find a non-Jeff led tour group. Jeff can’t be running the tour groups, right? After all, you just heard him on the second floor. You wait until the end of the song, shoot a quick wave at Quinn, then head back to the lobby. You glance at your phone. You’ve been here a little over 45 minutes.
Back in the lobby, a petite young woman in a lavender pantsuit waits with an older couple. Her nameplate reveals her name is Brielle.
“Good morning!” she says enthusiastically. “Here for the tour?”
“Yes!” you say excitedly. “I’m ready to learn about this house.”
“It’s an estate!” the older woman says grumpily. “Show some respect for the architecture!”
Brielle leads you off to the side.
“Ignore them,” Brielle whispers. “They take this tour every Saturday.”
“But why?” you ask.
“Hell if I know.”
A teenage boy walks up and joins the group. He’s holding a notepad and a pen. Clearly he’s here for a school project or something. Brielle checks her phone and makes an announcement.
“Good morning! And welcome to your guided tour of Hobart Estate. We’ll be touring this 142 room mansion built in 1832. I hope you’re all ready to learn and have a little bit of fun along the way. Does anyone have any questions before we start?”
“Who owns the estate now?” you ask.
The old couple both scoff at the simplicity of your question.
“From the time it was built until 1993, Hobart Estate was owned by the family of the man who originally commissioned the building, Art Hobart,” said Brielle.
“In December 1993, the building was sold to Wallace-Dixon Hotels. They did much of the renovating to the building that gave it its current layout. In 2009, Wallace-Dixon closed the hotel, leaving the building vacant for nearly five years. Since then, the building has been owned by Malley Yaron. Mr. Yaron rents out the building for private events and conventions, but otherwise allows the building to serve as a museum to honor the architecture of the building.”
You know the name Brielle mentions. Malley Yaron is the owner of the architectural firm Arn works for. You make a note of it for later.
“Let’s head this way first,” Brielle says, leading you down the hallway to an elevator. Your group enters the elevator. “We’ll begin by seeing some of the inner workings of the building.”
You stay silent. Fortunately, the student asks one of the questions that was on your mind.
“Like the heating and air?” he asks.
“That’s part of it,” Brielle answers. “But there’s also laundry, a prep room for the kitchen, security, surveillance, and maintenance.”
The student is furiously scribbling notes, while the older couple is paying rapt attention to the molding atop the walls.
“On your left is one of those rooms, our laundry room,” says Brielle. “In the estate’s hotel days, this was the busiest room in the building.”
You peek your head in. A single washer is running, but otherwise, the room is quiet.
“Tomorrow things will be extremely busy,” Brielle continues, “but for now they’re calm.”
The group continues down the hallway to a steel door with a doorbell off to one side.
“This is one of the more interesting areas in the building,” says Brielle. “Behind this door is what was briefly a jail in the mid-1800s. The city couldn’t afford its own jail, so the rooms beyond this door housed prisoners for around fifteen years.”
“What’s it used for now?” you ask.
You hear the old woman lean into the old man and whisper much louder than she should.
“There’s always one.”
“It’s sealed,” says Brielle. “Mr. Yaron sealed it off shortly after buying the property.”
“Too bad it’s not part of the tour,” says the student.
“I’m just a tour guide. I don’t get to choose what you look at.”
The group makes its way down the hall, stopping outside a busy kitchen.
“This is the primary prep kitchen,” Brielle continues. “It’s one of four kitchens in the estate. It’s also by far the largest, capable of holding a culinary staff of 50 during our largest events.”
For as busy as the kitchen is, you notice it’s surprisingly quiet.
“What are they making?” asks the student.
“Tonight’s event is a two-part event,” says Brielle. “There’ll be a more formal cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres followed by a light meal. After a short break, the main party will start. The only food then is martini olives.”
The group starts to leave, but you’re transfixed by the lack of communication in the kitchen. No one is speaking, yet the entire staff is moving around and preparing food like a well-oiled machine. You’ve worked in restaurants, but nothing resembled this.
You elect to leave the group. You decide to do this despite every horror film you’ve ever seen telling you otherwise. It’s not like you don’t have other secrets that would have gotten you killed off well before now if something bad was actually going to happen. You keep a distance, not wanting to get in the way of all of the chaos. A sous chef in a red top runs by you, heading off to the room next door. If she noticed you, she said nothing. A second cook runs by in the opposite direction, holding a bundle of leeks. He also doesn’t notice you. Something’s clearly up. Before you can investigate further, you feel a hand touch your shoulder.
“Get separated from the tour group, have we?” Jeff says.
You decide your best course of action is to feign innocence. Or at the very least easily distracted.
“Oh. I paused to admire the moldings. When I turned around, everyone was gone. So I came in here to ask for help.”
You’re unsure if Jeff is buying it. You keep talking.
“I’m really sorry,” you say. “Can you help me find them again? I really don’t want to miss the tour.”
“They should be up on the first floor. Let’s go.”
You board the elevator with Jeff. He pushes the button for the first floor and the elevator moves. You notice a strip of blue paper hanging out of Jeff’s jacket pocket.
“Thanks for helping me get back,” you say.
“Of course!” replies Jeff. “Always happy to help a guest find their way.”
You’re concerned that Jeff refers to you as a guest, but don’t want to make a scene in front of the tour group, so you drop it.
You’ve rejoined the tour group, but no one else seems to have noticed you were gone.
“Look at this beautiful art!” Brielle says, pointing to a painting before walking away from it. The rest of the group focuses intently on the painting.
“Where were you?” she whispers.
“I got lost,” you say. “I ended up in the kitchen. Jeff helped me find my way back.”
Brielle leans in even closer.
“Did you get the package?” she asks, her eyes darting around the room.
“What package?” you ask.
Brielle covers your mouth.
“You’re talking way too loud,” she replies, still whispering. “Are you fucking with me?”
You shake your head. Brielle realizes she’s still covering your mouth and lets go.
“What’s the failsafe?” she asks.
“The what?” you ask, your mind spinning.
“The failsafe. Is the failsafe in the building tonight?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Do you even remember the safe word?”
“Pork and beans?” you say, extremely unsure.
“Dammit all, they did it again,” says Brielle. “Wait here.”
Brielle walks away to a room adjacent to the lobby. The rest of the tour group is examining paintings down the hall. She returns with a small white paper in hand.
“Take this and follow it,” Brielle states. “If the plan is off, look for the signal.”
“We have to go. You need to get back to rehearsal before they notice.”
You decide that listening to Brielle is the right thing to, leaving the tour group and heading back to the rehearsal area. As you enter, you see the quartet chatting as they pack up. No one seems to notice you walk in.
You unfold Brielle’s note carefully, just in case Jeff manages to sneak up on you again. You can’t put your finger on why, but he gives you the creeps.
The note reads:
Abandon Hope then ye may enter
There’s something faintly scrawled at the bottom, but you can’t quite make it out. You notice Carrie and Quinn coming your way, so you pocket the note.
“Hey love,” Quinn says as she wraps an arm around your shoulder. “How’d we sound?”
“Oh…um…great?” you stammer.
“That’s the most you’ve stayed in the room for a rehearsal,” Carrie states. “Maybe you’re developing a taste for the classics after all.”
“She’ll be dead before she can identify Paganini,” she says. “But that’s fine. She’s supportive.”
“That’s the guy who makes the sandwiches with the crispy bread, right?” you say.
You know full well that’s wrong, but you also have no idea who Paganini is. Humor seems like the best answer. Quinn and Carrie laugh. Noel, who just walked up, is less amused.
“It’d be great if you could take what we do seriously,” he says.
“Fuck off, Noel,” you reply.
“So…” Carrie awkwardly interjects. “I take it Alana joining us for lunch is off the table?”
A long silence rings out. Quinn looks at you, her eyes begging you to answer.
Noel is the first to speak.
“She can come if she wants,” Noel says.
“I think I’ll stay in,” you reply. “Trying to be budget-conscious or some crap.”
Noel shrugs and heads off. Benimaru walks by and gives you a quick wave. You return the gesture.
“If you want to come, I can slap him around,” says Quinn.
“I don’t need my significant other fighting with my ex,” you reply.
“I’ll slap him for free,” says Carrie.
“It’s really alright,” you say. “Besides, I think a nap is in order.”
You kiss Quinn goodbye and catch a cab home. Back at your apartment, you debate your options before the evening.
You decide the apartment needs cleaned a bit before the evening. You’re not typically this motivated to clean, but you need something to take your mind off of the day. Still, you can’t help but wonder about your dream from last night, as well as Brielle’s note. Cleaning turns up nothing interesting aside from a receipt where Quinn went to Chipotle without you. You’ll have to give her a hard time for that later. It’s nearly 3 pm when Quinn returns, though considering it’s a performance day, that’s a bit ahead of schedule for her.
You two spend some time relaxing before getting ready for the evening. You don’t have many fancy outfits, but there are a few in your closet. You pick the red dress. You hate that it was Noel’s favorite, but it’s also the color you wear whenever you need a little extra motivation. Considering you’re not a spy, you need all the motivation for a secret meetup that you can get.
Later that evening, you and Quinn head back to Hobart Estate. There are several guests here milling around for the more formal portion of the night that you know will leave once the teens and twenty-somethings start partying. Not wanting to mingle, you hole up in a corner. The plus side to this is that you’re near the kitchen, meaning you get first dibs on any finger food that passes by. You’re pretty sure you’ve eaten your weight in bruschetta. The quartet is playing beautifully. Or at least you assume so. No one looks mad.
There’s a pair of technicians setting up lights for the dance part of the evening. One technician notices they’ve forgotten a row of lights and runs off to get them. You take a moment to review the note from Brielle.
Abandon Hope then ye may enter
For the first time, you notice Hope being capitalized. The only Hope you know is your younger sister. Even then, it’s only her middle name. She hates it. You’re baffled at Brielle’s meaning.
You check your phone. It’s 9:35 pm. The quartet plays until 10 pm. You feel like you should do something. Standing here is getting you nowhere. But you’re torn as to if you should try to find Brielle early or go back to exploring the building. Either way, deciding to wear a bright red dress doesn’t allow for stealthy movement.
“Bruschetta, ma’am?” says a voice from behind you. You turn your head to find Brielle holding a tray of food.
“Awww, how did you know?” you ask.
“It’s off,” she says. “I couldn’t give you a sign earlier. Someone knows and changed things.”
“What’s off?” you reply. “Our meeting?”
“Everything!” Brielle answers, her voice getting quieter, yet more frantic. “I need more time. We need more time.”
“Time for what?”
“Just go to your room with Quinn when she’s done. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Brielle starts to leave, but you put a hand on her shoulder and stop her.
“What do you mean tomorrow?” you ask.
“Please,” Brielle begs. “I need you to trust me. We can’t save them if you don’t. And we’ll be screwed too.”
Brielle walks off, offering food to other guests. Your head is spinning. Save who? Time for what? Why is Brielle so insistent you need to trust her? Granted, she’s given you no reason not to, but her insistence on it bothers you. You linger around the banquet room, waiting for the quartet to finish. You manage to snag a final bruschetta from Brielle as she walks back by, though you two don’t even exchange a glance. You’ve decided she’s trustworthy, but you find it odd she knows Quinn’s name.
It can’t be too ridiculous that she would, right? There’s clearly some sort of plan she had before. She knew you’d be here. Which means she probably knew where you were staying, being a hotel employee and all. It doesn’t mean you didn’t find it strange.
The quartet finishes playing and packs up as you absentmindedly scroll on your phone. You’re startled slightly as Quinn taps you on the shoulder.
“Can we head to the room before we come back for drinks?” she asks. “I feel safer with the violin there than the lobby closet.”
You nod and the two of you head to the elevator. You luck out and find the elevator empty. As soon as the doors close, you turn to Quinn.
“Do you know anyone that works here?” you ask.
“A couple of people,” she says. “I got us booked. Why?”
“Did you book with Brielle?” you ask.
“Who’s Brielle?” Quinn asks.
“She’s the tour guide. Or guest services. Or something. She works here.”
“Name doesn’t ring a bell.”
You and Quinn exit the elevator and begin walking to your room. She takes a pair of card keys out.
“Here,” she says, handing you a key. “In case you want to go out.”
“Won’t you come with?” you ask.
“Probably. I just want to shower first.”
Quinn slips her card key in the door and you hear the lock click. You both step into the room. The floor is warm.
Before Quinn can turn on the lights, you see a series of pulsing lights. Green. Then blue. Then purple. Then black. Everything is black. Again. You feel like you’re falling uncontrollably.
“Quinn!” you scream. You reach out, hoping to find her. But she’s gone.
You feel yourself laying. You don’t know how you got here, but you’re definitely on your back. You’re atop something hard. It’s silent. And dark. Other than the feeling of whatever hard object you’re laying on, you can feel nothing. A voice cuts through the silence.
*SESSION A COMPLETE. YOU HAVE SIX SESSIONS REMAINING TO SOLVE THE QUANDRY*
You try to speak, but you can’t. The voice calls out again.
*INITIATING SESSION B*
You’re surrounded by the lights again. Green. Then blue. Then purple. Then black.
Everything is black.
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