In a fantasy world where everyone gains a power of light on their 17th birthday, a group of adventurers searches for a place to rest for the night after destroying a laboratory performing harmful experiments on people. The boutique treehouse-style hotel they do find has some secrets of its own. 

“For the advancement of Light!”

The guard thrust his spear at Kilyn. The glowing yellow tip glazed against Kilyn’s bare purple arm. She screamed from the searing pain, losing her concentration and making the five-foot spider she created out of light disappear. She wanted to rip off the guard’s head for making her lose her familiar, for hurting her, for all of the innocent youth they killed. She bit her lower lip, pushing away the pain in preparation to summon another.

“Foxbeam, get down!” Div shouted.

Kilyn dropped to the ground, and then an arrow pierced through the guard. The guard collapsed, and the arrow Div fired reappeared in his bow. 

Kilyn stood back up with a hand covering the wound. “Thanks, Div.”

“It’s time to leave, team,” Finnea Brightwish ordered as she and Ash raced into the laboratory.

“Leave now?” Kilyn asked. “Didn’t you find any of the missing people?”

“They’re all dead….” Ash answered in somber. “I couldn’t save any of them.”

“And I’ve set explosives to make sure whatever experiments they were doing won’t continue,” Finnea added. “So, we need to leave, now. Div, take point.”

Div nodded and led the way out of the laboratory into the underground cave hallway. Chucks of blue rocks broke away from the impact of the explosives detonating in the distance. The group picked up their pace, leaping over the guards they killed earlier as they ran up the rocky stairs to the outside. The explosions concluded. 

Kilyn took a deep breath of the night air as she looked back. She thought the cave entrance was obscure when they first found the location, but with the rumble covering the way, no one would even think there was once a tunnel system there.

Ash Glowspring collapsed to her knees, exhausted.

“Woah, there.” Div rushed to her side and helped her to her feet. Ash was the shortest of the group while Div was the second tallest, so Div bent his knees to allow Ash to put an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get you to the wagon.”

“What now, boss?” Kilyn asked.

“Take a moment to rest,” Finnea replied. “I’ll send out a guide bug to search for someplace to rest for the night.” Kilyn nodded and started to walk toward the grassy field when Finnea added, “Good job.”

“Doesn’t feel like a good job,” Kilyn mumbled to herself.

As Finnea, Ash, and Div returned to the wagon they hid, Kilyn wondered deep into the field. Satisfied with the spot, Kilyn put her hands behind her head for a makeshift pillow as she gazed upon Nilnora’s two moons. Since a guard burned her jacket during the quest, she made do with the wild grass ticking against her purple skin.

With the nearest village being a day’s ride away, there was zero light pollution to obscure her view of the night sky. She focused on the sky, pushing out the flashbacks of people drained of their lives, chained against the clean white porcelain diamond tiled walls. Combined with the relaxing scent from the shade-lamp flowers, she finally allowed herself a deep, unwinding sigh of relief after several minutes.

“We did everything we could,” Kilyn told herself. 

A glowing yellow arrow whizzed in front of her face, exploding into a tiny sparkle of crackling lights upon hitting a tree.

Not in any hurry, Kilyn sat up and glared at Div. “Was that really necessary?”

Div flicked his bow made of light, causing his weapon to collapse into nothing.

“Of course,” Div Ironfire winked. “The team’s found a hotel to stay for the night.”

Kilyn stood up, brushing off her pants along the way. Div walked back to the main road, with Kilyn jogging to catch up. I will kill for a bed, Kilyn thought.

“I have killed for a bed,” she corrected.

Finnea fidgeted with the rope connecting to the lizard responsible for pulling their caravan as Kilyn and Div jumped aboard. Their arrival prompted a golden bug to fly out of Finnea’s long red hair, hovering over the lizards. 

“Please tell me the guide bug found a proper hotel and not a tavern with some beds,” Kilyn asked as she sat next to Finnea.

Finnea smiled. “Count yourself lucky then. They found a boutique hotel, built into trees.”

“Fancy, fancy,” Div repeated. “I think we deserve some pampering.”

“Yes, you all worked hard, and it’s only best for us to get some proper rest,” Finnea said.

“Thank you.” Kilyn lifted the curtain into the caravan then closed it. “I take it Ash is asleep.”

“Healing all of our sorry asses took a lot out of her,” Finnea said as she whipped the ropes for the lizard to start. The guide bug flew in front of them, leading the way to the hotel. “I can’t remember the last time we drained her that badly.”

“What happened in that laboratory was rough,” Div mumbled while watching the sides of the dirt road.

Finnea slouched into the padded seat. “Still, the village elders will be pleased no one else is getting kidnapped.”

“Yeah, about that,” Kilyn said, sitting up. “I noticed some of the victims didn’t look like they belonged to the village.”

“I noticed that too,” Finnea said. 

“What do you think was going on there?” Kilyn asked the group.

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Div answered first, still keeping watch. “They didn’t leave anyone alive, and we didn’t leave any of the guards alive.”

Finnea shrugged. “Most of the people there were around 17-years-old. I wonder if they were experimenting on them in connection with the Ritual of Emerging Light. Maybe finding rare abilities, forcing new ones, or changing the process with chemicals? I don’t know. I just burned everything.”

Kilyn reflected on her Ritual of Emerging Light. Before the sunrise of one’s 17th birthday, Nilnorians would bask in the light from their favorite spot or a place of personal significance. They would stay there without food or drink until nightfall. Upon completion, the sun would bestow a power of light to aid them in adulthood. Some would discover their gift in a few days while others–albeit extremely few–never learned.

“Say, where did you all bask for your Ritual of Emerging Light?” Kilyn asked.

“My favorite boulder that I would play around at when I was a kid,” Finnea answered. “What about you, Div?”

“On a tree stomp that my great-grandparents first cut to build their house,” Div replied without breaking his guard.

“Mine was a patch of flowers,” Kilyn said. “Anyone know Ash’s spot?”

“I think she mentioned she basked in a river,” Finnea said as the lizard turned down a side road. The guide bug flew a circle around Finnea’s head and went back to work. “We’re almost there.”

The Blue Motel was more grandiose than Kilyn expected. Dozens of small cabins were built into a colossal tree, forming a network of treehouses. Blue crystals covered each building, enhancing the lights from the lamps.

Kilyn’s jaw dropped. “Remind me never to doubt your guide bug.”

Finnea parked their vehicle. She stepped down to hitch the wagon to a post while Div opened the curtain to caravan and fired one of his arrow’s inside. Ash bolted awake, cursing at Div as he laughed and hopped off.

Kilyn opened the curtain for Ash to see. “Ash, you got to check out this hotel.”

Ash grumbled as she crawled up to the curtain. “Wow. Okay, I will only half kill you, Div, for that stunt.”

“Got to catch me first, little one.” Div twirled his bow around his arm before making his weapon disappear.

Finnea threw a sack of coins at Div’s head. “Pay for the room.”

Div rubbed his face as he picked up the sack. “Got it, boss.”

Kilyn helped Ash with everyone’s bags while Finnea cooed the lizard goodnight. The freelancers were within a year of each, with their leader, Finnea, the oldest and tallest of the four. 

As Kilyn pulled out the last trunk, Div returned with spinning the room key around his finger.

“Got us a cabin where we each get our own room.” Div tossed the key to Finnea, which she caught. “Our cabin’s name is Dawn, which we can find on the third level.”

“Any issues?” Finnea asked.

Div shrugged. “I may have bragged to the owner–John Bluelight was his name–that we were famous adventurers. Also, I may have entertained his kid for a moment as he was running around the lobby pretending to be a monster. He seemed to be quite the prankster.”

“So you two are best friends?” Kilyn teased.

Div chuckled as a reply and picked up their weapons crate. He led the way to their cabin on the third level. Upon entering, they dropped their luggage in the entryway and then checked out their place.

Ash picked the first room and collapsed on the bed. “This is the softest bed I have ever touched.”

The rest claimed their rooms. Kilyn sat on the bed, feeling the same sentiments as Ash. 

A hand gripped her ankle. She screamed. She kicked, flinging a small beast with a green scrunched face toward the door. Before the monster could move, Kilyn used her fingers to conjure one of her constellation creatures. A four-legged familiar with a body outline of stars, like a constellation in the night sky, sprouted from her fingers. The starry wolf pinned the monster down.

The rest of the team appeared in the doorway in response.

Div laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Kilyn shouted angrily.

Div kneed down and removed the mask, revealing the same child who played with him in the lobby. “I see you all met Mark.”

“It was only a prank,” the child defended. 

Kilyn disappeared her familiar. “You’re lucky you’re alive. Now, beat it.”

Finnea walked with Mark Bluelight to ensure he left while the others returned to their rooms. She returned to Kilyn’s room, knocking as she entered. 

“Everything okay, Kilyn?”

“Yeah, everything is fine.” Kilyn removed her socks. “That last job just got me all twisted.”

Finnea sat next to Kilyn on the bed. “It’s over. They won’t be hurting anyone else.”

Ash screamed and yelled for help.

Finnea bolted up as Ash’s cries were quickly muted. She paused for a moment, waiting for more or a never mind. “Something is wrong.”

“You don’t think it’s just that kid again?” Kilyn asked.

“I feel like we’re supposed to think it was the kid to make us ignore it.”

Kilyn put back on her shoes and followed Finnea to Ash’s room. Both Ash and her bed were gone.

Div popped in from behind and stood where the bed once was. “There was a bed here, right?”

“Definitely,” Finnea replied. She started to feel along the wall. “There must be some sort of rotation mechanism here.”

Div and Kilyn joined in the search for the trigger. Div pressed a plank on the floorboard that was a shade darker than the rest. The wall and floor spun around, putting them behind. The hidden room was a mirrored copy of their cabin, with three additional mechanical rotations, one for each bedroom.

Div armed his bow and arrow and approached the metal chute in the center. “I’m going in after her.”

“I should go get my guide bug and send it first,” Finnea said.

“No time,” Div said as he jumped.

Finnea grumbled and followed him. Kilyn scanned the room one last time and joined them. Her hair flew behind her as she slid down faster than any fun slide. A few seconds later, her descent ended on a comfortable foam block. A robust and chlorine-like smell overwhelmed her nostrils for a moment. Div and Finnea had their weapons pointed at a man in a black robe on the other end of the room next to Ash. Beside the man was the child who scared her earlier, Mark. Ash was unconscious with her arms chained above her head.

“Shadow of a chance you took with that chute,” the stranger commented.

“I knew it had to be safe enough to move people around without them getting hurt,” Div said. “Now, John, since you’re in the hospitality industry, I think you’ll let our friend go. After all, you don’t want us to leave a bad review of your hotel. Besides, it’s three against one.”

“Hey, what about me?” the kid cried.

“You don’t count, Mark,” Div said. “You’re not even of age yet.”

Mark scoffed and pulled out a pair of dangers from behind. “We’ll see about that.”

The daggers pulsed with light, but the kid wasn’t old enough to have been gifted with the power of light. 

“How the…” Finnea mumbled. 

“Hey, team,” Kilyn interrupted, but only loud enough for them to hear. “This place looks exactly like the laboratory we destroyed.”

Finnea glanced around at the white diamond-tiled walls. “By the light, you’re right.”

“What kind of operation do you got here?” Div shouted.

“There is so much about the Ritual of Emerging Light that we don’t know,” John explained. “We take the process and powers for granted, never wondering why or how. Did you know you can take someone’s power by bleeding it out of them under a moment of extreme fear? I call the process Bleeding Fear, and Mark here. Let’s just say you should count him as at least seven people.”

Mark leaped forward at the trio. Div fired an arrow, but Mark vanished, and the arrow hit the wall. Div fell to his knees in a scream as a dagger pierced him in the back. Mark revealed himself long enough to stick his tongue out at Finnea.

“So much for being friends,” Div grumbled as he stood.

Kilyn pushed everyone down, dodging a whip of yellow lightning from John. Finnea flung one of her special fire grenades as a counter-attack, but Mark appeared in time to create a bat of light and returned the grenade. Div fired an arrow at the grenade, destroying it before hurting them.

“Time for our special clean-out move,” Finnea ordered.

“But what about Ash?” Kilyn asked.

“She’ll survive,” Finnea said as she pulled out several grenades.

Kilyn nodded to go ahead. Finnea rolled a dozen grenades on the floor in every direction, filling the room. Div pointed an arrow directly above them and fired at the ceiling. Just as the bolt left, Kilyn finished conjuring a spider creature that covered them as they all huddled down together. Upon hitting the ceiling, Div’s arrow split into dozens as the grenades exploded. 

As the smoke dissipated, Kilyn vanished her conjuring. She rushed to Ash’s aid while Div aimed his arrow around the room, searching for John and Mark Bluelight. Except for some tattered and chard clothes, Ash was uninjured as Finnea promised.

Div lowered his bow. “Where in the shadows are they?”

Kilyn lifted a fallen bookcase. “Found John, but no sign of the kid.”

“What did I miss?” Ash’s eyes fluttered open.

“Just that this hotel is a getting a negative review,” Div said as he searched through the cabinets.

In a more serious tone, Kilyn explained as she searched for a way to unlock the chains, “You were kidnapped by the person leading the experiments of the lab we destroyed earlier.”

“I thought we cleared that place of anyone responsible,” Ash said.

“Me too.” Kilyn summoned a giant crab that used its pinchers to cut the chains and then made the conjuring disappear. “Can you walk?”

“Yes, I’m good.”

“What will we tell the client about John and Mark?” Div asked everyone.

Finnea stopped her search. “I don’t think anyone will believe us about Mark, but we’ll tell them about The Blue Hotel and John. This does explain the other victims we were talking about earlier. They must’ve been guests.”

Div nodded. “Sounds good to me. Let’s finish our search, blow this place up, and sleep for days.”

Finnea chuckled. “Agreed.”

Bleeding Fear - The Blue Hotel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Bleeding Fear is a complete overhaul of a short story that I wrote in my teenage days where the characters were based on some of my high school friends. Similar to this story, the original followed a group who destroyed an evil lab and unknowingly stay a hotel connected to that lab. I took the retelling in a hard fantasy direction. For my supporters on Patreon, I shared the original there (amateur and all).

I think one could consider Bleeding Fear my first strict fantasy story if fantasy is defined as having magic, lack of technology, and connection to other planets. This was a fun world to write! I spent a few days brainstorming how the world works.

Although the planet Nilnora and this story is part of my 16th Phoenix Universe, the world isn’t connected to Earth or the Five Following Planets, but the end-timers have visited Nilnora. You may have noticed the Nilnorians do look like Modva.

Huge thanks to Janine De Guzman for bringing the Blue Hotel building to life! She said this was one of her favorite pieces as she loves to draw fantasy scenes.

Thank you for reading and happy adventures!