When I stepped off the bus, I was in the middle of a forest. The unpaved road consisted of moist soil, making it terribly hard to walk.
The interior of a December forest was horribly ominous. Each and every tree stark naked, their frozen bark not giving off the smallest breath of life.
… A dead forest.
As I touched a sharply pointed tree branch, it raised a snap as it easily gave in. I tossed the branch to the side of the road, hastening on.
I doubt this forest would have any life ‘til the come of spring. Now it didn’t feel alive at all.
… It was larger than I thought.
With the cloudy sky as its backdrop, I looked up at the old castle before me. The black brick covering its old-construct exterior had not a fragment of cheeriness.
It was a place I’d expect to find monsters lurking. I had heard it was a first-rate tourist hotel, so I thought it would have more a sense of freshness, and I had arbitrarily framed up my own sparkly impression, but this was the exact opposite.
… Where a demon lord would live.
For some reason, that’s what I thought. If it were this hotel, I’m sure it wouldn’t be strange if a demon lord lived in its walls.
When I took the first step forward, I got the feeling someone was watching me from behind.
I couldn’t help but turn around. There was nothing there but naked trees and shrubs sprouting from the barren ground.
No one… no, there was.
Atop a tall tree branch, I saw a black mass.
It was a crow. A crow was staring fixatedly at me, and after a large caw, it spread out its wings, and flapped its way into the dull sky.
A cold wind blew, sending shivers down my spine.
Someone was… there. Just who was it, Claudia?
Who invited you here?
Who sent you the letter?
I forcefully removed my eyes rooted onto the trees, and started off towards the hotel once more. For some reason, my heart was raising alarm bells, and even after opening the front door and entering the hotel, the intensity of its beat showed no signs of dying down.
The entrance hall was dim, with only a green emergency exit light above it. Even so, because of the light streaming in from the window, I could dimly make out the inside.
The hotel’s interior, contrary to its outward appearance, matched up with my image of a first-rate hotel. Well-polished marble floor, and sofas to relax. Tasteful tables, and an antique clock on the wall. The chandelier hanging from the ceiling had an emphasis on its design, and I’m sure it was lit up, it would light the space vibrantly.
But that’s a tale of when the place was in business. At present, this hotel wasn’t open for that.
He said the restaurant and gym were running, but I had to wonder. That sounded dubious.
I looked at the guide board in a corner of the lobby. Based on it, the restaurant and gym were in the basement, and there weren’t any particular landmarks on the first floor.
For now, shall we look around?
After thinking for a moment, I decided to head for the park first.