An invitation to a party appears on various university billboards inviting people to the Kappa Alpha Frat house located in the mostly finished Castle Commonwealth mall on the edge of town. The notice instructs people to follow the access road at 67 Lost Nation drive and enter through the back door and promises that signs will be posted to guide people to the party itself.
"Oh, come on, Joss," Rex whines. "The others are already going to be there."
"I hate parties," Joss says, following along anyway, letting him bound ahead. "You know I hate parties. Why are you dragging me to a party?"
"Because you haven't been out except for lectures in three weeks? And also because Dale and Tam thought it would be good for you." He's excited, it's been a while since he got to go to a party as well. "Why did I let you talk me into walking?"
"Because you know I'll be calmer if I get enough exercise and fresh air prior to getting to this party?"
By this point, they've making their way along the access road.
The road is wide enough for construction vehicles to drive down but not much wider than that and it isn't paved. The road is surrounded on both sides by trees. The road meanders back and forth through the forest a little but then there was a final sharp turn and the trees part to reveal their destination. Before them is a modest overflow parking lot. A smattering of cars are parked there, and beyond that an enormous building looms in the darkness. The impression of a vast castle is very strong.
Joss frowns at it, wrapping her arms around herself. "Well, this is...big. And not at all creepy."
"You worry far to much, Joss," Tamaris says as she joins them. "It'll be fine. It's just a party. Come on, the others went ahead."
She leads them down into the building.
The entrance is done up to look like a drawbridge passing over a stream that feeds into a pond visible a ways off. Just inside the door there's a sign offering directions to the party, the directions lead to one sign and then another travelling through indoor and outdoor areas passing apartments and food courts and tennis courts. Finally their path leads them back into a shopping area and then through a maintenance corridor, into a brightly lit lobby with a single elevator door. Off to the side are tables with drinks and slips of paper on them. Whether from their long walk or something else they all feel a bit thirsty.
Tamaris picks one up, sipping at it. She, for now ignores the bits of paper.
Joss is looking for an unopened drink - a bottle of beer would do. "Do you have no self-preservation, guys?" (Because Rex has just picked up a drink as well.) "Jeez, it's a wonder you haven't had anything bad happen."
She picks up one of the slips of paper to see what it says.
"But that's why we have you, Joss. You keep us safe."
(Joss pretends not to hear that, but she's blushing.)
The slips of paper each have a border of a certain color along with a quote and an apparently random alphanumeric code typeset in the same color.
- Red: B2BB XTN8 3EQR B9VX EC33 "Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness."
- Orange: 74VM DCU6 QNQ2 A7GH V8HP "A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning."
- Yellow: 3D96 XY4C 3KER RNW2 TWOD "Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes."
- Green: U7N7 KIHQ 3JTP QS39 KG4I "What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world."
- Blue: BKQ7 WZUE 6HE6 PSKK M697 "Skill is the unified force of experience, intellect and passion in their operation."
- Purple: 62OR G47F ZNGK QG3P B3OB "The aim of medicine is to prevent disease and prolong life, the ideal of medicine is to eliminate the need of a physician."
"Huh," she ends up tucking the red bordered slip of paper away in her pocket - the quote hurts, because right now caring is only causing problems, but she figures she can have a laugh about it with at least one of the others at some point.
"Can we just go already?" Tamaris demands. "I didn't get all dressed up to be stuck at the entrance to a party."
She's stood by the door to the elevator now, tapping one foot impatiently.
"Yeah, sure," Joss says, crossing over to them.
And they get on the elevator.
Joss shivers, and rubs her upper arms with her hands.
Inside the elevator is a keyboard with a twenty character display mounted above it and no buttons for floor numbers.
"Am I seriously the only one who's getting the shivers from this?" Joss asks, very ready to leave right now.
Tamaris laughs. "You're paranoid, pet," she says, sliding a hand into Joss' pocket to pull out the slip of paper - apparently she'd been paying more attention than was apparent. She keys the alphanumeric code in. "It's just like having to have a password to get into a party. Keeps the undesirables out."
"One: You know I don't go to parties unless you guys drag me. Two: They just left the password there for all to find." She doesn't try too hard to stop Tamaris though, it's probably just her being worried about being in a room with people she doesn't know, and she doesn't want to argue with Tamaris about that. She dislikes arguing for fairly silly reasons.
When Tamaris finishes entering the code the doors slide closed behind them and Joss gets treated to a Migraine-grade headache with a side order of vertigo. The others feel a slight turning sensation.
Joss sways when the vertigo hits and then slams her eyes shut when the headache makes itself known.
(Something is very wrong.)
Rex immediately loops an arm around Joss, bracing her carefully so she doesn't fall. "Tam?" he asks quietly, obviously distressed.
"I'm not sure," Tamaris murmurs. "I'm not feeling anything that would cause this? Maybe she's just dehydrated herself?" She's worried as well, but she does a better job of hiding it.
After about a minute, Joss's headache and vertigo depart with the same suddenness that they arrived, and the doors open revealing a large well appointed lounge. Off to the right side under some windows is a table with buffet trays. Off to the left is another set of windows. At the end of the lounge is a counter and a doorway dividing it from what looks to be a kitchen. Two people are arguing softly standing at the counter on the kitchen side.
She stays leaning against Rex anyway, because she's not entirely sure she trusts her legs. Something is definitely not right - and she feels like some strange weight is gone, but she can't place it, and it feels off. She shakes herself, and steps away from Rex and into the room. (Does she still have the knife in her boot and in the back of her jeans? She thinks she does.)