The platform stops at the penthouse and tilts to gently slide Gemma through the open doorway. She finds herself standing in a narrow room with a single door that is made of dented metal and a small, frosted window. A pulse of fear stops her from taking another step until the ravens swarm in from the elevator shaft. Their wings graze her skin while they fly back and forth, their movements blocking Gemma off from going anywhere besides through the quivering door. With no other choice, she enters the penthouse and finds that there is nothing besides the master bedroom. The windows no longer have their glass, allowing a high wind to churn through the room and move the sheets on the vacant bed. All of the dresser drawers have been opened to reveal colonies of moths and the remains of clothing. The smell of paint draws Gemma’s attention to the walk-in closet, which is empty and colored a bright crimson. The flushing of a rattling toilet comes from the direction of the small bathroom, but there is no door that would give access to the room.
Alone and dressed in white, Dawn sits on the edge of the bed and gently strokes the empty space next to her. For a moment, the sheets seem to billow up into the form of a person, but deflates to make Gemma think it is nothing more than the constant wind. Two ravens sit on the headboard, only one of them moving while the other remains so still that it could be mistaken for being stuffed. Spinning the spoon in her free hand, Dawn dips it into a nearby jar and scoops up some of the jellified brain that is inside. She holds the bite over the pillow for several seconds before frowning and tossing the utensil out the window. The active raven soars after the shiny object, snatching it in its beak and obediently returning it to the hotelier. With a sigh, she returns the spoon to the jar and plants a passionate kiss on the pillow that lingers for a minute.
“My husband doesn’t like taking his medicine when company is watching,” Dawn explains as she comes within a few inches of her guest. She touches the detective’s crimson hair, her fingers leaving a glistening trail of dew. “Now, we need to discuss how the game will proceed, kitty. My husband can make the guests return to normal and forget the unpleasantness. Those who lost loved ones will believe they are here to mourn the loss, which happened somewhere else. All neat, tidy, and other words that mean the same thing. This still doesn’t tell me what to do about you. Wiping your memory means we start from scratch and we’ve come too far in our relationship to shake that Etch-A-Sketch of a brain in your widdle, bitty skull. My suggestion is that you take a day to inform your partner’s family about his death, pick up some fresh clothes, and meet me in the morning for another round. This time, I have this glorious test that involves an arsonist.”
Gemma steps around the other woman, her good eye locked on the empty bed. “You have an entire building full of hostages. Not to mention, I’m on the top floor and have already been launched out of your building once. Keep in mind that the instant you lose your leverage over me, I’ll take you out.”
“Still so angry. Did somebody spritz you with a water bottle?” asks the grinning woman before her eye patch blinks. Opening her mouth to speak, Dawn stops and stomps her foot as if she is being scolded. “I will not let me new pet go. Stop arguing with me, dear, because you’re too weak. No, I won’t give any of your power back until you apologize. Telling me I’m pretty doesn’t count because you tell me that all the time. You know exactly what I want. Well, if I make the unicorn myself then it isn’t you giving me a present. Take a note, kitty. Sometimes you have to force romance in a relationship.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the detective replies in a dull voice. She squirms against the sensation of ants crawling around her skin and rolls up her sleeves to find one of the insects on each arm. “So, why is your husband sick with? Also, where is he?”
“Corvus is in the bed. Maybe he’s just being shy with you,” Dawn answers, a bead of sweat running down the side of her head. Grabbing the jar of brains, she tries again to find her invisible husband and meets with the same failure. “Being away from Raven’s Hold has made him very weak. Too much normalcy in the world for him to stay healthy. You see, he has the power to make everything a reality, which forced him to hide from humanity. He never thought his isolation would have side-effects. My husband was away for too long and now he needs to eat brain pieces to survive. Harvested just after the kill when they’re warm and still holding the burst of insanity that comes with facing death. Still, I hope one day to find a thalamus that will cure him completely. A special one that sings to our minds and allows me to give him back his great power.”
“Maybe it’s me.”
“I considered that, but you’re too normal.”
“Then, why am I even worth your time?”
“Because the truth is in your face and you still cling to what you think is real.”
“Sounds like a compliment.”
“Just a more eloquent way of calling you an idiot.”
Unsure of what else to say, Gemma turns her back on Dawn and gets within a few steps of the window. She rubs her badge while trying to put a finger on what feels more wrong than everything else she is seeing. The detective is surprised that she has become fairly numb to the strange happenings that surround the hotel. Whether illusions or truly the work of a supernatural being, she finds that none today’s events have yanked on her instincts more than something Dawn recently said. Fighting through a mental haze, Gemma pulls out her phone and takes another look at the notes from the wedding dress and tuxedo.
“You were born in 1980,” the detective whispers more to herself than the other woman. She spots the hint of a frown on her enemy’s face and returns to show her the pictures. “My partner found these notes right before he died. This is something you don’t want other people to know, but I still don’t know why. You’re a year older than your husband according to these notes. Now they could be incorrect or I’m misinterpreting them. Still, if I’m right then Corvus couldn’t have been around for centuries.”
“My bitch of a mother made those to hurt me,” Dawn hisses while backing away from the phone. She kneels next to the bed while a crack of thunder shakes the building. “My husband has been around for a long time. He made himself known to me when I was a child and then waited for me to find him. Back then, our times together were very short, but I loved him dearly. 1981 must have been the day we first met. My mother mistook that for his birthdate. Yes, I’m sure that was what happened.”
“Except she made mention of a few incidents prior to Corvus appearing,” the detective continues, her voice having to rise above the sound of flapping wings. A gust of wind threatens to knock her toward the window, but she hooks her arm around the bed’s footboard. “She called him your imaginary friend and I can believe that. I don’t see him. Nobody has ever seen your husband, except you. If he had such great power then wouldn’t he have taken you away as a child? Why did you have to find him if he could do anything that he wants?”
“Because I needed to mature,” the hotelier declares, her voice quivering. Prismatic tears slip from beneath her golden eye patch, each one burning through the sheet. “You lack the ability to understand us. He was alone and so was I. Then we became one and set out to make the world a better place. I live to follow his example. Your questions prove that you can’t even begin to comprehend the truth.”
Gemma swipes her phone until it stops on a drawing of a little girl standing alone in front of a bird-covered tree. “I think I understand everything. You’re the one behind all of this. Corvus was an imaginary friend that gave you an excuse for everything you did. The voice in your head that helped you avoid feeling guilty for taking lives. Whatever it is that you’ve done in this hotel or Vegas as been by your own hand.”
“Of course it was because he gave me his power,” Dawn replies with a laugh. Sliding her hand along the sheets, she abruptly stops and turns with terror in her eyes. “Corvus? Honey? Dear? Where did you go? Don’t listen to the kitty! She has no idea what she’s talking about. I beg of you to think about what we have. We found each other and now we’re not alone. Please don’t leave me with the normal people. They aren’t any fun. They’re always staring at me and treating me like a monster. Why are you abandoning me!?”
“Because he never existed, Dawn.”
“You drove him away.”
“How could I if I’ve never seen him?”
“Never any fun in normal.”
“So you’ve said before.”
“Never any fun in normal.”
“I’m placing you under arrest, Dawn Addison.”
“Never any fun in normal!”
Dawn’s voice hits a pitch that shatters the jar of brains and causes the two ravens to explode into a rain of feathers. She remains kneeling by the bed, her hands gripping the sheets that bleed from beneath her nails. More of her tears flow from her eyes to become streams of colorful acid that melt through the floor. Cracks run through the walls as Heaven’s Nest shakes and the roof begins to sag. The door to the elevator shaft falls off the wall, revealing brick and cement that Gemma has no way of breaking through. Screams from below cause Dawn to cry even louder, which shatters every glass object in the building. With a final sob, the crumbling floor beneath the two women gives way and they plummet into a horrific cascade of stone, metal, wood, and bodies.