Rayya moved to the side, letting me past her.  She stood behind me for a moment, gauging my reactions, watching my butt, making faces at me… I didn’t have eyes in the back of my head, so I don’t know.  I smelled a faint flowery scent from the open windows, probably some kind of linen perfume.  I was not on the first floor; I’d guess maybe…eight levels up? The windows looked down into a green park, and some streets with bad parking options, and I could see a hotdog vendor on the sidewalk.  I checked my phone out of amusement.  It was looking for a network, so I didn’t have any reference for the time zone. I looked in the drawers for hotel paraphernalia, like a menu, or a writing pad or a pen with their logos. (I had an old Lakewood Sheraton ballpoint that was one of the best pens I’ve ever had; smooth lines, consistent ink, and comfortable to use.)  Nothing.  There was a telephone with no numbers on it, no area code or something I could use to track down exactly where I was.  The door closed after a moment, and I looked up at the noise.  Rayya was gone, and so was the door.

Of course.

“But what if I want room service to bring me up an extra pillow?” I asked of the air.

Nothing responded, for which I was both relieved and annoyed at the same time.  Relieved because it would have made me jump, annoyed because I was not sure where I was.  I presumed I was back somewhere near my own Reality, but that was a guess at best.  It could be unicorn meat in the hotdogs, after all.

The bath looked more luxurious than anything I’d been exposed to outside of a paranormal romance.  It had steps up to it, and a faucet that looked a bit like a bronze dragon.  I froze for a moment, then relaxed.  More teasing, I presumed.  Looked nothing like Her, at any rate.  Wings were all wrong.

Talons were wrong.

Teeth were wrong.

I wrenched my gaze away from it.  The sink was one of those extra long rectangular ones with two faucets and drains, and one long and elegant brass mirror.  The towels were oh-so-fluffy.  A bathrobe was included. The floor was cork or bamboo or something under my feet.  I washed my hands, and, thinking about it, pulled out the silver ring from my pocket.  (I have to take off my rings when I’m doing the dishes.)

I saw the engraving in the shadow, a single endless branch with faint leaves.

I made it into the bedroom, where there were six large pillows, and a plush carpet that made me wiggle my toes just to enjoy it.  I sat down on the bed, and sank into it.  Alarmed, I poked it a couple of times. Oh, it was just one of those “space age” materials that always made me think of the word, “squamous,” or at least the way the word sounds.  I know it means “scaly,” but it ought to be something that just burbled into spontaneous generation from a swamp.  Or a gumbo.

It was comfortable enough. I stretched out.  I knew I was too wound up to actually sleep, which is why when Rayya woke me it was so startling.

“Door-closer,” she said.

“You can call me ‘E,'” I mumbled.

“You are summoned to the Seven King.”

“Again?” I wasn’t serious.  I was just suddenly hungry.  I used my fists to clean out my eyes.  Bad habit, and my eyes made that dry squeaking noise.

“You are required once you have broken your fast,” Rayya amended.

Food!  “I could kiss you,” I said.

“Please do not!” she backed away from me.

“Uh-huh,” I grunted.  Literalists.   “Where is this… food?”

She waved to a sideboard out of the bedroom where, once I stood, I could see that there were bloom-down-cheeked peaches, melons, and raspberries. Apples, russet and dun.  The fruits of the Goblin Market. A pitcher of milk that didn’t smell like I was used to, but I took a glass anyway.  Probably gryphon milk or something. (I’d hate to have nursing gryphlets.  Those beaks look pretty sharp.)  No pineapple. Amazing grapes that actually tasted like grape.  I took a handful of some of the stuff I didn’t recognize, just in case they were snozzberries.  I wanted to taste snozzberries.  After all, weren’t all of us dreamers of the dream?

“There are also garments available to you.”

“Shoes?” I asked.  I live in Colorado.  This means that three-fourths of the year I can wear flip-flops, and the other fourth I’m in snow boots.  Barefoot is always a possibility, but it was more suited for beaches or grassy green fields while you run after kites and watch out for what geese leave behind.

Rayya stared at me blankly.

I sighed.  “Why the garments?”  That was a disturbing word.  Loincloths?  Hose?  Fishnet?

“Hospitality,” she said.  “You are our guest, and have insufficient fur to call your own.”

I munched on an apple, thinking.  Rayya stood at attention and continued to stare.

“The obligations of a host,” I thought aloud.  I guess I do make housecalls.

Rayya looked at me as if I were going to say something interesting, but then her curiosity faded.  She waited while I chewed and swallowed.

I laughed aloud.  “I’ve read of pocket dimensions, but you have enveloped a piece of Reality in a pocket. I bet this room doesn’t exist to the hotel it’s in, maybe always rented by an organization controlled by the Seven King, maybe forgotten, cleaned by brownies instead of maid service.  That’s why there was no chocolate on the pillow.”

Rayya didn’t respond.  I shrugged.  The food was delicious, actually.  Not what I would have ordered, given a choice, but sweet and satisfying.  The milk was good as well, rich and very different.  “I wouldn’t order this, mind you.  Do I tip the waiter, or is that like giving thanks?”

Rayya’s hands clenched, and there was a dark look to her expression.  She walked over and opened the closet with a bit more force than it probably warranted.  But maybe it was stuck.  I don’t know.  The closet door crashed against the wall, and vibrated for a moment.  The closet was packed full of clothing, little of which I could recognize if I hadn’t been to a Renaissance Faire a few times.  (Okay, every year since I was little.)

I gestured at the closet.  “Is it safe, or will it suck me up into Narnia if I push too hard?”

Rayya continued to glare.

“I’m not changing with you in the room,” I pointed out.

“You. Try. My. Patience, Door-closer,” she said, spitting the words out one at a time.  “I do not know why the Seven King has chosen to punish me with your presence, but I will abide.”

“You’re no slice of sweet cake yourself, Water-Daughter,” I responded.  “You’re bitter icing and dry pastry.  I’m here because a Dragon didn’t give me much choice in the matter.”

Her manner changed almost immediately.  “A Dragon?” she asked.

“Yeah, you know, big, scaly, lots of places at once, breathe fire, occasionally do crazy powerful magic.  Dragons.”  I made wing motions with my hands.  “I would have come because I was invited, but apparently it was important for me to get out of town, or something.”

“This is information the Seven King must have,” she said.  “You must hurry and don what you would so we may sooner be in Our Majesty’s keeping.”

I pulled out a couple of pieces.  There were, indeed, boots in there.

“Where do the clothes come from?” I asked.  “Or is this where all the socks go?”  I would have expected a number of mismatching, single boots in that case.  “It’s okay, I really don’t expect an answer for my rhetorical questions.”

“You may maintain your expectations,” Rayya suggested.  There might have been the slightest hint of amusement in her voice.

The clothing fit remarkably well, although if I didn’t have aspirations to being a LARPer, I would probably have felt ridiculous.  I didn’t know what to call the boots, other than high leather boots, soft heeled.  It was in a green that I’m sure accented my eyes.

“Acceptable.”  Rayya led me through the door that wasn’t there, and down deeper into the hill.

I followed, feeling much better wearing shoes.  It’s funny how little things like that change your entire mood.  It was like when I lost my watch and tried getting acclimated to checking my cellphone for the time.  I felt lost, and at a disadvantage.  I now felt I could handle the Seven King.  Or, well, maybe not handle, just endure.

I put my jacket back on, because it had pockets and this faire-wear did not.

The stairs continued the way the stairs had begun, irascible and patternless except in their continuing annoyance.  The wash of red along the walls continued to remind me of blood, as if the heart of the mountain was less and less a metaphor and more a literal situation.  If I started hearing drums, I was fleeing Khazad-dûm.

We entered a set of dark blue doors with bars made of metallic bone.  They opened before us with a silent but abrupt slamming, as if caught just before they hit the walls.  Black caryatids lined an overpass leading to a large round space, open like the floor of a coliseum.

Across from the overpass were bones, bleached white as if from the sun.  Not nasty bones, like you’d see as dungeon dressing, but smooth, semi-metallic ones.  They made up a nest, and within it was an egg.  The egg was lit up, perhaps with something inside it, and it looked humanoid, only very thin, like being able to see to the bones in your hands without x-rays.  Hard to describe, sure.  Perched next to it was the Seven King, in the guise Rayya called her form of war.

“He promised to serve me seven years, through well or woe, as chance may be,” she said to me.

“So it’s the standard Rich and Famous contract?” I said in response.  It was the shoes talking.

“Mortal years, and mortality, but the form of it chances to be my choice.  Remade into the egg, and what he becomes you must voice.”

“Your doorman does the work of Dragons,” Rayya interrupted.  Her voice was heavy with meaning.

“River daughter, queen of ice, what lies drip from your lips? They do not entice!” The Seven King glared at my handler, blind grey eyes glowing, and shadows beginning to seep from her form, like as if she sweated darkness.

I cleared my throat.  “I am guessing that it matters that I came here through the Peredur Express?  I mean, he punched my ticket.”  I pretended to look at something in my hand.  “Is this Disappointment City?”  That’s the destination I have frequent flyer miles to, at least.

“Did he have eyes of banked embers, and did he breathe the black smoke of wood? Would he eye you if he remembers, does he meddle or do good?” The Seven King jumped from the nest of bones and came almost within reach.

“Describes him pretty well, actually.  I can tell you, though, he’s a meddler.  I have this,” I pulled the tooth out of my pocket.  “Traded for it,” I explained with a shrug.

The Seven King laughed.  It was more on the level of a cackle, this one, like paint splattering against a wall, and the crack of an egg as it hit the floor.  “Oh, we know what to do with Dragons, we fear them not, my dear.  The rattle of bones, the tattle of tomes, they’re nothing to us here.”  She gestured with her long talon-like claws towards the nest.  “Do you work through Dragons?  Must I add another to my list of slain?  The bones you see are their bones indeed.  We need them for our play.”

I took a deep breath.  “Rayya, is the King telling me that that’s a bunch of Dragon bones?”

Rayya nodded, a sharp, almost human movement.