As an aside before we continue… This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here. It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words. It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft. The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around. File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.
If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…
The alley was wide enough for two people, if they were very comfortable in each other’s company. When the last of the group had entered, Ghost stepped inside, drew the curtain. He raised his right hand, signalling Pepper that they were good to go, made another complex gesture with his left hand and a low breeze blew up, causing the gaslamps to flicker and gutter. Shadows danced on the walls and floor of the alley. The mist was now knee-deep, swirling around the seven figures.
Pepper stopped, turned to face them, spread his hands so that he was touching the rough brick walls of the alley on either side of him.
“There is no going back now,” he intoned. Eyes looking past the group, staring into the middle distance. Suddenly he grinned. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, showing more teeth than perhaps natural. “Edinburgh is a city built on seven hills. The streets and closes, bridges and buildings span those hills, hide them from sight. More importantly, though, Edinburgh is a city built on a city, built on a city. You can enter a building on the ground floor, climb for seven floors and emerge at ground level once more. Whole tenement buildings, whole houses, whole streets – along with their inhabitants – have been swallowed by the city as she grew, lost to history. But not to us.” Pepper raised his hands, dragging his nails along the brickwork. “These walls now enclosing us are the roof walls of the tenement buildings that once stood here. Below our feet, below these cobbles, lie six stories of building. Six stories that have witnessed some of the most gruesome murders in the history of the city.” He turned, a gaslamp flaring up and illuminating a doorway. “Most tours of the city avoid these buildings. Most tours don’t wish to attract the attention of the hungry ghosts who dwell therein. We embrace it.”
He snapped his fingers, the door swung inwards. Instantly, the mist flowed inside. Pepper clicked his heels together, stepped through the doorway into the darkness.
“Follow me, please. No-one gets left behind.”
There was something in Pepper’s bearing that made everyone follow. Maybe it was the cold in the night air, the promise of warmth in the next room, the chills running down everyone’s spines…
They found themselves in a large, empty room. A single doorway was set into the wall opposite their entrance, plain white wood. Either side of the doorway, a gaslamp burned brightly. Mister Pepper stood in front of the door, his shadow falling on the mist in front of them all.
“In this room, this room alone, no fewer than eight people have died. The first were twin girls, murdered in the late eighteenth century.” The gaslamps flared briefly, the mist swirled upwards, two figures flanked Mister Pepper. The gaslamps dimmed again, flared brighter than before then died, plunging the room into total darkness. Whispered laughter filled the room.
//reaction from the tour group – as you can see, work in progress!//
The whispered laughter died away, replaced by a distant drumming.
“No-one is entirely sure what happened to the two girls murdered in this room.” Pepper’s voice came out of the darkness, not entirely comforting. “The attack on them was savage, brutal. Rumours of a tenement werewolf sprang up but were quicky suppressed. Suppressed with extreme prejudice. Which, of course, lent them more credence.” He snapped his fingers, images appeared on the walls all around them, faint illumination in the darkness. The pictures changed slowly – portrait paintings resolving into sketches of crime scenes and bodies.
“Follow me. And be careful on the stairs.”
The light was enough to show that Pepper had slipped out through the now-open inner door. The mist flowed along the corridor giving off a pale-blue glow, slowly increasing in brightness.
Sarah smiled weakly at Mr. Ghost, “If I’m this jumpy already, I’m in for a rough night aren’t I?” Ghost just raised an eyebrow and inclined his head towards the door.
The stairs seemed to go on forever, down into the dark. Five steps, landing, turn left, seven steps, landing, turn left, five steps… No doors lead off the landings but bricked-up doorways. The footsteps of Pepper, Ghost and the tourists echo up and down. Mist drips from step to step, pooling on the landings, undulating unpleasantly as they move through it.
“Just a little further now,” Pepper breaks the silence after a few minutes.
It was getting warmer now and a faint orange glow shone from a few twists of the stairs further down. The drumming they’d heard in the first room was back, accompanied by something just on the edge of hearing. Laughter? Crying?
The landing above the glow was larger, big enough for all of them to stand comfortably.
“The room we are about to enter played an unusual part in the history of this fair city. It was a safe room, used by conspirators through the ages to plan, plot and hide. If the stories are to be believed, it was the inspiration for the ‘room of requirement’ from Harry Potter’s school, the location of this room was uncertain, apparently known only to those who needed it.”
“Filled with chamberpots, you mean?” Sarah asked innocently. “It’s well known that Hogwarts is in Scotland, after all… What conspirators and which ages?” She had recovered from the shock of the first room and was falling back on attack as her first line of defence.
“Ma’am, it is indeed well known that the fictional school for wizards, Hogwarts, is located somewhere within the Scottish Highlands. Placing a school of that nature in a built-up area would lead to too many complications, even for such an internally consistent universe as created by Ms Rowling in this very city. As an aside, the steam engine used as the Hogwarts Express in the films is owned by the music impresario, Pete Waterman.”
Pepper coughed loudly as Ghost tried to stifle a laugh. ‘Music impresario? Aye, right. I should be so lucky..’
“As to the identities of the conspirators, this room has been occupied by such luminaries as Abbot Bernard of Arbroath, instrumental in the foundation of Scotland as we know it today, John Knox and his Calvinist followers, several signatories to the fifteen-sixty Treaty of Edinburgh, the leaders of the Covenanters. Most recently the rooms were used in addition to several similar chambers beneath Edinburgh Castle during the planning stages of World Wars one and two. Much of the action in the Orkney area and beyond was planned in here. More interestingly, we’re told this room was the negotiation hall for the original Festival Treaty.”
Something about the Festival Treaty sparked off a memory deep in Sarah’s headache-addled brain.
“From first note to final firework… something.”
Pepper raised an eyebrow. Interesting.