#23in13 – Chapter 10 – A Walk in the Dark, Part 2

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.

#23in13 – Chapter 9 – A Walk in the Dark, Part 1

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…


Sarah found herself with eleven others she didn’t recognise. Badges coloured red and blue indicated managers and programmers, if memory served. One other journalist looking very nervous.

“I’ve never done one of these ghost walks,” he said, sidling up to her.

“I have, but it was years ago. A few jump moments but nothing lastingly scary. I’m Sarah, by the way.”

“Arthur. PC Pro. You?”

“Telegraph, technology department.’

Arthur smiled, shook her hand. He was about six feet tall, dressed casually for the warm evening in chinos and a light silk shirt. Black hair, tanned, a friendly face. Sarah liked him. ‘Were you at last year’s conference?’

“No, I didn’t get that pleasure. You?”

The group was getting restless, milling around outside a curtain drawn across a side-street off the Royal Mile just below St Giles’ Cathedral. Noises from behind the curtain suggested something was happening.

“Yep, fascinating stuff, really. Kinda hard to explain some of it but the potential for gaming is just immense! Never mind this ‘your body is the controller’ lark we’ve got at the moment, this would take it to a whole new level! And the training possibilities! Putting troops directly into the environment they’re going to be deployed into!”

“Space exploration was going to be my take on it. Allowing astronauts to train for complex repair operations without the expense of sending them in to orbit first.”

One of the programmers caught the thread of their conversation and started running with it.

“Nah,” he said, “it’s definitely the future of gaming. First person shooter? Total-immersion Doom? What about Tomb Raider?”

“Sheesh! Can you imagine having to do all those jumps and all that running yourself?”

“Yeah, but then you’ve got it combining full-body workouts with your gaming experience! Obesity will be a thing of the past!”

“Could you get it to assist you? Lower difficultly levels have you being helped along by a full-body-wrapped forcefield! How cool would that be?”

Sarah and Arthur let them carry on. It was always fun to seed an idea into their minds. They were like magpies, latching on to the new and shiny!

The conversation dried up as a billow of smoke wafted out from under the red velvet curtain. It twitched once or twice and then was pulled open revealing a rotund man in a circus ringmaster costume.

“Good evening, unfortunates,” he declaimed, several passing tourists turning to see what the noise was about. “You have all been chosen.” Special emphasis on the last word. “My name is Pepper, my assistant, Ghost, will be joining us shortly. If you would all care to take a leap of faith and follow me?” He turned on his heel, striding a few steps into the alley.

Sarah turned to Arthur as the programmers filed into the alley behind Pepper.

“Right. We’re playing spot the musical reference. I’m calling Arena, along with their albums Immortal? and Pepper’s Ghost. He’s using lyrics from Chosen.”

Arthur gave her a blank look. It didn’t suit his friendly face so she took pity on him.

“Arena? Prog rock band from the nineties? Still making albums? let me guess, you’re a Michael Buble type, no?” Arthur nodded. “Right. I’ve got their back catalogue on my phone, find me tomorrow and we’ll get you educated.”

They were the last two to enter the alley, the curtain swung closed as they stepped in and were plunged into darkness.

#23in13 – Chapter 8 – Dinner and a Show, part 2

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…


Towards the end of the meal, Sarah’s not-quite-vertigo returned, blossoming into a full-blown headache. It was worse when she tried to focus on things her brain was telling her were clearly wrong. The roomful of delegates to her right didn’t seem to fit with what she could make out of the building from the outside and she couldn’t focus on any of the people seated at the table for more than a second or so without pain stabbing behind her eyes. Try as she might to ignore it, she found herself drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Once or twice she almost went into the side room, getting up with the intention of finding out just who was at that table. The first time, Nigel caught her arm and took her to the bar upstairs (is there a bar upstairs at Atrium? There is now), presenting her with a couple of paracetamol and a glass of water – “Noticed that headache still hasn’t gone, try these?” The second time she found herself in the ladies’ toilet without realising she’d even crossed the room. Before she could try again, staff were hoping they’d had a good meal and wishing them a pleasant evening.

As they were filing out of the restaurant, congregating in front of the Usher Hall, one of the gophers coughed and raised his hands.

“Ladies and gentlemen! If I could have your attention!” They turned, most of them paying attention in the same way people do to the safety demonstration on a aeroplane. Sarah leant half an ear, trying to spot either Nigel or the man in gray in the crowd as it formed. “Some of you, those who have had a chance to fully explore your rooms and welcome packs will have a ticket for Pepper and Ghost’s Walking Tour of the Old City tonight. That tour is due to start in half an hour. If there’s anything you want returning to the hotel, please leave it with one of us gold-badges and it will be waiting in your room should you be lucky enough to return!” A few people, probably wearing gold badges, laughed dutifully.

“Well, that went as well as could be expected.” Milo sat in a swivel chair in Atrium’s bar, swinging slowly from side to side. “Dinner was well above your man’s standard, he really did us proud there.”

“Should hope so, the amount that’s cost us.” Jeckyl, blonde, over-thin, sharp-featured, dressed in skin-hugging pale blue denim and with a voice like a buzz-saw. “Still, upping the ante for next year’s conference!” She laughed. At least Ash assumed it was a laugh, frankly it sounded painful.

“What news from the Suthana team?” Ash turned to Gabrielle and Milo who exchanged looks, their eyes flickering, text scrolling across them.

“Right,” Gabrielle steepled her hands. “Stephen has got everything we need loading in now. The amount of data we’re looking at we’ll be ready to run the first walk-through of the Open Moon incident by ten tomorrow morning.”

“Ten? Sheesh! Can’t it be loaded any faster?” Ash sipped at his water, staff around them placing chairs on tables and preparing what they could for the next day.

“First time, no. We couldn’t bring a pre-loaded data core from Locutia, not during the Festival, we’ve had to build the core from scratch here in Prime. Second and subsequent runs will only take a few hours to prepare?” Milo nodded.

“About that, yeah. We’re starting off loading everything, covering all the bases. Once we’ve done a full run-through we’ll be able to narrow our field of search down, find out who took her and where they Gated her to.”

Ash rolled his glass in his hands, staring into it’s depths.

“Why haven’t we been able to do this before?” He looked up, staring first at Milo then at Gabrielle. Jeckyl slunk out of the room, heels clicking on the tiled floor.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to get everything together in one place, Ash.” Milo stopped swivelling his chair. “Stephen’s been working on this Suthana rig of his since the Open Moon incident, he’s made some real breakthroughs in the past few months but, man, we’ve all been waiting to see this.”

Gabrielle set her glass down on the bar, leaned forward and put a hand on Ash’s shoulder.

“We all lost friends that day, in a way you were both the luckiest and unluckiest. Daedalus was killed in front of me, trying to open a Gate out for us. We couldn’t tell you whether Sarah had been killed or not for months, not until we managed to get our hands on the sensor data. Then not knowing how they took her, where or why? Nightmare. I know what it’s done to you – you had black hair when this started!”

This, finally, brought a smile to Ash’s face. He nodded.

“Okay. I can wait a few more hours.” He looked at his watch, stood and pulled his greatcoat from the back of the chair. “Well, I have things to do tonight. Things that involved Jeckyl. Where did she go?”

“Ducked out a few minutes ago,” Milo drained his whisky, stood to leave. “Not sure where to. Actually not sure where she goes at all, not since the Closed Gate raid.”

“Well, I’ll see if I can catch up with her. You two need to get back to Prof Hyde, make sure we’re up to speed for the morning,” he turned at the door, running a hand up the frame, leaving a shimmering red trail as he did so. “Anything happens earlier than you expected, you get in touch, right?”

“Right.” Gabrielle turned to the barman, raised her glass. “One for the road?”

Ash continued to run his hand across the top of the frame, down the other side, then he stepped through the shimmering red arch and vanished.