Authors: Aidan Ladsow
So they dug your grave
And the masquerade
Will come calling out
At the mess you've made
Part 1: The Grave Ajar
MY NAME IS GIOIA DI TERZI.
I was twenty-four when I left home for the first time ever.
And to make an impression I left far( 1572,5 kilometres/980 miles) and for long (at least a year), to England.
The job I applied for was not challenging to me, it didn't even require the amount of degrees I had.
I am in love with knowledge, and I graduated in Art and History at the University of Rome.
And above all I live and breathe for culture.
Urban and industrious this average British city was just the place I would have to live in for the next twelve months.
It lacked a certain sense of mystery I had expected- I read far too much.
The sun itself dared not touch most of the buildings as a haze weighed on the early workers running to their office, me amongst them. Everything about here seemed so dispassionate and unemotional.
I didn't know much of the city yet, it was like I had walked into a neat, aseptic dream where nothing was real except my work.
In fact, this was a false start,really.
Will you excuse me while I begin again?
I was looking for a shortcut during my lunch break when I found the Guildhall.
It was like I had tumbled from a plain street right into the Cathedral Quarter of the city. Just like that with no signs or warning, I found myself before the thick walls of yore, the yellowed columns and the arched entry into a courtyard. I saw the sign
''open to visitors today''
and thought why not?
I knew a few things about Guildhalls, mostly they used to be run by guilds of merchants and craftsmen and they held a good deal of medieval power.
This building was a shock in a sea of suburbanization. I pushed the button of the intercom with apprehension, "I am just a visitor...'' I was demanding an entry in a place I did not belong.
The buzz of the door, I stumbled into a world so still and so alien, taking a step back in time, with the wooden stairs, the tapestries, the paintings and the suffocating silence.
"Hello?" I shouted to no avail.
There was no guide, no employee in period clothes, I just followed the signs on the doors, my steps silenced by the carpet.
I quickly took some pictures disturbed by the vacancy of the place and as I ascended the stairs I heard a hum of voices.
A conference room, empty. A door in a niche, hidden behind a curtain.
I followed the voice, its drum attracting me almost against my will.
To some extent I am a snooping person, and such a location which was the polar opposite of the rest of the city, fueled my desire to discover more.
I peeked through the door slightly opened.
"I hate to set the alarm" said a voice which sounded like someone on the speaker. "But this hitch in the delivery is highly unanticipated.''
"Precisely why I called for this meeting with you" said the voice that made my body so self-conscious. "I am not the most disquieted of us, you know it, but I won't be caught off-balance by spirits."
"Saor has proven worthy of the Guild's respect many times before, Sir" said a third voice.
I held my breath as the owner of the spellbinding voice rose from his armchair.
He was tall, wore a black sweater, his hair was golden brown and thick and I couldn't distinguish the rest of him. His voice didn't quite match what I could perceive of him. There was a paradox in this man, I had a problem of perspective and could only see a detail of the fresco.
I had lingered too long as I caught the time on my cellphone, I whispered "Shit."
I ran back to the exit, knowing I would be late anyway.
In the courtyard I almost collided with a bulky man wearing a suit, kind of a bodyguard.
He said something I didn't hear as I was still jogging away.
This day I entered the Guildhall, I made
“A human, are you certain?’’
“Without a doubt, Sir. This one was no ordinary tourist. Young woman, professional, shown on the footage with a badge and a dark blazer, wandering in the Guildhall
Roydon frowned. It had been a long time since he had cared about something.
And then in one week, this very week, he had not one but two troubles coming his way.
Intruders in the medieval quarter and an intruder in his building. For decades now they had had tourists plaguing the walls and invading what was left of their privacy.
. The word would forever be new and unwelcome to Roydon.
How could these people delight in briefly going around the place, knowing nothing, seeing nothing. If he, Roydon was condemned to hold the rooms, the ceilings, the stained glass, in the blot of his own centuries, he barely tolerated the tourists for the money.
A beggar, he was
Yet this person interested him. A lonely human entering the guildhall by chance, he sensed quite a character there and therefore asked to see the security recording.
"Here is the exterior footage. What do you think of her feeling up the cobwebs, the stones, the cobble, Sir?"
Roydon's eyes narrowed on the blurry recorded woman. "She seems...''
''A tiny bit slower than the average visitor?"
Every morning I kept to the same itinerary to go to work, I can't swear it had nothing to do with the Guildhall, my scheduled path allowed me to pass it by twice a day. I could not advert my eyes from this building. It was well-seated among the other medieval buildings, an open church, several houses remained intact and a graveyard just in front of the old, charming pub. Rather gothic, to say the least.
This was the UK I wanted to live in. It doesn't get any better than the old slippery pavement, the head-turning monuments and bizarre gargoyles, old-fashioned statues with their twisted faces, tokens of medieval value.
The tombstones, I began to notice day after day after day in a way the fleeting tourist would not have, were well-kept and there was only four of them. I even taught my eyes tricked me when I observed that one of the grave looked ajar.
The very particular day I was to met Roydon, who he is you will soon find out, I skipped through an thicker morning mist than usual, almost slipped on the cobbled road, whining and cursing to myself with the instinct that it would be a bad day. It was already a bad hair day anyway.
Then something colourful caught my eyes, on the ground. I slowed down. It was a card on the cobblestone. A king of hearts. I winced at the distraction. These days I was so alienated from my friends and family that I picked a random card on the street as a sign for something, what I didn't even know.
I sped up again to reach the office, my skin creeping when I passed under the Guildhall windows and had the insane feeling that someone was watching me from behind the golden stained-glass.
"As you demanded My Lord, Robert was asked to exert his...what do they call it these days, IT knowledge yes, to the video of the intruder. He said that he has'' the old butler voice seemed to squeal with reluctance ''zoomed and maximized to his utmost abilities to read the badge the woman was wearing and thus he asks permission to have a Skype meeting with you. I said that regarding your current schedule, the appointement would not be possible before the end of the week, is that allright, Sir?''
Roydon stoop up from his leathery armchair.
"Now! Tell Rob I want to Skype with him now, I will not wait."
"Very well, Sir.''
"Also'' said Roydon ''can you check what happened with the wine delivery and go to the Olde Pub tell Gemma I will have it fixed it as soon as I can?''
On my way back this evening I was so starving I stopped to buy a cheese and ham sandwich. I was happily devouring it when I felt my skin rise. A sudden wave of fear submerged me.
It was darker than usual outside and the narrow streets were almost empty. I clutched my shoulder bag and cursed myself for having choosen the the Guildhall's path again, where the sun couldn't light the way, trapped between the high outer walls of the Cathedral.
I just had to walk faster, my legs tottering over the cobblestone, and I soon would be in the soulless, modern part of the city.
I heard a car behind me, just my luck as I arrived before the Olde Pub. The car was driving so slowly that I had the impression it was following me. From the corner of my eye I saw a white limousine.
When I was ready to lose my grip and go into a sprint, I saw the car stop before the door of the Cathedral and a groom and bride emerge from it, to take wedding pictures in this very, creepy, no they would call it atmospheric setting.
So I was kind of going crazy, so lonely and stressed out I saw things.
A newlywed couple could hardly equate a dark agenda even for my unromanced heart.
I was so shaken and concerned about my sanity that I decided I had to urgently attend to my condition and medicate myself: I entered the Olde pub.
''What kind of beers do you have?'' I asked the middle-aged, flashy landlady.
"Well, darling, we have beers. Want to taste some and then choose?''
Before I could even protest she began working her magic and soon I was surrounded by a legion of half-pints, each with a different name and I tried to drink enthusiastically.
"You have a lovely place'' I said.
And it really was. It looked really different from the inside, very big and plush. It also had a beer Garden. The decoration was steel and black and surprisingly high-tech and brand new.
"Thank you darling. So which one do you want to drink?"
"The Stella will do" I said.
She poured me a gigantic pint and left to the kitchen.
I loosened a little more with each gulp and my paranoia began to recede.
Nope, there was no danger here, only good liquor and a not so cold British sense of hospitality.
For some time I remained stuck watching the TV screen with an euphoric smile, I had almost overdone myself with this challenging pint.
The landlady with the big hair and neon pink fake nails was back and speaking to a man who had appeared out of nowhere.
Or so it seemed as I was lightly swaying, lightly drunk and full of carelessness.
"Tell me what's happening, the wine is always in time and you never come to see me in person. Something is happening, yeah?''said Landlady.
Of course she would be fussing over alcohol I thought sluggishly.
"Nothing that I can't take care of. No worries, Gemma, I confirm what Blacksmith has said this morning, it will be sorted in no time.''
"Oh you won't tell me Thamesian ain't nothing worrying. Am feeling it, it's been weeks I feel squirmish, not easy being so close to the graves, giving me bad dreams and bad omens.And this morning one of my guys picked this, just before our door.''
Suddenly the gist of their conversation had me sobered and I leaned to listen harder. That's when I fell from my stool and utterly crashed to the floor.
I was such a sucker!
"Are you allright?" asked the man.
I recognized his voice as he picked me up and helped me sit again. The mysterious man from the Guildhall. Sobered a little, I focused intensely on him. Early thirties,grey suit, silver watch, tousled, fragrant dark-blond hair , super tall, tanned skin and yellow eyes.
His catlike eyes caught the motion of my badge dangling on my chest and my breath hichted.
Are you allright,
Miss Di Terzi ?''
Roydon asked again in a smooth voice.
He could not believe it. The very woman identified in the footage,
Gioia Di Terzi, City Council staff
, was just before him. Slightly pissed if he was to go by her clumsy fall and her dilated blue pupils. The video was not doing her any justice.
She was a dainty creature, sternly dressed he had to admit, but incredibly alluring.
Her fair hair was tied in a bun, she had high cheekbones, pale skin and nude, very plump lips.
"Poor young lady is not used to drinking. Here have a glass of water" said Gemma.
"I am fine thank you" she said with a husky, feminine voice.
This girl, she interested him.