Edward Locke was unsure about a lot of things, but fearing for his life was not one of them. Specifically, fearing the horrors that roamed the Grand. These creatures which roamed the Grand were so grotesque that they formed the fabric of local folklore. So why was Edward unable to feel anything more than apathy? The sad truth was this was probably a side effect of his complicity.
It had been a little over four years since his guilt began gnawing at him. It was one thing to accept the bribes and privileges that came with keeping the Grand a secret. It turned out to be another matter altogether to live with the consequences. The faces of those unfortunate souls were etched in his mind, their contorted bodies and glassy eyes pleading for help.
He supposed that if he were certain of an afterlife, then he might have been able to manage his guilt. Alas, with what he witnessed over the years, the concept of heaven and hell proved to be fluid constructs indeed.
"Perhaps this is purgatory," he said.
Elmer cocked his head. Was his driver waiting for instructions? Elmer was hard of hearing and with the engine's roar Edward was not surprised that he had been misunderstood.
Thankful he did not have to talk his way out of it this time, the barrister said, "How much longer?"
"Not too long, sir. Should be there in a couple of minutes," Elmer replied.
Edward knew this road and terrain well but was thankful that he managed to avoid any idle chit chat. Based on Elmer's estimate the upper wall would soon appear, which was more stylistic and welcoming than the valley wall. The lower wall had been built to instil fear, a desirable effect when one wanted to hide what lay behind those barriers.
Sure enough, the glowing eyes of a gargoyle caught his attention. Elmer once said that he thought they were being followed and sadly he was right. Alas Edward needed to keep the true nature of these automatons a secret. It was frightening to know what they were capable of.
He wanted to avoid thinking about it, but failed. His mind conjured up imagery so intense that he shivered. While the event had taken no more than a moment, every detail was burned in his mind. Edward remembered how the fur was stretched out so far that its skin became visible. He saw how the flesh went white prior to tearing and witnessed the disembowelment and exposition of internal organs.
This memory tended to dwell on this singular point in time. It created the illusion of this creature's organs being suspended in mid-air. Unfortunately the laws of physics were absolute and drenched the area in viscera.
The barrister nearly convulsed, but he bit the inside of his cheek to feel something. Edward hoped the surge of pain would disrupt the memory, but was unsuccessful. The image of that creature changing back into a man was horrifying. With ease he could dismiss the death of a monster, of the bogeyman or any other mythical creature spawned in the depths of hell. It was another matter to witness its human element.
"Welcome to the Grand, Master Locke," a courtier said when he opened the door.
Edward was momentarily dazed as the memory faded, even while the taste of blood lingered in his mouth. No matter, it was nothing that a nice stiff drink would not cure, at least that was the plan.
The barrister exited the car then walked away. He dared not turn around to watch Elmer leave. Somehow he could not bear the thought of his salvation driving away. Such behaviour when overt was bound to arouse suspicion.
"Sir," two courtiers said simultaneously while they kept open the main doors.
He never got over the view from the Grand Hall's observation deck, which was flanked by arching staircases leading below. Edward was at a loss of words to explain how this amalgamation of architectural and artistic genius was possible. It was a perfect example at how beautiful the road to hell was.
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