I came to in a huge room with a high vaulted roof. A fire crackled merrily in the grate and I wondered if I’d fallen into a fairy tale. Beauty and the Beast perhaps where the twist was that Beauty actually turned out be a bit of Beast herself. I was wrapped in a musty smelling blanket and the appetising smell of roast beast reminded me how hungry I was. The Guardian sat opposite me, bandaged but surprisingly chipper given the filleting he’d just had.
“For you,” he said indicating a little side table to my right. On it was indeed a roasted animal of some unidentifiable species part rodent with a large dash of goat judging by the horned head. Beside it was a cracked goblet, full to the brim with red wine. I did as I was bid.
“I usually prefer my food live and uncooked,” he said smiling.
“Where was I?” I said, ignoring him and stuffing huge mouthfuls of tasty meat down the hatch. “And what the hell is this place?”
“Well to answer your second question first, this is the heart of the city. So many souls living and dying here have made it…beat shall we say. You were about to join the Highway of the Dead. Had you fallen all the way, I wouldn’t have been able to bring you back.”
“The Highway of the Dead runs through your gaffe. That sounds cosy. Why?”
“Rose,” he said gently, “I keep telling you. This is the Edinburgh’s heart. When its citizens die, they converge here and make the journey together.”
He smiled. “Where do you think? To whatever’s next. I take care of all the people who live here, my people, from the cradle to the grave. Sort of like a supernatural welfare state.”
He laughed, but if it was a joke, I didn’t get it.
“So you’re telling me I didn’t fall all the way and if I had I would have died? Well what bastard pushed me?”
“Yes you would have died. Would that have been so bad? You are a very troubled soul Rose. Death might bring you peace.” He smiled. “One of my servants was angry at your presumption to open that which was not offered. I caught you before you hit the ground. I may be injured, but this is my home and I am master here.”
The handsome human features became neutral, composed. He was healing at a rate of knots and I knew that was my cue to get the hell out of Dodge.
There was only one teensy tiny little problem however.
I didn’t know how.