Our cover meant we could be in here with guns for our own security. But of course, these weren’t to be taken upstairs. We had to hand them over at this gate, to be returned to us on our way out – if they felt like it.
The Daimyo’s court was on the upper level, rising high above the chaos of the gambling floor. Looking up from the lower floor, his domain looked like a floating castle, suspended above glass. I wouldn’t have to wait long to solve the riddle.
The guard returned our belongings wordlessly. Then, without even a grunt, nor gesture, no nod of the head, no click of a button, the wall simply moved aside. It revealed a glass elevator, cased in silver around its edges. Stepping inside, it felt like being inside an ice cube.
We ascended slowly. This lift was for show. As we were extracted from the frantic rat race falling steadily away beneath us, I became awash with feelings of being elevated, chosen, separate. The motion was soundless. The lift moved through the use of strong magnets that repelled the lift such that it effectively levitated. The strength of the magnets seamlessly and automatically adjusted to the weight of the lift’s contents. Some distance away, two additional sets of magnets glided upwards alongside us at the 10 and 2 positions on the building’s architectural clock, with another one behind us, presumably acting as stabilisers. This, at least in part, was Stephen’s work.
We passed upwards, through a two- or three-centimetre-thick horizontal sheet of a glass-like substance. It was not unlike passing through a portal to another world. Immediately, the strange grandeur of the castle fully exposed itself to us. We slowed logarithmically, such that we were unaware of the moment we had stopped moving. That, and we were spellbound by the castle. The lift door slid aside, two centimetres of glass now the only thing separating us from a twenty metre fall.
The door to the Daimyo’s home was open. The sounds from below could not be heard – it was silent, save from an almost regular, if only occasional, cawing from above. Five ravens stood atop the roof, looking every which way as birds do. More often than not, though, they appeared to be looking at us.
I took out my camera and took a couple of shots of the birds. Uly followed behind, his hands in his pockets. I slung my camera around my neck and felt around in mine for my knuckledusters. J.C.Stots. She was still there.
The three of us went inside the open door, where I immediately spotted Stephen’s shoes. He was here, somewhere.
I heard a cry out in pain from somewhere within. Stephen.
“He’s not going with you.” The Daimyo. His voice echoed around the house. Our footsteps making the noise of swallows on the wooden planks, the ravens occasional cawing the only other sound.
Uly signalled to me – you go this way, I’ll go the other way. The main part of the house was a large, square donut with rooms each side of the corridor. This lack of a central courtyard, together with its strange elevation, was the only difference between it and a sort of Japanese castle.
We opened doors carefully as we went, but found nothing but empty rooms. Then, Uly called out. He found Stephen.
I ran over. The ravens were louder now, their cries more frequent. Stephen was there, on the floor, clutching at his chest by a fireplace which crackled with orange light behind him. Was it his heart?
The sound of swallows from elsewhere. The Daimyo?
I pulled the gun from my hidden holster and dropped my bag, running after it. Uly followed me as we raced around the house, then again around the outside. Nothing. A door slammed somewhere within, and I watched in the distance as two figures descended in a glass lift.
“Fuck!” I screamed. The ravens took flight.
Back in the room, Stephen was gone – the contents of my bag scattered across the floor. My photographs, gone – the films, gone. I turned to the fireplace, which sparked the reds and greens from the metals in the film.