The Gold Pavilion
The Gold Pavilion exists. It was not built. It did not arrive, it simply was.
There is no record of its construction. No owner. No one known alive who has entered it, or who maintains the hedges which surround it.
All agree on this.
Sitting in the midst of an ancient courtyard off an unused and abandoned street, the golden spire rises four stories above the ground, like a lighthouse surrounded on all sides by a hedge maze.
There is one entrance to the courtyard, and four entrances to the maze from each side.
The tower is a filagreed green-gold metal of some sort, woven in bizarre shapes like muscled sinew, twisting towards a peaked roof of blood red shingles. Four windows face towards the four points of the compass.
At all times, behind its stained glass windows, shapes are spied — people or things moving in the light behind the glass. These shapes intertwine, dance and move. They are fascinating to look at, and any who spy them for a time find it harder and harder to turn away. Though none could say just what those shapes are.
So far, none have made it inside to see just what lives in the tower. Or have made it inside and returned to tell the tale.
The hedges are a bizarre bracken, filled with bitter orange berries, and hook-like thorns. The weed-like hedge grows back in minutes after being cut or even burned, and the sting of the thorns cause numbness and infection. Unwholesome bugs squirm at the base in a black soil that drips with a thick, tar.
The pathways through the hedges are carefully worked flagstones that seem to trace huge, looping paths, and despite the fact that no one maintains the fast-growing hedge, the path never seems to be overgrown.
There are no right angles in the maze, just loops and circles and curves.
Only one man was known to have entered and returned from the hedges. He is also the most famous of its explorers: the architect Gianpaolo Padovano.
He first noticed the Gold Pavilion during his daily walk to draw various sites around the city. It was simply a hobby of his, this art, and his mind was sound. After seeing the Gold Pavilion, that all changed of course.
It called to him and he quit his life completely that day.
First, Padovano sketched the tower, and then the bizarre shapes he saw behind the glass there. Soon, he began to spy patterns in the shadows, and in these patterns, saw more than he had hoped.
His art took a turn towards madness.
He became certain he had found this cursed building so he could transit the maze, and see what was hidden behind the glass with his own eyes.
Padovano entered the hedge maze on a whim one morning when drawing the tower was no longer enough.
He emerged from the maze four weeks later, having survived on berries from the bushes, rain water and an unfortunate rat or two.
His mind was now completely gone, but his urge to find his way to the tower remained as strong as ever.
Padovano was the first known explorer of the hedge maze, which he claimed proved much larger once entered than could be possible.
His hand scrabbled maps are all that remains of his adventure. His story crept out into the city after he returned to resupply himself, and to move permanently into the abandoned buildings surrounding the Pavilion.
Padovano began working out elaborate plans of the hedge maze from various points in the building surrounding it, sketching the paths on the stone walls of the buildings themselves in charcoal.
Others came to the maze then, having heard the stories. Many entered but none came out. Padovano tried to warn them, but he did not try to stop them.
Soon, Padovano began to supply them.
"If you become lost, fire the flare," he'd say.
"If you become lost, call to me."
Their deaths — because none returned — gave Padovano great insight into the mysteries of the maze.
He recorded their last mad cries as they explored the horrific reality inside the maze. They spoke to him of impossible things inside the hedges, of incredible distances they had travelled, of how exhausted they were, all the while, sounding as if they were only a few feet away, at most.
Eventually, every one of them stopped speaking, vanished, consumed by the maze.
This went on for five years.
When his notebook contained hundreds of drawings taken from there "sacrifices", and his master-map was three dozen or more intertwined pieces of art, showing paths through the hedges, as well as other impossible things: a cave system, a huge river, an orchard of silver apples, Padovano could take no more.
He meticulously made a copy of his maps, filled out his will, and outfitted himself with many months of food and supplies in a huge backpack.
He entered the maze with his map, eager to see what haunted the Gold Pavilion. That was ten years ago.
He was not seen again.
Today, the Gold Pavilion remains as it once was, but is now the focus of several groups hoping to crack the secrets of Padovano.
All are certain that the artist saw further into the maze than any other, and that with his notes, entry to the Gold Pavilion and access to its secrets, is possible. Inside it, who knows, perhaps they will find the secrets of the universe.
These groups now occupy buildings on four sides, watching over the maze, fighting one another, dispatching exploratory groups into the maze, and attempting to get deeper into it, to find their way inside the Pavilion.
Inside the maze, these heavily supplied groups have found ways to survive and call to their associates on the outside, but none have ever exited.
Inside the world of the hedges, wars are fought, horrors are confronted, and the mysteries of the Gold Pavilion are plied.
Perhaps Gianpaolo Padovano will open the doors to the Gold Pavilion when they find it, and welcome them. Or perhaps the horrors that haunt it will consume any group that makes it that far.
The groups are there, and have committed themselves to the unlocking the mystery behind its doors.