By Dawn’s Early Light – Prologue, Part One

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Fiction, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Thin clouds moved across the full moon, dimming the scattered light that found its way down between the densely packed buildings to the streets below. Deepening shadows crowded the edges of the narrow roadway. Silence hung heavy over this part of the city; no clamorous car horns, no people milling to and fro in the darkness. The only sound was the quiet tread of tires as the limousine made its way through the back streets of Rooks Port.

Thomas Hughes regarded the young man sitting at his side. Alex Duffey, or Forsyte, as he preferred to be called, wasn’t particularly impressive. He was short and slender, seemingly frail in his gray suit. His face was gaunt and unnaturally pale, and his eyes vague.

“You’re sure this is it?” Hughes asked.

Forsyte leaned against the tinted glass and gazed out into the night. Hughes watched as he raised his face to the sky and closed his eyes. Both sat silently until, finally, Forsyte opened his eyes.

“Just a little further,” he said, and then turned away from the window to look down at his feet.

Forsyte had come to Hughes two years ago looking for a job. He was a Metanorm, a child of the flux, born with abilities beyond those of a normal man. Forsyte’s particular gift was some sort of psychic cognition; a knack for just knowing things. Hughes had hired him on the spot, and then proceeded to take advantage of his special ability to seek the whereabouts of Hughes’ own personal “Holy Grail”, The Codex Penumbrae; a book rumored to contain the ancient arts of the shadows. Of course there had been false leads and erroneous information, but those had merely served as a process of elimination.

And tonight? Hughes wondered, as he turned to stare out the window.

The limousine had passed through University Square and now moved carefully down a litter-strewn alley somewhere in the vicinity of Winston Street.

“How much further?” Hughes asked his driver.

“We’re here,” came the reply. “The Aulberge Hotel.”

The limousine came to a stop. Hughes popped his door open and slipped out, followed by Forsyte. Thunder rolled across the night sky, echoing through the canyon of buildings. Lightning flickered abrupt brilliance within the clouds.

Hughes slammed his door, his gaze locked upon the age-worn building before him. Once upon a time this place had been majestic, but now it stood desolate, a dismal reminder of better and brighter days. Hughes stared up at its eight stories of darkened windows. The streets surrounding the abandoned hotel were eerily quiet, silent except for thunder overhead and the beating of Hughes’ heart in his ears.

“Is this it, Alex?” he asked.

Forsyte moved to the wall of the building, placed his hands against the surface and closed his eyes. Hughes waited while The Aulberge surrendered its secrets.. After what seemed an eternity, Forsyte stepped back from the building, an obvious shudder moving through his body. He wrapped his arms against his body and took a few seconds to gather his thoughts.

“It’s here, Suite 603,” he mumbled. Forsyte opened his eyes and turned to Hughes. “But there’s something you should know.”

“I’ve finally found it. That’s all I need to know,” said Hughes, moving to the front passenger window of the limo. “Let’s get it.”

Hughes rapped on the window. When the driver rolled it down he bent to peer in at him.

“Yes sir?” asked the driver.

“Open the trunk.”

Hughes went to the rear of the limo. With an audible click, the trunk lid rose. Hughes reached into the trunk and retrieved a leather case. He opened it and pulled out a folded, black bundle. The empty case went back into the trunk and Hughes slammed the lid closed.

Hughes unfurled the bundle. In his hands was a paper-thin body suit, a Synthsuit, his tech guys called it. It was like holding smoke. He moved back into the limo and began disrobing, peeling off his shirt and slacks. Once undressed, he slipped into the synthsuit, pulled utility boots over his feet and slid a pouch-laden belt around his waist.

Climbing once again from the limo Hughes couldn’t help but laugh at himself. I may as well be naked, he thought. This suit’s more paint than clothing.

Pulling the synthsuit’s cowl up over his head, Hughes turned to Forsyte. “My driver will take you back to the manor. Wait there until I return,” he said.

“Why aren’t we waiting here?” asked Forsyte.

“Because,” replied Hughes. “A limo parked in a dark alley tends to draw attention. Now go.”

Hughes moved quickly into the shadowy depths between the building and its neighbor, striding further into the darkened corridor, carefully stepping over the filthy leavings of both impoverished men and lesser creatures. He stopped and studied the wall of The Aulberge Hotel, his pulse racing with anticipation. Hughes smiled, pressed himself flat against the building and began climbing straight up.

Hughes felt a sudden rush of exhilaration. The micro-adhesion pads built into the synthsuit’s palms and knees held him to the side of the building, and he moved upward quickly, his body seemingly weightless due to the minor strength augmenters woven into the suit’s perdurable fabric. He was nearly there, just a few more feet.

After only a few minutes he reached the sixth floor. Reaching up, Hughes grasped a ledge and pulled himself over to kneel outside a window. He pushed and the window swung haltingly inward on creaking hinges. Hughes touched the synthsuit’s cowl at his temple, switched on the light enhancement devices in the cowl’s lenses, and then moved quickly through the open window and into the sixth floor corridor.

The hallway was dark and dingy, and the muffled noises of the hotel’s transient occupants drifted up like whispers from the floors below. Through the enhanced lenses Hughes could see the faint numbers posted on the hotel room doors, suite 616 to his right, and 615 on his left. Hughes moved down the hallway to the door of suite 603.

Pushing the door open Hughes found suite 603 to be wholly unremarkable; a barren room home to nothing but cobwebs and dust motes. Wallpaper hung ragged and dog-eared on the wall, gone out of style long ago, some spots stood out, less faded than the rest, revealing where framed paintings had once hung. Across the empty space a door led into another room.

With a grunt of satisfaction, Hughes crossed the room to the doorway. He turned the knob, pushed the door open, and peered inside. The room was hidden in pitch-black darkness. He touched the cowl at his temple and increased the light enhancement in the lenses. Now he could see into the room. And there, on a table at the room’s center, lay The Codex Penumbrae.

Hughes went to enter the room, but movement nearby caught his attention. He turned to see a homeless man moving toward him. The man’s hair was matted, his skin mottled and smeared with grime. His clothes were little more than tattered rags and his shoes seemed more duct tape than leather. He reeked of misery.

“Can I help you, friend?” Hughes asked.

“Nothing in here for the likes of you,” the man said as he came closer. “You should leave.”

Hughes tensed. “I don’t want any trouble,” he said. “I’m just here looking for something.”

The homeless man stopped and glared at Hughes with a look of pure hatred. “It doesn’t belong to you,” he shouted, and came at Hughes with inhuman speed.

Hughes dodged the man’s charge, leaping back into the other room and then up onto a wall, clinging there like a spider. The homeless man followed and looked up at him, his eyes glinting with confusion. Hughes sprang from the wall, letting his weight carry him into the other man’s body.

But the homeless man was faster and slapped Hughes away with unnatural strength, sending him tumbling across the dusty floor. He came up quickly, tensed and ready. Let’s see if this suit was worth the money. He tapped a hidden panel on his right thigh, and then lunged at the homeless man.

The man sidestepped Hughes’ attack, lashed out and snatched him by the throat. “The Codex cannot be allowed to leave this place,” roared the homeless man.

The tightening grip held Hughes fast, but he ignored it as best he could. He reached out with both hands and latched onto either side of the man’s head. An electrical current surged from the gloves of the suit and into the man’s skull and down through his body. The man screamed and released Hughes. Hughes dropped to the floor, swept a foot outward, and kicked the man’s legs out from under him. Hughes was on the man as he fell and sent another controlled shock into his body. The man convulsed briefly then lay still.

Hughes switched the gloves off with a quick tap to his thigh, and then checked his attacker’s pulse. It was faint but steady. He’d survive, obviously another child of the flux. But what was a metanorm doing here, guarding the Codex?

Questions for another time. Hughes climbed up from the unconscious body and walked hurriedly back into the second room, moving straight to the table at its center. Here was the prize of Hughes’s longtime quest, The Codex Penumbrae; a thin, leather-bound volume with runic symbols etched across its cover. It wasn’t much to look at on the outside, but on the inside, if the rumors were to be believed, lay real power.

How had such an imposing artifact come to be hidden in such a mundane place? Hughes didn’t stop to ponder the question. Regardless of the answer, he had to take the book out of there.

Hughes pushed a button on his belt and spoke into the suit’s commlink: “I’m on my way out. Meet me in thirty.”

He snatched the book up from the table and left The Aulberge Hotel by the same route he’d entered.

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