.ZHAR placed one hand over .CAI’s and slowly stepped back until they were both standing with their backs up against the closest wall. He wanted to be in the area of her shield and present as little a target as possibile. His own defenses were about to go down for a moment. She didn’t seem to object. The shield wasn’t up yet, she was probably concentrating.
His thoughts still felt a bit slow from the previous backlash he had suffered in the tunnels, and he was glad to have the little blue-hued healer with him, though he would never admit it to her. Healers were a rarity among Ghosts, and that made them a commodity. And like any commodity in Purgatory, that put them in a powerful position. He liked that .CAI had her insecurities, it kept her from abusing that power. It was too bad he had never met her before being found by .SOURCE. He could have formed his own coven, then. Maybe he still could, if he could get her away from .GREP. But survival first.
Reaching out, slowly and cautiously this time, .ZHAR let his energy sense drift outward and tried to detect whatever it was that had made the noise—or anything else in the vicinity, for that matter. .SORT, if the bastard hadn’t run off. Advanced warnings on more //Wraiths would be welcome, even more so than detecting //Loot. Money would mean little to him if he was to suffer a Soul Crash here.
.ZHAR kept his power dull at first, letting it reveal that there was nothing in this room aside from themselves. Then he began to siphon more energy into his ability and increase its scope.
He first felt the presence on the very edge of the room, huddling near a giant archway to the north of the room. He could never see shapes very well with his ability, but he could sense immediately that it was a second-tier //Wraith, in terms of danger somewhere high above //RATS but somewhere below the //VIPER still pounding its head against his barrier downstairs.
On a whim he extended his power further and that’s when he felt the Ghost. He or she was so distant from their current position that he couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, though he wanted to say that the Ghost was standing in the station entrance. He had only barely felt the Ghost’s presence before his senses turned to static in his mind. He shut down his ability at once, not sure if this was an attack from the Ghost or simply his ability being strained. It did only have so far a range, after all, and he wasn’t even sure if the Ghost was their enemy. It could very well be .SORT, or even .SOURCE, though he thought he would have recognized the energy signature immediately in either case.
To the others it seemed like .ZHAR had become a rock: he stood stock still, his head slowly turning on his neck as he scanned the area. Twice his aura pulsated with a flash of color. There was no other change.
Last bit for the night. First real dialog in the piece. This concludes the prelude and brings me into the manuscript proper. From here on out, I have a lot to drawn upon. Going to get started tomorrow. If I can keep up this pace, I should have the completed manuscript by summer. Regardless, I’m enjoying the hell out of this.
.GREP grunted as he pulled her into the highest room of the watchtower. It was little more than four arches which supported a roof and which had once held four massive stained-glass faces in each arch. Now only one remained, and it was covered with so much grime that whatever the image had been was indecipherable. An ornate chandelier hung from the roof, it’s lights blaring almost offensively against the gloom, throwing shadows everywhere.
“Me and the kid had a bet,” .GREP said, his features stretching to accommodate his dimpled smile. His blue eyes met her own teal ones in silent greeting.
The ‘kid’ in question, .SORT, walked into the light, towering over .GREP. “Which you lost,” he said earnestly. His own chiseled features betrayed none of .GREP’s amusement, though she sensed he wasn’t adverse to a game as long as there was a chance for him to claim victory.
.GREP shrugged at her. “I said you’d be here by the first rift.” He turned back to .SORT and pointed in mock accusation. “But you said she wouldn’t make it at all, so I was closer to right. You owe me a beer.”
.CAI’s eyes strayed to .GREP’s outstretched arm. They all had their scars, and .GREP’s extended up his right arm in a pall of warped flesh, disappearing into his tight muscle shirt. A Wraith had caught him on the Planes and ripped a chunk out of his Ghost. .CAI had been able to heal the wound, but never the scar.
.GREP looked back at her. “I like your new look,” he quipped, nodding at .CAI’s hair. “Trying to copy me?” Her hair that had been black on the street, black as .GREP’s was naturally, was now a gross mixture of green and gray where the color was draining out, and a glaring platinum blonde where it was already gone.
“Yeah,” .CAI said, her voice lathered in sarcasm. “Thought I’d try being ugly for a day, see how you do it.”
But .GREP was already turning away, touching his ear and radioing .ZHAR to tell him to get ready to jump. .CAI wondered how long they had. Twenty seconds? Thirty? How close had .GREP come to losing that bet? .SORT had stalked towards one of the arches and now stood with his hands in the pockets of his slacks, his open trench coat and shaggy brown hair blowing in the wind.
Barely a dozen seconds passed before she felt the rift wash over them. Stray pebbles and bits of granite on the dirty watchtower floor trembled and jittered, as stones sometimes do when a train passes by. She saw .GREP phase out. He walked through a shadow and then it was like he melded into it. She didn’t see .SORT go. The pull had always been strong for her and she went almost immediately after .GREP left. With a tug at her midriff, she phased into the Ghost World.
Yep. Still writing strong. It will be another 1000 words longer today by the time I’m done.
The stairs went up the watchtower in a stoic square pattern, hugging each wall like the stairwell of an hotel. CAI took the wide steps three at a time and was breathing heavily when she reached the third landing. Only seventeen more stories to go, she thought. The Watchtower was an anomaly in a city whose towers and skyscrapers were defined by black metal, blue super carbon, silver titanium, and shimmering glass. It was brown brick and gray mortar, but more than that, it was brick and mortar which dared to jut into the sky. Like an ancient Tower of Babel, it mocked the more modern structures. I can rise, too, it seemed to say, and I don’t need your fancy super carbon to stay up. The fact that it didn’t reach as high as the true skyscrapers didn’t take away from its solemn grandeur.
Antique lamps lined the staircase and some flickered with ghostly light, shining on the rotten bits of carpet that still clung to the concrete steps like hair on a rotting skull. Huge ragged holes in the walls served as windows onto the city scape, which came steadily into view the further .CAI climbed. Sometimes the effect was disconcerting. She would round a corner, feel a blast of cool air, and find herself staring out into nothing. The worst part was near the eighteenth story, where a whole wall had collapsed, leaving only the staircase framed by abyss on either side. To her right was a dark pit lit only by the pale lamps, giving her a dim view of the stairs spiraling away towards the ground. To her left was the inner city of Midnight; Purgatory, with its lights spread out like a blanket of stars that had fallen from the sky. It was early, yet. A little past midnight, those lights would later be joined by six actual stars, the only stars that still cared to shine over the city. No matter how much light the city polluted the night with, those stars would still be brightly visible. Far in the distance, the Uni-Crown stood like the finger of God, the tallest building in the city.
.CAI came upon this treacherous opening at a small sprint, and caught herself just in time to avoid running out into the open air. She fell to her knees on the last step before the opening. This hole hadn’t been here the last time. The Watchtower, like everything else in Midnight, was slowly falling apart.
Not fun to think about the fact that all of this story was close to being forgotten. On a whim, I had long ago saved the files and buried them in some folders. Good thing, too, because where it was stored online, it has disappeared. I say good thing, because it’s really inspiring me to write way more than I did on the last story.
The city of Midnight is a sprawl. It sits upon the frozen earth as a black blemish, a gigantic circle enclosed on most sides by the Heavenly Peaks. At the center of the circle lies the Inner City, also called Purgatory. Here ingeniously designed skyscrapers twist metallic girders and glass faces into the sky; here cars built to fit some lost aesthetic drive the lengths of ever-decaying highways; here is constant noise and chatter as the majority of Midnight’s inhabitants work themselves to death, or entertain themselves into a placated acceptance of life. The noise, if you listen carefully from the right spot, is sometimes broken by the howl of one of the Tall Men.
The rest of Midnight can be defined as thus: the Peripheries, which are the outer ring closest to the frozen Heavenly Peaks and the icy wastes; MidCity, which is most everything else; and the abandoned zones, spotted dead zones throughout the city with no order or reason. It was in one of these dead zones, a one of the only ones inside Purgatory—rare for a dead zone to appear in the Inner City, and a continual source of anxiety to those who lived within view of it—that a certain traitor of the #STRIKERS had gone for a quick fix of the flesh and had instead ended up with his own knife embedded in his heart outside of a bar called Hobknobs which played live jazz music all night long, the louder the better.
This dead zone was special. It contained The Watchtower, and The Watchtower contained a rift that activated at exactly 11:59pm and 12:01pm every night, on either side of midnight.
.CAI pulled herself away from the building, flexing her red hands. Looking back, she saw a dark black stain streaking down where she’d been leaning, running down towards the body of the man she’d killed. The unnatural rain was washing out her dye. She reached up and undid the bun of hair, letting it fall across her shoulders. It would stain her coat, ruining it, but she didn’t care. She needed a new coat anyway. After tonight’s encounter, this one now had a tear along the side from where the traitor had rushed at her with a knife after
he had seen the scar above her right eye and maybe she had been too cocky in not covering it up with some kind of makeup because he had known then and had had time to draw the knife before she could react
he’d realized who she was and why she was there. That same knife was now buried in his sternum. She’d seen
a street walker. A young girl with black hair tied up in a cute bun. And after all, why not? Wasn’t that why he came here every week? The place was known for street walkers. It was just that they weren’t usually this young or this attractive. And this one was dressed almost demurely, with that buttoned up purple coat and the skirt that fell down to right below her knees. Long for a street walker, young for a street walker, cute for a street walker. She could be making much more money in the InnerCity than in an abandoned zone. But then he had felt something different tonight, that something good was going to come his way. He wasn’t usually picky, but he’d turned down the first three walkers he’d seen tonight. And this was his reward for his patience. He imagined that black hair loose and falling over his thighs while she serviced him, one of his hands wrapped through it, caressing the fine shape of her skull. He moved forward to taste those large sensuous lips, and his eye strayed to her one imperfection, a tear shaped discoloration above her right eye
the knife flash in his hand and had barely had time to turn the slashing wrist aside before she heard the sound of ripping and the knife had torn into her coat instead of skin.
that’s why I skipped over the first three. Ghost bitch planted the thought in my head, she ensorceled me. Bitch can’t weight more than a hundred pounds. I’ll slice her open and spill those Witch guts all over the pavement
.CAI shook her head to clear it. The man’s thoughts were rushing over her like cars passing by on a busy highway. She leaned close to the body, held a hand close to the slack mouth. Sure enough, she could feel a slight warm breath against her palm
how did she move so fast that should have cut her from hip to neck and how did she have a grip like that and oh god how was she pushing the knife back towards him, towards his own chest and then he was knocked off his feet, thrown against the side of the building, and the knife was pushing its way into his sternum and his muscles were relaxing and contracting and the ramen he’d had that afternoon was emptying itself into his pants and she was pulling away still alive
.CAI drove one palm hard into the handle of the knife, driving it sideways and deeper, piercing the man’s heart and ending the deluge of his thoughts in her mind.
So I abandoned everything I’d written so far and began a completely new version of “Two Sides of Midnight,” setting it in a science fiction world this time which I had come up with a couple years ago for an online game. thankfully held onto all my notes and reading them tonight was completely inspired. Here’s the opening:
Her shoulders pushed up against the cold stone of the building. Her head rested back upon its cushion of black hair. She could feel the small bob that she’d tied it into pressed against her neck like a finger poised to give her a massage. Water dripped into her eyes, blurring her vision so that she couldn’t see the rain; she felt where it splashed against her skin and began to eat into her make up. She imagined the layers of paint dropping off of her cheeks as white tear drops. Passing her tongue over her rain-soaked lips, she tasted gasoline and vinegar.
The fear was sinking in upon her and no amount of acid rain could burn it away. She tried to tone down her emotions, to merely be uncomfortable. She could feel the cold of the building through the thin, purple, coat that clung tightly to her back. She forced herself to keep her eyes open and to let the rain burn them. Though none of these bodily sensations were pleasant, they were all better than that sense of slipping out of her skin against her will, of not having a body.
An airwhale passed above her and for an instant she was illuminated by its blinding spotlight. Then the ship passed, leaving Inner Purgatory, heading to either MidCity or the Peripheries on some unknown errand. Her thoughts stayed with it, and for the passing of a moment she felt she might be able to drift away with it, a virtual stowaway. Then her ear vibrated with the hollow echoe of static. It was like having a glass pressed over her ear with a fly trapped inside of it. The buzz made her cringe but also finally brought her back to herself. She reached up her left hand and rubbed her earlobe between two slender fingers, adjusting the volume of the implanted chip.
“I thought we were on radio silence.” Her voice was a whisper lost in the clatter of the rain against the steel street.