page two, The City of Locked DoorsMature

The palace occupied a small clearing amidst the skyscrapers, its stately walls rising a paltry three stories. The space surrounding it was perfectly clear, without a single lamppost, corpse, beast, or person visible. Noir stepped into this void brusquely, his strides lengthening now that he saw his destination. The mist swirled about his legs as he crossed the desolate space, rising up from below in a continuous stream. There was also the constant gasp of exhaust pipes, click of gears, whir of nameless mechanisms, and thrum of engines.
He arrived at the palace doors and knocked. Unlike the other doors in Umbras, the palace's ornate masterpiece was neither locked nor barred from the outside. The seconds passed slowly, and no one came to open the door, so Noir raised his first struck it anew, this time with enough force to make the whole frame shudder.
You'll wake the whole city if you keep at it like that. Noir pounded the door again. There must be nobody home, I guess we'll have to find our own way in. Noir stepped back, his gaze scaling up the palace and then running along the palace, searching for windows in its smooth face. All he saw was a featureless wall of black Shadow-Steel.
Noir turned away from the palace. We'll go underneath then. The door suddenly cracked open behind them, drawing Noir back about as a small, oily creature slunk halfway out the door, "What do you want?"
Noir faced him fully and stepped closer, "To see Lock & Key."
The creature's vertebrae clicked loudly as it straighten from its hunched posture and stared up at Noir, "The mistress is seeing nobody at the moment. Please leave and return at a later date." The creature moved to close the door, the last of its three hands haughtily dismissing him.
Noir caught the door in his right hand and pulled it open further, dragging the creature forward despite its gurgling protests, "Tell her its Noir." He leaned in close, staring into its luminous eyes with bared teeth. The creature quailed beneath him and hastily drew back, releasing the door. Noir pursued it into the place, closing the door behind him.
"Pl... please wait here while I inform the mistress of your arrival," The creature retreated, bowing repeatedly over clasped hands, the tentacles that had replaced its fingers nervously knotting in one another.
"Alright, you do that. I'll wait here." Noir straightened and leaned against the door, his hands once more ensconced in their pockets.
"Yes, yes, please wait there." The creature scurried off with another deluge of genuflection and vanished behind the nearest corner. He's not even going the right way.
Well, you did scare him and he could be new here; you never know.
He won't be here long if he's new, not with that attitude. Noir down the corridor he stood, noting the changes that had occurred since his last visit. There was now a long, black and gold rug on the floor, presumably for decoration but perhaps also for comfort. The walls remained mostly bare, but there were a couple stands further down, their surfaces laden with one strange artifact or another. Some clearly belonged to the old world, others seemed to be the work post-apocalypse laborers.
The click of confident strides warned Noir of someone's approach. Two individuals appeared from around the nearest corner a few seconds later; one was the creature of before and the second was a primly outfitted man. The new arrival approached Noir and bowed cordially, his pale skin accentuated by the dark spines protruding from his skull and shoulders instead of hair, "Hello, Master Noir, I am Tollus Meer, an attaché of Lock & Key." The man rose from his greeting, a book clasped under one arm.
Noir continued to lean against the wall, "A pleasure, I'm sure."
"I'm afraid sir, that mistress Lock & Key has no interest in seeing you today." He applied another mollifying reverence to his apology. "Under similar circumstances, I would have prepared you accommodations so that you could await her pleasure but," here the man paused long enough to remove the worn, leather-bound book from beneath his arm and open it to Noir, "I am afraid your name is not on her list of acquaintances or contacts and, with that being the unfortunate case, I cannot permit you to stay here. Of course, we will be more than happy to provide you with a number of respectable establishments to await her pleasure. I can personally vouch for many of them." Tollus Meer bowed again and, stepping past Noir, opened the door.
Noir held his posture for a moment then pushed himself off the wall and departed the palace.
Pompous bastard.
Well, it was to be expected.
Noir growled and glanced along the surrounding skyscrapers. Eleven thoroughfares opened into the plaza, each extending outward from it in a circle of measured intervals. Shadow-Silk banners hung over each of them, marking the districts they inhabited with the sigils of their Proctor. Still grumbling, Noir strode toward a northern running thoroughfare.
Dawn was beginning to break in the eastern sky, spreading a pale, grey radiance over the peaks of Umbras's skyscrapers. The city would be waking up in a couple hours, but for now it became the almost exclusive domain of the Undertakers. Noir heard the rattle of their carts just minutes after the first light of dawn touched the sky.
The first of them appeared to Noir as he was stepping over another monstrous corpse one his chosen thoroughfare. The Shadow-Silk banner rippled overhead in a gentle breeze, causing its orange insignia to flash in the growing light. The Undertaker was a garishly tall man with white gloves, a prim bowler hat, and a heavy, condensation-laden duster. He turned at Noir's approach and bowed, one hand touching the rim of his hat, "May I be of service, sir."
Noir waved him off, "No."
"Very well, sir," The Undertaker returned to the corpse he had been inspecting and lifted it into his cart. Glancing ahead, Noir saw that other Undertakers were doing the same and continued on his way. Every time he passed an Undertaker, the man in question would turn, bow, and ask if he could be of service. To each, Noir responded as he had the first and they would go about their business. All of them were tall and deathly thin with the same outfit: gloves, hat, and a Shadow-Silk suit beneath their duster.
Noir turned down a shadow bound alleyway and stepped past a beleaguered sign that read 'Harley's Press'. Noir made his way down the alleyway slowly, weaving between pipes where he could and squeezing through them where he could not. He found an open space in the alley after a short while and paused to tug at his collar. The lack of space combined with the number of pipes and the heat of the water they carried made the alleyway a boiler.
Noir sighed and forged onward, laboring through the alleyway until he came to a door with 'Harley's Press" painted on in white. Ignoring the rusted lock on its handle and the Shadow-Steel bar laid across its front, Noir pounded on the door, causing it to shudder. No response came so he pounded again, "Aright, alright, I'm coming." The muffled voice grew clearer as the door opened inward, carrying the lock with it, "You'd think somebody was- Noir!"
"Hello, Harley." Noir pushed in, shoving the bar aside as the man on the other side reeled back, desperately glancing from side to side.
"Now, listen here, Noir, I didn't tell them anything! Not one word, I swear." The man stumbled down a short stair into a small reception room. He drew back against a central desk, one hand feeling blindly behind him.
"Cut the bullshit, Harley, I'm not here to kill you." Noir stepped down after him, taking in the scattered papers, bedraggled chairs, and flickering lamp at a glance.
Harley stilled his fumbling search, "Want do you want then?"
"What do you think? I want names, Harley." Noir strode forward, shoving aside debris until he loomed over Harley.
"Who do you want? I got everybody's names, and the hyde of everybody who's anybody."
"I want to know what that bastard Apollyon is calling himself these days and which Proctors are in this damned coup." Noir reached out and caught Harley's fumbling hand before it found the oil lamp.
Harley's third eye opened and glanced at his pinned hand where it still strained for the lamp, "I don't know what you're talking about. What coup?"
Noir crushed Harley's fumbling hand, "Don't even try to sell me that shit, Harley."
Harley screamed and rocked violently back onto the desk, scattering papers and smashing a stained liquor glass, "Alright, alright, I'll tell you, I'll tell you." Harley weakly drew himself up with his good hand, "Let me go please, I have their names written somewhere-"
Noir grasped Harley's remaining hand, "Just tell me."
Harley shrieked, his corded tail desperately wrapping around Noir's wrist, "I can't, please, they fed me something, something so I couldn't remember their names. They knew you'd be coming after them, and they knew you'd be coming through me. Noir, I swear I didn't know what they wanted to do to you when I told them, I-"
"Shut up, Harley, you knew exactly what they wanted." Noir released his grip and drew back, "find me their names."
Yes, yes, of course." Harley scurried around the desk, his tail collecting a pair of tri-spectacled glasses and setting them upon his brow. Harley practically dove into the mounded papers, shucking them aside in rustling avalanches with his good hand and tail, "They're right here somewhere, I made sure to get their names, even had somebody else write them down so I'd have them. Ah here they are." Harley triumphantly burst from the mounded papers and crawled onto the desk to offer Noir a black sheet of paper.
Noir took the sheet with a bark of laughter, "The bastard's calling himself Lazarus now? You'd think he wants Radiance to rape his ass." Noir glanced up, "I know Alucard and Brigadier, but who's this Constantine prick?"
"He's a medic or a scientist of some sort, a Pathomancer also, and he trying to find a cure."
"What's his hyde?"
"Still trying to figure that out, all I've been able to dig up to far is that it's a Bellua type."
Noir tossed the paper onto the desk,"What's a squeaker like that doing with Alucard, Brig, and Lazarus?"
Harley wiped his glasses with a ragged cloth, "I don't know, hell I don't even know if he's on the coup with the rest of them."
"Is there anybody else?"
"I think so; definitely one of the Proctors, but they're being really careful and I can't figure out who it is."
Noir drew back, "Alright, Harley, that's enough for now, but send a runner whenever you get something new."
Harley inched up from beneath his desk, "You mean you're not going to kill me?"
"I said I wasn't going to," Noir paused and looked back, "One last thing, Harley, tell that bitch Lazarus that he's fucked." Then he closed the door and left, leaving Harley to nurse his crushed arm in the guttering light of his newsroom

The End

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