Noir stepped from Harley's alleyway into the light of a fully risen day. The thoroughfare remained empty, but the Undertakers were the beginning the slow process of unlocking Umbras. One after another, they went to the doors, extracted a large key from their coats, opened the heavy locks, and unbarred the door. They moved quickly now that day had fully risen, hastening to open the city before any of its inhabitants woke.
An Undertake trundled down past Noir, pulling his hulking cart slowly forward. He paused briefly to greet Noir with a tip of his hat before proceeding, his bleached skin showing no sign of strain through perspiration or otherwise. Noir glanced at the cart's contents as it passed and grimaced, counting five human bodies.
It seems like the locks are failing more often now.
Well, it has been a couple hundred years, and they are holding up better than you I must say. Noir rolled his eyes and began scaling his way back up the city.
So where are going now?
First, I intend to get some breakfast, then we'll see about getting a job.
I whole-heartedly agree on both accounts; it's about time you applied yourself!
The city continued to slowly rouse itself around Noir as he made his way to the center of the city; doors were opened for wary people to glance out, and then cautiously step into the warm sunlight. The mist was beginning, although it did not vanish entirely as there was always more steam being belched into the air. Noir caught sight of people going about their business shortly after that, some were even pulling children in tow. Despite the gradual increase of visible people however, the streets never grew congested, or particularly crowded. Some of the doors never opened at all.
The city center was a blossoming marketplace when Noir reached it. Food and trinket stall occupied most of the available area, but the exterior edge of it belonged to small restaurants and the occasional artisan yard. Noir took a seat in a cafe situated on the left corner of the Madra district's thoroughfare. A young waitress hurried over to greet him, her uniform emblazoned with the orange mask that indicated her employer had paid the requisite protection tithes to Ellis Madra, the district's Proctor.
"What can I get you sir?" Her large, pointed ears stood cheerfully erect, twisting one way then another, catching any number of subtle noises.
Noir slouched into his chair, his gaze wandering over the marketplace's somber vestments, "Coffee."
"Red or black sir?"
She scribbled on her notepad, "Anything else sir?"
"What else do you have?"
"We'll have some fresh scones in a little while, and blackberry compote to go with them."
"We'll have that then," He waved her off and she hurried over to the next patron, her long ears folding back onto the green fur of her neck.
Well, she seemed pretty. Maybe you could save her from the fellow she's talking with now and get a kiss?
We're not here for girls. Noir closed his eyes and caught onto a stream of conversation.
"They say he's been like this for almost four weeks now, they say its permanent this time, a utopia even."
"You know he'll just change back after a while. He was good for, what was it? Two months, last time? Then turned on a dime and all those people who migrated got stuck in his hell for half a year. Take my word for it: you don't want to go anywhere near Apostate."
"Yeah, but still..."
"No, trust me, I've been outside; Lock and Key's better than anything you'll find out there."
"Sir, your coffee and scones," Noir opened his eyes as the waitress set a black mug and a plate with two scones before him. Both steamed with fresh heat and the plate a carried a small receptacle filled with the blackberry compote. "Will that be all sir?"
Noir nodded her off and took a sip of the mug. The bitter, red coffee burned his tongue on its way, but routed the morning chill with merciless brutality. He brusquely dug into his meal, but kept his ear hitched to the streams of conversation.
"You think something's happened to her?"
"Nah, this isn't the first time she's locked herself away"
"But she's hasn't done anything for a week!"
"Do you want Lock and Key to come out?"
"Well then, let's just hope it stays this way; her in there and us out here."
Noir abandoned that conversation, focusing on another.
"They say Seelie's opened up her doors again-"
"Hah, neither of us are anywhere near pretty enough to get in there."
A hand tugged on Noir's sleeve, drawing him around and his eyes open to see a waif with white hair and skin as dark as his own. He took her in appearance in and then faced her fully, "Where are your parents, girl?"
"I don't have any parents," she blinked large, black eyes and met his stare, "can I have your other scone?"
He surrendered the morsel and watched her devour it. After finishing the scone, she refocused on him, "What's in your bag?" She gestured at his pack, the skin of her hand rippling subtly as it shucked off crumbs.
"A story," Noir kicked the pack underneath his chair.
"What's the stick for?" The girl bent down, peering through his legs.
Noir pushed the girl back with a boot, "For resurrection."
The girl's eyes tightened, "You mean like the necromancers?"
"Not quite, now run along." He pushed her again, shoving her toward the Madra District. She glowered at him, stuck out her tongue, and fled toward the thoroughfare marked with a white sigil. Noir finished his coffee in a gulp and stood, beckoning the waitress over.
"Do have any Shadow-Craft that you need done or fixed?"
The waitress blinked, "Well, nothings broken, but the Mistress does want a new chair and table. It gets quite crowded, you see, when the stalls start closing for lunch."
Noir nodded and turned to a nearby vacancy in the clustered tables. He extended his hand, issuing a voiceless summons that roused the cafe's attending shadows from their daytime slumbers. They rippled at his command and abandoned their shelters, swarming to pool before him. He lifted his hand and the shadows mimicked him, rising up in a pillar and flattening out into the shape of a table. Noir released his hold and the shadows stilled, solidifying fully into a table and chair of twining Shadow-Glass.
Noir returned to his table and, bending down, collected his pack. He turned back to the waitress as she examined his table, "That should cover my tab, and if your mistress doesn't like it she can take her complaints up with Lock and Key."
"Oh, shut up. That table will last longer than anything they could but with a month's income."
The waitress looked up, startled, "What?"
Noir shook his head and dismissed her with a wave of his hand, "It's nothing."She eyed him skeptically but scurried off all the same, the calls of her patrons more important than the insanity of one Shadowmancer.
Say what you will, but you act like you own the place!
Noir rolled his eyes and departed, buckling the pack about his waist as he went. And how was I supposed to pay for it without any money?
Any normal, honorable person would have offered to work in restitution; probably doing something demeaning like washing dishes.
I have better things to do then wash dishes.
Yeah, like getting a job.
Noir rolled his eyes again and submerged himself into the marketplace, allowing the dull roar of commerce to drown out the whispering voice in his mind. There was no order to his surroundings, no perfectly defined lines, no separation by product; the marketplace was a ramshackle collection of tents, wagons, and stalls. Noir strolled through this wonderful conglomeration in blasé languor, observing the vendors in whatever colorful attire they could afford as they spoke with old customers or exchanged sociable jibes with nearby competitors.
Occasionally, one of these vendors called to Noir, offering him a Hemomantic fruit or Shadow-Iron pot. He ignored them and continued through the market, strolling around the palace until he arrived outside the district marked with a white banner. He paused at the entrance, looking upward as the people slipped to and fro past him. The sigil had change since his last visit, the voiceless mask usurped by a white rose.
I wonder if the new Proctor is somebody we know.
I doubt it, anybody powerful enough to be a Proctor already was, or had no interest in being, one.
I guess we could ask somebody.
There's no point, we'll know who he is soon enough. Noir stepped into the thoroughfare and began his way down. He caught sight of the Proctor's guards soon after that, men who stood at corners or patrolled in and out of the larger offshoots. They wore heavy, button-up coats bleached white to match to color of their Proctor and a bandolier of Five-Shot Winders for their pistols.
They don't seem too bad; they're not beating anybody up that I can see.
They wouldn't in their own district; it would cut their profits. One of the guards glanced at Noir as he passed, observing his black skin and metallic hair with a multitude of emerald eyes. Noir paused, "Can I help you?"
The guard flinched and pulled up, "No, sir, apologies if I offended you." He bowed and continued on his way, subtly beckoning to a pair of his nearby fellows.
Well they know you're here.
No, all they know is that a Shadowmancer they've never seen before has entered their district.
Or it could just be your smell.
I don't smell, it's one of the benefits for having Shadow-Steel flesh. Noir turned north unto an offshoot marked with another white banner. The street closed in sharply off the thoroughfare, constricting until only three or four men could have stood abreast without rubbing shoulders with the skyscrapers. The layman inhabitants also diminished, making the increased number of guards all the more evident.
It looks like they've been having trouble with one of the other Proctors lately.
Yeah. Noir stepped past a group of three guards as they slouched around a closed door, fiddling nonchalantly with their rifles. It looks like they don't trust me. Noir lengthened his stride.
That's unfortunate, not that I can blame them, you are rather appalling.
Har har. Noir glanced around as the street opened up into a courtyard or red, crystalline Hemomancy trees laden with a variety of fruit. A small number of Hemomancer wandered through the grove inspecting the trees with fingers stained red from their craft. Noir twitched at the sight of them but continued forward. I would rather not have to kill any of them.
Because there're no Undertakers to clean up for you this time?
Because it would probably piss off their Proctor.
And I guess just not killing them isn't a possibility?
I am not going to meet that man in chains.
It could be a woman.
How do you know? They have a very feminine banner.
That banner is a statement, and there is no woman in Umbras who would need to make such a statement.
Then what is it a statement of?
Noir exited the Hemomancy forest. I don't know. A skyscraper stood a couple hundred yards in front of them, ending the street. White guards clustered around it in groups of three and four cleaning their guns or Winders, checking their ammunition pouches, and staring mistrustfully at the surrounding structures. The skyscraper itself was clothed in black banners, the Proctor's white rose flapping gently in the damp wind.
The guards glanced up as Noir approached but did nothing more than cock their pistols or replace the gears into their rifles. The made no move to deter him as he strode through their midst and descended the stair to their citadel's only door. The last Noir heard as he pushed the door open was the click of a rifle being cocked.
Well, aren't they friendly?
Noir stepped into a wide antechamber of undecorated Shadow-Steel. Black pillars supported the low ceiling, their square surfaces each carrying a trio of white, electric lights. A secretary looked up from across the long walkway, her antennae twitching as she straightened. Noir continued his approach, glancing down the corridors of pillars to either side, counting the guards where they skulked in corners and reclined against pillars.
He arrived at the secretary's desk and took in her ordered workspace at a glance, "I wish to speak with your Proctor."
Her compound eyes rippled and shifted color from blue to red to green as she cycled through her spectrums of vision, "Do you have an appointment?" She shuffled a mound of papers and glanced through them.
"Then what is your name and the reason you wish to speak with Solomon Doll?" She set aside her papers.
"I am seeking employment as a district enforcer. I am also a Shadowmancer, as you should have seen."
"Yes, and apparently you are also a strong one; I could not define the nature of your Hyde."
She's dangerous. Noir grimaced, "So, do I have a job?"
"Give me a moment." The Secretary's eyes hazed over, losing both their color and their luminescence.
She's telepathic also?
Noir snapped his fingers with a loud screech his nails rasped against one another. The Secretary gave no response. She's not fully telepathic; it's just a connection or she's a duo form, maybe both.
Her eyes flashed back on, "Solomon Doll will see you, please go up the stairs to the fifth floor."
"Thank you." Noir turned and began his ascent up the adjacent stairs. The second floor appeared to be a dining hall of sorts with a bar at one end and the rest of the floor occupied with a variety of tables and chairs. The third floor was a shooting range with numerous white guards scattered down its length as they practiced loading their guns, using the Winders, and firing. The fourth floor was an armory with long racks of rifles, laden shelves of pistols, barrels of ammunition, and a ceiling full of Winder-laden bandoliers suspended from hooks. Every floor housed numerous white guards, their long coats uniformly buttoned, and their miens collectively uneasy.
Its like their expecting a war to break out any minute. I wonder if it's because Loc's been missing.
Noir reached the fifth floor and stepped off the stair in a room full of desks and strewn paper. Probably, which means their aggressor is most likely involved in the coup. It probably one of the new Proctors.
It might be this Solomon Doll.