The world of night holds dark secrets. Those secrets bring with them terrible truths, but for Leila Ulric the truth drives her onward to a path fraught with danger. Mortale has disappeared, but she searches for him and the answers behind what he is and why he attracts her. Her curiosity brings her to the depths of the city and beyond where a new world awaits.
I stood on the precipice of death.
Below me was a deep, wide canyon. The bottom of the canyon held the rage of a swollen river. The sharp boulders and spray from the water told me its anger was great, but I didn't hear a sound of its fury. My feet teetered into oblivion. I shifted. A few pieces of earth crumbled and fell into the abyss. The small pebbles were swallowed by the raging waters. I would be no more noticed by those waters.
Around me was a desolate, blackened wasteland. It stretched for miles to the far distant, rocky mountains. I was alone.
Or so I thought. A noise behind me caught my attention. Footsteps. I spun around. Ten feet from me stood Mortale. He was half-turned to me. His head was bowed and his eyes were shut. He wore the same red overcoat with the black pants and shoes. A wind swept past him and whipped his clothes about him.
"Mortale!" I cried out. I took a step towards him and stretched out my hand. "What are you?
Why do I want to follow you?"
Mortale raised his head. His eyes opened. They glowed a soft white in the darkness. I started back.
My heel slipped over the edge. I stretched out my hands towards the man who held my attention. He never moved. I tilted back and fell into the abyss. The raging water waited for me.
I gasped and sat up a few seconds before splashdown. My body was covered in sweat and I panted for breath. The darkness in my room told me it wasn't quite daylight. I fumbled for the switch on my lamp beside my bed. The light illuminated the room, but it didn't illuminate my thoughts.
I leaned forward and ran a hand through my long black hair. My whispering voice was shaky. "What the hell was that?"
I shook myself and tossed aside the covers. My alarm wouldn't go off for another half hour, but I knew I wouldn't get any more sleep this day. I threw on some clothes and stepped into the hall between the two bedrooms. The apartment was as silent as the grave.
I forsook food as I made my way into the main passage and down one flight of stairs. My dream had rekindled the curiosity that burned inside me. There was an insatiable need within me to find out the truth about the monsters from the alley.
I reached the door. It was unlocked just as it had been last night. I stepped inside the barren wasteland of identity. The bare walls, the spotless floor, the empty cupboards. Nothing told me a human had lived here. I looked everywhere and found nothing.
I sat down on the top of the mattress near the mess of sheets and sighed. "What do you know?" I whispered.
The reply was silence. I reached into my pocket. My fingers enclosed around the cold metal of the broken necklace. I pulled out the broken trinket and studied the strange chain and beads.
"Was it really you?" I wondered.
The silence was maddening. I fell back against the mattress. My arms stretched out on either side of me and my left hand disappeared into the mess of covers. Something crinkled against my fingers. I sat up and frantically burrowed into the blankets. My search brought me a small gift when I brushed aside the covers. A blank slip of paper lay on the mattress.
I picked it up and turned it over. It was a receipt. I read aloud the name at the top.
"The River Diner."
The date was from six months ago, but it was still a lead. The name sounded familiar. A quick search online would tell me exactly where along this city's slimy river lay this diner.
I pocketed the receipt and glanced at my watch. It was fifteen minutes till nine.
"Shit," I growled as I jumped to my feet.
I hurried from the room and down the stairs to the lobby. Meyer stood behind the desk and spoke to two strangers on the other side. They were a man and a woman, and both were dressed in black coats with plain brown pants. The man was a head taller than the woman, and the woman had long brown hair. I saw the man flash something inside a square black case before he tucked the case into his coat.
"Whatever I can do to help, officers, but I don't know anything about any murders," I heard Meyer tell them. His eyes fell on me as I tried to cross the lobby. "Hey, Leila!" The pair half-turned to me.
I paused and turned to him with a frown. "What?"
He nodded at the pair. "These two officers are looking into some murders last night."
I looked the people over. "You don't look like officers."
"We're plainclothesmen," the man explained.
The woman smiled at me. The expression didn't extend to her autumn-colored eyes. "We were just looking for witnesses to a couple of murders down the street."
I shook my head. "I don't know anything except that I gotta get to work."
I hurried out. The sunlit day smelled of rain, but the fresh scent didn't ease my mind. I paused at the bottom of the stoop and glanced over my shoulder at the door to the apartment building. The filthy rectangular piece of glass in the center of the door couldn't obscure the dark forms of the officers as they spoke with Meyer. Meyer shook his head, but waved his hand at the stairs. They nodded and proceeded up the stairs.
I turned away and glanced at my watch. Ten minutes until nine. I was going to be late for work again.
Work waited for me, or rather, a reporter from upstairs. His name was Devin Quill, one of the guys on the crime beat. I found him beside the mail room door with his tablet in hand and a smile on his face. I didn't trust that smile.
"Good morning. Mind if I ask you some questions?" he greeted me.
"Don't you have a mugging victim to bother?" I wondered as I pushed past him.
"Probably half a dozen, but today is homicide day for me, and I heard there was something in your neighborhood," he informed me.
I froze. My eyes widened. I spun around and narrowed them at Quill. "Like what?"
He shrugged. "Just some guys being torn to pieces by a large animal."
"And how'd you find out it was near where I lived?" I questioned him.
He laughed. "You're in the wrong department. You should be a journalist. As it is, I heard it from a source higher up. I won't name names because sources and all, but they heard you were being looked into."
I raised an eyebrow. "By another department?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but not the ones you're thinking of. The admin department is interested in you." He stepped closer and lowered his voice. The keyboard on his tablet phone was at the ready. "Mind telling me why you're suddenly so popular?"
"What I tell you about coming in here, Quill?" Elliott's voice interrupted us. He stormed from his office and grabbed the man by his collar. "You can wait for your hate mail like everyone-" The door to the mail room opened. In stepped Miss Bao. She had a look of death on her face as her eyes fell on me.
"Mr. Regis would like a word with you," she informed me.
Elliott dropped Quill and glared at her. "She can come up when his mail's ready."
"He would like to speak with her right now," she insisted.
Elliott's frown deepened, but he turned to me and jerked his head towards Bao. "Go on then, but don't bullshit for too long."
I passed through the two men and followed Bao to the elevator. The doors closed behind us and we shot up the floors. Bao stood in front of me and close to the pad with the floor numbers. She slightly turned her head and her eyes fell on me.
"Why does he want to speak with you?" she questioned me.
I frowned. "Shouldn't you know that?"
She pursed her lips and faced forward. "He neglected to tell me."
I raised an eyebrow. That was her way to saying he hadn't told her a thing. That piqued my interest more than the summons itself. Bao was his right-hand man. By not telling her he had essentially amputated part of himself.
There were no interruptions on our flight up the elevator. That in itself was suspicious. We stepped off the admin floor and Bao led me down the long hallway. She stopped at the pair of doors that led to Reggie's office and opened one of them.
"Mr. Regis, she's here," she announced.
"Let her in and close that damn door," his gruff voice replied.
I stepped into the room. Bao shut the entrance behind me. The curtains behind Reggie's desk were closed. Darkness created deep shadows in the corners of the room. Only the lamp on his desk provided light. Reggie sat in his chair close to the desk. His elbows were on the desk and his hands were clasped together.
He gestured to the chair opposite him. "Have a seat." I took him up on his invitation and slipped into the chair. He studied me for a moment. The lamp cast deep shadows on his old face. There was tension between the lines. "I'm sure you're wondering why you're here. It's because of the attack last night near where you live."
I raised an eyebrow. "What about it?"
"We've had a few of our people working on the case. They've interviewed a few witnesses, and some of them say they saw a person matching your description around the scene of the murders shortly before and after the attack," he told me.
"Is that why Quill was bothering me?" I guessed.
His eyebrows crashed down. "What's Quill got to do with this?"
My eyes narrowed. He didn't know Quill was on the case. If that was true, than I wondered what people he had on the case.
I shrugged. "He was assigned to the case and knew I lived around there, so he asked if I knew anything. That's all."
"I see." Reggie's eyes flickered to my left before he returned his attention to me. "And do you know anything about the case?"
I shook my head. "Not a thing."
"I'm afraid I don't quite believe you," a new voice spoke up.
I turned my head to the left. A chair sat in the shadows of the corner close to the doors. A figure arose from the chair and stepped into the light. He was a man of about thirty with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. His suit was impeccably matched to his muscled but slim physique, and his stance was confident. A crooked smile graced his lips.
It was Mr. William A. Fox himself.
"I don't really care," I retorted.
"Shut your mouth and show Mr. Fox some respect," Reggie snapped at me.
I spun around to face my boss and glared at him. "He just called me a liar."
"Because you are," Fox commented as he moved over to stand to my left beside Reggie's desk. He folded his arms over his chest and studied me with that strange smile of his. "And might I add you're terrible at it."
"Are you lying to us?" Reggie questioned me.
"And if I am?" I challenged him.
"Then I can put you on unpaid leave until further notice," he warned me.
I jumped to my feet and slammed my palms on his desk. "But I didn't do anything!"
"Then tell us the truth," Reggie demanded.
"I didn't do anything! I wasn't even there!" I insisted.
"Please remain calm. We just want to get to the bottom of this horrific crime," Fox spoke up.
My eyes flickered to him. "Why? What's it to you?"
"Miss Ulric," Reggie warned me.
I returned my attention to Reggie and waved a hand at Fox. "You're a reporter. Aren't you curious to know why your boss is so interested in five murdered guys?"
"You seem to have overplayed your hand, Miss Ulric," Fox commented.
I started back and glared at him. "What do you mean?"
"The police haven't released the number of victims, and yet you know exactly how many were murdered," he told me.
"So do you," I retorted.
He chuckled. "Like the newspapers, I have my sources. I can also attest to the validity of Mr. Regis' sources."
My eyes flickered between the two men. "Those sources don't happen to be the same, do they?" I questioned them.
Reggie's frown deepened. He leaned back in his chair and entwined his hands together. "Miss Ulric, I will ask one more time. Do you know anything about the incident last night near your home?"
I looked him in the eyes with a firm gaze. "I have no idea what attacked those men."
Reggie tilted his head towards Fox. The man folded his arms across his chest and shrugged. "Then we thank you for your time, Miss Ulric."
"You can go back to work," Reggie ordered me.
I stood and walked to the door, but paused at the entrance and half-turned back to the men. "Either of you happen to sic your investigators on my apartment building?"
Fox raised an eyebrow. "No, why?"
I shrugged. "Just wondering."
I slipped from the room and their prying eyes and questions.