First Page: STRANGER AT THE HELL GATE
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Nightfall never came without a price in this city.
Like so many others in this world, the city was a conglomeration of concrete and chrome, its suburbs spinning off from the center like great galactic arms. Humans huddled together, heaping dwelling upon dwelling, building their spires in admirable attempts to pierce the skies. In time, the city’s heart grew so thick and congested that sunlight could not penetrate its depths. Day and night alike were eternally cloaked in a blanket of electric illumination. People moved in masses, caught in the ebb and flow of common, unremarkable life.
Further from the city’s center, the architecture thinned, the population thinned. Here, the sunlight reached the earth, washing the slower pace of less-urgent living in a warm glow. By daylight, the streets were touched by light’s grace, each cloudless day a blessing.
By night…that blessing was forgotten.
A woman in travel-worn trousers and a half-cloak hurried through the trash-strewn streets. Soon, the sun would set and night would begin its chaotic reign. She didn’t want to spend another night hiding in a church. She didn’t want to spend another night looking for a church to hide in.
The sunset painted the buildings with a desperate wash of sullen orange, doing little to gentle the harshness of weathered stone. The light created long shadows, shadows she ‘d swear moved as she strode through the deserted streets.
She covered her mouth and nose against the scent of smoke and sulfur, so thick in the air that she tasted it. The woman knew full well there were dark things that kept to the shadows, waiting for daylight to die. Those dark things were hungry for the moment when the shadows would swallow the city, giving them free range.
Careful to keep to the still-sunlit center of the street, she moved quickly and determinedly through the city, whispering a quick prayer of thanks when she caught sight of her destination. A green neon sign over the porch blinked into life, gleaming through the rising shadows: DEMONIC INTERVENTIONS.
By the time she’d climbed the steps, sunlight had surrendered to the damnable dusk. She pulled her dusty cloak more tightly around her and shivered.
Not a good omen, she mused. It wasn’t in her nature to be superstitious but she couldn’t suppress the chill.
It wasn’t the nicest building in town. It may well have been the least inviting. Something about a stone door bearing strange symbols made a person think twice about knocking.
Or maybe it was the deep claw marks that marred it. That could have been it, too.
When the door was yanked open by a silver-haired man wearing little more than pants and a pair of leather boots, Sonya almost turned and ran down the steps. Thin lines of scars dotted his body like dewy cobwebs and a black leather strap crossed his chest, hinting at a weapon on his back. But that wasn’t what scared her.
It was the flatness of his stare. He had the coldest eyes she’d ever seen. Those eyes told her that scars and weapons were both daily exercises.
The man did a quick up-and-down glance before crossing his arms, filling the doorway. “I think you got the wrong address, lady.”
Everything about him screamed run. It took a lot of effort not to listen to his unspoken signals.