The Host – The Gates of Perdition (1)
a tale of hub city
A cold, grey night in Hub City, a night where everyone walks a little faster to get home, looks over their shoulder a bit more often and prays they won’t be one of the many who never makes it home.
Two women stride confidently down the darkened streets of Southside, unconcerned about the threat and menace standing on every corner underneath the train tracks. Urban predators are not their concern this evening, they have their eye on more dangerous prey.
Sniffing the wind, the first woman, a blond with her hair plaited back into a single braid, turns left, then right and then strides purposefully into the night. The second woman, her tightly dread-locked hair, hangs about her shoulders, follows closely, matching her stride.
Both move with a sinuous grace, panthers moving through a city of gazelles. Both wear utilitarian clothing, a military uniform, close-fitting with a long dark coat. They were both of medium height and except for their skin and hair could have been sisters. Anytime they stopped, they appeared to move as mirror images of each other, reflecting and watching over the shoulder of the other; two moving and thinking as one.
Ahead of them, their target looms high in the sky, a series of projects made when Hub City was young and filled with promise. A place that promised to house the hundreds of families who would work in the factories, piers and industrial areas of the city.
For a time, these buildings did what they promised, giving hope to the masses that flocked here from neighboring towns that suffered after the Great Collapse. Ten decades had not been kind to the Border Towers. Refit and often rebuilt, the promise faded and it slowly turned into a slum.
Where it was once only three towering buildings it was now a series of mazes of over twenty primary structures, each fifteen to thirty stories tall. As the economy of Hub City fluctuated, the services supplied to the area did too. And eventually when crime came to Hub City, it came to the Towers as well. The last two decades were the worst.
Walking toward what was once the crowning jewel of The Towers, Building 1, the two women stopped and looked up at the cold and impressive edifice. Where it was once a jewel and shone with hope, it now radiated a dark and sinister menace. The lights from open windows felt like eyes and they could sense what they were seeking was also aware of them.
The two women named Guthriel and Derdekea barely pause to notice the windblown litter and empty beer cans scattered in front of the building. They seem out of place here, these beautiful women, but they attract no attention from the young men standing out front talking trash and furtively smoking cigarettes in the cold winter air.
Conversation pauses as they walk by the group but starts up immediately again as if nothing has happened. The security of Building One, once included a doorman and desk has fallen away to a locked security door and bullet-proof glass. Guthriel tugs the door and it resists. Setting herself, she tugs again and the door yields, complaining but allowing them to pass. The lock snaps quickly behind them, as if to remind them who was in charge.
Once inside, Guthriel turns down the corridor in the old tenement, her braid swinging as she turned the corner. She paused to get the scent, a salty stink, like burnt Chinese, upstairs. “Kea, keep up.” Once she sees, Derdekea she runs up the stairs.
Derdekea whispers, an old Word, and the young men scatter from the door, all remembering a previous appointment, something pressing, something that can’t be missed. Satisfied, she turns into the building and picks up her pace even as the sense of foreboding grows stronger.
Derdekea takes a sheet of paper from her pocket and begins folding it even as she leaps up the stairs three at a time. Her hands are blurring and the sheet of paper begins to glow, illuminating the poorly lit corridor, its cracked marble stairs stinking of urine and spotted with well-stomped chewing gum. She can hear Guthriel ahead chanting, connecting herself with the Source. They climb the twenty floors without pausing until the stink is overwhelming.
As they open the door to the floor they hear the sound of someone running down the hall in the dark. Guthriel steps into the hall as the young man slams into her. She does not move and he bounces off her on the floor. He stinks of fear and Guthriel pauses as she realizes he is not a threat.
“Dammit, kid, get the hell out of here, are you trying to get yourself killed?” Guthriel smacks a young man in his early twenties in the head and pushes him down the stairs. He is wearing a backpack and what looks like an kitchen apron. He is carrying a frying pan. As he runs past Derdekea she can sense the Harrowing on him.
He must have just passed the doorway! He runs past Derdekea like he was on fire. Guthriel pauses and smells her hand. With a sneer, she turns and reaches into her pocket. She pulls out a lighter, an ornate thing, silver and covered with embossed images and sigils. She makes a handsign and waves Derdekea up the stairs. Derdekea finishes her last piece of paper, folding something that resembles a tiny sword in the palm of her left hand. “Ready?” Guthriel nods.
Before either of them can take a step, the door at the end of the hall explodes and the sound echoes along the hall. Splinters of metal and stone precede the door as it whips toward both of them.
Each whispers a single Word. Sparks strike them and flash away. A split second later, the door whirls past both them. Where they were both once standing, there was nothing but space. It misses each of them by mere inches. The two of them, nod in acknowledgment as the door reaches the other end of the corridor and blows the window out like a bomb, complete with a fiery explosion.
Guthriel flicks her lighter and a sword of flame forms, crackling, sizzling with the sound of bacon frying. Derdekea waves her hand over her paper sword and a barely visible form of a sword forms in her left hand while her right hand shimmers with hidden power. They streak up the hall to the apartment door toward the manifestation.
Guthriel points her sword into the darkened aperture and the whoosh of a flamethrower sounds, attempting to light the darkness. A doorway absorbs the flame as it disappears from view.
Derdekea draws a sigil, one of the first Words of Closing in the air before the door. “Something’s holding it open. Something strong.” She drops her hand and the power gathered there fades. She then takes Guthriel’s hand and both step into the darkness.
There are no words for the Harrowing. It is the opposite of light, it is the opposite of warmth. Where you expect to see shadow there is something darker. The room is still the same, but this room is across a threshold showing you the shadow of a room, each item billowing with the essence of the real world, tainted with hate, fear, loathing, the room if you could see the secrets of a place, know all the violence, the anger the frustrations, fears, hurts, all the darkness a place might know. This was the Harrowing. A place right next to everything you know and secretly fear. The two of them walked into the apartment into a scene of carnage.
There were three bodies, all torn asunder, blood everywhere, but the blood shown on the walls, a luminescent red, slowly cooling as the bodies did. The Harrowing lit the world in black and white and shades of grey, only the vices of the world had color here.
Sitting in the corner of the room were three forms, the three bodies looking like they did once in life, but without their masks. Each face twisted into a rictus of hate, fear, sadness.
“You ladies look lost.” Snarling Face turns toward them and does not seem afraid. Most upon their death seem consumed with the idea of passing. He looks joyous. “Don’t mind the decor, we were thinking of sprucing up the place.” He turned toward them and as he approached the room grew darker, more oppressive, the very air, heavy in their lungs.
Derdekea’s sword began to glow brighter trying to counter Snarling Face’s essence. Guthriel took her flaming sword and swept it in front of them, a sheet of fire flashed across the room and arched toward Snarling Face. He turns his head and puts his hand up to shield himself.
The fire fills the room with a righteous glow and for a moment, the apartment returns to normal and the poverty of the people who lived there was evident. Food containers lie scattered, an old television with a hanger for an antenna sits across from a tattered sofa, missing a cushion.
“Tut, tut ladies. Is that anyway to treat your host? You realize we have other guests?” Snarling Face looked at them and then pointed. His smile was one of triumph. Behind them, a sense of threat manifested as shadows peeled themselves from the walls to stand behind them.
The shadows thickened and the weak light from the hallway went out.
The Host © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved