CHAPTER TWO: Retrospective (part 1)

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Samuel had spotted the assassin, passed close enough to see the flash of a power stone and hear the vague spitting sound made by the killer's handgun, but he did not stop to see if Marney had lived or died

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Samuel had spotted the assassin, passed close enough to see the flash of a power stone and hear the vague spitting sound made by the killer's handgun, but he did not stop to see if Marney had lived or died.

Some fifteen feet above the Great Labyrinth's cobbled ground, he ran along the ramparts atop the alley walls: slick, moss-covered walkways, flanked on either side by low and crenellated barriers. Breathing hard, his hair matted with sweat and drizzle, Samuel pushed his ageing legs with all the strength he could muster.

Samuel was an old bounty hunter and he understood well that those who allowed sentiment to dictate action did not last long anywhere in the Labyrinth. There were no loyalties, no bonds of friendship and honour in this place – not anymore. He had made headway in this chase, and wasn't about to surrender it. Marney's business was her own. Old friendships were dust to him.

In his hand, Samuel carried a spirit compass. The needle ticked and turned and steered his direction true as it tracked the life energy of his prey. The mark was a whore, young, barely eighteen. Oh, she had a name, but that meant nothing to the old bounty hunter; she was a murderer, and the reward for killing her was almost too good to be true. That was the only important detail.

With Marney out of the running, the night's work should have been child's play for Samuel. But someone must have issued a second contract on the whore; there were a bunch of amateurs running around the alleys playing at assassins. Samuel still had the advantage. Here and there, narrow bridges formed shortcuts through the Great Labyrinth by connecting one rampart to another. Like a maze upon a maze, the bridges led to places where those on the ground could not go. While the attention of these amateurs was focused on the ground, they had no reason to suspect that Samuel shadowed them from up on the ramparts – and nor would they, until it was too late.

He came to a halt as the rampart stopped at a T-junction. Down below, the alleyway on his left side came to a blind end; down on the right, the cobbled pathway led to a contained courtyard. There were no bridges at this intersection, and the rampart split into two paths. But which should he follow – east or west? Evidently, the spirit compass was also undecided. Its needle spun and shivered as it remained locked onto the whore's spirit and adjusted navigation inconclusively.

As Samuel waited, the drizzle turned to full rain, and he let it splash against his upturned face. In the humid glow of Ruby Moon, the raindrops felt refreshing against his skin.

In the distance, Samuel could see a ghostly glow hanging over the Great Labyrinth, as though the lights of a far away land shone through the mist. It was only a trick of the night, he knew; for there was nothing out there except the alleyways that continued on forever, or so it was thought. But there was a place, a fabled haven that all the Labyrinth's denizens wondered about, dreamed of reaching. Far beyond the mists, in the deepest regions of the maze, there was a doorway that led to a paradise named Mother Earth. And there, the Timewatcher waited with open arms to welcome all lost souls. Every denizen dreamed of Mother Earth ...

Samuel felt a sudden pang of weariness.

Old Man Sam they called him. He was a legend among bounty hunters; the deadliest man alive, some said. In truth, Old Man Sam was one of the last vestiges of a past generation. It was difficult for him to remember the strength of his youth, to remember a time when his actions had carried a sense of duty. He imagined the whore, out in the alleys, praying she could somehow escape this mess, find her way back to LabrysTown at the centre of the Great Labyrinth. Did she dream of returning to the sanctuary of her whorehouse, surrounded by the comforting glow of streetlamps and the protection of friends?

Samuel gritted his teeth and closed his eyes against the rain.

His prey tonight would never see LabrysTown again. Even if she survived Old Man Sam's gun, she was utterly lost. Sooner or later, she would stumble upon the Retrospective, and then the wild demons would have their fun with her. Better to be shot. Better to die a quick death than face the Retrospective. At least then her soul would reach Mother Earth.

The compass gave a solid click in Samuel's hand, and the needle shivered on a definite north-westerly direction. In the distance the glow of the mist, the promise of a far away paradise, somehow seemed to mock the bounty hunter.

Old Man Sam they called him ...

He took the left turn at the T-junction. After a short distance, he crossed a bridge to a new rampart. From there, a quick series of bridges and walkways followed. Head down against the rain, Samuel zigzagged across the Great Labyrinth, and the chase continued.

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