CHAPTER FIVE: The Resident (part 6)

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The tram track ran right through to the other side

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The tram track ran right through to the other side. Dirty lamps fitted to the ceiling above the power line provided a sickly and dim light. Samuel felt his way along. The bricks of the walls were slick with moss. Water dripped. The tunnel ended at a set of iron gates that were already open, almost invitingly. Samuel hung back in the shadows.

Through the gates was a large forecourt where the sleek black bulk of the Resident's personal tram was parked. Beyond it, the wall of the Nightshade served as a vast backdrop. The dark stone was mostly smooth but engraved in places with square maze patterns. The Nightshade stood at the most northern edge, as if it were the head of Labrys Town; and behind it, beyond the mighty, hundred-foot-tall boundary wall, began the endless alleyways of the Great Labyrinth that completely surrounded the town and stretched away into the unknown.

The Nightshade had no doors or windows or obvious entranceways at all; you did not enter this building unless it wanted you inside. There was no checkpoint at the gates, no armed guards roaming the perimeter, for they were not required.

In the forecourt, upon pedestals rising from the ground like evenly-spaced stalagmites, sat eye devices. Unlike the eyes on the streets of Labrys Town, these eyes were full, head-sized spheres, seemingly dead in the dull, fading glow of Ruby Moon. But Samuel knew that these pedestals surrounded the Nightshade and he had only to step into the forecourt to activate the eyes; the milky fluid within them would flicker into illumination, and he would be seen.

Would he be welcomed?

For nearly forty years Samuel had been a bounty hunter. Violence and death had always been his trade, but there had been a time when he'd known a sense of loyalty and duty. Times had changed, and by reputation alone he was now a marked man. In Labrys Town good bounty hunters were always in competition for work, but these days a bounty hunter would hunt and kill his fellow kind simply for being competition. And no scalp came bigger than that of Old Man Sam.

Samuel's list of friends had dwindled over time; there weren't enough alive now to occupy the fingers of one hand, and those who were left he had spent long years avoiding. He belonged to a past generation, and was sick to the stomach of living his life with one eye looking over his shoulder. How long before someone younger and stronger caught up with him? It was only a matter of time.

Long ago, things had been very different. The Houses of the Aelfir had made life good, interesting – free. But with their departure, the Labyrinth had become isolated. The only things now waiting outside the boundary wall were the wild demons of the Retrospective. The denizens already had all they would ever get. And the man responsible for the change, the source of the nightmare, had returned tonight ... and Samuel had let him take Marney.

The Nightshade and its law loomed before him like a gigantic puzzle box, bland but deceitful. Inside were secrets – secrets and monsters. Van Bam was the current Resident, and few denizens knew much about him at all. But Samuel knew, and he knew well.

Flexing fingers, his face grim, Samuel took a breath and stepped from the tunnel's shadows, through the gates, and into the Nightshade's forecourt. One by one, the eyes on the pedestals flickered and hummed and bathed Old Man Sam in bright light.

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