From February 2022 I plan to publish sample draft chapters from upcoming books on my website. If you are interested in more information head over to the new section on Writing . And now … The Fragments – Prologue 1, A Warning.
A beam of light zigzagged through the city’s mirrored labyrinth. Bouncing between glass towers and metal frames, the beam delved deep into the city’s layers and headed towards a broad walkway lined by flickering newsfeeds. Avoiding the hunched figures hurrying to their destination before curfew, it leapt between shiny facades and finally dived into a narrow passage leading into the forgotten burrows of the city’s foundations.
Down here light was seldom seen, and shadows ruled over a tangle of service ways and brick lanes that had been deserted in favour of the sky rails and flyovers above. Glancing off broken glass in long-abandoned shop fronts, the light cut deeper into the shadows. Finally it reached its destination, a narrow alley between high brick walls. It drew a bright line onto the cobbled ground, cutting a sheet of light into the growing darkness. Frost glittered in the air and a sudden chill filled the otherwise empty alley with memories of ice and snow. The light lingered just long enough for a tall figure to step out of the glimmer and gather the ice crystals around it into a cloak of white frost.
A witness might have mistaken the new arrival for a tall man in a long, elegant coat, his face hidden underneath the brim of a hat and a high collar lined with white fur. But few remembered the old lanes winding through a forgotten past, and the ones who did also remembered that this part of the city was off-limits for all but Sector Security—and no surveillance drone, not even the finest tuned, would have been able to register the figure’s arrival or record its passage through the dark alley towards the door at the end.
The door sat in a crumbling wall, its slate grey colour a perfect camouflage between the weathered bricks. It had no lock or handle. The only visible fitting was a round metal seal where one might have expected a door knocker. The silver-grey disc was a handspan in diameter. Deep grooves separated three rings around a centre circle, each ring etched with circular symbols.
The figure stopped in front of the door. It let its long fingers rest lightly on the seal, tilting its head as if listening. Then a clawed finger touched three symbols in short order. The seal sank back into the door. The rings turned clockwise, counterclockwise, and clockwise back into their original position. The door opened with an almost imperceivable hiss and, for the second time this evening, light poured onto the cobbles.
Behind the door lay a narrow corridor lined with dark wood and old-fashioned lights. The figure closed the door and made its way down the passage. It ignored the doors to either side and continued to the last door at the end. It was equal in height and width to the entrance door, but it shone in polished wood so brilliant and so dark it seemed to mirror a night sky. The disc seal in its centre was unlocked, and the door stood slightly ajar—the gap open just wide enough to indicate that an expected visitor might enter.
Niuen Adalowe stood behind her desk, leaning over a faded blueprint. Above the drawing, white light drew thin lines onto a holo screen. The digital artefacts hovered in the air like ghost images of the gilded lines and arcane writing covering the papers scattered across the desk.
Niuen’s fingers were tracing a network of ancillary lines when a sudden draught slipped under the faded print and threatened to lift the fragile paper off the desk. She looked up. As she took in her visitor, the reflections of the display cast an eerie pattern of light and shadows across her stern features. She reached for a long metal ruler and carefully placed it across the blueprint before she dismissed the display. The lines faded, leaving only a transparent membrane between her and the figure on the other side of the desk.
‘Sceadwian Ta Curr.’ She inclined her head and let the tips of her fingers rest lightly on the desk. ‘This is an unexpected visit.’
The Sceadwian unfastened his high collar and let it fall back. Silver-grey hair streaked with white framed his long face and angular features.
‘Entrelacier Adalowe.’ He returned her bow. ‘I bring a message.’
His voice carried an eerie echo as if it had to reach out over vast distances. He leaned forward and let his fingers skim over the screen, the tips of his claws barely touching the surface. In their wake, white frost clouded the membrane and drew a line of circular ideograms.
Niuen took in the message. There was a slight pause before she looked up and asked, ‘Does the House know?’
The Sceadwian shook his head. ‘The message is to you.’
‘I am an Exile.’
‘You are here.’
She picked a pencil from the desk. ‘And do you know why I am here?’
The Sceadwian nodded. ‘Darien Gwyston.’
Niuen crossed her arms and leaned back. ‘So—this is not only a message?’
The Sceadwian tilted his head and the light caught in the unlikely colour of his eyes. ‘In the wrong hands, the map could be a dangerous artefact.’
She nodded slowly, ‘I understand. And the Arc?’
‘The Arc know.’
Niuen gave another nod. ‘I thank you—for both the message and the warning.’
The Sceadwian inclined his head. ‘Entrelacier Adalowe.’
She returned the bow. ‘Sceadwian Ta Curr.’
The visitor left the way he had come.
Niuen Adalowe watched as the ideograms faded off the screen. Only after the last remnants of the message had disappeared, did she unfold her arms and carefully set the pencil back onto the desk. Her fingers had snapped it into two pieces of exactly the same length.