Chapter One
Night Beast :: Chapter One

So I rock up to the front entrance of the club and nine times out of ten - at least in the more reputable places - they question me about my age. You're what? Sixteen, right? You can't come in.


"Can I talk to you a minute?" I say. "Alone."

Cautious and a touch suspicious, the bouncer takes me to one side - looking stern if he's the fatherly type, or lecherous if he's not - and waits for an explanation.
"You see," I tell him. "I'm not exactly human. I look sixteen because I was sixteen when I was left in the cold and dark by my father. I think maybe I died. But it wasn't terminal. I was taken to Tenebra instead. That was in 1863."
The bouncer makes a face. I'm funny-farm material, he's thinking. No question.
"Tenebra is an alternate universe thing that's woven right through this one," I explain patiently, waving my hand around to indicate that what we accept as ordinary is tissue thin. "It's a place made of living darkness - a sort of primeval dark matter - and it intersects with our universe wherever there's a shadow. Get it?"
He frowns and puckers up his lips. When you've only got a couple of brain-cells, making faces is a defense mechanism.
"Anyway, to cut a short story shorter - because, you know, I'd like to get inside and do a bit of dancing before morning - the freaks that hang out in Tenebra did stuff to me, but it didn't work out the way they wanted. And here I am. 154 years later. Groovy, eh?"
He nods, thinking about it as best he can.
"So you see, I look like I'm underage, but I'm actually older than your grandmother. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough," he agrees.
"Can I go in?"
"Sure." He gestures politely. "Be my guest."

:: ::

Well, that's how it goes. Not.
In reality, I pull my fake ID (which I change every year or so, to keep my DOB credible) and flash it at him. He squints at it suspiciously, then lets me in.
Easy-peesy for a ghost chick who's been around for a while.

:: ::

On this particular night I'd taken a bit of time to get ready. While it's true that Shades (that's what we Shadow realm escapees call ourselves) have a bit of a problem with sunlight - all light really - unlike vampires we don't have any issues at all with mirrors. This is fine by me as I like to keep an eye on myself. Why should other people have all the fun?
Friday night. Wintery weather. I was studying myself in the reflected light of the city, noting all the good points - which are many - and wondering which dress to go with. I'd been feeling pretty restless for some weeks and avoiding the club scene altogether. That business with the new Shade Nathan had bothered me a fair bit. But brooding's not my thing, so what the hell, I thought, let's make a night of it.
The grey 'n' black number was a distinct possibility. It was loose from the hips down but very tight everywhere else. It'd go well with my shortish blonde hair and my perfect figure. A great samba dress. I fetched it and slipped it on. Yeah, very hot. I pulled the hem up one long leg to the thigh and fluttered it like a flamenco dancer. Not bad at all. I hadn't aged a day in 154 years.
Make-up took another half-hour. I'm fussy. It's not that my face needs a lot of work, you understand. Without make-up I'm still a stunner. But getting made up is an art I like to practise. While 'natural' is a fashion I've adopted at times, I also enjoy the unnatural. Sometimes I get a kick out of being disconcerting.
While I applied mascara and heavy red lipstick, my mind kept throwing up images of Nathan and thoughts of his recent skirmish with the Tenebran Savant Acheron. I hadn't been very helpful and maybe I felt a little guilty about that. But, geez, I really truly did not want to get into a war with Tenebra. All this time, I'd ignored the Larvae and they'd ignored me. That was how it should be.
Yet it was also true that their activity levels had been increasing. Mostly I chose to ignore the fact.
And then that hoo-haa with Nathan happened. He'd seemed so lost and forlorn, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him, even though his obsession to fetch his parents back from Acheron's clutches was misguided at best. I'd tried to warn him. Naturally he didn't listen. No one ever does.
It's hard to believe he survived.
And why did he attach himself to that human fluff-ball, Melissa What's-her-name? What could he possibly see in her? She had spunk, sure, but she was a child. There was nothing she could offer him that I couldn't provide in abundance. And at a higher quality level.
Not that I was even remotely interested.
I finished off the make-up and checked my hair for the right amount of calculated mess, grabbed my handbag and headed out the door. My apartment was a penthouse, on the roof of a twenty-storey building in the middle of the City, overlooking the harbour. Very exclusive. It was on a corner, so I got a great view of the sun coming up between the heads, and then going down in the west. On occasion I'd throw open the blinds and let the morning light stream over me through my plate-glass windows. They were tinted. Light makes us Shades fade, you see, and tinting keeps the levels short of total fade-out.
Anyway, I made the trip to ground floor in the lift, fending off the inevitable interest of Mr Santos, Building Security Man. My youthful appearance, combined with the fact that I'm so independent and no shrinking violet, provoked him, I think - and as a result he was prone to making suggestive remarks. Nothing real bad, mind you. But he is a man and they just can't help themselves. It was a real pain when I wasn't in the mood for it.
"Hey, Cassandra," he purred, "really comin' out tonight, I see."
"Good thing you're staying in, eh Mr Santos?" I returned.
Outside there was a chill wind blowing. I hadn't brought a coat with me or anything else to cover my bare shoulders. It didn't matter from my point of view, of course, because I don't get cold, but it sometimes worried other people. Still, stuff 'em. I wasn't going back up to get a wrap.
My favourite niteclub, the HipShot, was about ten minutes away by cab. It specialised in Latin-beat music, a style that had come into its own lately, thanks to the swivelling pelvis of Ricky Martin. Not that I was complaining. I'd always enjoyed the samba, the mambo, the rumba and all that stuff that ends in 'mba' or 'mbo'. You can move to that music. Really move.
As I glanced around, I noticed how quiet it was. Very few pedestrians. Perhaps the possibility of a storm had driven them indoors. Wimps. There was a man standing about twenty metres away, flush against the building. He was wearing a calf-length leather coat and had his hands in its pockets. A wide-brimmed hat obscured his face. Perhaps that's why I noticed him - he looked like a private-eye from one of those Humphrey Bogart films of the 1940s. Was he waiting for a cab? I glanced away to check on the taxi situation and when I looked back the man was gone.
I walked toward the corner of the block, where there was a taxi-stand. The curve of the street dipped away slightly and opened up a view of the sky westward across the endless suburbs. A dark cloud seethed above the houses and skyscrapers, breaking off and wisping downward here and there. Rain? Probably. Looked like there really was a big storm on the way.
There were no taxis. I checked up and down the street, sifting the traffic for sign of one. Nothing. If there'd been any within sniffing distance they would've arrived like a shot - they usually arm-wrestle each other for the pleasure of picking me up.
That left waiting, ringing the cab company and booking, taking a bus, or walking.
Shadow-hopping was the obvious choice.
A thin corridor of Shadow (with a capital S) connects every shadow (with a small s) in the world, and this allows us Shades to avoid ordinary spatial travel if we want to. The corridor is known as the Shadowedge. It can be dangerous, and if you do it too much it drains you completely, but it's useful for emergencies. This was an emergency.
You need to focus on your destination when you hop, so that you're drawn straight to where you want to go. Visual line-of-sight is safest. The looser your concentration on point B as you sink into point A, the more likely you are to end up in some Shadowy black hole, designated point X.
Obviously I couldn't physically see where I wanted to go, but because the HipShot is one of my favourite haunts, I'd memorised a nice shadowy corner close to it, which I could use as a reference point. It was safe enough. I'd had over a century of practice.
I stepped into the shadow cast by a streetlight, visualised the spot I wanted to get to, and sank into the darkness.
As I went I thought I saw the same man I'd noticed earlier, this time lurking in the dark across the street and down a bit. Was he watching me?
Well, it was too late to worry about being seen now, I decided.
And as it happened that was the least of my problems.



Shadow Dance
Night Beast
Ancient Light
Black Sun Rising