The last of the sun had completely disappeared from the horizon, and the rooftops of New York formed a dark, shadowy jungle-gym for Ayesha as she leapt silently across them.
Even without the light, she could see her destination. A few miles ahead of her, the lights of the city abruptly stopped, marking the start of the Hudson. Only a thin line of lights representing New Jersey stopped the river from merging with the night sky.
Ayesha ran slower, reserving her energy, her gaze fixed on that sea of blackness. Between her and her destination, she saw what at first seemed to be a park. As she approached the edge, she realised that it was in fact a graveyard, somber and dim amid the light and energy of the city.
Ayesha came to a stop, reminding herself to take a small sip of water. She bit her lip, and tilted her head from side to side. She could either play it safe, go around, sticking to the privacy of the rooftops. Or she could not. With a grin, she made up her mind.
From a standing start, she leapt from the rooftop and across the lightly populated street, as silent as a cat. Once more practically swimming through liquid air, she felt her whole body forced forwards like a bullet. She landed in the graveyard under the welcoming cover of the trees. Hit the ground. Rolled. Kept running.
Sometimes following the path, but mostly just darting across the grass and between the graves, she powered her way through the graveyard. Once more she felt her thoughts pleasantly melt away. Only reactions.
Running across a straight. Vaulting a bench. Bouncing from a tree. Vaulting again. On a path now. Back on the grass. Jumping. Lightly stepping from gravestone to gravestone.
At one point on her flight, she thought that she saw the face of a man in the darkness, walking his dog. She heard his small scream as she ran past, but she was already gone. Soft, silent, and above all fast.
She wondered if he thought he’d seen a ghost. Or at least, she almost wondered that. Travelling at these speeds, it became difficult to pluck out individual thoughts from the reactions and impulses that dominated her mind. The half thought quickly slipped under her consciousness and was forgotten.
She saw lights ahead. Cars and streetlights. She jumped a bench, launched off it. Landed in a tree that barely creaked. Darted through its branches. Though the branches were thin, they barely wobbled. Ayesha was light. Leapt to another tree. Jumped.
Barely a rustle of branches. Another flight over the river of light that was the street. Her feet on the rooftop. She continued running.
After a few more blocks, she came to a complete stop. Sitting down cross legged on the cold stone at the edge, she took another sip from the water bottle and surveyed the scene. The rooftop on which she was perched was one of the countless former factories and docks that stretched up and down the Brooklyn side of the river. The vast majority of them were converted now into trendy office workspaces or apartments, Ayesha knew, but a few of them still saw the comings and goings of boats.
The one that she was looking at was neither. The building was possibly at some point in its life a factory or a warehouse, for all Ayesha knew, but now it had clearly fallen into disrepair. Several windows were smashed, and grass was beginning to burst from the red brick.
She checked the map on her phone. This was it. The building that the contract had indicated. She quickly turned down the brightness of her screen, not wanting to give her position away. She then pulled up the precise wording of the contract.
CONTRACT: UNKNOWN ENTITY
Rumours of something at the docks in Greenwood, Brooklyn. The thing has been appearing most nights, making strange groaning noises, thrashing around. A couple of cars have been dented, and there are unconfirmed reports of two people being attacked by something. They reported a huge animal.
$300 and one cred for more information on the nature of the entity. $1,000 and five cred for its capture or defeat.
(Could be nothing.)
The rest of the contract was given over to contact information to receive the reward, as well as the address that Ayesha was now looking at.
She put away her phone, and took one last larger gulp of water. She’d been perched hoping to hear the ‘strange groaning noises’ that the contract had mentioned, but other than the now distant noises of the city, there was only silence.
She stood up, her heart pumping a little quicker from the anticipation. Ayesha smiled broadly, then leapt across to the warehouse.
Ayesha’s feet barely ever made any discernible noise, but in this instance she was careful to be especially silent. She rolled as she landed, and was pleased that she barely heard it herself. Keeping low she crept across the roof.
Finding a skylight, Ayesha looked down into the darkened warehouse, careful to not let her head be outlined by the nightsky.
Inside was nothing but inky blackness, and the tiny postage stamp of white that came from the moonlight streaming through the skylight.
Ayesha sighed. Well, what did you expect? she thought to herself.
Deftly, she made her way to the edge of the rooftop, glancing around for both civilians and monsters just to be safe. She flowed down the side of the building, lightly drifting from ledge to ledge, until she arrived at a window that had been smashed open. Careful to avoid the shards of glass that bordered the frame, she contorted her body through the narrow space. She found purchase on the other side, hanging from the edge like a cat, before looking out into the inky blackness.
It was freezing cold in the warehouse, and Ayesha could feel her body try and fail to adjust. A small shiver started up in her limbs, and didn’t stop.
Ayesha’s eyes adjusted. It was still too dark to make out everything in the room, but she could see enough ahead of her to be able to slip down the wall.
Landing on all fours to disperse her weight evenly and silently, Ayesha landed on the ground floor of the warehouse. It was deathly silent.
Ayesha’s heart was racing, and her eyes wide, both from the dark and from her own excitement.
No point in playing stealthy when I can’t even see, she thought. Reaching into her bag, she found a small flashlight. The tiny cone of light that it produced lit a surprisingly large area in the near pitch blackness of the warehouse.
What it illuminated was far from interesting. When the warehouse had been abandoned, they had apparently neglected to properly clean it out. What looked like chains and ropes hung from a few places and wooden crates and pallets were stacked up along a few of the walls. Not enough to prevent access to all of the interior, but enough that her flashlight cast long, disquieting shadows. The walls themselves had been covered in graffiti. Most from neighbourhood gangs and taggers. Someone apparently named The Watcher had spent a lot of time putting up his name and a signature eye on multiple places on the wall.
Towards the centre of the huge room, there was something that looked like a hole in the floor.
Ayesha bent her knees slightly, as if prepared to bolt at any moment. Carefully, she clipped the flashlight to a holder designed for that purpose on the front of her uniform. Grinning broadly, she padded carefully towards the hole in the ground.
As she approached, Ayesha began to feel quite stupid. The hole in the ground was man made. Was part of the architecture. The interior of the warehouse spanned multiple floors, and what had at first had seemed to be a black featureless pit resolved itself into a ledge above the open floor below. Ayesha looked down there too, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. More crates, more pallets. A few pieces of stripped machinery.
Ayesha’s mouth twisted into a curve of disappointment, and she kicked a small scrap of wood over the ledge. It clattered deafeningly in the silence. She turned back to the entrance, prepared to call the contract a wild goose chase.
Then, something caught her eye.
Towards one corner of the room, a stack of pallets and crates had fallen down. Or at least, that was what Ayesha had first assumed. Curious, she began walking to the stack. Their arrangement was strange. They were sprayed out in every direction. A few pallets had been broken down into splintered boards.
The wood was old, and even in the half light Ayesha could see that it was dark and faded. Where it had splintered though it was light. That meant that whatever had pulled them apart had done so recently.
They hadn’t fallen. They had been knocked down. And whatever had hit the pallets had done so with some force.
Now that Ayesha knew what to look for, she could see small signs of destruction everywhere. Splinters of wood littered some parts of the floor, another stack of fallen pallets was in one corner.
She started looking closer at the graffiti, and even there were clues. On the walls were small circles of exposed and broken brick. Something powerful had hit them.
Ayesha cocked her head slightly. There was a pattern to the small pock-marks, she was certain of it. And then it hit her. Wherever The Watcher had tagged a wall with a small, stylised image of an eye, pock-marks clustered around it, with increasing density towards the pupil. In fact, there seemed to be a pock mark in the centre of almost of them.
So, either whatever this thing is it really hates eyes, thought Ayesha, Or, it’s smart enough to do target practise. Either way, it has some sort of projectile.
Ayesha turned away and began searching in earnest now. Lightly, she leapt up to the steel walkway that circled the walls of the room. Creeping along it, she made her way to what looked like a foreman’s office. The window to the office had smashed, and Ayesha could still see shards of broken glass on the metal walkway outside.
Carefully, she approached the office, and quietly peeked her head around the edge of the frame, shining the flashlight inside.
For a moment, Ayesha thought she made out something. It looked like a human figure, crouched in the corner.
Ayesha’s thoughts sharpened, as they did whenever she jumped to a higher speed.
In that same instant as the light touched the figure, Ayesha was deafened by a sound. In the silence of the empty warehouse, it sounded like a fog horn had just gone off. A dull, bass rumble was vibrating through every inch of the room, setting Ayesha’s teeth on edge. She turned towards the source and found herself looking at the ledge to the lowermost level, far beneath her.
As Ayesha adjusted from the silence, the bass rumble resolved itself into a low hum. It was like the engine to a car had started.
Forgetting what she had seen in the office for a moment, Ayesha kept her flashlight and her attention both turned to the source of the noise, but she couldn’t see anything.
Suddenly, there was movement. At the lowermost floor, a pack of crates shifted, tumbled. It wasn’t a stack at all. Pallets and tarps had been haphazardly thrown over something. Something that was now moving, shaking them off.
The light from the flashlight barely seemed to illuminate that far down, but Ayesha quickly realised it didn’t need to. Light was coming out from the pallets and the tarps, shifting, and casting long, strange shadows on the warehouse floor.
Ayesha’s breathing was steady. She was braced but not tense. As ready as she could be for whatever followed.
In the darkness far beneath her, part of the light resolved itself into two glowing discs. Two eyes that looked up at her.
Filled with blue-green light.