• Published 20th Aug 2015
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Pirene's Well: Three Nights in Manehattan - Ether Echoes

A noir tale of anxiety, pain, loss, and hope in Manehattan. Sequel to Through the Well of Pirene.

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The First Night - Part 1

The First Night - Part 1

The Wistful Heart

Once, someone told me that a city is a living being.

Cities grow and change, they go through cycles of life, death, and rebirth, self-repairing with new parts that change the details but leave the fundamental whole intact. It’s a challenge everyone in Manehattan has had to deal with over the last few years, watching as the neighborhoods, the little cells they live in, move and warp, but somehow it’s still the same old city you grew up in. Parts may die and new ones may arise in their places, but the animal lives on.

And like any animal, it has its savage moments and its pathologies. Plagues, parasites, and vermin thrive in the dark, grimy corners of any city, and in this town I’m the mare whose job it is to step in and clean up the mess.

“You got lucky, kid,” Gerry says as he walks up, his clawed feet clicking on the stained concrete. The reflected glare of the flood lamps cast three shadows off the griffon, one for each of his vices, and the sharp, predatory scent of one of them precedes him. I hated the smell of cooked meat, but it was one of a hundred things I’d needed to get used to in my line of work. “We’d never have made this bust without the tipoff.”

We look down together to where seven figures are lined up and cuffed. Four ponies, three natural-born as near as anyone could figure, and one that is decidedly not, with her tangled mane snarled with leafy branches. The remaining three are something else entirely, and they seethe on their two legs with their arms bound behind them and glare impotently up at me against the lamps’ blinding light – their first taste of justice.

“We’re lucky I’d been doing my legwork in tracking these guys the way I was supposed to, Lieutenant, or the first responders would have been a pair of beat cops instead of a full platoon,” I counter. “The tip was a good break, but it wasn’t enough on its own. They’d have packed up and beat it before backup could put their horseshoes on.”

Gerry grunts noncommittally, which was about as close as he ever got to acknowledging a point. He turns and I follow him to the open shipping container, still attached to its crane, with forensics still crawling all over it. In their white suits and masks I might have thought them ghosts. Strange little poltergeists who are there to clean up the city’s mess right after I kick over the rock covering it, and the docks are as good a place as any to start. Cranes march up and down the riverfront like skeletal steel sentinels, a force of hundreds minding the shore, far from the city lights that had only just begun to shine with the first stars. The only thing that makes this crane special is the contents of its lone passenger.

“Estimates are in,” Gerry announces. “On the import side, we’ve got half a ton of product. Fourteen cases of banned potions. Five crates of firearms, no ammo. For the export stuff we found in the cart, there’s the usual run of stolen radios and jewelry and the like.” He nods over towards an old-fashioned pony-drawn cart that had seen better days, probably once even pulled paying customers before folk had standards. “We found enough fenced watches to start your very own timepiece store—”

“Rather give them to transit authority.” I bump my hat up with a hoof to look into the confines of the crate. “Might be able to keep the elevated trains on time. Not that anypony uses watches these days anyway.”

“Hush up, they’re a classic. You kids could stand a little class. Anyway, that’s not the whole of it. Girls?” He gestures with a wing and a pair of forensic ghosts levitate a box over delicately. They needn’t have bothered; the inside is lined with purple felt, keeping a number of very choice artifacts safe and snug.

I don’t recognize anything off the top of my head, but with stuff like obsidian daggers and lacquered masks and strange flat-bottomed vases it’s not hard to guess what the pattern is. “What, did these guys knock over a museum?”

“You might say that.” Gerry snorts and ruffles his wings. “Them, or someone looking to fence it through them. The folks over at Burglary confirm the pieces match a set of high-profile heists performed on private collections in the past two weeks.” He turns his head to look at me with his beak set in a firm fashion. “Looks like you’re the department hero. First big win for smuggling and organized crime in a while.”

Few things provoke the Lieutenant like gloating – at least when he wasn’t the one doing it – so I keep a lid on. “Yeah, well, there’s a lot of work to be done. I don’t think our friends down there had it in them to pull multiple major-league robberies.”

He glances away towards the smugglers and I grin tightly behind his back. Salary hike, here I come.

“Sir?” one of the mares steps up and pulls her mask down to reveal a pair of pretty blue eyes framed by golden curls. There were always stallions lining up down by Lab Work’s lab at the station, which is good, because she couldn’t keep a steady relationship if her life depended on it. Gerry turns to face her and she lifts a dark wooden crate out of the back in a haze of sparkling blue magic. Half of it is missing, the wood splintered, and inside the packing material is all torn up and deposited over the floor of the shipping container. It was like a foal had gotten too impatient with his ice cream cake and shoved his head in to suck out the innards, leaving a trail of crumbs in his wake.

Gerry scratched at his chin with a claw. “I take it some of the reported stolen goods are still missing, Lab?”

“Yes.” She nods and pulls a durable tablet from the supplies left by the door. I peek over her shoulder to have a look. “There’s a piece that remains unaccounted for.” She pokes the tip of her hoof up, scrolling past color-tagged images of creepy figurines, a horn ring, a necklace with a yellow jewel, a beaten-gold sun, and other sundry items ‘till she gets to the bottom. There lies a polished, black jar with its end capped in a lead seal stamped with some emblem I can’t place.

I don’t normally put much stock in intuition, but looking at that jar gives me the jitters. Looking away quickly, I turn and walk over to the crate, careful not to disturb any of the evidence. The inside definitely could have fit the jar nice and snug inside.

“I thought you’d accounted for all the members of the gang?” Gerry says with a little bite of triumph. It isn’t a malicious thing, but he does like to keep ponies humble.

“I did. Doesn’t mean they didn’t add someone new overnight.” I frown down at the gang. Their eyes follow me wherever I go, and if looks could kill they’d at least have scorched my tail off by now. “More likely there was a third party. Maybe one of the burglars changed her mind.”

“That’s pointless speculation.” Not that Gerry needed to say it, but stating the obvious is a lesser vice of his, unworthy of its own shadow.

A gesture to Lab Work gets her attention. “You found this near the back, right? Buried behind the other stuff? And the packing debris was there when you found it?”

“We’re not that sloppy,” she says with a note of professional pride. “The crime scene is as good as we can make it after checking the contents of the boxes.”

“So it happened after they’d already packed everything in,” I muse. “They weren’t likely to stick an empty crate in there for the heck of it. Somepony had to have phased or teleported in. The question is if it’s one of the burglars pulling a last-minute heist or something else.”

Gerry weighs me for a moment before shrugging. “Still sounds like speculation to me. We can always ask the smugglers what they saw. Let’s get the down to the station and you can question them to your little pony heart’s content.”

My tail flicks from side-to-side as I consider the Manehattan skyline again. It’s amazing how much taller Downtown has gotten in just the few years since I got on the force – the world is changing right under my hooves. It’s a shame that I’m always getting exposed to the changes for the worse. “I’ll have to catch up later. I want to have a chat with the tipper. He still at the dock office?”

“I have a guy in there taking his statement.” Gerry ruffles his wings with an agitated eagerness. “You aren’t likely to get much else out of him.”

“Call it a hunch.”

He snorts and gives me a wry look. “I thought you hated intuition, kid?”

“I do. Call it a hunch that my hunch will work out.” I give him an equally wry grin back.

“Suit yourself. Just make sure you get your tail back into the station to file your reports later, or the Captain’ll have your hide.”

“You’ll be there to back me up, won’t you, LT?” I ask with a winsome smile.

“Oh, sure. I’ll hold your hide for you when the Captain’s done with it.”

I roll my eyes. “Mon héro.

“Again with the fancy talk.” As I begin to trot away, he calls. “Oh, Tracy? One more thing. Stop ditching your partner.”

The urge to spit back a classic “I work alone” is strong, but somehow I beat it back. “Tell her to keep up next time. If she wants to play it slow, you can’t blame me if I leave her in the dust.” That’s going to cost me later, but Gerry doesn’t stop me as I trot off.

Dockside Manehattan, the capillaries of our fair city’s beating heart. Just about as clogged as you might expect, but I’m not here to perform a coronary. I wind my way past steel boxes carrying the freight of three worlds towards a tower looming over the dark waters. Far across the bay to the south, the river flickers with the flash and spark of silent lightning as they reflect the giant atmospheric collectors. From this distance, they look like little plasma globes, a beautiful synthesis of pegasus magic and the best Equestrian technology has to offer, and one of the few things we could say is indisputably our own in this age of cultural exchange.

The beat cops near the ground floor wave at me and usher me into the elevator. The dockmaster has an office overstuffed with shipping manifests and sounding equipment six floors up, appropriate for a pegasus. Grizzled and bulky, he stands large and gray beside the outdoors balcony, as if waiting for a ship to come take him out to sea. An ear quirks as I open the door and he turns to look at me. The uniformed officer taking his statement pauses with the pencil in her mouth and glances back.

“Detective?” She spits out the pencil. “We’re almost done here. I was just wrapping up.”

“That’s all right.” My hat rises as I light my horn and levitate her notes over and flip through them quickly. The shorthand reveals nothing that I hadn’t already heard, but then I didn’t expect it to. Normal cops ask all the right questions, but they tended to be limited to the matter at hand. My job was to ask the wrong questions. “Everything looks good here. Go on with the questioning.”

“Ah… yes, ma’am,” she says and looks back at the dockmaster. “Just one more question, sir: did you notice any other suspicious activity tonight?”

“Nothing unusual.”

“Ah, if you don’t mind, I’d actually like to follow up on a few of those questions,” I say as I put myself forward and barely wait for the acceding nod before continuing on. “You say nothing unusual. Is there any suspicious activity that happens more regularly around here?”

The older pegasus glances back at me. “There’s always some kids who trespass around sunset. Pretty harmless bunch. Their idea of being edgy is flying over the fence and seeing how long it takes for someone to yell at them.”

“Someone” isn’t an entirely unusual choice of words, but there was something about this guy that set off all sorts of bells in my head. Just the way he stood up seemed wrong; all stiff, as if he isn’t quite sure how. A quick glance around the room yields a nameplate and I smile. “I guess you’re used to much worse, Mister Frank Napolitano.”

He turns away from the balcony to look at me more fully now. He doesn’t look taken aback – after all, he isn’t making even the basest effort to hide his origins – but my tone set him on the defensive. “May be that I am.”

“Pardon,” I say with a smile, “don’t take it badly, I’m just making an observation. I can’t say I’ve had the opportunity to meet many humans who went native – well, any humans at all, but still. There must be an extraordinary story behind that.”

Frank – it’s hard not adding his last name automatically – shrugs. “I’m not sure you’d call it that. Ten years logistics experience, five at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Then comes the market crash of ’23 and I’m out of work with no one hiring from one end of the country to the other – except this one offer out of Boston. I don’t even remember sending my resume their way, but they swooped in out of nowhere with a train ticket and a guaranteed posting updating and managing their ‘foreign’ supply network. All I had to do was come down to their offices and hear the boss lady’s pitch.”

“I take it Miss Quinn was suitably convincing?”

“Let’s just say that I sat up and listened when the flying pony princess came to the meeting.” He snorted. “Honestly? I think the bigger shock was finding a mirror copy of my home city here. You know the first thing I did on arriving in the city?”

“Oh?” My ears perk forward.

“See if you horse folk could make a decent pizza pie.”

I grin. “How’s it compare?”

“Fantastic. I couldn’t believe it until I tried it, but it’s like being back home again.” A wistful look enters his eyes. “Let me tell you, though, sometimes I really miss a few slices of pepperoni, and anchovies don’t cut it.”

I try not to gag too visibly – the beat cop fails. “You ever find yourself pining for home, Mister Napolitano? No one left behind?”

“Eh, sometimes. I’ve got an ex-wife that I don’t regret being a planet away from, but we never had kids and I didn’t have much tying me down. I suspect that’s part of why the Hippocrene folks singled me out. Still, though, this place has its charms…”

As if on cue, a feathery shape swoops in from the balcony and plows into the stallion, knocking him back a few paces. My heart tries to jump into my throat as I automatically throw a shield up. Through the azure haze of my defensive bubble, I see that the assailant is, in fact, hugging Frank in an affectionate manner rather than strangling him.

“Honey! I was so worried!” the somewhat pudgy pegasus mare says as she squeezes ever more tightly, her short golden mane tousled by the wind and her speckled wings wrapping around him. “The guys said there were cops crawling all over the docks, and I didn’t know if you were dead or alive or stolen or something! Why didn’t you call? I was worried sick!”

Frank gags and tries to loosen her grip to little avail. He settled for smoothing her coat and trying to soothe her. “Fairweather, I was about to call, but the cops had questions. I’m fine, really, just called in about a—”

“I was going to call but the service is always so spotty around here,” she says, the two talking over one another. “You’d think they’d do something about those generators if they’re going to play havoc with the signal all over the southern part of the island!”

Deciding to take mercy on the poor newly-minted stallion, I step forward. “It’s all right, ma’am. Mister Napolitano here wasn’t in any danger; actually, he helped us uncover a smuggling ring operating right out of this very port.”

Judging from the look in her eyes, I don’t think informing her about a smuggling ring allayed her fears significantly, but she slackens her grip and moves a hoof protectively to her side regardless. A glance down reveals another little tidbit: what I’d first taken for pudge is concentrated solely around her midsection. Evidently, Frank had gone a lot more native than I’d first imagined.

“I’m glad to hear he was all right,” she concedes. “Are you done with him? He hasn’t been home since this morning…”

“I just have a few more questions for him, ma’am, if you can spare him for a bit.” I tilt my hat to her. “Detective Trace Prints. Organized Crime division at the MPD.”

Fairweather’s eyes widen further, but it’s Frank who answers for them. “Organized crime?” He frowned, and I could imagine his mind racing back to dark places.

“There’s always been an element of organized crime,” I say, always pleased to be able to justify my existence to the skeptical public, “but even in Manehattan, which has had the worst crime problem in Equestria since its founding, it’s never been so pronounced as to demand its own division until a few years back.” I nod towards Frank. “It’s nothing like what you’d be familiar with back on your side of Earth, but you can already imagine.”

If anything, that only makes Fairweather tighten her grip on her husband further. She looks to her husband with him the saddest puppy eyes I’ve ever seen and he sighs. “Are further questions really necessary, Detective?”

I regard him for a moment. “Do you have any idea what it’s been like here in Manehattan recently?

“Fifteen years ago, we discovered that we weren’t alone in this universe, and that not only was our Earth not alone, but there was another Earth we’d recognize just within reach, and other worlds, too. Everypony by now has heard of the goblin city Mag Mell and the branching Ways that lead beyond. You’re bringing in goods from them every day, after all, and where would we be without goblin-made steel?” Everypony automatically glances out the balcony towards the skyline. There, limned in star-like electrical lamps, the new spires gleam as they tower over the more sedate. squat constructions of old Downtown. “With goblin trade comes the goblins themselves. I’ll bet you a fourth of the performers on Bridleway are goblins or goblins pretending to be ponies, and there’s literally no way for us to keep track of them. Oh, sure, most of them are benign, and I’d say they’ve made a positive balance to the city thus far. We’re all proud of Manehattan as the cultural gateway of Equestria and all… but they brought their crime, too, and our underworld is ripe for the picking.” I laugh, low and unamused. “It’s funny, actually, Mister Napolitano – the fact that your world remains unaware of ours is probably one of the few blessings we can count on at the precinct. We’re having trouble enough keeping tabs on the elements we do have without adding a third set into the mix.”

Their attention is rapt on me, now. Even the beat cop salivates a bit. I always love this part; the lighting from the one hanging office lamp is perfect, too, for casting just the right shadows off my hat and coat. “It’s my job to keep tabs on that criminal element, to put out the little fires and make sure that those little sparks don’t turn into one big blaze that burns through the beating heart of the city.”

The silence that follows is golden, and I soak it for all its worth. Sadly, though, I have to get back to my actual job. “A few questions answered would go a long way toward that duty. You’ve already done your adopted city a service, Mister Napolitano, so I won’t begrudge you if you feel you need to put your family first.”

“Oh, no no,” Fairweather protests and pushes her beau forward. “Frank would love to help, really!”

Works like a charm every time.

“Of course,” Frank agrees, brushing his significant other’s hoof off with a fond sort of exasperation. “What do you need to know, Detective?”

“I’ve already accounted for every known member of the smuggling ring I’ve been tracking here,” I say, ticking items off a mental list, “and you say you haven’t noticed anything particularly unusual tonight. You mentioned earlier that kids sometimes like to test the boundaries of the more restricted areas; how well-surveilled would you say this place is at any given time?”

“Pretty well,” he says, going over to rustle at the papers on his desk automatically, “we have on-site security, including a unicorn trained in magic countermeasures. The kids still get in, though; the dumb ones try flying over, but anyone flying is usually spotted pretty immediately. Sometimes they work holes in the fences, though, enough to get through if you’re okay with leaving a bit of your coat behind. We’ve got trucks coming in all the time, too.”

“But you noticed something off with one of the truck deliveries? The call you made mentioned that.”

“Yeah. Well, one of the boys, actually. He said a cart had come in loaded past the safety regs. That’s not unusual by itself, but I like to check things like that out. I get a kick out of dressing down ponies; you people squeal and squirm like your mothers were about to tan your hides.” He pauses and grins slightly at his girlfriend. “No offense.”

“We’ll talk later, dear,” the gravid mare promises ominously.

That concerns me. The part about security, not the dressing down. It’s more-or-less what I expect; the port is too large to adequately cover with even a reasonable level of security, and a determined thief who can demonstrably penetrate closed containers would have little difficulty sneaking in and out. Their on-site unicorn would rule out the most obvious forms of entry, but that wouldn’t stop every spell – or spells from foreign worlds and goblin illusions, for that matter. “Have you or anypony else noticed other unauthorized entry or personnel in restricted areas?” I ask. It’s a long shot, but those are sometimes the ones that pan out.

“Not that I can recall.”

I bite back a sigh and gesture for the beat cop to pack up. So much for my big speech – it may have been emotionally gratifying at the time, but few things kill a buzz faster than plowing into a dead end. “Well, thank you for your time. I’m sure you and your wife need to get home; safe trip.” I follow the cop out and watch her flutter down to ground level while I stay on the stairs and think.

The sky over downtown Manehattan often seems so empty and lonesome at this time of night, a velvet haze dotted with only the very brightest of stars and the ever-present glow of the moon. Even as we ponies try so hard to keep our earth unspoiled, it seems as though we’re always losing on one front or another. Today it’s just light pollution; tomorrow it may be something else.

I often find myself wondering if someone on the other side is looking up at the same sky I am right now. We share the very same stars, our earth and theirs, the same hopes and dreams. Is there a detective with her feet shifting out from under her right this instant, wondering when her next big break is going to be? Does she, too, long for something that she’s never seen with her own eyes?

“Detective?” Frank’s voice came from behind me, and the door creaks open again on squeaky hinges. I turn from my contemplation back to the dockmaster. His wife stood anxiously behind him, clearly ready to go, but he didn’t take off quite yet. “I’m not sure how important this might be, but it seems that I do remember someone odd.”

“Somepony suspicious?” I ask, and immediately mentally kick myself for asking a leading question. It’s always better to let the subject answer on their own before trying to dig in.

“No,” he says, shaking his head, “not as such. Honestly, I didn’t even think twice about it until now, but you got me to thinking…” He hesitates. The instinct not to sound foolish, particularly to a figure of authority, is just as strong in humans, but his wife urges him on before I could prompt him by laying a hoof on his side. “There was a pony, a stallion, on one of the harbor tours. I know it’s not that strange for the city ponies to wear clothing, but he had some gaudy jewelry, too; a wide, flat bronze amulet with a gold-colored stone.”

“But he wasn’t acting suspiciously?”

“Just taking pictures.”

My mind, though, flashes back to another picture, one I’d glimpsed on Lab Work’s tablet. “Taking pictures of what?”

“Wasn’t paying that much attention,” Frank admits. “I guess the docks? But that’s over a mile of shoreline as the pegasus flies.”

“I might send some officers around to ask your dock workers some questions tomorrow. Maybe schedule it around a morning break if we can.”

“I’m sure the union will love that.” He groans. “You keep safe, officer. I’ve worked gigs like this for a lot of years, and you get to know a lot of people you’d rather not. If your criminals here are anything like the ones back home, you’re a mare who needs to watch her back.”

“I always do.”

With the interview concluded, the beat cop dips her cap and steps out. I join her, but wait on top of the stairs, hesitating. Frank is getting the keys to lock up, and his wife is dancing from one side to the other with eagerness to go. “Ah… this is an odd question I know, Mister Napolitano, but have you ever been to Paris?”

He glances at me in surprise as he reaches the door, a hoof on the handle. “Well, actually, yeah. I have. The ex-wife and I went on honeymoon a year before the crash.”

“Sorry,” I say, with a respectful nod towards Fairweather, “didn’t mean to open any old wounds.”

“Nah. Actually, that’s really the last untainted happy memory. We went south after that, she and I, when she started drinking when the firm canned her, but that ain’t a reason to sour something bright, you know?”

“Yeah. How would you describe it, if you don’t mind the asking?”

“Paris?” He whistles. “I’m not a real fancy fella, you may have guessed, but make all the post-World War II jokes about the French you like, the city still knows how to take your breath away. I still think back on the food, and maybe all the culture was lost on me, but even a sour salt like me felt it. And the lights – you ain’t never seen a city that looked like that at night.” He looks back at his wife, who’d been looking a little uncertain as he spoke about his previous honeymoon, and smiles. “Maybe we could make a trip sometime after the baby’s born, if the Hippocrene Society lets us.”

She melts into a warm smile and nuzzles at him lovingly. I tilt my hat down. “Thank you. Have a nice night, Mister Napolitano, Fairweather. You take care of your husband now,” I say, and make my way down the stairs.

From the balcony above, I watch him take off into the sky as he blunders along with the awkward gait of a stallion who doesn’t quite have the finer points of flying down. His wife, however gravid, leaps after him gracefully and catches up without much difficulty. They stretch hooves out to one another, and fade into the night sky side-by-side.

It wasn’t much of a lead, but it was a lead, and sometimes even a thin thread can be enough to tie a case together. Of course, I’ve never been very good at sewing so maybe my analogy needed a little work. Lighting my horn, I take my phone from a pocket. “Lab Work, you go home yet?” I say as the call goes through. The picture I have of her is of a blonde mare passed out under a bar table while another mare – me – ties her tail to the chair leg.

“Still cleaning up. What’s shaking?”

“May have some OT for you. The case just expanded.”

“Oh. Joy.” The phone warbled as she sighed. “Guess we’re not making it for drinks, later?”

“Nah, just bring your work tablet.”

“Tracy? Seriously.”

“What?” I say, putting on an aggrieved air. “It’s fine! No one really minds.”

Her hoof stamp is clearly audible. “Yes, they do, and even if it weren’t for the regs, I don’t like mixing business and pleasure.”

“That’s all right,” I say, “you can do the pleasure and I’ll do the business. I just need to check the forensics computer; it’s going to be a busy night and if I go into the station Gerry’s going to keep me there.”

“Call in your partner or no deal.”

“You evil mare, no way.”

Stony silence.

I sigh and push my hat back to look back up at the city lights. “Ugh. All right. I’ll call her. I make no promises about her showing up.”

“And I have no sympathy. See you in a bit.”

We disconnect and I go back to stargazing, or the lack thereof. I imagine I can still see Frank and Fairweather, the couple winging off to their apartment, probably some nice little bohemian downtown flat since they’re newly coupled, or maybe one of the nice townhouses a little further up if they were already planning to build up their little family.

The lack of stars over the city used to bother me more – call it a nascent unicorn instinct; my ancestors are probably spinning in their graves – but as I grew from a filly into a mare I learned to appreciate another kind of star, the kind that ponies light every day without thinking about them. Every glowing window is a family relishing the end of a long day, or the pulsing sign of commerce and enterprise or ward of a hospital and the like. A sea of stars to ward.

Hopes and dreams. A city is full of stars, you just need to know where to look.

* * * * * * *

Author's Note:

You did it. You made me write in this setting again, you horrible fiends!

I actually wrote this over a year ago, back before I'd committed to writing my own original fiction. Unfortunately for me, some stories just will not let you go until you take a crack at them, so here, you guys get to experience the lost sequel to Through the Well of Pirene, my thus-far best novel.

You'll notice that it uses very different characters, for the most part, and a very different situation, but it's set in the same world and will pry at certain aspects left unanswered.
Perhaps as importantly, it gives a hint into the world that I wanted to forge from the end of the Well of Pirene, a world that's changing, often faster than its inhabitants can really comprehend, in a parallel to our own lived experience in the fastest-changing times of human history.

Little Trace Prints here is an echo of the very minor side character Petite Noir from my other story set in Manehattan, Perchance to Dream. Maybe they're the same person, and I'll have to go retroactively change Petite Noir to Trace Prints. She was the genesis of this story, and walked out of my imagination to settle in a corner of my mind and build her tale around her. She's a romantic at heart, an idealist who tries to hang on hard to her hope even as the world around her bleeds with harsh realism.

It was a bit of a hard decision to start with this chapter instead of the next. The next one features a familiar character from Pirene - however, Trace Prints did come first in my imagining. This is a noir, after all, and a noir that isn't framed by a detective is hardly a noir at all. Second, the flow is a bit better this way, which is funny since they're contemporaneous. Finally, it really just felt right this way!

Stay tuned for the next chapter, where we meet an old friend, here on a mission of his own, one that will dovetail with Trace Prints. I wrote this second chapter for the first time today, all in one go, and it's why I'm posting this now, after so long away. Enjoy.

Remember to comment below!