"A Crown Fit For Kings" Part I
It has been over two weeks since our little plight here. The City has lost her colour and has been put to sleep, and although it would be false to say her streets are empty, it’s merely shades moving instead of real people made of flesh and bones. The hues of grey are dominant now, and somehow this strange sadness and emptiness that has been drawn upon her reminds me of my far-away home. It pains me to see her like this.
We have all, bar those with little common sense, become the Faceless. How can I write about things that suddenly feel so distant to me? I cannot - I tell myself - cease to walk the streets in some attempt to find the usual liveliness and any traces of the daily hustle and bustle; it is hard, though, to feel the City fully when I can neither smell nor see her well, our undying bond weakened by a flimsy piece of cloth that’s supposed to save me from the incoming doom. However hard I try, too, my glasses keep fogging up constantly, preventing me from seeing the little there’s left to see. I make the glasses part sound very dramatic, I admit, while in fact I have been long accustomed to all the obvious disadvantages of wearing a pair. Still, being hardly able to breath while not being able to see at the same time certainly does qualify as more than a minor inconvenience.
All that being said, there is very little happening to write about. I would surely get everyone’s attention if I went publishing shocking videos of empty shop shelves (which are not empty) or people queuing or pushing to get treatment or meds (which is not happening), or generally providing the hungry public with some morbid and scandalous details of life “next door to death itself”. I’m sorry to say, but to this end, I shall not deliver. The City is protecting us well so far, and although I am aware of the dire situation some people have found themselves in, I refuse to succumb to panic that seems to have already infested too many feeble minds.
Spending too much time indoors is conducive to reminiscing. The memories of years past come and go, some vague, but some full of too many details, thus making it difficult to put them well on paper. Nevertheless, I shall give it a try.
I keep going back to my first day ever spent in the City. I only got a chance to see a little bit of it, as I was on my way to a town elsewhere in the Black Province. A taxi took me and my travel companion from the Empire of Evil Gardens to the Old Train Station. All was so new to me on that warm, sunny day, that I would have never assumed it shall one day become my everyday reality.
There isn’t much to say really about the Gardens community, other than that it must hold a certain appeal of a place reminding many Outsiders of their homes left so far away; if it isn’t so, then I can’t imagine any other reasons why anybody’d like to live there. Situated on the edge of Cloud Rock, on the way to the ever-cold realm of the War Crow sister, where a fortified village existed since the middle years of Ming Dynasty, the Gardens are way too far from the centre to make for a pleasant location. Should the new line of underground be finished in the incoming years this may change, maybe, but for me it will probably remain a place of ill-repute.
As during those first days I stayed in a block on the very back of the community, just near a karst rocky hilltop, a view unknown to me before but so characteristic to the landscape here, I’d have to walk all the way down to the main street to be able to get any means of transport (yet another reason for my contempt, it seems). It was during this short excursion I first encountered the Empire of Evil. I was informed it serves (or, should I rather say: is disguised) as a leading educational institution in the City. Now I would gladly raise a glass to a place that at least gave me a catchy name to use in these notes, but back then, on my day one, I couldn’t have known that those cold, mouldy halls built of disgusting pinkish tiles would for a time become a source of many troubles.
Luckily, some happy memories connected to that walk are present in my mind, too: my first pork dumplings shop, a bit further down, where I developed a taste for a peculiar choice of dipping sauce, comprising mostly of sweet vinegar - a taste that would later cause me heartburn issues, yet I don’t regret a single sip of that ambrosian concoction. From that spot I’d walk for three minutes or four to emerge on the New Stockade Avenue, a long-awaited gateway to a new adventure.
On that day, like I have mentioned, I was travelling by taxi, so I couldn’t have seen all the many portals to the alternate reality lined up along the way. Now, however, I can tell you Dear Reader, that heading south from where the Gardens gate is, one first passes Luo’s Hillock on the right, an unusual road winding up the mountain covered with hap-hazardous mingle of dwellings looking much like the Moving Castle of the film, and, in a similar fashion, leading god knows where. It seems I have never mustered up enough courage to follow it till it’s very end, yet I feel I found myself there one morning, after becoming mysteriously phased-out from some establishment of mortal pleasures downtown. Although it might seem distressing to wake up in a place that might as well be another planet, in a solar system not quite our own, The City handles her lost souls leniently and always provides guidance home. Or maybe I’m just good with finding directions, as I have been told.
Following the New Stockade Ave. it is the Yellow Mountain Thoroughfare on the right (which serves as a shortcut to the Botanical Gardens, although I never went from that side), and the Second Hospital on the left that one sees next. It is with a broad smile that I write these words: there is little for me to say about the medical compound number two, but the gardens are known to me. Maybe known is not the right word, as I am yet to define their true nature and see behind the mysteries of those mountains; let’s just say that I have visited there on several occasions and have witnessed some magic enough, to understand that there is much underneath:
"Once, when I went there for the first time, it was a journey of discovery. I went all the way to the top of the pavilion, and saw the City for what she really was: a powerful, but clearly insane sorceress trapped and dwarfed by the presence of the evergreen mountains.
The next time I was there was to heal an ailing heart, so I pressed on angrily through the forest only to find rare species of flowers (and it was all in late autumn!) that brought me joy and solace.
Finally, I had a hike there with a friend of mine, realising that sometimes it is indeed more fun to share your adventures with a kind soul. And that was a day of so many happenings and discoveries, including the visit to the Elephant, that it surely deserves a passage on its own."
Stop. It is a great disaster, I admit, that a person is only able to follow one story at once with enough attention, but that’s how it is. Let me go back to the New Stockade.
Before one finally reaches the end of the avenue and finds oneself properly within what I’d call the city centre, there is a little side trip to be taken. It is not for those faint of heart and spirit, that must be said, as there are perils beyond understanding looming ahead, as one advances towards what used to be the old Crematorium site and beyond. An unholy land shunned by the locals in the past, now turned into a bustling city hub as memories fade; the clutter of houses will eventually give way to the eerie skyscrapers of pale colours, for the transformation is inevitable. Should you have, Dear Reader, as I most certainly do, a liking for places deserted and haunted, it would be my pleasure to indulge you with accounts of my journey there. Yet again, this is a material for another story. Yet again.
Having spun quite a few yarns, but just about, I’m left undecided which one to continue next. I will let you choose, Dear Reader, which one picks your fancy, as it is solely for the pleasure of the listener that a story is told. It is the past that we are stuck with for now, me staying put and mostly immobile, not being able to commit myself to my mission of pathfinding and exploring the City for new oddities.
I am not easily startled, but right now this is indeed a crown fit for kings, in my feeling, ruling us all with fear as the sovereigns of the old did.