A Crown Fit For Kings part II
However hard I try to tell myself that I have nothing but disdain for such things as various social media, it was one of the more popular sites that has recently reminded me of the third anniversary of my coming to the City. I’m not quite sure how I felt about that other than I can’t even celebrate properly (if by ‘properly’ we mean waking up two days later elsewhere than your own flat) due to most pleasure venues still being closed in the final days of the Crown; her reign is closing to the end, as the streets and people slowly return to normal, and I’m sure we shall soon see all that the City has to offer back on the menu again. Until then, perhaps, I should somehow commemorate my humble beginnings as a self-appointed chronicler by trying to revoke my thoughts of those early days. Although three years certainly don’t seem too long of a time, somehow for me it feels like a lifetime away - but fear not - I am in luck (and so are you, Dear Reader) to be gifted with a good memory for details. That is to say good enough that I would often not know where to start with my accounts, and believe me that wanting to say too many things at once is equally counterproductive to not knowing what to say at all.
Here, again, my job was made considerably easier by the loathsome social media that presented me with a picture taken by no-one else but me on my very first day of settling in the City. A concrete modern jungle, half in construction, seen from a terrace of a fancy Chongqing hotpot restaurant - it made me chuckle to see constructions resembling some sort of windmills and western style villas on the opposite bank of the river. It was the end of February and the sky was overcast, as it often is here whatever the season. My companions explained that it was a new part of town, on a good way to become popular with the outsiders - and even considering how little I knew about the City back then I still considered White Flower Mountain (which I had got to know earlier that day) to be a much more exciting place to live.
You can’t possibly imagine two worlds further apart - an old district with its bustling street life, constant buzzing of the fruit vendors’ clanky speakers, the ceaseless honking, full of colour and scents both fragrant and foul, by no means a rich part of town, but teeming with such strong naturalistic energy that you could feel what it means to be alive and made of bones and flesh… something, that most certainly could not be experienced among the cold walls of stern towers of the vessel of the Future. And although in the course of time daily struggles of life in the City kept pushing me towards the latter again and again, I could never hold fond feelings towards it in my heart. It may be that I don’t belong to the Future, or that the Future it had in store for me was never quite what I wanted it to be. Now it is a well-known piece of knowledge (or at least it should be) that a bar of soap can easily wash all the bacteria and viruses away if used properly, but I’m yet to find a mixture capable of cleansing the strain of disappointment - a bottomless feeling capable of drowning all other emotions, however positive they were. So considering all things past, I must have had a kind of premonition towards the place when I gazed at the funny windmills that day on the terrace.
What I always found more enjoyable than the district itself was the areas one had to pass to get there. Its location is not exactly central, and even though I’d never go as far as to call it inconvenient, it always felt distant from the heart of the City. Could it be they do not share the same soul? After all, this is the Cloud Rock’s domain over those mountains too, but I feel it to be ill-placed. Administrative nonsense, or a mistake. My reasoning behind this is that the City belongs neither in the Future nor in the Past - it exists in its own realm of present, where all time converges.
Not quite the recommendation, is it? If you still feel like paying a visit to the Future, however, I know of three ways of getting there - three ways for three years as I battled three different adversaries crawling from beyond that portal to the abyss. And I do see it as an abyss indeed, as what else can it be if what leads there is a long and dark tunnel, seemingly without end? Not far from the White Flower Mt., which then surely must be the last bastion of normality, something scarce to find once you pass through the tunnels. Personally, I disliked that way the most - partly because some titan of engineering placed slippery tiles on the side of the little road leading downhill just where you’d leave the ring-road to go towards the river, which resulted in almost knocking my thumb out of its socket while falling off my loyal plastic stallion. It was by no means lack of imagination on my side, mind you. Only a proof of a poor and dire state of affairs the whole place was in. Yet would you expect anything better from a settlement owned and run entirely by the Empire of Evil?
I can’t imagine I failed to mention that. It was the Empire itself that got the Future up and running, and it was because of my dealings with them that I frequented the place I otherwise found rather uninteresting.
So, when the time came during my second year that I had business to do even farther beyond, in the realm of the War Crow sister, it was crucial to find a better way to avoid the traps the Future held. It would lead me along the winding river, first past the Temple of the Water Edge, then the Red Rock Bridge and so on, following the water’s current (or maybe going against it? My perception failed me to notice that) all the way through its twists and turns. I have to admit that from this perspective the Future didn’t look too bad at all. Especially on sunny spring mornings when I’d enjoy the breeze on my face and no traffic at all, feeling as if I were on a real racing track. Just me and my little warhorse, tied round with a skipping rope I found in the rubbish, lest its belly fell off (yet another adventure we shared in the War Crow’s). The Sun rose just behind the solemn columns of the ring-road above, its rays blinding me as I passed by. The sea of identical stone-slab buildings bathing in the morning warmth looked almost welcoming and certainly intriguing. At some point, I think around the Mushroom Town, a peculiar railway tracks begun, along the riverside, and I was surprised to actually witness a retro sight-seeing streetcar running there on weekends. It felt good to see at least one element of the landscape serve its purpose, unlike the windmill-like constructions I had seen on day-one, and many other meaningless contraptions added to then area development plan at random to make it look more Western; that, along with some ridiculous community name or other, let’s say: Louis XIV Mansion Gardens (with rooms where you can barely fit a single bed, and paper-thin walls making for an exclusive experience of living in a dorm). It would be foolish to assume those putrid trends in city planning would not appear in the City sooner or later, as they once did in my former place of residence, and of course many others, yet I can’t help to roll my eyes every time I see a display of such idiocy.
Considering all this, naming a densely populated middle-class housing community with a name of a Biblical vessel made to transport cattle and so on (into the Future, I assume) was almost a stroke of genius.
I’m finally left with no alternative but to describe the third path towards it. One that would require stretching your legs a bit (or simply taking a bus as I did) and trekking all way up the pass between the mythical Eastern Mountain and Mt. Fufeng. The whole area owns its name to the former of the two, and has always been to my liking, bearing much resemblance to the White Flower Mt. I have mentioned before. It certainly deserves a piece of its own and I shall not settle for anything less than that, but it is also a notable mention while describing the Future. I found it puzzling to see a road in such a bad shape, with potholes one on top of another leading to a place of the next century, but then I realised that might just be a part of its charm. And crossing the mountain was in fact an equivalent to crossing into another City, or - I daresay - another world. It is obvious even now that these were once the rural outskirts just outside the city walls, traces of their history still visible in the names of their streets and alleys. There is a little hidden village, straight in the heart of this four-million-soul conglomeration, with an adorable name: Papaya Field Road. At first, you wouldn’t probably notice it at all, most likely standing in awe the sea of steel and concrete in the distance, yet there it is, a small piece of land on the side of the mountain, that used to be surrounded by gourd fields, not so much a short-cut as an intriguing detour; there’s plenty of such places in the City, bearing the names of their agricultural heritage - they’re what’s left of the hamlets you would normally find only deeper in the Land of Blackness.
I’ve read a book once which entertained the idea of two cities in two different planes existing simultaneously in the same location, each penetrating the other’s reality in a way so subtle and natural, that it would mostly go unnoticed by their citizens. This was of course pure fantasy, I thought, even if inevitably led me to think of another great metropolis of imagination; the city of Sigil, where it would be possible for a siege tower the size of the Colossus of Rhodes to pop out of pure nothingness in a flick of a moment, and for whole town quarters to disappear over night, mysteriously phased our to somewhere astral or else, only because of entropy or something, or… actually, was there even a reason? Whatever that was, in case of this City here I fear it’s not a fantasy at all. Could these be some invisible hands of beings from another dimension that put things in motions, playing with the tissue of streets and houses as if they were mere child’s toys? Or perhaps the powers behind all this are much more mundane, their decisions being just down-to-earth calculations? I believe it doesn’t really make much difference, since even if we did indeed live in multiple times or realities, we wouldn’t be able to tell. After all, does a person from the Future ever notice the village of Papaya Fields?