April 5, 2018 § Leave a comment
There is something about the myth of a sunken city that seems to call out, siren-like, to our collected subconsciousness. They come in many shapes; the hubris of Atlantis, the horrors R’lyeh and the decadence of Ys. Even Tolkien subsumes the idea into his own mythic cycle of The Silmarillion when he has Beleriand flooded after the War of Wrath. We can see quite clearly the dappled columns, kelp-wrapped and silent, and the shoals of darting fish that move between them. Abyssal canyons are populated with immense spires, outlined dimly by glimmering bioluminescence and haunted by vast, lumbering shapes. Those of us who have lived by the sea will have heard tales of forlorn church bells that ring out from under the night-time sea, pulled into life by the ebbing Spring tide or turbulent storm-waters. Perhaps we have even heard the bells ourselves…
What is it that makes this myth so forceful and we so ready to believe it? There are two strands to this answer.
February 4, 2014 § 1 Comment
Dyall Square. A great, tile-lined plaza shifting constantly with the snapping pennants and fluttering tent-fabric of a myriad market stalls and faux-mystic hawkers. Sellers of fruit and mandalas and spices and candles and forgetfulness and knowledge and themselves and others, all dot-dotted about haphazard like a mercantile motley. A single, constant litany of prices, offers and plea-bargains rises up through day and lamp-lit night whilst stalls suddenly break camp and scuttle to a better catchment area, a more fertile feeding ground.
And, in the centre, the great campanile rises high above the clouds of salesman’s patter as if unconcerned by the price of silken gloves or sesame. An ersatz gnomon – although built long after the square was named for a now-forgotten bureaucrat, giving it a perhaps not entirely subconscious homophone – whose even-paced shadow strolls from dawn to dusk, a dark-suited overseer marking out ungraded time against lamp-post and flagpole.
Myths and superstitions accrete pearl-like around its base, flowing out into the lyrics of the marketeers. Oaths are pinned on its solidity, boasts on its height. Shaded stalls are particularly favoured or cursed and make brief sales or losses commensurate with the owner’s outlook. A bore-wave of beggars, dragged by the shadow’s tidal pull, ebbs and flows against those certain, milk-and-honey shore-stalls where food is given as an offering to the momentary eclipse.
And behind even them come the cut-purses and minstrels, wassailers and fools who dance and stalk and caper through the crowds in unwitting complicity against the Dalliance, the square’s dedicated corps of peace-keepers and legate bouncers whose long service has seen even their name worn down into self-mockery by the grind of each day-noting sweep of shade.
Here, in this irregular blend of self-organised regularity, everything takes on meaning. Repetition drives paths and memories into the square itself. The shadow’s daily pass driving down tree-ring layers of a fractal, self-repeating tradition. Traders and browsers skirt around each other in daily, weekly orbits. The precision arrangement of wares, the fluid dispersion of stalls. The wax of cotton, the wane of linen, the weft and the heft and the warp of wood. All reflect in a higher arrangement. All are cogs within cogs within cogs.
A delicate dance of give and take and move and shake where small disturbances give up rippling interruptions through the whole. Prices rise despite a glut, stalls slide away from certain ill-favoured patches, boisterous haggling turns to murder, olive-sellers crack barrels filed to the brim with briny eyeballs, water into wine into blood. The mercuspex watches all this and learns of subtleties that birds or fire, unaware as they are of the human magnetism of greed, are oblivious to.
This is why, on the gargoyled edge of an overlooking roof, a rag-swaddled figure hunches and watches in the few minutes of tower-shadow with cog-eyes whirring and brass-gleaming fingers clicky-clicky nervous.
March 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
In the Riddle, no elektrycks light the alleyways. Drenched torches brood in their sconces like blinded beggars and only pallid starlight, tinged even here with the unearthly arclight, shines from the rain-wet cobbles. On nights like these, rats and humans are brothers; huddled in their homes, fearful of outsiders.
Oil the window. Latched. Point 7 jack-lever. Softly, softly…
On Pynchpenny Lane, the sign of the Fourteenth Rose creaks in the gusting wind. Rusted hinges squeak a feeble protest into the damp air. Water gurgles in the gutter and swirls down sluice pipes to the street below.
Push and through. Sweep the floor. Boarded. Third from window creaks, must remember.
A black beetle, dislodged from some scurry-hole in the rafters, rattles down the slating. A shiny pebble rolled in the breakers. Legs flail weakly as it hurtles over the brink and drops into the blackness between the buildings.
Mark. Ingress secure. Stifle and cut. Ten count. Exeunt.
A window rattles faintly against the sill. In a sparse room a cooling body lies on a pallet bed. Bright blood stains the sheets, leaking from an opened throat, and another corpse will join the Riddle’s Bed, buried in the morning’s yellowing light. No questions asked. No tears shed.
You don’t solve the Riddle, they say. The Riddle solves you.
March 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
The city broods under darkening storm clouds as oily rain cascades down from the heavens, running like ichor along the streets’ arterial gutters. Shadows stalk the alleyways, only briefly banished by the hanging elektryck globes which flicker and spit like vipers. Steam rises from gratings and coalesces into vaguely human forms, dancing and whirling, before collapsing into wisps of near-nothingness. Water leaks and drips through ancient wood, swelling and distending the beams of houses that shudder and moan like dying grandfathers.
A haze of colour, just a shade short of black, hangs over the Limbic Quarter. Looking at it hurts the eyes, burning writhing images on the retina. Spires and chimneys below the cloud glow violet as invisible and nameless energies smear through the sky to ground themselves in the cold, rain-slicked buildings.
A thaumarc, a mage mist. Emanations of spent power flaying the skin off reality.