Chomu and Patchwork Earth have been friends since the site's inception, so I'm grateful to caretakers Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp for not only allowing me to contribute from time to rare time, but also for sponsoring this little project - "Scramble City" will be a novella simulcast at both websites, This today is the first three segments of the novella, with more to follow at a likely irregular schedule.
A Mash'Em Up
The usual spot, beneath the passing 'rail. The setting sun cast the spires in fading gold. Rocky kicked aside an old packing crate, a translucent garbage bag. The tape around his forearms was shredded, hung in loose ribbons. Beneath one foot, an octet of failed Polaroids; purplish and bubbled. Beneath a cracked and tar-papered skateboard, he found it: the familiar weight, the curve of the chamber, the key with its chain wound about the trigger guard like a rosary. The monorail roared above, eclipsing the whole alley.
The story is known to most: once, there was a great wolf, a fierce and brave hunter, who fell in love with the sun. But wolves cannot court the sun, for they are all promised to the moon, pay tribute in song every time the moon waxes. And indeed, this wolf bore over one ear a white patch of fur in the shape of a crescent moon, signaling his betrothal. Wolves are creatures of the shadows, and disappear as the sun rises. The warmth of the sun was saved for the children of Bastet, who could curl in slices of the sun that fell upon the ground and purr to their heart's content. Such a love should never be, and yet it was so.
This wolf was cunning, as all wolves are, and so he hatched a plan to stay tethered to his love for all his life. He went to the Forger, a dirty man who was the source of all the world's watered steel, and weapons of great power. This wolf entreated the Forger to make a chain that could not be broken, that he could chain himself to the sun.
The Forger was cunning, though, as well, and even the fangs of a wolf paled before the ferocity of the weapons of man, and so he who formed them of the earth. What use have I for your love, he sneered, and taunted the wolf with figures in the coin of the realm – for wolves had no use for money. And so the wolf offered his song in trade instead, for he'd have no cause to serenade the moon anon. The Forger accepted this boon, and he got to work.
It was dangerous work indeed, for to make a chain that would stand the heat of the sun itself, it would have to be struck against the Anvil of Dawn, which existed only at the border of the sun's and the moon's domains.
And so it was, that now Rocky was dressed in the leather breeches of The Forger; with children's delight in his every snarl, as he pulled the lever that sent their carriages through the doors into the Anvil of Dawn. There was a squeal from a little girl, quickly stifled by her mother, as the doors closed in preparation for the next group. Another carriage rolled into place, as a pair of lovers disembarked. The summer heat was soaked into every ground-laid brick, and the light splayed across the labyrinth of metal cordons. At the far end of the line, a dancing performer in a thick felt tanooki suit looked woozy.
The weapon was tucked into his waistband, the key dancing awkwardly against his member.
He helped strap in a pair of twins, who wrestling over a one tangle of cotton candy between them, and when he turned back to regard the crowd, he saw a figure slumped against a tree. The sun was in Rocky's eyes, and he couldn't be sure until the figure turned slightly and he saw that it was indeed a man with his arm in a sling; a man who was now regarding a black squirrel who'd come down the tree to beg for popcorn scraps.
The man was waiting for something, and Rocky closed his eyes, twitched his lips a bit, and then took an unscheduled break.
Another day passed, and Rocky was passing through Little Lyons, in the hopes of seeing Naomi stroll through the Promise Garden which lay beyond its borders. Each storefront in Little Lyons was connected from the inside, with the varied buildings displayed on the exterior as a sort of façade, and the entrances more like turnstiles. Everything was wooden, and that thick, browned wood at that. The displays and shelving looked hewn from ancient, impressive furniture. A cashier in Baroque stylings was ringing up a brace of plastic missiles and an appliqué t-shirt.
“Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings?” A man was beside him, flipping through a book. Rocky started, but this was a man that he had never met before. “But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?”
“I don't understand.” He was allowed to speak, within the city, unlike the tanooki or the kappa, but this was as much a weakness as a strength. Rocky tended not to speak much at all, if he could avoid it. The man smoothed out his scarf, which bore the repeated emblem of Britannia, and smiled.
“I've heard it said that one who knows nothing can understand nothing. Which I suppose is a poetic way of saying 'if you don't know, don't ask.' Personally, I always encourage the asking of questions.”
“Okay, sure.” His hands were sweating. “Did you want an autograph or something, then?”
“So quick to sign your name! What sort of devil are you, pray tell?”
There was a shriek, and they both turned. A young babe was bawling into her mother's shoulder, shaking her head over and over. The woman's shirt was changing color. “Sorry! She's just a little... 'You' were very scary in your movie.”
“Right. I'll just be heading on.” Before the other man could address him further, Rocky was out a back exit, which (owing to the ambiance of the store's thematic conceit) was perhaps the only exit to backstage which was labeled “employees only.”
There was a snake's width of space between the borders of the Capitalized Lands, and he slipped through that space until he felt he'd gotten sufficient distance, and then realized that he was holding the book that the man had been reading. He placed it under his arm. He'd be sent to the White Room if they believed him a thief.
He'd missed his chance to see Naomi. He tried to picture the folds of her crinoline dress, tried to calm down. But he'd been expected.
“You've been avoiding me.” The man in the sling was waiting there. His undamaged arm was flexing around a tourniquet. The man didn't look up, but they knew each other's faces well enough by now.
“What do you want, Nick?”
Nick just shook his head, held open his palm. A trio of chalky pills lay flat in his hand. At least one of them bore a familiar sprite. “You using?”
“Naw. Naw, I'm clean.” Nick shrugged, popped all three of the one-ups into his mouth, mumbled “for the blood,” and then fished out the leather case with the syringe. For a junkie, Nick was a well-supplied and orderly sort. It begged the sort of questions that Rocky did not want to answer.
“They can see us,” he hissed, and grabbed Nick's arm – the needle-target, not the broken one – and hauled him up to his feet. “You can't do this here.”
“What happened to you, Rocky?” Nick lolled his head. “Don't you remember who you are?”
The snake's width was obscured from the Lands beyond with fencework, tall hedges, trees, pitch tarp, and whatever else would obscure the infrastructure. The design, however, was such that there were many viewing ports available, only visible from the interior. Through one of these, now, Rocky saw a figure that could only be a lawman, far out of his jurisdiction if he was patrolling the Capitalized Lands. He was searching for something, or someone. Rocky looked at Nick, who wasn't noticing a lot – the tube of the syringe bounced against his forearm from where it was stuck.
When Rocky closed his eyes this time, it was as if he could hear the thousand thousand eyes of The Architect watching him.
He left Nick behind, walking the length of the borderground as The Forger once had in the legend, the wolf at his heels, approaching the Anvil.