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Babylon deepening


Khas
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Hello! I was reading about Babylon in The Mystic World book, it's a great dimension and setting, there you can find whatever has been imagined by the mankind and more. 

 

I was looking for an expansion, deepening, article, adventure or something with more informations about the city or the dimensions where it is, can you help me? 

 

Thanks! 

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There was a fair bit of the Mystical in Babylon 5, handled (IMO) very well, evoking ancient tropes without being locked into them. Like, souls are apparently real, but can be captured and stored by apparently technological means? ThirdSpace brought in Lovecraftian horror, even more than the Shadows did. I could mention more.

 

As for the City of Man, conurbites and urban elementals were written up in the SuperMage Bestiary, for 4th ed.

 

Our forum colleague Lawnmower Boy wrote an excellent vignette about Babylon that I wish I'd thought of. To the extent my opinion matters, I heartily endorse it. I hope he stops by and reposts it.

 

Dean Shomshak

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And it was actually canon! Well, no, it wasn't, but Book of the Empress backers got to provide Steve Long with character backgrounds which then appeared in a backer's only online supplement. Mine introduced the Babylon-based multidimensional conglomerate, Piper & Norton, and say that it's canon. (Although none of the details in my vignette are included.)

 

. . . . 

(Cut, pasted, edited, because I can!)

 

The teenage runaway sits, huddled in the booth at the interstate truck stop, nursing one more coffee than is good for his skinny, skinny frame, wondering where he's going from here. It turns out that truckers aren't happy to give a pimpled, gangly kid in not-at-all-fashionably distressed clothes a ride to the big city. His eyes slowly focus on the man in the next booth, who is enjoying a heart attack on a plate. Their eyes meet, hold. For some reason, the trucker doesn't react for a long moment. 

 

Then he sighs, beckons the boy over. "Lisa says you wanted a ride to the city." He gestures at the counter, like the boy should know who Lisa is. One of the waitresses, he guesses, because he's not as dumb as his teachers say he is.

 

The boy nods. "You look like the kind of kid who needs out of where they're from, but this is just a stupid way of going about it. And I'm not going to the city, least not any city you've heard of. But you shouldn't have seen me at all, so there's something going on, and I think I might be the ride for you.

 

He stops for a moment. "That don't scare you off, get your stuff, get cleaned up, take a dump because we might hit traffic, meet me in twenty minutes at my truck." He gives the kid a parking lot number.

 

The boy was told that he'd have better luck with an independent trucker, but when the runaway gets to the rig, he finds a double, blazoned with a corporate livery. It's Piper & Norton, which the boy's never heard of, but then he doesn't know much about the world. About that, at least, his teachers are right.

 

A half hour later, they're rumbling down the Interstate, next stop coming up one of those towns in Ohio that start with a "C." The evening skies are bright ahead, just past a wooded rise. The kid guessed that they'd top it in a minute, and be the middle of the lights and the local exchanges, and he would have to decide where he wanted to be let off, if he couldn't talk the driver into taking him to Chicago.  Not what the kid had in mind, but better than home. Anything was better than home.

 

That's when the trucker nudged over to the outside line and lined up an exit only he could see. For a moment, they're headed right off the road, and the kid spasms and sets his foot hard against the floor like that's going to help. "Watch out," he begins to say, knowing he's not even going to finish the words before they  plunge off the road and die in a burst of flame, just like a car accident on TV.

 

Instead, they're suddenly on that exit that doesn't exist. 

 

The truck curves around a bend, and they're in the middle of the knot of trees, climbing just slightly up the rise as the road curves round. The driver is braking, turning, and hits about forty as the pavement ends. Soon, they're picking their way over a washed out gravel road. It's weird, not what a double rig is made for at all.

 

"This is the part where I'd turn out to be a serial killer in most versions of this story," the trucker points out, as the road suddenly acquires asphalt again, and the scenery . . . changes. They're on an Interstate on ramp now. Oh, and it's suddenly full night, because clocks are boring.

 

Or. . . not an interstate. Because the route sign is orange, not green, and round, not the badge shape of an Interstate sign at all. It says, "Via 5," and the distances are marked to Watershed Pass, 1 Mile, and Babylon, 25 miles. The kid is surprised, but not completely, because he reads science fiction, and the world's got superheroes and aliens, and after that, he's ready to believe in weirder things. 

 

The driver looks over at him. "I don't know how well you know the Interstate system. . . "

 

"We're in an another dimension, aren't we?"

 

"Kids today," the driver mutters. He shifts up, just a bit. It's obviously quite a climb, the last mile to the summit, and then they're at the top, and looking down at a valley stretching towards ever-thicker clusters of light and at the end a bigger city than the kid has ever seen. "That's Babylon, City of Man and Art," the trucker says.  "Chews up kids like you and spits you out, don't mind me saying. But maybe you're meant to go there. If you get cold feet, though . . . " The driver pauses as they drive down the mountain slope, occasional, rudimentary exchanges leading on to places marked as "Loon Lake, 4 miles," and the like. At last the driver speaks again.  "Look, I'm not telling you, but Babylon's full of rich people who like to get away to a cabin by the lake for the weekend. They don't come much in the off season, so if you know how to pull a B&E, which you look like you do, you could probably make it through the winter cabin surfing. "

 

The runaway just shakes his head.

 

The interstate, or, no, the Via, levels out and fields open out around them, pretty soon they're flying by a big high school campus. "That's Norma Jean Mortenson Memorial High across that field. I let you let you off on the shoulder, it's a half mile from campus through the hayfield. You wait at the door, there'll be an outreach worker  in the morning. The valley towns, they lose enough of their kids to the Babylon streets. Maybe they'll help." The kid shakes his head.

 

The driver sighs. "Just as well. There are people who go to that high school who don't go down to Babylon when they graduate, but I'm not sure how real they are ."

 

Soon the school is well behind. The kid sighs. He's not exactly running away from do-gooding school counsellors who will do anything except actually help, but he figures he knows their kind well enough.

 

The next notable exit is at the top of a rise, so that the kid can look down into a hollow valley along the river that runs towards Babylon. Lights spill around tiny, rectangular lots stuck too close together, a street grid only too small. It's a mobile home park, the kid realises, for the kind of people who work in the city but can't afford it. 

 

"More your kind of place?" The driver asks. "They've cleaned up good since the last flood. Or was it a tornado? I can drop you." His hands tense on the wheel, but he does not turn it. BEcause the kid knows the drill. B&Es again, only for damn sure not unoccupied places. You look for users, take their stash. Or a bullet. Whichever. No thanks. The kid shakes his head. This was what he wanted away from in the first place.  The driver exhales in relief. 

 

Next it's a suburban shopping mall, probably an hour from closing, the kid figures. Place where the kind of people who work in the city but live in a big house in the suburbs shop on their way home. By this time of the night, only the anchor stores would be open, and a lot of security would be gone. Good shoplifting, not that the fences who used to run him ever let him keep anything over what he needed to keep his stepdad happy. The driver looks over at him, but the kid shakes his head. Better than ripping off druggies, but still awful. He wanted something better.

 

And then, as though they'd passed some kind of barrier, they were in the city. Full stop. Lights, buildings, cheapass-looking apartment buildings way too close together. Warehouses. Parking lots. "You can come to the City in a wagon train, you know," the driver says. "They go right through a city gate, with towers just like Lord of the Rings. Or you can take a train and get off at a big old station, or parade down a grand avenue. Or you can be like us and come in like a trucker through the ugly side."

 

Then the entire highway goes under a massive concrete pile straight out of the urban maps of Lego Racers, and suddenly it's an entire multi-lane freeway, but underground, lanes and stanchions stretching to both sides and great overhead lamps glaring down. Signs with arrows point to exits and lower levels.  A convoy of black SUVs blasts by on the right, flanked by sleek motorcycles, with an incredibly cool sportscar following on behind so fast and so close it was like they were watching a car chase. Who knows? Maybe they were. 

 

 "So this is the Understate, kid," the driver says. "Buried for no distractions, and also not much traffic, for a change. No more sightseeing, no more delays. Just a twenty minute run to the Piper & Norton depot to drop my trailers and hook up a return load. Looks like I'll be home on time. And before you ask, live in a little town in Ohio just like yours, because I can afford an acreage and horses for my daughters there. This is your last stop, kid, sidewalk outside the truck gate. There's a 7-11 across the street, so unless you get yourself run over, that's where the rest of your life starts."

 

He pauses, then reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. "The 7-11 is the only place in Babylon where you can buy a map that's worth a damn. Maybe it'll even show you where you need to go, if the city has a plan for you." He thrusts out his hand, offering a bill. The kid takes it. "To buy stuff, you'll need money. That's five Babylon sovereigns," the driver says. "Twenty bucks, give or take. Try not to do either 'till you've got the lay of the land." 

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Dean mentioned The Ultimate Super Mage (which is in PDF in Hero's online store). Here's the background of an NPC included in that book with origin in Babylon: Artifex (Created by James Ganong).
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Billy Doyle hated his miserable life. It wasn’t easy being a smart, sensitive kid in a South Boston slum where a musical car horn was most people’s idea of an uplifting cultural experience.
There were only two points of light in his gray neighborhood. The first was the library. It was small and as dingy and beat up as the neighborhood, but it had a few books on art that weren’t too badly defaced. The second was Uncle Button, who walked barefoot in the Boston winter and covered his stained and faded clothes with tassels,  ittle mirrors, and buttons. Uncle Button made and sold buttons from bits of metal, wood, and plastic he scavenged from dumpsters. He also told wonderful stories: stories from history, from mythology, from books, or all three mixed together— like how George Washington crossed the Styx to rescue Minnie Mouse from the Grand Inquisitor.
One day, when Billy was thirteen, he asked Uncle Button where he got his stories. Uncle Button answered, typically, with a story. He told how once upon a time a young man, who had been rich but now was
poor, had wanted to understand his own story, and if he might change its course. He walked the cold, unfriendly streets of his city, looking for meanings as much as for work and food. One day he saw a street that looked more inviting. In it were jugglers and costermongers, children playing, merchants weighing gold dust and women haggling over fish. That street led to another street and another. He found a whole city, secretly woven into the city he’d known before— a city called Babylon. From Babylon he traveled to many other lands, and in the fullness of time he discovered where stories come from. Uncle Button waved his hand. “Here.”
It was sort of a disappointing ending for the story. A few days later, Billy heard unfamiliar sounds from an alley. He followed the sounds to a street he’d never seen, bustling with fantastically varied people. “Hey, what city is this?” he asked a pushcart vendor.
The vendor looked at Billy like he was crazy. “The only city there is,” he replied. “Babylon!” Billy quickly looked back over his shoulder. The alley was gone.

Billy’s life in Babylon could fill a novel—one by Dickens. It was not an easy life. He saw Babylon’s rookeries and workhouses more than its palaces. After a year, though, Billy found himself as an apprentice to a conurbite mask-maker and then things were better. Two years later, Billy discovered the Fool’s Parliament and was accepted as a student of the Great Art of magic.
Billy proved an enthusiastic student. He didn’t miss South Boston a bit. As a dweller in Babylon, as a prospective member of the Fool’s Parliament, he invented a new life for himself, right down to a new name and a new appearance. Now he called himself “Art Long.” He looked forward to becoming a full member of the Fool’s Parliament and helping to build a new and
spritelier world.
And then one day his master, Mr. Lowjink, threw him out. “You’re a damn yes-man, Art! You’ve got nothing in your head but what I put there! Get some experience! Get some ideas of your own!
Get a life!

Well, that was a bit of a shock, but Art got over it. He now divides his time between apartments in Babylon and Los Angeles, taking advantage of the currency exchange rate between worlds. He manages a modest living by making fanciful, high-quality masks; he’s had a few exhibitions in a Los Angeles gallery and is a familiar figure in the L.A. art scene. As Artifex, Master of the Cosmic Craft, he also does his bit to build a new world of freedom and Artifice where everyone can make the life they please.
 

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And here are the conurbites Dean mentioned, from The Supermage Bestiary (also in the Hero store):

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The conurbites are a new magical race emerging in Babylon. Just as the elves of Faerie embody the unpredictable influence of Nature, the conurbites personify the urban environment. They dislike natural surroundings and unprocessed foods. Unlike the elves, who cannot understand any machine more complicated than a water wheel, conurbites love technology. Every conurbite has some technical skill such as Mechanics or Electronics, or a craft skill such as Blacksmith, Weaver, or Painter.
The innate magical powers of conurbites emphasize the control of force and matter. All conurbites can “morph” part of their body (usually a hand) into some sort of tool or appliance that they can also use as a weapon. (They can also “morph” their hands into the ordinary hand tools they would use in their chosen Professional Skill. For instance, a conurbite auto mechanic could shape his hands into wrenches, a carpenter could make hammers, screwdrivers, and small saws, while a painter would turn her hands into normal brushes or airbrushes.) Every conurbite also has at least two other magical abilities.
Like the elves, conurbites live forever (unless slain) and lack souls. Also like elves, they tend toward amorality. Conurbites, however, tend to be mercenaries rather than tricksters. Their attitudes to human religious codes range from casual ignorance to biting contempt. Instead, conurbites follow a general code of professional ethics: to do a good job, without regard to the nature of one’s client. Some conurbites are friendly and some are truly vicious, but almost all of them are company men, even when they are self-employed.
Conurbites look very human, mimicking the features and coloration of all the major human racial groups. Conurbites are all good looking, but their features are a little too regular, their skin too smooth, like plastic store mannequins. Their ears are flattened on top. In the last few decades, some conurbites have appeared with small amounts of metal, glass, ceramic, or even machinery in their bodies. A conurbite might have TV screen eyes, teeth made of cut glass, a circuit board with tiny winking lights set in the forehead like a third eye, or nails of polished metal. The appearance and abilities of conurbites may well change in the coming centuries. The race has not yet reached its final form (or forms), and no one knows what that form will be.
Conurbites dress in the high fashion of every district of Babylon, from Roman togas to power suits to acidwashed jeans with $100 sneakers. Some of them hybridize fashions, producing combinations such as business suits embroidered with Chinese dragons, silk cravats worn with studded leather jackets, or turbans with togas.

 

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Luther Black, aka the Edomite, founder and secret leader of DEMON, had specific plans for Babylon in connection to his apotheosis scheme, as laid out in DEMON: Servants Of Darkness p. 40:

____________________________________________________

 

In the plane of Babylon, man’s secular ambitions find their embodiment. The city of cities, grown great and huge over the last few centuries, is the echo of all the worldly cities man has built — or at least those mankind remembers. Its inhabitants are inordinately proud of this monument to man’s industry, artifice, and skill. They brag it is the greatest creation in all of Creation, and some even suppose that some day it could grow so great as to challenge the gods themselves.
Luther Black is of a different opinion. When speaking of the City of Man, he is fond of quoting from the Book of Revelation, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!... Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgement come!” And if allowed to carry out his plans, Luther Black shall be the judge, jury, and executioner of Babylon’s many crimes.
Black realizes the truth behind the claims of Babylon’s greatness. He has lived in cities for most of his two hundred years and knows them well. A city is nothing more than a dirty, grimy machine dedicated to glorifying mankind’s sins — an engine that empowers the prideful, gluttonous, and greedy among the ruling class, fueled by the toil and suffering of the helpless chattel who serve them. So it has been since the first cities, even in those times before man ruled the world, and to topple a city is no difficult matter. One must only give the power to commit violence to the disenfranchised.
Black’s plan for Babylon is twofold. First, he will send Morbanes to proselytize among the downtrodden who inhabit the Rookeries, the vast slums in Babylon where all the evils of one man’s dominion over others find a home. With promises of power the Morbanes will bring worship of demons to the masses of secular Babylon, making it, as predicted in the Revelation, “a dwelling place of demons, a haunt for every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird....” Second, he will have the Black Scientists rediscover ancient Ril’Syssor, now frozen in time below the Antarctic ice. In an age before history, mankind lived in servitude to the Elder Worm and his suffering was beyond comprehension. The discovery of Ril’Syssor, plus the proof of its antiquity and inhuman rulers — and, most importantly, mankind’s place in that city — will consume the hearts and minds of many people in the modern day, shaking their belief in mankind’s dominance of the world. With Ril’Syssor remembered, the other-dimensional analogue of the city will return to Babylon and corrupt it, transforming it from the City of Man to the City of Man’s Slavery.
As for why Luther Black is willing to go to so much trouble in the case of Babylon: if he allows the city to continue unhindered, it and its inhabitants will work to prevent him from bringing the Kings of Edom into the world. Such an event would spell doom for Babylon, and the city possesses enough power to oppose him if not neutralized first.

 

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Doing some research in The Ultimate Super Mage, I discovered another element to Babylon that wasn't reprinted in The Mystic World. I can imagine and sympathize with the possible reasons why it wasn't included, but IMO it has potential for some very interesting adventures spanning both Babylon and Earth. So I'll transcribe it below.

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Red Gold Society


This secret society flourishes in most of the Chinese districts in Babylon: Imperial Beijing, Pulp-Era Shanghai, Modern Hong Kong and Chinatown. The lone exception is Mao Industrial Park, representing modern Communist China, and the Red Gold Society is working hard to make inroads there, too. The Red Gold Society is both a cult and a political conspiracy, with a triple purpose. First, it fights Communist influence in Babylon. Second, it seeks Chinese domination of Babylon (and eventually Earth as well). Finally, it promotes traditional Chinese culture and religion. Most of the Society’s leaders are sorcerers and priests of the Chinese gods. These leaders often have public lives as businessmen, bureaucrats or aristocrats, although a few (like The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu) stay hidden at all times. The remaining leaders are Chinese gods themselves: either they pretend to be human or stay behind the scenes (except during worship services) as “silent partners.” No cosmic entities are involved in any way.
The Red Gold Society controls or allies with several other Chinese groups such as Tongs and Triads, using street gangs for muscle. Front groups include the Three Rings Triad, the Black Phoenix Tong, and gangs like the Blue Turbans, the Tiger Fists and the Jade Daggers. The Society, however, has no monopoly on Chinese organized crime in Babylon.
Not all the members and operatives of the Red Gold Society are human. The Society has recruited a variety of Chinese spirits and monsters from the Land of Legends and the Netherworld, including Chinese vampires, goblins and ghosts.
The Red Gold Society has already set up regular contact with Earth. The Jade Empress, an aged alchemist and last daughter of the Manchu dynasty who runs the Silver Scorpion Triad in Hong Kong, has been made a full partner in the Society.

_______________________________________________________

 

Most obviously, PC heroes could track drug or slave trafficking, theft and smuggling of Chinese historical and art objects, or the like, back to the Silver Scorpion Triad, but find themselves opposed by supernatural agents of the Red Gold Society, carrying the fight to Babylon. I could readily see the Society allying with Dr. Yin Wu, since their overall goals are similar, and their combined magic and resources may be enough to bring them about. Some of the gods Yin Wu worships could even be members of the Society.

 

The Red Gold Society could also be introduced through conflict between the Silver Scorpion Triad and the international criminal gang called the Red Arms, secretly run by operatives of the Cult of the Red Banner. As the conflict escalates, superhumans from both sides could be called into service, attracting superhero attention. The Cult may even try to subvert the Society in Babylon, to gain an astral beachhead from which to try to free their god, the Dragon.

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Among the many creative creature concepts Dean Shomshak fully wrote up for The Super Mage Bestiary, he included a few variant elementals unlike the traditional four, spawned from environments and substances created by Man rather than Nature. These elementals would be highly suitable to use in any urban environment where magic is present, which includes cities on Champions Earth, and most especially Babylon.

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Smog Elemental

 

A smoke elemental generated from smog becomes a somewhat different sort of spirit: a smog elemental. This elemental looks like a cloud of evil-smelling, yellow-brown fog. Wisps and eddies of smog suggest arms and a distorted face.
A smog elemental attacks by wrapping itself around its victim and forcing its stinking, corrosive substance into an opponent’s lungs. Despite being made of vapor, smog elementals can affect solid objects: they can grab and lift a man, shove, punch, and throw things with their foggy arms. In most ways, smog elementals are no more intelligent than other elementals. They have a low cunning, however, at making their way through the cities where they can be summoned; hence, they have Stealth and Shadowing skills.
Smog elementals have some weaknesses common to many spirits, and one unique weakness: they need to stay in at least moderately polluted air. Genuinely clean air actually causes them harm. They also cannot enter water because they have no way to push it aside.

 

Lightning Elemental

 

Lightning elementals shine blue-white. They move with incredible speed — their teleportation — and can hover or slowly drift through the air like ball lightning. They shock whoever touches them, of course, and can throw bolts of lightning. They have an innate connection with all electrical machinery: by casting a thread of their own current into a machine, a lightning elemental can animate and control it. [This is done via 15 STR TK, Only Vs Machines with Significant Electrical Parts, to manipulate their controls.]

A sorcerer can summon lightning elementals in stormy weather with the help of a lightning rod, or from any strong electrical source. Lightning elemental have little patience — they have to stay on the move, doing something. While grounding can destroy lightning elementals, their greatest fear is water, which disperses electricity.

Plastic Elemental

 

Those wacky technomancers may have finally discovered something useful: the plastic elemental. These are pretty poor fighters compared to other elementals, but very good workers. Given a few hours in which to putter, a plastic elemental can mysteriously pick up any Professional Skill at all, from Aardvark Wrangler to Zymurgist. Born of the one common substance that is entirely manmade, plastic elementals seem to be able to access the entire range of human skills. A plastic elemental won’t be a great carpenter, violinist, or financial analyst, but at least it will be competent.
In its true form, the elemental looks like a humanoid figure made of plastic — whichever plastic the sorcerer used to summon it. The elemental can take the form of anything with the same mass and change its color to fit. Plastic elementals never get textures exactly right, though: they always feel like plastic. Their solid plastic bodies resist most sorts of damage and heal with incredible speed; they survive environments that rapidly degrade other elementals. Fire, however, can easily destroy a plastic elemental. If a heat or fire-based attack does BODY to a plastic elemental, it catches fire and continues to burn. Until it somehow manages to extinguish the flame, the elemental suffers another 1d6 of Killing damage each Turn thereafter — and its Regeneration won’t help until it stops burning.
Plastic elementals enjoy being useful. Left without direction, a plastic elemental will take some useful-seeming-form (which may or may not fit in with the surroundings) and just sit. Unlike other elementals, they never spontaneously dispel themselves. In theory, a plastic elemental could remain on Earth for thousan
ds of years.

 

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For reasons of space, the Bibliography in Ultimate Mystic does not include everything that was in the Ultimate SuperMage Bibliography. The greatest loss, IMO, was Invisible /Cities, by Italo Calvino. More than any other, this short book inspired Babylon. It is indefinable and undescribable, but here's a passage that was especially inspirational:

-------------

The Great Khan owns an atlas in which are gathered the maps of all the cities: those whose walls rest on solid foundations, those which fell in ruins and were swallowed up by the sand, those that will exist one day and in whose place now only hares' holes gape.

 

Marco Polo leafs through the pages; he recognizes Jericho, Ur, Carthage, he points to the landing at the mouth of the Scamander where the Achaean ships waited for ten years to take the besiegers back on board, until the horse nailed together by Ulysses was dragged by windlasses through the Scaean gates. But speaking of Troy, he happened to give the city the form of Constantinople and foresee the siege which Mohammed would lay for long months until, astute as Ulysses, he had his ships drawn at night up the streams from the Bosporus to the Golden Horn, skirting Pera and Galata. And from the mixture of those two cities a third emerged, which might be called San Francisco and which spans the Golden Gate and the bay with long, light bridges and sends open trams climbing its steep streets, and which might blossom as capital of the Pacific a millennium hence, after the long siege of three hundred years that would lead the races of the yellow and the black and the red to fuse with the surviving descendants of the whites in an empire more vast than the Great Khan's.

 

The atlas has these qualities: it reveals the form of cities that do not yet have a form or a name. There is the city in the shape of Amsterdam, a semicircle facing north, with concentric canals-the princes', the emperor's, the nobles'; there is the city in the shape of York, set among the high moors, walled, bristling with towers; there is the city in the shape of New Amsterdam known also as New York, crammed with towers of glass and steel on an oblong island between two rivers, with streets like deep canals, all of them straight, except Broadway.

 

The catalogue of forms is endless: until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born. When the forms exhaust their variety and come apart, the end of cities begins. In the last pages of the atlas there is an outpouring of networks without beginning or end, cities in the shape of Los Angeles, in the shape of Kyoto-Osaka, without shape.

--------------

Dean Shomshak

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Here is one pf the cities described in Invisiible Cities. This book is an amazing source of inspiration for Fantasy cities, too.

-----------------

THIN CITIES 5

 

If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm's bed.

 

This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children's games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.

 

Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia's inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long.

-----------------

Dean Shomshak

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Back by complete lack of demand!

 

Beside Charlotte, her best friend, Nita Guzman, muttered, "Hey, let's go on a field trip to Babylon, City of Art and Man. It'll be fun!"

 

Charlotte didn't look at her friend, because she was busy not falling as she reached the top stair in the middle of the crowd of people getting off at least three subway trains and a bus stop far below their feet. She was following their Parent Volunteer, the impossible Eldritch. (Who was actually a bachelor, and substituting for Nita's dad, who was busy principaling.) In front of Charlotte, through a high, brilliantly clean blue-green glass wall, was the East Plaza, and, beyond it, the Library of Babylon.

 

Charlotte assumed. Honestly, if she didn't know it was the Library of Babylon, she would have thought it was a city. A very fancy city with a front of four story Gothic buildings giving way to shiny towers behind. The flow of the crowd, commuters with maybe more teenagers with book bags than usual, was heading to the west, through wide doors; but now Eldritch took the lead, taking them across the flow with more than a few "Excuse mes" and "I'm sorries," to doors set on the south side of the station. Once through, the crowd thinned out, and by the time they reached the wide, stone steps at the edge of the plaza, they were walking amongst a scant few grown-ups, mostly dressed on the tweedy side of fashionable, although there were a few outrageous eccentrics to make Charlotte feel less embarrassed for Eldritch.

 

At the top of the stairs, three flights up, a tall woman with a short, rounded pixie cut, small, hexagonal, frameless glasses, and a matched, ivory blouse and mid-calf skirt was clearly waiting for them, her eyes registering recognition of Eldritch at least.  "Class," Eldritch said, "This is Ms. Livremore, and she'll be your guide today." He turned around, squinting down through his Three-D-themed sunglasses, and said, "Ms. Guzman? Your nametag?" 

 

"Sorry," Nita said, clearly not sorry at all, as she pulled her name tag out and stuck it to the school blazer that her Dad had had to bribe her into. ("What's even the point of going to a regular high school if I have to wear this in public?") 

 

"So You are the Tatammy High School Special Criminology Programme Field Trip? Do you have names?" Ms Livermore's voice was quiet, yet crackled with authority, like a boss, Charlotte thought.  Librarian. Librarian boss. In descending order of clarity and enthusiasm, Rose, Twelve, Charlotte, Bruce, Brian and Nita gave the usual name, rank and serial number routine. That's my team, Charlotte thought to herself. "Well, if you'll come with me, we will get started on this tour, and maybe even answer some questions you might  have."

 

"Good," Bruce said. "Because as long as Auralia is in the wind, there's no time for sightseeing." 

 

Ms. Livremore pretended to ignore him, which Charlotte totally didn't get. As irritating as Bruce was these days, his voice was sexy enough to make you think that that was the reason that Bob Kane had ripped his Grand-Dad for the inspiration for that comic book character. You know the one. With the gadgets.  

 

Ms. Livremore led the group up to spectacular, story-high doors of metal banded wood in the middle of a façade of gray stone cut with niches filled with statues in pure white marble spectacularly touched in brand new paint, engraved with friezes, highlighted in gold or even bronze, and hung with a few extra-polite and orderly falls of ivy. "This is the library's original main entrance." She paused for a moment, probably because even she could tell that there was something wrong with a main entrance that wasn't actually being entered by anyone very much. "Nowadays most people go in through the big foyer around the corner."

 

"Surely not the  original original," Bruce said.

 

Ms. Livemore raked him with a librarian's glare. "I'm sorry," she paused for a moment, "Bruce, is it?"

 

"It's Drindrish-influenced human art," Bruce said, all cool, like that explained everything.

 

"Ah," Miss Livremore said. "You're young superheroes. With the time travel and such. You've seen Drindrish work before."

 

"Also, space travel," Nita interrupted.

 

"And it's not Drindrish. It's Drindrish-inspired," Brian said. "You can tell because the statues have pants."

 

I totally wasn't going to say, Charlotte thought to herself.

 

"And is, there, like, some kind of chastity belt for guys? Because those statues are missing a bit here and there," Nita added. 

 

"The human sculptors must have been ex-slaves," Twelve said. "They're symbolically emasculating the Elvish One Percent."

 

"Former Elvish," Brian said, a Faerie-American himself. 

 

"I love it when you talk dirty, Twelve," Nita said, because it had been, like a sentence since she'd interrupted last. 

 

Bruce cleared his throat. "But the point, is that we came here because you supposedly have a collection from the Old Red Aeon, and it ended twenty thousand years before the Drindrish Exodus."

 

"Exodus? Curious. I think you'll find more than you wanted about the King of Ivory in our stacks," Ms. Livermore said, politely avoiding saying 'Kal-Turak' or 'Takofanes.' "And in answer to your question, the Library did not put on a welcoming face in those days, and that wing of the building is behind later construction. In fact, it might be fun to take you by it. Now, if we can get on with the tour?"

 

Through the great door was an echoing hall that somehow gave off a feeling of dinginess in spite of being immaculately clean and in good repair. Just something seemed worn and old, in the stairwells to either side, the closed, glass-fronted doors in front of them, or the hallway of checked linoleum leading to inside doors immediately ahead. Most of the few people who came in with the group were climbing the stairs, down which spilled bright light and the sound of too many voices all trying to be quiet at once. Charlotte could just imagine a public library study space above, all computer desks and writing tables, filled with high school students studying for exams. (At least, that would be what they'd told their parents.)

 

But instead of there, Ms. Livremore led them through the main doors in front. As Charlotte walked through, it was like she'd passed into another building entirely, a vivarium, almost, with a glass roof, a glass outside wall facing a garden inside the library, fronting a featureless and ominous dark tower with its lowest windows facing them across the garden, three vertiginous stories, at least, above the garden visible through a good half of the floor, which was all shiny glass until it met a brushed metal seam, and polished white inside it. The outside view of the dark tower and its garden was so compelling that it took Charlotte this long to notice that on the side they'd come in, the glass-walled gallery was levered off the inside wall of a building that looked as though it reached at least five stories above them, and three more below. 

 

Charlotte had no idea how that could be on one side of the door, and the building they'd come through, on the other side. At last, she thought, place is living up to its hype. 

 

"This way," Ms. Livermore said, setting a fast pace for a woman in high heels with an unsettlingly bondage-y design to go with the thoroughly librarianly outfit she wore, otherwise. At the end of the hall, the group entered a gigantic elevator foyer. Ms. Livremore went to the elevator at the left end of the bank and pressed the down button.

 

Eldritch walked up to the central elevator and pressed the up button. Turning, he said, "Unfortunately, I have some research of world-shattering import to do myself, and so I will leave you in Ms. Livremore's tender care." He did his best to give them a threatening glare, which unfortunately was completely beyond the old hippy teddy bear, as far as Charlotte could tell.

 

"You're going to find out how to save the world at," Nita said, reading the sign above the elevator, "Centre for Research into Arboriculture, Forestry and Timber?" 

 

"Yes," Eldritch said.

 

"You know, before the trees take over the world," Bruce explained. 

 

"Exactly," the old wizard said. 

 

The elevator in front of them dinged open, and Ms. Livremore made an impatient gesture. The group crowded in, and Charlotte saw on the panel that they were apparently on the fifth floor, and were headed for the second. She thought about asking how that was even architecturally possible.

 

When the door opened, they walked out into a gorgeous wood corridor with polished hardwood floors and half-paneling of even more lustrous wood reaching up to plaster walls halfway up. A floor above them, translucent windows let in the glorious noon sun. Below the windows, doors of the same vintage, with smoke-glassed windows decorated with time tables and indecipherable cartoons, lined the wall. On the other side, though, the doors were incongruous metal, each with a conspicuous fire-door handle and an old-fashioned red EXIT sign above. Tiny little windows, just big enough to see if someone was opening the door from the other side, were lined with metal mesh. As they passed the third door, a man in tweed came out through one of the metal doors, and Charlotte caught a glimpse of a long, low-ceilinged room lined with gun-metal bookshelves crammed with books, some beautiful, some more pamphlets, in ugly, functional sleeves, some pierced for coil bindings, others so big that there was only room for two or three, lying flat on a whole shelf. 

 

Rose gasped. Charlotte summoned her ch'i and reached out with the speed needed to take her friend's shoulder before Rose darted through the closing door at Mach 1, leading to an incident involving in the book love that dared not speak its name. "I think you need a library card to go in there," Charlotte whispered." 

 

"But I want to. . . "Rose's voice trailed off as Ms. Livremore glared back at her. 

 

At the end of the hall, Ms. Livremore led them through a double door and into a long, linoleum-floored room that belonged in an office building of, oh, say, a hundred years ago. Well, the lights were modern, which Charlotte could probably appreciate more than most, but  on each of the ranks and ranks of desks reaching from windows on one side to the other, were machines of gray-on-gray, with ranks of keys and switches and dials, rolls of paper, card feeds, illuminated reading screens, foot pedals, and a discrete crank here and there. From each station, a metal pipe the width of a soup can reached up to the ceiling, joining a maze of similar pipes that fed into one extra-large pipe at the far end of the room. At each desk sat an operator, mostly women, but also a few men, all keying, punching, switching, cranking, and, occasionally, taking whatever results the machines fed out, inserting them in a little container, and putting that container into a door in their pipe. 

 

"A library is only as good as its catalogue," Ms. Livermore said. "And the Library of Babylon collects the literature of every human dimension. To be honest, its origins lie far back before the King of Ivory or the Graven Spear before him, before the days of the Drakines and before the world was split, indeed, before even the Silence." Ms. Livermore paused, as though waiting for an argument, but Charlotte had no idea what she was talking about, and neither of her know-it-all friends spoke up, either.

 

"How do you manage a collection older than memory, in languages not spoken, from forgotten civilisations? With catalogues! And with catalogues of catalogues! Each entry a precious distillation of the metadata of volume that might, itself, take a lifetime to read and another to master. Each only as good as the librarian who composed it, and none of them ever to be seen by human eye again without the most meticulous cross-referencing, the most assiduous citations! And on top of the catalogues, reference guides, like maps of the surface of a bottomless ocean."

 

Ms. Livremore paused, discretely dabbed the spittle from the corners of her mouth. Ms. Livremore seemed to be very passionate about catalogues. 

 

A moment of silence. Charlotte reflected on the snarks, bookworms, detectives, communists, and would-be gay blades in her party, and, well, she guessed this was her job. "That's great. Now, we actually do have a research project that we'd like to work on while we're here. Bruce has already mentioned that we're looking for an artefact from the Turakian Age called. . . "

 

Which was how they ended up, fifteen minutes later, in a high-ceiling study room, sitting at a table across a waist-high map cabinets from another group of teens wearing silver lame two-piece bathing suits, laced sandals of the same glittery material, and metal hats that looked like oversized bugles. Charlotte was very tempted to stare, if only because the alternative was a  book trolley laden down with the thirty volume Guide to the Turakian Collection and a thick pad of blank recall slips so that they could ask for the books they found. 

 

"'Let's go on a field trip to Babylon, City of Art and Man,'" Nita said. "'It'll be fun!'"  

 

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Going further into sources of inspiration, a couple poems by William Butler Yeats me develop the idea of a mystical City of Artifice. Here's the first, with the explanatory notes from the Norton Anthology of Poetry:

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Sailing to Byzantium[7]

William Butler Yeats

 

1
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--Those dying generations--at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

 

2
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

 

3
0 sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

 

4
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gol enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, pr passing, or to come.

 

7. Of the ancient city of Byzantium--on the site of modern Istanbul, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the center, especially in the fifth and sixth centuries, of highly developed and characteristic forms of art and architecture--Yeats made a many-faceted symbol, which, since it is a symbol, should not be brought within the limits of too narrowly specific interpretation. Byzantine painting and the mosaics which decorated its churches (Yeats had seen later derivatives of these mosaics in Italy, at Ravenna and elsewhere) were stylized and formal, making no attempt at the full naturalistic rendering of human forms, so that the city and its art can appropriately symbolize a way of life in which art is frankly accepted and proclaimed as artifice. As artifice, as a work of the intellect, this art is not subject to the decay and death which overtake the life of "natural things." But while such an opposition of artifice and nature is central to the poem, there are references to Byzantium in Yeats's prose which suggest the wider range of meaning that the city held for him. In A Vision, particularly, he makes of it an exemplar of a civilization which had achieved "Unity of Being"; "I think if I could be given a month of Antiquity and leave to spend it where I chose, I would spend it in Byzantium a little before Justinian [who ruled at Byzantium from 527 to 565] opened St. Sophia and closed the Academy of Plato. I think I could find in some little wine-shop some philosophical worker in mosaic who could answer all my questions, the supernatural descending nearer to him than to Plotinus even, for the pride of his delicate skill would make what was an instrument of power to princes and clerics, a murderous madness in the mob, show as a lovely flexible presence like that of a perfect human body * * * I think that in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic and practical life were one, that architect and artificers * * * spoke to the multitude and the few alike. The painter, the mosaic worker, the worker in gold and silver, the illuminator of sacred books, were almost impersonal, almost perhaps without the consciousness of individual design, absorbed in their subject-matter and that the vision of a whole people."

 

8. Out of the noun pern (usually pirn), a weaver's bobbin, spool, or reel, Yeats makes a verb meaning to move in the spiral pattern taken by thread being unwound from a bobbin or being wound upon it. Here the speaker entreats the sages to descend to him in this manner, to come down into the gyres of history, the cycles of created life, out of their eternity in "the simplicity of fire" where is "all music and all rest." (For "the two realities, the terrestrial and the condition of fire," see Per Amica Silentia Lunae,/ "Anima Mundi," § x.)

 

---------

Dean Shomshak

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The second poem is more cryptic, in part because it involves a symbolic system Yeats invented and explained in other works. I've read "Phases of the Moon" but never done anything with Yeats' system. (I found Blake's Zoas quite obscure enough.) But someone else might try using it. If nothing else, one might find some images to use for Babylon, especially for the Emperor's court.

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Byzantium[5]

William Butler Yeats

 

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night-walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains[6]
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

 

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;[7]
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;[8]
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

 

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the starlit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,[9]
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

 

At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

 

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

 

5. Under the heading "Subject for a Poem, April 30th," Yeats wrote in his 1930 Diary: "Describe Byzantium as it is in the system [that is, his system in A Vision] towards the end of the first Christian millennium. A walking mummy. Flames at the street corners where the soul is purified, birds of hammered gold singing in the golden trees, in the harbor [dolphins], offering their backs to the wailing dead that they may carry them to Paradise."

 

6. If the dome is seen as "starlit" at the dark of the moon and as "moonlit" at the full, then these terms may be seen as referring to Phase 1 and Phase 15, respectively, of the twenty-eight phases of the moon in the system of A Vision. As Michael Robartes says in The Phases of the Moon, "* * * There's no human life at the full or the dark," these being "the superhuman phases," opposite to one another on the Wheel of Being. Phase 1 is the phase of complete objectivity, the soul being "completely absorbed by its supernatural environment," waiting to be formed, in a state of "complete plasticity." Phase 15 is the state of complete subjectivity, when the soul is completely absorbed in an achieved state, "a phase of complete beauty." Thus, the world of "mere complexities," the world in which man is in a state of becoming, is banished from the poem at the beginning, as the "unpurged images of day" have been banished.

 

7. The soul and/or body of the dead. The comparison to the bobbin or spindle is at first visual, to describe the figure of the dead, wrapped in a winding-sheet or mummy-cloth, but it also emphasizes the idea that the soul may unwind the thread of its fate by retracing its path, returning to the world to serve as guide, instructor, inspiration.

 

8. The two lines have been read in two different ways, depending on which of the two phrases ("a mouth * * *" or "breathless mouths * * *") is seen as subject and which as object of "may summon." Taking "breathless mouths" as subject: mouths of the living, breathless with the intensity of the act of invocation, may call up the mouths of the dead to instruct them.

 

9. A symbol of rebirth and resurrection. In a book on Roman sculpture which Yeats is believed to have known, Apotheosis and After Life (1915), Mrs. Arthur Strong says: "* * * The great vogue of the cock on later Roman tombstones is due * * * to the fact that as herald of the sun he becomes by an easy transition the herald of rebirth and resurrection." In the next sentence she mentions another visual symbol which figures in the poem's last stanza: "The dolphins and marine monsters, another frequent decoration, form a mystic escort of the dead to the Islands of the Blest * * * *"

------------

Dean Shomshak

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I noticed back in Mystic World days where Dean was going with the "Byzantium" themes. Thing is, our imaginations seem to do cities differently. I'm the kind of guy who likes to point out when the texture of the sidewalk changes. Well, maybe Dean is, too, but I hope I bring something a little different to the City. 

 

“Woo-hoo!” Dora yelled. “They’re running!” Dora held her phone up. Squinting a bit, Charlotte could make out Jamel pinioning the human form of Black Fang while Kerry Washington gestured magically at him.  “Hood, represent!” She gloated.
 
“It’s a new day for race relations in the city,” Twelve said. “Not.”
 
“Does everything have to be about race to you guys?” Brian asked.
 
“What is with the denial from you, Brian?” Dora snapped back.
 
Charlotte waved her friend down. “Okay everybody, let’s just be glad that Takofanes’ forces are retreating here and focus on figuring out where the baddies took Auralia!"
 
Charlotte looked around the ancient Atlantean shrine. You'd think it would be mighty columns and marble flagstones, or whatever you called those floors of shiny white rocks, but instead it was all old and dark and grey. On the lost altar of Mater Matuta, the weird, wooden pillar that had held the sword Auralia lay fractured into splinters of ancient timber.
 
Charlotte looked over at Bruce. “This is kind of what we keep you around for, Ace Boy Detective. Where did they go?
 
"The Chrysophase in Babylon. They're putting in a hit on the Emperor."  
 
 Charlotte looked at Brian, who nodded.
 
"Okay, everybody, let’s stand real close to Brian while he do-do that voodoo.”
 
And, quick as the transition to Rome had been in the first place, they were elsewhere. “Hee,” she heard Dora say, “Car Char said ‘doo-doo.’”
 
And just like that, they were standing on the Esplanade on the banks of the River of Babylon, in front of the Forbidden City, the vast and rambling city within a city. Tower after tower of carnelian gem and green blue window reflecting the sun rising over the vast pavement of the Esplanade. From the city hall to the administration building to the archives to the grand museum and the Imperial Place down to the vast Technical University that guarded the Bridge of the Golden Horn, last before the Ringing Sea of Babylon. This was the place that governed the City of Art and Man, and wanted everyone to know it.
 
It was dawn here, just like the city they'd left, because that was the way that Babylon was. A jogger went by, young and muscular and incredibly fit, wearing tight jogging clothes and running like a tribal warrior chasing buffalo. 
 
Charlotte tore her eyes off him. “It’s a song! Okay. Esplanada. How do we get into the Forbidden City from here?”
 
“Look for a ventilation/emergency shaft.” Rose’s voice had that certainty that said that she knew what she was talking about. Even if sometimes she cheated and used it when she was pulling stuff out of her butt. “We’re . . . three hundred meters south of the east gate of the Chrysophase, should be some kind of covering structure right there.” Rose pointed at what looked like a tiny little ancient Greek temple in a little hollow cut out of the esplanade to be invisible except at their angle. 
 
Her finger-pointing direction, Charlotte noted, went through a clutter of yummie mommies pushing expensive strollers and carrying walking-around coffee in those artsie cups that companies that wanted you to think that they were way more exclusive than Starbucks gave out. 
 
Because of course there were Starbucks in Babylon. In fact, the only reason they weren’t on every corner in Babylon was that there was so much else that wanted to be on the corners of the City of Man. 
 
Great, thought Charlotte. Yummy mommies sucked as much as their nickname. If a bunch of teen supers went pushing through them on their way to save the world, it would serve them right if their perfectly gelled short ‘cuts got messed up, on account of their having their lives so together.
 
Except that other people had that idea, as a cluster of what looked like college kids wearing black matching shirts and pants with “Junior Leader Programme” blazoned on the back of the shirt. It wasn’t that they were being rude. It was that they were hustling. On the flank of the group, three of them were actually jogging to keep up on the wheel, and the short Asian girl in that group was moving faster than anyone should be able to jog.
 
“Why isn’t there a Junior Follower Programme?” Twelve asked. 
 
“Because it would be for losers?” Dora asked.
 
“In this world, most of us are going to end up followers. That’s the programme we need.”
 
“And you approve of that?” Bruce asked.
 
“No! I disapprove of leaders! Sorry, Charlotte. Self-appointed leaders. Programmes like that one—“ Twelve gestured at the oblivious college kids, “Teach them to expect the rewards of leadership, not the duty of its practice. Truth is, most of the time and for most purposes, social groups not only should make their choices collectively, but actually do. When you see how the world’s screwed up, and you know that the purpose of institutions is to do what they do, that’s when you realise that you have to reject leadership before you can have a better world. Be a follower. Together. And change the world.”
 
“This is the part where he starts talking about global warming,” Dora announced to the air.
 
“Well! It’s important!”
 
“No politics!” Dora announced. 
 
Bruce stepped in between them. “This has been a very interesting seminar on advanced anarchist practice. Now can we fight evil for a while?”
 
In front of her bickering friends, Charlotte tried to push through the knot of Moms with trailers and Junior Leader Programmers. Considering that a superhero in a black-and-white cowl was trying to get through the crowd, they seemed pretty calm, looking towards another cluster of random people coming around the temple-exit-building-thingie. Well, random except for the fact they seemed way too well-put together for dawn-in-the-morning. 
 
In the middle of the clutter, one guy put his violin case down and began to play something familiar. 
 
Charlotte tried to edge around them, heading for the little temple structure, but now there were even more people coming down the Esplanade. By now she was close enough to see the big, emergency-type doors. Nice. She figured it had to be locked from this side, of course.
 
Charlotte was seriously thinking about putting the elbow into the small cracks between way too many people, Hong Kong-style (awesomest Spring Break ever!), when she heard a tinkle of change on change from behind her.
 
A chill, incomprehensible, went down Charlotte’s back. She looked back. One of the yummy mommies had thrown change into the violin case, and then stopped to fish something out of her case. 
 
It was a violin, of course. She started playing it, the same familiar tune as the first violinist. The other yummy mommies had by this time formed a semi-circle around the two performers, looking like people who were waiting for Something Important to happen. One of them even pulled her baby out of the stroller and began dancing the baby, who was dressed in an adorable pink jumper, by her chubby little arms. 
 
Two of the Junior Leaders stepped up. The little Asian girl had produced some kind of mouth-blowing thing from somewhere, and now a third one came up on the esplanade from a ramp down into the plaza in front of the Technical University, pushing some kind of drum. But by this time more “random” passersby were congregating from all directions. More and more instruments were joining the performance, which was even more familiar to Charlotte now. 
 
Bruce stepped beside her. “Flash mob,” he spat out, mouth grim. Another group of “random” passersby formed up in a group and began to sing, Classical style. 
 
“I never thought anyone in Babylon could be so evil,” Charlotte said, trying for lightness. Truth was, she only found flash mobs annoying, not evil. But still. Not her business. They just had to stop the hit.
 
Except that now there were a couple of police on Segways gathered around the emergency exit. Charlotte elbowed over to them. “Hey, officers. We’ve got information about an emergency in the Palace.”
 
The nearest officer looked at her through frosted sunglasses that seemed ridiculously too dark for the dawn’s light. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. We can’t have people opening up restricted accessways. They’re restricted for a reason.”
 
“But this is an emergency! We have to get in there.”
 
“We’ve no information about an emergency in the Palace, Ma’am,” said the second officer.
 
“There will be soon!”
 
“As soon as we have confirmation of that by dispatch, we will open the accessway for you, Ma’am,” said the third officer.
 
“It’ll be too late!” Charlotte protested. “Why not just let us in now?” From the corner of her eye, Charlotte saw the Junior Leaders Programme Junior Leader step out in front of the group and begin conducting. He had the giant, oversized gestures of every self-important conductor ever, but mainly he reminded her of her band teacher, plucking and gesturing through “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and “Oh, Canada.” 
 
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” said the first officer. “A bystander might be hurt!”
 
“It’s a flash mob!” Charlotte said. “There are no bystanders! It’s all a put-up!” Too late, she realised that she probably sounded a little angrier than she ought.
 
Yet another person stepped around the emergency exit, so short that Charlotte could only see his legs through gaps and spaces for a moment. Her legs. 
 
Assistant Library Vice-Director Nazfre. She looked at Charlotte. “Tone, young lady! If you have a point, it will not suffer from maintaining an appropriate tone. If, on the other hand, you are being hysterical again. . .“ The librarian’s voice trailed off, dangerously.
 
“But you were kidnapped!” Charlotte protested, weakly.
 
“Appearances can be misleading. I have been attempting to secure the city’s legacy from reckless misuse. And, now that that is well in hand, we can all enjoy some music in a culturally uplifting setting.”
 
Behind them, the choral voices soared in triumph.
 
Charlotte tensed. If this came to a fight—
 
Assistant Vice-Director Nazfre jerked a thumb at the sky. Charlotte’s eye was drawn up. A police zeppelin had floated up from the still gloomy west. A turret, hanging ponderously from the gondola, flicked back and forth with an apparently randomness that somehow suggested that it was just this close to opening fire.
 
“It sure would be shame if some of these random bystanders caught a rubber bullet shot hard enough to affect a superhero,” one of the officers said. His mouth broke into a smirk for just a second as he said it, before reverting to I-don’t-care calm. 
 
“The Emperor will be dead in a minute if we don't--" Charlotte stopped. "I'm open to ideas."
 
“Relax and enjoy the music,” Dora said. “Everyone’s coming.” She pointed.
 
A gigantic balloon man was bobbing its way up the esplanade, multiple cords held by –mimes?—each struggling with their tie down, even though there didn’t seem to be that much wind to make the ballon man dance. Actually, it almost looked like the balloon was moving on its own while the flash mob kept getting bigger, the music louder and more triumphant. The people still looked like they were trying to be casual, but had somehow ended up taking just a bit too much care with their outfits.  The guy standing next to Charlotte clanging a triangle actually had foundation on, just the perfect amount. He looked, Charlotte realised, like Michael Cera.
 
And, grossest of all, when he noticed that she was noticing him, he gave Charlotte a total “Hey, babe, how you doin’” look. I’m, like, ten years younger than you, creepy-face, Charlotte thought at him, hard. Then she turned her eyes back at the immediate problem, the patrolmen she’d have to hit very hard if she wanted to proceed with her plan. (Which was not the world’s most brilliantest plan ever, being mainly to get into the fire escape stairs inside the concrete shed in front of her, and get into the most securre building in Babylon so she could stop a bunch of supervillains and some Migdalar from trying to kill the Emperor. But it was a plan.) 
 
“Hey, babe, can I have your number?” He even sounded like Michael Cera, and in the time she’d taken to side-eye Mr. I-want-to-be-Andrew-Garfield-When-I-Grow-Up things had gone from bad to worse. The gun-zeppelin that was still hovering overhead, for one thing, had grown a buddy. The light of the rising dawn was coming in so low to the horizon she hadn’t even noticed it flying up.
 
Also too, the police standing around the door in the vent shed were becoming more numerous, now, flocking around Director Nazfre. Nazfre wouldn't even make eye contact at all. Like she knew they couldn’t explain herself.
 
“’Scuze me,’ scuze me,” Charlotte heard from behind.
 
“Oh my God, it’s Scott Pilgrim,” Rose gushed.
 
“For the love of . . .”Dora trailed off, unable to think of what thing people might love that might make up for the fact that her friend liked that movie. Or those comic books. Whichever. 
 
Charlotte looked over, and right into the glasses of the Michael Cera lookalike. Which, as she watched, sprouted ridiculously fake, giant, half Ping-Pong ball eyes on springs. 
 
Director Nazfre stepped in front of him. “Really? You people are going to make an issue of this?”
 
A dancing motion in the sky caught Charlotte’s eye. The balloon man had come up, surprisingly quickly. And not all the people in the group below it were holding trailing wires.
 
Some were carrying bagpipes. 
 
This, Charlotte thought, was starting to get weird. And not just because their kilts were fluorescent orange shot through with metallic green. The orange, she thought, actually looked pretty good, drawing her eye down to some impressive legs. The rest, though. . . .
 
“Hit it, guys!” Michael Cera said. And they did. So, apparently, you could do London Calling on bagpipes. Charlotte would not have guessed that before she heard it, but, there you go, and went. 
 
The Michael Cera lookalike did some very-unpunklike dance moves at Director Nazfre.
 
“We do not—“ Director Nazfre began.
 
Michael Cera lookalike held his finger up to his mouth in an exaggerated shushing motion. As if summoned, two dozen of the flash mobbers nearest simultaneously shed their ever so-decorous winter coats and tied-just-so scarves to reveal the tight, clowny clothes that Charlotte associated with mimes.
 
Because, of course, their faces had, in the interim, somehow turned the painted shock-white of mimes. Clasping the trademark little bowlers on their heads as they advanced, the flash-mobbers-turned-mimes formed up in a straggly dance-off line behind the Cera lookalike and began advancing, with disco-boogie style spins and flourishes, towards the police. It was all out of tune, and style, with the punk bagpipe music behind them. 
 
And, in the sky, the balloon man’s jiggly, random, windblown dance had somehow brought him and his trailing lines into a tight embrace of the police zeppelins. Somehow, seagulls were perching on every wire tightened level, and their calls began to penetrate the music.
 
With dancing mimes somehow penetrating their lines, the police began to fade backwards, towards whatever stop position they had, far behind the emergency exit, Charlotte was glad to see.
 
“I do not recognise your, your, lack of authority here!” Director Nazfre yelled.  “The Shadow Cabinet will hear of. . .” but whatever else she had meant to say was lost in a sudden gust of wind, one that, somehow, blew through the ever-rising, ever more triumphant orchestral music of the flash mob, sweeping it into discordant oblivion. In the midst of dancing mimes, fleeing police officers, and now bagpipe players slam dancing without breaking what passed for the tune, Director Nazfre stood straight and impassive, as though hoping that a solid, impassive glare would save the day. 
 
The Michael Cera lookalike swept into the air, pulled down a Power-Up and karate-kicked them flying into the air like in some lame movie.
 
Oh, right. Scott Pilgrim. She wasn’t very impressed with his moves, either. 
 
And he landed, looked over at Charlotte, and said, “Can I get your digits now?” 
 
Charlotte looked over at him and narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, no. I don’t think so. Shouldn’t have dumped Knives in the first place.”
 
“What?” He said. “She’s crazy!”
 
“You bad-mouthing my cousin? Bugger off!” 
 
“Hey!” Brian shouted. “How come when I do that joke about all the Wongs being your cousin, I get glared down?”
 
Charlotte gave him a quick glare down. 
 
Dora wrenched open the emergency door with a golden, extended forcefield hand.
 
And then Charlotte was in the lead, her feet slamming on the first landing as she vaulted down the entire first flight of the steel-lattice steps of a spiral fire exit that wound down a concrete shaft. “What the heck was that?” She yelled behind her.
 
“No need to kill yourself, Char-char,” Rose said from in front of her. “Action hasn’t started. It’s Carnival.”
 
“It’s what?” Charlotte said, take a more normal step off the landing down onto the next flight.
 
“What happened upstairs. See, there’s two official political conspiracies in Babylon. The Shadow Cabinet is the conspiracy of order, authority, and maybe oppression; and the Fools’ Parliament is the conspiracy of revolution, riot and maybe terrorism. The Shadow Cabinet is popular with government and the police, and is pretty much in charge where things are all organised and professional.”
 
“Your kind of people, Rose,” Charlotte said.
 
“Yeah, like you’re little Miss Wackypants, Char Char. Anyway, wherever the Shadow Cabinet is getting a little too high on itself, like, I guess, when it tries to stage an assassination in the Forbidden City, the Fools’ Parliament declares a Carnival, which is like Mardi Gras on steroids, and everything falls apart.” 
 
“I told you we just needed to relax and enjoy the music,” Dora said from behind them. 
 
“You knew this was going to happen?” Bruce asked.
 
“No! Well, had a feeling. Did you?”
 
“Actually,” Bruce said, “Yes. Once I figured out who the Emperor was, and what this was all about.”
 
 
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1 hour ago, Lawnmower Boy said:

So I noticed back in Mystic World days where Dean was going with the "Byzantium" themes. Thing is, our imaginations seem to do cities differently. I'm the kind of guy who likes to point out when the texture of the sidewalk changes. Well, maybe Dean is, too, but I hope I bring something a little different to the City. 

 

Well, sure. The point of game writing is to make something that other people can make their own. And you've done that very well!

 

Dean Shomshak

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