[Part two of my fantasy short story. You can read the first part here]
Breaking out of the streets into the dead ring was always something of a jarring experience. There was a strict cut-off point to where people could build, and with the necropolis being so beautiful, people built right up to the boundary… and then some. Houses, shacks, shops, balconies, turrets and sheds jostled for position on the shore of the dead, reaching up like a man-made cliff face.
Where most cities got denser the closer to the centre you got, in Gyre, the tightly packed areas were at the extremities. This over-crowding gave the city and thick crust, that from the outside appeared like an impenetrable maelstrom of windows, balconies and roof tiles. Only when you were mere steps away from this bizarre boundary could you see the narrow and ramshackle lanes that penetrated the rough surface like cracks in ancient bark .
Veil was currently weaving his way through such a crack, like a woodlouse leaving a log. He squeezed passed playing children, dodged rolling drunkards and ducked under optimistic tavern signs swinging in a gloom that made it impossible to read them. Each step he was beset with obstacles and new navigation problems, but the smell of clean air and fresh grass told him he was close to the boundary.
Ahead he could see Tamela having no such difficulties, weaving through the chaos like a leaf on the breeze. She was far smaller than he was, having the build of a 12-year-old girl despite being at least twice that, and slipped between, under and over the hazards and distractions with ease. Elves benefited from long lives – roughly double that of other humanoid races – but their brains matured slower and their capacity for learning was much slower. Meaning if they looked 12, they were likely 24, but with the brains of a 12-year-old. A balance of sorts.
As you got closer to the edge of the metropolis, the natural light struggled to penetrate the maelstrom of dwellings. The sun’s rays met resistance from all the walls, roofs and balconies – it was like the urban sprawl was cowering from the glare. Doubly shaded, the ground level languished in twilight during even the brightest part of the day. At night, without the benefit of a flame of some kind, it was like swimming in ink. With your eyes closed.
And then the light burst in. He was out. As he stood, with his eyes screwed tight to let his night sight retreat somewhat, he could feel the welcome sun on his skin and a crisp breeze caressing his shoulder length hair and his leathery skin . Here at the edge of the sprawl, the humidity and rankness of the city still tugged at his senses like a beggar tearing at his clothes. It was almost as if the city wanted him back in its clutches.
Veil squinted out from beneath his eyelids, the needles of late morning sun still lancing into his retinas. He could see he was a little way away from the northern gate and North Cross, the wide thoroughfare that made its way straight as an arrow from the city entrance to the centre of the city. It was mirrored by South Cross, East Cross and West Cross, all radiating out from the centre to their respective gates and quartering the city into four distinct areas. Veil was a little way into the quarter known as Tenbells, named after the place on the city clock face it occupied (the others being Toobuls, Fourbs and The Sevens).
Tenbells was predominantly a merchant quarter, housing many of the storehouses and trading firms that kept the city supplied with food, clothes and arms, and brought much of the commerce to the gates that kept the city functioning. As you drew nearer the outer edge of this quarter, the economic areas gave way to the dwellings of those that benefitted from those economies. The rich, the powerful and the corrupt.
Luxurious stores that traded with Gyre’s luminaries and the rich visitors that came to do business with them, peppered the area. The rich preferred the upper balconies of Gyre’s outer rind, giving the best view of the Minute’s and no view of the heaving masses that thronged below. This left the street level free to be occupied by the best traders in the city.
These were squashed together, like everything in Gyre, but the interiors bordered on palatial, with sweeping staircases and vaulted balconies (second storey, no higher) looking out across the tranquillity of The Minutes. Today however, these highly prized viewpoints were overlooking a group of Militia who in turn were overlooking a gruesome corpse.
[Let me know what you think in the comments below. I’m new to this, so any feedback would be much appreciated]