The City of Magic – Chapter 19

The Trial

“A
way with him, away with him!” the crowd cried.
“What mockery! Shall we not even have a trial?” Sin cried.
“Away with the enemy, away with him! This is our verdict!” the crowd cried.
Sin signaled and a loud cymbal clanged. The crowd paused.
“The verdict shall follow the trial!” she declared. “Our Archenemy shall be rightly denounced, and the judgment sealed by our seven governesses. It’s our turn now, and of the power of darkness. May Shadows prevail and may Magic and Sorcery obscure Reality; may the minds of men fail, and may Feelings and Fantasy enhance sweet Vanity! Let’s hurry on while the mouse is hooked to the trap! Let darkness prevail forever!”
The crowd chanted: “Hail Skotos! Hail Hamartia!”
A dark eagle flew and perched on a pole overlooking the stage.
The cymbal clanged again and a voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the first witness, the Lady Luxuria, for hearing!”
“Our Sweet Governess Luxuria!” a number of people cried out and sighed. A few young men fainted down as Luxuria stepped forward and the lights spot lit on her.
“You can now testify!” said Hamartia.
Luxuria smiled, bowed, and began:
“By the power of Your Highness, your servant rules over the hearts of the young and old. My scepter prevails over their secret places, and nothing is left untouched, nothing unturned. By me are men made fearless to work or to war. By me is their innermost being kindled to worship and adore. My charm of Sensuality is the antidote to Suffering. I could exterminate Suffering forever; except it were for this Stranger. For, he called himself by the name of Light and roved our streets attempting to stir up insurrection against me and my Council. He called upon my people to shun me and spurn my scepter. He called me a deceiver and called on my people watch against me and to turn to his narrow way. Of course, he hasn’t prevailed; for, the people, most of them, could see the emptiness of his appeals. And those of them that went after him for a while soon gave up and returned back to me. Yet, he doesn’t give up his denunciation of me and my rulership. And by doing that he has spurned your authority, Your Highness, and so deserves extermination forever. For why should one who stands opposed to our Kingdom be allowed to go on in his opposition when we have the opportunity to stop him?”
“Do you have anything to say, Stranger?” Sin mockingly asked.
Stranger remained silent.
“Governess Luxuria finds nothing in Stranger that promises hope of subjection. He is a total opposite. Next!”
The cymbal clanged and the voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the second witness, the Lady Ira, for hearing!”
The crowd sat was silent. Doubtlessly, there was much fear of the fury of this Governess. Ira stepped forward as the spotlight shifted to her.
“You may testify now!” Hamartia said.
Ira looked at the blazing sky with her fiery eyes, then turned to Stranger and cried making wide gestures: “May the flames of Inferno burn with hotter infuriation! May fiery hail descend with utmost indignation! Let every fire that could ever be kindled bundle in now to make the sharpest flame to tear down his body and wipe out his name!” She paused and panted. “Why should I even accuse Stranger? Is he worthy of an accusation? Is he any threat to me? Yet for the sake of this trial, that our Majesty’s will might be accomplished, I testify against him! Why doesn’t someone give him a mask too? We know his other names very well. Hasn’t he masqueraded through our territory calling himself Meek and Gentle? But, I say he is Weak and Brittle. See how despicable he looks with his head sunk on his chest. He is the same one. He is our Archenemy, He is Stranger!”
“Yes he is, yes he is!” the crowd began to shout. Ira smiled and returned to her seat.
“Next!” Sin called.
The cymbal clanged and the voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the third witness, the Lady Avaritia, for hearing!”
Lady Avaritia stepped forward in her golden apparel. She looked despisingly at Stranger and commenced at Hamartia’s behest,
“He came to my district in the garb of a merchant, a businessman. He said he was searching for the Pearl of Great Price.” She laughed. “He said he was willing to pay anything for it. Well, of course, this raised a big concern in our markets and the demand curve did suffer as merchants shifted to treasure hunting. Mad they all became. It could have drowned us all if I hadn’t intercepted and aroused our citizens to focus on things of immediate interest, on things that can be touched and transformed into gold and silver now. Because even if there was something called the Pearl of Great Price, it certainly wasn’t worth selling all one’s possession and buying it in. For, that would jam the wheels of our economy and bring the market to a standstill. And, then what would one do with such Pearl? Trade it for anything else? What else could one trade it for? The very idea of such a thing is a threat. Hadn’t we commissioned Robbery and Inflation to arrest him? But, he somehow disappeared into nowhere – into now here [She smirked]. It’s wonderful to watch him in chains. Citizens of Avaritia, look now at the misery of this merchant who came to our Province calling himself Generous! What does he have that he could even claim to buy anything of us? We find nothing of any value in him. Generous, won’t you like to strike a bargain and save yourself? See, he cannot bargain for his own face, how could he have deceived you about the Pearl of Great Price! Away with him!”
“Away with him! Away with him!” cried the crowd.
“Okay, next!” roared Hamartia.
The cymbal clanged and the voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the fourth witness, the Lady Gula, for hearing!”
A large and stout lady stepped forward. It seemed that the spotlight was too insufficient for her.
“What do you have to say against this man?” Hamartia asked.
“Not very much,” she replied. “I only wish this trial will soon be over; for we have a real good banquet after this.” Her lips seemed to almost drip with saliva. “This fellow here looks quite tasteless and a worm in the fantasies of daintiness. It is better we soon finish off with him and return to the delicacies of our new Black Berry Beer and Chilled Chilly Cheer. Okay, as for this man here; he had almost disrupted one of our banquets; for he stood in the Square and began calling to people saying, “Ho, come to me you who are hungry and thirsty and I will give you the Bread of Life and the Water of Life so that you will never hunger or thirst anymore!” Many of them went to him; and when they asked him where the Bread of Life and the Water of Life was, he said, “I am the Bread of Life and my Blood is drink indeed!” [She laughed]. So, they all turned away from him. But he still called saying, “Do not labor for Gula’s table! Turn away from her!” So, our officers ran after him. But, he disappeared. I don’t think he is good for anything. Is he even a strong enemy? Let him starve!” She turned away and returned.
“Next!” Hamartia called.
The cymbal clanged and the voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the fifth witness, the Lady Invidia, for hearing!”
Invidia stepped forward and began immediately, “Your Highness, Stranger might not be strong, but he is dangerous. Every option against your sovereignty is a danger – not to you, Your Majesty, but to the people of this City. He presents an alternative and calls it the only true one. He calls himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life and promises that he’ll deliver people from the power of this City of Magic and take them all to his illusory city. Our people aren’t gullible; and he isn’t convincing enough with his talks; but, he is persistent and resistant. He says that the realities of this City of Magic are no match to the realities of his own city. He even tried to demonstrate it by making a fig tree wither by just saying a word; and some people joined the rebellion and are spreading the persuasion that his talks cannot be empty because his words have power that Magic can’t prevent…”
“This is enough!” Sarx roared “Let’s invoke Thanatos and see if his powers can really cross the one who surrounds this City and is heir to all that is!”
“Our Prince shall be invoked” interrupted Hamartia, “but not before we’ve heard from everyone. You can continue on, Invidia!”
“Our forces were after some intruders whom we caught and imprisoned. But, when they went to get them for the trial; behold, it was Stranger. We weren’t sure what had happened; but, we are very much sure that the enemy had walked himself into the hole; and, we must strike the iron while it is hot.”
“What has happened to the others is a matter of secondary concern; perhaps, he got himself in when he got them out. Whatever, Magic has given him into our hands and the destiny of the others will be sealed with him.” Sin looked straight at me now and it felt as if her eyes burnt into my soul. She continued as if singing to a sarcastic tune, “Magic has drawn one in, Magic has drawn in another; both had to perish one way or the other.” She turned her eyes at Stranger and then called, “Next!”
Invidia receded. The cymbal clanged and the voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the sixth witness, the Lady Acedia, for hearing!”
Lady Acedia walked clumsily forward and stared irritatedly at Stranger. “Not very much that I would like to say here: words are precious, so I’ll keep them few. I’m not sure how great a threat he is; because, the rumors have only been that he is quite nonsensical and absurd in his statements. It is said that he calls out to people promising them rest, and then says that they should be yoked together with him and plough the field. That makes no sense either to me or to my people. I suggest that he’s crazy and that we just banish him away…. But, in case, he might return again with more thorny absurdities; it would be even better to just blot him out!”
She was quick to retreat. Sin smiled. “Next!” she called.
The cymbal clanged and the voice cried out, “The Court of Her Highness Hamartia summons before the jury the final witness, the Lady Superbia, for hearing!”
The crowd cheered with a heavy applause that lingered on for quite a while. Superbia stepped forward. Some people in the crowd began to grow hysterical. Some women and men fainted. The cymbal clanged again, and then there was pin drop silence. Superbia spoke,
“We want our citizens to be pillars and building blocks of this City. They can only be that when they know who they are and are confident about themselves. My throne lies in this Central Province and I protect the heart of this City. Our Province has been appointed to host the Royal Palace of Queen Hamartia and King Sarx. [There was a hoot of applause from the crowd.] Those who rise against our City are rightly punished here and thrown into the Dungeon of Sarx or transported to the Land of Thanatos. We know of the great revolt that Religare once initiated. Now, he and his friends are in chains to serve as we desire. There are a few more loitering somewhere around; all of whom continue to derive strength and vision from some mysterious influence that Stranger wields over their hearts. This has been proven by a number of investigations that our scholars have made. Some of the rebels have awaken and returned; now totally astonished that they were at all taken by the deception of what he calls the Way. He teaches that the Wheat must fall to the ground before it can be fruitful and calls the people to follow the Path of Sacrifice, another of his names. Some of our people asked “What about Superbia?” He said “Deny her or she’ll destroy you!” [She put her hand on the hilt of her sword] May Your Majesty only give me permission and I’ll prove whether denial and destruction don’t go together.”
At the moment, Sarx and Sin and all the officials stood up. The eyes of Sin blazed with fire. “We’ve heard it all!” she cried. “Yes, we’ve heard it, we’ve heard it!” the crowd resonated. Sin motioned and the great bronze bell clanged. The crowd shushed. “What shall we do to Stranger?” Sin roared. “Away with him, away with him,” the crowd shouted, “Tie him to the pole, bring him down!” they all clamored. I shuddered. The great bronze bell clanged again effecting an immediate silence. “Listen to our verdict then,” she said, “Stranger, you have been weighed and measured in the Balances of Sarx and the counts of our Governesses are heavier against you. We pronounce you guilty of violating the Rules of this City, guilty of conspiracy against this City, and guilty of instigating a rebellion against the Principalities. You have declared war against the state and justly deserve punishment. I, Hamartia, the Empress of the Seven Provinces, will now by myself deliver you into the hands of Thanatos.” So saying, she moved forward and extended her hands. A bow and arrow were brought and Sarx placed them in Hamartia’s hands. A bowl was brought before her. “That’s the Venom of Thanatos!” someone muttered. Sin dipped the tip of the arrow in it, fit the arrow in her bow, and lifted it up. The seven governesses stood on either side of Sin, four on the right side, and three on the left, beside Sarx. The guards tied Stranger to a pole and quickly abandoned. A great part of the crowd seated behind him evacuated their seats. The crowd stood up. “What’s happening?” Inno asked as we stood up too. “Close your eyes, Inno!” Sophia said almost choking. My heart thumped faster and I felt the tears begin to fog my sight. The crowd waited with baited breath. Stranger looked straight into Hamartia’s eyes. A tall dark shadow appeared on the left side of Stranger. The crowd whispered, “Thanatos!” and shushed each other.
Just then a lightning figure erupted at the right hand of Stranger. It was equally as tall as Thanatos. “Do you really want to do this?” the voice questioned Hamartia, “Will Sin strike Love? Aren’t he and I one?” I recognized the voice. It was the voice of Law. I also noticed that he held a book. It was the red book that he had given me, which I had lost. My heart pounded faster. “What’s happening? Who’s this?” the crowd cried out. Law exploded like a cracker and then dissolved into the body of Stranger. “The Code of the Universe!” Sophia exclaimed. I saw astonishment in her eyes. I turned at the Court. There was hatred in the eyes of Sin. She pulled the string. “Into your hands, Thanatos,” she exclaimed and let go off the arrow. I cried, “No!” and jumped out running towards the center. But, I knew it would be too late. The flying arrow struck Stranger in his heart. The world halted, and then there was a quake. Then there was a bright light that exploded from the body of Stranger. And, as his body began to rip apart, beginning from there I saw that the Court began to fall apart into several pieces. The City of Magic began to tear away like an old, withering, scenery poster crumbling down all over giving way to the light that oozed out from the Stranger’s body. The light shot to tremendous brilliance and then struck my body like the softest lance piercing through me in an out. This takes time to write but all this happened within a wink of the eye. In an instant I sensed all my garments ripped apart as the bright light enveloped me all over; the rags vanished like fuming powder beaten into thin air. The light was so strong that I couldn’t even see myself anymore. Then there was a light boom (such as the one that occurs without any sound) and I covered my eyes.

“It is finished!” a voice thundered all over the place.

~ the end ~ 
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The City of Magic – Chapter 18

Superbia

W
e reached Superbia. The streets were flooded with people wearing masks of different forms. Yet, the masks on the faces of the people were usually not very dissimilar, and it seemed as if we were bumping into the same person again and again. It was not possible to recognize the true person behind the mask, at all, and we marveled that we knew no one. We were all here nobodies to each other, and the only reality, at hand, were the masks; the only relations, self-interest.
It appeared that there were two orders of patrollers here. One wore a dark purplish uniform and had the symbol of skull and bones embroidered on their arms. Underneath the skull was the word “Fear”. The other wore a light purplish uniform and had the symbol of figs and needles embroidered on their arms. Underneath the figs and needles was the word “Shame”. All of them wore masks.
A siren howled and the crowd began moving in the direction of the Center. The darkness seemed to get thicker as we drew closer towards the place. But, there were stronger lights, increasingly in number, that attempted to cast light despite being mockingly blocked by a strange perpetual fog, which I heard some people calling Vanity here. We reached the Center, entered the Court, and groped through to find an empty seat. A clownish mask on my right stared as if incredulously at my face. His look made me feel guilty of not wearing the mask. I drew the hood over my head. But, Sophia was unperplexed; so was Inno.
The Court was an open stadium lit by scores of strong flood lights. The huge space in the center looked like a place for various events including sports of different kinds. On the view opposite us was an elevated section, obviously reserved for the dignitaries. The place was filled with shouts, whistles, and chattering noises. Just then a loud trumpet call sounded and the stadium dropped to silence. An officer announced the arrival of the Queen, the King, and the Lady Superbia and commanded the crowd to rise. Hamartia entered hand in hand with Sarx. They were followed by Superbia and her entourage. As they took their seats, a trumpet sounded an arpeggio and the officer signaled the crowd to be seated. He then annunciated with a loud voice: “Your Excellency, the Queen, and Your Highness, the King, under the auspices of our Lady Superbia, we present before you the First Marvel: the Incredible Logician!”
A man with flowing white hair appeared in the center of the ground. The crowd was filled with applause. He bowed to the dignitaries and waved his hand at the crowed. The crowd cheered even crazily. He then pulled a wand out of nowhere and waved it in a L shape once; suddenly there was a burst of sparks and the whole stadium turned dark with only a soft spotlight drawing our eyes centerstage to where Logician was.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “It has been erstwhile believed that we are all very different from each other and that there is something that is even wholly other than each of us here. Let me demonstrate to you that this is false, and that the reality is that we are one with each other, one with this City, and one with the King and the Queen; and that there is nothing else apart from the oneness that we are.”
The crowd cheered again. Logician then stuck his wand back into his holster and raised both of his arms, with palms turned outwards, as if to stop something approaching him from both sides. Suddenly, two huge blocks of cuboid boulders appeared on each side and began pressing at him. The crowd watched with bated breath. A few cried, “He’s going to be crushed! Oh no!” Then, a wonder occurred. As the boulders began smashing him in, Logician began to shrink between them. In a flip of moments the boulders smashed into each other with a loud thud and Logician disappeared. “Where’s he gone?” someone cried. “He’s obliterated!” someone else whispered with pain in his voice. Suddenly, the boulders shook, and then steadily moved away from each other as a tiny figure of Logician grew between then and resumed to its original shame. The stadium was filled with applause and shouts of joy.
Logician dropped his hands and the boulders disappeared. He then pulled out his wand again and summoned the fastest runner in the stadium. A tall youth ran towards him. A thin runners’ track was lit on the ground. Logician waved his wand and a tortoise appeared on the track, which immediately started to move forward. The youth laughed at it. A man sitting below laughed, “So, a race with a tortoise; he should have beckoned me!” Logician now motioned the youth to run; but, the youth derisively just walked. Then, a wonder occurred. Every time the youth reached to a point which the tortoise had reached earlier, he discovered that the tortoise had inevitably already left that point before he reached it and had moved forward; in that way the tortoise was always at an advantage of a place ahead of the youth. Now, the youth began to feel frustrated at this and began to run; but no matter how hard he tried, every time he reached a point that the tortoise had crossed, the tortoise was always ahead of him. The youth lost the race. The crowd was spellbound. Logician announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, this looks incredible to you, but this is what reality is all about. All divisions, additions, subtractions, and multiplications will disappear the moment we realize that they are only superficial. Fundamentally, everything is one.” Saying that he bowed, and the crowd went crazy with applause.
The stadium then darkened and lit up again. Logician was now gone. The officer then announced again: “Your Excellency, the Queen, and Your Highness, the King, under the auspices of our Lady Superbia, we present before you the Second Marvel: Drunken Master!”
At that moment there was an inundation of the sounds of drums and percussions, timbrels, and the sounds of anklets on dancing feet. Then, there was a burst like a deep thunder coupled with a crashing electric bolt and it was, suddenly, all still. A tall youth, with a flowing black beard and a loose robe with sleeves falling all over stood at the center. He had a turban on his head and wore gold and diamonds on his neck and wrists. There was a deep drunkenness in his eyes and he stood rather unsteadily. In his drunken stupor, he cried: “Nonsense Logician! Away with your nonsense! I’ll show you a better way to be one. Just efface your consciousness with the ebriety of the deep and then watch the world fall to your feet!”
Suddenly, horsemen appeared with drawn swords and spears in hand. They rushed towards Drunken Master. As the first rider darted towards him, the Master swayed like a piece of falling garment; then, revamped, dexterously slipped his hands around the wrists of the rider and pulled him off the horse. He then swirled around and jumped behind another rider and took command of the horse. Spears were hurled and were deftly caught in his hands and flung back sending the riders back to their stables. Then, an amazing thing occurred. Drunken Master stood upon the horse as it galloped in the heat of its pace. He remained motionless and poised as the horse sniffed, snorted, and swallowed the wind. Then, he spread his arms and the horse came to a halt. He alighted and stepped to the center. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have demonstrated before you a very simple principle: Reel to keep your heel!” He then went forward, bowed to the dignitaries, and left the stadium. The crowd cheered uncontrollably.
Presently, a dark figure appeared beside Hamartia. It was fully masked with pitch darkness hidden under the black hood drawn over its head. “Look into the scroll,” whispered Sophia.  I took it out and unrolled it. There were only three words carved with a death-like form: “Mystery of Iniquity”. Then the words faded like falling leaves and these words emerged: “To put an end to Sin!”
The officer announced again: “Your Excellency, the Queen, and Your Highness, the King, under the auspices of our Lady Superbia, we present before you the Third and the Final Marvel: Stranger!”
The sky growled, flashing red tributaries; it seemed as if its eyes were all fire. There was a stir among the crowd, but they all calmed as they saw Superbia moving towards the podium. She elegantly ascended and authoritatively waved her hand; the crowd slumped on their chairs and there was pin drop silence.
“Let the sky spit fire and brimstone; let its volcanoes grind, ignite, and turn to ashes; Sin shall reign though the heavens roll away, and we’ll invade the stormy sky!” So saying she clenched her fist against the sky and the crowd rose up in applause, shrieking “Hail Hamartia! Hail Sarx! Hail Superbia! You have power over the sky and the land!” Superbia waved her hand again and the crowed fell to silence. Then she made a signal and the drums beat heavily as the lights began to move towards a rostrum in front of the stage. They halted on a man who wore a bloodstained purple coat on his body. He seemed to have been badly beaten as there were bruises on his face and blood stains on his shirt. He stood with his head bowed. Inno closed her eyes and hid her face in Sophia’s bosom. It wasn’t easy to congeal tears. I turned aside and found a mask on an empty seat. I grabbed it and put it on my face; then sobbed. At that moment the cheers increased; so, I looked and saw that the other six Governesses of the City had also now arrived and were seated on their seats on the stage.
An announcer announced “Behold the Man!” to which the crowd cried, “Stranger, Stranger!”
“Citizens, listen!” Superbia began, “Our vigilance has finally overcome the enemy and taken him by surprise. We now have our Archenemy, Stranger in our hands. You all now stand both witness and jury to this trial. The Queen herself shall preside over this judgment, in the presence of all the Governesses; the verdict of the people shall be final. May we rise in honor of Her Highness, the Queen Hamartia!”

The crowd rose cheeringly and clapped their hands in mad applause for so long that our ears rang. Then, Hamartia, seated on her seat, raised her finger and the crowd dropped to silence. “Let the trial begin!” she ordered.

The City of Magic – Chapter 17

Sloth

“W
alk!” she commanded, “and never look back!”
I thought this was crazy. But, I followed.
“Hey you, where are you running away?” the drunken voice continued to call.
“Faster, faster!” Sophia called.
The dust from the ground swirled up and filled the air as we paced on. We coughed as we walked. The drunken man had begun singing:
“Why do you run beating dust in the air?
Why do you hurry as if the world needs your care?
Hey, the world’s on its own, buddy;
You ain’t gonna make it any inch better!
Come, enjoy some rum, be a good bum;
Let’s gulp some spirit and get into the gutter!”
We had already moved around the corner as his voice began to die away, and were moving ever quickly on. This street looked even more disordered with dusty cloths, paper, and dead leaves strewn everywhere. The dust in the air was congesting my nose as I sneezed. “Stop a little!” I implored Sophia as I halted behind. She walked a few steps ahead; then, whirled back and coming up to me took Inno from me saying, “Give her to me! We can’t afford to stop here. This is the doorway of Death!”
“Do we need to be moving so fast?” I argued. “Where are we going anyway?”
“Don’t ask questions, now! Just follow!” was the only explanation she gave; then, she turned and began walking away again.
“Won’t a slower pace get us out the same?” I cried as I sneezed and coughed. She had already disappeared far ahead. “Haven’t you learnt that the slow and steady win the race?” I shouted.
“Yes, it does if there are unsteady hares in the race; at the moment, the quick and steady win the race!”
A strong hot gale now drew in from somewhere spinning whirls of dust in the dim street and blurring sight altogether. A gust of dust filled my nostrils and I sneezed profusely. I saw a door and pounded on it hard. The door instantly unlocked and I jumped in locking it behind. For a moment I stood there all silent with my eyes closed and my lungs trying to clear up and inhale some dustless air.
“Come over here!” someone called and I opened my eyes. The room was some kind of a messed up, murky pub; and, it smelt of strong liquor. Drunks were strewn here and there all over the place, some lying on benches, some lying on the floor. “What kind do you want?” I heard the voice again and turned to a man behind a desk. He seemed to be the bartender.
“Oh nothing, I’m sorry, I’m leaving,” I replied. He looked curious. A strong hand pushed me from behind towards the desk. A hand yanked off the purse that Piety had given me and handed it over to the bartender. He grinned. I felt powerless. The bartender drew a bottle of liquor and poured it into a glass placed before me. “Drink,” he said, “and forget your malady!” I rose up to leave.
“Give me back my money!” I demanded.
“Your money?” he asked sarcastically. Then he slapped the purse on the desk and looking threateningly in my eyes grunted, “Go away!”
I grabbed the purse and got up. At that moment, the heavy and tall man pushed me down. I got up again, but he pushed me back down. “Well done, Torpor!” the bartender cried, “Let’s see how he can get away!” I rose up again and was felled. I now felt listless and haziness settled on my eyelids. Yet, I knew that I must get out of here. “This is the doorway of Death!” I remembered Sophia had said. “Where were they now?” I thought to myself. I tried to rise again and saw the heavy hand descend. At that instant, my hands gripped the pendant and pierced his hands. He shrunk back with a cry of pain. I jumped up and darted out of the room with such a loud cry that would have rocked their stupors down.
Outside, the dusty winds were more severe, but I didn’t linger. I rushed. I ran. I slipped at one place; but, I flung myself up and ran. To my astonishment and horror, Sophia and Inno had disappeared. I cried out in desperation and searched like a mad man. But, I found them nowhere. I began to sweat profusely, and then I realized that the rags inside bit my flesh hard. I decided to run faster and so ran deriding the wind and despising the pain. I coughed and sneezed but I ran. Finally, I reached an intersection. On the other side was the Market. I crossed over and entered in. I sat on a bench, put my head in my hands, and wept bitterly. Then, I remembered the scroll, and instantly pulled it out. “To Superbia” were the only words written on it. At that moment, a bus pulled by. “To Superbia, To Superbia!” a man announced. I got into it.
A seat on the front was empty, so I went and sat on it. My eyes were red with tears. I deeply regretted my foolish whimsical action that had led me to this state of desperation. A grizzly old man came and sat by my side.
“Coming from Acedia?” he inquired.
“Yes, the dust is great there,” I mused.
“Yes, it is,” he nodded.
I turned away and looked out of the window. The bustling Market showed no signs of being unusual or abnormal. Everything seemed to be in place.
“Can’t understand how these trouble-makers get in,” the grizzly man continued, “but, it’s interesting to know that the Chief of them has been caught and will be executed soon. Are you also going to the Amphitheatre to see the trial?”
“What trial are you talking about?”
“Come on, you can’t be ignoramus! Don’t you know that the most wanted Stranger has been captured and, following the trial, will be handed over to Thanatos? He was actually captured in Invidia.”
I was shocked. “When did that happen? How was he captured?” I asked.
“They had been hunting for him for very long now. Invidia captured him when he seemed to have ventured into her Square. A little bash-thrash in her dungeon and the Arch-Enemy was unmasked, humiliated, and uncovered.”
I became speechless and a dark gloom settled on my face. He looked at me and laughed. “You really can make a face,” he said, “You won’t need a mask at Superbia, I guess.” He laughed again. I didn’t understand what he meant. The bus stopped at the beginning of an intersection. The man stood up. “I must get down here to finish some work,” he explained, “Guess we’ll meet at the theatre; but, I don’t think we’ll recognize each other (he chuckled); my mask is the best camouflage in the City ever.” He briskly got away.

I sat there stunned and confused. As passengers were getting into the bus, I put my face in my hands and wished that the world just blacked out. Someone came and sat on the seat beside. I didn’t care to look—now, I could bear company no more; but, I had no place to escape and be alone. Then, I felt a little hand on my shoulder. I turned to look and saw that it was Inno. She was smiling at me from the lap of Sophia. Tears filled my eyes.

The City of Magic – Chapter 16

Stranger

S
ophia had managed to rip off a sewer lid and pulled us into it. It all happened in the twinkling of an eye, and the barred lid was closed. We were curved now in a 4 feet deep gutter that had, by now, a foot of rain water gushing through. I held Inno in my lap so that she could sit straight and we kept our heads close to the lid. The light from the headlights grew near and then disappeared completely, leaving a fading trail of humdrum from the vehicles that eventually stopped. It was all dark again. I wondered that my life had all been underground. If hiding was all reality; then, the world did look like a cursed reality now. How long, I asked. What wretchedness, I thought. The sky still flashed and gurgled, spitting rain on the ground: it did look like spit on our faces looking up the barred lid above.
Sophia softly pushed the lid up and made sure that it was all fine. Then, she climbed up and pulled us back onto the road. I marveled at her agility, but was not afraid to follow her lead – she acted even before I could summon ideas for doing some proper thinking.  Her action nailed me into submission; for they always seemed to be well calculated.
We moved swiftly and found an intersection. The trucks had come from the right. I looked towards the left. “Not that way,” said Sophia, “We’ll go the way that they’ve cleared.” We moved on. We slipped into a dark street, walked through few turns of various streets and found ourselves in a market place. The weather had become dry here and the heavens above were as dark as nothingness. The walk we were on opened onto a square where there were a number of people. The number of people did gradually rise through each street that drew close to the shopping area. Intriguingly, I noticed that the lamps here had a certain green shade. It also seemed that the people here were a bit obsessed with snakes; for these creatures, in their numerous varieties, served as the ground pattern for all commodities here: shoes, suits, and snacks alike.
Sophia slowed her pace, and I followed suit. From the distance, I could now notice that a number of policemen were stationed at the square. Two of them were approaching from in front of us. They wore dark green uniforms and had serpent badges on. “This is Invidia, the territory of Envy,” Sophia whispered. The two policemen were discussing something that seemed to be too important to them; they just passed by us without even throwing a glance. I felt relief.
We reached the square where a statue of the Lady Invidia stood. She was seated on a coiled green viper. A plank on the serpent had these words carved:
INVIDIA
Venom of the Earth
Four lampposts stood on the four corners of the square, each bearing a serpent’s head with green light blazing from its eyes. The first was called Self-seeking; the second, Blindness; the third, Hatred; and the fourth, Rottenness. I had a severe desire to just get away from this appalling and disgustful sight. At that very moment, it seemed like the scene in front of me was torn apart like a canvas of painting, and a fiery dragon pierced through and leapt onto the middle of the square out of nowhere. Seated on it was Invidia. Her dazzling eyes spotted us and within moments we fell on the ground bound with strong twigs. I looked at Inno and saw that she was bound as well. Immediately, officers surrounded us and sprayed a green gas on our eyes. Then, everything was pitch darkness and I fell unconscious.
I thought it was rain, and then I realized that it was water being thrown on my face, and was puzzled that I hadn’t yet awakened from this dream, as it seemed. I looked up and saw that I was in some kind of a stony dungeon; some officers stood there smiling at me sarcastically. One of them looked at me with utter disgust. I looked and saw that Sophia and Inno were still tied; they were unconscious.
The disgustful looking officer pricked a baton under my cheek and asked, “Who else are with you?”
I answered nothing. My mind reeled with the nauseating stench around. The officer was disgusted. “Get that thing out!” he shouted. “Spit it out or you’ll be impaled on a pole with your friends before all eyes!” another one cried. They looked extremely violent and vulgar.
“Please leave me alone for some time,” I cried out loud. Inno and Sophia awoke with a startle. They officers looked stunned. “Let me deliberate a little; then, I’ll tell you what I wish to say.”
They looked at each other and nodded. “Think, then,” the officer said, “before your brains are spilled out!” He then moved out and the others followed suit one by one. I lowered my head in an utter sense of desperation.
“Don’t fret!” Sophia said, “It’s impossible for darkness to overcome light!”
“But, where light finds no way to enter, there darkness reigns. That is the kingdom of darkness!”
“If it were all dark, then why would I have a ray of hope?”
I found no answer. I felt just confused. I could think of no way out. For the first time I felt that evil had triumphed over man through the venomous sting of envy. At that instant, the only dim lights that lit our dungeon sizzled off and died, and it was all pitch dark. Inno cried with fear. “Don’t be afraid!” Sophia tried to strengthen her. I moved in every way possible to break off the strands; but they held me tight. I struggled and I felt Sophia struggling too. Suddenly, it seemed that somebody stood close to me. 
“Who is it?” I cried.
There was pin drop silence. I could hear the panting of Sophia and the cries of Inno.
“Tell me, again, who is it?” I cried out.
There was again a deep silence. Then, something touched my strands and they broke off loose. The next instant, I sensed Sophia and Inno stand on their feet too.
“Run away!” a voice calmly said, “I’ve come to take your place.”
“Who is it?” I asked groping around with my hands.
“Get away from here and do not worry about my name; for, in a little while you shall see me again!”
“No, tell me your name?”
“They call me Stranger here. That’s all you need to know for the moment. Now, run!”
“Where do you live?”
“I have no home here.”
“What do you do?”
“Ask the ground beneath your feet what it does,
Ask the firmament above your head what it does,
Ask the daystar that fills the world with energy what it does,
(Now hidden from your view; yet, not annulled)
Ask the heart that beats within your breast what it does,
Ask the cold rain pouring from the fiery sky what it does;
Who has appointed it? What office does it hold?
Is it paid from the treasures of Hamartia?
Or does Sarx marshal it like he does the forces of wild Desire?
Then you shall know that my office is not from below;
Neither am I esteemed by this estranged world of woes.
Sin finds nothing in me, nothing worthwhile but profuse enmity!
Do not ask any further; for this is not the time to ask and answer;
Run! Run away from here! Stop not to look back,
Turn neither to the left nor to the right! Just run, run away from here!”
“Where to?”
“Just run away! Away now!” he cried and his voice struck us like an electricity; in an instant we were jolted out of the dungeon and landed on a street.
The street was very dimly lit and littered with all kinds of refuse. There was a far heavier stench here than ever that we had to cover our olfactory senses. The houses were all dilapidated and on the verge of crumbling. People walked clumsily on the road; most just sat idle on the ground. A giant tower loomed at a little distance and upon it were inscribed the words,
BABEL
Easy Come Easy Go
We three stood there marveling with our mouths parted wide. The walls of this part of the City, including the tower, were made of stones and resembled the back of a tortoise shell.
“This is Acedia, the province of Sloth,” muttered Sophia.
“What did Stranger mean when he said that he had come to take our place?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But, one thing I know: he had come to save us.”
“I hope Stranger is safe,” Inno spoke with a deep pity in her voice. I took her in my arms.
“Yes, he’ll be safe dear,” I said, “If he knew how to get in, he sure knows how to get out as well.”
But, who was this Stranger after all, I wondered to myself. Deep inside I had an assurance. Providence had not failed us one more time.
“If you promise to share with me some, I’ll show you the best liquor shop just a little away,” someone suggested from behind. I was about to turn back, but Sophia gripped my hand.


The City of Magic – Chapter 15

Sophia

I
 found myself in a wet, dark, chill, lonely street. The clouds above growled in anger dropping cold perspiration down on us.
“That was a narrow one, isn’t it?” a heard a familiar voice. I turned around and saw the little murmuring man that I had seen earlier. He now had a pleasant face and his hair was groomed well backwards.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Seer,” he replied. “They also call me Prophet. I’ve stayed behind to only let you know that it will not be long any hence. Your liberation draws closer. I’ve only come to prepare the way. When the One is come, then you shall see the light.”
“What shall I do now?” I asked.
“Keep walking. Keep moving until the coming of the One and the Great Battle of the Day!” he said.
“How long… how long shall I have to wait?” I asked, but at that moment he zoomed out of sight like a TV tube switching off, without waiting to hear, leaving behind a deep and hollow darkness.
I looked right and saw a dim light at a distance. I began walking in its direction. Now, as I walked I felt that I was being followed by someone behind. So, I turned back, but I found no one. So, I strolled on. But, the sense of being followed grew greater; so, I stopped again and turned behind staring into the dark, hoping to catch some form. But, I found none. 
“What’s wrong?” Inno gently asked.
“Nothing,” I replied.
“Then why do you stop?”
“I thought there might be something behind us.”
“I can hear some sound… tap.. tap.”
“Yes, let’s go,” I replied and walked hurriedly towards the dim light ahead. But, the faster I moved, the faster did the sounds of the tapping and the footsteps increase from behind. We reached the end of the alley, crossed the road and stood there waiting for the next.
A decent looking man wearing dark glasses emerged out of the darkness. He looked harmless, yet aggressive at the same time. He walked with a lifted head, his chest thrust forward, and held a walking stick in his hand, which I surmised to be the source of the tapping sound. He walked groping for the ground; by which I discerned that he must be blind. He held an umbrella open in his other hand, which did slow his motion.
He crossed the road and came to where we were.
“Who is he?” Inno asked.
“Oh, so there’s really someone there?” he remarked. “A sweet little one, I presume. And who is your friend there?”
“I’m her uncle, Sir… just two of us here. It does seem to be a rather very lonely road,” I answered.
“Yes, it is. All the citizens were summoned to the Gula’s Banquet, you know. She has arranged a magnificent treat for her subjects; so, they have all herded to stomach as much as they can… By the way, if you haven’t got an umbrella, please do come under mine.”
“Thanks,” I replied as we slipped under it, “Are you on way to there?”
“Yes. I just stayed back because I didn’t want anybody to feel I was dependent. Once I knew they were all gone, I started on.”
“Do you think you’d find the way?”
“No problem. My brother, Sensus will soon be here to pick me in his car. We have a program there together anyway.” He smiled. Then, turning half-way towards me, he continued, “I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Imagination or Imagino in short, and I’m a magician by profession here. The people of this district are horribly given to surfeiting; so, I recently came up with a magical invention that would cure their surfeiting by means of magical surfing. A pouch of this powder added to any dainty brings all the power of it to sublime effect; for, what kind of experience is there more magical than that of devouring, for certainly in it is the entirety of experience realized…. Ah! A man would give up any pleasure for the pleasure of the perfect bite…., the smell of sourness that makes your tongue run its water down; the sight of the hot sweet that makes you forgetful of all promises ever; the touch of delicacy with the finger, the lips, the tongue; the insatiable taste of every serve; the sound of the gulp, bite, and the crunch… Truly, eating makes the perfect man! ” I wondered that a blind man could speak like that. But, then I remembered that in the world where I had come there were some blind men who had been the best poets indeed.
As he was speaking, a car arrived and the driver, whom I instantly could recognize as his brother, called out with a large brimming smile, “Bellies for berries and berries for bellies, Imagino… Is there anything else worthwhile?”
“Chilies for cherries and cherries for chilies, Sensus… That will make it quite worthwhile,” Imagino shouted back and they laughed together. Then, Imagino turned to me, “My brother Sensus prepares a special drink which he calls Black Berry Beer.When I add my magical powder called Chilled Chilly Cheer to it, it suddenly bursts into colors, which though I can’t see, I quite visibly know, for my vision has greater power than those who aren’t blind. You should see it when it happens. Drink that and the rest is ecstasy.”
“What kind of ecstasy? Do you know that?”
“Well,” Sensus interrupted, “It helps one see things with closed eyes, you know.”
“You mean just like in a dream?” I asked.
“What is that?” Sensus asked back, a bit puzzled.
“I mean they can see, eat, drink and enjoy things that aren’t really out there,” I mumbled.
“Well, how do you know they aren’t really out there when you really enjoy them,” Imagino countered.
“And, how do you know what you’re enjoying now is more real than what you enjoy then,” Sensus asked.
“You spend money for what you eat now; but, you perhaps don’t for the other,” I answered.
“That’s it! That’s it!” Sensus burst into laughter, growing red and pointing his finger at me. Then, he chuckled and added, “So, that’s what you call a dream, ha! But, well you do have to spend you know, for they get to eat all those things in their “dream” because they pay us for having it earlier, you see,” he raised his brow in a you-see-how-intelligent-I-am way, “It’s like pay before you eat; and we profit thereby!” He laughed again. He certainly seemed to have a remarkable sense of fun. I wondered what it meant to have a dream within a dream. So, they sell dreams, I thought.
“Are you coming with us?” Sensus asked.
“Yes, aren’t you coming with us?” Imagino joined in.
“No,” I replied, “We are in a hurry to meet someone.” I certainly wished to stay away from any more dreamy entanglements.
“Oh, you shouldn’t miss our first shot…” Imagino sighed; then, handing over the umbrella into my hands, he said, “Okay, keep this one. You’ll need this. May be, I’ll get it back from you later on…” he said, “if we meet!” He got into the car and they grunted off leaving a smoky trail behind.
The heavens above roared and burned aflame. I had forgotten that I once knew the starry sky. This City had none. There was a sparkling train of flashing lightning and a loud peal of crackling thunder. Inno clutched me hard, as I pinned myself against the wall. A blue-white spark of fire fell right in front of us, but was absorbed immediately by the lamp pole nearby. The lamp burst and fell to the ground. A dim light flickered from a cleaving between the stones in the lower side of the wall. I bent down and touched the part and was amazed to find that the whole block of stones felt as if it could be moved. I tapped the place with the umbrella and heard a hollow resound. I put Inno down and tried to remove the block. It shook a bit and then was off. A dim light lit the room inside. It seemed that this was a room without a door, walled over, with only the camouflage of a stone tiled plank as the way in and out.
Suddenly, from the other side of the road I heard the sound of someone running. There were some men shouting aloud, “That way! That way!” and I heard hasty footsteps rushing towards us. It suddenly hit me that I was probably spotted by them. Quickly, I placed Inno in and entered the room; then, turning over, I drew the tile and shut it hard. I didn’t want the light inside to spill of the gaps gathering suspicion in the dark; so, I turned off the lamp. Just then, in a thud, the tile pulled out and something crawled in pulling the tile on again in the swiftest agility. Hurried steps followed and stood out. “She was just here!” one man shouted. “Disappeared in the dark!” another cried. “Divide the search!” one called. They divided and we heard the footsteps fade away.
“Stay where you are and move not an inch!” the voice of a lady commanded us. I held Inno tightly. An orange rod glowed slowly in her hands softly lighting the room. “Don’t move,” she repeated as she crossed over and switched on the light. The room had one chair, one table, and one bed. The lady we had just now encountered looked young and strong. Her face bore the marks of intense thoughtfulness. She removed her coat and , as she hung it on the back of the chair, I noticed that she wore a blue checkered shirt and a pair of navy blue trousers. She gave a quick glance at us, then sat on the chair. The room evidently belonged to her.
“What are you both doing here?” she asked, with an air of indifference.
“We got caught in the rain and, seeing the tile pull off and the light burn, we crept in to save our heads.”
“I see,” she noted. There was disbelief and apathy in her tone. “That was quick,” she said, “and, you already even seemed to have found some friends here. Isn’t friendliness quite incredible when showed by the blind?”
I was shocked. How did she know that I had met Imagino? Did she also know anything more? She seemed to have noticed my consternation and answered it, “The umbrella… it is not something that is usually stolen; of course, it was lent and lent by the blind Imagino, for it belongs to him. Also, you haven’t been quite drenched; so, you’ve not been long in the rain. Apart from that, I am intrigued that had to turn the lamp off.” She looked piercingly in my eyes.
“It.. it,” I was trying to reply something yet unknown when Inno interrupted: “We’re looking for my Mommy and Daddy,” she said. Some people had been trying to hurt us, so we must hide. Do you know where they are? Can you help us?”
The lady’s eyes turned to her and now I saw her face grow soft. “Come here child,” she said in a gentle voice. Inno ran towards her. “So, you’re the two escapees,” she remarked at me, though looking at Inno and smoothing her hair.
“Yes,” I mumbled hesitatingly.
“I am Sophia, the sister of Imagino and Sensus,” she said, “and, I am an outcaste of this City. Hamartia tried to use me at first to develop schemes of words against the One. She even got Imagino and Sensus fully on her side. Imagino is now her Chief Magical Advisor and Sensus is the Palatial Pleasure Advisor of Sarx. However, when I found that what Hamartia required was something against my very self – I couldn’t do it without contradicting myself – I refused. So, she commissioned Adikia, the Commander of the Armies of Injustice, to imprison me in the Dark Island inside Superbia. Adikia was on way to arrest me, when I managed to get away from Superbia and hide here in Gula. I am one of the enemies of the State.”
“Her mother’s name is Piety, and her father’s name is Faith,” I explained about Inno.
Sophia gave a startled look. Then, looking again at Inno, she said, “I saw them when they were brought to trial. It was a mockery. There is nothing called a trial here; it is just a one-sided game. The aim is annihilation.” She knew that Inno wouldn’t understand the terms.
“Where do we find them now?” I asked.
But, she had stood up, and placing Inno down, rushed towards me, snatched the umbrella off my hands and opened it. It was quickly examined, then placed on the table. She pulled her coat on; then, motioning us to be silent made signs for us to move out. “You must be tired; take some rest!” she said. She killed the lamp and we were out on the pavement, right across the road, and dashing off. From a distance, we heard the grunts of vehicles. We stopped and looked. They were on the spot of the room we had just left. A little examination by the agents and soon the tile was ripped and officers were inside.
“Friendliness is not always the signature of a friend,” Sophia quipped as we rushed on and off the scene. The umbrella was a trap.

We hadn’t moved more than a few meters ahead when we realized that the trap was an insidiously well managed one. The headlights of two trucks and six motorbikes suddenly appeared from a turn ahead. They were closing in at a rapid pace. We looked back and saw that the road had been blocked by the officers. I was looking at the angry sky and wondering. Suddenly, there was a clanking sound and I was pulled down along with Inno.