The Black Knight is a denizen of the city, I know this, but it’s the first time we’ve actually met. Although I’ve dodged past his feet in fetch form at least once. He is the knight of my childhood stories, strong and kindly. He refers to me as his child as if I were but a small lass and he my grandfather.
Unlike those that have come before him he asks what it is I have left to give. I have to stop and think about that a while.
In the end I place the black rabbit at my feet and I undress to hand him the shift I am wearing. It is, for this purpose, my armour. I use clothes to control how I am viewed, I use them as a weapon, or as a shield to make me vanish into the crowd. I use them to protect me.
He does not avert his eyes, but he smiles. Crows feet appear at the edges of his eyes. A good choice, he tells me, as we do not know if armour continues to serve its purpose if we never remove it to see.
The Artist waits at the third gate. Small, slight and kind-eyed. He teases gently, wanting to know if it’s now Ms or Mrs Bones, or do I skip the honourifics entirely being that I have only one name. We share a cigarette* as we talk about my mental health and the role it plays in my life right now.
We talk for quite a while.
When he asks for my jacket, and takes with it my mental health struggles, the fears I have for my future living with it, the motivations and identity that arises around. He doesn’t have to ask twice, if there’s a burden I am happy to live without then this is it…
And yet I feel oddly out of sorts and naked as I move on, through the gate and back onto the path.
*Weird fact: I smoke a lot when I’m dealing with spirits in spirit journeys, but I don’t actually smoke in meatspace. I’m asthmatic.
The path is exactly the same on this side of the first gate as it was on the other; Winding and overgrown with brambles and other unfamiliar plants. We come to the second gate rather quickly, I’m not sure if that’s a trick of my trance state or it is just a short walk, but regardless, it was quick.
If the guardian of the first gate was entertainingly familiar, then the guardian of this one is achingly so. The smile gentler than usual, the grey eyes soft, and the leather jacket as worn and battered as it ever was. He makes no pretence of authority and formality as he wraps me up in a hug.
“It’s about time, Bones. You need this, but you’re not going to like what I am to ask of you.”
And he talks, of witchcraft and spirits, of dependencies and paths lost, and of over complication for sometime… and he’s right. It’s hard. It’s hard to hear and harder to swallow when he hold out his hands, palms to the sky, and asks that I give him my witchcraft, my connections to the spirits, the Ancestors, and my ability to influence.
It is impossibly hard to submit, to comply with this request, but I consent. If I am to trust anyone with this part of my being then it is he. He gently removes a silver torque I didn’t realise I was wearing from my throat and takes with it anything that is not directly part of this working, this descent and return is no longer mine. I recognise it much later as the torc I wore on my wedding day.
There is a knight by the gate to the shining district. His armour shines, his blade is bright, his eyes are blue and his hair is fair. He is what a knight should be, to the eye. He holds his post in silence, unmoving.
Seriously, you can murder someone in front of him and he won’t twitch a muscle for them. Only reacts if you try to pass through the gates and are ‘unworthy’ (read, can’t bribe the sick fuck).
There is a knight by the gate to the crumbling district. His armour is rusted, his blade dulled, his eyes are blinded and his hair long gone. He is what a knight should not become. He holds his post in silence, unmoving.
Honestly, we’re all pretty sure he’s dead and is animated only by magic when someone tries to pass through the gate. He doesn’t need bribes, just pay your tithe.
There are no knights by the gates to The City.
If you are bold enough to pass through the mythical forest, and clever enough to survive the trip the gates will stand open for you.
If you are stupid enough to venture out into it unprepared, well far be it for any to stop you.
But you’ll notice, if you wander that way often (and so very few do), that the crumbling gatehouse is often lit warm by fire. Should you venture there you would find old men at their ease, simple blades kept keen, and armour long discarded for soft leathers and laughter.
His are soft, ink stained, barely calloused by anything heavier than pencil or tool.
His are hard and boney, scarred and calloused from gun grips and blade handles.
Or their eyes.
His liquid like, and so dark as to be black. They smoulder sometimes, and harden others but mostly the dance with laughter. They are warm.
His the colour of storm clouds, shades of grey that fracture and shift. They soften sometimes, and harden others, but mostly they are neutral, unreadable. They are not cold, but implacable.
We could juxtapose their domains.
His magic written in ink on flesh. Delicate hands make pricise works of art that represent, heal, strengthen, protect… He answers no prayers but will see you well cared for, for a price.
His magic is in the bullet and the knife if occassion must demand. His eye sees true, his breath steady and he vanishes quietly amongst the shadows. He is what answers when the sniper exhales and pulls the trigger – see my shot straight. He is what answers when the loved one prays come home safe.
Juxtapose these two, both small and slightly built. One short haired and the other long, one raven locked and the other silver though they are of age with each other.
This is going to be a little bit loaded with the personal. To start from the top this is regarding my practice and is the result of being gently pushed to get things down by the ones I work with.
[I’ve stopped to re-read this and have to laugh, I’ve set a few fictional stories in the city because it really is just that kind of place, and there’s no way to write about it without it sounding like it’s that kind of place… and yes I feel very awkward talking about this place, but I’ve been told to sooooo….]
The City is, I suppose you could say, an astral place. I’ve always thought of it as a place between. A bridge if you will between the human world and the realms purely devoted to spirits. Somewhere you can meet and make merry…
So an astral place would be a fitting description I guess.
The City itself is a vast place built into the side of a cliff that has a great but un-navigable crevice cracked through it. It’s streets twist and turn, often trailing into dead ends or opening out into large courtyards. The light is often dim, though in most areas there is a distinct night and day. The areas I am intimately familiar with include the UpCity, The Tower, The Twilight, The Bar Called Alice, The Red District and, uh, His place?
UpCity is where you’ll find most of the big name powers that have little to do with the rest of us on a personal level – The Lovers, Death, Birth, The Mother, The Father etc. They’re the big ideas, universal archetypes and they’re interesting but you’ll be better off finding someone smaller and better equipped for conversation if you want to get shit done.
The Tower is basically a massive clock tower, except it doesn’t measure the hour… or at least not just the tower. On this side I can feel the sudden change when the Spirit’s Hours begin, on that side it begins when the cogs in the clock turn over to a certain point. The tower basically measures the year in the way you have the traditional wheel and myths around it here. It casts a shadow that does not change. I’d say there’s no sun to make it change but the shadows everywhere else change constantly so… it’s one of The City’s creepier aspects to say the least.
The Twilight is the one place that the light never changes from a perpetual twilight. Funnily enough the Twilight is the area where the Clock Tower’s shadow falls. The math is pretty easy to do. The Twilight is a quieter area, relatively safe and mostly residential. Here you will find the ones I think of as somewhat kin to Saints. They’re not the big archetypical powers, but they have power over specific domains – Killers, Snipers, Midwives, Painters, Soldiers etc – and are often easier to deal with than the big powers. This area is also where you will find some of the more useful ‘guns for hire’ so to speak. Entities that will trade with you for somethings… just don’t come here looking for anything sex related.
For anything related to sex and pleasure you go to the Red District. The Red is one of my favorite places in The City. It’s loud and brash and dotted with alleys, whore houses and bars. Escorts, whores, addicts, pushers, entertainers and sinners of all kinds reside in the Red. It’s not a safe place, but you can find pretty much anything to please in this area and along with that you can find assistance with anything sex and pleasure related for the right price. Information comes at a premium here, and can be dodgy.
A Bar Called Alice is my absolute favorite place bar the place I reside so to speak. Alice is located on the far side of a large alcove which you reach via several twisting back alleys that smell of piss and dead cats. You have to duck the Rabbit and then get past the bartender to get into Alice… and then negotiate some pretty insane, very dark stairs, but the bar as cosy and warm, the bartender knows his shit and it’s the place you want for accurate information and directions to what can help you. Don’t forget to tip, and bring your divination tools.
His place is generally where I arrive, which makes it not useful to anyone but me as I have a long term relationship with Himself. It’s the world’s most run down place with rickety stairs, uncovered pipes, herbs and shit hanging everywhere and the worst lit kitchen in the history of forever, but it’s a place I can come and go from in relative peace and I’ve been known to retreat here when I’m distressed in day to day life as it’s quite peaceful. It’s located at the very edge/end of the city where it meets the great forest and it’s not a safe area to traverse unescorted.
The City itself isn’t and is a huge part of my practice. It’s where most my ‘people’ are located when I want to work. It’s from Alice that I pull my divinations. It has places you can learn and ‘people’ you can learn from. It’s easier, for me, to go to the city and work rather than pull energies through this world in some ways.
I shouldn’t have to say this for y’all to know, but this is a HEAVILY EDITED version of events.
He appears almost as soon as I close my eyes. I’m not surprised as he’d noticed my train of thought and been poking at me for the past few hours. He appears as he always has. Lean and sharp, the same scruffy platinum hair and too intense eyes… The same ease and quiet confidence I’m used to from our early encounters.
“I know what you’re here for.”
“Then what’s the price?”
“There are major powers involved, they may get to him first. I’m… small, in comparison.”
“Very well. You already know the price. You give him flesh.”
“I figured as much. Consider it done.”
“Would you rather he lived?”
“Only if he regrets ever being born the whole damned time.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do about that.”
He gives me a time frame, laughs and is gone. The one he spoke of appears and we talk briefly of what he has planned and how we will execute it. When is an issue, but we have a time frame for that to be sorted in too.