Darkness lay thick and unyielding; like a heavy mantle smothering from every direction at once. Pungent and prodding, the intense murk was sooty with the condensing smoke of a thousand fires, the only source of light permitted in the, otherwise, bleak city. As it curled in the streets and avenues, turning frequented ways into misleading paths that made even those most familiar with them turn about more than once to reorient themselves, layers of damp mist leached downward from the leaden sky. Out of the dimness that poured from the ashen buildings and sank from above, voices of discontent and misery echoed insidiously. Unmistakable cries of torment serrated the dense atmosphere; yet, from those same environs, delirious laughter also scathed into the brooding night, confusing the ear and twisting the heart with uncertainty and dread.
The city was rank with a petulant odor; sour and reeking from the scent of sulfur, which burned in the grates as the city’s chief source of light and heat. Drawing close in order to soothe the soul and extract some meager warmth or find any sense of direction meant breathing in the malodorous stench that twisted the stomach until it could be born no longer, chasing the one seeking momentary solace back into the shadows. There was little warmth in the darkness; an unshakable, seeking chill melted through clothes regardless of the protection of layers. In the burgeoning gloom, buildings pressed together in misaligned, shoddy workmanship, some leaning precariously or half fallen in tatters and on every street raucous taverns and brothels tainted the air with lascivious noise and drunken abandon.
Through the curling shadows and dusky fog, a willowy, silent figure moved; draped in darkness that reflected the dimness around it and intensified the obscuring confusion of shade it seemed to carry along with it as it stole silently down the street. Muffled by the thick smog that twisted in the air, the form made no sound whatsoever, but drifted past the beetling shoppes and foul brothels like a ghost brazenly wandering through the haze. None who passed this cloaked figure took notice of it; no heads turned as it paused at the corner beneath a spluttering lamp of burning, sulfurous, gas; not a single bystander gazed in its direction as it moved silently down the narrow street towards the edge of town and when it turned the corner, disappearing into the blackness like a shadow melting into graying twilight, no trace of its passage was left behind.
Turning the darkened corner, the ebon shadow paused, the silhouette of its garments contracting as if the figure were doubling over and a muffled sound, like that of despair, slipped outward into the murk. Silence greeted this hushed cry; yet, as if in echo, a child’s wail pierced the heavy gloom. The keening sound was not close by, yet it pealed through the dismal atmosphere like the sharp clangor of a tolling bell and all who heard it shrank, stifling the evidence of such misery in whatever escape lay close at hand: the amber spirits contained within a bottle, the silvery secret injected directly into veins, or the fleeting, wanton embrace that left a deeper yearning than what it satisfied.
As the half seen figure stood motionless, the piteous sounds of the city gathered around it like moths drawn to an open flame, demanding to be noticed in spite of the listener’s desire for deafness. Reality in the Uunglarda was caustic as acid and burned just as deeply, compelling the figure to move hastily onward in spite of its slowed pace. ………
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