City of Dreams and Nightmare - By Ian Whates


Only men of the right sort were eligible to join the Kite Guard. Only those with families of sufficient standing and the proper pedigree were even permitted to apply. Tylus qualified. Just.

From an early age his parents had groomed him for the part, sculpting his soul with philosophy, channelling his mind with geometry, anemonautics and alchemy, broadening his intellect with semantics and linguistics and honing his physique with fencing, swimming and pugilism. It seemed his whole life had been spent in preparation for the day he would apply to join the Kite Guard.

The day the Guard actually accepted him was the proudest of his parents’ lives. At the lavish party to celebrate, his father, a functionary of minor significance within the mechanism of senior government, puffed and preened to such an extent that any there would have been forgiven for assuming that it was he who had achieved something commendable rather than his son. His mother became the focus of the local coffee circle for many months on the back of his success – no event was considered complete without her.

Yet in all the joy of that day and in all the years of toil and dedication that had led up to it, nobody ever stopped to ask Tylus whether this was what he wanted. Not even Tylus himself. Not until it was too late.

He wondered afterwards whether this played a part in the events of that night. Could it have been a simple, straightforward arrest had he been more diligent and more enthusiastic in his duties? Might all that was to follow have been avoided had he been the guard his parents always intended him to be?

These were questions that would haunt him often in the days that followed.

Tom was unnerved, far more so than he cared to admit. Not scared, no – he would never confess to that – just a little unsettled. No doubt this was due in part to being so close to his goal, a goal which, in his heart of hearts, he had never believed achievable. Yet as the Rows fell away one after another, and he climbed unseen into the city’s highest reaches, where both custom and law forbade him to go, he began to hope and, eventually, to believe.

This was Thaiburley: the City of a Hundred Rows, known by many as the City of Dreams and by those who dwelt beneath it as the City of Nightmare.

Tom was born to the nightmare but now, for the first time in his young life, he had caught a glimpse of the dream.

Presently he was crouching in the shadows on yet another Row, willing himself invisible as he hid beneath a wrought iron staircase, his heart pounding and blood racing. He refused to dwell on where he was, on the impossibility of it all. If he did, he would likely lose his nerve altogether and bolt straight back down again.

His feet were sore from all the climbing, all the walking and occasionally running. It felt as if the sole of his left shoe was wearing through again, but there was nothing handy to patch it with and, besides, he had lived with worse things. At least it wasn’t as cold up here as he had half-expected it might be.

The staircase that hid him rose from a broad, stone walkway, walled on one side with the familiar yellow-brown stone that predominated throughout the city. The wall’s surface contained an apparently endless row of evenly spaced doors, all of them closed. He assumed that behind these doors were quarters or dwellings of some sort. The other side of the walkway stood open to the outside world, with just a calf-high sculpted guardrail separating passers-by from a headlong plunge into a veritable abyss.

Having looked over that rail once, Tom had no intention of venturing anywhere near it again. This was the other reason he was so unnerved; he had again fallen victim to his insatiable curiosity and peered over the edge, even when a tiny voice at the back of his mind whispered that it would be a mistake to do so. Below him, the walls of the city had dropped away, dimly visible where torches and lanterns burned, before disappearing into the darkness completely. In their place there was nothing: a vast, gaping space. Raised in the crowded slums of the City Below, Tom had never seen so much emptiness. It horrified him but at the same time pulled at him. His head spun, he couldn’t breathe and