The City of Magic - Chapter 18


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.