Chapter 39:

Chapter 39 - The Menagerie Three


The “gate” standing before them was really more of a fissure. Like a crack in the base of a teapot, the opening stood out as an eye-catching imperfection on a surface that was otherwise smooth and uniform. Rather than leaking hot water, though, it admitted a constant flow of people; mostly incoming travelers like them who had returned from a bout of hunting, scavenging or harvesting to hock their wares.

After waiting in a slow-moving line for several minutes, Roulette and her posse finally made it to the yawning mouth of the city gate. Bored-looking guards stood at either side of it. They were dressed in simple clothing overlaid with light leather armor, and the girl could tell from their expressions that they had long since become disenchanted with the responsibility of waving through citizens, vagabonds and merchant caravans.

“Hold,” said the guard nearest them as they moved to proceed into the city. He scrutinized her and Marka’s weapons keenly, obviously unsettled by their presence. “...No trouble, yeah?”

She and Marka nodded. That seemed to satisfy him.

“Go on through, then,” he said, his posture relaxing. They did just that, carrying on through the oversized crack in the city’s immense enclosure. Roulette breathed a sigh of relief as they moseyed on through, happy beyond words to have some shade from the sun after their long jaunt across the Diflagrati. She’d kept it together pretty well throughout, all things considered, but it was definitely not an ordeal she had any desire to repeat in her lifetime.

The act of riding into Sebastopol for the first time, however, was something she’d surely come to wish she could experience again. Upon leaving the city’s narrow crevice of an entrance behind, Roulette was greeted with an expansive view of the city that damn near took her breath away.

The first thing that drew her attention was the walls. They formed a grand, all-encompassing barrier that curved gradually inward, providing the entire upper tier of the city with several hundred feet of eternal shade. It gave the city’s entrance a kind of cavern-like quality despite the fact that a full eighty percent or more of the capital’s airspace remained open to the sky.

Beneath this generous lip of shadow was what looked to be the foreign quarter. A mishmash of ramshackle structures adorned with vibrant canopies stood to either side of them, following the curve of a wide thoroughfare that appeared to run the full circumference of Sebastopol’s outer ring. On the other side of the road, flush with the city walls, lay all manner of bedrolls and squat, improvised structures. Here, it seemed, the city’s homeless population resided in relative comfort, knowing that even those without the means to fashion a roof could count on the metropolis’s mighty walls to shield them from the elements.

From there, the city descended through tier after tier of more well-to-do districts, all of them following the roughly ringlike shape established by the foreign quarter. Many of the buildings Roulette could see from this angle were reminiscent of the villas she’d seen in Port Pistola: tall, fine and well-constructed, with solid walls that ranged in hue between plain white and pastel pinks, greens, blues and yellows. There seemed to be some level of competition for sunlight among the wealthy, for only the very grandest of structures occupied the city’s central tier. The girl suspected that the tall, many-domed building directly in the middle of it all must be the palace–what else could be important enough to justify a claim to such prime real estate?

Finally, Roulette’s eyes were drawn to the large body of water that dominated the city’s eastern portion. The wall above it had been carved out to form a grand arch, allowing passage for any number of ships and fishing boats as they made their way between Sebastopol’s interior and the sea beyond. The banks of this swath of seawater were littered with docks, boardwalks and shanties–the port district, perhaps?

It stood on the second most central tier in defiance of the city’s apparently class-defined structure, with scaffolded walkways leading from its sides up to the higher tiers. Sheer cliffs bordered the water on either side, necessitating a less gradual method of cross-tier traversal than was seen elsewhere in the capital. The shape of the cliffs presented an interesting cross-section visual of how the sandstone had been carved to accommodate each tier, and the sight of it made the girl’s head spin. How long did it take them to get the city into such an orderly state? she wondered. This is a whole other kind of sophisticated compared to Trigger City’s skyscrapers…

Before she could get around to drawing a more in-depth comparison, an unfamiliar voice piped up from her right. “Out of the way, slab-jaw,” it demanded. “Make way for the Menagerie Three! We have no time for gawkers.”

Roulette turned her head to find Marka regarding an unusual trio of citizens with a blank look on his face. “...Are you speaking to me?”

“Of course. You are standing right in the middle of the street, you know,” said one of the three. He was tall and lighter-skinned than his fellows, leading Roulette to conclude that he probably had some Larse or Wessoner blood in his background. He sported a long, drooping mustache that flapped against his sunken cheeks with every word. “We understand that newcomers like you are prone to such foibles, but it is oh-so-much worse when a big oaf like you is the one doing it.”

“Move along, slab-jaw,” said the first speaker–a bald, beady-eyed, portly-looking man with facial hair that skewed a little more unkempt than his companion’s. “And get those dustsnuffles to do the same while you are at it. Upstanding folks like us can hardly move about whenever a pack of outsiders like you blows in.”

A young woman with a deeply dark complexion looked on silently from behind the two men. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and the thickest portion of a long green scarf obscured the lower half of her face. Just before Marka could muster a reaction, though, her eyes flicked to Anua. She slapped at the taller man’s shoulder and pointed, causing his eyes to widen in turn.

“Oh! Miss Anua!” he exclaimed, exchanging a furtive glance with the man at his side. “We had no idea this man belonged to your expedition! We will just be going on our way, then, shall we?”

“I think that would be best,” she answered crisply.

The two men scuttled away immediately, leaving only the sharp-eyed young woman. She lingered for a moment, producing a big, juicy pear from the folds of her scarf, and proceeded to take a big bite. Then she fixed each member of the posse with a ferocious glare before moving off to follow after her gutless compatriots.

Anua watched them go, looking as though she’d just bitten into a fresh lime herself, while Roulette suppressed a shudder. She was still smarting from the psychological impact of that girl’s vicious stare.

“Who were they?” she asked, following the trio with her eyes as they disappeared into the crowd. The girl noticed with some apprehension that each of them had a sizable firearm strapped to their backs.

“Just some local Gunslingers with a superiority complex,” Anua replied. “Dugg, Livingston, and Simone. The latter is the all-time champion of Sebastopol’s tournament scene, so they feel entitled to push others around at every opportunity… Of course, they would be nothing more than common street thugs without the weapons I crafted for them.”

“Tournament scene, you say?” Morgan drawled, sidling up to Gus’s flank. “Bet our boy Marka could take the champion’s belt for himself if he were so inclined. What’s the prize pot?”

“Two hundred goldslugs at last count. Though I hardly pay attention to such things,” Anua said. She pointed across the city, indicating a massive slate-colored building that stood beside the sheer cliff at the other end of the outer ring. “The games are held there, in the Sebastopol Arena, if any of you wish to compete. The tournament used to be an annual affair, but new challengers have been scarce for some time. I am sure they would welcome your participation.”

Marka shook his head. “I have no desire to–”

“Ehh, two hundred is hardly worth gettin’ out of bed for,” Morgan scoffed, rolling over Marka’s gracious refusal without a hint of remorse. “I’m sure to make a bundle as it is with those treasures of mine.”

“Oh, yes! About that,” Mimi simpered, “I’m sorry, darling. You were talking so much about those knickknacks of yours the other day that I got a tiny bit jealous. So, when your silly little bandage-bag came apart and they started spilling out, I may have made a teensy-weensy executive decision to keep it from you. For the sake of our love, you understand.”

Roulette could see the muscles in Morgan’s neck throbbing as he turned to look at her. “I’m sorry, Mimi. I don’t think I heard you properly. Would you mind repeatin’ that for me?”

“Of course, sweetie,” she chirped. “In sum, I said that your treasure is lying strewn across the Diflagrati! Now you can focus all the more keenly on the brilliant diamond of a girl standing before you right now~.”

Fortunately, Marka was quick enough to hold the man back before he had a chance to exercise a mountain of murderous intent on the ‘brilliant diamond’ standing before him… But nothing could stop Morgan from cussing up a storm. By the time he’d finished, Mimi was understandably aghast…

…And, just like that, the delicate bud of Morgan and Mimi’s train wreck of a relationship had been snipped before it could bloom.

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