Days After Oz
Rain cascaded rhythmically, playing its soft staccato upon the cobblestone arteries of New Gaslight. Huddling under the overhang of a crumbling edifice, a lion found shelter. His coat, a tapestry of dampened, matted fur, provided scant comfort against the relentless deluge. Yet, even in his discomfort, he held gratitude for this rudimentary refuge. New Gaslight was a jungle of steel and smoke, a lethal terrain for one of his kind. He was always struggling with the urban squalor, the clinging smog – a stark contrast to the landscapes of his memories.
A place known as home felt like a spectral remnant from a past life rather than a tangible location. What remained after humanity had ravished the planet was no sanctuary for him. As he ventured through the rain-swept labyrinth of the city, the world's history played out in his mind. Earth had once worn a mantle of beauty and vitality, but the insatiable hunger and blindness of humanity had consumed its essence. The invasion of the Martians merely escalated the planet's downfall, a disastrous war leaving both combatants battered and weakened. Was it this cataclysm that had birthed humanity's tortured existence? Or was the seed of cruelty always nestled within the human heart? The lion could only speculate.
New Gaslight existed in perpetual twilight, a shadowy manifestation of literal and metaphorical darkness. Factory monoliths spat fire and smoke into the heavens, casting an unending veil over the cityscape. Gas lamps spluttered a sickly glow onto the grimy faces of the city's denizens, unveiling layers of despair and fear hidden beneath their hardened masks. When the sun dared to pierce this inhospitable environment, its rays were muted and melancholic, mirroring the city's dreary demeanor.
New Gaslight was a city of stark dichotomy. The opulent mansions of the elite, guarded by private mercenaries, stood as conspicuous anomalies amidst the sprawling slums. This city was a stage where the rich reveled, and the poor withered, where immortality was a privilege of the highborn, and early death the destiny of the proletariat.
The lion had come to know the city intimately, each twist and turn, every dim-lit alley and clandestine corner harboring unseen horrors. Existence was a never-ending battle here, complicated further by territorial disputes of the various gangs and criminal syndicates. The city was an urban battleground, fraught with danger and desperation. Pleas for mercy echoed through the dank alleyways, the soundtrack to a city forsaken by its own rulers, the government indifferent as long as their lavish lifestyles were preserved.
Under the imposing shadows of the smoke-spewing factories, the lion maneuvered through the bleak streets, his identity hidden beneath his coat. Drawing attention could prove fatal in such a landscape, especially for a creature of his background. Black magick sigils and red-hot steam pipes dotted the mechanized beasts of industry, augmenting the already grim scenery with an eerie glow.
Despair and hopelessness were etched into the faces of the city's inhabitants, a testament to their struggle against a society that offered them neither aid nor protection. In this urban jungle, the law of the wild prevailed – survival of the fittest, survival of the most ruthless.
Wandering through this labyrinth, the lion questioned the longevity of this way of life. How long would the ruling class indulge in their debauchery, how long could the citizens of New Gaslight bear their existence under constant fear and desperation? The answers lay hidden in the smog-choked air, but one fact remained clear: New Gaslight was a formidable taskmaster, an indomitable beast that would never be tamed.
Navigating the slums, he was enveloped in the thick, smoky miasma. The factories encircling the district were unregulated polluters, spewing their toxins into the heart of the slums. It was a cruel toll that the underprivileged paid for the city's industrial aspirations. A deep sense of unease accompanied him as he walked, well aware that danger was a constant companion.
At the journey's end, he stood before a derelict monument of the past, the current residence of the infamous Sherlock Holmes. The building was a crumbling relic, teetering on the brink of collapse, the sound of shattering glass and the muted groans of a man echoing from its decrepit walls.
A heaviness enveloped the lion's heart, as he considered the tragic trajectory of Sherlock's life. The brutal assault by The Butcher's henchmen on his sanctuary years ago had ravished Sherlock's world. The once brilliant mind, celebrated for its keen detective skills, was now eclipsed by his notorious reputation as a bare-knuckle brawler, his victories rewarded with bottles of cheap liquor. The tragic demise of his confidante, Dr. Watson, due to severe burns was the last blow, his prolonged hospitalization and the ensuing medical costs draining Sherlock of his hard-earned wealth.
Yet, even in this abyss of despair, the lion could discern a glimmer of hope. He rapped gently on the door, carrying with him the knowledge of Sherlock's past interest in the affairs of Oz, particularly following the War. Perhaps, despite the shambles that his life had become, he would lend his aid.
Eventually, the decrepit door groaned open, revealing the disheveled figure of Sherlock, who now bore the truncated moniker of Lock. His former immaculate attire and groomed appearance were replaced by ragged clothing and neglected hair. Bloodshot eyes, though clouded by inebriation, flickered with a glimmer of recognition as he gestured the lion inside.
"Why are you here? I thought you knew I'd turned my back on Ozmandian matters. The time that's elapsed—be it 20 years or 2000—makes no difference. That damned war robbed me of everything! All for what? What was the purpose?" Lock's words emerged disjointed and slurred, his form emanating the stench of liquor and narcotics. Fresh wounds hinted at recent brawls, augmenting his image as a man bereft of hope.
"Do you know what I sacrificed? For a land I'll never tread again? For a woman I'll never embrace again?" Sherlock's tirade continued, his voice echoing with bitter resentment and frustration.
"Sherlock, please," the lion interjected, attempting to pacify him.
"Do not utter that name," he retorted, anger flashing in his eyes. Clearly, Sherlock's scars from the war ran deep, and any invocation of his past was akin to rubbing salt on these wounds.
"Watson... my dear Watson... Now that we're separated, no one will call me that name! It's Lock now. Just Lock." Lock's frantic search for his opium pipe and a shirt continued.
Lock's utterances landed like a physical blow. The raw agony in his voice resonated within the lion, eliciting an empathic ache. Having known Sherlock for many years, it was harrowing to see his friend in such a state. The war had exacted a heavy toll on all of them, but it seemed to have marked Sherlock with deeper scars.
Observing Lock stagger around the room in search of his opium pipe and shirt, the lion wondered how he survived in this perpetual fog of intoxication. Broken liquor bottles littering the room further confirmed his fears.
"Lock, I deeply regret the assault, your loss. Watson was a noble soul," the lion offered, attempting to comfort him. He wasn't certain what to anticipate from Lock, but he knew that beneath the damaged exterior, there was still a good man. New Gaslight was a merciless beast, consuming its inhabitants, and it seemed that Sherlock, too, had been ensnared in its clutches.
Lock's response was sharp and acerbic, his words tainted with bitterness and wrath. "Spare me your cowardly platitudes, Lion. What brings you here?" He growled, punctuating his query with a deep drag from his opium pipe.
The lion drew a deep breath, steeling himself. He knew his words needed careful selection, for the slightest hint of agitation could further inflame Lock's volatile emotions. "The Witch is rumoured to have returned. Whisperings of a cult, blood magick, sacrifices are circulating. Ozmandians are being preyed upon, and humans as well. No one dares to discern the truth, no one dares to undertake the quest. I was ho-"
He took a deep breath, bracing himself to further articulate his appeal for assistance. Yet, before he could even commence, Lock interjected. His eyes were inflamed and his voice blurred as he stumbled about the room, groping for his opium pipe and administering another hit.
"No! I've severed all ties with Ozmandian matters, you wretched Lion! Don't presume that our shared service warrants me any obligation towards you!" His words erupted in an incoherent, drunken tirade. "Especially post the Tinman incident. We were a man short that day, just one man! Now, we're stranded in this accursed city, and I'm bereft of my wife's company! I have a child you filthy Lion, a child I will never meet!"
A bitter, humorless laugh echoed in the room. It was raw and borderline hysterical, suggestive of a man teetering on the brink of insanity. "But we succeeded in sealing the portal!" he hollered, his fist hammering the table with such force that the glasses jittered. "We shielded Oz from the damned humans! And now you return, groveling for my assistance? After everything that has transpired?"
Lock's tirade escalated, the veins in his neck standing out in stark relief. His palpable rage caused the lion to involuntarily recoil, pressing against the wall. "You require my aid?" he spat. "You wish me to gamble my life once more, after all the sacrifices I've made? Never. I refuse to return there, not for your sake, nor for anyone else's!"
He took a lengthy puff from his opium pipe, his eyes fluttering shut. A moment of silence prevailed as he seemed engrossed in introspection. When he spoke again, his voice had mellowed. "Leave me in peace, Lion. I've had my fill of this war and of you. Just...just leave."
The sight of his former friend succumbing to addiction and anguish caused a wave of despair to crash over the lion. The war had cost Lock dearly, and it seemed he had lost himself in the process.
"There remains a good man within you, Lock. It's a pity even you fail to recognize that." The lion turned to leave, a lump forming in his throat. Words had exhausted their utility. He exited the room, the door creaking shut behind him.
Leaving Lock's abode, his heart pounded from the emotional intensity of their encounter. The sounds of New Gaslight's pandemonium accompanied him as he traversed the desolate park, the city revealing its harsh reality. What were once verdant trees and shrubs had now succumbed to decay. The only vestiges of life were stray animals scavenging through refuse bins in search of sustenance.
Debris littered the surroundings - used cigarette butts, discarded liquor bottles, and scraps of paper adrift in the breeze. The earth was barren and dusty, desiccated due to lack of rainfall. It was a disheartening spectacle, as if the park was in a state of suspended animation, anticipating a change, any change, to disrupt its bleak monotony.
Settling himself on an abandoned park bench to partake of his modest repast, the Lion was struck by the haunting vacancy of the once vibrant landscape. No sound of children's laughter punctuated the air, no families spreading their picnic baskets, no couples meandering with interlaced fingers. The park, it seemed, had become a desolate wasteland, a makeshift sanctuary for the hopeless and downtrodden.
As he savored the simple flavors of his meal, the Lion's gaze drifted over the eerie tableau before him. Towering smokestacks punctuated the horizon, their ceaseless belching of dark, inky tendrils serving as an unkind reminder of the city's rampant industrialization. Childhood innocence had been forfeited to the brutal demands of the factories, mines, and sweatshops, which now speckled the cityscape like malignant tumors.
Indeed, the only inhabitants of the park were the ragged creatures of the city's underbelly - the skeletal dogs and scrawny cats, relegated to scavenging for mere morsels amongst the detritus. Their existence, however dismal, seemed somehow more fortunate; at least they were spared the harsh realities of existence in this urban purgatory known as New Gaslight.
Finishing his modest meal, the Lion felt a wave of melancholy wash over him. The city had morphed into a brutal penitentiary, its denizens ensnared by poverty and addiction, entrapped within a ceaseless spiral of despair. Dracula's latest concoction, a semi-synthetic blood, had exacerbated the situation, plunging the city into further turmoil.
The addictive substance was wreaking havoc on the city streets, transforming its inhabitants into unpredictable, volatile agents of chaos. It was a relentless cycle of addiction and desolation, a malevolent circle seemingly impossible to rupture. Yet, the Lion clung to a fragile filament of hope, vowing to instigate change, however minuscule it might be.
Lighting up a cigarette, he inhaled deeply, allowing the smoke to fill his lungs before expelling it in a languid plume of grey. His gaze lost in the distance, the Lion reflected on the city's woeful state. New Gaslight was gasping its last breaths, suffocating beneath a suffocating shroud of smog. The first droplets of toxic rain began to fall, mingling with the omnipresent smog to form a noxious haze that stung his eyes and scorched his throat. Depleted supplies – painkillers, tobacco, herbs – nagged at the corners of his mind. A potential resupply beckoned him – the Black Hands were dealing at low rates, tantalizingly close by.
As twilight cloaked the city, the Lion found himself in the somber maze of New Gaslight's streets, winding their way towards the street car station. The city's winding labyrinth had become an interlaced jigsaw of shadows and echoes, each building, each alleyway, holding onto fragments of a hushed conversation between the sinking sun and the encroaching night.
As the shroud of dusk unfurled over New Gaslight, swallowing the decrepit metropolis in its ink-stained cloak, the Lion began his slow journey toward the streetcar station. A symphony of distant, fading echoes accompanied his steps - the cries of the city's nocturnal children, the whining lament of rusted gears, and the wind's hollow howl through the skeletal remnants of abandoned structures.
He threaded his way through the labyrinth of the city's heart, past the silent edifices that stood sentinel in the gloaming, their stone facades weather-beaten and scarred by time. The glow of elusive will-o'-wisps pulsed in the deepening twilight, their spectral luminescence casting ghostly shadows that danced in the encroaching darkness.
Above, an airship, branded with cryptic sigils, hovered ominously against the night sky, its hull catching the ethereal gleam of the waning moonlight. The Lion glanced upwards, his gaze narrowing at the sight of the airborne leviathan. "Fairy dust," he muttered under his breath, a note of disdain curling around the words.
His path, guided by the wavering luminescence of gas lamps and the distant siren song of the streetcar's whistle, led him inexorably to the terminal. The station emerged from the spectral gloom, a dilapidated relic rising from the city's corroded arteries. Its rust-kissed edifice, a grim sentinel in the night, echoed the painful story of a metropolis teetering on the precipice of oblivion.
Stepping onto the station's cold, grime-streaked platform, the Lion's Ozmandian coat, fashioned from the regal purple hide of hippocamps, bore the brunt of the acid rain’s relentless onslaught. The station's rusted roof groaned under the weight of the acidic precipitation, each drop drumming an endless cadence onto the corroded metal.
The Lion found a moment of respite, leaning against a pillar where flaking paint laid bare the ravages of time. Absent were the familiar comforts of a bench, the station stripped of such amenities as a grim deterrent for the city’s vagrants. He pulled a cigarette from his pack, igniting it with a flicker of a match, its sudden flame a solitary beacon in the encroaching darkness. He inhaled deeply, the smoke a brief balm against the stinging chill of the night air.
The station's opulent corner stood in stark contrast against the surrounding decay. Shielded from the plight of the common man, it was an oasis of gilded excess. The emerald inlays, echoing the splendor of his distant home, consorted with gold-leafed accents to choreograph a dazzling spectacle of indulgence. Vivid murals, woven from a tapestry of vibrant hues, sneered at the muted monochrome of the public waiting area.
A phalanx of the city’s Torquemadas stood sentinel at the entrance to this sanctum of affluence, their stern countenances a bulwark against those deemed unworthy. Their vigil was a constant reminder of the city's social schism, an unassailable barrier between the opulence of the few and the deprivation of the many.
As he waited in the shadow of disparity, the Lion lost himself in the spiraling tendrils of smoke, his mind tracing the path of his journey amidst the trials of the city, resolute and unwavering in the face of desolation. The city's night song wound its way around his being, a somber dirge carrying tales of a metropolis shrouded in twilight, awaiting dawn’s uncertain promise.
With the mournful serenade from his homeland lingering on his lips, the Lion was on a mission. A melancholic requiem echoed from the city’s depths, the tune resonating with the ironclad beast of the streetcar as it emerged through the dense downpour. Its arrival at the station was a howling testament to the force of progress; its groaning discontent drowned by the Lion’s serene melody, as he seamlessly merged with the machine's bustle.
A mournful song, echoes of a land far removed from the harsh reality of New Gaslight, stirred from the depths of the Lion's memory. He hummed the nostalgic tune, a dirge from his homeland of Oz, under his breath. His voice wove into the symphony of the city night, the melancholy notes floating like wayward spirits in the wind.
The streetcar, a rusted giant pulsing with determination, carried him away from far reaches of the Eastern Slums. Each rhythmic clatter against worn tracks and the fleeting cityscape visions marked his journey towards a less traveled territory of New Gaslight - the new terroritory of The Black Hands. This area, on the edges of the Eastern Slums, teetered at the border of Count Dracula's mesmerizing yet unnerving night life dominion, the club towers and penthouses of the night life district casting an ominous shadow over its shanty structures.
The journey was an opus of discordant harmonies, of cityscape visions blurring past, of the rhythmic clatter of the streetcar’s iron wheels against worn tracks. They carried him away from the station and the heartbeat of the city, into the gnarled arteries that stretched towards the city's impoverished fringes.
The streetcar groaned to a halt at the edge of the Black Hand's territory, a few begrudging stops away from the comforting familiarity of his own district. The Lion stepped off onto the rain-slicked cobblestones, his eyes taking in the haggard silhouette of the shanty district against the storm-lashed skyline.
The eastern slums were a place the Lion visited infrequently. Not only was the Black Hands' domain a haven for the city's criminal underbelly, but its proximity to the Count's infamous nightlife district made it an ill-favored haunt. The Lion had little taste for the nocturnal delights that were the lure for many, his purpose in the city focused on pursuits far removed from fleeting pleasures.
Casting one last lingering gaze back at the retreating streetcar, the Lion veered into the rain-soaked labyrinth of the slums. His thick coat shed the deluge effortlessly, his eyes shone in the dim light, and his determined steps echoed in the abandoned alleys. A fresh chapter was unfolding in the story of the evening, and the Lion, a solitary figure amidst the backdrop of New Gaslight's struggles, moved to face it with a resolved heart.
The Lion, ever stoic, navigated through the bleak shadows of the slums, his footfall echoing in the abandoned labyrinth. The purpose of this venture was a simple one; a necessary restocking of supplies. Pain relievers, rare herbs, the crude yet functional cigarettes of the streets - these were the treasures he sought.
The Black Hands, while notorious for their illicit activities, were also the city’s most reliable peddlers, offering wares at rates that even the hardest hit pockets could afford. They may not peddle the ominous 'New Blood' - Dracula's latest narcotic masterpiece - but they dealt in more traditional contraband, products that the Lion found necessary for his survival in this unforgiving cityscape.
Walking deeper into the rain-swept alleys of the slum, the Lion was but a silhouette against the storm-ridden sky. His coat, woven from the luxurious pelts of Oz's purple hippocamps, repelled the corrosive rain effortlessly. His eyes, ignited by an unwavering resolve, took in the desolation, as he moved towards the risks and rewards that lay ahead.
His intent gaze never faltered as he looked back one last time at the retreating streetcar. An enigmatic figure set against the struggles of New Gaslight, he ventured on, his heart resolute. For even in a city of despair, survival was a game of risks, a nocturne of needs and wants that danced in harmony with the city's pulsating rhythm.
The Lion, his stature impressive even among the towering ruins, made his approach towards a street merchant, shrouded in shadows and whispered tales of the underworld. Amidst the chaos and desperation that painted the alleyways, the exchange of currencies and contraband was a dance as old as time, its rhythm undisturbed by the encroaching storm or the city’s woes.
Just as he extended his paw, revealing the money concealed within his coat’s secret pockets, the eerie serenity was shattered. A terrifying screech filled the air, its origin a missile dispatched from the forsaken roofs, aimed with ruthless precision at an unsuspecting truck careening down the narrow street behind him.
In the blink of an eye, New Gaslight’s quiet despair was replaced with furious pandemonium. Gunfire, sharp and relentless, began to serenade the night, as bullets sought their fate in the truck's metal flesh. A savage ballet of violence and survival unfurled in the city's twisted alleys.
Instinct took over the Lion; the majestic beast, usually so full of pride and strength, now a specter of fear, diving towards the grim sanctuary of grimy dumpsters. Behind these towering fortresses of waste, he found a precarious shield from the sudden onslaught.
In the darkness and muck, he lay low, his heart thundering a rhythm of fear and resolve against his chest. A bitter taste of regret tainted his tongue, his mind echoing the words, 'No heroes in New Gaslight, only survivors.'
Yet, in this filth-stained alley, hidden behind the city's discarded memories, the Lion sought refuge from the storm of bullets and the city's cruel games. His courage may have faltered, but his will to survive persisted, roaring with defiance in the city's chaotic symphony.
The Lion, marooned in the vortex of despair, found himself wedged within the labyrinth of shadows, his aspirations and trepidations entwined in a grim ballet of death. The labyrinthine passages of New Gaslight, reminiscent of the underbelly of some monstrous beast, had led him into the belly of the storm, the echoes of survival reverberating through the obsidian abyss.
In this desolate theater, the symphony of conflict painted a grotesque masterpiece: bullets whistling a deadly lullaby as they sliced through the stale air, the chaotic music punctuated by the sudden staccato rhythm of a shotgun's retort. A primal roar punctured the cacophonous symphony, the signature war cry of a rampaging rotspawn sending shivers down the Lion's spine. This urban battlefield, sprung from the bowels of New Gaslight, held a macabre allure that chilled the very marrow.
And yet, the Lion, the reluctant hero, held fast in this crucible of mayhem. Shrouded in the velvety cloak of the night's tender grasp, he bore witness to the maelstrom. His heart, throbbing with the raw rhythm of survival, was the only counterpoint to the battlefield's grotesque serenade.
His thoughts, though, were distracted by a desire both mundane and poignant. The want for a simple cigarette, a fleeting moment of comfort in a world gone mad, became a silent lament. The grim luxury of that calming drag, lost in the anarchy of New Gaslight. A bitter chuckle escaped his lips, his breath a hushed whisper against the unrelenting tumult. The rich, earthy aroma of tobacco was but a memory, replaced now by the pervasive stench of decay and abandonment – the signature fragrance of his accursed city.
The tale culminates here, a somber requiem composed in the hidden corners of New Gaslight, its melody echoed in the Lion's hushed lamentations. Our would-be hero, the reluctant survivor, braced for the long night, his hope nothing more than the faint glimmer of another daybreak amidst the city's infinite twilight.