Thirteen years ago I entered the labyrinth of the Undercity through a manhole I found in an alley. I didn't know where I was going. If I'd known, I would have stayed out. In all my thirteen years down here, I have never found an exit, but I've been looking the whole time. That's why I am both intrigued by and skeptical of the little snivelling creature cowering at the tip of my drawn sword. I've learned the hard way to survive down here in this half-real place, and I've got the scars (and sword) to prove it. You don't live long on these streets by sweating and crying at the sight of every shiny blade, so this kid must be new. The trail back to his entry might still be fresh.
He tried to pick my pocket, a trick most urchins around here know not to try, and as I had wheeled on him, sword drawn, he jumped back, tripped and fell against the wall, with nowhere left to go. At the threat of a swift impalement, he squeaked quickly: "I know a way out!" Everyone is looking for a way out.
The rain pelts down, as always, and we walk. I follow the boy, clearly recovered from his ordeal, around the gravity well, past the blank-faced shops, over the Dozen Train Tracks and the boy keeps looking back to check on me. We turn left into a red-brick street that narrows the further it goes. There is a faint shimmer in the air at an uncertain distance, and on the edge of detection, a scent of ozone mixed with the usual rats-and-garbage smells. We do not seem to be getting closer, nor further away.
Then suddenly, like blundering into a thick curtain in the dark, I feel it. A velvet heaviness in the atmosphere, threatening to press me to the ground. It's as if the space here is more real than anywhere I've been in years. Maybe I've been here too long. Could true reality crush me? Every step grows more difficult, I feel like I'm breathing syrup and the raindrops assault me like almighty hailstones. I am strong. I can make it, I tell myself, but then I cannot. Though I summon every molecule of energy I possess, I fall back, my body too keen to breathe the half-real Undercity air, not this choking reality.
I can dimly see the boy racing ahead, as if this mystic doorway were a mere gap in a wall, then the space shifts, the bricks flow and interlock, and before me is a blank wall. No shimmer, no ozone, no heavy reality. I push myself to my feet, grit my teeth through the pins and needles as the blood resumes flowing, and sheath my sword. I belong here. I have belonged in the Undercity for longer than I realised. But now I know two things. There are exits, and it is possible to use them. The rest is details. Perhaps I can push further into an exit, train my body to be more real. Perhaps there are parts of the Undercity that are more real, where I can re-learn reality. Maybe the boy had a key, or some trick I can learn. Maybe, just maybe, there is a way for me to return home.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - I picture the Undercity as a bizarre counterpart to a real city.
PPS - It might be one of those settings I revisit another time.