Fatal Harmonic/Letting Go Again

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Letting Go Again


A shaman sees what's really there.

Two figures sat on the edge of the waterside. Talos was a quiet place, when you knew where to sit. A stone skipped across the surface of the roiling sea, an impossible feat - moreso when you knew the stone for what it was, a section of pavement roughly five feet across.

The eye runs over them, and they are so different. One man, even sitting, is over five feet tall; his shoulders broad, his whole hunkered form looking as much like a boulder. To most anyone else, they'd see a noir hero, a slightly washed-out man in sepia tone, with a small fedora hat, a big trenchcoat, and enough style to carry himself through whatever Rondo Hatton could throw against him. And to the eyes of the Shaman, he was the Spirit of the Row - a figure cut out of discarded stone and unwanted paper. Beer caps line his hands, fingernails rendered of budweiser and miller. His hat is all that truly is - a battered fedora that has seen almost as much trouble as the man-thing that wears it.

The other was short by comparison, but who wouldn't be? He is leaned back, his hands behind himself. He wears no shirt, his muddy brown hair falling down his neck and over his eyes. He wore his hair long, but not the long that speaks of style or finesse. The boy had long hair because his hair had long gone uncut. Simple pants, torn at the end, rendered in burlap, tied at the waist with a length of rope; his manner could not be much more plain... but for the designs over his skin[1].

The short boy glanced up at the larger man. He wasn't short by some standards - roughly five and a half feet, - but in this city of supermen, of titans and giants, cast here in the shadow of Talos himself he knew how dwarfed he was. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

The stone rumbles and murmurs, the giant figure resting its hand on his knee. "I dunno, Harlem. You're the one who's been so worried."

Harlem Foreman, the Fatal Harmonic, the boy who is a mountain, shook his head, hair falling in his eyes. "Oh geeze, not you too."

"You believe in God, kid?"

"I'm from the Row."

The Spirit shifted its cigar from one end of his mouth to the other. It was a good answer, and one to be proud of. "Alright, then. Lemme tell you a story.

"Once, there was a flood. This guy got out of his house and sat on the roof, watching the floodwaters rising. Guy rows up in a boat and says, 'hey, man, c'mere, I got a boat - we can get out of here and you'll be fine!' Guy shakes his head, turning to his friend. 'Nah, Carl,' he says. 'I've got faith. I've got God. He'll save me.' So Carl rows away to where it's safe. An' then, a helicopter comes in and they lower a ladder. 'Hey! Get on the ladder and we'll fly you to safety!' they say. Guy shakes his head, looking up at 'em. 'Nah, man!' he says. 'I've got faith. I've got God. He'll save me.' Guy drowns. Of course." The Row turned and grinned nastily. "And that's where the story ends. No moral."

Harlem sighed and rolled his eyes, then turned to glance up at the Spirit. "Backbeat?"

"She's a classy lady."

"No she isn't."

"No, she isn't." The Row laughed. "She's big and she's dumb and she's selfish and she treats life like a barfight. She's amazing."

Harlem nodded quietly. "I know, I know." he sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Look! It's not that I don't like her. She's just... not what I wanted."

"What do you want, Harlem? What's she like?"

Harlem opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. He sighed. "I want people to stop giving me cute answers." he sighed and leaned back. "Okay, the CD was... stupid[2]. But I mean, Chloe's sweet and all. And I ran into Adri recently-"

The Row blinked like a guard dog who'd just heard a hen discussing a chat with a fox. "Where?"

"Steel. She was just bodyguarding someone. Not that work. She knows not to knock on our doors again[3], man."

The figure settled slightly. When the King's Row bank was your back pocket, you felt very easily incensed by people consistantly pinching your wallet.

"But I mean... does anyone have any advice? Any stuff I can do, rather than just cute words that don't mean anything? Darius said I needed a girlfriend. Kacey said I needed a life. Adri said Love Doesn't Just Happen." he slumped forward, his hair falling over his face, his arms folded, holding his knees.

The Row looked down at its shaman. It'd chosen him, years ago now. He'd been thirteen when he was chosen; when Harlem was twelve, he had dragged a grown man out of his grandmother's apartment by his ankles, thumping his face on the road as he went. And then, twelve years old and wearing his pajamas, with a crowd around him, Harlem Foreman had picked up a length of pipe, and smashed the skull's mask with it. And that would have been a grand moment, a gesture of pride, had he stopped there. But he hadn't. And the man had not walked out of the Row - he had had to crawl, beaten and bloody by a twelve year old boy who had drawn a line in the sand, who had said, nay, demanded, no more.

Harlem Foreman had had enough, and 93rd Street rallied around him.

People could have such strength in the grips of passion, for right or for wrong; they knew it when they made love, when they prayed, when they stood before their enemies and when they rescued their loved ones - and for truth, they knew it when they sang. And the blood that ran over Harlem Foreman's hands and feet that night had shown that he had passion enough, strength enough, for what the Row needed.

The Row tilted his head quietly, resting one hand on his knee. Back in the Row, a little girl was dancing for the first time in ballet slippers that her father had bought because he could afford them now, with his new job as foreman; a job he'd received because he'd gone to a bar one night, and heard Harlem play. And he had closed his eyes and held his arm out, and he had taken his dream in both hands. And he went to work, and stopped being afraid of losing his job, and started working to keep it. There was such art in the boy, such passion and such strength. And right now, he was lonely and alone in a city of a million people that loved him. It was always the way.

Harlem had been the Shaman of the Row for four years. He had had friends for six months. Harlem had had to be there for so many people. He had to listen to old women whose minds were going, play chess with old men whose sons had left them, bring food to those who couldn't cook, show patience and love for those who had nothing else to guide them, and he had so little time for Harlem. And he was sad and he was bitter, but above all else, Harlem felt alone. The Row couldn't stop sadness, couldn't unmake the bitterness - but there was one thing it could do.

The Spirit didn't sigh. He didn't pat Harlem's hand, or touch his head. He didn't say anything. It was time for a lesson. Time for Harlem to see what was really there. "Kid? You love a stone. Think about what you want, think really hard. We'll see where we wind up." The giant slowly pulled itself to its feet, and turned. It didn't walk away - it just went back to where it had been, pieces of rock and stone and rubbish slowly dissipating.

Harlem sighed. Backbeat gone, Chloe sad every time she saw him, Adri kinda pissed at him, and he hadn't seen Darius or Kacey in months. He lay back on the grass of Talos and sighed.


And then, his eyes flicked open, the boy rolling onto his side, scrambling up and along. Back in the Row, there was a Hellion rave, and it was going to pour out into the streets if someone didn't do something. As a man cutting down a redwood tree with a pocket knife, Harlem bolted out into a run, heading for the train station - from Talos to Indy, from Indy to the Row...


She was beautiful, of course. Not because she had a fine face or a model's body. Harlem didn't care about that[4]. No, she was beautiful because she was all these things at once. She was sweet and she was kind and she knew how to smile. And he knew she'd have a smile that reached into him and made him just want to make the world so much better, a smile that would give him the means to hope for so much better.

Harlem sat in the King's Row Border Governance Theatre, an old and disused building, a building that had been stranded between developments. Technically, it didn't even have a front door any more, a door boarded up and then forgotten and then developed over. It was this little tomb in the stones of Paragon, a beautiful old theatre that one day, someone would remember and demolish. For now, however... it had great acoustics.

She was probably foreign. Or at least exotic, to Harlem's eyes, eyes that had never seen a land beyond the borders of Paragon City. She spoke with an accent, and smiled while biting one side of her lip.

He didn't know how these images came to mind, didn't know how show it otherwise. He didn't know why he saw these things in there, why others who heard the CD heard a pathetic girl, damaged goods who wasn't good enough for Harlem. How could she not be good enough? She was perfect...

She knew about the world around her, and gave a devilishly satirical wink as she spoke of people that she knew better than. She quipped and she laughed and she didn't let the pain of her past get her down. She knew how bad life could get. She'd seen the worst kind of insensitivity that people could inflict. She had had her dark days and she had had her good ones. And she was determined to remember the good ones, and the bad ones could go to hell.

He could have had the stone sing. He could have danced with her, rendered her in music and leaned in to kiss her, to feel her against his skin. Instead, he sang the songs himself, sang the CD, a talented but untrained voice climbing the notes of songs for the voices of women and men. He knew them all by heart now. They went everywhere with him, stuck to him like perfect jewels set about his crown. And he sang. And as he sang, the magic danced for him, sparks of light shaping themselves, showing the image above him, hovering above the audience of empty seats.

And when the doors were closed, and her hair fell in her eyes, when it was just them, she would be hungry and she would be present. And he'd give himself to her and she would give herself to him. And he would flow to fill her, like water into a vessel; whatever she wanted of him in the dark and warm places, he could be, because she was all he wanted and he was perfect for her.

Harlem sat in the quiet of the theatre, watching the image as it danced in the air. Of him, dressed as he always was, his arms around this girl. Boys his age had their virginities burning holes in their pants - he just had to look up and see this... watch this tableau as the image of himself, hands cradling her by her cheeks, leaning in; she had her hand on his arm, one in his hair, for she wanted him and just wanted to touch him. And their lips hoved close, their breath mingling for that instant...

And the image was no more. Shattered. The song ended. The final note wended out, and the dreamer awoke. There she was, the drifting shadow in the air above him, untouched and untouchable, and he felt utterly empty without her. But she had never really been there. The Row was right. He had loved a stone. And now, his arms raised, he slowly opened his closed fists. He slowly, slowly, opened his hands, a metaphor for what he was truly doing. this girl... this purity, this beauty, this dream... he let it go.

He had let go of this feeling two times now. And raising his hands to his eyes, Harlem Foreman gave a shudder of teenage shoulders, soft velvet of the ancient and dusty chair under his bare back. And he wept.

And outside in King's Row, it did not rain.


It wasn't there. It wasn't there the second he awoke. Lying on his back on a pool table in a disused bar beneath an unused theatre, dust and old smoke the scent on his clothes, he blinked his eyes awake and was deafened by the silence.

Harlem gripped the felt, and had to force himself to draw a breath. the light around him was so dull, so grimy. Was the room this small? It felt so big, normally, felt so huge, with all the hopes and the dreams people had brought in here. They'd sat at the bar and they'd talked and they'd told of their great achievements and the lives they'd have lived but for, and they could not have fit them in a room so small, because nobody brings anything small into a bar...

Sitting up, dizzied, Harlem Foreman felt the vertigo that only comes through a complete absence of motion, the disorientation from realising the planet has stopped. He sat still, closed his eyes again, and listened. Reached out, felt.

And he felt soft green felt, smelled grotty dust and heard only a lone dog barking nearby.

Where was it? The panic gripped him. He had been living within this coccoon for so long, hearing the heartbeat of the city, wrapped in its arms. Its hands were cruel and cold and hard, and barbed and black, but they were there, and they gave him the strength to make life better, to make people happy! And now...

As Harlem raised his hands to his eyes, he saw nothing. No ink; no mark; here in the Row, no tattoo, his skin unmarred and smooth and clean. Frantically he made to check his reflection - after unconsciously going to look in the mirror on the wall in Icon, miles away - and whimpered when he finally found a hand mirror behind the bar, found his face without its distinctive tats.

He staggered back to the table, then slumped onto the felt. Harlem Foreman closed his eyes and tried to escape back into dreams, waiting to wake up from the nightmare.


He staggered down Pricks[5], nursing the side of his head. No magic. He couldn't reach the world around him. He couldn't provoke the music from the stone, couldn't simply reach out and watch as the world did his bidding.

why, why, why?

He had given up the CD! He had thrown away the silly dream of the girl, stopped chasing the nonsense! He'd... goddammit, he'd answered the question!

"Why?!" Harlem yelled, up at the sky, gripping his fists tight as he glared up and out, his breath drawn fast, his eyes stinging. "Where are you, you bastard?!"

Where was that Spirit, that solid, reassuring stone face that rumbled through the terrain, that played the harmonica for orphans and shared his stogie with hobos? He needed him right now, but Harlem could feel the silence, could taste the absence. The Row had to still be there - it would be a tragedy of an epic proportion that could finally and forever take out The Row, and the first things to die would be the people - which meant that something had broken.

What had Harlem done wrong?! Why couldn't he-

The CD. The girl.

He'd given her up last night. He'd thrown it away, had surrendered the hope. Now he was... Oh god, had that been the lesson? Had she been the vessel, the hope the way he had power, now? Had he sacrificed his ability to help people because he'd given up the dream?

And as Harlem leaned against a shop window, he sighed and ran a hand through his hair, watching brown hair fall in front of his eyes, watched his own face and saw the refusal to cry that it held. And then, he saw the figure behind him, one hand put on his shoulder.

"Harlem, dear?" she said. "Is that you?"

Harlem looked up. The name leapt to mind - Aria. She was a head taller than him, had a chest almost as big as Backbeat's, and such lovely curly hair. She was also married and had two brand-new grandchildren, and the rest of her body lacked any comparison to Backbeat at all. It always struck Harlem as a little unfair - she had such a pretty name. And she ran a deli - the deli he was leaning against.

He turned and nodded, licking his lower lip as he drew a breath. Of course she doubted it was him - without the tattoos, without the sign, the mark, was he really Harlem any more? Without the music and the magic and the footsteps of a dancing mountain, was he really himself? He let all these tense thoughts, these fears roil around one another, even as he nervously tapped a foot in time with a half-remembered song. Probably Mellancamp or Walsh or Bon Jovi - because that's what the Row was like. He drew a breath.

"I didn't recognise you when you were frowning," Aria said, smiling, patting his cheek. "Come on in, you look like you could use a sandwich."

Harlem blinked. And Aria entered her deli, moving like a tenuously tethered hot-air balloon, giving him a smile as she went, rocking her neck and dancing to the radio as she went about her business. And Harlem took a seat, watching and thinking silently. There was music here - music in her steps, in the way she moved. And as the bread was cut and the meal was made, they talked.

Harlem didn't talk a lot to people in the Row. He listened. And he listened now. He listened to how they'd been having trouble with the landlord. Any other day he'd have brought out the song, brushed away the cobwebs. He'd swept this floor on the nights where Aria's back had given her problems, had given her time to spend with her husband, who hadn't been able to walk since he came back from Iraq[6]. Aria was cut out of old cloth. She was the kind of girl who married a soldier because he was so handsome and commanding. She hadn't expected to care for a man wounded by something so cowardly as a land mine. She'd been expecting to run a business and be his princess.

She was, Harlem knew. She was his princess and he her dragon. There was such strength and beauty and love in this place, and he had no need of the senses of a shaman to feel it here.

He tried to defer the sandwich. He tried to avoid taking anything, tried to think of someone who could use the sandwich in close proximity, but he couldn't find anyone. No, he couldn't wrap it up and walk out with it, finding someone who needed it more. He had to sit there and eat it, glumly reflecting that he'd gone from being the Row's helper to being one of its many helped. A whinnying sigh escaped his lips as he quietly tucked in.

And as he ate, He just knew. And he listened. She spoke over her coffee. She needed this. A quiet moment to talk about her life, to confide in someone. Harlem was so very good at this, such a listener. He nodded and he smiled and frowned and he patted hands, and was utterly sincere about it every step of the way.

He knew where this story started - it began the way so many did. "Do you remember that night-" because everyone in the Row had seen Harlem before. Nobody was telling him a new story, they were all updating him on an old one. And he knew how the chapters folded out because he was the narrator, the man who made the girl reconsider her boy, put the missing ring on the mantlepiece[7], and the one who stood up to the landlord. And she asked if he remembered two nights ago. When Harlem had been the shaman, when Harlem had the means to do these things.

She'd been speaking to her husband. She'd spoke to him about the landlord's rates, about how the man was bullying them into paying more. And she'd known, after talking it over with her husband, she knew he wasn't able to handle things herself, and that he was not strong enough either. He had the knowledge, but not the fortitude, and she the fortitude, but not the time. They'd had to cut the discussion short, had to part hands and leave him by the TV while she went downstairs to clean up from the day.

And so she'd steeled herself, bracing herself for the worst. And she'd gone downstairs - she'd gone downstairs and found him, found Harlem with a broom in hand. She hadn't let him in, she hadn't asked him to come. He'd just been there, and the counters were cleaned and the windows were mopped. And she could go to bed early, and lie next to her husband and they could just enjoy some time together, while downstairs, someone else did the washing up, someone else cleaned the shop front, someone else took the load of the mundane, just for that one night. And Harlem had sung as he did it - a child's song, a song of sons and daughters, and the time of little fantasies.

Chanson pour les petis enfants,
Chanson pour tou le mon;

He blinked as she told him that she'd stood up to the landlord herself. Because the story hadn't stopped once Harlem had stopped singing; the world had continued on without him, without him needing to guide it. She'd woken up early because she'd gone to bed early, and she'd gone to the library because she'd had the time.

And then, Aria had gone to the landlord and with the casual strength that can only come from a good night's rest and the confidence of knowledge, slammed his proverbial head into a metaphorical door. She'd spoken clear and unfettered, she spoke of a tenant of twenty years who had been running a King's Row icon. She fairly lambasted him with every bit of truth they'd had, and when she was done using the truth, she loaded up and hit him with guilt as well.

And she'd walked away, the rent on her property dropped by two percent.

Harlem had just blinked as she told him the story. She wasn't doing it to be praised. She wasn't trying to show him what she'd done. She was just unwinding. She was excited! She'd done something that had been impressive, she had had a good day, and she wanted to share it... with a friend.

Harlem smiled. It was a good sandwich. And now he felt a bit better.


There are some things that never change, and god bless her, Batty Chitters was one. Harlem had his thumbs tucked into his pants, where his pockets would be if his sackloth pants had had them.

Old Batty Chitters. God, she was a nice lady, if you ignored that she forgot who you were every ten minutes. Still, every time you saw her, she was always happy, because she never got visitors any more, never had anyone who remembered her. She was so easy to forget, now that she forgot everything, which was a shame. She wasn't judgemental, she never held a grudge, and someone, someone had to see her. The world just wouldn't be fair otherwise.

Harlem had lost faith in karma[8]. No cosmic force was going to make things fair, make things right. So someone had to do it, and do it with their own two hands, instead of just wishing it.

Harlem was someone.

When he arrived at Batty Chitter's basement apartment, he stood agog at the ambulance. They were wheeling Mrs Chittington out, her skin like paper, her eyes watery and full of rust. Cobwebs lay behind those eyes and it made it harder for her to see the ones in her own life. He knew because he'd been down in her basement, catching rats and letting them loose near the outskirts. She was a lonely old woman, but she wasn't alone. She always had her son visiting - whenever anyone did - and Harlem had been called Roland so many times in his dealings with the old lady that he wondered if he'd ever introduced himself.

The sheet was moving, the oxygen mask fogging with condensation. Harlem ran up to her, standing next to the paramedics as they wheeled her gently to the ambulance. One held up his hand, "Keep your distance, kid -"

"I'm her grandson," Harlem lied blithely. "Ma? It's me, Roland," he said, shouldering past the hand, leaning next to the gurney, his hand taking hers. So old, so frail. She felt like a baby bird in his hand, her hand so brittle it would break.

"It's..." a long pause, while her oxygen recollected, while the thoughts pushed aside those cobwebs. "Sweet... Of you... to visit..." she didn't cough, she didn't wrack. He could just see it in her eyes as her chest twitched. She was losing a fight inside, and she was too weak to fight it any more. "There's carrot... cake in the... in the icebox..."

Harlem felt the lump swell in his throat, brushing his cheek at the sting he felt there. "Hey, hey... just save your breath... you'll be okay," he kept lying, unable to even finish a sentence, unwilling to admit the real end that was here.

"Imagine..." The croak had that lyric to it, that cadence, "That there's... no heaven..." she turned her head, and young man and old woman blinked in time. She gave a quiet gasp, then smiled, yellow teeth cracked with time, and spoke her last; "Thank you... Harlem."

Harlem stood there for a while. He blinked and sighed and backed away, admitting the truth to the paramedics - who gave him the time before they moved the quietly peaceful frame of the old lady to the ambulance. He stepped away, he drew back, he drew breath. And he looked down at her one window, lurking down by the gutters, giving the apartment just enough light to get by during the day. There'd be someone who could use this space. He should mention that to someone, try and find the person who could use it. He ... he should...

Harlem put his hand on the wall as he sat down next to her window, looking into the cellar with its stacks and stacks of newspaper, tied neatly together in little columns, remembering sleeping on them on some rough nights. And he swallowed, and he could swallow it back no more.

And he cried again.


He'd moved this sofa up here to share with Chloe. He didn't know about stars, didn't know about astrology or astronomy. He knew they were glittering jewels, he knew they were gorgeous when you looked through the smog. He knew they were awesome, burning spheres of gas that were so far away that there had been a time you couldn't even see them. He wondered about that - wondered about whether there were moments when scientists were sitting around and blinked in surprise as a new star appeared, the light finally arriving after its long trek.

Chloe was working late. He didn't have a key or he'd have made her dinner. He'd climbed a fire escape to get up here, his breath misting in the quiet evening, his arms up behind his head. He felt the pinch of the cold, too, but he felt like he was steaming after the hard climb he'd had to get here. Lying out on the sofa, he gave a soft and heartfelt sigh...

And opened his eyes again - inside and out.

And there it was. The city. All of it and none of it, right behind his eyelids, there every time he blinked, the heartbeat rushing into his ears fit to deafen him. The magic was back, the contact at his fingertips. He drew a breath, he shuddered and he arched, the sensation of its return so intense as to almost break his mind in half.

And the Spirit of the Row was sitting next to him, resting on a chimney like a perch. "Hey." he murmured.

"Hey," Harlem said.

A long pause, a conversation between men. They were always like this. One who didn't ask questions, one who resented being doubted. They were hard and insensitive and kinda cruel, really, but that was the Row. What mattered was how you cared for your own.

"Was you, wasn't it?" Harlem asked.


Another long pause. Above them, a star pinwheeled across the sky, a shooting star. Nobody made a wish. You didn't make wishes when you knew the world like they did. But Harlem could hear around him, the quiet hubbub of thousands of people, miles apart, noticing the star, and pointing, and silently stowing away a wish that he might be able to one day make true. Who knows, one of the might have even been wishing for... well, that was silly.

"Was it because of her?" he asked.

"Chitters? Nope."

"Not her."

"Aria? Nope."

Harlem sighed. "Not her, either."

"S'for you." The Spirit of the Row found its feet, putting them down on the rooftop. Between himself and Harlem, millions of tons of weight was being put down onto the roof - which put no strain on the roof at all. A city didn't hurt itself. "Y'needed to notice something, Harlem."


The Row turned his head. "Need me to spell it out for you?"

Harlem looked up at the stars again, and blew a ring of cold air, mimicing the bigger man's blown cigar ring. "I'm not here to make everyone's life good. I'm here to make 'em all a little better. The Row doesn't have a father or a big brother. It just..." he sighed. "I'm here to give people enough help to help themselves."

A craggy face, a blinking pair of fiery eyes, and a silent smile. A huge hand patted the boy on the head. Harlem bit back his annoyance at the patronising gesture. This was just the Row's way. Whatever your story, he'd heard harder.

"Close, kid." The Row swirled the cigar around to the other side of its face. "I'm saying y'can take a fuckin' day off every now and again. Stop breaking yourself."

Raising his hand, Harlem watched as, against the stars, his skin rippled as the tattoos returned, the sign of the shaman. Magical and arcane and dirty and homespun, the magic was at his hand again. Not because he'd regained hope in the girl, and not because he'd let her go. It had had nothing to do with her - it had everything to do with him. The back of his hand glimmered, the proud royal crown of the 93rd blossoming there, his other hand displaying the number 93. He watched the ink run down to his fingertips, flowing like a river, his rough-worn scars giving texture to the flawless penmanship of the spirit.

Harlem blinked, opening his eyes again, inside and out. He felt it again, the hum of the city; the sound of Roland Chittington reading his mother's diary, the sound of Aria singing her husband to sleep, and the sound of Chloe's hand on Chloe's doorknob. He glanced up at the Row. Who was not there any more - and whose glittering toothy grin, of white concrete and broken glass - hung in the air like a cheshire cat's. Harlem sat up straight - swinging the door to Chloe's apartment open, and rattling a window from four stories away. Thumping the sofa, he knew she'd know he was up there.

It was nice to have a friend[9] to share a beer with. Harlem had not felt nearly so good in weeks.

With Again

Harlem sat in the quiet of the bar. Lying on his back and drawing his breath, he felt the soft green felt around him. Across the room, the distended discs of a very old, very forgotten jukebox began to turn. And the song that played was not the distorted ramblings of Pat Boone turned into satanic ramblings. They were pure and sweet and they jived.

And Harlem closed his eyes and he listened to their dreams. And it didn't matter that they hadn't come true, or that they couldn't. It matter that they dreamed them. And that they had carried those dreams with them, and shared them with someone.

Author's Notes

Harlem has always been an organic character. I whipped him up in a short time, with a vague parameter (to work alongside an empathy defender and a invulnerability tanker while running leadership), and so it's fitting that the story ideas that flow from him are very homegrown and kind of untouched.

The whole CD plot grew out of an offshoot of another story, with Flare Girl, Rapace and Wayfare. Really, I think it was just Wayfare's player being awesome and giving me a bunch of music to listen to, then tying it to something roleplay-related. I wanted to give Harlem something to do, some hope, after losing his chance[10] with Kacey. I had been thinking about how Shamanism worked, and finding that friends of mine were into Tarot, I had been thinking.

See, I'm personally a skeptic, an atheist and an antitheist. I keep these views to myself as long as people keep their religions to themselves, and while I am happy to explain and explore what I think to friends who ask it, I view it as hypocritical for me to think ill of religion for its obtrusive nature, and then go about proseletysing in my social time for a scientific viewpoint. I view it as more important that I stand and have the knowledge to answer questions when they are put to me, figuring that those who want to know will ask, and those who are truly religious will never be swayed. However, I said something dismissive about Tarot when it first came up, and I felt bad for doing so afterwards.

There's an old quote from Christopher Hitchens: "Religion ends and philosophy begins, as alchemy ends and chemistry begins, as astrology ends and astronomy begins." I don't believe in Tarot, but I believe it warrants study and understanding in the same way I believe religions do. It is a tool from our past as human beings, and it deserves respect for what it told us about ourselves. This set me to thinking in the context of City - and that Harlem, as a Shaman, was one of those people that, fifteen hundred years ago or whatever, would have been crafting Tarot decks and casting bones.

I wanted to modernise that. I modernised his shaman magic as the city responding to him. He doesn't call storms and thunder, he doesn't curse your house. He wields magic and the city as clubs, his magic no more sophisticated than it was before, just changed in its expression. This means that I needed something like Tarot - something that spoke of the world-as-it-is expressed through something unrelated. A psychological mirror, as it were - something for the hands to do while the mind worked.

Thus the CD prophecy; a completely mundane object that now holds intense and amazing power, because of what Harlem wanted of it, what magic it has now held out of the day-to-day life and hope of people. Harlem never had proof for his faith in it, but he told people of it anyway, and their belief flowed with his, filling the CD as a vessel. It's now an indestructable artifact, a CD that gives you a perfect image song just for you. The CD renders you, the listener, and the second time you listen to it, it is a CD just for you. It shows you you.

As a writer, part of me regrets writing this. Because if the CD girl was ever going to turn up, now is the time she should. It's always darkest just before the dawn, and now it is as dark as it can get for that story. In the grand scheme of that tale, Harlem has surrendered all hope, has given up whatever chance he could have with this dream girl, so, of course, now is when she shows up.

As a writer, though, organics is nice, but discipline is important. If I don't close this plot off, just as I did the Wayfare crush, then it would drag on, and the organic conclusion is that Harlem would be miserable and wasting his life seeking a girl who, at best, might exist. I have learned much about writing and much about roleplaying, and one of the details that has most persistantly stuck with me is that you have to put yourself forward. No girl is going to step forward to be the girl in the CD, and nobody should. By this stage, any character stepping into that role would feel like she was being guilted into it, which is just awful.

So, I took the disciplined step. This, here, is where the CD Girl plot ends. The rule of three[11] hasn't been fulfilled yet, so I think Harlem is due another disappointment before he's happy. Also, because this is the end of the CD Girl Plot, I am actually happy to describe how I perceive her more, hence the description we got of her in the theatre. I tried to avoid thinking too much about what she was really like, because it would cut off the options I had for characters who could fit it.

I still want to write a fanciful romance, a new take on the eternally classic Prince Charming and Cinderella story - but it's not happening with Harlem, I think. Harlem is for a different tale, of gas pipes and grease stains. And I think it's time for Harlem to evolve. He really is at the stage where King's Row is beneath his mechanical notice - and as far as his powers go, it seems appropriate that he is now able to ward areas, to draw heroes to them, to give people the tools to fight better. Now, he has to work on protecting more than just his little neighbourhood.

And soon, Harlem is going to Croatoa. I wonder who he'll meet there.

Please! Leave comments on the Discussion page, if you liked it! In depth feedback is always heaps appreciated, but as a writer, I am content to live on the scraps of ego-inflation that are thrown my way.


Spirit of the Row, Backbeat, Auroral, Chloe Marque, Adrienne Hunter, and I wanted to fit Carapace, Geneva Hex and Phoenix-Risen in here somewhere. Alas, I did not manage it.


  1. Here in Talos, his chest was a sprawl; rendered in greek symbols across his shoulder is the edict: As Below, So Above. Down both his arms runs the script, a prayer to the sea and a benediction for one warrior, not three hundred, who, by the law of his own moral code, lay dead and dreaming. The words were as though carved in stone, and around them run olive vines. His chest wears a mighty set of horns, and a hand, as kraken itself, rising up from the ocean, waves crashing into one another down his navel, and thousands of fish, each with human eyes, dot through the lines on his skin. The trained eye can see, however, that in this elaborate design, the waves form a labyrinth, the olive leaves a maze.
  2. And his stomach turned to say it, the sigh in the pit of his stomach that said he so wished it hadn't been. Partly for his stupid pride, partly for his broken heart, and partly for the way the words of the music had made him tingle and feel on fire. What woman could possibly have been that CD?
  3. Again indeed; the last time Adrienne Hunter had returned to the Row, the last time she'd come there to mourn, Harlem had given her his hand, had played for her, had given her time and room to grieve. And then he had left her with a promise and a threat: If you ever harm the Row again, we will end you.
  4. Hell, he'd thought it might have been Auroral, and she was at best slightly cute and a little androgynous. Though the ethereal quality she'd had was nice.
  5. Prix street, named by a mayor attempting to be multicultural and positive. He factored without the Row's somewhat semiliterate reading style.
  6. The first one.
  7. Where it had clearly been all along, oh, my, I'd lose my own head next, what a relief...
  8. Indeed, his entire belief in the girl in the CD was borne out of that faith, once upon a time. He knew how silly it was - but he figured, with all the good he had done in the world, he was owed something silly, something beautiful, something unrealistic and romantic.
  9. "You can't be lonely if you like the person you're alone with."
  10. Well, it was less 'losing' and more 'not even trying for'
  11. Whenever you write, you should use three (or one) of anything. A list should have at least three things in it, punctuation marks are either alone or in threes, and stories are composed of problem-resolution-denoument, three parts. Ultimately, this structure is very aesthetically pleasant and is a good basis for people to work with. If you have another image in mind, of course, use that! But the rule of three is a very handy, very useful rule of thumb.
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