The Rise of Ransom City

The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

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Authors: Felix Gilman
Tags: Fantasy
about puzzles and mysteries. We were just on the road together.


I. The Western Rim
    The world is made up of an infinite number of words, but it contains only a finite quantity of paper and ink. I cannot describe every little town we passed through or every person we met. But for the boys and girls who will be born in Ransom City and for all the generations to come I want to make some record of how things were.
    There was a town called Mammoth that is worth recording for posterity. In a big red barn there they had a whole skeleton of a long-dead beast that they said was a monstrous precursor to human settlement or even Folk settlement, from back when the world was hardly made at all. Miss Harper suspected it was composited from bison but I was enthralled regardless. I displayed the Apparatus under the arch of its rib cage and its knuckly spine cast weird shadows on the ceiling.
    The town of Izar had more dentists on Main Street than I could imagine was necessary or good for business or good for anyone’s peace of mind. New Delacorte was built at the edge of a valley flooded with jewel-blue but lifeless water, stinking of salt and sulfur and dead fish, and nobody was willing to give me a satisfactory explanation as to how this came about. Dope fiends littered the streets of Caldwell, basking like lizards in the summer heat. In Kattagan a dispute over grave-rent threatened to turn violent. There was a store in Hamlin that sold nothing but candy! A hairy-knuckled woman on Main Street outside that extraordinary cornucopia thrust two live rattlesnakes up to my face as I stood sucking a mint and watching Carver water Mariette and Golda. She cut off both serpents’ heads with a single snip of her scissors and purported to read my future in their throes. I had not solicited this service and I was vexed about paying for it.
    The fattest man I have ever set eyes on was the Mayor of Ford. Flesh rolled down his body like foothills and if he had a nose I cannot say that it was distinguishable from any other mountainous swelling of his features. I would just as soon have bought tickets for the Mayor as for the Mammoth.
    There were at least three Glendales in that part of the world, and one New Glendale. None of them stick in my mind much but the four Beck Brothers, who you may recall have joined up with our westward expedition, Dick, Erskine, Joshua and John, they say that they grew up in one of the Glendales, and they want me to say it was an excellent little town. However when I ask them for details they are stumped too.
    In the hills above Marchoun the trees were turning green to red to gold, the same way the light of the Process sometimes does as it grows unpredictable. I thought that was beautiful, and said so. But what held the Harpers’ attention was that two big Ironclads of the Line had been abandoned on Marchoun’s Main Street, their crews mysteriously vanished, their cannon blind. The townsfolk had resigned themselves to the presence of those hulking machines and business went on around them— certainly nobody dared try to move them. I dallied awhile in Marchoun to pay court to a handsome woman who owned a general store.
    Skewbald’s Main Street was one long slavemarket where convicts and debtors and captured Folk stood chained to every storefront and porch in silent reproach, and we passed the town by, stopping only as long as it took to re-shoe Mariette. The blacksmith in Skewbald mostly worked on chains and goads, and you would have thought some unease would show in his face, some hint of disturbed sleep or bad digestion, but in fact he was a smiling and handsome fellow. As we walked out I remarked that there is no justice in the world and Old Man Harper remarked that I was too old to be just learning that now.
    In that part of the Western Rim there were many Folk still living free, but many in chains too. You did not see the great chained legions you hear they have down in the Deltas but

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