The nameless city was old and new at the same time, quite unsuited to its time yet perfectly apropos. The skies were full of soaring airships, and hansom carriages bustled down the streets. Everything had a certain smell to it; a smell of adventure, progress, and change, mixed with a strong air of the ancient, the unknown, the timeless. This nameless city was where one Lord Reginald called home.
This Lord Reginald was a pompous, rather foppish fellow with an insatiable desire for the best in life. His coats were tailor-made, his top hats crafted by the finest haberdasher in the country, and he was always in search of something rare and expensive to show off to his circle of friends. He would often buy something flashy or antique in the hope that the fair Missus Genevieve Marmalade, one of the richest ladies in the city, would appreciate his purchase and fall madly in love with him. Even if the purchase ended up killing him…
One day, Lord Reginald woke up with a single thought in his head – I must buy a sword to show Missus Marmalade my courage, my valor, my gallantry! But where, where could he find the sword of his dreams? He puzzled a bit, and realized where he should go. Old Enoch Teak’s antique shop would be a perfect place to find a sword – I’ve never gone in there before, but I assume it’s an honest establishment with a good record of legitimate business, he thought. At that, Lord Reginald put on his finery, placed his top hat atop his head, and hung his favorite pair of brass goggles around his neck. Out the door he raced, and into the early morning of the nameless city.
Enoch Teak’s antique emporium stood in the middle of a dusty old alleyway known for its plentiful assortment of alley cats and urchins. Behind the windows, grimy with soot from airship exhaust, one could spy in the dim light a myriad of ancient and undeterminable artifacts, stuffed creatures either rare or long extinct, and drawers and cupboards stuffed with trinkets When Lord Reginald arrived at the door of the shop, he was not at all surprised to find Gerhardt the pickpocket asleep at the door. A lean, scraggle-haired bum, Gerhardt had been living on the street corner next to Teak’s as long as Reginald could remember. He’d never seen a man (or woman) go into the shop before, but Reginald knew that Gerhardt was an honest, although disgusting, fellow that would know the whereabouts of Mr. Teak. A quick whack on the side of the head from Reginald’s brass-tipped cane woke the ragged street urchin from his slumber.
“Ehh… who’s there?” yawned Gerhardt, scratching his behind. “Oh, it’s Lord Reginald… good mornin’, m’Lord.”
“Good morning, Gerhardt, you sorry sack of bones,” replied Reginald, clearly impatient to get into the shop. “Where’s Mr. Teak? I’d like to go into his shop, if you don’t mind picking your sorry arse up and moving somewhere else.”
Gerhardt licked his lips and wracked his brain to find an answer.
“Eh… hmm… let me think…. ah, yes, m’Lord, he’s at the airship wharf. Been there all night. Shop’s closed ‘til he gets back. Says he’s got a major delivery from the farthest Continent, he does. Says it’s a sword of some sort –"
Before Gerhardt could finish his sentence, Lord Reginald shook his hand vigorously and smiled widely.
“That’s all I needed to know, thank you. Goodbye!”
With that, he was off to the other end of town. Gerhardt simply shrugged, fell over, and was sound asleep again.
Even in the early morning, the airship wharf murmured with business. The salty spray of the sea and the endless golden glow of the rising sun contrasted starkly with the mechanical workings of the ships and the shady gruffness of the sky pirates off to hawk their illicit wares in hazy alleys. From the docks of the airship wharf, Reginald could see the glimmering skyline of his nameless city stretch out before him like an enormous pop-up book. He watched the sky, mesmerized by its beauty, untainted by the presence of an airship or a flock of gulls…
“Lord Reginald, is that you?” a voice called out.
Breaking his concentration on the skyline, Reginald turned to find the man he was looking for. A plump, sprightly little man of a certain age, Enoch Teak exuded a strange charm that both appalled and attracted Reginald. He was standing beside a large crate, presumably containing something ancient and valuable – perhaps it is the sword from the far Continent, thought Reginald, a glimmer of cunning in his eye. “Ah, good morning, Mr. Teak! Just the man I was looking for.”
At this greeting from such a well-renowned person, Mr. Teak bowed, smiling a crooked, old-fashioned sort of smile.
“You were looking for me, sir? My goodness, to have such an illustrious person such as yourself want an audience with little old me – such a delight so early in the morning, hmm?”
“Enough with the chat, let’s get down to business,” said Reginald firmly. “I heard that you’ve just been shipped a sword of some sort from the far Continent.”
Before Mr. Teak could respond, Reginald whipped out his wallet and pulled out three very high-denomination bills.
“I’m quite intrigued. If you’re not opposed to my impending purchase of said sword, I shall give you three hundred pounds for it –“
“It’s a deal!” Mr. Teak eagerly grabbed the money from Reginald’s hand, and pushed the crate to him. Reginald shook Teak’s hand, and was on his way back home when Mr. Teak called out to him:
“Enjoy your sword – but whatever you do, don’t try to show it off. The man I bought it off of in Fuji says it’s got a curse…”
Curses, bah, I don’t believe in curses, muttered Lord Reginald under his breath.
Back in town, he eagerly opened the crate and held his purchase aloft. It was an expertly crafted katana. A beautifully crafted weapon, the sword glittered in the sun and sent beams of light bouncing off in all directions when it was in the right light. The handle was made of a sort of polished ebony-black marble, cool to the touch and easy to grip in one or both hands. Reginald began to swordfight an onslaught of invisible foes, cutting and slashing his way wildly down the street. (As he awkwardly found out, its blade was made of a tempered metal strong enough to slice through an entire lamppost.)
When Reginald returned home, he hung his sword in a display case over his fireplace in the parlor. Settling into his favorite chair, he gazed proudly at his newest purchase, every so often taking a sip of chamomile tea. "I’m so proud of myself," he murmured.
A short time later, Reginald heard a knock on the door, followed by a familiar, mellifluous voice.
“Lord Reginald? Are you home, my dear? I’m here for our weekly tea.”
Missus Marmalade! In a panic, Reginald scrambled up from his comfy chair and rushed to open the door for her. Missus Marmalade was one of the richest ladies in town, one of Lord Reginald’s few friends. Her love of adventure and the unknown set her apart from the rest, and this greatly attracted Lord Reginald. She arrived dressed in her usual Friday best: an elaborately ruffled sunglow-orange dress with matching corset and petticoat underneath, pale dainty stockings and inexplicably tall boots, all topped off with a giant feathered hat somehow unable to verge on the ridiculous. She was also wearing a small pair of copper goggles round her neck, like opera glasses.
“Good day, Lord Reginald,” she said, curtsying. Her sparkling honey-brown eyes grew wide as she extended her hand.
“Good day, Missus Marmalade,” replied Reginald, bending down to kiss her hand. “Shall we sit?”
He led her into the parlor by the hand, and sat her down on a blue velvet chaise. He poured the both of them a cup of tea (extra sugar and cream for her) and sat himself down next to her. As they sipped their tea in silence, the sword seemed to watch the two of them from its perch above the fireplace. Just slightly unnerved by the sword’s presence, Reginald tried to start a conversation.
“So, then, Missus Marmalade… how is life treating you?”
“Fine, Lord Reginald, fine. As is with you, I presume?”
“You presumed right, my dear.”
Another silence, followed by more tea. Reginald’s eyes darted from Missus Marmalade’s lovely honey-brown eyes to the sword hung over the fireplace and back. The light coming in from the window bounced off the shiny blade, making tiny refractions of light around the room. The spots it cast seemed to be in the shape of glowing letters: BEWARE. Reginald wasn’t sure if the letters were just an illusion, a trick of the light. He shrugged it off, more confused as to why his lady guest had yet to see his latest extravagant purchase.
"Damn, why hasn’t she noticed my sword?" Reginald muttered quickly under his breath.
“Excuse me? What did you say, Lord Reginald?” Missus Marmalade asked curiously. “Did I notice your sword? What sword is this?”
“Yes, my sword,” replied Reginald awkwardly, “the one I bought recently off of old Enoch Teak from the far Continent. It’s hanging right there, above my fireplace.” He pointed at the weapon in question, and smiled widely. “It’s magnificent, isn’t it?”
After looking at it briefly, the expression on Missus Marmalade’s powdered face turned from her normal smile to a disappointed frown.
“I suppose, if you like that sort of thing,” she sighed. “I’m happy for you, Lord Reginald, I really am.” She quietly went back to her tea, looking into it unhappily. She took a long sip from her cup, leaving a stain of lipstick on the edge.
"She doesn’t like it," muttered Reginald, "she doesn’t like it, even after all I went through." He downed the rest of his tea and set his empty cup down.
“You see, Lord Reginald, we’ve known each other for years now,” began Missus Marmalade. “And after all this time, you’ve never once shown me any sign of affection other than the occasional kiss on the hand!”
“I’m sorry, my dear – ”
“You can stop calling me ‘my dear’ or ‘Missus Marmalade,’ Reginald,” she said, a slight tinge of bitterness coloring her words. “We’ve known each other for so long, I’d think you would have the common courtesy to call me by my first name.”
“Well, you see, er – ”
“You don’t even know my first name, do you, Lord Reginald?” she asked matter-of-factly.
Reginald was flustered and terrified by the sudden angriness of his guest. “…is it Victoria?” Reginald asked.
“IT’S GENEVIEVE! MY NAME IS MISSUS GENEVIEVE ANGELINE MARMALADE, LORD REGINALD!” Missus Marmalade said fiercely, getting up from her seat. “I come over for tea every week, and you fail to even call me by my name! All you ever care about is your stupid expensive things and whether or not I like them!”
“But I do it for you, Genevieve…” he whimpered weakly, looking more like a moody puppy than the brave gallant hero he wanted her to see him as.
“You may do it for me, but it’s not what I want. You should know me better – and after all this time, I’m frankly surprised you haven’t learned your lesson.” She walked over to the door.
“Goodbye, Lord Reginald, you shallow, uncaring man.” She opened the door, took one last look at the man she had once called a friend, put her goggles on, and stepped out. “Goodbye forever.”
The sound of the slammed door echoed through the house, reverberating deep in Reginald’s heart.
After Missus Marmalade’s departure, Reginald sat in silence, watching his sword with contempt. I have no use for you. You’re a waste of space, a waste of money, a waste of my time, he spat, as if the sword had feelings and could hear his voice trembling with hatred. You were my one big chance with Genevieve, and you ruined it! Reginald smashed open the display case and held the damned blade aloft. Wordlessly, putting all his emotions into one swift movement, he slammed it onto the floor.
The rest of Reginald’s day didn’t seem to go according to plan either. At first it just seemed like a bad stroke of luck: he burnt his supper and spilled his dessert tea all over his purple silk pajamas. But it soon got much worse.
When he walked into his study to pick out a book to read before bed, he found dozens upon dozens of priceless volumes thrown from their shelves and torn to shreds, the floor littered with their pages, once pristine but now jagged and crumpled.
As he walked into the bathroom to draw his bath for an evening soak, Reginald was surprised to find the tub was already filled with water, and the damned sword was eerily floating on its surface. Scrambling to grab it, he tumbled into the hot soapy water to find nothing, nothing there at all. Every time he just thought about that sword, something seemed to go horribly, terribly wrong. He went to bed incredibly bitter and dissatisfied with his day – the image of his sword still glinting perilously in his mind’s eye. His sleep was fitful, full of tossing and turning; nightmarish images preyed upon his dormant mind like vultures over a rotting carcass.
The sword appeared to Reginald in the middle of the night, like a moth to a flame, emitting an unearthly glow, hovering precariously above his head like a modern Damocles. Was he dreaming? No, he was quite awake indeed. When it appeared above his bed, he uttered a strangled cry of agony and panic. The sword’s glow grew brighter, and wrote a tortured message in the air with the same letters it cast in the parlor:
You have been a fool, Lord Reginald - for in order to achieve happiness one does not choose the sword - the woman you love has turned away from your boastful, prideful self- the cost of this purchase is great - your hubris rivals that of Prometheus and Gilgamesh - may your folly be your downfall - may you die by your own hands and not by the noble art of the duel - may your soul be bound to the sword forever - fate wills it, so it must be.
Unable to tell if the message above his head was in his imagination or actually there, Reginald stared immobile at the flickering words.
How have I deserved this, my life’s ambitions destroyed? Have I truly been this boastful, this arrogant, this greedy? Let me die, take me to the great beyond. I have no purpose if no one appreciates what I do for the noblest cause of all, love…
The sword plummeted from its supernatural perch and struck Reginald in the abdomen, pinning him to the bed, killing him on the spot. No one would be there to collect him in the morning except Death.