A Visit to San Sibila
This is a solo actual play of the game A Visit to San Sibilia. I played it while traveling in like July 2023 or something, am writing it up from my notes in a notebook months later. I made some small changes after the fact as I wrote it up. I feel like I was maybe inspired by the vibe of The City and The City, but otherwise there isn't much of a resemblance.
Character: a boisterous explorer named Cirith Halsen.
I woke up here with aterrible headache, knowing nobody. I had long wanted to find ths place, and did not believe it really existed, but the spires matched the old painting that had seared itself into my memory, and a newspaper nearby said the San Sibila Sentinel. The date is three days later than I remember it being. A small purse of local currency sits next to a hotel bill paid through the end of the week. And the name of a publishing company, next to a stack of notebooks. At least I can make a living here.
I navigate the town as best I can. My command of the local language, at least, is good - the dialect here is only a little unfamiliar. Despite San Sibila's notoriously insular nature, nobody seems surprised to see a foreign visitor - or perhaps it's a concept so strange that they simply don't realize. A cheerful young man on the street directs me to the Compass Publishing House. It's a small operation and the manager greets me warmly. He says he's enjoyed my writing - a surprise, since I was never very successful - and things I would be perfect for a new project. He wants me to view the city with new eyes.
It is lunchtime as we're joined by a fellow writer to walk along the river and take lunch. I note many others doing the same, and in a far more leisurely manner than I am used to. My nerves start to settle.
I want to see what lies further afield, so, wanting to save moeny, I walk along the river until I reach the edge of town. Rolling farmland and green hills, and dirt roads. I walk to a farmhouse and ask where the next city is, and they answer only with confusion.
Sitting in a field, I sketch the city and write up my thoughts. I'm doubtful that it's what Compass Publishing was hoping for, but they are quite happy with it.
My first look at a darker side of the city? A sort of funeral procession at dawn, or perhaps a religious imitation of such. Angry masks and strange rods. A hand grips me roughly and I get free and run.
In the park, I run into another foreigner. She, tool, has no idea of how she got here, and seems vaguely nervous to be talking to me. We exchange addresses and promise to meet.
I spend more time writing. I visit a bookstore for inspiration on what people like here. I see a pamphlet I have written, prominently placed in the travel section! Normally they are relegated to a dusty bin, if I see them at all.
I make my way to a gallery opening I saw advertised. It seems like rich fodder for the sort of writing from an outsider's perspective that the publishing house likes. My hotel is about to be due as well, an though I have not seen the innkeeper, I don't know how much it will be. The gallery is strange but oddly compelling: instead of lifelike scenes, abstract variations on a pattern. I have never seen such a thing before.
Day 7 [X]
The innkeeper comes by. An old woman who speaks in dialect that I struggle with, but to my relief the room is cheap.
I get another visitor, who leaves me a card with only an address without speaking to me. I follow it to a loud coffee shop. A woman with a wide-brimmed hat and veil tells me she is a city official, being vague about what kind, and that she has tasks for me. Nothing dangerous, just watching, observing and writing. The cafe owner, she tells me, will hand over instructions, receive my writing and pay me. I must speak about this with noboyd, but may speak to Compass Publishing about my new assignment. Who else would I speak to, I wonder?
I'm vague when I speak to the manager of Compass Publishing, because the woman in the hat frightens me a bit, but he is cheerful about the change. He suggests I still come by once a week to get lunch together.
My first assignment is to it at an open air cafe and describe who comes. It's on the far side of town and pretty quiet, and the owner refills my coffee for free. A man with a green hat comes in. He goes to the back, and when he leaves, the cafe owner looks afraid.
Day 9 [X]
The man in a green hat is following me. I don't think much of it, and in fact write it into an amusing story. I get my assignment for the day a bit later: to visit an ancient ruin by the ocean and spend the day observing and writing.
As I walk there, a gloved hand brusquely grabs my arm. I am informed we will walk along the river bank.
It's the man with the green hat. He tells me he is a special type of police officer. He asks me how I got to the city and is angry that I don't know. He tells me that I must stop associating with these others.
I don't want to cause trouble or be mixed up in anything. This strange adventure has been enjoyable, but today I'm troubled. I see the other foreigner from earlier, but I don't want anyone taking note of us talking.
Suddenly, a loud and boisterous street performer sets up. A sort of acrobat on stilts, and with them a chaotic crowd. I seize this chance.
She tells me that she, too, was offered a job - as a sketcher of city scenes - but it seemed increasingly strange, so she took a new job in a restaurant and found other lodgits. She's hoping to save enough money to leave. She gives me her new address, but tells me not to write it down - to only hold it in my memory.
In one day another week of rent will be due. I have some money, but not quite enough. I walk around early in the day, looking for ideas. I'm tempted to ignore the warmings and return to Compass Publishing, bwhen I stubmle across a theatre with its doors open. A small, run down place, unlike the shiny new buildings I have seen around town. On a whim I step inside. The man asks me brusquely if I can write, and is surprised I can - I get the impression his question was intended to get me to leave. We talk idly for a while, then about the script for the night's comedy skits. I shamelessly plagiarize some jokes from another city. He reocmmends a street with cheaper rooms to rent.
Day 12 [X]
The next day is a long day of work. The show the night before was a success, and so the man has me make and post flyers, which I am a lot less skilled at.
I walk down an alley and suddenly I remember it. I had been drugged perhaps, and was half asleep. "We've got our third", said a woman's voice. It's a familiar voice, now. "He hasn't been here before, doesn't know any of the politics either."
I stop what I'm doing and return the way I think I came from. The alley leads to a dead end, but some plants are loose. Behind them, stemps down to a hidden corner of the port.
A shot rings out and I run. I run to the address the other woman had given me. The innkeeper tells me the woman isn't there. She tells me to leave and never return.
I can ahrdly focus on my work. At lunch I go for a walk to clear my head but am always looking over my shoulder. I find a small store, a sort of museum, and duck inside. It has maps, and I find a map of the region. There's a small town a bit of a ways on, without much of a harbour, but a river that goes upstream. Getting passage on a ship is beyond my means, but perhaps I can leave over land and river, work for my room and board? I start to formulate a plan, and for the first time in days I can appreciate teh way the sun glints off the spires. I should take the time to enjoy it because I may never return.
Day 14 [X]
Resolving to leave soon, I swing by the old room I stayed at just before dawn, furtively looking around the empty streets. There are two letters for me. One is from the other foreign woman. It says taht we are pawns in some larger intrigue, which I had figured out. She had tracked down a third foreigner, the first tro arrive, who had a similar story, except he'd been outright kidnapped and threatened. They wer eleaving at dusk today, but didn't tell me where, understandably. They had suggested meeting where I had first seen her, without naming the location, but the meeting time was yesterday.
The other was a note from the man at Compass Publishing. He said he owed me an apology and an explanation, and to meet for lunch, with no time and place given. Against my better judgement, I went to where we first had lunch.
He told me he didn't know quite the circumstances by which I came here, but that he regrets my involvement. He told me my life is in danger, which I'd gathered, and that I should leave. He gave me a map of a way out, overland, and told me he owes me this much, but that if the map gets out to the world, it would be disastrous He told me to burn it by the time I'm three days away.
That Night and Beyond
I met up with the other two in the next town. I show them the maps. We compare stories, but it gives us few new ansers.
It's a long journey, but peaceufl, and we get to know each other well. We are always moving, always tired.
Finally we reach a town that I have heard of and we can relax. We part ways and go home, except for me. I go to the nearest big city and sell the maps to a university.
A year from then I hear they have sent warships to San Sibila. I hope the man at Compass Publishing will be safe. I hope that the spires will still glint as beautifully in the sun.