Murphy phased to the rooftop and tapped on his Tag. His B-52 tube half stack appeared. Next to it was his custom Les Paul on a guitar stand. He plugged in the guitar and wailed into the night. The notes were warm and resonant.
He stood on top of the building, plugged in and playing. The moon hung above him, the city twinkling in all its Gothic beauty. Rooftops and skyscrapers spread as far as the eye could see, street canyons with rivers of traffic and the sounds of civilization.
He played to it all, improvising. The music sailed over spires and kissed the moon. E scale, ascending with hammer-ons, back down with pull-offs, bends, slides, chords, half-chords. The music was as full and rich as chocolate cake, a beautiful and sad and powerful sound.
He waited and waited, then he felt movement behind him and turned around, his fingers trolling the A-minor scale.
“You’ve improved,” said a low voice.
“I’ve been practicing,” said Murphy. “Had a lot of time lately.”
“Good for you for not just downloading it,” said the voice.
A figure stepped out of the shadows like a secret being told. He was tall and powerful-looking. He wore a black suit of tactical armor with a long black cape and a black cowl with pointy little ears on top that covered everything but his nose, mouth and chin.
“How’s life?” Murphy asked him.
“Actually, not bad,” said the man. His voice was strong, gravelly, as resonant as the bass end of the Les Paul. “Everyone’s locked up. Only crimes being committed are petty theft and things like that. The only reason I’m out tonight is because I wanted to enjoy the moon.”
Murphy wailed another blues lick. It bounced off the canyons of skyscrapers. The wind tasted like dust. The rooftop they stood on was full of old crates and rolls of fencing.
“Good to hear,” said Murphy. He looked up at the full moon. “It is a nice moon tonight.”
“How have you been?”
“Not great,” said Murphy. “Lost my Suitorship at the Palace.”
“Got white-feathered,” said Murphy. “Couldn’t win my first Trial. I went through five Anodynes. Each one got harder. Used all my cheats… just didn’t believe in myself enough I guess.”
“Can you try again?”
“Not for another year. And even then it’s going to be tricky. Once you get white-feathered, it’s like bad credit. They never forget you had it.”
He fingered another blues riff. He liked to think of his Les Paul as a woman he was feeling up, making her cry out, touching her in all the right ways, getting all the right noises out of her, in ways only he knew how. He wanted to name her, but couldn’t think of a name that did her justice.
“The Auburn Palace is overrated,” said the man. “People go there because they’ve heard of it and because people are slaves to their desire. They overindulge, find out it doesn’t fill the hole inside them, and then they stop going. It’s like anything else.”
“That’s true,” said Murphy, his fingers tickling the guitar neck.
“There’s so much more to existence than… that.”
“I know,” said Murphy. “It just sucks to lose.”
“Everyone loses,” said the man. “You’ll try again in a year. And until then, you play some decent guitar, all on your own. No Maya help. You’re learning it all on your own power. Not many people bother doing that these days.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Batman,” said Murphy.
The city glittered and groaned all around them and Murphy sent notes of blue and black out into its every crack and corner, where they scattered, brilliantly, into nothing.