The Price Of Paradise
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I remember the nights the most.

The city has a way of coming alive at night. Perhaps it is because we are a city of rats and cockroaches, scared of emerging during the day for fear of being exposed for the filth that we are. It is only at night that we may scurry around, cloaked in the reassuring embrace of anonymity. It is here that the city expresses itself the best, for the comforting darkness helps us to continue hiding from the truth of our wretched lives.

And yet, it was in the nighttime that I met her.

The first few hours were a blur, a haze of dimmed thoughts and euphoric emptiness that were but one of the many prices that Yinxiang would wring from me. All I remember is that we ended up hand in hand, running through the back alleys and twisting passages of the city. The air was crisp, not cold enough to cut our night short, but just cold enough to gently nudge her into my arms for a time. The city’s lights sparkled in the night, like new constellations guiding us to nowhere. Two strangers, following a broken map, unable to communicate, but somehow sharing an unspoken conversation that spoke volumes. I can scarcely remember where we went or how we got there, but I do know that somehow, we ended up by the water, bathed in the glow of a foreign city’s nighttime rituals, at once familiar and also strange, like a blurry mirror or the impression of a memory.

The city's awakening promised us endless numbers of distractions to take the edge off of a hard day, week, or lifetime. As the siren call rose in pitch, the streets became clogged with people, forming a human tide that pulled more and more people into its current. All were seduced by Yinxiang's whispers, all looking for the same thing. I knew, because I had followed them too, once upon a time. I remember looking at her then, seeing her stand against the crowd, before she grabbed my hand, and pulled me the other way.

She was always strong.

Yinxiang has a way of entrapping those who fall into its whirlwind depths. When I first arrived, seeking my fortune and the chance to reap its rewards, I found it all too easy to sink in. The land of a thousand nations, where all were welcome, and those without a home could find something vaguely analogous to fill the void of that long-forgotten concept.

Our time in Yinxiang was filled with countless other nights like that one. For a time, I no longer worried about the toll that the city would exact upon me, or the things that I had yet to lose. Yet no joys in life arrive without their partners in ruin, and the price that the city would demand was a purchase that I was not willing to make.

Until it was too late.

Until I had already lost her.

Here in Yinxiang, a lost soul can find endless wonders to distract themselves. The foreign lights invite one in, promising relief from the world outside. It beckons me now, calling me back to the fold, telling me to continue where I had left off, before she roared into my life. The city lights still dance in the sky, the nighttime rituals cast a sharp glow, and it seems as if nothing has truly changed.

And yet, here I am.

Wandering, and alone.

Listening to the call of a foreign city’s promises, but suspecting that my Yinxiang has already been lost forever.

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