It’s not a manhole, more like a sort of metal trap door in the sidewalk. The kind of thing most people in this busy city just walk over on their way to work. But if you know what to look for, the orange spray paint beckons to you in the language of spells.
Down the grimy ladder, into the subway tunnel. Another dash of orange paint points to all the movement detectors. Avoid them. Duck into crevices in the tunnel when the trains rush by. Don’t get seen. Of course, if you’ve made it this far, you know how to disappear, you’ve done it all your life.
The tunnels know what they’re doing. After over a century of guiding the jostling people of this city to their endeavors, can you seriously say you’re not surprised they developed a mind of their own? All those abandoned tunnels, left to rot when newer, better routes were built found a more appreciative public. After all, outcasts stick together. You know that.
Keep looking for the orange paint, it’s your best friend on this journey. You can’t trust people, but the paint never lies. The dark walls of the tunnels are intimidating, the rats stare at you accusingly. This is their space, respect it. They’ve been kicked out of everywhere else. You know how that feels. A few marks of paint and you know not to go near the third rail. Of course, if the tunnels decide you are unworthy, that’ll be the least of your worries.
You spot a few construction workers up ahead, don’t run, the orange paint explains. Walk straight towards them, if the tunnels will it, the men will not see you. This is the only way, it is your first test.
Since you were young, you have kept to the shadows in fear. But this journey is about becoming the shadows. And shadows don’t hide, they exist in plain sight, no one can pin them down. They are free, as you will be, if you make it through this.
This city is the breeding ground of outcasts. This is where the immigrants tossed as one in their sleep, packed like sardines in tenant houses. This is where the sexual decadents wallowed in the empty buildings on the banks of the East River, awaiting death by a silent disease. This is where the squalid criminals hid behind false walls, drinking homemade, prohibited poison. It contains hiding places from hiding places, it covers all of its tracks. The tunnels have seen all this. If you impress them, they will be your most loyal friend. If not, well, what’s one more death to them? It’s not like anyone will go looking for you.
You walk straight towards the men, your back is straight, your hands are trembling. Suddenly, a path opens up to your right, you duck in seconds before they can spot you. You’ve passed your first test. The tunnels have embraced you. Welcome to the land of outcasts, of magic, the reality that permeates everything beneath the surface of this sleepless city. You’ve hidden your abilities all of your life, but now that the tunnels have claimed you as their own, so will the rest of us. We are their grandchildren, that uncle they lost touch with, the homeless man they stepped over on their way to work. We are the witches, invisibles, criminals, the shadows that live in plain sight and yet are never truly seen. Welcome. To the true New York City.