The Bazaar bustled with people, conversation. Stalls mounted on the colossal underground platform, closely stocked together. Posters, tables, and colorful tents, with people bustling in and out of them. Large lights hung overhead, some flickering, swinging from the tremors caused by the highway above. There was an undertone of sewer smell amongst the stench of blood and the floral perfume and incense.
The Underground Black Bazaar was notorious for its secrecy, subtlety, and horrors, and it lived up to its name with stalls selling machineguns to organs frozen in massive crates. But with the standard smuggled wealth came mysterious artifacts, so-called oracles, and creatures of the night. Fanged men with pallid skin, women with thick wild hair, golden eyes and sharp claws, bestial creatures stuck in large cages screaming and wailing. The Underground Black Bazaar thrived in the duality of the two.
And therefore, releasing juicy secret information for a good price was common too.
Despite the malevolence of the Bazaar, it was vibrant and wacky. Beautiful peris with long raven hair, large beautiful eyes and skin as white as the moon sold colorful fluids and powers that were dangerous and glittery. A few djinns, unlike from their more popular cousins, took the form of beautiful men and women with all-black eyes promised to foresee the future. Pichal peris with feet facing the other side sold chary potions that promised to earn you the favor of your beloved, and their uglier counterparts with chaotic hair, black rounded eyes, and long fingers promised to give you taweez that would eradicate or cause ruination someone you reviled. Other people held ifrits by chains.
Takeo Sakamaki, a young fifteen-year-old boy, stood beside his father, Takeshi Sakamaki, a traveling information broker, who sat on a folding chair, legs crossed, and a cigarette in his mouth. He was a stocky man with thinning hair, dark eyes, and tan skin. Takeo, on the other hand, was lanky, and lighter, hazel eyes. He gazed at the bustling crowd with lethargy, eyes tired. Takeshi’s head turned to his son, irritated. “Where’s my tea, son?”
Takeo flinched and turned to his father, spilling hot tea on his fingers. Biting back a yelp, he placed the teacup on the rough wooden table before his father. The man scoffed and curled his finger around the handle and held it up to his lips. Sighing, Takeo turned to apply cool water on his throbbing skin.
As he cooled his burned fingers, the Bazaar around his father’s stall silenced a little. Pausing, he turned around to see a figure standing before the wooden table and his father stumbling onto his feet. “Maya,” gasped Takeshi and Takeo turn to sneak a look at them. “What brings you here?”
It was a petite young woman, with long, wavy dark auburn hair, like wine, that waxed into dark mauve, like wine dregs. What especially caught Takeo’s attention was still her hair - and the lock of silver that were her front bangs, which were twisted and tied to the side... the hair that escape floated in the air. She had cat-shaped, chocolate eyes, a pretty feminine face: soft features, peaches, and cream skin. She moved like a panther, tall and confident.
“Nice to meet you, Sakamaki,” she said, a smile on her lips. A red pulsating pendant hung at the base of her neck, like a choker. It suddenly occurred to the boy that she might be a homo magi who were well-versed in the supernatural and metaphysical arts; alchemy, chemistry, medicine, anatomical health, and various sciences. How else could she garner such respect from his father? “I am glad to see you are here, in Iran, the same time I am.”
“Of course. The annual Bazaar was to be held here this year after all. Do you wish to continue with where we left off?” his father asked the girl. She turned her head to look at him and nodded. Takeshi paused for a second before ducking down to the boxes beneath the booth table. From there he produced a large sheet of paper, slightly torn and worn from being folded and unfolded so much. From afar, it seemed like a map.
The female held up the map, looked at it, her eyes narrowed; she sighed, looked up at the older man and then her eyes slid to Takeo, who was peeking from a small opening from a section of the tent. “Is this your son? Why didn’t you introduce him to me?” Her soft doey eyes flashed with a surprising duplicitous mischief.
Takeshi turned to look at his son with disapproving eyes and then turned back to the female. “Ignore him, please. Let’s just deal with this together, yeah?”
The girl raised an eyebrow and then sighed. “Of course,” she said and then pocketed the map. Maya looked at the male. “I’ve been hearing rumors and stories,” she continued, “about houses burning, children vanishing only for them to come back years later acting odd.”
“It’s nothing specific,” answered his father. “Just normal stories spread around, you know, all that nonsense like Slender-man.”
“Hmm.” The girl smiled and crossed her arms. “You’ve done some digging, haven’t you? Tell me about everything you’ve found. And this map, what is it?”
Takeshi’s eyes lowered and he sighed. “Maya, it’s something I found about The Shades, but it’s not exactly anything arcane; it’s just a map. Old and torn, but still just a map, and with no traces of magic whatsoever.” Maya’s expression turned distressed, dark eyes gleaming with such vivid despair and disappointment it was hard not to feel sorry for her.
Her eyes flickered to him again, like a firefly. “Is there anything else?”
Takeshi, clearly surprised by her optimism, sighed. “Well, there’s some information I got from the time I visited Greece.” At that, the woman’s eyes lit up even brighter and her lips curled to a Cheshire smile. “The two most legitimate gates known in the Underground lie in Greece and Turkey.” Silence fell in the booth after that.
The woman seemed to squirm in anticipation. “Well?” she asked impatiently. When Takeshi didn’t continue, she hastily and perhaps irritably pulled out a large roll of money and handed it to him, whose eyes lit up like a child getting ice cream.
“In Greece, it’s the popular gate from which Orpheus entered The Shades – The Cape Matapan; the other is in Turkey: Pluto’s Gate in the Denzili Province,” continued Takeshi. “They’re well known in the Upperworld already, by the way. It’s just a matter of finding the Gates.”
“Lovely. Can you tell me how to access the Gates?”
“No, but I can tell you how to remove dyes that get on you white clothes after a washing machine accident.”
The girl’s eyes flared with annoyance. “I don’t like jokes unless I’m the one making them. You should know that, Sakamaki.”
“Now, now, I didn’t mean to offend you,” said Takeshi gently. “This is all I could gather. Sorry, child.”
“Well, thanks then, I guess.” She turned and winked at Takeo, before beginning to leave. She raised her small hands and picked up her gray shawl, put it around her head and shoulders.
Takeshi remained behind the booth, his son hidden behind the tent and the Magus walking out before there was an elongated scream from somewhere around the Bazaar. Takeo assumed that it may be some unfortunate person caught by a mean ifrit but there was more: the sound of running, things falling, people shouting, open gunfire, and distorted growling.
One scream continued until the screamer melted into the chaos and many caught it like when wolves howl at the full moon, copying the fear beginning to bubble in Takeo’s heart. Abruptly, Takeshi looked at his son and shouted firmly, “Takeo!”
And then they made a run for it, alongside the crowd towards the exits. Takeo kept his eyes forward, while his chest heaved, his head throbbed, breath hitched and he heard the sounds of screaming, tearing and roaring behind him. He was dwarfed compared to the people around him and in the limited space, he felt as if he was suffocating, from his heart thumping against his ribcage so hard and fear of the creature. He shut his eyes as he mixed with the crowd, running for their lives.
Many people refused to look back, and had them, they would have seen the massive spider-like creature tearing the Bazaar apart, flicking away the men firing at it, crushing the runners. It let out clicking noises, or indistinct growls and roars. It was eyeless, with ten legs united to a center point that was a massive mouth, with a prehensile tongue. Its sharp teeth had been enough to terrorize anyone.
Behind it stood the Magus with her hands on her hips and an uninterested look on her face. Slowly, she took off her shawl and neatly put it aside. Then she turned to face the creature, which was still distracted away from her. The stone stuck to the chain around her neck was bright, pulsating like a heart.
There was a khopesh-like sword behind her, short but razor-sharp. It floated inches behind her, ethereal-looking, in lieu of its master’s arcane abilities.
The spider stopped abruptly and turned towards her, its massive legs crushing the stalls behind it, slight tremors hit the floor. From its mouth filled with numerous teeth, came a long tongue, with another set of teeth. It came close to the Magus’s face as if to study her. Then it screamed, so loud that her ears popped, spit flying around her, breath pushing her hair back. The Magus merely wiped the slime off her face with a hand, letting out mock-gagging noises. Bitch, it sneered, witch.
Even in the dark, the Magus’s eyes glowed like burning coals. The tips of her lips quirked to illumine her face with winsome light. “Oh, but I’m both.”
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