The black market that Cyme had been busy trying to find had not been far from the pirate ship that she and Frank had inadvertently burnt to soggy drift wood only a few hours ago.
The building itself looked to be nothing more than a warehouse where a unit of thugs homeless liked to sleep and use as cover from the rain. The thugs were most likely looking out for Thebe patrols and people of interest.
They must have been really good actors because as Cyme passed a pair of them the spies didn't so much as look up at her. They lay there on the ground, not moving. That was when she picked up on the smell of urine, blood, and violence which was thick in the air.
Not wanting to check if the men were breathing or not, Cyme looked at the building and approached the front door. She looked down to see that there was a fist sized hole in the wooden barricade. If she had to guess it was a slot for stabbing or shooting an unwelcomed guest.
Being a civilized woman, she knocked.
The door opened a creak and a man with a black eye looked at her. He was perhaps the most fearsome looking specimen that Cyme had ever met. As big as Frank with rippling muscles and as hairy as a dog. He was also trembling and his face showed signs of bleeding recently. “Whatya' want?” he spat out.
“Is this the Thebe underground market? I need to buy something.” It was more of an enquiry but if they had a food stall inside than Cyme wouldn't be lying. Killing several muggers was hungry work.
The doorman looked like he was about to send Cyme away but spent a moment looking at the remains of his door. “If I tell you to push off are you going to break in and hurt me?”
“Probably,” Cyme said telling the truth, “I wont take it personally though,”
The doorman lowered his head. Mumbling about crazy women he opened the door, allowing the Orian to enter.
The black market was very underwhelming in that it contained a scarce amount of anything. Cyme found it amusing that she was in a city where slaves and the chastity of young children were respectable items of trade, but beeswax was classed as illegal good.
The major stock items consisted of smuggled goods that the nobility had a strangle hold over. This place was about bribes and the people who thought that they could make a profit getting around them.
Beeswax, silk, gold, jewels, some wine brands, and the odd poison, but so far from what Cyme could see there was nothing illegal going on here.
Then her jaw dropped and she froze as she saw Tila talking to what appeared to be a pirate.
“What are you doing here?” Cyme held Tila's wrist in her iron grip. The bracelet flared through the wrappings but Cyme's ignored it, her own instincts were telling her that she had just snatched a lion by its tail.
It was a moment but the look on Tila's young face made Cyme hold her breath. A sense of foreboding danger caused the Orian's skin to crawl and her muscles tense in anticipation.
Then it was gone. Tila stood there with a confused expression on her face, “Cyme? What are you doing here?”
Cyme shook her head, “It's a long story. I thought you were back at the Triplets. It's not safe for you to be out on the streets at night alone.”
Several of the smugglers and pirates let out nervous coughs.
“Cyme, the door is gone.” Tila said.
“I know,” Cyme rubbed her eyes, “and you are trying to find it I take it.”
“I...” Tila trailed off, “Found a thief in our room. Well, he didn't steal the door, but he told me about this place.”
“How do you know that he didn't steal the door?” Cyme asked.
Tila gave an innocent smile, “I asked him really nicely.” She glanced around, “Is master alright? I do not see him here.”
“He let me off for the night,” Cyme sighed, “But we should get you to safety. I think there is some kind of gang war going on, one of the streets I ran down. There were dead bodies everywhere.”
Tila’s eyes lit up, “Is that the street where they make the candles?”
Cyme thought about it. She did remember seeing two candle shops close by. “I think so, why?”
“No reason,” Tila said quickly.
“In any case we need to find an inn. You're likely to get robbed or raped if you loiter in the streets at night.”
“Or both,” Tila mumbled. She gestured to the warehouse, “But what about the Abstract? Cyme, we need that door back. We can't leave this city without it.”
Cyme didn't think that statement was accurate. While she couldn't speak for Tila and Frank, she could get on the next horse and run straight for Eba. For a second she thought about doing just that, but if Frank did get control over his magic door he could abduct her when she least suspected it.
This line of thought lead her into cutting Frank's throat but she hadn't gotten that desperate, yet.
Having been interrupted by Cyme pulling her away for a polite confrontation, Tila approached a woman who she had been conversing with earlier.
The woman was dressed in a leather outfit and for some odd reason she had a dog sitting by her side. The tattoos, trinkets, and the ornate sword at her side gave her a mysterious feel.
“Back again, I see.” the woman said, eyeing Cyme nervously. Orian's tended to get that a lot. Pillage a few villages, castrate a few men, and burn the odd temple and you tend to get a reputation.
“Captain Rhea. I would like you to tell me if you have heard of somebody's trading in magical artefacts.” Tila said.
“Rhea?” Cyme narrowed her eyes. “You have to be joking. Rhea of the Blue and Red?” she noticed at the underground retailers and spoke softly. “My name's Cyme, I come from Oria. I think that I have heard of you. You raided Terinso,”
Rhea crossed her arms. “You must be thinking of my mother. She was a fine pirate, liked to hug the coast. So, Orian, huh? Which division are you from?”
“Red Spears. I was under Orua's command.”
Rhea’s expression changed to concern, “I heard that the Red Spears broke in Jouthim. I'm sorry.”
“The Red Spears will be reforged.” Cyme said. Thanks to Frank that was no idle promise. While they were far from their original strength they were not broken.
Tila frowned, “I thought Orian's often hunt pirates. Why are you two acting... friendly.” she looked to Cyme, “You're never friendly.”
“I'm friendly.” Cyme argued.
Rhea gave a yellow grin, “Oria doesn't trade often, but few countries buy babes in bulk.”
“You sell babies?” Tila gasped.
“You haven't looked too closely at the garbage around a brothel or a slave pit have you?” Rhea said, “Honestly, there are worse fates then being turned into a man hating war machine.”
While trade was seen as a weakness information and hurting your enemies’ supply lines and economy were traditional ways of war. Oria was a closed militaristic community but they weren't stupid. There were splinter cells, spies, and thousands of other units scattered here and there. All of them waiting for orders and opportunities.
Being nowhere near a body of water, Oria needed eyes and fists out on the waters. Rhea was born, raised, and partially trained in Eba. But she wasn't some rouge pirate acting on her own, she was a privateer and an informant.
Seeing that Rhea was in the middle of her job, Cyme decided to get down to business. “I would like to know if you have heard of any magical trades going on in this city.”
“Planning on getting a magical sword?” Rhea joked, she gave her dog a scratch behind the ear, “Believe it or not, but I've heard that there is a sorcerer in the streets of Thebes. He showed up one day, doing miracles.”
Both Cyme and Tila had a sinking feeling where this was going. “Let me guess, giant, dresses funny, goes by the name of Frank.”
Rhea gave her dog another scratch and it wagged it's tail in glee, “I heard his name was Thank and that he is as tall as a building. I didn't believe it myself until I saw Spotty Exánthima come up to me an hour ago with Skiin here.”
“Exánthima.” Tila said quizzically.
“A Thebe scholar could write a library on the amount of sexually transmitted diseases that that woman has, or had. Never stopped scratching her crotch, that was until she and several of me crew got swept in this magical rain storm. Now there isn't so much as a blister on her. Including my dog here.”
Acknowledging his existence Skiin gave a bark.
Cyme remembered that patch of bad weather. One of the pirates had sold the potential life force everyone of his future great-grandchildren to be healed. As he was missing an arm, his leg, and his nose there wasn't much of a chance for reproduction in any case.
The rain cloud that Frank made was supposedly enchanted with the waters from another world and blessed with life force. The results were the stuff of epics. Every man, whore, and apparently dog that the waters touched became whole and strong.
The sailor hadn't given a care at all that he had just cursed his family line to extinction. He got his and that was all anyone really cares about.
“What's wrong with the dog, he looks fine to me.” Tila said.
“He had only three legs, one good eye, and his stomach was lumpier than a mountain range. At first I didn't recognise him. I thought that they were pulling my leg. Now he's healthier than I am. If I didn't know better I would say that he is younger to.” She looked to Tila, “Sorry, but if you want real magic you'll have to see this Thank.”
“It's Frank,” Tila corrected,
Scared that their employer's reputation might be getting out of hand, Cyme dared to ask. “What have you gathered about the sorcerer?”
“Normally I would charge you a fair amount for the information, but I have a feeling that you might know more than I do.” Rhea noticed that a few other individuals were looking her way. “How about you follow me to my ship and we can have a private conversation?”
Rhea's ship consisted of a scarred galley out in the harbour, it's main force of propulsion were its crew rowing it at ramming speed at the nearest landmass.
Privacy wasn't a word that Cyme would use to describe her situation with a fellow Oria. Half of the ship were asleep down below and the other half were watching both Cyme and Tila like they were made of snakes. It was clear that Rhea had only brought the two on-board so as to talk on a position of power and authority.
“Talk, what do you know about this Thank?” Rhea said all humour gone.
Cyme was about to open her mouth but Tila chimed in, “She can't. She made a deal with our master. If she talks she is ripped of her memories and is dumped in a random alleyway, naked. She could end up halfway across the world, defenceless.” She gave Cyme a warning look.
Cyme grit her teeth and closed her eyes as recalled the deal. “She is correct.”
Rhea shook her head, “Then why have I brought you onto my ship if you can't give me anything? How did you come to know the sorcerer anyway, can you tell me that much?”
The Orian's hesitation was enough that Tila was able to speak, “Her princess and her advisor bought two luck potions from Frank and left her with the bill. Now she has to pay it back.”
As the privateer and her crew laughed heartily, Cyme gave her co-worker a harsh glare and spoke through gritted teeth. “I thought that we couldn't discuss anything about the Abstract.”
Her partner returned a grin, “You can't, but I can.” the smaller woman attempted to make herself more intimidating to the Orian privateer. “If you work with us, maybe we get you an audience with our master. We might even talk him into giving you a discount.”
Both Orians glanced at one another before returning their focus on Tila. Rhea looked to be weighing up her options, “Can you swear to me that you can get me a word with this... Frank?”
Tila shrugged, “Depends on what you have is worth it. We are looking for a door frame.”
“A door frame?” Rhea looked up to Cyme, who nodded. “A door frame? You're not giving me much.”
Tila routed around in her pocket and produced a scrap of parchment. On it was a rough illustration of a wooden door with a cat on it. “It's a locked wooden door, but it wiggles a lot like something is trying to open it. It was stolen from the Triplets inn yesterday. Our master would like it back.” she handed the drawing to Rhea.
“This is useless.” Cyme declared and gestured to Rhea, “Look at what we have resorted to. Asking people on the street, “Have you seen this door?” We're never going to find it.” She was willing to face the facts that their quest was impossible. Finding a door in a city was next to impossible.
Even if she had the entire Red Spears working on it, it could takes weeks to go door to door trying to find that stupid door, and that was even if the blasted thing was still inside Thebes. The thieves could have put it on a boat and sailed off with it, or they could have very easily have painted over it.
“You know something?” Rhea said admiring the scrap of parchment, “This is not the first time that I have heard about a door with a cat on it?”
“You're joking.” Cyme accused.
“No, I have. I was at a bar at the docks. A noble came in asking about magically possessed doors, a rich guy wanted it.”
“Do you have a description?”
“Before today I thought magic was all lies. I was keeping my ear out for Enseen and pirate sightings. But I do remember he said something about a door with a cat on it.” She tilted her head back in thought, “Wait a moment, I'll go talk to one of the men he dealt with.”
As the captain of the ship moved to gather information from her crew, Cyme frowned at Tila, “How come you are allowed to talk about Frank's magic but I am not?”
“Cyme, I'm not pressured into paying off a debt like you are. Unlike you and your Red Sisterhood, or whatever you called yourselves. I didn't buy a potion to erase my memories, I sold them to pay off the debts of several other women he saved.”
Cyme frowned, “Why would you sell your memories? What about your parents and family? Why would you give that all away for a bunch of strangers?”
“Because I didn't want them. After I sold them, Frank gave me a single memory of my childhood just to make sure that I would never want them back. It was the day that my mother sold me for a goat. She had a baby to feed and she couldn't wait for me to get a husband.”
The Orian wanted to kick herself for bringing the matter up. For your only memory to be of your mother betraying you like that was a sign that the rest of your life was not very promising.
“Unlike you, Cyme, I have nothing to go back to, I have no one to give Master Frank's secrets to, and I have my own room back in the Abstract. My only allegiance is to myself and Frank. While the door might be nothing to you but a chance to pay off your debt faster, I want to get a chance to sleep in my real bed without fear that I will wake up dead.”
Cyme had been so concerned about returning to the army that she had not bothered to learn about Tils's circumstances. She had thought of Tila has nothing more than a maid, the sorcerer's assistant and lover. While the Orian had lost a year of her life, Tila's existence prior to the Abstract could very well have been two or possibly three decades of pure torture.
When she came back, Rhea held her head as if plagued with inner conflict. “I am going to shoot straight with you, soldier. I may have been bending the truth a bit. I know of this door you speak off.” When Cyme didn't say anything she continued, “I has hired by the theatre director Wysse to steal it for him. Though, hired might be a strong word. He had information on a possible Enseen supply route.”
Cyme frowned, “I have been to the theatre before, he said nothing about the door.”
Rhea shrugged, “That is very likely. You didn't see me, but I was there at the Triplets. I planned to steal the wizard's door but...” she shifted her gaze to Tila, “Somebody blocked the door.”
A smile stretched across Tila's young face. When Cyme had selected to drink herself into a coma, Tila had barricaded the door to the storeroom, causing Cyme to find another bed to sleep in.
“I was not the only thief there, several others had their eye on your master's property. I managed to get information that a noble by the name of Urilus Marus had plans on the cursed door.”
Both of the Abstract's employees spat. They had been at the senator's estate just that morning.
The privateer smiled at seeing their expressions, “Aye, the two-faced politician got you both away from the door while his men took it. The joke was on him though, I killed the thieves and for a handful of minutes the door was mine.” Her smile vanished and was replaced with contempt, “I barely managed to take two steps before one of my men got ambushed. The only reason that I am here is because I wanted to play with this one thief.”
“The thing is cursed.” A sailor called out.
Rhea nodded, “Before today I would have scoffed at the idea, but there is a pattern. Anyone who steals that door barely lasts ten minutes before another party takes it. I have never seen anything like it before. If what I have been told is correct, that door has killed nearly a hundred people.”
“That's insane.” Cyme scoffed, “It's just a door you cannot open. How can it kill so many?” then she remembered who owned that door. “Wait.” She looked to Tila, “Do you think that's why Frank doesn't care about getting the door back, because he cursed it somehow?”
Tila spoke her thoughts aloud, “First, Master went to the temple of Hermonia, then we went to the senator's estate, and then you were guided to the theatre. Where did you say that you went to next?”
“The pirate captain,” Cyme answered and then her face went sour. “He said that he had something Frank would have liked to see.” She remembered witnessing the sea rat's face twist in fear as one of his crew spoke into his ear, as if he had learned a horrible truth. And that wasn't the only time the Orian had seen that particular expression.
Everyone who had approached Frank became cold and still when one of their party members whispered something to them, right before they were about to propose a deal to Frank. Now the Orian had gotten a good idea what that conversation included. She also recalled how Frank had smiled at each location, like he knew some inner joke.
“Son of a dog humping, uncle loving, pig toad.” Cyme yelled, “Frank. That evil son of a whore. He's been tracking the door this entire time.” She wanted to strangle the prick.
While she and Tila had been about ready to pull their hair out about someone opening the gates to some demon's home, Frank had been following the trail of destruction.
“But why?” Tila asked. “If he knew where it was, why not take it back?” her question hung there like a ripe apple mocking a starving man.
“That,” Rhea breathed, “You would have to ask the wizard.”
Cyme looked up at the stars above. It was already the middle of the night. The drink that Frank had given her had burned itself out, leaving her more tired when she first took it. One look at Tila told her that she was not the only one who needed a good rest.
“Tomorrow, we will track Frank down and learn his reasons. For now we need a rest.”
Born in Australia I am a late bloomer when it came to books. I started writing when my grandfather died and it just sort of turned into a hobby.
I like science fiction, but not space opera. I like fantasy but I am picky when it comes to epic and urban types. I try to stay away from vampires, zombies and romance novels when I can.