Bazaar (pt. 2) (2010)

Eventually the ghost stopped, Osric panting a few steps behind her.

They’d passed the largest of the temples a good hour earlier. Once again, all the buildings were smaller and dingier. Most had priests outside haranguing passersby. These were spread around shrines barely large enough for one person to enter.

It was outside one of the last of the larger structures that the ghost was floating.

Lacking any better ideas, Osric made his way up the steps, counting seventeen before he reached the doors. Those were easily three times his height and carved with scenes that he assumed held relevance to the temple’s faith. The wood was dark with age and accented with bright gold leaf that glittered in the sunlight. He ignored the stonework around the doors, focused on discharging his obligation to the spirit.

The spirit-speaker knocked with only slight hesitation.

He hoped, even as the sound was absorbed by the wood, that someone was inside and would hear.

That hope faded and he was about to leave when the door swung silently open to reveal a young man with shaven pate in black and silver robes.

“Open worship begins at seven,” he said, upon seeing Osric, and started to close the door.

“Wait!” the spirit-speaker tried to get in the way. “I don’t want to worship, I need information or advice . . . I can make a donation.”

The robed man seemed to consider for a time.

“We do not often fulfill the requests of non-believers. You may ask one question and I shall relay it to the priests,” he said, “But you will remain here and not set foot inside.”

Osric nodded, remembering that the portal was probably gone. “Of course . . . I’ve promised to aid a spirit in return for service. The spirit led me here when it came time to fulfill the contract. How can I lay her to rest?”

“For that, I needn’t bother the priests. Every acolyte and worshipper knows that answer,” he said. “Those who worship Ayleena must have their bodies returned to the goddess’ home dimension and the proper rites conducted there. Frankly, I am surprised one slipped through. The local temples see to all such arrangements.”

“Unless she died where there is no temple . . . what if the body cannot be recovered? And where is this dimension?”

“Just bring the body, or part of it, perhaps even something of great importance to the deceased here. We will see to the proper rites and send the remains to their final rest.”

Osric was about to accept when he saw the first emotion yet from the ghost. Her eyes were wide as she vehemently shook her head. For a moment, he forgot about his audience.

“Uh, great,” the spirit-speaker stammered, “I’ll do that . . . thanks.” He turned and tried to go down the steps nonchalantly, certain he was failing at the last part, before the doors closed. Were it not for the ghost’s reaction, he figured everything, even the temple’s secretiveness regarding its home and daily practices, sounded acceptable. He took it as a point of fact that all faiths, especially those back home, had some rites they kept secret from outsiders. And it made sense that these priests wouldn’t want competition for their goddess on her homeworld.

At a loss as to how to proceed, Osric surveyed the area from the bottom of the steps.

Block after block of temples and similar structures stretched along every street he saw. They covered every style and shape he could imagine and more beyond that. None looked even vaguely familiar. Nothing like the churches, synagogues, or even eastern temples he was used to seeing. People in one of them could probably help, he thought, but there was no way to figure out which one without knocking on every door, or finding a local guide . . . his magic was probably useless in that respect, or the ghost would have taken him to another temple.

Thinking of which, he motioned the ghost down a narrow alley between two ornate edifices.

“Ok, you can communicate, at least yes/no. You don’t want those priests, right,” he stated, thinking aloud. When she nodded, he added, “But my obligation has something to do with them. Do you know anyone who can help explain what you want?”

A shaken head. Damn.

Actually, that had been a dumb question. If she’d known anyone, then she wouldn’t have been there for him to summon.

Fine.

When in doubt, conduct research.

“You don’t know where Ayleena’s home dimension is, do you?”

A shaken head.

“Not that you could tell me even if you did, huh?” Osric let his eyes wander and take in the sights as he walked and thought. “I’m willing to bet that you’re not a follower of that goddess, are you?” Another shaken head.

Not a worshipper, but she’d led him to the temple. Most ghosts had something left to do in the physical realm, that was spirit-speaking 101. Everyone with the talent learned that even before they had any formal training. Whatever she had left was tied to this Ayleena, at least this temple. Or so she believed at least, which was close enough as a starting point. It could involve someone or something inside the temple, maybe even her remains.

“A person or object,” he mused aloud, only realizing he’d done so when the ghost once again shook her head. Alright, so the place itself, or she was mistaken. That left the door open for research. Priorities. First, what did he know about this goddess? Nothing. Finding out more would, probably, help.

“Do you know any bars, restaurants, or coffee shops that the theological types frequent around here? It might help,” he asked his guide. The bazaar didn’t seem like the kind of place that would have a public library and he didn’t know anyone with a private collection. With the priest’s secretiveness, it wasn’t likely there’d be any books or whatnot about them out in the open either. But, Osric thought as he followed the ghost, they might get lucky by chatting with some priests. Even if they weren’t well versed about Ayleena, he bet they would keep an eye on the competition, especially with the apparent success the temple’d had.

After a couple blocks another thought occurred.

“How long have you been here?” the spirit-speaker forgot her lack of speech for a moment. “More than a decade?”

She nodded and kept drifting.

“More than a century? . . . More that fifty years? . . . Thirty-ish? . . . Really? Hmm.”

Well, whatever’d happened, it had been in the last three or four decades. Not many ghosts died of natural causes either, or so the experts agreed. That already planted a few suspicions in his mind as they came upon a small structure that bore a sign he couldn’t read. Nonetheless, Osric would have guessed coffee shop at a glance. It appeared that there were signs that transcended species and dimension. The smell filling the air was a bit off, but there was a slender guy with long, lank hair in the corner tuning a guitar-like instrument. Nearby were obvious students. Across the room, as far as they could get, a clearly artsy quintet sat near two older gentlemen of unidentifiable species, at least to him, playing something that looked like chess.

In other words, it looked like every coffee shop he’d ever entered, despite the alien façade.

Given the area and what he gathered of attire in the comparatively low lighting, this was a place popular with priests. Osric spotted a few symbols he knew to be religious back home, though none that were popular among the mundanes. A whole lot of others he didn’t recognize were similarly displayed. There was nothing he would definitively call vestments though. Of course, they were not actively preaching. And many could be . . . whatever student priests were called. Apprentice priests? Good enough.

As the thoughts went through his mind, the spirit-speaker ordered a drink and picked out something recognizable from the food display. He was surprised to receive change for the random bill he gave the cashier. The collection of coins of myriad metals jangled nicely in his hand as they were transferred to a pocket.

All the while, his ghostly guide hovered over his shoulder.

Osric expanded his vision with a thought, realizing that he could see his ghost more through the summoning bond than his art. After the adjustment, he spotted a couple dozen spirits of various sorts around the room. None appeared immediately hostile or interested and all had faint lines binding them to a handful of individuals, fellow spirit-speakers in all likelihood. Probably bound to the people directly or by summons, he decided. There were no fetishes, items containing bound spirits, that he could see at least.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their shared art, Osric decided to avoid those individuals.

Even back home, quite a few spirit-speakers were paranoid, jealous, and ready to steal another’s spirits. These were probably safe since they were socializing with non-practitioners and not, seemingly, fighting, but better safe and all.

A small group by the door seemed a better choice.

There was no sign of spirit activity around them. And they appeared to be both young and human. Both, Osric felt, were good signs. They might not know as much, but he’d always gotten along better with people his own age. Even so, he took a seat nearby, not with them, so he wouldn’t seem to be imposing. The distance also gave him a chance to listen and maybe find a good time to ease into the conversation. One of his mentors had suggested both means, knowing that young spirit-speakers were often not the most social of people. Spirits were often easier to deal with and more predictable.

It only took a few minutes before he heard an opening.

“Sounds similar to Wotan on my home plane,” Osric said, turning to the small group. “Sorry, couldn’t help but overhear.”

“What?”

“Hmm? Wotan?” he asked, “Well, he’s the wise warrior, the ideal king . . .both knowledgeable and war-like, willing to sacrifice himself for learning to aid his people.” That study of mythology and religions, meant to help deal with spirits, might be useful . . .

“Really?” one asked, “The way I heard things, there was a priest of that god here years ago, Wotan sacrificed himself for his own power.”

“Maybe on one Earth,” Osric conceded, “but not on mine.”

He spent the next half hour engaged in a theological discussion with a collection of novices. Within minutes, the spirit-speaker learned their names and that they represented at least four different faiths or gods, possibly as many as seven. The mix of mortal and divine names was a bit confusing, as was keeping track of who was devoted to whom.

The chatter eventually shifted to discussing other deities and comparing notes. The more shadowy and mysterious faiths were, understandably, of great interest to the novices. Quite a few rumors of strict celibacy and orgies, human sacrifice and extensive purification rituals followed. For his part, Osric ignored the rumors. He’d heard similar about various secret societies at Norwood Academy. Most of those, he figured, were false, of they’d be thrown off campus for violating international law. But they still drew interest, the dreams and nightmares of adolescents cooped up in school and dorms for most of the year.

His attention shifted back to the room.

“The one I’m curious about is Ayleena.” Feeling something more was needed, he added, “I’m doing a survey of gods of the multiverse. The other temples I’ve visited were pretty open. Her’s . . . turned me away rather rudely.”

A chorus of nods followed.

One, Kyren, shrugged, “Not much to say there. The temple came out of nowhere a few years ago as a big player. No one’s allowed in except worshippers.”

“That’s full of it,” another, Talya, contended. “They were around for decades, moving up from the edge of the district. Just because you didn’t notice them before they became powerful . . .”

“. . . They moved to the middle, the good ground, really fast, I hear,” the youngest, Clialh, chimed in. “I heard four, five decades, and that’s practically unheard of here, with so many temples and how old the place is.”

“Oh, they moved fast alright,” Kyren said, with a glare at Talya. “That’s what I meant. Most of the center temples took at least a century to get the prime space, more like two or three centuries.”

“I heard they do animal sacrifice,” Clialh added.

“Pfftt. No way, least not without a permit,” Talya replied, returning Kyren’s glare. “But I hear they perform her ceremonies in the buff.”

“And who’d you hear that from?” a fourth, whom Osric forgot, asked.

“Someone.”

“Right . . . pretty hard since none of her priests ever leave the temple and her worshippers keep to themselves.”

“What is she a goddess of? Where does she come from?” Osric tried, to steer the conversation back.

The result was myriad variations of “No idea,” and Osric felt his chances of going home slipping away. Even his quasi-Elf ghost appeared crestfallen at the news.

Osric, though, refused to give up that easily. His home beckoned, but he couldn’t leave the debt unpaid, at least not yet. There may come a point where defeat would have to be conceded due to the limits of his resources. This was not yet that point.

“Who might know,” he asked. “Someone in charge of the Bazaar? Someone who got them the temple building?”

Talya shrugged. “No one in the district gets permission for temples, they just take over an empty one. Not like the shops, where people pay that council. But someone from the council when the temple got here might know, it’s a long shot.”

“Worth a try, I guess. Who was on the council then?”

Another chorus of “No idea” followed. Then Kyren’s voice cut through the rest, “Try old Thyrsin. He’s the oldest priest in the Bazaar, they say. If anyone knows, he probably would. But he’s a bit cracked.”

A few in the crowd rolled their eyes.

“That’s putting it nicely,” Talya opined. “He’s ancient even for a Spirin. Even they think he’s gone crazy and senile . . .”

The spirit-speaker picked up the subtext.

“I’m guessing they’re not exactly, uh, stable, to begin with?”

The group’s chuckle was enough to confirm his guess.

“Alright. Where can I find him,” Osric sighed, resigned to having to take the difficult route.

After a few minutes of sorting out conflicting information and a mini-argument, he had the best guess he thought he’d get. It wasn’t much, but it was a chance. The spirit-speaker gathered up his ghost and left the shop to follow his directions as well as he could.

He guessed the whole walk would take a couple minutes. Or it would have, if he hadn’t taken three wrong turns, had to detour around a stand that blocked the road, and taken a shortcut down the wrong alley. Ultimately, it took most of an hour before Osric stood in front of the taphouse that the old priest was known to frequent. Apparently he no longer performed services and no one even recalled which god he served, including himself according to Talya.

Once they were inside, Osric spotted Thyrsin instantly. He had no idea what the man’s species was supposed to look like, or anything else about them, but it was obvious the priest was ancient. As they drew closer, the spirit-speaker checked the man in every way he knew, even as he waved his ghost companion back. From a few feet away, the priest radiated an indefinable sense of age and experience, much as Osric hated to use the clichéd expression, even in thought. But it was true.

And he appeared sane.

At least he wasn’t babbling to himself or anything.

Osric approached the tall, stooped, blue-tinged old priest and gave his best approximation of a bow. It wouldn’t have passed muster in any court, but Thyrsin didn’t seem to notice. Which was when Osric noted that the other man’s eyes were a milky white. He assumed that wasn’t normal for a Spirin. He doubted it would be, though. His great-uncle’s eyes had looked that way before the healers helped his glaucoma. Strange, Osric thought, that the healers here didn’t fix the Spirin’s sight.

“What do you want,” Thyrsin asked, “or is looking at an old man enough entertainment? I used to try keeping up with the young folks, and their fads, but . . . well, they change too quickly.” He smiled and waved to a seat before Osric could say anything. “Come, sit. Ignore an old man’s bad jokes and tell me what you want.”

The spirit-speaker took the seat, apologizing, “Sorry, Reverend Sir,” one of the Fauns back home spoke like that, “I was not told exactly what to expect . . .”

“You mean that I’m blind,” the priest interrupted. “Pfft. I have been in the Bazaar long enough that sight is no longer needed. The kids they have in temples today have forgotten that those without eyes can still see in their own minds, especially streets they’ve walked for centuries. Enough apologizing. What have you come to me for? No one looks for old Thyrsin unless they want lost information of the Bazaar. Thyrsin’s the oldest living resident, you know. But the Bazaar was old even before Thyrsin arrived and much of its history is lost, better that way, really.”

“Actually, I do need some information about a religious subject, and I was told you’d be the best source . . . I need to know what world the goddess Ayleena comes from.”

“Hmm, tricky. Ayleena, you say? Not many know about her and are willing to talk. Get Thyrsin a beer and maybe his memory will be helped.”

Osric almost objected, he was painfully aware that he’d already used more than half his meager funds. Finding another source would take time, and therefore cost more, though. After a second, he waved down the bartender for a drink. The old man was probably here enough to have a regular.

When the pint arrived, Thyrsin took a sip, savored it and seemed to enjoy the taste for a moment. Then he spoke, his voice barely audible, “So. You want to know where Gylingna’s from, young man?”

“No, sir, I need to know about Ayleena, with an ‘a,’ the goddess.”

“Ayleena . . . Ayleena? Difficult one. Not many outside her priests know that information. But Thyrsin knows, yes he does. She comes from a place called Athelone, or so Thyrsin once heard long ago when she was new to the Bazaar. Most have died or forgotten those days, but not Thyrsin.”

“Thank you, sir,” Osric replied with clear relief. “How do you get to . . . Athelone?”

“Eh? How should Thyrsin know? Is Thyrsin a guide, a navigator, a gatemonger? No, Thyrsin is not. Thyrsin is a priest. Find a seller of portals, a guide to the multiverse for that information, Thyrsin knows it not. Now go, leave Thyrsin to his god and his drink.” He waved a hand as if brushing the spirit-speaker away and Osric felt an odd compulsion to do exactly as the Spirin said.

Several blocks and minutes later, Osric realized the priest was a magician, maybe a telepath. Probably the second, since he could sense most other magics. And the old man was pretty skilled, he hadn’t even noticed the source of the compulsion until its purpose was served.

Whatever.

He needed to find a reliable person who knew his, or her, way around the dimensions. Someone who also carried enchanted items for dimension crossing or portal detection, or who could cast the needed spells, would be a definite bonus. If they were willing to work cheap, or take an i.o.u., that would be even better.

Osric idly wondered if the places here could draw on the funds he had in the bank back home. The logistics would be interesting, since no one he knew had heard of the Bazaar and dimensional magic was, by the few accounts he’d heard, extremely difficult even for those who could do it. His recent experience aside, of course. The Gargoyle, Liam, had said that was probably the Bazaar’s natural, stable, portal to his world. Apparently they followed different rules.

He brought himself back to the money and ‘gatemonger’ question with an effort.

The spirit-speaker belatedly realized he’d been following his ghostly guide without thinking about it. She also seemed to be taking him roughly south and east, as near as he could gauge. The realization made him consciously aware of the odors and sounds that had been causing him to think of home. The reek of brimstone mixed with an indefinable spicy bitterness and the occasional sound of a muffled explosion and constant low bubbling. It was just like being back at Norwood and walking the corridor by the alchemy labs. A faint smile played across his lips even as he felt the familiar light, wary tension return to his muscles, ready to dive in any direction. Presumably the people loudly hawking wares here were at least somewhat experienced professionals and less likely to blow things up than his one time fellow students. Even so, Osric enjoyed the nostalgic feeling.

All too soon, the comfortable sensations gave way to more stately, private shop fronts. After a few blocks, the spirit-speaker realized that the places and smaller crowds belonged to custom enchanters.

Probably made a killing too. If he hadn’t had ethical issues with permanently binding spirits to objects, that would have been a lucrative profession. And one his uncle would have approved of, instead of his service oriented profession. Someone had once jokingly referred to his job as ‘spiritual exterminator’ . . . Osric hadn’t been amused.

The minor curse would go away and the joker’s hair would grow back, eventually.

Soon the enchanters gave way, across a wide road, to places that were much more obviously commercial in nature. In the space of a mile or so, he saw every travel device imaginable from chariots and enchanted horseshoes to winged boots and teleportation wands. Even though the crowd of shoppers picked up, they were the faceless mass that had been pushing through the alchemists and circuses. Osric was able to spot races he was familiar with as well as some truly unearthly in appearance. The latter group he found especially impressive since there were hundreds of races back home, at least according to Frankirk’s Encyclopedia of Magical Races.

By the time the faces registered, his ghost had stopped and made a sweeping gesture.

The spirit-speaker looked around to divine what they were doing there.

A few minutes passed before realization dawned. There were no signs, he had to wait to catch hawking in a language he recognized. Then Osric knew the vendors were all trying to out do each other with claims of dimensional knowledge. As soon as one claimed to map a hundred, another claimed twice as many. In fact, as he listened, he picked out a definite rhythm to the calls and claims, as if the shopkeepers has rehearsed their calls.

Picking a person at random, Osric approached the nearest stall. The thing looked like every mental image he had of a Moroccan bazaar stand. The owner was even wearing a fez, even if the spirit-speaker couldn’t place his race.

The horned, blue-purple shopkeeper gave a toothy grin as he spotted Osric looking his way.

“Ah, honored traveler, what can poor Fezeek interest you in today, good sir?”

Laying it on a bit thick, Osric thought as he said, “Just browsing.” The standard answer he gave store help anywhere, reflexively, was out of his mouth before he knew it. The reply didn’t make much sense though, so he quickly added, “I seek a reliable guide to the dimensions for some travel. But I do not wish just any guide. I must be sure of the guide’s quality.”

The creature bowed, “Of course, honorable sir. Fezeek is the most knowledgeable guide in the Bazaar, you have my word. I am practically a native on thousands of worlds.”

Osric nodded, as if he knew what he was doing. “I do not doubt it, but anyone can make such a claim.”

The ghost nodded her approval, causing the speaker a bit of internal pride, before the shopkeeper hastily said, “Then Fezeek must prove his knowledge. Ask him of any dimension known to man or god.”

“Tell me of Earth, in the 1700-1800 range.”

“Ah, tricky, sir. Fezeek does know something of those Earths, but they are difficult to enter and leave. They are almost closed, but not quite, so travel to them is rare.”

“Ok. Tarsis.” He threw out a name from some mundane book that strangely popped into his head.

“An excellent world for tourists, good sir. Thousands of miles of pristine beaches and crystal clear waters, and no native intelligent or predatory life.”

Interesting. “Hmm. Athelone.”

“Athelone . . . Athelone . . .” Fezeek rummaged through the pile of scrolls on his table and held one up in triumph. “Abadas, Abine . . . Atharis, Athelone! My apologies, sir. If you wish to visit, that will be impossible. Athelone is a closed dimension. It is physically and magically impossible to travel to, though people sometimes leave.”

“Really?”

“Indeed, esteemed traveler, that is what the scroll says.”

“But you haven’t tried yourself,” Osric pressed.

Fezeek’s eyes narrowed, “Of course not, sir. You know what could happen to such a foolish traveler, surely esteemed sir.”

Osric shrugged, “Pretend I don’t.”

The guide’s eyes became mere slits, “I think it is time for you to leave, sir. Fezeek will not be working for you. Nor will any other guide to the dimensions if you seek to enter a closed dimension.”

As the spirit-speaker backed away, Fezeek added, in a hiss, “And don’t try to get free information . . . some are not as kind as Fezeek, including the Council. They do not take kindly to thieves.” The creature turned and grinned at a new customer, the subservient guide mask returned to his face.

For his part, Osric got away from the stand as quickly as he could. He glanced around for a few minutes, hoping no one had noticed the last exchange. His random direction took him deeper into the territory claimed by the dimensional guides.

He passed along a broad street, lined on the left by unsavory looking shops, lost in thought.

Someone was lying, Osric decided as he crossed a fork in the street. A quick glance around showed him stands selling books and related items.

The priests could be misleading him. As a non-worshipper, they’d have motive to lie about their traditions to him. The old priest, Thyrsin, had seemed lucid enough, aside from his disturbing tendency to speak in the third person. But he apparently had a reputation for senility. As for Fezeek . . . well, it wouldn’t be the first time a salesman, mundane or supernatural, had lied to a possible customer. Possibly to cover his own lack of ability or knowledge, in this case.

All of which left things where, exactly, he asked himself. Nearly back at the start. At least, that was the best he could think of.

He took a right and sat at a table outside a food vendor. As he absently ordered a drink and small meal, the spirit-speaker took in the neighborhood. Everything nearby seemed to be involved in book illumination, with a binder or two wedged in. The place he sat at was the only exception aside from a few food carts obviously dragged into the area temporarily. He turned his attention back to the table, surprised to see his ghostly companion sitting at the other seat. It was the first time he’d seen her not standing. Interesting, and she wasn’t sinking through the furniture.

Osric filed that away for another time, when he was home.

Ok, he thought, back to business.

Although he was inclined to distrust salesmen, Fezeek had seemed at least moderately honest and unconcerned. The guide hadn’t gotten suspicious until he’d been grilled about this Athelone place. That line had been a mistake, Osric saw, in hindsight. But, assume Fezeek was at least honest about that dimension. Thyrsin, then. Despite his local reputation, the man had appeared completely in control of his faculties. But, they did say some people could seen totally lucid and still have dementia. His own background in medicine and psychomagic was effectively non-existent. Assume the old man was lucid and truthful, he had no cause to lie.

That left Ayleena’s priest.

Osric had to fight his own biases against organized religion and remind himself to be objective. There was, after all, a chance that the priests were the only sane and honest ones in this case. He doubted that chance, though. After all, they had a reputation for secretiveness and not talking to those who were no part of their congregation. And then there was the ghost’s reaction to consider, biased as that might be. His own reaction had to come into play as well. The fact that he didn’t trust them and that they’d seemed to insist on getting her body, corpse. That, in some spirit-speaker rituals and other magics, could be used to control the spirit, more easily and certainly than other means.

Not that he had a corpse to turn over anyway.

Suddenly, Osric smacked himself in the forehead.

Where better to get what he needed than the source right in front of him? Just because she couldn’t talk, apparently, did not mean she couldn’t communicate as he’d discovered previously. He really had no idea why the obvious hadn’t occurred to him earlier. Probably because it made too much sense and was too obvious. He’d spent too long learning to dig for answers, forgetting that the obvious was sometimes the most important.

“Ok, now that I’ve come to my senses,” he said to the seemingly empty seat, “just nod or shake your head. I’ll try to stick to yes or no things.”

A nod.

“Are you forbidden from talking about what happened to you? Do you know what needs to be done for you to pass on?

A shake and a shrug. Still better than nothing.

“Ok, but you assume it has to do with the temple and making your story known?” Nod. “Your death was a violent one, right?” Nod. “I’m betting that it was covered up or not well known, right?” Nod. “Ok. Three for three. Was one priest involved? More than one? Many of them? Right.”

Osric leaned back in his chair and signaled for a new drink, having found his empty. He ignored the looks he was getting from the other tables. After a lifetime of talking to spirits that others couldn’t see, he was used to such things.

With only simple answers available, he took a few moments to formulate his next questions. He had a definite suspicion, but that may come from having watched too many mundane movies, he had to admit. Even as lenient as the Bazaar seemed, he had to assume there were some limits, like things that would drive off possible customers, and what he’d thought of would certainly do that. The thing was, it also made logical sense given the information he’d gathered and inferred.

Fine, try it and see . . .

“Did the priests do it on their own? Sorry, clarify . . . did they commit this act in their role as priests?” Nod. Great. Clichéd, but what he expected.

Osric flagged the server who’d been by before. He barely glanced at the human dressed in attire he’d expect at any ren faire.

“Excuse me. Obviously, I’m not from around here. I’m doing a book on the various dimensions and have some questions, two really, if you don’t mind.”

After a second’s hesitation, the waiter shrugged, “If I can answer, sir, I’ll try.”

“Excellent,” Osric tried to force himself to sound excited. “First, is the Bazaar open to the faithful of any religion?”

“I believe so, sir. If you go south, sir, past the musicians and jugglers, you will come to the temples of, I am not sure how many gods, sir.”

“Good, good,” he pretended to make a note in a small book he always carried, “And, on a similar subject, I’ve encountered many faiths in my travels. Some practice . . . less than savory rituals. Are animal or human sacrifices legal here?”

“No sir, I don’t believe so, sir. But the Council’d be the ones to talk to there, sir.”

“And where might I find an interview with the council? Maybe at that tower I see there?” Osric said, indicating the tower at the center of the Bazaar, that rose above the rest of the buildings, his former landmark.

The waiter’s free hand traced a complex pattern in the air, apparently reflexively, as he replied, “No, sir! No one lives in, or goes to, the Spire. They say that messing with the Spire would doom the whole Bazaar. Anyway, the nearest council member’s just across the first major street as you head west, turn right and ask for Master Nadalle at the Prince’s Theater. You can’t miss it, it’s got a portrait of a man with a crown on.”

Pausing only to finish his drink, Osric thanked the young man, gathered up his ghost, and set off to follow his new directions. He fervently hoped this would be the last leg of his journey before going home.

He was only a couple blocks from the theater, the sign was in sight, when some sixth sense, honed by years at Norwood, caused Osric to drop to the ground.

A crack and whoosh of displaced air stirred his hair followed by the smell of ozone and a patter of stone fragments hitting the road.

Osric ducked between two stalls and hurriedly found what cover he could.

Fortunately, he was still on the side of the street with guild halls. A stolen glance seeking his attacker, for so he assumed it was, noted the theaters across the way were all wood. He ducked back just in time to avoid a blinding bolt of energy that slammed into the wall, sending up a cloud of shrapnel.

Sorcery.

Damn. He recognized the basic attack from school, and the purple aura from his mother’s magic. He had no counter. His own magic was too slow for combat, unless he bound spirits in advance.

Hopefully the assailant was using a device that might run out of energy.

As he considered, three more bolts of pure magical energy hit the walls around his hiding place.

For a second, Osric thought about sending the ghost to investigate.

They were probably ready for that, though, so she’d be destroyed or captured. There was only one option, then. Retreat.

He carefully made his way down the alley, deeper into the guild section. All the while, the spirit-speaker fervently hoped his attacker didn’t have friends covering the other end of the gap. If they did, well, his only defense was a tiny folding knife he used for collecting herbs.

Halfway down the alley, Osric was pleasantly surprised to find that another alley crossed his.

As he ducked down the new street, he noticed that there was another main street one building to his right. So the guild halls must be built nearly back to back, he thought as he ran. After a few blocks, cutting over could help, he concluded, but there’d probably be others watching the north approach to the theater. At least that’s what he would do, based on watching a few mundane spy movies. Stake out the places he was likely to get help and wait for him.

Maybe more than a couple blocks.

He paused to catch his breath and think a few intersections later.

They’d probably expect him to try the theater again, whoever they were. Or they’d expect him to run. But he knew they were probably staying near his goal. Did they know that he knew that? Did he try that route or play it safe? The sane course would be to flee, find home, and have done with the whole affair.

He eventually sighed.

Ok, ditching the ghost and leaving her to her own devices, or the priests’, wasn’t really an option. It was the sane route, but not the right way.

After mentally marking the street he needed, Osric worked his way north, by randomly changing streets and directions. He hoped to throw off pursuit and give himself some time to think.

Two hours later, he was crouched in a different alley halfway across the Bazaar trying to get some sleep before the long night of summoning and binding he foresaw. It would be necessary to protect himself from whoever’d attacked him, he assumed either the priests of Ayleena or someone they’d hired.

Advertisements

Bazaar (pt. 1) (2010)

“I was in Chicago, following directions a friend gave me to a shop. I’m new in town and needed some materials that I used up before I moved . . . anyway. I turned down the alley that was supposed to lead to the shop, I must’ve passed it or gotten the wrong alley because next thing I knew, the weather was different. Warmer and sunnier. And then this . . . shaggy, horned Ogre thing was yelling at me, but I know it’s not an Ogre, I took Non-Human Studies at school, two years ago. Then all these people in stalls around here started trying to sell me things,” Osric Kirkwood trailed off, looking at his new companion. He took another pull of the dark, frothy . . . well, beer, in his mug. “Where am I? And how do I get home?”

“You’re at the Bazaar, kid,” the giant of a Gargoyle, wingless but craggy grey replied. “Sounds like you ran into an Anont too, sorry.”

“Um, what’s an Anont? No, wait. More important, what’s the Bazaar?”

“How to describe the Bazaar?” the other man stared at the ceiling, “Saying it is a continuous 24/7 marketplace hardly does it justice. You said you were from Earth, right? Heard of the Goblin Market or Faerie Market?”

Osric shrugged, “Sure, but my Goblin and Elf friends say there’s no such thing.” He was getting the distinct feeling that despite appearances, his ‘guide’ wasn’t from his world . . . and he’d chosen to bother this guy because at least Gargoyles were familiar.

“Well, they’re right and they’re wrong. The Bazaar’s the place that started those stories on every Earth.”

“Okay . . . so how do I get back?”

“Assuming you don’t know any dimensional transport spells? Or have a device to do? You find the gate way you came through to get here.”

Osric rose and turned toward the door, “Okay. I got a bit turned around, but I think I can backtrack . . .”

The Gargoyle just laughed, “Heh. It ain’t that simple, kid. By now, the gate’s moved on. It’ll look the same, but they move around through the Bazaar, so you’ll have to hunt it out or find a magician who can trace it.”

“Great,” Osric muttered, “Thanks . . .”

“Liam, Earth 15743. Good luck, kid.”

Wonder what Earth I left, Osric thought as he left the bar. He glanced over his shoulder, just to see the place again. It still looked like a tiny one room shack. Back home there was, so his teachers had said, dimension magic, both sorcery and spirit-speaking, but he couldn’t remember being in an obviously altered building before. Pretty cool, really. If there were more of them back home, hiding from mundanes would be easier.

He shook his head to clear the wayward thoughts.

Finding a way back was his current goal. Once that happened, he could think about other things like sightseeing. How to locate one of these tracking magicians? Following signs would be easiest, if there had been any signs to follow. It seemed like the place was laid out randomly with no attempt at organization. If what Liam had said was true, he could wander for months and not find what he needed, or he could stumble over it in a second.

As his sorceress mother always said, when in doubt fall back on your skill set. Not having her sorcerous talent or his father’s nose, Osric decided to let his vision slip slightly out of focus. Nature spirits were unlikely, but with the sardine-like press of people, there had to be some deaths in the Bazaar and that meant a strong chance of ghosts floating around at the very least.

Spotting several likely candidates only took a couple seconds. There were a variety of spirits around, including many bound and for sale. Which meant the place had spirit-speakers, Osric concluded, so he should be able to recoup lost offerings and find a good secluded space.

He found an alley that would work well enough in a pinch between two low stone buildings. The far end was blocked by a tent and it was reasonably clean. Probably the best place he’d find without having to pay, he thought as he settled into a cross-legged seat midway down the gap. Osric laid out a few items produced from concealed pockets in his clothing. Like most spirit-speakers, he always carried some essential tools of the trade for emergencies. The task he had in mind would not require anything too tricky or powerful, just a simple summoning and information negotiation. His mother could probably get the information faster, but she was back in Iowa, so no help at the moment.

First, a simple ad hoc ritual to cleanse the alley, something he’d drilled to the point of doing it in his sleep.

Then a simple chant in a dead language, Anglo-Saxon as his choice, repeated several times as he arranged the offerings. Seeking and summoning a specific spirit, instead of any in range, would take time, he realized and repeated the chant.

Osric repeated the chant nearly a score of times before he perceived a response.

A small heat shimmer was visible to the unaided eye about knee high from the ground and just out of reach.

He allowed his vision to shift the subtle amount necessary to see the being. Where anyone lacking the gift would see the effects of heat haze, the spirit-speaker saw a middle aged woman of a race he had never seen before. She was faintly Elven in form, but her translucent coloring was a completely alien blue-grey and she seemed to be clad in something like early Victorian attire. All of which appeared to show his chant as successful, he had summoned a ghost as desired. And she’d responded to the Old English, cementing another theory that language was no barrier in the spirit realm.

“I need to find the gate home,” he said, fighting the urge to consider the theories. “I promise offerings and one favor in return, to the limits of my abilities.”

The spirit-speaker went with a fairly simple and common pact. With a ghost, for information, he felt no need for convoluted counter-trickery. And he wasn’t the type to force his will upon a spirit, they generally seemed to appreciate that fact.

The ghost woman nodded after a moment and pointed down the alley.

Osric hastily gathered his few belongings and followed her drifting form. He decided not to require her name, although he had the means to do so. It should build a rapport. The next time he did a summoning, he could not call her specifically or compel her service. That, his instructors had told him, helped build trust on the spirit’s part, which in turn built loyalty.

He paid little attention to his surroundings, all his focus going to the ghost. She traveled in a straight line, simply moving through obstructions and people that he had to dodge. More than once, Osric lost sight of his guide in the mingled mass of mortals and spirits that his split vision allowed him to access. She moved through one wall and the spirit-speaker had to spend a few minutes searching for her.

After an hour of going roughly the same direction, the ghost abruptly changed and started almost doublebacking down the trail of streets. It took a few minutes before Osric realized they were at a slight angle to the original route, maybe two streets further north, or what he thought of as being north, for lack of a better orientation.

He called a halt to the search, hours later, when he noticed the sun setting. The latter took awhile to set in as the level of lighting barely changed. As the natural light diminished, more shops and stalls were illuminated by torches and magical lights. He even swore he spotted a couple light bulbs amongst a group of tents.

In calling a halt, Osric ordered, “Spirit, find the nearest inn or hotel. Then you may leave until morning, if you choose not to return, there will be no reward offerings.”

He stepped into a ramshackle wooden building a short time later as the ghost drifted off wherever she chose. He hadn’t much hope of a good room, but at least the place had looked affordable.

Once he was through the door, the spirit-speaker had to stop and take in the sight before his shock disappeared.

The floor was black veined white marble. A scattering of pillars held a ceiling two stories above his head. Straight ahead was a staircase that looked like it belonged in a Hollywood movie, with Astaire and Roberts dancing down the steps. Large potted plants and lush seating dotted the cavernous room, broken by gold trimmed red carpets. To his right was a solid gold desk manned by clerks representing at least a half score races.

And the place had looked like a two story dump from outside.

Suddenly uncertain of his ability to pay, Osric went straight to the desk, hoping that would get him out of the spotlight.

Certain he already knew the answer, he asked a rat-man, “You wouldn’t happen to have a room I could get for one night, under forty bucks, would you?”

The, he assumed, wererat tapped something into a keyboard attached to a crystal mirror.

“Hmm . . . well, sir, we do have a few rooms open,” the rat-man said after a moment. “No reservation? Not to worry, so few make them, I’m surprised we even bother asking. It would make things much easier, and it’s not like interdimensional communication and a little planning are that hard, right?”

Osric found himself nodding and apologizing, even though he wasn’t really sure why.

“Alright, sir, if you could just produce one unit of currency,” the clerk said with a few more key taps, “just so we can fix the exchange rate, you see. No billing until you check out, sir.”

After fumbling out a five dollar bill and handing it to the clerk, the spirit-speaker watched him flatten the bill on another, horizontal, mirror. A fist sized crystal ball floated over the bill as if it was reading. Once it stopped, the clerk scanned his mirror quickly and handed back the bill.

“It seems, sir, that we have two rooms that fit your requirements,” he said. “Room 215 goes for a little over fifteen a night, sir. The other is forty even.”

Probably a broom closet, Osric thought, but he selected the cheaper room as being more prudent seeing as he didn’t know how long he’d be staying. In fact, “I’m surprised you take dollars at all,” he mused aloud.

The wererat smiled.

“Aside from gold and silver coins, they are the most common currency we see, sir,” he explained. “It is said that any currency in the multiverse can be used or exchanged at the Bazaar, sir. We need only determine which group of Earths the dollar comes from, for exchange. Ah, here’s the porter, sir, to take you to your room. 215.”

A young, uniformed, Human accepted the key and nodded toward the left.

“Sir? Unless you would prefer the stairs?”

“Huh? No, that’s fine,” Osric followed, distracted by the place, toward a set of lifts. He looked around the wood paneled and gold accented car as it rose soundlessly. The number rose by, he assumed, one in an unfamiliar system, then the doors opened again. Probably a sorcerous or spellwoven device, levitation or some such, he decided as he followed the porter down a corridor.

This one was nowhere near as fancy as the previous floor, but it wasn’t a dump either, the spirit-speaker noted. The carpet was a typically bland hotel pattern of red and green with gold strands. The doors looked reasonably solid and bore slim plaques with numbers. No locks, though, and the clerk hadn’t done anything downstairs, but had given the porter a key. Odd.

That notable waved the key once in front of the door handle, then fiddled with something on the end.

Only after the door was open, into a stuffed closet, as expected, did the young man drop a ring into Osric’s hand.

“Just wear that, sir, and the room door will open for you. It also allows entry to the pool, gym, and restaurant at any hour, day or night, sir.”

Soon after the porter left, Osric decided to splurge a little on room service, eating on the bed while he thought over his situation and plan.

It was a few hours later, when he woke from a restless, yet sound, sleep, that he realized what the door clerk had said, or implied. Their exchange reader told them where currency came from . . . in other words, where he came from in this bazaar’s naming system. They could get him that information. He could go home faster.

The thought kept him awake for the remainder of the night, despite his best efforts to calm down and sleep.

When dawn peeked through the lone window—wonder how that happened with no planet—Osric was already dressed, cleaned, and clutching a dollar bill in his hand as he rushed down the hall and stairs.

Different beings were on duty, so he chose a fellow Human, wanting a bit of normalcy and not recognizing the other species. He slapped the dollar on the counter and asked, “Your scanner can tell me which Earth this came from, right?”

“Not exactly, sir. The scanner is only good to within a hundred dimensions,” the man replied, taking the bill. “But, I can run it, if you like, sir.”

Osric thought for a second. The Gargoyle had said he was from Earth fifteen thousand something . . . which meant . . .

“Yes, please do,” he said, realizing a hundred or so was better than at least sixteen thousand.

The technomagical device repeated its operation from the previous night. Once it stopped, the clerk typed something in—“Switching from exchange rates to dimensional tracking, sir”—and scribbled two numbers on a piece of scrap paper. He handed the slip over with, “That’s the best we can do, I’m afraid, sir.”

“I understand, we have hardware issues back home too,” the spirit-speaker said, reclaiming his dollar and the paper. He glanced at the numbers—1704 to 1802—before folding it and stowing it in his pocket. Just in case his spirit-guide failed today or the gate disappeared completely.

Osric turned from the counter and jumped as he found the spirit in question hanging a few inches behind him.

With a few muttered expletives, he got himself checked out and followed the ghost through to the street.

The sound of a thousand voices hawking wares and haggling mingled with the cries of innumerable animals hit his ears the instant he was past the doorframe. They added to the stench of the same animals and competed with strange spices and foods to threaten an immediate headache. Osric touched the simple pendant that a friend had placed a minor enchantment on years ago, as a gift. It was meant to aid with minor illnesses, he hoped it was up to the task.

A wave set the ghost on its way and the spirit-speaker followed, used to skipping breakfast and eager to find home.

He followed in its wake, focused entirely on keeping the entity in sight as it drifted through people and obstructions. Keeping up required so much attention that he was only dimly aware of his surroundings. Osric’s only interactions were to dodge and weave around what his guide ignored. Fortunately, keeping his vision slightly shifted to see the spirits was one of the first things he had learned, to the point that it was second nature and needed none of his attention. Had it been otherwise, he was sure he’d have lost the ghost in the first three blocks from the hotel.

By the time the sun, or what passed for a sun, has reached its zenith, the young spirit-speaker felt he’d walked the entire place several times over. There was a dull throb beneath his ankles, as if he’d tried to cover every inch of downtown Chicago on foot. Or so he thought, that being the largest city he had any experience with.

Once he smelled, and then spotted, a collection of food stands, Osric called his spirit to a halt.

He approached one that looked like a street vendor’s hot dog cart, as the most familiar.

About four feet away, Osric veered off toward another stand, swearing to himself that something inside the cart had lifted the lid and tried to escape. Whatever it was had looked decidedly rubbery, slimy, and suspiciously tentacle-like.

The other looked safer, even though he couldn’t read the menu’s language. Still, it seemed to be tended by an Alvar and a Svartalfar, people whose food he’d had some experience of. Heavy and not his first choice, but at least he knew it wouldn’t bite back. A few minutes of pidgin sign language haggling told him that, appearances aside, the pair were not what he thought, but that he could part with a few dollars for edible food.

In the meantime, Osric watched his ghostly servant out of the corner of his eye.

It seemed to continually face one direction throughout the whole process.

He hoped that meant the portal was staying in one place and decided to eat on the move, despite his sore feet.

The item on a stick that tasted vaguely like heavily seasoned chicken was gone by the time the ghost stopped. She pointed straight ahead of where they were, a few yards down the street. Osric spotted the, he hoped, portal. It looked like a wooden doorframe with a shimmering, roiling fog-like substance inside.

He dropped to a knee, still watching the portal and being watched by the ghost, to build a small fire out of things from his pockets. He struck a match and lit the offerings, allowing them to burn so the sparks drifted through the ghost. With the portal still in sight, and aware of his promise, Osric waited, his foot tapping and nerves afire, for the spirit to ask its favor.

After a few moments, during which Osric couldn’t help but glance impatiently at the portal, the ghost pointed toward the local north.

The spirit-speaker shook his head.

“What? I don’t understand. Look, I can’t leave the gate now that it’s here.”

The ghost continued to point.

“Oh, come on . . . can’t you just tell me what you want?” That was odd, normally the sentient spirits were chatty as hell, he absently thought.

Yet, the ghost continued to point toward the north.

Osric gave the portal a look of longing for several heartbeats.

Suddenly, he took out the slip that the hotel desk had given him. A pencil appeared from one of his numerous pockets. He scribbled down the time from his watch, guesstimated the distance of the portal from the nearest three shops, and jotted down their names too. It was probably pointless, he felt as he stowed the items, but at least the info might help someone help him, or something. There were other magics and a lot of new knowledge at work here, well beyond what he’d learned at Norwood.

With one last look at the gate, and a sigh, he waved to the ghost, “Lead on, I suppose. You’ve fulfilled your part of the agreement.”

Really, he thought a few blocks later, it was his own fault. He’d been the one who phrased the contract and he should have known to be more careful. Professor Gaskill, back at the academy, would not have failed him for that, but Osric knew he wouldn’t have passed by much either. It was a second year’s mistake, not a graduated, full-fledged spirit-speaker’s. All he could do was blame stress, a little fear, and go with it. Who knew, maybe the Norns were involved in some subtle way . . . even the gods couldn’t fight fate with any hope of success.

They took several twists down side streets after following a main road north for a while. After the tenth or twelfth turn, Osric admitted to himself that he was lost. He figured from the sun-replacement that they’d been moving generally north, but that was about it.

When the ghost finally slowed, the young man noticed that one side seemed to be dominated by archery related stalls, the other by shoemakers of various sorts. He quickly stifled the knee-jerk urge to look around for Brownies. An old mundane story invariably came to mind, ever since they’d covered mundane folklore in one of his elective classes. Interesting stuff, even if most of the stories were way off, but not important now, he thought as the ghost seemed to get her bearings and took off again.

Osric tried asking for information—where they were going, why—a few times before giving up.

Either she couldn’t talk or she wouldn’t.

He wracked his mind for anything he could do to force her to speak. Nothing jumped up. He’d focused on cajoling, treating with, and befriending spirits, not threatening and forcing them. Others preferred those routes as faster. It might be in some ways, he admitted. But, it ultimately failed in the long run and led to paranoid spirit-speakers. Spirits were practically eternal, had long memories, and could obsess about anything, especially revenge.

Hell, probably every third ghost out there stuck around to get revenge for something, even if the target of their vengeance was long dead.

They started moving again once the ghost got her bearings. There seemed to be a more easterly drift, he noticed by sighting the large circular tower to the southeast. Liam the Gargoyle had said it was called the Peak or Spindle or something. Anyway, it was tall and supposed to be the center of the dimension. That made for a convenient landmark he’d ignored the day before.

After a couple more attempts to get the ghost to talk, Osric gave up as a lost cause.

He did notice that they were passing through a loud area, even by Bazaar standards. Cheers and groans resounded off the walls of larger, multistory buildings. In fact, they looked taller and sturdier than any he’d seen yet, some at least. Others seemed to be slapped together from discarded boards. Beneath the yells, Osric caught the occasional mixture of sharp rings and dull thuds that brought memories of Self-Defense 101, interspersed with what could only be animal cries and the, rare, telltale sounds of the flashier magics—sorcery, thaumaturgy, elementalism, spellcraft, maybe some psionics or channeling. Those tended to be much more obvious and showy than the more subtle arts, but also made for better theater.

One bloodcurdling yowl awoke some primal part of the spirit-speaker’s subconscious and propelled him through the neighborhood mere inches behind his flying guide.

A few blocks later, as the structures gave way to what were obviously temples, Osric decided that the area behind him had some sort of circus. That didn’t entirely explain the few people on the street who seemed to be involved in gambling. It did explain the animals and flashy magic. In some ways, the transition to temples was subtle. There were hawkers outside every building filling the air with a cacophony of random languages. The only noticeable differences, at first, were the architecture and the few snatches of intelligible shouts he caught and made sense of.

As the ghost led the way deeper into the Bazaar’s religious section—so he thought of it—the spirit-speaker noticed fewer shouting people and larger, more stately structures. Maybe more successful gods, he thought as he jogged after the ghost. She’d been steadily drifting faster since they’d passed the first temple. If she kept it up, Osric figured he would be running in a block or two.