okee dokee. Chapter 2 is up. now on to 3. :) It's getting there, even if it kills me. ;)
NaNo #2.0.3 – the blood artist
The light was brightoutside of the villa. The lamps lining the street gave off an evenlight that illuminated even the smallest bush outside the householdwalls. The businesses and households that shared space on this streetwere built close together with only small, cramped alleyways separatingthe high stone walls of one villa from the next. Each wall was adornedwith an exquisitely filigreed entryway and athick wood door that lead to an inner atrium and out into the householdgarden at the center of the place. The rooms and passageways surroundedthe inner gardens and the kitchens were built farinto the rear of the building, offering aplace of warmth for all the inhabitants in the winter and a place apartfrom the rest of the house in the summer in case of fire or storms.There was a separate door to the rear of each building that lead outinto a service alley and was heavily guarded by the house dogs and aheavy wooden brace. As open as the people of the City seemed to be,they took their safety seriously.
The flowers were intheir last blooms of the summer and spilled from the baskets andbarrels in front of each gate, the lamp light muted the colors, butdefined the shapes. Mara touched one of the shimmering whitemoonflowers outside her gate. It opened wide at her touch and thenquickly closed into a tight spiral. It would not open again until thenext night, believing that it had captured a pollinating insect orother beneficial pest and was determined to keep it.
Mara moved on downthe street and passed the nearest dream den. The sweet smell of incenseand wax wafted down from an open window and she could see the form of awoman leaning against the barred window. She was singing in a light whisper, most of the words were indistinguishable,but Mara could just make out a line or two of a popular tune mixed witha folk song from the mountain folk. Before she was done, the womanturned and wandered back inside. Mara waited for a moment, and when shedidn't come back, wandered further down thestreet humming the folktale, herself.
The edge of the NightMarket wasn't far. She could hear it before she reached it. The smellsof fried foods and leather and exotic spices brought in on the shipsthat day were enticing and Mara quickened her step. The lights herewere brighter still, and the tents and stalls of the Market in the opensquare were bright and busy. There was almost anything imaginable forsale here. The laws were looser in the Night Market and negotiationswere fierce and final. Troupes ofentertainers and travelers sought each otherout and worked out a price and venue for a transaction in whatever wastheir pleasure. Some entertainments were out in the open, and some wereretired behind closed doors.
There was a smaller,although gaudier, stall nearest the entrance to the Market that Maravisited first. It was a spice tent and was run by a woman of themountain folk. A friend of Mara's kin and known to her. The tent was relaxed and open inside, a faint trace ofincense treaded through the stall and grew stronger as Mara movedthrough the tables of good to the vendor's area in the back.
"Mara, girl! How areyou? Busy as always, I suppose. It's been too long since you'vevisited." A strong boned and striking woman stood up as Mara movedcloser. She was dressed in a dark blue skirt and black top tied with aheavy silk belt, with iridescent beadingalong the collar and hem of both items. Her boots were black leatherand scuffed with age. She had the look of a wild creature tamed for themoment, but given a moments opportunity, would be gone in a flash.
She walked toward thefront of the store with a purpose and scooped Mara up in her arms for atremendous hug.
"You stay away solong and no one will recognize you! Goodness girlie. You've put on somemuscle last time you came by this way. Your momma'd beproud." She smiled and held Mara up for inspection. "I guess these cityfolk have been treating you alright. Hmmm... Letme look at you, girl. I need to be able to prove to your folks thatyou're taking care of yourself, now."
"I'm fine, AuntJenna. Really. I'm doing well, in my studies. Bria told me so. I'vebeen working in the Common Market stallswith her and helping to make the wares. I like it. I'm learning theseasons and the growing things and I'm looking forward to having my ownplace some day." Her eyes were intensely blue and sparkled in herexcitement. The fright in the pantry was almostforgotten in the comfort of her aunt's stall. "I was wondering if youhad any Z root. Bria said that we were almost out and to ask you nexttime I came out his way. I've got the moneyfor it now, if you have it. And Y powder and X oil if you have them,too. The den next door is going to be having first rites for it'sapprentices soon and I'll be assisting in the preparations."
Her aunt leaned inand grabbed a small pouch from a basket on a nearby table. "Well, thisis all we have left of the Z root. I can sell you what we have andbring back more next time around. The other's we have plenty of. Let'ssee if I can find a bag to carry it all in." She rooted around in theback and Mara looked through the tables, picking out a few extra purchases for herself.
"Here we go. You're gonna want to keep them all in a sackaway from the wet out there. Let me know what you think of that X oil.We've got a new supplier and I'm not too certain of his worth. It'sgood stuff, but I want to know from a healer's point of view howdifferent the medium grade is from the higher. Those western traders dolike to pass the mediocre off as quality and they usually get away withit too!"
Money exchanged handsfast and secretly in the way of the mountain folk and Mara's aunt gaveher another hug before she left. Mara hugged her back and promised toreturn sooner next time.
The Night Market hitit's peak time when Mara left her Aunt Jenn's stall.The entertainers at the center stage were juggling fruits, knives andscarves as well as an assortment of other unlikely items, to the amazement of the small crowd that gathered towatch them.
Mara bought a packetof steamed vegetables and meats from a vendor chose a seat on the rimof an old fountain near the players. She had already missed the dinnerthat had been cooking at the villa and although she still was not veryhungry, she picked through a bit of the meal to save herself thetrouble later.
The dancers andjugglers were a ragged bunch when viewed up close. The riotous colorsof their clothing and accessories masked the patches and worn spots inthe fabric. The items they juggled were a jumble of new and old. Thepaint flaked off some, while appearing new and almost wet on others.
The juxtaposition ofnew and old, youth and elder, within the troupe heldMara's attention so fast that she vaguely noticed thedisheveled young man who stealthily sat down beside her andbegan to sort through the contents of her basket.
He brushed the sleeveof her dress, casually, as he examined her wares. “You realize youcould have gotten a much better deal ifyou'd waited to buy this from the tinker in a month or so. “ Marastartled and grabbed the jar back from him.
“Where did you comefrom? Good gods Ever, you almost got my fist upside your head. Scare melike that. Gods.” The boy laughed and dodged her half hearted blow.
“You'd better watch yourself out here. You should know better thanto gawk like a tourist at the Night Market. What were you thinking? Youwere a way's a way. Just wit until I tell Bria you might could havebought her most expensive ingredients twice over.” He grinned at herand brushed the dirty blond hair out of his eyes. Mara hit him againand put the jars back in her basket with a sniff.
“I don't know whereyou think you get off with being so disrespectful, boy. You should besitting in the temple right now preparing for your rites.”
“Well, I've been sitting for the last week and I'mthoroughly sick of it. I've thought and learned and reviewed as much asI can without actually doing anything. I'm not worried. I'll be fine. “He smiled and Mara noticed the tired hollows under his eyes. On closerinspection, he was thinner than she had seen him in a while. He lookedas though he hadn't slept in days.
“Are you alright?”she asked in a concerned voice and laid her hand on his arm. “You don'tlook very well.”
Ever shrugged andlooked away. “The training is taking a lot out of me. It's quitedemanding. After the first rites, I'll have a choice to which path Iwant to take and whether I want to concentrate on any subject. I had myfirst tapping this morning and there havebeen these dreams...” He stopped for a moment and watched the playersbegin a small set of comedy sketches. The audience was growing and thenoise was also. It was getting a bit crowded in that part of the Marketand he was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable. “Hey, would you mindif we head out somewhere quieter? Do you have everything you came for?”
“Yes. The rest I canget in the Commons tomorrow. I really should get back anyway. Bria willbe wondering where I am.” She stood up and slipped her arm through thehandle of the basket. The crowd was quite thick, now. It was unusualfor a Night Market to be so crowded. She frowned a little and lookedaround to catch her bearings. “Do you remember the way out of here? Ican't seem to see the Visitor's Gate. I don't usually come down thisway and it's crazy here tonight.”
“I think so. TheMarket Judge should have his tent over there. It'sworth a shot and if I'm right, we should be out of here in asnap.” They moved away from the fountain and towardsthe large red stall on the other side of the square. It seemed asthough the crowd was closing in on the square and it became almostimpossible to move away from the center.
The Judge's tentslowly came into sight and Mara felt much the worse for wear before itdid. The crowd was thinner beyond it and dwindled farther the furtherthey moved beyond the market, although they still did not recognizetheir surroundings by the time they passed the last guard and party goer and were finally on their own.
Ever looked aroundhim. There didn't seem to be any landmarks he recognized and he hadbeen exploring this city since he'd entered the dream den's apprenticeprogram four years ago. He considered himself quite the expert ingetting himself out of the occasional uncomfortable situation and sawthis predicament as another challenge to solve.
Mara sighed. This wasnot what she had had in mind when she left the villa. The street wasdark and unfamiliar and she was not enjoying the prospect of findingher way home. “Maybe we should go back and ask one of the guards forsome directions? They should know where we are.”
“They're too busycontrolling the crowd. And why would they help us? There're thousandsof clueless travelers in town before theharvest festivals, they won't take kindly to being bothered, we mightbe better off just finding our way. The City's big, but it's not likewe won't eventually recognize something.” He moved offtowards the right and down a side street. Maratrotted to keep up with him, mildly annoyed that he was taking this sowell, yet glad that she wasn't lost by herself. That was not a problemshe wanted to deal with.
The night was coldereach passing hour and Mara was tired. Ever moved quickly, his long legscovering space that took Mara twice as long. She dragged behind moreand more, finally sitting down in a doorstep near the back of a villa.She couldn't remember how long it had been since she'd been in anyother part of the City than Bria's Household and the surroundingneighborhood. She had visited the Temple on holy days and hadaccompanied Bria to the docks to retrieve packages and escort visitorsback to the villa, but on her own, she hadn't ventured past the Squareor the Visitor's Market.
She could barely seearound her. Even with the moon shining brightly, the buildings weretall enough to cloak most of the street in shadows. It had rainedearlier in the day and there were the occasional puddles, drying in thegutters and she could see the small flash of eyes behind the trashpiles waiting for collection in a day or so. There were small rustlesof the scavenger beasts and an occasional yowl or squeak to mark aterritorial squabble. She shivered and pulled her sweater closer aroundher. Her skirt was thin and her blouse was made for decoration and festivities, rather than the realities of amidnight adventure.
The water in thegutter splashed a little and Mara jumped. Arodent or beastie of some sort rushed out from the trash heap acrossthe way and scampered down the gutter and squeezed itself into a smallcrack in the villa wall. It was unusual for such an obvious crack to gounrepaired, even on the back side of a villa, and Mara stood up andwalked over to it for a closer inspection.
There seemed to be astrange material clogging it and the rodent was still trying to get allthe way trough. It was so determined to be off the street, that it waskicking its legs and pushing it's way through the material until itfinally popped through with an unusual sort of crunch. It disappearedquickly and Mara bent down to inspect the material.
Itseemed to be some sort of fiber, long and fine and was clottedwith a sticky substance. She jumped and pulled her hand away. The crackwas filed with hair and she didn't want to know how. It was long anddark and there was something other than the rodent inside there. Theodd crunching started up again and the mass moved a little. A stream ofblack liquid tricked out of it and the mass spasmed, coughing out ajagged little object. Mara backed away. She ran down the alley, shecould barely breathe.
Behind her in thegutter, lay a glistening fragment of bone.