Part 1 HQ
Part 2 Biwako-Ohashi-Bridge
Part 3 Rustling in the Dark
Part 4 The Moonlight Market
The mists of the borders lifted, as soon as my foot touched the wooden planks of the landing stage boat. One way in, the only way out. Felix and Lou materialized by my side.
“Ugh, great! I’m barely dry from the downpour before, but you had to drag me through the lake too!” Lou shook water out of his fur. Poor puppy, he despised being wet. Most amusing weakness, so I made a mental note to buy a water squirt gun, as soon as possible.
Felix chuckled. “Who had the audacity to dip you into the lake, you hairy cookie? Point them out, and I shall smite them with lightning!” To my surprise, he had kept the antlers, never seen him do that with other supernatural entities.
“Smite yourself, you horned fishbrain!” Lou barked and clicked his tongue at him in disgust.
“Behave!” I clapped my hands to snap them out of the possible banter they were up to. “We have work to do. I know that’s boring and dull, but that’s why we were invited in the first place.”
“You’re such a kill-joy.” Felix sighed. “I will greet the rest of the Oni-family and Biwa-sama. Come get me when you need me.” He pointed towards the northern part of the Market, where a great tree stretched over the roofs of the stalls, glowing softly. Huh, looked like they brought a mountain god too. Probably Mount Ibuki’s Spirit. I nodded.
That was all he needed to take off, like a bullet towards the colorful lights, music and the other elementals. Oh, river spirits were easily distracted. Music, laughter, and booze were all it took. At least he was out of my hair, and wouldn’t bother Lou. Lake Biwa’s Spirit was most powerful, and he protected his kinfolk to death. He was the one carrying the Market on top of his carapace, as he took the body of a giant Japanese Pond Turtle
The wooden path swayed a bit, bobbed up and down, as it moved under our combined weights. It connected to other dinghis, boats, and barrels posing as shelter, storage room, homes, and makeshift market stalls. Each of them slightly blurred, depending on the angle and distance you looked at it. The stalls were protected by basic privacy charms of different age. I turned around to look at each one, to see who arrived with the Market. Huh, almost empty. Had the Market arrived almost by itself? How unusual… Behind me, Lou jumped and pawed at the wooden path. His claws tore up the surface, I heard it crack and splinter. “Kuro! Suck those up!” He pointed at my tails of tarlike liquid misfortune, hungrily swaying around trying to latch on to him.
“Sorry.” I made the miasma of my tails congeal to a wooden staff. Did I touch him? Lou sniffed the air suspiciously. “Are you alright?” He yawned and nodded slowly. Was he concerned, or curious? Sometimes I couldn’t read his expression. I felt he wanted to ask something important, but the question remained in his eyes. So I decided for him. “Keep that charm, no matter what.” I took a deep breath. “You being here is a premiere. You must have some questions. Now’s the time.”
He tilted his head, observing, pondering. “Yeah, I do have several. From the shore, I’ve heard battle cries, cubs and women screaming in fear and agony… I smelled blood, hot steel, sulfur, gunpowder, and other explosives. I smelled burning flesh and fur. A strong thick cloud of smoke reaching out and enveloping me. Suddenly, I was back in Bosnia, watching from the woods the humans killing each other. This was going to be a massacre. I was sure.”
I nodded. “I see, it’s always different. For everybody. The Market likes to play with the arriving individuals. Like a cat, or a killer whale. It’s a test, or a practical, sometimes a cruel joke. However, it suits your understanding. It plucks your deepest fears or the desperate hells you had been through from your psyche and spews it back at you. It’s always something meant to shock and frazzle. It slaps you. Hard.” Lou looked me up and down.
“How do you know so much-wait! Scratch that. What did you see? And is there any rule I must know about the Market?” He crossed his arms and came closer. I thought about his first question. How I was welcomed, felt like doing home after a long day of hard work, like my mother’s cooking, like a girlfriend’s embrace, a haven in a raging storm. I swallowed and thought about how it would hurt to leave once the job was done. Lou didn’t need to know, that I was a part of the Market, that I was a missing puzzle piece, that I had been crafted from the colossal amount of magic the Market had accumulated over centuries. I told myself, that he wouldn’t need this bit of knowledge. It wouldn’t make this easier for us.
I wanted to tell him when I’d be far away from this place. I wanted to tell him on my own terms. So I only elaborated on the second question.
“You remember the old fairy tales? The legends from wild forests and magical creatures? The stories your mother told you to be wary? How one should greet others like family? How you should not take any gifts, including a place to rest, shelter from the cold, a drink of water or any meal? How you should never reveal your full name, or it could be taken? It’s for your protection, to prevent the fay to toy with you.” I looked around if anybody was eavesdropping on us, but we were alone. “Or worse… Nothing is for free! Not even this advice. I expect you to keep in my vicinity and tell me where you are going. If you engage in discussion, be respectful, but keep you to yourself. Sometimes no answer is better than one. Always ask for the form of payment BEFORE you decide to buy something. Some entities sense only your decisions and do not take in count what you say. Observe. Do not touch anything shiny or interesting. Some magical artifacts are designed to attach themselves to you, your life and destiny. Keep your wife and the kids in your mind, this place will try to make you stay.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “It will try very hard to trick you into staying forever. Don’t lose yourself.”
Lou looked at my hand on his shoulder until I took it back. He was thinking hard. “If this place is so dangerous, how come you let Felix go?” I laughed.
“You know how he’s always letting on, that he’s better than us? Yeah. That’s cause elementals are different. They do not have emotions like the half-human part of this unit.” I gestured to the both of us. “No. He’s safe with his kin. There are almost no magical items that could banish or bind an elemental. After all, how could you make water or a storm feel afraid?” Lou sighed and let his hands fall to his side, almost as if he was done and gave up. “Come on. Let’s go find Aunt Nancy.” He nodded and we started down the path, towards the center of the Market.
That’s where spiders love to reside, at the center of things, all strings under their feet. Always in control of the intricate nets, the movements, the prey. Her home was the oldest building in the Market, but you’d never be able to tell. I suspected the Market grew around her, naturally. New branches on an ancient tree.
She kept her home in such a great shape, it was an inspiration for the other occupants of the Market. Always decorated, fresh planks and logs made of scented woods, the fabrics only the most exquisite, jars containing fox-fire, fireflies, ball lightning harvested by her personally. She salvaged, connected and upcycled three different 17th century sunken dutch trading shipwrecks. One was her personal wing, one was the guest wing and the last one, her pub.
I had lived over five years in one of the most comfortable guest rooms during my recovery. And the djinn cook she hired, was a sensation. During those years, he had been the main attraction in the Moonlight Market. He could make anything digestible and nutritious. It didn’t matter if that was a lightbulb, a steak, vegetables, a beam of starlight, or the joy of meeting a long lost friend. I bet, he was Aunt Nancy’s secret weapon. Her main “job” was to keep the Moonlight Market running. The rest of her time and she did what she wanted. It was her secret only or her pleasure.
Nobody knew precisely what she was doing. She traded secrets, magic items and made tools, clothes, weapons tailored to the specific abilities and needs of the individual. She was the center of attention, the center of mysteries, the hub of supernatural and general gossip.
Lou nudged me from behind. I must have been standing at the entrance for a while, hand outstretched, hovering over the door handle. “Do you want to tell me?” I shook my head. “Not now, I have to keep myself together. Going to pieces would ground me here. for who knows how long.” I breathed. “But thanks…”
to be continued:
Part 5 (Giant Magical Spider) /
Part 6 (Woven) /
original art by author 2003 (ink, paper, digital media)