Today’s post will be a bit different. I was inspired by the worldbuilding we’d done on Monday, with the magocratic society and its black market. So much so, that I started to write a story based on that. However, it’s running a bit long, and I’m running a bit late in posting this, so what I thought I’d do was, I’d post the first third of the story here, to gauge interest and to keep a record of my first draft. Yes, unfortunately it is still very much in first draft, so please excuse any eccentricities. By the end, I hope you’ve read it all, and I hope you’ll have some feedback so I can improve my writing.
In a city of close to a hundred thousand people, it was easy to be invisible.
I didn’t even have to pull my hood over my head. I simply walked among the people of Cadameria, who at a simple first glance seemed to come from every corner of the map. Brightly dressed Elves rubbed shoulders with the mages of the Schola Arcanum, who all seemed to have a predilection for loose fitting, drab coloured robes. A little closer to the ground, Dwarves and Halflings jostled each other, calling out and cursing in their guttural language. Occasionally the telltale blue glow and tinny chime of a Glintstone releasing its charge would drown the hustle and bustle of the street for a brief instant, before the noise of the crowd ruled the air again. None turned their head save those whose clothes denoted them as obviously foreign, and even they turned away almost immediately, giving the display of magic no second thought.
Why would they? In Cadameria, magic was ubiquitous. Being home to the Schola Arcanum, the center for magic research, development and study in the kingdom, one actually expects more Glint discharges than what we actually get in the city. As it turns out, even in a city where magic ruled, some things were better done without magic than with.
I patted the pair of daggers I had sheathed in a belt under my cloak. Yes. Some things were better done without magic, especially in a city attuned to its use.
The road I was on led across a bridge, which crossed a canal far below our feet. Cobblestones and flagstones were paved on different parts of the street, serving to separate foot traffic from the horse drawn carts. Passage toward the city center leading northeast was on my left, the way I was heading, while passage away was on my right. I kept close to the marble railing, and as I crossed, I looked towards the large building in the distance, sitting on an isle that split the canal in two.
It was the most impressive structure in the whole city. Tall spires crowned by gold and blue domes stood guard around a central dome seemingly made entirely of glass, as it reflected the sun almost perfectly. Winged beasts, so large they could be seen from this distance, flitted between the spires and the glass dome, some of them carrying what seemed like cloth pouches in their claws underneath them. Around the building was a beautiful garden full of green trees and small seeming people milling about, Glint discharges suddenly interrupting their walks. In Cadameria there could only be one thing this impressive building could be; the Schola Arcanum. The tiny figures milling about the gardens, then, were scholars, mages and perhaps even politicians. Magic ruled in Cadameria, in more ways than one. The people took to it like dwarves to gold, and since they loved magic, it made sense for the most learned of them to wield power. The Schola was where all the most learned mages congregated. Therefore, the Schola held the most power in Cadameria.
If anyone knew why I was here, they’d imagine I was headed there. They wouldn’t be wrong. Somewhere, among the rows of books and piles of scrolls, among the laboratories and Glintstone refineries, somewhere past the lecture halls and discussion rooms, was Grand Lord Magus Vykstra of the School of Abjuration. I had learned what he looked like, how he dressed, his speech mannerisms. I knew what spells he was known to know, though the best would obviously be to catch him before he even touched any Glint. But there were too many variables. Too many unknowns. In my profession, too many things left to chance was too many things that could get you killed. Best to be prepared for something and have it never happen than to be unprepared. I turned away and headed to my first destination in this city, which was somewhere one could get the information I needed and not be dragged into an interrogation cell. To get the information I need, I need to visit the black market of Cadameria.
The black market of Cadameria wasn’t a proper market, per se. I know the stereotype – it’s been perpetuated in novels and bard songs for as long as I can remember. In these tales, the black market is often a seedy part of the city, with many a scum and villain loitering about looking especially shifty for no reason. Shadows hang about even at midday. A scream, maybe, implying the criminal element kills people just because they don’t like their face, and not professionally for a living like I do.
Indeed, the black market of Cadameria was right where its actual market was. The difference was, of course, who you talked to. The right contact would, after you talked to them, lead you to someone who knew someone else who knew the guy you were looking for. Those are the streets and alleys of a black market. Knowing to navigate that was key to getting what you wanted from the criminal element of the city. That, and caveat emptor, of course. These people are thieves, after all.
My first stop was a place called Waheed’s Amazing Emporium. Even before I stepped through the archway that led into the shop, I could smell various spices and dyes emanating from the shop. Inside, chaos reigned. A large pile of carpets as thick as my foot stood waist high in the center of the room. A slender, scantily clad dark elf with short platinum blonde hair stood on it, shouting profanities at several muscular men who were shouting right back at her. Against the walls were various cabinets stuffed to the brim with jars, pots and bowls which seemed to me was where the smells were coming from. I took three steps in before the elf noticed me. She turned away and shouted, “Waheed! Waheed! Customer!” before turning back to her cussing match. I noticed the collar around her neck, which was surprising even in a city as diverse as Cadameria. The Schola had outlawed slavery long ago.
A large man with a fez too small for his head appeared from the back of the shop. In fact, everything looked too small on him, but that wasn’t his fault, I think. If howdahs worn on the head came into fashion, he would have worn them comfortably. His wardrobe was probably measured in feet and not inches. As he appeared, he began shouting at the woman on the carpets in a foreign language, who shouted right back. Even being unfamiliar with the tongue, and only hearing it being used in this current harsh manner, I could tell it was a beautiful language. It was lilting and musical, and I could swear they were rhyming between curses. Judging by how both Waheed and the woman gesticulated as they shouted, this was the sort of language one cannot speak without using hand gestures. As soon as he was close to me, he turned and smiled, again one too big for his face, and began laughing.
“Ah! Friend! Be welcome to Waheed’s Amazing Emporium! And yes! I am Waheed! I am pleasured to meet you!” He reached out for a bear hug but I stepped back, smiling, extending my hand out instead. He laughed and shook it, giving it a vigorous shake. “Ah! Apologies! This is the personal space I have heard about! Very good! So what can I do for you?” Without waiting for an answer, Waheed turned back to the woman and shouted again, this time clapping his large hands. With each clap I imagined the jars around the shop rattling from the force emanating from his palms. The woman turned, shouted at him some more, and leapt down from the pile of carpets and began shepherding the men she was arguing with to the back of the shop. Waheed turned back to me, smiling again. “Very sorry about that, but here, back home, is all the same. Always be wary when to deal with the merchant. One must be rubbing of the tits with the unsavoury caste only to make enough money to pay the ferryman, hey? But enough! What can I do for my new friend?”
Finally being given a chance to speak, I wondered how I might approach the subject. “Well, my new friend, you mentioned the ah, unsavoury caste. I was wondering how I might meet some of these…suppliers.” There. Here’s hoping he plays along.
Waheed smiled, and shrugged his shoulders, extending his palms out to his sides. “Ah, I am sorry, my friend. You seek the air that comes from the mouth. I deal only in the tangible. I cannot be selling my customers air.” He turned and pulled out several jars from a cabinet behind him, plonking them on the counter before him. “Like these, for instance. These are ajarram from my home country. Ah, they are exquisite!” He cracks one of the jars open and invites me to take a sniff. I oblige him, if only to stay on his good side, but immediately regret it. The smell was overpowering. It was difficult to describe. My nose thought it smelled cloves, but it was far sharper than that, and had an earthy tang to it. Waheed laughed.
“Ah, my friend! You have tasted the smell of the aqarram!”
“And…and what is it used for?” I asked, pinching my nose to squeeze out whatever spice had attempted to colonise it.
“Place it in a food, my friend!” Waheed whispered, conspiratorially enough that I had to lean in to listen out of reflex, even though I was sure they heard him in the tallest spires of the Schola Arcanum. “Ah, you place a pinch – a pinch! I warn you, no more! – inside your favorite dish. Then you eat, and you lie with your woman. Ah, you will experience pleasures as none have felt before!”
I smiled and stood back up straight. “I have no issues in that department, but thank you, Waheed.”
Waheed laughed, and this time the jars and pots did rattle behind him. “Ah! You are great in humour, my new friend! No, this will not aid you in that matter! But,” and he dropped back into a whisper, a change so sudden I was having trouble keeping up, “when you lie with your woman, you will find you are no longer you, and your woman no longer your woman.”
It clicked. “Magic,” I whispered. “Is this…”
“Legal?” Waheed shrugged. “Yes, back home. But here, with the Schola and the mages controlling all the magic? Well, less so.” He winked. “But the pleasure is so good, my friend, nobody who has tried has denied me the right to sell it.”
“I see,” I did. I was a bit disappointed. I had heard of a merchant selling less than legal items without the need for an introduction from a fence. That was what led me here. As it turns out, less than legal didn’t mean what I thought it meant. I reached into my pouch, and said as I did, “How much?”
“Fifteen gold for a bag,” Waheed said, producing scales from behind the counter. He quickly began pouring several scoops of the earthy spice onto one side, and when he was done he scooped it up into a small leather bag.
I placed far too much gold on the counter. Waheed’s smile disappeared.
“That is far too much, my new friend.”
“So sell me air, friend.”
Waheed stared at me, drumming his large sausage fingers on the counter. At length, he sighed, and pushed the excess gold away from him until only fifteen gold remained on his side. “I am no cheat,” he declared. Then he laughed, suddenly. “My wife maybe, but not me, hey?”
“I am no cheat,” he insisted, but he slid a slip of paper across the counter along with my purchase. “I will do not sell air, and will not receive payment for it. But I know where one can buy it. Here. Follow these instructions. You will meet a man by the name of Hadrian. He can sell you this…air.”
I took my purchase and nodded at him. “Thank you, Waheed.”
“No! I am thanking you for your patronage!” Waheed laughed, the jolly foreign shopkeeper façade returning. “Pleased I shall be if you come again.”
I made to leave, but before I did, I turned to him. “A…pinch, you said? In any food?”
“Just a pinch! No more! In a soup, a bread or a carrot for all I care!” He laughed again, and this time I joined him.
“Right. Thank you again, Waheed.”
Thank you for reading! Tune in on Friday for the continuation of this very rough first draft. If you’re having trouble finding it, bookmark this page and I’ll edit in a link to all the posts that deal with this particular story. Hope you enjoy!
EDIT: Part 2 is now up! Linky here!
EDIT: Part 3 is now up! Link here!
3 responses to “Exploring the Black Market of Cadameria: Part 1”
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[…] we have created is so far centred upon the magical city of Cadameria. We’d previously tackled the Cadamerian Black Markets (even got a story written about that) and the inns and taverns of Cadameria. The […]