Night Market by BR Kingsolver
A scuffling of feet by the door of my stall caused me to glance up. A tall woman in a cream-colored robe stood there with a smile on her face.
“Hello, Mirror,” she said.
“Karina!” I rushed around the display case and swept her up in a hug. “What are you doing here? How long can you stay?”
“Business,” my twin sister said. “No idea how long it’s going to take. You’re looking good. How’s your business?”
“Quite well. Come see, I have the display cases almost filled.”
She wandered around the display area, studying the jewelry in the cases, and the knives and swords adorning the walls.
“I really like that one,” she said, pointing to a choker necklace. “I have a birthday coming up, you know.”
“Really? I’d forgotten. I have one coming up, too—in six months.”
“Oh, well, maybe I need to reset my watch to this World.”
I hauled her bag to my mini-apartment in the back of the shop.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“Yeah. Is that funny little man who makes the incredible hamburgers still in business?”
You can get just about anything you want in the Great Marketplace at the Crossroads of the Worlds—even a hamburger made by a humanoid who visited Earth only once. One World’s fast food was another World’s fine dining. I assured her that the burgers were still as good as ever, locked up the shop, and hung an ‘Out to Lunch’ sign on the door.
It had only been a few months since I visited Karina at her home at the Great Library, but I had discovered through the years that no matter how infuriating she could be, I missed her every day.
“Did you bring any clothes, or were you planning to wear mine?” I asked as we walked along, enjoying the double takes we always received when we were out in public. Our parents never could tell us apart, but somehow our brother always could.
“You’re still living in Earth, right?” Karina asked.
“Yes, and they’ll think you’re part of some weird cult if you wear your Scholar’s robe there.”
“Maybe I should pick up a few things.”
So, after the burgers with fries and chocolate milkshakes, we hit a few boutiques. I had to smile at times. Even though we looked alike, she bought designer jeans, whereas I preferred Levi’s. I preferred boots, and she wore trainers. But I had to warn her when she picked out a particular LBD.
“Sis, I bought that exact dress last week. Darling, isn’t it?”
She glanced at me, then back at the dress. After she went through that a couple of times, she said, “Aw, hell. I’ll bet we look awesome in it.”
“I’ll take it. I’m sure we’ll find an appropriate occasion.”
* * *
I talked her into leaving all but one of her robes hanging in my closet at the shop, then we Walked to Earth with her new clothes in her bag. From the back room of my shop, it was two hops—through the truly ugly World of Vulcanum—to arrive in a secluded spot on the grounds of Trinity College in Dublin. From there, we wandered down Grafton Street with its shops and buskers to my apartment across from St. Stephen’s Green.
“It really hasn’t changed much, has it?” Karina remarked.
“No, it never really does. That’s its charm.”
After I made sure the spare room had linens and towels, she changed into some of her new clothes.
“It’s still mainly safe here, right?” she asked.
I looked at the various knives, and the pistol she had arrayed on the bed.
“Yeah, you won’t need any of those. Your magic will take care of anything you might run into. Should have left all of those back in Irilor. The gun will only get you in trouble, and no one here carries a knife that long anymore.”
She shrugged. “I saw you wearing a pistol at your shop.”
“That’s Irilor, not Earth, and I’m a merchant. Special permit. It’s part of the reason why armed robberies in the Marketplace are rare. I also keep a pair of throwing knives under the counter.”
We went out to walk around Dublin. The day was fairly warm, with the sun occasionally peeking through the clouds, and no forecast for rain. As a result, the locals were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, while the tourists all wore jackets.
I took her through St. Stephen’s Green to get her oriented, then we went sightseeing. It had been three years since she’d visited, and although she knew the city fairly well, I wanted to make sure she was comfortable finding her way back to my place. I also pointed out the various places she could comfortably Walk back to Irilor and come out someplace safe.
There was one place in Dublin—on the Trinity College campus—where I could Walk directly into my smithy, although another World was between Earth and Irilor. In the Christchurch Cathedral yard, I could Walk into a small park in Iri City. From a Temple Bar ladies’ room, I could Walk into the ladies’ room of a tavern on the edge of the Marketplace. Since there was another World between Earth and Irilor, attempting to escape Earth’s reality going to the wrong location could dump a Walker into some uncomfortable places.
At any time, there are at least two, and as many as eight, Worlds adjacent to the one a person is in. A turn into the wrong World could even be fatal. My mother’s hair was silver when we were young. It had become prematurely white by the time we left home, and I’m sure much of it had to do with having three kids learning to Walk between Worlds.
“So, are you going to tell me what business brings you here?” I asked.
“There’s been a theft from the Library. A priceless artifact was smuggled out and transferred off-World. We’ve caught the thieves—at least some of them—but we believe it was sent to Crossroads.”
“And what kind of artifact, if I may inquire?”
“A book. Imagine if the Book of Kells or the first Guttenberg Bible disappeared. Well, this one is even older and rarer. As far as we know, it’s the very first printed book.”
“What’s it called?”
“Depending on how you translate it, the title is Satan’s Philosophy, Satan’s Pronouncements, or The Gospel of Satan. The book is from Hel, written in Devilish. The content is widely available, but this particular book is printed on the first printing press, the pages are tanned Devil skin, and it’s covered in Human skin. Spelled, of course. The book hasn’t noticeably deteriorated.”
“Delightful. I’ll have to get one for my coffee table. How old?”
“About two thousand Earth years. Devils were far ahead of most other races in developing certain technologies.”
“Is it magical in itself? I mean, is it dangerous?”
She seemed to think about it. “We’re afraid that in the wrong hands, it might be. A Devil might be able to use it, but not a Human or an Elf. We really don’t know for sure, but we don’t want to find out. It’s been in the Library’s museum for almost seven hundred years.”
“So, you don’t even know if it’s Satan’s own grimoire or a collection of Bible stories for Devilish kids?”
She gave me a sheepish look. “Not really. I mean, it contains magic. You can feel it. But we don’t know how to unlock it, or what it might be used for.”
I thought about it, and about how the Marketplace worked. “You’re not going to find it in the Marketplace,” I said.
“But that is where we were told—” she started, but I held up my hand.
“You were told that it was headed for Crossroads, right? There are two markets here. The Night Market is different than the main Marketplace. It’s a black market, where stolen goods, slaves, and forbidden weapons are sold, and other nefarious business is done. I know it exists, but I have very few connections into it. Basically, I can find almost anything I would ever want in the main Marketplace. The rest is available in the Night Market—if you can find it. It’s not going to be easy, Sis.”
“I just need to find it before it goes up for auction. If I can buy it back, then things will be fine.”
“You just told me it was priceless. How do you think you’re going to buy it back? Do you have any idea what kind of insane prices some collectors will pay for things like that?”
“I’m authorized to offer more than sixty-six thousand ounces of gold—the equivalent of one hundred million Euros—for it.”
That stopped me in my tracks, my jaw agape. Karina walked on a few steps before realizing I wasn’t at her side. She turned around, took in my obviously astonished expression, and grinned.
“I’m quite aware we’re in the big leagues. And if someone isn’t reasonable, then we have to steal it back.”
“We? People playing with that kind of money don’t give a damn about Human life.”
“I’m quite aware of that. That’s why the Library sent a mage.”
“Dear Goddess. You’ve gone mad.”
She walked back to me, hooked her arm through mine, and pulled me along.
“Mum wouldn’t be surprised at all. She’s always said we were crazy.”
“That was when we were both sober. You’ve been smoking some weird shit.”
Around five o’clock, when I noticed more people and traffic on the streets, I steered us to my local pub, where my Dublin friends usually met after work. We got there a little ahead of everyone, so our usual table was empty, but the barman recognized me, waved, and smiled. Then he saw Karina and his jaw dropped. She still had her hair pulled back in a braid, so we definitely looked like a double image.
“Hi, Mike. This is my sister, Karina. She’s in town visiting for a while.”
“I’ll bet you drove your mum crazy,” he said, and we both laughed.
We ordered a couple of pints and claimed the table in the corner where my group always sat.
“How’s the food?” Karina asked.
“Very good, and very Irish.”
A few minutes later, my best friends, Donny and Siobhan, came in, grabbed their drinks at the bar, and walked over to the table. Halfway there, they stopped and stared.
“My split personality had an accident,” I said.
|August 29, 2022
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