Marketplace of Memories: Part Two
I dreamed of Katia that night.
I saw her alone in the house with a tearstained face. Her eyes, normally so full of joy, were wide, lonely and desperate. Her long Gelert ears, usually tucked back neatly and efficiently, trailed like loose string on the surface of the table.
I could see her but I couldn’t reach her. I tried to speak, but no words escaped my mouth. I was a phantom, no longer a part of the world to which I had once belonged.
I’ll be home soon, I promised, willing her to sense my presence, to understand my intention. No matter how long it takes or what I have to do, I won’t just leave you here.
At that moment, a voice permeated the silence.
“Katia, let me in!”
A loud knock accompanied it half a second later. Panic sent me into a frenzy—I tried to scream, to hold her back, to tell her in any way I could that the pet at the door was not her little sister. My efforts were in vain.
Brushing her dusky-blue fringe from her eyes she placed a paw on the handle and pulled open the door... but the street was empty.
“LEA!” she cried, running outside. Methodically she searched the bushes, glanced behind every street lamp and tree, walked up and down the alley beside our house. The streets were empty of life.
“Lea, where are you?” she whispered at last, fresh tears forming in her tired eyes. The only reply was a breeze that stirred the golden leaves from the ground.
The door clicked softly behind her as she stepped back into the house. We were alone again.
I opened my eyes a crack. The bright light of the morning streamed into the hut from several square, glassless windows.
“Are you awake yet, child?”
“Just a minute,” I responded groggily, rubbing sleep dust from the corners of my eyes. “That’s better.”
Elva pulled her red cloak over her head. “Take this,” she said, passing me a similar cloak of green material. “We have a busy day ahead of us.”
We stepped out into a world of perfect silence. A delicate coating of frost had settled over everything. Nothing moved and nothing made a sound.
“Elva?” I whispered nervously. I felt the words form in my mouth but no sound came out. Elva shot me a warning glance before marching forward down the icy path. I followed, not daring to try and speak again.
Before long, the cobbled street came into view. It was still lined with tables, and those tables were still stacked with all kinds of weird and wonderful things... but the drifters had gone. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere.
At least, it seemed that way at first. Elva stopped at the edge of the marketplace and I followed suit. Her eyes had narrowed in suspicion. When I looked back down the street, a red shape bolted past and ducked into a side alley.
“What was that?” I mouthed. Elva shook her head dismissively, and made to move on, but curiosity had taken me over. I had to know what that shape had been. I took a glance down the alleyway, but nothing was there. The end of the street was blocked off by a tall wooden fence. Surely it couldn’t just have disappeared, I thought. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I opened them, I noticed a door that had been left ajar at the far end.
“Back in a moment,” I called to Elva, knowing full well that she had no way of hearing me in the mist of silence that had settled over us. By the time she realised I was gone, she would be too late to stop me. I darted into the alleyway and stepped through the open door. Immediately, I noticed that the silence had lifted: something was breathing heavily in the dusty darkness.
“Leara!” A soft voice called. I reached out in the direction of the voice, but no one was there.
“Who is it?”
“Leara... be careful.” The voice was barely audible, yet I could sense the thinly-veiled panic in its warning.
“What is it?” I asked, barely able to keep my voice steady.
“Someone you know is hiding something. They are not what you think they are.”
“Who are you?”
“That is not important. Get out while you still can,” it hissed. “Sunset is the last chance!”
I fell silent. Had I offended the stranger? Had I gone too far? I dared not ask. Instead, I turned away and felt for the stairs. My hands fell on the dusty wooden surface and I carefully made my way back to the door.
Elva was waiting for me. As I stepped into the cold air, I felt the silence reassert itself.
“What do you think you were doing?” The Kyrii gasped wordlessly. I smiled in what I hoped was an apologetic way. She simply shook her head and walked on. I wished I could speak, wished I could apologize to Elva and thank her for the kindness she had shown me, but the silence held strong.
As we made our way down the street, I noticed one table in particular had a strange collection of antiques, seemingly mundane items and rare artefacts. I edged towards the table, ready at the first sign of Elva’s return to snap back to my original position. A tall, cobwebby antique cage stood at one end of the table; at the other, an assortment of glowing marbles. Between them was an assortment of glass vases, dusty books and bric-a-brac.
I wracked my brains, looking from one artefact to the next, searching in vain for a solution to my problem. Sunset will be the last chance, I thought desperately. What’s that supposed to mean?
My attention returned to the marbles—in particular, a sky blue one. When my paw brushed against it, tiny ripples danced on the surface of the glass.
I froze at the sight of Elva approaching, her face a mask of controlled fury. Without attempting to communicate, she snatched my wrist and dragged me away down the street. We passed the marketplace and turned a corner into a row of gloomy old cottages.
I didn’t dare try to fight her. She had a grip like iron and I had seen the anger in her face. I was beginning to suspect that there might be another side to this Kyrii.
Vague sounds became audible as we drew away from the marketplace. I could hear my heart beating. It was a strangely comforting sound in such an unfamiliar and terrible place.
“I’m so sorry,” I gasped, mortified. “I was just curious. I’ve never been anywhere like this before.”
“Curiosity can be a dangerous thing,” Elva hissed. “A very dangerous thing.”
We did not speak again, though I could sense cold anger emanating from her. Inwardly, I felt weak with terror. What was happening to me? How could this be possible? I just wanted to see my friends again... to hear my sister laugh with joy when we reunited... to be far away from the Marketplace of Memories.
A sharp knocking shook me from my reverie. We were standing on the doorstep of a huge mansion house. Almost immediately the door swung open, revealing a stately green Acara in an old-fashioned suit.
“Marcus,” Elva said, inclining her head. “I have a small favour to ask of you.”
“Please come in.”
Elva smiled and swept into the house. When I tried to follow a rough paw shoved me back.
“Not you,” Marcus snarled. “I have never seen you before in my life and I have no wish to see you again.”
“It’s all right,” Elva said quickly. “She’s with me.” With an ill-mannered jerk of the head, Marcus ushered me in and slammed the door behind us, sending clouds of dusty cobwebs tumbling through the air. I shuddered. How could such a bad-tempered old pet have any friends at all?
“Wait here,” he snapped. I glimpsed a beautifully furnished room with bookcases and red leather armchairs. Then the door swung shut, and I was alone again.
The hallway was cramped and unlit, and the settling dust made my eyes water. I wanted to go home, but where was home? Surely all of this was nothing but a nightmare. This place could not be real. It just didn’t feel right, the way a nightmare never feels quite like reality.
Elva scared me. She had shown me kindness... she had saved my life... that much was true, but I felt unsafe when I was near her. Marcus frightened me too, but he was nothing more than an irritable old Acara. He didn’t have the power to wield magic; to travel between worlds.
I edged closer to the door, taking great care to be as silent as possible. Muffled voices drifted through to me from the room beyond.
“Apart from anything else, I have important work to do. Having to provide for a child would cause immeasurable disruption to my life. I cannot allow it.”
“I think you’re forgetting,” Elva whispered dangerously, “which one of us is in control of the situation. I have no further use for the Shoyru brat. Do what you will with her, Marcus; just keep her away from me... and don’t let her get away!”
“I-I understand,” the Acara responded, his voice choked with fear. “You can count on me.”
“Good. I hope there are no hard feelings between us, Marcus. As you well know, this matter is beyond my control... I have no choice...”
“Don’t worry, E-Elva. I don’t blame you for this.”
“It was wonderful to see you again, my dear friend.” Elva’s voice was once again soft and motherly, the tone she had used to gain my trust. At that moment, just the sound of it made me feel physically sick. “But now, I must be going. I have important business of my own to deal with.”
The door cracked open half an inch. I hopped backwards in alarm—would they know I’d been listening?--but Elva never even looked at me. In one swift motion, she was out of the door.
“Now,” Marcus said crisply from behind me. “Since you are here to stay, you might as well help out around here.” Pointing to a pile of books heaped on one of the tables, he said, “Take these upstairs, and bring down three empty bottles.”
I lifted a book from the top of the pile and nearly collapsed under the weight of it. It appeared to be some kind of ancient encyclopaedia. I sighed heavily, and began the long journey up to the first floor. Marcus growled impatiently.
“Hurry up, hurry up! I don’t have all day!”
It was going to be a long and tiring afternoon.
To be continued...