Marcus secreted the vial of binding spell ingredients in an inner jacket pocket and released the torque on his captive’s wrist. The man gasped and rubbed his injury, glaring balefully at him. The luminous portal back into the physical realm winked closed, plunging them into the dim moonlit night atop a grassy hill. It would briefly reopen at 3:00 A.M., when the witching hour ended. Anyone not back at the gateway by then and unable to conjure up their own portal would be left in limbo until the next night market.
They stood in silence for a few moments looking down at the brightly lit marketplace in the valley below them, nestled in the center of a maze of dark streets, where the market patrol rarely ventured. Tourists and first-timers were urged to stay within the relatively safe confines of the marketplace. Marcus wished he had come to while away the hours strolling among the cheerful stalls of robes, charms, wands, spices, potions and used grimoires.
Instead, he would have to make his way through the shadowy streets of the ghetto on the outer limits of the valley. Most of the beings who called that place home either hated witch hunters or were indifferent to the point of callousness. For Marcus, venturing there meant placing himself in grave danger. At least this time, he had a guide. Marcus glanced over at …at…what was the guy’s name anyway?
“Hey, what’s your name? My name is Marcus.”
The stranger’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. He crossed his arms defiantly. Marcus glared at him.
“You forget, I’ve already cast the binding spell. Knowing your name won’t give me any more power over you than I already have. I just thought saying your name, instead of “hey you” would be more effective in a crowd.”
“Everybody calls me Slim.”
“Ok Slim, lead the way.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something? I need to know what you’re looking for and what you plan on trading for it.”
“You don’t need to know all of that. Just take me to the man who runs things around here.”
“You’re joking right? Nobody just walks in off the street and gets an audience with him. Not unless they got something…extra special to offer.”
Marcus did not like the way Slim bared his yellow teeth gleamed in the moonlight. He subconsciously patted the vial concealed in the recesses of his jacket. The binding spell was going to be like a leash on an aggressive dog. He was already having second thoughts about using a criminal as a guide. Marcus would definitely have to watch his back around such an opportunistic thief. Slim shot him an exasperated look.
“Don’t look at me like that Marcus. If you want me to get you in to see the wizard…”
“Who? Did you say the wizard? He’s a wizard?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. You don’t run anything around here, without some sort of powers. There’s only a ban on using magic in the marketplace. So, if you want me to get you to the front of the line tonight, then you’re gonna have to come correct with some kind of bargaining chip.”
“Well, I didn’t bring anything. I’m looking for a…friend who has gone missing.”
“So, use your skills and find them yourself witch hunter. You don’t need me. Why are you trying to get the wizard to help you?”
“Because she came here to sell something.”
“So, she’s probably down at the market. Let’s just go down there and find her.”
“Trust me, this isn’t something she would sell at the marketplace.”
“Don’t be so sure. You can find damn near everything under the sun at the market.”
“If she went strolling through there with a duffle bag full of chrysalis, the market patrol…”
“What did you just say? Your friend got her hands on some chrysalis?”
The oily smile spread across Slim’s face again and Marcus eyed him dubiously. Telling Slim the truth was a calculated risk. Hopefully, it would motivate him to put actual effort into finding Cat instead of just going through the motions. Of course that strategy might backfire, if Slim told the wrong person. His partner in crime was likely lurking somewhere nearby. He had turned and run off so quickly, when Slim got caught, that Marcus didn’t get a good look at him.
Suddenly eager to help, Slim urged Marcus to follow him. Bypassing the welcoming lights of the marketplace, the two men strode down the hill and onto the narrow sidewalk which led off into the darkened streets. It took a few moments for Marcus’ eyes to adjust to the gloom. Slim’s white shirt all but seemed to float, as darkness cloaked his arms and legs. Marcus detected movement via the corner of his eye and looked to the left, in time to see a shadowy figure retreating into the black hole of a doorway. A pair of red eyes gleamed out at him.
Up ahead, Marcus could see four men loitering on the corner. The shortest of them was saying something which had them all laughing uproariously. They greeted Slim effusively and Marcus suddenly recognized Slim’s partner in crime from the pickpocketing attempt leaning against a car. The jovial grins slid off of their faces, as they paused to glare stone-faced at Marcus. As a witch hunter, Marcus was accustomed to the hate-filled stares of magic practitioners. Still, something about the look in their eyes set his nerves on edge.
Slim quickly glanced over his shoulder, to see how close Marcus was and murmured something to them in passing. Their baleful looks were replaced by appraising looks and Marcus cursed under his breath. Had Slim just told them about the chrysalis that Cat had? Slim led him on past the men without incident. Marcus was about to heave a sigh of relief, when he felt a glancing blow to the back of his head and saw stars. His right hand reflexively probed the spot and came away wet with blood. One of the men shouted.
“Go back where you came from witch hunter! Leave while you’re still healthy. Yeah that’s right, you better walk away, if you know what’s good for you!”
Instinctively, Marcus resisted the urge to turn and confront the group. It would be a mistake to overreact to the childish gibes, when he was outnumbered. They didn’t appear to be spell weavers, but he wasn’t so sure none of them were familiars. The last thing he needed was to incur the wrath of a powerful witch or warlock by wounding or killing their familiar. No, Slim wasn’t going to get rid of him that easily.
Marcus chuckled to himself. He guessed that Slim had only told them that he was a witch hunter. That was better than telling them about the chrysalis. If that stuff was as potent as Tiny said it was, then those brutes might have tried to force him to retrieve it for them. Marcus made a mental note to pay Slim back later, for his treachery. If he didn’t nip mutinous behavior in the bud, then the next bit of underhandedness might prove deadly. Marcus heard someone running up behind him and quickly moved beside Slim.
“Sheild me Slim,” he commanded.
The startled look on Slim’s face was almost comical, as the binding spell compelled his body obey the command. He abruptly stepped behind Marcus and bore the impact of the downward arc of a bat swung by his friend. It cracked against Slim’s head and split open his forehead, like an overripe melon. Blood gushed downward into dazed eyes which momentarily snapped shut. Slim staggered, momentarily blacking out and then coming to with a start when Marcus grabbed him by the arm to steady him. A second vicious swing of the bat struck them both. Marcus hissed at Slim, “call off your dogs or I’ll make you step into oncoming traffic!”