Painted Words: Rueppelli and Yerik in the Great Bazaar of Repet-Yark

[Welcome to the latest installment of Painted Words. In this special fiction feature, one of ev0ke‘s contributing writers creates an original story based upon an image selected by our loyal readers. This month, Rebecca Buchanan was privileged to produce a story inspired by the image above: the broken bust of a mysterious Goddess ….]

“Guild of Recoverists? Recoverists, you say?”

The Minotaurian squinted at Rueppelli’s badge first, then Yerik’s, then back again. He stood straight, towering over them, dark eyes a good two meters above the ground, head thrust forward and down. His horns were sharp and curved and arced another half-meter into the air. There was a twisted loop of gold through his snout, marking him as a Crossroads Guard; matching loops wrapped around his thick wrists.

The Crossroads surged and heaved around them, masses of beings from parallel worlds and other worlds and upper worlds and lower worlds all popping in and out of existence: opalescent Oscirians and grey-skinned Hemkirish, antlered Cervithians and tiny Pixen, Neanderthals and winged Drakes, Felinians and numerous varieties of Foxin, all here to trade and haggle and gossip. A brilliant blue-purple sky arced into infinity; there was no sun to be seen, but light filled the world, illuminating the jewels and jugs of wine and fine silks and crystalline mirrors and hundreds of other goods being carried in and out of the Corssroads. Repet-Yark, the greatest of great Crossroads, where one hundred and twenty different pathways all converged onto a single point.

On top of a mesa barely two kilometers wide and three kilometers long.

The Gods had a strange sense of humor.

The Crossroads itself occupied a quarter of a kilometer in every direction, a tiny open space surrounded by ramshackle stalls and buildings of stone and wood and ceramic, stacked and double-stacked and triple-stacked atop one another in a dizzying and dangerous labyrinth right up to the edge of the mesa, and even down the sides, all the way to the cloud line. 

Building codes. Not a thing in the Great Bazaar of Repet-Yark.

Finally the guard’s head drew back, his tail swishing in agitation. “We don’t see many Recoverists in the Great Bazaar of Repet-Yark.”

From the corner of their eye, Yerik saw Rueppelli’s lip curl. 

That I find very hard to believe,” the fox muttered.

The Minotaurian’s nose ring bounced. “Pardon?”

“Our papers are in order and our badges are authentic. Is there any reason for you to detain us further?” The fox tucked his badge inside his bright green vest and tilted his head, balanced on the balls of his feet.

Yerik hid away their own badge and shifted subtly on their feet, too — booted, not bare; good for running and jumping, which they were afraid they might have to do if Rueppelli agitated the Crossroads Guard any further.

Why the Elders had paired Yerik with Rueppelli for this job, they failed to understand. Granted, Yerik was new to recovery work, and Rueppelli had been at it for decades, but there had to be more to the Elders’ decision than that.

The Minotaurian snorted and waved a massive hand. “Be on your way, then. And keep out of trouble.” This time, it was the Guard who curled his lips. “We don’t send troublemakers back through the Crossroads. They leave Repet-Yark the other way.”

Rueppelli tilted his nose up and sniffed.

Yerik cleared their throat, one hand unconsciously reaching for the bracelet on their left wrist. “We shall complete our business and be on our way as quickly as possible. We thank you for your consideration.”

They stepped around the Guard and joined the mass of worldwalkers exiting the Crossroads, not looking back to see if Rueppelli followed.

A moment later, the Foxin scampered up. The Bazaar was noisy, but Yerik doubted they could have heard him, even in the hush of the Fields of Shang-Ri-Lahl.

“I suggest we begin in the Relics Quarter.” Another scamper took Rueppelli a half-step ahead. He dropped to all fours for a moment, sniffing, and darted to avoid being stepped on by a Hemkirish. Then upright again, his ears barely on level with Yerik’s belt. “That seems the most likely place to find the head.”

“The client did indicate that the thieves had no idea as to the value of what they had taken.” Yerik dodged around a pair of Cervithians who were close to locking antlers, their nostrils flared, their eyes rolling. “They may go to the Sculpture Market, instead, or even the Junk Yards.”

“Possibly.” Another quick dart to avoid a Drake who looked drunk on Oscirian brandy. The ramshackle labyrinth of the Bazaar towered over them now, the shadows cool. A narrow alley led further into the darkness. “But a merchant I dealt with in Hy-Brasil recently relocated here. I would like to speak with her first. She deals exclusively in … well ….”

“Stolen relics?”

The fox grinned over his shoulder, showing sharp teeth. “We came to an understanding: she shares what she knows about the illegal trade in living icons, and in exchange I wouldn’t ask too many questions about how she acquired relics from extinct faiths — and the faith of Desdedeira is most definitely extinct.”

Yerik grimaced, but did not otherwise respond.

“This way!” Rueppelli dropped onto his paws again and dashed down the alley.

Yerik hastened their steps, running to keep up. The temperature dropped and the sky narrowed to a thin blue-purple strip high overhead. To either side, merchants yelled and chirped and squeaked and growled, holding up carpets and hats, swords of every length and material, cloaks of amphibian silk, necklaces and wines and fried hearts and mini-drake eyeballs suspended in amber.

In short, anything that anyone, anywhere, would ever want to buy.

The sounds and scents and crowd of merchants and worldwalkers was too much and Yerik lost track of Rueppelli for a moment. The fox reappeared, disappeared, reappeared again, leaping and clambering. Every now and then he would look back over his shoulder, ears twitching, grinning.

Tricksy Foxin, testing the new Recoverist.

Yerik ran faster.

They left the impulse shops, the mish-mash of goods offered first thing to visitors keen to spend their money, and entered the Sculpture Market. The ground crunched under Yerik’s feet and the air was filled with shouts and the smashing of tools against stone. Most of the sculptures offered here were created elsewhere and carried to the Great Bazaar by worldwalkers, but a few were crafted — or altered— on-site to order. 

Yerik ducked as an over-enthusiastic Drake sent a sheet of blue-hot plasma shooting across the alley. The artistic reptile succeeded in scorching the icon of Phergasherish an appropriate blackish-red, but also sent the crowd to scattering, screeching and hurling insults.

The alley finally came to an end, branching off in four different directions. No signage to indicate where they led, but Yerik could see book stalls, windows filled with herbs and flowers, and clear vases of colorful oils.

No sign of Rueppelli.

Yerik sighed.

A quick glance up showed that the open stalls at street level turned into closed shops and residences on the second and third levels. And the exteriors of the buildings were lined with stubby stonework, wooden ledges, and assorted pipes.

An easy climb.

Yerik grabbed a protruding brick and hefted themself up the wall. A few merchants yelled out questions, but most of the permanent and temporary residents of the Great Bazaar were too busy with their own business to pay Yerik any mind.

Up they went, onto the second level, then the third. 

One foot on a narrow ledge, the other leg partially wrapped around a pipe, one hand clinging to a crack in the wall, from here Yerik had a relatively clear view down three of the branching alleyways.

Small. Reddish. Green vest. Moving quickly.

Ah, there. Rueppelli was nearing the end of the third alley. 

Yerik jumped. They cleared the alley below, grabbed the wall opposite, and continued along a narrow ledge. They passed open windows, closed windows, clambered over slender balconies, and signs in every size and language. A pair of Felinian kitlings chirruped and meowed at Yerik through an open window, demanding scratches. A surprised Hemkirish made a grab for them, massive grey hand swiping and missing as Yerik leaped again, crossing the alley below to latch onto the opposite wall.

And so they continued, clambering deftly, lightly, one eye constantly on Rueppelli among the mass of bodies below.

Only when the foxin disappeared beneath an awning and into one of the stalls did Yerik return to the ground. They jumped, landing neatly between an Oscirian loaded down with bottles of brandy and wine and a Minotaurian with a bulging backpack. The bull growled at them, head rearing back, nostrils flaring.

Yerik bowed, one hand pressed to their chest. “Apologies.”

The bull snorted and stomped away.

Yerik moved beneath the awning and squeezed through a narrow door. On the other side, the space opened up into a large shop. Shelves along the walls and wooden cases down the center of the room were covered in busts and statues of Deities and the Mighty Dead, bowls and jugs, plates and spirit boxes and even antique Pixen houses (a few of the little winged folk flitted about, trying out the domiciles; how those counted as relics, Yerik had no idea). Palm-sized crystals embedded near the ceiling, varying from reddish to yellowish to whitish, provided more than enough light to see —

— including the smirking Rueppelli, leaning against the far wall. A curtain fluttered over a door-sized opening beside the fox. Yerik could hear a grinding wheel and the scrape of metal against stone from the far side.

Rueppelli flicked his ears. “Well done. Impressive, actually, for a human.”

Yerik scowled. “I am good at tracking. That was one of the reasons I was accepted into the Guild.”

“Well, I should certainly hope there is more to you than a fine tracking ability. It takes much more than that to be a Recoverist.” The Foxin turned and lifted the curtain. “This way.”

Yerik followed, allowing the curtain to fall back into place behind them.

This space was even smaller than the front shop. There were a few work tables piled high with relics in various states of repair and disrepair, grinding machines and buckets of clothes, bowls and jars of polish and oil. A single Felinian sat on a high stool at one such table, slowly turning a rusty icon of Shasherrah over a spinning stone.Thick collars of gold and green copper graced her neck and jeweled rings covered her agile fingers.

She didn’t look up. “Go away, Rueppelli.”

“Cherrein.” The Foxin’s tone was surprisingly respectful and subdued. “I come with trade. Information for information.”

The grinding stopped. Cherrein set aside the icon of Shasherrah and finally turned towards them. One ear rotated. “What sort of information?”  

Rueppelli lifted up on his toes, hands clasped behind his back. Yerik could see him fighting a smile. “The location of an unopened Tomb of Bejeri.”

That rotated ear twitched.

“Of course, all I have is the location. Getting into the Tomb and then negotiating the traps and puzzles …? That’s on you.”

“True.” The Felinian twisted on her stool. “And what do you think the location alone is worth? What do you want in exchange?”

Yerik paced away from the curtain, crossing to one of the work tables. A dozen small icons of Mercurius standing atop a turtle littered its surface, and slightly larger figures of Kryzkaltislk in its grasshopper form, and —

— rubble. Bits of rubble. But not all rubble. There was a piece of stone not even the size of their palm covered in curls and whirls.

To anyone else, it would have been nothing. But Yerik knew it.

Hair. Carved, wavy hair. From the backside of a bust, the top back of the head.

Yerik knew that hair. 

Rueppelli was speaking again. “A bust was recently stolen from the Library of Unanswerable Prayers. We have reason to believe that the thieves came to Repet-Yark to sell it.”

Yerik lifted a finger, tracing the fine carving. A shiver ran through their body.

Cherrein huffed. “Thieves aplenty. But I have seen nothing of the bust you describe.”

“You lie.” Yerik spoke, unthinking.

Rueppelli turned and grimaced at them. 

The Felinian’s ears drew back and her lips curled in a low hiss.

Yerik lifted the small piece of carved stone. “The bust has been here. And you know exactly what it is. The Lost Key of Desdedeira. And you know exactly what it will do.” Yerik’s fingers tightened, their arm shaking. “Resurrect a Goddess lost to hunger and madness. Which do you think she will do first? To you? And everyone else in Repet-Yark? Drive you mad? Or eat your soul?”

[End Part One. Part Two can be found here.]

[Written by Rebecca Buchanan. For those who are curious, “Rueppelli and Yerik” takes place in the same fiction universe as “Asphalt Gods.” That story ran in several installments here on ev0ke, and is accessible to members. It can also be found as the title story in Rebecca Buchanan’s new collection here.]

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