Obscura Antiques & Curios
Justin stood on a stretch of sidewalk, wishing that Kato’s friends would just show up so they could get going already.
To find the treasure. Now that he was no longer confined to any one place, he could hardly stand still. Hidden treasure. The sort of thing he had heard tales of, and had always dreamed of finding. If it was real, the possibilities were more than he dared hope for.
Still, he wasn’t sure he liked having to split the loot so many ways, but he figured if it was even half as big as she said it was, he could still live like a king on his share. That, and having the Triad as backup would be handy. And, of course, he had to admit that it was the others’ Tri-Medals that made this possible in the first place. And, now that he thought about it, he himself had actually considered braving a second run through Tranz-D to find Max, so he couldn’t really blame Kato for wanting to find her own crew.
“Going back in… Am I crazy?” he asked of the universe.
Then a horrible thought occurred to him. They couldn’t have… Just the thought that her companions may also have gone wandering into Tranz-D chilled his blood even in this warm, sunny weather. No. Don’t even think it. And he shook that thought off.
Still, after so many years in the Third World shambles of the Triangle State, and more recently the bizarre world of Tranz-D, this place felt so strange to him now that he stopped to notice it. No armed guards, no checkpoints, no shanties, no crowded, filthy alleyways. No endless hallways, no bottomless vent shafts, no robo-guards, no Junkyard Dogs. And, most importantly, no more NK-525. The more he looked around, the more he realized that this place looked more like some of the places he had seen in his travels on the Skerry, real towns and cities he only vaguely recalled seeing as a child.
As he wandered around, he spotted a store that immediately grabbed his attention. Somehow this place just didn’t quite belong, just didn’t look like the two buildings it was sandwiched between. It stood in sharp contrast with the red-brick, chirpy-named, ground-level entries on either side. A short stairway led down to an entrance that seemed to be constructed of some dark, almost black, wood beams. A sign hung at street level, in dark red letters, reading:
OBSCURA ANTIQUES & CURIOS
“…In the Midst of Life, We are in Death.”
And, underneath that, in fading letters: NEW LOCATION! CHECK US OUT!
“I wonder…” There was something about the place that struck him as disreputable, almost creepy. Yet his feet took him down those dingy steps anyway. His hand seemed to move almost of its own accord, even as he wondered why he was doing this, reaching out and opening the door.
Inside, he was greeted by an almost eye-watering wall of burning wax and incense. And a faint mixture of other smells he couldn’t place. Even his well-honed night vision took a moment to adjust to the dim light that scattered candles and oil lamps gave off. And he wondered if it was really worth the adjustment as he looked around.
Little knowing that Shades would have had the exact opposite reaction.
Along the walls were shelves covered with an assortment of strange objects. Standing shelves full of books, some ancient, some more recent-looking. Most written in languages he knew nothing of. On one shelf was a skull adorned with jewels. An ancient-looking camera. A small, ornate wooden box strapped with several strips of paper scrawled with strange characters. A book entitled Occult Theory for Novices. An Arabian oil lamp.
“This crap just ain’t right…”
“About that you are right, young man…” a raspy voice said.
Justin jumped, visibly startled, turning to face a short, decrepit-looking old man standing behind the cluttered counter.
The mysterious shopkeep continued, saying, “The owner of this place I am. Deal in forbidden objects from many realms, we do. Feel free to browse.”
Justin’s eyes traced the counter, where a bare lightbulb buzzed overhead. Behind him, and within the dusty glass display case, were even more peculiar things to pique what Justin had decided must be morbid curiosity. A stuffed owl. A small velvet case bearing a silver ring set with an emerald stone. A blue Egyptian figurine. A greenish glass ball. A scary-looking mask. An ornately scrolled jar containing what looked like an iridescent white feather of peculiar marking. A sheathed, curved sword on a rack.
There was a sign on the counter that read: Pretty to look at, pretty to hold, but if you break it, consider it sold. And below that: All sales final.
“What do you mean, forbidden?” Justin finally asked.
“Things most people fear or misunderstand. Things that are perhaps best left alone by most,” the shopkeep explained. “Sorcery, witchcraft, alchemy, occult rituals, and other esoteric arts. Haunted and cursed items, objects of power, black tomes and taboo texts, talismans… If forbidden somewhere it isn’t, sell it we don’t. Right now having a thirteen-percent-off sale, we are.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Justin told him; his long years as a streetrat in a marketplace had taught him to never tell a shopkeeper you have no money. Remembering what he was supposed to be doing, he asked, “Um, by the way, you haven’t seen a guy with a big coat and hat, or a guy who doesn’t talk, have you?”
“Indeed I have,” the shopkeep told him, a playful smile touching his lips. He had a strong impression this one was just a browser; then again, many of Obscura’s regulars started out just browsing their first time around. And he felt that this one would definitely drop by again some time. “Came in this morning, he did. Made an offer on the Melon” (gesturing to the green ball on the shelf) “and that ominous blade. Yes, very interested. But he just did not have enough.”
“Or enough chi.” The shopkeep nodded. “Finally settled on a little trinket that I’m sure one such as he will find a use for.”
Justin wasn’t quite sure what the old geezer meant by that, or if he really wanted to know.
“Was there another guy with him?” So he instead decided to get back to the point. “A guy who can’t talk?”
“Yes, tagging along he was…” Again with that sly grin. He pointed behind Justin, to that strange wooden box and its odd paper bindings, saying, “Wanted to know he did, what was inside the box. But nothing of wardings did they know, so open it they could not. Then again, I also know little of fuda spells… Mayhap that was for the best, as even I know not what is inside, nor whether what was sealed is locked out, or locked in…”
Justin just started at him blankly.
“Yes, a mindless fool that one seems,” the shopkeep resumed, “but speak he can. In ways his companions do not understand. Underestimate him not…”
“Well… thanks for the info,” Justin told him as he headed back for the entrance. Though this place wasn’t as bad as it had first seemed, he still had mixed feelings about it. “I hate to cut and run, but my friends are waiting for me…”
“Please take this with you, free of charge,” the shopkeep said, offering him a tiny mottled soapstone figurine carved with several runic symbols. “For some reason, no one will buy it…”
“Regret it, you will not.” Few had the fortitude for those things in this world which were truly cursed, but he suspected this one would need all the help he could get in the near future.
Justin staggered back up the steps, blinking away at the daylight. Wishing he had more to go on, he headed back to the library to wait for the others. At least the knowledge that they had gone out here helped alleviate his fears about the other members of the Triad stumbling into Tranz-D. Kato might be willing to go back in there, but with Max now free, he had no intention of ever going back in there, not for all the treasure in the world. As he turned the corner, it dawned on him that he should have asked the old man if he knew where they were going.
Wondering for a moment if his little bauble was worth anything, then deciding that it was probably small potatoes next to the Tri-Medals, he glanced over his shoulder to see that that eerie entrance was no longer there. Just a shabby, long-neglected basement-level doorway. As if Obscura Antiques had never existed.