If you want a taste of my new book Fountain of the Worlds featuring polyamorous elves on motorbikes who go off to save the world, take a look:
Some houses were in darkness, closed and boarded up, with grass growing out of cracks in their walls and ivy falling down off their roofs. Others were insubstantial, nothing more than woven mats of reeds held together with string and good luck, giving their occupants only cursory privacy and no protection from the weather. Some were solid stone, untouched by moss or weed, with iron-barred windows and padlocked doors.
All of them opened directly onto the street so that Island, Faith and Trouble were stepping around their doorsteps each time a cart or motorbike veered too close on the dusty road.
Faith hung onto Island more tightly because the road they were on was becoming crowded, with pedestrians pushing past them and street vendors sitting in front of mats on the ground, in front of the houses.
The vendor’s mats were loaded with odd things that Faith had trouble identifying.
Marbles, only larger and prettier, and moving by themselves? Pincushions? Blocks of something dark and pungent, smelling of fire smoke and orange peel?
Faith paused, in front of a squat table laden with fragments of glass that twinkled in the lamp the vendor held out.
“What are they?” Faith asked Island. “Jewellery? They’re beautiful.”
“Candy,” Trouble said, shaking his hand at the vendor and nudging Faith along, away from the young woman behind the table, who held out a sample in impossibly long fingers.
“You thought the cake was good,” Island said, pushing Faith along as well. “The cake is nothing compared to the candy here. Don’t eat the candy.”
“I didn’t want to eat it,” Faith complained, looking back longingly at the table, at the woman still holding out a piece of turquoise toward Faith. “I want to wear it.”
“Sure, that’s what they all say,” Trouble said. “Just want to wear the candy, won’t even lick it, then before you know it you’ve got a full-blown corn syrup habit and no teeth. The alcohol-containing candy is the worst.” Trouble waved away a man who held out a gown of lace for Faith to admire. “Anything that gives you a sugar rush and gets you smashed is evil.”
“Only way they could make it worse is if they put caffeine in it,” Trouble said. “And I’m sure that has occurred to someone somewhere.”
Island waved away someone holding out a pink-furred kitten to them.
“Please, no,” Island told the vendor with the kitten. “We have enough cat problems already.”
“Around this corner,” Trouble said, raising his voice over the steadily increasing hum of sound in the background.
They pushed their way around the corner, past a child selling balloons that smelled of bananas, and a stray troll, and Faith said, “Oh!” at the sight of the markets that opened up, stretching several blocks and completely filling the street surface in a delirious display of color and sound and smell.
These were the same markets as in the other city, only the traders were selling different wares.
“Let’s be conspicuous,” Trouble said, pushing his shoulders back under his chain mail and resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. “We’ve got gossip to find, and the easiest way is to let it find us.”
They settled into a pattern, where they snaked slowly through the crowd, and either Island or Trouble would say, “No, you can’t have it,” to Faith every few seconds, whether she was admiring something for sale or not. The lamps were close together in the market, making the area better lit than anywhere else she’d been. Sometimes she wasn’t admiring a crown or a platter of fruit, sometimes she was being amazed at people with wings, or tiny shining lights embedded in their hair.
People called out to Island or Trouble, shouting greetings, or possibly abuse, and Island and Trouble waved back, and leaned across tables to shake hands with people.
It was at one of these tables, while Island and Trouble exchanged pleasantries with a young man with a shaved head, that Faith picked up what looking like a curved horn, curious and a little fed up at having so much to look at and not being allowed to touch anything.
“Ah, don’t,” Island said, taking the horn out of her hand and putting it back on the table. “Wash your hands before eating anything, as well.”
When they walked away from the table, Faith looked down at her hands, which still looked the same, and asked, “What was it? Poison? It looked like a cow horn.”
“It was a cow horn,” Trouble said. “From biodynamic farming. The horns are packed full of cow shit and buried with the crops, then something odd happens to the cow shit, and it makes awesome fertilizer.”
“And the horns are sold afterward, as fertility charms,” Island added. “Something that possibly alarms Trouble and myself.”
“Do they work?” Faith asked.
“What? As fertilizer makers? Or as fertility charms?” Island asked.
“Um, either? Both?” Faith said.
Island shrugged and guided Faith around a rack of clothes that she itched to try on.
The itching was literal, and she had to stop herself from checking for hives.
“In here,” Island said, pushing open a door and gesturing for Faith to enter. “You’ll have to ask Trouble or Honey about the effectiveness of the magic.”
In the doorway of what was obviously a bar, Faith looked back at Trouble.
“Well?” she asked. “Do they work?”
Trouble nodded. “Sure,” he said. “I vote we don’t have sex for a while, just in case.”
Island was waiting beside a booth. Faith slid into the booth and said, “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”
The candle on the table guttered, spilling wax down onto the pocked and stained wood, and Trouble grinned and slid in beside Faith.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Even if the spell had stuck to you, I could always remove it.”
Patrons sat at the tables, or up at the bar, mostly hidden by the shadows, so their identities could only be guessed at. A server glided up to their table, and slid three glasses across the oiled wood without asking for an order.
“Is this safe?” Faith asked in a whisper, gesturing at her glass, where beads of moisture slid down the outside and gathered in a ring around the base of the glass.
“It’s water,” Trouble said. “We’re in a water bar.”
Faith leaned her head closer to Trouble and whispered, “So what are they really selling?”
Trouble leaned close enough to brush his lips against her cheek in a quick kiss.
“Talk, babe, talk,” Trouble whispered. “Listen…”
Faith sipped her glass, which really did just contain water, and listened.
She could hear the people at the table behind her, murmuring among themselves. And the muted roar of the market outside the bar. Water dripped somewhere nearby, which made sense in a water bar… A dog barked, and people outside the window seemed to be talking, about selling food…
Sounds separated out gradually, fragments of words became sentences, then conversations, all pouring into the room.