The procession had been slow-moving right from the start. It had been a long column of people filing through the tortuous and snake-like street, their faces full of optimism and joy. Ignorant of the scorching afternoon sun, the nobility had proceeded on, elucidating their cause to the locals, gathering their support. The onlookers at the Burnt Market had gazed with their eyes wide open, for they had never seen such flair, felt such privilege or known the possibilities of leading such lives before. Jermiaani had smiled to himself as they had marched on. He had stood at the head of the procession, not with the intent of leading it, for such a thought was beyond him. No, he had had a simpler task at hand. And he had failed.
The shot had thundered through the prevalent hum of the procession, dissembling the joy and laughter that had been so prominent just an instant before. Jermiaani had looked around, trying to fight the commotion that had ensued, trying to track the murderer, even before he had consciously realized that a person had indeed died. The assailant could nowhere be seen. Jermiaani had turned back, knowing the value of every passing second, but it had already been too late. From between the gaps in the scampering people, he could faintly see the pool of red already spreading. The victim had moved away from the clutches of this world. She lay there expressionless, the shot having released her before any comprehension had dawned.
Jermiaani had taken her to the Sovereign, who had sat beside her unspoken, even as time had passed and people had come and gone, having paid their respects. Jermiaani had not noticed their fear, as the Sovereign had. The grief had consumed him whole. Later, after they had all departed, he had dared speak to the Sovereign.
“I have failed you” he had said. “You had tasked me with their protection. But…” his voice had trailed off.
The Sovereign had considered for a long moment before speaking. He had then replied, his eyes still on the cold, lifeless figure in front of him. “It will pass. We will see the true light of things. But now – we must focus. The enemy shall strike again, and soon enough. We need to be prepared”
He had nodded then, his mind still in the Burnt Market, still amidst the scampering people, his ears still ringing with the shot. This time as he had reached the victim, she had been alive, gasping, choking in her last moments. She had attempted to raise her hand, and had barely succeeded. It had been enough for Jermiaani, who had dashed in the pointed direction, a deluge of rage in his mind. But then the crowd had dissolved away, as had the cries of the commotion, and there had stood only one figure in front of him.
“So what you seek – is your own self?” The voice cut through the image, shredding the memory for now. Jermiaani looked up, distracted. It was afternoon again in the Burnt Market. There was no commotion though, no thunder, just the simple existence of the local vendors. The shopkeeper who had uttered the words stood in front of him, looking curiously.
When Jermiaani hadn’t responded, the shopkeeper spoke again. “You have been staring at the mirror for the past few minutes. You are either looking at the street behind or you are fascinated with your own self.” The shopkeeper guffawed at his own intelligence. Jermiaani gave him a weak smile. He had indeed been looking at the street. Looking for what, he couldn’t say. Clues, perhaps. Either to unravel the death. Or for the sake of his own sanity. He wanted to believe it were the former. But the mirror showed him the reality of his true self just as many times as it showed the street behind.
“I am actually looking for a specific vendor” he told the shopkeeper. “Can you help me find him?”
The sanguineness of the shopkeeper evaporated when he heard the name. With a somber expression he pointed. “The seventh lane to your right at the far end of the Market street. Look for a red door”
There are strong undercurrents in the Burnt Market these days. Lot more happening than the common eye can fathom. I see treachery building, the fear rising. A powerful foe is emerging from the shadows. This death is only the first. Their cause is much bigger, their ambition much stronger.
The Sovereign’s words spun in Jermiaani’s mind as he reached the alley he was looking for. The shops had already been thinning as he had moved closer and closer to his destination, replaced by houses instead. The people that saw him approach hurriedly skulked away. This part of the Burnt Market was clearly not a welcome destination. Their lives have changed, the words echoed again. Festered this past year with the onset of this man. The Market isn’t what it once was, full of optimism and camaraderie. On the surface, you may still see the resemblance, but if you look closely, you will see it for what it truly has become.
The voices and the clamor of the market had also been progressively dying out, and as Jermiaani stood at the entrance of the desired alley, he could scarcely hear anything. Occasionally he thought he heard faint callings, voices from places left far behind: a woman looking for her child, the creaking of wooden trading carts, the echoes of a gong.
A door opened somewhere directly behind him. And before he could turn, it had slammed shut. Fear has truly become pervasive here. Regardless, he stepped forward, avoiding the scampering crowd, avoiding their cries and their yells, his mind focused on the only thing important, even as he saw the pool of red widening…
Remember – this man is not the key to the problem. He is merely a pawn. Albeit a pawn that has progressed considerably. We need answers, not deaths.
Jermiaani nodded, even as the red door of his destination appeared closer and closer, and he felt the answers coming. He raised his arm to knock.
Copyright 2016, Vaibhav Thombre