Just as the old drunk had told them, Fishmonger’s Borough had a black market unlike anything they’d ever seen. So long as your stuff was good, it didn’t matter how hot the item, you could find a buyer. So long as you had the coin, anything was for sale. The black market of Fishmonger’s Borough was the largest draw for outsiders.
There were treasures beyond counting, a veritable path paved with gold. Everywhere one looked there were opportunities for riches and temptations abound. Cloudhawk followed guideposts from the lift, which led them to the heavily trafficked avenue. There was hardly any room to shuffle from stall to stall.
There were all manner of wastelanders in outlandish clothing or fancy threads. They had their wares in booths or out on blankets, and even Cloudhawk was taken aback by hat he saw.
An unassuming man of dark complexion sat before a blanket, with the barrels of all sorts of guns poking out from the bottom. A weapons wrack erected behind him had a number of other tools hung up for display; power tools, chainsaws, flamethrowers and so forth.
Across the street, a stout fellow squatted before a rug. He had all manner of hand grenades hung on his person, and the rug was overflowing with other explosives.
Cloudhawk randomly picked one of the caves that served as a storefront and stepped inside. He was greeted with a small warehouse of rusted metal robots at exorbitantly pumped-up prices.
Aside from these sorts of things, archaic technology of bygone ages was also relatively common; rocket launchers, particle blades, even laser rifles. Rare materials and artifact fragments were stacked together with other mysterious and unknown items. Cloudhawk took the chance to purchase things for himself, including firearms and ammunition, or relic fragments. Reselling back in the Sandbar, he figured, would net him quite a hefty profit.
Autumn was struggling to contain her irritation.
Was this asshole here to restock his own shop, or help her with her mission? He was snatching up guns and bullets, almost like he forgot completely about her! Worst of all, he was spending her money!
“Hey, don’t blame me.” Cloudhawk put his hands to the side of his head, vexed by the scale of things. “This place is fuckin’ huge. There’s almost no point. By the time you find it the sands will have swallowed this place up.”
Autumn kept a straight face and didn’t buy in to Cloudhawk’s nonsense. Instead, her delicate features were set in determination. “I need to find it. No matter what.”
“Son of a bitch, you’re stubborn. At least tell me what the fuck we’re looking for so we ask around. You expect us to just wander in to some random stall and find it?”
This gave Autumn pause. It’d been a monumental task just to get here, and if she wanted even half a chance to succeed in her mission she needed this scoundrel’s help. He was going to learn what it was anyway, sooner or later. She might as well tell him now. “I’m looking for a pan flute. It was stolen from my tribe five years ago by a renegade of our people named Brier.
“A flippin’ flute? How much could that be worth!”
“It’s not just a flute. It’s an artifact, bestowed upon us by our patron god!” Cloudhawk’s flippant response appeared to really anger her. This vulgar ruffian really had nothing but profit on his mind! How could gold measure the worth of a gift from the gods? “The flute is called the ‘Call of the Shepherd Goddess.’ You demonhunters would call it a relic.”
A relic, huh? No wonder.
Cloudhawk shook his head. “If that’s the case, let’s stop wasting time. Nothing around here matches what you’re looking for.”
Autumn scowled at him skeptically. “You haven’t even looked, how do you know?”
“I just know.”
This was Cloudhawk’s unique talent, but Autumn wouldn’t understand.
Cloudhawk traipsed a circuit around the market with her in tow. He sensed resonance from a few relic fragments, but nothing whole – and certainly nothing that would feel like it earned the name ‘Shepherd's Call.’ He also learned nothing about the Crimson One or his plans. Both travelers were at a loss.
Suddenly, Cloudhawk was struck by a flash of inspiration. He pulled Autumn after him.
The sector he led her to was different from the others. Living goods were sold here – slaves.
“Hey there friends, is that girl for sale?”
A slave trader stepped into his path and blocked his way. She was a rotund woman with a savage face. Cloudhawk had never seen a woman so large. She had a moon-shaped face with a large mouth. A set of beady eyes were set in rolls of fat, and on her head was teased hair with dozens of sloppy braids that made it look like a nest of snakes. One look at her face was enough to tell she wasn’t a good person. She looked at Autumn with hungry eyes. Years of experience selling people for a living told her this one would fetch a good price.
The mere concept threw Autumn into a fit. What the hell was this? Was this the scoundrel’s place? To pretend to help and then sell her into slavery?
Cloudhawk didn’t give her a chance to flip her lid. He smirked before she could open her mouth, and asked. “How much you offering?”
“Young man. The girl is prime goods, but you don’t have a merchant’s touch. You won’t get a good price, not like me. I’ve been doing this a long time. Ask a round, you won’t find a single person in this whole place who doesn’t know Mama Jade. I know a lot of folk in the market for a pretty slave. People who'll pay top price. I’m the one you want, ehm… handling your goods.”
In the wastelands women weren’t often given status. Merchant women especially. This slave trader, Mama Jade, was as fat and as ugly as they came. But the rich quality of her dress spoke volumes. The jeweled necklace nestled in her chins did, too. Each of her ten sausage-like fingers bore a bejeweled ring. Her face was painted in layers of ostentatious makeup. With every movement, the smell of her perfume invaded the nostrils as though she’d bathed in it. It didn’t matter, of course. A hog was a hog no matter how you trussed it up.
If there was one thing Cloudhawk knew about the wastelands, it was to never underestimate the fat ones. Mama Jade’s rolls of fat did just as much to show off her abilities as the rich clothes she wore.
“Two ways to go about it, son. First, you could give the girl to me and I’ll use my contacts to find a good deal. I’ll keep forty percent of the take, and you get the rest. The second method is much more convenient though, if I do say so myself. If waiting for a buyer is too much trouble, I’d be happy to trade you twenty good looking girls for this one. Good stock, easy to sell. Get rid of the ones you don’t like and keep a few for yourself. You get to walk away with a hefty sack of gold for your time – probably more than if you try to sell your girl straight.”
Fat Mama was definitely a shrewd businesswoman.
Cloudhawk shook his head with a grin. “I only accept cash. If you can afford it, we got ourselves a deal.”
Fat Mama scowled. Bartering was the preferred method in these parts. It was the wastelands, after all. Coin wasn’t standard. She pondered for a moment. “How much are you thinking?”
Cloudhawk raised a single finger.
“A hundred gold?”
He shook his head.
A hundred gold for a single slave girl wasn’t cheap. Average slaves went for ten silver, more or less. Pretty girls or males with a good physique went for one or two gold pieces. A hundred gold pieces was high, but feasible for top-grade chattel.
“A thousand gold?”
Mama Jade had a sour expression on her face like she’d smelled something bad. A thousand gold was at the limit of what she could stomach. At that price it didn’t matter how outstanding a slave was, she wasn’t going to make a profit. In fact it was a significant risk. But she also knew that a rare specimen like this girl was hard to find. Value wasn’t merely measured in terms of profit, after all. If she found the right buyer, she could prove herself a fine purveyor and worthy of more business in the future. That was a benefit no amount of gold could buy.
But Cloudhawk shook his head.
“You can’t mean ten thousand gold!”  She snarled openly at him now. The man was crazy!
Cloudhawk decided it was time to end the game. “I’m sayin’ one million gold. And I won’t accept one copper less.”
Mama Jade went red at the face and her ugly face twisted incredulously. She snapped at him angrily. “Quit playing with me, boy!”
He chortled at her anger as if to say, what are you going to do about it? “That’s what she’s worth. If you can’t afford her, don’t blame me.”
Cloudhawk wasn’t afraid of some cow. He hated slavers and their kind anyway. He almost wished she’d try something, then he’d have an excuse to draw his sword. How much trouble could a flesh peddler be to him, even with a backer? In the last few days he’d killed the bandit leader Red-Face, and managed to piss off the entire Highwaymen outfit. He wasn’t going to sweat some fat bitch.
Mama Jade didn’t get to where she was today by luck. She might have looked grumpy and unreasonable, but inwardly she was cold as ice. She seemed to know what Cloudhawk was thinking and her overworked heart thumped wildly in her chest. She gave him a closer look, saw the armor behind a gap in his cloak, and knew her place. She was a clever lady, and she knew the way the world worked. This was demonhunter armor.
So was that who this was?
Mama Jade was taken by surprise. No wonder he was so arrogant. The anger fled from her face and she chuckled good-naturedly at him. “Business is business, we got no problem here. But Ravenous Tiger isn’t someone you want to offend – no one wants to get into trouble over a simple exchange. Listen boy, you need something you come to Mama Jade. If I don’t have what you need, I’m sure I know someone who does.”
Ravenous Tiger was the governor of Fishmonger’s Borough. Just the name alone told Cloudhawk he was no pushover.
The name wasn’t just as a deterrent to scare potential rivals. ‘Ravenous’ was intentional. He was the sort of man who took what he wanted, consumed without hesitation. He was also immensely paranoid and managed the city with what could only be described as a merciless fist. His presence explained how this city could be a mixture of both serpents and dragons, yet remain on an even keel.
“You switch attitude faster than I can pick my ass. There is something you can help me with, actually.” Cloudhawk changed his estimation of the slaver. It wouldn’t do to go around causing problems before his mission was done. “I heard a group of missioners passed through recently. What can you tell me about them?”
Mama Jade hesitated. “Let me think a second, now…”
Cloudhawk plucked an eboncrys from his pouch that Oddball had been pecking at. He deliberately rolled it around in his hand. “Just some information, nothing serious. I could always just ask someone else if you aren’t interested…”
“Why go through the trouble?” Mama Jade slapped her rotund belly. “I can find out whatever you need.”
“Right, a guy named Brier might have also passed through recently. If you know anything about him you’ll pass it my way, yeah?”
Cloudhawk tossed the eboncrys at her. “You got twenty four hours. Get what I want and the eboncrys is yours. Don’t, and I don’t give a shit about Hungry Kitty or whatever the fuck his name is, I’ll make sure to kick up a fuss. Understand?”
“You got it, son.”
Once she learned he was a demonhunter, Mama Jade wasn’t foolish enough to underestimate Cloudhawk. He just wanted some information, anyway. The city had fifty thousand people, but after so long in her trade there wasn’t anything she couldn’t uncover.
1. Ten thousand is ‘yi wan’ or one wan. In case you were wondering how she got ten from one finger.