This was another part of the city that Terrence Dechantagne knew well. It was known to the rest of the city as The Bottom and to those who lived there as Black Bottom. It was a section of the town built on land sloping down toward the River Thiss and it seemed as if it was perpetually falling into the green waters. Besides thousands of two and three story houses that all seemed to be either leaning toward the river because of the sloping land or leaning in the other direction in hopes of countering the slope, there were countless seedy pubs, sordid meeting houses, and hidden drug dens.
Terrence drove his sister’s steam carriage down Contico Boulevard, past the ancient stone buildings of the Old City and past the sea of tenement apartments, turning off into the dark and winding roads of Black Bottom. His vehicle was the only powered one on the road here. Foot traffic predominated, though there were quite a few horses, either pulling carriages or being ridden. There were enough of them that there was a two foot tall embankment of horse manure that ran down either side of the road. Flies filled the air almost as thickly as did the stench.
Following a series of alleys that would have confused anyone not intimately familiar with the area, Terrence brought the vehicle to a stop in front of a nondescript house. He peeled off his driving gloves and tossed them onto the seat next to him, and then he climbed down. The only light came from the dim headlamps and the tiny sliver of moon, but Terrence didn’t need either to detect the three men coming toward him from the shadows between two houses on the other side of the street. The foremost had a knife. The second carried a cricket bat. The third one was a big man. He didn’t seem to have a weapon; probably thought he didn’t need one.
“Hey blue coat. You can’t park here unless you pay the…” The man stopped talking when Terrence shoved the barrel of his .45 into the man’s mouth.
“You’re not going to talk to me anymore,” said Terrence. He looked at the other two. “Either one of you talk?”
“Put that away,” said the second man.
“I’m not taking orders right now either. This fellow a friend of yours?”
“Then I take it you don’t want me to splatter his brains across the street.”
“You won’t. People like you follow the law.”
“People like me are the law,” said Terrence. “Your brother and I are going inside. When we come out again, I’ll pay your toll or whatever you want to call it. But. Anybody touches my car, bothers me, or brasses me off in any way, and I make you a little closer to being an only child.”
Terrence guided the man, still sucking on the barrel of his pistol and now walking backwards, around the car and to the door of the building. He rapped the door three times and it opened an inch.
“I’m here to see Blackwood,” said Terrence.
The door opened and Terrence pushed himself and his unwilling companion through. Inside was a large dark room. The fellow who had let them in turned out to be at least as large as the muscle in the street. He loomed over both of them and most people would have been intimidated. There was no furniture in the room and the dozen or so people there in various states of unconsciousness were sprawled out across the floor.
“I’m here to see Blackwood,” said Terrence again.
“Nobody sees him unless I say they do,” said the big man, his deep voice just as menacing as his physical presence.
“’Salright, Teddy. Dechantagne’s an old friend.”
Blackwood came down the stairs at the far end of the room. He was a small man with a head of thick, curly, red hair and a cigar clenched in the corner of his mouth. His appearance and his attitude reminded Terrence of a bantam rooster.
“’Dja bring a friend with you Dechantagne?” he asked in his thick brogue.
“A fellow I picked up on the street.”
“Would’ja mind lettin’m go?”
Terrence pulled the barrel of his .45 from the man’s mouth, and wiping it on the fellow’s shirt, he tucked it back into his belt.
“You’re dead mister.”
“Shut your damn mouth, Mika. Don’t go thinkin’ that because Dechantagne here is a pretty boy he won’t kill you dead. He will. On the other hand, if you give him any trouble, I’ll kill you and your whole family.”
The man—Mika went white.
“Now get on outa’ here.”
“Thanks,” said Terrence blandly, after the other man had hurried out the door.
“You know I’m not sentimental, Dechantagne. You’re just worth a lot more alive to me than he is. That changes; you’ll be the first to know. Now what can I do for you, as if I didn’t know.”
“Ten bottles? Kafira, you’re gon’ta kill yourself.” Blackwood chuckled. “It’s still a hundred a bottle.”
Terrence growled but nodded.
“I know you can get if for twenty out in the wilderness from some savage in a loin-cloth, but this is the good stuff, ya know.”
Terrence pulled a roll of bills from his tunic and peeled off a thousand marks. It was about a third of his pocket cash. He shoved it into Blackwood’s hand.
“Ya know I’ve got other products—things that will actually make you feel good. Ya might want ta give them a try sometime.”
“Just get the spice.”
“I’ll be down in a minute.”
Blackwood headed up the stairs in the back, while his muscle took his position once again at the door. Suddenly Terrence felt a tugging at his pants leg. Looking down he found a pale-faced man with bloodshot eyes looking up. He couldn’t have been more than thirty, but he looked far older than that.
“I see a castle,” said the man. “She’s in a castle. What do you see? Is she in a castle for you?”
Terrence kicked the hands free of this clothing. The man looked up resentfully.
“You don’t see a castle, do you? You live in a castle here. You don’t need to see a castle there. She probably comes to you in a shack in the middle of nowhere.”
“Bugger off,” said Terrence.
“You see the purple flowers though, don’t you? You see those.”
Blackwood returned with a small wooden box, which Terrence opened. Inside were ten tiny cylindrical bottles, made of dark indigo glass. Each was filled with a milky white liquid and topped with a cork stopper. There it was—White Opthalium. Visio as it was sometimes called, or See Spice, was made from rare enchanted lotus blossoms and blue fungus from Southern Enclep, whipped together with magic. Just looking at it made Terrence’s mouth and eyes water.
“Ya sure there’s nothin’ else?”
Terrence shook his head and left. The street punks were gone, though he hardly noticed. His attention was fixed only on the small box now in his possession. It was a quick drive back to the Old City and back to Avenue Dragon. He parked the car in the motor shed, but walked around to the west side of the house and went in through an almost never used entrance. This was part of the house that Iolanthe had closed off. He found a bedroom and locked himself in. Then he pulled aside the drop cloth that covered the bed and sat down with his back against the headboard. Opening the box, he pulled out one of the small indigo bottles and pulled off the stopper. He could just detect its florid smell.
Placing a finger on the tiny open mouth, he overturned the bottle to moisten his finger with the milky white liquid inside. Then he reached up and rubbed it directly onto his left eyeball and then his right, quickly recapping the bottle and tossing it next to him on the bed as the room around him suddenly drained of color. He was seeing it.
No longer on the bed in an unused bedroom in the house at Number One, Avenue Dragon, he was now sitting in the middle of a great field of purple flowers that stretched into the distance as far as the eye could see. Each flower was a foot tall, with a blossom as big around as his hand, with five purple petals, dark purple along the edge merging with the same indigo as the little blue bottle in the middle. Each flower featured, in its center, a very human looking eyeball. Terrence stood up and turned around. Twenty yards away was a small yellow cottage, with a green roof and door and two windows with green shutters. And beyond, the field of purple flowers stretched away to the horizon.