Pooris, Drones and Withered Dragons
"Daal or aloo?"
"Aloo. I'm an aloo poori kind of a guy."
"Huh?" went the elderly poori wala, putting in the potato fillings.
"Nothing. Never mind."
"Mana or might?"
The poori wala glanced up at Riyardh for the briefest moment before returning to his tablet. As one of his arms was done preparing the pooris, the other one swooped in, picked them up and dropped them in the sizzling silvery mana oil. The gold-tinted one in the cauldron beside it, Riyardh assumed, was might. In the last cauldron, behind the poori wala, the oil was a dark brown and had the loudest crackle.
"What's that one, at the back?" Riyardh asked, pointing.
"Brilliant, but what kind?"
"The expired kind."
One of the drones buzzing around the poori wala started beeping at him.
"Agh, these annoying things," he groaned. His fourth hand picked up a few fried pooris from the expired oil and the fifth one packed them in a newspaper bag. A sixth arm placed the bag in front of the drone's blinking lens. It scanned the code stamped on the bag and flickered green while the poori wala checked the payment on his tablet and placed the bag inside the drone's compartment. The drone bolted up and flew into the drone streams heading to the upper district.
Riyardh was fascinated by the high demand of delicacies from this place up there, as evident by the number of delivery drones hovering around. The shops lined up under the shelter of the massive Metro Track that snaked through the city. These shops formed the longest stretching market ecosystem of this era.
Beyond the single lamp each shop owned, they were softly lit by the luminescent moss growing on the Track's towering pillars and the tubular lights bordering its underside. The market resembled an old painting Riyardh had seen of a river at night, dotted with an array of fishing boats, faintly floating under the glow of a half moon.
"What a beautiful view," he sighed.
The poori wala scoffed, handing him the fried pooris on a melamine plate.
"What? I'm being serious."
"I can smell yer stinkin' jest from a mile away, uppy boy."
"Uppy b—?" Riyardh stuttered. He'd heard of the slang before, but never confronted it. But then again, he'd never come down here before.
"A fresh one, huh?" the poori wala laughed.
"Yeah. N-no. I mean, maybe?" He quickly took a bite of the hot poori. As he gasped to let the hot air out, he felt the immediate jolt of mana around his throat, slowly transferring down. I need to act fast.
"What're ye doin' here anyway? Did yer lordie dad kick ya out of yer tall tower?"
"First of all… my father… isn't… a lord," Riyardh replied in between bites. With each gulp, he felt the surge of mana pumping through his blood. "I'm my own man, an executive product manager, if you must."
"Oh. Uhm, secondly, I came to the Night Shift Market…"
"Don't ye mean the Leaky Market?" the poori wala interjected. The Track, despite its width, could not shelter the market from the regular heavy rain, which leaked through the cracks of the structure. Hence, the name.
"Yes. I mean, no. That's not nice to say."
"Neither's whatever nighty shifty gibberish ye brought from yer fancy district. Call it what it actually is – Tondrapoth Bazar."
Riyardh nodded quickly. "Y-yes, sir."
The poori wala let out a measured laugh. "Sir? Such courtesy. For me? An ole Duskshade lowlander? From a bloody uppy still in his diapies? Flatterin'."
With a hasted motion of his free arm, Riyardh conjured a dark object, cylindrical and pointed, from under his sleeve. All of the poori wala's arms stopped what they were doing as he glared at what was a folded umbrella. Calm down, Riyardh breathed in and dropped it over his shoulder. "The rain's coming."
The poori wala sniffed. The air held the scent, the familiar scent of an approaching downpour.
"As I was saying," Riyardh continued calmly, as practiced from his lessons as a management trainee. "I came down tonight for a business transaction."
The poori wala kept his glare.
"I want to propose a deal with the Bazar."
"A jokester, huh?" he started fuming. "What d'ye mean a deal with the Bazar? I've met uppies that dressed like ye, talked like ye. All fancy, no heart. Intent as black as the tar ye shit outta yer towers."
"You have an asset that we can use. In exchange, we give you the reach, the ropes to climb up to the Cloudward district."
"Ropes? We don't need none of yer trickery."
"Oh, but you do, you've needed it for months, the missing piece to your great plan," Riyardh smiled. He looked around the market, at the drones in preparation. "And I need that secret weapon of yours."
Panic, slowly forming inside Tohimur, now at the mention of the "secret weapon", burst into a flurry of cybernetic arms, aimed at the kid's throat.
But it was too late, by the slimmest margin of a second. The point of the kid's umbrella, still folded, touched the controller box on Tohimur's chest. A silver-green thread of mana travelled from the kid's hand, through the umbrella, to the controller and puffed out. The arms that reached his throat lay around him, unmoving.
"Limbtech. Discontinued, cheap and immensely useful. But susceptible to modern magic," the kid swallowed the last piece of his poori. Its tendrils of silver smoke blurred his face. He brought out his tablet.
"Ye a cop?"
He scoffed, "Did you not hear what I said? I'm not here to quash the Bazar's revolution. I'm here to help, for a price."
Tohimur heard commotion around him, in the other shops. The delivery drones were going haywire.
"Your brethren are too busy to hear your screams, so don't bother." The drones around Tohimur's shop assembled around the kid. "Where did you get it by the way? Did it fly up from the Burial district? Or did you madmen venture into those caverns of the forgotten yourselves?"
"How do ye know about this, ye fiend?"
"As a product manager, I get access to the products. Lucky for me, they have a penchant for collecting data."
Tohimur saw it now. The emblem on the kid's umbrella and behind his tablet. It matched the ones on the drones. Defeated, in his motionless state, Tohimur sighed quietly, "No."
As the drones flew up towards the dark underside of the Metro Track, Riyardh shot two ember bolts at the two neighbouring pillars, burning down the luminescent moss. He then pointed his umbrella at the lights on the Track, discharging the tech. Darkness fell on the Bazar. The rain, a moment later.
Opening his umbrella, Riyardh squinted at the underside. A translucent webbing covered the surface. "Clever," he smirked and tapped his tablet. The drones shot rays of light at it.
"Wow," Riyardh gasped. A dragon laid there between the webbing and the Track, stretching between two pillars. The massive beast, like all who resided in the Buried district, was devoid of any colour. The dragon whimpered, its opal eyes reflecting a dozen colours. It was sickly, gigantic and mesmerising. But what caught Riyardh off guard was stacked within the dragon's protective stance. Eggs. Six of them.
"Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!" Riyardh exclaimed. "You outdid yourselves. In the disregarding shadow of the Track, you really pulled off a miracle."
"And now ye brought its bloody ruin."
Before Riyardh could respond, or make the connection with the eggs, the ground shook. And then it cracked. Riyardh was offered a sliver of a moment, to reach for the trickles of mana still within. Beneath him, as the concrete gave way to the Buried's darkness, wings unfurled, withered and colossal, led by fangs of revenge.
Fatiul Huq Sujoy spends idle hours preparing for his urban surroundings to finally turn into a fantasy setting. Send him pictures of your rakkhosh-spotting at [email protected]