Argus wanders the bazaar with purpose, but allows the flow of wealthy tourists to determine his path. Tent after tent of children’s trinkets and wall hangings assault his eyes, but none catch his attention. He spends far more time looking at the merchants themselves rather than the wares they pedal. She hasn’t yet appeared, but he’s confident she will, even if he has to spend all day in the upper district.
Everyone here makes Argus uncomfortable, but he’s convinced the endgame is worth it. He tries not to pay too much attention to the navy blue tint of their skin. He even tells himself that the time they spend in the warm rays of sun will kill them, rather than give them a healthy glow. He scoffs when he catches hundreds of his own reflection in a tent run by a straight-backed glass worker. The mirrors scream of his inadequacies, the sky blue of an under dweller’s skin, the wiry frame of a person who hasn’t had three square meals a day since before the upper platforms were built.
“Looking for anything in particular?” the mustachioed steward asks. Argus shakes his head and wonders what he would look like with facial hair. The steward rolls his eyes. “If you’re not interested, keep moving.”
Argus clenches his fist, nails biting into his sweaty palms, but obliges. He can’t speak up the way he’d like, or one of the robed security guards might catch his attention. He doesn’t want anyone realizing he shouldn’t be here, at least not until after he finds her.
The next tent stops him with the scent of smoking meats. He isn’t sure of what most of it is, as the carcasses are headless, but the emptiness of his stomach doesn’t mind. He points to a skewer of purple cubes and hands over one of the few banknotes he scrounged together for this trip. The flavor eludes him; it’s unlike anything he’s ever tasted. Receptors scream inside his cheeks that he never imagined existing. He lets each bite linger on his tongue before swallowing, unsure of when he’ll have a delicacy like this again. Tonight, he’ll dine with his brothers on the many-legged vermin they’re paid to clear out of Uncle Vernon’s sewer tunnels. It sounds worse than it actually is, as long as you have the right condiments.
Argus resumes his ascent into the upper reaches of the bazaar. He climbs a chain-link ladder hanging from the highest platform to reach the last few tents. On his trip up, his skewer falls out of his mouth and strikes a child in the face. Argus is almost to the top of the ladder as he glances down and watches her aggravated mother alert a yellow robed security guard of his mistake.
He hurtles up over the edge and stumbles into the first tent he sees, knocking over a rack of diamond letter openers. A teenager with a pencil behind his ear glares at him, but doesn’t move from his place behind the table, too busy with a sale to fix the toppled rack. Argus takes off running and bumps into several other angry wanderers. They curse at him in tongues unfamiliar. A woman in a yellow robe approaches him from below, but there is no urgency in her movement. He stops dead in his tracks when he sees what he came here for.
She is the most elegant creature Argus has ever seen, and he wonders what she’s doing up here among these rich scum. Her tentacles hang over her left shoulder and glow the iridescent violet of someone from the western reaches. She frequents the bar his sister owns, and up until this moment, he’s only pined for her from afar. But last night, she’d left behind a satchel, the one tied to his hip, and he made the trip here determined to speak to her. He approaches calmly and with caution. He chooses to ignore the woman in yellow gaining on him.
Her tent is colorful — there are glass phials filled with orange and green and purple powders everywhere. Most are corked shut, but the few that are open smell vaguely of the sea. He yearns to know what’s inside, to share any common interest with her, but will stick with what he’s got. She smiles at him, a vague look of recollection on her face. His heart jumps up to his throat as he inches toward her, unfastening the satchel from his hip and handing it to her.
“Thank you so much,” she squeals. “Where have I seen you before? How did you know this was mine?”
Before Argus can respond, the woman in the yellow robe appears behind him. She clutches his shoulder with a gloved hand, and before he can react, slaps a pair of plasma cuffs on his unsuspecting wrists.
“Please go about your day, Helena,” the woman in yellow mutters, and drags him off toward the imposing castle in the clouds. Argus should feel a crushing wave of despair right now, but he doesn’t. Because even though he never got to speak to her, she spoke to him, and that’s half the battle.