The Port of Kings is about as unsavory as you can get on this miserable planet without actually wallowing in literal grime and crime. It fancies itself a modern city-- one of those up and coming South-East Asian economies with a rising middle class and all those other ammenities mimicking the so-called bastions of progress in the West.
That’s what you see on the main drags and the travel brochures. But when you round around the corner and hit the backstreets and lower-income neighborhoods, well, it doesn’t really look much different from similar areas in the modern world. Things are a little seedier and dirtier. You find drug-pushers and prostitutes with the same ease as you would in the likes Washington DC or Rome.
What you don’t see is the world’s highest concentration of oddities, occultism, and forbidden lore. You’ll find one or two Satan-worshipping sex club in Amsterdam or Berlin. There’s a place where you can get fresh human liver in New York City. If you need Mithril bullets to down a dreamtime beast, you might find them at a litttle hole in the wall shop above a maid cafe in Tokyo. In Port of Kings, these sorts of oddball dives litterally litter the place.
Most of them appear to be fairly legit places of business. The used record store on the 2000 block of Rue d’Ivoire specializes in arcane recordings-- everything from blasphemous Nazi recordings from their attempts to contact the Elder Ones to pre-historic stone music discs etched by pre-human lizardmen. Tatyana’s Cabaret offers barely-legal prostitution out in the open, but it doesn’t stop at your usual illegal pleasures either. They’re On Demand Fucking, and someone somewhere in that place can rustle up ayn orifice or appendage your imagination can conjure.
Then there’s Peccavi Cafe. Compared to some of the hellholes you can come by in Port of Kings, it’s a downright paragon of purity and morality. It’s a quaint little jazz bar-- a small bar, a dozen or so tables, and a piano that’s always manned. Its booze selection is decent, specializing in a few local microbrews you can’t find anyplace else. The tea and coffee selection is adequate, with something to appease all but the most finicky of drinkers. The food’s passable and won’t give you some exotic paranormal parasidic disease like the guy hocking street food a block down from the place.
What makes Peccavi Cafe curious isn’t the wine list, but the weapon list. Seryph Gibbons, the Cafe’s owner and main barkeep, is Port of King’s arms dealer of choice-- so long as what you’re looking for is more exotic than conventional. Sure, he can get a hold of some high-end sniper rifle or a stash of AKs, but he won’t bother if that’s the only thing you’re after. But if you’re looking to get such normal goods in exchange for some odd cursed blade you found in the deepest darkest Africa, he’ll be more than willing to make the trade. He’ll pay even more attention if you’re the sort who’s looking to obtain such mystical weaponry.
It’s that sort of deal that brings one Ryan Dukakis to the doors of Peccavi Cafe.
As Ryan entered the Cafe, the light ring of a bell through him offguard. He knew the exterior was that of a restaurant, but he was expecting the facade to be a bit more artificial. A quick glance around the place proved that the Cafe was in fact a cafe. The air was thick with the smell of brewing coffee and oils sizzling from the kitchen. He looked along the walls, expecting them to be adorned with the sort of arms the owner sold, but there wasn’t the slightest hint of warfare or violence lingering on the walls-- not even the sort of taxidermy you expect in your typical bar.
“Sit anywhere you please,” the bartender said as Ryan finished his initial assessment of the place. “Can I start you off with a drink?”
Ryan worked his way up to the bar and sat down in front of the bartender. “Nah. Nothing while I’m on the clock, and I’m always on the clock when I’m in the Port. I need to speak with--”
“Mr. Gibbons. Yes, he’s been waiting for you, Mr. Dukakis. He being me. But before that, I must insist you indulge yourself. Just one drink. On the house. Your business will more than make up for the cost of any drink.”
Ryan sighed. If this were any other asshole “insisting,” he’d introduce his face to the bar he was tending. That, and Ryan has never liked the idea of being inebriated in the slightest while walking the streets of the Port. Far too many enemies and friends of enemies make it a habit of frequenting these dives. But this deal was far too pressing, and the vendor far too important, to do anything but play by the house rules.
“Fine. Sure. A beer. Draft.”
“I thought as much. The lines in your face told me you were a beer man. Might I suggest one of our bocks?” Seryph handed Ryan a menu and gestured to the list in question.
Ryan glanced at the list for a moment and picked the first one he saw. “Hollowbock. That’ll do.”
Seryph gritted his teeth. “Oh. I’m sorry. While we have some on tap, it’s a bit on the old side. Were you any other patron I’d fix you a glass, but I don’t want stale brew ruining the mood.”
“Fine. how about a Moldy Eye?”
“Bock to the Fut--”
“Been on order for months.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Well then, what bocks do you have on tap?”
“Oh. Sorry. I believe we’re out of all of them, now that I think about it. How about some coffee?”
Ryan settled on coffee. Black. No sugar.
“So, what can you tell me about this figurine?” Seryph said as he poured a handful of coffee beans into a grinder. “You found it in an unexpected place.”
“You’d know more than I would,” Ryan said, tapping his foot impatiently against the bottom of the bar. “My crew and I were working security for some-- businessmen in Columbia.”
“No need for euphemisms,” Seryph said as he began to brew Ryan’s coffee. “You were working for the cartels. That won’t impede this transaction, even if I do find that a bit unappealing.”
“Sure. Yeah. The cartels. They believed the CIA had a mole in the organization. They never caught the guy, but they intercepted some messages from Langley and were concerned there would be some interference coming soon. The farm in question was pretty deep in the wilds. Two day trip from Bogota by ATV. We spent the night near some ruins that the cartel guys said was long since pillaged. One of my guys, pretty green behind the ears, took it upon himself to scope the place out regardless. Idiot was gone all night and barely made it back to camp before we broke. He said he found some secret passage. No deathtraps or anything of the like. The only thing strange was a wiff of really stank gas when he opened the seal to the chamber. Turns out it was poison or something like that. Guy died before we reached the farm. Seemed like a waste at the time. I had to pay his family casualty pay, and all he found in that chamber was this tiny stone figurine. We thought nothing of it at the time and tossed it in with the souviners we were taking back for our families. Then I figured I’d at least check up on the thing, called up a friend. He was a friend of yours, and he said you knew what it was, so here I am.”
Seryph handed Ryan his freshly brewed coffee. Ryan pays no attention to it. “Indeed you are. And yes, the figurine you found is quite unexpected for that part of the world. You recognize this sort of head, right?”
“Looks like one of those Moai things, yeah. Didn’t think much of it. Big heads are universal.”
“Yes, but this is Moai. Seeing this sort of OOPArt is hardly unique. Ancient people’s got about more than we’d like to believe. But the timing is all off. This was an ancient temple. Probably Olmec or the like based on your photographs. The Moai were created well after that. They’re practically modern compared to those ruins. Which means two things. Maybe someone refitted that chamber well after the fact and intentionally hid this figurine. That doesn’t make a lick of sense, but there are plenty of people insane enough to pull of such a stunt. Or, someone contemporary with Moai culture was able to travel back in time and placed this figurine in this temple.”
“How about that Ancient Alien show? Wouldn’t the guy with the awful hair claim there were aliens with big heads like that? That’s what one of my men suggested.”
Seryph smirked. “Time travel is real. Insane idiots are real. Aliens are Hollywood trickery and children’s fairy tales. If someone tells you he’s an alien, he’s either one of those insane idiots, or he has an agenda. No. It isn’t aliens. And the truth is, I don’t really give a damn. All that matters to me is that this little piece of stone is very important to associates of mine, and I want it. Now, what was it you wanted from me?”
Ryan’s a stoic sort of man, but even his visage showed signs of delight when Seryph finally got around to the business end of this interaction. “Cameras. If anything makes my job difficult it’s cameras. Governments are getting all security happy as of late, and it’s hard for someone in my business to pack in places where packing is highly discouraged. Bribes and influence only get you so far, and the more evidence that exists, the more mouths that need to be silenced. Instead of messing with all of that, a guy could really use a sidearm that sidesteps those prying eyes.”
Seryph reached under the bar and punched an unseen button. A panel rises out of the bar, and under it is a large, clear case. Inside said case is a revolver with a white hilt. “Chimera ivory. It’s not exceptionally rare, as far as mythical beast parts go, but it rarely remains intact after harvesting. Most of it gets used in alchemic potions, so most of it gets ground up and sold in those channels. Even if you try to special order it from one of the farms, they usually deny your request. Alchemy’s far too lucrative to cater to other markets. You either have to have some serious friends on the inside, or you have to go into the wilds and hope some para-eco-terrorist isn’t lurking behind the next bush. The hilt of this gun is made of the stuff. When this gun was first made, the maker intended for it to merely be decorative. The chimera in question was one of his first kills, and he wanted a way to remember it, hence the hilt. That was in the late 1800s. Flash forward a hundred years. One of the man’s descendants is a little drunk and boards a plane while wearing this gun on his person. He doesn’t realize this until after he’s cleared security. Once he sobered up he puts everything together and realizes that maybe there’s something about this gun that let it go undetected. Turns out the chimeric properties of the ivory make its appearance shift with the viewer’s expectations. The two of us look at this gun. We know it’s supposed to be a gun. We see a gun. The same goes for the guy who waltzed through security. It looked like a gun to him. But those security guards weren’t expecting to see a gun. It may be their job to look for guns, but most of them never see one pass through their line. They aren’t expecting some jerk who had five martinis before noon to be packing, so when they look through their cameras they don’t expect to see a gun. The security devices don’t have the capacity to make such judgements either, so it doesn’t register there being an object there. The gun passes through without anyone noticing unless someone’s expectations would lead them to such. That security guard watching that surveillance footage would have to be looking right at you and say to himself “I think this guy has a gun.” That’s the only way the ivory would allow him to see the gun.”
“Convoluted, but I supposed it works. So, do we need to do some paperwork? The Moai for the chimera?”
“Normally I’m willing to make such a one-sided deal when it comes to first transactions. I like building a loyal customer base who knows they can get a fair deal. You know full well that this Moai figurine is mostly a curiosity. I’m acquiring it so that another aquaintance can pick it up for a pittance. This revolver is major league goods, and when we spoke you said you had another object you were willing to part with.”
Ryan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small round object wrapped in cloth. “Didn’t think you’d remember, since you seemed far more interested in the figurine than this.” He unwrapped the object, revealing a small marbled sphere. Ryan spins it around in his hand, revealing that the marbling resembles a human-like iris. “Figured I’d pull this out after we made our first deal and see what you wanted for it.”
“How about this then. This will make up the difference. No need to break out anyone’s wallet and mess with bank accounts. A few signatures and we both have what we want.”
The deal felt a little suspicious to Ryan. He wouldn’t be surprised if this marble was worth far more than he expected. Seryph making such a deal and foregoing any monetary compensation, regardless of any desire to build good will between business partners, seems strange. Not deal-breaking, but strange. Just not strange enough.
Seryph pressed another button beneath the bar, and a holographic screen containing all of the relevant paperwork appeared before Ryan. With a few swipes and signatures, the deal was finalized and all items were passed to their new owner.
As Ryan admired his new acquisition, Seryph butted in. “By the way, you never touched your coffee.”
“You’re right.” Ryan took a sip. Then another. “A bit cold, but that’s a pretty damn good cup of coffee. Next time I won’t be so hesitant to refuse your offer for a drink”
Seryph smiled. “Thank you. The temperature is your fault, and I’m afraid what I have to say is also your fault.” Seryph held up the marble and looked at it in the light. “As a businessman, I have no obligation to tell you this, but as a I gentleman I feel bound by honor to let you know that you’re the loser in this deal. Had you done your research, you would know what you have here. It may look like a piece of exotic granite polished to a fine shine, but what you have here is a woman’s eye-- a woman of great importance to my associates and I. Not an artifical eye, mind you. This is the state in which her eye exists now, and it is something I’ve been seeking to procure for quite some time. I imagine you obtained this during a government-sponsored raid?”
Ryan paused before answering. He wanted to answer that question with a few well-placed punches to Seryph’s jaw, but he also wanted to know just how much he got played. Punching solves many questions in this line of work, but not this one. “Real dirty job in Nepal targeting a monastary run by Pozzo di Spine. Nasty necromatic experiments. One of the head scientists had this hidden on her person. Thought nothing of it at the time and didn’t bother to investigate its worth until being directed to you.”
“And I’ll admit, Ryan, that I played you a bit during that conversation. When you described this eye over the phone, I had to hold in my elation. I couldn’t let you think you had something so precious. I couldn’t let you have control of the transaction. It’s good business to hold back in such a way, but it’s bad form based on my personal expectations. I wanted your business, and I wanted your acquaintance, but I also wanted this. If you knew how important this was to me, you could ask for anything and I would have to oblige. But I needed to be in the driver’s seat for this transaction. Some things are too important and make a man set aside his principles. Any other day with any other baubble and you would have been the one making out like a bandit. But not today. Not when this is involved.”
Ryan slammed his hands down on the bar, but didn’t follow through with any other physical show of anger. “I should gun you down where we stand.”
“But you won’t, Ryan. You won’t. You can’t. You’d likely get away with it. The authorities won’t be too eager to rush down here to clean up a brawl between criminals. You’ll likely make it to whatever port of departure you choose and make it out of the country. Legally, you’d be in the clear. But despite all of that you know you can’t do that. You can’t let anyone know you put a bullet in someone’s head the instant they sleaze you out of a couple hundred grand. That’s chump change. You don’t kill unless contracts are up in the air. You put me in my place and the whole industry does the same for your career.” Seryph paused. “That, and you know you can’t take me.”
Ryan raised his fist, but instead of leveling it at Seryph, he turned and punched the stool next to his. The cushon ruptured, throwing stuffing into the air, and the legs of the stool snapped in two. Ryan turned away and proceeded to leave the Cafe.
“We’ll consider the fee for replacing that stool as a part of our transaction,” Seryph shouted as Ryan stormed out. “Thank you for your business.”
With that bit of business settled, Seryph approached the handful of other patrons in the bar personally and appologized for what just happened. Most were regulars and understood fully. This was tame compared to how some of the reactions they’ve seen over the years. One couple politely and indirectly requested their meal be compliments of the house, and Seryph obliged.
“Can you handle things while I take a bit of a break?” Seryph asked his small waitstaff. They nodded in agreement as Seryph walked into the kitched and proceeded to his office. Instead of settling in to do some bookkeeping, he instead punched a few keys into his computer without sitting down. A dull hum enveloped the room, and when it stopped the walls parted, revealing a large elevator car. Seryph entered the car and pressed the bottommost, unlabeled button.
The elevator descended several floors into the ground, traveling well below where the city’s sewers and subway lines run. When the elevator finally reached its destination, the doors opened into a long hall made of a clear material. The first few feet of the hallway were clear, and from each direction you could see a large cage. The rest of the hallway was engulphed by the maw of a giant worm-like being. As Seryph walked down the hallway, it extended from the beast’s mouth to its throat and into its digestive system. Flesh puslated. Fluids flowed. You could see numerous bodily functions operating from within the glass hallway. The passage came to an end in what appeared to be the creature’s stomach, as bile and acidic juices flowed around the walls.
Seryph approached the end of the hallway and pressed a few buttons on a control panel. That section of the passage lit up, and all of the putrid details of the beast’s belly were exposed. Included in that mess was a man’s body. He was sprawled out, with parts of his appendages sinking into the flesh of the worm’s stomach. Metal rods were nailed into each of the man’s joints, as well as his neck and chest. Parts of his flesh seemed to be digested, but he appeared to still be breathing.
This man was being digested alive, imprisoned within this Elder Being’s bowels.
Seryph reached into his pocket and pulled out the eye he had just obtained. He lifted it up, as if to allow the digesting man to clearly see it.
“Yet another piece of her puzzle that your followers will never have. Doesn’t it just infuriate you, Lovecraft?”