Episode 002: The Mind of an Artist, Part 2

Part Two – New Places

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While the pathway up to Basheer’s residence was the exact same route we took to the bakery earlier, the shadow-like aura pulsed and hung. Normally, I would attribute this to an association with the happenings over the last couple of days, but the shadows reached – its smoky tendrils teetering just on the edge of our minds. Jalil, at this point, had excused himself from this journey, having been informed about an incident at his flower plantation out of town.

Regardless, we went ahead, our newest member led the way with Avi – nothing unusual about this arrangement so far – until we reached the top of the hump, just a few blocks down from where Sakinah’s bakery continued to sit empty, dark, but with some semblance of peace. We pressed on.

      The manor of Basheer al-Bharati stood as a gated, double-storeyed building, the outer walls now unable to reflect the sunlight with its matte exterior – hints of its former glory hidden beneath the accumulation of dust and age. The gate stood unlocked, and everyone traced the outline of the structure with their eyes.

      “Are you all looking for the painter?”

      The voice came from our right, a simply-dressed shopkeeper in the middle of placing a couple of cups of tea on the occupied table on his left. The rest of the tea house we peered in was empty, leaving its only patrons the couple of men the proprietor was serving, and another man somewhat leaning against the entrance of the tea house.

      “Yes, my good sir,” Avi started, walking ahead of the rest of us, “Would you happen to know if Basheer al-Bharati has been around lately?”

      The shopkeeper looked over his shoulder, then beckoned us to occupy the closest empty table. Being the last one to take a seat, the shopkeeper looked over his shoulder for what seemed to be the final time before he lowered his voice.

      “Do you have business with the painter?”

      Avi looked at the rest of us, then nodded.

      “Then I suggest you find someone else,” he said, “The painter has not been… well lately. We haven’t seen him and the house has this… bad feeling coming out of it.”

      “Bad feeling?”

      “A sinking feeling when people walk past the house,” the shopkeeper’s voice now returning to its original volume, “It’s killing my business.”

      “The painter’s dead, I tell ya!”

      The slurred voice came from the corner. As some of us turned from our table, we see another man – hair greasy and dusty, clothes thin and stained, face tight from constant squinting against the desert sun. Breathing as if he had been walking the whole way, he slinked to the ground, supporting himself against the wall of the teahouse’s entrance.

      “HEY! Get lost, heretic!”

      The shopkeeper now on his feet.

      “Wait!” Avi called.

      Most of us now standing together with the shopkeeper. The teahouse’s newest, unkempt guest shifted against the entrance, finding the most comfortable seating on the ground. His eyes almost closed, he smiled at us before he asked, “Y’all talking about the painter next door?”

      “Have you seen him?” Avi started, pushing past the shopkeeper with the rest of us.

      He started with a chuckle, then tilted his head towards the house.

      “It was only a few days ago,” he said, “That house has been noisy with arguments or screams for the longest time, especially when that richer-looking man came to the house. But it all stopped when the other woman came to the house.”

      “There are other people in the house?” Avi asked.

      The man shrugged.

      “I won’t know. I didn’t see them leave,” he said before sputtering.  

      Quickly, Birdsong got him a cup of tea. As we got closer to this man, I noticed the welts and dried flecks on his skin and yellowing of his eyes. If anything, this was a man in need of more water.

      Watching as he downed the tea hungrily, Avi and Birdsong kept their eyes on him, while Sunset stared intensely at the house next door. Clover, on the other hand, fell back that much slightly, wistfully sneaking a glance at the house on occasion. And with his cup now empty, our informant continued leaning against the wall, releasing a sigh of overdue relief.

      Sufficiently quenched, the unkempt man exhaled loudly, while we brought him to a table. The shopkeeper shook his head and marched out in response.

      “What else do you know about the painter next door?”

      Our new supposed informant took another drink. Gulp, swallow, exhale.

      “They call me a heretic because of my work,” he said, “Basheer al-Bharati was a painter I followed, but the symbols I created and sold, my calligraphy, left the people of Neth offended. And me becoming the man you see now. Basheer, Basheer, he had his dark days, but not as bad as this old man here,” he took another gulp, pointing to himself.

      “That’s thanks to his gallerist,” the calligrapher continued, “Daveed knows people.”

      Avi shifted and shuffled.

      “And then there’s that new market…”

      The Market. Again.

      “Someone from the Market? Or did Basheer go there and return?”

      “An old couple from the Market,” the calligrapher answered, “They came earlier this week when the artist and his gallerist have been arguing for a few days – then the arguments turned to screams.” His face sunk there and then.

      Our expressions mirrored his in varying degrees.

      “But?” one of us asked.

      “The screams came from what seemed to be a group of women…” he answered.

      “After the old couple, have there been any other guests?” Avi asked.

      “The old man had a white cap, and the old woman was gray-haired,” he explained, “The old man, he called his companion something…”

      We leaned in.

      “Grandmother,” he nodded, “That’s what he called her.”

      By this time, the colour of the sky started to darken and the breeze came in, sending in a faint whiff of burnt chemicals from the house.   

      “Thank you,” Avi said as she stood straight, giving a nod of acknowledgement to the shopkeeper, “I believe your information has been useful.”

      As the rest of the group left the teahouse, the shopkeeper shook his head and retreated to a small room at the back corner of the shop. As he did so, I fumbled through my vials and extracted an ampoule, corked with a clear liquid in it. Glancing to check for the rest of my comrades, I turned back to our informant.

      “Thank you,” I said, “And here you go. The nights are cold but the days are scorching. I hope this will help before you find water.”

      His eyes opened the widest as he reached for the vial. While I nodded and dropped the vial into his hands, the darkness from the house beckoned.

      “Wait,” he called. When I turned, he reached out, his hand holding another couple of vials. As I moved ahead to receive them, he explained one more time, “I don’t know what’s in there, but people of told me that Holy Water might help…”  

I nodded, but my back was turned before he could say anything else.   

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Author’s Note: The significance of the creatures and scenarios in the nightmare dungeons are explained more in-depth in The Nightmares Underneath by Johnstone Metzger. You can create your own scenarios and stories in this world by getting the hardcover here, or trying out the game first with the free version here.