There is nothing like hunger to make cast off refuse taste like a feast. If you are fortunate enough to be able to sup from the source instead of suck from the scraps you know the wonders this port city offers. And yet, the kitchens of the grandest estates cannot produce anything to rival the aroma of a ShaVandyr cookfire wafting out over in the Vastland camps. Ah, but the Vastlands are a memory clung to long past usefulness to someone raised by these streets and the constant twist of hunger from within. A bit of charred oshta fin stolen from a passing dog; that was delicacy enough that I could forget ever being a carefree nomad eating roast lamb and singing to the stars. At least until I was hungry again.
Now, of course, it is different. I do not live in the Council District or one of the estates at the foothills but if I wished it, my table would rival that of any lord’s. It has been long years since a hollow belly would keep me awake. There is still hunger, but of a different kind.
There is the hunger that visits on the wake of her scent as she passes through your tavern. From incense and smoke you pull a trace of that fragrance that you taught her how to mix: subtle enough to only compliment her own signature. That smell leads to the memory of her taste on your tongue. The resultant hunger causes parts of your body to flush. A hunger that must be reminded that she is now off limits to you. By some ridiculous self-imposed code you close yourself off and starve two people for the price of one because some things are more important.
There is the simple hunger of necessity or greed, depending on which hand you hold. The hunger that allows you to take a magistrate’s bed as you buy his jurisprudence. Using your bedroom to entertain and confer with those who have influence. Whispers of conversations overheard (or not), cultivating rivalries and unlikely alliances, pushing for chaos that you and yours have learned to mold like clay.
There is the hunger of seeing the murderer of children in the market laughing, drinking with associates, oblivious to your eyes on him. How the skin on your arms, neck and back goes cold and then hot, your fingers itch for the turral-dipped darts in your sleeve. Or, more urgently, how the curved kukri at your thigh and the whip on your belt both lust for his throat. A hunger that knows that if you moved now, -in stark daylight -in full view of the market throng, no one would dare stop you or admit to ever having seen you gut the man in the street.
And that hunger you feel is nothing to the grief and desperation in the eyes of the mother who begged for you to deliver retribution for her dead children. You accepted, as it is known that you would, and yet the man lives. The mother finds ways to cross your path. She says nothing but you know that look of hatred on those betrayed.
You had told her to be patient knowing her pain would not allow it. While there is an aching need to explain to her, comfort her, assure her that you are still on task you cannot tell her the truth: that the man must live until he brokers the deal with the captain of the Orimun Fah. Once that transaction is secured and it’s goods in the right hands you will make it up to her by arranging a death so blatant and gruesome there will be no question as to why or who delivered it. This is not at all to your taste but necessary in this instance. Your life has become broad gestures in granting lives and taking them. Enterprising and vulgar, your name is currency in the Shadows.
Even so, with your questionable fame, there is an ache to be done with this life. You hunger for freedom. To be free of the burden you, and those left cast off in the shadows, have put on you.
You feel stretched thin, nearly to bursting, filled with the terrible queen that you’ve become. If you do not drug yourself with wine and hashish and sex and Fire-eye you will start to vomit up the life these Shadows poured into you. And it will not stop because there is nothing but Shadows now. Inside you, outside. You are the Shadows now. Let them take you.
And I would if I didn’t know there are members of my clan still here; lost in a city bent on devouring them