Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Run to Traitor's Gate

The Cut was stalking Yavi from stall to stall through the Rain Market, so close it might as well have been stitched to his shadow. The Cut was more than just irritating. It would be his death if he wasn't careful.

Once, the Cut had been Simon from Beggar's Gate, Simon who shacked so close to Yavi's family that they could have wiped each others' asses without raising their arms. But that was then. Now,  Simon was a nameless soulless gods-be-damned Cut, with nary a flicker of recognition in his eyes for Yavi the dirtlow he'd once been brothers with.

Yavi slid down an alley where the shadows were darker. The Cut followed. He turned into the crowd around Cripple's Gate before doubling back along his path. The Cut stayed with. Damn it to the thirteenth hell.

Nacker had told him to meet up at Traitor's Gate at the gloaming. Show up late and you were on the other side, and once Nacker and his crew had their hands on the pishlak, well, you wouldn't want that. But Yavi couldn't show up with a Cut on his tail. Not if he didn't want a good sharp stoning for his troubles.

In the center of the Rain Market, in the press of the dirtlow, Yavi wheeled on the Cut, looked up. Way up. "Oy. Cutty."

The Cut--not Simon, never again Simon--looked down at him, its moon-face almost aglow against the sooty overhang of the upper tiers. Impassive beneath the mask of stitches that held it together.

"I ain't eaten in three days. I'm hungry enough to fry my own asshole in butter. If I could afford butter. Or a knife. Which I can't. So step off, eh?"

He was only half lying. The knife tucked into the small of his back was as sharp as a dragon's tooth. But his insides had been so long empty that the gutaches and headaches and dizzy were old friends.

Yavi stood still, willed the Cut to believe he was after anything but the pishlak. Which of course he was, just like a dozen other dirtlow that he knew of and probably more that he didn't. This month's rain had been a good one, had washed half a mountain of the stuff down from the upper tiers for the refiners to work. The merch were dumb with the sheer quantity of it. All his years, he had never seen such riches, all laid out for the buying, if you had the slice. Or for the stealing, if you had the stones for a good quick nick.

Which he did, and then some. Which was why Nacker had dragged him into this.

The Cut was still watching. Finally, it grunted. Took a half-step back. Smiled its broke-tooth smile, licked its lips with its red seamy tongue.

"Come right," Yavi wheedled. "You got to watch, I know that. But give a brother a chance, eh?"

"Hurr," said the Cut, still smiling. It wasn't a laugh, just all the word it could muster, stitched as its tongue was.  "Hurr." It spread its arms. For a moment Yavi thought he saw recognition, but that was ridiculous. Once you were cut you were gone.

"That's right, brother. A little further."

When he had a few strides on the thing, Yavi did what he had to do. Grabbed a keg of pishlak--even full, the powder didn't weigh no more than a kiss--and bolted. Just like the Cut had known he would when it had started shadowing him. But it was steal or die, and Yavi had always been partial to living.

Yavi was fast. The Cut was faster. Dirtlow and merch and everything between scattered as they ran. Most shouted them on. Revolutionaries, maybe. Or just enjoying the show. He shoved a bare-bellied mother down, climbed up a wagon, tried to bury himself in the hay.

Stupid. The Cut hauled him out.

"Hey," Yavi said, dropping the keg into the mud. "Simon. It's me. Come on, brother. You don't have to--"

His hand slipped to the knife at the small of his back.

The seams along the Cut's belly--not Simon's belly, never Simon's belly again--opened like a snake's mouth, and then the things that should never see the light of day were spilling forth in a red-black rush. The Cut went to its knees, hands scrabbling to pull itself together.

Something moved in its eyes. Some memory of Beggar's Gate, maybe. Some betrayal. Or maybe just the life, leaving.

"Stupid fuck," Yavi said, kicking the corpse. It felt good. LIke a revolution. And dusk was coming.

The keg was slippery with mud and blood but at last Yavi got it up under his arm and ran for the Traitor's Gate. Nacker would be waiting with his crew. They would stand up to the Cut and to anyone else who raised up against him. Nacker'd promised. Only bring them the pishlak, and they'd fight to the last man for Yavi, for all their dirtlow brothers who'd had the stones to steal out from under the noses of the Cut.

When Yavi got there, when he saw the rest of the dirtlow streaming toward the gate, casks in hand and hope in their eyes, when he saw the knives, at first he thought it was a mistake.  Told them it was a mistake, he'd come alone and he'd brought--

Knives have no mercy, and maybe the brothers in Nacker's crew had been dirtlow once but the shadows and the hunger had ground them down to nothing more than sharp edges.

"I brought it," Yavi called out as they cut him. "It's right here, just take--"

When the slashing was over and the screaming had done, when the casks had been carried away and Nacker's crew slipped back to the shadows, the Cut emerged. With their needles, with their coarse black thread, with their priest to bring back the dead.


This one's for a reddit /r/fantasywriters challenge. A bit early, but the story grabbed me once I figured out the Cut bit, and what are you going to do when that happens?

Like so many of my pieces, this one features another bad title. I'm terrible at titles. So I'll take any suggestions. Or any other thoughts y'might have.

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