Mercy, and Other Costly Mistakes

7. Hunger

by gargulec

Tags: #cw:gore #D/s #dom:female #pov:bottom #pov:top #sub:female #bondage #fantasy #sadomasochism
See spoiler tags : #exhibitionism #humiliation

Nothing remained of the run-down warehouse where Shard made her last den. Where it once stood, now remained a bed of damp ash, burned so thoroughly that not even a charred skeleton remained. Thoroughly, and precisely too: the neighbouring buildings, just as ramshackle and crooked as her nest used to be, stood barely marked by fire. Shepherding and guiding the blaze so that one plot was reduced to foundations, without torching the rest of the street couldn't have been an easy task. Many must have worked on it, from the first spark to the last ember. Even then, it had to have been a calculated risk. Timber, thatch, and straw made the Low City, and those who made its home have all learned to respect fire, and to dread it. Shard remembered watching entire quadrants of this vast slum go up in smoke, the march of the red and gold sea against the filth, a beautiful sight to behold from the heights of the patricians' towers. It wasn't unheard for the fires to rage for days, before the kindness of rain finally put them down.

It said much, then, that it was with fire that the lowborn decided to purge what remained of her.

The street around her, and the houses behind her, seemed abandoned at a glance. But they weren't. The idle, familiar fear surrounded her on all sides, ebbing and flowing like waves of a warm sea. None dared to approach, none dared to make themselves seen. They cowered instead, sought shelter or escape routes, and with each moment she remained transfixed by the ruin they made of her home, their dread only grew. With each swell, it lapped at the edges of her awareness, leisurely sanding away at the edges of what she came here to face.

The small, sweet taste helped, however little, to cushion the blow of coming face to face with another home of hers reduced to nothing. Memories of fire filled her thoughts, of black smoke seeping from the windows of her suite in the High City, the opulence and luxury she had so enjoyed being swallowed by the hungry, empty sky. Against herself, she wondered who received that ruin after she had to flee the patrician towers. For all of their wastefulness, none of the High Families would allow a full two floors of one of their towers to lay ruined. Someone successful and wealthy received it in reward, she was sure, and now lived there like a prince, unaware of why the previous owner had to put a torch to her own home.

Her feet were sinking into the mud; the cool drizzle mottled her shell with streaks of water; her wound ached with its dry pain. A part of her wanted to try to pick through the rubble before her and see if there was anything left. But it was a stupid hope, she could tell at a glance, and there was barely anything there to lose in the first place. If they found her clothes, or her face-paints, they stole them or fed them to the blaze. And that was all that she had carried with her into exile in the Lower City. That, and a handful of glass money, long spent on the failed trap for Villis.

It was one thing facing herself in the mirror and realizing just how low she had fallen. Staring into the nothingness that remained of her work was another.

Even the lowborn could allow themselves to strike at her, to steal from her, to destroy what was hers. She, who once made the High Table hush when she spoke at it, her words carrying the weight of the Lair-Mother's own authority. A bitter, nauseating thought rose in her: what if that pathetic alchemist begging her for hurting would end up the last time anyone ever begged her, looked up to her, respected her?

Maybe she shouldn't have left her.

But what was she supposed to do? Entertain that girl's bizarre desires, just to feed on crumbs and scraps of mortal fear and pain? No, that would be the worst fall of all, worse even than the bed of ash and the crack in her shell. What she hungered for she could just take; she was a child of the Lair-Mother and the world was hers to feed from. She wasn't lost, or defeated, just hungry.

She just needed to gorge herself.

With a slow, deliberate motion, she turned from the ashes to face the shut doors and boarded-up windows behind which the lowborn cowered. She imagined them holding their breaths, huddled together, struggling desperately not to make a sound. Their homes were wretched even by the standards of the Lower City, half-sunken into the mud, thatched roofs cheaply patched, moss eating into the wooden walls where dry rot wouldn't. If the Great Below swallowed the street whole, no one would care and no one would mind; that was the very reason why Shard had first picked it as her hideout.

"Did you think me dead?" she asked, her voice cracked and cracking.

The response was immediate: a burst of dozen fears, maybe more. The sheer sweetness of the taste took Shard by surprise; her tongue dropped out of her mouth, its long point lapping at the air. Yes, that was precisely what she needed; she sampled it for a moment, whetting her appetite.

"How brave must the vermin feel," she continued after a moment, rolling each word with a smile, and receiving a sweet reward each time, "when it thinks the predator a carcass. And how dearly must it pay when it is mistaken."

The sweet taste sharpened, deepened. It wasn't fear anymore, but panic, the terror of the condemned. Each breath filled Shard with a diffuse, golden glow. And that was just the opener; the real joy still awaited her. The absurdity of thinking she would ever settle for less struck her, and she laughed in a shrill voice, mocking the doubts that mere moments ago clouded her soul.

The lowborn took it for their cue, and she kept laughing at the music of their panic. Here, the flurry of terrified whispers, there, weeping. Someone was begging behind the door straight in front of her, asking someone else to leave, to run. They had to know what was coming, and each moment in wait had to weigh so heavily on them. Shard let the moment last, even if that meant letting some escape. It didn't matter one bit. She would still have plenty left to feast on.

"For what you have taken from me," she boomed, "I should take everything from you. I should tear each and every one of you from your hovels, drag you into the mud that spawned you, and slaughter you so that your screams would shake the High City itself. In your blood, I should write a warning for all not to wrong my kind. But I am not without mercy."

Her hunger was now as sharp as her claws; a golden haze rose before her eyes, gilding the wretched street with the promise of what was to follow.

"Give me one of yours," she demanded, "and I will spare the rest. You have until the count of five. One."

This was what she was created for. This was her purpose. This was the promise of pure joy.


Their voices, kept low, were so ragged. They couldn't communicate. They didn't have the time to. It was all their fear, and all their desperate hope that someone else will pay for their shared transgression. How could she have ever thought anything else would sate her?


A door opened. A woman, wrapped in a tattered, cowled cape stumbled forward. A voice rolled behind her, pleading, desperate; she waved it off and started to walk towards Shard, barely holding herself upright even as tears rolled down her face, too ruined by the lowborn life to read an age from it.

Shard's first instinct was to lunge, sink her hands into that woman's chest to the elbows, split her apart and drench herself in steaming blood. But she wasn't an animal, and her tastes were more refined than that. She stopped counting and waited patiently for the sacrifice to approach,

Her claws extended without her even thinking much of them, gently slicing through air. The fear around her twinned; one was now a dull wave, lapping on the shores of her mind from all directions, mixed in equal measures with the sticky, thick shame. And, there was that woman in front; Shard only regretted she had never worked on her palate for fear, so that she could unbraid all the different flavours of terror springing forth from her.

"Closer," Shard commanded. Her voice was once again what it was supposed to be: cool, composed, powerful. She was back. She didn't have to doubt. All that fear and all that despair that settled in her bones, all that certainty of loss, all of it dissolved into thin air.

The woman made a few more steps, then stumbled again, falling on her knees in front of the Lair-Mother's daughter. She had been pretty once, Shard had no doubts, before time and hardship ate it all away. Only her eyes remained startling, deep, sky-blue. Shard promised herself to start with them.

This was what real pleasure looked like; this was the taste of real power. Shard smiled with vicious hate, thinking back to the alchemist kneeling before her. Did she really think that this pale imitation could ever sustain her? No, it was just a lie she made up when she was desperate and weak, but she didn't have to be either. She would rip out of this old wretch what she should have taken from Ifi. And then, she would never have to think of leaving her again.

"Give me your name," she ordered, placing a hand in her hair, claws sinking into the grey locks, into the skin below; she could feel the warm tingle of someone else's hurt build up in them already.

Blood joined the tears on the woman's face in thin, red streaks.

"Amaifena," the woman whimpered, and Shard almost sunk her hand into her brain here and there, as joy shuddered through her bones.

"Beg for your life," she said instead, taking a deep breath to steady herself, "Amaifena."

For a moment, the woman hesitated; she looked at Shard as if to ask if this was genuine. But she had to realize it wasn't.

"Just…," her voice was like a vibrating string; Shard could taste the effort that went into taking each word out of her throat. "Just don't…"

Shard's grip tightened, skin parting under her claws like paper. She could feel the skull now, the hard shell under her trembling hand. Maybe she wouldn't draw it out.

"Beg!" she demanded again.

But Amaifena couldn't. Fear, and pain, choked her. Whatever came out of her mouth was not words, but some incoherent gargle, barely human. The fear of others swirled in and out of her view; the woman's terror seized, so close to sublime. Pain laced it all together, a fine thread holding together a tapestry. This was stronger than yesterday, deeper, better! This was real, and overwhelming. That was what Shard was made for.

She released her hold, and swung. The back of her hand connected with the side of the woman's head; something crunched under the strike, and broke, and sent a fiery jolt all the way up Shard's shoulder. She moaned with pleasure, and Amaifena crumpled to the mud, her head bleeding profusely. However painful the wounds were, they wouldn't kill her. Maybe she was going to draw it out.

"I ordered you to beg" she snarled, spitting at the filthy heap at her feet, "Why do you provoke me? Do you want me to make it last?"

The question was a petty cruelty, of the sort that she would throw down without thinking. Amaifena didn't respond; with a broken jaw, she probably physically couldn't. Incoherent, pleading noises seeped from her, a broken vessel leaking life. Shard exhaled again, letting the pleasure spread evenly through the whole of her. She missed that so much. She missed that sheer satisfaction of knowing that someone else is hers to hurt.

And in a moment, she would bring that woman up for all of her vermin friends to see, and then maybe drive her claws like spikes through those beautiful blue eyes, and scream in joy as she felt the joy of a life ending thunder through her entire body.

And then what?

The thought sliced through the knot of her pleasure like a cold knife. Shard stopped, her smile shortening; fading. Blood dripped from her hand, a steady, measured sound. Of course the pleasure overwhelmed; of course the fear and pain tasted gold and buzzed through her like the finest wine. That was what she was made for. Of course it hit stronger than holding that pathetic alchemist's face in between her claws.

Why didn't she just gut Amaifena with the first swipe, why didn't she just go for the sharpest, swiftest release? What was she even doing here? She, Shard of White Obsidian, the once-favoured daughter of the Lair-Mother, whom her countless victims had called a defiler, a despoiler, a demon, who had once made the High Table hush? She was tearing apart some wretched woman whose death would go unremarked, and feeling as if it made her powerful again?

And then what?

Was she really going to make this her future? Live the rest of her days on the prowl through human waste, sinking her claws into the city's rejects, a bottom-feeder, not an apex predator, living from one thrill to another in the filth and rot of her fall? Waiting for that day when Villis would find her again, and put her out of her misery, because there was no way out, and no way up, not even swimming up a river of blood?

Then, the image of Ifi clambering up from the floor, face painted half in shame and half in desire, flashed between Shard's eyes. She remembered the touch of the needy hands on her shell, and she remembered thinking it meant nothing.

She howled like a wounded animal, her voice exploding over the street like a glass bell, shattering. The fear that surrounded her swelled and swallowed her, and she just could not bear its weight anymore.

"Enough!" she shouted, fragile and weak.

She had to leave. She had to throw this suffocating wave off her, she had to free herself. From the mud, the wounded woman looked at her, waiting, groaning in pain. The entire street bated its breath, praying to be left alone.

"Enough," Shard repeated, taking a stumbling step back. "That's enough. You're not worth killing. You're not…"

Her own voice scared her; it sounded as if belonging to some wounded animal, something ruled by panic and instinct. Who was she trying to convince? She didn't want to hear it. She didn't want to face this street. She didn't want this blood, or this fear, or this pleasure, or herself.

She had to run.

So she ran. Less for distance, or for escape, and more to tire herself, to replace the lingering aftertaste of Amafina's pain with burning, numbing exhaustion. She didn't know what else was there to do. She didn't know anything. A cacophony of thoughts filled her head, conflicting and vicious, and if she could rip herself open to let them out, she would.


And for a time, she managed to lose herself in this noise and worry, and smother her consciousness with their garbled noise. There was some peace in this, even if it couldn't last.

She didn't recognize the part of the city she found herself in, and couldn't recall the path she took. The houses here looked sturdier, roofed with shingles and tiles, not thatch, wooden walls painted in dull greens and reds. They built them taller here, two or even three floors; she had to be far away from the shore of the Middle City for the lowborn to be so brazen about ignoring the height laws. And true enough, when she looked over the slanted roofs, she could barely pick out the shapes of the High City towering in the distance. Her legs carried her far.

The streets, too, were cleaner around, dirt well beaten, walkways laid over where they turned into pools of mud. Only the onlookers stared at her with the same, familiar fear. She was a demon in their eyes, a demon in frenzy. The street emptied around her, people rushing back inside to the sound of doors being boarded. Probably had much to do with the blood still on her hand. And with what she was, too. But she couldn't change that.

Even if she couldn't stay, either. The run didn't help; it just moved her somewhere else. She couldn't escape from herself, either.

Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't. The repetition was a hammer banging against the inside of her head, beating all other thoughts into a mounting, desperate sense of powerlessness. She couldn't.


The young man standing in front of her didn't look like he belonged. Though he wore a lowborn's cowl, Shard could notice a tailored waistcoat peeking from beneath, glinting silver. She knew him; she didn't expect to find him here.

"You look terrible!" Andronikos Zaam, the wastrel grandson of Master Glassmaker exclaimed, before laughing loudly. "What happened to you, my favourite little demon?"

When was the last time she had seen him? Half a year ago, maybe? Yes, when his father forbade him from attending the Table, and kicked him out into the Middle City. He hasn't changed much then; still wore the same pointed, blonde beard and the same rakish smile. His favourite cane was in his hand too, solid oak topped by a silver wolf's head, a striking charm clasped in its wide-open jaw.

"Seriously!" he continued, patting her. "Shard! Shard, what the fuck are you doing in this dump?"

"Andronikos?" she managed to mutter in response, trying to somehow dig through the haze clouding her mind.

"Actually," he looked around, "you know what? Let's not talk here in the open where all those lowborns can see us. Come, come! Shit, I missed having you around…"

She followed him sheepishly as he climbed to one of the nearby buildings, the word "Passiflora" painted over the sturdy door, and knocked on it with the head of the cane.

"You know, after they kicked me out, I thought I'd never see you again," he said, beaming. "Such luck."

The door opened, letting out a puff of warmth and perfume, and revealing a muscle-bound woman with a nasty-looking club in her hands, and a short, bald man in a colourful vest with a pointed goatee.

"Mister Zaam, what a pleasure!" the man exclaimed with a false courtesy. "And with…" his eyes trailed to Shard; the forced smile faded from his face, ""

"What are you gawking at, you old pimp?" Andronikos chuckled, squeezing past the man, dragging Shard with him. "This little monster here is my gramps right hand!"

He didn't know, Shard realized following him into the steaming-hot inside. They had completely cut him off from the family business.

"No, no…" the man muttered, pointing at the bouncer to close the door. "It's just that…"

They entered a brightly-lit lobby, thick with the scent of booze and perfume. A handful of young women lounged about on cushioned sofas by low coffee-tables, their satins and velvets shimmering in the light; two of them attended to an absent-looking older man in a city watch's uniform. Above him, more unclothed women adorned the walls, white paint on dark wood. They preened and smiled, spreading their legs and offering their buttocks, their proportions comically exaggerated.

A bar ran the length of the room, two more men sitting by and sipping their drinks, one engaged deeply in a chat with the older woman, a harsh-faced woman behind it. It was a clean place, cleaner than what Shard would expect from lowborns.

"You see, sir…"

The sounds of conversation died down. A single glass clattered to the floor, spilling vodka over a lush, red carpet. The woman behind the bar dove down, looking for something below. The uniformed man pushed one of his shoulder-ladies away, head turning towards a rack where his heavy coat hung, studded with battle-charms. Andronikos sighed, exasperated.

"What is this nonsense?" he groaned. "I am here with my friend, a valued servant of the Glassmaker Guild, and…"

"Why isn't it leashed?" the watch officer grunted, standing up. He was shaking, very slightly.

"Why aren't you, you old goat?" Andronikos spat back.

"There is blood on its hands! Do you know what those things are capable of?"

"Which means she isn't hungry anymore," the youth replied, patting Shard on the shoulder. "Are you, my sweet little demon?"

"No," Shard muttered; again, fear surrounded her. Weaker, but it made its way into the cracks of her and she just wanted to be rid of it. The world swirled around her, blurring into long strands and ribbons of color. "I'm not…"

"See?" Andronikos cut in. "Nothing to worry about. Go back to your ladies, or whatever. Pimp, we need a room. And a drink. And…" he looked at Shard again, "do you need anything?"

"Water?" she muttered. "Clothes?"

"You've heard of her. And after that, send me Clara in," he paused, frowned, "an hour? Yeah, send Clara in an hour."


With an exaggerated gentleness, Andronikos raised his cane, touching the tip of it to the older man's bare head. The charm atop emitted a quiet whine; the woman behind tensed, hand tightening around her own club.

"No buts," he smiled very softly, "please. Only service."


Blood came easily off her shell; she wiped her hand with a damp cloth for the last time, leaving behind pristine, sharp white. Only the water in the bowl kept a ruddy, dirty color. A bit calmer, she reached down and began to clean her legs.

"Can you believe those people?" Andronikos said from the bed, sprawled on the rich covers; only his hand raised above, drawing patterns in the air with a half-emptied glass of wine. "Don't they know who I am? Who my family is? They should be on their knees, not giving me shit."

Shard kept quiet. She felt tired, and would love nothing more but to lay down and rest, and let this wretched day end. She's been feeling that way a lot, lately. But this day, in particular.

"So," the boy murmured after a moment, "how is Dad doing? Still mad at me?"

Again, she didn't respond; this, apparently, suited Andronikos just fine.

"You know, this entire thing was so unfair! Grandfather sends you to kill how many people, and everyone at the Table claps, and I, I beat one parasite up a bit, and it is suddenly wrong?"

The pauper woman, Shard recalled, one of those licensed by the Beggar King to go asking around the High City. Her death caused a riot that Shard would have to suppress, and made it all so much easier for Villis and his supporters to denounce Master Glassmaker, when the High Table decided against letting Andronikos hang. Shard wondered if the boy knew how close he had been to death there.

"I envy your types, sometimes, you know that, Shard?" he asked.

She finished with her left foot and went to scrub the other. It felt good to be clean again, all things considered.

"You just don't have to deal with all the bullshit we get. You get to live free, like, really free," he sipped from glass, "and not in those stupid prisons we built for ourselves, you know? Actually, wait, I have a thought!"

Shard waited; it wasn't like she had any other idea on what else to do. She felt empty inside, as if there was something missing.

"I think it's ironic, actually, that we insist on putting leashes on you, you know?"

That particular observation has actually occurred to Shard.

"I think it's, like, pretending. We act like you're bound to us, but in fact it is us who just keep making all those stupid rules for ourselves. We end up just way more chained in the end."

For Shard, it was more that the High Families loved to show how much they controlled her kind, because deep inside, they knew they didn't. She wrung the clot into the basin, and hung it on the side.

"You're being awfully quiet, Shard. Did something happen? I mean, if it is some Grandfather's business, you probably can't tell me anyway. This is stupid, too. Cutting me off like that, like they don't know that I'm going to inherit it all eventually, anyway."

What Shard knew, and Andronikos didn't, was that the papers disinheriting him from the High Table had already been drafted; it was one of the ways Master Glassmaker was caving in to the pressure. One of Villis' many wins.

"Bullshit, all bullshit," he decided. "Actually, you cleaned up? Put on that dress," he pointed at a narrow, black gown that one of the prostitutes brought in along with the wine. "This rag on you looks positively filthy."

He wasn't wrong about that. The makeshift shawl she took from the alchemist's wardrobe barely held together after a day in the Lower City. But the wound was still there, behind it, and the thought of him seeing it made her shiver.

"Look away," she asked, grabbing the dress.

"Away from what?" he laughed, making a point to gawk. "Shard, sweet, who taught you modesty? And for what? It's not like you have anything there to ogle!"

She put the dress back down again. The boy laughed once more, clearly annoyed this time.

"Fine, fine," he grunted, letting his head hang back onto a pillow. "Whatever you want."

It felt good on her shell, even if the fit was hardly perfect, meant for someone shorter and slimmer, and with a chest to display, even as it hobbled the legs together, as was the recent fashion. She turned herself around in a mirror; she probably should ask for something to pain her face too. Maybe that would help.

She thought of what it did to her the last time she tried, and decided against it.

"You look like a mannequin," Andronikos observed. "And what's with that hole in you?"

Very briefly, she considered putting his eyes out of his skull. It was not like anyone would mourn. And maybe on any other day, she would have gone through with that; today, the thought felt unpleasant. She remembered Amaifena, and shuddered again.

"I asked you not to look," she said instead in a dull, tired voice.

"Yeah," he nodded. "You did. Actually, it's interesting, but I've had another thought. Since you're being all quiet and that. Maybe when Clara comes, then you could stay and..."

Someone knocked on the door, sharply. Andronikos rolled his eyes, and with a pained sigh dragged himself up from the bed.

"I've said 'in an hour!'" he shouted, shuffling to open. "Seriously, I couldn't have been clearer about that? Shard you have no idea just how stupid those people can..."

A porcelain hand, closing around his throat and lifting him off the floor, turned the rest of the complaint into a gurgling noise.

"Who is this?" Shard's sibling asked, shaking the boy like a rag doll. It wasn't even looking at him; the black wedge painted across its head was turned directly towards its sister.

She knew it. She knew that wedge, and the black ribbons artfully tied across the polished shell, criss-crossing it in dazzling patterns. Something very cold started to open in her at this recognition.

"No one important," she replied, slowly, truthfully.

Very briefly, her sibling Eight Quick Cuts, who never cared much for politics, or for family, turned to face the man it was choking, wondering what to do with him.

"I see," it said and then tossed him out, the body landing on the carpeted corridor with a dull thud. "Well then, mortal. Out."

Andronikos wheezed, desperately trying to draw in a deeper breath; he stared at Shard for a moment, expecting her to jump to his defense, like she used to when she was his minder. But those days were long over, and it wasn't he who was in danger here.

"Run," Cuts repeated, its voice sharp and disinterested.

He scrambled up, and broke into a sprint. Cuts stepped inside and closed the door behind it, taking a good look around. Its claws were pointedly extended, longer than Shard's, crooked and polished.

"So this is where I finally find you, sister," the word came out of its mouth like an insult. It made another step closer; Shard took another back. "I've heard you have fallen, but to see it with my own eyes?"

"What do you want?" Shard asked, just for certainity's sake.

"Me?" Cuts shook its head. "Nothing, really. But oh sister, those who pay me, they have such unfinished business with you."

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