Before parting ways, Evera warned Honor that if she entered Sinistral City at that hour she was sure to be picked up by the Sinistral City Authorities. The ten o’clock curfew had long since passed. Evera led Honor to a long deserted Midling looking post carved out of the trunk of a wide ancient oak. The hinged door was covered in old bark and covered over again with vines. The lock only engaged from the inside. A twin size mattress covered the entire floor made of soil and the ragged remains of the carved out roots. There were a couple of threadbare blankets wrapped in an old plastic bag and they seemed clean. There was also an oil lamp fashioned from an old coffee can and salvaged glass that hung from a metal stake hammered into the wall. A peephole had been carved out in the trunk, which provided a view of the road.
Honor lit the lamp and reduced the light until it was only strong enough to cast shadows against the bare oak walls. She pulled the blankets close around her body and huddled with her back against the door so that she would alerted if there were an intruder. It was at this time that Honor realized how unprepared she was for this journey of hers. She had brought no provisions for herself other than the five hundred pieces she had managed to collect and squirrel away for the past two years. Besides the clothes on her back and the money, which she knew would not last very long, she had nothing. And, she had no one. Weariness tugged at Honor’s heart and eyes. She had little time to brood about the mistakes she may have made because she was quickly asleep.
Honor woke after nine the following morning. She had slept almost ten hours. She rinsed her mouth and washed her face with some of the water in the canteen that Alif had given her and she drank the rest. The water quenched her thirst but it inflamed her hunger. She set off on the road into Sinistral with her head down against the sun and wind.
Once within the city limits Honor became acutely aware of the fact that she didn’t know any part of this city, not one facet of its layout, not a living soul. Yet, no matter how random her direction, something deep inside made each step seem deliberate. This gave her some comfort, because if asked the reason she had come to Sinistral, of all places, in search of herself, she would not have been able to answer.
She stood on a sidewalk in what appeared to be a long forgotten business district. Once beautiful glass and steel buildings stood tall and straight in homage to their previous glory, but their windows were smashed leaving broken blinds and torn curtains to hang out of them like grotesque tongues lapping at the wind. Within a few blocks, Honor found herself in a district of town clearly undergoing the process gentrification. Honor only saw two other people out on the street. A squat, round vagrant was tucked into the boarded entryway of an apartment building. The other was a girl about the same age as Honor or maybe younger. The girl stood on the opposite corner and openly eyed Honor as she stood there. She had the pale skin of the Northerners and a tousled mess of coal black hair that almost looked alive as it fluttered in the wind. She wore all black leather and a purple bandanna around her neck.
Honor nodded, which was about as much of a greeting as she was willing to offer this girl, who though she seemed harmless enough, caused an uneasy twinge in Honor’s stomach. The hairs at the nape of her neck thrummed as if a low volt of electricity ran through her body. This was a bad sign. At least, it had always been in the past. However, this girl wasn’t enough of a concern to completely distract Honor from her most pressing concern, hunger. The smell of old fry oil drifted in and out of her sensory range with the wind. She smelled fish or maybe chicken and possibly fried potatoes. She wouldn’t have cared if it what she smelled was fried meat flavored protein rations, as long as it was somewhat edible and she could keep it down. Honor turned her head and sniffed the air. Quickly forgetting the girl, she turned right at the corner and went in search of the food.
Honor found The Hole three blocks west. She peered inside the grimy window and saw that the only customers were three barrel-chested men sitting at a table in the corner. They were speaking amongst themselves and sipping from Styrofoam cups. She decided the moment she entered the eatery that the place had been aptly named. The floors were scuffed yellowing tile and the walls were dingy and cracked. While none of the three men looked in her direction when she came in, the conversation they’d been having when she peered in through the outside window, came to an abrupt halt. This hardly fazed Honor. She didn’t know them and what they had been discussing was their business. She didn’t pick up any worrisome vibes from them and so they were hardly cause for her to worry.
Honor read the chalk written sign next to the counter. The special was fish. “What else do you sell?” she asked the man behind the counter. He wore a tag that said Malak and he wiped his face with the towel he had just been using to clean the counter.
“Ok. What else?”
“Just fish. You want some fish, I’ll give you fish. You want something else? I can give you fish. That is the special today. Don’t know about tomorrow. Tomorrow it might be beef. We get that sometimes. Most of the time we get mystery meat protein nuggets, but when we do, we still just call it beef. But, girl,” he used his pinky finger to pick his left nostril, “today we got fish. If you don’t want any fish, well, I guess you can go somewhere else, but there isn’t anywhere else…”
Honor held her hand up. Malak stopped talking. “Ok. Then I guess I’ll have fish. How much?”
Malak was silent a moment. He wiped his pinky finger on his apron. His enormous rheumy eyes traced Honor from head to foot. You’re from Soroton, aren’t you? We don’t have anybody around here who looks like you.”
“Yeah? How do I look?” Honor cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes.
“Well, you’re big. Bigger than most girls. You got to be what, six feet?”
Honor shrugged her shoulders.
“And the way you’re dressed. That thing on your head." He studied her.
"You’re one of the Believers.” He paused here, as if thinking. “Which belief are you?”
"You’re one of the Believers.” He paused here, as if thinking. “Which belief are you?”
Honor didn’t respond.
He barely seemed to notice. “There aren’t many Believers around here anymore, and the ones that are here won’t admit to it. They keep it secret. It’s easier that way. But there are plenty in Soroton, I know. And…” He hesitated trying to find the right words, “there is something else about you and I can’t put my finger on it, but you are marked in some way.” His eyes narrowed and his mouth quivered as if lost between a smile and a frown. “There is nobody around here special as you.”
Honor was about to respond, but the words were silenced by the hunger that like a cloud of mist had passed, as if by osmosis, through the walls of her stomach to her entire body. She could feel her muscles quiver with hunger. How long had it been since she ate? More than a day? Had the hunger not overtaken all of Honor’s senses and thoughts, she might have started to berate herself for not bringing at least some small provision with her, even if only a package of chocolate flavored protein cubes. She hated chocolate flavored protein cubes, but she would pay almost anything to have them right now.
Honor placed her hands on the counter and leaned forward. “How much for the fish?”
Honor heard the low grind of the hinges of the door open behind her, heard nearly mute footsteps as someone entered, heard her stomach rumble like a derelict train. But she ignored it all.
“I’ll let you have some fish for free, if you tell me your name.”
Before Honor could say anything, someone interrupted. Honor knew who it was without turning around. The pale raven haired girl from three blocks back.
“You never gave me any free fish.” Her voice was as shrill as a bird’s.
“You never asked!” he said without ever taking his eyes off Honor. “Will you tell me?” he asked.
“No,” said Honor as she glanced back to look at girl. “How much?”
“Seventeen pieces. That’ll get you two big filets and some fried taters.”
Honor pulled her wallet out of her pocket and counted out the seventeen pieces. Malak watched her face the entire time and the black haired girl watched the handful of cash that Honor held. It had taken her two years to save the five hundred pieces, and if the price of this fish was any indication about the cost of living in Sinistral, she would quickly be broke. Food in Sinistral City was far more expensive than back home, but Honor had to remind herself that she was not at home, that Soroton would probably never be home again.
“If she won’t take the free food, I will.”
Malak nodded his head. “You know better than that. I don’t give away food to anyone.”
“You were about to give it to her.” The black haired girl’s voice rose to a whine and this, even more than the hunger, raked across Honor’s nerves like a file on brick. Her heart even quickened.
“Yeah, but you ain’t her, are you? And since this is my hole I can give what I want to who I want when I want and you can’t do anything about it.” Malak stepped into the back room, separated by a curtain. He was gone for less than a minute before he returned with a paper plate wrapped in foil. He pushed it into a paper bag and passed it to Honor. “You enjoy and come back anytime.”
Honor nodded and headed toward the corner opposite the table of now silent men. Not once had they turned in their seats to look at her. In fact they remained as immobile as rocks on their chairs the entire time she had been in the store. Strange as this behavior was, Honor could not sense anything concerning from them. In fact, she could not sense them at all and this made her uneasy. Honor wasn’t a soothsayer or anything; she didn’t hold with that kind of hocus pocus. She didn’t believe in magic and didn’t believe that anyone could tell the future. But she did believe in listening to the ebbing of her heart, she did believe that one could almost absorb energy from their environment and read it. They call it a sixth sense. Honor called it her first sense. At that moment Honor’s first sense was suddenly jangling in her chest like the fire bells.