If you are directed here by an alert, you will find the new chapter under the title, after party. I have shuffled the content to reflect my original order of writing rather than chronological order.
Return of the Disclaimer: The recognizable characters in this fanfiction were created by R. A. Salvatore in association with the legal entity Wizards of the Coast, who owns relevant copyrights to additional Forgotten Realms material referred to herein. The characters are used without permission but no material profit of any kind is being made from the following work. WotC reserve rights to Forgotten Realms material, but all of the characters and situations unique to this work of fan fiction are property of the writer.
A/N: Written many months ago after listening to a song of the same name by Garbage. In present tense because I was e-mailing Witchwolf something about present tense at the time. The bread thing comes as homage to Chun K. Young's, Unplugged Boy. Next up: teatime (in which Shadash is vindictive) or good side/bad side (in which Shadash is actually a sympathetic character).
cherry lips, i
The boy gasps hard and then sucks in a strangled breath as pain vaults up his spine. He is not convinced the man crushing him against the wall is displeased with his reaction. In fact, Shadash suspects the man is a sadistic bastard. If the slender boy was not sure the brute would take vengeance, he would scream in the shrill voice he's found useful to annoy his peers.
Instead, as he is manhandled, Shadash limits himself to cursing violently underneath the swelling music the teahouse's drunken bard creates outside. When he is suddenly pulled away from the wall, the pressure does not abate, the pain does not fade, his internal organs squirm in rebellion, but stay put. Everything is not entirely where it should be, but it is enough.
The dancer gasps for breath as Nasoos' hands release him and Jadiqa's foot comes off his back. It is an amazing thing that Shadash does not have time to get lips around stinging commentary before Jadiqa is shoving the dancer's arms through the straps of a filmy bodice. Feshi is suddenly before him, painting his lips wet cherry, lining his mismatched eyes with kohl.
They work hard and fast partly because there is no time and partly because they don't want to hear Shadash's bitching. The whole situation would not be happening if Cahm hadn't twisted her ankle knocking a drunk's teeth out. And they would not have been kicking out teeth, if Shadash hadn't shown them how fun it could be.
As soon as the bodice is secure, Jadiqa drops to his knees and thrusts his hands under the layers of gauze veils. Shadash grimaces and slaps the older dancer's head repeatedly as his genitalia are tucked as securely as possible into Cahm's lacy undergarments. The corset is worse, he tells himself, the corset is much worse.
The moment Feshi takes away the make up, Shadash is free to screech like a wildcat. "I'm not doing this! I can't breathe! I can't sing like this and I don't know how I'll dance without my balls getting strangled! Send one of the real girls!"
From the sidelines comes his manager's voice, steel wrapped in silk. "Child, he asked for our most skilled female dancer. His people paid us twice the normal rate to have the place to himself in order to impress his business partner. These are dangerous people. Do you really think Scanza or even Chidi have half the talent of Cahm? You've nearly the talent she has; you'll have to do. Just keep that red eyes of yours away from them and show those lovely legs."
Jadiqa ducks out from under the filmy skirts and slaps Shadash's ass. "And your rear; it is nice like Cahm's. You'll gain definition with age; enjoy the smoothness while you can."
Mismatched eyes roll in fear and disgust, his ringed fingers point at his chest ferociously. "How have you missed the fact that I have no tits? I have no tits!"
"Neither does Cahm," Feshi snorts, and receives Jadiqa's hand across his face for the effort.
"Shut up, Feshi!"
"I do have tits," Cahm chuckles as she enters the scene, limping painfully. She has a small basket looped over her elbow and a crutch under her arm. Her movements are a grotesque mockery of her former grace. "I have a pair of tits right here."
Shadash doesn't make the connection; he's entranced by the basket and the smell of fresh baked bread. "Did you visit the baker?" he asks, his mind momentarily away from the corset crushing the breath from him, the panties that are cutting into sensitive flesh.
Cahm nods, handing the basket to a confused Jadiqa. The older dancer reaches in and takes a fresh roll. "Thank you, Cahm. It is a kind ges—"
"They aren't for you, Jadi," she laughs, taking the roll out of his hand. She steps up to Shadash.
"I can't fit that in me while I'm in this corset," Shadash protests weakly, though he wants it even if it smudges the wet rouge on his lips or makes the bodice burst.
"It doesn't have to fit in you," she sneers. Cahm seizes one of the bodice's straps and shoves a warm bun into a shallow cup. "Careful; they're custard-filled."
Shadash's slanting eyes grow perfectly round as the fresh bread warms his dark brown skin. His mouth is no longer wet with hunger, but dry with horror. "This man and his business partner are heavy drinkers, yes?"
He moves through Avenue Paradise like a breeze through stale smoke, leaving a rippling tide of personal space in his wake. Those who see into his cowled cloak and know his face are wise enough to stay out of his way. They melt into the shadows, even though they know he owns them. Some know him simply by his flowing gait and compact frame. He is not a large man, but the most deadly of scorpions are small in size.
At one time their fear amused him, now he expects it; it is his due. He notes their flickering movements; the prostitutes' eyes widen in fear and narrow in hatred when they think he does not see. He does not trust professional prey; the weak creatures that allow themselves to be beaten and debased for coin. He trusts in fallible human nature, but he never wastes time on creatures without pride. They are cattle and they are wise to shrink back or scatter as he approaches.
He despises them because his fate came perilously close to theirs when he landed penniless and traumatized on the streets of Calimport at a tender age. He hates them because he sees what he hates in himself when he looks at them. Though they are valuable information gatherers, Entreri never deals with them directly.
Far older and wiser than the day he first crossed the Calim desert, he is now a shark cutting through territorial waters on his way to Dancer's Gate to meet a business prospect. On the surface Erdem's invitation was garbed in the guise of his superior's request to make reliable contacts with the guild Entreri represents. Erdem is a local, but his superiors are smugglers and pirates from far-flung reaches.
The business prospect doesn't interest him at all, but the underlying possibility does; he suspects Erdem wants to hire him to create a vacancy in the higher ranks of the smuggling operation. It has been too long since the assassin sank his blades to the hilts in a challenge.
The designated teahouse is not far into the entertainment district. Entreri descends a stair that leads into the upper reaches of Dancers' Gate and makes his way to the middle rung establishment below street level. The teahouse is one of the finest of the middle rung houses and is widely regarded for the artistic quality of its supposedly exotic entertainers.
He doesn't care how skilled the entertainers are; he knows they all have a price that tips them on their backs. The mere fact that Erdem has invited him to such an establishment suggests the smuggler doesn't know enough about the assassin. Other powerful people have made the same mistake; it always reduces his respect for them, if there was any available to begin with.
Though it is approaching the hottest hours of the afternoon, Entreri encounters no other patron as he enters the expansive underground establishment. Obviously Erdem has decided to impress the assassin with the wealth at his disposal; wine and tea houses located beneath street level are the most popular places to go when the sun is high and cruel. The assassin brushes past the pretty servers and focuses on the center of the empty room where the smuggler is seated on an expensive silk carpet.
Erdem greets him enthusiastically, as if he actually knows him. They have never met; only exchanged messages through intermediaries. The familiarity is returned with a glare that is every bit the emotional equivalent of Entreri's famed emerald dagger. The smuggler blanches under his beard, but recovers quickly and calls for the servers to bring more wine.
Soon Entreri is sitting on the carpet sipping mint tea; his host and the servers have stopped trying to entice him with wine or food. The assassin is strictly professional and if Erdem wants to recover any respect at all, he'll quickly learn that the road to Entreri's cold heart is paved with straightforward expediency.
He listens to Erdem, his attention sharpening only when business matters begin to give the small talk weight. As the man speaks, using expansive hand gestures to illustrate his words, the assassin watches. The wine in Erdem's glass often comes perilously close to escaping over the side and serves to further fill out Entreri's habitual profiling.
Ambitious. Enjoys the privileges of rank and wealth. Reckless. The assassin's thoughts are not judgmental, but strictly observational; they will dictate whether he will take a job from Erdem and what his asking price may be. The only thing saving the smuggler from an abrupt walkout is the man's intelligence.
The moment Erdem's voice begins to lower in volume and his boisterous tone turns to talk of change in the organization, Entreri turns his head slightly. He looks at the man in a princely gesture that conveys his interest.
Erdem recognizes this move; Entreri has given him nothing at all to act on until now. As a social creature, Entreri's lack of reaction has been making Erdem nothing but slightly nervous. It is one thing to display his wealth and power by emptying one of the most popular houses in Dancers Gate, but it is quite another heady thing altogether to sit with the most famous killer in Calimport. To know that the mere turn of his head indicates Entreri is more interested in killing someone for Erdem than any business dealing... that makes the wine's intoxication pale in comparison.
He looks quickly to his red wine and makes the obvious connection to blood. He imagines Entreri offering him a jeweled goblet overflowing with a superior's heart blood. It occurs faintly to the smuggler that the assassin's face is actually attractive. Erdem can find beauty in anyone when they have the means to his desires.
He is about to continue speaking when the music swells for the second time, indication that the entertainment he paid for is soon to be underway.
"Ah, the Lady Cahm is said to have faerie lineage," Erdem comments, killing Entreri's mood again. "I'm told she is the finest dancer in this house."
Entreri looks away from the man in irritation. He doesn't care how fine a dancer the girl is; to him she's just a talented prostitute. It occurs to him that Erdem may intend to purchase some of the girl's time in order to entertain the assassin's libido, rather than just a fruitless attempt to captivate his eyes. Erdem is not fortunate enough to see the killer's sudden sneer.
The first thing they see come out of shadow and into the sunlight pouring down from the circular skylight is a bare, slender, and very dark foot. Equally slender ankles are heavily festooned with gold anklets and velvet-lined bands laden with bells. An exquisite amount of bare leg follows, until gauze veils part on either side of a long thigh. The girl's movements are slow and sinuous as she bends and twists to prolong her entry into the light.
Despite himself, Entreri is impressed at the muscle control exhibited. Beside him Erdem's mouth has gone dry and he hasn't even seen the size of her breasts.
Her hands dive slowly into the light. The zils on her fingers have yet to ring as she moves her arms like snakes that swim among the waves of music a bard is skillfully weaving. All at once, as if it were natural and unplanned, the bard strikes into a heated rhythm and the dancer, Cahm, throws herself into the sunlight. The jewelry and shimmering veils are dazzling; all pastel on Chultan-dark skin. Her whole body churns in amazing arcs that are independent, yet in perfect communication with each other. She is swimming in air. Her body makes love to the sunlight pouring over her in golden radiance.
Entreri knows immediately that she's wearing a wig, but he wasn't counting on her perfume to smell like fresh baked bread. He knows better than to think that is why Erdem's mouth is now watering.
The killer makes no indication when he realizes the dancer is actually a boy, instead, he recalls Erdem's words that 'the Lady Cahm' has faerie blood. From the tapered ears, sinuous body and small stature, Entreri has deduced that the boy is part elven. It is the flash of a pale red eye and skin the color of burned sugar that invite caution. He has seen drow halfbreeds before and he knows he's looking at another. It is annoying to be wary of a young boy with bread strategically placed in his bodice; but it is also survival.
Erdem is overcome and utterly oblivious to the dancer's gender. He was most interested to see how her breasts would move as she danced, but has since become riveted to a new vice. His dark eyes hardly leave the dancer's ass; he's glimpsed it several times through the layers of transparent veils and waits anxiously for the next view.
Conversely, Shadash can only remember one other time in his life when he has been this terrified. He is dancing for the merciless lieutenant of the Basadoni guild; rumored to be the true head of the organization. There's not an entertainer, prostitute, or courtesan that's ever been on the Avenue that doesn't know the man's hatred for workers in the sex industry. Worse yet, how angry can the man be, certainly knowing that before him dances a fake?
His heart beats faster than the song's beat; his body begins to move out of sync with the music. When he feels the wrongness between his body and the rhythm, the young dancer throws a glance at his mentor; the ruined bard dancing fingers over a sitar.
The drunkard is not well into his cups and reads the look. He closes his eyes and feels for what Shadash will do next. The dancer does not work well with others, so it is fortunate that the bard still does.
Shadash's body slows and his accompaniment follows suit. He stills his arms but swirls his hips in maddening figure eights, hypnotizing Erdem with lust, pulling the man's desire forward to cloud his vision. Belts of gold coins around his abdomen and hemming Cahm's skirts ring out like waves of bells lapping at an invisible shore. He wills the magic to come and it does not disappoint him.
The sensation grows from his diaphragm and spreads in a comforting wave, sending warmth throughout his veins, until a net of assurance threads through his flesh. He opens his mouth to give it voice.
And Cahm's bitter voice is transformed into a crystal bell.
In the back room, Jadiqa and Feshi stare at Cahm in shock. Having never heard her voice as the other two, Cahm scowls at them to cover her confusion.
Shadash sings in what he perceives is Cahmish, using his hard-found skill to shape what he believes would be the most perfect version of her sharp tongue. It remains bitter, but it is compelling and it gives those that know her chills. Unseen, Feshi silently urges Cahm to join him and Jadiqa as they make signs to ward off Shadash's potent evil eye.
With confidence restored and a surge of power pumping through his veins with every perfectly timed beat of his heart, Shadash begins to move more expansively. He can feel Erdem's lust and desire and the power he has over the man. It is safe, he thinks, to perform not for the assassin at all, but to concentrate on the other.
Entreri notices the moment the strange dancer begins to slip and he notices when magic begins to permeate the room. His hand drops to his famous emerald dagger. He lets it slip away again when he understands the enchantment is for Erdem alone. He continues to watch the boy with dispassionate gray eyes, his caution invisible. The boy's ease of movement bespeaks hard training and that, he knows, means there must be a modicum of self-discipline in the wretch.
It is only through the efforts of the bard playing sitar that Shadash realizes how much time has passed. The music demands his body to make a graceful end of the dance. Lost in movement and power, he struggles against the sitar's ending melody. But the older bard has more skill, if not more discipline, and Shadash is forced to stop.
The music finally fades and the magic fades with it. He drops to his hands and knees in humble supplication as he has seen Cahm do before. The teahouse is silent for several seconds. Entreri feels no need to applaud and Erdem is utterly exhausted and stunned.
From the floor, Shadash grins secretly into the stone beneath him. He knows he did well. He waits patiently and at last he hears Erdem's hands come together with loud enthusiasm. It is his cue to stand and depart the beam of sunlight beating down from the ceiling.
He is astonished to find his limbs will hardly move. How long did he dance? And then he is horrified to feel a warm, thick, substance dripping onto his knees. He smells... fragrant vanilla.
Cold fear sweeps over his body as he recalls the filled pastries and the presence of his knees against his chest. He can't possibly make a graceful exit.
It is fortunate for him that his fellows understand what has happened. As if it was planned from the beginning, Jadiqa and Feshi advance gracefully to either side of the blond-wigged boy. With smooth motions, they mirror each other as they scoop the still-kneeling Shadash and carry him to the back room.
Safe from their customers' eyes and ears, they dump Shadash on the floor amidst an uproar of silent laughter. Cahm grins as the boy rolls onto his back and they see custard squeezing out of the filmy bodice. "You should have offered them a bite, Shadash!"
"Oh, he'll get plenty of bites," Feshi snorts from underneath muffling hands. "That loud one is going to want more than a sample after that!"
Too tired to protest against the teasing, Shadash only shakes his head. He's alive. He may be utterly drained, but he is alive. "Did any drip on the floor? I felt it drip…!"
In the main room, Erdem and Entreri are joined by Shadash's manager. She informs them with the greatest possible politeness that the lady Cahm is quite exhausted and can only see a visitor for a short time after her performance. Without jealousy, though he surely desires her for himself, Erdem encourages the assassin to see her if he wishes.
A cold look, fit to freeze the noonday sun, chills Erdem and the manager alike. "Call on me when you want to discuss business, not waste my time." The killer flows to his feet and stalks out of the teahouse.
They watch him go, both fearing the wrath of such a powerful man. Erdem takes a steadying drink of his wine. The manager joins him, taking a hold of Entreri's untouched glass of wine.
When his nerves are finally calm, he looks at the manager again. "How short a time and in what capacity?"
The woman smiles knowingly in response; anyone from the Avenue would know only one of the two men would have any interest in 'Lady Cahm'. By her estimation, Shadash was never in any danger. However, Shadash's fear will never allow him to agree.