Picture now the drapes thick and gleaming cloth – symbols of wasteful wealth, of excess preserved beyond the wasteland – and strange glints and flashes, golden and red and silver splashes of light that linger and awe, as spells crawl the wall and the fabrics and the exposed curves and flesh of the perfect beautiful people, and once you become aware of them, all else seems to matter less.
For this is the banquet of the damned, and those who attend squat smirking among the ruins, laughing.
It is not a city. This is a stronghold, and a small one, at that – this banquet area requires most of the space, but what does this matter? Worshipers in this place do not bother with private rooms for more than the darkest business, and so the smell and sounds of variable-species sex joins those of drugs and food and wine, and the body, regardless of the state of the mind, responds.
Spells have to do with that, too.
The point is to forget. The point is to no longer be aware of the dust storms through which one had to walk or fly or whisper, of the darkened sky under which one had to creep or run or crawl, of the empty riverbeds and narrow shadows of bones that lie drying where their owners fell dead.
To forget. To revel. To indulge.
And among the luminaries, the Fey and the Ciguapa, the Lamia and the Djinn, the various tricksters and shape-shifters that made the elite of the ancient world, a young man stands entranced.
He is beautiful. His eyes, soulful and green, stand out in his dark skin, and the short white tunic he wears shows the best of his arms and throat, his calves and thighs. His full lips are parted, and his eyes half-closed – an expression both inviting and successfully inviting.
Clearly, he is a servant. Humans have little other purpose here, those few who are left, and there are only a few, so he must belong to someone very wealthy indeed, but no one here cares to ask who. Why should they? He could not have come here on his own, and if he tries to leave, he will die feet from the door to join the other bones bleached in the cruel anti-sun, so he might as well be enjoyed now.
And they will. Probably.
He moves among them, taking empty plates, flashing more than he should, perhaps beneath his simple tunic-skirt, filling goblets with whatever fluid their owners require, cutting meat for the lazier of the luminaries dining. His beauty is fragile, fleeting, and so easily destroyed, and that gives it appeal.
Perfection is boring, after a time, and once it has become dull, it cannot be sharpened again.
This young man smiles and blushes if spoken to, mumbles answers that do not matter to flirtatious and terrifying promises from lascivious teeth, and when his skin is touched by those who expect it to claim him to make him theirs, he shies away laughing as though it tickles, or perhaps another’s spell or natural excretions are already at work, and his accosters shrug and move on.
Yet he has purpose here.
He has a target here.
He has prey.
At the head of this wild and overfull banquet table sits a tall, dark, man with skin the color of burning coals and bright, flickering flames in place of all body hair. Even in a place like this, he glows, set apart, his own light dazzlingly reflected off the magic in the walls and the envy in others’ eyes.
It does not matter how marvelous he is. He has made his stand against Az’Kabek, the city called Sanctuary, and for that, he must die.