The City of Lies
Katapesh is a bustling desert city nestled in a sandy valley on the coast of the Obari Ocean. Its sandstone walls stand open, but guarded, welcoming all to the teeming metropolis. Of course, it is not the people that Katapesh is welcoming, but their gold.
The city had passed through many hands over the years and been known by many names, but always it retained its mercantile importance. Even its laws were tailored to protect and promote trade. There were other cities to do business in, of course. Absalom, the city at the center of the world, was Katapesh’s greatest competitor, but it was only here, in the winding, sandstone streets filled to bursting with markets and merchants, that anything could be bought or sold. Absolutely anything.
Here merchants wielded as much power as kings, words were as much a weapon as steel and even lives were a commodity to be bartered and sold. It was a city of shopkeepers, dealers and guilds where everyone had something to sell you, money to spend and a lie upon their lips.
It was here, that Santon Synger lived.
Santon was an attractive young man of seventeen with soft, unbroken bronze skin. He had big, brown, expressive eyes which gave him a rather boyish look. He wore his short, black, wavy hair loose and messy. He was muscled, but not overtly so. His hands were smooth and without callouses, his clothes were finely made and clean. He greeted friends and strangers alike with a hearty handshake and a smile. He was loud, boisterous and reckless. When he laughed, he laughed with abandon and when he smiled it brightened up a room. Santon was open, honest, and utterly without tact which, in a city as full of liars and cheats as Katapesh, was a refreshing change.
And that is exactly what Santon was selling. An image. An idea. A lie.
He used his age and boyish good looks to seem innocent. He used his smooth skin and clean attire to seem well-off and pampered. He used his wild hair and crooked smile to give off an air of easy indifference. He spoke as if he was thinking of nothing else. As if he was telling the truth.
His entire image was tailored so that the people he came across would take notice of him, take his measure, and dismiss him as an inexperienced, naive young man all in the same glance. So that they would underestimate him. This was both his greatest weapon and his lifeline. The ease with which he pulled it off was miraculous.
Santon thought of his charade as a shield. His greatest fear was that someone would manage to batter it down. That someone would look closer and recognize him for what he was. They would look into his boyish brown eyes and not see innocence, but cunning. They would feel his impossibly smooth skin and recognize not a pampered merchant’s son, but the illusory magics that had erased his slavery brands and scars. He had assumed that discovery would be his downfall.
He was wrong.
He had found something much worse. It’s name was loss and it hurt far more than being found out ever could. He would take shackles and enslavement to this any day.
Anything to have his family back.
But hoping was no use. They were gone.
Ho-tep, his employer, had been first. Between closing his shop one night and opening the next morning he had gone missing and his shop had legally come under ‘new administration.’ All Santon managed to find of him was a smear of blood and a few stray hairs. Santon couldn’t tell whether Ho-tep had been enslaved or killed. But, whatever the case, Ho-tep had either broken some major laws or someone very powerful had paid some hefty bribes to have his shop repurposed by the Zephyr Guard so fast.
Despite the dangers inherent in tracking down a criminal during his punishment, Santon and his brother Chochy had tried. It took a single day of digging for information before Chochy went missing.
Santon confided in his elder sister Haleen that night and the next morning they had set out to find both Ho-tep, who was more of an uncle to them than anything, and Chochy. After a week Haleen disappeared.
She had left behind a note.
‘I’m leaving,’ it read. ‘I don’t care about any of you anymore, so don’t try to find me.’
Santon knew she hadn’t meant what she had written. Haleen would never leave them. She had raised them. She was the closest thing he and Chochy had to a mother. The note was a warning which, to Santon, was as clear as day.
‘Don’t come after me,’ it said. ‘You’ll get hurt.’
And so, Santon did the only thing he could do.
He tried to find his sister.
It had been three lonely, sorrow filled months since then. Santon had used up his savings to grease the palms of all the information brokers he could find. He paid his bribes, eaves dropped, and kept an ear to the ground for any hint or rumor of his family’s whereabouts. He personally checked every lead out and time after time, came up with nothing but a lighter coin purse.
Now, he stood outside of the small, one room home he had shared with his siblings and signed his name at the bottom of a long scroll of parchment. Beside him, a Contract Broker added his name.
That was it.
It was done.
Santon had just sold the last of his possessions – his home – in order to raise enough money to follow up on one of the two final leads he had.
The first was a sighting of a woman matching Haleen’s description fighting battles for gold in a dump of a town called Kelmarane. The other was of a similar woman sold in Okeno’s infamous Fleshfair two months ago to a brothel. They were both a long journey away, and both in opposite directions.
Santon had no idea which he would follow.
The second had come from more reliable sources but the first… Well, he just liked the idea of the first better. It meant Haleen wasn’t broken. That she hadn’t given up. Still, the sale of his house had only given him enough money for one trip. He couldn’t base his choice on his hopes alone. He should go to Okeno.
Santon smiled his easy, innocent smile and held out a smooth hand to the Contract Broker. “Pleasure doing business with you, sir!”
The Contract Broker shook his hand. “Of course. If you ever need my services again-“
“Yes, yes! I’ll think of you, for sure! You have been such a big help!” Santon paused , scratched the back of his head and then burst out in a self-depreciating laugh. “I couldn’t have done it without you!”
The Contract Broker smiled.
Santon had forgotten the man’s name. No matter. He wouldn’t need his services again. One way or another he was leaving Katapesh and he had no intentions of returning. Without his family, there was nothing for him here.
He would either find his family, or die trying.
Santon turned away from the forgettable Contract Broker with the cheap rates and walked away. He pulled Haleen’s note from his pocket and held it out before him. He had read it at least a hundred times.
‘I’m leaving.’ it said in it’s frantic script. ‘I don’t care about any of you anymore, so don’t try to find me.’
It was all he had left of his family.