Lord of Hunger
A Song of Sins Story
Who is the Lord of Hunger, after all?
How could I know? Back in the Plains of Endless Greed, Avaritium spoke very little about the other ruling sins, but whoever it was, if this place was anything to go by, it was someone as terrible as the others I’ve met.
I found myself outside a hut in the middle of the desert, a very different scenario from where I had been just the day before. Every time I blinked I could see the nightmares and the awful creatures Desidia had thrown at me when I faced her alongside my friends, and the desert sun was not making it any easier to keep my eyes open.
“Hey, she is coming back,” a voice interrupted my thoughts. It was Bahador, the mountain of muscles of a man who had found me. He took me to Zavia, a sorcerer who tended to my wounds. They were both “keeping me company”, in their own words, while we waited for someone else to arrive.
I looked up, back to the hut, feeling the sweat coming down my forehead, and saw an olive-skinned half-elf walking towards us. I knew they were just being careful, keeping an eye on me, after all, I was a stranger with a weird story. Nevertheless I still felt like a prisoner. Bahador didn’t seem to believe a word I said, and Zavia, even after helping me, stared at me with cold, untrusting eyes. It was clear to me they were both slow to thrust because they had known betrayal. I was a bit surprised when the half-elf, Nasrin, seemed to have listened to my plea.
“The decanter is inside,” Nasrin said, stopping right in front of me, “you need to pour from it, as if it was full of water, and call for the efreeti Inara. I told her you wanted to talk. Just… Careful with your words, she has been through a lot.”
Looking at my would-be saviors I could tell Inara definitely wasn’t the only one going through hard times. I nodded and made my way inside the hut.
It was small and improvised, with a wooden bench and the decanter right in the middle. Zavia told me people lived as nomads in the Ravenous Wastes, staying too long in one spot increased the chances of being devoured by Vorax, Lord of Hunger.
I did as Nasrin told me, turning the decanter upside down while saying “Inara, I’m Eve Fargrace, and I beg for your help.”
At first, nothing seemed to happen. I stared at the decanter, wondering if I had done something wrong. I was about to say something else when I sensed something moving.
From inside the decanter, flames came out like flowing water. The object became very hot all of a sudden, and I threw it to the floor when it became too much to bear. But the flames didn’t stop, quite the contrary, they spread all over the hut, surrounding me. Despair took over, as I might have fallen right into a trap… But the flames didn’t behave like they should. They flowed like water but with grace and intent. From within the fire, a humanoid figure appeared, taking form among the wild flames.
“Ah, it’s so good to see someone other than the vermin who calls himself a King…” the efreeti said. “My name is Inara, as you already know. Nasrin told me about you, Eve Fargrace. What do you want from me?”
I had never seen an efreeti before, nor any other genie for that matter, but her magic was impressive, flowing around us, without harming, in a way any sorcerer would envy. She had to be a very powerful creature, even trapped inside that decanter.
“I came from the Plains of Endless Greed,” I saw her eyes widening as I said that, but I was used to it by now. Yes, no one ever met anyone who left one of the realms in the Land of Sins. Yes, I’m truly human and no, I’m not lying. Why would I? If I wanted to make up a story, believe me, it would be something more believable. “I need to leave this place. I just came from the Dreamlands of Eternal Sloth, and I fell right into another Ruling Sin’s domain. Nasrin said you could grant any wish, and mine is to leave the Ravenous Wastes.”
Inara didn’t say anything right away, just measured me with her golden eyes. After seconds that seemed like hours, she decided to finally break the silence.
“Let me see through your eyes, Eve Fargrace.” I knew what she meant by this and I didn’t like it.
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I don’t wish to be invasive, I just want to see your journey and understand you better.”
I wasn’t entirely sure about her intentions, but if it meant taking me away from the Ravenous Wastes, why not? I nodded at Inara and, with an elegant move from her hand, all the flames flickered around me. I blinked and, suddenly, the efreeti wasn’t in front of me anymore.
I saw my childhood, trying to survive among demons and hearing Avaritium’s evil laugh every day, being frightened by his very presence, and I also felt the moment I escaped from his crumbling castle. After that, my visions were taken by nightmares, while I watched the battle that set me and my friends free from the Dreamlands. Then, the scene I was trying to forget. After the battle against Desidia, I was trying to find my friends in the Ruins outside the Dreamlands… That’s when I found Zaloth’s weak body, too decayed from weeks trapped in the Dreamlands. He drew his last breath as we said goodbye…
“Enough!” I screamed, and the flames seemed to respond, dissolving the images of my memories before my eyes. I could see the fire elemental again, and Inara wasn’t judging me, actually, there was an undertone of pity in her eyes, which annoyed me even more, “It’s fine, I’m all right, okay? That is what happens when someone defies demons, I’ll get used to it someday…”
“I hope you don’t ever have to get used to sorrow like that. I’m sorry for your loss,” she sounded sincere. “I didn’t mean to pry, but now I see you speak the truth. I apologize for my caution. You see, I’m not as powerful as I once was… I am willing to help you, Eve Fargrace, but tell me, would you be willing to defeat the Lord of Hunger himself to leave this place?”
I hesitated to answer, feeling a similar fear from when Avaritium was near me. I might have overcome two ruling sins, but it wasn’t by defeating them in battle. I was a bard, not a fighter.
“I can’t do that. You’ve seen my memories, I only escaped because-”
“I understand, Eve Fargrace. But you have something other people here don’t have. Let me show you things from my point of view. It’s only fair and it will help you understand what you would have to face here…”
I didn’t understand what she meant until I saw the flames flickering again, and the hut around us was gone. Inara vanished before my eyes as well, but I could feel her presence still near me. We were inside another memory, but this one wasn’t mine, thank the Gods.
I was in the middle of the desert and the sands were shaking under my feet. I could hear terrified screams from every direction, people were running as if their lives depended on it, and they probably did. Those poor souls were trying to escape from the danger quickly approaching.
Faster than the blink of an eye, a huge four-legged creature, with a grotesque body, large tusks, and a monstrous hump of fat on its back, charged into the huts. As the bloodbath began the screams got even louder and I could taste the fear in the air. It took me some time to realize the huge creature was in fact two. On the back of the quadruped rode a massive bloated demon, the likes of which I had never seen. I didn’t need any introductions, it was obvious I was facing Vorax, the Lord of Hunger, himself. Well, “facing” wasn’t exactly the word, because I was just reliving the memory of the horrors someone else had witnessed.
Vorax destroyed everything his hands could touch. Without any regard for the mortals in front of him, he grabbed anyone he could reach by their arms, legs, or heads, chewing them up so quickly that the victims barely had time to scream for help. I felt nauseous watching the blood dripping from Vorax’s many mouths. The flesh and bones of sinners were crushed between the demon’s fingers and I was about to throw up. A diabolic feast happened in front of me and there was nothing I could do. In minutes, anyone who didn’t escape became part of a nefarious and gruesome feast.
“Inara, please, stop this…” I closed my eyes and covered my ears, the screams weren’t so present anymore, but the sound of flesh being torn apart was sickening. “I got it, Vorax is a monster and people are screwed out here.”
“That’s definitely one way to describe it, and you are not wrong.”
The sound of the feast stopped and I felt safe to open my eyes again. I was inside a hut but not the same one as before. I was still deep inside a memory, at least this time I didn’t have to see the Lord of Hunger devouring people like they were cattle.
In this new hut, there was a strong man, with the presence of a leader, accompanied by three masked men and two teenagers. One of them I’d seen before. It was Nasrin, a younger and scared version of the woman I’d met. The other young man was clearly her brother, and he seemed even more scared than her. The masked men, mages of some sort, were performing a ritual around a magic circle drawn on the floor. I knew It was foul magic right away, because I felt the chill in my skin while they chanted words in a horrible language.
The leader held a decanter in his hands and uttered words familiar to me now, “Inara, I’m the Sand King Antares and I demand your presence.”
Contrary to what I imagined, Inara didn’t appear from inside the decanter this time. Flames erupted from the floor, scaring the siblings even more. From inside the circle, Inara appeared, far more glorious and powerful than what she looked when I summoned her.
Before she could say anything, the Sand King chanted some words under his breath and opened the decanter and Inara screamed when the vessel consumed her flames and her along with them. In her last moments of freedom, some of Inara’s power leaked out, burning down one of the mages to cinders and bringing the place down into a pile of ash “Why would he do that?” I asked, knowing Inara could hear me. “Couldn’t he just make a wish and let you go?”
“Well, he could, but why would he?” There was disdain in her voice. “Having a powerful efreeti to grant all his wishes is a powerful asset, especially when your plan is to defeat the Lord of Hunger himself.”
Another flicker from the flames sent me to a new memory. This time, the Sand King was on top of a platform, in front of a group of people. Some were mercenaries, but most of them were hungry peasants. Even so, they were all staring at Antares with determination in their eyes, as if the Sand King’s speech itself could feed their souls.
“People of old Qarean! It’s time to take back what is rightfully ours!” All the people cheered at his proclamation, except for one. I saw Nasrin again, now much closer to the woman I’d met, an adult who didn’t seem happy to be there. Her disdain would be obvious to anyone who looked, but no one seemed to pay any attention to her, as they were all enthralled by Antares’ words. “Our home was devastated and devoured by Vorax, the so-called Lord of Hunger, but the suffering will end soon! In three days, we will take our city back! Our home will once again be a glorious empire as it was always meant to be!”
People cheered, applauded, and celebrated. His words were so powerful that even I believed for a moment they had some chance of defeating Vorax and reclaiming their city. I also knew very well that defeating a ruling sin wasn’t a trivial task.
“Is it naive to assume they ever had any chance of defeating Vorax?” I asked and heard Inara laughing under her breath.
“I think it’s naive to assume this victory would make things any better.”
As soon as she finished the sentence, the image before me changed again. I saw a city in the among the dunest, built on opulence and richness… Or at least part of it was. Right in the center, lavishly painted houses shone under the desert sun, with people walking around in silky clothes and majestic jewels. In one of the most grandiose houses, an extravagant party was happening…
“In Qarean, they ate until they were full, then threw everything up so they could keep eating.” Inara’s voice reverberated in my head and I saw how painfully right she was. As soon as they ended their vomiting, the couple laughed, approached another plate and the feast carried on. I soon realized that they weren’t the only ones doing that.
“This is sick…” I’ve never seen something like this before. So many people starved in the plains, how could they throw food away so carelessly?
“It gets worse.” Inara declared, and the image shifted right away. Outside the palace where the feast was happening, I saw most of the citizens living in crumbling houses and fighting in the streets for scraps. Not even the rats were safe, any living being could be hunted in Qarean’s streets, and the lack of food drove the common people mad.
“Why am I seeing all this?!” I complained, holding my stomach. “I got it, Vorax sucks, Antares is a jerk and this city is hell…”
“You haven’t seen the half of it, but I’ll spare you from the rest…” the efreeti said while I felt a chill go down my spine. I could guess what she wanted me to learn from this awful spectacle, that Vorax, like other demons, only reaches the mortals who dive willingly into their own sins.
Then the screams began, and I understood before seeing anything what was happening. Vorax was there, devouring everything that once made Qarean great… For some people, at least. It didn’t surprise me because in the Plains, the cities that embodied greediness were swallowed into the Land of Sins. This was somewhat the same, but more literal and gruesome.
“Normally, the communities that end up in the Wastes don’t last long,” Inara’s voice came to me again and the images of the bloodbath were fading away, to my relief, “But qareans are strong and resilient. Some of them survived and most of the people we find in the desert now are descendants of this city we just saw.”
“From the families that starved or from the ones who could actually eat?”
“Well, it depends. The Sand King found out his lineage came from a noble family, the ones that ‘could actually eat’, as you say. But he also found out the true horrors that lay inside Qarean’s walls, and he knew once people were aware of this grim past, they would hesitate. He made his son, Darius, hide that little secret and carry around the burden of knowledge. Nasrin realized something was wrong with her brother, so she decided to run away on the eve of the battle between Antares and Vorax, and saved me in the process,” Inara said, while the images in front of me changed, the wastes appearing once more. “She stole the decanter and left the Sand King’s caravan, escaping a grim fate.”
“If she stole the decanter away, why aren’t you free yet?”
“Because I’m bound to Antares’ will. He needs to release me himself… Or die, which was my hope. He wished for strength to defeat Vorax and I fooled him, making him believe I had granted his wish. If Nasrin hadn’t taken me away that night, he surely would have killed me just for my audacity.”
I saw the moment the Sand King realized he was fooled and that death was near. Around me, the Wastes were crimson with the blood of the many qarean lives sacrificed in the fight against Vorax. The fiend had some wounds, but far from being enough to bring him down.
Antares knew he had lost, it was evident in his eyes, but he refused to give up. Charging towards Vorax, he thrust a fatal blow with one of his swords. The fiend roared and Antares was ready to make another move. But he wasn’t fast enough. With a fierce swing of his arm, Vorax grabbed Antares legs… And began to eat him.
“Gods!” I screamed, hearing Antares pleas from afar, while his bones were cracking under Vorax’s teeth. “Okay Inara, I got it!”
Inara’s spectral form was present by my side this time, and while I avoided watching the bloody feast, I saw the efreeti’s face at a glance. She had a grin in her mouth as if she was enjoying watching Antares suffering. I mean, I can’t really blame her, but it’s not the kind of show I like to watch.
“Inara!” I tried calling her. “What happened next? Come on, I really don’t want to watch this!”
“Sorry, I got distracted,” she said, and with a snap of her fingers, the image vanished before my eyes, “Unfortunately, Antares survived. Darius saved what was left of his body and his Masked Casters merged the Sand King with the body of a giant scorpion, turning him into the monster he is now,” Inara sent us back to the present. I breathed a sigh of relief, “So, as you can see, even with all the power Antares gathered, it wasn’t enough to defeat Vorax.”
“Not to sound arrogant, but I use this to escape those monsters,” I pointed to my head while I spoke, “besides, why would you want me to defeat Vorax? If even Antares couldn’t, how could I?” And as much as I didn’t want to admit, just the thought of this possible battle made me terrified. “Apparently, if I defeat Antares you will be free and have your powers back to send me away.”
“As much as I would like to see that bastard rot, we don’t need Antares to send you away. Do you remember what Nasrin said? As the Sand King did once, sacrifices must be thrown at the fire to fuel my powers. If you ask for something small, a modest sacrifice is enough, but wishing someone away from a realm in the Land of Sins… It’s no small task. And you must know: no one knows a way out from the Land of Sins, you know that better than most, Eve Fargrace, which means that I can only send you to another realm, to the next leg of your journey…”
“It’s better than nothing, but still…” I hesitated. I was scared of those fiends, of ending up devoured like Antares… And yet, thinking about just leaving the Wastes without doing anything to help the sinners there made me think of all the people who I saw suffering in those memories. Maybe that was her intent, to soften me so I couldn’t turn my back on the ones who needed me the most. I hate to admit it but she was right to do it, I didn’t have the heart to simply walk away, especially not after seeing Zaloth dying. “Goddammit, fine! I’ll do it,” I sighed, trying not to let despair take over me. I was smart, I could defeat that monster, I was creative after all. I don’t know, maybe I can cook something that will distract Vorax for long enough and someone will finish him up… Maybe a barbecue? Even with a thousand plans popping into my head, I still had one concern, “The Sand King is going to take Vorax’s place, right? He will just become a new ruling sin if he keeps going like he is.”
“A new Lord of Hunger would rise, yes,” Inara said, “his path is doomed by gluttony, much like Vorax before him. He might not know it yet, but his fate is settled.”
“I guess I need to play the hero again then,” I shook my head, there was no such a thing as a free lunch, of course, “I’ll burn Vorax and… You know what? I’ll defeat Antares as well. You are helping me, I can’t let you or anyone here in Antares’ grasp. What good will it do to defeat one ruling sin, just for another to take his place? Who knows… Maybe I can even use them against each other.”
My answer surprised Inara. Of course, she wanted to be saved, but as an efreeti, people called her to make wishes, not the contrary. What Inara didn’t understand was that I was tired of losing people to demons, exhausted from watching fiends destroying lives and leaving a trail of blood behind them.
So, I ask again, who is the Lord of Hunger? In the end it didn’t matter who he was, only the people that were in danger because of him. That’s why it was time to stop running away and start running towards the danger.
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