Vin had refused to come, and I don’t blame him for it. Hoofslide is a despicable little neighborhood where the city sends its rejects to molder. My brother has enough sense not to sniff back around.
Nostalgia dropped into my stomach like spoiled meat the moment my boots touched the mud. We’d strutted past these same slouching hovels, Vin and I and any kid we were tolerating that day. Playing cold and defiant under the city wall shadow where only the most unlikable guards were sent to patrol, even then, we barely fooled ourselves with jutting chins and eager fists. Definitely not anyone else.
Unlike the towers, floating plazas, and bridge webs that make up other districts, Hoofslide is set on actual earth. Sloped, graveled, unusable earth between the rest of the city and the main wall, so being in the place has that rock and a hard place feeling. Slightly squished, always a little off balance from the incline, and stinking from the runoff from the better districts, it was a place for those the city could or would not fit elsewhere.
Now there were new kids. A pack of the grime-darkened children watched me from a hovel stoop as I passed into the neighborhood proper. I smiled at them with the quick flash of teeth I’d perfected in these uneven streets. In response, they rose and slunk away. I may dress better now– my coat is soft leather and my shoes steel tipped– but our eyes are the same shape, our hair is fine and black as charcoal. I remember the windblown home they’ll only hear about if their parents get far into their cups.
Not that those memories are any good to me. Barely got to enjoy the feeling of deck beneath my feet before things went belly and the lot of us got shunted to this sticky fold between the city of towers and its wall.
Adults watched from behind laundry lines and porch card games as I went, surely and quiet. Some probably recognized me. Hoofslide isn’t big, and its not a warren the way most of the city’s underside is. There’s the tents and the hovels made from whatever we could steal or salvage at the edges, and then the center blocks lined with squat tenements set with the occasional crumbling plaster tower, pathetic next to the city’s field of bigger and cleaner ones.
I stopped at the edge of the block and stared at the ugly buildings, the shadow from the wall making every window like dark sockets. I sucked in a breath. It was one thing to swagger down a street, another thing entirely to duck under your old transom and ask for help. Didn’t like that best of days, and this wasn’t that.
But Kirra needed some Hoofslide expertise; Vin and I had clawed our way out too long ago to be that. And when a mage says she’ll owe you, you nod nice and rack up that favor, even if it means stomping old ground. I sighed, reminded myself my Da hadn’t been something since the city and drink got its hooks into him, and readied myself to lie about exactly just that.