As Lift hung from the ceiling, dangling precariously from a rope with one hand, reaching out with the other towards the basket, she was forced to acknowledge that stealing food just didn’t give her the same thrill as it once had. She continued to pretend, because she didn’t want her life to change. She hated change. Stealing people’s food was basically her thing. She’d been doing it for years, and she still did get a thrill when she saw their starvin' faces. They’d open a drawer and their chouta wrap was gone, or they’d pick up their plate and find it empty. They’d adopt the most sublime moment of cross-eyed panic and confusion. And then they’d smile and look to see where she was.
They didn’t see her of course, she was way too good at hiding, but they’d look, and they seemed fond. You weren’t supposed to be fond when someone stole from you. Ruined the entire experience. Then there was this. She stretched a little further, fingers brushing the basket. She swung on her rope, stretched out and… there, she snatched the basket. She stuffed the handle between her teeth and scuttled back up the rope, vanishing into the hidden labyrinth of small tunnels that laced the ceilings and walls of the tower. Up here Wyndle waited, coiled up upon himself and making a face out of vines and crystal.
“Oh!” he said, “A full basket! Let’s see what she left you this time.”
“Ain't nobody leavin' me nothing,” Lift snapped. “I stole it, unfair and square. Also, hush. Someone might hear.”
“They can’t hear me Mistress, I am…”
“I hear you, so hush, whinyspren.” She crept away from the hole, pushing the basket ahead of her as she crawled through the small tunnel. The next intersection was a tight squeeze, but she could make herself slippery with Stormlight, so she got through. Two turns and a straight crawl later, they entered a small intersection of tunnels, where she’d left a sphere for light. The roof of the tunnel was a little higher here, letting her settle down with her back against the stone so she could inspect her prize. Wyndle came in on the ceiling, taking the shape of a growing vine that crept across the stone. He formed a face again right above her, looking down as she pulled open the basket and began rifling through it. Flatbreads and curry, sugared mashed beans, little jar with a cute face drawn on top, along with the Horneaters’ symbol for love. It looked like jam inside. Lift looked up at the ceiling and the blinking vine face hanging from it.
“Alright,” she admitted, “maybe she left it out for me.”
“Starving stupid Horneater woman,” Lift grumbled, slathering jam on the flatbread. “Her dad knew how to make it look like an accident, leaving stuff out so I could take it. Let me storming pretend.”
She stuffed the bread in her mouth. Damnation it was good. Only made the experience more humiliating.
“I don’t see the problem, Mistress,” Wyndle said.
“That’s 'cause you’re a dummyspren,” she said, then stuffed the rest of the flatbread into her mouth, talking around it. “Don’t <blahgruhbluhbluhluh>.”
“I do too like fun in my life,” he said. “Last week I displayed the most beautiful art installation of chairs from around the tower. The others thought it quite majestic; they complimented the stools in particular.”
Lift sighed, leaning back against the wall and just slumped there. Not really angry, not really sad, she was just… <blarglegorf>. Supremely <blarglegorf>.
Storms. The wrap she wore underneath her shirt was really starting to itch today. “Come on,” she said, grabbing the basket and sphere and then moving on through the tower's innards.
“Is it really so bad?” Wyndle said, following. “Cord likes you. That’s why she leaves things out for you”.
“I’m not supposed to be liked,” Lift snapped. “I’m a shadow. A dangerous and unseen shadow moving mysteriously from place to place, never seen, always feared.”
“Yes, a starvin' shadow alright?” She had had to squeeze through the next tunnel, too. Stupid, stupid, stupid. “This tower here, it's like a big old corpse, and I’m like blood, sneakin' around through its veins.”
“Why would a corpse have blood in its veins?”
“Fine, it’s not dead, it’s…sleepin', and we’re its stormin' blood, alright?”
“I should think,” Wyndle said as she squeezed through another tight fit, “these air vents are more like intestines. So the allegory would make you more akin to, um, well… feces, I guess.”
“Wyndle…” she said, pulling through.
“Maybe stop trying to help with my deezy metaphors, alright?”
“Storming lamespren,” she muttered, getting to a section of air vents that were larger. She did like this tower. There were lots of places to hide and places to explore, particularly if you were a person of the smaller variety. Up here in this network of stone ventilation shafts, she found the occasional mink or other scavenger, but it was really just her domain. The adults were too big and the other children too frightened. Plus, she could glow when properly fed, and her awesomeness could get her through tight squeezes. When she'd first started exploring up here, there hadn’t been nearly as many of those as there were now. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
They eventually reached her nest, an opening where four ventilation shafts met. Here, she'd piled up blankets, food stores, and some treasures. One of Dalinar’s knives she was absolutely sure he hadn't wanted her to steal. Some interesting shells. An old flute that Wyndle said looked strange to him. There were near a well where she could get all the water she wanted, but far enough away from population that she could talk without feeling like people could hear her.
The previous nest she'd made before moving had let her listen in on echoes of people nearby, but they’d been able to hear her, as well. She’d heard them talking about the echoing in the ventilation shafts. "The spirit of the tower," they’d said. And that had been nifty at first, but then they’d started leaving out stuff for her, like she was like the stormin' Nightwatcher. And then she’d started to feel guilty. You can’t be takin' stuff from people who don’t have much to give. That was the first rule of not being a total and utter useless piece of chull dung.
She munched on some stolen food from her basket, then sighed and got up. She stepped to the side wall, putting her back to it.
“Come on,” she said, “Do it.”
Wyndle moved up the wall. As always, he left a trail of vines behind him. Those would crumble and decay soon after, but for a short time could be used to mark something, like the height of a girl standing beside the wall. He moved across the wall atop her head, then she stepped back and marked the line with a more permanent one out of chalk.
“That’s almost a full inch since last time,” she said.
“I’m… sorry, Mistress.”
She flopped down in her nest of blankets, wanting to curl up and cry. But she didn’t do that, because she wasn't storming weak. Instead, she took off her shirt, then undid the wrap around her chest and redid it tightly.
“I’ll stop eating,” she said. “That’ll stunt my growth.”
“You? Stop eating?”
“I could do it!” She pulled the wrap tighter, then put her shirt back on. Then she just lay and stared up at the marks on the wall showing the progress of her height over the last eight months.
“Mistress,” Wyndle said, curling up like an eel and raising a vine head beside her. He was getting better at making faces, and this one was one of her favorites. It had little vines that looked like mustaches. “Don’t you think it is time that you told me what exactly you asked the Nightwatcher?”
“Doesn’t matter.” she said. “It was all lies. The boon, the promises. Lies, lies, lies.”
“I have met the Nightwatcher,” Wyndle said. “She does not think the same way the rest of us do. Cultivation created her to be apart, to be separate from mankind, unconnected. She wanted to create a daughter whose shape and personality would not be influenced by the perceptions of humans. This makes the Nightwatcher less... well, human than a spren like myself. Still, I don’t believe her capable of lying. It isn’t something she could conceive of, I believe.”
“She’s not the liar,” Lift said, closing her eyes. Storms, she’d made the wrap too tight; she could barely breathe. “It’s the other one, the one with the dress like leaves merging into the underbrush, hair like twigs, skin the color of deep brown stone.”
“So, you saw Cultivation herself. That is rare.”
“I had suspected it was true. Your situation is unique. Why, seeing into the Cognitive Realm even a little is an uncommon feature in a human, and turning food into Stormlight… well, you’re special, Lift”.
“I didn’t want to be special.”
“Says the girl who just earlier was comparing herself dramatically to a shadow.”
“I just wanted what I asked for.”
“Not important now.”
“I rather think it is.”
“I asked not to change,” Lift whispered, opening her eyes. “I said when everything else is going wrong, I want to be the same. I want to stay me, not become someone else.”
“Those are the exact words you asked?”
“Best I can remember.”
“Hmm,” Wyndle said, snuggling down into his vines. “I believe the problem is how vague you were.”
“I wasn’t vague! I told her, make me so I don’t grow up.”
“That is not what you said, Mistress. And if I might be so bold, having spent a great deal of time around you, I should tell you that you are not an easy person to understand.”
“I asked not to change, so why am I changing?”
“You’re still you, just a bigger version.”
She squeezed her eyes shut again.
“Mistress. Lift. Will you tell me why this bothers you so much? Everyone grows, everyone changes.”
“But I’m…I’m her little girl.”
“Who’s little girl?” he asked gently. “Your mother?”
Lift nodded. Stupid, sounded stupid and she was stupid. Mother was dead, that was that. Why hadn’t she said the right words? Why hadn’t Cultivation just understood? She was supposed to be some sort of starving god. It was her fault if a little girl came and begged for a promise that got deliberately misinterpreted and… and Lift liked who she was, who she had been. She wouldn’t be the same when she got older.