Sobs echoed through the underground.
Refugees cupped warm bowls, wrapped in ragged sheets and tattered rags. The stew, a boiled amalgamation of a few carrots, potatoes, and what scraps of meat that could be found was distributed meagerly about. A stale, watery taste was shared.
Off to the side, The Wheel men spoke in hushed voices, taking bites of jerky as they eyed the ragged men and women who took shelter under the factory.
Near by, in a small tent, Chuck lay restless. Sleep was impossible, the arid cries of those unfortunate enough to have lived through the skeletal assault tore through his scales like a frozen wind.
His stomach growled. The stew was too light to satisfy or fill, not more than warm water with a hint of taste. No spices existed here to improve the situation. His tongue whipped about in his mouth, dancing at the memory of curry and pepper and allspice. Rolling over he grimaced, trying to think of something else.
“Chuckathy” the tin voice rang from outside the tent. The lizardfolk sat up.
Zelkova was of the queer folk, a strange and unnatural kind considered noble by the city. Chuck didn’t much care for the addition to his name, but he enjoyed the company Zelkova gave. With that, Zelkova always had many thinks to cook
“You called boss?” He asked, stepping from the tent.
“Yes, I managed to gather some small supplies. Please cook them as you see fit” The noble brandished some salted beef, a meager bags of spices, and trimming of fat on a string. Plenty enough for Chuck to stew.
The two sparked a fire, setting to work on their meal. The others gathered around, drawn by heat, or smell. Little was said. Survival had been more fluke than favor. A grim shroud of despair lingered, peaked by the misery that rang through the empty warehouse.
Ages past. The water bubbled. The spices marked the thickening water as the lard dissolved into the mix. The meat rose and fell, its brownish red edges coloring. The aroma was the only plesant thing in the atmosphere.
“She’s ready” Chuck broke the silence. With care, he ladled portions into bowls. The rations were small, but at the very least filling. Far more so than swill the rest of the encampment ate.
and so they supped.
With bellies full, spirits lifted. The occasional grin could be seen passing between Dwynen and his sister, or exchanged between Tiska and Andre in that stoic and silent way they shared.
Off to the side, kek’s and clacks could be heard as bread attempted to teach a squad how to speak Crypt. But the effort was futile, the various clicks were difficult to distinguish, let alone speak. A few recruits even chipped their teeth in the process. Tiska grimaced remembering the trials of learning at a young age. Years spent on the effort, and two teeth lost in the process.
“After what happened, d’ya think our waterhole still stands?” Chuck thought aloud
“Most likely” Zelkova answered "From what we’ve seen, the Skeletons are not concerned with damaging the infrastructure in this area. Their efforts appear to be focused on eradication of “the parasite”
“Yess’m” Chuck agreed “I just hope the girl’s waiting for us when this is over”
“Vvell at very least, is not burned down” Tiska chimed in. Zelkova paused momentarily, then continued eating his stew. “Unlike last time”
“Yes that is very good” Mathias hummed. “But not good enough I think” He stared off into the distance. The plague showed on his face now, skin visibly strained by the infection ravaging his body. He and Alden sat further away from the rest, isolating themselves.
“Well, we are alive” Dwynen rose. “As long as we live, we have a chance to take our world back.” his sister raised a proud fist in agreement.
Mathias eyed him. “The enemy is immortal. They do not sleep, eat, tire or cease their efforts.” His voice cut the room. “As if that was not enough, they weaponize the plague, while at the same time invoking powers from the lemon sword that defy any sane logic we have applied to the situation”
The whole group stared at him. He blinked, then shifted in is set.
“Forgive my harshness” he apologized. “These days have taken their toll”
The moment lingered in the air. the party looked from one to another. Tired, battle soaked faces filled with fatigue and pain shared their anguish with one another. Smiles faded, eyes drooped. Tiska shuffled into Andre, who gently pulled her in with an arm. Dwynen and his sister sat back to back parallel to the fading cook fire. Zelkova covered his mouth, staring into the dirt. Alden looked at Mathias. Then broke the silence.
“You’re just airing out what we’re all thinking.” He gave the geezer a pat on the back. “This is a bleak situation.”
The archer looked to his companions. “But thankfully, we do not bear this weight alone.”
Heads nodded in approval.
the party rested around the fire once more.
tranquility, marked by the occasional sob, was ruptured by an approaching guitar strum. Heads turned, spying the approaching form of Darius.
“Hail Painhammer” Mathias started. “I am glad to see you alive.”
“Yup” He drew his mouth to a thin line.
A moment passed, everyone starting at the bard.
“Anyways, I think you all may want to come see this”
The party exchanged glances, then rose, following the bard across the camp.
The harrowed faces of forlorn souls and wounded innocents marked the journey. People begging for aid, crying from hunger or for lost loved ones. Off to the side a quarantine held those who suffered from advanced stages of the plague. Horrid puss ridden sores marked limp and lifeless bodies, gasping as they clung to the final strands of their existence. Rotted fingers and extremities littered their floor space, dried pools of blood and rotted bandages festered in the ick. The Keeper and the Scout grit their teeth, praying they could cure themselves before they found that stage.
The air was suddenly filled with a small and powerful voice. It gnashed at the bars that held it, offering either death or a good time depending on who was being spoken too, in exchange for freedom. The noise first bred confusion with the party, an emotion that blossomed into surprise and disbelief. The group picked up speed, racing ahead to an area sporting makeshift cages. Behind bars, thieves, killers, profiteers of the helpless, and there, alone in a cage in the back, guarded by the larges of the wheel bearing men, Sat Ratty Jane.
“Jane!?!” Zelkova shouted in disbelief. Jane looked over, suddenly quiet, then smiled as her friends approached her. “How in the name of the five did you end up here?”
“Funny story actually” She rang out into the air, smiling as she spoke. “Would you mind busting me out of this cage?”