Brash Young Fools

Into the Old Quarter

The cost was too high.

To Runesmith Vrugl Orehunter, Karak Kadrin.

Father Smith,

I’m sorry if my writing is somewhat harder to read than usual. My finger. My hand is. Something is growing in me, in my lungs and limbs, some ancient, horrible disease. One of my fingers is literally rotting. I write to you, because you were good to my household and I wish to tell my grudges, if this is the end. I could not write this to my mother.

My first grudge is against the craven people of Bogenhafen and specifically the temple of Shallya therein. Those fools sent us on a pointless quest to save the town, on which we found that the living saint was an alcoholic, hidden away while plague raged by an avaricious priest so he could have a bigger temple. Greedy, monstrous, idiot.

When we returned to the town, we found it joyous at the return of the blind saint, who was to heal the old quarter at sundown. We knew it all to be a sham, spotted the priest’s agent in the robes of a Shallayan priestess, and could not leave a lie untold. We recruited the leader of the Myrmidians to our cause, a silent, noble lady, and headed for the mayor to tell our story. Sadly, the boatman, Heinrich, got somewhat physical with the mayor’s guards, and we were confined to a cell for most of the day; it gave Heinrich the time to learn juggling, at least. When our friend Dolf, the priest of Verena, got us out, we went straight to the temple and confronted Rufus.

He was unrepentant and threw us out, so we went to St Helena herself and told her the truth, as near as we could. Finally, having been thrown out twice, we barged back in and confronted the priestess behind all the machinations – the hiring of Sharp Jake and the Myrmidians, and the kidnap itself. She nearly admitted all – but Rufus threw us out again. She bears my second grudge.

We went to Mayor Ludwig, and convinced him of our suspicions; he provided us with guards to aid us. Our next step was to provide him with a witness; we contacted a slattern, Suzanne, who owed us under the laws of Ranald (that loathsome god of thieves) and used her threats of blackmail to lure the Priestess out from the temple. As the guards captured her and dragged her away, she told us that we had created a crisis of faith in St Helena and she was refusing to enter the old quarter, except alone. Madness given the hunger of the people in there – and given the chanting we heard.

My third grudge is against him, Pastor Rufus of Shallya and Bogenhafen. The fool who stalled us and wasted our lives and the people’s lives, who couldn’t live consistently within the naive strictures of his faith. We had to go to him, humbled, and ask his leave to aid St Helena in any way on her mission to the old quarter. He sent us over the wall, alone, with a certain grim pleasure.

The boatman Heinrich did it, roaring at the guard Saul, until we were snuck in. I look across at my idiot friend, as he gasps and gurgles. He was so strong then, but now he lies there, beaten down by the minions of the fly lord, and I fear he is rife with infection. During the night one of the Myrmidions died suddenly, eaten from the inside by worms; I wonder what will happen to us.

Once inside, the horror of the place was… bodies, everywhere, buildings burnt, men killing, eating, other men. There was no sign of Goodly Spittle, the honest surgeon who had been tending to the poor when we left two days before. No-one would attack us, three heavily-armed fools, but the things… Across a wall, a boy(?) was nailed, three buboes dangling from his chest, his skin flayed like parchment, his face gone; Karl put him out of his misery. We passed through the ruins quickly and just reached the gates in time for Helena’s entrance. The sainted fool entered, scattering roses, and a horde of the starving rushed her, before being blown apart by the guards’ blunderbusses.

We silently followed her, guarding her against her people, picking off the hungry poor who attempted to approach her. As she picked, her way across the burnt ruins and bodies, she sang a high, disturbing song. Eventually, we came to the old town square and the central well; a poor place to make a stand, with no natural defences, and two entrances, but here she lay down and prayed.

We waited. And waited. Night fell and we lit torches, scattering them. Hope sprang in our hearts – perhaps, perhaps, we might live through the night unassaulted? No. A gurgle alerted us to a dozen shambling citizens, all marked with that same sigil of the three buboes, assaulting us. They were not warriors and we defeated them easily. Soon, however another group assaulted us, backed up by a flapping, shambling mutant monstrosity which took many of Karl’s quarrels before I hacked it down. They had struck a grievous blow to the still-praying St Helena and Heinrich was also bloodied.

Dawn was still far off when the final attack came, two days after we last slept. St Helena’s prayers were louder than ever, as a horde of tangled monstrosities and starving plague-ridden fools charged us. From a rooftop nearby, a familiar face called to us; it was Spittle, but not Spittle. His mouth was sewn up but his belly had ruptured into a larger mouth, and buboes crawled across his skin; it was obvious he no longer served human gods. He bears my fourth, strongest Grudge, chasing him from this world to the next. He cried out and the sky filled with flies; Karl sank an arrow into his forehead and he merely laughed “I feel no pain”. Soon, Heinrich was surrounded by three of the large monstrosities and torn and rent. I lopped the legs off one of the tentacled things, but more cultists stepped forward, and all seemed lost.

Praise be, at this point Lucilla and her armoured Myrmidians arrived; for their timely appearance, I bear them no grudges. They surrounded the saint and bought us time to deal with the ringleader; Spittle. We chased him up to the rooftop and, whilst I attempted to remonstrate with him, Karl pinned him to the wall with an arrow. I ran up and… he vomitted putrescence. I fell down, as the stream of wriggling disease came towards us but my finger was caught and rotted before my eyes. Heinrich caught it full in the gut; I dread to think what incubates inside him now.

Lucky Karl seemed to shrug it off and fired another quarrel into Spittle as I hacked his head in half. Spittle’s belly bellowed again “I feel no PAIN” and swung great cleavers at me. I heard Heinrich yell, on the stairs, as a horde of cultists ran at, and over, him, coming for us. Karl in desperation yelled “Shallya!” and hurled a healing potion at Spittle; it distracted him enough for me to swing my axe one last time and chop him clean in two. The halves staggered towards each other… and collapsed.

The flies fell from the air; the chanting ceased; the cultists paused… and fled.

We sat up all night, tending our wounds and burning the bodies. My ruined finger means, I can no longer hold my axe cleanly or write with ease; what use is a student who cannot write? Heinrich did not seem likely to live through the night, but somehow survived, though I’m not sure how long either of us have.

Eventually, dawn approached. St Helena ceased her chanting and looked up to the rising sun with her blind eyes. “Thank you” she said and just… fell apart, into, oh… old, rotten flesh. I feel the curse is gone from this quarter, but I do not know if we will ever be allowed to leave it; with our sicknesses, I would not allow us to escape either. My final grudge is against this fly lord, whoever he is; if I live long enough, I will find him and kill him.

Please tell mother I love her and that the pumping engine at the base of Shaft 3 is due for refurbishment – Dagny will never remember.

May Valaya sleep all our days.
Grok

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