The Dust Settles

8th October, The Sprawl Compound, Morning

Doctor Ashworth peered out of his dust marred window into the courtyard below. His was one of the few building left relatively unscathed during last nights events. Removing his round glasses he absently wiped them on a cloth he produced from his shirt pocket. Satisfied that they were clean he placed them back on and frowned at the chaos below.

There were bodies everywhere, soldiers and rebels; patients and prisoners. They were all the same now, all equally dead. The ruins of the tank still sat smouldering in the centre of the yard and all about it the airship debris was strewn around. He heard a soft cough from behind him and turned to see that is patient was awake again.

The man lay on an iron table, his arms and legs strapped down as was his head. His tongue had been removed, a routine procedure. It sat in a jar of formaldehyde on a smaller table nearby waiting for later study. A small name tag was tied by a piece of string to his toe. Doctor Ashworth liked to keep things organised and Captain Tucker here would receive the most efficient if ultimately fatal treatment that could be offered under his care.

The subject was naked apart from his underwear and the signs of plague were in advanced stages on many parts of his body. Already the legs were beyond use and the left arm was bloated and bleeding. Still Captain Tucker had done very well to resist this long and that made him of special interest.

The Doctor reached for his plague mask giving him the horrific visage of a raven that gave the plague doctors their name. The soldiers eyes widened as he saw him approach and he began to struggle against his bonds.

"Be calm young man, it will not be long now." he soothed as he plucked a small scalpel from a nearby trolley.

He looked down at his terrified subject with a thoughtful frown. There was something in the blood maybe. Perhaps Graymire lineage? Those Darklanders were often resistant to such aliment, especially the Ashen. Oh what he wouldn't give to have one of them on his table right now.

***

Varya sat in a dark corner of one of the treatment rooms, or what was left of it, with her knees pulled to her chest. Ever since she fled the party that night she'd volunteered to be a plague it nurse. In doing so she might actually be of some use to someone, anyone, and not just seen as vermin. But even some of the dying didn't like her or refused to be taken care of by "Graymire scum". Volunteering was suicide for anyone. You catch the sickness eventually.

But not her. It had been two days now, most died within the first twenty-four hours. Most nurses were already sick or being burnt like a cruel bonfire.

She silently sobbed into the dirty skin while people moved around her; most were just removing the dead, the rest were cleaning rubble or in the process of succumbing to the pulls of death. So many had died. Last night she'd hid in a supply cabiet for hours on end until things grew quiet. Before the attack a patient Varya always spent time with, a little girl of maybe eight or nine, had passed as well. She recalled the bittersweet moments yesterday and tucked her head down low. Between her fingers lay a folded piece of paper.

~ "What do you want to be when you grow up?" She had looked down to the curly haired child, Erika, resting on the bed with a pale face.

"I," the girl moved into a coughing fit in which Varya tilted the small container of water to her lips. She took a pitiful sip and laid her head back onto the thin pillow. "I wanted to paint. It's all I was good at. I made a portrait for my mommy but I don't think she really liked it. When she sent me away she didn't even thank me for it. I thought it was pretty. Like you! You have dark hair that's all wavy and nice, like a doll's. And your eyes are all colorful and stuff. And you dance!" Even with what little excitement the girl had her voice still sounded hollow and weak like the rest of her.

The way she said was and wanted didn't feel right, she was aware of her state and that she didn't have much time like no child should have to acknowledge. Varya gave her a kind smile to hold back her feelings and squeezed her hand.

"You'll be a great artist. Think you could paint me one day?"

Erika nodded and reached under the pillow to retrieve what appeared to be a note and she handed to the nurse. "That's for you to give to my mommy when you get out of here. I want her to know how nice your were to me, but don't read it yet. Give it to Charlotte Good, I don't know our address. Anyway, what did you wanna be?" For a girl who was losing her voice she was surprisngly talkative. The nurse swallowed down a lump at the mention of her mother's name. She'd finally figured out who that bitch at the party was after some asking around. Plus the girl resembled her in the nose and lips. But the girl didn't need to know her shit mother was dead. Frankly no one cared.

Varya pursed her lips and stuck the paper into her pocket. Back home you never really strove to be anything, it was just being part of the community and doing whatever you got assigned.

"At the theater I used to sing. I really liked it, the operas and such. But having it be a full time job is hard when you're like me," she stroked her black curls gently. Her cheeks were brusied and blotchy like most of the infected in their final stages.

"But you're good at it so why does that matter?"

"Because I have these," she rolled up one of her white sleeves to reveal the Ashen markings she loathed. "Because I look like this and I'm from somewhere else." She began to roll it down but one of Erika's shaking hands reached out and traced over the dark lines with her fingers. She looked in awe for what little emotion her bloodshot eyes could hold.

"I like them. Nobody else has them. Everyone's the same here," she glanced away and back up at the ceiling. The girl seemed to have gotten a chill and curled up into her blanket, eyes still glued on the cracked surface above her. "Can you sing to me? One of your favorites? My sister always sang to me."

"Of course," Varya began petting the girl hair again as she closed her eyes. And of course she used a quiet voice so not to disturb anyone else.

"My lovely bird, you inspire me to sing.
You inspire me to love,
You inspire me to keep us holding on

I love the way you soar and fly,
Grasping my mind through the night,
Always dreaming about going higher than the sky.

You are more gracious and forgiving
Than I have ever been
Cold rains flood the fields of April
Washing all your precious visions

Warmth will creep into your nesting
keep you happy out and in
And the leaves are brown and falling
into piles down below

And the winter frost has come
driving all out of the snow
And it takes you away
And it tears me apart
And it slowly, but surely
Breaks my heart

But the storm is only blooming
like the brightest petals of gold
and I'm waiting here for you love
But your trail is running cold."

Varya choked on the last word as Erika's hand began feeling of chilled ice. The young girl's head had tilted to the side, blood dribbling from the corners of her mouth along with thick saliva after a single gurgle. The present seemed to freeze. Some deaths were loud and grueling. Some were like hers, quiet, maybe even peaceful. A tear streaked down her cheek as she could look away. It was like some hellish trance, the curiosity that was death and transformation into this, a thought Varya found all too familiar.

Could science have helped? Could some dark essence from the world beyond have saved some of these souls from torment into nothing? Something from the Darklands? Her heartbeat slowed like the present in pure sadness and wonder. ~

Now, the aftermath of everything, there were no memories to be held, just skulls. This compound was not forgiving, the entire city had no mercy on anyone and instead continued its reign of horror. Varya looked down to the crumbled note she took from her pocket and took in a sharp exhale as she began to read what the dying girl had wrote.

"Day 1: My nose started bleeding and it hurt. They never hurt before. I can't keep food down now and my feet are always cold?
Day 2: Today I made a friend. She's a nurse and she takes care of me. I hope she sticks around but I dunno why someone as great as her would want to give it all up for some sick people. But she's doing a good thing so she has to be a good person
Day 3: Nurse Varya keeps bringing me water and tucking me in. Why can't the other nurses be like her? I really like my friend. I want her to get out of here and be happy. I'm gonna miss her. Hope she doesn't miss me, I don't wanna make her sad."

The shaking woman broke her silence with tears of sheer agony, crumpling the paper into her palm. The one time she made a difference, gone. The one time she truly mattered, over. It was never enough. No matter how she worked her ass off to be accepted or respected it was all for nothing. And Erika... was one of the few who actually trusted and didn't mind all she was from. She knew she was doing a good thing. She... died anyway. Nothing was worth it anymore.

The rest of her time before the attack wasn't great either. Another died but not in the way one might think. That blood was directly on her hands. Another reason she had no place among civil folk. She was a murderer, a whore, a filthy rat with no place and didn't deserve to be saved like she was. She was the dirt they were all walking over.
And the city itself wasn't the enemy, the people were the birth of merciless and violent.

Joint Post with WhiteCaribou...

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