Yup, you guessed it, it’s time for a brand new adventure story. I’ve had about six stories started this year and, when I went to outline the different story trails, found I wasn’t happy with where each story led, no matter which ending we discovered. So I appreciate your patience as I finally have a story I’m excited to share!
Let’s get started =)
There’s a hollow feel to the city even from the outside. The occasional gust of wind throws dirt from the walls and howls through the crenellations like the city is moaning in its loneliness.
“It’s alive,” someone whispers.
“Hush,” says the Commander, but even his voice isn’t that loud. You all call him Commander because he took charge of the group as soon as he joined it. You’re not actually sure he’s a military man, but that doesn’t matter. He offered a dim hope and you jumped at it.
The group stands in the tree line eyeing the great, empty city of Calla Sadum. The forest also leaves the city alone, only growing beyond a buffer of 500 yards around the walls.
You shiver, realizing you have to cross that empty space to enter the gates.
“The old apothecaries stored their wares in clay jars. You all know what you’re looking for.” The Commander’s been over this but you appreciate the time you get to stall as he talks. Personally, you’re looking for a jar about the size of your fist that’s painted red. “Watch yourselves,” he says, “Calla Sadum isn’t safe.”
“What will we find inside?” someone asks.
The Commander scoffs. “Your guess is as good as mine. No one comes back from Calla Sadum.”
You hold in another shiver.
This is a suicide mission, but then, you don’t have any hope beyond something insane like this. You touch your fingers against your thumb and withhold tears as there’s no sensation on your fingertips.
Everyone in the group has their own physical ailment. A man near the Commander barely stops himself from scratching at a sore on his neck. You fervently hope it’s not the plague. The boy standing beside you holds out a stick but it’s his milky eyes that hold your attention. He’s remarkably capable at getting around for being blind. Each illness just highlights the cruelty of your home village. They considered each illness so catching or so horrendous that they threw you out.
You eye the hollow city again. Calla Sadum offers a dim, but possible, hope. Before it’s abandonment centuries before, it had healers the like of which the world hasn’t seen since. To those healers, the Plague, or Leprosy in your case, was just another illness like the flu.
The city lets out a deep rumble you feel travel up your calves. The soles of your feet can’t really tell you much anymore.
“It’s alive,” someone insists.
Calla Sadum was abandoned and yet, no one knows why.
“We go in,” the Commander doesn’t even acknowledge the comment. “Pair off. It’s your job to watch your partner’s back.”
You go still. This is the first you’ve heard anything about going in pairs and you’re a decent scout on your own. You’re not sure about being stuck with someone whose skills, and illness, are unknown.
By the time you reconcile yourself to working with a partner, there’s only one man left.
A mass of scars cover the left side of his face and travel down his neck into the collar of his shirt. If some disease causes that, you’ve not heard of it. As he approaches, you realize he’s no taller than your shoulder.
“Angus,” he introduces himself by shoving a hand toward your face.
You hesitate before shaking it but he doesn’t seem concerned about touching you. You eye each other as the rest of the group begins approaching the city.
“Leprosy?” Angus guesses.
You try to hide your fingers in your sleeves.
He chuckles wryly. “Can see the white coloration on your hands.” He waves his fingers to emphasize his point. “No worries, my friend,” he continues, “been around a leper or two. Still haven’t caught it.”
“Cool,” you say, still trying to place what he has.
“Ah, you’re wondering about me,” he says. “Nothing contagious. Got caught in a fire a few years back.”
You raise a brow.
“You’re thinking old scars can’t be healed? Well, I hear there are treatments to help them fade.”
The scars running down his face boast deep purple coloring in the middle. They spider out into thin white lines like the branches of a gnarled tree. No amount of salve or ointment will lessen those, but you don’t have the heart to tell him that.
“What jar are you looking for?” you ask instead.
“Red and white,” he grins. The expression changes his face so much that you give a small smile in return. He jerks his head toward the city and turns away to amble in the group’s wake. His stride hitches on the left side and he leans like that leg is shorter than the other. The pack he carries slides off center, making him stumble.
This doesn’t even seem to register on him, however, and you suspect he’s so used to the motion that he doesn’t notice it any more.
It’s not near Angus. It’s not even near the main body of the group who are now halfway to the gates.
You keep watching until you see it again, thankful that the leprosy hasn’t affect your eyes—yet.
There, above the gates, something slides along the wall, creating a small puff of dust. The motion lasts only long enough for you to blink and then it’s gone.
“Angus!” you call and hurry to catch up.
“What’s up, my friend?” he asks.
“Watch.” You point toward the gates.
He watches. No questions asked. No skeptical comments. You wait for so long that you start to wonder if you imagined everything.
A puff of dust, just a hint of motion, and then nothing.
Angus hisses air through his teeth. “Good eyes,” he says. “Stones settling? Wind?” The words sound hopeful but even as he says them, you’re both shaking your heads.
“Too focused of a spot,” you say and he grunts.
“Should we warn the others?”
By now, the group is almost to the gates. You open your mouth to say ‘yes’ just as the ground lurches.
Screams fill the air but even those are cut off with a thud as the group disappears into a pit that rolled open directly beneath their feet. As quickly as it opened, the ground rolls again and the pit vanishes, leaving no trace of the Commander or anyone else. A line of dust, like a horse running but thinner, puffs up along the wall and then is gone as well.
You start to think you know why the trees give the city walls a wide birth.
“For all that’s holy!” Angus curses. “They didn’t even get inside.”
Your mind races. “They might be inside now,” you muse, “they might not be dead.”
“It was a pit,” you point out. “They might be held captive inside.”
Angus curses again but you can’t make out his words.
“We can’t approach in daylight,” you continue, thinking aloud, “and we probably need to find another way to enter besides the gates.”
“You still want to go in?”
“Have to,” you respond, holding up your white tipped fingers.
He grunts. “Fair enough. What do you propose now?”
You share a look and in his eyes you see the same drive that pushes you. That same pain of being cut off from all that used to be normal.
“Check this out.” He hunkers down in the grass and pulls from his pack a well-worn leather notebook. Flipping through it, he stops on a page and holds it open on the grass. “My Granpap used to tell me stories like he’d gotten inside once. Thought he was half gone from dementia but might be worth checking now.” A quick look at the city gates again makes him shudder.
The page he’s holding open displays a partial sketch of an aqueduct system.
“What’s this?” you ask about a circle with an arrow pointing to it.
“Drainage port in the mountain,” Angus points to the north of the city where the mountain rises as its back wall. “Granpap said that’s how he got in.”
“He called those the Bones.” Angus shrugs. “Creatures of some sort but I never could figure out what kind.“
“One option,” you tap the page with your finger and ignore the fact that you can’t feel the sensation. “There was also rumor of an escape tunnel for the King hidden in the forest to the south,” you say. “I hesitated it use it because all the stories say it’s littered with bones. Speculation says they didn’t get far even if they got out of the city.”
“Ayeee,” Angus grumbles. “All guess work! North or South, my friend?”
A. North Aqueducts
B. South Escape Tunnel
Please post in the comments which option you’d like to explore. Next Thursday, we’ll return and see what’s next in the Outcasts adventure!