- Word count: 800 (2 to 6 minutes) | Rating: T | Story: Saving Ourselves
- Read chapter 2
- Read character introductions: Mari
- Available on Patreon and Wattpad with extra content on Tumblr
- Note: Post-apocalyptic setting, fantasy races (common and original), magic.
- ©2020 Jam Blute.
All the old streets leading into the capital held up better than she guessed they would. Back when the first wave of smog rolled out of Garres City, people scrambling to outrun it, Mari figured they were done for. Then the Union broke out all kinds of new devices in a blink, and people held on. They farmed with small magic sunlight lamps. Worked around the beasts hiding out in the smoke. Everyone moved on.
No one found a way to maintain the roads like they used to, though. So the brick and stone had moss growing in places, and sometimes they were chipped, but a carriage could usually go over them. New paths cropped up over the years, wearing away barely living grass and leaving dirt roads behind. You could take either if you had to keep to pathways.
Mari liked it more her way. Standing on a wide branch in some stubborn, leafless tree let her see farther out without being seen herself. Watching and learning was a good chunk of her work as a Union scout. The enchanted map back at the Kagtan base was always updating with information from every scout in the field, and it really showed in your recon area if you didn’t measure up. The goggles in recon masks could filter out some of the smog, but that only helped if Mari traveled away from the spots where everyone already looked.
Anywhere far from people had more creatures—a few wandered around below her tree as she scoped out the hilly terrain near the Genoa Falls city-state—but Mari would take them over people any day. Beasts, she got. They attacked people on sight and didn’t give up easy. Simple. She knew where she stood and what the stakes were. But people? Figuring out what they had in mind was beyond her most of the time. With some people, that was a blessing as far as she cared.
Just like that, the sigil burned into the leather of her shoulder holster pulsed instead of its steady purple glow. Both in the way it lit up and how it thrummed against her chest like a frantic bird. Couldn’t miss a message from the Union if she tried. Pressing three fingers to the emblem, Mari took a seat on the branch and answered like she’d been taught. “Mari, Genoa.”
“Congratulations, you’re on a new assignment.” The butter upon bacon sort, mages in the Union didn’t have to introduce themselves to most people. Anyway, the less any random scout knew, the better. “The Mills-Falls carriages are off course, headed right for a shroud. Their assigned harvesters are gone. Investigate and report.”
Mari shook her head at the thin, waving branches. Gone. That didn’t give her much of an idea of what she was walking into. “They dead?”
“Focus.” It wasn’t a request. Scouting would have to wait, and she’d go into the latest task as blind as a dwarven bird.
Did answer her question about going to look for them, though. They were on their own if they were alive at all. Anyone working with the Union was used to it, especially after these four years waiting for the Union to clear the smoke. Each New Year Festival passed quietly and the people out doing the work mattered less and less each time. Hard to tell if they were getting close or getting desperate.
Not that it was Mari’s job to find out which was which.
“Where’re they?” She had her map in a hidden pocket, but she didn’t want to pull it out when she knew whoever this was had to be staring right at it in Kagtan. Maybe if she was lucky, this conversation would drain her two-way sigil and give her some peace. It’s not like she could use it to call for help, obviously. She was on her own as much as the others.
“Towards the valley city-state, Brook Mills.”
“That’s in the thick of the shroud now. Why go there?”
All artisans and farmers lived out there, typically trading with Genoa. That meant some must’ve moved there before it got too bad. But who would be mad enough to go into a shroud? As far away as Mari was, she could still make out the denser, darker purple-black gloom over their city-state. Mountains to the north of Brook Mills only made it harder for smoke to spread out and spare anyone caught up in it. Even with a horse-drawn carriage, there wasn’t enough crystal energy to make a round trip.
“You’re the scout. Investigate and report.”
The pulsing light dimmed again to a flat glow. End of conversation, then. Mari tightened her bun and started her climb down from the tree.