Hey all! Thanks for stopping by!
Quick word before the story: I'm going to try and start doing semi-regular updates, at least a chapter-part, or (hopefully) into a full chapter every two weeks or so, as life allows!
I apologize ahead of time for the slow nature of releases for this story, between life and meticulous details... well... sometimes it doesn't always pan out like I'd like it to. In any case; for your reading pleasure--!
This reading submission has been flagged as "mature/adult." The easily offended would be wise to avoid it, and all subsequent works.
** Part One: The City of Stilts **
The clouds hung low over Khami Rhus, the sheet of black feeling only an arms reach away from the top of the chapel. Rain nor wind came with it-- a blessing, really, to the foreigners staying within the precariously located city.
Wedged against a cliff and straddling a river and waterfall, more carefully considered architecture would have made Khami Rhus a place of surreal beauty. But prayer, and expertly considered placement of iron braces were the only things keeping the two sides of the city from collapsing against one another to fall into the raging river below.
Throughout its bleak history the village of outlaws turned miners or fisherman had stood the tests of time with stoic resolve. This particular season saw the trout run sparse, and grain thin. The copper harvests had been less than stellar, and the coal veins proving unreliable, impure and unfit for export.
Khami Rhus would weather the poverty as it always did... but the denizens were little prepared for the quake that devastated the local mine.
The once private city, and the most lucrative of copper and coal mines north of Burghem was all but ransacked with doctors, scientists, apothecaries, and clergy; bustling across the bridges with alarming purpose. Khami Rhus was all but modernized overnight, with hastily installed gaslights, a gondola to the forest far below, and steel reinforcements to the load bearing beams holding the city upright.
Attempts to lower powerful excavation equipment failed catastrophically-- sending a renown drill and its crew to their grave at the bottom of the waterfall. The remainder of the work was only left to swarthy workmen, and sturdy shovels.
Feeble braces and inadequate ventilation bred ill-tempered, and violent workmen and structural collapses had turned the sprawling tunnel system into a singular pit; echoing with the screams of the trapped, injured and dying. Gravel and heavy rock had torn limbs from bodies, and the squalid conditions of the mines had made infection as common as blood.
Workers who were able scurried to and fro; canines, avians and felines alike pulling away debris, fallen friends from the dry air, and red dust.
Limb, body, bone or flesh alike was brought one and all to the church a stones throw from the mines, where figures in towering cassocks, and expressionless porcelain masks scurried; apothekes crammed desperately to one side of the church, and pews dismantled, and lined up for ramshackle gurneys across from them with a single aisle down the middle to allow foot traffic to the altar.
The masks did little to aid the apothekes and doctors-- muffling the shouts for help or materials and poultices; many working away from the patients had even removed their masks entirely to better communicate.
Paws dashed over the dwindling supply of fresh herbs, alcohols and clays; each of three dozen apothekes scrambling to keep up with the requirements of the sea of patients, and the handful of providers.
"Move...! Move!" A voice shouted toward the table. The apothekes stared for a moment as one, only to rescind their paws-- a caravan of trolleys moving just passed the table, swapping empty bowls, jugs and jars with preciously few ingredients.
"Damn my eyes... Is this everything!?" The head-apothecary, Reynauld Byron, squawked irately. The raven's glossy black feathers ruffled slightly as he scowled forward at the line of scientists, who could only nod abysmally.
Anthony-- a border collie standing only a few strides from the avian-- saw the dismay cross the bird's wizened, aged features. He wet his lips slowly as Reynauld relented, the bird's shoulders drooping as he glanced over the table, then onward to the patients. The suppliers left as quickly as they had come; Anthony was among the few that did not rush immediately back to the table.
"What next, Prelate Byron...?" Anthony asked cautiously as the raven strode by him.
The raven's eyes darted across the scene, his throat visibly tight as he surveyed what he could of the area.
"There has to be some local herbs... anything..." Anthony's ears perked as he slid behind the bird, following Reynauld closely. "Peppermint, yarrow...."
"A salvage crew works to bring the drill to the surface. There is a gondola to the surface below used often by the workers to change shifts."
"I'll gather herbs from the forests below." Anthony said flatly as they reached the open, stagnant air. "Peppermint, yarrow...?" The collie said, hoping to goad more from the avian.
The Prelate rubbed his forehead, clacking his beak pensively as his shoulders drooped slowly. "In this climate, peppermint may be difficult to find. Perhaps just mint, balsam fir, yarrow and mold for now."
"Keep the infections down, and the digestive system moving." Anthony wet his lips carefully, the collie dedicating the small list to memory as the avian spoke again.
"If you can find it, vervain. Some of our own are starting to exhibit symptoms of stress disorder."
Anthony nodded, wetting his lips carefully as he glanced toward the sky. "What time do you think the shift changes--"
"Dusk and dawn." Reynauld said smoothly. "I was a laborsman salvager before a trade apotheke."
"Anything I should know?"
"There are two things aboard those ships, lad--" The avian called over his shoulder as he strode across the wavering rope bridge. "Vulgarity and drink."