Chaos Legion: Creeping

Fiafia Haoa perched on the edge of the dock, her legs swinging above the clear waters of the Northern Bay. Her wild, brown hair was tied back in a silk bandana. Her skin was tanned and freckled. She popped a handful of steamed shrimp into her mouth and watched the ships trundle in and out of the harbor.

They reminded her of her father and growing up on his vessel. Blue ocean, blue sky, and a horizon that went on forever. Gods, she’d loved it. But her father had been a pirate, and in the end, the law had caught up to him, and that had been that.

Orphaned and alone, Fiafia had set off for Praetoria in search of a fresh start, fortune, and fame.

She’d found her fresh start working odd jobs around the docks. The pay was barely enough to put food in her belly and a roof over her head. For now, though, it was enough. There would be time enough for fortune and fame later.

“I won’t take those!” an irritated voice rang out.

Fiafia turned. Halfway down the dock, Ralk the harbormaster leaned on his cane and glared up at an elf. Despite the goblin’s diminutive stature, the elf took a step backward and raised his hands defensively. In his right, he held a sheaf of papers.

“Look,” the elf said. “There was no plague in Blue Harbor when we left port. My wares aren’t infected. You can’t just turn us away.”

“Either you produce the proper documents,” Ralk said with a sneer, “or that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

With the ships and their trade came rumors of the plague sweeping Praetoria. Entire villages infected. People sick, dead, or driven mad. The Creeping Plague they called it. No one knew where it came from or how it started, although some said a man in black wearing a bird-like mask always appeared before it began.

Ralk the harbormaster caught sight of Fiafia seated at the end of the dock and shot her a disapproving glare. She finished her shrimp, wiped her hands on her leather breeches, and hopped to her feet. Then she got back to work.

She spent the rest of the day tending to the docks, the ships, and their cargo. By the time she finished, Ralk had long since limped off to shore, leaning on his cane. The sky had darkened to a deep navy blue. A full moon and blanket of stars lit the water. The shadows of the ships bobbed and swayed. The water lapped at the docks and the shore. And Fiafia was beyond exhausted.

She hefted her toolbox and plodded off the docks and onto shore, where Ralk’s supply shack stood. It was the size of an outhouse, made of ill-fitted wooden planks and listing drunkenly to one side. She unlocked the door and tugged it open. The hinges squealed their customary protest. She dropped the toolbox on a workbench and turned to leave.

That’s when she saw it: a parchment jutting from a thick, leather-bound book on an end table beside the door. Something about the script caught her eye. It was jagged and rough. She poked her head out the door to make sure Ralk wasn’t limping down the road toward her. Then she pulled the parchment free and, by the light of the moon, read it.

Receive Doctor Blight in your warehouse at midnight. The Venari have connected a tunnel from the Realm of Silence. Afterward, rendezvous with us to the south... unless you want to be among the plague-ridden.

Fiafia frowned. Realm of Silence? Venari? Doctor Blight? She didn’t understand any of it. But she understood the plague, and if she was to believe this letter, the plague was coming to the Northern Bay.

Fiafia tucked the letter back into the book, locked the shack, and set off into the night. She briefly considered alerting the authorities, but the only thing the law had ever done for her was take her father away.

So instead, she set off for Ralk’s warehouse.

It was set off from the docks at the edge of the village, over a hill in a copse of trees. Fiafia started off at a jog toward it. Her feet pounded down the narrow dirt road that cut between ramshackle shops and houses. At this hour, the streets were all but deserted.

Receive Doctor Blight in your warehouse at midnight. And judging by the position of the moon, that wasn’t far off.

She veered off the road and stumbled up the hill at the village’s edge. At its peak, she stopped and stared. A rectangular wooden building stood in the moonlit clearing of trees below. Ralk’s warehouse. Through its windows, a light flickered.

Fiafia hurried down the slope and ran in a crouch through the trees and across the clearing until she reached the warehouse. She pressed her back against its wall. Her heart thundered in her chest. She crept along its length until she reached the door. She wondered what she’d do if it was locked.

But it wasn’t locked. It opened with a faint click, and she held her breath and listened. Silence. She eased it open and slipped inside.

Stacks of crates, barrels, and various miscellany filled the interior of the warehouse. At its far end, the light flickered dimly. Fiafia slunk between the crates and barrels as she made her way toward it. The scent of hay filled the air and tickled her nose. Gods, don’t let me sneeze, she thought.

She stole forward until she reached a large crate and peered around it. Ralk was there, in the far corner of the warehouse. His back was to her. He’d set his lantern on the ground beside him and opened a trapdoor in the warehouse’s floor.

“Just the two of you?” he said, peering into the darkness below.

“More are here, but they have no wish to leave the tunnelz,” a grating voice answered. “Unless yewz give us cause not to trust yewz.”

Ralk shook his head. “You’ll get what you want when I get my money.”

A creature scrambled out of the hole, and Fiafia clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. Roughly the same height as the harbormaster, it walked upright and wore leather armor. But its hands, its feet, and its head were those of a rat’s.

The creature yanked a small leather pouch from its jerkin and shoved it at Ralk. “Here. Yewz money.”

Ralk licked his lips and drew the pouch open. “You better not be cheating me.”

A titter of laughter echoed from the darkness at Ralk’s feet. He gave a start and took a couple steps backward, his cane thumping on the floor.

“Promises, promises.” Another titter. “Pick the ones you like best and throw the rest away, is it?”

The words rose and fell like waves on jagged rocks. High and whining at first, then falling to a deep and echoing bass, then rising again.

Ralk stared. So did Fiafia. Her breath caught in her throat.

“Break your promise to the Venari, and I’ll keep one to you,” came the voice. “Silas of the Rift will wear your skin like a suit, and I’ll see to it you watch him dance a jig in it.”

A dark shadow rose from the floor. A man dressed in black. In one hand, he held a staff topped with a skull, and a bird-like mask with a curved beak covered his face.

Ralk stumbled backward. His feet tangled together, and he went down in a heap.

“Doctor Blight!” he cried, struggling to right himself.

Doctor Blight tilted his bird-like mask toward the heavens. He spread his arms, and his body jerked and twitched. A green, necrotic energy uncoiled from him, its tendrils snaking out. He laughed, the pitch warbling from high to low again and again.

Fiafia leapt to her feet and ran. She didn’t bother with stealth. She only hoped to get as far away as fast as possible. She raced between the boxes and the crates and burst through the door and out of the warehouse. The night was chill. She pushed herself faster. Up the hill. Her foot caught on a root, and she went sprawling. She dared a glance back. A green glow moving toward her, or a trick of the moonlight? She struggled to her feet and barreled down the far side of the hill.

She reached the village at a full sprint. Her feet kicked up dust as she raced across the street and threw herself through the door of the first building she saw. The Seaside Tavern.
The music came to a discordant halt. Conversations cut off. From around the room’s tables, faces turned to stare at her. Some looked confused, others annoyed. She wanted to scream at them. Tell them to run. The Creeping Death was coming. It was here. But all she could do was stand, bent over with her hands on her knees, and gasp for breath.

“We serving ale to little girls now?” someone called out.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime?” said another.

“Doctor... Blight...” Fiafia panted.

“Plague... Venari... coming.”

A murmur swept over the crowd. “Did she say plague?”

A soft hand fell on her shoulder. She looked up. A tall man in an apron with a towel slung over his shoulder peered down at her.

“Why don’t you go home to your mum and dad?”

“But I saw it,” Fiafia said.

The hand on her shoulder squeezed, no longer soft but hard.

“That’ll be enough of that.” It guided her toward the door, and she stumbled, trying to keep up.

“A paddle to her behind will make sure she don’t go spreading her tall tales here again,” someone said, and the room filled with laughter and applause.

“Leave,” Fiafia said. “Leave tonight, and bring anyone you care about with you.” But the laughter drowned out her pleas.

A stiff shove to the small of her back, and she was outside. The door slammed shut behind her.

She looked up and down the street at the scattering of buildings and drunks and derelicts. Nothing left for her here. Nothing worth risking infection. Doctor Blight and that green glow, though. Perhaps she already was infected.

Fiafia wound her way through the streets to the little room she rented near the docks. Inside, she packed a change of clothes, dried rations, a compass, and a telescope. She dropped her father’s pirate hat onto her head and strapped a cutlass to her waist. Then she set off for the docks.

She spied Ralk’s dinghy tied where he’d left it the evening prior. Gods, it felt like a lifetime ago. She leaped into the boat and untied its moorings. As it floated out into the bay, she raised the sail. Then she cocked her father’s pirate hat back on her head and set off, following the coast away from the Northern Bay and its doomed inhabitants.


Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/




0
0
0.000
8 comments
avatar
(Edited)

Fiafia is some brave girl... like Pipi Longstocking with a sword.

0
0
0.000
avatar

I love the lore so far. I really need a spoken version of this to listen to late at night before bed. Would be an awesome idea!

0
0
0.000
avatar

Just when it couldn't get better - pirates!

0
0
0.000