Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
The Citadel pierced the heavens. Shadows danced across its blackened surface as sparse clouds drifted by. The sun, as persistent as ever to make one uncomfortable beamed down on the unfortunate workers out in the sun.
Reece was no exception, he could feel his exposed skin gradually becoming sunburnt. Too long like this and it would blister and split. He glanced at His companions to see if they suffered the same fate. The dinghy was small but Quint had managed to distance himself from the others. He sat slumped at the bow, doing his best to shrink under his clothes, anything to get out of the sweltering sunlight. Soria sat awkwardly in the middle, trying to counter balance the weight of the vessel. Her jumpsuit conveniently had a built in hood and the material was not as thick as the Maintenance jumpsuits. Yet it remained breathable and kept the sun off her skin.
Wind whistled past their ears drowning out the roaring of the motor Reece controlled. He swerved clear of a mud bank unsure if it was just the soft sinking mud or something more firm. The motor sputtered and fumes spat out in gasps. Simple engine oil never worked smoothly with engines. The good stuff was reserved for the Train.
A gust of wind blew the fumes away, but brought with it a foul odour. The breeze must’ve disturbed the surface of a stagnating pool somewhere.
Reece had grown used to the signature stench of the Mire, he didn’t like it but he shouldn’t complain about something he can’t control. He was not alone in this sentiment, Quint didn’t even flinch when the gust of wind rippled the surface water and sent a fresh cloud of foul odour their way. Soria on the other hand…
“Every single time! Every time I leave the Citadel there’s a damn gale.” She said, muffled by covering her nose and mouth with her sleeve. “It was never this bad at the Cluster. We had the coastal waters to dull the stench with salt, and keep the water from stagnating.”
“You’ll get used to it.” Reece said, although he still felt tears in his eyes from the foul air. “The coast must better than out here. I don’t know why we don’t all live out there.”
“It’s not that much better.” Soria said over the motor and wind. “There’s forests of Spear root trees, just waiting to impale you.”
“With their roots?” Reece asked.
“How perceptive.” Soria quipped. She glanced at Quint who had yet to say a word. He clasped his chest and was mumbling to himself. Was the stench really that bad? He hadn’t flinched before, Reece would have to ask him his opinion on it later.
Following the chain that was used to tug the barge loaded with roustabouts back from the Pumps. After an hour of listening to the churning motor and feeling himself slowly be cooked by the sun, Reece finally anchored the dinghy and tied it too a stump. He jumped down onto the duckboard walkway that led to the railway.
The mud was higher here, which was why Reece just couldn’t drive the dingy all the way to the Railway. Water trickled from small pool to pool and mosquitoes skimmed their surfaces. He thanked the Mire that their jumpsuits had an insect repellent, who knows how many diseases those bugs could be carrying. Clumps of reeds spattered the place, with each one seemingly infested with screeching crickets. It was an awful racket, but it meant the area was healthy and the pollution levels were low. The roustabouts often said that the screeching cricket and the marsh bird were there bosses, rewarding a job well done with an ear shattering wail.
The duckboards had sunk in several places and the uneven footing sent Quint tumbling forward the moment he took a step off the dinghy. Fortunately he managed to avoid falling into the mire, but Reece could never have guessed that so many curses and hateful slurs could come out of just one man’s mouth. Surprisingly Soria was fine, she moved steadily if not slowly across the duckboards. Reece watched them from up head as he took long striding jumps from one board to the next. He had been doing this for years, but he couldn’t help but show off a little when he got the chance.
As they neared the base of the railway, Reece pointed out something that had been bothering him for some time.
“Who do you think this is was?” he gently prodded the arm that stuck out of the swamp with a long stick. Not daring to get any closer.
Soria inhaled excitedly. “Oh a Kruckadon lure! I’ve never seen one up close. Why didn’t you tell me you had one of these this whole time, Reece? I would’ve studied it.”
“I only found it a couple of days ago.” Reece said defensively. “And why in the muck would you want too, study a Kruckadon lure. The creatures are ghastly and disgusting, and the lures are also their homes.”
Soria tsked, a sly smile on her lips. “Strange and horrific creatures like these are almost non-existent around the world. But the Mire had them in droves. It is fascinating, now I may just be a merchant but I can’t help but get excited over new things. Especially when said things would attract thousands of people to the Mire all with pockets full of cash.”
“I-is that an arm?” Finally Quint spoke. He stared at the Kruckadon lure like it was going to jump out and throttle him. If he got any closer it actually would.
“Obviously it is an arm.” Reece said. “But I want to know who it belongs too… or used to belong too.”
“Good luck with that.” Soria moved past, brushing a few reeds over hanging the duckboards. The cacophony of cricket chirping that deafened their ears immediately stopped. They would start up again as soon as they got a distance away, but a little quiet was nice.
Reece followed after, and not showing any complaints Quint scurried along behind them, grasping at his jumpsuit near his chest.
What is he so worried about? Reece frowned. Was he always like this, or is it because of the Mire? Maybe it’s bringing back memories of the Overflow. It could also be an elaborate act, meant to think we should believe him. This is giving me a headache. Reece pressed his palm against his temples, trying to force the pressure away.
They shortly arrived at the base of the railway. Reece grinned as he heard Soria remark on how high the railway was. It towered over them, at a colossal forty feet. An endless railway that snaked through the Great Black Mire, it was the lifeline of every Citadel. Reece felt the base concrete support with a smile on his face, he ignored the swamp gunk and lichen that had covered the surface and gazed up at the reinforced steel holding the railway above the mire.
“Alright, time to work. You coming up Soria?” he said.
“No, I think I’d rather stay down here and have a look at these lures.”
She cringed, and nodded turning away. She never let anyone see her blush.
Reece motioned to Quint and the two of them climbed the ladder up to the railway. The ladder was surprisingly sturdy and it didn’t take long to get to the top. After a few hours of moving carefully across cross beams and rail shafts they finally reached the electrical box and quickly got to work. Another hour later they returned down the ladder and met with Soria who had managed to clear a part of the concrete base, just enough for the three of them to sit down.
“Any problems?” Soria asked when she saw them.
“Nothing really.” Reece responded, sweat dripping down his back. “Quint did well, he’ll make a decent maintenance worker.”
Quint smiled slightly but then he cast his eyes downward and frowned. Soria noticed this and spoke up. “So Quint, we should discuss what we should do about the Vicar.”
“W-what do you mean?” he said, he stood up from the concrete base and looked eagerly at her.
“I mean, we don’t know what to do. Wilton won’t talk to us, and Reece and I were wondering if you had any ideas.”
“We should confront him.” He said quickly.
“We tried that and…”
“No! In public, he won’t be able to turn you away then.”
“Are you sure?” Reece asked doubtfully.
“Yes, he wants a good face for everyone. Yes that’s the best time, w-we’ll do it then.” Quint eyed the duckboards, and Reece noticed his knuckles were bone white.
“Are you alright, Quint?” He asked.
“I’m fine!” He snapped.
Reece held up his hands peacefully. What was that about? He wouldn’t push for more, whatever happened to make Quint act like this, the Vicar should answer for. Soria had been watching on as well however her expression seemed less than hopeful.
After a short journey back to the rickety motorboat. They soon sped towards the citadel passing the barge loaded with an entire shift of roustabouts and a stray Harvester – most likely Mezza, the other harvester worked only in the early hours of the morning. The sun was low in the sky and on their backs, it wasn’t uncomfortable however, it was more a heated glow than the scorching glare from earlier in the day. Of course paired with the disgusting levels of humidity on the wetlands, any sort of sunlight was unwelcome.
Reece stared at the side of Quint’s head noticing old scars carefully hidden under his hair. That man couldn’t be trusted, or could he? Reece remembered the dangerous impression that vicar seemed to give off. This Wilton - if that was even his name – was definitely the cold, calculating type, a man couldn’t be trusted. Avoiding any questions and approaches made by Reece and Soria only made him seem more untrustworthy. He wasn’t sure about Soria but Reece felt they were in way over their heads.