Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.
The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.
Rose remembers returning to The Scab after her escape from the mines and her trip to the ruins of her old life,
The City has been around since before The Bleed was discovered. Far enough back, so far that it is blurred even to the learned, and there was a mountain where The Gash is, and in that mountain was the seat of a great kingdom, dwarves they say. The ruins of that place lie way down in The Gash, now; a place that draws the ambitious and the foolhardy further into The Depths,
TThis kingdom of Dwarves was there when Wraithstone was first discovered. There are conflicting tales of what happened then. Some say that the discovery of the stone undermined the kingdom, others say that the Wraithstone fell out of the sky, shattering the mountain and the Dwarves as it ploughed into the earth.
Since then The City has changed hands hundreds of times in countless wars, been the seat of world spanning empires, and the centre of great events. Countless buildinsg have fallen and arisen, toppled into the depths, or simply been built over in the endless parade of years. All that matters is that The City is built on the source of all Wraithstone, and Wraithstone is the source of magic.
The Scab is what people have call the city for as long as anyone cares to remember. Gazing out at it, Rose thinks the name perfectly appropriate. The City clusters around The Gash, that great wound in the earth, as if trying to cover it, even spilling down the sides of the the web of smaller chasms. There are beautiful parts of the city, she knows. The peaceful parks and gardens of The Bedrock Wards spring to mind, as well as fantastical buildings such as The Silverthread Span, the improbable bridge that connects the two sides of The Gash. But the city as a whole is ugly, and the moniker of scab suits it well. It is a place founded on ruin, built of ambition and greed, all mortared together with the blood of an endless supply of foolish victims.
Rose should have known better than to think that she could escape it.
Her first days back in The Scab were desperate and dangerous. Rose had no coin, and precious little supplies. The streets of The Hive and other, lesser slums were full of those who preyed upon others, from vulgar pimps to vicious cutthroats.
For fear of being mistaken for a Bleedwarpt or a plague victim, Rose kept herself covered and shunned open areas for the relative quiet of back alleys and side-roads. She kept to herself and avoided anyone who might be a threat.
Hunger gnawed at her, but Rose kept herself going with tiny doses of Wraithstone; red for energy, blue for clarity, and green for health. She carried a fortune of the stuff, enough to buy a sizeable house in The Hive, but knew that if she revealed what she carried she would be dead within ten steps. Places like this bred the kind of desperation that led men to kill.
By the time she reached the closest Syndicate trading house, two days later, Rose was gnawing on scraps of wood and discarded bits of food fallen on the streets. She had two close run ins with gangs, but had avoided them by scrambling up the sides of the shacks. She was too weak to outrun a healthy man, but her time in the mines had taught her to climb exceptionally well, and she outpaced her pursuers both times. Of course, had they known the wealth of Wraithstone that she carried, they would not have broken off the chase.
The Syndicate controlled all processing of Wraithstone in The Scab. They were utterly merciless about destroying anyone who tried to compete with them, even sending agents and assassins far afield to eliminate anyone who tried to emulate their business without leave.
The squat building that Rose arrived at on her third day back in The Scab was built like a fortress. Thick walls, solid construction, windows that even a child would have trouble fitting through if they somehow removed the bars. For burly men wearing face-masks and the crimson uniforms of the Syndicate, guarded the entrance.
Rose joined the line. The man in front of her sniffed, and turned, frowning at her stench. Rose showed him her middle finger. She was safe enough now, no one would start a fight here.
“Go die in a hole you festering cunt,” sneers the man, turning away.
Rose wheezes out a laugh.
It takes an hour for the line to shrink enough that Rose is in the trade-house. There she watches men and women in white shirts with crimson vests bearing the heraldry of the Syndicate haggle with those selling them Wraithstone. There is also a line where people are trading tarnished copper, silver, and gold disks for fresh metal. The Syndicate makes a killing on that.
It is more interesting inside the trade house, and time passes quicker. Rose leaves an hour later with enough coin to live comfortably for a while and a few silver disks of her own to draw the residual bleed from her body.
Then she buys a room at a secure inn. The stew she buys in the tavern below it, is the first real food she has had in some time. It tastes so good that she almost cries.
Then she buys a bottle of Hiver Screech, strong stuff, and drinks herself into a stupor before stumbling to bed. The simple mattress is shockingly comfortable and soon Rose has fallen to a deep, silent sleep blessedly free of dreams of her dead family and the wicked, wicked men who killed them.
As she snored, the list of names of the men she must kill rested on the table beside the bed, waiting.