Vermin

An ill wind murmured over the skeletal husk of the city, accompanied by a bouquet of rot. Tattered curtains stirred behind shattered windows, and shutters rattled as they swayed. Now and again the chittering of vermin broke the deathly silence, and beady eyes could be glimpsed in the dark.

Within the press of tumbled buildings, Moira began to question her line of work. She had spent the last two days trekking to the dead city, braving overgrown paths and vicious beasts in the process. She had hoped to find something of value within those decayed walls, on a quest to fill her empty pockets.

But hours of stalking the city had yielded nothing, much to Moira’s disappointment. She had stopped beside a collapsed shop, at yet another crossroad. What had once been a great fountain now sat stagnant, and decayed carts lay strewn upon the shattered road.

“Sod it,” she spat, adjusting her chainmail coat, “not one sodding coin!” She glared skyward, sickly clouds obstructing the fading sun. “It’s already dusk,” she sighed, leaning heavily upon her spear, “and not a soul around save those damned rats.” She spat, a shiver running down her spine. Just the thought of those vermin sickened her. Black as night and as big as dogs, they skulked within the ruins, never entering the light.

Empty-handed, Moira decided to return to her camp at the edge of the woods. She dare not spend the night within the walls of the city, infested as it was. With one final glance skyward, she turned about, and began down the cluttered road back to the main gate.

Moira picked her way through the rubble, her footfalls echoing off the rotted buildings that pressed in around her. Her progress was slow, methodical, lest she catch her foot on some unseen nook and snap her ankle.

She was stopped as she neared another crossroad. What had once been a traversable pile of rubble now loomed over her, the buildings to either side having collapsed. “Perfect!” she cried, leering at the mountain of detritus before her, “just sodding perfect! Couldn’t have given out after I came through?!” Winding back she booted a nearby stone, sending it flying over the newly formed roadblock.

Contempt plastered upon her face, she sized up the pile. “Too steep to climb…” she grumbled. Looking to her left, she spotted a shadowed alleyway. A faint light could be seen at the other side, the path clear.

“Oh come off it!” Moira grimaced, “that’s my best bet out?” She glanced skywards, the once pallid clouds taking on a far more sinister tone. Night would fall soon, leaving the treasure-hunter within the city’s cold embrace. Her time short, she cursed, and ducked into the alley.

As she passed the entrance she was assaulted by a vile stink, a cocktail of stagnant water and animal filth. Horrid as it was, she was far more focused on her rapid escape from the dark alley. The slick stone slowed her advance somewhat, but she still managed a light jog.

As she neared the centre of the alley, a horrid squeal accompanied her footstep, followed by a sickening crunch. Startled, Moira jumped back, her boots slipping upon the damp stones below. Her legs flew out from under her, and she fell back, dropping her spear. Her head cracked against the flagstones.

She lay there for a moment, dazed. As her senses returned, she felt a great weight upon her chest. Lifting her head, she saw a hunched, black outline, with two beady eyes glinting in the fading light. She began to scream, but her cry was cut short at jagged incisors opened her throat. The blood draining from her brain, she went limp.

As the chittering of vermin closed in around her, her world went dark.

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