Wash Away the Plague
A woman confronts the sins of the sewers — and the future of her city hangs in the balance.
Laughter and the clinking of mugs ring across the Great Hall as the attendees raise three cheers each for Cogstone Brewery and beer.
Young Emily Wink takes a long swig from the mug in her own hands. Truth be told, she prefers the fiery wine from the Sindar Mountains, but after Steven Boepensberry’s farce, she thinks she can find a taste for the hoppy, malty beverage after all.
She gulps the beer down. And then surprises herself — and all the Amalcrossers towering over her — with a mighty belch.
“Ayyy!” one man laughs, raising his mug her direction.
“Ayyy!” the group surrounding him repeats.
Emily Wink giggles and blushes, clinking her beer mug against all of theirs.
“Our next tale comes from Pauper’s Notch,” the Imperial Bard said. “I present to you Myra Einar-Graves!”
The audience responds with polite applause as a few whoops, whistles, and huzzahs rise up.
Myra Graves steps into view. The wrinkled bard walks slowly onto the dais, a thin strand of her frayed cloak trailing behind her.
“My story begins in the one-hundred-twenty-first year of the Amal Era,” Myra said, “eight years after the Great Quake, and eight years into the Blue Plague. If there was ever a time Amalcross needed hope, this was that time.”
Belisaria Horne had spent her entire life desperate to erase the stink of where she came from.
Now, a cauldron of dark and odorous water hung from her cramped lab’s stone ceiling above a hungry flame, boiling. A swirl of snaking pipes pumped the boiled water, one drop at a time, onto a fine iron sieve, filtering out anything undesirable: Sediment, filmy grit, the bones of small rodents — and even the shit from the blubbering public toilets three blocks away.
Belisaria wished the sieve could work on her memory.
From the sieve, the remaining liquid filtered through a screen of gereen cloth, a thin textile imported from the Sand Wastes. The dense but breathable fabric once used in ancient rites had recently been in high demand since The Blue Plague first struck.
And using the gereen cloth as the final step in filtration had been Madilyn’s idea.
Belisaria’s throat caught, jaw rigid. Wrinkled, indigo flesh flooded her thoughts — unable to filter the past out any longer. Not knowing how long she held her breath, she coughed, choking back her grief.
The treated water that survived the sieve and the cloth landed in a wooden barrel.
Beside the barrel was a modest table. Yet another flame heated several liquids in opaque glass beakers. Soon, nothing would remain of the liquids but crystallized green-yellow powder.
Skaardruf willing, this hydrated chemical powder would save Amal.
“What do we call it?” Madilyn’s voice from so long ago skittered across Belisaria’s memory.
Belisaria never gave Madilyn a proper answer. Blue stains had already begun to appear in her wife’s gums. The putrefying sweats came not long after. Then the burning skin….
Belisaria shook it all away. She twisted long-vanished hair before she realized she was doing so. The burr cut had been a necessary and reliable survival tactic in times of disease.
She put on worn leather gloves, then removed some of the fine powder from the pile.
Belisaria paused, debating proper ceremony.
“Bouledar,” she said, “thanks for nothing.” The god of healing and community had been asleep at the wheel a long gods-damn time. What healing must be done, she knew, would not be done by gods.
And with that, she sprinkled the chemicals into the water.
The powder and the liquid danced a colorful dance of blue bubbles and auburn fizz.
The liquid settled and cleared. Belisaria dunked a cup into the liquid and filled it to the brim.
Then she took a long, deep drink.
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