Cathedris Themesong

In the Festering Core of Thansa City

A Cathedris Flash Fiction

In the middle of Kazcallen's largest metropolis, the country's capital called Thansa City, is where the highest density of people anywhere within Cathedris is found. The people live a fast life, fighting for what little they can in order to survive among the Snakes, shady synthetic drug dealers, or Legion recruitment officers and spies. Thomas is a young man of an unknown age -- his parents never told him before they passed, and he had never bothered to find out afterwards. He ekes out a living by taking what he can from those who need it less (in his opinion.)
  “Stop! Thief!”     Thomas clutched his prize and broke into a sprint – as much of a sprint as he could, given the crush of the crowd surrounding him. The street around him was bustling, with people on all sides moving about their day, trying to get done whatever it was that needed doing. Thomas could never quite get the hang of it, the ‘regular life’ that so many he grew up with aspired for; what was the point in working yourself half to death if you’d just catch a sickness that finished you off anyways? Might as well live in the moment and make do with what you can.
   At least”, he thought to himself, ducking under a crate being lifted into a wagon, “I’m living a better moment than Mr. Lost-his-purse.” He suppressed a manic grin and tightened the loot pouch around his waist used to store his ill-gotten gains.
      “Someone grab him!” Mr. Lost-his-purse called from behind.
    Thomas made a rude hand gesture backwards and squeezed into the throng of bodies lining the sides of the street, his destination just on the other side. The stench of sweat and smoke assaulted his nose as he brushed past a particularly large man that was swearing at some workers in another language. The poor sods he was yelling at were struggling to lift some large black crates into an idling truck; each crate emblazoned with a single word, "Legion".
  He ducked, lest he invoke the large man’s ire as well, and used the surrounding people to mask his presence and reach the street’s edge. Here the rough surface of the road made an uneasy transition to the detritus-strewn stone of a sidewalk, loaded with boxes, trash, and oddities – stuff Thomas had sworn he saw some Snake hocking the other week. A quick vault over some debris and what he hoped was bags of garbage, and Thomas was standing at the entrance to a side street – his street, the one he had known since childhood, with all the grime, despair, and suffering he had come to know. The festering core of Thansa City he called home.

  The street was lined with brick buildings on either side, each building between four to six stories tall, filled to the brim with decrepit housing units. They were in various states of disrepair – not like anyone with money cared enough to fix up the place. Unless it was an actual hazard to life, which would cause the money-flow from rent to stop pouring in, everything just slowly decayed here. And even then, there was a non-zero chance that the building would be left as-is; a charred husk of a building that burnt down last month stood across the street as a somber reminder to that fact.
  The living arrangements in the core of Thansa city were not conducive to human life. And yet, Thomas loved it here; so long as he lived ‘light’, took what he needed from those who needed it less, and avoided pissing off the wrong people, he could scrape by. That is, unless plague or violence took him, but that was the same everywhere – worse, even, if you took the easy job and became an Ichor Extractor. But the only God-husk near Thomas was Xiuthan, and that was a surefire way to die in record time to both horrific disease and brutal violence. Sure, the Ichor companies made sure your family collected your remaining wages, but Thomas had no family left, and wasn't keen to feed a company’s bottom line by dying under Xiuthan's feet.

      Besides, you could find anything you wanted in Thansa's core – provided you, or the person you just robbed, had the coin. Every building in this neighbourhood was home to tens, or even hundreds of people, all crammed into small ramshackle units subdivided through a series of renters subletting to further renters. Each building also had a unique, and generally dark or suspicious looking shop at the ground floor. More than half of them were a front, run by Snakes of one form or another – bastards that tell whatever lies they need to in order to swindle hard earned money out of honest folk. On the other hand, some shops were run by truly good people trying to make life bearable down in the filth.
  The one Thomas was heading for had a big hand painted wooden sign hanging from the first-floor roof line – it read “ARTAZIAN IMPORTS” in large block lettering; it was Thomas’s favourite place to spend other people’s money. Most liquor stores in Thansa city sold the generally clear spirits that were popular in Kazcallen – but here Thomas could get the thick, fiery, fermented alcohol popular in the cold country of Artazia, known as Spicesap. The fresh cash he carried meant tonight was going to be a good night. He gave a cursory glance behind himself once more, though he was pretty sure he was in the clear now. Still, rather than taking the door directly through into the ground floor units and risk leaving a trail, he entered the building through the store’s paint-flaked dark green door instead. Thomas knew there was no one more trustworthy on the ground floor – any ground floor in this part of town – than Murph, the shop’s owner, and there was no way Mr. Lost-his-purse would follow him in here.

      As the rickety wooden door swung open, a bell chimed. A middle-aged man barely more than skin and bone, with hair colour that might be mistaken for either rust or dirt, looked up at Thomas.
  “Havin a good day, Tommy?” came his raspy voice.
  The manic smile crept back onto Thomas’s face. He pat the pouch upon his waist and gave a hefty wink. “’Excuse me Murph, just passing through at the moment, if you catch my drift.”
  Murph nodded gravely. He always treated these things with such gravitas. There was one time when had Thomas come hobbling in half-dressed, favouring a hefty limp after having just quickly vacated a second story bedroom window; his activities rudely interrupted when his partner’s wife burst in and began hurling accusations, and Murph had uttered not a single word about Thomas's sorry state at the time.

      “Watch yourself when you head back there,” the thin man said. “Josie’s sick with somethin’ down right Xiuthan-like, and the Smith’s are arguing again. Everyone else on the ground floor is doing what they can to avoid either family.”
  “I 'preciate it,” Thomas grinned. He made a mental note to over-pay for the next bottle he bought, mostly to make up for the tiny jug of Spicesap he nicked moving through the room, but also as a thanks for Murph always keeping an eye out for him.   He went through the door labelled ‘Employee’s only’ and entered the adjacent ground floor room of the building. He was immediately accosted by sound; the heavy, fluid-filled coughing he was warned about, and the angry yelling of a couple at their limit in these squalid conditions. The grin faded from Thomas’s face. His mental note to tip Murph got a small footnote added to it – try to pick up some medicine and food for the ground floor folk here too. Most of the young and strong here had accepted Legion Steel – joined as a Legionnaire, earning Legion coin, but being shipped He'an knows where all over Cathedris. Most who take the Steel try to send some money back. Some don't. Some simply die. So those who are left behind, are left with nothing much and no family to help. You had to look out for those around you here, because it’s not like anyone else would.

      The room Thomas had entered was a small, dilapidated space – seemingly a cross between a place of living, eating, and sleeping. Horrid wallpaper clung limply to the walls, and a nearly uniform layer of grime coated most of the surfaces within. The ceiling was blackened from the years of smoking within. A bedridden woman in the corner of the room took a long drag from whatever this month's 'fad narcotic' was, hanging loosely from the side of her mouth, as if to say, ‘I see you looking at the smoke stains, Tommy, and no, I’m not stopping any time soon’. Thomas flashed her his trademark grin.

  “You be careful with that thing, Ruth. Don’t want this place going up in flames like the one ‘cross the street.”
    A lung-rattling cough came in reply. He was about to lecture her on fire safety some more when he heard the chime of Murph’s front-doorbell through the thin wall separating the shop from the room. Normally he’d go and see who it was, but due to current circumstances, he figured he might as well err on the side of caution. It was time to add another layer of obfuscation to his getaway; Thomas once again thanked his luck that this building was one of the “newer” buildings put up in the core of Thansa city. Not only was it lucky enough to come with a fire escape, 'though that was rustier than Sharenskus’s left testicle’ thought Thomas, but it also came with a sizeable airshaft between it and the adjacent building. He’d just have to quickly dart through the hall and a side room, hop out a ground floor window, and he could then climb up that airshaft undisturbed, with any would-be pursuer being left totally unaware of where Thomas had fled.

      He dashed through the space, not stopping to chat with the families occupying it, till he reached the room bordering the interior court – the one occupied by Ethel and her kids. “Things could certainly be worse,” Thomas thought to himself, as he climbed through Ethel’s window.
  She looked exhausted – taking care of her 6 young boys in such a cramped space seemed a Dimitian task; nigh impossible to balance. Still, she managed a weak smile and a wave. Another name added to the list he’d be sharing with tonight.

      Into the stale air of the court shaft he went; above him, crisscrossing between the two buildings, countless clothes lines and odd cables were strung. Some peculiar tubing could be seen in places too, along with an occasional oxidized copper pipe – signs that someone is busy playing at creating their own Ichor. Synthichor they called it; a few years ago, Thansa was the epicenter of a massive drug ring that was producing and shipping the drug all around the world. There were 2 “labs” discovered in the very building Thomas called home; supposedly, they had both been shut down, but Thomas wasn’t about to go looking to confirm. Synthichor has terrifying effects on humans, and the people making it are often just as dangerous.

    “At least the air here isn’t so bad,” He mused. Thomas had read old letters from an uncle living across the ocean, in Sansu-Sesu, the capital city of Hansun. Where Thansa had become a varied city of commerce, factories, and multicultural life around the central city core, Sansu-Sesu was instead truly a city of industry. The country of Hansun housed the main headquarters of the Legion, and they pushed industry as far as they could in order to further their interests, with Sansu-Sesu becoming a hotspot of industrial innovation. He remembered being horrified, reading about the noxious fumes, toxic miasma, and disgusting sludge found around the living quarters on site of these massive smoke-belching factories. At least here in Thansa, you knew what the filth was made of. Mostly.
  As if on cue, the stinging smell of what he believed were laundry chemicals burned into his nasal passage. The basement of his building housed a shared faculties area, which were almost always in use by any of the building’s many tenants; always cleaning clothes, bleaching fabric, or concocting some sort of… concoction. Thomas liked the shared, communal aspect of it; even if it made it nearly impossible to breathe down here.

      While he climbed the shaft, familiar sights made themselves apparent to him as he glanced into window after window; far too many people crammed into far too little space. Room after room had multiple families all forced to live together in order to make ends meet – hardly any space to sleep, let alone relax. Thomas had heard of other buildings with over one-hundred families within; a huge portion of which were immigrants from other countries like himself. He often wondered if he would have been better off staying behind in his mountain village in Artazia. It’s not like he had a choice, really; his parents, He’an rest their soul, were the ones that made the decision for them all. But still, Thomas pondered how he might have turned out if he had stayed behind in that cold, authoritarian place, rather than coming to this chaotic melting pot of a city.

      Thomas mulled the thoughts over as he climbed, thinking on his place in the world, and the state he was forced to live in. Before he knew it, he had reached the top of his climb; clambering over the roof edge, he found himself interrupting a game that Ethel’s boys were playing. Something called Rendlings and Survivors, he was pretty sure – Thomas had never played it, but it was popular with the younger kids. More well-off folk had little figurines and fancy dice to throw during play, but Ethel’s boys used whatever they could; today it was rocks, a small piece of metal, and crudely carved dice out of what could have been bone, or really porous wood.
  After the initial surprise of seeing him climbing out of the air shaft, the boys greeted him with excitement. Thomas was loved by many of the tenants in the building, but especially by the youth that called it home; he particularly enjoyed regaling the kids of the building with his ‘brave’ tales and wild stories, and they were always asking for the next anecdote. Usually he would embellish them, just a little bit, for effect. The person he “liberated money” from always turned out to be some shady officer, Catalurgist about to go rogue, or in one story, a Chimera in the midst of a rampage that Thomas just so happened to defeat and conveniently loot.

    “Boys, do I ever have a tale for you,” he started. He was already plotting how to make his day sound even more exciting – Mr. Lost-His-Purse definitely had a mean look about him, and was that a trio of bodyguards surrounding him? He must have been some recruitment officer out trying to swindle more unlucky folk into becoming Catalurgists for the country’s army.
  Angry shouts echoed up the air shaft and interrupted him before he could even begin. Thomas heaved a heavy sigh. Maybe the guy he robbed really was someone important. He glanced inside the purse he had lifted earlier in the day – was there something more valuable in here than just some rich asshole’s coin? Inside the purse was money, just like he had expected, but there was also some vial of strange, waxy looking bronze liquid. The vial had a note wrapped around it, but Thomas almost missed seeing it as he was overcome with a sudden desire to touch the liquid – to press it into his palm, to join with it, to-- he shook his head vigorously, discarding the strange thoughts that had swarmed his mind involuntarily.
  “Scratch that, you’ll get your tale next time. Sorry boys, gotta go.” He tossed them a coin from the purse, reaching in carefully so as to not touch the strange vial. “Don’t go telling anyone you saw me, hear?”
  Thomas shook the dirt off himself from climbing the shaft wall, crossed the roof, and began clambering down the fire escape. It was time he really put some distance between himself and his pursuer. And maybe he’d go find someone to talk to about this strange, seemingly very important vial of liquid he found himself in possession of.   Today just wasn’t going to be easy.  

Cover image: by Nate Isaac


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Master PrincessESH
Aster Blackwell
31 Dec, 2022 13:08

I only just met Thomas, but if something happened to him I would kill everyone in this room and then myself.

31 Dec, 2022 21:57

<3   I really enjoyed writing this little tale with Thomas, he might have to get his own character article :D

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Master PrincessESH
Aster Blackwell
1 Jan, 2023 21:04

I'm extremely concerned about him since I know what liquid he just happened to snatch. Please protect my boi T^T

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