The Saltwise whistled quietly walking along the river to check the fishing lines. With the rains over the past few months, he had been very successful in catching fish for his family and even had enough to sell for extra tickets. The closer he got to the lines, he noticed a smell, a pungent rotten smell, and his stomach sank.
“No, NO!” He called out as he got closer to the shore. There lying on the edge were dozens of fish, bellies swollen and bursting open with flesh black as night. “What….?” He pulled in the first line, nothing on the hook. Immediately he pulled the second, then the third. All empty. The Saltwise fell to his knees, tears flooding his eyes.
He pulled the basket the hung around his waist and carefully lay a few of the fish into it. Slowly, he rose to his feet and began the trek back to the town.
“Someone has to find out what’s wrong,” he muttered. “Someone…”
The Solestros flexed his hand. He had been tired the day before, there was so much work to be done before the Trade Weekend. He could see the plumes of smoke in the distance that always prefaced the arrival of the caravans the DJs and Rovers used.
But he couldn't get past the fact that he really wasn't feeling well. He had made sure to drink plenty of water. He has a small cistern that he filled each week from the big well inside El Dorado proper. His thoughts settled on the image of the well, as he stumbled.
Wiping a light sheen of sweat off his brow, he carefully maneuvered towards his house. It was hard to think, let alone walk. He definitely didn't feel good.
"So yeah, there I was, fishing last week, just minding my own business, ya know?", said the Merican soldier, sharpening his skewer while his partner cleaned the dust out of her gun. The two were sitting in the shade of an old tree, next to the entrance of the Swamp.
"Mmmmhmmm", she replied, intently picking out the fine dust that had made it's way into the barrel of the gun she was cleaning.
"At first I thought it was a zed, ya know? It sorta weaved and bobbed, kinda like getting a little sauced on hooch, but who the hell drinks like that during the middle of the day?", he said, waving his weapon in broad waving motions.
One of her eyes now on his flailing weapon, she focused on what he was saying. "So it was a drunk, not a zed. People drink at all times, especially those that have it hard. Helps them get through the day", she said.
"Yeah, I mean I thought maybe that could be it, but it didn't look normal.", he paused in mid sentence, as if trying to recall the image in his mind.
"Didn't look normal?", she said exasperated.
"Yeah, he had this stuff all over him, it kind of looked like it was growing out of his head. Whatever it was, it reminded me of something we saw on patrol yesterday", he mused.
"The only thing we saw yesterday was the damn Devil's Weed on the south side of the Spire. You know damn well it doesn't grow anywhere else. You sure you didn't have any hooch to drink at lunch?", she ribbed him good-naturedly.
He didn't respond, a worried look on his face.
They ran up to the low concrete wall of the homestead, out of breath and excited.
"Guess who is coming this Trade?", they shouted at the people inside the main building.
Their father, a huge bulky brute of a man, peered out of his workshop, greasing a hand tool with a well used rag as he looked quizzically.
"Well? Out with it!", boomed their father, as they held their breath in excitement.
"Fistan!", they replied gleefully.
"Fistandantilus? Really? Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time. Make sure you visit him, and bring the tickets your ma has saved in that tin buried in the backyard. He'll have some good smelling soap, and filters for the pump.", he said.
"Yea da", they said, as they rushed to get ready for the trip.