'A Chronicle of Ashes' is a series of short stories exploring the extended Foxhole universe. These are unrelenting tales of human struggle in the face of apathy and violence, borne by a world in a constant state of war. Content Warning: A Chronicle of Ashes depicts scenes of violence and war.
Whedon's Row. That stinking, slimy pit of bile. The city festered with bottom-feeding Alliance dregs and bureaucratic snakes alike. And of course, it was the floor upon which the archon's gilded boots rest. To Captain Katrine Varg, it was home.
The heels of her boots clacked on the stones as she stepped onto the bustling wharf, taking in the salt and shit smells. She tucked the package under her arm, keeping her pistol within reach should a pickpocket select the wrong mark. The city was just as she remembered when she was forced onto a ship bound for Edel, where her parents were born. She clutched onto the gunwale as the horizon consumed the only home she'd known. That was a lifetime ago; she was thirteen, just a cadet then. Muscle memory allowed her to weave through the alleyways of the Raucous like she'd never left. She wanted to stop for a pint in Old Werner's pub—she used to sweep his shop sometimes for an ear of day-old bread—but reminded herself to stay on task. Maybe she'd just pass by, see if it was still there.
The package was a tightly bundled parcel that weighed roughly a half stone. None of her crew had any notion of it, not even her second. As part of the deal, she'd been instructed to haul a fleet of scorched armour for scrap to get admittance into the city. When the Hands searched her ship, they conveniently neglected to search her person. A Caoivish councillor approached her while she anchored in Wenitai. The paperwork was official, they paid the contract in full, and the instructions were clear: deliver it immediately upon arrival, deliver it in person, deliver it directly to the archon.
The creaky wooden sign listed towards her in those strangely powerful winds that twisted through the Raucous. It was as she'd left it. Okay, maybe the paint had peeled a bit. Still, "The Whale's Whisker" popped out in big, proud letters with a crude carving of a cat spearing some great leviathan—or at least she figured that was the artist's intention.
Inside was mostly empty, aside from a table of four Wardens and a boy—she guessed no older than ten—sweeping the floors. Old Werner was nowhere to be found; no one tended the bar.
"Hey, kid," Katrine said. The words came out hoarse, ragged as if she hadn't spoken in a week. "Old Werner around?"
The kid kept sweeping, didn't even shoot her a look. A couple of the Wardens snickered. Were they taking the piss? She was a uniformed naval captain of the Nevish Alliance.
"I say something you roaches find amusing?" The captain marched over to their table. Click, clack, click. She dragged a stool from the adjacent table and slipped between a pair who made room as if expecting her. They were deep into a card game, Luck of the Eight as it were. The soldier to her right had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. She plucked it from his lips and took a drag.
"Sir, sorry, sir. It's just—" the kid was shaking, pissing his trousers. Perfect. Katrine set the package on the table in front of her.
It's just—It's just—" Katrine mocked him. The tension hovering around the little shit stains was palpable. She puffed on the cigarette, blew a smoke ring across to the private. "Bah, you're all so predictable. It's no fun!" She chuckled, reached over the table, grabbed one of their pints, and sucked it back. "Easy boys, I'm just having a laugh, is all. Thanks for the drink."
The privates visibly relaxed. The private across the table mustered up the courage to say, "I was trying to tell you t-the boy don't hear so good."
Unfortunate. Life in the city was tough enough. Though, the boy seemed no worse for wear. Katrine pushed away from Wardens and greeted the boy with her hands. One of her ensigns taught her to speak a few words by gesturing with her fingers. Perhaps the boy would be familiar with some.
The boy giggled, nearly dropping his broom. In a flourish, he produced a pad of paper and pencil from his apron and started rapidly writing. He turned the pad to Katrine; she had to bend down to read it.
Hi there. Thanks for trying, but you said, "Hi, my cat is excellent." Talk slowly, and I can read your lips. My name is Alba.
Katrine's cheeks flushed.
Alba wasn't traditionally a boy's name. Upon closer inspection, the boy was, in fact, not a boy at all and closer to the age of twelve. Suddenly the girl seemed familiar to Katrine, a phantom of her own childhood. "I'm Katrine Varg, third captain of the Edellian navy. Pleasure."
Without hesitation, Alba saluted, and Katrine returned in kind.
"I was hoping to see Old Werner. He around?"
Alba shook her head and scribbled on her pad. Sorry to tell you, Old Werner died a few years back. His daughter runs the place now. She'll be back tomorrow.
Damn. It was for the best.
One of the Wardens waved Alba over, ordering another round.
Katrine slumped into a stool at the bar and flicked a silver chip on the table. She slid the coin forward as Alba ducked in behind the counter. Before she could blink, a fresh pint of white Caovish lager sat frothing in front of her. The girl was smooth, like tending bar was second nature to her. And just the same, the coin disappeared in a single hand movement before Alba brought a tray of drinks over to the Warden table.
Katrine had so many memories in this rundown pub. It never saw much traffic, but as Old Werner used to say, "Just enough to keep the doors open." Katrine waved a hand to get Alba's attention as she returned. "You work here a while?"
The girl nodded.
"I used to help out Old Werner. Maybe a decade before you."
Alba smiled, eyes wide like two big grey moons. Her features were awfully southern. Olive skin, sharp nose. Really stood out amidst the usual pallid complexion of clan kin.
"You're not from the north, eh?" Alba shook her head. "Didn't think so. Velian then? How'd you end up here?"
Alba jotted on her pad. I'm from Kraunia. My parents were Estrellan refugees. Long story.
"Damn," Katrine said. "I've got an errand to run, but afterward, I'd love to hear that story." The girl shot her a faint smile. The captain sucked down her pint and reached for the package. The package. Where was it? On the goddamn table, she thought.
The Wardens were still playing cards, laughing away. If they'd taken it, they'd have nowhere to hide it. The bar was empty. Under the table? No. She queried the table, but they were too drunk, too absorbed in their game to have noticed.
Alba must have seen something. "Hey kid—" the girl was gone. Katrine rushed into the kitchen and… nothing. It was near silent as she poked around back, aside from the muffled laughter of the soldiers in the main room. The rear alley door was cracked ajar. Katrine threw it open and rushed into the back alley. To the left, nothing. Just a few beggars, scurrying rats, and piles of filth. Right led to the undercity canals.
But then, as she focused on a small shape in the distance, Katrine spied a shock of black hair disappear over the Raucous canal bridge.
"Bloody hell." The captain tightened the grip on her sidearm.
Written by Matthew Rigg Chapters of this episode of 'A Chronicle of Ashes' will update on an irregular schedule. Keep an eye out on the site or on Discord for announcements of future chapters!