Rootbagger swept dead leaves off a paving slab and blew the dust off with a series of sharp breaths which left him coughing and spluttering, then struck a flint against his steel bracelet, sending sparks into the wad of oakum he’d laid on the bare stone. Before long, a tiny glowing ember was born amidst the nest of fibres, and wisp of smoke curled into the gloom.
Taking up the smouldering clump of jute in cupped hands, he blew gently, breathing life into the ember so that it crackled and sparked, spat siblings into existence; another breath, and the group of embers released a small flame from within the kindling.
Carefully, Rootbagger applied the flame to the wick of the oil lamp then laid the burning fibres he’d used upon the firewood we’d gathered earlier. While he set the glass over the oil lamp, I breathed life into the fire, and it was only then that we took the time to look about us to examine the building we had chosen to take shelter in while the storm raged outside in this crumbling skeleton of a city.
The building was in fact a large hall, its high ceiling supported by a number of broad pillars. Two doorways on either side of the entrance, large enough to accommodate a pair of tall double doors each, yawned into darkness beyond.
A third such doorway, opposite the entrance, yielded the only light we had outside of our own fabricated illumination, the dim blue twilight of approaching evening. As we approached this doorway, lamp in Rootbagger’s gnarled hands, we saw that it led to a high-walled courtyard with covered pathways which led around the edges. The wind was weaker between these walls, and so we stepped outside to examine the charcoal grey statues in the centre of the enclosure.
The statues were of men, women and children in an array of unusual positions. Some were standing, some laid on the ground, some of them missing limbs or heads. Glancing at the countenances of a few I noticed that some of them looked startled, others terrified, others with frozen tears on their cheeks.
“What do you make of this? Is it art?” asked Rootbagger, peering into the eyes of a frightened child.
“I’m not sure…” I said, as searched my mind for answers. All of a sudden, I felt a chill, and pulled my cloak closer about me.
Something wasn’t right about this place.