"Constancy in love is a good thing; but it means nothing, and is nothing, without constancy in every kind of effort."
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
Luc hacked-up more blood-flecked phlegm into a scrap of old burlap. It reeked of sour potatoes. He wished he still had some potatoes. Instead he was shivering his ass off in the cold. Waiting. Always waiting.
Jorzi slogged through dismal gray mud. Her boots were ruined. Her feet raw, wet and bleeding. She hated this dreary, filthy place. Always raining. Always rotting. She muttered a quick prayer; her fifth this morning. She did not want to become infected. Like the others. Like her mother. Like her brother.
Tig jumped down from the rafters. Six rats in his catch-sack. They'd eat well tonight.
Jorzi climbed up the rickety ladder. She didn't entirely trust the mold-splotched thing, but it seemed to hold her weight. For the most part. Not that she weighed much. Not any more.
Tig clambered through the jagged hole in the attic floor. Swung for just a moment to get his legs aimed properly. Dropped. Dust spumed up in a dirty cloud. He rolled with the impact. Brought himself up right before the place where the floorboards sagged. A Wet Spot had warped the wood. Rotted it. Made it dangerous to put any weight on it. He readjusted the tattered blue rag tied over his mouth and nose. It didn't really keep the dust out, but it was better than nothing. Maybe he'd trade a rat or two for that cracked pair of old airshipmen's goggles that Luc had found yesterday.
Luc shivered. The fever was coming back. He sweated in the icy cold. His fingers twitched. But he held onto his knife. As long as he had his knife, he had a chance. Someone was bound to come along this way. Eventually. He just had to wait.
Tig slipped. Damned dust was thick in here. Boards sagged suddenly. He scrambled. Clawed. Struggled vainly to latch on to something. Anything. Nothing. The floor gave way. A moment of disorientation. Then he was hanging in mid-air. A strap on his forager's pack caught on a nail.
Luc coughed fitfully, startling a young girl he hadn't noticed in the alley before him. She reached out her hand to him. She wore leather gloves. She had a nice coat. A long yellow-green scarf. It looked like wool. Actual wool. Not that felted-matted crap the Urushian women fob off on those unfamiliar with the real thing. She came closer. Her eyes wide. Untroubled. Kind. Luc collapsed at her touch. He couldn't wait any longer.
Jorzi passed through the Weak Point. It was suddenly frigid. Her breath became mist. She went to the window. Wiped at a small section of the grimed-over glass. It was snowing outside. She looked out on the street below. It was early morning. Not many people. Just some girl in a long coat. Helping some drunk or addict she'd pulled out from the alley behind this place. It was none of her business. She removed her rain slicker and looked for something to help towel-off her hair before going out into the freezing cold. She wondered how the other two were doing. She was starving.