Doesn't look that different to the rest of us. He thought, shoveling up another skin and flinging the meat into a barrel burgeoning with sticky blood and offal.
Peter stood back from the scene before him, propped his shovel against the closest stone pillar, and wiped his brow with the back of a forearm. What a fucking day for this. Lords was it sweltering.
Taking the liberty to cast an eye around the courtyard there was nowhere that someone could stand where they would not be offended by gore. To his eye, untrained as it may be, it looked as if the Royals and their guard had exploded from the inside out. In every direction, upon all the walls of the wide circular court, up where Peter stood on the raised dais at its center encircled by tall standing stones, or even the entry gates at the east and west, there was no place blood or morsels of human flesh had not splashed. Curiously though not a single bone was to be found anywhere. The herb scented hide mask he wore did little to curb the acrid smell of foul waste and the overwhelming coppery smell of blood, it permeated regardless.
And yet lingering still was a sense of something unfamiliar to the waste specialist. He was not alone in his labor, some of the Cursed worked here and there with barrels of their own their golden eyes dully glowing as they worked without complaint.
When they had arrived together during the early hours of the morn, their eyes had reflected every part of the torches set here and there, shimmered like a cat's might. Their ashen skin did not show any signs of sweat even now and not one of them had spoken. For dead blokes they don't even smell. He turned back his attention to the dais upon which he stood. What's your excuse then, Your Grace?
Before Peter was yet more pelts wrapped garishly in fine furs and silks, the jewelry and marks of their station removed earlier by Guardians who were at the scene when he and his deceased compatriots arrived.
As he resumed his grisly duty he recalled a pair of Guardians pounding on his door at an ungodly hour, dressed in long loose coats buttoned to the neck as they always worse. They had appeared apparitions in the night. He had arisen swearing, their thundering knocks ringing like sepulchral bells in his small bungalow at that time of evening, upon answering the door their peerless blue eyes met his, the shorter of the two had handed him a piece of parchment to which he had said. "Look 'ere mate, I can't fuckin' read, what you want?"
The Guardian had replied, "By order of the King of the East, you are summoned to duty, take with you everything you will need for an extensive clean up."
Peter looked at the parchment absently while the Guardian spoke. He could actually read, being a solitary creature he'd come to the conclusion long ago that people asked less of you if they believed less of you. Quite a lot of the time his assumption was correct and it afforded interesting opportunities on come occasion.
Upon the parchment was the seal of the Guardian Office of East Unity. Scrawling and wispy script in a language that was endemic to the Royals and their agents encircled a golden orb within which was a heron, wings outstretched.
"What kinda mess needs attention at this time of night? A courtier drown in a privy?" He had chortled.
"The kind that will see you drown in one if you intention to waste more time." Had been the succinct and dry answer.
Curt as always. Not leaving anything to chance he acquiesced. Who was he in the grand scheme of things to deny such hosts? In the end the Royals had always paid well and were always prompt on their payments. As he had gathered his things then he had mused that the coin he was about to earn would likely be more than he would earn otherwise in a month or two.
This detail upon which he worked was not exactly normal fare, another thing had occurred to him. I'm not the only one who is alive working here. No other waste contractor was present and in considering that: Lord of the Dusk, I'll be able to wench until this time next year! He smiled at that. In all of East and West Unity, he was the only one to do this specific duty.
It'd been most of the day already, most of the retinue and guards had been "stored" and were on the back of a cart, at the eastern gate out of the courtyard which East City guards were restricting the dwindled yet still milling crowd outside. The western gate was similar and appropriately had West City guards keeping it's citizens out of the scene. The cleaning had advanced to a point where only the most well dressed at the top and center of the dais remained. Some Cursed had begun accessing a private well in the south of the courtyard and were beginning to wash away the blood that was caked on and other smaller morsels of meat that yet remained.
Upon the high walls were carrion and in the sky above, like the crowd outside they milled, willing for a feed, their cries a cacophony that Peter had since stopped paying attention to. Today, they would not be feasting on the privileged, alas. At the north most part of the courtyard stood a Guardian with it it's head bowed and with his eyes closed. He had been in that state since Peter's arrival and noticed not a single rat had entered and sampled the flesh of the rich.
Were their duties so dissimilar? At their core they were assuring the "honorable dead" were given every concession to be unmolested by pests of all kinds. In a way it was an honor to have been ordered to do such work, to have seen such esteemed hosts in a way not many others would ever and further yet, to touch them.
There was an irony in this, he knew, as he loaded the last of the esteemed into their personal circular containment. Regardless of their station they were dealt with like a commoner may have been, there was no gilding on these barrels, nothing special to mark them from anyone else, from anything else.
Meat really was just meat.
For the briefest moment Peter wondered if they would be interred in the way they were currently stored and then, meat is money, who actually gives a fuck? Peter bent and with one gloved left hand pushed a lung, a burst eye and parts of a liver and pushed the shovel forward with his right to scoop up the other hanging meat particles and juices, emptying it into the closest barrel containing accompanying human pelt, landing with an audible and wet "bloop".
Without a second glance he turned and made his way down the steps to his cart, shovel in hand, as he passed a pair of Cursed rinsing and scrubbing the flagstones at the bottom he said, "the last of them is loaded up, set about getting them down here so I can depart. With a will." The Cursed immediately stopped their task and set about their new orders. Miraculous creatures, truly, no wonder they choose to have them, and still not an ounce of sweat on them.
He rinsed his shovel at the well the Cursed were drawing water from and approached his cart, securing his shovel at it's side. However, on inspection something was clearly wrong. Barrels were missing.
"Leaving, Mr. Rickson?" A monotone voice behind him. Peter turned only to find himself staring at the broad chest of a very large specimen, craning his head to look up at the taller of the two Guardians who had summoned him this morning. They had been nowhere in the courtyard prior to now, seeming to materialize out of nowhere.
"Summin' like that, aye, sir. The last of our guests is on their way down, apart from giving things a wash we're done here. You have enough of these-" he waved a hand around gesturing at the Cursed, "that you do not need me further. They will complete the last of this before the night arrives."
The dispatched Cursed arrived carrying the final barrel between them. The tall Guardian turned to regard them. "Load it up lads." Peter ordered.
The Guardian held out an open hand in a stopping gesture. "Not this one. Those already on your cart you will take to the midden heap at the Eastern Exit, not any closer. Understood?"
Peter felt cold inside "Sir?"
"What part do you not quite understand?"
"They have families, sir, surely they will want-"
"The midden heap at the Eastern Exit. Repeat it for me."
"I- just- sir?"
The blue eyes of the Guardian seemed to shimmer. The tall man made a move to unclasp one of the few buckles of their jacket at their right wrist. He leaned forward ever so slightly, eyes boring into Peter's own. "Meat is money, who actually gives a fuck? True is it not? You might act like a remedial and a simpleton, but do not under any circumstance treat me like one."
With a very large left hand which he placed firmly behind Peter's neck he drew him close, mouth to ear and a voice low the Guardian intoned, "I said midden heap..." And then with a voice layered like two people speaking at once, one low pitched one high pitched he said, "at the Eastern Exit."
Peter tried to jerk himself away but control was not his. Ever so slowly, the large man let him seemingly drift back, hand always at the nape of Peter's neck, and it was possible their eyes locked. The world was so quiet, like time had suspended.
Sweat broke out on the waste collector's skin, he could look nowhere else except those dreadful blue eyes. Tongue dry as a piece of leather he coughed out, "b-by your leave, sir."
The large man's intense gaze held on Peter's own for a moment longer, boring ever more into Peter's own. Seemingly satisfied with whatever he found, he blinked once, and let the waste collector go. The world seemed to brighten then, all sound returning to normal. The foul smell in the courtyard was the sweetest thing Peter had smelled in recent memory. He backed away until his back touched the side of his cart, gaining as much distance between them as possible.
The Guardian half turned, putting his right hand on the recently arrived barrel. With his left he began to fish in his coat pocket. He retrieved a fist sized pouch and threw it over his head directly into Peter's waiting hands without ever looking at him. Instead his gaze was on one of the Cursed who was sitting cross legged at the top of the dais and not working. Peter followed his gaze and took in the sight.
The non-working Cursed looked almost normal, though the eyes were more amber than the standard dull yellow, an intensity was in them. It's skin was also less ashen than most, dressed in a coat much like the Guardian. Yet it had hair cropped short, uncommon, as all Cursed were bald. Even their women were. It cocked it's head as it noticed Peter's gaze and smiled. Ice began to crawl up Peter's spine.
"You have your coin. Fuck off." The Guardian droned monotonously without turning.
Peter inhaled. Yes, anywhere else, Gods below, anywhere else! He nodded and half bowed, "Y-yes sir."
He tied the large pouch of coin at his hip with shaking hands, climbed into his cart, and nudged his horses forward without looking back. As he made it to the Eastern Gate the guards parted and he passed through into the throng.
There were people seated across the way staring at the way he just came, following their gaze he noticed a fog behind the guards he just passed, his eyes unable to look through the gloom, at once he remembered the one Guardian in the north of the courtyard with it's head bowed.
Burn them all.
No coin was worth this. The pouch felt dirty even touching him. Whatever it was paying for was more than human remains being discarded as trash. More than the typical bureaucratic nonsense from The Crowns. And that Cursed...
"You might act like a remedial and a simpleton" but you aren't one Rick. Even that blighted Guardian knew. He knew...
At once he shuddered recalling earlier events. The sun was low in the sky and night was fast approaching, it'd occurred to him that while he couldn't bear the thought of food, it would do well to have something. The night ahead would be sleepless, he would complete this task and begin another kind. The only thing to sate his hunger was information.
I need The Squid.
With a semblance of a plan in his weary mind he forged through the crowd toward the East Exit of East Unity. After this entire idiotic day there was finally some direction, something solid as the stones beneath his wheels. Something very normal and simple.
As far as normal and simple went, the future would have little of both, he knew. But for now, normal is what he had. Until he got to East Exit, he would enjoy it.
It would be one of the last times it would be such. The wind blew icy and he swore he could almost hear the howling of wolves upon the breeze.
Winter winds? Impossible for this time of year.
'Impossible' would be a word he would become very familiar with. He gripped his reins a bit firmer.
Gods I hate this city.
This was the first chapter of an ongoing epic, brought to you by @TheGarbageMan.
Glory to the Cathedral.
Victory for the Legion.