Burning Sparrows - "Like Vultures To Corpses"

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The Backrooms was a place where we had to re-learn our collective fear of the unknown. It was a place where we were not meant to be, and where civilization crumbled under its chaotic and unstructured rules.

I’m not sure what it is now.

The year was 2003. The Backrooms had been taken over by people from all walks of life. Overpopulation and corruption turned it into a tamed landscape, with the only thing left to fear being the lies of your neighbors. Traders Keep, a little colony set up by the B.N.T.G. about six years ago, had turned into the breeding ground for all of humanity. Most if not all survivors in The Backrooms went to this place seeking safety from the remaining demons of Level 1.

In a way, I suppose they found the very same demons ready to greet them on the inside of Traders Keep. The only difference was that these demons would shake your hand before they tried to kill you.


I was riding on what they called a “Bull”, a fast moving platform that sped down some shoddily made tracks in Traders Keep. If you were a guy like me, who had to get to people quickly, then the Bull was your only option for getting through some of the thickest crowds of Traders Keep. It moved fast enough to cut down just about anyone who stood in its way instantly… not that the local peacekeepers would try to stop you from wandering onto the tracks to begin with.

I hung off one of the hooks on its side as people from below clawed at my feet. The Bull never stopped, so your only chance to catch a ride was to grab onto one of its dangling hooks. To some people, though, it didn’t matter if the hook wasn’t empty as long as they could grab onto whoever was already using it.

I kicked at them and looked out to the crowded tunnel that we sped through, and watched as the denizens of Traders Keep got up to their usual activities. Muggings, shootouts, and other random acts of violence were a typical sight. The peacekeepers couldn’t do anything but try to squeeze through the crowds quick enough to find the corpses produced by said crimes.

By the time they did, the perpetrator was long gone and they usually just beat on the guy closest to the scene of the crime until they got some kind of confession out of them. Apparently it saved them time. Didn’t look like it did to me, but I never considered my profession to be that of “peacekeeping”, so I wouldn’t know.

We flew closer to a sprawling marketplace which I wasn't quite familiar with. It was nestled in a large hallway, with some of the walls torn out for extra space to accommodate for the various vendors and dealers that sold within the area. I figured I had enough time to pick up some fire salt, as I had been empty at the moment, so I hopped off the side as soon as I got close enough to not be devoured by the crowd that was surrounding the railway around the Bull.

I landed with a thud, and began to observe the place around me. It was bright, full of flashy con artists and various other thieves in disguise. It housed the kind of people who looked like they wanted to sell you nothing in exchange for everything, and do it with a smile and a grin.

I walked towards one of the vendors with the words “TRINKETS” brightly flashing over his makeshift store. Most pawn shops in the backrooms had fire salt; it was a useful tool for odd firearms like my own.

I carried a standard issue “glass cannon” flintlock with me everywhere I went. We started calling it that after its tendency to obliterate whatever it hit, only to instantly burst into flames due to the combustion within it. They were useless things that could barely pump out one shot before the owner had to buy a new one, but it was the only legal firearm that a Follower Of Jerry could obtain. We had used it for decades up to this point according to Father Hawk, and so that meant it was a “sacred” weapon.

All other firearms had been “outlawed” by the B.N.T.G., which just meant that you needed to know a guy on the peacekeeper force who could smuggle one in for you. I placed the glass cannon on the trader's table, and asked for fire salt.

“Oh shit! I haven’t seen one of these in forever… you guys still carry these?” The man spoke incredulously.

He stared at it in awe, like it was an ancient treasure. Only people who actually used glass cannons knew how worthless they really were.

“Yeah. Still standard issue.”

He looked back up to me and slid a small vial of firesalt my way. The thing was tiny, and it didn’t even look like it could fill up a full shot.

“What is this? This isn't enough for whatever you're selling it for!”

I slid it back to him, and he sighed.

“It’s all I have left. The salt is becoming a precious commodity, y’know!”

“Bullshit. I can get this stuff at a hundred other markets and it’ll be double what you have here.”

“Prove it.”

He looked at me defiantly. I turned, and began to walk towards another vendor when he pulled me aside and whispered.

“All right, damn, here ya go. The peacekeepers are watching this place, you know? They think I’m hoarding up on supplies!”

He gave me a larger vial of fire salt, enough for quite a few shots.

“They weren't wrong, though!”

I slid him a large sum of change, enough to cover the funds, and went on my way.

As I left, I recognized a larger guy wearing Followers robes of some kind. I quickly checked the photo Father Hawk had given me and matched it to the man in the robes. As I did, he noticed me, and sprinted into the crowd of people behind him.

The profile looked the same. Ex-Followers Of Jerry member, large, big beard, bald head…

He was the man I was after, I was sure of it.

“You! Stop!”

I shouted after him, to no avail, and ran after him through the wall of people crowding the halls. It was packed like a sardine can, but more people began to move away from me as I pulled out my glass cannon, and I slowly started to move faster. I could see his head now, peeking up over the crowd…

I pulled my pistol out fully and aimed for his head, and fired.

Click!

I had forgotten to load the damned thing.

I scrambled for the vial of fire salt in my pocket and quickly poured it into the pan of the pistol before slamming it shut, and stuffing a slug into the front of the barrel. It was loaded. With luck, it would fire. With even more luck, it would hit the man I was aiming for. If I missed, then I’d lose my only chance.

The crowd began to thin as I ran through it, and I saw the man running not far away from me now. I stood back, aimed, and pulled the trigger.

CRACK!

In an instant the cannon erupted into flames that burned the tips of my fingers. I dropped the now defunct piece of weaponry to the floor, and watched as the man I was aiming for fell to the ground.

He stood still, lying there for just a moment, until his entire body burst into a bonfire of flames, not dissimilar to the same ones pillowing out of the shell of my own gun. If he had survived the impact, he most certainly did not survive the aftermath.

A smell of burning meat filled the area, a terrible one I had grown all too accustomed to. By now the crowd had dispersed. While a normal shootout wouldn’t have gone noticed, I figured this was unlike anything they had witnessed before.

A priest from the Followers of Jerry ran to my side. He huffed for a moment, and then gestured to the man lying on the ground.

“Is he…”

“Yes.”

“Good. And you got the others as well?”

“No. Not yet.”

He mumbled to himself, and waved for his other priest friends to come and examine the man I'd killed.

“You’d best return to Father Hawk, then. We’ll take it from here.”

He then yelled to the people who were still hanging around us, clearly wondering what the hell had just happened.

“Official Followers Of Jerry business! Please vacate this area immediately!”

Business. They always told me it was business, no matter what I was actually doing. This stuff had always seemed more like murder to me, but they always assured me it was for the good of the Followers. As if I was really supposed to care about something like that.

They flipped the man over and began observing his body, like vultures to a corpses. He was only one of the men they had tasked me with finding. I’d have to find the others soon, and to do so I’d need to check the databases of the Followers of Jerry.

And that meant returning back to the sanctuary.


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