Burning Sparrows 3 - "The Slums Of The Crow"
rating: +17+x

In the distance, I could see smoke billowing out of the Followers' capitol. As parts of it began to cave in on itself, the smoke rose even higher.

I couldn't even comprehend the devastation that I was seeing at the time. I could see people crawling out of sections of rubble, only to be executed swiftly afterwards. Some of them ran through the fire at the front entrance and caught ablaze, burning to a crisp as soon as they made it outside.

I narrowly avoided the same fate as the rest of the Followers, it seemed. I wondered if this was really the end, if my long service with the Followers had finally come to an abrupt conclusion. In a strange way it excited me. I was ready to be free of them and their rules. I was tired of killing and executing for them, tired of the torturous daily routine I underwent.

As I fantasized about what I’d do if I was free from their debt, I noticed a man in robes walking towards me in the distance. No doubt, a survivor from the raid. For all I knew, he might have been the last member of the Followers. All I’d have to do was kill him, and this could be over…

As he came closer to me, I began to seriously consider the proposition. But then, I was reminded of why I started working for the Followers in the first place. I recalled days after my brother died, when I was alone and starving in a hovel in Traders Keep, until Blue Bird found me and offered me a position in the group.

I frowned and took my hand off my holster. Maybe I still had a promise to keep.

He made it to me, told of the survivors plans to relocate to an area Backrooms Robotics couldn’t touch.

We were going to Traders Keep.

The Slums were a remarkably terrible place to live in. I had learned that from experience. When Traders Keep was first settled, copious amounts of discarded almond water began to form large spots of mold in some of the city's most well lived areas. In time, those spots grew until there was an entire section in the middle of Traders Keep that was thick with mold and disease. That section turned into what they now called The Slums.

After The Bull was made, and its tracks were established, nobody needed to pass through The Slums to get to another part of Traders Keep anymore, and so it fell into relative obscurity. Nowadays, only gangs and The Lost traveled through it.

There were old, crudely made propaganda posters on all sides of The Slums, rallying for support of either the M.E.G. or the U.E.C., both of which were in some kind of pseudo war where neither was actually ready to fight the other.

Traders keep, in time, was divided into two sections: The east of Traders Keep, in support of the U.E.C., and the west of Traders keep, in support of the M.E.G., or whatever was left of it. The Slums were in the dead middle of the city, so they represented a strange sort of neutral ground between both parties.

The B.N.T.G. claimed, as always, that they and by extension the city were officially neutral in the conflict, but almost everyone understood they were just waiting to see who came out on top. Personally, I never cared much for the political state of the city. The Sanctuary was on the west side, so most people just assumed that I and the Followers supported the M.E.G. In reality, I didn’t think any of us really cared. Whoever could wipe out Backrooms Robotics first was good enough for all of us.

As I approached one of the more infested pockets of mold, I put on an old breathing mask that I picked up back at the marketplace. In the distance, I saw some Lost Shamans talking to one another. If the database was right, these guys might know who John Lawgorne was and where he went.

There were three of them, discussing something with a woman holding some sort of package. When I came closer, they hushed their tones and one of them broke off with the woman while the others stayed behind.

“Hi. I’m an Inquisitor. I was wondering if I could talk to you about someone who came through here a while ago- if you might’ve seen them?”

One of the Shamans smiled, and began to answer me politely.

“We see all that come through here. Though, we do not get many a visitor these days.”

“Good. I was wondering if you might’ve seen a Followers Of Jerry member recently, like me?”

The Shaman shook his head. “If anyone came through here with the mark of a blue bird, they hid it well.”

I showed him the printed copy of John’s face. “Well, have you seen this man? Did he tell you anything about the group?”

He took the photo from me and scanned it with his eyes. “Yes… I do know him. He came through here not long ago, called himself ‘The Crow.’ He asked us for protection, or something like it.”

The Crow. He must’ve thought that was good enough to cover his tracks, or maybe it meant something in Lost symbolism.

“I can take you to this man. He hides not far from here.”

“I thought you said he was under protection?”

“He asked, but we refused. All I ask of you is that you do not cause more chaos in this place.”

“Of course.”

We began to walk through the Slums slowly towards my target's location. The Shaman carried some sort of incense which cleared the air, at least for him. The dark, dusty corridors of The Slums were almost impossible for me to see through, and I used the light from his burning scent as a way to guide myself through the place.

The Slums had lost its lights a long, long time ago. Although The Lost still inhabited it, The B.N.T.G. took all remaining bulbs for “future use” and left them in the dark. I felt bad for those who still stayed here, but i never quite understood why The Lost hadn’t just left yet. Maybe in the past this place was important to them.

We walked for an hour through the thickest parts of The Slums, until we made it to John’s hiding place. I could see his small hut in the distance by then. The Shaman stopped in his tracks, and pointed towards the hut.

“This is as far as I will take you. I want no part in this violence.”

“I promised you I wouldn't do anything to him.”

“I know. But all men in this city are the same. All of you buy, and steal, and kill the land. It will end the same for all of you.”

With that, he walked back to where he came. I turned back towards John and started towards his temporary home. As I walked closer, I could see the light inside of the home turn off, and I watched John exit the house. I raised my gun to him, but realized he was holding his hands up in surrender.

“Please, don’t do this!”

“I won’t if you don’t make me.”

“You have to listen to me- you have to-”

I grabbed him by his throat and slammed him against the shack.

“Where is Steven Hugh?”

He spoke through his choking in heavy restraint. “He- Went to the Peacekeepers- Their sanctum! He went there! He-”

“Bullshit. Why would he go to the B.N.T.G.?”

“For the same reason I would've! We saw something! Back at the raid- we-”

“I don’t care. I’m sending you back to the Followers now. Come on.”

“No! Not there! I can’t go back to them! Please!”

For a split second, I sympathized with him. I didn’t really want to go back, either. But then, I remembered why I was here in the first place. I remembered my brother.

“Come on! Get up!” I lifted him up and shoved him forward, forcing him to walk.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun of his own. For a moment, I thought he was going to point it at me, but then I realized he was going to off himself.

“No! Don’t!”

“Or what? You’ll shoot me? I know what the Followers are now!”

Tears began to well up in his eyes.

“I know…”

He winced, and shot himself. He died instantly and fell to the ground.

I had never seen one of them do that before. Whatever he and Steven had found, it was terrifying to them. I stood for a moment, wondering where I'd go to find Steven, when I remembered that the Peacekeeper Station wasn’t far from the slums.

I suppose I'd have to find the man I was looking for there. I doubted he was hiding with the B.N.T.G., but it was the only lead I had left.

The Peacekeepers were stationed in the west side, close to The Slums so they could quickly send officers to the east side as needed. I disliked every last one of them, but I had no other choice than to ask them if they’d seen Steven Hugh.

I went through the metal front doors, and saw the station in full view. There were papers scattered around the place, desks lazily moved about the room, and drunk men lying from one wall to another. As I scanned the room, an Officer to the right of me who I hadn't noticed took my gun out of its holster.

“I’ll be taking this for now. Welcome to the Station.”

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