Chapter Nineteen: A whole lot of walking and little bit of talking and also an unfortunate amount of retching but Faye ends up mostly fine
Faye threw up again.
“Where did that even come from?” Joss asked, frowning down at the puddle of sick while rubbing Faye’s back.
“There’s really no telling,” Faye rasped, curious herself. She hadn’t eaten anything in a day and a half. At this point, she would have thought vomiting anything other than bile biomechanically impossible. She was, apparently, wrong.
“You been hiding food from us, Faye?” Tarin asked. He gave her a wide berth as he walked on ahead, Baby strapped to his chest.
“Apparently,” Faye muttered, shakily straightening up. The world was still spinning, though not nearly so much as it had been five minutes ago. At this rate, it’d be still within the hour. At least, she hoped it would be. She desperately wanted to stop puking.
Faye hadn’t been sick in two centuries. She’d forgotten how rotten it was. And no, don’t get ahead of yourself—her body wasn’t breaking down with the world, as if the two had tied fates, or something. No, this illness was a Courier thing. In ye-olde-olde, after the first families but before the wholesale bureaucratization of the Couriers, Faye and her siblings carried more than just messages. Valuables, often, or people, oftener. Faye had escorted many betrotheds and lovers and children through treacherous climes. But people and goods weren’t even the whole of it. Couriers had also been hired to purvey emotions. Faye had once travelled three hundred miles to show Nia how truly sorry and sincerely repentant Zuri had been. Faye didn’t know exactly how it worked, other than that she simply took Nia’s feelings, carried them in her own body, and offloaded them into Zuri. No, she didn’t know how it worked. She just knew that it did work, and, perhaps more importantly, her clients knew it, too.
And then, back when people began to get creatively nasty, Faye discovered she could also carry other sorts of feelings—for example, those related to pain and illness. She didn’t think she ever actually took anybody’s disease. Probably just their symptoms, she thought. They often got better before their body developed symptoms again, which contributed to the illusion of her taking the sickness. But there had been a few people in terminal situations who had simply died, pain-free, as she carried their feelings to the healer, or the doctor, or the political ally suspicious of their ailment.
Faye didn’t convey sickness too often. Most people didn’t want to receive those sorts of messages, and she didn’t much like carrying them. But then, of course, Joss was having a strangely resilient bout of reverse seasickness (which Faye still wasn’t sure was even a thing), and she was slowing them down, and she just looked so sad and pathetic and in need of saving. Was what Tarin said when he was mocking Faye earlier that morning, anyway. Which was really ripe of him, actually, considering he had been about to do the same.
And, of course, Joss was utterly oblivious to what had happened. The ungrateful devil. Oh well. It was almost over. Joss’s body had almost reestablished its equilibrium, and Faye’s had almost thrown up the entirety of its upper GI track.
Tarin bounded back down the mountain towards the rest of them, whistling to himself. Baby laughed, delighted by the speed, swinging ever so slightly in the sling Tarin wore around his chest.
“Almost there,” he said, stepping to the side as Faye wretched again.
“Last one, I promise,” she mumbled, throat raw. Joss rubbed her back oh-so-gently, eyes full of pity and patience.
“If you say so,” Tarin said, going back to his whistling. He was too upbeat, though Faye couldn’t figure out why. He tickled Baby’s toes as he scanned the world behind them. A little bit of muddy rock, a whole lot of deep, blue sea. Ocean. Sea. Sea? Faye couldn’t remember the difference.
“How are you planning on finding Chemie, once we’re there?” Tristan asked. Faye kept forgetting he was there.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something,” Tarin said, all but skipping back towards the front of the group.
“What do you think, Joss?” Tarin asked, spinning around again, breathing in deeply. It wasn’t raining today. The sun shone off a wet, green world. Most of the fog had burned off by this point in the day, leaving behind what was, Faye had to admit, one of the most beautiful mountain ranges she’d ever seen.
“Ever been to the Andean highlands?” Faye asked.
“Can’t say I have, no,” Joss said, attention still mostly on Faye, who was still rather wobbly.
“Hey, Tristan, remember that time you were supposed to meet a guy in one of the most elevated capitol cities in the world? And you stopped at the first house you saw, miles away from any peak? In a place that could generously be deemed the afterthought of a suburb?”
“It wasn’t funny the first ten times,” Tristan muttered, “it wasn’t even funny the first time.”
“Really? ‘Cause I almost think it’s getting funnier.”
“Leave him alone,” Joss said, giving Tarin a sidelong glare. Tarin, for his part, did his best to ignore Joss’s gaze. He failed, then sighed, then backed off. Just a little. Faye, strangely enough, found herself falling more in line with Tarin than with Joss, on this one. Tristan’s stories didn’t quite make sense, and Faye was having trouble deciding whether the sense was being intentionally obscured or had been ripped away in any of the plentiful traumatic experiences they had all endured in the past few months. Either way, his story about losing a girl in the water wasn’t doing him any favors, regardless of whether it had been a horrible tragedy or something else altogether.
“He said to meet him in an independent place,” Tristan said, sounding somewhat defensive. “A typically-Chemie sort of a thing to say. Not that you’d know. Have fun decoding that one, Tarin. What even is an independent place? An unincorporated building, perhaps? Or a statue of some revolutionary leader? Or, perhaps, a neighborhood apart—independent—from the city? Hmm?” He looked rather pleased with himself, Faye thought. Pleased, and irritated. He began to grimace again.
“Or, perhaps, he meant ‘Plaze de la Independencia,” Tarin said, shrugging. “Just a thought. That’s a weird tip, though, to give to a person who’s never been to Ecuador.” Tarin spun around and walked backwards, reappraising Tristan.
“You high up, in this organization of yours? What is Chemie to you? Where are you coming from?”
“O-organization? Who said anything about an organization? We’re just… friends, is all?”
“The question mark there at the end really sold the story, kiddo,” Faye said, giving him a thumbs-up before puking again, “really has me buying what you’re selling. Totally with you.” She curled in on herself, willing the roiling nausea to please stop roiling. It did. She stood back up and kept walking.
“Don’t worry about your secrets, Tristan, we’re pretty good at keeping them. And besides, the amulet you’re wearing is a Leaguer’s, clear as day. So unless you stole it, or ‘found’ it…” Tarin left it hanging, but Tristan didn’t go for any of it. He just walked on in tortured silence. Which was a little too much for Faye, if we’re being honest. She wasn’t a fan of self-loathing. It wasn’t interesting, for starters, and was rarely productive. She couldn’t remember a single time it had done anybody any good.
“Very well, then,” Tarin said, flicking a bug off of Baby’s head. “Don’t speak. Fine by me.” Faye would have agreed, but was too busy tripping over nothing. Her feet were too heavy, for starters. And the ground kept moving.
“Who are the Leaguers?” Joss asked, taking Faye’s arm, steadying her. Faye preened, thinking to herself that Munchausen made quite a bit of sense.
“Oh, some super old organization from way back when,” Tarin said. “They formed centuries ago. Something about trying to erase magic from human memory. Protect dragons, prevent witch hunts, et cetera. They were really good at their job, and, once they’d succeeded on that first front, they diversified their business ventures. Really expanded on their mission statement, in the past Millenia. If you can imagine something super secretive and a tad conspiratorial, they’ve probably done it. Most recently, I think they’ve been trying to combat global warming. Does that about sum it up?” Tristan looked like he was about to get shot in the face. Which was, rather unfortunately, an expression Faye had a pedestrian sort of familiarity with.
“Whatever,” Tarin said, sighing. He turned back around and marched onward. Faye kept up as best she could. Which was quite a bit better, now. The world was increasingly tilting in the correct direction, for starters, and only every other thing smelled positively revolting. Faye made sure to keep occasionally tripping, though. Didn’t want Joss to get any ideas.
“This… well, it’s a city, isn’t it?” Joss said, eyes wide.
“Yes it is,” Tarin said, covering Baby’s ears. It wasn’t used to the noise, and had been fidgeting for a solid fifteen minutes. Not crying, though.
It had taken them two days to reach the city proper. And it was a city. Not necessarily proper, though. Not anymore. Faye kept squinting at it, kept getting “almost there,” almost to the “there” that was the city, pre-floods. She could see it in the shadows and bones of this place.
But that place was not this place. Not anymore. This place was wet, but not flooded. Crowded, undeniably, and more crowded than it had been by scales of ten, Faye was sure. Slightly less colorful, as everyone’s wardrobes were weather-faded and threadbare. Slightly more diverse. The city’s current inhabitants had come from all over the continent. The world, Faye reminded herself. She was here, after all. People milled about, quieter than they would have been, but by no means mute. Faye thought back to Bend, back to the oppressive silence of that place. Quito was a heavy metal concert, compared to that.
“Are they… shopping?” Joss asked. People flowed through the streets, flowed in and out of soggy stores and through lanes of produce stands and street vendors. But no, they weren’t shopping. Not with money, anyway.
“I think they’re bartering?” Faye said, watching two people gesturing over a plate of dried fish. They stopped gesturing as the first person handed the second person a paper covered in writing, and the second person handed over the plate of fish.
“An IOU?” Joss asked.
“Or something,” Tarin agreed, nodding thoughtfully. “I wonder if anybody’s in charge?”
“Perhaps it’s just some good ‘ol fashioned anarcho-communism.”
“Oh. How fun.” Joss said. Faye wasn’t even sure she was kidding. Faye wondered what sort of lawyer she’d been, back in Oregon.
Tarin stepped into the nearest shop. Joss followed, and Faye followed her, not at all wanting to get stuck with Tristan. Who, in turn, trailed after the four of them. Tarin pushed through the crowded storefront—currently purveying tarps and fishing line, though it bore a strong likeness to a pre-apocalypse yoga studio—and made his way to the counter, where three men were busy yelling at one another.
“Excuse me,” Tarin said, speaking in what Faye could only guess was Ecuadoran Spanish, “excuse me, but we just got here. How has the city changed, since the floods? What should I know?”
Two of the men shook their heads, pointing to their ears and shrugging their shoulders. The third man understood Tarin.
“Sorry, they don’t speak this,” the third man said. Faye wasn’t sure he did, either, judging by the accent. “A lot, sir, that you should know, but nothing really, either. There’s a new organization to life, as you can see, and we more or less stick to it. Just waiting to die, see? But it’s not so bad. We’re supposed to direct newcomers to the Houses, in the old La Mariscal. You’ll get placed, from there, if that’s what you want. Then you could learn some Quichua, maybe? And come tell these old geysers off for me.” He laughed at that, holding a gut that used to be a little bigger.
Tarin smiled at the men, nodding.
“We need to go to the Plaza de la Independencia first,” Tarin said. “Does anybody have any baby food?” He asked. “Will we be able to get that from the Houses?”
“From the Houses, yes,” the man said, nodding, “and most other places, too. Babies are mostly getting mashed bananas and potatoes. But this baby’s cute enough to get some jarred carrots, I think. Isn’t that right?” He directed that last bit at Baby, pinching its little toes and grinning like a clown. Baby stared at him, and then up at Tarin as if to ask if it was okay to just pretend like this man wasn’t there. Tarin smiled down at Baby and ran his fingers through its soft fuzz of hair.
“Thank you,” Tarin said. “Which way to the plaza?”
Five minutes later they were banana-laden and eastward bound.