This is part of an ongoing steampunk fantasy story. See the introduction to get at the story from the beginning.
We marched two days deeper inland. Any hope I had of finding my position disappeared as the jungle swallowed me whole. Hot, sticky, thick, and loud. The forest swelled and teemed with living things. Everything moved: the trees, the ground, the brush. Everything breathed. And everything pressed in, pushing tighter like a python slowly strangling me.
I was used to close proximity. I’d grown up in Ilsa City when not in Glass Waters where my Family Manor was. The City was the most densely populated area in the world. But that was a different kind of bustle. It made sense – logical and organized. The towering cloudtoucher buildings were comforting, not menacing like these trees. Noisy trams rattled consistently instead of unnerving, unseen beasts yowling chaotically. Most of all, I knew where things separated in the city. A person was a person, separate from his automaton servant. Here, though, trees bled into vines that bled into other trees. The canopy blocked out the sky, and the rain fell hard, washing away the world. Everything melded together.
Finally, on the third day, we arrived at our destination.
Down in the ravine was the rebel “camp” that consisted of a half-dozen thatch huts and three likely stolen infantry tents. Most of the supplies were scattered collections of stolen weapons, tools, jugs of water, and bundles of extra clothing. A tarp strung across a pile of what had to be the perishables like food and paper, maybe even explosives, that had to stay dry. The outpost could have held eighty or ninety men. There were only about a dozen.
I curled my nose, trying to show as much disgust as I could. “What a hell hole,” I said more loudly than I needed to. “You’re either desperate or stupid or both. No layout. No clear command. No defense. At a glance, I could tell the camp supports about sixty, but you savages probably cram two hundred in.”
The large man who had shot me was standing right next to me.
“How do you stand the smell, Tiny?” I added for good measure.
He jabbed me in the gut.
“Where are the rest? Catching dogs for mates?” I added.
Tiny was about to hit me again when Mouse stepped between us. “I’d rather you not beat her senseless. It’s her senses we need, after all.”
“Listen to him, Tiny,” I said. “A woman should respect her man.”
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