The Jade Train

Jade was a hero.

He wasn’t one of those heroes you read about in stories, with the flowing blond hair and servants who clip their toenails for them. He was a real hero.

His armor was dented from use, so much that one dent constantly poked him in the ribs when he turned to scratch himself. His hair was too long because haircuts cost good silver and he lived adventure to adventure and didn’t have silver to waste on frivolous things. He’d tried to cut his own hair with a knife once, but nobody would hire him until it grew out again, so now he just let it go far too long between haircuts.

He smelled like sweat and leather. Don’t believe the stories when they say heroes smelling like sweat and leather are sexy. Sweat and leather smell like a cow that’s been doing hot yoga all day. He was also usually covered in dust and road grime, because real heroes were on the road a lot.

And Jade was a real hero.

The previous week had been pretty good work. He’d killed an ogre and cleared out a troll infestation, netting him a pouch full of silver. He’d decided to splurge on a room at the local inn and maybe finally get the blacksmith to buff out that dent in his armor. He’d also decided to get a good hot meal from the inn’s kitchen, along with a few mugs of their third finest ale.

That’s how it happened he found himself in the latrine shortly after sunset, drunkenly trying to get his armored pants down in the dark. Noble knights could afford a squire to pull down their pants for them, but real heroes had to manage on their own. He struggled with the buckles, banging his armored elbows into the sides of the tiny latrine, dancing back and forth and praying he wouldn’t shit himself. He’d have to boil his armor if he shit himself.

He finally bent forward to push his armored pants down, and smacked his helmet on the door of the latrine. His visor snapped shut and he stumbled back, losing his balance and dropping down onto the seat behind him.

Armor weighs a lot. That’s the main reason heroes get so strong, from wearing nearly a hundred pounds of padded metal cookware. Inns are also notorious for the appalling state of their latrines. Let’s just say fate takes what it can get, and sometimes that’s a greasy plate of beef ribs and too much of last season’s ale that makes a hero desperately need the latrine.

Jade sat down heavily, and the boards of the seat surrendered. There was a deafening crack and the floor of the latrine decided it would probably be a good idea to surrender as well. Jade fell about six feet before plopping into the waste below, splattering the gods knew what onto the sides of the hole.

His first thought was horror at his new surroundings. His second was that he may as well shit himself, because nobody would be able to tell the difference now. Thus relieved, he reached for the sides of the hole to climb out.

It was slippery, of course. His armored gloves couldn’t get a grip on the wall. He realized he might have had an easier time with his pants if he’d thought to take the gloves off, but quickly focused back on the task at hand. Heroes stayed focused. He tried to stand up in the muck, but his feet found no solid bottom beneath the waste.

Then he realized he was sinking. He flung his arms about, kicking his legs like a swimmer would tread water, which only made him sink faster. The muck was up to his ribs now, and oozing into his armor. It was surprisingly warm. He threw aside his pride and shouted for help, thrashing about and trying to scrape for purchase on the sides of the hole.

He soon found he was up to his armpits in sewage. He flapped his arms and they plopped onto the surface of the muck, splattering waste and making a sucking noise when he tried to lift them again.

As the sewage began to seep into the slots of his visor, he still couldn’t feel the bottom of the pit, and he could barely move his lower body. He sighed, straining to keep his chin out of the ooze, his eyes watering with the stench.

“Well, fuck.”

He sank beneath the surface.

The bards singing that night in the inn were terrible. The innkeeper liked it that way because people bought more ale in an effort to make them seem better. It also scared away many of the stray cats that hung around the kitchen. So when a sewage covered figure shambled into the commonroom, groaning and burbling, they didn’t notice at first.

When someone finally caught sight of him they screamed and leaped from their chair, scrambling to get away. That was all the spark it took to turn the commonroom into a mob of terrified morons. People swarmed the door, shoving and screaming. Someone fell into the hearth and ran into the middle of the room with his shirt on fire. One of the bards started hitting people with his seven-stringed lute. A serving girl raided the cash box and slipped out the kitchen door.

The many tiny things that live in sewage, finding a vacant host when Jade’s body refused to continue struggling to live, had taken up residency. Even sewage bugs hated latrines. Why else would the smell of a latrine carry for miles if it wasn’t because the sewage was trying desperately to escape? They had hopped on that Jade train and forced it up out of the pit, toward a better existence.

Sadly, they were without a plan once they escaped the latrine itself. This world was a strange place for a few thousand simple sewer bugs, and the people didn’t seem to speak their language. The Jade train shuffled into the mob, hoping to learn its customs and perhaps make a friend.

The mob went crazy. People tried to crawl over each other to reach the door, trampling the drunks and the bards. Although to be fair, they kinda aimed for the bards. The man on fire tried to crawl over the mass of people, which made more people start on fire, and those peeled away from the mob in ones and twos as they ran around the room screaming.

The Jade train didn’t like the fire. Sewer bugs didn’t like fire as a rule, being full of highly flammable gases themselves. The Jade train tried to push its way through the mob to get back out, and some of the sewer bugs jumped off the train entirely, landing on the mob and trying to find new homes.

The front door of an inn is usually the strongest part, mainly because it gets fixed so often after exceptionally bad bar fights. This front door was no exception. It therefore makes perfect sense that the walls around the door gave way first. A gaping hole appeared in the building and the mob was finally free.

People ran across the yard on fire, shedding light for the rest who scattered into the streets with sewer bugs in their mouths and hair. The inn behind them was on fire now, and from somewhere inside the sound of lute strings breaking made an eerie accompaniment to the flames.

In the front yard stood the Jade train. It looked after the fleeing mob and shrugged its shoulders. Rumor had it there was a swamp a few days to the north, and some of the sewer bugs swore their mamas had told them their daddies had been swamp bugs. Maybe they’d go there.

The Jade train shambled to the north and started walking, waving its arms to keep its balance. Armor was heavy after all.