“Listen, Raif. I’ll go in with you this time.”
They stood together outside a large brick building that was divvied up into multiple residences with heavy black doors. The nearest of these doors was marked with a large, red X, condemning it as infected. Within a few days, this door, as well as all of the windows, would be bricked in with the dead and dying still inside, making the home into a tomb. Eventually, the whole building would probably be torched. Their opportunity was now. There were valuables to be evacuated from the premises. There was money to be made.
Raphael nodded wearily, wincing as he did so. His head hurt.
He felt Seymour’s hand upon his shoulder, gentle now. “Let’s go, then.”
A cart rattled by behind them. Neither looked to see what it contained. They knew. The city of Brysail couldn’t seal every corpse inside a house when so many had no possessions but for the clothes on their back. The homeless ones and the ones that hadn’t been able to return to their homes—those bodies had to go somewhere. Usually they were taken to the plague pits, where they would be dumped, covered with oil, and then burned in order to conserve space.
Raphael nodded again, and then, carefully, making sure no one was watching, they approached the door. It was locked, but the latch was too weak to withstand the superior strength of a young and determined male Aechyed. Within a space of twenty seconds, the door had come open and they had slipped inside.
The smell of death hit them immediately, and they stumbled back as if struck by a physical force. Raphael pulled the front of his tunic up over his nose, doing all that was in his power to avoid vomiting in front of Seymour.
They made their way up a narrow stairway and through another doorway, at which point they found themselves in a dimly-lit room with thick curtains draped over the windows. The shapes of furniture lurked in the shadows like sleeping beasts, and flies buzzed in the thin shafts of light that made it through the draperies. The heat was sweltering there, and the air was thick with the stink of sickness, blood and rotting flesh. Raphael could make out the figure of a bed with something on top of it, something which could have conceivably have been (but probably was not) formed by a blanket. He did not look too closely.
They found a desk and began to rummage through it, taking everything that they could possibly sell—good quality pens, reasonably full bottles of ink, paperweights, stray jewelry and so forth. Their spoils weighing down their pockets, they moved on to the next room, this one with better lighting. The stench here, while still nauseating, was not nearly as intense, as one of the windows was slightly ajar. Seymour started going through cupboards and drawers, but Raphael had to sit down in a wooden chair by the open window to keep from fainting.
“What do you think?” Seymour asked him, depositing a load of cutlery on the table in front of him. “Do you think I could pass this off as genuine silver?”
“Are you sure you’re alright, Raif? You look a bit pale.”
He nodded. “I’ll be fine. The smell’s gettin’ to me is all.”
The worried expression did not entirely leave Seymour’s face, but he smiled and mussed Raphael’s hair. “Right. I think I’ll move on to the next room now. Do you want to come with me?”
The human boy shook his head. “I think I’ll stay here for a bit. I’ll catch up with you later.”
As soon as the Aechyed left the room, Raphael pushed the window open a few inches farther, leaned out, and was violently sick into the window-box.
When he was done, his heart pounding fast enough to hurt, he looked down into the mess he had made. No blood. Thank Rezyn.
Then, unexpectedly, he heard the bedroom door creak open.