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Prologue (Pt.1): Wine for Levan
Levan Nakat sat in what had once been his office, staring through the giant hole in the remains of the southern wall of the 1 Marann . Once the view through the southern window had been his favorite. This was the window that he could look out through and see the harbor, as well as the ocean that was the source of Evnakt's wealth. The same ocean that had now proven the agent of Evnakt's destruction. The scene through what had once been a wall was bleak indeed. Buildings that had once been tall, strong and thoroughly modern had been gutted by floods from the storm, or in some cases simply pounded into piles of rubble. Bricks, stones and rotting wood were strewn throughout what remained of the streets, interspersed with a few remaining bodies, which were a mixture of old and new. After the storm had come through, the patrician ferret had tried very hard to retrieve and properly bury or put out to sea all of the bodies, but between the loss of much of the city guard when their barracks had collapsed in on itself and the more immediate tasks needed to sustain life, some unfortunate victims of the storm lay even now in the streets, limbs contorted grotesquely, skins bloated by decay, the corpses torn at by sea birds. Dire as this was, what was even worse was that the flood and storm victims were a small percentage of the bodies still about. Most of the bodies in the streets and in the bowels of abandoned or water-gutted buildings were those of plague victims. Even the birds would not touch those.
Nakat, a short, bookish little ferret who nevertheless had once looked quite pleasant in the fine clothing his family's wealth had afforded, had previously been, if anything, a bit heavyset, good food and soft living having been sufficient to negate a metabolism inclined naturally towards sleekness. Now, however, his appearance bordered on emaciation. It wasn't that there was no food to be found for the mayor of Evnakt, but just that he refused to eat anything, his mind and heart in far too much turmoil to accept physical nourishment. Nakat remembered preparing for the storm, and that cold, wet, tight ball of fear that had formed in his stomach. He remembered going over disaster plans wondering if there would be enough infrastructure left to fulfill them, and he remembered taking stocks of emergency supplies, knowing even as he did so that however much he had would not be enough. The residents of Evnakt were creatures sustained by the sea, and paid close attention to the weather, which was recorded in great detail in the city archives. Neither those records, though, nor personal recollection, told of skies as dark and windy as the ones that had hovered over Evnakt before the storm. The entire island had had a sense of imminent doom about it.
And what a doom it had been. The seas that had sustained Evnakt turned on the little island with unimaginable ferocity, waves cresting at unprecedented heights and then slamming with savage force into the shores of the island, crushing buildings, smashing open ships and drowning lives and livelihoods. Parts of the city had been largely obliterated, the buildings mostly smashed apart, the streets flooded. Other areas, further from the shore, had escaped total destruction, but still sustained heavy wind and water damage, as well as many lives lost. The city guard, a key component of the disaster plans, had suffered grievous losses itself when its barracks failed to hold up against the storm's power, and its collapsing walls killed many guards.
Nakat had been shocked, almost stunned, to behold the destruction that had befallen the city that had been his burden and his birthright since the beginning of his adulthood. The streets of Evnakt had once been busy day and night with vermin scrambling to find money or products or entertainment. The noise from the taverns and brothels and inns and trading houses had never faded, even in the dark, and at night the city had been a cluster of light on the island, with lamps over the streets and candles in the windows. It was not a beautiful city. It didn't have an ancient, rich cultural heritage. And yet, the residents, for the most part, loved it as THEIR city. It was a place where vermin had never had to worry about the heavy paws of woodlander law falling upon them, a place where a beast with skill and energy and some luck on their side could wind up happier and wealthier than they had been when they arrived. To some in the upper class that doubtless didn't seem like very much, but Nakat, despite being born in the lap of luxury, understood better than most of the elite how important that fact was to the rest of the city.
During the time immediately after the storm, Nakat had been a whirlwind of activity, reorganizing the remaining city guards to relocate afflicted residents into the less severely afflicted areas of the city, distributing supplies, taking stock of damage and making preparations to try to repair. Life was harsh, to be sure, with a great many citizens dead or missing, families torn apart, or wiped away entirely, and commerce severely disrupted. The survivors had to contend with the loss of their livelihoods, and with being crowded into relatively small areas of the city in very tight quarters. Yet despite all this, the ferret had felt just a small glimmer of hope. Looking at the citizens, his citizens, he saw that their spirits were not completely broken. They were shocked, in pain, fearful, yes, but there was still to be found their the will to survive, to try to rebuild what had been lost. The two or three weeks after the storm had in fact been highly productive. The vast majority of the victims had been buried or put out to sea, rubble had been cleaned up, survivors found and treated, damage assessed and plans made. Teams had been organized to bail out key areas, and even the weather had cooperated, with bright sunlight and high temperatures drying up much of the standing water. What remained of the city had mobilized as one to try to save itself. For just a little while, Levan Nakat had dared to hope that maybe it might succeed. That's when nature had decided to crush his hopes entirely.
Nakat took a pull from the flask of wine in his paw, the only thing to cross his lips in days except for the water needed to sustain his life. A medically-inclined historian would not have found anything surprising about the idea that what remained of the Evnaktan citizenry had been struck by a plague. Such a historian would doubtless point out that the conditions were perfect. Despite all the efforts to clean up, conditions were still more than a little unsanitary. Large groups of displaced, stressed, frequently injured beasts had been resettled in close quarters and high density. Food and water supplies had been seriously impacted. Levan Nakat, however, was not a physician or a historian, and so all he could feel was surprise, terror, and a hint of betrayal at the sheer injustice of it all when the plague had started amongst an already devastated populace.
The remaining physicians on Evnakt had been at a loss to precisely identify the sickness, even before their numbers had been further reduced by the plague. Afflicted beasts started off with sharp headaches, eyestrain and stiff, painful joints, as well as a growing level of irritability, hostility and paranoia. These beginning symptoms were followed in days by a sharp fever, accompanied by an agonizing burning and itching senesation in the skin, the severity of which was such that the afflicted frequently had to be restrained from tearing their fur out and scratching themselves bloody. The impact on personality became even more pronounced, with some victims becoming antisocial to the point of violence. Delirium set in, then convulsions that produced horrible, spasmodic thrashing, and the vital sstems of the body just gave out. No wonder some had taken to calling the disease Martin's Madness, evoking the feared rodent war god from the mainland.
Nakat had read over the death records, at least until they became more and more disorganized to the point of being barely useable. He frequently visited the sites where the overtaxed force of medics, healers and nurses, many of them only informally and hastily trained in a sort of medical conscription, attempted to care for the victims. Numerically, only a little more than a quarter of the population was infected. However, the resources that this quarter, dubbed "marties" by the rest of the populace after the convulsions that marked the late stages of the disease, consumed was vastly disproportionate to its size, because they usually had to be separated from the rest of the population, and often forcibly restrained for treatment. A small percentage of those afflicted with the disease recovered fully.
In many particularly horrible cases, however, the body of the patient survived but not before the hostility and paranoia spiraled into outright madness. There were murders, suicides, arsons, and all manner of other crimes against life and property committed by these unfortunates. Most, however, turned primarily on themselves.
Nakat himself had personally witnessed a fox martie in a field hospital tear loose from the two weasel nurses trying to restrain him. The fox had thrown them to the side, and grabbed a set of blades from the bag of a stoat healer. The fox had stabbed the stoat in the arm, but then immediately lost interest in causing further harm to the mustelid. Instead he had taken the blades to his own face, slashing them across his eyes and muzzle while yelling things that had held meaning only to him as onlookers watched in horror. Finally, the martie nicked one of his own jugulars and bled out in the midst of the field hospital as Nakat watched in shock. The ferret mayor had seen other horrible things before, and other horrible things since. But that day in the field hospital was when Nakat had lost hope.
In a vain effort to try to contain the disease, Levan Nakat had given an order that had made him physically sick. He had ordered that any of the patients of the disease—he refused to call them 'marties', not wanting to give that loathed deity the credit for this affliction—who did not improve within four days of diagnosis to be put down, euthanized. Nakat had wrestled with his conscience over this order, and his inner turmoil was made even worse when it utterly failed in its desired effect. The staff of one of the largest field hospitals mutinied, declaring the hospital and the area around it to no longer be under Nakat's jurisdiction. In other hospitals, medics released patients in all states of the disease rather than killed them, while in other instances marties escaped on their own, running away into the city to pursue whatever mad whims their disease ravaged brains could invent. Family members hid anyone who started to show signs of illness until they died, recovered or went irretrievably manic. Some parts of the city rioted because he was too extreme, and others rioted because he was not drastic enough. In short, Levan Nakat had lost control of what remained of his wreck of a city.
That was why, a few days after the situation had deteriorated past all repair, Levan Nakat was sitting in his old office, staring through the wall, waiting for the nightshade in his wine to take effect and take this problem off his paws.