“There was a blizzard last night. Lots of snow. Smoke should be light.” Sareh smiled at Danal. “It should be safe in the Pits for you. At least for a little bit.”
Danal didn’t return her smile. “You were out late last night. We ran into one of your regulars. Mavis? Anyway, she said that you’ve had trouble lately.”
“You probably mean Mavin.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
Danal continued sitting on a cot in the hallway. Cold lighting flickered up and down the stone corridor. Sareh stood over him.
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. You need to go before any customers come.”
“I know the drill. I’ll go. But you need to tell me what’s going on.” He reached out a hand to take Sareh’s arm.
She flinched away. “Danal. Don’t.”
He stood, towering over her. “Who hurt you?”
“No one. Look, you need to get out of the Pits before the smoke hurts you. Get whatever supplies you need and get out.”
“Sareh.” He reached out again, and she backed away.
“You can pay for the night’s stay at the front counter.” She turned and hurried away down the stone hallway.
Danal dropped his hand. He sat back down on the cot.
He heard coughing from one of the rooms off the hall. Of course he did.
The hunter shoved on heavy boots and slipped the bearskin cloak over his shoulders. He still didn’t like the city clothes Zeresh had gotten him. He pulled at the collar of his shirt. Well, if it meant better prices from his clients, he could put up with it for a few days.
He clomped up the hall to the front desk. Sareh sat behind it, scratching at some paperwork with a pen.
“How’s business lately?”
“Lots of people. Lots of kids. I wish they wouldn’t come, but at least they won’t die alone if they’re here. One died last night. Darla.” Sareh closed her eyes.
Danal swallowed. “You don’t have to do this alone.”
“Stop offering that. You know you can’t stay. The smoke here would kill you.”
“I could stay here. Where it’s safe for me.”
“You could never stay inside. You’d die first.”
“But I wouldn’t die alone.” He raised his eyebrows into a question.
Sareh cleared her throat. “You need to pay up for last night.”
Danal sighed. “All right. How much?”
“Of course.” He rummaged in his rucksack before handing over two cards. “This should cover anything I owe.” He turned to go.
Sareh called out, “Danal?”
“Be safe. Please.”
“Yeah.” He opened the hatch, letting in bright light and a blast of cold. “I’ll probably be back tonight. I’ve got too much to take care of in one day.”
After he shut the door, Sareh sat without moving for a long, long time.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, A Funeral for Seventy-Two, here.
Read the next story, No Time for Fakes, here.