Danal stepped from the light snow and the heavy scent of smoke and into the relative warmth and scent of electrical burning inside the Emporium. Zeresh pushed in behind him.
The old man sat behind the counter with heavy eyes and disheveled white hair. “Oh. You’re back. You need your net worked on? Again? I suppose a badger got it. Or a voorloper?”
Danal snorted a laugh and coughed. “How about a bear?”
“Ah, a bear! That would do it.” He nodded sagely.
Zeresh looked between the two of them. “A voorloper?”
Danal didn’t answer her but focused on the old man. “Do you think you could finish it up today, Scatham? The smoke’s really getting to me this time around. I don’t know how long I can spend at the Pits before I end up staying at the Filtered Rooms permanently.” Danal breathed in the cramped room. Electrical equipment in various states of undress littered the space. There was something purer about this place, something his lungs could handle.
The old man scratched his head. “Don’t know. Let me take it back and have a look.” He heaved the heavy netting onto his shoulder and waddled into the back room.
Danal heard some crashing and metallic banging. Scatham talked with someone.
Zeresh wrinkled her nose. “It always stinks in here.”
“Always? You’ve been here twice.”
“And this is the third time. Every time it stinks.” Zeresh ran a hand through her thick red curls. “You don’t really need me here for this.”
“I might need you to wait for the net.”
“Why do you come here anyway? Hephaestus out at the hunter’s pit could fix it just fine.”
Danal plucked a bauble from a grimy shelf and inspected it. “He might fix it. But that’s a good week’s travel out of our way to get there. And Scatham has always done better work. For less.”
“That old man? He couldn’t fix a broken sled rail.”
“He’s always done all right by me.”
“Call it women’s intuition.” Zeresh snatched the bauble from Danal’s grasp. “That geezer won’t be fixing your net.”
A dry chuckle caused the two to turn back to the counter. The old man smiled. “Well, women’s intuition is usually dependable. Then again, it could be pretty useless. I’ve know it to fail a time or two.”
Something crashed in the back room.
The old man half-turned to the sound. “Sorry about that. Training in a new apprentice. Hopefully this one works better than the last.”
Danal stepped over to the counter. “An apprentice? I didn’t know you were looking for someone to take over.”
He shrugged. “Someone needs to run the Emporium after I’m gone.”
Danal waited a moment before asking, “So, can you fix the net?”
“Should be easy. Come back in a few hours, and it’ll be ready for you. I’m assuming a new charge for it as well?”
Zeresh leaned over on the counter. Danal noticed she’d unbuttoned her coat and pulled her shirt down just a little more than was proper. “So who’s going to fix the net?”
Scatham squinted down at Zeresh’s goods. “Well, I might leave it to my apprentice. Test the skills, so to speak. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure it’s as good as new.”
Danal fought to keep the distaste from his face. “Zeresh, we need to go so he can get to work.”
“Do you want a new apprentice?” the redhead purred at the old man.
“Now, what you got is useful, true, but I don’t think it could do much here.” He shrugged. “I’m too old to do much more than appreciate a fine piece of art. Though, I must say, your art isn’t the best I’ve seen.”
Zeresh lifted her lips in a half-smile. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Nothing that a hundred men before me haven’t missed, by the way you’re acting.” Scatham looked past her to Danal. “You’ve got a real winner here.”
“Trust me, I know.” Danal frowned. “Come on Zeresh. Time to let them work.”
She pouted until both were outside and the door sealed. She shifted her shirt back into place and closed her coat. “You know, usually that confuses men enough that they tell the truth. Whatever he’s hiding, it’s important to him.”
“Or he’s not hiding anything.” Danal sighed. “I really wish you’d just do what I tell you and leave well enough alone.”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Societies Meet, here.
Read the next story, Dining on Ash, here.