How could a man cursed to die not know he is cursed? Ffenyi scanned the crowd to find the hunter, the one Nick had introduced her to. Her eyes blurred as she looked over all the faces.
How could anyone live where they didn’t know everyone by name?
Another man approached as this officiant, this Valerius, talked to them. He seemed pleasant enough. Pleasant. That seemed to be all these people were. The men had no fire. The women had no submission. How could these people live?
Another man approached in dark, dark clothing. Suits. That’s what they called that kind of clothing. They’d tried forcing Djellian into one, but he’d refused.
The man was thin and old in a way that no one else here seemed to be. Perhaps he would know of the curse. Perhaps he would know the cure.
“I am Anton McCrevich, and it is a pleasure to meet you,” he said. He offered his hand.
Ffenyi saw Djellian brace himself for shaking hands.
The other man, the officiant, backed away respectfully. Ffenyi saw him reach inside his coat to grab something.
The tickle in the back of Ffenyi’s throat exploded into pain. She couldn’t breathe in. She wheezed for air. She felt Djellian’s arm on her back as she doubled over, her arms wrapped around her stomach.
Another man came up beside her. The officiant. Whatever he had reached to retrieve from his coat had vanished back in. She felt his fingers on her neck. She jerked away, even with the pain in her lungs. No man but her husband should touch her!
The fingers came back, more insistent. They pressed up against her neck.
She heard the officiant shout, “She’s been poisoned! Someone’s tried to kill the visitor!”
Someone tried restraining the old man she’d been talking to. “You were the last one to touch her, McCrevich.”
The man fought back.
She heard the officiant state, “He must have been jealous that Graston got to the visitors first!”
Murmuring spread through the crowd.
Another man shouted, “We need a doctor! A doctor!”
Friend Charles hovered nearby, his hands balling into fists. He yelled something at Anton. Anton answered back.
Ffenyi began to see spots. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t breathe! Her hands reached for Djellian. “Don’t… I can’t die! The curse!” she hissed as best she could.
Her husband nodded. He understood.
Someone shouted in the crowd. More shouts. Someone screamed. Friend Charles threw a punch at McCrevich. Men stepped between to try and stop the fight. Others joined the battle. Ffenyi didn’t care. She couldn’t breathe.
A voice. “I know someplace she’ll be able to breathe. It’s called the Filtered Rooms. I can take you there.” She recognized the voice. She looked up to see the hunter. Danal. That was his name. The one who knew what pain was.
She felt strong arms pick her up. Djellian. She relaxed into his chest, trying to breathe in his scent. She coughed. She felt blood fly out of her mouth.
Someone stopped Danal. “I’m sorry. No one can leave until we’ve got this sorted.”
Danal tried to shove his way through. The other man resisted. The hunter turned back to face Djellian. “Can you follow me where ever I go?”
Ffenyi could not see her husband’s response, but she knew what it would be.
The hunter dashed through the crowd. More yelling. More fists. Some women fainted.
Danal seized a chair and hurled it into the window. Glass shattered out into the night. Cold air exploded into the room. Pellets of snow pelted Ffenyi in the sudden breeze.
The sudden cool air opened her throat. She gulped at the air, only to cough again.
Smoke. Like the fury of a blizzard on the plains, it could not be stopped.
Danal ignored it and scrambled over the broken glass to the scaffold outside. Djellian followed. Into the snowy night. Out, toward the shouting crowds.
Hopefully to safety.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Like a Bear in a Net, here.
Read the next story, To Dust Return, here.