Sareh pummeled Danal as curled into the fetal position and coughed up blood. “What do you think you’re doing? You were supposed to be gone already! You knew if you stayed longer you were going to hurt yourself!”
Danal sputtered through coughs, “There’s the Sareh I remember.”
Djellian watched the proceedings without a flicker of emotion. “Friend Sareh. I must return to my wife. You said you needed me.”
Sareh breathed heavily as she glared at her brother. “Yes. Give me a moment to load up the files.” She stalked back toward the counter near the front hatch.
Djellian looked down at Danal as he alternated between laughing and coughing. “Friend Danal. You laugh, though you are near to death. As you face the weight of the curse, do you not fear?”
Danal chuckled in confusion through his pain. “Curse?”
“You will soon die, if I am to trust Friend Sareh. And should you die, you will fall in the endless ocean, the weight ever growing on your body, though it shall never succumb to the pressures. Do you not fear losing sight of the Sky?”
Danal shook his head and wiped blood from his chin. “Look, I can’t afford to be afraid of death or whatever junk people make up for after.”
Sareh stomped back down the hallway, some forms pulled up on her screen. “All right. Djellian, I need you to answer these questions the best you can. They’re all medical things. I’ve worked with kids with black lung for a long time now and I’ve noticed some patterns. I’ve never admitted anyone to the Filtered Rooms that’s so old, though, so this could be tricky.”
Djellian nodded to her.
“How do you spell Ffenyi?”
Djellian knit his brow. “Spell? We do no magic.” He glanced down at Danal, looking for some direction.
Sareh tried to process what he said. She spoke slowly, “How do you spell your wife’s name?”
The visitor shook his head.
Danal coughed again and asked, “Do you know how to read?”
Djellian’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I read the waters and the sky, and they tell me what will come!”
Sareh blinked. “I think we’ll move on to something else. How old is Ffenyi?”
“She is seventy-six years old.”
Danal fell into a new fit of coughing. Sareh sat down on the edge of his cot. “Seventy-six?”
“She’s… she’s old.”
Djellian shrugged. “We have older in our village.”
Sareh continued down her list of questions, asking about Ffenyi’s health before the coughing started, how long the coughing had gone on, what other symptoms might have appeared. If she had a religious preference.
“I do not understand your question.”
Sareh skipped that one, too.
“All right. Djellian, I need to examine your wife and check her breathing. I’ll be able to tell you more after that. Thank you. Please wait out here while I do that.”
Sareh paused. “It’s just something I do. A lot of time the people that come here feel better talking to just me.”
“I am her husband.”
Sareh nodded. “I know. Just trust me on this, all right?”
Djellian turned and tromped to the entrance hatch.
Sareh laid a hand on Danal’s form. “Keep an eye on him? I don’t need anyone blowing a blizzard in here.”
The hunter nodded. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. Not again. And thanks for letting me use your air again.”
Sareh sighed. She turned and entered the room that held Ffenyi, Aaron, and so many others. Most were sleeping at this time of night. Those that weren’t listened quietly. Sareh saw Ffenyi and Aaron whispering quietly to one another.
Sareh stomped as she approached to let them know she was coming. She knelt on the hard floor next to Ffenyi. “Your husband and I talked. I want to check something with you. He said you never had problems breathing before you came to the hunter’s pit, and then again until you got here. Is that correct?”
Ffenyi nodded, a strange smile on her face.
Sareh paused, examining the expression. “All right. And you arrived here two days ago?”
Again she nodded, the smile still there.
Sareh glanced back at Aaron and then her new patient. “I’m going to listen to your breathing, but I need to be able to touch the skin on your back. Can you pull up your coat on your back?”
Ffenyi grunted and complied. Sareh circled around and put her ear up to the skin in various spots, ordering her patient to breathe in and out as best she could. She made note of what she heard and came around to Ffenyi’s face again.
“When I deal with children, I find that the later and the faster the onset, usually the shorter time they have to live. You’ve started black lung very late in life, and it came on fast. Very fast.” Sareh paused for breathe. “You need to get out of the Pits now if you want to ever see your home again. If you don’t go soon, you’ll die here.”
That strange smile stayed on Ffenyi’s face.
“Don’t you understand? If you stay here, you’re going to die!”
The visitor grinned. “Why should I fear? The curse is broken!” She fell into a fit of coughs, blood running out of her mouth and onto the cot.
The front door chimed.
Sareh bit back a curse. “I’ll be back in a moment. I need to check who it is.” She walked out of the room, down the hall past Danal, and to the front room with its welcome counter. Djellian sulked in a corner. Sareh checked a screen and saw the one knocking had a pass card. She opened the hatch.
Mavin rushed in. “Sareh!” the young woman cried.
Sareh cocked her head. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s all gone crazy outside! No one knows what happened. The visitors, the ones form outside the Pits! They disappeared and everyone’s blaming everyone! The Pits are going to war with each other!”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous entry, I Will Put Enmity, here.
Read the next entry, Through Painful Toil, here.