Barras heard the crack as the board gave way under him. He pushed off in one final lunge before the narrow bridge collapsed into the pit below him.
He felt a strong hand grip his ankle.
He felt strong hands grab at his wrists.
He felt the jolt as gravity took him. The hands holding his wrists held firm.
The hand holding his ankle held firm, shocking him as the weight yanked at his. Pallas hung below him, dangling over the pit.
He snarled, “Barras, just wait until Old Man Graston finds out about this. You are a dead man, you hear? Dead!”
Barras looked down. He kicked his other foot at the man’s fingers.
Pallas fell into the abyss.
Barras looked up at the hands holding him. Four heads peeked over the side of the scaffoldwalk’s splintery boards. They hauled him up and over the edge.
They all lay panting on the scaffoldwalk, letting the pellets of snow fall on their bodies.
Someone called his name. Barras lifted his head to look over the gap. The other two goons pointed at him and screamed. Barras shrugged and laid back down. It didn’t matter. What was done was done.
A wheezing voice said, “We need to move. They can go get friends and cut us off on the other side of the pit.”
Barras nodded. “Yeah.”
The voice asked again, “Who the hell are you?”
“Barras. My friend, Val, he sent me out to check and make sure the Filtered Rooms were all right. Especially the owner. Some woman named Sareh. Not sure why, but he thinks they’re pretty important. I was out looking for her – all the people there said she was out. Found you. I hate an unfair fight. And Pallas is just a bully.”
“Was,” the voice answered.
“Yeah.” Barras hauled himself to sit with a groan and took in the motley group. “Who the hell are all of you?”
One, dressed as a hunter, answered. Apparently he’d been the one talking. “Danal. I used to work for Old Man Graston, too.”
Barras closed his eyes. “Yeah. I’m never going to get another job in the Pits. My wife’s going to kill me.”
The wind blew.
“Well, I can offer you a different job.” A woman sat up and struggled to stand. “I’m Sareh. From the Filtered Rooms. And I have a feeling we’re going to need some security.”
Barras blinked. “Seriously?”
“I can’t pay much. But I don’t want to have to deal with anyone like –” She took a deep breath. “Like Pall – like him again.”
Danal reached out to comfort Sareh. She shied away from his hand.
Barras spotted the two with dark skin. “You’re the visitors, aren’t you?”
They held each other. Both shook in relief and fear. The man answered, “We are not from the Pits. We wish to leave.”
“I don’t blame you.”
The young woman stood and looked Barras up and down. “And you just are one big damn hero, aren’t you?”
“Mavin!” Sareh snapped.
Mavin shrugged. “Sometimes you gotta tell it the way it is.”
“You always do that,” the boy answered.
“Otherwise you wouldn’t know I wished you were dead.”
“Yeah, well.” The boy punched the young woman on the arm. They both smiled.
Danal struggled a step. Sareh hesitated, then wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Lean on me. Lead the way.”
Barras joined the procession as they headed out toward the shepherd’s pits.
Danal gestured. “You said someone named Val sent you?” He limped with a groan at each step.
Barras nodded. “Valerius McCay. He’s an officiant.”
Danal frowned. Who was Valerius? What was his interest in the Filtered Rooms? And why did he want the Pits at war?
Questions for another day.
They struggled through several more pits and over the Lattice. No more people stopped them. The few people they saw dashed away from the group, afraid that such a gathering must be goons bent on some form of pain.
At last they came to the shepherd’s pit. At last they came to the sound of bleating goats.
Danal smiled. “Just a little more, and we’ll be away from the Pits.” He looked over at Ffenyi and Djellian. “And you need never come back, unless you wish it.”
Ffenyi grinned down at the goats gathered at the bottom of the pit. “Your home is filled with things we do not desire. It has darkness. But here –” She looked over at Aaron. “This place will always be close to my heart. It is here that we learned the cure to the curse. It is here that we were blessed beyond measure. I suppose only in the darkest place may the light shine so bright.”
They descended into the pit. Danal, leaning on Sareh, limped off to talk to the shepherds. The rest of the group collapsed against one of the walls. Ffenyi could not remove her eyes from the goats.
One of the shepherds approached.
Ffenyi called out, “Davin! Your sight warms my heart!”
The young man grinned. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon!”
Aaron coughed. Davin turned to see him. “Aaron? I thought you were dead!” He rushed to the boy’s side.
“No. My sister wants me dead, but I’m still here.” Aaron smiled and the two clasped hands.
“So the blacklung didn’t kill you!”
“Yet. I’ve been staying in the Filtered Rooms.”
The young shepherd nodded.
Ffenyi petted a goat and giggled.
Danal and Sareh limped back. “The shepherds are leading my dogs and sled up. We’ll be ready to leave.” He tried sighing deeply and winced instead. “So say your goodbyes. It’s time.”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous entry, Though the Earth Give Way, here.
Read the last entry, Be Still and Know, here.