Ffenyi reached to pet the thick hair of the strange animals. Djellian stood a short distance away, observing the yipping beasts. Dogs. Danal had called them dogs.
Nearby, Danal strapped himself to the back of the sled. Sareh stood beside him. “You know you’re not going to make it far.”
“I’ve had worse out on the plains. I’ll be fine.” He gritted his teeth. “You, though. You need to tell me what happened.”
Sareh looked away. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I’m your big brother.”
She didn’t answer for a few moments. The wind blew flakes into her face. She opened her mouth. She closed it. “You were gone. Hunting. They found a new heat spring. I went. The guard. He wanted me to pay another way.” She clamped her lips together. She squeezed her eyes shut. “No one heard me scream,” she whispered.
Danal reached out a hand. Sareh shied away.
“I’ll take the visitors to the hunter’s pit. Then I’ll come back. I’ll protect you.”
She shook her head. “You can’t. We’ve been over this.” She looked up at him. “Don’t give me another reason to mourn.”
Danal growled. “I should have been there.”
“But you weren’t.”
The wind whistled. The dogs whimpered, ready to go.
Sareh shook her head. “Don’t stay. Go. Relearn what you’ve forgotten. Listen to Aaron. He tells good stories.”
Danal answered, “I wish I could protect you.”
Sareh shrugged. “That’s the way of things.”
At the front of the sled, Aaron sat. The sled creaked under his weight. Packs of tents and food piled around him.
Mavin stood nearby with crossed arms. “It’s about time you left. Now I don’t have to keep visiting you.”
Aaron sat on the sled. He looked up at his sister and raised his eyebrows. “Really? I’m leaving. Forever. You want to keep this up?”
Mavin pressed her lips together. “I have to.”
“You don’t have to be strong for me. Not anymore.”
Mavin looked away. She looked at Aaron. She looked at the dogs. She looked at the sky. “I don’t know who I am if I’m not taking care of you.”
“You’re Mavin. You’re my sister. You’re the idiot who cares too much but never shows it. And you talk too much.”
Mavin punched him on the shoulder.
“And you have a temper.”
Mavin punched him again.
“You could come with.” Aaron held out his hand to her.
She took it and shook her head. “Sareh’s going to need me.”
Aaron nodded. “I guess you’re right.”
Mavin looked away. “I’m proud of you, Aaron.” She gave him a hug. She turned and walked away in careful steps.
Danal looked at the visitors. “Will you be able to keep up? I’m sorry, but I’m in no shape to run next to the sled, and neither is the boy.”
“Aaron,” the boy corrected.
Djellian answered, “We will not fall behind.”
“All right!” Danal turned to Sareh. “We need to go.”
Sareh nodded. “Go with God.”
Danal looked at her. “You just keep on praying. And your new security better do a good job!” He yelled at the dogs, and they started running.
The sled slid over the slick plain and started up the incline out of the valley. Djellian and Ffenyi kept up with easy lopes.
As they crested the rise a half-hour later, Aaron breathed deeply. They were leaving the smoke behind… and he could taste it in the air. He would be able to walk again once they got away from the Pits. And he would teach.
Danal grinned as the open plains greeted him. He hated the Pits. Always had. And now, to have a reason to never go back? Life would be good.
And Ffenyi grinned openly. She was going home, with the cure to the curse and one who could teach them all about it. What more could they ever need?
The snow fell on them as they turned their backs to the smoke. A different world lay ahead… and they greeted it.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous entry, An Ever-Present Help in Trouble, here.