An Alley in Three Flowers, Thul Ka
She had been cold when she went to sleep the night before. Faizra remembered that, and she could feel that the air against her drum-tight skin was cold, but there was a heat, a fire, burning from within her. Faizra shifted against the ground, and a cough tore through her, starting deep somewhere she couldn’t name. The packed earth scraped sharp against her skin, and she coughed again. It was hard to breathe, as if someone was sitting on her.
It wasn’t much, this little corner of a warehouse. Faizra could hear distant shouting, but she was tucked thoroughly beneath a large wooden pallet. For all that she see sharp winter sunlight streaming through the word around her, this little corner was still dark enough. She had wedged herself underneath, crawled and dragged, and wriggled on her stomach until every inch of her was tucked away, until she had enough space to turn herself to face out.
If she climbed out, Faizra thought, blearily, they would find her. She choked back another cough. If she coughed, they would find her. Her teeth were shaking in her head; it hurt, something awful, but Faizra didn’t think it could be heard.
The wick closed her eyes and drifted - not asleep, not asleep, because every time she got too close a cough would seep through her, would need to be held in. She wasn’t awake either; she couldn’t hold on to any of the thoughts in her mind. They drifted like leaves and twigs on the water, bobbing and twitching. When she reached for them, the Turga yanked them from her grasp and she could hear Hulali laughing.
Please, Faizra prayed, please. She couldn’t put the words to what she was asking for; she didn’t dare. Perhaps Hulali heard her prayers; perhaps they were enough, because eventually, blessedly, the world faded into nothingness.
The next time Faizra’s eyes opened the world was dark again. She couldn’t tell, at first, if something was wrong with her eyes, but after a few moments of panic it was clear that it was night. The wick held her breath through the coughs that shook her; her head was aching and cloudy, but she clung sharp to the moments of awareness and listened. Was that the rasp of a sandaled foot against the ground, somewhere out in the distance? Or was it only her own breathing?
The wick couldn’t tell, but she couldn’t stay here either.
Each shift of her body against the packed earth hurt, a dull dry pain as if she was ripping her skin apart. Faizra pushed through it, using all her wiry strength to drag herself free. Her head first - the cold clammy rush of air against her bare forehead, sending waves of shivering through her. Arms and upper body next, and then she was nearly free. Wriggling like a caught fish, Faizra thought, but she was her own hook.
Finally she was free, crouching on the warehouse floor, uncontrollable shakes running through her whole body. She wiped at her forehead with her hand, and couldn’t hold back the flood of coughing that wrecked her, as if all of the ones she had held back so long were bursting free. She coughed until her throat felt bloody and raw, coughed and spat and coughed again, spittle and worse dangling from her lips. Her eyes watered. Through all of it she shook, hot and cold at once.
Water, Faizra thought. She needed water; she needed it more than she needed air, even if her choked lungs were screaming for breath.
A well - Faizra seized on the thought. A well; she would find a well, she would drink from it. The thought of cool water racing through her ached; she could nearly taste it - she could -
Faizra crouched on the floor of the warehouse, huddled taut together, and she might have cried if she weren’t too dry for it. She couldn’t. She knew; she knew she couldn’t. What if -
Faizra doubled forward, pressing her head to the packed earth. She didn’t know if she was shaking or sobbing. Please, she begged, to Roa for life, to Naulas that he not take her yet, to Bash for the strength of the rock. To Hulali she did not pray but promised; she would not pollute his waters so.
Faizra pulled herself to her feet, breath rasping in her chest. She coughed again, shuddering, and did her best to hold it back against her arm. Slowly, she stumbled from the warehouse, bare feet scuffing against the ground. It was blessedly empty. Faizra squinted in the light of the full moon as she emerged, breathing hard.
She couldn’t have said where she wandered; Faizra couldn’t have said whether it was one block or two, or a dozen, although she knew it was unlikely. She kept off the main streets, even in the dark of night. Once she looked up to see shuttered shops around her, and fear tore through her. She turned and staggered into an alley nearby.
A miserable puddle of it glinted on the ground in front of her. Faizra dropped to her knees before it, and with all the strength she had she prayed. She shuddered, calling the mona to her, and licked too dry lips with her heavy, half-numb tongue. She began to call on them, half-asking, half-begging. Just a sip of water, she asked. Just a sip.
Faizra lowered her shaking hands to the puddle, cupping them together to lift some water from the filthy puddle. It was murky before her, at first, then slowly cleared in the glittering stream of moonlight. Faizra lowered her face to her palms and drank, slowly and gratefully, feeling the water ease down her throat. She didn’t dare try again.
Faizra tried to stand; she couldn’t. She coughed, her whole body shaking, and crawled on her hands and knees towards the wall, pants and skirt in a filthy tangled against the ground. She huddled against the nearest wall. The alley spun around her, a slow circle, and slowly Faizra felt herself sinking – down – down – until her cheek met the filthy ground, her eyes closed, and sleep overtook her once more, closing over her head and dragging her down into its murky depths.