TWELVE

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Sammy shuffled uneasily. “What do you think?”

Mehrak shrugged. “Some sort of ecological disaster? An earthquake rupturing a pocket of poisonous gas? Maybe Mantis was a sorcerer dabbling in the dark arts, who knows? I admit it’s a coincidence that it all happened on the day of the Assault, but I don’t reckon it’s anything to do with ‘the Great Ahura Mazda’ punishing us for killing the Sultan.”

Sammy watched the mushrooms pass them by, bending slowly round the cottage and making rubbery dragging noises as they juddered down the sides; the same noise rubber gloves make when dragged across wet crockery.

“I think you came across a waster,” Mehrak said.

“Sorry?”

“That person who chased you. Wasters are members of a cult that wander the outer districts of Aratta to experience the hallucinogenic effects of the smog. They claim that it gives them powers of divination – before they die in agony.”

“I don’t think the creature in the cloak was a person. It was more like a tall, thin monster.”

“Skinny, dressed all in black, and we’re close to the old capital. I didn’t think they ever left the city, but I can’t think what else it would be.”

“But it was really tall and had a funny voice.”

Mehrak shrugged. “Maybe he was just really tall. And the smog burns your throat. Maybe he damaged his voice.”

“Why do they go into the city if they know the smog will kill them?”

“To see the future before it happens? Because the smog is a drug and they get addicted? Take your pick.”

“So eventually this whole realm is going to fill up with smog and everyone who lives here is going to hallucinate until they commit suicide?”

“When you put it like that, it sounds pretty awful. But it’ll take hundreds of years for the realm to completely fill up.”

“But it’s dark and gloomy.”

“Perseopia’s been dark for the best part of a century. No one’s old enough to remember what it was like beforehand so no one misses daylight.”

“So how do you know when it’s morning without daylight?”

“The purple clouds stop nearly all the light, but they get slightly brighter during the day. You’ll get used to it.”

Sammy watched Louis trundling along below, knocking mushrooms aside causing them to shed thick clouds of glowing spores. Occasionally she lost him beneath the canopies, giving the impression that the balcony was a boat cutting through an olive-green sea.

“We’re okay out here though, aren’t we?” Sammy asked.

“From the smog? Yeah. But there are far worse things out here than smog.”

 

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