I helped him stand up after he'd finished retching, and he immediately fell against me.

"Let's get you back inside," I said.

"No!  No, Michael's not gone to bed yet.  Stay out-- stay out here un-until he's gone."  The boy was slurring his words, but there was a look of panic on his face that made me take him seriously.  I propped him up against a bay window.

"Scared of Michael?" I asked.

"Hah, ev'ryone's scared of him.  We were a real band until he got that guitar and the--."  He stopped abruptly, and I couldn't coax him to say any more about Michael.

"How about Nico?  How did you meet him?" I asked finally.

"He came with the guitar.  Look, I got lyrics to learn, I have to get to bed."  He pulled a wad of folded up paper from a pocket and waved it at me, nearly falling over again.  I took the paper gently, and steadied him against the window.  Unfolding the paper I saw that the lyrics on it weren't written in English, but before I could try to read them properly the lead singer had snatched it back again.  "Oh no!  S'gonna be a surprise song for our gig.  Gonna be the biggest gig ever!"

"Right," I said, a cold chill creeping down my back.  Somewhere that what simultaneously very close by and a fantastically long way off I could hear something screaming.  The Ilmatu had recognised the lyrics.  "Time I was going then, good luck with everything!"  I walked away, controlling my legs to move with a slow, even pace all the way to the corner at the end of the street, and then when I was out of sight I ran.

Everything went cold all of a sudden, and then something squelched underfoot.  I skidded to a halt, and looked around.  The houses had vanished, and instead frozen walls ran parallel to me, leading deeper into the Ilmatu's city.  I'd been separated from everyone but Guldtronen, and he kept stopping and poking his fingers into the holes in his head where his eyes had been.  He'd stopped again, and I had to turn round and grab his hand once more.

"Come on," I whispered, urgency making my voice sound harsh.  "We have to find a way out."

"She was so beautiful," said Guldtronen in a low monotone.  "I didn't deserve to see such beauty, that's why I've gone blind."

I pulled on his hand, jerking him forwards.  There was no point telling him he was blind because the Ilmatu had stolen his eyes, at least not until we were out of here and away from them.  Up ahead the corridor seemed to widen, and  I ran us both towards it.

There was another doorway and beyond it was a floor covered in the icy gel, which had been stirred up into ridges and rills.  A thin grate blocked the doorway, the bars looking as though they could be pulled apart by a child.  Beyond them, inside the cell, was a shape.  It moved as I looked, and I suddenly realised it was a man.  There was a snuffling sound, like big dogs make when they're tracking a scent, and I realised that the man was sniffing the air.

"I can smell you," he said, his voice quiet.  "That's all they've left me with, smell.  They've taken all my other senses.  If you're not already in here, get out, get away, and stay away."

"How did they--?" I started, and grabbed the grate.  It didn't move, but it was cold enough to peel a layer of skin off my hands where they touched it.

"Don't waste your time.  Get away.  GO!  GO!"

I was sat at my kitchen table all of a sudden, with no memory of how I got there.  My feet ached and my legs felt like they were on fire, so I supposed I'd walked or run.  On the table in front of me was a pile of salt mounded up, and at one edge, a corner of something white sticking out.  Sighing, but relieved that there were no words of Unbinding on the table this time, I picked up the salt-pot and swept that salt back into it.  The white thing underneath, to my surprise, was Nico's business card.

The End

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