Saturday Storytime: The Plague Givers

This story from Kameron Hurley asks whether it’s better to do the necessary but painful thing or not. I’m not entirely sure it answers its own question.

She kept her machete up. “I’m called Bet, out here,” she said. “And what are you? If you’re dressing up as Plague Hunters, I’ll have some identification before you go pontificating all over my porch.”

“Abrimet,” the shoman said, holding up their right hand. The broad sleeve fell back, exposing a dark arm crawling in glowing green tattoos: the double ivy circle of the Order, and three triangles, one for every Plague Hunter the shoman had dispatched. Evidence enough the shoman was what was claimed. “This is Lealez,” the shoman said of the other one.

“Lealez,” Bet said. “You a shoman or a neuter? Can’t tell at this distance, I’m afraid. We used to dress as our gender, in my day.”

The person made a face. “Dress as my gender? The way you do? Shall I call you man, with that hair?” Bet wore nothing but a man’s veshti, sour and damp with sweat, and she had not cut or washed her hair in some time, let alone styled her brows to match her pronouns.

“It is not I knocking about on stranger’s doors, requesting favors,” Bet said. “What am I dealing with?”

“I’m a pan.”

“That’s what I thought I was saying. What, is saying neuter instead of pan a common slur now?”

“It’s archaic.”

“We are in a desperate situation,” Abrimet said, clearly the elder, experienced one here, trying to wrest back control of the dialogue. “The Order sent us to call in your oath.”

“The Order has a very long memory,” Bet said, “I am sure it recalls I am no longer a member. Would you like a stuffed hydra?”

“The world is going to end,” Lealez said.

“The world is always ending for someone,” Bet said, shrugging. “I’ve heard of its demise a dozen times in as many years.”

“From who?” Lealez grumbled. “The plesiosaurs?”

Abrimet said, “Two rogue Plague Givers left the Sanctuary of the Order three days ago. Two of them. That’s more than we’ve had loose at any one time in twenty years.”

“Sounds like a task that will make a Plague Hunter’s name,” Bet said. “Go be that hero.” She began to close the door.

“They left a note addressed to you!” Abrimet said, gesturing at the pan.

“I have it,” Lealez said. “Here.”

Bet held out her hand. Lealez’s soft fingers brushed Bet’s as per put the folded paper into Bet’s thick hands.

Bet recognized the heavy grain of the paper, and the lavender hue. She hadn’t touched paper like that in what felt like half a lifetime, when the letters came to her bursting with love and desire and, eventually, a plague so powerful it nearly killed her. A chill rolled over her body, despite the heat. The last time she saw paper like this, six hundred people died and she broke her vows to the Order in exchange for moonshine and stuffed hydras. She tucked the machete under her arm. Unfolded the paper. Her fingers trembled. She blamed the heat.

The note read: Honored Plague Hunter Elzabet Addisalam, The great sorcerer Hanere Gozene taught us to destroy the world together. You have seven days to save it. Catch us if you can.

The note caught fire in her hands. She dropped it hastily, stepped back. The two in the boat gasped, but Bet only watched it burn to papery ash, the way she had watched the woman with that same handwriting burn to ash decades before.

The game was beginning again, and she feared she was too old to play it any longer.

Keep reading.

This is another story from Uncanny Magazine. They’re in the last two days of their Kickstarter, and they haven’t yet reached the stretch goal that allows them to continue to put out as much fiction as they do today. If you like this story and others I share from them, consider supporting the Kickstarter today.

Saturday Storytime: The Plague Givers