Horace gave her a limpid look. He wasn't sure why her favorite color meant anything, really. She wanted more than babies and it was just that kind of thinking that made her fascinating to him. It didn't change the fact that they'd have babies, of course, but he thought that due to her Ideas, she would at least keep things interesting. There'd be no reason for their lives to devolve into the silence his own growing up home had had. No - she laughed at him not half so much as with him and he was fairly sure that while she wouldn't be any more content, she'd abide by the contract when he'd managed to get her to sign on the dotted line.
Outside, the silence lingered, lingered. Those in the top three tiers began to scream as those who hoped to escape, began to feel the air they breathed turn against them. The first tier had glass windows, thick panes of space glass, which showed stars out beyond. It was against these that the slender needles entered in through. It was through these that the air shifted. The first tier was the first to set up a cry of pain, fear.
"You know, Krista," Horace laughed, "you always were a funny thing. I remember when you were little. You'd stand on my da's boots and declare they were the only rocks that weren't in the lava. 'Horace!' you'd scream and tell me that I was gotta get on them stones and get out of the lava." Horace stared up at her in adoration. "Been thinking 'bout this from the first, since you were all five turns and I was all eleven turns. Seems only right I ask it right and if you need colors, well, then you'll get colors."
The middle levels slid under almost silently. By then, the air turned against those around them like a cancer. It filled the air with a sour taste, something hateful, hurtful, like fire, but it stole the voices from each of them. It burned them from the inside out.
"Yer favorite color," Horace leaned back on his heel and shoved his thick, meaty palms against his thighs. "That's been the same since you were only knee high, couldn't get you into nothing but the right color for years then. I remember that clear as a bell. Hated drawing things without making birds that color."
The silence of the killer shifted as the killer lost the vitality of the middle levels. Now, the levels began to heave for breath, cough, feel it though confusion, much like rabbits in a cage, was tantamount in all minds. What was wrong with them? Why was it so... so very hard to breathe?
It took longer this time, but the lower leveled folks were accustomed to difficulty. No doubt someone from higher up wanted them to worry. Worry they would not! Like small, fleshy dominoes, they began to topple, too unaware of anything but their lack of breath to know that they were not alone in falling.
"Krista, if I get your color right, you'll contract with me," Horace smiled a face splitting grin. "We know, you an me, how it's been that for just about ever and if all's I gotta do is say it, then, I will." He reached for her hand. "It's blue," he stood, her hand in his, and leaned forward to kiss her.
He coughed instead. With a slight, confused frown on his face, he lifted his hand to his nose and turned to look around them. Then he grunted as he tried to breathe in carefully. Behind them, in the classroom, the children, far more honest with themselves than the adults, began to cough and to cry, as their bodies knew, somehow, that all was not well.
The air turned sour all around them and Horace reached out to say something, but the coughing stopped him. His eyes widened in anger. How dare the upper levels make such a muck of his contract attempt! She was coughing too hard to say anything back, to acknowledge his claim. He gripped her fingers tightly, his body instinctively grasping onto the nearest life.
Somewhere, or rather, somewhen, a man looked at a slender, white haired woman, who gazed up at him. He sat astride a very black horse. With a nod to her, he reached up and drew his helm over his face. The darkness of his cloak swirled mahogany in the breeze which blew from the cave mouth. The horse wore thick, leather plate, molded at the edges of the face plate into horns. The horse snorted and the old woman touched his nostrils and whispered a Word. The horse jumped, but could not go anywhere. He was frozen in space and the knight hollared in sudden fear. Then, the cave wall before them both, burst open into darkness and flashing red lights. He could hear cries of children, wavering and thin, as if they were lost souls. His eyes turned back to the woman.
"Find her, but you may only have one, Sir Hawk," the old woman's quavering voice rose and fell over the sudden windstorm rushing into the dark tunnel ahead of him. He could see bodies on the floor of the tunnel and he wondered at them. "If you take any more than that, even one solitary soul more, you may never find your way home." She raised her hand, then brought it down hard on the flank of the great, black beast. His mount screamed in anger and lashed out with one hoof. The hoof missed the old woman as if she had never been there and the horse leapt forward, into the darkness. The sounds of children crying had already begun to die away and the figure on the massive animal wrapped his dark cloak about him and put heels to sides to encourage the horse forward.