Faith and Feather


In the north, the land alternates between plateau and mountain. Here, it huddles against the biting wind; there, it spreads itself low and thin and flings up cliffs to keep the ocean at bay. Each day in the north is a battle, but the battle for the crater is one long abandoned by human and fiend alike.

There were monsters here, once, and the people in Glacier Village still tell tales of walking gods that shelter in the mountains. But since Meteor – the second meteor, scholars will huff, but it is the only meteor that matters to most – the crater has been silent and dead but for the deceptive glow of the Lifestream. Here, the Planet works tirelessly to repair the damage to her ice-encrusted face. Here, if there were only eyes to see it, waits the wraith.

At first, it had been content to wait. But as the Planet toiled, her energy lessened, and the strength of the wraith waned with her. It has been patient long enough.

It calls for brethren, voiceless, but with power enough to resonate, given a path.

Out to the west, someone stirs and reaches forth with a sob that echoes down dark corridors. Find me. To the south, someone – something – jerks from slumber, and screams to combat tears. There was nothing I could do. And to the east, someone sighs and shies from the call. Let me lie.

The wraith calls again, and then falls silent.

It waits.

[Day 1, 1130 Wutai Standard Time]

The air was thick and heavy with summer and the threatening storm. Outside, there was sweetness and moisture in the atmosphere. Inside, the darkness provided only partial relief. All of Wutai slumped on their walkways and porches, fanning themselves listlessly or flinging their windows wide to tempt a rare breeze.

The Pagoda's latest maid crossed the square and ascended the hidden staircase at the rear of the Pagoda of Five Mighty Gods. She nudged the servants' entry open with her toes; it was too hot, and the tray too heavy, for formality. Besides, she thought as hot, foul air rushed out at her, Lord Gorky was probably asleep. She'd serve Lady Shake fi—

Her scream brought the village to sudden, uncomfortable alertness.

Later, all the shutters in the Pagoda were flung wide, but in the stillness of summer there was no masking the scent of blood.