Fire and Rain
Lightning kills more people than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. It is the single most dangerous aspect of a thunderstorm.
—The Eighth Korus of the Sapphire Tree
With a creak of winged bone, the Skaarsgard doubled back to survey the plume of smoke belching from the forest floor.
Twixa whispa, but I heard ye, me thinxss. Words where there ought naught to be. Words, they don’t live in trees, me thinxss. No. You speak wordss. Yous speak the Death, you.
Flames leapt from scorched branches, making it difficult for the near blind Skaarsgard to see.
Is shethere? Ith can’t tell. Toomany shapess. Toomany shadowss. Iss shethere? Damn! Meez knowsnaught. The Skaarsgard tilted the large, flat, circular bone beneath its horned forehead toward the fire. It refilled its lungs and let out another roar. Sonic waves ricocheted off the smoldering landscape. Ripples of sound returned, bathing the receiving bone with shapes.
Whereiss sshe? WhereISS SSHE? The Skaarsgard detected only lifeless bodies strewn about the crater it had created.
The Skaarsgard hovered, fanning away the smoke and rain. Meez seesdeer, bear, raccoon, weassel, and badger, but NO HUMANS. NOOO!!
She stillrunss. How? Howcan thissbe?
The Skaarsgard broke from its position in the sky and regained altitude, allowing time for the answers to come. Higher and higher it rose, drawing closer to the ceiling of the storm. It had been warned this would happen.
“She’ll be elusive, this enemy of ours,” the LorVecca had said. “Wicked and cunning, she’ll change skins so often you’ll lose count. She’ll move about the People, looking like any one of them.”
Already, the Keeper had transformed from gazelle to mountain goat to chamois. Now that she was in the valley, the Skaarsgard felt certain she had changed again. But to what? Cougar? Wolverine? Elk?
She’ll travel alone… The Skaarsgard turned the LorVecca’s words over in its crowded mind.
So look for the unnatural in natural movements. It will be her. The problem was the Skaarsgard couldn’t see anything natural or unnatural in the flaming carpet it had created. It hadn’t rested for hours and its wings felt heavier with each stroke, but the LorVecca’s parting words remained seared in its brain:
If your resolve ever wavers, take a moment and examine yourself. Don’t forget what she and the TerraKoru did to you. Should our enemy reach the Western Door, mark my words—there will be no returning from the hideous thing you’ve become. So either find her, die trying, or get used to living as the abomination you are.
Ssooo littletym. Ssolittle I remember. All Iknowss is Iym ssplintering apart. Sshe didthiss. And Sshe musstfixx meeeee.
Buffeted by crosswinds, the Skaarsgard once again took in the devastation stretching to the horizon. All across the base of the Whisper Fist glowed pockets of fire. Miles of them. The boreal forest was ablaze.
From the burning trees flowed herds of deer, elk, mountain goats, and dinosaurs; packs of wolves and coyotes; cetes of badgers; colonies of beavers; casts of falcons; drays of squirrels. All were wide-eyed, trying desperately to survive the nightmare the Skaarsgard rained down.
Sso clean. Sso pure. Sso ssmall. Theyz makesme sicksss!!!
With another roar, the Skaarsgard unleashed more hellfire, this time upon a sleuth of grizzly bears that had ringed themselves into a defensive knot. Screams of terror and pain rang out but were quickly lost in the echoing detonation. As the smoke cleared, the survivors retreated into the shadows, watching helplessly as their brethren suffered.
You think you’re sstrongerthanI? That youcan helpher? Rememberme next tyme. All ofyou!
With a flick of its jagged tail, the Skaarsgard they called Wicket turned its spiny scales on the living hell it had created and retreated into the storm.