The Sky Forest above the Frozen Sea was haunted. Hunters spoke of snarling beasts, wraiths that hid in the shadows, lights like stars that lured the unwary to their deaths.
Neru did not believe the stories. Hunters were superstitious, and half of them cowards besides. Lazy cowards, at that. They had long been looking for excuses to avoid the cold trek across the sea, the difficult climb to the forest above. They did not care about the old ways, the needs of the shamans or the rituals to appease the old gods. Little wonder, when the shamans themselves were halfway to heretics, unpious ones like Natek and Janu leading the People of the Red Moon astray. Neru had little time for the excuses of the lazy. Xe would make the trek xyrself, and the gods would reward xem for xyr faith.
Or so Neru thought, until xe caught sight of the shadow beast. With skin like the night and no paint but on its mouth, xe might have overlooked it as it lurked amidst the trees.
The other creature was not so subtle.
Feathers and fur loomed large, talons like knives and six eyes all gleaming. As those eyes fixed on xem, it began to glow, the ends of its fur and the length of its talons all alight. It made gnashing and guttural noises, hooves scratching the ground. Neru shielded xyr face with two arms, raised the other two in supplication as xe began to retreat. The shadow beast, near forgotten, made itself known again—large as it was, it still looked small beside the other. Its mouth, the color of ice, split open to reveal the bones beneath.
It growled. Xe screamed. Xe ran.
Unlike the hunters, xe did not have much practice in knowing how much room there was to flee.
Looking over the edge of the floating island from which Neru had fallen, Xindi chirped sadly. “I hope it’s okay.”
Takondwa was less forgiving.
“What a dipshit.”