Fahrenheit 52

A Great Unkindness

The twin peaks were small islands in the sea of fog.

Roark hung over the southern point, gliding in the invisible drifts, careful not to dip below into the cool marine layer.

His brother Broam soared to the northern hill, passing close to the metal claw. The claw, and the glass spear some leagues across the peninsula, were the only human structures that could pierce Karo.

It had been six straight moons of Karo's breath. Roark's mother had warned him that something smelled different that morning. But Roark still took his shift as Carrier.

In Roark's talon was a knotted branch of hazelwood, thin but strong. And Roark waited for the wand's owner. Because the unkindness kept their promises.

When the last wizard sailed to the rock islands, far in the sunset waters, he left the hazel wand in the care of the ravens. Their task was not an easy one. They faced the Imposters: crows masquerading as ravens, overrunning their forests, haunting their familiars.

But the fallen wizard Karo craved the wand. Karo was now a formless spectre, chilling the bay and the city, forever searching for the wand.

Roark's unkindness were bound to this duty for their inadvertent role in Karo's menace. After the humans discovered the golden flakes that the ravens coveted, they stripped the stone from the hills and the streams. The humans hacked down the old forests and built huts of wood and mud and stone, now steel and glass and cement. The golden stones were gone forever, and the wizards had fled not long thereafter.

Still, Roark had to wonder. Were the wizards real? Could the oath simply be another trick of Karo's, keeping his unkindness soul-bound in servitude?

Roark's feathers bristled into attention as Broam drifted lower into the fog.

"Broam! What are you doing?" squawked Roark.

But Broam had been swallowed.

Roark glided over, dangerously close to the cloud layer. He couldn't see his brother. And he didn't see the talon coming for him until it was too late.

Broam slammed upwards into Roark's body, destroying Roark's eye with his talon. Blood and things-worse-than-blood trickled down into Roark's beak. Roark howled as his brother came around for another pass, but Roark mananged to flap higher and Broam just missed him.

Karo had taken Roark's brother.

Karo was here.

The fog rose until the twin peaks were mere pebbles.

Roark couldn't let Broam take the wand. But Roark could barely see. His one eye was gone, the other was crusted over in blood.

As Broam prepared for another pass at him, Roark had no choice. He must dip into the fog. It was the only way to hide, the only way to keep the wand from Broam.

Roark felt the chill of Karo in his bones. As he passed into the cloud layer, a hand emerged from the fog and took the wand from Roark's talons.

Light flashed forth from the peaks. The fog evaporated like a shadow in the sun.

"The last wizard..." croaked Roark. "You've returned."

Roark alighted on the stone peak and watched the figure lower the wand.

"Yes, I've returned," said Karo, with a great unkindness.