For my dearest. I might have rain, but I'd rather have you back here.

---

Dear Sañere,

Today we arrived at the border of Würstorn, and oh! you would not believe it. The edask Forl, who has seen more than seven-and-two sevens of years, could nonetheless only take us so far, and we had to ride for most of the morning before we reached our target. You might imagine that there was a blending, that there was a period of mixed desert and grassland, and elsewhere you would be right, dearest. But here the land changed from short grasses and shrubs to desert so abruptly that the two regions might have been separated by the blade of a knife…

They had come from Tyhrne, of course, Tyhrne that stretched more than half a year's ride in any direction from the capital, Tyhrne all green and red and blue and gold, as though the very world rejected bland uniformity. Not that they had never stepped outside the borders set by the Lord Burnt who had made the empire great—all seven were veterans of the wars of the Tangle. Still, the masses of greenery that made up the Tangle stood in sharp contrast to Würstorn. In the Tangle there had been trees bearing fruit, flowers, other plants, fantastic leaves; birds with plumage as bright as the sun, wings huge enough to rival a young edask; animals small enough that three could be lifted at once, large enough to take out a full-grown man, wondrous pelts covered in spots and stripes.

And in Würstorn?

Sand, as far as the eye could see, with no interruptions whatsoever. No scrub, no cacti, no birds flying overhead, no lizards basking on the nonexistent rocks. The other six stared surreptitiously at it as they filled bowls of water for themselves and the horses, expressions a mixture of shock and mild fear. Pech simply stood and gazed upon it, holding his hand over his eyes when the wind changed direction to blow sand at them rather than looking away.

After a time he turned to Roh. "There was a spring a bit back. Take the First and Second with you and fill the casks. We'll need them if we're to ever find the Winkomme."

"I don't see how we'll find them even with the water," the Sixth replied bleakly. "There's so much sand, and only seven of us, looking for something that may fly a short ride to the east or west without our ever noticing."

"There are forty-nine sevens searching for the Winkomme," Pech reminded him, pitching his voice just loud enough that any others thinking the same could hear what he said. "If we do not find the Winkomme, then we will find three more sevens. It is sand and sun, Roh, not the Tangle."

With a nod, Roh left, but Pech went back to staring uneasily at the sand. They had survived the Tangle, despite its fevers and venomous inhabitants, but in the end the Tangle was still like much of the Tyhrne Empire. There was always water within a day's ride, always something to eat, no mater how unpalatable. Not in Würstorn.

And for the first time since he'd stepped from the Tangle, Pech felt concerned.

…It is hard to explain how large and bleak Würstorn is, dearest Sañere, so simply believe me when I say that it is not a place that you would care for. For you there are marshes and rivers where you can fish, meadows and glens where you can spend spring afternoons, cliffs where you can join the wild young edask. I will keep the desert for myself, no matter how little I care for it, that you might have the fair places…

Roh had filled not only the casks but every empty flask and bottle he could find, a foresight that Pech appreciated. Maps were well enough, but few had braved Würstorn since the great Lord Burnt's day, and no one knew just how long it would take to reach the centre of the desert. Best to err on the side of caution was the silent consensus.

It felt strange to be wearing the light long-sleeved shirt and airy pantaloons assigned to them for desert travel. Long sleeves would only trap heat, they knew, and thus rolled their sleeves up once it became more than pleasantly warm. When Pech moved as though to remove his hat, however, the First opened and closed his mouth helplessly, unable to directly confront his superior. No need to panic the younger man, Pech decided, and so continued to wear his hat despite the increasing heat and sweat beading on his brow.

Taking the horses was a risk, he had been told, not only by the Lord of Sevens—"They are not fit creatures for sandy land, Seventh, and need a great deal of water."—but by other Sixths and Sevenths. The alternative was equally unpleasant: To walk, for days or weeks, over constantly shifting sand with only the water they could carry on their person for refreshment. He had hoped that there would be cacti, which a determined man could cut through to reveal more than enough water for seven, but Würstorn was not inclined to provide for them. If all else failed, they would have to kill the horses. With luck, they would avoid that fate.

"How can the Winkomme even survive here? Why would they even want to?" the First asked as they set about digging a rough pit to shelter in during sunhigh. He had been young even during the wars of the Tangle, and the harsh demands made upon him while he was still growing showed in his gaunt face and slightly stunted stature. "There is neither food, nor water, nor shelter."

"We have traveled for a morning, and just reached the border. Who knows what there might be deep inside Würstorn? Perhaps there is a great oasis where they have built their home, or perhaps they hunt on the plains and bring it back here for the warmth," Pech said.

"So we might have come when all the Winkomme are off hunting?" Roh jabbed his shovel into the sand, causing a small landslide to bury the Fourth's feet. He climbed out of the pit and removed his boots to shake them out, fixing Roh with a cold stare all there while. "Sorry. Here, I'll dig."

The Fourth seemed pleased by this offer, at least to judge by his blackened smile. Determining his mood would have been hard enough under ordinary circumstances—having his tongue cut out during the wars of the Tangle made it even more difficult. Later, when his face was wrapped in thin gauze to protect his mouth and eyes from the sand, it would be nearly impossible.

"Would you leave your home empty for all to see for a hunt?" the Third, known only as Stick, retorted as he placed one of the casks in the bottom of the pit. "There will be a few, no matter when we arrive. And then we can make our offer and get back to somewhere green." He touched his bracelet of woven grass as he spoke.

"Somewhere fair and green," Pech agreed softly, and that was all that was spoken for some time.

…Forty-nine sevens to find the Winkomme! Can you imagine? Enough to garrison the Failed Stair twice over, or to escort the Emperor himself across Tyhrne. One of the sevens—more than one—will find them soon enough. Though I won't tell anyone but you, not even Roh, I truly hope that I am not amongst those who find the Winkomme. I simply wish to return to the grasslands with a little water remaining and shrug, knowing that someone else will have done their duty. I do not wish to know what they will want in exchange…

They dozed in the pit until the sun had past its zenith, instinct telling them that they would need sleep for the ride ahead. Then they folded up the canvas that had provided shade and strapped the casks of water back onto the sled-like pieces of wood the horses pulled. Roh would ride at the front of the line, as he always had, his tattered red cloak like a guiding light in the dark, while the Fourth would ride in back and watch to make sure none of the casks slipped from their bindings. Distinct words were not needed to warn of danger.

As they traveled on, the wind began to slow, until the sand that had previously flown through the air simply raced along the dunes. Nothing so fearsome as they might have imagined while sleeping awaited them, no great monsters of legend or terrible sandstorms, yet the sun itself was a cause for some alarm. Elsewhere there was shade caused by trees or cliffs or buildings, other distractions in the sky. Here the sky was a curiously fake-seeming shade of blue, as though a colour chosen by a none-too-skilled painter, and the sun glared down from it, mercilessly bright and hot.

The First and Second began to talk quietly, relieving the unnerving near-silence left by the departure of the strong wind. "What proposal do we bring the Winkomme?" the Second asked, rubbing his reddened arm and wincing.

"What do the Winkomme need to live?"

"Food. Water. Shelter." The Second spread his arms wide and then clutched at the reins again as the sand slid beneath his chestnut gelding's feet. Had Würstorn been a Tyhrne colony, they would have long ago found some creature fit for riding across sand, but the Winkomme would have no need of such animals. Perhaps, if they met one of the Winkomme, he would ask them what could be used for speedy desert travel. "So far as I can see, they have none of that. Are we supposed to be opening a trade route?"

"Of sorts," Stick replied. "Winkomme need platinum to live. In theory, there will b a source of platinum anywhere they live. To warrant a home in the desert, where food and water are rare, there would have to be a rich mine of platinum, but mines rarely produce solely one ore. The Winkomme have no need for any gold or silver they come across."

"If they accept, there will be Tyhrne workers here, building aqueducts, digging for platinum, sorting ores, tending to herds for the Winkomme. Anything that isn't platinum will belong to the Emperor and the national treasury." Pech shook his head. "There was no need to send so many of us, though."

A slight burning feeling on his arm drew his attention, and he frowned at the red that spread across his arm as though he had been slapped. The First, who had determinedly kept his sleeves down and loose cotton hood up ever since he saw the sands, pulled an odd green leaf from the pack at his back and snapped the tip off before passing it to Pech. He studied the clear liquid that oozed from it dubiously.

"It's good for treating burns," the First assured him. "Back home, we would keep an aloe plant growing anywhere there was fire."

With a shrug, Pech rubbed the aloe onto his arms and pulled his sleeves down. It did make the pain fade somewhat, but water would have had the same effect, and now the linen shirt clung to his forearms. Still, the First's folk remedy caused no harm, so there was no reason to make a fuss about it.

…Do you remember when we went to the beach and played among the sand dunes, imagining that we were in a desert? No salt grass here, though, or kittiwakes and seashells, simply sand and more sand. And then, just when we'd finished building a castle of driftwood and rope—also missing!—it began to rain, warm and hard, turning our 'valley' into a pond. I wish it would rain here, for I have no seen it in the seven sevens of days since I left the Failed Stair…

As the sun set, the Third let out a small cry, pointing to the west. A small shadow was just visible, and the seven stared longingly at it. Too small to be one of the Winkomme, though, even accounting for the great distance, or even a buzzard. Most likely a hawk, then, blown from richer hunting grounds and determinedly making its way back. Pech found himself smiling. No matter where he had gone, there had always been a hawk of some sort, though in the mountains they were more numerous and in the Tangle they had been large enough to pass for small eagles.

"We need to find some sort of shelter soon," the Fifth informed them, pulling a face. "As if there would be anywhere to sleep here. Look, Seventh, we're going to have to dig another pit for the tent before too long, at least a forearm's span beneath the ground. That way it will be somewhat warmer and we'll have some protection from the wind."

"We'll ride until the moon reaches its peak. Having to shelter at sunhigh and nightdepth is slowing us enough; we can't spend more time digging the ideal pit or waiting for the perfect travel time." With that, Pech pulled his sheepskin-lined gloves from his pack and donned them. The First, he noted, had already done so—he alone of the seven seemed to know what to expect when traveling through this arid land.

Nightdepth came soon enough, the white circle sharply defined in the star-studded sky. If this was another painting, this had been done by an artist infinitely more skilled, though the sheer size of the moon and countless stars gave the night sky a surreal appearance. With the moon came a terrible cold that completed contradicted all his expectations for a desert night, though he had been told more than once of the need they would have for a source of heat.

"Look," the First said as they grumbled about having to dig yet another hole, "is this really necessary?"

Pech stared at the young man, wondering if he had drunk enough water during the day. To simply turn around and ride out of Würstorn was unthinkable, even if he did hope that they wouldn't have to speak to the Winkomme. Hope was simply wishful thinking. Leaving would be treason, betrayal of the Tyhrne Empire. And even if they did leave, where would they go? Deserters never went very far, and the empire was still growing. Where could they be certain to find refuge?

"After all," he continued, "the wind has died down and there's a smoke hole on top of the tent. If we stretch the other canvases over the tent to make a second shelter for the horses, they'll provide some insulation and we won't need to do any digging."

"That should work," Roh agreed, and the six set about doing so, leaving Pech to shake his head at his folly. The combination of sun and emptiness was getting to him, and it had only been one day. He would have to find some sort of distraction if he didn't want to end up acting like one of the treimen by the time they made it out of Würstorn.

Once inside the tent and done laying out their blankets, they huddled around the small fire Stick had built out of peat brought form the grasslands and the precious charcoal that only those in the service of the Emperor used on a regular basis. The cold had burrowed into his joints, taking advantage of every scar and aching bone in its attempt to fill him from skull to toe. Frowning, Pech rubbed his hands together quickly, then gave up the effort and simply sat on them in the hopes that it would warm them somewhat.

"It is said," the Second offered, "that deserts are never truly empty. When the Lord Burnt traveled to the Failed Stair, he heard news of a Tyhrne town on the border of another desert that was being haunted a by strange group of warriors. All six—there were six in this group, not the proper seven—were women, and they had long scars that ran the length of their bodies." He demonstrated, running his finger down his chest and abdomen, then each of his legs and to the end of his feet before drawing a line down his arms that split to go to his fingernails.

"Their hair was very short and had been rubbed with ochre to give them a uniform appearance, though their clothing was so ragged that it ruined the effect. Every so often, roughly once every two weeks, though the intervals were never regular, they would come and abduct the first person they came across, no matter their age or gender. Once taken, they were never seen again.

"The Lord Burnt went into the desert with two sevens, wearing his white and brown cloak. They were gone for a day and a night and another day, only returning the second night, and then the Lord Burnt's coat was russet rather than scarlet. Both of the sevens that went with him came back, but none of them spoke a word of what took place in the desert until longer afterwards, though they assured the town that they would be safe. What the last surviving man of the two sevens said when he was old was that there had been a seventh in the desert, that had never accompanied the others. The Seventh—it was the Seventh, for it commanded the others—was not like the women, though, larger and more muscular and…" He trailed off, his wince exaggerated by the shadows cast by the fire, and then said, "The Seventh had wings like one of the Winkomme, though they were feathered rather than scaled."

The seven exchanged uncertain glances. Only the Winkomme were winged, and they only ever had scales. But they could not imagine anyone lying when telling a tale about the Lord Burnt.

After a hesitation, the Fifth asked, "A coat fletched with feathers to make it seem as though the Seventh had wings? There was another who did that, was there not, the leader of the Lone Guard?"

"Perhaps," the Second agreed, sounding relieved. "The tale was old when I heard it, and the words might have been thought so obvious that they were simply dropped from the telling."

Perhaps that was true. But when Pech dreamt, it was of a winged woman with the features of a bird who could command countless sevens of women against any who dared trespass in her desert domain.

…This is such a strange place, dearest Sañere. Sand all around, with no tree or shrub to act as a landmark. We have planted wooden poles for any who come after us to follow, and to someday be replaced by the marker stones you so love to ornament, and have not encountered any. I hope that this means we are traveling in the right direction, as the position of the sun and moon suggest. I have no wish to die in this place…

On the second day, just as they were considering setting up the tent for sunhigh shelter, the seven saw a dark smudge on the horizon. There had been no such sight since they came to Würstorn, and Pech knew that it must be caused by some kind of shelter. If it were an oasis, excellent; the Winkomme would be nearby. A mountain or series of foothills? Just as good; it could be the source of the Winkomme's platinum. If it were neither, then it would certainly be a settlement of some sort, and they could find the Winkomme from there if it were not their home.

"Drink," he said, licking his dry lips. "Water the horses. Then… Do you feel fit to continue on, and find the Winkomme before sundown?"

The six he commanded nodded slowly, hands reaching eagerly for their water flagons. They had drunk little since breaking camp, uncertain as to when they would next have the chance to refill their casks of water. For now, though, they had plenty, and if the irregularity on the horizon was inhabited by the Winkomme there would soon be no need to hoard it any longer. They could return to Tyhrne and find somewhere green and fair to guard while they rested, somewhere Sañere would enjoy and rain would visit often.

Refreshed, they rode on, their pleasure at having found this previously imaginary place a sharp contrast to their former frustration. It seemed to Pech that they made far better time than before, although that could have been due to the simple fact that they now had something to compare their progress to. And they were making progress, the smudge gradually transforming into a series of stacked, rectangular shapes, and then to a walled town whose towers rose high in the air.

Soon the wind had picked up once more, though this time it blew to their backs, sparing their eyes the pain of sand. Pech watched the land behind them uneasily, worried about the possibility of a sandstorm forming out of nowhere and smothering them. But after a time it seemed no more likely than a rainstorm, and the sky remained that strangely fake shade of blue rather than darkening from sand or cloud.

"Well," Roh said as they stared up the high walls of the town, walls taller than three men standing on each other's shoulders. "There has to be a way for the Winkomme to get in. If we just walk around, we should be able to find it."

"They can fly," the First noted grimly. "Why would they need a doorway?"

Roh had no answer to that, and simply set off westwards, following the wall in silence. The slight hissing of his horse's sled running over the sand was the only sound for a time, and then Pech nodded to the others. No need for words—they would go with Roh. They were seven, after all, not six like the female warriors of the Second's story or the ten and more of the bands formed by the Lone Guard.

"Ha!" the Sixth cried. "I knew there would be a door!"

And so there was, unlikely as it seemed, a wooden door wide enough for a horse to pass through and high enough for a mounted man to ride under without having to duck, unless he were unusually tall. Pech ran his hand over the smooth wood, surprised at how polished it felt when it had been exposed to the sandy desert winds for so long. But perhaps it had been recently replaced, or perhaps the Winkomme knew something of preserving doors that the Tyhrne did not. It would be foolish to assume that his people knew everything.

He tested the door and it opened with a slight click. Within was a sand-covered street, the path of the recent winds clearly defined in the ripples left in the sand. The homes were low but wide, as though the upper level had simply been added to the side instead of the top. Their doors too were made of smooth wood, though the windows were open to the world. A quick search of a nearby home revealed that the rooms, though not too sandy, were bare of any ornamentation or furnishings.

Shock soon gave way to disappointment. They had given up their sunhigh rest, and for what? An empty town that might as well not have existed, for all the good it would do the seven.

"We'll rest now," the Seventh said, trying to hide his tiredness and resignation, though he feared it would be as obvious to the other six as their matching emotions were to him. "We can sleep all night tonight—we know nothing should be able to get in here—but before sundown we should look for a well, if one remains."

…It is strange, dearest Sañere, to imagine that anyone could put so much effort into building a town like this only to abandon it to the desert. The walls are clay, I think, though I did not know that the sun could harden them so. Still, they were made by the Winkomme, and I do not know what talents they might have. If we find one of the Winkomme who is willing to return to Tyhrne with us to confirm the agreement, I will ask her to explain their way of making these walls. It could greatly benefit those who live near clay deposits in rivers and cannot afford to import stone, and perhaps it would become fashionable amongst the powerful…

The sky was just beginning to change colour when Pech stood and announced, "I'm going to go look for a well. Is anybody else coming?" The Fifth rose, as did Stick; Roh and the Fourth shook their heads and indicated the sleeping First and Second. Pech pushed open the door separating the interior room from the rest of the house, which had kept it almost completely free of sand, and half walked, half climbed over the sand in the outer room.

"There should be a well nearby," the Fifth noted. "In a town this size, and in a desert, when one might run dry at any time, I would say there would have to be at least four, possibly more. Divide it into quadrants"—he drew a rough square in the sand—"and then assume that we're about here, given that we entered near a corner, there should be a well… There." He pointed.

"Should be fairly obvious, too," Stick added. "Water's important, so it won't be in a house, where someone could seize control of it and start charging for it. Something in a central location, no walls around it to reduce the ease with which it could be captured, probably a post for horses to drink at." He frowned. "Well, nothing for horses with the Winkomme."

"We'll follow this lane, then," Pech decided. "When we get to the next intersection, we'll look to see if we can find any sign of a well nearby. If not, we turn left and continue on in that pattern until we make it back here. Then the same, only turning right. If you're right, Fifth, we should find it before sundown."

The Fifth smiled, looking pleased with himself, but did not offer a bet. While he would replace Roh as Sixth if anything should happen to him, until that day they would simply be Fifth and Seventh to one another. Bets were for closer companions.

Waving forlornly to the right of the first intersection they came to was a faded flag that might have once been orange, or scarlet, or even a wine-coloured purple. Nothing of interest beckoned to the left, so they walked closer to investigate. It flew from a pole of wood as smooth as the doors and as pale as the sand that it stood in, sand that covered a stone lid. Though it was heavier than it looked, a necessity if it were to resist the fierce desert winds, it was hardly a challenge for three of a seven, and Pech was soon staring down into the black pit. For a long moment, it seemed to be just that, a well run dry years ago. And then he sneezed from the dust, and sniffed, and with that came the faint scent of water.

"We didn't bring a bucket," Stick finally noted in his dry voice, fingering the tattered bracelet of grass he had made before leaving the grasslands. "And it would be easier to fill the casks here, if the horses are going to get any water."

The Fifth nodded agreement. Then, strangely, he flinched and stared down the laneway to Pech's left, hand tightening around shaft of his spear. Pech followed his gaze, curious, but saw no cause for alarm, simply more sand and more wide, low buildings.

With an unabashed smile, the Fifth shrugged. "I've become used to the Tangle. It's too… spacious here, and the most open places in the Tangle were those best suited to ambush. Never got this hot in the Tangle, either, and there was more than enough water, even if we did have to boil it now and again. Let's go get the other four."

…Oh, dearest, how I miss you. This will be the last time I leave you, I hope, and I wish I could promise you thus. But the world is rarely as we wish it could be, and I am sworn to follow the Lord of Sevens. For now, love, I hope these letters are enough. They are little enough, I know, but they are all I can offer you…

Despite some muttering about being roused when promised they would have the night to sleep, the promise of water appealed to all of the seven, and they soon made their way back to the well. Attempts to gauge the depth of the water by eye failed due to the darkness, so Roh settled for tying a rope around his pail and dropping it into the well. A distant splash rose up in response, and they set about pulling water up.

The horses were watered first in a long trough that might have been kept for any animals the Winkomme might have domesticated, though Pech had never heard any tales to suggest they had any need to do so. Perhaps it was used for washing, or something so foreign that only the Winkomme would truly understand its use. In any case, it served well enough as a watering trough.

Pech was splashing his face with water, savouring the cool water on his face and hands, when the Fourth touched his elbow lightly. He had unwound the gauze that covered his face, just as the other six had, and his dark, anxious eyes and tight lips were clearly visible. With a faint frown—Pech had known the Fourth since they were both Seconds in the Cliff-fall, and he had never disturbed a superior without just cause—he looked from the corner of his eye in the direction that the Fourth's little finger pointed in, seemingly by accident.

Standing in the laneway and only just visible was a woman whose hair had clearly been dyed by ochre, whose clothing was faded and torn by the harsh Würstorn, whose hands were scarred by lines that ran the length of her fingers and appeared to disappear into her sleeves. When she noticed the Seventh's stare she smiled savagely. He took an involuntary step backwards: She was of the Wild folk.

The Lone Guard were Wild, if one wanted to be exact, but their presence had created the Tamelands, and the Tamelands had shaped the Guard into what they were now, a nation of mercenaries dedicated to keeping Tyhrne land free of the Pohess. This woman was not of the Guard, or Pohess, but something Pech found hard to understand, a mixture of vagabond and barbarian.

"Tamefolk," another female voice noted in passable Tyrhaine, though there was a queer accent to her voice. "This is our city now, Tamefolk, and you are not welcome here." He turned to identify the source of the voice, unsurprised when the woman was almost identical to the first in appearance, though the red of the ochre was barely visible on her dark hair. "But perhaps it is good that you have come."

Stick had been sure that the well would be in an open place, difficult to defend without resorting to a circular formation, and that would put the well at their backs, another danger. Glancing over his shoulder, he realized that they didn't have much of a choice of ground, for more women had come to stand two to every laneway. Only eight, he noted, which meant that another six were elsewhere, doing… what?

"You see, seven," the speaker continued, "it has been a long time since the Winkomme have come to this place, and longer yet since the blöschet have passed by. Our Sister grows hungry, and there is nothing with which to feed her for many days' travel. Now we will have food for the rest of the season and beyond."

"You may be eight," he replied as calmly as he could, "but we are stronger and better trained. Our mounts will not be food for your sister, whoever she may be, and there is nothing you can do to change that."

Not bothering to hide her laughter, the speaker stepped back. "Oh, Seventh. How can it be that you Tyhrne know so much and so little? You are so much like the last seven to come by here I wonder if I am not simply reliving a memory."

"There was another seven?"

Her smile simply grew wider. "There were. There will be another. And our Sister will eat well and grow strong once more."

"Your sister—"

"Is here."

And then he heard what she must have, a thrumming in the air like one of the edask beating its wings. The sound built on itself, becoming louder and louder, but he could still see no sign of what was creating it until a shadow swallowed his and he spun around to face the source. Two great wings, feathered like a hawk's, or a swan's, were silhouetted against the sun, but they came from something more like a woman than a bird. He shouted, stabbed at the creature with his spear, but she seized his shoulders in her claws and ripped.

"Our sister will eat well and grow strong once more…"

He struggled frantically to move his arms despite the pain that raced through them and finally clenched his teeth and trust it as far into her abdomen as he could reach. A piercing scream cut through the air and then he was falling, falling towards the fighting on the ground.

Then his head hit the sand, and he thought no more.

… Dearest…

Shivers wracked his body despite the intense heat surrounding him, and he forced his eyes open. There was nothing he recognized, just sand and pale clay walls, and he let out a low moan of fear, though he didn't know just what it was that he feared. Moving his arm was far too painful, so he tried to move his leg. Did it move? He couldn't tell. No point in being awake, though, when dreams were far more welcoming.

… Dearest Sañere, I'm so tired…

"Pech. Pech, wake up. Pech, open your eyes. Pech!"

Eventually he managed to open his eyes and see Roh sitting next to him, patting his shoulder frantically. The Sixth's ragged red cloak hung over his shoulder, as always, and it seemed that it had gained several new tears in battling the eight. Or perhaps that was simply an illusion caused by his unfocused eyes, just like the unnaturally huge feathers stuck to the cloth.

"Pech, do not close your eyes."

Pech smiled and closed his eyes. "You're Seventh, Roh," he said, or tried to say. It came out as more of a mumble. "Seventh. Do… what needs to be done… Seventh…"

"Pech!"

…Oh, dearest, I wish…

…I wish it would rain…

… Thank you…

---

Well, at just under 6000 words, Pech's little story took longer to resolve than I'd expected. Do enjoy!

For those following The Children of the Wilds:

The Winkomme are the Daughters of the Skies. Name based around the German wind (wind) and nachkomme (descendant). Blöschet refers to the bloodsworn (from Into the Skies and soon to be in CotW), and is a mixture of löschen (extinguish/put out) and blut (blood). A treimen is a dreamwalker, based on träumer (dreamer).

Strangely enough, Pech's name is appropriate, though purely by accident. I saw the letters together while searching through an admittedly dated German/English dictionary, likely in a larger word, and decided they would work well enough for a name. However, after looking it up once more it turned out to mean 'bad luck' and, when given vogel as a suffix, means 'run of bad luck fellow'. Poor Pech. If only I'd taken a liking to Glück instead.