Few remember the moon; her pale beauty lives only in ancient words and artists’ dreams. Yet everyone knows who murdered her. — Seek Fire, Chief of the Turtle Clan of the Low Rivers Tribe, Lorekeeper
The wind’s gentle whisperings turned to screeching howls in the ears of Captain Madria, known as the Silver Fox. She stood on the rear deck of her ship and home, Fox Fire, grimacing as she listened to the wind’s complaints. The hull groaned as the headwind seized the ship and changed the timber of the steady whup whup whup of her twin propellers as they clawed their way forward. Madria whispered a prayer before locking the twin levers in place. They jutted from the deck on either side of her, each one corresponding to a propeller. Both were as far forward as Madria dared without stressing the ship’s power crystal. Turning to her right, she opened a few drawers in a cabinet that was bolted to the deck.
The deck boards creaked and Madria glanced up at her first mate, Swallowing Hawk. At nearly eight feet tall, the woman towered over everyone and everything. Madria had never met anyone taller who had claimed to be human. She was muscled like a mountain lion, and the woman’s eyes radiated with cold rage.
“He’s coming for us,” Hawk said, her words falling like stones.
Madria could not help turning to scan the bank of gray clouds that receded behind them. “We don’t know that. The east wind does not need a reason to be angry.”
Hawk said nothing as Madria pulled out two incense pellets. savory and saffron to calm the east wind, honeysuckle and clover to entice the west wind to their aid. With a prayer to the winds, she struck a match.
A sudden gust snuffed the flame. Madria bit back a curse. She spoke into the wind. “It’s not a person. It’s a dragon. He doesn’t count.” The wind clawed at her lips and eyes as the ship strained to make any forward progress.
“Oathbreaker.” The single word sliced past her ears.
“Funny time to notice that now.” Madria hissed at it before turning her back on the east wind. Sheltering another match with her body, she lit the sweeter incense for the west wind. With the incense trailing a line of thick smoke, Madria placed it in the metal tray on top of the cabinet. Hawk had turned toward the clouds, searching it with the largest spyglass they possessed. “There he is. Six o’clock. Should I tell the crew?”
“That will serve zero purpose.” The constant blowing over the bow of the ship slackened as the colder eastern wind caressed her neck. Eddies of air grasped at her skirts as the two winds began to battle. Madria lit a second incense pellet in thanks as Fox Fire resumed its forward momentum. “They’ll do what they must. Let them and my children enjoy a few more hours of the open sky.” She stepped away from her post. “You have the helm.”
Hawk smoothly took her position, gripping the levers with two fingers each. Madria felt her first mate’s eyes on her back as she walked to the front of the poop deck to a well-cared-for shrine. Three bright red timbers framed two wooden screens, a torii, a gate to the sacred. As she undid the latch, she heard the giant woman issue a derisive snort, a noise that eerily reminded her of an ill-tempered horse Madria had been tasked with as a child.
Ignoring her, Madria opened the shrine, revealing the wooden figure of Coyote, the moon eater, curled in a sleeping position, one ear pointed outward. In front of the figure sat three smaller ones: a Fox, her coat streaked with silver gray, a rhinoceros bearing a golden horn, and a white flower that radiated its purity. Madria knelt before the figures, her hands pressed together. Hawk’s eyes burned like a mutinous dagger in her back. No one understood. The stories went that Coyote had destroyed the world of humankind. Handed it over first to the gibbering madness and then the greed of the dragon emperor. In the Golden Hills, he was akin to the Yozi. Among Hawk’s people, the Low Rivers Tribe, he represented power unbowed to responsibility. Asking for his help would invite ruin. Yet the spurned god rarely refused her entreaties; few were brave enough to even utter his name.
Coyote, show me the way forward. She prayed, opening her mind and calling out for him. At once, she heard the echo of his laughter mixed with a howl that cut through her heart. With a start, her eyes snapped open. The wooden Coyote had lifted its head and was looking directly at Madria, ears back. First, the Rhino wobbled and fell on its side, then the Flower. Both figurines lay more still than inanimate things could ever be. Only the Fox stood.
“No.” Madria snarled, curling her lip back in a feral expression. Reaching in with both hands, she righted the figurines. “No one can have them, not even you.”
The little fox smoked and then burst into a bright orange flame. Madria snatched the figure from the shrine and snuffed it out.
“Then so be it.” Madria spat the words at the shrine as she stood. She closed it without putting the Fox back in. Her tear-rimmed eyes caught Hawk’s as she turned. “When I give the order, you get them both off this ship, you understand?” she commanded with a bitter sharpness.
Hawk hesitated only to blink once before nodding. “I will do my duty.”