I arrived in the Land of Witches at the end of the season of furs. The sun shone, banks of chilly foam lay piled up in the streets, and the river emitted groans day and night as the ice broke into pieces, setting free the witches’ colorful winged boats. My master took a room in the Lean Hotel. This building consists of a single spire that twists up into the greenish, iridescent sky. Ascending to our room presented no difficulties, however, for the steps were endowed with a charm that eroded time. This shaping of time is one of the marvels of the Land of Witches.
Angela found the saint at the base of the cliffs beneath the old watchtower. She had followed his trail from the village: a line of footprints braided with the chaotic, black-stained tracks of the raiders, leading to the cliffs. There he must have fallen, or leapt away in fear. The crumbling stones of the watchtower were marred with scars from the raiders’ lashing claws and teeth, striped with their fetid black ichor, but there was no sign of them on the switchbacks that wound down to the beach.
It’s best to leave some things forgotten. Lord have mercy on my soul. Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy. I don’t know why you want me to talk about all this in the first place. This here’s a spirit stone, and I come out here to make sure it ain’t been covered up. Things need tending to. No, I suppose not all things ought to be forgotten. Feels like I done been around here some thousand years or some such; moving, settling down, and moving again. ’Course I ain’t been around quite that long, it just seemed that way when I got to thinking back.
The tree has many names, in many languages: Yggdrasil, Kalpavriksha, Jian-Mu, Ashvattha. It stands at the nexus of worlds, dark matter coiling around its roots, the rim of the universe held aloft by its ever-expanding crown. Its branches bend spacetime, its cordate leaves uphold the laws of physics, and its tiny white flowers grant immortality. Let us be more specific. One flower grants immortality, two flowers cause a prolonged and painful death, three flowers the obliteration of an entire species.
It is not the dust that brings her tears. The Lachrymist’s house is dusty, fragments of time and memory fallen everywhere, a living blanket that drapes itself over tables and chairs and things even stranger. But time and memory are to be expected anywhere the dead gather, and even in this abundance, they do not drive her to weeping. Neither is her weeping caused by the voices, calling to each other from shadowy ceiling corners, memories still embodied, repeating phrases into the cold air.
There are no obsidian blades in the camp. The Dawncomer guards have learned enough to make sure that no ritual knives get smuggled in. Without obsidian, Quineltoc can’t spill blood properly—he can’t keep the law, can’t observe the rites of the Living Lord as a man of God must. The ghost-colored invaders who came from beyond the rising sun trust in their vigilance and in their cold technology to protect them. It does. The People make do. They’ve had to, for over a decade now.
The women have gathered around Mr. Hubert, their eyes shining in the candlelight, their expressions eager. The hoops of their skirts bump and crinolines rustle as they jockey for position; looks containing entire conversations are exchanged. In spite of the lateness of the hour, the parlor is very hot. Sweat beads at the edges of their elaborate hairdos and trickles down more than one white-powdered cheek. Mr. Hubert, the celebrated toymaker, is just as turned out as the women who surround him.
Gopal knew before he booted up the game—a Christmas present from his dad—that his character would be some form of elf or human, because the other races were all ugly, and he didn’t play games to be ugly. And he knew too, although he didn’t say it, that his character would be a girl. He always played girls online, although he’d be ashamed if anyone knew it, precisely because it played into the online belief that most girls in most games were “really” men.
The Grand Philosopher Ancient Leaf once expounded that a man who kills another out of passion or greed is condemned as a murderer, and one who kills ten people is reviled as a maniac, but one who causes the death of hundreds of thousands in pursuit of personal glory is often revered as a great personage. The Grand Historian Silver Mirror utilized the quote in describing the senseless nature of the Wars of the Four Princes and the Six Grand Lords.
The village of Kovácspéter was plagued by a vampire, which was increasingly embarrassing. The year was 1873 and Hungary was on the march to modernity. They had their own prime minister, their own constitution, and their own economic development plan. Rails were being laid and industry was being developed. The future was industrial, prosperous and, most importantly, happening right now.