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It had been long, wearying flight. The rising sun illuminated the mountains I called home. The sight sickened me.

The sharp points of the mountains up ahead jabbed into the sky like bloody spears. They ran with the blood of my peoples’ conquerors, the high mountain lords. And my own people had shed blood like water, trying to stay free.

The snow was colored red instead of white. The mountain lords twisted magic turned the morning dew crimson and made it linger past noon. The earth bled. The lords took that as evidence of their superiority.

This overnight trip to the valley had been a pleasant escape. At least here, snow was still white, the forest still green, and the farms still untouched.

My master cracked his new whip into the soft hide of my underbelly. Gentle pain shivered up my wings and I obeyed, descending.

It wasn’t light enough yet for my master to see anything. I didn’t know what he thought he thought was doing.

“No sign of the valley lord,” my master called to one of the others.

He flicked my left hind foot with his whip and I swerved, wishing I could throw him off.

Movement stirred in the snow-covered fields below. I gaped. A herd’s worth of horses and many humans stood still and silent in the ground below. Most of them faced a man standing a wing-span from them, watching the mountains.

He turned, walked back and mounted a horse. He led his people south.

The valley lord, I realized, suddenly angry. He was leaving. Giving up. He wasn’t going to fight. He was leaving this place to the mercy of the mountain lords.

My master stung my tail with the whip and I forced myself to settle. The valley lord would survive; perhaps he would offer a place a hope for the rest of the world.

“They must be hiding,” called my master and laughed. “We’ll flush them out later. Let’s go home”

Thank the winds for the master’s poor sight.