by Jess Hartley
Kalila’s breath caught in her throat as the wall of liquid ice struck the pack. Beside her, Elias cursed loudly, the sound barely audible over the roar of the storm. The screaming wind turned each half-frozen raindrop into an icy needle, piercing through her layers of leather and cloth as if she stood naked. The mountain pass only served to channel the storm’s fury and even the towering evergreens around them threatened to bow before the unrelenting blast.
“You sure about this?” Kalila shouted to be heard although her pack alpha was only a few steps away.
Forehead furrowed in concentration, Elias nodded, glaring upward at the storm’s center. The tempest whipped his hair against his face, wiry tendrils dancing insanely around the feral savagery of his Dalu profile. Lightning flashed through his eyes, lending him the visage of a half-beast madman as he challenged the storm front.
Kalila spared a glance for the rest of the pack. Heartsblood was a dripping shadow of himself, his pelt soaked in the storm’s fury. He paced back and forth at the left flank of the pack, his paws shattering the steel-silver reflections in each mud puddle he trod through. Only Dana looked unperturbed. Her night-black hair remained sleek and still in a tight ponytail that denied the wind’s clutches. Kalila took a deep breath, momentarily envious of her packmate’s calm, as she focused her attention fully on the storm cloud over head.
The foreboding mass overhead crackled blue-white around the edges. It hung overhead, as large as a city block, steel grey tendrils roiling just below its surface like no natural storm cloud she’d ever seen. The air around her tightened as if the spirit world had taken a deep breath just before a blinding flash of lighting struck the top of a pine just in front of Elias. A heartbeat later, the concussion of thunder struck almost as physically, shaking the pack down deep into their bones.
One way or another, this thing needed to be dealt with. Normally, storm spirits were low on the priority list of Uratha concerns. For one thing, they tended to be nomadic, not staying long enough in any pack’s territory to warrant decisive action. As well, while they could unleash broad ranging destruction and elicit climactic weather reactions in the material world, most storms were not intentionally malignant. Whiteout, as this spirit had begun to call itself, was different.
Early in the season a cold snap had surprised the area just east of Denver. Freezing rain on Highway 70 was blamed for a series of more than a dozen accidents. The worst, a 14 car pile up that included two semi-trucks and a half-full school bus, resulted in 22 fatalities. The sudden rise in accidental death in the material world strengthened certain spirits in the area, as death spirits fed on the increased Essence summoned to the area. Already powerfully bolstered by devouring most of the smaller storm spirits in the area, the winter spirit now feasted hungrily on the ephemera of death and discovered it liked the taste. No longer content to sate itself on smaller storm spirits, Whiteout took up residency in the spirit world reflection of a particularly dangerous portion of the pass and began using its numina to orchestrate increasingly more dramatic and fatal accidents in the area. Throughout the winter, more than 70 deaths had occurred in the area, and spring thaw showed no signs of arriving any time soon. With winter dragging out into April and the accidents only increasing, the state highway department was considering closing down the main route east out of Denver if the.
When the spirit had first come to the pack’s attention, they’d planned to destroy it outright. When, after further investigation, they’d discovered the storm’s hybrid nature, Elias’ plans had changed.
A howl of challenge tore Kalila’s thoughts away from the past.
“Whiteout, you go too far! Your time has come!” Elias’ challenge rose, louder than the wind.
A yowling scream rose up, swirling sleet around the alpha werewolf’s form. Kalila was surprised to hear a feminine sharpness to the spirit’s reply.
“You have no rights here, pup, this is not your territory!” The storm cloud overhead began slowly sinking towards the ground, bearing down on the pack threateningly.
Elias’ silver renown marks glowed brighter as he raised his sword skyward. In the eerie spirit light, the sword and his sigils mirrored the blue-white sparks of energy emanating from the storm cloud.
“You cannot keep the winter here forever, Whiteout. Spring is coming, and with it the thaw.”
“Spring has not arrived just yet.” A crackle of lightning lashed down from the cloud, striking Elias’ blade. Kalila smiled as the foam coating she’d suggested he wrap his sword handle in kept the electricity from arcing into her alpha’s hand. He snarled and leapt upward, driving his sword into the underside of the still descending storm cloud. Sparks rained down on the pack, mixing with the rain that pelted them even harder than before.
“I have an offer, Whiteout. You cannot hold the thaw back forever. Spring is coming and your ice will no longer bring you the deaths you crave.”
A defiant gust of icy wind drove sleet into Elias’ face. Its whistle was the cloud’s only answer.
“Allow my spirit worker to bind you…”
A flash of lightning interrupted Elias’ speech as the cloud boomed her protest.
“Hear me out! Allow my spirit worker to bind you into the sword I now carry. Within its steel, spring need never arrive.”
He turned the blade flat upward, revealing the glacial scene etched into its length. “Join me and your winds will never grow weak. Lend me your bite and you will feed on those who are not as wise as you.”
The storm rumbled, contemplating the Uratha’s offer.