Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The rolling glens of Morglanwe sweep gracefully down, their bases hidden by the long grasses that gird them. From this side of the gently waving grass sweeps a scattering of low dunes that back the beach on which we stand. In the sunset, I can see the piled bodies that deface a scene so glorious in natural splendour it would otherwise be worthy of a classic painting.
My guide, Glimhre, is unmoved by my mutterings of offence.
“Wait, Envoy. Wait.”
Is all he says. It is his answer to my every question. Where are the burial details, the mourners, the funerary rites?
The only reply?
High above, the clouds turn metallic purple in the last rays of the sun. I have never seen a shade so rich. The deep blue of the local equivalent of gulls perfectly complements the colour their wheeling flight sets them against. How can such beauty be allowed with the aftermath of bloody conflict strewn about below? It’s an offense to everything proper. Such ugliness should, if not erased, at least be solemnly removed piecemeal by grieving relatives and furtive scavengers. For it to lie ignored is a terrible thing to me.
A mist rises, mercifully shrouding the dead. I look about to see what beauty is brought by the ephemeral, faintly luminescent roils. There is no mist behind us. There is no mist amidst the dunes or in the vales of the glens. I look back. The mist is moving against the breeze. Moving. Like an animal!
I turn to Glimhre.
“What is that?”
He smiles a little smile: “That which was awaited.”
“I don’t understand.”
Glimhre rests a scaled hand on my shoulder: “You were insulted by our barbarous lack of care for our fallen. You were offended by our lack of funereal ritual. What you see is all of that. Look to the dunes.”
There are lights on the dunes. Each held by one or more beings gathered there. I hadn’t seen their arrival, so taken was I with the more-than-mist. The little groups – families? – stand together in silence. Everything about us has fallen quiet.
Answers. I must have answers. I point at the luminescent impossibility: “What is that?”
“It is a Sha’haan.”
“I repeat. What it that?”
“It is a hunger.”
“Again. What is that?”
“It is that which cleans the land of death. Where it touches, all organic death is lifted from the ground. Every iota is taken into its insatiable hunger.”
With incredulous eyes, I watch as the piles on the shore get smaller.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
The inexorable diminishing process is hypnotic.
It is a while before Glimhre replies: “We could walk through it unharmed, except that our skin would be utterly cleansed and our clothes in tatters as every bit of deceased matter was consumed.”
A thought breaks my reverent watching.
“What if it started killing?”
“Thankfully, it has not learned that. I do not know if it could. But, thank you for a thought that will keep me awake at nights for a while to come.”
I turn my eyes down in shame.
As the Sha’haan finishes its grisly task and fades away, Glimhre slaps my back.
“You are imaginative and honest, Envoy. Never lose those traits, even when you become our Ambassador.”
Many serrated teeth flash in the dim light as he grins: “No, I have no idea where Sha’haan go when they disappear, and – based on recent example – I will be grateful if you do not share your thoughts on that topic.”