by Yoon Ha Lee

When General Minkhir returned through the Winged City’s gates, her clay servant Chukash saw the emblem of conquest in her hand. This time it was a bronze crescent, drenched in blood as always. Chukash fell in beside her, holding a basin to catch the blood. The trees to either side of them straightened, the gray-brown limbs flushing to a green-tinged hue, but the street was as dry as it had been before the general’s departure weeks earlier. It was an inauspicious sign when the city’s need for water was still dire.

Chukash kept his head lowered all the way to the temple called the White Bowl. He counted the drops of blood, the red splashes before the basin absorbed all traces of death, or life, or anything human. He liked to think that the blood-beat was his pulse, and that it made him more human.

One time he had stumbled, spilling a drop of blood. It had left a mark on the road like a toeprint. Sometimes the toe on his left foot ached. The general had never reprimanded him for it, but he knew. And the city with its thousand eyes knew.