April 3, 1898 - Chilkoot Pass, Alaska

        Beneath his feet, a mound of stones and ice entombed his Charge’s empty shell, and above his head, snow flurries shimmered in the flickering lights of concerned Guides. Those of a sensitive nature had asked, “Romal, would you like me to stay?” Others, more given to pointedness, had said, “Romal, your Charge left hours ago; why do you hover above the shell?”
 
        Whether tactful or direct, all Guides shared genuine concern. Quite endearing, Romal thought, but also foolish and unnecessary. With a gracious smile, Romal ushered their leave. Apparently, though, they needed more ushering. Romal wagged his finger at them. “Do you intend to linger overhead until the Players glimpse your lights? And what absurdity will they conclude your lights to be? I suggest you see to your Charges’ Awakenings before your imprudent delays create a ridiculous legend within the Players’ history books.”
 
        Instantly, sixty-two Guides vanished. Romal sighed, his eyes now turning toward Haven. “Well, One, so begins this corner of your tapestry.”
 
        A team of rescue workers trudged past, their shoulders sagging, their steps stumbling. They were valiant men, but thoroughly fatigued. Still, how much effort did it take to turn their chins and notice the plot of snow they were leaving unsearched? Romal flinched at his selfish thought. The Players’ hands were blistered, their toes frostbitten. Their pain deserved regard; a Player’s shell did not. A Player’s shell had less value than a Player’s clothing. Shells always returned to dust; clothing, at least, could be worn again. Eventually, the workers would uncover the rest of the buried shells. Romal looked across the plateau to count just how many shells remained.
 
        One? Romal cleared his throat of a grumble. Zia’s shell was the only body to have escaped their notice. Often lost as a Soul, always lost as a Player, Zia had now left a shell to be lost as well. Romal found no humor in this irony.
 
        He peered into the lives of the rescue workers—natives, stampeders, and one retired detective, the eldest of the group. The man had a powerful stride—or so his companions perceived. In truth, arthritis knotted the man’s knees; his steps came down hard or they wouldn’t come down at all. Years of bone hitting bone had sunken the man’s cheeks into a permanent wince. Though the cold winds bit into the man’s joints, a complaint never left the man’s lips. Romal issued a vibration to the man’s heart. “Turn around.”
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
       A group of tired heels were dragging up the icy slope when the detective’s chin jerked up, his steps halting, his spine straightening. Briefly, he held still, listening. He then swiveled, his hand shielding his eyes from wind and snow.
 
       A stampeder nudged him. “Franklin, you coming?”
 
       Franklin nodded but didn’t move. He saw the evidence of a thorough search—shallow holes and deep craters, dirt mounds and rock piles, boulders and tree limbs still wrapped in their hoisting ropes. Thorough, he told himself, but a queer feeling—an instinct, he figured—disagreed.
 
       He waved the stampeder on and headed back.
 
       Standing in the center of the searched area, Franklin noticed an embank-ment shadowing a mound of snow left undisturbed. “Darn.” He started toward it. A few feet from the spot, a blast of heat rushed into him. His steps faltered, but he caught himself quickly, his knees now bending freely and painlessly. He straightened with renewed vigor, but had no time to ponder this odd return of his health; he had work to do. He began to dig.
 
       Over and over, dirt and ice flung from his shovel. Eventually, a body emerged—a body encased in red snow.
 
       Franklin wiped the frost from his brow, his squint shifting from the blood on his shovel to the blood on the half-buried man. He knelt on the frozen mud for a closer look. “I’ll be darned.” He pulled off a glove.
 
       Tailed to a frigid gust came a stampeder’s call, “You got a live one?”
 
       His left hand railing the dirt and stones, his right hand probing the hole in the dead man’s chest, Franklin hadn’t a free arm to signal, no.
 
       Stampeders, hopeful, hurried to Franklin, their shovels, canteens, and gurneys clanging.
 
       Franklin got to his feet, his blood-soaked hand tightening into a fist.
 
       When the rescue workers saw the body, they rested their shovels. A questioning look passed among them before it settled on Franklin.
 
       “You suppose a tree branch got him?” a stampeder asked. “I bet that’s what got him. A tree branch came down and—”
 
       “Diller, hush up,” Franklin said. “Ain’t no tree branch killed this man. He was good and dead before the avalanche.”
 
       “Before the avalanche? What do you suppose stuck him in the chest?”
 
       Franklin held up what his fist had enclosed. “A bullet.”