Winter Rain's Exaltation
Two and a half years ago...
Winter Rain trudged through the driving rain, a lantern on the end of his staff clutched in one hand and the ghost ward extended in front of him. The source of the attacks was in these hills...there was no doubt about that.
He had spoken extensively with the villagers in the surrounding areas and managed to pinpoint the most likely location for the bodies of the hungry dead. The center point for the attacks was in the hills in front of him.
Most people would have said he was insane for trying to do this at night, but most people were not Winter Rain. He had been the Eye of the Sun’s finest ghosthunter for almost three years, and well-known for his talents before that. He had even received the personal praise of Sunmist Himself for his service on behalf of the people—-not a light honor. His ghost charms were the finest made in the island and all the surrounding islands as well. He could ward a house so that it was unbreakable, and drive a ghost out of a man as easily as another man might empty a full wagon. Everyone wanted his services. He could handle himself.
The rain, if it were possible, grew even thicker. Winter Rain peered ahead into the storm, trying to distinguish recognizable landmarks through the water. He felt almost like he was standing under a waterfall--his clothes were mostly soaked through, even under the tarp cloak that he had brought with him. The salt was still secure in its watertight pouch, but that was the only thing on him that was dry.
He tensed suddenly-—years of instincts honed in dangerous situations made him turn around. He could see it there, tensed to pounce, and he thrust the ward out in front of him before his mind could react. The hungry ghost flew dived through the air towards him before bouncing off a barrier only a few feet away. It shook itself, then began to circle. Then he saw another.
His mind screamed at him that this was impossible. It was the middle of the day! Realizing that it might take several hours to find his destination, he had been very careful to set off during the morning. The hungry dead could not leave their corpses during the day—-the sunlight would burn them to ash.
Then he knew—-it was the rainstorm. The clouds and rain were blocking out so much of the sunlight that the ghosts had left their bodies, hoping to catch unwary travelers by surprise. And catch one they had-—there were simply too many of them. He pulled out another ghost ward and raised it in his other hand. It stopped the attack of another hungry ghost, but he could not stop them all.
As another one leapt at him, time slowed to a crawl. He could smell the thing—-a terrible, old smell like grave clothes and mould. The claws descended towards him, and Winter Rain prepared himself for death. He did not need to. As he looked up toward the heavens, the clouds parted for a brief instant, leaving him staring directly at a shaft of brilliant sunshine. He was transfixed by the beam, and he didn’t even notice the thing screaming as the sunlight burnt it. He could only hear The Voice.
"You have always hunted unclean things, keeping the people safe from their influence," it said to him, filling the world with its ringing tones. "Your purpose is noble, and your heart is just. Once, long ago, those things were lacking in the world, and I turned My back on Creation. But now, I look upon you kindly, he who is called Winter Rain. You will be My voice and My shield, driving back the darkness into the empty places where it belongs."
Winter Rain fell to his knees. It was all he could do not to weep with joy. This is what he had always wanted—to serve the people as best he could. And now, he had been chosen by the sun-god Himself! None of these spirits could stand against him now!
When he looked at the things again, he noticed them circling him warily, but now there was fear in their eyes. Around him, the hills were illuminated by a bright white glow that cast everything into sharp relief and drove back the darkness caused by the oppressive clouds. It took him a moment, but he soon realized that the glow was coming from him. He raised a hand and pointed at the closest hungry ghost. A beam of brilliant white light exploded outward from his hand, hammering into the thing and consuming it utterly in a radiant explosion. It did not even have time to scream.
With a smile, Winter Rain turned to the other ghosts.