20 iii) Cang and Abia watch with a mixture of surprise and horror

Cang and Abia watch with a mixture of surprise and horror as the darts shake in Shyan’s skin.

Fassn’s song to Old Ajralan rises in intensity. Abia feels a kind of queer affinity for Fassn, his wiry beard, and his god. Often had she employed the power of melody to work uncommon feats. Now here was the old man doing so himself.

Meanwhile, Fassn concentrates, trying to keep the melody in his head. It’d been a while since he was taught the insistent chant. A while since he’d asked Old Ajralan for a favour directly.

Shyan twists on her back, slowly moving within the stone perimeter. Fassn takes a moment to shush and calm her as the darts quake.

20 ii) As the stones clatter into place

As the stones clatter into place, Fassn begins singing a low, plaintive dirge in his native tongue. Cang falls silent to listen, and soon only Shyan’s ragged breathing undergirds the melancholic melody. She moves to stand, but Fassn shushes her, keeps her still within the outline of stones.

Only Abia and Fassn himself understand the words, though both Shyan and Cang catch the mention of “Ajralan” sprinkled throughout. Fassn waves his open palms about Shyan’s body, centimeters above the jagged ends of the barbed darts sticking out from her skin.

As Fassn’s song intensifies, the bone darts begin to shake and quiver.

20 i) Shyan lays back, the soft dirt and rocks crunching under her weight

Shyan lays back, the soft dirt and rocks crunching under her weight. Her eyes are closed and her skin’s already losing some of its vibrancy.

Fassn, Cang and Abia crouch beside her.

“More poison,” Abia says.

“This damnable concoction. Should not she be immune by now?” Cang asks.

“Quickly, gather the stones,” Fassn says.

“Excuse me?”

“Gather them, like this,” Fassn says, scrabbling for flat stones about Shyan’s form. He lays them out around her perimeter, a Shyan-shaped outline of rocks a few centimeters from her slow-breathing form.

“Great,” Cang says sarcastically. “A quick break to make art.”

19 v) As the grey creatures retreat

As the grey creatures retreat, their wide mouths turned down into frowns, dragging their wounded princess, Shyan’s power wavers. Her fists aloft in a pugilistic stance, she stares them down, but the tight balls of flesh are quaking.

Fassn and Cang move before her and she falls back beside Abia. With open palms she brushes away the pins sticking out of her skin and the little bone needles leave welts from where they leave her. With a stagger, she sits, her eyes glassy. The pins’ poison rushes through her, and with a grunt, she lays back on the ground, closing her eyes.

19 iv) The arc of the stone cuts gracefully through the dim light

The arc of the stone cuts gracefully through the dim light and clonks the princess in the head, leaving her stuttering through her chanting. The sense of tingling radiation fades from Abia’s mind as the princess wobbles. Old Mossy growls and runs to the princess’ side.

The other wide-mouthed creatures look panicked as Shyan lays into them. By now, several are groaning on the ground, clutching wounded arms and legs. Shyan begins to feel their poison moving through her body, and lets out a war cry of passion enough to loosen knees. She points an accusatory finger at Old Mossy and the princess. “Leave this place,” she growls, “or I’m coming for you next.”

Old Mossy growls again, but signals to some of his still-standing fellows to aid him in dragging the princess and their fallen friends away, while Shyan stands tall, breast heaving, beads of sweat breaking at her brow.

19 iii) In a fluid dance, Shyan moves through her paces

In a fluid dance, Shyan moves through her paces. Striking Mantis, Untoward Elephant, Bloodsoaked Parasite. Her opponents are shorter than she’s used to, but she adjusts in the moment, connects stances and moves with the smooth improvisational chops of a jazz musician.

The grinning grey creatures spill to the earth, kicking up stones and clods of dirt. Old Mossy, suddenly looking fearful, gives frantic orders, sending his fellows in to be beaten down. Open palms, fists closed, feet and knees and elbows: Shyan is a whirling dervish of flesh on flesh.

As the ranks swarm her, the princess hurries behind their bulk and begins chanting in an unfamiliar language, moving her hands in wide, suggestive gestures. Abia, for her part, feels the background radiation shift, and tapping Cang on the shoulder, points out the princess. He nods and hefts a stone.

19 ii) Shyan senses the poison is the same

Shyan senses the poison is the same one she’d been hit with before. Its changes to her nerve endings are almost familiar, tickling as they do the painful memories and regrets centre of the brain. The darts themselves are mere pricks, like the bites of mosquitos. With an open palm she brushes many from her skin and they fall with soft clicks to the ground. She glares at the princess and her many retainers, each of whom is frantically trying to load another bone dart into its blowpipe. Shyan launches at them like a cat sprung from hiding. Her superior height and weight advantage bowls several over, eliciting cries of surprise. Old Mossy and the princess bark orders and fall back as Shyan starts swinging.