The following morning, as dawn breaks grey upon the canopy, Cang creeps into the village. He keeps low and quiet, moving through shadows.
The wide-mouthed grey creatures live in the trees, make their homes among the branches. He eyeballs each in turn, from the humble abodes of peasants to Old Mossy’s place, more secluded and well appointed than most. Cang makes mental notes on entrances and exits, then steals away, looking for the home of the princess.
He isn’t looking long when he comes upon a pair of ancient oak trees, twins, with broad reaches of foliage, within which sits a rather opulent palace — or opulent by the standards of the village. Cang moves closer when he spots a handful of guards watching over the place. A couple have injuries from where Shyan laid them low last night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“I knew the moment I saw you fight in the square,” the princess says. “A village full of tall folk, and you, a young woman, striking with the Silent Mantis. Sliding into Hooking Crow. Techniques only Davit knew.”
Shyan perks up at the name. She stands steadily, rising from the floor, silent and intense.
“Of all people,” Old Mossy says. “I’m glad we finally found you.”
“The killer of Davit,” the princess says, a note of wonder in her voice.
“You are some of many,” Shyan replies. She pivots a foot into a defensive stance as her compatriots gather around her. Her eyes blaze. “Come,” she says, raising her fists. “You may have it.”