The Demon’s Fear
“The Song is back,” Ogot’pak croaked.
Kee’mab’s throat bulged with a nervous exhalation as she crouched on the bank of the Deep Current River. A long, slow croak groaned from her lips. She rose to her full height, the muscles of her long legs, slender compared to the thickness of her torso, flexing beneath her waxy, green skin. Her webbed toes spread wide in the soft mud of the bank. She gripped one of her fishing spears in her hand, two more strapped to her back. Her belly was a paler green than her back, legs, and arms. It merged with the loose skin of her throat leading into her wide, squat head. Her eyes, round and sitting atop her skull, fixed on Ogot’pak.
“Truly?” Kee’mab asked. Her webbed fingers tightened on the polished, wooden haft of her fishing spear. The slender bone tip had a hook, a barb to catch her prey, the large ot’pa’qq which swam in the dark shadows of the Deep Current River.
“Truly,” Ogot’pak said. “Mak’maq’by vanished from her hut before her mate’s eyes. Poor Rok’kk’ak is left to care for their tadpoles alone. Two days and Mak’maq’by has not returned.”
Kee’mab’s throat swelled against her nervousness. Her eyes twisted atop her head, glancing to her right without her body having to move. Upriver, her mate, Eg’kee, tended to their first hatching. A dozen tadpoles swam happily in their spawning pool.
“Will it be as bad?” Kee’mab asked.
“As thirty years ago?” Ogot’pak flared her throat to thrice its size, the green skin paling as the sac expanded. “Only the river knows. But if the Song is starting up again…”
Kee’mab shifted. Her free hand, fingers long and spindly, reached down to the heavy club hanging from her loincloth’s belt. The hardwood had blades of dark shale spaced around the end, each jutting out the length of her finger joint.
“Some come back from the Song,” she said.
The river gurgled by, oblivious to the tightness in the air around the two amphibians. Kee’mab felt a chill that couldn’t come from the warm air caressing her drying skin. Her mouth, as wide as her throat, opened. Her tongue itched to fling out against the injustice of the Song.
“My grandmother never came back,” Kee’mab said.
Ogot’pak croaked, a deep, mournful sound. They were both Yq’maq’a. Their people had dwelt in the marshes and forests around the mighty rivers for all of time. They had survived the Songs time and time again.
Great Spawner in the sky, watch over your tadpoles, prayed Kee’mab.
“I have to get to the village,” said Ogot’pak. She hefted the scaled hides of the large fish that Kee’mab hunted. “Ak’bd’ek is expecting my leather.”
“Good hopping,” Kee’mab said.
“Good fishing,” Ogot’pak answered. Her legs compressed then she bounded away, a jump that carried her over the wide river. She landed lightly on the other side, the scaled hides draped over her back rustling.
Unease rippling through her, Kee’mab crouched in the mud, her webbed toes flexing against the soggy ground. She stared at the current flowing past. The darker water housed the large ot’pa’qq. Fear rippled across her dried skin. She yearned to dive into the current and wrestle with one of the large fish.
It would be simpler than wrestling with the Song.
The Singers needed the Yq’maq’a, or so the stories said, to fight their dark enemies. Survivors of the Song, those who’d returned, spoke of a steamy forest, trees towering higher than you could leap. The Singers were small things, standing on two legs like the Yq’maq’a but with smooth skin the color of mud and fur like a beaver on their heads. They needed warriors for their holy battle against terrifying beasts. Clawed Crushers, Rotting Shamblers, Winged Death. More.
“Why do you torment us, Singers?” croaked Kee’mab to the air. “Why do you need us? We have our own troubles.”
Her throat expanded in disgust as she stared at the river. She needed a successful hunt. Her mate, the gentle Eg’kee, waited with their spawn. He had to guard them against any maundering foxes or diving shrikes seeking to creep into the pool and devour their tadpoles. Right now, their offspring were a little bigger than one of her fingers. He couldn’t leave them. He would get no sleep or rest for the next two moons. He needed her to hunt and provide. It was the way of their people.
She laid the eggs, he cared for them. Despite his gentle heart, he was a fierce father.
Movement flitted through the stream. She rose, her throat tightening. She gripped her spear as she stared at the dark shadow sliding across the surface. Her eyes tracked it while the rest of her body remained still. She had to wait for the right moment to strike. Her legs tensed for the leap and—
A humming melody whispered around her. It almost sounded like the wind through the boughs of the willow tree and singing through swaying reeds. But there was structure to the melody. Need. Her throat bulged as her legs contracted. She leaped as the Song swelled around her.
She soared straight into the air, a surge of panicked heat rushing through her veins. Her heart pounded as she opened her mouth, gulping in air. She twisted at the pinnacle of her leap, jumping ten times her height. The marshy world laid spread out before her, the ot’pa’qq swimming down the river.
“Great Spawner, no!” she cried out as the music surged around her.
As she descended, sapphire light danced in motes, balls of wispy blue spinning about her. The singing grew louder. It spilled from beyond her world, seizing her. She landed in the mud as the azure glow swelled and swallowed her.
The harmony now had a deep cadence, like the low ribbit of a matronly Yq’maq’a. A deep baritone. She gripped her spear and stabbed at the light. The radiance rippled like the surface of a still pool. The Song intensified. The sapphire contracted around her. It spilled like water about her flesh as it seized her.
“Eg’kee!” she cried out, picturing her smaller mate, her gentle male with his beautiful eyes and the fine bulge to his throat.
In the light, a gem appeared. It was blue, cut and faceted with care. It neared Kee’mab. She thrashed in the grip of the watery light, but it held her like quicksand, heavy and suffocating. The sapphire pressed towards the smooth top of her amphibian head and nestled between her eyes.
Heat flared as it seared into her flesh. She croaked out her scream of pain as the gem merged into her and—
She tumbled through a void. Complete darkness. Her limbs floated beside her like she drifted in a vast, dark ocean. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. She felt weightless. A terror yawned in her. A gibbering fear that savaged her.
What if she was stuck in this void forever?
The watery light seized her once more and yanked her out of the void. She tumbled again and then gasped. She felt ground beneath her webbed feet. Hard soil. New scents filled her nose. Not the sour muck of the river, but an earthier musk. Humid air spilled over her. Shouts and cries and clashes echoed as the light faded.
The Singer knelt before her outside of a circle made of a metal wire possessing the dull gleam of copper. It held a sapphire in its hand similar to the one buried between Kee’mab’s eyes. Its song died down as it opened its eyes and stared up at her. It had skin the color of rich, brown mud, smooth but not waxy and warty. Its neck was slender, thinner than its head. Black fur covered the top and back of its skull. Its eyes stared up at hers.
“I am Running-Beside-Stream of the Frog Clan of the Children-of-the-Great-River,” its words spoke in her mind. It stroked the gem it held. “Do you hear me?”
“Send me back,” croaked Kee’mab. “I have a mate. Tadpoles. Send me back.”
“Demon, you are summoned in the hour of our great need,” the voice continued as if it didn’t understand her ribbits. The shouts echoed through the trees. The ground shook. Other Singers rushed past the circle, wielding spears tipped with dark stone or clubs bladed with granite. They wore loincloths, their bodies muscled and gleaming. Mist spilled through the jungle. Screams came from the direction they ran. “The Tomb Lords seek to butcher our people once more. We have need of your aid, mighty demon.”
“I’m no warrior,” croaked Kee’mab. She struggled to move. A resonance echoed around her like the circle held a memory of the Song. “Send me back. I’m a huntress.”
“I hear the fierceness of your croaks, demon,” Running-Beside-Streams said in her mind. “You shall crush our enemies. Slay them all. Protect the Children-of-the-Cataclysm.”
With fingers, not webbed but separate, it broke the circle. It rose, standing half her height. It stared at her with eyes shining and wet. She croaked and then gasped as the gem flared bright between her eyes. Its words echoed through her mind.
The Singer’s commands seized her body. A compulsion she couldn’t fight gripped her. She turned towards the directions the warrior charged, facing the boiling mist. Her legs flexed. She leaped as terror filled her heart.
Eg’kee, she thought, dread for her mate warring with fear for herself. So few survived the Song.
“Slay the Tomb Lords and their foul creations,” the Singer commanded in her mind, its voice resonating through her bones.
She landed beside the base of a massive tree, the trunk wider around than she was tall. It rose and rose, its top lost in the thick canopy of green that covered the sky. The sounds grew louder and louder. A horrible, crunching boom echoed. A wet splat. Screams, though made from the foreign mouths of the Singers, were full of pain, a universal agony that she recognized.
Terror. Fear. Panic. Death.
It loomed before her.
She had to survive. Somehow.
Despite every muscle in her body screaming at her to bound away, she leaped towards the violence. She landed again, the dense mist drifting around her, coating her waxy skin in moisture. The sounds came from every direction.
The blue sapphire flared between her eyes.
A scuttling sound crashed through the brush to her right. She whirled to see the fog rippling. Something barreled through it. Dark and low. A massive claw, like that on a crab, lunged out of the mist at her.
Croaking in terror, she leaped backward, a short bound.
The fog billowed as the scuttling thing charged out of it. It was armored, like an insect grown to monstrous sizes. Mandibles snapped. Its pincers thrust from either side of its hungry maw. Faceted eyes fixed black on her. It was long and had an armored back. A segmented tail rose above it, curling to strike. It was tipped with a massive stinger, venom dripping from the end.
A Clawed Crusher, gibbered through her thoughts as the hulking scorpion charged at her, trampling brush. The dagger-like ends of its armored legs stabbed into the dirt as it scurried at her.
Vice-like claws snapped forward, dotted in teeth-like spikes. She leaped again, rising into the air, the mist swirling around it. The sapphire flared. She couldn’t run from this. She had to kill it. She had to survive. A mighty croak burst from her throat as she descended, reversing the point of her fishing spear.
She hurtled down at the monstrous scorpion. The air rushed past her. The thing’s pincers snapped in seeming frustration. She aimed at its head, thrusting her spear down beneath her like she would spear a mighty ot’pa’qq moments before she landed. The bone tip struck the black carapace.
The bone point splintered. Pieces flew about her and her legs bent to absorb the impact as she landed on the monster. Her best spear shattered on the thing’s segmented back. Movement flashed before her as her waxy skin tightened. The venom-dripping stinger knifed down at her.
She croaked in fright and leaped back. The stinger hurtled beneath her and stabbed hard into the ground. She flipped and landed behind the monster, clutching her broken spear in her hand. Only scratches marred its carapace.
“Great Spawner, guide me from the predators in the current,” she prayed, an ancient call for aid.
Scuttling crashed behind her.
Kee’mab whirled around to see another monster scorpion burst out of the brush, pincers tearing apart a flowering plant. Faceted eyes glinted, reflecting the blue light of the gem embedded between her eyes.
Out of panicked fear, she thrust the broken spear before her. Mandibles snapped. Crushing claws hurtled at her. Her weapon plunged into its open mouth. Its scurrying momentum impaled it forward down the shaft. Something crunched inside its maw. She’d struck something hard. Ruby light flared from its mouth followed by a gush of brackish ichor. A horrid scent of rot and decay fouled the air.
Before she could gag, the thing’s claw slammed into her. The force battered her back. She fell, the broken spear wrenched from her webbed grip. She hit the ground hard, croaking at the pain throbbing across her fleshy side. Her legs kicked as she struggled to right herself, her spears rattling on her back.
Foul liquid poured out of the scorpion’s mouth. It collapsed in a clatter of chitin. Flickers of red light pulsed from inside. Confusion rippled through Kee’mab. She didn’t understand what she’d struck. How’d she killed it and—
She gained her feet and whirled around to see the first one scuttling at her, dirt clinging to its barbed stinger. Her skin tightened. With a mighty croak, she leaped into the air as a crushing claw lashed out.
It seized her lower leg.
She ribbitted in pain as the serrated edges of the claw bit into her waxy skin. Her hip burst with sharp agony as her leg almost dislocated. The beast slammed her into the forest floor. She bounced, the pincer crushing her lower leg.
“No, no, no!” she croaked as it dragged her across the ground, pulling her towards its hungry maw.
Screams echoed through the jungle. Terror shot through her as she stared at the remorseless thing. Its faceted eyes held no mercy. It didn’t care about her mate and their tadpoles. She had to get back to them. They were helpless.
“Great Spawner!” she croaked as she came closer to death.
She grabbed one of her two spears off of her back, panic surging through her. She thrust it before her, aiming for its maw. She had to kill it. She had to get back to Eg’kee and their children. A twitching mandible deflected her spear high.
It stabbed into its eye. Pus oozed out, foul and fetid. The rank scent of decay swept over her again as the scorpion pulled her closer. Its mouth opened wide; dozens of little feelers ringed it, all twitching, all wanting to pull her leg in and feast.
“No!” she screamed, her loud, croaking shout echoing through the woods.
She threw her spear.
The slender weapon, designed to pierce the softer scales of a river fish, vanished into the maw of the scorpion, the haft grazing her webbed toe. It buried deep. She heard that loud clatter of bone striking stone. The scarlet light burst out of its maw. She saw a brilliant gem embedded in its throat. It pulsed with ruby light then shattered. Ichor burst from the creature’s flesh as shards of the jewel lanced through it. The foul ooze boiled around her spear. Its jaws snapped shut, snapping the weapon’s haft.
The monster collapsed as the rank odor spilled over her. The pincer holding her leg relaxed. She kicked herself free and rolled away. Throbbing pain rippled up her limb. Her skin was dented, darkening with bruises. She gained her feet, throat bulging with her rapid breaths.
“What are you?” she croaked, staring at the dead monsters. The way they smelled had her gagging while the ichor pouring out of them was like their insides were liquefied. Through joints in its carapace, more of the foul gunk oozed out. “What is going on? What is this madness?”
“Demon,” the voice spoke, “you are doing well, but you must keep going. You have to find the Tomb Lords. You have to silence them or their abominations will tear us apart. We are dying.”
“I’m dying!” she shouted at the voice, the blue gem pulsing. She wanted to find the Singer and plant her spear in its chest.
She wanted to return home.
The voice drove her into the mist towards the screams. She drew her last spear and hopped on her wounded leg, short jumps that throbbed with agony. Her throat pulsed, rapidly ballooning and retracting. Her tongue twitched in her mouth.
It flicked out three times her height in frustration.
Rattling footsteps echoed before Kee’mab. Her throat swelled as her fear surged. She rushed into a dense drift of fog and then burst out into a clearing. A mighty mountain loomed ahead, the craggy peaks rising towards a bright sun. Hills piled closer, covered in thick brush that boiled and shook as things rushed through it.
In a moment, the source of the rustling appeared as rattling skeletons burst out of the thick bushes and charged down in shambling ranks. Each had a gem buried in their mouths, glinting with purple light. They were shorter, the corpses of Singers animated and sent to fight. It curdled her blood as she witnessed living Singers with spears and clubs meeting this impossible horror. They stabbed and swung, striking the skeletons but doing little damage before bony fingers tore into their flesh in great spurts of crimson blood.
More scuttling scorpions rushed into the fight on her right. Her throat tightened as she spotted more of her own race, sapphire gems embedded in their heads, leaping forward to battle the carapaced horrors. She knew them. Ogot’pak, who’d given her warning, swung her fist into a skeleton, knocking the thing into fragments. She kicked hard, ripping apart another.
“Ogot’pak!” Kee’mab croaked as she drew her club.
Ogot’pak didn’t react to Kee’mab’s words. The clash of battle boiled through the land. Everywhere she looked, skeletons, scorpions, and other things attacked. The brown-skinned Singers died while more and more of their numbers charged out of the fog behind her. She had to help them. The egg-eating voice in her mind along with the gem buried in her skull forced her to act.
She swung her mace before her. The skeletons were only half her height, like adolescents to her. She crashed through their skulls and shattered their rib cages. Amethyst jewels burst with purple light as she smashed through their animated corpses.
Kee’mab pressed forward, her leg throbbing as she battered through the skeletons. Singers cheered around her, crying out in their squeaking tongues. They surged forward with her, little children fighting with ferocity, clubbing the skeletons that her blows missed.
She pressed on and on. The skeletons reached for her with bony fingers ending in sharp points, but her club swung hard. The heavy wood, set with the blades of shale, shattered their bones. She trampled over the shards as she battled towards the hill.
Other Singers stood at the pinnacle, their skin a paler shade of brown, a dusky hue. They had no hair but instead had bands of black patterns wrapped around their skulls. They wore robes of black and clutched stones of frozen midnight in their hands that flared with an umbral light.
To her right, she spotted Ogot’pak again. She wielded one of the Singer’s clubs. It looked tiny in her hand. She swung it hard before her, battering through skeletons while a pair of scorpions scurried at her.
Fear tightened in Kee’mab’s throat. Her friend faced the beast, the gem flaring bright in Ogot’pak’s head. Kee’mab leaped, the pain flaring in her wounded leg. She only covered half the distance she should have. She landed while shifting her weapons. She gripped her spear now as she croaked out in fear.
Ogot’pak didn’t flee. She faced the scorpion, the Singer’s club raised to smash down on its head as crushing pincers darted forward. With a mighty throw, Kee’mab hurtled her last fisher spear. It soared over the heads of the battling Singers and skeletons. It whistled, flying true, thrown with all her skill.
The spear buried deep into the scorpion’s mouth. It struck the gem. The ruby light blazed. It fell dead at Ogot’pak’s feet. Her club swung down, striking the carapace head a moment later. The blow bounced off the hardened chitin.
Joy surged through Kee’mab. She ribbitted her delight.
They would survive the Song and return to their people.
The second scorpion’s claw seized Ogot’pak’s body. Kee’mab croaked in horror as her friend was lifted up by the monster’s crushing grip. One pincer dug deep into Ogot’pak’s chest while the second grabbed her lower legs. Bones popped. Flesh tore. With a mighty pull, the scorpion ripped Ogot’pak in half. Ogot’pak screamed her agony. Guts spilled out in a pile before the scorpion. It threw the upper half of Ogot’pak’s corpse into a group of Singers, bowling them over.
“No!” croaked Kee’mab. Her body shuddered. Her tongue fluttered in her throat as waves of grief washed over her.
“Demon, you must keep fighting,” ordered the voice in her mind. “You have to reach the Tomb Lords.”
“Great Spawner piss on your Tomb Lords!” she howled as she watched the scorpion stuff Ogot’pak’s right leg into its hungry maw. “Why are you doing this? Why can’t you fight on your own?”
“You’re doing well. You’re saving my people, but you have to keep going, demon.”
The voice and the egg-eating gem turned her body. She stared at the hill. She was at the base of it now. Skeletons raced down it, trampling the brush, leaving paths of devastation. The three Singers at the summit stroked their obsidian staves. A pair of scorpions patrolled before them, heavy pincers snapping.
Her eyes locked on the figures. A rage filled her. An anger that had to be answered. If she couldn’t find Running-Beside-Stream and unleash her fury upon it, she would inflict her wrath out on those three on the hills. The had to pay for Ogot’pak’s death.
She leaped over a phalanx of skeletons stumbling towards her, her leg throbbing with agony. She didn’t care. She was beyond pain. She drew her club again, one of the shale blades shattered. A shard of white skull lay buried in a crack.
She landed on the slope of the hill. She croaked against the torturous throb shooting up her leg as her muscles flexed. She leaped again, the hill soaring beneath her. The three on the hill glared at her. Two were taller, the other slimmer, face different, softer, body curvier beneath its robe.
She landed before the scorpions. Their claws lunged at her, legs ripping at the slope as they surged at her. She leaped again, soaring over the monsters. Pincers snapped, almost catching a webbed toe. She raised her club up high, fury surging through her.
Something screeched above. A large bird with black feathers opened its maw, a helidor gem shining in its throat. It dived at her as she hurtled at the three Tomb Lords. They shifted, the smaller raising a head skyward, mouth moving, a harmonic song pouring from its voice while umbral shadows shivered off the glassy-black stave.
Kee’mab landed before the smaller Tomb Lord and swung. Her club brained the hated thing. Its skull shattered; an eye bulged. Something broke beneath its skin. Shards of obsidian burst out of the black tattoo on the Tomb Lord’s head, the shards tinkling through the air.
The bird above went limp. It plummeted toward the ground without a shout and crashed behind Kee’mab.
The scorpions chittered as they charged up the hill. The nearest Tomb Lord gripped the obsidian stave, blood pouring from its fingers, staining the glassy stone. Dark light flared across the stave as it sang. Kee’mab thrust out her left hand and seized the Tomb Lord in her webbed grip. The Tomb Lord screamed as she lifted it and whirled around.
The first scorpion was on her. She thrust the Tomb Lord at its stinger knifing down. It struck the thing she held. A blood pincer burst out of the Tomb Lord’s chest, ripping through the black robe. The screams turned to gurgling spasms.
The scorpion collapsed.
Kee’mab understood. These three controlled the monstrosities surging across the jungle. The skeletons, the Crushing Claws, the Winged Death. The voice wanted them to die. If she killed the Tomb Lords, she would go home. She would survive the Song.
Salvation at hand, she whirled around to face the final Tomb Lord, her club swinging in a brutal arc at its body. Things seemed to move slow, her mind drinking in details. The five markings around its head looked like black claws gripping its skull. The blackened skin was puckered, raised. Something was beneath the tattooed flesh. Something that glowed with a faint pulse of shadows.
It shouted as she swung her club at it. The Tomb Lord thrust its stave forward, blood spilling from its cut fingers and staining the obsidian. The stave struck the sapphire gem embedded in her head as her mace slammed into its shoulder. Sapphire light exploded around her, clashing with the crimson shadow.
A harmonic dissonance surged around her. A cacophony of conflicting notes reverberated through the air. The watery light engulfed her. She croaked in shock. The Tomb Lord screamed in pain, its body crashing into her. She felt it clutching her waist, clinging to her as the world seemed to fold.
The azure light and the crimson shadow intensified. Warred. They assaulted each other, rejecting the other like fish oil and water. They couldn’t mix. They were inimical and yet were surging around each other. The gem vibrated in her head. The Tomb Lord screamed louder.
Her stomach churned as the world folded.
She appeared in the void. The sound was gone. She spun, arms shifting. The Tomb Lord clutched to her. It stared at her, eyes wide. Its shoulder bled from her bladed club’s impact. It shook its tattooed head, gibbering in a strange language.
“Get off me!” she screamed and kicked with her good leg.
The Tomb Lord’s grip broke from her. It spun away into the darkness, fingers reaching for her, twitching. She recognized the terror on its face. Then the blue light was around her. It was pure, unstained by the dissonance of his obsidian shard and foul blood.
The watery radiance gripped her. The harmony she heard rippled around her. The Song carried her. It held her immobile. It blazed with sapphire flames. She croaked, thrashing, struggling to be free. The harmony hit a crescendo.
The Song died.
She gasped, lying atop a marshy hill, staring up at a cloudy sky. She croaked, heart racing as she sat up. Her leg throbbed. Her throat ballooned before she let out a mighty croak. Her eyes darted to and fro and…
She was on Three Hop Hill overlooking Deep Current River. Her entire body shook. Her leg throbbed from the scorpion’s crushing claw. Crimson blood from the Tomb Lord was smeared across her torso. She released her club and sat up. Her tongue burst out of her mouth, flicking out as she rocked back and forth. A ribbitting croon burst from her that became a mighty shout.
She’d survived the Song. She’d killed the Tomb Lords, but… but… “Ogot’pak.”
The horrific sight was seared into Kee’mab’s mind. Her webbed hands grabbed fistfuls of the wet grass she lay upon. She scrubbed at the blood on her while her leg swelled from her injury. She groaned, croaking against the pain.
Against the grief.
How many of her people did the Singers summon? How many did they throw into their desperate fight against the evil Tomb Lords and their corpse armies? She scrubbed harder at her torso, needing to be clean.
Would she ever be?
The screams of the dying Singers, of the hissing scorpions and rattling skeletons lashed at her as she leaped away from the hill. She had to escape the sounds. They whipped at her. She landed at the hill’s base, stumbling at the fresh pain that throbbed up her leg. She grabbed a stunted willow tree’s feathery fronds to stay upright.
Ogot’pak’s croaking death-scream echoed around Kee’mab.
She pressed from the tree, moving at a loping bound, short hops that could never carry her far enough away from the echoes of death. They chased Kee’mab. Her eyes darted to and fro, her throat inflating and deflating again and again and…
A croaking, crooning song filled her ears.
She blinked out of the daze of pain. She stared ahead at Yq’maq’a who crouched low, his legs bent to the side. He stood a forearm shorter than her, his skin a deep, dark green. His soft croon, a lovely soprano, echoed over the babble of the river. He stood on the edge of a mud enclosure, an artificial pond built in a side-spur of the river beside a mud hut.
A large club lay at his side.
“Eg’kee,” she croaked as she limped ahead.
His eyes twisted to face her before he shifted his entire torso. He peered at her with an unblinking gaze. Then he croaked and rose to his full height. He gripped his mace as his throat bulged. “Kee’mab?”
“I’m alive,” she said. “I’m fine.” She limped forward as his eyes flicked up and down her. “The tadpoles?”
“What happened to you?” he asked, his voice gentle. He lowered his club. “Did a crocodile ambush you?”
“The tadpoles?” she asked again as she approached the pool. She peered at the water, but she could only see the gray sky reflected in the mirrored surface.
“They’re fine,” he said. “Kee’mab, what happened?”
“The Song,” she croaked as she reached the pool’s edge. She fell to her knees, staring into the water. A dark tail swished by, one of her tadpoles darting through the weedy bottom, its body still round with a yolk sac. More flitted through the pool. Five. Six. A dozen.
“Song?” Eg’kee said. He knelt beside her. His long arm went around her shoulder. “Kee’mab?”
“I survived the Song,” she ribbitted, a quiet sound. Her eyes closed as she leaned against her mate. He pressed her head into his throat. She could feel it inflating and deflating with his breath while she watched their tadpoles play.
His crooning sound, so different from the harmonic melody, wrapped around her. She’d survived the Song. In her mind, the horrors she witnessed remained. Ogot’pak torn apart, the skeletons slashing at her flesh, the crushing claws of the scorpions, the Tomb Lords she’d killed at the top of the hill.
They stained her thoughts. Would she ever escape them? Would she fear seeing death every time she closed her eyes?
She didn’t understand why they fought. What it had all been for. The Singers had wrenched her from her world and driven her into pain. If the Tomb Lord hadn’t destroyed her gem, would she ever have returned to her mate? Her tadpoles?
She clutched to Eg’kee and struggled to find peace.
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