Insect hive invaders are not stung. The voiceless quiver, the cry of ‘defend the nest’ sent on currents of air and hair too thin to see, galvanized the whole hive. Diryish sat up as thousands of bees shrieked into his bedchamber to defend the royal cell.
They flung themselves on the much bigger spider, clinging to legs and abdomen and head and stinger, while it struggled to hang onto the mattress, fought to squash itself between two layers of padding, trying to scrape bees off itself, kicking and flailing its legs to fling bees off its body.
“You know you can’t see weeks away. Even as the crows fly,” Werfas snorted. “And you came from there on your own two feet so know how far away that really is.”
“Yeah, well. You can imagine it though, can’t you?”
“I think so,” Haraklez said. Werfas just snorted into his teacup.
“Both of you are touched. Just bonkers.”
“And you’re a stodgy boy who cannot see past the end of his nose,” Haraklez said tartly, but without any sting. The words were smooth worn with speaking; an argument that she and Werfas had had for years before Kyrus ever came.
The spring was far enough advanced that the short grasses had begun to grow, the thumbnail-sized starflowers barely taller than a finger, towering over their shorter, slower-growing brethren. They could just see the tops of the Ancestor stones below them, safely within the baffles. Kyrus assuaged his conscience by telling himself they were only a little way out on the unprotected mountainside. And there was no snow above them, so no danger that he could see.
“So how’re these new lessons working out?” Haraklez demanded. “Da says we’re not to badger you about it but he’s working with you as much as he can, his work permitting, up here. And it’s having an amazing effect on your extra lessons with Elemfias.”
“They’re... wonderful. They’re amazing but I can’t tell you about them, really. You know, they say every warrior finds his own path?”
“But there are similar paths that warriors can follow,” Werfas said. “I mean you’re learning something new practically every day now and passing it on, just by example.”
“Even doing the warrior mandery,” Haraklez said. “You’re able to almost manifest your own sword now. And you’re good even with an iron bar messing you up. If you can fight in an iron suit, or with steel in your hands, then you can fight anywhere.”
“You Milari,” Kyrus said. “You have to make it so hard, right at the start.” He had to smile at how badly he’d felt sparring his father when he’d insisted they both wear some of his old armour. He’d gone back to feeling like a tigerbear on ice skates, at least at first.
Below there came a whistle... Jashi had tried to learn some of the whistles from Kyrus but he sounded more like a demented colony of marmots rather than a deep desert riding warrior.
“Werfas, did you tell him we were sneaking out here?” Haraklez sounded cranky. “He’ll tell everyone and get us in trouble.”
“Oh, Ancestors Unsleeping!” Werfas scrambled up to look and see if he could see the little boy. “I didn’t tell him,” he glanced back at Kyrus and Haraklez. “Honestly.”
“We know,” Kyrus answered. “Call him up before he lets everyone under Sunlight and over Earthdark know where we are.”
Da will already know, if he heard Jas whistling for me. But he’ll be all right with it, I’m sure. He certainly didn’t warn me against going up mountain or outside the baffles. Werfas yelled and Jashi, carrying his own tea jug, though not with the alcoholic addition the teenagers were sneaking, with Tizzie undulating along behind him, came running up to join his heroes. Haraklez rolled her eyes as did Werfas. Kyrus just sighed. “Hey, Jashi, you found us. Good tracking, have a seat.”
For every bee the mal-spider flung off, or bit or stung, or ripped to pieces, there were hundreds more to replace the fallen one and the spider, smothered in a ball of workers and drones, claws unable to hold the weight tore loose. The whole mass of bees, with the spider subsumed in the middle, thudded to the rug below.
Diryish reached to light a candle, set it in the sconce, not moving from the centre of his bed, watching, bees covering his bedclothes and his hands and head as if to put their bodies between the threat and him. The ball of bees was now almost as big across as a person’s head, the violent twitching of the spider buried inside reduced to ripples in the organic mass smothering it.
Nadian, at his worktable, fell forward, head hitting his forearms with a crack, struggling to breathe. He managed to open his jaw against enormous pressure, as if he were crushed, buried under the city’s weight of sand. He spat out the pooled blood onto the table, onto the picture under his arms, turning the image of the spider into a sodden smear of blood and ink.
As the image dissolved, the link dissolved, he drew a ragged breath and sat up, shaking. What in all the EnDarkened world was that? It was as though the Emperor had something enormous enough to crush a jewelled spider in one blow. He’d never seen any kind of sign of such a creature in the bedchambers and could hardly go rushing to the Sunrise Loggia now.
He might be venal, but he certainly was not stupid enough to do that. He loosened his collar, and cuffs, wiped streams of sweat from his face. When had the heat gone up so much in here? The cold night air should still have been pressing in around the shutters and it was just so hot. His silk shirt and trousers were soaked through with sweat and his hair hung in messy, sodden tendrils, dripping. What happened? I obviously ran afoul of the Emperor’s protections but I have no idea what they are and I thought, if I did not succeed in my dear ambition I would at least find out what they were!
But the link with things like the spider had never been good for him. He could not see through the insects’ eyes, or hear through them. It was like trying to control a horse or a moa through ten-foot long rods, blindfolded, ear-muffled, trying to figure out the beast’s reactions through the quiver through the hands, which had gloves on as well. He stripped his disgusting clothing off, moving like an old man, the inside of his lip raw. I must not be impatient. Time is on my side. I’m the logical choice for the old man to choose as his successor. There is no one else.
He considered waking Shashi to calm him. Sex always settled his mind. But she would wonder at him chasing after her after days of her chasing him and him gently pushing her away. He was trying too much too soon. Too fast. Impatience will kill you, boy. Slow and steady will get you what you want. Let the flashy ones burn out and die. He could almost hear his grandfather’s measured words.
That was enough to settle his racing heart. He bundled his fouled clothing into the bin for the slave. I need to sleep. That will be enough.