Kita ran toward the village, the smoke too thick, almost, to breathe through. A stitch stabbed her side, interfering further with her breathing, but she pushed herself forward. The first screams floated toward her on the billowy clouds. They sounded disconnected, unreal.
“Please…” she gasped. “Please!” She didn’t know who she was speaking to. The gods themselves seemed to be absent, gone away from this hell of thick air and war.
She heard the Auntie’s voice, up ahead of her. Hoarse with age and smoke, the sounds hardly penetrated pass the beating of Kita’s heartbeat in her ears. Then a gurgled scream burst out and the singing cut off.
“No!” Kita shouted, spitting it into the clouds. She rounded the corner to the bridge and caught herself, barely. Her right shoe skidded forward and the sound of the gravel toppling off into the gorge clicked and clacked, echoing oddly.
The bridge was gone.
Kita sagged to her knees, too stunned yet to cry. Black smoke billowed from the temple, obscuring the running figures. Lumps strewn on the ground in front of the steps that lead to the door drew her eye. At least seven lay dead, cut down within sight of sanctuary. Auntie herself lay, limbs askew, sprawled on the stairs. Her blood seemed black at this distance when seen through the darkening smoke.
Sudden fury surged through Kita and she got to her feet. She positioned herself as Auntie had drilled, shoulder-width apart, weight forward onto the balls of her feet. She gazed into the distance, eyes on the temple but not seeing it. Taking a deep breath, she opened herself to the smoke, the blood, the battle. Girding herself in the sights before her eyes, she began to sing.
“Look! There’s one of them witches, right there!”
The harsh shout speared through the late afternoon and Kita took it. She wove it into her singing, her Weaving gaining power. Her arms started to tingle with the energy of it. Her hair crackled, static electricity developing around her. Her voice trembled at first with her youth and exhaustion. She held steady, as Auntie taught her, mouth open and throat throbbing.
An arrow speared across the gorge toward her, creating a weird vortex in the smoke as it passed. Her right hand raised of its own accord, palm out, and the arrow veered and then dropped into the gorge, falling end over end. The soldier across from her paled visibly.
“Shoot her!” The large man who yelled the command appeared from around the side of the temple, sword drawn and bloody. He strode up to his man angrily. “I said, shoot her!”
The soldier, more terrified of his Captain than her, obediently drew back and fired a second time. It followed its predecessor. The Captain watched it go thoughtfully, then looked up at her.
His gaze raked her, rude and harsh. She ignored it. She kept her mouth open, feet spread. She wracked her brain for every memory of Auntie, cycling through them one by one for songs and sounds to make. Her voice seemed to sing of its own volition now, flowing from her body like blood or water. Her hair floated around her like she was swimming and even her clothing moved as though in some kind of light breeze.
The Captain turned without a word and disappeared behind the temple. He appeared moments later with Shjango, dragging the boy by one arm. The Captain stopped where he was before and met her gaze insolently. He put the point of his sword against Shjango’s throat. A small line of blood appeared.
Something clicked deep within Kita. Her eyes closed and her head fell back. She felt her arms move, open wide, then turn palm up. Her voice poured out of her into the sky. She allowed her eyes to close and abandoned herself to the music, letting it have its way with her. The minute she did, her awareness deepened, as though her eyes had been a distraction.
She seemed to hear a deep drumbeat beneath her and realized it was the heart of the Earth. Throbbing just below audible range, it kept time to her Song. Her hands started to heat and then itched a little. She felt as though her voice were pulled from her by strong, sure hands and knew, suddenly, that Auntie was there with her.
“Hold firm, Kita,” Auntie’s Voice whispered. Other Singers appeared in her hearing, murmuring. Their susurrations comforted her and firmed her resolve.
Kita’s eyes opened and light blinded her. Blinking against it, she realized her hands were twin balls of flame. Moving without conscious thought, she brought her head up and locked her eyes on the Captain’s gaze. Kita smiled.
Flames shot forward from each hand, arcing across the gorge. They hit the Captain in the dead-center of his jerkin and threw him backward six feet. Shjango screamed and threw himself onto his face, crying into the dirt.
Kita turned her gaze to the soldier still standing, slack-jawed and stunned, next to Shjango. The flames licked backwards from the Captain and caught the soldier in a tornado. Kita moved through the village, her flame passing before her like wrath.
When the invaders all lay dead, Kita allowed her hands to close. The flames cut off like a faucet, dying into the Gorge like bright flowers. Kita’s voice faltered and fell silent. She sank to her knees in the dirt, tears on her face.
When the villagers finally got across the Gorge to retrieve her, they found her in that same position, hands palm-up on her knees. They carried her back to her hut and celebrated.
Some Songs are borne of light and life. Some come of anger. A few come of the desperation of a people, faced with sure extinction. On that day, in the small village next to the mighty Gorge, an old Singer is killed, and a new Singer is born.