Aurora sighed, and rose, the ceremonial knife at the ready. But Silva sang out the sealing note again, and the orc’s jaws dropped slack.
Gilliam drew his foot back to take another kick at the thing.
“Not until I can deactivate it!” Aurora called, hurrying over to the orc’s head. She pried off the helmet, the lines of copper hissing and sputtering. Tiny greenish-blue arcs of lightning lanced and jumped from the tattoos, only to wave and curl against the golden metal of the bracers, seemingly having no effect on the shrike. She wedged the knife against the crystal, and as soon as the black dragonstone popped free, the lightning subsided. She kicked the gem over to Silva, and the siren again sang the note to the stone. Once it went dark, she picked it up and put it in her own belt pouch.
“Is it safe now?” Gilliam asked.
Aurora stood, sweeping her arms at the grisly orc head in a grandiose manner.
The warrior made to kick it again, but a great greenish arc of lightning caught his boot in mid-swing, and he hopped about, cursing.
“It may have some residual energies in it,” the shrike said, trying not to smile too broadly.
Gilliam tried to put his weight on the foot, finally giving up and sitting down a good distance away. “You could have warned me.” He glowered up at Aurora, rubbing at his foot. “How under Ixion’s sun can you just shrug that off?”
“Better insulation,” the girl said, twisting her arms this way and that, so the bracers flashed in what little sunlight there was.
“What are those?” Ana asked, watching as the shrike began working at the biggest of the orcs. “Are they alive? Dead? Undead?”
“Neither, really, but caught someplace in between. They have hearts that still beat, but you can see this is not blood.”
“Whatever it is, it smells awful,” Varis said. He’d been sluicing the stuff off his armor. It was thick, not quite so viscous as tree sap, but more like the syrup my brothers and I liked so much on our griddle cakes growing up.
“It serves much the same purpose as blood, keeping these bodies from breaking down, ensuring the muscles do not go rigid as they might in death.”
“So they are dead,” Ana said.
Aurora shook her head, working her fingers under the helm’s brim. The orc chief’s body writhed as the lightning again coursed along the whirls and spirals of Aurora’s bracers.
“Paumzcaleya!” she spat. She shot a look over her shoulder, at Silva. “Quiet this thing!”
The siren— no, the Imperial princess— straightened her shoulders, leveling her silver eyes at the struggling shrike.
“There might be some residual energies in it,” she said, in a perfect imitation of her sister’s voice.
“This one is much stronger than the others!” Aurora spoke through gritted teeth. The golden tracery along her lower arms showed dark spots where the lightning concentrated the strongest.
“Gilliam prat’tasyah vyapadizati,” Silva said, inclining her head towards the warrior, who had his boot off.
Aurora let go of the helm with one hand, shaking it. She clenched her fist, and the red stone adorning her wrist began to smolder.
Silva sang a brief, high note, and the stone flickered dark. “Vyapadizati,” she repeated, her voice and eyes flat as she regarded her sister.
Aurora turned as best she could, one hand still locked around the helm. I realized that she could not let it go— the magic still lingering in the orc’s body bound her hand in place.
The shrike bent low, like Pyrklist had done the night before.
“I beg forgiveness for the pain my unthinking prank has caused you,” she said. One would think a team of oxen was needed, to get the words out of her mouth.
Gilliam blinked, then shrugged. “Forgiven. I suppose these poor fellows have been through enough.”
Aurora looked up, through her golden tumble of hair, eyes gleaming as she met those of her sister.
Silva walked over to the grimacing shrike. She leaned down, brushing the hair from Aurora’s face. “Kim vartase samsmaratu,” she whispered, in her sister’s ear.
She sang the sealing note, and the energy coursing from the orc leader’s tattoos diminished to a mere spark.
The shrike completed the deactivation process, and took back the stone after Silva had sung it into darkness. She jammed it into her belt pouch, turning stiffly on her heel. She gave the withered orc’s head a vicious kick as she stomped past it, the thing bouncing back and forth between the rocks ahead.
She spoke softly, nearly to herself, but with Sera’s still-unreleased Power flowing through me, I heard her snarl, under her breath.
“We are nothing alike!”