At first, she did not fight.
She sat on her knees, hands bound and head bowed as she tried to disappear into the ground. Even as their groping hands ripped her leathers from her body, leaving her in her loincloth and baring the snakes that covered every part of her body, she did not cry out.
The pain of metal being ripped from her ears, passed around between the pirates. Her gut twisted, seeing them sully Khet’amut’s wonderful gift to her.
He would want me to fight… but I must survive…
And then she felt their hands on her mask.
His face flashed in her mind: the thin moss that clung to his cheeks, those soft lips that were always pulled into the sweetest of smiles. His lovely red eyes, warm like ember… and the dullness as the life faded from them. The hot burn of the heated sword that carved his throat open, the searing metal that branded her face.
She remembered little other than the terror that pumped adrenaline through her veins. The humiliation when they ripped her mask off and exposed her scars to her clansmen.
She remembered shame… and then pain.
Everything hurt so horribly.
Every bone ached, every muscle cried out against the lift of the shovel, the blisters on her hands bloodied and ripped open. But it was nothing compared to the snap of her bones as they slammed their feet down onto her limbs, only to heal them and repeat the process. Every blow was accompanied by a sobbing plea to the Loa, but Hethiss was blind to the suffering of his daughter, the beasts inked onto her flesh ripping easily beneath knives and maces.
But they did not do her the mercy of letting her die, letting her go to be with her mate in the realm of the spirits.
And so she lifted the shovel before driving it into the ground. Repeating this.
She listened as Dashrak and Het’zulakk were beaten and tortured, expression blank. She turned away when Jilatal was skewered through the leg for her struggling. A’jiazi did not struggle. And for her cowardice, the pirates rewarded her.
As her clansmen were maimed, she received small jabs and kicks. Nothing worse than a bruise.
As her clansmen were starved and dehydrated, she was given enough to keep the flesh on her well-muscled thighs, the energy that, if she wished, she could have sang loud and clearly for all the jungle to hear.
She did not sing.
She no longer cried, nor sang, nor did she look up when her clansmen were stabbed and hit. She simply lifted her shovel, and lowered it, gaze on the ground. Chewed the tough jerky without tasting it, guzzled the water she was given, and slept in a frightened ball.
In her dreams, Khet’amut spat at her feet and turned away. My Songbird’s wings have been broken.
When she woke, she wiped away her tears and longed for the bravery that Dashrak showed for all to see when he aided Zalakar and Jilatal. She envied the fire that they had, that let them raise their voices and spurred their feet as they fought their way free of the small hell that had kept them imprisoned.
A’jiazi did not wear shackles, but she could feel a cold weight enclosing her ankles; a searing collar around her throat, choking any song that could signal she would not be silenced.
Even when the others arrived, and they were to be saved, she felt no spark in her chest.
It was not until she turned and saw gold glinting in a pirate’s ears did the chains at her hands and feet fall away. She ripped the hooks from his flesh, hearing the Sandfury Warlord’s laughter in her ears. She could imagine his satisfaction at the blood that stained her fingers, the rough rub of his flesh against her cheek when he patted her in pride.
She was no fighter. Were it not for Walakash’s blade slicing through the pirate’s back, she would have perished easily.
But she didn’t.
She turned, life thrumming through her limbs now. She had to survive. She had to make it out. She must apologize to the other prisoners for her cowardice, for her weakness, for he-
Blood splattered her cheeks, her eyes glazing as she watched a sword slide easily through Het’zulakk’s flesh. The tip protruded out of his chest, glimmering red and wet, gruesome and beautiful all at once. She felt the hooks gauge into her flesh as she sagged to her knees. Or, at least, she would have, had Tanakae’s arm not wound around her body, tossing the unresisting female easily onto the back of a bat.
She did not look away from the man who had struggled the entirety of their imprisonment, that had so simply spat in the faces of their captors. Fearless and stupid and inspiring. She watched the light fade from his eyes, as it had from her mates. She watched a second person die, their postures brave… before he fell to the ground.
Tanakae set her onto the ground, she imagined. She did not know how she ended up on the grass, but she was glad for it, emptying the contents of her stomach at the feet of a Troll with a kind voice.
A healer. No, she didn’t need healing. She was a coward; only her missing left ear and the bruises coating her body signaled she had even been a captive.
Later, a healer would tell her that she had looked like a corpse, her face without colour, a deathly pallor with dull eyes.
The Shatterspear did not know Het’zulakk well. She knew only that he was a Priest of Hethiss, and one of the bravest men she had ever seen. Afterwards, she felt like a fool, but at the moment, she had known only that she had to get to the body nearby.
The healers ignored the woman crawling across the grass, only casting glances of pity when she dragged the lifeless’s body’s head onto her lap.
A’jiazi was sure she had no tears left. That there was no more pain she could feel. Her fingers trembled as she pushed his hair from his forehead, her maimed hand supporting his body in her lap.
She rocked him back and forth like a child, salty tears forming rivers down the grime crusted to her cheeks, dripping into his hair.
Hours later, in the safety of Zul’Gurub, with all of her clansmen resting in their huts and the Quashi fast asleep in the Den, a purple-furred woman in nothing but a loincloth climbed the mountains that surrounded the city.
Her muscles ached again, but she relished it. She did not flinch when her blisters ripped open, ignored the blood that she left smeared on the rubble as she hauled herself onto the highest peak she could find to overlook the great city of the Loa.
And she sang.
Her voice cracked and wobbled from disuse over the few weeks she had not spoken, but it quickly grew in volume and strength. A beautiful tenor, low and robust in its mourning. She crooned a lullaby to the dead, sinking to her knees as her voice rose and fell, entreating all inhabitants of the City to hear her pain, her apology. She begged the spirits, palms beating the ground in a muted rhythm, every wordless syllable caressing the air, luring birds to come watch the Trolless.
She did not end her song until she was croaking, her voice rough and dry and dying in her throat. She dropped onto her side, and there she slept.
And this time, in her dreams, A’jiazi danced with her dead bretheren.