The Skylighter Chapter 1 Pira
Millions of tiny feet stampeded over Pira’s skin, under her shirt, through her hair, into her nose. Leather strips bound her wrists and ankles together, making it impossible for her to dislodge the nasty little creatures. She thrashed, rolling across the gravel-strewn campsite, trying to crush the paraponeras under her weight, but nothing deterred them from reaching her flesh.
As if responding to a silent command, the ants sank their needle-sharp pincers into her body, injecting a venom that burned and throbbed. She bit her tongue to keep from crying out, and letting the ants crawl in.
“You will answer my questions,” a voice whispered from somewhere both near and far. Coming from both within her mind and without.
Pira couldn’t see the speaker, couldn’t see anything with her eyes shut tight against the agony. Sweat dripped from her forehead as her body shuddered and rocks dug into older wounds. Those injuries gave a different sort of hurt, dull and achy, the bruises from an earlier battle.
She clutched that ache like a lifeline to reality. It’s magic, she realized. These ants aren’t eating me alive. It’s all in my head. Knowing didn’t stop the phantom pain, but it gave her the strength to hold on a little longer.
“Tell me about your companions. Tell me their affinities. Tell me about Jacaré, and I will make this all go away.” The voice had a sibilant quality, stretching out the words with a hiss.
Vibora. The viper.
Pira tried not to think about the events that led to her capture, afraid the collar around her neck would somehow relay the information, but the sensations flooded her mind unbidden. She saw the ambush and Tex burning in a column of flame; she felt the marsh, stagnant and thick against her ankles as she led Johanna toward Santiago; she heard the hail of pebbles thunk against Vibora’s flesh and the sound of the horse galloping away with Johanna tucked close to Rafi’s back; she tasted the acrid words she’d shouted at Leão the last time they spoke—words she’d never be able to recant while living as another Keeper’s slave.
Rolling to her side, Pira tucked her knees tight to her stomach, as if she were protecting herself from the magical barrage. The position also hid her efforts to remove the collar. She could feel metal pressing somewhere between her chin and her collarbones, but she couldn’t feel it.
Metal was Pira’s specialized affinity, but her gift failed her.
Jacaré had warned that someday she’d have to fight against a weapon she couldn’t sense. She never imagined the battlefield would be inside her own head.
“Your essência is draining away,” Vibora said with a laugh, a sound like scales slithering over dry leaves. “The collar will suck away every drop, and when you recover, I’ll drain you again. I will use your own power to torture you until you tell me Jacaré’s location and his plan.”
Pira’s muscles began to spasm, a late reaction to the paraponeras’ bites. Her body believed the magic, even if her mind recognized the truth.
The ants bit again.
Pira opened her mouth.