Bea hopped backward two paces, placing herself near her companions as her eyes cast desperately about the room. Reki knew what she must be thinking: why, oh why, was she the only warrior of the bunch? Einarr seemed to think highly of the woman’s fighting skills, however, so when Bea pivoted and shouldered her way through the group Reki kept her face towards the other pair of guards. She pursed her lips, though, and motioned behind her for the other Singers to stay close to the Princess. Carefully, she, too, backed that direction.

The sound of steel clashing on steel rang through the room as Beatrix clashed against the men standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway. Glancing over her shoulder, Reki winced. Bea was holding steady, so far, but these were full-grown men she fought, and the Princess could not be much older than Runa.

Bea seemed to know this, too. She lunged to slash at legs and arms time and again, but every time her blade was parried with almost scornful ease. More than once she had to turn her attack to avoid losing an arm. Beatrix risked a glance over her shoulder and caught Reki’s eye with a desperate look.

“Tell me,” she grunted, shoving back the blow of one of their assailants. “Tell me there’s something you can do. Anything?”

Reki pursed her lips again, her eyes scanning the room. Yes, it was unfair to expect a young woman to break a path through four full-grown guardsmen. There was, of course, an option available, although she wasn’t entirely keen on revealing it to an Imperial. Still, if they were caught, they would face more unspeakable things than Runa had dared to contemplate before. With a sigh that came out more like a puff of air, she nodded to herself.

Reki turned her head and met the eyes of Eydri, of Aema, and of Svana in turn. Each of them nodded agreement. The other pair of guards would be on them soon, after all.

“Very well. It is true, we are not helpless in extremity.” Reki turned back to face the center of the room and stare levelly at Urdr, but the old crone had ceased to pay attention to her would-be captives. So much the better.

Reki took a deep breath and began, as her voice was the lowest. Lowest, but still the note she produced was high and piercing, almost like a scream if the note of a scream could be pure. Runa winced. Urdr turned halfway around on her bench: that got her attention.

Then Aema joined in, her smooth mezzo taking on a note even more shrill than Reki’s.

When Eydri took up her note the guards began to flinch. Urdr raised her hands toward her ears, but did not clap them shut. Yet. The notes they sang corresponded to no chord used in Clan music: even Reki felt the skin on her shoulders start to crawl. And they weren’t done yet.

It was Svana’s turn. The usually quiet singer, whose high soprano tended to the soft and gentle, rang forth with a note that harmonized discordantly with the other three. The piercing shriek of the Raptor Method filled the weaving room. Urdr plastered herself against her loom, and it was as though the guards before Reki were flung back by the onslaught as they clapped hands against their ears in a futile attempt to shut out the sound. Were Runa fully trained, they could have truly pierced eardrums. As it was, the men would only wish they had been deafened.

The two guards at the door staggered backward, almost tripping over themselves in their attempt to escape the noise that was threatening their consciousness.

Bea, her own eyes wide, stumbled forward but did not drop her blade. The two men who had been holding her off so handily staggered back into the hall, but she was in no condition to dash for the gap.

As one, the Singers ceased their notes and hurried out the door. Reki caught Bea’s arm and threw it over her shoulder, half-dragging the girl out into the hallway with her. Aema did the same for Runa.

They hurried down the hallway toward the stairs. Before long, Bea shook her head as she came back to herself.. “What was that?”

“Secret,” Reki almost snapped, pointing down the hall toward the stairs. “Talk later, escape now.”

The Princess groaned and shook her head again. “Down is no good. We need to go up.”

What did she mean, down was no good? “Where else are we supposed to go, but down to the harbor?”

“They’re going to be after us again before long. If we have to fight them again, with them above me on the stairs, we’re all done for. I think there’s another floor above this one, though, and we still have to do something about that Weaving.”

The guards were already beginning to recover. Before they had gone a quarter-circle around the tower Reki heard the heavy footfalls of pursuing warriors. Finally, though, less than another quarter-turn around, they passed a small door. Bea ripped it open, then gestured for her companions to enter.

Inside, a narrow stairway spiralled up to the next level. There was no choice: Reki hurried up as fast as she could without slipping, the others hard on her heels.

Midway between floors the staircase leveled out for a breath. At its edge, Bea stopped and turned to face the oncoming warriors. “There any way you can do that again?” she asked without turning her head.

“Best not,” Reki said. They could, if they absolutely had to, but she had to remember that, however nice of a girl she was, and however willing to work together, Bea was ultimately an enemy of all the Clans.

The girl grunted. “Fine.”

Footsteps rang in the stairwell below them. Bea shifted her stance, firming her grip on her sword. Reki cast about, looking for anything she could do to help them escape. They were out of time.

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