“I asked what brought you here, youngling?” Annika stared at the male Parua. Taking in the way he clutched at the scimitar at his side, the subtle way he rocked from paw to paw and buried the sight of his eyes into the grey dirt beneath their feet to avoid their red eyes locking onto one another.
“I was trying to reach my tribe.”
“The Peshga, mother.”
Annika snarled at the honorific, “Don’t patronize me, pup! Only one Parua calls me mother now, and she the flesh of mine own flesh. I am not of the Peshga any longer.”
“But you were? You were a Peshga, you were a soldier? A scout?”
“Oh,” Maba dropped his eyes which he had let drift up towards Annika’s he instinctively running his claws through the fur on his face.
“You recognize me then? You realize I wasn’t a spy, but rather the spy?”
Annika flitted her tail out, bopping the mouse man on the cheek to draw his gaze back up and locking her blood red eyes on his, “So you know the tale of Dread Dead Anna? Traitor to the tribe? Thrice cursed? Once with dishonor, a second time with death, and a third with life anew?”
“Every Peshga knows the tale.”
“I expect it would be sung this week at the Rock in more versions than one.”
“Or parts of it would—the taking of Darbo, the Battle of the Gold Coast, the Rezgari Double Cross? Yes, those parts would be sung. Then perhaps the Risen Rain? Perhaps they end with Dread Dead Anna walking away into the sunset the skulls of her enemies lined before the Peshga Mothers and Grandmothers on spikes, never to be seen again.”
Annika paced away from the scout, smoothing her own fur as she stalked over to the corner of the building where Mitzia watched, her child’s eyes wide with confusion and wonder, “But, but, my scout—would they sing of the ten tasks in the land of the dead? Would the sing about Anna meeting with the Lion in the Court of the Sun? Or tell a tale that comes after? Dead Dread Anna—cursed with life itself, walking off into the sunset but to where?”
“No one knows. Dread Anna was never seen again.”
“Six years. It’s not so awful long, even for a Parua. The Grandmothers now, how old are they?”
“Some are nearing twenty.”
Annika scooped up Mitzia and rested the child against her hip as she strode back towards Maba, “And you?”
“Four nearly. And chief scout just this year.”
“And the gigants?”
“I heard there was one in the City that was over thirty.”
“And the next gigants? Who can say? Six years isn’t so overlong, especially for never seen again. But its best perhaps that never seen again stands—so I can leave you then with a choice, little scout—should you forget that you ever found Dread Anna in the wastes and scurry off on your business? Or should Dread Anna show you why she earned her name?”
Mitzia bit her lip as her mother spoke, suddenly more terrified of her mother than she ever imagined she could be.