Stormy pressed a vial of acid into Lightning’s hand. It was the sort of ampule that the scouts took with them, to throw in the faces of pursuing guards or to strip the bark from trees as wayposts. It left terrible agony and scars in its wake.

“What is that?” said Lightning, all gruff and all business. “Stole it from the scouts, did you?”

“It’s for me, sis,” said Stormy. “Thundra pinched it for me, but I can’t find her now. I need you to use it on me.”

Lightning, shocked, looked her sister in the eye. Stormy, the favorite daughter, who favored her father so much she could pass for human in the right light. Always the most beautiful and feminine of the girls, always the most popular…and of course the first of the sisters to catch warchieftain Gash Nosebrass’s eye and be taken into his tent. “What?”

“He’s tired of me, sis. I’ve heard it. Sally the Hourglass is in, and I’m out. And you know how jealous Gash is. I’ll be throat-slit and bleeding out on his meat-rack for the pot before she’s even bedded him.”

“More of that fakery he dresses up as being a shaman,” Lightning muttered. “As if he cared one notch for Gruumsh or anyone besides himself!”

“I need you to do it, sis. I don’t want you to do it, but I need you to do it. You’ve seen what he does to the others when he finds them. Their bones, picked clean and twisted together with wires outside his tent. The songs he sings as he butchers his girls, and his hounds howling for the gristle…that will be me, if you let it, sis.”

“Do it yourself then,” Lightning said. “I’ll kill anyone who tries to touch you like that. Don’t think for a moment that all of those pillbugs I’ve put in your hair over the years mean otherwise. I have a hidden blade, a little one but keen, and more than one of those bastards have been stabbed through their smaller head before I carve up their big one.”

“This isn’t one of Gash’s boys alone in their tent, sis. You do that and they’ll kill you. We’ve got to stay alive for each other.”

Lightning paced in a circle, angrily striking out against whatever got in her way. She kicked viciously at a large mossy flagstone, cursing at it and watching the pillbugs beneath its overturned surface scatter. An idea lit her eyes, and she bent down, scraping at the loose moist soil with callused hands and broken nails.

Stormy visibly recoiled from them as Lightning approached. “You…you know I hate those still, right?” she said. “You’ve known ever since we were little girls, and you were tangling them up in my hair to make up for all the boys who wanted to play with me.”

“That’s right,” Lightning said gently. She took the vial of acid from Stormy’s hand. “And with them all wrapped up in your hair, you’ll be too distracted to feel this burning those pretty features away until it’s too late. Just like old times.”

“Just…just like old times,” Stormy said.

“I’ll aim away from the eyes. Just promise me you’ll have some beautiful daughters one day, to make up for our bad looks.”

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