Saku crouched low behind the log and held his breath. The tracks he'd been following faded where the vines crept thickly over the jungle floor. Only a snapped branch, sagging above his head like a dead finger, marked the passing of his quarry. That and the soft wuffling of the pig as it dug through the loam with a round, fleshy snout.
He tightened his grip on his spear and rocked from one toe to the other. The pig would certainly pass old Mikau's scrutiny. It would prove Saku's manhood well enough and earn him the status he craved in the village. All he had to do was slay the beast. And if he didn't, there would be little point in returning at all.
The weapon felt off balance in his hand now, due to his nerves more than any flaw in the shaft itself. It would fly true. Saku felt it in his bones--the spear would find it's mark. All he had to do was wait for the fat boar to turn, wait for it to offer him a shoulder or a heart to strike at.
The top of the log grew a padding of moss, and Saku peered over this at the round haunches and flicking tail. A rump shot would only send the pig into the fronds, and it was far better suited to navigating the brush than he was. He might lose it, lose his spear, never be able to go home again.
He waited. The jungle filled with the boar's snorting. The log bit into his knees and chin, he'd pressed so tightly against it. Saku watched the tail flick. His spear arm began to tingle. He shifted again, from one foot to the other, so slowly that the pig should not have noticed. The log rocked and sank into the vines another finger's width, but the soft ground made no complaint.
Another sound answered, however. Saku heard the whisper, a burring hiss, but the pig chose that moment to turn, and his chance had come before he could worry about a buzzing log. The round side of the animal was exposed, and Saku focused on it, aimed his spear, and hurled it. The boar screamed, scattering the birds overhead. It lurched to one side, staggered.
Saku stood. He lifted his foot, and fire tore through his calf and ankle. He howled his own cry and leapt to his uninjured foot, dangling the burning one mid-air while the flames crept under his skin, higher and higher. Behind his own scream, Saku heard the whisper again. This time, the buzz swelled into a drone, and another sting landed on his thigh.
He swatted too late. The swarm poured from the space below his hiding log. A black cloud swelled to his ankles, and his other foot took a hit, and another. The flames rose to his waist, and his head buzzed with them. His thoughts hummed. Pain, fire, run away.
But his boar lay dying amidst the vines. His ritual was not complete. He stumbled back a step, but the bees came with him. He turned, and they swirled at his knees like a tide. His mind felt their fire. The poison leeched into his thoughts and made his vision tangle--the fronds overhead, the flash of a red bird, the tree trunks in the sky, falling and falling.
Fire upon fire, the stings came. Saku swelled with them, blurred and faded into the poison and the droning song. He rolled over and over until his limbs tangled in the vines and the jungle held him, still and throbbing. The flames continued, one after the other, until he knew that he would die of them, that he would never see his village or old Mikau again.
The song drove the caring away.
He dreamed it in a poison fog, the buzzing of stars, the whisper of worlds within worlds. It lifted him over the agony and up, into the sound. It found him, when his heart stopped beating, and begged him to breathe again, if only to continue hearing.
Saku's eyes flickered open in time to see the angel. She leaned over him, orb eyes as big as his head. Her long black fingers folded under a pointed chin, and behind her darkness, a diaphanous veil vibrated. Wings, singing like the hive, buzzing, humming to him.
"Arrrrrre you alivve?"
"Are you an angel?"
"If you call us that, we will not argue." Her voice lingered like the song. It stretched into a drone as well.
"Angel." His body melted around him, but the round eyes flickered and held him to life.
Three pairs of slender arms embraced his burning corpse. Claws pressed into his spine, and the angel lifted him from the ground. Her wings, a translucent veil that never slowed, made a blur of the jungle, made the sky dance. He never saw the boar's corpse, if his spear had landed well or not.
He never cared.