iv) The gang’s unburdened mounts

The gang’s unburdened mounts make short work of the intervening distance. Soon they’re pulling kerchiefs up over their mouths to keep the dust out.

Shyan pulls her horse ahead of the wagon, then jerks to a stop in the centre of the road. She sits astride her steed, straight-backed, her face set in an expression that dares the alchemist to keep running.

Abia keeps pace alongside the horse pulling the alchemist’s wagon. Again she speaks her native tongue, and the horse cocks its head to listen.

“Wait, no,” the alchemist cries from the driver’s seat, to no avail.

With Cang and Fassn behind her, the alchemist finds, to her horror, that her wagon is slowing. Her horse no longer wants to run, after whatever Abia said to it.

The dust settles on the plain in a slow haze. The alchemist surveys the road, finds herself surrounded. She forces a chuckle, which comes out strained and nasal.

“Maybe you folks would fancy a bite?”

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