iii) Overnight, a storm kicks up

Overnight, a storm kicks up. Rain belts the party and wind whips their skin. Within the wagon, Cang and Fassn struggle with an improvised tarpaulin made of tunics and jackets, trying desperately to keep the storm away from their guttering flame.

Outside the wagon, Abia leads Larry, squinting against the rainfall. Visibility is shot; gnarled trees, bare of leaves, rise up around them like some fallen creature’s ruined ribs.

The road people’s son stumbles, cries out. He splashes into the mud, coughing. His parents bend at his side. Shyan joins them.

“Please,” says the woman. “He’s too weak, he cannot go on. Let him rest within the wagon.”

“There’s no rest,” Shyan says. “If Fassn and Cang can’t keep the fire lit, this will all be for nothing.”

The man stands and shakily draws his beltknife. “We’re not asking,” he says, his face betraying his fear.

With a grimace, Shyan casually disarms him, sends his knife skittering out of sight. The man’s son coughs, a pathetic puddle among the mud. Shyan narrows her eyes, says, “Very well.” She bangs on the wagon. “Cang, trade places with the boy. Fassn, keep that fire lit. May Old Ajralan have his fill.”

Cang exits the wagon a moment later, his face flat — but inside, he seethes as the rain comes down.

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