v) Without further instruction, the grumbling man-things lurch

Without further instruction, the grumbling man-things lurch to attention, their dried-meat arms reaching for the terrified gang. Fassn is soon entangled, then Abia. Cang, despite his continued uneasiness on his feet, manages to duck and weave the first few clumsy attempts, but soon the sheer numbers are too much and the vile beasts have him in their clutches too. Shyan is last to succumb, struggling mightily with her blade. She lops off an arm or two of her assailants, which fall to the ground with a wet thud and leak a viscous oil.

When their freedom of movement is quite constrained, and Horton sits whimpering in the corner, the man-things fall still, their prey still locked in their grip.

Ulxurix speaks. “Such a shame to have to do this the ugly way,” she says.

“You don’t have to do anything,” Shyan replies.

“Yes! Having sampled my form, you have found it distasteful,” Cang adds. “And are thus free to depart.”

“You may have been distasteful, yes,” says the witch. She languidly points at Abianarin. “But it’s her I want.” She keeps the finger trained on Abia, who can do naught but stare back. Suddenly, Ulxurix claps, her face awash with delight. Her tattoos’ purple hue deepens. “Well, friends, it seems you may well see my castle after all,” she says, signalling Horton to make ready to leave. “Or, at least,” she adds, “the dungeon.”

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