iv) “Blame me,” Bertuun rasps

“Blame me,” Bertuun rasps. His throat is dry as a barn before a conflagration. The purple glow of his teeth has faded down to barely a flicker.

“Tell us about girl,” Abia says.

Cang groans. “Let us leave!”

“Yeah, c’mon, old man,” says Fassn. “Tell us a love story.”

“I was young,” he replies. “So young.” His palsied hands move to his scalp, touch the few thin white hairs still clinging to it. “She lived in the castle.”

“Rich girl, eh?” Fassn says.

“I worked the fields. It could never be. Never be.” Berstuun’s face collapses in anguish. “Never be.”

As he writhes on the floor, Shyan takes a step back. “Abia, maybe we should be going.”

“Never be,” Abia agrees. “So what you do?”

“I made a deal,” he says, carrying the sounds until his voice rises to a pitchy whine. “I made a deal.”

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