v) The gang looks on as Berstuun’s essence is wiped away

The gang looks on as Berstuun’s essence is wiped away by the circle. He opens his old, lined mouth in a wordless scream. All anyone present can hear is a white-water whooshing, a rushing, pulsing sound that had started as the circle’s gentle thrum and was now nearly deafening. Cang turns his eyes away, and Abia continues to sing. What, her companions cannot hear.

Blackened flakes of Berstuun’s flesh float gracelessly to the floor. As the noise rises, the pieces fall. His form collapses before their eyes, while Abia, her expression steely, sings her song.

The degradation reaches Berstuun’s face, and as it does, his mouth turns from a scream to a smile. The tension he carries is released, and he appears blissful, joyous even. His eyebrows shoot up, and Shyan imagines he’s meeting some longed-for friend in a distant place. Black skin falls.

Soon it’s not just skin, but muscle fibres, organs, bone. Flaking and erasing itself from within the circle. The last thing to go is Berstuun’s beatific smile, from which falls a single purple tooth. It hits the centre of the circle and comes to a rest. The circle vanishes, and the gang is left in darkness, the purple fang before them.

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