1 v) The hand-length wooden darts spill from the canopy

The hand-length wooden darts spill from the canopy, thrown by the chittering creatures that strung the vines. Each makes a soft, sibillant whoosh as it cuts the air until it lands in a tree trunk or the soil with a sharp thunk.

Shyan and Fassn are hobbled by their contact with the vines and whatever foul poison they contain. Cang tears ahead, first to reach the tree line, while Abia comes up behind. She attracts several darts but they get caught up in her voluminous robes, failing to pierce her flesh.

When the gang reaches the tree line, the wooden darts stop — but the chittering grows angry and loud.

1 iv) In contact with the vine, her body buzzes

In contact with the vine, her body buzzes. Shyan’s eyes roll up ’til only the whites of her sclera are showing. Her progress is immediately arrested. The chittering voices above rise in intensity.

Cang mutters a curse and turns back to her. With his own shoulder, he knocks her in the back of the knee, upsetting her balance and sending her sprawling.

Just then, a dozen or more sharp sticks, hand-length, come shooting from the canopy. The hand-fashioned darts hit their targets with a quiet zip, hard enough to stand up. They land in the trees, the ground, a few in the vine-strung stakes — and one in the back of Shyan’s shoulder. She cries out as red blood drips.

Stunned and weary, the gang sprints for the treeline to get cover as another wave of sharp sticks rains.

1 iii) The tree’s rustling soon gives way to chittering voices

The tree’s rustling soon gives way to chittering voices, speaking hurriedly in a language Shyan doesn’t understand. “You ever seen these things, Abia?” she asks.

She shakes her head once, firmly, but speaks an unfamiliar phrase aloud, directed at the trees. The chittering that follows is more animated than before. Leaves drift down from the canopy as whatever is up there moves about.

Meanwhile, Fassn is shaking off the deep burn in his palm.

“We’re just passing through,” Shyan says. Abia translates as best she can, though she’s unsure what the language is. More rustling and chirruping is all that follows.

“Perhaps these insensate creatures are not worth our precious time,” Cang says. He ducks under one of the strung vines.

“Maybe you’re right,” Shyan says. She does the same, but her shoulder brushes a vine and she goes rigid with shock.