ii) Shyan, back on her feet


Shyan, back on her feet, hobbles over to the prone snake. It seethes at her, tries to thrash its bulk, but its core temperature has been dropped such that the enormous creature can scarcely move at all.

“We need your tear duct,” Shyan says.

The ugobok murmurs around the rope that holds its jaws shut. It sounds like “meany mouses.”

Cang shakes his head. “Nothing cruel about it. We have need of a chemical produced inside your skull.”

Fassn listlessly kicks the flared head. “If you’d just give it to us we’d be on our way.”

“I fear we will have to cut it out,” Cang says.

The ugobok’s big eyes stare up at them. They seem almost ready to well with tears. Its frigid body has slowed to a gentle, pathetic squirm.

“I’m starting to feel a little bad about this,” Shyan says.


i) Cold runs through every fibre of the ugobok’s form


Cold runs through every fibre of the ugobok’s form. It’s the chill of a vacuum, an inescapable void. The snake’s blood vessels expand and solidify. Abia’s magic courses through it. The initial shock gives way to a longer, duller ache, and soon the ugobok finds moving its body difficult. It thrashes in a panic — fear it hasn’t felt in the face of creatures like this for an age — and catches Shyan with its powerful tail, throwing her bodily against a nearby tree.

Air rushes from her lungs as the snake’s flesh crystallizes. Abia, having left a small blue handprint on the snake’s skin, hurries to the clearing’s edge and hides in the underbrush. Cang swings down from the spire and loosens the Eckman knot with a stylish flick of the wrist, then uses the rope to bind the snake’s mouth, making great vertical leaps to get around the fang-filled maw.

The ugobok’s orange eyes gleam.


v) The ugobok lashes at Fassn


The ugobok lashes at Fassn, because of course it does. The toothless man, intoning a wordless cry to Old Ajralan, patron of the real, tongue of the universe, gentle hands of the sky, etc, leaps half a metre as though he intends to slip down the ugobok’s throat in one slick, life-ending maneuver.

Vaulting through the air, Fassn feels a twinge of regret, fears that Old Ajralan has really left him to bite it this time. The blank menace in the ugobok’s eyes offers nothing to assuage him.

But Fassn’s friends are clever, and in the critical moment, Shyan and Cang yank the loop of rope, and the Eckman knots within give way. The rope flies up, catching the ugobok under the neck, ruining its momentum.

Fassn feels the deep, wet, wasting smell of the ugobok’s breath, sees the instant of confusion and alarm that precedes its entrapment.

The enormous snake’s composure is upset for only a second. Luckily, a second is all Abianarin needs. She rests a cool hand upon the ugobok’s rough scales, and wills its body temperature to fall.