44 v) “That’s probably enough for me, anyway,” Fassn says

“That’s probably enough for me, anyway,” Fassn says. He makes a great effort to still the chattering of his teeth: it fails. “I think Old Ajralan’s had his fill, anyway.”

“Concurred,” says Cang, who’s got the lip of his crowbar at the tile’s grout. He heaves and heaves and suddenly, with a crack, the tile gives way and comes loose. He hefts it, leaning far back to accommodate its weight. The tile’s nearly the size of his own torso, if not its density. “I believe I am ready to depart,” he says, a greedy glint in his eye that’s matched by the sparkling aspect of the tile.

44 iv) At Abia’s warning, which like did anyone need at this point given their collective experiences

At Abia’s warning, which like did anyone need at this point given their collective experiences, but she gives it anyway, and to her credit the gang is appropriately chilled, with the attendant raised-hair sensations creeping up arms and necks, and as those unsettling feelings reach their apex a low, round, bassy growl issues forth from somewhere deep within the manse, towards the throne room, and Fassn swallows a hard lump at the sound which sounds for all the world like the growl of an angry dragon.

44 iii) “That doesn’t seem fair,” Fassn says, one finger still in his mouth

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Fassn says, one finger still in his mouth. “Why doesn’t the dragon want us?”

“Eh,” Shyan says. “Might be a good thing.”

“A very good thing indeed, yes, for those diving into holes to grab the wrists of an empty-headed sensualist,” Cang says.

“The dragon will want to see me alone,” Abia says. Not a warning or omen, but a simple statement of fact. “Be on guard for dangers.”

44 ii) Cang slaps a palm against his own forehead for dramatic effect

Cang slaps a palm against his own forehead for dramatic effect. “There you go again, Fassn, proving yourself to be the cerebral cortex behind this operation.”

Fassn smiles happily, unaware he’s been insulted.

“Fassn’s right, though. This was clearly a trap. But why would the dragon, your old boss, Abia, invite us in only to drop us down a bit full of brown goo?” Shyan asks.

Abia’s expression doesn’t change when she says, “Boss doesn’t want you. Boss only wants me.”

44 i) Fassn absently tosses a coin in Cang’s general direction

Fassn absently tosses a coin in Cang’s general direction. It flips and tumbles awkwardly, a lousy throw, but Cang, with the effortless fluidity of a viper’s strike, catches it from the air and secrets it away, a single, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it motion.

Meanwhile Fassn’s sucking at his gums, his eyes rolled way up and to one side as he thinks hard. The rest of the gang can practically hear the cobwebbed gears turning upstairs. Several times, he smacks his lips and pauses as though to speak. When he finally does, he says, “I think this might’ve been a trap.”

43 v) Fassn’s silk glove slips

Fassn’s silk glove slips. Fassn himself lets out a little noise of delight as he descends another few millimetres. The chain of human figures struggles and shakes as he waves his finger at the goo. Abia watches impassively nearby.

Fassn’s voice rises to a help as his bare finger skims the brown sludge’s surface. It’s instantly corrosive and the smell of burning skin and collagen rises from the pit.

“Can I drop him now?” Cang asks.

“Okay,” Fassn says, dipping his finger into his mouth to savour the horrible taste. “Old Ajralan has had his fill.” Cang and Shyan grunt as they pull him up, coupled with sounds of moist lip smacking.

When they’re sprawled, fatigued, on the tile, Cang holds open a hand to Fassn, palm up. Fassn tosses him a coin.