iv) Abia channels frost into the ugobok


Abia channels frost into the ugobok, trying desperately to keep it from regaining its monstrous strength. She thinks of the Jiko’s former realm, and of Grumalla, gardening, lonely. She wonderes if the place is still cold, now, or if their actions really did help to warm it up. She imagines that she’s facilitating the transfer of its frigid clime, through her flesh, along every nerve ending from her heart through her fingers, and into the scaly hide of the ugobok, keeping the dangerous creature sedate.

The snake twitches and shudders as Cang works on its eye. Abia keeps her touch anchored, gentle but firm, moving with the body of the snake. Her face is calm, neutral, but inside, she’s terrified she might break contact or concentration, and in that instant, the ugobok’s enormous tail will flick and summarily kill her friends. She ruminates on this, pictures fleshy, animal cells overcome with tiny points of frost — partly to keep the spell alive and vibrant, and partly to ignore the bloody violence Cang wreaks with his knife.


iii) “What’s to feel bad about?”


“What’s to feel bad about? This thing would eat us if it could,” Fassn mumbles. His mouth, now entirely empty of teeth, is tender, and the words emerge poorly formed. His back straightens with the onset of an idea. “We should eat it, instead.”

“We’re not here to eat it,” Shyan says. She catchs the ugobok’s eye. “We’re not here to eat you.”

The snake grumbles and writhes gently, unable to fight the effects of Abia’s spell.

“We do, however, have need of one of your eyes.”

“It’s only one, though,” Shyan says. “It’s going to make us rich.”

“Filthy rich,” Cang agrees. He draws a skinning knife, topped with a wicked hook, from his bag. He approaches the head of the snake, then stops to ponder. “Indeed,” he muses aloud. “These fangs may well be worth a pretty penny, too.”

“Well if cutting out its eye kills it, we can talk about its fangs,” Shyan says. The beast’s great orange eyes bear down upon her. “Somehow this feels cruel,” she says.

“What, you never eaten meat before?” Fassn asks. “Where do you think it comes from?”

“Come along, now,” Cang says. “I’ll do it.” He gestures to Abia. “Keep a hold on it, would you?”


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.


iv) Fassn smacks the snake’s massive body


Fassn smacks the snake’s massive body with his blunt-headed mace, making a trebly ‘tink’ noise when the weapon contacts its scales. He calls out to Old Ajralan, but with his mouth largely free of teeth by this point, the sound is muffled, indistinct.

“Come, little mouses,” the ugobok says, its lipless mouth lascivious and sinister. It doesn’t seem to notice the hanging loop of rope.

Over her shoulder, Shyan shouts an order to Fassn. He shakes his head, fear welling up in his eyes.

“I’m serious, Fassn!” Shyan retorts.

Fassn clenches his fists, his gums slapping wetly. He utters a wordless shriek and charges the ugobok’s big flared head.


iii) All of Shyan’s skill, and a good portion of her luck


All of Shyan’s skill, and a good portion of her luck, goes into dodging the ugobok’s strikes. It takes great gulps of empty air, hoping to fill its unhinged jaw with warm meat. Shyan, though, feints and stabs, working to draw the great beast’s attention away from Fassn, whose armour is patchwork at best, and absent in certain key places, and Abianarin, too, whose swirling indigo robes no doubt attract the beast’s eye.

Shyan fades back from the present to her martial training in the mountainous Huaodeng province. The hallowed school, with its peaked and tiled roofs, is lost to her, now, her travels having taken through the back ways behind the planes. Still, the lessons she learned there are retained, and the growling voice of her master echoes key phrases in her head. “Pivot. Jab. Release.”

Her moves are like a dance. The ugobok’s fangs do not find her.