iv) The runed book grows hot as Abia nears the fang

The runed book grows hot as Abia nears the fang. Its intensity seems tied to her proximity to the sharp, violet object — as her fingertips approach the object, the book sears her other hand. She grits her teeth but the pain is relentless, so to relieve it, she steps back.

“What in the world was that?” Cang asks.

“Book burn my fingers,” Abia says. “Don’t want me to touch fang.”

“Oh please. If the rotund blacksmith possessed it, surely it can do no harm.”

“Cang,” Shyan cuts in. “Abia usually knows about this kind of thing. I mean, look at the weird symbols on her book.”

“Runes,” Abia says simply.

“Yes, more occultism,” Cang says, shaking his head. He looks over his fingers, which Fassn’s god had so recently restored to working order. He perks up. “Perhaps these divinely blessed digits of mine will be more up to the task.”

Before anyone can stop him, Cang scoops up the fang.

iii) The fang is entirely untended

The fang is entirely untended. Horton Belwether, blacksmith, is nowhere to be found. Shyan, her head poked into the smithy to take a look around, steps fully inside, on some level expecting foul sorcery to chill her bones.

Instead, just the smell of iron, the crunch of shavings beneath her boots.

“Perhaps you would prefer we stay here, set up as smiths, run a shop,” Cang says, slipping well crafted horseshoes into the capacious pockets of his vest.

“Nah,” Shyan says. “I doubt you could hack it.”

Abia approaches the fang. Its violet glow washes over her dark skin. It paints her sclera purple. Something about its vibration, though to the eye it remains perfectly still, that tells her to pick it up, to cradle it, to touch flesh to fang.

“Can I trade my teeth?” Fassn asks from over her shoulder. “Maybe the witch will put this one in for me.”

Abia doesn’t hear him. Her fingers inexorably move toward the fang.

ii) Shyan shakes her head, exasperated

Shyan shakes her head, exasperated. “What is that thing, anyway?”

“Lich loves it,” Abia says.

Gesturing towards her, Shyan says, “See? Why would we want to bring it with us?”

The brigands’ leader shrugs. “Beyond my pay grade. Thought I’d share a bit of advice. I don’t know what it is either.”

His men start getting restless. They’re backing away from Wensley, who’s prostrate, calling out for alms from Old Ajralan.

“I like your technique,” says Fassn, to no response.

“Listen, good luck up there in the castle, if you do decide to go,” says the leader. “Sorry about trying to rob you and everything. I guess you’ve got worse problems.”

With that, the man signals his crew. They gather up their praying companion and withdraw.

“This fang might be valuable indeed,” Cang muses.

“Best be careful with it. We don’t know what it is yet,” Shyan says.

Grinning with his new teeth, Fassn asks, “Well, what are we waiting for?”

i) “That god of yours really works, Fassn,”

“That god of yours really works, Fassn,” Shyan says.

Hawkhead staggers back, reeling from the energy within his wounds, feeling the flesh knit itself together. He can sense Old Ajralan within and around him, and it humbles him. “Thank you,” he stammers, looking up to the sky. “Thank you, Old Ajralan!”

“Who?” his leader says.

“Old Ajralan, may he have his fill,” Fassn says. “Let me tell you a story—”

But the leader cuts him off. “Listen,” he says. “If you go up to the castle, you’re gonna get killed. Think about what you want for your lives. Go back and be turnip farmers. You’re no more cut out for this than Wainsley over here,” he says, gesturing to hawkhead, on his knees in private obeisance.

“We just need to get paid,” Shyan says. “Turnip farming won’t cut it.”

The leader lifts his helmet just enough to spit upon the earth. “Then get the fang. Horton’s got it, or he did. You saw it?”

Abia nods. “We saw it.”

“Then bring it with you. You’re gonna need it.”

v) A fellow with a hawk’s head mask

A fellow with a hawk’s head mask steps forward, as though he’s finally conjured the courage to do so. He lifts a crude club and shouts, “For the lich!”

He charges the gang. Shyan gets her shield up as Cang darts to an acute angle to get behind the hawkhead. Hawkhead is clumsy, though, his nascent bravery no cover for poor training. He enters Shyan’s reach, his club still way over his head, and she effortlessly loosens her weapon and brings it out with an arcing flourish, through which hawkhead can’t help but pass.

His newly-repaired armor cracks and sunders, and within, his flesh opens and bleeds. He falls to his knees Cang stops short as his buddies surround him, their horror palpable.

“Wait,” says Fassn, in a voice imperious. His brow is straight and his jaw firm. “Allow me.” His hands up, he slowly approaches the dying man. His friends bristle, but are cowed by Fassn’s serious manner, and fractionally give way.

Fassn lays a filthy hand on the hawk’s beak. The man inside quivers.

For the second time that day, Fassn calls on Old Ajralan, and Old Ajralan answers with a blast of shining light — and hawkhead’s wound is healed.

iv) Shyan’s blade exits its sheath a hand’s width

Shyan’s blade exits its sheath a hand’s width and she holds it there. “You see I bear steel. Do not insist I bear it further.”

“Nicely put,” Cang says.

“You don’t need to bear it, sweetheart,” says one of the men, wearing a helmet carved to resemble the gruesome snarl of a boar. “Just put it down and me and the boys’ll take it from here.”

“I’m so tired of ‘the boys’,” Shyan says. Eyeing their numbers, and their newly-repaired gear, she adds, “We don’t need to fight. We’ll bring you back something nice from the castle.”

She can almost hear the blood draining from boarhead’s face beneath his heavy mask. “You’s all is going up to the castle?”

“Got to get paid, you know,” Fassn says cheerily.

“Then, we’ve got to stop you,” boarhead says, looking around at his men, who are suddenly shuffling their feet and kicking at the dirt. “Because, the lich,” he continues, trailing off.

Shyan’s blade clicks home with a sharp sound. “No one likes the lich.”

iii) The gang makes their way

The gang makes their way out of the tavern before the barkeep can notice the false coin laid on the table.

Outside, their caught by a band of figures, clad in armour, brandishing weapons of crushing, slashing, piercing.

“Do we know you?” asks Shyan.

“I do believe so,” says Cang. He’s right. Their armour is distinctive, the helmets featuring fanged beasts in place of the human visage.

Shyan deflates a little. “The rabble from the blacksmith’s?”

“Hey, we’re not rabble,” one of the figures says. “You’ve wronged our honour, you know?”

“We did?” Fassn asks.

“Well, we’ve had a lot on our minds,” says Shyan.

“Then maybe we can make a little deal. Take some of the stress off.”

Drawing her blade, Shyan says, “I doubt it.”