She lets the word drop. The clatter of silverware and the wet mulching of mastication fills the room. The magic circle thrums.
Ulxurix puts down her utensils and looks up, meets Cang’s eyes directly. “You’d better leave that boy,” she says.
Cang pretends offense, but malice rides in his eyes. “He is no mere boy, witch,” he says. “Besides, I rather like him, low to the ground as he is.”
Shyan slams down her fork. “This is sick.”
“Hm?” Fassn says, chewing slowly. Around a mouthful of food, he says, “I think it’s quite good.”
Shyan stands in an instant and draws her blade, levels it at Cang’s throat. His dark creatures react with confusion and irritation, but he remains impassive.
“Go ahead,” he says. “Cut your comrade’s throat. I have far less need of it than you.”
The tip of her blade wavers.
“Not Cang,” says Abia. “Lich.”
Suddenly Ulxurix rises jerkily to her feet, begins stumbling towards the magic circle. The lighthouse fills with her screams.
Cang sits comfortably at the head of the table, his newly regal bearing apropos to his position. Horton tries to sit at his right hand but Cang waves him away with a scowl, so the portly blacksmith sheepishly makes his way to a wall and awaits further instruction, cartoonish pout on his lips. The creatures shuffle aimlessly about the round room, gently bumping into objects and machines.
Shyan, Fassn, and Abia take their seats at the table, and Ulxurix sits at the opposite end from Cang, just beside the magic circle. From the dining table, the gang can feel its energies hum and pulse. Abia, in particular, is distracted by it, and steals the occasional glance in its direction. Nothing about it appears to have changed, though — its wispy tendrils of arcane mist rise placidly through the lighthouse.
At a snap of her tattooed fingers, Ulxurix festoons the table with delicacies. Savoury pies, wines from five regions, crunchies, snackables, fresh vegetables and fruit. The guests politely applaud at the display of magic.
Then, an uneasy silence falls upon the room.
After a few moments, Shyan says, “So…”
“I must say, I haven’t enough to feed all your—” here Ulxurix searches for the right word to encompass the clutch of a dozen dripping, groaning man-things, before she finishes with “guests.”
Cang breezes past Shyan. “Not a problem, my dear hostess, not a problem. After all, my boys haven’t eaten in some time, have you, boys?”
The creatures’ noises go unchanged.
“Well,” Cang says, clapping his hands. He turns about, takes in the mechanomagical devices and technothurgic apparatuses. Sees the dental chair, the book shelf, the softly glowing magic circle inscribed upon the floor. “I’d better watch out,” he says, chuckling.
The gang shares a nervous glance with Ulxurix.
“I do so hate to be rude,” Cang says. “But my hunger is rampaging.”
“Mine too,” Horton adds. Cang whacks him with a long, firm reed.
“Of course,” Ulxurix says. She hurries to the head of the table, pulls a chair out for him. “Please,” she says. “Let’s eat.”
“Mine ears are sharp too, lich,” says Ulxurix. She’s appeared at the door, her tattoos winking and flowing as they move about her skin.
“Ah, the witch,” says Cang. “How do you like my current form?” He flares his hands for her appraisal.
“Short,” is all she says.
“Listen, Ulxurix, wizard, witch, whatever,” Shyan says. “Can we come in out of the rain?”
“No need,” says Fassn, again catching drops on his tongue. A crack of thunder spooks him and he darts inside.
Ulxurix lets him pass. “Of course, dears. But you know I’m not a witch.”
“Not a witch, right,” Shyan says. She lets Abia enter before her, and then the groaning creatures attendant to Cang follow behind. Horton, trembling, his eyes darting frantically about, is next, and at last only Cang and Shyan remain in the rain.
“We’re gonna get you back, buddy,” Shyan murmurs.
“Hm?” Cang says.
The lighthouse is shrouded with thick, dark storm clouds. The gentle light within its top is obscured — or, Shyan fears, no longer burning at all. All the same, she swallows her concern.
The broken iron gates swing open at the gang’s approach. The groaning man-creatures precede the wagon, loping onto the lighthouse grounds.
“Is the witch home?” Fassn asks.
“She must be,” Shyan says. “We have a very special guest.”
“Indeed,” says Cang. “And if I’m attended to, I can become rather irritable.”
“Obviously,” Shyan mutters under her breath.
“Careful girl,” Cang says. “Mine ears are sharp.” He smiles, showing off his teeth — even sharper than his ears.
The door to the lighthouse creaks and opens.
Thunder crashes as though to announce the carriage’s arrival. Shyan is first to leap into the rain. She performs an elaborate bow and holds the door open for Cang to emerge. Fassn holds the seikum pelt above him once again.
They stand outside the lighthouse.
Cang turns to Shyan, not at all surprised. “We’re to dine with your witchy friend after all, it seems?”
“She does good work,” Shyan says.
“She makes the finest welt potatoes, and a sugary surdij sauce, and incredible plaintains,” Fassn says, his tongue lolling out to catch the rain.
Shyan catches Cang’s gaze and holds it. “Just don’t step into the magic circle.”
Cang chuckles. He calls out to Horton to wait for his return. Sullen, Horton nods, the rain cutting rivulets down his ruddy cheeks. He flinches at the movement of a groaning footman.
“Well then, Shyan,” says Cang. He smiles, showing off his filed purple fangs. “Show me to this magic circle.”
Despite its opulent appearance, the carriage is constrained inside. Cang keeps his knees pulled up to his body, and even so, Fassn looms over him.
“You smell of fired cheese,” Cang says.
“Thanks,” Fassn replies. He pulls out a lumpy kerchief from a pocket, offers it up. “You want some?”
“If this is your meaning of fine dining,” Cang says, “we may as well turn this carriage around right now.”
“No, no,” Shyan says. “Ignore him. Fassn’s a fool.” To him, she adds, “You’re lucky we let you ride in the cab.”
“Hey, that’s mean.”
The carriage rattles and rocks its uneasy way down from the castle grounds into the village proper. Abia leans out a window, enduring the pounding rain, and in spite of the noise, whispers to Horton their destination. His face is a mask of fear.