“That’s right, don’t bother,” Fassn says from below. “Just for a second, won’t take long. I just want to have a taste.”
At this, groans of protest from the other three.
“Old Ajralan,” Fassn intones.
“Don’t say it,” Shyan says through gritted teeth.
“May you,” Fassn continues, haltingly. He’s waving his arms wildly to reach the brown goop under him. “Have your fill,” he finishes, fingers stretched to the breaking point. Still, he can’t quite reach the sludge.
“Hey, lemme go,” Fassn protests, his feet scrabbling against the smooth stone wall of the pit. “There’s something smelly down here.”
As though his comment makes it real, the gang is hit by a repugnant stench emanating from the pit. Something sweet, like decay, but with a sour tang of vinegar that’s altogether unpleasant.
“Hear that? He wants to go down,” grunts Cang, caught in the middle of the human chain.
“Up to you to let him,” says Shyan, dragging Cang’s ankles back from the pit.
Cang’s crumpled, reddened face furrows further. “Why do I bother?” he mutters, straining against Fassn’s weight.
Cang is quick on the drop as Fassn rapidly recedes from view. Cang throws himself onto his belly, reaching his stubby arms into the pit. Fassn’s rough, calloused hand grips Fassn’s, but the other, clad in a silk glove even Montague couldn’t get all the stains out of, slips and slides.
Behind them, Shyan drops to a squat and grabs Cang’s ankles, hauling him with a bestial grunt.
The dragon’s manse is dark and quiet. The foyer is empty, a single oil lamp burning low upon a polished credenza. Crushed velvet drapes of deep purple hang over wainscotted walls. The floor’s composed of greywhite marble tiles, each half a metre square.
Fassn strides confidently into the foyer. When he steps on the second tile from the doorway, a faint snick is heard, then a yelp of fear and confusion as Fassn drops down and out of sight.
“Maybe the dragon’s not so secretive after all,” says Shyan as the old man hurries away. “That old guy’s got the message, at least.”
“This is a place of misery,” says Abia. “People feel it.” She closes her eyes, lets her fingers trail over the rough door the gang knows conceals the entrance to the dragon’s manse. “It radiates from within.”
“Are you certain that is not the fabulous wealth resonating from within?” Cang asks. He’s not even watching, instead keeping his eyes on the street as a lookout.
At that moment Abia’s finger lands upon a knot of wood of subtle hue, differently shaded than the wood around it. With a gentle, soft click, the knot depresses and the door swings open.
“Here goes nothing,” says Shyan.
As before, the dragon’s lair leaves much to be desired in the aesthetics department, at least from the outside, which is bare, rude, and worn down from years of neglect. The odd street person, drawn and grey, shuffles by, but the street itself is rather quiet.
Shyan flags down a man with a bristly, greying beard, and for a moment, she’s stunned by his similarity to Fassn, who’s staring absently at a weathered poster in a language he can’t read.
“Know anything about the people here?” Shyan asks the old man, who’s startled to be approached by such an odd contingent. When he grasps Shyan’s question, his eyes bulge with fright and he shakes his head in tight motions before hurrying off, clutching his fraying robes.