The alchemist keeps her mouth shut, which Cang sees as a smart move. All the same, he says, “No response? I suppose you think this cap ugly?”
“No,” the alchemist mumbles.
“Relax, Cang,” Fassn says. “It’s a stupid looking hat and it’s way too big for you. Give it here.” He grabs for it; Cang nimbly ducks away.
“Hey, hey,” Shyan calls out. “We’re on the job here.” She hardens her expression, gets up close to the alchemist’s fear-stricken face. “Who’s your buyer?”
“Eric,” she sputters. “Eric… Wagon.”
Shyan blinks. “You must be kidding me.”
“No, no, that’s really it,” the alchemist says, a wheedling smile blooming upon her lips.
“Eric Wagon?” Cang sniffs derisively.
“So what are we waiting for?” The alchemist looks around with renewed enthusiasm. “Let’s go deliver these crates!”
“She’s lying,” Shyan says.
“How can you tell?” asks Fassn.
Shyan looks defensive about this unanticipated follow-up. “Well, she’s lied before. I think we should knock her out.”
The colour drains from the alchemist’s face. “You definitely don’t need to do that.”
“Buyer in Almery?” Abianarin asks.
“Almery? No. Blasted place. Not worth the effort. Scary, too.” She winces back from Shyan’s raised pommel. “Not as scary as you lot, though.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Cang says. “Do you like my new hat?”
The alchemist nervously swallows.
Cang’s ears perk up at the mention of money. “Surely you mean the copper you stole from us, under chemical affliction.”
Shyan spits. “Nonsense. She probably spent it all on this wagon.”
“It is a nice wagon,” Fassn says.
“No,” the alchemist says through gritted teeth. “I had the wagon before. Also, I think my nose is broken.”
Cang pushes his new hat up so he can fix her with his most menacing stare. “Then where, praytell, is our money?”
The alchemist nods for him to come closer. He leans in and she whispers into his ear. His brow furrows as the others draw near.
“Well, what’d she say?” Fassn asks.
“Nothing,” Cang replies. “She just made some ridiculous sounds.”
“You’re not helping your case here, lady,” Shyan says. She raises the pommel of her weapon, as though to offer the alchemist another taste.
“Okay, wait, wait,” she says. “Damn, you guys are smart. What if I take you to my buyer? He carries way more cash than me; hell, he’ll even cover the cost of what I stole.” Her eyes bulge. “Er, rather, the cost of our previous transaction. What do you say?”
“I am kinda hungry,” Fassn says. Cang gives him a regretful look that straightens Fassn’s spine. “But Old Ajralan has had his fill this day,” he says. “Not, though, his fill, of you.”
The alchemist blinks. Her horse whinnies as Abia murmurs to it.
“I’ve got plenty of delicious steaks here,” the alchemist calls out, with a deliberately seductive inflection. Her hand creeps toward her coat, seeking a pocket within. “Just let me get them for you,” she says.
Shyan pulls her horse alongside the wagon, gets up close to the alchemist. Suddenly, her hand finds her coat, and like the strike of a viper, she withdraws and shatters a flask. It releases a thick cloud of oily smoke, and a noxious odour.
“Blek, it’s worse than the dome,” Fassn says.
The alchemist springs from her seat but her face finds Shyan’s pummel. A quick crack later and her dazed form slumps to the ground. Cang springs upon her, binds her to her horse. He yanks her pointed hat off, revealing a lined face screened by a mop of ashen hair. He tries it on, finds it to his liking. It sits low upon his bald head.
“If you kill me,” the alchemist rasps, “you’ll never find the money.”
The gang’s unburdened mounts make short work of the intervening distance. Soon they’re pulling kerchiefs up over their mouths to keep the dust out.
Shyan pulls her horse ahead of the wagon, then jerks to a stop in the centre of the road. She sits astride her steed, straight-backed, her face set in an expression that dares the alchemist to keep running.
Abia keeps pace alongside the horse pulling the alchemist’s wagon. Again she speaks her native tongue, and the horse cocks its head to listen.
“Wait, no,” the alchemist cries from the driver’s seat, to no avail.
With Cang and Fassn behind her, the alchemist finds, to her horror, that her wagon is slowing. Her horse no longer wants to run, after whatever Abia said to it.
The dust settles on the plain in a slow haze. The alchemist surveys the road, finds herself surrounded. She forces a chuckle, which comes out strained and nasal.
“Maybe you folks would fancy a bite?”
The team absconds with the horses. Cang rides behind Fassn, careful not to catch a wing to the face, while the others select mounts of their own. Shyan rides a chestnut mare, Abia a charcoal stallion, with Cang and Fassn atop a young roan.
They burst from the stable, urging the horses onward, encouraging haste. The innkeeper, stablehand, and rightful owners of the horses emerge into the muddy streets, throwing fists and curses after the team as they hurry away.
It’s less than an hour before they come upon a trail of dust thrown up from the road, slow and lazy in settling. Shyan squints and spots a wagon at the head of the dusty column, and nods resolutely at her companions when she spies the alchemical crates loaded upon it. With a yelp, she picks up her pace, her friends following.
“Well we can’t stay here,” Shyan says. “The blasted innkeeper is probably talking with the watch as we speak.”
Abia withdraws her final copper penny, begins flipping it idly, catching it in the air.
Fassn uses his gauzy, deterioriating wings to cover his eyes. He grimaces. “Old Ajralan has had his fill of that place,” he says. “Plus I’m hungover.”
“Come on, Fassn,” Shyan says. She touches a wing. It’s airy, scarcely palpable at all. “Don’t you want to refresh these things?”
He sniffles. “All they’re good for is stares.”
Cang suppresses a chuckle. “Well I, for one, have no intention of sitting in this dank stable, awaiting my arrest, with nary a purse to bribe the watch.” He gestures at the four stabled horses, who by no means belong to him. “Shall we away?”