With tears in her eyes, Shyan follows Fassn’s lead, dragging her fingertips through the rough particulate of the floor. Tears splash around her feet, congealing little domes of sand into mud. She feels the friction, tries to feel the warmth. She draws languid spirals, short strokes, chaotic patterns. With focus she can almost feel the individual grains tumbling and careening on their micro scale.
Beside her, Fassn breathes deeply, tasting the stale air of the hut. Cang and Abia join them both on the ground and follow his lead. For a while, amid the din of celebration outside, the gang sits in quiet introspection, before Fassn notices Shyan’s tears have dried. For the first time since suffering the grey creatures’ poison, let alone their antidote, she smiles.
Fassn grabs up a pinch of dust and dirt from the floor and rubs it between his finger and thumb, slowly working the grit over the sensitive pads. The hut is silent enough to hear the grating sound as each tiny grain collides with others. “Listen,” He says.
Shyan controls her breathing, tunes her ears to hear it too. It’s an earthy sound, calling to mind quakes and tremors on a near-atomic scale. A smile plays at the edge of her lips.
“See? It’s not all bad.” Fassn opens his palm and presses it into the dirt floor, leaving a splay-fingered impression. Shyan follows suit. “There’s warmth in the earth,” Fassn says. “You just have to feel it.”
Shyan says, “I was training with master Davit.” She sniffles. “He ordered me to strike.”
“How are yer arms feelin’?” Fassn asks.
She lifts them experimentally, flaps them like a baby bird trying to take off from the test. “Better, actually.”
“I suppose we can count the antidote as a success,” Cang says.
“And you?” Shyan asks Fassn.
“Me? My arms are great! I miss my wings, but what can you do?”
“I mean, what did you see? What happened?”
A beatific smile spreads on Fassn’s dry lips. “Old Ajralan taught me how to feel.”
“Ah,” Fassn says. The lines on his face seem deeper. “That day in Waiiaz, eh?”
“Well,” says Old Mossy, uneasy. “If y’all are doing well I think I’ll slip back to the festivities.” THe sounds of celebration rise for a moment as he makes his way out the door.
Fassn sits beside Shyan, wraps her in a side-hug. Her face is damp with tears. “Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”
Shyan’s got her head in her hands when Fassn comes to. Abia has a hand on her friend’s shoulder in comfort, but long moments of silence pass. Old Mossy sits by his hearth, smoking a long-stemmed pipe with contemplative puffs. Fassn disturbs the morose tone with the beginnings of a hearty chuckle. All the other drawn, ashen faces in the room look up to him. He starts to jig and caper, letting his fingertips drag across the rough mud walls of Old Mossy’s hut. “I heard him, I heard him,” Fassn sings. He trips lightly about the room until he stops short in front of Shyan. He peers at her with sudden seriousness.
“I was with master Davit,” she begins.
Abia carefully watches Old Mossy as he separates two piles of human detritus: one for Shyan, the other for Fassn. He scoops the little Shyan mound of nail and hair into the palm of his hand. “Hold this one’s mouth open,” he says to Abia. She quickly wipes her hands on her robes and kneels beside her friend, prying open her lips. Shyan’s tongue darts in and out of her mouth like a snake’s tasting the air.
“Where are my wings?” Fassn asks the room at large.
“Three,” Old Mossy says.
“Three until what?” Cang asks.
“Two,” Old Mossy says.
Cang leans in to see what they’re doing. “Pardon me?”
“One!” Old Mossy jams the mound onto Shyan’s tongue and her eyes shoot open at once. Their wet rheum is quickly faded, and in its place, the gentle, phosphorescent glow of the mushrooms.
“Just trimmings and clippings,” he replies. “The usual.” With a flourish he produces a stubby knife, which, despite its short, triangular blade, appeared sharp. Cang is halfway to disarming him when Abia signals to let him work. Cang narrows his eyes but follows her instruction, every nerve fibre in his body tense.
Old Mossy bends to Shyan and cuts a lock of hair, then does the same to Fassn. He sniffs each sample, contemplating their qualities. “Hold their arms,” he says to Abia. She complies as Old Mossy takes a slice of fingernail from the third finger on each of their right hands. The sounds of jubilant celebration can still be heard around the bonfire outside.
“So it is witchery, after all?” Cang asks.
Old Mossy grins as he finely dices his samples with the knife. “Yes, yes! And it’s only just begun!”