7 ii) Shyan blinks. Her hands ache

Shyan blinks. Her hands ache. Waves of pain flow through her fingers. “What else is there?”

The princess has fear in her eyes. “Things live in the caves,” she says. Her friends and subjects gather around, staring daggers at Shyan. A few even ready blowpipes in case she makes a false move.

“What are they?”

“We do not know,” the princess replies sadly. “They are no worse than humans. Of the village,” she adds quickly, catching herself. She surveys the gang. All but Fassn watch her intently — he’s flat on his back, staring up at the dark sky, his eyes running over with viscous tears.

“And what’s the antidote made of?”

“Mushrooms,” says the princess. “They glow gently in the darkness. You won’t miss them.” The princess gives a gesture to some of her fellow creatures, who march over with a regularity that suggests military training. They guide the gang, including Fassn, who reluctantly gets up, to the mouth of a hot, humid cave.

7 i) Ruthless, her vision spinning, Shyan grabs the princess’ shoulder

Ruthless, her vision spinning, Shyan grabs the princess’ shoulder, whirls her around. Shyan’s eyes water as she blinks hard to focus. “Antidote,” she says. The princess’ eyes are sad, but she nods. The celebration around her mellows, as the cheering creatures fall quiet.

“There is an antidote,” the princess says. “But it is far away.”

“You don’t keep any on hand, in case you shoot yourselves?” Fassn asks, staring up at the sky.

“We are immune,” the princess replies. “The poison comes from within us.”

Cang shudders.

“Great,” Shyan says. She hiccoughs, bile rising in her throat. “How far away?”

“Deep underground,” says the princess. “And that’s not all.”

5 v) Cold sweat breaks out on her skin

Cold sweat breaks out on her skin as Shyan pulls Fassn away from the growing crowd. Her vision swims and her joints ache, as though a virulent ifluenza were coursing through her blood. She doesn’t know what the poison is, but she knows she needs the antidote, and getting lulled into some sort of animistic rage-state by this preacher’s chanting isn’t in the cards. It’s working on the peasants, though.

Once Fassn’s ears are safely plugged again, Shyan finds a stone that fits snugly into her palm. She grips it, tosses it gently, gets a feel for its mass distribution, before arcing it beautifully through the sky to fall upon the unprotected head of the preacher. His chanting stops with a short, garbled noise as he sinks to the dust. His eyes glaze and he murmurs, shifting slightly. The peasants, no longer under the effects of the chant, shake their heads incredulously.

“Let’s go?” Shyan asks.

“Let’s go,” the princess says.

The gang, alongside the small grey princess, dart out of the town square, past the tree line and into the woods.

5 iv) Abia recognizes the preacher’s peculiar liturgical tongue

Abia recognizes the preacher’s peculiar liturgical tongue with a start. “Plug your ears,” she says to her companions, tearing strips from her loose robes, rolling the fabric into tiny balls. She jams these into her ears to block the noise, then helps the princess do the same. Shyan, Fassn and Cang take their cues from Abia, too, and tear at their clothes to form rough ear plugs. A buzzing sensation crawls over their flesh, they can almost feel the sound waves of the chanting buffeting their bodies.

The townsfolk to whom the preacher is obliged are not so fortunate. By turns they emerge from their hiding places, their eyes wide, their mouths agape and making the shapes of the preacher’s chant. Their shuffling feet remind Shyan of the lich’s castle, and she feels a wave of revulsion creep over her again. If she had anything left in her belly, she thinks, she’d throw up again. Meeting Fassn’s pained gaze, she grumbles, “Gotta get that antidote.”

Fassn plucks the fabric from his ear and says, “What?”

Shyan springs upon him to shove it back in.

5 iii) Fassn rises from where he was bent over, retching

Fassn rises from where he was bent over, retching. “Wait, are you Orolio?”

“No,” the preacher screeches. “This temple is dedicated to Orolio, most holy, and you have acted against her, have blemished her face with your misdeeds, with your incredible willingness to let such a heinous beast escape and live.” He gestures to the grey princess, who pays him no heed.

“Well we’ve already got a divine protector,” Fassn says. “And thanks for that, Old Aj,” he adds.

“Old Ajralan? Really?” The preacher laughs once, a sharp, hard syllable. “You trust the sensuous old fool with your lives?”

“Perhaps not our lives,” Cang says, under his breath.

“Rise, friends,” the preacher says to the village folk huddled behind crates and shutters. “Rise and strike down this unbelievers, who bring their foreign religion to our shores. Act now, for the holiness of Orolio!”

The peasants are hesitant. The few the gang espies give one another questioning glances, until the preacher begins chanting methodically in an unusual language, at which their eyes begin to cloud.

5 ii) Cang takes point at the church’s front door

Cang takes point at the church’s front door. There are figures in the square, crouched behind crates wrapped with rough rope and market stalls of flapping tarpaulin. A breeze passes through, turns up the dust, makes the twined flourishes on the church sway. The men who’ve taken wounds roll about in the sand, moaning, gripping their battered limbs, clutching their bruises. He turns to the gang, nods, and pads out into the square.

The princess is right behind him. Her feet have wide, grasping toes with a thin, light membrane between them — not ideal for the dusty terrain. She’s careful to avoid the sharpest rocks. Shyan, beside her, idly wishes she had the strength to pick the princess up but the very idea makes her muscles wash with cold incapability.

The gang is halfway through the square, making for the forests beyond the village, when the gruff preacher’s voice rises up behind them, loud and apoplectic. “The story of Orolio does not end here,” he screams.