v) “But,” Shyan says.

“But,” Shyan says. “Correct me if I’m wrong here. A lich is an undead lord, a patron of mayhem, a slayer and eater of souls?”

Abia shrugs, as though to say, “yes.”

“I think I’d rather work for a dentist.”

“I don’t know,” Fassn says. “That purple one would look awfully nice with these bad boys.” He gnashes his shiny teeth.

“Is it not obvious that our course of action ought to be the gold bar that has been stripped from our person?” Cang says. He’s playing a knife game with his little fingers splayed.

“The lich has that too,” Shyan says.

“It don’t belong to him,” says Fassn. “And we owe the witch.”

“We always owe somebody,” Cang sneers. He picks up the pace of his game.

Shyan gazes out the glass-less window of the tavern, to see a twisted black castle on a hill, far higher even than the lighthouse, its ebony spires cloaked in clouds threatening a storm. “Well,” she says, finally, a note of resignation in her voice. “Not much to live for. The least we can do is try for our gold.”

Cang’s face lights up for an instant before he brings his knife down into his hand.

iv) Get the fang for me, won’t you?

“Get the fang for me, won’t you? Get the fang for me, won’t you?”

This phrase, in the silky voice of the lich, plays through Abia’s throbbing head, even hours later, as the gang sits ’round a table in the Blighted Pixie common room. They’re sharing a single pint, morosely nursing it between themselves.

“We’ve got to make some money,” Shyan says.

“This is obvious,” says Cang.

“I thought we had some?” Fassn asks hopefully.

Cang flings an empty sack at the old, bearded fellow. “A gold bar. Perhaps you recall?”

“Oh yeah,” Fassn says from within the bag. He pulls his head back out. “Empty.”

Cang sighs. Secretly, he fingers the tiny emerald sewn into his vest’s lining, thankful that Horton and the lich didn’t find it.

“We just go back in there and demand what’s ours,” Shyan says, without much enthusiasm.

“Or,” Abia says. All eyes fall to her — this is the first she’s spoken since leaving the blacksmith’s. “We could get fang for lich.”

iii) “My dear,” purrs the lich

“My dear,” purrs the lich. “Would this magnificent tome be a gift, perchance, from the lighthouse witch?”

Abia blinks, her senses slowly returning. The weight of the lich’s presence — an oppressive sickliness that makes her think of rats crushed under carriage wheels, their guts baking in the sunlight.

“There’s a good girl,” the lich continues. Horton, behind him, attends to the rest of the gang, who are moving slowly, as though underwater, out of sync with time’s normal stream. The blacksmith clumsily picks their pockets, finding, unfortunately for him, not much.

“The lighthouse witch has something valuable to me,” the lich tells Abia, pouting in an exaggerated, theatrical manner. He grins, his disgusting maw splitting open to reveal the absent fang. The stench of rot washes over Abia. “And the sad part is, I know it’s not valuable to her.”

Abia stares him down, clutching the book, saying nothing.

“Good little servant,” says the lich.

“Wonderful servant, sir,” says Horton, always ready to hit the boss’s prompt.

The lich rolls his eyes. Quietly, to Abia, he says, “I meant you, but you know that.” He blinks sweetly. “Get the fang for me, won’t you?”

ii) Through the haze of glamour

Through the haze of glamour, Abianarin sees the lich. Beneath the protection of a human guise is a twisted, pale thing, tall, narrow, with the stench of death upon it. Violet fire glows in its eyes. Its sharp teeth are a degraded yellow, and Abia notices one fang is entirely absent from the top row of teeth. Then, she slips under.

The lich grins and orders Horton to gather the bodies, prone and yielding. As the blacksmith struggles with the gang’s weight, the lich spots Fassn’s new dental work.

“Ulxurix, the lighthouse witch,” he says aloud, filling the blacksmith with fear.

“I don’t like her, sir,” he says.

“Nor I, Horton,” says the lich. He perks up. “And what’s this?”

Drawn by the heat, the lich crosses the room to Abia, and finds her clutching Ulxurix’s book, residual heat fading still.

The lich smiles.

i) The man at the door is dressed in clothes of finest cut

The man at the door is dressed in clothes of finest cut. Brocaded lapels, silver cufflinks, and supple, thigh-high riding boots complete his look. His face is narrow and hard, pinched in a permanent scowl. Behind him quivers Horton Belwether, the blacksmith.

Pointing with a quaking hand, Horton says, “That’s them, they’s the ones.”

“I would thank you not to handle my property,” says the lich, his voice a pleasant baritone edged with cruelty.

Shyan swallows hard and meets the man’s empty eyes. There is something decidedly inhuman about them. She keeps her voice from cracking and says, “Finders keepers?”

A malicious smile plays upon the man’s lips. “Oh, to have found, and kept, when I was but a boy,” he muses. To his fearful companion, he says, “Close your eyes, Horton.”

An instant later, the lich claps his hands, and from them a sonic boom pulses forth, stunning the gang, leaving them locked in an eternal moment while the lich laughs.

v) Fassn’s eyes light up

Fassn’s eyes light up. “I’m havin’ that,” he says, reaching for the fang.

Shyan bats his hand away. “You’ll just touch anything, won’t you?”

“I wasn’t going to touch it,” Fassn says. “I was going to taste it.”

“Lich fang,” Abia says, her eyes locked on the violet object. “Very old.”

“Worth anything?” Cang asks.

“To lich,” she replies.

“First you’d have to find a buyer,” Shyan says. “Wonder what the blacksmith was doing with this thing.”

“Maybe he’s a lich,” says Fassn.

She shrugs. “Nice of Ulxurix to give you that book. She must have known what we’d find.”

“Perhaps it is her that is the lich,” Cang says.

“No,” says a voice from the doorway, its tones rich and sophisticated, languid and deep. “I am.”

iv) The lock hangs, inert

The lock hangs, inert, as the colour fades from the runes. Abia breathes heavily, spent. She sits cross-legged on the floor and lets the book fall closed in her lap.

“Will you demonstrate for me how to do this?” Cang asks.

Shyan prods at the lock with the end of her spear. With dextrous movements, she knocks the strange-coloured metal aside and it thunks to the floor. “Thank you, Abia,” she says.

“Well, what’s in it, what’s in it?” Fassn asks. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, clacking his teeth together.

“Keep quiet,” Shyan murmurs, her attention on the lockbox. She uses the spear to trip the box’s latch and presses the lid open.

Within, a fang glows with an unearthly purple light.