v) A fellow with a hawk’s head mask

A fellow with a hawk’s head mask steps forward, as though he’s finally conjured the courage to do so. He lifts a crude club and shouts, “For the lich!”

He charges the gang. Shyan gets her shield up as Cang darts to an acute angle to get behind the hawkhead. Hawkhead is clumsy, though, his nascent bravery no cover for poor training. He enters Shyan’s reach, his club still way over his head, and she effortlessly loosens her weapon and brings it out with an arcing flourish, through which hawkhead can’t help but pass.

His newly-repaired armor cracks and sunders, and within, his flesh opens and bleeds. He falls to his knees Cang stops short as his buddies surround him, their horror palpable.

“Wait,” says Fassn, in a voice imperious. His brow is straight and his jaw firm. “Allow me.” His hands up, he slowly approaches the dying man. His friends bristle, but are cowed by Fassn’s serious manner, and fractionally give way.

Fassn lays a filthy hand on the hawk’s beak. The man inside quivers.

For the second time that day, Fassn calls on Old Ajralan, and Old Ajralan answers with a blast of shining light — and hawkhead’s wound is healed.

iv) Shyan’s blade exits its sheath a hand’s width

Shyan’s blade exits its sheath a hand’s width and she holds it there. “You see I bear steel. Do not insist I bear it further.”

“Nicely put,” Cang says.

“You don’t need to bear it, sweetheart,” says one of the men, wearing a helmet carved to resemble the gruesome snarl of a boar. “Just put it down and me and the boys’ll take it from here.”

“I’m so tired of ‘the boys’,” Shyan says. Eyeing their numbers, and their newly-repaired gear, she adds, “We don’t need to fight. We’ll bring you back something nice from the castle.”

She can almost hear the blood draining from boarhead’s face beneath his heavy mask. “You’s all is going up to the castle?”

“Got to get paid, you know,” Fassn says cheerily.

“Then, we’ve got to stop you,” boarhead says, looking around at his men, who are suddenly shuffling their feet and kicking at the dirt. “Because, the lich,” he continues, trailing off.

Shyan’s blade clicks home with a sharp sound. “No one likes the lich.”

iii) The gang makes their way

The gang makes their way out of the tavern before the barkeep can notice the false coin laid on the table.

Outside, their caught by a band of figures, clad in armour, brandishing weapons of crushing, slashing, piercing.

“Do we know you?” asks Shyan.

“I do believe so,” says Cang. He’s right. Their armour is distinctive, the helmets featuring fanged beasts in place of the human visage.

Shyan deflates a little. “The rabble from the blacksmith’s?”

“Hey, we’re not rabble,” one of the figures says. “You’ve wronged our honour, you know?”

“We did?” Fassn asks.

“Well, we’ve had a lot on our minds,” says Shyan.

“Then maybe we can make a little deal. Take some of the stress off.”

Drawing her blade, Shyan says, “I doubt it.”