At Abia’s warning, which like did anyone need at this point given their collective experiences, but she gives it anyway, and to her credit the gang is appropriately chilled, with the attendant raised-hair sensations creeping up arms and necks, and as those unsettling feelings reach their apex a low, round, bassy growl issues forth from somewhere deep within the manse, towards the throne room, and Fassn swallows a hard lump at the sound which sounds for all the world like the growl of an angry dragon.
Cang slaps a palm against his own forehead for dramatic effect. “There you go again, Fassn, proving yourself to be the cerebral cortex behind this operation.”
Fassn smiles happily, unaware he’s been insulted.
“Fassn’s right, though. This was clearly a trap. But why would the dragon, your old boss, Abia, invite us in only to drop us down a bit full of brown goo?” Shyan asks.
Abia’s expression doesn’t change when she says, “Boss doesn’t want you. Boss only wants me.”
Fassn absently tosses a coin in Cang’s general direction. It flips and tumbles awkwardly, a lousy throw, but Cang, with the effortless fluidity of a viper’s strike, catches it from the air and secrets it away, a single, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it motion.
Meanwhile Fassn’s sucking at his gums, his eyes rolled way up and to one side as he thinks hard. The rest of the gang can practically hear the cobwebbed gears turning upstairs. Several times, he smacks his lips and pauses as though to speak. When he finally does, he says, “I think this might’ve been a trap.”
Abia, on the other hand, doesn’t feel welcome at all. Her robes, too, are sparkling clean — though for her, this doesn’t bear mentioning the way it does for Cang — but even as the weirdly compelling heat grows, the dragon’s passive inferno, Abia does not enjoy the sense of place that Cang’s musing about. Instead, she’s wondering if this was the right move at all, if she shouldn’t have stayed away in the first place, let alone returned.
And yet she can’t ignore the oddly pleasant warmth settling just under her skin, intensifying imperceptibly as the gang nears the dragon’s hidden manse.
By the time the sleep has cleared from her eyes, the charred, broken streaks across Abia’s flesh have dissipated. She feels their warmth, still. The gang shares a quiet breakfast and it’s clear no one feels rested. Abia is silent, as usual, but there’s a quality to the silence that prompts Shyan to ask what she’s thinking.
“Thinking of return,” Abia says, a world-weariness to her tone though her eyes sparkle.
“Last one, huh?” asks Shyan, doubt heavy in her voice.
“Superb,” Cang says. “There are indeed several valuables I would love to acquire.”
“What about all that?” Fassn asks, jabbing Cang in the ribs where he keeps a pouch of coins secreted in his vest.
“Never you mind,” says Cang. “After all, this is for Abianarin!”
When Abia wakes, her dark skin is warm and marbled with streaks of char. It crackles and snaps as she moves, slowly stretching her limbs.
Shyan shoots up at the hip in surprise, calling out for Master Davit. Cang grumbles about how he’s not surprised and just rolls over in his bed. Fassn remains still: the only indication that he’s awake is the thick plume of smoke he releases which makes the chamber stink of molten rock.