v) The alchemist’s voluminous robes shift and swirl

The alchemist’s voluminous robes shift and swirl as Fassn searches them. He comes up empty handed. He’s certain foul magic is at work but the alchemist wears an expression of utmost innocence.

“You bumbler,” Cang says, pushing his friend out of the way. “This is how you frisk someone.” His hands and stubby fingers are a blur; the layered robes are no hindrance. A moment later he withdraws his hand, clutching a leather pouch heavy with clinking coins. “Ah ha,” he says, showing off his find.

“With this we can repay the innkeeper, at least,” Shyan says. Cang rolls his eyes.

“I’ll bet this Eric Wagon has even more,” Fassn says.

“You say this as though he even exists,” Cang says.

The alchemist gulps, nervously. Her horses stir as Abia whispers to them.

“So,” Shyan says. She casually tosses her weapon into the air, catches it like a juggler. Somehow this is more frightening to the alchemist than when she was being actively threatened. “Do we trust her?”

“Yes,” Abia says, in a clear, loud voice, surprising everyone present. She gently pats the neck of the alchemist’s horse. “Follow horse. Find buyer.”

Cang’s face breaks into an irrepressible grin.

iv) Fassn rummages the crates

Fassn rummages the crates. His wings have become translucent and wilty, like a snake’s shed skin. “Anything in here to improve these things?”

“Eric will know,” the alchemist says. “Please, let’s just get moving, okay? He hates when I’m late.”

“And where does he live?” Shyan asks. Cang rummages his bag for a scrap of vellum and a quill. Withdrawing them, he looks up at the alchemist expectantly, waiting to take notes.

“He, uh, lives in the treetops,” the alchemist replies. “He’s got this wooden fortress of branches and brambles.” The scratching of Cang’s quill underscores her words.

“And he wants these crates because…?”

The alchemist steals a nervous glance at Abianarin, still in gentle communication with the beasts of burden pulling the wagon. “They’re valuable, you see. Expensive!”

Shyan barks at Fassn. “Worry about your wings later. Find our silver, first.” She threatens the alchemist with her pommel as Fassn searches her layered robes for their purses.

iii) The alchemist keeps her mouth shut

The alchemist keeps her mouth shut, which Cang sees as a smart move. All the same, he says, “No response? I suppose you think this cap ugly?”

“No,” the alchemist mumbles.

“Relax, Cang,” Fassn says. “It’s a stupid looking hat and it’s way too big for you. Give it here.” He grabs for it; Cang nimbly ducks away.

“Hey, hey,” Shyan calls out. “We’re on the job here.” She hardens her expression, gets up close to the alchemist’s fear-stricken face. “Who’s your buyer?”

“Eric,” she sputters. “Eric… Wagon.”

Shyan blinks. “You must be kidding me.”

“No, no, that’s really it,” the alchemist says, a wheedling smile blooming upon her lips.

“Eric Wagon?” Cang sniffs derisively.

“So what are we waiting for?” The alchemist looks around with renewed enthusiasm. “Let’s go deliver these crates!”

ii) “She’s lying”

“She’s lying,” Shyan says.

“How can you tell?” asks Fassn.

Shyan looks defensive about this unanticipated follow-up. “Well, she’s lied before. I think we should knock her out.”

The colour drains from the alchemist’s face. “You definitely don’t need to do that.”

“Buyer in Almery?” Abianarin asks.

“Almery? No. Blasted place. Not worth the effort. Scary, too.” She winces back from Shyan’s raised pommel. “Not as scary as you lot, though.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Cang says. “Do you like my new hat?”

The alchemist nervously swallows.

i) Cang’s ears perk up at the mention of money

Cang’s ears perk up at the mention of money. “Surely you mean the copper you stole from us, under chemical affliction.”

Shyan spits. “Nonsense. She probably spent it all on this wagon.”

“It is a nice wagon,” Fassn says.

“No,” the alchemist says through gritted teeth. “I had the wagon before. Also, I think my nose is broken.”

Cang pushes his new hat up so he can fix her with his most menacing stare. “Then where, praytell, is our money?”

The alchemist nods for him to come closer. He leans in and she whispers into his ear. His brow furrows as the others draw near.

“Well, what’d she say?” Fassn asks.

“Nothing,” Cang replies. “She just made some ridiculous sounds.”

“You’re not helping your case here, lady,” Shyan says. She raises the pommel of her weapon, as though to offer the alchemist another taste.

“Okay, wait, wait,” she says. “Damn, you guys are smart. What if I take you to my buyer? He carries way more cash than me; hell, he’ll even cover the cost of what I stole.” Her eyes bulge. “Er, rather, the cost of our previous transaction. What do you say?”