39 v) The heat, for Abia, grows

The heat, for Abia, grows. Waves of infernal fire wash over her spirit, leaving her body unharmed but her mind seared.

Twenty years or more since she’d left the dragon’s employ. Twenty years or more since she’d torn herself away from the shackles of its malignant expectations. It had been a few years since she’d even thought of the dragon, found herself surprised to find its scaly head invading her mind.

Years to quit, mere hours to return.

39 iv) Abia, for her part, remains calm, meditating a while in a corner

Abia, for her part, remains calm, meditating a while in a corner, her legs folded, eyes closed. Her indigo robes had hardly needed washing — perhaps a few extra creases and folds here and there, but scarcely comparable to the grime that plagues her companions.

Privately, Abia weighs her desire to return to the warmth of the dragon’s employ with her former desire to escape it. Those years seem long-ago now, somehow quaint with gauzy nostalgia. Her brow creases almost imperceptibly in her stillness. What to make of a will to return to fire and fangs?

39 iii) Cang’s reluctant to give up his vest for laundering

Cang’s reluctant to give up his vest for laundering, lest its many secret pockets be discovered with their dozens of hidden coins. Still, Cang’s wedged them in there so effectively that even as Montague and his assistants scrub on the washboard, no telltale trebly clink of metal alerts them to the coins’ presence.

That is, until the glowing sphere, still trailing the gang like a curious bird, swirls around the sodden vest, dipping in and out of the bubbles and confusing Montague’s assistants. The sphere performs tight little corkscrews around the secret pockets while Cang glares from afar. As one of the assistants begins prodding a pocket, Cang barks a warning from across the room.

39 ii) “Nevermind. Something Master Davit used to say.”

“Nevermind. Something Master Davit used to say. Not important,” Shyan says.

For the next couple of hours, Montague, alongside a couple of dimple-cheeked helpers who seemed to emerge from the cabinets, and wore tiny, pointy green shoes, laundered the gang’s clothes. Weeks of sweat and grime flow with the water, leaving their simple garments fresh and clean.

This with the exception of Fassn of course, who’s still snoozing lightly on the floor, his mismatched garments and armour caked with filth and memories.

39 i) The gang reluctantly shells out a handful of coins

The gang reluctantly shells out a handful of coins each to Montague, with the exception of Fassn. “This dirt, these smells, they’re a part of me! They’re, like, part of the experience.”

Cang sniffs. “Typical.”

Fassn lays himself out on the floor with a cloth over his face, breathing deeply, slowly, contented, while his companions strip down.

“It’s been an age since I’ve had these clothes laundered,” Shyan says. “We should’ve just bitten the bullet in the first place.”

Cang squints at her. “Bitten the what?”

38 v) “Wow,” Montague says, despite himself

“Wow,” Montague says, despite himself. “You really came through.” He makes a show of weighing the sack of coins in his hand. “Pretty good tip for a bath and a haircut,” he adds.

“Can you do our clothes now too? We realize we’re kinda, well,” Shyan trails off.

“Stinky,” Fassn says, taking a deep whiff of his own underarm.

“We’ll pay you like normal this time.”

A great big grin spreads across the barber’s face. “Laundry, but of course! Coins up front, please.”