25 iv) “In fact,” Fassn continues, “let me just taste ’em a second.”

“In fact,” Fassn continues, “let me just taste ’em a second.” He reaches for the princess’ necklace with bony fingers.

“I should think not,” Cang says, whisking the necklace away from his grizzled companion. “You shall bring down their value.”

“No way,” Fassn says. “My spit is mystical.”

“Nonsense,” says Cang. “You disgust me.”

“Boys, boys,” Shyan cuts in. “Nobody’s tasting anything. We’re headed straight for a jeweller or a fence. Whomever wants to take this necklace off our hands can do so.”

“Well I want to take it off his hands,” Fassn says.

“Great, just show us the coins.”

Fassn makes a show of patting his pockets, but of course he comes up empty.

“That’s what I thought,” Shyan says. “Now let’s get this done so we can enjoy a hot meal for a change.”

25 iii) The city’s composed of towers

The city’s composed of towers, great rising spires of grey, blue, and brown. The sun glares off their bulky edifices as the gang cranes their necks to take in the buildings’ soaring tops.

“They’ve built stone houses like mountains,” Shyan says, her jaw agape.

“I don’t wanna sleep in the woods anymore,” Fassn says.

“I bet they have an inn down there,” Shyan says. “An inn like none you’ve seen, with ceilings you couldn’t jump to reach.”

The glowing sphere bounces impatiently.

“Yes, yes,” Cang says. “We shall sell you in good time.” At this the sphere bobs away from Cang and circles behind Fassn, as though it were cowering.

“Ah, c’mon Cang, we can’t sell the little guy,” says Fassn. “Those jewels, on the other hand,” he says, and smacks his lips.

25 ii) The glowing sphere bobs and whirls at the thicket’s edge

The glowing sphere bobs and whirls at the thicket’s edge. When the gang starts to follow it, it perks up and zooms ahead, then turns another quick circle.

“I have already grown tired of this,” Cang groans.

Still, the gang follows its path through scratching thickets as the sun falls low into the sky. Golden light streams through bare branches when suddenly the sphere stops its forward march and starts looping.

Shyan gives the signal to halt. “What’s it saying now, Cang?”

“Pardon me? I am certain I do not know,” he replies.

“Wait,” Abia says in a low tone. She creeps ahead, parts the thickets, and beyond, finds a great city.

25 i) The glowing sphere turns loops and corkscrews

The glowing sphere turns loops and corkscrews in the air, straining at the edge of the thicket like an eager dog on a leash.

“Can we keep it?” Fassn asks.

“Well do you promise to take care of it, clean up after it? Having a glowing sphere is a big responsibility,” Shyan says.

“Certainly is a pushy little thing, isn’t it?” Cang asks, watching it struggle at the thicket’s edge. It quickly circles his head then returns to its position.

“Maybe we should actually follow it,” Shyan says. “It showed you those jewels, right?”

“Well, I liberated them,” Cang says, defensively.

Shyan shrugs. “Good enough for me. Little ball of light, let’s see what you’ve got.”

24 v) Abia cups her hands for the glowing sphere

Abia cups her hands for the glowing sphere, and it alights within. She laces her fingers loosely and conceals the near-daylight within her voluminous indigo robes.

The gang waits for hours, hunkering down in the thickets. Pressed up against one another, they smell the sour sweat of unwashed bodies and the damp, fecund earth below. The sentries seek, but do not find. The gang’s muscles ache from crouching by the time Cang skulks out to check their position. Finding nothing, he returns to the group.

“We need to find a town to unload this necklace,” Shyan says.

“Preferably somewhere that will not mind that we liberated it from a princess,” Cang adds.

Abia lets the sphere go, and Fassn prods at it as it bobs about the thicket. Soon it’s turning in circles, as though urging the team to get moving.

24 iv) Shyan shrugs and gestures for the rest to follow the glowing sphere

Shyan shrugs and gestures for the rest to follow the glowing sphere. They do so, and Shyan falls in behind. She makes a fighting retreat, scooping up stones and pinecones to launch at their pursuers. When bone darts start slamming into tree trunks all around her, she drops her missiles and sprints after her companions.

They reach a dark thicket of leafy branches and Shyan signals for silence. The gang slows its collective breathing, and soon the only sounds are morning doves, insects, and the soft buzz of the glowing sphere. Somewhere beyond, the gang hears tentative steps of sentries.

24 iii) Abia’s ears do not deceive

Abia’s ears do not deceive. Soon the gang hears the padding of small feet, the creaks of branches gripped by hands. The creatures, alerted to the theft, are on their way. Shyan springs up and puts out their low fire.

“We know not the next town’s location,” Cang grumbles.

The glowing sphere bobbing around him perks up and starts to turn circles around his head. He swats at it irritably, but it deftly dodges. It pulls away toward the woods just as scowling grey creatures emerge behind the gang, growling about jewels.