iv) Come on, Horton, you’re caught up in all this too?

“Come on, Horton, you’re caught up in all this too?” Shyan says as the groaning intensifies.

The blacksmith looks abashed, and keeps his ruddy face turned from hers. “It’s a job, missus.”

“Quiet, Horton. Do not deign to speak to our guests,” says Cang, luxuriating in his authority. “The rest of our invitees ought to arrive rather soon.”

Their cue delivered, a dozen humanoid creatures spill into the foyer through hidden doors. Shyan, Abia, and Fassn are surrounded by leering things with charcoal skin and empty white eyes.

“My footmen will show you to your chamber. I’m certain you’ll find it to your liking,” says Cang. He smiles, and the light from his teeth flickers briefly. A panic-stricken look comes over Cang’s face for an instant, and he says, “Help!”

iii) “What happened to the tall feller?”

“What happened to the tall feller?” Fassn asks, before adding, “No offense.”

“None taken, dear Fassn,” says Cang, the picture of good grace. “That form had grown awfully oppressive, such that this spry young fellow seemed a treat. I’d have had her—” at this he gestures to Abia, who still wears an expression of cold steel “—but the witch had seen to that.”

Abia resists the urge to give Cang a questioning glance. Luckily for her, Shyan jumps in.

“Seen to that? What is all this magic circle nonsense?”

“Agreed, such a dreadful bore, no?” Cang says. He claps twice, the crisp sound ringing through the lushly appointed corridors. Soon Horton Belwether, the blacksmith, appears at a door.

“Yes, sir?” he says.

“Show my friends their rooms.”

From below the floorboards, even over the intensifying storm outside, the gang hears scuffling feet, and low, rumbling groans.

ii) “No stooge,” Abia says

“No stooge,” Abia says, the disapproval ringing in her voice. Ordinarily this tone might chasten Cang, but today he grins that hideous purple grin instead.

“Watch your mouth, Cang,” Shyan says.

“Do not call me Cang,” he says. “Cang is no more. I am the lich.”

“We met the lich already. Tall guy, ashen, creepy. Followed around by a pudgy blacksmith.”

“Ah,” Cang says, as though basking in forgotten nostalgia. “So like the tides, these bodies. In and out.”

“In and out,” Fassn says, chewing at his lips. “Yer the lich?”

Cang bows formally, and when he rises with a flourish, thunder rumbles outside.

The sputtering candelabras send flickering red light through the foyer.

i) Cang bows formally

Cang bows formally, like one of noble blood, trained his whole life in the court. Shyan returns it, but her technique is sloppy, comparatively, and Cang suppresses a chuckle.

Fassn’s patting at his pockets, muttering about a magic circle.

“Such a magnificent beauty, is it not?” Cang asks, gesturing at the castle itself. The foyer is richly appointed, full of carved wood with decorative filigree.

“Sure,” Shyan says. “Fail to see how it’s yours, though.”

The purple fangs in Cang’s mouth flash. “It has always been mine, dear, since the sun rose early on the Ekujek Empire.”

“Very old,” says Abia.

Cang glides toward her, is in her personal space before she reacts. “Right, right.” He peers up at her malevolently. “The stooge of the witch.”

v) Cang’s eyes bulge

Cang’s eyes bulge. Tendrils of violet energy curl up from the fang and latch onto his fingers, so recently healed by Old Ajralan. His jaw locks, his body convulses, the tendrils creep up his arm.

Shyan shouts. She, Fassn, and Abia grab Cang’s shoulders, try to pull him away from the fang, but it’s as though he’s built of stone.

“Don’t let it touch you,” Abia says, as the tendrils climb Cang’s body. Gurgling noises from his throat burble forth.

When the energy is about to reach them, Shyan and the others back off. It envelops Cang, washes over him entirely. His eyes go from anguished to calm and austere. The energy fades, and he cracks his neck to loosen the stiffness. He smiles, and his whole mouth is full of purple fangs.

In the lich’s voice, Cang says, “Ah, that’s better.”

Fassn says, “Cang, cool teeth!”

iv) The runed book grows hot as Abia nears the fang

The runed book grows hot as Abia nears the fang. Its intensity seems tied to her proximity to the sharp, violet object — as her fingertips approach the object, the book sears her other hand. She grits her teeth but the pain is relentless, so to relieve it, she steps back.

“What in the world was that?” Cang asks.

“Book burn my fingers,” Abia says. “Don’t want me to touch fang.”

“Oh please. If the rotund blacksmith possessed it, surely it can do no harm.”

“Cang,” Shyan cuts in. “Abia usually knows about this kind of thing. I mean, look at the weird symbols on her book.”

“Runes,” Abia says simply.

“Yes, more occultism,” Cang says, shaking his head. He looks over his fingers, which Fassn’s god had so recently restored to working order. He perks up. “Perhaps these divinely blessed digits of mine will be more up to the task.”

Before anyone can stop him, Cang scoops up the fang.