18 iv) Heads swivel toward the noise

Heads swivel toward the noise. Timid in the light of the fire, several grey faces, low to the ground. At the centre of the clutch of humanoids, the princess the gang had rescued, and with her, Old Mossy, explorer extraordinaire. When the gang recognizes them, they let their guards down — just a fraction.

“Any luck in there?” Old Mossy says.

Sardonically, Cang says, “I found some gems.”

Old Mossy gives a start of surprise. “Really?”

“No, not really,” Cang replies with a huff.

“What brings you?” Abia asks the group.

A creepy grin worms its way across Old Mossy’s face.

15 v) Abia gently traces the door's outline with her fingerti

Abia gently traces the door’s outline with her fingertip. She’s tall enough to reach its entire perimeter: stretching on her toes to cover the top, squatting low to the ground for the bottom. As she does so, her eyes adjust to the darkness, and find it incomplete. A soft yellow light leaks through tiny cracks in the frame where the ancient door was hewn.

The light reveals her companions’ respective joy, cut off from one another, cut off from reality. Though it pains her to interrupt their happiness, reconnecting with the things they love, she knows it must be done. This cave life cannot be sustained, she feels. At the thought, the creaky voice rattles in her head, chuckling. Abia hurries to wake Shyan.

a sprawling place, abia, cang, fassn, fiction, logan bright, works, shyan, writing exercise, dark, riches, cave,

15 iv) Instead of soft silks and beautiful music, Abia finds knowledge

Instead of soft silks and beautiful music, Abia finds knowledge. The darkness is banished behind flat light, less illumination than the absence of dark. There are no gems and jewels, no dead martial arts master, no fine textiles: only the knowledge that all that is a lie, a broken promise, an illusion.

Abia looks about for her companions, finds them. Cang on his knees, scooping rocks and stones into his pockets. Shyan pleading with a gauzy shadow upon the rocky wall. Fassn splayed out in the dust, talking happily to the ceiling. Each unaware of her, unaware of one another. Abia turns to find the stone door they’d come through closed, its outline faintly visible in the cave’s wall.

She wonders how she’ll get through it.

a sprawling place, abia, cang, fassn, fiction, logan bright, works, shyan, writing exercise, dark, riches, cave,

15 iii) Instead of Master Davit, Fassn finds bundles of spices

Instead of Master Davit, Fassn finds bundles of spices, a bed of fine silks, brocaded draperies. Morning sun filters through the wispy dark’s edges, warming his skin. Unfamiliar incense burns with a pleasant smell.

An unseen choir sings a beautiful song, from no fixed point. The music seems to come from everywhere. Strange trees in foreign hues grow about, and a gentle breeze plays through the curls of his beard.

For a moment, Fassn is certain he hears the voice of Old Ajralan from somewhere beyond the dark.

15 ii) Instead of jewels, Shyan finds Master Davit

Instead of jewels, Shyan finds Master Davit. He’s alive and well, a beatific smile upon his lined face. He gestures for her to assume the stance, and she does so gracefully, without word.

Emotions and mistrust war behind her eyes but incontrovertibly, Davit is before her in a warm pool of light.

They go through the warmup motions together, and Shyan feels light, loose, ready to spar.

The voices of her companions have fallen silent. She no longer hears the grind of stone, the creaky voice, the ominous knocking. All is right in the dark.