“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.
When weak yellow sunlight begins edging its way through grimy tavern windows, Shyan stirs. She’d fallen asleep at the table, still gripping a half-full tankard. Fassn’s asleep too, head back and mouth wide open, snoring.
Cang continues to count his stash, making careful little piles for future expenses and extravagances. Abia’s still focused, with unyielding pacificity, at some unseen point beyond the tavern.
When the light tickles her nose, Shyan shoots up. “Master Davit!?” she shouts, her eyes wild. The barman shoots her a startled look from across the room where he’s lifting chairs onto tables. “All right now, you slept for free, off you lot go, y’hear?”
“I heard singing,” she says, her eyes unfocused, far away. “Two voices. One low and gruff, the other light, lilting.” She trails off and lays back in the dirt.
“What happened to me?” she asks.
“Old Mossy and the princess came after you for Davit,” Fassn says sadly. “Filled you up full of bone dart poisons, and still you kicked the crud from their teeth.”
“Sure,” she replies absently. “But after?”
“After,” Fassn says, drawing into himself. “After was a boon of Old Ajralan.”
Facing off outside the caves, a dozen short grey humanoids, wide mouths full of sharp teeth, and bright, staring eyes, vs our four intrepid travellers, staggering from their painful memories and crude illusions. Shyan, in front, has her fists up and jaw set. Fassn flanks her, with Cang and Abia behind. “Well?” she asks.
The princess smirks. “Would Davit have approved of your haste?”
“Master Davit is dead,” Shyan says, her voice flat. “It was I who killed him. If you wish to kill me, know you won’t be the first to try.”
“Certainly not,” says the princess. “But we shall be the last.” She flicks her wrist and her retainers draw blowpipes and loose a wave of darts cut of splintered bone. Many reach Shyan’s skin, and she soon feels their poison coursing through her blood.
“I knew the moment I saw you fight in the square,” the princess says. “A village full of tall folk, and you, a young woman, striking with the Silent Mantis. Sliding into Hooking Crow. Techniques only Davit knew.”
Shyan perks up at the name. She stands steadily, rising from the floor, silent and intense.
“Of all people,” Old Mossy says. “I’m glad we finally found you.”
“The killer of Davit,” the princess says, a note of wonder in her voice.
“You are some of many,” Shyan replies. She pivots a foot into a defensive stance as her compatriots gather around her. Her eyes blaze. “Come,” she says, raising her fists. “You may have it.”
“Is there anything you do not wish to smell?” Cang asks.
Fassn cocks his head thoughtfully, then shakes it. “Nope. I wanna smell it all. If they’re coming now, I might get my chance.”
“They’re always coming,” Shyan says. “Master Davit was feared and beloved. I’ve put a price on my head — a price to be paid in honour and blood.” She seems to be speaking mostly to herself. “A day will come soon when it’s spilled.”
Just then, from outside the circle of the gang’s meagre camp fire, the crack of a twig underfoot.