18 iii) “Is there anything you do not wish to smell?”

“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.

18 i) “When I was in the deserts, eyes rose from the sands”

“When I was in the deserts, eyes rose from the sands. When I moved through the jungles, hands rose out of the brush. In the mountains, blades swung down from the sky.” Shyan shifts in her seat, her eyes cold and focused somewhere deep in the past. “I pushed them all off, but still they came. Pretenders, mourners, opportunists. Master Davit’s fists — my fists — drove them off, one by one. I had killed him. I was all that was left of him. A cruel wind followed me. Still follows me.” She lifts her head, her eyes narrow. “I taste the bitter breeze.”

17 v) “When they came for me, I was ready”

“When they came for me, I was ready. Thanks to Master Davit, so had so kindly made space for me under his wing, I could fight. I had killed him, yes. I mourn him still. But when they came for me, well… I killed again. He taught me how. More important, he taught me why. I slid from stance to stance, struck clean and true where needed. They had a lot to prove, each in his own way, for his own reasons. Me? I had nothing to prove. Nothing but love for my master, who taught me all. None could come against him. None could come against me. I struck, and wept, and soldiered on.” Shyan draws her knees to her chest. Her eyes are rimmed red. “They hunt me still.”

17 iv) “When it happened I panicked,” Shyan says

“When it happened I panicked,” Shyan says. “Held the traditional ceremony, strung the bunting. Buried him in the sky. But word got out. People knew, and they came for me. I took to the road after the mourning period, but I wasn’t fast enough.”

Cang coughs, the sound harsh and echoing across the rocks.

“All those who said I wasn’t worthy, well, they appeared again to tell me so. To prove it with their feet and their fists.” Shyan’s face is ashen, set with grim finality. “With mine, I showed them that I was.”

17 iii) “Tell us of the good,” Abia says

“Tell us of the good,” Abia says, her voice gentle but unyielding, like that of a patient mother.

“He taught me everything I know,” Shyan says plainly. “Each technique, each flowing movement, they all came from Master Davit.” She meets Abia’s eyes, her gaze intense. “He was loved and feared by all. And I—”

Cang and Fassn shift in their seats, leaning in to hear.

“—I was hated, for having got the space as his pupil. For having got it, and…” She squeezes her eyes closed, the tight lines around them paling. “And throwing that gods-damned punch.”

17 ii) “Master Davit took me up to his plateau”

“Master Davit took me up to his plateau after my name day,” Shyan begins. “At first, I hated it. The lush vegetation of my youth gave way to a barren hillock, and dalliances with friends were replaced by ritual training.”

Abia nods. She knows a thing or two about ritual training, of another sort.

“Master Davit drilled me in a dozen martial arts, most of which I had never heard of,” Shyan says. “I stood like a flamingo in the rain for three days. “A caterpillar took its home in my open palm and spun its way into a butterfly.” She chokes up, takes a moment to find her words. “Years later, I killed him,” she says, as fresh tears fill her eyes.