“I must say, I haven’t enough to feed all your—” here Ulxurix searches for the right word to encompass the clutch of a dozen dripping, groaning man-things, before she finishes with “guests.”
Cang breezes past Shyan. “Not a problem, my dear hostess, not a problem. After all, my boys haven’t eaten in some time, have you, boys?”
The creatures’ noises go unchanged.
“Well,” Cang says, clapping his hands. He turns about, takes in the mechanomagical devices and technothurgic apparatuses. Sees the dental chair, the book shelf, the softly glowing magic circle inscribed upon the floor. “I’d better watch out,” he says, chuckling.
The gang shares a nervous glance with Ulxurix.
“I do so hate to be rude,” Cang says. “But my hunger is rampaging.”
“Mine too,” Horton adds. Cang whacks him with a long, firm reed.
“Of course,” Ulxurix says. She hurries to the head of the table, pulls a chair out for him. “Please,” she says. “Let’s eat.”
“Mine ears are sharp too, lich,” says Ulxurix. She’s appeared at the door, her tattoos winking and flowing as they move about her skin.
“Ah, the witch,” says Cang. “How do you like my current form?” He flares his hands for her appraisal.
“Short,” is all she says.
“Listen, Ulxurix, wizard, witch, whatever,” Shyan says. “Can we come in out of the rain?”
“No need,” says Fassn, again catching drops on his tongue. A crack of thunder spooks him and he darts inside.
Ulxurix lets him pass. “Of course, dears. But you know I’m not a witch.”
“Not a witch, right,” Shyan says. She lets Abia enter before her, and then the groaning creatures attendant to Cang follow behind. Horton, trembling, his eyes darting frantically about, is next, and at last only Cang and Shyan remain in the rain.
“We’re gonna get you back, buddy,” Shyan murmurs.
“Hm?” Cang says.
The lighthouse is shrouded with thick, dark storm clouds. The gentle light within its top is obscured — or, Shyan fears, no longer burning at all. All the same, she swallows her concern.
The broken iron gates swing open at the gang’s approach. The groaning man-creatures precede the wagon, loping onto the lighthouse grounds.
“Is the witch home?” Fassn asks.
“She must be,” Shyan says. “We have a very special guest.”
“Indeed,” says Cang. “And if I’m attended to, I can become rather irritable.”
“Obviously,” Shyan mutters under her breath.
“Careful girl,” Cang says. “Mine ears are sharp.” He smiles, showing off his teeth — even sharper than his ears.
The door to the lighthouse creaks and opens.
Thunder crashes as though to announce the carriage’s arrival. Shyan is first to leap into the rain. She performs an elaborate bow and holds the door open for Cang to emerge. Fassn holds the seikum pelt above him once again.
They stand outside the lighthouse.
Cang turns to Shyan, not at all surprised. “We’re to dine with your witchy friend after all, it seems?”
“She does good work,” Shyan says.
“She makes the finest welt potatoes, and a sugary surdij sauce, and incredible plaintains,” Fassn says, his tongue lolling out to catch the rain.
Shyan catches Cang’s gaze and holds it. “Just don’t step into the magic circle.”
Cang chuckles. He calls out to Horton to wait for his return. Sullen, Horton nods, the rain cutting rivulets down his ruddy cheeks. He flinches at the movement of a groaning footman.
“Well then, Shyan,” says Cang. He smiles, showing off his filed purple fangs. “Show me to this magic circle.”
Despite its opulent appearance, the carriage is constrained inside. Cang keeps his knees pulled up to his body, and even so, Fassn looms over him.
“You smell of fired cheese,” Cang says.
“Thanks,” Fassn replies. He pulls out a lumpy kerchief from a pocket, offers it up. “You want some?”
“If this is your meaning of fine dining,” Cang says, “we may as well turn this carriage around right now.”
“No, no,” Shyan says. “Ignore him. Fassn’s a fool.” To him, she adds, “You’re lucky we let you ride in the cab.”
“Hey, that’s mean.”
The carriage rattles and rocks its uneasy way down from the castle grounds into the village proper. Abia leans out a window, enduring the pounding rain, and in spite of the noise, whispers to Horton their destination. His face is a mask of fear.
Thunder crashes as the carved doors of the lich’s castle are flung open. Undead servants grouse and grumble as they line the walkway, standing like rotting footmen in oily livery. Horton hurries out into the rain, and soon an ebony carriage stands ready, Horton perched uneasily atop it. The magnificent vehicle is drawn by two black horses, looking much like the “men” attendant to Cang.
Inside the warmth of the castle, the gang stares into the bleak night. From behind them, Cang says, “Friends, surely we must be away if we’re to make our appointment. The lateness of the hour is such that even those of refinement—” here, gesturing to himself “—have typically already eaten.” A faint purple glow creeps into his narrowed eyes. “You’ll find my patience wears when I grow hungry.”
Fassn launches into action, holding a tanned seikum pelt over Cang’s head, and walking him like a dignitary out to the carriage. Fassn holds the door open for Cang to enter. After shutting it behind him, he throws a look of panic to Shyan and Abia. Shyan shrugs, and they hurry to the carriage.
Abia shakes her head vigorously. Shyan puts on a guise of affront. “Magic circle? Lighthouse? No, no, friend, you’ve got it all wrong.”
Fassn’s brow falls. Under his breath, he says to Shyan, “Isn’t that what we’re trying to do?”
Shyan frowns at him and he straightens his back. “Oh, the lighthouse? Where the witch lives? Certainly not,” he says, too loudly.
Cang appears bemused, his sentries swaying uneasily. Horton Belwether looks terrified, his eyes darting between each of the gang and the many corpsey things just hanging around.
“Very well,” Cang says at last. “It has been so very long since I dined with those of refinement. Though I suppose looking at you—” he says as he does so, taking in the road-stained garments of his former friends “—that time may yet be further still.” He claps sharply. “Horton, prepare the carriage.”