“That’s probably enough for me, anyway,” Fassn says. He makes a great effort to still the chattering of his teeth: it fails. “I think Old Ajralan’s had his fill, anyway.”
“Concurred,” says Cang, who’s got the lip of his crowbar at the tile’s grout. He heaves and heaves and suddenly, with a crack, the tile gives way and comes loose. He hefts it, leaning far back to accommodate its weight. The tile’s nearly the size of his own torso, if not its density. “I believe I am ready to depart,” he says, a greedy glint in his eye that’s matched by the sparkling aspect of the tile.
At Abia’s warning, which like did anyone need at this point given their collective experiences, but she gives it anyway, and to her credit the gang is appropriately chilled, with the attendant raised-hair sensations creeping up arms and necks, and as those unsettling feelings reach their apex a low, round, bassy growl issues forth from somewhere deep within the manse, towards the throne room, and Fassn swallows a hard lump at the sound which sounds for all the world like the growl of an angry dragon.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Fassn says, one finger still in his mouth. “Why doesn’t the dragon want us?”
“Eh,” Shyan says. “Might be a good thing.”
“A very good thing indeed, yes, for those diving into holes to grab the wrists of an empty-headed sensualist,” Cang says.
“The dragon will want to see me alone,” Abia says. Not a warning or omen, but a simple statement of fact. “Be on guard for dangers.”
Cang slaps a palm against his own forehead for dramatic effect. “There you go again, Fassn, proving yourself to be the cerebral cortex behind this operation.”
Fassn smiles happily, unaware he’s been insulted.
“Fassn’s right, though. This was clearly a trap. But why would the dragon, your old boss, Abia, invite us in only to drop us down a bit full of brown goo?” Shyan asks.
Abia’s expression doesn’t change when she says, “Boss doesn’t want you. Boss only wants me.”
Fassn absently tosses a coin in Cang’s general direction. It flips and tumbles awkwardly, a lousy throw, but Cang, with the effortless fluidity of a viper’s strike, catches it from the air and secrets it away, a single, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it motion.
Meanwhile Fassn’s sucking at his gums, his eyes rolled way up and to one side as he thinks hard. The rest of the gang can practically hear the cobwebbed gears turning upstairs. Several times, he smacks his lips and pauses as though to speak. When he finally does, he says, “I think this might’ve been a trap.”
“Hey, lemme go,” Fassn protests, his feet scrabbling against the smooth stone wall of the pit. “There’s something smelly down here.”
As though his comment makes it real, the gang is hit by a repugnant stench emanating from the pit. Something sweet, like decay, but with a sour tang of vinegar that’s altogether unpleasant.
“Hear that? He wants to go down,” grunts Cang, caught in the middle of the human chain.
“Up to you to let him,” says Shyan, dragging Cang’s ankles back from the pit.
Cang’s crumpled, reddened face furrows further. “Why do I bother?” he mutters, straining against Fassn’s weight.