Townsfolk flee the storm. As Shyan, Fassn, and Abia emerge into the rain, doors and shutters slam around them. The gang hears fearful shouts, but the words are swallowed and crashes of thunder.
For a moment, lightning illuminates Ulxurix’s lighthouse, and across from it, the lich’s twisted castle. Shyan imagines Cang jauntily strolling up to it, ignorant of his withered body. She shakes the image away and leads her friends to the lighthouse, where she pounds upon the door with a gloved fist.
They wait a long time, trying not to jump at every crack of lightning. At last, the door swings inward of its own accord, and they step, dripping, into the tiny receiving room.
Ulxurix, her tattoos swirling about every inch of her flesh, and glowing with a serene yellow light, sits in a rattan chair, her fingers tented, patient. When her eyes land upon Abia, her face goes pale, and the light in her tattoos dims.
She stands, moves towards them, squinting. She says to Abia, “It was supposed to be you.”
“Where’s Cang?” Fassn asks, blinking away the drops cascading through his stringy hair. He’s allowed himself to be pulled back into the smithy with Abia and Shyan.
Shyan stares at him in open disbelief. “You saw him transform, right? And walk out the door?”
“Yeah,” Fassn says, with a drawn-out aspect, as though he’s trying his best to remember.
“His skin turned grey. He got new teeth, just like you. He touched the purple fang.”
Fassn reaches around to gently dab at his shoulder blades. “I miss my wings.”
“Not relevant. We’re going to see Ulxurix, the witch.”
He brightens. “Oh yeah! She did my teeth. Did we ever pay her?”
Blushing, Shyan says, “Well, no, but we were working on it. Still are.”
Abia signals to Shyan to move things along.
“Right. Fassn, get ready. We’re going back into the rain.”
Lightning strikes, and in that flashing instant, written across the faces of the three is pure terror.
Fassn tears after Cang, explodes outdoors into the pouring rain. He widens his arms and turns his head up to face the drops, catches them upon his outstretched tongue.
Shyan and Abia watch from the doorway of the smithy as Cang disappears into the mist, walking toward the lich’s castle.
“Crap,” Shyan says.
Just then, Abia senses a tingling, a creeping awareness of the lighthouse behind them. She turns to find it in the fog, and though is top is occluded, a faint orange glow eminates from it.
“Visit witch,” Abia says.
“Shouldn’t we go after Cang?”
Abia shakes her head once, with sadness and finality. “Cannot alone.”
Shyan glances towards Ulxurix’s lighthouse and shudders. “Fine. Just let me grab water boy, here.” She marches into the storm to collect Fassn, happily swallowing the rain.
With a burst of thunder, lit dramatically from behind like an actor onstage, the door to the smithy slams open, and in stumbles the blacksmith himself, Horton Belwether. His eyes fall upon the dessicated, grinning Cang, and Horton falls down.
Cang laughs. “Horton, you fool. Could there be a worse eternal servant in this pissant town?”
“It’s just,” Horton says breathlessly from the floor, rolling like a turtle to regain his footing. “It’s just, I thought you didn’t want him.”
Sneering, Cang says, “You’re right on that account, Horton.” He wheels to face Abia, points an accusatory finger right at her. “I wanted her. Look at the power that courses through her!”
From the floor, Horton replies, “I see it.”
Shyan helps the portly blacksmith to his feet. “Look, I could see why you might want Abianarin, sure. But Cang? Come on, who needs him?”
The lich within Cang laughs again, a high, crackling sound accentuated by the lightning brewing outside. “You’re right, of course. But this form shall serve in the interim.” He makes for the door, which flies open with a bang, as though the wind invites him out. He says one word before departing in the tumultuous rain. “Ta.”
Cang stands, his flesh a withered grey. He seems somehow taller, and though he still doesn’t reach the height of his companions, the vicious purple fangs filling his mouth help the illusion. “You have done me a wonderful favour,” he says, in the sophisticated voice of the lich.
The tools and materials in the smithy begin to quake and tremble, filling the small room with a rattling din.
“Well that wasn’t our intention,” Shyan says. She gestures for Fassn and Abia to get behind her. “Cang, why don’t you just come and relax, hm? We’ll brew you a nice cup of cha.”
“Oh, I’m far beyond your niceties now,” Cang says. His eyes glow purple to match his teeth.
Under her breath, Shyan says to Abia, “Isn’t there something you can do?”
Abia shrugs, her eyes wide.
From outside, they hear the crackle of lightning.
Cang’s eyes bulge. Tendrils of violet energy curl up from the fang and latch onto his fingers, so recently healed by Old Ajralan. His jaw locks, his body convulses, the tendrils creep up his arm.
Shyan shouts. She, Fassn, and Abia grab Cang’s shoulders, try to pull him away from the fang, but it’s as though he’s built of stone.
“Don’t let it touch you,” Abia says, as the tendrils climb Cang’s body. Gurgling noises from his throat burble forth.
When the energy is about to reach them, Shyan and the others back off. It envelops Cang, washes over him entirely. His eyes go from anguished to calm and austere. The energy fades, and he cracks his neck to loosen the stiffness. He smiles, and his whole mouth is full of purple fangs.
In the lich’s voice, Cang says, “Ah, that’s better.”
Fassn says, “Cang, cool teeth!”
The runed book grows hot as Abia nears the fang. Its intensity seems tied to her proximity to the sharp, violet object — as her fingertips approach the object, the book sears her other hand. She grits her teeth but the pain is relentless, so to relieve it, she steps back.
“What in the world was that?” Cang asks.
“Book burn my fingers,” Abia says. “Don’t want me to touch fang.”
“Oh please. If the rotund blacksmith possessed it, surely it can do no harm.”
“Cang,” Shyan cuts in. “Abia usually knows about this kind of thing. I mean, look at the weird symbols on her book.”
“Runes,” Abia says simply.
“Yes, more occultism,” Cang says, shaking his head. He looks over his fingers, which Fassn’s god had so recently restored to working order. He perks up. “Perhaps these divinely blessed digits of mine will be more up to the task.”
Before anyone can stop him, Cang scoops up the fang.