The glowing sphere bobs along above Cang’s shoulder as he pads over to the gang’s hidden camp. It gently illuminates the way, its light taking on a softer, moonlike glow. Cang ignores it until he reaches the camp.
“This thing is watching me,” he says, breathless.
“That little light?” Fassn asks. “Why would it wanna watch you? You’re not that interesting.”
“It was in the trunk of the princess,” Cang says. “It showed me these jewels,” he adds, holding aloft the valuable necklace he pilfered.
“Right now, I’m more interested in that than any light,” Shyan says. “We’ve gotta find a place to sell it.”
As the princess shifts, the light zooms into her face, perching upon the bridge of her nose. She’s fully awake, now, yet can see nothing but the light’s distracting glow. She calls out for her guards.
Cang stifles a beat of panic, feeling the heavy weight of the jewels in his hand. All he can see of the princess’ face is the strange glowing sphere, too. He sprints to a window like a dart, throws a rope out, and climbs down. Once he’s over the lip, the sphere leaves the princess and follows.
Cang flees the village, jewels in hand, the point of light following over his shoulder.
The glowing ball of light makes a faint “zip” sound when it flies across the room. The play of light and shadow across the branch-woven walls make a soft chiming noise that’s oddly pleasant. The light circles the princess’ sleeping form, illuminating a wide necklace of precious stones looped about her neck. It then circles back around the chamber to return to Cang and hang about his head.
He gives the light a nod and creeps over to the princess’ bed, wiggling his fingers to limber them up. With a single “click” its clasp comes loose in his hands, but the princess begins to stir.
He can scarcely register his own surprise when the ball of light within the trunk twitches and stirs. It glows like the early morning sun at the trunk’s bottom, and as Cang stares down disbelieving, it rises like the dawn up out of the trunk. The glowing ball makes a sound like a hummingbird’s wings, though Cang can make out no such appendages.
The glowing sphere zooms past Cang’s head, over his shoulder, to hover near the sleeping princess. Alarmed, Cang stalks over on the tips of his toes, ready to grab the sphere — though he’s a little afraid it might burn him. His grab is too slow, anyway. The sphere bobs and weaves out of his grasp and begins descending at speed, making straight for the princess’ face.
Cang steals over to the trunk. Its construction is tough, clearly constructed for a considerable fee by a skilled professional. Undetected, he runs his fingers over the planed wood, takes in the rivets holding tight the iron.
Of course, a heavy padlock hangs from the front. Its keyhole is clean, undisturbed, as though this trunk is not often used. Cang draws a couple lengths of wire from a pouch sewn into his vest, and expertly fans them out with his fingers. Squinting askance, he selects a wire and inserts it carefully into the lock. Twisting and turning, he chooses another, puts it in too.
As guards move about outside the princess’ chamber, Cang hears the soft click of the lock popping open.
The noise of the tumbling figure cannot be concealed, so as other guards approach to investigate, Cang heaves himself over a window sill and into the princess’ structure, a palace woven of branches and ivy suspended in the twin trees. The floors, walls, and ceilings, all are made of living material.
The interior is a single, wide open room. Against one wall, a wide, four-poster bed stands draped in drawn silks. Away from their posts about the chamber are several grey skinned guards, now looking out windows for the disturbance’s source.
Cang keeps to the shadows as a guard calls for light. When the torch is struck, Cang sees it: a sturdy trunk set with banded iron at the foot of the princess’ bed.
Cang meets the guard’s gaze as soon as the branch cracks. He’s ready for it: time almost seems to slow, warp, and twist. The guard’s four-fingered hand drops to his belt with a long, blurred trail. He grasps a poison-coated bone dart, its green tip coated with wet ichor. The guard brings the dart up and arcs it in Cang’s direction.
Cang leaves the guard aside from his attention, focuses entirely on the dart. It cuts through the air, a slice of white against the deep green foliage. Cang raises his hand and as the dart reaches him, snags it from its place in the air, careful not to touch the poisonous tip.
The guard can’t tell he’s caught it until Cang throws it back. In an instant the dart’s sticking from the guard’s shoulder, and a second later, he collapses, tumbling to the ground below.