The glowing sphere turns loops and corkscrews in the air, straining at the edge of the thicket like an eager dog on a leash.
“Can we keep it?” Fassn asks.
“Well do you promise to take care of it, clean up after it? Having a glowing sphere is a big responsibility,” Shyan says.
“Certainly is a pushy little thing, isn’t it?” Cang asks, watching it struggle at the thicket’s edge. It quickly circles his head then returns to its position.
“Maybe we should actually follow it,” Shyan says. “It showed you those jewels, right?”
“Well, I liberated them,” Cang says, defensively.
Shyan shrugs. “Good enough for me. Little ball of light, let’s see what you’ve got.”
Abia cups her hands for the glowing sphere, and it alights within. She laces her fingers loosely and conceals the near-daylight within her voluminous indigo robes.
The gang waits for hours, hunkering down in the thickets. Pressed up against one another, they smell the sour sweat of unwashed bodies and the damp, fecund earth below. The sentries seek, but do not find. The gang’s muscles ache from crouching by the time Cang skulks out to check their position. Finding nothing, he returns to the group.
“We need to find a town to unload this necklace,” Shyan says.
“Preferably somewhere that will not mind that we liberated it from a princess,” Cang adds.
Abia lets the sphere go, and Fassn prods at it as it bobs about the thicket. Soon it’s turning in circles, as though urging the team to get moving.
Shyan shrugs and gestures for the rest to follow the glowing sphere. They do so, and Shyan falls in behind. She makes a fighting retreat, scooping up stones and pinecones to launch at their pursuers. When bone darts start slamming into tree trunks all around her, she drops her missiles and sprints after her companions.
They reach a dark thicket of leafy branches and Shyan signals for silence. The gang slows its collective breathing, and soon the only sounds are morning doves, insects, and the soft buzz of the glowing sphere. Somewhere beyond, the gang hears tentative steps of sentries.
Abia’s ears do not deceive. Soon the gang hears the padding of small feet, the creaks of branches gripped by hands. The creatures, alerted to the theft, are on their way. Shyan springs up and puts out their low fire.
“We know not the next town’s location,” Cang grumbles.
The glowing sphere bobbing around him perks up and starts to turn circles around his head. He swats at it irritably, but it deftly dodges. It pulls away toward the woods just as scowling grey creatures emerge behind the gang, growling about jewels.
At the mention of selling, the glowing sphere jerks alert, and floats quickly behind Cang’s back, away from Shyan.
“The light thinks you’re gonna sell it,” Fassn says, chuckling.
“Do you suppose we could?” Cang asks. He turns left and right to get a look at the thing, but it bobs and weaves effortlessly, keeping glimpses brief. “How much would you fetch, you cretin?” he asks.
“If it’s half as much as that necklace, we’re doing it,” Shyan says.
“But what fence would take it?” Fassn asks. “In fact, who’d take the necklace? Sure looks like it came from the neck of royalty.”
Abia stands. “We should leave. They come.”
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.