Cang’s reluctant to give up his vest for laundering, lest its many secret pockets be discovered with their dozens of hidden coins. Still, Cang’s wedged them in there so effectively that even as Montague and his assistants scrub on the washboard, no telltale trebly clink of metal alerts them to the coins’ presence.
That is, until the glowing sphere, still trailing the gang like a curious bird, swirls around the sodden vest, dipping in and out of the bubbles and confusing Montague’s assistants. The sphere performs tight little corkscrews around the secret pockets while Cang glares from afar. As one of the assistants begins prodding a pocket, Cang barks a warning from across the room.
At the head of an ostentatious flight of stairs stands a massive set of double doors, crafted of fine, ancient oak, with filigree of silver veined throughout. Both Rivera and Rufus stop before it, turn to face the gang.
“Boss is through here,” says Rufus.
“You’re not coming with us?” Shyan asks.
Rivera shakes her head. “Boss likes to talk to clients alone.”
“What do you think, Abia?” asks Shyan.
“This is true,” she says, her tone suggesting no elaboration. The floating, glowing sphere takes a couple of turns around her head.
The musicians throw open the double doors. Within, an enormous throne room, and a thick, wet, unbearable heat.
“Good luck,” says Rivera, closing the door behind her.
The glowing sphere dances into the apple seller’s face. He’s perplexed, swats it away like an annoying fly, but it dodges and weaves without effort, leaving him flummoxed. Peasants in tunics thread by, oblivious.
“I guess now’s your chance,” Shyan says.
Cang sighs and darts over to the cart, keeping his footfalls quiet. He holds wide the pockets sewn into his vest, and scoops a half dozen apples into them while the merchant is distracted. When Cang rejoins the gang, and sphere disengages from the merchant, who looks around for some explanation.
The little glowing sphere, heretofore hiding its presence from Montague, suddenly lobs into the water, splashing like a stone. It pops back up as though to beckon the gang along.
“Your tiny friend enjoys the water, hm?” says Montague, spritzing Fassn’s bushy hair with something foul smelling from a bottle. “For glowing ball? No extra charge.”
“Well I have not come here for nothing,” says Cang. He gets undressed and chooses the same tub the sphere’s playing in. “Move aside,” he grumbles.
“Don’t make me bald as Cang,” Fassn says as Montague begins snipping. “I like the feel too much,” he continues, running his fingers through his hair even as Montague attempts to cut it.
“In fact,” Fassn continues, “let me just taste ’em a second.” He reaches for the princess’ necklace with bony fingers.
“I should think not,” Cang says, whisking the necklace away from his grizzled companion. “You shall bring down their value.”
“No way,” Fassn says. “My spit is mystical.”
“Nonsense,” says Cang. “You disgust me.”
“Boys, boys,” Shyan cuts in. “Nobody’s tasting anything. We’re headed straight for a jeweller or a fence. Whomever wants to take this necklace off our hands can do so.”
“Well I want to take it off his hands,” Fassn says.
“Great, just show us the coins.”
Fassn makes a show of patting his pockets, but of course he comes up empty.
“That’s what I thought,” Shyan says. “Now let’s get this done so we can enjoy a hot meal for a change.”
The city’s composed of towers, great rising spires of grey, blue, and brown. The sun glares off their bulky edifices as the gang cranes their necks to take in the buildings’ soaring tops.
“They’ve built stone houses like mountains,” Shyan says, her jaw agape.
“I don’t wanna sleep in the woods anymore,” Fassn says.
“I bet they have an inn down there,” Shyan says. “An inn like none you’ve seen, with ceilings you couldn’t jump to reach.”
The glowing sphere bounces impatiently.
“Yes, yes,” Cang says. “We shall sell you in good time.” At this the sphere bobs away from Cang and circles behind Fassn, as though it were cowering.
“Ah, c’mon Cang, we can’t sell the little guy,” says Fassn. “Those jewels, on the other hand,” he says, and smacks his lips.