v) Horton’s eyes fly open

Horton’s eyes fly open. He throws a quick, uneasy glance at a rack of weapons and armour, then begs of Shyan, “Please, just go!”

“Let us have our gear, Horton,” the leader says in a sweetly supplicating way. “We’ll pay you well, right after.”

“I don’t think so,” Shyan says. “You lot—” as she brandishes her weapon at the men — “scatter.”

The bassy groan of a floorboard creaks as someone shifts their weight. The greasy leader says, “We’ll be back for our stuff, Horton,” then bows deeply and backs his lads out of the smithy.

“They’ll return, you know,” Horton rasps.

“Yeah, I’m right here,” Shyan says. “I don’t care about them. I care about Ulxurix.”

At this, the blacksmith blanches, and sprints for the back door.

iv) The arriving figures are dirty

The arriving figures are dirty, cut, scarred, and bear the unmistakable aspect of street thugs.

In an instant, there is tension in the air, as the five new arrivals stare at our gang of four, surprised to find anyone but the portly blacksmith in the tiny shop.

“That’s a fine gold bar you’ve got,” says the leader of the new arrivals. “Why not go ahead and share it with us, eh?”

Ugly grins spread across the faces of his friends. Crucially, though, they are unarmed, and unarmoured. Shyan steps up and loosens her weapon in its sheath. “Seems you and your boys aren’t ready to play. Why not let us have a moment with your backsmith friend, and then we can chat later?”

A laugh goes up amongst the dirty men; the blacksmith is dead silent. Cang slowly creeps behind the cover of an ancient wooden worktable.

“Just let me pick up me order from old Horton here and we can have more than a chat,” the leader says with a lascivious smile. “Come on, lass. Me boys is hungry.”

Without a word, Shyan draws her weapon completely free.

She asks, “Are you sure?”

iii) A tin bell jingles

A tin bell jingles as the gang enters the smithy. A coal-stained fellow, stout, with an unkempt beard, pauses with a hammer held above his head, mid-stroke. He pulls the round goggles off his face and stares agape at the four arrivals.

“Hello, sir blacksmith,” Cang says. “We are agents of the wizard Ulxurix, here to slay you.”

The blacksmith’s face falls into a mask of terror.

“Cang, you moron,” Shyan says, stepping forward. “Not true, sir. We’re just a band of travellers, looking for some help.”

“Metallurgical aid,” Abia says. She holds the book the wizard gave her, slightly away from her chest.

“That’s me,” the blacksmith stammers.

“Those coals look great,” Fassn says. “Can I have one?”

The blacksmith nods dumbly, and Fassn goes over to the forge. With his fingertips, he picks up and drops a number of coals, sending up the scent of sizzling flesh with each.

“These are hot,” he says.

Just then, five bedraggled figures burst into the smithy, tired and panting. The bell above them rings.

ii) “Okay, okay, this is bad,”

“Okay, okay, this is bad,” Shyan says.

“You imbecile,” sneers Cang, snatching the bar away from Fassn. Its surface is mottled by the invasion of Fassn’s teeth.

“Strong jaw,” Fassn says. He grabs up a rock and bites into it, chipping one of his incisors. He reels, dropping the rock, and screeching in pain.

“Easy come, easy go,” says Abia.

“Wait a second,” Shyan says. “Let me take a look at that.”

“I presume you won’t try to swallow it?” Cang asks.

Shyan shakes her head, annoyed. When Cang offers her the wonky bar, she runs her fingertips over the imperfections. “Maybe the blacksmith can fix it for us?”

“The blacksmith?” Cang asks. “Are you kidding? Why would we visit him to pay a debt to the wizard when the wizard has so transparently screwed us?”

Eyeing the bar closely, Shyan says, “I’m not sure it’s so transparent.”

i) The gang hustles out of Ulxurix’s lighthouse

The gang hustles out of Ulxurix’s lighthouse, clutching their goods.

“Shame we have to kill the blacksmith,” says Cang.

“We’re not killing anybody,” Shyan says.

They’re standing at the foot of the hill upon which the lighthouse stands. Passersby clothed in roughspun give them odd looks as they hurry about their business.

“We’ve gotta pay the witch back,” says Fassn. “Just look at these chompers!” He clacks his jaws together.

Cang balks. “The real treasure is here, my friend,” he says, showing off the gold bar. He fumbles his reaction as Fassn grabs the bar.

“Get a load of these babies,” he cries, and bites into the gold.

To the group’s mortification, Fassn’s teeth sink deep into the metal.

With his eyes wide and mouth full, Fassn calls out, “Old Ajralan, may you have your fill!”

v) He stares them down

He stares them down. An intense hour passes before Cang’s dedication to the gold outweighs his suspicions, and he climbs into the wagon. Its tiny space is filled with a snoring Fassn, and the cookfire is low and cool. With a start, Cang restores its vitality, then smacks Fassn to wake him up. The older man just grumbles and rolls over. Cang takes up the ladle and stirs.

The road people appear at the window, watching. “We’re awful hungry,” says the woman. “Share some soup?”

“We told you already,” Cang says, in an angry voice unheeding of his sleeping companions. “This soup is not for eating.”

“Share some mylar?” the man asks.

Cang’s face hardens. Slowly, with deliberate movements, he loosens his backpack, withdraws a crinkly bag of mylar. Light floods the road peoples’ eyes despite their attempts to stay cool.

“This, you may share,” Cang says.

The man tears the bag open without skill and vibrant orange arcs the length of a finger come spilling out. A few land in the soup, others upon Fassn’s stringy beard. The road people grab up the orange arcs and start munching.

At the noise, Fassn awakens. Blinking, with a gritty voice, he mumbles, “Hey, Cang. You’ve got mylar in there?”