40 ii) The Sleepy Gendarme is as its name suggests

The Sleepy Gendarme is as its name suggests: full of half-conscious town-guard types slumped in their cups. Only a few crude wooden tables are jammed into the common area, and most have smelly men draped upon them.

With a quick word and the subtle clang of coins, Shyan earns the gang a couple of beds, but not before she casually catches a glance at the face of every sleeping guard, just to be sure there’s no one she recognizes. Cang, to be safe, double checks.

28 v) Cang starts, eyes wide, and turns on his heel

Cang starts, eyes wide, and turns on his heel, grabbing the belt of an elderly man and throwing him to the ground. As the fellow cries out and topples, Cang’s mark grips her coin pouch, standing on her toes to spot any nearby guards.

Sure enough, halberds rise from the bobbing heads of the crowd, which offers the guards no berth. Their helmeted heads swing about to spot the thief, but Cang crouches low as he scoots past the legs of many peasants. He’s so much shorter than average that the guards cannot see him.

He makes a lap around a large, rectangular block before rejoining the gang from behind, surprising them all as they nervously watch the befuddled guards from afar.

Breathing heavily, Cang says, “Perhaps we should try things your way.”

22 iv) Cang meets the guard’s gaze

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.

22 iii) As the guard wanders over to investigate

As the guard wanders over to investigate the harmless stone, Cang darts through his blind spot. He gets his back up against one the great twin trees, feels its rough bark through his thin vest. He calms his breathing, keeps his mouth shut firm.

Before the black-eyed guard returns, Cang tosses a loop of rope up past the lowest of the large branches. He feels the hair on the back of his neck rising as the soft crunch of boots grows louder, the grey creature returning to its post. Still, Cang stays calm, sets the loop, and scampers up to the branch.

He’s now a half dozen feet off the ground, and he peers silently up through the mass of branches above and the palace set within. He resets his position until a telltale cracking under his feet draws the creatures’ attention.

22 ii) Cang watches closely as one of the sentries limps through his patrol

Cang watches closely as one of the sentries limps through his patrol. The guard makes several turns about the courtyard, keeping eyes alert, especially at the bases of the twin trees.

Another guard has a black eye: it’s ugly, purple, already swollen shut. Its wide mouth is turned down in a frown.

Cang gathers a couple of stones and waits for his moment. When the limping sentry is at the edge of his loop, Cang throws a stone the opposite way, which the black-eyed guard notices. His gaze tracks it, and he squints with his good eye to see what it might have been. To test his peripherals, Cang makes a quick, silent wave far at the edge of his vision — and the guard doesn’t seem to notice.

“Perhaps next time Shyan should blacken both their eyes,” Cang thinks with a cruel streak of glee.

v) “Real nice, Cang”

“Real nice, Cang,” Fassn calls. Cang sheepishly returns to the group, striding slowly with his head down, hands thrust into his pockets.

“Might have overestimated that one,” he says when he rejoins them. He holds up a few pebbles which Fassn greedily snatches.

“Creature guard dome?” Abia asks.

“Or something inside, maybe,” Shyan says. “Some light, Fassn?”

Fassn whispers an invocation and a boon of light is granted. He follows its shimmering glow, his companions by his side, into the gloomy murk of the dome.