i) Sure enough, the gang follows the horse

Sure enough, the gang follows the horse. The alchemist, bound and sullen, rides along with them in the back of the wagon. Cang drives it. For eight days they follow the gutted road, eating nothing but dried mussberry and the occasional gikken Shyan manages to bag.

Abia, by turns, holds long conversations with the horse, totally unintelligible to her friends and the alchemist, and passes long silences in steady, unassailable contemplation. Sometimes she speaks with their other mounts, as well, though none are so loquacious as the alchemist’s. Abia keeps the contents of their talks private, other than to share the horse’s name: Larry.

Larry has never heard of Eric Wagon, but he agrees to show Abia where the alchemist was headed.

As they travel, the broad plains to either side of the road grow dense with applebaum trees and neenwood, and by the ninth day, they find themselves in deep forest. Larry halts at the edge of a ragged clearing. At the centre stands a gargantuan puffball mushroom.

v) The alchemist’s voluminous robes shift and swirl

The alchemist’s voluminous robes shift and swirl as Fassn searches them. He comes up empty handed. He’s certain foul magic is at work but the alchemist wears an expression of utmost innocence.

“You bumbler,” Cang says, pushing his friend out of the way. “This is how you frisk someone.” His hands and stubby fingers are a blur; the layered robes are no hindrance. A moment later he withdraws his hand, clutching a leather pouch heavy with clinking coins. “Ah ha,” he says, showing off his find.

“With this we can repay the innkeeper, at least,” Shyan says. Cang rolls his eyes.

“I’ll bet this Eric Wagon has even more,” Fassn says.

“You say this as though he even exists,” Cang says.

The alchemist gulps, nervously. Her horses stir as Abia whispers to them.

“So,” Shyan says. She casually tosses her weapon into the air, catches it like a juggler. Somehow this is more frightening to the alchemist than when she was being actively threatened. “Do we trust her?”

“Yes,” Abia says, in a clear, loud voice, surprising everyone present. She gently pats the neck of the alchemist’s horse. “Follow horse. Find buyer.”

Cang’s face breaks into an irrepressible grin.