28 iv) …And there’s Cang, guilty grin smeared across his round face

…And there’s Cang, guilty grin smeared across his round face, hands on her coin purse. He coughs awkwardly, lets it go. “Pardon me, madam,” he says. “I believe you were about to drop this.”

For a moment, she’s flabbergasted, her jaw hanging open at the impertinence of the short, grubby thief. People edge by along the busy streets without taking notice. Cang’s hopeful she’ll believe it, even hazards a glance back to his companions, watching frightfully from around a corner. That is, until the woman draws a deep breath, her face flushing crimson, and she bellows, “Guards!”

28 ii) “We stink like ripe bodies that’ve been on the road too long,”

“We stink like ripe bodies that’ve been on the road too long,” Shyan says.

Fassn takes a whiff of his own underarm. “Oh, yeah.”

“And if our buyer’s as big a snob as those musicians say he is, we’d better get cleaned up.”

And just like that, as the mythic seas, the busy crowd of city dwellers parts to reveal a hand-painted sign featuring a wash basin and a pair of shears. The building it hangs from is relatively shabby, but so too is the gang.

“Ask and ye shall receive,” Fassn says with a grin.

“We don’t have any money, Fassn,” Shyan says. Fassn’s grin fades in an instant.

“Perhaps not,” says Cang, watching the many loose belt pouches passing by just below his eye level. “But perhaps we might earn some,” he continues, letting the sentence trail off ominously.

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.


iv) Fassn rummages the crates


Fassn rummages the crates. His wings have become translucent and wilty, like a snake’s shed skin. “Anything in here to improve these things?”

“Eric will know,” the alchemist says. “Please, let’s just get moving, okay? He hates when I’m late.”

“And where does he live?” Shyan asks. Cang rummages his bag for a scrap of vellum and a quill. Withdrawing them, he looks up at the alchemist expectantly, waiting to take notes.

“He, uh, lives in the treetops,” the alchemist replies. “He’s got this wooden fortress of branches and brambles.” The scratching of Cang’s quill underscores her words.

“And he wants these crates because…?”

The alchemist steals a nervous glance at Abianarin, still in gentle communication with the beasts of burden pulling the wagon. “They’re valuable, you see. Expensive!”

Shyan barks at Fassn. “Worry about your wings later. Find our silver, first.” She threatens the alchemist with her pommel as Fassn searches her layered robes for their purses.


iii) The alchemist keeps her mouth shut


The alchemist keeps her mouth shut, which Cang sees as a smart move. All the same, he says, “No response? I suppose you think this cap ugly?”

“No,” the alchemist mumbles.

“Relax, Cang,” Fassn says. “It’s a stupid looking hat and it’s way too big for you. Give it here.” He grabs for it; Cang nimbly ducks away.

“Hey, hey,” Shyan calls out. “We’re on the job here.” She hardens her expression, gets up close to the alchemist’s fear-stricken face. “Who’s your buyer?”

“Eric,” she sputters. “Eric… Wagon.”

Shyan blinks. “You must be kidding me.”

“No, no, that’s really it,” the alchemist says, a wheedling smile blooming upon her lips.

“Eric Wagon?” Cang sniffs derisively.

“So what are we waiting for?” The alchemist looks around with renewed enthusiasm. “Let’s go deliver these crates!”


ii) “She’s lying”


“She’s lying,” Shyan says.

“How can you tell?” asks Fassn.

Shyan looks defensive about this unanticipated follow-up. “Well, she’s lied before. I think we should knock her out.”

The colour drains from the alchemist’s face. “You definitely don’t need to do that.”

“Buyer in Almery?” Abianarin asks.

“Almery? No. Blasted place. Not worth the effort. Scary, too.” She winces back from Shyan’s raised pommel. “Not as scary as you lot, though.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Cang says. “Do you like my new hat?”

The alchemist nervously swallows.