“A grand, old, audacious thing, built right into the side of the cave?” asks Cang, to which Old Mossy nods readily. “We have had occasion to encounter it,” he continues.
“Did you hear a knocking?”
“A knocking, like this,” says Old Mossy, rapping his fingers on the flat of his palm to make a soft slapping noise. “Well, sort of like this.”
“I don’t think we heard any knocking,” Shyan says.
Old Mossy’s eyes take on a haunted look. “Strange, that,” he says. “Last I was down, I heard a knocking, as though from the other side.”
The princess squeezes his hand reassuringly.
“A knocking, and a deep voice, calling my name: ‘Asmosius…'”
The gang rests up in Old Mossy’s hut for the rest of the night. He stays away at the celebration, but the grey creature and his kin never seek to rope them in for feasting and dancing, despite their status as rescuers of the princess. Only Cang is still awake when Old Mossy returns, with a retinue of guards with their mouths set firm and the princess herself. Cang’s quick to wake the others, who reluctantly drag themselves from their pleasant sleep.
“I trust you’re feeling better?” the princess asks.
Shyan’s eyes are teary still, but clear. “Yes. Though the antidote may be worse than the disease.”
“Bad dreams, only,” says Old Mossay. He waves the whole notion away. “Listen. When you were fetching the mushrooms needed for the antidote, you climbed down into a cave.”
Shyan lets a beat pass before she says, “Right.”
“Then let me ask you: when you were down there, did you find a door?”
With tears in her eyes, Shyan follows Fassn’s lead, dragging her fingertips through the rough particulate of the floor. Tears splash around her feet, congealing little domes of sand into mud. She feels the friction, tries to feel the warmth. She draws languid spirals, short strokes, chaotic patterns. With focus she can almost feel the individual grains tumbling and careening on their micro scale.
Beside her, Fassn breathes deeply, tasting the stale air of the hut. Cang and Abia join them both on the ground and follow his lead. For a while, amid the din of celebration outside, the gang sits in quiet introspection, before Fassn notices Shyan’s tears have dried. For the first time since suffering the grey creatures’ poison, let alone their antidote, she smiles.
Fassn grabs up a pinch of dust and dirt from the floor and rubs it between his finger and thumb, slowly working the grit over the sensitive pads. The hut is silent enough to hear the grating sound as each tiny grain collides with others. “Listen,” He says.
Shyan controls her breathing, tunes her ears to hear it too. It’s an earthy sound, calling to mind quakes and tremors on a near-atomic scale. A smile plays at the edge of her lips.
“See? It’s not all bad.” Fassn opens his palm and presses it into the dirt floor, leaving a splay-fingered impression. Shyan follows suit. “There’s warmth in the earth,” Fassn says. “You just have to feel it.”
Shyan says, “I was training with master Davit.” She sniffles. “He ordered me to strike.”
“How are yer arms feelin’?” Fassn asks.
She lifts them experimentally, flaps them like a baby bird trying to take off from the test. “Better, actually.”
“I suppose we can count the antidote as a success,” Cang says.
“And you?” Shyan asks Fassn.
“Me? My arms are great! I miss my wings, but what can you do?”
“I mean, what did you see? What happened?”
A beatific smile spreads on Fassn’s dry lips. “Old Ajralan taught me how to feel.”
“Ah,” Fassn says. The lines on his face seem deeper. “That day in Waiiaz, eh?”
“Well,” says Old Mossy, uneasy. “If y’all are doing well I think I’ll slip back to the festivities.” THe sounds of celebration rise for a moment as he makes his way out the door.
Fassn sits beside Shyan, wraps her in a side-hug. Her face is damp with tears. “Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”