43 v) Fassn’s silk glove slips

Fassn’s silk glove slips. Fassn himself lets out a little noise of delight as he descends another few millimetres. The chain of human figures struggles and shakes as he waves his finger at the goo. Abia watches impassively nearby.

Fassn’s voice rises to a help as his bare finger skims the brown sludge’s surface. It’s instantly corrosive and the smell of burning skin and collagen rises from the pit.

“Can I drop him now?” Cang asks.

“Okay,” Fassn says, dipping his finger into his mouth to savour the horrible taste. “Old Ajralan has had his fill.” Cang and Shyan grunt as they pull him up, coupled with sounds of moist lip smacking.

When they’re sprawled, fatigued, on the tile, Cang holds open a hand to Fassn, palm up. Fassn tosses him a coin.

43 iv) “That’s right, don’t bother,” Fassn says

“That’s right, don’t bother,” Fassn says from below. “Just for a second, won’t take long. I just want to have a taste.”

At this, groans of protest from the other three.

“Old Ajralan,” Fassn intones.

“Don’t say it,” Shyan says through gritted teeth.

“May you,” Fassn continues, haltingly. He’s waving his arms wildly to reach the brown goop under him. “Have your fill,” he finishes, fingers stretched to the breaking point. Still, he can’t quite reach the sludge.

43 iii) “Hey, lemme go,” Fassn protests

“Hey, lemme go,” Fassn protests, his feet scrabbling against the smooth stone wall of the pit. “There’s something smelly down here.”

As though his comment makes it real, the gang is hit by a repugnant stench emanating from the pit. Something sweet, like decay, but with a sour tang of vinegar that’s altogether unpleasant.

“Hear that? He wants to go down,” grunts Cang, caught in the middle of the human chain.

“Up to you to let him,” says Shyan, dragging Cang’s ankles back from the pit.

Cang’s crumpled, reddened face furrows further. “Why do I bother?” he mutters, straining against Fassn’s weight.

43 ii) Cang is quick on the drop

Cang is quick on the drop as Fassn rapidly recedes from view. Cang throws himself onto his belly, reaching his stubby arms into the pit. Fassn’s rough, calloused hand grips Fassn’s, but the other, clad in a silk glove even Montague couldn’t get all the stains out of, slips and slides.

Behind them, Shyan drops to a squat and grabs Cang’s ankles, hauling him with a bestial grunt.

v) Shyan removed her gloves

Shyan removed her gloves, and led the group across the split pikes as though they were water spiders. Her exposed flesh caught splinters. She winced at the pain sinking under her fingernails but kept her strength enough to cross.

Fassn was next, and he crawled, muttering under his breath, his face flush with the effort of supporting his body weight. Cang followed, and had some difficulty with the exercise, given his diminished wingspan, but by the end showed none of the sweat or heavy breathing of his companion. Finally, Abianarin followed. Her passage was most unusual of all: when she crossed, her form became smoky, indistinct. Her friends squinted at her, and before they knew it, she stood beside them on the other end of the pit.

“With my share,” Fassn said, panting, “I’m gonna retire.”