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.

21 v) Cang ponders this a moment

Cang ponders this a moment. “The princess may indeed be yet more wealthy even than Old Mossy.”

“Why not both?” asks Fassn.

“One can never have too many jewels and gems,” Cang concedes.

“Trouble is,” Shyan says, “We don’t know her house.”

“Have you ever heard that old phrase, ‘case the joint’?”

“Well sure,” Shyan replies. “I just don’t want any more poison darts in my system. I swear I’ll be meeting Master Davit if this goes on much longer.”

“Relax,” Cang says. “We investigate for a night or two, watch the place as those foul grey creatures come and go. When we have the lay of the land, we infiltrate, apprehend the valuables, and make our way out, unseen.” He appraises Abia’s vibrant, flowing robes, Fassn’s scraps of armour and tinkling charms, and Shyan’s breastplate and greaves. “Well, perhaps I shall do the infiltrating.”

“You know what?” Shyan says. “These grey guys have it coming. Let’s do it.”

21 iii) “Just bust down the door, storm in, ‘Hey, give us your jewels or your life’?”

“Just bust down the door, storm in, ‘Hey, give us your jewels or your life’?” Shyan asks from her place on the floor. Though she’s still, the clarity of her vision astounds her. Her senses each seem sharpened somehow, with none of the poison’s fog coursing through her.

“Perhaps we shall consider that our second string approach,” Cang says. “I, for one, have no wish to bloody my knuckles, nor to fill my skin with bone darts. Though,” he says, gingerly picking up one of the discarded darts, “I would be interested to learn this poison’s construction, perhaps even turn it to our own noble purposes.”

“Noble, right,” Shyan replies.

“Alas, I propose something more subtle. The fall of night, an unlatched window, a shadow loading jewels into its pockets.”

Shyan sits up. Her stomach grumbles and her skin itches. “You know what?” she asks. “I think you’re right.”

20 iii) Cang and Abia watch with a mixture of surprise and horror

Cang and Abia watch with a mixture of surprise and horror as the darts shake in Shyan’s skin.

Fassn’s song to Old Ajralan rises in intensity. Abia feels a kind of queer affinity for Fassn, his wiry beard, and his god. Often had she employed the power of melody to work uncommon feats. Now here was the old man doing so himself.

Meanwhile, Fassn concentrates, trying to keep the melody in his head. It’d been a while since he was taught the insistent chant. A while since he’d asked Old Ajralan for a favour directly.

Shyan twists on her back, slowly moving within the stone perimeter. Fassn takes a moment to shush and calm her as the darts quake.

20 ii) As the stones clatter into place

As the stones clatter into place, Fassn begins singing a low, plaintive dirge in his native tongue. Cang falls silent to listen, and soon only Shyan’s ragged breathing undergirds the melancholic melody. She moves to stand, but Fassn shushes her, keeps her still within the outline of stones.

Only Abia and Fassn himself understand the words, though both Shyan and Cang catch the mention of “Ajralan” sprinkled throughout. Fassn waves his open palms about Shyan’s body, centimeters above the jagged ends of the barbed darts sticking out from her skin.

As Fassn’s song intensifies, the bone darts begin to shake and quiver.

20 i) Shyan lays back, the soft dirt and rocks crunching under her weight

Shyan lays back, the soft dirt and rocks crunching under her weight. Her eyes are closed and her skin’s already losing some of its vibrancy.

Fassn, Cang and Abia crouch beside her.

“More poison,” Abia says.

“This damnable concoction. Should not she be immune by now?” Cang asks.

“Quickly, gather the stones,” Fassn says.

“Excuse me?”

“Gather them, like this,” Fassn says, scrabbling for flat stones about Shyan’s form. He lays them out around her perimeter, a Shyan-shaped outline of rocks a few centimeters from her slow-breathing form.

“Great,” Cang says sarcastically. “A quick break to make art.”