“Er,” Shyan says, looking to Cang for backup. “We don’t really know her name…”
“She’s got a retainer named Old Mossy,” Fassn adds. “His beard is like mine,” he says, brushing at the wiry grey hairs with his fingers.
“Petite grey creature,” Cang says. “Her people shoot darts from the shadows coated with poison.”
“And the poison gives you—” here Shyan catches herself, and course corrects, subtly, saying, “—gives you bad dreams.”
The flutist cocks and eyebrow. “Bad dreams?”
“Of course we’re hungry,” Shyan says.
“We’re always hungry,” adds Fassn, currently biting his nails and swallowing the keratinous material.
The drummer beats the scarred wooden table with his fingers. The flutist shoots him a glance, then returns her attention to the gang. “Tell us about where you got the goods.”
“Is this relevant?” Cang asks with a sneer. “The weight is true, there is no plating whatsoever. This item is one hundred percent dense gold. Surely its provenance cannot be a factor.”
“It’s from a princess,” adds Fassn. “It’s real pretty but we’re hungry.” A grumble from his stomach washes over the table.
“A princess, yes,” says the flutist. “But which one?”
As the princess shifts, the light zooms into her face, perching upon the bridge of her nose. She’s fully awake, now, yet can see nothing but the light’s distracting glow. She calls out for her guards.
Cang stifles a beat of panic, feeling the heavy weight of the jewels in his hand. All he can see of the princess’ face is the strange glowing sphere, too. He sprints to a window like a dart, throws a rope out, and climbs down. Once he’s over the lip, the sphere leaves the princess and follows.
Cang flees the village, jewels in hand, the point of light following over his shoulder.
The glowing ball of light makes a faint “zip” sound when it flies across the room. The play of light and shadow across the branch-woven walls make a soft chiming noise that’s oddly pleasant. The light circles the princess’ sleeping form, illuminating a wide necklace of precious stones looped about her neck. It then circles back around the chamber to return to Cang and hang about his head.
He gives the light a nod and creeps over to the princess’ bed, wiggling his fingers to limber them up. With a single “click” its clasp comes loose in his hands, but the princess begins to stir.
He can scarcely register his own surprise when the ball of light within the trunk twitches and stirs. It glows like the early morning sun at the trunk’s bottom, and as Cang stares down disbelieving, it rises like the dawn up out of the trunk. The glowing ball makes a sound like a hummingbird’s wings, though Cang can make out no such appendages.
The glowing sphere zooms past Cang’s head, over his shoulder, to hover near the sleeping princess. Alarmed, Cang stalks over on the tips of his toes, ready to grab the sphere — though he’s a little afraid it might burn him. His grab is too slow, anyway. The sphere bobs and weaves out of his grasp and begins descending at speed, making straight for the princess’ face.
The noise of the tumbling figure cannot be concealed, so as other guards approach to investigate, Cang heaves himself over a window sill and into the princess’ structure, a palace woven of branches and ivy suspended in the twin trees. The floors, walls, and ceilings, all are made of living material.
The interior is a single, wide open room. Against one wall, a wide, four-poster bed stands draped in drawn silks. Away from their posts about the chamber are several grey skinned guards, now looking out windows for the disturbance’s source.
Cang keeps to the shadows as a guard calls for light. When the torch is struck, Cang sees it: a sturdy trunk set with banded iron at the foot of the princess’ bed.