41 i) The gang moves sullenly through the city’s morning streets

The gang moves sullenly through the city’s morning streets. Cang’s murmuring salaciously to himself, and seems unaware the others can hear him. “Yes, riches and loot for the taking, most interesting.”

“This is for Abia, though, right?” Shyan asks, eyebrow cocked like she knows that’s not true.

“But of course, but of course,” Cang says, smiling his most transparent grin. “Our compatriot Abianarin, who has suffered so greatly at the claws of the dragon. The very rich dragon,” he adds, as though he can’t help himself. For the rest of the walk, Cang’s able to tamp down his murmuring, but he can’t seem to stop dry-washing his own eager hands.

15 v) Abia gently traces the door’s outline with her fingerti

Abia gently traces the door’s outline with her fingertip. She’s tall enough to reach its entire perimeter: stretching on her toes to cover the top, squatting low to the ground for the bottom. As she does so, her eyes adjust to the darkness, and find it incomplete. A soft yellow light leaks through tiny cracks in the frame where the ancient door was hewn.

The light reveals her companions’ respective joy, cut off from one another, cut off from reality. Though it pains her to interrupt their happiness, reconnecting with the things they love, she knows it must be done. This cave life cannot be sustained, she feels. At the thought, the creaky voice rattles in her head, chuckling. Abia hurries to wake Shyan.

a sprawling place, abia, cang, fassn, fiction, logan bright, works, shyan, writing exercise, dark, riches, cave,

15 iv) Instead of soft silks and beautiful music, Abia finds knowledge

Instead of soft silks and beautiful music, Abia finds knowledge. The darkness is banished behind flat light, less illumination than the absence of dark. There are no gems and jewels, no dead martial arts master, no fine textiles: only the knowledge that all that is a lie, a broken promise, an illusion.

Abia looks about for her companions, finds them. Cang on his knees, scooping rocks and stones into his pockets. Shyan pleading with a gauzy shadow upon the rocky wall. Fassn splayed out in the dust, talking happily to the ceiling. Each unaware of her, unaware of one another. Abia turns to find the stone door they’d come through closed, its outline faintly visible in the cave’s wall.

She wonders how she’ll get through it.

a sprawling place, abia, cang, fassn, fiction, logan bright, works, shyan, writing exercise, dark, riches, cave,

15 iii) Instead of Master Davit, Fassn finds bundles of spices

Instead of Master Davit, Fassn finds bundles of spices, a bed of fine silks, brocaded draperies. Morning sun filters through the wispy dark’s edges, warming his skin. Unfamiliar incense burns with a pleasant smell.

An unseen choir sings a beautiful song, from no fixed point. The music seems to come from everywhere. Strange trees in foreign hues grow about, and a gentle breeze plays through the curls of his beard.

For a moment, Fassn is certain he hears the voice of Old Ajralan from somewhere beyond the dark.

15 ii) Instead of jewels, Shyan finds Master Davit

Instead of jewels, Shyan finds Master Davit. He’s alive and well, a beatific smile upon his lined face. He gestures for her to assume the stance, and she does so gracefully, without word.

Emotions and mistrust war behind her eyes but incontrovertibly, Davit is before her in a warm pool of light.

They go through the warmup motions together, and Shyan feels light, loose, ready to spar.

The voices of her companions have fallen silent. She no longer hears the grind of stone, the creaky voice, the ominous knocking. All is right in the dark.