“He’s never gonna know who we are,” Fassn says, holding aloft a chunk of apple in his palm. The flowing sphere buzzes by, nearly alighting upon it as a honeybee, but it keeps circling.
“This is true, Shyan,” says Cang. “We could walk right out of this city with our pockets full and nails trimmed, with Montague none the wiser.”
“You expect to just wander out of town once we get paid? Your purse full of coin, and you’ll pass a tavern by without spending a penny?”
Fassn looks quite nervous at the prospect.
Cang shrugs, caught. “It is no wonder you are our fearless leader, brave and true,” he says. “I shall indeed enjoy a tipple once all this business is concluded.”
With that, the sun dips below the horizon. The river’s now just a black streak through the city. The gang packs their meagre belongings and heads for the tavern to meet the musicians.
“It’d be wrong to lie, Cang,” Shyan says, her expression not entirely serious. “After all, he gave us these fine haircuts.” She tosses her head so her shiny black hair lifts for a moment.
“But are four baths worth a thousand coins?” Cang asks. “We could easily just depart our evening meeting and forget all about the barber.”
“More coin for the tavern,” Fassn muses through mouthfuls of apple.
“A deal was struck,” Abia says simply.
Several more moments of chewing pass as the river flows.
“Well we don’t know what this thing’s worth, really,” Shyan says. “Maybe once we’re paid we can—” she breaks off, searching for the word.
“Renegotiate,” Cang says with an evil smile.
Pockets flush with stolen apples, the gang finds a stone bank along a thin river that winds through the city, taking their ease upon the stones, watching the day’s traffic filter past.
“This is the life,” Fassn says, the sun warming his face.
“Yeah, this? Munching stolen apples, hoping to do a deal?” Shyan asks.
“Sure,” he replies, crunching loudly. “The apple’s so sweet. Old Ajralan, may you have your fill!” He vocalizes madly before finishing the apple, core and all.
“Will we truly give a share of our haul to Monsieur Montague?” Cang wonders aloud.
Birds above screech and tumble as the gang chews.
The gang sits by a river side as dawn slowly breaks far away at the horizon. Grey and lavender streak across the sky.
“So the gems I found were nothing more than dirt and stones,” Cang says.
“Just as Davit,” Shyan says.
“And the many fine silks I spread out upon,” says Fassn wistfully.
“Indeed,” Cang says. “But Old Mossy himself had a handful of the real thing. Shining rubies, glittering emeralds, sparkling sapphires.” He lets his sentence trail off so he and his companions can imagine the small pile of brilliant jewels.
“Well,” he continues after a moment. “We know where he lives. I say we go take them.”
The hand-length wooden darts spill from the canopy, thrown by the chittering creatures that strung the vines. Each makes a soft, sibillant whoosh as it cuts the air until it lands in a tree trunk or the soil with a sharp thunk.
Shyan and Fassn are hobbled by their contact with the vines and whatever foul poison they contain. Cang tears ahead, first to reach the tree line, while Abia comes up behind. She attracts several darts but they get caught up in her voluminous robes, failing to pierce her flesh.
When the gang reaches the tree line, the wooden darts stop — but the chittering grows angry and loud.
In contact with the vine, her body buzzes. Shyan’s eyes roll up ’til only the whites of her sclera are showing. Her progress is immediately arrested. The chittering voices above rise in intensity.
Cang mutters a curse and turns back to her. With his own shoulder, he knocks her in the back of the knee, upsetting her balance and sending her sprawling.
Just then, a dozen or more sharp sticks, hand-length, come shooting from the canopy. The hand-fashioned darts hit their targets with a quiet zip, hard enough to stand up. They land in the trees, the ground, a few in the vine-strung stakes — and one in the back of Shyan’s shoulder. She cries out as red blood drips.
Stunned and weary, the gang sprints for the treeline to get cover as another wave of sharp sticks rains.