The glowing sphere bobs along above Cang’s shoulder as he pads over to the gang’s hidden camp. It gently illuminates the way, its light taking on a softer, moonlike glow. Cang ignores it until he reaches the camp.
“This thing is watching me,” he says, breathless.
“That little light?” Fassn asks. “Why would it wanna watch you? You’re not that interesting.”
“It was in the trunk of the princess,” Cang says. “It showed me these jewels,” he adds, holding aloft the valuable necklace he pilfered.
“Right now, I’m more interested in that than any light,” Shyan says. “We’ve gotta find a place to sell it.”
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.
Cang steals over to the trunk. Its construction is tough, clearly constructed for a considerable fee by a skilled professional. Undetected, he runs his fingers over the planed wood, takes in the rivets holding tight the iron.
Of course, a heavy padlock hangs from the front. Its keyhole is clean, undisturbed, as though this trunk is not often used. Cang draws a couple lengths of wire from a pouch sewn into his vest, and expertly fans them out with his fingers. Squinting askance, he selects a wire and inserts it carefully into the lock. Twisting and turning, he chooses another, puts it in too.
As guards move about outside the princess’ chamber, Cang hears the soft click of the lock popping open.
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.
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.
As the guard wanders over to investigate the harmless stone, Cang darts through his blind spot. He gets his back up against one the great twin trees, feels its rough bark through his thin vest. He calms his breathing, keeps his mouth shut firm.
Before the black-eyed guard returns, Cang tosses a loop of rope up past the lowest of the large branches. He feels the hair on the back of his neck rising as the soft crunch of boots grows louder, the grey creature returning to its post. Still, Cang stays calm, sets the loop, and scampers up to the branch.
He’s now a half dozen feet off the ground, and he peers silently up through the mass of branches above and the palace set within. He resets his position until a telltale cracking under his feet draws the creatures’ attention.