24 i) The glowing sphere bobs along

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.”

23 v) As the princess shifts, the light zooms into her face

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.

23 i) Cang steals over to the trunk

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.

22 v) The noise of the tumbling figure cannot be concealed

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.

22 i) The following morning, as dawn breaks grey upon the canopy

The following morning, as dawn breaks grey upon the canopy, Cang creeps into the village. He keeps low and quiet, moving through shadows.

The wide-mouthed grey creatures live in the trees, make their homes among the branches. He eyeballs each in turn, from the humble abodes of peasants to Old Mossy’s place, more secluded and well appointed than most. Cang makes mental notes on entrances and exits, then steals away, looking for the home of the princess.

He isn’t looking long when he comes upon a pair of ancient oak trees, twins, with broad reaches of foliage, within which sits a rather opulent palace — or opulent by the standards of the village. Cang moves closer when he spots a handful of guards watching over the place. A couple have injuries from where Shyan laid them low last night.

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.”