Shyan lowers her voice to a whisper. “Okay, assume we’re gonna steal from a dragon. Which we’d never do because it’s totally suicidal and Abia’s already made it out of there in one piece not once but twice. The rest of us are one-for-one. That’s a pretty good record that’s gonna be hard to beat. I don’t wanna blow it on some baubles. The dragon and its creepy butler will know something’s up.”
She takes a long swig of her ale, turns the empty tankard over on the table. “Also, we have to pay Montague before we go a-stealin’.”
“I suppose there are certain aesthetic delights in the throne room of the dragon that I may be pleased to lay my fingers upon,” says Cang, with an almost worshipful glint in his eye.
The glowing sphere turns about his head, unheeded.
“Dragons pay well,” says Abia. “If you can get them to pay.”
“See, that’s the trouble. Getting them to pay. Exactly,” says Shyan, counting out coins on the table, hunched over to conceal their metallic glint from other patrons.
“I don’t wanna work for a dragon,” says Fassn, his eyes half-lidded with drink.
“Nor I,” says Cang. “But to steal from one — well, that is something else entirely, no?”
Shyan takes a big swig from her tankard. “You can’t just visit in a dream or something?”
Abia smiles gently and gives a single, subtle shake of her head.
Fassn’s beard is covered in foam from his ale, most of which he’s emptied down his front in an expedited effort to consume it. “Does the dragon pay well, Abia?”
“Working for a dragon,” Cang says, his voice dripping with venom. “Rather uncivilized, no?”
“Didn’t you see his butler and the fancy silk pillows? That dragon’s got more class than the four of us together,” says Shyan, just as Fassn belches loudly to seal her point.
“Yes,” Abia says quietly, her voice sliding like silk under the din of the tavern musicians. The rest of the gang leans in to hear her. “Feeling wistful,” she continues, looking away, as though through the tavern walls to the dragon’s compound.
“But you left,” Shyan says.
“Yes. I chose to go.” The nearly invisible smile on Abia’s lips persists.
Fassn slams his empty tankard on the table and belches. “Another! If we’re going back to that gold throne room I’m gonna be damn sure I’m drunk first.”
Cang shoots him a look of horrified surprise that curdles into grim acceptance.
In her vision the dragon’s claws bite into the golden throne, rending the soft metal and leaving permanent scars. The dragon sneers at her from impossibly high, wreathed in dark smoke pouring from its slitted nostrils.
The sound of fingers snapping. “Abia? Abia?” It’s Shyan, trying to get Abia’s attention. She slowly opens her eyes and the driving tavern music floods back in. Rufus and Rivera are absent, and the minstrels present are giving it their all.
“You’re looking even more spaced out than usual,” Shyan says. “Everything all right?”
An hour later, the gang’s warming themselves by the fire at the same dingy tavern where they’d first seen the musicians perform. Their coin goes a long way in this place, and stacked before them on the rude wooden tables are a dozen empty tankards and stacked plates, each with its attendant greasy streak or blob of hardening sauce. They sing and caper about the little tavern, buying cheap drinks for lucky bystanders.
Abia makes merry with the rest, but inside, she does not feel the heat of the hearth. In fact, she’s quite cold. She thinks back to the dragon perched upon its throne and right away she’s flush with heat.