v) Seems like he knows who she is

“Seems like he knows who she is,” Shyan says, standing. Abia remains squatting next to him, gently holding his hand, while the rest observe him like doctors. He continues muttering, “Ulxurix, Ulxurix, Ulxurix,” but the time between words slows, stretches gently, and soon his rail-thin arms and legs are twitching with drowsiness and his eyes flutter shut.

“You killed him,” Fassn says.

The pallid torchlight certainly helps the illusion. His skin looks sallow, translucent. The wrinkles in his skin are deep and black.

“I would imagine that everyone in town knows the name of Ulxurix,” says Cang. “She’s a tattooed witch who lives in a lighthouse.”

“Tough to miss,” Fassn adds.

“Could be,” Shyan says. “How long have you been here, grandfather?” she asks. She nudges him.

He snores, and snorts, and rolls slightly. The parched lips of his mouth fall open to reveal a gentle purple glow.

iv) Well, what of it, old man?

“Well, what of it, old man?” Cang asks, the steel in his voice palpable. He tries not to let on the tinge of fear he’s feeling, but in the close confines of the cell, all truths are laid bare.

The old man shrugs, as though it makes no difference whatsoever. Maybe it doesn’t. But Cang feels a wave of shame, feels anew the violation of the lich, feels almost as though his teeth are growing long, turning purple…

“Who’s he in now?” the old man asks. His eyes are unfocused, staring straight ahead, as though through the stone and earth to free, open pastures beyond. “Who,” he says again, as his eyelids flutter closed. His chin nods toward his chest.

“Hey,” Shyan says.

Fassn jabs him with his boot, startling the old man awake.

“You know that lighthouse,” Shyan begins, but it’s all she need say. The man’s eyes fill with fear. Shyan catches a faint, purple-y glint in them that quickly fades behind his cataracts.

“Ulxurix,” he says, breathless. “Ulxurix, Ulxurix.”

“That’s right,” Shyan says, concerned by his sudden animation. “You know her?”

He tightens his posture, curling up in himself. “Ulxurix,” he says. “Ulxurix, Ulxurix, Ulxurix…”

iii) Abia sits, legs crossed, next to the old man

Abia sits, legs crossed, next to the old man. He trembles, gently. Has been trembling since the evil word passed his lips: “lich.” Now his red eyes brim with tears.

“What is a lich, grandfather?” Shyan asks.

Another shudder goes through the man’s frail body. “Its name is poison,” he says, his eyes wandering the room slowly, landing on no one. “Name is poison.”

Shyan catches Abia’s eye. Abia says, “Lich dead, not dead. Magic, not magic.” The torch casts crazy light in the cramped cell.

“Who’s crazier, you or the geezer?” Fassn says. He runs his hand through his long, greying hair, and feels a tinge of regret.

“Why does the lich keep you here?” Shyan asks.

“She’s right,” the old man rasps. “Dead, not dead. The lich is all.”

Cang stares impassively but inside, his mind churns. He’s suddenly at the old man’s side, and he lays a hand on the man’s shoulder. He flinches and yelps as though burned. He scrambles uselessly, trying to get away from Cang, knowing there’s nowhere to go. “The lich,” he rasps. “The lich has been in you!”

ii) “Grandfather, are you hurt?”

“Grandfather, are you hurt?” Shyan asks. The man grumbles and shifts so ineffectually that all her stirs are some pebbles around him.

His cell is quite bare, save for a reeking old bucket and a rotten straw mattress that might once have been fit for a groom’s apprentice, but now befits no one.

“Maybe he doesn’t speak the trade tongue?” Fassn says, poking at the man with his booted foot. Without waiting for an answer, Fassn delivers Ajralani funereal rites in the sacred tongue, which comes out as a jarring babble of syllables bouncing around the tiny cell. Cang mimes covering his ears and waves to Fassn to cut it out.

Meanwhile, Abia stares intently at the old man. His milky eyes blink open and he meets her gaze. “Not hurt,” she says. “Not on outside.”

Tears well in the old man’s rheumy eyes, and he scrabbles at the worn stone beneath him, trying to pull himself up to a more dignified, sitting position. When he speaks, his voice is like snake skin. “So,” he says. The torchlight dances across his face, giving the pitted, slack skin a menacing appearance. “The lich got you, too.”

i) The light beyond the dungeon

The light beyond the dungeon is not opulent mansion, as Shyan had expected. Instead, they emerge into a long hallway, lit by flickering torches. The air is much drier here, the wooden struts petrified. Their boots crunch over sand and pebbles, each scrape magnified by the echoing corridor.

Barred doors line the hallway, too, between the doors. Cang is careful to peer into each one, his ears alert for more of the foul, damp man-things that seem to this place likened to pests. He sees none.

Near the end of the corridor, which is set with an iron-banded door, the gang begins to hear a faint, rasping breathing. Cang follows the sound to a cell and peers in. Shyan grabs a torch to aid him, and they find an emaciated old man curled up against a cell wall. He wears rags, his hair is long and coarse, his beard bedraggled. He stirs some at their approach, but even the sudden incursion of torchlight seems to agitate him.

“Grandfather,” Shyan says. “What brings you here?”

He groans and tries to roll over.