22 iii) As the guard wanders over to investigate

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.

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.