v) Fassn clutches his iron bar

Fassn clutches his iron bar as the gang makes their way out of the rain. They step up a set of ornate stairs, worked by a master craftsperson, to huddle by the massive double doors of the castle. The wood is engraved with stylized depictions of a looming figure standing tall above a frightened populace. Ordinary people flee and hide as the figure triumphs above them. At the centre of each door is a brass knocker, cut into the shape of a predatory bird’s head.

Fassn reaches up and knocks.

Nothing but the thunder and rain returns their greeting, until Shyan spots a flash of movement at a first storey window. Another moment later and the ornate doors slowly swing inward, revealing a dark, dank foyer with creeping mists along the floor.

“Come in, honoured guests,” comes a voice. It’s familiar, yet eerie and alien. The gang can’t place where it’s coming from.

Suddenly, Cang materializes from the mists before them. He smiles, his mouth full of glowing purple fangs. “So good of you to join me.”

iv) The creak of the bars sends a chill

The creak of the bars sends a chill down Abia’s back, worse yet than the rain pounding down. Shyan groans and grunts as the wrought iron bars are wrenched away from their place in the gate.

With a sudden give, her efforts are rewarded. She stumbles back, her fists still curled around two bars. She clears her throat, spits, and throws them to the ground.

Fassn grabs one, inspects the broken end, and sucks upon it like a lollipop.

Shyan, her breath still ragged, gestures through the newly opened hole in the gate. Abia passes her rucksack through, then slips easily in behind it. She watches from the castle grounds as Fassn struggles through the narrow opening, his paunch getting caught. He keeps hold of the bar, though, and eventually slides in, but not before moaning about the pain in his wings — which of course have long been gone.

Shyan throws her things over to Abia, then climbs in herself. Setting foot on the castle grounds seems to stoke the weather above, and a mighty crash of thunder rings around them.

The castle stands, silhouetted against the mist.