iv) I grow weary

“I grow weary,” says the disembodied voice of the lich, Ulxurix. “Let’s end this.”

At her command the man-things spring into action. They move suddenly, with a fluid grace not at all suggested by their knobby forms. Their grasping fingers tear at the team’s clothes while Berstuun struggles, helpless. Shyan barrels down the corridor to a single door, still shut. With one arm she pushes aside the moaning creatures, with the other she holds fast to Fassn, who ambles along as best he can under the weight of his passenger.

Cang ducks into one of the opened doors, slipping past one of the creatures. He finds himself in a music room, ornate and dilapidated, the once-grand piano now a mouldering wreck. He leaps through a broken window onto a balcony and sprints along it.

The man-things wrap their desiccated limbs in Abia’s colourful robes, tangle her up in their grasp. Their moaning intensifies as they seem to realize they’ve got her. At the end of the hall, Shyan looks back, their eyes meet, full of panic. “Fassn, go,” she says, wading back into the fray.

iii) First, they ascend the stairs

First, they ascend the stairs. Berstuun has ceased struggling — in fact, he may well have dozed off already, bouncing gently over Fassn’s shoulder.

Shyan, fists clenched, hears scuffling behind the door, sees shadows moving the rectangle of light. She deliberately kicks the ground, a harsh, sudden sound that attracts the attention of whatever’s beyond. She signals silently to the rest to wait.

The door creaks open, away from the cellar. As soon as a vertical strip of light appears, Shyan pushes her whole body against the door, knocking two of the lich’s moaning man-things off their tenuous balance, and they careen to the floor.

Suddenly, as though from the wainscotting in the walls, or from behind the brocaded wallpaper, comes the steady voice of Ulxurix — now the lich. “Now, now, be careful with my poor, elderly father,” she chides.

The sound instantly alerts Berstuun, who flails helplessly. “I’m not your father,” he sniffles.

Two more doors in the corridor slam open, then another two, then another. From each emerges a loping man-thing.

Shyan turns to Cang. “Find us a way out, would you?”