ii) Worse than this?

“Worse than this? We’re locked up in a dungeon right now, Abia,” Shyan says. “I mean, I can imagine worse I guess, but I can imagine a hell of a lot better.”

Already Berstuun has stopped kicking at Fassn. He slumps, only his soft, slow breathing moving his body at all.

“Witch has magic circle,” Abia says. “Put Berstuun in.”

“Perhaps you had not noticed,” Cang begins. “The tattooed witch, that cackling hag in the lighthouse, she is herself the lich now. We cannot walk into its abode and ask to destroy its sire.”

Berstuun moans weakly.

“Relax, old man,” Fassn says. “You’re going to visit Old Ajralan.”

“Can we make our own magic circle?” Shyan asks.

“Yes,” Abia says. “Not here. Not well.”

Shyan rolls her eyes. “Of course not.” She sucks air through her teeth. “All right, Cang, you’re with me. Abia, take point behind Fassn while he carries our friend.” She peers up the crooked stairway to a tiny rectangle of flickering light. “Let’s go.”

i) Abia stays by Berstuun’s side

Abia stays by Berstuun’s side while her teammates recoil. “You called lich?” she says, but as a statement, not a question.

The old man whimpers, gripping Abia’s hand as though to keep from drifting off to sea. He’s racked with sobs.

“This good?” Shyan asks.

Abia shrugs. “Not for him.”

“All right lich-caller,” Fassn says, bending down. He hefts Berstuun’s light form up over his shoulder, the older man’s legs feedbly kicking at Fassn’s chest. “You’re coming along with Old Ajralan.”

“Whoa, Fassn, what are you doing?” Shyan says.

“Well he called the lich, didn’t he? We just throw him in a volcano and this is all over.”

At this Berstuun moans horribly and struggles pathetically.

“A volcano, very good,” says Cang. “I know just the place.”

“No volcanoes,” Shyan says firmly. Then, she adds to Abia, “Right?”

“No volcano,” Abia agrees. “This much worse.”

v) Tell us about deal

“Tell us about deal,” Abia says. She gently pats the back of the old man’s rough hand.

“Wet magic,” Berstuun gasps, his breathing coming more and more shallowly now. “Dark places. I deserve it.”

“Okay, as fascinating as this is,” Shyan says. She motions for the door.

“At last, someone speaks sense,” Cang replies.

“Ulxurix left me once,” the old man continues. “Magic circle… left me with it.”

Fassn’s face falls and he stops petting the man’s papery skin. “I think we know where this is going.”

Berstuun sobs. “She left me with the circle. I made a deal.”

“A deal that gave you purple fangs?” Shyan asks.

He begins nodding, doesn’t stop. “Fangs, magic, death. I’m to blame.”

Abia says gently, “No, not to blame.”

Berstuun meets her eyes for the first time. They’re red and overflowing with milky tears. “Yes,” he says. The dim purple light from his mouth is revolting. “I’m to blame. I called the lich.”