iii) Shyan and the others take refuge by the fire

Shyan and the others take refuge by the fire. Its warmth is welcome, melting the crystals of ice that have made homes in their veins.

The Jiko eye them patiently. Some, away from the fire, play instruments: drums and flutes and primitive harps, producing an eerie, staccato music that hangs low in the cavern.

Several of the creatures bring a steaming cookpot off the fire. It smells of rosehips. They offer scoops of lumpy meat with limp, tasteless vegetables.

Fassn can’t contain his distaste for the stew. “Old Ajralan, may you have your fill,” he mutters, swallowing another mouthful.

When the group has had its fill, the lead Jiko — the only one with whom they have directly spoken — approaches once more.

“Esteemed visitors, it is good to see you have regained your vitality by taking small solace here in the home of the Jiko.”

The crowd of creatures murmurs agreement. The music stops.

“But now,” the Jiko continues, “we have great need of your help.”

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