3 i) The bucolic village is a day’s trek

The bucolic village is a day’s trek through the woods from the chittering grey creatures’ nests. When the gang reaches it, the sun is high in the sky and chickens strut through the dust, pecking for nutrient fragments. The gang arrives doing much the same thing.

The village is absent of people, though: the chickens are unattended. A warm barnyard smell sweeps through the sandy streets. There are a dozen buildings or so, maybe a dozen and a half, each with their doors shut, save one: the largest of the group, it stands proudly, second storey and all, just at the edge of the village clearing.

From within floats a chorus of human voices, chanting some liturgical verse.

“Sounds like everyone in town is enjoying the service,” Shyan says.

“Maybe they’d like to hear about Old Ajralan,” Fassn replies. They’re both looking rough; the skin around their eyes is sallow.

Just then a farmer in a straw hat steps out of the building to light a cigarette. He freezes with the smoke in his mouth, staring at Shyan, Fassn, Cang and Abia. Fassn waves.

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