v) The grasshopper sets his jaw

The grasshopper sets his jaw. “This is a dangerous place,” he says. “I’d feel far mo’ comfortable if y’all could just stay on the wagon.”

Shyan’s echoing voice rings out across the broken landscape. “Stop!”

The grasshopper’s beast of burden comes to an abrupt halt, despite its master’s protestations.

“Thank you,” Shyan says to the beast. She hops out and works at unloading the crates.

“Shyan, we’re getting out right here?” Fassn asks. He gets no more reply than a determined grunt as Shyan works.

“Well we’s nearly at my home,” the grasshopper sputters. “If y’all change yer minds, take a right at the reeds over yonder, go for six half-kims, and you’ll find my hidey-hole.”

Cang, Fassn, and Abianarin reluctantly remove themselves from the wagon. As it pulls away, it leaves a cloud of dust over the remaining crates, and the travelers themselves.

With an air of deep, slow regret, Fassn says, “Old Ajralan, may you have your fill.”

iv) The group stares down the grasshopper

The group stares down the grasshopper, awaiting an answer.

“We don’t like surprises,” Shyan says.

“Well, the surprise, really,” the grasshopper says, his legs rubbing out an anxious, reedy tone. “Is that there is no surprise! See!”

The beast of burden let out a deep whinny, and a fart.

“I just get lonely out here on the road, jus’ me an’ ol’ Bus, here, an’, well, y’all seemed like such nice folks I figured it’d be awfully fun to talk to ya.”

Cang’s face flattens like that of a card player. “So there’s no buyer?”

“There ain’t no no one,” the grasshopper says. “I live alone and hardly ever see anyone.”

“Stop here, please,” Shyan says.