v) They camp for four days beside the gargantuan, apoplectic bird-thing


They camp for four days beside the gargantuan, apoplectic bird-thing. Unable to right itself, or even control its devastated form, it boiled with anger. “Poison, poison you sold me,” it said.

“It was a free sample,” Fassn replied.

They saw no other people in the desiccated city, until the fifth day, when they hear the undeniable sound of a wagon, drawn by a beast or burden. A grasshopper, Cang’s height, with an untamed beard and yet-wilder eyebrows, calls his horse to a halt.

“Howdy,” he says.

“Hi,” Fassn replies.

The grasshopper nods to the crates. “Thought I smelled liquors. Y’all sellin’?”

The gang shares a look. Fassn is least able to contain his delight.

“Perhaps,” Cang says.

“Well why not load ’em all up onto the cart and old Wilbur here’ll drive us back to the Jewel Farm. I’ll buy ’em pots off ya, and maybe you can gets to pickin’ a gem or two off the vines for yourselves. What do you say?”

“Old Ajralan,” Fassn says, and hops on. “May you have your fill.”


iv) Shyan and Abia lock eyes


Shyan and Abia lock eyes. Abia shrugs. Shyan pops the lid off a crate at random, pulls out a guacamole-green phial the size of Cang’s forefinger. She shows it to her friends, then lobs it to the bird-thing, who catches it gracefully, despite its bulk.

It tosses the phial into the maw under its fleshy beak. The gang hears the crunch of glass.

All but Abia are motionless in a moment of heavy expectation. She’s oh-so-slowly folding the paper rubbing she’d made.

The bird-thing hiccups. Cang’s eyes bulge, his weapons ready.

Then the bird-thing grows. Its fleshy bulk expands, its cells multiplying inconceivably. Soon it’s unable to support its weight, and it flaps its useless wings. It stares down with rage at our four heroes, who are desperately dragging the crates away.

It loses its balance and crashes backwards, taking with it the enormous bone palisades, and many of the rough-hewn buildings besides.

“We’ll never find buyers like this,” Cang says.


iii) “Oh, but friend, we’ve yet to negotiate the particulars”


“Oh, but friend, we’ve yet to negotiate the particulars,” Cang says. He strides toward the bird in a jocular manner and wraps the thing’s leg with his arm as one would an old, familiar friend.

It murmurs. “Gimme ’em.”

“No way,” Shyan says. “We’ll gladly sell them, sure.”

“Yeah no one gets the good shit for free,” Fassn says, gesturing at his wings. As an afterthought he adds, looking up, “Except for Old Ajralan, of course, may he have his fill.”

The bird grumbles, lumbers towards them. “I got lotsa moneys,” it says.

Shyan steps in front of the crates, sword and shield bared. “This is valuable stuff, mister. Abia, tell him.”

“Strong magic,” she says.

It approaches within a breath of Shyan. “Gimme a sample, then,” it says.