The air in the closed tent was smoky, with a hint of possibility. Zuzana sipped the tiny cup of brown liquid that Velabahleke had called coffee, finding it lacked the punch of her hometown brew, though it did taste delicious. Anushka and Varun both downed the steaming cup in a single gulp, their scarred faces giving no hint at the scalding heat of the coffee. Blagoje seemed as skeptical as she, while Velabahleke simply smiled at them.

The last man in the room, an elderly clanner with skin like leather and a veritable landscape of shifting tattoos. He simply sat the small center table, legs crossed and eyes darting between each of her companions, before resting on her. “So we are in agreement? You will accompany Velabahleke on his journey to discover the grain of truth in this haystack of a story, and you will accompany him back,” he held the half-full cup of coffee towards her, as in a toast. To her credit, she caught the gesture quickly, “agreed?”.

She gently tapped her cup to his, then followed the elder as they downed their cups in a single gulp. She gently put the cup down, unsure how delicate it would be. “Agreed, and you will pay us half first then half after.”

The tattooed man simply chuckled, his eyes gleaming Dust-gold. “Ah, of course. I must apologise,” the man grasped his cup in a quick grip and held it up, “but agreement is implicit in finishing the drink,” Zuzana glared, “but fear not. We do not wish to lose valued allies, so we will of course hold our end of the bargain.” He held out his hand across the small table, smile still gleaming. “If you would rest for the night in our camp, we should have your first half prepared in the morning.”

Of course, Zuzana thought, she was unaware of the Trader customs, as she reached to grasp the elders hand. As her gaze shifted from the hand to the mans face, she saw a mane of Dust cascade from his shoulders, and his face transform into an emotionless mask. To her right, Blagoje shifted his craggy features to look at her with a curious expression, rock-like mask staring at her. Varuns scars were flowing with living fire as his whip-like arm held the empty coffee cup. Anushkas scars and tattoos, in contrast, vanished on the watery surface of her skin, and Velabahlekes presence was disturbing the careful decorations of the room as the tempest of wind that made up his core raged.


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