It was weeks before Shrai's wandering showed him anything intelligent. He roosted at night to avoid being taken unawares by these cats. Any tree he could find, that was the one he wanted. Now and again, he would drop stones into the center of the tall tussocks of sharp-grass, sleep on top of those. But the stones were hard to come by.

He continued travelling this grassland that seemed to go on forever. And he thought it might. Perhaps this entire butte was a field and the butte took up much of the land mass of wherever he had wound up.

Until he found the road.

Shrai never thought he would be so happy to see something human-made. Or at least, he assumed it was human-made, because there were a pair of humans walking on it.

They were dressed in rough patched cloaks. They carried currved staves, though the one was a staff of steel, the other a short staff of wood, barely reaching her hip. They walked, talking, and it became obvious that one or both of them suffered some injury, as they stopped often to rest, one or the other looking out-of-breath.

"Far enough," the man with the steel staff said.

"Not nearly enough by far," the woman answered. She looked ashen, though, and her hair clung to her clammy skin.

"Naira, you keep pushing yourself like this, you'll never make it back to the compound. Tangiers will want to hear what we've found, even though the Rabbit likely already knows."

"Is there any among us she doesn't know?" Naira asked wearily. "We are all her story."

Her companion scoffed, shook his head. "Still. Tangiers will want to know. This is a threat to each of us."

Shrai stepped onto the road then. "Excuse me," he said.

The two of them turned towards him, blinked in surprise. "Heavens, it's a c'bana," Naira breathed.

"I didn't think she still had c'bana in-realm," the man followed.

"I ... just got here," Shrai answered. "Sort of. A while ago. But ... recently. I think."

The two of them exchanged a look, then Naira smiled and crouched near Shrai. "Where are you headed?" she asked.

Shrai weaved a pair of half-shrugs. "Away from where I was, I suppose," he said.

"Then you should head that way," her companion answered, pointing out across further grasslands. "But I caution you. If you head further South you are likely to find yourself embroiled in a dispute you are not likely to enjoy."

Shrai ducked lower, peeked up at them. "Why not?" he asked.

Naira smiled. It was a weary smile. "You are new here," she said. "Perhaps you cannot feel it so deeply as we, tied to the Cross-Realm as we are, tied to stories as we must be. Perhaps you did not know the blackness, the void into which our world plunged. Perhaps you cannot feel the whole of it gasping and sputtering as a drowned man, revived on the shore. Perhaps you cannot feel the sickness this blackness wrought, still deep in your heart, your soul. This soul-sickness will kill us all, I fear. It is best you run from it."

"Run where?" Shrai answered.

"You should head that way," the man answered, gesturing out in the same direction again.

Naira swatted him on the shoulder. "I wouldn't stay," Naira said. "Our world is sick. And the only thing to save it, I fear, is a very good story."