While the venturers are still discussing their next action, in light of the recent rewards posted for their capture, Lightning Zan arrives at their table. He announces that he’s arranged for an audience with his reputed father, Zufar al-Calsir, and that the group should come along with him. In particular, Zan points out that Akhman al-Ifrim was formerly Zufar’s apprentice, and if anyone could give the venturers useful information about their Ascending Flame enemy, the summoner of Hamaji would be the one. The possibility is enough to convince Abd, Kismet, and Aya to agree.
They visit the sorcerer’s estate the next morning. The front gate to his grounds features four scowling jinn faces worked into the metal, and one of them demands to know the visitors’ business. Zan proclaims himself, and the gates grudgingly open. Beyond the outer wall, they find a stately home surrounded by lush gardens and running water, with a plume of smoke rising from a small kiln towards the rear. A young woman, dressed in a conservative dark robe, walks down the main path to greet them.
The young lady politely introduces herself as Jisiri jin Zufar. Her soothing demeanor lightly offsets her long, obsidian-like nails which look capable of scoring stone. As she brings them indoors, she tells them that her father is currently at work on a chapter of his book. She encourages them to make themselves comfortable in the excellently appointed sitting room, and calls for drinks. Platters bearing cool juices, icy water, and sweet, light wines flit about at her command, carried by what appear to be invisible servants of pure air.
As the venturers sip at their drinks, another person enters — a strikingly handsome young man with a swimmer’s build and bare chest, his skin glistening and his hair wet. He aims a dismissive comment at Zan, who prickles with tiny lightning bolts as he retorts, before introducing himself as Jassan jan Zufar. He settles onto a cushion, which grows damp under him, and focuses most of his attention and charm on Aya and Kismet.
After a few minutes of idle chat, their host appears, accompanied by a young woman. Zufar al-Calsir turns out to be a dapper gentleman in casual robes, still in fine trim but with pure white hair. The girl with blazing red hair, Khajeira, is his youngest daughter, still smelling of smoke fresh from the kiln. Zufar welcomes the group and apologizes for his tardiness. Lightning Zan offers a guest-gift of a pair of candelabras, which Zufar carefully accepts, and then the group sets to conversation.
Akhman al-Ifrim seems to be a particular sore point where Zufar is concerned; at one point the summoner says “His existence offends me.” Zufar describes Akhman as skilled but ambitious, with a desire for domination that was destined to lead him into trouble if he trafficked with jinn. They had a falling-out, but some time afterwards a now-masked Akhman approached Zufar and attempted to recruit him into the Ascending Flame. Zufar declined, and although the two parted on polite terms, it seems likely that Akhman still holds resentment. Zufar says that al-Ifrim holds a tower in Izir, and is reputedly one of Emir Jadafira’s favorites. He prefers to use elemental janissaries as his minions, and his two most trusted lieutenants are Uzan the Brass Juggernaut and Sakisa Flametongue. Finally, Zufar theorizes that Akhman’s greatest flaw is likely his sensitivity to failure — he would rather burn the sand to glass than allow some trace of his mistakes to remain.
Zan then tells the story of Thunder’s Crown, and the group’s conflict with Akhman’s underlings there. He magnanimously plays up the heroism of his companions along the way. The venturers take the opportunity to bring up the Zodiac Jewels, and al-Ifrim’s pursuit of them. Zufar offers what extra knowledge he has of the Ascending Flame, though it seems that the venturers’ recent exploits have given them the advantage knowledge on the Zodiac Jewels.
They explain their intention to send Lightning Zan and his group after the Crow Jewel, while they pursue the Behemoth. Zufar is already passingly familiar with the Kholos Sahar desert giants, and mentions their arrangement to trade metals for cloths with the al-Bazra tribes. He offers the group a map detailing the giants’ pilgrimage route. Kizmet asks if he knows any way to undo the curse of slow petrification that afflicts some who cross the giants, but Zufar has only a folktale remedy to offer — the tear of a giant princess.
After a fine lunch, Zufar offers one more piece of assistance to his guests. He gives Aya a pair of scrolls to summon wind-steeds, which will remain with the group for a week’s time and allow them to cross the desert much more swiftly. Zan brings up that he has a long desert ride as well, if they’re to find the dried-out oasis where Pergu dwells, and Zufar resignedly hands him a third scroll. The group thanks their host and then departs, with Zan claiming he’s sure to make Zufar acknowledge him.
The venturers begin making preparations for their trip. While Kismet is shopping in the market, she notes a particularly arrogant man wearing the garb of a wealthy merchant of Izir, purchasing a variety of goods and placing them in a fine leather bag that seems far too small for the contents. She finds it difficult to resist, and one subtle bit of pickpocketing later, she is leaving the market with the magical bag and the Izir merchant no wiser. She seeks out the help of Abd and Aya, and the three of them deduce how to safely retrieve items from the bag. They purchase a few extra presents that the Kholos Sahar might appreciate, adding them to the bag.
The following morning, they gather outside Hamaji. Aya reads from one of the scrolls, and coursers of wind and cloud coalesce from the air around them. The wind-steeds carry them at great speed across the desert, making a journey of what might have been weeks into a matter of days. They skip several caravanserais and enjoy peaceful nights; on the third day, farther from the beaten trails, they pass first a lone wanderer and then a small caravan of Al-Bazra traveling in the same direction.
That third night, they arrive at the Laughing Waters. The oasis is certainly a sight to behold, and marked by the chuckling and giggling of dozens of hyenas loitering around its trees and waters. A stone monolith stands not far from the oasis’ central pool. The ancient stone is carved into the worn shape of a sitting hyena, watching over the others — one of the Beasts of Stone, and the guardian spirit of the oasis. With the giants nowhere yet in sight, the venturers settle down to wait.