(if: (count: (history:), "The Next Morning") is 0)[As you do every afternoon, once you've served the truckers and fishermen in the pub their soup and beer, and wiped down the tables, you set a bowl of unseasoned porridge, a glass of well water, and two slices of toast on a scarred wooden tray, for the [[Thinker of Thoughts]].
You take the tray and head [[out the back door->To the Tower]].]
(else:)[As you do every afternoon, after serving lunch, and cleaning up, you begin to ladle out porridge for the Thinker of Thoughts.
The bartender stops you. "No need, he's gone."
"Gone?" you say.
"I stopped by this morning. The Tower's empty. The roof's falling in, in fact. So you don't have to do the toast and things."
"Oh," you say.
You go about your work, preoccupied. There is an odd sense in the air of something magical leaving. Everything looks a little dustier and more mundane.
The Tower lies at the end of the unpaved path that runs by the back door of the pub, which the garbagemen take on their routes. Past the noise of the front street and the ripe stink of trash bags, however, the air is green and soft. Abandoned gardens lie to either side, brambles crawling over fallen walls. Birds sing unseen from overgrown shrubs.
The toast is always cold by the time you reach the Tower, but the Thinker has never complained.
You reach the moldy, mossy Tower and [[knock on the door.->No One Answers]]
It's what the people in town call the resident of the Tower. Different people say his name is Matthew, or Methuselah, or Timothy. That he used to study chemistry. Or history. Or arcane secrets of unimaginable power. That he was a university student who fled in shame to the Tower after failing his exams. Whatever his history, it doesn't matter to you. He pays, and he doesn't grab at you, or leer. He barely notices you at all, on [[an ordinary day->An Ordinary Day]].
You knock louder and louder; crumbs of wood and bits of lichen shower down. Still no one comes.
Balancing the tray on one knee, you try the mossy door. The door is locked, but the wood is so rotten and grub-eaten that if you [[pushed it->Inside the Tower]], it might fall in. You're worried about the Thinker. He's always excited to see his toast.
On the other hand, everyone needs some privacy. The politest thing to do would be to [[turn around->Back in the Pub]].
(if: (count: (history:), "Inside the Tower") is 0)[The door sags inward under your determined pressure, crunching free from hinges and bolts. The worms have been working on it for longer than you thought. You step inside with the tray and set it on the floor.]
(if: (count: (history:), "You Straighten the Chair") is 1 and (count: (history:), "You Tidy the Bed") is 1)[A few stray sunbeams trickle into the room. The chair has been righted and the bed made, because you hate seeing things out of order. You could take a look at [[the table->The Table]].]\
(elseif: (count: (history:), "You Straighten the Chair") is 1)[Seeing things set right gives you pleasure. You could turn your discerning eye to [[the messy cot->The Bed]] or [[the table->The Table]].]\
(elseif: (count: (history:), "You Tidy the Bed") is 1)[A neat bed is a small treasure. At this point you could address the [[overturned chair->The Chair]] or [[the table->The Table]].]\
(else:)[When your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, barely lightened by some loose slats in the conical roof far overhead, you make out the Thinker's overturned [[chair->The Chair]], his rumpled [[cot->The Bed]], and a [[table with several objects on it->The Table]].]
"Eh," the bartender says, polishing the glasses, "what's that? He isn't hungry?"
"He isn't home," you say. "Or he isn't answering the door."
"Funny man," the bartender says, and you agree.
You eat the toast, but not the porridge, which has gone gluey and thick. You set it on the back step for the birds.
Soon the evening rush begins, and between flicking a damp cloth over the tables, taking orders, ferrying stews and overflowing pints to the right tables, and dodging pinches, you forget about the Thinker and the events of the afternoon.
It's late when you go back to your own room, in the flat you split with three women, fumbling for the key. [[Sleep comes swiftly.->The Next Morning]]
It's a rocking, rickety, maplewood affair. Where did he get something so ugly? You could set it [[upright->You Straighten the Chair]] or go back to [[studying the room->Inside the Tower]].
A couple of threadbare quilts with the batting showing through are heaped up on a thin mattress. The corners of books poke out. There's no pillow. It's sad, really. You could [[fold the quilts for him->You Tidy the Bed]] or go back to [[studying the room->Inside the Tower]].
The table is sturdy and solid, although to judge by the deep gashes in the wood, someone has been hacking at it with a knife. Are those toothmarks on the legs?
On its surface sit (if: $scissors is 0)[a [[pair of scissors->The Scissors]],] (if: $flashlight is 0)[an [[ordinary flashlight->The Flashlight]],] (if: $jewel is 0)[a [[jewel->The Jewel]] the size of your fist,] (if: $candle is 0)[[[a monstrous agglomeration of candles->The Giant Candle]]](if: $candle is 1)[a burning wick in a heap of wax](if: ($flashlight + $jewel + $scissors) is not 3)[,] and a [[goblet of wine->The Goblet of Wine]].
As you walk down the street to work, a dark bird flies overhead, from the direction of the Tower. You shade your eyes to gaze after it and catch an impression of something enormous and exotic.
[[The pub looks like it always does->An Ordinary Day]].
You set the chair upright. One leg is a little shorter than the others, and it wobbles from side to side. You wonder how the Thinker could sit in it and not go mad. You [[look over his room again->Inside the Tower]].
You collect the books from the bed, which are not in any language you recognize, then fold the blankets. That's better. You go back to your [[examination of the room->Inside the Tower]].
Who uses silver goblets anyway? A smear of dried liquid on the inside suggests that someone tasted it and set it down. The liquid inside is thick and dark, more like blood than wine. It smells both sweet and strange, like vines flowering in shadowy places. You're a little thirsty, but you're not foolish enough to [[drink it->You Drain the Goblet]], are you? You could go back to [[studying everything else->The Table]].
This many-colored blob of wax was made by pressing many dribbling candle stubs together. It seems an extreme demonstration of thriftiness, and of very little use to anyone. Much melting and remelting has anchored it firmly to the table.
You could (link: "light it")[(set: $candle to 1)(goto: "The Table")] or continue to peruse [[the other objects->The Table]].
It's an ordinary yellow flashlight. When you shake it, you hear batteries inside, but it's dead when you flick the switch.
You could (link: "take it")[(set: $flashlight to 1)(goto: "The Table")] or continue to peruse [[the other objects->The Table]].
This blue jewel is so large and garish that it couldn't be anything but fake. You could (link: "take it")[(set: $jewel to 1)(goto: "The Table")] or continue to peruse [[the other objects->The Table]].
These are slim and crane-shaped, perhaps used for embroidery.
You could (link: "take it")[(set: $scissors to 1)(goto: "The Table")] or continue to peruse [[the other objects->The Table]].
The smell is too intoxicating, and it was going to sour anyway. It tastes sweet, with a faint edge of bitterness.
Your head spinning, you drop the goblet. It clanks to the floor.
You feel, oddly, as if you are [[flying->The Upper Tower]].
You float higher and higher, until your head bumps against the loose slats of the conical roof. Up here, you notice a small slitted window, and a toucan perched in it, watching you. The window seems too narrow for the bird to fit through.
This is a strange hallucination.
"Help," the toucan says.
"What do you need?" you say, gripping the edge of a gap in the roof. "I could look up the number of the nearest zoo or animal conservancy..."
The toucan simply repeats itself.
"Are you the Thinker?" you say.
"Is that your toast and porridge down there?"
A piece of the roof breaks away in your hand. You stare at it, [[aghast->The Roof Falls]].
With a crumbling noise, a significant portion of the roof caves inward, slats and tar shingles crashing to the floor below. Some bounce off your head and shoulders. Your hair is full of dust.
The toucan spreads its wings and soars up through the opening.
"Hey, wait," you say, but it doesn't.
[[You follow->The Storm]].
The village sprawls below, looking duller and darker than it did this morning. You'd swear it was sunny a minute ago, but sickly gray stormclouds are rolling in, streaked with rain.
The toucan flaps its wings and vanishes into the storm.
"Slow down!" you yell, flapping your own inadequate arms. You seem to have some influence over your direction, but the wine hasn't given you much in the way of speed.
A sudden sheet of rain smacks you in the face, and you can't see clearly anymore. The wind picks up, and you hurtle through the [[clouds->Belatedly, a Thought]].
Your clothes are soaking, and you have no idea where the toucan went. How long will the effects of the wine last? How high will you be when it wears out? And how far will you fall?
You see nothing, in this fog, but suddenly you [[bump hard into something->A Piazza]].
"Oof," you say.
You bump, bounce, and roll along a tiled pavement. Somewhere below, the storm crackles and roars.
[[Tiles?->The Piazza Mosaic]]
The tiles are various shades of green and blue, slick and shining with rain. They trace out the vast, vague form of a bird in flight. It's very pretty. You've seen something like this in a museum, once.
But what is a floor mosaic during up among the clouds?
You stand up, rubbing your bruised tailbone, and [[look around->The Park]].
Pale, silvery trees in silver pots stand at the edges of the mosaic, and a bridge of sorts leads away, into cloud. The piazza ends abruptly on three sides of you, with a sheer drop into dark stormclouds. You don't want to think about how high up you are.
This strange park in the sky unsettles you. You could [[jump and take your chances->You Leap]], or you could [[follow the bridge->Cloud City]].
(if: ($flashlight + $jewel) is 0 and (count: (history:), "You Cut a Slit in the Storm") is 1)[You're falling, no doubt about that. You can see the blurry shapes of steeples and houses below. Might as well [[close your eyes->Falling]] and wait for impact.]\
(elseif: (count: (history:), "You Leap") is 0)[You regret your decision as soon as you jump. The wine has definitely worn off, and you fall like a stone through the howling storm.]\
(else:)[You're still falling, and gaining speed.]
(if: $flashlight is 0 and $jewel is 0 and $scissors is 0)[This doesn't look good. You're empty-handed and pinwheeling [[downwards->One of Many Endings]].]\
(elseif: $flashlight is 0 and $jewel is 0 and $scissors is 1)[Maybe the [[scissors->You Cut a Slit in the Storm]] could help you?]\
(elseif: $scissors is 0)[Maybe the (if: $jewel is 1)[[[jewel->You Drop the Jewel]] or] (if: $flashlight is 1)[the [[flashlight->You Fumble with the Flashlight]]] could help you?]\
(else:)[Maybe the (if: $jewel is 1)[[[jewel->You Drop the Jewel]],] (if: $flashlight is 1)[the [[flashlight->You Fumble with the Flashlight]]](if: ($flashlight + $jewel) is not 1)[,] or the [[scissors->You Cut a Slit in the Storm]] could help you?]
Invisible birds clamor in the silver trees as you walk across the piazza and over the gossamer bridge. A river of cloud boils and hisses beneath the bridge.
You come to an intersection among jagged buildings as bright and thin as thunderbolts. To the [[east->Theatre District]], the streets appear a patchwork of gold leaf, with ragged, gaping holes allowing glimpses of the rain-shadowed fields far below. To the [[west->Feather Market]], where the road seems woven of wires, cloth hammocks of seeds hang from tethered balloons. Directly to the [[south->You Pursue]], you spot a dark shape flapping around the corner.
Your hands are slick with rain, and as you pull the jewel from your pocket, it slips through your fingers. You hope it doesn't break any heads (link: "on the way down")[(set: $jewel to 0)(goto: "You Leap")].
The flashlight spits and hisses a few times as you thumb the switch, but no light comes out. The wind (link: "rips it away")[(set: $flashlight to 0)(goto: "You Leap")].
You grip the crane scissors with the mad idea that they might help you.
The blades open and close, and to your shock, a slice of blue sky appears in the sky above you.
You make more cutting motions, until the clouds are cut to rags, and sunbeams and rain mix together.
This does not, however, [[slow your descent->Falling]].
The scissors are still in your hand. You stop slashing at the remnants of cloud overhead, because what good is it?
The streets come roaring up to meet [[you->You Fly]].
As if of their own volition, your arms open. The wind catches your wings, and you open your eyes to see a long yellow bill in front of you, then the rooftops gliding just below you, brushing your chest feathers. The crane-shaped scissors have vanished. Everything that you were has vanished.
You lean this way, then that, testing out your new wings. They are as strong and taut as a ship's sails. You could travel for miles on these.
You circle over the pub where you worked. Was it only that afternoon that you put toast on a tray for the Thinker?
(if: $candle is 1)[The dilapidated Tower reaches up from the earth. Its broken door and single window faint glow: the monstrous, globby candle you lit still burns. [[You are drawn to it->The Nest]].]\
(else:)[The dilapidated Tower hunches over the earth, its mouth and eye dark. There is nothing for you there. You wheel around and head north, your wings beating, [[your heart singing->The Skyways]].]
Entering the Tower through the open roof, you look with pleasure upon the place. This is yours, now. You know, without knowing how, that the Thinker will not return, and that this place has passed to you, for as long as you choose to remain.
(if: (count: (history:), "You Straighten the Chair") is 1 and (count: (history:), "You Tidy the Bed") is 1)[It was a good thing you set things to rights before you left. In your crane-shape you could hardly neaten the bed. Things are just as you like them.]\
(elseif: (count: (history:), "You Straighten the Chair") is 1)[At least you righted the chair while you could. The bed is a regrettable mess, but its soft parts will feather your nest.]\
(elseif: (count: (history:), "You Tidy the Bed") is 1)[You thank your past self for making the bed. You'll dismember the overturned chair for sticks for your nest.]\
(else:)[It's a magpie's nest in here, since neither the Thinker nor you bothered to tidy up the place, but that's all right, since you're making it a crane's nest.]
The candle continues to burn on the desk, with no sign of diminishing, and its light is a great comfort as the night steals up. The toast and porridge have been rained on but prove edible. Cranes aren't choosy eaters.
(if: (count: (history:), "You Drop the Jewel") is 1 and (count: (history:), "You Fumble with the Flashlight") is 1)[Tomorrow you will fly out in search of the flashlight and jewel you dropped. They are not what they seemed, and they possess powers. You are sure of it. You will return them to this place, and then you will fly forth again. ](elseif: (count: (history:), "You Drop the Jewel") is 1 or (count: (history:), "You Fumble with the Flashlight") is 1)[Tomorrow you will fly out in search of what you dropped. It are not what it seemed, and it possesses powers. You are sure of it. You will return it to this place, and then you will fly forth again. ]You will fill the Tower with all the peculiar and magical objects you can find, until it shimmers in the mind's eye with brilliant red and purple lights, until the things that seek such light, that grow and flower in it, that fly and dance in it, find you.
One of them will be your mate. You are sure of it. You do not know what form he will take, but you know he is searching, his wings carving a white line through the night. You will hatch chicks here, and you will peck at the sorcerous relics you have collected until stranger things hatch out.
But first you must adorn this bower.
No more paying rent, no more scrambling and smiling for tips. Nothing but the wind and the sky and the richness of rivers. Your new shadow ripples darkly across the earth. You are free, in the truest sense of the word.
The toucan is out there, somewhere. You will find him. Perhaps he will answer your questions in the speech of birds, and explain the magic in the Tower. There is a city, too, in the clouds. You have seen it. You will find it again.
There is so much for you to do.
You glance up one last time, your eyes full of rain, and see, far overhead, a large, dark bird flapping through the storm.
So this is what dying feels like.
The streets come roaring up to meet you.
(if: (count: (history:), "Theatre District") is 0)[The patchy road and the sight of the distant earth unnerves you, but you step carefully from gold flake to gold flake, and they support your weight.]
You find yourself among bedraggled posters spread so thickly atop each other that the buildings themselves disappear, and unlit Christmas-light marquees, which upon closer inspection prove to be fireflies asleep in glass vials. Whatever is being shown in these theatres, which seem made of paper-mâché, involves a lot of masks and feathers.
Under faded advertisements for Cloud City Spectacular and The Cuckoo Murders, [[a door stands invitingly open->Inside the Theatre]].
The wire road flexes oddly underfoot.
Between buildings, a silken spiderweb spells out, in precise white threads: Feather Market.
The floating stalls hold seeds of all shapes and colors, insects in bottles and boxes that shake with their motion, shreds of cotton batting and old clothes, string, yarn, bits of tin foil, lost earrings, paste diamonds, and gobbets of wool.
A multicolored sparrow presides over a row of painted eggshells, its feathers splattered with vegetable dyes.
(if: (count: (history:), "Feather Market") is 0)["See anything you like?" a pigeon coos.
The prices are all in some currency you don't recognize, and you see buyers and sellers exchanging some kind of dried flower bud.]\
(else:)["You again?" the pigeon says, less interested this time.]\
[[You walk down the rows of stalls.->Deep into the Feather Market]]
You follow the dark swooping form of the toucan through a maze of twists and turns, which you would never have traversed correctly on your own, and although the ground underfoot is bare planking or stepping stones or rope bridges over nothingness, you move a little faster than you ought to so you can keep the bird in sight.
A shadow passes over you, then another: two eagles, carrying a weighted net between them. They overtake the toucan with ease and bag him up.
Then they fly straight and fast down the boulevard. You couldn't catch them if you tried, but you can see all the way down to their destination: [[a glittering dome->The Cage]].
You step through the door into an airy open space draped with flags. Like the streets, construction of the floor appears to have been haphazard at best, with planks missing, though here the gaps only show cloud.
Where plush red seats would be in an ordinary theatre, silver cables are strung from wall to wall. When you bump against them, they hum like the strings of an enormous harp. There are two whole tiers of them, slanting downward toward the stage.
(if: (count: (history:), "Feather Market") is 0)[The upper galleries are filled with owls, all swiveling their heads to watch you.
"Who?" they say softly. [["Who-o-o?"->Conversation with Owls]]]\
(else:)["Are you here to accept our offer?" the owls say.
[["Yes," you say.->You join the Owl Troupe]]]
"Um, I'm Charity," you say. "I'm looking for a toucan."
"I think he might be a neighbor of mine. The Thinker."
The owl gallery falls quiet, turning their heads one way, then the other.
At last one fluffs itself up and says, [["Why?"->Because]]
"Because he might be in trouble, or he might be a toucan and in trouble, and I'm confused and lost up here and he might know how to go home."
The owls confer.
"We are missing a stage light," one of them says. "Either it has gone on strike, or someone has eaten it. Can you catch it for us?"
(if: $flashlight is 1)[[["Maybe I can replace it," you say.->The owls assist.]]]\
(else:)[[["I wouldn't know where to look," you say.->The owls confer.]]]
You offer them the flashlight. "The batteries are dead, but maybe you have spare ones?"
They peck at it, then stare expectantly at you. You unscrew the flashlight and slide out the dead batteries.
"Oh yes," an owl says, "this'll do." It flutters to the rafters and returns with a green grub grasped carefully in its beak. This it inserts into the flashlight, then beckons you to screw the top back on.
The flashlight beam snaps on, no problem.
"Try the Cage. It's where he belongs, and it's where he'll probably end up. [[Go down this road, three lefts and then a right.->The Cage]]"
(set: $flashlight to 0)
The owls confer.
"We can't assist you with finding the thief and pryer into secrets. But your opposable thumbs could be useful here. We can offer you [[a nest of your own->You join the Owl Troupe]], and a job hammering nails, and turning knobs, and screwing screws. (if: (count: (history:), "Feather Market") is 0)[Otherwise you might try the [[Feather Market]], back in the direction you came from."]
Since you see no way of going home, you accept the offer and stay with the Owl Troupe, building sets, issuing tickets for mice, and staging their operas. Mistaken identity seems to be a pretty common theme.
You never see the toucan again. When you ask about it, the owls mutter "thief" and "spy" and spit up mouse bones on your shoes. Eventually you stop bringing it up.
The nest they give you, six stories up, is made of rags and willow withies and quite nice, when all's said and done. The diet of seeds and corn is tedious, but some of the owls fetch teabags, sugar, pastries, and fruit, when they can pinch them. One or two cranes try to console you about never laying and hatching eggs, but you laugh them off. You have your nest, and a choir of owls to hoot you softly to sleep, and this is somehow exactly what you wanted.
Cloud City's not a bad place to live, once you get used to it.
On your long walk you pass shallow marble birdbaths glittering in the sun, and enormous feather sculptures swaying gracefully in the breeze.
The Cage is exactly that: a barred and netted aviary, the wire mesh too fine for a hummingbird to slip through, containing a variety of birds. Enormous birds of prey perch high up, hooded and mysterious, their eyes slitted, while the parrots, doves, and sparrows flit about below. Now and then one of the raptors dives down suddenly, and as the birds panic and beat their wings against the mesh, in an explosion of feathers and down, it strikes and begins to strip one of the smaller birds.
The toucan huddles at the back of the Cage, trying to look inconspicuous.
[[You sidle over.]]
The buildings hang closer together the farther you wander into the Market, and the bright sunlight grows dim. Then you are entirely in shadow.
Here the goods are hastily unfurled on bolts of silk, and as hastily withdrawn.
(if: (count: (history:), "Deep into the Feather Market") is 0)["Can I help you?" the nearest jackdaw says. His eyes are black and cold. He clutches a string of translucent objects like misshapen marbles in his claws.
You could [[tell him you're looking for a way home->Ask the Jackdaw for Help]], or you could [[ask what he's selling->Pearls of Great Price]].]\
(else:)[A murder of crows are haggling with the jackdaw, and they shoot you evil looks. You give them a wide berth and [[continue into the Market->Blind Alley]], which grows ever narrower and murkier.]
"You can't," the toucan says. "I have to find her. That's why she taught me those things. That's why she gave me, in my sleep, this form."
(if: $scissors is 1)[Ignoring him, you take out the crane scissors and begin to hack at the wire mesh.
"Wait, those scissors are arcane and perilous--" the toucan says. The wires part between the blades, notching them.
The other occupants of the Cage observe in interested silence.
Soon you've opened up a sizable gash in the Cage, large enough for the toucan to [[slip through->Bargaining with Convicts]].]\
(else:)[Ignoring him, you search around the edges of the Cage for a weak point, but find nothing.
"There isn't any way out," a falcon says. "If there were, we would have found it already. We're here until we are put on trial or die. And he's not important enough for a trial."
[[You slump against the mesh.->Beggardom in Cloud City]]]
"If you want my help, you'll have to buy it," he sneers, and turns his back on you.
(if: $jewel is 1)["What do you want?" you say.
"Baubles of great price. Nothing you'd have."
"What about this?" you say, producing the enormous plastic jewel.
The jackdaw turns around and gapes.
[["Gimme that!" he says.->The Jackdaw Speaks]]]
(else:)["Do you know who might help me?" you say.
"You're a waste of my time, but you might try the bleeding hearts in the Theatre District," he says. "[[Straight back the way you came,->Theatre District]] and don't come back here."]
"Souls," the jackdaw says, and laughs nastily.
There is indeed an unearthly shimmer about the irregular pearls on his string.
(if: $jewel is 1)[You could [[offer to buy them->Buy a Soul]] or [[say nothing->You say nothing]].]\
(else:)["You're a waste of time," he says. "Don't come back here."
You head back the way you came, and when you reach the intersection of silver wire and gold leaf you [[continue in the same direction->Theatre District]].]
Soon the passage you are following is so tight you have to turn sideways to slip through. Then it narrows further, and you stop, before you are completely stuck.
This was a mistake.
When you turn around, a sense of foreboding heavy in your stomach, the mouth of the alley is clogged with crows.
The jackdaw hops forward and angles his head.
"You came back," he says. "Sticking your beak in other birds' feeders. Spying. I told you, you aren't welcome."
"I'm sorry--" you begin to say.
"You can have the rest," he tells the crows, "but I want her eyes."
A roiling black cloud, all sharp beaks and claws, overtakes you. They are efficient, fast, and brutal. Soon there's nothing left to show you ever were there.
"Are you the Thinker?" you hiss through the mesh.
The toucan nods miserably.
"I drank your cursed cup of wine. That's a public hazard, leaving it on the table like that. And you saw, and you didn't stop me! How do I go home?"
The toucan mumbles.
"I dreamed about a princess," he says. "Skin smooth and white as sundown, lips bright as cardinals, hair the color of a peacock's breast."
"Of course there's a girl," you mutter.
"She taught me how to make the wine of flying, and the candle of restoration, and how to cut the shape of birds or storms with enchanted scissors, and where to find the Stone of Yearning."
"What about the flashlight? Is it some flashlight of scrying, or something?"
"No, that's just a flashlight."
"Well, I'm [[breaking you out of here->Escape]], so you can take me home."
"I'll give it to you if you tell me how to get home," you say, "or how to find the toucan."
"Ha!" He spreads his wings. "He's no bird, just a parasite and a sneak. My kind of animal."
"Where can I find him?"
"The King Eagles have probably popped him in the Cage by now. He's not very clever, or fast, like me. You'll want to move fast, if you have questions for him."
"Which way is the Cage?"
The jackdaw describes a convoluted path to you, which you commit with difficulty to memory. You hand over the jewel, and he grapples it into a sack hanging on a nail.
"You have no idea what this is," he says, gloating. "Humans have no idea of the value of things. This buys me a kingdom."
You proceed through the city [[according to the jackdaw's instructions->The Cage]].
(set: $jewel to 0)
You offer the large blue jewel, and the jackdaw's eyes bulge.
"For that?" he squawks. "I'll give you..." He scrabbles among the objects on his string, coming up with one. "//This//."
"My pearl of great price. For the Stone of Yearning, which draws what is wished-for to the possessor, I can cut you a deal that's almost... fair."
You thank him, and add, "Would you know a toucan, or where I can find him?"
Stroking his jewel, his eyes alight, the jackdaw almost croons. "That fellow? South American migrant. Too curious, not clever enough. Most likely shut up in the Cage. Here, [[I'll tell you how to get there->The Cage]]."
(set: $jewel to 0)
(set: $soul to 1)
"Beat it," the jackdaw says, "and don't show your face around here again."
You head back the way you came, and soon the silver wires under your feet transform to [[flakes of gold->Theatre District]].
As the toucan sits on your shoulder, you wave the scissors at the raptors, who are watching you with interest.
"I'll widen it," you say, "if you'll carry me back down to the ground."
"Deal," a hawk says.
You make quick work of the wires, and most of the raptors slip through before a bluejay raises the alarm.
Too late. The other occupants of the Cage pour out in a frantic flood of feathers and birdsong.
You are gripped and [[lifted up by dozens of birds->Home]], grasping your arm, your clothes, tendrils of your hair.
When you are safely settled on the earth, the birds disperse in all directions.
The Tower rises over you.
"But the princess," the toucan says.
(if: $soul is 1)["Damn your princess," you say. "Here, you can have this instead." [[You toss him the pearl.->The Soul Flowers]]]\
(else:)["It was just a dream," you say, irritated. "You mentioned something about a (if: $candle is 0)[(link: "candle of restoration?")[(goto: "You Light the Candle")]](else:)[(link: "candle of restoration?")[(goto: "The Thinker Stays a Toucan")]]]
The birds of Cloud City aren't particularly concerned with your fate. You wander the streets, sleep unmolested in unattended corners, sneak seeds and bits of stale bread, and return again and again to the Cage, rattling its mesh and demanding, with increasing agitation, that the Thinker tell you how to get home.
He only gives you a long, sad stare.
One day he's no longer in the Cage. A sprinkle of long black feathers blows against the mesh, and some of them slip through.
You waste away slowly on those strange streets, your stomach empty, your eyes stuffed with marvels.
The princess he spoke about does not visit you in your dreams.
The pearl falls to the ground. From it billows a vaporous figure in long robes, pale and tall. It bends over the toucan and kisses its head.
"Well done," the apparition says, and the white smoke of it folds up into the shape of a seagull and wings away.
When you look back, a young man stands where the toucan was, his eyes dazzled. It's the Thinker.
"If we're finished here," you say, "I'm late for my shift."
He looks at you with a strange expression on his face, as if he doesn't quite see you, and nods.
You go back to the pub, and wipe down the tables, and serve sixty dinners, and pocket the tips, but the whole time your head is full of birds. When you go back to your cramped little flat, it seems as wide as the sky, and when you sleep, you dream of flying in a multicolored flock of birds.
The lump of varicolored wax still stands on the table.
"You might as well light it," the toucan says.
When the flame flickers up, he flutters to the table and stretches one wing over the candle. In a moment, the bird is consumed by fire, and a youngish man crouches on the table: the Thinker.
"Leave me alone," he says tonelessly, and flops facefirst down on the (if: (count: (history:), "You Tidy the Bed") is 1)[neatly made bed](else:)[rumpled bed].
You leave the Tower, propping up the pieces of the door that remain, and work your shift, [[deep in thought->An Extraordinary Day]].
There's nothing left of the candle but a rainbow puddle, with the last black bits of the wick floating in the hardened wax.
"You lit the candle?" the toucan says. "How am I supposed to change back now?"
"I needed the candle!"
"Well, you'd better get used to being a toucan," you say, flinging yourself down on the (if: (count: (history:), "You Tidy the Bed") is 1)[neatly made bed](else:)[rumpled bed]. "I'll make sure you eat, and I won't sell you to a zoo."
"How could you be so stupid?"
"Stupid? You obeyed a so-called princess in a dream." You close your eyes. You're exhausted. "We'll figure something out tomorrow."
"Hey!" the Thinker squawks, but you're already asleep.
The next day you bring the usual toast, porridge, and water on their tray. The Thinker meets you at the door, and looks at you, and sees you, and his eyes are clear.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced," he says. "My name is Matthew."
"Charity," you say.
You look at each other with a shared secret in your eyes, and smile, and your heart is lighter as you trip back to work. All day, and for many days after, your head is full of birds and birdsong.