The Men of the Dragon counseled hate. Jia saw the stains in the scarred earth, a black raw belly eating magic, leaving her people empty. She strutted at the memory of Honored Teacher Chen who'd complimented her conjuration. He was too kind saying her power would equal the Emperor of Sky's adepts away from the magic eaters. Her magic was simple.
Her village, Ordos, held beauty. She saw it in the half-finished statue of Buddha, his skull open to the sky, as if his soul had ascended to bardo awaiting his next life's journey. A pair of finches nested in the ear's scaffolding.
"Miss." Mr. Dog held a nicked knife to her throat. Three Mr. Cats surrounded her. One, blackened by mother earth's mines, rubbed his thumb over his finger pads. "Coin."
Jia dipped into her purse, two iron coins showing through the threads. She placed the coins, they would've bought her dinner, in the boy's hands carefully, like a butterfly. Her breath conjured a smile from the goons and the boy behind her dropped the knife away. They scattered.
Magic might not feed her stomach, but it could hide the hunger. She skipped towards home and her studies.