After meeting one last time with Sondahk to discuss an eventual mining expedition with Harik and negotiate “renting” Ami in the future, the circle leave the town… not towards the sea, but towards the mountains.
An hour’s walk away from the outskirts of Ma Nao, they come upon their agreed meeting place, a small clearing dotted with old stones, from which they can see the whole bay. As the light rain stops, they watch a giant bat circle the ships and settling next to a watchtower, but are interrupted by Faj’s arrival. The young heir is accompanied by a friend and a doctor, and the three present their weapons to Beyaloa for inspection.
Silently, the duelists take their place at the center of the clearing, their flame pieces in hand, waiting for the other to flinch or blink. They both know that a single shot of firedust is all they have, and that they must make that shot count. The silence of the clearing after the rain is tense, and Pragatima is the first to move: a feint at first, as she grabs the unfamiliar weapon to force her adversary to act. The blast of fire catches her in the shoulder, not enough to stop her momentum, and she aims for Faj’s hand, burning him and forcing him to drop the flame piece.
As soon as it started, the duel is over, Rohim and Faj’s physician rush to help their respective friends. The insult burnt away by cleansing fire, Faj and Pragatima meet once more at the center, both expressing gratitude at having only lightly wounded the other.
The circle then goes back to the palace one last time to pay their respect to the Bey’s family before leaving, and learn that he is meeting a Dragon-Blooded from Ayodhya, who came in riding a giant bat this morning. Afraid that this might be the premises of a Wyld Hunt, the circle leaves as quietly as possible.
The journey to Baliad is short and calm, and the group spends the better part of it resting on the ship, preparing their plan for the next few days. After a night at sea, the Temeraire and the old pirate ship finally arrive at Baliad’s port, where slave workers are busy working on a massive sea-wall to the south. As they start walking toward the home of their contact, they notice the fresh paint on all the building they pass, the walls depicting scenes of popular stories or colorful landscapes, and the numerous artists plying their trade on the streets. Beyaloa also notes that some nobles have retinues of silver-masked warriors, a sneer appearing on her face at the view of the dream-eaten.
They are warmly welcomed by Teferi, a local noble serving as queen Saramen’s agent, who gives them his perspective on the shift in politics of the recent years, saying that the local Bey is using distrust of the Twelve to fire up his supporters and unite them behind him: his refusal to provide troops to Ansibah was public and impressively popular.
He also mentions the Way of Inspiration, adding that while the silver masks are supposedly simple mercenaries for hire, most people who employ them seem to be followers of the local cult, only furthering Beyaloa’s suspicion that they are at last close to the den of her Fair Folk nemesis.
Before dealing with the Bey or the cult, however, they agree that looking for Rain Pearl’s Prince is a more urgent matter: Baliad being a center of the slave trade, they know that there is a chance that he might pass through the local slave market if a ransom is not asked before that, and so spend the afternoon looking around, interrogating slave merchants to learn about newly arrived Illuvari or good fighter slaves.
As they talk about exotic slaves, Pragatima and Rain Pearl learn that at least one Hazan serves as a gladiator slave for a rich local family. They end up bribing a local merchant to meet a guildsman who has links with the slave trade, and end up face to face with Mahel of Agate. Passed the initial surprise, the rector tells them she hasn’t seen any people matching their description in the past few weeks, but will keep an eye out for them and warn the circle if necessary.
Harik and Beyaloa, on the other hand, knowing through the sorceress’ Infallible Messenger that Zapir is alive and held somewhere in a warehouse, decide to check the outskirts of the city, and step on their Cirrus Skiff to watch the terrain from the sky. A few hours of flight give them at least a few candidates, from simple farms to a smallish but comparatively heavily guarded compound a few hours walk south of the city.
Slowly, they make their way back to their room at Teferi’s villa, the night already heavy on the painted city.