The morning sees our heroes still tense after their disagreement. But still, more pressing matters remain, and Beyaloa starts her day by naming a new captain of the guard, in front of most of her household, choosing to officialise the position of her most promising guard, who has been acting as captain since the attack on her estates by Fair Folk a year ago.
As soon as the ceremony is over, however, the argument between Pragatima and the rest of the circle is settled without their input : a messenger arrives from Ansibah. Their great-aunt has learned of the return of Ebele, and is summoning her niece to the capital. Wary, Ebele decides that this is for the best, and leaves with a last hug to her cousin’s children, whispering a warning to Beyaloa : “She got news that we were here in less than a day… are you sure you can trust your staff?”.
With the question of Ebele’s presence rendered moot, the group decide a truce is the best way to keep the circle together, and the subject is left off for now. As the workers replenish their supplies, Harik and Beyaloa spend their time between the library and the tower, discussing the magical properties of the manse and the protections the sorceress put in place to guard her home. From the top of the three stories tower, the whole region is visible, and she points out the statues littering the grounds and garden, along with the small clouds hovering over the estate : so many elementals, guarding the land and her children and tasked to prevent another Fair Folk incursion.
Meanwhile, Pragatima and Jemdat train in the gardens, showing off their martial prowess in a friendly match. The young martial artist, a student of the snake style, is by no means an amateur, but she quickly realise she is out of her depth against the Dawn. She finishes the bout on the ground, her seven-section staff far away from her grasp. As both exchange tips and techniques, they are quickly joined by some of the Voriyaras and Beyaloa’s guard, and a impromptu dojo is started on the grassy field. For Jemdat, there can be no doubt anymore : the Hazan woman is hiding a power far greater than she lets on.
And the voyage starts once more. Two days of travel north bring the caravan to less-populated part of the Twelve Kingdoms, where subsistence farmer eke out a living next to the coast of the Dreaming Sea. As they debate on the last known objective of the expedition they are looking for, they stumble upon a golden-blond yeddim being used as a beast of burden by some farmers, and Jemdat recognise it as the beast used by Zao Khan. Interogating the villagers, who are more than wary of such an heavily armed group, they nonetheless discover that Zao’s expedition passed throught there a few month ago, looking at a ruined temple next to the coast. No-one ever came back, but the beast did, and so the villagers have looked after them since then.
Following their enquiries, they also learn that a tall man, followed by a walking cage of iron, passed throught there a few month before that : Narez, the sorcerer of the Pearly Coast. Usually, thought, travellers and locals alive stay away from the ruins, believing them haunted (and apparently, with good reason). The next step of the group is clear : finding those ruins and the lost archeological expedition. Jemdat reminds them that should they manage to find either Zao Khan (or his body, in order to give him a proper burial), her uncle will cover the cost of their own travels as they search for answers on the glowing lense and the strange happenings of the area.
The woods are heavy with branches and tree ferns, and the circle soon decides to leave their own beasts and the workers behind. Entering the forest, they feel the air getting cold and clamy, and the sunlight diminishing without any clouds, and realise they have just entered a Shadowland. They find an old stone temple, overgrown with bone-white trees, and a path leading towards the sea.
Continuing onwards, they soon come upon a coral statue sitting on a fallen tree trunk, and soon realise that it is too detailed by far to be a simple art piece. A man is there, stuck in a shell of grey coral, perhaps even still alive. Immediately, Rohim starts studying the petrified victim, and the rest of the group goes on ahead to scout. They arrive at a small ruined village, mostly destroyed, sitting on cliffs overlooking the dark Sea of Dreams. As they explore the village, they conclude that most of the devastation was probably due to one of the Inashi’s rampages, and find a small staircase sculpted in the side of the cliff, leading to deep caves. The group starts debating wether to keep on exploring or not, Pragatima wanting to go investigate the caves, while the rest of the group fears being stuck inside the Shadowland at night. Before they manage to reach an agreement, Rohim manages to cleanse the living statue, and a living and breathing man falls down in his arms, deeply asleep, and the Voriyaras bring him back to their camp.
Soon after, Pragatima gets down in the cave, determined to learn more, followed by Jemdat, while the rest of the group stays on the cliffs. As they both descend down, they find more of the living statues, culminating in a gruesome tableau : in the middle of the cave, the whole crew of the lost expedition is frozen in living coral, stuck in the middle of a fight for their lives against a monstruous creature of the depth. The monster’s tentacles are spread across the room, raising the humanoid torso above all the mortals fighting him, and crushing the body of Zao Khan’s bodyguard, a Dragonblooded petrified seconds after his death, his own spear mere centimeters from the monster’s face. The scene is eerily lit, both by the light pouring in from the sea, and from the crackle of lightning perpetually trying to explode out of the great jade spear, destroying the coral only to be immediatly covered by it once again, keeping the beast in stasis, stuck in time before the moment of its death.
As Pragatima and Jemdat observe the uncanny collection of statues, the rest of the group stumbles upon a mystical barrier etched in the ground, made of salt, iron and gold, surrounding the cave complex. As they inspect it, they realise it was made less than a year ago, and Harik gulps audibly when he notices that it was recently broken.
Soon the group as a whole is moving towards the camp, carrying with them the coral body of Zao Khan, who is soon healed by Rohim. Comparing what they discovered, and interpreting the ramblings of the sleeping Zao, they soon reach their own interpretations of the scene : the monster (that Harik identifies as something ressembling a Second Circle demon) was probably contained inside the barrier by the sorcerer Narez, and Zao Khan’s men ended up freeing it unwitingly in order to explore the cave. During the battle, the Dragonblooded warrior was killed before landing the killing blow, and the creature freezed the scene in coral to keep itself alive until someone removed the spear. Beyaloa also mentions the cryptic warning of her Serpent-and-Egg about a wave of darkness coming from the depths, and the group can’t help but shudder.
After debating for a while, they reach an agreement on what to do : they will get as much people out of the cave as possible, and carry them away to where Rohim will be able to heal them without risking his life. After this, Pragatima, Beyaloa and Harik will stay behind, and try to grab the spear. The first part of the plan goes out without any problems, and the unerved workers leave the cave with the coral statues, leaving the three Exalts alone in front of the monster.
There is a moment of silence while they all contemplate what they are about to do, and then a flurry of sorcery as Beyaloa calls to her the Invulnerable Skin of Bronze and the Cirrus Skiff, to carry Harik and herself far from the sea-demon. And the Dawn grabs the spear : Piercing Thunder, forged from a captured bolt of lightning cast in iron, Blue Jade and Orichalcum.
Immediately, the coral cracks and frees the creature, and the fight starts anew. But the monster no longer faces mere mortals protected by a single terrestrial Exalt, this time three Solars are ready for the fight. And what a fight it is! Three times the demon tries to crush Pragatima with its coils, throwing the Dawn against the stone wall, and three times she escapes death, even blinding the beast with a powerful strike of her newfound spear.
Madened by pain, blind and disoriented, the monster cannot escape the terrible assault of the Dawn, nor can it strike the two sorcerer who pelt it with the Death of Obsidian Butterflies and the Flight of the Brilliant Raptor, nor can it see the cave light up with the lights of sorcery and the anima of the Dawn wielding trapped lightning. The fight is long and furious, and stone shatters and crumbles under the power of the blows, but as the dust settle, an exhausted Pragatima rises from the ashes of the monster’s remains, wounded but smiling, holding her trophy high over her head.
She stumbles out of the cave still smiling : however little they may know about all they settled out to discover, finding Zao and an unclaimed artifact means that their expedition is already a sucess in her eyes.