Harik is trembling, lying on the soft grass, his hands over his ears, eyes closed and a cold sweat running down his spine. He is painfully aware of Beyaloa and Rohim approaching him carefully, and how could he not be? Even the whisper of the wind is loud enough to seemingly pierce his eardrums… even the soft, wet grass is full of blades and spikes that feel like they are cutting his skin through the rough texture of his silk clothing… every noise a shout, every touch a wound. He winces as he feels Rohim approaching, closer and closer, expecting pain to erupt as the physician’s hand touches his bare skin… and instead feels nothing but warm relief, the medicinal genius of the Zenith banishing pain as surely as he sun does shadows. He opens his eyes, staring at the world in a new light.
A kilometer away, Pragatima and Rain Pearl are watching the Sea People train in the shallow water of the bay. As they approach, the camp leader comes to greet them, flanked by two scouts who give their latest report on the Unificator.
They learn that the great city-camp hasn’t moved for a long while, and that tribal conflicts are making it difficult for the conqueror to keep his massive force in check: recently, some of his generals were executed for treason after leading a coup against him, claiming to their followers that they had made a deal with death to gain immortality and great power.
Recognizing the work of She Whose Name Is Death, Rain Pearl and Pragatima frown: they agree that M’’ar’ai will need to move soon if he wants to keep his forces in check… war, after all that time, is approaching. And Beyaloa’s Serpent-And-Egg agrees, waking up to deliver a cryptic warning:
“A choice to make, peace through war and death. A dragon stirs in the west, and a chain is forged between sea and death. Which of the two spears will break out the Chained God?”
As they talk about the ominous news, the circle is once again interrupted by an unexpected arrival: one of Beyaloa’s Cloud Persons warns them that a trio of riders is approaching, soldiers of the Twelve escorting a messenger from Dir-Jal.
The horses thunder into the garden, the messenger immediately dropping to his knees in front of the circle. He tells them he has been riding for three days without rest, charged by Pree Asma to ask them for help: a full Prasadi legion is approaching the city of the Chained God, asking to be let into their territory to investigate the disappearance of their envoy. They have already engaged Dir-Jal forces in small skirmishes, and the council is worried they will not be able to hold the city without help.
“She told me to finish by saying this: I know we have been enemies in the past, but a greater danger is upon us. Help me today, so we can be enemies again tomorrow.”
Having delivered his message, the rider falls to the ground, exhausted, and the group is left to react to this new menace: while the danger of a Sea People invasion is immense, war in Dir-Jal is a terrifying prospect, especially if such a conflict ends up revealing their nature as Anathemas. After confirming the menace with an Infallible Messenger to Siem, the group quickly decide to warn queen Saramen for help.
But Pragatima has a more direct idea, and she climbs on top of the tower that is the geomantic center of Beyaloa’s manse, where the whole region can be seen as if from the top of a great mountain. In front of the bewildered circle, she grabs Piercing Thunder, throwing it across the sky, the spear falling on the far horizon like a bolt of lightning… and when the thunder dies out, the Dawn is still holding the jade spear, now standing next to the red waters of the river Dast, more than halfway to Dir-Jal.
Not one to be impressed, Beyaloa starts shaping the mudras of Travel Without Distance, and the very air around the rest of the group turns a blinding white. A blink, and they are now standing next to the royal palace of Ansibah, in the middle of a silent crowd reeling from their sudden apparition. The sorceress, flanked by Rohim and the Blue Walker, enters the palace under the eyes of the stunned guards, and Harik heads towards the Prasadi embassy, Rain Pearl in tow.
Now is no time for waiting around.