The sun is barely painting the eastern horizon in timid pinks when a group of riders march out the northern gate, approaching the camp. Solemn and silent, Pragatima and Beyaloa recognize Lapis and Iobana leading them, and share a concerned look: the die is cast, and now there is no turning back. Rohim is tending to the wounds of the Voriyaras, and Harik is standing silently over the dead body of their fallen comrade, pierced by Pragatima’s spear.
The two Dragon-Blooded dismount, and Lapis kneels next to the body while Enandi surveys the scene. With a sign of his hand, Lapis summons a member of his suite next to him, and the circle recognize Shab, the Ghostblooded assassin who fought them on the Fiery Isles. She inspects the corpse for a moment, and nods towards the Fire Aspect : Rain Pearl, the Anathema of Illuvar, is dead.
Satisfied and somewhat impressed, the two Dragon-Blooded interrogate the group, eager to learn how they managed such an impressive feat, and the circle spins a tale of heroics, mentioning the skills of the Voriyaras, and the presence of two sorcerers and the hero of Ansibah by their side. With a wry smile, Lapis cuts Foam Spiral free, throwing her at the Hazan captain, before leaving with the body. Enandi follows, giving a lingering look at Rohim that send a chill down the physician’s back.
As soon as she is free, Foam Spiral throws herself at Pragatima, rage and hatred in her eyes, but is easily restrained by the taller and unwounded Hazan. Exhausted and sobbing, she falls to her knees, and Ebele helps her to one of the tents. There, as the rest of the group catch up on precious sleep, she explains their stratagem, telling her that they faked her companion’s death, and show her the real Rain Pearl, lying in a hole in the ground, her anima having all but disappeared. The two Shining Mirrors fall in each other’s arms, glad to be together once more.
Morning passes, and noon, and it is early afternoon before the circle is up and about. Rain Pearl, having disguised herself as one of the Voriyaras, is eager to find out more about Zapir’s whereabouts, and Beyaloa sends another Infallible Messenger, expecting to once again find the Prince held up in a dungeon. But the image she receives is entirely different : the Star-Prince is no longer bound, and is sitting on silk cushions under a blood-black sky, a desert of rubies spreading around the great tent where he rests, along with other humans… and at least a Fair Folk cataphroi. Fuming, the sorceress tells them that Zapir is held by a Fair Folk, in a Wyld pocket. The group agrees that the desert palace is probably in the center of the Inspired compound, and decide to investigate further this night before mounting a rescue, Harik musing that he might help by summoning demonic help.
Coming back to the city, they learn that the Bey has invited them to his palace this evening, along with Lapis and Enandi. The group accepts without hesitation, seeing this as the best opportunity to meet him on good terms before starting their negotiations.
With the afternoon free, Pragatima decides to follow the trail of the Hazan slave she learned about. After a quick discussion with her mistress, a local noble trying to rebuild her stable of gladiators, she gains the right to meet with the young fighter for a bout, passing herself as a potential buyer. At the arena, she meets Obin, and the two face off with wooden weapons under the eyes of the other gladiators-in-training. Obin demonstrates her mastery of Snake Style, and starts the duel with the upper hand before the Dawn manages to disarms her, leaving her easy prey for a devastating finishing blow. Impressed, Pragatima asks her is she would be willing to join the Voriyaras if freed, and Obin accepts. They share stories, Pragatima leaving her a gift of salt as she promises to come back for her as soon as possible.
As the light of the setting sun throws an aurora of light from the golden roofs of the palace, the circle, unarmed and dressed to the nine, enter the Bey’s residence, Ebele at their side. The hall of the palace is filled with local nobles, priests and rich merchants, dining on stuffed peppers and peach-wine. They mingle with the crowd, admiring the mosaic on the floor (scenes from the legends of Ibn, the greatest sailor of the Dreaming Sea), and listening to the musicians playing an traditional song.
Unfamiliar as they are with local politics, they still recognize some faces: Enandi Iobana salutes the circle, and waits until she can talk to Rohim privately. She mentions that she saw his distress this morning, and that she would be glad to help him should his companion’s actions bring him too much grief. Troubled by her demeanor, Rohim thanks her politely before excusing himself. Karo-Karo, splendid in an open golden jacket, picks them out of the crowd and introduces himself as the Bey’s brother. He asks them about their ghastly business with the Anathema, and engages in a bit of small talk. Before long, they are interrupted by an agitated and passionate man, Pakash Okashow himself, requesting
Beyaloa and Harik’s aid in a friendly debate with local priests of the Pure Way about the nature of the soul. The Bey starts beaming as Harik throws himself in the discussion with calculated abandon, managing to score rhetorical points for their host’s team. Overjoyed by his performance, the Bey thanks them for their help in disposing of the Anathema, saying that he heard great things about them and inviting them to dine with him as a favor. Before they can discuss it further, drums begin sounding, and a new singer appears on the scene as discussing everywhere fade to silence: a beautiful woman with jet-black hair and wide eyes, who starts singing an old ballad about the brevity of life.
Recognizing Asteria, Rohim goes pale, and hides at the back of the crowd. When the performance ends and applause ripples through the hall, Pragatima, having noticed the physician’s distress, goes to greet the singer, interrupting her discussion with Khnemu. Now openly panicking, Rohim grabs Harik by the arm, urging him to stop the two women from talking. The sorcerer obliges, insinuating himself in the conversation, where Pragatima is bluntly asking the singer if she knows their physician, quickly offending her with her intrusiveness.
Meanwhile, Rohim has left the hall, wanting to stay alone with his thoughts for a while, but he is rapidly interrupted, first by Enandi, who reiterates her offer, and then by Ebele, worried after seeing him leave so suddenly. He thanks both, and stays alone, looking at the city. The reception is still ongoing, and as the night gets colder, Rohim watches the lights of the city slowly turn off, replaced by the slowly turning stars.
In the main hall, Pragatima, Rain Pearl and Harik are arguing over wether to pursue their aborted investigation on the physician’s mysterious past, the Hazan captain saying that this might be their best chance at learning more about him, and the two others urging her to respect their friend’s privacy. In the end, they agree to let Pragatima apologize to Asteria, without asking any more questions.