Arriving at the site of Brianna’s Palisade along with ROGELIO, the party finds only a featureless expanse of ash. Nevertheless, they use their various abilities to try and find Alina—the only result being CATALINA’S sensing of human sentience somewhere in the vicinity—until ALECTO is distracted by the absence of MARTA on deck.
Going below, Aly discovers Marta on a pallet in obvious pain and immediately alerts the group, who cluster into the small room. Led by Catalina’s intuition, they soon deduce that Marta is pregnant with an infested child, and that her shard, the Lithomagus, is attempting to fight off the infestation by ejecting the child.
Rogelio goes topside to ensure the ship’s safety. He is followed by DUMAS and VARIAN, while the remaining party members are appalled by the sudden spattering of blood as the child is expelled from the womb. Being prematurely born, it is naturally tiny, as well as (perhaps) unnaturally blue and possessing a tail.
Aly sends MANTIUS and Catalina topside with Marta, to remove her from further danger and save her if possible. Catalina tries past all possibility, even after Mantius’s gentle assertion that Marta is beyond help.
Dumas rejoins ARCTURUS and Aly, who wraps the baby in a sheet and puts the infant boy in a basket. Dumas cleans the child, and milk is obtained to sustain him, despite some party members’ inclination to instead kill the (literally and figuratively) blue tinged infant.
The crisis past for the meantime, Catalina draws the group’s attention to her realization of the increased proximity of the human sentience she sensed earlier. ALINA is soon spotted standing on the ash just below and gazing up at the ship. Dumas scrambles down to meet her and finds her transformed, having apparently eaten something that has turned her into an Infested Human. Despite Alina’s summoning others of her kind to rise up from the ash, confrontation is avoided and Dumas manages to persuade his ward to board the ship with him.
Catalina deduces that the equipping of a shard will prevent the spread of blue in both girl and child, so they are accordingly outfitted with such, although some persuasion is again required on Alina’s part. Thankfully, the measure restores her to her old self, in contrast to the frighteningly remote personality displayed earlier.
Marta having been buried and Alina recovered at last, the ship proceeds toward Rogelio’s destination, where the Eye of Pluto may be found. During the three day journey, Marta’s child—named TARAM—continues to appear uncontaminated by all methods of sensing available to the party, yet grows at an alarming rate, attaining an appearance approximating eight years of age and a demeanor well beyond in the span of a few hours.
Following several troubling conversations between Taram and various members of the party, they decide to have a meeting with him to assure him of his place in the group and his rights as both his mother’s son and a human being. Upon receiving said assurance, Taram becomes teary eyed and urges them to leave before his father, whom he has apparently been speaking to, comes to get him.
Heeding his warning, the party members grab Rogelio and Alina and dive overboard, barely in time to escape the huge, terrifying, tentacular manifestation of what is apparently Taram’s father. True to the boy’s words, they find themselves untroubled by either the great distance they fall or the water they land in, and soon arrive on a beach, which they quickly determine to be the very land they had been making for.
Following Rogelio’s anguish at the loss of his ship, he returns to the group, who inform him of the hooded guardian who approached in his absence and admonished them to stay within the confines of their landing area. Notwithstanding this, an agreement is soon reached for the party members (now including Alina) to broach the temple while Rogelio remains to try and build a new ship.
The seven shard bearers therefore approach the imposing structure, where they are soon warned off by the same guardian, whom Alina, using the Custodiaer Vir, tells them is the first of several sets of guardians. They ignore the warning and—with a good deal of difficulty, the necessary retreat of Alina, and the first use of shard accords—are able to defeat the Skelters summoned by the guardian as well as the guardian himself.