Unfortunately, the ship itself is no longer present, so the mounts splash into the ocean, eventually managing to extricate themselves in various fashions. ARCTURUS then manifests a frostweave gate to one of Diamond’s bright light facilities, where all soon suffer terrible backlash from ALECTO and CATALINA’s disastrous attempt to synergize intuition and ideation in order to learn more about their task of finding or forming a new writ. Notwithstanding this—and the cost of 100,000 bright light to access Aly’s Saint of Scholars ability—they are able to glean the following options for the first step of the mission:
- Go to the tower of Ephesus in the desert of salt; find the widow of the Pheran heresy, who will tell how to find Izurei, the writ-maker.
- Go to the labyrinth of Ionika in the steppes of Garanth; find the horned god IONIKA, who will give the key to Pasver’s vault.
- Go to Kortheos, the city of the dead, in the Iapinian archipelago; speak to the necrosages, who will give the harmonic cylix.
The steppes prove to be a viciously wind-blasted plain, such that the mounts are barely able to remain standing. Kim constructs a buffer out of earth, which gives her the breathing space (after one of her four summoned elemental scouts goes flying into the air) to conceive of spiral steps that lead up to the floating land mass discovered by Cat and interpreted by Aly as the actual labyrinth. With Ian buttressing (and prettifying) the stair, the First move upward, where Arc and Kim discover that contact with the underside of the land mass allows them to reverse their gravitic orientation. The group does so and, via a trench again made by Kim and improved by Ian, enters a shaft in the underside, at the bottom of which Aly and Mantius determine that there is one human-sized person in the large chamber directly ‘below’ them, from which numerous tunnels and pathways branch off.
Following a cautious entry in which the First separates into forward and reserve teams, they regroup upon meeting GELDARIUS, mounted by the legendary Merchant of Marvels. Despite the fact that they do not possess the requisite ‘proof’ to enable them to purchase his more marvelous creations (after which the nature of his “curse” would apparently compel him to once again shift location), he is kind enough to offer them the opportunity to purchase some of the less wondrous items created by his former apprentices, now itinerant journeymen. After a nerve-wracking bidding session (in which Arc and Cat, particularly, endear themselves to Geldarius through the high value they place on the merchandise), they are able to acquire many useful items at breathtaking expense, though this amount is later generously returned to them by Geldarius, along with clasps that not only hold their shards securely, but allow them to alter their raiment and reshard once per day at the time of their choice, in lieu of one of their usual resharding windows.
After pleasantries, a meal, and some tension with Aly, the Merchant of Marvels demonstrates his kindness even further by accompanying them to the lair of Ionika. Upon their arrival, the dragon promptly attacks, but is stayed by a defensive sphere erected by Geldarius. Ionika continues to batter at the sphere even as Cat leads the negotiation, finally arriving at the painful agreement of one contingency shard and two of the First’s shards in exchange for the key to Pasver’s vault and two of the shards in Ionika’s possession, among which Aly identifies, as positive-seeming possibilities, the following:
- Truesilver Pardoner
- Fearfeather Battleharper
- Shrouded Kinslayer
- Cognate of Pillars
- Glimmervale Crusader
- Cyclopean Gladiator
- Memory of Loyalty
Gilded Cannoneer and Stalwart Warder having been the shards reluctantly proffered in the exchange, Arc and Ian select the Memory of Loyalty and Truesilver Pardoner—moments before Geldarius, having burnt out several rings in his efforts to hold the dragon back, sends the First hurrying away from the lair. He attempts to bluff Ionika, but it decides to attack regardless, whereupon the Merchant of Marvels uses an ability to declare the dragon’s eyes “marvelous”, ripping them from its head.
Grabbing the waiting Cat and BREGAN, Geldarius hastens away as well, as the blinded dragon begins to smash through the walls in pursuit of the group. Aly is meant to be caught and devoured, but Arc takes her place with martyr’s blow, whereupon her Saint of Widows synergizes the efforts of Mantius, Brand, Cat, Ian, and Kim to smash the dragon’s face and snatch Arc literally from the jaws of death. The eight mounts are thus able to flee to Geldarius’s home, which the Merchant instantly commands to move away, also triggering commands that somehow ‘fold away’ the floating land containing the dragon’s lair.
Viewers are then treated to the sight of the Stalwart Warder shard rising up and glowing among the many shards that surround it within the lair. Answering gleams herald the other shards’ rising, as they unite to attack the weakened dragon.
1. Athenos: a name mentioned by Geldarius
2. The Saint of Widows says she has “three lives left”