Cat erects a briar complex for the number to rest in, as well as to cleanse themselves and for her to cleanse their possessions of what seem to be spores left on them from exposure in the Swath. Ian awakens sometime later from his healing sleep, and the First decide to use the wondrous advantage of Pasver’s Almoner just once the next morning, eschewing the use of scholarly abilities for one sharding period in hopes of keeping the knowledge of Pasver’s shards secret for the nonce.
When this has been accomplished (through MANTIUS’ graciousness) they find a small contingency of villagers just outside the complex, demanding (in a meek sort of way) an explanation of the number’s presence. Through Cat and Aly’s diplomacy and Kim’s money, matters are soon resolved amicably; and the girls further learn in passing of a woman named ZANTHUZA, who has become “very strange” since a large rock fell from the sky onto her farmstead. They resolve to look into the matter before visiting the shrine to Proserpine that they also learn of, some distance outside the village of Manon in this region of Ilipa.
At what once was the richest farm in the area, Aly manages to gain the confidence of the clearly mentally fragile Zanthuza, and the First learn her story:
- About a year ago, a set of seven shards landed on the territory left to the orphaned young woman by her parents. The landing left a large crater and caused all the other members of the household (slaves) to flee.
- With the notion of using the “sparkly rocks” to make jewelry, Zanthuza strung one of them on a cord around her neck, whereupon she began to communicate with stones, eventually enabling her to build her ramshackle house.
- On the third night after the descent, one of the slaves, Rusio by name, returned and harmed Zanthuza in some unspecified way, making off with one of the shards and her inheritance from her father.
After the number except for Aly and Brand have visited Proserpine’s shrine, where they make the acquaintance of the priestess ALMAVIVRA—who knows of the legions through an apparent dalliance with a Ruby legionnaire named Antonio, and thus happily consents to officiate at the temple in Peerdin once it is built—they help Zanthuza remove her shard (which she was unable to previously, since it “felt wrong”) and she gratefully turns over all six in her possession. It is only after Ian significantly improves her home and the First have taken their leave that Mantius discovers what Zanthuza has either lied about or, more likely, blocked from her memory—that she killed the fleeing Rusio, using the Stone Collector shard. Deciding that the woman has been punished enough, having been driven nearly insane by wearing a shard without being able to master it, the First simply unearth Rusio’s remains from where he fell, recover the warder shard he took, and consign his soul to the gods.
After some frantic moments in which they realize that none of them have possession of the Luna Noxus Triptych, the number is thankfully able to recover it in the former location of the now-dissipated briar complex. Aly activates her Saint of Scholars ability, and they discover (for free this time, yay!) that in order to continue their quest, the Luna Noxus Triptych must be interpreted by the artist’s descendant, Ferando GIOVANNI of Nicopolis. Brand then tells them that the city of Nicopolis fell some 350 years ago, and he believes that he will have to travel into the past in order to accomplish their task.
After some discussion, it is agreed to do so, and Brand informs them that the journey will take several days’ travel, during which they must not eat, drink, or move around much. After making appropriate preparations, they therefore set out—only to be interrupted some immeasurable amount of time later when Brand is attacked and brought down by two civilars, evidently of Nicopolis, OCTAVIAN and ULA. Perceiving the First’s presence as an attack upon their city, these two are prepared to destroy them when they in turn are interrupted by the appearance of the Renegade’s number, comprising:
ARIA, Renegade Warder AIDA, Impeccable Scholar
MARCUS, Bejeweled Nuncio JENICUS (?), Feylight Pathmage
This quartet easily takes down the surprised civilars and lets the First go—but not for long, as Aida discerns “something interesting” that Mantius is concealing. The Renegade’s number is on the verge of forcing the First to reveal what it is when Aly reminds Canar that they have or will have an alliance, which is enough for Aria to overrule Aida and again let them go.
Arriving at last at Nicopolis in the right time period, the number is stunned to discover that nearly all its inhabitants are sharded. Nevertheless, they put their amazement aside to find Giovanni, whose initial disinterest is soon alleviated by his apparent romantic interest in Ian, who plays along in order to gain entry into the young man’s house, as well as his cooperation in interpreting the triptych. While Ian, Mantius, and Giovanni are thus occupied within, the members of the First left outside run afoul of the civilar Ula, who recognizes Cat from their earlier encounter and moves to arrest them for the evident death of Octavian. Fortunately, she is first stalled by Brand and later stopped by Ian, who leads the First in a round of playacting intended to convince Ula that he, as a young civilar hoping to make an impression, has dealt with the miscreants in her stead.
The otherwise lackadaisical Giovanni proves brilliant at his task of interpretation, such that he significantly improves the mission’s overall chance of success (by 3.5%!), as well as determining the following information.
- When the opal writ was destroyed, an attempt was made to reconstruct it. However, since Opal, like the other vanished legion, was sacrificed rather than attacked, it could not be reconstituted. But a methodology was devised:
- The most esteemed number of a legion must find Terminus, the god of boundaries, and present an offering to obtain his permission to rewrite the writ.
- The offering must be in two parts: the land grant of Nova Aeternus (kept in the city sanctum, where it is overseen by twelve Praetorian guards) and three wagons’ worth of myrrh.
Giovanni begs to be allowed to accompany the First, and—having seen how he can help them and having firmly laid down the law that he must return to Nicopolis after three months to face his predestined death in a year’s time—they agree.