ISAACUS wakes from sleep, convinced that something has gone terribly wrong. After claiming his cloak from his “fabrication” of a bedmate, OLIVIA, he summons FIDA and HADRIAN of the Veiled Cardinals, neither of whom is able to discern the cause of his distress. After sending both away in succession (Hadrian says, “Is this about Master Kenjiro?”), he is wracked by involuntary bodily spasms en route to his Circle of Insight. There, the BEJEWELED ACTUARY asks if he is willing to pay “a terrible price”, telling him two of the Circle of Insight are lost. Isaac learns from her that the First are doomed, having traveled into the past beyond the destruction of Nicopolis, thus becoming unable to return from past that point in time.
Meanwhile, in the Torrent Mariner’s sidebar, KHIMERE speaks perplexing words of farewell to CATALINA moments before there is a terrific slam. Later, they learn that this is due to the funnel trap of Nicopolis, which prevents time travelers from journeying forward beyond its destruction. Despite most of them being injured and many of them unsharded, ALECTO, ARCTURUS, Cat, MANTIUS, and VARIAN are able to work together to eventually free themselves from the mass of human bodies, the recurrent rising tide of water, and the eighth-level-civilar-crafted sloping walls that compose the insidious prison.
It is at this point, evidently, that the destruction of Nicopolis commences, causing the imminent collapse of the funnel trap. Unable to locate BREGAN and Kim, the First are forced to leave without them, through the reluctant cooperation of the shards of the Renegade number (Canar and the others having abandoned ARIA and the rest of their erstwhile mounts), as compelled by the angry and expressed OSSIS POTIOR EXCELSIS. As they are about to depart, a man comes up to them and begs them to take his shard—“simply called Ellis”—with them. They agree and leave just as ELIANDRA catches up to the man, screaming.
As they travel—left early on by Canar et al—Aly and Mantius become aware of Isaacus’ voice calling to them. He tells them to “follow this beacon” and they do, ending up with the other three in front of the home base of the Amber legion, not long before its demise. Just as they resolve to take this opportunity to steal the Amber writ, they are intercepted by MARIUS LOGERUS♂, Amber’s Torrent Justicar, along with three of his colleagues, KITHAN♂, KORTHENON♂, and IGEAL♀. After ascertaining that their number includes Catalina and Alecto, the Amber mounts summon a much-older Brand, who has apparently been with them for some time, looking for his friends as well as helping them try to find a way to prevent Amber’s fall.
It is no doubt partly due to this that the officials of Amber tell the First, with certainty, that neither taking their writ nor trying to help them can avert what has and will certainly occur. They further affirm that it is well worth taking the land grant of Nova Aeternus in order to form a new writ, especially since it is no longer in the keeping of Nova Aeternus in any case. Brand, for his part, offers words of advice to each of his friends, in the process making it quite clear that he is and has been in love with Cat.
He then sends them forward in time again, to the point immediately prior to their departure for Nicopolis. Hampered by their fear of revealing too much of future events, they warn the present-day Brand and Kim as much as they dare, watching with mingled hope and trepidation as the pair, along with their past selves, embark on their task. Their faith is rewarded before very long when Brand returns with a shaken but triumphant Kim, who has not only been rescued by the former (after repeated attempts, by her account) but has fallen in love with him. Kim tells Brand, managing to put on a brave face at his gentle rebuff.
A portal opens and Isaac, AUDEN, KENJIRO, and TERENTIUS burst through, the first of these falling in relief to his knees, only to then be burdened with the task of disentangling the other three from Ian, Aly, and Cat respectively. After the latter three regretfully decline various covert offers of assistance, the ruling warders (Terry having retaken the post of Master of Strategy) depart, having refrained (sort of) from assisting or communicating with the First, for fear of compromising their mission.
Gleeful that Kim and Brand managed to recover their vortex pouch and complete inventory of shards, Ian goes through them, noticing the shard given to them by the stranger in Nicopolis. Upon seeing it, Kim begins to experience acute dread, fueled by abilities from the shard entity she calls Jeric(?), which apparently gives her the surety that many people will be searching for this new shard, putting the First’s mission and quite possibly the First themselves at risk if they continue to possess it.
Ian and Cat attempt to explain this situation to the shard, which Ian identifies as the Perfect Mimetic, only to be met by unintelligible screaming—“Tarlun! Elana!”—from the shard entity. Following this, the shard becomes motive and seeks out Arc, whereupon the group makes the decision to flee from it, needing to use several gates and portals before finally losing it.
Back at Peerdin, Isaac has another conversation with Olivia, stating that what he wishes is “for the First to succeed”. Elsewhere in Peerdin, Auden strives to convince Terry and Kenjiro that the three of them should not hie off to the aid of the First. This is practically though not entirely agreed upon when their secret meeting is interrupted by ALOYSIUS, who “wants in” as well.