During the brief interlude in the quaint university town of Hinturnal, A’Kelah and Leonidas offer donations to said university. In exchange, they gain access to its libraries and alchemical laboratories. A’Kelah continues her work toward a cure for Aelish’s curse—going so far as to coax a willing sample of blood from the Arch-Principle herself. A’Kelah also makes exploratory efforts toward making enchantments or potions from her collection of reagents (she has various beast eyes suspended in alcohol, the mind-altering venom of the terrible spider from Imia, dragon scales uncovered in Lost Lokken, and the oily black sap of Imia’s Night-twist tree to name a few).
Leonidas pours over history books in search of lore and tales of the Starhunters in the course of the 75 years they have lost since Carceri. He digs up old records of the trial they faced at the hands of the Duke of Vercetin. He comes across (what are ‘attested’, by so called scholars, as apocryphal) stories of their exploits at the Pyrebreeze volcano. Most tell varying accounts of an angelic intervention, a battle against either demons, a dragon, or a demonic dragon. They all result in the death and disappearance of the Starhunters despite an angelic victory over the ‘flaming evil’ there. Leonidas finds mention of the opera written about the Starhunters and reference to a chapel being built in their honor. The bard also spends his time researching what lore he can regarding old elven tales; the animal totems of Gwyrl Ardun.
Aodh rubs shoulders in the taverns where young, precocious university students swill their ale. He meets with the man Zhiglov again to discuss what a venture to Arsam might mean and how he could supposedly help. Fendrys speaks with locals too, learning more of the ‘Laughing Plague’ and the activity of the goblins north of the new capital, Encer.
Then Aelish gathers her companions to her for a private meeting. She lets it be known she was contacted by an old acquaintance, the Velan Usher, Pavel ‘Grim-grin’. With her consent, Pavel has already sent an envoy—from the graveyard that is Elansory—to them in Hinturnal. It will arrive in a matter of days. The other Starhunters are very cross with this idea. Only Perren signs on to go with Aelish to Elansory, calling the idea ‘too daring to pass up’. After a heated debate, they agree to at least wait for the envoy and observe it, if nothing else. Jaina has resolved to go to Encer in light of this. Tariq too calls this folly and refuses to be a part of the plan.
When the envoy arrives, Margrave Hendrik of course learns of it first. One Baroness Eloska—in a blood-stained linen overcoat—attended by a masked astrologer and armored, speechless ‘men’, request for the Starhunters. The disappointed Hendrik issues an ultimatum: go now in exile with these villains of the dark country or else be escorted to Encer forthwith to face the judgement of the Fulcrum and the Queen. Aelish and Perren walk out to the baroness. A’Kelah, remembering Aelish’s sacrificial bravery on her behalf against the vortex of the Mindwitness, soon joins the Arch-Principle.
The convivial bond of the Starhunters is nearly broken at this moment. Fendrys and Aodh and Leonidas seriously consider abandoning Aelish and the others to the clutches of the Reaper King; they think she has gone mad in her zealotry. Instead, they resolve to shadow the envoy and follow them westward in secret. Aodh and Leonidas get up to their old tricks, using the bard’s magic and the halfling’s conventional diversions to steal a pair of horses from a nearby stable. Fendrys dodges the catchpoles at the gate and is helped on to the frightened horses as they make their escape. Hendrik, wishing to avert any bloodshed, spits curses at them as they go—but orders his men to stand aside. He declares them exiles and enemies, should they dare show their faces here again.
The envoy swiftly takes A’Kelah and Aelish to Pavel ‘Grim-Grin’, known also as ‘the Reaper King’. He wears a pallid, plaster deathmask and the Iron Dragomov Crown of Rynas. He is flanked by fallen imperial lancers, now death knights with flickering embers for eyes. The ancient fire witches of Huyaba, Gharr and Maartje, stirred from their slumber by the Starhunters at the giants’ burial mound are his ghastly chancellors. Aelish demands to see the Lawstone of Elansory. The Reaper King stalls and asks her to speak first of ‘what he has lost’ since their reappearance.
Meanwhile the agents of the Reaper King, a pair of vampire maidens, find Fendrys, Aodh and Leonidas sheltering in their magic redoubt. They knock with their knuckles and call out to talk. Being unanswered, the vampires raise the stakes and slay one of the stolen horses. Fendrys reaches for his bow but fumbles in the dark. Aodh is slow to put on his night-seeing goggles as well. Leonidas cancels his shelter and blasts the girls with fire from his fingertips. Taking the form of bats, the girls fly off into the night despite arrows loosed at them by Fendrys and Aodh. These same vampire maidens interrupt Aelish and A’Kelah’s audience with the Reaper King to decry their dreadful treatment at the hands of the half-elven bard. The Reaper King commands Aelish to warn her friends to be civil in his domain or else he can make no assurance of their safety. Then he sends them away to spend the rest of the night with Aelish’s brother Yuri Valentin Rylov, Duke of Samarkov.
Yuri, now a vampire as well (and sire of Aelish’s former handmaids Karen and Yulia) greets his sister with mistrust. He begs them not to enter his house so armed. A’Kelah, having none of that, sleeps in the River Striton instead. Aelish is up late into the night talking of the strange and wondrous and terrible times they have faced as prince and princess of Samarkov. He tells her that the kemik Gage gave him the crown many years ago—hoping he could pass it on to her—and that during the tumult of the war, in the face of so much death, the crown fell into Pavel’s hands and he wears it still. Meanwhile Aodh and Leonidas and Fendrys arrive at the outskirts of the city and face a standoff against a grim legion the Reaper King’s undead warriors.
The following day the Starhunters reunite and meet again with the Reaper King. Aelish once more demands they be taken to the Lawstone. In exchange, Pavel would have her re-summon the succubus Małgorzata into the world of men. She refuses and is furthermore baffled as to why he would ask this of her. Aelish then confesses the power of the Meridian has caused them all to travel time and that in the decades since their last meeting, only months have passed for the Starhunters. Pavel grows pensive at hearing this and he decides he would take them to the Lawstone, if one of them remains behind ‘as his plaything’. The Starhunters of course refuse this grisly offer.