After a shadow attack sends Mr. Jarol and his valet into a retreat, the Starhunters rendezvous within the castle proper. They make haste for the rear in search of stairs down below. A second shadow attack hectors A’Kelah as the group hurries down the spiral stairs. Nimble-fingered Aodh easily picks two locked doors that reveal storerooms; one is full of religious iconography that catches Aelish’s attention, but the rush keeps her and the others moving.
Further on, they discover Andre and the blind kemik Gage, both jailed without cause in the dungeon by the influence of Małgorzata and her latest pawn, the Baroness. Andre and Gage are freed and conducted upstairs. On their way out, everyone hears the eerie choir of the baroness’ girls upstairs. Outside, across the moat, Baroness Ludmilla Vorhon, her knights and soldiers, along with Małgorzata herself have arrived. While the Starhunters debate on whether to deal with the armed men before them or the harrowing shadows in the castle behind, Małgorzata’s fiendish eyes can see them in the darkness under the portcullis. She calls out to them in challenge. They retreat as a cryptic word from the kemik convinces them they have better chances escaping below through the moat. Małgorzata follows alone, laughing merrily at their fear. A’Kelah adroitly raises the drawbridge, trapping the succubus on the Castle-side of the bridge, separating her from the baroness and her men.
A’Kelah then takes a misty step from her perch in the guard tower, down into the moat below where she is at home, in the water. Downstairs once more, Leonidas frantically blasts at a metal grating which bars their passage with his sonorous magic. Shadows attack from the darkness, injuring Fendrys and slaying Andre. Aelish gathers her courage just when it appears that doom has come for them all—the might of her righteous faith not only banishes the shadows into inky tatters, but spares Andre’s very life before his soul is lost forever. The moments are too tense for him to offer his thanks, however. One by one, the choir girls from the halls above begin to enter. Some of the girls are armed with knives. The sound of laughter up the tower stairs implies Małgorzata is not far behind. Exasperated, everyone flees into the moat.
In the dark, still waters outside, A’Kelah’s misty magic allows a rope to be let down and spur an escape from the moat. With night’s darkness in full swing, Andre leads the group north to the old, abandoned monastery of St. Estril. Though the baroness has sent another search party out on the prowl, Fendrys’ mystic stealth is more than enough to conceal them all. The search party checks the monastery and then doubles back, coming within a bow-shot of the group before receding again into the black of night.
The monastery is quiet and somber. It is home to a tollstone which A’Kelah uses. Later on, just hours before dawn, the infamous prosecutor Lukiria Vanator arrives. In talking with her, they learn that the political situation in Rynas has deteriorated yet further. She is not there to arrest them and seems to be at odds with her colleague who has tried to in the past. Being a magus, she wants to know what they are doing and what it is they hope it will accomplish—whose interests do they serve? Finally, she offers to impart a message from them which she can take to the Marquis Almdor. A’Kelah offers up an explanation regarding the fallen stars and their perseverance. Then, Vanator departs in a flash of light and gun-smoke.
Hearing from the Starhunters of the plan to track into the local swamp, both Gage and Andre are willing to join, but for different reasons. Heading out, the group sneaks around the Belar villages, hiding behind hedgerows and bounding over fences. The swine-herders and woodworkers of Vorhon are left to their devices as they approach the swamp in search of lost children and a fallen star. Aodh is guiding now, following a divination that has tugged on him ever since Mytha Petraea. They pass cow skulls marking the territory the locals know best to avoid. The skulls are marked with folk sigils that spur Leonidas’ long memory. He tells the tale of ancient Huyaba, the demon-witch who planted seeds of darkness in a prior age of the world. This swamp was home to one of her trees. The terrible roots from those nightmarish times could never be dug up and have poisoned the land ever since.
The swamp is blanketed in an oppressive fog while a lightning storm rages overhead. Progress is slowed to a trudge, but Aodh’s path is true and leads them past the grim evidence of bloated corpses (of searching parents and lost children) and torn bits of clothing. Andre and Fendrys are bitten by snakes and poisoned. As twilight nears, ahead in the murky air, the figure of the miller’s daughter Eugenia is beheld. She is unclothed, covered in swamp grime, and steam rises from her body. Andre rushes over to console her and is burned up by her embrace. At this, poor ‘Zhenya’ collapses in shame and anguish. The Starhunters steal this moment, using their power to draw the ‘orb’ away from her, which A’Kelah learns was trapped in the hapless girl’s lungs. This smoke is drawn into A’Kelahs veer lungs amidst a dazzling flare of wild aether and lightning.
Before anyone can catch their breath, the swamp rises up against them…