A’Kelah is to be under the bard’s spell until she sleeps it off. At Leonidas’ urging, the Starhunters retreat from the area of the sluice chamber he saw while scouting ahead. They next head for a dim orange light up ahead, though the corridor where it comes from is blocked by a heavy iron portcullis. The little halfling can squeeze through the bars of the gate with aplomb, however. He puts on his magic goggles (which reveal the darkness, plain as day) and scouts ahead. Beyond the gate, the sources of light are far still, emitting from around corners at the end of a long hall. Aodh notices he is being observed by smokey imps that hide in the shadows overhead. Aodh decides to double back, fearing he will get separated. One of the imps brazenly glides forth into a nearby corner to get an even better look at the halfling. Aodh can tell the creature does not realize he can see it and so he takes this opportunity to dispatch it with a thrown dagger; right between the eyes. The rest of the imps offer a hissing chorus of laughter—perhaps at the folly of their hapless brother. Aodh scrambles back through the gate and convinces his companions to head another way.
Even though A’Kelah has begun using her firechalk to mark their progress, the Starhunters soon after begin to feel overwhelmed and lost by the Carceri maze. Rather than wander aimlessly, the bard’s idea to return to the old fire-tender is agreed upon as their best course of action. It seems as though the walls and corridors of the place have changed since they first moved through it. They find their way to the fire and the strange old man beside it, but Leonidas is certain its location has moved somehow. The bard attempts to pose as the ‘Lord Pariah’ the fire-tender first called him, claiming he has ‘more prisoners’.
The fire-tender plunges his long, thin staff into the ever-burning fire of his ornate, grand cauldron. A shadow demon arrives, rising from inside the fire like a stage-actor from a trap door. It is Agdayne and his arms glitter with bronze bangles. His eyes are the cold motes of a remorseless, eternal being. The Starhunters parley with the demon. The demon offers to take them to ‘the Extremity’, allowing them to leave at no peril, all in exchange for Leonidas’ strange spider-jar. The Starhunters fall to a debate as to what to do. Agdayne displays patience for their ‘feeble, mortal’ conference, knowing that captives here are unable to escape once they enter. He vows to return when they have reached a union. When he does, A’Kelah has recovered her senses from the bard’s charm—but she offers no recrimination. Yet.
But first, the Starhunters plot. Aelish is confidant Eladriel will allow her to trap and bind the shadow demon Agdayne. Its arrival from inside the cauldron makes it an easy target for a circle of power. She posits that perhaps even Hanezal—whom they all suspect awaits at the Extremity—can instead be bound in a similar manner. In the end, this plan is considered too risky. They decide to be taken to the Extremity and face whatever is there, treating with Hanezal if they must. Agdayne arrives as promised and happily takes them forth through the maze when they agree to make the trade. The Extremity is a wondrous place under an upended pyramid from which issue lava-falls, down into a dark lake. Intense steam rises from the elemental admixture. There amidst the steam, coiled around the obelisk is the demoness Hanezal that has hectored them along the path of the Meridian.
She is lust and horror made incarnate. With a serpent’s body in place of legs and six arms, the nude abomination parades before them all. This is a creature that could only exist here in a place outside of places. Squamous demonic brutes arrive to attend her as ceremonial guards. She demands the spider-jar; in exchange they are free to go. The Starhunters deepen the bargain and ask for the other prisoners held here as well. Hanezal complies and Agdayne sees it done.
During the parley, Leonidas acts with such temerity that he attempts to fool the demoness with his illusions—but his magic is not powerful enough to make a convincing fake of the jar. Lucky for him, she is none the wiser. So the bard surrenders the true jar at Hanezal’s ultimate insistence. The prisoners are brought forth; Almdor, Perren, Jaina, and Kohano are among them. Leonidas gives Fendrys a wry smile, expecting here and now another deadly melee of spells and blades to commence. But all at once the Starhunters oblige Hanezal with Damir dutifully following Aelish’s lead. Hanezal snatches up the jar greedily. As her many hands begin to worry over the item in a frenzy, the gathered mortals rush to the obelisk to make their escape. Hanezal has kept her word and they step away from this place much in the same way they came—via the Meridian’s space-bending magic.
The power the Starhunters wield combined with the power of the Extremity, is such that they may, at this hour, translocate anywhere on Em. It is a joint decision, made in haste and spurred by a mystic confluence of thoughts and intents. They focus on a safe place, familiar to all of them. They elect to retreat to Goriseld’s lake. As they do so, Hanezal’s many hands unlock the ‘jar’, which looks more and more like a puzzle-box the longer she touches it. Spiders issue with unceasing constancy from the openings she makes. The roving black swarms race along her manifold arms and are in the process of enrobing her quivering, euphoric body. This is the last thing the mortals see before their retreat.
They tread again upon the living soil of Em. The isle of Goriseld’s lake is misty and cool. Fendrys is shaken by what he has seen, by what has transpired. He places the golden ring entrusted to him on his finger. Through his will, the magic of the ring undoes the opening of Hanezal’s puzzle-box “forever”. Aelish, when Fendrys admits what he has done, is overjoyed at the righteous sacrifice of his decision. She embraces him. In the chaos induced by the teleportation magic, from shepherding so many disoriented and weakened prisoners, they do not yet realize Sir Damir Galkin, brave Knight of the White Feather, has gone missing.