Dark Aelish travels with a cohort of her own through southern Drazako. She makes way for Kalir, the sixth spoke of Corinth’s Meridian (since the inciting event at Imia). She and her cohort have with them the magic mirror found first by the Starhunters in the crypt of the Death Knight Athyxander. Aodh senses the mirror itself to be an artifact of the Meridian. Aodh, however, also senses a second artifact elsewhere. None can be sure what this means; which is the correct artifact?
A tense standoff with Dark Aelish and her cohort ensues at the meeting of her party with that of the Starhunters. One Aelish accuses the other of being a “monster” and a pawn of the powerful and mysterious vizier, Azdar. The Aelish with the silver streak in her hair demands to know why her doppelganger wears the clothes of Astral creatures, the ‘Mind Flayers’ that digested her thoughts. At these severe recriminations both Aelishes balk and are shamefully silent to one another. Aelish lights the Truth Tallow and stands her astral-clad twin in its light.
Many questions are leveled to Dark Aelish in this way, by Aelish and the other Starhunters. When the interrogation is exhausted, the tallow is carried before the rest of the cohort: Vilmos, Orban, Lililivren, and even young Marfa. Throughout the inquiry, it comes to light that Dark Aelish purchased the mirror from a traveler near Arsam—and that Eladriel guided her to acquire it. The Starhunters remain wary and mistrustful, especially of an unseen actor working upon the cohort or the mirror, for they saw the piteous old woman while inside the mirror speaking through it, to the outside. None among the cohort can attest to speaking into the mirror, and the magic of the tallow’s light blots out lies as well as it does darkness.
The Starhunters seek each other for council. Aelish contacts Lord Marquis Dessan Almdor with a miracle, his testimony avers he is Azdar’s prisoner—and that Dark Aelish’s story about being saved from the Astral Plane by his hand is ‘impossible’. If Dark Aelish is not a liar, she has been led far astray from truth. Or Almdor is lying. A’Kelah vies to abandon Dark Aelish and even the mirror. She sees a chance to get ahead and back on schedule for the next artifact due outside Ibeadra (which is still weeks away in early Kapryn). The others vote her down in favor of keeping Dark Aelish close, the better to observe her doings as they do not trust her. They remain undecided, for now, as to what they will ultimately do about her.
Days pass as their collective southern route leads them to the River Drayptur, but Dark Aelish allows the company of the Starhunters so long as she and Vallon lead. During this time, Leonidas notices Lililivren’s sigils, won in ritualized elven combat. They prick the old bard with twinges of bygone remorse.
The experience in Imris has made the Starhunters more sensitive spirits. Aodh has sensed a change in himself and in that of Aelish as well, but he does not fully know what it means. He pesters the bard for greater understanding about Dark Aelish on these matters, but Leonidas is mum. However, prolonged observation does lead Leonidas to learn the secret of Dark Aelish’s soul, yet he tells no one of his conclusion.
Bored by the snub of his old friend Leonidas, Aodh attempts to befriend and charm the sage Vilmos so that he can ultimately gather more information on the cohort. Vilmos, though cagey, is somewhat forthcoming with the rogue—being susceptible to flattery in the end.
Along the riverbank the two parties encounter fishers and trappers; they enter the lands of the Host of Khalkaszh, the wild men of Drazako. Dark Aelish trades with the men. The wild men urge them to visit their leader, Greyplume. Since neither party trusts the other alone with the mirror, a group consisting of members from each party is selected and the two bands split up. Fendrys, Aodh, and Leonidas go along with Vallon. The rest remain behind at the river with the mirror. The violent reputation of the Khalkaszh does not reveal itself, but Greyplume exacts his tolls and laughs at the folly of the outsiders when they tell him where they are headed. His men lead them to the ‘forbidden land’, the ‘abode of devils’, from where it is said, no one returns.