The Starhunters (minus Aodh) arrive in Hinturnal amid rumors of a painter in a nearby village who has mysteriously disappeared. A’Kelah visits the university in town while the others head north to the painter’s village. Sir Galkin remains behind with the veer, worried that if Aelish is in danger from assassins, her friends may be as well. A’Kelah studies the university’s maps and other lore to learn all she can of their destination, Arsam, the Dragomov skull, and of the Meridian. Most of what she turns up will help in locating the latest fallen star or else about the rural monastery of Arsam.
Fendrys, Leonidas, Vallon, and Aelish go north a few hours outside of town to visit the painter’s house and investigate his disappearance. In his absence are his triplets, Tomas, Ekaterina, and Eva. Each child is displaying a particular talent that has only recently come to the fore. Fendrys learns of Tomas’ great facility with numbers. Leonidas is intrigued and amazed by Ekaterina’s violin playing. Aelish talks with Eva about her father’s painting. Eva produces a sketch of the last painting her father worked on, a canvas which has also since gone missing—along with his easel—not long after the disappearance of the man himself. The sketch depicts a youth in chains and hints at the qualities of the painting itself which all who have seen it agree is ‘shamefully perverse, mildly significant, and not very good’.
Keen-eyed Fendrys, sensitive to disturbances in his environment, locates a set of tracks both in the painting studio and also leading away from the house outside. They all spend the evening there, summoning A’Kelah and Damir to join them that evening. The next day, they set out bright and early, traipsing into overgrown lands that were years ago sold to the Duke of Odenva. On their way, Leonidas chats up some of the locals to learn more about where the tracks lead and if they might be on the right track. He and Fendrys are both satisfied they are indeed on the right path. The ranger also discovers a raven following them just as an albatross does a ship at sea. He calls attention to it and all but Vallon think it an ill omen.
As evening descends, they arrive at the old Harkin farm described by the locals. As they ride their horses through a copse of trees, they are ambushed by three burly hobgoblins who mean to take them prisoner. When they do not submit, one goblin vanishes but is heard rushing away to presumably raise an alarm. Vallon and Damir quickly gallop their horses after the invisible goblin, leading Aelish along with them. Fendrys, Leonidas, and A’Kelah are left behind—on their more stubborn mounts—to deal with the other two goblins by themselves. Fendrys comes to blows with the creatures, his skill at arms being disrupted more by the chaotic magic of his friends than anything else. Further on, Aelish’s faith unmasks the third goblin who is subdued by Damir.
The old farm, where the alarm would surely have been raised, is nothing but a dilapidated barn and a crumbling dovecote. Dozens of ravens—at a dark, unnatural hour—are perched all over the rotting timbers of the barn making a cacophony of gurgling cries and caws. Fendrys and Vallon barge into the dovecote where a lantern’s light can be seen; Aelish realizes she can understand the raven cries and is happy to join the rest inside, to get away from the overwhelming chorus. The first Starhunters in catch a glimpse of a tall, floating, ominous figure right before it vanishes into thin air. The only one who does not enter the dovecote is A’Kelah, who instead flies up to the oculus at the roof to peer down from above.
The scoundrel Dougal—ever a thorn in the side of Aodh—is within. Just like them, it seems he has come all the way from the capital on his wicked business. He has a lantern and an easel and the stolen painting. He also has a pistol leveled at Vallon’s chest. Fendrys acts first, bravely and adroitly disarming the highwayman, but not without taking direct fire in the process. The gunshot sends the ravens outside swiftly into the night air. As this action quickly unfolds, a beam of moonlight enters the structure which appears to work some magic over the painting; its surface begins to undulate and ripple. Vallon springs forward to tip over the painting and shield it from any further moonlight. The elf strikes the easel with her blade, a risky and haphazard move that tips the painting directly onto the gut-shot ranger; Fendrys is gone from sight as the painting crashes down. Dougal screams at something he sees behind them all at the entrance, for the moon’s light has catalyzed not only the magic of the painting.
Aelish has transmogrified into a terrifying hybrid creature that is part raven and part woman. She has grown tall, sprouted wings over her arms and talons instead of feet, leaving her clothing in tatters. Dougal scrambles, lifting up the painting and scurrying under it like a trapped animal. He too is gone now. Crow-Aelish bellows out a screaming caw which signals freedom and agony in equal measure. She flies upward, through the oculus, right past A’Kelah, scattering dust and loose bricks as she goes. A’Kelah of course can also fly and pursues her raven-creature friend. Leonidas stands the painting back up to better assess what is happening with it. Soon after, Crow-Aelish wheels around and dives straight back to the dovecote through the doorway. She shudders her feathers as she comes to a stop and then steps into the painting right before the eyes and Leonidas and Vallon and A’Kelah. At this, Vallon jumps in right after her. A’Kelah gathers up their things and entrusts the knight Damir to guard this spot with his life. The half-elven bard and the veer sorceress ride their mounts under the pale moon light into the painting after their friends. A bewildered young knight remains, tempering the silence with his prayers to Eladriel.