In a few days’ time, the Caiman Kings set off across hundreds of miles of trackless wilderness for the northeastern forests, and the site of the treasure dive. Arriving in camp, they are ushered in to meet the mysterious expedition leader – which none of them are surprised to learn is Faisal himself. After getting a brief introduction to the site and more of his half-answers and evasions, the gang takes it upon themselves to poke around and generally be suspicious bastards. What they manage to uncover over the next several days generally leads to more questions.
The camp staff and guards all seem to be drawn from several wide-ranging and vastly different home cultures – most of which have had little contact with each other that wasn’t on one side or the other of a blade, and none have ever been in this part of the continent before. Several appear to hail from precursor cultures to the future Herzlanders. Others from the southern nations bordering the lands of the Sil elves.
As the investigations and preparations for the dive proper continue, Vargas and Magnus take turns talking with Miriam and trying to uncover the nature of the wasting sickness that has been afflicting her since the arrived in Akor. All of their standard tests and attempts at cures have proven ineffective, and none of their sources can seem to provide any answers but one: Miriam is dying and there doesn’t appear to be anything that can be done about it. Though neither is willing to give up trying.
Meanwhile, Serribon – professional suspicious bastard – spends his nights gathering intelligence by eavesdropping and peeping in tent-flaps. He discovers the name and dwelling of the female researcher and feeds the info back to Vargas so he can try and finagle some answers out of her with his nerd charms. Once his solo exploits prove too risky, he recruits Acadia to help him suss things out by scurrying in where he can’t.
For his part, unwilling to seduce a girl for the sake of the mission, Vargas instead invents moving picture theater and draws in the crowds with tales of the Kings’ past exploits, eventually hooking her despite himself. They strike up a surreptitious friendship and he helps foster her discontent with her position as lacky, rather than trusted researcher. At least, until Faisal gets wind of it and demands she cut him off.
The gnome easily slips in among the researchers and gathers info on their project and day-to-day workings. She is eventually dispatched to see where the outgoing mail is being sent and follows the messenger to a remote camp two days’ ride from the dig. There, she witnesses a prisoner being brought in through a portal. The prisoner is questioned about the latest findings from the dig and then tied to a pole out in the yard. Not expecting to learn much more and eager to return with what she’s learned, Acadia blankets the area with fog and turns into a hawk, swooping in and making off with a medallion from around the captive’s neck.
While Acadia does the friendly woodland creature thing, Serri spends his days trying to ingratiate himself with the military conscripts guarding the camp – offering, along with Ibram, to provide pointers in the martial arts. Through fostering comradarie, they uncover more details of the political situation in the camp – where everybody’s from and why they think they’re there. Joining the guards on a routine patrol, they are ambushed by a raiding party from Sil. Though many wounds are taken, Ibram and Serri’s superior ability helps win the day – and a new prisoner to interrogate.
While they recover from their wounds, and Vargas and Magnus continue working on the problem of Miriam, Acadia returns with more intelligence and a prize – a steel badge in the shape of a rose. Added to the information gained from interrogating the elven prisoner, it becomes clear that, whatever is going on here, whatever is buried in the ruins below – Faisal and his backers can’t be allowed to have it.