Serra dreams, with uncommon clarity, of a body of water. She is walking, wading through it, fighting against a current which gets stronger and stronger until she loses her footing and it pulls her under. At first she panics, believing that she’s about to drown; then she realises that, in fact, being pulled beneath the surface invokes the opposite feeling in her. She feels powerful, and emerges from the water with a renewed sense of strength. She awakens with a start, covered in sweat, in the spare room she’s been sharing with Fi, Roe, Baxter and Rurron in the months since the completion of the T’Eilt Industrial Ball heist.
The next morning, the group are roused by the smell of pancakes. Lissie is cooking up one of their famous breakfasts, intending the enticing scent to awaken the adventurers at an unusually early hour. After having laid low for an appropriate period of time, trick-or-treating off the coast and enjoying some end-of-year-celebrations with their host, the time has come for them to debrief with Aidan, Cassidy, and Innogen. They discuss how they’ll handle the meeting over breakfast. Serra is prepared to take some measure of responsibility for the chaos that broke out, but is keen to spin the heist as an overall win, an approach Roe more-or-less agrees with. Fi is more defensive and is relatively unrepentant about how things went down. After all, they got the star map, didn’t they?
A knock at the door, followed by an irritating bellow, heralds a letter delivered by Tor Giide, the scandal-stricken former self-appointed tour guide of Belbury. Lissie returns with the note, addressed to Fi. Over the festive period she had written to the guard with whom she had danced at the ball, apologising but also justifying her manipulation (and attempted mind-control) of the guy in pursuit of the map. He informs her that his name is Mutt Valancourt, and that the golem continued to rampage through T’Eilt, causing no small amount of property damage, before it reached the city limits and it crumbled into pieces. The horseman, meanwhile, appears to have mysteriously vanished.
After the plates are cleared away, as everyone gets ready for the meeting, Rurron pulls Roe aside to talk about the group’s future plans. Are they going to be leaving town soon? Where are they headed next? It’s an awkward, clumsy conversation in which both parties dance around the actual topic at hand, which is that the pair have grown increasingly close over the past weeks — snuggling at bedtime, Roe drunkenly launching herself at Rurron beneath the mistletoe — without ever clarifying the nature of their relationship. Roe finally, with some considerable effort and a glint of emotional maturity, says that she’d like if Rurron stayed with the group.
Once ready, Lissie leads the group to the rendezvous at the Belbury Resistance Group’s dockside lair across town. Aidan asks how they all are, Roe’s reply that she’s good eliciting a knowing wink from Rurron. Serra has made cakes, but gets into a fluster when it comes to finding somewhere to set the tin down. Cassidy sarcastically notes his surprise that she likes baking, given the group’s track record for following instructions. Serra immediately tries to counter the accusations, getting increasingly agitated until Aidan interrupts and gets everyone to settle back down. He asks the group to walk him through how exactly the plan went off track, and seems particularly interested in the horseman. Serra confirms that they have indeed spoken to Inu about him previously.
Still not sufficiently cowed, Cassidy continues to make sniffy remarks, evidently annoyed that he wasn’t sent on the heist. Serra begins to apologise, only for Roe to cut her off: “No, this wasn’t our fault!” She chastises Aidan for not really telling them anything about the map, what its importance is or how they plan to use it, an objection Fi seconds. Aidan finally lays all his cards on the table: besides being able to utilise the star map as a bargaining chip to gain favour with the T’Eilt mayor and, potentially, soften the border between the two neighbouring settlements, he’s also heard that the stars wield a certain amount of influence over the world below, if manipulated in the correct way. When pressed for details, he comes up short. Whilst he and his brethren in Belbury are more au fait than the rest of the continent, which is largely antagonistic towards and represses magic use, his knowledge of such things is still limited. He has been operating in concert with a group of academics who feed him information in return for the chance to study materials such as the star map the group stole.
Serra posits that perhaps the stars can be used to change the future somehow, before Roe admits her head is starting to throb with all this magic talk. She asks if they still have the map, and Aidan points out that it’s on the table in front of them. “Yeah, pretty fancy table cloth we have he!” Innogen jokes. Fi demands some contact information for this group of academics, at which point Aidan admits that he only ever really communicates with them face-to-face, and reveals that these academics — whose credentials the group have been calling into question — are a group of tenured professors operating at a floating university hidden among the clouds. Cassidy balks at Aidan’s helping of the group (as well as the fact that they still got paid for the heist, despite what he sees as their consummate failure to complete it properly), but Innogen points out this could work in Belbury’s failure: with the group taking the fall for burning down half the City Hall and unleashing a golem to wreak havoc, they’ve got a new “Other” to blame for all their troubles.
Aidan gives the group detailed instructions on how to find the university, promises to find some way of informing the academics of their impending visit, and they say their goodbyes. Outside, Lissie somberly bids the group farewell too, until Serra suggests that perhaps they come along. They immediately perk up, noting that they may not be cut out for being a member of the resistance after all, and that they’ve been looking for an opportunity to explore beyond the outskirts of Belbury and T’Eilt. They say they’ll get in contact with their cousin, who will let out their flat as a boarding house while they’re gone. A group hug is initiated, with everyone piling in and Rurron wrapping her enormous furry arms around everyone and lifting them a good foot of the air. It’s adorable, take it from me.
The now six-strong party go on a farewell tour of Belbury, indulging in all the most earnest and most embarassing of tourist traps. Raiding the various gift shops the town has to offer (and successfully dodging Tor Giide’s offer of a guided tour, in favour of being shown around by a goat-ilk who claims to be descended from the figure immortalised in the market square statue), they each end up with a handmade wooden goat toy, Fi buys a woolen goat horn hat, and they all pose for a photograph in front of a painted facsimile of the Belbury waterfall with a ship halfway up it.
Their last stop is Inu, with Fi quickly popping to the tattoo parlour for some dog-themed ink on her side so she’ll actually be able to see the canine deity this time. They climb up the ladders and through the series of tunnels through which they first accessed the underground town, wanting to both bid the god adieu and potentially find more information about the magical potential of the stars. Inu, an incorrigible gossip, is delighted to hear about the heist, but admits his knowledge of both the horseman and what he may want with the star maps is somewhat limited. He does recall, centuries prior — during the age of the Old Kingdom — that a wizard in the king’s employ had been asked to look into the stars, with the goal of extending the monarch’s reign through magical intervention, although he isn’t sure if he ever got anywhere with it, and the wizard eventually disappeared. Serra asks about the seeds she scattered in the woods nearby, and Inu says that a twig-person sprung from the ground and ran further into the forest a few miles away. Everyone snuggles into Inu’s soft fur, and Baxter again gets a little jealous.
Back down in Belbury, as promised, the group are afforded the use of the orcs’s train. They climb aboard and head north-east, following Aidan’s directions. Fi takes the role of enticing the fire elemental in the boiler to keep the steam engine going, Roe scouts (with the help of Baxter and Rurron’s hypersensitive senses of smell) ahead for any potential threats, and Serra keeps everyone on track. Roe and Rurron have another chat about things, the former eager that the latter not be there entirely for her, which Rurron interprets as a soft rebuke. In actuality, Roe is struggling to communicate that she cares a great deal for Rurron, and is worried about leaving her alone should something happen to her. These crazy kids, they just aren’t very in touch with their emotions! Everything goes smoothly on the journey side of things, at least, and after a day’s travel they find them pulling off from the main railway and stopping in an engine shed besides a large, swampy stretch of marshland. The instructions for finding the university say they must march straight across it.
Serra, no stranger to this sort of terrain, immediately clambers down from the shed to the murky water beneath, wading confidently forward even when Baxter — having paddled ahead — brings back news of something swimming towards them. Roe suggests that Fi might be able to set alight the noxious gases in the swamp, but it’s possible this was just a tortured set-up for a fart joke. Roe sees two shapes swimming beneath the surface of the water, and catches the dim glittering of something shiny on the swamp floor, too. She yells ahead to be careful, Fi and Lissie following behind Serra while Baxter, Roe and Rurron remain on dry land.
Two frog-ilk pop up in front of Serra wielding spears, demanding that she get out of their swamp. She responds that this is her swamp, with a tone to her voice unfamiliar to the rest of the group. It appears that her earlier dream was some form of communion with the swamp deity, and she is now blessed with great (or possible terrible) power. With a motion of her hand she casts Cause Fear upon her skull, which she then wears proudly, inducing a sense of panic in the now-cowering frogs. Serra demands passage, and they haltingly tell her that they mistook the party for poachers who have been terrorising the marshes. Roe asks for more information, but falls into the swamp with a marked lack of grace mid-sentence. Serra reiterates the question and, still terrified of her, they point in the general direction the poachers have been sighted. Serra transforms into her giant snake form and slithers off at speed, leaving the rest of the group to puzzle her sudden change in temperament.