Emerging from the infested pits of the Ziggurat, the paragons discover Ared having a frustrated conversation with Sacha and Wyan, as they openly mock him for believing he is a former sorcerer king and tempted him with tidbits about his former realm. He spends several days angrily trying to pull any useful information out of them, pausing only to go outside and defile some of the carpet of spongy purple flesh coating the ground. During this time, the paragons are reunited with the Tragic Hero and its new first mate, Gebak To’mee. They spend several days helping out in the city, cleaning the gore off their armor, and generally just taking a moment to recover after a few days of especially brutal fighting. After all is said and done, Ared takes to the ship to research his former realm.
In looking for a quiet place to read, he stumbles across Captain Husk’s smuggling compartment. Within, caked with sweat and grime, is Rikard. Having successfully completed a complex ritual involving the spilling of plenty of blood, he is quite exhausted and swears Ared to secrecy. He recovers the fruit of his labor, an enormous acorn with throbbing black veins, and heads off to rejoin his companions as though he was never missing in the first place.
After a few more days, Ared has a breakthrough. He describes his plan with maddening precision, using such a tremendous amount of arcane gibberish that even the magically inclined of the group need to tell him to slow down. In his excitement, he explains that he believes Kalidnay was set past the Grey, and with the right ritual, he could do the same to the ship.
Using all their powers, Ared performed the ritual and the Tragic Hero rocketed through the Grey. Though it moved at a high speed, it was not fast enough for the horror of the Grey known as Grasping Helene, who engaged them on the deck of the ship as it sped through the spirit world. Fending the beast off, the ship tore a hole in the walls of the Grey and emerged in the lifeless, matterless Black beyond.
The group spots Kalidnay, who are already arming massive weapons and pointing them at the ship. With some direction, the ship lands just outside the city proper on a floor of black rock. The group is met by the city’s mystics, including one named Lakan-Do who is to give the newcomers a proper tour of the city before they meet with the Faith Warden; the ruler of this city considered to be a deity.
Lakan-Do shows them the city proper, which is filled with bustling warrior-folk wearing numerous metal piercings. Their role is quickly determined to be penitence in nature as they atone for their failings by being repeatedly shocked with arcane lightning as it rattles through their many studs and rings. Lakan-Do shows them as well the Harvest Square, which is an enclosed square that the people of Kalidnay use to summon devils and then promptly overcome and harvest them fully, including blood, meat, and organs. Lakan-Do explains that a woman had come through earlier and was a little put off by it, and the description matches that of Mara, formerly of Urik.
With the tour completed, Lakan-Do dismisses his entourage and confesses to being a pro-Kalid-Ma terrorist, hellbent on dethroning the Faith Warden so Kalid-Ma can return to power. The scene is awkward for Ared, who tries to sound authoritative and fails miserably. They use Lakan-Do’s knowledge to learn more about Mara, and he also renders them a prophecy written in the time of Kalid-Ma:
Gem of the sands, coveted by Hell
Cast to the winds
A warrior battled by friend and foe
A soul torn asunder
When the heart is dead the lungs shall reign
A resurrection wrought by man and slave
Tendrils of six, one for each
Of the sins committed that day
Penance will be final, to slay the student by bloodied hands
The warrior battles on unknowing
And claims his place in Paradise
At this moment, Rikard feels the urge to cast a ritual known as History Revealed on Ared, searching for any insight in to what happened centuries ago.
Among the visions that follow, one is decidedly important. In it, Ared devises the mark of six fingers by harvesting the hand of a corpse in his ritual fire, searing it in to his skin before laying himself to rest atop a wooden table. At the last moment of the vision, a woman comes in and professes her love to Kalid-Ma before trying to reverse his ritual, causing a calamitous explosion that ends the vision.
With time before dinner, they decide that Mara must be slain to prevent any of her meddling in the city, and so with Lakan-Do’s direction make their way to her base of operations. Upon arrival, they discover it is the base of operations not just for her and her potentially Bloodstone-line punching gauntlet, but for a cultist operation known as the Twisted Rune. They are assailed by Mara, a demon of shadow, an elemental creation, a cultist of Tiamat, and when things already look dire enough, an elder Beholder.