Fully aware of how Abernil Maddock operates, a meeting is called to match Vorelixen with the high praetors of Balic. Here she meets praetors Lucius of the military, Madoon of trade, Ganus of city works, and Tovis of foreign affairs. Amidst a cacophony of angry, bickering voices, Vorelixen is repeatedly reminded of her lesser station as the four men discuss plans regarding Maddock. Though most agree he is a threat of sorts, there are wildly differing opinions on how great a threat, and how beneficial it is to engage him in various locations. It is eventually agreed upon that no additional assistance will be granted to Vorelixen (operating in the capacity of current head of Balic security), and that the armies will not be mobilized, instead focusing on defending what’s right here without any additional draftees.
Meanwhile, Samm, Rikard, and Althaea spy on suspicious characters within Balic, seeking to circumvent Maddock’s network of rival spies. Rikard makes the mistake of showing off his floating sandals at Samm, who then uses Rikard as a ladder to climb in to the inner courtyard of a noble’s estate in the Villa Precinct. The Nauripides estate appears to be hosting a party, though its attendees don’t fit the part. Rikard points out some baker’s flour on the back of an elegant robe, and a shoddy job being done of someone’s hair styling. Vorelixen catches up, and they begin to plan their infiltration to this party, when they notice the presence of the Thri Kreen Kik’Oda, and the half-orc Tarek.
Within, they find this is a meeting place of the Veiled Alliance, but further, the playwright Rumphio appears to be leading the proceedings. Snickering at his name for a spell, they pretend to enjoy some crappy hors d’oeurves while he delivers a speech on their ultimate goal and this new ally they’ve made outside the city limits. An attendee speaks up and out against an alliance with Maddock, and before it can get too heated Rumphio invites her to a more private quarter to discuss things without disturbing the party. Moments later, Rumphio and the woman return, though the woman is now in complete agreement and has a little trouble talking capably.
Tarek motions to follow from the room the deed was done in, and they find the flayed body of the woman who dissented, still slightly alive and twitching. Althaea ends its misery, and the party follows Rumphio’s followers to a ritual chamber beneath the house. Rikard and Althaea can both determine with some quickness that the ritual about to be performed is one of demonic summoning, and so weapons are drawn to terminate or arrest all the casters.
Having put Rumphio to the blade and slain his followers, the group is free to search the house. In so doing, they find notes to the effect of entering the Gray, which was one of the prerequisites for handling Maddock himself when his monument approaches the city. The decision is made to utilize this magic right now, and get prepared for the eventual attack.
The Gray is overpowering. It overwhelms the senses and dulls the potency of all who come within. Dense mists obscure everything there, and finding one’s way through the twisted mirror universe is both difficult and dangerous. Facing some of their fears, and some of the twisted beasts and warping effects of the Gray, the group finds itself exhausted before the trip even really begins. Freeing Althaea from a sort of glassy entrapment below, they come face to face with an immense demon, resting its bulk on the cool desert sands. It invites them to rest, and introduces itself as Sloth.