After being hooked to the Dreamer Console, Zoe Castillo finds herself in a strange winter landscape, standing before the familiar Black House. She can hear the Faith whispering to her. As Zoë approaches the House, the girl appears, and urges Zoë to go, to "find April - save her!" Zoë tries to talk to her, but the little girl waves her hand, and the ice under Zoë's feet crumbles, dropping her into the abyss.
Against the sound of dripping water, Zoë gradually comes to, and then sits up with a start. She is neither in the Fringe nor the Winter. Instead, she is in a huge Underground Caverns, dressed in new clothes. The cavern is partially flooded and the remnants of old architecture are still standing nearby. She tries to make herself wake up, but it doesn't work.
As Zoë explores, she spots two Grubbers wandering around, peculiar even to Zoë (who is used to the creations in bioneering labs). She can either fight or sneak past them, and removes a Glowing Egg from a staff where it is being used as a torch. Making her way up the cliff, Zoë uses the egg to power a massive water wheel that carries her further up, then follows the stream back through the caves. At a seemingly blank wall, the egg makes three symbols light up, which issue musical tones when they are touched. Zoë plays a melody the creatures were humming, and the stone changes to a low brick tunnel. She crawls through and exits into what looks like a storeroom. A couple of well-placed kicks from Zoë gets the door open, and she steps into an inn.
Brynn, who is eating at one of the tables, alerts the owner, Benrime Salmin, to Zoë's presence. Benrime, believing Zoë is a Shifter - from past experience - tells Zoë she is in the Journeyman Inn, in the city of Marcuria in Arcadia. Benrime says she should go and see someone called Minstrum Magda. Zoë isn't interested in finding anyone. She's completely out of her depth, and she's "beginning to think the stories Charlie told me about April Ryan are true." As soon as he hears April's name, Brynn slips out of the inn, unnoticed, as Benrime tells Zoë to speak to the beggar Blind Bob to find Minstrum Magda.
FileMarcuria_tower.jpg Zoë leaves the Journeyman and realises she is in an archaic, almost medieval city in midwinter. There are odd steam-machines on many of the houses, and exotic-looking soldiers on patrol, but the most striking feature is an enormous white Azadi Tower in the centre of the city, too high to see the top. Zoë is awed, but she isn't interested in sightseeing and she wants to get home.
Blind Bob is outside the Journeyman, and greets Zoë genially... but he wants to barter for information. In return for some of Benrime's Mulled Wine, made with Mrs Mullins' Mixed Spices, he'll help her. Zoë goes to the marketplace by the South Gate, and finds the Spice Merchant, but his supply has been delayed. Zoë agrees to fetch it for him, and finds that many of the supply carts in Marcuria have been held up in Burrow Crook. One of the soldiers - part of a garrison of Azadi forces - tells her that there's a raid going on in Oldtown, the Magic Ghetto, while they sweep for Rebels and contraband. Apparently such raids are common. In the meantime Zoë finds the spices from the merchant's Ary Kinryn and makes some wine for Bob, who then tells her to find Crazy Clara, another homeless person. Clara should know where Minstrum Magda is. Zoë finds Clara near Friar's Keep, but she is muttering and mumbling about one of the soldiers taking her 'baby', who turns out to be a cute pet that the Azadi have put in a cage. When Zoë frees Clara's 'baby', the beggar's happy babblings unknowingly reveal that Minstrum Magda runs the soup kitchen in the marketplace.
Magda is welcoming to Zoë at first, but quickly becomes agitated when Zoë uses the name 'Minstrum' and mentions being from Stark. She tells her that it is very dangerous for Zoë to talk that way, considering the current climate in Marcuria. She cannot help Zoë find April, and suggests that if she wants to go home, Zoë should find an Artisan in Oldtown when it reopens. Despondent, Zoë leaves, only to be called over discreetly by Brynn. He says he heard her mention April Ryan, and that he can take Zoë to April. Zoë is suspicious, but agrees to go along with him... only to be grabbed by Chawan and have a bag shoved over her head.
Unable to see, Zoë can hear bits of conversation that worry her, as the Rebels consider if she is a spy and what to do with her. A voice tells the others to leave, and the bag is removed from Zoë's head. She is now upstairs in the Journeyman Inn, and her interrogator is April Ryan herself. Zoë recognises her from the picture, and mentions Emma and Charlie. April tries to keep a stern face, but can't resist asking how her old friends are.
April, assuming Zoë is a fellow Shifter, is sympathetic and tries to offer reassurance from her own experiences, saying that Shifting powers often manifest themselves while a Shifter is dreaming. Zoë tells April about her visions of the Winter and the little girl, about the message that April needs 'saving'. April is understandably dubious about this, but says she will help Zoë get home because she can't have her wandering around Marcuria, asking questions and drawing attention to herself. April calls the other Rebels back in. Na'ane says she will put Zoë into a trance, to try and unlock her Shifting abilities. Zoë reluctantly agrees... but as soon as she is hypnotised, Zoë simply vanishes, leaving her clothes on the bed and four very puzzled Rebels behind. April wonders what this strange girl is, and where she went.
Meanwhile, the scene changes to a bright, humid city, the Azadi capital Sadir. We descend to a circle called the War Garden where an Apostle, Kian Alvane, is training three men in swordplay under the stern gaze of his mentor, Garmon Koumas. When he is finished, Garmon offers his opinion on Kian's performance. When Kian talks earnestly of his devotion to the Azadi Goddess and to the Six, Garmon rebukes him, and counsels him to keep his faith and his skills in war separate from each other. Their discussion is cut short when a Child Ena tells Kian that the Six have summoned him.
Kian follows her to the Six's Council Room, where he bows before his mistresses. The Six greet him warmly, but caution that they have a task of vital importance in the pagan Northlands. The leader of the Rebels, known to the Azadi as the Scorpion, has now become an obstacle that cannot be ignored. Kian's mission is to find the Scorpion in Marcuria, and 'convert' him. Kian says he will leave at once, and departs the chamber. When he is gone, the Six voice their concerns. They mention that "the Prophet was adamant" - their endeavours in the Northlands are too important to fail.