After returning to Ladeisk with his companions, Alden has thoughts of rampaging through the convent where Yaqub's former captives are staying. Nevertheless, he thinks better of it, deciding to convalesce at the citadel to cure his limp, and the nasty venereal disease he picked up in Udyn. He is also getting adjusted to the new abilities he acquired as a result of eating the serpent's heart: understanding the language of all animals and people, and occasionally hearing the voices of angels and other unseen beings is disturbing, even if potentially useful. Alden spends the lion's share of the prince's reward on hiring a healer at the citadel to make him hale. Although their relationship is not entirely friendly, and Alden suspects that the healer, Iraklii Petrovich, is cheating him, because his leg still has not healed by the time his companions leave for Sitnitsa. Iraklii Petrovich, however, insists that Alden is on the mend, and should be able to walk normally in a week or two at most. He visits him daily to apply ointments and hot compresses, and occasionally performs other procedures.
After Alden's companions have departed, Iraklii Petrovich is visited by a white-haired traveler named Aberion. He has come from the west looking for a healer to employ him, and now, nearly penniless, seeks the patronage of one who would grant him access to equipment that would allow him to grind up medicinal ingredients. Iraklii notices something about the stranger, and promises him access to equipment and supplies, as well as a body, if he would talk a patient of his into some bloodletting (and turns the blood sucked out by the leaches over to the healer. Aberion agrees, and goes for a consultation with Alden. Alden, too, quickly senses something familiar about the stranger, and tells him that he's a disgrace to his kind - the volkodlaks - for engaging in unsavory practices and for having taken up with Iraklii. Aberion does manage to procure some blood from the patient, though on his way out, he notices Iraklii eavesdropping on their conversation near the door. Nevertheless, the healer does live up to his side of the bargain, and grinds up Aberion's bone, and presents him with a share of the blood collected from Alden. He also agrees to meet Aberion at a cemetery to locate a suitable body, after night has fallen.
* * *
As dusk falls in Sitnitsa, Lokan, Yuri, and Agapia all have plans, which they set in motion. Agapia wanders around the village, looking for animals, with a knowing look on her face. Though the hour is late, the locals have gotten a sense of what kind of person she is, and ignore her as they head for bed. She does manage to rediscover the rat, Stinker, who climbs on her, and allows himself to be carried away. Yuri, for his part, decides to put Vanya and Vasya out of commission by getting them drunk. The two oblige, but unfortunately, Yuri himself gets blindingly drunk, and collapses in the guest barn, along with the other two.
Lokan has rather more success. After Agapia leaves, the hosts retire, and Yuri, Vanya and Vasya pass out, he sneaks into the main house and begins to look for the egg. He fails to find it in the stove, or hidden behind a loose board, but then he notices a bulge in the shirt of the host, who is sleeping on the stove. Investigating, he discovers the host holding a wrapped bundle, which turns out to contain the egg. Without waking the man, the vagabond replaces the egg with the money pouch he found earlier, and slips out. He then goes to the guest barn, and wakes his companions, telling them that it's time to leave. He manages to rouse all of them, but Yuri refuses to leave, and knowing his stubbornness, his companions leave without him. They travel westward, toward the serpent-shaped outcropping of rock where Lokan found the money pouch, and, after the sun has risen, take their rest there.
Back in Sitnitsa, Yuri is awoken to the sounds of screaming, and is soon confronted by his outraged hosts, who demand to know where his larcenous companions are. Yuri tells them that he doesn't know, and that he had nothing to do with whatever they did. Four village toughs set upon him with cudgels and axes. Yuri defends himself, but does not turn his superior skill and strength against his attackers, and instead, tries to convince them that he stayed, because he has nothing to hide, and that as a member of the Prince's retinue, his honor prohibits him from engaging in theft. The host declares that he will send people to lodge a complaint against Yuri's companions with the prince, and Yuri volunteers to accompany them back to Ladeisk, and Trofim Andreevich's citadel. The plaintiffs and Yuri leave Sitnitsa, but fortunately, or unfortunately, do not manage to meet up with the rest of the companions, who are resting while the aggrieved peasants and Yuri are walking.
* * *
Agapia takes watch while her companions rest. For some reason, shortly after leaving the village, she has developed a nervous tic and her hands shake uncontrollably. Perhaps that is why she does not notice Stinker slip out from under her tangly hair, and find his way to the sleeping Lokan. One flick of his tail, and the egg shatters! Lokan leaps up, and lashes the rat with his whip, and it turns into a ratty person. The companions question him and he tells them that they have now claimed the power that was contained in the egg. A bright-golden yolk leaks out onto the Lokan's coat, and the ground. Thinking little of it, Agapia walks over and sucks it up into her mouth, despite the fact that the yolk drops into her stomach like a lead weight. Augusta concentrates her divine sense on it, and divines that the rat is indeed a creature of the Netherworld. Shockingly, the Sister also senses a much stronger netherworldly aura emanating from Agapia herself. Lokan picks up the golden eggshell as a consolation prize. The rat reveals that Agapia is now the harbinger of change in the world. He says his real name is Terentii, and he's willing to stay with her as her companion. He then changes back into rat form, and crawls back up into Agapia's rat's nest.
When the whole party has woken, it continues back to Ladeisk, which it reaches by dusk. Lokan leads the companions to Iraklii Petrovich to check on Alden's progress - they called the wolf-man to come with them, but he decided to stay behind. The healer tells them that the patient is doing fine, but asks them for a favor. A recent arrival, who is trying to apprentice himself to him, is trying to procure a body, which needs to be dug up. He does not appear to be handy, and Iraklii needs a few canny people who can use a shovel and stand lookout. The companions agree, though their attempts to recruit Alden to come with them are once again in vain.
As midnight approaches, the group, now with Aberion, congregates at the cemetery near the convent. Lokan and Agapia begin to dig, but before a coffin is found, or Aberion has a chance to utter an incantation over the blood and bone dust he has tried so hard to acquire and produce, a hand suddenly sticks up out of the ground...
- Golden egg (now reduced to a shell)
- Most of the party manages to leave Sitnitsa without being caught
Character(s) interacted with
- Iraklii Petrovich, the Healer