The bogatyrs drag Havek back to the Westhill district, striking him about the head now and again to keep him pacified. As they draw closer to the chapterhouse where the remaining Huntsmen are under house arrest, Havek futilely attempts to bargain with his captors. They alternately mock him, threaten to strike him, and ignore him.
When they reach the Red Tears’ perimeter, Gena greets Sergeant Orskin again. The sergeant escorts them to Hovrisk, acting commander of the Huntsmen, and the group hands over Havek with the assurances that they’ll see no more of Yelgor Greencap. The bogatyrs then depart, but not before Gennadiy invites Orskin to dinner with himself and Captain Byelnikov.
Over the course of that evening, each of the bogatyrs receives a formal invitation to the summit, to accompany one of the various ambassadors — Otr Grimbrow, Arimna the Cold, Hetman Kolvitsa Arrowteeth, and Captain Miyar Byelnikov. They write their individual acceptances.
They meet their sponsors the next morning and gather at the palace. Guards escort them to the western wing, where they enter a large meeting room with twelve stations set about a huge table. Each station is marked by a painted card in a stand, representing one of the Trumps. The ambassadors each take a seat, and their aides and escorts stand nearby.
When the eleven visitors and their retinues are in place, a herald announce the tsar’s arrival. Tsar Barakir Torevich Tyurinov, in the lavish regalia of the Golden Tsar, is a surprisingly baby-faced man, who would seem almost harmless if not for the dominating presence that radiates from him. A single guard in elaborate armor and a full helm stands behind him as he takes his seat at the head of the table.
The tsar opens the summit by thanking all the assembled attendees, and declaring two orders of business. The first topic is the shattered capital of Valgrad, and the movements of the foes there. Captain Byelnikov reports that the Prince Kulyich the Deathless and Rukvaas the Damned — the Skull and the Flames — seem to have made an alliance, as their forces are moving to flank the Cathedral district where the Sun resides. The Skull’s troops, as expected, are focusing on the catacombs, while the Flame’s agents are working to secure the imperial library.
Most of the other dangerous icons have followers in play in Valgrad as well. Kolvitsa declares that the Ruin’s bands are mostly in the noble neighborhoods, perhaps searching for unclaimed plunder. Otr reveals that the doom-cultists of the Idiot seem to have an interest in the royal observatory.
“What of our other enemies?” asks Gennadiy. “The Donjon and such? Will they join this alliance?”
Doctor Morezhka, the speaker for Elbeska of the Higher Nine, says that she believes it unlikely that the Iron Tsar will move directly against the Sun. To move against the realm’s foremost living saint would be to destroy his credibility among the people. As for the Void and the Fool, neither have demonstrated an openly strong presence in Valgrad — a few ogre raiders and scavengers, nothing more.
Miska then speaks up, asking what Tsar Barakir would have the assembly do. The direct question causes a stir among the delegates. The Golden Tsar considers and then says that if he had the unqualified support of all others, he would take the capital and rebuild.
The bogatyrs spend the following discussion taking stock of where the various representatives and their patrons may stand. But partway through the conversation, Arimna Ever-Cold raises her voice and addresses the Golden Tsar. “You said there were two issues for us to discuss today,” she says. “Is it time you addressed the second?” Her expression is not curious, but evaluating.
Otr Grimbrow rises to answer the assembly. Alsvedun the Magnificent, he says, has divined an unusual possibility from the Vizier card. With the right artifacts, and the right spell, the Deck could be magically reunited. Each of the cards would leave its holder, taking its power with it, and the Deck would return to the state it was in before the Disastrous Draw.
The news causes a great stir among the assembly. Otr continues, saying that Alsvedun knows most card-holders would be unwilling to cooperate. He also acknowledges that it would be a sacrifice — reunifying the Deck would take things beneficial and baneful out of the world, averting tragedies and miracles alike. But it might replace the current conflict with a conflict that could more easily be resolved… for better or for worse.
Arimna adds that the reunification is not the only possibility: a similar spell might be used to reshuffle the Deck, so to speak. Each card would find a new holder. There would be little to gain from such an event, but a few might pursue the option — those who feel they could claim one of the cards in a redraw, and those who might simply enjoy the upheaval… such as the Jester.
The discussion is still in full animation when a loud caw interrupts. A crow leaves its perch on the chandelier above, and drops a small thimble on the floor. The thimble grows as it rolls until it’s the size of a wine barrel, and as it comes to a rest, a withered hand emerges. An old woman pulls herself from the thimble — Grandmother Yedza, holder of the Euryale card.
Grandmother Yedza chides Tsar Barakir for not inviting her to the summit. She then waves a hand and says she’s not here for trouble. The Golden Tsar regards her stiffly, then bows his head slightly and steps to one side, offering her his seat. The ancient witch cackles appreciatively, and accepts his hospitality.
As she settles in, Yedza announces that she’s been approached by others — the sort who also weren’t invited to the summit. The Ruin asked permission to move some of her people through Yedza’s wood. She sent “one of her pretty dragon boys” to ask nicely, but his followers were rude and trampled one of her gardens. The Grandmother chuckles malevolently and mentions that they did not ask for a promise of secrecy. So she decided to pass along the word.
The old witch claims not to know the Ruin’s purpose in Miska. But she does know something else. The Donjon has sent some of his Forgiven into Miska as well — searching for the Black Chalice itself, the artifact that Tsar Govroska’s knights swore their loyalty on. Yedza chews thoughtfully on some unknown tidbit as the various emissaries contemplate the implications. With the cup, Tsar Gorinstal could potentially bring the surviving members of the Black Chalice order into his fealty, giving him strong followers with old ties and great knowledge of Miska.
Yedza cackles again, and gets up, pulling away parts of the table as she does. She bids the assembly a mocking farewell, then climbs back into her thimble. The thimble shrinks again, spinning on the floor. The crow swoops down and picks it up, then flies through the wall and is gone.
The summit spends a few minutes in confusion before the chaos deepens. The aide standing with Katissa the Fisher speaks up, addressing Tsar Barakir. As Katissa steps almost deferentially to one side, the young man asks if the Throne is going to go to the aid of his rival the Moon. Barakir’s gaze narrows as the aide draws back his hood. Then he inhales sharply.
Prince Casivir the Betrayer smiles back at his cousin. Barakir tenses, his knuckles resting on the table. The Golden Tsar thanks the assembly for coming, and says that perhaps it would be best to adjourn and inform their various patrons of the revelations.
As the group breaks up, the bogatyrs reassemble. They all agree that the time has come to visit Miska — where they can oppose a dragon and a Donjon.