Minutes after the death of the elven poison-farmer and his apes, a clattering draws near the tree that was meant to be forgotten. Ramjat dives through the branches as Kismet rides for the rest of the party, the remainder of the stony apes and monkeys pursuing her. Her companions draw steel and step to intercept.
Without true intelligence to guide them, the warped animals are swiftly defeated. Kismet vanishes into a shadow and reappears in an ape’s blind spot; Abd grounds one of the winged apes; Wind-of-Embers sends lances of fire before striking down another winged ape with her drakhan blade; Aya complements the fire with killing winds of ice.
With the apes now well and truly defeated, they turn their attention to the acorn. The entity within attempts to blandish Aya with talk of “gardens of delights, where every indulgence is grown.” Aya converses with the entity in return, but when it mentions strong and powerful roots, she loses interest. The entity turns its attention to Kismet almost instantly, speaking of the same gardens of delights.
“The acorn is trying to seduce me,” says the desert elf.
The group leaves the thing on the tree and returns to Moresha’s subterranean hollow. She weeps when she sees the bones, but she gathers them and takes them away, leaving the venturers among her various treasures. Nearly half an hour later she returns. If she knows that none of her guests have touched the various precious coins and objects heaped by the walls, she does not address it. Instead she gestures to the trove, telling them that she will grant them whatever it is they would like in exchange for the great favor.
Moresha seems surprised when the answer is a request to break her curse. The venturers express great sympathy for the wrong, but ask her to show mercy on the giants that they might restore the youths to their clan. Perhaps impressed, the Serpent Emir agrees. She leads them back up through the roots aboveground, and calls out. “Come,” she says. After a few breaths’ time, she says “Put away your shame, and come.”
The venturers hear the giant serpents before they see them — the massive bodies crushing the thin leaf-gravel under their scutes. The two draw cautiously near the Serpent Emir, and then lower their heads before her. Moresha reaches out and places a hand on each snout. A faint glow comes from between her fingers, and then the colossal snakes recoil. The two drive their snouts into huge stone trees, wearing at them as if attempting to scratch a terrible itch. As they do so, scales fall away, and their snake skins begin to peel. Hands emerge from the small gap, and then two youthful giants wriggle and pull their way free from the serpent’s skins.
The two — the male from the ivory-scaled serpent, the female from the darker — are wholly nude, and seem to have smoother skin and hair than any of their cousins. They stretch in wonder, looking about them, and then prostrate themselves before Moresha. Both rumble thanks in awkward but heartfelt terms, but the Emir waves them away, and tells them to thank the venturers who advocated for them. Then Moresha returns below.
Wind-of-Embers pauses, then follows the Serpent Emir. The other venturers greet the giants, who are effusive in their thanks. The brother introduces himself as Tarrikis, the sister as Ishurdar. The two gleefully test their limbs, then remember some form of modesty. They begin to fashion sarongs from their shed skins, and some leftover materials from Kismet’s magical bag. Aya aids them in adjusting the fit and cut, with a confidence as though aiding giants to dress is practically a familiar task.
Underground, Wind-of-Embers catches up with Moresha, who regards her patiently if not warmly. The Hakasarrean priest asks if there’s something to be done about the acorn, for its whispers could seduce another servant just as they seduced the elf. Moresha tells her that just as the acorn could be woken, it could also be returned to sleep. On her advice, Wind-of-Embers recruits the others to find certain fungi in the water-cavern below, and they build a fire from the most soporific examples below the acorn. The voice protests as they do so, but as the smoke rolls over it, the voice slurs and fades, until it falls silent.
With the party reunited, they discuss whether or not the giants should strike out across the western desert, travelling alone to follow their clan’s route, or if they should accompany the venturers on the road south to the Canyon of Kings. Isha and Tarr seem interested in following their liberators if they could be of any assistance. Abd states that their safety is the group’s responsibility, and he would not have them harmed by any dangers the group might encounter.
The seventeen-foot Tarrikis looks down at Abd with some puzzlement. “What sort of threat do you expect to face?”
Before Abd can reply, Aya responds with “A philosopher.”
Eventually, Abd concedes the point. The young giants shape weapons from stone — a spear for Tarr, a pair of knives for Isha — and promise not to take any unnecessary risks.
Travel with the giants is, for all its unfamiliarity, convenient enough. The two delight in stretching their legs, and run as swiftly as Wind-of-Embers’ scalemane. They call up a stone and crack it, producing a small stream, when they need water. They sing up a deep-burrowing worm the size of an orca and kill it for meat. As expected of a Hakasarrean priest, Wind-of-Embers insists on tje challenge of trying to prepare this newly encountered foodstuff. Sadly, it takes her several tries to make the oily worm meat palatable for “small one” tastes, but there is no shortage of the stuff.
After a few days’ travel, they reach Stone Kings Canyon. The reds and oranges and golds of the stone are broken up by large alcoves carved here and there, where petrified Kholos Sahar sit in eternal contemplation. They pass older monuments, thirty feet tall, carved in the likenesses of giant kings from ages past. Along the way, the young giants tell the story of the Curse of Taliah.
Halfway through the canyon, they find the philosopher Hashatur. The young giant sits quietly in a freshly shaped alcove, legs crossed and eyes closed. For all of his immobility, the petrifying curse has yet to reach above the soles of his feet. The venturers set up camp below his alcove, and Kismet and Abd start loudly discussing the futility of philosophy. Wind-of-Embers starts a small fire and begins preparing coffee and bacon, which she mistakenly burns. Between the harsh smell and the loud bickering, eventually the philosopher opens his eyes and glares at the newcomers.
Abd tells him to climb down and prepare for travel, for he’s needed. Hashatur scoffs and says it’s unlikely. The two begin to argue philosophy, with Kismet throwing in some support for Abd. Hashatur insists that inaction and inevitability are the natural end state of life; each of his ancestors in the surrounding alcoves decided the same. Abd utterly rejects the premise, arguing that absolutely nothing is truly inevitable.
The venturers intensify their argument with outright threats — of camping in the canyon and beleaguering the giant so that focused meditation will be a distant memory. Eventually, Isha and Tarr join in the conversation, also rejecting the philosopher’s viewpoint. The two point out that 66 years without speech, limbs, or tools has given them a singular perspective on the value of action versus inaction, having compared a life without the opportunity for meaningful action with what they’ve reclaimed.
At last, Hashatur concedes. He descends from his alcove and agrees to travel to meet the Kholos Sahar, though he makes no promises beyond that. He asks why the venturers are so persistent on the affair, and they tell him that they’ve given their word to bring back as many potential partners as possible. Over the course of the conversation (and some more expertly prepared bacon and coffee), the topic of the shifting pyramid arises. Hashatur raises an eyebrow and tells them that he’s visited the pyramid once. He mentions the story of the heroic Kabotol, and the rumor that he when he was cursed, he was laid to rest with a powerful jewel on his breast — a jewel taken from his adventures with the small people, when he stood with them against the Shadow Viziers. The venturers start: could it be that Kabotol was entombed with the Behemoth Jewel?