What follows is a chapter-by-chapter condensed version of The Crosser’s Maze It is meant as a resource for would-be readers of The Greatwood Portal who want to refresh their memories of the previous book without a full re-read.
It’s exactly 5% as long as the full book. I expect readers can finish it in 20-40 minutes.
If you haven’t read The Crosser’s Maze, I strongly advise you against reading this. While I’ve tried to cover the most essential events, this summary lacks characterization, dialogue, foreshadowing, nuance, and a million little details that make a book worth reading. At the same time, it is a mammoth spoiler.
It is meant only as a refresher for those who have already read the book.
LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK!
The Sharshun Lapis, last seen overseeing the excavation of a blood gargoyle in the Mouth of Nahalm desert, meets with a hired thug named Tavros in the city of Trev-Lyndyn. Lapis mind-controls Tavros into meekly obeying her command, which is to ambush and attack Horn’s Company if and when they arrive in the city. Having arranged the ambush, Lapis turns her attention to finding the Crosser’s Maze.
Grey Wolf was last seen appearing inside the ring of the Seven Mirrors, having returned from an involuntary world-shifting visit to Volpos. He had vanished from a ship’s hold and reappeared in the throne room of Emperor Naradawk Skewn.
Confused from Naradawk’s attempt to shred his memories, Grey Wolf wanders westward across the countryside, asking farmers how to reach Tal Hae. By the time he reaches the city a week later, he has regained most of his memories.
Grey Wolf rejoins Horn’s Company in the Greenhouse, discovering that while from his point of view he was only in Naradawk’s presence for a few minutes, over a month has passed since he vanished from the ship. He also learns that in a few weeks Abernathy and the other archmagi plan to send Horn’s Company on a mission to the distant land of Kivia, there to find and bring back the Crosser’s Maze. As Dranko puts it, “The maze is the magical doohickey that will stop Naradawk.”
Aravia wakes from a dream of a dense, green forest to discover that her cat Pewter has somehow made his way to the Greenhouse. (Previously he had been left behind in the house of Aravia’s old master, hundreds of miles away.) More significantly, Pewter has acquired human intelligence, an unerring sense of his master’s location, and the ability to communicate with Aravia telepathically. Neither has a good explanation of how this happened to the cat, but it can’t be a coincidence that Pewter’s “awakening” occurred on the same day as the Kivian Arch opened, connecting the kingdom of Charagan with the distant continent of Kivia on the far side of the Uncrossable Sea. Pewter opines that Aravia is “like a cat” in a way he cannot further define.
Aravia tells Pewter that tomorrow, the archmagi are going to brief Horn’s Company on the quest for the Crosser’s Maze.
Dranko has received a letter from his childhood friend Praska, asking him to meet her. (The two of them were novices of the church of Delioch together, before Dranko was expelled. More recently, Praska fled the church after discovering Mokad and some other priests were secretly working for the Black Circle.)
The two meet in the attic of a jewelry store. Praska tells Dranko that Mokad and his brethren have fled the church of Delioch. Dranko tells Praska he’s an agent of the archmagi, working to save the kingdom, and also he tries to convince Praska that her snooping helped save hundreds of lives, but she doesn’t believe him.
Before Dranko has time to convince her, Mokad arrives. Dranko agrees to talk only if Mokad lets Praska leave—which he does. Mokad starts by discussing numerous details of Dranko’s life, including his time spent with Horn’s Company. It’s disturbing how much he knows. Mokad maintains that Abernathy considers Horn’s Company disposable, and tries to tempt Dranko into joining the Black Circle, but Dranko refuses.
Mokad paralyzes Dranko and removes the stolen Black Circle pendant that protects Dranko from mind-reading. But before Mokad can read Dranko’s mind (and then kill him), Praska reappears and knocks Mokad back with a thrown horseshoe to the head. While Mokad reels, Dranko escapes, running all the way back to the Greenhouse.
An hour later, the five old archmagi arrive at the Greenhouse. In addition to Abernathy, there are:
- Ozella, sharp-tongued and pumpkin shaped
- Salk, polite, with the appearance of scarecrow with sleep-mussed hair
- Fylnia, bespectacled and optimistic
- Grawly, rodent-like, twitchy, and pessimistic
The meeting begins.
With the archmagi listening, Grey Wolf tells the story of finding himself in front of Emperor Naradawk. His narrative is hindered by the sudden upwelling of the memory of his parents’ death at the hands of goblins when he was fifteen. As he tries to explain the details of his involuntary visit, the old memory not only leaps repeatedly to his mind, but changes, shifting to include Sharshun and an unknown figure in a silver cloak in addition to the goblins.
There is worry about Grey Wolf continuing to bounce back and forth between Spira and Volpos, but Aravia announces that the gold ring found on Ernie’s statue in his hometown is enchanted to prevent the wearer from crossing between worlds. Grey Wolf puts it on.
Ozella gives the Company a bag of enchanted earcuffs that will allow them to speak and read any language, and be understood by anyone they meet.
After hearing from Dranko about his encounter with Mokad, the archmagi turn to the topic of the Crosser’s Maze, a legendary artifact they believe can be used to stop Naradawk escaping from Volpos. All they know is that a) the maze is somewhere on the far-off continent of Kivia, only reachable via the Kivian Arch which is currently disgorging enemy soldiers, b) it’s described as being made of “mind, metal, and magic,” and that c) in the Kivian city of Djaw, someone at a shrine to the goddess of night Dralla may have a clue about the maze’s whereabouts. Morningstar also knows from a previous Seer Dream that the Crosser’s Maze is in a jungle in eastern Kivia.
And that’s it. Grawly is highly skeptical about the whole thing, but Abernathy is adamant this is their best chance to stop Naradawk. The archmagi do claim to have a plan to get Horn’s Company through the Kivian Arch to start the quest…but before they can outline that plan, they vanish back to their towers!
The Company decides to wait a bit to see if the archmagi return. Morningstar waits in her room and enters the Tapestry, hoping to find the Ellish avatar who has been training her. The avatar appears, and informs Morningstar that by herself she will not be able to defeat Aktallian Dreamborn when the time comes. She’ll have to recruit allies from among the sisterhood.
On the topic of Dralla, Kivian Goddess of Night, the avatar refuses to speak, naming it a forbidden topic. But the avatar does grant Morningstar a particular blessing of Ell: the ability to weave an invisibility cloak around herself and others, if outdoors beneath moon and stars.
The wizards do not return. Without benefit of the archmagi’s plan and resources, the Company is left to their own devices to work out how to get through the army-clogged Kivian Arch and retrieve the Crosser’s Maze. Their plan:
- Give the wizards one more day to return
- If they don’t, Aravia will teleport the Company to a cabbage field near the Arch she remembers well enough.
- Hole up somewhere so Aravia can recover a bit
- Sneak back to the Arch, helped by Morningstar’s new cloaking ability
- Once through the Arch, assuming they find themselves surrounded by enemy troops staged on the far side, Aravia will teleport again. Since she won’t have a destination, the best she can do is an improvised “random teleport,” which may get them far enough away from the Kivian army, but may not.
- Find out where the city of Djaw is, and go there.
Just after midnight, Morningstar invokes her invisibility cloak around the Company, after which Aravia teleports them to the cabbage patch near the Kivian Arch. The Company finds itself in the middle of an enemy military encampment, and are saved from immediate discovery only by dint of Morningstar’s invisibility cloak. They are nearly discovered anyway, but after a few harrowing moments Dranko creates a diversion, allowing them to escape.
Having escaped the Kivian army encampment, the Company flees across the hills for an hour and shelters in an abandoned barn. While Pewter goes on a scouting mission to find out how and how well the Kivian Arch is guarded, Tor confesses his love of Aravia to Ernie, and also admits he’s the eldest son and heir of Baron Olomayne of Forquelle.
Pewter returns with a gloomy report. The area around the Arch has been paved over and walled off, effectively turned it into an arena-like staging ground, its open roof covered with netting. The massive metal doors leading into the arena would take many people to open.
The Company executes a harrowing plan to reach the arch, the details of which are beyond the scope of this summary. This results in the Company dashing through the Arch (just as the enemy gets the gates open to stop them) only to find it needs to be activated magically! After more magical shenanigans and fast thinking, the Company tricks the enemy into activating the arch, after which they cross through. In the moments before Aravia random-teleports them away, Grey Wolf suffers a gut-churner, but instead of being transported to Volpos, a piece of Volpos comes to him, with trees and a wrong-sized wrong-colored moon superimposed over the Kivian landscape. For a few seconds, it’s as though they exist in two worlds at once.
Following the random teleport, the Company appears on a random hillside far from the Arch…and Kibi is not with them. Oops!
The Company concludes that there’s no point in going to back to the Arch for Kibi, and Aravia opines he may have simply gone a random distance in a different direction. Tor does some flying reconnaissance and spies a city in the distance. Maybe it’s Djaw? They’ll head there tomorrow, and hope to meet up with Kibi.
That night, Morningstar follows her avatar’s instruction to recruit allies to battle Aktallian. She starts with her friend Previa, visiting her in a dream. There she convinces Previa not only to join her, but to help recruit other sisters who would otherwise mistrust Morningstar, the “White Anathema,” too much.
A large, intelligent rat named Visciv is travelling to the southern city of Kai Kin, there to give succor to the native rat population there, falsely blamed for a plague.
En route he is diverted by the lure of…something, a smell perhaps, that whispers to him, tempting him to seek it out. At the base of a tree he discovers a tiny drop of black liquid that demands he hunt down and kill others of “Quarrol’s Chosen.” The liquid overpowers Visciv’s mind and forces him to drink it.
Aravia’s random teleport has landed Kibi in solid rock, but finds that he doesn’t mind at all. He suffers no claustrophobia or physical discomfort, and feels no need to breathe.
The earth speaks to him in its telepathic way. There is a splinter in my heart, and you must remove it. Bless it with its lover’s kiss, the watcher’s hour come ‘round, and cleanse the world. Kibi doesn’t know what any of that means.
Before opening a tunnel so that Kibi can escape to the surface, the rock shares the location of a large concentration of moving creatures—a city, Kibi hopes.
After a rest, he walks in that direction, stopping to chat with a local farmer. She gives him food and water, and from her he learns that “Kivia” is the name of the entire continent. He’s in the country of Tev, and the city of Djaw is hundreds of miles to the southeast. But the city of Trev-Lyndyn is much closer—only a week away—so Kibi heads in that direction, hoping to meet up with his friends.
The Company (sans Kibi) arrives in the city of Trev-Lyndyn. Unable to buy food with their foreign currency, they visit a moneychanger named Dowlyn. Pewter notes the city boasts an unusually large population of rats.
While in Dowlyn’s shop, the Company is attacked by a large band of criminals. Aravia is shot in the shoulder by a crossbow fired through the window, and then the thugs toss an incendiary through after it. Pewter, on the roof outside, warns the Company not to exit out the front, where over a dozen men wait in ambush. As the shop fills with smoke, Dowlyn lets the Company out the back exit, which empties into a maze of alleyways.
The Company fights their way through the alleys, killing many of the attacking band, without suffering any deaths themselves. Aravia flings away one of the attackers with a magic spell, but combined with the weakening effect of her wound, the effort makes her drop unconscious.
During a lull in the fighting, when the thugs seem to have fled, Dranko channels his god’s power to fully heal Aravia, but that causes him to go unconscious. Aravia removes her translation earcuff and clips it to Pewter, who dashes away to safety just as a contingent of the city watch arrives. Unwilling to fight the watch, the Company surrenders.
The Company spends two days in jail, where they are fed and watered but not released. Pewter does some recon and reports his findings through the wall via telepathy with Aravia. It seems that ordinarily they’d get a reward and release, having killed the notorious criminal Tavros in self defense. But when Dowlyn made her report to watch commander Jenev, and mentioned they were probably from Charagan, Jenev immediately ordered the Company’s execution!
Pewter has also overheard some of the watch mentioning that Jenev’s behavior became erratic a month ago after she met with a blue-skinned woman wearing a nose-ring. They recognize that person as Lapis, the Sharshun in charge of digging up the blood gargoyle. Since Jenev didn’t have the authority to have them killed, they’re being imprisoned indefinitely. The Company speculates that Lapis is either in Kivia to find the Crosser’s Maze herself, or to prevent them from obtaining it. If the former, she has a month head start.
The Company is rescued the next night…by Kibi! He uses his stone-shaping ability to make holes in their cells, and again in the city walls, and the Company flees toward Djaw.
Dranko is near death, having drained too much of his own life energy by channeling without adequate recovery time. The Company continues to travel for several days, transporting Dranko on their flying carpet.
He wakes in a bed in the town of Lyme, where Morningstar is watching over him. Kibi had changed a few of their coins to the local currency (“miracs”) which is enough to give Dranko a single night of bed rest in a decent inn. Dranko reveals he stole money from Dowlyn’s shop as they were fleeing, which should allow them to stay there long enough for Dranko to recover.
The Sharshun Lapis arrives at the shrine of Dralla in the nastiest, most dangerous neighborhood in the city of Djaw. When her shouts for an audience are ignored, she uses her magic to blast her way into the grounds. There she is met by Shreen the Fair, the evil Night Master of the shrine.
Shreen and Lapis have a brief physical struggle, which Lapis wins through her use of Black Circle sorcery. She demands that Shreen produce a book called “Labyrinthine,” which she believes will lead her to the Crosser’s Maze. Shreen turns over the book with a warning that its secrets are impenetrable, but Lapis is unconcerned. The Black Circle, after all, is Knowledge.
The rat, Visciv, is now controlled by the black liquid coursing through his veins. That substance is also enlarging his body, turning him from an already-oversized rat into a huge, hulking monster. It has forced him to pursue a specific quarry – a dog Spark, the canine equivalent of Visciv himself. For the god Quarrol imbued five animal races with divine protectors from among their kind: The Noble Herd for horses; the Feline Conclave for cats; the Great Pack for dogs; the Unkindness for ravens; and the Skittering Mischief for rats.
Speaking into Visciv’s mind, the black liquid commands him to kill the Spark, gloating that in doing so the Spark will not be reborn as it would ordinarily be. “We will put down Quarrol’s Chosen until none but ourselves remain.”
While Dranko convalesces in the town of Lyme, Aravia and Pewter go out into the streets, looking to buy a map of Kivia. Pewter continues to hiss at rats who come too close. The cat also expresses concern at Aravia’s unusual emotional detachment. While he lectures Aravia on how that’s probably not healthy, they are both brought up short by a feeling that something terrible has happened. Aravia experiences a moment of being back in her dream-forest, sensing that something there is waiting for her.
Then the dogs begin to howl. Dozens of dogs, seemingly every dog in Lyme, baying out some unknown sorrow. This continues for several minutes before abating. Neither Pewter nor Aravia knows what to make of it, though they feel a sympathetic sadness.
Morningstar’s sister Previa has recruited three new dream-warriors for Morningstar’s eventual confrontation with Aktallian Dreamborn. They are:
- Jet, an energetic and hard-working teenager
- Scola, a tall, powerful warrior who’s highly skeptical of Morningstar
- Amber, a talented but cynical sister who doesn’t understand why Morningstar is keeping this a secret.
Morningstar explains that her avatar has commanded these training sessions be done in secret, so as not to risk violating the Injunction. The Injunction is not fully understood by mortals, but the gist is that the gods have collectively agreed not to interfere with life on the surface of Spira. If it becomes widely known that Ell is bolstering her sisters, even indirectly, this could lead to the unraveling of the Injunction, with presumably dire consequences.
Morningstar starts training her sisters, instructing them in how they can alter reality inside the Tapestry of Dreams to match their desires. Jet and Amber make good initial progress, but Scola has more difficulty, and in a fit of pique, she wakes up and vanishes from their shared dream. Previa promises to talk Scola into returning, and to work on recruiting more sisters to the cause.
Previa also agrees to serve as a means of communication with the archmagi. She will visit the Greenhouse at night and speak to Eddings, who will have presumably heard the latest news from Abernathy regarding how long they have to train before it becomes too late.
After several weeks of traveling, the Company arrives at the city of Djaw, greatest of the Jewels of the Plains and largest metropolis in Kivia. As they pass through the long entryway, city guards pick them out of the flow of traffic and interrogate them. After the guards seem to see through their lies, Tor outright admits why they’ve come, and to Grey Wolf’s amazement, they are allowed entry on the condition they give up their weapons. Tor’s answers to the guard include admitting his true identity: Darien Firemount, heir to the throne of the island barony of Forquelle.
Once in the city proper, the Company enlists the service of a girl named Burning Candle, who directs them to an inn. There she answers some of their questions about Djaw, but when they mention Dralla, Candle is horrified. It is bad luck even to speak Dralla’s name in public; she is a monster, the scourge of night, the mother of monsters. She certainly has no worshipers, and no overt religious presence in Djaw. Nonetheless, when Dranko offers her a huge amount of money, she agrees to do some scouting.
Aravia and Pewter, feeling restless, go for a walk, and Tor volunteers to go with her. By now he’s hopelessly in love with her, and delighted when she takes his arm…but less delighted when she confides he’s what she’s always imagined a brother would be like.
That’s when the rats attack. A swarm of them attacks Pewter, who’s gone up ahead, but when Aravia catches up the rats abandon the cat and attack her instead. Her magic is ineffective against so many small targets, and she’d surely be chewed and scratched to death if not for Tor’s intervention. He rips the rats away from her, stomping and throwing and smashing, while Pewter joins in the defense. But when the rats have all been killed or driven off, Aravia is badly wounded. Tor picks her up and sprints back to the inn.
The Company waits in guest hall of a cathedral of Kemma the sun goddess, whose priests are accomplished healers. Kibi is sitting on a stone bench, listening to the bells toll, when for just a second he sees two pinpricks of light shining through his closed eyelids.
The Kemmans return Aravia, mostly healed, though she’ll need three days of bed rest while taking a medicine to cleanse of her of rat sickness. Before the Company leaves the church, Grey Wolf endures another painful “gut churner,” and as when they had just crossed into Kivia, two worlds seem overlap around him. Night and day are superimposed, grass grows up through marble, and an outdoor breeze blows through the church. It ends after a few seconds, leaving the Kemman clergy shocked and appalled, but the Company is not immediately implicated in the event. As they depart the cathedral, Kibi sees a Kemman priest on a high balcony, staring back at him.
Back at the inn, Aravia rests. That night, Kibi has a strange dream in which he is enmeshed in stone but still sees two spots of light. A voice sounds in his head. I am in pain. There is a splinter in my heart, black and deadly. You must remove it, Kibilhathur. The lights become colored: green and purple. When the world is wrong and the time is right, return our brother to us.
Morningstar receives a report from Abernathy by way of Eddings and Previa. The archmagi think they can hold out for two or three more months against Naradawk’s escape attempts, Aktallian has been harassing their rest, giving them nightmares.
Burning Candle has a map delivered to the inn, showing the location of the shrine to Dralla. The Company travels through Djaw into the worst part of the city, where, as night falls, Kibi uses his stone-shaping to force a passage into the Drallan enclosure.
Inside the courtyard of the Drallan shrine, the Company is quickly surrounded by a swarm of small malformed monsters. Morningstar begins to invoke her invisibility cloak, but is interrupted by the arrival of Shreen the Fair, outraged that she is using Ellish magic on his holy ground. He uses magic of his own to slam her face to the ground.
Ernie, realizing the importance of not angering Shreen further, asks the Drallan night master politely if he has information about the Crosser’s Maze. Shreen admits that Lapis had already visited, and that he has given her a book purported to have clues the maze’s whereabouts. But, Shreen himself knows a real clue, one not written down, which he did not share with Lapis. He agrees to share that information, on two conditions. First, the Company will bring him Lapis’s head, attached or not. And second, that when the Crosser’s Maze has been used to stop Naradawk, they will return and give it to Shreen.
Ernie wrestles with his conscience but agrees to these terms, swearing a binding oath on behalf of the entire Company. This is particularly awful for Morningstar, who is now beholden to Ell’s twisted Kivian counterpart.
Shreen recites the clue: “South of the Whistling Stone, east of Posada’s Tears, beneath an endless ceiling of green, there is Calabash, the City Vitreous. Deep in the heart of that city waits the Crosser’s Maze, that encompasses all things, all times, all beings.”
The Company emerges from the Drallan shrine to discover a man waiting for them. They quickly subdue him, though he turns out not to be a threat. His name is Certain Step—he was the Kemman acolyte on the balcony who had stared after Kibi. He’s been following the Company since they seem to match up with a prophecy he found while working in the Kemman library:
When time is right and world is wrong
Be the source of sunburst song
Light must rive the last of five
To break apart the timeless hive
When silent fall the noonday bells
When night descends and sun rebels
When darkness drops atop the day
The Travelers will have their say
Seven herald times of change
Seven speak with voices strange
Seven crossed the Churning Sea
Setting right reality
Go with them to certain doom
Step into the lightless room
For all to thrive you must contrive
To shine within the last of five.
Most compelling is the line “time is right and world is wrong,” which is a phrase that Kibi has heard the earth speak in his dreams, and is also part of the Eyes’ prophecy shortly before the death of the Ventifact Colossus:
“You have the focus, in whose veins runs the blood of Santo, and you have the talisman to preserve your integrity. But there is one more thing. Our creator did not fully understand us. We are not all required. To travel nowhere, you will need only three who are willing. To travel nowhere, we will need our last remaining brother. He is in the house of Het Branoi, beyond the arch of fire, and he cannot return on his own. The canary has encircled the cat. When the time is right and the world is wrong, return him to us, so you might walk in the footprints of Moirel.”
Before drifting off to sleep, Aravia dreams once more of her shaggy green woods. Something there is waiting for her, curious, impatient, and worried.
Morningstar has been training her sisters in the Tapestry every night. (Due to the time difference between Kivia and Charagan, they’re all asleep at the same time.) Her team has grown to nine; in addition to Previa, Scola, Jet, and Amber, there are:
Obsidia, a tall, gangly woman in her mid-twenties, and Starbrook, seventy years old but still hale. These two live in the temple in the city of Minok.
There is also Sable, a short firebrand of a woman, along with two quieter sisters, Gyre and Belle. Amber has recruited these three, and all of them share Amber’s dissatisfaction with not being more open about what they’re doing.
Morningstar engages her sisters in a training exercise, where she herself plays the part of Aktallian, while the other separate into two groups. One group – Scola, Sable, Gyre, Belle, and Obsidia – will try to defeat her with weapons, while the second group – Starbrook, Amber, Previa, and Jet – will alter the reality of the Tapestry to make it harder for Morningstar to defend herself. The exercise goes well until Scola accidentally whangs Morningstar in the head with her hammer hard enough to “kill” her.
In practice all this does is knock Morningstar out of the dreamscape; she wakes in her room in Djaw. When she cannot immediately return to the Tapestry, she sleeps, and dreams of a dead city made of glass. Across the street from a public house, the sign above a store reads “Ruby Avenue Chandler,” and the “V” in “Avenue” is a black triangle – the symbol of Ell.
The next day, Aravia and Tor enlist the aid of a Djawish sage named Keen Mind, who for a price will research the topics of Het Branoi, Calabash, the City Vitreous, and the Crosser’s Maze.
Step, a man with no sense of humor when it comes to the gods, gives the Company a quick primer on the Kivian pantheon, a whole set of gods different from the Traveling Gods of Charagan. The mother and father of the gods are Yulan, God of Time and Reality, and Manisette, Goddess of Creation. They created the five greater gods:
- Drosh, God of Death
- Kemma, Goddess of the Sun
- Tiria, Goddess of Chaos and War
- Posada, God of the Sea
- Palamir, God of Magic.
Yulan and Manisette instructed each of these to create one lesser god:
- Drosh created Dralla, Goddess of Night and Monsters
- Kemma created Hyros, God of Mercy
- Tiria created Nifi, God of Fire
- Posada created Quarrol, God of Nature
- Palamir, in defiance of his parents, created four gods, but they were flawed and weaker than the rest:
- Para, demigoddess of craftsmen and builders
- Laramon, demigod of luck
- Vinceris, demigod of thieves and assassins
- Svetla, demigoddess of the harvest
Manisette punished Palamir by unmaking him, and recreating him as a god of loyalty and duty.
Morningstar is able to return to the Tapestry the following night. Amber challenges Morningstar directly about what she deems the unnecessary secrecy around their training. Morningstar reiterates her avatar’s insistence on not informing High Priestess Rhiavonne, and the importance of not violating the Injunction.
Throughout all of this, the promise they made to Shreen the Fair weighs heavily and grotesquely upon her psyche.
Aravia, studying a new spell called conflagration, is interrupted by the sensation of something biting her head off. The pain is followed by the sound of hundreds of cats outside yowling in sorrow. Whatever happened to the dogs in Lyme has just happened to cats. Aravia realizes she should have gone to her dreamed-of forest before now; she’s seen it enough times in her dreams to teleport there with Pewter.
In the forest, Aravia meets a group of intelligent cats called the Feline Conclave. Some want to kill her for trespassing, while others want to explain to her who they are. They tell of her of the nature god Quarrol, and how five different animal species each have a council of “Sparks” – elevated members of their species tasked with shepherding their kind.
Usually, when a Spark’s body dies, its divine essence is immediately reborn into a new body, but not this time. First a member of the Great Pack, and now one of the Feline Conclave, has been permanently annihilated. The leader of the Conclave, an old black cat named Inkspot, opines that Aravia herself is a Spark. (On rare occasions, animal sparks are born into humans.) Sparks are by nature dispassionate, which would explain why Aravia has a natural tendency towards an unemotional state. This also explains why Pewter has maintained Aravia is “like a cat” in a way he couldn’t describe.
Inkspot implores Aravia to find out what’s killing Sparks, and to put an end to it. Also, a cat named Opal lets Aravia know that the impenetrable Stoneguard Mountains, which the Company will have to cross to reach the jungle with the Crosser’s Maze, are riddled with old goblin tunnels near the human town of Culud.
Two weeks after departing Djaw, the Company is camped in the foothills of the Stoneguard Mountains, en route to Culud. Aravia and Tor have taken the opportunity to teleport back to Djaw, collect the report from the sage Keen Mind, and return to camp. While the sage didn’t know anything about the Crosser’s Maze, she did learn some things about Het Branoi. The Hets were pyramidal towers built long ago by a splinter group of the Black Circle called the Insulati. There were four Hets, but the Black Circle itself razed them, because the Insulati were trying to open gateways to the Reaches, a parallel universe of madness and death, filled with tentacled creatures who could easily destroy entire worlds if something attracted their attention.
If Het Branoi still stands, it would indeed be “the last of five” as mentioned in Certain Step’s poem.
The Company arrives at the little mining town of Culud, high in the foothills. At the first house they come to, a man appears at the door with a crossbow and fires at Dranko, striking him in the leg! The man’s four daughters appear at the windows, all training crossbows on the Company.
Aravia casts a spell, yanking the father forward; his drops his bow, and Grey Wolf quickly puts a knife to his throat. The daughters do not relent, keeping their bows aimed. The family believes that Dranko is a “greenblood,” a half-goblin, and by law such persons are immediately put to death.
An angry mob soon arrives, but Step keeps them from killing the Company, using his status as a Kemman priest and vouching for Dranko. An agreement is reached: Dranko will channel for an injured villager, and the Company will be allowed to leave unharmed, back the way they had come. (The villagers have no intention of letting the strangers near the old goblin tunnels, all of which have long-since been collapsed.)
Dranko successfully heals the villager, though he himself is in bad shape, because of both his leg wound and the physical toll of channeling.
While Dranko recovers a bit, Kibi discovers the location of one of the old goblin tunnels above Culud. At night, using Morningstar’s invisibility cloak, the Company sneaks out of town. Kibi uses his stone-shaping to bypass the cave-in, getting them into the long-abandoned goblin tunnels.
As the Company makes its way eastward through the tunnels, Grey Wolf continues to recall the memory of his parents’ death whenever he thinks about Naradawk. Goblins killed his parents, but now his memory contains a human voice, out of sight, saying “Should we take him?”
Later in the journey, Grey Wolf experiences another “gut churner,” wherein the superimposed terrain is a broad salt flat. On this ground, many Black Circle adherents are constructing an enormous ring of black stones set into the earth. As the overlapping alien world fades, a mild tremor ripples through the tunnels.
When the Company discovers something that looks like a huge lizard scale, Certain Step tells them about Yulan’s Barrier:
“Many centuries ago, the surface world was plagued by all manner of foul creatures that dwelt deep inside of Spira. They made forays out of the depths, launched attacks against the civilized lands. Armies of strange humanoid beings, monsters of all descriptions—there was constant war. Eventually Yulan, god of time and reality, grew tired of these depredations and manifested the Barrier, a round shell of adamant as large as the moon, set deep inside the world, with the malign civilizations and beasts of the underworld trapped inside.”
Step mentions that many individual creatures were caught outside the Barrier at the moment of its creation.
After more days of travel, during which Dranko becomes increasingly weak and sick due to his now-infected leg wound, the Company comes upon a cave with water crashing down from above into a pool. A goblin is there, fighting against a lizard the size of a large wagon!
The Company attacks and drives off the lizard, after which Grey Wolf moves to kill the goblin. Ernie spies a trapped goblin child under some rocks, realizes the goblin was fighting to protect his offspring, and implores Grey Wolf to show mercy. Grey Wolf, furious, reveals that his own parents were murdered by goblins when he was a teenager…but he relents before Ernie’s own anger. They rescue the child from the cave-in.
Dranko is near death from his infected leg, so the Company agrees to follow the goblin, Worsk, back to his home city of Aggantis, where they have a talented healer. At the city entrance the Company is apprehended and brought before the shaman Irligg, who questions them. Ordinarily, invading humans would be executed, but in light of the assistance rendered to Worsk and his son, Irligg decides instead to have one of the Company fight a no-weapons arena battle against the goblin champion Vawlk. Grey Wolf volunteers, but the Company decides to choose the massively strong Kibi to fight. In the meantime, Dranko is tended by the goblin healer, Persk.
The battle seems lopsided at first; the goblin champion is a seven-foot seasoned warrior, whereas Kibi, while stocky, is on the short side, and slow. But Kibi knows some wrestling moves from his youth, gets a lucky break, and makes use of his prodigious strength to fling Vawlk into the stands. By the time the battle ends, the goblins in the audience are cheering for Kibi.
After the battle, the shaman Irligg comes to visit the Company in the healer’s hut, where Dranko is recovering well. He offers to do a bit of fortunetelling; here is what his bones tell him:
- For Morningstar: “You will remember.”
- For Aravia: “You will unlock.”
- For Grey Wolf: “You will be the center.”
- For Certain Step: “You will illuminate.”
- For Tor: “You will protect.”
- For Kibi: “You will return.”
- For Dranko: “You must not become.”
- For Ernie: “You will complete the circle, and then return to us, to slay or be slain.”
Irilgg’s bones also say both “You will all have great victory, save the world,” and “You will fail, world will end.” Hm.
Before the Company departs, Irligg returns Ernie’s sword Pyknite, which the shaman has re-enchanted so that it will more easily slay lizards, not goblins. Finally, Ernie receives the goblin mark of the Slayer, meaning that someday the goblin deity Malgub will summon Ernie back.
The Company makes its way through tunnels towards a river which the goblins guess must exit the eastern side of the mountains. Tor is increasingly stomach-tied over Aravia, whom he’s falling ever-harder in love with.
As the group walks beside the underground river that presumably leads to a mountain exit, Grey Wolf experiences yet another gut-churner, as his bracelet from Ernie’s statue again prevents him from being pulled into Volpos. For a few seconds the goblin tunnel is overlapped with trees and old walls appearing superimposed over the environs of the underground river. When it fades, there’s another earthquake. Rocks fall from the ceiling, and Tor is knocked into the river.
Being rushed along through the darkness, Tor sees a literal light at the end of the tunnel—and then he is fired out the side of a mountain, thousands of feet above the ground. As he begins to plummet, he unfurls Vyasa Vya, the flying carpet, and uses it to save himself. Soon after, the rest of the Company flies out in a group. Aravia casts a levitation spell that arrests the fall of her fellows…except for Kibi, whose odd resistance/immunity to magic seems to have doomed him to a plunge to his death. Down he falls, screaming.
Tor races after him on the carpet, diving as fast as he can, and catches up to Kibi just in time to save him from certain death. But before Tor can fully pull out of his dive, they crash into the lake at the base of the waterfall. He regains consciousness to find the others standing over him. Aravia has a particularly intense expression. “Tor, that was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Some local villagers, who live on a strip of land between the lake and the jungle, consider the Company blessed of the gods for surviving their exit from the great cataract. And they call the waterfall “Posada’s Tears,” one of the landmarks from Shreen regarding the location of the Crosser’s Maze.
The Company is invited by the primitive folk to be guests of honor at an evening feast. During that meal, the locals explain that the jungle, the Tangled Green, is extremely inhospitable, and that there are no cities in it, ruined or otherwise. But fifty miles from the village are the “Singing Stones,” which might be the same as what Shreen the Fair called “The Whistling Stone.”
At the dinner, Tor notices Aravia looking at him oddly. While they are engaged in conversation, she puts her hand on his, but the moment is broken when Pewter notices Certain Step fleeing with the pilfered magic carpet! The man is betraying them! Tor gives chase, and nearly catches up with Step in a field outside of the village. But Lapis is there as well, and she tries to control Tor’s mind to make him fight his friends, who are close behind him. While he is able to resist the compulsion to inflict violence on his comrades, he is still paralyzed by the act of fighting it off. Lapis also commands the townsfolk to attack, and they cannot resist. While the Company defends themselves from the villagers, Step and Lapis board the flying carpet and fly away out over the jungle. As soon as they are out of sight, Tor and the villagers are released from Lapis’s enchantment.
The next day the Company heads into the jungle on foot toward the expected location of the “City Vitreous” and the Crosser’s Maze. As they sleep the first night, Aravia wakes, screaming for everyone else to wake up and get away from her, to flee into the jungle. Most of them do, but Tor refuses to leave Aravia’s side if she’s in trouble. Aravia then says: “Tor, do you love me? If you love me, then trust me. Run. I’ll be fine.”
Tor runs, but when he looks back he sees that rats are converging on Aravia from many directions. He fights his instinct to rush back to her aid…which is a good thing, because she casts the spell she’s been working on, conflagration, which incinerates the rats in an eruption of fire.
Even as the smoke begins to clear, a huge black rat the size of a cow crashes into the clearing and rushes Aravia. Tor meets it, and the two battle. When Tor meets the rat’s gaze, he feels it trying to control his mind, but he resists its compulsions and lops off its head. In the aftermath of the fire and battle, Aravia confesses that she knows Tor is in love with her… and that she loves him in return.
After returning to an uneasy sleep, Morningstar continues to train her sisters in the Tapestry. Previa, who has heard from Abernathy via Eddings, reports that the archmagi can only prevent Naradawk’s escape for another 19 days. But if Aktallian were defeated, that would give the wizards an extra week or so. As such, Abernathy suggests that the Ellish sisters continue to train right up to the last minute, to improve their chances of besting their foe.
Some of the sisters again chafe against the need for secrecy and limited numbers, and also want to scout out Aktallian’s location in the Tapestry ahead of time, but Morningstar insists that’s too dangerous for anyone but her.
The next day the Company continues their trek through the jungle. As evening comes on, they come across a suspicious clearing—no trees or bushes, just a clean circle of grass. In the center of this clearing sits a small hut emanating an eerie green light through its slightly open door.
Dranko goes to investigate the hut, goes in… and doesn’t come out again. The rest of the Company moves to the hut, whereupon Tor kicks the door fully open. Its single room is empty save for a table on which sits a large glass jug. Tor steps into the hut. There’s a tiny flash, a whisper, Morningstar feels a strange pressure in her ears, and—
—Kell is the owner of the Sands of Time, a public house on Ruby Avenue in the grand city of Calabash. Her employees are:
- Mel, the bartender, a coarse fellow with small tusks.
- Shale, the bouncer, a particularly strong fellow with a beard
- Carab, the young, talented cook
- Dar, a tall, youthful server
- Telly, her brilliant bookkeeper
…and across the street, a fellow named Ivan runs a carpentry shop.
They’ve all been in the city of Calabash for as long as they can remember, with no clear memory of lives before, and a strong compulsion not to think about the past. Things continue on this way until Kell, spurred by the repeated sight of the sign across the street for the Ruby Avenue Chandler, recalls that she is actually Morningstar of Ell. Eventually she breaks the rest of the Company from the thrall of Calabash.
Dranko goes out each night after that seeking information about the Crosser’s Maze, leaving hints that anyone with information about it should return to the Sands of Time for a reward. Dranko also discovers that the city is bounded by a continuous glass wall, leading them all to realize that Calabash is a city in a bottle—probably the very bottle they saw inside the jungle hut.
Eventually a man named Mazzery comes to the inn, claiming the Crosser’s Maze is in the possession of a second man named Solomea. Solomea, says Mazzery, wants to give up the maze, but only to the right buyer. In fact, a blue-skinned woman and a bearded man wanted the maze a few years earlier, but Solomea rejected them.
Mazzery leads the Company to a warehouse where Solomea is hiding out. But en route to his private room, Solomea draws them into the Crosser’s Maze itself, a strange quasi-real realm that exists inside Solomea’s mind. Solomea himself seems utterly mad; he both mocks the Company for becoming trapped, and also implores them to find him so he can be rid of the maze.
The Company wanders through the iron halls and bizarre rooms of the Crosser’s Maze, the full details of which are beyond this scope of this summary. Solomea himself appears from time to time, sometimes mocking, sometimes imploring, and other times granting visions. Large gray spiders make frequent appearances, both in the hallways and the visions shown by Solomea
One of these visions is of the battle against the gopher bugs in Verdshane, where Mrs. Horn was killed. Solomea derides the Company for their incompetence and moral failings which led to the old woman’s demise.
A second vision is of Grey Wolf’s childhood, specifically the incident of his parents’ deaths at the hands of goblins. The entire Company watches as the goblins murder his parents but leave him alive.
But that, Solomea says, is not what happened. Someone meddled with Grey Wolf’s memory of the event. Solomea shows them the truth—that members of an order called the Silverswords, allied with the Spire, came to the family farm to kill Grey Wolf and his father, because of a prophecy that their family line would be responsible for Emperor Naradawk’s escape. In the vision, the Silverswords kill Grey Wolf’s father, but before they can kill him, a force of blue-skinned Sharshun “rescue” him, killing his mother in the process. Before leaving, they change Grey Wolf’s memory of the event so that he thinks his parents were killed in a goblin raid.
The Company continues to search the Crosser’s Maze for an aspect of Solomea who will give them control of the artifact. Morningstar sees a terrible vision of Shreen the Fair in a mirror, which Kibi smashes, sparing her the torment.
Kibi becomes separated from the others, at which time Solomea shows him a vision of Solomea’s own infancy, in which he is bitten by a poisonous spider, losing the use of his arm for life. When Solomea then asks Kibi what he wants, Kibi is moved to pity. “To help you,” he says.
Solomea rewards Kibi with some prophetic-sounding wisdom: “There may come a time when you will be lost, stranded, with no way to return home. Your grandfather will help you. The stones will guide you to him. His name is Caranch. All the stones know your name, Kibilhathur, and they know because Caranch taught it to them.”
Solomea then admits that he is broken into fragments, one of which guards the maze jealously, while another longs to give it away. He, the third, sane Solomea, is caught in the middle. Lapis, he admits, also wanders the maze, and she has made some persuasive arguments as to why she should get it.
In return for Kibi’s kindness, Solomea creates a simulacrum of the Greenhouse for the Company to rest in. Inside they find Mrs. Horn, who seems real, and who proclaims that she is real. The Company is delighted to see her again, and she listens raptly to an account of all their adventures. When all the others go to bed, and only Kibi is left with Mrs. Horn, she tells him, “This is a grand tale you’re in, and you, Kibilhathur, are its hero.”
Aravia wakes in her room in the maze-version of the Greenhouse to find Lapis sitting in her desk chair. Lapis claims to be working toward the same end as the Company—the neutralization of Emperor Naradawk—but Aravia rejects Lapis’s offer to work together. Aravia guesses Lapis’s (and her boss the Sage’s) plan: to let Naradawk escape, have him defeat the Spite, and then the Sage will defeat the weakened Naradawk and seize power. Lapis doesn’t contradict the theory.
Aravia scares Lapis from the Greenhouse, after which the Company continues their journey through the maze. This time it’s Aravia who becomes separated from the group, at which time Solomea shows her the true nature of the Crosser’s Maze, and also provides a quick lesson on how it would be used to prevent Naradawk’s escape. The maze is a reflection of the entire universe, and its power can be focused through living beings to create new patches of reality.
“The portal in Verdshane, the one surrounded by the stasis field, is the one little spot where the border between Spira and Volpos is weak,” Solomea tells Aravia. “Naradawk is tearing it open while Abernathy and his colleagues try vainly to hold it closed. The Crosser’s Maze, in effect, is a sovereign sewing needle.”
Soon, though, the “good” Solomea is replaced by a more desperate one. All along he’s been dropping inadvertent hints that he’s likely to give the Crosser’s Maze to Lapis, and now he presents Aravia with a final test. He leads Aravia to a place in the maze modeled after the goblin arena in which Kibi fought the goblin champion. Her friends are seated in the stands, watching but helpless to interfere. Across the arena floor stands Lapis, waiting, smug.
Solomea causes Certain Step to appear standing between them, peaceful, eyes closed. “The one of you that kills Certain Step gets the Crosser’s Maze,” Solomea intones. Lapis and Aravia both find they are holding long daggers. Aravia is unable to commit the murder, but Lapis has no compunction. She strides forward and kills Step. Solomea, satisfied, places a hand on Lapis’s head, and transfers ownership of the Crosser’s Maze to her. “Glorious,” Lapis breathes, before vanishing. The quest has ended in failure.
Except, no, it didn’t! Solomea has tricked Lapis into believing she had won, but in truth Solomea desired to give the maze to the Company, since they showed him sympathy and kindness, whereas Lapis had been trying to browbeat him into giving up the maze. Solomea bequeaths the Crosser’s Maze to Aravia, implanting it in her mind. As he fades away, Aravia has time for one last question. “Who is the Sage?” she asks.
“The Sage is a memory, a remnant of a past age.” Solomea’s last words were a dying echo. “The Sage is the founder of the Spire. The Sage is Parthol Runecarver.”
That can’t be; Parthol is one of the great heroes of Charagan, an archmage of the previous generation who died in the battle where Naloric Skewn was killed.
The Company wakes in Calabash to find that Mazzery is in the process of looting them. They quickly overpower him, and discover the still living bodies of Step and Lapis among his previous victims. Step is fine, if disoriented, and claims Lapis had been controlling him the entire time. Lapis is in a state of catatonia. Aravia uses the power of the Crosser’s Maze to teleport the group out of Calabash, choosing as her destination the forest where the Feline Conclave resides. When she uses the maze, her eyes become black as the night sky, dotted with stars.
The cats of the Conclave thank Aravia for slaying the rat who had been killing Sparks. Inkspot opines that Aravia was probably granted a divine nature for more reasons than simply helping cats; perhaps in the future there will be some further task that only a human imbued with divinity can accomplish.
Returning to her friends, Aravia bids them gather ‘round so they can teleport back to the Greenhouse. “We have about three weeks until Naradawk breaks out and the world ends, unless something is done. It’s time to do our part.”
Ysabel horn floats in space, abandoned by Solomea in the emptiness of the Crosser’s Maze. He’d “borrowed” her from heaven to visit her friends one last time, but clearly she should have asked the details about how to get back.
Below her are two huge spheres—the worlds of Spira and Volpos, slowly moving toward each other. On Volpos, she sees a huge army massing around a massive glowing ring standing on its edge.
“How long until the worlds collide,” she murmurs.
“They won’t collide.” An unfamiliar woman has appeared beside her, a woman with coal-black skin and wearing a flowing green dress. “But they will overlap, and I would guess that will happen in nineteen days.”