Pryan, the World of Fire, does not orbit a sun— at least, not in the normal manner. It is a giant stone sphere containing four suns (similar to a Dyson Sphere), and it is always daytime. The "ground" is not the ground at all, but rather moss and the leaves of huge, mile-high trees; most people don't know where the real ground is, or if there even is a real ground. And, although there is no night, there are "stars": little pinpoints of light that appear sporadically in the sky, some apparently burning out while others remain longer.
Paithan Quindiniar, an elven magical weapons merchant, makes a deal with a pair of human smugglers, half-siblings Roland and Rega Redleaf, who pretend to be married as a cover story. The two accompany Paithan to the dwarven buyer of the magical weapons in an attempt to swindle him. During the trip, Rega is supposed to seduce him; much to her surprise, however, she finds they are falling in love with each other, a romance tainted by distinct prejudice and interracial tensions. It all falls apart, however, when the convoy is attacked by the tytans, giant lumbering humanoids with no eyes and crude defensive rune-magic. These tytans ask only a single question— Where is the citadel?— and if they don't like the answer, they destroy everything in sight. They haven't yet found an answer they like. They are rescued by the dwarven buyer, Drugar, and the four set out for Paithan's home. Drugar has an ulterior motive, however; the tytans wiped out his people since they had no adequate means to defend themselves, thanks to the Redleafs' failure to sell him Quindiniar weapons in time.
Conditions have deteriorated in the Quindiniar household. Paithan's father Lenthan is obsessed with the idea of rocketry, as he is sure his late wife now lives in the stars - a heretical belief among the elves of Pryan. Lenthan's eldest daughter, Calandra, is a tight-fisted spinster under the best of conditions, and is incensed that Paithan has brought humans into the household. His younger sister, Aleatha, is just as she has always been: an extremely lovely young woman, but shallow, vain and lazy. Lenthan has sent away for a human expert on rocketry but has instead gotten Zifnab, a bizarre long-bearded fellow who seems utterly senile, especially since he seems to think he's some person named ">James Bond" one moment, and "Dorothy Gale" the next; his "dog Toto" (actually one of Pryan's native "dragons") spends a lot of time reining him in. Finally, the newest member of the household is Haplo. His dragonship proves extremely useful when the tytans show up; even Haplo's rune-magic cannot defeat them, and Calandra stubbornly chooses to stay behind during the evacuation.
Haplo sets course, on Zifnab's suggestions, for one of the winking stars in the sky. This period of empty travel is devoted mostly to romance: Paithan and Rega struggle to handle their relationship, Aleatha and Roland resist each other with all their might and almost succeed, and Haplo himself has flashbacks to his time in the Labyrinth, and the woman he met there; they became lovers and travelled together for a time, and she was suspected by Haplo to be carrying his child when they separated. It doesn't bother him that he hasn't seen her in years. Or so he tells himself.
Arriving at the white star, Haplo travels up a mountain to a glowing, abandoned city that is nearly identical to the Nexus. He leaves the mensch to fend for themselves and enters the central stronghold, where he discovers a great deal of data on the nature of the worlds, although all the Sartan here have disappeared. He then leaves for Death's Gate and his next mission.
Meanwhile, Zifnab apparently sacrifices himself to save the Redleafs, Quindiniars and Drugar from his dragon; it chases the remaining mensch to the gates of the citadel, which Drugar is able to open with an amulet inscribed with Sartan runes. The mensch are now safe— a fact that Zifnab, hale and hearty, celebrates with his dragon companion.
Written on Monday 25th August 2008 by Antony.
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