Essun is exhausted after her deadly display of orogeny at Tirimo’s gate. Most of the effort she expended was actually in controlling the raw power that she took in from her surroundings and then amplified. Night falls and Essun considers making a fire, but she decides against it. As the sky darkens, she can see a red glow to the north, and she knows that it must be coming from the massive break in the continent. Essun must head south, she decides, as that’s the only “sane way to go” and so must be where Jija is as well.
Even as Essun lets her rage and grief flow, she still maintains control over all the power she’s wielding—if she hadn’t, she could have caused a spontaneous volcano to erupt or massive earthquake to occur instead of just a small quake and a torus of ice. She now heads out into an apocalyptic landscape that’s lit by the glow from magma in the continent’s break—her former domestic life at Tirimo is fully gone.
Essun stops to eat and drink, having recently refilled her water at a roadhouse on the way. The other people there all shared a look of “slow-building panic,” as everyone seems to be realizing just what has happened up north and what they might be required to do to survive in the coming years. The people at the roadhouse just looked like refugees, not yet ready to accept that they might be living in the apocalyptic times that stonelore warns about.
Essun knows the truth because of her orogeny, but other people are still reluctant to accept that a new apocalyptic period might have begun. The dictates of Stonelore are often harsh and frightening, and no one looks forward to having to fulfill them—but they surely must if they want to survive.
Essun is falling asleep while leaning against an old post when she suddenly realizes that someone else is nearby. She opens her eyes and sees that it’s a small boy, six or seven years old, entirely covered in dirt. He sits cross-legged while staring at her, and he finally says hello and introduces himself as Hoa. Essun is suspicious, assuming that he must have a comm name or use-caste name and also that he probably isn’t alone, but the boy says there’s no one else with him and asks if he can sleep near Essun. As explanation, he says only, “I like you.”
It's suggested that this mysterious boy is actually the figure that crawled out of the broken geode in the first chapter, meaning that he isn’t human at all and might even be a stone eater. At the same time, he is immediately drawn to Essun and may have been looking for her specifically. His simple name—notably also missing a use-caste or comm—also marks him as different.
Deciding to risk it, Essun tosses Hoa a bedroll and decides to make him leave the next morning, but she allows herself to “be human for a little while” in the meantime. The chapter ends with a quotation from “A Treatise on Sentient Non-Humans,” describing an unnamed race that is “arcane” and unexplainable in the same way that orogeny is, and that can appear to be human but also take on other shapes.
Essun sees her kindness toward the boy as something “human” in comparison with her murder spree at Tirimo and the monster that everyone (including herself) considers her to be. She has hardened herself emotionally so many times that she finds relief in letting herself trust a stranger for a little while. The quotation at the end of the chapter seems to be about stone eaters, supporting the idea that Hoa might be a stone eater taking on a human-like form.