After another week of traveling, Syenite and Alabaster reach Allia, their destination. At the outskirts of the city, a young man starts following them, but he gives up after a while and they stop at the next available inn, where they pay an exorbitant price for what they’re offered. Alabaster trades out his horse, who has been injured, and they get a good sleep in a real bed. The next day, they reach the gates of Allia, which are flashy and metal, though Syenite knows that metal gates are far less effective than stone ones. Based on their appearance, she assumes that Allia has a lot of new money and not much experience with Seasons. A guard waves them through when he sees Alabaster’s 10 rings, and Syenite is annoyed that he doesn’t even glance at her own fingers.
Syenite’s perspective again gives the reader more information about people in the Stillness—they are taught to trust stone more than metal, for example. The man following them and the innkeeper cheating them are more examples of how people discriminate against orogenes in ways both mundane and potentially violent. Syenite immediately becomes annoyed that people ignore her because she is ranked so far beneath Alabaster, which again attests to her continued investment in the “meritocracy” set up by the Fulcrum.
Alabaster and Syenite arrive at the governor’s mansion, which is similarly ornate and not especially sturdy. They are met by a woman who leads them inside to a small parlor room. Sitting down at a desk, she immediately chastises them for taking so long to arrive and asks if they are ready to clear the harbor immediately. Alabaster suddenly stops her and asks who she is exactly, and she introduces herself as Asael Leadership Allia, a deputy governor. Alabaster says that he expected to be met by the governor himself. As the woman seems to be getting angry, Alabaster becomes sarcastic, talking about how he and Syenite have come all this way to save Allia’s economy and that they should be grateful to be met by such an important minor official.
Alabaster continues to risk being impolite in order to get his point across. At first, Syenite thinks that he is just being rude for no reason, but soon it becomes apparent that he is asserting their humanity to the official. If they don’t argue that they deserve respect, then no one will give it to them—and Alabaster at least has the status and influence to make things happen, even if he is still under the Fulcrum’s control.
Going on, Alabaster says that he can sess the coral obstruction in the harbor already, and that they must have paid a huge amount of money to the Fulcrum to get him to come out here—he and Syenite are Allia’s entire future. The least Allia’s leadership could do, then, is offer them some hospitality and friendliness and treat them like notable officials who have traveled a very long way. Asael freezes in response to this, but she finally nods and says that she will request the governor’s presence, and that she’s sorry they are disappointed by their usual protocol. Alabaster points out that this surely can’t be their usual protocol for notable guests. Finally, Asael apologizes and says that she wasn’t thinking.
Alabaster isn’t trying to change people’s minds about orogenes or make any major systemic change here—he just wants them to be treated like human beings with dignity, especially because they are experts who have traveled a long way to perform an extremely important task. Asael still doesn’t seem to understand this, so she clings to her formalities even in the face of Alabaster’s anger.
Alabaster then requests that he and Syenite stay at the (expensive-looking) inn they passed nearby and meet again the next day. Asael looks worried—Syenite assumes that she has no authority to request funds for their stay at the inn—but she agrees, seemingly defeated. As they walk away, Syenite notes that Alabaster still seems angry, and she asks why he had to act like he did with the woman. Alabaster says that he knows nothing can change the way people see orogenes, but he still wants to be treated like a human being and enjoy luxuries sometimes.
Alabaster makes clear his reasons for acting as he did—he knows it won’t make any long-term difference, but he nonetheless wants to live like someone worthy of respect. Syenite still doesn’t fully understand and fears that the Fulcrum will punish her if Allia complains—but there is nothing that she can do about it now.
At the inn, Alabaster takes a bath, and then the two of them order food delivered to their room. Noticing how skinny Alabaster is, Syenite puts some of her own food onto his tray. Alabaster explains that he rarely feels hunger anymore, or other human sensations—he spends so much time in the earth with his orogeny that it feels closer and more real to him than his own body. Nevertheless, he eats everything Syenite gives him. That night, Syen dreams of falling upward through a shaft of crystal light.
Alabaster frequently irritates Syenite, but she also wants to protect him. She learns here that he is only tenuously connected to his own body at this point, and is instead mostly lost in his orogenic awareness. Syenite’s dream will become extremely important.
Syenite suddenly wakes up to the feeling that something is wrong. She looks over at Alabaster and realizes that he is paralyzed and panicking, while she can feel the strength of his orogeny gathering within him. Panicking herself—Alabaster could cause untold destruction if he loses control of his power—Syen pushes him onto his side so that his drool can leak out, as he can’t even seem to swallow. He draws in a breath, and the room shakes. Syenite tells him to control himself and she’ll find a doctor, but suddenly she feels herself seized by his orogeny again, just as she was during the hot spot on the road.
Syenite doesn’t understand what is going on at first, and the details of the situation are spotty, but soon it becomes clear that Alabaster has been poisoned and is paralyzed. He’s trying to use his orogeny while he’s ill, which could lead to disaster if he loses control.
Her orogeny now bound to Alabaster’s, Syenite can feel him flailing about and searching for something with his eyes, but she doesn’t know what. She remembers how on the highroad during the hot spot he had turned in a specific direction—not entirely toward the node station—and now he seems to be searching for something with his eyes once again. Alabaster looks out the window, and Syenite suddenly feels like he has found it. In an instant, she feels herself seized by his power again, and in a totally different environment. It’s like the dream she was just having, where she is surrounded by flickering, crystal-like light or some kind of mysterious amethyst liquid.
Alabaster’s actions in this scene are left unexplained but will become clearer later in the novel. His need to face toward something in the sky is noteworthy, as is the presence of the place that Syenite was just visiting in her dream—a world of crystal light. This time, Alabaster is there too (they are both there only in terms of their orogeny, not physically); he has seemingly brought them both to this place.
Alabaster drags Syenite up through this faceted world of light, and then she feels a sudden throb of power and has the alien thought “a contaminant.” All at once, she is back in her body at the inn, and Alabaster is vomiting—he’s partially sitting up and no longer paralyzed. Syenite then realizes what happened—the “contaminant” was in his own body, and he found it and expelled it. She is amazed, as she never imagined something like this was possible. Alabaster laughs weakly and says that it’s all a matter of focus and control. These are basic Fulcrum tenets, but Syen never imagined that someone could have so much control that they could sess and move microscopic substances within their own body.
Jemisin’s language in describing this mysterious environment hints at what is actually happening: Alabaster is drawing power from something huge, crystalline, and faceted. He uses this power (along with Syen’s own orogeny) to manipulate the molecules of his own body and find the poison inside him. This is another example of Alabaster performing feats that Syenite never knew were possible, and that she was never taught to even consider.
Still dazed, Syenite gets Alabaster some water and props him up in the bed, then sits down and asks him how exactly he’s been doing what he’s doing. He says that he can’t tell her yet, as she doesn’t have the control to try it without dying. Quickly drifting off, Alabaster quotes something that he says is from stonelore, but a tablet that Syen has never heard of. He then says that he’s been using her orogeny like an ox in a yoke. She doesn’t like this analogy, and she asks him how it’s even possible, because orogenes can’t work together. Alabaster just shrugs at this, sending Syen into a rage. She yells that he must never do that to her again, but he is falling asleep again, and he mumbles his thanks to her for saving his life.
Syenite is again angered by Alabaster’s unwillingness to explain himself, but she also recognizes that he was in an emergency situation and had to react quickly. He quotes from stonelore that Syenite has never heard of, once more suggesting that what she has been taught as infallible history and law is actually mutable and subject to manipulation.
Calming down now, Syenite realizes that Alabaster has just been using whatever means he has at his disposal to save himself tonight, and to save thousands of people and his own son on the night of the hot spot. She now lets herself think more about what just happened with the actual contaminant, remembering hearing how dented jars of food contained something deadly, something that causes paralysis. This must have been what poisoned Alabaster—and it’s very unlikely that it was an accident, especially because she herself wasn’t affected at all. Hoping that she’s just being paranoid, Syen stays awake the whole night. The next morning, she notices that an amethyst obelisk is floating in the sky outside—and its much closer than it was the day before.
It's suggested that the poison was the bacteria that causes botulism, which exists in the real world and is similarly deadly—a telltale sign of it is a bulge in the packaging of canned food. Syenite often lets her anger at Alabaster explode in the moment, and only in hindsight does she understand why he acts as he does. The sudden appearance of the obelisk—and most notably, that it is an amethyst obelisk, the same color as the crystal light from which Alabaster drew power—suggests that Syenite and Alabaster were just somehow inside the obelisk using their orogeny. In response, it has moved physically closer to them.