|“||It's all of us together. Always has been, always will be.||”|
–Book Quote from the chapter "The Panda"
Rather than facing trial with the rest of their order, the friends and their spirit animals find themselves smuggled to a remote palace. There they discover that the plot against them runs deeper -- and is far more sinister -- than anyone realized. Someone has been manipulating both the Greencloaks and Erdas's leaders, all to uncover a powerful relic with the potential to flood the entire world.
To stop this conspiracy, the Heroes of Erdas will need absolute faith in their spirit animals. If they fail, all of Erdas will drown.
Rollan, Meilin, Abeke, Conor, and their spirit animals are captured by the Oathbound and put on a boat, where they are forced to listen to the other prisoners and Cordelia the Kind's torture. However, they manage to send Essix with a note to Greenhaven. After being briefly visited by Kana the Honest, they eventually arrive at the Emperor's Summer Palace in Xin Kao Dai, Zhong.
While walking to the palace's entrance, the group sees a Zhongese Water Dragon with a collar. Soon after, Conor gets into an argument with Cordelia, and the two start fighting. Conor lures her into the water, knowing her armor was too heavy to allow her to float, but the fight is stopped by Kana before Cordelia can drown. Brushing off the quarrel, Kana tells the Heroes that they are visiting an "old friend", who turns out to be Princess Song, who is now the Empress of Zhong.
Initially, Song treats the Heroes with friendliness, but she soon reveals she is allied with the Oathbound, and that her father's assassination was her own doing. In addition, she reveals that she has a spirit animal - the same Zhongese water dragon the group had seen sunbathing earlier. His name is Seaspray, and Song intends to acquire the Dragon's Eye in order to make him very powerful. Meilin realizes that Song intends to use them to get the Dragon's Eye, since she could not do it herself. When Rollan begins to refuse and Song threatens him, the three other Greencloak prisoners from the Oathbound boat - Kofe, Lady Cranston, and Salaman - offer to find the relic first. The four Heroes are then imprisoned in the palace.
Meanwhile, Song prepares to meet with a Niloan delegation. Chief Ugo, a Niloan delegate, tries to convince Song to allow the Greencloaks a fair trial. He gets into a spat with Cordelia which almost turns into a fight, with Ugo releasing his rhinoceros spirit animal. Song stops them, refusing Ugo's offer, and Ugo warns her that he will tell the High Chieftain of Nilo of her actions. He then leaves.
Brunhild the Merry leads the four Heroes down to a cavern beneath the palace. At first, they refuse to cooperate with Song's plan, but she reveals that she had trapped Essix in a cage, and would drop her into the sea if they did not come back with the Dragon's Eye in one hour. Not wanting Essix to be harmed, the Heroes obediently enter the cavern. They find a chamber filled with flammable natural gas and a floor made up of closely-wedged metal tiles on springs. However, they also find the burnt body of Salaman. The team quickly realizes that even slight movements on the tiles would cause the tiles to strike sparks, igniting the natural gas and setting the room on fire. They decide that their best chance would be to throw a rock onto the metal tiles and take cover from the upcoming explosion (as natural gas isn't endless and takes some time to replenish, so they would be able to run to the exit before another explosion set off). Conor suffers from a badly-scraped shin, but otherwise, the four Heroes are safe.
Conor, Rollan, Meilin, and Abeke make their way to the second trial: a cavern in which the only way to get across the razor-sharp spikes of stone is to swing from five trapezes. Thinking of themselves as clever, they opt to skip the trapezes and climb down onto the spiked floor. But they slowly realize that skipping the trapezes was a bad idea, as they find Lady Cranston's dead body swollen with large red lumps. The cavern floor is home to huge mounds of biting ants.
Using Rollan's spear and Conor's quarterstaff as stilts, Abeke begins to carry her friends across the ant-ridden floor. Meilin and Rollan get across without any problems, but Abeke struggles under Conor's weight. The stilts are slowly breaking, and on top of that, the biting ants have crawled up the stilts and are closing in on Abeke's foot. Abeke loses her balance and her and Conor begin to fall to the ground, but thankfully, Rollan and Meilin are able to save them.
The final challenge is climbing down a raging waterfall. The team begins their descent, setting their sights on the shrine hidden in the water. Meilin makes it to the middle of the cliffside before she slips and tumbles into the cold water. She almost drowns, floundering around in the churning pool, but someone pulls her out of the water just in time. Meilin drags herself onto the stone and gapes at Kofe, who is sitting beside, injured but alive, and mistakes him as her rescuer. But her rescuer is none other than Xin Kao Dai, legendary hero of Zhong and maker of the Dragon's Eye.
Xin Kao Dai informs Meilin about being the hero of Zhong and grants access to his bond token. Abeke, Conor, Meilin, and Rollan enter the guardian's quarters, where the Dragon's Eye and the method for making bond tokens lie in wait. They exit the caverns just as Princess Song orders the Oathbound to take Essix to the cliff tops and toss her into the sea. Meilin hands over the Eye, to the pleasure of Song. The princess takes a few moments to bask in the power and glory, just as Kofe warns her of her self-inflicted doom. Song, outraged at being told she will be corrupted by the power of the bond tokens and how she has been poisoned by the ideals of her father, screams with fury. Kofe steps towards her in hopes of getting through to Song, but Cordelia quickly stabs him with the Wildcat's Claw. The Greencloaks mourn his death until Song orders the Oathbound to bring them down to the beach.
Song summons Seaspray. When the water dragon lays down to nap on a sunny rock, she goes berserk and kicks her spirit animal awake. Abeke rushes forward to put an end to the beating. She squats down to brush her hand along his colorful, shimmering scales, admiring him. Song does not agree. She calls her water dragon weak and useless, but, as she drags him to the water's edge, will be "made better." The princess takes the Dragon's Eye and holds it in front of her spirit animal, who in turn is hypnotized. The four Heroes decide to make a run for it as Seaspray starts to thrash in pain, roaring as his body doubles in size. Abeke ultimately escapes the Oathbound, losing them in a series of caves, where she and Worthy find each other. However, Rollan, Meilin, and Conor did not escape, and they sit miserably in their prison cell. The chapter ends with Worthy opening their cell door.