In the Nine Provinces, the young dragon priestess Murasaki is awoken from a strange dream of stairs and a man with a silver arm, by a fellow acolyte and rushes to attend services late. The High Priest Cheung tells the gathered priests and priestesses of the impending birth of a new dragon egg. While the dragon egg is not thought to be a Imperial dragon the emperor has sent an emissary to observe the birth. The fact that the dragon will not have the five claws of an Imperial dragon has ramifications for Murasaki that are not immediately perceived.
She meets the Emissary whilst going about her chores and he asks her to show him around the monastery. Murasaki reluctantly complies and shows the black dragon masked Emissary to the Dragon nursery, but becomes increasing uncomfortable in the presence of the man. She is saved from further discomfort by a chance meeting of Prince Li Yuan who takes command of the Emissary and frees the girl her onerous task.
In Winter Nastya has found a perfect hiding place in a game with her brother when she comes across a strange raggedy man in the grounds of her fathers home. The stranger takes shelter in gardener’s hut that she was hiding in and they spark up a strange conversation of doors. They are interrupted, first by a strange unseen presence that seeks them out. The Raggedy Man, has felt the taste of this power before, a hint of hidden evils in this cold world.
A second interruption comes in the form of a more physical presence. That of an guard seeking out something outside the hut. Could he be searching for the presence felt by Nastya and the Raggedy Man? He communicates with a Father Romsky, an unfamiliar name to both the occupants of the hut, and inadvertently hints at a clandestine plan that will be carried out that very night.
A new stranger, a travelling preacher, arrives in the frontier town of New Destiny on the tail of an outlaw. The Reverend encounters Sheriff Kindly in the town saloon and the lawman tells him that he is too late and Chavez is already dead and the bounty is due to be collected.