Four people are interred in grim Scarwater Gaol. Though sentenced by lawful trial in the King’s name, there seems little justice in their fate, and their bitterness draws them together.
- The priest Zanne, stripped of his vestments and arrested for assault on an officer of the Ward, for standing up to the brutality of the militia men of the King’s Ward as they dealt with captured rioters in their custody. Zanne, who had seen a different truth to that of the Temple of Erathis, and had accepted the time in Scarwater as a test of his newfound faith, and his place as one of the secretive Custodes.
- The tavernkeep Kadar, arrested for assault, and negligent and criminal excess in his defense of his property. Kadar, the veteran of Tarn’s civil war, who sought only a kind of peace here, far from his homeland; who fought off the sea of Sed Ossa fanatics as they swept through the Bukaran quarter looting, burning and killing.
- The outlander Carrag, arrested for assault upon a watchman in pursuit of justice, for unlawful revenueing and accumulation, and for criminal violation of traffic regulations. Carrag, the rebel who chose exile from his tribe in Dornland over a life of mediocrity; who sought to find his place in the confusion of the great city.
- The footpad Kiyo, who turned herself in and was prosecuted for the murder of a peer of the realm, a cousin to the King himself. Kiyo, who had turned away from her community, and had been tricked into taking the fall for one of the big men of the cartel she had curried favour with; who has only now realised how her supposed allies have misused her in every way.
After a game but essentially unwise attempted prison break is quashed by well organised warders, the four are sentenced to punishment duty. Ostensibly they are sent to clear out an infestation of Urd from the fetid tunnels under the prison, but it soon becomes clear there is a far more cruel fate imagined for them: a horrid beast lurks beneath.