During the long ride south to Persopolis, Alanna hangs out with Sir Myles, learning local history from him. She also gets to know Lord Martin, the local ruler, who seems kind of harsh.
Sir Myles explains to Alanna that the people of the desert, the Bazhir, are split into many tribes. Some accept Tortall's rule, while others don't. Persopolis, the only city these nomads ever built, is held by friendly tribes.
Further, Sir Myles explains that while Lord Martin doesn't like the Bazhir and they don't like him, he's a fair man at heart, so they respect him.
During the arrival banquet at Persopolis, Alanna meets a Bazhir man, Ali Mukhtab, who is the governor of Persopolis Castle. As they talk, Alanna expresses curiosity about the Bazhir people. Ali Mukhtab promises to show her something interesting if she and her friends can slip away.
The Bazhir governor brings Alanna, Jonathan, and the other squires to the Sunset Room, a beautifully adorned open-air chamber that faces west. As they watch the sun set, they can see a small black speck across the desert—the Black City.
Ali Mukhtab explains the history behind it: ages ago, his people crossed the ocean and were welcomed by the Nameless Ones. They gave the Bazhir land to farm…but they also stole their souls.
Um, fair trade? Not so much.
The Bazhir burned everything, including the Black City, in order to escape. They built Persopolis so they could always keep an eye on the Black City.
Since the Nameless Ones fear fire above all else, they stay in the Black City, but they're not happy about it. Seems they can call young Bazhir kids to them, and if the kids reach the Black City, they never return. On the other hand, if the Bazhir catch their kids in time and restrain them … they usually starve to death. At least it's a natural death?
Oh, and apparently there's a prophecy that two gods, the Night One and the Burning-Brightly One, will someday free them of the City's evil. But that's just a legend, right?
Before they leave, Jonathan expresses an interest in reading a history of the Bazhir. Since he's gonna rule the kingdom someday, they'll be his people too.
Strangely, as the boys part before going to bed, Jonathan says the Nameless Ones are probably just silly stories to scare kids into behaving—but didn't he just act so interested in the Bazhir? Hmm. Could Jonathan be up to something?
Just before dawn, Alanna wakes up and gets dressed…just in time to catch Jonathan sneaking out. She accompanies him, of course.
The Black City is well named. It's completely black, with strange architecture and even stranger carvings and paintings. Alanna remembers that she's seen visions of the Black City and gets super spooked.
Jonathan agrees that the place feels evil, but he's not turning back until he finds out more. They step into the main square, and as they approach the central building, Lightning begins to hum. Yes, that's right, Alanna's sword is humming.
Still, Jonathan's determined to find out what the deal with this place is, so inside they go. Alanna grumbles that she can't let him do this by himself, and Jonathan admits that this is the reason he wanted Alanna to come on the trip. He's been curious about the mystery of the Black City for a while, and he knew she'd come with him on this adventure.
Inside, they find an altar. After a flash of light, ten figures appear standing around it. They're all quite tall and frighteningly beautiful.
Jonathan asks who they are, and they identify themselves as the Ysandir. To mortals, though, they're the Nameless Ones. Oh, and they're super hungry.
Alanna draws Lightning, which makes the Ysandir shrink back. One of them references "their weapons" and tries to see into Alanna's mind, but is blocked.
The one known as Ylanda manages to get into Alanna's mind briefly and cracks up laughing. She says that this is the best joke in centuries, and tells Jonathan that his companion is a girl.
As though to drive the point home, she magically makes Alanna's clothes vanish. Alanna is ashamed and tries to hide herself with her hands. Jonathan takes off his tunic and tosses it at her, saying they'll talk later.
The Ysandir try to separate Alanna and Jonathan, who use a spell called the Wall of Power. When two of the immortals touch it, they shriek and vanish. Using magic, Alanna and Jonathan slowly begin to eliminate the Ysandir.
Finally, only the two most powerful ones are left: Ylon and Ylanda. Sounds like a time for Alanna to call on the power of the Goddess.
As Alanna fights Ylon and Ylanda, Jonathan holds her hand and feeds her power. Eventually, the two of them defeat the Ysandir, and the promptly pass out from the effort.
When Jonathan and Alanna wake up, they leave the Black City, get on their horses, and ride to the closest oasis. They collapse there to rest, and Jonathan asks Alanna for an explanation.
She tells him about Thom and their father, and why they decided to make the switch. Jonathan listens to all of this, and then tells Alanna that he's not going to do anything about it—she's proven her right to try to become a knight in his eyes.
Alanna brings up the fact that Duke Roger had practically dared Jonathan to check out the Black City.
Yeah, says Jonathan, but Duke Roger had known that Jonathan would have the help of the gods to fix the situation, so that's why he did it. Right??
Alanna, of course, thinks that Duke Roger just wanted to get rid of Jonathan, but she keeps this to herself.
Jonathan asks Alanna who he should pick as his squire. Well, says Alanna—her. She's saved his life a few times now, she's getting good with sword, she's already awesome at archery and tracking. (Plus, um, she's awesome.)
Hey! That's exactly what Jonathan thinks, so he's glad she agrees. Does it matters that she's a girl? Jonathan says he doesn't care if she's a dancing bear, she's the finest squire-to-be in the whole court.
Alanna pledges her loyalty to Jonathan, and then they try to get some sleep.
After all, when Lord Martin finds them, he's going to be ticked.