Trapped in the Formian hive city with a handful of survivors, Yivellor spends a night resting and taking stock of his options. The next day, having recovered somewhat from the wounds he sustained in Haroun, he and Ibn Jafir plot their escape from the pit. During a brief exploration of his surroundings, Yivellor learns a slippery membrane covering the stone walls of the pit can be cut, exposing the rock and making climbing much easier. Before he can put his plan into action, however, the Formians return for an inspection.
This time, Yivellor is not so fortunate; the insects make it abundantly clear that his time has come, and escort him from the pit. Rather than killing or eating him, however, the bugs escort him to a vast chamber dotted with small pools. In the pools, human slaves work harvesting bioluminescent algae seeds, which Yivellor soon learns are a food source for the hive. Yivellor is led to a small pool, and strikes up a conversation with another worker. The worker tells a bit about Formian society, which appears to be caste-based, with mindless worker and warrior drones filling the bottom two ranks. However, the Formian empaths seem to possess a high level of intelligence, and are capable of dominating humans with their will.
Yivellor, searching for an escape route, decides to sneak out of the growing pools using a clump of the bioluminescent algae to guide him through the pitch black tunnels. His first attempt ends quickly when a Formian worker spots him, but on the second try he makes it into a nearby tunnel. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go far before a Formian warrior spots him and pins him against a wall. After a few moments, a Formian empath approaches and uses his empathic sense to dominant the hapless elf.
The two-way link with the Formian is transformative for Yivellor. Immediately, he becomes aware of the vast hive mind, composed of hundreds of thousands of Formians living in the city. Exposure to the collective is overwhelming at first, but Yivellor feels an incredible sense of community and belonging. Gradually he becomes aware of a single presence within the thousands of voices—the voice of the Formian dominating him.
Rather than hostility, Yivellor feels a sense of pity emanating from the Formian. The empath uses mental images to explain that he feels sorry for Yivellor and all humans, because they are forever cut off from one another, unable to experience the joy of the collective.
Yivellor, a perpetual outcast who never found his place in life, is drawn to the sense of purpose and community flowing from the hive mind. The Formian, sensing Yiv’s curiosity, makes him an offer: Help the hive with a task, and he can become an adopted member of the collective.
Yivellor, unsure whether he wants to give up his individuality, but intrigued by the hive mind, agrees. The Formian uses the mental connection to describe an abandoned city—presumably Iskandar. Below the city is a metal door with inscriptions over it. The Formians, who have no concept of writing or verbal communication, need an elf to help them solve the inscription and open the door.
Yivellor, escorted by a small group of Formians, heads for the city.