During their stay in Byzantium Secundus, Paxton has arranged a meeting with Consul Oliver Lords of the Scravers to arrange for the sale of his magic lantern fashions, and an auction to sell some of the technology they recovered in the Lemankainen system. Both events go swimmingly, with the group coming away a few Firebirds richer, and Paxton walking away with a contract with the Scravers regarding the production and sale of his designs.
After leaving the meeting with Consul Lords, a Gannok wearing colorful clothing approaches the group. None of them had ever met a Gannok before, but knew of their reputation. This one approaches Lady Koralia directly, and told her that he needed to speak with her, in private, regarding a matter of utmost importance. Lady Koralia realizes that this man is Stuckaneer, the Emperor’s personal court jester. She quickly agrees, and escorts him to her rooms.
Once there, he explains that he is not only the Emperor’s jester, but an agent of the Emperor. He recently began receiving letters, stating that his family had been kidnapped and that he is to await further instructions, and his compliance would be directly linked to their continued well-being. To a Gannok, family is everything, so Stuckaneer (who insists on Lady Koralia calling him Stucky) is distraught beyond words. He would like for her to look into their kidnapping.
Kadan asks Stuckaneer why he approached the group. Stuckaneer tells him that he is unsure of who is responsible for the kidnapping, if indeed there is one, but he doesn’t want to enlist the help of anyone too close to the Emperor in case one of his advisers or rivals is making a power play. Conversely, he must ask the aid of someone he knows to be loyal to the Throne. To him, a green Questing Knight and her entourage sounded like just the ticket.
The group sees wisdom in Stuckaneer’s logic, and ask him if he has any leads. He tells them that the appearance of the notes eerily coincides with the twice weekly shopping trips of a freeman palace maid named Josephina. He gives the group a description of Josephina, and tells them that her next scheduled shopping day is tomorrow. They promise Stuckaneer that they will look into the matter, and see it to its conclusion. Lady Koralia kisses Stuckaneer on the cheek, leaving a distinct lipstick mark, untucks his shirt, and ruffles his hair a bit. She would rather have a scandal than endanger his family. Scandals can be fixed, dead families cannot. They part ways.
The group makes a plan. Kadan and Lady Koralia will trail Josephina from the palace to the market, and see where she goes. Doctor Wulfric and Enhenduanna will be nearby in case they are needed, keeping in touch with the new whisper pins that Paxton made for them. For his part, Paxton will remain behind at the hotel and work on finishing up some devices he has been designing.
Trailing Josephina goes without a hitch. She leaves at her normal time, and goes to the market. After doing some shopping, Josephina makes her way to the shuttle port that handles traffic between the Imperial City and the space stations Cumulus and Diadem. It is a strange place for a palace maid. Kadan and Lady Koralia call Doctor Wulfric and Enhenduanna to meet them by the port.
Once there, Josephina waits in a corner for about half an hour, before being approached by a tall, somewhat attractive young man wearing fashionable black clothing. They talk for several minutes, during which Josephina looks to be scared out of her mind. Lady Koralia and Enhenduanna catch sight of the man passing a piece of paper to Josephina, then he begins to walk away, and Josephina heads back in the direction of the market.
Lady Koralia, Doctor Wulfric, and Enhenduanna head after Josephina, while Kadan attempts to tail the suspicious man. He is spotted, however, and starts running into the spaceport. He glances behind him, and suddenly Kadan feels blistering pain erupt over his body as his skin starts to smoke and blister. The man gets away.
Things fare better with Josephina. Lady Koralia, Doctor Wulfric, and Enhenduanna pull her into an alley, and begin to question her. She seems much more talkative than would be expected, but only after Lady Koralia starts asking the questions. She doesn’t know who the man is, or why they want her to deliver such distressing messages to Stucky. She was blackmailed into helping them: they told her that they have her little brother, Patrick, and that she doesn’t want to know what they will do with him should she refuse to help.
Lady Koralia takes the piece of paper the man gave to Josephina, and tells her “We were never here. You never spoke to us. You don’t know us.” Josephina gets a vacant look on her face for a moment, then runs off.
Kadan meets back up with the rest of the group, and at Lady Koralia’s request, holds onto the note and attempts to divine its past while Enhenduanna isn’t watching. What he sees disturbs him. He sees only a single symbol: an eye, seemingly covered in cataracts. Lady Koralia tells him that this is the sign of the Invisible Path, a psychic coven known for terrorist plots and evil actions. Kadan does not know how Lady Koralia knows this, but he doesn’t question it.
Later on, the group decides to attempt to ambush this mysterious stranger. They set Lady Koralia, Enhenduanna and Doctor Wulfric, along with Vera, his favorite sniper rifle, on a rooftop a block away. Kadan and Paxton take point, hiding in buildings near the port. They wait for Josephina to show up, speak to the man, and then leave.
When she does, Kadan, feeling much better after an infusion of Elixir, tries to get the jump on the man. Once again, he notices Kadan and tries to run. With Doctor Wulfric in place, and bolstered by Enhenduanna’s blessings from the Pancreator, and Paxton nearby, however, a firefight erupts. Innocent bystanders either crowd around to see what is happening, or run off in fear.
The fight starts to take a turn for the worst for the stranger, and his shield is slowly being drained by Kadan’s psychic powers, so he resorts to a desperate move: he starts using his pyrokinetic powers openly. Those remaining bystanders who stopped to watch the excitement now flee, fearing the psychic in their midst. Despite his best efforts, however, Kadan and Paxton manage to take him down, even after he has made it into the port and Doctor Wulfric no longer has a clear shot on him.
Kadan, who had sworn vengeance against this man after he tried to burn him to death a few days ago, proceeds to kill the unconscious, helpless man, stomping his head into a pulp before anyone can stop him.
The group quickly rifles the man’s belongings for clues to be examined later in their hotel. They find a note on his body that reads, “We still haven’t come to a consensus on the best way to utilize our asset in the Palace. Proceed as before,” a necklace with the same symbol Kadan saw in his vision, and a small clear lens about 30mm in diameter. Enhenduanna recognizes the lens as a piece of Second Republic psi tech known as a Psi Lens. She surprises the group by saying that she has no issue with the device, provided it is used by one covered by the Privilege of the Martyrs. She gives it to Lady Koralia to hold on to, as she does not know of any psychics in the group. Later, Lady Koralia gives the psi lens to Kadan, telling him to keep it hidden.
Lady Koralia reveals to the group that she knows the symbol on the necklace to be that of the Invisible Path. All of them have heard of the coven, though Doctor Wulfric and Paxton always assumed it was nothing more than a story told to keep children in line ("Be good and do your chores, or a witch from the Invisible Path will come and take you away!), but Lady Koralia and Enhenduanna assure them that they are indeed real, and a threat to Imperial order. Enhenduanna questions briefly how Lady Koralia knows of the Invisible Path, but she is not forthcoming.
Lady Koralia predicts that the city may be abuzz with the events earlier, and contacts Duchess Oelestre. She asks her to take care of the body and the investigation, explaining that he was a member of the Path. The Duchess agrees immediately to assist, and after being told of the situation, tells Lady Koralia that she must go to Bannockburn and see what is going on. Lady Koralia immediately agrees without question and without negotiating any sort of favor or reward. Their willingness to help each other under such dangerous circumstances without hesitation or apparent expectation of reward after knowing each other for such a short time makes the rest of the group question the relationship of the Duchess and Lady Koralia, but they decide to leave well enough alone for now.
Lady Koralia tells the group to start packing, as they will be catching a shuttle to Cumulus and then finding the fastest ship to take them to Bannockburn.