Lady Koralia and her entourage make haste to reach Bannockburn. They manage to get lucky, and find a Muster Ship, called the Steel Nightingale, which is leaving the next day from Cumulus Station, heading on a direct path to the space station Fort Saint Elmo. The group agrees to do some work for the ship’s captain, a Muster sergeant by the name of Alfonso Goldenbach, in exchange for nicer quarters.
They are in transit for fifteen days, then spend most of another day filling out paperwork regarding the nature of their visit to Bannockburn, most of which Lady Koralia fabricates.
Once planetside, they are greeted by a strange pair of twins named Dillon and Laura. Lady Koralia exchanges some cryptic words with them, which the rest of the group assume to be some sort of code phrase given to her by Duchess Oelestre Xanthippe. Regardless of the nature of their exchange, both of the twins and Lady Koralia seemed pleased with the results, and the two escort the group to a safe house in the Gannok slums in the city of Gailoch.
The group had some brief encounters with Gannok on Byzantium Secundus, but nothing had prepared them for the intense smell of hundreds of them living in close quarters. Lady Koralia and Enhenduanna nearly lose their lunch from the sheer stench of the place.
Once in the safe house, Dillon and Laura confesses that the missive they had received from Duchess Oelestre only hours before the group’s arrival did not shed much light as to their business on Bannockburn. Lady Koralia explains to them that she is looking into the kidnapping of Stuckaneer’s family, and asks if they had heard of any strange disappearances in the past few months. Laura says that people, Gannok and otherwise, frequently go missing in the streets. It is basically an open secret that they are taken by the Muster for use as slave labor or shock troops on the Stigmata front line.
Having no luck gaining information from the twins, and with night fast approaching, Lady Koralia treats the rest of the group to a nice dinner in the city. Over dinner, they discuss strategy. Stuckaneer gave them the location of his family’s home. It is only a few kilometers outside of Gailoch. Tomorrow, they will go to the home and investigate. Paxton blurts out some random invention he can make in a moment of inspiration. Kadan and Enhenduanna take his outburst to mean that he had not been paying attention to Lady Koralia, and get somewhat irritated with him. The group adjourns back to the house, and make their way to their rooms for the evening. Lady Koralia goes into a bedroom with Dillon and Laura, and asks not to be disturbed. The rest of the group hear no sounds from the room for the duration of the evening.
The next day, the group procures the services of a rental vehicle to go and investigate the home of Stuckaneer’s family. They part the vehicle about half a kilometer away from their destination and walk, in case the home is being watched. They see no signs of surveillance, and begin to search the home, which is essentially a mansion. Stuckaneer appears to have been sending quite a few Firebirds back home to his family. They find some spots of blood, presumably Gannok. Paxton asks Kadan to use his powers to see into the past to determine exactly what happened. This request annoys Kadan, as he has been attempting (apparently less successfully than he had thought) to keep his abilities secret. He agreed, and sees a vision of men breaking into the home, then drugging and kidnapping all of the inhabitants. The entire home is in disarray, and shows signs of a fight, but they are at least three months old. This comports with Stuckaneer’s story. They also find some correspondence from Stuckaneer, mainly “catching up with the family” sorts of letters, and decide to take them from the home.
After a time, Kadan notices movement coming toward the home, and the group goes on alert. Doctor Wulfric takes position in a window on the second floor, Kadan and Paxton try to hide on the first floor, and Enhenduanna and Lady Koralia take cover on the second floor. Quickly, a woman appears in the front lawn. She has firy red hair and piercing green eyes. With a wave of her hands, Doctor Wulfric and Kadan find themselves suspended a foot above the ground, the air being crushed from their bodies. She demands to know who they are and what they are doing here.
A fight ensues, during which Enhenduanna is shot, but not seriously wounded. Paxton, Kadan, and Wulfric take some abuse from the woman’s blatant use of psychic powers, but in the end, the group triumphs through Kadan’s quick thinking. Paxton and Doctor Wulfric see energy flare up to deflect the woman’s bullets away from Kadan’s body, but are confused as they know he does not have an energy shield. Enhenduanna lays her hands on the woman’s Synthsilk clothing, and it turns to brittle stone, leaving her naked. At one point, the woman begins to vomit uncontrollably for reasons the group cannot determine.
After the fight, Paxton makes a comment that Lady Koralia didn’t do anything during the fight, calling her lazy. Kadan seems to take it personally, glaring at him with daggers. Doctor Wulfric tells Paxton to shut his mouth, and not speak ill of his social betters.
They disable the woman, and tie her to a Gannok chair, which they surmise must be uncomfortable for a human. She is unresponsive to interrogation, until Lady Koralia, frustrated, looks into her eyes and says, simply, “You will tell us what we want to know.” A slack, emotionless expression passes over the woman’s face, and she says, “Yes, my lady.”
The woman confirms that she is a member of the Invisible Path. Stuckaneer’s family is being held in the shadow of an Ur monolith about 50km northwest of here. She was assigned to watch the home in case Stuckaneer sent people to find them. She tells the group that she is supposed to report in each day at dawn, and they guess that the people guarding Stuckaneer’s family will not do anything pleasant if her report doesn’t come.
After answering several of Lady Koralia’s questions, emotion returns to the woman’s face and she spits in Lady Koralia’s face. Lady Koralia takes one of the woman’s own guns, holds it to her head, and kills the woman where she sits before wiping the spit off. She urges the group to move, as they now have a definitive time limit.
The head towards the location the woman provided, parking their vehicle some distance away. Doctor Wulfric takes up position on the roof of the vehicle, using Vera’s scope to investigate the monolith. Paxton uses telescopic lenses in his goggles to do the same. They see a few tents, and several people. There is one woman, five men, and two cages full of exhausted, malnourished Gannok in tattered clothing. The men each look completely emotionless, as if they are merely puppets. Enhenduanna and Kadan guess that they are under the control of the woman, and if they eliminate her quickly, they will be free of her spell.
The group concocts a plan. Paxton, Lady Koralia, and Kadan will sneak towards the camp. Once they are in position, they will use their whisper pins to signal Doctor Wulfric, who will fire on the woman. As Doctor Wulfric aims his shot, Enhenduanna blesses him in the name of the Pancreator and Saint Mantius, the warrior saint. Doctor Wulfric feels his aim is true, and fires on signal. The woman is gravely wounded, but does not fall to the shot. Kadan rushes in, lightning trailing from his fist, and punches the woman square in the face. She falls lifeless to the ground. The men who were with her clutch their heads, scream, and fall to the ground. Enhenduanna and Doctor Wulfric rush to the scene, as Lady Koralia and Paxton break open the cages and free the Gannok prisoners.
The matriarch of the Gannok, an older woman who introduces herself as Shak, thanks the group for the rescue. Doctor Wulfric, though not well versed in Gannok physiology, attempts to examine some of the ten freed Gannok. He determines that they are dehydrated, nearly starving, and they have some sores from lack of movement and constant contact with the cage bars. Come food, water, and bed rest and they will be as good as new.
The five men, however, are a different story. They seem to be catatonic. Neither Doctor Wulfric nor Enhenduanna have any idea when, or if, they will recover. Kadan and Lady Koralia guess that they have been under constant psychic domination for months now, and the human mind wasn’t meant to be suppressed so thoroughly for so long. Using their own rented vehicle, as well as one the woman they killed had parked nearby, they escort the Gannok and the catatonic men back to Gailoch.
They decide to remain on Bannockburn for a few days for the Gannok to recover. They turn over the five men to Dillon and Laura, asking for any help they can provide in the recovery of the men. Lady Koralia also asks Dillon and Laura if they can help pay for Stuckaneer’s family to be transported to Byzantium Secundus, which they readily agree to do, much to the confusion of the rest of the group.
As they begin their work, Enhenduanna keeps thinking back on Lady Koralia’s interrogation of the red headed woman with suspicion. How, if not with psychic powers, did Lady Koralia manage to get that reaction from the woman? She decides to let the matter be for the moment, as helping the poor Gannok recover is much more important.