Dumarest pays for Leon’s medical treatment, leaves him enough money for a Low passage and leaves him behind. With the Cyclan now advising the mining company and the company’s security net around the spaceport tightening, Duamarest must now escape alone with the assistance of Ayantel, a beautiful food stand operator with whom he has briefly dallied. Fortunately, the tight security net has kept numerous shady starship crewmen tied up longer than their captains are willing to wait for them. Once inside the starport the local authorities have no jurisdiction to apprehend him, and Dumarest has little trouble arranging a working passage, replacing the tardy steward on a ship that is already late in departing.
Upon arrival at their destination, Dumarest is asked by the ship’s engineer to assist in removing the remains of a passenger who traveled Low and didn’t survive. It turns out to be Leon, who, despite his injury, tagged along after Dumarest and never got the chance to learn that you should only ride Low if you are in peak physical condition. The crew takes the kid’s cash and Dumarest gets his personal effects, which include a photograph of a family member taken in front of a dwelling bearing a symbol of the Zodiac, and a small, seemingly unfinished statue. It also turns out Leon had arrived on Tradum on this very ship, and the engineer remembers that he said his homeworld was Shajok. Despite the discrepancy in the stories, Dumarest believes Leon’s death proves his innocence, and the photograph points to Leon’s home world as a place where he still might learn something about Earth and/or the Original People, so he travels to Shajok.
Shajok is a largely agricultural world with one cash crop export, ulumen, a rare and exotic plant with high medicinal and cosmetic value. No one knows anything about The Original People, but there are numerous reclusive tribes and communes that live in the mountains beyond the plains where the ulumen grows, mountains that few people from the spaceport city have ever bothered to explore. Dumarest is contacted by another off-worlder, Jalch Moore and his sister Iduna. They need an experienced explorer/adventurer to assist them in an expedition into those very mountains. Jalch believes he has traced the origin of a mythological creature, the Kheld, to this world, and wants to observe and capture one. Dumarest agrees, since they will be exploring the same remote area where he suspects a secretive cult like The Original People might reside.
Of course, Jalch is obsessive and more than a bit delusional, and he crashes their aircraft deep in the mountains. Only Dumarest and Iduna ultimately survive to find Leon’s tribe. They claim to be of The Original People, and have some sympathy but also a bit of an attitude toward others with similar claims who have refused to forsake technology (which they believe ultimately caused mankind’s fall). They plan to kill Dumarest and Iduna to keep their secret safe, until Dumarest solves a particularly nasty problem they have (during their initiation rites, some of their finest young initiates become brain-dead automatons they call “ghosts”). The problem is caused, lo and behold, by the Kheld.
In gratitude, they offer to make Dumarest and Iduna a part of their tribe (although leaving is still forbidden). Naturally, Dumarest agrees to this and then immediately starts working on an escape plan. Meanwhile, he tells them of Leon’s fate and they reveal that when Leon ran away from home, he stole an artifact that is extremely important to their culture and which they would do anything to retrieve. Iduna doesn’t seem particularly eager to leave, and Dumarest discovers why when Cyber Hsi and his acolyte arrive on the scene and start pushing everybody around.
Dumarest deduces that Leon just made up the name “Nerth” because Leon wanted to befriend someone who would be a good mentor, and Leon’s pervious conversations with Earl had led him to believe that this would entice Dumarest into traveling with him. After Dumarest evaded the dragnet on Tradum, the Cyclan found Leon and told him which ship Earl was on, predicting correctly the boy would follow no matter what shape he was in. They made sure Leon would not survive the journey and bribed the crew to tell Earl the boy’s true planet of origin (thus explaining the apparently ridiculous coincidence of their story that they knew Leon personally because he had also arrived at Tradum on their ship). The Cyclan knew the probability that Dumarest would take that bait was high. Then it was simply a matter of contacting a person on Shajok who Dumarest would be likely to hook up with in his search for Leon’s tribe, and bribing them to keep Duamrest on ice until they could arrive. That person was Iduna.
As the Cyber gradually convinces the tribe they should turn Dumarest over to him, Dumarest convinces Iduna that the Cyclan will betray and kill her instead of giving her the reward they promised. In the resulting fracas, the acolyte kills Iduna and Dumarest kills the acolyte, but he can’t kill Cyber Hsi because his vital signs are being monitored by the Cyclan and his death would trigger retribution against Leon’s tribe. So, he uses the affinity twin to place the mind of one of the “ghosts” into Cyber Hsi’s body to render him helpless. Dumarest realizes the statue he took from Leon is the artifact the tribe is so eager to retrieve, and offers to return it if they release him. They agree, and it turns out that the statue is a disguised holographic crystal with information about Earth. In gratitude they show him some of the contents of the crystal (which provides another clue about Earth’s location), and also hold up their end of the bargain and release him. Dumarest disguises himself as the acolyte and leaves with the ghost/cyber, putting the expense of a speedy escape on the Cyclan’s tab.