While the legal proceedings drag on, the false heir picks up where Gydapen left off, but with an army of professional mercenaries and the advice of Cyber Ardoch (who really only wants Dumarest, but is more than willing to bring another world under Cyclan influence as a fringe benefit). Warned of the extent of the plot by Kars Gartok, a rival mercenary, Dumarest leads a futile resistance, and the only reason it’s even marginally successful is that Ardoch is giving the mercenaries advice designed primarily to keep Dumarest alive. Dumarest attempts to use the deadly nocturnal life forms he first encountered in Book 16 (and which he believes are connected with the Sungari) to his advantage by tearing down the enemy barracks at night, but Ardoch has anticipated this move and the plan fails. In the process, however, something clicks.
Dumarest realizes he knows far more about the Sungari than even his considerable intuition can account for, and he contacts them directly (seemingly breaking The Pact in the process). The Sungari are indeed an alien life form that colonized Zakym before humans arrived. “They” are actually an “it” – a giant communal life-form consisting of the combined minds of all its members, of which the variety is staggering (including the nocturnal killers). The Sungari were only able to communicate with the early humans because some of the original settlers were telepathic. Fortunately, the surviving Affinity Twin in Dumarest’s brain has provided a channel through which they can communicate. They are curious as to why humans broke contact, and about what’s happened in the intervening centuries. Dumarest gives them the lowdown, putting emphasis on current events, offers a new Pact, and they quickly destroy the entire mercenary force.
Upon returning to Lavinia’s estate, Dumarest learns that Ardoch has survived and kidnapped Lavinia, who by now is pregnant with Dumarest’s child. Knowing he must leave Zakym or go insane from the continued presence of the Affinity Twin in his mind, he convinces both Lavinia and Ardoch that he doesn’t really care if she lives or dies. This not only causes Lavinia to fall rather quickly out of love with Dumarest, but also saves her life. While Ardoch is distracted by this apparent flaw in his logic, the Sungari fry him. Dumarest encourages Roland to pursue his romantic interest in Lavinia (and presumably to provide an adequate father figure for Dumarest’s child), and resumes his search for Earth. Gartok, who has become friends with Dumarest during the resistance fighting, stays on Zakym to assist with the rebuilding effort.