Chenault has a talent for solving puzzles, and claims the clues Dumarest has gained so far (including the seemingly irrelevant personal log Melome helped Dumarest recover in Book 28, Melome) can locate Earth. Dumarest senses something subtly “wrong” with Chenault, and realizes that Chenault knew Earth’s location even before Dumarest shared any clues, so he believes Chenault plans to cheat him. The ensuing confrontation narrowly avoids becoming violent and reveals that Chenault is actually an incredibly old human, and the original owner of the circus of Chen Wei. Chenault is on total life support, and the “person” with whom Dumarest has been negotiating is actually Chenault's avatar - a lifelike android controlled by Chenault’s mind. Chenault will give Dumarest Earth’s coordinates only if Dumarest accompanies him on an expedition to Ryzam, another legendary place. Chenault has deduced the kernel of truth behind Ryzam’s “fountain of youth” legends is an advanced medical facility that can restore his youth, and cure Govinda’s sterility.
Meanwhile, Cyber Avro is still incapacitated by the unchecked growth of his Homochon elements and has been hospitalized. Mirza, the new head of the Karroum, wants revenge for the deaths of Angado and Perotto. She compels Vaclav, the chief of police, to allow her to interrogate Avro before Cyclan agents can arrive and take charge of Avro’s treatment. Kooga, the head physician, is also forced to assist her and despite Avro’s condition they eventually learn that Dumarest can be found at Chenault’s estate. In the process, Avro’s brain scan reveals something of how the Cyclan communicate. Kooga plans to use this knowledge to blackmail the Cyclan for a reward sufficient to guarantee his independence from the Karroum. Dead man walking.
Mirza leads an armed assault on Chenault’s estate. Chenault’s companions and former mercenaries Shior and Massak hold off Mirza’s troops while Dumarest persuades Mirza that he killed Perotto because Perotto killed Angado (which she already suspected), and that starting a war to avenge Perotto just isn’t worth it. She agrees to let honor be satisfied by single combat. Dumarest clearly defeats Mirza’s champion but the man refuses to yield; Dumarest renders him unconscious and offers to finish him if Mirza insists (an act he would clearly find distasteful, but would just as clearly perform if required). Mirza is impressed by Dumarest’s savvy; he has avenged Angado, paid the debt of honor required by Perotto’s slaying, and left her champion’s honor intact without further bloodshed. Dumarest and Mirza part as friends.
Cyber Zuber arrives on Lychen, takes charge of Avro’s treatment, and quickly realizes what Kooga is up to (before Kooga can even make any demands) and kills him with slow-acting, undetectable poison. He destroys any data that could compromise Cyclan secrets, and goes after Vaclav next. Vaclav, being a detective, realizes just a little too late what has happened and warns Mirza before he dies. Mirza flees to Chenault’s estate and offers the use of her personal ship and any equipment for the expedition to Ryzam if they take her with them. Ryzam turns out to be a region of strange forces on the planet Skedaka, where Mirza’s ship takes them. Govinda and Mirza’s crew stay with the ship while the others head into Ryzam. Ryzam has never been explored or mapped because navigation and propulsion systems will not operate in the energy field covering the region, and no previous explorers have ever returned alive. It quickly becomes apparent why, even though Chenault’s party is armed to the teeth and as well equipped as Mirza’s enormous resources could supply.
Several expedition members are picked off by several varieties of huge, mutated insects not far into the affected region, and further in the survivors are beset by a roving, possibly sentient energy field that engulfs and disintegrates its prey (explaining the lack of any traces left by previous expeditions). By the time the source of the legend is discovered, only Dumarest, Mirza and Chenault are still alive, and they are all dying (Dumarest and Mirza of wounds suffered along the way, Chenault because his life support box has finally broken down due to the bizarre energy forces within Ryzam). Fortunately, the fountain of youth does seem to exist (in the form of yet another strange energy field) and Dumarest gets Mirza and Chenault into it before collapsing on the edges himself. When he comes to, his wounds are completely healed just from being exposed to the fringes of the field. Mirza is an infant (her Karroum tattoo, applied at birth, is evidence of her identity) and Chenault is a hearty young man. Dumarest figures out how to distract the vampiric energy being, and although he is re-injured by the insect monstrosities at the border, they make it back to the ship.
Before we get to the punch line, Dumarest and Mirza’s crew later theorize that Ryzam is the crash site of an ancient alien starship, one whose FTL drive operated on a principle involving the warping of time, rather than the warping of space as used by human starships. This explains the bizarre energy fields and unnatural geological formations in the region. Dumarest even speculates that the energy vampire might have been nothing more than an automated alien janitorial device. Now the punch line: Chenault has been restored to a time before he had met Dumarest or even begun searching for Earth, so he hasn’t learned the coordinates yet. Worse, while Dumarest was convalescing from his most recent wounds, Govinda has fallen for the newly youthful Chenault, and something about the alien energy field’s effect on the infant Mirza has enabled Govinda to accept Mirza as her own child. There’s nothing left for Dumarest but to resume his search.