Dumarest runs into an old acquaintance, Claire Hashein, and her new boyfriend, Carl Indart, a hunter. Dumarest is immediately suspiscious; the galaxy is too big to randomly encounter a person he only knew briefly many years before. He politely ditches her, and goes to track down Loffredo. He doesn’t find the man, but does locate his journal and kills two thugs in the process. Claire turns up dead in Dumarest’s hotel room and Dumarest is arrested for murder. As alibis go, "I couldn't have killed her because I was across town killing somebody else" isn't that great. Even if he could prove it was self-defense he’s not going anywhere for a while, so it’s a bit of a “Catch-22” situation. You see where this is going, don’t you? Rather than stay in a nice warm prison cell waiting for the Cyclan to show up, he volunteers for quarry.
Dumarest is put on display prior to The Games, where Karlene sees him and senses something unusual about him. She lies to Hagen about where the kill will take place, which is fortunate for Dumarest because it turns out that Hagen has been selling the location of the kill to some of the hunters to augment the income he makes from his recordings of The Games. Indart, who is working for the Cyclan and used Claire as bait to trap Dumarest, joins The Games. Dumarest avoids or incapacitates most of the hunters and tricks others into provoking an indigenous predator while he bolts for Home, where Indart is waiting. Dumarest kills Indart and enjoys it (he genuinely liked Claire).
At the obligatory victory party, Karlene seeks out Dumarest. She is able to inteperet some of Loffredo’s journal, and it turns out her boss, Rauch Ishikari is also looking for Earth, and hired her out as a consultant to Hagen to help finance his search. They travel to Dreist to meet Ishskari while Hagen remains behind fret over his unusually inferior recordings of the most recent Games, and eventually be interrogated and killed by Cyber Clarge, who is then hot on Dumarest’s trail. Ishikari interrogates Dumarest and decides his story of being Earth-born is true, after which he invites Dumarest to join his quest. Ishikari has located an ancient temple he believes was once the central temple of The Original People, before that sect became so fragmented and decentralized. Although no longer the seat of power, there is still an active branch of the cult there. Karlene was once an initiate at the temple, but was shunned and ultimately expelled due to her psychic talent.
Ellen Contera, another of Ishikari’s employees, is a psychiatrist who has overcome much of Karlene’s temple brainwashing, and Ishikari believes the data about the temple she has gained will allow him to raid it and learn the location of Earth. The remainder of his entourage consists of thieves, mercenaries and assassins whom Ishikari expects Dumarest to lead on the raid. They all travel to Raniang, the world where the temple of Cerevox is located, on Ishikari’s ship, the Argonne. Karlene is almost immediately incapacitated by the overwhelming “scent” of death; sometimes she has difficulty distinguishing between a small event in the near future and a large event in the far future, but this time she knows a lot of people are going to die very soon. Ellen will later speculate that the distant “scent” of this event was what caused her to find life in the temple intolerable as a child.
Dumarest and his band of killers infiltrate the temple but the lack of discipline among the troops soon leads to the lot of them being captured. Only Altini, the master thief, remains free to attempt a rescue. Cyber Clarge arrives and is unable to convince the high priest not to execute Dumarest. He isn’t used to dealing with people who have absolutely no respect for the power of the Cyclan, and barely manages to secure permission to interrogate Dumarest. Dumarest gives Clarge the sequence to the Affinity Twin and then gloats about it, since the priests will never allow Clarge to leave the temple alive. However, Dumarest has a working copy of the Affinity Twin on his person, and convinces Clarge to use it to enable them both to escape. Clarge thinks Dumarest plans to double-cross him (he is completely correct) and injects Dumarest with what he thinks is the submissive half of the affinity twin (he is wrong). Clarge injects a priest with what he thinks is the dominant half; the priest (disoriented and in Dumarest’s body) would then be able to guide Clarge safely past guards and traps and out of the temple. When the priest’s body dies (from a slow but mortal wound Clarge plans to inflict upon it), Dumarest’s consciousness will return to his own body. Clarge will then be able to torture Dumarest at his leisure to determine whether or not the sequence Dumarest gave him was correct.
However, Dumarest, now in the priest’s body, kills Clarge, taking mortal damage in the process. He removes the restraints from his body, and worried that he might lose consciousness while the priest’s body takes hours to die, kills “himself”. As usual, he finds the experience extremely unpleasant. Back in his own body, he finds his companions being executed by impaling and applies a triple mercy killing. He then follows Altini’s locator beacon to the holy of holies, where Altini has arranged an escape through the temple dome. Dumarest realizes the priests worship a statue which is a highly stylized nuclear reactor; perhaps this was once a form of atonement for the nuclear devastation of Earth. Altini has rigged the reactor to blow, and goes down fighting while helping Dumarest escape.
Dumarest makes a hasty exit in Clarge’s aircar, the temple goes up in a nuclear explosion, and the Argonne takes off. Karlene is catatonic, and Ellen believes it will take years of therapy to cure her, if ever. Dumarest lets Ishikari believe the whole expedition is a write-off, but secretly realizes the symbols carved on the walls of the reactor chamber were the coordinates of Earth.