At the request of Godfather Morlock, Cousin Justine of Faction Paradox takes an offering of dodo meat to the Unkindnesses, creatures of prophecy which live on Tower Hill in the Eleven-Day Empire, and asks them about the future. She is somewhat perturbed when they inform her that the dodo, a symbol of extinction, represents the fall of Empire. Even as they speak, a fleet of space vessels appears through a rift in the sky and attacks the city. Justine retreats to Westminster, where Morlock is watching with detached interest as Godfather Sabbath’s troops prepare to fight off the invaders. Justine and Cousin Eliza join in the attack and manage to board the invaders’ mothership, where they learn that their attackers are Sontarans. Justine fights off the Sontarans with her shadow weapon -- a sword which exists only as an idea, bonded to her shadow, and which the Sontarans are unable to perceive. Sabbath’s troops also board the mothership, and the Sontarans are forced to retreat through the rift; Justine and Eliza escape from the mothership just in time.
As the Faction recovers from the attack, Justine reports her experiences to Morlock, and is surprised to learn that he’d anticipated the Unkindnesses’ warning and only sent Justine to them for a second opinion. He is more concerned with the apparent stupidity demonstrated by the Sontarans’ brute attack, which suggests to Morlock that it was meant as a distraction to keep the spirits occupied while a more subtle attack took place. When he checks the Catalogue, where the Faction stores biodata samples, he discovers that one of his specimen jars has been stolen and replaced with a fusion bomb set to detonate within minutes. At Morlock’s urging, Justine drops her shadow sword and picks up the bomb -- not physically, but conceptually. This process usually requires intricate rituals, but Justine finds that she’s able to do it simply by thinking about it. The bomb thus bonds to her shadow, and when it detonates, it does so on a level other than that of gross matter. Justine finds that she and Morlock no longer have shadows.
The Sontaran squad leader, General Kine, receives a confusing report about the bomb’s detonation, much to the lack of surprise of his intelligence advisor, Lolita. Kine, though angered by Lolita’s arrogance -- and by the fact that she’s coddling a baby girl on the bridge of the Sontaran mothership -- agrees to play out the rest of the strategy as she had devised it. He advises Lolita and her baby to return to their own people, but Lolita corrects his misapprehension -- they aren’t her people at all.
When Morlock and Justine return to the surface, they see the sky opening up again -- but this time, instead of Sontarans, the visitors are representatives from each of the six Ruling Houses. The Houses contact Parliament and claim that they wish to open negotiations to recognise House Paradox as an equal once more. On Morlock’s advice, Parliament decides to open talks with the Houses, despite the odd timing of their offer and the fact that the Sontarans couldn’t have penetrated the Empire’s defences without help. This is clearly a trap, but Morlock intends to walk into it with his eyes open.
Cousin Eliza fears that the Empire is in great danger, as her own homeworld was destroyed by the Great Houses for their own reasons. However, when Lord Ruthven of House Tracolix descends to Parliament, Morlock sends Eliza to greet him while he keeps an eye on the House’s retinue, using shadow-spectacles capable of observing biodata. Justine is surprised to see that Morlock now has a shadow again, but he claims to have stolen another. Morlock is himself disturbed by what he sees when he looks at Lolita, who is carrying one baby in her arms and is pregnant with another; her DNA is extremely odd, and in some ways is not like DNA at all.
Morlock takes Justine to the Ritual Hall, telling her that Parliament has decided to break out the Faction’s special weaponry just to be prepared should the Houses betray them. Godmother Quelch is having difficulty with a particular weapon, which is rejecting even Sabbath’s elite troops. Morlock reveals to Justine that the weapon is the knife which Grandfather Paradox used to cut off his own arm; since the Grandfather subsequently erased himself from History, the dried blood on the knife is all that remains of the Grandfather in the physical Universe, and anyone who attempts to bond with the knife is overwhelmed by the Grandfather’s shadow. Justine realises that she is the only one who can bond with the knife, since she no longer has a shadow of her own. Quelch protests that Justine failed the last time she was sent on a mission, but Morlock orders Justine to pick up the knife. Justine does her duty to the Faction despite her concern, and screams as she tries to bond with the weapon...