While leaving the Witch and Whirlwind pub, Benny bumps into a fleeing man who drops a carry-all bag containing a fabulous dragon statue. Unable to catch up with the man, Benny takes the bag back to her room to await a missing items report, but the next morning she learns that the running man has been found dead in the Theatrology Department with his neck broken. The head of the department turns out to be Benny's old friend Irving Braxiatel, who due to the vagaries of time travel has not met her before. He investigates to find that the dead man is Newark Rappare, noted for his reproductions of classic artworks -- and that Rappare had made an appointment to meet him before being murdered. Meanwhile, Benny is asked to join an expedition being funded by warlord Romolo Nusek to excavate the ruins of Stanturus Three. Historian Nicholas Clyde explains to Benny that Nusek, a direct descendent of the warlord Gamaliel, hopes to find proof that Gamaliel established a colony on Stanturus Three, giving Nusek a legitimate claim to the strategically significant planet. When Nicholas explains to Benny that Gamaliel is famous for defeating the Knights of Jeneve and taking their Dragon statue as his trophy, Benny realizes that the dragon statue in her dorm may be more significant than she'd thought...
Benny and Nicholas accompany the rest of the expedition to Nusek's fortress, built over a dormant volcano in the glacial tundra of the planet Thule. In person, Nusek is revealed to be a brutal and arrogant man who seems convinced that it is his destiny to rule this sector of space. Benny asks to see the Dragon, and notes a depression on the cushion -- indicating that it has been removed and replaced in a slightly different position. That night, Nicholas and Benny break into the library to investigate further, but are attacked by a cryvok, a cybernetically enhanced guard animal. They manage to disable it, and are rescued by the librarian, Reddik, moments before Nusek's adjutant Wiebe arrives to investigate. Reddik informs Nicholas and Benny that Gamaliel was not the noble saviour of legend, but a corporate boss who only led a rebellion against Earth in order to secure tax breaks for his company -- and that Nusek has been destroying all historical texts which paint Gamaliel in a less than flattering light. Benny muses upon the nature of fiction and reality in history; they are both different aspects of the same thing, rather like the difference between the savage, fire-breathing Western dragon, and the warmer, mammalian Eastern dragon. Reddik leads them back to their quarters, but first leads them through the tomb of Henri of Bosarno, a hero of the Gamalian regime. Henri defeated a group of knights known as the Dragon Knights and took a stone statue of an unknown animal from them as a trophy; fearing that Nusek may destroy this as well out of fear that Henri's victory would detract from Gamaliel's, Reddik gives the statue to Nicholas for safekeeping.
As the expedition departs, Nusek's technicians partially repair the damaged cryvok and determine that the intruder in the library was Benny. Uncertain about her motives, Nusek decides to have her eliminated by his assassin Mastrov. A suspicious accident thus occurs during excavation of the ruins, but Benny survives; nevertheless, it will take some time for her to recover, and it is thus Nicholas who is assigned to lead a secondary expedition to the newly discovered ruins in the northern region of the continent. Nicholas calls back on a secure line with news, but expedition leader Trudy Kamadrich claims that the report describes the ruins as empty and of no interest. Shortly afterwards, a panicked call comes in claiming that the secondary expedition is under attack by the native "steggis", and the communications link is then abruptly cut off. A ship sent to the vicinity finds that the ruins have been destroyed by a low-yield nuclear blast, but Benny, unwilling to accept Nicholas' death, sets off to see for herself and finds him barely alive on the outskirts of the explosion. His survival is regarded with suspicion and he is taken into custody by Nusek's men to explain himself at the inquiry.
Just as the expedition is about to pack up to go, a replica of the Gamalian Dragon is unearthed from the ruins -- in an area which Benny is sure was empty a while ago. She is convinced that a replica has been planted, but is unable to prove it, and what's stranger, when she tries to research the Dragon itself and the Knights of Jeneve she finds that the documents on the Knights are vanishing from historical archives as she tries to access them. Believing that her attempts to investigate the Knights are being deliberately blocked, she comes to suspect that the Knights are in fact still active, but when she shares her suspicions with Nicholas he dismisses it as impossible. Benny returns to Dellah to discuss matters with Braxiatel, who has also been investigating the Knights of Jeneve and has come to the conclusion that the famous Gamalian Gambit could not have worked. Gamaliel therefore could not have used it to defeat the Knights at their crucial battle, which means that they must have allowed him to win in order to go underground.
Braxiatel's inquiries have attracted the attention of the Knights' Grandmaster, who authorises the Dellahan agent of the Knights -- Professor Archduke -- to answer some of his questions. Archduke explains that the Knights were founded by President Baygent of Earth, who was assassinated after a failed attempt to make the Presidency hereditary; Baygent foresaw a dark age and established the Knights of Jeneve to safeguard the knowledge of humanity. Archduke also gives Braxiatel selected blueprints of the original Gamalian Dragon, explaining that Gamaliel was allowed to capture it. Benny, meanwhile, is contacted by Kamadrich, who claims that she wants to discuss odd events on the expedition -- but Kamadrich turns out to be the assassin Mastrov. Benny escapes and shelters with Braxiatel, who reveals that since Nusek does not yet know of his involvement, he's managed to pull some strings and get himself chosen as the independent arbiter of the inquiry into the find on Stanturus Three. He has also determined from the blueprints of the Gamalian Dragon that it contains miniaturised surveillance equipment, which explains why Gamaliel was allowed to capture it -- but it still doesn't explain what is in the areas blanked out on the blueprints.
Braxiatel smuggles Benny aboard the space station where the inquiry is to take place, and she manages to get to Nicholas, who is being held on board. Nicholas manages to tell Benny that the expedition was wiped out by one of Nusek's ships after finding proof that the ruins had been built by the steggis, an intelligent species which has somehow devolved. The expedition was attacked by steggis for trespassing on the ruins, which must be sacred to them; Nicholas was dragged out to the jungle by the steggis who then fled when the ruins were air-bombed. When the inquiry begins, Braxiatel surprises Nusek by calling Nicholas and Benny to give evidence. Nusek dismisses Nicholas' story as pure fiction, pointing out that all of his ships returned with full armaments and that his transmission, though encrypted, clearly describes the ruins as empty. Benny, however, provokes more of a reaction when she identifies the so-called Stanturan Dragon as a forgery made by Newark Rappare and planted by Nusek's men. To prove her point she produces the third Dragon from the carry-all, which Rappare, fearing for his life, had made as insurance, and threatens to smash all three statues to prove that the only genuine one contains electronic surveillance equipment which the Knights planted on Gamaliel.
Nusek flies into a rage when she suggests that Gamaliel was a corporate lackey duped by the Knights; there is no evidence to support her allegations, and everybody knows that Gamaliel was a strategic genius and acted for the good of all his followers. In fact, Nusek is so infuriated by her attempt to smear his ancestor that Braxiatel is easily able to provoke him into admitting that he'd do anything to win, even forging the second Dragon. Braxiatel, Benny and Nicholas attempt to flee from the station, but Nusek, realizing that he's just thrown away all credibility he ever had in this sector, sends Wiebe to recapture them. As they are taken back to Thule, Braxiatel, realizing that Wiebe and Nusek were genuinely unprepared for Nicholas' accusation, informs Nicholas that although he'd claimed the ruins were air-bombed, all evidence suggests that the secondary expedition was wiped out by a ground blast. Nicholas admits that he too is a member of the Knights of Jeneve, and that he blew up the ruins and the expedition because the ruins contained genuine proof that Gamaliel did have an outpost on Stanturus Three; Nusek's claim to the planet was legitimate after all. He also reveals that Reddik, also a Knight of Jeneve, gave him the statue from Henri of Bosarno's tomb because it is the real Dragon; Reddik had not realized this until Benny's comment about the dichotomy between Western and Eastern dragons. The Gamalian Dragon contains not only surveillance circuitry but an explosive device, which was never used because of Henri's capture of the true dragon standard -- the unit which contains the code keys necessary to access the stored knowledge of the Knights of Jeneve.
Upon arriving at Thule, Nusek prepares to torture his prisoners and throw them into the volcano, but Reddik arrives at the last moment and rescues them. Braxiatel alters the force field used to control the volcano in order to protect himself and his companions, but doesn't realize until too late that the energy absorbed by the force field is redirected into the volcano; when the guards fire at him and his friends, this triggers an eruption. In the confusion, Nicholas falls into the crater but tosses Benny the data pad he's been carrying since he first met her -- and which she activates, realizing that it is the trigger for the Gamalian Dragon. Reddik pauses only to collect documents from the library, and they flee as the Dragon explodes, killing Nusek. Wiebe survives to try to restore some honour and integrity to the army which Nusek had corrupted. As they depart, Reddik reveals that he was responsible for hiding the documents he'd claimed Nusek was trying to destroy; Nusek never knew the truth about Gamaliel, which made it easier to catch him off guard and discredit him. Benny and Braxiatel return to Dellah, apparently secure in the knowledge that they've ended the threat posed by Nusek and restored the lost code key to the Knights of Jeneve -- but Benny still isn't convinced that she's been told the Knights' true agenda...
Source: Cameron Dixon