Aramil Li Halan hails from Kish, a desert world ruled by the Li Halan. Upon reaching his 26th birthday, he has left the only planet he has ever known in order to see more of the Pancreator's handiwork. Guiding him on this journey is Vaize Wraithewight, a restless charioteer with a ship of his own. Accompanying them is Brother Jedediah, a powerfully built Brother Battle adept serving as Aramil's bodyguard, and Hank Fetto, an engineer friend of Vaize' who keeps his ship running.
Having heard many tales of the riches and mysteries of the worlds of the Grange system, Aramil selected that as his first destination. After travelling through the jumpgate into the system though, the group found a situation very different from the exciting tales they had heard. The huge terraforming engines of the planet Grange have been malfunctioning, causing vast tracts of the planet's surface to experience increasingly extreme weather. This has caused the world's population to immigrate to the one city whose terraforming engines are still working, forming a teeming megalopolis of poverty and lawlessness. Renamed Pandemonium because of this chaos, the once-green planet now strains to feed its own citizens. The Decados, the planet's rulers, have barely been able to keep order.
After touching down on the pitted tarmac of the Hub (the lone island of stability in the environmental chaos), the group began researching rumors they had heard of hidden treasure on the planet. Though their inquiries met no success, they did hear an interesting story that had been causing considerable commotion on the streets of the Hub. A few days before they landed, a particularly fierce storm tore through the lands north of the Hub. A Scraver ship went down in this deadly tempest, and several rescue attempts have not been able to recover the cargo. No one knows what the cargo is, but wild rumors fill the streets. The Scravers are offering a substantial reward for its recovery, and the Decados have threatened prosecution of anyone who doesn't immediately turn the cargo over to them.
The group hears tales that the cargo is anything from symbiot bombs to demonic artifacts, and everyone is looking for it. It seems that Graaf, the self-styled "King of Thieves", is both hunting for the cargo as well as being hunted by soldiery of House Hazat, who are present in unusually large numbers. After hearing about Hazared's Tavern, the local information-brokering location, the group pays a visit and meets Bomato, and aged Ur-Ukar. They cut a deal where Bomato gets passage to his ancestral home of Ukar in return for knowledge of the location where the Decados are hiding the missing cargo.
On the way to the warehouse where the cargo is hidden, a street urchin with an odd accent begs the group for help finding her father. She claims that the Decados have him, and offers a stunning diamond necklace as payment. Almost immediately a gang of scruffy Scravers tries to grab the urchin and run, but Brother Jedediah's combat training puts a quick stop to their plans. Returning to the starport with their new friend Leandro, Hank agrees to wait on the ship with her while the others scout the warehouse.