Four centuries after its founding, Solidar's Collegium of Imagers is in decline, the exploits of its founder, the legendary Quaeryt, largely forgotten. The Collegium is so lacking in leadership that the dying Maitre must summon Alastar, an obscure but talented senior imager who has little knowledge of politics in the capital, as his successor.
When Alastar arrives in L'Excelsis and becomes the new Maitre, he finds disarray and lack of discipline within the Collegium, and the ruler of Solidar is so hated by the High Holders that they openly refer to him as being mad. To make matters worse, neither Rex Ryen nor the High Holders have any respect for the Collegium. Soon Alastar finds himself in the middle of a power struggle, with Ryen demanding that the Collegium remove the strongest High Holders and the military leadership in turn plotting to topple Ryen and destroy the Collegium. At the same time, Ryen is demanding that the High Holders pay a massive increase in taxes while he initiates a grandiose building project. And all that, Alastar discovers, is only a fraction of the problems he and the Collegium face.