Things are coming to a head between Abbot Cormac of the Danaan and the Dowager Sherya of House Ishar. The Sherya rules over the Hekkaloth (Palace) of the Virgins and is the main matchmaker and power-broker among the Elyon nobility. She is known as Queen Spider, because she sits at the heart of many webs. She wants to purchase a part of the Western Paradise to create a private pleasure garden for her maidens, but the Abbott has rebuffed all her offers, because the glade is sacred to the Danaan people.
Dian the Cleric has asked to join the Abbot's envoy which is going to visit the Hekkaloth of the Virgins to negotiate with the Spider Sherya. He asks his friend Horatio the Street Mage to help him do some research into the Sherya's dealings.
Dian follows a rumour that girls from the Hekkaloth are seeking out Danaan tattooists in pursuit of a new and illicit fashion. The Elyon regard their bodies as divine and disapprove of tattoos, piercings and even cosmetics and hair styling, but of course beauty and fashion have a higher imperative. Dian visits an upmarket tattooist called Murnach Mac Erp and learns that Elyon ladies are indeed booking clandestine tattooing sessions, all in the upmost secrecy. Murnach is uncomfortable about sharing this - and rightly: a squad of Eunuch Knights led by Captain Farb arrive to close the shop down, smash the inks and break Murnach's fingers.
Horatio takes on the role of a Danaan trader named 'Arturos the Honest' and visits the Arcane Sook down in the Nether Courts. This market operates under sheets because of the water falling from the aquaducts and fountains overhead. 'Arturos' knows a dealer named Medea who trades in Black Lotus petals. She admits that the Sherya's Vizier has been buying Lotus for medicinal purposes, but recent orders have been for the Virughan Violet Lotus. Is that medicinal too? "The Virughan Violet is smoked by those seeking pleasure, wisdom or death and they learn that they are all the same!"
The stall is closed down by a squad of Plated-Ghouls in gold trim. These animated suits of armour are the product of a long-vanished fey sorcerer's designs and now they seek purpose in existence by hiring themselves out to wealthy employers. The 'Tin Men' confiscate Medea's stock of Lotus and Ledger and take her along with them, accusing her of smuggling and non-payment of tariffs. 'Arturos' follows at a distance in the company of another customer, a Gnome named Mackenzie.
The Tin Men take Medea to a canal and load the Lotus and Ledger on board. 'Arturos' uses a smoke grenade to distract the Plated-Ghoul on the gangplank and shoulder-barges it into the water, freeing Medea. Mackenzie uses an illusion to change places with Medea and flees, with the Tin Men in pursuit. 'Arturos' uses his extendable hand to grab the Ledger and a bale of Lotus and then escapes with Medea. An embittered Medea intends to take her Ledger to a crime lord, a Shadow Elf named Caelic Killwhisper, to blackmail the Spider Sherya: someone in the Hekkaloth of Virgins has an addiction to Virughan Violet Lotus that is going to be exposed.
Dian throws some of Murnach's ink into the fireplace, causing a small explosion, and sets fire to the drapes. In the smoke and confusion, he escapes with Murnach. Outside, he rounds up drinkers from the tavern over the road to douse the fire, forcing Captain Farb's Eunuchs to escape out of the back.
Murnach takes Dian with him back to his private house, where his wife bandages his fingers. Neighbours and business associates attend a serious whisky-drinking party to commiserate: other tattooists with similar stories, Danaan Clerics from the Western Paradise, businessmen and a Bard named Fionna Mac Fionn who rouses everyone with ancestral songs of pride and defiance. The Elyon nobles need to be shown that the Danaan cannot be pushed around! A riot is in the making!