There's trouble in the Western Paradise. Abbot Cormac's envoy to the Dowager Sheryna has been snubbed. Instead he has been invited to attennd the forthcoming Betrothal Feast for the Sherinina Zahd, one of the Dowager's favourite maidens at the Stainless Spire. Dian and the other Danaan are furious about the treatment of Murnach the Inker and other tattooists abused by the Elyon nobility. They are planning a riot.
Swampy makes his first visit to Merkabar on a Myrhak barge, passing through the water gate and dropping off good at legitmate wharves and contraband at the 'silent wharves'. He meets his friends at the Paradise of the Seven Yews, their regular rendez-vous.
Swampy wants to visit a Myrhak merchant named Molimo 'Tallgrass' who holds the contract for his people's Dignity, a sort of tax they ,must pay to the Myrhak homelands. Dian hopes Molimo will help fund his planned insurrection, while Horatio knows that Molimo holds the accounts for tarifs on Lotus-dealers in the Nether Courts and this will help him get to the bottom of his friend Medea's harassment by the Stainless Spire. Getting in to see Molimo through the Heavenly Courts is difficult so they use the back door through the Nether Courts.
The group disembarks from the canal and negotiates a way past a group of Unseelie Hags who occupy the tower basement. The next floor is a giant laundry in which the filth from clothing is extracted by gremlins and used to make Scurrilous Ink. The lift takes them up past clerk halls to the luxury apartments where they talk their way past a Plated-Gul and into Molimo's apartment.
Molimo is a River Elf and two Gnomes are dressing him for the forthcoming party at the Stainless Spire. Waiting on the balcony, the party meet Molimo's sardonic daughter Quanah. Swampy pays a portion of his people's Dignity to Molimo then Dian tries to make the case for his people's grievance with the Dowager Sherya. Molimo is unwilling to help but mentions the possibility that Urisk the Satyr has an interest in opposing House Isha and the Stainless Spire, prehaps because of his general hatred of virginity. Horatio uses a flashbomb as cover to steal some ledgers and a valuable paperweight. He is detected by Quanah, who amuses herself by introducing him to Molimo as a horticulturalist who can replace the demolished Sweetsedge plants.
Dian and Horatio head over to the South Paradise to visit the Fane of the Radiant Falls. This is a River Elf temple where plumed dracotrices fight so that auguries can be read into the outcome; the practice has spawned a lucrative gambling institution. Nemelil, one of the priestesses, is a renowned beauty and Urisk the Satyr is known to lust after her, but to no avail. Dian and Horatio suggest to Urisk that they can obtain a Philtre of Love for him. In return, Urisk promises to assist the insurrection, but warns that the infants replaced by changelings during the turmoil will only be returned if they make good their promise to deliver the Philtre.
Finally, Dian and Horatio collect their captive, Malfrecas Null, and take him to the Paradise of the Forsaken Children, to meet with Lamesh and his Stygian cultists. Lamesh takes possession of the mad hermit and offers scarabs as "gifts from Lord Sutekh." Horatio's scarab confers invidibility and Dian's a form of animal control. However, neither scarab can be removed, since they dig into the flesh. Lord Sutekh's gifts are not to be trusted.