Patera Silk enters the manteion to find the senior boy, Horn, waiting for him. He has been imitating Silk to the night chough, Oreb, but Silk is not offended. He tries to explain his enlightenment to Horn, but ends up giving him a lesson about imitation, about what to imitate and why.
Silk is suspicious of Doctor Crane, who he suspects of eavesdropping on the young augur’s shriving of Chenille that afternoon. When he goes to sleep, he dreams of Kypris trying to draw him into a monitor glass. He wakens, thinking he’s heard noises from the room of old Patera Pike above, and seen Oreb fly, though the bird’s wing is still damaged. Suspecting Auk of breaking in to steal Hyacinth’s valuable azoth, he explores and finds a seeming of Pike, which dissolves.
The following morning, it is Orpine’s funeral, a substantial and lavish affair with sacrifices for all the Gods. The large attendance includes Auk, and also Chenille, deeply affected by rust, a drug to which she is addicted.
At each sacrifice, Silk appeals, in formulated words, for the God or Goddess addressed to favour them with an appearance at their Sacred Window. From the entrails of each sacrifice, he divines futures. Several indicate a time of many deaths arriving. Auk is told that, after having acted alone thus far, he will soon lead a body of men. Silk learns that there is a weapon aimed at him. The audience is told that when danger threatens they are to seek safety between narrow walls, which is interpreted as meaning the old tunnels below Viron.
But when Silk sacrifices a white dove to Kypris, the Holy Hues appear for the first time in twenty years, and Kypris visits the Sacred Window. All who see her take something different from the experience. She offers three messages, one private to Orchid. There will be a great crime committed that night in Viron, which will succeed because she will support the criminals, and she will return, before long. Orchid’s message is that someone who loves something outside herself cannot be wholly bad, but that now Orpine is dead, she must find something else.
The service ends: Silk and Maytera Marble remain to supervise the closing of the coffin. So too does Chenille, whose behaviour is strange and detached until she accuses Orpine of being a spy.
Kypris’s visitation arouses talk all over the quarter, increasing the calls of Silk for Caldé. This new attention could be dangerous, since the Ayuntamiento does not like people to get too popular. Silk, having no such ambitions, assumes his lack of interest will be sufficient.
Silk is cooking when Musk and Chenille both invade the manteion. The former is cold and contemptuous, and threatens Silk with a knife. He tells the augur that Blood’s arrangement is off, that he demands the full sum in a week. Silk disarms and punishes him with the stick lent him by Blood: though Musk has a needler, he doesn’t use it.
Chenille wants to talk to Silk. She stayed behind when the funeral procession left for the graveyard, and fell asleep in the garden. The accused spy was not Orpine but herself: she has been gathering information from patrons of Orchid’s establishment for Doctor Crane, who is not of Viron. But Kypris’s appearance caused a flash of understanding. She proposes blackmailing Crane for the 26,000 cards Silk needs.
Their discussion is interrupted by Patera Remora, Coadjutor to Praeter Quetzal, Prolocutor of the Chapter. He is there to promise Silk the Chapter’s assistance and ensures him that the Sun Street manteion will be saved. Silk suspects that the Chapter’s interest is based in trying to take credit for the events at the funeral.
Once Remora leaves, Chenille reveals that, since the ceremony, she has been possessed by Kypris, and that Silk is not to speak of this. She offers herself to him, but he refuses her. Silk must spy on Crane, however reluctant he may be, and they will try to get a hold over the Doctor. She sleeps at the cenoby, with the three Mayteras.
Back at Blood’s villa, Musk, in a vile temper, meets Hare, a kite-builder. Hare is building a kite to resembles the flyers seen in the air above Viron. He wants to train one of his hawks to attack and bring down a flyer, to capture his propulsion unit. The following day, the hawk, Aquila, succeeds in striking down a flyer who was too busy concentrating on the approaching stormfront, two hundred miles away.
That following morning, Chenille/Kypris explains more of the process of possession by Gods, who are in reality programs scanned into the computers at Mainframe. Silk sees the process as quas-hypnotic. For reasons Chenille doesn’t know, Kypris wanted to possess Maytera Mint but only a part of her passed into the shy sybil. The presence of the Gods changes thehost: Mint is not afraid, Chenille/Kypris is free of her addiction to rust.
The plan to blackmail Doctor Crane is now to be enlarged to include money for Chenille to buy a shop, and not return to Orchid. Auk arrives to donate a valuable stolen bracelet: he and Chenille ‘know’ each other already and have pet names. Chenille tells Silk more of Hyancinth, for whom Silk has fallen, heavily.
From what is known of Crane’s movements, Silk suspects the Ayuntamiento having a meeting place at or near Lake Limna. The Lake used to extend to Viron but is shrinking in the ongoing heat. Silk and Chenille/Kypris go to Limna, the town, with Auk to follow. Their departure coincides with the arrival of Silk’s Chapter-sent new assistant, Patera Gulo. As they near, Chenille sees a splash in the Lake, which she attributes to a monster fish. It is actually the flyer downed by Musk’s hawk.
At Blood’s villa, learning from Hare that both have left, Crane searches the cellars, seeking access to the tunnels. He does not find it until Councillor Lemur opens it deliberately. Crane’s needles fire straight through Lemur, who orders him to follow.
In Limna, Silk and Chenille separate to search. At the local Juzgado, Silk learns there is a lakeshore shrine to Sphigx, accessible only on foot by a lengthy Pilgrim’s Way. A friendly couple who advise him not to go in the heat of the day also reveal that Crane goes that way. Accompanied only by Oreb, Silk sets off. The bird sees a man in the shrine when it first appears but, despite the absence of anywhere to go or another way to return, Silk can find nothing of hom when he arrives.
In Viron, Gulo reports back to Remora, including a seeminly compromising perfumed letter from Hyacinth to Silk. Remora educates him on the Ayuntamiento’s takeover of Viron after the last Caldé died. He reveals that, before his death, the Caldé purchased one of a variety of frozen embyros stored on the Whorl, unusual strains with unusual characteristics, some of them human. Gulo suggests this to have been Chenille.
Silk is contemplating the Lake when the shrine floor opens and he is thrown down into the tunnels. He is attacked by a talus, the same one he escaped at Blood’s villa. Returned in disgrace, it is violently resentful and tries to kill him, before he destroys it with the azoth. Unable tp regain the shrine, Silk follows the tunnel for hours, growing disoriented and tired. He briefly sees Mucor, and finds himself dodging an unseen mechanical creature. After the tunnel starts to rise, he is captured by two chem soldiers, Sergeant Sand and Corporal Hammerstone, who force him to name Crane as a spy. Silk’s guilt is alleviated when he finds Crane has already been captured by Councillor Lemur.
Above ground, Auk arrives in Limna to find Chenille. She is drunk and disoriented and in need of rust: her possession by Kypris has ceased as has her memory of this period. He forces her, sometimes brutally, to accompany him to the shrine, but when she refuses to walk back, he abandons her. Briefly she calls him back, to request a new start at Orchid’s: they have never met before. When he leaves, she realises he is her mate. Playing with a brass plate, Chenille finds a screen displaying the Holy Hues.
Underground, Silk is left with Corporal Hammerstone, who shows him ranks of unused chem soldiers, programmed to defend Viron under the Caldé’s orders. All cities have them, but Viron’s is the largest contingent. Pas has arranged things to prevent any one Caldé gaining enough power to attack Mainframe.
Hammerstone also shows Silk doors locked with the seal of Pas, the highest stricture of confidentiality in Silk’s beliefs. It guards a room of bios in suspended animation, a new ‘crop’ of humans to re-seed the Whorl at necessity. He forces the door open a crack to enable Silk to see inside: someone is moving. The soldier forces his way in, shattering the Seal. AA naked woman is strangling inside her crystal chamber: Silk cracks it open so she can breathe.
Her name is Mamelta and, recognising her surroundings, she seeks the lifter, but these are memories of her uploading to the Whorl, back at the Short Sun. Silks wants her to escape Hammerstone with him, and retrieve the azoth from the tunnels. He leads her into the belly of the Whorl where they find a ship, embedded in the shiprock wall, with a control room and evidence of stolen embryos. Mamelta begins to repair it. To do so, she needs more of the cards Viron uses as currency: these are really circuit boards.
In Viron, Remora instructs Patera Incus, a black mechanic, to travel to Limna and find Chenille.
Auk, working back towards Limna, hears Chenille call from behind, before she overtakes him, running furiously. When he catches up with her nearer the town, she has stripped naked preparatory to diving into the Lake. She is possessed again, this time openly and contemptuously by Scylla, eldest daughter of Pas, patron of Viron. Scylla identifies ‘Daddy’ as Typhon the First, Autarch of Urth. Pas is dead, wiped out of Mainframe by the family thirty years before. She leaps aboard the boat carrying Patera Incus and takes control of it.
At Sun Street, Maytera Marble is cooking breakfast but her perceptions are wavering. Upstairs, she discovers Maytera Rose is dead and, automatically, begins to transfer working components to her own part-mechanical body. The glass monitor in the bedroom shows Scylla approaching in her boat.
Silk has been recaptured and placed with Crane after being tortured and beaten for some time by the giggling Councillor Potto. Crane thinks Silk is also a spy and wants to know who he is working for. Silk is more concerned with Mucor. Crane confirms that legally she is Blood’s adopted daughter, and one of the frozen embryos, stolen and bought. They are under the Lake in a submarine. Silk relates the story of his enlightenment, which pleases Crane as something that divides and weakens Viron. However, he thinks it an hallucination, caused by a bursting blood vessel in the brain.
Silk is praying when Councillor Lemur enters, offering the return of both prisoners’ possessions, needlers included. He mocks the Gods as obsolete, to be replaced by himself. His body is artificial, superior to human. Silk will be the next Prolocutor, and he takes Crane to be a man from Palustria.
They are taken to another prisoner, the downed flier, Iolar. Crane will treat him, Silk administer last rites if he is dying. Silk will be Caldé, but under Lemur and the Ayuntamiento. Lemur wants flying troops, but Iolar has ditched his propulsion unit. Crane confirms that, with proper medical attention, the injured flier could walk again, but when he still refuses to talk, Lemur ejects him into the Lake, at seventy cubits, to die horribly.
Lemur leads Silk and Crane to where the Councillors’ bio-bodies are maintained, artificially alive. Heis smug at his power until Crane informs him his bio-body is dead. Lemur panics, dropping the azoth, which Crane snatches and uses to destroy the chem-body. Crane and Silk escape with Mamelta. They escape to Limna, but Mamelta is lost.
At Sun Street, troopers arrive to arrest Silk, mistaking Patera Gulo for him. A stone is thrown from the crowd and the troops open fire. They are forced to retreat into the manteion when the Sacred Window opens and the Goddess orders them to support Silk.
At Limna, Crane admits to encouraging support for Silk as Caldé, hoping this would avert a war. Silk has worked out far more of Crane’s plans than the Doctor anticipated, but not that he is actually spying for the female-dominated Trivigaunte. Eventually, they are apprehended by the Guard, but their Captain is there to take his Caldé into protective custody, to escort Silk and Crane back to Viron to be protected against the Ayuntamiento.
As they leave Limna, the rains come at long last, violently. The troop is ambushed and Crane is killed. Their assailants are Guards, here to rescue Caldé Silk…