Above the southern continent of Cinnabria, in a tattered patchwork airship, the Tiger Generals contemplate their options. Their first goal is clearly to find a drydock to repair and strengthen their ship, if it’s to make it across the ocean to Chalcedon. Captain Doel’s navigational abilities and knowledge of geography are strong enough that he recognizes the land below them as northeast Cinnabria. Doctor Lupine confirms, having visited the Blazing Phoenix Empire on a scholarly errand himself.
They sail down toward the largest nearby town, one that has a single skytower. The skytower lookout is surprised by the makeshift nature of the vessel, but reacts respectfully when Valakar displays the white star. He says they’re welcome in Rosewater, and that Milady Barako will want to meet with them once they have refreshed themselves.
Rosewater is an attractive town, fully displaying the Cinnabrian extra attention to aesthetics. The Tiger Generals and the castaways are shown to a nice inn and also to a bathhouse, where the attendants are well-versed in the grooming techniques of races as diverse as hawkmen and Spinners. Only Rahatesh chooses not to wash, though even he tidies up a bit. With the attentions of a tailor (whom Valakar tips very well), the group is looking very civilized by the time they go to the town square to meet with Milady Barako.
“Milady” turns out to be the formal office of the town leader. Barako is very courteous as she meets the guests, who in turn comport themselves with almost un-Chalcedonlike diplomacy. As the meeting continues, the Tiger Generals spot a peculiarly-shaped cloud detaching itself from the skies and descending into the town.
The cloud soon touches earth. Standing on it are two attractive humans in fine but combat-worthy raiment, both with red prominently in their outfits. They step off the cloud, which reforms as the woman’s parasol. They politely announce themselves as Cardinals, of the 108 Stars of Compassion. The olive-skinned woman with the parasol and elegant manner introduces herself as Florentina DiMorne. The silver-haired man with the instrument likewise gives his name as Jae-Soon the Silver Idol, or “Silverjay.” “You’ve probably heard of me,” he says with easy confidence. Somewhat surprisingly, Valakar actually has. “Of course! I was present at a performance of yours last year. It was excellent!”
The Cardinals and Tiger Generals exchange many pleasantries during the impromptu festival, and Jae-Soon gladly takes the opportunity to play when prompted. Lupine gets properly hammered, his human form not quite as fortitudinous as his wolf form. But the idyll doesn’t last. Partway through the feast, Valakar looks up at the ship that brought them there in time to see it vanish in an abrupt coil of smoke. He spreads his wings and immediately flies off to investigate.
Moments after Doel’s departure, a voice calls out “Jae-Soon the Silver Idol!” Lupine and Gemma hear a soft pop, there’s a curl of smoke, and the Silverjay is gone. The doctor’s human senses do him little good, blurred as they are, but Gemma spots a Pelagian who hadn’t been at the feast previously, admiring a stoppered bottle in his hand. She bursts into motion, and has the bottle away from him before he knows what happened.
At the skytower, Valakar spots a hooded woman wearing bandolier-sashes of phials under her cloak. A small band of masked ruffians seems to be acting as her escort, and she is regarding a large bottle with a tiny ship inside it. Valakar immediately recognizes the ship as their missing conveyance. He dives down and attempts to wrest it away from her, but her reflexes are good, and she orders her men to defend her.
Back at the feast, Lupine is still attempting to shake off the alcohol’s effects as he hears another voice call out “Florentina DiMorne!” Another pop, another wisp of smoke, and the parasol-wielding Cardinal is also gone. The rakish-looking man holding the bottle also carries an elaborate trident. Lupine challenges him, slowly transforming as he demand answers. The man with the trident introduces himself as Darius Euphrates, companion to the Pelagian Jido Banksmasher. “We’re the Forty Thieves,” he adds by way of explanation. “What do thieves do?”
Lupine finishes his transformation with a growl. “Lick their wounds.”
Gemma gets enough distance from the brawl to experiment with the bottle. She tries calling Silverjay’s name and uncorking it — which seems to do the trick. Jae-Soon reappears, a little bewildered but unhurt. At the same time, Darius Euphrates unleashes a bolt of water that knocks Rahatesh flying. He recovers his feet, and moves to join Doel in opposing the third present member of the Forty Thieves — Tafira the Bottler, and her faceless homunculi. As Rahatesh plows into the homunculi, Tafira conjures up chains from one of her bottles to entangle Valakar. The hawkman comes to earth, where Gemma moves to help untangle the chains for her own uses.
Now in wolf form, Lupine takes after Euphrates. The river pirate is a good shot with his cascade trident, and is able to keep the wolf at a distance, although he doesn’t do much damage. Jido Banksmasher compels the water in a fountain to wrap around him, and strides into battle in an aqueous hulk form.
Valakar grabs the truncheon from one of the homonculi’s hands and begins laying about him. Jae-Soon enters the fight, manifesting powerful sonic strikes from his instrument. Gemma dodges around too rapidly for Tafira to strike with her attacks, leaving them all at a rough standoff as the homunculi continue to fall.
Valakar breaks away from the lesser thugs and draws down on Jido. He fires a lightning bolt into the water hulk, with impressive results. The conductivity works in his favor, and the water splashes outward as Jido Banksmasher falls unconscious.
That’s the turning point for the Forty Thieves. Tafira hurls the bottle containing the ship away, and Darius the bottle containing Florentina. As the heroes scramble to catch them, Darius grabs hold of Tafira. Unfortunately for him, Lupine slips up behind him and places him in a full nelson just before Tafira can uncork her bottle. As a result, the Bottler vanishes without him.
“Well,” rumbles Lupine as Gemma frees Florentina, “now they’re the Thirty-Eight Thieves.”
“At this moment?” Silverjay calculates. “Possibly more like the Thirty-One, but still a good victory!”
The prison ship arrives before long, and with Darius Euphrates and Jido Banksmasher safely aboard it, the celebration is free to resume.