Long ago the gods forged Twelve Swords of Power and threw them on the gameboard of life to watch men scramble. But they had forged too well: the Swords could kill the gods themselves.
Now, the gods gone, the Swords are scattered across the land, some held by those of good heart, others by those whose purposes are evil.
The Sword Stonecutter—which can hew mountains and diamonds with equal ease—is missing. The Sword has been stolen from Prince al-Farabi's desert caravan, from the tent of young Kasimir, a physician en route to the city of Eylau in search of employment. Fortunately, at the next oasis Kasimir encounters the legendary Magistrate Wen Chang, whose black, glittering eyes (it is said) can see into the secret hearts of men and women.
It is even greater good fortune that Wen Chang undertakes the finding of Stonecutter, for his strength is more powerful than magic: it is intelligence.
As al-Farabi follows the thief's trail into the desert, Wen Chang and Kasimir make their way toward Eylau. Finding evidence of Stonecutter's passage—an unmistakably smooth and easy roadway cut through a ridge—Wen Chang quickly learns of a mysteriously missing man—and three murders.
In the walled city of Eylau, where the Red Temple, devoted to sensual pleasures, has engaged the great sculptor Robert de Borron to create new statuary, Kasimir encounters embarrassment and Natalia, a young woman who is more beautiful unclothed than clothed.
Meanwhile, Wen Chang has learned of a certain fabulous diamond, and of Mistress Headmark, the lapidarist whose duty it will be to cleave it, perfectly.
Either a lapidarist or a sculptor would have great use for Stonecutter...
But so would the smoothest assassin Eylau has ever seen.
Wen Chang and Kasimir have only a slim chance to find Stonecutter—if they can stay alive.