Justine, Eliza and the Sieur d’Eon attempt to confront the Earl of Bute in the Service’s meeting hall, but he casts a ritual to summon protection and flees. Another of the King’s homunculi arrives in response to the ritual, and engages in battle with Justine. This is the Snake; the Munificent Army of Peking is led by 12 commanders, each of which corresponds to an animal from the Chinese zodiac. The Dragon has been crippled, the Pig mysteriously disappeared, and the Dog was destroyed by Justine in their earlier duel. She now does the same to the Snake, but before it is destroyed, it informs her that the rank-and-file soldiers will remain under the direct control of their commander-in-chief even if all twelve of the commanding homunculi are destroyed.
Eliza and d’Eon search Bute’s quarters in the Service’s meeting hall, and find evidence that an entire army of automata is being kept somewhere nearby. They take the information to Mary Culver, while Justine sets off on her own, claiming that she needs to familiarise herself with the city’s architecture. On her way to St James’ Square, Justine meets a prostitute who knows what she did at Medenham and who claims that prostitutes and priestesses used to have interchangeable functions. Justine has friends in low places, whether she wants them or not. However, she and the Sieur d’Eon remain at odds; d’Eon does not trust self-appointed Messiahs, and Justine, perhaps because she is herself carrying the shadow of the Grandfather, is repulsed by the idea of a man masquerading as a woman, or vice versa.
Sabbath contacts Lord Sandwich and orders him to deliver a warning to Mary Culver: Sabbath will not interfere in her plans as long as she keeps out of his way. Sandwich delivers the warning, and also informs her that the King has gained permission from Parliament to bring in troops from outside the country to help in the wars. Tomorrow morning, the army of automata will march through the streets of London, and all future British history will change from that moment on. Mary’s allies must destroy the army before that happens.
Mary decides to move against Bute while the Great Houses are occupied tracking down Justine, but Eliza sets off in search of Justine instead. Meanwhile, Justine passes through St James’ Square, looking for the part of the city where her quarters were located in the Eleven-Day Empire, only to find Sabbath waiting for her. The presence within Sabbath alters the architecture of the square, transforming it into a courtroom within the jurisdiction of the Great Houses, and though Eliza and d’Eon find Justine there, they are forced to retreat before the courtroom is cut off from the Earth entirely. Before they go, Sabbath informs them that the automata are being kept beneath the Queen’s house, Buckingham Palace.
In fact, Bute is not the one who controls the automata, though the Snake responded to his ritual as it had been programmed to do. Bute tries to find Sabbath and ask him for help, but stumbles into the Great Houses’ courtroom through a door in Sabbath’s quarters. Sabbath advises him to go, and Bute leaves convinced that he’s seen Purgatory. He tries to reason with the King and ask him to call off the march of the automata, only to find that the King is literally in his own little world now -- for Queen Charlotte is in fact Lolita. Lolita has overwritten the original Charlotte’s history with her own, and placed the King within a personalised time envelope so he can’t perceive that history is being rewritten around him. She has also provided the King with the automaton army in order to secure her hold over this era. For Lolita, this is just the start; she intends to seed herself across the Spiral Politic like a nervous system, literally becoming a new history all by herself.
Eliza, Sandwich, and the Sieur d’Eon enter the tunnels beneath Buckingham Palace, where they find an army of over 500 dormant automata. As they search for the officers, however, Lolita approaches the tunnels, and her presence causes the army to awake. The allies are forced to start fighting the homunculi on their own, which is difficult enough even before Lolita arrives and sees what’s happening. Irritated, she uses her own dematerialisation circuit to move the automata about the chamber, co-ordinating the attack upon Eliza, Sandwich and d’Eon.
In the Great Houses’ courtroom, Justine challenges their right to put her on trial for the Grandfather’s crimes when Lolita is changing history on a massive scale for her own ends. Sabbath claims that the protocols of history can be suspended in a time of War, but concedes that they should hear Lolita’s testimony to find out what the difference is. He thus summons her to the courtroom, and Lolita vanishes from Buckingham Palace just as she’s about to relocate a group of automata. This creates a gap through which Eliza, Sandwich and d’Eon can reach a position of relative safety -- and since Lolita was moving the automata around herself, they were never actually ordered to attack, and fall dormant in her absence. Eliza, Sandwich and d’Eon set about doing as much damage as they can before Lolita returns.
In the courtroom, Lolita is infuriated by this interruption to her work, but realises that she can’t be seen to object to the legal process before representatives of the Great Houses. She thus admits that she is changing Earth’s history, and that she’s been planting her children at strategic points throughout the Spiral Politic; however, she also points out that the Homeworld has broken its own protocols in this time of War, and thus claims that her actions are justified. None of the Great Houses’ representatives dare object, but now Justine knows all she needs to about Lolita’s intentions. It’s unlikely that she’ll get a chance to do anything about it, however, as Sabbath now dismisses Lolita and passes judgement.
Eliza and her allies successfully destroy the automaton army and flee before Lolita returns. The Earl of Bute, meanwhile, has been given food for thought: Lolita mentioned that her bloodline was spreading through time and space, and Bute is starting to wonder what that implies about the Queen’s son, Prince George. Though King George himself does not seem to notice anything odd about his wife, something about the way Bute inquires after his son does get through to him; perhaps some part of him is beginning to register that history is changing around him. Lolita then returns to find that her army has been destroyed, and is irritated; now it will be harder for her to take control of this era.
Sabbath returns and congratulates Mary Culver -- or rather, Compassion -- on her victory. She’s formed somewhat of an odd resistance army to fight Lolita: Eliza, the last remaining Cousin of Faction Paradox, who now finds herself fighting to preserve history; Lord Sandwich, who joined the Hellfire Club for a lark and now finds himself at war with his country’s queen; and the Sieur d’Eon, an agent of a foreign power who fights only for to protect the interests of her own country. Sabbath may prove to be an ally as well now that his commitment to the Great Houses has been fulfilled; though he had to carry out his orders and bring Justine to judgement, he always had his own people’s interests at heart, and he thus arranged for Lolita to be transported away at the critical moment. He informs the others that Justine has been sentenced to perpetual temporal imprisonment on the Homeworld’s prison planet. Eliza demands that the others help rescue Justine before they act against Lolita. Thus begins the Year of the Cat, a year of uncertainty and change represented by an animal which does not actually appear in the Chinese zodiac.