Terelle, on the run from indentured servitude in a snuggery, finds refuge with a strange old man who paints pictures on water.
She is horrified to discover that his floating artworks can fix the future for those portrayed in them.
The Cloudmaster and his stormlords keep the land alive with their power over water and rain, but the current Cloudmaster is dying and there is no one to take his place.
Meanwhile, the nomadic desert tribes are being brought together under a charismatic leader.
Resenting the control of the stormlords, they plan a return to a time of random rain...