Rasennan Summer

72 - Estate Business
The road to Lucovol Villa stretches past the Sespech Estate.

I’m going to the Estate. If you want me to get the medusa out of your pocket you’re welcome to come along.” — Vesper Sespech

Vittorio drops by the Vargari compound for breakfast. There Vesper and Carenza are discussing the days ahead with Rodivar, Inyavka and their three children. The conversation wanders through the various threads leading to Brassado — the Vycalacas, Vico and the Fisher Knights, the likely plots of House Miriadis. More immediately, Vesper is determined to travel to Lucovol Villa and undo the blood curse there. This topic causes some frustration among the Vargari. Although it’s clear nobody of Vargari blood should visit the villa before it’s cleansed, it’s also clear that none of them are happy with the situation.

During the meal, Inyavka says little, focusing on Carenza with a raptor’s eye. Perhaps uncharacteristically, the mercenary doesn’t challenge the Vargari matriarch. Carenza actually seems somewhat modest and nervous under Inyavka’s gaze. But whatever tension may exist at the table, Vittorio notices (or cares) much more than Tarvana does.

Again the Vargari make the offer of one of their pledges. Again the three choose Brosetta; Vittorio and Carenza are particularly taken with the half-orc bon vivant. They find her shortly after breakfast, and invite her along. Rosette accepts, of course, having another opportunity to distinguish herself.

Vesper spends the first part of the ride to the Sespech estate instructing Brosetta on the history of Lucovol Villa. She then goes on to explain that she wants to do the talking when they interview Savaquin. “Savaquin is smarter than anyone. Anyone. Even me.” She stresses that the prodigy is likely to be irritated by conversation he deems below him, and he doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Carenza and Vittorio promise to behave.

They arrive at the Estate at midday. As they ride up and begin giving their mounts to the grooms, Brosetta picks that moment to ask Carenza, “Hey, so you’re banging Tarvana, right?”

Carenza turns on her, glaring furiously. “Shut up,” she growls under her breath.

“What? Why would you be embarrassed? Look at her.”

It takes a few minutes for Carenza to push Rosette into silence. The half-orc is seemingly impervious to intimidation, but eventually the Rovino’s sergeant glower triggers enough martial discipline that the brawler abandons the topic.

Vesper, paying as little attention to the two as possible, busies herself with her arrangements. She has a light lunch brought to the group, catches up with some of the latest Estate gossip, makes an appointment to talk to Savaquin, and spends some of the time before that appointment investigating the necromancy labs. By her estimation (and also that of Vittorio), the laboratory has what she’d require to be able to transfer the medusa into another vessel. The two agree that a silver hand mirror would be ideal for the purpose.

Savaquin meets Vesper and her associates in the Sespech armory. The armory is filled with unusual weapons, many of them unexceptional save for their age, which piques Vittorio’s curiosity. Each one, he decides, must have a story.

Vesper asks Savaquin about his interest in Cormarro Dusaam’s ring. The duelist responds that he owed Cormarro, and he pays his debts — a very necessary principle in his line of business. He had hoped to contact Cormarro’s spirit after the elementalist’s death, but had no luck when he tried in the Tower of the Heron. The signet ring would have served as an ideal focus to determine whether or not the Dusaam’s spirit is at rest. He asks Carenza to return the ring to him when she finds it. Carenza agrees, though she privately marks down dislike for the aloof necromancer.

Dinner at the Estate is almost mundane next to the recent meals at Salvina Villa. Brosetta chats openly with apprentices and cadet Sespechs, rambling through somewhat exaggerated tales of her and her friends’ exploits. Carenza and Vittorio keep their own company, and Carenza contents herself with fantasies of stabbing the insufficiently obsequious Savaquin. Vesper, on the other hand, attracts the attention of other ranking necromancers. Dellascura in particular speaks lightly of politics with Vesper. The politically ambitious mage eventually asks Vesper what she thinks of Savaquin, and how she’d feel about him being named Sadavari’s successor as House Grandfather. Vesper politely but clearly deflects the question: “I’m sure the House Grandfather will make the right choice.”

After dinner, Vesper retires to the laboratory to begin the rituals of spirit transference. Carenza chooses to go for a walk in the garden — an ideal choice, according to Vesper, given the ample constellas hung about. Vittorio spends the time visiting the Estate’s music room. He’s intrigued to discover that it’s stocked with a wide variety of musical instruments, many of which seem to be older models or precursors of modern forms. He studies the various instruments and browses the collections of old and mostly forgotten compositions. Before leaving, he slips a few sheets of music of his own design into the Sespech musical library — works celebrating and perhaps exaggerating the achievements of the Bladed Banshee.

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71 - Possessive Matters
The blades fulfill their part of the bargain with Halthron Stonefoot, and return to Ladona.

“He was kind of an idiot anyway.”
“We don’t judge.” — Carenza Vega & Dr. Halivari

Vittorio awakens the following morning to notice a young woman in the room. The halfling Iris is watching him carefully. She announces calmly that there will be a communal breakfast. Vittorio inquires just what he’s done to earn her attention and possible disapproval. Iris replies that he is clearly not what he claims to be. She remains evasive through the remainder of the conversation.

Breakfast is less tense than was the previous night’s dinner. It seems to help that Orimas is not present, and therefore unable to provide a reprise of his unwilling honesty. Following breakfast, the visitors gird themselves for battle and follow Halthron Stonefoot to the villa’s wine cellar. In one corner of the cellar a man is chained to the wall, largely insensible, with a magical circle drawn on the floor around him. When the group signals that they’re ready, Stonefoot begins the ritual.

The chained prisoner begins to vomit as the cleansing ritual reaches its apex. He regurgitates a thick, tarry mass that keeps coming, gradually forming itself into a bestial shape. A dark-furred ape-like demon with leathery wings uncurls itself and snarls at the people watching it. Halthron Stonefoot retreats upstairs to bar the door as the blades leap into action.

The apelike demon is swift and agile. It uses Rosette as a stepping stone to vault across the cellar, smashing Vittoro to the floor. Carenza responds by calling out a charge, but her own strike doesn’t draw blood. As she continues to coordinate attacks, Rosette seizes the demon and attempts to beat it into submission. She nearly pins it, but the demon is even stronger than she is.

The blades rally. Vesper strikes deep with Styriax. Vittorio and Carenza orchestrate an attack with one part military precision and one part elegant composition. They open wounds in its abyssal flesh, spilling tarry fluid onto the wine cellar floor. It breaks free of Rosette’s grasp a second time and vaults away, aiming for Vesper — but Vittorio sends a bolt its way in mid-air, guiding the necromancer’s parry. The demon staggers away, and with the guidance of her comrades, Brosetta strikes the killing blow. The Zomochian fiend begins to dissolve into tarry sludge.

They give the signal to Halthron, who lets them out of the cellar, and dispatches staff to see to the weakened but now possession-free adventurer in chains. Halthron praises their ability. Carenza is less than sanguine about the experience; “I don’t. Like. Apes,” she stresses. Though welcomed to stay to dinner a second time, the four make their farewells and ride back to the City of the Dragon.

It’s raining heavily when the group returns to Ladona. They make for the Vargari chapterhouse, there to find food and a chance to dry off. Vittorio amuses himself by playing a song about Rosette’s triumph over the demon. Unfortunately, she takes to the song delightedly, and insists he play it over and over. The devilish musician is becoming weary of the performance by the time the Vargari priest-hunting expedition returns.

For the most part, the young Vargari resemble a bedraggled pack of wolves more than ever. Kosvach and Tarvana are soaked to the bone, and Tarvana seems somewhat resentful that Iliska had the foresight to take a weathercloak. Rosette is first to intercept them, quick to boast that her group vanquished an actual demon. She is chagrined to learn that, by Erigo’s account, that the priest had a devil bound to him as well.

Kosvach detaches from the group and arrives to greet his wife. After a few words about the success of each of their missions, he heads upstairs to change, and she follows.

No sooner is Vesper out of sight than Carenza approaches Tarvana, asking if they can talk in private. Tarvana nods, and the two secure a booth. There Carenza becomes as direct as she’s ever been about their flirtation.

“Look,” says Carenza, “I really like you, but I need to know if I’m wasting my time here.”

Tarvana looks faintly vexed. “Every time you pull away I’d say you’re wasting both of our time.”

Carenza presses on, perhaps more seriously than Tarvana is entirely comfortable with. The Vargari remains fairly evasive on the topic of an actual relationship, missing or evading Carenza’s more subtle allusions. She does, however, make it clear that she finds Carenza interesting and attractive. Finally Carenza asks “Or is this just lust?”

Tarvana shrugs. “Eh. We can just start with that and see.”

The Rovino swordswoman agrees, and the two go upstairs.

Considerably later, after arranging marital events to their mutual satisfaction, Vesper and Kosvach talk about the findings in the Salvina asylum. As Vesper is laying out the possibility of curing Valisar and bringing him home, they hear Carenza’s laugh through the walls, in the direction of Tarvana’s room. “Well,” says Kosvach. “I guess there was no point calling it an inevitable disaster if there was a chance it wouldn’t happen.”

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70 - The Curse Asylum

“Yeah! If we fight a demon, then I definitely get one up on Kalbak and Erigo. They’re just chasing a priest. Unless the priest has a devil in his pocket. Then we might be even. But if he’s got a devil in his pocket, then we gotta fight this demon.” — Brosetta

The ride to Salvina Villa takes a little over half a day. Like many Maviolan estates, the villa is nestled into the open ground of a small vale surrounded on all sides by thick forest. The grounds are somewhat thick and overgrown in places, though it’s clear the estate is far from abandoned.

The group leaves their horses with the gatehouse keeper and walk up to the main building. A good-looking young man and a beautiful young woman play chess in a nearby gazebo; despite the summer heat, the young woman wears long gloves and exposes no skin but her face. The two regard the visitors coolly, then return to their game.

A young man with a mild Vanasian accent greets the group. He introduces himself as Annisar, one of the staff of the asylum. At their request, he guides them to the library, where they meet Halthron Stonefoot and the asylum’s director Halivar. Another of the villa’s staff, a small halfling introduced as Iris, gives Vittorio a peculiar stare before she departs to see to another errand.

Vesper takes the lead in the conversation, discussing both concerns: Massavio’s petrified associates, and the overall curse on Lucovol Villa. Stonefoot and Halivar concur that the petrification can be dealt with — it is a costly affair, but a known factor. The Lucovol curse is more difficult. They talk particulars, and Halivar reluctantly mentions that there is a Vargari in the Salvina keeping for exposure to that very curse. The patient, Valisar Vargari, visited Wolfstones in Lamosca some two years ago and came to Salvina shortly thereafter. When Vesper asks to meet him, Halivar muses on the wisdom of the interview, but finally agrees. Valisar is kept in secure quarters, after all, and the moon is not as unfavorable as it could be.

Halivar invites the visitors to the communal dinner served at the villa. Most of the other Salvina residents attend, with the exception of the woman they observed playing chess — she takes a tray of food back to her room to eat in private.

The others include: Orimas, the young chess-playing man; Estiella Crisandor, a girl in her late teens who wears a veil and hood; Toralis, an aged gentleman; Adrasta, a woman in the latter stages of pregnacy; Cilissa, a somewhat haunted-looking young lady, and much to Carenza’s surprise, her cousin Bozador Rovino. Bozador, who had left town under odd circumstance, turns out to be able to say very little. Not that he can’t speak — but when he forgets himself and say something, a living frog or snake or rat or spider falls from his mouth, and he quickly abandons his commentary.

A conversation with Orimas goes quickly to ruin, as it’s revealed his curse is truthsaying. The young man is incapable of concealing his own feelings sufficiently to indulge in the thousand little omissions and white lies that permit true courtesy. He is very resentful of others who still have the luxury to say what someone wants to hear, and of course cannot keep from expressing this resentment. Carenza escalates the conversation, arguing that the curse doesn’t mean he has to be a total ass. Vesper moves to part the two, and dinner adjourns shortly thereafter.

After dinner Halivar raises the topic of what the blades might do to aid Salvina Villa in exchange for their help with the curses. He explains that one of the recent arrivals is an explorer by the name of Antino Barusse. Barusse discovered an altar to one of the demonic Thirteen Kings — specifically Zomoch, the bestial demon prince of animal rage — and was possessed by an abyssal presence in the process. Stonefoot states that he can separate the possessing demon from Barusse’s body — but he cannot banish or destroy it, while the visitors might have that strength. The prospect of facing a demon is clearly sobering, and the group goes back and forth on their odds of success. They eventually agree, and schedule the confrontation for the morning.

The next order of business is talking to Captain Tolnaro. The Maviolan soldier relates a story of hearing about ogres, likely out of Lamosca, while moving through the town of White Hollow. He and his men went to Lucovol Villa to learn the truth. There they saw the ogres fighting amongst each other, driven by some form of bloodlust. Unfortunately, he also saw the wolf-grim at that point — a massive, unearthly two-headed wolf spirit that spotted him and his men. The wolf-grim attacked Tolnaro’s squad, biting several of them. The bites brought the blood-fever, and soon they were turning on one another. The captain, clearly mortified, relates a story of traveling by night when he could and sleeping away from settlements on his way back to Ladona. The fever being past now, he dreads drawing his blade again — but he has no better skills, and so he will report for duty to the Prince once again. The group offers him their best wishes, and then proceeds to the tower room where Valisar Vargari stays.

Valisar’s tower room is more spartan than most, and Vesper politely ignores the shackles hanging from one wall. The Vargari is a shaggy, lean man who gives the impression of a violent hermit. For all that, though, he converses with them calmly and offers what information he can.

He describes the ruin of Wolfstones in sparing detail. The curse came on them when he and his band were moving through the tomb and cemetery area. Blood welled up from the ground, and several ghosts arose, some of them bestial in form. But partway through the conversation Valisar seems to become wary of sharing some information about House Vargari. If Vesper already knows the secrets he’s avoiding, she doesn’t let on. Instead she asks about his future, and his response seems fully resigned to enduring the curse and remaining within the tower room.

“So,” asks Vesper, “you’ve given up hope of a cure?”

Valisar shrugs. “Sometimes things change.”

Vesper politely thanks Valisar for his time. Rosette offers that if he is released from Salvina later, the Vargari in Ladona would be certain to welcome him home. He looks at the half-orc somewhat quizzically.

“There haven’t been any Vargari in Ladona for a long time.”

Vesper nods at him. “Sometimes things change.”

They leave the cursed swordsman to his peace, returning down to the manor’s main hall. Rosette begins to openly speculate that Valisar is a little shaggy, but he might clean up fairly nicely and bulk out if he got more food and exercise.

“I think he already has a girlfriend,” comments Vesper.

“Whaaaat? Even if he’s been out here for two years? Ugh, I’m never going to marry into this house!”

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69.5 - Interlude: A Small Dispute
Carenza finds herself drawn into a matter of halfling intrigue for an evening.

Is me going with you going to be problematic?
For whom?” — Carenza Vega & Faustina Belluna

A few nights back, in Ladona, while Vesper and Vittorio were dealing with a sculptor’s woes:

Somewhat unexpectedly, the new recruit Coral asks Carenza for some assistance. The halfling explains that a relative of a friend is having trouble, and Carenza is “stalwart and intimidating.” The captain asks her to explain further, and Coral reveals the problem is an extortionist. Carenza agrees to help. Coral thanks her, and takes her off for further briefing.

They visit the Seven Arches Plaza, a place familiar to Carenza thanks to its proximity to the Cranequin tavern. There Coral leads them to watch a puppet show. During the show — a fairly lowbrow slapstick — a young woman in black-lacquered chain mail with a halfling maidservant arrives and watches the puppets next to Carenza and Coral. The two halflings greet each other discreetly, and engage in a short conversation in some form of bewildering cant. As the show comes to a close, Coral introduces the newcomers as Faustina Belluna (a name Carenza recognizes as an opera singer of some repute), and her servant Wren. Wren makes introductions in turn, and Faustina seems to recognize Carenza’s name.

“You’re one of the Iluni’s associates.”

“Ettorio?” replies Carenza. “Yeah. I mean, he’s married to my cousin. But not quite family. I’m good with ‘associates’.”

They retire to a wineshop with some neatly private booths to discuss things further. There Coral and Wren explain the difficulty. Recently a halfling racketeer named Sinker Tallymark has become something of a security risk. Tallymark has been seeing leaner profits of late — he used to associate with the more corrupt Black Veils before the assassin order cleaned up shop, and he also had ties to the smuggler Kagall. With both of those associates no longer in play, he has been exploring other avenues to maintain himself in the style to which he’s been accustomed. At present it seems he intends to sell “family secrets” to outsiders. Wren names his potential buyer as Mirona Calummis, a ruthless and paranoid local blackmailer. Given House Calummis’ ties to House Nemedian, these secrets would rapidly cause no end of troubles for the halflings of Rasenna.

So the two propose a solution: to make the deal seem unfavorable to either or both parties. Carenza and Faustina can demonstrate that disapproval can come from unforeseen quarters. And if the racketeer and blackmailer become aware that they might be making enemies they hadn’t accounted for, it may convince them to back away. The human women resolve that the plan seems sound enough, and agree to help.

Sinker Tallymark is first on the list. The racketeer makes his home in the mix of docks, rafts and tethered boats that is commonly called “Lakerat” territory (at least by bigoted sorts such as many Rovinos). Faustina and Wren separate to slink quietly around the side, up to the back door of Tallymark’s houseboat. Carenza, with Coral in tow, goes right up the dock to knock on the front door. A rather rude halfling opens up the viewing hatch to glare out at her and demand her business. At first he doesn’t find her elusive answers satisfying.

“You’re not here to sell, you’re not here to buy? What do you want, a meat pie? Go on back to the mainland for those!”

Carenza is not impressed. She begins to lay into the doorman with her best commanding voice, intimidating him and giving him the new name of “Meatpie.” The cowed halfling opens the door and lets her in. The front room is adorned with several unique treasures apparently dredged from the lake bottom or shipped in from other lands, including a strange humanoid automaton made of bronze, dating possibly back to the Dysian empire. Sinker emerges from the rear of the house, somewhat chagrined that his guard was overcome so easily.

Carenza points out to Sinker that a great many people are unhappy with him, many of whom he doesn’t know. The halfling racketeer goes on the defensive, even threatening to have the mercenary “disappeared.” She laughs off the threat, pointing out she has too many friends to vanish without a whole lot of trouble following. His nerves running increasingly away with him, Tallymark activates the old automaton, which steps up to menace Carenza. She remains completely unimpressed.

While this confrontation plays out, Faustina and Wren finesse the lock on the houseboat’s back porch. They slip into Sinker’s personal quarters. Faustina leaves his possessions be, but draps a black veil across his bed.

Finally the racketeer gives in. He agrees that the deal is probably a bad idea, and has “Meatpie” show Carenza out. Her last glimpse is of Sinker beginning to become extremely agitated after discovering Faustina’s calling card.

The next stop is Mirona Calummis. Faustina makes a brief stop by her apartments, choosing a dark dress and veil for anonymity’s sake. They then move to Mirona’s home. The Calummis townhouse has a side portion that is reputedly Mirona’s own, a place to do business. Carenza notes that the bodyguards she keeps are from a disgraced mercenary unit, the Vulture Swords.

One of those bodyguards answers the door. Faustina, without actually lying, projects an air so convincing the guard clearly believes she’s one of Mirona’s desperate “clients.” He invites the group in, offers them refreshments, and bids them make themselves comfortable in the parlor. When Mirona arrives, though, the tone of the conversation changes completely.

Faustina takes the bulk of the conversation in hand, with Carenza offering mostly silent backup. She encourages Mirona not to make the purchase, because there are far too many people who would become quite unhappy with her. The Calummis blackmailer becomes more and more nervous as the conversation continues.

“I am very much at a disadvantage,” she says, nervously attempting to fish out Faustina’s name.

“And you will continue to be so,” replies the veiled guest.

At last Mirona acquiesces, utterly defeated. Faustina rises to leave, having discreetly left a black veil on her seat. She and Carenza depart in full confidence; if she enjoys the look of incredulous confusion on the bodyguard’s face, she doesn’t betray it.

Coral and Wren seem well satisfied with the results, and thank their employers. The two groups part on good terms. Carenza invites Coral to a round of celebratory drinks or three. During the alcohol-induced haze of the evening, she even promotes Coral to an official corporal rank, though she doesn’t remember doing so in the morning.

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69 - Interlude in Stone
Vesper and Vittorio learn that the rumors surrounding a famed sculptor are both inaccurate and accurate.

“It’s a medusa ghost, so be careful.”
“They come in ‘medusa’?”
“They come in ‘ghost’?” — Vesper Sespech, Brosetta, and Vittorio Marvigliozzo

The Ladonan shrine to Kylir was once a forum in the time of the Dysians. Now it is a mostly open-air place of informal worship, where artists and poets come in hopes of soaking up prominent inspiration or meeting a potential patron or model. The alcoves are filled with various statues and other art offerings, banners in seasonal colors stretch across the upper pillars, and the massive oak shading the shrine is set about with lanterns of various hues.

Vittorio Marvigliozzo, in preparation for the trip to the Salvina Asylum, wanders the shrine with just such an interest in inspiration. His reverie is somewhat interrupted when he can’t help but overhear an agitated conversation between a supplicant and the priestess. The visitor — a dark-bearded man of intense mien that Vittorio recognizes as the renowned sculptor Massavio — is explaining that he fears his studio has been haunted by some sort of spirit. His model has suffered a fate he is loath to describe. When the priestess Dessamori asks about seeking the help of the Sespech, Massavio admits he is afraid of the necromantic Great House. He’s familiar with the young prodigy, and wants that merciless gaze nowhere near him.

At this point, Vittorio politely interrupts and volunteers to help. Massavio cannot help but be slightly suspicious, but he quickly accedes and thanks the bard for his potential assistance. He agrees to meet Vittorio and any others at a wine shop near his studio that evening.

Vittorio wanders over to the inn-turned-Vargari-compound to find Vesper. The common room is at a lull of activity, with its principal members out on an errand. The young Sespech is eating lunch with the half-orc prospect Brosetta, and stressing the necessity for discretion during the Salvina visit. Rosette seems to be completely convinced of her capacity for discretion; Vesper less so.

Vittorio excuses himself, and explains the difficulties that Massavio has found himself in. He notes that the sculptor seems alarmed about the prospect of Sespech involvement, and Vesper hazards a guess that the reason is Savaquin in particular. Vittorio says that Massavio will meet him this evening, and if Vesper would be willing to help, it would be greatly advantageous.

“He would like us to be discreet,” Vittorio clarifies.

Brosetta slams her palm on the table, loud enough to make Vesper and Vittoro jump. “Then let’s do it!”

Vesper regards the Vargari prospect carefully. “This is what we were talking about.”

They meet Massavio at the designated wine shop, not far from his studio on Empire Hill. As the sculptor leads them to his home and workplace, Vittorio plays a tune to invoke his arcane sight.

Massavio’s studio is a large space, itself perhaps once a Dysian forum not unlike the structure that now houses the shrine to Kylir. The large space is supported by several columns, with works in progress and stone blocks in the shadows at the periphery. A number of mirrors are propped against the columns surrounding the center space. They reflect two works in stone: the half-finished sculpture, and the petrified form of the model, who appears to responding in alarm.

Massavio calls out for his apprentice, Hilos, who is nowhere to be seen. As he searches about, Vesper lights a taper in a peculiar lantern with green glass. She and Vittorio note a peculiar residue on the mirrors. As they move to investigate, Massavio cries out in alarm. He has found Hilos — and his apprentice is petrified as well.

By the light of Vesper’s ghost lantern, they can see a spectral form flitting into one of the mirrors. Vesper approaches to examine further. A ghostly feminine face swims up from the shadows in the mirror, its eyes closed. Then its hair writhes and uncoils into snaky forms, and its eyes open. Vesper inhales and averts her eyes before the curse can take full effect. She feels a stony weight pressing on her limbs. The ghost is real — the remnant of a medusa.

Thinking quickly, Vesper invokes a spell to transfer the curse back onto its caster. Vittorio launches a bolt at the mirror, knocking it to the ground. As he does so, the ghost leaps from the mirror into a polished chisel lying on Massavio’s workbench. Vittorio yells for Massavio to take cover, and the sculptor hides behind the petrified form of his apprentice.

The chisel flashes, and the half-sculpted form of the memorial statues begins to move. It reaches out with its more finished arm, to swing at Vesper. Rosette leaps into the battle, almost delighted to have something clear to swing at. She aims a pair of solid blows at the statue, though it is too durable to be badly damaged even when targeted by someone of her strength. Vesper steps up to aid the would-be Vargari.

Vittorio has other ideas. As the two women fight the animated statue, he surveys the workbench. The ghost hasn’t seemed to have moved from the chisel yet. The devil bolts for the workbench. With a deft flourish, he snatches up the chisel, narrowly avoiding the gaze of the medusa ghost within. He twirls it once, then places it in one of his many extradimensional pockets. The animating force gone, the statue grinds back into immobility — though Brosetta doesn’t quite notice in time, and smashes off one of its ears before she catches on.

Vesper and Vittorio speak to Massavio about the situation. He agrees to explain as much as he can to the captain who will surely be along to investigate the situation. For their part, the group intends to submit their own observations on the event, and seek the help of Halthron Stonefoot. With luck, the dwarf advisor will be able to break the curse of stone on Hilos and Graccio the Golden.

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68 - No Rest for the Wicked
The blades return to Ladona for an interlude with the Prince and the Wolves.

“I don’t want to die with this book in my pack, or my spirit will wander the land in mortification.”
“I could help you with that.”
“Let’s not tempt fate.”
I could help you with that!” — Carenza Vega, Vesper Sespech & Vittorio Marvigliozzo

Ladona, City of the Dragon, welcomes the four once again. Carenza and Vittorio agree that they’ll have to postpone their tavern-crawl, in light of other business. The mercenary also arranges to have the copy of Erotic Secrets of the Elves sent to Bessari.

Carenza spends much of the remaining day hunting for rumors of Vico and the Dusaam signet ring. The best that she can find about the ring is that he tried pawning it some time ago, but there were no takers — in particular because a young Sespech of very serious and intimidating mien had been asking after the Dusaam incident. Vico himself is a bit easier to track. Carenza’s contact Jostinaro, an ex-captain turned hiresword broker, lets her know that Vico managed to gain entry into the well-reputed Fisher Knights. The company is apparently deployed to Brassado, in expectation of some conflict soon to break out.

Vittorio goes trawling for rumors of a more general bent. He does find an interesting one regarding Dossa Barcamir. Allegedly, the would-be lumber merchant has made claim that he was enspelled recently by an enchanter of ill repute. This wicked magician compelled him to wager his wife on the Dragon Parade, and was foiled at the last moment. Vittorio files the rumor away for later, and then heads to the shrine of Kylir. He plays one of his latest compositions, the “Symphony for a Devil,” outside the shrine until sunset comes.

Vesper’s business begins at the court of Prince Lazzaretta. She makes an appointment to call on the Prince the following day for the purposes of reporting on the Iridios affair. That settled, she travels to the Vargari homestead. She finds the former “Last Ditch” in a bit of a stir. Tarvana is calling out orders and preparing for hasty travel; she notices Vesper, waves, and keeps at it. Iliska, Erigo and Kalbak are all making similar preparations.

Rodivar greets his daughter-in-law. He explains that when Inyavka took the children aside to “give them something to do,” she turned them loose on Dossa Barcamir. A little conversation was enough to convince him that it was in everyone’s best interests that he — and the Vargari — make it known that the insidious illusionist late of Ladona was responsible for their erratic behavior of late. Following that, the Vargari siblings rode for the lands allegedly won in Dossa’s bet with Ludovir. They found it was dangerous territory — a haunt for ghouls. Everyone returned safely, but now they’re on the hunt again. The ruin-priest Galmagno who has ties with the “Zarocci” has left town, and the children intend to run him down and ask him a few questions. He then admits that he should probably let Vesper head upstairs to see her husband before he leaves again. She solidly agrees.

Kosvach is of course very glad to see his wife, though he openly regrets that the timing is such that he’s about to leave. Vesper secures the door and tells him to be careful on his trip even as she begins undressing him.

Carenza drops by the Vargari domicile herself in the meantime. She positions herself across the street, leaning against the wall with a carefully disaffected and confident pose (and ignoring the Ladies-in-Waiting who are offering “encouragements” from out of sight). As planned, Tarvana takes note, and breaks off from her preparations to cross the street. The two swordswomen engage in some rather aggressively phrased flirtation, somewhat to the astonishment of Erigo. Carenza ends by kissing Tarvana and then pulling away again before the Vargari can become more aggressive. A somewhat agitated Tarvana then returns to issuing orders to her travelling party.

By the time Kosvach arrives down at the stables, Tarvana is clearly impatient to leave. Kosvach ignores her, focusing his attention on bidding his wife goodbye. Carenza approaches the two.

“I found something out about a Sespech.”

“That’s nice,” says Kosvach without looking at her. He leans in to kiss his wife farewell, and Carenza has to wait a bit longer before the Vargari finally ride for the western gates. With no other distractions, she speaks to Vesper and describes the Sespech asking around after Cormarro Dusaam’s fate. Vesper is immediately certain that she’s talking about Savaquin.

Vittorio and Carenza spend a portion of the rest of the evening drinking. Carenza leans on the devil for some commiseration, complaining that she actually does like Tarvana more than she expected, in a visceral sort of way. However, she’s also aware that she’s not really the type that Tarvana prefers. Vittorio reassures Carenza that wenches are a “once in a while” sort of preference. Rodivar Vargari overhears, and if he is rather unconvinced that his older daughter shares that opinion, he keeps it to himself.

The audience with Prince Lazzaretta takes place the next morning in the labyrinthine catacombs beneath the city. The aged prince is pleased with the news of Iridios’ death. She mentions that the Vargari and Dossa Barcamir have clearly been doing their inexpert but not ineffective best to control the rumors surrounding their situations. She also states that she’s willing to let Lisayra Dusaam have a year to study the Tower.

Vesper takes advantage of Lazzaretta’s good mood to ask about the possibility of breaking the curse on Lucovol Villa. With an entrenched, loyal group such as the Vargari in control of the land, the border with Lamosca would be more secure. The Prince concedes the advantages of Vesper’s plan. The young Sespech then asks if she can speak to Captain Tolnaro about his experiences, and call on the expertise of Halthron Stonefoot where curses are concerned.

Lazzaretta agrees to grant Vesper’s request. She tells the group that Captain Tolnaro is recovering at Salvina Villa, a rarely spoken of hospital where the accursed and afflicted are treated, or at least kept safe. The Prince has a letter of introduction to the Salvina administrator prepared for the party. They thank Lazzaretta and take their leave, planning to set out for the curse-hospital that same day.

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67 - Gentleman Caller
Vittorio, Carenza and Vesper are called upon to play matchmaker for a client of dubious elevation.

“If the snot goes in the story, I swear to Goreador I will feed you your own horns.”
“Why don’t you go catch us some fish while you’re out there?” — Carenza Vega & Vesper Sespech

With not much to do while Ettorio fetches Lisayra Dusaam, the group settles in for a four-day wait. They spend some time going over the various books left behind by Iridios and his colleague. Carenza quietly tucks away Erotic Secrets of the Elves with the intention of making a gift of it to Bessari.

The imprisoned water-terror Shalperax does its best to win one of the group over to his way of thinking during the wait. He starts first with Vittorio, opening diplomatic relations.

“You’re trying to tempt a tempter,” says Vittorio with a smile. “Let’s cut out the runaround.”

Abandoning that target, Shalperax then begins to speak with Carenza when she’s alone.

“Look, I am not as charmed by you as I am afraid of Vesper.” The mercenary’s face is completely straight.

Finally, Shalperax tries the arcanist in the tower.

“I have nothing to say to you.”

The voice of Shalperax is not heart for some time thereafter, and they assume he is sulking.

In the meantime, they also spend some time caring for the mermaid. Although nobody is able to understand her mangled Elvish, she does attempt to learn some Common, and is a quick study.

On the third night in the Tower of the Heron, Vittorio hears a strange music from outside — something like bass bagpipes, echoing from underwater. The sound is barely perceptible within the tower, but it seems to reach Gullaby. The eel mermaid becomes agitated, swimming in tight circles as if chasing her tail.

Carenza goes out to the dock to have a look, while Vittorio watches from a high window. She sees lights in a pattern deep underwater, but drawing nearer. The music becomes more audible. And then the visitors surface.

The first up on the pier are a squad of four fish-creatures, something like pike or gar that had been given arms and legs and a rough humanoid posture, carrying odd luminescent lanterns before them. After them comes a quartet of pale goblins in bizarre breathing masks that hook into the batrachian-sounding bagpipes they continue to play. Then something much larger pulls itself onto the dock. It looks something like a bipedal toad the size of an ogre, dressed in lacquered armor hung about with bogweed and with a tarnished morningstar in one webbed hand. It surveys Carenza out of one eye and then the other, and then it bows as a great carriage made of aquatic plant leaves and tendrils rises up out of the water. The leaves unfold, revealing a squat amphibious beast, even less humanoid than the toad-soldier but with just as much intelligence in its eyes, its decorations a few weedy garlands set with shiny stones.

The toad-soldier offers a quick bow before the creature in the carriage, then turns to Carenza.

“Abase yourself, mortals, before his Unconquerable Dampness, Prince of the Silty Undermarch, Bufonirio Spatterditch the First and Only.”

Carenza keeps her composure. She bows slightly and explains that it will be a moment. The bride, she lies, is excited but will want to look her best. As the amphibious fey lordling strokes his throat sac in satisfaction, Carenza slips inside and finds the others.

“There is a giant faerie fish-beast outside insisting to see his new bride, which I am pretty sure is not me.”

Gullaby does not take the news well. “No,” she says in accented Common. “No no no no no.”

Vittorio agrees to accompany Carenza back out, while Vesper remains with Gullaby and calmly works out a fallback plan. The musician strides out in his true form, tall and infernal with eyes full of burning wrath. His presence is enough to cow most of the retinue, while even Bufonirio Spatterditch seems rather taken aback. The toad soldier hefts his weapon but waits to read the situation. Vittorio, in no uncertain terms, states that he will be negotiating for the bride in question.

Bufonirio, somewhat taken aback, nervously pulls up one of the cages attached to his chariot and stuffs the tiny humanoid mosquito-pixie inside into his mouth. In a deep voice with vibrating “r”s, he explains that he has come for a bride in order to further his ambition. He wishes to assume his rightful place in the Court of the Queen of Jewelled Waters, and the daughter of a river-king would be a fine consort to establish his pedigree. He nervously notes that he’s willing to offer a dowry to the potential matchmakers.

As an aside, Carenza mentions to Vittorio that she thinks the Silty Undermarch party is strong, but not beyond their own skill. The two excuse themselves to step inside and briefly confer with their companion.

“It would be nice if Ettorio was here,” says Carenza.

Vesper shakes her head. “No it wouldn’t. He would only confuse the issue.”

“I meant in case it became a fight.”

“Okay.”

The discussion is brief. Vittorio reemerges from the tower, and announces with infernal majesty that there will be no deal. They are willing to offer some jewels as recompense, however. Bufonirio seems to be taking the offer well until Carenza adds that the jewels may allow him to find a bride “more his level.” The amphibious fey puffs up, and his throat sac swells with anger as the toad-soldier hefts his weapon. Vittorio intercedes quickly.

“I’m not certain that the lady in question would be a suitable bride for you,” he elaborates. “She has been looking rather unwell lately. Something like… a belly-up fish.”

Bufonirio settles back down, returning to a cooler pallor. He agrees to the deal.

Carenza places the three blue pearls from Iridios’ packs in the alchemist’s coffer, on a layer of gold coins. She then returns outside and humbly presents the coffer to Bufonirio with a bow. The amphibious fey chortles a bit at the sight.

“I am well-pleased. I grant you my blessing.”

While Carenza looks at him quizzically, his tongue shoots out and strikes her clear on her forehead. As the mercenary stares back in shock, mucus slipping slowly down her temples, the Prince of the Silty Undermarches pats his belly in satisfaction, then rumbles a command. His chariot casts off, his attendants follow, and soon the procession is sunken below the lake’s surface, the lights and piping fading.

Carenza, thoroughly disgusted, goes into the water wing on the first level to wash her forehead. Gullaby, now more spirited, seems excited for the mercenary.

“Good blessing. Catch many fish.”

Carenza stares at the mermaid while Vittorio laughs aloud. She then turns and gives him a warning glare.

“If the snot goes in the story, I swear to Goreador I will make you eat your own horns.”

Vesper helpfully recommends that Carenza might as well catch some fish while she’s at it.

Carenza spends the early pre-dawn on the dock, drinking wine and watching the fish jump. She idly puts one hand in the water, and closes it on a fish. She pulls the small lake trout out of the water, regards it with a sigh, and then decides to make the best of the situation by cooking it for breakfast.

The final day, patience is starting to run thin. Vittorio has moved on to baiting Carenza with allusions to telling the story to the Ladies-in-Waiting, which incenses her further. Tragically, he has also run low on alcohol, and laments that there’s none in the tower.

The voice of Shalperax is heard once more. “You haven’t asked for any.”

Vesper steps in.

“Don’t sell your soul for booze.”

“It’s been two days!”

At last a boat arrives from the nearby village, carrying the veiled Lisayra Dusaam and a dangerous-looking pair of bodyguards. Vesper takes over to give the Dusaam a tour. Lisayra seems quite impressed, and thanks the group for their help in procuring the place for her studies. She also assists them in releasing Gullaby, pointing out that the mermaid likely arrived through a fluctuating fey gate underwater that is prone to open again soon.

That evening, the group sets out to leave the tower and its vexing bound inhabitant well behind. As their boat is partway to the village, Gullaby emerges from the water, and hands an odd egg to the group by way of thanks. It has the leathery texture of a reptile egg, but vibrates slightly as if something is churning inside.

“Maelstrom egg. Be careful!”

Somewhat unsure what to make of the elemental object, the group continues back towards the shore, and eventually toward Ladona.

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66 - Shattered Illusions
The illusionist Iridios pulls out the last remaining tricks left to him.

Once or twice in my life I have managed to back off before things got worse.” — Carenza Vega

As the group braces for the push upstairs to strike down Iridios, Ettorio wonders aloud about the bond between Vesper and her bat Chiro. Is he intelligent? Can she understand what he says? And if so, would it not be most prudent to send him above to scout?

Vesper looks irritated, but lets the conversation continue. Ultimately, though, they determine that Chiro knows about only as much at creeping about as Vesper does, and his echolocation might be adversely affected by the echoes in the mirror maze. So they decide to send a resigned Ettorio up instead. Almost immediately, the Iluni blade’s voice is heard from above.

“Well, he’s here.”

The others quickly join him, and look out on the maze of ice mirrors. The room is filled with reflections of Iridios — of three different aspects of Iridios, actually, one wearing more orange and one wearing more red. It takes a keen eye to perceive the path between the mirrors, and there’s no obvious way to Iridios at first.

The illusionist quickly demonstrates an affinity for the ice-mirror maze. He and his refracted duplicates release a volley of chromatic bolts, each one shifting color as it rebounds from mirror to mirror before striking a target. Each bolt delivers a different effect depending on its color as it strikes home — temporary blindness, paralysis, numbing, dazing, all manner of pulsing jolts to the nerves. Ettorio and Carenza start closing in through the maze as best they can. Vesper and Vittorio move more slowly, enduring the assault as best they can.

Iridios gestures, and more images join the fray — phantasmal soldiers, figments of bizarre armor and trailing ephemera, real enough to strike at the illusionist’s enemies. They close in on Vittorio, even as blades and spells tear them apart. The stringed devil plays a chord that propels Vesper into the battle, even as the sole phantasm begins to cut at him, vanishing from all but his most peripheral perception.

Vesper takes a yellow bolt that robs her of her sight for a moment. She retaliates with a banshee wail that smashes apart several mirrors and disrupts one of the simulacra. It’s an opening that Ettorio, Carenza and Vittorioc capitalize on. Vittorio conjures an infernal puppeteer’s strings, and directs one of the multiple illusionists to turn on another. Carenza pushes through the punishment she’s been absorbing, and drops the first of Iridios’ refractions. The second falls under Ettorio’s dagger. Both bodies hit the floor and begin melting away — corpses more of shaved ice than flesh.

With the mirrors near him broken and his duplicates gone, Iridios is suddenly very hard-pressed. Reeling from the assault, he sends out a spray of prismatic ribbons in desperation, and then attempts to bolt for upstairs. Ettorio is too quick for him, though. The Iluni intercepts the illusionist, and with an unnervingly quick motion, slits the other half-elf’s throat.

After a short period of rest, self-congratulation and medical attention, the group explores further up. Carenza finally gets to see what lies above the mirror maze: a floor of apartments, quite nicely appointed and in excellent repair. They pick out the more valuable parts of Iridios’ belongings, then try even further upward.

A tall stair leads to the very top of the tower. There a curious pedestal stands in an otherwise bare room. The pedestal constantly emits air that seems to be keeping cool a peculiar clockwork egg, suspended above the pedestal’s top. Droplets of condensation run along the egg, falling upward as the reach the outer curve. Vittorio and Vesper deduce that the thing is a prison of a sort — possibly the thing containing Shalperax, the elemental fiend of the tower, and drawing his power to maintain the structure’s magic.

Vesper is highly unwilling to leave the egg as is. She dispatches Ettorio to travel back to Ladona and inform Lisayra Dusaam of their findings, and enlist her assistance. Ettorio assures her of the utter ease of sailing back to the shore, and departs. The others settle in to wait in the Tower of the Heron, keeping an eye on the mermaid and the egg until the authority arrives.

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65 - Inviting Waters
Water expands, mud flows uphill, stone walks, and the heron speaks.

One minute you’re enjoying a sip of a potion, the next Carpa is taking a washboard to you.” — Carenza Vega

They step into the water garden as the mystical smoke dissipates. Vittorio begins poking at the lab, but Carenza and Vesper focus on the mermaid. The strange eel-woman regards them with suspicion, and when they address her, she replies in an unfamiliar language. “Her accent is terrible,” notes Ettorio. He explains that the mermaid is speaking a peculiar dialect of elvish, or perhaps a dialect of its parent tongue.

Ettorio translates his friends’ questions and the mermaid’s responses as best as he can. She claims not to be a resident of the tower. She was “left behind” in the lake, and caught thereafter. She is young, and was younger at the time of her capture. She asks if “the others” are still there, and the group is unable to say. Vesper and Vittorio are not quite able to determine whether the eel-maid is a creature of the Overworld or a resident of the elemental flows of water. They promise to return to aid her, and then move to the other wing of the tower’s lowest level.

They open the pair of doors on the southern side of the hall. Beyond is a strange cavelike grotto, its walls more raw and living rock than cut stone. A few faintly birdlike sculptures of gargoyles are carved into the far wall. Streams of water run from the walls into basins, and more of the alchemist’s equipment is set up here. Vittorio spots some lingering magic in a few vials and tucks them away. The alchemical sigils on the labels identify them as two flasks of water imperial, one marked as “echoing vaults,” and one marked “imminent relief.”

With no other immediate concerns in the grotto, the four return to the main hall and set their sights on the upper floors. As they start up the steps, Vittorio glances down and notes something peculiar: the central fountain’s heron statue appears to be wearing a golden crown in its reflection. The statue itself remains uncrowned — and even Chiro is unable to detect any invisible object on its head, unless it is also intangible — but the reflection’s crown remains.

The group pauses and discusses what this means — how indeed they could extract the crown. Or, for that matter, if they even want it. Though none present would turn down more gold to fuel their various ambitions, they determine they have greater priorities, in particular catching Iridios before he can flee.

Then a voice from the waters says, “I have things other than gold to offer.”

The group begins to negotiate with this curious voice, which speaks in pleasant and calming tones. But a scrap of half-remembered knowledge forces itself to the fore of Vespers’ mind. “Don’t,” she says. She elaborates further on the nature of the entity Shalperax, sometimes known locally as Cialaperacci, an elemental fiend of water who has corrupted other hydromancers. Vesper’s warning is good enough for the others. Although the voice attempts to reason with them further, Carenza is particularly adamant that they want nothing to do with it.

“Very well,” it finally replies. “Then I will attend to the needs of my other guest instead.” The voice does not speak again even when they address it.

They move upstairs, into another room that fills the entire floor of the tower. The level is a garden, complete with reflecting pools and trees that bear intriguing fruits, lit by a peculiar radiance. Too many childhood superstitions come to mind for anyone to take one of the fruits.

They head for the stairs at the far end of the garden hall. As they go, Vittorio see something else intriguing — a lovely ornate golden bow lies beneath the water in one of the reflecting pools, shimmering in the light. He contemplates the treasure for a moment, but then notices something ascending the stairs behind them. A strange mud creature in roughly humanoid form sloughs into the garden, the two rocky gargoyles from the grotto accompanying it. The group moves to confront their pursuers, but then finds the situation is even more complicated — a watery form erupts from one of the pools, slamming into their flank.

It turns out to be a new and interesting challenge for the blades to fight against enemies who have no clear vital organs, or for that matter, any biology to speak of. But the creatures of earth and water do have weak points. One of the gargoyles is the first to fall after an inspired bit of teamwork. Carenza sets up the gargoyle with a leading strike, Vittorio looses a pair of fate-twisted crossbow bolts into it, and finally Ettorio tumbles forward and buries his cinquedea in the back of the gargoyle’s neck. Struck through a vital flow of its animating force, the creature’s body crumbles apart and begins to soften, like clay with too much water in it.

But the elementals strike back, and hard. The water weird focuses on Carenza, enfolding her in its form and nearly drowning her. The mud grue also attempts to drag any living target into its toxic muck. The surviving gargoyle swoops back and forth, slashing at the intruders before landing and then taking off again. Carenza nearly chokes to death before Vittorio’s tampering with fate pulls away her doom.

And the tide turns. The mudman takes shot after shot, and finally explodes when Vittorio sends an ensorcelled quarrel through it. Vesper focuses a burst of her wraithly power on the water elemental, and as the Sespech glyph on it flares, its animating force losing its hold. Water rushes over the floor. The surviving gargoyle turns to flee, but does not make it to the stairs. Peculiarly, it isn’t a blade or spell that ends it. It freezes up, and water runs out of it like a thick sweat. In moment it is an inanimate carving, and the group is finally free to bind their wounds and catch their breaths.

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64 - Entering the Tower of the Heron
The blades test the Tower's first line of defenses, and gain greater experience with threats alchemical.

What? We don’t have to sink that boat! It’s harmless!” — Vesper Sespech

Vittorio casts a series of spells as the boat approaches the tower. He lights his eyes to see the arcane, conjures an illusion of his own true self to stand beside him, and finally conjures a mass of roiling gloom. He avoids completing the ritual casting, keeping the final word unspoken, and attempts to contain the darkness beneath his cloak as they dock.

The group mounts the winding rock stairway to the Tower’s entrance. The double doors are marked with reliefs of herons, each one with bowed head and one outstretched wing as if inviting visitors inside. The door is, however, locked. As Ettorio looks it over to make sure there are no surprises, the group notices a small boat setting out from the village toward the tower’s island. Vesper surmises that it’s the villager who brings supplies to the tower at twilight. They discuss how best to drive him away. Ultimately Vittorio sends his illusory duplicate down to the docks to glare menacingly at the newcomer. They are rewarded by the sight of the boat carefully and swiftly turning around and returning to the town. Ettorio then devotes his attentions to the lock, which is no real match for the lessons of a life poorly spent.

The door opens, and they enter the Tower of the Heron. The entry still matches Carenza’s map: a seven-pillared hall with a large fountain, a heron statue bowing gracefully at the fountain’s center, and a grand staircase leading up. The room itself shows little signs of wear, but two pairs of guards — one near each of the double doors leading to the tower’s wings — confirm further the tower’s occupation. The men are hairless, somewhat uniform of feature, and with odd tinges to their skin — two with a dullish gray sheen, two with a more coppery tint. Carenza, who has been researching the uses of alchemy in warfare of late, immediately recognizes them as alchemical men, sometimes called magen. One of them uses the butt of his polearm to knock on the doors leading to the water-garden wing. And without speaking, the guards move to attack.

As the blows start falling, Vittorio loses control over the darkness billowing under his cape. The gloom pours out, filling the entirety of the hall. Each flank loses sight of the other. Carenza and Ettorio move into the thick of the fight, while Vittorio and Vesper try to keep sight of the other alchemical men. And, as it turns out, the magen are more than simple human emulations. The coppery-hued magen surge with lightning, and the leaden men elongate their limbs in attempts to overwhelm and strangle the intruders. One strikes at the illusory devil, destroying the image outright.

The skirmish is just beginning to play out when the doors to the water garden wing open. A man in robes and apron, the garb of an alchemist, peers confusedly into the gloom. Then, realizing that the tower is under attack, he fastens a gas mask over his face and begins to move toward the stairwell, hurling canisters of poisonous gas to ward away enemies as he goes.

The sorcerous fog protects both sides as the melee plays out. The alchemist is unable to see enough of the party to more effectively throw his potions, and yet he also benefits from his obscurement. His retreat to the stairs is almost successful before Vittorio vanishes in a burst of brimstone and then reappears nearer the stairs. Cut off, the alchemist then bolts for the doors. But he flees past Ettorio, who reels him back with a noose of shadow. That avenue of retreat cut off as well, the alchemist finally tries for the water garden again.

Ettorio cuts open one of the coppery magen, and it falls to the floor, its form dissolving into a thick semifluid. Caernza kicks in the door to the water garden, and the alchemist expires at the end of a blade. Vesper strikes down the last two magen, the sound of the banshee’s wail still echoing from pillar to pillar.

Looking up from the alchemist’s corpse, the group sees the water garden wing has been occupied. A small workbench with some alchemical supplies is set up among the various fountains, ornamental pools, water clocks and aquaria. The most striking inhabitant of the aquaria regards them carefully — a mermaid, her lower body eel-like, her hair thick and writhing tendrils, and her eyes cool and appraising.

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