Rasennan Summer

47 - Downturn
One "good deed" of mayhem leads to another, setting the stage for impressing the Prince of Raspian...hopefully.

“I am Crisandor! A Great House!”
“You’re still human like everyone else! …Except him.” — Tauris Crisandor & Vesper Sespech

The first order of business is dealing with the spoils. After weighing possible options, the group decides to claim the coffers of gold for themselves, and enlist the Black Veils to help return a portion of the silver and copper to the merchants it was extorted from. They will also offer to assist the Black Veils in capturing the Downturn sniper, and purchase some information on Bravadi Rovino rather than an actual contract. Ettorio and Vesper go off in search of the Veils, and eventually manage to make contact with a masked representative of the assassin’s guild, who agrees to their terms. The Veils dispatch a small team of masked workers to load up a cart with the goods and take it to a safehouse. In the meantime, the three remaining at the hideout do their best to keep any errant Executors from discovering how horribly amiss things have become.

The Veils crew takes command of their portion of the goods just before dawn, and the band of blades decides to take a rest before hunting the Downturn sniper. They agree to meet again that evening, in order to perfect their plan (as much as any of their plans can be perfected).

Upon returning to the Sespech estate, Vesper receives a letter; Kosvach and Alesci are responding to her call to act as witnesses, and will be arriving on the Wayfarer that evening should nothing go amiss.

After he gets some sleep, Rugo goes to check on the Drovers. He finds their headquarters abandoned, and no sign of them claiming the territory. A lone Executor is snooping around, apparently in allegiance to one “Vetti”; Rugo notes the name for later.

Carenza goes to check on her girls, and recruit them for the Downturn hunt. She learns from them that “Brino Ruvetti” has apparently been bringing quite a bit of provender into his tower.

Vesper makes time to meet the Wayfarer, but arrives a little after it has made it into port; asking around, she finds that the two passengers of her acquaintance have traveled to the Sand Dragon Inn in Fortune Ward. The place is clearly a meeting place for blades of various nationalities, and Kosvach is easy to spot, apparently quite comfortable with that sort of company. Alesci is much harder to recognize — he has a full, but well-groomed beard that effectively obscures his boyishly handsome features, and is dressed in a far more workmanlike fashion than usual. He explains that the beard is a result of Floressa’s cantrips, and he felt it was prudent to travel in disguise, given Vesper’s warning.

“But Kosvach isn’t in disguise.”

“Yes,” says Alesci wryly. “He isn’t.”

Vesper has the two remain there — their plan is to remain at the inn that night anyway, and then Alesci will go to the Tyliel palazzo tomorrow — and goes to gather the others. They assemble at the Sand Dragon, where they pull Alesci and Kosvach away from the attention of a pair of Archindran markswomen. Opilio doesn’t recognize Alesci at all at first, but gradually decides that the beard is a good move. “It proves that you are ready to become a man!”

The group discusses the sniper hunt; Ettorio mentions that he can put them in touch with the Veils operative he worked with recently, a woman named Tesselene. They plot to pair off (with the caveat that Ettorio and Carenza are not allowed to be a duo, lest they become sidetracked again) and spread out, the better to hunt without being too obvious. Kosvach joins the group at Vesper’s behest, and Alesci is scheduled to remain safely at the Tyliel palazzo, in accordance with his promise to Dechera and Ambira that he would remain safe.

The next morning, the group heads to Downturn and meets with Tesselene, a lean and tense woman with an alley cat’s perception. She tells them what the Veils know of the killer’s methodology. The sniper strikes during the daytime, and seems to prefer solitary targets. His method is to launch a first bolt to startle a target, and then pick the unfortunate off mid-flight. He favors longer, more open streets for this purpose.

The group pairs off: Ettorio and Opilio, Carenza and Rugo, Vesper and Kosvach, and Rabbit takes one Lady while Dua takes two more. Each pair covers their armor and weapons, and does their best to appear like ordinary residents of the slums. Then they choose likely thoroughfares, and stay close enough to aid one another but far enough apart to attract attention. The bait set, the hunt begins.

Not long into the morning, the bait is taken. A crossbow bolt slams into a wall near Vesper. She breaks into a run, drawing a second shot — but despite the ghostly shrouds surrounding her, the bolt manages to catch her in the torso. Her armor holds, but she’s badly bruised. The slayer looses a second shot at her, which Kosvach deflects with his bracer — and Vesper yells at him to chase the sniper, not to look after her.

The Downturn slayer flees along the rooftops, but the alarm has gone out. Ettorio and Opilio quickly make their way to the roofs as well, while Carenza and Rugo pursue down alleys. Opilio leaves many of the slum residents staring in awe, as he takes his ram form and races along the tiles like a mountain goat. Though the sniper discards his signature red cloak in an attempt to get away, he’s no match for the Chapelwood warden. When the slayer drops down to street level, Opilio makes a tremendous leap and lands in front of him, and quickly subdues the killer.

The killer — who receives some rough treatment as he’s interrogated — turns out to be a young member of House Crisandor. When pressed for a reason why he killed these people, he has no real answer. In fact, he seems somewhat flustered that anyone of any real merit would care. The vicious young man takes a nasty beating and is turned over to the Black Veils, Tesselene promising he’ll be kept safe until it’s determined what to do with him.

The question of the Crisandor’s fate being somewhat thorny, that evening the group meets Vestiri at the Blue Jewel in order to make use of his head for intrigues. Vestiri says they can probably meet with Prince Cortifo about the matters of the sniper and the Executors, though it will have to be in one of his discreet meeting rooms, which Vestiri describes as quite dangerous. He cautions them about the Prince: although Cortifo has a vested interest in the stability of the city, “the man has a mind like a bag of oiled snakes.”

Finally, the Black Veils’ information on Bravadi Rovino comes back. In addition to many points of interest already discovered, the Veils confirm that “Ruvetti” has indeed brought more food into the tower than his men need. This could be consistent with the ogre that was part of the “scouts, touts and louts” ambush that greeted the group on their arrival — though, as is pointed out, “We don’t know that it’s a fire-breathing ogre.” According to the Veils, he has in addition struck up an acquaintance with a priest by the name of Savarre, a hypnotic worshipper of the Twins of Ruin, Mal Zath and Xacshi. They finally note that he has had a few very discreet meetings with a person of some repute — Crestir Miriadis.

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46 - Execution
Gorvo and his core Executors discover the drawbacks of spreading their muscle too thin.

Do you want to come home with me and tell my wife we spent my money on assassins?
Yes! Let’s go!” — Opilio Chapelwood & Ettorio Iluni

[Over the last two days, Ettorio has been becoming further entangled in the affairs of the Black Veils. On his own, he manages to wend his way into the attention of the local chapterhouse, and winds up making extended contact with the assassins quartered in a Downturn hideout. As a measure of his intentions, they recruit him to assist with the hunt for the Downturn sniper, teaming him up with a “handler” to keep an eye on the wayward Iluni. They come fairly close, and are able to confirm that the murderer favors a red cloak, but the sniper evades the attention. After two days of this activity, Ettorio returns to reunite with his colleagues.]

When Ettorio arrives at the Hare & Pheasant, he discovers that only Carenza and Opilio are there; Vesper is touring sword schools with her potential future stepfather. He tells them where he’s been, in somewhat obfuscated fashion. When Opilio mentions that he’s been invited to lunch at the Sespech grotto, Ettorio is quite impressed.

“You have become quite the nobleman! Next you will be attending fetes.”

“I doubt that! If we weren’t such good friends, Ettorio…”

Opilio departs punctually to make his lunchtime appointment. Vesper is sure to meet him at the grotto before her mother can, in order to control any first impressions. Opilio mentions that Ettorio has returned, though somehow he manages to further garble Ettorio’s account of events such that he gives the impression that Ettorio was abducted and held captive by the Black Veils before he escaped. The lunch with Vesper’s mother goes well, though, and Opilio makes a good impression, somewhat easing Istrella’s fears about the peril of her daughter’s travels, and speaking well (and honestly) of Kosvach’s character.

Ettorio and Carenza decide to spend the day further hunting the red-cloaked Downturn sniper. However, they become tragically distracted by a tavern called the Red Cloak, and their stakeout yields nothing but inebriation.

Rugo delivers a cut of the Drovers’ take to Gorvo, talks business for a while with both Gorvo and Raccitelli, and receives orders to administrate the territory for a time. He returns to the Drovers and spends the afternoon soliciting their opinions and ambitions, maintaining the cover that they’re destined for big things.

That evening at the Hare and Pheasant, all five convene for the first time. After some banter, Rugo and Vesper drive the planning session. The scarred mercenary points out that they can expect some heavy hitters to still hang around Gorvo — the spear-wielding dwarf Bloodnotch and the sniper brothers Ludaro and Lamesti keep close. It’s determined that Rugo will go in first, and open the doors to the repurposed shrine to Jaulckem for them. Rugo also suspects that he has gotten the bad end of his deal with Vestiri.

Rugo approaches the Executor headquarters under the guise of bringing a report on the Drovers’ feedback, and how they’re adapting to now being put under “Ogur’s” control. He manages to put Gorvo at ease, mutually laughing at the Drovers’ ambitions, and extends some of the celebrations into midnight. The other four covertly approach the old shrine under cover of night, narrowly missing some of the young lookouts.

Around midnight, Rugo moves to open the door. A pair of lookouts hang about the front steps to the shrine, so Ettorio concocts a plan to get close enough in timely fashion. Posing as an elderly and senile pilgrim, he approaches on the arm of his “sturdy son” Opilio on the pretext of visiting the shrine — insisting that it’s still in service. As the lookouts ready to provide a more physical deterrent, Rugo opens the doors, and the lookouts meet a sudden demise.

Ettorio goes up and through the transom; the others charge through the door. Gorvo is startled by “Ogur’s” treachery; Raccitelli adapts more quickly, firing off a quick shot with a hand crossbow. The fight erupts in earnest, with Rugo and Opilio drawing the lion’s share of the Executors’ attention. Raccitelli demonstrates an alarming bit of insight during the fight as he addresses Rugo by name, and refers to the mercenary’s dead wife. The rest of the Executors draw plenty of blood before they’re put down, with Carenza striking down Gorvo, but the group chooses to subdue Raccitelli instead.

Ettorio devotes some time to the vault, but it’s more complicated than he had imagined: despite its age, it still has the sort of sophisticated lock systems a shrine to the wealth god might boast. They compel the rudely revived Raccitelli to open the vault. He does so, though he does his best to convince the group that it’d be more profitable still to keep the Executor operation running, with his assistance of course.

Once the vault is open, Rugo pulls Raccitelli into a corner. “My wife’s name didn’t deserve to be dragged through your lips,” he snarls. He finishes the Executor mastermind then and there, afterwards returning to help deal with the spoils.

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45 - Freelance Initiative
Vestiri introduces a new ally, who immediately makes inroads into the criminal element of the city.

“We’re not hitting them there. That would be stupid.”
“What?”
“What?” — Carenza Vega, Vesper Sespech & Rugo Cuscala

Ettorio vanishes into the night to see if he can perhaps learn some more about the Black Veils of Raspian, and how to better come into their good graces. Whatever he finds is uncertain: he isn’t present the next morning, when the group goes to meet Vestiri at the Vague Remorse. The tavern portion of the inn is mostly filled with people steadfastly ignoring one another, making it an unexpectedly useful place to discuss business.

Vestiri arrives in the company of a heavily-scarred mercenary in plate. He inquires after Ettorio’s absence, and the group explains it must be either business, something scandalous, or recovering from something scandalous. “I hope he’s well. How is his family doing, by the way? The last time I saw his mother, she looked as though she’d just had a wish granted by a smiling efreeti.”

Vestiri introduces his companion as Ser Rugo Cuscala, a knight after a fashion, and someone who’s lost a friend to a withering sickness very like that caused by the plague-apples of Blackharvest Chapel. They discuss potential means of gaining Prince Cortifo’s attention in a positive fashion, and Vestiri suggests doing what they seem to do anyway — finding some manner of trouble and getting involved on their own initiative. They discuss a number of rumors that suggest possibilities.

  • Valisto Dusaam is rumored to be an infernalist.
  • The Executors street gang is expanding quickly, devouring rivals and becoming a potent criminal element.
  • Something is stirring up the crypt lords under the Sorrowgarden.
  • A charismatic rabble-rouser is arguing for better treatment of workers, and people fear riots.
  • Prince Gorsino is claiming he’s the target of an alliance.
  • A killer with a crossbow is murdering people in the Downturn slums, perhaps for sport.

After discussing the options, they decide the Executors might be the best target for their brand of interference. Rugo joins them as a favor to Vestiri. They begin their investigations in Wheelrow, and soon learn that the Executors are an up-and-coming third party in Raspian organized crime — the other two being House Belladonna, and a mysterious cartel called “the Faceless House” that is reputed to be a genuine Great House acting covertly. Rugo is actually able to delve out a likely prospect for the Faceless House — the river-trade moguls of House Nemedian. The Executors already dominate much of the Gryphon Docks and Wheelrow, and are still expanding — though their lieutenants are being spread out thinner and thinner.

Their investigations move to the Scabbard after lunch. While Carenza is distracted with a recalcitrant informant, Opilio spots a familiar face — one of the thugs from Redoris that were part of Scorpis Rovino’s retinue. Asking after the fellow, Opilio finds he’s part of the crew hired by one Brino Ruvetti, a broker that’s purchased a tower in the Scabbard. Ruvetti apparently fended off a recent assassination attempt, and displays the charred skulls of the elven assassins in his tower to assist morale. When the four reconvene to compare notes, Vesper points out to Opilio that they now know where Bravadi Rovino is.

Brino. Ruvetti.”

Opilio ponders for a moment before becoming chagrined. “Oh, I’ve been Ettorioed!”

The news of the assassins complicates things further; Vesper suggests that “Ruvetti” must now have a wizard in his service. They focus again on the Executors, and contemplate the dangers of the hideout — the gang operates out of an old shrine to Jaulckem. Rugo volunteers to further their move against the Executors by infiltrating them and providing information on their hideout. “I’m new in town. I need work.” There are no objections.

The scarred mercenary’s approach is direct and brutal: anyone who gets between him and the boss either backs down or winds up nursing injuries. He meets with Gorvo, the burly head of the Executors, but shrewdly notes that the real brains of the operations must be the bookkeeper Raccitelli. Gorvo sizes “Ogur” up and apparently is impressed by his skills — as well as his brass.

“What do I have to do to get a territory?” Rugo asks. “To be… baron to a king such as yourself?”

Gorvo sets “Ogur” the task of somehow dealing with the Drovers, a rival gang in Wheelrow marked for conflict or assimilation. If he can bring back a trophy from Josso Brokeyoke, the Drovers’ leader, then he can be deputized to rule the territory. Rugo accepts, and sets out to learn as much as he can about the Drovers. He doesn’t learn much with the remaining hours of the night, though.

Rugo visits Opilio an hour before dawn at the Hare and Pheasant, updating him on the progress and charging Opilio with using his impressive streetwise skills to learn more about the Drovers. He then heads for the Sespech grotto, pausing only to intimidate a clumsy Executors tail into reporting that all is completely on the up-and-up.

At the grotto he relays the information to Vesper, and requests breakfast and a place to sleep. Vesper has him fed, but then dispatches him to a nearby inn instead of a Sespech guest room. Vesper’s mother is clearly worried by the intimidating visitor, and not-so-subtly tries to determine if this brute is the Vargari suitor she’s so worried about. Vesper then heads out to collect Opilio, whose savantlike knowledge of the streets has clearly faded — she finds him attempting to wheedle information from actual drovers. She takes over the investigation, and learns that the Drovers have been viciously active of late. They no doubt have been attempting to look strong to deter Executor attention.

Rugo wakes up at noon, and then moves on to the next stage of his plan. He approaches the Drovers as a messenger from the Executors, demanding a one-on-one parlay be set up for Josso Brokeyoke. When a Drover lieutenant gives him trouble, he beats the man down — and then thrashes nine more men to prove his point.

Josso Brokeyoke makes his appointment.

The meet takes place in a quiet portion of Sorrowgarden; Rugo meets Josso alone, while Vesper and Opilio lie in wait to ambush Brokeyoke’s entourage should they try anything. Josso Brokeyoke is clearly reluctant to bend knee and turn over his territory to “Ogur,” even if he could stay on as a lieutenant. Rugo moves directly into doing things the hard way. Brokeyoke is able to handle a slaughterhouse hammer with some skill, but he’s not on Rugo’s level; he’s beaten down before he can genuinely injure the mercenary. His men move to help, but are quickly scattered when Vesper manifests her banshee vestige as an independent force. Those who are still on their feet after the keening flee Sorrowgarden at once. With Josso subdued and a guard patrol approaching, the group quickly leaves.

Late that evening, Rugo brings Josso Brokeyoke as a prisoner before Gorvo. Gorvo, much impressed, agrees to fulfill his part of the bargain.

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44 - Employing a Middleman
An argument is made for advancing more cautiously and engaging the services of professionals.

“Or maybe you’re growing up.”
“That is the worst thing you have ever said to me.” — Vesper Sespech & Ettorio Iluni

En route to the Scabbard, Vesper halts the group and makes an alternate proposal. If it would be awkward for any of them to have Bravadi’s blood on their hands, she reasons, why not engage professionals? Assassins of the sort that Ettorio has associated with? The others are reticent to take this step at first, but gradually they agree to consider it.

Thus, instead of continuing to the Scabbard District, they choose a base of operations. They settle into the Hare & Pheasant, an “urban rustic” inn that offers food and furnishings from various provinces. Although initially quite dubious, Opilio grants his approval when he notes the extensive selection of Calveran wines. He and Carenza settle in for the evening, and he begins educating three of her Ladies in wine appreciation. Dua and Rabbit are dispatched to the Scabbard to ask around (though to avoid trouble), Vesper moves on to the Sespech palazzo to visit her mother, catching up after eleven years apart. Their reunion runs well past midnight, with so much to catch up on — including the fact that Istrella is being wooed by a soldier. Ettorio goes to investigate the Scintilla in search of contacts to the Black Veils. Though forewarned that the Raspian Veils have some ties to an opera house, he is entirely too distracted by the night life, and staggers back to the Hare & Pheasant at a late hour.

The next morning, Vesper breakfasts with Master Ilviro Sespech, the aspiring would-be House Grandfather with a taste for politics. He spends some time in polite conversation assessing her goals, which she carefully keeps quiet. The others enjoy the hearty breakfast foods at the Hare & Pheasant, but the failure of Dua and Rabbit to return triggers some concern. Carenza asks if Ettorio still has his disguise kit. Soon Oirotte Bopilio and Aznerac make their return, and Opilio receives a very hasty disguise as “Garpa.” When Vesper arrives to find all her companions in disguise, Ettorio explains that they’re headed to the Scabbard to find out what happened to Carenza’s seconds.

“Do you want to help look for Dua and Rabbit?”

“I suppose I do.”

“Do you want to be recognized?”

“I suppose I don’t.”

“Then disguise!”

Unfortunately, his work on Vesper is not his best. Vesper winds up disguised something as a transvestite aide-de-camp, but it’s better than nothing. Thus shielded from recognition, they travel to the Scabbard.

They wander the far military district, and gather a number of rumors:

- The Scabbard’s watch captain is offering bounties for troublemaking residents that have been raiding the Mills;
- Cortifo’s troops have been working to suppress heavy bandit activity
- Prince Gorsino of Brassado has been claiming he’s the target of some form of alliance
- And most curiously (and difficult to uncover), one informant claims that troops are secretly massing at the border town of Salcari.

They also find Dua and Rabbit, who turn out to have gotten a room when they arrived too late to gather much information. The two have been gathering rumors themselves for the day. Though Rabbit has difficulty overlooking Carenza’s very effective disguise, in the end she agrees to remain and continue their search.

On the way back, Ettorio begins to fish around more for information on the local assassins. More effective this time, he learns that there are likely three contact points for the Veils: a high-end tavern in Aurelian Park, the Chimera opera house in Scintilla, and a small square in the slums of Downturn. The group decides to visit the opera house, where those seeking the Veils go to the trouble of renting a particular box.

First, though, Vesper must have dinner with her mother and her mother’s suitor, who turns out to be a veteran by the name of Arisant. Arisant is clearly impressed by Vesper’s adept status as well being the primary family member Istrella cares about. He does his best to win her over with sincere goodwill, though the conversation turns a little awkward when Vesper’s own admirer is mentioned. Arisant and Istrella point out that the Vargari have a dangerous reputation, and it seems a couple of the Raspian Vargari are prone to pick fights in order to warn others away.

“I just worry a little,” Istrella says. “The Vargari have a reputation for being…” She glances at Arisant for help.

“Undisciplined.”

Vesper responds politely, without defensiveness. “They are difficult to know, I admit. They don’t trust easily, and with good reason. Most other Houses would see them driven out again. But once you gain their trust they are quite warm and open, in Cinquedea at least. I can’t speak for the Vargari here.”

“I don’t know any of the Vargari here except by reputation,” says Arisant. “But they are dangerous. One of their champions has slain several men in duels. I don’t mean to say that you can’t handle danger, of course…”

“We know you… risk yourself regularly,” cuts in Istrella. “It just seems that you might be put in danger away from your… work, just by nature of the man courting you.”

“Thank you, I can take care of myself, and I can be ambushed in the street for wearing my House pin openly, so I fail to see what difference it makes who is courting me. Kosvach is dangerous, but not to me, and he will also always have my back.

“I would be happy to continue this discussion later, but for now I must leave or be late for the opera.”

That evening, the group takes in “Cadelard and Cavrios”, a swashbuckling opera about a twenty-year blood feud between Vilessan sea captain. The box is awkwardly placed, affording a limited view of the stage but optimal privacy for its occupants. Partway through the performance, a fifth person appears quietly in the booth: a veiled woman seated in the back row. Ettorio opens negotiations with her, and is somewhat taken aback when he notices that she is not entirely right — and Opilio is the first to spot the strings. Gradually the entire group realizes they are speaking with an incredibly sophisticated and lifelike marionette.

The marionette asks the nature of their target (“An asshole,” replies Ettorio), his profession (“Asshole.”), contacts, and the like. Eventually, after some talk of a displaced head of a city’s House, she mentions the name Rovino. The contract to make Bravadi disappear is an expensive one: she quotes the price of six thousand reganti. Information is cheaper: the existing information the organization possesses would cost 100, a more deliberate inquiry 500, and an inquiry into specifics 800. The possibility of bartering service for service is also not out of the question. The group decides they need to talk over their possibilities more, and ask how to arrange a proper meeting once they’re ready to deal. The marionette tells them to send any message they choose along with flowers to the actress Catariella, and it will be arranged.

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43 - City of Splendor
Some business in Cinquedea squared away, the four travel to Raspian City.

“So you’re saying if I kill him I can never drink again?”
“Yes.”
“I’m staying here.” — Ettorio Iluni & Opilio Chapelwood

A week passes in Cinquedea. Carenza spends part of her time catching up with her relatives, Rasselo in particular. He mentions that he’s aware that a confrontation with his father is inevitable, and although he doesn’t particularly want to see his father dead, he isn’t going to fault Carenza if the unavoidable happens. When not visiting the Rovino tower, Carenza continues to work for the Ladies-in-Waiting’s benefit. Although she doesn’t manage to win the goodwill of the Veins’ Captain Breggatira, she does mastermind several clever plans that damage all the Ladies’ rivals and expand their territory. With the demands of this expanded territory, Carenza plans to take only five with her: Dua, Rabbit, Cattri, Lette and Vil.

Ettorio catches up with Marvino; the return of the Coral Tiara has put his father-in-law’s business back on track. He also spends some time flaunting his relationship with Bessari in front of her relatives, to their smoldering anger; a scandalous night visit adds the icing to the cake.

Vesper spends more time with Kosvach, dining at the Vargari household and simply enjoying her new relationship. She does have a difficult time attempting to keep from him that they’ll be headed to Raspian to hunt down Bravadi: she emphasizes she plans to visit her mother instead. She also visits the Tyliel estate to catch up with Ambira, who in typical forthright fashion admits far too much about her flowering relationship with Alesci. Vesper gives her the present of the Suran al-Qalir early, and Ambira is surprisingly already familiar with the work.

Opilio is content to spend time with his family. He gives Dechera a purse of 500 reganti, and encourages her to purchase the furnishings for their home that she’ll be happy with. He also speaks quietly with Alesci and Ambira, each in turn, emphasizing that although he’s happy their relationship is strengthening, that they should let this be a “solitary incident.” Neither corrects him.

Before they set out, the group meets for dinner at the Bridesmaid’s Tear, where they discuss the difficulties lying ahead. Carenza mentions that Bravadi likely isn’t in good with the Raspian Rovinos, who are allegedly more cunning than most.

“They are the sharpest knives in the Rovino drawer,” says Vesper.

“Which means they’re good against bread but not a tomato,” offers Carenza.

“There may be some tomato knives in this particular drawer.”

The metaphor continues for some time. “You come from a family of surgical tools,” Carenza expands to Ettorio at one point.

“Did you just call my family tools? Racist.”

The conversation eventually drifts into a more serious tone as Opilio addresses Carenza and Ettorio, stressing that he doesn’t want either of them to strike a killing blow against Bravadi. Though it may be a folk superstition, he explains, terrible things tend to happen to kinslayers. He wouldn’t want Ettorio to have to live with keeping that secret from his future wife, no matter how skilled a liar the Iluni might be.

The next morning, the group prepares to board the Mother-of-Pearl for their trip to Raspian City. Ambira, Alesci and Dechera come out to see Opilio off; more awkwardly, Rasselo and Bessari come to bid Carenza and Ettorio farewell, but are a bit on edge thanks to the presence of Kosvach. Carenza does what she can to distract them, so Ettorio can say goodbye to his fiancee. Bessari explains to him that although she’s powerless to prevent him from any scandal that may come from his attending Vestiri’s debaucheries, she would prefer to be the source of his scandal — but she will forgive him all the same as long as he doesn’t openly humiliate her. Unable to express the real reason for their trip (“We plan to kill your father!”), Ettorio fumbles for words until he finally says “I love you,” and then retreats to the ship while she stares in confusion.

Kosvach and Vesper’s parting takes a differently awkward turn. “Though I don’t claim to be all that clever,” he says, “I’m not dumb.” She pauses for a moment, then replies with “I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”

They sail through a few bursts of rain, but reach Raspian City by evening. The garrulous and somewhat maternal Captain Oresca relates many folktales regarding the massive stone sea-gryphon statues that guard the harbor. As they disembark, the four are greeted by the true diversity of Rasennan trade — ships from Ossenland, Vilessa, Chelindor, the Grey Coast, even a Kheran trader with a bestial Nemekhari shouting orders at its workers.

While they begin to discuss their first night’s disposition, a young boy approaches them and offers to act as their guide. “Scouts and touts,” he proudly recites. He’s not easily dismissed, and eventually they agree to let him lead them to the Sterling, a good inn in the Shadeway. But something’s odd about his demeanor, and gradually they pick up that he’s sending signals to other children tailing them. Vesper frightens one away with the Sespech mark, and then they interrogate him. The boy, Dosta, explains that he was meant to lead them into an ambush. The children’s boss Grocci gave the order. The group agrees to let him continue.

“So there’ll still be an ambush?” Dosta asks?

“There’ll still be an ambush,” Vesper assures him. “The question is just who’s doing the ambushing.”

Grocci’s ambuscade is set in a small courtyard with a well: many men, some along a small wooden footbridge ten feet up and with loaded crossbows. Opilio springs the trap by lunging forward and driving a cart against a wall, pinning the two men that were using it for cover. But the crossbow fire is withering, and the ambushers’ offensive puts Opilio and Carenza on the defensive. Vil is struck down, though Carenza’s voice keeps her in the struggle. And things become even more intense when a pair of basement doors bang open, and a nine-foot ogre erupts into the fray.

But the band is canny as well as powerful. Vesper collapses the snipers’ walkway with a ruinous phrase, eliminating their advantage. The Ladies rally with their crossbows, weeding out the chaff. Ettorio, Opilio and Carenza focus on the ambush’s leader and the ogre, and are able to slay the ogre. With an insightful improvised feint, Ettorio sends the leader tumbling into the well.

The fight being over at that point, they throw down the bucket to the would-be commander who is having difficulty staying afloat. They interrogate him then, and he admits that Bravadi gave him the order. He was to drop off word at the Cripple’s Crutch, a tavern in the Scabbard whose barkeep is Bravadi’s contact.

The group prepares to head out for the Scabbard, leaving the thug to climb out of the well. Rabbit volunteers to put a bolt in him, but Vesper shakes her head. “He’s broken; once you break someone, it’s easier to do it again.”

“But if you kill him, then you don’t have to break him again at all,” protests Rabbit, before Carenza silences her. The mercenary captain takes Rabbit aside and tells her not to question orders — and gives her a gesture to remain behind. If Opilio, Vesper or Ettorio notice that Carenza has only four followers before Rabbit catches up, or that there’s one fewer bolt in her crossbow’s magazine, they say nothing.

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42 - Fifty-Fifty-Fifty
The three-sided coin is offered wishes, before the affair with Prince Olidian is settled and the four return to Cinquedea.

If anyone else would like a pie I am led to believe they are inexhaustible!” — Carpa

With spoils in hand, the group makes a hasty, if not quite silent, exit from the Sable Skulls’ lair. A pair of Skulls apparently catch their scent, but the group easily lose their tails in the winding Redoris streets. They discuss their plans, and then split up.

Vesper moves among halfling circles again; first she convinces Tolly to bring Check to a meet where they can ascertain if he’s free of the entrancement or not, then purchases a copy of the Suran al-Qalir for a wedding present. Next she goes off in search of Kosvach’s lost saber. The halfling weapon-dealer Jaxa Quill admits to having purchased the saber from a dredge-gang who saw Bravadi hurl it into the bay when taunting his captives. She sold it to Telva Dancredi, a merchant who intends to send it to a possible Brassado buyer. Telva expects to get 350 reganti for the saber, but is willing to sell it to Vesper for considerably less if Vesper would offer an endorsement: placing the Sespech mark on her blades would be a great draw. Vesper refuses, and instead offers 400 gold for the saber. Telva accepts, and Vesper leaves the shop much poorer but triumphant.

Her poverty is not long-lived. Ettorio spends some time finding buyers for the various items in the Nithian’s hoard; he sells everything but the poisoning-fork, the cockatrice egg and of course the three-sided coin. It provides quite a bit of coin.

Carenza heads to her contact Krista, to spread word to Taza that they located the Sable Skulls hideout, but that it’ll be important to move quickly. Krista is rapidly convinced, and mobilizes her superior with great speed. With no such errand of import, Opilio passes the morning sparring with the Ladies-in-Waiting.

Before they meet with Check, the talk turns to wishing. Ettorio states he’s ready to wish, and even that he thinks Carpa should get a wish. “I think I have decided I will refrain from the wishing,” remarks Opilio; “I don’t understand” is Ettorio’s rejoinder. Vesper and Carenza voice similar doubts, but Ettorio is undaunted. He flips the coin into the air, and as it spins with a tinkling sound like a girl’s laughter, he makes his wish: “I wish Marvino’s problems would go away.” He is pleased to see the coin land on heads.

Carpa dithers a bit about potential wishes — an impenetrable waistcoat, the love of a fascinating woman, all the wine he can drink — but he notes that it will be quite refreshing to actually hold his next reversal of fortune in his hand. He thinks for a moment, then flips the coin: “I wish for an inexhaustible supply of savory pies!” Much to his shock, the coin lands on heads as well. The discussion continues a little longer before Carpa discovers that someone has slipped a magical leather wallet into his bags that produces savory hand-pies upon demand.

No more wishing takes place, and the group meets with Check in a tailor’s loft. The halfling is quite wary of the group, but agrees to go see Sequava about the portion of his memories that are somewhat fuzzy.

The group meets with Sequava as well, and are dismissed when Check’s treatment begins. As they wait in the Prince’s palace, Opilio finally asks for the coin. “I am content with my own lot, but for the Chapelwood lands I wish prosperity, peace and happiness for all those who live there.” He doesn’t dare look at the coin when it lands. “It is not bad news,” Ettorio explains, staring at the wheel, “but it is not exactly good news either. It is the other other news.”

The four eat dinner with the Prince that night, and indulge in light conversation. He asks their opinions on the Miriadis, having had a visitor recently from the aspiring House. Vesper is quite frank about her concerns, and is relieved to find Olidian didn’t care much for their messenger. After the dinner, Olidian invites them to walk with him. Once properly secluded, they discuss the affair of the coin, and Ettorio returns it to the fortunate Prince.

They spend another day in Redoris before the Roaring Gryphon carries them back to Cinquedea. The winds are poor, and they arrive late. Carenza and her crew go carousing in the Veins. Vesper dashes off a note for Kosvach to meet her at the Iron Fang; she then returns to the Quiet House, and finds a pair of letters from the Vargari house.

Ettorio goes shopping for a present, and winds up purchasing some polychromatic perfume from a vendor who clearly had no idea what he was selling. Upon his return to Eveningstones, Virillin greets him and exchanges some news; the Coral Tiara has returned, its captain having performed a daring rescue from its Toquan snake-blood hijackers. It still carried enough cargo that the financial woes of Marvino’s father-in-law are now much abated. “What a fortunate turn of events,” says Ettorio.

Opilio heads to the Tyliel estate, and servants notify Ambira. She appears, quite excited but suspiciously flushed — and when she embraces Opilio, he can tell she’s not only wearing perfume, but smells of Alesci’s own scent. Alesci arrives shortly afterward, and is utterly incapable of concealing his guilt. The three talk awkwardly of adventure before Ambira departs to fetch her mother. While she’s gone, Opilio talks with his son-in-law-to-be about the increased closeness of their relationship, balancing a lack of blame with an absolute promise of pain if Alesci abandons her. Alesci reassures him that he fears both Opilio and his own House in that respect. The family then talks more about events when Dechera arrives. Finally, they all head back to their separate rooms, but Ambira holds back and makes certain her father knows that it was her idea, not Alesci’s, to… consummate early. She also points out her mother doesn’t know, and Opilio promises to keep their secret.

The next morning, Carenza visits the Rovino household. Rasselo is quite frustrated by having to take on the bookkeeping duties that Bessari will soon abandon, and his mood isn’t heavily improved by Carenza’s talk of matchmaking. They discuss the likely disposition of Bravadi Rovino, and Rasselo promises to keep her updated with whatever information he finds.

Kosvach drops by the Iron Fang partway through Vesper’s lesson. When she’s finished, and the two of them are alone, he seems to struggle with finding the proper approach before he simply takes her in one arm and kisses her. With that understanding settled, she makes the request that he teach her Lokvan, and then returns his masterwork saber to him. “You are a wonder,” he says in clear admiration; “what next, will you recover my boots?” The two of them then wander the streets and begin to discuss the next steps of their relationship. Vesper reminds him that she is still owed 29 minutes of a very expensive half-hour, and he promises to make certain it’s money well-spent. When Opilio happens across them later in the morning, they are too occupied with one another to notice him.

Carenza swings by Eveningstones when Ettorio is up. She proposes the Iluni acting as matchmakers for Rasselo, and Ettorio agrees it would be a good idea. He then goes to visit the Rovino estate himself, and deeply enjoys the conflicted feelings his presence engenders in the various bullyboys. Rasselo treats him with a mix of honest frustration and deep respect, but Bessari is delighted with his presence. She takes him on a tour of the building, occasionally stopping for some deep kisses — and Ettorio can’t resist a few of these kisses taking place “accidentally” where a Rovino might see them.

With no immediate stresses, the hours stretch into a few days spent in Cinquedea, relaxing and catching up on news. However, it seems fairly clear to the group that their next step will be following Bravadi Rovino’s trail to the home of all intrigues, the City of Splendor: Raspian City.

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41 - For a Single Gold Coin
A careful sifting through intrigues reveals gold at the bottom of a dark well.

“I don’t like this plan.” — Ettorio Iluni
“Suck it up.” — Carenza Vega & Vesper Sespech

Prince Olidian begins to tell what he knows of his court. Sequava is an ascetic; Taza owes him and Bress spends a lot of money on books; Piretta fancies herself a patron of the arts; Rozodor no doubt is interested in his luck; and Check is, well, a halfling information broker and therefore enigmatic. He asks the four not to be too obvious in their investigations, and gives them the name of a dressmaker where they can leave discreet messages for him. All this settled, the group breaks up and begins their work that evening.

The consensus is unanimous that Ettorio is the best to inquire among the artists and poets regarding Pirretta. In a smoke-filled back room he makes friends with a few artists that have worked directly with her. They inform him that Pirretta is very serious about promoting the arts in Raggavante, perhaps because she wants to be remembered for that rather than for being a courtesan who was lovely in her time. Olidian is not as generous with the city’s coin as he could be, and this distresses her greatly — in part because she is more fond of him than she dares let on. He also finds that Olidian seems to have offended the aged matriarch of the local Iluni…

Opilio finds a place where the various palace servants drink when off-duty. There he inquires about various wealthy folk the Prince may have offended. He learns of the Iluni grudge, that the Levatis have been chafing at a refusal to lessen their taxes, that the Dancredi also are not pleased with their Prince, and that the Graelskeld have come to an arrangement to provide work on the Grand Quay in exchanged for lessened taxes.

Carenza decides to feign interest in mercenary work for the Prince in order to investigate Taza. She manages to ingratiate herself with Taza’s lieutenant Krista and learn quite a bit. Taza apparently still holds to a Paelite knight’s code despite her disgrace in her home nation. Though she reportedly finds Olidian irritating and sometimes unreliable, her oath is to him as a Prince rather than to the office of Prince, to Raggavante or to Rasenna. She has also been stymied of late — there was to be a raid on the “Black Skulls” or something similar, but it turned out the information they’d been given was bad.

Vesper has the least luck of anyone that evening; she chooses to target the scholar culture to learn more about Bress, but finds that few people are out and active during the evening. She returns to the High Tide before anyone. The next morning the four commence the ritual of sharing their finds over breakfast, and depart for new efforts.

That morning, Vesper speaks with booksellers who have Bress as a customer, but learns that the Paelite seneschal has no suspicious buying patterns. She also learns that Check comes from a family that runs a bookbinder’s and scriptorium, and decides to act on this later. Ettorio visits the somewhat asymmetrical Taltikkan cathedral to look for new constructions or signs of higher security, but is solidly distracted by the charms of the Eminent Heirogaliant Carmina Foxhair. Opilio travels into the Bask, and manages to navigate the Hith culture sufficiently well that he gains an interview with Sequava’s clutchmate Ixeth. She tells him that Sequava remains free of “the net” of intrigues because he wants very little: the fewer wants one has, the harder it is to be ensnared. The group meets again to compare notes over lunch.

That afternoon Vesper actually gains enough trust from Check’s family that the halflings are willing to speak to her. She learns from Check’s apparent paramour, a pretty but very androgynous halfling named Tolly, that Check has not been checking in with his family regularly. He was apparently investigating the Sable Skulls before a three-day disappearance, and has declined to discuss the affair since.

Opilio, accompanied by Ettorio and Carenza, surprises the Prince by requesting a private consultation with Sequava on animistic matters. The lizardman diviner is even more taciturn than his clutchmate, but does provide a vision for Opilio: a thick black coil, surrounded by a circle of stones, gold at its heart. Opilio thanks the vizier and departs.

Combining their information over dinner, it seems apparent that Check is the culprit, having been coerced or ensorcelled by the Sable Skulls. The vision must refer to a sunken tower, the sort that can be found in Norhill. They scout the district, and quickly identify a dyer’s that seems entirely feasible. Finding a potential sally-port by which to enter, they decide to strike in the morning when the nocturnal rogues will likely be at their most vulnerable. Opilio watches through the night as the others rest and prepare.

When morning comes, Ettorio bypasses the door’s security and lets them into the kitchen area. A pair of Skulls are still awake; the first is dispatched silently, but the second — a crafter designing some weapon or harness in a workshop — lets out a shout before he’s put down. The group quickly finds a stairway leading down, and takes it before any more Sable Skulls wake or investigate.

The stair leads to an octagonal lower room of odd design, peculiar reliefs of human/animal hybrids on the walls. A pair of small pools flank a large dais, upon which rests a strange dark serpent with a scaled, human-like head. A pair of women, their heads shaved and painted or tattooed with the Sable Skull emblem, take up their scimitars as the snake-thing regards the intruders.

“Why are you here?” it asks.

“We’re here to kill you.”

Its eyes flash. “I forbid it.”

The dispute ensues. The thing is a quick, dangerous enemy — it bites with poisonous fangs, sends people flying with whiplike tail strikes, sprays acidic spittle across the room, and those who meet its gaze fall briefly under a hypnotic thrall. Ettorio is the first to be entranced and stagger into one of the pools, to discover the spikes hidden beneath the water. Its attendants are no slouches either; they fight as though dancing, moving with inhuman undulations and vicious scimitar strikes. Ettorio is badly blooded before he’s able to drop one of the women.

Opilio holds the attention of the thing, but somewhat to his detriment. It curls its tail around his maul and pulls it free from his grasp — and before he can do anything, the snake-monster swallows it. Almost immediately, though, Carenza is at his side. At her command, her silvery Uromni weapon takes the form of a massive hammer with intricate leaf-pattered filigree, and she passes it to Opilio. Snatching up a scimitar from the fallen attendant, she shouts a series of orders that retake the momentum. Ettorio dispatches the second attendant, and while the snake-beast is staggered from Opilio’s blows, Vesper slips behind it and opens it up with a strike from Styriax.

As the immense ophidian nightmare thrashes, its gut-pouch spills its contents across the floor. Opilio reclaims his maul, and the others scoop up the mix of coins, gems, jewelry and oddments. Ettorio singles out a golden coin and holds it up. The fox-head winks back at him, and the Taltikkan relic in hand, the group beats a hasty exit from the sunken tower.

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40 - Changing Luck
The icon is returned to Malestron at great cost, and an unexpected dinner leads to a curious proposal.

“Are we leaving behind bitter gravediggers everywhere we go?” — Carenza Vega

With Lothiros fallen, the four move to secure the icon. They find Visayla holding Anencia, with a knife to the Qullost questor’s neck. The half-elf demands to be allowed to go free. Vesper agrees, on the condition that she both relinquish the icon and release Anencia. Visayla points them to the tower, where Ettorio carefully checks for traps until such a point that he becomes bored with the process. The icon is discovered in Lothiros’ room, sitting on a small shelf. Ettorio gathers it in his cloak (though his cloak undergoes some histrionics in the process). Once it’s secured, Visayla releases Anencia and is permitted to depart — but unwilling to take her chances with the Raggavante marshes at midnight, she crumples defeated and agrees to go back to Redoris. In the meantime, Opilio tends to the nasty wound Carpa has suffered, and his remarkable medical skill soon has the hapless lackey back on his feet, if a little groggy. The Ladies-in-Waiting are quite pleased with the results of their first major action, “raining death on the enemy like manticores”. “No… like womanticores!” Carenza sensibly vetos that as a possible company name with great speed.

The group loots the Poison Frog stockade before resting until morning. They find the gang’s war chest, with roughly 860 reganti in it; Lothiros wears a silver ring shaped like an octopus with gemmed eyes, and carries an odd black skull mask. He also bears a chest tattoo of a snake with a human skull. Ettorio recognizes this as the mark of the Sable Skulls, a splinter faction of the smuggler group called the Sable Band.

The next day they begin the trip back. The downriver travel passes more quickly. That night, they take a careful, well-guarded stopover in the raft-town of Tarplank, where they naturally draw attention. One traveler mentions that Redoris is likely to hit a storm, and it may be wiser for them to stay upriver for a time. The group politely deflects his concerns.

That evening, four men in black skull masks attempt to creep into Ettorio and Opilio’s room. Opilio and Vesper are too vigilant for the intruders, though, and wake their roommates. A brief scuffle erupts in the hallway. The intruders focus their attacks first on Vesper and then on Opilio, but they have nothing to quite match Vesper and Opilio’s supernatural might or Carenza and Ettorio’s bladesmanship. One crossbow-wielder, badly wounded, is the last standing and attempts to flee, but he falls victim to roused Ladies-in-Waiting. Tarplank comes alive with all the fuss, but the group is able to convince the harried constable that they were acting in self-defense and they intend to leave town at first light.

They pass the next morning on Ust’s barge discussing the theoretical advantages of crocodile cavalry, and reach Redoris at midday. Their first stop is the Breakwater Basilica, where Druceron Tidewalker strongly recommends that the Silver Lord be the ship to take them to sea, and that Captain Vantir be the captain. After some debate, the group agrees. The Silver Lord departs with the tide.

With the gray cloud obscuring the sky, the sea has the feel of an imminent storm for hours. Opilio finally shows the icon to the sea and feels slightly foolish holding it aloft before he feels the static electricity on his fingers. The whirlpool begins to form, and nobody is sure how much time passes before Malestron emerges.

Opilio offers the icon, and Malestron seemingly devours it. “I AM PLEASED,” the dragon booms. “I GRANT YOU MY FAVOR.” A talon the size of a small canoe touches Opilio on the chest, and the explosion of electricity blasts him across the ship. The masterwork breastplate of Captain Crevant is half-melted away from his chest, where a strange draconic rune has appeared on his chest. This strange “blessing” granted, Malestron returns to the depths.

The Silver Lord puts back in to Redoris the next morning, and the group sees to business. Captain DeMer has closed an arrangement with the Levatis family, and the group’s share comes out to six thousand reganti. They arrange for one thousand to go to the efforts of settling the freed slaves, and generously divide another thousand among the Ladies-in-Waiting. These things done, the group largely prepares to see the last of Redoris. That evening at the High Tide, Vesper reports that Bravadi Rovino seems to have gone to Raspian, which may inform their next move. However, at that point a messenger dressed as a Kaealite scribe presents a scroll to them. The message is an invitation from an unknown party (a signature resembling a coin, or perhaps an “O”) to meet for dinner at the Tipsy Priestess in Rivermouth.

The following day Ettorio and Carenza scout out the tavern, learning that it has something of a religious motif that, if not strictly blasphemous, is perhaps a little irreverent. The tavern’s in a good part of town, though; not an ideal choice for an assassination or lethal brawl. Opilio purchases some gifts for his family, and Vesper gathers rumors of potion imbibers with snakes for fingers.

When they arrive at the Tipsy Priestess that evening, they’re directed to a booth in a private alcove. There they discover their contact is none other than an unobtrusively dressed Prince Olidian. The Prince of Raggavante offers them food and drink. “The Ruby Serpent’s very good; made by Calveran Evrelites, so you know it’s healthy.” A certain amount of small talk prefaces the meal before the Prince gets down to business.

Olidian stresses that it’s odd that the group didn’t return to ask for an award. This very characteristic implies to him that they may be civic-minded enough to assist him with a matter. He reveals that something’s been stolen from him: a three-sided coin, a rare Taltikkan relic said to grant wishes. The Prince suspects someone’s trying to sabotage him, and wouldn’t be surprised if the icon theft was related. He can’t trust his own court, because it had to be someone there. Thus, he’s inclined to approach these apparently selfless adventurers. When the topic of recompense is brought up, Olidian proposes two options: either he opens the Redoris coffers rather generously, or he offers them a chance to wish on the coin themselves.

The Prince then leaves them to contemplate the offer in private. Ettorio is strongly in favor of accepting it, and quite willing to accept the wish as payment. Opilio and Carenza are concerned about the ethics of returning such an item who may have used it to kill — but Vesper points out a few notes about the corrupt reign of Prince Idrian. Olidian’s claim that “Seventy-five percent of Raggavante was wishing for Prince Idrian to die; you can’t be too surprised that one of those wishes took” may have been accurate. As the Raggavante prince’s reputation seems to be more populist than corrupt, which is perhaps as good a measure as any of a prince’s character, they decide to accept the peculiar commission.

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39 - The Swamp Stockade
The group races against time into the Raggavante swamps.

“Raaaarrrright in the kidneys!” — Carenza Vega

Vesper’s next stop is the Roaring Gryphon, to check on the potential disposition of the former galley slaves. It’s still early, and Captain DeMer and her crew have yet to make any real progress on either this business or locating a buyer for the Elaborate Lie. She mentions that the captives that were taken will be easier to place, but those that were born into slavery will be harder. She mentions a possible contact that claims to know the location of Slumgullion, a floating city where the goblins might well be dropped off. Vesper thanks her for her efforts and leaves an extra 300 reganti with Captain DeMer to aid the process.

At the High Tide, Opilio fumes visibly enough at a breakfast table that Carpa and Rabbit go upstairs to get Ettorio and Carenza mobile. Once they arrive, Opilio tells his three companions that Captain Vantir is apparently being sheltered at the Breakwater Basilica, and the Qullosts are praying to avert the storm. The group decides to confront the Qullosts about this matter at once.

The confrontation is stormy on both sides, however. The Qullosts, led by their high priest Druceron Tidewalker initially take the group’s inquiries as a lead-in for a ransom: they mistake the claims of being able to avert the storm as an implication that they have the icon and will return it for the right price. Once it’s settled that both sides actually have the best interests of Redoris at heart, the four are brought into the presence of Captain Vantir.

Vantir relates how he intended to return the icon in exchange for Malestron’s rescue. However, he had given it to his lover, a half-elf by the name of Visayla. When he asked for its return, she refused; when he broke into her apartment to steal it, it was gone. She apparently had taken another lover, one Lothiros Snakebite, who sent a few legbreakers to beat the defiance out of Vantir. Vantir then crawled to the temple of Qullon, confessed, and has been sheltered since. Visayla apparently fled town into the swamp with Lothiros, who has some connections to an orchid’s blood-distilling gang called the Poison Frogs. The temple dispatched an agent, Anencia, after them but she has yet to return. The group pledges to go after the icon as well. Vantir draws them a picture of the icon, and gives them descriptions of Visayla and Lothiros.

The next step is finding a guide. Ettorio manages to locate a lizardman named Ust who is willing to make the journey. Ust claims to know the rough location of the Poison Frog stockade, two days inland by barge. They agree to meet him at the west docks, but first arrange a trip to the Prince’s palace.

Getting to see Prince Olidian takes a little bit of time. They are escorted in after it’s determined they are “not on the list.” The Prince of Raggavante seems rather distracted through their interview, and although he doesn’t seem to be fully convinced that the group’s story is all that plausible, he does take heed of their warning.

They set out that evening, on a barge poled by Ust and several of his kin, and towed by immense water-beetles. They travel for two days, getting a decent feel for the charms of the Raggavante swamps, until they draw near the village of Underlick not too long before sunset. Ust informs them that the stockade of the Poison Frogs is probably somewhere nearby, but he doesn’t know exact details. The group confers, considering the likelihood that the Frogs have a lookout in Underlick, and decide to send Carpa in as a possible recruit. The lackey dolefully agrees, as he already has practice with the story of being driven from society and desperate enough to take up banditry.

Carpa seems to have some success making contact with, and convincing, the scout. While the group follows carefully, Chiro tracks Carpa back to the drug-brewers’ hideout. The stockade is partly wood, built around a half-ruined stone tower on a hill. With some effort, the group is able to quietly draw close, Carenza setting up the Ladies as artillery with their recently gained crossbows. Opilio climbs a tree and watches the proceedings as Carpa negotiates with a man who must be Lothiros — but the negotiations go poorly. The group begins to advance to back Carpa up. The Ladies open with a volley, and although one sentry is killed quietly, the other is protected by stockade walls, and shouts an alarm. Lothiros takes the time to stab Carpa in the gut before rallying a defense.

The group are badly outnumbered at first, with as many as twenty opponents, but Carenza directs the Ladies as she fights, and many bandits are felled by quarrels in the melee. Ettorio and Carenza manage to fight almost as one, in a surprising display of choreographed attacks. A few of the Frogs are clear veterans, and Lothiros is not only a dangerous swordsman, but arrives with an immense frog in tow that belches caustic clouds. It’s sticky and bloody going for a time, but the constant covering fire gives the heroes the opportunity to take the upper hand. Carenza cuts Lothiros’ sword arm almost to the bone, and Vesper pronounces a necromantic doom on him. Bleeding and cursed, he attempts to flee, but is cut down by a hail of bolts at Carenza’s direction.

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38 - Dragonstorm
The Elaborate Lie is taken, and the group parlays with the most dangerous individual under the Saan.

“Don’t… don’t arm the goblins.”
“Aren’t they your minions now?”
“No!” — Vesper Sespech & Carenza Vega

There are a few moments of quiet as the group prepares to push belowdecks. Vesper uses the time to recommend stealing the Elaborate Lie outright. “We can send a message to the Roaring Gryphon to send a prize crew to steer her out, but with oars," she says. "We don’t need to wait for the tide. In fact we can’t wait, because it will be getting light out by then. I can negotiate the details with Captain DeMer later, but with the money this ship will fetch in Redoris, we can pay the crew of the Roaring Gryphon, and have money left to help the captives we’re about to free, and that’s not even counting whatever other goods we find on board. Also, we can’t free the captives here in any event. They’ll only end up coming to harm and there seem to be only enough life boats for the Morafir, so we need the ship just to get them out of here.”

The others agree, and quicky; Opilio hears the remaining crew moving about, no doubt having awakened and armed themselves during the fight. The Morafir captain emerges from the cabin with another Alesci, swordpoint to the young Tyliel’s throat, followed by a bent old elf with a variety of vials about his person. A massive bugbear, no doubt the galley drummer, forces his way out of the hatch to the fore, flanked by another Morafir in leather and a quartet of goblins. Carenza takes the lead with the negotiations, though the Morafir is unwilling to concede much — he points out that the group is unlikely to offer anything that could match the value of the crew members they’ve already killed, much less purchase Alesci’s freedom on top of that.

As the negotiation plays out, Carenza clearly (and loudly) points out that they can’t even be sure that’s the real Alesci. Kosvach addresses him, asking if it’s really him.

“Of course it’s me, Kos.”

“Then what’s Vesper’s favorite opera?”

“Ah… she doesn’t have one.”

Vesper shakes her head, and the hostilities erupt. Ettorio snaps off a crossbow bolt at the captain, that is just barely deflected by a basket hilt, and then swings down to the deck and grievously wounds the false Alesci. The doppleganger retreats, fading from Ettorio’s line of view, but falls quickly under Opilio’s maul. The captain is made of much sterner stuff, and manages to nearly topple Ettorio and press Carenza hard. Carenza retaliates with a vicious shot to the captain’s shoulder, though, and the Morafir finds himself weakened and exposed. Ettorio and Opilio quickly take advantage.

To the fore of the ship, Kosvach holds off the bugbear drummer and the goblins. Vesper assists him with a banshee’s cry, then adds an extra curse to the captain. Ettorio nearly sends the captain over the rail, but the Morafir easily rallies. Badly wounded, he takes a dose of combat drugs and lunges at Opilio, but is overcome by the power of Vesper’s curse. The alchemist leaps overboard in fear, and the remaining Morafir uses a smoke bomb to conceal his own retreat — only the bugbear remains, and he can’t stand against the numbers. Carenza ends him with a thrust, and as the quiet settles over the ship, Vesper sends Chiro with a note over to the Roaring Gryphon.

Captain DeMer: Please send over a prize crew. Would like to use oars to get underweigh before first light. Stay out of the water, we’ve chummed it pretty well. Do you have anyone that speaks goblin or Moriul? Happy to negotiate division of spoils once we’re out to sea.

As the prize crew arrives, the group takes stock of the various spoils. Alesci is discovered in one of the cabins, and Opilio selects some smelling salts to bring him out of his drug-induced hypnotic trance. When Kosvach asks him the same question, he responds with “The Longest Winter Night,” and Vesper confirms. The prize crew soon arrives, and Opilio announces to the galley slaves (a mix of humans, goblins, bugbears, orcs and a single half-orc, only a few of whom seem to understand Common) that they’ll all be liberated soon but they have one more task. He then sits down at an oar himself, and soon the Elaborate Lie moves out to the barrier islands to rendezvous with the Roaring Gryphon.

Captain DeMer agrees to have her crew bring the Elaborate Lie into Redoris in exchange for half the sale price of the vessel; the group will receive the other half, and the cargo and crew’s effects. Both ships then make for Redoris. Opilio and Ettorio remain aboard the Morafir vessel. Alesci and Kosvach are looked after by the ship’s doctor Kydelli, and Vesper and Carenza go aboard the Gryphon with them. They try to put the goblins ashore to move back to Redoris, but the goblins want none of it: they seem to feel that they will die badly if they return where Dame Ilsivris can lay her hands upon them.

Vesper takes the time to vent her frustrations on Kosvach. “You took Alesci, who is green as spring grass, and you didn’t take me? I thought we were friends!” Kosvach apologizes, but says little in his defense.

When she goes to talk to Alesci, she is less angry and more disappointed. She points out that Ambira ran after him into danger, and chides him for following Kosvach’s lead. Alesci, somewhat bemused, points out that this whole escapade was his idea, and that when Kosvach argued that they should take Vesper, he — to his shame — asked that they not do so, so that he could prove himself. Clearly chagrined by the whole affair, Alesci apologizes and thanks Vesper, then seeks out Carenza to do the same. The mercenary captain chides him a bit, gently, for propriety’s sake, then states that what’s done is done.

The storm brewing in the southeast grows stronger as they sail, and soon something is spotted in the water — merfolk. One of the strange creatures hails Opilio, asking if he is also going to see what happens when the storm hits the city. She explains that the dragon Malestron was cheated of his tribute by a sailor, and is heading to visit a storm on Redoris in retribution. Somewhat appalled, Opilio moves to inform the others.

Confronted with the possibility of crossing paths with the Dragon of the Saanwater, the group weighs their options. Vesper recommends attempting to bargain with Malestron, that they offer to retrieve the tribute for the dragon. The others agree, and the group boards the Elaborate Lie to cross the dragon’s path. Opilio has one of the merfolk carry their offer to the dragon, and they wait tensely.

The storm closes around both ships, and a huge whirlpool forms, carrying the Morafir ship around its edge. An immense shape rears up from the depths of the whirlpool, and unfurls wings that spark with St. Elmo’s fire at the tips. Malestron takes the Elaborate Lie between its two talons, and lowers its head. “WHO WOULD TREAT WITH ME?” it booms. Opilio bravely steps forward.

Opilio addresses Malestron with a mix of humility and confidence. He states that it is wrong that this captain cheated the great dragon, but also that the city need not suffer for one man’s mistake. He offers their services to find the tribute and return it. The dragon considers, fixing each of the group with its lamp-like eyes, then rumbles “I ACCEPT YOU AS MY AGENT.” It identifies the “small, squeaking morsel” it spared as Captain Arnosta Vantir of the Silver Lord, who owes Malestron a Tsirithian idol from one of their sunken cities. It gives them a phase of the moon to bring the idol to the water and brandish it — if it does not appear then, the storm will roll again. The negotiations complete, Malestron sinks back into the depths, and the two ships sail through the clearing storm to Redoris.

That evening they choose the High Tide, a respectable establishment in Roarbridge, to discuss their next move. Carenza and Ettorio trade the exotic Morafir brandy for a large tab of wine, and proceed to get quite drunk. Vesper purchases two rounds of a dwarven spirit (the closest thing she can get to korzalka) and brings one to Kosvach; her anger spent, the two share drinks as friends and discuss their next move. Kosvach seems genuinely frustrated that he won’t be there to gain revenge on Bravadi, as he must take Alesci home, but agrees to return to Cinquedea in peace and face his family.

Alesci continues his penance of thanks and apologies, moving first to Opilio. The master of Chapelwood is stern but gently understanding of Alesci’s regrets, though he points out Dechera will want to have words with him. The Tyliel moves and then to Ettorio, who refuses to take any credit for his part in the rescue. He points out that when a very large man asks one to help rescue his daughter’s fiance, one agrees. Opilio being a friend, and Alesci marrying the daughter of a friend, that gives them a special relationship. “You are like a sub-sub-sub-friend. You are friendish.” Alesci takes the compliment graciously.

Vesper and Opilio rise early the next day. Opilio visits the Breakwater Basilica, the local temple to Qullon. He makes inquiries about the storm, and finds that Captain Vantir is actually being sheltered by the temple. Somewhat perturbed, he returns to the High Tide.

Vesper goes to see Alesci and Kosvach safely on the Doughty back to Cinquedea. When Kosvach begins his farewell to her, she steps into his guard, takes his head with both hands and kisses him. He shifts in clear surprise before his hands close on her waist and he responds. When she breaks the kiss, she steps back and looks seriously into his eyes for a long moment before she leaves him there and turns her attention to Alesci (who is smiling incredulously).

“I plan to attend your wedding,” she tells Alesci firmly. “You had better be there.”

“I also plan to attend it,” replies Alesci, still smiling. “You had better be there as well.”

As the Doughty pulls out of port, Vesper hears a Lokvan battle-song carried across the waves. She smiles, and returns to the High Tide.

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