Rasennan Summer

37 - Life or Death
One rescue succeeds and another becomes complicated in Redfathom Cove.

“It’s not a crime if all the witnesses are dead.” – Vesper Sespech

Vesper heads immediately to the docks to find a ship willing to take them to Redfathom Cove as soon as possible. She tries to find a ship that is disreputable but not too disreputable, and the scuttlebutt points her to the Roaring Gryphon. She meets with its captain Reyna de Mer, who is initially reticent to have her crew skip the Highsun festivities and sail to Redfathom, but the captain’s tone changes when Vesper mentions the Six Rings. She agrees to take them aboard without charging a fee.

The group spends the remainder of their time preparing a plan, and some disguises: Bravadi Rovino would recognize any of them save Opilio, and they run the risk of walking into the same trap that caught Alesci and Kosvach. Oirotte Bopilio makes a reappearance, Carenza is made up to resemble a more barbaric sellsword, and Vesper dyes her hair and poses as a boy. The Sespech also writes missives to Ambira and Inyavka Vargari, posting them on the Sapphire of the Saan for its return voyage.

The Roaring Gryphon sets sail the next morning when the tide is in, with some grousing from the crew. Poor weather makes it struggle to reach the hidden Redfathom Cove by the evening. As they put in, Captain De Mer and her first mate scan the other ships present: the Scarpedran corsair Reprehensible, the Vanasian smuggler Open Book, the Khavayish freebooter Vixen of Hamaji, the Steelhead mercenary ship carrying the Rasennan Fisher Knights, and a Morafir vessel (later identified as the Qiirnalych, or the Elaborate Lie). The captain stresses to the Rasennans that they must be cautious: if they break neutrality, they’ll draw the wrath of all these ships and their crews down, to say nothing of Boss Saltcliff.

The festival spills through the streets of Redfathom Cove. At the Life or Death gambling establishment, pit fights are already in session. They push their way through the crowds to see an unconscious woman from the Reprehensible being lifted from the pit, where Kosvach has just won a bare-knuckle bout. The proprietor (a badly burn-scarred dwarf called Drogvar the Scab) then calls for the next bout – a lethal encounter. A Morafir woman in knightly garb sends three of her goblin “pets” into the pit, each with a long knife, and the establishment spins a wheel to determine which weapon Kosvach receives. The wheel lands on “scimitar.”

Before the bout begins, the disguised Carenza catches Kosvach’s attention with a shout of “Vargari!” He fails to recognize her at first, but then notices Opilio behind her and catches on.

Though the goblins seem to feel their numerical advantage is superior, the odds are set at 2:1 in Kosvach’s favor – which is perhaps a bit too generous. The Vargari dispatches two with his opening rush, cutting one down and snapping the other’s neck. The third doesn’t last much longer.

During the time it takes for Drogvar to arrange the next bout, Ettorio scouts around to find the rear entrance to the underworks. It’s overseen by a single guard, who seems to be distracted by the ongoing festival. He makes it back to report before the next bout – Rastari, a Fisher Knight blade of no small reputation who fights with longsword and gladius. The mercenary chooses Death, and the wheel spins again, landing on the trident; the bookmakers offer odds of 3:1 favoring Rastari.

Rastari is a much more difficult opponent for Kosvach, especially given the choice of weapon. The Vargari strikes first and hard, but the Fisher Knight regains the offensive. But Carenza’s shouts of “The Wolf!” hearten Kosvach, and at one point Opilio’s keen vision catches that the Vargari’s eyes have turned golden yellow in his anger. The match gradually shifts in Kosvach’s favor, and although he takes a nasty wound to the shoulder, he finishes Rastari with the broken shaft of the trident and a powerful punch to the jaw. Vesper collects the 60 gold coins she won betting on Kosvach.

Drogvar has Kosvach returned to the underworks, calling an end to that evening’s pit-fighting. The four develop a plan: to have someone approach Drogvar attempting to purchase a “conjugal visit from a fan.” Vesper states she wants to be the one to go in. So Oirotte Bopilio approaches Drogvar the Scab and arranges for a half-hour spent in the pit-fighter’s cell for his young charge, and pays over the requisite 25 gold. One of Drogvar’s bodyguards takes them there and waits with Oirotte and Opilio while the bored rear-guard escorts the “young lad” in to Kosvach’s cell; he locks the door after her, and gives them half an hour.

Kosvach is initially unimpressed by his visitor, even when “he” produces a flask of korzalka. “I brought this all the way from Cinquedea,” Vesper says softly in her own voice. “The least you could do is have some.” Kosvach’s eyes flash with recognition, and the two immediately begin sharing information. Vesper tells him her allies are present and they have a ship; Kosvach reveals that Alesci is in town, purchased by the Morafir and kept aboard the Elaborate Lie. He offers to remain behind while they free Alesci first, but Vesper decides against it: they’ll need him against the Morafir. Thus resolved, they begin the escape. Vesper destroys the lock with a ruinous phrase, Kosvach kicks the door into the surprised guard, and they finish him off quickly. When Opilio hears the muffled sounds outside, he draws the attention of Drogvar’s personal guard, and Ettorio finishes the bruiser with a quick and accurate stab.

They retreat to the Roaring Gryphon to plot their attack on the Elaborate Lie. The first mate Jassen offers what information he’s learned: the captain Tesqal is aboard, they sit fairly light in the water, and the knight who fed her goblins to Kosvach has been spending the night ashore. Opilio borrows a spyglass to look over the deck; he counts three corsairs above, a fourth Morafir lying in concealment at the bow, and… Alesci! The young Tyliel walks back and forth on the deck, distracted-seeming but not visibly suffering. The plan becomes for the five to swim out and board the Elaborate Lie via climbing its anchor chain, and then setting out with freed captives in one or two of the Morafir lifeboats. Then the Roaring Gryphon can meet them out by the barrier islands outside the cove.

The swim over is tense; sharks are known to inhabit the cove, though none actively approach the group. They climb up the chain, but the Morafir hear them coming, and the curst elves’ resistance is notably fierce. Their swordsmen are bloody-handed; their repeater handbows accurate and painful; their tricks involve smoke bombs and combat drugs. Worst of all, Alesci immediately moves to his captors’ aid, stabbing Carenza in the back. Carenza, Kosvach and Opilio are all badly staggered in the fight; they gain an advantage only when Ettorio feints an elf over the rail, and Opilio knocks a wounded corsair into the water. When they beat Alesci unconscious, his features slacken and become gray, reverting to the tattooed visage of a doppelganger.

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36 - The Chase Begins
The four reconvene to prevent one mistake, track down two strays and settle an old score.

“I can’t help thinking about what would have happened to my daughter if she had found her way here and fallen into your people’s hands.” — Opilio Chapelwood

Opilio consoles his wife — who seems to be blaming herself in part for Ambira’s actions — and sets out immediately for Cinquedea. As he rides there, Vesper contacts Ettorio and Carenza about the missing young men, and prepares them for the possibility of going on the hunt. Once Opilio gets to Cinquedea, his first stop is Eveningstones.

Ambira nearly gets into deep trouble as she explores the Veins. She doesn’t recognize when she wanders into Salt Knaves territory, but guardian angels with excellent street skills are looking out for her. Carenza and a pair of younger Ladies-in-Waiting are first to engage the Salt Knaves that have surrounded Ambira. Vesper is next to arrive, pulling her friend to safety and then beginning to cast the Sespech evil eye. Ettorio brings Opilio in, and the protective father smashes into the gang. Very swiftly, those gang members who can limp or crawl away are doing so.

Though Ambira wants very badly to be part of the search, it surprisingly isn’t Opilio who talks her into remaining behind. Vesper tells her in no uncertain terms that a few months of blade-training are not enough, and that she’d just slow the group down. The unflinching Sespech convinces Ambira to stay with the Tyliels in the meantime, in case Alesci returns while they’re away, and to learn what they have to teach. She then dispatches Ettorio to purchase passage on the Sapphire of the Saan for fifteen: the four, plus Carpa and ten of the Ladies-in-Waiting. Vesper has been paying careful attention to the shipping schedules, and each day has memorized the next ship departing to Redoris.

The Sapphire of the Saan is a cramped, dingy caravel, and its captain Jurio Levatis is quite paranoid about corsairs, but sailing is good. They reach the City of Sins the night before Highsun, and celebrations are already beginning. The four take to the streets as if they were born there, and come away with a great many rumors and intrigues — but most interestingly, some people at the docks do remember Kosvach’s elaborate weaponry. One person points them to the Wayward Wench tavern, where a fellow wearing that bracer holds court. Vesper says darkly that if the boys have gone missing because they’re participating in debauchery she will be very upset.

At the Wayward Wench, instead they find Scorpis Rovino laughing at a table full of hard-looking men, one hand on a woman’s rump — and the other arm adorned with Kosvach’s wolfshead bracer. The sight infuriates several of the party. Vesper is the one to approach Scorpis first.

“Where is that bracer’s owner?”

“You’re looking at him.”

The Rovino’s response kindles Vesper’s fury, and she informs him that she’ll have the information from him either as a living man, or when she calls back his ghost. The young Sespech’s presence is nearly palpable, and Scorpis falters. He says the two young men were alive last he saw: they were too profitable to kill. At that point, one of his scarred drinking partners butts into the conversation. “What are you doing? Don’t fucking talk about business with them!” This draws further attention from Vesper’s party, and shortly thereafter the tavern owner is shouting nervously at them to take it outside.

The two factions meet on the docks to have it out: the four seekers and Carenza’s ten Ladies, against Scorpis, three very dangerous-looking men, and six bullyboys. Scorpis is the first to draw, catching Vesper with the same lightning-quick draw and strike he tried to kill Kosvach with, but Carenza is nearly as fast, and knocks away Scorpis’ follow-up strike. Vesper unleashes the fury of her banshee vestige, and Opilio, also caught up in battle fervor, transforms. Though he fights viciously, Scorpis is the brunt of too many people’s anger, and is first to fall. Ettorio sends one of Scorpis’ companions off the pier with a skillful strike, a second drops to the evil eye, and the third flees. Some of the Ladies-in-Waiting have gotten the worst of their first fight, Dua in particular, but Carenza and Opilio are able to stanch her wound and bring her around to some vigor.

They pull Scorpis down near the Seeps, where they find an abandoned sailmaker’s shack, perfect for their purposes. Scorpis is bound to a chair, and they interrogate him further. He reveals that Bravadi has made alliances with the Six Rings, particularly one Captain Mordescue of the King’s Ransom. It was the Six Rings assistance that allowed for the capture of Alesci and Kosvach. While the two Rovinos wanted to kill the young men, Mordescue saw them as potentially more profitable alive. As far as Scorpis knows, Kosvach was sold as a “pit dog” in Redfathom Cove, and if he’s as good as he claims to be, perhaps he’s still alive; he isn’t sure what they had in mind for Alesci.

Vesper and Ettorio leave Carenza and Opilio alone in the shack with Scorpis; Vesper immediately begins searching for a possible captain that could carry them to Redfathom Cove tomorrow. Opilio unlimbers his maul, tells Scorpis that he can’t stop thinking about what could have happened to Ambira if she’d crossed the slavers, and then staves the Rovino’s head in as though slaughtering a ram. Carenza’s Ladies help sew the corpse into a sail with a few weights, and shortly thereafter Scorpis Rovino sinks to the bottom of the Redoris harbor.

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35.4 - Spring
Prelude to another Rasennan summer.

Chapelwood: Opilio takes a hands-on approach to spring. He throws on some work clothes, gets out with all the new tenant families and helps everyone get fields plowed and new houses/barns erected. Dechera fusses about the plans for the wedding, and angles for Harvest’s Birth, the autumnal equinox and last day of the calendar summer, as a fine time. (It would mean that any children conceived on the wedding night would be born in the busy summertime, but Dechera feels that with her new position, Ambira will be able to have time to be a new mother even in the summer. Discussing this in earshot of Ambira encourages Ambira to go spend the night over at the Borsari’s again.)

Vesper’s Travels: The young Sespech visits at the Chapelwood and Borsari estates in mid-Weyrun. She converses with Ramilante about the Taribolto affair. She also chats with Ambira about the winter, asking “girl” questions such as “Did you kiss Alesci?” Ambira explains that she and Alesci were encouraged to kiss in front of everyone at the festival after Alesci said he would like to marry her, and it was embarrassing but she was rather fine with it anyway. She also mentions that the two of them managed to steal some more kisses before he left (even though it meant dodging his parents quite a bit), and somewhere along there was a bit of… rump-handling on both person’s part, but it was nice. She also confides that she’s been writing letters to Alesci, and he has been writing back, but she’s had to be alert and intercept them before her parents could read them because occasionally he says something that would not do for her parents to see even though they’re formally betrothed and all. Ambira then claims to be torn about showing Vesper the letters — wanting to keep them private, but also wanting to show off what beautiful love letters Alesci writes — and she shows them to her Sespech friend anyway.

Vesper returns to Cinquedea in the spring, and begins correspondence with Ambira anew upon arrival. She spends much of her time at the Quiet House, but also socializes at the Tyliel and Vargari households from time to time. She meets the youngest of the Cinqudean Vargari, the Alvorite acolyte Iliska (younger sister to Kosvach and Tarvana), and learns that Tarvana has traveled to Cynelorn and perhaps beyond to the Iron Marches for the warm season. Along with Alesci, Kosvach and often Floressa Tyliel, she also continues to indulge her taste for opera.

Vesper carefully observes Floressa’s interactions with Alesci and particularly Kosvach. At first it’s not clear at all whether the Tyliel apprentice is demonstrating interest in the Vargari. She does not flirt, makes no overtures — never does anything that he might be inclined to reject or deny her. Rather, when she directly interacts with him, she asks only for things that he is inclined to say “yes” to anyway: offering him a refill of wine, asking his opinion on a sword school, entirely harmless things. Vesper gradually realizes that Floressa may be subtly and patiently encouraging him to think of her as someone that it is pleasant to say “yes” to. Somewhat taken aback by the remarkable subtlety of the Tyliel way, she pays careful attention to Floressa’s techniques.

The Riddle of Kosvach: Over the spring, Vesper begins to wonder whether or not Kosvach has the potential of viewing her as more than a friend. His cool demeanor is difficult to penetrate, but a few hints seem almost encouraging. He smiles more often during their group outings as time rolls on, and sometimes even laughs outright. Every once in a while, when Floressa’s not looking, he glances over at Vesper and rolls his eyes a bit as if to say “Can you believe this girl?” It seems that Kosvach finds Floressa entertaining enough (and, slightly to Vesper’s vexation, pleasing to look at), but he doesn’t really empathize with her — he treats her politely, but seems to keep her at arm’s length.

As the month progresses, Vesper gets a better feel for Kosvach’s natural defensiveness — he’s always on guard, but for whatever reason he seems to relax his guard a bit around her. She can’t be sure if it’s because he’s starting to think of her as a third sister, or as a confidante, or as a friend akin to Alesci, or as something more — but he does clearly respect her and likes talking to her about other lands, the history of Rasenna, ghost stories and monsters and other interesting subjects. He’s not a dyed-in-the-wool opera fan, alas, but after one night hanging out late and enjoying a fair amount of korzalka, he reveals he has a surprisingly rich baritone and a fondness for Lokvan hero-songs. Floressa is most impressed with his impromptu recital (Alesci shows the signs of already being familiar with his skill), but her praise seems to deter Kosvach from singing another. The Vargari blade is apparently uninterested in song as performance, and more interested in singing just because he’s enjoying himself.

One morning Kosvach shows up at the Iron Fang early to watch Vesper spar. After the fighting, when she’s sweaty and aglow in triumph, she gets the impression that he likes what he sees — though she can’t tell whether he likes looking at her for her fighting performance alone, or if he also likes looking at her as a woman. Over brunch, they talk about bugbears. All in all, she decides that while it’s too early to rule out the possibility of Floressa winning him over, the signs are slightly encouraging — but still too open to the vagaries of interpretation.

Alesci Astray: As spring moves into summer, word arrives that Alesci and Kosvach have gone missing – the two took a voyage to Redoris, the Raggavante “City of Freedoms,” and did not return within the two weeks that they were expected. Ettorio, Vesper and Carenza pursue the news on the street, and are able to put together that apparently Scorpis Rovino had traveled to Redoris shortly before, and that Alesci had been making discreet inquiries about Scorpis’ trip.

Ambira goes missing immediately after the news reaches Chapelwood – her horse, some provisions, traveling clothes and other gear go missing as well. Investigation at the Borsari estate reveals that not only is she not there, but that over the winter and spring she has been taking knife-fighting and swordsmanship lessons from Ramilante. Apparently she has also been straining against settling down and starting a family within a year of meeting her adventurous intended, and did not want to be “the kind of wife that a husband leaves at home while he goes off and does something dangerous.” It is expected that she has run off to Cinquedea to go in search of her betrothed.

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35.3 - Winter
One year ends, another begins.

Shessender 2720-Weyrun 2721

Chapelwood: While work continues on expanding the Chapelwood main house, Opilio’s family and a pair of servants are comfortably ensconced in the completed section. Opilio and Dechera aggressively embarrass their daughter with expectations of an ongoing stream of grandchildren. Ambira copes by spending more time over at the Borsari Estate, apparently finding kindred spirits in the Borsari daughters. Ivella is perhaps a little jealous that Ambira is now affianced to a swashbuckler while the dashing young half-elf that rescued her has returned to the arms of his city lover. Still, they apparently find much to talk about, and Ambira spends many a long day and evening at the neighbors’.

The Black Veils: Ettorio continues to socialize with the Black Veils, and more: sparring with Giancapri, who is a skilled knife-fighter himself; drinking with Rutesse, who shares a few poisoner’s tricks on what to look for; speaking metaphysics with Corveri, who knows a thing or three about living shadow. As he gradually becomes more accustomed to their morbid but not heartless ways, Ettorio volunteers to aid them in one of their assignments.

They select Gocho Pulsciri as the target: the wealthy Pulsciri who poisoned a bard for the crime of paying court to his daughter. Ettorio is offered a role as bait, engaging Gocho (while disguised, of course) and leading him into a place of danger, where the Pulsciri may suffer an accident, imbibe something that disagrees with him, or even simply fall on a knife.

Hunting in Maviolo: Vesper’s letters to the Vargari clearly take root. At autumn’s end Kosvach and Tarvana arrive in Maviolo with the intention of hunting some of the worst bandits that lurk in the far woods. They also bring Vesper a present, a black-and-silver swordbelt with twin wolf head motifs — a sign that the Vargari trust her with the blade of their forebear. Kosvach notes that Alesci is perturbed he was left behind, but the Vargari siblings deemed him not yet ready for actively seeking life-and-death swordplay. Vesper requests to go with them on their hunt. The three work well together, and end the career of the murderous Riloz the Razor. After Evernight, the Vargari return to Cinquedea.

The rest of the winter Vesper spends in study, further researching necromantic projects that are as yet beyond her. She keeps a distanced eye on House politics, remaining aloof from the three potential factions building to supplant Grandfather Sadavari when his time comes. In turn, her cooperation with the Vargari seems to be largely viewed as a personal project, though a few wonder if she is planning to promote larger House-to-House political ties.

The Ladies-in-Waiting: During the winter, the Duchess confronts Carenza privately about some of the rumors she’s heard. There are some similarities to their new member and the firebrand that reputedly lit a fire inside House Rovino, then quenched it with a visit to the Prince.

Clearly impressed by Carenza’s ability and reminding her of her oath to the Ladies, the Duchess tells Carenza the secret of the gang. As the oath hinted, the gang name is not entirely an affectation – the Ladies are indeed waiting for someone, the return of someone they refer to as “their Queen.” They have been waiting for generations, and the Queen is largely legend to the gang (many of whom don’t even know of the tale) – but the Duchess believes.

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35.2 - Autumn
Events of the autumn of 2720.

Chapelwood: Opilio transfers his old flock and some choice cuttings from his old vineyards to the owner’s demesne on the Chapelwood Estate. A small house has already been erected for his family to stay in, with plans to expand it to a larger “squire’s house” over the autumn. He makes it known that any second sons and other hardworking men and their families who don’t stand to inherit can come and see him for a parcel of land to work in the coming spring.

Opilio offers to go hunting with Andelac Borsari, but Andelac’s wife remains wary of the idea. The disposition of the dryad Quercinnarra towards hunters in the wood is uncertain. Alesci Tyliel keeps a correspondence with Ambira, and visits Chapelwood for two weeks in Kolvoar, where they spend hours each day in (chaperoned) conversation.

At the end of Alesci’s visit, Opilio throws a large harvest festival. Ettorio travels from Cinquedea to take part, attended by Carpa (who has received explicit instructions from Bessari to keep a good eye on her fiancé). During the festival, Alesci and Ambira finally make up their minds, and Alesci informs the Chapelwoods of his formal intentions.

By the end of autumn, thanks to the expenses of building a home, contracting servants and throwing a sizable festival, and by refusing to raid Ambira’s dowry for some of the payoff, Opilio has comfortably begun the landowner’s slide into debt.

Blackharvest Reclaimed: A Chanethi priest (a strong, raggedly handsome woman in her early 30s by the name of Hedera Threevines) and three acolytes arrived during the group’s stay in Cinquedea. They have been hard at work cleansing and preparing the befouled Blackharvest Chapel for reconsecration; they camp in the structure. They are friendly, but fraternize little with Opilio and the locals, wanting to have their work finished by spring.

Ettorio Courting: With the negotiations with Rasselo reaching a suitable point, Ettorio begins formal courtship of Bessari Rovino. Bessari proves a playful, receptive, and surprisingly insightful target for his attentions, though he still must conceal a level of awkwardness regarding his family’s intentions. As he gets to know Bessari, he discovers that although she is not quite an adventurous sort, she has a shrewd financial mind, and helped her family immensely by careful auditing of the house expenses.

He spends his idle time carousing, drinking with friends and allies, engaging in philosophical discussions at the Bridemaid’s Tear, and corresponding with Opilio and Vesper.

Ettorio quietly makes inquiries into Marvino’s father-in-law, and learns that sailing ships are indeed expensive; ten thousand reganti is a fair rate for a pair of ships of this particular class. Master Batholus was likely foolish to commission two at once, even with the discount he received from the Barcamir for purchasing two rather than one. He had been turning an excellent profit on his one ship, but his ability to make regular payments without that ship is deeply in question.

Carpa begins training as an official valet for an Iluni of Ettorio’s standing, and begins to draw a formal salary. As negotiations with the Rovino continue, Ettorio suggests that at some point, Carpa may need to hire an assistant, someone to help him with his duties.

Plague Apples: Of the Cinquedean residents named in Clyressa’s ledger, Palisax and Lossifo are sentenced. Paretta Avicca (who apparently used an apple to kill her husband and his mistress) and Gocho Pulsciri (who allegedly poisoned a bard paying court to his daughter) remain out of the reach of the law. These last two become topics of conversation at the Bridesmaid’s Tear, as the Veils chat idly about “abuses of power and station.”

The defrocked priest Ortifo is murdered on Gallows Night (Kolvoar 30), and a blood-smeared gold coin is found in his pocket. The Veils theorize that the Red Tithe may have found a fallen priest of the Higher Nine a tempting offering to their Queen of Knives.

With Calcarro functionally immune to prosecution (and possessing an arguable right to the plague-apples by way of investiture), the remaining sources are the Discreet Brethren (presumably the wererats allied with Fair Clyressa) and the Chelindran merchant Sacrador.

Ettorio learns a few things of Sacrador:

- He is a smuggler by trade, dealing in illicit exotic goods such as drugs, poisons, peculiar weapons and the like.

- He has friends in Cinquedea and Redoris, the swampy port “City of Sins” of Raggavante; he may also trade with Scarpedra and other ports.

- His ship, the Slippery Eel, is reputedly the fastest on the Saanwater; it is a modified Barracuda-class, formerly of the imperial Mako Fleet. It is assumed the Chelindran Empire is not happy with him.

Vesper’s Research: Vesper spends some time delving into the unhappy history of House Vargari, from the legends surrounding their rise to the vicious feud with House Vycalaca and the bloody horror that precipitated their fall. Old maps pinpoint the House seat of Wolftowers in the lost principality of Lamosca. Other holdings dot the boundary between Maviolo and Lamosca, with a few in unclaimed and neglected sections of Maviolo. The Lucovol Villa stands out to her, a now-haunted ruin that was once home to Styriax and Alorem.

As far as the disposition of Prince Lazzaretta is concerned, it seems to be an uncertain question. The Prince has a history of condemning adventurous blades who stir up the ancient Maviolan dead, yet her ties with House Sespech seem to indicate that she is much more amenable to those who can reliably lay the angry dead to rest. It is uncertain that she would have much confidence in the Vargari – particularly given their reputation – but her reticence may not be insurmountable. One possible ally in the Prince’s court is the spartoi Captain Argonest, who is prone to more favorably regard competent warriors. Vesper corresponds with the Cinquedean Vargari regarding these findings.

Secordis Ossomont’s notes mention nobody by the name of Salzar. There is, however, some record of his travels in Invicci, where he and his colleagues (including Ramilante) brought the infernalist Taribolto to justice. If the doppleganger assassin from the Red Tithe and Salzar both learned the art of shadow-stitching in Cinquedea, then perhaps Salzar may have been tied up in this affair.

Vesper’s Birthday: Vesper turns 18 on Rathender 11. Her mother sends her a lovely letter full of good wishes. Peculiarly, she also receives a visit from Grandfather Sadavari, who commends her on her hard work and unflagging courage, and leaves a present of some very good port. Ettorio sends her a present as well.

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35.1 - Summer's End
Some last events in Cinquedea before the group splits for the seasons.

The last few days of late summer/early autumn before Opilio and Vesper leave Cinquedea.

Suitors: Following the processional feast, both Turavo Avicca and Giacador Andredi contact Opilio to state their interest in Ambira. Giacador seems a little disappointed when declined, but at least puts on a show of understanding. The Avicca gentleman is less sanguine, and his letter of response is faintly venomous.

The Apples: With the ledger in her hand, Captain Quincerra begins investigation of those city residents implicated with purchasing plague-apples. The duelist Palisax Redhand and the merchant Lossifo Bandicca are arrested quickly. The Phouthite priest Calcarro is brought in for questioning, but after some uproar among the religious sector, he is released. The priest of the Higher Nine, Ortifo, is publicly defrocked. Paretta Avicca and Gocho Pulsciri are not mentioned as brought in for questioning or arrest.

Fair Clyressa vanishes, and is rumored to have fled the city. The Golden Orchid is closed to await investigation and potential reopening under new management.

Dinner with Owls: Vesper and Opilio pay a call on the Tyliel estate, in part to thank the Tyliels for their role in the processional feast and in part to pursue the possibility of Alesci and Ambira becoming betrothed. Alesci formally requests permission to become better acquainted with Ambira; he confesses he finds her charming and quite unlike the girls he knows in Cinquedea, but has not really had much of a chance to get to know her well enough to feel comfortable requesting permission to marry.

At the dinner, Opilio meets Alesci’s immediate family as well. His father Cabo is a slightly heavy-set gentleman who is very humble and gracious; his mother Pirisina has a sense of humor that borders on the rustic; and his younger brother Vilo is immediately taken with Ambira, and complains to Alesci that he is probably closer to Ambira’s age than Alesci is.

Viriscia Tyliel shows some interest in the story of the Chapelwood lands, and offers to send her apprentice Floressa with Alesci to study the more unusual aspects of the land. For her part Floressa is gracious and charming, not quite the studied diplomat that Virillin Iluni is, but with a level of naturally (or unnaturally) bewitching charm. Her poise is put to the test as she chats with Vesper, though, as the Sespech teases her lightly about the processional feast and her apparent interest in Kosvach Vargari.

“I confess I had imagined the Vargari to be a little… rough around the edges for a Tyliel,” says Vesper coolly.

“I can’t speak to him being ‘for’ me or any other Tyliel. But even though the House reputation is daunting, he seems to possess a certain forthright honesty that speaks well for him. And I understand the Vargari believe in loyalty. That is… admirable.”

The two sorceresses seem to get along well, though Chiro and Floressa’s ermine Saltarello apparently spend part of the meal fussing at one another in indecipherable familiar-speak.

“Blaggard! Poltroon! Reprobate! Come up here and say that!”

Dinner with Wolves: Vesper and Alesci have dinner at the Vargari tower. Alesci picks up Vesper at the dock in a carriage, and rides with her there; along the way, he confesses that he’s a little nervous about possibly marrying so soon. He has (perhaps unfairly) looked at his friend as a possible model, and expected he would at least reach Kosvach’s age before marrying, rather than being betrothed at eighteen. He asks Vesper’s opinion on Ambira, as Ambira’s friend. Vesper tells Alesci not to let Opilio pressure him into anything – the marriage will be worthwhile only if he and Ambira are sure they want it.

The evening’s host is Grimant, local head of the Vargari and Rodivar’s older brother. Vesper meets him and his wife Forsa, their son Caineros and Grimant’s adopted student/inductee Ravian. Kosvach’s older sister Tarvana is also in attendance, having returned from her bounty-work upon hearing of the assassins sent against the family. The dinner is interesting — in some ways, the Vargari are every inch the barbarians she expected, but she learns quite a bit about their House’s history. She offers to look into the state of former Vargari holdings in Maviolo, and to see if Prince Lazzaretta would be amenable to the House reclaiming them if they are so inclined.

Alesci Is Perceptive: Alesci offers Vesper a carriage ride back to the dock after dinner with the Vargari. They idly chat about the evening, and Alesci is struck with an insight into Vesper’s heart — one that she herself is not quite privy to. The Tyliel is quite delighted at the prospect of his two friends perhaps courting one another, but governed by with the wisdom his House instilled in him, he keeps his sudden insight entirely to himself.

The Rovinos: With Bravadi gone, there is some dissent in the Rovino house as to who should be the new local head. Scorpis puts his name forward, and has some support, but the majority feel that his actions as Bravadi’s blade are too visible for him to be a good choice if the Prince is still paying attention. Rasselo and Bessari are the most obvious candidates, and with news that Ettorio is planning to court Bessari, the Rovinos shift majority support behind Rasselo.

Rasselo seems to still not like Ettorio all that much, but he apparently appreciates the positive effect Ettorio has on his sister. He also is reluctantly grateful that the courtship appears to be painting a sort of romantic legitimacy on the whole affair. It’s one of the first times this branch of the House has had to deal with romantic legitimacy, and they’re trying it on for size.

Marvino’s Problems: The money problems plaguing Ettorio’s brother are fairly dire. The shipbuilder’s bill coming due is likely to run about twenty thousand reganti. While most of this burden lies on the shoulders of his father-in-law, Marvino is no longer able to draw wages from the Batholus shipping company, and fears for his family’s future: there’s no way the Iluni will be able to spare that kind of money to save his father-in-law’s business.

Departure: Opilio and his family return to their estate to begin governing it in earnest. Vesper rides with them as far as Canteria, and then departs for Ladona — but not before sharing a few private words with Ambira.

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35 - The Processional Feast
The long-awaited processional feast comes, and the first salvo of marital negotiations is a surprise for all involved.

“I just wouldn’t advise marrying into that House. I may have to destroy it later.” — Vesper Sespech

A few days pass after the excitement with the Red Tithe. Nothing more is heard from the Zamallan assassins, nor the wererats for that matter. Bravadi Rovino was spotted boarding a southbound ship, the Eagle’s Pride. Vesper trains her swordsmanship further, Opilio is absorbed back into planning for the processional feast, Carenza spends time visibly among the Rovino, and Ettorio dallies at the Bridesmaid’s Tear, conversing with his loose associates in the Black Veils.

One afternoon at the Tear, the harlequin Giancapri invites Ettorio to go for a stroll. They wind up in Sufferthorn Square in Templeguard, and have some refreshments at a roadside cafe. As they do so, cries break out, and Captain Velistir staggers into view — staggering, laughing, thrusting at unseen things in the air. He lurches into the path of a coach, and the frightened horses run him down. As the coach barrels away, cries for a doctor ring out, and the doctor that arrives — a figure Ettorio recognizes as the Black Veil known as Corveri — pronounces Velistir already gone. It’s not long before Captain Quiccera is on the scene in remarkably timely fashion, taking charge of the investigation and publicly discovering odd black apples on Velistir’s body.

Giancapri and a stunned Ettorio are joined by the herbalist Rutesse, who alludes to giving Velistir a kiss before his unfortunate accident. The two assassins chat for a bit with no real signs of remorse. Ettorio takes his leave, and sends messengers to gather his friends for a meeting at the Last Glass that evening.

At the gathering, Ettorio explains the events of the afternoon. The Iluni is clearly still quite rattled, and admits that he was taken aback by the casual manner in which the Black Veils invited him to watch the assassination and the offhanded way that they discussed it later. Vesper points out that Ettorio has taken many lives, and Velistir deserved to die as much as any. The philosophical discussion goes on for a bit longer before it’s interrupted by Vestiri and Dechera, in Cinquedea at last. Complicated discussions follow, wherein the four attempt to discuss recent events without tipping their hand in every scandal. Vestiri and Dechera regretfully prove too perceptive for them. Later Opilio comes clean to his wife, and Ettorio explains further to Vestiri.

The evening of the processional feast finally arrives. The feast is held on a wooden pavilion built out over the bay from a Diadem pier, adorned with decorations depicting merfolk. Opilio meets early with the other priseri (Ninetta Pulsciri and Donifar Jadesailor) and their parents, and in time the celebration begins and the guests begin to arrive.

The romantic intrigues are perhaps less dangerous than the recent months facing assassins, cults, spiders, ghosts and apes. They still command the attention and dread of the adventurers. The sweet but somewhat hapless Ninetta Pulsciri immediately develops a crush on Alesci, to Ambira’s subtly concealed frustration. As Rasselo and Bessari make the rounds, there are clear tensions between them and the Vargari, but the Rovinos seem dedicated to making it appear that they are willing to get along.

Other tensions arise over the course of the evening. Veparre Pulsciri seems inclined to test himself against another young blade, possibly Kosvach, or his clear rival Tanila “The Hawk” Avicca. Nemore D’Ambergia arrives with his pet cockatrice Emeraude on his arm, and after Opilio’s urging gives it to his manservant to handle. Turavo Avicca seems interested in Ambira, much to Opilio’s dissatisfaction. Crestir Miriadis pays particular attention to Vesper and Floressa Tyliel, perhaps seeing if either of them could be persuaded to change their House — Vesper attempts to play along, but cannot conceal her contempt for the Miriadis philosophy. And according to some observers, a rivalry develops between Floressa’s ermine familiar Saltarello and Chiro, though it’s uncertain what discussions the two may have had.

The greatest social thunderbolt, however, comes from Ettorio. The ummarried Iluni spends time watching Bessari, evaluating her motives. It appears clear to him that she has always felt that their liaison was harmless enough and the Rovino reaction unwarranted, and she seems to be enjoying the ability to meet with him openly. It appears to be a sign of her empowerment. And discerning all that, Ettorio moves to open negotiations to marry her.

The reactions, however, are not quite what he expected. Rasselo is too concerned with not falling into old rivalries to outright deny the concept. Bessari seems overwhelmed by the idea. When Ettorio goes to speak with Vestiri about the affair, he explains that he made this opportunity as a delaying tactic and is surprised they haven’t immediately rejected the idea. Vestiri points out that in the wake of the Prince’s edict, a political marriage may be more appealing to Rasselo as a move to establish his primacy — and that Bessari may be entertaining fantasies that Ettorio has been so taken with her that he thought about her all summer and now has the opportunity to propose. Ettorio realizes that he is in dire trouble, and drinks more. Carenza attempts to help, but goes from recommending against the marriage to speaking well of Ettorio to Rasselo in roundabout fashion. She argues with Ettorio over the affair until their voices are sufficiently raised to attract Dechera’s attention — who wants to know what could possibly be so troublesome on Ambira’s special day.

But the dancing portion of the evening comes and goes, and eventually the processional feast ends without anyone having been stabbed, mauled, petrified, or thrown into the bay. The feast is declared a great success on those grounds alone.

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34 - Vargari Blood
Carenza, Opilio and Vesper take a stand against the Red Tithe.

“Velistir, that captain of hers, is a complete dick.”
“Well… not for much longer.” — Carenza Vega and Vesper Sespech

Carenza argues with Rasello after the revelation of the Vargari as targets. She spends a few minutes stressing that he needs to have a plan to stop Bravadi from doing any more damage to the House, then leaves in haste with one final warning for him to stay sober. She makes for the Bridesmaid’s Tear.

At the Tear, Vesper catches Opilio up on events, including the suspicious informer who went directly from the Prince’s court to the Stiletto. Carenza finds them there, drags them to a private area, and immediately begins to explain about the Red Tithe being sent after the Vargari. Vesper speculates that Kosvach and Alesci are probably in particular danger, as they may be prone to seek out the trouble on their own. The three quickly set out to the Vargari house.

The Vargari live in a former military post, converted to a very defensible manor. The house is on alert, with massive guard dogs of a more northern breed and very cautious guards. They don’t let the group enter until Alesci arrives from a nearby watering hole. He agrees to take the message in for them, and the guards let him pass. The group is then able to relax just a bit and discuss their next plan — before Kosvach and Alesci approach them from the street.

Opilio nearly vaults over the massive Vargari gate and opens it from within, much to the alarm of the guards. Kosvach calls them off, and the group moves quickly into the house in search of the false Alesci. Though their quarry apparently moved upstairs, he isn’t to be found near the house heads, Rodivar and Inyavka. Kosvach orders Alesci to remain with his parents, and then leads the others downstairs to one of the house’s hidden access points.

The basement holds a cell area once used to house prisoners, now acting as something of an armory. A small canal runs through the basement. They find the false Alesci here: the guard that was stationed to watch the canal is dead, and the grates that sealed the canal removed. They move to subdue the impostor, but he is impossibly quick. His shadow splits into three, an echo of the experience with Salzar. Then the spy leaps at Kosvach: and then there are two identical young Vargari swordsmen side by side.

The invader is quick and lithe, and an expert at directing simple attacks to strike the real Kosvach instead of himself — but Carenza calls down an attack order that cannot be entirely evaded. Kosvach hurls his duplicate to the ground with a furious Vargari technique, and Opilio breaks him with a ferocious strike that calls down the power of the sky and earth as one. The shadows attack Kosvach and Opilio, blending with their own shadows to hide, but it does them little good; their attack is quelled, and they are disrupted.

The three adventurers propose installing the grates, but Kosvach refuses: he wants the other assassins that have been “invited in” to accept the invitation, so that they can pay for this death. They remove the bodies — including the impostor’s body, which has reverted to the gray-skinned, peculiar form of a doppleganger — and lie in wait. Vesper, Carenza and Kosvach retreat to the relative cover of the cells, while Opilio climbs partway up the wall and suspends himself from a pair of sconces with remarkable strength and endurance.

Several minutes later, the assassins make their appearance. There are six of them; Vesper recognizes two trios of veteran, journeyman and initiate. The journeymen and initiates wear mostly black with occasional red highlights. The veterans are more peculiar. One wears a complicated armor of many straps, in an almost weblike pattern; his weapon of choice is a chain weapon with a grapnel at one end and a knife at the other. The second wears a full leather mask with glass lenses, and carries some odd weapons resembling more murderous fishing gaffs. The Red Tithe members quickly realize that an ambush has been set, and Carenza leads the attack.

The initial strike is full of supernatural fury. Vesper calls up the banshee’s wail into her own voice, wounding the Spider and his journeyman, and slaying his initiate outright. The second trio is blasted by Opilio’s primal thunder, and the second initiate falls. The heroes press their advantage quickly.

The two practiced assassins quickly realize the trouble they’re in. The Spider wounds Carenza, and then as the journeymen begin to fall, he and his brother begin to work on Kosvach. The gaff-wielder takes a brutal blow from Carenza as he risks her blade, tearing away his mask to reveal a tangle of burn scars, but is able to reach his target. The Vargari defends himself as best he can. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. Kosvach hits the ground, but Carenza’s voice keeps him from slipping away.

Then Vesper unleashes the fury of one of her ghosts, manifesting it in a more forceful way than she’d ever managed before. She levels her aged sword, and Styriax appears. The ghost that stands protectively over the beleaguered Kosvach wears armor of a style seen only in old art and statues back in the days of Rasenna’s founding, and the two-headed wolf is on his breastplate. With a furious strike, Styriax’s ghost runs the scarred assassin through.

The Spider decides he’s had enough. Using his grapnel weapon to swing free from his assailants, he dives into the canal and attempts to escape. Carenza and Vesper are hot on his heels, though. Vesper freezes him in his tracks as her banshee vestige screams again through her. Then Carenza takes the struggling assassin’s head and forces it underwater even as he gasps for breath. When she pulls him out again, half-unconscious, it’s quick work for her Uromni weapon to pour itself into the form of a dagger, and she neatly cuts his throat.

They replace the grate with the assassins gone. “Sespech,” says Kosvach in some wonder, “is that what you meant when you said it was interesting to meet a live Vargari?”

“Yes. I already know a few… older Vargari.”

Kosvach sees to the respectful treatment of the dead house guard, then the group meets with Rodivar and Inyavka Vargari, as well as their Tyliel guest. Opilio, Vesper and Carenza share some of the story with them, and where the Tyliel and Vargari may have been targeted by the paranoid Bravadi. Rodivar thanks them for their help, expressing that he had not known the Vargari had such friends in the city. Though the House has fairly limited coin and influence, they are willing to repay the heroes’ kindness with loyalty.

The assassination plot largely foiled for now, Carenza turns her thoughts back to Bravadi. She borrows pen and paper, and begins on a letter to Rasello.

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33 - Sincerity
At Vesper's behest, Ettorio and Carenza take the matter to Prince Bellostia.

“It seems that this whole politics thing, I’m not as good at it as I thought.” — Carenza Vega

While the others meet with the Tyliel, Ettorio takes the ledger and meets with Captain Quincerra of the Copperbank and Silverbank districts. Quincerra is a no-nonsense woman who is initially suspicious, but allows herself to be persuaded to meet with the Iluni in private. Ettorio explains the story of the ledger with surprising honesty, including Velistir’s implication. Though the captain is unable to act on the ledger alone (given that it could be a forgery), she accepts it as likely real, and agrees to keep vigilant and investigate further.

When Ettorio returns to the Bridesmaid’s Tear, Carpa delivers the message that Carenza had left for him. The explanation of Bravadi Rovino’s imagined conspiracy baffles Ettorio, particularly the implication that Carenza has fostered her own intrigues. The further explanation of the ramifications — the alliances, the riots, the assassination plots — makes things worse. Ettorio hands Carpa a pouch full of reganti and sends him downstairs with orders to bring up all the alcohol the Tear has. Though Ettorio does not have the finances to achieve this purchase literally, he manages to fund an afternoon of impressive intoxication.

The next morning Carenza and Vesper meet with the hung-over Iluni in the Bridesmaid’s Tear. Their first topic is clarifications of Carenza’s exploits. Their second is Vesper’s proposal — that they go to Prince Bellostia to invoke her assistance. Risky as it may be, an audience with the Prince (if her vanity is properly placated) may be what it takes to remove Bravadi from power and let the House pass to a more temperate master, perhaps Rasselo or Bessari. Vesper recommends Ettorio and Carenza for the task, stressing that they be careful in dealing with the Prince, and not to mention the apples at all. Ettorio recommends that Vesper to remain behind, as he hasn’t implicated her as one of her friends yet.

On the way out, Ettorio is hailed by the smiling actor that had been present in his meeting with the Black Veils. The comedian explains privately that they couldn’t help overhearing the word “assassin” in the conversation, which alarms them in the Tear. Ettorio responds with the news that the Rovino have apparently hired assassins to go against the Tyliel. With some concern, the comedian speaks briefly of the struggle between black and red, and the danger that Bravadi is unleashing the Red Tithe. With those words of warning, he leaves Ettorio, and the Iluni goes to make arrangements for admittance to the Prince’s court.

Bellostia’s court is in a section of Grandspires, the palatial tower complex in Diadem. Vesper joins the various spectators in the gallery above; Ettorio and Carenza await their turn. Bellostia is in full ostentation during the audience, wearing an elaborate dress with leonine manes and leopardskin sashes vying with one another. Her octet of lizardman guards are more conservatively dressed, but competitively intimidating. The casually alert Captain Velistir and the pyromancer Grollofieri round out the Prince’s court. After dispensing with a Pulsciri/Avicca dispute, she calls Ettorio and Carenza forward.

Ettorio inspires no small amount of gossip in the gallery as he begins to speak his piece. He explains that one of the local House heads has become paranoid and is about to spark a civil war within the city, and that for the good of all Houses he cannot mention the one in question in public. Carenza steps forward to offer herself as a witness. Though this claim causes a stir, Bellostia agrees to the conceit, and moves to a private audience in an atrium where their conversation is muffled by falling water and exotic birds.

In their private audience, Ettorio and Carenza take the tack of utter sincerity. They explain the severity of Bravadi’s paranoia and the extent to which he may strike at other Houses. Both point out that they risk much bringing this to the Prince, but neither wants to see lives lost over a perceived slight of honor. Carenza asks that the Rovino be allowed to settle this internally, rather than having it be settled with war or arrests. Bellostia weighs their words, then turns to her favored Captain for advice.

Velistir acts with catlike cruel amusement, questioning the characters’ motivation to lie and wondering if there might not be something to the thought of the conspiracy. They retaliate by emphasizing how much they risk. Carenza is particularly incensed as she stares down the Captain, unwilling to let him casually question her loyalty to her blood. Ettorio, on the other hand, smiles back at Velistir with the malice-free affability peculiar to a man who has already commissioned his rival’s death and now has only to wait.

Their sincerity is enough: Bellostia declares that she believes them, and will take action. She gives orders to Velistir to see that the guards keep the Rovino from causing trouble on the streets, and declares she will give the Rovino enough time to settle things within their tower. They move back to her court, where her major-domo Orenti announces that the Prince has agreed to act on these charges, but that the House in question will be spared from public shame.

This causes a great stir in the balcony, and several gossips and messengers leave quickly. Vesper notes one man in particular with a serious bent, a weathered sailor by appearance. She tails him quietly to the bridge to the Stiletto, where she witnesses him moving around the fortress to the midpoint of the island. Her next step is to drop by the Ferrareganti smithy, warning them that the Rovino may yet stir up some trouble.

Ettorio visits his father at Eveningstones. He confides what he can of the troubles, and stresses that he’s done what he can to make it easy for the family to disavow or disown him should his actions imperil them. His father is very understanding, even proud. He agrees to intercede with Lapetra on Ettorio’s behalf, and notes that although the family would still like him to marry well (even if it’s not to the young Sepsech that Lapetra has become impressed with), there is still plenty of time yet.

Carenza returns to the Rovino tower to speak with Rasselo. The disgruntled young Rovino is already drinking, but she sobers him up quickly as she explains the trouble with Bravadi’s plots, and that Bellostia is now becoming involved. Rasselo in turn shares that his father has been eaten up ever since the death of Rasselo’s older brother, the favored heir who tried to fight an unfair duel and was slain by a Vargari. This feigned conspiracy now seems to justify Bravadi’s resentment, and has given him an excuse to lash out at the people he felt had “beaten” him. Unfortunately, Bravadi will listen to few people — those still living being Scorpis and Morsca Bane, neither of whom will give him peaceful counsel. Rasselo becomes more and more agitated at the situation, and finally says he will try to deal with his father. But first, he needs to talk to Quinta.

Carenza’s next move is to talk to Bessari. But she gets only partway through the explanation before she hears Rasselo’s shout of “Fire and lightning, Quinta!” from the halls. Rasello storms past, then notices Carenza and elaborates. Last night Bravadi received a letter from the Tyliel, essentially saying “We have foreseen what you have planned; do not proceed down this path.” Caught in the act but unwilling to give up the chance to spill his enemies’ blood, Bravadi gave orders to Quinta — redirect the assassins from the Tyliel to his oldest, most hated rivals. “They’re striking at the Vargari tonight!”

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32 - The Brewing Storm
Carenza discovers the extent of Bravadi Rovino's reaction to the fictional conspiracy against him.

“I’m not going to let someone get assassinated just so you can preserve your reputation with your terrible family.” — Vesper Sespech

While Ettorio and Vesper spend the day negotiating with the Black Veils, Opilio and Ambira continue their preparations for a processional feast. Ambira bonds with Virillin, though Opilio notes that the young Iluni seems to be practicing some deception regarding her emotional investment with Ambira, if in a harmless fashion. Lapetra discusses potential partners for the feast, discussing the necessity and drawbacks of pairing with either the Avicca or Pulsciri. Opilio decides to throw in with the Pulsciri.

Carenza goes on patrol with several of her fellow Ladies-in-Waiting, checking the borders of the territory for potential troubles. She sows tales of glory in battle, priming the younger Handmaiden pledges in particular for a potential move. Hacker Lil keeps a close eye on her, but does not challenge her.

That evening, she goes to the Rovino tower to ask about affairs. Bravadi, Scorpis, Quinta and Bessari are all missing, with only the irritated Rasselo as a personal contact remaining. Rasselo complains that nobody tells him anything, but he has overheard a few things: Bravadi’s off with an attack of religion, seeking a personal audience with a priest; Scorpis has headed to the Thornshields, now of House Miriadis, to discuss things; and Bessari is off talking to the Crisandor. Carenza begins further inquiries that night, and is able to uncover even more interesting information. The priest Bravadi has been secretly visiting is Morsca Bane, the scarred veteran turned bull-priest of Mal Zath. Further, it seems likely that Quinta is attempting to set up a meet to hire assassins.

Finally, Opilio and Carenza catch up with Vesper as she works her way through Bitter Regrets at the Bridesmaid’s Tear. They join the young necromancer for drinks, and Carenza corners Carpa and ensures that the lackey will deliver the precise details of her findings to Ettorio. “This would be a bad time to go all dumb servant on me,” she emphasizes, and the ex-bandit gravely concurs. Vesper explains her and Ettorio’s operation to Opilio, and supplies a few facts about wererats at his urging.

The next morning, Opilio meets Vesper outside the Iron Fang school with fruit and pastry, and announces his intention to hunt the wererats before they strike more viciously. He recommends visiting a silversmith; she instead opts for an alchemist. They call on Brandaborius, the Bascho adept in Cinquedea, who is polite enough about the call and arranges for them to purchase some liquid alchemical silver, enough to coat weapons and harden with exposure to sunlight. She also sends a message to Kosvach Vargari: “Rovino may be hiring assassins. -V.S.”

Carenza has breakfast with Bravadi, and manages to insinuate herself into his counsel. He admits to planning a “thunderbolt strike,” crippling one of the Houses presumably aligned against the Rovino. At present he is marshalling allies and contacting assassins — “sometimes you simply have to spend some bloody coin,” he says. He advises Carenza to potentially find friends in low places that could provide a riot. The ultimate target? Bravadi claims the Vargari aren’t numerous enough to send a message, much as he’d love it to be them — so the best choice is the Tyliel. Cutting the head off a witch, as he puts it.

Again, Carenza, Opilio and Vesper meet for lunch to compare notes. Carenza’s news takes clear precedence; with the revelation that Bravadi is a loyal follower of the Blood Bull, it seems clear that he’d be willing to set the city on fire to deal a blow to the imagined conspiracy against him. “Now you see what happens when you act like Ettorio?” Vesper asks Carenza at one point.

The potential assassination now a critical point, Vesper and Opilio hire a coach to take them to the witchwood. (Carenza remains behind and spends more time with the Ladies-in-Waiting, unwilling to be openly seen visiting the Tyliel.) Along the walk from the coach to the mansion, Ambira engages Vesper on the topic of marriage and children, speaking of her own expectations (and how they’ve changed) soliciting the young Sespech’s thoughts on the affair. Vesper calmly admits it is not a concern for her, and suggests that Ambira not think of marriage and children as a necessity for her own goals. Opilio remains very quietly out of the entire conversation.

At Kircinos Manor, they’re met by Alesci Tyliel, who chats pleasantly with them as he brings them to the local House head. Vesper cuts to the quick with the topic of the Rovino plots. The conversation continues as they enter a parlor where Viriscia Tyliel, the lead adept of the local witch-House awaits. Mistress Viriscia listens to the story, and states she’ll send a letter to Bravadi Rovino implying that she has become aware of his plot through oracular means. Alesci theorizes that the assassins are probably Red Tithe, and therefore near-implacable, if they’ve been hired yet; he explains away his knowledge as a trademark of traveling in swordsman circles.

The visitors are invited to stay for dinner. Vesper and Viriscia discuss the Miriadis problem over dinner, and the Tyliel adept seems to share Vesper’s concerns. Alesci shows some signs of more-than-polite interest in Ambira, who admittedly seems very little like the average Cinquedean girl. He also leaves the grounds with them when the Tyliel coach carries them back to the city, stating that he needs to talk with his friend Kosvach about these troubles.

On her own, Carenza spends time with her gang. She talks with the Duchess in particular, warning her of the possible attempts to incite rioting and how this would be trouble for the Ladies. The Ladies-in-Waiting leader continues to express some suspicion in Carenza’s surprising utility, yet admits that she’s willing to remain open-minded about it all, or at least until she has a clear idea of where all this is going.

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