Rasennan Summer

31 - One Reganti and Nine Apples
Ettorio spends a very expensive gold coin, and throws in some produce to sweeten the deal.

“I’m sure I can’t figure out how to work these.” — Vesper Sespech, on brothel-customized restraining devices.

Ettorio rises at the crack of noon the next day, and he and Vesper head to the Bridemaid’s Tear. The somber establishment seems to have few visitors for lunch, and Ettorio banters lightly with the barkeep before asking how much lunch his particular reganti will buy. “Quite a bit,” she responds, and sends the two to a nearby table.

Shortly after their food and drinks arrive, a scholarly-seeming man in black asks to join them. He tells them it’s safe to talk, and Ettorio explains the situation. The Veil representative confesses it’s a difficult target, and he’ll have to convene with some of his associates to discuss it. He tells Vesper and Ettorio to return that evening.

The two spend the afternoon in relative idleness; Vesper browses various bookshops, while Ettorio asks about after his brother Marvino’s woes. He learns quite a bit: that Marvino’s father-in-law has two ships commissioned to build his fleet, but that his vessel the Coral Tiara has gone missing on its return trip from Toquay, with him aboard. Without the goods that ship was bearing, it will be difficult to pay the shipbuilder’s bill. Marvino has apparently spread around money to make sure his wife hasn’t found out yet, but the financial strain has been notable.

That evening, Vesper and Ettorio find the Bridesmaid’s Tear more populated with drinkers attempting to drown or enhance their sorrows. The barmaid sends them to a back room, apparently soundproofed, where five assorted people await them: their previous contact (referred to at one point as “Corveri”), a young man with the air of an opera-house comedian, a stern older man with a hooded falcon nearby, a lovely red-haired woman in artisan dress, and an unassuming slender fellow with the look of a scribe. Vesper notes Corveri touch a symbol under his shirt that seems to be in the form of an inverted teardrop, but says nothing of this to Ettorio.

The Black Veils discuss the difficulty of the Velistir contract. Ettorio stresses that certain matters that are usually part of the package (“accidental” or “deliberate,” “natural” or “violent,” “subtle” or “sending a message”) are unimportant — the important part is that it be fairly public, and that the apples be found on his person. The Veils emphasize the difficulty of stealing the apples from his room in the Palace, and inquire if there are other places to acquire them. Upon studying the ledger, it becomes apparent that the unaccounted-for plague-fruits that are likely still accessible are those sold to the Phouthite Calcarro, those remaining in Clyressa’s care, and those given to the Discreet Brethren. The last group are known to Corveri, who names them the rat-folk of the canals and tunnels. They are likely a final link between Clyressa and Calcarro (though she has been known to share confidences with the Phouthite as though he were a confessor, likely praying to ward away diseases from her house). Taking Ettorio up on his offer to ease the job in some fashion, the Veils say that if he can bring them some plague-apples to place on the corpse (saving them the job of hunting some down), they can likely arrange the rest.

Ettorio and Vesper, assuming there’s no time like the present, set out that night. Based on the Veils’ suggestion that the Golden Orchid likely has a secret entrance/exit for discreet customers, the two go looking for the passage in the belief that it’ll lead them either to Clyressa’s apples or the rats’ nest. Chiro scouts out a hidden door in a vomit-reeking alcove, and the two follow it. It leads to a door; Ettorio picks the lock, saps the guard beyond, and he and Vesper find themselves in one of the “Hells” below the Golden Orchid.

The two decide to search the lowest level, where the bulk wine cellar shares a floor with a monastic-themed “Hell.” Ettorio discovers a crate marked “Calveran Cider Reserve” that contains a dark box smeared with contact poison; opening it, they find nine glossy black apples. They carefully tie the apples in a wrap, but down the stairs come pursuers: a wererat whose sword blade gleams with poison, and a hulking rat-man over seven feet tall. Immense rats emerge from the shadows at the smaller wererat’s chittering call, and the Discreet Brethren rush Ettorio and Vesper.

Separated and hard-pressed, the two realize this is a fight they cannot win. They grievously wound the smaller wererat, then when it retreats to let its injuries regenerate, Vesper and Ettorio flee. The larger wererat, furious and in a rat form the size of a mastiff, pursues, its teeth gnashing a few inches from Vesper’s heels as she throws things in its path to slow it. Ettorio is the first out the secret exit’s door, and when Vesper makes it through, he slams the door in the wererat hulk’s face and quickly locks it. The two escape into the night before it can gnaw through the portal.

After many clever evasive criss-crossing maneuvers to lose potential pursuers, the two return to the Bridesmaid’s Tear. The red-haired woman of the Veils is still at the bar, and she expresses surprise at the two’s speed. Ettorio finalizes the agreement while Vesper orders and works her way through one of the strongest house specialties, the Bitter Regret; the young necromancer quietly observes that she has room for several regrets.

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30 - Two Are a Conversation, Three Are a Conspiracy
The group convenes, plots, intervenes, prevaricates, skulks, brawls, dances, and generally get caught up in the spirit of Cinquedea.

“It’s Cinquedea. If two people sit on a corner and talk to a third, a conspiracy erupts.” — Ettorio Iluni

“Oirotte Bopilio” loses his pursuers fairly quickly. He spends the next day going over Clyressa’s ledger and gathering information on the street, connecting the names within with peculiar deaths that seem linked.

The four gather the next morning, a full group for the first time in days, and catch up. Carenza mentions joining a gang, but Ettorio has the most engaging information, in the form of the ledger’s contents. As they go over the names, it becomes depressingly clear that there’s no single authority that can expose all these wrongdoers in a trustworthy fashion. They decide the best choice they have is the Goreadon faith, so they depart for the House of Steel.

However, a disturbance awaits them there. Scorpis Rovino and a pair of House-hired muscle are staring down Kosvach Vargari, who has apparently stepped in on the Ferrareganti’s side. The Goreadons wait, unwilling to step in more than to ensure a fair fight. Scorpis attempts to provoke the Vargari into drawing first; Kosvach’s response is to don an odd clawed gauntlet with a wolfshead relief rather than draw. Disgusted by the prospect of a pointless duel, Vesper dispatches Ettorio to cause a distraction. The Iluni does so more effectively than he expected, as Scorpis recognizes him.

Before things can come to a boil, Carenza intervenes and talks Scorpis down. Ettorio makes to depart, and the hired muscle keep an eye on him. As the Iluni walks away, Scorpis turns to the Goreadon priests and says “You are all witnesses to my grievance” — then makes a lightning-fast draw at the Vargari youth. Fast as he is, though, Ettorio is faster, and with a remarkably placed crossbow shot disarms Scorpis, then gives an uncharacteristically serious glare promising worse. (The Rovino’s blade falls victim to Vesper’s necromancy as well, becoming a line of rust on the stones with a hilt lying nearby.) Carenza is able to talk the enforcer down this time, and takes him back to the Rovino tower, though not before he offers to duel Ettorio at a later date. Vesper exchanges a few dissatisfied words with Kosvach, who explains that he doesn’t like fighting duels, either, which is why he fights to win them decisively. She still condemns the practice, saying there are quite enough Vargari ghosts already. When she explains that it’s a long story, he requests to hear it later.

At the Rovino tower, Scorpis explains to Bravadi that an Iluni and a Sespech came to the Vargari’s aid. Carenza, in an almost Ettorio-like fit of contrivance, goes over the details and begins to spin a remarkable story about a potential conspiracy. By the end of it, Bravadi seems convinced that one, some or all of the Vargari, Iluni, Sespech and Tyliel are aligned against the Rovino. He orders Scorpis to lay low for the time being, and accepts Carenza’s offer to “investigate further.”

That evening, as Vesper writes letters to both Tyliel and Dusaam, requesting a visit with each. Carenza and Ettorio (now disguised as an elf, “Aznerac Blossomfall”) go to begin their false inquiries. The two wind up in the Four Queens, among a large court of the Ladies-in-Waiting. Carenza introduces Ettorio as “a present,” and the girls demand a fan dance of him. As his acquiescence plays out, Carenza speaks candidly with the Duchess about her plans to move beyond the city — and is rather convincing to boot.

The next morning sees another planning session in the Glowing Poker, and the group considers a way to have Captain Velistir exposed. Ettorio speaks candidly of the dangers to his family and to everyone else in such intrigues, but the others do not seem to believe his assertions of how life works in Cinquedea. Ettorio finally agrees to go ask his family about who best to approach as a possible rival to Velistir that could publicly expose him. From his sister Virillin he gains the name of one Captain Quiccera. Carenza decides to spend the day with the Ladies-in-Waiting, to ease any suspicions. She also sends a letter to the local Rovinos, hoping to continue to keep them off the playing field.

Vesper and Opilio conceive an alternate plan: to turn the tide of public opinion. Both move out to distribute rumors of how the strange wasting deaths come from black apples. Vesper has less luck dealing with the suspicious street-level Cinquedeans; Opilio does rather better moving among the healers. But he attracts attention, and notices he’s being discreetly tailed a small man. The former peasant ducks into an alley and climbs up to a rooftop, where he discovers his follower has moved; when he grapples the suspicious fellow, he’s left with an armful of empty clothes as a rat scurries away! He is unable to lay the shapeshifter low before it makes it into a sewer grate. Now concerned, he gathers up the spy’s abandoned clothes and takes a circuitous rooftop route to the Glowing Poker.

There they examine the spy’s goods. Most notably, the leather hat he was wearing has within it two sketches: crude representations of “Aznerac” and “Oirrote Bopilio.” The group realizes that if this wererat was tied to the Golden Orchid, he must have picked up Opilio’s trail when the Calveran began discussing black apples openly, and successfully. They resolve to change their meeting place.

Going over the plan to somehow expose Captain Velistir, they realize that the key element — having him make a mistake that angers the Prince — is subtle perhaps beyond their means. Ettorio then proposes that perhaps it would be enough to have the apples discovered with him. Or rather, with his corpse. Not that the group would kill him, of course — but it could be arranged.

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29 - Ladies of Distinction
Carenza takes investigation into her own hands, both visiting one family and joining another.

“The fastest way to make them run is to kill a few.”
“You don’t have to kill them.”
“Well, then you maim a few.” — Carenza Vega & Vesper Sespech

Carenza hands “Oirotte Bopilio” his knife, and with a quick hiss of “Split up!”, the disguised half-elf is out the door. Carenza follows suit, and the two run in opposite directions. Across the street, in the cafe, Opilio rises halfway from his chair before Vesper motions for him to remain seated. As the bouncers of the Golden Orchid emerge into the street, Vesper speaks a short phrase of necromantic power. The iron rod holding the brothel’s sign corrodes and rusts away in the span of a second, and the heavy oaken weight crashes down onto the bouncers, knocking one flat and giving both nasty bruises. The two scan the rooftops for possible saboteurs, then limp in opposite directions in a vain attempt to regain sight of their prey. Vesper returns to her tea.

When Carenza finally makes it back to the Glowing Poker, Vesper is the only one there; Opilio returned to Eveningstones, and Ettorio is perhaps on his way there as well, as far as anyone knows. Energetic from her chase, Carenza suggests heading down into the Veins — she’s determined to make contact with the Ladies-in-Waiting.

The Ladies-in-Waiting hold court at a tavern/gambling grotto called the Four Queens. Vesper idles about the establishment, pretending to pay attention to an oroboros game, while Carenza approaches those members of the gang assembled in their corner, around an empty wooden chair carved to somewhat resemble a throne. She speaks with “Hacker Lil,” the hatchet-carrying leader of this group, about potentially joining up. The Ladies seem wary at first, especially as the newcomer has no recommendations, but Carenza is quite convincing. She eventually learns that “Duchess” is the one who determines when the Ladies are recruiting, but it doesn’t hurt to establish herself by, say, taking a few trophies.

Armed with this knowledge, Carenza and Vesper decide to head into Leechmen territory and see if they can attract some violent attention. They have a discussion of the value and practicality of lethal force, maiming blows, or mercy in a fight along the way, which ends with Carenza agreeing not to kill anyone in order to get their trophies. It’s a promise she very nearly keeps.

In a tight street that crosses a canal, they are surrounded by blank-eyed men who breathe raspily through odd scarves — their leader having strange teeth sewn into the cloth in the semblance of a circular maw — who refer to them as “blood-bags” before closing in. The leader is a talented street-fighter, but fails to catch Vesper in his garrote; the real trouble comes from an accurate sniper set up on a boat slip down the canal, who sends several accurate bolts into Vesper’s torso. Her armor prevents these from becoming mortal wounds, but both she and Carenza use up much of their reserves of stamina to push their way through the battle. Bloodied and furious, Carenza kills one remaining Leechman outright, and the tide begins to shift. Only the sniper escapes by slipping into the canal; the other five yield their scarves. Vesper places a copper basa on each eyelid, and they return to the Four Queens.

As they arrive, they find “Duchess” and her entourage (including a tall half-orc woman with the title of “Contessa”) have expanded the Ladies’ numbers. The battle-worn Carenza and the Duchess exchange polite conversation, and the mercenary offers five scarves and an apology that the sixth’s wearer escaped. This seems to impress the Ladies-in-Waiting, and Carenza is told to return the next evening for initiation. Vesper resigns herself to a few hours of sleep before more beatings in the name of the Iron Fang.

The next day, Carenza begins investigating the Rovino/Ferraregante affair. She speaks first with the Goreadons at the House of Steel, then with Gevran Ferraregante. He divulges that he isn’t sure whose idea it was to lean on him, but that Scorpis Rovino — the local patriarch Bravadi’s enforcer — has been the one leading the negotiations. Carenza offers to do what she can.

The next stop, with Vesper along, is the Rovino tower in Templeguard. Vesper inquires of the guard if he was asked to go defeat members of another House to gain his position; the guard answers in the negative. The two are then invited in, and meet two Rovino women: the wiry, martial and standoffish Quinta and the more statuesque, charming Bessari. Bessari shows what some would call “un-Rovinoish” poise, and arranges for Carenza to stay at the tower. She says that Carenza can meet her father Bravadi at dinner that night.

The dinner is very different in tone than the Iluni dinner. The Rovino are blunt, and Carenza responds in kind. Scorpis Rovino is unreadable, but Bravadi is more open — clearly a fellow who misses the business that comes with civil war, and isn’t content with the state of affairs in Cinquedea. Carenza encourages him to speak of his efforts with Ferraregante, but he isn’t easily talked out of the practicality of his approach. He also becomes somewhat incensed when asked about competition, ranting about the Vargari. Once Bravadi begins to pace the room with his wine goblet, Bessari quietly notes that Bravadi’s son — brother to her and Rasselo — died in a duel against a Vargari, and they can no longer pursue the vendetta. She also cautions Carenza not to mention the Iluni — “no, no current problem, but there is… a history.” Both Carenza and Vesper begin to look at Bessari in a new, and perhaps disappointed light.

At midnight Carenza reports to the Ladies-in-Waiting for her initiation. The initiation takes place in the Ladies’ lair, an old sail loft. There the half-orc “Contessa” Troka delivers blows that emulate an etiquette lesson — forcing Carenza to kneel, then compelling her to stand straight; bowing her head, then straightening it; and so on. All the while “Duchess” Forzia elaborates on Carenza’s new responsibilities: to carry herself with dignity and bearing, to act the gentlewoman, to defend and avenge her sisters, and above all, to wait.

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28 - The Iluni Game
The prodigal son returns, and copes with the stress of family affairs by visiting a brothel in disguise.

“I will try to make less sense in future.”
“I am comfortable with our relationship as it stands.” — Ettorio Iluni & Opilio

While the others are at the opera, Ettorio spends the evening making inquires, as Ettorio, about the various odd deaths and what role Fair Clyressa might have played in them. He is intercepted at the Hanged Rake by a pair of actors who feign recognition, then secretly warn him that he may be better off with more subtlety. The actors (who do not introduce themselves) explain they’re friends of the Prismatic Players, and are therefore interested in Ettorio’s welfare. They mention that Fair Clyressa is probably reselling the apples to interested parties, and that the Phouthite priest Calcarro has secretly met with her on some occasions.

Ettorio returns to the Glowing Poker. There he meets with the party returned from the performance of The Khavayish Clockmaker. They discuss a variety of things, including Ettorio’s findings and the nature of the opera. When Ambira asks if they will be visiting the matchmaker the next day, Ettorio glumly agrees it must be done. He orders Carpa to clean his livery, and the lackey takes a subtle revenge by setting out Ettorio’s most flamboyant pantalones for the next day.

Vesper is the earliest up the next day, taking a ferry from the Quiet House to the Iron Fang school and practicing her lessons until she meets the others. They take a coach to Eveningstones, where Carpa announces them to the family butler Togiro (not-so-subtly alluding to his time as a bandit in the process). As they move into the foyer, Ettorio points out that Opilio will need an estate name to be properly dignified.

“What, now?”

“Oh no, you probably have a few minutes.”

Everyone decides to pitch in and help Opilio name his new lands (as he refuses to take the name Whiteknees). Unfortunately, the suggestions are less than helpful: Carenza favors weapon names even when inappropriate, Ettorio takes the process not seriously at all, and even Vesper has difficulty with rural euphony.

“Opilio of Sheep Butt.”

“You’re not helping.”

“Vine… Things?” offers Vesper.

“Vine Things?” boggles Ettorio. “I’m bad at making things up?”

“I… don’t know what vines actually do.”

Finally, Ambira suggests “Chapelwood” with a faint sense of desperation, and the name sticks — just in time for the Iluni to begin arriving. Ettorio’s sister Virillin is first, a fey-seeming young lady. His parents Medescar and Niladae are next. Each of the Iluni are elegantly polite to their guests, yet each has a different undercurrent of emotion and inquiry running below the surface. Ettorio begins to play the family game, carefully avoiding some specifics of his adventures and negotiating the conversational orrery with a bit of uncharacteristic awkwardness.

At lunch, they are joined by Lapetra Iluni, head of the household and Ettorio’s aunt, and Marvino Iluni and his cheery wife Angesta. Ettorio takes full advantage of his father’s assistance in seating the family and guests in appropriate groups — in particular seating Vesper by the head of the table, where she can distract Aunt Lapetra, and placing the Chapelwoods by Niladae, Marvino and Angesta. The game unfolds in full over the meal, with a number of interesting ramifications:

- Niladae begins the first and lightest part of the interview phase.
- Marvino seems troubled, and Ettorio guesses that it may be money issues.
- Vesper feigns respect for Ettorio exceptionally well, and gets along famously with Lapetra.
- Discussion of the group’s assistance for Prince Temagli proves inevitable, and Carenza helps cover for Ettorio underplaying his part. He doesn’t seem to fool his parents or his sister, but Lapetra and Marvino are sufficiently distracted to accept the story at face value.

After lunch, Niladae and the Chapelwoods remove to an atrium to discuss matchmaking in more detail. Vesper goes with them, to look after Ambira’s interests, and Carenza is shown around the estate by Medescar. Lapetra speaks briefly with Ettorio, assuring him that the Rovino affair seems largely forgotten — the girl was not with child, and the Rovinos have found others to fight with over the summer and are likely distracted. She also speaks approvingly of his friendship with Vesper, and is happy that he is “working toward a potential alliance”.

Niladae reviews several of the most eligible bachelors in the city with the Chapelwoods. The four she believes are most promising are:

- Giacador Andredi, a cousin to Andelac Borsari in his mid-30s
- Turavo Avicca, a rich man who has set aside his first wife and is looking for a woman who can bear him an heir
- Alesci Tyliel, who has had a processional feast but has yet to choose a lady
- Nemore D’Ambergia, a wealthy young poet.

She also mentions that the Verastin adept in Cinquedea is a young prodigy by name of Falcinos, but that he does not socialize and is therefore a difficult prospect. Vesper inquires after the Vargari, asking if the gentleman she met was somehow unavailable. Niladae explains something of the House Vargari history, and why they might not be an advantageous match — further, the gentleman in question, Kosvach, has not had a processional feast despite having passed the appropriate age. It’s uncertain why — either he may have some form of flaw or affliction, or perhaps the Vargari are simply disrespecting tradition.

Finally, they agree to begin planning a communal processional feast, and the group takes their leave; Ettorio makes arrangements to have his things brought around to stay at Eveningstones for a while. The group visits The Last Glass to compare notes, including Ettorio sharing the news that his aunt believes he’s courting Vesper. Vesper notes that this is perhaps fortuitous, as his family may leave him alone, and certainly it will never happen. Carenza announces her interest in perhaps recruiting some troops from the Ladies-in-Waiting, and Vesper says she can arrange for a visit to the Tyliel estate that Ambira could perhaps use to meet Alesci Tyliel a second time. Opilio decides to send for his wife Dechera, and Ettorio proposes to also send for Vestiri as well, that he can escort her (and perhaps be of further use). The two send letters that afternoon, as Carenza keeps her ear to the ground and begins to learn something of inter-gang rivalries (the Ladies-in-Waiting having particular issues with the brutish Barbarians, the hardened Salt Knaves, and the intimidating Leechmen).

These affairs settled, they begin investigation of Fair Clyressa in earnest. Ettorio has Carpa purchase some sleep potion, dons his Oirotte Bopilio disguise, and disguises Carenza as well as the exotic “Aznerac,” Oirotte’s bodyguard. The two head to the Golden Orchid, as Opilio and Vesper set up in a cafe across the street to keep watch.

Once inside, the two note Clyressa holding court, but do not approach her. Carenza takes Ettorio’s Ferraregante dagger and waits in a small salon with other bodyguards and such; “Oirrote” chooses a small girl likely to have little constitution, and arranges for a 30-gold stay on the third “heaven” of the establishment. Unfortunately, it seems to be policy for the working girls not to accept drinks from guests, and it takes a lengthy story about deserts to finally pique his companion’s thirst enough that she takes a drugged glass of water. Once she’s unconscious, Ettorio locates a secret door with a peephole, and moves into a corridor that runs outside the various rooms. He knocks a guard out, and moves down to the ground level where he finds a secret door into Clyressa’s quarters.

The Iluni discovers a secret compartment in Clyressa’s desk with a small key and ledger. He pockets both as he hears people approaching, and unsuccessfully attempts to hide under the desk. When the two guards draw their blades and prepare to escort him “down to level nine,” Ettorio bluffs and flees. He is able to lose them by feigning a dash down to lower levels, and then moves up to his third-floor room and prepares to walk out, feigning some embarrassment. He almost gets away with it — he even meets with “Aznerac” before the shouts of “There he is! Get him!” ring out.

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27 - All Knowledge Is Useful
Opilio and Carenza also indulge in Cinquedean culture, though this time the gruesome violence is theatrical rather than genuine.

“I was just saying that to be mean, but he is half elf. Elves are… fine-boned.” — Carenza Vega

The same day of Ettorio and Vesper’s inquiries, Opilio decides to take his daughter for a long hike outside the city walls. They stop by several farms, receiving a taste of local Inviccan character but also learning several things about the surrounding locale. The farmers point out the location of several House estates, including the D’Ambergia grounds, and the witchwood surrounding House Tyliel’s Kircinos Manor. The witchwood is of particular interest to Opilio. The two explore its fringes for a moment, and can feel the oddly fey presence there. As they do so, a lilting, wordless woman’s song arises from deeper within the woods. Opilio and Ambira begin to leave, and then the former peasant hears the song following them, now with a faint tinkling bell accompanying it. This worries him further, and he summons a forest-spirit to inquire about the sound. It answers “What is singing?” with “Tyliel pet” — and “Is it dangerous?” with “Tyliel pet.” Opilio considers that answer enough. The two exit the forest at haste and head back to the Glowing Poker.

Carenza wanders the city for the day instead, sampling local delicacies and listening to local rumors. One in particular seems worth investigating — the local Rovinos are allegedly putting some pressure on the Ferraregante smithing house, which in turn is close to agitating the Goreadon priests of the House of Steel. She decides to pay her pious respects, and visits the temple. There she speaks with Swordsister Tieri, who informs her that the Rovinos have been encouraging Ferraregante to cut corners and produce more blades of less quality, that can still be sold at higher prices thanks to the smith’s name. This, of course, is a revolting thought to the priests of the god of skill. Carenza admits that she does not wish to be caught up in disreputable business by virtue of her blood, and makes an appointment to speak with Swordfather Bracori the next morning. She too returns to the Glowing Poker, where she and Opilio encourage Carpa to partake in pretensions of equality for a time. Everyone retires before midnight, and they miss Vesper and Ettorio’s return.

Vesper appears at breakfast the next morning, and admits to having been in an alley fight against thugs attempting to make a name for themselves. After some discussion, she mentions that she is in need of a sword school. She decides to accompany Carenza to the House of Steel to make inquiries; Opilio and Ambira decide to come along as well.

At the House of Steel, Swordsister Tieri names three schools that are likely to provide good training with the longsword: the Displacer Blade, the Salt Viper and the Iron Fang. Vesper joins Carenza for her audience with Swordfather Bracori (“all knowledge is useful”), where they discuss the ins and outs of proper mercenary captaining for a time. Then the group goes to tour the three sword schools and see which suits best.

The Displacer Blade, in Templeguard, is clearly the most expensive school, with many students in uniform. Its master Calignant teaches a style that stresses footwork, evasion and feints. They stop next at Master Avirex’s Salt Viper school in Silverbank, a school with apparent origins in ship combat where quick and merciless strikes are the focus. Finally they stop by the poorer Iron Fang school in Copperbank. There Master Desparda teaches a style focused on endurance and perseverance, frequently striking his students to punctuate a notable failure. Though Opilio and Ambira don’t care much for the thought of Vesper taking such punishment here, Carenza evaluates her odds much higher, and the young Sespech quickly settles on this being the appropriate style for her. As they watch the training, they strike up an acquaintance with two young House blades who are also observing, a gentlemanly swashbuckler named Alesci and a sardonic Vargari named Kosvach. Over the course of the conversation, Alesci Tyliel notes the singing Opilio heard was probably “the Duet” — pet leucrotta that guard the mansion.

Vesper impresses Master Desparda during her audition — though untrained, she clearly has the fortitude and willpower to excel. He agrees to teach her during morning classes. The group says polite farewells to the young blades they’ve met.

“It was interesting to meet a living Vargari,” says Vesper.

The Vargari furrows his brow for a moment, then responds with “It was interesting to meet a living Sespech.”

Along the way back to the inn, Carenza probes a bit at Ambira’s reaction to the Tyliel gentleman, embarrassing the young girl. Vesper mentions a desire to meet with Lisayra Dusaam, and Carenza reacts abruptly. The mercenary admits that on her first command, she led an attack against a Dusaam that was possessed at the time, but such things are difficult to prove posthumously. This was the trouble that caused her to take up a pseudonym and a position with the Scarhawks, and the Dusaam may still be angry with her. Also on the way back to the inn, Opilio collides with a young Vanasian templar’s squire, and an older templar in the band studies his face intently — but Opilio brushes the encounter away as quickly as he can.

The group sifts through a few more possibilities — the Pulsciri are hiring for a corsair-hunting expedition, and it’s agreed that Ettorio is the best man for the job of infiltrating the Golden Orchid. Opilio asks what Ambira would like to do, and she confesses a desire to see a show. The group pools some reganti to rent a box for the next evening’s performance of The Khavayish Clockmaker.

The following night, the four enjoy (to varying degree) the somewhat gruesome revenge opera; Ambira and Opilio seem less shaken by the implied violence of the wronged clockmaker’s traps and more by the sense of schadenfreude that the audience seems to revel in. During intermission, the group catches sight of three notable dignitaries among the crowd: Captain Velistir of the guard, the would-be House Grandfather Zalthasar of Miriadis, and a flame-haired young man of warm charisma also wearing the Miriadis pin. Vesper’s wrath is almost palpable, but she avoids letting the Miriadis feel it from across the room.

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26 - Disreputable Circles
Ettorio and Vesper begin inquiries and indulge in some of the culture of Cinquedea.

“You can ask around about the local brothels.”
“Why would I do that? I’m pretty sure I know where they are.” — Vesper Sespech & Ettorio Iluni

Ettorio wakes early, by his standards, by ten bells the next morning. After a round of conversation with Carpa, he decides to postpone a visit to his family. He goes downstairs to find Vesper the only other person in the Glowing Poker’s common room. Apparently Opilio and Ambira have already departed to prepare for their trip to the Iluni mansion, and Carenza has gone either to get some sword practice, pray at the House of Steel, or both. The two decide to begin inquiries about the Golden Orchid that evening.

Ettorio begins his preparation by going out to purchase a potential disguise, so that he can ask about “finding a good time” as someone other than an obvious half-elf, and one that’s locally known besides. He finds a shop that supplies makeup and costuming to local actors, and invests in a rather extensive disguise kit. (He does pass on a rather dramatic pair of false eyebrows, ones designed to be visible from the cheap seats. It is uncertain if these find their way into Carpa’s possession.) With that in hand, he returns to the Glowing Poker to begin experimenting.

Vesper goes to fulfill her House duty of calling on the local Sespechs, and hires an unoccupied funeral barge to carry her across the bay to the Avenues of Silence. There she visits the Quiet House, and is told that Master Voltorno and the visiting Mistress Tsiraquess are presently at study. Vesper opts to wait for the midday meal, and discuss things with the two then.

Master Voltorno (a dramatic-looking man and an anatomist of good repute) and Mistress Tsiraquess (a winter elf necromancer specializing in age and mortality) appear for the meal, and are polite if somewhat distanced. As Vesper brings up politics, Voltorno becomes more interested in the discussion and Tsiraquess even less. Voltorno admits to keeping an ear on the political situation, though he prefers to be left alone. They discuss the rise of House Miriadis (who hold a manse a day out of town, and a tower in Diadem), the adepts of other Houses known to make their homes in Cinquedea, the self-proclaimed “master conjuror” Zalthasar who heads the Miriadis, and a few professional details before the conversation ends. Voltorno offers the hospitality of the Quiet House to Vesper, and she accepts before leaving for Copperbank again.

Vesper finds Ettorio in the Glowing Poker — or rather, a swarthy human with disreputable facial hair, attended by Carpa and wearing Ettorio’s clothes, Oirotte Bopilio by name. She agrees that the disguise is sufficiently done, and the two begin their investigation.

They start in Silverbank. There are no rumors to be had of diseases coming out of the Golden Orchid, though. On impulse Ettorio (or “Oirotte”) inquires instead around the Gilded Iris, a rival of the Golden Orchid. He learns that there was a nasty bit of disease (a kind of “withering”) that came out of the place a while ago, ruining the reputation of one of the Iris’s best girls. Said courtesan, a former Golden Orchid employee by the name of Eglantina, had to leave the country in the wake of the incidents.

The investigation then moves to Templeguard, where further incidents of a withering disease seem unrelated. The curio merchant Aripo Finefinger was found dead in his bed, dessicated and corrupt, in a way that no known poison could attain. Similarly, a duelist who challenged Prince Bellostia’s Captain Velistir showed up for his duel badly dehydrated and weakened, almost dried-out in appearance. The Captain dispatched the fellow handily and had him thrown in the Tega “to plump him out.” Vesper and Ettorio muse over these incidents, and move on to Diadem — but their inquiries there bring out no rumors of similar deaths.

They cross the river again, a bit before midnight, and ask around further; Vesper becomes concerned that the cases may be spreading beyond the thirty that would be related to Fair Clyressa’s purchase. A few more of these “withering” incidents are brought up, but nowhere near thirty. However, the street-level inquiries take a turn for the dangerous.

A small gang of bravos, led by a man with the scars of a skilled veteran, challenge Vesper about her House colors. She responds with defiance, but they are not cowed; their leader mentions that there’s some opportunities available to those who are brave and talented enough to take down someone belonging to the wrong Sorcerous House. They draw on Vesper, and the spadassassin leader nearly injures her grievously before she can even draw Styriax to retaliate. Two of the rabble fall to her banshee’s wail, but the rest close in.

Ettorio is nearby, though, and sprints to assist. He snares the duelist with a coil of shadow and drags him away, cutting him seriously in the process. This distracts the leader’s right-hand man, a nasty-looking thug who tries to open up by hamstringing Ettorio with his greatsword. Vesper is still badly pressed by the rest of the gang, but is able to shift to a better tactical position and strike another of her enemies low with her necromancy. This draws the attention of the greatsword-wielding bully-boy, who then presses Vesper sorely. She delays him for a bit with the help of her fever-spirit ally, but is still pushed to the brink until Ettorio lunges in to help her with a shout of “Stay away from my Sespech!”

The tide turns shortly thereafter. Vesper brings down another of the ruffians, and another flees. The enforcer cries out “If we run, they’ll never take us in!” This seems to rally the bladesman leader, and he lunges back into the fray — but Vesper is waiting, and her fragmentary spirits push him into pained oblivion. Ettorio makes the sign of the downward arrow as a promise to the last man, and the wounded bully throws aside his greatsword and flees.

Ettorio and Vesper have a few minor flesh wounds at the end of the fight, but nothing serious. The two are not above helping themselves to the valuables of their assailants, and pocket a modest sum of gold and a nice gold ring from the bladesman’s finger. Vesper leaves each unconscious man two copper basa — one on each closed eyelid. With a word of unmaking, she ages the spadassassin’s rapier into rust and corrosion, and leaves the hilt on his chest as an extra warning of the perils of crossing House Sespech. That done, they return to the Glowing Poker for some much-needed rest.

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25 - The Road to Cinquedea
A few potential spots of trouble are resolved before the four set foot in the City of Knives.

“Vestiri’s a black sheep. I’m more of a gray sheep. Or at least very dirty.” — Ettorio Iluni

The morning following the brawl with Cianetto Tuderi and his hooligans, the adventurers recuperate at their individual paces. Most rise early, and discuss the day’s plans over breakfast. Opilio discusses with Ambira that he wants her to decide where to have her processional feast, and she opts to wait for Vestiri’s recommendation. Vesper slips away at one point and tells Carpa to go into Ettorio’s room while the half-elf is still sleeping and bring her the decoded list from the ledger. He reluctantly does so, and Vesper copies the list in her room, then has Carpa return it.

Meanwhile, Vestiri arrives at what he claims is a horrifically early hour. He tells Opilio and Ambira that the best Canterian processional season has passed, and at the moment they’d mostly get “leavings”; a late-summer or autumn processional feast is really much more the thing in Raspian or Invicci. They agree to examine the Cinquedean social scene when they travel there with Ettorio.

Vesper slips away to the Basilica of Sacred Earth, where she hands over the list of Calveran apple-buyers to Mother Capestica. The Chanethi thanks her, as does Caraverna, who also reports that Orimo Bastracci confessed quickly and is now in custody. Not long after, Ettorio rises and prepares for the day, takes a second copy of the same list he’d quietly repaired, and then takes that list to the Basilica as well. He explains that he wanted to do this quietly, to avoid any attention from the wealthy. Mother Capestica, though surprised, does not reveal Vesper’s actions to Ettorio, and assures him they will attend to the list cautiously.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in preparation for departure. And departure follows the next day — unfortunately attended by rain. The first four days see frequent showers, making travel less than pleasant.

On the fourth day, they reach a town where they see the wagons of Catafarza’s Prismatic Players. Ettorio hails the zany Pilo, who he’d last seen in a Ladona brothel, and offers some advice for what plays might go over best in Cinquedea — Ettorio feels the history of Prince Radivaldi would be a strong offering, but Ribella, or A Whirlwind of Treachery has the right title. The group is invited to share the players’ fire and help practice sparring or lines; only Vesper declines, as she prefers to avoid spoilers. Ettorio does the most sparring with the actors, teaching them a few local flourishes, and everyone exchanges rumors, gossip and onomatopoetic suggestions. The players mention the possible rise of House Miriadis, and the adventurers share increasingly exaggerated accounts of things they’ve seen and done. At one point Ettorio mistakes the female zany Ruserra for Vesper, forgetting the necromancer’s absence, and the comedienne does a credible impression of the somber Sespech for a good portion of the remainder of the evening.

As the adventurers approach the Inviccan border the next day, they note a small mercenary company, about two dozen strong, half-blocking the road. The small band, the Yellow Wasps by name, attempt to collect an expensive toll. The four are having none of it, though. As Carpa piles blankets over Ambira to protect her from any stray missiles, the adventurers begin to explain just how little a chance the Wasps have. Opilio and Carenza are particularly effective, one playing the role of the stubborn juggernaut and the other the hardened, dangerous veteran with very comprehensive mathematical skills. The captain seems unwilling to back down completely in front of his men, but the danger he faces becomes fairly evident, and his own math skills suffer as a result. Finally, the group offers to purchase the Wasps’ services for a day, for the fee of 25 reganti, and the captain agrees. One of his men attempts to talk him into attacking instead and taking all of the gold, but Opilio overhears this and approaches the captain, thanking him for understanding how to be honorable — and how to live. This final threat seems to bring the Wasps fully into line. Carenza compliments Opilio on the approach, asking him if he’d ever thought about entering military service. When he replies in the negative, only Vesper catches the hint of untruth.

They leave the Wasps with 25 reganti and the contract to safeguard the arriving Prismatic Players safely over the border. Then it’s into Invicci. Two days of land travel and one somewhat expensive day-long barge ride down to Cinquedea later, the group enters Ettorio’s hometown. Ettorio chooses Copperbank as their first stop (a place where he’s unlikely to be recognized), and they take rooms at the Glowing Poker inn.

There they begin to discuss their plans for the city. Ettorio decides that first he must call on his family, and the others express varying amounts of interest in coming along. Carpa points out that they have business with a brothel as well, which flusters Opilio until Vesper reminds them of the Golden Orchid, whose madam allegedly purchased a bulk order of plague-apples. They consider this, and a number of issues surrounding Ettorio’s unusual relationship with his family. Along the way, it’s explained that Ettorio and Vestiri both have issues because they don’t want to get married, although Vestiris is the only one of the two who prefers the company of men. The news of Vestiri’s inclination surprises Ambira and Opilio both, who find him rather a different sort than the burly fellow they knew back in their home village. Finally, Carpa is dispatched in livery to deliver a message to the Iluni estate of Eveningstones, informing them that Ettorio will be arriving in town tomorrow.

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24 - Cracking Melons
Respectful visits are paid to houses of the gods, and carousing takes a turn for the violent.

“The master is fluent in a variegated and polychromatic amount of bullshit.” — Carpa

The next morning, the four head to the Basilica of Sacred Earth. They meet the high priestess, Mother Capestica, and Opilio relates the story of Blackharvest Chapel. Capestica is troubled to see that the scythe was once a Chanethi artifact, and calls for a militant priest named Caraverna to examine it. Caraverna is a considerably more intense templar than expected, and asks many questions about the Blackharvest affair. Vesper tells him of the ledger (somewhat against Ettorio’s wishes). Ettorio goes so far as to give the Scythe of the Faith a single name from the ledger — that of the local horse merchant Orimo Bastracci — and Caraverna goes to investigate. They leave the scythe with the temple, where the priests will attempt to reconsecrate it. They also mention their desire to have the Chanethi visit the chapel and perhaps cleanse it. When Mother Capestica offers a reward, Opilio asks simply for the temple’s blessings on Ambira to find a good match — something particularly weighing on his conscience after seeing his daughter clearly admiring the very dangerous Caraverna.

Carenza feels the tug of piety herself, and visits Canteria’s Shrine of the Lance, a temple to Goreador. She offers up prayers and incense to the altar for the spirits of those fallen Scarhawks that might be worthy of the Lord of Battle’s mercy, then requests a sparring session with one of the temple faithful. The priest Toranir obliges. He’s a lean man with a talent for spearmanship, but Carenza feels the godmind settle over her, and cannot be bested. The two effusively thank one another for the bout, and she departs in a fine mood.

That evening, the group negotiates a potential pub crawl among the taverns of Canteria. The discussion of who’s chaperoning who takes a few turns before it’s decided that everyone is going: Carenza, Ettorio, Opilio, Vesper, even Ambira and Carpa. It’s a very successful bit of carousing for a while. Opilio’s still recognized among the locals as a festival hero, and many citizens purchase wine for the group. Ambira moves to the “not as inhibited” stage before long, and begins questioning Carenza about her ambitions.

During the celebrations, Opilio notices a small group is following them from establishment to establishment — and that some seem to be wearing Tuderi colors under their jackets. He calls them out immediately. “Barkeep! A round of wine for all my good Tuderi friends over there!” The Tuderi bravos — clearly focused on giving Ettorio a drubbing if they get an excuse — don’t know how to respond to this. Ettorio confuses the situation further, as is his wont, until finally declaring that the violence will be taking place outside. A surprisingly large group of bravos meets them there — a handful of clearly experienced blades, but plenty of extra muscle.

The street fight begins with some rounds of threatening and bravado. The lead Tuderi — a somewhat oily fellow later named as Cianetto — gets in a few decent jabs, but is quickly overwhelmed by Ettorio’s seamless freeform verbal abuse techniques. When the Tuderi brace to attack, Carenza opens up by shoving a melon cart into their ranks, flattening one bravo and spilling sticky fruit-flesh everywhere. The battle begins in earnest then, both sides laying about them with lengths of hardwood (save Carenza, who cannot resist using her prized Uromni weapon in truncheon form, and Vesper, who prefers to utilize necromancy as always). The Tuderi use numbers and surprising skill to ensure most of the group will feel it in the morning. When Ettorio disarms Cianetto, the slippery fellow responds by bodily hurling the Iluni into the melon-cart.

Despite their drunken valor, the Tuderi are ultimately overwhelmed. Some flee in terror from Vesper’s sorcery, Carenza dominates others into flight with sheer force of presence, and Opilio angrily overturns the melon-cart on one hapless ruffian. Cianetto gets the worst of it — Ettorio is seized by an uncharacteristic rage, and leaps on his Tuderi opponent, beating him mercilessly before finally regaining control. This goes largely unremarked, though. Carenza purchases the overturned and emptied melon-cart from its distressed owner (a transaction paid for largely from the purses of the Tuderi fallen), and calls for more wine to celebrate their victory. The question of whether or not she’s getting into the melon business is brought up, and the argument closes with half a melon being pressed bodily onto Carpa’s head.

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23 - New Ventures
The road leads back to Canteria, where ambitions are discussed.

“In Ettorio’s case, he’s a rake.”
“Mmm… more of a hoe.” — Carenza Vega & Ettorio Iluni

Over the next two days, the group prepares. Opilio helps Ambira pack for the road, but spends most of his time alternately coming to terms with his many new responsibilities and coping with his wife Deccera’s increasing stress levels regarding the same. Ettorio spars with Ramilante, works at decoding the Blackharvest manifest, dodges Ivella’s ever-increasing attentions and spends more time at the Falcon and Goose. Carenza and Vesper also spar with Ramilante, the former practicing with more aspects of her Uromni weapon. Vesper also writes letters ahead to the Sespechs of Canteria and Cinquedea, informing them of her intended arrival. Finally they say their farewells and depart.

It’s good weather, if hot, during the trip to Canteria. Ambira is somewhat reserved at first, but eventually begins to show signs of her mother’s fire. She questions the necessity of the whole affair, but accepts the reasoning her troubled father and his companions provide. A day later, she asks a few probing questions of Ettorio that throw the Iluni into some consternation and a bit of unexpected self-reflection.

The guards at Canteria’s gates recognize the group, Opilio in particular thanks to his performance at the Highsun Games. They inform the group that Prince Temagli is paying for their stay at the Golden Ram, a rather nice inn. They also pass on word that a summons to their audience will arrive tomorrow. The group settles into the inn temporarily, but then splits up to tackle several different agendas.

Opilio and Carenza worry first about getting a fine court dress for Ambira; if they want one by the time of the audience, it’ll require finding a tailor willing to work through the night. Ettorio, of course, can suggest one — the Vira Val halfling family, highly recommended by his cousin Vestiri for their diligence and discretion at all hours of the night. Even bringing their own silk, the work is a costly 60 reganti, but the result is quite admirable.

Ettorio, for his part, drops by Alicorn Pillars where he meets Vestiri about to head out for the evening. Ettorio mentions that he’d like his cousin to take on the challenge of Opilio’s daughter, and after a few questions, Vestiri agrees. The two seal the agreement with a night of carousing, and dazzle Vestiri’s many friends and colleagues with their display of Iluni wit.

Vesper travels to the Gnomon, where she finds that Tenumbra is entertaining a guest: Torantia, a military-seeming adept who introduces herself as from House Miriadis. Vesper explains that she’ll be staying at the Golden Ram, and answers Torantia’s questions about her military experience in the negative. She then leaves, a little troubled by the implications.

The next morning, the first thing to arrive is the Vira Val dress for Ambira. After that comes the summons — Temagli wishes to meet them out at the old Dysian arena, where his party is indulging in an equestrian excursion. Finally, Vestiri arrives. The group quickly sees to getting Ambira some more proper riding attire (the dress now sadly inappropriate), and at Vestiri’s recommendation, Opilio purchases a new jacket and has his beard trimmed down to something more fashionable.

The Prince of Calvera receives them under a summer pavilion, offering refreshments before the talk turns to the group and their future plans. Temagli seems clearly interested in their future as well as their ambitions, stressing in particular that he would like to see the manifest once it’s been decoded. He warns the group that Prince Bellostia is in a foul mood of late, and they should tread carefully when in Invicci. He speaks with each in turn about their individual plans as well. Ettorio is carefully evasive when under the prince’s scrutiny; Opilio straightforward and humble. Carenza states that her intentions are to form a company of her own, one that is more trustworthy than the Scarhawks or Manticore Company. And Vesper speaks frankly with the prince about her concerns regarding House Miriadis — concerns Temagli seems to share. The talk then moves to less serious chat about the opera and other arts, before the prince ends the audience and the group returns to the shelter of the city walls.

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22.1 - Interlude
Rest and reward, well-earned.

“It’s tainted coin.”
“All of it? All this unmarked gold?” — Vesper Sespech & Carenza Vega

Before they leave Blackharvest Chapel, the four carefully investigate for further things of interest, and prepare a pyre for the many bodies. The coffer turns out to contain over 1200 reganti, likely payments for “services rendered.” Copious amounts of silver, copper and even some electrum custodi round out the wealth, along with a pair of large, impressive pieces of amber. Intriguingly, one of the rust-wights was also wearing a torc of adamantine and iron decorated with wolf heads, that Vesper recognizes as an item of some power. They leave the Scarhawk equipment and Phouthite trappings alone (what they don’t burn), but Biliostrix’s scythe is packed carefully away. After some discussion, the group resolves to take the scythe to Canteria’s temple to Chaneth. There they also plan to donate half the reganti and the rest of the coin to the cause of having a priest sent to reconsecrate the chapel.

They return to Borsari’s mansion very late at night. Borsari greets them all, sends servants to help them wash up (and burn any potentially infected garments), and informs them that an agent of Prince Temagli has arrived to speak with them. The group gratefully cleans up, has their wounds treated, and falls asleep.

Over a lunch that doubles as their breakfast the next day, the four meet Seretta, the Prince’s agent. Borsari thanks them all profusely, and declares that he intends to pass Potifol’s inherited lands on to Opilio for all his assistance. Seretta agrees to oversee the process, and listens intently to their description of what they found in Blackharvest Chapel. She informs them as well that Prince Temagli would be interested in receiving them when they next come to Canteria.

The group then takes a little more time to prepare for their departure for Canteria — with Opilio’s daughter Ambira, as the former peasant is now quite concerned with seeing her married well. Ettorio asks Andelac Borsari for a testimonial to the Iluni’s character, which Borsari happily agrees to provide (so long as Ettorio continues to avoid the increasingly ardent Ivella’s attention).

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