Rasennan Summer

11 - The Heat of the Matter
Confessions are made, some mock fights prove more serious than it would seem, judgments are rendered, a loose end hangs itself, the Prince is grateful, and reasons to press on to Ladona multiply.

A moment of prelude:

An hour or so ago, Opilio finally extricates himself from the knot of revelers who were still celebrating his victory at the wrestling portion of the festival. Deciding to look for his friends but still heady with wine, he manages to go into precisely the wrong portion of town: Thirsty Men turf. The unpleasant gang soldiers who find him are about to start expressing their territoriality when a runner arrives, telling them that something’s gone wrong with their attack on “the fainter” and at least five are dead. Opilio uses the opportunity to slip away, navigate himself directly back into Thirsty Man territory, and finally escape a second time.

He does manage to pick up a trail of sorts, first discovering the scene of carnage where many of the Prince’s guard (including a sour-faced Gastardi) are cleaning up the bodies of the Thirsty Men. There are few hints to his friends’ direction from that point on, but the smell of wine draws him to the street where Furare and Lyria are speaking to his friends.

The corpses of the Black Veil assassins produce few clues. They’re wearing clothes that apparently can be quickly altered from civilian to assassin look, and each carries about 50 gold reganti in a pouch (perhaps for bribes), but they’re regrettably short on personal identification.

Lyria Redstockings continues to appear quite the innocent in all this, though nobody apart from Furare believes a word of it. She claims to have been hired by what she took to be two soldiers attempting to play a prank on the Fury. Shortly thereafter, she identifies two of the dead assassins as her employers. The group offers to escort her home, while Furare goes to tell the Prince of what’s been transpiring. Along the way to the courtesan’s home, the four (Vestiri having slipped away) start levying some pressure on her to share her part in things. Vesper in particular stresses that they know she was probably afraid for her life, and that may afford her some leniency. Lyria then agrees, and confesses that Gastardi is the culprit. She offers to show them a letter she’d kept from him.

The four take her to her house, a well-appointed place off Half Moon Square. While the other three wait downstairs, Ettorio escorts her to her quarters, where she offers him wine and goes through her correspondence. The wine is quite good (Ettorio being sure to drain both glasses), and twenty minutes later she is ready to go to the Prince.

At the palace, the group finds Prince Temagli in Furare’s company. They explain what they have found or suspect, and Lyria offers the letter in her keeping. With Gastardi implicated, Temagli agrees to have him brought in for questioning. Furare, for his part, announces his intentions to knock the ambitious Caribaldi down at the grand duel tomorrow. The four are invited to stay the night in the prince’s palace, and accept.

In the morning, Ettorio sleeps late, and the other three drift down to witness the mock battles. Opilio and Carenza develop a desire to participate in a full-contact battle, and join the Orange banner in a four-way fight for Allanzar Square. Opilio is a daunting figure, and is able to push forward while Carenza leads a difficult and stalled pincer assault. Just when things are looking grim, the two rally their Orange team, join forces through the remains of the Greens, and surge forward to claim the center of the square. Ettorio and Vestiri join them afterwards, gossiping about the events of the night before.

Everyone assembles at the grand plaza for the dueling competitions. When it’s his turn to fight in the quarter-finals, Captain Caribaldi steps forward and makes a brief speech about how he devotes his fight to the gallant Furare, ignobly targeted by assassins. (Vesper and Carenza, watching the Captain carefully, suspect that his speech is altered from a planned eulogy for the fallen Fury. Ettorio notices little but the lush form of the young lady that has attached herself to him.) However, the moment is slightly ruined for Caribaldi when Furare appears and announces himself as the Manticore captain’s opponent. Vesper notes that Furare seems particularly agitated, and spies the signs of wolf’s heart on him: the Fury has indulged in an alchemical “advantage” for the fight that may endanger his heart. She quickly moves to find an Evrelite healer to be ready.

The fight between the two is remarkable, with Caribaldi’s deadly skill barely overmatched by Furare’s drug-fueled strength and speed. Furare takes several hits that would fell a weaker (or purer) man, and ends the fight with a hard smash to Caribaldi’s jaw before he topples. Opilio and the Evrelite are quick at hand, and manage to save Furare’s life. Suspecting more foul play, Vesper looks around for the Manticore wizard Grimorio, who Opilio spies on a second-floor balcony. Vesper realizes he’s working a ritual, and lays the eldritch eye of Sepech upon him. The disgraced Dusaam recoils, and abandons his working. Laurels of victory are offered both to Furare and to the champion who would have faced him, the first twin victory in Canteria for some time.

The Prince gathers the group that afternoon, after the festival, and tells them that Gastardi was found hanged in his cell, allegedly by his own hand. He thanks them for their assistance, and mentions that he plans to give the Manticore Company something to do by giving them a Lamoscan contract (with the help of some Tuderi funds). He agrees to hold the trial of Potifol Whiteknees soon.

Over the next two days, the trials take place. Potifol is stripped of lands and wealth, and made a pauper. His gamekeeper is sent into indentured servitude to a local farming family. Crevant is sentenced to prison to await execution “or a change in the prince’s mood.” Finally, Carpa is pardoned and sent into the service of House Iluni.

The four also receive rewards from Temagli:

- Ettorio receives a fine suit of elegant Canterian leather armor, worked with images of horses and horseshoes. Something of the spirit of the thoroughbred seems to reside within it. (+2 skybound leather armor)

- Carenza is given a suit of brightly polished chain mail, treated alchemically by Bascho craftsmen, and a warning about assassins besides. (+2 chainmail, resist poison 5)

- Opilio receives an old copper amulet with a ram’s head, covered in verdigris, that the prince feels would make a lucky talisman for him. The amulet was a gift from the temple of Chaneth. (+2 “cloak of resistance”)

- And at the prince’s request, Tenumbra Sespech gives Vesper a gift from the Gnomon: a suit of grey leather that seems to strengthen her bond with her vestiges, allowing her dead protectors to guard her even further. (+1 deathcut leather)

The parcel for Prince Lazzaretta proves to be a small, ornate coffer. Its lock is shaped like a hand, the fingers keeping the lid closed, with an eye motif on the hand that features a keyhole in the pupil.

Finally, the group prepares to head down the Serpent Road to Maviolo. Ettorio and Vestiri abandon their sparring for a genuine farewell (though Vestiri can’t help pointing out that Ettorio is really courting trouble, outdoing his previous Rovino escapade and Vestiri’s own provocations by sleeping with Lusaddo Tuderi’s sister Amabella). Opilio sends a letter and some more money home. And then, it’s off east to the City of the Dragon.

9 - Intrigue at the Highsun Games
The festival begins in Canteria, and the heroes enjoy a few sweet victories as they uncover more of the schemes at play.

Ettorio, Vesper and Carenza share their findings with one another and with Opilio. Although the details weren’t easy to come by (for obvious reasons), it seems that the mercenary captain Fortera Caribaldi, of the Manticore Company, has his eye on the seat of the Prince of Calvera. Further information is sparse, but there’s three days of festival during which tongues may loosen somewhat.

The first day of the Highsun festival features racing, both on foot and by horse. During the morning, Carenza begins asking around for the Manticore Company, though has little luck in making contact with them. Ettorio finds the foot races interesting only in an academic sense — until the grand cross-city race, one that contestants run over rooftops and through aggressive crowds. With a purse of 100 gold reganti and a lovely girl at the finish line, Ettorio decides that it’s well worth entering. He chooses a path through the wealthier side of town, over roofs and balconies. Though he begins slowly (being somewhat startled by the explosive that a festival entertainer uses to signal the start), he quickly outpaces a Tuderi rival in his path over the good part of town, and comes well ahead after a spot of trickery and an excellent display of agility. Noting more Tuderi in the crowd who may be setting an “obstacle,” he uses a quick bluff (“Look! He threw money!”) and a quick route along the shoulders and heads of the crowd to cross the finish line with panache and claim his prize.

The horse racing turns out to have its own interest as well: Captain Caribaldi is participating, and many of his men have turned out to cheer him on. Carenza insinuates herself among their number and asks about possible jobs, and is told to go look up Fesizzi, the quartermaster, at the Olive Plaza later on. Caribaldi himself seems to be a charismatic man, and is well-cheered during the race. Vesper, choosing to look over the Dysian arena as she selects a place to watch the race, has a prime location to see something suspicious: as the racers draw near, another festival entertainer drops an explosive from his sleeve, seemingly accidentally. The explosion startles the Barcamir horse in the lead, allowing Caribaldi to draw ahead. The mercenary captain completes the circuit as the winner.

Vesper follows the entertainer, suspecting deliberate cheating. The fellow takes on the gait of a blade partway back into the city, and although it seems innocent enough when he pauses to give a rose to a courtesan holding court in a plaza, Opilio notices otherwise. The courtesan, one Lyria “Redstockings”, takes a small piece of paper from the rose’s stem and conceals it deftly.

Comparing notes again over dinner, the group decides that while Carenza goes to speak with the quartermaster Fesizzi, Ettorio might be best dispatched to charm Lyria and gather what information he can from her. At Olive Plaza, Carenza meets Fesizzi (a fellow who is rather less drunk than he pretends), and after some convincing conversation, is able to get a small “discreet job” offer from him. For his part, Ettorio finds the courtesan Lyria engaged in conversation with would-be suitors, among them his Tuderi rival (Tirobol) from the race. Ettorio dispatches Tirobol with a barrage of insults, seemingly impressing Lyria, but she proves a very adept conversationalist. He has difficulty gathering any impression of her — save that at one point in their conversation, she begins to watch him intently after he attempts to project an image of vexation with the Prince — but he does receive permission to attend her another evening. Once the group has shared the most recent information, they decide to celebrate for the rest of the evening. Tragically, neither Ettorio nor Opilio has quite the power to drink Carenza under the table, and Ettorio in particular has a hard time of it the next morning (Carpa’s hangover cure, involving “cheese squeezings”, providing a mixed amount of relief).

Carenza takes the job from Fesizzi the next morning, accompanied by Opilio. The two are given a package to take to Lampblack Alley, to the headquarters of the Head-Takers gang. The leader “Skullface” takes the package from them and marks Carenza’s breastplate with a skull ring as a “signature.” After that, Opilio enters a few of the competitions of strength, but unfortunately doesn’t have quite the prowess it takes. Ettorio encourages him to test himself against living targets instead.

Opilio does so, entering the wrestling competition in the afternoon. He does quite well for himself after the preliminaries, first beating a surprised rustic, then putting down one of Vestiri’s well=oiled favorites, and then barely winning a struggle against a half-orc grappler. Before he knows it, he’s facing the Prince’s attendant Crucerio, an eight-time champion, in front of a roaring crowd. Much to his surprise, he’s able to defeat Crucerio after a hard-fought struggle, and although the Prince’s attendant seems to take his overtures of friendship poorly, Ettorio smooths things over. Opilio walks away with the laurel of victory, a 300-reganti purse, a series of people purchasing him drinks, and the personal congratulations of (among others) Fortesar Caribaldi. The captain invites Opilio to cheer him on in the battle the next day, and the bemused peasant agrees even as Vesper and Carenza analyze the captain’s performance and decide they don’t like what they see.

8 - Beautiful Canteria
Our heroes arrive in Canteria to speak with the Prince, and waste little time meeting old friends and new enemies.

From the Coiling Snapdragon, the road to Canteria is uneventful, if somewhat crowded: many people are traveling to the capital for the three-day festival of Highsun. As the small party nears the northern gate, they note that a small group of the Prince’s riders seems to be leaning on a group of traveling players who are attempting to park their wagons in a nearby field. Opilio bristles at the sight — particularly of the lieutenant’s predatory fixation on a young actress — and the group decides to engage. They convince the lieutenant, one Gastardi, to send some men to escort them to the prince; then Ettorio feigns some acquaintance with the players, implying to Gastardi that House Iluni would be displeased if the actors were inconvenienced any further. The lieutenant leaves them be, promising to send word of them to the prince.

The group takes the prisoners to the prince’s manse, where Opilio watches over Crevant, Potifol and Dorego in their cell as Carpa comes with them. After an hour’s wait, the prince’s attendant escorts them into Prince Temagli’s presence. Temagli reads the letter from Borsari, asks a few questions, and then calls for the captives. They appear (alongside Lieutenant Gastardi, who makes an unconvincing excuse for not having gotten word to the prince sooner), and Potifol dirties his knees as part of his confession. Prince Temagli has them taken to the prison to await trial after the festival.

Following their audience, the group splits up. Ettorio heads to Alicorn Pillars, the Iluni home within the walls, taking Carpa with him. Along the way he meets his flamboyant cousin Vestiri, who insists on seeing Ettorio’s “man” properly dressed in livery.

Carenza, in search of a place to stay, heads to the Giant’s Hammer, an inn particularly favored by military sorts and sellswords. There she discovers an old colleague Cabrino, a former quartermaster who now arranges jobs and hirings for his bread and butter. Cabrino listens to her story of the Scarhawks’ fall, and agrees to put her up for the festival and keep an ear out for potential jobs. Cabrino also mentions that there’s been some talk of a potential military coup, but that he doesn’t know nearly enough to share.

Vesper and Opilio head to the Sespech tower called the Gnomon (or “the Shadow Tower” by locals). There Vesper sees to the securing of Secordis Osomont’s body, and quietly keeps out of the way of the tower’s mistress Tenumbra. Opilio, unwilling to let Vesper travel on her own in the city, stays with her in the Gnomon, though he is ill at ease there.

The next day, the group reconvenes for the debut performance of “The Siege of the Stocking,” an exclusive to Catafarza’s Prismatic Troupe. The farce is a raucous success, and Ettorio is much more enthusiastic during the audience participation parts than Vesper is. Ettorio does notice that Vestiri is also present (and enjoying himself immensely), but that he seems to have drawn the antipathy of a Tuderi youth and his friends. Once the play has ended, Ettorio warns his cousin of the potential danger, but Vestiri laughs it away by stating that Lusaddo Tuderi wouldn’t be foolish enough to try anything himself.

As Carenza mentions the possibility of a plot against Prince Temagli, the group decides to split up again, this time to go gathering information.

Ettorio moves among the House social strata, where he learns that Lusaddo Tuderi seems to have ties to one of Canteria’s local gangs, the Thirsty Men. This raises a troubling possibility, as the Thirsty Men could well exact vengeance on Vestiri without invoking the Tuderi name. The gang in question is reputed to have a warren on Red Bantam Row.

Carenza makes her inquiries among martial circles. Although few people are willing to say much, she’s able to get a few choice bits of information: apparently Lieutenant Gastardi has been one of those making inquiries about potential recruitment, and he’s even talked to some of the Head-Takers gang. The Head-Takers are known to have their primary lair in Lampblack Alley.

Vesper moves directly among the classless, drawing on her former life as a street rat. The people she speaks to know little about the coup in question, but have many superstitions to share. Most notably, Vesper finds out that one of the places that people in the know go to have surreptitious meetings is the ruined Dysian arena outside the city wall. The place has a bad reputation, and is not patrolled by the Prince’s guard. It makes a good place for meetings because everyone knows that anyone who interrupts the wrong meet out there has a long way to run and nobody to answer cries for help — it’s very easy to silence quickly someone out there.

That information in hand, the group begins to reconvene.

7 - Mayhem at the Coiling Snapdragon
A pair of errant Scarhawks come to roost with added muscle, and the ensuing struggle finds the group an ally stronger.

With Salzar dead and Potifol in custody, Master Andelac Borsari thanks the three for taking the captives before the Prince, and encourages them to make haste; he has his hands full with finding housing and pasture for Whiteknees’ now rootless servants and livestock, and it’s clear that he’s noticed Ivella’s increasingly more daring efforts to spend private time with Ettorio. They commandeer a cart to take their three captives — Potifol, Dorego and Crevant — and bring the bandit Carpa along with them, free of shackles. They arrive at the Coiling Snapdragon towards the end of the first day, and agree to stop there to rest. However, trouble arrives at roughly the same time.

Interlude: A few days ago, when the four guests of Borsari went hunting the Spotted Cats, a nervous Captain Crevant decided to put some contingency plans into effect. First he sent the quartermaster Baligond to follow the four, to ensure that even if they were successful that they would be “tragically slain” by the bandits. Second, he sent a trusted lieutenant Tubo off to hire a second squad of muscle. With Tubo went Carenza Vega, a Scarhawk who had been concealing her considerable talent from her superiors. Somewhat suspicious of the turns the job had been taking, Carenza persuaded the captain to send her as additional muscle. The two rode a couple of days down the road, where Tubo offered a small fee and a promise of more gold to come to the infamous mercenary dwarf group called the Tallytakers. With these brutes secured, the two returned to rendezvous with the rest of the Scarhawks.

As Opilio unloads the last piece of baggage from the cart, he notices two soldiers in Scarhawk colors approaching the inn, a small band of dwarves behind them. They in turn recognize him, and Tubo is not thrilled to note that he still lives. Opilio pretends not to take note, and enters into the tavern portion of the Snapdragon where Ettorio is persuading the staff that the presence of shackled prisoners is entirely legal, and not a sign of mayhem to come. As the staff departs, Opilio leans in and informs Ettorio and Vesper that mayhem is coming anyway.

Tubo, Carenza and the Tallytakers march into the Snapdragon before the three “adventurers” are able to put their plans to keep any fights outside into effect. The Scarhawks gape at the sight of Crevant a captive, and his signature breastplate adorning the immense peasant (who is awkwardly trying to conceal it). Ettorio informs them that the Scarhawks are dead or scattered, and Carenza demands some explanation from Tubo. Unfortunately, before Tubo can be convinced to walk away, the Tallytaker leader Brazenborn demands to know just how he’s going to be paid. His asking price? 500 gold reganti. Ettorio emphasizes that either the dwarves can walk away now and not get paid, or they can take it up with the captive Crevant and not get paid. The spike-armored Brazenborn proposes a third option: beat the interfering troublemakers into paste, take what they can from the corpses, and if it’s not the 500 reganti, it’ll still be more than nothing. Wanting nothing to do with the mayhem, Tubo slips out the door — a nod from Brazenborn, and a Tallytaker armed with a crossbow steps out after him. Carenza immediately moves to strike at the dwarf, and hell breaks loose.

Carenza duels the dwarven bolter on the porch while Tubo runs to escape. Ettorio opens a duel with Brazenborn, who immediately proves he’s a dangerous sort (“I hate looking at symmetrical faces,” the dwarf growls before striking the Iluni). Opilio transforms and throws himself into the fight with the bulk of the Tallytakers, and lays three low with a single blow of arcing lightning. The fight surges back and forth, but the Tallytakers get the worst of it. Brazenborn falls to Ettorio’s cinquedea, his lieutenants are struck down in the main area, and the bolter perishes at last to a Sespech curse.

As the chaos dies down, Carenza offers her services to Ettorio and Vesper. They accept, stating that at the very least it’d be useful to have one more voice when they reach the Prince’s court. Some negotiation with the inn’s staff arranges for the burial of the dwarf bodies, fine rooms and good wine in exchange for the Tallytaker weapons and armor, and assorted luxuries such as hot baths and warm company.

6.1 - Salzar's End
The murderous agent is backed into a corner.

Opilio and Vesper wait in Potifol’s foyer, Robarto conceals himself behind the doors into the rear gallery, and Ettorio conceals himself in the foliage by the porch. An hour passes since the lighting of the lamp, and then he arrives—a lean man, dressed in a blade’s dark attire, with his pale skin and thatch of white hair sticking out in the moonlight. Salzar steps onto the porch, then turns and addresses Ettorio (whose impatience has somewhat sabotaged his stealth).

“My reputation must precede me. Normally the guards don’t wait in the bushes when I arrive.”

“Just a precaution,” rallies Ettorio. “To be certain you aren’t disturbed.” Salzar seems suspicious, but the Iluni’s silver tongue seems to win out. “Wise,” replies Salzar, and steps inside.

Unfortunately, as he opens the door, it strikes Opilio, somewhat spoiling the nature of the surprise. Salzar immediately notes the peasant, then notices Vesper in an opposing corner even as the Sespech necromancer pronounces her curse. Clearly frustrated, he draws his blade — a blackened longsword that seems almost too dull to cut — and moves quickly.

In the light of the foyer, Opilio and Vesper were able to note that Salzar seemed almost to have too many shadows. The reasons for this make themselves evident, as with a command he detaches two undead shades from his shadow, and sets them on the group. Ettorio immediately thinks of old tavern-tales he’s heard—of killers who bound the shades of their murder victims into their own shadows. Yet Salzar’s powers over darkness don’t end there. He immediately steps into Opilio’s shadow, and emerges from Vesper’s, beginning his assault on the young Sespech. When he cuts her, it’s like being cut by a blade from the Underworld, and he seems to be taking her measure for a finishing strike.

The fight becomes very desperate very quickly. Ettorio’s first strike wounds Salzar, but fails to draw blood—Vesper’s suspicions that the murderer is a revenant seem to be true. Robarto emerges into the fray, but fumbles his alchemical fire and sets light to the manor. To make matters worse, he becomes the target of one of the murdered shades, which leaps into his shadow and begins to claw at him from there. Salzar presses his attack on Vesper, and comes close to finishing her before Opilio takes on his aspect of the Horned Man and smashes the revenant the length of the foyer. Ettorio soon has his hands full with another of the undead shades, and Salzar continues to elude his attackers by leaping from shadow to shadow, even poisoning his blade with his own blood as he strikes repeatedly at Vesper.

But the tables turn. Opilio’s ties to the earth heal Vesper’s wounds, saving her from a murderous shadow-noose of Salzar’s. The Bascho alchemist is forced to quaff his own healing infusions to stay alive, and even fires an acid-infused quarrel into his own shadow to drive out his attacker. Ettorio executes a remarkable acrobatic maneuver, cutting Salzar badly and propelling him into the spreading blaze. Opilio and Ettorio pin him there, while Vesper calls on the bleak light of the Underworld to scour his undead flesh. Finally, the revenant falls, his head a blasted skull, with the words “No… I shouldn’t have…”

Salzar’s death does not banish the shades, and they continue to pursue their wrath against the living. Ettorio falls to the shade riding him, but refuses to slip away, and is conscious again even as Vesper annihilates it with Underworld light. When the alchemist frees himself from the other, Opilio smashes it into the fire. With Salzar’s body in hand, the group flees the burning house. As the flames leap higher, Robarto somewhat nervously announces that perhaps he should pack his things and go lie low in another province for a bit; he’s not optimistic about standing before the Prince having been responsible for incinerating a landowner’s manor.

6 - Dangerous Ambuscades
The group finds that the other side of the ambush is scarce safer, and Master Whiteknees is at last brought to explain himself.

Ramilante returns the newly-widowed woman and her son to safety, and then rides quickly to Borsari to deliver the news. Opilio is overcome with anger at the tale of the murdered farmer, and sets out to join in on the ambush against the Kallikantos.

Opilio joins the other three as they’re completing their preparations. They set up the captured skull of blinding dust by a goblin corpse, the better for Vesper to destroy it with a necromantic word of unmaking, and turn a ploughshare into a sharpened trap to swing down from the upper potion of the barn. Vesper and Ettorio take watch in the hayloft, and Opilio and Roberto hide themselves in the stone-walled garden.

The first Kallikantos to arrive are a pair of scouts, with a single goblin hunt-servant. One has distinctive bronze vambraces; the other, a ragged ear and a hunting horn. Vesper advises Ettorio to let the Hairy Man blow the horn to call the others when trouble begins. And trouble does begin — one of the Kallikantos falls for the blinding trap, and the other is quickly beset. The two put up a fierce fight, and the ragged-eared Kallikantos does successfully wind his horn before being cut down; the group’s preparation is also rewarded when a wounded Hairy Man scout chases Ettorio and Vesper out of the barn yard, only to be slain by the ploughshare trap.

When the initial three goblinkin are dispatched, the group quickly braces for the rest, placing their flask of alchemist’s fire as another potential trap. Sure enough, a pair of burly Kallikantos come up the hill, with a small group of goblin game-beaters going before them. These are not quite as careless as the first group, and don’t blunder immediately into the fire trap. Worse, once battle is joined it’s revealed that they are only part of the hunting force; a murderous hunter with a bandolier of throwing hatchets comes in on one side to flank them, and a strangler with pale facepaint quickly closes on an already-embattled Ettorio and begins to garrote the luckless Iluni. The fight is particularly desperate, and the Rasennans manage to kill a pair of Kallikantos before two more Hairy Man archers bring up the rear. In the end, though, the four have more to fight for than their enemies do, and only one of the Kallikantos is able to flee into the night — though the Rasennans are in no condition to pursue.

The group rests out the night, then wheels off the bodies to the forest edge nearby and tidies up the farm as best they can. From there, they resolve to draw out Salzar before he can cause any more trouble. The group rides up to Potifol Whiteknees’ villa, Ettorio managing to convince the guards that he (a) has legitimate business with their master, and (b) is exceedingly drunk.

Once their host arrives, the treacherous landowner is quickly made to understand that his already grave situation has become graver still. He explains what he can of the situation: that Dorego’s predecessor discovered the Blackharvest Chapel some years ago and was quickly made into an example, that he has agreed to keep the plague-cult’s secrets, and that he has bargained with the cult via Salzar to drive Borsari from his lands in order that he might claim the land and sell off the timber rights to his Barcamir relatives. The group compels Whiteknees to dismiss his servants, and takes him to Borsari to await an inevitable appearance before Prince Temagli. Then they return to the quiet villa by dusk, light the green lamp in the tower to summon Salzar, and wait.

5 - Counterhunt
A move to intercept the Kallikantos finds butchery at a farmstead.

The group brings Dorego to Borsari Villa well past dark. They explain to Master Borsari the extent of the plot against him, and Dorego confirms what details he can. The looming threat of the Kallikantos presses heavily on all concerned, and Opilio goes to see to the safety of those peasants out in the outlying farmhouses. Vesper asks for the assistance of another blade, and Andelac volunteers, only to be persuaded to remain home to defend his family. Instead, the group persuades Ramilante to accompany them, Vesper being certain to impress upon his wife Sesscia the importance of the task.

Looking over a rough map of the area, the group examines potential chokepoints at which they could ambush the invading Hairy Men. They settle on a bridge near the roadside shrine to Alvoran, and travel cross-country along the forest line to reach the area. Along the way, they note several peasants on Potifol Whiteknees’ land searching for something; most likely, they assume, the missing Dorego. The four move farther into the woods to avoid contact.

As they reach the wall marking the far edge of Whiteknees’ land and follow it down to the road, they discover tracks — apparently of Kallikantos scouts, which have headed to a nearby farmstead. The farm is suspiciously quiet. Ettorio’s reconnaissance reveals that a woman and her child have locked themselves in the house, a man’s corpse is impaled to a barn wall by a pitchfork, and a few animals have been recently slaughtered. Most importantly, three Hairy Men are resting in the barn’s hayloft.

Ettorio, Vesper and Ramilante move into ambush position as Roberto draws their fire. The ambush is initially successful, with a particularly remarkable blow landed when Ettorio leaps from the barn roof behind one of the Kallikantos. However, a pair of concealed goblin lackeys join in the fight (one of whom is remarkably nimble), and the Hairy Men put up a strong struggle. The Rasennans’ power proves stronger, though, and the last Kallikantos can flee only so far before he’s brought down by sling and crossbow fire augmented by Bascho alchemy.

With the raiding goblinkin slain, the group resolves to ambush the main Kallikantos party at the farmstead. Ettorio is able to calm the recently widowed woman, and Ramilante offers to take her and her child to a safer farmstead before dark. With several hours of daylight still left to them, the remaining three hoist the bodies of the fallen back into the hayloft, and begin to make plans.

4 - Poison at the Roots
A disturbing disappearance leads the group into the woods, where they discover even more foulness than expected.

Roberto rejoins Ettorio, Vesper and Opilio over a late breakfast, where they relate to him all their findings. Before they leave, a young peasant — one who was dispatched to the windmill with the job of burying the Scarhawks’ bodies — reports to Andelac Borsari that said bodies were all missing when they arrived. The group immediately grows suspicious, and goes to track the missing corpses. A trail leads into the woods.

Opilio is able to follow the trail, which is no small feat. Some glamour lies over the wood, tangling most of the others’ sense of direction. Further signs that the wood is in disarray come when several animated chunks of vine, wood and detritus attack the group. These entities are dispatched after a quick skirmish.

The next cause for consideration comes when the group discovers a small “V” shape of white stones laid across the trail. When they pause to examine the stones, they hear laughter from an unseen source. Soon several invisible beings (fata of some sort) begin to question them in circular fashion. From the fata, the four are able to learn that the dead passed by on their way “to church,” and that someone named Quercinnarra (likely a dryad) has been poisoned and is going mad. They manipulate the invisible fata to guide them to Quercinnarra, using reverse logic to satisfy the perverse creatures’ reluctance or inability to give honest advice.

Quercinnarra is indeed a dryad, both ill and on the verge of madness. Through careful analysis and courtesy, they are able to clear her mind somewhat and learn more about the situation. Opilio in particular swears righteous vengeance against the forces of corruption, and asks an oak-sprig token to carry into battle. The dryad tells them that the forces of the poisoned orchard are moving against her, and points the direction to where the stream has been polluted.

The four find a scarecrow there, set above disturbances in the earth. It is, of course, a particularly spiteful trap: the scarecrow is an animated construct, several reanimated rotting corpses lie under the earth, and the scarecrow’s shirt is full of pale, emaciated stirges. The conflict is vicious, but in the end the Phouthites’ tools are destroyed and the four are able to excavate and burn the ritually enhanced plague-corpses that were poisoning the stream.

They return to following the trail of the stolen dead, and cross over into the woods on Potifol Whiteknees’ land. At the top of a hill, they discover a small depression filled with a blighted orchard that surrounds a small stone temple. Ettorio goes to scout, but is not quite as stealthy as he would like, and draws the attention of a particularly ambulatory fruit tree-turned-guardian. After he retreats (and the tree returns to its post), the group deliberates on their next move, and finally decides to go attempt to find Dorego.

Their timing is excellent, finding Dorego just as he leaves the Falcon and Goose after dark. Ambushing him, they learn that he is aware of much of the plot but not of the existence of the Phouthite temple; he’s been only two years in Potifol’s service, and doesn’t know all his master’s secrets. He reveals that they set a green lamp in a window facing the woods when they wish to meet with Salzar, and surrenders a message that he had gone to pick up. The four take him into custody, and decide to lay all their findings before Andelac Borsari to see what he may wish done next.

3 - Crevant's Rebellion
The Scarhawks' bad decisions come home to roost, and another hand behind the curtain is revealed.

Amid the chaos at the Borsari villa, resolutions form quickly. Roberto stays behind to tend to the wounded, while Ettorio, Opilio and Vesper plan to track down the escaped Crevant and rescue Ivella. The Scarhawks are not difficult to track over the western fields, and the group gains extra confirmation they’re on the right track when they encounter the local errant Taltikkan monk Bandegan, a half-conscious Scarhawk in his grip and a young lady trailing after him. Bandegan confirms that the Scarhawks rode past, and that he knocked one out of the saddle. He agrees to come along with the group on their errand.

Opilio tracks the Scarhawks to an old windmill, built in an ancient Dysian tower, that stands by the gorge that marks the boundary between Borsari’s land and that of his neighbor Potifol Whiteknees. Ettorio scouts ahead, learns where most of the Scarhawks outside are stationed, and the group agrees to climb the gorge to minimize their chances of being detected. Opilio is able to carry the not-quite-an-athlete Vesper on his back as easily as if she were a lightly-stocked backpack.

Ettorio plans to cut loose the horses and cause a distraction, but a keen-eyed Scarhawk archer spots him and creases his ribs with an arrow. The resulting fight goes poorly for the Scarhawks outside the building; the group fights hard, and the agitated horses are a lethal obstacle that only Ettorio manages to navigate safely. One Scarhawk surrenders, two flee, and the remaining seven are cut down.

The group barely has time to catch their breath before Crevant appears. His half-orcish, likely Ossenlander second-in-command Klygur has Ivella tightly in hand, and Crevant attempts to dominate the characters into surrender. However, the negotiation quickly spirals out of his control. The three begin to convince him that his only possible chance of survival is to relinquish Ivella and surrender without further fighting, a prospect Crevant seems on the brink of accepting before Klygur shouts “What are you doing?” at him, and sours things.

At that point, Ettorio begins to spin fantastical lie after fantastical lie, beginning with “You’ve got the wrong girl; that’s a servant look-alike” and moving on to insinuating that Crevant has been paid to double-cross his men. The lies confuse absolutely everyone with the (possible) exception of Ettorio, and when Klygur shoves Ivella aside to take a swing at the “traitorous” Crevant, the heroes make their move. Crevant and Klygur are badly wounded before they even get a chance to defend themselves, which makes the fight rather one-sided. Ettorio steals a kiss from Ivella mid-fight, Opilio smashes Klygur into oblivion, and Vesper brings down Crevant with her banshee’s vestige. Another Scarhawk is taken captive, three more flee (one smashing his way through the old wooden planks of the shed rather than be cut down), and Vesper catches Crevant’s pet red-banded tyrant eagle in a cloak, showing the animal more compassion than it showed her.

When the fight is over, the group checks the rest of the old tower windmill. They find the Scarhawks’ traveling gear and pay chest. More interestingly, the basement contains a statue of a kneeling robed skeleton cradling an emaciated, possibly mummified child. This statue is known to local children as the “Sad Mother,” and they recognize it as an old, old memorial to those who’d died of plague.

On impulse, the group searches the basement more carefully, and finds a concealed plague-tomb. However, someone else has clearly been there more recently: a pair of tarnished silver and turquoise rings have been left in the palms of the insect-winged angel statue overseeing the tomb, all the niches for plague corpses have been emptied, and three bones have been left on the floor in the pattern of a plague-pit marker: the unholy symbol of Phouth.

Ettorio and Opilio return Ivella, and Vesper and Bandegan deliver the captives to the constable. The four convene to interrogate Crevant, and discover that he’s been in the pay of Potifol Whiteknees. Further information-gathering from the overly cooperative Spotted Cat (who finally gives his name as Carpa) and the Falcon and Goose’s proprietress helps confirm that the person “Cabrio” was actually the gamekeeper for Whiteknees, and seems to have been coordinating between the Scarhawks, the Spotted Cats, and the mysterious black-and-white-haired man “Salzar.”

Andelac Borsari, once given a chance to express his thanks, gives each of the group a purse full of a hundred gold regnants. He also encourages Ettorio to take Crevant’s masterwork Ferraregante cinquedea, and Opilio to take his equally finely crafted breastplate, as fair spoils. Vesper, with slight ethereal nudging, begins to wear Secordis Ossomont’s pin as her own; she also makes plans to have Galignante’s cat’s skin made into a cloak. Exhausted after a very long day, the group finally retires, with plans to lay a trap for Whiteknees’ gamekeeper on the morrow.

2 - Cats and Hawks
A bloody fight ends in victory, but treachery rides on triumph's heels.

The group spots the coach that carried Master Ossomont’s coffin uphill, at the lip of the quarry. They approach quietly, but are spotted by Galignante’s pet hunting-cat, and a fierce and bloody fight breaks out. Galignante and most of his men are brought down, save two prisoners.

Vesper discovers that her mentor’s coffin has been opened, but his body has not been disturbed. Ettorio questions one of the prisoners, who is quite cooperative. It’s revealed that the one who made the killing shot with the poisoned bolt was one Vinco, now dead. They also receive a description of the person who contracted the assassination and provided the wyvern poison: a man with shaggy, half-black and half-white hair and a long facial scar who smelled something like rotten fruit. This person apparently had a Calveran accent. They also provide the name of Cabrio (a suspected alias), the person who drew them to Calvera.

On the road back down the mountain, they run into a detachment of Scarhawks, led by the alchemist Balagond, Crevant’s quartermaster. Balagond mentions something about the tragic death of the bandit-hunters, and the Scarhawks attack. They are defeated all the same, and a few of Balagond’s flasks find their way into the group’s hands.

The group rests at the Coiling Snapdragon, and returns to Abesci the next day. They drop off their prisoners with the local constable, but Opilio spots a Scarhawk riding off after he sees the party.

Arriving at the villa, they discover several casualties, as the Scarhawks have apparently turned on their host. A maid informs them that Crevant has ridden off with Ivella Borsari.


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