“Preferably don’t kill him at all! You know, it was a mistake even asking you for help!” — Carenza Vega
While the others were engaged in their various efforts, Carenza was pursuing Cormarro Dusaam’s signet ring. She found out that the Fisher Knights were quartering in a number of inns around the Sword Forum district. It takes her a little longer to find out that Vico is part of the Black Marlin squad. That narrows it down to where the Marlins are bunking, specifically an inn called the Oxbelly.
The Oxbelly’s common room contains about half of the Marlin Legion, but Vico isn’t among them. Carenza dispatches her five girls to settle in at the bar, and talks first to an ordinary trooper, and then to a sergeant. She convinces him to fetch Vico.
Vico comes downstairs and is rather affable at seeing his old captain, if a touch wary. She explains that she needs the Dusaam signet ring to settle the last of an old debt. Vico expresses sympathy, but tells her he sold it, and he has to protect the confidentiality of the buyer.
Carenza argues the point with Vico until his lieutenant shows up — Rastari, last seen being dragged from the Life & Death’s fighting pit in Redfathom Cove. Noting that Carenza requires something of his trooper, something Vico seems unwilling to give, he offers her a chance to win it in challenge. Carenza offers money in exchange, but Rastari seems far more interested in a glorious competition in the Garganta arena. He even offers her the choice of the contest. In a strange tactical move, Carenza suggests a King of the Hill match. Rastari takes note of the other Ladies wearing her colors, and agrees to a five-on-five match.
So when Carenza returns to share information, she admits that she’s part of an arena mock combat the next day, and that she may have picked a contest that gives a strong edge to the Fisher Knights. But since the deal didn’t speculate that her Ladies had to fill out her five, they soon decide to stack the deck with the best fighters they can. Ettorio quickly signs up, and then Kosvach notes that he has relatives in town. Given the Vargari reputation for freestyle violence, the group decides to pursue the possibility.
Kosvach takes them to the Howling Sword, a rowdy-looking tavern in the Armory district. The proprietor acknowledges Kosvach and lets the group into a back room. There they meet Basilcar and Venetta Vargari, a brawler with punch-daggers and his archer wife. Once the purpose of the visit’s explained, Venetta mentions that Angisera Vargari’s also in town. The name impresses Kosvach, who explains that she’s a saint of the spear. Angisera shows up within the hour. Though she has the mousy appearance of anything but a hardened warrior, the Vargari spearwoman has as much level confidence as a spartoi. When Kosvach outlines the help that Carenza and the others have provided for the family, Angisera and Basilcar agree to join the fight.
The following morning, there’s a good turnout at the colosseum to watch the wargame. A small hill has been built in the middle of the arena, with a banner-pole at the top. The traditional rules are in play: touching the flagpole contests it. Victory goes to the team who can keep the others from contesting the banner until a set amount of time expires.
The Fisher Knights soak up a generous helping of applause as they emerge, proudly waving to the crowd. It’s clear that they’ve been stationed in town long enough for their reputation to settle in. Team Vega has no such reputation to precede them — but when Rastari gets a full look at Carenza’s team, he suddenly seems much less confident. He seems even to recognize Angisera — and he definitely recognizes Kosvach. Although rattled, he waves it away and gets his team into position.
A horn and drum beat out the start of the match. The Fisher Knights begin leaping up the hill, but Ettorio is easily the fastest. He runs right past the flagpole, down the other side, and throws a smoke bomb right into the enemy’s midst. Carenza and Angisera crest the top then, taking up positions as Ettorio races back. They form a three-person defensive wedge and brace.
Vittorio leaps up and begins a booming play-by-play from the stands. The Fisher Knights emerge from the smoke, their momentum disrupted. Kosvach and Basilcar then slam into the Knights from either flank, having ignored the top of the hill in order to move around. They successfully draw down the flankers, leaving only three to advance on the defenders at the top of the hill.
Never shy to gain attention, Ettorio climbs the banner-pole and perches on it until the enemy draws near. Then he kicks off with what might have been a very elegant dive from above. But due to some miscalculation on the part of either himself or his semi-sapient cloak of living shadow, his cape dramatically billows out at exactly the right angle to snag on the top of the pole. The snag sends Ettorio down rather more awkwardly than planned. He hits the loose earth of the hill and goes rolling down the side, further entangled in his cloak.
Fortunately for Team Vega, Carenza and Angisera are enough to hold the line. Even with a simple, lightly padded staff, Angisera strikes accurately and viciously. Her blows become even faster and more effective with Carenza’s encouragement and distraction. Rastari has to pause to consider the approach, and at that point Kosvach catches up for a rematch. From the sidelines, Vesper muses that there’s probably no reason for her husband to hold a grudge, given that he won in the pit — but Kos doesn’t seem to agree.
While the Cinquedean Vargari continues to express his dissatisfaction with encouraging non-consensual legal pit-fights, his distant cousin Basilcar has planted his knees on the shoulders of the largest Fisher Knight, and is sledding the big man downhill, throwing punches the whole time. Vico comes face-to-face with Carenza, but as he’s assessing the wisest form of attack, a newly disentangled Ettorio hits him in the kidneys from behind. The fight leaves poor Vico at once.
Carenza simply leans against the flagpole to issue commands from that point. Following her lead, Angisera quickly disables two more Fisher Knights. Ettorio pitches in to help Basilcar, dropping the largest foe, and Rastari is unable to break free from Kosvach. The time expires on the scene of a rout. The official announcer, somewhat surprised (and decidedly more surprised than the enthusiastic unofficial announcer Vittorio), announces victory for Team Vega without the other team having touched the bannerpole once.
Carenza approaches Vico, claps him on the back, and offers to take him drinking to ensure that there are no hard feelings. Vico seems chastened by the experience, and agrees. He also freely offers what he knows about the ring’s buyer — a Miriadis, name of “Rofosomething.” Carenza passes along the information before she goes off to drink. Vesper is not pleased.
That afternoon, they gather more information about the upcoming Zarocci party. Vittorio mingles with the Grandchapel crowds, and discovers that one of the guests is the opera singer Donatessa. She seems to be currently without an escort, and Vittorio muses about the possibilities.
Carenza goes to pray to Goreador, and along the way winds up speaking with the right people to find out that the party’s logistics are being overseen by a halfling broker by the name of Dowser. Once that information is passed on, it leads to a new swindle.
Ettorio and Vittorio disguise themselves as servants, and pay a visit on Master Dowser. They present themselves as servants of a “Master Opilio Chapelwood,” making inquiries on his behalf. Dowser points out that Master Chapelwood is not present on the guest list. They quietly confirm that for themselves, committing the list to memory. Ettorio complains about how “the rumors surrounding Garganta are apparently true,” solidifying the cover story of the rebuffed and undesirable social climber, before the two leave.
The list in hand, the group convenes to go over their plans for infiltrating the party the following night. As they discuss disguises and the various merits of replacing servants, Vesper adds an unexpected piece of information to the pot. Bronzarion Bascho manufactures potions that will change the sex of the imbiber for eight hours — one sure way to make themselves less recognizable.