Rasennan Summer

91 - Gathering the Audience
The last day before it all catches fire.

“I don’t own a catapult.”
“Yet.” — Kosvach Vargari & Carenza Vega

Once they’ve finished gathering the spoils, the blades take Fabria securely under their wing and prepare to get moving. Ettorio takes the lead, veering off into another district to leave a trail of false distractions. The others carefully take an evasive route back to the Clarion Call. They relate the adventure to Vittorio, who sadly says “It sounds lovely.” The devil puts a little effort into looking cheerful, but the increasing guilt over the impending accusation of infernalism weighs heavily on him.

With some medicine on her bruise and a fine drink, Fabria begins to tell what she knows of the Miriadis in Garganta.

  • Grunestia is not an infernalist. She left the Bascho because she was “too sloppy” to inherit a proper rank, and was easily wooed with the offer of the Topaz Seat.
  • Grunestia uses her clockwork firefly to spy for the Miriadis.
  • The alchemists have been working on the Brass Bull project, a construct that Grunestia is attempting to animate with the power of the lightning forge.
  • She doesn’t know about specific evidence of infernalism, but does suspect that Rofogarre’s rod may be something suspect; Grunestia has corrected him on “its aura” before. It might be concealed by illusion.
  • Everyone is intimidated by Donatessa. They treat her as if she’s very well-connected.

They rest on the news. The next morning they split up for the next phase: gathering allies that can be witnesses when they expose the Miriadis. Ettorio vanishes to contact the Black Veils and any others they might recommend. Kosvach is dispatched to Templeshadow to speak with Brighthawk Invista, and see if the local faith of Urvan is trustworthy — and then perhaps speak to the local Vargari.

Carenza heads to the Arena to speak with Spadio. He recognizes her from the five-on-five battle with the Fisher Kings, and is surprised to learn that she also fought recently under a more male aspect, in the very memorable duel with “Larettio D’Oscura.”

“The vampire.”

“Yes. That was me. …Not the vampire, the one fighting him.”

She convinces him into having some of the more honest people he knows attend the Prince’s celebratory party that evening, if only to watch. While he won’t commit to more active assistance, he points her toward Captain Diandra, the guard-captain most likely to be interested in helping expose a band of infernalists.

Vesper speaks with Tacitarus Verastin. He shows great interest in assisting them. When he offers his ability to dispel illusions, she gladly accepts. She asks him to visit the Prince’s party, and to stand ready.

While all this information-gathering goes on, Vittorio continues to nurse drinks and his remorse at the Clarion Call. His exceptional senses aren’t entirely dulled by the drink, though, and he notices a large, shining bug clinging to the window frame. The clockwork firefly flies off as he draws near, and he shoots it from the sky. He wanders out into the street, quickly pockets the still-whirring thing, and returns to the tavern.

Carenza finds Captain Diandra a willing audience. She gives a very convincing oratory, and the Captain is positively inspired. She agrees to join the team raiding the Miriadis quarters, though she stresses the very high stakes involved in a raid on the Prince’s guests.

A bit before dinnertime, the group reconvenes. Vittorio is still morose, and playing with the broken firefly. Kosvach notes it could be worth a lot of money. The devil looks at him, pulls off another leg, and throws it forlornly over his shoulder. Ettorio still has yet to arrive, but the time of the party is drawing near.

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90 - Chains and Firelight
The rescue attempt reaches a hellish den.

“Woman up, Kosvach! Your wife is watching!” — Carenza Vega

The search in the Citadel’s storage ward leads the blades to a wine cellar. Most of the wine bottles and barrels are, as expected, sized for humans, but a massive cask dominates one wall. The group notes that it certainly doesn’t seem old and rotten enough to date from the time that the giants held Garganta. A closer inspection reveals that the barrels is made of staves from smaller trees designed to emulate the much larger planks they’d replaced. It takes a minute or so for Ettorio to find the secret door hidden among the woodwork.

The passage through the secret door is well-lit and in good repair. The Iluni advances quietly ahead, where it opens into the upper portion of a large stone two-level room. From the upper balcony he can’t see the entirety of the lower portion — a wall with a door in it blocks off the rest of the upper area, with a stone statue of a warrior beside the door. But from what he can tell, the lower portion has been outfitted to serve as a torture chamber, and the light comes from firepits.

“What’s the point of having all these toys here and not using any on her?” comes an uncultured voice.

“It’ll be more accurate when she gets here. She has ways that work best.”

Ettorio signals the others to advance, but they sacrifice stealth for haste. The Miriadis enforcers start up at the sudden noise, and one of them drops the pan of corn into the firepit.

The Iluni’s first to leap down among the former Thornshields. From his new vantage point he can see the rest of the upper balcony. A man in Miriadis colors hurls a flask down at him, releasing a cloud of toxic vapor when it shatters. The fumes roll over the group, weakening but not dropping them.

Kosvach joins Ettorio on the lower level, and the two cut down another pair of swordsmen. Vesper opens the upper door to pursue the alchemist, but as she does, the statue swings into motion. It sweeps its two-handed sword around at her, biting into the door just after she narrowly drops under it.

Carenza and Kosvach focus their efforts on the animated statue, while Ettorio continues to dance with the enforcers. Vesper pushes through the door to confront the alchemist. She pulls Massavio’s mirror free, and the wrathful ghost of the medusa within glares out. The alchemist averts his eyes in time, and is able to pull himself free from the medusa’s power. The former mercenary near him is not so lucky. The luckless man roots to the spot, now made of a deep gray stone.

Meanwhile, Kosvach locks onto the more animated statue and pushes off the ledge, dragging the construct with him to crash onto the lower level. He takes the worse of another exchange with it as it struggles to its feet, but Carenza exhorts him to fight on, and he finds another reserve of strength. Vesper presses the alchemist with her blade Styriax, only to be cut in return when the Miriadis apothecary draws a poisoned knife on her.

The last soldier breaks, opening the lower door and dashing into the room beyond. Ettorio draws his crossbow with serpentine speed and sends a bolt flying after him. The Miriadis swordsman drops with the bolt in his back even as Kosvach kicks the door closed again.

On the upper level, Vesper opens the door near her. Four more Miriadis guards, still arming themselves, look up at her from the converted barracks-room on the other side. As they are still bracing for the charge, Vesper unleashes the keening wail of the banshee. Four bodies fall to the stone floor as she lets the door close.

The alchemist is clearly unnerved by the display and leaps down to the lower section. He lands badly, though, and expresses a look of sheerest panic as Kosvach delivers a blow to the animate statue, toppling the construct his way. He barely rolls free before the golem shatters on the floor. Staggering to his feet, the alchemist raises his hands in surrender. But at the same time, a sword wrenches through the lower door.

Kosvach topples the petrified soldier into the door as a brace. Above, Vesper bolts the upper door. The group falls back to take the alchemist and bind him with one of the ample pairs of shackles before the reinforcements break through.

When the Miriadis do break through, they do so memorably. A gout of fire blasts the upper door apart. A man in red sorcerer’s garb — evidently one of Rofogarre’s three pyromancers — aims another fiery burst at Vesper. Ettorio and Carenza quickly close on the fire mage, but he keeps them at bay with a spell that conjures burning iron spikes from the floor. The pyromancer then falls back into the barracks, seeming to realize he’s overmatched. He discovers he’s correct as the group surges after him and surrounds him. He attempts to escape their blades by turning into a billow of smoke, but the damage is too severe as Ettorio and Carenza cut through his form. He falls to the floor, reverting to dead flesh.

The lower door finally staves apart. The man coming through seems to be another of the former Thornshields, but a hellish brand is burning on the upper part of his exposed right arm. He gives Ettorio a nasty strike before the others pin him down. As furious as the diabolist soldier’s swordsmanship is, he has arrived too late to the fight, and the four have nothing to focus on but surviving his attacks and bringing him down.

Beyond the splintered door lies a set of cells. Fabria Miriadis sits in one of them, nursing a black eye but otherwise healthy. Ettorio frees her easily as the others gather a selection of valuables, curiosities, and possible evidence of diabolism. None of them are interested in remaining long enough for the mysterious “she” mentioned earlier to return.

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89 - About To Boil
A very risky plan comes into being.

“Were I a younger man, I would take you up on your offer, but I am not in my best form, as I have recently been hit by a street.” — Ettorio Iluni

Ettorio makes solid contact with the local Black Veils. He ends up in a meed with Morgante, madam of the expensive and spicy brothel called the Bloodrose. Morgante explains that the Veils have had a hard time in Garganta of late. Helsperia has devoted ample resources to persecuting the Veils, likely because she and Prince Gorsino are very uninterested in the brand of “social reform” that the Veils prosecute. While she can’t promise much by way of resources, she does say that she’ll do her best to help. The organization needs some disruption to occur in Gorsino’s court, and soon.

At the same time, Carenza manages to make covert contact with her Ladies. They move the cask with the unexpected help of a small mob of halflings, apparently dispatched either on Vestiri or Ot’s orders. The halflings provide camouflage for the operation, and shortly the Cenotic Cask is stowed away in the Ragmarket.

Ettorio and Carenza then join their friends in the Clarion Call to catch up. The group decides that the most public opportunity to expose the Miriadis as diabolists will be the inevitable party thrown to celebrate Gorsino’s son being “discovered” as a mage. It will be a dangerous situation, though. Vestiri notes that although they have some Vargari on their side, attempting the “Torccerna solution” — raiding a palazzo and hoping to discover evidence before the guards shut them down — is probably not the best idea. But Fabria Miriadis might be the key they need. Unfortunately, it might not be long before she’s connected with Vittorio’s escape — if it hasn’t happened already.

They settle on two plans. The long-term: the group will split into two on the night of Gorsino’s celebration. Ettorio will take the lead with “Team Iridios,” infiltrating the party and exposing the Miriadis. Carenza will lead “Team Torccerna,” striking at the Miriadis quarters in search of further damning evidence. The short-term: the group needs to extract Fabria so she can hopefully guide them toward what to look for in both instances.

Vestiri is dispatched with the task of distracting Grunestia. Under the persona of Cravino D’Ambergia, he sets out to encourage her to pay a visit to the Bloodrose. Ettorio shadows the meet, and once it’s clear that Grunestia is interested in following the eccentric to the house of professional assignation, he returns to meet with the others. As a group, they head for the Citadel storage where Fabria’s held.

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88 - A Well-Stirred Pot
A brief pause to catch one's breath before things boil over.

“You realize that if you make Ettorio do that, his wife will parboil him?”
“Of course!” — Vestiri Iluni & Vittorio Marvigliozzo

With angry Miriadis and the Prince’s men certainly looking for them topside, the blades settle in to hide for a time in Garganta’s underpassages. Ettorio, by virtue of his superior stealth skills, is the one to head up to find his cousin. The others have a tense, long wait before a solitary halfling in dark livery arrives at their hiding place. The halfling has the group follow up through a series of passages, until eventually they emerge.

The blades find themselves in the crowded back room of a textile and clothing merchant, part of a large enclosed ragmarket. Apart from the piled goods, the room also contains a man dressed in flamboyant yellow attire, a second halfling with with a similar black-and-white livery to their guide, and a gnoll bodyguard in a yellow cravat. The man in yellow introduces himself with Vestiri’s voice — as “Cravino D’Ambergia,” complete with his attendants “Salt,” “Pepper” and “Mustard.”

Vestiri explains the convenient cover D’Ambergia eccentricity provides. He mentions that Ettorio is still out, busy exploring his potential shadowy connections. The Prince’s spymaster Helsperia does indeed have an interest in the group, and Vestiri identifies the agent charged with their location as one Nivrotto. However, the ragmarket owner Ot is no admirer of the Prince, and with an even lower opinion of Nivrotto. Vestiri thus reassures the group that Ot will make sure Helsperia’s eyes and ears don’t reach down their hiding hole.

A new set of disguises seems to be in order. The clothes are easy enough to procure, with the resources of the ragmarket. Vestiri also produces a comb and brush with minor enchantments; the comb changes the color of hair, and the brush lengthens it. He coordinates an outlander look for Vesper with longer red braids, a more Khavayish appearance for Vittorio (concealing the remaining horn under a turban), and crops off Kosvach’s hair to make him look more like a traditional Rasennan blade-for-hire.

With everyone properly disguised, Vestiri leads the group to an inn both he and Vittorio trust, the Clarion Call. They take the opportunity to clean up, particularly Vittorio’s wounds. Carenza goes out to organize the Ladies and make sure the cask gets moved to a safer location.

Vesper, Vittorio and Vestiri remain to plot their next move. Exposing the Miriadis would be ideal, if it can be done before enough witnesses. Vestiri suspects the Prince will throw a celebration once the Miriadis “recognize” his son as a mage — which unfortunately means letting Rofogarre go through with the infernal pledge. Less useful but perhaps equally critical, Fabria is sure to come under suspicion for her part in Vittorio’s escape. Extracting her would be useful but dangerous work. They consider Ettorio as a possible seductive sop to throw out as a distraction for Vittorio’s devilish ex-paramour or Helsperia, and don’t discard the idea entirely. The three discuss the options further as they wait for Ettorio and Carenza to return.

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87 - Devil By the Horns
The blades find their missing devil, but complications ensue.

“And then the street hit me. When I wasn’t looking. So I left.” —Ettorio Iluni

Somewhere in Garganta, Vittorio sags to the floor. A voice rich with mock kindness says “Rest for a while, and regain your strength.” She speaks to the other person in the room, then. “I’ll be out for the evening. Take an hour’s respite.”

Vittorio is alone in the room for minutes, and then a nervous young woman slips quietly through the doorway. Fabria Miriadis kneels beside him and offers him assistance. She takes out the materials for a sending, and asks Vittorio to name one of his friends.

In the Colosseum, Vesper, “Oirotte” and “Marcazo” are explaining themselves to Spadio Ironskin. Vesper tells him the story of the Vycalaca, beginning with their encounter in Ladona, and how the vampires are tied both with the Miriadis and possibly with the Prince. When the arena-master asks why they’re telling him all this, Vesper says “Because you are one of the few honest men in this city.”

As she continues with the story, a brass dragonfly descends from the sky, and whispers something in her ear. Its message delivered, it fades and dissolves into nothing.

-V,
Taken captive by the demons of my past. Enduring dire circumstance. Chimney, Smokebelcher Corner, Armory. Require assistance, arrive prepared. Eternally, V.

Vesper completes her appraisal of the situation to Spadio as Kosvach returns from his fruitless pursuit of Lestrata. Then the group gathers and sets out to find Vittorio. They use a coach, depart it quickly, then take a second coach to Smokebelcher Corner in order to lose any spies.

Smokebelcher Corner turns out to be a block built into a structure with a particularly prominent chimney. The chimney itself is large enough to be a tower, and at first glance it seems likely that the locals have converted it as they have so many other giantish structures. Upon investigation, they find several entrances into the chimney, but only one — on the highest floor of the block, in a carpentry shop that sees little business — is flanked by a pair of seemingly nonchalant men playing dice. The two look like mercenaries in plain clothes to the group. They resolve to wait until the carpentry shop closes, then make their entrance.

That evening, they break in. Ettorio lures one of the guards away with a thrown chisel, and when the sentinel straps on a barbed shield, Vesper stresses that they’re surely Miriadis — former Thornshields, folded into the house with their company. Ettorio neatly assassinates the guard that remains by the door, poses him accordingly, and when his companion gives up and returns to the post, it’s a moment’s work to finish him as well.

The blades let themselves into the tower. They enter a storage space, and pass up some stairs to a set of disused apartments. Ettorio scouts up the next staircase, where some light and noise comes from a nearby doorway. Then everyone hears a scream — one that matches Vittorio’s baritone — amid the sound of splintering wood. They charge up the stairs and into the room.

There, Vittorio is kneeling in the center of a thaumaturgical circle, a brazier and a table of well-maintained tools nearby. The devilish troubadour shows several marks of torture, such as one of his horns sawed down to the quick. But worst of all, his hands are smashed, resting among the splinters and strings of his violin and bow. A burly man stands over him, clearly the tormentor in question.

The sight of Vittorio’s abuse does not stir compassion or diplomacy in the blades. They rush the torturer, knocking him off-balance, hurling him into the brazier, and smashing him to the ground with his face on the coals before they finish him off. Then Vesper turns her attention to the circle, and deduces how to break it and free their diabolical ally. Carenza encourages Vittorio as best she can, and some of the strength returns to him.

Before they leave, Vittorio moves to the wall and opens the secret door he’d watched “Donatessa” use. He goes into the small room beyond, collecting a pair of gloves, a conductor’s wand, and a flute — noting as he goes how much he hates woodwinds. As he struggles to pull the gloves on over his maimed hands, Vesper takes the spangly and revealing dress off its hanger and throws it on the brazier.

When Vittorio leaves the room with the ensorcelled objects, though, the brass bull’s head on the brazier bellows an alarm. The group decides on the better part of valor, and flees the chimney-tower at top speed. Once free of Smokebelcher Corner, they pile into the underground, with far too much haste for the local passerby to fail to notice them.

There’s plenty of room to hide in the Gargantan underground, though. The group holes up in a dry spot and plans their next move. Vesper is inclined to seek out the aid of Tacitarus Verastin, but getting an undisguised Vittorio past the Citadel district’s security would be challenging at the very least. Ettorio is dispatched to Donatessa’s house, to gather information and perhaps retrieve the glamored cap of disguise formerly owned by Iridios.

Vesper sends Kosvach aboveground to see if the warehouse where the Cenotic Cask is stored is being watched. He vanishes for a time. Then a body comes tumbling down into the sewer, with Kos appearing after it. He confirms that a watcher found the warehouse. A perturbed Vesper contemplates how best to move the artifact.

Ettorio finds that there are lights on at Donatessa’s house. He sneaks in the bedroom via a “suitor’s window,” and hears the sounds of light conversation from the parlor. His first impulse is to search to see if Vittorio’s hat is anywhere nearby. He does find a clothing-chest with an ornate lock, and what seems to be some sort of arcane ward carved into its lid. He does his best to disarm the ward, but fails — and pain runs through him like an hour’s torture in an instant. The Iluni can’t bite it back, and he cries out.

Fortunately, the pain doesn’t immobilize Ettorio. He leaps out the window, but he’s not at his best, and he lands badly on the street. He rolls to his feet as best as possible and dashes for the shadows. Glancing back at the window, he sees Donatessa and a saturnine gentleman looking out. If they spot the Iluni rogue, they don’t give any sign.

Ettorio regroups with the other fugitives, and delivers the bad news. Vesper surmises that Donatessa’s guess is likely Rofogarre Miriadis. They survey the situation, and decide on their next move.

“We need to contact Vestiri.”

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86 - The Noonday Duel
Carenza faces more than she bargained for -- and so does Ludovir Vycalaca.

VAMPIRE!” — “Marcasso”, and others

Dawn comes on the day of the duel. Ettorio awakens to find a note left for him:

Cousin —

In your many escapades, do keep watch for watchers. Helsperia has set an underling by name of Nivrotto to the task of investigating some bloody business in the catacombs. It would be fair to say he suspects Sespechs. Do keep your throats uncut.

—Your Mysterious Benefactor

At the habitual breakfast planning session, he brings up the note to the group. Vesper is somewhat perturbed that the Sespech are mentioned, but with the capture of the Cenotic Cask, it likely can’t be helped. The group decides that Ettorio will play the role of Marcasso’s second.

Vesper and Kosvach go to Invista that morning, to make sure that the Kaelite is well-positioned to enact the ritual safely. Along the way, Kosvach notices the two are being shadowed. They resolve to split up. Vesper’s early life as a poor urban child positions her nicely to evade her pursuer with a variety of street-level gambits. After having successfully lost her tail, she heads for the colosseum.

Carenza decides to scatter her Ladies through the crowd at the duel. She prompts them to be ready to cause a ruckus when Ludovir is revealed, so that there’s even less chance of him failing to be unmasked.

Another potion, and Marcasso returns for a few hours. The two of them arrive half an hour before the duel, as expected. The other party is there as well — “Larettio” has apparently chosen the young rake Velanter Carfineri as his second. Velanter seems quite proud to have earned the dashing blade’s trust, though he also seems a touch pale and distracted. The two parties exchange a few sneers, and then the arena master Spadio Ironskin and a legal witness formalize the duel’s conditions. Neither party will be reconciled, and then it’s simply a matter of time before it begins.

The arena skirmish playing out prior to the duel is a complicated team affair, with both sides using bola-like ball-and-rope weapons to entangle and stun one another. When it ends, the duelists are directed toward a platform with four large and dangerous-looking quintains at its corners. With just a few minutes until noon, Kosvach and Invista have yet to reveal themselves. Vesper spies Lestrata, however — “Lachrysia” sits under a decorated parasol, watching the preliminary preparations with keen interest. Vesper slips closer to the disguised Vycalaca without being noticed.

Carenza checks the stands, but nobody’s giving her the sign that things are set. She decides to make a production of examining one another’s weapons to buy some time. It’s not very reassuring — the vampire’s slim sword seems both antique in design and in excellent condition, two signs that make her suspect it’s enchanted. With her own Uromni blade in Ettorio’s belt, it looks rather like the odds are weighted even further in Ludovir’s favor.

“Marcasso” can stall only so long. A minute past noon, the duel begins. The smirk on Larettio’s face has barely solidified before his rapier has marked Marcasso. Taken aback, the disguised Carenza immediately shifts into a defensive stance, hoping to be able to actually see the next thrust. Larettio lazily rolls the tip of his blade, clearly intending to toy with his opponent for a bit.

But his next shot is a careless one. Carenza retaliates with a well-practiced strike that throws the Vycalaca off balance. Marcasso throws a jibe toward Larettio, which sparks an angry retort. Larettio’s next offensive is a flurry of blows with comparable speed, and two of the strikes draw shallow wounds. Now deeply worried, Carenza braces herself as best as she can.

In the stands, a hand claps down on Vesper’s shoulder. She grips the hilt of Styriax as she turns, but it’s Kosvach. He nods. She looks up, and the thick clouds are beginning to churn.

Marcasso goes into a fully defensive stance. Larettio idly circles his opponent, apparently judging where to place a more painful blow.

And then the sky opens.

The sunlight pouring down immediately blisters Ludovir’s skin, and he lets out a furious and pained shriek. In the stands, Lestrata barely has time to comprehend what’s changed before Vesper speaks a phrase of accelerated aging, and her parasol disintegrates into threadbare scraps. She screams as well, to the astonishment and fear of the crowd, and to Vesper and Kosvach’s satisfaction. “Marcasso” immediately shouts “Gods! A vampire!” in tones of alarm well different form Carenza’s actual relief.

Lestrata bolts for the underworks. Ludovir runs toward Velanter, crying out for his cloak. But Ettorio races up the platform, leaps atop a quintain, kicks off as part of the same motion, and with an acrobatic vault tackles Velanter to the ground. With a curse, Ludovir changes direction to race for the tunnels below. But the arena master has already recovered from the initial shock. Spadio Ironskin draws his sword, and at his command the portcullises close and a volley of crossbow bolts flies at the still-burning vampire.

Ludovir has no choice but to change direction a second time. He still has enough speed to close on Ettorio and bite into the half-elf’s shoulder, fortifying himself with a quick swallow of blood before he darts into the shadow under the duel’s scaffolding. Ettorio is still hale enough to pursue, though, and he races into the shadow as well. He strikes Ludovir with a quick shot very near the heart, and the vampire falls, seeming to flash into a momentary torpor.

In the stands, Kosvach presses after Lestrata, but the crowd isn’t parting quickly enough. He swears an ugly oath in Lokvan as the vampire girl reaches the safety of the tunnels. Vesper chooses a different tack, fighting her way down into the arena.

Carenza bolts under the stands as well. “Marcasso” aims a shot at Ludovir along with a call to arms. Ettorio and Spadio both move almost without thinking, striking in tune with the command. Ludovir jolts back to consciousness, and a spray of poisonous Vycalaca blood touches the combatants.

Vesper reaches the brawl as well. She focuses, and the vestige of the Lucovol wolf-grim leaves her body. It takes a great effort on Ludovir’s part to fend off the attack of the avenging Vargari ghost. But he keeps on his feet all the same, and attacks all three of his close foes with another flurry of rapier strikes.

Ettorio’s response is a clever knife feint at the heart, one that Ludovir narrowly avoids. Before the vampire can assess whether or not the strike was intended to be true, Carenza calls for another strike right to the heart. Ettorio quickly moves at the disguised commander’s behest, and Ludovir’s reflexes betray him. He evades the half-elf’s stab at his heart — only to realize too late that he was maneuvered into leaping free of the shadow under the platform. With a last anguished shriek, Ludovir Vycalaca falls to his knees, and his body is at last annihilated by the light of the sun.

Marcasso and Ettorio state rather gamely that they have earned their satisfaction. The arena master regards the two, looks over at the sorceress who conjured the wolf-grim, and then says that he is going to want to talk to them.

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85.5 - An Unexpected Conversation
Ettorio discovers a new D’Ambergia friend is not what he seems.

So, do we continue to banter for a while, or can I skip right to ‘what the fuck?’” — Ettorio Iluni

With one of the Prince’s favorites dead on the floor behind them, and the covert necromantic operation in shambles, the first item of business is the logistics of hiding the Cenotic Cask. Vesper opts to rent a small storage facility on the other side of town, and asks Carenza to delegate a couple of the Ladies to keep an eye on it.

Invista also has to go into hiding. Although she’d rather stand openly with the shrine, she agrees that it would be best to lie low until the duel, to give them the best shot of exposing and possibly crippling or even killing Ludovir. She vanishes into the lower-income portions of town, claiming to have allies there.

So it’s time to rest again. With one day left before the duel, Ettorio gets back to the process of information-gathering in an attempt to locate Vittorio. Unfortunately, Donatessa Miraglia doesn’t seem to be a morning person, nor do her associates. He does discover that she has withdrawn from her recent opera, leaving her role to an understudy, claiming some form of illness.

As Ettorio is taking a break at an open-air cafe, a very eccentrically dressed person chooses the table next to him. The gentleman is dressed largely in yellow, and has either dyed half of his blond hair black or half of his black hair blond. A pair of halflings wearing black and white livery attend the gentleman, and a gnoll in warrior’s gear and a yellow cravat stands watch over him. The fellow gabbles with the server for a minute, then strikes up a sudden conversation with Ettorio and invites himself to the Iluni’s table.

“Cravino D’Ambergia,” he says in a self-satisfied tone. As the other customers turn back to their own business — perhaps aided by the level, assessing stare of the gnoll bodyguard — Cravino lowers his voice a bit. “And how are things with you, cousin?”

“Wait. What did you say?”

Looking past the blond facial hair, Ettorio recognizes Vestiri. He quietly interrogates his cousin. Vestiri claims to be in town on business, and that the D’Ambergia disguise is eccentric enough that few people even question it. The halflings — “Salt” and “Pepper” — are no ordinary servants, and the gnoll “Mustard” helps to keep people from looking too closely.

“I believe I mentioned that I did work for Prince Cortifo.”

“You did. And I was under the impression it was a singular event.”

“Did I imply that? Dear me.”

Vestiri explains that he hasn’t been in town very long, and that he’s mostly working to counter the Prince’s spymaster Helsperia. He mentions that he’s already discovered a troubling thread. He suspects that House Miriadis is building a case of infernalism to use against the group, and if they have Vittorio, he would make a fine key piece of evidence. He wishes his cousin the best of luck, and then gathers Salt, Pepper and Mustard and departs. Ettorio returns to the others, and informs them of the new wrinkle in their intrigues.

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85 - The Prince's Necromancer
The band challenges the necromantic captain and his largest work.

“Let’s kill these assholes and get out of here.”
“Some of them are already dead”.
“Let’s kill the rest of the fuckers, then.” — Carenza Vega and Vesper Sespech

The captive in the cage is a woman with some gray in her dirty blonde hair, a bit weathered though still youngish. She admits to being the brightfalcon Invista, but is at first wary of the people who burst in and cut apart her captor.

“Well,” says Ettorio, “I am the one opening this door, so consider that.”

She does, and her suspicions ease. She explains that her vestments and tools of the faith are likely in Voratio’s workspace. The blades assure her that they aren’t leaving without the Sespech artifact, and therefore they’ll help her retrieve her belongings along the way.

They aren’t very quiet as they approach the massive crypt where Voratio works. Apparently the sound carries through the vaults, as the necromancer is alert as they enter. He stands on a scaffold, the giant skeleton raising itself to its full sixteen, and demands that the intruders declare themselves.

“We’re here for the cask!” says Carenza.

“It’s not yours,” adds Vesper.

“But it is,” replies Voratio. “It was a gift.”

Carneza scoffs. “Well, we’re going to take it.”

Voratio’s smile is thin. “I have more swords at my disposal,” he says, and the skeletal soldiers around the crypt draw their weapons.

“Ours are better.”

Voratio extends a carven ebony rod toward Carenza, and a withering bolt of darkness arcs out at her. The giant skeleton swings into action, and the skeletal soldiers come rushing in from all corners. The bone colossus’ strikes are wide and overpowering, injuring some of the blades and smashing apart a few of its skeletal allies at the same time.

Ettorio leaps atop the leaden cask and throws down a smoke bomb. He uses the smoke as an opening to dash past the skeletons, nimbly vaulting up onto the scaffolding and striking Voratio with the pommel of his dagger. The necromancer drops, momentarily stunned. As the skeletons close in on him, the Iluni manages to distract them with a remarkable impersonation of the graverobber-captain’s voice.

Kosvach plows into the leg of the skeleton in a vain attempt to topple the thing. He then works at keeping its attention, while Carenza directs the flow of battle. Vesper keens with her banshee’s voice, then falls back to use her supernatural gaze of condemnation.

As the brawl intensifies, Carenza exposes a weak spot on the immense skeleton’s construction. She coordinates a succession of attacks. The huge undead stumbles and comes crashing down, splintering more of the human skeleton soldiers under its bulk. Ettorio dives in to carve into it, leaving Voratio to recover his senses but doing considerable damage. He exposes himself to more of the bone soldiers’ attacks, though, and is rather ragged before long.

Carenza finally strikes a final blow, breaking the animation and bringing the giant bones raining down. Vesper shifts her attention to Voratio, and produces her hand-mirror. The medusa’s face swims up at her bidding, though Voratio manages to elude its gaze. The captain reads the odds, and decides to leap free. He lands badly, and gestures from his prone position. Bones erupt from between the cobblestones, shifting together into a jagged wall to cover his flight. Kosvach immediately begins hacking a way through, followed by Carenza.

Voratio gets up and flees, yelling for assistance. But he takes a grazing crossbow bolt from Ettorio, and another of Vesper’s phantasmal attacks before he’s out in the corridors. The group moves into pursuit, some tracking him, some attempting to outmaneuver him. He’s finally flushed from a hiding place under some scaffolding when Carenza barrels past. As he races for safety, Vesper pronounces the words of unmaking, and the joints of the scaffold corrode away in an instant. The structure comes crashing down on Voratio, with the corner of a heavy board punching through his skull.

They quickly search his body, taking a few bits of jewelry, the ebony flensing rod carved with skulls and beetles, and his ritual book. In the book they find a letter, carefully folded.

Master Voratio:

We are most impressed with your ability to make use of the Cenotic Cask. You are proving yourself most invaluable to your Prince. He may well elevate you beyond your captaincy, perhaps to the dismay of M. Azilro.

However, if you are interested in a less temporal — and perhaps less limited — opportunity, we would ask you to consider our House. We would be delighted to transfer the Cask permanently to your stewardship. And, of course, as we lack any practitioners at your level within your Art, the Onyx Seat stands open at present. Consider it.

—R.

With little time to spare, the group makes sure that Invista has her belongings. They place the Cenotic Cask in a wheelbarrow, and Vesper conjures a minor spirit to move it. They then make for the rendezvous with Vanst, and from there to the surface.

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84 - Daggers and the Dead
The blades pick off the stragglers in Voratio’s corpse works.

“No, I can get it out of here. That’s not a problem. But where do I hide it until I need to move it home?”
“That is a problem for future you.” — Vesper Sespech & Ettorio Iluni

The catacombs beneath Garganta are, like the rest of the city, built up within the cavernous spaces of giant architecture. But in some portions there has been less work. The “corpse works,” as Vanst called them, lie in a section of crypts that have not yet been claimed in earnest. The stone vaults are emptier and the echoes of footfalls more distinct. But it’s clear others work here. Scaffolding runs around some walls and occupies a few mausoleums. Lanterns hang at periodic intervals, providing clearly lit if shadowy paths through the area.

Ettorio excuses himself from the colleagues and slips into the patches of gloom. He scouts around the occupied catacombs. The activity he finds is at a low ebb — the necromancer’s helpmates are apparently largely diurnal. A few converted crypts boast scaffolding built around the central giantish biers, with skeletons standing at immobile attention.

One of the larger crypts, though, stands out. The wooden construction surrounds a particularly sizable sarcophagus, and laid out atop it is a giant’s skeleton. The living man working here wears a uniform that appears similar to that of the Prince’s captains, though in darker colors and with a distinct skull badge. Also of note, an odd leaden cask has been set in the open portion of the room, with metal rods extending out from under it and bending at 90-degree angles, something like lightning rods. The cask is marked with strange glyphs that Ettorio doesn’t understand, but he memorizes the best description he can and returns to the group.

Vesper recognizes the leaden cask by its description. The original Sespech the Shadowed, founder of her house, used such a cask to gather the animating force of the dead. If this is Sespech’s relic and not simply a cunning replica, then it explains much about how Voratio is able to animate and command undead soldiers beyond what one would expect. Vesper immediately resolves that they need to steal the cask back, though she is somewhat short on the specifics of how.

Ettorio excuses himself again, this time to go ply his… more recently acquired trade. The skeletal troops seem inactive until actively commanded, and he promptly exploits this flaw. The first necromancer may as well have been alone — Ettorio slips up and ends him with a single thrust. He rifles through the necromancer’s goods, and returns to the others with a pouch of components, a tarnished copper ring, a ritual book, and a slightly damp folded parchment holding a drawing of a generously proportioned woman.

The next stop on his agenda is a sepulcher where an apprentice necromancer is boiling corpses, presumably to peel away the flesh. (Vesper scoffs that it’s an amateur technique that softens the bones; it’s more practical to use flensers.) Ettorio first distracts the guard with a thrown pebble, then diving down on him from a scaffold to put him to rest. The apprentice is summarily dispatched thereafter, and Ettorio takes him by the heels and pitches him into the pot as a flourish.

The Iluni assassin pauses at the third occupied satellite crypt. The necromancer within is using a bone rod to direct the movements of a well-armored skeleton. The undead soldier’s practice strikes are quick and decisive, and Ettorio decides it’s best not to engage this duo (and likely the other, lesser skeletons at attention around the tomb) alone. He returns to collect Vesper, Carnenza and Kosvach, and the four are able to assemble outside the crypt’s entrance without causing too much noise.

As a group, they rush Voratio’s prodigy. The young necromancer is nearly cut down in the initial charge, but rallies and directs his skeletal champion against the intruders. He manages to blast the party with a wave of deathly chill before they finish the job. But the skeletal hero is made of sterner stuff, and the crypt’s bone soldiers are numerous. Kosvach holds off a number, taking a score of small wounds in the process. By the time the blades have dispatched the troops, they’re battered but still full of fight. And from a cage in the corner of the room, a disheveled woman sits up and calls out to them.

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83 - Hidden Sun
A missing sun-priest hints at divine inaction and a possible way forward.

“So we deal with this, and then set up for the duel. I need a calendar for our intrigues.” — Ettorio Iluni

A messenger arrives at the Shield & Crown Inn to formalize the terms of the challenge. “Larettio” has called for a duel in the Colosseum, at midday in two days’ time. It seems the weather divinations call for heavy cloud that day. In addition, the Miriadis are set to offer the Prince’s son their “grand bargain” in three days’ time.

Vesper’s plan for dealing with the vampiric rake is to find a magic that will part the clouds. It seems most likely that the priests of the sun god Kaeal would possess such a ritual. So she and Kosvach go to the Grandtemple district, where they call on the Shrine of the Noonday Sun. However, the acolyte there tells them that Brightfather Antolio is still indisposed, and should be better recovered by the afternoon. Given that Kaealites are renowned for rising when the sun does, Vesper feels some shards of doubt at the news.

She regroups mentally and heads to call on Tacitaris Verastin in the meantime. She lays out most of her suspicions to the militant wizard, specifically that the Miriadis plan to offer an infernal bargain to the prince’s son Gorvari, and that she is absolutely certain that Cadmiro and his “guests” are Vycalaca vampires. Tacitaris grumbles that there’s little he can do without more concrete proof. He does agree to speak to his contacts and see what balls he can start rolling. Vesper asks about the disgraced Felastria, but Tacitaris is defensive about the details of his friend’s situation.

In the meantime, Carenza and Ettorio work on plots of their own. Their primary goal is to figure out a way to induce Ludovir to make a terrible, fatal mistake during the duel. His bloodthirst seems a possible option, though very dangerous to invoke. Unfortunately, the secondary plan of showering Ludovir with quarrels and spells from the stands does not seem to be feasible without serious consequences. And still the question nags them: Where is Vittorio?

Vesper returns to the Kaealite shrine after lunch. Brightfather Antolio is mobile at that point, though the bristly sun-priest is still testy. He is unwilling at first to discuss anything with her, but her diplomatic skills have seen much practice in the past few years, and she eventually wins him over. He confesses that although the ritual of opening the skies is known to the shrine, it is currently lost to them for all practical purposes — the only priest who could perform it safely is absent. After further interrogation, he finally admits that Brighthawk Invista is kept captive by the Prince’s most recent “captain,” the necromancer Voratio, in order to ensure the Kaealites’ good behavior.

Naturally Vesper offers her assistance. Antolio is leery of further endangering the captive brighthawk, but is ultimately convinced of her band’s reputation. Vesper asks for a recommendation to the Thehtites, who would logically know the most about the Gargantan catacombs. Antolio provides it, and soon Vesper and Kosvach are speaking with the ranking priestess of Theht. The death-priestess Amrisa is peculiarly young and pleasant, despite her somber bearing and rank. She agrees to provide assistance as though it had already been settled.

In the meantime, Ettorio heads to Donatessa Miraglia’s house to find Vittorio. He quickly discovers the troubadour was seen entering the opera singer’s house, but not leaving. A bit of innocuous conversation with the servants determines that they’re covering for her; they say she is indisposed but when Ettorio inevitably breaks into the upper story of the house, he finds it empty. The apartments are nicely appointed with all manner of mortal pleasures, from overstuffed furniture to exotic liqueurs. There is no real sign of Vittorio’s presence. Ettorio decides to look for arcane-seeming clues in particular, with success — he finds a faded thaumaturgical circle drawn around Donatessa’s luxurious bathtub, the water still in it.

Carenza spends some of her time spreading rumors about the duel, and backing up the existence of the fictional Marcazo. She visits the Colosseum to check the odds, which are still in the early stages of forming, but clearly favoring Larettio D’Oscura. She also evaluates the possibility of cheating in the arena, but it seems that the arena-master is one of the few honorable men in Garganta, and the crowd is known to get violent if someone cheats them out of an anticipated fight.

Vesper and Kosvach finish up their trip by dropping by Bronzarion Bascho, to inform him of the Miriadis intrigues. The Bascho seems reluctant to engage himself deeply in dangerous politics, but Vesper plants the seeds of temptation by bringing up the dissatisfaction of Fabria Miriadis and the possibility of winning access to the lightning-forge should the Miriadis be discredited.

The group reunites in the evening. Vittorio is still not present, and Ettorio brings up his suspicions. The thaumaturgical circle around the bathtub is a dangerous concern. Vesper advises that they focus for now on freeing the captive brighthawk, as the Vycalacas are a known danger with a timetable.

They depart after sunset for the Thehtite shrine. The priests of the Goddess of Death and Time are notably genial toward the blades. The high priestess, a woman who appears much younger than she should be, calmly shows the group the way into the catacombs. She also provides them with a guide who knows the passages, a large and gentle-seeming man named Vanst, whose grey cloak makes him slightly resemble a menhir.

During the walk through the catacombs, the adventurers discuss the possible resistance. They reasonably suspect that the undead could well be mobilized and guarding the location. More sobering is the thought that some of the giants’ remains might be sturdy enough to reanimate, and that Voratio is capable of such a feat. Carenza announces that it’ll probably be fine with Vesper along.

“Well, I mean, you’re Sespech. You can just wave your hand and command the undead, right?”

“I can command undead.” Vesper taps one temple with a fingertip. “But only the ones in here.”

Vanst announces that they’ve reached the edge of the occupied catacombs. He tells them he’ll wait for them there. If they’re not back in four hours, he’ll assume the worst and return.

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