“There was a mud monster.”
“Of course, sir. I suppose this is what is on your good pantalones?” — Ettorio Iluni & Carpa
After the events at the Shredded Eel, Ettorio feels the distinct need to have a drink in quiet. He chooses the Wingless Wyvern, an upscale establishment on Empire Hill where many young gentlefolk and blades apparently go to be seen and to socialize. While Carpa waits at a servants’ watering hole nearby, Ettorio selects a booth on the upper level and watches the crowd, including a young Rovino tomboy drinking with two daughters of Crisandor, and a pair of Iluni twins. Both sights encourage him to remain out of view.
It’s not long before an attractive woman approaches him and asks to sit with him, calling for more drinks. She asks if he is Ettorio Iluni, and after a bit of banter he admits to it. She introduces herself as Faustina Belluna, a name he recognizes as an actress of quite favorable reputation, and states she’s here largely for social enjoyment. The two talk for a bit of time, plied with more wine, as she directs the conversation largely to Ettorio and his exploits. The young Iluni tries his hand at the family skill of appearing to drink more than he actually imbibes, but finds the wine too delicious and the company too enjoyable. When she invites him to come back to her apartments, he sees little reason to decline. En route, he quietly tells Carpa to go get a change of clothes for him and meet him there.
Faustina’s apartments are quite nice, and her halfling maid is affably discreet. After a bit more small talk, the actress excuses herself to slip into something more appropriate. She emerges from behind her changing screen in black-lacquered chain mail, an expensive treatment Ettorio recognizes as useful for muffling sound as well as reflecting less light. Though saddened that the encounter has become much less lusty, the Iluni finds himself all the more intrigued, if on a somewhat different level. He asks for an explanation.
Faustina explains that she is living under a threat, and requires assistance. She elaborates by telling him something of the history of the Black Veils, and that the more corrupt elements within the assassins’ organization are currently holding too much power. Several of the Ladonan Veils who still hold to the old ideals have been sent on suicide missions without being informed of the true risks, and it is too much of a pattern to be a coincidence. In particular, she stresses that she has asked Ettorio for help because she has heard through her contacts that he is interested in justice. He agrees to come with her to Tritonia Park and flush out her would-be attackers so that she can learn who’s behind the heart of the corruption. The two run into Carpa as they leave, who stands there holding Ettorio’s bag; Ettorio hails him as “person that I have never seen before,” and Carpa resignedly hands over the bag (“I think you dropped this, sir”) and departs.
Tritonia Park is quite abandoned at this point in the evening, and Ettorio staggers in first pretending to be drunk, hoping to draw the attention of someone who won’t want a witness. He succeeds; a man appears from behind a hedge and pulls a small vial as he approaches the Iluni. Ettorio strikes it from his hand, and after chiding the man away, melts into hiding when the fellow’s back is turned. When Faustina comes closer to bait the trap, Ettorio is ready and waiting.
The ambush is a small one, two knife-fighters and one slinger who uses alchemical bullets. Faustina gets in trouble early on when one man pins her to the fountain’s edge with throwing knives and the slinger breaks open a poison gas bullet around her, but Ettorio vaults over the wider part of the fountain without so much as getting his boots wet and helps free her. The two blades are dispatched, and the slinger is taken alive. Faustina knows him as another Veil, Ilandro, one of those with little idealism. Ilandro first attempts to bribe Ettorio into betraying Faustina, but when the Iluni shows little inclination to do so, the slinger agrees to reveal his true employer. He names Filescar, an accountant and blackmailer who has been an unremarkable advisor to Master Avidacari for many years. Knowing that Filescar has an office at the Theatre Penumbral, Faustina recommends they move quickly before he knows something has gone wrong.
They find two guards outside Filescar’s attic-level office. Faustina attempts to talk her way past them, but they are a little too dense to take her meaning; when they ask their employer for direction, the answer is “Oh, for… seize her!” Ettorio is ready to jump to the actress’ side, though, and their blades prove much better suited to the cramped quarters than the thugs’ axes. One guard goes down, the other surrenders, and Faustina lets out a strangled deathcry to put Filescar off his guard.
As they enter the accountant’s office, he is alarmed to see Faustina and boggled at the presence of the stranger. Rather than stand and face them, though, he drops down a trap door to the catwalks over the auditorium below. The two pursue, and although both have difficulties when the fleeing villain dissolves a portion of the catwalks with a vial of acid, plummeting into the ropes, they recover well. The pursuit leads to the stage, where an aggrieved Filescar drinks some sort of potion in desperation. As he rants at the two, his flesh begins to run and sag, much to everyone’s horror (including his own).
The potion transforms him into some sort of horrible elemental mud-grue, granting him great strength and resilience at the cost of humanity and perhaps even sentience. He nearly injures both Ettorio and Faustina badly, but the two cut away chunk after chunk of his clay-like form with expert bladesmanship until he flees. They pursue the former accountant backstage, alarming a pair of performers working late into the night. Faustina finally cuts off the transformed traitor at the stage door, and Ettorio runs him through. The only fleshy portion remaining is the human heart impaled on the end of the Iluni’s cinquedea, and it too dissolves into mud at last.
Ettorio cleans up and changes into the clothes Carpa brought him. He then meets Faustina in Filescar’s office, where she’s discovered several ledgers that attest to his treachery, as well as the secret prize of a blood-soaked gold piece — the mark of a rival, far more zealous guild of killers.
Faustina thanks Ettorio for his assistance, and throws him a single coin, which he doesn’t lift a finger to catch. “Money?” he says. “Really?”
“It’s not the kind of coin you can spend just anywhere,” she replies. “Take it to the Bridesmaid’s Tear sometime when you need assistance.” With that, she curtsies respectfully and makes her exit.
Ettorio leaves the theater, where he is met, surprisingly enough, by Carpa. He asks his manservant how much he heard, but Carpa is very evasive, professing not to wish to pry on Ettorio’s dealings with a pretty lady. Finally the ex-bandit admits that he followed Ettorio to the theater but did not go inside, and chose to wait, having nothing else to do. Ettorio thanks him for his patience, and rewards him with a sack of mud-spattered laundry.
“We did a good thing today, Carpa.”
“I am glad you struck a blow for hygiene, sir.”
Note: It’s pronounced “FILL-eh-scar”.