“How do we identify those who will help us and those who wish to kill us?”
“That would have been a very helpful question a day ago.” — Opilio & Ettorio Iluni
When Carenza, Opilio and Vesper return to the Pale Maiden after their sojourn to Dunsini Rise, they find what seems to be an exquisitely bored Ettorio waiting for them. The four exchange stories, turning some heads when Carenza elaborates on the plague, and more when Ettorio mentions the Black Veils. They retire to Ettorio’s private suite to complete their discussion. After both sides have been caught up, and most misunderstandings cleared away, Ettorio mentions that he’s discovered that Corseco and Basolo Rovino have gone missing, apparently after some attempt to confront Kagall. Carenza is rightly quite concerned (for Basolo, though not Corseco), and Ettorio points out that he knows of someone who might be willing to help.
A few hours before the arena fight is scheduled to start, the four visit an herbalist by name of Libella. Ettorio’s sources had informed him that she was a former associate of Kagall’s, but now wishes him ill — and that she may have been the one to show the Rovino bravos to Kagall’s doorstep. Libella is naturally cautious around the dangerous-seeming travelers, but admits that she has a grudge against the Tamsharn smuggler. She sells the group some antidotes and gives them a letter of introduction to take to Escea at the Water Lily.
The Water Lily is, as the name suggests, a brothel. The house is built into a much older Dysian structure, apparently refurbished many times. While the four are able to walk in without much embarrassment, they become more flustered when the madam realizes all four of them would like to visit the same prostitute. “Well,” the madam says reassuringly, “I believe she is well-rested.” Escea turns out to be barely five feet tall, and takes all four back to her rather cramped boudoir gamely. Once there, Ettorio quickly presents the letter of introduction, and she shows them a secret door leading to the underworks of the city. The group follows the yellow and blue chalk marks to the ancient prison where Kagall reputedly holds court, and after Ettorio saps the miserable-looking guard on watch, they let themselves in.
Four of Kagall’s bravos are on watch, discussing the incipient arena fights. Most are easily subdued, but one manages to flee deeper into the complex, into a large room where four masked and drugged gladiators are being roused by handlers. The gladiators are turned loose on the heroes, of course. Though drugged, they still retain no small amount of skill, and Carenza quickly recognizes Corseco as the masked fighter using maneuvers from Sicario’s Scarlet Kite sword school. After a bloody scuffle, all four gladiators are subdued, and antidotes delivered to Corseco, Basolo (who had been given a very large axe) and one of the two strangers. Once the badly beaten pit-fighters are roused, Carenza lectures her cousins on their foolhardiness. The Rovino men and their third fellow captive take the fourth with them, as the heroes prepare to press on.
They move into a larger two-level dungeon row of cells, and find that the apes are loose — the minder who escaped has freed them. Even having seen the apes in action, the group finds them a newly intimidating sight as the howls and shrieks echo through the room. Two smaller stone-throwing devils, two war mandrills and a massive silverback would be bad enough, but one of these apes wears pit armor, and carries a sword and shield as though he were trained to use them. With no negotiating possible, the primates are upon them.
The ensuing brawl is one of the most dangerous the group has faced. The armed ape is indeed skilled, smashing his way through their line. The mandrills have long and painful fangs, the silverback is exceptionally strong — even the small stone-throwing devils are a threat. Opilio draws on reserves of power never before seen, sending out vampiric vines to entangle the beasts, and Vesper calls on the vestige of the Mourning Mother she took on at Dunsini Rise. But even with their supernatural power and Ettorio and Carenza’s blade skills, they take several nasty wounds and Carenza nearly dies before Opilio pours life energy into her and the beasts are finally defeated.
Pursuing the minder (who is now astonished to see the apes have been slain), they burst into Kagall’s office. The Tamsharn quickly flips over his desk, and begins to flee. There’s only so far he can go, though, and he’s run to ground before he can escape his storehouse and dive into the waters below. Carenza strikes the killing blow.
As the group examines the various crates of illicit goods, they find all manner of interesting things: steel and weaponry from Tamshar, Khavayish silk, peculiar drugs, rich coral, as well as Maviolan liche-dust and other remains clearly designated for export. The most peculiar cargo of all is a sextet of half-orc mamluks from Khavayin, apparently shipped in to be sold as highly expensive muscle. The group resolves to find some sort of place for these warriors, and Carenza agrees to use her mercenary contacts to get them contracts.
The group helps themselves to a few favored items (such as silk that Opilio earmarks for his daughter’s wedding dress), and takes enough portable loot on top of that to earn roughly 1500 reganti via Ettorio’s contacts. They also find some very remarkable rarities in highly secure containers: two vials of wyvern venom, and — astoundingly enough — a simple-seeming longsword that Vesper and Carenza recognize as an Uromni blade. With these prizes in hand, they depart the smuggler’s den.