“You can ask around about the local brothels.”
“Why would I do that? I’m pretty sure I know where they are.” — Vesper Sespech & Ettorio Iluni
Ettorio wakes early, by his standards, by ten bells the next morning. After a round of conversation with Carpa, he decides to postpone a visit to his family. He goes downstairs to find Vesper the only other person in the Glowing Poker’s common room. Apparently Opilio and Ambira have already departed to prepare for their trip to the Iluni mansion, and Carenza has gone either to get some sword practice, pray at the House of Steel, or both. The two decide to begin inquiries about the Golden Orchid that evening.
Ettorio begins his preparation by going out to purchase a potential disguise, so that he can ask about “finding a good time” as someone other than an obvious half-elf, and one that’s locally known besides. He finds a shop that supplies makeup and costuming to local actors, and invests in a rather extensive disguise kit. (He does pass on a rather dramatic pair of false eyebrows, ones designed to be visible from the cheap seats. It is uncertain if these find their way into Carpa’s possession.) With that in hand, he returns to the Glowing Poker to begin experimenting.
Vesper goes to fulfill her House duty of calling on the local Sespechs, and hires an unoccupied funeral barge to carry her across the bay to the Avenues of Silence. There she visits the Quiet House, and is told that Master Voltorno and the visiting Mistress Tsiraquess are presently at study. Vesper opts to wait for the midday meal, and discuss things with the two then.
Master Voltorno (a dramatic-looking man and an anatomist of good repute) and Mistress Tsiraquess (a winter elf necromancer specializing in age and mortality) appear for the meal, and are polite if somewhat distanced. As Vesper brings up politics, Voltorno becomes more interested in the discussion and Tsiraquess even less. Voltorno admits to keeping an ear on the political situation, though he prefers to be left alone. They discuss the rise of House Miriadis (who hold a manse a day out of town, and a tower in Diadem), the adepts of other Houses known to make their homes in Cinquedea, the self-proclaimed “master conjuror” Zalthasar who heads the Miriadis, and a few professional details before the conversation ends. Voltorno offers the hospitality of the Quiet House to Vesper, and she accepts before leaving for Copperbank again.
Vesper finds Ettorio in the Glowing Poker — or rather, a swarthy human with disreputable facial hair, attended by Carpa and wearing Ettorio’s clothes, Oirotte Bopilio by name. She agrees that the disguise is sufficiently done, and the two begin their investigation.
They start in Silverbank. There are no rumors to be had of diseases coming out of the Golden Orchid, though. On impulse Ettorio (or “Oirotte”) inquires instead around the Gilded Iris, a rival of the Golden Orchid. He learns that there was a nasty bit of disease (a kind of “withering”) that came out of the place a while ago, ruining the reputation of one of the Iris’s best girls. Said courtesan, a former Golden Orchid employee by the name of Eglantina, had to leave the country in the wake of the incidents.
The investigation then moves to Templeguard, where further incidents of a withering disease seem unrelated. The curio merchant Aripo Finefinger was found dead in his bed, dessicated and corrupt, in a way that no known poison could attain. Similarly, a duelist who challenged Prince Bellostia’s Captain Velistir showed up for his duel badly dehydrated and weakened, almost dried-out in appearance. The Captain dispatched the fellow handily and had him thrown in the Tega “to plump him out.” Vesper and Ettorio muse over these incidents, and move on to Diadem — but their inquiries there bring out no rumors of similar deaths.
They cross the river again, a bit before midnight, and ask around further; Vesper becomes concerned that the cases may be spreading beyond the thirty that would be related to Fair Clyressa’s purchase. A few more of these “withering” incidents are brought up, but nowhere near thirty. However, the street-level inquiries take a turn for the dangerous.
A small gang of bravos, led by a man with the scars of a skilled veteran, challenge Vesper about her House colors. She responds with defiance, but they are not cowed; their leader mentions that there’s some opportunities available to those who are brave and talented enough to take down someone belonging to the wrong Sorcerous House. They draw on Vesper, and the spadassassin leader nearly injures her grievously before she can even draw Styriax to retaliate. Two of the rabble fall to her banshee’s wail, but the rest close in.
Ettorio is nearby, though, and sprints to assist. He snares the duelist with a coil of shadow and drags him away, cutting him seriously in the process. This distracts the leader’s right-hand man, a nasty-looking thug who tries to open up by hamstringing Ettorio with his greatsword. Vesper is still badly pressed by the rest of the gang, but is able to shift to a better tactical position and strike another of her enemies low with her necromancy. This draws the attention of the greatsword-wielding bully-boy, who then presses Vesper sorely. She delays him for a bit with the help of her fever-spirit ally, but is still pushed to the brink until Ettorio lunges in to help her with a shout of “Stay away from my Sespech!”
The tide turns shortly thereafter. Vesper brings down another of the ruffians, and another flees. The enforcer cries out “If we run, they’ll never take us in!” This seems to rally the bladesman leader, and he lunges back into the fray — but Vesper is waiting, and her fragmentary spirits push him into pained oblivion. Ettorio makes the sign of the downward arrow as a promise to the last man, and the wounded bully throws aside his greatsword and flees.
Ettorio and Vesper have a few minor flesh wounds at the end of the fight, but nothing serious. The two are not above helping themselves to the valuables of their assailants, and pocket a modest sum of gold and a nice gold ring from the bladesman’s finger. Vesper leaves each unconscious man two copper basa — one on each closed eyelid. With a word of unmaking, she ages the spadassassin’s rapier into rust and corrosion, and leaves the hilt on his chest as an extra warning of the perils of crossing House Sespech. That done, they return to the Glowing Poker for some much-needed rest.