“I was just saying that to be mean, but he is half elf. Elves are… fine-boned.” — Carenza Vega
The same day of Ettorio and Vesper’s inquiries, Opilio decides to take his daughter for a long hike outside the city walls. They stop by several farms, receiving a taste of local Inviccan character but also learning several things about the surrounding locale. The farmers point out the location of several House estates, including the D’Ambergia grounds, and the witchwood surrounding House Tyliel’s Kircinos Manor. The witchwood is of particular interest to Opilio. The two explore its fringes for a moment, and can feel the oddly fey presence there. As they do so, a lilting, wordless woman’s song arises from deeper within the woods. Opilio and Ambira begin to leave, and then the former peasant hears the song following them, now with a faint tinkling bell accompanying it. This worries him further, and he summons a forest-spirit to inquire about the sound. It answers “What is singing?” with “Tyliel pet” — and “Is it dangerous?” with “Tyliel pet.” Opilio considers that answer enough. The two exit the forest at haste and head back to the Glowing Poker.
Carenza wanders the city for the day instead, sampling local delicacies and listening to local rumors. One in particular seems worth investigating — the local Rovinos are allegedly putting some pressure on the Ferraregante smithing house, which in turn is close to agitating the Goreadon priests of the House of Steel. She decides to pay her pious respects, and visits the temple. There she speaks with Swordsister Tieri, who informs her that the Rovinos have been encouraging Ferraregante to cut corners and produce more blades of less quality, that can still be sold at higher prices thanks to the smith’s name. This, of course, is a revolting thought to the priests of the god of skill. Carenza admits that she does not wish to be caught up in disreputable business by virtue of her blood, and makes an appointment to speak with Swordfather Bracori the next morning. She too returns to the Glowing Poker, where she and Opilio encourage Carpa to partake in pretensions of equality for a time. Everyone retires before midnight, and they miss Vesper and Ettorio’s return.
Vesper appears at breakfast the next morning, and admits to having been in an alley fight against thugs attempting to make a name for themselves. After some discussion, she mentions that she is in need of a sword school. She decides to accompany Carenza to the House of Steel to make inquiries; Opilio and Ambira decide to come along as well.
At the House of Steel, Swordsister Tieri names three schools that are likely to provide good training with the longsword: the Displacer Blade, the Salt Viper and the Iron Fang. Vesper joins Carenza for her audience with Swordfather Bracori (“all knowledge is useful”), where they discuss the ins and outs of proper mercenary captaining for a time. Then the group goes to tour the three sword schools and see which suits best.
The Displacer Blade, in Templeguard, is clearly the most expensive school, with many students in uniform. Its master Calignant teaches a style that stresses footwork, evasion and feints. They stop next at Master Avirex’s Salt Viper school in Silverbank, a school with apparent origins in ship combat where quick and merciless strikes are the focus. Finally they stop by the poorer Iron Fang school in Copperbank. There Master Desparda teaches a style focused on endurance and perseverance, frequently striking his students to punctuate a notable failure. Though Opilio and Ambira don’t care much for the thought of Vesper taking such punishment here, Carenza evaluates her odds much higher, and the young Sespech quickly settles on this being the appropriate style for her. As they watch the training, they strike up an acquaintance with two young House blades who are also observing, a gentlemanly swashbuckler named Alesci and a sardonic Vargari named Kosvach. Over the course of the conversation, Alesci Tyliel notes the singing Opilio heard was probably “the Duet” — pet leucrotta that guard the mansion.
Vesper impresses Master Desparda during her audition — though untrained, she clearly has the fortitude and willpower to excel. He agrees to teach her during morning classes. The group says polite farewells to the young blades they’ve met.
“It was interesting to meet a living Vargari,” says Vesper.
The Vargari furrows his brow for a moment, then responds with “It was interesting to meet a living Sespech.”
Along the way back to the inn, Carenza probes a bit at Ambira’s reaction to the Tyliel gentleman, embarrassing the young girl. Vesper mentions a desire to meet with Lisayra Dusaam, and Carenza reacts abruptly. The mercenary admits that on her first command, she led an attack against a Dusaam that was possessed at the time, but such things are difficult to prove posthumously. This was the trouble that caused her to take up a pseudonym and a position with the Scarhawks, and the Dusaam may still be angry with her. Also on the way back to the inn, Opilio collides with a young Vanasian templar’s squire, and an older templar in the band studies his face intently — but Opilio brushes the encounter away as quickly as he can.
The group sifts through a few more possibilities — the Pulsciri are hiring for a corsair-hunting expedition, and it’s agreed that Ettorio is the best man for the job of infiltrating the Golden Orchid. Opilio asks what Ambira would like to do, and she confesses a desire to see a show. The group pools some reganti to rent a box for the next evening’s performance of The Khavayish Clockmaker.
The following night, the four enjoy (to varying degree) the somewhat gruesome revenge opera; Ambira and Opilio seem less shaken by the implied violence of the wronged clockmaker’s traps and more by the sense of schadenfreude that the audience seems to revel in. During intermission, the group catches sight of three notable dignitaries among the crowd: Captain Velistir of the guard, the would-be House Grandfather Zalthasar of Miriadis, and a flame-haired young man of warm charisma also wearing the Miriadis pin. Vesper’s wrath is almost palpable, but she avoids letting the Miriadis feel it from across the room.