“The fastest way to make them run is to kill a few.”
“You don’t have to kill them.”
“Well, then you maim a few.” — Carenza Vega & Vesper Sespech
Carenza hands “Oirotte Bopilio” his knife, and with a quick hiss of “Split up!”, the disguised half-elf is out the door. Carenza follows suit, and the two run in opposite directions. Across the street, in the cafe, Opilio rises halfway from his chair before Vesper motions for him to remain seated. As the bouncers of the Golden Orchid emerge into the street, Vesper speaks a short phrase of necromantic power. The iron rod holding the brothel’s sign corrodes and rusts away in the span of a second, and the heavy oaken weight crashes down onto the bouncers, knocking one flat and giving both nasty bruises. The two scan the rooftops for possible saboteurs, then limp in opposite directions in a vain attempt to regain sight of their prey. Vesper returns to her tea.
When Carenza finally makes it back to the Glowing Poker, Vesper is the only one there; Opilio returned to Eveningstones, and Ettorio is perhaps on his way there as well, as far as anyone knows. Energetic from her chase, Carenza suggests heading down into the Veins — she’s determined to make contact with the Ladies-in-Waiting.
The Ladies-in-Waiting hold court at a tavern/gambling grotto called the Four Queens. Vesper idles about the establishment, pretending to pay attention to an oroboros game, while Carenza approaches those members of the gang assembled in their corner, around an empty wooden chair carved to somewhat resemble a throne. She speaks with “Hacker Lil,” the hatchet-carrying leader of this group, about potentially joining up. The Ladies seem wary at first, especially as the newcomer has no recommendations, but Carenza is quite convincing. She eventually learns that “Duchess” is the one who determines when the Ladies are recruiting, but it doesn’t hurt to establish herself by, say, taking a few trophies.
Armed with this knowledge, Carenza and Vesper decide to head into Leechmen territory and see if they can attract some violent attention. They have a discussion of the value and practicality of lethal force, maiming blows, or mercy in a fight along the way, which ends with Carenza agreeing not to kill anyone in order to get their trophies. It’s a promise she very nearly keeps.
In a tight street that crosses a canal, they are surrounded by blank-eyed men who breathe raspily through odd scarves — their leader having strange teeth sewn into the cloth in the semblance of a circular maw — who refer to them as “blood-bags” before closing in. The leader is a talented street-fighter, but fails to catch Vesper in his garrote; the real trouble comes from an accurate sniper set up on a boat slip down the canal, who sends several accurate bolts into Vesper’s torso. Her armor prevents these from becoming mortal wounds, but both she and Carenza use up much of their reserves of stamina to push their way through the battle. Bloodied and furious, Carenza kills one remaining Leechman outright, and the tide begins to shift. Only the sniper escapes by slipping into the canal; the other five yield their scarves. Vesper places a copper basa on each eyelid, and they return to the Four Queens.
As they arrive, they find “Duchess” and her entourage (including a tall half-orc woman with the title of “Contessa”) have expanded the Ladies’ numbers. The battle-worn Carenza and the Duchess exchange polite conversation, and the mercenary offers five scarves and an apology that the sixth’s wearer escaped. This seems to impress the Ladies-in-Waiting, and Carenza is told to return the next evening for initiation. Vesper resigns herself to a few hours of sleep before more beatings in the name of the Iron Fang.
The next day, Carenza begins investigating the Rovino/Ferraregante affair. She speaks first with the Goreadons at the House of Steel, then with Gevran Ferraregante. He divulges that he isn’t sure whose idea it was to lean on him, but that Scorpis Rovino — the local patriarch Bravadi’s enforcer — has been the one leading the negotiations. Carenza offers to do what she can.
The next stop, with Vesper along, is the Rovino tower in Templeguard. Vesper inquires of the guard if he was asked to go defeat members of another House to gain his position; the guard answers in the negative. The two are then invited in, and meet two Rovino women: the wiry, martial and standoffish Quinta and the more statuesque, charming Bessari. Bessari shows what some would call “un-Rovinoish” poise, and arranges for Carenza to stay at the tower. She says that Carenza can meet her father Bravadi at dinner that night.
The dinner is very different in tone than the Iluni dinner. The Rovino are blunt, and Carenza responds in kind. Scorpis Rovino is unreadable, but Bravadi is more open — clearly a fellow who misses the business that comes with civil war, and isn’t content with the state of affairs in Cinquedea. Carenza encourages him to speak of his efforts with Ferraregante, but he isn’t easily talked out of the practicality of his approach. He also becomes somewhat incensed when asked about competition, ranting about the Vargari. Once Bravadi begins to pace the room with his wine goblet, Bessari quietly notes that Bravadi’s son — brother to her and Rasselo — died in a duel against a Vargari, and they can no longer pursue the vendetta. She also cautions Carenza not to mention the Iluni — “no, no current problem, but there is… a history.” Both Carenza and Vesper begin to look at Bessari in a new, and perhaps disappointed light.
At midnight Carenza reports to the Ladies-in-Waiting for her initiation. The initiation takes place in the Ladies’ lair, an old sail loft. There the half-orc “Contessa” Troka delivers blows that emulate an etiquette lesson — forcing Carenza to kneel, then compelling her to stand straight; bowing her head, then straightening it; and so on. All the while “Duchess” Forzia elaborates on Carenza’s new responsibilities: to carry herself with dignity and bearing, to act the gentlewoman, to defend and avenge her sisters, and above all, to wait.