“It’s Cinquedea. If two people sit on a corner and talk to a third, a conspiracy erupts.” — Ettorio Iluni
“Oirotte Bopilio” loses his pursuers fairly quickly. He spends the next day going over Clyressa’s ledger and gathering information on the street, connecting the names within with peculiar deaths that seem linked.
The four gather the next morning, a full group for the first time in days, and catch up. Carenza mentions joining a gang, but Ettorio has the most engaging information, in the form of the ledger’s contents. As they go over the names, it becomes depressingly clear that there’s no single authority that can expose all these wrongdoers in a trustworthy fashion. They decide the best choice they have is the Goreadon faith, so they depart for the House of Steel.
However, a disturbance awaits them there. Scorpis Rovino and a pair of House-hired muscle are staring down Kosvach Vargari, who has apparently stepped in on the Ferrareganti’s side. The Goreadons wait, unwilling to step in more than to ensure a fair fight. Scorpis attempts to provoke the Vargari into drawing first; Kosvach’s response is to don an odd clawed gauntlet with a wolfshead relief rather than draw. Disgusted by the prospect of a pointless duel, Vesper dispatches Ettorio to cause a distraction. The Iluni does so more effectively than he expected, as Scorpis recognizes him.
Before things can come to a boil, Carenza intervenes and talks Scorpis down. Ettorio makes to depart, and the hired muscle keep an eye on him. As the Iluni walks away, Scorpis turns to the Goreadon priests and says “You are all witnesses to my grievance” — then makes a lightning-fast draw at the Vargari youth. Fast as he is, though, Ettorio is faster, and with a remarkably placed crossbow shot disarms Scorpis, then gives an uncharacteristically serious glare promising worse. (The Rovino’s blade falls victim to Vesper’s necromancy as well, becoming a line of rust on the stones with a hilt lying nearby.) Carenza is able to talk the enforcer down this time, and takes him back to the Rovino tower, though not before he offers to duel Ettorio at a later date. Vesper exchanges a few dissatisfied words with Kosvach, who explains that he doesn’t like fighting duels, either, which is why he fights to win them decisively. She still condemns the practice, saying there are quite enough Vargari ghosts already. When she explains that it’s a long story, he requests to hear it later.
At the Rovino tower, Scorpis explains to Bravadi that an Iluni and a Sespech came to the Vargari’s aid. Carenza, in an almost Ettorio-like fit of contrivance, goes over the details and begins to spin a remarkable story about a potential conspiracy. By the end of it, Bravadi seems convinced that one, some or all of the Vargari, Iluni, Sespech and Tyliel are aligned against the Rovino. He orders Scorpis to lay low for the time being, and accepts Carenza’s offer to “investigate further.”
That evening, as Vesper writes letters to both Tyliel and Dusaam, requesting a visit with each. Carenza and Ettorio (now disguised as an elf, “Aznerac Blossomfall”) go to begin their false inquiries. The two wind up in the Four Queens, among a large court of the Ladies-in-Waiting. Carenza introduces Ettorio as “a present,” and the girls demand a fan dance of him. As his acquiescence plays out, Carenza speaks candidly with the Duchess about her plans to move beyond the city — and is rather convincing to boot.
The next morning sees another planning session in the Glowing Poker, and the group considers a way to have Captain Velistir exposed. Ettorio speaks candidly of the dangers to his family and to everyone else in such intrigues, but the others do not seem to believe his assertions of how life works in Cinquedea. Ettorio finally agrees to go ask his family about who best to approach as a possible rival to Velistir that could publicly expose him. From his sister Virillin he gains the name of one Captain Quiccera. Carenza decides to spend the day with the Ladies-in-Waiting, to ease any suspicions. She also sends a letter to the local Rovinos, hoping to continue to keep them off the playing field.
Vesper and Opilio conceive an alternate plan: to turn the tide of public opinion. Both move out to distribute rumors of how the strange wasting deaths come from black apples. Vesper has less luck dealing with the suspicious street-level Cinquedeans; Opilio does rather better moving among the healers. But he attracts attention, and notices he’s being discreetly tailed a small man. The former peasant ducks into an alley and climbs up to a rooftop, where he discovers his follower has moved; when he grapples the suspicious fellow, he’s left with an armful of empty clothes as a rat scurries away! He is unable to lay the shapeshifter low before it makes it into a sewer grate. Now concerned, he gathers up the spy’s abandoned clothes and takes a circuitous rooftop route to the Glowing Poker.
There they examine the spy’s goods. Most notably, the leather hat he was wearing has within it two sketches: crude representations of “Aznerac” and “Oirrote Bopilio.” The group realizes that if this wererat was tied to the Golden Orchid, he must have picked up Opilio’s trail when the Calveran began discussing black apples openly, and successfully. They resolve to change their meeting place.
Going over the plan to somehow expose Captain Velistir, they realize that the key element — having him make a mistake that angers the Prince — is subtle perhaps beyond their means. Ettorio then proposes that perhaps it would be enough to have the apples discovered with him. Or rather, with his corpse. Not that the group would kill him, of course — but it could be arranged.