“I’m sure I can’t figure out how to work these.” — Vesper Sespech, on brothel-customized restraining devices.
Ettorio rises at the crack of noon the next day, and he and Vesper head to the Bridemaid’s Tear. The somber establishment seems to have few visitors for lunch, and Ettorio banters lightly with the barkeep before asking how much lunch his particular reganti will buy. “Quite a bit,” she responds, and sends the two to a nearby table.
Shortly after their food and drinks arrive, a scholarly-seeming man in black asks to join them. He tells them it’s safe to talk, and Ettorio explains the situation. The Veil representative confesses it’s a difficult target, and he’ll have to convene with some of his associates to discuss it. He tells Vesper and Ettorio to return that evening.
The two spend the afternoon in relative idleness; Vesper browses various bookshops, while Ettorio asks about after his brother Marvino’s woes. He learns quite a bit: that Marvino’s father-in-law has two ships commissioned to build his fleet, but that his vessel the Coral Tiara has gone missing on its return trip from Toquay, with him aboard. Without the goods that ship was bearing, it will be difficult to pay the shipbuilder’s bill. Marvino has apparently spread around money to make sure his wife hasn’t found out yet, but the financial strain has been notable.
That evening, Vesper and Ettorio find the Bridesmaid’s Tear more populated with drinkers attempting to drown or enhance their sorrows. The barmaid sends them to a back room, apparently soundproofed, where five assorted people await them: their previous contact (referred to at one point as “Corveri”), a young man with the air of an opera-house comedian, a stern older man with a hooded falcon nearby, a lovely red-haired woman in artisan dress, and an unassuming slender fellow with the look of a scribe. Vesper notes Corveri touch a symbol under his shirt that seems to be in the form of an inverted teardrop, but says nothing of this to Ettorio.
The Black Veils discuss the difficulty of the Velistir contract. Ettorio stresses that certain matters that are usually part of the package (“accidental” or “deliberate,” “natural” or “violent,” “subtle” or “sending a message”) are unimportant — the important part is that it be fairly public, and that the apples be found on his person. The Veils emphasize the difficulty of stealing the apples from his room in the Palace, and inquire if there are other places to acquire them. Upon studying the ledger, it becomes apparent that the unaccounted-for plague-fruits that are likely still accessible are those sold to the Phouthite Calcarro, those remaining in Clyressa’s care, and those given to the Discreet Brethren. The last group are known to Corveri, who names them the rat-folk of the canals and tunnels. They are likely a final link between Clyressa and Calcarro (though she has been known to share confidences with the Phouthite as though he were a confessor, likely praying to ward away diseases from her house). Taking Ettorio up on his offer to ease the job in some fashion, the Veils say that if he can bring them some plague-apples to place on the corpse (saving them the job of hunting some down), they can likely arrange the rest.
Ettorio and Vesper, assuming there’s no time like the present, set out that night. Based on the Veils’ suggestion that the Golden Orchid likely has a secret entrance/exit for discreet customers, the two go looking for the passage in the belief that it’ll lead them either to Clyressa’s apples or the rats’ nest. Chiro scouts out a hidden door in a vomit-reeking alcove, and the two follow it. It leads to a door; Ettorio picks the lock, saps the guard beyond, and he and Vesper find themselves in one of the “Hells” below the Golden Orchid.
The two decide to search the lowest level, where the bulk wine cellar shares a floor with a monastic-themed “Hell.” Ettorio discovers a crate marked “Calveran Cider Reserve” that contains a dark box smeared with contact poison; opening it, they find nine glossy black apples. They carefully tie the apples in a wrap, but down the stairs come pursuers: a wererat whose sword blade gleams with poison, and a hulking rat-man over seven feet tall. Immense rats emerge from the shadows at the smaller wererat’s chittering call, and the Discreet Brethren rush Ettorio and Vesper.
Separated and hard-pressed, the two realize this is a fight they cannot win. They grievously wound the smaller wererat, then when it retreats to let its injuries regenerate, Vesper and Ettorio flee. The larger wererat, furious and in a rat form the size of a mastiff, pursues, its teeth gnashing a few inches from Vesper’s heels as she throws things in its path to slow it. Ettorio is the first out the secret exit’s door, and when Vesper makes it through, he slams the door in the wererat hulk’s face and quickly locks it. The two escape into the night before it can gnaw through the portal.
After many clever evasive criss-crossing maneuvers to lose potential pursuers, the two return to the Bridesmaid’s Tear. The red-haired woman of the Veils is still at the bar, and she expresses surprise at the two’s speed. Ettorio finalizes the agreement while Vesper orders and works her way through one of the strongest house specialties, the Bitter Regret; the young necromancer quietly observes that she has room for several regrets.