“It’s not a crime if all the witnesses are dead.” – Vesper Sespech
Vesper heads immediately to the docks to find a ship willing to take them to Redfathom Cove as soon as possible. She tries to find a ship that is disreputable but not too disreputable, and the scuttlebutt points her to the Roaring Gryphon. She meets with its captain Reyna de Mer, who is initially reticent to have her crew skip the Highsun festivities and sail to Redfathom, but the captain’s tone changes when Vesper mentions the Six Rings. She agrees to take them aboard without charging a fee.
The group spends the remainder of their time preparing a plan, and some disguises: Bravadi Rovino would recognize any of them save Opilio, and they run the risk of walking into the same trap that caught Alesci and Kosvach. Oirotte Bopilio makes a reappearance, Carenza is made up to resemble a more barbaric sellsword, and Vesper dyes her hair and poses as a boy. The Sespech also writes missives to Ambira and Inyavka Vargari, posting them on the Sapphire of the Saan for its return voyage.
The Roaring Gryphon sets sail the next morning when the tide is in, with some grousing from the crew. Poor weather makes it struggle to reach the hidden Redfathom Cove by the evening. As they put in, Captain De Mer and her first mate scan the other ships present: the Scarpedran corsair Reprehensible, the Vanasian smuggler Open Book, the Khavayish freebooter Vixen of Hamaji, the Steelhead mercenary ship carrying the Rasennan Fisher Knights, and a Morafir vessel (later identified as the Qiirnalych, or the Elaborate Lie). The captain stresses to the Rasennans that they must be cautious: if they break neutrality, they’ll draw the wrath of all these ships and their crews down, to say nothing of Boss Saltcliff.
The festival spills through the streets of Redfathom Cove. At the Life or Death gambling establishment, pit fights are already in session. They push their way through the crowds to see an unconscious woman from the Reprehensible being lifted from the pit, where Kosvach has just won a bare-knuckle bout. The proprietor (a badly burn-scarred dwarf called Drogvar the Scab) then calls for the next bout – a lethal encounter. A Morafir woman in knightly garb sends three of her goblin “pets” into the pit, each with a long knife, and the establishment spins a wheel to determine which weapon Kosvach receives. The wheel lands on “scimitar.”
Before the bout begins, the disguised Carenza catches Kosvach’s attention with a shout of “Vargari!” He fails to recognize her at first, but then notices Opilio behind her and catches on.
Though the goblins seem to feel their numerical advantage is superior, the odds are set at 2:1 in Kosvach’s favor – which is perhaps a bit too generous. The Vargari dispatches two with his opening rush, cutting one down and snapping the other’s neck. The third doesn’t last much longer.
During the time it takes for Drogvar to arrange the next bout, Ettorio scouts around to find the rear entrance to the underworks. It’s overseen by a single guard, who seems to be distracted by the ongoing festival. He makes it back to report before the next bout – Rastari, a Fisher Knight blade of no small reputation who fights with longsword and gladius. The mercenary chooses Death, and the wheel spins again, landing on the trident; the bookmakers offer odds of 3:1 favoring Rastari.
Rastari is a much more difficult opponent for Kosvach, especially given the choice of weapon. The Vargari strikes first and hard, but the Fisher Knight regains the offensive. But Carenza’s shouts of “The Wolf!” hearten Kosvach, and at one point Opilio’s keen vision catches that the Vargari’s eyes have turned golden yellow in his anger. The match gradually shifts in Kosvach’s favor, and although he takes a nasty wound to the shoulder, he finishes Rastari with the broken shaft of the trident and a powerful punch to the jaw. Vesper collects the 60 gold coins she won betting on Kosvach.
Drogvar has Kosvach returned to the underworks, calling an end to that evening’s pit-fighting. The four develop a plan: to have someone approach Drogvar attempting to purchase a “conjugal visit from a fan.” Vesper states she wants to be the one to go in. So Oirotte Bopilio approaches Drogvar the Scab and arranges for a half-hour spent in the pit-fighter’s cell for his young charge, and pays over the requisite 25 gold. One of Drogvar’s bodyguards takes them there and waits with Oirotte and Opilio while the bored rear-guard escorts the “young lad” in to Kosvach’s cell; he locks the door after her, and gives them half an hour.
Kosvach is initially unimpressed by his visitor, even when “he” produces a flask of korzalka. “I brought this all the way from Cinquedea,” Vesper says softly in her own voice. “The least you could do is have some.” Kosvach’s eyes flash with recognition, and the two immediately begin sharing information. Vesper tells him her allies are present and they have a ship; Kosvach reveals that Alesci is in town, purchased by the Morafir and kept aboard the Elaborate Lie. He offers to remain behind while they free Alesci first, but Vesper decides against it: they’ll need him against the Morafir. Thus resolved, they begin the escape. Vesper destroys the lock with a ruinous phrase, Kosvach kicks the door into the surprised guard, and they finish him off quickly. When Opilio hears the muffled sounds outside, he draws the attention of Drogvar’s personal guard, and Ettorio finishes the bruiser with a quick and accurate stab.
They retreat to the Roaring Gryphon to plot their attack on the Elaborate Lie. The first mate Jassen offers what information he’s learned: the captain Tesqal is aboard, they sit fairly light in the water, and the knight who fed her goblins to Kosvach has been spending the night ashore. Opilio borrows a spyglass to look over the deck; he counts three corsairs above, a fourth Morafir lying in concealment at the bow, and… Alesci! The young Tyliel walks back and forth on the deck, distracted-seeming but not visibly suffering. The plan becomes for the five to swim out and board the Elaborate Lie via climbing its anchor chain, and then setting out with freed captives in one or two of the Morafir lifeboats. Then the Roaring Gryphon can meet them out by the barrier islands outside the cove.
The swim over is tense; sharks are known to inhabit the cove, though none actively approach the group. They climb up the chain, but the Morafir hear them coming, and the curst elves’ resistance is notably fierce. Their swordsmen are bloody-handed; their repeater handbows accurate and painful; their tricks involve smoke bombs and combat drugs. Worst of all, Alesci immediately moves to his captors’ aid, stabbing Carenza in the back. Carenza, Kosvach and Opilio are all badly staggered in the fight; they gain an advantage only when Ettorio feints an elf over the rail, and Opilio knocks a wounded corsair into the water. When they beat Alesci unconscious, his features slacken and become gray, reverting to the tattooed visage of a doppelganger.