“Or maybe you’re growing up.”
“That is the worst thing you have ever said to me.” — Vesper Sespech & Ettorio Iluni
En route to the Scabbard, Vesper halts the group and makes an alternate proposal. If it would be awkward for any of them to have Bravadi’s blood on their hands, she reasons, why not engage professionals? Assassins of the sort that Ettorio has associated with? The others are reticent to take this step at first, but gradually they agree to consider it.
Thus, instead of continuing to the Scabbard District, they choose a base of operations. They settle into the Hare & Pheasant, an “urban rustic” inn that offers food and furnishings from various provinces. Although initially quite dubious, Opilio grants his approval when he notes the extensive selection of Calveran wines. He and Carenza settle in for the evening, and he begins educating three of her Ladies in wine appreciation. Dua and Rabbit are dispatched to the Scabbard to ask around (though to avoid trouble), Vesper moves on to the Sespech palazzo to visit her mother, catching up after eleven years apart. Their reunion runs well past midnight, with so much to catch up on — including the fact that Istrella is being wooed by a soldier. Ettorio goes to investigate the Scintilla in search of contacts to the Black Veils. Though forewarned that the Raspian Veils have some ties to an opera house, he is entirely too distracted by the night life, and staggers back to the Hare & Pheasant at a late hour.
The next morning, Vesper breakfasts with Master Ilviro Sespech, the aspiring would-be House Grandfather with a taste for politics. He spends some time in polite conversation assessing her goals, which she carefully keeps quiet. The others enjoy the hearty breakfast foods at the Hare & Pheasant, but the failure of Dua and Rabbit to return triggers some concern. Carenza asks if Ettorio still has his disguise kit. Soon Oirotte Bopilio and Aznerac make their return, and Opilio receives a very hasty disguise as “Garpa.” When Vesper arrives to find all her companions in disguise, Ettorio explains that they’re headed to the Scabbard to find out what happened to Carenza’s seconds.
“Do you want to help look for Dua and Rabbit?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Do you want to be recognized?”
“I suppose I don’t.”
Unfortunately, his work on Vesper is not his best. Vesper winds up disguised something as a transvestite aide-de-camp, but it’s better than nothing. Thus shielded from recognition, they travel to the Scabbard.
They wander the far military district, and gather a number of rumors:
- The Scabbard’s watch captain is offering bounties for troublemaking residents that have been raiding the Mills;
- Cortifo’s troops have been working to suppress heavy bandit activity
- Prince Gorsino of Brassado has been claiming he’s the target of some form of alliance
- And most curiously (and difficult to uncover), one informant claims that troops are secretly massing at the border town of Salcari.
They also find Dua and Rabbit, who turn out to have gotten a room when they arrived too late to gather much information. The two have been gathering rumors themselves for the day. Though Rabbit has difficulty overlooking Carenza’s very effective disguise, in the end she agrees to remain and continue their search.
On the way back, Ettorio begins to fish around more for information on the local assassins. More effective this time, he learns that there are likely three contact points for the Veils: a high-end tavern in Aurelian Park, the Chimera opera house in Scintilla, and a small square in the slums of Downturn. The group decides to visit the opera house, where those seeking the Veils go to the trouble of renting a particular box.
First, though, Vesper must have dinner with her mother and her mother’s suitor, who turns out to be a veteran by the name of Arisant. Arisant is clearly impressed by Vesper’s adept status as well being the primary family member Istrella cares about. He does his best to win her over with sincere goodwill, though the conversation turns a little awkward when Vesper’s own admirer is mentioned. Arisant and Istrella point out that the Vargari have a dangerous reputation, and it seems a couple of the Raspian Vargari are prone to pick fights in order to warn others away.
“I just worry a little,” Istrella says. “The Vargari have a reputation for being…” She glances at Arisant for help.
Vesper responds politely, without defensiveness. “They are difficult to know, I admit. They don’t trust easily, and with good reason. Most other Houses would see them driven out again. But once you gain their trust they are quite warm and open, in Cinquedea at least. I can’t speak for the Vargari here.”
“I don’t know any of the Vargari here except by reputation,” says Arisant. “But they are dangerous. One of their champions has slain several men in duels. I don’t mean to say that you can’t handle danger, of course…”
“We know you… risk yourself regularly,” cuts in Istrella. “It just seems that you might be put in danger away from your… work, just by nature of the man courting you.”
“Thank you, I can take care of myself, and I can be ambushed in the street for wearing my House pin openly, so I fail to see what difference it makes who is courting me. Kosvach is dangerous, but not to me, and he will also always have my back.
“I would be happy to continue this discussion later, but for now I must leave or be late for the opera.”
That evening, the group takes in “Cadelard and Cavrios”, a swashbuckling opera about a twenty-year blood feud between Vilessan sea captain. The box is awkwardly placed, affording a limited view of the stage but optimal privacy for its occupants. Partway through the performance, a fifth person appears quietly in the booth: a veiled woman seated in the back row. Ettorio opens negotiations with her, and is somewhat taken aback when he notices that she is not entirely right — and Opilio is the first to spot the strings. Gradually the entire group realizes they are speaking with an incredibly sophisticated and lifelike marionette.
The marionette asks the nature of their target (“An asshole,” replies Ettorio), his profession (“Asshole.”), contacts, and the like. Eventually, after some talk of a displaced head of a city’s House, she mentions the name Rovino. The contract to make Bravadi disappear is an expensive one: she quotes the price of six thousand reganti. Information is cheaper: the existing information the organization possesses would cost 100, a more deliberate inquiry 500, and an inquiry into specifics 800. The possibility of bartering service for service is also not out of the question. The group decides they need to talk over their possibilities more, and ask how to arrange a proper meeting once they’re ready to deal. The marionette tells them to send any message they choose along with flowers to the actress Catariella, and it will be arranged.