“I’m willing to bet that Cortifo is better at this than Bravadi.” — Carenza Vega
The morning of their audience with the Prince, an out-of-breath Carpa arrives and informs Ettorio that his fiancee Bessari has arrived in Raspian City, and has been inquiring about his whereabouts at the Iluni palazzo. Ettorio blanches, makes a few quick excuses, and departs with all haste, his manservant at his heels.
Carenza, Vesper, Opilio, Rugo and Kosvach set out without Ettorio for their audience. The Prince’s Palazzo is the sort of large, ornately decorated, labyrinthine structure that naturally results from generations of princes each choosing to leave their mark on the structure. A slight young woman wearing purple sashes guides the group away from the grand audience hall and into the winding side corridors, down below the surface of Lawgiver Hill. The audience chamber is a smaller room made to resemble a crystalline grotto with waterfalls to all four sides. There Prince Cortifo waits for them, along with his arcane counselor Argentine D’Acentra.
Carenza and Vesper take the lead in the audience, explaining that they’ve caught the Downturn sniper, that he needs to die, and that he’s a scion of the Crisandor. The Prince appears to take their concerns seriously, though he’s difficult to read. Cortifo is a cagey conversationalist, and expresses curiosity as to the group’s eventual ambitions. He also demonstrates some extensive foreknowledge of their activities; he refers to the assistance that they’ve given Temagli and Olidian, wonders at their not doing the same with Bellostia, and even seems aware that Carenza is not only Rovino, but in pursuit of a fellow House scion. When he calls for refreshment, the group is slow to accept.
Cortifo expresses some perplexity at the group’s failure to remain close at hand to any prince they’ve assisted and reap the benefits of the goodwill — and perhaps satisfied that their civic spirit is true, he agrees to take the rogue Crisandor into his keeping. He also agrees to have Captain Angratti of the Scabbard back their move against “Brino Ruvetti” by having his men keep a discreet perimeter during their operation. The audience concludes, and the group is led through a different series of corridors back to the Hill.
They then resolve to learn more about the tower and its defenses. At present, “Brino Ruvetti” has hung red flags with a sword-and-torch motif, and his hired troops wear leather jacks dyed red. He does not seem to be popular in the neighborhood, and is very cautious (paranoid, even) about new hires, somewhat spoiling the possibility of Rugo performing another “Executors gambit.” The tower was formerly home to one Captain Ralgori of the Vanquishers company; Rugo remembers the battle in which Ralgori fell and the Vanquishers were scattered. That afternoon, Rugo and Carenza go prowling the Scabbard for information, preferably someone who has seen the inside of the tower. They have little luck.
Luck, on the other hand, is with Opilio again. The rustic winds up sharing a few drinks with a veteran who’d lost part of his leg in that battle — a former Vanquisher who’s seen the inside of the tower. In exchange for gold and sympathy, the veteran tells Opilio that among the defensive fortifications is a chandelier that’s rigged to fall in the front room. He also mentions a secret passage in and out that led to a nearby stables; for a little gold, the stable owner might be willing to let them use it. Opilio returns with the information, and earns more accolades from Rugo on his clear mastery of the Raspian streets.
The group keeps an eye on the comings and goings of Ruvetti’s men the following day, and that night they take the passage from the stables. The stable owner has one of his boys muck out the stable where the long-disused trap door lies, much impressing Opilio with the convenience of having someone else do such a task. The tunnel is small and cramped, and the trap door up to the tower is difficult to force — something has been piled upon it. Rugo’s recently purchased crowbar is cheap and insufficient to the task. It takes Opilio and Carenza working together in a mildly compromising position to force open the trap door.
They emerge in the tower’s larder. The noise draws one of Bravadi’s men, who meets unconsciousness in the form of Rugo’s shield. They move into the kitchen, where they subdue another henchman they find there chewing on a bit of old sausage, but not before he can sound the alarm.
The group storms out of the kitchen into the main hall, careful not to stand below the chandelier. A number of Bravadi’s men come pouring out to meet them, some charging downstairs from the second-story balcony where a few nock crossbows. Among their ranks on the stairs stands a better-armored man, bellowing orders like a drill sergeant; he wears a red tabard to match his colleagues, but is carrying a shield covered with the barbed metal spikes peculiar to the Thornshields. Rugo snarls at the sight of the archers, and begins fighting his way up the stairs as the others stand to secure the lower portion of the room.
A pair of double doors crashes open, and reinforcements arrive — large reinforcements. The ogre is defended by iron plates fashioned for a creature of its size, and has a distinctive split tusk that’s regrown into two thinner ones. It tears into the group on ground level, forcing Opilio and Kosvach to brace against it. The Thornshield pushes into Rugo with the spikes on his shield, hooking the scarred mercenary. The two go at it hammer and tongs, though it begins to become evident that Cuscala has the edge in strength and experience.
“Clear me a path!” Kosvach shouts to Vesper, and the two of them cut down a pair of soldiers. Then Kosvach returns his attention to the ogre. He hooks the thing’s gorget with his claw-bracer, kicks it in the back of the knee, and half-riding it, he propels it forward under its own momentum until it goes down in a heap under the chandelier. On the balcony, Rugo smashes the badly wounded Thornshield with his own shield, sending the man over the balcony to land in a broken heap on the flagstones. He then smirks grimly and releases the chain, sending the mass of iron crashing down. The ogre manages to survive the blow, although a red-jacketed thug standing too near him is not so lucky.
And then Bravadi Rovino shows himself. He strides from an upper room onto the balcony, snarling “YOU!” as he surveys the battle. “You can’t be surprised,” retorts Vesper.
Bravadi’s rejoinder is unexpected. He extends his sword, and flame springs up at its tip. It runs down the blade, and then down Bravadi’s arm, spreading across him as if he’d been soaked in oil. Horns sprout from his brow, and the fire coalesces into molten armor that rapidly cools — armor of an infernal aspect. With a roar, he leaps the balcony and crashes down among the melee.
The former Rovino head fights as though he’s possessed — and it’s not clear that he isn’t. His sword continues to blaze, and he beats Kosvach down. When Opilio moves to flank him, he reaches out with a free hand and lifts the immense man over his head — igniting him in the process — and bodily hurls him, one-handed, near Vesper, where a cloud of flame erupts at the point of impact. Between Bravadi and the ogre, the melee is brutal and vicious. Even when he’s badly wounded for the first, time, Bravadi’s blood ignites in arcs of lightning, spraying everyone nearby. But the damage he does is mitigated. Carenza’s voice is clear in the fight, and her tactics hamper the infernal Rovino’s attacks. Finally, when he’s staggering, she knocks him to the ground and rings his helm off the flagstones, knocking him unconscious. The ogre continues to fight, but once at the center of the wolfpack, it’s not long for the world.
With Bravadi unconscious, his hellish armor dissolves into smoke. Vesper checks for some arcane talisman that might have triggered the change, but finds only a strange brand on his pectoral. She recognizes it immediately. It’s a devil’s mark: Bravadi had apparently entered into a pact with Vaskathion, a ruinous servant of Mal Zath and his sister Xacshi. The tales of infernalism in Rasenna have proven themselves true once again.