“…What exactly do you think a fete is?”
“Well. It’s obvious!”
“I’m starting to wonder.” — Vestiri Iluni & Opilio Chapelwood
Before the guard arrives to remove Bravadi Rovino, the group quietly goes through his treasury. Vesper, Carenza and Opilio all help themselves to a thousand reganti worth of various currency and objects, while Rugo and Kosvach decline due to the hazy legality. The fallen Rovino infernalist is placed in irons and dragged away, still unconscious.
The Prince does not contact the group regarding the resolution of the affair, though he does send a thousand gold to both Rugo and Kosvach, intensifying the belief that he had eyes in the tower between the fight and the arrival of the guard. Vestiri speculates that the prince is likely to try Bravadi under his alias of “Brino Ruvetti” in order to keep the Rovinos from scandal — though he is certain the Rovinos will be well aware of the favor Cortifo is doing them.
Things become quiet in Raspian City for a time thereafter. The group receives invitations to Prince Cortifo’s Midsummer masquerade ball, and all decide to attend. Vesper makes plans to take her family to the opera, and invites the others to join her at the Grand Phantasmagoria’s performance of The Sirens of Tzal Cherathis.
Ettorio spends time with his fiancee, introducing her to some of the local Iluni, but mostly concerning himself with House-unrelated business and keeping her from discovering his activities with the Black Veils.
Rugo rents an apartment in Bladesrun, and begins frequenting the temple to Goreador to find sparring partners. He’s obviously of the highest tier, though the High Swordfather of the temple still outmatches him. He also pays a social visit on Cortifo’s arcane advisor Argentine D’Acentra, inviting her to join him at the opera. She accepts, which causes some level of gossip and tension the night of the performance as the wizard-killer joins the social outing organized by the Sespech to view an illusion-backed performance.
Others begin plotting for the festival. Vesper and Ettorio formulate plans for a staged display during the bridge battles to further the career of Arisant. Carenza nominates a contest among her Ladies to see who’ll attend the ball with her, and Rabbit wins. Kosvach admits his love for Vesper in an off-handed manner that would be considered gravely unfashionable throughout the city but touches her all the same.
And, of course, costumes must be purchased. Vestiri recommends the Noira Val family of halfling tailors, the master mask-maker Vestreccia, and a skilled costume-maker who works for the theaters, one Reteskos, who is popular among bohemians but naturally not as fashionable among the elevated set. Opilio learns that his choice of a satyr can come in entirely too “aspect of fertility” for his tastes.
When Midsummer comes, the first order of group business is the bridge battles. Vesper, Ettorio (disguised once again as the disreputable Oirotte Bopilio) and Arisant choose the Cavalier Bridge for their demonstration. Opilio, Rugo and Carenza all offer their assistance as well; by compare, Kosvach claps Vesper on the shoulder during the preparation and says, “Have fun. I’m off to find a real fight.”
There are many witnesses on hand for the event. When the clearly incensed Oirotte draws naked steel in the middle of the mock battle, Arisant is quick to engage him wielding only the wooden sword that is traditional. Opilio, Rugo and Carenza shout at the surrounding forces to BACK UP, HE’S GOT A REAL SWORD, and their force of presence compels immediate compliance. Many eyes are on the bravery and skilled swordwork of Arisant — Ettorio makes him look very good before dashing away in utter defeat, losing himself in the crowd and discarding his disguise in the process. Arisant receives several rounds of congratulations, and moves away to discuss business with a few impressed folk before the city guard officially restarts the bridge battle. The group acquits themselves very well, and Vesper is coolly delighted to prove the merits of the Iron Fang school in this vicious test of endurance.
That evening, all assemble for Prince Cortifo’s Midsummer masquerade ball. The affair is grandiose indeed, occupying not only the immense ballroom, but spilling over into the eight themed salons that surround it. Many costumes are works of art, and some — such as Prince Bellostia’s fire-puffing chimera regalia — seem to even benefit from a touch of enchantment or alchemy.
Vesper’s bat mask obscures her features, and her skintight costume emphasizes her figure in a fashion that seems uncharacteristic. But the others are able to pick her out easily by noticing how the rather less deceptive Kosvach hovers protectively around her. She draws a number of admirers, and Opilio finally decides to position himself behind her for a bit to deter easy admiration of her callipygean attributes.
Rugo greets Argentine, though the reaper-masked D’Acentran is clearly on full duty that evening. He also notes that one of the thick-set men in the Rovino delegation is lacking a hand — clearly Calibar. Calibar fails to recognize Rugo’s dyed armor, though, so the awkward reunion is postponed.
Ettorio and Bessari go into full mingle mode, exchanging pleasantries with various House scions and causing no small amount of gossip. Alesci and Ambira enjoy the lavish masquerade for a dance or two, before sneaking away to the Dryad Parlor for some private time. Opilio chats with the flamboyantly costumed Vestiri, who asks how he and Dechera are enjoying the fete. A much-flustered Opilio, still attaching odd connotations to the word “fete,” nearly collects his wife and departs entirely.
Vesper recognizes one of her would-be admirers as Trasanto, the opera singer who took the male lead in The Sirens of Tzal Cherathis. Confident as the young virtuoso is, he withers beneath the blast furnace of Kosvach’s intimidation and withdraws gallantly.
“Why couldn’t you have done that with Crestir Miriadis at Ambira’s processional feast?” Vesper asks.
“If you had been wearing something like this at the time, I might have punched him in the face and walked over his body when he started paying attention to you,” replies Kosvach in his usual deadpan.
Vesper considers the image, and finds it pleasant. “Are you feeling jealous?”
She hears a faint growl from under the dragon’s mask. “I admit, you might find a more charming partner.”
“Alesci Tyliel is charming. Ettorio Iluni is charming, when he’s not a blithering idiot. Even Crestir Miradis is probably considered charming. I’m in love with you because you can’t be bothered to care whether people consider you charming or not. You’re fierce and you’re loyal and you’re not afraid of honesty. Your mind is refreshingly unclouded by politics, or meaningless formalities, or the need to present yourself in the most flattering light at all times. Any common rake can be charming. To be quite honest, I am bored by charming. Except Vestiri. He’s allowed to be charming. For him, charming is the scabbard that keeps his rapier wit from slicing us all to ribbons at every opportunity.” She smiles and squeezes his hand.
It seems to have an effect. Kosvach’s zone of murderous intent abates for the remainder of the evening.
During one round of socialization, a woman in a black cat mask and dress approaches Ettorio. Ettorio excuses himself from a suspicious Bessari to walk with her. He shortly recognizes her as Catariella, a noted actress… and one of Raspian City’s Black Veils. She informs him that House Miriadis has contracted the Veil’s services — and the target is Crestir Miriadis.
Ettorio gathers his friends discreetly. He informs them of the hit, and the odd position he’s in — he cannot honestly refuse. Vesper is torn: she doesn’t want Cortifo to wind up owing the Miriadis if Crestir’s found dead at his party, but she also wants Crestir dead. Rugo decides he can’t involve himself with the operation, but he won’t spoil it, either. The others agree to help.
Catariella distracts Crestir, luring him into the Storm Parlor. Opilio and Carenza chat with a bored Prince Olidian to keep his attention away from the others. In the process, they learn that the group’s names have been circulating among the various princes: they’re developing something of a reputation. “Every prince considers the presence of unknown variables such as yourselves,” he explains, and goes on to elaborate that they have a reputation for defying proper laws and channels but working for what seems to be the common good. As that plays out, Vesper and Kosvach block line of sight to one of the Storm Parlor’s doorways by indulging in a passionate clinch. (“This is your plan?” Kosvach asks her. “I’m the one who comes up with the good plans,” she responds.) Ettorio convinces Vestiri to wear his costume for a bit, and while Vestiri-as-Ettorio regales an audience, Ettorio dresses in a purloined harlequin costume, slips into the Storm Parlor, and cuts Crestir’s life short with ease.
After that, the rest of the evening is something of an anticlimax. When the Prince’s servants discover the body, they are remarkably discreet at removing it. Indeed, it’s heard the next day that apparently Crestir Miriadis was seen stumbling drunkenly out of the masquerade, making a minor scene of himself, only to be found face-down and lifeless in a Scabbard gutter.