“The Nine Hells shit you out and you show up here?” — Rugo Cuscala
As Ettorio and Bessari’s wedding date approaches, preparations buzz and various friends converge on Cinquedea. Opilio and Dechera arrive from Raspian, bearing the well-wishes of Ambira and Alesci. Rugo comes in from the capital as well. Vesper arrives from Maviolo, without the presence of her own husband — no sign that her marriage is in trouble, of course, but rather that they acknowledge it would be awkward for Bessari to have her older brother’s killer present at her wedding.
Vestiri, as his present to the couple, asks to provide the wedding finery; he wants to see his cousin and his bride look phenomenal, and would be happy to utilize the finest tailors in his service to that end. And if Vestiri plays to stereotype in this manner, so does Carenza; she decides to give Ettorio a masterwork crossbow with red and gold inlay, and Bessari a masterwork bodice stiletto decorated in Iluni blue and black. Carenza also attempts to put Rasselo on the path of reason — she does not approve of his initial plan to provide the couple with plenty of contraceptives, or perhaps a selection of poisons and antidotes Bessari could use to ensure his fidelity. She coerces him into getting them something nice and decorative (as he’s paying for a portion of the wedding), and he finally relents and acquires a shield with divided insignia and matched swords.
The wedding ceremony itself goes without trouble. The couple is married in an elaboratedly decorated chapel designed for public ceremonies, bedecked with murals of religious significance and rural idylls. Neither family shows any last-minute objections, and even Carpa musters up a remarkable reserve of dignity given his flower-crowned role as a “patron of plenty.”
The following reception takes place on a rooftop gathering place, atop a wide five-story tower with broad bridges reaching out to other towers and rooftop gardens. The location has some small repute for people toppling over the sides, not always by drunken accident. Speculation among the gossips is that the Rovino and Iluni agreed on this location either to work out a few grudges, or to demonstrate the goodwill by being doubly sure that no guests go plummeting to the ground. A few wagers make the rounds outside the two Houses.
At sunset the reception reaches its toast, and then it sprawls into a lengthening dusk. With the reception strengthened by no small amount of reganti, the goodwill is indeed present to a remarkable degree. The Iluni do their very best to treat the Rovino politely without any visible form of condescension, and the Rovino keep civil tongues in their heads. The tension bleeds out of the reception almost entirely.
Ettorio’s young friends from his carousing days are particularly in evidence — Vesper and Carenza note that Ettorio’s facade as a generally witless rake must have been strongly influenced by his friends Bingetti, Tuparo and Gustave. Indeed, the romantic side of the reception seems to have a particular effect on Bingetti. The young dandy always had a penchant for quick infatuations that he confused for true love, and he is in rare form this evening. Bingetti first falls for Vesper… and is rebuffed with a threat of a sword point. He laments his heartbreak to Ettorio, and immediately shifts his amorous inclinations to Rabbit. He does no better with the sharp-tongued scout. While bemoaning his sorrow a second time to Ettorio, he then proclaims the depths of his passion for Carenza… and although Rabbit tries to encourage her leader to go for it, Carenza has zero tolerance for the concept.
Rugo, on the other hand, enjoys clear success. Scanning the crowd for wealthy widows, he winds up drawing the attention of Jada Rovino, who is not lavishly rich, but who has been coping with the loss of her husband Scorpis with drink and ill-considered liaisons. She demonstrates clear animal attention for the burly mercenary, and Rugo is certainly not above flirting his way into a bit of no-strings-attached debauchery with the woman.
As Rugo pushes the boundaries of how deeply one can be engaged with a lady in a public place without removing any clothing, Ettorio catches a strange feline musk on the wind. He and Carenza see a large winged shape emerging from the top of a nearby tower overlooking the reception area. It spreads wings, lets loose a strange fluting roar, and then the manticore descends on the celebration.
With its first pass the manticore releases a volley of spines from its tail that land amid a cluster of guests, striking many down with injuries to the chest and limbs. Ettorio snatches up Carenza’s wedding present, and puts a bolt in the manticore in reply. The beast descends on him decisively, focusing on the half-elf groom as if it recognizes and hates him. Ettorio is left to defend himself in his wedding attire, though he still retains his Ferraregante cinquedea on his hip, and Vestiri’s tailors have done a good job in permitting freedom of movement. Carenza takes her Uromni weapon from dagger form to that of a shining silver halberd, and Vesper is perhaps the best prepared of any of them: without being the bride herself or having received a special request to wear a dress, she dresses in high-quality tights and shirt with her armor, as she might for an audience with a Prince. Rugo kisses his finger and touches it to Jada’s lips before he rushes down the bridge to join his comrades, snatching up the shield that Rasselo had given as a token of esteem as an improvisation. He bellows an intimidating demand for all the guests to get clear, and is so impressive that Gustave Nottilo faints dead away.
The manticore is a lean but sturdy monster, four feet at its shoulder and swift and strong. But its initial attempt to tear apart Ettorio is largely thwarted by Carenza’s careful tactical strikes and Vesper’s powerful necromancy. The madness of the Mourning Mother of Dunsini Rise echoes in its mind, and before it can shake free, Rugo tears into it, demanding its attention. Despite the furious resistance it meets, it still tries to focus on Ettorio and Carenza. While they keep it at bay, a few of the group notice that its hide shows signs of recently healed wounds — the thing has apparently been abused in its recent past, though it’s healthy now. And so, grimly enough, is its partner — for a second manticore emerges from the nearby tower and swoops down to the fray.
With the arrival of the second manticore, the pressure to finish the first is intense. Finally Ettorio sees the opportunity he’s been waiting for, and slides his dagger up under the beast’s mane to open its throat. It’s still undergoing its death throes when the second lands — it, too, focusing its attention on Ettorio and Carenza. With so little armor in evidence, most of the group is lucky to get away with minor flesh wounds as they carefully pin the second manticore in place. Rugo blocks it from the front, his shield always in its line of sight, while the others distract it and undercut its strikes. Finally, before it can muster one last savage leap at the groom, the spectral blade of the manifested Styriax passes through its neck, spine and mouth, severing its thread. The group is left with a very disrupted reception, a pair of massive corpses, and a number of questions. At least one of them decides the questions can wait, though, as Rugo goes off to make sure that his assignation with Scorpis Rovino’s widow is still on track for the evening.