“I hope this doesn’t complicate our relationship.” — Vittorio Marvigliozzo
The rest of the evening passes without incident, as everyone returns to their lodgings. The next morning, messages arrive from Captain Quiccera, asking the group to meet with her for lunch at the Hanged Rake.
Vesper, Carenza and Vittorio arrive in punctual fashion, meeting a clearly off-duty Quiccera. Carpa appears in Ettorio’s stead. Standing behind the empty chair (and a little to the left), he tenders his master’s regrets for his unavailability. Carenza tells him to thank Bessari for the information, and the doleful manservant takes his leave.
Captain Quiccera offers the group her thanks for their assistance in both saving the life of her soldier and in protecting her own reputation. While she is glad to work on their behalf in return, she nonetheless notes that the more of Iridios’ plots they foil (and by extension, the more implied plots of House Miriadis), the more dangerous Cinquedea will be for them.
Following the meal, the group splits up further. Vittorio has a story to tell — a rousing tale called “The Unfortunate Incident” about how a deceiver attempted to frame a worthy captain of the guard, but was foiled by the good citizens of Cinquedea. Carenza tags along at a distance, keeping an eye on the bard. Vesper, on the other hand, makes an appointment to meet Falcinos Verastin on the subject of illusions and countermeasures thereof.
Vesper has little difficulty making the arrangement. The only Verastin adept in Cinquedea, Falcinos keeps a studio apartment in the Diadem district. The young mage turns out to have the visage of a rakish heartbreaker, but the demeanor of an abstinent elder priest. He offers his advice on dealing with glamours, and asks after Vesper’s own mastery of abjuration. When she confesses it’s not a common study, he suggests a particular countermeasure — karun tagli. These rune-etched iron nails, he explains, will dispel illusions. All that’s required is to touch the nail to an illusion and speak the invocation word “Vicusi.” He crafts the nails himself, and although they’re usually not in great demand, he’s sold a few already this month. Out of respect for Vesper’s situation, he agrees to sell her ten at the reduced rate of 80 reganti a nail. She leaves with a lighter purse, five karun tagli, and a promise for five more to be prepared in two days.
Carenza tails Vittorio through the Copperbank district, as the bard begins to spin the tale of “The Unfortunate Incident.” The story deals with a deceiver attempting to impersonate a captain of the guard, only to be defeated when the city’s loyal lower classes rise up against him. Unfortunately, the Cinquedean character is such that stories of virtuous behavior are met with extreme cynicism. In order to stir up the crowd more, Vittorio begins to lavish more emphasis on the mystical nature of the piece’s villain. Unfortunately, while he finds the flourishes that strike an emotional chord, in the process he begins to obscure the nature of the villain such that the tale accidentally becomes more than expected. It becomes entirely possible to interpret “The Unfortunate Incident” as regarding the suspicious behavior of the Sorcerous Houses as a whole — and many people do exactly that. The crowds become shot through with veins of discontent and suspicion aimed at not just the Miriadis, but the Tyliel, Sespech and more.
By the time Vesper has concluded her meeting with Falcinos Verastin, the murmurs of discontent are strong enough that she overhears them. Her skill at negotiating street-level talk makes it easy for her to follow the tales back to their source. As Vittorio stops to wet his whistle between tellings, he finds a rather vexed necromancer approaching him.
“The talk in the street is of a popular uprising against the Sorcerous Houses.”
“Not… all of them,” Vittiorio attempts to counter.
The two enter a hushed discussion on how best to work against the Miriadis while not catching others in the crossfire. As they do so, a not entirely friendly-looking observer arrives. The young man is dressed in the somber clothing and sun medallion of a Kaealite aspirant, and a small group of sober-looking “concerned citizens” stand at his back. Soon the aspirant begins to harangue Vittorio, accusing him of being a deceiver and a tempter, luring the populace into dangerous behavior.
The aspirant presses a small object to his lips, then sternly addresses Vittorio, calling him a tempter and deceiver. He then draws back and throws the object at Vittorio — a long iron nail — with a cry of “VICUSI!”
The nail strikes Vittorio in the chest, and the revelation is extraordinary. Vittorio, now standing six and a half feet tall on clearly cloven hooves, has the clear features of a devil — lustrous black skin, blood-red hair, silvery horns and bone spurs at his elbows. The crowd reacts in fear and surprise; Vittorio expresses only a mournful sigh of “Well, that was unexpected.”
Vesper and Carenza attempt to move in to defuse the situation. Vittorio finishes his latest piece, then vanishes in a puff of smoke. Carenza tries to intervene by playing off the aspirant as “part of the show,” but succeeds only in confusing the crowd. Vesper confronts the young Master Hawkschild, and aggressively informs him that the deceivers at play include the person that gave him the nail.
Vittorio slips back to his quarters with the expertise of long hours of practice sneaking through the alleys, and uses the back door to the inn as once pointed out by a friendly enough servant. Once the situation with the aspirant is sufficiently defused, Vesper and Carenza meet him there for some explanations.
Vittorio admits that he isn’t really mortal. He was once a minor functionary of Hell, but not particularly well-attuned to the task. For all the splendors of punishment and phantasmagoric landscapes the realm of torment had to offer, his portion of it was incessantly dull by compare. Nothing changed; it couldn’t compare to the mortal world he was tasked with scrying. “The food, the drink, the music, the women. This world is ecstatic. The other… just static.”
The devil admits that he contrived to have himself summoned, by means of a peculiar object. Once present, he has done his best to live quietly among the mortals, indulging in their material pleasures and avoiding any real malice. “I’ve tried not to make any enemies while I was here,” he points out.
Vesper replies, “You’re hanging out with the wrong people if that’s your goal.”
Vittorio’s story moves on to the nature of his summoning. The person that brought him here used this odd object to do so, but in the process it consumed the mortal’s life force. That mortal had ties to other infernalists, including some now in House Miriadis. Over the years of feigned mortal life, Vittorio wound up hearing something of his new companions’ deeds, and was much impressed. He has been interested in supporting them with his tales, and if they now have a common enemy in Iridios and his masters, then he’s willing to go further. “So, if you can deal with the fact that I’m a devil, and I killed someone to get here, we’re good, right?” Apparently they can; Carenza and Vesper agree to continue allying with Vittorio for the moment.
The three begin fishing around for information the next day. One likely tidbit arises, that apparently a fellow matching Iridios’ description has been seen on Cinder Street in Copperbank, where perhaps he has lodgings. The other notable piece of information is a likely contact: Obris Tenweight, a dwarf of House Graelskeld who does business in crystalware, and would be a likely source for an illusionist’s needs in arcane foci. The heavyset Obris is actually somewhat cooperative when they speak to him. It turns out he was never fond of Iridios, even though the profits were good, and now he doesn’t want any part of the trouble that Iridios is getting himself into. He offhandedly mentions that the illusionist is likely skipping town, and alludes to a small relic he’d bought from Iridios before. The carving seems to be Dysian, and Vesper recognizes it as similar in motif to the Heron Tower of Maviolo.
The next step is to visit Cinder Street, where they’re soon able to find a lodging house where the landlady admits to renting to someone of Iridios’ description. The suspicious landlady opens the room for them after a few coins cross her palm. The rented quarters are a squalid mess of an attic, with stained rags on a straw mattress and garbage strewn across the darkened floor. But when the three take a few steps into the room, the facade fades away. The bed becomes neatly appointed, the rickety table becomes a fine writing-desk, and the tattered hangings are colorful and richly embroidered. Judging by the look of disgust on the landlady’s face before she leaves them, the illusion of squalor persists for her.
It seems clear from the sparse belongings that Iridios has packed for travel; most of the clothes one would expect in the wardrobe are missing, as are the books from the shelves. Carenza spies a fragment of paper in the ashes of the fireplace, however, somewhat carelessly left behind. It is the opening to a letter, perhaps discarded, wherein the writer (presumably Iridios) asks to call on the hospitality of one Avistella.
Vesper recognizes the name as that of a Maviolan opera star; Vittorio is able to elaborate that she was also a member of the Salon of Enigmas, the Ladonan infernalist club that his “host” belonged to. It seems likely that they were aware of the properties of the Heron Tower, which may be how Iridios came to visit the place and carry away small things to sell to Obris Tenweight.
Confirming the trip to the Heron Tower in Carenza’s hearing brings out a new revelation, though. Carenza has already visited the place — when she killed Cormarro Dusaam. Cormarro had claimed the Heron Tower, but had become possessed by some sort of entity some time later. When Carenza put him out of his misery, that caused the trouble with the Dusaam that compelled her to leave town.
“I killed him because he was definitely an infernalist, but I couldn’t convince anyone of that.”
“That he was an infernalist or that he was dead?”
Given the choice to either leave Iridios to his own devices or to pursue him, the group is quickly resolved. They will have to return to Maviolo.