“So you mean to say there was nothing at all? Nothing in the piece of merit?”
“I liked some of the pauses.” — Pirudo Vetali & Ettorio Iluni
Carenza joins the group a little late. She explains that while they were out and about, she was trying to put out another possible fire.
Upon arrival in town last night, Carenza had started asking about the family fortunes. She discovered that the Rovino had taken over the old arena Kagall had used, and are at present using it to host less lethal exhibition fights.
She traveled to the Cranequin to meet her cousin Basolo, who was glad to see her. However, Basolo admitted a few things that struck a nerve with Carenza. He mentioned that Cornabossa’s new mistress is trying to persuade him to bring in a pit fighter she saw in action in Redfathom Cove last year — a Vargari. On top of that, Cornabossa has learned that the Vargari in question killed the heir apparent to the Cinquedean Rovino, and is wondering if he might be able to arrange an “accident” as a favor for the Inviccian cousins.
Rather incensed, Carenza stormed into Cornabossa’s presence that evening. She pointed out that the feud in Cinquedea was resolved amicably (to some degree), and that the current Cinquedean head is not the same man who was interested in furthering the feud. She also reminded Cornabossa that the Vargari in question married a Sespech, and he would bring down all manner of trouble. He seemed to accept her logic, and asked if she’d been drinking yet. As she closes by explaining, she wound up late for the breakfast as an aftereffect of bonding with her uncle.
Vesper is grimly explicit about just what would happen if Cornabossa tried anything with her husband. Carenza asks Kosvach to avoid signing up for the arena, pointing out she’s betraying her family’s trust on this. The Vargari responds that he’s had enough of fighting for the amusement of others for a good while. Carenza seems satisfied, and the group returns to the business of hunting Iridios.
Kosvach returns to help his family with festival plans, and the group sets out. Vesper starts at the temple to Theht, where she meets a cadet Sespech that keeps his ear to the ground regarding family concerns. She discovers that Opalessa Dusaam has rooms at the Green Mantle, and has been inquiring about the Tower of the Heron. Vesper decides to arrange a meeting; unsurprisingly, Carenza declines to attend. Instead, the prodigal Rovino spends some time wandering Ladona and gathering rumors. Most interestingly, she learns:
- One of the Prince’s captains is planning a raid on Lamosca, in the hopes of gaining some of the lost principality’s treasures or the glory of a grand battle.
- The local troops have offended a visiting dignitary, a swordsman from the court of Prince Alviarra of Forspada.
In the meantime, Vesper and the party scoundrels pay a call on Opalesse Dusaam, who is conveniently free at the moment. The Dusaam wears clothing that conceals her entire body, including a mask, but her faintly threatening presence is muted by careful courtesy. Vesper moves to the point rather quickly: she needs to find a way to ensure that an extraplanar being can be legally determined to be in control of his own actions. She also explains that it’s a devil, and it doesn’t take long for Opalesse to determine from Vittorio’s little asides that he’s the devil in question. She asks about the taxonomy of the given fiend, and Ettorio and Vittorio mumble something about not really paying taxes. She puts the question more directly to Vesper: “Have you studied the Incalavulum Diavulum?”
Opalesse gestures for her maidservant to bring the book, and begins leafing through it as she continues the discussion. She explains that devils are not technically people — their physical form, soul and animus are not as individually distinct as they are in mortals. The class of a particular devil has certain implications: a tormentor is probably more sadistic by nature, whereas a tempter is harder to trust. She does note that the precepts of angels being capable of a fall also stress that devils are capable of rising. That would take the intercession of a specific god or servants thereof, but it’s been known to happen. Vittorio contemplates possibilities; Ettorio recommends Taltikka, but Vesper points out that Kylir would be a more respectable patron, and more in keeping with Vittorio’s epicurean ambitions.
The Dusaam finally finds a reference to the vibrezu, or “stringed devils.” The picture is unflattering, but it establishes Vittorio’s heritage as a tempter and not a tormentor. She says that perhaps it will help in the case put before the Prince, particularly if Lazzaretta’s ritualist Odrianna can compel him to tell the truth. Opalesse then inquires about the Tower of the Heron, stating that she’s here to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fate of a House member. Vesper is honest with her (though she does not mention Carenza), and says she may be able to aid Opalesse by removing a potentially dangerous squatter from the tower. The two mages part on sociable terms.
Carenza catches up to her friends a little after the meeting ends. The next stop on their itinerary is the shrine to Kylir, where Vittorio may be able to establish a good initial relationship with the priesthood. As they enter the lavishly decorated shrine, they note that the dark-skinned priestess in attendance is currently listening to a young poet — or perhaps “enduring” would be more appropriate, as his paean to civic-mindedness and benevolent authority suffers from poor rhymes and a rather tortured meter. As he finishes, he acknowledges the group of visitors, and then asks the priestess her opinion on the piece. While she is carefully choosing her words, Ettorio leans in with his own opinion.
“It was bad.”
Much to the astonishment of Vesper, Vittorio, Carenza and the priestess, Ettorio begins an unrelenting and infallibly negative criticism of the young poet’s work. After receiving a certain amount of this arguable misuse of Iluni wit, the young fellow excuses himself in an offended huff.
“I suppose such criticism might be useful for him,” sighs the priestess as the would-be poet leaves. “He doesn’t hear it very often; it is unfortunately impolitic.”
She looks quizzically at Ettorio. “Because he’s the prince’s grandson.”
Ettorio excuses himself to go strike his forehead against an alley wall.
Vesper addresses the priestess, Dessamori, and moves directly into particulars. She asks about the potential of having a devil “sponsored.” Dessamori seems to not believe at first, but she comes to be convinced. Vittorio asks what sort of first step he might take in his education. She tells him to compose a song, and to return when he feels it’s worthy. Vittorio agrees without hesitation. Perhaps moved by his humility, Dessamori opens the shrine’s reliquary and removes a small holy symbol, a pendant shaped like a golden lyre. It doesn’t burn as she places it in his hand, though he is aware of a faint discomfort like a great weight. Satisfied that he is able to accept and wear it, she bids the devil and his comrades good luck.
That evening, all four agree on spending some time drinking. Vesper drops out and returns to the Vargari compound somewhat early, her endurance perhaps taxed by stress. The others keep going, and along the way gather a surprising amount of information.
- Dossa Barcamir has bet his wife on the outcome of the Empire Hill dragon parade. He apparently stands to gain some logging rights if he wins, and is very confident of his odds.
- The grandson of Prince Lazzaretta aspires to become a poet of renown, but his actual skill is fairly terrible. (Ironically, it’s Ettorio who unearths this particular tidbit.)
Vittorio, however, plies the rumormill with astounding ease. Over the course of the evening, he discovers a number of particularly close-kept secrets:
- The famed sculptor Massavio is reputed to derive his skill from a haunted chisel, said to have been driven into an artist’s skull long ago.
- Captain Tolnaro’s recent absence is perhaps due to a curse, a blood-fever picked up from the Lamoscan border.
- The Evrelite shrine is sheltering a woman reputedly pregnant with a celestial child. Many factions are interested in influencing the babe’s purpose.
- Ilviro Sespech is blackmailing Habria Venante over her membership in the Salon of Enigmas, in particular a charge of infernalism.
The most immediate reaction to all this news is a certain amount of contempt aimed at the Barcamir merchant wagering his wife. Carenza proposes tracking him down and punching him in the face, and her two companions see no reason to discourage this plan.
The resolution to go find Dossa Barcamir and punch him in the face weakens somewhat under the application of alcohol. By the time the three are assembled in the street outside the Barcamir manor, they have fallen to arguing about small things rather than their plan of attack. In particular, there appear to be guard dogs, and none of the three particularly feel that the dogs deserve punching quite as much as Barcamirs might. Ettorio announces that they should figure something out before they are at risk of becoming sober, and dispatches Carpa to go purchase some more wine. When Carpa returns with a smallish handkeg of a local red, Ettorio stares blearily at him.
“Carpa. Why do you have a keg?”
“Because of the impending danger of sobriety, sir.”
They appropriate the keg, and then send Carpa back out into the night in search of wine glasses. By the time he returns, their attention spans have suffered notably from the time.
“Carpa. Why do you have glasses?”
“Because sobriety remains a menace, sir.”
Eventually their debate becomes louder, perhaps aided by the extra wine. In the wee hours, an irritated man emerges from the manor and begins shouting at them, demanding they go elsewhere — he has a very busy Highsun tomorrow and he would rather be asleep than calling the guards on them. Although a few hackles raise when he identifies himself as Dossa Barcamir, the three are surprisingly non-confrontational about the issue of his wager. They exchange a few rude quips, then turn and wander off into the summer night. The aggrieved gentleman watches them leave, then sighs and prepares to return to his bed.
And Carenza comes running back down the street out of the darkness, lunges at Dossa Barcamir and punches him solidly in the left eye.