Teveras Manor, Korvosa
The 13th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – late afternoon
Whisper and Akorian left the manor house early in the morning, and had been out all day. Upon his return less than an hour ago, he had immediately gone to speak with Zusa Parneste, and a muffled shouting match had ensued. Standing now in the manor foyer, Kymrych eyed the clutter of baggage scattered as far as the eye could see. He knew then that his day would now be taking a rather dark turn.
“What’s all this?” he asked no one in particular. He was almost dreading the answer.
“It appears that Akorian and Zusa had a row of some sort,” Talathel replied. He bites into an apple. “I offered to take the poor child under my wing, but he insisted she was to leave the manor. I’m not sure why.”
“I know why.” Sanaya sidles up to you as Zusa and Yulen descend the grand staircase, and approach the door leading to the front entrance to the house. Only Zusa is dressed for traveling. The two stand and speak to one another as servants move to stack Zusa’s baggage on the cart outside. A carriage stands ready to take Zusa to the docks.
“Well, don’t keep us in suspense.” Talathel grins a bit as he downs the last of his apple.
“Akorian is sending her away. He went to see Lady Doxine this morning. Whisper went with her, but doesn’t know what was said. Now Zusa has been sent to an inn near the docks. And supposedly, to a ship that will carry her to Cheliax.”
“Ah, true love. How grand.” Tal grins again, showing bits of mushed apple on his teeth.
“I suppose he could be taking a page or two from his brother’s book.” Kymrych grunts. “But why now? And why so abruptly? We have business at the Embassy in two days, and this isn’t the time for pillow games.”
“It is always the time for pillow games, friend.” Tal scrunches up his nose and turns to peer at Sanaya. “You smell…. pungent. What’s happened now?”
Sanaya’s smile fades to nothing. “Evelyn is in the pickle barrel again.”
“Oh?” The two men trade glances. “Is she stuck?”
“No. Just hungry. But I think someone needs to tell Hartley to head into town to restock our supply.”
“A good point.” Kymrych pauses as the two Varisian women embrace. Then Zusa turns to mount her carriage, and heads off to wherever the Fates will take her.
“That was an ugly business. But I’m glad its over.” Akorian stands at the window, gazing below as Zusa’s carriage pulls away. He watches Yelen for a time, and then she too turns and heads back inside.
“I doubt Yelen is sad to see her go, Akorian. Those two did not get along at all.” Igmar sits at a table by the fire, sampling a new cask of brandy someone brought up from the cellar.
“There isn’t much time, you know.” Omari sits there as well, but his brandy remains untouched. “We need to start preparing now, if we’re going to be ready in time.”
“Right you are.” Akorian lets the curtain fall back into place. “Call Hartley. Tell him we’ll need the best seamstresses he can find. And, we’ll need to memorize that map Sanaya’s benefactress provided. There is no room for error here. Not this time.”
The following two days pass in a frenzy. Fancy dress garments are purchased, fitted, and prepared. You learn that Lady Doxine will be Akorian’s companion at the gala, but otherwise your plan is to go as suggested earlier. Lord Iacobus makes sure that carriages are hired, and servants put in place to see to every detail. You make an attempt to locate the mysterious Ailyn Ghontasavos, but no one by that name is to be found in the city. This, Omari suggests, means that your supposed benefactor has gone to ground, and does not wish to be found. Whatever the truth of the matter, you continue your preparations, and in time the night of the gala draws nigh, and you steel yourselves for the planned incursion.
Of the group, Akorian, Kymrych and Talathel will go into the Embassy as guests. Jayne and Doxine will accompany them. Thusly, the remainder of the party – Sanaya, Evelyn, Omari and Igmar will dress in dark clothing and gather together at the manor stables just as night begins to fall. The sky above is clear and bright, with no ill weather expected. The four mount up as usual (with a terrified Evelyn seated before Omari) and ride out, intent upon arriving in the area of the Embassy with enough time to claim a good hiding place before the gala starts at dusk. Meanwhile, the other party members ready themselves for a different field of battle than the one they usually find themselves upon.
The shadows lengthen as the second group arrives in the Heights, led by Sanaya. The five of you (with Whisper in tow) are clad in dark clothing, and have brought enough horses for everyone. Unfortunately, the presence of ten horses is rather a lot, and threatens to bring undue attention to the group while they lie in wait for Akorian’s signal. Luckily, Sanaya and Igmar have already thought of this, and asked Iacobus to rent a riverside house just a few doors down from the Embassy. You enter the gated property quietly, and stable your horses there. Omari enters the house itself, and finds it completely barren of furniture, as expected. The group files inside, save for Whisper, who stays in the stable to mind the animals. Then the rest of you settle in to wait for Akorian’s signal.
With this in mind Evelyn clambers to the roof above, and sets up a stealthy lookout. From here she can clearly see the nothern face of the Embassy grounds, and the ground floor corner bedroom the party intends to use to enter the building.
Meanwhile, a pair of carriages have been brought around to the front of Teveras Manor. Night has fallen, and the rest of you have gathered for the ride over to the Embassy. Akorian looks splendid in the crimson and russet colors of House Sarani. His rapier is belted at his side, and he is bedecked with gems and baubles as befitting his status. For his part, Kymrych looks imposing in his black armor, black tabard, and dark cloak. His armor gleams in the torchlight. Talathel wears a cloak and doublet of hunter’s green, and has the look of a carefree nobleman about town, eager for a night of fun.
The ladies who will accompany you are even more impressive. None of you have ever seen Jayne dressed as a proper lady before now, so it is very easy for you to forget that she is noble-born. But not tonight – her gown is spun silk, blue to match her eyes and with low-cut bodice bedecked with borrowed pearls gilt with silver. Her honey blonde locks are piled high above her head, and her smile is uncharacteristically radiant as Talathel gives forth the most formal bow any of you have ever seen him attempt.
“Master Talathel.” Her return bow is as practiced as any highborn courtesan. But then Jayne’s companion steps into the night, and you take in her appearance as well. Doxine Barontine is dressed in a gown with a flame red bodice, and cream skirts and matching sleeves. Her curly auburn hair is bedecked with sapphires, and held in place with a delicate mesh. She is lovely beyond compare, and she smiles at each of you in turn as she enters. Save for Akorian, who she honors with a brief and businesslike nod.
(Note that social convention prevents both Jayne and Doxine from going to the gala armed, save for a dagger or two hidden away somewhere)
“Well. We’re all here. Should be go?” Akorian gestures to the waiting carriages, and soon you have climbed aboard, and clatter off into the night.
The Chelish Embassy is located down by the river, along a stretch of property occupied by ornate manor houses, vast parkways, and the largest temple dedicated to Asmodeus in all of Varisia. The dark spires of the place can be seen in the darkness across the way as you dismount from your carriages and gather together for the walk in from the main gate to the embassy grounds. Dozens of red-on-black liveried servants stand post to greet the arriving guests and you pair off as needed, and stride towards the embassy itself. To your eyes the building is gray and lifeless looking in the ruddy half-light of dozens of torches. This is no mere house, but rather a bloated near-castle of ochre and black, ringed with rusting iron gargoyles dancing along its gables. Bright lights burn from every window, and white smoke boils forth from the nearly two dozen chimneys atop the black-slate roof.
Other guests have arrived as well, and together you walk down an awning covered walkway to the colonnaded main entrance to the manor. There more liveried servants offer to take your hats and cloaks, and a well-dressed, regal-looking woman of middle years greets you with a broad smile. This is Crosael Simiin Rasdovian, the Embassy chief of staff, and she bows with great respect as Talathel presents her with the group’s invitations to the gala.
“My Lord Sarani. On behalf of Her Infernal Majesty, Empress Abrogil II, welcome to our humble embassy. Long may Our Dark Prince rule over us, and bring peace, prosperity and righteous domination to our great Infernal Realm.”
Akorian bows, and thanks her graciously. As do you all. Then you climb the steps to the entrance foyer, and enter the building. Richly paneled and deeply carpeted, the halls of the manor hang with paintings of the Empress and her forebears, former Ambassadors, and various Infernal saints. A gay hubbub fills the air as dozens of arriving guests doff their cloaks, and head on through a set of double doors at the far end of the hallway. You follow the rest of the guests, and enter into the next room: here lies the Embassy’s rightfully famous Garden of Earthly Pleasures, a room that is seemingly open to the sky. Here the sky above is always cloudless, and sparkles with myriad pinwheeling stars far overhead. Below a quaint wooden bridge spans a burbling stream, and lush vegetation lines the banks of this “river” for as far as the eye can see. It it truly a beautiful sight, and largely maintained by powerful magics.
An archway beyond leads into the manor’s grand dining room; this immense chamber is heated by six huge fireplaces decorated with unsettling landscapes of hellish appearance. Two thick wooden pillars support the roof above, and are carved to represent tangles of serpents – continually animated to seemingly writhe and twist by more powerful magic. The room is already rather crowded. Here you see many scions of Korvosa’s assorted noble families, as well as wealthy merchants, military officers, and other important folk. Servants wend through the crowd, bringing refreshments, and at the far end of the chamber you see a bearded devil standing post, garbed in Chelish livery and bearing its signature barbed halberd. Most of the guests intently stay away from this obvious reminder of Chelish might, something the hosts of this gala likely find very amusing.
You all glance at one another, and then enter into the melee before you. In some ways, the Night Swords are very famous here in Korvosa, and many of the guests recognize you on sight. Within moments you are inundated with greetings and well-wishers, some people you actually know. And many you do not. The introductions come at you faster than you can manage, and many of those names are lost forever as a result. Talathel soon finds himself with a pretty girl on each arm. Kymrych is thankful for Jayne’s presence at his side; in part because far too many feminine (and more than a few masculine) eyes watch him with interest. And also because she can easily handle any attempts at unnecessary conversation.
Akorian, on the other hand, dives into the sea of humanity with nary a pause. Doxine is right by his side, of course, and together the two begin to speak at length with a great many people. His Lordship also appears to drink a great deal, although Kymrych knows that this is largely an illusion.
“Ah. Finally! A man after my own heart.”
Kymrych turns to find a tall, well-built man standing beside him. Two pretty young women are with him; one looks rather bored, while the other eyes Akorian and his companion with obvious interest. Both girls wear identical swords sheathed at their sides. The man himself is a bit older, perhaps fifty, with iron in both his hair and his gaze. He wears the black-on-crimson of a Chelish soldier, and also wears a massive broadsword at his hip.
“I beg your pardon, My Lord?”
“Ah, where are my manners? Please excuse me. These things always bring a bit of bile to my stomach.” He grunts. “I am Lord-General Nevan Vourne, of Her Infernal Majesty’s ‘Queen Esa’s Dragoons.’ My daughters here tell me you are Kymrych something-or-other, and that you fought at Bleak Rock Hold.”
“Oh. Well, yes. I did.”
“Wonderful!” His Lordship grins and summons a servant with more drinks. “And this Doom Child they speak of? It was real, and not just some nursemaid’s tale?”
“It was real enough, My Lord. I saw it in the flesh.” And so it goes, as Lord Vourne monopolizes Kymrych’s time for several minutes. You notice that the Vourne sisters, who were not even introduced to you by their father, wander off then to find something else to amuse themselves with.
An hour passes, and Akorian decides it is time to begin. He turns to Doxine, and nods. Her face colors slightly, but she nods back nonetheless.
“Do what you must.”
“Aye.” Akorian scowls as he scans the crowd. Soon he spies a man named Simo Follon, a member of the Chelish Ministry of Trade, and a recent widower. Doxine sees the man as well, and walks over to introduce herself. As this is going on Akorian gestures minutely, and casts a spell he learned just recently; a charm spell designed to bring out the worst in people.
“Why yes, Milady. I do believe we have met. I remember speaking to you at Lord—” Minister Follon pauses then, and blushes a startling shade of crimson. He then takes a seemingly startled Doxine in his arms, and kisses her with all the passion he can muster.
“My good man! Unhand her immediately!” Akorian storms forward, and all but tears Doxine out of poor Minister Follon’s arms. Doxine does a wonderful job of playing the hapless and confused victim. She does manage to give poor Follon a powerful slap across the jaw, and then storms away.
“My Lord. I don’t know what came over me, I assure you. I’ve never… I would never…”
“I am in a kindhearted mood, Minister Follon.” Akorian turns to the others, and gestures towards Kymrych. “So I shall let this pass. This time. Do you see that brutish fellow over there? The one in the armor? He is my second in matters of honor. Keep that in mind the next time you wish to paw at my lady love.”
Follon’s face turns a startling shade of crimson. “Of course, Milord.”
Akorian then stalks off after Doxine, who has walked off in a huff. He seizes her arm, and together the two exchange heated words. Most of the eyes in the room are upon them. Then she hauls off and slaps Akorian as well. He sees stars, and reels under her assault. Then she too turns and storms from the dining room, never to return.
“An amazing performance, My Lord.” Jayne is finding it hard to keep the laughter out of her voice. Akorian fingers his bruised face, and nods.
“I do hope Doxine enjoyed that. Because I did not.” Akorian then secretly weaves together the strands of magic on a very powerful spell, and subtly links the minds of his companions together. Within moments you hear delicate whispering in the back of your mind, and realize they are the very thoughts of your comrades!
“Turn your gaze somewhere else, friend Talathel.” Jayne turns her eyes to the elf and offers him a mock smile. “Lady Doxine is not the only one here who can defend a lady’s honor.”
“Of course, Milady. I meant no offense.” Tal turns his gaze up and away from Lady Jayne’s bodice and offers her a smile in return. Then Akorian clears his throat to regain everyone’s attention.
“All set, Tal?” he asks.
“Aye. Just say the word.”
“Let’s go over here for a bit. Then I’ll be off.”
You find a quiet corner far from the action, and Akorian pretends to sulk. Well, perhaps “pretend” is only half-right, but I will allow you to decide the truth of the matter for yourself. During this time Jayne and Kymrych keep any and all interested parties away. You are informed, however, that a gentleman has offered to take Lady Doxine safely home to Teveras Manor, where you know from your preparations beforehand she will await your return.
A few minutes pass, and you see that interest in your personal drama has faded. Akorian nods once more to Talathel, and together the two begin to cast a complicated weave of spells. First, Akorian fades from view, invisible, and Tal takes on Akorian’s form using a disguise charm. He then creates a simple illusion of himself; this illusion is made to sit quietly by “Akorian’s” side, offering moral support. Then the real Akorian quickly (and silently) bids his companions goodbye, and drifts off into the crowd, careful to avoid bumping into anyone if he can help it.
Soon Akorian has navigated his way through the crowd, and only managed to collide with drunken party goers on two occasions; luckily no one seems to notice, and he soon finds himself passing through an archway that feeds onto a connecting chamber. This room is called the Jungle of Nectar – he sees now that the room contains a sparkling fountain of crystal clear water, an illusory sky similar to the one in the Garden of Earthly Pleasures, and several large tropical trees filled with fruit. Several amorous couples have slipped in here seeking privacy; Akorian sneaks by them all and makes a beeline for a door set in the far wall.
The door, of course, is locked. He quickly produces the skeleton key their benefactor provided them, and tries it in the lock; the tumblers fall, and he opens the door and slips inside. The room beyond consists of a small house shrine to Asmodeus; Akorian’s starts a bit as he sees twin statues of the Black Prince looming over him, scowling with disapproval. He moves on quickly, however, and tries the door opposite. It too is locked, and he once more produces his key. Beyond lays the bedchamber of the Embassy chaplain, empty now as His Unholiness is almost certain to be at the party.
Akorian pauses then, and thinks of Kymrych. “I’ve made it. How are things going?”
There is a pause, and then Kymrych’s gruff voice sounds deep within your mind. “Fine, I think. Those twin sisters came by to bother us, but Jayne shooed them off. So far no one else seems to be taking an interest in us.”
“Good. I’ll summon the others.”
Akorian sees that the room itself is quite plain, with well-made but simple furniture and little in the way of the elaborate decoration found elsewhere in the house. A wooden stand that holds a set of armor sits in one corner, while another stand across from it is bare; Akorian decides the priest’s fancy-dress raiment usually rests here when he is not tending to his duties.
Pleased to see that no one is here, Akorian crosses over to then northernmost window in the chamber and draws asides the curtain. The Embassy grounds are dark and silent as he unlatches the window and slides it open. A cool breeze wafts in as he realizes his invisibility charm has worn off. Moments later he intones the words to a simple illumination spell, and gives forth the agreed-upon signal to summon his fellow party members.
“That’s it. Let’s go.” Evelyn sniggers a bit as she scuttles down the side of the rented manor house. Omari, Igmar and Sanaya await her there. There is no more talking as the quartet heads down to the river and crosses over onto the loose sand along the bank. You move as quietly as you are able, although Omari’s presence makes a lot of that effort pointless. Soon you reach the stone wall that surrounds the Embassy on three sides, and runs down to the edge of the waterline. Sanaya pauses a moment, and then nods to the others.
“Wait a moment.” She raises her hands, and gestures. Moments later Omari is fading from view, and is soon completely visible. Then Sanaya uncoils the stout length of rope from her shoulder. She holds it, and whispers something to it. The rope shivers, and then uncoils, snaking up the side of the wall as if possessing a mind of its own. Soon the rope has tied itself to an iron crenelation at the top of the wall, and Sanaya begins to swiftly climb up and over. In less time than it takes to tell the four of you have joined her, and Igmar, the last climber, throws the rope back down to her. Then he lowers himself, and tumbles to the ground with a dour grumble.
They then dash across the verge and head for the window on the building’s northern-most face. Moments later they arrive there, and see Akorian lurking inside.
“Get in here, quickly.” This is accomplished with little difficulty, and soon Akorian is shuttering the window behind them.
“Any problems?” he whispers.
“No. I doubt anyone saw us.” Sanaya’s smile is but dimly visible against the darkness.
“I would not speak so quickly, if I were you.” The voice is soft and feminine. The creak of a door-hinge comes to you then, and door to the chapel swings wide. There is a soft, saffron glow as witch-light is summoned, and two slender figures are seen standing in the doorway.
“Have we interrupted something, My Lord?” Isandra Vourne-Aulamaxa says. Her dark eyes have a mischievous glow. “My sister and I could not help but notice your departure from the gala, despite your friends’ best interest in keeping it a secret.”
“Yes, dear boy.” Janivan Vourne’s expression is not as playful, nor are her eyes as friendly. “We were hoping you were up to no good, of course. Parties like this are dreadfully dull at the best of times.”
“Yes, I—” Isandra pauses a moment, and gazes at Evelyn. Her eyes show stunned shock. “Is that…. Is that a goblin…..???”